Chapter LV
 

The entire office force of the Blue Star Navigation Company and the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company had assembled in the general office to greet Cappy Ricks, Mike Murphy and Terence Reardon upon their return from Europe, and to hear at first hand the story of their wanderings and adventures. And when the wondrous tale had been told, and business was once more resumed, Matt Peasley, Mr. Skinner, Mike and Terence convened in Cappy Ricks' office for further discussion.

"We sent that half million dollars to New York to be transferred to the credit of the French Government when the bill of sale for that steamer should be deposited with the bank there," Matt remarked presently. "What kind of a vessel did you buy, Cappy? What are her dimensions?"

"What kind of a ship did I buy?" Cappy piped. "Hum-m-m! A ship is good. I bought four; and--believe me!--they're no skiffs, either. All of them are big foreign-going steel tramps, with lots of speed and power."

"Four for half a million dollars?" Matt Peasley cried unbelievingly.

"They would have cost anybody else a million and a half; but--er-- well, you see, Matt, I had a stand-in with the right people. The four vessels I bought were all prizes of war--German merchantmen converted into commerce raiders, which had slipped through the cordon of British cruisers and got into the North Atlantic, where French cruisers overhauled them and brought them into port. They were all there and up for sale to the highest bidder when we got there with the horses and our captured submarine.

"I bid half a million for the lot, which is probably about half of what it cost to build them; and there was a Frenchman and an Englishman bidding against me. They each had me topped, and the vessels were knocked down to the Frenchman; but when he found I was a competitor--that I was Monsieur le Capitaine Ricks--that's what they called me, Matt--in command of the party that captured a German submarine, intact and without the loss of a single man on either side-say, Matt, the stuff was all off!

"He and the Englishman went into a conference; and the result was, the Frenchman ran out on his bid and forfeited his ten-per-cent certified check. That left the Englishman the next highest bidder; and he ran out on his bid and left the ships to me! Then the Englishman shook hands with me and the Frenchman kissed me. I thought the least I could do was to make good to them on the earnest money they had forfeited, and they accepted it. Then the President of France heard about it and came down to Brest to see me; and he kissed me, too, and gave me the Officers' Cross of the Legion of Honor. I didn't tell him I was just a private in the ranks. Oh, no! Nothing doing. I was introduced as Monsieur le Capitaine Ricks--and that settled it. I was an officer, for all my courtesy title; and I took the Cross, because I was prouder than Punch to have it.

"Then the Chamber of Deputies met and voted the Frenchman and the Englishman back their forfeited earnest money; and they gave me back my checks, and I wrote new ones for the same amount and split the swag fifty-fifty between the two nations for the care of their wounded. Then I gave a dinner aboard the submarine, and President Poincare was present. I presented the submarine, with the compliments of the Blue Star Navigation Company, to the Republic of France, and the President accepted, all hands went out on deck and we cracked a bottle of champagne over that submersible's bows and rechristened her."

"What name?" Matt and Skinner chorused.

"The Shamrock--out of compliment to Mike and Terence."

"Fine!" Matt cried. "Then what?"

"Nothing, Matt. Our business was finished and I was anxious to get back on the job; so we engaged skippers and crews to bring our four freighters to New York, and came home.

"Better step lively, boy, and dig up some business for them! Mike will give you the data on their tonnage."

Matt drew Mike Murphy aside.

"Tell me, Mike," he whispered, "did the old man get soused at that dinner aboard the Shamrock?"

"Look here, Matt," Murphy answered; "what Monsieur le Capitaine Ricks does outside of office hours is none of my business--or yours, either. And if you don't like that answer help yourself to a new port captain. I'm not telling everything I know, Matt."