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Had either Mr. Gibney or McGuffey been watching Captain Scraggs for the next twenty minutes they would have been much puzzled to account for that worthy's actions. First he dodged around the block into Drumm Street, and then ran down Drumm to California, where he climbed aboard a cable car and rode up into Chinatown. Arrived at Dupont Street he alighted and walked up that interesting thoroughfare until he came to No. 714. He glanced at a sign over the door and was aware that he stood before the entrance to the offices of the Chinese Six Companies, so he climbed upstairs and inquired for Gin Seng, who presently made his appearance.
Gin Seng, a very nice, fat Chinaman, arrayed in a flowing silk gown, begged, in pidgin-English, to know in what manner he could be of service.
"Me heap big captain, allee same ship," began Captain Scraggs. "On board ship two China boys have got." (Here Captain Scraggs winked knowingly.) "China boy no speak English----"
"That being the case," interposed Gin Seng, "I presume that you and I understand each other, so let's cut out the pidgin-English. Do I understand that you are engaged in evading the immigration laws?"
"Exactly," Captain Scraggs managed to gasp, as soon as he could recover from his astonishment. "They showed me your name an' address, an' they won't leave th' ship, where I got 'em locked up in my cabin, until you come an' take 'em away. Couple o' relatives of yours, I should imagine."
Gin Seng smiled his bland Chinese smile. He had frequent dealings with ship masters engaged in the dangerous though lucrative trade of smuggling Chinese into the United States, and while he had not received advice of this particular shipment, he decided to go with Captain Scraggs to Jackson Street bulkhead and see if he could not be of some use to his countrymen.
As Captain Scraggs and his Chinese companion approached the wharf the skipper glanced warily about. He had small fear that either Gibney or McGuffey would show up for an hour, for he knew that Mr. Gibney had money in his possession. However, he decided to take no chances, and scouted the vicinity thoroughly before venturing aboard the Maggie. These actions served but to increase the respect of Gin Seng for the master of the Maggie and confirmed him in his belief that the Maggie was a smuggler.
Captain Scraggs took his visitor inside the little cabin, carefully locked and bolted the door, lifted the zinc flap back from the top of the crate of "Oriental goods," and displayed the face of the dead Chinaman. Also he pointed to the Chinese characters on the wooden lid of the crate.
"What does these hen scratches mean?" demanded Scraggs.
"This man is named Ah Ghow and he belongs to the Hop Sing tong."
"How about his pal here?"
"That man is evidently Ng Chong Yip. He is also a Hop Sing man."
Captain Scraggs wrote it down. "All right," he said cheerily; "much obliged. Now, what I want to know is what the Hop Sing tong means by shipping the departed brethren by freight? They go to work an' fix 'em up nice so's they'll keep, packs 'em away in a zinc coffin, inside a nice plain wood box, labels 'em 'Oriental goods,' and consigns 'em to the Gin Seng Company, 714 Dupont Street, San Francisco. Now why are these two countrymen o' yours shipped by freight--where, by the way, they goes astray, for some reason that I don't know nothin' about, an' I buys 'em up at a old horse sale?"
Gin Seng shrugged his shoulders and replied that he didn't understand.
"You lie," snarled Captain Scraggs. "You savey all right, you fat old idol, you! It's because if the railroad company knew these two boxes contained dead corpses they'd a-soaked the relatives, which is you, one full fare each from wherever these two dead ones comes from, just the same as though they was alive an' well. But you has 'em shipped by freight, an' aims to spend a dollar an' thirty cents each on 'em, by markin' 'em 'Oriental Goods.' Helluva way to treat a relation. Now, looky here, you bloody heathen. It'll cost you just five hundred dollars to recover these two stiffs, an' close my mouth. If you don't come through I'll make a belch t' th' newspapers an' they'll keel haul an' skull-drag th' Chinese Six Companies an' the Hop Sing tong through the courts for evadin' th' laws o' th' Interstate Commerce Commission, an' make 'em look like monkeys generally. An' then th' police'll get wind of it. Savey, policee-man, you fat old murderer? Th' price I'm askin' is cheap, Charley. How do I know but what these two poor boys has been murdered in cold blood? There's somethin' rotten in Denmark, my bully boy, an' you'll save time an' trouble an' money by diggin' up five hundred dollars."
Gin Seng said he would go back to Chinatown and consult with his company. For reasons of his own he was badly frightened.
Scarce had he departed before the watchful eye of Captain Scraggs observed Mr. Gibney and McGuffey in the offing, a block away. When they came aboard they found Captain Scraggs on top of the house, seated on an upturned fire bucket, smoking pensively and gazing across the bay with an assumption of lamblike innocence on his fox face.
At the suggestion of Scraggs, Gibney and McGuffey nailed up the box of "Oriental Goods," set both boxes out on the main deck, aft, and covered them with a tarpaulin. For about an hour thereafter all three sat around the little cabin table, talking, and presently it became evident, to Mr. Gibney's practiced eye, that Captain Scraggs had something on his mind. Mr. Gibney, suspecting that it could be nothing honest, was surprised, to say the least, when Captain Scraggs made a clean breast of his proposition.
"Gib--an' you, too, McGuffey. I been thinkin' this thing over, an' as master o' this ship an' the one who does the biddin' in o' these two Chinks at th' sale, it's up to me t' try an' bring you both out with a profit, an' I think th' sellin' should be left to me. I won't hide nothin' from you boys. I'm a-willin' to take a chance that I can sell them two cadavers to some horsepital f'r dissection purposes, an' get more outer th' deal than, you can, Gib, by passin' 'em off as floaters. I'm a-willin' to give you an' McGuffey a five-dollar profit over an' above your investment, an' take over th' property myself, just f'r a flyer, an' to sorter add a sportin' interest to an otherwise humdrum life. How about it, lads?"
"You can have my fraction," said McGuffey promptly; whereupon Captain Scraggs produced the requisite amount of cash and immediately became the owner of a two-thirds' interest.
Mr. Gibney was a trifle mystified. He knew Scraggs well enough to know that the skipper never made a move until he had everything planned ahead to a nicety. The mate was not above making five dollars on the day's work, but some sixth sense told him that Captain Scraggs was framing up a deal designed to cheat him and McGuffey out of a large and legitimate profit. Sooner than sell to Captain Scraggs, therefore, and enable him to unload at an unknown profit, Mr. Gibney resolved to retain his one-third interest, even if he had to go to jail for it. So he informed Captain Scraggs that he thought he'd hold on to his share for a day or two.
"But, Gib, my dear boy," explained Scraggs, "you ain't got a word to say about this deal no more. Don't you realize that I hold a controllin' interest an' that you must bow to th' vote o' th' majority?"
"Don't I, though," blustered Mr. Gibney. "Well, just let me catch you luggin' off my property without my consent--in writin'--an' we'll see who does all th' bowin', Scraggsy. I'll cut your greedy little heart out, that's what I'll do."
"Well, then," said Scraggs, "you get your blasted property off'n my ship, an' get yourself off an' don't never come back."
"F'r th' love o' common sense," bawled Mr. Gibney, "what do you think I am? A butcher? How am I to get away with a third o' two dead Chinamen? Ain't you got no reason to you at all, Scraggs?"
"Very well, then," replied the triumphant Scraggs, "if you won't sell, then buy out my interest an' rid my ship o' this contaminatin' encumbrance."
"I won't buy an' I won't sell--leastways until I've had time to consider," replied Mr. Gibney. "I smell a rat somewheres, Scraggs, an' I don't intend to be beat outer my rights. Moreover, I question McGuffey's right to dispose o' his one-third without asking my advice an' consent, as th' promoter o' this deal, f'r th' reason that by his act he aids an' abets th' formation o' a trust, creates a monopoly, an' blocks th' wheels o' free trade; all of which is agin public policy an' don't go in no court o' law. McGuffey, give Scraggs back his money an' keep your interest. When any o' th' parties hereto can rig up a sale o' these two Celestials, it's his duty to let his shipmates in on th' same. He may exact a five per cent. commission for his effort, if he wants t' be rotten mean, an' th' company has t' pay it t' him, but otherwise we all whacks up, share an' share alike, on profits an' losses."
"Right you are, Gib, my hearty," responded McGuffey. "Scraggs, we'll just call that sale off, f'r th' sake o' harmony. Here's your money. I ain't chokin' off Gibney's steam at no time, not if I know it."
"You infernal river rats," snarled Scraggs, "I'll--I'll----"
"Stow it," Mr. Gibney commanded. "I never did see the like o' you, Scraggs. You're all right an' good comp'ny right up until somebody declines to let you have your own way--an' then, right off, you fly in a rage an' git abusive. I'm gittin' weary o' bein' ordered off your dirty little scow an' then bein' invited back agin. One o' these bright days, when you start pulling for the fiftieth time the modern parable o' the Prodigal Son an' the Fatted Calf, I'm goin' to walk out o' the cast for keeps. Now, if I was you an' valued the services of a good navigatin' officer an' a good engineer, I'd just take a little run along the waterfront an' cool off. Somethin' tells me that if you stick around here argyin' with me you'll come to grief--which same is no idle fancy, you snipe."
Captain Scraggs hastened to take advantage of this invitation, for it stood him in hand to do so. His plans, due to Mr. Gibney's inexplicable obstinacy, had failed to mature and he was fearful that Gin Seng, after consulting with his tong, might return to the Maggie at any moment and ruin the deal by exposing it to Gibney and McGuffey; therefore Scraggs resolved to run up to 714 Dupont Street and warn Gin Seng to let the matter lie in abeyance for a couple of days, alleging as an excuse that he was being subjected, for some unknown reason, to police surveillance. Scraggs decided that after three days the presence of the two dead Chinamen aboard the Maggie would commence to wear on the Gibney nerves and the deadlock over the final disposition of their gruesome purchase would result in Gibney and McGuffey harkening to reason and accepting a profitable compromise. If it should cost him a leg, Captain Scraggs was resolved to make those two corpses pay for the repairs in the Maggie's engine room.
Following his departure, Messrs. Gibney and McGuffey sat on deck smoking and striving to fathom the hidden design back of Scraggs's offer to buy them out. "He's got his lines fast somewhere--you can bank on that," was Mr. Gibney's comment, for he knew that Scraggs never made a move that meant parting with money until he was certain he saw that money, somewhat augmented, returning to him. "While we was away he rigged up some kind of a deal, Bart. It stands to reason it was a mighty profitable deal, too, otherwise old Scraggsy wouldn't have flew into such a rage when I blocked him. My imagination may be a bit off the course at times, Bart, but in general, if there's a dead whale floatin' around the ship I can smell it."
"What do you make out o' that fat Chinaman cruisin' down the bulkhead in an express wagon an' another Chinaman settin' up on the bridge with him?" McGuffey demanded. "Seems to me they're comin', bows on, for the Maggie."
"They tell me to deduct somethin', Bart. Wait a minute till we see if they're comin' aboard. If they are----"
"They're goin' to make a landin', Gib."
"--then I deduct that this body-snatchin' Scraggs----"
"They're boardin' us, Gib."
"--has arranged with yon fat Chinaman to relieve us o' the unwelcome presence of his defunct friends. He's gone an' hunted up the relatives an' made 'em come across--that's what he's done. The dirty, low, schemin' granddaddy of all the foxes in Christendom! Wasn't I the numbskull not to think of it myself?"
"'Tain't too late to mend your ways, Gib. I don't see Scraggs nowhere," Mr. McGuffey suggested promptly. "All that remains for me an' you to do, Gib, is to imagine the price, collect the money, an' declare a dividend. Quick, Gib! What'll we ask him?"
"I'll fish around an' see what figger Scraggs charged him," the cautious Gibney replied and stepped to the rail to meet Gin Seng, for it was indeed he.
"Sow-see, sow-see, hun-gay," Mr Gibney saluted the Chinaman in a facetious attempt to talk the latter's language. "Hello, there, John Chinaman. How's your liver? Captain he allee same get tired; he no waitee. Wha's mallah, John. Too long time you no come. You heap lazy all time."
Gin Seng smiled his bland, inscrutable Chinese smile. "You ketchum two China boy in box?" he queried.
"We have," boomed McGuffey, "an' beautiful specimens they be."
"No money, no China boy," Gibney added firmly.
"Money have got. Too muchee money you wantee. No can do. Me pay two hundred dollah. Five hundred dollah heap muchee. No have got."
"Nothin' doin', John. Five hundred dollars an' not a penny less. Put up the dough or beat it."
Gin Seng expostulated, lied, evaded, and all but wept, but Mr. Gibney was obdurate and eventually the Chinaman paid over the money and departed with the remains of his countrymen. "I knew he'd come through, Bart," Mr. Gibney declared. "They got to ship them stiffs to China to rest alongside their ancestors or be in Dutch with the sperrits o' the departed forever after."
"Do we have to split this swag with that dirty Scraggs?" McGuffey wanted to know. "Seein' as how he tried to give us the double cross----"
"We'll fix Scraggsy--all shipshape an' legal so's he won't have no comeback. Quick, grab some o' them empty potato crates an' pile 'em here where the stiffs was lyin' an' cover 'em up with the tarpaulin. I don't want Scraggsy to think the corpses is gone until I've hooked him good and plenty."
The stage was set in a few minutes and the conspirators set themselves to await the return of Scraggs. They had not long to wait. Upon his arrival at Gin Seng's place of business Captain Scraggs had been informed that Gin Seng had gone out twenty minutes before, and further inquiry revealed the portentous fact that he had departed in an express wagon. Consumed with misgivings of disaster, Scraggs returned to the Maggie as fast as the California Street cable car and his legs could carry him; as he came aboard his anxious glance sought the tarpaulin-covered boxes on deck and at sight of them his mental thermometer rose at once. In the cabin he found Mr. Gibney and McGuffey playing cribbage. They laid down their hands as Scraggs entered.
"Well, are you all cooled out an' willin' to listen to reason, Scraggsy, old business man?" Gibney greeted him cheerfully.
"None more so, Gib. If you've got a proposition to submit, fire away."
"That's comfortin', Scraggsy. Well, me an' Bart's been chewing over your proposition to buy out our interest in them two Chinks, an' as the upshot of our talk we made up our minds to sell, but not for no measly little five bucks' profit. Now, Scraggsy, you old he-devil, on your honour as between shipmates, you got to admit five dollars ain't hardly worth considerin'. Come down to earth now. You know blamed well you're expectin' to pull out with a neat profit an' that you can afford to boost that five-dollar ante. What would you consider a fair price for a one-third interest? Be honest an' fair, Scraggsy."
Captain Scraggs sat down, beaming. With Mr. Gibney in this frame of mind he knew he could do anything with him. "Well, now, Gib, my dear boy, if a man was to get twenty-five dollars for his interest, I should say he oughtn't to have no kick comin'. I know I wouldn't."
"If you was sellin' your interest--imagine, now, that you're me an' I'm you--would you be satisfied to sell for twenty-five dollars?"
"I certainly would, Gib, my boy. Why, that's almost four hundred per cent. profit, an' any man that'd turn up his nose at a four hundred per cent. profit ought to go an' have his head examined by a competent nut doctor."
"Well, if you feel that way about it, all right, Scraggsy," Mr. Gibney replied slowly and put his hand in his pocket. "As I remarked previous, while you're away me an' Bart gets chewin' over the proposition an' decides we'll sell. An' to show you what a funny world this is, while me an' Bart's settin' on deck a-waitin' for you to come back an' close with us, along breezes a fat old Chinaman in an express wagon an' offers to buy them two cases of Oriental goods. He makes me an' Mac what we considers a fair offer for our two-thirds. You ain't around to offer suggestions an' as it's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition an' two-thirds o' the stock is represented in me an' Mac an' accordin' to your rulin' the majority's got the decidin' vote, we ups an' smothers his offer. Lemme see, now," he continued, and got out a stub of lead pencil with which he commenced figuring on the white oilcloth table cover. "We paid twenty dollars for them two derelicts an' a dollar towage. That's twenty-one dollars, an' a third o' twenty-one is seven, an' seven dollars from twenty-five leaves eighteen dollars comin' to you. Here's your eighteen dollars, Scraggsy, you lucky old vagabond--all clear profit on a neat day's work, no expense, no investment, no back-breakin' interest charges or overhead, an' sold out at your own figger."
Captain Scraggs's face was a study in conflicting emotions as he raked in the eighteen dollars. "Thanks, Gib," he said frigidly.
"Me an' Gib's goin' ashore for lunch at the Marigold Café," McGuffey announced presently, in order to break the horrible silence that followed Scraggsy's crushing defeat. "I'm willin' to spend some o' my profits on the deal an' blow you to a lunch with a small bottle o' Dago Red thrown in. How about it, Scraggs?"
"I'm on." Scraggs sought to throw off his gloom and appear sprightly. "What'd you peddle them two cadavers for, Gib?"
Mr. Gibney grinned broadly but did not answer. In effect, his grin informed Scraggs that that was none of the latter's business--and Scraggs assimilated the hint. "Well, at any rate, Gib, whatever you soaked him, it was a mighty good sale an' I congratulate you. I think mebbe I might ha' done a little better myself, but then it ain't every day a feller can turn an eighteen-dollar trick on a corpse."
"Comin' to lunch with us?" McGuffey demanded.
"Sure. Wait a minute till I run forward an' see if the lines is all fast."
He stepped out of the cabin and presently Gibney and McGuffey were conscious of a rapid succession of thuds on the deck. Gibney winked at McGuffey.
"'Nother new hat gone to hell," murmured McGuffey.
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