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Under the direction of the crafty commodore, the valuable cargo of the Maggie II was disposed of in Honolulu. During the period while the schooner lay at the dock discharging Captain Scraggs and McGuffey prudently remained in the cabin with the perfidious mate, in order that, should an investigation be undertaken later by the Treasury Department, no man might swear that the real Phineas Scraggs, filibuster, had been in Honolulu on a certain date. The Kanaka crew of the schooner Mr. Gibney managed to ship with an old shipmaster friend bound for New Guinea, so their testimony was out of the way for a while, at least.
When the Maggie II was finally discharged and the proceeds of her rich cargo nestled, in crisp bills of large denomination, in a money belt under Mr. Gibney's armpits and next his rascally skin, he purchased tickets under assumed names for himself, Scraggs, McGuffey, and Halvorsen on the liner Hilonian, due to sail at noon next day.
These details attended to, the Maggie II backed away from the dock under her own power and cast anchor off the quarantine station. The mate was then brought on deck and made to confront the syndicate.
"It appears, my man," the commodore began, "that you was too anxious to horn in on the profits o' this expedition, so in a moment o' human weakness you did your employers an evil deed. We had it all figgered out to feed you to the sharks on the way home, because dead men tell no tales, but our sufferin's on that island has caused us all to look with a milder eye on mere human shortcomin's. The Good Book says: 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those what trespass agin us,' an' I ain't ashamed to admit that you owe your wicked life to the fact that Scraggsy's got religion an' McGuffey ain't much better. But we got all the money we need an' we're goin' to Europe to enjoy it, so before we go we're goin' to pass sentence upon you. It is the verdict o' the court that we present you with the power schooner Maggie II free gratis, an' that you accept the same in the same friendly sperrit in which it is tendered. Havin' a schooner o' your own from now on, you won't be tempted to steal one an' commit wholesale murder a-doin' it. You're forgiven, my man. Take the Maggie II with our blessin', organize a comp'ny, an' go back to Kandavu an' make some money for yourself. Scraggsy, are you a-willin' to prove that you've given this errin' mate complete forgiveness by shakin' hands with him?"
"I forgive him freely," said Captain Scraggs, "an' here's my fin on it."
The unfortunate mate hung his head. He was much moved.
"You don't mean it, sir, do you?" he faltered.
"I hope I may never see the back o' my neck if I don't," replied the skipper.
"Surest thing you know, brother," shouted Mr. McGuffey and swatted the deluded mate between the shoulders. "Take her with our compliments. You was a good brave mate until you went wrong. I ain't forgot how you sprayed the hillsides with lead the day Gib an' Scraggsy was took by them cannibals. No, sir-ee! I ain't holdin' no grudge. It's human to commit crime. I've committed one or two myself. Good luck to you, matey. Hope you make a barrel o' money with the old girl."
"Thanks," the mate mumbled. "I ain't deservin' o' this nohow," and he commenced to snivel a little.
Mr. Gibney forgot that he was playing a hypocrite's part, and his generous nature overcame him.
"Dog my cats," he blustered, "what's the use givin' him the vessel if we don't give him some spondulicks to outfit her with grub an' supplies? Poor devil! I bet he ain't got a cent to bless himself with. Scraggsy, old tarpot, if we're goin' to turn over a new leaf an' be Christians, let's sail under a full cloud o' canvas."
"By Neptune, that's so, Gib. This feller did us an awful dirty trick, but at the same time there ain't a cowardly bone in his hull carcass. I ain't forgot how he stood to the guns that day off the Coronados when we was attacked by the Mexicans."
"Stake the feller, Gib," advised McGuffey, and wiped away a vagrant tear. He was quite overcome at his own generosity and the manner in which it had touched the hard heart of the iniquitous mate.
Mr. Gibney laid five one-hundred-dollar bills in the mate's palm.
"Good-bye," he said gently, "an' see if you can't be as much of a man an' as good a sport hereafter as them you've wronged an' who's forgive you fully and freely."
One by one the three freebooters of the green-pea trade pumped the stricken mate's hand, tossed him a scrap of advice, and went overside into the small boat which was to take them ashore. It was a solemn parting and Mr. Gibney and McGuffey were snuffling audibly. Captain Scraggs, however, was made of sterner stuff.
"'Pears to me, Gib," he remarked when they were clear of the schooner, "that you're a little mite generous with the funds o' the syndicate, ain't you?"
Mr. Gibney picked up a paddle and threatened Scraggs with it.
"Dang your cold heart, Scraggs," he hissed, "you're un-Christian, that's what you are."
"Quit yer beefin', you shrimp," bellowed McGuffey. "Them cannibals would have et you if it wasn't for that poor devil of a mate."
Captain Scraggs snarled and remained discreetly silent. Nevertheless, he was in a fine rage. As he remarked sotto voce to Neils Halvorsen, five hundred dollars wasn't picked up in the street every day.
The next day, as the Hilonian steamed out of the harbour, bearing the syndicate back to San Francisco, they looked across at the little Maggie II for the last time, and observed that the mate was on deck, superintending three Kanaka sailors who were hoisting supplies aboard from a bumboat.
Commodore Gibney bade his first command a misty farewell.
"Good-bye, little ship," he yelled and waved his hand. "Gawd! You was a witch in a light wind."
"He'll be flyin' outer the harbour an' bound south by sunset," rumbled McGuffey. "I suppose that lovely gas engine o' mine'll go to hell now."
Captain Scraggs sighed dismally. "It costs like sixty to be a Christian, Gib, but what's the odds as long as we're safe an' homeward bound? Holy sailor! But I'm hungry for a smell o' Channel creek at low tide. I tell you, Gib, rovin' and wild adventure's all right, but the old green-pea trade wasn't so durned bad, after all."
"You bet!" McGuffey's response was very fervid.
"Them was the happy days," supplemented the commodore. He was as joyous as a schoolboy. Four long years had he been roving and now, with his pockets lined with greenbacks, he was homeward bound to his dear old San Francisco--back to steam beer, to all of his old cronies of the Embarcadero, to moving picture shows--to Life! And he was glad to get back with a whole skin.
Seven days after leaving Honolulu, the Hilonian steamed into San Francisco Bay. The syndicate could not wait until she had tied up at her dock, and the minute the steamer had passed quarantine Mr. Gibney hailed a passing launch. Bag and baggage the happy quartette descended to the launch and landed at Meiggs wharf. Mr. Gibney stepped into the wharfinger's office and requested permission to use the telephone.
"What's up, Gib?" demanded Captain Scraggs.
"I want to 'phone for a automobile to come down an' snake us up town in style. This syndicate ain't a-goin' to come rampin' home to Gawd's country lookin' like a lot o' Eyetalian peddlers. We're goin' to the best hotel an' we're goin' in style."
McGuffey nudged Captain Scraggs, and Neils Halvorsen nudged Mr. McGuffey.
"Hay bane a sport, hay bane," rumbled the honest Neils.
"You bet he bane," McGuffey retorted. "Ain't he the old kiddo, Scraggsy? Ain't he? This feller Adelbert P. Gibney's a farmer, I guess."
With the assistance of the wharfinger an automobile was summoned, and in due course the members of the syndicate found themselves ensconced in a fashionable suite in San Francisco's most fashionable hotel. Mr. Gibney stored the syndicate's pearls in the hotel safe, deposited an emergency roll with the hotel clerk, and banked the balance of the company funds in the names of all four; after which the syndicate gave itself up to a period of joy unconfined.
At the end of a week of riot and revelry Mr. Gibney revived sufficiently to muster all hands and lead them to a Turkish bath. Two days in the bath restored them wonderfully, and when the worthy commodore eventually got them back to the hotel he announced that henceforth the lid was on--and on tight. Captain Scraggs, who was hard to manage in his cups and the most prodigal of prodigals with steam up to a certain pressure, demurred at this.
"No more sky-larkin', Scraggsy, you old cut-up," Mr. Gibney ordered. "We had our good time comin' after all that we've been through but it's time to get down to business agin. Riches has wings, Scraggsy, old salamander, an' even if we are ashore, I'm still the commodore. Now, set around an' we'll hold a meetin'."
He banged the chiffonier with his great fist. "Meetin' o' the Maggie Syndicate," he announced. "Meetin'll come to order. The first business before the meetin' is a call for volunteers to furnish a money-makin' idee for the syndicate."
Neils Halvorsen shook his sorrel head. He had no ideas. B. McGuffey, Esquire, shook his head also. Captain Scraggs wanted to sing.
"I see it's up to me to suggest somethin'." Mr. Gibney smiled benignly, as if a money-making idea was the easiest thing on earth to produce. "The last thing I remember before we went to that Turkish bath was us four visitin' a fortune teller an' havin' our fortunes told, past, present, an' future, for a dollar a throw. Anybody here remember what his fortune was?"
It appeared that no one remembered, not even Mr. Gibney. He therefore continued:
"The chair will app'int Mr. McGuffey an' himself a committee o' two to wait on one o' these here clairvoyants and have their fortunes told agin."
McGuffey, who was as superstitious as a negro, seconded the motion heartily and the committee forthwith sallied forth to consult the clairvoyant. Within the hour they returned.
"Members o' the syndicate," the commodore announced, "we got an idea. Not a heluva good one, but fair to middlin'. Me an' Mac calls on this Madame de What-you-may-call-her an' the minute she gets a lamp at my mit (it is worthy of remark here that Mr. Gibney had a starfish tattooed on the back of his left hand, a full-rigged ship across his breast, and a gorgeous picture of a lady climbing a ladder adorned the inner side of his brawny right fore-arm. The feet of the lady in question hung down below the fringe of Mr. Gibney's shirt sleeve) she up an' says: 'My friend, you're makin' a grave mistake remainin' ashore. Your fortune lies at sea.' Then she threw a fit an' mumbled something about a light-haired man that was' goin' to cross my path. I guess she must have meant Scraggsy or Neils, both bein' blondes--an' she come out of her trance shiverin' an' shakin'.
"'Your fortune lies at sea, my friend,' she kept on sayin'. 'Go forth an' seek it.'
"'Gimme the longitude an' latitude, ma'am,' I says, 'an' I'll light out.'
"'Look in the shippin' news in the papers to-morrower,' she pipes up. 'Five dollars, please.'"
"You didn't give her five dollars, did you?" gasped Captain Scraggs. "Why, Gib my dear boy, I thought you was sober."
"So I was."
"Then, Gib, all I got to say is that you're a sucker. You want to consult the rest of us before you go throwin' away the funds o' the syndicate on such tom-fool idees as----"
McGuffey saw a storm gathering on Mr. Gibney's brows, and hastened to intervene.
"Meetin's adjourned," he announced, "pendin' the issue o' the papers to-morrow mornin'. Scraggsy, you oughter j'ine the Band o' Hope. You're ugly when you got a drink in you."
Neils Halvorsen interfered to beg a cigar of Mr. Gibney and the affair passed over.
At six o'clock the following morning the members of the syndicate were awakened by a prodigious pounding at their respective doors. Answering the summons, they found Mr. Gibney in undress uniform and the morning paper clutched in his hand.
"Meetin' o' the Maggie Syndicate in my room," he bawled. "I've found our fortune."
The meeting came to order without the formality of dressing, and the commodore, spreading the paper on his knee, read aloud:
For Sale Cheap
The stern-wheel steamer Victor, well found, staunch and newly painted. Boilers and engines in excellent shape. Vessel must be sold to close out an estate. Address John Coakley, Jackson Street wharf.
"How d'ye know she's a fortune, Gib?" McGuffey demanded. "Lemme look at her engines before you get excited."
"I ain't sayin' she is," Mr. Gibney retorted testily. "Lemme finish readin'!" He continued:
REPORTS PASSING DERELICT
The steam schooner Arethusa, Grays Harbour to Oakland Long wharf, reports passing a derelict schooner twenty miles off Point Reyes at six o'clock last night. The derelict was down by the head, and her rail just showed above the water. It was impossible to learn her identity.
The presence of this derelict in the steamer lanes to North Pacific ports is a distinct menace to navigation, and it is probable that a revenue cutter will be dispatched to-day to search for the derelict and either tow her into port or destroy her.
"Gentlemen o' the syndicate, them's the only two items in the shippin' page that looks likely. The question is, in which lies our fortune?"
Neils Halvorsen spoke up, giving it as his opinion that the fortune-telling lady probably knew her business and that their fortune really lay at sea. The derelict was at sea. How else, then, could the prophecy be interpreted?
"Well, this steamer Victor ain't exactly travelling overland," McGuffey suggested. He had a secret hankering to mess around some real engines again, and gave it as his opinion that fortune was more likely to lurk in a solid stern-wheel steamer with good engines and boilers than in a battered hulk at sea. Captain Scraggs agreed with him most heartily and a tie vote resulted, Mr. Gibney inclining toward the derelict.
"What're we goin' to do about it, Gib?" Captain Scraggs demanded.
"When in doubt, Scraggsy, old tarpot, always play trumps. In order to make no mistake, right after breakfast you an' McGuffey go down to Jackson Street wharf an' interview this man Coakley about his steamer Victor. You been goin' to sea long enough to know a good hull when you see it, an' if we can't trust Mac to know a good set of inner works we'd better dissolve the syndicate. If you two think she's a bargain, buy her in for the syndicate. As for me an' Neils, we'll go down to the Front an' charter a tug an' chase out after that there derelict before the revenue cutter gets her an' blows her out o' the path o' commerce with a stick o' dynamite."
Forthwith Mr. Gibney and Neils, after snatching a hasty breakfast, departed for the waterfront, where they chartered a tug for three days and put to sea. At about ten o'clock Captain Scraggs and McGuffey strolled leisurely down to Jackson Street wharf to inspect the Victor. By noon they had completed a most satisfactory inspection of the steamer's hull and boilers, and bought her in for seven thousand dollars. Captain Scraggs was delighted. He said she was worth ten thousand. Already he had decided that heavy and profitable freights awaited the syndicate along the Sacramento River, where the farmers and orchardists had been for years the victims of a monopoly and a gentlemen's agreement between the two steamboat lines that plied between Sacramento, Stockton, and San Francisco.
On the afternoon of the third day Mr. Gibney and Neils Halvorsen returned from sea. They were unutterably weary and hollow-eyed for lack of sleep.
"Well, I suppose you two suckers found that derelict," challenged McGuffey.
"Yep. Found her an' got a line aboard an' towed her in, an' it was a tough job. She's layin' over on the Berkeley tide flats, an' at lowtide to-morrow we'll go over an' find out what we've got. Don't even know her name yet. She's practically submerged."
"I think you was awful foolish, Gib, buyin' a pig in a poke that way. I don't believe in goin' it blind. Me an' Mac's bought a real ship. We own the Victor."
"I'm dead on my feet," growled the commodore, and jumping into bed he refused to discuss the matter further and was sound asleep in a jiffy.
Mr. Gibney was up bright and early and aroused the syndicate to action. The tide would be at its lowest ebb at nine thirty-one and the commodore figured that his fortune would be lying well exposed on the Berkeley tide flats. He engaged a diver and a small gasoline launch, and after an early breakfast in a chop-house on the Embarcadero they started for the wreck.
They were within half a mile of it, heading right into the eye of the wind, when Captain Scraggs and McGuffey stood erect in the launch simultaneously and sniffed like a pair of--well, sea-dogs.
"Dead whale," suggested McGuffey.
"I hope it ain't Gib's fortune," replied Scraggs drily.
"Shut up," bellowed Mr. Gibney. He was sniffing himself by this time, for as the launch swiftly approached the derelict the unpleasant odour became more pronounced.
"Betcher that schooner was in collision with a steamer," Captain Scraggs announced. "She was cut down right through the fo'castle with the watch below sound asleep, an' this here fragrance appeals to me as a sure sign of a job for the coroner."
The commodore shuddered. He was filled with vague misgivings, but Neils Halvorsen grinned cheerfully. McGuffey got out a cologne-scented handkerchief and clamped it across his nose.
"Well, if that's Gib's fortune, it must be filthy lucre," he mumbled through the handkerchief. "Gib, what have you hooked on to? A public dump?"
Mr. Gibney's eyes flashed, but he made no reply. They had rounded the schooner's stern now, and her name was visible.
"Schooner Kadiak, Seattle," read Scraggs. "Little old three sticker a thousand years old an' cut clear through just abaft the foremast. McGuffey, you don't s'pose this here's a pirate craft an' just bulgin' with gold."
"Sure," retorted the engineer with a slow wink, "tainted wealth."
Mr. Gibney could stand their heckling no longer. "Looky here, you two," he bawled angrily. "I got a hunch I picked up a lemon, but I'm a-willin' to tackle the deal with Neils if you two think I didn't do right by the syndicate a-runnin' up a bill of expense towing this craft into port. I ain't goin' to stand for no kiddin', even if we are in a five-hundred-dollar towage bill. Man is human an' bound to make mistakes."
"Don't kid the commodore, Scraggsy. This aromer o' roses is more'n a strong man can stand, so cut out the josh."
"All right, Mac. I guess the commodore's foot slipped this time, but I ain't squawkin' yet."
"No. Not yet," cried Mr. Gibney bitterly, "but soon."
"I ain't, nuther," Captain Scraggs assumed an air of injured virtue. "I'm a-willin' to go through with you, Gib, at a loss, for nothin' else except to convince you o' the folly o' makin' this a one-man syndicate. I ain't a-kickin', but I'm free to confess that I'd like to be consulted oncet in a while."
"That's logic," rumbled the single-minded McGuffey.
"You dirty welchers," roared the commodore. "I ain't askin' you two to take chances with me. Me an' Neils'll take this deal over independent o' the syndicate."
"Well, let's dress this here diver," retorted the cautious Scraggs, "an' send him into the hold for a look around before we make up our minds." Captain Scraggs was not a man to take chances.
They moored the launch to the wreck and commenced operations. Mr. Gibney worked the air pump while the diver, ax in hand, dropped into the murky depths of the flooded hold. He was down half an hour before he signalled to be pulled up. All hands sprang to the line to haul him back to daylight, and the instant he popped clear of the water Mr. Gibney unburdened himself of an agonized curse.
In his hands the diver held a large decayed codfish!
Captain Scraggs turned a sneering glance upon the unhappy commodore while McGuffey sat down on the damp rail of the derelict and laughed until the tears coursed down his honest face.
"A dirty little codfishin' schooner," raved Captain Scraggs, "an' you a-sinkin' the time an' money o' the syndicate in rotten codfish on the say-so of a clairvoyant you ain't even been interduced to. Gib, if that's business, all I got to say is: 'Excuse me'."
Mr. Gibney seized the defunct fish from the diver's hand, tore it in half, slapped Captain Scraggs with one awful fragment and hurled the other at McGuffey.
"I'm outer the syndicate," he raved, beside himself with anger. "Here I go to work an' make a fortune for a pair of short sports an' pikers an' you get to squealin' at the first five-hundred-dollar loss. I know you of old, Phineas Scraggs, an' the leopard can't change his spots." He raised his right hand to heaven. "I'm through for keeps. We'll sell the pearls to-day, divvy up, an' dissolve. I'm through."
"Glad of it," growled McGuffey. "I don't want no more o' that codfish, an' as soon as we git fightin' room I'll prove to you that no near-sailor can insult me an' git away with it. Me an' Scraggsy's got some rights. You can walk on Scraggsy, Gib, but it takes a man to walk on the McGuffey family."
Nothing but the lack of sea-room prevented a battle royal. Mr. Gibney stood glaring at his late partners. His great ham-like fists were opening and closing automatically.
"You're right, Mac," he said presently, endeavouring to control his anger and chagrin. "We'll settle this later. Take that helmet off the diver an' let's hear what he's got to report."
With the helmet removed the diver spoke:
"As near as I can make out, boss, there ain't a thing o' value in this hulk but a couple o' hundred tons o' codfish. She was cut in two just for'd o' the bulkhead an' her anchors carried away on the section that was cut off. She ain't worth the cost o' towin' her in on the flats."
"So that codfish has some value," sneered Captain Scraggs.
"Great grief, Scraggsy! Don't tell me it's sp'iled," cried McGuffey, simulating horror.
"No, not quite, Mac, not quite. Just slightly. I s'pose Gib'll tack a sign to the stub o' the main mast: 'Slightly spoiled codfish for sale. Apply to A.P. Gibney, on the premises. Special rates on Friday.'"
Mr. Gibney quivered, but made no reply. He carefully examined that portion of the derelict above water and discovered that by an additional expenditure of about fifty dollars he might recover an equal amount in brass fittings. The Kadiak's house was gone and her decks completely gutted. Nothing remained but the amputated hull and the foul cargo below her battered decks.
In majestic silence the commodore motioned all hands into the launch. In silence they returned to the city. Arrived here, Mr. Gibney paid off the launch man and the diver and accompanied by his associates repaired to a prominent jeweller's shop with the pearls they had accumulated in the South Seas. The entire lot was sold for thirty thousand dollars. An hour later they had adjusted their accounts, divided the fortune of the syndicate equally, and then dissolved. At parting, Mr. Gibney spoke for the first time when it had not been absolutely necessary.
"Put a beggar on horseback an' he'll ride to the devil," he said. "When you two swabs was poor you was content to let me lead you into a fortune, but now that you're well-heeled, you think you're business men. All right! I ain't got a word to say except this: Before I get through with you two beachcombers I'll have all your money and you'll be a-beggin' me for a job. I apologize for soakin' you two with that diseased codfish, an' for old sake's sake we won't fight. We're still friends, but business associates no longer, for I'm too big a figger in this syndicate to stand for any criticism on my handlin' o' the joint finances. Hereafter, Scraggsy, old kiddo, you an' Mac can go it alone with your stern-wheel steamer. Me an' The Squarehead legs it together an' takes our chances. You don't hear that poor untootered Swede makin' no holler at the way I've handled the syndicate----"
"But, Gib, my dear boy," chattered Captain Scraggs, "will you just listen to re----"
"Enough! Too much is plenty. Let's shake hands an' part friends. We just can't get along in business together, that's all."
"Well, I'm sorry, Gib," mumbled McGuffey, very much crestfallen, "but then you hove that dog-gone fish at me an'----"
"That was fortune hittin' you a belt in the face, Mac, an' you was too self-conceited to recognize it. Remember that, both of you two. Fortune hit you in the face to-day an' you didn't know it."
"I'd ruther die poor, Gib," wailed McGuffey.
The commodore shook hands cordially and departed, followed by the faithful Neils Halvorsen. The moment the door closed behind them Scraggs turned to the engineer.
"Mac," he said earnestly, "Gib's up to somethin'. He's got that imagination o' his workin'. I can tell it every time; he gets a foggy look in his eyes. We made a mistake kiddin' him to-day. Gib's a sensitive boy some ways an' I reckon we hurt his feelin's without intendin' it."
"He thrun a dead codfish at me," protested McGuffey. "I love old Gib like a brother, but that's carryin' things with a mighty high hand."
"Well, I'll apologize to him," declared Captain Scraggs and started for the door to follow Mr. Gibney. McGuffey barred his way.
"You apologize without my consent an' you gotta buy me out o' the Victor. I won't be no engineer with a skipper that lacks backbone."
"Oh, very well, Mac." Captain Scraggs realized too well the value of McGuffey in the engine room. He knew he could never be happy with anybody else. "We'll complete the deal with the Victor, ship a crew, get down to business, an' leave Gib to his codfish. An' let's pay our bill an' get outer here. It's too high-toned for me--an' expensive."
For two weeks Captain Scraggs and McGuffey saw no more of Mr. Gibney and Neils Halvorsen. In the meantime, they had commenced running the Victor regularly up river, soliciting business in opposition to the regular steamboat lines. While the Victor was running with light freights and consequently at a loss, the prospect for ultimate good business was very bright and Scraggs and McGuffey were not at all worried about the future.
Judge of their surprise, therefore, when one morning who should appear at the door of Scraggs's cabin but Mr. Gibney.
"Mornin', Gib," began Scraggs cheerily. "I s'pose you been rolled for your money as per usual, an' you're around lookin' for a job as mate."
Mr. Gibney ignored this veiled insult. "Not yet, Scraggsy, I got about five hundred tons o' freight to send up to Dunnigan's Landin' an' I want a lump sum figger for doin' the job. We parted friends an' for the sake o' old times I thought I'd give you a chance to figger on the business."
"Thanky, Gib. I'll be glad to. Where's your freight an' what does it consist of?"
"Agricultural stuff. It's crated, an' I deliver it here on the steamer's dock within reach o' her tackles. No heavy pieces. Two men can handle every piece easy."
"Turnin' farmer, Gib?"
"Thinkin' about it a little," the commodore admitted. "What's your rate on this freight? It ain't perishable goods, so get down to brass tacks."
"A dollar a ton," declared the greedy Scraggs, naming a figure fully forty cents higher than he would have been willing to accept. "Five hundred dollars for the lot."
"Suits me." The commodore nonchalantly handed Scraggs five hundred dollars. "Gimme a receipt," he said.
So Captain Scraggs gave him a receipted freight bill and Mr. Gibney departed. An hour later a barge was bunted alongside the Victor and Neils Halvorsen appeared in Scraggs's cabin to inform him that the five hundred tons of freight was ready to be taken aboard.
"All right, Neils. I'll put a gang to work right off." He came out on deck, paused, tilted his nose, and sniffed. He was still sniffing when McGuffey bounced up out of the engine room.
"Holy Sailor!" he shouted. "Who uncorked that atter o' violets?"
"You dog-gone squarehead," shrieked Captain Scraggs. "You been monkeyin' around that codfish again."
"What smells?" demanded the mate, poking his nose out of his room.
"That tainted wealth I picked up at sea," shouted a voice from the dock, and turning, Scraggs and McGuffey observed Mr. Gibney standing on a stringer smiling at them.
"Gib, my dear boy," quavered Captain Scraggs, "you can't mean to say you've unloaded them gosh-awful codfish----"
"No, not yet--but soon, Scraggsy, old tarpot."
Captain Scraggs removed his near-Panama hat, cast it on the deck, and pranced upon it in a terrible rage.
"I won't receive your rotten freight, you scum of the docks," he raved. "You'll run me outer house an' home with that horrible stuff."
"Oh, you'll freight it for me, all right," the commodore retorted blithely. "Or I'll libel your old stern-wheel packet for you. I've paid the freight in advance an' I got the receipt."
Captain Scraggs was on the verge of tears. "But, Gib! My dear boy! This freight'll foul the Victor up for a month o' Fridays--an' I just took out a passenger license!"
"I'm sorry, Scraggsy, but business is business. You've took my money an' you got to perform."
"You lied to me. You said it was agricultural stuff an' I thought it was plows an' harrers an' sich----"
"It's fertilizer--an' if that ain't agricultural stuff I hope my teeth may drop out an' roll in the ocean. An' it ain't perishable. It perished long ago. I ain't deceived you. An' if you don't like the scent o' dead codfish on your decks, you can swab 'em down with Florida water for a month."
Captain Scraggs's mate came around the corner of the house and addressed himself to Captain Scraggs.
"You can give me my time, sir. I'm a steamboat mate, not a grave digger or a coroner's assistant, or an undertaker, an' I can't stand to handle this here freight."
Mr. McGuffey tossed his silken engineer's cap over to Scraggs.
"Hop on that, Scraggsy. Your own hat is ground to powder. Ain't it strange, Gib, what little imagination Scraggsy's got? He'll stand there a-screamin' an' a-cussin' an' a-prancin'--Scraggsy! Ain't you got no pride, makin' such a spectacle o' yourself? We don't have to handle this freight o' Gib's at all. We'll just hook onto that barge an' tow it up river."
"You won't do nothin' o' the sort, Mac, because that's my barge an' I ain't a-goin' to let it out o' my sight. I've delivered my freight alongside your steamer and prepaid the freight an' it's up to you to handle it."
"That's the programme!"
"Adelbert," crooned Mr. McGuffey, "ain't you got no heart? You know I got a half interest in the Victor----"
"O-oo-oh!" Captain Scraggs groaned, and his groan was that of a seasick passenger. When he could look up again his face was ghastly with misery.
"Gib," he pleaded sadly, "you got us where the hair is short. Don't invoke the law an' make us handle that codfish, Gib! It ain't right. Gimme leave to tow that barge--anything to keep your freight off the Victor, an' we'll pull it up river for you----"
"Be a good feller, Gib. You usen'ter be hard an' spiteful like that," urged McGuffey.
"I'll tow the barge free," wailed Scraggs.
Mr. Gibney sat calmly down on the stringer and lit a cigar. Nature had blessed him with a strong constitution amidships and the contiguity of his tainted fortune bothered him but little. He squinted over the tip of the cigar at Captain Scraggs.
"You're just the same old Scraggsy you was in the green-pea trade. All you need is a ring in yer nose, Scraggsy, to make you a human hog. Here you goes to work an' soaks me a dollar a ton when you'd be tickled to death to do the job for half o' that, an' then you got the gall to stand there appealin' to my friendship! So you'll tow the barge up free, eh? Well, just to make the transaction legal, I'll give you a dollar for the job an' let you have the barge. Skip to it, Scraggsy, an' draw up a new bill, guaranteein' to tow the barge for one dollar. Then gimme back $499.00 an' I'll hand you back this receipted freight bill."
Captain Scraggs darted into his cabin, dashed off the necessary document, and returning to the deck, presented it, together with the requisite refund, to Mr. Gibney, who, in the meantime, had come aboard.
"Whatever are you a-goin' to do with this awful codfish, Gib?" he demanded.
Mr. Gibney cocked his hat over one ear and blew a cloud of smoke in the skipper's face.
"Well, boys, I'll tell you. Salted codfish that's been under water a long time gets most o' the salt took out of it, an' even at sea, if it's left long enough, it'll get so durned ripe that it's what you might call offensive. But it makes good fertilizer. There ain't nothin' in the world to equal a dead codfish, medium ripe, for fertilizer. I've rigged up a deal with a orchard comp'ny that's layin' out a couple o' thousand acres o' young trees up in the delta lands o' the Sacramento. I've sold 'em the lot, after first buyin' it from the owners o' the schooner for a hundred dollars. Every time these orchard fellers dig a hole to plant a young fruit tree they aims to heave a codfish in the bottom o' the hole first, for fertilizer. There was upwards o' two hundred thousand codfish in that schooner an' I've sold 'em for five cents each, delivered at Dunnigan's Landin'. I figger on cleanin' up about seven thousand net on the deal. I thought me an' Neils was stuck at first, but I got my imagination workin'----"
Captain Scraggs sank limply into McGuffey's arms and the two stared at the doughty commodore.
"Hit in the face with a fortune an' didn't know it," gasped poor McGuffey. "Gib, I'm sure glad you got out whole on that deal."
"Thanks to a lack o' imagination in you an' Scraggsy I'm about two hundred an' fifty dollars ahead o' my estimate now, on account o' the free tow o' that barge. Me an' Neils certainly makes a nice little split on account o' this here codfish deal."
"Gib," chattered Scraggs, "what's the matter with reorganizin' the syndicate?"
"Be a good feller, Adelbert," pleaded McGuffey.
Mr. Gibney was never so vulnerable as when one he really loved called him by his Christian name. He drew an arm across the shoulders of McGuffey and Scraggs, while Neils Halvorsen stood by, his yellow fangs flashing with pleasure under his walrus moustache.
"So you two boys're finally willin' to admit that I'm the white-haired boy, eh?"
"Gib, you got an imagination an' a half."
"One hundred an' fifty per cent. efficient," McGuffey declared.
Neils Halvorsen said nothing, but grinned like the head of an old fiddle. Mr. Gibney appeared to swell visibly, after the manner of a turkey gobbler.
"Thanks, Scraggsy--an' you, too, Bart. So you're willin' to admit that though that there seeress might have helped some the game would have been deader than it is if it hadn't been for my imagination?"
Captain Scraggs nodded and Mr. McGuffey slapped the commodore on the back affectionately. "Aye bane buy drink in the Bowhead saloon," The Squarehead announced.
"Scraggsy! Mac! Your fins! We'll reorganize the syndicate, an' the minute me an' Neils finds ourselves with a bill o' sale for a one quarter interest in the Victor, based on the actual cost price, we'll tow this here barge----"
"An' split the profits on the codfish?" Scraggs queried eagerly.
"Certainly not. Me an' Neils splits that fifty-fifty. A quarter o' them profits is too high a price to pay for your friendship, Scraggsy, old deceitful. Remember, I made that profit after you an' Mac had pulled out o' the syndicate."
"That's logic," McGuffey declared.
"It's highway robbery," Scraggs snarled. "I won't sell no quarter interest to you or The Squarehead, Gib. Not on them terms."
"Then you'll load them codfish aboard, or pay demurrage on that barge for every day they hang around; an' if the Board o' Health condemns 'em an' chucks 'em overboard I'll sue you an' Mac for my lost profits, git a judgment agin you, an' take over the Victor to satisfy the judgment."
"You're a sea lawyer, Gib," Scraggs retorted sarcastically.
"You do what Gib says," McGuffey ordered threateningly. "Remember, I got a half interest in any jedgment he gits agin us--an' what's more, I object to them codfish clutterin' up my half interest."
"You bullied me on the old Maggie," Scraggs screeched, "but I won't be bullied no more. If you want to tow that barge, Mac, you buy me out, lock, stock, and barrel. An' the price for my half interest is five thousand dollars."
"You've sold something, Scraggsy," Mr. McGuffey flashed back at him, obeying a wink from Mr. Gibney. "An' here's a hundred dollars to bind the bargain. Balance on delivery of proper bill-o'-sale."
While Scraggs was counting the money Mr. Gibney was writing a receipt in his note book. Scraggs, still furious, signed the receipt.
"Now, then, Scraggsy," said Mr. Gibney affably, "hustle up to the Custom House, get a formal bill-o'-sale blank, fill her in, an' hustle back agin for your check. An' see to it you don't change your mind, because it won't do you any good. If you don't come through now I can sue you an' force you to."
"Oh! So you're buyin' my interest, eh?"
"Well, I'm lendin' Mac the money, an' I got a hunch he'll sell the interest to me an' Neils without figgerin' on a profit. You're a jarrin' note in the syndicate, Scraggsy, an' I've come to that time o' life where I want peace. An' there won't be no peace on the Victor unless I skipper her."
Captain Scraggs departed to draw up the formal bill of sale and Mr. Gibney, drawing The Squarehead and McGuffey to him, favoured each with a searching glance and said:
"Gentlemen, did it ever occur to you that there's money in the chicken business?"
It had! Both McGuffey and Neils admitted it. There are few men in this world who have not, at some period of their lives, held the same view, albeit the majority of those who have endeavoured to demonstrate that fact have subsequently changed their minds.
"I thought as much," the commodore grinned. "If I was to let you two out o' my sight for a day you'd both be flat busted the day after. So we won't buy no farm an' go in for chickens. We'll sell the Victor an' buy a little tradin' schooner. Then we'll go back to the South Seas an' earn a legitimate livin'."
"But why'll we sell the Victor?" McGuffey demanded. "Gib, she's a love of a boat."
"Because I've just had a talk with the owners o' the two opposition lines an' they, knowin' me to be chummy with you an' Scraggsy, give me the tip to tell you two that you could have your choice o' two propositions--a rate war or a sale o' the Victor for ten thousand dollars. That gets you out clean an' saves your original capital, an' it gits Scraggsy out the same way, while nettin' me an' Neils five hundred each."
"A rate war would ruin us," McGuffey agreed. "In addition to sourin' Scraggsy's disposition until he wouldn't be fit to live with. Gib, you're a wonder."
"I know it," Mr. Gibney replied.
Within two hours Captain Scraggs's half interest had passed into the hands of McGuffey, and half an hour later the Victor had passed into the hands of the opposition lines, to be operated for the joint profit of the latter. Later in the day all four members of the syndicate met in the Bowhead saloon, where Mr. Gibney explained the deal to Captain Scraggs. The latter was dumfounded.
"I had to fox you into selling," the commodore confessed.
"But how about them defunct codfish, Gib?"
"I got the new owners to agree to tow 'em up at a reasonable figger. When I've cleaned up that deal, we'll buy a schooner an' run South again."
"You'll run without me, Gib," Scraggs declared emphatically. "I've had a-plenty o' the dark blue for mine. I got a little stake now, so I'm going to look around an' invest in a----"
"A chicken ranch," McGuffey interrupted.
"Right-O, Bart. How'd you guess it?"
"Imagination," quoth McGuffey, tapping his forehead, "imagination, Scraggsy."
Something told Mr. Gibney that it would be just as well if he did not insist upon having Scraggs as a member of his crew. So he did not insist. In the afternoon of life Mr. Gibney was acquiring common sense.
Three weeks later Mr. Gibney had purchased, for account of his now abbreviated syndicate, the kind of power schooner he desired, and the Inspectors gave him a ticket as master. With The Squarehead as mate and Mr. McGuffey as engineer and general utility man, the little schooner cleared for Pago Pago on a day when Captain Scraggs was too busy buying incubators to come down to the dock and see them off.
And for aught the chronicler of this tale knows to the contrary, the syndicate may be sailing in that self-same schooner to this very day.
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