“Old crab,” Nelly Abbott murmured. “He doesn’t even look at us.”
“He’s counting salmon, silly,” Betty explained. “How can he?”
There was no particular inflection in her voice. Nevertheless Horace Gower shot a sidelong glance at his daughter. She also waved a hand pleasantly to Jack MacRae, who had faced about now.
“Why don’t you say you’re glad to see us, old dear?” Nelly Abbott suggested bluntly, and smiling so that all her white teeth gleamed and her eyes twinkled mischievously.
“Tickled to death,” MacRae called back. He went through the pantomime of shaking hands with himself. His lips parted in a smile. “But I’m the busiest thing afloat right now. See you later.”
“Nerve,” Horace Gower muttered under his breath.
“Not if we see you first,” Nelly Abbott retorted.
“It’s not likely you will,” MacRae laughed.
He turned back to his work. The fisherman alongside was tall and surly looking, a leathery-faced individual with a marked scowl. He heaved half a dozen salmon up on the Blackbird. Then he climbed up himself. He towered over Jack MacRae, and MacRae was not exactly a small man. He said something, his hands on his hips. MacRae looked at him. He seemed to be making some reply. And he stepped back from the man. Every other fisherman turned his face toward the Blackbird’s deck. Their clattering talk stopped short.
The man leaned forward. His hands left his hips, drew into doubled fists, extended threateningly. He took a step toward MacRae.
And MacRae suddenly lunged forward, as if propelled by some invisible spring of tremendous force. With incredible swiftness his left hand and then his right shot at the man’s face. The two blows sounded like two open-handed smacks. But the fisherman sagged, went lurching backward. His heels caught on the Blackbird’s bulwark and he pitched backward head-first into the hold of his own boat.
MacRae picked up the salmon and flung them one by one after the man, with no great haste, but with little care where they fell, for one or two spattered against the fellow’s face as he clawed up out of his own hold. There was a smear of red on his lips.
“Oh! My goodness gracious, sakes alive!”
Nelly Abbott grasped Betty by the arm and murmured these expletives as much in a spirit of deviltry as of shock. Her eyes danced.
“Did you see that?” she whispered. “I never saw two men fight before. I’d hate to have Jack MacRae hit me.”
But Betty was holding her breath, for MacRae had picked up a twelve-foot pike pole, a thing with an ugly point and a hook of iron on its tip. He only used it, however, to shove away the boat containing the man he had so savagely smashed. And while he did that Gower curtly issued an order, and the Arrow slid on to the cannery wharf.
Nelly went below for something. Betty stood by the rail, staring back thoughtfully, unaware that her father was keenly watching the look on her face, with an odd expression in his own eyes.