Chapter I

If you have read previous tales of the Blue Star Navigation Company and the various brisk individuals connected therewith, you will recall one Michael J. Murphy, who first came to the attention of Cappy Ricks at the time he, the said Murphy, was chief kicker of the barkentine Retriever under Captain Matt Peasley. Subsequently, when Matt Peasley presented in his person indubitable evidence of the wisdom of the old saw that you cannot keep a good man down, Michael J. became skipper of the Retriever. This berth he continued to occupy with pleasure and profit to all concerned, until a small financial tidal wave, which began with Matt Peasley's purchase, at a ridiculously low figure, of the Oriental Steamship Company's huge freighter, Narcissus, swept the cunning Matthew into the presidency of the Blue Star Navigation Company; whereupon Matt designed to take Murphy out of the Retriever and have him try his hand in steam as master of the Narcissus.

The same financial tidal wave had swept Cappy Ricks out of the presidency of the Blue Star Navigation Company--presumably far up the beach to a place in the sun, where he was to bask for the remainder of his old age as president emeritus of all his companies. However, if there was one thing about Cappy you could depend upon absolutely it was the consistency of his inconsistency. For, having announced his retirement, his very next move was to bewail his inability to retire. He insisted upon clinging to the business like a barnacle to a ship, and was always very much in evidence whenever any deal of the slightest importance was about to be consummated. Indeed, he was never so thoroughly in command as when, his first burst of enthusiasm anent the acquisition of the Narcissus at fifty per cent. of her value having passed, he discovered that his son-in-law planned to order Mike Murphy off the quarter-deck of the Retriever onto the bridge of the Narcissus, while an unknown answering to the name of Terence Reardon had been selected for her chief engineer.

Cappy listened to Matt Peasley's announcement; then with a propitiatory "Ahem! Hum! Harump-h-h-h!" he hitched himself forward in his chair and gazed at Matt over the rims of his spectacles.

"Tell me, Matt," he demanded presently, "who is this man Reardon? I do not recall such an engineer in our employ--and I thought I knew them all."

"He is not in our employ, sir. He has been chief engineer of the Arab for the past eight years, and prior to that he was chief of the Narcissus. It was Reardon who told me what ailed her. She's a hog on coal, and the Oriental steamship people used to nag him about the fuel bills. Their port engineer didn't agree with Reardon as to what was wrong with her, so he left. He assures me that if her condensers are retubed she'll burn from seven to ten tons of coal less per day."

"Hum! So you're going to give him the job for telling you something our own port engineer would have told us after an examination."

"No, sir, I'm going to give him the job because he has earned it. He gave me some very valuable information about the wretched condition of her electric-light plant and a crack, cunningly concealed, in the after web of her crank shaft--"

"Oh, by thunder," piped Cappy, "that's worth knowing! Ship a new crank shaft, Matt, and save the Blue Star a salvage bill sooner or later."

"All that inside information will not only save us money in the future," Matt continued, "but it enabled me to drive a closer bargain when dealing with MacCandless, of the Oriental Steamship Company. Consequently Terence Reardon gets the job. He's only making a hundred and fifty dollars a month in the Arab, and as he is a rattling good man--I've looked him up, sir--I've promised him a hundred and seventy-five a month in the Narcissus."

"Oh, you've already promised him the job, eh? Mistake, Matt, serious mistake. You say you looked him up, but I'll bet you a new hat there is one thing about him that you failed to investigate, and that is: What kind of Irish is he?"

"Why, regular Irish, of course--mighty good Irish, I should say. Keen, observing, not too talkative, a hard worker, temperate in his habits and a crackajack engineer to boot."

Cappy settled back wearily in his chair and favored his youthful partner with a glance of tolerant amusement.

"Matt," he announced, "those are the qualifications we look for in an engineer, and it's been my experience that the Irish and the Scotch make the best marine engineers in the world. But when you've been in the shipping game as long as I have, young man, you'll know better than to pick two Irishmen as departmental chiefs in the same ship! I did it--once. There was a red-headed scoundrel named Dennis O'Leary who went from A.B. to master in the Florence Ricks. That fellow was a bulldog. He made up his mind he was going to be master of the Florence and I couldn't stop him. Good man--damned good! And there was a black Irishman, John Rooney, in the Amelia Ricks. Had ambitions just like O'Leary. He went from oiler to first assistant in the Amelia. Fine man--damned fine! So fine, in fact, that when the chief of the Florence died I shifted Rooney to her immediately. And what was the result? Why, riot, of course. Matt, the Irish will fight anybody and anything, but they'll fight quicker, with less excuse and greater delight, among themselves, than any other nationality! The Florence Ricks carried a million feet of lumber, but she wasn't big enough for Rooney and O'Leary, so I fired them both, not being desirous of playing favorites. Naturally, each blamed the other for the loss of his job, and without a word having been spoken they went out on the dock and fought the bloodiest draw I have ever seen on the San Francisco waterfront. After they had been patched up at the Harbor Hospital, both came and cussed me and told me I was an ingrate, so I hired them both back again, put them in different ships, slipped each of them a good, cheerful Russian Finn, and saved funeral expenses. That's what I got, Matt, for not asking those two what kind of Irish they were. Now, then, sonny, once more. What kind of Irish is Terence Rearden?"

"Why, I don't know, I tell you. He's just Irish."

Cappy lifted his eyes to the ceiling as if praying for the great gift of patience.

"Listen to the boy," he demanded of an imaginary bystander. "He doesn't know! Well, stick your head down over his engine-room grating some day, sing The Boyne Wather--and find out! Now, then, do you happen to know what kind of Irish Mike Murphy is? You ought to. You were shipmates with him in the Retriever long enough."

"Oh, Mike's from Galway. He goes to mass on Sunday when he can."

"Hum! If he's from Galway, where did he leave his brogue? He runs to the broad a like an Englishman."

"That's easily explained. Mike left his brogue in Galway. He came to this country when he was six years old and was raised in Boston. That's where he picked up his broad a."

"That doesn't help a bit, Matt. He's Irish just the same, and what a Yankee like you don't know about the Irish would fill a book. You know, Matt, there are a few rare white men that can handle Chinamen successfully; now and then you'll run across one that can handle niggers; but I have never yet met anybody who could figure the mental angles of the Irish except an Irishman. There's something in an Irishman that drives him into the bandwagon. He's got to be the boss, and if he can't be the boss he'll sit round and criticize. But if I want a man to handle Chinamen, or niggers, or Japs, or Bulgarians I'll advertise for an Irishman and take the first one that shows up. A young man like you, Matt, shouldn't monkey with these people. They're a wonderful race and very much misunderstood, and if you don't start 'em right on the job you'll always be in trouble. Now, Matt, I've always done the hiring and firing for the Blue Star Navigation Company, and as a result I've had blamed little of it to do, considering the size of our fleet; consequently I'll just give these two Harps the Double-O. Have Murphy and Reardon at the office at nine o'clock to-morrow morning and I'll read them the riot act before turning them to."