"Here's a telegram for you, sir," Mr. Murphy remarked when Matt Peasley came aboard after cashing a draft on the Blue Star Navigation Company to pay off his crew. It proved to be from Cappy Ricks and said merely:
"Discharge that cargo of hides or take the consequences!"
"The old sinner thought I'd dog it, I suppose," Matt sneered, as he passed the message to Mr. Murphy, who shivered as he read it. "I guess you're elected, Mike," the skipper continued. "The second mate has quit. However, it isn't going to be very hard on you this time. I was speaking to the skipper of that schooner in the berth ahead of us, and he gave me a recipe for killing the perfume of a cargo of green hides."
"If he'd given it to us in Antofagasta, I'd name a ship after him some day," Mr. Murphy mourned.
"Well, we've gotten it in time to be of some use," Matt declared. "You don't suppose I'm going to let this old snoozer Ricks get away with the notion that he put one over on us, do you? Shall we haul Old Glory down? No! Never! I'll just switch off the laughing gas on Cappy Ricks," and the young skipper went ashore and wired his managing owner as follows:
"Green hides are the essence of horror if you do not know how to handle them. Fortunately I do. Pour water on a green hide and you muzzle the stink. I judge from your last telegram you thought you handed me something."
When Cappy Ricks got that telegram he flew into a rage and refused to believe Matt Peasley's statement until he had first called up a dealer in hides and confirmed it. The entire office staff wondered all that day what made Cappy so savage.
By the following day, however, Cappy's naturally optimistic nature had reasserted itself. He admitted to himself that he had fanned out, but still the knowledge brought him some comfort.
"He's walloped me so," Cappy soliloquized, "he just can't help writing and crowing about it. If I didn't do anything else I bet I've pried a letter out of him. It certainly will be a comfort to see something except a telegram and a statement of account from that fellow."
However, when the report of the voyage arrived, Mr. Skinner reported that it contained no letter. Cappy's face reflected his disappointment.
"I guess you'll have to go stronger than green hides to get a yelp out of that fellow," Mr. Skinner predicted.
"Why, there isn't anything stronger than a cargo of green hides, Skinner," Cappy declared thoughtfully. He clawed his whiskers a moment. Then: "What have you got for her on the Sound, Skinner?"
"Nothing nasty, sir. We'll have to give him a regular cargo this time--that is, unless he quits. I've got a cargo for Sydney, ready at our own mill at Port Hadlock."
"Well, he hasn't resigned yet," Cappy declared; "so we might as well beat him to it. Wire him, Skinner, to tow to our mill at Port Hadlock and load for Sydney. If he believes we're willing to call this thing a dead heat he may conclude to stick. Tell him this is a nice cargo." Again Cappy clawed his whiskers. "Sydney, eh?" he said musingly. "That's nice! We can send him over to Newcastle from there to pick up a cargo of coal, and maybe he'll come home afire! If we can't hand him a stink, Skinner, we'll put a few gray hairs in his head."
These instructions Mr. Skinner grudgingly complied with; and Matt Peasley, with his hatches wide open and buckets of punk burning in the hold to dispel the lingering fragrance of his recent cargo--concluding that, on the whole, he and Mr. Murphy had come through the entire affair very handsomely indeed--towed down to Hadlock and commenced to take on cargo. If Cappy Ricks was willing to declare a truce then Matt Peasley would declare one too.
Matt's peaceful acquiescence in his owner's program merely served to arouse Cappy Ricks' abnormal curiosity. The more he thought of Matt Peasley the greater grew his desire for a closer scrutiny. The most amazing man in the world had been in his employ a year and a half, and as yet they had never met; unless the Retriever should happen to be loaded for San Francisco years might elapse before they should see each other; and now that he had attained to his allotted three score years and ten Cappy decided that he could no longer gamble on the future.
He summoned Mr. Skinner.
"Skinner, my dear boy," he announced with the naive simplicity that made him so lovable. "I suppose it's very childish of me, but I have a tremendous desire to see this extraordinary fellow Peasley."
"You can afford to satisfy your slightest whim, Mr. Ricks," he replied. "I'll load her for San Francisco after she returns from Australia. I daresay if he ever gets through the Golden Gate he'll call up at the office."
"Skinner, I can't wait that long. Many things may happen. Ahem! Harump-h-h-h! Wire the man Peasley, Skinner, to have his photograph taken and forwarded to me immediately charging expense."
"Very well, sir," Mr. Skinner responded.
"Well, I'll be keel-hauled and skull-dragged," Matt Peasley declared to Mr. Murphy. "Here's a telegram from the owners demanding my photograph."
Mr. Murphy read the amazing message, scratched his raven poll, and declared his entire willingness to be damned.
"It's a trap," he announced presently. "Don't send it. Matt, you look about twenty years old and for the next few years, if you expect to work under the Blue Star flag, you must remember your face isn't your fortune. You've got to be pickled in salt for twenty years to please Cappy Ricks. If he sees your photograph he'll fire you, Matt. I know that old crocodile. All he wants is an excuse to give you the foot, anyhow."
"But he's ordered me to send it, Mike. How am I going to get out of it?"
As has been stated earlier in this tale, Mr. Murphy had an imagination.
"Go over into the town, sir," he said, "and in any photograph gallery you can pick up a picture of some old man. Write your name across it and send it to Cappy. He'll be just as happy, then, as though he had good sense."
"By George, I'll just do that!" Matt declared, and forthwith went ashore.
He sought the only photographer in Port Hadlock. At the entrance to the shop he found a glass case containing samples of the man's art, and was singularly attracted to the photograph of a spruce little old gentleman in a Henry Clay collar, long mutton-chop whiskers, and spectacles.
Moreover, to Matt's practiced eye, this individual seemed to savor of a Down-Easter. He was just the sort of man one might expect to bear the name of Matthew Peasley; so the captain mounted the stairs and sought the proprietor, from whom he purchased the picture in question for the trifling sum of fifty cents. Then he bore it away to the Retriever, scrawled his autograph across the old gentleman's hip and mailed the picture to Cappy Ricks.
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