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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, 0.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,
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 0.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 1ike 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.
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