“Then, just before the panic of 1907, old Ricks unloaded the Unicorn on the Black Butte Company for ten thousand dollars more than he paid for her—the old scamp! He’s the shrewdest trader on the whole Pacific Coast. He had no sooner sawed the Unicorn off on the Black Butte people than the freight market collapsed in the general crash, and ever since then the owners of the Lion and the Unicorn have been stuck with their vessels. They’re so big it’s next to impossible to keep them running coastwise in the lumber trade during a dull period, and they’re not big enough for the foreign trade. About the only thing they could do profitably was to freight coal, coal freights have dropped until the margin of profit is very meager; competition is keen and for the last six months the Lion and the Unicorn have been laid up.”
Matt Peasley smiled.
“They’ll be hungry for the business,” he said, “and I’m sailor enough to see you’ll be able to drive a bargain without much trouble.”
“I ought to get them pretty cheap,” Mr. Hayes admitted. “As you perhaps know, a vessel deteriorates faster when laid up than she does in active service; and an owner will do almost anything to keep her at sea, provided he can make a modest rate of interest on her cost price or present market value.”
“Naturally,” Matt Peasley observed as they rose from the table.
He purchased a cigar for Mr. Hayes, and as they retired to the buffet car to continue their acquaintance something whispered to Matt not to divulge to this somewhat garrulous stranger the news that he was a sea captain lately in the employ of the Blue Star Navigation Company and soon to enter that employ again. He had learned enough to realize that Cappy’s bank roll was threatened by this man from Seattle; that with his defenses leveled, as it were, the old gentleman would prove an easy victim unless warned of the impending attack.
Therefore, since Matt had not sought Mr. Hayes’ confidence nor accepted it under a pledge of secrecy, he decided that there could be nothing unethical in taking advantage of it. Plainly the broker had jumped to the conclusion that Matt was a common sailor—above the average in point of intelligence, but so young and unsophisticated that one need not bother to be reserved or cautious in his presence. Some vague understanding of this had come to Matt Peasley; hence throughout the remainder of the journey his conversations with the broker bore on every other subject under heaven except ships and shipowners.
FACE TO FACE
In his private office Cappy Ricks sat on his spine, with his old legs on his desk and his head sunk forward on his breast. His eyes were closed; to the casual observer he would have appeared to be dozing. Any one of his employees, however, would have known Cappy was merely thinking. It was his habit to close his eyes and sit very still whenever he faced a tussle with a tough proposition.