The Dual Personality of Slick Dick Nickerson
by Frank Norris
On a certain morning in the spring of the year, the three men who
were known as the Three Black Crows called at the office of “The
President of the Pacific and Oriental Flotation Company,” situated in
an obscure street near San Francisco's water-front. They were Strokher,
the tall, blond, solemn, silent Englishman; Hardenberg, the American,
dry of humour, shrewd, resourceful, who bargained like a Vermonter and
sailed a schooner like a Gloucester cod-fisher; and in their company,
as ever inseparable from the other two, came the little colonial,
nicknamed, for occult reasons, “Ally Bazan,” a small, wiry man,
excitable, vociferous, who was without fear, without guile and without
When Hardenberg, who was always spokesman for the Three Crows, had
sent in their names, they were admitted at once to the inner office of
the “President.” The President was an old man, bearded like a prophet,
with a watery blue eye and a forehead wrinkled like an orang's. He
spoke to the Three Crows in the manner of one speaking to friends he
has not seen in some time.
“Well, Mr. Ryder,” began Hardenberg. “We called around to see if you
had anything fer us this morning. I don't mind telling you that we're
at liberty jus' now. Anything doing?”
Ryder fingered his beard distressfully. “Very little, Joe; very
“Got any wrecks?”
“Not a wreck.”
Hardenberg turned to a great map that hung on the wall by Ryder's
desk. It was marked in places by red crosses, against which were
written certain numbers and letters. Hardenberg put his finger on a
small island south of the Marquesas group and demanded: “What might be
H. 33, Mr. President?”
“Pearl Island,” answered the President. “Davidson is on that job.”
“Or H. 125?” Hardenberg indicated a point in the Gilbert group.
“Guano deposits. That's promised.”
“Hallo! You're up in the Aleutians. I make out. 20 A.—what's that?”
“Old government telegraph wire—line abandoned—finest drawn-copper
wire. I've had three boys at that for months.”
“What's 301? This here, off the Mexican coast?”
The President, unable to remember, turned to his one clerk: “Hyers,
what's 301? Isn't that Peterson?”
The clerk ran his finger down a column: “No, sir; 301 is the Whisky
“Ah! So it is. I remember. You remember, too, Joe. Little
schooner, the Tropic Bird—sixty days out from Callao—five
hundred cases of whisky aboard—sunk in squall. It was thirty years
ago. Think of five hundred cases of thirty-year-old whisky! There's
money in that if I can lay my hands on the schooner. Suppose you try
that, you boys—on a twenty per cent. basis. Come now, what do you
“Not for five per cent.,” declared Hardenberg. “How'd we
raise her? How'd we know how deep she lies? Not for Joe. What's the
matter with landing arms down here in Central America for Bocas and his
“I'm out o' that, Joe. Too much competition.”
“What's doing here in Tahiti—No. 88? It ain't lettered.”
Once more the President consulted his books.
“Ah!—88. Here we are. Cache o' illicit pearls. I had it looked up.
Nothing in it.”
“Say, Cap'n!”—Hardenberg's eye had traveled to the upper edge of
the map—“whatever did you strike up here in Alaska? At Point Barrow,
s'elp me Bob! It's 48 B.”
The President stirred uneasily in his place. “Well, I ain't quite
worked that scheme out, Joe. But I smell the deal. There's a Russian
post along there some'eres. Where they catch sea-otters. And the skins
o' sea-otters are selling this very day for seventy dollars at any port
“I s'y,” piped up Ally Bazan, “I knows a bit about that gyme. They's
a bally kind o' Lum-tums among them Chinese as sports those syme skins
on their bally clothes—as a mark o' rank, d'ye see.”
“Have you figured at all on the proposition, Cap'n?” inquired
“There's risk in it, Joe; big risk,” declared the President
nervously. “But I'd only ask fifteen per cent.”
“You have worked out the scheme, then.”
“Well—ah—y'see, there's the risk, and—ah—” Suddenly Ryder leaned
forward, his watery blue eyes glinting: “Boys, it's a jewel.
It's just your kind. I'd a-sent for you, to try on this very scheme, if
you hadn't shown up. You kin have the Bertha Millner—I've a
year's charter o' her from Wilbur—and I'll only ask you fifteen per
cent. of the net profits—net, mind you.”
“I ain't buyin' no dead horse, Cap'n,” returned Hardenberg, “but
I'll say this: we pay no fifteen per cent.”
“Banks and the Ruggles were daft to try it and give me twenty-five.”
“An' where would Banks land the scheme? I know him. You put him on
that German cipher-code job down Honolulu way, an' it cost you about a
thousand before you could pull out. We'll give you seven an' a half.”
“Ten,” declared Ryder, “ten, Joe, at the very least. Why, how much
do you suppose just the stores would cost me? And Point Barrow—why,
Joe, that's right up in the Arctic. I got to run the risk o' you
getting the Bertha smashed in the ice.”
“What do we risk?” retorted Hardenberg; and it was the
monosyllabic Strokher who gave the answer:
“Chokee, by Jove!”
“Ten is fair. It's ten or nothing,” answered Hardenberg.
“Gross, then, Joe. Ten on the gross—or I give the job to the
Ruggles and Banks.”
“Who's your bloomin' agent?” put in Ally Bazan.
“Nickerson. I sent him with Peterson on that Mary Archer
wreck scheme. An' you know what Peterson says of him—didn't give him
no trouble at all. One o' my best men, boys.”
“There have been,” observed Strokher stolidly, “certain stories told
about Nickerson. Not that I wish to seem suspicious, but I put
it to you as man to man.”
“Ay,” exclaimed Ally Bazan. “He was fair nutty once, they tell me.
Threw some kind o' bally fit an' come aout all skew-jee'd in his mind.
Forgot his nyme an' all. I s'y, how abaout him, anyw'y?”
“Boys,” said Ryder, “I'll tell you. Nickerson—yes, I know the yarns
about him. It was this way—y'see, I ain't keeping anything from you,
boys. Two years ago he was a Methody preacher in Santa Clara. Well, he
was what they call a revivalist, and he was holding forth one blazin'
hot day out in the sun when all to once he goes down, flat, an'
don't come round for the better part o' two days. When he wakes up he's
another person; he'd forgot his name, forgot his job, forgot the
whole blamed shooting-match. And he ain't never remembered them
since. The doctors have names for that kind o' thing. It seems it
does happen now and again. Well, he turned to an' began sailoring first
off—soon as the hospitals and medicos were done with him—an' him not
having any friends as you might say, he was let go his own gait. He got
to be third mate of some kind o' dough-dish down Mexico way; and then I
got hold o' him an' took him into the Comp'ny. He's been with me ever
since. He ain't got the faintest kind o' recollection o' his Methody
days, an' believes he's always been a sailorman. Well, that's his
business, ain't it? If he takes my orders an' walks chalk, what do I
care about his Methody game? There, boys, is the origin, history and
development of Slick Dick Nickerson. If you take up this sea-otter deal
and go to Point Barrow, naturally Nick has got to go as owner's agent
and representative of the Comp'ny. But I couldn't send a easier fellow
to get along with. Honest, now, I couldn't. Boys, you think over the
proposition between now and tomorrow an' then come around and let me
And the upshot of the whole matter was that one month later the
Bertha Millner, with Nickerson, Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan
on board, cleared from San Francisco, bound—the papers were
beautifully precise—for Seattle and Tacoma with a cargo of general
As a matter of fact, the bulk of her cargo consisted of some odd
hundreds of very fine lumps of rock—which as ballast is cheap by the
ton—and some odd dozen cases of conspicuously labeled champagne.
The Pacific and Oriental Flotation Company made this champagne out
of Rhine wine, effervescent salts, raisins, rock candy and alcohol. It
was from the same stock of wine of which Ryder had sold some thousand
cases to the Coreans the year before.
“Not that I care a curse,” said Strokher, the Englishman. “But I put
it to you squarely that this voyage lacks that certain indescribable
The Bertha Millner was a fortnight out, and the four
adventurers—or, rather, the three adventurers and Nickerson—were lame
in every joint, red-eyed from lack of sleep, half-starved, wholly wet
and unequivocally disgusted. They had had heavy weather from the day
they bade farewell to the whistling buoy off San Francisco Bay until
the moment when even patient, docile, taciturn Strokher had at last—in
his own fashion—rebelled.
“Ain't I a dam' fool? Ain't I a proper lot? Gard strike me if I
don't chuck fer fair after this. Wot'd I come to sea fer—an' this 'ere
go is the worst I ever knew—a baoat no bigger'n a bally
bath-tub, head seas, livin' gyles the clock 'round, wet food, wet
clothes, wet bunks. Caold till, by cricky! I've lost the feel o' mee
feet. An' wat for? For the bloomin' good chanst o' a slug in mee guts.
That's wat for.” At little intervals the little vociferous colonial,
Ally Bazan—he was red-haired and speckled—capered with rage, shaking
But Hardenberg only shifted his cigar to the other corner of his
mouth. He knew Ally Bazan, and knew that the little fellow would have
jeered at the offer of a first-cabin passage back to San Francisco in
the swiftest, surest, steadiest passenger steamer that ever wore paint.
So he remarked: “I ain't ever billed this promenade as a Coney Island
picnic, I guess.”
Nickerson—Slick Dick, the supercargo—was all that Hardenberg, who
captained the schooner, could expect. He never interfered, never
questioned; never protested in the name or interests of the Company
when Hardenberg “hung on” in the bleak, bitter squalls till the
Bertha was rail under and the sails hard as iron.
If it was true that he had once been a Methody revivalist no one, to
quote Alia Bazan, “could a' smelled it off'n him.” He was a
black-bearded, scrawling six-footer, with a voice like a steam siren
and a fist like a sledge. He carried two revolvers, spoke of the
Russians at Point Barrow as the “Boomskys,” and boasted if it came to
that he'd engage to account for two of them, would shove their
heads into their boot-legs and give them the running scrag, by God so
Slowly, laboriously, beset in blinding fogs, swept with, icy rains,
buffeted and mauled and man-handled by the unending assaults of the
sea, the Bertha Millner worked her way northward up that iron
coast—till suddenly she entered an elysium.
Overnight she seemed to have run into it: it was a world of green,
wooded islands, of smooth channels, of warm and steady winds, of
cloudless skies. Coming on deck upon the morning of the Bertha's
first day in this new region, Ally Bazan gazed open-mouthed. Then: “I
s'y!” he yelled. “Hey! By crickey! Look!” He slapped his thighs.
“S'trewth! This is 'eavenly.”
Strokher was smoking his pipe on the hatch combings. “Rather,” he
observed. “An' I put it to you—we've deserved it.”
In the main, however, the northward flitting was uneventful. Every
fifth day Nickerson got drunk—on the Company's Corean champagne. Now
that the weather had sweetened, the Three Black Crows had less to do in
the way of handling and nursing the schooner. Their plans when the
“Boomskys” should be reached were rehearsed over and over again. Then
came spells of card and checker playing, story-telling, or hours of
silent inertia when, man fashion, they brooded over pipes in a patch of
sun, somnolent, the mind empty of all thought.
But at length the air took on a keener tang; there was a bite to the
breeze, the sun lost his savour and the light of him lengthened till
Hardenberg could read off logarithms at ten in the evening. Great-coats
and sweaters were had from the chests, and it was no man's work to reef
when the wind came down from out the north.
Each day now the schooner was drawing nearer the Arctic Circle. At
length snow fell, and two days later they saw their first iceberg.
Hardenberg worked out their position on the chart and bore to the
eastward till he made out the Alaskan coast—a smudge on the horizon.
For another week he kept this in sight, the schooner dodging the bergs
that by now drove by in squadrons, and even bumping and butling through
drift and slush ice.
Seals were plentiful, and Hardenberg and Strokher promptly revived
the quarrel of their respective nations. Once even they slew a mammoth
bull walrus—astray from some northern herd—and played poker for the
tusks. Then suddenly they pulled themselves sharply together, and, as
it were, stood “attention.”
For more than a week the schooner, following the trend of the
far-distant coast, had headed eastward, and now at length, looming out
of the snow and out of the mist, a somber bulwark, black, vast,
ominous, rose the scarps and crags of that which they came so far to
Hardenberg rounded the point, ran in under the lee of the land and
brought out the chart which Ryder had given him. Then he shortened sail
and moved west again till Barrow was “hull down” behind him. To the
north was the Arctic, treacherous, nursing hurricanes, ice-sheathed;
but close aboard, not a quarter of a mile off his counter, stretched a
gray and gloomy land, barren, bleak as a dead planet, inhospitable as
For three days they crawled along the edge keeping their glasses
trained upon every bay, every inlet. Then at length, early one morning,
Ally Bazan, who had been posted at the bows, came scrambling aft to
Hardenberg at the wheel. He was gasping for breath in his excitement.
“Hi! There we are,” he shouted. “O Lord! Oh, I s'y! Now we're in fer
it. That's them! That's them! By the great jumpin' jimminy Christmas,
that's them fer fair! Strike me blind for a bleedin' gutter-cat if it
eyent. O Lord! S'y, I gotta to get drunk. S'y, what-all's the first
jump in the bally game now?”
“Well, the first thing, little man,” observed Hardenberg, “is for
your mother's son to hang the monkey onto the safety-valve. Keep y'r
steam and watch y'r uncle.”
“Scrag the Boomskys,” said Slick Dick encouragingly.
Strokher pulled the left end of his viking mustache with the fingers
of his right hand.
“We must now talk,” he said.
A last conference was held in the cabin, and the various parts of
the comedy rehearsed. Also the three looked to their revolvers.
“Not that I expect a rupture of diplomatic relations,” commented
Strokher; “but if there's any shooting done, as between man and man, I
choose to do it.”
“All understood, then?” asked Hardenberg, looking from face to face.
“There won't be no chance to ask questions once we set foot ashore.”
The others nodded.
It was not difficult to get in with the seven Russian sea-otter
fishermen at the post. Certain of them spoke a macerated English, and
through these Hardenberg, Ally Bazan and Nickerson—Strokher remained
on board to look after the schooner—told to the “Boomskys” a
lamentable tale of the reported wreck of a vessel, described by
Hardenberg, with laborious precision, as a steam whaler from San
Francisco—the Tiber by name, bark-rigged, seven hundred tons
burden, Captain Henry Ward Beecher, mate Mr. James Boss Tweed. They,
the visitors, were the officers of the relief-ship on the lookout for
castaways and survivors.
But in the course of these preliminaries it became necessary to
restrain Nickerson—not yet wholly recovered from a recent incursion
into the store of Corean champagne. It presented itself to his
consideration as facetious to indulge (when speaking to the Russians)
in strange and elaborate distortions of speech.
“And she sunk-avitch in a hundred fathom o' water-owski.”
“—All on board-erewski.”
“—hell of dam' bad storm-onavna.”
And he persisted in the idiocy till Hardenberg found an excuse for
taking him aside and cursing him into a realization of his position.
In the end—inevitably—the schooner's company were invited to dine
at the post.
It was a strange affair—a strange scene. The coast, flat, gray,
dreary beyond all power of expression, lonesome as the interstellar
space, and quite as cold, and in all that limitless vastness of the
World's Edge, two specks—the hut, its three windows streaming with
light, and the tiny schooner rocking in the offing. Over all flared the
pallid incandescence of the auroras.
The Company drank steadily, and Strokher, listening from the
schooner's quarterdeck, heard the shouting and the songs faintly above
the wash and lapping under the counter. Two hours had passed since the
moment he guessed that the feast had been laid. A third went by. He
grew uneasy. There was no cessation of the noise of carousing. He even
fancied he heard pistol shots. Then after a long time the noise by
degrees wore down; a long silence followed. The hut seemed deserted;
nothing stirred; another hour went by.
Then at length Strokher saw a figure emerge from the door of the hut
and come down to the shore. It was Hardenberg. Strokher saw him wave
his arm slowly, now to the left, now to the right, and he took down the
wig-wag as follows: “Stand—in—closer—we—have—the—skins.”
During the course of the next few days Strokher heard the different
versions of the affair in the hut over and over again till he knew its
smallest details. He learned how the “Boomskys” fell upon Ryder's
champagne like wolves upon a wounded buck, how they drank it from
“enameled-ware” coffee-cups, from tin dippers, from the bottles
themselves; how at last they even dispensed with the tedium of removing
the corks and knocked off the heads against the table-ledge and drank
from the splintered bottoms; how they quarreled over the lees and
dregs, how ever and always fresh supplies were forthcoming, and how at
last Hardenberg, Ally Bazan and Slick Dick stood up from the table in
the midst of the seven inert bodies; how they ransacked the place for
the priceless furs; how they failed to locate them; how the conviction
grew that this was the wrong place after all, and how at length
Hardenberg discovered the trap-door that admitted to the cellar, where
in the dim light of the uplifted lanterns they saw, corded in tiny
bales and packages, the costliest furs known to commerce.
Ally Bazan had sobbed in his excitement over that vision and did not
regain the power of articulate speech till the “loot” was safely stowed
in the 'tween-decks and Hardenberg had given order to come about.
“Now,” he had observed dryly, “now, lads, it's Hongkong—or bust.”
The tackle had fouled aloft and the jib hung slatting over the sprit
like a collapsed balloon.
“Cast off up there, Nick!” called Hardenberg from the wheel.
Nickerson swung himself into the rigging, crying out in a mincing
voice as, holding to a rope's end, he swung around to face the receding
hut: “By-bye-skevitch. We've had such a charming evening. Do
hope-sky we'll be able to come again-off.” And as he spoke the lurch of
the Bertha twitched his grip from the rope. He fell some thirty
feet to the deck, and his head carromed against an iron cleat with a
“Here's luck,” observed Hardenberg, twelve hours later, when Slick
Dick, sitting on the edge of his bunk, looked stolidly and with fishy
eyes from face to face. “We wa'n't quite short-handed enough, it
“Dotty for fair. Dotty for fair,” exclaimed Ally Bazan; “clean off
'is nut. I s'y, Dick-ol'-chap, wyke-up, naow. Buck up. Buck up. 'Ave a
But Nickerson could only nod his head and murmur: “A few
more—consequently—and a good light——” Then his voice died down to
“We'll have to call at Juneau,” decided Hardenberg two days later.
“I don't figure on navigating this 'ere bath-tub to no Hongkong
whatsoever, with three hands. We gotta pick up a couple o' A.B.'s in
Juneau, if so be we can.”
“How about the loot?” objected Strokher. “If one of those hands gets
between decks he might smell—a sea-otter, now. I put it to you he
“My son,” said Hardenberg, “I've handled A.B.'s before;” and that
settled the question.
During the first part of the run down, Nickerson gloomed silently
over the schooner, looking curiously about him, now at his comrades'
faces, now at the tumbling gray-green seas, now—and this by the
hour—at his own hands. He seemed perplexed, dazed, trying very hard to
get his bearings. But by and by he appeared, little by little, to come
to himself. One day he pointed to the rigging with an unsteady
forefinger, then, laying the same finger doubtfully upon his lips, said
to Strokher: “A ship?”
“Quite so, quite so, me boy.”
“Yes,” muttered Nickerson absently, “a ship—of course.”
Hardenberg expected to make Juneau on a Thursday. Wednesday
afternoon Slick Dick came to him. He seemed never more master of
himself. “How did I come aboard?” he asked.
“What have we been doing?”
“Why, don't you remember?” continued Hardenberg. He outlined the
voyage in detail. “Then you remember,” he went on, “we got up there to
Point Barrow and found where the Russian fellows had their post, where
they caught sea-otters, and we went ashore and got 'em all full and
lifted all the skins they had——”
“'Lifted'? You mean stole them.”
“Come here,” said the other. Encouraged by Nickerson's apparent
convalescence, Hardenberg decided that the concrete evidence of things
done would prove effective. He led him down into the 'tween-decks. “See
now,” he said. “See this packing-case”—he pried up a board—“see these
'ere skins. Take one in y'r hand. Remember how we found 'em all in the
cellar and hyked 'em out while the beggars slept?”
“Stole them? You say we got—that is you did—got
somebody intoxicated and stole their property, and now you are on your
way to dispose of it.”
“Oh, well, if you want to put it thataway. Sure we did.”
“I understand——Well——Let's go back on deck. I want to think this
The Bertha Millner crept into the harbour of Juneau in a fog,
with ships' bells tolling on every side, let go her anchor at last in
desperation and lay up to wait for the lifting. When this came the
Three Crows looked at one another wide-eyed. They made out the drenched
town and the dripping hills behind it. The quays, the custom house, the
one hotel, and the few ships in the harbour. There were a couple of
whalers from 'Frisco, a white, showily painted passenger boat from the
same port, a Norwegian bark, and a freighter from Seattle grimy with
coal-dust. These, however, the Bertha's company ignored. Another
boat claimed all their attention. In the fog they had let go not a
pistol-shot from her anchorage. She lay practically beside them. She
was the United States revenue cutter Bear.
“But so long as they can't smell sea-otter skin,” remarked
Hardenberg, “I don't know that we're any the worse.”
“All the syme,” observed Ally Bazan, “I don't want to lose no
bloomin' tyme a-pecking up aour bloomin' A.B.'s.”
“I'll stay aboard and tend the baby,” said Hardenberg with a wink.
“You two move along ashore and get what you can—Scoovies for choice.
Take Slick Dick with you. I reckon a change o' air might buck him up.”
When the three had gone, Hardenberg, after writing up the painfully
doctored log, set to work to finish a task on which the adventurers had
been engaged in their leisure moments since leaving Point Barrow. This
was the counting and sorting of the skins. The packing-case had been
broken open, and the scanty but precious contents littered an
improvised table in the hold. Pen in hand, Hardenberg counted and
ciphered and counted again. He could not forbear a chuckle when the net
result was reached. The lot of the skins—the pelt of the sea-otter is
ridiculously small in proportion to its value—was no heavy load for
the average man. But Hardenberg knew that once the “loot” was safely
landed at the Hongkong pierhead the Three Crows would share between
them close upon ten thousand dollars. Even—if they had luck, and could
dispose of the skins singly or in small lots—that figure might be
“And I call it a neat turn,” observed Hardenberg. He was aroused by
the noise of hurried feet upon the deck, and there was that in their
sound that brought him upright in a second, hand on hip. Then, after a
second, he jumped out on deck to meet Ally Bazan and Strokher, who had
just scrambled over the rail.
“Bust. B-u-s-t!” remarked the Englishman.
“'Ere's 'ell to pay,” cried Ally Bazan in a hoarse whisper, glancing
over at the revenue cutter.
“Where's Nickerson?” demanded Hardenberg.
“That's it,” answered the colonial. “That's where it's 'ell. Listen
naow. He goes ashore along o' us, quiet and peaceable like, never
battin' a eye, we givin' him a bit o' jolly, y' know, to keep him
chirked up as ye might s'y. But so soon as ever he sets foot on shore,
abaout faice he gaoes, plumb into the Custom's orfice. I s'ys, 'Wot all
naow, messmite? Come along aout o' that.' But he turns on me like a
bloomin' babby an s'ys he: 'Hands orf, wretch!' Ay, them's just his
words. Just like that, 'Hands orf, wretch!' And then he nips into the
orfice an' marches fair up to the desk an' sy's like this—we heerd
him, havin' followed on to the door—he s'ys, just like this:
“'Orfficer, I am a min'ster o' the gospel, o' the Methodis'
denomineye-tion, an' I'm deteyined agin my will along o' a pirate ship
which has robbed certain parties o' val-able goods. Which syme I'm
pre-pared to attest afore a no'try publick, an' lodge informeye-tion o'
crime. An',' s'ys he, 'I demand the protection o' the authorities an'
arsk to be directed to the American consul.'
“S'y, we never wyted to hear no more, but hyked awye hot foot. S'y,
wot all now. Oh, mee Gord! eyen't it a rum gao for fair? S'y, let's get
aout o' here, Hardy, dear.”
“Look there,” said Hardenberg, jerking his head toward the cutter,
“how far'd we get before the customs would 'a' passed the tip to her
and she'd started to overhaul us? That's what they feed her for—to
round up the likes o' us.”
“We got to do something rather soon,” put in Strokher. “Here comes
the custom house dinghy now.”
As a matter of fact, a boat was putting off from the dock. At her
stern fluttered the custom house flag.
“Bitched—bitched for fair!” cried Ally Bazan.
[Illustration: “'ERE'S 'ELL TO PAY!”
From a drawing by Lucius Hitchcock Courtesy of Collier's Weekly.]
“Quick, now!” exclaimed Hardenberg. “On the jump! Overboard with
that loot!—or no. Steady! That won't do. There's that dam' cutter.
They'd see it go. Here!—into the galley. There's a fire in the stove.
Get a move on!”
“Wot!” wailed Ally Bazan. “Burn the little joker. Gord, I can't,
Hardy, I can't. It's agin human nature.”
“You can do time in San Quentin, then, for felony,” retorted
Strokher as he and Hardenberg dashed by him, their arms full of the
skins. “You can do time in San Quentin else. Make your choice. I put it
to you as between man and man.”
With set teeth, and ever and again glancing over the rail at the
oncoming boat, the two fed their fortune to the fire. The pelts,
partially cured and still fatty, blazed like crude oil, the hair
crisping, the hides melting into rivulets of grease. For a minute the
schooner reeked of the smell and a stifling smoke poured from the
galley stack. Then the embers of the fire guttered and a long whiff of
sea wind blew away the reek. A single skin, fallen in the scramble,
still remained on the floor of the galley. Hardenberg snatched it up,
tossed it into the flames and clapped the door to. “Now, let him
squeal,” he declared. “You fellows, when that boat gets here, let me
talk; keep your mouths shut or, by God, we'll all wear stripes.”
The Three Crows watched the boat's approach in a silence broken only
once by a long whimper from Ally Bazan. “An' it was a-workin' out as
lovely as Billy-oh,” he said, “till that syme underbred costermonger's
swipe remembered he was Methody—an' him who, only a few d'ys back,
went raound s'yin' 'scrag the “Boomskys”!' A couple o' thousand pounds
gone as quick as look at it. Oh, I eyn't never goin' to git over this.”
The boat came up and the Three Crows were puzzled to note that no
brass-buttoned personage sat in the stern-sheets, no harbour police
glowered at them from the bow, no officer of the law fixed them with
the eye of suspicion. The boat was manned only by a couple of
freight-handlers in woolen Jerseys, upon the breasts of which were
affixed the two letters “C.H.”
“Say,” called one of the freight-handlers, “is this the Bertha
“Yes,” answered Hardenberg, his voice at a growl. “An' what might
you want with her, my friend?”
“Well, look here,” said the other, “one of your hands came ashore
mad as a coot and broke into the house of the American Consul, and
resisted arrest and raised hell generally. The inspector says you got
to send a provost guard or something ashore to take him off. There's
been several mix-ups among ships' crews lately and the town——”
The tide drifted the boat out of hearing, and Hardenberg sat down on
the capstan head, turning his back to his comrades. There was a long
silence. Then he said:
“Boys, let's go home. I—I want to have a talk with President