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That afternoon Mr. Skinner herded Captain McBride of the Nokomis and his Norwegian mate into Cappy Ricks' office. Cappy brought them to terms very promptly, and the captain started for New York on the Overland the same night. From New York he was to take passage to Liverpool, thence via the A. D. line to Cape Town. Cappy almost had a bloody sweat when he reflected on the expense for provisions and wages for the crew during the weeks of idleness while McBride was on the way to join the Retriever. Both he and Mr. Skinner had decided that nothing could be gained by informing McBride, who was a little, mild-mannered gentleman with gold eyeglasses, of the potential ducking that awaited him at the hands of Matt Peasley; for just before McBride said good-bye and started for the train Cappy and Mr. Skinner discovered that their apple cart again had been upset. The following cablegram received from Matt Peasley knocked into a cocked hat all their high hopes of ridding themselves of the incubus.
Cape Town, Feb. 17, 19--.
Swenson fired before leaving San Francisco. Second mate Murphy declines take your orders, claiming me superior officer; I decline also, claiming captain en route my superior officer. Owner can fire captain but only captain can fire or disrate ship's officers. Besides I shipped for the round trip.
"Well," said Cappy, "what do you know about that? He clings to us like a barnacle or a poor relation--and the worst of it is the damned sea lawyer is absolutely right. We have no authority to fire him, Skinner. Just think of a government that will permit such a ridiculous state of affairs as that to exist! Think of it, Skinner! We hire the man Peasley but we can't fire him--and in the meantime he'll roost in Cap'n Noah's cabin and run up bills on us and consume our groceries and draw master's pay until McBride arrives and discharges him."
For geographical and financial reasons Cappy Ricks was barred from quarreling with Matt Peasley. However, he was as cross as a setting hen and just naturally had to vent his displeasure on somebody, and as he paid Mr. Skinner a very large salary to be his general manager, he figured he could afford to quarrel with Skinner. So he said:
"Well, Skinner, if you hadn't butted in on the shipping end of the business the man Peasley would not have been given this opening to swat us. It's nuts for a sailor any time he can trip up a landsman, and particularly his owners--"
"You 0. K.'d the cablegrams, Mr. Ricks," Skinner reminded him coldly.
"Don't talk back to me!" Cappy piped. "Not another peep out of you, sir! Not another word of discussion about this matter under any circumstances! I don't want to talk about it further--understand? It's driving me insane. Now, then, Skinner, tell me: If the man Peasley should decline to recognize McBride's authority, what course would you advise pursuing?"
"I do not think he will be that arbitrary, Mr. Ricks. In the first place--"
"Skinner, please do not argue with me. The man Peasley would do anything--"
"Well, in that event, McBride can call in the civil authorities of Cape Town, to remove Peasley by force from the ship."
"Skinner, you'll drive me to drink! I ask you, has a British official any authority over an American vessel lying in the roadstead? Will a foreign official dare to set foot on an American deck when an American skipper orders him not to do so?"
"I am not a sea lawyer," Mr. Skinner retorted, "I do not know."
"The Retriever will have discharged her cargo weeks before McBride arrives. Then suppose Peasley takes a notion to warp his vessel outside the three-mile limit. What authority has McBride got then?"
"I repeat, I am not a sea lawyer, Mr. Ricks."
"Don't equivocate with me, Skinner! Let's argue this question calmly, coolly and deliberately. Don't lose your temper. Now then. Peasley said he'd throw his successor overboard, didn't he?"
"Oh, merely a threat, Mr. Ricks."
"Skinner, you're a fine, wise manager! A threat, eh?" Cappy laughed--a short, scornful laugh. "Huh! Threat! Joke!"
"You do not think it is a threat?"
"No, sir. It's a promise. McBride is a splendid little man and game to the core; but no good, game little man will ever stay on a deck if a good, game big man takes a notion to throw him overboard, and the man Peasley is both big and game, otherwise he would not defy us. Why, Skinner, that fellow wouldn't pause at anything. Hasn't he spent over a hundred dollars arguing with us by cable? Why, he's a desperate character! Also, he would not threaten to throw his successor overboard if he didn't know that he was fully capable of so doing. Paste that in your hat, Skinner. It isn't done." Skinner inclined his head respectfully. Cappy continued: "What I should have done was to have sent a good, game, big man--"
He paused, and his glance met Skinner's wonderingly as a bright idea leaped into his cunning brain and crystallized into definite purpose. He sprang up, waved his skinny old arms, and kicked the waste-basket into a corner of the room.
"I have it, Skinner! I've solved the problem. Go back and 'tend to your lumber business and leave the man Peasley to me. I'll tan that fellow's hide and hang it on my fence, just as sure as George Washington crossed the Delaware River."
Mr. Skinner, glad to be excused, promptly made his escape. When Cappy Ricks stripped for action, Mr. Skinner knew from long experience that there was going to be a fight or a foot race; that whenever the old gentleman set out to confound an enemy, the inevitable result was wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth, in which doleful form of exercise Cappy Ricks had never been known to participate.
"Send in a boy!" Cappy ordered as the general manager withdrew.
The boy appeared. "Sonny," said Cappy Ricks, "do you know All Hands And Feet?" The boy nodded and Cappy continued: "Well, you go down on the Embarcadero, like a good boy, and cruise from Folsom Street to Broadway Wharf Number Two until you find All Hands and Feet. Look in front of cigar stands and in the shipchandlery stores; and if you don't find him in those places run over to the assembly rooms of Harbor Fifteen, Masters' and Pilots' Association, and see if he's there, playing checkers. When you find him tell him Mr. Ricks wants to see him at once."
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