Chapter XXXVI
 

And he turned toward the entrance to the Merchants' Exchange, being minded to enter a telephone booth and notify the Bilgewater Club he would not be present that day. As he walked through the gate into the Exchange, however, he was accosted by a heavy, florid-faced man carrying a thick woolen watch coat over his arm. This individual was Captain Aaron Porter, one of the San Francisco bar pilots, and he greeted Cappy with a respectful query after the old gentleman's health.

"I don't feel very well," Cappy replied wearily. "I'm getting old, captain--getting old."

Then he noted the watch coat the pilot was carrying and decided subconsciously that there could be no connection between it and the sultry August weather prevailing at that moment; consequently it informed the observant Cappy, as plainly as if it had a tongue and had spoken, that Captain Aaron Porter expected shortly to be exposed to the chill northwest winds outside as he piloted a vessel to sea. In the manufacture of sheer inane conversation, therefore, Cappy tugged the coat and said:

"Going to take a ship out this afternoon, captain?"

"Yes, sir. I'll be responsible for the Moana until we cross the Potato Patch--"

"The Moana!" Cappy cried, and pulled out his watch. "You'd better be stepping lively, then. She sails at one, and you have twenty minutes to get to Greenwich Street Pier."

"Oh, there's no hurry, Mr. Ricks. She'll be delayed from half to three-quarters of an hour waiting for the Australian mail. The mail train from the East is late, and of course the Moana cannot sail till--"

"You will pardon me, captain," Cappy Ricks interrupted politely, "but I've just thought of a very important matter. I must run and telephone."

As J. Augustus Redell had just pointed out, twenty minutes was scarcely ample time in which to decide on the right emissary to send to Papeete, get into communication with the said individual and induce him to go. In addition, such a person would have to have time to pack some clothing; also, to procure a letter of credit at the bank and purchase a ticket, not to mention the time requisite to receive his instructions and get to the steamer's dock. But with almost an hour--well, a wide-awake man can accomplish much in an hour, and Cappy Ricks was a natural leader of forlorn hopes. In the brief interval required to accomplish the journey from the door of the Merchants' Exchange to a telephone booth a flock of bright ideas capered through Cappy's ingenious head like goats on a tin roof.

"Main 2000!" he barked, and in five seconds he had the connection. "Put Skinner on the line!"

Cappy's own private exchange operator had the temerity to inform him that Mr. Skinner was out at luncheon.

"The in-fer-nal scoundrel--just when I need him! Put Captain Matt Peasley on the line, and be quick about it. Matt! Matt, listen! This is the old man speaking. Get an earful of what I'm going to tell you now, and don't ask any questions--just obey! Do you remember that big German freighter--the Valkyrie--sunk in Papeete Harbor?"

"Yes, sir."

"She's a prize, Matt. I've just been given a low-down on her condition. Gus Redell is leaving on the Moana to bid her in at the government sale--the young scoundrel told me all about it and twitted me because we were asleep on the job and let the good thing get away from us. The Moana's supposed to sail at one o'clock, but the Eastern mail is late--she won't get away from the dock until about one-thirty; but when she does--"

"When she does we'll have a man aboard her to beat Redell to the German steamer," Matt Peasley interrupted. "I've got the message. Where are you, father-in-law?"

"At the Merchants' Exchange."

"You attend to the funds and I'll do the rest."

"Confound you!" rasped Cappy Ricks. "You're so headstrong, you'll jam things up yet if you don't listen to me."

"But you'll have to send somebody Redell doesn't know."

"That doesn't matter at all. Now, son, will you listen to me? I'll attend to the money and I'll also frame this entire deal. Is Miss Keenan in the office--you know--Skinner's stenographer?"

"Yes, sir."

"She's been wanting to go on a vacation. When I heard about it I asked her how she'd like a cruise to Alaska--remember we have the Tillicum leaving at six to-night for St. Michael's. She said that would be fine; so I gave her a pass and the owner's suite on the Tillicum."

"So I hear. Her trunk was sent to the Tillicum's dock this morning and she has her suit case in the office. She planned to work today and go aboard the Tillicum after office hours."

"Good! Then she's all ready lor a voyage to Tahiti. Have the private exchange operator phone our wharf office instantly and tell them to load Miss Keenan's trunk on the first wagon handy and rush it over to the Moana. Give Miss Keenan fifteen hundred dollars and tell her she's to go to Papeete. If she kicks about clothes tell her to get along with what she has and buy what she needs on arrival."

He waited while Matt Peasley gave the necessary instructions to the exchange operator. Then:

"It's all right, sir. Miss Keenan will go. She'll be on her way in five minutes. I've told her to go aboard and buy her ticket from the purser or from the ticket agent at the gang plank."

"Fine business! Now who else have we in our employ that I can send? I want a man--and a rattling smart one."

"Mike Murphy, the skipper of the Narcissus," Matt suggested.

"The very man! He's discharging at Union Street Wharf. Phone the wharfinger's office and tell him he'll not regret taking a message down to the dock to Captain Murphy. Murphy will probably be at lunch aboard. Tell the wharfinger to tell him to throw a few clothes into a suit case--that he's to go to Papeete on mighty important business--and to meet me at the head of Greenwich Street Dock at one-twenty, without fail, for his orders and his money. Having phoned these orders, Matt, take the office automobile and scorch to the water front to see that they're carried out. Take Miss Keenan with you. Good-bye."

And Cappy Ricks dashed out of the Merchants' Exchange as though the devil was at his heels walloping him at every jump. It was four blocks to the Marine National Bank, but the California Street cable car took him there in four minutes. Gasping and perspiring Cappy trotted into the cashier's office, where for ten precious seconds he stood, open-mouthed, unable to say a word.

"Well, Mr. Ricks," the cashier greeted him, "if you can't talk make signs."

Cappy flapped his hands and made three rapid strokes with his index finger, like a motion-picture actor writing a twelve-line letter; then the words came in a veritable cascade.

"Letters of credit," he croaked-"two." The cashier picked up a pencil and a scratch pad. "One, twenty-five thousand, favor Michael J. Murphy; one, favor--oh, what in blue blazes is that girl's first name? Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I never heard her first name--she's just Miss Keenan. Oh, the devil! Call her Matilda--that's it--Matilda Keenan--fifty thousand dollars for her; and--"

"You appear to be in a terrific hurry for them, Mr. Ricks, so I'll get them started immediately," the cashier interrupted, and turned his memorandum over to an underling, with instructions to give Mr. Ricks' letters of credit precedence over all other business.

"Now write--check--your favor--seventy thousand. I'll sign it--hope Skinner has enough cash on deposit; if he hasn't--my personal note, you know."

"A mere trifle, Mr. Ricks. We will not worry over that." The cashier filled in the check and Cappy signed it with a trembling hand. "And now," the cashier continued, "we will have to have Miss Keenan and Mr. Murphy come to the bank to register their respective signatures--"

"Nothing doing!" Cappy piped. "Give me the cards and I'll have 'em write their signatures on them aboard the steamer and send them ashore by the pilot. None o' your efficiency monkey business, my son! I guarantee everything."

He dashed to the telephone and yelled into the receiver: "Taxicab! Taxicab!"

"One of the cars belonging to the bank is at the curb, Mr. Ricks. The chauffeur will take you wherever you desire to go," the cashier suggested.

"Bully for you!" Again Cappy commenced to flap his hands. "Stenographer--where's the stenographer? Oh, Judas Priest, nobody helps me! Bless your sweet heart, my dear, here you are, aren't you? Yes, and I'll not forget you for it either. No, no, no! No notes. Just stick piece of paper in the typewriter--now then! Ready! Dictation direct to machine. Er--ah! Harumph-h-h! Oh, suffering sailor! What's the name of the French bank in Papeete? I don't know. I'm a director and vice president of this infernal bank--and I don't know I'm alive! Man, man, I want it--a thing--a what-you-may-call-'em--a--Oh, the devil! Why do I deposit in this dratted bank? Eureka! I have it! I want a notice."

"You mean an advice, Mr. Ricks."

"Bully boy! An advice. That's it. Holy mackerel, how I love a man that's fast on his feet! A notice to the bank in Papeete, Island of Tahiti, that you've given Captain Michael J. Murphy a letter of credit for twenty-five thousand dollars--only one notice for one letter of credit. I'm up to skullduggery. Man, man, why don't you dictate? Usual courtesies--good customer of your bank--you know; usual flubdub. No advice regarding Miss Keenan's letter of credit--just Murphy's."

The cashier good-naturedly shouldered Cappy Ricks aside and dictated to the bank's correspondent in Papeete a brief note to the effect that the Marine National had that day issued to Captain Michael J. Murphy a letter of credit in the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars; that it understood Captain Murphy was proceeding to Papeete on some matter of business and took this occasion to commend him to their kindly offices.

"Stick that in an envelope--address envelope, seal it, and write outside: 'Kindness purser S.S. Moana.' The mail to Papeete is closed, but I'll see that the Moana's purser delivers it to the bank," Cappy ordered.