Chapter XXXI

Cappy Ricks' meditations were interrupted by a knock at the door of his private office.

"Come in," he piped, and his son-in-law, Captain Matt Peasley, stuck his head in.

"The Tyee is sailing in, Cappy," he announced. "The Merchants' Exchange has just telephoned."

"It's an infernal lie," Cappy shrilled excitedly. "It can't be the Tyee. If it is, she's two months ahead of her schedule, and by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, I fixed up that schedule myself."

Matt Peasley grinned.

"Perhaps Joey didn't like your schedule and re-arranged it to suit himself," he suggested.

"Impossible! That infernal young scoundrel put it over me? Preposterous! Why, Mike Murphy was on the job. Get out, Matt, and don't come in here again today throwing scares into the old man."

Nevertheless, Cappy's confidence in human nature was badly jarred when Captain Michael J. Murphy was announced two hours later. Indeed Cappy could scarcely credit his sense of sight when the redoubtable Michael entered the room. He glared at the worthy fellow over the rims of his spectacles for fully a minute while Murphy stood fidgeting just inside the doorway.

"Well," said the Blue Star despot presently, "all I've got to say to you, Mike Murphy, is that you're certainly a hell of a seaman to stand idly by and see that young Joey do me up like this. Give an account of yourself!"

"They're engaged," Murphy protested valiantly.

"That's my work, Mike, not yours. Don't take any credit that isn't coming to you. I want a report on your end of this deal. How does it happen that this boy harpoons me for twenty-five thousand dollars? Have the cargadores at Sobre Vista gone on the water wagon? Did Joey out-bid you for their services? Have they added a lot more lighters to their lighterage fleet? Has the surf quit rolling in on the beach? Have the inhabitants of Sobre Vista been converted to the Mohammedan faith and declined to celebrate saints' days and holy days? Is there smallpox in the town, that the quietus has been put on fiestas and fandangoes, and has Peru been annexed by Chile and the celebration of the national holidays forbidden?"

"No, Mr. Ricks. It's the same old manana burg. The trouble was that Joey is a better sailorman than he appeared to be. He cracked on all the way down and made a smashing voyage, and, of course, as soon as we got there he went ashore. Two other schooners were there ahead of us. One was loading general cargo and the other was discharging it, and when Joey heard they had been there a month he investigated conditions and saw where you had him. Mr. Ricks, he came back as mad as a hatter. Of course I saw he would have to wait until the other schooners were out of the way before he could begin discharging, because they had first call on the lighters; so in view of the situation and the fact that Miss Murphy and Doris were a bit tired of the ship and wanted to go ashore and see the back country, I organized a trip for them."

"You left Joey aboard the Tyee, of course."

"Yes, sir. And there's where I made my fatal break. The minute my back was turned the son of a pirate got busy. It appears there was a six-inch waste pipe leading from the crew's lavatory out under the stern of the ship, and this pipe had rusted away and broken off at the flange just inside the skin of the ship sometime during the vessel's previous voyage. Of course it happened while she was homeward bound in ballast, and was standing so high out of the water that this vent where the pipe was broken was above the waterline; consequently not enough of a leak developed to be noticeable. At the mill dock, however, after we got her under-deck cargo aboard, the vessel had settled until this vent was under water, and immediately she developed a mysterious leak. In fact, due to the enormous pressure, the water came in faster than the pumps could handle it. Fortunately, however, we discovered where the leak was, though it was then too late to mend it. To do so we would have had to take out the under-deck cargo again. So I just whittled out a six-inch wooden plug, fastened it to the end of the boat hook, ran it down the narrow space through which the broken pipe led, found the vent, hammered the plug home, stopped the leak, pumped out the well, finished taking on cargo and sailed for Sobre Vista."

"A small leak will sink a great ship," Cappy Ricks murmured. "I think I anticipate the blow-off, Mike; but proceed."

"Unfortunately for us that cargo of lumber we had was for the Peruvian government. They were going to use it in the construction of barracks or a new customhouse or something--and Joey knew this. And he knew about that plug. So the minute my back was turned he pulled out the plug and the water came in and trickled all through the cargo and the ship commenced to settle. But Joey didn't care. He knew a little salt water couldn't hurt the lumber. When the top of the Tyee's rail was flush with the water he plugged the hole again, got his crew busy with the pumps, and by judiciously plugging and unplugging that leak he kept the crew pumping all day and all night without raising the vessel an inch, and the people ashore could see the streams of water cascading overside and the crew pumping like mad. And presently Joey gave up, went ashore, sought the captain of the port and put up a hard luck story about a leak in his ship--a leak he couldn't find anywhere--a leak that was getting away from him, because his men were too exhausted to do any more pumping. And he said his ship would get water-logged and settle until the surf began to break over her. And presently the deck lashings would part under the battering of the surf and the deck load would go by the board. Half of it would drift out to sea, and the other half would pound on the beach and get filled with sand, which would dull the saws and planes of the carpenters when they came to cut it up. Also, the ship's cabin would be sure to go, and unless he had help he would have to abandon the vessel and she would lie there, submerged, at anchor, a menace to the navigation of the port."

"The scoundrel! The in-fer-nal young scoundrel!" cried Cappy Ricks.

"Well, he got away with it, sir. Remember our cargo was for the Peruvian government and they'd had the devil's own time getting it; consequently they couldn't afford to lose any part of it and have their anchorage ground menaced by a derelict. So the captain of the port took it up with the commandant of the local garrison, and the commandant, as Joey expressed it, heard the Macedonian cry and got busy. He commandeered all the lighters the other schooners were using; the soldiers rounded up the cargadores at the point of the bayonet, and they started discharging the American schooner Tyee, with the spiggoty soldiers swelling Joey's crew at the pumps and Joey doing business with that wooden plug according to the requirements. Fortunately there weren't any surf days that week, and the way the cargo poured out of the Tyee was a shame and a disgrace. And when it was all out Joey plugged the leak again, pumped out the ship, and wired me at Mollendo to hurry back with the ladies or he'd sail without me. So you can see for yourself, Mr. Ricks, it was a hard hand to beat. And his luck held. He cracked on all the way home and, as you know, sir, the Tyee is fast in a breeze of wind, and you told me not to interfere unless he asked me to."

Despite his disappointment Cappy Ricks lay back in his chair and laughed until he wept.

"Oh, Mike," he declared, "it's worth twenty-five thousand dollars to know a boy who can pull one like that. What do you think of him, anyhow?"

"He'll do. His father has spoiled him, but not altogether. I think a heap of him, sir. Remember I've been shipmates with him a trifle over four months, and that's a pretty good test."

"Very well, Mike. I forgive you, my boy. I hope Miss Murphy enjoyed the trip. Tell her--"

The door opened and Joey Gurney, accompanied by Miss Doris Kenyon entered unannounced.

"Hello, godfather," yelled Joey joyously. He jerked the old man out of his chair and hugged him. "I'm back with your schooner, sir. She was easy to navigate, but that was a cold deck you handed me in Sobre Vista--"

"Glad to see you, Joey, glad to see you," Cappy interrupted. "Ah, and here's my little secretary again. Miss Kenyon, this is a pleasure--"

"Mr. Ricks," Joey interrupted him, "the lady's name is no longer Miss Kenyon. She is now Mrs. Joseph K. Gurney, Junior. The minute we got ashore at Meiggs' wharf and could shake the Murphys, who stood out till the last for a church wedding, we chartered a taxicab, went up to the City Hall, procured a license, rounded up a preacher--and got married. What do you know about that?"

"You're as fast as a second-story worker, Joey. I shall kiss the bride." And Cappy did. Then he sat down and stared at the fruit of his cunning labors.

"Well, well, well!" cried Joey. "Kick in, godfather, kick in. You owe me twenty-five thousand dollars, and if I'm going to support a wife I'll need it."

Cappy summoned Mr. Skinner, who felicitated the happy pair and departed pursuant to Cappy's order, to make out a check for Joey.

"And now," said Cappy, as he handed the groom his winnings, "you get out of here with your bride, Joey, and I'll telephone Florry and we'll organize a wedding supper. And to-morrow morning, Joey, I'd like to see you at ten o'clock, if you can manage to be here."

Joey promised, and hastened away with his bride.