Chapter XXIX

For a long time after old Joe Gurney had terminated his visit Cappy Ricks sat in the position which with him always denoted intense mental concentration. He had sunk low in his swivel chair and swung his old legs to the top of his desk; his head was bowed on his breast and his eyes were closed.

Suddenly he started as if snake-bitten, sat up at his desk and reached for the telephone.

"Get me the West Coast Trading Company," he ordered the private exchange operator, "and tell Mr. J. Augustus Redell I want to speak to him."

Redell answered presently.

"Gus, my dear young friend," Cappy began briskly, "I want you to do me a favor, and in so doing I think you'll find you are going to perform one for yourself also."

"Good news, Cappy. Consider it done."

"Thank you, my boy, but this particular favor isn't done quite so quickly. I want you to tell that Peruvian partner of yours, Live Wire Luiz Almeida to dig up a specification for a cargo of fir to be discharged on lighters at some open roadstead on the West Coast, and the more open the port and the more difficult it is to discharge there; and the harder it is to get any sane shipowner to charter a vessel to deliver a cargo there, the better I'll be pleased. Surely, Gus, you must have a customer down on the West Coast in some such port as I describe, who is actually watering at the mouth for a cargo of lumber and is unable to place it with a mill that will guarantee delivery? Look into the matter, Augustus, and see what you can do for me."

"Do you want to furnish such a cargo from one of the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company's northern mills and freight it in one of your Blue Star Navigation Company vessels?"

"No, I don't want to do it," Cappy replied; "but in this particular case the acceptance of such a cargo and the freighting of it via a Blue Star windjammer, even though the usual demurrage at such discharging ports will cause the vessel a loss, is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Ordinarily, if you made such a proposition to me I'd call in the boys from the general office and tell them to throw you out, but--well, in this case I'm willing to stand the loss, Augustus."

Yes, you are--not. Somebody else will recompense you for any loss, Cappy Ricks, never fear. Do you want the West Coast Trading Company to give you a bonus for accepting our order?"

"No, my boy. I'll make Skinner sell you the lumber at the regular base price at the mill, plus insurance and freight to point of discharge. And I won't stick you too deep on the freight, even in wartime."

"There's something wrong with you this morning, Cappy," Redell declared, highly mystified. "You're too obliging. However, I'm not to be outgamed. I have a specification for a cargo of half a million feet for delivery at Sobre Vista, Peru; I've been trying for a month to place the order and nobody will accept it because nobody wants to guarantee delivery. On the other hand, the purchasers have been unable to get any ship owner to charter them a vessel to go to Sobre Vista without a guaranty of a perfectly prohibitive rate of demurrage per diem; consequently I had just about abandoned my efforts to place the order."

"Fine business, Gus. And is Sobre Vista a rotten port at which to discharge?"

"It's vile, Cappy. It's an open roadstead and the vessel lies off-shore and discharges into lighters. About four days a week the surf is so high the lighters cannot lie alongside the ship or be run up on the beach without being ruined, and to complicate the situation they only have two or three lighters at the port. Labor is scarce, too, and the few cargadores a skipper can hire have a habit of working two days and staying drunk for the remainder of the week on the proceeds of those two days of labor. So you can see for yourself that discharge in Sobre Vista is very hard on the skipper's nerves, and that if he can work two days a week he's in luck. And when we deduct from those two days all the national holidays and holy days and saints' feast days that have to be duly celebrated, not to mention the three hundred and sixty-five days in the year the populace doesn't feel like exerting itself--well, Cappy, I couldn't give you anything worse than Sobre Vista if you paid me for it."

"May the good Lord bless you, Augustus! Come down and do business with Skinner on the cargo. Get him to quote you a price f.o.b. ship's tackles at the mill dock and tell him you'll furnish the tonnage when the cargo is ready for delivery. There's no sense in worrying poor Skinner until his worries are due, and when I send a Blue Star schooner to load your cargo for Sobre Vista I'm going to have to fight him and my son-in-law, Matt Peasley. But leave it to me, Gus. I'll guarantee the tonnage."

"This is certainly wonderful," the grateful Redell observed. "Thank you, Cappy. What I'll do to those Peruvian customers of mine on price will be a shame and a disgrace. Are you going to stick me for any demurrage on the vessel, Cappy? Because if you are, I'll have to stick my customers in order to get out clean."

"No demurrage, Gus, not a penny."

"Bully! Then I'll stick my customers anyhow. It makes the profit all the greater, and since they expect to pay a reasonable demurrage I see no reason why I should disappoint them."

When Redell had hung up Cappy summoned into his presence Captain Matt Peasley.

"Matt," he queried, "what schooners have you got due at any one of our northern mills within the next thirty days?"

Matt Peasley pondered and counted on his big fingers. "The Tyee will be in from Valparaiso about that time," he answered.

"Have you got her chartered?"

"Oh, no. We're using her in our own trade. Skinner will have a cargo ready for her by the time she gets back, although we don't know yet where we will send her."

"Well, Matt, you tell Skinner he can't have her and to look around for some other vessel to take her place. I may give her to him at the last minute, but then again I may not. When she arrives at the mill, Matthew, my boy, tie her up to the mill dock to await my pleasure."

"Why, what the devil are you going to do with the Tyee?" Matt demanded, astounded beyond measure.

"I might want to take a cruise for my health and use the Tyee as a pleasure boat," Cappy answered enigmatically. "They tell me she's as fast as a yacht in a breeze of wind."

"The longer I'm acquainted with you, father-in-law," Matt Peasley declared, "the less I know you. You can have your Tyee, but for every day she is held awaiting your pleasure your personal account will be charged with something in three figures. I'll figure out her average profit per day for the last five voyages and soak you accordingly."

"Fair enough," quoth Cappy Ricks.