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Excerpt Chapter 14

The bad weather of Don's first morning without Tubby blew up into a powerful storm that drove most of the trolling fleet back into Hardnose Cove by early afternoon. The Jamaica, the Milltail, and the Varga Girl were among the first to come in and all three tied along the float near the Mallard-

Don went aboard the Milltail as soon as she tied up. He wanted to tell someone about his bad morning and he knew Hal Stevens would be sympathetic. Hal was down tinkering with his motor, but he looked up as Don peered down from the pilothouse. "You beat us in," he said. "Get scared out there alone?"

"No," Don told him. "Caught bottom and cracked a pole."

"Too bad. You'll have plenty of time to fix it, though. This blow looks good for two or three
days anyway."

The boat rocked as Johnny Smith and Dick Evans came aboard. Don moved down to give them room and all four went forward into the Milltail's cabin. "Going to be a three-day blow," Dick Evans said. "May as well get set for a big party. Johnny’ll put it on. It's his birthday tomorrow."

"Like heck I will," Johnny said. "A guy don't have to buy his own party. He's done his share just having the birthday."

Hal laughed. "Hardest work you ever did, being born, wasn't it, Johnny?"

"Well, it's a cinch I don't have to pay you guys for it. You weren't even helping."

"Let's not talk ourselves out of a party," Dick Evans said. "Not in weather like this anyway. We'll buy the party, Johnny, just so you lend us the birthday. What say, Don?"

Don was feeling better. The warm, easy cornpanionship there in the Milltail's cabin was what he had been hoping for without really knowing it. "Sure," he said. "Sounds right to me. We'll all give Johnny a party."

"It's a date then," Hal said. "We'll tell the rest of the boys to rally around, so long as it's still storming."

"It will be," Dick Evans told him.

Johnny Smith's birthday party lasted through two full days while the storm clouds raced high over Hardnose Cove, and though there have been wilder and fancier parties, most of the trollers who were there still remember it. The start was quiet enough. On the morning after Don and Hal and Johnny and Dick Evans had decided on the party, the Jamaica pulled out early to pick up supplies from Whale River, the nearest settlement of any size. Phil Eastey, who had a reputation as a cook, had promised to brew up a great clam chowder, so Dave Swanson and Jimmy Hailon pulled out in the Varga Girl to dig clams on the low tide at White Beach. The Milltail was to be the center of the party because she had the biggest cabin and the best galley, and Hal Stevens had a big tarpaulin that he could rig over the after deck. Hal and Don spent most of the morning cleaning up the boat and rigging the tarpaulin.

Soon after noon the Varga Girl came in with her load of clams. Another boat had found crabs, and her crew boasted they would fix them up in a way that would make Phil Eastey's clam chowder only a minor incident in the party. Then the Jamaica came in with the supplies from Whale River and the party really started.

The Milltail was tied just astern of the Mallard with the Jamaica astern of her again and the Varga Girl alongside. Nearly the whole fleet was tied up in the Cove because of the bad weather, and news of the party had spread quickly among the other boats. Most of the fishermen were glad of something to break the monotony of waiting for the weather to clear, so they sorted out small presents for Johnny, wrapped them carefully, and brought them along.

Don found he was enjoying himself. Phil's clam chowder was very good. Someone had cooked up a gigantic beef stew. Both this and the chowder lasted through the whole evening. The crabs disappeared quickly, but people kept turning up with offerings of cheese or bacon or biscuits or cake to keep the party going, and all four boats soon had food piled on every ledge and shelf and flat space that wasn't being used for sitting. The Varga Girl was making coffee, four pots on the galley stove, two more on the portable gasoline stove, constantly refilled. After a while Dave Swanson began lacing the coffee with rum, but it was evening then and that was the first drinking that had been done, though the Jamaica had brought plenty of everything back from Whale River.

The Milltail had been uncomfortably crowded with all the coming and going, but the visitors gradually drifted away to continue the party on other boats. The cabin was full of smoke and dirty plates and cups. Don was sitting on a bunk, feeling sleepy and full. He was missing Tubby a little, but at the same time he felt comfortable in the companionship of the men he was with. He was holding his mind away from the thought of going back to the Mallard alone.

Then Dick Evans said: "Well, boys, we can't let her die like this. It's still daylight and this is Johnny's birthday."

Johnny had made a speech at the height of things and hidden himself in a corner ever since. "Let it go, Dick. Let's all relax and be comfortable."

Dick shook his head. "No," he said. "No can do, Johnny. We've got to get the place cleaned up, have a couple of drinks, and get some music going. Why, there's a lot of the boys haven't been along yet - Happy, for one, and Tubby Miller. And Gerry Temple. And the Falaise'll be in tonight for sure. Old Red'Il want to be in on it."

"We ought to get some girls and start a dance going," Hal suggested. "Why didn't you bring some back from Whale River, Dick?"

"Johnny don't like girls," Dick said. "It's his party."

Everybody laughed because Johnny's love affairs were a constant and complicated succession.

"He doesn't have to like them," Hal said. “They like him. They love his pretty brown curls.”

Johnny swung a foot at him and they wrestled from the bunk to the floor in a clatter of dishes. Don stood up to get out of the way and Dick Evans grinned across at him. "May as well start on the clean-up, Don, while the kids play."

Don found himself liking Dick Evans more and more. Usually Dick was a little short and offhand, inclined to say hard, disconcerting things. His dark face and heavy eyebrows emphasized his manner, making him seem surly, almost dangerously illtempered. Tonight he was cheerful and friendly and his dark strength made for confidence rather than fear. As they were straightening up the cabin and washing the dishes, Don asked him: "'What do you think about splicing a pole, Dick? Can a guy make a job of it?"

"Sure, you can splint it up so it'll hold O.K. It's kind of clumsy and awkward-looking, though. A new pole's a whole lot better."

"Even green?"

"So long as it's cedar. Green fir is too heavy and you won't get spruce around here. You can get all kinds of good cedar poles over on Queen Island, right in the entrance to Butcher Inlet.

"Might run over there tomorrow if the weather's still bad," Don said.

Dick laughed. "You can plan on it. Nobody'll be fishing tomorrow, the way the party's shaping up now." They were in the galley and Dick jerked his head toward the main cabin as he spoke. Gerry Temple and two other men Don didn't know had come in. Jimmy Hailon had brought out a bottle of rum and half a dozen of them were toasting Johnny's birthday Don and Dick went in and Jimmy picked up the bottle.

"How'll you have it? Hot with butter?"

Dick nodded. "Sure. That's the only way"

"How about you, Don?"
Don smiled awkwardly and shook his head, but Johnny Smith said: "It won't hurt you, Don. You can't turn down a drink when a man asks you on his birthday."

"I don't like the stuff," Don said. "Otherwise I would. No offense, Johnny."

Johnny stood up and put an arm round Don's shoulders. "Don's a good scout," he said to the others. "We wouldn't lead him astray, would we, boys?"

Everybody laughed good-naturedly and Jimmy Hailon said, "I'll bet you never tried hot buttered rum, did you, Don?"

"No," Don admitted cautiously. "But I don't like the taste of hard liquor."

"You'll like a good rum drink," Dick said. "It doesn't taste like whisky at all. Johnny'll let you dump it after you've drunk his health, won't you, Johnny?"

"Sure," Johnny said. "I'm never going to get sore at old Don."

So Don found himself drinking Johnny's health in hot rum. It had a heavy, sweet taste that was pleasant enough and he liked the way it burned in his chest as he swallowed it. He drank Johnny's health and sat comfortably in a corner, nursing the warm mug.

Gerry Temple began to play his mouth organ and Dick Evans sang. Dick's voice was good, rich and deep and strong, and he had learned old Welsh songs that could stir the blood. Don sat and listened and let the songs reach into him.

After a while Dick stopped and Jimmy mixed more rum. Don's mug was still half full and they let him hold on to it as it was.
"Sing something else, Dick," Johnny said.

"Later," Dick told him. "Don't wear a good man down. It's early yet."

"You're right it is," Hal Stevens said. "We Promised ourselves a two-day party and we've hardly got a start on it."

"What's for tomorrow?" Gerry Temple asked. "More clams? I remember once down at Bitter Harbor we got a steer and barbecued it on the beach for a party. That'd be O.K."