Chapter XL. The Cataclysm




For two voyages all went well. The Tillicum was engaged in carrying general cargo to Panama for reshipment over the Panama Railroad to Colon, at which point it was reshipped in steamers to ports along the Atlantic seaboard. Following the universal custom, Matt's charter with Morrow & Company stipulated settlement in full every thirty days, whereas his charter with Cappy Ricks, for reasons best known to Cappy, stipulated payment in full every fifteen days; which arrangement operated to keep nine thousand dollars of Matt's money in Cappy's hands continuously. This fact graveled Matt whenever he reflected that money was worth at least seven per cent.; but, since he was making sixty dollars a day profit as the result of his deal, he concluded not to mention this point to Cappy Ricks.

Morrow & Company met the first monthly payment with cash on the nail. At the second settlement, however, when Matt called for his check, Kelton requested, as a special favor, that Matt allow him four days' time. A clever talker, with a peculiarly winning way about him, he disarmed suspicion very readily, and Matt assured him he would be very glad indeed to extend him such a slight courtesy.

Meantime, however, Cappy Ricks had to be reckoned with; so, in order not to keep him waiting, Matt sent him another check for nine thousand dollars. Cappy now had eighteen thousand dollars of Matt's money; and on the fourth day, when the latter called on Kelton for his check, the latter actually made him feel ashamed of himself for calling and sent him away with one-half of the sum now overdue! This perturbed Matt somewhat, but when he showed some slight indication of it Kelton playfully picked up a glass paper weight and threatened to destroy him if he did not get out of the office at once; so, because it is difficult to be serious with a man who declines to take one seriously, Matt forced a grin and departed, with the light intimation that he would return in three days, and if the check was not forthcoming then he would fresco Kelton's office with the latter's life-blood.

"Get out!" shouted Kelton laughingly. "I know money is tight and I don't blame you for being Fido-at-the-rat-hole; but if you bother me about that check for a week I'll not speak to you."

So Matt waited a week, and then the check reached him by mail, with a courteous note from Kelton thanking him for his leniency. It seemed to Matt he had scarcely acknowledged the receipt of that check before he had to give Cappy Ricks another nine thousand dollars!

Morrow & Company were late again on the third month, but this time they did not wait to be dunned. On the day before the payment was due Kelton took Matt Peasley to luncheon and in the course of the meal he informed Matt, quite casually, that he would be a little late with his check. With two dollars' worth of his genial host's food under his belt, Matt felt that it would be rude, to say the least, if he insisted on settlement; so he said:

"Oh, don't worry about that, old man! Give it to me as soon as you can, because I'm a little pinched myself."

Nevertheless, Matt was beginning to worry, for his acquaintance throughout the trade had extended rapidly, due to his propensity for making friends, and he had heard one or two little rumors that Morrow & Company had bitten off more than they could chew in a few big deals of late and had been badly pinched; in fact, to such an extent did Matt ponder on the possibility of the company's going into the hands of the receiver, leaving his thirty thousand dollars to disappear into the ravening maw of the Blue Star Navigation Company, that he forgot to send Cappy his check for nine thousand dollars the day it was due. And the next morning Cappy himself called up and, in a voice that seemed to come straight from a cold-storage plant, asked him what he meant by it, and requested him--though to Matt it sounded like a peremptory demand--to send the check over at once. So angry and humiliated did Matt feel as a result of this dun, he could not trust himself to call with the check but sent it by special delivery.

The Tillicum had returned from her second voyage to Panama and was about to commence loading her third cargo when another payment fell due. To Matt's chagrin Kelton again pleaded for delay; and again Matt settled with Cappy Ricks prior to collecting from Morrow & Company. Kelton had promised a check on the following Wednesday, and on the appointed day Matt called, only to be met with a request for further delay. Kelton explained that Mr. Morrow had been taken very ill and things were at sixes and sevens in the office as a result. Could not Matt wait until Saturday, when Mr. Morrow would be back to sign a check?

"What's wrong with Morrow?" Matt demanded pointedly. "Has he got paralysis of the right hand?"

"Worse than that," Kelton answered seriously. "He's on the verge of nervous prostration."

"But can't you sign a check?"

"Y-e-s; but Mr. Morrow generally attends to all financial details."

"Well, we'll excuse him from attending to this detail," Matt replied. "I want a check and I want it now, because it is a week overdue; the vessel is nearly loaded and about to go to sea, and if I do not get my money--"

"Well, suppose I give you half of it now and the other half in a day or two?" Kelton suggested.

He looked worried and unhappy, and Matt felt sorry for him; for, indeed, Kelton was a likable chap and perfectly trustworthy, and Matt sensed some of the worry that was falling on the manager in his desperate efforts to run a business on short capital. However, Matt's own financial shoestring was too short for him to afford any sentiment, though, for the reason that he was naturally kind-hearted and considerate, he consented to accept a check for half the amount due and left Kelton to the society of the many devils which seemed to be tormenting him.

On the sidewalk he paused suddenly. So Morrow was on the verge of nervous prostration, eh? That was bad. It had been Matt's experience that, as a usual thing, but two things conduce to bring about nervous prostration--overwork and worry; and in Morrow's case it must be worry, for Kelton did all the work! Kelton, too, looked haggard and drawn.

"I must be very careful," Matt told himself, "for if that concern should go broke while the Tillicum is en route to Panama my charter to Morrow & Company may be considered to have terminated automatically; and if they go under owing me from ten to twenty thousand dollars, I'm still responsible to Cappy Ricks for my charter of the Tillicum until I can bring her back to her home port and turn her back to him. Thank God for that clause in the charter which gives me the privilege of terminating my charter with Cappy in case Morrow & Company terminate their charter with me! It will be all right if they terminate it while the vessel is in San Francisco; but if she's very far from home I'll most certainly be eaten alive while I'm getting her back to Cappy!"

He returned to his office and went into a long executive session with himself, from which he aroused presently and went down to the dock where the cargo was pouring into the hold of the Tillicum. Here he consulted with the captain and the purser, and obtained a list of all persons, firms or corporations which had furnished supplies of any kind to the deck department of the steamer. From the chief engineer he procured a similar list of those who had furnished supplies to the engine department; and, armed with this information, he returned to his office and dictated the following form letter:

Gentlemen:--Please take notice that we as charterers of the steamer Tillicum from the Blue Star Navigation Company, and as recharterers to Messrs. G. H. Morrow & Company, will not be responsible for the payment to you of any bills for supplies or stores, of any nature whatsoever, furnished to the said steamer Tillicum since she has been under charter to said G. H. Morrow & Company. Any bills contracted with you by G. H. Morrow & Company for account of the Tillicum must be paid to you by G. H. Morrow & Company. This notice is hereby given you in order that we may go on record as disclaiming any responsibility as charterers prior to the departure of the said steamer Tillicum on her next voyage.

Yours very truly,
PACIFIC SHIPPING COMPANY,
By Matthew Peasley, President.

A copy of this letter Matt sent by registered mail, with a request for a return registry receipt, to each of the creditors of the Tillicum of whom he could get track. He had all the receipts in hand by the last mail delivery the next day, and at eight o'clock that night the Tillicum, having cleared the customs the same afternoon, departed for Panama. Two days later Matt again called on Morrow & Company for the money due him and, after much argument, succeeded in getting it. He hastened at once to the bank on which it was drawn and asked the paying teller to certify it. This the latter declined to do--neither would he cash the check; so Matt took it back to Kelton.

"Kelton," he said, "the bank will not honor your check."

Kelton looked desperate.

"Confound you!" he growled. "I stalled you until five minutes before the bank closed, thinking you would deposit it in your own bank to-morrow morning and I'd have a deposit to cover it by that time. It will be all right first thing in the morning, Peasley."

"It had better be!" Matt told him bluntly. "Your charter provides for cancellation in the event that payments are not made as stipulated, and I'm not in a position to carry you or to take any chances on you--and I'm not going to."

"I can't blame you a bit," Kelton answered regretfully. "I tell you, with the money market as tight as it is, we're beating the devil round the stump these days. Confound it, Peasley, a man has to do some scheming and stalling when everybody is crowding him for money, doesn't he?"

The check was not paid when Matt presented it the next morning. As he came out of the bank a newsboy, crying his daily sensation, accosted him with the first afternoon edition, and Matt's glance caught a smear of red ink seven columns wide across the front page:

               SHIPPING MAN A SUICIDE!

It was Morrow!

For about a minute Matt Peasley stood on the corner, doing some of the fastest thinking he had ever done. Morrow had taken a short cut out of his financial worries, and Matt realized that the tragedy would undoubtedly bring an avalanche of creditors down on the unhappy Kelton and ruin the firm. At any rate, the concern would doubtless go into the hands of a receiver, and Matt Peasley might or might not hope for his in the sweet by and by, according to the amount of salvage reported. The Tillicum was seventy-six hours at sea!

"Matthew," Matt Peasley murmured to himself, "'theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die'--and all in one thundering big hurry!"



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