Chapter LI

To begin, there was the task of superintending the installation of the accommodations for the cargo of mules and horses. Cappy was particularly interested in the ventilating system below decks, for he was fond of horses and had resolved to deliver the cargo without the loss of a single animal. Of no mediocre turn of mind mechanically, he, assisted by Terry Reardon, made a few suggestions that the British veterinaries in charge were very glad to accept.

The real enjoyment of the trip, however, Cappy found down at the breaking corrals where the horses were detraining. They were all young and full of life, and fully ninety per cent of them had only been halter-broken. In the lot was many an outlaw whose ancestors had run wild for generations in Nevada; and as the delivery contract specified that a horse to be accepted must be broken--God save the mark!--as Terence Reardon remarked after seeing one passed as broken, following five minutes of furious pitching and squealing--Cappy Ricks was one of the first at the corral and the last to leave. Perched on the topmost, rail, he piped encouragement to the lank, flat-bellied border busters who, a dozen times a day, risked life and limb at five dollars a bust.

Mike Murphy and Terence Reardon, who had ridden more than one China Sea typhoon and West India hurricane, marvelled that men should take such risks for any amount of money. Privately they considered Cappy Ricks an accessory before the fact, inasmuch as Cappy hung up at least five hundred dollars in small prizes for the vaqueros. Whenever they had a "bad one" they could always induce Cappy to offer ten dollars for staying two minutes and five dollars a minute for each minute over the limit--which seldom reached two minutes. Also, Cappy was willing to furnish two silver dollars whenever some adventurer thought he could put a dollar between each leg and the saddle and have the dollars there when the horse surrendered. They ran in a couple of trained buckers on Cappy and depleted his bank roll considerably before he began to smell a rat.

To these plainsmen, charged with the destinies of the mounts for the young British soldier, Cappy Ricks was known familiarly as Cap. Before the last of the horses had been passed as broken and hustled aboard the big Narcissus, Cappy knew each horse wrangler by his first name or nickname, and had learned the intricacies of many hitherto unheard-of games of chance that flourish along the Rio Grande. He was an expert at cooncan, and Pangingi fascinated him; then they taught him Mexican monte, and one worthless individual stole an ace out of the deck, whereupon all hands had a joyous hack at Cappy, who, when informed privately by his friend, Sam Daniels, foreman of the outfit, that he was in bad company and being skinned alive, went uptown and bought some specially constructed dice, which he introduced brazenly into a crap game, thereby more than catching even. He was the last man in the world a gang of wicked cowboys would suspect of guile; all of them, quite foolishly, thought he had more money than brains.

Eventually, however, the Narcissus was loaded, Cappy moved into the owner's suite, and his new-found friends bunked in a temporary deck house forward when they weren't busy below decks playing chambermaid to the cargo. And with Cappy's motor cruiser swung in the cradle, ready for launching from the main deck aft, the Narcissus slipped out of Galveston and went snoring across the Gulf of Mexico, bound for Le Havre.

Mike Murphy was not happy, however. He resented Cappy Ricks, who would persist in going below to inspect the cargo and in consequence smelled like a hostler. Moreover, Michael was the port captain of the Blue Star Navigation Company now and not the master of the ship; and the Narcissus wasn't out of sight of land before Mike made the discovery that the boatswain of the ship was absolutely inefficient, that the cook was wasteful, that the first officer was too talkative, and the skipper too easy-going.

And these conditions, on a ship he had once commanded, irked Murphy exceedingly. Terence Reardon was in much the same state of mind. Being port engineer, he investigated the engine room and found that his favorite monkey wrench had been lost; there were two leaky tubes in the main boiler; the ash hoist was out of kilter; his successor in the Narcissus was carrying ten pounds of steam less than Terence used to carry; and there was something not quite right with the condenser. The engine room crew Terence characterized to Mike Murphy as a gang of "vagabones," and hinted darkly at sweeping changes when the ship should get back to the United States. Once he went so far as to state that he might have expected as much when, upon leaving the Narcissus to become port engineer, he had given her to his old first assistant; since he had never known a first assistant, barring himself, to make a good chief!