Chapter LVIII
 

The following day Cappy had a call from Sam Daniels.

"Hello, Sam," Cappy greeted his lanky ranch manager. "What brings you up to town? Not that I'm not glad to see you, for I was on the point of writing you on some matters that had occurred to me."

"I've come up to resign my job," Daniels declared humbly.

"Resign the best job you've ever had, Sam!" Cappy was amazed.

"To resign the best job I ever will have, Mr. Ricks."

Mr. Daniels hitched his chair close to his employer's desk. "Boss," he said, "I'm awful sorry, but I'm goin' soldiering."

Cappy Ricks sprang to his feet with an oath. "You're not!" he shouted. "I won't hear of it. You're too valuable a man to go into the army and get yourself killed--particularly since you can do your share at home. Why, I was just going to write you and give you your orders for patriotic duty. You go back to the ranch, Sam, and get busy. Plant spuds, wheat, oats, barley, corn--plant all you can of it. Raise heifers, sheep, hogs, cows, bulls, calves, turkeys--everything that can be eaten. Raise horses--and in particular, raise mules."

"I'd rather raise hell with a bunch of Germans," Sam Daniels declared feelingly.

"Your job is to help produce cereals and canned beef for the hell-raisers," Cappy declared. "The army will want horses for the artillery and mules for the transport. Why, this war may last for years. Sam, you infernal scoundrel, you get back on the farm. You're forty-five years old and you've been shot and whittled enough in your day to last you the remainder of your natural life. Let the young fellows do the fighting abroad, while you and I and the other hasbeens do it at home."

"I'd a heap rather lay off in the brush somewheres an' snipe Germans," Mr. Daniels pleaded. "On the level, boss, if they'll give me a Springfield rifle with telescopic sights I'll guarantee to sicken anythin' I get a fair sight on at a thousand yards."

"In-fer-nal scoundrel! How dare you argue with me! You get back on your job!"

"Boss, I'm going into the army," Daniels announced sadly, but nevertheless firmly. "I'm givin' you a month's notice so you can get a man to take my place."

Cappy surrendered. "All right, Sam. If you survive, your job will be waiting for you when you get back. However, you needn't give me any notice. I'll have another man in charge of the ranch to-morrow, and you can enlist today."

"And you're not sore at me, Mr. Ricks?"

"Sam, I'm proud of you. Wish I were young enough to go it with you. Are you in a hurry to get to France?"

"Certainly am."

"Then join the marines. They always go first. Good-bye, Sam. Good luck to you and God bless you! Draw your wages as you go out and tell the cashier I said to give you an extra month's wages for tobacco money."

Mr. Daniels withdrew, visibly filled with emotion. Ten minutes later Cappy Ricks, watching at his office window, saw Mr. Daniels cross the street and enter the marines' recruiting office. Immediately Cappy called that recruiting office on the telephone and asked for the doctor.

"Look here, doctor!" he said. "In a few minutes a lanky, battle scarred rancher is coming in to be examined. I don't want him to enlist. He's my ranch manager and worth more to the country in his job than at the Front. You turn him down physically, doctor, and I'll guarantee to send you five fine recruits instead of that old fossil. His name is Sam Daniels, and I'm Alden P. Ricks, of the Blue Star Navigation Company, across the street."

"We need an automobile to send our recruiting sergeant out through the state," the wary medico replied. "Now, if you could loan us one--"

"I'll have my own car and chauffeur over in half an hour, and you keep him as long as you need him," Cappy piped. "Only tell Sam Daniels he's faltering on the brink of the grave and send him back to me."

An hour later Mr. Daniels slouched into Cappy Ricks' office. "Well, Private Daniels," the old man saluted him, "you look downcast. Has something slipped?"

"I should say it has. The doc over to the recruitin' office says I got a heart murmur from smoking cigarettes, which it's a cinch the excitement o' battle brings on death from heart failure, an' then folks would say I died o' fright."

"He's crazy Sam! Tell him to go chase himself."

"I guess he's right, Mr. Ricks. He 'most cried to let me go, an' was for waivin' the heart murmur, but it seems I got a floatin' kidney, an' flat feet. Gosh, I never knew I had flat feet, but then I've rid horses all my life an' ain't never hiked none to speak of."

He was silent several minutes, studying the pattern of the office carpet. Presently he looked up. "Is my successor at the ranch already appointed?" he queried.

"Go back to the fields and the kind-faced cows, Samuel," quoth Cappy gently. "Hurry, or you'll miss the train."

Sam Daniels fled, and hard on his heels came Mrs. Michael J. Murphy, nee Miss Keenan. It will be recalled that prior to her happy alliance with Michael J. Murphy, Mrs. Murphy had been Cappy Ricks' favorite stenographer. He received her cordially.

"Now then, what's gone wrong, my dear?" he demanded. "Have you and Mike been making a hash of your married life that you should come in here on the verge of tears?"

Mrs. Murphy blinked away a tear or two and sat down. "Some of the boys in the office will be enlisting, Mr. Ricks," she faltered. "I wonder if there might be a vacancy for me--if I might not have my old position back?"

Cappy Ricks was genuinely concerned. "Why, Mike won't let you earn your living," he declared. "Why do you make such an extraordinary request?"

"For Mike's sake, Mr. Ricks. Of late he has been very nervous and distrait; scarcely touches his meals, and thinks, talks and dreams of war. Last night he dreamed he was back in the navy and shouted out an order that woke him up."

"Come to think of it, I believe Mike did spend several years in the navy prior to going into mercantile marine," Cappy observed. "So he has the war fever again, eh? Wants to go back?"

"Ever since he received a letter from the Navy League. They're searching out all the old navy men--gun pointers particularly--and asking them to come back to help train the young fellows just coming into the service. Mike was a gun pointer--"

"Well, what in thunder is he hesitating for?" Cappy piped wrathfully.

"About me. Mike's married to me, you know, and he worries about what will happen to me if he should be killed. He knows I'll be broken-hearted if he enlists--he's afraid I'll not let him go. But if I got my job back and was self-supporting, Mike's conscience would be--"

"Do you want him to go?"

"No, Mr. Ricks, but he must go. I do not want to make a coward or a slacker out of Mike. I've got to do my part, you know."

"My dear," said Cappy feelingly, "you're a noble woman. Go back and attend to your little home; Mike may go whenever he's ready and his salary with the Blue Star will go on while he is in the navy; his job will be waiting for him when he comes back. Good old Mike! How dreadful a crime to hobble that Irishman with a first-class fight in sight."

When Mrs. Mike had left the office Cappy stiffened out suddenly in his chair, clenched his fists and closed his eyes, as if in pain. And presently between the wrinkled old lids two tears crept forth. Poor Cappy! He was finding it very, very hard to be old and little and out of the fight, for in every war in which the United States had engaged representatives of the tribe of Ricks had gladly offered their bodies for the supreme sacrifice, and as Cappy's active mind ran down the long and bloody list his heart swelled with anguish in the knowledge that he was doomed to play an inglorious part in the war with Germany. Mr. Skinner coming in with a letter to Cappy, observed the old man's emotion and asked him if he was ill.

"Yes, Skinner, I am," he replied. "I'm sick at heart. God has given me everything I ever wanted except six big strapping sons. Just think, Skinner, what a glorious honor would be mine if I had six fine boys to give to my country." His old lips trembled. "And you could bank on the Ricks boys," he added. "My boys would never wait to be drafted. No, sir-ree! When they heard the call they'd answer, like their ancestors.

"Skinner, what has come over our boys of this generation? Why don't they volunteer? Why does the President have to beg for men? Has the soul of the idealist been corroded by a life of ease? Did the spirit of adventure die with our forefathers? Is it any harder to die just because war has become more terrible--more deadly? Oh, Skinner, Skinner! To be young and tall and strong and whirled in the cycle of vast events--to play a man's part in a glorious undertaking--to feel that I have enriched the world with my efforts, however humble, or with my body revitalized the soil made fallow by a ravishing monster. I feel, Skinner--I feel so much and can do so little."

Nevertheless, he did do something that very afternoon. One after the other he examined all the young men in his employ, discovered which of them could afford the luxury of enlisting and then asked them bluntly whether they were going to enlist. Three of them said they were, and Cappy promised each of them a month's salary the day he should report to him in uniform. Nine others appeared to be uncertain of their duty, so Cappy fired them all, to the great distress of Mr. Skinner and Matt Peasley. Cappy, however, turned a deaf ear to their remonstrances.

"A man who won't fight for his country is no good," he declared; "and I won't keep a no-good son of a slacker on my pay roll. Get married men or men who have been rejected for military service to take the places of these bums who haven't courage enough even to try to enlist."