Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 25 August 1917

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-07-19

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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"WHAT do you want?"

The tone was curt, and the expression on the square-jawed and keen-eyed face of Marshall Hort distinctly unpromising. But the young Englishman who stood on the opposite side of the bare office table refused to be discouraged.

"I want a job, sir."

Marshall Hort, boss of the Kaliga drainage works, the biggest concern of its kind in South Florida, stared at the boy from under frowning brows.

"What can you do?" he snapped.

"Handle a spade or an axe."

"Can you work alongside my niggers and do as big a day's work?"

"I don't suppose I can do as big a day as one of them, sir," answered Dick Forton, flushing a little.

"Of course you can't, and you wouldn't if you could. Britisher, ain't you?"

"I am," Dick answered, hanging on tight to his temper.

"I've tried your sort before," said Hort with a sneer. "And I'm not taking any more remittance men in mine, thank you. Dare say there are some o' your countrymen that are all right, but they're not the sort that come to Florida. And a 'no count' Britisher is the holy limit."

"I'm no remittance man," broke in Dick hotly.

"You needn't stop to argue," said Hort harshly. "I've got nothing for you. And I'm busy. Good morning."

DICK went out into the blazing sunshine, which yet was no hotter than the rage that consumed him. When he got back to the shanty which he shared with Billy Crayle, he was still boiling.

Billy, a slim, blue-eyed youngster, a year or so younger than Dick, was waiting for him.

"What luck, Dick?"

"None," snapped Dick. "Insulted for my pains, that was all."

"Rotten!" sympathised Billy, "But buck up, Dick. We can always try the firewood business."

"A nice business, too!" said Dick bitterly. "'Specially for a delicate chap like you. Work twelve hours a day, and, with luck, a bare living. Billy," he went on, "it's I have brought you to this. I persuaded you to buy the land here. I—"

"Dry up, Dick," interrupted Billy almost angrily. "I suppose you'll tell me that the dry spell was your fault, and that it was you set the woods afire and burnt out our pineapple patch! To tell you the truth, I'm jolly glad you didn't get that job with Hort. Nice for me, sticking here all the week alone, and only seeing you on Sundays! As for me being delicate, that's all rot. I'm not as big and strong as you, but I can do my whack. And the firewood job won't be all work. We'll be taking the boat-load down to Key West every other week, and that will be a rest and a break."

It was a long speech for Billy, who was usually content to let Dick do the talking; but, for once he completely silenced the senior partner.

THEY went indoors, and set to work sharpening the big, cross-cut saw, and then two axes. Key West, one of the biggest towns in Florida, lies on a sandy key or island right off the mainland, and all the firewood comes by boat from the Florida coast. When a man on the Glades coast goes broke, he can always find work cutting firewood and sailing it across to the town.

It was no fault of Dick Forton and Billy Crayle that they were in the unpleasant position of being stony. The winter had been very dry, and some fool of a cracker or Indian had dropped a match in the woods, with the result that a raging forest fire had swooped, down on their little plantation and simply cleaned it out.

It had been Dick's idea to get work with the Drainage Company, so as to carry on until they could replant and get a fresh crop. Billy, meanwhile, was to stay on the place and work it.

But boys propose, and Fate, in the shape of a blue-jowled American boss, disposes. Hort had been badly let down some months before by a real remittance man whom he had taken pity on, and the consequence had been to fill him with a blind prejudice against the failure's countrymen.

THERE was plenty of good yellow pine on the land owned by the two youngsters, but it was no joke felling it and cutting it up. It was an even tougher job to carry the stuff down to the creek, where their sharpie lay, and load it up. They had no horse, so the whole business had to be done by hand.

It took them just a fortnight to make their first load, and as they could not reckon on getting more than twenty-five dollars for it (5), delivered at Key West, it was clear there was no fortune in the business.

Even Billy, plucky as he was, heaved a sigh of relief as, one blazing May morning, he and Dick got aboard and dropped down the creek with the ebb.

"Precious little wind!" growled Dick as they drifted out past the steaming mangrove swamps at the mouth.

Billy cocked an eye at the sky. He was by way of being something of a prophet.

"H'm, we'll have more than we want before long, Dick. Thunder's brewing."

"Hot enough for anything," allowed Dick as he watched an alligator sliding off a mud bank.

FOR the next hour it was nothing but a drift. There was never enough wind to fill the head-sails. The first puff found them at the mouth of the bay, and the sharpie heeled slightly, while a pleasant tinkle came from under her forefoot.

"Keep her up a bit, Billy," said Dick to his chum, who was at the tiller. "We don't want to run too close to the reef. If that storm you prophesy comes along, the farther we are from that row of coral spikes the better."

"It's coming all right," replied Billy, obeying. "Look at those clouds to the nor'-west. It's going to be a buster, too. It might be a good egg to run back and wait till it's over."

"Oh, we're all right," said Dick easily. "The old sharpie will stand anything if she's got sea room."

"More than I'd say for that skiff out there," he continued, pointing to a small boat a long way out and much closer than they to the line of quiet breakers which marked the Catalina Reef.

"Some northern chap fishing," remarked Billy. "After tarpon, I expect." Then, after a moment's pause: "Jove, he's into one, too, Dick. Watch! See the way the beggar is towing him. It must be a whopper."

"Yes, he's got hold of a good 'un," said Dick dryly. He loved fishing, and could not help feeling a bit envious of a man who had time to enjoy it.

The sharpie drifted on, impelled by an occasional puff. But her crew were so keen on the struggle between the man in the little boat and the big fish that they never noticed the great cloud that was swooping, ghost-like, across the sky.

The tarpon leaped clean out of the sea, a six-foot bar of molten silver gleaming in the sunlight. It shook its great head savagely in a frantic effort to clear the hook from its horny lip. Then down again, and off, with the line screaming from the reel, the stiff rod bent double, and the skiff flying in its track.

A stiffer puff. The sharpie heeled and then began to really move.

Billy glanced round.

"Jove, Dick, it's coming!" he exclaimed.

"It is," said Dick. "Better give me the tiller."

The two changed places. The sharpie was now tearing through the water and rapidly coming up with the skiff. The sea was rising fast, and the top of the small waves seemed to be breaking over the smaller craft.

As they came level, the man turned, and hailed them.

"Can you lend a hand? He's a bit big for me to tackle alone."

"Then you'd better cut," returned Dick harshly. "We're busy."

Billy stared at Dick. He could hardly believe his ears.

"It's Hort," explained Dick curtly.

Hort did not answer. The tarpon was away again, and this time heading straight for the reef. Dick held his course, and the sharpie, lying close to the wind, tore along, flinging the foam high over her bows.

A dull roar of thunder; then, like the dropping of a curtain, the sun went out, and down came the gale with a roar.

Dick flung her head up.

"We must reef," he cried, as he dropped the peak.

Quickly they took in a double reef. In the excitement neither gave a second thought to Hort.

It was Billy who happened to look back.

"Dick!" he cried. "Dick! Look at Hort! He's half swamped."

Dick looked.

"Silly fool!" he growled. "I told him to cut."

"We can't let him drown," pleaded Billy.

"Suppose not. Though he richly deserves it," answered Dick. putting his helm over.

The sharpie came round, and, with the wind almost aft, fairly raced towards the skiff.

The little craft was half full, but Hort still clung to his fish. It was madness, of course, but, much as he disliked him, Dick could not help admiring the fellow's pluck.

A moment later the sharpie was level with the skiff, and Dick cleverly brought her alongside.

"Jump!" he roared.

Hort leaped over the gunwale. He had his rod in one hand and in the other a gaff.

"Run up into the wind!" he cried. "He's still on."

Dick hesitated, but only for a second. Then he obeyed. Hort began reeling hard.

"He's done!" he said in a tone of triumph. "He's coming in."

"About time, too," grumbled Dick. "Take the gaff, Billy."

The sharpie pitched violently in the fast-rising sea, as Hort gradually drew the tarpon alongside. Billy was waiting. He caught a gleam of silver in the foam, and drove the sharp steel hook into a vast, glistening side.

"Got him!" roared Hort, but even then it took the two of them to haul their prize over the side.

"A hundred and forty pounds if he's an ounce," exclaimed Hort. "I guess he's well worth the loss of my boat."

"What about ours?" asked Dick grimly.

Hort glanced at him sharply, then at the fast-rising sea.

"Better run back, hadn't you, into the creek mouth?"

"Can't be done," said Dick. "She'd swamp on the bar."

"Then I reckon there's nothing for it but to claw out to sea."

Dick shrugged his shoulders. "If she'll do it," was all he said.

As he spoke he had got her round. He knew the danger, and so did Billy. Hort, it was clear, did not realise it.

Dick held her to it until the leach of the mainsail begun to quiver. She moved slowly, pitching tremendously in the short, high seas. The wind screamed across the waters; spindrift, mixed with rain, stung their faces. The gloom was almost night-like, but was lit every moment by brilliant flashes of lightning. Overhead, the thunder roared continuously.

And the flashes showed the horn of the Catalina Reef lying, like a vast scimitar, to loo'ard, and marked by a line of leaping foam.

"Will she do it?" asked Billy.

"Case of wait and see," was all that Dick replied. But, quiet as he was, Billy could tell that he was very anxious.

Billy's eyes were on the reef. It seemed to him that, in spite of Dick's splendid seamanship, the sharpie was nearer to it than she had been. The gale still shrieked fiercely.

Five minutes dragged by. Now Billy was certain.

Hort roused suddenly to the danger.

"Getting a bit close in, aren't you?" he said to Dick.

"We shall be closer soon," was Dick's reply.

Hort merely smiled. If he was hard, at any rate, he had pluck.

Suddenly Dick turned to Billy.

"Wind's changing," he said—setting her dead on to it, "We'll never get round the end."

Billy did not reply.

All of a sudden Dick put down his helm. The sharpie came round at right angles, head straight for the reef.

"What are you doing, Dick?" cried Billy.

"Running for the Gap. It's our only chance."

Billy drew a long breath. The Gap was break in the reef not more than ten yards wide. It was edged with saw-like spikes of coral, a touch on any one of which would cut the bottom out of the boat. It was a place to avoid even in calm weather. To try it in the raging sea seemed stark madness. Yet it was that or smash—smash anyhow, probably. Billy kept silence.

Before the wind, the sharpie fairly flew. Every instant the white wall of breakers loomed nearer. Their roar was one sustained thunder. Billy could not even see the gap, but Dick's hand was steady on the tiller. Hort sat like a statue, his eyes fixed on the reef.

A blaze of lightning turned the gloom to one withering glare.

"There it is!" burst from Billy's lips, as he caught sight of the narrow opening dead ahead. Next moment the sharpie lifted on the summit of a huge creaming comber, and shot forward.

Rigid as iron sat Dick, holding the heavily laden craft full on the one spot of green in all the wild chase of white water. A sheet of spray dashed over them.

Billy felt the boat dropping under him like a rapidly descending lift, and held his breath, expecting each instant to hear the crash which would herald the end. She swooped forward at terrifying speed. There was a heavy shock and she seemed to dive bodily into the heart of a wave. Blind and deaf, Billy clung to the gunwale.

She rose again. He dashed the spray from his eyes, and could hardly believe his senses when he found that they were floating in safety, in comparatively calm water.

"A mighty smart bit of work," remarked Marshall Hort, with a touch of enthusiasm in his usually level voice. "Mr. Forton, I guess I owe you an apology. You ain't no remittance man, and any time you like to come around there's a job waiting for you.

"It won't be pick and shovel work, either," he added.

Dick looked at him a moment. Then his set face broke into a smile.

"Thank you, Mr. Hort. That was handsomely said. But I've decided that I can't leave my partner."

"Bring him along," said Hort. Bring him right along. A fellow that can gaff a fish the way he did, and with the wind blowing like it was, is worth money to me.

"Is it a go, Mr. Crayle?" he ended.

"It's a go," said Billy quietly.

And it was.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.