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Down in the offices of the Blue Star Navigation Company Cappy Ricks, having summoned Mr. Skinner, sat peering whimsically at the general manager over the rims of his spectacles. "Well, Skinner, my dear boy," he announced presently, "sure enough there was something wrong with the Quickstep, and now I know what it is; she has had the wrong master. When he hustles to catch a tide or to get to sea Saturday night or Sunday morning he drives his mates and tries to make them do longshoremen's work. When he bullied a weak mate into doing that, there was nobody to pay exclusive attention to the slingloads as they came into the ship, and naturally accidents resulted. When strong second mates refused he fired them, and after firing them he cornered them in his cabin, held them foul and beat them. You see, Skinner, this skookum skipper of yours didn't realize that with two slingloads of shingles a minute dropping into the ship he had to have a man on the job to watch the loading and do nothing else; and because he didn't realize the error of his way, Skinner, he and Matt Peasley have pulled off that little skin-glove contest, and now Kjellin looks like a barrel of cement that's been dropped out the window of a six-story building. Hum! Ahem! Harump-h-h-h! Call up the attorney for that man Jacobsen that's suing the Quickstep, and tell him to come down here with his man and we'll settle the case out of court. His charge lies against Kjellin for assault and battery, but after all, Skinner, I dare say we are in a measure responsible for our servants. I'll give the attorney about twenty-five dollars for his fee, and er--the man Jacobsen--let me see, Skinner, he had a broken nose, did he not?"
"We'll pay his doctor bill and his wages as second mate since Kjellin fired him, and give him a hundred dollars extra."
"How about Kjellin's hospital bill?"
"I disclaim responsibility, Skinner. Did he settle up with the cashier for his last voyage?"
"Yes, Mr. Ricks."
"Then send him a wireless and tell him he's fired. Also, Skinner, my boy, see that an ambulance is waiting for him at Meiggs Wharf when he arrives on the Quickstep on Monday. We'll show him we're not entirely heartless. Make it clear, however, that this office will not be responsible for the ambulance fee. Matt will bring the vessel down without a second mate, I dare say. He'll stand a watch himself. Better call up Harbor 15 and see if there isn't a second mate out of a job hanging round there, and tell him to join the ship at Meiggs Wharf."
Mr. Skinner's eyes fairly popped. "You don't mean to tell me, sir, that you've given the Quickstep to that rowdy Peasley?"
Cappy relapsed into the colloquialism of the younger generation with which he was wont to associate at luncheon. "Surest thing you know," he said.
"If I may be permitted a criticism, Mr. Ricks--"
"You may not."
"Your sentimental leaning toward your fellow townsman may be the cause of losing one of the best paying ships of the fleet."
"Forget it, Skinner!"
"Oh, very well. You're the boss, Mr. Ricks. But if I were in your place I would have an older and more experienced man to relieve him the moment he comes into the bay. You must remember, Mr. Ricks, that while he may run her very nicely during the summer months, he has had no experience on Humboldt Bay during the winter months--"
"Skinner, the only way he'll ever accumulate experience on that bar is to give him the opportunity."
"He'll take big risks. He's very young and headstrong."
"I admit he's fiery. But I promised him a ship, and he's earned her sooner than I planned, so, even if my decision loses the Quickstep for us, he shall have her. I'll be swindled if I ever did see the like of that boy Matt. He gets results. And do you know why, Skinner?"
"Because," Mr. Skinner replied coldly, "he's a huge, healthy animal, able and willing to fight his way in any ship, and at the same time clever enough to take advantage of your paternal interest in him--"
"Rats! I'll give you the answer, Skinner, my boy: He gets results because he does his duty and doesn't sidestep for man or devil. And he's able to do his duty and do it well because he has a clear understanding of what his duty is--and that, Skinner, is the kind of skipper material I've been looking for all my life. As for the boy's horsepower, let me tell you this: If Matt Peasley wasn't any bigger than I am, he'd fight any man that tried to walk over him. It's in his breed. Damn it, sir, he's a Yankee skipper, and when you've said that you're through. I guess I know. How much have we been paying that bully Kjellin?"
"Two hundred a month."
"Too much! Pay Matt two-twenty-five and attend to the certificate of change of masters."
When Mr. Skinner had departed Cappy sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, as was his habit when his gigantic brain grappled with a problem of more than ordinary dimensions. For fully ten minutes he sat absolutely motionless, then suddenly he straightened up like a jack-in-the-box and summoned Mr. Skinner.
"Skinner," he said plaintively, "I'm feeling a little run down. Will you please be good enough to book Florry and me passage to Europe right away. I've never been to Europe, you know, Skinner, and I think it's time I took a vacation."
Mr. Skinner smiled. "Why all the hurry?" he queried.
"I want to try out a theory," Cappy replied. "I have a great curiosity, Skinner, to ascertain if there is any truth in the old saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. And if it does, Skinner--why, the sooner I start the sooner I can get back."
Mr. Skinner went out mystified. As Mark Twain's friend, Mr. Ballou, remarked about the coffee, Cappy Ricks was a little too "technical" for him.
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