Chapter XXXIV

Time passed. Mr. Skinner developed a pallor and irritability that bespoke all too truly an attack of nerves, from overwork, and sore against his will was hustled off to Honolulu for a rest while Cappy Ricks had the audacity to take charge of the lumber business. Whereupon Mr. J. Augustus Redell, of the West Coast Trading Company, discovered the unprotected condition of the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company and promptly, in sheer wanton deviltry, proceeded to sew Cappy Ricks up on an order for a million grape stakes.

A word here regarding the said J. Augustus Redell. He was a blithe, joyous creature, still in the sunny thirties, and what he didn't know about the lumber business--particularly the marketing of lumber products--could be tucked into anybody's eyes without impairing their eyesight. Mr. Redell had fought his way up from office boy with the Black Butte Lumber Company to lumber broker with offices of his own. He had owned a retail yard in which business he had gone "bust" for more money than the world appeared to contain. But he had fought his way back and paid a hundred cents on the dollar, including some hundred and forty thousand dollars he had owed the Ricks mills at the time of his collapse. Because he was young and fine and good-natured and brave and brilliant, Cappy had always admired J. Augustus Redell, but after the latter had so splendidly re-established his credit and formed a partnership with a Peruvian gentleman, one Senor Luiz Almeida, known locally as Live Wire Luiz, Cappy found that he had for the genial J. Augustus an admiration that amounted to affection. The West Coast Trading Company, under which title Live Wire Luiz and J. Augustus Redell did a lumber brokerage business with Mexico, Central American and South American countries principally, had Cappy Ricks' entire confidence, although he would have died rather than admit this. Live Wire Luiz he ignored and always dismissed as a factor in the affairs of that company, but whenever Redell had a deal on that was too heavy for his financial sinews, Cappy could always be depended upon to lend a helping hand. On his part, Redell revered Cappy Ricks as only an idealistic and naturally lovable rascal of a boy can revere an idealistic and lovable old man. To J. Augustus Redell little, old, naive, whimsical, gentle, terrible, brilliant, cunning, generous, altruistic, prudent, youthful old Cappy Ricks was a joy forever. With the impishness of his tender years, Mr. Redell could conceive of no greater joy than picking on Cappy Ricks just to see the latter fight back.

Quite early in their friendship, the astute Redell discovered a rift in Cappy's armor--two rifts, in fact. The first was that Cappy feared and loathed old age and fiercely resented even the most shadowy intimation that with age he was, to employ a sporting phrase, "losing his punch." The second weakness that lay exposed to Redell was Cappy's passion for wringing a profit, by ingenious means, from apparently barren soil where no profit had ever hitherto burgeoned. At heart Cappy was a speculator; only the fact that he was a prudent and careful speculator had conduced to enrich him rather than impoverish him.

Now, Cappy was fully convinced, from optical evidence, that J. Augustus Redell was a gambler. He admired Redell's genius for business, the soundness of his decisions, the alertness of his mind and the brilliance of his financial coups, but--he deprecated the younger man's daring. Cappy called it recklessness. By degrees the old gentleman had come to assume a proprietary interest in Gus Redell and the latter's affairs, for the younger man frequently sought counsel from Cappy and not infrequently, a loan! Cappy knew his young friend to be the soul of manly honor, but--he was young! Ah, yes! He was young. Ergo, he was foolish. True, his foolishness had not as yet been discovered, but Cappy was certain it would come to the surface sooner or later. The boy was reckless--a gambler. Cappy abhorred gambling. He never gambled. Occasionally he speculated! What more natural, therefore, than that little Cappy should presently arrogate to himself the privilege of stabbing young J. Augustus to the vitals from time to time, just to impress upon the boy the knowledge that this is a hard, cold, cruel world with a great many bad men in it!

Nothing could possibly have delighted Redell more. Whenever Cappy stabbed him, forthwith he set about to stab Cappy in return, and thus had developed a joyous business feud. These best of friends spent an hour and a half daily, at luncheon, "picking" on each other, telling tales on each other, eternally "joshing" for the edification of a coterie of their lumber and shipping friends who always lunched in a private dining room at the Commercial Club and who were known within that organization as the Bilgewater Club.

Early in 1915 Redell had seen an opportunity for inducing Cappy Ricks to speculate in grape stakes--to his financial hurt and humiliation. There was to be an election that fall--a special election to see whether California should "go dry" or "stay wet," and for some reason not quite apparent to Mr. Redell, a great many people believed the state would "go dry." Among the people who so believed, Redell discovered, were the woodsmen who, during the winter of 1914, would, under normal conditions, have split from redwood trees sufficient grape stakes to support such new vineyards as would come into bearing in the fall of 1915. Fearing that there would be no market for their grape stakes when the making of wine should be prohibited by law, these woodsmen had made no effort to supply the demand; wherefore the Machiavellian J. Augustus Redell, taking advantage of Mr. Skinner's absence from the office of the Ricks mills, cleverly managed to inculcate in Cappy Ricks the idea that it would be a splendid and profitable venture if he, the said Cappy, should wade into the grape stake market and corner it. The idea appealed to the speculative part of the old gentleman's nature and he had gone to work in a hurry, only to discover, after he had accepted orders from the West Coast Trading Company for a great many carloads of grape stakes for future delivery, that, when the day of reckoning should come, he would not be enabled to pick up enough grape stakes to fill his orders, for the very sufficient reason that nobody had manufactured grape stakes for that year's market, and they were not available at any price!

It had been a cruel blow and Cappy's weakness had been exposed without mercy to the members of the Bilgewater Club by Mr. Redell, who thereafter kept both eyes wide open, knowing that sooner or later Cappy would retaliate.

Retaliation was, of course, inevitable. Cappy realized this. For the first time in his career as a lumber and shipping king the sly old dog realized he had been out-thought, out-played, out-gamed and man-handled by a mere pup. And, though he had taken his beating like the rare old sport that he was, nevertheless the leaves of memory had a horrible habit of making a most melancholy rustling; and for two weeks, following his ignominious rout at the hands of J. Augustus Redell, Cappy's days and nights were entirely devoted to scheming ways and means of vengeance. Curiously enough, it was the West Coast Trading Company that accorded him the opportunity he craved.

Having massacred Cappy in the grape-stake deal and established an unlimited credit thereby, the West Coast Lumber Company, per Senor Felipe Luiz Almeida, alias Live Wire Luiz, decided to purchase a little jag of spruce from the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company. Cappy Ricks looked at the proffered order, saw that it called for number one clear spruce, and promptly accepted it at a dollar under the market. He was to bring the spruce in to San Francisco on one of his own schooners, lay her alongside the City of Panama and discharge it into her, for delivery at Salina Cruz, Mexico.

Cappy knew, of course, that Live Wire Luiz handled exclusively the West Coast Trading Company's Mexican, Central and South American business. He knew, also, that there were many points about the lumber business that the explosive little Peruvian had still to learn; so he decided to stab the West Coast Trading Company, through the innocent and trusting Senor Almeida, with a weapon he would not have dreamed of employing had J. Augustus Redell placed the order. Live Wire Luiz knew the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company always sold its output on mill tally and inspection; that Cappy Ricks' grading rules were much fairer to his customers than those of his competitors; that when he contracted to deliver number one clear spruce he would deliver exactly that and challenge anybody to pick a number two board out of the lot. But what Live Wire Luiz did not know was that there are two kinds of number one spruce on the Pacific Coast. One grows in California and the other in Oregon and Washington--and Cappy Ricks had both kinds for sale.

"Aha!" Cappy murmured as he glanced over Live Wire Luiz's order after the latter had gone. "Number one clear spruce, eh? All right, sir! Away down in my wicked heart I know you want some nice number one stock from our Washington mill, at Port Hadlock; but unfortunately you have failed to stipulate it--so we'll slip you a little of the California product and teach you something you ought to know."

Whereupon Cappy sent the order to his mill on Humboldt Bay, California. Though this plant manufactured redwood lumber almost exclusively, whenever the woods boss came across a nice spruce or bull-pine tree among the redwood he was wont to send it down to the mill, where it was sawed and set aside for trusting individuals like Live Wire Luiz. When seasoned this spruce was very good stock. Unfortunately, however, experts differ in their diagnosis of California spruce. There are those who will tell you it is not spruce, but a bastard fir; while others will tell you it is not fir, but a bastard spruce. Cappy Ricks had no definite ideas on the subject, for he didn't own enough of that kind of stumpage to grieve him. All he knew or cared was that when such outlawed stock was billed as spruce no judge or jury in the land could say it was fir; also, that in its green state it possessed an abominable odor!

The lumber was delivered to the City of Panama in due course and, as Cappy had suspected, Live Wire Luiz failed to come down to her dock and take a smell. This was a privilege left intact for the consignee at Salina Cruz; and he, according to Mexican custom, which only demands a ghost of an excuse to seek a rebate, promptly wired a protest and declared himself swindled to the extent of five dollars a thousand feet, gold.

Also, having been similarly outraged once before, he demanded to know why he had been sent California spruce; whereupon Live Wire Luiz called up Cappy Ricks, abused him roundly and sent him a bill for six dollars a thousand, rebate! Unfortunately for the West Coast Trading Company, however, it had already discounted Cappy's invoice; so the latter could afford to stand pat--which he did.