"No use, sir," he informed Cappy. "That Dutchman is out of torpedoes, so he's coming up to shell us. We'll heave to and save funeral expenses." He turned to the master of the Narcissus. "Captain, I'll stay on the bridge and conduct all negotiations with that fellow; get your mates, round up everybody and prepare to abandon the ship in a hurry. Get the motor cruiser overside first."
As the captain hurried away, Terence Reardon came up on the bridge. The port engineer's gloomy visage portended tears, but through his narrowed lids Cappy Ricks saw not tears, but the light of murder. Terence did not speak, but thoughtfully puffed his pipe, and, with Murphy and Cappy Ricks, watched the booby hatch on the submarine's deck slide back and her long, slim, three-inch gun appear, like the tongue of a huge viper.
Heads appeared round the breech of the gun; so Michael J. Murphy seized a megaphone and shouted:
"Nein! Nix!" accompanying his words with wild pantomime that meant "Don't shoot!"
Captain Emil Bechtel was vastly relieved. He was not an inhuman man, even if, on occasion, as has already been demonstrated, he could, for the sake of national expediency, sink a ship without warning. Having missed with both torpedoes, he could now, in the event of national complications, enter a vigorous denial of any affidavits alleging an attempted breach of international law, and his government would uphold him. This knowledge rendered him both cheerful and polite, as he hove to some hundred yards to starboard of the Narcissus and informed Captain Michael J. Murphy that the latter had just fifteen minutes in which to save the ship's company; whereat Michael J. proved himself every inch a sailor, while Terence P. proved himself a marine engineer. If there was a word of opprobrium, mundane or nautical, which the port skipper didn't shout at that submarine commander, the port engineer supplied it. In all his life Cappy Ricks had never listened to such rich, racy, unctuous abuse; it lifted itself about the level of the commonplace and became a work of art. Cappy was horrified.
"Boys! Boys!" he pleaded. "This is frightful!"
"What do you expect from a German, sir?" Murphy demanded. "Frightfulness is his middle name."
"I mean you two—and your language. Stop it! You'll contaminate me."
"Well, sor," Terence Reardon replied philosophically, "I suppose there's small use cryin' over spilt milk—musha, what are they up to now?"
"They're dragging a collapsible boat up from below," Mike Murphy declared. "That means they're going to board us, place bombs in the bilges, and sink us that way. They know blamed well we've wirelessed for help and a patrol has answered; so that—"
"No profanity!" Cappy shrilled.
"So he has decided he won't try to sink us by shell fire with such a small gun. It'll be dark in five minutes and he's afraid the flame of the discharge or the reports of the gun may guide the patrol boat here before he's finished his job. Oh, wirra, wirra!"
Murphy's surmise proved to be correct, for he had scarcely finished speaking before the submarine commander hailed him and ordered him to let down his gangway. Terence P. Reardon's eyes flamed with the lust for battle.
"Be the great gun av Athlone," he cried, "if they're comin' aboard sure we can get at them!"
Murphy's rage vanished as suddenly as it had gripped him; he smiled at Terence affectionately, approvingly.
"You with your monkey wrench, eh, Terry, my lad? And they with automatic pistols and wishful of an excuse to use them, not to mention the nitroglycerin and guncotton bombs they'll be carrying—a divilish bad thing to have kicking round in a free-for-all fight?" he queried.
Terry's face showed his deep disappointment.
"They'll see us all in the boats," Murphy continued; "then they'll go below, set the bombs, light a slow fuse to give them time to get back to the submarine—and then—"
"With all these poor dumb beasts aboard?" Cappy Ricks quavered. "Horrible! Horrible! I could kill them for it."
"I could kill them for a greater crime than that," his port captain reminded him. "Didn't they try twice to sink us without warning? Damn them! They're forty fathoms outside the law this minute."
For the first time in his life Cappy Ricks was in financial and physical danger coincidently. Old he was, and a landlubber, for all his courtesy title; but in his veins there coursed the blood of a long line of fighting ancestors. It occurred to him now that in all his life he had never cried "Enough;" that always, when cornered and presumably beaten, he had gone into executive session with himself and, fox that he was, schemed a way out. In this supreme moment there came to him now the words of the gallant Lawrence: "Don't give up the ship!" They inspired him; his agile old brain, benumbed by the shock of the exciting events of the last quarter of an hour, threw off its paralysis; his little five-feet-four body thrilled with the impact of a sudden brilliant idea.
"I have it!" he piped. "By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, it might be done! Mike, the submarine lies to starboard. Tell the mate to lower the port gangway."
Murphy ran out on the end of the bridge and bawled the order. Then he came back, and he and Terence and Cappy Ricks put their heads together while in brief, illuminating sentences Cappy Ricks unfolded the fruit of his genius.
"Tell me," he pleaded when he had finished, "is that scheme practicable?"
"It might be done, sir," Mike Murphy assented.
"I'll thry anything the wanst," Terry Reardon almost barked.
"It means some fighting—probably some killing."
"Sorra wan av me'll feel broken-hearted at killin' the likes av that Dutchman," Terry answered. "Shtill, we'll be needin' some help, I'm thinkin'."
"We'll get it, or I'm no judge of human nature. Mike, pass the word for Sam Daniels, the boss of muleteers and broncho busters. Sam used to be a Texas Ranger."
Accordingly Sam Daniels was sent for and arrived on the jump.
"Sam, my dear boy," said Cappy calmly, "I'm enlisting volunteers to raise hell with that submarine. They're going to put bombs in the bilges and blow up the ship."
"Count me in, Cap," Sam Daniels replied laconically. "Want me to rustle up a couple of the boys?"
"Yes, about three real ones—boys that are handy with a six-shooter."
"I guess most of the boys from the border have their guns in their war bags. I'll go get them together."
He did—in about three minutes; by which time the collapsible boat from the submarine had been launched and was pulling toward the Narcissus. While her master directed them to pull round to the port gangway, Sam Daniels slipped down unobserved into Number Three hatch, two of his horse wranglers disappeared with an equal lack of ostentation down the gangway into Number Two hatch, and a third man went forward and down Number One. The trap was set.
A stout young lieutenant clad in soiled dungarees, his uniform cap alone denoting his rank, came briskly up the companion, followed by four jackies carrying the bombs. A fifth man remained in the boat, fending it away with a boat hook from the tall black side of the Narcissus.
"Who commands here?" the German demanded in most excellent English.
"I do," the master of the Narcissus replied, and stepped a pace forward.
"Then hurry and get your boats overside. We're going to bomb the ship, and if anybody remains aboard when those bombs explode it will be his fault, not ours."
The motor cruiser had already been dropped overboard, and the life-boats, having been for two days swung out in the davits, were quickly filled and lowered away. As each boat pulled clear of the ship the man in charge of it was ordered by the submarine lieutenant to stay to port of the Narcissus, and to pull well clear of the ship before proceeding to pass the towing painters to the cruiser.
"Are all your men off the ship?" the officer queried of the skipper as the latter entered the last boat and gave the order to lower away.
"All off; I've accounted for all of them," was the answer.
The German waited until the boat had slipped away in the gloom before turning to his command.
"Proceed!" he said briefly; and, followed by his four men, he led the way down the cleated temporary gangway built diagonally down Number Three hatch to accommodate the horses when they had been led aboard.
The better to facilitate their progress, Terence Reardon had turned on all the electric lights in the ship, and the detail proceeded quickly to the lower hold, where they set two bombs and piled double-compressed baled hay round them, with the fuse leading out from under the bales. In addition to blowing a hole in the ship they were taking the added precaution of setting her afire after the explosion.
From the spot where the bombs were set a long alleyway, lined on each side with the rumps of horses, each neatly boxed in a stall just wide enough and long enough to inclose him firmly and hold him on his feet in the event of rough weather, led forward and aft to the bulkheads. And in one of these stalls, close up against the rump of a horse he could trust, Sam Daniels, the ex-Texas Ranger, crouched, with one eye round the corner of the stall, calmly watching the grim proceedings. Something told him that, having arranged the bombs in that hold, the enemy would not light the fuses until he had set similar bombs at the bottom of the other hatches; then, all being in readiness, a man would be sent into each hold to light the fuse, scurry on deck, descend to the waiting boat, and be pulled clear of danger before the fuses should burn down to the fulminating caps.
So Daniels waited until the men were about to pick up the remaining bombs and ascend to the deck; whereupon he stepped quietly out into the alleyway, a long-barreled forty-five in his hand, and pussyfooted swiftly toward the Germans, whose backs were now turned toward him. Halfway down the alleyway, on one of the heavy six-by-six-inch uprights temporarily set in to support the weight of the hundred mules on the deck above, was the electric switch controlling the circuit in that hold—and Sam Daniels reached up and turned it down. Instantly the hold was in darkness; and then the horseman spoke:
"Hey, you Dutchies! Stay right where you are! I want to have a little powwow with you before you go any farther."
Having said this, the astute Mr. Daniels, out of a vast experience gained while fighting Mexicans and outlaws in the dark, promptly lay down. In case the enemy should become rattled and fire at the sound of his voice he preferred to have plenty of room for the bullets to pass over him.
"Who's there?" the lieutenant demanded in English; and by the firm, resolute voice the Texan knew that the German was not rattled and that his men would not fire unless he gave the word.
"Great thing, this naval discipline!" Mr. Daniels soliloquized. Aloud he replied:
"The fastest, straightest little wing shot with a six shooter that ever was, old-timer!"
"What do you purpose doing, my friend?"
"I purpose giving you some good advice; though whether you accept it or not is a matter of indifference to me. You will observe that this hold is in comparative darkness. I say comparative, because through the hatch space a certain amount of light is projected from the deck above, and you and your men are standing in that light, whereas I am in the dark. I can see you and you cannot see me. I have a forty-five caliber revolver in my hand and another in reserve. There are five of you fellows, constituting a fair target—and I seldom miss a fair target. I can kill all five of you in five seconds. Of course some of you may manage to fire at the flash of my gun and accidentally kill me; but—make no mistake about it, son—I'll get you and your gang before I kick the bucket. Now, then, which do you want to do—live or die? I'm going to be fair to you fellows and give you some choice in the matter—which is more than you did when you launched those two torpedoes at us. Speak up, brother! I'm a nervous man and dislike suspense."
The German lieutenant glanced at his men, who had not yet touched the other bombs and were looking stolidly at him for orders. He licked his lower lip and scowled, sighed gustily—and made a swift grab for his automatic. A streak of flame came out of the dark alleyway and the German's arm hung limp at his side. He had a bullet in his shoulder.
"Told you I was a wing shot!" the plainsman cautioned him pleasantly. "I would have put that one through your heart if I didn't need an interpreter. I imagine these roustabouts with you only speak their mother tongue."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Well, first, I want you to leave that high explosive right where it is. Then I want you to deposit all your sidearms on the floor, and have your men do likewise."
The German had had his lesson and arrived at the conclusion that valor without discretion is not good business. He slipped his belt off and let it drop to the floor; at a word from him his men did likewise, whereupon Daniels stood up, threw on the electric switch, and revealed himself and his artillery to the gaze of the invaders.
"Forward; in a bunch, up the gangway!" he ordered.
They obeyed. As the Texan passed the little heap of belts, with the automatics in the holsters attached, he gathered them up and followed. Just before the procession reached the main deck he halted them and whistled—whereupon Michael J. Murphy, Terence P. Reardon and Cappy Ricks came to the edge of the hatch and peered over.
"Well, look who's here!" Cappy exclaimed maliciously. "Five nice little pirates, who would sink my Narcissus without so much as a be-damned to you! Mike, bring the irons. Terence, my boy, restrain yourself. If you use that monkey wrench until I give the word the Blue Star Navigation Company will have a new port engineer. Undress these fellows. Just remove their caps and outer garments—and be quick about it."
"Tell them to molt—muy pronto!" Sam Daniels ordered the lieutenant, who relayed the order in a voice that had in it a suspicion of tears.
In three minutes they were undressed and handcuffed together; leg irons were put on them, and they were expeditiously gagged and chained to a stanchion.
"Now then, Terence, I have work for you and your monkey wrench," Cappy continued. "You're about the same size as this officer. Into his dungarees and uniform cap; and don't forget to slip on his belt, with the automatic."
"In two shakes av a lamb's tail, sor. What next?"
"As you run down the gangway to the waiting boat, hold your handkerchief over that Irish mug of yours. Pretend you're blowing your nose. The man in the boat won't recognize you until you're on top of him."
"Wan little love tap—no more!" Terence breathed lovingly.
"When Terence has tapped him, Sam," Cappy continued, "you go down and help to get him out on the landing stage. He'll be off our hands there and the submarine people cannot see what's happened to him. They're still lying on our starboard beam."
Terence and the deadly Samuel disappeared, to return presently and report all well. Thereupon Michael J. Murphy retired to the port side of the house, lit a kerosene torch he had brought up from the engine room and waved it. He waited. Presently, in the gloom off to port, he saw the red and green side lights of the little cruiser. For a moment both lights were visible; then the master of the Narcissus, now in charge of the cruiser, ported his helm and showed his red only. Murphy waited, and presently both red and green showed again.
"Starboard now, and show your green," Murphy pleaded.
The red went out and the green alone showed; so Mike Murphy extinguished his torch and rejoined Cappy Ricks, Terence and the ubiquitous Mr. Daniels.
"Sam, my dear boy," Cappy was saying as Murphy came up, "Mike and Terence own in the Narcissus and they work for me—hence their alliance. You owe me no fealty—"
"The hell I don't, Cap!" Sam retorted lightly. "You're a fine old sport, and I'm for you till the last dog is hung."
"Sam, I am deeply grateful. Your friendship is very dear to me indeed. I have a twenty-two-thousand acre ranch down in Monterey County, California—don't know why I bought it, unless it was because it was a bargain and ranch property in California is bound to increase in value—and you're my foreman if we ever get out of this with a whole skin. I'll make it the best job you ever had, Sam."
"Thank you, Mr. Ricks!" A moment before it had been Cap. "If you never saw a man fight for a good job before, just watch me!"
The horse tenders in the other holds were summoned and informed that for the present the Narcissus would not be bombed. Quickly two of them, with Mike Murphy and Sam Daniels, donned the dungarees and caps of the prisoners and strapped on their belts containing the automatics in their holsters. In the interim Terence had descended to the collapsible boat bumping at the gangway and fended her off until Sam Daniels, the two cowboys and Mike Murphy joined him; whereupon Terence took one pair of oars, while Murphy handled the other, and the boat crept out from the steamer and headed directly for the submarine, which had been ratching backward and forward under a dead-slow bell, watching the towering black hulk of the Narcissus rolling idly. A light showed on the turret of the submarine, outlining vaguely the figures of half a dozen men on her small deck.
The disposition of Mike Murphy's forces was such that the chances of the enemy detecting the substitution of the boarding party before it should reach the submersible were reduced to a minimum. In the bow of the collapsible one of the cowboys sat, facing the stern; Terence and Mike also faced the stern, by reason of the fact that they were rowing; and Sam Daniels and the other cowboy, seated in the stern sheets, were under orders to turn and look back at the Narcissus as the boat came within the radius of the meager light from the submarine's turret. Thus they ran little risk of premature discovery.
"For," as Cappy Ricks sagely reminded them just before they pulled away from the Narcissus, "the German is both cautious and cocksure. The capture of his bombing party has been effected without a sound; the commander saw our men leave the steamer in the boats; he sees the Narcissus now not under command and wallowing; he figures that all is lovely and the goose honks high. Therefore, he will be off his guard, since his suspicions have not been roused. His deck is very dimly lighted by that single light on the turret, and he knows that light is sufficient to guide the boat party back to the submarine. There is no sea running to speak of; so it will not be necessary for him to turn his searchlight on you to light the way for you.
"Moreover, he will not care to use his searchlight, because it may guide a patrol boat to this spot, and Terence has very carefully turned out all the lights on the ship which might be visible from a distance, because that is precisely what that lieutenant would or should have done if we had given him time. And when you row toward that submarine, row like the devil, because that's the way the bombing party would row in their hurry to board the submarine and steam clear of the explosion. It is my guess that the instant you heave alongside you will be snagged with boat hooks by the men on her deck. In the excitement of making a quick get-away nobody will be looking into your faces, anyhow; they'll see your familiar dungaree suits and caps; some of them may even give you a hand to help you when you leap aboard. Do not despise such help; just extend your left hands and before you let go the enemy's right bend your guns—and you, Terry, your monkey wrench—over their heads. You'll have the deck in a pig's whisper! Then, Mike, the rest is up to you. I've made the ball; now you fire it.
"I take it the submarine will be in such a hurry to get away that all the men on her deck will reach down and snake the boat in; once out of danger, they'll plan on knocking that collapsible down and storing it away at their leisure. Tackle 'em while they're busy with the boat—provided you get aboard unsuspected. Terence, remember to shout the minute you go into action—and I'll give you fighting light."
Following these instructions, Cappy had very solemnly shaken hands all round and departed for the bridge, where he removed the canvas covering from the searchlight, bent the reflector toward the submarine, and waited, with his nervous old finger on the switch.
In pursuance of Cappy Ricks' instructions, Mike Murphy and Terence Reardon rowed furiously toward the submarine—so furiously, indeed, that the harsh grating of their oars in the rowlocks apprised Captain Emil Bechtel of their approach some seconds before the boat was visible. At his brisk command the men on deck stepped down to the low pipe railing on the port side of the deck, prepared to snag the boat the instant she drew alongside. When he could hear the sound of the commander's voice, Mike Murphy chanced a quick look over his shoulder, noted the position of the submarine, and turned his head again.
"Four more strokes, Terry; then ship your oars," he cautioned the engineer in a low voice.
At the fourth stroke Terence obediently shipped his oars; with a deft twist of one oar, Murphy straightened the boat and shot neatly in alongside the submarine, the deck of which was less than three feet above the water. As Cappy Ricks had anticipated, the men on that deck promptly snagged the boat at bow and stern with boat hooks—and on the instant Cappy Ricks' bully boys leaped for their prey.
As luck would have it, Terence P. Reardon was the only one offered a helping hand—and he did not despise it; neither did he forget Cappy's last instructions. With neatness and ample force he brought his monkey wrench down on the German's skull; and then to Cappy Ricks, waiting on the bridge of the Narcissus, came the ancient Irish battlecry of Faugh-a-ballagh! For the benefit of those not versed in the ways of the fighting Celt, be it known that Faugh-a-ballagh means Clear the Road. And history records but few instances when Irish soldiery have raised that cry and rushed without clearing a pathway.
The fight was too short and savage for description. Suffice it to say that not a shot was fired—the work was too close for that, for the surprise had been complete. Even before Cappy Ricks could focus the steamer's searchlight on the fracas, it was over. Terence P. Reardon got two in two strokes of his trusty monkey wrench; Sam Daniels and his two fellow-bronco-busters each laid open a German scalp with the long barrels of their forty-fives; and Michael J. Murphy, plain lunatic-crazy with rage, disdaining all but Nature's weapons, tied into the amazed Captain Emil Bechtel under the rules of the Longshoremen's Union—which is to state that Michael J. Murphy clinched Emil Bechtel, lifted him, set him down hard on his plump back, crawled him, knelt on his arms, and addressed him in these words:
"Hah! (A right jab to the face.) You would, would you? (Left jab to face.) You pig-iron polisher! (Bending the nose back forcibly with the heel of his fist.) When I get (smash) through with your (smash) head (smash) it'll be long (smash) before you'll block (smash) your hat again (smash) on the Samson post, you—"
"Out av me way, Michael, lad, till I get a kick at his slats!" crooned Terence P. Reardon, heaving alongside.
"You gossoon! Take care of the scuttle; don't let them close it down, or they'll submerge and drown us. Leave this lad to me, I tell you. He's the captain, and why shouldn't he be killed by one of his own rank?"
Thus rebuked, Terence curbed his blood-thirsty proclivities. Leaving his countryman to beat his devil's tattoo on the submarine commander, Terence leaped to the open scuttle just in time to bang another head as it appeared on a level with the deck.
"Let that be a lesson to you!" he called as the unconscious man slid back down the companion into the interior of the vessel.
Then he sat on the lid of the scuttle, poised his monkey wrench on high over the scuttle, and awaited developments, the while he tossed an order over his shoulder to Sam Daniels:
"Bring me the bum!"
"Which one?" Mr. Daniels queried.
"The German bum, av coorse," Terence retorted waspishly.
"But all these bums are Germans—"
"Not that kind av a bum!" howled Terence. "I mean the bum in the boat."
Thus enlightened, Sam brought a bomb from the boat and handed it to the engineer. In the interim Mike Murphy had polished off his man to his entire satisfaction and joined Terence at the scuttle, while one of the horse wranglers, a cool individual and a firm believer in safety first, collected the weapons from the fallen.
Mike Murphy approached the scuttle and bawled down it to the amazed and puzzled crew below. As a linguist Mike was no great shakes, particularly when called upon to juggle German; but he was a resolute fellow and not afraid to do his best at all times. Consequently his hail took the form of "Hey! Landsmann!"
Something told Terence Reardon that Michael was through; so he added his mite to the store and bellowed:
"Spreckels die deutsch, ye blackguards?"
Then both sat back to await developments. Presently a voice at the foot of the companion said:
"Hello dere! Vat iss?"
"Vat iss? Hell iss! Dot's vat! Listen to me, you Dutchy. I'm the skipper of that horse transport your commander tried to sink without warning, and I'm in command of the deck of this craft, with the scuttle open; and you can't submerge and wash me off, either. When I give the word I want you and your men to come up, one at a time and no crowding. And if you're not up five minutes after I order you up I'll not wait; I'll set a bomb in your turret, back off in the small boat and kill with revolvers any man that tries to come up and see where the fuse is burning in order to put it out. Do you surrender, or would you rather die?"
"Vait a minute und I find oud," the German answered promptly.
It required five minutes for a council of war below decks; then the interpreter came to the foot of the companion and informed Mike Murphy that, considering the circumstances, they had decided to live. In the interim the skipper of the Narcissus had arrived, with re-enforcements, in the cruiser, and reported that his crew was getting back aboard the steamer as fast as possible and would have her under command again in a minute. At Murphy's order the unconscious Germans were put aboard the cruiser; later, when the remainder of the submersible's crew came up, one at a time, they were disarmed and lined up on the little deck; whereupon Michael J. Murphy addressed their spokesman thus:
"Listen—you! It would be just like you to have set a time bomb somewhere in this submarine to blow her up after you were all safely out of her. If you did you made a grave tactical error. You're not going to leave her for quite a while yet. You're going to sit quietly here on deck, under guard, while the steamer hooks on to this submarine and tows her; and if my prize crew is blown up, remember, you—"
The spokesman—he was the chief engineer, by the way—yelled "Ach, Gott!" and leaped for the scuttle. Mike Murphy followed him into the engine room in time to see him stamp out a long length of slow-burning fuse.
"Any more?" Murphy queried.
"Dot von vas sufficient, if it goes off," the German answered simply.
"All right!" Mike Murphy replied. "I'll take a chance and so will you. You'll stay aboard and run those oil engines."
Half an hour later with the submarine's crew safely under lock and key on the Narcissus, the big freighter continued on her course, followed by the captured submarine, with Michael J. Murphy in her turret and a quartermaster from the Narcissus at her helm. In the engine room her own engineer grudgingly explained to Terence P. Reardon the workings of an oil engine and the ramifications of the electric-light system—and during all of that period the deadly monkey wrench never left the port engineer's hand.
Sam Daniels and his comrades were once more back aboard the Narcissus, attending to the horses; and Cappy Ricks, his heart so filled with pride that it was like to burst, occupied the submarine's turret with the doughty Michael J. For an hour they discussed the marvelous coup until there was no angle of it left undiscussed; whereupon fell a silence, with Michael J.'s eyes fixed on the dark bulk ahead that marked the Narcissus, and Cappy's thoughts on what Matt Peasley and Mr. Skinner would say when they heard the glorious news.
For nearly an hour not a word passed between the pair.
Presently Cappy's regular breathing drew Murphy's attention to him. He had fallen asleep in his seat, his chin bent on his old breast, a little half-smile on his lips. And as Murphy looked at him pridefully Cappy spoke in his sleep:
"Holy sailor! How Mike Murphy can swear!"
Terence P. Reardon came to the foot of the little spiral staircase leading to the turret.
"Michael, me lad," he announced, "the internal-combustion ile ingin' is the marine ingin' av the future. They're as simple as two an' two is four. Listen, avic! Does she not run like a twenty-four-jewel watch? An' this man that invinted thim was a Ger-r-man—more power to him! Faith, I'm thinkin' if the Ger-r-mans were as great in war as they are in peace 'twould need more nor the Irish to take the measure av thim!"
"Irish?" Mike Murphy answered irritably. "Terence, quit your bragging! God knows the Irish are great—"
"The greatest in the wide, wide wur-rld!" Terence declared, with all the egotism of his race.
"Whist, Terry! There's a little old Yankee man aboard; if you wake him up he'll call you a liar."
"The darlin' ould fox!" Terry murmured affectionately, and went back to his engines.
The entire office force of the Blue Star Navigation Company and the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company had assembled in the general office to greet Cappy Ricks, Mike Murphy and Terence Reardon upon their return from Europe, and to hear at first hand the story of their wanderings and adventures. And when the wondrous tale had been told, and business was once more resumed, Matt Peasley, Mr. Skinner, Mike and Terence convened in Cappy Ricks' office for further discussion.
"We sent that half million dollars to New York to be transferred to the credit of the French Government when the bill of sale for that steamer should be deposited with the bank there," Matt remarked presently. "What kind of a vessel did you buy, Cappy? What are her dimensions?"
"What kind of a ship did I buy?" Cappy piped. "Hum-m-m! A ship is good. I bought four; and—believe me!—they're no skiffs, either. All of them are big foreign-going steel tramps, with lots of speed and power."
"Four for half a million dollars?" Matt Peasley cried unbelievingly.
"They would have cost anybody else a million and a half; but—er— well, you see, Matt, I had a stand-in with the right people. The four vessels I bought were all prizes of war—German merchantmen converted into commerce raiders, which had slipped through the cordon of British cruisers and got into the North Atlantic, where French cruisers overhauled them and brought them into port. They were all there and up for sale to the highest bidder when we got there with the horses and our captured submarine.
"I bid half a million for the lot, which is probably about half of what it cost to build them; and there was a Frenchman and an Englishman bidding against me. They each had me topped, and the vessels were knocked down to the Frenchman; but when he found I was a competitor—that I was Monsieur le Capitaine Ricks—that's what they called me, Matt—in command of the party that captured a German submarine, intact and without the loss of a single man on either side-say, Matt, the stuff was all off!
"He and the Englishman went into a conference; and the result was, the Frenchman ran out on his bid and forfeited his ten-per-cent certified check. That left the Englishman the next highest bidder; and he ran out on his bid and left the ships to me! Then the Englishman shook hands with me and the Frenchman kissed me. I thought the least I could do was to make good to them on the earnest money they had forfeited, and they accepted it. Then the President of France heard about it and came down to Brest to see me; and he kissed me, too, and gave me the Officers' Cross of the Legion of Honor. I didn't tell him I was just a private in the ranks. Oh, no! Nothing doing. I was introduced as Monsieur le Capitaine Ricks—and that settled it. I was an officer, for all my courtesy title; and I took the Cross, because I was prouder than Punch to have it.
"Then the Chamber of Deputies met and voted the Frenchman and the Englishman back their forfeited earnest money; and they gave me back my checks, and I wrote new ones for the same amount and split the swag fifty-fifty between the two nations for the care of their wounded. Then I gave a dinner aboard the submarine, and President Poincare was present. I presented the submarine, with the compliments of the Blue Star Navigation Company, to the Republic of France, and the President accepted, all hands went out on deck and we cracked a bottle of champagne over that submersible's bows and rechristened her."
"What name?" Matt and Skinner chorused.
"The Shamrock—out of compliment to Mike and Terence."
"Fine!" Matt cried. "Then what?"
"Nothing, Matt. Our business was finished and I was anxious to get back on the job; so we engaged skippers and crews to bring our four freighters to New York, and came home.
"Better step lively, boy, and dig up some business for them! Mike will give you the data on their tonnage."
Matt drew Mike Murphy aside.
"Tell me, Mike," he whispered, "did the old man get soused at that dinner aboard the Shamrock?"
"Look here, Matt," Murphy answered; "what Monsieur le Capitaine Ricks does outside of office hours is none of my business—or yours, either. And if you don't like that answer help yourself to a new port captain. I'm not telling everything I know, Matt."
On the morning of April 3, 1917, Cappy Ricks came down to his office, spread a newspaper on his desk and carefully cut from it the war address of President Wilson to Congress, made the night before. This clipping the old gentleman folded carefully; he placed it in an envelope, sealed it and wrote across the face of the envelope: "Property of Alden Matthew Peasley." Then he summoned Mr. Skinner, president of the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company.
"Skinner, my dear boy," he began, "have you read the President's Message to Congress?"
"I have," replied Skinner.
"I guess that President of ours isn't some tabasco, eh? By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, he's just naturally read Bill Hohenzollern out of the party. Bully for Woodrow!"
Mr. Skinner's calm cold features refused to thaw, however, under the heat of his employer's enthusiasm, seeing which Cappy slid out to the edge of his chair and gazed contemplatively at Skinner over the rims of his spectacles. "Hum-m-m!" he said. The very tempo of that throat-clearing should have warned Mr. Skinner that he was treading on thin ice, but with his usual complacence he ignored the storm signal, for his mind was upon private, not public affairs.
"I'm offered the old barkentine C. D. Bryant for a cargo of redwood to Sydney," he began. "The freight rate is two hundred and twenty shillings per thousand feet, but the Bryant is so old and rotten I can't get any insurance on the cargo if I ship by her. I'm just wondering if—"
"—it's worth while taking a chance to move that foreign order."
"Skinner!" Cappy almost shouted.
Mr. Skinner looked at him, startled.
"How can you think and talk of old barkentines and non-insurable foreign cargoes at this crisis in our country's history?" the autocrat of the numerous Ricks corporations shrilled furiously. "Dad burn your picture, Skinner, are you human? Don't you ever get a thrill from reading a document like this?"—and he tapped the envelope containing the press clipping. "What kind of juice runs in your arteries, anyhow? Red blood or buttermilk? Is your soul so dog-goned dead, crushed under the weight of dollars, that you have failed to realize this document is destined to go down in history side by side with Lincoln's Gettysburg speech? I'll bet you don't know the Gettysburg speech. Bet you never heard of it!"
"Oh, nonsense, Mr. Ricks," Skinner retorted suavely. "Pray do not excite yourself. Suppose war does impend? Is that any reason why I should neglect business?"
"Of course it is, you gibbering jackdaw! I feel like setting fire to the building, just to celebrate. Can't you step into my office on a day like this and discuss the country and her affairs for five minutes, just to prove you're an American citizen? Can't you rejoice with me over these lofty, noble sentiments—"
"Words, words, empty words," warned Mr. Skinner, always a reactionary Republican.
"Skinner," said Cappy with deadly calm, "one more disloyal peep out of you and I shall have no alternative save to request your resignation. I think you're a pacifist at heart, anyhow!"
"Huh," snorted Skinner. "You've changed your tune, haven't you? Who trotted up and down California Street last fall, soliciting campaign contributions for the Republican nominee from the lumber and shipping interests? Wasn't it Alden P. Ricks? Who thought the country was going to wrack and ruin—"
"That was last fall," Cappy interrupted shrilly. "We live and learn—that is, some of us do," he added significantly. "Never mind about my politics last fall; just remember I haven't any this spring. I'm an American citizen, and by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, some German or Germans will find it out before I'm gathered to the bosom of Abraham. I have a right to disapprove of my President if I feel like it, but I'll be shot if I'll let anybody else pick on him." And Cappy shook his head emphatically several times like a squinch-owl.
"Oh, I'm for him, now that we're committed to this war," Skinner declared in an effort to soothe the old man.
"Sure! We're locking the stable door after the horse has been stolen. If we'd been for him when the Lusitania was sunk instead of being divided in our opinions and swayed in our judgment by a lot of hysterical pacifists and German propagandists we'd have been into the war long ago and saved millions of human lives; we'd have had the war won." He sighed.
"What a prime lot of jackasses we Americans are!" he continued. "We talk of liberty and demand license; we prate of democracy and we're a nation of snobs!"
"You wanted to see me about something," Skinner reminded him.
"Ah, yes; I was forgetting. This envelope, Skinner, contains the President's address. Take it and put it in the vault, and when my grandson is twelve years old give that press clipping to his mother and tell her I said she was to read it to the boy and make him learn it by heart. I won't be on hand to do the Americanizing of that youngster myself, and most likely Matt Peasley will be too busy to think much about it, so I'm taking no chances. You rile me to beat the band sometimes, Skinner, but I'll say this much in your favor: I have never known you to forget anything."
"Thank you, sir."
Mr. Skinner took the envelope and departed, and Cappy rang for a stenographer.
"Take a telegram, fast day message," he barked: "'His Excellency, The President, White House, Washington, D. C. Dear Mister President: I did not vote for you last fall, but your address of last night makes me ashamed that I did not. I am controlling owner of the Blue Star Navigation Company, operating a fleet of fifty vessels of various kinds, twelve of which are foreign-going steam freighters. Am also controlling owner of the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company, cutting a million feet of lumber daily. Everything I control, every dollar I possess, is at the service of my country. God bless you, sir! Alden P. Ricks.'
"That sounds sloppy, but it's the way I feel," Cappy declared. "When a man has a big heart-breaking job to do and a lot of Philistines are knocking him, maybe it helps him to retain his faith in humankind to have some fellow grow sincerely sloppy and slip a telegraphic cheer in with the hoots. Besides, if I didn't let off steam today I'd swell up and bust myself all over the office—"
The door opened and Mr. Terence P. Reardon, port engineer of the Blue Star Navigation Company, entered. Mr. Reardon's right eye was in deep mourning and at no very remote period something—presumably a fist—had shifted his nose slightly to starboard; indeed, even as he entered Cappy's office a globule of the rich red Reardon blood trembled in each of the port engineer's nostrils. His knuckles were slightly skinned and the light of battle blazed in his black eyes.
"Terence, my dear, dear fellow," murmured the horrified Cappy, "you look as if you had been fed into a concrete mixer. Have you been fighting?"
"Well, sor," Mr. Reardon replied in his deep Kerry brogue, "ye might call it that for lack of somethin' more expressive. I've just fired the chief engineer o' the Tillicum."
"Mr. Denicke? Why, Terry, he's a first-rate engineer. I'm amazed. He was with us ten years before you entered the employ—worked up from oiler; in fact, I must have an explanation of your action in this case, Terence."
"He called the President a nut. I fired him for that. Then he said the Kaiser was the greatest single force for civilization that ever was, an' wit' that I gave him a lift under the lug an' we wint at it. He's in the Harbor Receivin' Hospital this minute, an' I'm here to tell ye, sor, wit' all respect, that if ye don't like the way I've treated that Dutchman ye can get yerself a new port ingineer, for I'll quit, an' that's somethin' I'm not wishful to do."
Quite calmly Cappy Ricks pressed the buzzer on his desk. The cashier of the Blue Star Navigation Company entered. "Son," said Cappy, "hereafter, when making out Mr. Reardon's pay check, tack onto it twenty-five dollars extra each month. That is all."
"Thank you, sor," murmured Mr. Reardon, quite overcome.
"Get out!" cried Cappy. "You're a vision of sudden death. Go wash yourself."
As Mr. Reardon took his departure Cappy sighed. "If Skinner only had a set of works like that port engineer!" he murmured. "If he only had!"
It will be recalled that war with Germany was declared on Good Friday. Bright and early on Saturday morning Cappy Ricks arrived at his office and immediately summoned Mr. Skinner.
"Skinner, my dear boy," he chirped, "'the tumult and the shouting dies. We're down to brass tacks—at last; and now is time for all good men and true to come to the aid of the party. I'm too old to bear arms, and when I was young enough bantam battalions weren't fashionable; nevertheless, I am enlisting for the war, and I start in this morning to do my part. I won't wear any uniform, but believe me, Skinner, I'm the little corporal who's going to mobilize the Blue Star Navigation Company and the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company, together with all and sundry of their subsidiary corporations. I'm starting with you, Skinner. Are you figuring on enlisting?"
"Certainly not, sir. I'm forty-three years old, married—"
"No excuses necessary, Skinner. Even if you had planned to enlist I would have forbidden the banns. You'd make a bird of a paymaster or quartermaster, but as an enlisted man—well, the other bad soldier boys would toss you in a blanket. So I'll assign you to a job in civil life. Skinner, what do you know about aeroplanes?"
"Absolutely nothing, except that they fly."
"Then learn something! Skinner, the ideal wood for aeroplane construction is clear Pacific Coast spruce. I've been reading up on the subject. Inasmuch as this war must be won in the air, you can imagine the number of aeroplanes the country must turn out in the next eighteen months. Stu-pen-dous, Skinner, simply stu-pen-dous! Try to visualize the wastage alone in the aeroplanes on the battle fronts; consider the thousands of seaplanes that will scour the Atlantic on the lookout for submarines, and then ask yourself, Skinner, what the devil those overworked army and navy officers in Washington are going to do about laying in a supply of clear Pacific Coast spruce before these pirates of lumbermen get next and boost the price clear out of sight. Skinner, what is clear spruce worth at the Northern mills today?"
"About fifty-five dollars per thousand, sir. For years clear spruce never rose in price beyond thirty-five dollars, but purchases by the British Government have shot the price up during the past year."
"Exactly! And purchases by the United States Government will shoot the price up to a hundred and fifty dollars a thousand if you and I don't get busy. Now then, Skinner, listen to me! We have a couple of thousand acres of wonderful spruce timber adjacent to our fir holdings at Port Hadlock, Washington. Wire the mill manager to swamp in a logging railroad to that spruce timber, put in logging camps and concentrate on spruce. The clear stock we'll sell to the Government, and the lower grades will be snapped up by the box factories."
Mr. Skinner nodded his comprehension of the order and Cappy continued: "Wire our mill managers at Astoria, Oregon and Eureka, California, to log out all the spruce they come across among the fir. As for you, Skinner, accept no more orders for clear spruce from our regular customers, and go easy on accepting orders for any kind of lumber from our Eastern customers. All those car shipments must be made up of kiln-dried stock, and we'll want most of the space in our dry kilns to cook this clear green spruce for Uncle Sam, because he's going to want it in a hurry, and if he can't get it when he wants it—why, chaos has come again and all hell's let loose!"
"What price do you propose charging the Government for this clear spruce?" the cautious Skinner queried. He owned a little stock in the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company and already he had a vision of an extra dividend.
"Absolute cost plus ten per cent," replied Cappy promptly. "No excess profits at the expense of the country at war, Skinner."
He gazed upon Skinner contemplatively for several seconds. "And mind you don't figure the cost too liberally," he warned him.
"Very well, sir. Is that all?"
"Not by a jugful! You scatter round the market and buy up every stick of clear two-inch spruce sawed and on hand at the Northern mills. Buy at the market, but do not hesitate to go five dollars over the market if necessary to get the stock. Then place orders for all the clear spruce the mills can cut and deliver within the next six months, and we'll have the market hog tied.
"Got to do it, Skinner. I tell you there isn't a whole lot of difference between a lumberman and a manufacturer or a food speculator. When he gets the public foul, doesn't the public pay through the nose? Haven't we been doing it ourselves in the matter of ship freights? But we must reform, Skinner, we must reform and get down to a cooperative basis, no matter how great the agony. On this spruce deal alone, for instance, we'll save the Government a couple of million dollars. See if we don't."
"We're entitled to a liberal profit," Mr. Skinner protested. "If—"
"No ifs, buts or ands! Obey orders! About the time we have the market on clear spruce well cornered the lumbermen's boys will be in the army and the lumbermen themselves will have begun to realize that they must sacrifice something for their country. And once we're sane we'll be able to work hand in glove with the Government. The United States of America has been money-mad for a long time, Skinner, but this war is going to spiritualize us and show us that there's a lot more in life than dollar-chasing. Hop to your job, P. D. Q., Skinner, my boy; and as you pass out send Captain Matt Peasley in to me."
Matt Peasley came smilingly into his father-in-law's office. "Well, Cappy," he hailed the old gentleman, "I understand you've come out of your retirement."
"You're damned whistling, I have!" Cappy rejoined. "Something doing, boy, something for everybody! Have they told you about it in the general office?"
"Told me about what?"
"About the President asking me if I would cooperate with him to the extent of serving as the Pacific Coast member of the Shipping Board? I guess that isn't some honor, eh? How the devil he ever dug up an old fossil like me is a mystery. I wired him, advising that he appoint a younger man, but he replied that he knew I was the livest shipping man in the country and an American through and through. So, of course, Matt, I have accepted."
"Your forty odd years' experience will be of inestimable value to the country in this emergency," Matt declared heartily. "I'm proud of you."
"Thank you, son. Now then, Matt, to business! The Government's going to need every one of our ships that can run foreign." Matt nodded. "Very well, then," Cappy continued; "as fast as their present charters lapse, decline to recharter except for single trips. We must go on a war basis and be prepared to turn our ships over to the Government on short notice. I'll be too busy to keep my eye on the details of the Blue Star's transactions with the Government, so I'll give you a straight tip now—I want no gouging. Remember that, Matthew, my son."
The following day Cappy had a call from Sam Daniels.
"Hello, Sam," Cappy greeted his lanky ranch manager. "What brings you up to town? Not that I'm not glad to see you, for I was on the point of writing you on some matters that had occurred to me."
"I've come up to resign my job," Daniels declared humbly.
"Resign the best job you've ever had, Sam!" Cappy was amazed.
"To resign the best job I ever will have, Mr. Ricks."
Mr. Daniels hitched his chair close to his employer's desk. "Boss," he said, "I'm awful sorry, but I'm goin' soldiering."
Cappy Ricks sprang to his feet with an oath. "You're not!" he shouted. "I won't hear of it. You're too valuable a man to go into the army and get yourself killed—particularly since you can do your share at home. Why, I was just going to write you and give you your orders for patriotic duty. You go back to the ranch, Sam, and get busy. Plant spuds, wheat, oats, barley, corn—plant all you can of it. Raise heifers, sheep, hogs, cows, bulls, calves, turkeys—everything that can be eaten. Raise horses—and in particular, raise mules."
"I'd rather raise hell with a bunch of Germans," Sam Daniels declared feelingly.
"Your job is to help produce cereals and canned beef for the hell-raisers," Cappy declared. "The army will want horses for the artillery and mules for the transport. Why, this war may last for years. Sam, you infernal scoundrel, you get back on the farm. You're forty-five years old and you've been shot and whittled enough in your day to last you the remainder of your natural life. Let the young fellows do the fighting abroad, while you and I and the other hasbeens do it at home."
"I'd a heap rather lay off in the brush somewheres an' snipe Germans," Mr. Daniels pleaded. "On the level, boss, if they'll give me a Springfield rifle with telescopic sights I'll guarantee to sicken anythin' I get a fair sight on at a thousand yards."
"In-fer-nal scoundrel! How dare you argue with me! You get back on your job!"
"Boss, I'm going into the army," Daniels announced sadly, but nevertheless firmly. "I'm givin' you a month's notice so you can get a man to take my place."
Cappy surrendered. "All right, Sam. If you survive, your job will be waiting for you when you get back. However, you needn't give me any notice. I'll have another man in charge of the ranch to-morrow, and you can enlist today."
"And you're not sore at me, Mr. Ricks?"
"Sam, I'm proud of you. Wish I were young enough to go it with you. Are you in a hurry to get to France?"
"Then join the marines. They always go first. Good-bye, Sam. Good luck to you and God bless you! Draw your wages as you go out and tell the cashier I said to give you an extra month's wages for tobacco money."
Mr. Daniels withdrew, visibly filled with emotion. Ten minutes later Cappy Ricks, watching at his office window, saw Mr. Daniels cross the street and enter the marines' recruiting office. Immediately Cappy called that recruiting office on the telephone and asked for the doctor.
"Look here, doctor!" he said. "In a few minutes a lanky, battle scarred rancher is coming in to be examined. I don't want him to enlist. He's my ranch manager and worth more to the country in his job than at the Front. You turn him down physically, doctor, and I'll guarantee to send you five fine recruits instead of that old fossil. His name is Sam Daniels, and I'm Alden P. Ricks, of the Blue Star Navigation Company, across the street."
"We need an automobile to send our recruiting sergeant out through the state," the wary medico replied. "Now, if you could loan us one—"
"I'll have my own car and chauffeur over in half an hour, and you keep him as long as you need him," Cappy piped. "Only tell Sam Daniels he's faltering on the brink of the grave and send him back to me."
An hour later Mr. Daniels slouched into Cappy Ricks' office. "Well, Private Daniels," the old man saluted him, "you look downcast. Has something slipped?"
"I should say it has. The doc over to the recruitin' office says I got a heart murmur from smoking cigarettes, which it's a cinch the excitement o' battle brings on death from heart failure, an' then folks would say I died o' fright."
"He's crazy Sam! Tell him to go chase himself."
"I guess he's right, Mr. Ricks. He 'most cried to let me go, an' was for waivin' the heart murmur, but it seems I got a floatin' kidney, an' flat feet. Gosh, I never knew I had flat feet, but then I've rid horses all my life an' ain't never hiked none to speak of."
He was silent several minutes, studying the pattern of the office carpet. Presently he looked up. "Is my successor at the ranch already appointed?" he queried.
"Go back to the fields and the kind-faced cows, Samuel," quoth Cappy gently. "Hurry, or you'll miss the train."
Sam Daniels fled, and hard on his heels came Mrs. Michael J. Murphy, nee Miss Keenan. It will be recalled that prior to her happy alliance with Michael J. Murphy, Mrs. Murphy had been Cappy Ricks' favorite stenographer. He received her cordially.
"Now then, what's gone wrong, my dear?" he demanded. "Have you and Mike been making a hash of your married life that you should come in here on the verge of tears?"
Mrs. Murphy blinked away a tear or two and sat down. "Some of the boys in the office will be enlisting, Mr. Ricks," she faltered. "I wonder if there might be a vacancy for me—if I might not have my old position back?"
Cappy Ricks was genuinely concerned. "Why, Mike won't let you earn your living," he declared. "Why do you make such an extraordinary request?"
"For Mike's sake, Mr. Ricks. Of late he has been very nervous and distrait; scarcely touches his meals, and thinks, talks and dreams of war. Last night he dreamed he was back in the navy and shouted out an order that woke him up."
"Come to think of it, I believe Mike did spend several years in the navy prior to going into mercantile marine," Cappy observed. "So he has the war fever again, eh? Wants to go back?"
"Ever since he received a letter from the Navy League. They're searching out all the old navy men—gun pointers particularly—and asking them to come back to help train the young fellows just coming into the service. Mike was a gun pointer—"
"Well, what in thunder is he hesitating for?" Cappy piped wrathfully.
"About me. Mike's married to me, you know, and he worries about what will happen to me if he should be killed. He knows I'll be broken-hearted if he enlists—he's afraid I'll not let him go. But if I got my job back and was self-supporting, Mike's conscience would be—"
"Do you want him to go?"
"No, Mr. Ricks, but he must go. I do not want to make a coward or a slacker out of Mike. I've got to do my part, you know."
"My dear," said Cappy feelingly, "you're a noble woman. Go back and attend to your little home; Mike may go whenever he's ready and his salary with the Blue Star will go on while he is in the navy; his job will be waiting for him when he comes back. Good old Mike! How dreadful a crime to hobble that Irishman with a first-class fight in sight."
When Mrs. Mike had left the office Cappy stiffened out suddenly in his chair, clenched his fists and closed his eyes, as if in pain. And presently between the wrinkled old lids two tears crept forth. Poor Cappy! He was finding it very, very hard to be old and little and out of the fight, for in every war in which the United States had engaged representatives of the tribe of Ricks had gladly offered their bodies for the supreme sacrifice, and as Cappy's active mind ran down the long and bloody list his heart swelled with anguish in the knowledge that he was doomed to play an inglorious part in the war with Germany. Mr. Skinner coming in with a letter to Cappy, observed the old man's emotion and asked him if he was ill.
"Yes, Skinner, I am," he replied. "I'm sick at heart. God has given me everything I ever wanted except six big strapping sons. Just think, Skinner, what a glorious honor would be mine if I had six fine boys to give to my country." His old lips trembled. "And you could bank on the Ricks boys," he added. "My boys would never wait to be drafted. No, sir-ree! When they heard the call they'd answer, like their ancestors.
"Skinner, what has come over our boys of this generation? Why don't they volunteer? Why does the President have to beg for men? Has the soul of the idealist been corroded by a life of ease? Did the spirit of adventure die with our forefathers? Is it any harder to die just because war has become more terrible—more deadly? Oh, Skinner, Skinner! To be young and tall and strong and whirled in the cycle of vast events—to play a man's part in a glorious undertaking—to feel that I have enriched the world with my efforts, however humble, or with my body revitalized the soil made fallow by a ravishing monster. I feel, Skinner—I feel so much and can do so little."
Nevertheless, he did do something that very afternoon. One after the other he examined all the young men in his employ, discovered which of them could afford the luxury of enlisting and then asked them bluntly whether they were going to enlist. Three of them said they were, and Cappy promised each of them a month's salary the day he should report to him in uniform. Nine others appeared to be uncertain of their duty, so Cappy fired them all, to the great distress of Mr. Skinner and Matt Peasley. Cappy, however, turned a deaf ear to their remonstrances.
"A man who won't fight for his country is no good," he declared; "and I won't keep a no-good son of a slacker on my pay roll. Get married men or men who have been rejected for military service to take the places of these bums who haven't courage enough even to try to enlist."
The campaign for the Liberty bonds brought Cappy an appointment from the mayor as captain of a corps of volunteer bond salesmen to work the wholesale lumber and shipping trade, and for three weeks the old gentleman was as busy as the proverbial one-armed paper hanger with the itch. He was obsessed with a fear that the bond issue would be under-subscribed by about a billion and a half and result in the United States of America being accorded a hearty Teutonic horse laugh. Consequently he made five separate subscriptions on his own account, and just before the lists closed on the last day he was again overcome with apprehension and subscribed for an additional ten thousand dollars' worth for his grandson! When the result of the Liberty-bond campaign was made known he almost wept with joy and gave a wonderful dinner to his corps of salesmen, after which he went down to his ranch to rest for a week and see what Sam Daniels was up to.
The morning he returned to town, prepared to leap, heart and soul into the hundred-million-dollar Red Cross drive, he had a visit from his port captain, Michael J. Murphy.
"Well, sir," Murphy announced, "I've cleaned up all the little details in my department, your new port captain is on the job, and I'm about to go over to the naval training station on Goat Island and hold up my hand again. But before I go, sir, I want to express to you something of what I feel for what you've done for me and mine."
"Tut, tut. Not another peep out of you, sir!" Cappy commanded. To be thanked for anything always made him feel uncomfortable. "What branch of the service do you hope to get into, Mike?"
"I want to get aboard a destroyer, sir, though they're the divil an' all to live aboard. They offer the best chance for action. Patrolling the submarine zone, you know."
"Gosh," Cappy groaned; "everybody's got the submarines on the brain, and I'm tagging along with the rest. Mike, I swear I can't sleep nights, thinking of this war. It breaks my heart to realize I'm out of it. And because I'm a shipping man, naturally my fool brain runs to submarines and how to control them. Mike, I have a great yearning to sink a submarine; the screams of those scoundrels aboard her would be music to my ears."
"It's a serious problem," Murphy declared soberly; "but I'm hoping our Yankee ingenuity will solve it."
"Well, we haven't done it to date, and in the meantime all the nut inventors in the world are sending their nut ideas in to the National Council of Defense. Of course I have a bright idea too. I'm a great hand at hatching cute schemes, you know. However, I differ from the average submarine nut in this—that I want to try out my theory in practice before submitting it to an expectant world. Still, I'd need you to help me; and now that you're going into the navy I suppose I'll have to forget it."
"I seem to remember a scheme of yours that resulted in the capture of a submarine last year," Murphy reminded the old man. "That was a bully scheme, and I'm willing to wager that the head which produced it can produce another just as good. Tell me your plan for eliminating submarines, Mr. Ricks."
"My scheme doesn't contemplate a continuous performance," Cappy hastened to explain, "but it might work out once or twice—and in this great international emergency anything is worth trying once. I could demonstrate my theory in about two months—with your help."
"Then," declared Michael J. Murphy, "I'll wait until you give the demonstration before enlisting in the navy."
"Bully for you, Mike! I'll declare Terry Reardon in on the experiment also, for the reason that one of the ingredients required is a chief engineer with courage to spare. Now then, for my scheme: Do you know the Costa Rica?"
"That old steamer that used to run to Panama for the Pacific Mail?"
"What about her?"
"She's in the bone yard—laid up for keeps, Mike. Her plates are so thin and soft the least jar would punch a hole in her; she's wrecked and strained from fifty years of service; her engines are worn out, her boilers are burned out, her gear is antiquated, and even in these times of abnormal freight rates she's too far gone to patch up and keep running. They kicked her up in the mud of Oakland Inner Harbor yesterday, and there she'll be stripped of everything of value and left to rot. My plan, Mike, is to buy the old Costa Rica for a couple of thousand dollars, turn Terence Reardon and his gang loose on her engines and boilers for a couple of weeks and take the old coffin out for one final voyage. She can make eight or nine knots in good weather, and if she's torpedoed the loss will be trifling. Will you run the risk and take her out for me, Mike?"
"Yes, sir. What for?"
"As a decoy."
"I don't understand."
"We'll put a hand-picked crew aboard her, Mike; we'll arm her fore and aft with six-inch guns, which we can readily get from the navy now that it's the fashion to arm merchantmen; and then go cruising in the submarine zone. You can pick up a few old navy men for a gun crew and train some of the Costa Rica's crew, can't you?"
"If we can get somebody to give me the range and manage to get the gun loaded somehow, I'll do the gun pointing; with half a chance I'll guarantee results."
"And that is exactly what I plan to give you—half a chance," Cappy declared enthusiastically. "The Costa Rica isn't worth two hoots in a hollow, but she still looks enough like a steamer to attract submarines; and during this fine summer weather we can chance a final voyage with the old wreck."
"Where do you get this 'we' stuff, Mr. Ricks?" Mike Murphy queried bluntly. "You're not figuring on going to sea in that coffin, are you?"
"I most certainly am so figuring. I take my fun where I find it, Mike, and if I'm to plan and pay for this experiment—then, by gravy, I'm going to be on deck to watch it work out if it's the last act of my sinful career."
"But if they fire on us you may be killed."
"We'll be firm' back at 'em, won't we? And if I'm killed in action, won't that be a fitting finish for a Ricks?"
"We may be afloat in an open boat for a week. I don't want you to die of exposure, sir."
"Forget it, Mike! I've been charged off to profit and loss for so many years it makes me ill to think of them. And you remember, my dear Mike,
"'To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late; And how can man die better Than facing fearful odds For the ashes of his fathers And the temples of his gods?'
Don't argue with me, Mike. My mind is quite made up. I'm going into action in this war, for, as I said before, I'll try anything once—particularly when it isn't very expensive and I can afford the luxury. We're going to buy the Costa Rica, take her into the submarine zone and lose her, but, by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, we'll take a submarine with us!"
"Not if the German sees us first."
Cappy leaned forward and laid his index finger impressively on Michael J. Murphy's knee. "That's the only way we can hope to win," he declared. "We must make certain the submarine sees us first. Mike, a German is a rabid disciple of law and order; anything out of the usual run of things upsets him terribly; he never makes allowance for the unexpected or for the other fellow's point of view. To be more exact, Mike, I figure that German psychology is the only kind of psychology a German can understand. And to tell you the truth, Mike," he added musingly, "there are blamed few people who can understand mine."
Michael J. Murphy nodded a vigorous indorsement to this last remark, and Cappy went on: "Do you think any proud and arrogant skipper of a German submarine would ever suspect an American citizen of such a harebrained scheme as the sending out of a rusty, creaking old rattletrap of a steamer that can't get out of her own way, for the avowed purpose of destroying him and his sub? No sir! His microphones will tell him, while he is still totally submerged, that his approaching prey is a slow poke and cannot possibly outrun him; then he'll come up, take a look and clinch his conclusions—after which he will attack."
"True for you sir. He'll launch his torpedo and dive before I can get a shot at him or correct my range to hit him; then the torpedo will hit us and we'll go up like a shower of mush—probably with half a dozen men killed and nothing accomplished in the way of a return swat."
"That was the program a few months ago," Cappy retorted triumphantly. "Have you noticed, however, that since merchantmen have been armed the submarines are more and more prone, when attacking in daylight, to pursue a steamer at a reasonable distance and rake her with shell fire? If a vessel is fired on and her skipper, looking back, notes the position of the submarine and realizes that he cannot possibly outrun her and that she outranges him, what does he do, Mike?"
"He does the sensible thing. Heaves to to avoid loss of life, gets his men into the boats and abandons his ship to the Hun."
"Precisely! And if the Hun thinks he is not likely to be disturbed for a couple of hours, what does he do?"
"Why," said Murphy, "he comes aboard, removes all the stores he can—particularly engine oil—and strips the vessel of all her brass, copper and bronze fittings. These metals are very scarce in Germany and they need all they can get in the manufacture of munitions."
"Correct! And we must bear in mind, Mike, the fact that a German is naturally thrifty; if he can sink a ship with shell fire or bombs set in her bilges he will not waste on her a torpedo that costs from ten to twenty thousand dollars. Now, will he?"
"Well, I wouldn't, Mr. Ricks."
"Then my plan is absurdly simple. We merely provide a gorgeous opportunity for the enemy; we inculcate in him the idea that he is about to pick a soft one—then: Alas, poor Yorick!"
Michael J. Murphy rose and put on his hat. "Where are you going, Mike?" Cappy demanded.
"I'm going up to the navy yard at Mare Island," the port captain declared, "to see if I cannot pick up a couple of six-inch rifles of the model they used when I was in the navy. They're obsolete now, but I understand them—and while I'm getting the guns I'll pick up four or five old navy men. Leave it to me, Mr. Ricks."
"We'll give 'em hell!" shouted Cappy.
"We will!" quoth Michael J. Murphy with conviction.
Two weeks later the old Costa Rica, looking somewhat youthful in a new coat of black paint and with a huge American flag painted on each topside, slipped quietly out of San Francisco in ballast and for the last time turned her nose toward Panama. In the brief period given him in which to overhaul her interior, Terence P. Reardon had accomplished wonders, and an hour after Mike Murphy had taken his bearings from Point San Pedro and laid out his course the chief came into the chart room to announce that the old girl was doing eight knots and, barring unexpected bad weather, would continue to do it without falling to pieces. "If I could have spint two thousand dollars more on her," Terence declared, "I believe I could get another knot out av her. Time was whin she could do sixteen."
Cappy Ricks, enjoying his afternoon cigar in the snug chart room, snorted vigorously. "I don't very often take a notion to throw my money into the sea, Terence," he reminded his port engineer, "but when I do get that reckless I limit myself to twenty thousand dollars, and that, in round figures, is what this old ruin will stand me about the time the torpedo blows you up on top of the fiddle. However, that is a trifling investment if we succeed in destroying a late-type German submarine with a couple of hundred thousand dollars' worth of torpedoes aboard. As a sporting proposition it's somewhat more expensive than golf, but the excitement makes up for the added cost."
"The old box is alive with rats and bedbugs," Murphy complained.
"If they annoy you, Mike, my boy, comfort yourself with the thought that they're all going to be drowned," Cappy replied gayly.
Slowly the old packet wallowed down the coast, the while her crew, under Mike Murphy's supervision, built gun platforms fore and aft. Following their completion, the two six-inch guns Cappy had succeeded in getting from the navy were lifted out of the hold with the aid of the cargo winch and placed in position, one forward and the other aft. Thereupon the mate took charge of the Costa Rica, while Mike Murphy drilled his crew in range finding and celerity in loading the piece. Pointing the gun was entirely up to Murphy and, needless to state, the task was in capable hands, as was frequently demonstrated during target practice as they loafed down the coast.
Upon arrival at Panama the Costa Rica's bunkers were replenished and an extra supply of sacked coal was piled on deck, for with her patched-up boilers the old steamer was a hog on fuel. Then the mechanics and carpenters and all men not vitally needed aboard for the remainder of the voyage were put ashore and furnished with transportation back to San Francisco by the regular Pacific Mail liner. Next, the name on the bows of the Costa Rica was painted out, the name boards at each end of her bridge removed and the raised-letter record of her identity and home port chipped off her stern; following which Cappy Ricks, Terence P. Reardon and Michael J. Murphy commended their souls to their Creator, and the Costa Rica slipped leisurely through the ditch and out into the Caribbean Sea.
Fourteen days later Mike Murphy dropped round to Cappy Ricks' cabin. "We're in the danger zone, sir," he announced. "And from now on we're liable to meet one of the larger type of U-boats that operate a couple of thousand miles from the base at Zeebrugge."
"Very well," Cappy replied calmly. "Whether torpedoed or shelled, your instructions are the same. Forbid the wireless operator to send out a call for help, heave to immediately and get the men into the boats and away from the ship. Terry Reardon will remain on duty in the engine room, provided it isn't wrecked by a torpedo and the engine room crew killed; you and your gun crew will remain aboard and hide in the forecastle if it's action front, and in the auxiliary steering-gear house if it's action rear. I will relieve the quartermaster, take charge of the wheel and direct the action. If I see that there isn't going to be any action we'll put on life preservers, jump overboard and be picked up by our men in the boats. However, something tells me, Mike, that we're going to have a crack at—"
At that very instant something rapped the Costa Rica terrifically on the starboard side amidships and tore through her with a grinding, wrenching noise, followed by an explosion.
"There's the crack you were speaking of, sir," Murphy yelled and started for the door. Cappy Ricks grasped him frantically by the arm. "Was that a shell or a torpedo?" he cried. His voice, thin and shrill with age, quavered now with excitement.
"It was a shell," Murphy answered. "Went through the second cabin."
"Then that German belongs to Alden P. Ricks," Cappy declared, and scurried for the pilot house. "Out and into life-boats!" he ordered the quartermaster, and shoved him away from the wheel. "Set her over to slow speed ahead," he called to the mate, who was standing stupidly, gazing at the white puffs of smoke that marked the position of the submarine two miles off the starboard bow. The mate came to life, jammed over the handle of the marine telegraph and, obeying an order bellowed to him by Mike Murphy from the main deck, abandoned the bridge for the boat deck, there to superintend the task of getting the men away from the ship.
His first thrill of excitement having subsided, Cappy carefully drew the little half curtains on the pilot-house window, leaving a small slit through which he could observe the submarine without being observed himself, for it was no part of his plan to disclose to the enemy the fact that the ship was not entirely deserted—and that the submarine commander should jump to the conclusion that she was deserted by all hands was precisely the condition that Cappy desired to bring about.
Down in the engine room the indomitable Terence Reardon, with one hand on the throttle and one eye on the steam gauge, put the Costa Rica under a dead-slow bell; she seemed scarcely to move, yet she had sufficient steerage way to enable Cappy to keep her pointed in the general direction of the submarine, the commander of which, seeing the crew of the Costa Rica scurrying for the boats, contented himself with sending over half a dozen shells for the purpose of hurrying them along; then he ceased firing, and when the boats pulled out from the ship in tow of a motor lifeboat and his powerful glasses showed neither guns nor sign of life upon the Costa Rica's decks, he did exactly what Cappy Ricks figured he would do.
He circled warily round his prize, but the absence of frantic wireless calls for help lulled his suspicions, and presently he bore down upon her, hove to two cable lengths abreast the wallowing hulk and watched her fully five minutes for a possible trap, for the absence of any name puzzled him. His suspicions subsided at length, however, the hatch in her turtle deck slid back and men appeared, dragging up a small collapsible boat.
Slowly, slowly—so gradually that it seemed the old vessel was merely drifting, Cappy brought the Costa Rica round until her bow pointed toward the submarine. Mike Murphy, standing just inside the forecastle door, kept his glance on the slit in the curtains on the pilot-house window-and presently Cappy motioned violently to him.
"To the gun!" ordered the captain. Followed by his gun crew he dashed out of the forecastle and up the companion ladder to the forecastle head. A jerk at a lever connecting a cunningly constructed set of controls, and the false topsides on the forecastle head flopped to the deck, revealing Mike Murphy's six-inch gun. Cappy saw him deflect the gun while another man traversed it; for five seconds his eyes pressed the sight, and when the gun remained motionless Cappy knew that the hull of the submarine was looming fairly on the intersection of the cross wires in the sight. The range was point-blank!
Quick as were Murphy and his crew, however, the gun crew of the submarine was quicker. Before the Costa Rica's gun was properly laid, a shell from the submarine flew a foot over the heads of the Murphyites and burst fifty yards beyond the ship. "Ah, missed!" breathed Michael J. and raised his hand. The gunner released the firing pin and the six-inch projectile with which the gun had been loaded for two days crashed into the submarine at her water line.
A terrific explosion followed the shot. Cappy Ricks, gazing popeyed with horror, saw the submarine disintegrate and disappear in a huge water-spout; when the water settled only a vast and widening smear of heavy fuel oil showed where she had been.
From the forecastle head Michael Murphy yelled to Cappy Ricks. "Well, are you satisfied, sir?" On his part, Cappy, jubilant, even in the instant when he knew thirty new faces were already whining round the devil, dashed out on the bridge, seized the whistle cord and swung on it. A sad, nautical sob from the Costa Rica's siren answered him, and ten seconds later Terence Reardon whistled up the bridge. Cappy let go the whistle cord and took up the speaking tube. "Hello," he piped.
"What the divil do ye mean be blowin' that whistle?" roared Terence, thinking he was addressing the mate. "Wit' me alone in the engine room how d'ye expect me to keep shteam up on this ould hooker wit' you blowin' it off in the whistle! Take shame to yourself!"
"Mike sunk the submarine! Mike sunk the submarine!" Cappy shrilled over and over again. "Come up, Terence, and see the oil. See the oil, Terence, see the oil! Mike sunk the submarine, Mike sunk it. Bully for Mike! Oh, bully! Bully! Bully! Mike sunk it, but I schemed it. Come up, Terence, I'm going to faint."
And then, with shrill yips of delirious delight he slid down the companion to the main deck, to be gathered in Michael J. Murphy's arms and hugged and passed to the gun crew, who hoisted him to their shoulders and paraded joyously and blasphemously round the deck.
"I told you he wouldn't use a torpedo if he could do the trick with shells," Gappy shouted. "I told you he'd board us if we didn't wireless for help. Ha, ha, ha! Te-hee!" And he burst into shrill cachinnations. "I out-thought the scoundrel—goin' to get a patent on my idea—turn it over to the Government—oh, Mike! Oh, Terence! Get the steward back aboard. We must have some liquor. They used to serve grog in the old navy after a victory, didn't they? Yi-yi-yi!"
Terence P. Reardon came up and proffered his greasy paw, the while his quizzical glance swept the oily sea. "Well, sor," he remarked philosophically, "what wit' bein' a Christian I'm a little bit sorry the Dutchman lost, but back av that again I'm a little bit glad we won. Michael, do you get those blackguards o' mine down below as quick as ye can, or we'll be all day gettin' shteam up agin in this ould brute av a ship."
Two days passed uneventfully; then shortly before sunset on the third day the look-out reported a periscope about a thousand yards distant and three points off the port bow. Cappy Ricks' old knees promptly commenced to knock together with excitement.
"Here's where Terence gets that torpedo if he doesn't come up out of the engine room," Mike Murphy remarked laconically, and promptly whistled Terence on the engine room speaking tube. "Come up or be blown up," he yelled.
"Divil a fear! We're comin'," Terence replied.
The chief and his crew had just reached the deck when the black shining turtleback of the submarine broke water.
"They have to come to the surface to discharge a torpedo," Murphy explained to Cappy Ricks.
"Great Godfrey! Here it comes!" shrilled Cappy, and watched, fascinated, the wake of the torpedo as it raced toward them. Just as Terence Reardon and his engine crew came panting up on the bridge, the old Costa Rica walked into it. "Me ingine room! I knew it!" cried Terence. Then the explosion came.
From where he lay on his back, half stunned, Cappy Ricks saw water and wreckage fly high in the air. The Costa Rica shivered. So did Cappy. Then the debris descended, and Cappy, choked with salt water, dimly realized that Terence Reardon had him in his arms and was carrying him down to the boat deck, where the motor lifeboat swung wide in the davits.
"Here, take the boss from me," Terence commanded, and passed Cappy to a negro fireman, who carried the old man forward and laid him on a pile of blankets, previously placed there for just such an emergency.
Then the lifeboat commenced to drop away from the towering black topside and Cappy was aware of Michael J. Murphy's face—white, anxious, terrified—gazing down at him from the ship's rail.
"I'm just suffering from the shock," Cappy called. "Mike, you 'tend to business. Remember what I told you and tell the crew to keep their mouths shut. He'll do the natural thing and walk into your hand."
Murphy, reassured, waved his hand, and with his gun crew fled aft to the little house that protected the auxiliary steering gear from the weather, where they concealed themselves. In the meantime the other lifeboats had been lowered away; the painter from the third boat was passed to the second, which in turn passed its painter to the motor boat, and the ship's company hauled clear of the shattered, sinking ship. The Costa Rica was going down by the head, and Cappy, curious as any human being, sat up to watch his decoy disappear.
The submarine steamed up to them. "What vessel is that?" her commander shouted from the conning tower in excellent English.
"The American steamer Soak-it-to-'em, of Rotten Row," Cappy Ricks replied, "carrying a cargo of post holes. She has three decks and no bottom."
"How do you spell the name?" the German bawled.
"Can't hear you," Cappy fibbed. Then, sotto voce, to Mr. Reardon: "Kick her ahead, Terry."
"How do you spell the name?" the submarine captain repeated.
Cappy jibbered something unintelligible, and Mr. Reardon added to the puzzle by bellowing the information that the p was silent, as in pneumonia. All this time the motor boat was putting distance between itself and the submarine, and the disgusted German, as a last resort, steamed away and circled round the rapidly lifting stern of the doomed Costa Rica, confident that there he would find the record of her identity and home port—information which, in his methodical German way, he desired to include in his official report to the Admiralty. And while he ratched slowly past, striving to find with his binoculars that which was not, Michael J. Murphy and his bully boys came aft with a rush, tore aside the tarpaulin that screened the stern gun and expeditiously opened fire. To Cappy Ricks' horror Murphy's first shot was a clean miss, and instantly the big sub started to submerge with a hoarse sucking sound that brought despair to Cappy Ricks' heart. She was halfway under before Murphy's gun was reloaded, but quite calmly the gun was traversed and deflected until the black stern flashed across the intersection of the wires in the sight; then Murphy's hand dropped and the gun roared.
"That'll do nicely, lads," he told his crew. "Tore the stern off her that time; and from this dive she'll not come up. Cappy Ricks was right. He banked on human nature, and if curiosity isn't a human trait then I'm a Chinaman. Overboard with you, and away before the old girl goes under or we'll be sucked down in the vortex."
And overboard they went, to be picked up five minutes later by Terence and Cappy in the motor lifeboat. "You were right, Mr. Ricks," cried Murphy as he scrambled into the boat. "Curiosity killed the cat!"
"Yes, and it's blamed near killed me," Cappy declared feebly. "Some of that debris came down and hit me a slap on the dome—Jerusalem! There goes my decoy—peace to her bones!"
The Costa Rica dove to the Port of Missing Ships. Michael J. Murphy, however, did not turn to see her disappear; he was gazing, instead, at a thin red trickle that came from under Cappy's cap band and was running down his wizened neck. "Mr. Ricks," he said anxiously, "you're wounded."
Cappy rubbed the sore spot, and when he withdrew his fingers they were bloody.
"By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet!" he gasped wonderingly. "You're right, Mike. I've been wounded in action with the enemies of my country! So help me, Mike. I've actually lived to shed my blood for the Stars and Stripes, like any other Ricks."
He gazed wonderingly at Mike Murphy. "Now I can die happy," he murmured. "I've done my bit."
"Yes, begorra," rumbled Terence P. Reardon, "an' if I have my way about it ye're honorably discharged from the service this minute, Misther Ricks. I'll gallivant no more wit' you in ye're ould breadbaskets av shteamers. 'Tis highly dangerous an' no business for a man of family."
Mike Murphy grinned at his colleague. "For all that, Terence," he declared, "you must admit that Mr. Ricks' scheme for destroying submarines is the only practical one yet devised."
"Thrue for ye, Michael. But shtill, like all fine invintions, the idjea has its dhrawbacks. Now if we could only be sure av a continyous supply av ould ships for use as decoys—"
"I see a smudge of smoke," cried Gappy Ricks.
Mike Murphy followed the old man's pointing finger. "There's only one kind of boat makes a smudge like that," he declared; "and it's a destroyer. Safe and well out of a glorious adventure. Faith, we're the lucky devils; and by this and by that, I'll enlist aboard that destroyer, now that I'm here on the job."
"Do—an' good luck to you!" murmured Terence.
"Amen," said Cappy Ricks, and fingered his trifling but honorable wound. "Gosh!" he murmured. "If Skinner could only know a thrill like this!"