UNDER THE BLUE STAR FLAG
Matt had been attracted to the barkentine Retriever for two very potent reasons—the first was a delicious odor of stew emanating from her galley; the second was her house flag, a single large, five-pointed blue star on a field of white with scarlet trimming. Garnished left and right with a golden wreath and below with the word Captain, Matt Peasley knew that house flag, in miniature, would look exceedingly well on the front of a uniform cap; for he now made up his mind to enter one service and stick to it until his abilities should receive their inevitable reward. To ship as a foremast hand and rise to captain would be a proud record; so Matt throttled his pride and faced the future with confidence, and a stomach quite filled with very good beef stew.
From the cook he learned that the Retriever carried a million feet of lumber; that she was owned by Cappy Ricks; that Cappy Ricks was the president of the Blue Star Navigation Company, and the most contemptible old scoundrel in all the world; that the skipper was a blue-nose and a devil and a fine man rolled into one; that the barkentine could sail like a yacht; and that presently they would up-hook and off to Grays Harbor, Washington, there to load a cargo of fir lumber for Cape Town. And would Matt mind slipping ashore and buying the cook a bottle of whiskey, for which the latter would settle very minute he could get an advance out of the Old Man. No? Disgusted, the cook rattled his pans and dismissed Matt as one unworthy of further confidence.
Just before the tug came alongside to snake her outside the Heads, the mate came aboard with his leerail pretty well under and was indiscreet enough to toss a piece of his lip at the Old Man. Five minutes later he was paid and off and kicked out on the dock, while the cook packed his sea bag and tossed it overside after him. The captain, thereupon, bawled for the second mate, who came running. Matt noticed this and decided that should the Old Man ever bawl for him he would come running too.
“Mr.Swenson, you have a chief mate’s license, have you not?”
“Very well. You’re the first mate. Mr. Lindstrom”—turning to the bosun—“you’ve waited a year for your chance, and here it is. You’re the second mate. Bosun!” He was looking straight at Matt Peasley as he spoke. Matt did not stir. “Hey, there,” the skipper roared, “you big mountain of meat, step lively!”
Matt stepped lively.
“I am not the bosun, sir,” he explained. “I’m just A.B.”
“How dare you contradict me?” the Old Man growled. “I tell you, you don’t know what you are yet, barring the fact that you’re an American, and the only one, with the exception of myself, in the whole damned Scowegian crew. Do you think you could get away with a bosun’s job?”