Chapter L

Mr. Hankins withdrew, greatly crestfallen, and the despot of the Blue Star office turned to his trusted lieutenants.

"Well," he declared, "one after the other you have to come to the old man to be shown. I guess I've proved to you two boys this morning that I'm to be trusted with buying a few ships and letting contracts for a few more, haven't I?"

"I don't like the idea of Cappy Ricks on a steamer that's likely to be torpedoed. I don't want you to go to Europe alone--"

"I'm not going alone. Captain Mike Murphy, our new port captain, is going with me. I wouldn't think of buying a steamer unless that splendid fellow O.K.'d the hull. And Terry Reardon, our new port engineer, will accompany me also. Terry has to O.K. the engines. Between the three of us, it's going to take a smart trader to sell us any junk, I'm telling you!"

"I ought to go with you," Matt suggested.

"You have your work at home, attending to the fleet. It isn't much of a fleet, I'll admit; but such as it is it requires some attention. I'll be the chief scout of this organization and see whether I can't rustle up some major-league vessels from some of those bush-league European owners."

"I've had a fine time getting good men to take their places in the Narcissus since you promoted Mike and Terry in my absence!" Matt complained. "Mike and Terry know her well--and she's such a big brute to handle."

"Where is the Narcissus, by the way?"

"Loading nitrate at Tocopilla and Antofagasta, Chile. This is her last voyage under the old charter."

"Got any new business in sight for her?"

"I won't have the slightest difficulty getting another nitrate charter and at a rate double what she's been getting."

"Every vessel taken off the nitrate run stiffens the freight rate in these days, when they have to have so much nitrate in the manufacture of war munitions," the astute Cappy declared. "If I were you, Matt, I'd find her a good outside cargo or two, and then slip her back in the nitrate business again. Freights may have advanced in the interim."

"I have a mighty profitable cargo offered me this morning, Cappy. An agent of the British Government called on me and offered a whopping price for carrying a cargo of mules and horses from Galveston to Havre. I think I shall turn the proposition down. It's too dangerous, Cappy."

"You mean we might have our ship blown up by a German submarine?"

Matt nodded.

"Well, we'd collect our freight in advance, wouldn't we? And the British Government will guarantee to reimburse us if the ship is lost, will it not? Well, then, where's the risk?"

"There's the danger to the crew."

"Any man that goes to sea knows he has to take a chance. Bet you Mike Murphy could take that cargo of livestock across and bring another cargo back. He's luckier than a cross-eyed coon. And another thing, Matt: If you accept that business we can kill two birds with one stone--yes, three--because Mike and Terry and I will cross over on the Narcissus and save the price of transportation from here to New York, and from New York to Liverpool. Then, while the Narcissus is discharging and taking on another cargo, we'll go scouting for available steamers."

"It might be done, though I hate to think of it Cappy. If we lose the vessel they'll pay us a million and a half for her, of course--and she cost us less than three hundred thousand a year ago. And, as you say, we'll collect the freight in advance. They're very anxious to get the Narcissus. She's a whopping big boat, and that's the kind of a vessel they need for a horse transport."

"Yes; and, by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, it will be a bully vacation, and a bully vacation is something I haven't had since the night of the big wind in Ireland. Moreover, I combine business with pleasure, which is always desirable; and, if that isn't excuse enough, I want to tell you it's cheaper to travel dead-head on our own boats than to pay for three round-trip tickets to Europe on a Cunard liner."

"But suppose a German submarine--"

"Matt, all my life I've played a quiet, safe, sane, conservative game. I've always longed for adventure and never had it. Why, just consider a moment what a tiresome thing life would be were it not for the prospect of death at any moment! That's all that keeps us hustling, my boy--trying to put over a winning run before the game is called on account of darkness. Hell's bells! Don't try to scare me with a sheet and the rattle of old bones. Suppose they do blow us up? We don't lose a dollar; in fact, we make money--and we can take to the boats, can't we?"

"They only give you fifteen minutes--"

"We'll have the boats swung overside, provisioned and ready, two days ahead."

"But they don't care how far out to sea they leave you. I spent two weeks in an open boat once and I know you can't stand two days. The exposure--"

"When we get down to Galveston," Cappy interrupted triumphantly, "I'll have Mike Murphy buy a nice, staunch little secondhand motor cruiser, thirty-eight or forty feet long, with plenty of power and comfortable living accommodations for half a dozen people. Mike will arrange for extra oil and gasoline tankage, and we'll swing this cruiser in on the main deck and let it rest there in a cradle, with the slings round it, ready to lift overside with the cargo derricks at a minute's notice. I'll be as snug in that little cruiser as a bug under a chip--and we'll tow the lifeboats. So that settles it--and if it doesn't I'd like to know who's the boss of this shebang, anyhow!"

Mr. Skinner glanced covertly at Captain Matt Peasley and shook his head almost imperceptibly, as who should say: "Better give in to him, Matt. I know him longer than you do; he'll have his way if it kills him." And Matt took the hint, with the result that some six weeks later Cappy Ricks, accompanied by his faithful port captain and his equally faithful port engineer, cleared for Galveston aboard the Sunset Limited. And at Galveston began the only real vacation Cappy Ricks had ever had.