or The Subjugation of Matt Peasley
by Peter B. Kyne
TO THE IDEAL AMERICAN SAILOR
As exemplified in the persons of my good friends,
Captain Ralph E. Peasley, of Jonesport, Maine,
Who skippered the first five-masted schooner ever built, brought her, on that first voyage, through the worst typhoon that ever blew, and upon arriving at the Yang Tse Kiang River for the first time in his adventurous career, decided he could not trust a Chinese pilot and established a record by sailing her up himself!
Captain I. N. Hibberd, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
Sometime master of the American clipper ship, Cyrus Wakefield, who, at the age of twenty-five, broke three world's records in one voyage: San Francisco to Liverpool and back, eight months and two days; Liverpool to San Francisco, one hundred days; from the equator to San Francisco, eleven days. The clipper ship is gone but the skipper remains, an undefeated champion.
Captain William P. Cantey, of San Francisco, California,
Sometime mate of the brig Galilee, who, with his naked hands, convinced in thirty-five minutes nine larger men than himself of the incontrovertible fact that you cannot keep a good man down.
TO THE AMERICAN SHIPOWNER
As exemplified in the persons of my good friends,
John H. Rossiter, Manager of W. R. Grace & Co., of San Francisco.
Edwin A. Christenson, President of the Sudden & Christenson S.S. Line, of San Francisco.
John R. Hanify, President of the John R. Hanify Company, of San Francisco.
TO THE PACIFIC COAST LUMBERMAN
As exemplified in the person of my good friend,
Augustus J. ("Gus") Russell, California Manager for the Portland Lumber Company, and my personal representative, without salary, in the wholesale lumber trade, ever since I abandoned lumber for literature.
TO FREIGHT, SHIP, AND MARINE INSURANCE BROKERS
As exemplified in the persons of my good friends,
Messrs. E. B. Smith, Oscar J. Beyfuss, and Allan Hayes.
This volume is dedicated, without charge for the advertising but with profound appreciation of the part they have made in making this book possible. With the author they must bear an equal burden of whatever of praise or censure shall entail.
I. Master of Many Ships and Skipper of None II. The Man from Blue Water III. Under the Blue Star Flag IV. Bad News from Cape Town V. Matt Peasley Assumes Office VI. Wordy War at a Dollar a Word VII. Cappy Ricks Makes Bad Medicine VIII. All Hands and Feet to the Rescue IX. Mr. Murphy Advises Preparedness X. The Battle of Table Bay XI. Mr. Skinner Receives a Telegram XII. The Campaign Opens XIII. An Old Friend Returns and Cappy Leads Another Ace XIV. Insult Added to Injury XV. Rumors of War XVI. War! XVII. Cappy Forces an Armistice XVIII. The War is Renewed XIX. Capp Seeks Peace XX. Peace at Last! XXI. Matt Peasley Meets a Talkative Stranger XXII. Face to Face XXIII. Business and— XXIV. The Clean Up XXV. Cappy Proves Himself a Despot XXVI. Matt Peasley in Exile XXVII. Promotion XXVIII. Cappy Has a Heart XXIX. Nature Takes Her Course XXX. Mr. Skinner Hears a Lecture XXXI. Internal Combustion XXXII. Skinner Proposes—and Cappy Ricks Disposes XXXIII. Cappy's Plans Demolished XXXIV. A Gift From the Gods XXXV. A Dirty Yankee Trick XXXVI. Cappy Forbids the Bans—Yet XXXVII. Matt Peasley Becomes a Shipowner XXXVIII. Working Capital XXXIX. Easy Money XL. The Cataclysm XLI. When Pain and Anguish Wring the Brow XLII. Unexpected Developments XLIII. Cappy Plans a Knock-out XLIV. Skinner Develops into a Human Being XLV. Cappy Pulls Off a Wedding XLVI. A Ship Forgotten XLVII. The Tail Goes with the Hide XLVIII. Victory
CHAPTER I. MASTER OF MANY SHIPS AND SKIPPER OF NONE
A psychologist would have termed Alden P. Ricks an individualist, but his associates in the wholesale lumber and shipping trade of the Pacific Coast proclaimed him a character.
In his youth he had made one voyage round Cape Horn as a cabin boy, his subsequent nautical experience having been confined to the presidency of the Blue Star Navigation Company and occasional voyages as a first-cabin passenger. Notwithstanding this apparent lack of salt-water wisdom, however, his intimate knowledge of ships and the men who go down to the sea in them, together with his very distinct personality, had conduced to provide him with a courtesy title in his old age.
It is more than probable that, had Alden P. Ricks been a large, commanding person possessed of the dignity the average citizen associates with men of equal financial rating, the Street would have called him Captain Ricks. Had he lacked these characteristics, but borne nevertheless even a remote resemblance to a retired mariner, his world would have hailed him as Old Cap Ricks; but since he was what he was—a dapper, precise, shrewd, lovable little old man with mild, paternal blue eyes, a keen sense of humor and a Henry Clay collar, which latter, together with a silk top hat, had distinguished him on 'Change for forty years—it was inevitable that along the Embarcadero and up California Street he should bear the distinguishing appellation of Cappy. In any other line of human endeavor he would have been called Pappy—he was that type of man.
Cappy Ricks had so much money, amassed in the wholesale lumber and shipping business, that he had to engage some very expensive men to take care of it for him. He owned the majority of the stock of the Ricks Lumber and Logging Company, with sawmills and timberlands in California, Oregon and Washington; his young men had to sell a million feet of lumber daily in order to keep pace with the output, while the vessels of the Blue Star Navigation Company, also controlled by Cappy, freighted it. There were thirty-odd vessels in the Blue Star fleet—windjammers and steam schooners; and Cappy was registered as managing owner of every one.
Following that point in his career when the young fellows on the Street, discovering that he was a true-blue sport, had commenced to fraternize with him and call him Cappy, the old gentleman ceased to devote his attention to the details of his business. He was just beginning to enjoy life; so he shifted the real work of his multifarious interests to the capable shoulders of a Mr. John P. Skinner, who fitted into his niche in the business as naturally as the kernel of a healthy walnut fits its shell. Mr. Skinner was a man still on the sunny side of middle life, smart, capable, cold-blooded, a little bumptious, and, like the late Julius Caesar, ambitious.
No sooner had Cappy commenced to take life easy than Skinner commenced to dominate the business. He attended an efficiency congress and came home with a collection of newfangled ideas that eliminated from the office all the joy and contentment old Cappy Ricks had been a life-time installing. He inaugurated card systems and short cuts in bookkeeping that drove Cappy to the verge of insanity, because he could never go to the books himself and find out anything about his own business. He had to ask Mr. Skinner—which made Skinner an important individual.
With the passage of five years the general manager was high and low justice in Cappy's offices, and had mastered the not-too-difficult art of dominating his employer, for Cappy seldom seriously disagreed with those he trusted. He saved all his fighting force for his competitors.
However, Cappy's interest in the Blue Star Navigation Company did not wane with the cessation of his activities as chief kicker. Ordinarily, Mr. Skinner bossed the navigation company as he bossed the lumber business, for Cappy's private office was merely headquarters for receiving mail, reading the newspapers, receiving visitors, smoking an after-luncheon cigar, and having a little nap from three o'clock until four, at which hour Cappy laid aside the cares of business and put in two hours at bridge in his club.
Despite this apparent indifference to business, however, Mr. Skinner handled the navigation company with gloves; for, if Cappy dozed in his office, he had a habit of keeping one eye open, so to speak, and every little while he would wake up and veto an order of Skinner's, of which the latter would have been willing to take an oath Cappy had never heard. In the matter of engaging new skippers or discharging old ones Mr. Skinner had to be very careful. Cappy always declared that any clerk can negotiate successfully a charter at the going rates in a stiff market, but skippers are, in the final analysis, the Genii of the Dividends. And Cappy knew skippers. He could get more loyalty out of them with a mere pat on the back and a kindly word than could Mr. Skinner, with all his threats, nagging and driving, yet he was an employer who demanded a full measure of service, and never permitted sentiment to plead for an incompetent. And his ships were his pets; in his affections they occupied a position but one degree removed from that occupied by his only child, in consequence of which he was mighty particular who hung up his master's ticket in the cabin of a Blue Star ship. Some idea of the scrupulous care with which he examined all applicants for a skipper's berth may be gleaned from the fact that any man discharged from a Blue Star ship stood as much chance of obtaining a berth with one of Cappy Ricks' competitors as a celluloid dog chasing an asbestos cat through Hades.
The reader will readily appreciate, therefore, the apprehensions which assailed Cappy Ricks when the Blue Star Navigation Company discovered it had on its payroll one Matthew Peasley, a Nobody from Nowhere, who not only had the insufferable impudence to apply for a job skippering the finest windjammer in the fleet, but when rebuffed in no uncertain terms, refused to withdraw his application, and defied his owners to fire him. Such a preposterous state of affairs borders so closely on the realm of fancy as to require explanation; hence, for the nonce let us leave Cappy Ricks and Mr. Skinner to their sordid task of squeezing dividends out of the Blue Star Navigation Company and turn the searchlight of inquiry upon the amazing Matthew.
CHAPTER II. THE MAN FROM BLUE WATER
If, instead of advancing the theory that man sprang from a monkey, Darwin had elected to nominate the duck for that dubious honor, there is no doubt but that he would have pointed to the Peasley family, of Thomaston, Maine, as evidence of the correctness of his theory of evolution. The most casual student of natural history knows that the instant a duckling chips its shell it toddles straightway to the nearest water. The instant a male Peasley could cut his mother's apron strings, he, also, made for the nearest water, for the Peasleys had always been sailors, a statement which a perusal of the tombstones in Thomaston cemetery will amply justify. Indeed, a Peasley who had not acquired his master's ticket prior to his twenty-fifth birthday was one of two things—a disgrace to the family or a corpse. Consequently, since the traditions of his tribe were very strong in Matthew Peasley VI, it occasioned no comment in Thomaston when, having acquired a grammar school education, he answered the call of his destiny and fared forth to blue water and his first taste of dog's body and salt horse.
When he was fourteen years old and very large for his age, Matt commenced his apprenticeship in a codfisher on the Grand Banks, which, when all is said and done, constitutes the finest training school in the world for sailors. By the time he was seventeen he had made one voyage to Rio de Janeiro in a big square-rigger out of Portland; and so smart and capable an A.B. was he for his years that the Old Man took a shine to him. Confidentially he informed young Matt that if the latter would stay by the ship, in due course a billet as third mate should be the reward of his fealty. The Old Man didn't need a third mate any more than he needed a tail, but Matt Peasley looked like a comer to him and he wanted an excuse to encourage the boy by berthing him aft; also it sounds far better to be known as a third mate instead of a mate's bosun, which was, in reality, the position the Old Man had promised Matt. The latter promptly agreed to this program and the skipper loaned him his copy of Bowditch.
Upon his return from his first voyage as third mate Matt went up for his second mate's certificate and passed very handily. Naturally he expected prompt promotion, but the Old Man knew the value of experience in a second mate—also the value of years and physical weight; so he informed young Matt he was entirely too precocious and that to sail as second mate before he was nineteen might tend to swell his ego. Consequently Matt made a voyage to Liverpool and back as third mate before the Old Man promoted him.
For a year, Matt Peasley did nicely; then, in a gale off the Orinoco River, with the captain too ill to appear on deck, the first mate went by the board, leaving the command of the ship to young Matt. She was dismasted at the time, but the lad brought her into Rio on the stumps, thus attracting some little attention to himself from his owners, who paid his passage back to Portland by steamer and found a second mate's berth for him in one of their clipper ships bound round the Horn.
Of course Matt was too young to know they had their eyes on him for future skipper material and were sending him around Cape Horn for the invaluable experience he would encounter on such a voyage. All he realized was that he was going round the Horn, as became one of the House of Peasley, no member of which would ever regard him as a real sailor until he could point to a Cape Horn diploma as evidence that he had graduated from the school for amateurs.
Matt Peasley lacked two months of his twentieth birthday when he stepped onto a San Francisco dock, in his pocket a highly complimentary discharge as second mate from the master of the clipper ship—for Matt had elected to quit. In fact, he had to, for on the way round the mate had picked on him and called him Sonny and Mother's Darling Boy; and Matt, having, in the terminology of the forecastle, come aboard through the hawse pipes, knew himself for a man and a sailor, despite the paucity of whiskers on his big, square boyish chin.
Accordingly he had advised the mate to address him only in the line of duty, on which occasions he desired to be referred to as Mr. Peasley, and, the mate demurring from this program, the customary maritime fracas had ensued. Consequently, somebody had to quit on arrival at San Francisco; and since, Matt was the last to come, he was the first to go. On the strength of his two previous discharges he shipped as second mate on the bark Andrew Welch, for a voyage to Honolulu and back; then, his services as second mate being all in, he went before the inspectors for his first mate's ticket and was awarded an unlimited license.
Matt was now past twenty; and, though not fully filled out, he was big enough to be a chief kicker anywhere. Six feet three in his bare feet; two hundred pounds in the buff; lean, lithe and supple as a panther, the mere sight of his big lumpy shoulders would have been sufficient to have quelled an incipient mutiny. Nevertheless, graduate that he was of a hard, hard school, his face was that of an innocent, trusting, good-natured, immature boy, proclaiming him exactly what he knew his men called him—a big, over-grown kid. He hated himself for his glorious youth.
"You're pretty much of a child to have an unlimited ticket, my son," the supervising inspector informed him. "However, you've had the experience and your record is far above the average, so we're going to issue the license; but if you'll take a bit of advice from an old sailor you'll be content to go as second mate for a year or two more, until your jowls blacken up a bit and you get a trifle thicker in the middle."
With the impudence and irreverence of his tender years, however, Matt Peasley scorned this well-meant advice, notwithstanding the fact that he knew it to be sound, for by shipping as second mate and remaining in the same ship, sooner or later his chance would come. The first mate would quit, or be promoted or drowned, or get drunk; and then his shoes would be waiting for Matt tried and true, and the holder of a first mate's ticket.
However, there is an old saw to the effect that youth must be served, and young Matt desired a helping totally disproportionate to his years, if not to his experience; hence he elected to ignore the fact that shipmasters are wary of chief mates until they have first tried them out as second mates and learned their strength and their weaknesses. Being very human, Matt thought he should prove the exception to a fairly hard-and-fast rule.
He had slept one night on a covered dock and skipped three meals before it occurred to him that he had pursued the wrong tactics. He was too far from Thomaston, Maine, where the majority of sailors have gone to school with their captains. Back home there were a dozen masters who knew his people, who knew him and his proved ability; but out here on the Pacific Coast the skippers were nearly all Scandinavians, and Matt had to show them something besides his documents.
He had failed signally to procure a single opportunity to demonstrate his fitness for an executive position. After abandoning his plan to ship as chief mate he had sought a second mate's berth, but failing to find one, and with each idle day making deeper inroads into his scant savings, he had at length descended to the ignominy of considering a job as bosun. Even that was not forthcoming, and now his money was entirely dissipated.
Now, when a big overgrown kid finds himself penniless three thousand miles from a friend and minus three meals in succession, the fourth omission of the daily bread is not likely to pass without violent protest. Matt was still a growing boy, with a growing boy's appetite; consequently on the morning of his second day of fasting he came to the conclusion that, with so much of his life before him, a few months wasted would, after all, have no material bearing on his future; so he accepted a two months advance from a crimp and shipped aboard the American barkentine Retriever as a common A.B.—a most disgraceful action on the part of a boy, who, since eighteenth birthday, had been used to having old sailors touch their foretop to him and address him as "Mr. Peasley, sir."
CHAPTER III. UNDER THE BLUE STAR FLAG
Matt had been attracted to the barkentine Retriever for two very potent reasons—the first was a delicious odor of stew emanating from her galley; the second was her house flag, a single large, five-pointed blue star on a field of white with scarlet trimming. Garnished left and right with a golden wreath and below with the word Captain, Matt Peasley knew that house flag, in miniature, would look exceedingly well on the front of a uniform cap; for he now made up his mind to enter one service and stick to it until his abilities should receive their inevitable reward. To ship as a foremast hand and rise to captain would be a proud record; so Matt throttled his pride and faced the future with confidence, and a stomach quite filled with very good beef stew.
From the cook he learned that the Retriever carried a million feet of lumber; that she was owned by Cappy Ricks; that Cappy Ricks was the president of the Blue Star Navigation Company, and the most contemptible old scoundrel in all the world; that the skipper was a blue-nose and a devil and a fine man rolled into one; that the barkentine could sail like a yacht; and that presently they would up-hook and off to Grays Harbor, Washington, there to load a cargo of fir lumber for Cape Town. And would Matt mind slipping ashore and buying the cook a bottle of whiskey, for which the latter would settle very minute he could get an advance out of the Old Man. No? Disgusted, the cook rattled his pans and dismissed Matt as one unworthy of further confidence.
Just before the tug came alongside to snake her outside the Heads, the mate came aboard with his lee rail pretty well under and was indiscreet enough to toss a piece of his lip at the Old Man. Five minutes later he was paid and off and kicked out on the dock, while the cook packed his sea bag and tossed it overside after him. The captain, thereupon, bawled for the second mate, who came running. Matt noticed this and decided that should the Old Man ever bawl for him he would come running too.
"Mr. Swenson, you have a chief mate's license, have you not?"
"Very well. You're the first mate. Mr. Lindstrom"—turning to the bosun—"you've waited a year for your chance, and here it is. You're the second mate. Bosun!" He was looking straight at Matt Peasley as he spoke. Matt did not stir. "Hey, there," the skipper roared, "you big mountain of meat, step lively!"
Matt stepped lively.
"I am not the bosun, sir," he explained. "I'm just A.B."
"How dare you contradict me?" the Old Man growled. "I tell you, you don't know what you are yet, barring the fact that you're an American, and the only one, with the exception of myself, in the whole damned Scowegian crew. Do you think you could get away with a bosun's job?"
"I could get away with your job if I had the chance, sir," Matt declared, almost impudently.
"There she blows!" the Old Man declared. "Bless me, if you're not a Native Son! Nobody but a Native Son would be that fresh. I suppose this is your second voyage, you puling baby?"
Matt Peasley's dander was up instantly.
"I'm sailor enough to know my way alow or aloft in any weather, sir," he retorted.
The captain saw his opening and struck.
"What's the ring-tail?" he demanded.
"It's a studdin'-s'l on the gaff of a fore-an'-aft, sail, sir. You haven't got one on the Retriever, sir."
"Huh! You've been reading W. Clark Russell's sea yarns," the skipper charged. "He was quite a pen-an'-paper sailor when it came to square-rigged ships, but he didn't have much to say about six-masted schooners. You see, they didn't build them in his day. Now then, son, name the sticks on a six-legged schooner, and be sure and name 'em right."
"Fore, main, mizzen, spanker, jigger and driver, sir," Matt fired back at him.
"Bully for you, my son. You're the third mate. Cappy Ricks allows me the luxury of a third mate whenever I run across a young fellow that appears to be worth a whoop in hell, so grab your duds, and go aft, and don't bring any cockroaches with you. I'll dig up a bosun among the squareheads."
"Thank you, sir."
"Mr. Peasley, sir."
Since he was no longer an A B., young Matt concluded he might as well accord himself the respect due him as a ship's officer; so he tacked on the Mister, just to show the Old Man he knew his place. The master noted that; also, the slurring of the sir as only a sailor can slur it.
"I shouldn't wonder if you'd do," he remarked as Matt passed him on his way to the forecastle for his dunnage.
On his way back he carried his bag over his shoulder and his framed license in his left hand. Two savages were following with his sea chest.
"I do declare!" the skipper cried. "If that lubberly boy hasn't got some sort of a ticket! Let me see it, Mr. Peasley." And he snatched it out of his grasp.
"So, you're a first mate of sail, for any ocean and any tonnage, eh?" he said presently. "Are you sure this ticket doesn't belong to your father?"
"Sir," declared the exasperated Matt, "I never asked you for this job of third mate; and if I've got to stomach your insults to hold it down I don't want it. That's my ticket and I'm fully capable of living up to it."
"I'm glad to hear that, Mr. Peasley, because if you're not I'll be the first one to find it out—and don't you forget it! I'll have no marine impostors aboard my ship. Where do they ship little boys before the mast, Mr. Peasley?"
"On the Grand Banks, sir."
"I beg your pardon," said the skipper; "but really I thought you were a Native Son. My father was drowned there thirty years ago."
"The Peasleys have all died on the Banks sir," Matt replied, much mollified.
"We'll go down into my cabin and drink a toast to their memory, Mr. Peasley. It isn't often we skippers out here meet one of our own."
It is hard for a Down-Easter, even though he may have lost the speech of his people, not to be, partial to his own; and Captain Noah Kendall, of the barkentine Retriever, was all the cook had declared him to be. He scolded his Norsk mates so bitterly while the vessel was taking on cargo at Grays Harbor that both came and asked for their time an hour before the vessel sailed. However, the old man was aware they would do this, for he had handled that breed too long not to know that the Scandinavian sailor on the Pacific Coast quits his job on the slightest pretext, but never dreams of leaving until he knows that by so doing he can embarrass the master or owners. Even if the mates had not quit, Kendall would have discharged them, for it had been in his mind to try Matt Peasley out as chief mate, and acquire a second mate with a sweeter disposition than that possessed by the late incumbent.
No sooner had the Norsk mates departed than Captain Noah Kendall paid a visit to Captain McBride in command of the schooner Nokomis (also a Blue Star vessel), which had arrived that day and was waiting for the Retriever's berth at the mill dock, in order to commence loading.
"Mac," quoth Captain Noah, "what kind of a second mate have you got?"
"A no-good Irish hound named Murphy," McBride replied promptly, for he had heard rumors of war aboard the Retriever and something told him Kendall had come to borrow his second mate, in order that the Retriever might tow out immediately. A canny, cunning lad was McBride, but for all his Scotch blood he was no match for Captain Noah Kendall.
"I heard he wasn't worth two squirts of bilge water," Captain Noah lied glibly. "However, I'll take him off your hands and reimburse you for the expense of bringing his successor down from Seattle or up from San Francisco. My two mates have just asked to be paid off, and despite the fact that they have signed articles, I've let them go. No use going to sea with a pair of sulky mates, you know. Fortunately, I had a young Down-Easter aboard and I've put him in as first mate—"
"Noah," urged McBride. "I wouldn't advise you to take this man Murphy."
"Beggars can't be choosers," Captain Noah replied mournfully. "The tide serves in half an hour and the tug is alongside the Retriever now. If I have to wire to Seattle for a second mate I may not be able to get one—and if I am forced to wire to San Francisco I may be stuck here a week. I've shipped my crew and paid them all in advance, and if I don't get to sea in an hour I'll lose every man Jack of them, and have it all to do over again."
"Well, I'll speak to the fellow for you, Noah," McBride suggested, and darted out of the cabin to interview the said Murphy. Two minutes later he was back.
"Sorry, Noah, but Murphy says he wouldn't sign up for a trip to Cape Town at chief mate's wages."
"I'm sorry, too, Mac," Captain Noah answered resignedly. "I'm sorry you're such a liar. My grief is only compensated by the knowledge that Murphy is not aboard the Nokomis at this minute, and, if you did any talking while you were out on deck a minute ago you must have talked to yourself. Do I get this man, Murphy and thus save the Blue Star Navigation Company five hundred dollars or must I wire Cappy Ricks to wire you to do your duty by the company?"
"You infernal thief," shouted McBride, "you're taking the best second mate I've had in years."
"Never mind that. Do I get Mike Murphy peaceably or—"
"You've got him already" McBride charged.
"You're better at telling the truth than you are at lying, Angus McBride. You'll have plenty of time to get a second mate while the Nokomis is loading, and you can send the bill for his railroad fare to Cappy Ricks and tell him to charge it to the Retriever."
McBride tried to appear aggrieved, but failed. He burst out laughing, and reached for the locker in which he kept the schooner's supply of grog.
"Would it was prussic acid," he growled.
"Don't say I went behind your back and stole your mate," Kendall retorted. "And if your second mate is as poor as your whiskey," he added, piling insult on to injury, "you can have him back when I return from Cape Town."
Matt Peasley felt that he was going to like Michael J. Murphy. The latter was Irish, but he had left Ireland at a very tender age and was, to all intents and purposes, a breezy American citizen, and while he wore a slight cauliflower in one ear, his broad, kindly humorous face and alert, bustling manner was assurance that he would be an easy man to get along with. When the Old Man introduced him to Matt, he extended a horny right hand that closed on Matt's like the jaws of a dredger, the while he ran an equally horny left hand up and down the chief mate's arm.
"I'm sure we'll get along famously together, Mr. Murphy," Matt suggested.
Again Mr. Murphy ran his hand over that great arm.
"You know it!" he declared with conviction.
Captain Noah laughed aloud, and as Matt scampered forward over the deckload, herding his savages before him, to receive the tug's breast line and make it fast on the bitts the skipper turned to Mr. Murphy.
"There's a lad for you," he declared.
"He has manners and muscle, and those are two things that seldom go together," Mr. Murphy rejoined. "He's Down-Easter, I see. Did Cappy Ricks send him to you, sir?"
"No—not that he wouldn't, however, if he'd ever met the boy. The crimp brought him aboard with the sweepings and scrapings of San Francisco."
"I hope he wasn't drunk—like the rest," Mr. Murphy answered anxiously. "'Twould be a sin to desecrate that lovely body with whiskey."
"He was bung up and bilge free—and that's why he's chief kicker now. The hawser's fast for'd, Mr. Murphy. Cast off your stern line."
"All clear for'd, sir," Matt Peasley's shout came ranging down the wind, and the tug snatched the big barkentine out from the mill dock into the stream where she cast her off, put her big towing hawser aboard, paid it out and started for Grays Harbor bar.
CHAPTER IV. BAD NEWS FROM CAPE TOWN
On a certain day in February Mr. Skinner, coming into Cappy Ricks' office with a cablegram in his hand, found his employer doubled up at his desk and laughing in senile glee.
"I have a cablegram—" Mr. Skinner began.
"I have a good story," Cappy interrupted. "Let me tell it to you, Skinner. Oh, dear! I believe this is about going to kill the boys up on 'Change when I tell them." He wiped his eyes, controlled his mirth and turned to the general manager. "Skinner," he said, "did you know I had gotten back into the harness while you were up at the Astoria mill? Well I did, Skinner. I had to, you know. If it was the last act of my life I had to square accounts with that man Hudner, of the Black Butte Lumber Company."
Mr. Skinner nodded. He was aware of the feud that existed between Cappy and Hudner, and the reasons therefor. The latter had stolen from Cappy a stenographer, who had grown to spinsterhood in his employ—one of those rare stenographers who do half a man's thinking for him. Cappy always paid a little more than the top of the market for clever service; and whenever, a competitor stole one of his favorite employees, sooner or later that competitor paid for his sins, "through the nose."
"While you were away," Cappy went on, "I met Hudner a luncheon. 'Hudner,' I said, 'It's been my experience that nobody gets anything good in this world without paying for it—and you stole the finest stenographer I ever had. So I'm going to make you pay for her. See if I don't.' Well, sir, Skinner, he laughed at me and told me to go as far as I liked; and, a number of my youthful friends being present, they each bet Hudner a five-dollar hat I'd hang his hide on my fence within sixty days.
"Well, Skinner, you know me. Any time it's raining duck soup you'll never catch me out with a fork; and, of course, when the boys showed such faith in my ability to trim Hudner I had to make good. I have a letter from Hudner to prove it; and to-day at luncheon, when we're all gathered at the Round Table, I'm going to read that letter and my reply to the same; and Hudner will have fifty dollars' worth of hat bills to pay!"
"How did you tan his pelt?" Skinner queried.
"Easy! While you were away I chartered his steamer Chehalis for a load of redwood lumber from Humboldt Bay to San Francisco at three dollars and a half a thousand feet. Of course, you know a boat like the Chehalis, with a big pay-roll, will break just even on such a low freight rate; but inasmuch as he was going to lay the Chehalis up in Oakland Creek, owing to lack of business, when I offered him a load of redwood he concluded to take it, just to keep the vessel moving and pay expenses. I stipulated discharge in San Francisco Bay.
"Well, sir, when the Chehalis got to our mill, Skinner, I ordered them to load her with sinkers—oh! oh, this will be the death of me yet, Skinner. And we gave her poor dispatch in loading. Then she had to lay behind the bar two days longer before she could cross out; and when she got here I ordered her to discharge into the British bark Glengarry—and discharging from one vessel in to another is the slowest work in the world. And Hudner—he's—written—me, Skinner, declaring he'll never charter a boat to me again; says the Chehalis lost two thousand dollars on the voyage." And Cappy went off into a gale of laughter, and handed Skinner the letter to read.
For the benefit of the reader, who may desire a closer insight into Cappy's Machiavellian nature, be it known that a sinker is a heavy, close-grained clear redwood butt-log, which, if cut in the spring, when the tree is alive with sap, is so heavy it will not float in the millpond; hence the term sinker. A vessel laden with lumber sawed from sinkers, therefore, will carry just fifty per cent. of her customary cargo; and unless the freight rate be extremely high, she cannot make money.
"Do you know, Skinner," Cappy announced presently, "I think you'd better hunt up a steady job for me! Dadding it, boy, I never knew there was so much fun in business until I had practically retired! Really, Skinner, I must take more interest in my affairs."
"Here's something to sharpen your teeth on, Mr. Ricks," the general manager replied, and presented the cablegram he had been holding for five minutes.
Cappy took it and read, thereby becoming aware for the first time, that he had in his employ an individual by the name of Matthew Peasley.
Cape Town, February 15, —.
Bluestar, San Francisco:
Captain knifed Kru boy argument boat fare. Instruct consignees honor my drafts as captain.
Matthew Peasley, Mate.
"The murdering black hound!" Cappy murmured in an awed voice. "If he hasn't gone and killed the best skipper I ever had! Poor Kendall! Why, Noah and I were good friends, Skinner. Every time the Retriever touched in at her home port I always had Noah Kendall up to the house for dinner, and we went to the theatre together afterward. Thank God! It isn't a week since his life insurance premium fell due and I had the cashier pay it."
Cappy sat gazing dejectedly at the carpet.
"Poor old Cap'n Noah!" he soliloquized aloud. "Twenty-five years you sailed under the Blue Star, and in all that time there was never once when I had to jack up and tell you to 'tend to business. And, Noah, you could make a suit of sails last longer than any man I ever knew; but you did have a hell of a temper." And having delivered this touching eulogy on the late Captain Kendall, Cappy roused himself and faced Skinner.
"I should say I have a job on my hands," he announced, "with the finest sailing ship in the fleet down in South Africa without a skipper! Skinner, I'll tell you what you do, my boy: You dictate the nicest letter you know how to dictate to Noah's widow, up in Port Townsend. Tell her how much we thought of Noah and extend our sympathy, and a check for his next three months' salary. Put her on my private pension list, Skinner, and send her Cap'n Noah's salary every quarter-day as long as she lives. Tell her we'll attend to the collection of the life insurance and will bring Noah's body home to Port Townsend at our own expense. It's the least we can do, Skinner. He was the only skipper I ever had who did not, at one time or another, manage to embroil me in a lawsuit. Who are our consignees at Cape Town?"
"The Harlow & Benton Company, Limited."
"Cable them for confirmation of the mate's message, and request them to have Cap'n Noah's body embalmed and shipped to Port Townsend, Washington, prepaid, deducting charges from our invoice."
CHAPTER V. MATT PEASLEY ASSUMES OFFICE
The death of Captain Noah Kendall, while profoundly deplored by his next in command, first mate Matthew Peasley, had not been permitted by that brisk young man to interfere in the least with the task of getting the cargo out of the Retriever, for sailoring, like soldiering, is a profession in which sentiment is a secondary consideration. Each day of demurrage to a ship like the Retriever, even at the prevailing low freight rate, meant a loss of at least a hundred dollars to the owners, and since navigating a ship safely and expeditiously is the least of a good skipper's duties, and since, further, Matt Peasley was determined to be a skipper in the not very distant future, he concluded to give his owners evidence of the fact that he was, in addition to being a navigator, also a first-class "hustler." If the Retriever made a loss on that voyage he was resolved that no blame should attach to him.
"Skipper's dead, Mike," he announced to Mr. Murphy, the second mate. "Policeman in a small boat alongside says the old man got into a row with the Kru boy that rowed him ashore and the black scoundrel skewered him. I'm going ashore to look after his body and order a tug to kick us into our berth. I guess the old man didn't get time to attend to the business that brought him ashore, poor fellow."
"Very well, Sir," Mr. Murphy replied, and murmured some commonplace expression of regret. He was not particularly shocked for he had lost shipmates in a hurry before now.
Matt Peasley proceeded to the beach, attended to the necessary details incident to the skipper's untimely removal, was informed by the Harlow & Benton Company, Limited, of the location of the berth he was to discharge, ordered a tug for that afternoon, went to the cable office, registered his cable address, sent a cablegram to the owners and returned to the ship.
"Well, Mike," he announced to the second mate, "I guess I'm the skipper; following the same line of deduction, I guess you're the chief mate, so I'll move my dunnage into the old man's cabin and you move into mine. I'll pick up a second mate in Cape Town before we leave."
Mr. Murphy eyed his youthful superior with mild curiosity, not untempered with amusement. "Thank you for the promotion, Captain Matt," he replied. "However, if you'll excuse my apparent impudence on the grounds that I'm about fifteen years older than you and have been longer in the Blue Star employ, I'd like to make a suggestion."
"Fire away, Mike."
Mr. Murphy hitched his belt, walked to the rail, spat tobacco juice from between his fingers and came back. "You're the youngest chief mate I've ever seen, and this is your first berth in that capacity," he began. "Suppose you hang on to it and don't be so infernally generous."
"But you have a first mate's license, haven't you?"
"No ifs or buts, Mike. The skipper's dead; I was first mate; consequently I take command of the ship, and by virtue of my authority I appoint you first mate. That goes. You'll do one of two things, Mike. You'll be first mate or get out of the ship."
Michael J. Murphy grinned. "You mean that?"
"If you stick by that determination you'll find yourself on the beach in Cape Town, unless you conclude to take my recently vacated berth as second mate. And I'd hate like the devil to have you do that. There's neither sense nor profit for you in swapping jobs with me."
"But I tell you I'm going to be skipper."
"I know—until old Cappy Ricks sends down a relief captain. If you promote me now, the relief captain may conclude to retain me as first mate and then you'd have to take my job or quit the ship; and of course I wouldn't care to have that happen. I'd have to quit the ship, too. I wouldn't care to do that. I've made up my mind to sail under the Blue Star flag for the rest of my natural life and I'd hate to have to change my mind."
"I've made up my mind to the same thing, Mike, and I know I'm not going to change my mind."
"Well, then, Matt, you stick in your first mate's berth and I'll be satisfied with my second mate's berth."
"I suppose you'll say next that the relief skipper will be happy in poor old Captain Noah's berth, eh?" Matt interrupted. He grinned at Mr. Murphy.
"Mike, listen to me. There isn't going to be any relief skipper. You're going back to Hoquiam, Grays Harbor, Washington, U. S. A., as chief kicker of the barkentine Retriever, and you're going to take orders from me all the way. In fact, you might as well begin right now. Take your duds and move into my cabin."
"Matt," Mr. Murphy pleaded earnestly, "you don't know Cappy Ricks, do you?"
"No, but I'll get acquainted with him in due course. Don't let that worry you Mike."
"All right, I won't. But what does worry me is the fact that Cappy Ricks doesn't know you.
"Does he know you?"
"Do you know him?"
"Yes, by proxy. I've heard a lot about him, and that's why I'm in his employ and resolved to stay there. If a man sails under the Blue Star flag long enough and behaves himself and displays a little human intelligence from time to time sooner or later he gets his chance. Cappy Ricks does all the hiring and firing for the fleet, and whenever he has a good job to fill, he never goes outside his own employ to fill it. He always promotes the deserving. You cabled him, of course, that Captain Kendall has been killed."
"Yes, I did. And I cabled him also to cable me authority to draw drafts, as skipper, in order to disburse the vessel."
"Just like a kid! Just like a kid!" Mr. Murphy groaned. "That finishes you, Matt. Cappy'll think you're fresh and you'll be ten years proving to him you are not."
"It proves I'm on the job," Matt protested doggedly.
"No matter, Matt. Cappy Ricks will go over the list of his skippers due for promotion into a larger ship and more pay, and right away he'll start Captain Noah's successor for Cape Town to bring the ship home."
"If he does, Mike, he's crazy."
"Oh, he's crazy enough, Matt, like a fox—so blamed crazy he will not consider handing over this Retriever to an untried and unknown man who has been in his employ for less than a voyage. Why, I wouldn't myself."
"Maybe you think he'll hand her over to you?" Matt asked, with the suspicion and impetuosity of youth.
"Boy," said Mr. Murphy patiently, "you're getting into deep water close to the shore. Starboard your helm and put her on the other tack. If he gives her to me—which he will not—I'll take her. I've been three years in his employ. I'm capable—"
"Mike," Matt interrupted. "I like you fine, but I want to tell you that if Cappy Ricks cabled you to take charge, I wouldn't let you. I'm next in command, and it's only etiquette that I should have my chance."
"Then," Mr. Murphy murmured sententiously, "there'd be a fight with skin gloves and I'm afraid you'd get licked, son. I wasted a good many years in the navy, Matt, and there I learned two things—how to obey and how to fight with my fists. I was the champion amateur light-heavy-weight of the Atlantic fleet, and every once in a while something happens to prove to me that I'm far from being a slouch even at this late date."
"No offense, Mike. We're crossing our bridges before we come to them, and besides, I didn't intend to be offensive."
"I understand. Our conversation was entirely academic," Murphy admitted graciously.
"You said you learned to obey in the navy," Matt suggested. "What's the matter with obeying my last order?"
"All right, Matt. I'll obey. But remember, I have given you fair warning. If I move into your cabin to-day, I'll not move out when the relief skipper comes."
"I'll take a chance," said Matt Peasley.
CHAPTER VI. WORDY WAR AT A DOLLAR A WORD
While the capable Mr. Skinner was preparing the reply to Matt Peasley's cablegram, and dictating for Cappy Ricks' signature a letter to Noah Kendall's widow, Cappy was busy at the telephone. First he retailed the news to the Merchants' Exchange, to be bulletined on the blackboard and read by Captain Noah's friends; next he called up the secretary of the American Shipmasters' Association, of which the deceased had been a member, and lastly he communicated the sad tidings to the water-front reporters of all the daily papers. This detail attended to, Cappy's active mind returned to more practical and profitable affairs, and he took up Matt Peasley's cablegram. He was deep in a study of it when Mr. Skinner entered with the letter to Mrs. Kendall.
"'Captain knifed, killed, Kru boy argument boat fare,'" Cappy read aloud. "Skinner, my dear boy, what is the cable rate per word to Cape Town?"
"Ninety-eight cents per word," replied Mr. Skinner, who had just looked it up.
"We will if you please, Skinner, confine ourselves to round numbers. There is such a thing as being too exact. Call it a dollar. Figuring on that basis, I see this garrulous mate has squandered five dollars of our money to no purpose—yes, by jingo, more than that. He might have used the code book! Hum-m-m! Ahem! Harump-h-h-h! Skinner, this fellow will not do. He is too windy. Skinner, he tells the story in eight words, and forgets to use his code book. Give me a skipper, Skinner, my boy, who always has his owner's interest at heart and displays a commendable discretion in limiting the depredations practiced by the cable company. For instance, the man Peasley might have omitted the word knifed; also the explanatory words, argument boat fare, and the word mate. Though regretting Noah's demise most keenly, as business men we are not cable-gramically interested in the means employed to accomplish his removal. Neither do the causes leading up to the tragedy interest us. The man Peasley should merely have said "Captain murdered." Also, he might have trusted to us to realize that when the captain dies the first mate takes charge. He need not have identified himself—the infernal chatter-box!"
Cappy read the next sentence. "Instruct consignees honor my drafts as captain."
"H'm! Harum-ph! He might have said 'please,' Skinner! Sounds devilishly like an order, the way he puts it. Though he is temporarily in command I challenge his right to handle our money until I know more about him. Harum-ph! Reading between the lines, Skinner, I see he says: 'If you send a skipper to Cape Town to bring the Retriever home while I'm on the job, you're crazy.' Look over the vouchers in Cap'n Noah's last report and let us ascertain how long this forceful mate has been in our employ."
Now, the ordinary form of receipt to which a seaman puts his signature when signing clear bears upon its reverse side a series of blank spaces, which the captain must fill in. These blanks provide for mention of the date of signing on, date of discharge, station held on vessel and remarks. On none of the vouchers of the Retriever's last voyage, however, did the name of Matthew Peasley appear.
"Must have shipped in San Francisco just before the vessel sailed for her loading port," Cappy announced. "Send in a boy."
One of Cappy's young men was summoned.
"Son," said Cappy, "you run down, like a good boy, to the office of the Deputy United States Shipping Commissioner and tell him Mr. Ricks would like to see the duplicate copy of the crew list of the barkentine Retriever."
When an American vessel clears for a foreign port the law required that her crew shall be signed on before a Deputy United States Shipping Commissioner, who furnishes a certified copy of the crew list to the captain and retains a duplicate for his own files.
The Blue Star youth returned presently with his duplicate list, on consulting which, to his unspeakable amazement, Cappy Ricks discovered that Matthew Peasley had shipped aboard the Retriever as an able seaman, and that the first mate was one William Olson—which goes to prove that in the heat of passion a skipper will often discharge a mate on the eve of sailing for a foreign port and forget to tell the Deputy Shipping Commissioner anything about it.
"Remarkable," Cappy declared. "Ree-markable!"
"Dirty work here," Mr. Skinner announced. "Captain dead and a common A.B. cabling us for authority to draw drafts as captain, while posing as first mate. Nigger in the woodpile somewhere, Mr. Ricks."
"I'll smoke him out in five minutes, Skinner. Ring up the local inspectors and inquire if, by any chance, they have ever issued a captain's license to one Matthew Peasley."
Skinner obeyed. After a brief wait he was informed that the said Peasley had an unlimited license as first mate of sail, and was entitled to act as second mate of steam vessels up to five hundred tons net register.
"Nothing doing!" Cappy piped. "Skinner, when a mate with an unlimited license ships before the mast, THERE'S A REASON!"
"Drunkard!" Mr. Skinner suggested without an instant's hesitation.
"Eggs-actly, Skinner. Good seaman, I daresay, but worthless and unreliable in an executive capacity, and I can't trust a ripping fine barkentine like the Retriever with that kind of man. I suppose he feels the hankering for a spree coming on right now. Skinner, if we gave the man Peasley permission to draw drafts he'd paint Cape Town red. I feel it in my bones."
"So do I, sir."
"What vessels have we in port at this moment, Skinner?"
"McBride is discharging the Nokomis at Oakland Long Wharf."
"The ideal man." Cappy smote his desk. "I've been wanting to promote Mac into a larger vessel and pay him twenty-five dollars a month more for the past two years. He's too good for a little hooker like the Nokomis, and he's got a steady-going Norwegian mate that's been with him in the Nokomis for three years. Time to take care of that mate. Skinner, I have an idea. See that it is carried through. McBride's mate shall buy out Mac's interest in the Nokomis. If he hasn't the money, tell him I'll lend it to him, secured by the insurance, provided he and McBride can come to terms. See that they do. Tell Mac he's to have the Retriever, and I'll arrange to get Cap'n Noah's interest for him from the estate at a fair figure. Give him expense money and his credentials and tell him to start for Cape Town tomorrow night; and cable the man Peasley to retain charge of the vessel at captain's pay until McBride arrives to relieve him."
Mr. Skinner retired to his office and got down his code book. The general manager knew what he desired to say and hoped he might find something in the code book to help him say it at cut rates, but despairing after a diligent search he finally evolved and dispatched this cablegram to Matt Peasley, addressing it to the cable address of the Retriever.
San Francisco, Feb. 16th, 19—.
Rickstar, Cape Town.
Peasley, your meager maritime experience renders prohibitive compliance request. Retain charge master's pay pending arrival successor.
Having dispatched his message to Matt Peasley, Mr. Skinner, as he thought, had dismissed Peasley from his thoughts forever. It would appear, however, that in this particular the general manager was counting Mother Carey s chickens before they were hatched. He little suspected, in his desire to be fair, even at considerable expense, to inform Matt Peasley just why the Blue Star Navigation Company couldn't possibly hand over its fine barkentine to a stranger, that he had only reopened the controversy; that his unfortunate reference to "meager maritime experience" had flicked Matt Peasley on a raw spot and been provocative of this reply, received the same day:
Cape Town, Feb. 16, 19—.
Bluestar, San Francisco.
Skipper dying sea foreign port unwritten maritime law stipulates mate succeeds. Yankee can sail anything afloat. This my chance. Grant it or insure successor's life. Will throw him overboard on arrival.
Mr. Skinner promptly carried this defi to Cappy Ricks.
"He's a sea-lawyer," Cappy piped angrily. "The scoundrel! The un-mi-ti-ga-ted—scoundrel! Cable him instantly, Skinner, that if he spends another cent of our money in unnecessary cablegrams I'll fire him." He snapped his fingers. "Attend to it, Skinner, attend to it."
Mr. Skinner attended to it, and the following morning he found this reply on his desk when he came down to work:
Cape Town, Feb. 17, 19—.
Bluestar, San Francisco.
Holler when you're hit. Paid for it myself. Am I to bring Retriever home?
"I dare say the fellow did," Mr. Skinner informed Cappy. "He has four months' wages coming to him at sixty dollars a month—and if he didn't, why, I'll instruct McBride to deduct the cable charges from his wages when he pays him off."
"I think your reference to his meager maritime experience annoyed him, Skinner," Cappy suggested thoughtfully. "It may be that he is a most excellent sailor. At least, he spends his money like one."
Cappy had no further comment to make, and the reply to this impudent communication was accordingly left to Mr. Skinner, who cabled:
San Francisco, Feb. 17th, 19—.
Rickstar, Cape Town.
"I think that will settle the upstart," Mr. Skinner declared confidently as he rang for a messenger boy.
It did not. Four hours later he received this:
Cape Town, Feb. 17, 19—.
Bluestar, San Francisco.
Now it was a custom of Mr. Skinner's, when a subordinate laid claim to an inalienable right which the general manager was not willing to concede, to regard with very grave suspicion that subordinate's loyalty to the company. If the subordinate protested Mr. Skinner would warn him, kindly, quietly, but none the less forcefully; and if he persisted Mr. Skinner would dispense with the services of that subordinate so fast the offender, nine times out of ten, would be left standing in a sort of fog and blinking at the suddenness with which the metaphorical can had, metaphorically speaking, been tied to his caudal appendage. Every large business office has its Skinner—a queer combination of decency, honesty, brains and brutality, a worshiper at the shrine of Mammon in the temple of the great god Business, a reactionary Republican, treasurer of his church and eventually a total loss from diabetes, brought on by lack of exercise and worry over trifles.
However, to return to our particular Mr. Skinner and Matt Peasley, the rebellious. In all justice to Skinner it must be admitted that his first impulse with reference to Matt Peasley was eminently fair. He really desired to convey to this persistent person an intimation to the effect that the latter was, colloquially speaking, monkeying with the buzz-saw and in imminent danger of having his head lopped off; and he would have given it, too, provided the delivery of the ultimatum should not have cost the Blue Star Navigation Company ninety-eight cents a word, including the address. Consequently, Skinner, always efficient and realizing that McBride would doubtless be enabled to pick up another mate in Cape Town, or in a pinch, could dispense with a first mate altogether, made answer to Matt Peasley as follows:
San Francisco, Feb. 17th, 19—.
Rickstar, Cape Town.
Peasley, you are hereby discharged. Turn over command second mate, call consignees your wages immediately.
Having dispatched this cablegram and ended it all, as it were, Mr. Skinner next cast his cold gray glance adown the duplicate crew list borrowed from the deputy shipping commissioner, and discovered that the second mate shipped at San Francisco was one Christian Swenson.
"I do hope he's not a drinking man," Skinner sighed. "The Retriever is quite a responsibility to entrust to a man we have never seen or heard of before, but the man Swenson can scarcely be as vicious and insubordinate as this fellow Peasley, and under the circumstances we'll have to run the risk."
And having wotted the which, Mr. Skinner cabled Christian Swenson to take charge of the Retriever, at master's wages, until the arrival of his successor. Next he cabled The Harlow and Benton Company, Limited, requesting them to pay off Matt Peasley and, if necessary, invoke the authorities to remove him from the vessel.
"That fellow is a tough one to handle," he remarked to Cappy Ricks, to whom he showed all the cablegrams, "but I guess this will about cut off his wind."
"A sea lawyer is the curse of the Seven Seas!" Cappy declared waspishly. He was very bitter against Matt Peasley, whom he now regarded as an ally of the piratical cable company.
CHAPTER VII. CAPPY RICKS MAKES BAD MEDICINE
That afternoon Mr. Skinner herded Captain McBride of the Nokomis and his Norwegian mate into Cappy Ricks' office. Cappy brought them to terms very promptly, and the captain started for New York on the Overland the same night. From New York he was to take passage to Liverpool, thence via the A. D. line to Cape Town. Cappy almost had a bloody sweat when he reflected on the expense for provisions and wages for the crew during the weeks of idleness while McBride was on the way to join the Retriever. Both he and Mr. Skinner had decided that nothing could be gained by informing McBride, who was a little, mild-mannered gentleman with gold eyeglasses, of the potential ducking that awaited him at the hands of Matt Peasley; for just before McBride said good-bye and started for the train Cappy and Mr. Skinner discovered that their apple cart again had been upset. The following cablegram received from Matt Peasley knocked into a cocked hat all their high hopes of ridding themselves of the incubus.
Cape Town, Feb. 17, 19—.
Bluestar, San Francisco.
Swenson fired before leaving San Francisco. Second mate Murphy declines take your orders, claiming me superior officer; I decline also, claiming captain en route my superior officer. Owner can fire captain but only captain can fire or disrate ship's officers. Besides I shipped for the round trip.
"Well," said Cappy, "what do you know about that? He clings to us like a barnacle or a poor relation—and the worst of it is the damned sea lawyer is absolutely right. We have no authority to fire him, Skinner. Just think of a government that will permit such a ridiculous state of affairs as that to exist! Think of it, Skinner! We hire the man Peasley but we can't fire him—and in the meantime he'll roost in Cap'n Noah's cabin and run up bills on us and consume our groceries and draw master's pay until McBride arrives and discharges him."
For geographical and financial reasons Cappy Ricks was barred from quarreling with Matt Peasley. However, he was as cross as a setting hen and just naturally had to vent his displeasure on somebody, and as he paid Mr. Skinner a very large salary to be his general manager, he figured he could afford to quarrel with Skinner. So he said:
"Well, Skinner, if you hadn't butted in on the shipping end of the business the man Peasley would not have been given this opening to swat us. It's nuts for a sailor any time he can trip up a landsman, and particularly his owners—"
"You O.K.'d the cablegrams, Mr. Ricks," Skinner reminded him coldly.
"Don't talk back to me!" Cappy piped. "Not another peep out of you, sir! Not another word of discussion about this matter under any circumstances! I don't want to talk about it further—understand? It's driving me insane. Now, then, Skinner, tell me: If the man Peasley should decline to recognize McBride's authority, what course would you advise pursuing?"
"I do not think he will be that arbitrary, Mr. Ricks. In the first place—"
"Skinner, please do not argue with me. The man Peasley would do anything—"
"Well, in that event, McBride can call in the civil authorities of Cape Town, to remove Peasley by force from the ship."
"Skinner, you'll drive me to drink! I ask you, has a British official any authority over an American vessel lying in the roadstead? Will a foreign official dare to set foot on an American deck when an American skipper orders him not to do so?"
"I am not a sea lawyer," Mr. Skinner retorted, "I do not know."
"The Retriever will have discharged her cargo weeks before McBride arrives. Then suppose Peasley takes a notion to warp his vessel outside the three-mile limit. What authority has McBride got then?"
"I repeat, I am not a sea lawyer, Mr. Ricks."
"Don't equivocate with me, Skinner! Let's argue this question calmly, coolly and deliberately. Don't lose your temper. Now then. Peasley said he'd throw his successor overboard, didn't he?"
"Oh, merely a threat, Mr. Ricks."
"Skinner, you're a fine, wise manager! A threat, eh?" Cappy laughed—a short, scornful laugh. "Huh! Threat! Joke!"
"You do not think it is a threat?"
"No, sir. It's a promise. McBride is a splendid little man and game to the core; but no good, game little man will ever stay on a deck if a good, game big man takes a notion to throw him overboard, and the man Peasley is both big and game, otherwise he would not defy us. Why, Skinner, that fellow wouldn't pause at anything. Hasn't he spent over a hundred dollars arguing with us by cable? Why, he's a desperate character! Also, he would not threaten to throw his successor overboard if he didn't know that he was fully capable of so doing. Paste that in your hat, Skinner. It isn't done." Skinner inclined his head respectfully. Cappy continued: "What I should have done was to have sent a good, game, big man—"
He paused, and his glance met Skinner's wonderingly as a bright idea leaped into his cunning brain and crystallized into definite purpose. He sprang up, waved his skinny old arms, and kicked the waste-basket into a corner of the room.
"I have it, Skinner! I've solved the problem. Go back and 'tend to your lumber business and leave the man Peasley to me. I'll tan that fellow's hide and hang it on my fence, just as sure as George Washington crossed the Delaware River."
Mr. Skinner, glad to be excused, promptly made his escape. When Cappy Ricks stripped for action, Mr. Skinner knew from long experience that there was going to be a fight or a foot race; that whenever the old gentleman set out to confound an enemy, the inevitable result was wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth, in which doleful form of exercise Cappy Ricks had never been known to participate.
"Send in a boy!" Cappy ordered as the general manager withdrew.
The boy appeared. "Sonny," said Cappy Ricks, "do you know All Hands And Feet?" The boy nodded and Cappy continued: "Well, you go down on the Embarcadero, like a good boy, and cruise from Folsom Street to Broadway Wharf Number Two until you find All Hands and Feet. Look in front of cigar stands and in the shipchandlery stores; and if you don't find him in those places run over to the assembly rooms of Harbor Fifteen, Masters' and Pilots' Association, and see if he's there, playing checkers. When you find him tell him Mr. Ricks wants to see him at once."
CHAPTER VIII. ALL HANDS AND FEET TO THE RESCUE
Captain Ole Peterson was known to the coastwise trade as All Hands And Feet. He was a giant Swede whose feet resembled twin scow models and whose clenched fists, properly smoked and cured, might have passed anywhere for picnic hams. He was intelligent, competent and belligerent, with a broad face, slightly dished and plentifully scarred, while his wide flat nose had been stove in and shifted hard a-starboard. Cappy Ricks liked him, respected his ability and found him amusing as one finds an educated bear amusing. He had a reputation for being the undefeated rough and tumble champion of Sweden and the United States.
"You ban vant to see me, sir?" he rumbled as, hat in hand, he stood beside Cappy Ricks' desk half an hour later. Compared with the huge Swede, Cappy looked like a watch charm.
"Sit down, captain," Cappy replied amiably. "I hear you're out of a job. Why?"
Briefly All Hands And Feet explained what Cappy already knew; that his last command, being old and rotten and over-loaded, had worked apart in a seaway and fallen to pieces under him. The inspectors had held him blameless.
"I have a job for you, Ole," Cappy announced. "But there's a string attached to it."
"Aye ban able to pull strings, sir," Ole reminded him.
Cappy smiled, and outlined to the Swede the conditions surrounding the barkentine Retriever. "I'm going to give you command of the Retriever," he continued confidentially. "You are to bring her home from Cape Town, and when you get back I'll have a staunch four-masted schooner waiting for you. I was going to send McBride of the Nokomis on this job, but thought better of it, for the reason that Mac may not be physically equipped to perform the additional task I have in mind and I believe you are. Peterson, if you want a steady job skippering for the Blue Star Navigation Company you've got to earn it, and to earn it you've got to give this fellow Peasley a good sound thrashing for the good of his immortal soul. The very moment you step aboard the Retriever let him know you're the master."
"Do you tank he ban villin' to fight?" Ole demanded.
"Something tells me he will. However, in case he doesn't, don't let that embarrass you. Man-handle him until he does. Let me impress upon you, captain, the fact that I want the man Peasley summarily chastised for impudence and insubordination."
"All right, sir," said Ole. "Aye ban work him over." To be asked to fight for a job was to this descendant of the Vikings the ne plus ultra of sportsmanship. "Aye never ban licked yet," he added reminiscently.
"When we cabled we were sending a man to relieve him," Cappy complained, "he replied, telling us to insure his successor's life, because he was going to throw him overboard the minute he arrived."
All Hands And Feet swept away any lingering fears Cappy might chance to be entertaining. "Aye ban weigh two hundret an' saxty pounds," he announced.
"Which being the case," Cappy warned him, "should he succeed in throwing YOU overboard I should consider you unfit for a job in my employ." (The old fox had not the slightest idea such a contretemps was possible, but in order to play safe he considered it good policy to hearten Ole for the fray.) "Should he defeat you, captain, I have no hesitancy in saying to you now that such a misfortune would have a most disastrous effect on your future in my employ. You know me. When I order a job done, I want it done, and I want it done well. Understand! I don't want you to maim or kill the man, but just give him a good sound—er—commercial thrashing; and after you've tamed him I want you to—"
All Hands And Feet nodded his comprehension.
"An'," he interrupted, "after aye ban slap him once or twice aye ban give good kick under de coattail an' fire dis fresh guy—eh?" he suggested.
"Fire nothing!" shrilled Cappy. "You follow instructions, Ole, or I'll fire you! No, sir. After you've thrashed him I want you to bend a rope round him amidships and souse him overside to bring him to! Remember, we fired him once and he would not be fired. The damned sea lawyer quoted the salt-water code to us and said he'd shipped for the round trip; so we'll take him at his word. He's your first mate, captain. Bring him back to Grays Harbor with you; and then, if you feel so inclined, you may apply the tip of your number twenty-four sea boot where it will do the most good; in fact, I should prefer it. But by all means see to it that he completes his contract with the barkentine Retriever."
"Aye skoll see to it," Ole promised fervently.
"I thank you, captain. Come out in the general office now and I'll introduce you to the cashier, who will furnish you with expense money. Meantime, I'll have Skinner fill out a certificate of change of masters and have it registered at the custom-house. Can't send you down there without your credentials, you know."
All Hands And Feet mumbled his thanks; for, indeed, he was grateful for this chance to prove his metal. Calm in the knowledge of his past performances, he took no thought of the personal issue with Matt Peasley, for never had he met a mate he could not thrash. He followed Cappy out to the cashier's desk; and while the latter equipped All Hands And Feet for his journey to South Africa, and Mr. Skinner departed for the custom-house to have the certificate registered, Cappy wired McBride, aboard the Overland speeding east, instructing him to come back to San Francisco.
When Skinner returned to the office he found Cappy clawing nervously at his whiskers.
"The man Peasley has completely disrupted our organization," he complained bitterly. "Here I go to work and promote McBride to the Retriever to make room for his mate in the Nokomis, and now I have to recall Mac and give the Retriever to All Hands And Feet until she gets back to Grays Harbor; in consequence of which Mac hasn't a thing to do for four months and draws full pay for doing it, and later I've got to provide a permanent place for All Hands And Feet! Skinner, if this continues, I shall yet fill a pauper's grave." He was silent for several seconds; then: "By the way, Skinner, have you replied to that last cablegram from the man Peasley?"
"No, sir. I didn't think it required an answer."
"You mean you didn't know what answer to give him," Cappy snarled. "Well, neither do I; but since the cuss has got us into the spending habit, I'm going to be reckless for once and send him a cable myself, just to let him know I'm calling his bluff."
And, with that remark, Cappy squared round to his desk and wrote, in a trembling hand: "Special messenger big as horse carries reply your last cablegram."
"There," he said, turning to his general manager; "send that to the man Peasley, and sign my name to it."
CHAPTER IX. MR. MURPHY ADVISES PREPAREDNESS
Matt Peasley said nothing to Mr. Murphy when Cappy Ricks' cryptic cablegram was received. Insofar as Matt was concerned, that cablegram closed the argument, for even had it seemed to demand a reply the master of the Retriever would not—nay could not, have answered, for the controversy had already ruined him financially. So he went on briskly with his task of discharging the Retriever and when the A. D. liner pulled out for Liverpool with Captain Noah's body on board, he laid off work merely long enough to dip the ensign and run it to half mast again until the steamer was out of sight; then he furled the flag, stored it in the locker in Captain Noah's stateroom, into which he had now moved, and went on superintending the discharging. When the vessel was empty he had a tug tow him out into the roadstead, where he cast anchor and set himself patiently to await the arrival of the special messenger "as big as a horse."
Somehow Matt didn't relish that little dash of descriptive writing. In conjunction with the noun horse Cappy Ricks had employed the indefinite article a, and while a horse was a horse and Cappy might have had a Shetland pony in mind when he coined the simile, nevertheless, a still small voice whispered to Matt Peasley that at the time Cappy was really thinking of a Percheron. The longer Matt chewed the cud of anticipation the more acute grew his regret that he had threatened to throw his successor overboard. He traced a certain analogy between that threat and Cappy Ricks' simple declarative sentence, and finally he decided to take Mr. Murphy into his confidence.
"Mike," he said, "did you ever hear any gossip to the effect that Cappy Ricks will swallow a bluff?"
"No, I never have," Mr. Murphy replied. "Why do you ask? You been trying to bluff him, Matt?"
"No, I really meant it when I said it, and if I'm crowded I'll make good, but somehow I wish I hadn't said it. It wasn't dignified."
"What did you say, Matt?"
"I cabled the owners that if they sent a skipper down here to relieve me they had better insure his life, because I'd throw him overboard upon arrival."
"Why, that's war talk," Mr. Murphy declared, highly scandalized. "I don't think Cappy Ricks will stand for that. I know blame well I wouldn't."
"What would you do, Mike, if you stood in Cappy's shoes and I sent you that cablegram?"
"Well," Mr. Murphy mused, "of course I'd be a little old man weighing about a hundred and thirty pounds ring-side, and I wouldn't be able to thrash you myself, but if it took my last dollar I'd send somebody down here to do the job for me.
"Well, I guess that's just about what Cappy has done," Matt admitted, and handed his mate Cappy's cablegram.
"Hah-hah!" Mr. Murphy commented. "That threat got past the general manager, right up to headquarters. Why, the old man signed this cablegram and they do say that when Cappy takes personal charge the fur begins to fly. Matt, if I was a drinking man I'd offer to bet you a scuttle of grog it's a case of die dog, or eat the meat-axe. Your bluff has been called, my son."
"Then," Matt averred impudently, "the only thing for me to do is to call Cappy's."
"Why, give his messenger a good trouncing, of course. You don't suppose I'm going to stand by and take a thrashing or let the other fellow heave me overboard, do you? I should say not!"
Mr. Murphy puffed at his pipe, in silence for several minutes, the while he pondered the situation. Presently he arrived at a solution.
"He wouldn't send a prize-fighter down here, just to lick you," he announced. "The old man is the wildest spendthrift on earth when you get him started, but as a general rule his middle name is Tight Wad. He would select a combination of scrapper and skipper, and there are any number of such combinations on the beach of 'Frisco town. I could name you a dozen off-hand, and any one of the dozen would make you mind your P's and Q's, big as you are. Still, they all fight alike—rough and tumble, catch-as-catch-can. They come wading in, swinging both arms and you could sail the Retriever through the openings they leave. Know anything about boxing, Matt?"
"Not a thing, Mike. I've always had to climb the big fellows."
"Then I'll teach you," Mr. Murphy announced with conviction. "You're in fine shape now—as right as a fox and fit to tackle the finest, but there isn't any sense in getting mauled up when you don't have to. I'll go ashore and buy a set of six-ounce gloves, a set of two-ounce gloves and a punching bag. For the next three weeks you won't have anything to do except prepare for the battle, and I can teach you a lot of good stuff in three weeks. To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed, Matt, and if Cappy has sent a Holy Terror to clean you, give him a regular fight, even if he licks you."
Matt Peasley nodded. He entertained a profound respect for Mr. Murphy's judgment.
CHAPTER X. THE BATTLE OF TABLE BAY
In due course Captain Ole Peterson arrived at Cape Town. As the steamer which bore him slipped up Table Bay to her pier All Hands And Feet saw a big barkentine, flying the American flag, at anchor just inside the breakwater and rightly conjectured she was his future command. Three hours ashore proved ample time to consummate all of the Retriever's neglected business. He discovered that the man to whom he was to administer a good, sound, commercial thrashing, as per Cappy Ricks' instructions, had already purchased and gotten aboard stores and water for the voyage back to Grays Harbor, so All Hands And Feet drew some money from the consignees, to be deducted from the freight money, paid off all the vessel's bills, O.K.'d the consignees' statement of account to be forwarded to the owners, received a ninety-day draft on London, in payment of the freight, mailed it to his owners, cleared his vessel, procured a reliable man to witness the formal transfer of authority from Matt Peasley to himself, engaged a launch and set out for the Retriever. All Hands And Feet had had ample time to plan his campaign, and he had planned it well. Immediately upon setting foot on the deck of the Retriever he planned to attack; then, this duty accomplished, he would send his witness ashore, up hook and away. The attack having taken place in British waters All Hands And Feet hoped Matt Peasley would have no redress in American waters; and if he took the complainant to sea with him the man Peasley would, of a certainty, have no legal redress in British waters!
Mr. Murphy was the first to sight All Hands And Feet. The worthy fellow had observed the arrival of the steamer and it had occurred to him that possibly Cappy Ricks' messenger might be aboard her. He had been on the lookout for two hours, accordingly, and the instant he saw a launch coming toward the Retriever his suspicions were fully aroused. He ran below and returned with the two ounce gloves and Captain Kendall's powerful marine glasses, which latter he leveled at the approaching launch, and while the new skipper was still a couple of cable lengths distant, Mr. Murphy recognized him. Instantly he secured the two ounce gloves and ran aft to where Matt Peasley, dressed in slippers, duck trousers and undershirt, sat under an awning reading Sinful Peck.
"Matt," he declared, "the special messenger will be aboard in about three shakes of a lamb's tail. I recognize him."
"Who is he?" Matt demanded coolly.
"All Hands And Feet—and believe me, he's there! He isn't a man, Matt, he's a bear—he's a devil, and if he ever gets his hands on you it's Kitty bar the door! Get into the gloves, boy, get into the gloves. You could smash that big Swede to your heart's content, but you wouldn't even stagger him with the first few punches. You'd just break your hands on him before you could knock him out and then he'd walk over you. Into the gloves, Matt, and save your knuckles."
"All right, Mike. Don't be in such a hurry. Call a couple of hands and let down the companion ladder so the special messenger can bring his dunnage aboard. I'll fight him after I've finished this chapter—that is, if he insists on being accommodated."
"He'll insist," Mr. Murphy declared. "He likes it, and the reason he likes it is because he does it well, and that's the reason he's here. He won't waste any ceremony on you, Matt. He's always up and doing."
Matt finished his chapter of Sinful Peck just as All Hands And Feet, followed by a Cape Town gentleman and two Kru boys, bearing respectively a brown canvas telescope basket and a sea chest, bore down upon him, convoyed by Mr. Murphy.
"A big Swede skipper," Matt Peasley soliloquized, as he eyed the stranger with alert interest. "Thunder, but he's big. He's the biggest thing I ever saw walking on two legs, with the exception of a trick elephant." He rose, put down his book and advanced to greet his visitors. While All Hands And Feet was still fully thirty feet from him he bawled aloud:
"You ban Mr. Peasley?"
"Captain Peasley," young Matt corrected him. "Since the death of Captain Kendall I have been in charge of the vessel; hence, for the present, I am known as Captain Peasley. What can I do for you, gentlemen?"
All Hands And Feet glanced appraisingly at Matt Peasley and did him the honor to remove his coat and vest.
"Yes; it's pretty hot down in these latitudes," Matt remarked, by way of being pleasant and making conversation.
All Hands And Feet removed an envelope from his coat pocket and handed it to Matt; and while the latter perused it the big Swede strode to the scuttle butt and helped himself to a drink of water. Matt opened the envelope and read this communication from Cappy Ricks:
San Francisco, California. February 20, 19—.
Mr. Matthew Peasley, Chief Mate Barkentine Retriever, Cape Town, South Africa.
My Dear Mr. Peasley:
Cast your eye along the lines of the bearer of this note, Captain Ole Peterson, who comes to Cape Town to take command of the Retriever. Within five minutes he will, acting under instructions from me and without the slightest personal animus toward yourself, proceed to administer to you the beating of a lifetime. By the time he gets through wiping the deck with you perhaps you will realize the necessity, in the future, of obeying orders from your owners.
In your cablegram received to-day, you take occasion to remind us that no manager or owner has authority to disrate a ship's officer. This is quite true. Such authority is vested only in the master of the ship. You need have no fear for your job, however. We believe you to be a clever first mate, otherwise Captain Kendall would not have dug you up out of the forecastle; and believing this, naturally we dislike the thought of disrating you. We have, therefore, instructed Captain Peterson to retain you in your berth as first mate.
However, in view of the fact that we have informed him of your amiable intentions of throwing him overboard, he will first inculcate in you that spirit of respect to your superiors which you so manifestly lack. He will then dip you into the drink, to bring you to, and after that you will kindly go forward and break out the anchor. You signed for the round trip and you're going to complete your contract. Remember that.
Cordially and sincerely yours, Blue Star Navigation Company, By Alden P. Ricks, President.
Matt Peasley read this extraordinary communication twice, then folded it and calmly placed it in his pocket.
"May I inquire, sir," he said, facing the gentleman who had accompanied All Hands And Feet aboard the Retriever, "who you are and the nature of your business?"
"I am the American consul, Mr. Peasley, and I am here at the invitation of Captain Peterson, the master of this ship, to witness the formal transfer of authority from you to him. I was given to understand by Captain Peterson that you might offer some slight objection to this arrangement."
"Slight objection!" Matt Peasley replied with a rising inflection, and grinned maliciously.
The consul had his Yankee sense of humor with him and chuckled as Matt lifted his big body on his toes and stretched both arms lazily. Then Matthew Peasley turned toward All Hands And Feet.
"I have a letter from the owners of the Retriever," he said respectfully, "which leads me to presume that you are to supersede me in command of the vessel." All Hands And Feet nodded. "Which being the case," Matt Peasley continued, "as a mere matter of formality, you will of course present your credentials as master."
"Sure!" Ole replied pleasantly, and sidled toward Matt Peasley with outstretched arms. Could Cappy Ricks have seen his skipper then, he would have reminded the Old Man more than ever of a bear.
Matt Peasley needed no blueprint of the big Swede's plans. All Hands And Feet, depending on his sheer horse power and superior weight, always fought in mass formation, as it were. His modus operandi was to embrace his enemy in those terrible arms, squeeze the breath out of him with one bearlike hug, then lay him on the deck, straddle him, and pummel him into insensibility at his leisure. Matt gave ground rapidly and held up a warning hand.
"One moment, my friend," he requested. "Before you get familiar on brief acquaintance, don't you think you had better present your credentials?"
All Hands And Feet shook his two great fists and grinned good-naturedly.
"How dese ban suit you for credentials?" he queried.
"Fine," Matt Peasley answered; "only, before you present them, our first duty is to the ship. I take it that you have cleared the vessel and that after trimming me you intend to put to sea."
"You ban guess it," the Swede rumbled. "Put up de dooks. Anyhow, I ban't have to fight little feller. Dat ban one comfort."
"You cleared the ship, eh? Well, Swede, I'm glad to hear that. I should have cleared her myself and sailed long ago if I had only had a skipper's ticket; but these British custom-house officials are great sticklers for red tape and they wouldn't clear me. And, of course, a man can't sail without his papers. When he does they send a gunboat after him. However," he added brightly "the ship is cleared and the skipper—so I am unofficially informed—is aboard. By the way, Swede, I left a lot of O.K.'d bills for stores and provision up at the office of the Harlow & Benton Company, Limited. Did you square up for them?"
"Yah; everything ban shipshape," All Hands And Feet assured him.
"And you insist on presenting your credentials in bunches of fives, eh?"
All Hands And Feet nodded and once more commenced sidling toward Matt Peasley, who backed away again, meantime addressing himself to the United States consul:
"You heard what he said, Mr. Consul. He may be my superior officer, but I have not been informed of that fact officially; and meantime, so far as I am concerned, he is merely a fine, big squarehead who has climbed aboard my ship uninvited and attacked me. Did you ever see a sea bully licked, Mr. Consul?"
"I have never had that pleasure, Mr. Peasley."
All the time Matt Peasley was circling around the deck, with All Hands And Feet sidling after him.
"Then you've got something coming, sir," Matt replied. "Help yourself to a reserved seat on the rail and watch the joyous procedure. Mr. Murphy?"
"Here, sir," Mr. Murphy replied promptly.
"I'm going to thrash the big fellow, Mr. Murphy. Stand by to see fair play and keep the crew off him. I observe you have equipped yourself with a belaying-pin. Thank you, Mr. Murphy. You anticipate the situation."
He turned to All Hands And Feet, who was still crowding him as they circled the deck. "Stop where you are, my friend; otherwise, Mr. Murphy will crack you on the head with the belaying-pin."
All Hands And Feet grinned patronizingly and paused.
"Vell?" he queried.
"On my ship," Matt continued, "all fights are pulled off under my rules. Kicking, choking, biting, gouging and deadly weapons are prohibited. If you get me down you can use your fists on me, but anything else will necessitate the interference of the referee with his trusty belaying-pin."
"Vell?" All Hands And Feet queried again. He was very eager for the fray.
"We have procured a set of two-ounce gloves in anticipation of this physical culture exhibition," Matt replied. "Unfortunately, however, I fear your hands will not fit them. Would you care to try them on?"
"Cut it oud! Cut it oud!" the enemy rumbled contemptuously, and again commenced his advance.
"One minute, then, my friend, until I put on—"
"Fight mit your bare hands like a man!" the big Swede bellowed scathingly.
"You forget. I told you all fights on my ship are pulled off under my rules. I always fight with two-ounce gloves."
"All righd. Suit yourself." All Hands And Feet felt he could afford to give the enemy a trifle the better of the argument without the slightest prejudice to his own chances for success.
Accordingly, Mr. Murphy skillfully bandaged Matt Peasley's hands, drew on the gloves and gently shoved his young champion toward the center of the deck. "Let 'er go!" he announced.
"Come Swede! Present your credentials!" Matt taunted. His long left flashed out and cuffed All Hands And Feet on the nose.
It was a mere love-tap! All Hands And Feet grinned pityingly, and with his left arm guarding his face, rushed.
"Lower deck!" Mr. Murphy warned, and laughed as Matt planted left and right in the midriff and danced away from the Swede's swinging right. All Hands And Feet grunted—a most unwarriorlike grunt—and dropped both hands—whereupon a fog suddenly descended upon his vision. Faintly he made out a blur that was Matt Peasley; bellowing wrathfully he rushed. Matt gave ground and the Swede's vision cleared and he paused to consider the situation.
"No rest for the wicked," Mr. Murphy declared. "At him, boy, at him!"
All Hands And Feet realized he faced a desperate situation, and as Matt stepped in he ducked and leaped upon his antagonist.
"By yiminy," he yelled. "I got you now!" and his great hands closed around Matt Peasley's neck.
"Lower deck!" Mr. Murphy yelled shrilly, and a volley of short arm blows commenced to rattle on the big Swede's stomach. For at least seven seconds Matt worked like a pneumatic riveter; then—
"Swing your partner for the grand right and left," Mr. Murphy counseled, and Matt closed with All Hands And Feet, and managed to shake the badly winded champion off.
"All off," Mr. Murphy declared to the American consul and dropped his marline-spike, as Matt Peasley ripped left and right, right and left into Ole Peterson's dish face. "Watch the skipper—our skipper, I mean. Regular young human pile-driver." He raised his voice and called to Matt Peasley. "He's rocking on his legs now, sir; but keep away from those arms. He's dangerous and you're givin' him fifty pounds the best of it in the weights. Try the short ribs with your left and feel for his chin with the right, sir. Very nicely done, sir! Now—once more!"
Mr. Murphy nodded politely to the American consul.
"Excuse me," he said. "The bigger they are the harder they fall, and the Retriever's deck ain't no nice place to bump a man's head. I'll just skip round in back and catch him in my arms."
Which being done, Mr. Murphy laid All Hands And Feet gently on deck, walked to the scuttle butt, procured a dipperful of water and threw it into the gory, battered face. Matt Peasley had simply walked round him and, with the advantage of a superior reach, had systematically cut Captain Ole Peterson to strings and ribbons.
He held up the blood-soaked gloves for Mr. Murphy to untie the strings, the while he sniffed a little afternoon breeze that had just sprung up, blowing straight for the open sea.
"When he comes to, Mr. Murphy," he ordered calmly, "escort him to your old room. Have one of the men stow his dunnage there also; and tell him if he shows his nose on deck until I give him permission, he shall have another taste of the same. Mr. Consul, I should be highly honored if you would step into my cabin and hoist one to our own dear native land."
"With pleasure," the consul replied. "Though I cannot, in my capacity as a citizen of the United States, endorse your—er—mutiny, nevertheless, as a United States consul at Cape Town I shall take pleasure in certifying to the fact that the fallen gladiator was the aggressor, that he did not present his credentials, and that you had no official knowledge of his identity."
"I wish you would make an affidavit to that effect, under the seal of the Consulate, and mail it to me at Hoquiam, Washington, U. S. A.," Matt pleaded, as they reached his cabin. He reached into poor old Cap'n Noah's little private locker. "I've a suspicion, sir, I'm going to need your affidavit very badly."
"I shall do so, Mr. Peasley. May I inquire what you purpose doing with Captain Peterson?"
"Captain Peasley—if you please, Mr. Consul." Matt looked up and grinned. "I think," he continued, as he inserted the corkscrew, "I shall ship that boy as second mate if he's willing to work. If he's sullen, of course he'll have to remain in his room—and I shall not permit him to present his credentials now."
"Captain Peasley," the consul warned seriously. "I'm afraid you're in very, very Dutch."
"I wouldn't be surprised. However, it will be about three months before I commence to suffer, and in the meantime I'm going to be supremely happy skippering the barkentine Retriever back to Grays Harbor, if they hang me for it when I get there. Say when!"
"Here's success to crime, Mr. Consul."
"Good luck to you, you youthful prodigy; good luck and bon voyage, Mr.—I mean Captain Peasley."
"Thank you, Mr. Consul. I hate to hurry you away; fact is, I'd like to have you stay aboard and have dinner with us, but if this breeze holds good I can save my owners an outward towage bill, and I'll have to hustle. So I'll bid you good-bye, Mr. Consul. Glad to have had you for the little exhibition. Here is my name and address—and please don't forget that affidavit."
When the American consul left the ship Matt Peasley was on the poop bawling orders; up on the topgallant forecastle the capable Mr. Murphy and his bully boys were walking around the windlass to the bellowing chorus of Roll A Man Down! while the boatswain, promoted by Matt Peasley to second mate, was laying aloft forward shaking out the topsails and hoisting her head-sails. When the consul looked again, the American barkentine Retriever had turned her tail on Cape Town and was scampering down Table Bay with a bone in her teeth; heeling gently to the freshening breeze, she was rolling home in command of the boy who had joined her five months before as an able seaman.
Matt Peasley rounded the Cape of Good Hope nicely, but he had added materially to his stock of seamanship before he won through the tide-rips off Point Aghulas and squared away across the Indian Ocean. Coming up along the coast of Australia he had the sou'east trades and he crowded her until Mr. Murphy forgot the traditions of the sea, forgot that Matt Peasley was the skipper and hence not to be questioned, and remembered that the madman was only a boy.
"Captain Matt," he pleaded, "take some clothes off the old girl, for the love of life! She's making steamer time now, and if the breeze freshens you'll lift the sticks out of her."
"Lift nothing, Mike. I know her. Cap'n Noah told me all about her. You can drive the Retriever until she develops a certain little squeak up forward—and then it's time to shorten sail. She isn't squeaking yet, Mike. Don't worry. She'll let us know," and his beaming glance wandered aloft to the straining cordage and bellying canvas. "Into it, sweetheart," he crooned, "into it, girl, and we'll show this Cappy Ricks what we know about sailing a ship that can sail! Meager maritime experience, eh? I'll show him!"
Oh, Sally Brown, I love your daughter, I love your daughter, indeed I do,
he caroled, and buck-and-winged his way back to the poop, for he was only a boy, life was good, he was fighting a fight and as Mr. Murphy remarked a minute later when Matt ordered him to bend the fore-staysail on her; "What the hell!"
Day and night Matt Peasley drove her into it. He stood far off shore until he ran out of the sou'east trades, fiddled around two days in light airs and then picked up the nor'east trades; drove her well into the north, hauled round and came romping up to Grays Harbor bar seventy-nine days from Cape Town. A bar tug, ranging down the coast, hooked on to him and snaked him in.
CHAPTER XI. MR. SKINNER RECEIVES A TELEGRAM
Cappy Ricks was having his customary mid-afternoon nap in his big swivel chair and his feet on his desk, when Mr. Skinner came in and woke him up.
"I just couldn't help it, sir," he announced apologetically, as Cappy opened one eye and glared at him, "I had to wake you up and tell you the news."