Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Cruise of the Jackdaw

The Cruise of the Jackdaw

By Laurie York Erskine

Illustrated by Frank E. Schoonover

From American Boy 1934 October. Digital Conversion by Doug Frizzle 2008 June

Mounted police must travel far. Renfrew takes harsh trail over mountains to sudden battle.

RENFREW stood beside the little conning tower that sheltered the pilot of the motor boat and leveled his glasses upon the distant sailing craft. After a long look, he spoke very thoughtfully through the open window to Irwin Brewster at the wheel.

"Is your friend's vessel a two-masted auxiliary schooner with an oversized deck house in the stern?" he asked.

"I don't know," grinned Brewster. "All I know about it is the name—the Jackdaw."

"Can't be sure of the name," said Renfrew, "but that deck house looks like work in the North."

Then the keen-eyed Mounted officer stood for a moment gazing speculatively at the square-jawed but sensitive face of young Brewster, a comparatively new acquaintance. Renfrew had an idea that it was an unusual brand of friendship which had brought Brewster north on this trip.

"I don't think that's Buck's boat," said Brewster. "He said he'd wait for me at Wrangel."

Renfrew smiled slowly. "You know," he said, "I'm enjoying this cruise a lot, and I appreciate your asking me to come along. It makes a swell vacation."

Brewster gazed straight ahead. "I'm certainly glad to have you along," he said.

"But why?" asked Renfrew.

"Why not?" grinned Brewster.

"Well, it may be none of my business, but I've got a pretty good idea that when you started on this cruise to meet your friend, you wanted somebody to go along who'd be something more than just a companion."

"How—something more?" Brewster's eyes seemed glued to the sunlit water ahead.

"Well, a policeman, for instance."

Brewster turned and looked squarely at Renfrew. "What makes you think that?" he asked.

"That schooner," said Renfrew, "is the Jackdaw— and she's in trouble."

"Give me the glasses!" cried Brewster.

Renfrew watched him as he scanned the distant vessel.

"Looks all right to me," Brewster said, lowering the glasses.

"But sort of lonely," said Renfrew. "There's no one aboard—unless they're asleep or dead."

"That's so!" exclaimed Brewster.

"You expected trouble?" pressed Renfrew.

"No—no," jerked Brewster. "But I wanted to be sure."

"What was the matter?"

"Well, take Buck's name. The rest of it's Garrity —Buck Garrity. Doesn't that mean anything to you? Buck Garrity, of Portland, Oregon."

"Buck Garrity, of Portland? Of course. He was a big bootlegger two years ago. And a racketeer. He disappeared. They put him down as murdered in a gang war, didn't they?"

"Yes. But he wasn't. He went North."

"So you knew him well?"

"Yes. He used to drive one of our trucks. One summer Dad put me on the route with him, and we got to liking each other a lot. Buck's such a friendly, energetic, generous guy you couldn't help liking him. I hated to see him go into the bootlegging business."

"How did it happen?" Renfrew asked.

"Buck's father died," Brewster frowned, "and Buck was left with a tow-headed kid brother on his hands. Frank was a grand little kid, keen and game, but there was something the matter with his spine. Buck was bound he'd get him patched up and he did, but it cost like blazes. Buck went into the bootlegging racket to get the money. Then he got deeper and deeper into it until he was the top man in Portland. He was really the head of the Fulger brothers' gang. He made money all right."

"And enemies, too?"

"Sure, but what ruined Buck as a gangster was his young brother. Frank shot up suddenly—got tall and broad-shouldered, though he kept his tow hair and his quick grin. He was nuts about Buck but hot-headed and hard to manage. Once he flared up because Buck said he couldn't have the car and buzzed off with it right under Buck's nose and was gone for a week—went on a trip and had a good time. But when he blew back home and found Buck down with the flu, he ran himself ragged taking care of him. Crazy kid—the kind that keeps you uneasy."

"I've known that kind," murmured Renfrew. "But how did Frank ruin Buck's career as a gangster?"

"Well, you see Buck worried about him and finally decided to send him to a first-class private school. And he did. But the kid only stayed there until they found out who his brother was. Then the school fired him. That happened four or five times, until it got so that Buck couldn't look Frank in the face.

At last Buck came to me about it, and I told him the truth."

Brewster grinned but his eyes were sober.

"He took it, all right," he continued. "He turned everything he owned into cash and dumped it in a church poor box. He said that neither he nor the kid was going to use any more dishonest money. Then Dad staked him to this schooner and he set out secretly for the North to make his fortune."

"Why secretly?"

"Because of the Fulgers. They hated him because he could run them, and of course they couldn't believe he was throwing over the racket. They thought he'd turned against them. All he could do was disappear."

"And what happened to Frank?"

"That's the crux of the matter. That's why I wanted you along. Buck left Frank in Dad's care, but after Buck had been gone a few months Frank got out of hand. Dad isn't used to a kid like that, and until just lately our business took me out of town a lot, and I couldn't keep an eye on him. So things went wrong. Frank left school last year when he was seventeen, and got running with the Fulgers. Got to driving a truck for them, and then moved up to Seattle, where they've got warehouses. Last month I got a letter from Buck saying he'd made his pile and was coming down from the North. He asked me to bring Frank up to meet him."

Irwin Brewster stopped short, frowning at the schooner which, with flapping sails, lazily drifted toward them. Then he added abruptly: "You can see the hole it puts me in."

"You don't mean you're afraid of Buck Garrity?"

"No. I'm afraid for him."

"Of what the Fulgers will do?"

"No. Can't you see? Buck Garrity's a prince, but he's got the temper of a fighting bull. When he finds out now, after all he's gone through for Frank's sake, that Redeye and Bosco Fulger have taken the kid over and made a racketeer out of him, he'll go wild. It'll ruin him. He won't stop short of murder—and, well, he won't stop short. I thought if I had somebody like you along who knows men, good and bad — and kids—well, I thought maybe you could smooth things out."

Renfrew picked up the glasses and leveled them again upon the nearing schooner.

"I can try," he said. "She's the Jackdaw, all right."

Another twenty-five minutes saw the motor boat alongside the drifting Jackdaw. Renfrew shut off the engines and leaped to the schooner's deck as Brewster plied the wheel. Then, with the motor boat lashed fast to the sailing vessel, the two young men made an inspection.

The deck of the schooner was neat and tidy except for one thing. The woodwork that had apparently risen above the deck line to shelter the small fo'c'stle had been ripped away, uncovering the bunk room below. Splinters and fragments of wood lay scattered about the opening.

"Traveling light," said Renfrew, from the depths of the fo'c'stle. "These bunks haven't been used."

Then he descended a hatchway in the waist of the schooner and ascended to report the small auxiliary engine out of order.

"She's been tampered with," he said. "And the small boat's gone. Let's have a look at the after house."

The high, clumsily built deck house in the stern had an air of mystery and loneliness. It was a cabin divided into three rooms. Two of them, opening off a tiny vestibule, contained each two narrow bunks. In one room both bunks showed signs of use, one being neatly made up, the other in the disorder of a bed abruptly abandoned. The second small room had obviously been used as a dining room.

The third room was a living room, sparsely furnished. In it a rugged young man with a thatch of brown hair sat erect in a straight-armed office chair. He faced a table littered with worn playing cards, and stared fixedly before him. Renfrew and Brewster gazed at him fascinated. . . . He was dead.

"It's Buck!" Brewster barely whispered.

Swiftly, expertly, Renfrew made his examination. He turned a puzzled gaze on Brewster, who stood watching, tight-mouthed.

"No violence," he said. "It looks like' heart failure."

"But what about the boat?" jerked Brewster. "Where's the crew?"

"We'll have to find out what we can," Renfrew said. "Meanwhile we'll make for Prince Rupert."

While Brewster's motor boat slowly towed the Jackdaw toward Prince Rupert, Renfrew explored the deserted schooner. In the evening, during their brief dinner, he explained his findings to Brewster.

"As far as I can make out," he said, "Buck Garrity set sail from Seward with a crew of only one man. Anyway, everything aboard suggests that only two men have used the boat for most of the trip. Yet the arrangement of chairs in the cabin and the tearing out of that deck house for'ard indicate that more than one man may have been with Garrity."

"You mean somebody came aboard? Later?"

"I can't tell. Of course, Garrity and his single man may have torn out that deck house, but it doesn't seem reasonable."

"Well, whoever it was, why did they abandon the ship?"

"That's an easier one. Garrity had a treasure aboard. Furs. There must be a thousand furs stowed away in the hold."

"You mean they're left there? But—"

"Only fifth-rate pelts are left —all lying in heaps. Buck Garrity probably had a fortune in fine furs—silver fox, marten, ermine and so on—and whoever was with him when he died made off with the cream of the catch in the small boat."

"And the wrecked deck house?"

"That's a mystery to me. Also the cause of death."

"I suppose it was heart failure. Then Buck's hired man took the furs and beat it."

"We'll check on that."

"How?"

"Ask the hired man. After we deliver the Jackdaw at Rupert, we'll run up to Wrangel. If Buck put in there, our man will have landed somewhere below, to the south. He can't live on furs, and he'll leave a clear trail behind him."

"I hope so," growled Brewster. "All we can do for Buck now is to save the fortune he fought to make for that fool kid."

Three days later Irwin Brewster's motor boat picked its way up the narrow inlet between Revillagigedo Island and the mainland, and stopped at a fishing village that Renfrew had learned about in a surveyors' camp farther down the coast. This village was inhabited chiefly by Indians, who were much puzzled and not a little impressed by Renfrew's air of cold authority.

How did this white man know all about the strange visitors who had come ashore in the night on a raft? And how did he know that these strangers had traded five fox furs for an outfit to take them inland?

Well, Renfrew didn't. All he knew was that on the beach below the village were the remains of a raft made of planks that might have been torn from a deck house, and that important parts of the raft consisted of two life buoys bearing the word Jackdaw. With that much to go on, he was able to convince the Indians that he knew a great deal more, but much of his knowledge came from their own lips. He related what he had learned to Brewster that evening as they drank coffee in the cozy little motor boat cabin.

"Six nights ago," he said, "two men landed here on that raft. One was big and bearded with black hair and dark eyes; the other was blue-eyed and very young, with no beard and fair, curly hair."

Irwin Brewster frowned. "That sounds like Frank," he said. "Did the crazy kid go loco because he thought Buck had deserted him, and decide to throw in with the Fulgers to get even with Buck?"

"We'll find out. They traded some furs here for an outfit that included horses— two saddle animals and two pack animals. They're heading into the interior, probably across the Stikines to the headwaters of the Liard. It's a hard trail, but they can dispose of the furs at Fort Nelson, and avoid being linked up with the Jackdaw."

Brewster's mouth set itself. "We'll follow them."

"As soon as we can make up an outfit in the morning," said Renfrew.

The next morning they somewhat regretfully traded Brewster's staunch little motor boat to the Indians for the horses and supplies they needed, and rode off along the trail that twisted into the heavily wooded mountains.

Irwin Brewster was all for traveling fast, but Renfrew dissuaded him.

"Our men can't shake us off," he said, "if we keep our horses fresh. It's a tough trail, and they're probably green to this kind of travel. They'll waste time. We may come up with them before we reach the Liard."

They put in ten days of steady journeying over a trail that tunneled through seemingly impenetrable wilderness, wound up narrow, rocky paths so precarious as to threaten black calamity if a horse stumbled, and twisted on up onto barren highlands and glacial mountain sides where it seemed to disappear in fields of unmarked rock. But Renfrew always found it again; and found, too, cleverly chosen pasture lands from which the horses would not stray far in the night; and water holes where no water seemed near.

Brewster learned from him how to gauge the condition of the men they followed. From abandoned encampments Brewster learned that the fugitives were eating less hearty meals; that two of their horses had gone lame; that the men had lost an ax and run short of bacon. He learned finally, by the condition of a camp fire's embers, that he and Renfrew were not more than twenty-four hours behind the fugitives.

On the tenth day they glimpsed the Liard winding through the rugged wilderness a thousand feet below them. They plunged down into that wilderness to push on and on through rocky gorges and steep ravines. On the twelfth day they came within hearing of a distant, persistent rumble.

"That's the canyon of the Liard," said Renfrew.

The thunder of the river increased, and at last they saw it—a narrow chute, formed by steep cliffs through which the river boiled and tumbled.

Renfrew found faint tracks in a rocky side trail leading down to the store at the landing above the head of the rapids, but there were more tracks in the main trail, which followed the ledges above the canyon. It seemed probable that the men had gone, down to the store, returned and gone on. Renfrew and Brewster set out on the rough main trail.

They had to ride slowly, and persisted at the toilsome journey after sunset had thrown the rocky, forested country into a maze of long shadows. It was as they approached a harsh, fortlike shoulder of rock commanding the trail from an eminence to the left that calamity befell them. It came with a screaming voice that was intermingled with a sharp report.

Irwin Brewster reeled in his saddle. There was a confusion of plunging horses. A second sharp report, and another bullet squealed past Renfrew. He leaped from the saddle and sprang to Brewster's side in time to ease him to the ground.

"From that rock!" groaned Brewster, and collapsed.

Renfrew dragged him into the brush, finding cover among the bowlders. There was no further demonstration from the rock.

Protected both by the bowlders and by the swiftly deepening dusk, Renfrew stripped away young Brewster's clothing and examined him. Fortunately, the bullet had merely glanced across Brewster's ribs on his right side, plowing a painful but superficial pathway through the flesh.

"It hit the saddle horn," explained Brewster, as Renfrew plied first aid beside an ice cold spring. "It glanced off. Nearly scared me to death, though."

"Before morning you'll wish it had," grinned Renfrew. "When that wound stiffens up you'll feel as if you'd been flayed alive."

He made Brewster comfortable and then, in the darkness, set about finding their horses. He moved warily, for the unknown enemy might also have an interest in finding those horses.

He located the animals by circling and listening, and managed to approach without alarming them. He unpacked and unsaddled them, made a pack of what duffle he needed, carefully concealed the rest, and then quietly herded the horses to a more remote pasture. This done, he worked his way back to Brewster.

At dawn Renfrew looked upon his encampment and found it good. Lost in a waste of chaotic rocky barriers, and thick walls of spruce, the camp by the spring was effectively hidden. Without building a fire, they breakfasted on a paste of oatmeal and canned milk, washed down with cold water. Then Renfrew made Brewster as comfortable as possible for a long stay alone, and prepared to hunt the men who were hunting them.

"All right?" he asked Brewster.

"Fine," said young Brewster, but his eyes were somber.

"Sleep all you can," Renfrew advised him.

"Better than thinking, eh?" Young Brewster grinned faintly. "Guess you're right—only I dream. About Buck. And that crazy kid. If I'd only been at home, I could have kept Frank from getting mixed up with the Fulgers. But no matter what happens, I'll stand by him now."

"Yes," said Renfrew. "Of course. Now shut up and count sheep till you drop off."

He moved warily out of their shelter. For armament he carried his service revolver and a number of rounds of ammunition. His rifle he had left with Brewster. He was acutely aware as he moved toward the shoulder of rock from which the shots had been fired that if the men he was seeking should see him first, they would doubtless fire without hesitation. He moved with the utmost caution.

Because of this it was high noon before he reached the fortress of rock. He descended upon it from the rear, and it was an hour later when he left it, with two ejected cartridge cases in his pocket and a few laboriously acquired clews in his mind's eye. The rest was a matter of trailing.

In that rocky, littered country, a man's passing left few signs. But Renfrew had discerned a striking peculiarity in the man he trailed—the man was lame. Thus there were acclivities up which the man had dragged himself, occasionally leaving broken undergrowth, leaving here a button from his shirt, and in another place some shreds of worsted. Renfrew followed, losing the trail completely from time to time, beating backward and forward to find it again, haunted always by the realization that he was an open target for any watchful, malignant eye.

As the trail he was following led farther and farther away from the portage trail, Renfrew heard the unceasing roar of the rapids increase. At last he found himself, toward evening, on a high wooded plateau that edged the cliff above the rapids. He moved very softly now, knowing himself to be near the man he sought—and yet he was surprised when he came upon him.

He emerged from a thick tangle of evergreen into a grove of pines and saw only a few feet away a man who sat leaning back against a tree with one clumsily bandaged leg outstretched before him and the other leg crooked beneath it. A rifle lay across the man's thighs, and he was fast asleep.

Renfrew studied him. He was young, with fair hair that fell, matted, about his forehead. His face was grimy and masked by several days' growth of beard. Near his tree was a bed of blankets and a fire with some scattered duffle. A great pile of duffle lay at a distance, on the very edge of the cliff.

Because of the thundering river, Renfrew was able to cross to the sleeper without awakening him. He snatched the rifle from the sleeper's lap. The young man awoke and plunged forward. Then, with a cry of pain he relaxed again, tears of anguish welling into his eyes. Renfrew saw him turn pale under the grime.

"Better lie still," advised Renfrew. "I'm an officer of the Mounted Police." He showed his badge.

To his surprise, the face of the young man suddenly shone with sheer gladness.

"Oh, my lord!" he cried. "I was praying for a square deal, and I got it!" With an effort, he pulled himself up so that he sat erect.

"Look!" he gasped. "We got to get moving! My foot's smashed to a pulp, and they're after me. They're close! I shot one of 'em last night. But I think I missed the other one. They'll be here! And I'm done! I'm through! You've got to get me away."

Renfrew smiled with grim humor. "You didn't hit either of 'em," he said. "Who are you?"

"Garrity," said the young man. "Frank Garrity. I'm—lord, I've made a mess of it!"

"How did you get here?" demanded Renfrew. "Who are these men you're trying to avoid?"

"The Fulgers — Redeye and Bosco. They followed me up. I went to meet my brother up at Seward, and I got Peterson to take me up on his whaling boat. I thought he was a friend of mine, but he works in with the Fulgers. He must have told them. He was the only man in Portland who knew that Buck was going to stop at Wrangel, and that he had a load of furs."

"They came aboard your boat at Wrangel?"

"Yes. Say, you seem to know a lot about it."

"I do. I was coming up with Irwin Brewster to meet your brother at Wrangel."

"Oh, you're the guy Irwin was bringing up? Well, that's what ruined us, I guess. Buck knew Irwin was going to meet him, and that he was bringing along a friend; so when the Fulgers turned up at Wrangel he agreed to give 'em a lift down the coast."

"They fooled him?"

"No. He knew why they had come all right, but he wasn't afraid of them, and he knew you were on the way. But you didn't come soon enough."

"What happened?"

"All I know is that they were sitting in there with Buck, drinking and playing cards. I'd gone to bed. Then I woke up and they were holding me down with a pad over my face. Chloroform. I passed out. When I came to, I heard them moving in the stern. I scouted around and saw Buck, asleep at the table in the cabin."

"Asleep!" thought Renfrew. "Poor kid."

Frank Garrity was going on: "I spied on Redeye and Bosco then and saw they were loading the boat with Buck's furs. They came back to the cabin and started drinking again, and I lay there and thought fast. They had Buck and me in bad shape. Once they got away with that boat load we'd have a hot time laying hold of 'em. And then I saw that if that happened, Buck would go gunning for them. I couldn't stand that! Buck was out of the racket. He'd gone up North and lived like a dog to get back on his feet honestly. He'd risked his life up there. He nearly died of starvation once, and he was lost once and near frozen. But he'd made his pile and come through. Now, if he went gunning for these rats —see?"

Renfrew nodded. "Yes," he said, "I see. But if you understood all that, how was it you left Irwin Brewster's father and joined up with the Fulgers?"

"Oh, that? I did that because I got the rumor that they were out to put Buck on the spot. I wanted to know what they were doing."

"Then while they drank in the cabin you took the boat and made for Wrangel?"

"That's right. I thought Buck could take care of himself, with you fellows coming. But I wanted to get the furs out of their hands."

"Why didn't you stay at Wrangel?"

"Because I doped out that they'd follow me, having the ship. So I traded some of the furs for an outfit and tried to make Fort Nelson overland. That was a fool thing to do. They told me so back at Wrangel, but I thought I knew better. I lost the horses and lost two days looking for them. I lost the trail about a dozen times. I smashed my foot, and I'm out of food. And they're following me. They're sure to be. They must be near now. They had the ship, see?"

"But before you left they'd busted the engine. They went ashore though, all right—made themselves a raft. I've been following them."

Frank Garrity pulled himself up until he stood on one leg, Renfrew supporting him.

"They'll find us," gasped the boy. "There's a trail up here from the landing."

He stumbled toward the pile of duffle near the cliff.

"What are you going to do?" asked Renfrew.

"Stick around this pack of furs until we get going. Buck risked everything to make this pile, and before I let those rats get it, I'll dump it into the river." He stared at Renfrew appealingly. "You'll get the horses, won't you?" he asked.

Suddenly Renfrew stepped close to him.

"Not now," he whispered. "Someone coming!" And with the rifle still in his hand he leaped to get his back to the cliff and face the direction from which he had heard the betraying scuffle of a boot on loose rock. A figure appeared in the thick spruce, hesitated, and emerged, not seeing Renfrew, to level the muzzle of a rifle upon Frank Garrity, who stood close to the fire.

Without hesitation Renfrew fired into the air and rapped out the command: "Drop that gun! Quick!"

The tall, black-bearded intruder swung his rifle toward the unexpected menace, realized the futility of the move, dropped the rifle, and raised his hands high.

"You're under arrest!" snapped Renfrew, conscious of the fact that without doubt still another Fulger lurked near, probably covering him with a rifle quite as deadly as his own. "I'm of the Mounted Police. Walk three paces forward, please."

With a disconcerting leer, Fulger stepped forward.

"Can you get that rifle, Frank?" asked Renfrew.

But Frank stood rigid, staring at a man who had risen from below the cliff at Renfrew's back.

"You're covered from the rear!" he cried.

Nothing of Renfrew moved. The rifle never wavered from its command of Fulger's chest. Renfrew's eyes remained fixed upon Fulger's leering face. But a great exuberance of spirit seemed to flow through the officer's body, vitalizing it with a queer alertness as he regarded Fulger.

"If he fires," snapped Renfrew, "you die!"

He saw the leering Fulger turn pale and falter backward. Then he saw Frank Garrity hurl himself forward, clutching at an invisible enemy. Instantly he himself leaped forward, jammed the muzzle of his rifle against Fulger's body, and swung him round in time to see a fair, short demon, struggling to wrest from Frank a rifle to which the boy was clinging with all his strength.

The broken foot that had made Bosco Fulger think Frank out of the reckoning gave the gangster an advantage that he used with sickening ruthlessness. Madly he hurled the wounded boy about, twisting and thrashing with the rifle so that every tug and twist threw Frank's weight upon the injured foot. Frank cried out with pain and rage, but never loosed his hold.

"Let go!" cried Renfrew, knowing himself helpless with the boy's body between him and the enemy.

But at that instant Bosco Fulger lost his footing. The rifle turned in his grasp, and Frank with a great cry yanked it savagely toward him. Bosco Fulger threw himself backward against that savage tug and Frank saw his chance. With all his might, he drove his bandaged, broken foot straight against Bosco's chest—it was a terrific blow, delivered with all the strength of a powerful leg. And the next instant Frank let go of the rifle!

With a shriek Bosco Fulger hurtled backward, seemed to hang poised for an instant on the rim of the cliff with the rifle above his head, and then fell from sight. But Frank did not see him fall, for the boy let go the rifle because with the delivery of that terrific kick with his frightfully damaged foot, he had fainted. . . .

Two wounded men and a prisoner are not restful companions on such a trail as Renfrew had to travel back to Wrangel. But with the help of some Indians he engaged at the river landing, he got his difficult little party safely through the long, painful trek.

It was beside their last evening camp fire that Frank suddenly stumbled into halting speech.

"I've learned lots about trail travel from you," he said to Renfrew. "Lots. But that's not all. What I've learned from you and Irwin here—and Buck— about steering straight at any cost and seeing the other fellow through, no matter what—well, I hope I've learned it, that's all." He turned savagely on Irwin Brewster. "If I ever get any more crazy kid notions, will you knock my head off?"

"Be glad to," growled Brewster, but Renfrew saw his hand grip the boy's knee.

The End

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.