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At ten o'clock the following morning Matt Peasley, accompanied by an attorney, an expert in maritime law, presented himself at the Oriental Steamship Company's office. MacCandless and the attorney for his company were awaiting them, with a tentative form of contract of sale already drawn up, and after a two-hour discussion on various points the finished document was finally presented for the signatures of both parties, but not, however, until Matt Peasley had been forced to do something that brought out a gentle perspiration on the backs of his sturdy legs. Before the shrewd MacCandless would consent to begin the work of placing the vessel in commission, according to agreement, he stipulated a payment of twenty-five thousand dollars down! He estimated the cost of the docking and repair work at fifty thousand dollars, and, desiring to play safe, insisted that Matt Peasley should advance at least fifty per cent. of this preliminary outlay in cash.
Matt thereupon excused himself from the conference on the plea that he had to consult with others before taking this step. He was gone about fifteen minutes, during which time he consulted with the "others." They happened to be two newsboys selling rival afternoon editions. Matt Peasley did business with each, and after a quick perusal of both papers, he decided that war was inevitable and resolved to take the plunge. In no sense of the word, however, did he believe he was gambling. His conversation with Terence Reardon had convinced him that the Narcissus was a misunderstood ship--that she had been poorly managed and was the victim of a false financial policy.
Hence, even though the war should not materialize, he would be making no mistake in tying her up. She was a bully gamble and a wonderful bargain at the price; with Terence Reardon presiding over her engines at a salary twenty-five dollars in excess of the union scale, the orders to keep her out of the shop would be followed, so far as lay in Terence's power. Even should he not succeed in financing the enterprise Cappy Ricks would be glad to take his bargain off his hands--perhaps at a neat profit. Consequently, Matt went over to his bank, procured an additional certified check for fifteen thousand dollars and returned to MacCandless' office, where he signed the contract of sale and paid over his twenty-five thousand dollars. He trembled a little as he did it.
"I'll have the insurance on her placed this afternoon," MacCandless suggested as he handed Matt his copy of the sale contract; whereat the latter came to life with galvanic suddenness.
"Oh, no, you'll not, Mr. MacCandless," he suggested smilingly. "I'll place that insurance myself. My company has to pay for it, so I'll act as agent and collect my little old ten per cent. commission. But, passing that, do you want to know the latest--the very latest news?"
"I don't mind," MacCandless replied.
"Well, there's going to be a devil of big war in Europe and I wouldn't take four hundred thousand dollars for the Narcissus this minute. May I use your telephone? Thanks!" He called up his office. "Is there a telegram there for me?" he queried, and on being answered in the affirmative he directed his stenographer to read it to him. He turned to MacCandless.
"Mr. Terence Reardon will have entire charge of the work of retubing those condensers, and so on," he explained. "I'll give him a letter to you, which will be his authority to superintend the job. I'm going to New York tonight, but I think I'll be back in time to accept the vessel when she's ready for commission." He looked at his watch. It was just twelve-thirty o'clock. "The Overland leaves at two-thirty," he murmured. "I'll have just time to pack a suit case." And he picked up his hat and fled with the celerity and singleness of purpose of a tin-canned dog.
Cappy Ricks woke from his mid-afternoon doze to find his son-in-law shaking him by the shoulder.
"Well, young man," Cappy began severely, "so you're back, are you? Give an account of yourself. Where the devil have you been for the past two weeks? Why did you go, and why did you have the consummate nerve to leave Florry behind you? Why, you hadn't been married two months--"
"I couldn't take her with me, sir," Matt protested. "I wanted to, but she would have been in the way. You see, I knew I was going to be busy night and day."
Cappy Ricks slid out to the edge of his swivel chair; with a hand on each knee he gazed at his smiling son-in-law over the rims of his spectacles. For fully a minute he remained motionless.
"Matt," he demanded suspiciously, "what the devil have you been up to?"
Matt raised a huge forefinger.
"Number one," he began: "I bought the Oriental Steamship Company's freighter Narcissus, seventy-five hundred tons' register, for two hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, and in a month she'll be in tiptop shape and ready for sea. I've paid twenty-five thousand dollars down on her and I'll have to make a payment of twenty thousand dollars on the twenty-sixth of September and twenty thousand dollars a month on her thereafter until she, is paid for. And if I default on a payment for more than thirty days before I've paid off half of the purchase price the Oriental Steamship Company may, at its option, take the vessel away from me."
Cappy Ricks smiled.
"Ah!" he breathed softly. "So you want help, eh? You finally did manage to get into deep water close to the shore, and now you're yelling to father to come through and save you, eh? Well, I'll do it, my boy, because I think you made a bully buy; and she's worth it. I'll take over your bargain for you and give you, say--er--ahem! we--harumph-h-h--say twenty-five thousand dollars profit. Not so bad, eh? When I was your age--" Cappy paused, open-mouthed. He had suddenly remembered something. "Oh, no," he contradicted himself; "this isn't my foolish day--not by a jugful! You owe me a lot of money on that promissory note you gave me when we settled up for that Tillicum business--so I'll not give you any money after all. I'll just take the contract of sale off your hands, give you back the money you risked in the deal--and your promissory note, cancelled." And Cappy Ricks sat back and clawed his whiskers expectantly.
"Oh, I'm not in distress," Matt answered cheerfully. "On the contrary, I'm going to take up that note before the week is out."
Once more Cappy slid out to the edge of his chair.
"Where are you going to get the money?" he demanded bluntly.
"I'm going to sell the Narcissus. The day I purchased her it was a moral certainty that Europe was to be plunged into a terrible war; so the ink wasn't dry on the contract before I was streaking it for New York. War was declared by England on Germany on the fifth of August, and while you'd be saying Jack Robinson every German freighter went into neutral ports to intern until the war should terminate. The German raiders are still out after the British and French commerce, and the deep-water shipping out of Eastern ports isn't a business any more. It's a delirium--a night-mare! Why, I was offered any number of charters for my Narcissus, but I didn't bother trying to charter her until just before I started for home; and, moreover, the longer I waited the better charter I could make. Besides, she isn't in commission yet--and I had other fish to fry."
"For instance?" Cappy inquired wonderingly.
"It is an undisputed fact that the early bird gets the worm," Matt Peasley replied brightly, "and I was the early bird. I was in New York a few days before the war became general, and for a week thereafter everybody was so blamed interested in the fighting they neglected business. But I didn't. I went to New York to charter, under the government form, as many big steel freighters as I could lay hands on--
Cappy Ricks raised his clasped hands and gazed reverently upward.
"Oh, Lord!" he murmured. "How many? How many?"
"Fifteen," Matt Peasley murmured complacently. "I got about half of them real cheap, because business was rotten when I landed in the East. Why, I chartered the entire fleet of one shipping firm in Boston. I had to pay a stiffer rate for the others; but--"
"How long did you charter them for?" Cappy yelled. "Quick! Tell me!"
"All for a year, with the privilege of renewal at a ten per cent. advance. I had no difficulty in rechartering to the men who had been asleep on the job. I shall average a profit of two hundred dollars a day on each of the fifteen even if I do not charter them longer--"
"A day!" Cappy's voice rose to a shrill scream.
"A day! Any American bottom that will float and move through the water is worth five times what it was before war was declared, and the freight rates are going up every day. Three thousand dollars a day income--three hundred and sixty-five days in the year! Man, if the war lasts a year I'll make a million dollars net!"
"But--but--about this Narcissus?" Cappy sputtered.
"Just before I left for home I chartered her at fourteen hundred dollars a day--forty-two thousand dollars a month--on the Government form of charter."
"Impossible!" Cappy shrieked, losing all control of himself. "Dog-gone you, Matt Peasley, don't tell me such stories. You're driving me crazy!"
"It will cost me nine thousand a month to run her--and she doesn't even go near the war zone. I'm going to run her to South American ports."
Matt Peasley smiled. "How long?" he echoed. "Why, she's only chartered for one trip just now. You don't suppose I'd charter her for several voyages or for a year, on a freight market that's growing over-night?"
"And those fifteen vessels you chartered. You rechartered them. For what period?"
"Three months, with privilege of renewal at the going rates."
"Matt," Cappy murmured, "you're great. Damn me, sir, I could kiss you."
Matt grinned at this earnest commendation.
"Of course I can operate the Narcissus and meet my monthly payments to the Oriental Steamship Company and still be ahead of the game," he continued. "But I'm going to sell her, Mr. Ricks. I've had an offer of four hundred and fifty thousand dollars for her already--and she's still waiting to be hauled out on the marine railway and put in commission! I'll just wait one week and by that time she'll bring half a million. At that I hate to sell, but I've got to. I figure a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
"Why have you got to?" Cappy shrilled. "You're crazy! You don't have to."
"But the next payment will come due on her before I receive any charter money from the Steel people, and that will clean me for fair. I can't help myself. Besides, I've got these other fifteen vessels chartered; I'll have to have capital--and I've got to have it quickly or I'll be a pauper while you'd be saying Jack Robinson."
"But, Matt, you old dunderhead, you mustn't sell a good thing. Why, man, you've got a million and a half profit right in the hollow of your hand; and, oh, we mustn't let it get away, Matt--we mustn't let it get away!
"It was magnificent, Matt--perfectly magnificent. I'll help you, sonny. By golly, I'll go to the bat for you and back you for the last dollar I have. No more monkeyshines between us now, boy! We've had a lot of fun in our day, playing nip and tuck with each other; but this is real business. You've got to be saved."
"I had an idea that you would see it in that light, sir," Matt suggested smilingly. I knew you'd back me up; so I didn't worry. But you'll have to take half the profit on the deals I've made--that's only fair."
"Profits!" Cappy Ricks sneered. "Why, what the devil do I care for profits? You keep the profits. You and Florry are young and you'll know how to enjoy them. Why, what do you think I am? A human hog? Let me sit in the game with you--let me play the game of business with you, son, down to my last buffalo nickel. I can't take the blamed money with me when I die, can I? But don't ask me to make any money out of you, my boy. I'm going to get my fun watching you in action."
Matt Peasley came close and took old Cappy Ricks' hand in both of his.
"I want to be your partner," he said wistfully. "I couldn't come into this office and sponge off you, and so I've waited until I could buy in! I wanted to bring some assets besides myself when I should come to manage the Blue Star. May I, sir? I want to turn in this big deal I've put over for stock in the Ricks Lumber and Logging Company and the Blue Star Navigation Company; and, then, with Skinner managing the lumber end, I'll sit in and run the fleet--and you just sit round and help and offer advice, Mr. Ricks. Let me turn in the Narcissus for what I have been offered--four hundred and fifty thousand dollars--and take stock.
"I don't want to be an employee; I don't want to be just your son-in-law, waiting for your shoes. I want to be your partner--to be more than a cog in the machine. And those freighters I've chartered--why, I could never have chartered them without your help. Who was I? Would I have had any credit or standing with those big Eastern shipping firms? Not much! I represented myself as the general manager of the Blue Star Navigation Company. And they knew about you--you were rated A-1 in financial circles."
"You what?" yelled Cappy. "General manager! You infernal duffer, why didn't you cut the whole hog and call yourself president?"
"I had my cards printed to read: Vice President and General Manager," Matt replied with a twinkle. "I didn't feel any qualms of conscience about cutting that much of the hog, because I knew you would make me vice president and general manager as soon as I got back with the bacon! So I signed all the charters, 'Blue Star Navigation Company, by Matthew Peasley, V. P. and G.M.'--drew a raft of sight drafts on you also. They'll be putting in an appearance in a day or two. I got home just about two jumps ahead of them."
"You're a devil!" said Cappy Ricks. "But--I'll pay the drafts." Matt laughed happily. "You're bringing about a million and a half into the company--at least, if everything goes well, you will; and you've got a half interest in what you have brought in," Cappy continued.
He touched a push button. An instant later Mr. Skinner appeared.
"Skinner, my dear boy," said Cappy, "Matt has a flock of charters he has made for us in the East--also, a flock of recharters of the same boats--also, a contract of sale on the steamer Narcissus. Make out a form of assignment of that contract from the Pacific Shipping Company to the Blue Star Navigation Company and Matt will sign it. We'll keep that boat ourselves. Then give Matt a check for the next payment due that man MacCandless on the Narcissus and after you've cleaned up with Matt, Skinner, have Hankins issue him seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of stock--half in the Blue Star and half in the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company. Tell Hankins, also, to call a special meeting of the board of directors of both companies for ten o'clock tomorrow--and to be sure to have a quorum present. And in the meantime put the Narcissus under provisional American registry."
"Why, what are you going to do?" Mr. Skinner demanded wonderingly.
Cappy walked tip to his general manager and affectionately placed his hand on Skinner's arm.
"Skinner, my dear boy," he said, "we're going to elect you president of the lumber company and Matt is to be president of the Navigation Company. I'm going to resign and be a sort of president emeritus of both companies and advisory director to both boards. Matt, you might tell Skinner what your plans are for the Blue Star."
"Well," said Matt, "I'm going to leave the president emeritus on the job a few months longer."
"Not by a jugful! I quit tomorrow. Hereafter I'm just scenery. I'm old and I must give way to youth. I've had my day; I'm out of the running now," Cappy answered sadly.
"We're going to leave the president emeritus on the job," Matt repeated, "while I go to Europe and pick up a couple of big British tramps, under the provisions of the recent Emergency Shipping Act, and stick 'em under the American flag. Regardless of what the other fellows may do or think, the fact is we're American citizens; and we're going to do our duty and help establish an American mercantile marine. Skinner, we'll make the Blue Star flag known on the Seven Seas."
Cappy Ricks sprang into the air and got one thin old arm round Matt Peasley's neck; with the other he groped for Skinner, for there were tears in his fine old eyes.
"What a pair of lads to have round me!" he said huskily. "Matt--Skinner, my boy--by the Holy Pink-toed Prophet!--we'll do it; not because we need the money or want it, or give a particular damn to hoard up a heap of it, but because it's the right thing to do. It's patriotic--it's American--our activities shall enrich the world--and oh, it's such a bully game to play!"
Mr. Skinner glanced at Cappy Ricks with the closest approach to downright affection he considered quite dignified to permit during business hours.
"I notice you were going to quit a minute ago to become president emeritus--and now you're including yourself in the new program of activity," he reminded Cappy Ricks. "I seem to remember that for the past few years you've been talking of the happy day when you could retire and learn to play golf."
"Golf!" Cappy glanced at Mr. Skinner witheringly. "Skinner," he continued, "don't be an ass! Golf is an old man's game--and I belong with the young fellows. Why, don't you remember the day, three years ago, when we discovered we had a sailor named Matt Peasley before the mast in the old Retriever? Why, ever since I've been having so much fun--"
"And that reminds me," Matt interrupted: "We must send a new skipper to Aberdeen to relieve Mike Murphy in the Retriever. He has his ticket for steam and I've hired him at two hundred and fifty a month to skipper the Narcissus. Mike is one of the best men under the Blue Star; he has come up from before the mast."
"The only kind I ever gave a whoop for," Cappy declared. "In effect, he once told me to go chase myself."
"But," Skinner persisted, "how about playing golf?"
Cappy Ricks raised his eyes reverently upward. "Please God," he said, "I'll die in the harness!"
"Amen!" said Mr. Skinner; and Matt Peasely re-echoed the sentiment.
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