“Passed as ‘fresh-water’ on the Great Lakes,” replied Slade briefly.
“Well, the spunk and the certificate finished the captain. He was an old square rigger himself in the Civil War.”
“So much for myself,” Slade continued. “As for the Laughing Lass——”
THE BRASS BOUND CHEST
Being the story told by Ralph Slade, Free Lance, to the officers of the United States cruiser Wolverine.
THE BARBARY COAST
A coincidence got me aboard her. I’ll tell you how it was. One evening late I was just coming out of a dark alley on the Barbary Coast, San Francisco. You know—the water front, where you can hear more tongues than at Port Said, see stranger sights, and meet adventure with the joyous certainty of mediaeval times. I’d been down there hunting up a man reported, by a wharf-rat of my acquaintance, to have just returned from a two years’ whaling voyage. He’d been “shanghaied” aboard, and as a matter of fact, was worth nearly a million dollars. Landed in the city without a cent, could get nobody to believe him, nor trust him to the extent of a telegram East. Wharf-rat laughed at his yarn; but I believe it was true. Good copy anyway——
Just at the turn of the alley I nearly bumped into two men. On the Barbary Coast you don’t pass men in narrow places until you have reconnoitered a little. I pulled up, thanking fortune that they had not seen me. The first words were uttered in a voice I knew well.
You’ve all heard of Dr. Karl Augustus Schermerhorn. He did some big things, and had in mind still bigger. I’d met him some time before in connection with his telepathy and wireless waves theory. It was picturesque stuff for my purpose, but wasn’t in it with what the old fellow had really done. He showed me—well, that doesn’t matter. The point is, that good, staid, self-centred, or rather science-centred, Dr. Schermerhorn was standing at midnight in a dark alley on the Barbary Coast in San Francisco talking to an individual whose facial outline at least was not ornamental.
My curiosity, or professional instinct, whichever you please, was all aroused. I flattened myself against the wall.
The first remark I lost. The reply came to me in a shrill falsetto. So grotesque was the effect of this treble from a bulk so squat and broad and hairy as the silhouette before me that I almost laughed aloud.
“I guess you’ve made no mistake on that. I’m her master, and her owner too.”
“Well, I haf been told you might rent her,” said the Doctor.
“Rent her!” mimicked the falsetto. “Well, that—hell, yes, I’ll rent her!” he laughed again.
“Doch recht.” The Doctor was plainly at the end of his practical resources.
After waiting a moment for something more definite, the falsetto inquired rather drily: