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The pirates were early astir; so early, in fact, that long before Captain Scraggs and his crew appeared on deck, Messrs. Gibney and McGuffey had quietly cooked breakfast in the galley. They ate six eggs each and consumed the only loaf of bread aboard, for which act of vandalism they were rewarded half an hour later by the sight of Captain Scraggs dancing on a new brown derby.
"It's a wonder that bird wouldn't get him a soft hat to do his jumpin' on," McGuffey remarked. "He's ruined enough good hats to have paid for the new boiler. Yes, sir, whenever ol' Scraggsy gets mad he most certainly gets hoppin' mad."
"It'll soak into his head after a while that us two mean business, Mac, an' he'll get sensible an' fire them outsiders. I'm lookin' for him to make peace before noon."
About ten o'clock that morning the little vessel completed taking on her cargo, the lines were cast off, and the homeward voyage was begun. As she hauled away from the wharf, Messrs. Gibney and McGuffey might have been observed seated on the stern bitts smoking, the picture of contentment. Pirates under the law they might be, but of this they knew nothing and cared less. With them, self-preservation was, indeed, the first law of human nature.
They were still seated on the stern bitts as the Maggie came abreast the Point Montara fog signal station, when Mr. Gibney observed a long telescope poking out the side window of the pilot house. "Hello," he muttered, "Scraggsy's seein' things," and following the direction in which the telescope was pointing he made out a large bark standing in dangerously close to the beach. In fact, the breakers were tumbling in a long white streak over the reefs less than a quarter of a mile from her. She was lying stern on to the beach, with one anchor out.
In an instant all was excitement aboard the Maggie. "That looks like an elegant little pick-up. She's plumb deserted," Scraggs shouted to his navigating officer. "I don't see any distress signals flyin' an' yet she's got an anchor out while her canvas is hangin' so-so."
"If she had any hands aboard, you'd think they'd have sense enough to clew up her courses," the mate answered.
At this juncture, Mr. Gibney and McGuffey, unable to restrain their curiosity, and forgetful of the fact that they were pirates with very sore feet, came running over the deckload and invaded the pilot house. "Gimme that glass, you sock-eyed salmon, you," Gibney ordered Scraggs, and tore the telescope from the owner's hands. "There ain't enough real seamanship in the crew o' this craft to tax the mental make-up of a Chinaman. Hum--m--m! American bark Chesapeake. Starboard anchor out; yards braced a-box; royals an' to'-gallan'-s'ls clewed up; courses hangin' in the buntlines an' clew garnets, Stars-an'-Stripes upside down."
He lowered the glass and roared at Neils Halvorsen, who was at the wheel, "Starboard your helm, Squarehead. Don't be afraid of her. We're goin' over there an' hook on to her. I should say she is a pick-up."
Mr. Gibney had abdicated as a pirate and assumed command of the S.S. Maggie. With the memory of a scant breakfast upon him, however, Captain Scraggs was still harsh and bitter.
"Git out o' my pilot house an' aft where the police can find you when they come lookin' for you," he screeched. "Don't you give no orders to my deckhand."
"Stow it, you ass. Don't fly in the face of your own interests, Scraggsy, you bandit. Yonder's a prize, but it'll require imagination to win it; consequently you need Adelbert P. Gibney in your business, if you're contemplatin' hookin' on to that bark, snakin' her into San Francisco Bay, an' libelin' her for ten thousand dollars' salvage. You an' me an' Mac an' The Squarehead here have sailed this strip o' coast too long together to quarrel over the first good piece o' salvage we ever run into. Come, Scraggsy. Be decent, forget the past, an' let's dig in together."
"If I had a gun," Scraggs cried, "I do believe I'd shoot you. Git out o' my pilot house, I tell you, or I'll stick a knife in you. I'll carve your gizzard, you black-guardin' pirate."
Inasmuch as Scraggs really did produce a knife, Mr. Gibney backed prudently away. "You're mighty quick to let bygones be bygones when you see me with a fortune in sight with you wantin' to horn in on the deal, ain't you?" the owner jeered. "You must think I'm a born fool."
"I don't think it a-tall. I know it. You're worse'n a born fool. You're sufferin' from acquired idiocy, which is the mental state folks find themselves in when they refuse to learn by experience an' profit by example. I've always claimed you ain't got no more imagination than a chicken, an' I'll prove it to you right now. Here you are, braggin' about how you're goin' to salvage that bark but givin' no thought whatever to the means to be employed. How're you goin' to pull her off? If the Maggie ever had a towline aboard I never seen it. Perhaps, however, you're figgerin' on poolin' all the shoestrings aboard."
"Every ship that size has a steel towin' cable, wound up on a reel, nice an' handy," the new navigating officer reminded Mr. Gibney. "I can put the skiff out, get the bark's line, haul it back, an' make it fast on the bitts you two skunks has been occupyin' instead of a prison cell."
"Hello! There's another county gone Democratic. Your old man must ha' been to sea once an' told you about it. Them bitts won't hold."
"I'll make the towline fast to the mainmast."
"That'll hold, I admit. But has the Maggie got power enough, what with the load she's totin' now, to tow that big bark in to San Francisco Bay?"
"Oh, we'll take it easy an' get there some time," Scraggs chipped in.
"You bet you'll take it easy--easier'n you think. Before you start towin' that bark, you'll have to clew up her canvas a whole lot to make the towin' easier, an' who's goin' to do that? An' you got to have a man at her wheel."
"Neils an' my mate."
"If that new mate dares to leave you in command o' the Maggie, alone an' unprotected on the high seas an' you with a fresh water license, I'll----"
"Then Neils an' I'll do it."
"You don't know how. Besides, you're afraid to go aboard that bark. You don't know what kind of a frightful disease she may have aboard. Do you know a plague ship when you see one?"
Captain Scraggs paled a little, but the prospect of the salvage heartened him. "I don't give a hoot," he declared. "I'll take a chance."
"All right. Consider it taken. How're you goin' to get aboard her?"
"In the skiff."
"Where's the skiff?"
Captain Scraggs glanced around wildly, and when McGuffey jeered him, he cast his hat upon the deck and started to leap upon it. The devilish Gibney was right. It appeared that owing to a glut of freight on the landing, Captain Scraggs had decided, in view of the fine weather prevailing, to take an unusually large cargo that trip. With this idea in mind, he had piled freight over every available inch of deck space until the cargo was flush with the top of the house. On top of the house, the skiff always rested, bottom up. Captain Scraggs had righted the skiff, piled it full of loose artichokes from half a dozen crates broken in the cargo net while loading, and then proceeded to pile more vegetables on top of it and around it until the Maggie's funnel barely showed through the piled-up freight, and the little vessel was so top heavy she was cranky. In order to get at the small boat, therefore, it would be necessary to shift this load off the house, and the question that now confronted Scraggs and his crew was to find a spot that would accommodate the part of the deckload thus shifted!
When Captain Scraggs had completed his hornpipe on his hat he threw an appealing glance at his new mate. "We'll jettison what freight proves an embarrassment," this astute individual advised. "The farmers that own it will soak you a couple o' hundred dollars for the loss, but what's that with thousands in sight waitin' to be picked up?"
"Hear that, Gib? Hear that, you swab?"
"I heard it. Did you hear that?"
"A nice, brisk little nor'west trade wind that's only blowin' about thirty mile an hour. The Maggie ain't got power enough to tow the bark agin that wind. You'll haul her ahead two feet an', in spite o' you, she'll slip back twenty-five inches."
"That trade wind dies down after sunset," the devilish new mate informed him.
"Quite true. But in the meantime you're burning coal loafin' around here, an' before you get the bark inside you'll be plumb out o' coal," Mr. McGuffey reminded them. "I know this old coffin like I know the back o' my own hand. Why, she lives on coal! Oh-h-h, Scraggsy, Scraggsy, poor old Scraggsy," he keened in a high falsetto voice and subsided on a crate of celery, the while he waved his legs in the air and affected to be overcome by his merriment. Scraggs turned the colour of a ripe old Edam cheese, while Mr. Gibney folded his hands and looked idiotic.
"Old Phineas P. Scraggs, the salvage expert!" McGuffey's falsetto would have maddened a sheep. "He cast his bread upon the waters and lo, it returned to him after many days--and made him sick. O-h-h-h-h, Scraggsy--poor old Scraggsy! If he went divin' for pearls in three feet o' water he'd bring up a clam shell. Oh, dear, I'm goin' to die o' this, Gib."
"Don't, Bart. I'm goin' to have need o' your well-known ability to help salvage this bark. Scraggs, you old sinner, has it dawned on you that what this proposition needs to get it over is a dash o' the Adelbert P. Gibney brand of imagination?"
The new navigating officer drew Captain Scraggs aside and whispered in his ear: "Make it up with these Smart Alecks, Scraggs. They got it on us, but if we can send you an' Halvorsen, McGuffey and Gibney over to the bark, you can get some sail on her an' what with the wind helpin' us along, the Maggie can tow her all right."
Mr. Gibney saw by the hopeful, even cunning, look that leaped to Scraggs's eyes that the problem was about to be solved without recourse to the Gibney imagination, so he resolved to be alert and not permit himself to be caught out on the end of a limb. "Well, Scraggsy?" he demanded.
"I guess I need you in my business, Gib. You're right an' I'm always wrong. It's a fact. I ain't got no more imagination than a chicken. Hence, havin' no imagination o' my own I ask you, as man to man an' appealin' to your generous instincts as an old friend an' former valued employee, to let bygones be bygones an' haul us out o' the hole that threatens to make us the laughin' stock o' the whole Pacific coast."
"Spoken like a man--I do not think. Scraggs, for once in my life I have you where the hair is short. You find yourself up agin a proposition that requires brains, you ain't got 'em yourself an' at last you're forced to admit that Adelbert P. Gibney is the man that peddles 'em. Now, you been doin' a lot o' hollerin' about me an' Bart bein' pirates under the law an' liable to hangin' an' imprisonment, an' that kind o' guff don't go nohow. We're willin' to admit that mebbe we've been a little mite familiar an' forward, bankin' on the natural leanin' of friend for friend that you take it all for the joke it's intended to be, but when you go to carryin' the joke too far, we got to protect ourselves. Scraggsy, I'm willin' to dig in an' help out in a pinch, but it's gettin' so me an' Mac can't trust you no more. We're that leery of you we won't take your word for nothin', since you fooled him on the new boiler an' me on the paint; consequently, we're off you an' this salvage job unless you give us a clearance, in writin', statin' that we are not an' never was pirates, that we're good, law-abiding citizens an' aboard the Maggie as your guests, takin' the trip at our own risk. When you sign such a paper, with your crew for witnesses, I'll demonstrate how that bark can be salvaged without makin' you remove so much as a head o' cabbage to get at your small boat. My imagination's better'n my reputation, Scraggsy, an' I ain't workin' it for nothin!"
"Gib, my dear boy. You're the most sensitive man I ever sailed with. Can't you take a little joke?"
"Sure, I can take a little joke. It's the big ones that stick in my craw an' stifle my friendship. Gimme a fountain pen an' a leaf out o' the log book an' I'll draw up the affydavit for your signature."
Scraggs complied precipitately with this request; whereupon Mr. Gibney spread his great bulk over the chart case and with many a twist and flip of his tongue on the up and down strokes, produced this remarkable document:
At Sea, Off Point Montara, aboard S.S. Maggie, of San Francisco. June 4, 19--.
This is to sertify that A.P. Gibney, Esq., and Bart McGuffey, Esq. is law-abidin' sitisens of the U.S.A. and the constitootion thereof, and in no way pirates or such; and be it further resolved that the said parties hereto are aboard said American steamer Maggie this date on the special invite of Phineas P. Scraggs, owner, as his guests and at their own risk.
Witness my hand and seal:
Captain Scraggs signed without reading and the new mate and Neils Halvorsen appended their signatures as witnesses. Mr. Gibney thereupon folded this clearance paper into the tiniest possible compact ball, wrapped it in a piece of tinfoil torn from a package of tobacco, to protect it from his saliva, tucked it in his cheek and with a sign for McGuffey to follow him, started crawling over the cargo aft. By this time, the Maggie was within a hundred yards of the distressed bark and was ratching slowly backward and forward before her.
"In all my born days," quoth Mr. Gibney, speaking a trifle thickly because of the document in his mouth, "I never got such a wallop as Scraggs handed me an' you last night. I don't forget things like that in a hurry. Now that we got a vindication o' the charge o' piracy agin us, I'm achin' to get shet of the Maggie an' her crew, so if you'll kindly peel off all of your clothes with the exception, say, of your underdrawers, we'll swim off to that bark an' give Phineas P. Scraggs an exhibition of real sailorizin' an' seamanship."
"What's the big idee?" McGuffey demanded cautiously.
"Why, we'll sail her in ourselves--me an' you--an' glom all the salvage for ourselves. T'ell with Scraggs an' the Maggie an' that new mate an' engineer. I'm off'n 'em for life."
Pop-eyed with excitement and interest, B. McGuffey, Esquire, stood up and with a single twist shed his cap and coat. His shirts followed. Both he and Gibney were already minus their shoes and socks. To slip out of their faded dungarees was the work of an instant. Strapping their belts around their waists to hold up their drawers, the worthy pair stepped to the rail of the Maggie.
"Hey, there? Where you goin', Gib? I give you that clearance paper on condition that you was to tell me how to salvage that there bark without havin' to shift my cargo to get at the small boat."
"I'm just about to tell you, Scraggs. You don't touch a thing aboard the Maggie. You leave her out of it entirely. You just jump overboard, like me an' Mac will in a jiffy, swim over to the bark, climb aboard, and sail her in to San Francisco Bay. When you get there you drop anchor an' call it a day's work." He grinned broadly. "One o' these bright days, Scraggs, when me an' Mac is just wallerin' in salvage money, drop around to see us an' we'll give you a kick in the face. Farewell, you boobs," and he dove overboard.
"Ta-ta," McGuffey cried in his tantalizing falsetto voice, and followed his leader into the briny deep. As they came up and snorted, grampus-like, shaking the water out of their eyes, they glanced back at the Maggie and observed that Captain Scraggs was, for the third time that never-to-be-forgotten voyage, jumping on his hat.
"If I was that far gone in a habit," quoth Mr. McGuffey as he hauled up alongside Mr. Gibney, "I'll be switched if I wouldn't go bareheaded an' save expenses."
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