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The crew of the Maggie had ceased working cargo for the day and Captain Scraggs was busy cooking supper in the galley when the two prodigals, exhausted, crippled, and repentant, came to the door and coughed propitiously, but Captain Scraggs pretended not to hear, and went on with his task of turning fried eggs with an artistic flip of the frying pan. So Mr. Gibney spoke, struggling bravely to appear nonchalant. With his eyes on the fried eggs and his mouth threatening to slaver at the glorious sight, he said:
"Hello, there, Scraggsy, old tarpot. How goes it with the owner o' the fast an' commodious steamer Maggie? Git that consignment o' post-holes aboard yet?"
Mr. Gibney's honest face beamed expectantly, for he was particularly partial to fried eggs. As for his companion in distress, anything edible and which would serve to nullify the gnawing at his internal economy would be welcome. Inasmuch as Captain Scraggs did not readily reply to Mr. Gibney's salutation, McGuffey decided to be more emphatic and to the point, albeit in a joking way.
"Hurry up with them eggs, Scraggs," he rumbled. "Me an' Gib's walked down from the city an' we're hungry. Jawn D. Rockerfeller'd give a million dollars for my appetite. Fry mine hard, Scraggsy. I want somethin' solid."
Scraggs looked up and his cold green eyes were agleam with malice and triumph as they rested on the unhappy pair. However, he smiled--a smile reminiscent of a cat that has just eaten a canary--and cold chills ran down the backs of the exhausted travellers. "Hello, boys," he piped. He turned from them to toss a few strips of bacon into the grease with the eggs; then he peered into the coffee pot and set it on the back of the galley range to simmer, before facing his guests again. His attitude was so significant that Mr. Gibney queried mournfully:
"Well, Phineas, you old vegetable hound, ain't you glad to see us?"
"Certainly, Gib, certainly. I'm deeply appreciative of the honour o' this visit, although I'm free to say we're hardly prepared for company. The stores is kind o' low an' I did just figger on havin' enough, by skimpin' a little, to last me an' my crew until we get back to San Francisco. I'd hate to put 'em on short rations, on account of unexpected company, because it gives the ship a bad name. On the other hand, it's agin my disposition to appear small over a few fried eggs, while on still another hand, I realize you two got to get fed." He stepped to the door and pointed. "See that little shack about two points to starboard o' the warehouse? Well, there's a Dago livin' there an' he'll fix you two boys up a bully meal for fifty cents each."
"Scraggsy, ol' hunks, if three-ringed circuses was sellin' for six bits a throw me an' Bart couldn't buy a whisker from a dead tiger." The dreadful admission brought a dull flush to Mr. Gibney's already rubicund countenance.
"Shell out a coupler bucks, Scraggsy," McGuffey pleaded. "Me an' Gib's so empty we rattle when we walk."
"I ain't got no money to loan you two that ups an leaves me in the lurch, without no notice," Scraggs flared at them. "If you two stiffs ain't able to support yourselves you'd ought to apply for admission to the poorhouse or the Home For the Feeble-minded."
Mr. Gibney smiled fatly. "Scraggsy! You're kiddin' us."
"Not by forty fathom, I ain't."
"Phineas, we just got t' eat," McGuffey declared ominously.
"Eat an' be dog-goned," the skipper snarled. "I ain't a-tryin' to prevent you. Are you two suckin' infants that I got to feed you? There's plenty o' fresh vegetables out on deck. Green peas ain't to be sneezed at, an' as for French carrots, science'll tell you there's ninety-two per cent. more nutriment in a carrot than----"
Mr. Gibney halted this dissertation with upraised hand. "Scraggs, it's about time you found out I ain't no potato bug, an' if you think McGuffey's a coddlin' moth you're wrong agin. Fork over them eggs an' the coffee an' a coupler slices o' dummy an' be quick about it or I'll bust your bob-stay."
"Get off my ship, you murderin' pirates," Scraggs screamed.
"Not till we've et," the practical-minded engineer retorted. "Even then we won't get off. Me an' Gib ain't got any feet left, Scraggs. If we had to walk another step we'd be crippled for life. Fry my eggs hard, I tell you."
"This is piracy, men. It's robbery on the high seas, an' I can put you over the road for it," Scraggs warned them. "What's more, I'll do it."
"The eggs, Scraggsy," boomed Mr. Gibney, "the eggs."
* * * * * * *
Half an hour later as the pirates, replete with provender, sat dangling their damaged underpinning over the stern railing where the gentle wavelets laved and cooled them, Captain Scraggs accompanied by the new navigating officer, the new engineer, and The Squarehead, came aft. The cripples looked up, surveyed their successors in office, and found the sight far from reassuring.
"I've already ordered you two tramps off'n my ship," Scraggs began formally, "an' I hereby, in the presence o' reliable witnesses, repeats the invitation. You ain't wanted; your room's preferred to your comp'ny, an' by stayin' a minute longer, in defiance o' my orders, you're layin' yourselves liable to a charge o' piracy. It'd be best for you two boys to mosey along now an' save us all a lot o' trouble."
Mr. Gibney carefully laid his pipe aside and stood up. He was quite an imposing spectacle in his bare feet, with his trousers rolled up to his great knees, thereby revealing his scarlet flannel underdrawers. With a stifled groan, McGuffey rose and stood beside his partner, and Mr. Gibney spoke:
"Scraggs, be reasonable. We ain't lookin' for trouble; not because we don't relish it, for we do where a couple o' scabs is concerned, but for the simple reason that we ain't in the best o' condition to receive it, although if you force it on us we'll do our best. If you chuck us off the Maggie an' force us to walk back to San Francisco, we're goin' to be reported as missin'. Honest, now, Scraggsy, old side-winder, you ain't goin' to maroon us here, alone with the vegetables, are you?"
"You done me dirt. You quit me cold. Git out. Two can play at a dirty game an' every dog must have his day. This is my day, Gib. Scat!"
"Pers'nally," McGuffey announced quietly, "I prefer to die aboard the Maggie, if I have to. This ain't movin' day with B. McGuffey, Esquire."
"Them's my sentiments, too, Scraggsy."
"Then defend yourselves. Come on, lads. Bear a hand an' we'll bounce these muckers overboard." The Squarehead hung back having no intention of waging war upon his late comrades, but the engineer and the new navigating officer stepped briskly forward, for they were about to fight for their jobs. Mr. Gibney halted the advance by lifting both great hands in a deprecatory manner.
"For Heaven's sake, Scraggsy, have a heart. Don't force us to murder you. If we're peaceable, what's to prevent you from givin' us a passage back to San Francisco, where we're known an' where we'll have at least a fightin' chance to git somethin' to eat occasionally."
"You know mighty well what's to prevent me, Gib. I ain't got no passenger license, an' I'll be keel-hauled an' skull-dragged if I fall for your cute little game, my son. I ain't layin' myself liable to a fine from the Inspectors an' maybe have my ticket book took away to boot."
"You could risk your danged old ticket. It ain't no use to you on salt water anyhow," McGuffey jeered insultingly.
"We can work our passage an' who's to know the difference, Scraggsy?"
"You for one an' McGuffey for two. You'd have the bulge on me forever after. You could blackmail me until I dassen't call my ship my own."
"Don't worry, you snipe. Nobody else will ever hanker to own her." Another insult from McGuffey. Having made up his mind that a fight was inevitable, the honest fellow was above pleading for mercy.
"Enough of this gab," Mr. Gibney roared. "My patience is exhausted. I'm dog-tired an' I'm goin' to have peace if I have to fight for it. Me an' Bart stays aboard the steamer Maggie until she gets back to Frisco town or until we're hove overboard in the interim by the weight of numbers. An' if any man, or set o' male bipeds that calls theirselves men, is so foolish as to try to evict us from this packet, then all I got to say is that they're triflin' with death." (Here Mr. Gibney thrust out his superb chest and thumped it with his horny fists, after the fashion of an enraged gorilla. This was sheer bluff, however, for while there was not a drop of craven blood in the Gibney veins, he realized that his footwork, in the event of battle, would be sadly deficient and he hesitated to wage a losing fight.) "I got my arms left, even if my feet is on the fritz, Scraggs," he continued, "an' if you start anything I'll hug you an' your crew to death. I'm a rip-roarin' grizzly bear once I'm started an' there's such a thing as drivin' a man to desperation."
The bluff worked! Captain Scraggs turned to his retainers and with a condescending and paternal smile, said: "Boys, let's give the dumb fools their own way. If they insist upon takin' forcible possession o' my ship on the high seas, there's only one name for the crime--an' that's piracy, punishable by hangin' from the yard-arm. We'll just let 'em stay aboard an' turn 'em over to the police when we git back to the city."
He started for his cabin and the crew, vastly relieved, followed him. The pirates once more sat down and permitted their hot feet to loll overboard.
"It's cold down here nights, Gib," McGuffey opined presently. "Where're we goin' to sleep?"
"In our old berths, of course." The success of his bluff had operated on Gibney like a tonic. "Hop into your shoes, Bart, an' we'll snake them two scabs out o' their berths in jig time."
"I'm dodgin' fights to-night, Gib. Let's borrow a blanket or two from The Squarehead an' curl up on deck. It'll be warm over the engine-room gratin'."
Mr. Gibney yawned. "I guess you're right, Bart. While you're at it, make Scraggs come through with a blanket an' an overcoat for a pillow. Run up an' threaten him. He'll wilt."
So McGuffey staggered forward. What arguments he used shall not be recorded here. Suffice it, he returned with what he went after.
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