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Cappy Ricks was having his customary mid-afternoon nap in his big swivel chair and his feet on his desk, when Mr. Skinner came in and woke him up.
"I just couldn't help it, sir," he announced apologetically, as Cappy opened one eye and glared at him, "I had to wake you up and tell you the news."
"Tell it!" Cappy snapped.
"The Retriever arrived at Grays Harbor this morning, Mr. Ricks. She's broken the record for a fast passage," and he handed Cappy Ricks a telegram.
"Bless my withered heart!" Cappy declared, and opened his other eye. "You don't tell me? Well, well, well! All Hands And Feet is making good right off the bat, isn't he?" Cappy chuckled. "Skinner, my dear boy," he bragged, "did you ever see me start out to pick a skipper and hand myself the worst of it?"
"No, sir," Mr. Skinner maintained dutifully, and turned away to hide a wicked little smile, which under the circumstances Skinner was entitled to.
"And you never will, Skinner. Paste that in your hat, boy. That big Swede, Peterson, can handle a ship as well as he can handle a refractory mate--and that's going some, Skinner--going some! I'm not surprised at his fast passage. Not at all, Skinner. Come to think of it, I'm going to fire that Scotchman in the Fortuna and give All Hands And Feet his berth. He has earned it."
He adjusted his spectacles and read:
June 27, 19--.
Blue Star Navigation Company,
258 California St.,
Arrived this morning, seventy-nine days from bar to bar, all hands well, including your special messenger. Offered him job as second mate, just to show I had no hard feelings, but he would not work, so I brought him home under hatches. Permitted him present his formal credentials this morning and turned over command of ship to him. Declined responsibility and left, saying you had promised him command four-masted schooner. Seemed trifle hurt, although it is seventy-nine days since I thrashed him. Consequently I am still in command and awaiting your instructions.
For a long time Cappy Ricks kept looking sternly at Mr. Skinner over the tops of his spectacles. There was blood on the moon again, and the silence was terrible. He kept rocking gently backward and forward in his swivel chair, for all the world as though preparing for a panther-like spring at Mr. Skinner's throat. Suddenly he exploded.
"I won't have another thing to do with the man Peasley!" he shrilled. "The fellow is a thorn in my side and I want peace! Understand, Skinner? I--want--peace! What in blue blazes do I pay you ten thousand a year for if it isn't to give me peace? Answer me that, Skinner."
"Well you said you wanted to attend to the shipping--"
"That'll do, Skinner--that'll do! You're an honorary member of the I-told-you-so Club and I'm thoroughly disgusted with you. Rid me of this man--immediately. If I ever get another telegram from the scoundrel I shall hold you personally responsible."
Forthwith Mr. Skinner acted. He went up to the office of the United States District Attorney and swore out a Federal warrant for the arrest of Matthew Peasley on a charge of mutiny and insubordination, assault and battery on the high seas, and everything else he could think of. The authorities promptly wired north to send a United States marshal down to Grays Harbor to arrest the culprit; and the following afternoon, when Cappy Ricks got back to his office after luncheon and picked up the paper, the very first thing his glance rested on was the headline:
MATE CHARGED WITH MUTINY!
Mutiny and sundry other crimes on the high seas are out of the ordinary; hence the United Press correspondent at Hoquiam had considered the story of Matt Peasley's arrest worthy of dissemination over the Pacific Coast.
Cappy Ricks read it, the principal item of interest in it being a purported interview with Matt Peasley, who, in choice newspaperese, had entered a vigorous denial of the charge. The story concluded with the statement that Peasley was a native of Thomaston, Maine, where he had always borne a most excellent reputation for steadiness and sobriety.
Cappy Ricks laid the paper aside.
Thomaston, Maine! So the man Peasley was a Down-Easter! That explained it.
"Well, I hope my teeth may fall into the ocean!" Cappy murmured. "Thomaston, Maine! Why, he's one of our own town boys--one of my own people! Dear, dear, dear! Well now, it's strange I didn't know that name. I must be getting old to forget it."
He sat in his swivel chair, rocking gently backward and forward for several minutes, after a fashion he had when perturbed. Suddenly his old hand shot out and pressed the push button on his desk, and his stenographer answered.
"Send Mr. Skinner in!" he commanded.
Presently Mr. Skinner came, and again Cappy eyed him over the tops of his spectacles; again the terrible silence. Skinner commenced to fidget.
"Skinner," began Cappy impressively, "how often have I got to tell you not to interfere with the shipping? Tut, tut! Not a peep out of you, sir--not a peep! You had the audacity, sir, to swear to a Federal warrant against the man Peasley. How dare you, sir? Do you know who the man Peasley is? You don't. Well, sir, I'll tell you. He's a Down-East boy and I went to school with his people. I'll bet Ethan Peasley was a relative of this boy Matt, because Ethan had a cousin by the name of Matthew; and Ethan and Matt and I used to hell around together until they went to sea.
"Lord bless you, Skinner, I can remember yet the day the Martha Peasley came up the harbor, with her flag at half-mast--and poor old Ethan was gone--whipped off the end of her main yard when she rolled!
"We were great chums, Ethan and I, Skinner; and I cried. Why--why, damn it, sir, this boy Matt's people and mine are all buried in the same cemetery back home. Yes, sir! And nearly all of 'em have the same epitaph--'Lost at Sea'--and--you idiot, Skinner! What do you mean, sir, by standing there with your infernal little smile on your smug face? Out of my office, you jackanapes, and call the dogs off this boy Matt. Why, there was never one of his breed that wasn't a man and a seaman, every inch of him.
"All Hands And Feet thrash a Peasley! Huh! A joke! Why, Ethan was six foot six at twenty, with an arm like a fathom of towing cable. Catch me turning down one of our own boys! No, sir! Not by a damned sight!"
In all his life Mr. Skinner had never seen Cappy Ricks so wrought up. He fled at once to call off the dogs, while Cappy turned to his desk and wrote this telegram:
San Francisco, California.
June 28, 19--.
Care United States Marshal,
Congratulations on splendid voyage. You busted record. Lindquist, in the John A. Logan, did it in eighty-four days in the spring of ninety-four. Draw draft and pay off crew, render report of voyage, place second mate in charge, and proceed immediately to Seattle to get your master's ticket. Will telegraph Seattle inspectors requesting waive further probation as first mate and issue license if you pass examination in order that you may accept captaincy of Retriever. Skinner, my manager, had you arrested. Would never have done it myself. I come from Thomaston, Maine, and I knew your people. Would never have sent the Swede had I known which tribe of Peasley you belonged to--though, if he had licked you, no more than you deserved. I want no more of your impudence, Matt.
Alden P. Ricks.* * * * * *
For a week business droned along in Cappy Ricks' office as usual, interrupted at last by the receipt of a telegram from Matt Peasley to Cappy. It was sent from Seattle and read:
"Have now legal right to be called captain. Rejoin ship tomorrow. Wire orders. Thank you."
"God bless the lad!" Cappy murmured happily. "I'll bet he's going to make me a skookum skipper. Still, I think he's pretty young and sadly in need of training; so I'll have to take some of the conceit out of him. I'm going to proceed to break his young heart; and if he yells murder I'll fire him! On the contrary, if he's one of Ethan's tribe--well, the Peasleys always did their duty; I'll say that for them. I hope he stands the acid."
Whereupon Cappy Ricks squared round to his desk and wrote:
San Francisco, July 5, 19--.
Captain Matthew Peasley,
Master Barkentine Retriever,
Glad you have legal right to be called captain. Sorry I have not. Proceed to Weatherby's mill, at Cosmopolis, and load for Antofagasta, Chile. Remember speed synonymous with dividends in shipping business.
Blue Star Navigation Company.
When Cappy signed his telegrams with the company name it was always a sure indication he had discharged his cargo of sentiment and gotten down to business once more.
"A little creosoted piling now and then is bully for the best of men," he cackled. "For a month of Sundays that man Peasley will curse me as far as he can smell the Retriever. Oh, well! Every dog must have his day--and I'm a wise old dog. I'll teach that Matt boy some respect for his owners before I'm through with him!"
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