Chapter XXXII
 

True to his word he presented himself in Cappy's lair promptly at ten next morning. The old gentleman was sitting rigidly erect on the extreme edge of his chair; in his hand he held a typewritten statement with a column of figures on it, and he eyed Joey very appraisingly over the rims of his spectacles.

"My boy," he said solemnly, "sit down. I'm awfully glad you cabled that hula-hula girl of yours in Reno that the stuff was all off."

Joey's mouth flew open.

"Why--why, how did you know?" he gasped.

"I know everything, Joey. I'm that kind of an old man."

Joey paled.

"Oh, Mr. Ricks," he pleaded, "for heaven's sake don't let a whisper of that affair reach my wife." He wrung his hands. "I told her she was the only girl I had ever loved--that I'd never been engaged before--that I--oh, godfather, if she ever discovers I've lied to her--"

"She'll not discover it. Compose yourself, Joey. I've seen to all that. I knew you'd give Doris the same old song and dance; everybody's doing it, you know, so I took pains to see to it that you'll never have to eat your words."

"I must have been crazy to engage myself to that woman," Joey wailed. "I don't know why I did it--I don't know how it happened--Oh, Mr. Ricks, please believe me!"

"I do, Joey, I do. I understand perfectly, because at the tender age of twenty-four I proposed marriage to a snake-charmer lady in the old Eden Musee. She was forty years old if she was a day, but she carried her years well and hid the wrinkles with putty, or something. Barring a slight hare-lip, she was a fairly handsome woman--in the dark." He reached into a compartment of his desk and drew forth a package of letters tied with red ribbon. "You can have these, Joey," he announced; "only I shouldn't advise keeping them where your wife may find them. They are your letters to your Honolulu lady."

Joey let out a bleat of pure ecstacy and seized them.

"You haven't read them, sir, have you?" he queried, blushing desperately.

"Oh, yes, my boy. I had to, you know, because I was buying something and I wanted to make certain I got value received. Pretty gooey stuff, Joey! Read aloud, they sound like a cow's hoof settling into a wet meadow!"

"I'm so glad she took it sensibly," Joey announced, for he was anxious to change the topic of conversation. "I suppose she saw it was the only way."

"No, she didn't, my son. Don't flatter yourself. On your way out West to join the Tyee you wrote her every day on the train. You told her about your bet with me, and who I was and all about me. Lucky for you that you did, and doubly lucky for you that you cabled her the jilt from Sobre Vista, or she would not have come to me with her troubles. Joey, that must have taken courage on your part. It's mighty hard for a gentleman to cable a lady and break an engagement. That's the lady's privilege, Joey."

"I--I was desperate, Mr. Ricks. I had to. I had to have her out of the way by the time I got back, or Doris might have found it out. You see, I wanted to clear the atmosphere."

"Well, you clouded it for fair! You see, Joey, in all those letters it appears that you never once mentioned the words marriage or engagement. But your cablegram was an admission that an engagement existed, and the lady was smart enough to realize that. It appears also that about a week after you cleared for Sobre Vista her annoying husband was killed by a taxicab in New York, so that saved her any divorce proceedings; and when your cablegram reached her she was a single lady who had been heartlessly jilted. The first thing she did was to hire a lawyer, and the first person that lawyer called on was Alden P. Ricks, the old family friend. It appears a suit for breach of promise was to be instituted unless a fairly satisfactory financial settlement could be arrived at."

"How much did she want?" Joey barely whispered the words.

"Only a million."

"How much did you settle for? I'll pay it out of my inheritance, Mr. Ricks. Don't worry! I won't see you stuck, for you've stood by me through thick and thin."

"Why, I didn't give her anything, Joey. I just had her lawyer bring her on to San Francisco for a conference. Of course when lunch time came round and I hadn't heard any proposition I felt I could submit to your father, I invited Miss Fontaine and her lawyer to luncheon with me in the Palace Hotel Grill, and while we were lunching, who should come up and greet me but my old friend, the Duke of Killiekrankie, formerly Duncan MacGregor, first mate of our barkentine Retriever. Mac is an excellent fellow and for some time I had felt he merited promotion. So I made him a duke.

"Well, the duke was awfully glad to see me, and being a gentleman I couldn't do less than introduce him to the lady and her lawyer. He only stayed at our table a minute and then rejoined his friends, but all during the meal I could see Betsy Jane's mind wasn't on her breach-of-promise suit. She asked me several questions about the duke, and I told her I didn't know much about him except that he was sinfully rich and a globe-trotter, and that we'd met in Paris. Lies, Joey, but pardonable, I hope, under the circumstances.

"Well, Joey, it seems that she and the duke were registered at the same hotel and I'll be shot if his lordship didn't meet her--by accident, of course--in the lobby that afternoon. He lifted his hat and she smiled and they had a chat. The next day she cut an engagement with her lawyer and me to go motoring with the duke in my French car, and Florry's chauffeur driving, for, of course, the duke was an expensive luxury and I was trying to save a dollar wherever possible. That night the duke gave a dinner party in honor of the lady--and he gave it aboard his yacht, the Doris, formerly the Seafarer, right out here in San Francisco harbor--"

Joey went up and put his arm round Cappy's shoulders.

"Oh, Cappy Ricks, Cappy Ricks!" he cried, and then his voice broke and his eyes filled with tears.

"Yes," Cappy continued, "I had sort o' suspected she might pull that breach-of-promise stuff on you, Joey--"

"What made you suspect it?"

"Why, I sort of suspected you were going to marry Doris Kenyon--"

"You planned to get us together on the same ship--!"

"Only place I could think of where you were safe from the Honolulu lady and couldn't run away from Doris, Joey. Well, as I say, I had sort of suspected she might sue you and disgrace you and break the heart of that little girl I'd picked out for you long before you ever met her--so I started to get there first and with the heaviest guns, I borrowed your yacht for the duke and had him sail her round himself, so he'd have her here to give the dinner party on. Then I got a Burke's peerage and told MacGregor who he was and had him study up on his family history and get acquainted with his sister, Lady Mary, and his younger brother, the Honorable Cecil Something-or-other--in particular he was not to forget to rave about the grouse shooting in Scotland."

Cappy paused and puffed his cigar meditatively for half a minute.

"Joey," he continued, "any time you run a bluff, run a good one. If you're starring a globe-trotting duke, have his ancestry all straightened out in advance, because he's bound to break into the newspapers and the motto of the newspaper editor is 'Show me.' And the yacht--just one of the props of the comedy, Joey; and with a little cockney steward in livery to say 'Your ludship'; and the name of the yacht changed in case she'd ever heard you speak about the Seafarer; and the cabin done over in white enamel with mahogany trim; and a new set of dishes with your family crest and the name of the yacht on every piece in case you had ever had her aboard; and a private secretary--borrowed him from my general manager, Skinner, by the way--we were certainly there when it came to throwing the ducal front. And we got away with it, for MacGregor's accent is just Scotchy enough, and he comes of good family and has excellent manners. Yes, I must say Mac made a very comfortable duke. Skinner's young man tells me it would bring tears of joy to your eyes to see him kiss the lady's hand.

"Well, Joey, the upshot of it was that after paying violent court to the lady for two weeks--Mac said he could have pulled the stunt the night of the dinner, for she fell for the title right way, but I told him to make haste slowly--the duke received a cablegram calling him home from his furlough. Oh, yes, Joey, I had him in the army. Any young unattached duke that doesn't join the British army these days doesn't get by in good society, and I had my duke on a six months' furlough to recover from his wounds. Fortunately a bunch of cedar shingles had fallen on Mac's foot recently and he was dog lame, which strengthened the play.

"Of course the duke was up in the air right away. In a passionate scene he confessed his love for that damsel of yours, Joey, and laid his dukedom at her feet. Would she marry him P. D. Q. and help him sail the yacht home? Would she? 'Oh, darling, this is so sudden!' she cried, and almost swooned in his arms. From a cabaret to a dukedom. Some jump! Sail the yacht home to England through the mine fields and submarines? Perfectly ripping, by Jove! I give you my word, Joey, she tacked on one of those New York British accents for the duke's special benefit. There was a lot of beam to her a's, Mac told me, but blamed little molded depth to her mentality. So they were married in haste, and after the duke had seen his bride in the elevator bound for their rooms at the hotel, he excused himself to get a highball. And I guess he got the highball, because I find it in this expense account he turned in to me."

"It sounds like a fairy tale," Joey murmured in an awed voice. "What did the duke do next?"

"Came right down to this office and informed me he was, plumb weary of the life of a bon vivant and was anxious to get to sea again. So I made him master of a new steamer we acquired recently, and he's gone out to Vladivostok with munitions for the Russians."

"But didn't you give him some money, Mr. Ricks?"

"No. Why should I? Didn't I give him command of a steamer? You can slip him a fat check if you feel that way about it, but I never coddle my skippers, Joey, until I'm sure they're worth while. I think, however, that Mac will make good. He's very thorough."

"Wha--what became of Ernestine?"

"Oh, by Godfrey, that's a sad story, Joey. It seems she waited at the hotel for the duke to come back and he didn't come, so the following morning she went down to the water front looking for the yacht--and the yacht was gone. During the night I'd had it towed over to Sausalito; consequently the launchman she hired couldn't find it down in Mission Bay, and back to the beach she came. After a couple of days had passed, however, she commenced to smell a rat, so she came down to my office and asked me if I'd seen anything of the duke.

"'Why, yes, I have,' I told her. 'The old duke came in here yesterday afternoon, soused to the guards, and complaining he'd been cruelly deceived into marrying a two-time loser with a couple of youngsters, and inasmuch as he was certain the family wouldn't receive her he was leaving the United States immediately, never to return.

"'And this morning the justice of the peace who performed the ceremony mailed him the license, which has been duly recorded in the office of the Secretary of State in accordance with law; and inasmuch as the license was sent to him in my care I am holding it in our safe until he calls for it.'

"Well, Joey, she looked at me and she knew the stuff was all off. She'd married the duke; I had the license to prove it, and of course she realized her breach of promise suit and claim for a million dollars' worth of heart balm would be laughed out of court if she had the crust to present it. So she did the next best thing. She abused me like a pickpocket and ended up by getting hysterical when I told her how I'd swindled her. When she got through crying I lectured her on the error of her ways and suggested that inasmuch as she had had one divorce already, another wouldn't be much of a strain on her, and I'd foot the bill for separating her legally from John Doe, alias the duke, on a charge of desertion. Then I offered her a thousand dollars and a ticket back to New York for the surrender of all your letters to her and that infernal cablegram and a release of all claims against you. I guess she was broke for she grabbed it in a hurry, Joey. The atmosphere is now clear, my son, and nothing further remains to be done in the premises, save settle the bill of expense. Fortunately the Tyee made money on that fast voyage under your command, but the cost of bringing the yacht round from New York, doing over the cabin, buying the new dishes with the crest, and settling with the lady should rightfully be borne by you. As I say, the duke was expensive, for the rascal certainly rolled 'em high. Skinner has made me up a statement of the total cost, with interest at six per cent to date, and it appears, Joey, that you owe your godfather $12,143.18. On the day you come into your inheritance, add six per cent to that sum and send me a check."

"But the twenty-five thousand dollars I won from you--" Joey began, but Cappy held up a rigid finger, enjoining silence.

"I am going to stick your dub of a father for that, as a penance for his sins of omission, Joey; for by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, if ever a boy won a bet and was entitled to it, you're that young man. In-fer-nal young scoundrel! Keep it and split fifty-fifty with your wife. You won a straight bet from a crooked gambler, and if I haven't had a million dollars' worth of fun out of this transaction I hope I may marry a hula-hula woman--and I've passed my three score and ten and ought to know better!"

"But about this man MacGregor--"

"Don't worry about him. The Scotch are a hardy race and Mac is a sailor. Joey, I know sailors. The scoundrels have a wife in every port!"