The Black Joke

Free The Black Joke by Farley Mowat

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Authors: Farley Mowat
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little man behind it.
    â€œCaptain Spence,” he said firmly, “Schooner Black Joke come from Bay Despair with lumber belongin’ to Simon Barnes. You speak English?”
    The seedy little man smiled briefly. “ Oui, monsieur– yes, mon capitain , I speak it very well. We already have the order from Monsieur Barnes to act as agentfor your ship. Tomorrow the stevedores will unload the lumber. Meanwhile whatever we can do to be of service, you must ask. There are supplies perhaps you need?”
    Jonathan shook his head. “Maybe afore we sails for home there’ll be some things to buy. Main thing you can do fer me now is find out exactly why my vessel’s been arrested. That, and tell me the course I ought to steer with the authorities.”
    â€œCertainly, Monsieur. As to the first, I can myself tell you what you wish to know. Monsieur le capitain Smith, whose ship you hit, has made the protest to the harbor authorities that you cut across his bow incorrectly and without warning. Besides he has made the action against you in the court for damages–very large damages I think, perhaps fifty thousand francs.
    â€œTwo days from now will be the investigation at the Palais de Justice . It will be best for you to have an avocat– how you say, a lawyer? There is, of course, the matter of the cost. It will be necessary to deposit five thousand francs, to guarantee the fee of the lawyer.”
    â€œFive thousand francs!” Jonathan replied indignantly. “That’s close by a hundred dollars! Almost more’n me charter’s worth! Where d’ye think I’d lay hands on that much money, eh?”
    â€œAs to that, Monsieur, I cannot say,” said the agent smoothly. “Nevertheless, no lawyer will act for you without the guarantee. Perhaps Monsieur Barnes will make the advance against your charter?”
    â€œAnd perhaps codfish’ll start to fly! Look ’ee here, meson. I’m in the rights in that collision, and it don’t take a hundred dollars to help me tell the truth, neither!” And with that Jonathan turned on his heel and stamped out of the building, while the agent lost no time in picking up the old-fashioned phone in his office to inform his employer, Mr. Gauthier, of the details of the encounter.
    Gauthier and Barnes were still together. After having listened to his employee on the telephone, Gauthier turned gleefully toward his guest.
    â€œIt marches well,” he said. “The good capitain will not find anyone in St. Pierre to help him with his case–unless he pays; and pay he cannot unless you wish to be the generous friend and make an advance upon his charter.”
    Barnes chuckled and poured himself another drink. “That sounds likely, don’t it now?” he asked.
    Aboard Black Joke , Peter and Kye were doing ship’s chores, furling the sails in proper harbor style and generally putting things shipshape; but they could not refrain from casting longing glances at the town.
    It was the largest town either of them had ever seen and, though it only boasted five thousand people, it seemed like a veritable New York. Trucks laden with salt fish trundled busily through the Place . Other trucks laden with wooden boxes, stenciled with the names of famous whiskey manufacturers in Scotland, were shuttling back and forth between the whiskey warehouses and a rusty old tramp freighter which was unloading at one of the docks. Basque fishermen, wearing black berets, brought their big power dories laden with fresh cod into the harbor. Motorcycles roared and sputtered up the steep and narrow streets past gray and weathered houses built in the styles of ancient France. A steady stream of apparently aimless loungers moved in and out of the several bars along the waterfront. One group, consisting of three or four tough-looking men carrying sheath knives at their belts, wandered down to the dock where Black Joke was lying, and eyed her

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