Chapter IV
 

On that first voyage the Narcissus carried general cargo to northern ports on the West Coast. Then she dropped down to a nitrate port and loaded nitrate for New York, and about the time she passed through the Panama Canal the Blue Star Navigation Company wired its New York agent to provide some neutral business for her next voyage. Freights were soaring by this time, due to the scarcity of the foreign bottoms which formerly had carried Uncle Sam's goods to market, and Cappy Ricks and Matt Peasley knew the rates would increase from day to day, and that in consequence their New York agents would experience not the slightest difficulty in placing her--hence they delayed as long as they could placing her on the market.

On the other hand, the New York agents, realizing that higher freight rates meant a correspondingly higher commission for them on the charter, held off until the Narcissus had almost finished discharging at Hoboken before they closed with a fine old New York importing and exporting house for a cargo of soft coal from Norfolk, Virginia, to Manila, or Batavia. The charterers were undecided which of these two cities would be the port of discharge, and stipulated that the vessel was to call at Pernambuco, Brazil, for orders. The New York agents marvelled at this for--to them--very obvious reasons; but inasmuch as the charterers had offered a whopping freight rate and declined to do business on any other basis, and since further the agent concluded it was no part of his office to question the motives of a house that never before had been subjected to suspicion, he concluded to protect himself by leaving the decision to the owners of the Narcissus. Accordingly he wired them as follows:

"Blue Star Navigation Company,

"258 California St., San Francisco, Cal.

"Have offer Narcissus, coal Norfolk Batavia or Manila, charterers undecided, Pernambuco for orders, ten dollars per ton. Shall we close? Answer.

"SEABORN"

2 boards, 1" x 8" and up, and too great a percentage of 4" x 6"-20' No. 1 clear. And there were mighty few clear twenty-foot logs coming into the boom these days.

"Well, will a cat eat liver?" declared Cappy Ricks. "I should say we do accept. Why, man, she'll make forty thousand dollars on the voyage, and whether she goes to Batavia or Manila, we're certain to get a cargo back."

"All right, I'll wire acceptance," Skinner replied, and paused long enough to make a notation on the message: "O.K.--Ricks." Mr. Skinner meant nothing in particular by that. He was a model of efficiency, and that was his little way of placing the responsibility for the decision in the event that the wisdom of said decision should, at some future time, be questioned. Mr. Skinner never took unnecessary chances. He always played a safe game.

It is necessary to state here also that Matt Peasley was not in the office when that telegram arrived from Seaborn & Company. If he had been this story would never have been written. He was down at Hunter's Point drydock, superintending the repairs to the steam schooner Amelia Ricks, which recently on a voyage to Seattle had essayed the overland route via Duxbury Reef. When Matt reached home that night he found his ingenious father-in-law fairly purring with contentment.

"Well, Matt, old horse," Cappy piped, "I've chartered the Narcissus. Norfolk to Batavia or Manila with coal. Got a glorious price--ten dollars a ton. That's what we get for holding off until the last minute."

"That's encouraging," Matt answered pleasantly, and asked no further questions. He was obsessed with the engines of the Amelia Ricks. It was going to cost a lot of money to put them in condition again, and he remarked as much to Cappy. Thus it happened that they entered into a discussion of other matters, and the good ship Narcissus, having finished discharging her cargo of nitrate, dropped down to Norfolk, where Captain Michael J. Murphy proceeded to let a stream of coal into her at a rate that promised to load her fully in less than four days.

It is worthy of remark, at this juncture, that Mike Murphy and Terence Reardon had, by this time, cast aside all appearance of even shirt-sleeve diplomacy. Diplomatic relations had, in fact, been completely severed. Crossing the Gulf Stream, Murphy had called the engine-room on the speaking-tube and politely queried if Mr. Reardon didn't think he could get a few more revolutions out of her. To this Mr. Reardon had replied passionately that if such a thing were possible he would have done it long ago without waiting to be told. He desired to inform Captain Murphy that he knew his business; whereupon Murphy had replied that he never would have guessed Mr. Reardon was that intelligent, judging by the face of him. In disgust Mr. Reardon had replied: "Aw, go to--" and then tried to close the speaking-tube before the captain would have the opportunity to retort. However, Michael J. knew his own mind, and, like all the Irish, was a marvel at repartee. Quick as was Terence Reardon, therefore, Michael J. Murphy was quicker. Perhaps all of his message had not been delivered before Reardon closed the tube, but the chief got enough of it for all practical purposes.

He caught one word--"Renegade"; a word so terrible that it left the chief engineer speechless with fury, and before he could call the skipper a baboon, the golden opportunity was gone. He closed the tube with a sigh.