Cappy Ricks Retires
But that doesn't keep him from coming back stronger than ever
By Peter B. Kyne
But, in time, Cappy would find her a rich husband
(Excerpt from the log of Capt. Matt Peasley:) "I am alone on the ship—all the rest are now dead—"
He always shouted when telephoning
"Two million dollars!" cried J. Augustus Redell
CAPPY RICKS RETIRES
If you have read previous tales of the Blue Star Navigation Company and the various brisk individuals connected therewith, you will recall one Michael J. Murphy, who first came to the attention of Cappy Ricks at the time he, the said Murphy, was chief kicker of the barkentine Retriever under Captain Matt Peasley. Subsequently, when Matt Peasley presented in his person indubitable evidence of the wisdom of the old saw that you cannot keep a good man down, Michael J. became skipper of the Retriever. This berth he continued to occupy with pleasure and profit to all concerned, until a small financial tidal wave, which began with Matt Peasley's purchase, at a ridiculously low figure, of the Oriental Steamship Company's huge freighter, Narcissus, swept the cunning Matthew into the presidency of the Blue Star Navigation Company; whereupon Matt designed to take Murphy out of the Retriever and have him try his hand in steam as master of the Narcissus.
The same financial tidal wave had swept Cappy Ricks out of the presidency of the Blue Star Navigation Company—presumably far up the beach to a place in the sun, where he was to bask for the remainder of his old age as president emeritus of all his companies. However, if there was one thing about Cappy you could depend upon absolutely it was the consistency of his inconsistency. For, having announced his retirement, his very next move was to bewail his inability to retire. He insisted upon clinging to the business like a barnacle to a ship, and was always very much in evidence whenever any deal of the slightest importance was about to be consummated. Indeed, he was never so thoroughly in command as when, his first burst of enthusiasm anent the acquisition of the Narcissus at fifty per cent. of her value having passed, he discovered that his son-in-law planned to order Mike Murphy off the quarter-deck of the Retriever onto the bridge of the Narcissus, while an unknown answering to the name of Terence Reardon had been selected for her chief engineer.
Cappy listened to Matt Peasley's announcement; then with a propitiatory "Ahem! Hum! Harump-h-h-h!" he hitched himself forward in his chair and gazed at Matt over the rims of his spectacles.
"Tell me, Matt," he demanded presently, "who is this man Reardon? I do not recall such an engineer in our employ—and I thought I knew them all."
"He is not in our employ, sir. He has been chief engineer of the Arab for the past eight years, and prior to that he was chief of the Narcissus. It was Reardon who told me what ailed her. She's a hog on coal, and the Oriental steamship people used to nag him about the fuel bills. Their port engineer didn't agree with Reardon as to what was wrong with her, so he left. He assures me that if her condensers are retubed she'll burn from seven to ten tons of coal less per day."
"Hum! So you're going to give him the job for telling you something our own port engineer would have told us after an examination."
"No, sir, I'm going to give him the job because he has earned it. He gave me some very valuable information about the wretched condition of her electric-light plant and a crack, cunningly concealed, in the after web of her crank shaft—"
"Oh, by thunder," piped Cappy, "that's worth knowing! Ship a new crank shaft, Matt, and save the Blue Star a salvage bill sooner or later."
"All that inside information will not only save us money in the future," Matt continued, "but it enabled me to drive a closer bargain when dealing with MacCandless, of the Oriental Steamship Company. Consequently Terence Reardon gets the job. He's only making a hundred and fifty dollars a month in the Arab, and as he is a rattling good man—I've looked him up, sir—I've promised him a hundred and seventy-five a month in the Narcissus."
"Oh, you've already promised him the job, eh? Mistake, Matt, serious mistake. You say you looked him up, but I'll bet you a new hat there is one thing about him that you failed to investigate, and that is: What kind of Irish is he?"
"Why, regular Irish, of course—mighty good Irish, I should say. Keen, observing, not too talkative, a hard worker, temperate in his habits and a crackajack engineer to boot."
Cappy settled back wearily in his chair and favored his youthful partner with a glance of tolerant amusement.
"Matt," he announced, "those are the qualifications we look for in an engineer, and it's been my experience that the Irish and the Scotch make the best marine engineers in the world. But when you've been in the shipping game as long as I have, young man, you'll know better than to pick two Irishmen as departmental chiefs in the same ship! I did it—once. There was a red-headed scoundrel named Dennis O'Leary who went from A.B. to master in the Florence Ricks. That fellow was a bulldog. He made up his mind he was going to be master of the Florence and I couldn't stop him. Good man—damned good! And there was a black Irishman, John Rooney, in the Amelia Ricks. Had ambitions just like O'Leary. He went from oiler to first assistant in the Amelia. Fine man—damned fine! So fine, in fact, that when the chief of the Florence died I shifted Rooney to her immediately. And what was the result? Why, riot, of course. Matt, the Irish will fight anybody and anything, but they'll fight quicker, with less excuse and greater delight, among themselves, than any other nationality! The Florence Ricks carried a million feet of lumber, but she wasn't big enough for Rooney and O'Leary, so I fired them both, not being desirous of playing favorites. Naturally, each blamed the other for the loss of his job, and without a word having been spoken they went out on the dock and fought the bloodiest draw I have ever seen on the San Francisco waterfront. After they had been patched up at the Harbor Hospital, both came and cussed me and told me I was an ingrate, so I hired them both back again, put them in different ships, slipped each of them a good, cheerful Russian Finn, and saved funeral expenses. That's what I got, Matt, for not asking those two what kind of Irish they were. Now, then, sonny, once more. What kind of Irish is Terence Rearden?"
"Why, I don't know, I tell you. He's just Irish."
Cappy lifted his eyes to the ceiling as if praying for the great gift of patience.
"Listen to the boy," he demanded of an imaginary bystander. "He doesn't know! Well, stick your head down over his engine-room grating some day, sing The Boyne Wather—and find out! Now, then, do you happen to know what kind of Irish Mike Murphy is? You ought to. You were shipmates with him in the Retriever long enough."
"Oh, Mike's from Galway. He goes to mass on Sunday when he can."
"Hum! If he's from Galway, where did he leave his brogue? He runs to the broad a like an Englishman."
"That's easily explained. Mike left his brogue in Galway. He came to this country when he was six years old and was raised in Boston. That's where he picked up his broad a."
"That doesn't help a bit, Matt. He's Irish just the same, and what a Yankee like you don't know about the Irish would fill a book. You know, Matt, there are a few rare white men that can handle Chinamen successfully; now and then you'll run across one that can handle niggers; but I have never yet met anybody who could figure the mental angles of the Irish except an Irishman. There's something in an Irishman that drives him into the bandwagon. He's got to be the boss, and if he can't be the boss he'll sit round and criticize. But if I want a man to handle Chinamen, or niggers, or Japs, or Bulgarians I'll advertise for an Irishman and take the first one that shows up. A young man like you, Matt, shouldn't monkey with these people. They're a wonderful race and very much misunderstood, and if you don't start 'em right on the job you'll always be in trouble. Now, Matt, I've always done the hiring and firing for the Blue Star Navigation Company, and as a result I've had blamed little of it to do, considering the size of our fleet; consequently I'll just give these two Harps the Double-O. Have Murphy and Reardon at the office at nine o'clock to-morrow morning and I'll read them the riot act before turning them to."
Cappy Ricks was at his office at eight-fifty the following morning. At eight-fifty-two Mr. Terence Reardon, plainly uncomfortable in a ready-made blue-serge Sunday suit purchased on the Embarcadero for twenty-five dollars, came into the office. He was wearing a celluloid collar, and a quite noticeable rattle as he shook hands with Cappy Ricks betrayed the fact that he also was wearing celluloid cuffs; for, notwithstanding the fact that he bathed twice a day, Mr. Reardon's Hibernian hide contained much of perspiration, coal dust, metal grit and lubricating oil, and such substances can always be washed off celluloid collars and cuffs. To his credit be it known that Terence Reardon knew his haberdashery was not au fait, for his wife never failed to remind him of it; but unfortunately he was the possessor of a pair of grimy hands that nothing on earth could ever make clean, and even when he washed them in benzine they always left black thumb prints on a linen collar during the process of adjustment. He had long since surrendered to his fate.
At eight-fifty-four Mike Murphy arrived. Murphy was edging up into the forties, but still he was young enough at heart to take a keen interest in his personal appearance, and a tailor who belonged to Michael's council of the Knights of Columbus had decked him out in a suit of English tweeds of the latest cut and in most excellent taste.
"Good morning, captain," Cappy Ricks greeted him. "Ahead of time as usual. Meet Mr. Terence Reardon, late chief of the Arab. He is to be a shipmate of yours—chief of the Narcissus, you know.
"Mr. Reardon, shake hands with Captain Mike Murphy. Captain Murphy has been in our employ a number of years as master of sail. The Narcissus will be his first command in steam."
"Terence Reardon, eh?" echoed Mike Murphy pleasantly. "That sounds like a good name. Glad to meet you, chief. What part of the old country are you from? The West?"
The wish was father to the thought, since Mike was from the West himself.
"I'm from the Nort'—from Belfast," Mr. Reardon replied in a deep Kerry brogue, and extended a grimy paw upon the finger of which Mike Murphy observed a gold ring that proclaimed Mr. Terence Reardon—an Irishman, presumably a Catholic—one who had risen to the third degree in Freemasonry.
Cappy Ricks saw that ring also, and started visibly. A Knight Templar himself, Terence Reardon was the last person on earth in whom he expected to find a brother Mason. He glanced at Mike Murphy and saw that the skipper was looking, not at Mr. Reardon, but at the Masonic emblem.
"Sit down, chief," Cappy hastened to interrupt. "Have a chair, captain. Mr. Reardon, my son-in-law, Captain Peasley here, tells me you were chief of the Narcissus when she was on the China run for the Oriental Steamship Company."
Mr. Reardon sat down heavily, set his derby hat on the floor beside him and replied briefly: "I was."
Captain Murphy excused himself and drew Matt Peasley out of the room. "God knows," he whispered hoarsely, "religion should never enter into the working of a ship, and I suppose I'll have to get along with that fellow; but did you mark the Masonic ring on the paw of the Far-Down? And on the right hand, too! The jackass don't know enough to wear it on his left hand."
"Why, what's wrong about being a Mason?" Matt protested. "Cappy's a Mason and so am I."
"Nothing wrong about it—with you and Cappy Ricks. That's your privilege. You're Protestants."
"Well, maybe the chief's a Protestant, too," Matt suggested, but Mike Murphy silenced him with a sardonic smile.
"With that name?" he queried, and laughed the brief, mirthless laugh of the man who knows. "And he says he's from Belfast! Man, I could cut that Kerry brogue with a belaying pin."
"Why, Mike," Matt interrupted, "I never before suspected you were intolerant of a shipmate's private convictions. I must say this attitude of yours is disturbing."
"Why, I'm not a bigot," Murphy protested virtuously. "Who told you that?"
"Why, you're a Catholic, and you resent Reardon because he's a Protestant."
"Not a bit of it. You're a Protestant, and don't I love you like a brother?"
Matt thought he saw the light. "Oh, I see," he replied. "It's because Reardon is an Irish Protestant."
"Almost—but not quite. God knows I hate the Orangemen for what they did to me and mine, but at least they've been Protestant since the time of Henry VIII. But the lad inside there has no business to be a Protestant. The Lord intended him for a Catholic—and he knows it. He's a renegade. I don't blame you for being a Protestant, Matt. It's none of my business."
Matt Peasley had plumbed the mystery at last. He had been reading a good deal in the daily papers about Home Rule for Ireland, the Irish Nationalists, the Ulster Volunteers, the Unionists, and so on, and in a vague way he had always understood that religious differences were at the bottom of it all. He realized now that it was something deeper than that—a relic of injustice and oppression; a hostility that had come to Mike Murphy as a heritage from his forbears—something he had imbibed at his mother's breast and was, for purposes of battle, a more vital issue than the interminable argument about the only safe road to heaven.
"I see," Matt murmured. "Reardon, being Irish, has violated the national code of the Irish—"
"You've said it, Matt. They're Tories at heart, every mother's son of them."
"What do you mean—Tories?"
"That they're for England, of course."
"Well, I don't blame them. So am I. Aren't you, Mike?"
"May God forgive you," Mike Murphy answered piously. "I am not. I'm for their enemies. I'm for anything that's against England. Ireland is not a colony. She's a nation. Man, man, you don't understand. Only an Irishman can, and he gets it at his mother's or his grandmother's knee—the word-of-mouth history of his people, the history that isn't in the books! Do you think I can forget? Do you think I want to forget?"
"No," Matt Peasley replied quietly; "I think you'll have to forget— in so far as Terence Reardon is concerned. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and even when you're outside the three-mile limit I want you to remember, Mike, that the good ship Narcissus is under the American flag. The Narcissus needs all her space for cargo, Mike. There is no room aboard her for a feud. Don't ever poke your nose into Terence Reardon's engine-room except on his invitation or for the purpose of locating a leak. Treat him with courtesy and do not discuss politics or religion when you meet him at table, which will be about the only opportunity you two will have to discuss anything; and if Reardon wants to talk religion or politics you change your feeding time and avoid meeting him. I've taken you out of the old Retriever, Mike, where you've been earning a hundred and twenty-five dollars a month, to put you in the Narcissus at two hundred and fifty. That is conclusive evidence that I'm for you. But Terence Reardon is a crackajack chief engineer, and I want you to remember that the Blue Star Navigation Company needs him in its business quite as much as it needs Michael J. Murphy, and if you two get scrapping I'm not going to take the trouble to investigate and place the blame. I'll just call you both up on the carpet and make you draw straws to see who quits."
"Fair enough," replied the honest Murphy. "If I can't be good I'll be as good as I can."
At that very instant Cappy Ricks was just discovering what kind of Irish Mr. Terence Reardon was.
The most innocent remark brought him the information he sought.
"Captain Murphy, whom you have just met, is to be master of the Narcissus, chief," he explained. "He's a splendid fellow personally and a most capable navigator, and like you he's Irish. I'm sure you'll get along famously together."
Cappy tried to smile away his apprehension, for a still small voice whispered to him and questioned the right of Terence Reardon to call him brother.
Mr. Reardon's sole reply to this optimistic prophecy was a noncommittal grunt, accompanied by a slight outthrust and uplift of the chin, a pursing of the lips and the ghost of a sardonic little smile. Only an Irishman can get the right tempo to that grunt—and the tempo is everything. In the case of Terence Reardon it said distinctly: "I hope you're right, sir, but privately I have my doubts." However, not satisfied with pantomime, Mr. Reardon went a trifle farther—for reasons best known to himself. He laved the corner of his mouth with the tip of a tobacco-stained tongue and said presently: "I can't say, Misther Ricks, that I quite like the cut av that fella's jib."
That was the Irish of it. A representative of any other race on earth would have employed the third person singular when referring to the absent Murphy; only an Irishman would have said "that fella," and only a certain kind of Irishman could have managed to inject into such simple words such a note of scorn supernal. Cappy Ricks got the message—just like that.
"Then stay off his bridge, Reardon," he warned the chief. "Your job is in the engine-room, so even if you and Captain Murphy do not like each other, there will be no excuse for friction. The only communication you need have with him is through the engine-room telegraph."
"Then, sor," Terence Reardon replied respectfully, "I'll take it kindly av you to tell him to keep out av me engine-room. I'll have no skipper buttin' in on me, tellin' me how to run me engines an' askin' me why in this an' that I don't go aisy on the coal. Faith, I've had thim do it—the wanst—an' the wanst only. Begorra, I'd have brained thim wit' a monkey wrench if they tried it a second time."
"On the other hand," Cappy remarked, "I've had to fire more than one chief engineer who couldn't cure himself of a habit of coming up on the bridge when the vessel got to port—to tell the skipper how to berth his ship against a strong flood tide. I suppose that while we have steamships the skippers will always wonder how the vessel can possibly make steerage way, considering the chief engineers, while the chiefs will never cease marvelling that such fine ships should be entrusted to a lot of Johnny Know-Nothings. However, Reardon, I might as well tell you that the Blue Star Navigation Company plays no favorites. When the chief and the skipper begin to interfere with the dividends, they look overside some bright day and see Alden P. Ricks waiting for them on the cap of the wharf. And when the ship is alongside, the said Ricks comes aboard with five bones in his pocket, and the said skipper and the said chief are invited into the dining saloon to roll the said bones—one flop and high man out. Yes, sir. Out! Out of the ship and out of the Blue Star employ—for ever."
"I hear you, sor. I hearrd you the first time," Terence Reardon replied complacently and reached for his pipe. "All I ask from you is a square deal. I'll have it from the captain wit'out the askin'."
Thus the Reardon breathing his defiance.
"I'm glad we understand each other, chief. Just avoid arguments, political or religious, and treat the skipper with courtesy. Then you'll get along all right. Now with reference to your salary. The union scale is one hundred and fifty dollars a month—"
"Beggin' yer pardon for the intherruption, sor, but the young man promised me a hundhred an' siventy-five."
"That was before the Blue Star Navigation Company took over the young man and his ship Narcissus. Hereafter you'll deal with the old man in such matters. I'm going to give you two hundred a month, Reardon, and you are to keep the Narcissus out of the shop. Hear me, chief—out of the shop."
"No man can ordher me to do me djooty," said Terence Reardon simply. "Tell the fine gintleman on the bridge to keep her out av the kelp, an' faith, she'll shtay out av the shop. Thank you kindly, sor. When do I go to wurrk?"
"Your pay started this morning. The Narcissus goes on Christy's ways in Oakland Harbor at the tip of the flood this afternoon. Get on the ship and stay on her. It's a day-and-night rush job to get her in commission, and you'll be paid time and a half while she's repairing. Good-day and good luck to you, chief. Come in and see me whenever you get to port." And Cappy Ricks, most democratic of men, extended his hand to his newest employee. Terence Reardon took it in his huge paw that would never be clean any more, and held it for a moment, the while he looked fearlessly into Cappy's eyes.
"'Tis a proud man I am to wurrk for you, sor," he said simply. "Tip-top serrvice for tip-top pay, an' by the Great Gun av Athlone, you'll get it from me, sor. If ever the ship is lost 'twill be no fault of mine."
Mr. Reardon's manner, as he thus calmly exculpated himself from the penalty for future disaster, indicated quite clearly that Cappy Ricks, in such a contingency, might look to the man higher up—on the bridge, for instance.
When Terence Reardon had departed Cappy Ricks called Mike Murphy into the room.
"Now, captain," he began, "there are a few things I want to tell you. This man Reardon is a fine, loyal fellow, but he's touchy—"
"I know all about him," Murphy interrupted with a slight emphasis on the pronoun. Unlike Mr. Reardon he employed the third person singular and did not say "that fella," for he had been raised in the United States of America.
"I have already given the captain his instructions," Matt Peasley announced. "He understands the situation perfectly and will conduct himself accordingly."
A small army of men swarmed over, under and through the huge Narcissus for the next three weeks, and the hearts of Cappy Ricks and Matt Peasley were like to burst with pride as they stood on the bridge with Captain Mike Murphy, while he ran the vessel over the measured course to test her speed, and swung her in the bay while adjusting her compass. She was as beautiful as money and paint could make her, and when Terence Reardon, in calm disregard of orders, came up on the bridge to announce his unbounded faith in the rejuvenated condensers and to predict a modest coal bill for the future, Mike Murphy so far forgot himself as to order the steward to bring up a bottle of something and begged Mr. Reardon to join him in three fingers of nepenthe to celebrate the occasion.
"T'ank you, sor, but I never dhrink—on djooty," Mr. Reardon retorted with chill politeness, "nor," he added, "wit' me immejiate superiors."
A superficial analysis of this remark will convince the most sceptical that Mr. Reardon, with true Hibernian adroitness, had managed to convey an insult without seeming to convey it.
"Isn't that a pity!" the skipper replied. "We'll excuse you to attend to your duty, Mr. Reardon;" and he bowed the chief toward the companion leading to the boat deck. The latter departed, furious, with an uncomfortable feeling of having been out-generaled; and once a good Irishman and true has undergone that humiliation it is a safe bet that the Dove of Peace has lost her tail feathers.
"That's an unmannerly chief engineer," Mike Murphy announced blandly, "but for all that he's not without his good points. He'll not waste money in his department."
"A virtue which I trust you will imitate in yours, captain," Cappy Ricks snapped dryly. "Is Reardon working short-handed?"
"Only while we're loading, when he'll need just enough men to keep steam up in the winches. When we go to sea, however, he'll have a full crew, but the fun of it is they'll be non-union men with the exception of the engineers and officers. The engineers will all belong to the Marine Engineers' Association and the mates to Harbor 15, Masters' and Pilots' Association."
"He'll do nothing of the sort," Matt Peasley declared quietly. "We have union crews in all our other steamers, and the unions will declare a strike on us if we put non-union men in the Narcissus."
"Of course—if they find out. But they'll not. Besides, we're going to the Atlantic Coast, so why should we bring a high-priced crew into a low-priced market, Mr. Ricks? Leave it to me, sir. I'll load the ship with longshoremen entirely, and we'll sail with the crew of that German liner that came a few days ago to intern in Richardson's Bay until the European war is over."
"I'm not partial to the German cause," Matt Peasley announced. "So I'll just veto that plan right now, Mike."
"Matt, we're neutral," Cappy declared.
"And it pays to ship those Germans, Matt," Murphy continued. "I confess I'm for the Germans, although not to such an extent that I'd go round offering them jobs just because they are Germans. But the minute I heard about that interned boat I said to myself: 'Now, here's a chance to save the Narcissus some money. The crew of that liner will all be discharged now that she is interned. However, the local unions will not admit them to membership and they cannot work on any Pacific Coast boat unless they hold union cards. Consequently they must seek other occupations, and as the chances are these fellows do not speak English, they're up against it. Also, they are foreigners who have paid no head tax when coming into the country, because they are seamen. They have the right to land and stay ashore three months, if they state that it is their intention to ship out again within that period; but if they do not so ship, then the immigration authorities may deport them as paupers or for failure to pay the head tax; and in that event they will all be returned to the vessel that brought them here, and the owners of the vessel will be forced to intern them and care for them.' Under the circumstances, therefore, I concluded they would jump at a job in an American vessel, for the reason that under the American flag they would be reasonably safe; and even if the Narcissus should be searched by a British cruiser, she would not dare take these Germans off her. Remember, we had a war with England once for boarding our ships and removing seamen!"
"By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet," said Cappy Ricks, "there's something in that, Matt."
"There's a splendid saving in the pay roll, let me tell you," the proud Murphy continued. "I took the matter up at once with the German skipper and he fixed it for me, and mighty glad he was to get his countrymen off his hands. We get all that liner's coal passers, oilers, firemen, six deckhands and four quartermasters at the scale of wages prevailing in Hamburg. I know what it is in marks, but I haven't figured it out in dollars and cents, although whatever it is it's a scandal! It almost cuts our pay roll in half."
"Do you speak German, captain?" Cappy queried excitedly.
"I do not, sir—more's the pity. But the four quartermasters speak fair English, and I have engaged two good German-American mates who speak German. Reardon has shipped German-American engineers and some of his coal passers and firemen speak fair English. I've got two Native Son Chinamen in the galley and a Cockney steward. We'll get along."
"And a rattling fine idea, too," Cappy Ricks declared warmly. "Mike, my boy, you're a wonder. That's the spirit. Always keep down the overhead, Matt. That's what eats up the dividends."
"Well, I wouldn't agree to it if the Narcissus wasn't going to be engaged in neutral trade, or if she was carrying munitions of war to the Allies," Matt declared. "I'd be afraid some of Mike's Germans might blow up the ship."
"Believe me," quoth Michael J. Murphy, "if she was engaged in freighting munitions to England, it'd be a smart German that would get a chance to blow her up. I think I'd scuttle her myself first."
"Well, Mike, if your courage failed you," Cappy Ricks replied laughingly, "I think we could safely leave the job to Terence Reardon."
On that first voyage the Narcissus carried general cargo to northern ports on the West Coast. Then she dropped down to a nitrate port and loaded nitrate for New York, and about the time she passed through the Panama Canal the Blue Star Navigation Company wired its New York agent to provide some neutral business for her next voyage. Freights were soaring by this time, due to the scarcity of the foreign bottoms which formerly had carried Uncle Sam's goods to market, and Cappy Ricks and Matt Peasley knew the rates would increase from day to day, and that in consequence their New York agents would experience not the slightest difficulty in placing her—hence they delayed as long as they could placing her on the market.
On the other hand, the New York agents, realizing that higher freight rates meant a correspondingly higher commission for them on the charter, held off until the Narcissus had almost finished discharging at Hoboken before they closed with a fine old New York importing and exporting house for a cargo of soft coal from Norfolk, Virginia, to Manila, or Batavia. The charterers were undecided which of these two cities would be the port of discharge, and stipulated that the vessel was to call at Pernambuco, Brazil, for orders. The New York agents marvelled at this for—to them—very obvious reasons; but inasmuch as the charterers had offered a whopping freight rate and declined to do business on any other basis, and since further the agent concluded it was no part of his office to question the motives of a house that never before had been subjected to suspicion, he concluded to protect himself by leaving the decision to the owners of the Narcissus. Accordingly he wired them as follows:
"Blue Star Navigation Company,
"258 California St., San Francisco, Cal.
"Have offer Narcissus, coal Norfolk Batavia or Manila, charterers undecided, Pernambuco for orders, ten dollars per ton. Shall we close? Answer.
2 boards, 1" x 8" and up, and too great a percentage of 4" x 6"-20' No. 1 clear. And there were mighty few clear twenty-foot logs coming into the boom these days.
"Well, will a cat eat liver?" declared Cappy Ricks. "I should say we do accept. Why, man, she'll make forty thousand dollars on the voyage, and whether she goes to Batavia or Manila, we're certain to get a cargo back."
"All right, I'll wire acceptance," Skinner replied, and paused long enough to make a notation on the message: "O.K.—Ricks." Mr. Skinner meant nothing in particular by that. He was a model of efficiency, and that was his little way of placing the responsibility for the decision in the event that the wisdom of said decision should, at some future time, be questioned. Mr. Skinner never took unnecessary chances. He always played a safe game.
It is necessary to state here also that Matt Peasley was not in the office when that telegram arrived from Seaborn & Company. If he had been this story would never have been written. He was down at Hunter's Point drydock, superintending the repairs to the steam schooner Amelia Ricks, which recently on a voyage to Seattle had essayed the overland route via Duxbury Reef. When Matt reached home that night he found his ingenious father-in-law fairly purring with contentment.
"Well, Matt, old horse," Cappy piped, "I've chartered the Narcissus. Norfolk to Batavia or Manila with coal. Got a glorious price—ten dollars a ton. That's what we get for holding off until the last minute."
"That's encouraging," Matt answered pleasantly, and asked no further questions. He was obsessed with the engines of the Amelia Ricks. It was going to cost a lot of money to put them in condition again, and he remarked as much to Cappy. Thus it happened that they entered into a discussion of other matters, and the good ship Narcissus, having finished discharging her cargo of nitrate, dropped down to Norfolk, where Captain Michael J. Murphy proceeded to let a stream of coal into her at a rate that promised to load her fully in less than four days.
It is worthy of remark, at this juncture, that Mike Murphy and Terence Reardon had, by this time, cast aside all appearance of even shirt-sleeve diplomacy. Diplomatic relations had, in fact, been completely severed. Crossing the Gulf Stream, Murphy had called the engine-room on the speaking-tube and politely queried if Mr. Reardon didn't think he could get a few more revolutions out of her. To this Mr. Reardon had replied passionately that if such a thing were possible he would have done it long ago without waiting to be told. He desired to inform Captain Murphy that he knew his business; whereupon Murphy had replied that he never would have guessed Mr. Reardon was that intelligent, judging by the face of him. In disgust Mr. Reardon had replied: "Aw, go to—" and then tried to close the speaking-tube before the captain would have the opportunity to retort. However, Michael J. knew his own mind, and, like all the Irish, was a marvel at repartee. Quick as was Terence Reardon, therefore, Michael J. Murphy was quicker. Perhaps all of his message had not been delivered before Reardon closed the tube, but the chief got enough of it for all practical purposes.
He caught one word—"Renegade"; a word so terrible that it left the chief engineer speechless with fury, and before he could call the skipper a baboon, the golden opportunity was gone. He closed the tube with a sigh.
While the Narcissus was loading, the Fates were keeping in reserve for Cappy Ricks, Matt Peasley and Mr. Skinner a blow that was to stun them when it fell. About the time the Narcissus, fully loaded, was snoring out to sea past Old Point Comfort, Matt Peasley came across Seaborn & Company's telegram in the unanswered-correspondence tray on his desk. Five times he read it; and then, in the language of the poet, hell began to pop!
Cappy Ricks came out of a gentle doze to find his big son-in-law waving the telegram under his nose.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Matt Peasley bawled, for all the world as if Cappy was a very stupid mate and all the canvas had just been blown out of the bolt-ropes.
"Why didn't you ask me, you big stiff?" shrilled Cappy. He didn't know what was coming, but instinct told him it was awful, so he resolved instantly to meet it with a brave front. "Don't you yell at me, young feller. Now then, what do you want to find out?"
"Why didn't you tell me the Narcissus was to drop in at Pernambuco for orders?" roared Matt wrathfully.
Cappy pursed his lips and calmly rang for Mr. Skinner. He eyed the general manager over the rims of his spectacles for fully thirty seconds. Then:
"Skinner, what the devil's wrong with you of late? It's getting so I can't trust you to do anything any more. Tut, tut! Not a peep out of you, sir. Now then, answer me: Why didn't you tell me, Skinner, that the Narcissus was to call in at Pernambuco for orders?"
"I read you the telegram, sir," Mr. Skinner replied coldly, and pointed to the notation: "O.K.—Ricks," the badge of his infernal efficiency. "I read that telegram to you, sir," he repeated, "and asked you if I should close. You said to close. I closed. That's all I know about it. You and Matt are in charge of the shipping and I decline to be dragged into any disputes originating in your department. All I have to say is that if you two can't run the shipping end and run it right, just turn it over to me and I'll run it—right!"
Completely vindicated, Mr. Skinner struck a distinctly defiant attitude and awaited the next move on the part of Cappy. The latter, thoroughly crushed—for he knew the devilish Skinner never made any mistakes—looked up at his son-in-law.
"Well," he demanded, "what's your grouch against Pernambuco?"
"Forgive me for bawling you out that way," Matt replied, "but I guess you'd bawl, too, if somebody who should have known better had placed a fine ship in jeopardy for you. It just breaks me all up to think you may have lost my steamer Narcissus—the first steamer I ever owned too—and to be lost on her second voyage under the Blue Star flag—"
"Our Narcissus, if you please," Cappy shrilled. "You gibbering jackdaw! Out with it! Where do you get that stuff—lose your steamer on her second voyage! Why, she's snug in Norfolk this minute."
"If she only is," Matt almost wailed, "she'll never be permitted to clear with that German crew aboard. Pernambuco for orders! Suffering sailor! And you, of all men, to put over a charter like that! Pernambuco! Pernambuco! Pernambuco—for—orders! Do you get it?"
"No, I don't. It's over my head and into the bleachers."
"I must say, my dear Matt," Mr. Skinner struck in blandly, "that I also fail to apprehend."
"Didn't you two ever go to school?" Matt raved. "Didn't you ever study geography? Why under the canopy should we waste our time and burn up our good coal steaming to Pernambuco, Brazil, South America, for orders? Let me put it to you two in words of one syllable: The Narcissus is chartered to carry a cargo of coal from Norfolk, Virginia, to Batavia or Manila. At the time of charter—and sailing—the charterers are undecided which port she is to discharge at, so they ask us to step over to Pernambuco and find out. Now, whether the vessel discharges at Batavia or Manila, her course in the Atlantic Ocean while en route to either port is identical! She passes round the Cape of Good Hope, which is at the extreme south end of Africa. If her course, on the contrary, was round Cape Horn or through the Straits of Magellan there might be some sense in sending her over to the east coast of South America for orders. But whether she is ordered to Manila or Batavia, the fact remains that she must put in to Durban, South Africa, for fuel to continue her voyage; so why in the name of the Flying Dutchman couldn't the charterers cable the orders to Mike Murphy at Durban? The Narcissus is worth a thousand dollars a day, so you waste a few thousand dollars worth of her time, at the very least, sending her to Pernambuco when a ten-dollar cablegram to Durban would have done the business! I suppose all you two brilliant shipping men could see was a ten-dollar-a-ton freight rate. Eh? You—landlubbers! A-a-g-r-r-h! I was never so angry since the day I was born."
While Matt ranted on, Mr. Skinner's classic features had been slowly taking on the general color tones of a ripe old Edam cheese, while at the conclusion of Matt's oration Cappy Ricks' eyes were sticking out like twin semaphores. He clasped his hands.
"By the Twelve Ragged Apostles!" he murmured in an awed voice. "There's a nigger in the woodpile."
"I very greatly fear," Mr. Skinner chattered, "that you are mistaken, Mr. Ricks. Something tells me it's a German!"
"Well, well, well!" Matt Peasley sneered. "Skinner, take the head of the class. Really, I believe I begin to pick up signs of human intelligence in this sea of maritime ignorance."
"Oh, Matt, quit your jawing and break the news to me quickly," Cappy pleaded.
"Haven't you been reading the papers, sir? Australian and Japanese warships have been hunting for the German Pacific fleet for the past few weeks, and the Germans have been on the dodge. Therefore, they've been burning coal. They are only allowed to remain in a neutral port twenty-four hours, and can only take on sufficient coal and stores to enable them to reach the nearest German port. Consequently, since they have been afraid to enter a neutral port, for fear of giving away their position, it follows that they've had to stay at sea—and naturally they have run short of coal. A few steamers have cleared from San Francisco with coal, ostensibly for discharge at Chilean or Mexican ports, but in reality for delivery to the German fleet at sea, but even with these few deliveries, there is a coal famine. And now that the Pacific is getting too hot for it, the general impression is that the German fleet will try to get through the Straits of Magellan, for, once in the Atlantic, coal will be easier to get. More ships, you know; more ship-owners willing to take a chance for wartime profits—and they say Brazil is rather friendly to the German cause. We will assume, therefore, that the German secret agents in this country realize it is inevitable that Von Spee's fleet must be forced into the Atlantic; hence, in anticipation of that extremity, they are arranging for the delivery of coal to those harassed cruisers. The agent in Pernambuco is probably in constant communication with the fleet by wireless; the fleet will probably come ranging up the coast of South America, destroying British commerce, or some of the ships may cross over to the Indian Ocean and join the Emden, raiding in those waters. So the German secret agents charter our huge Narcissus, load her with ten thousand tons of coal—"
Matt Peasley paused and bent a beetling glance, first at Cappy Ricks and then at Skinner.
"Was she to carry soft coal or anthracite?" he demanded.
"I don't know," Mr. Skinner quavered.
"Search me!" Cappy Ricks piped up sourly.
"I thought so. For the sake of argument we'll assume it's soft coal, because anthracite has not as yet become popular as steamship fuel. Well, we will assume our vessel gets to Pernambuco. If, in the meantime, the German admiral wirelesses his Pernambuco agent, 'Send a jag of coal into the Indian Ocean,' to the Indian Ocean goes the Narcissus, and presently she finds a German warship or two or three ranging along in her course. They pick her up, help themselves to her coal, give Mike Murphy a certificate of confiscation for her cargo, to be handed to the owners, who in this case will be good, loyal sons of the Fatherland and offer no objection—"
"I see," Cappy Ricks interrupted. "And if, on the other hand, the German admiral says, 'Send a jag of coal to meet us in a certain latitude and longitude off the River Plate,' and Mike Murphy objects, that German crew on our Narcissus will just naturally lock Mike Murphy up in his cabin and take the vessel away from him! When they're through with her they'll give her back—"
"I'm not so certain they'll have to lock him up in his cabin in order to get the ship," Mr. Skinner struck in, a note of alarm in his voice. "Mike Murphy is so pro-German—"
"Ow! Wow! That hurts," Cappy wailed. "So he is! I never thought of that. And now that you speak of it, I recall it was his idea, getting that crew of Germans aboard! He said it would cut down expenses. Holy mackerel, Matt; do you think it was a frameup?"
"Certainly I do, but—Mike Murphy wasn't in on it. You can bank on that. No piratical foreigner will ever climb up on Mike Murphy's deck except over Mike Murphy's dead body. According to the president emeritus there is more than one kind of Irish, but I'll guarantee Mike Murphy isn't the double-crossing kind."
A boy entered with a telegram. It was a day letter filed by Mike Murphy in Norfolk that morning, and Matt Peasley read it aloud:
"Sailing at noon. Regret your failure take me into your confidence when deciding withdraw vessel from neutral trade. If orders send me to either of ports named in charter party and I am overhauled en route, that is your funeral. If orders conflict with charter party, as I suspect they may, that may be my funeral. Regretfully I shall resign at Pernambuco. You know your own business, and I cannot believe you would go it blind; if you change your mind before arrival Pernambuco, cable care American Consul and will do my best for you.
"M. J. M."
Gappy Ricks sprang into the air and tried to crack his aged ankles together.
"Saved!" he croaked. "By the Holy Pink-toed Prophet! Saved! Bully for Mike Murphy! Say, when that fellow gets back, if I don't do something handsome for him—"
Matt Peasley's scowls had been replaced by smiles.
"God bless his old Mickedonian heart!" he said fervently. "He thinks the coal is for that British fleet reported to be en route across the Atlantic to give battle to the German Pacific fleet; or for Admiral Craddock's Pacific fleet in case the Germans chase it back into the Atlantic. He knows that we know he is pro-German and for anything that's against England—and if he makes up his mind the coal is for the British fleet he'll resign before delivering it! By Judas, this would be funny if it wasn't so blamed serious."
"To be forewarned is to be forearmed," Mr. Skinner quoted sagely. "It is most fortunate for us that Murphy's suspicions do us a grave injustice. We know now that he will call on the American consul at Pernambuco and ask for a cablegram."
"Yes, and by thunder! we'll send it," Cappy declared joyously. "Cable him, Skinner, to fire that German crew so fast one might play checkers on their coat tails as they go overside."
"I wish to heaven I could wireless him to put back to New York and ship a new crew," Matt Peasley mourned. "There's just a possibility that German crew of his may take over the ship on the high seas and not put into Pernambuco at all!"
"We can only wait and pray," said Mr. Skinner piously.
Cappy Ricks slid out to the edge of his chair and, pop-eyed with horror, gazed at his son-in-law over the rims of his spectacles.
"Matt," he declared, "you're as cheerful as a funeral. Here we have this thing all settled, and you have to go to work and rip the silver lining out of our cloud of contentment. And the worst of it is, by golly, I think there's something in that theory of yours after all."
"We should always be prepared to meet the worst, Mr. Ricks," Mr. Skinner admonished the president emeritus. "While piracy as a practice practically perished prior to the—"
"Skinner! In the fiend's name, spare us this alliteration and humbug," Cappy fairly shrieked. "You're driving me crazy. If it isn't platitude, it's your dog-gone habit of initialing things!" He placed his old elbows on his knees and bowed his head in his hands. "If I'm not the original Mr. Tight Wad!" he lamented. "But you must forgive me, Matt. I got in the habit of thinking of expense when I was young, and I've never gotten over it. You know how a habit gets a grip on a man, don't you, Matt? Oh, if you had only overruled me when I decided to save money by cutting out the wireless on the Narcissus! I remember now you wanted it, and I said: 'Well, what's the use? The Narcissus hasn't any passenger license and she doesn't have to have wireless—so why do something we don't have to do?' Skinner, you should have known enough—"
"I am managing the lumber end of the business, Mr. Ricks," Skinner retorted icily.
"Never mind what you're managing. You're my balance wheel. I've raised you for that very purpose. I've been twenty-five years breaking you in to your job of relieving me of my business worries—and you don't do it. No, you don't, Skinner. Don't deny it, now. You don't. I pay you to boss me, but do you do it? No, sir. You let me have my own way—when I'm round you're afraid to say your soul's your own. You two boys know blamed well I'm an old man and that an old man will make mistakes. It is your duty to watch me. I pay the money, but I don't get the service. When Matt argued with me about the wireless you sided in with me, Skinner. You've got that infernal saving habit, too—drat you! Don't deny it, Skinner. I can see by the look in your eye you're fixing to contradict me. You're as miserable a miser as I am—afraid to spend five cents and play safe—you penurious—er—er—fellow! Skinner, if you ever forget yourself long enough to give three hoots in hell you'll want one of them back. See now what your niggardly policy has done for us? At a time when we'd hock our immortal souls for a wireless to talk to Mike Murphy and tell him things, where are we?" Cappy snapped his fingers. "Up Salt Creek—without a paddle!"
"Come, come," Matt said soothingly, "As Skinner says, we can only wait and pray—"
"All right. You two do the praying. I'm going to sit here and cuss."
"Well, we'll hope for the best, Mr. Ricks. No more crying over spilled milk now. I'll figure out when the Narcissus is due at Pernambuco and cable Mike to let his crew go. And you know, sir, even if he should not receive our cablegram, we have still one hope left. True, it is a forlorn one, but it's worth a small bet. The crew of the Narcissus is not all German. There are—"
"Two pro-German Irishmen, two disinterested Native Son Chinamen and a little runt of a Cockney steward," Cappy sneered. "And she carries a crew of forty, all told. Matt, those odds are too long for any bet of mine. Besides, Reardon and Murphy hate each other. A house divided against itself, you know—"
"They might bang each other all over the main deck," Matt replied musingly, "but I'll bet they'll fight side by side for the ship. Of course we haven't known Terence Reardon very long; he may be a bad one after all; but Mike Murphy will go far. He's as cunning as a pet fox, and he may make up in strategy what he lacks in numbers."
"The Irish are so filled with blarney—" Skinner began, but Cappy cut him short with a terrible look.
"There goes some more of our silver lining," he rasped. "Skinner, what are you? A kill-joy? Now, just for that, I'm going to agree with Matt. A man has got to believe something in this world or go crazy, and I prefer to believe that the ship is safe with those two Hibernians aboard—win, lose or draw. And I want you two to quit picking on me; I don't want the word 'Narcissus' mentioned in my presence until the ship is reported confiscated by the British, if her coal is for the Germans, or by the Germans, if her coal is for the British—which it isn't—or until Mike Murphy reports at Manila or Batavia and cables us for orders."
"I'm with you there, sir," Matt Peasley declared. "I'm going to bank on the Irish, and refuse to believe it possible for the Nar—for a certain vessel flying our house-flag to be caught by the wrong warship, a couple of thousand miles off her course and with coal, or evidences of coal, in her cargo space. Buck up, Skinner. A little Christian Science here, boy. Just make up your mind no man in authority is going to come over the rail of the—of a certain vessel—and ask Mike Murphy or his successor pro tem., for a look at his papers!"
"If she ever is confiscated on an illegal errand," Skinner mourned, "and Mike Murphy has nothing more tangible than a dime-novel tale of coercion as an excuse for being in that latitude and longitude—well, we'll never get our bully big ship back again!"
And for the first time in his life the efficient Mr. Skinner so far forgot himself as to swear in the office!
Throughout the long, lazy days that the Narcissus rolled into the South, Captain Michael J. Murphy's alert brain was busy every spare moment, striving to discover, in the incomprehensible charter his owners had made for him, what the French call la raison d'etre. Not having any wireless, he was unable to keep in touch with the stirring events being enacted in Europe and on the high seas, as news of the said events filtered by him through space. While on the West Coast, where all the newspapers are printed in Spanish, he had been equally barred from keeping in touch with the war, although en route through the Panama Canal he did his best to buy up all the old newspapers on the Zone.
Upon arrival in New York with his cargo of nitrate, his anxiety to make a record in his first command in steam caused him to stay on the job every moment the Narcissus was discharging, for Cappy Ricks had impressed upon him, as he impressed upon every skipper in the Blue Star employ, the fact that a slow boat is slow paying dividends. Consequently, the worthy captain had had no time to acquaint himself with the movements of the various fleets, and when he sent his day letter to his owners on the morning of the day he sailed from Norfolk for Pernambuco, his action was predicated, not on what he knew, but on what he felt. The sixth sense that all real sailors possess warned him that his cargo of coal was not destined for Batavia nor yet Manila, but for delivery at sea to the warships of some foreign nation. Devoutly Michael J. hoped it wasn't for the British fleet, since in such a contingency he would be cruelly torn between his love and duty. Consequently he resolved that, should the choice of alternatives be forced upon him, he would steer a middle course and resign his command.
On the other hand, Mike Murphy knew Matt Peasley and Cappy Ricks to be intensely pro-Ally in their sympathies, despite the President's proclamation of neutrality and the polite requests of the motion-picture houses for their audiences to remain perfectly quiet while Field-Marshal von Hindenburg, Sir John French and General Joffre came on the screen and bowed. Under the circumstances, therefore, Murphy found it very difficult to suspect his owners of conspiring to deliver a cargo of coal to the German fleet at sea. No, indeed! Matt Peasley and Cappy Ricks were too intensely American for that; indeed, Cappy was always saying he hoped to see an American mercantile marine established before he should be gathered to the bosom of Abraham.
From whatever angle the doughty skipper viewed it, therefore, the tangle became more and more incomprehensible. Cappy and Matt knew full well the rules of the game as promulgated by their Uncle Samuel, and the dire penalties for infraction. However, granted that they knew they could scheme successfully to evade punishment at the hands of their own government, Mike Murphy knew full well that no man could guarantee immunity from the right of a belligerent warship to visit and search, or from confiscation or months of demurrage in a prize court in the event that his ship's papers and the course the vessel was travelling failed to justify her presence in that particular longitude and latitude. And with the huge profits to be made in neutral trade, it seemed incomprehensible that a sound business man like Cappy Ricks should assume all these risks for the sake of a little extra money. Surely he must realize that if he sent her on an illegal errand her war-risk insurance would not hold.
On the other hand, it appeared to Murphy that the charter must have been consummated with the full knowledge and consent of the Blue Star Navigation Company, for the veriest tyro in the shipping business could not have failed to be suspicious of that clause in the charter party, stipulating a call at Pernambuco for orders. Of course there was the possibility that this acquiescence had been due to misrepresentation on the part of the New York agents or rank stupidity on the part of the Blue Star Navigation Company. But Seaborn & Company were above a shady deal. In putting through the charter for the Blue Star Navigation Company it might have occurred to them that all was not as it should be, but that was none of their business. If they spread their hand and permitted Cappy Ricks an unobstructed view, it was up to Cappy to decide and order them to close or reject the charter. As for stupidity on the part of the Blue Star Navigation Company, Murphy knew full well that stupidity was the crime Cappy Ricks found it hardest to forgive. Even had Cappy overlooked that suspicious clause in the charter, because of his age, Matt Peasley's youth and practical maritime knowledge should have offset Cappy's error; and even if both had erred, there still remained the matchless Skinner, as suspicious as a burglar, as keen as a razor, as infallible as a chronometer.
No, it just didn't seem possible that the Blue Star Navigation Company had gone into the deal with eyes wide open; on the contrary, it seemed equally impossible that they had gone into it with their eyes shut. Consequently Michael J. decided to wake them up—provided they slept on the job—and to give them an opportunity to repent before it should be too late.
He felt very much better after sending that telegram, but as the Narcissus ploughed steadily south at the rate of two hundred and thirty miles a day, he began to grieve because he had no wireless to bring him a prompt reply; he berated himself for not waiting at the dock in Norfolk until his owners should have had an opportunity to answer; he abused himself for his timidity in questioning the judgment of his owners, for indeed he had been content to hint when more decisive action was demanded.
How Michael J. Murphy yearned to discuss his problem with some one as loyal and devoted to the Blue Star Navigation Company as himself! His dignity as master of the Narcissus, however, bade him refrain from discussing the integrity of his owners with his mates—particularly with new mates, to whom the house-flag stood for naught but a symbol of monthly revenue. In fact, of the forty-one men under him, there was but one with whom he could, with entire dignity, discuss the matter. That man was Terence Reardon. But even here he was barred, for since he had called the chief engineer a renegade, the only possible discussion that could obtain between them now must be anything but academic; in consequence of which Michael J. Murphy was forced to hug his apprehensions to himself until the Narcissus steamed slowly into the outer harbor of Pernambuco. Ten minutes after she dropped her big hook the skipper's suspicions were crystallized into certainty.
Just as she came to anchor the steward appeared on deck, vociferously beating his triangle to announce supper—for at sea dinner is always supper.
"Mr. Schultz," the captain called from the bridge, "as soon as your men have had their supper clear away the working boat. I'm going ashore."
"Very vell, sir," Mr. Schultz replied heartily, and the captain went below to supper. He was scarcely seated before Mr. Schultz stuck his head in the dining saloon window and announced that a gentleman who claimed to represent the charterers was alongside in a launch and desired to come aboard and speak with him.
"Let down the accommodation ladder, Mr. Schultz, and when the gentleman comes aboard, show him round to my state-room," the skipper answered. "I'll meet him there in a pig's whisper. It is probable he has come aboard with our orders, Mr. Schultz, so never mind clearing away the boat until I speak to you further about it. Steward, set an extra cover at my right. We may have a guest for supper."
He hurried round to his state-room and donned a uniform coat to receive his visitor. Mr. Schultz came presently, bearing a visiting-card upon which was engraved the name: Mr. August Carl von Staden. Behind the mate a sailor with a bulging suitcase stood at attention; two more sailors stood behind the first, a steamer trunk between them, and as Captain Murphy stepped out on deck to greet his visitor he observed a tall, athletic, splendid-looking fellow coming leisurely toward him along the deck. The stranger carried a large Gladstone bag.
The captain bowed. "I am the skipper of this big box," he announced pleasantly. "Murphy is my name."
Herr von Staden shook hands and in most excellent English, without the slightest trace of a German accent, expressed his pleasure in the meeting. The captain cast a glance of frank curiosity at the bag von Staden carried and at the baggage the sailors had in tow. Von Staden interpreted the glance and smiled.
"I have brought you your orders, Captain Murphy. They are contained in this envelope;" and he handed a blank envelope to the captain. "However, I happened to know that one of the orders is to provide a berth for me. I'm to go with you as supercargo."
"I hadn't heard anything about such a possibility," Mike Murphy replied, with just a shade of formality in his tones. He turned to the first mate: "Mr. Schultz, will you be good enough to see to it that Mr. von Staden's baggage is stowed in the owners' suite. Then tell the steward to see that our guest's quarters are put in order. Mr. von Staden, will you kindly step into my stateroom here while I read these orders?"
Von Staden nodded. Entering the captain's room he sat down on the settee and lighted a gold-tipped cigarette, while Murphy tore open the envelope. It contained a cablegram reading as follows:
"Von Staden & Ulrich,—Pernambuco, Brazil,—Ornillo Montevideo.
The captain reached for his telegraphic-code book. When decoded the message read:
"Instruct captain to proceed to Montevideo and there await further orders.
"BLUE STAR NAVIGATION COMPANY."
The cablegram had been filed at San Francisco two days before. Murphy looked keenly at his guest, who smoked tranquilly and returned the look without interest.
"Mr. von Staden," the captain announced, "these are strange orders, in view of the fact that I cleared from New York for Manila or Batavia, via the Cape of Good Hope. It would be a sure sign of bad luck to the steamer Narcissus if a British cruiser should pick her up off the coast of Uruguay."
Von Staden smiled. "You are very direct, captain—very blunt indeed. This is a characteristic more Teutonic than Celtic, I believe, so I shall experience no embarrassment in being equally frank with you. Your cargo of coal is designed for our German Pacific fleet."
"I guessed as much, sir. Nevertheless, my owners did not see fit to take me into their confidence in this illegal undertaking, Mr. von Staden—"
"They did not think it necessary," von Staden interrupted smilingly. "In fact, Captain Peasley assured our people in New York that your sympathies are so overwhelming in favor of our cause we need anticipate no worry as to the course you would pursue. Moreover, in the event of a judicial inquiry it would be an advantage if you could say that you had had no voice in the matter, but had been instructed to obey the orders of the charterers—of whom we are the agents in Pernambuco. Perhaps this cablegram will allay your fears," and he drew an unopened cablegram from his pocket and handed it to Murphy. It was a code cablegram, signed by the Blue Star Navigation Company and addressed to Murphy in care of von Staden & Ulrich. When decoded it read:
"Execute the orders of supercargo if possible. It may lead to further business. Charterers must take the risk. We do not think there is any risk. Please remain."
This cablegram was signed "Matt."
"Well, captain?" von Staden queried politely.
"I don't like this business at all," the captain replied. "My owners may think there is no risk, but I'm afraid. England controls the seas—"
"We are in possession of the secret code of the British Navy, Captain Murphy. We know the approximate location of every British warship in the Atlantic and Pacific—and I assure you there is no risk."
"Well, my boss informs me the charterers assume the risk, so I suppose I shouldn't worry over the Blue Star Navigation Company's end of the gamble. They know their own business, I dare say. Evidently they feared I might want to resign, so I have been asked to remain; and when Captain Peasley says 'please' to me, Mr. von Staden, I find it very, very hard to refuse."
"I am glad, for the sake of our selfish interests, my dear captain, to find you so loyal to your owners' financial interests," the supercargo replied heartily. "Now that you have decided to remain, I need not point out to you the danger of a resignation at this time. It might lead to some unlooked-for developments which might prejudice your owners, although I think they have covered their tracks very effectually. Nevertheless, it is not well to take the slightest risk—"
"Without being well paid for it," Murphy interrupted sneeringly. "My owners have been well paid for their risk, but where do I come in? I haven't been promised double my usual salary, or a split on the profits of the voyage; and I know if I were to command a vessel loaded with munitions of war I would not be asked to take her into the North Sea at the customary skipper's wages. I'd be offered a large bonus."
"You forget, my dear captain, that your charterers assume all the risks. One of them was the risk that you might resign unless you received adequate compensation. I came aboard prepared to insure that risk," and he touched with his toe the Gladstone bag. "What do you say to $5,000?"
Michael J. Murphy smiled. "It is pleasant, sir," he said, "to be paid $5,000 for doing something one yearns to do for nothing. I am not a hog. Five thousand dollars is sufficient. How do I get it—and when?"
"In gold coin of the United States, or gold certificates of the same interesting country, my dear captain, and you may have it immediately." Again Herr von Staden kicked the Gladstone bag.
"I'll take it in gold certificates. And in order that my dear old father and mother may have the benefit of my rascality in case anything unforeseen should arise to prevent my return, I suggest you hand over the boodle this minute, and I'll go ashore and express it home."
"Captain Murphy, you are a man after my own heart—"
"I am not a born fool, sir," Murphy interrupted. "I'm accepting this money to be a fool, well knowing it is foolish to do it, for still I am taking a risk. I am thirty-eight years old, Mr. von Staden, and a skipper as young as that has his future all before him. Set him down on the beach, however, with his ticket revoked for all time—and his future is behind him."
"In that event," the supercargo replied, "you might accept my assurance, without questioning my authority for such assurance, that you would have no difficulty in procuring a remunerative position ashore. The firm of von Staden & Ulrich could use you very handily."
"Thank you, sir. Consider the matter settled. Will you come ashore with me, sir, and dine, or would you prefer to have supper aboard?"
"I beg of you to be excused from going ashore, captain. I have much to do to-night. The launch which brought me alongside has a knocked-down wireless plant aboard, and I am anxious to have it set up on your good ship Narcissus—a task I shall have to oversee personally. I shall probably work all night."
"Praise be!" Michael J. Murphy answered heartily. "We'll have some interest in life now. We can get all the war news, going and coming, can't we? Have you brought along an operator?"
"I am an operator," the supercargo answered. "By the by, can you fix me up with a wireless room?"
"There are two staterooms and a bath in the owners' suite which you will occupy. You can take your choice."
"Good. I shall want to sleep close to my instrument."
He opened the bag, counted out five one-thousand-dollar gold certificates of the United States of America and handed them to the captain.
"The grand old rag," Michael J. murmured. "How many rascals fight under the flag of old King Spondulics!"
"I believe you have an Irish chief engineer," von Staden continued. "While I understand his sympathies are with us, still it seems only right to compensate—"
"Suit yourself, Mr. von Staden."
"What kind of a man is he, captain?"
"I'd hate to tell you. I've had little to do with him, but that little was enough. We avoid each other as much as possible and never speak except in the line of duty. I make no bones of the fact that I think he's a scrub."
Mr. von Staden nodded sagely. "Perhaps I'd better wait and get acquainted with him," he suggested, and closed his bag. Murphy showed him to his quarters, which the steward, under the first mate's supervision, was already setting in order; and, having decided to set up the wireless in the sleeping-room, von Staden accompanied the skipper round to superintend the taking on board of the wireless plant from the gasoline launch bobbing alongside. When the equipment was finally hoisted to the deck of the Narcissus, Michael J, Murphy boarded the launch and was whisked ashore for the avowed purpose of sending to his aged parents the fruits of his elastic conscience.
Herr August Carl von Staden stood at the head of the accommodation ladder and smiled as the launch disappeared into the tropic twilight. Then he said something in German to Mr. Schultz, who laughed. Evidently it was very good news, for even the quartermaster at the companion ladder smiled covertly. It is possible they would not have felt so cheerful had they known that Michael J. Murphy's "dear old father and mother" had been sleeping in a Boston cemetery some fifteen years, and that their last words to Michael had been an exhortation to remember that manliness and honor must be his only heritage. And as the launch bore him shoreward, he looked back and grinned at the dim, duck-clad figure of von Staden.
"Your agents looked me up, my hearty," he soliloquized, "and if they did their work half well, they told you I was an honest man. Only a crook comes with a bag of gold to talk illegitimate business with an honest man. I'm banking you're as crooked as a bed spring, and that there's something fishy about this enterprise. Cappy Ricks isn't fully informed, otherwise he wouldn't be doing business with a crook!"
Arrived ashore, Captain Murphy hurried to the cable office, registered his cable address, borrowed a code book and sent a code telegram to his owner. Then, having subsidized the operator liberally to rush it, Michael J. Murphy set out for a stroll among the limited attractions of Pernambuco. His cablegram would get through in two hours at the very most, and though the captain figured the Blue Star offices would be closed when the message reached San Francisco, still he was not discouraged. He knew the cable company always telephoned to Mr. Skinner, at his home, all Blue Star and Ricks Lumber & Logging messages arriving after office hours and before midnight. Naturally Skinner could be depended upon to have a copy of the code at home, and if he didn't Murphy knew he would rush down to the office, no matter what the hour, and decode it there. Of course he would cable his reply immediately, in which event it might be that the captain would have an answer shortly after midnight or by breakfast at the latest.
He decided, therefore, to return to the cable office about midnight and await the reply to his cablegram. He had proceeded but a few blocks from the cable office, however, before a disturbing thought struck him with such force as to bring him to an abrupt pause.
His owners had cabled him in care of von Staden & Ulrich, when in the telegram sent just before sailing from Norfolk he had instructed them to cable him in care of the American consul. Murphy's native shrewdness had made him suspicious of von Staden the instant the latter had so nonchalantly offered him a bribe of five thousand dollars, for the proffer of a bribe of that magnitude, without any preliminary bargaining, did not co-ordinate with Michael's idea of business. Certainly if the charterers had his owners "fixed," five thousand dollars was too much money to give their captain, particularly since there were available any number of capable rascals eager to do the job for twenty-five hundred, and the devil take the consequences.
At the time von Staden had handed him the two cablegrams from the Blue Star Navigation Company, no suspicion that they were forgeries had entered the captain's mind; indeed, Matt Peasley's cablegram to him appeared at first blush to be an answer to the telegram which Murphy had sent his owners from Norfolk. In that telegram Murphy had mentioned his suspicions and hinted at unwarranted risks and the possibility of the circumstances attending the delivery of his cargo forcing his resignation. Matt's cablegram handed him by von Staden urged him to remain in the ship and assured him there were no risks; that if there were, the charterers assumed them. For the nonce, therefore, the master's mind did not dwell on any doubts as to the genuineness of the orders he had received, even though he decided instantly as a precautionary measure to confirm them before proceeding to carry them out. This, however, was merely because he was suspicious of von Staden and desired to obviate the possibility of that individual's double-crossing the Blue Star Navigation Company.
Under the circumstances, therefore, he had considered it good policy to appear to fall readily in line, and, the better to disarm von Staden's watchfulness, he had demanded extra compensation. The ease with which the bribe had been secured having crystallized his suspicions, instantly he had cast about in his ingenious brain for a good sound excuse for going ashore and cabling his owners. To demand his bribe in advance and then announce that he would go ashore and express it to those dependent upon him, in case he failed to return and enjoy it himself, seemed to present a reason that would not be questioned and accordingly he had done so.
Michael J. Murphy removed his uniform cap and thoughtfully scratched his head. "Now why," he demanded of the scented night, "did Matt cable me in care of that German firm when he must have known I would call on the American consul in the expectation of finding a cablegram there?" He shook his head. "They've got us winging, Michael," he soliloquized, "so I suppose the only thing to do is to play safe, call upon the American consul immediately if not sooner, and ask if he has a cablegram for us."
And without further ado the worthy fellow sprang into a cab and was whirled away to the residence of the American consul. Yes, the consul had a cablegram for him, but it was at his office. Could Captain Murphy not wait until morning?
Most emphatically Captain Murphy could not. That cablegram was important; it meant a great deal of money and possibly life or death—
Regretfully the consul entered the cab with the captain, drove to the consulate and delivered the cable-gram to the eager mariner, who swore when he discovered it was in cipher and not code, for this necessitated immediate return to the Narcissus in order to obtain the key to the cipher. He thanked the consul and sent the latter home in the cab, while he hurried for the harbor front and the nearest boat landing. He was filled with apprehension, for indeed there was something radically wrong when his owners cabled him in the secret cipher of the Blue Star Navigation Company—something the company had, doubtless, never found occasion to do before. For while each vessel of the Blue Star fleet had a copy of the A.L. code aboard, with the cipher key typewritten and pasted on the second fly-leaf, not a single Blue Star skipper knew why it had been pasted there or why the company should have gone to the trouble of getting up any one of the hundreds of secret ciphers possible to be developed from the A. L. Telegraphic Code. This was a secret that lay locked in the breast of Mr. Skinner. It is probable, however, that it had occurred to him in an idle moment that a secret cipher might come in handy some day, and Mr. Skinner believed in being prepared for emergencies.
The captain bade the launch wait for him at the accommodation ladder, while he hurried round to his state-room and promptly fell to work on Mr. Skinner's cipher cablegram. When he had laboriously deciphered it this is what he read:
"Unaccountably failed note suspicious clause charter. Something rotten. We are playing square game. Think plot deliver coal German fleet South Atlantic. Discharge your German crew immediately, first notifying Brazilian authorities and American consul. Have help when you notify them game is off, otherwise may take vessel away from you. They will stop at nothing; fleet desperate for coal. Cable acknowledgment these orders; also cable when orders fulfilled. Very anxious. "BLUE STAR NAVIGATION COMPANY."
"Ah-h-h!" breathed Michael J. Murphy softly, but very distinctly. "So that's the game, eh?" His big square chin set viciously; subconsciously he clenched his hard fist and shook it at his enemies. "The cunning Dutch devils!" he murmured very audibly, and at that precise instant Herr August Carl von Staden stood in the open doorway. He coughed, and Murphy glanced up from the translation of the cipher message just in time to note a swift shadow pass over the supercargo's face, a shadow composed of equal parts of suspicion, embarrassment and desperation.
"You have returned very promptly, captain," he remarked smoothly, and then his restless glance fell on the cablegram and beside it the scratch pad and the two parallel columns of words scrawled on it. A man of far less intelligence than von Staden possessed would, have realized as quickly that the first column was composed of cipher words, while the second column was the translation. From this tell-tale evidence his suspicious glance lifted to the skipper's face, and he read in Michael J. Murphy's black eyes the wild rage which no Irishman could have concealed—which the majority of his race would not even have taken the trouble to endeavor to conceal.
In that glance each learned the other's secret; each realized that the success of his plans depended on the silence of the other; each resolved instantly to procure that silence at any cost. Von Staden reached for his hip pocket, but before he could draw his automatic pistol and cover the skipper, Michael J. Murphy had hurled ten pounds of code book into the geometric centre of the supercargo's face. It was the first weapon his hand closed over, and he did not disdain it. The instant it landed and von Staden reeled before the blow, Murphy came out of his state-room with a scuttering rush and von Staden fired as he came. The captain felt the sting of the bullet as it creased the top of his left shoulder; then his right fist came up in a blow that started at his hip and landed fairly under the supercargo's heart. Von Staden grunted once, the pistol dropped clattering to the deck and he folded up like an accordion. For him the battle was over.
Not so, however, with Mike Murphy. Gone to the winds now was the caution he would have exercised had the attack been delayed two seconds longer; forgotten was the shrewd advice of his owners to have help standing by when the ship cleaning should commence. Michael J. Murphy thought of nothing but blood, for the fight had started now and he was loath to have it cease.
"You bloody murderer!" he growled. "You'd kill me and steal my ship, would you?" And with the reckless abandon of a sailor he planted the broad toe of a number nine boot in Herr von Staden's short ribs, hoping to break a few, for in the process of working his way up from the bottom Michael had fought under deep-sea rules too often to be squeamish now. So he kicked Herr von Staden again, after which a glimmer of reason penetrated his hot head and he walked to pick up the supercargo's automatic pistol. Then something landed on him from above and he went down backward. His head struck the deck with a resounding thump, and Michael J. Murphy had a through ticket to the Land of Nod and no stop-over privileges.
The something which had thus inopportunely dropped on Michael was Mr. Henckel, the second mate. He had gone up on the bridge to see if the canvas jacket had been dropped over the brightly polished brass engine-room telegraph apparatus at each end of the bridge, in order to protect it from the tropical dew. While thus engaged he had heard the shot which von Staden fired at the captain, and forthwith had run across the top of the house and peered over to discover what was happening on the deck below. Discovering the captain in the act of kicking a distinguished son of the Fatherland in that fragile section of the human anatomy frequently referred to as the "slats," the second mate had stood a moment, immobile with horror, the while he gazed upon the fearful scene. Then the captain walked to a spot on the deck directly beneath the position occupied by his subordinate, and stooped to pick something up.
Even their enemies are proud of the dash and gallantry, the utter contempt for consequences, which animate the German going into battle, and Mr. Henckel, second mate of the S.S. Narcissus, was as fine a German as one could find in a day's travel. The instant Michael J. Murphy stooped to recover von Staden's automatic pistol, therefore, Mr. Henckel saw his duty and, in the language of the elect, "he went an' done it"—the which was absurdly simple. He merely leaped down off the house on top of the captain, and forthwith deep peace and profound silence brooded over the good ship Narcissus, of San Francisco.
It is worthy of remark here that Mr. Terence Reardon who, had he been present, might have had something to say—not that his action would indicate that he despised Mike Murphy the less, but that he loved his owners more—was unfortunately down in the engine-room. Consequently he failed to hear the shot, and when he came up on deck the victims of the affray had been collected and taken thence, a seaman with a mop had removed the profuse evidence which Mike Murphy's rich red blood had furnished and Mr. Schultz, the first mate, was on the bridge, while Mr. Henckel was up on the forecastle head with his gang, waiting for the order to break out the anchor.
Presently a seaman came up on the bridge and reported that the light in Mr. Reardon's state-room had been out fifteen minutes. So Mr. Schultz waited an hour longer to make certain the chief engineer would be asleep; whereupon commenced a harsh, discordant tune—the music of the anchor chain paying in through the hawse pipe. When it ceased Mr. Schultz stepped to the marine telegraph; a bell jingled in the bowels of the Narcissus; an instant later all the lights aboard her went out as the first assistant engineer threw off the switch, and silently in the heavy velvet gloom the great vessel slipped out of Pernambuco harbor and headed south.
Just about the time the Narcissus was kicking ahead at nine knots, in distant San Francisco the cable company was getting Mr. Skinner out of bed to dictate to him over the telephone a message which had just arrived from Pernambuco.
"Ah!" murmured the incomparable Skinner as he donned a dressing gown and slippers and descended to his library to decode the cablegram. "The luck of the Blue Star flag still holds. That belligerent and highly intelligent fellow Murphy has received our cablegram, sent him in care of the American consul, and in accordance with my instructions he is acknowledging its receipt. Hum-m-m! The first word is 'oriana.' Let me turn to 'oriana.' Hum-m! 'I have an order presumably emanating from blank.' Ah, yes, the next word is 'Buestar,' the cable address of the Blue Star Navigation Company. Well, well, well, the foxy fellow! After wiring us to cable him, he gets our cable and then cables us to confirm it! Caution is a virtue, but this brand is too high-priced. The next word is 'osculo'."
Mr. Skinner turned to "osculo" and discovered that it meant "I am ordered to—" The next word in the cablegram was "Montevideo."
"Good heavens!" Mr. Skinner gasped. "He has received orders, presumably emanating from us, ordering him to Montevideo! Can it be possible that Mr. Ricks or Matt Peasley has sent him a cablegram without my knowledge? I must read further."
He did, and having done so he discovered that, in addition to being ordered to Montevideo, Mike Murphy wanted to know if it was all right and if von Staden and Ulrich—presumably German—were to be trusted; that he would remain in command at the company's request, although he considered such request unreasonable, even if it could be granted without risk. Also, he wanted these instructions confirmed and was anxiously awaiting an answer.
"Well, I'm certain of one thing," Mr. Skinner soliloquized after reading this extraordinary message: "Murphy has not been to the American consul's office for the cablegram I sent him several days ago. Evidently there is mischief afoot. However, there is nothing to be gained by cabling him again in care of the American consul, so I'll just assume that he has registered his cable address with the cable company; hence, if I cable him to his cable address the message will be delivered to him aboard the Narcissus. And since he says he is anxiously awaiting an answer, I'll relieve his anxiety with all possible speed and send him an answer immediately."
Whereupon Mr. Skinner wasted several dollars cabling Mike Murphy that the Blue Star Navigation had not, to his knowledge, cabled him any instructions save those sent in care of the American consul; that von Staden and Ulrich were unknown to him, and to be very careful not to lose the ship. This message Mr. Skinner dictated over the telephone to the telegraph office and asked them to rush it. Evidently they did so, for just as Cappy Ricks arrived in the office the following morning, word was received from the telegraph company that owing to the departure of the Narcissus from Pernambuco the night before, the Blue Star Navigation Company's cablegram had not been delivered.
"Well, Skinner," Cappy chirped as he sat in at his desk and lighted a cigar, "what's the news around the shop this fine morning? Any word from Murphy?"
"Yes—and no," Mr. Skinner replied, and laid his information before Cappy for perusal. Cappy read it all twice, then slid out to the edge of his chair, placed his hands on his knees and looked at Mr. Skinner over the rims of his spectacles.
"Skinner, my dear boy," he said solemnly, "this is certainly hell! Cable the American consul in Pernambuco and ask him if Murphy received the cablegram we sent in care of the consulate. And, in the meantime, don't whisper a word of this disquieting information to Matt Peasley. Time enough to cross a bridge, Skinner, when you come to it."
Mr. Skinner promptly filed a cablegram to the American consul, and just before the office closed they got about forty dollars' worth of reply, informing them that Captain Murphy had appeared at the consulate greatly excited the night previous; that he had declared the cablegram awaiting him might mean life or death—certainly a large sum of money; that he had been given the cablegram and had gone aboard ship to look up his cipher key. He had not returned and the ship was not in the harbor.
"Let me see the carbon copy of the cablegram you sent Murphy in care of the American consul," Cappy demanded. Mr. Skinner with a sinking heart obeyed.
"Skinner," said Cappy, "do I understand you sent this message in cipher, which necessitated on the part of our captain a trip back to his ship before he could decipher it? Why didn't you send him the message in regular code? He would then have decoded it right in the consulate, or at best he could have gone to the cable office and borrowed a code book from them."
"I sent it in our secret cipher," Mr. Skinner faltered. "It was delicate business—quite—er—an international complication, as it were, and in the event of unpleasant developments—Well, how did I know but that some German might be on the key at the cable office when the message arrived there for Murphy—"
"Quite right, Skinner, my boy, quite right," Cappy interrupted sadly. "The only trouble with you, Skinner, is that you're too danged efficient. You look so far into the future you're always gumming up the present." He sighed.
"Why, what do you think—" Skinner began, but Cappy silenced him with an autocratic finger.
"I do not think, Skinner, I know. Had it not been for your damnable cipher message, Murphy would have got your warning ashore instead of being forced to go back to the ship for it. Having got it ashore he would have taken care to warn the Brazilian authorities and they would have been on watch and prevented the ship from leaving. As I view the situation, Mike went aboard, deciphered your message and got ripping mad. Von Staden and Ulrich were probably aboard, and hot-headed Mike probably undertook to throw them overboard single-handed—and failed. His body is doubtless feeding the fishes in Pernambuco harbor this minute, and our lovely—big—Narcissus—the pride of—the Blue Star fleet—"
"Shall I tell Captain Peasley?" Mr. Skinner faltered.
"Yes, tell him. He's bound to find out sooner or later. Skinner, I could stand the loss of the ship, but what breaks me all up is the thought that after forty years of honorable business my friends and my enemies might suspect me of being a filibuster. I, Alden P. Ricks, whose great-grandfather died at Yorktown, whose grandfather was killed at Lundy's Lane, whose father won a medal of honor at Chapultepec—I, Alden P. Ricks, who had to belong to the Home Guard because I was such a little runt they wouldn't take me in the Civil War—to think that I should attain to seventy years and even be suspected of staining the flag of my country for the sake of a few dirty dollars—after all the Ricks blood that has been shed for that flag! Horrible!"