Chapter LVII

It will be recalled that war with Germany was declared on Good Friday. Bright and early on Saturday morning Cappy Ricks arrived at his office and immediately summoned Mr. Skinner.

"Skinner, my dear boy," he chirped, "'the tumult and the shouting dies. We're down to brass tacks--at last; and now is time for all good men and true to come to the aid of the party. I'm too old to bear arms, and when I was young enough bantam battalions weren't fashionable; nevertheless, I am enlisting for the war, and I start in this morning to do my part. I won't wear any uniform, but believe me, Skinner, I'm the little corporal who's going to mobilize the Blue Star Navigation Company and the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company, together with all and sundry of their subsidiary corporations. I'm starting with you, Skinner. Are you figuring on enlisting?"

"Certainly not, sir. I'm forty-three years old, married--"

"No excuses necessary, Skinner. Even if you had planned to enlist I would have forbidden the banns. You'd make a bird of a paymaster or quartermaster, but as an enlisted man--well, the other bad soldier boys would toss you in a blanket. So I'll assign you to a job in civil life. Skinner, what do you know about aeroplanes?"

"Absolutely nothing, except that they fly."

"Then learn something! Skinner, the ideal wood for aeroplane construction is clear Pacific Coast spruce. I've been reading up on the subject. Inasmuch as this war must be won in the air, you can imagine the number of aeroplanes the country must turn out in the next eighteen months. Stu-pen-dous, Skinner, simply stu-pen-dous! Try to visualize the wastage alone in the aeroplanes on the battle fronts; consider the thousands of seaplanes that will scour the Atlantic on the lookout for submarines, and then ask yourself, Skinner, what the devil those overworked army and navy officers in Washington are going to do about laying in a supply of clear Pacific Coast spruce before these pirates of lumbermen get next and boost the price clear out of sight. Skinner, what is clear spruce worth at the Northern mills today?"

"About fifty-five dollars per thousand, sir. For years clear spruce never rose in price beyond thirty-five dollars, but purchases by the British Government have shot the price up during the past year."

"Exactly! And purchases by the United States Government will shoot the price up to a hundred and fifty dollars a thousand if you and I don't get busy. Now then, Skinner, listen to me! We have a couple of thousand acres of wonderful spruce timber adjacent to our fir holdings at Port Hadlock, Washington. Wire the mill manager to swamp in a logging railroad to that spruce timber, put in logging camps and concentrate on spruce. The clear stock we'll sell to the Government, and the lower grades will be snapped up by the box factories."

Mr. Skinner nodded his comprehension of the order and Cappy continued: "Wire our mill managers at Astoria, Oregon and Eureka, California, to log out all the spruce they come across among the fir. As for you, Skinner, accept no more orders for clear spruce from our regular customers, and go easy on accepting orders for any kind of lumber from our Eastern customers. All those car shipments must be made up of kiln-dried stock, and we'll want most of the space in our dry kilns to cook this clear green spruce for Uncle Sam, because he's going to want it in a hurry, and if he can't get it when he wants it--why, chaos has come again and all hell's let loose!"

"What price do you propose charging the Government for this clear spruce?" the cautious Skinner queried. He owned a little stock in the Ricks Lumber & Logging Company and already he had a vision of an extra dividend.

"Absolute cost plus ten per cent," replied Cappy promptly. "No excess profits at the expense of the country at war, Skinner."

He gazed upon Skinner contemplatively for several seconds. "And mind you don't figure the cost too liberally," he warned him.

"Very well, sir. Is that all?"

"Not by a jugful! You scatter round the market and buy up every stick of clear two-inch spruce sawed and on hand at the Northern mills. Buy at the market, but do not hesitate to go five dollars over the market if necessary to get the stock. Then place orders for all the clear spruce the mills can cut and deliver within the next six months, and we'll have the market hog tied.

"Got to do it, Skinner. I tell you there isn't a whole lot of difference between a lumberman and a manufacturer or a food speculator. When he gets the public foul, doesn't the public pay through the nose? Haven't we been doing it ourselves in the matter of ship freights? But we must reform, Skinner, we must reform and get down to a cooperative basis, no matter how great the agony. On this spruce deal alone, for instance, we'll save the Government a couple of million dollars. See if we don't."

"We're entitled to a liberal profit," Mr. Skinner protested. "If--"

"No ifs, buts or ands! Obey orders! About the time we have the market on clear spruce well cornered the lumbermen's boys will be in the army and the lumbermen themselves will have begun to realize that they must sacrifice something for their country. And once we're sane we'll be able to work hand in glove with the Government. The United States of America has been money-mad for a long time, Skinner, but this war is going to spiritualize us and show us that there's a lot more in life than dollar-chasing. Hop to your job, P. D. Q., Skinner, my boy; and as you pass out send Captain Matt Peasley in to me."

Matt Peasley came smilingly into his father-in-law's office. "Well, Cappy," he hailed the old gentleman, "I understand you've come out of your retirement."

"You're damned whistling, I have!" Cappy rejoined. "Something doing, boy, something for everybody! Have they told you about it in the general office?"

"Told me about what?"

"About the President asking me if I would cooperate with him to the extent of serving as the Pacific Coast member of the Shipping Board? I guess that isn't some honor, eh? How the devil he ever dug up an old fossil like me is a mystery. I wired him, advising that he appoint a younger man, but he replied that he knew I was the livest shipping man in the country and an American through and through. So, of course, Matt, I have accepted."

"Your forty odd years' experience will be of inestimable value to the country in this emergency," Matt declared heartily. "I'm proud of you."

"Thank you, son. Now then, Matt, to business! The Government's going to need every one of our ships that can run foreign." Matt nodded. "Very well, then," Cappy continued; "as fast as their present charters lapse, decline to recharter except for single trips. We must go on a war basis and be prepared to turn our ships over to the Government on short notice. I'll be too busy to keep my eye on the details of the Blue Star's transactions with the Government, so I'll give you a straight tip now--I want no gouging. Remember that, Matthew, my son."