“Do you speak English?” roared the old sailor.
“Yes, sir,” respectfully.
“Who wus that?”
The waiter, in reverent tones, declared that the gentleman referred to was well known in Ajaccio, that he had spent the previous winter there, and that he was no less a person than the Duke of—But the waiter never completed the sentence. The title was enough for the irascible Flanagan.
“Th’—hell—he—is!” The captain subsided into the nearest chair, bereft of future speech, which is a deal of emphasis to put on the phrase. Picard, a duke, and only that morning his hands had been yellow with the stains of the donkey-engine oil! And by and by the question set alive his benumbed brain; what was a duke doing on the yacht Laura? “Holleran, we go t’ the commodore. The devil’s t’ pay. What’s a dook doin’ on th’ ship, and we expectin’ to dig up gold in yonder mountains? Look alive, man; they’s villany afoot!”
Holleran’s jaw sagged.
THE ADMIRAL BEGINS TO DOUBT
“What’s this you’re telling me, Flanagan?” said the admiral perturbed.
“Ask Holleran here, sir; he wus with me when th’ waiter said Picard wus a dook. I’ve suspicioned his han’s this long while, sir.”
“Yes, sir; Picard it was,” averred Holleran.
“Bah! Mistaken identity.”
“I’m sure, sir,” insisted Holleran. “Picard has a whisker-mole on his chin, sir, like these forriners grow, sir. Picard, sir, an’ no mistake.”
“But what would a duke . . .”
“Ay, sir; that’s the question,” interrupted Flanagan; and added in a whisper: “Y’ c’n buy a dozen dooks for a couple o’ million francs, sir. Th’ first-officer, Holleran here, an’ me; nobody else knows what we’re after, sir; unless you gentlemen abaft, sir, talked careless. I say ‘tis serious, Commodore. He knows what we’re lookin’ fer.”
Holleran nudged his chief. “Tell th’ commodore what we saw on th’ way here.”
“Picard hobnobbin’ with Mr. Breitmann, sir.”
Breitmann? The admiral’s smile thinned and disappeared. There might be something in this. Two million francs did not appeal to him, but he realized that to others they stood for a great fortune, one worthy of hazards. He would talk this over with Cathewe and Fitzgerald and learn what they thought about the matter. If this fellow Picard was a duke and had shipped as an ordinary hand foreward . . . Peace went out of the admiral’s jaw and Flanagan’s heart beat high as he saw the old war-knots gather. Oh, for a row like old times! For twenty years he had fought nothing bigger than a drunken stevedore. Suppose this was the beginning of a fine rumpus? He grinned, and the admiral, noting the same, frowned. He wished he had left the women at Marseilles.
“Say nothing to any one,” he warned. “But if this man Picard comes aboard again, keep him there.”