At first the schools pass into the Straits of San Juan. Here the joint fleets of British Columbia and of Puget Sound begin to harry them. A week or ten days later the vanguard will be off Nanaimo. And in another week they will be breaking water like trout in a still pool around the rocky base of the Ballenas Light and the kelp beds and reefs of Squitty Island.
By the time they were there, in late April, there were twenty local power boats to begin taking them, for Jack MacRae made the rounds of Squitty to tell the fishermen that he was putting on a carrier to take the first run of blueback to Vancouver markets.
They were a trifle pessimistic. Other buyers had tried it, men gambling on a shoestring for a stake in the fish trade, buyers unable to make regular trips, whereby there was a tale of many salmon rotted in waiting fish holds, through depending on a carrier that did not come. What was the use of burning fuel, of tearing their fingers with the gear, of catching fish to rot? Better to let them swim.
But since the Folly Bay cannery never opened until the fish ran to greater size and number, the fishermen, chafing against inaction after an idle winter, took a chance and trolled for Jack MacRae.
To the trailers’ surprise they found themselves dealing with a new type of independent buyer,—a man who could and did make his market trips with clocklike precision. If MacRae left Squitty with a load on Monday, saying that he would be at Squitty Cove or Jenkins Island or Scottish Bay by Tuesday evening, he was there.
He managed it by grace of an able sea boat, engined to drive through sea and wind, and by the nerve and endurance to drive her in any weather. There were times when the Gulf spread placid as a mill pond. There were trips when he drove through with three thousand salmon under battened hatches, his decks awash from boarding seas, ten and twelve and fourteen hours of rough-and-tumble work that brought him into the Narrows and the docks inside with smarting eyes and tired muscles, his head splitting from the pound and clank of the engine and the fumes of gas and burned oil.
It was work, strain of mind and body, long hours filled with discomfort. But MacRae had never shrunk from things like that. He was aware that few things worth while come easy. The world, so far as he knew, seldom handed a man a fortune done up in tissue paper merely because he happened to crave its possession. He was young and eager to do. There was a reasonable satisfaction in the doing, even of the disagreeable, dirty tasks necessary, in beating the risks he sometimes had to run. There was a secret triumph in overcoming difficulties as they arose. And he had an object, which, if it did not always lie in the foreground of his mind, he was nevertheless keen on attaining.
The risks and work and strain, perhaps because he put so much of himself into the thing, paid from the beginning more than he had dared hope. He made a hundred dollars his first trip, paid the trollers five cents a fish more on the second trip and cleared a hundred and fifty. In the second week of his venture he struck a market almost bare of fresh salmon with thirty-seven hundred shining bluebacks in his hold. He made seven hundred dollars on that single cargo.