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THERE WAS LIGHT girlish laughter from behind the high hedge of old box. The flounce of feminine skirts showed under the thick leaved branches.

"Miss Priscilla seems to be enjoying herself," said young Captain Kenyon with a quick smile at the old ship owner.

Gideon Wing chuckled and his shrewd little eyes danced as he sucked in his sunken old cheeks and nodded.

"Seems so, don't she?" he cackled. "But why not, with a handsome young skipper to entertain her, eh?"

Kenyon beamed and lifted a hand to his huge new necktie. A glow of satisfaction suffused him, His success in working his way up to command of a Wing vessel scented about to be crowned with a chance to marry into the wealthy family, for the old man's evident delight could mean nothing less than his approval of such an arrangement.

Then a deep masculine voice rumbled beyond the box, and Amos Kenyon felt his elation flow away. Flushing angrily, he stared down at the matched flags of the walk, where Gideon Wing's ferruled cane was thrusting at a crack as if to frustrate the tiny ants toiling there.

Captain Kenyon knew that voice. From childhood he had competed with its owner, Burden Chase, at every turn. Now they were both masters of Wing vessels, and evidently rivals for Miss Priscilla's hand. Perhaps—and his heart chilled at the thought—the reason the Petrel loitered at her wharf, although ready for sea before the Albatross, was that the daughter favored Chase.

"Burden," called the girlish voice, "I'm sure you'll win. I have every confidence in you. But I promised father—"

Amos Kenyon thrust his dark young face forward through the gap in the hedge. Keen eyes focused on the girl's face, he bowed low.

"Did I hear you mention something about winning?" he asked jeeringly. "What's the competition? Burden and I have always been contending for something or other all our lives. If there's a contest on now, I want to enter—especially," bowing low again, "if you are to be the prize, Miss Priscilla."

"She's not to be," said Captain Chase quickly.

Kenyon laughed shortly. "She's sure you'll win but isn't game to offer herself as the reward. Evidently she either dislikes you, Burdie, or hasn't as much confidence in you as she claims in private."

The words did not cut half as much as the tone. There was studied taunt in his smile, in the curl of his lip, in the belligerent way his throat beard thrust out from under his clean shaved face. A girl with less spirit than Priscilla Wing might have been forced to answer.

"The prize is one my father offers," she said quickly.

"And you're not going to add your own pretty self?"

Her face flushed. Her dark brown eyes grew black. Her little head tossed its profusion of dark curls, and her bosom heaved under the tight lacing.

"I was about to explain to Captain Chase," she said quickly, "when your arrival interrupted, that I have promised my father not to bind myself to anybody until his race is over. If he is willing," turning her eyes fondly on the nodding old man, "I will gladly offer to go with the award."

"No, no!" protested Chase quickly.

"Afraid you'll lose?" asked Kenyon coldly.

"No, but marriage is too sacred a thing to be wagered on a race. No matter what the contest, luck plays an important part. I can't let her—"

"You can't stop her, if her father agrees," grinned Kenyon, elated as he saw the older head beginning to nod.

"Priscy," beamed the old ship owner, rubbing the gold head of his whale bone cane delightedly with a cupped palm, "you've showed your metal. A chip off the old block, you be, my girl. Always pick the winner and you can't go wrong. Just what I'd been hopin' you'd promise, but I wasn't goin' to say it. Nothin' like a good lookin' young woman pullin' on the tow-rope to bring a young skipper home in record time."

His shrill cackle of delight sent a chill down the spine of Burden Chase. Deeply in love with Priscilla Wing since she had played in pigtails with him, he felt that the girl had been fairly forced into the situation. Her father had worshipped money so long that everything else was secondary to him. Kenyon, aware that the girl favored his rival, was too eager to marry her wealth to care how much love she brought to the wedding.

As Gideon Wing led Kenyon toward the broad doorway, the girl slipped nearer to Chase and thrust a cold little hand into his great paw. Pleadingly her soft eyes turned up to his. Her mouth trembled.

"Burden, I—I had to. He dared me into it. But I knew," forcing a brave smile, "that you'd beat him."

Captain Chase smiled down at her and his big fingers closed firmly over the smaller ones. Although he knew far better than she the uncertainties of the race ahead, he buried his own doubts and fears in an effort to give her confidence. Hand in hand they followed to the dining room where dinner was waiting.

"What is this race with such a precious prize?" boomed Kenyon, as soon as they were seated. "I seem to be the only one in the dark."

GIDEON WING chuckled again; those twinkling old eyes of his darted from one stiffly erect captain to the other and then, between them and the candles, to the pretty face of his daughter at the far end of the mahogany table.

"You're wrong there, Cap'n Kenyon," he cackled. "Nobody knows but me. I've hinted there was to be a whalin' race atween you two, but I ain't told nobody the particulars. That's why I had you both out to dinner together."

Silver was fingered nervously. The girl met Burden Chase's eyes with a reassuring glance and then bent forward. "Father, please don't keep us in suspense any longer. What is the race to be?"

The old man smacked his lips over the fine Canary wine his whaling ships had brought to his cellar years before and laughed at them with his delighted eyes.

"None of your little jim-crack races, this one," he assured them, rubbing his dry old hands together. "No chase of a few miles. When I plan a race, I plan a real one."

"To the Pacific grounds?" asked Chase expectantly.

"To that Tali Mahi Island where we're to recruit fresh hands?" urged Kenyon.

Gideon gurgled with fresh delight at their eagerness to know. It tickled the old man's fancy to delay as long as possible. "Child's play," he scoffed. "Twiddle—di-dee compared to what I've in mind."

The girl at the far end of the table was leaning forward now. Her red lips were parted eagerly over perfectly matched teeth, and her eyes were brilliant in the soft glow of the candles.

"I've purposely delayed the sailin' of the Petrel until the Albatross was ready. "Not," darting a mischievous glance at Kenyon, "that it has been any hardship to either Cap'n Chase or Priscy, if I'm any judge."

He broke off to cackle at that barb and sipped more Canary. The rival skippers kept their eyes on his face, studiously avoiding each other by so much as a glance.

"I fancied that was because of the movement of the whales," said Chase. "If I'd sailed earlier I'd have had to push up the Pacific to find 'em. This way I meet them far down near the end of their swing."

Kenyon snorted. "Still following your father's crazy notions about migratin' whales?"

"Not such a crazy notion, Amos," interrupted their host. "Lemuel Chase's theory was founded on solid fact, as I'll show you later. But it warn't altogether for that I delayed sailin' for you, Burden. I wanted to start you off on this race. It starts, gentlemen, when you leave this house tonight. It will end," he paused dramatically, "when one of you steps ashore on a Bedford wharf from a full ship, full to the top chime of the last cask with sperm oil."

The immensity of that order silenced the three. Miss Priscilla's hands gripped the table but she was first to find voice.

"And the prize, father?" she barely whispered in the awed silence, blushing with the memory that she had promised herself as a part of the reward.

"There's prize enough for me already offered, without his adding a thing to it," boomed Kenyon heartily, turning to smile at her.

"But I've another prize, and a good one."

Wing sucked his old stumps of teeth noisily, glad to renew the suspense again.

"You've doubtless heard of my plans to build a bigger vessel for the flagship of my fleet? I planned her for Cap'n John Avery, but he died before I got the keel laid. John, as you know, was the line's most successful whalin' master."

Eager breathing could be heard in the sudden quiet as he paused.

"The first of you two home with full casks gets that ship and the command of the fleet."

Too overcome with the prospect for flippancy, the two youthful skippers sat staring at him until the girl's voice broke upon them.

"May the better man win," she toasted, lifting her Canary high and looking deep into Chase's eyes before bestowing a glance tinged with disdain on the scowling Kenyon.

"He will," roared Kenyon, lifting his glass high, "and he'll hold you to that promise. Here's to a quick run and a good race."

"Now," grinned their host, as the glasses were returned to the table, "Priscy will excuse us and we'll go to my library. I've somethin' to show you there."

Both captains were instantly on their feet, bowing awkwardly as the girl curtsied to them in turn and swished away, casting a dazzling smile back over her shoulder at Chase as she swept up the winding stairway that led from the broad hall outside the dining room door.

"This is the how of it," explained Wing, all business as he seized a pointer that fairly trembled with his excitement. He turned to face s huge map of the Pacific that was spread across one wall of the room. "Cap'n Lemuel was right about sperm whales migratin'. I've proof they did!"

Then, as Kenyon sniffed audibly, being a staunch believer that whales were merely notional in their travels, the old man fixed him with a glittering eye. "Study them pins. Each marks where a sperm whale was killed by a Wing ship. The flags on 'em carry the dates, as well as the ships that killed 'em."

The two stared at the evidence. Making a great sweep around almost the entire ocean, those pins formed a mighty capital C of irregular outline. At a group of islands south of the equator the pins ceased, leaving an expanse unmarked until they again renewed, thick near New Zealand and sweeping southeastward into the Antarctic.

Burden Chase nodded, while Amos Kenyon stared.

"One thing's left to find out," explained the old man sadly. "That's where the whales go from them islands south."

"Didn't John Avery know?" asked Chase at last. "My father always thought he did."

Wing nodded, his thin nose stabbing the air. "Exactly," he agreed. "That's why Cap'n Avery beat every other skipper in the Pacific and filled months afore 'em. He killed sperm whales all the year 'round, instead o' losin' track of 'em for two or three months below them islands."

"But you've got his log books. Find out from them," suggested Kenyon inanely.

Wing scorched him with a glance of contempt. "I've brains enough to do that—if it could be done," he snapped. "But he never entered his position from the time he left them islands until he met the fleet again off New Zealand. It was a secret he kept, even in death."

"But his mates would know," protested Kenyon.

Wing laughed drily, his old eyes hard. "Would they? Not if Cap'n Avery didn't want 'em to, they wouldn't. Know what he did with 'em? Kept his mates locked in their cabins for a solid week, kept all charts and navigatin' instruments locked away from 'em until his ship j'ined the others. Only let 'em out o' cabin to take the boats after whales and to boss the cuttin' and b'ilin'."

"But his helmsmen—"

"Was, every last one of 'em, Kanaka Islanders durin' them months. That's how he kept his secret and was killin' whales a-plenty while every other ship was idle."

HE RATTLED the pins in his hand, shook his head at the map.

"It I could only stick in these pins, gentlemen, I'd be a happy man. It would make a deal of difference if my ships could work twelve months every year instead of nine or ten."

He tossed them on the desk and picked up a well thumbed hook with a cover of imitation blue marble. Opening at a marker, he fairly stabbed one thin finger at an entry. Both young captains bent forward to read.

"This Day a Native Whale Man did Promise to Show Me the Way of the Sparm Whales Southward from This Island in Return for Services Done Him in Heeling Him of a Sickness which Yielded to my Medicines. This Way is a Sekret Knowed only to his People and not Ginerally told to White Men."

"And you believe that?" sniffed Kenyon.

"Records prove it," insisted Wing curtly. "Every year after that, when John Avery was in the Pacific, he took sperm whales while ev'rybody else idled. I'd give ten thousand dollars, gentlemen, in cold cash to the skipper who could bring me that information."

"It's like lookin' for one big pearl," grinned Kenyon. "A full ship and a quick run home'll suit me."

Burden Chase said nothing but he went to the chart and studied the neighborhood carefully. Gideon Wing watched him, smiling to himself.

"Better take a look at that course them whales follow, Amos," said the old owner quietly. "Keepin' that sweep in your mind'll help you fill faster."

Kenyon bent and passed a thick finger end around that curve, muttering the names of the nearest points, memorizing. Although he had scoffed previously at this theory he could not laugh at the telling evidence of those little pins.

"That," said the old owner, snapping his massive watch shut, "completes my instructions. The tide turns within an hour. Get your horses ready and I'll start the race in proper manner. Line 'em up in the drive, headed for Bedford. I'll fire my pistol for the start. Remember, the finish is to be when one of you shakes hand with me on the wharf with a full ship safely home. Now away with you." Gravel crunched in the wide drive as the two hired livery rigs swung abreast of the steps where the old man stood with raised pistol. Before him the Dartmouth meadows swept down to cornfields that led to sand dunes and salt water, gleaming under the stars. Then a sash lifted over his head and Priscilla was framed in the window, her face beautiful under the soft glow of the candle she sheltered with one cupped hand from any vagrant breeze.

"A swift race and a fair one," she called. "May the better man win."

"Thanks," called the rivals in unison. The old man's hand jerked with the discharge, and the startled horses leaped forward.

There was not enough room for both those hired chaises to go abreast between those massive stone posts at the end of the driveway. It was a grim battle down the gravel to see which should be first through. Down the gravel the horses tore, neck and neck.

On and on tore the straining beasts, eager to be home. The two captains urged them faster and faster with slapping reins and cutting whips. Neither one seemed in the least inclined to slacken pace.

"Give way or you crash," roared Kenyon, yanking his horse's head to lunge him against the galloping grey.

"Smash and be damned to you," bellowed Chase in reply, dragging on his own rein to get the same result.

The horses went through side by side. The light wagons, driven hub to hub as the horses collided, were suddenly smacked resoundingly into those solid stone posts. Wood splintered with a crash, two figures, the reins wrapped around their wrists, went flying over the dashboards, and a trail of wreckage and gliding humanity went streaking off down the dirt road, raising a cloud of dust in spite of the heavy dew that had come in, salt from the sea.

The girl screamed, but her father only danced about with glee, chuckling at this evidence of spirit. Then he cocked his head and listened to the shouts, curses, and commands that came fainter and fainter from the road, as the terrified horses dragged their unlucky drivers farther and farther away.

"I'll be down to Padanaram to see you off," he shouted after them. "See that you've sea room passin' the islands. I can't have you wreckin' my ships like you wrecked them chaises."

The shouting stopped. The girl's voice floated down to him, full of quick pride.

"They're mounted and gone, father, but Burden's grey is ahead."

GIDEON Wing was still chuckling to himself when he came down before daylight to clamber into his own chaise the negro hostler held in readiness.

"Just a minute, father," called Miss Priscilla, fluttering toward him through the dim light. "I have an interest in that race, you know. Make room for me there beside you."

They rode down to the very edge of the shore and waited, breathless.

Down the long harbor, their sails stretched like the wings of some mighty seagull slanting before the wind, the two sister ships stood out upon the long run that would carry them southward around Cape Horn and thousands of miles beyond into the Pacific before they would strike the island where they were to enlist more men for their crews and start the pursuit of the monster whales.

The rising sun tinged the new white canvas with rose, the black hulls glinted with fresh coatings of paint, and white water creamed in a bone at each blunt bow as the heavy ships went streaming off toward the distant sea. A rooster on the Albatross crowed lustily and a crated pig on the Petrel squealed in terror. Then conch shells brayed a greeting as keen eyes spotted owner and daughter on the shore. Colors dipped. Guns boomed. A faint cheer from the crews wafted to their ears.

"Neck and neck," chuckled Gideon Wing, nodding as the two ships forged past. "Like them two always have been. Either one of 'em'll make you a fine, respectable husband, girl. Get this silly romance idea out of your head while they're gone, and take the one as leads home."

"I have promised that I will," said Miss Priscilla meekly, although her eyes never left the Petrel to give the Albatross a glance.

"Good girl," he murmured, patting her hand with his own dry palm. "I can't loiter around here forever on borrowed time. Got to be thinkin' who'll carry on for the Wings."

SIDE by side the two barks went tearing out toward the sea. Mishaum Point slipped astern. They breasted Penikese Island and then Cuttyhunk. Gayhead, on the end of Marthais Vineyard, saw them separating slightly, but no observer could have told which one was leading. Then No-Man's-Land, that possible stopping place of early Norse visitors, was behind them and only the open Atlantic before.

"Clap studdin' s'l yards on her foremast," ordered Chase, after a scowling survey of the Albatross.

"Think she'll stand 'em, sir?" asked Abel Trueman, mate of the Petrel, his seamed face anxious.

Any other master of the time would have reprimanded him roundly for that seeming questioning of authority, but Burden Chase had early established the custom of getting opinions from his officers and even from his men.

"We'll try it anyway," he called with the finality that they all knew and respected. "If we've poor yards we might as well know it now. We've got to be first at the island to get the pick of the men. A lot depends on that. Bend 'em on, mister."

The men were taken from the task of stowing down the clutter on the decks and sent aloft to spread extra canvas to the light breeze. The bark plowed almost directly eastward, to cross the Gulf Stream and evade the upward sweep of its powerful current before heading southward toward the distant Horn.


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