“Mr. Rowland’s engaged now,” he said, “at a company meeting. If you’ll call in an hour or two I’ll find out if he will see you.”
Dan drew from his pocket a card with a pencilled memorandum and glanced at it.
“He made an appointment with me for eleven o’clock to-day. So I guess I’ll have to ask you to take in my card.”
The clerk shrugged his shoulders and walked away. When he returned a few minutes later all signs of mistrust had vanished. Opening the gate with a sort of flourish he said:
“Mr. Howland says for you to come right in.”
As Dan entered the president’s office, Mr. Howland arose from a long, polished oaken table littered with papers, at which several men were seated, and advanced to meet him.
“Captain Merrithew,” he said, “I am glad to see you again. And now,” he added, the formalities of introducing Dan to the various officers of the company being completed, “I have gone into the matter of the men lost when the Fledgling sank and have sent a check for five thousand dollars to the wife of your engineer, Crampton, who I understand carried some life insurance, and a check for three thousand dollars to Welch’s mother.” His voice was crisp and business-like, but his manner intimated clearly the sympathy and gratitude which had dictated his gifts.
“Yes, sir, they are adequate,” replied Dan, feelingly.
“I have sent checks to your mate, Mulhatton, who, I am informed, is still in the employ of the Phoenix Company, as well as that fellow Noonan and the steward; which brings us to you.”
“Mr. Howland,” said Dan, flushing, “I’m simply not—”
“Just a moment, if you please,” interrupted Mr. Howland; “I assume you are qualified to navigate the ocean?”
“Yes,” replied Dan, trembling slightly; “I’ve the best of broad ocean papers and seven harbor endorsements.”
“That ought to be enough,” smiled the vice-president, Mr. Horton, who seemed perfectly in touch with the trend of the situation.
“Yes,” resumed Mr. Howland, “what I am getting at is this, Captain Merrithew. The Coastwise Transportation Company is looking for men like you. We want you with us, in short. As you probably know, we have a fleet consisting of steamers of various sizes, but all pretty much the same type; that is to say, seaworthy, comfortable, and well engined. We cannot place you in command of one of our newest vessels, of course. But there is the Tampico, the commander of which, Captain Harrison, we are to retire for age. She is a good boat, running to San Blanco, and she is fitted for passengers; so you will find opportunity to develop your social proclivities, if you have any to develop.”
As Mr. Howland was talking the color had slowly departed from Dan’s face, and now, as the president ceased speaking and regarded the young man, he spoke haltingly, with dry lips.
“Do I understand you to mean that you are going to make me Captain of the Tampico?”