Chapter X
 

Cappy Ricks, who claimed to know Mike Murphy's kind of Irish, doubtless would have been extremely gratified had he been granted a peep at the battered, bleeding, weeping wreck of his faithful Michael as the pride of the Blue Star fleet rolled south to meet the grey sea rovers of the Fatherland and deliver the cargo of coal that meant so much to them. The sight might have aroused some hope in Cappy's heavy heart, he being by nature inconsistent and always seeing a profit where others found naught but a deficit. However, though Cappy was variously gifted he was not a clairvoyant, in consequence of which he spent a very sleepless night following the receipt of that windy cablegram from the American consul. He dined at his club, and when it was time for him to leave and his daughter sent her car for him, he lacked the courage to go home and face his son-in-law. So he spent the night at the club and came down to the office about noon, hoping Matt Peasley would have recovered from the shock by that time. The latter was waiting for him, and came into Cappy's sanctum immediately to hold a post-mortem.

"Matthew, my dear boy," said Cappy miserably, "this is terrible."

"I think we should take the matter up immediately with the State Department," Matt replied. "There may be a United States warship in those waters, and she could be instructed by wireless to endeavor to intercept the Narcissus. We can prove a clean bill of health with those cablegrams, and get back our ship."

"Yes--from our own Government, of course. But, oh, Matt, if old Johnny Bull ever gets his horns into her we can kiss her good-bye. We can't bring forward any evidence to alibi that German crew on a ship so far off her course and loaded with contraband."

"Well, I know if I were skippering a British warship and picked up the Narcissus, her owners would find I was born and bred in Missouri," the honest Matt admitted. "By the way, have you read this morning's papers?"

"No, Matt. I've felt too blamed miserable about this Narcissus affair."

"Well, the Scharnhorst, the Gneisenau, the Leipzig,, the Dresden and the Nurnberg met a British fleet under Admiral Craddock, away down off Coronel, Chile. The British were cleaned for fair."

"You don't tell me!"

"I do tell you. And I'll bet my immortal soul that German fleet is heading for the entrance to Magellan this minute. If I were a religious man I'd be praying for clear weather so they'll find the entrance without any trouble."

"I hope they run ashore and drown every man Jack!" cried Cappy fiercely.

"I do not. You will note that our charterers tried to induce Mike to go to Montevideo for orders. That was because they expected to lie snug at Montevideo and be within striking distance of a designated meeting place in the South Atlantic when the German fleet should pass through Magellan from the Pacific. Remember that for several weeks the German fleet has managed to lose itself in the Pacific, but now that the British fleet has stumbled onto it and forced an engagement, the Australian and Japanese cruisers will all be headed for the south coast of Chile to make reprisal. We know the Germans are short of coal; doubtless some of the fleet have suffered in the engagement with Admiral Craddock's ships, so it's a safe bet they'll run into the Atlantic now and raid the Falkland Islands--by the way, a British possession. They will hope to find coal and stores there, which, with the cargo of the Narcissus, will enable them to continue raiding.

"Of course they will try to accomplish this before England sends a fleet to avenge Craddock--and I'm hoping the Germans will succeed, for, if they do, they will surely be decent enough to run our Narcissus into some South American port and give us an opportunity to get her back again. On the other hand, if the Germans delay their departure from the Pacific, the British will surely get wind of the Narcissus waiting at Montevideo; and when she comes out they'll just naturally grab her."

"I guess you're right," Cappy replied gloomily; "so for the present we're pro-German. Still, I find that a hard dose to swallow, in view of the fact that our German crew in the Narcissus has evidently taken the vessel away from Mike Murphy."

"I am sure they have done just that, sir; otherwise Mike would have obeyed our orders. We know he received the orders; hence the only reason he did not carry them out was because he wasn't permitted to do so. My only hope is that they haven't killed him, for if he is alive and free, he and Reardon, with the assistance of the cockney steward and the two Chinese cooks, might--"

"Might what?"

"Might steal her back again."

"Matt! It isn't possible, is it?"

"I'll bet Mike Murphy and I could steal her back if we had half a chance. The odds would be forty to two against our succeeding, but a little strategy is sometimes to be preferred to great horsepower. I think I could do it, and I think Murphy will do it--if he only thinks of it."

"How? Tell me how you'd steal her back."

"What's the use?" Matt replied wearily. "I'd have to have help. So will Mike--and I've just remembered Mike Murphy and Terence Reardon are the wrong kind of Irish to have together in the same ship. We did our best to prevent it, but the odds are too long for us; the coal is for the Germans and we hate England, so why worry? I know Mike Murphy will not take that view of it; for my sake he'll fight to the last gasp, but he must have help, and Reardon owes me no such allegiance as Murphy."

"Well, he owes me something," Cappy spoke up. "You promised him a hundred and seventy-five dollars a month and I raised the ante to two hundred. It was an investment, pure and simple. I was buying loyalty, and by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, I think I'll get it. Come to think of it, there was a look in Reardon's eyes that I liked, when he took my hand in those greasy paws of his and said he was a proud man to work for me. Matt, that fellow is full of bellicose veins. He may not fight for me, but he'll fight for Mrs. Reardon and the children and that two-hundred-dollar-a-month job, for it's the first he's ever had and if he loses out it'll be the last he'll ever get. He was telling me all about his family and how much the job meant to him, that day we had the Narcissus out on her trial trip."

Matt Peasley's face brightened. "By Jupiter, that puts a different face on the situation. If Reardon is alive they might get together for mutual protection."

"Well," Cappy piped up, greatly relieved to discover Matt was facing the tragedy so optimistically, "we might do worse than hope. Wire the State Department, Matt; and in the meanwhile, cheer up, sonny, and trust in the luck of Alden P. Ricks. I remember Captain Noah Kendall--peace to his ashes--used to say to me: 'Mr. Ricks, if you ever fell into Channel Creek at low tide you'd come up with a pearl necklace wrapped round your ankle, and you'd be smelling like a spray of lemon verbena.' Cheer up, Matt! What though the cause be lost, the Narcissus is not lost--yet. The Celtic troops remain, and from now on my war cry is going to be--"

"Ireland uber Alles," Matt Peasley suggested.

"You're blamed whistlin'!" said Cappy Ricks.

So Mr. Skinner was called into consultation, and he and Matt Peasley and Cappy drew up a heart-rending telegram to the Secretary of State, who consulted with the Secretary of the Navy, who wired the Blue Star Navigation Company that he was sorry but he didn't have as much as a rowboat in the South Atlantic to save their steamer Narcissus, and would they please keep still about it, since a noise like that, unless absolutely based on facts--and he understood their wail to be based on suspicion--would tend to create additional friction in an international complication already strained to the breaking point. Whereupon Cappy Ricks flew into a rage and immediately dictated a long letter to his congressman and his senator, urging them to battle to the last trench in the campaign for a two-power navy.

Time passed. Then suddenly the world rocked with the news of the annihilation of the German Pacific fleet off the Falkland Islands. Cappy Ricks and Matt Peasley read the horrid tale in the morning papers as they sat at breakfast, and immediately both lost all interest in food. Like two mourners about to set out for the morgue to identify the corpse of a loved one recently killed by a taxicab, they drove down to the Blue Star offices, where immediately upon arrival something terrible in Mr. Skinner's face brought on palpitation of Cappy Ricks' heart.

"Skinner, my dear boy," he chattered, "Have you any news?"

"Not yet, sir," murmured Mr. Skinner brokenly, "but soon! The British consul wants you to ring him up. He says he's had a wireless from H.M.S. Panther, off the Falkland Islands, and he thinks it will be of interest to you."

"Is my Narcissus confiscated?" Cappy and Matt cried in chorus.

"I--I don't know," Skinner faltered. "I just didn't have the courage to pursue the matter further. The British consul said she was captured but as for con--"

"Idiot! Bonehead!" rasped Cappy. "My Narcissus is gone--gone! Oh, Lord! Matt, you ring up the British consul--I'm an old man--Skinner, my dear chap, forgive my harsh language. Have you a little drop of whisky in the office?"