Mr. Murphy’s grudge against nitrate lay in the annoyance incident to taking on the cargo properly. Nitrate is very heavy and cannot, like sugar, be loaded flush with the hatches, thus rendering shifting of the cargo impossible. In loading nitrate a stout platform must be erected athwart ship, above the keelsons, in order that the foundation of the cargo may be laid level; for, as the sacked nitrate is piled, the pile must be drawn in gradually until the sides meet in a peak like a roof. It must then be braced and battened securely with heavy timbers from each side of the ship, in order that the dead weight may be held in the center of the ship and keep her in trim. Woe to the ship that shifts a cargo of nitrate in a heavy gale; for it is a tradition of the sea that, once a vessel rolls her main yard under, she will not roll it back, and ultimately is posted at Lloyd’s as missing.
When the cargo was out Mr. Murphy went ashore and purchased a lot of Chinese punk, which he burned in the hold, with the hatches battened down, while Mr. MacLean, who had once been a druggist’s clerk, and who, by the way, had concluded to stay by the ship, sloshed down the decks with an aromatic concoction mixed by a local apothecary. The remnant of their spoiled stores Matt Peasley, like a true Yankee, sawed off to good advantage on a trustful citizen of Antofagasta, and credited the ship with the proceeds; after which he got his nitrate aboard and squared away for the Hawaiian Islands.
The run to Makaweli was very slow, for the ship was logy with the grass and barnacles on her bottom. At Makaweli he found a sugar cargo awaiting him for discharge at Seattle; and, thanks to the northwest trades at her quarter, the Retriever wallowed home reasonably fast.
INSULT ADDED TO INJURY
When Matt Peasley’s report of that long voyage reached the Blue Star Navigation Company it was opened by Mr. Skinner, who, finding no letter enclosed, had a clerk check and verify it, and then pass it on to old Cappy Ricks.
“Where’s the letter that came with this report, Skinner?” Cappy piped.
“He didn’t enclose one, Mr. Ricks.”
“All of Captain Peasley’s communications with this office since he entered our employ have been by wire.”
“But—dad-burn the fellow, Skinner—why doesn’t he write and tell us something?”
“Why, about his ship, his voyage—any old thing. An owner likes to have a report on his property once in a while, doesn’t he? Unless we happen to charter the Retriever for a cargo to her home port, you know very well, Skinner, we may not see her for years. Besides, I’ve never seen the man Peasley, and if he’d only write now and then I could get a line on him from his letters. I can always tell a fool by the letter he writes, Skinner.”