Poor Man's Rock

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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The House in Cradle Bay

On an afternoon in the first week of November, 1918, under a sky bank full of murky cloud and an air freighted with a chill which threatened untimely snow, a man came rowing up along the western side of Squitty Island and turned into Cradle Bay, which lies under the lee of Point Old. He was a young man, almost boyish-looking. He had on a pair of fine tan shoes, brown overalls, a new gray mackinaw coat buttoned to his chin. He was bareheaded. Also he wore a patch of pink celluloid over his right eye.

When he turned into the small half-moon bight, he let up on his oars and drifted, staring with a touch of surprise at a white cottage-roofed house with wide porches sitting amid an acre square of bright green lawn on a gentle slope that ran up from a narrow beach backed by a low sea-wall of stone where the gravel ended and the earth began.

"Hm-m-m," he muttered. "It wasn't built yesterday, either. Funny he never mentioned that."

He pushed on the oars and the boat slid nearer shore, the man's eyes still steadfast on the house. It stood out bold against the grass and the deeper green of the forest behind. Back of it opened a hillside brown with dead ferns, dotted with great solitary firs and gnarly branched arbutus.

No life appeared there. The chimneys were dead. Two moorings bobbed in the bay, but there was no craft save a white rowboat hauled high above tidewater and canted on its side.

"I wonder, now." He spoke again.

While he wondered and pushed his boat slowly in on the gravel, a low pr-r-r and a sibilant ripple of water caused him to look behind. A high-bowed, shining mahogany cruiser, seventy feet or more over all, rounded the point and headed into the bay. The smooth sea parted with a whistling sound where her brass-shod stem split it like a knife. She slowed down from this trainlike speed, stopped, picked up a mooring, made fast. The swell from her rolled in, swashing heavily on the beach.

The man in the rowboat turned his attention to the cruiser. There were people aboard to the number of a dozen, men and women, clustered on her flush afterdeck. He could hear the clatter of their tongues, low ripples of laughter, through all of which ran the impatient note of a male voice issuing peremptory orders.

The cruiser blew her whistle repeatedly,—shrill, imperative blasts. The man in the rowboat smiled. The air was very still. Sounds carry over quiet water as if telephoned. He could not help hearing what was said.

"Wise management," he observed ironically, under his breath.

The power yacht, it seemed, had not so much as a dinghy aboard.

A figure on the deck detached itself from the group and waved a beckoning hand to the rowboat.

The rower hesitated, frowning. Then he shrugged his shoulders and pulled out and alongside. The deck crew lowered a set of steps.

"Take a couple of us ashore, will you?" He was addressed by a short, stout man. He was very round and pink of face, very well dressed, and by the manner in which he spoke to the others, and the glances he cast ashore, a person of some consequence in great impatience.

The young man laid his rowboat against the steps.

"Climb in," he said briefly.

"You, Smith, come along," the round-faced one addressed a youth in tight blue jersey and peaked cap.

The deck boy climbed obediently down. A girl in white duck and heavy blue sweater put her foot on the steps.

"I think I shall go too, papa," she said.

Her father nodded and followed her.

The rowboat nosed in beside the end of a narrow float that ran from the sea wall. The boy in the jersey sprang out, reached a steadying hand to his employer. The girl stepped lightly to the planked logs.

"Give the boy a lift on that boat to the chuck, will you?" the stout person made further request, indicating the white boat bottom up on shore.

A queer expression gleamed momentarily in the eyes of the boatman. But it passed. He did not speak, but made for the dinghy, followed by the hand from the yacht. They turned the boat over, slid it down and afloat. The sailor got in and began to ship his oars.

The man and the girl stood by till this was done. Then the girl turned away. The man extended his hand.

"Thanks," he said curtly.

The other's hand had involuntarily moved. The short, stout man dropped a silver dollar in it, swung on his heel and followed his daughter,—passed her, in fact, for she had only taken a step or two and halted.

The young fellow eyed the silver coin in his hand with an expression that passed from astonishment to anger and broke at last into a smile of sheer amusement....