Tuesday, 15 December 2009

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them


This is the first story from Verrill that I have found that mentions Nova Scotia where we live.

Verrill's 'Sea Stories' were published in the 1920s, when Verrill lived in The Endicott Hotel in NYC, a notorious home to mobsters. The hotel became a upscale condominium in the 1990s.



And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

By A. Hyatt Verrill

From Sea Stories Magazine, 1923 April. Digital capture by Philip Bolton Jr., Betty Paulos and Doug Frizzle 2009, December.

The motives that prompt sailormen to engage in the illegal business of smuggling forbidden liquors into the United States are the same as the motives for all other smuggling. Men in all ages have been tempted by easily-attained riches to break the customs laws and sumptuary laws, and, it must be said, have been hindered little by conscience, though they might strictly and willingly follow the laws dealing with other crimes—the crimes specifically named in the Decalogue. One is inclined to think that all possible emotions and situations in smuggling have been written about in the centuries that writers have been dealing with the subject. Yet here is a story with a new situation. It seems unlike any “rum-running” story we have ever read.

“So that’s the graft, eh?” rumbled Captain Carmichael as he straightened up in his chair and gazed from under bushy brows at the overdressed, florid-faced man across the little table. “Want me to run a cargo of booze and risk my ship and the calaboose or a fine for me and me men for five thousand while you set back safe and sound and pocket the profits. No, mister, nothing doing.”

“Got cold feet or too law-abiding?” sneered the other.

Carmichael’s eyes flashed, his lips set in a hard line and one huge fist clenched as he half rose. Then he settled back. “Cold feet, hell!” he burst out. “No one never said Jerry Carmichael got cold feet yet without being derned sorry he spoke; and as for the law—any fool law like this dry business was made to be broke. No, mister, game ain’t worth the candle, that’s all.”

“Maybe we might sweeten the kitty a bit if that’s all,” suggested the other man. “Would ten grand tempt you?”

For a space the bull-necked, deep-chested seaman studied his companion thoughtfully. Then: “Say,” he ejaculated, “you fellows make me tired. You think you’re some pumpkins, but you don’t know no more about running in contraband than a suckling babe. You’re a bunch of pikers and dumb fools besides.

“You send a schooner down to load hootch in the Bahamas and you know blamed well Nassau’s full of spies and every keg and case you put aboard’s checked off, and then the craft sails north with faked papers and sneaks up the coast and lays to twelve or fifteen mile off shore, just advertising she’s crooked, and then a towboat or a launch goes off making enough racket to wake old Davy Jones and you get chased and catched or have a gun fight or maybe land a few hundred cases and clean up a few thousand and call it business.

“No, mister, my motter’s ‘a thing what’s worth doing at all’s worth doing well’ and you might’s well die for a sheep as a lamb. The fine ain’t no bigger if you bring in a thousand cases than if you bring in one, and big deals are what pays.”

The other snorted. “If you’re such a wise guy why don’t you do it?” he demanded. “Reckon from what I’ve heard of you you’ve had some experience running contraband before now. It would pay you a lot better than running that old schooner of yours with cargoes of lumber and coal.”

“Why don’t I!” retorted the skipper. “’Cause I ain’t got capital to swing it. Booze costs money—even where it’s made—but, by glory, if I had the backing I could bring in the Ella May full to the hatches and land it in broad daylight on a New York dock with the customs watching of me!”

The florid-faced man shot a keen, searching glance at the rugged, heavy-jawed captain and intense interest showed in every feature. “Look here,” he exclaimed, lowering his voice and casting a swift, furtive glance about the dingy water-front café. “Maybe we can do business after all, cap. Tell me the lay and if it listens good the money’s easy.”

Carmichael laughed derisively. “Think I was born yesterday, eh?” he jeered. Then, before the other could reply, he continued: “Guess ‘twon’t do no harm though. You couldn’t do it without me and”—he leaned forward and his teeth snapped together—“if you try any monkey business with Jerry Carmichael you’ll wish to the Lord you was safe in jail.”

For the next ten minutes the seaman spoke earnestly in hoarse whispers, and as he talked the other’s eyes sparkled, a knowing grin spread over his coarse features and he nodded approvingly from time to time.

“Damned if I don’t think you can put it over!” he cried enthusiastically as Carmichael finished. “But it’s going to cost a pile of money.”

“’Course ‘tis,” agreed the captain. “Didn’t I tell you that’s why I couldn’t swing it—and needs organization, too. You’ve got both and I’ve got the ship and the know how. Make it a fifty-fifty deal and I’ll put it through and no risk to you, either. All you got to do is hire a office like I said; hang out your sign—West Indian Trading Company, or any such name—‘tend to the cables and papers and dig up the cash. Leave the rest to me.”

For a time the other remained silent, thinking deeply, going over the captain’s plan in detail in his mind, trying to discover some fault, some flaw, some remote contingency that might lead to discovery and disaster. But he could find none. The scheme was so open, so frank, that he could see no possible cause for suspicion and, if it worked—as he felt it must—it would mean a fortune and the biggest cargo of liquor ever smuggled into the United States. And there was no reason why it should not be repeated indefinitely.

The possibilities were staggering. He and his friends would literally be the kings of the bootleggers and could force out all competition. But why had no one ever thought of it before? There were plenty of unprincipled ship masters and owners fully as smart and as scheming as the Nova Scotia man before him, and this thought made him cautious.

“Why hasn’t some one else tried it?” he demanded.

“Hell, how do you know they ain’t?” retorted the captain. “But there ain’t none of them done it big or you’d ‘a’ heard of it, I guess. Maybe they’ve thought of it but didn’t have the cash, like as I didn’t, and then again, maybe they ain’t. Why don’t you ask why some one didn’t think of steamboats aside from Fulton, or half a dozen fellows think of electric lights? Mister, some one’s got to be the first to think up something new.”

“H’m, that’s so,” admitted the other, “and the first one’s the guy that makes the cleanup. Sure about that place where you can transship?”

“Do you think I’m crazy or just drunk?” snorted the other. “Course I’m sure. Not sighted once a century by no ships. Why it ain’t even down on most maps.”

“Well, I can’t see any chance for a slip,” admitted the florid-faced man at last. “How long will it take to get it here?”

Carmichael pondered, wrinkled his heavy brows and drew a stubby pencil and a crumpled paper from his pocket and figured for a few moments.

“Allowing three days for you to get that office and things fixed up and get them cables off and allowing three weeks to get the orders filled and delivered, and two weeks to me to load, I’d ought to be steering north’ard course in about six weeks. With fair weather I’d make Sandy Hook inside two months from the time I clear from New York.”

“Good enough!” exclaimed his companion, “I’m with you, Carmichael. How soon can you clear?”

“I got an offer of cargo now,” replied the skipper. “I can close to-day and have it under hatches in forty-eight hours.”

“Fine! And how much ready cash’ll you want to handle your end of it?”

“Just about the figure you named a spell back for risking my ship and my reputation to run in a measly lot of booze from Nassau,” chuckled Carmichael.

The other laughed and slapped the big seaman on the back. “Does seem kind of a joke, don’t it?” he exclaimed. “Just chicken feed alongside what we’ll be putting in our jeans a couple o’ months from now.”

Captain Carmichael was as good as his word. Two days after the conversation in the café, his schooner was dropping down the harbor in tow of a fussy tug. In his pocket he carried an official-looking document wherein was set forth the fact that the “schooner Ella May, British, Pictou, N.S., Jerry Carmichael, master,” had been chartered by the Antillean Trading and Development Company for the South American and West Indian trade, “said charter to enter into effect from the date upon which the present cargo was discharged and the said schooner ready for sea at the port of St. John, New Brunswick.” And with this was a second paper whereby Captain Jerry Carmichael, master and owner of the schooner Ella May, was duly appointed as agent of the Antillean Trading and Development Company with powers to transact the company’s business that were very broad indeed.

Carmichael grinned as he thought of this. “They’re a bunch of crooks,” he soliloquized, “but dumb fools when it comes to maritime matters. Maybe there’s honor among thieves and maybe there ain’t, and I ain’t taking no chances. Long’s they play straight, fine and dandy, but I got ‘em on the hip. Charterers are responsible for their agents’ acts, by Judas, and let ‘em try any monkeyshines and there’s one agent as’ll make ‘em sweat blood.”

And in the meantime, back in New York, the florid-faced man and his fellows had been far from idle. Upon the glass of a door leading to sumptuous offices in a down-town skyscraper, was the gilt legend: “Antillean Trading and Development Company,” and within, the florid-faced, overdressed individual sat at a masive desk surrounded by all the accepted accessories of a shipping and commission business.

Upon the walls were pictures of steamships and sailing vessels, photographs of picturesque South American and West Indian ports, a huge map of the Caribbean and even a number of curios. A bookcase was filled with consular and trade reports, government bulletins, a Lloyds’ Registry and various publications dealing with shipping and the export and import business.

There were stenographers and assistants; typewriters clicked incessantly and cables were sent and received with amazing prodigality. And the contents of these were beyond question. One of the first had been to a British house, ordering a large consignment of choice liquors to be shipped at once in bond to a consignee in Trinidad, others had ordered similar shipments to Barbados and other British colonies in the West Indies, but there was nothing to excite the least suspicion in these. The West Indians as all know, are a thirsty lot; liquors form a bulk of the shipments from England to many of the islands, and the Antillean Trading Company advertised on its stationery that it acted as agents and commission merchants with representatives in England and various Caribbean ports. Moreover, there had been various cables and letters dealing with totally different matters.

Requests had been received for quotations on sugar, cocoa, cabinet woods and balsa. Whole shipments of general merchandise, of motor cars and of machinery, had been arranged for by the company with various steamship lines plying between New York and Antillean ports. Evidently the company was well supplied with funds and was doing a good business, for it paid cash for all transactions, it had hired dock and warehouse space and its mail was voluminous. The keenest investigator could not have picked a flaw or have found the most remote reason for suspicion in the activities of the new firm and—as a matter of fact, no one tried.

In due time the Ella May docked at St. John, discharged her cargo and paid off her crew. Carmichael wired to New York for orders, received instructions to secure a cargo of lumber if possible, and if not to proceed in ballast, and to sail for Maracaibo where he would receive further orders and cargo. He at once left by steamer for Pictou, returned two days later with a crew and mates from his home town and managed to secure a cargo of lumber for Barbados.

Without unusual incident the Ella May came to anchor off Bridgetown and Carmichael went ashore. He found, as he expected, a cable awaiting him stating that a consignment of liquor was due to arrive in bond and instructing him to see that it was released and shipped to a certain consignee in another island. Jerry thereupon made his way through the glaring white streets, dodging the rattling mule drays with their loads of sugar, the sweating negroes, rushing blindly about with their cumbersome hand carts the innumerable flivvers and all the multitudinous forms of vehicles which go to make up the congested traffic of Bridgetown’s business center, and at last reached a narrow lane and climbed a flight of rickety wooden stairs to a dingy office.

“Well, I’ll be blowed if ‘tain’t Jerry Carmichael in the flesh!” cried the thin, lantern-jawed individual in white drill who had sprung up from a Berbice chair at the captain’s entrance. “What’s on your mind, old shipmate?”

For a space the two talked in subdued tones, for walls are thin in Barbados and voices carry far. Then the white-clad party clapped his hands, a turbaned colored girl appeared and a curt order was given. “I’ve got just the craft,” announced the lanky man. “Give me the order and I’ll see it’s carried out, Jerry. Depend on me. Fifty pounds should do it.”

The girl returned, bringing tall glasses filled with the island’s national drink—the green swizzle—and again shuffled from the room.

As the two sipped the iced beverages they discussed business, shipping, the sugar crop, everything but the matter in hand, until Carmichael rose to go and handed the other a written order within which was folded four hundred dollars.

There’ll be more coming your way if you handle this right,” commented Carmichael. “And if you don’t there’s plenty who can.”

But Baxton had no intention of failing. Armed with his documentary proof that he was the accredited local representative of the Antillean Company, he visited the port officialdom, secured the necessary orders for the release of two hundred cases of the best Scotch, and before sundown had it safely aboard a St.Lucia sloop and with a native crew of two disreputable looking gigantic blacks was sailing southwestward bound ostensibly for St. Vincent. Well out of sight of land, however, the sloop’s course was changed, sail was shortened and the little craft cruised aimlessly about the Caribbean until three lofty white sails appeared above the eastern rim of the sea, and with a curling white wave about her shearing bows the Ella May came plunging toward the waiting sloop.

Swiftly the cargo was transferred, the two vessels parted company and a few days later once more met off Martinique. This time choice wines, liqueurs and champagne changed hands. Off the Grenadines, case after case of Haig and Haig and other British brands were whipped up from the bobbing sloop to the three-master.

North of the frowning Venezuelan coast, still more was transferred from the sloop slipping out through the Bocas from Trinidad, and at Curacao, Holland gin varied the assortment of liquid wealth accumulating in the capacious hold of the Ella May. Then the sloop headed northward once more and the schooner surged west before the sweeping trade wind for Maracaibo.

All her papers were in perfect order, a cable was waiting for the skipper with instructions to load a small shipment of sugar and a few thousand billets of balsa wood, and to proceed to Rio de la Hacha for additional balsa.

When at last she headed northeast from the Colombian coast she was full, the sugar serving admirably for ballast and light, cork-like balsa filling the hold to the hatches and overflowing in generous deck load.

Well out of sight of the steamer lanes she held her course, and four days later the lookout in the crosstrees made out a low-lying smudge of land upon the horizon off the starboard bow.

In the lee of the lonely forsaken islet, the almost unknown bit of land scarcely a mile in circumference, rising barely a dozen feet above the waves and over one hundred miles from any land, the Ella May dropped anchor.

It was an ideal spot for Carmichael’s purpose, a seagirt no-man’s land whose ownership was claimed by Britain, France, and Holland, but not worth squabbling over; the abode of countless thousands of sea birds from which it had received the name of Aves Island, and so far from the beaten track of steam or sail that, as Jerry had assured his florid-faced companion in New York, it was not sighted once in a century.

And here on this God-forsaken bit of guano-covered rock the crew of the Ella May labored like demons at a strange occupation while, from dawn until dark, the staccato exhaust of a gasoline motor frightened the screaming sea birds from their nests. Although balsa is the lightest of woods, handling ten-foot billets for hour after hour is hot, heavy, back-breaking work. But Jerry had chosen his crew from among those he knew and could rely on, the reward in store was great, there was no complaint and at the close of ten days of unremitting toil the Ella May’s sails were hoisted, her anchor rose slowly to the catheads and she headed for the Windward Passage and distant New York.

Upon the rapidly fading islet a smoldering pile of ashes was all that remained of innumerable cases that once had contained the choicest liquors of Europe, while hidden from chance prying eyes, buried in a cavern of the rocks, were strange things to be found upon a schooner or a desert island—four powerful, expensive things of steel and gears and motors, power-driven boring machines with four-inch augers.

Two months to the day from the time the Ella May had set sail for St. John, she was nosing her way up Ambrose Channel, to be moored, eventually, beside the Antillean Trading company’s wharf on the East River.

Without delay hatches were lifted, the deck load of bales was rapidly discharged and up from the hold was swung log after log of the light, soft wood consigned to a manufacturer of life belts through the Antillean Trading company as agent for the consignee.

Each straight log was neatly marked at the end with a red circle and a cross, as called for on the invoices and manifest, and as hundreds of the billets were piled in orderly stacks inside the dock shed, Jerry and his friends were in high spirits.

There had been the usual search of the schooner for contraband, but nothing was found, not even a flask among the possessions of the crew, and not a paper among the mass of documents tracing the schooner’s movements since she had cleared from New York showed that even a case of liquor had been on board.

Everything had gone smoothly every detail had worked out exactly as Carmichael had planned, and when the stevedores knocked off work and the big doors of the dock were drawn to for the night the captain and florid-faced partner felt that riches were within their grasp and that they were absolutely safe.

“You’re a wonder, captain,” declared Jerry’s companion admiringly as, seated in his luxurious car they were whirled uptown to celebrate their success by a dinner tendered Carmichael by the “company.” “Did you have any trouble?”

“Not a mite,” replied the skipper. “Everything went fine as silk and smooth as oil. By glory, didn’t I tell you I’d do it? But say, wouldn’t them customs chaps get the jolt of their lives if they knew what was going on under their noses?”

“You said it,” chuckled the other. “Do you think there’s any chance they might get wise? There’s a hundred grand for each of us in this and I get nervous as a cat thinking of what might happen.”

“Not a chance,” Carmichael assured him. “Just forget all that.”

Upon the wharf, old Tom, the watchman, surveyed the great tiers of logs speculatively. They had awakened memories of the past. It was from just such a schooner as the Ella May that they had been discharging logs—rosewood from west Africa—when one of the billets had slipped and crushed his leg, ending his sailor days forever and compelling him to stump about on a timber leg for the rest of his days.

That was twenty-odd years ago, he remembered, with a vague sort of surprise that the years had fled so rapidly, and they surely had treated him square, he thought. Yes, given him the job as watchman for life; not much pay in it, but better than nothing, by gum! Yes, sir, didn’t know what would have become of Hetty and little Bobbie after Jack was lost when his ship was torpedoed if he hadn’t had this job. But how about it when he died?

He was getting old—couldn’t last much longer—but perhaps he’d hold out until Bobbie was big enough to work. Fine little kiddie, Bobbie, bound he was going to be a sailor, too—just like his dad and his gran’ther. And what was that the little rascal had asked him? By gum, yes, that was it, he’d almost forgotten it—a boat. “Make me a boat, gran’ther,” he’d pleaded, “a boat just like the one daddy was in.”

The old fellow chuckled. Fine way to pass the long night—whittling out a boat for Bobbie—and patiently he commenced searching about for a bit of clear pine from which to carve the hull of the toy. Bits of oak there were—old hatch wedges and skids, broken fir and spruce scantlings, odds and ends of a dozen different varieties of wood, but not a block of pine to be found.

Vaguely he remembered having seen just such a piece as he wanted somewhere, and, striving to focus his thoughts, to remember where it had been, he unconsciously poked at one of the balsa logs with his wooden leg. To his amazement, it moved easily and, his curiosity aroused, he stooped, grasped one end of the billet and exclaimed in surprise. “I’ll be blowed! Don’t weigh scarcely nothin’. Why in blazes couldn’t it ha’ been a log like that that tumbled down atop o’ me? Wonder what dumb kind o’ wood ‘tis annyhow.”

Curious to learn more of the strange light wood, the old fellow drew out his pocket knife and tried its edge on the log. It cut like cheese and his eyes lit up. If only he had a bit of that wood it would be just the thing.

Possibly, he thought, there might be a piece splintered or chipped from a log, and with his flash light he sought diligently but to no avail. Too dumb bad, so his thought ran, he just wanted one bit of the stuff to make that toy boat so Bobbie wouldn’t be disappointed and here were hundreds of the logs with hundreds more still on the schooner. Surely the owner could spare a little piece; he couldn’t grudge the kiddie that. But no, that wouldn’t be right—to cut a piece from a log for the boat.

He was there to protect property, not to make use of it, and slowly, with disappointment in his old eyes, he closed the knife, slipped it in his pocket and stumped with bent head to the little cubby-hole with its broken-down chair. But his mind kept turning to Bobbie and his boat, to the light, soft wood which would be just the perfect material for the toy, to the fact that there were hundreds of logs and all he wished was a few inches from one.

Of course he couldn’t help himself. Why hadn’t he remembered Bobbie’s boat sooner, before the schooner’s captain left, so he could have asked permission? Then he glanced up and temptation stared him in the face. Hanging upon the wall was an old saw, one some careless had left behind and that had been kept awaiting a claimant, and hardly knowing what he was doing, the old man rose, grasped the saw and with his inner consciousness telling him not to and his love for his grandchild urging him on, he walked slowly toward the pile of logs. He’d tell the captain or the agent in the morning, he declared to himself, would explain why he needed the bit of wood. Would offer to pay for it out of his scanty wages if necessary.

Thus salving his conscience, he selected a smooth, straight log, gauged the length he would need for the boat and drew the saw across the wood. It bit in easily—it was almost like sawing tallow—and in no time it had sunk to the depth of an inch. Then, with an odd rasping, grating noise it slid uselessly across some hard material.

“Shucks!” exclaimed the old man. “Derned stuff’s got a hard heart after all. Just soft outside. Reckon I’ll have to split off-a piece of it. Mebbe it’s thick enough. Withdrawing the saw, the watchman opened the heavy blade of knife, inserted the point at the bottom of the scarf made by the saw and, using his knife chisellike, he endeavored to split off the soft wood. For a few moments the balsa refused to split, the blade merely digging into the wood, and then, as he exerted more strength, the wood suddenly gave, a section split off and hung dangling by a few fibers and the old man stood gazing, speechless, dumfounded, at what he saw. Resting within a hollow in the log was a dark brown bottle!

“Wall, I’ll be blowed!” ejaculated the watchman when at last he recovered his voice. “What the—” Cautiously he had lifted the bottle. No second glance was needed to tell what it contained—and as he did so his mouth gaped and he stared with unbelieving eyes. Beyond the first bottle, separated by a wad of straw, was a second. The next moment the old fellow was all alert, the boat for Bobbie was forgotten and with shaking fingers he pulled the straw out, extracted the second bottle and found more straw and another bottle beyond.

“I swan!” he cried. “The derned log’s full o’ booze. By Godfrey, darned if I ain’t run onto somethin’!”

Carefully placing the bottles on the floor, he seized his saw and, utterly regardless of the right or wrong of his act, attacked another log. In a moment he knew. Once more the saw had grated upon the glass within and old Tom almost collapsed upon the dock.

It was overwhelming, incredible. If every log contained liquor there were thousands of bottles—tens of thousands of dollars’ worth—secreted in the balsa. It was too stupendous for the old fellow to grasp. Here, right under the eyes of the customs, boldly discharged in broad daylight on a wharf, were barrels of the finest liquors. What was he to do? Should he call the police? No, that would never do, he decided. They might hold him for a witness, might charge him with cutting the logs in the first place—he had heard bad tales of the police framing innocent men, of their standing in with the bootleggers—and he must do nothing that would take him from Hetty and Bobbie.

Perhaps he should notify the government agents. But who were they, where were they to be found? No, there was but one man he could trust, kindly Captain Carey, the manager of the dock company, the man who had given him his job; his boss.

But how could he reach him? It was nearly midnight; the captain would be at home, and it would be too risky to tell him of discovery over the telephone. And perhaps Captain Carey wouldn’t believe him, would laugh at him. Well, he’d first be sure there was more of the stuff, and rising, he moved to the pile of logs and selecting them at random sawed into them.

Yes, there was no doubt of it, every one was loaded with liquor and now he saw how it had been done. Each log had been bored, the bottles packed inside and the hole plugged, and the plug concealed by the painted red circle—the consignee’s mark on the end. Clever! The old man chuckled to himself at the very cleverness of it, but he had no sympathy with bootleggers.

Years ago drink had been his curse; it had nearly cost him his life, and he had vowed never to touch it again. But now, suddenly, with all this vast store of liquor within reach, with the excitement and nerve tension he was under, an almost irresistible temptation came over him to taste the fiery stuff once more. And with this long-forgotten desire came another thought. What business was it of his anyway?

If the customs men could be fooled let them be fooled. He could say nothing, could hide the bottles from the log he had split, could toss the log into the river and later dispose of the stuff of what to him, would be a small fortune. But the next instant he had hurled this half-formed thought from him. It had been bad enough to try to take that bit of wood for Bobbie’s boat, even though it had led to such startling results.

And at thought of the boy and his mother the temptation to taste the liquor was also crushed from his mind. How would he feel to go reeling home, his breath heavy with the fumes of whisky to face Hetty and Bobbie? It was unthinkable and with his lips set in a straight, hard line and with trembling hands he gathered up the bottles, carried them to his cubby hole and carefully secreted them.

But there was still that log with the gaping hole and the remaining bottles. He must get rid of that, for he had decided that he must wait for morning and then notify Captain Carey personally, and he knew that with that telltale log the secret would be out as soon as the stevedores arrived. The others, those with only the saw marks might escape notice—he could roll them over so the marks were hidden—but the other must be destroyed. So working carefully, he managed to extract the six remaining bottles from the log, half dragged and half rolled it to the end of the dock and dumped it into the stream. To hide the liquor was not hard—no one ever bothered about his tiny “office” as he called it—and thus having settled definitely on his plans, he seated himself comfortably and, almost unwittingly, started whittling the form of a tiny hull from a bit of balsa wood.

Captain Carey had not finished dressing when old Tom rang his bell the following morning. Never had the old watchman called at the house before, never had he deviated one jot from the routine of his work and instantly, when the watchman was announced, the dock manager knew something amazing must have occurred. Slipping on a dressing gown he hurried down, and as the watchman unfolded his tale the other could scarcely believe his ears. But there was no time for comment or for questions as to details. No sooner had the watchman given the gist of the tale than Captain Carey rushed to the phone and in ten minutes was back.

“It’s up to Uncle Sam, now,” he announced. “Now, tell me the whole yarn again, Tom.”

Once more the old sailor related his story, not sparing himself, going into the most minute details, baring his thoughts and temptations.

“And I reckon you’ll not be wantin’ me down on that job no more, Cap’n Carey,” he ventured. “I done wrong, cap’n, to take that there bit o’ wood, but somehow I jus’ couldn’t help it, I was that sot on makin’ a boat for the boy.”

“What did you do with it?” demanded Captain Carey with an odd note in his voice.

Old Tom fished the half-finished toy from his pocket.

“H’m,” muttered the other as he turned the bit of balsa in his hands and gazed at it unseeingly. “Tom,” he said at last, “I suppose that, technically, you’re a thief and I don’t want you back on that dock. You’re going to be up to my office from now on with just three times the wages you’ve been getting.”

“By— Say, ye don’t mean that—honest to goodness—do ye?” cried the old man, hardly able to believe his ears.

“Absolutely,” declared Captain Carey smiling. “And a pension when you’re ready to quit. But I want you to do me a favor, too, Tom. I want you to take this bit of wood home, make the boat just as if you were making it for Bobbie and then give it to me. And I want you to take this and buy the best boat you can find in the city for the kid, and, if there’s any change left, use it for Hetty and yourself.”

As Captain Carey spoke, he handed the half-finished boat to the old man and with it a little wad of crisp new bills.

“But—but—by gum!” stammered the old fellow as his eyes grew moist. “I—I—“ He was interrupted by the telephone and the other springing up to answer.

“It’s all right, Tom,” he announced as he returned. “Got ‘em all; rounded up the whole gang. Do you know, Tom you’ve done a devilish lot more for me than you think. If some one else had found that booze I might have been in mighty bad. I rented the dock to that Antillean bunch and I’d have had blamed hard work to prove I didn’t know. Somehow it seems to me there’s more than just luck or chance in what you did—sort of Providence-like—and all because of that kiddie.

“Aye, cap’n,” muttered the old sailor as his gnarled fingers almost reverently caressed the bit of balsa wood. “Aye, by gum, a little child shall lead them.”

The End

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

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.