"Von Staden. He kicked me and broke my ribs, Terence."
"Wit' the greatest joy in life, Michael. The skut's busy in the wireless room."
So they went to the wireless room. Von Staden was taking a message as they entered; at sound of their footsteps he turned carelessly and found himself looking down the muzzle of the captain's automatic.
"Will ye take it peaceably, ye gossoon, or must I brain ye wit' this monkey wrench?" Mr. Reardon queried fiercely.
"And take your hand off that key, you blackguard. No S O S," Murphy ordered.
The supercargo stared at them impudently. "This," he said presently, "is one of those inconceivable contingencies."
"Your early education was neglected, Dutchy. However, don't complain and say I didn't give you warning. Terence!"
"What is it, Michael?"
"All well-regulated ships carry a few sets of handcuffs and leg irons. If you will put your hand in my right hip pocket, Terence, lad, you'll find a pair for present emergencies. They were in my desk and I concluded to bring them along."
"An' a pious t'ought it was, Michael."
So they handcuffed Herr August Carl von Staden and gagged him, after which Mr. Reardon, leaving the skipper to guard his prisoner, ran round to his own room and got the two lengths of chain and the padlocks. When he returned, Michael J. Murphy kicked his unwelcome supercargo to the mate's store-room and Mr. Reardon locked him in among the paint pots, pipe, old iron and other odds and ends which accumulate in a mate's store-room.
They went next to the door of the forecastle. It was open—and, what was better, it opened inward. Also, it was of steel with a stout brass ring on the lock, this ring taking the place of what on a landsman's door would have been a knob.
Terence Reardon and Michael J. Murphy listened. From within came a medley of gentle sighs, snores and the slow, regular breathing of sleeping men. Softly Mr. Reardon closed the door, turned the ring until the latch caught, drew a section of chain through the ring in such a manner as to prevent the latch from being released, passed the ends of his chain round the steel handrail along the front of the forecastle and padlocked them there.
"Now, thin," Mr. Reardon announced, "that takes care av the carpenter, the bos'n, four seamen, two waiters an' the mess bhoy. Do ye wait here a minute, Michael, lad, whilst I run up on the bridge and give that unmintionable Schultz the wanst over."
The weak, half-dead Murphy sat down on the hatch coaming and waited. The chief was away about ten minutes and the captain was on the point of investigating when Mr. Reardon appeared.
"That unfortunate divil had come to, an' was lookin' an' feelin' cowld whin I wint up on the bridge," he explained, "so I wint to me room an' got a pair av blankets to wrap round him where he lay. It's wan thing to tap a man on the head, but 'tis another to let him catch his death av cowld."
Captain Murphy smiled. Ordinarily he would have laughed at the whimsical Terence, but he didn't have a good laugh left in him. His lung was hurting, so he suspected an abscess.
They returned to the boat deck, and with his rule Mr. Reardon carefully measured the exact distance between the ship's rail and the center of the doors of the state-rooms occupied by the mates and assistant engineers. This detail attended to, they went to the carpenter's little shop and cut two scantlings of a length to correspond to the measurements taken, and in addition Mr. Reardon prepared some thin cleats with countersunk holes for the insertion of screws. He worked very leisurely, and it was eleven o'clock when he had everything in readiness.
"There's nothin' to do now until midnight, whin the watch in the ingine room is changed," Mr. Reardon suggested, "so lave us go to the galley. Wan av me brave lads is in there, an' if he's not dead intirely, faith, I'm thinkin' I might injoy a cup av coffee!"
So they went to the galley and found the look-out glaring at them. He made inarticulate noises behind his gag, so Mr. Reardon, much relieved, found seats for each of them and poured coffee. Then he filled his pipe, crossed his right leg over his left knee and puffed away. He was the speaking likeness of Contentment. And well he might be.
The first assistant engineer had been driving the Narcissus for an hour at full speed at right angles to the course he believed she was pursuing. He would, being totally ignorant of the change of masters, continue to drive her at full speed until midnight, when he would come off watch, tired and sleepy, and go straight to his state-room. The second assistant would go direct from his state-room to duty in the engine-room and continue to drive the Narcissus at full speed until four o'clock, and inasmuch as it would be quite dark still when the third assistant came on at four o'clock to relieve the engineer on watch, there was not the slightest doubt in the minds of Murphy and the chief but that the deception could go on until breakfast. However, that would interfere with their plans. Long before that hour the men locked in the forecastle would have discovered their plight, and the noise of the discovery might reach below decks and bring up, to investigate, just a few more husky firemen and coal passers than even the redoubtable Terence Reardon could hope to cope with successfully.
"By four o'clock we'll be more than fifty miles off the course Schultz was holding her on," the captain suggested. "In all likelihood the German admiral wirelessed his last position and the course he was steering, and von Staden gave Schultz his course accordingly."
"Faith, we're not a moment too soon at that," Mr. Reardon replied. "Schultz was lookin' for searchlights whin I tapped him. Be the Toe Nails av Moses ye're right, Michael. We'll be so far off that course be daylight they won't even see our shmoke. D'ye think that little handful av bones, Riggins, can manage the wheel until we've claned up the ingine-room gang? We can relieve him wit' wan av the Chinamen then."
"Tell him he'll have to stick it out. And by the way, Terence, come to think of it, you had better run forward and remove the sidelights; then unscrew all of the incandescent lamps on deck until the contact is lost. You can screw them in again just before the watch is changed, so they won't suspect anything, and unscrew them again after we have the watch under lock and key. The fleet may be too far away to see our smoke by daylight, but they may be close enough to see our lights to-night! Tell Riggins to darken the pilot-house. The binnacle light is enough to keep him company."
"Thrue for ye," Terence replied, and hurried away to carry out Murphy's instructions.
At twelve o'clock the second assistant engineer, hurrying along the deck to relieve the first assistant on watch, found Mr. Reardon leaning over the rail meditatively puffing his old briar pipe. In answer to the former's query as to what kept the chief up so late, the latter replied that he was burning sulphur in his room to kill bedbugs.
"The good Lord forgive me the lie," he prayed when a few minutes later he was called upon by the first assistant, hurrying off watch, to repeat the same tale.
The first assistant and his watch had a shower-bath and turned in. They were not interested in the workings of the deck department in the dark; they could not know that the vessel's course had been changed; they thought only of getting to sleep. Mr. Reardon waited until one-thirty A. M. to provide against possible sleepless ones, and then crept aft on velvet feet. The Narcissus had very commodious quarters in her stern, where her coolie crew had been housed in the days when she ran in the China trade; and when the Blue Star Navigation Company took her over these quarters had been fitted up to accommodate the engine room crew. In the same manner, therefore, that he had imprisoned the men of the deck department in the forecastle, Mr. Reardon now proceeded to imprison the men of the engine department in the sterncastle. This delicate mission accomplished, he went up top-side and measured the diameter of the ventilators, in order to make certain that the thinnest of his German canaries could not fly the cage via that difficult route. Having satisfied himself that he had no need to worry on this score, he made his way forward again.
"Well, Michael, me poor lad," he announced as he rejoined the skipper, "I'll tell you wan thing—an' it isn't two. The crew av the Narcissus off watch at this minute will never come on watch ag'in—in the Narcissus."
The skipper smiled wanly. "I'm sorry you must take all the risks and do all the work, Terence," he replied.
"Gwan wit' ye, Michael. Sure if I had a head on me like you, an' a college edication in back av that ag'in, I'd be out playin' golf this minute wit' Andhrew Carnegie an' Jawn D. Rockefeller—ayther that, or I'd have been hung for walkin' away wit' the Treasury Buildin'."
They discussed the remaining details of that portion of the ship cleaning still before them. "Remember, Terence," Mike Murphy warned the chief, "when the blow-off comes at four o'clock and the uproar commences fore and aft, we have the means to keep them quiet. I'll go forward and you go aft. When we threaten to throw burning sulphur down the ventilators and suffocate them, they'll sing soft and low!"
Mr. Reardon chuckled. "An' Schultz t'ought I was afther bedbugs whin I asked the shteward for the sulphur," he replied. "Shtill an' all, Michael," he added, a trifle wistfully, "I could wish for a bit more excitement, considerin' the size av the job."
"Don't worry, Terry, you may get it yet. I'm dizzy and weak, chief; I'm fearful I'll not be able to last out the night—and these Germans are desperate. Suppose we go forward now, while I'm able, and awaken Mr. Henckel. It's high time he relieved Mr. Schultz, and he'll be waking naturally if we let him oversleep much longer."
The subjugation of Mr. Henckel was accomplished without the slightest excitement or bloodshed. Mr. Reardon rapped at his door and Mr. Henckel replied sleepily in German. The skipper and the chief merely lurked, one on each side of his state-room door, until he stepped briskly out; whereupon the captain jabbed him with the gun while Mr. Reardon shook the monkey wrench under his nose. Indeed, Mr. Reardon had the gag in the second mate's mouth even while it hung open in surprise. They bound him hand and foot, and Mr. Reardon picked him up and tucked him gently in his berth, for, as the chief remarked to him, he was as safe there as anywhere and far more comfortable, although Mike Murphy objected and was for putting him in the mate's store-room with von Staden, whom they had put in the dirtiest and most unwholesome spot aboard the Narcissus, for two reasons: In the first place, he had kicked Michael J. Murphy and shot him through the shoulder; and in the second place, he was the cleanest German and the most wholesome pirate they had ever seen, and they figured the contrast would annoy him. Mr. Reardon, however, objected to this plan. He argued that von Staden would be glad of Mr. Henckel's company, and was it not their original intention to keep that laddybuck von Staden in solitary confinement? It was. They closed the state-room door on Mr. Henckel, and left him to meditate on his sins while they repaired to the carpenter's little shop, to return to the boat deck presently with the scantlings and cleats Mr. Reardon had prepared.
With the scantling the chief shored up the doors to the state-room occupied respectively at the time by the first and third assistant engineers; then he screwed the cleats into place at top and bottom, so the scantling could not slip. Not for worlds would he have used a hammer to nail them into place, for that would have spoiled the surprise for the objects of his attentions. Throughout the entire operation he was as silent as a burglar, although by way of additional precaution the captain stood by with drawn pistol.
"Now thin, Michael," Mr. Reardon whispered as they pussy-footed away, "there are six fine Germans below in the ingine room, an' two Irishmen an' half an Englishman on deck. The Chinee cooks don't count, for sure the poor heathens would only get excited and turrn somebody loose if we asked them to do anything desperate. And, as ye know, wan good Irishman—and bad luck to the man that says I am not that—can keep a hundhred Germans from comin' up out av that ingine room. Go to yer bed, Michael, an' lie down until I call ye."
"Better take this automatic," Murphy suggested, and showed him how to use it.
But Mr. Reardon resolutely refused to abandon his monkey wrench, although he consented to carry the automatic to Riggins in the pilot-house. The estimable Riggins had been steering a somewhat erratic course, for he found it impossible to keep his eye on the lubber's mark while the bound quartermaster glared balefully at him from the floor. Indeed Riggins had been pondering his fate should that husky Teuton ever get the upper hand again; hence, when he found himself in a state of preparedness and was informed that he must stick by the wheel until relieved, the prospect did not awe him in the least. The present odds were counterbalanced by the strategic position held by the minority, and Riggins was content.
On his way back to his state-room, there to rest until the final call to arms, Michael J. Murphy concluded it would be well to search the quarters of the second mate and Herr von Staden for contraband of war. So he did, with the result that he unearthed in von Staden's room the rifle and revolver which belonged to the Narcissus, and under the second mate's pillow he found another automatic pistol. He confiscated all three weapons by right of discovery, and hid the rifle in the galley, the last place anybody would think of looking for it.
In the meantime Mr. Reardon proceeded further to strengthen his position by closing the port entrance to the engine room and shoring up the door with a stout scantling, cleated at top and bottom to hold it securely in place. Then he donned Mr. Schultz's heavy watchcoat, dragged round from the lee of the house the upholstered easy-chair Mrs. Reardon had insisted upon his taking to sea with him for use in his leisure moments, placed this chair on deck just outside the starboard entrance to the engine room, loaded his pipe, laid his trusty monkey wrench across his knee and gave himself up to the contemplation of this riot we call life. He resembled a cat watching beside a gopher hole. By half-past three o'clock he had finished figuring out approximately the amount of money Mrs. Reardon would have in the Hibernia Bank at the end of five years—figuring on a monthly saving of fifty dollars and interest compounded at the rate of four per cent. So, having satisfied himself that Johnny would yet be a lawyer and the girls learn to play the piano, Mr. Reardon heaved a sigh and reluctantly went to call Michael J. Murphy for the final accounting.
At ten minutes to four Mr. Uhl, the second assistant, a man of some thirty years and ordinarily possessed of a disposition as placid as that of a little Jersey heifer, ordered one of his firemen to go and call the watch to relieve them. Mr. Reardon, his monkey wrench firmly grasped in his right hand, knew that at exactly ten minutes to four Mr. Uhl would issue that order—so he was on the spot to receive the fireman as the latter came leisurely up the greasy steel stairway. As the fellow emerged on deck he paused to wipe his heated brow with a sweat rag and draw in a welcome breath of cool fresh air. He did not succeed in getting his lungs quite full, however, for Michael J. Murphy, lurking beside the door, thrust the barrel of his gun in the fireman's ribs, effectually curtailing the process of respiration practically at once. From the other side of the door the chief engineer stepped out and wagged his bludgeon under the fireman's nose.
"Ach!" Mr. Reardon coughed, and grimaced pleasantly. "Schmierkase und Sauerkraut, ye big shtiff! Vat wilse du haben, eh? Zwei bier? Damn the weather, as Misther Schultz would say."
He laid his finger on his lips, enjoining silence; then with the same finger he pointed sternly onward, and the fireman took the hint. In the clear space aft the house and next to the funnel Mr. Reardon bound and gagged him and laid him tenderly on his back to await developments.
"Now thin, Michael," he said to the skipper, "lave us go back an' see can we catch another. At four o'clock, whin this lad fails to return, Misther Uhl, the omadhaun, will sind up another man to see what the divil ails the firrst man."
And it was even so. This time it was the oiler.
At five minutes after four a coal passer came up the stairs, and he was swearing at the delay in being relieved. Something told Mr. Reardon this fellow would make trouble, so without warning he hit the coal passer a light rap "to take the conceit out av him." Two minutes later the coal passer had joined his fellows beside the funnel.
At a quarter after four Mr. Uhl scratched his head and said something very explosive in German. He started up the stairs, got halfway up—and came down. It had occurred to him very suddenly that three men had already gone up the stairs and had failed to return. He called a fireman and gave him some very explicit orders in German; whereupon the man disappeared in the shaft alley. Five minutes later he returned, pop-eyed with excitement and the bearer of a tale that caused Mr. Uhl to arch his blond eyebrows and murmur dazedly "So?"
Ten minutes passed. Mr. Reardon glanced interrogatively at Michael J. Murphy. "I think the divils are suspicious," he whispered. "We should have had another be now. Have a care now, Michael. Whin they come they come wit' a rush an'—"
A pistol shot echoed through the ship. It came up from forward. Three more followed in rapid succession—a scream—a shout!
"May the divil damn me!" Terence Reardon cried in a horrified voice. "I clane forgot the little companion hatch at the ind av the shaft alley. They've crawled down the shaft alley an' up on deck at the very sterrn av the ship!"
He dashed aft towards the spot where his prisoners were laid out close to the funnel. As he turned the corner of the house he observed that the electric lamp which he had so carefully screwed out of its socket had been screwed in again, and by its light Terence beheld no less a person than Mr. Uhl cutting the halyards that bound the oiler. The fireman had already been cut loose, but the potent effects of Terence Reardon's blow with the wrench still remained; though conscious, the man was unfit for combat. The coal passer, evidently the first man to be rescued by Mr. Uhl, was standing by.
"Gower that, ye divils!" Mr. Reardon shrieked, and charged, swinging his monkey wrench with all his horsepower. He missed his first stroke at Mr. Uhl, who very deftly stabbed him high up on the hip for his carelessness; then the chief swung again, and Mr. Uhl was out of the fight.
Not so the big coal passer, however. He planted in Terence Reardon's face as pretty a left and right—hay-makers both—as one could hope to see anywhere outside a prize-ring; whereupon the chief took the count with great abruptness. The fireman reached for the monkey wrench—and at that instant the weak, pale-faced skipper lurched around the corner of the house and his automatic commenced to bark.
It was not a time for sentiment. Michael J. Murphy glanced once at Terence Reardon's bloody, upturned face, and the glazed eyes thrilled him with horror. The chief engineer was dead! That meant that Michael J. Murphy would soon be dead, too. Well, they had fought a good fight and lost, so nothing now remained for him to do save slaughter as many of the enemy as possible and go to his accounting like a gentleman.
He turned his back on the heap of bloody, prostrate men, stepped over a little rivulet of gore that ran rapidly toward the scupper as the ship heeled to port, then hesitated and started back as she heeled to starboard. He was vaguely conscious that Mr. Uhl had shut down his engines before coming on deck and that in consequence the ship had lost headway and was beginning to wallow. In his weak state her plunging caused him to stagger like a drunken man. As he crossed to the port side of the ship and gazed down the deck he noticed that the incandescent lamps had all been screwed back in their sockets, and by their brilliant light he beheld one of the firemen in the act of removing the scantling from before the first assistant's door. Just as the door swung open the captain fired, but evidently missed, for the man sprang nimbly into the state-room for safety.
If the great European War has proved nothing else to date, it has demonstrated one comforting thing about the German people: one does not grow impatient waiting for them to carry the fight to him. The fireman had no sooner entered the first assistant's state-room than the first assistant came out. He was wearing his pajamas and a piece of young artillery, and without the slightest embarrassment he commenced shooting at Michael J. Murphy, who, not to be outdone in politeness while he could stand and see, promptly returned the compliment.
The first assistant's first shot nipped a neat little crescent out of Mike Murphy's large red right ear; his second ripped clean through the inside of the skipper's left leg.
"High and then low," was the thought that capered through Mike Murphy's brain. "God grant he don't get me through the middle! That's what comes of fast shooting—so I guess I'll go slow."
The electric lamp over his head was shattered and the fragments scattered round him as he leaned against the corner of the house and took careful aim at the first assistant, who missed his next shot by a whisker and died in his tracks with two cartridges still in his gun.
Dazedly Michael J. Murphy advanced along the deck, stepped over the body and entered the state-room. In the corner the fireman crouched, hands uplifted in token of surrender, so the skipper closed the door and shored it up again with the scantling. Mechanically he picked up the first assistant's huge revolver, broke it, removed the cartridges and threw them overboard. Then he slipped a clip of seven cartridges into his automatic and staggered round to Mr. Henckel's state room.
The door was open. The bird had flown.
Michael J. Murphy went in and sat down on Mr. Henckel's settee, for he was very weak and dizzy; and at least nobody could shoot at him in there. "Come, come, Michael," he croaked, "no going out this voyage. You have work ahead of you. Pull yourself together and let us count noses. Now then, there were two firemen, two coal passers, one oiler and Mr. Uhl on watch. Terence killed Mr. Uhl with the monkey wrench, I killed the big coal passer, I think I killed the oiler, and one fireman was out of the scrap from the beginning. Then I killed the first assistant and locked the other fireman in his room. That leaves Mr. Henckel and a coal passer to be reckoned with. Now there was some shooting up forward and somebody was hit. That means Riggins shot somebody or somebody shot Riggins. The second mate probably went forward to let the men out of the forecastle, while the fireman went aft to let the engine-room gang out of the sterncastle. They haven't had time to do it yet; they'll have to pry those rings out of the door with a crowbar. I'll go aft and drive the fireman forward; when I have them bunched I'll argue with them."
He arrived at the break of the house and looked down on the deck aft. The lights had been turned on and a man was just raising a short crowbar to attack the door, from behind which came shouts and cries of anger and consternation.
Mike Murphy rested his automatic on the deck rail and fired twice at the man in front of the sterncastle door. The fellow fled at once dashing along the deck, zigzag fashion, to distract the skipper's aim, and disappeared in the dark entrance to the starboard alleyway. So Michael J. Murphy slid down the companion and followed into the alleyway, firing two shots for luck as he came.
Scarcely had he disappeared into the murk amidships when Terence Reardon rolled groggily down the companion after him. Terence had no means of ascertaining which alleyway the skipper had charged into—and he did not care. Blind with fury he lurched into the port alleyway; in consequence of which the fugitive, fleeing ahead of the captain down the starboard alleyway and thinking to turn down the port alleyway and double back to complete his labors at the sterncastle door, bumped squarely into the chief engineer.
Mr. Reardon said no word, but wrapped his arms round the man and held the latter close to his breast.
Thus for a moment they stood, gripping each other, each wondering whether the other was friend or foe.
Then Mr. Reardon decided that even if his nose was bloody he could not possibly be mistaken in the odor of a fireman just come off watch. He had lost his monkey wrench in the melee on the upper deck—the defunct Mr. Uhl having fallen upon it, thereby obscuring it from Mr. Reardon's very much befogged vision, but his soul was still undaunted, for Mr. Reardon, in common with most chief engineers still in their prime, firmly believed that he could trounce any fireman he saw fit to employ. He bit suddenly into the fireman's cheek just where the flesh droops in a fold over the lower jaw, and was fortunate enough to secure a grip that bade fair to hold; then he crooked his leg at the back of his opponent's and slowly shoved the fellow's head backward. They came down together, Mr. Reardon on top, content for once to hold his man helpless—and rest—while his enemy's shrieks of pain and rage resounded through the ink-black alleyway.
Michael J. Murphy heard that uproar and halted. After listening a few seconds he came to the conclusion that a German was in deep distress, and that hence it was no part of his business to interfere. Besides, he had business of his own to attend to. He could hear a chain rattling up forward, and while it was too dark to see who or what was doing the rattling, he found Mr. Henckel guilty on mere suspicion, and fired at the sound; whereupon somebody said "Ach, Gott!" in tones of deep disgust, two little flashes of fire cut the dark, and two bullets whispered of death as they flew harmlessly down the alleyway.
Instantly Mike Murphy returned the salute, firing at the other's flashes; then he fell to the deck and rolled over into the scupper to escape the return fire, which was not slow in coming.
"I wonder where the devil he got that gun," was Murphy's comment. "Mr. Uhl must have had it in his pocket and lent it to him."
There was profound silence within the forecastle, and pending the destruction of his attacker Mr. Henckel judged it imprudent to make any further attempts at a delivery. He required time to formulate a plan of attack, and in the interim he desired shelter. Mike Murphy heard the patter of feet, the patter ceasing almost as soon as it commenced—and he smiled grimly.
"He's hiding," the captain soliloquized. "Now, where would I take shelter if I were in his fix? Why, back of the hatch-coaming, of course—or the winch." He had a sudden inspiration and called aloud:
"Riggins! Riggins! Answer me, Riggins. This is Captain Murphy calling you."
"'Ere, sir," came the voice of Riggins from the pilot-house above. The voice was very weak.
"Climb out of the pilot-house, Riggins, to the bridge, turn on the searchlight and bend it down here on the deck till I get a shot at this scoundrel. Don't be afraid of him, Riggins. It's Henckel and he can't shoot for beans. Get the light fair on him and keep it on him; it'll blind him and he won't be able to shoot you."
"The dirty dawg!" snarled Riggins wearily. "'E come up on the bridge a while—ago—an' I drove 'im off—but 'e plugged me, sir—through the guts, sir—an' me a married man! Wot in 'ell'll my ol' woman—say—"
And that was the last word Riggins ever spoke. True, he managed to crawl out of the pilot-house and up the short companion to the bridge; he reached the searchlight, and while Mr. Henckel and Mike Murphy swapped shots below him he turned on the switch.
"Bend it on the deck, Riggins. On the deck, my bully, on the deck," Mike Murphy pleaded as the great beam of white light shot skyward and remained there; nor could all of Murphy's pleading induce Riggins to bend it on the deck, for Riggins was lying dead beside the searchlight, while ten miles away an officer on the flying bridge of H.M.S. Panther watched that finger of light pointing and beckoning with each roll of the ship.
"Something awf'lly queer, what?" he commented when reporting it to his superior.
"Rather," the superior replied laconically. "It can't be the Dresden and neither is it one of ours. We'll skip over and have a look at her, Reggie, my son."
Michael J. Murphy had two shots left in his automatic, and he was saving those for daylight and Mr. Henckel's rush, when a searchlight came nickering and feeling its way across the dark waters. Slowly, slowly it lifted and rested on the big blunt bows of the Narcissus, hovered there a few seconds and came slowly aft, and as it lighted up the main deck Mr. Henckel rose from behind the hatch-coaming.
"_Deutschland uber Alles!" he yelled joyously—and rushed.
Terence Reardon, having pounded his firemen into insensibility, had crept down the port alleyway, and, unknown to Captain Murphy and Mr. Henckel, he had, from the opposite side of the deck, watched the flashes of their pistols as they fired at each other.
"I'll have to flank that fella an' put a shtop to this nonsense," Mr. Reardon decided presently, and forthwith crept across the deck on his hands and knees until he reached the hatch-coaming. Mr. Henckel lurked just round the other corner of the coaming, so close Mr. Reardon could hear him breathing. And there the crafty chief had waited until Mr. Henckel rose for his charge—whereupon Mr. Reardon rose also.
"Ireland upper always, ye vagabone!" he yelled, and launched himself at Mr. Henckel's knees. It was a perfect tackle and the second mate went down heavily.
In an emergency such as the present all Terence Reardon asked was good fighting light. Fighting in the dark distressed him, he discovered, for while polishing off the fireman in the black alleyway he had missed one punch at the fellow's head, and had been reminded to his sorrow and the ruin of his knuckles, that the deck of the Narcissus was of good Norway pine. However, H.M.S. Panther was scarcely three cable lengths distant now, and the officer on her flying bridge could see that some sort of a jolly row was in progress on the deck of the Narcissus; so he kept the searchlight on the combatants while Mr. Reardon bent Mr. Henckel's back over the hatch-coaming, took his automatic away from him, and proceeded to take a cast of the mate's features in the vulcanite butt of the weapon. And vulcanite is far from soft!
When Terence Reardon had completed his self-appointed task he stood up, hitched his dungarees, spat blood on the deck, and stood waving from side to side like a dancing bear. His face was unrecognizable; his dungarees, so neat and clean when he donned them the night before, were now one vast smear of red, and he grinned horribly, for he was war mad!
"Next!" he croaked, and turned to the master for orders.
But Michael Joseph Murphy was out of the fight. He lay prone on the deck, conscious but helpless, and because his broken rib was tickling his lung the froth on his lips bore a little tinge of pink. Only his eyes moved—and they smiled at Terence Reardon as the triumphant exiles of Erin faced each other.
Terence Reardon turned and shook his battered fists full into the rays of the searchlight. He was magnificent for one brief instant; then the war-madness left him, and again he was plain, faithful, whimsical, capable, honest Terence P. Reardon, chief engineer of the S.S. Narcissus, who considered it a pleasure to discourse on the fairies when he had nothing more important to do. Now that the fight was over and the German fleet had overhauled them at last, he had time to think of Mrs. Reardon and the children and his best job gone for ever—tossed into the discard with his honor as a faithful servant.
He sat down very suddenly on the hatch-coaming and covered his terrible face with his terrible hands.
"Ah, Norah! Norah!" he cried—and sobbed as if his heart must break.
When Captain the Hon. Desmond O'Hara, of H.M.S. Panther, boarded the steamer Narcissus via the Jacob's ladder Mr. Reardon hove overside at his command, he paused a moment, balanced on the ship's rail, and stared.
"My word!" he said, and leaped to the deck, to make room for a pink-and-white middy. The pink-and-white one stared and said "My aunt!" Then he, too, leaped to the deck, and a stocky cockney blue-jacket poked his nose over the rail.
"Damn my eyes!" said this individual. "'Ere's a bloomin' mess!"
"Who is that person?" Captain Desmond O'Hara demanded, pointing to the semiconscious Mr. Henckel, who was moaning and saying things in his mother tongue.
"That," said Mr. Reardon with a familiar wink, "was a fine, decent German until I operated on him!"
"So I observed. And who might you be?"
"Me name is Terence P. Reardon, an' I'm the chief engineer av the United Shtates steamer Narcissus, av San Francisco."
"Ah! An Irish-American, eh?"
Mr. Reardon looked down at the deck, smiled a cunning little smile and looked up at Captain O'Hara. "Well, sor," he declared, "I had me hyphen wit' me whin I shipped; as late as yestherd'y afthernoon 'twas in good worrkin' ordher; but what wit' the exertion av chasin' our Gerrman crew round the decks, faith I've lost me hyphen, an' I'm thinkin' the skipper's lost his too. That's him forninst ye. For the prisent he's in dhrydock awaitin' repairs, which leaves me in command av the ship. And since he's in no condition to go to his shtate-room an' unlock the ship's safe, an' sorra wan av me knows the combination, the divil a look will ye have at our papers. I'll save time an' throuble for us all be tellin' ye now that we've ten t'ousand tons av soft coal undher deck, that we cleared from Norfolk, Virginia, for Manila or Batavia, Pernambuco for ordhers, an' that we're a couple av t'ousand miles off our course. So confiscate the ship an' be damned to ye! Only I'm hopin' ye'll not be above takin' a bit av advice from wan who knows. There's a Gerrman fleet not far off, an' if ye shtop to monkey wit' us, faith ye may live to regret it—an' ye may not."
Captain the Hon. Desmond O'Hara smiled sweetly. "Divil a fear," he said, in no way cast down. "We met the beggars off the Falklands yesterday and sunk them all but the Dresden. She slipped away from us in the dark, making for the mainland, and we were looking for her when we saw your searchlight cutting up such queer didos, so the Panther dropped behind to investigate. Had it not been for your searchlight we would have missed you."
"An' be the same token a little dead Englishman signalled ye." Mr. Reardon gave another hitch to his dungarees. "Sor," he said doggedly, "I never t'ought I'd live to see the day I'd want to cheer a British victh'ry—but I do." He glanced down at his right hand and shook his head. "Englishmen that ye are," he continued, "I'll not offer ye a hand like that—much as I want to shake hands wit' ye."
"Faith, don't let that worry you, Mr. Reardon. I'm not an Englishman."
"In the divil's name, you're not an—an—"
"I'm an Irishman! My name is Desmond O'Hara."
Mr. Reardon was fully aware that here was a grand specimen of the kind of Irish he had been taught to despise—the Irish that take the king's shilling, the gentlemen Irish that lead the king's cockneys into battle. And yet, strange to say, no thought of that entered his head now. He stepped up to Captain O'Hara, looked round cautiously as if expecting to be overheard, winked knowingly and whispered, as he jerked a significant thumb toward the unhappy Mr. Henckel: "Sure 'tis the likes av us that can take the measure av the likes av thim."
"It is," replied Captain O'Hara, and reached for Terry Reardon's awful hand. "It is!"
Together they lifted Michael J. Murphy into a boson's chair, the jackies unslung a cargo derrick, Mr. Reardon went to the winch, and the skipper was hoisted overside into the Panther's boat and taken aboard the warship for medical attention. Just before Mr. Reardon hoisted him he drew the chief's ear down to his lips.
"About von Staden," he whispered. "I thought I wanted to see him hung. Legally he's a pirate; but, Terence, he was raised wrong; you know, Terence—Deutschland ueber Alles. These Dutch devils thought it was all right to steal our ship—national necessity, you know. Let von Staden out of the mate's store-room and tell him the English have us—that his fleet is gone. Then turn your back on him, Terence."
Mr. Reardon followed orders. "Captain Murphy ordhered me to let ye out," he explained to the supercargo, "an' towld me to turrn me back on ye."
"Please thank him for me," von Staden replied gently. "I scarcely expected such kindness at his hands. You may turn your back now, Mr. Reardon."
So Mr. Reardon turned his back, and, despite the rush of the British jackies to stop him, Herr August Carl von Staden reached the rail. "Deutschland ueber Alles!" he shouted defiantly—and jumped. He did not come up.
Captain the Hon. Desmond O'Hara removed his cap. "They die so infernally well," he said presently, "one hates to fight them—individually. Yesterday the Nuernberg fell to us. We outranged her, and when she was out of action and sinking, with her men swimming and drowning all round her, the Panther was stripped of life preservers in two minutes. Some of my lads went overboard to help the Boche."
Mr. Reardon remembered he had wrapped waste round the head of his monkey wrench and curtailed his indicated horse-power when tapping individuals; yet, when he fought them in bulk, with what savage joy had he struck down Mr. Uhl, a poor, inoffensive devil and the victim of a false ideal of national honor! Mr. Reardon was quite sure he despised Englishmen; yet the tears came to his eyes when the jackies carried poor little Riggins away from the searchlight, and he prayed for eternal rest for the soul of his late assistants, for he had learned in a night, as he fought with tooth and fist and monkey wrench, what those who fight with tongue and typewriter will never learn—that racial and religious animosities are just a pitiful human bugaboo—in bulk. Only that valiant minority that sheds its blood for the heartless majority can ever know this great truth—and the pity of it—that warriors never hate each other.
They are too generous for that.
Capt. Matt Peasley, with his heart in his throat, called up the British consul at San Francisco. Cappy Ricks, looking very pale and unhappy, sagged in his chair, while Mr. Skinner stood by, gnawing his nails and looking as if he would relish being kicked from one end of California Street to the other.
"Hullo!" Matt Peasley began. Cappy Ricks shuddered and closed his eyes. "Is this the British consul's office?... This is Captain Peasley, of the Blue Star Navigation Company... Yes... About our steamer Narcissus... You say the consul is on his way down to our office... Thank you... Goodbye."
Cappy Ricks sighed like an old air-compressor. "I hope I live till he gets here," he declared feebly. "Deliberate race, the British. No pep. Never get anywhere in a hurry."
As if to give the lie to Cappy's criticisms, the British consul was admitted at that moment.
"Gentlemen," he announced as the heart-broken trio gathered round him, "I have some very grave news for you." His voice was vaguely reminiscent of that of the foreman in a quarry who calls upon a lady to inform her that her husband has just been caught in a premature blast and that the boys will be up with the pieces directly. "Your steamer Narcissus, loaded with ten thousand tons of coal, has been captured a hundred miles north-east of the Falkland Islands by His Majesty's cruiser Panther. In view of your vessel's clearance—"
A low moan broke from Cappy Ricks.
"Tightwad!" he reviled. "Old Alden P. Tightwad, the prince of misers! He thought he'd add a couple of ten-dollar bills to his roll, so he encouraged his skipper to hire a lot of interned Germans to work his ships in neutral trade! He was penny-wise and pound-foolish, so he cut out the wireless to save a miserable hundred and forty dollars a month. Bids are invited for the privilege of killing the damned old fool—Skinner! What are you looking at?"
"N-n-nothing!" stammered Mr. Skinner.
"I won't be looked at that way, Skinner. I have my faults, I know—"
"Ssshh!" Matt Peasley interrupted.
"And I won't be 'sshh-ed' at either. I lost the ship. I admit it. I O.K.'d the charter, and Murphy did his best to save her for us and couldn't. I'm the goat, but if it busts me I'll reimburse you two boys for every cent you have lost through my carelessness—"
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Ricks," the consul interrupted. "Pray permit me to proceed. The circumstances attending this case are so very unusual—"
"My dear Mister British Consul, I shall not argue the matter with you. You're too bally deliberate, and, besides, what's the use? The ship is gone. Let her go. We'll build another twice as big. Of course I could give you an excuse, but if I did you'd think I was old Nick Carter come to life. We'll just have to take it up through our State Department, present our alibi, and try to win her back in the prize court."
"She will never be sent to a prize court, Mr. Ricks. It doesn't require a prize court to decide the case of the steamer Narcissus. The evidence is too overwhelming. There could not possibly be a reversal of the decision of our admiral."
Mr. Skinner sat down suddenly to keep from falling down. The consul continued: "The commander of the Panther, Captain Desmond O'Hara—by the way, an old schoolmate of mine—has sent me a long private report on the affair; by wireless, of course, and in code. It appears that in Pernambuco harbor your German crew overpowered the captain—"
"What?" cried Cappy, Matt and Skinner in chorus. "You admit that?"
"We do, Mr. Ricks. And last night your chief engineer, Mr. Terence Reardon, with the aid of the steward, one Riggins—a British subject and unfortunately killed in the affray—and Captain Murphy overpowered the German crew—"
"Oh, Mr. Ricks!" gasped Skinner.
"Oh, Matt!" shrilled Cappy Ricks.
"Oh, Cappy!" yelled Matt Peasley.
"Oh, nonsense," laughed the British consul. "They stole her back, gentlemen, and when Captain O'Hara found her rolling helplessly and boarded her, she was a shambles. Dead men tell no tales, Mr. Ricks—yet it was impossible for any fair-minded man to doubt the testimony of the dead men aboard your Narcissus! Her killed, wounded and prisoners formed a perfect alibi. In the meantime, Mr. Reardon and Captain Murphy are aboard the Panther, receiving medical attention, and will be returned to duty in a few weeks; the Narcissus is proceeding to meet the other ships of our fleet. She will coal them at sea."
"Then you've confiscated her cargo?" Matt Peasley demanded.
"We should worry about the cargo if they give us back our vessel," Cappy Ricks declared happily. "We haven't received our freight money, of course, but by the time I get through with the charterers they'll pay the freight and ask no questions about the coal."
"We confiscated it, Mr. Ricks," the British consul continued, "for the reason that it was German coal. The supercargo who boarded the vessel at Pernambuco told your captain his people had paid cash for it to the charterers. But we're going to give you back your vessel because we haven't any moral right to keep her, since her owners have committed no breach of international law. The supercargo left fifteen thousand dollars behind him when he jumped overboard, but Captain O'Hara declined to confiscate that. At Captain Murphy's suggestion it will be forwarded to the widow of the man Riggins. Captain O'Hara especially requested that I call upon you and inform you that you have two of the finest Irishmen in the world to thank for your ship."
"Thank you, Mister Consul. By the way, can you reach Captain O'Hara by wireless? If you can, I should be glad to pay for a message if you will send it."
"I shall be delighted indeed."
"Then tell him the Blue Star Navigation Company thanks him for the courtesy of his message, but that it does not agree with his statement that we have two Irishmen to thank for our ship. We think we have three! I know the Irish. The scoundrels never go back on each other in a fight."
The consul laughed.
"By the way," he said, as he took up his hat preparatory to leaving, "your ship is now equipped with wireless—a fine, powerful plant such as they use in the German Navy. The supercargo brought it aboard at Pernambuco."
Matt Peasley, the Yankee, came to life at that. "Has that been confiscated, too?" he queried.
"No, captain. However, we have confiscated that German crew of yours—"
"Hallelujah!" yelled Cappy Ricks.
"—and loaned you a crew of British seamen from the tramp Surrey Maid. The Scharnhorst torpedoed her off the coast of Chile, and we found her crew on board one of the German transports when we captured them after the fleet was destroyed. You're all fixed up, from skipper to cabin boy—"
"Wireless operator, too?" Matt Peasley cried.
The consul nodded. "He's got a steady job," the youthful president declared, and turned to Cappy Ricks for confirmation of this edict. But Cappy, the pious old codger, had bowed his head on his breast and they heard him mutter:
"O Lord, I thank Thee! All unworthy as I am, Lord, thou loadest me with favors—including a wireless plant, free gratis!"
Long after the British consul had departed Cappy Ricks sat alone in his office, dozing. Presently he roused and rang for Mr. Skinner.
"Skinner," he said, "Matt reports that the late Riggins made an allotment of his wages to his wife when he shipped aboard the Narcissus?"
"Riggins's wages hereafter shall constitute a charge against the Narcissus while Mrs. Riggins lives and while the Blue Star Navigation Company can afford to give up seventy dollars every month. Attend to it, Skinner. Another thing, Skinner."
"We ought to do something for Murphy and Reardon. Now then, Skinner, you've never had a chance to be a sport heretofore, but you're a stockholder in the Blue Star Navigation Company now, and as such I feel that I should not use my position, as owner of a controlling interest in the stock of the company, to give away the property of the company in an arbitrary fashion. So I'm going to leave it up to you, Skinner, to suggest what we shall do for them. I believe you will agree with me that we should do something very handsome by those two boys."
"Quite so, sir, quite so. Well, to start off with, Mr. Ricks, I think we ought to pay their hospital bills, if any. Then I think we ought to give each of them a handsome gold watch, suitably engraved and with a small blue star—sapphires, you know—set in the front of the case."
"You feel that would about fill the bill, eh, Skinner?"
"Well, next Christmas I think we ought to give them each a month's salary."
"Hum! You do?"
"Yes, sir. I think that would be a very delicate thing to do."
Cappy sighed. Poor Skinner! Victim of the saving habit! Decent devil—didn't mean to be small, but just couldn't help it. A bush-leaguer—Skinner. Never meant for big company—
"In addition—" Skinner began.
"Yes, Skinner, my boy. Go on, go on, old horse. Now then, in addition—"
"It seems like the wildest extravagance, Mr. Ricks, but those men have fought for their ship and I—remember, Mr. Ricks, this is only a suggestion—I think it would be a very—er—tactful thing to do to—er—"
"It'll choke him before he gets it out," Cappy soliloquized. Aloud he said: "Go on, Skinner, my dear boy. Don't be afraid."
"At a time like this, when freights are so good and vessel property pays so well, it seems to me—that is, if you and Matt have no objection—that we ought to give Mike and Terence a—er—a little piece of the Narcissus—the ship—er—they love—say—er—a—ten-thousand-dollar interest—each—"
"God bless you, Skinner! You came through at last, didn't you? The president emeritus agrees with you, Skinner, and it is so ordered.
"Now skip along and wireless the glad news to Mike and Terence. Tell them when they have the coal out to proceed to Rio and load manganese ore."
In due course Captain Michael J. Murphy and Mr. Terence Reardon came off the dry dock, the sole visible evidence of that unrecorded second naval engagement off the Falkland Islands being a slight list to starboard on the part of the Reardon nose, and a notch in Murphy's right ear. Mr. Skinner had had a local jeweler prepare the presentation watches against the day of the home-coming of the warriors of the Blue Star, and on a Saturday night Cappy gave a banquet to Mike and Terence, and every employee of the Ricks' interests who could possibly attend, was present to do the doughty pair honor and cheer when the awards for valor were duly made by Cappy and congratulatory speeches made by Mr. Skinner and Matt Peasley. It was such a gala occasion that Cappy drank three cocktails, battened down by a glass or two of champagne, and as a result was ill for two days thereafter. When he recovered, he announced sadly and solemnly that he was about to retire—forever; that nothing of a business nature should ever be permitted to drag him back into the harness again. Then he bade all of his employees a touching farewell, packed his golf clubs, and disappeared in the general direction of Southern California. He was away so long that eventually even the skeptical Mr. Skinner commenced to wonder if, perchance, the age of miracles had not yet passed and Cappy had really retired.
Alas! On the morning of December 24th, Cappy suddenly appeared at the office, his kindly old countenance aglow like a sunrise on the Alps. Immediately he cited Mr. Skinner to appear with the payrolls of all of the Ricks enterprises and show what cause, if any, existed, why there should not be a general whooping up of salaries to the deserving all along the line. The Ricks Lumber & Logging Company had already declared a Christmas dividend; the accounts of every ship in the Blue Star fleet had been made up to date and a special Christmas dividend declared, and, in accordance with ancient custom, Cappy had appeared to devote one day in the year to actual labor. Christmas dividend checks and checks covering Christmas presents to his employees were always signed by him; it was his way of letting the recipients know that, although retired, he still kept a wary eye on his affairs.
He had writer's cramp by the time he finished, but while the spending frenzy was on him he would take no rest; so he seized a pencil and, while Mr. Skinner called off the names of the deserving and the length of time each had spent in the Ricks service, Cappy scrawled a five, a ten or a twenty beside each name. Thus, in time, they came to the first name on the Blue Star pay roll.
"Matthew Peasley, president; salary, ten thousand dollars a year; length of service, four months," Mr. Skinner intoned. "How about a raise for Captain Matt?"
Cappy laid down his pencil and looked at Skinner over the rims of his spectacles.
"Skinner," he said gravely, "you're only drawing twelve thousand a year, and you've been with me twenty-five years! And here I'm giving this boy Matt ten thousand a year and he's been on the pay roll only four months. Why, it isn't fair!"
"Remember, he was three years in the Blue Star ships that—"
"Can't consider that at all when raising salaries. The salaries of ship's officers are fixed and immutable anyhow, and when considering raises for my employees. I can take into consideration only the length of time they've been directly under my eye. Cut Matt's salary to five thousand a year and let him grow up with the business. His dividends from his Ricks L. & L. and Blue Star stock will keep him going, and he hasn't any household bills to keep up. He and Florry live with me, and I'm the goat."
"I fear Matt will not take kindly to that program, Mr. Ricks— particularly at this time, when every ship in the offshore fleet is paying for herself every voyage."
"Why?" Cappy demanded.
"Well," Mr. Skinner replied hesitatingly, "perhaps I have no business to tell you this, because the knowledge came to me quite by accident; but the fact of the matter is, Matt is going to build himself an auxiliary schooner—"
"Good news!" Cappy piped. "That's the ticket for soup! An auxiliary schooner with semi-Diesel engines, four masts and about a million- foot lumber capacity would be a mighty good investment right now. Every yard in the country that builds steel vessels is filled up with orders, but our coast shipyards can turn out wooden vessels in a hurry; and, with auxiliary power, they'll pay five hundred per cent on their cost before this flurry in shipping, due to the war, is over. I don't care, Skinner—provided he builds a ship that's big enough to go foreign—"
"But this isn't that kind," Mr. Skinner interrupted.
"No other kind will do, Skinner."
"This is to be a schooner yacht—"
"A what!" Cappy shrilled.
"A yacht—eighty-five feet over all—"
"Eighty-five grandmothers! Why, what the devil does that boy want of a yacht? How much money does he intend to put into her?"
"I do not know, Mr. Ricks; but we can be reasonably certain of one thing; Matt Peasley will not build a cheap boat. She'll have a lot of gewgaws and gadgets, teak rail, mahogany joiner-work—at the very least, she'll cost him thirty thousand dollars."
"Skinner," Cappy declared solemnly, "he might as well put the money in a sack, go down to Clay Street Wharf and throw the money overboard! The other night I saw a couple of soldiers having a pleasant time in a shooting gallery, but what the president of the Blue Star Navigation Company wants with a thirty-thousand-dollar yacht beats my time. Why, he has more than thirty good vessels to play with all week, and yet he wants a yacht for Sunday! Skinner, my dear boy, that is wild, wanton extravagance."
"Well, I dare say Matt thinks he can afford the extravagance."
"Skinner, no man can afford it. Extravagance may reach a point where it becomes sinful. And I say it's a crime to put thirty thousand dollars into a yacht when the same thirty thousand, invested in a good vessel, will yield such tremendous returns. Skinner, my boy, how did you find out about this yacht nonsense?"
"I was looking through Matt's desk for a letter I had given him to read, and I ran across the plans. Thinking they were Blue Star plans, I looked them over; there was a letter from the naval architect attached—"
Cappy threw down his pencil.
"By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet," he cried in deep disgust, "I thought I was going to have a Merry Christmas—and now it's spoiled! Good Lord, Skinner! To think of a man throwing away thirty thousand dollars, not to mention the upkeep and interest after he's thrown it away—"
"You've just this very day thrown away about thirty thousand dollars you didn't have to," Mr. Skinner reminded him.
"I do have to. I've got to keep all my boys happy and satisfied and up on their toes, or what the devil would happen to us? They're my partners when all is said and done, and how am I going to face my Maker if I don't give my partners a square deal? There's a vast difference between justice and extravagance. Skinner, you don't suppose Matt's like every other shellback of a skipper? Why, he's only twenty-five years old; and if he's got the blue-water fever again, after a year ashore, there'll be no standing him at thirty."
"Well, he's got it, sir," Mr. Skinner opined firmly. "Did you ever see an old sailing skipper that didn't get it? You remember Burns, who had the Sweet Alferetta? His father died and left him a million dollars, and five years later he came sneaking in here one day, told you he was tired clipping coupons and that if you wanted to save his life you'd give him back the Sweet Alferetta and a hundred dollars a month to skipper her! He sold his interest to his successor for two thousand dollars when he fell into the fortune—and five years later he bought it back for three thousand, just so he could have a job again."
"Yes," Cappy admitted; "they all get the blue-water fever—after they've left blue water. I never knew a sailor yet who wouldn't tell you sailoring was a dog's life; but I never knew one who quit and quite recovered from the hankering to go back. I think you're right, Skinner. This yacht is just a symptom of Matt's disease. He realizes his business interests tie him to the beach; but if he has a sailing yacht that he can fuss round with on week-ends in the bay, and once in a while make a little cruise to Puget Sound or the Gulf of Lower California, he figures he'll manage to survive."
Mr. Skinner nodded.
"Speaking of yachts," Cappy continued, "the case of old Cap'n Cliff Ashley suggests a cure for this boy Matt. Cap'n Cliff was a Gloucester fisherman, with the smartest little schooner that ever came home from the Grand Banks with halibut up to her hatches. He couldn't read or write and he'd never learned navigation; but he'd been born with the instincts of a homing pigeon, and somehow whenever he pointed his schooner toward Gloucester he managed to arrive on schedule; and any time he got a good fair breeze from the west, like as not he'd run over to England and sell his catch there.
"Like most of his breed, Cap'n Cliff had to have a fast boat; he had to keep her as immaculate as a yacht in order to be happy, and he was never so happy as when he'd meet a squadron of the New York Yacht Club out on a cruise and sail circles round the flagship with his little old knockabout fish schooner. On such occasions old Cap'n Cliff would break out a long red burgee with M.O.B.Y.C. in white letters on it. On one of his trips to England he hooked up with a big schooner wearing the ensign of the Royal Yacht Club and dassed 'em to race with him.
"Well, sir, it happened that the late King Edward was aboard his yacht that day, and you know what a sport he was in his palmy days. Cap'n Cliff cracked on everything he had in the way of plain sail and, after holding the King even for a couple of hours, he put his packet under gaff topsails and fisherman's staysail and broke out the balloon jib, bade Edward good-bye in the International Code—and flew! About six hours after Cap'n Cliff came to anchor, the King loafed up in his yacht, dropped anchor, cleared away his launch, and came over to visit Cap'n Cliff and shake hands with him.
"'My dear sir,' says Edward, pointing aloft to the red burgee with M.O.B.Y.C. on it, 'pray to what yacht club do you belong?'
"'My own bloomin' yacht club, your majesty,' says Cap'n Cliff; and if he hadn't been a Yankee fisherman the King would have knighted him on the spot!
"And that remark, Skinner, my dear boy, clears the atmosphere in the case of our own dear Matthew. He shall have his own blooming yacht club, only his yacht shall carry cargo and pay her way."
"I mean I'm going to send him to sea for one voyage, once a year, which will break up that blue-water fever and save Matt thirty thousand dollars as an initial investment, and about ten thousand a year upkeep and interest. All that boy needs to cure him, Skinner, is the old Retriever, totally surrounded by horizon and smelling of a combination of tarred rope, turpentine, wet canvas, fresh paint, green lumber and the stink of the bilge water. Lordy me, Skinner, it puts them to sleep and they wake up feeling perfectly bully! Where's the Retriever now, Skinner, and who is in charge of her destinies?"
"She's due on Puget Sound from the West Coast. Captain Lib Curtis has her."
"Good news! Well, now, Skinner, you listen to me: The minute he reports his arrival you wire Lib to put the old harridan on dry dock and slick her up until she looks like four aces and a king, with everybody in the game standing pat. Can't have any whiskers on her bottom when Matt takes her out, Skinner, because if the boy's to enjoy himself she's got to be able to show a clean pair of heels. Then write Lib to wire his resignation and give any old reason for it. Have him resign just before the vessel is loaded and ready for sea, and tell him to insist on being relieved immediately. Of course, Skinner, Matt will get busy right away, looking for the right skipper to relieve Captain Curtis—and about that time the president emeritus will shove in his oar and ball things up. Every doggoned skipper Matt recommends for the job is going to have his application vetoed by Alden P. Ricks, and—er—ahem! Harumph-h-h!"
"Yes, Mr. Ricks."
"And you stick by me, Skinner. Follow all my leads and don't trump any of my aces; and just about the time Matt begins to get good and mad at my doggoned interference—you know, Skinner, my boy, I'm only a figurehead—you cut in and say: 'Well, for heaven's sake! You two still squabbling over a skipper for the Retriever? Matt, why don't you save the demurrage and take her out yourself—eh?'" And Cappy winked knowingly and prodded his general manager in the ribs.
"I guess that plan's kind of poor—eh, Skinner? I guess it won't work—eh? Particularly when I come right back and say: 'Well, he might as well, for all the use he is round this office. Here I go to work and appoint him president of the Blue Star and he won't stay in the office and'tend to the president's business. Yes, sir! Leaves all that to you and me, Skinner, while he degrades himself doing the work of a port captain.'"
"All of which is quite true, Mr. Ricks," Mr. Skinner affirmed. "He will not stay in the office—and he's getting worse. Two-thirds of his time is spent round the docks."
"Well, two-thirds of his time in 1915 will not be spent round the docks, Skinner. Play that bet to win! We're going to have a busy old year in the shipping game in 1915, and a busier one in 1916 if that war in Europe isn't over by then. A voyage in the Retriever will fix the boy up, Skinner, and he'll stick round the office and put over some real business. Yachts! Hah! What does a business man want of a yacht?"
"You overlooked one very important detail, Mr. Ricks," Skinner ventured.
"I overlook nothing, Skinner—nothing. His wife shall accompany him on the voyage. I shall implant the idea in her head, beginning this very night as soon as I get home. I'll just tell her she isn't and never will be a true sailor's true love until she takes a voyage with her husband. Romantic girl, Florry! She'll about eat that suggestion, feathers and all, Skinner. She'll do the real work for us. Always remember, my boy, that an ounce of promotion is worth enough perspiration to float the Narcissus."
"But what shall we do for a port captain?"
"I've ordered Mike Murphy—via Matt, of course—to take a vacation under full salary and recover from the wounds he received walloping that German crew on the Narcissus. About the time Matt leaves in the Retriever, Mike will be ready to go to work again or commit murder if we don't give it to him; so we'll slip him a temporary appointment as port captain. I'm going to make it permanent some day, anyhow. I suppose you've noticed that Mike Murphy has a crush on your stenographer; and I don't see how he's going to put anything over if he never gets a chance to see the girl!"
"I really hadn't noticed it, Mr. Ricks."
"If it was a ten-cent piece you'd notice it," Cappy retorted. "And now that matter is settled, how about this port steward? Is he a grafter? If not, raise him five dollars a month. He's been with us only a year."
Late that afternoon, after Cappy had made the rounds of his office, distributing his checks and wishing all hands the merriest of Christmases, he paused at last at Mr. Skinner's desk and laid a thousand-dollar check thereon.
"Not a peep out of you, Skinner—not a peep!" he cautioned his general manager. "No thanks due me. You've earned it a thousand times over—and then some. Hum-m! Ahem! Harumph-h-h! By the way, Skinner, my dear boy, I forgot to mention to you another little idea that's in the back of my head."
"You mean about sending Matt to sea for a voyage?"
"Exactly. The sea is a wonderful institution, Skinner—wonderful! It promotes health and strength; and—er—damn it, Skinner, my dear boy, have you ever observed that there isn't a married skipper in our employ that hasn't been lucky? Many well-known authorities prescribe a sea voyage—"
"What for, Mr. Ricks?"
Cappy thrust his thumb into Skinner's ribs, winked, bent low, and whispered:
"Too slow, Skinner; too slow. I'm getting old, you know—I can't wait for ever. And if the experiment succeeds—Skinner, my dear boy, you're next! You've been married more than a year now—"
"I fail to comprehend—"
"Grandson!" Cappy whispered. "Grandson!"
"Oh!" said Mr. Skinner.
One of the remarks most frequently heard on California Street was to the effect that whenever Cappy Ricks girded up his loins and went after something he generally got it. His scheme to get Matt Peasley to sea for one voyage, accompanied by Florry, worked as smoothly as a piston; and on the fifteenth of January the Peasleys went aboard the Retriever at Bellingham and towed out, bound for Manila with a cargo of fir lumber. Matt made the run down in sixty-six days, a smart passage, waited a week in Manila Bay before he could secure a berth and commence discharging, discharged in a week, loaded a cargo of hemp, with a deckload of hardwood logs, and was ready for the return trip to San Francisco on April twenty-fourth, on which day he towed out past Corregidor.
His wife, however, was not with him on the return voyage. Following a family conference, it was decided that Florry should return home on the mail steamer—which action Cappy Ricks considered most significant when Matt apprised him of it by cable, but failed to state a reason. The president emeritus, immediately upon receipt of this information, trotted into Mr. Skinner's office and laid Matt Peasley's cablegram on the latter's desk.
"Well, Skinner, my dear boy," he piped, rubbing his hands together the while, "what do you know about that?"
"Do you—er—suspect—er—something, Mr. Ricks?"
"Suspect? Not a bit of it. I know! Neither Florry nor Matt would dream of permitting the other to come home alone if there wasn't a third party to be considered. Paste that in your hat, Skinner. It isn't done."
Cappy was right, for the same steamer that bore his daughter home carried also a brief letter from his son-in-law conveying the tidings of great joy. The old man was so happy he went into Mr. Skinner's office and struck his general manager a terrible blow between the shoulders, after which he declared it was a shame that his years and reputation for respectability denied him the privilege of chartering a seagoing hack and painting the town red!
The Retriever crept slowly up the China Sea on the first of the southwest monsoon. At that period of the year, however, the monsoon is weak and unsteady; and after clearing the northern end of Luzon the Retriever kicked round in a belt of light and baffling airs for a week. Then the monsoon freshened somewhat and the Retriever once more rolled lazily away on her course, with young Matt Peasley humming chanteys on her quarter-deck and pondering the mystery that confronts all mankind in their first adventure in fatherhood. Would it be a boy or a girl? He was expressing to himself for perhaps the thousandth time the hope that it would be a boy, when from the poop he saw something he did not relish.
It was the ship's cat coming across the deckload toward him, in his yellow eyes a singularly pleased expression and in his mouth a singularly large rat.
Matt Peasley stepped below, found an old glove and drew it over his right hand, after which he returned to the quarter-deck.
"Come, Tommy!" he called; and pussy came, to be seized by the tail and, still holding fast to his prey, cast overboard.
"It's bad luck to do that to a black cat, sir," the mate informed him.
Matt Peasley's eyes were blazing.
"And it's worse luck still for any mate aboard my ship who neglects to put the rat-guards on the lines when the vessel is lying at the dock," he growled. "You lubberly idiot!"
"But I did put the rat-guards on the lines," the mate protested.
"Yes, I know you did; but I had to remind you of it," Matt replied. "You didn't get them on in time—and now the Lord only knows how many rats we have aboard. Ordinarily I don't mind rats, but an Oriental rat is something to be afraid of."
"Because they carry the germs of bubonic plague, you farmer!" And Matt very carefully removed his glove and cast it overboard after the cat. "And it's a cold day when you can't find an occasional case of plague in the Orient. The cat caught the rat and mauled it round; hence the cat had to go, because I never permit in my cabin a cat that has been on intimate terms with an Oriental rat. And now I bet I know what's wrong with that fo'castle hand that went into the sick bay the day before yesterday. He complained of swelling in the glands of his neck and groins."
The cook left the forward deckhouse and came aft over the deckload. At the break of the poop he paused.
"Captain Peasley," he announced, "Lindstrom is dead."
"Tell everybody to keep away from him," Matt ordered. He turned to the mate. "Mr. Matson," he announced, "the first duty of a murderer is to get rid of the body. Go forward and throw Lindstrom's body overboard; then stay forward. If you come aft until I send for you I'll blow your brains out!"
When the Retriever was out from Manila seventy days Cappy Ricks remarked to Mr. Skinner that Matt would be breezing in most any day now. On the eightieth day he remarked to Mr. Skinner that Matt was coming home a deal slower than he had gone out. The efficient Skinner, however, cited so many instances of longer passages from Manila to San Francisco that Cappy was comforted, although he was not convinced. "You make me a type-written list of all those vessels and their passages, Skinner," he cautioned; "and when you can't think of any more authentic cases fake up a few. Florry's beginning to worry. She knows now what it means to be a sailor's wife, and if that doggoned Matt doesn't report soon 111 know what it means to be a sailor's father-in-law. I wish to Jimminy I hadn't sent Matt out with the Retriever."
Ninety days passed. Cappy commenced to fidget. A hundred days passed, and Cappy visited the hydrographic office and spent a long time poring over charts of the air currents in the China Sea, along the coast of Asia and in the North Pacific.
"Skinner, my dear boy," he quavered when he returned to the office; "I'm a most unhappy old man."
Mr. Skinner forgot for an instant that he was a business man and, with a sudden, impulsive movement, he put his long, thin arm round the old man and squeezed him.
"If you didn't think so much of him, sir," he comforted Cappy, "you'd worry less. She really will not be overdue until she's out a hundred and twenty days."
"Skinner," Cappy piped wearily, "don't try to deceive me. I've been in the shipping game for forty-odd years, boy. I know it's about six thousand miles from San Francisco to Manila, and if a vessel averages ninety miles a day she's making a smart passage. Matt made it down in sixty-six days, and he ought to come back in sixty, because he has fair winds all the way. Skinner, the boy's a month overdue; and if he never shows up—if he stays out much longer—Florry'll break her heart; and my grandson—think of it, Skinner!—think of the prenatal effect on the child! Oh, Skinner, my dear, dear boy, I want him big and light-hearted and sunny-souled like Matt—and to think this is all my doing—my own daughter! Oh! Oh, Skinner, my heart is breaking!"
Mr. Skinner fled to his own office and did something most un-Skinner-like. He blinked away several large bright tears; and while he was blinking them the telephone bell rang. Mechanically Mr. Skinner answered. It was Jerry Dooley, in charge of the Merchants' Exchange.
"Mr. Skinner," said Jerry, "I've got some bad news for you."
"The-the-Retriever—" Skinner almost whispered.
"Yes, sir. I thought I'd tell you first, so you could break it to the old man gently. The Grace liner Ecudorian arrived at Victoria this morning and reports speaking the Retriever eight hundred miles off the coast of Formosa. The vessel was under jib, lower topsail, foretopmast staysail, mainsail and spanker. She was flying two flags—an inverted ensign and the yellow quarantine flag. The Ecudorian steamed close alongside of her, to windward. Captain Peasley was at the wheel—"
"Thank God!" Mr. Skinner almost sobbed. "What was wrong with her, Jerry? Hurry up, man! Hurry up! Tell me!"
"He was alone on the ship, Mr. Skinner. Bubonic plague! Killed the entire crew! Matt was the only man immune, and he's sailing the Retriever home alone!"
Mr. Skinner groaned.
"Good gracious Providence! Why didn't the Ecudorian take him off?"
"Credit them with offering it," Jerry replied. "He wouldn't come. He declined to jeopardize the people aboard the steamer and he wouldn't abandon the Retriever with her full cargo; so what could they do? They had to sail away without him."
Gently Mr. Skinner broke the news to Cappy Ricks; for, of course, the United Press dispatches had carried it to the later afternoon editions and it would be useless for Mr. Skinner to attempt to lie kindly. Cappy, with bowed head, heard him through; when finally he looked up at Skinner his eyes were dead.
"Quite what I expected of him, Skinner," he said dully. "And I'd rather have him die than dog it! This report from the Ecudorian helps some, Skinner. It will do to keep hope alive in my Florry—and every two weeks until the boy is born we'll—we'll—Oh, Skinner—"
"Yes, sir; I'll attend to it. Leave everything to me, Mr. Ricks. I'll have wireless reports and telegrams and cablegrams from every port on earth telling of ships having spoken the Retriever, with the skipper well and hearty, and sending messages of good cheer to his wife."
"You—you won't be—er—stingy, Skinner? You'll send out the Tillicum to find him and tow him in, won't you? And you'll have real telegrams—spend money, Skinner! I'll have to bring those messages home to Florry—"
"Everything, Mr. Ricks. And I'll start right in by slipping fifty dollars to each of the waterfront reporters on all the papers. They're good boys, Mr. Ricks. I'll tell them why I have to have the service. Mrs. Peasley must have our fake reports confirmed in the papers—"
"For work like that the marine reporters should have more money," Cappy suggested wearily. His old hand reached out gropingly, closed over Mr. Skinner's and held it a moment childishly. "You're a very great comfort to me, Skinner—very great indeed! And you'll come home with me to-night, won't you, Skinner? I'm a little afraid—I want you near me, Skinner—in case I can't get away with it to Florry."
His dry, dead eyes studied the pattern in the office carpet.
"Two mates, a cook and ten A. B.'s!" he murmured presently. "One man, even a Matt Peasley, cannot do the work of thirteen men. No, Skinner; it isn't done. One man simply cannot sail a barkentine."
But Mr. Skinner was not listening. He was on the long-distance phone calling the master of the Tillicum, just about finishing discharge of a cargo of nitrate at San Pedro. And presently Cappy heard him speaking:
"Mr. Ricks, listen! Grant, of the Tillicum, says Matt would go up the China Sea on the southwest monsoon... Yes, captain. You say—ah, yes; quite so... Grant says he'd edge over until he got into the Japan Stream, and that would add a knot or two an hour to his speed... Yes, Grant. Speak up! ... Grant says, Mr. Ricks, that about the middle of September or the first of October Matt would run out of the southwest monsoon into the northeast monsoon—that's it, Grant, isn't it? He'd get them about off Formosa, eh?... Yes, Grant. Then he'd run into the prevailing westerly winds and run north on a great circle about five hundred miles below the Aleutian Islands—I see, Grant. All right! Fill your oil tanks and take an extra supply on deck, head into the North Pacific... Yes; use your own judgment, of course. Mine's no good... Yes; and bring a lot of disinfectants and a doctor, so it'll be safe to put a few men aboard when you find her and put your hawser on her ... Yes, Grant. If you find her you'll not have reason to regret it. Good-bye! Good luck!"
"While the Tillicum is on this wild-goose chase, Skinner," Cappy said wearily, "she is chartered by the Blue Star Navigation Company to Alden P. Ricks personally, at the prevailing rates. The stockholders mustn't pay for my fancies, Skinner. You'll see to that, won't you?"
Excerpt from the log of Captain Matt Peasley relief skipper of the American barkentine Retriever; Manila to San Francisco.
May Third.—Seaman Olaf Lindstrom died to-day, following an illness of thirty-six hours. He was taken with chills and fever on the morning of the second, complained of a severe headache and vomited repeatedly. Removed him from the forecastle to a spare room in the forward house, which on the Retriever has always been used as a sick bay. While being supported along the deck he collapsed, and when the mate undressed him and put him to bed he complained of soreness in his groins. I examined them and found them slightly swollen. Treated him for ague—calomel, salts, quinine and whisky, and one-fortieth-grain strychnine hypodermic solution to keep up his heart action when the fever registered one hundred and four and higher. He grew steadily worse. Could not find anything in my Home Book of Medicine that exactly described his symptoms, and was at a loss to diagnose Lindstrom's case until I discovered the ship's cat with a rat it had just killed.
There were no rats aboard the Retriever when she left San Francisco. I recalled that the first night we tied up to the dock in Manila a dirty little China Coast tramp lay just ahead of us; and as I passed her on my way uptown I saw a rat run down her gangplank. She had rat-guards on her mooring lines. We had just tied up to the dock and I returned immediately and instructed the mate to be sure to put the rat-guards on our mooring lines, and not to use any sort of gangplank. When I returned to the vessel later that night I found that the mate had neglected to put on the rat-guards and logged him for it. Before we left the dock a Chinaman died of bubonic plague aboard that tramp, and the port health authorities put the vessel in quarantine immediately and prevented further spread of the disease.
When I saw the ship's cat with a rat, therefore, I knew we had some of that rotten China Coaster's plague rats aboard. Accordingly threw cat and rat overboard just as the cook announced Lindstrom's death. Upon looking up the information on plague, I am now convinced we have it aboard—that Linstrom died of it. First Mate Olaf Matson wrapped himself in my old bathrobe, gloved his hands and threw Lindstrom's body overboard, following it with the gloves and bathrobe.
I am, in a measure, prepared for plague. When I learned we had lain close to a vessel with a case of plague aboard I laid in some plague medicine, on general principles and just to have an anchor out to windward. At the English drug store on the Escolta I bought a tiny bottle of Yersin's Antipest Serum and another of Haffkine's Prophylactic Fluid. It was all they had on hand and it wasn't much; but—it is enough to save me—and I intend to be saved if possible. I cannot afford to die now. I do not know how old the Haffkine's Fluid is; and the older it is, the longer it takes to render one immune. The antipest serum will render me immune immediately, but the duration of the immunity thus granted lasts, at the most, only fifteen days. I must, therefore, first take a hypodermic injection of antipest serum to render me immune immediately and the next day follow with an injection of Haffkine's Fluid, which gives permanent immunity, but not for a week or longer when used alone.
There is this devilish thing about it to be considered, however: I may at this moment be inoculated with plague, for the period of incubation is from three to seven days—and I've fondled that cat every day since we left Manila. If I am already infected and do not know it, and while in that condition take an injection of the antipest serum, the book says the serum will immediately bring on a fatal and virulent attack of the plague! On the other hand, if I am not inoculated and take the antipest serum I am safe.
The question before the house, therefore, is: Shall I take it or shall I not? And if I do take it shall I be saving my life or committing suicide? I am like the fellow in the story who was forced to drink from one of two glasses of wine. He knew one of them contained poison, but he didn't know which one it was! I shall make my will and flip a coin to decide the issue.
May Fourth.—Two a.m. Mate reports another sick man in the forecastle. Wish I had some formaldehyde gas. Have told mate to sprinkle chloride of lime in Lindstrom's bunk and to dust the walls and floors of the forecastle and sick bay with it. That is the only disinfectant I have aboard in quantity.
At midnight I flipped the coin—heads I'd take it; tails I wouldn't. The coin fell heads—and I took it.
Four a.m.—Mustered the crew and gave them a lecture on bubonic plague. I have sufficient antipest serum for four men. After explaining that it was Hobson's choice, I asked the men to draw matches, held in the hand of the first mate, to see who should be the lucky ones. They all decided to take a chance and go without it, with the exception of two seamen and the mates, who, learning that I had taken it, decided to follow suit. Accordingly I inoculated them with the antipest serum.
Five p.m.—Inoculated myself with Haffkine's Fluid.
Seven-thirty.—Seaman Ross died. Mr. Matson threw the body overboard. No services.
Midnight.—Mr. Matson is down with it.
May Fifth.—Mr. Matson very ill and delirious. Cook moping round like a drunken man; complains of severe headache. Wind blowing lightly from south-west. Everything set. Inoculated second mate and the two seamen with Haffkine's.
May Sixth.—Mr. Matson died at noon today. Cook down with it; also another seaman, and Mr. Eccles, the second mate. Have altered ship's course and am running for Hongkong. Winds light and baffling. Have not made thirty miles today. Calm at midnight. Mr. Eccles died just as the watches were being changed. I now feel that I have escaped; so examined Mr. Eccles' body. He went so fast I am curious. No swelling of the glands at all. Am inclined to think his was pneumonic or septicaemic. Threw him overboard myself.
May Seventh.—Light and baffling airs all day; monsoon blowing in weak puffs. Another seaman ill. So ends this day.
May Eighth.—Cook died at noon. No buboes on him either. He turned kind of black. I was chief undertaker. No airs to speak of. Ship barely making steerage way. So ends this day.
May Ninth.—Seaman Peterson died early this morning. Do not know exact hour. Found him dead in his berth. Another funeral; no services. Monsoon freshening. Made forty-eight miles today. Two more seamen on sick report; and, to add to my worries, they are the very two I inoculated with the antipest serum and Haffkine's. Is this stuff worthless?
May Tenth.—Seamen Halloran and Kaiser died within an hour of each other this evening—Halloran at nine-thirty and Kaiser at ten-eighteen. Put both bodies overboard immediately.
I have four seamen left, and am doing the cooking, navigating, nursing and undertaking. Wind freshening hourly. Made seventy-two miles today. Glad Florry and Cappy Ricks cannot see me now, although, for some fool reason, I have a notion I shall see them again. If I were going to get plague it would have developed before now. I feel quite safe, but most unhappy and worried.
Midnight.—Seaman Anderson down with it. Jumped overboard to save me the bother of throwing him overboard about the day after to-morrow, which is a courtesy I did not expect of Anderson. I am obliged to him. I am exhausted and so are my three remaining seamen. We cannot handle the canvas now, so have taken in the foresail, royals, and topgallant sails, hauled down the flying jib and got the gaff topsail off her, leaving her under the jib, fore-topmast staysail, upper and lower fore-topsails, main-topmast staysail, mainsail and spanker. Hove her to and turned in.
May Eleventh.—After a horrible breakfast, which I cooked, got under way again. Monsoon blowing nicely, but under the small amount of canvas I am forced to carry cannot make more than six miles an hour. Have decided not to run to Hongkong. If I am to lose my three remaining seamen I shall have lost them long before I sight land, and the tug or steamer that hooks on to me off Hongkong will stick me with a terrific salvage bill. If I'm going to be stuck I prefer to be stuck closer to home, and if I manage to keep these three men the four of us can sail her home. I'll take a chance and run up the coast of Asia with the Japan Stream until I reach the northeast monsoon. I'm certain to be spoken and can send word to Florry. In a pinch, at this season of the year, I can sail her home alone.
May Fifteenth.—I am alone on the ship. Into the Japan Stream, monsoon blowing the sweetest it ever blew. Lucky thing for me I had the forethought to trim her down; otherwise I should have had to cut away a lot of canvas. And how Cappy Ricks would scream at the sail bill later on! We were hove to overnight when Borden and Jacobsen died, on the thirteenth. McBain complained of a headache and vertigo on the morning of the fourteenth; so I laid to until he died, last night. I was not with him when he passed. What good would it have done? I had breakfast; and after breakfast I found him in his berth, dead. I tossed him overboard, and every last rag of clothing, dunnage and blankets aboard, with the exception of those in my own cabin. Then I burned sulphur in the fore-castle, the galley, the cook's room and the stateroom formerly occupied by the mates, closed the doors, and hoped for the best. Slept a lot that day and night; and at eight this morning slacked off my spanker and main sheets, checked in my foreyard and topsail by taking the the braces to the donkey engine, and was off for home.
Have established my commissary in the lee of the wheel box. Set up a small kerosene stove I found in the storeroom, and get along nicely. It is quite an art to fry eggs with one hand and steady the wheel with the other, but I managed it three times today. To-morrow I will cook enough at breakfast to last me for luncheon and supper; hence will only have to heat some coffee.
Logged fifty-one miles by eight o'clock; then lashed the wheel and let her take care of herself while I got steam up in the donkey and hauled in my spanker and mainsail; then I slacked off my foreyard and topsail yards, hove her to on the port tack, hung three red lights on the forestay to show she wasn't under command, set my alarm clock and turned in. I have to smile at the ease with which one man—provided he is a sizable man and able to stand strain—can sail a barkentine before the wind in fair weather. I am not worried. I am not going to have bubonic plague. It is horribly lonely, but I am due for fair winds—and I should worry.
Even if I should get a blow and have to take the lower topsail off her, I can lower the yard by the topsail halyards until it rests on the cap; then I'll skip aloft and run a knife along the head of the topsail and let it whip to glory. After that it may blow and be damned! All the clothes the old girl is wearing now will never take the sticks out of her. I've trimmed her down to jib, lower topsail, fore-topmast staysail, mainsail and spanker. Wish I dared carry the foresail. However, I must play safe. It is awful, though, to be in a ship as fast as the Retriever and have to crawl the way I'm crawling. Crawl all day and sleep all night! Well, sometimes I can crawl all day and night and sleep half a day. We shall see. I used to be able to stand considerable before I hit the beach and got soft. The necessity for firing the donkey every night would soon exhaust my fuel supply; but I have a deck-load of hardwood logs!
Four months had passed since the Ecudorian had spoken Matt Peasley off the coast of Formosa; during that period no further news had been received in Cappy Ricks' office, although the diligent Skinner, aided and abetted by the waterfront reporters, managed to have a piece of cheering information for Florry about every two weeks. And, in order to forestall any possibility of some garrulous girl friend, with a male relative in the shipping business, "spilling the beans," as Cappy expressed it, the old man had taken a house in the country, and came to the office only twice a week to mourn for his lost Matthew and glean what little comfort he could from the empty words of hope Mr. Skinner dispensed so lavishly.
"If we can only keep Florry buoyed up with hope until the baby comes!" Cappy would groan. "She's worried; but, strange to say, Skinner, she hasn't the slightest idea he's in any danger. Those fake cablegrams and reports of ships speaking Matt—each time closer to home—have done the trick, Skinner. Of course the boy's dead, and I killed him; but Florry—well, she took a trip on the Retriever and knows how safe she is, and I've had a lot of old sailing skippers down to visit me, and primed them to tell her just how they would get away with such a proposition as Matt's—and how easy it would be. Besides, she knows Matt had some plague prophylactic aboard—"
"Yes; and I've told her she mustn't show the white feather—for your sake," Mr. Skinner interrupted; "and I think she's sensible enough to know she mustn't permit herself to show it—for the baby's sake."
Cappy bowed his head and shook like a hooked fish.
"When the baby's two weeks old I'll tell her," he moaned. "Oh, Skinner, Skinner, my dear boy, this is going to kill me! I won't last long now, Skinner. All my fault! I had to go butting in. That girl's heart is breaking with anxiety. When she comes down to breakfast, Skinner, I can see she's been crying all night."
"Horrible!" Mr. Skinner murmured. "Horrible! We can only hope."
On the twelfth of September Florry's baby was born. It was a boy, and a bouncing boy at that; and Cappy Ricks forgot for the moment he had rendered that baby fatherless, and came up to the city to report the news to Skinner.
"Well, Skinner, my dear boy," he announced with just a touch of his old-time jauntiness, "little Matthew just arrived! Everything lovely."
Mr. Skinner was about to formulate suitable phrases of congratulation when the telephone bell rang. It was Jerry Dooley up at the Merchants' Exchange; and he was all excitement.
"Hey, Skinner," he cried. "The Retriever is passing in!"
"No!" Mr. Skinner shrieked. "It isn't possible!"
"It is! She's coming in the Gate now—she's right under the lookout's telescope; and there's only one man on deck—"
Mr. Skinner turned to Cappy Ricks, put his arms round him and jerked the old man from one end of the office to the other.
"He's safe, he's safe, he's safe, he's safe!" he howled indecorously. "Matt's sailing her in. He's sailing her in—"
"You scoundrel!" Cappy shrilled. "Be quiet! Is she sailing in or towing—"
"She's sailing in."
Cappy Ricks slumped down in his chair, his arms hanging weakly at his sides.
"Yes, Skinner," he barely whispered, "Matt's alive, after all. Nobody else would have the consummate crust to sail her in but him. Any other skipper under heaven would have hove to off the lightship and sent in word by the pilot boat to send out a tug. Oh, Lord, I thank Thee! I'm a wicked, foolish, bone-headed old man; but Lord, I do thank Thee—I do, indeed!"
Half an hour later Cappy Ricks and Mr. Skinner, in a fast motorboat, came flying up the bay and caught sight of the Retriever loafing lazily past Fort Mason. On she came, with a tiny bone in her teeth; and suddenly, as Cappy peered ahead through the spray that flew in over the bows of the launch and drenched him to the skin, the Retriever's mainsail was lowered rapidly. The vessel was falling off by the time the mainsail was down and Cappy and Mr. Skinner saw Matt run aft, steady the wheel and bring the vessel up on the wind again. She was now under spanker and the headsails. Matt lashed the wheel and again ran forward, pausing at the main-topmast-staysail halyards to cast them off and permit the sail to come down by the run.
On to the topgallant forecastle Matt Peasley leaped, praising his Maker for patent anchors on the Retriever. With a hammer he knocked out the stopper; the starboard anchor dropped and the red rust flew from her hawsepipe as the anchor chain screamed through it. With his hand on the compressor of the windlass, Matt Peasley snubbed her gently to the forty-five fathom shackle, cast off his jib halyards to let the jib slide down the stay by its own weight, raced aft, and gently lowered the spanker as the American barkentine Retriever, with the yellow flag flying at the fore, swung gently to anchor on the quarantine grounds, two hundred and twenty-one days from Manila.
Cappy Ricks turned to his general manager.
"Pretty work, Skinner!" he said huskily. "I guess there's nothing wrong with that boy's health. Damn! The quarantine boat will beat us to it! Matt's throwing the Jacob's ladder over the side for them."
"We can't board her until she passes quarantine—" Mr. Skinner began; but Cappy silenced him with a terrible look.