Chapter XLVIII
 

Cappy Ricks and J. Augustus Redell arrived at the Merchants' Exchange promptly at one o'clock on the date of the sale of the S. S. General Carranza, as the Bavarian was now called. Just inside the door they paused and looked at each other.

"Whe-e-e-ew!" murmured Cappy Ricks. "All the shipping men in the world are here to bid on our property, Gus."

Mr. Redell whistled softly. "This," he said, "will be some auction!"

Cappy chuckled.

"There is only one thing that a shipping man in this country has more respect for than an Order in Council--and that is an Order in the United States District Court!"

"Naturally. It's backed up by our army and navy."

"By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, somebody's sporting blood is going to be tested today; and something tells, me, Augustus, my dear young friend, that it's going to be Matt Peasley's."

"What makes you think so, Cappy?"

Again Cappy chuckled.

"Having used German methods to bring about this auction sale," he confessed, "I concluded to steal a little more of this Teutonic stuff; so I established a system of espionage in Skinner's office and another in Matt Peasley's. Gus, I got a lot of low-down information on those two young pups; they're trying to slip something over on the old dog."

"Well, they'll never teach him any new tricks, Cappy."

"You know it! I observe that, as usual, Jim Searles will conduct the auction. He's climbing up on the block now, and, by the Toenails of Moses, Matt Peasley is on the job! Look, Gus! You can see his black head sticking up out of the heart of the riot."

As Cappy and Redell joined the crowd Jim Searles, by acclamation the auctioneer of the Port of San Francisco, rapped smartly with his little gavel, and a tense silence settled over the crowd.

"This," Mr. Searles announced, "will be a fight to a finish, winner take all. In accordance with an order of the United States District Court I am about to sell, at public auction, to the highest bidder, the Mexican Steamship General Carranza, ex-German Steamship Bavarian, to satisfy the following judgments: Mr. J. Augustus Redell--"

"Cut it out!" roared Matt Peasley. "We've all read the list of creditors, and you're only gumming up the game. Come down to business Jim."

"Good boy, Peasley! Sure! Cut it out, Jim! Get busy!" A dozen voices seconded Captain Matt Peasley's motion and Jim Searles rapped for order.

"How much am I offered?" he cried.

"One million dollars!" roared Matt Peasley.

On the fringe of the eager crowd Cappy Ricks leaned up against his friend Redell and commenced to laugh.

"The young scoundrel!" he chortled. "He never said a word to me about this auction; he was afraid I'd butt in and block his purchase; so, for his impudence, I'll teach him a lesson he'll never forget. Bid, Gus! Bet 'em as high as a hound's back."

"Captain Matt Peasley, representing the Blue Star Navigation Company, bids one million dollars. Chicken feed! Won't some real sport please tilt the ante?" Jim Searles pleaded. "Don't waste my time, gentlemen. It's valuable. Let's get this thing over and go back to our offices."

"One million five hundred thousand!" called J. Augustus Redell.

"I called for a sport and drew a piker," Jim Searles retorted. "Mr. J. Augustus Redell, of the West Coast Trading Company, bids a million and a half."

Young Dalton Mann, representing the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, raised his hand and snapped his fingers at the auctioneer.

"And a hundred thousand!" he shouted.

"And a hundred thousand!" Matt Peasley retorted.

"And fifty thousand!" Mann flung back at him.

Matt Peasley eyed his antagonist belligerently.

"That's doing very well for a young fellow," Searles complimented the last bidder. "Skipper Peasley, are you going to let this landlubber outgame you? He has bid a million and three-quarters. Think of the present high freight rates and speak up, or remain forever silent."

The bidding had so suddenly and by such prodigious bounds reached the elimination point that every piker present was afraid to open his mouth in the presence of these plungers. Matt Peasley licked his lips and glanced round rather helplessly. He knew he had about reached the limit of his bidding, but he suspected that Mann had reached his also.

"And ten thousand!" he shouted desperately.

"Cheap stuff! Cheap stuff!" the crowd jeered good-naturedly.

Cappy Ricks nudged J. Augustus Redell as Mann waved his hand in token of surrender. "One million seven hundred and sixty thousand I am offered," the auctioneer intoned. "Any further bids?" He waited a full minute; then resorted to three minutes of cajolery, but in vain. There were no more bids.

Jim Searles raised his hammer.

"Going--once!" he called--and waited. "Going--twice!" Another pause. "Going--"

"Two million dollars!" cried J. Augustus Redell; and a sigh went up from the excited onlookers.

"Ah! Mr. Redell is a sport, after all! Two million, flat!" Searles looked down on Matt Peasley. "Die, dog, or eat the meat ax!" he warned the unhappy young man.

"Let him have her," Matt growled; and, very red of face, he commenced to shoulder his way through the crowd.

"Beat it, Cappy; he's coming!" Redell warned the president emeritus.

Cappy Ricks, dodging round the flank of the crowd, fled through the side entrance of the Merchants' Exchange; and he was tranquilly smoking a cigar in his private office when Matt Peasley dropped in on him an hour later. Cappy eyed him coldly.

"Is Skinner back from luncheon?" he demanded. Matt nodded. "Tell him to come in here. I want to see him," Cappy continued ominously. "And you might stick round yourself."

Mr. Skinner made his appearance.

"Close the door," Cappy commanded.

Mr. Skinner looked a little startled and surprised, but promptly closed the door.

"You wanted to see me, Mr. Ricks?" he queried.

Cappy Ricks edged forward until he was seated on the extreme edge of his chair. Then he rested a hand on each knee, bent his head, and glared at the unhappy Skinner over the rims of his glasses. After thirty seconds of this scrutiny he turned to his son-in-law.

"Well," he said, "I hear you've been attending an auction sale and making a star-spangled monkey of yourself bidding a million seven hundred and sixty thousand dollars on that Mexican steamer. Matt, have you taken leave of your senses?"

"No, sir--not quite; but Gus Redell has. He bought her in for two million dollars. Of course he was acting for somebody else, because every cent he has is working overtime in the West Coast Trading Company."

"Oh!" Cappy murmured. "Then you didn't get her, after all?"

"No, sir! So perhaps you'd better not holler until you're hit." Matt sighed. "By Neptune," he declared, "I'd give a cooky to know the name of the crazy man who paid two million dollars for that steamer!"

"Behold the lunatic, Matt! Grandpa Ricks, in his second childhood! Gus Redell was bidding for me, sonny."

Matt Peasley sat down rather limply and stared at the president emeritus.

"Cappy," he said presently, "you sent a boy to do a man's work. I had the boat bought for a million seven hundred and sixty thousand! For heaven's sake, why didn't you tell me you wanted her? And I would have laid off. For the love of heaven, why did you go bidding against me?"

"Why didn't you tell me you wanted her, you big simp?" Cappy retorted. "You never said a word to me; and naturally Redell thought you were acting for somebody else. He had orders from me to get her and damn the cost--and he fulfilled his orders."

"A comedy of errors, truly!" Mr. Skinner observed witheringly.

Matt Peasley raised his huge arms and clenched his great fists in agony.

"Oh, Cappy! Cappy!" he pleaded. "Won't you please retire? You're just raising hell with the organization!"

"All right, Matt; I'll retire. But, before I do, I'm going to give Skinner a piece of my mind. Skinner, what the devil do you mean by going up to the Marine National Bank and borrowing a million dollars on the credit of the Ricks Lumber Company? I admit I have given you entire charge of the lumber end, and you were quite within your rights when you negotiated the loan and signed the note as president; but how did it happen that you didn't consult with the old man, if only as a matter of common courtesy?"

"I-I-that is, I-well, I didn't mean to be discourteous, Mr. Ricks. Oh, I wouldn't have you think, sir--"

"No; you'd have me be a dummy if you could. Why, you almost put the skids under me; because, when I went up to the Marine National to make a little personal loan in a spirit of preparedness, I discovered that the loan you had been given on my assets had jazzed my personal credit all to glory! I used to be able to borrow a million dollars on my bare note; but I'll be shot if they didn't make me dig up a lot of collateral this time! Skinner, I wouldn't have thought that of you. After trusting you as I have done for a quarter of a century, to find you giving me the double-cross just about breaks my heart. Great Godfrey, Skinner, how could you be so false to me? I expect that sort of thing from Matt--those one loves the best always swat one; but from you--Skinner, I don't know what prevents me from demanding your resignation here and now, unless it be because of your previous splendid character and loyal service."

"Oh, Mr. Ricks, Mr. Ricks!" Poor Skinner held up his hands appealingly and commenced to weep. "Please do not think ill of me. I swear--"

"You loaned the Ricks Lumber Logging Company's million dollars to Matt Peasley to help buy that steamer for the Blue Star Navigation Company; and he, the son of a pirate, went to work and borrowed it from you, well knowing he had no business to do so. What are you paying the Marine National for that money?"

"Five per cent," Skinner sniffled, for his heart was broken.

"What are you soaking the Blue Star Navigation Company for it?"

"Six," Skinner confessed miserably.

"That's all right, Skinner, my boy. Cheer up! I forgive you. That little profit of one per cent saves your bacon, boy. I guess there's some good left in you still; and I'm happy to have this evidence that, though I own both companies, you have not forgotten you are responsible for the profit-and-loss account of one of them, and Matt Peasley for the other. You did quite right to claim that one per cent jerk from Matt. Business is business!"

"Yes, you bet it is!" Matt Peasley struck in. "And I want you to lay off on Skinner, because what he did was done in fear and trembling, and under duress. We were both afraid you'd block the purchase; so we agreed to keep our plans secret from you, because--Well, somehow I did want that bully big boat the very worst way."

"And that's exactly the way you set about getting her, Matthew. However, you're young--you don't know any better; so I forgive you. Of course I realized you wanted, that steamer, boy. I knew your heart was set on seeing our house flag floating from her mainstruck; so I--Well, I just thought I'd get her for you, to sort of square myself for those two bonehead plays I pulled earlier in the year."

"Oh, but you shouldn't have paid two millions for her, Cappy! Business is one thing and sentiment is another."

"Why, I didn't pay any such price for her! Originally I bought her, as a German, for three hundred thousand dollars; in addition to that I've spent about ten thousand dollars improving her, and maybe five thousand more fussing up the trail of my operations so no smart secret-service operative could come round and hang something on me." He reached into his coat pocket and drew forth the United States Marshal's bill of sale. "Here, sonny," he announced, "is your Uncle Sam's certificate of title. Hustle up to the customhouse and get it recorded; then make out a bill of sale for a one-third interest to the West Coast Trading Company and record that also. Then change her name to Alden M. Peasley, in honor of your first-born, and put her under these two flags."

He jerked open a drawer in the desk and brought forth a bright new edition of Old Glory, followed by the familiar white muslin burgee with the blue star.

"Skinner!"

"Yes, Mr. Ricks."

"The United States Marshal has paid all the debts of the Alden M. Peasley, and this afternoon he'll send his check for the proceeds of the sale still remaining in his hands to my lawyer, who holds a most ungodly power of attorney from that dummy Guaymas corporation Live Wire Luiz organized to buy the ship for us. Our attorney will cash that check and send the cash down to you. Please bank it to my credit and take up that note I gave the Marine National; then get the securities I hocked and tuck them back in my safe-deposit vault. As for the interest at five per cent, which the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company will have to pay on that million you borrowed to help Matt Peasley hornswoggle father, you just charge that to your personal account as a penance for your sins. As for the six per cent you pay the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company for the money loaned your Blue Star Navigation Company, Matt Peasley, just charge that to your personal account as a penance for your sins."

Both culprits nodded dazedly.

"Now," Cappy continued, "I'll tell you something else: The Alden M. Peasley belongs to the West Coast Trading Company and Alden P. Ricks; they own one-third for bringing the deal to my attention and furnishing some labor, and I own two-thirds, or the lion's share, for doing a lion's work--to wit, putting up the cash and promoting the deal to a clean title. Consequently, though you two boys own a nice little block of stock in the Blue Star Navigation Company, you don't own a red cent in the Alden M. Peasley, because she doesn't belong to the Blue Star Navigation Company, but to the president emeritus thereof. However, as I am about to retire for keeps this time, I'll tell you what I purpose doing with my two-thirds of the Alden M. Peasley: Skinner, my dear boy, I kidded you into tears. Bless you, boy, it broke your heart when you thought your old boss figured you'd quit being Faithful Fido, didn't it? Skinner, loyalty like yours is very, very precious; and your affection is--er--Skinner, you human icicle, you can't bluff me! I'm on to you, young feller! Matt, you prepare a deed of gift for one-half of my two-thirds interest to Skinner, and take the other half for yourself; and when the Alden M. Peasley has earned what I put into her, credit my account with it. After that, you and Skinner and Gus Redell and Live Wire Luiz can collect the dividends."

"Oh, Mr. Ricks! This is too much," Skinner began.

"Tut, tut, sir! Not a peep out of you, sir! How dare you argue with me? Now just one word more before you fellers go: The next time you boys go bidding on a ship at auction, take a leaf out of Cappy Ricks' book and bid against yourself! You can always scare the other fellows off that way; the sky is the limit--and you're bound to get your money back. So you should Ish ka bibble.

"Now you two young freshies go back to your desks and try to learn humility. Thus endeth the first lesson, my children."

Matt Peasley came close to Cappy and put his big arm round the little old man.

"Cappy," he whispered, "please don't retire!"

"All right, son," Cappy answered; "but get that infernal cry-baby, Skinner, out of my office. He's breaking my heart."

If J. Augustus Redell had been content to sue for peace following his deal with Cappy in Australian wheat, all would have been well for that young man. Alas! As we have already stated, he was young--and there is an old saying to the effect that youth must be served. J. Augustus Redell, like Oliver Twist, desired more. His triumph over Cappy in the wheat deal merely whetted his desire for more of the Ricks blood, and in the end the ingenious rascal evolved a plan for making Cappy the laughing stock of the Bilgewater Club for a month of Sundays.