Chapter XXVIII
 

ALAS! Man proposes, but God disposes. Cappy had smoked his post- prandial cigar next day and was in the midst of his mid-afternoon siesta, when the buzzer on his desk waked him with its insistent buzzing. He reached for the telephone.

"My dear," he reproved his private exchange operator, "how often have I told you not to disturb me between two and three o'clock?"

"I knew you wouldn't mind being disturbed this afternoon, Mr. Ricks. Your old friend Mr. Gurney, of New York, is calling."

"Old Joe Gurney? By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet! Show him in." Cappy was at the door to meet his visitor when the latter entered. Mr Joseph Gurney, senior partner of the firm of Gurney & Harlan, was, like Cappy Ricks, a shiping man and a Down-Easter. He and Cappy Ricks had been a boyhood friends in Thomaston, Main, and Gurney & Harlan were the agents and controlling owners of the Red Funnel line plying between New York and ports on the West Coast.

"Well, Joe, you doddering old pirate?" cried Cappy Ricks affectionately. "Come in and rest your hands and feet. I'm tremendously glad to see you. When did you drift into down?"

He shook hands with Gurney and steered him toward a chair.

"Ten minutes ago, Alden, my boy. Delighted to see you again, and particularly pleased to see how carelessly you carry your years. I'm three months younger than you--and I feel like the last rose of summer."

"You look it, Joe. Take a leaf out of my book and let the young fellows 'tend to business for you. Don't let worry ride over you in the shank of your old age, my boy. I never do. Haven't paid a bit of attention to business in the last ten years, and that's why at my age I'm looking so fit."

"You'll live to be a hundred, Alden."

Cappy smiled.

"Well," he declared, "I'm going to live while I have the time. I never expect to be a walking corpse just stalling round in an effort to defer settlement with the undertaker, and I won't be a dead one until the neighbors hear a quartet singing Lead Kindly Light out at my house--Joe you look worried. Anything gone wrong with you, old friend? Need some money? Have you married a young wife?"

"It's Joey," Gurney confessed miserably.

"What? My godson, little Joey Gurney?"

"He's big Joey Gurney now."

"Yes, and a fine boy, Joe--no thanks to you. His mother's influence was strong enough to counteract any impulses for crime he might have inherited from his father."

Gurney smiled sadly at Cappy Ricks' badinage.

"He is a fine boy, Alden, but--he's only a boy, and I'm afraid he's going to make hash of his young life before it's fairly started."

"Booze?"

"No."

"Well, then where did he first meet this woman?"

Joe Gurney, Senior, hitched his chair close to his friend's and laid an impressive hand on Cappy's knee.

"Alden," he said feelingly, "you and I have been friends, man and boy, for about sixty-five years. I believe we were five years old when we robbed Deacon Follansbee's beehive and got stung to death."

"Yes, and we've both been getting stung more or less ever since, only somehow we still manage to recover and be none the worse for the experience. At least, Joe, we learned about bees. When it comes to boys, however, I've still got my experience coming. My little chap died when he was twelve, you know. I've never quite gotten over his loss; in fact, Joe, I was dreaming of him a minute ago when you called."

"You had him long enough, Alden, to realize how I feel about Joey."

Cappy nodded. "Let's see," he answered, reflectively pulling his whiskers, "Joey must be about twenty-four years old now, isn't he?"

"Twenty-four last Tuesday; and at twenty-five he comes into his mother's fortune. I've managed his little nest egg pretty well, Alden; invested it all in the vessel property of Gurney & Harlan, and since the war started I've swelled what originally was a quarter of a million to about a million and a half. His stock in the Red Funnel Line is worth a million at the very least, and the remaining half million is represented by cold cash in bank and bonds that can be converted into cash overnight.

"Hum-m-m! Harumph-h-h! Quite a fortune for a youth of a twenty-five to be intrusted with. I'll bet somebody will take it away from him before he's thirty."

"That's a safe bet, Alden. He has a candidate for his money on his trail right now."

"And he doesn't realize it?"

"Alden, he's only twenty-four years old. What does a boy know at twenty-four?"

"Well, Joe, you and I had accumulated a heap of experience and hard knocks at that age, and I seem to remember we each had a little money we'd managed to save here and there. I don't agree with you at all on this twenty-four-year-old excuse. My son-in-law, Matt Peasley--you remember the Peasleys of Thomaston; Matt's a nephew of Ethan, who was lost off the main yard of the Martha Peasley--was holding a master's ticket for sail, any ocean and any tonnage, before he was twenty-one. He's not much older than your Joey right now, but, nevertheless, he's president of the Blue Star Navigation Company and worth a million and a half, every dollar of which he has made by his own energy and ability."

"Well, of course, Alden, there are exceptions to every rule."

"Not if you raise 'em right and you've got the right kind of stock to work on and the boy is healthy and normal. Now I know your Joey comes from the right stock; I know his mother raised him right until he was sixteen when the good Lord took her away from you both; and I know he is healthy and normal. Hasn't he proved that by falling in love? The only conclusion I can draw, therefore, is that you've made a monkey out of him, Joe Gurney."

"Perhaps I have, Alden; perhaps I have," Gurney replied sadly.

"No 'perhaps' about it. I know you have. You sent him to college and gave him ten thousand dollars a year to spend. If you wanted to give him a fine education and turn out a man and a gentleman you might have gotten him into the Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he would have learned something of ships and graduated with a master's ticket; after serving a few years and getting the corners knocked off him he could have resigned and you would have had a sane, dependable man to sit in at your desk when you're gone. By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, Joe Gurney, you make me sick! You're like every other damphool American father who accumulates a few million dollars in excess of his legitimate needs and then gets all puffed up with the notion he's got to give his son all the so-called advantages his own parents were too poor to afford him--or too sensible. The result is you turn out an undeveloped or over-developed boob, too proud to work and not able to take a real man's place in the world because he hasn't been taught how. And in the course of time he marries a female boob who has been raised according to the same general specifications, and nine times out of ten she's too refined to be bothered with a family. And presently there's a trip out to Reno and the little squib in the paper and--er--ahem! Drat your picture, Joe, you're the responsible party. You created a ten-thousand-dollar-a-year parasite on the body politic while your boy was still in his teens, and now you want to know what the devil to do about it, don't you?"

"That's exactly what I want to know, Alden," Gurney confessed miserably, "and I've crossed the continent to get your advice. I haven't very many real friends--the kind I can open my heart to--"

"Tut, tut, Joe. Enough of vain repining. Now then, old friend, let's get to the bottom of this thing and see if we can't buy this wreck in from the underwriters, salvage it and put it in commission again. Never say die, Joe! Where there's a will there's a lawsuit or a heartache--particularly if the estate makes it worth while. Now then, Joe, you must realize that it's the fashion nowadays, when a fellow has to consult a specialist, to give his personal and family history for three generations back before receiving treatment. So if I am to diagnose Joey's case I'll have to have a history of Joey. Now then! He graduated from college at the age of twenty-two did he not?"

"He didn't graduate, Alden. He was requested to leave."

"Hum-m-m! I didn't know that. What for?"

"General uselessness and animal spirits, I suppose. It wasn't anything dishonorable. The main contributory cause was an alleged poem lampooning some individual they called Prexy."

"Hum-m-m! And since leaving college what has he done?"

"I've had him in my office."

"Joe, answer my question. I know you've had him in your office. But what has he done? Has he earned his salary?"

"I'm afraid he hasn't, Alden. Somehow golf and tennis and week-end parties and yachting and big-game hunting in Alaska and tarpon fishing in Florida sort of interfere with business."

"Well, that isn't much of a crime, Joe. I never had time to do those highly enjoyable things and I couldn't afford them. When I could afford them and had time to do them I was too old. You say the boy is fond of yachting?"

"It's his greatest hobby. In his taste for salt water he at least resembles his ancestors. The Gurneys were all sailors and shipping men."

"Is he a good yachtsman, Joe?"

"He has a schooner that's a hundred and six feet over all and he seems to win pretty regularly with her. I never knew him to get worse than second place in all the races he has entered."

"Too bad," Cappy Ricks murmured sadly. "A noble ambition absolutely misdirected. He would have been a skipper and, lastly, a good shipping man if you had only managed him like a sensible father should. Now about this girl he's in love with?"

"That happened about three months ago. He met her at one of those roof-garden, midnight cabaret, turkey-trot palaces in New York--"

"Yes, I know. I always take in the sights when I go to New York, but the last time I was at that one up near Fifty-fourth Street the noise bothered me. And the show was very poor; in fact, after seeing it I made up my mind I was off cabaret stuff for keeps."

"You ancient scalawag! What were you doing in a place like that?"

"Seeing life as it ought not to be, of course. Your boy Joey took me up there, by the way. In-fer-nal young scoundrel! He showed me the town and we had quite a time together."

Joe Gurney's old eyes popped with amazement.

"You went batting round with my Joey--an old ruin like you?"

"Why not? We behaved ourselves, and besides I always trot a heat with the young fellows whenever I get a chance. It keeps me young. I enjoyed Joey a heap, although I could see he was a jolly young jackass. Moreover, I'm his godfather, and I guess it was all right for me to tag along and see to it that my godson didn't get into deep water close to the shore, wasn't it? Don't you ever step out with Joey and get your nose wet?"

"Certainly not!"

Cappy Ricks smiled wistfully.

"If I had a son I'd pal up with him," he declared. "I'd want to get out with him and raise a little dignified hell once in a while, just to be a human being and keep him from being a mollycoddle. Ahem! Harumph. So he flagged this damsel in the leg show, eh?"

Joe Gurney nodded miserably.

"Have you given her the once over?" Cappy demanded.

"Yes, I went up there one night. I was afraid somebody would see me, so I took along Joey's aunt, Matilda. We saw the young woman. She does a dance specialty--an alleged Hawaiian hula-hula. It's fake from start to finish."

"You show a guilty technical knowledge of the hula, Joe," Cappy reminded him. "But passing that, what's the latest report on the situation?"

"Horrible, Alden, horrible!" replied Joe Gurney.

"Careful, Joe, careful! Many a wheat-straw skirt and sharks'-teeth necklace may conceal a pure and honest heart."

"Well, she's been married twice and divorced once, to begin with, and--"

"That's a-plenty, Joe."

"And she has just completed her contract in the show and gone out to Reno to acquire a six months' residence in order to get rid of husband number two so she can take on Joey."

"Who told you all this?"

"I found it out--by asking."

"Have you told Joey?"

"No."

"Does he know it?"

Gurney nodded.

"I had one of his young friends, whom I can trust, tip him off in confidence. The news didn't make any difference to Joey. He asked her about it, and she explained it all away to his entire satisfaction."

"I dare say. And you haven't given any indication to your son that you're on to him and his love affair?"

"I thought best to pretend ignorance, pending my arrival at a solution of the difficulty."

"Therein you showed a gleam of real intelligence. Having humored your boy all his life you could not expect to cross him in his first love affair and get away with it. No, sir-ree! The thing to do is to put the skids under Joey and his lady love before they know you know it. Tell me more about her, however, before I begin making skids and skid grease."

"She is thirty-one years old--"

Cappy Ricks threw up both hands.

"Farewell, O my countrymen!" he murmured.

"She has two children--one by her first husband and one by her second. They're living with her mother. She supports them from the proceeds of her hula dancing."

"Score a white mark for her, Joe. Is she a good looker?"

"A brunette, Alden, and Joey's Aunt Matilda admitted against her will that she was a beauty. My lawyer tells me, however, that she hasn't an ounce of brains, and proclaims the fact by laughing loudly when there is nothing particularly worth laughing at."

"I imagine you've had a detective agency investigating her."

"I have. She has little education and no refinement; her people are very ordinary. Her father is a whitewing in Philadelphia and is separated from her mother, who keeps a boarding house in Muncie, Indiana."

"I'm afraid, Joe, she won't do for your daughter-in-law," Cappy Ricks opined slowly. "But don't worry, my boy. You've come all the way from New York to confide in me and get my advice, and somehow I have a sneaking notion you've come to the right shop. If there's anybody calculated to put a crimp in love's young dream, I'm that individual."

"I knew Joey and you were good friends, and besides, you're his godfather. He thinks a lot of you, Alden, and I kind of thought maybe you might come East with me, see the boy, get him to confide in you and--er--sort of advise him in the way he should go. I'm--er--well, Alden, I'm afraid I feel too badly about this to talk to Joey. I might lose my temper, and besides--besides, he's all I have and he reminds me so much of his mother that I--"

"Yes, yes, I understand, Joe. Leave it to me and I'll advise with him. Yes, I will--with an ax handle! And I'll go East with you and tie knots in his tail--only he won't know anything about it. It may cost you a little money, but I assume expense is no object."

"It would be cheap at a million."

"Where that boy and your money are concerned you're such an ass, Joe, I'm almost tempted to charge you a million extra for the operation. However, considering Deacon Follansbee's beehive, and Joey's mother and my godson--"

Old Joe Gurney took Cappy Ricks' hand in both of his, that trembled so with age and anxiety.

"Dear old Alden," he declared. "I knew you wouldn't fail me."