Chapter XLVII. The Tail Goes with the Hide

The following morning Matt called upon MacCandless, the general manager of the Oriental Steamship Company. Mr. MacCandless was a cold individual of Scotch ancestry, with a scent for a dollar a trifle keener than most; and Matt Peasley, young and inexperienced in business fencing, was never more aware of his deficiencies than when he faced MacCandless across the latter's desk. Consequently, he resolved to waste no words in vain parley. MacCandless was still looking curiously at Matt's card when the latter said:

"I called with reference to that big freighter of the Oriental Steamship Company--the Narcissus. Is she for sale?"

MacCandless smiled with his lips, but his eyes wore the eternal Show-me! look. He nodded.

"Foolish of me to ask, I know," Matt continued complacently, "since it is a matter of common gossip that you would have been delighted to have sold her any time these past eight years."

Since MacCandless did not deny this Matt assumed that it was true and returned to the attack with renewed vigor.

"What do you want for her?"

"Are you acting as a broker in this matter or do you represent principals who have asked you to interview me? In other words, before I talk business with you I want to know that you mean business. I shall waste no time discussing a possible trade unless you assure me that you have a customer in sight. I am weary of brokers. I've had forty of them after that vessel from time to time, but no business ever resulted."

"Which is not at all surprising, considering the circumstances," Matt retorted. "If you cannot use her yourself you mustn't expect other people to be over-enthusiastic about owning her. However, I think I can find business for her, and I've come to buy her myself. You seem to think a lot of your time, so I'll conserve it for you. I'm the principal in this deal, and if you really want to get rid of her we'll do business in two minutes."

"Three hundred thousand dollars," MacCandless answered promptly.

"Listen," said Matt Peasley. "I have fifty thousand dollars of my own in bank this minute, but I will have to raise two hundred and fifty thousand more before I can afford to buy your vessel, even if we agree on that price, which does not seem probable. I'll give you two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the steamer Narcissus; but when you turn her over to me I want a ship, not a piece of floating junk. You'll have to ship a new crank shaft, rewind the main motor, renew the Manila lines, overhaul the standing rigging, retube the condensers and dock her before handing her over to me. She's as foul as any hulk in Rotten Row."

"Why, that will cost in the neighborhood of forty thousand dollars--nearer fifty!" MacCandless declared.

"I know. But for three hundred thousand dollars I can go to Sweden, build a smaller vessel than the Narcissus, have her right up to date, with two-thousand-horsepower oil-burning motors in her; and the saving in space due to motor installation, with oil tanks instead of coal bunkers, will enable me to carry fully as much cargo as the Narcissus. Also, I'll burn six tons of crude oil a day to your forty tons of coal a day in the Narcissus. I'll employ eight men less in my crew, and have a cleaner, faster and better ship. The motor ship is the freighter of the future, and you know it. Your Narcissus is out of date, and I'm only offering you two hundred and fifty thousand dollars because I can use her right away."

"Young man," said MacCandless, "you talk like a person that means business, but you overlook the fact that this company is neither bankrupt nor silly. The directors will, I feel assured, agree to do all the work you specify, but the price must be three hundred thousand. That will leave us two hundred and fifty thousand dollars net."

"I'll split the difference with you."

MacCandless shook his head.

"Well, that ends our argument," Matt answered pleasantly, and took up his hat. "You can keep your big white elephant another eight years, Mr. MacCandless. Perhaps some principal will come along then and make you another offer; and in the interim you can charge off about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars interest on the money tied up in the Narcissus. Fine business--I don't think!" He nodded farewell and started for the door.

"But you say you have but fifty thousand dollars," MacCandless protested.

"I said I'd have to get two hundred and fifty thousand dollars more. Well, I'll do it."

"Quite a sum to raise these days," MacCandless remarked doubtfully.

"Well, if you'll give me a sixty-day option on the Narcissus at two hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars and agree to do the repairs on her, including dry-docking, cleaning and painting her up to the water line, I'll take a ten-thousand-dollar chance, Mr. MacCandless, that I can raise the money."

"Do you mean you'll give the Oriental Steamship Company ten thousand dollars for a sixty-day option?"

"I do; and I'll pay for the vessel as I raise the remainder of the money. Ten thousand dollars down for the option, to apply on the purchase price, of course, if the deal goes through, and to be forfeited to you if I fail to make the next payment on time."

"What will the next payment be?" the cautious MacCandless demanded.

"Twenty thousand dollars a month, with interest at six per cent. in deferred payments. You might as well be earning six per cent. on her as have her rusting holes in her bottom down there in Mission Bay. As she lies, you're losing at least six per cent. interest on her."

"There's reason in that," MacCandless answered thoughtfully. "You to insure the vessel as our interest may appear, bill of sale in escrow; and if you default for more than thirty days on any payment before we have received fifty per cent. of the purchase price you lose out and we get our ship back."

"Sharp business, but I'll take it, Mr. MacCandless. After I've paid half the money I can mortgage her for the remainder and get out from under your clutches. Put the buck up to your directors, get their approval to the option and contract of sale, notify me, and I'll be right up with a certified check for ten thousand dollars." And, without giving MacCandless time to answer, Matt took his departure.

"If I talked ten minutes with that man," he soliloquized, "he'd have the number of my mess. He'd realize what a piker I was and terminate the interview. But--I--think he'll meet my terms, because he sees I'm pretty young and inexperienced, and he figures he'll make ten or twenty thousand dollars out of me before I discover I'm a rotten promoter. And, at that, his is better than an even-money bet!"

At five o'clock that same day MacCandless telephoned.

"I have called a special meeting of our directors, Captain Peasley," he announced, "and put your proposition up to them. They have agreed to it, and if you will be at my office at ten o'clock to-morrow I think we can do business."

"I think so," Matt answered. "I'll be there."

He hung up, reached for a telegraph blank and wrote the following message:

San Francisco, July 28, 1914.

Terence Reardon,
Chief Engineer, S. S. Arab,
Port Costa, California.

Have bought Narcissus. Offer you one hundred seventy-five a month quit Arab now and supervise installation new crank shaft, retubing condensers, and so on; permanent job as chief. Do you accept? Answer immediately.

Matthew Peasley, President.

Having dispatched this message, Matt Peasley closed down his desk, strolled round to the Blue Star Navigation Company's offices, and picked up his newly acquired father-in-law. On their way home in Cappy's carriage the old gentleman, apropos of the afternoon press dispatches from Europe, remarked that the situation abroad was anything but encouraging.

"Do you think we'll have a war in Europe?" Matt queried.

"Germany seems determined to back up Austria in her demands on Serbia, and I don't think Serbia will eat quite all of the dish of dirt Francis Joseph has set before her," Cappy answered seriously. "Austria seems determined to make an issue of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife. If she does, Matt, there'll be the most awful war in history. All Europe will be fighting."

Matt was silent and thoughtful all the way home, but just before they left the carriage he turned to Cappy.

"If there's war," he remarked, "England will, doubtless, control the seas because of her superior navy. German commerce will absolutely cease."

"The submarine will have to be reckoned with, also," Cappy suggested. "England's commerce will doubtless be knocked into a cocked hat."

"There'll be a shortage of bottoms, and vessels will be in brisk demand," Matt predicted. "There'll be a sharp rise in freight rates on all commodities the instant war breaks out, and the American mercantile marine ought to reap a harvest."

"My dear boy," said Cappy acidly, "why speak of the American mercantile marine? There ain't no such animal."

"There will be--if the war in Europe ever starts," Matt retorted; "and, what's more, I'm going to bet there will be war within thirty days."

He did not consider it advisable to mention to Cappy that he was going to bet ten thousand dollars!