“Gower has come alive. My market for fish bought in Gower’s territory is closed, so far as Crow Harbor is concerned. If I can’t sell salmon I can’t buy them from you. How much do you think Folly Bay will pay for your fish?”
He waited a minute. The fishermen looked at him in the yellow lantern light, at each other. They shifted uneasily. No one answered his question.
MacRae went on.
“You can guess what will happen. You will be losers. So will I. I don’t like the idea of being frozen out of the salmon-buying business, now that I have got my hand in. I don’t intend to be. As long as I can handle a load of salmon I’ll make the run. But I’ve got to run them farther, and you fellows will have to wait a bit for me now and then, perhaps. The cannery men hang together. They are making it bad for me because I’m paying a few cents more for salmon. They have choked off Crow Harbor. Gower is hungry for cheap salmon. He’ll get them, too, if you let him head off outside buyers. Since I’m the only buyer covering these grounds, it’s up to you, more than ever, to see that I keep coming. That’s all. Tell the rest of the fishermen what I say whenever you happen to run across them.”
They became articulate. They plied MacRae with questions. He answered tersely, as truthfully as he could. They cursed Folly Bay and the canneries in general. But they were not downcast. They did not seem apprehensive that Folly Bay would get salmon for forty cents. MacRae had said he would still buy. For them that settled it. They would not have to sell their catch to Folly Bay for whatever price Gower cared to set. Presently they began to drift away to their boats, to bed, for their work began in that gray hour between dawn and sunrise when the schooling salmon best strike the trolling spoon.
One lingered, a returned soldier named Mullen, who had got his discharge in May and gone fishing. Mullen had seen two years in the trenches. He sat in his skiff, scowling up at MacRae, talking about the salmon packers, about fishing.
“Aw, it’s the same everywhere,” he said cynically. “They all want a cinch, easy money, big money. Looks like the more you have, the more you can grab. Folly Bay made barrels of coin while the war was on. Why can’t they give us fellers a show to make a little now? But they don’t give a damn, so long as they get theirs. And then they wonder why some of us guys that went to France holler about the way we find things when we come home.”
He pushed his skiff away into the gloom that rested upon the Cove.