Mr. Skinner was delighted. More—he was overcome. He sat down and permitted himself the most soul-satisfying laugh he had had in years.
Mr. Skinner thrust his head into Cappy Ricks’ office and said:
“I’ve just had a telephone message from the Merchants’ Exchange. The Tillicum is passing in.”
“Then,” said Cappy Ricks, “in about two hours at the latest we may expect a mournful visit from Captain Matt Peasley.”
“If you don’t mind, Mr. Ricks,” said Skinner with a smirk, “I should dearly love to be present at the interview.”
Cappy smiled brightly.
“By all means, Skinner, my dear boy; by all means, since you wish it. It just about breaks my heart to think of the cargo of grief I’m going to slip that boy; but I have resolved to be firm, Skinner. He owes us eighteen thousand dollars and he must go through with his contract to the very letter, and pay the Blue Star Navigation Company every last cent due it. He will, doubtless, suggest some sort of settlement—ten cents on the dollar—”
“Don’t agree to it,” Mr. Skinner pleaded. “He has more than a thousand dollars a month going to his credit on our books from the Unicorn charter, and if that vessel stays afloat a year longer we’ll be in the clear. Be very firm with him, Mr. Ricks. As you say, it is all for his own benefit and the experience will do him a whole lot of good.”
“I love the boy,” said Cappy; “but in the present case, Skinner, I haven’t any heart. A chunk of anthracite coal is softer than that particular organ this morning. Be sure to show Matt in the minute he comes up from the dock.”
Mr. Skinner needed no urging when, less than two hours later, Captain Matt Peasley arrived. Mr. Skinner greeted him courteously and followed him into Cappy’s office.
“Well, well, well!” Cappy began unctuously. “How do you do, Matt, my dear boy? Glad to see you; in fact, we’re extra glad to see you,” he added significantly and winked at Mr. Skinner, who caught the hint and murmured loud enough for Matt Peasley to hear:
“Eighteen thousand dollars to-morrow!”
Cappy extended a hand, which Matt grasped heartily.
“You’re looking fit as a fiddle,” Cappy continued. “Doesn’t look a bit worried—does he, Skinner?”
“I must admit he appears to carry it off very well, Mr. Ricks. We had thought, captain,” Skinner continued, turning to Matt Peasley, “that, when Mr. Ricks agreed to permit you to assume command of the Tillicum when she reached Panama, we might have been treated to an exhibition of speed; but the fact of the matter is that instead of economizing on time you are about ten days in excess of the period it would have taken for Captain Grant to have discharged his cargo and gotten back to San Francisco.” He winked at Cappy Ricks, who returned the wink.