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Cappy Ricks was having his siesta, with his feet on top of his desk, when Matt Peasley came bounding in, seized him by the shoulder and shook him wideawake.
"Well, young man," Cappy snapped querulously, "what's all the excitement about?"
"Morrow has committed suicide, and I know the firm is in financial difficulties. I'll not be able to collect now--I'll have to wait with the rest of the creditors; and meantime the Tillicum, fully loaded, is somewhere down off the Mexican coast. Good gracious, Mr. Ricks, there's the very devil to pay!"
"We will, if you please, not include outsiders in this argument for the present, Matt," Cappy retorted dryly. "The unfortunate devil does not pay! You do, Matt. I should worry!"
"But you can help me save something from the wreck!" Matt pleaded desperately. "It's going to clean me of my last dollar to make good with you on my charter, even if Morrow & Company do not make good with me on theirs; and--"
Cappy Ricks held up his hand.
"My dear boy," he said with maddening calm, "listen to me! I had a hunch this would happen. As a matter of fact, I declined to charter to Morrow & Company direct ten days before you came prancing in with your head all swelled up with a brand-new idea for making a lot of easy money in a hurry. Me charter to them--me!" In his superb scorn Cappy waxed ungrammatical. "I should kiss a pig! Why, if sawmills were selling for six bits each I wouldn't trust that concern with a hatful of sawdust--not that they weren't honest and capable, but they haven't got any money to speak of any more!"
"But--but--Why, dad burn it, sir, you said it was perfectly agreeable to you to have me charter the Tillicum to them!" Matt roared, angry, hurt and amazed.
"Why should I worry what you do? I have all I can do to attend to my own business. Why should I tell you yours?"
"No ifs or buts, Matt. I played safe; but you're caught away off third base and now you're out! You've got to settle with me for every day you have that vessel under charter until you deliver her back here in San Francisco Bay and formally surrender her to me. You've got to pay me--and what's more, I'm going to see to it that you do! Business is business, my boy."
"Well, I'll pay you all the cash I can and give you my note for the remainder."
"Your note!" Cappy jeered. "Your note! What do I want with your note! Is it hockable at any bank? Huh! Answer me that."
"You needn't insult me!" Matt growled wrathfully.
"Bah!" Cappy sneered. "You think you're mighty smart, don't you, Matt? Do you remember what I told you when you declined to go to work for me and insisted on going into business for yourself? I told you you'd go bust--and you're going right now. All you'll have left in thirty days will be the clothes you stand in and the corporation seal of the Pacific Shipping Company. Ho-ho! Isn't that funny? The idea of a man's paying thirty thousand dollars for a dinky old corporation seal worth two and a half!"
Matt Peasley's face went white with suppressed fury.
"Yes," he said quietly. "I seem to remember some such prophecy; also, some conversation to the effect that I'd be a better business man if I purchased my business experience with my own money. You said there were wolves along California Street that would take my roll away from me so fast it'd surprise me. I must confess, however, that I had no idea you would lead the pack! However, I didn't come here to argue, Mr. Ricks--"
"What did you come for? Sympathy?" Cappy queried. "Because, if you did, you've come to the wrong shop, my boy. Business is business, Matt; I never mix sentiment with it and I advise you never to do it either. Pay your way and take your beating like a sport--that's my policy, Matt."
"Do you want to save the Blue Star Navigation Company some money?" Matt managed to articulate.
"Certainly! Now you're talking business; so I'll listen."
"As charterer of your steamer Tillicum, I find that Captain Grant, the master you installed there, is offensive to me. I object to the way he parts his hair and knots his necktie, and I want a new skipper on the ship."
Cappy Ricks slid out to the edge of his swivel chair, placed a hand on each knee and eyed Matt suspiciously over the rims of his spectacles. After a long silence he shook his head negatively.
"Then I'll sue you!" Matt replied. "There's a clause in the charter party. You've got to do it."
Cappy's mouth flew open.
"Oh, by Judas Priest, that's right," he said, and laughed. "So you're providing a job for yourself after the smoke clears away, eh?" he quizzed. "Well, you can skipper the Tillicum while you keep up the payments of the charter money, Matt; but I give you my word that the day you slip up on a payment, out you go and back Captain Grant goes into the ship. Meantime, however, I think I see now why you inserted that clause. In the event of just such a contingency as the present you wanted the privilege of jumping in and taking command yourself."
"Captain Grant is a good man, but old. He can't drive a crew like I can, Mr. Ricks--and, with me on the job, that steamer will be discharged and back in San Francisco Bay from three to five days sooner that she would ordinarily. It means six hundred dollars a day to me, sir, and every day saved is worth that much cash in hand to you, since you profess to think so lightly of my promissory note."
"Enough!" Cappy commanded. "I'll admit that the thought does you credit. It was a mighty bright idea, Matt, and showed fine forethought. Now, then, what are you going to do to save your roll?"
"The City of Para leaves for Panama to-morrow. Give me a letter to Captain Grant, commanding him to turn his ship over to me on presentation of this letter. I will furnish him the funds to pay his transportation back to San Francisco."
"Fair enough," said Cappy; and, calling in a stenographer, he dictated the desired letter.
Ten minutes later Matt Peasley had left the office without the formality of saying good-by to Cappy Ricks, and was in a taxicab en route to his lodgings to pack his steamer trunk and hand baggage. Cappy Ricks chuckled as Matt went angrily out.
"Ah--that first time a man goes broke!" he soliloquized. "What a blow to one's pride! What a shock to the nervous system!" He sighed. "Poor old Matt! Nobody knows better than Cappy Ricks how you feel, because he's been there twice and it blamed near broke his heart each time it happened."
He shook his head with an air of satisfaction, for things were going well with him. He had made a prophecy and it was in a fair way of being fulfilled--nay, its fulfillment was inevitable; whereat Cappy, after the habit of the aged in their conflict with Youth, felt very much like shaking hands with himself. Indeed, so pleased was he that presently he called in Mr. Skinner and related the story in meticulous detail to the general manager.
Mr. Skinner was delighted. More--he was overcome. He sat down and permitted himself the most soul-satisfying laugh he had had in years.
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