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The receipt of Cappy Ricks' letter actually frightened Matt Peasley for about thirty seconds. Then he reread the last paragraph. Like a dutiful servant he forgave Cappy the letter's reference to arrogance, impudence and general bad manners; but the reference to his lack of knowledge of the ethics of his profession made him fighting mad.
Cappy Ricks might just as well have passed him the supreme insult of the seas: "Aw, go buy a farm!" He showed the letter to Mr. Murphy.
"Why, that's adding insult to injury!" the mate declared sympathetically.
The youthful master threw up both hamlike hands in token of complete surrender and profound disgust.
"There's the gratitude of an owner!" he raved. "He wires me my loading orders and never says a word about docking--though as managing owner it's up to him to know when the vessel needs docking. I can't plan her comings and goings so that at the proper time she'll find herself at a port with a dry dock. Of course when he wired me my loading orders I realized he wasn't going to dock me; so I took matters into my own hands. Why, Mike, I wouldn't skipper a ship so foul she can hardly answer her helm. How could I know he'd forgotten she needed docking? I'm not a mind reader."
"I suppose he's been so busy hunting another dirty cargo for us he hadn't time to think of the vessel," Mr. Murphy sneered, and added: "The dirty old skin-flint!"
"Well, I'll just tell Cappy Ricks where to head in!" Matt stormed. "Let him fire me if he wants to. I don't care to sail a ship--particularly a dirty ship--for any man who thinks I don't know my business. Mike, I'm going to send him a telegram that'll burn his meddling old fingers."
"Give him hell for me!" pleaded Mr. Murphy. "If he fires you I'll quit, too."
The result of this colloquy was that Cappy Ricks received this night letter the following morning:
Alden P. Ricks,
258 California St.,
Referring your letter. Men that taught me nautical ethics expected things done without orders, minus thanks for doing them well, plus abuse for doing them poorly. Regard your criticism as out of place. Am not the seventh son of a seventh son. How could I know you had overlooked fact that vessel needed docking? Your business to plan my voyages to get me to dry-dock port at least once a year. When you wired loading orders, concluded you were cheap owner; hence decided dock her without orders. Expect to be fired sooner or later, but will leave good ship behind me so my successor cannot say, "Peasley let her run down." Had I waited orders, vessel would have been ruined. Yet you have not sufficient grace to express your thanks. Had I not acted in this emergency, you would have fired me later for incompetence, and blacklisted me for not telling you what you know you ought to know without being told.
Referring copper paint, I know from practical experience which brand is best; you know only what paint dealer tells you. Will not stand abuse for knowing my business and attending to it without instructions from landlubber! When you appointed me you said remember speed synonymous with dividends in shipping business. How can I make fast passages with whiskers two feet long on my keel? Send new flying jib and spanker next loading port. Send new skipper, too, if you feel that way about it.
"Well, Skinner," Cappy Ricks declared, "this is the first time a skipper in my employ ever talked back--and it'll be the last. I've had enough of this fellow's impudence, Skinner. He's right at that--blast him--but he's too much of a sea lawyer; and I won't have any employee of mine telling me how to run my business. Send in a stenographer."
When the stenographer entered Cappy Ricks said:
"Ahem-m! Harump-h-h-h! Take telegram: 'Captain Matthew Peasley, care Rainier Mill and Lumber Company, Tacoma, Washington. You're fired! Ricks.' Ahem! Huh! Har-ump! Take 'nother telegram: 'Mr. Michael J. Murphy, First Mate Barkentine Retriever'--same address as Peasley--'Accept this telegram as your formal appointment to command of our barkentine, Retriever, vice Matthew Peasley, discharged this day; forwarding to-morrow certificate of change of master." Sign that: 'Blue Star Navigation Company, per Alden P. Ricks,' and get both telegrams on the wire right away."
Cappy turned to Mr. Skinner and chuckled sardonically.
"I'll bet that will gravel the man Peasley," he declared. "There's nothing harder on a captain than being fired, and succeeded by his own mate--particularly after he has so recently recommended that mate! Peasley will be wild--the pup!"
"Well," Mr. Skinner replied, "appointing Mr. Murphy certainly has this advantage,--he's there on the ground and we are thus spared the expense of sending a man from here."
"That's one of the reasons why I appointed him--one of three very excellent reasons, in fact. Now we'll wait and see what the man Peasley has to say to that telegram."
They had to wait about two hours, and this was what Matt Peasley had to say:
"Many thanks. The second mate and the cook quit the minute they discovered it was to be another cargo of creosoted piling; and now that I am fired Mr. Murphy has concluded that he might as well quit also. Will stick by ship, however, until you send my successor; meantime loading continues as usual."
"Well, that's what the man Peasley says!" Cappy snapped. "Murphy's quit, eh? Well, I guess Mr. Murphy hadn't received my telegram when Peasley sent this message. It'll take more than a cargo of creosoted piling to keep Murphy out of the master's cabin when he hears from me."
The stenographer entered with another telegram.
"Ah!" Cappy remarked, and rubbed his hands together in pleased anticipation. "I dare say this is from Mr. Murphy."
It was; and this is what the loyal Murphy had to say:
"I thank you for the consideration. Very sweet of you; but I wouldn't work for you again on a bet. You couldn't hand me a ripe peach! Master or mate, creosote tastes the same to me. At Captain Peasley's request am staying by vessel until new master arrives and hires new mate. Would have stuck by vessel for Old Man's sake if you'd slipped us cargo of uncrated rattlesnakes; but since I encouraged him to tell you things for good of your soul and you fired him for it I must decline to profit by his misfortune."
Silently Cappy Ricks folded that telegram and laid it on his desk; his head sagged forward on his breast and he fell to meditating deeply. Finally he looked up and eyed Mr. Skinner over the rims of his spectacles.
"Skinner," he said solemnly, "do you realize, my boy, that we have two extremely remarkable men on the barkentine Retriever?"
"They are certainly most remarkably deficient in respect to their superiors, though in all probability exceedingly capable seamen," Mr. Skinner answered sympathetically, for he had great veneration for the creator of the pay roll.
"I know," Cappy replied sadly; "but then, you know, Skinner, the good Lord must certainly hate a bootlicker! Skinner, I simply cannot afford to lose those two damned scoundrels in the Retriever. They're good men! And a good man who knows he's good will not take any slack from man or devil; so I cannot afford to lose those two. Skinner, I've got myself into an awful mess. Here I've been running by dead reckoning and now I'm on the rocks! What'll I do, Skinner? I'm licked; but, dang it all, sir, I can't admit it, can I? Isn't there some way to referee this scrap and call it a draw?"
"I see no way out of it now except to send another captain to Tacoma."
"Skinner," he declared, "you're absolutely no use to me in an emergency. When I made you my general manager, on a bank president's salary, I thought I'd be able to take it easy for the rest of my life." He wagged his head sadly. "And what's the result? I work harder than ever. Skinner, if I hadn't any more imagination than you possess I'd be out there on the corner of California and Market Streets peddling lead pencils this minute. Leave this problem to me, Skinner. I suppose I'll find a way out of it, with entire honor to all concerned. Holy sailor!" he added. "But that man Murphy is loyal--and loyalty is a pretty scarce commodity these days, let me tell you!"
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