Chapter XXIII
 

In due course Captain Michael J. Murphy and Mr. Terence Reardon came off the dry dock, the sole visible evidence of that unrecorded second naval engagement off the Falkland Islands being a slight list to starboard on the part of the Reardon nose, and a notch in Murphy's right ear. Mr. Skinner had had a local jeweler prepare the presentation watches against the day of the home-coming of the warriors of the Blue Star, and on a Saturday night Cappy gave a banquet to Mike and Terence, and every employee of the Ricks' interests who could possibly attend, was present to do the doughty pair honor and cheer when the awards for valor were duly made by Cappy and congratulatory speeches made by Mr. Skinner and Matt Peasley. It was such a gala occasion that Cappy drank three cocktails, battened down by a glass or two of champagne, and as a result was ill for two days thereafter. When he recovered, he announced sadly and solemnly that he was about to retire--forever; that nothing of a business nature should ever be permitted to drag him back into the harness again. Then he bade all of his employees a touching farewell, packed his golf clubs, and disappeared in the general direction of Southern California. He was away so long that eventually even the skeptical Mr. Skinner commenced to wonder if, perchance, the age of miracles had not yet passed and Cappy had really retired.

Alas! On the morning of December 24th, Cappy suddenly appeared at the office, his kindly old countenance aglow like a sunrise on the Alps. Immediately he cited Mr. Skinner to appear with the payrolls of all of the Ricks enterprises and show what cause, if any, existed, why there should not be a general whooping up of salaries to the deserving all along the line. The Ricks Lumber & Logging Company had already declared a Christmas dividend; the accounts of every ship in the Blue Star fleet had been made up to date and a special Christmas dividend declared, and, in accordance with ancient custom, Cappy had appeared to devote one day in the year to actual labor. Christmas dividend checks and checks covering Christmas presents to his employees were always signed by him; it was his way of letting the recipients know that, although retired, he still kept a wary eye on his affairs.

He had writer's cramp by the time he finished, but while the spending frenzy was on him he would take no rest; so he seized a pencil and, while Mr. Skinner called off the names of the deserving and the length of time each had spent in the Ricks service, Cappy scrawled a five, a ten or a twenty beside each name. Thus, in time, they came to the first name on the Blue Star pay roll.

"Matthew Peasley, president; salary, ten thousand dollars a year; length of service, four months," Mr. Skinner intoned. "How about a raise for Captain Matt?"

Cappy laid down his pencil and looked at Skinner over the rims of his spectacles.

"Skinner," he said gravely, "you're only drawing twelve thousand a year, and you've been with me twenty-five years! And here I'm giving this boy Matt ten thousand a year and he's been on the pay roll only four months. Why, it isn't fair!"

"Remember, he was three years in the Blue Star ships that--"

"Can't consider that at all when raising salaries. The salaries of ship's officers are fixed and immutable anyhow, and when considering raises for my employees. I can take into consideration only the length of time they've been directly under my eye. Cut Matt's salary to five thousand a year and let him grow up with the business. His dividends from his Ricks L. & L. and Blue Star stock will keep him going, and he hasn't any household bills to keep up. He and Florry live with me, and I'm the goat."

"I fear Matt will not take kindly to that program, Mr. Ricks-- particularly at this time, when every ship in the offshore fleet is paying for herself every voyage."

"Why?" Cappy demanded.

"Well," Mr. Skinner replied hesitatingly, "perhaps I have no business to tell you this, because the knowledge came to me quite by accident; but the fact of the matter is, Matt is going to build himself an auxiliary schooner--"

"Good news!" Cappy piped. "That's the ticket for soup! An auxiliary schooner with semi-Diesel engines, four masts and about a million- foot lumber capacity would be a mighty good investment right now. Every yard in the country that builds steel vessels is filled up with orders, but our coast shipyards can turn out wooden vessels in a hurry; and, with auxiliary power, they'll pay five hundred per cent on their cost before this flurry in shipping, due to the war, is over. I don't care, Skinner--provided he builds a ship that's big enough to go foreign--"

"But this isn't that kind," Mr. Skinner interrupted.

"No other kind will do, Skinner."

"This is to be a schooner yacht--"

"A what!" Cappy shrilled.

"A yacht--eighty-five feet over all--"

"Eighty-five grandmothers! Why, what the devil does that boy want of a yacht? How much money does he intend to put into her?"

"I do not know, Mr. Ricks; but we can be reasonably certain of one thing; Matt Peasley will not build a cheap boat. She'll have a lot of gewgaws and gadgets, teak rail, mahogany joiner-work--at the very least, she'll cost him thirty thousand dollars."

"Skinner," Cappy declared solemnly, "he might as well put the money in a sack, go down to Clay Street Wharf and throw the money overboard! The other night I saw a couple of soldiers having a pleasant time in a shooting gallery, but what the president of the Blue Star Navigation Company wants with a thirty-thousand-dollar yacht beats my time. Why, he has more than thirty good vessels to play with all week, and yet he wants a yacht for Sunday! Skinner, my dear boy, that is wild, wanton extravagance."

"Well, I dare say Matt thinks he can afford the extravagance."

"Skinner, no man can afford it. Extravagance may reach a point where it becomes sinful. And I say it's a crime to put thirty thousand dollars into a yacht when the same thirty thousand, invested in a good vessel, will yield such tremendous returns. Skinner, my boy, how did you find out about this yacht nonsense?"

"I was looking through Matt's desk for a letter I had given him to read, and I ran across the plans. Thinking they were Blue Star plans, I looked them over; there was a letter from the naval architect attached--"

Cappy threw down his pencil.

"By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet," he cried in deep disgust, "I thought I was going to have a Merry Christmas--and now it's spoiled! Good Lord, Skinner! To think of a man throwing away thirty thousand dollars, not to mention the upkeep and interest after he's thrown it away--"

"You've just this very day thrown away about thirty thousand dollars you didn't have to," Mr. Skinner reminded him.

"I do have to. I've got to keep all my boys happy and satisfied and up on their toes, or what the devil would happen to us? They're my partners when all is said and done, and how am I going to face my Maker if I don't give my partners a square deal? There's a vast difference between justice and extravagance. Skinner, you don't suppose Matt's like every other shellback of a skipper? Why, he's only twenty-five years old; and if he's got the blue-water fever again, after a year ashore, there'll be no standing him at thirty."

"Well, he's got it, sir," Mr. Skinner opined firmly. "Did you ever see an old sailing skipper that didn't get it? You remember Burns, who had the Sweet Alferetta? His father died and left him a million dollars, and five years later he came sneaking in here one day, told you he was tired clipping coupons and that if you wanted to save his life you'd give him back the Sweet Alferetta and a hundred dollars a month to skipper her! He sold his interest to his successor for two thousand dollars when he fell into the fortune--and five years later he bought it back for three thousand, just so he could have a job again."

"Yes," Cappy admitted; "they all get the blue-water fever--after they've left blue water. I never knew a sailor yet who wouldn't tell you sailoring was a dog's life; but I never knew one who quit and quite recovered from the hankering to go back. I think you're right, Skinner. This yacht is just a symptom of Matt's disease. He realizes his business interests tie him to the beach; but if he has a sailing yacht that he can fuss round with on week-ends in the bay, and once in a while make a little cruise to Puget Sound or the Gulf of Lower California, he figures he'll manage to survive."

Mr. Skinner nodded.

"Speaking of yachts," Cappy continued, "the case of old Cap'n Cliff Ashley suggests a cure for this boy Matt. Cap'n Cliff was a Gloucester fisherman, with the smartest little schooner that ever came home from the Grand Banks with halibut up to her hatches. He couldn't read or write and he'd never learned navigation; but he'd been born with the instincts of a homing pigeon, and somehow whenever he pointed his schooner toward Gloucester he managed to arrive on schedule; and any time he got a good fair breeze from the west, like as not he'd run over to England and sell his catch there.

"Like most of his breed, Cap'n Cliff had to have a fast boat; he had to keep her as immaculate as a yacht in order to be happy, and he was never so happy as when he'd meet a squadron of the New York Yacht Club out on a cruise and sail circles round the flagship with his little old knockabout fish schooner. On such occasions old Cap'n Cliff would break out a long red burgee with M.O.B.Y.C. in white letters on it. On one of his trips to England he hooked up with a big schooner wearing the ensign of the Royal Yacht Club and dassed 'em to race with him.

"Well, sir, it happened that the late King Edward was aboard his yacht that day, and you know what a sport he was in his palmy days. Cap'n Cliff cracked on everything he had in the way of plain sail and, after holding the King even for a couple of hours, he put his packet under gaff topsails and fisherman's staysail and broke out the balloon jib, bade Edward good-bye in the International Code--and flew! About six hours after Cap'n Cliff came to anchor, the King loafed up in his yacht, dropped anchor, cleared away his launch, and came over to visit Cap'n Cliff and shake hands with him.

"'My dear sir,' says Edward, pointing aloft to the red burgee with M.O.B.Y.C. on it, 'pray to what yacht club do you belong?'

"'My own bloomin' yacht club, your majesty,' says Cap'n Cliff; and if he hadn't been a Yankee fisherman the King would have knighted him on the spot!

"And that remark, Skinner, my dear boy, clears the atmosphere in the case of our own dear Matthew. He shall have his own blooming yacht club, only his yacht shall carry cargo and pay her way."

"You mean--"

"I mean I'm going to send him to sea for one voyage, once a year, which will break up that blue-water fever and save Matt thirty thousand dollars as an initial investment, and about ten thousand a year upkeep and interest. All that boy needs to cure him, Skinner, is the old Retriever, totally surrounded by horizon and smelling of a combination of tarred rope, turpentine, wet canvas, fresh paint, green lumber and the stink of the bilge water. Lordy me, Skinner, it puts them to sleep and they wake up feeling perfectly bully! Where's the Retriever now, Skinner, and who is in charge of her destinies?"

"She's due on Puget Sound from the West Coast. Captain Lib Curtis has her."

"Good news! Well, now, Skinner, you listen to me: The minute he reports his arrival you wire Lib to put the old harridan on dry dock and slick her up until she looks like four aces and a king, with everybody in the game standing pat. Can't have any whiskers on her bottom when Matt takes her out, Skinner, because if the boy's to enjoy himself she's got to be able to show a clean pair of heels. Then write Lib to wire his resignation and give any old reason for it. Have him resign just before the vessel is loaded and ready for sea, and tell him to insist on being relieved immediately. Of course, Skinner, Matt will get busy right away, looking for the right skipper to relieve Captain Curtis--and about that time the president emeritus will shove in his oar and ball things up. Every doggoned skipper Matt recommends for the job is going to have his application vetoed by Alden P. Ricks, and--er--ahem! Harumph-h-h!"

"Yes, Mr. Ricks."

"And you stick by me, Skinner. Follow all my leads and don't trump any of my aces; and just about the time Matt begins to get good and mad at my doggoned interference--you know, Skinner, my boy, I'm only a figurehead--you cut in and say: 'Well, for heaven's sake! You two still squabbling over a skipper for the Retriever? Matt, why don't you save the demurrage and take her out yourself--eh?'" And Cappy winked knowingly and prodded his general manager in the ribs.

"I guess that plan's kind of poor--eh, Skinner? I guess it won't work--eh? Particularly when I come right back and say: 'Well, he might as well, for all the use he is round this office. Here I go to work and appoint him president of the Blue Star and he won't stay in the office and'tend to the president's business. Yes, sir! Leaves all that to you and me, Skinner, while he degrades himself doing the work of a port captain.'"

"All of which is quite true, Mr. Ricks," Mr. Skinner affirmed. "He will not stay in the office--and he's getting worse. Two-thirds of his time is spent round the docks."

"Well, two-thirds of his time in 1915 will not be spent round the docks, Skinner. Play that bet to win! We're going to have a busy old year in the shipping game in 1915, and a busier one in 1916 if that war in Europe isn't over by then. A voyage in the Retriever will fix the boy up, Skinner, and he'll stick round the office and put over some real business. Yachts! Hah! What does a business man want of a yacht?"

"You overlooked one very important detail, Mr. Ricks," Skinner ventured.

"I overlook nothing, Skinner--nothing. His wife shall accompany him on the voyage. I shall implant the idea in her head, beginning this very night as soon as I get home. I'll just tell her she isn't and never will be a true sailor's true love until she takes a voyage with her husband. Romantic girl, Florry! She'll about eat that suggestion, feathers and all, Skinner. She'll do the real work for us. Always remember, my boy, that an ounce of promotion is worth enough perspiration to float the Narcissus."

"But what shall we do for a port captain?"

"I've ordered Mike Murphy--via Matt, of course--to take a vacation under full salary and recover from the wounds he received walloping that German crew on the Narcissus. About the time Matt leaves in the Retriever, Mike will be ready to go to work again or commit murder if we don't give it to him; so we'll slip him a temporary appointment as port captain. I'm going to make it permanent some day, anyhow. I suppose you've noticed that Mike Murphy has a crush on your stenographer; and I don't see how he's going to put anything over if he never gets a chance to see the girl!"

"I really hadn't noticed it, Mr. Ricks."

"If it was a ten-cent piece you'd notice it," Cappy retorted. "And now that matter is settled, how about this port steward? Is he a grafter? If not, raise him five dollars a month. He's been with us only a year."

Late that afternoon, after Cappy had made the rounds of his office, distributing his checks and wishing all hands the merriest of Christmases, he paused at last at Mr. Skinner's desk and laid a thousand-dollar check thereon.

"Not a peep out of you, Skinner--not a peep!" he cautioned his general manager. "No thanks due me. You've earned it a thousand times over--and then some. Hum-m! Ahem! Harumph-h-h! By the way, Skinner, my dear boy, I forgot to mention to you another little idea that's in the back of my head."

"You mean about sending Matt to sea for a voyage?"

"Exactly. The sea is a wonderful institution, Skinner--wonderful! It promotes health and strength; and--er--damn it, Skinner, my dear boy, have you ever observed that there isn't a married skipper in our employ that hasn't been lucky? Many well-known authorities prescribe a sea voyage--"

"What for, Mr. Ricks?"

Cappy thrust his thumb into Skinner's ribs, winked, bent low, and whispered:

"Too slow, Skinner; too slow. I'm getting old, you know--I can't wait for ever. And if the experiment succeeds--Skinner, my dear boy, you're next! You've been married more than a year now--"

"I fail to comprehend--"

"Grandson!" Cappy whispered. "Grandson!"

"Oh!" said Mr. Skinner.