Chapter XXXVIII
 

Three months later Cappy Ricks sat alone in his office, his feet on his desk, his old head bowed on his breast. Apparently he was having a gentle snooze. Suddenly he sat up with the suddenness of a jack-in-the-box and stepped to the door leading to Mr. Skinner's office.

"Skinner, my dear boy," he said, "do you remember that stinking Humboldt spruce I sawed off on Live Wire Luiz one day when you were out to lunch?"

Mr. Skinner nodded.

"They claimed a rebate of six dollars a thousand on it," he declared; "and we declined to allow the claim. Well, I've decided to allow it, Skinner. Tell Hankins to draw a check for the rebate in full and bring it in to me. Send in a stenographer."

Cappy clawed his whiskers as the stenographer took her seat at his desk.

"Ahem! Hum! Harumph-h-h!" he began. "Take letter."

"Mr. J. Augustus Redell

"President West Coast Trading Co.

"Merchants' Exchange Building, City.

"My dear Gus: Having waited for several weeks in the hope of meeting you at the Bilgewater Club, to which, due to some mysterious reason, you appear to have been excessively disloyal of late, I despair of the delight of a personal interview and am accordingly writing you.

"You will recall that jag of odoriferous spruce your excitable partner was chump enough to buy from the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company. On the receipt this morning of a communication from my exceedingly capable representative in Papeete I came to the conclusion that I could afford to allow the rebate claimed by the excessively sour-balled Senor Almeida, and accordingly I am inclosing herewith, to the order of your company, the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company's check for $536.12.

"I also beg to tender you my assurance that if I have seemed in the past to cherish an unchristian resentment of that little deal in grape stakes, the memory of the outrage no longer rankles in my bosom. For you, my dear young friend, I entertain the kindliest, the most paternal of feelings. I have not only forgiven, but I have also forgotten; for my honor is clear again and I figure I can pretty blamed well afford myself the luxury.

"Regarding that steamer Valkyrie, please be advised that the next steamer to Australia, via Papeete and Raratonga, will carry a Blue Star flag and my instructions to our representative to have it tacked to the main truck of the Valkyrie as she dies submerged in the harbor. Since I assume you will be interested in learning the details of our acquisition of the steamer in question, and since, further, I cannot see that I have anything to lose by withholding this interesting information, please be advised that we bought her in for twenty-two thousand five hundred dollars.

"I fear you will be inclined to doubt this and accuse me of romancing for the purpose of dropping more salt in a wound still fresh and bleeding; but I assure you such a suspicion would be a grave injustice to an old man whose portion from you should be pity, not opprobrium.

"To begin, it was very easy--after we had you out of the way. Like a sensible man, you knew you were licked and threw up the sponge to save yourself unnecessary punishment. It has been my experience that only a very wise man has sense enough to do that; consequently, despite your youth and impetuosity, I seem to see the glimmer of a very brilliant commercial future for the West Coast Trading Company.

"However, to the story: When Mike Murphy got down to Papeete he found a couple of broken-down junk dealers hanging round--the kind of fellows who would have been glad to bid in the vessel at a couple of thousand dollars for the privilege of breaking her up for junk and gutting her of her cargo. A little reflection convinced Captain Murphy that he could eliminate these small fry and centre his attention on the Australian steamship company; and he was aided in arriving at this conclusion by your Mr. Jinks, whom he found glooming at the dock on the arrival of the Moana minus your handsome self. By the way, Mr. Jinks' action in aiding and abetting Murphy, after discovering that his own company was out of the running, was so sportsmanlike that, if you will kindly advise me of the expense to which you were put in sending him to Papeete, we will gladly send you our check to cover.

"It took the capable Murphy about an hour and a half to get the lay of the land--and then he started to play his little game. In the rather restricted society of Papeete Murphy played the fool. Every little while he would apparently acquire a small jag and get very confidential. He told everybody his business--in confidence--and everybody in Papeete knew just how much he was going to bid on the wreck. Finally, the day before the bids were to be opened--Murphy was waiting till the last minute before filing his--the captain of the port got a wireless from some adventurer down in Noumea, asking him to withhold the opening of the bids till he could get up to Papeete and make a bid. Murphy had already fooled away three weeks in Papeete and if the captain of the port hearkened to the request from the man from Noumea it would mean a wait of another three weeks. Consequently he awaited the next move with interest.

"Well, Augustus, the captain of the port had the temerity to delay the opening of the bids, and Murphy noticed that his competitor hired an attorney and made a bitter and formal protest against the delay. However, it looked to Murphy like they had made just a little bit too much noise--so he hired an attorney and made a lot of noise himself. The captain of the port overruled both protests, however; and about that time Murphy decided to put over a dirty Irish trick. He announced he could see very clearly there was a move on to double-cross the legitimate bidders and that he wasn't going to hang round any longer. The Timaru was due the next day, so he and Jinks engaged passage to San Francisco on her; and, just before he left, Murphy went up to the bank and drew eighteen thousand dollars on his letter of credit.

"He got a certificate of deposit in his own name, and that same afternoon his attorney filed a sealed bid with the captain of the port.

"Now I had suspected there might be a leak from that French bank in favor of the Australian; so I had taken care to have it advised by the Marine National here that the latter bank had issued a letter of credit for twenty-five thousand dollars to Captain Murphy. Therefore, the Papeete bank very naturally concluded that twenty-five thousand dollars was all the money Murphy had with him! And when he drew eighteen thousand dollars on it they thought they knew the exact amount of his bid; they thought, also, he had made a bid, in view of the fact that his attorney filed one the same afternoon. At any rate, the news reached the Australian and he withdrew his bid and substituted another. Since he was the possessor of straight inside information as to the amount of his single competitor's bid, he saw no reason why he should waste money; so he bid four thousand pounds, or approximately nineteen thousand five hundred dollars. They say he felt pretty sore when the bids were opened and the Valkyrie went to Miss Matilda Keenan for twenty-two thousand five hundred dollars.

"Miss Keenan, by the way, is Skinner's stenographer. Murphy was only the decoy. She carried the real bank roll and nobody suspected her; in fact, Murphy was so certain of his prey he didn't even bid! He tells me the Valkyrie is really a gift, and that, at the widest possible estimate of salvage cost, the Blue Star Navigation Company has purchased, for two hundred thousand dollars, a four-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar ship--thanks to you!

"With kindest regards, and again assuring you of the pleasure I have always taken in our friendship--a friendship which, I trust, nothing will ever disrupt--I am

"Cordially and sincerely--"

Cappy paused and gazed at the stenographer appraisingly.

"Read that over again, my dear young lady," he commanded.

The girl complied and Cappy nodded his satisfaction.

"You and Mr. Skinner get along all right?" he queried.

"Oh, yes, sir."

"I'm very glad to hear that. You've been substituting for Miss Keenan, haven't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, you can have the job for keeps if you want it. You suit me. Take letter: 'Miss M. Keenan--' I called her Matilda, but her name's Mary; so let it go at that.

"My dear Miss Keenan: Captain Murphy arrived on the Timaru, with the information that he had taken a chance and left our affairs in the laps of the gods and the capable hands of his understudy. It has been pretty tough sledding waiting for the next Australian steamer, but, thank God! she made port yesterday and your report of the success of your mission is before me. I thank you. Yen're a good girl, and I am very happy to learn of your engagement to Captain Murphy. He is a splendid fellow and I am sending him back to Papeete in command of our Amelia Ricks, which has been fitted up as a wrecker, to raise the Valkyrie. You had better wait in Papeete and marry him there, as I am opposed to long engagements among my employees; and Michael will do better and faster work if he settles all his personal worries before tackling those of the Blue Star Navigation Company.

"On his return with the Valkyrie I shall make him port captain of the Blue Star Fleet, which job will keep him home nights. And since, by his ingenuity, he succeeded in purchasing for twenty-two thousand five hundred dollars a piece of property for which I was prepared to pay as high as seventy-five thousand dollars, for your wedding present I shall allot you and Captain Murphy a ten-thousand-dollar piece of the Valkyrie. It should earn you thirty per cent and make you independent in your old age.

"Very sincerely--"

Cappy Ricks ceased dictating and clawed his whiskers reflectively.

"Yes," he murmured irrelevantly; "I guess that's considerable of a knock-out from an old fogy who's lost his punch!"

Then, to the stenographer:

"That will be all, my dear. As you pass through the general office tell those fellows out there that I've gone into executive session with myself and am not to be disturbed unless it's something very important. I've got to decide which one of our skippers to promote into the Valkyrie when we get her up and I must think up a new name for her. I think I'll call her the J. H. Skinner. Skinner's a little slow on his feet, but he means well and he's old enough to have a ship named after him."