Chapter LVI
 

On the morning of April 3, 1917, Cappy Ricks came down to his office, spread a newspaper on his desk and carefully cut from it the war address of President Wilson to Congress, made the night before. This clipping the old gentleman folded carefully; he placed it in an envelope, sealed it and wrote across the face of the envelope: "Property of Alden Matthew Peasley." Then he summoned Mr. Skinner, president of the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company.

"Skinner, my dear boy," he began, "have you read the President's Message to Congress?"

"I have," replied Skinner.

"I guess that President of ours isn't some tabasco, eh? By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, he's just naturally read Bill Hohenzollern out of the party. Bully for Woodrow!"

Mr. Skinner's calm cold features refused to thaw, however, under the heat of his employer's enthusiasm, seeing which Cappy slid out to the edge of his chair and gazed contemplatively at Skinner over the rims of his spectacles. "Hum-m-m!" he said. The very tempo of that throat-clearing should have warned Mr. Skinner that he was treading on thin ice, but with his usual complacence he ignored the storm signal, for his mind was upon private, not public affairs.

"I'm offered the old barkentine C. D. Bryant for a cargo of redwood to Sydney," he began. "The freight rate is two hundred and twenty shillings per thousand feet, but the Bryant is so old and rotten I can't get any insurance on the cargo if I ship by her. I'm just wondering if--"

"Haramph-h-h! Ahem-m-m!"

"--it's worth while taking a chance to move that foreign order."

"Skinner!" Cappy almost shouted.

Mr. Skinner looked at him, startled.

"How can you think and talk of old barkentines and non-insurable foreign cargoes at this crisis in our country's history?" the autocrat of the numerous Ricks corporations shrilled furiously. "Dad burn your picture, Skinner, are you human? Don't you ever get a thrill from reading a document like this?"--and he tapped the envelope containing the press clipping. "What kind of juice runs in your arteries, anyhow? Red blood or buttermilk? Is your soul so dog-goned dead, crushed under the weight of dollars, that you have failed to realize this document is destined to go down in history side by side with Lincoln's Gettysburg speech? I'll bet you don't know the Gettysburg speech. Bet you never heard of it!"

"Oh, nonsense, Mr. Ricks," Skinner retorted suavely. "Pray do not excite yourself. Suppose war does impend? Is that any reason why I should neglect business?"

"Of course it is, you gibbering jackdaw! I feel like setting fire to the building, just to celebrate. Can't you step into my office on a day like this and discuss the country and her affairs for five minutes, just to prove you're an American citizen? Can't you rejoice with me over these lofty, noble sentiments--"

"Words, words, empty words," warned Mr. Skinner, always a reactionary Republican.

"Skinner," said Cappy with deadly calm, "one more disloyal peep out of you and I shall have no alternative save to request your resignation. I think you're a pacifist at heart, anyhow!"

"Huh," snorted Skinner. "You've changed your tune, haven't you? Who trotted up and down California Street last fall, soliciting campaign contributions for the Republican nominee from the lumber and shipping interests? Wasn't it Alden P. Ricks? Who thought the country was going to wrack and ruin--"

"That was last fall," Cappy interrupted shrilly. "We live and learn--that is, some of us do," he added significantly. "Never mind about my politics last fall; just remember I haven't any this spring. I'm an American citizen, and by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, some German or Germans will find it out before I'm gathered to the bosom of Abraham. I have a right to disapprove of my President if I feel like it, but I'll be shot if I'll let anybody else pick on him." And Cappy shook his head emphatically several times like a squinch-owl.

"Oh, I'm for him, now that we're committed to this war," Skinner declared in an effort to soothe the old man.

"Sure! We're locking the stable door after the horse has been stolen. If we'd been for him when the Lusitania was sunk instead of being divided in our opinions and swayed in our judgment by a lot of hysterical pacifists and German propagandists we'd have been into the war long ago and saved millions of human lives; we'd have had the war won." He sighed.

"What a prime lot of jackasses we Americans are!" he continued. "We talk of liberty and demand license; we prate of democracy and we're a nation of snobs!"

"You wanted to see me about something," Skinner reminded him.

"Ah, yes; I was forgetting. This envelope, Skinner, contains the President's address. Take it and put it in the vault, and when my grandson is twelve years old give that press clipping to his mother and tell her I said she was to read it to the boy and make him learn it by heart. I won't be on hand to do the Americanizing of that youngster myself, and most likely Matt Peasley will be too busy to think much about it, so I'm taking no chances. You rile me to beat the band sometimes, Skinner, but I'll say this much in your favor: I have never known you to forget anything."

"Thank you, sir."

Mr. Skinner took the envelope and departed, and Cappy rang for a stenographer.

"Take a telegram, fast day message," he barked: "'His Excellency, The President, White House, Washington, D. C. Dear Mister President: I did not vote for you last fall, but your address of last night makes me ashamed that I did not. I am controlling owner of the Blue Star Navigation Company, operating a fleet of fifty vessels of various kinds, twelve of which are foreign-going steam freighters. Am also controlling owner of the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company, cutting a million feet of lumber daily. Everything I control, every dollar I possess, is at the service of my country. God bless you, sir! Alden P. Ricks.'

"That sounds sloppy, but it's the way I feel," Cappy declared. "When a man has a big heart-breaking job to do and a lot of Philistines are knocking him, maybe it helps him to retain his faith in humankind to have some fellow grow sincerely sloppy and slip a telegraphic cheer in with the hoots. Besides, if I didn't let off steam today I'd swell up and bust myself all over the office--"

The door opened and Mr. Terence P. Reardon, port engineer of the Blue Star Navigation Company, entered. Mr. Reardon's right eye was in deep mourning and at no very remote period something--presumably a fist--had shifted his nose slightly to starboard; indeed, even as he entered Cappy's office a globule of the rich red Reardon blood trembled in each of the port engineer's nostrils. His knuckles were slightly skinned and the light of battle blazed in his black eyes.

"Terence, my dear, dear fellow," murmured the horrified Cappy, "you look as if you had been fed into a concrete mixer. Have you been fighting?"

"Well, sor," Mr. Reardon replied in his deep Kerry brogue, "ye might call it that for lack of somethin' more expressive. I've just fired the chief engineer o' the Tillicum."

"Mr. Denicke? Why, Terry, he's a first-rate engineer. I'm amazed. He was with us ten years before you entered the employ--worked up from oiler; in fact, I must have an explanation of your action in this case, Terence."

"He called the President a nut. I fired him for that. Then he said the Kaiser was the greatest single force for civilization that ever was, an' wit' that I gave him a lift under the lug an' we wint at it. He's in the Harbor Receivin' Hospital this minute, an' I'm here to tell ye, sor, wit' all respect, that if ye don't like the way I've treated that Dutchman ye can get yerself a new port ingineer, for I'll quit, an' that's somethin' I'm not wishful to do."

Quite calmly Cappy Ricks pressed the buzzer on his desk. The cashier of the Blue Star Navigation Company entered. "Son," said Cappy, "hereafter, when making out Mr. Reardon's pay check, tack onto it twenty-five dollars extra each month. That is all."

"Thank you, sor," murmured Mr. Reardon, quite overcome.

"Get out!" cried Cappy. "You're a vision of sudden death. Go wash yourself."

As Mr. Reardon took his departure Cappy sighed. "If Skinner only had a set of works like that port engineer!" he murmured. "If he only had!"