. I .
SAN FRANCISCO, 1921
MR. ALDEN P. RICKS, KNOWN IN PACIFIC COAST wholesale lumber and shipping circles as Cappy Ricks, had more troubles than a hen with ducklings. He remarked as much to Mr. Skinner, president and general manager of the Ricks Logging & Lumbering Company, the corporate entity which represented Cappy's vast lumber interests; and he fairly barked the information at Captain Matt Peasley, his son-in-law and also president and manager of the Blue Star Navigation Company, another corporate entity which represented the Ricks interest in the American mercantile marine.
Mr. Skinner received this information in silence. He was not related to Cappy Ricks. But MattPeasley sat down, crossed his legs and matched glares with his mercurial father-in-law.
"You have troubles!" he jeered, with emphasis on the pronoun. "Have you got a misery in your back, or is Herbert Hoover the wrong man for Secretary of Commerce?"
"Stow your sarcasm, young feller," Cappy shrilled. "You know dad-blamed well it isn't a question of health or politics. It's the fact that in my old age I find myself totally surrounded by the choicest aggregation of mental duds since Ajax defied the lightning."
"You and Skinner."
"Why, what have we done?"
"You argued me into taking on the management of twenty-five of those infernal Shipping Board freighters, and no sooner did we have them allocated to us than a near panic hits the country, freight rates go to glory, marine engineers go on strike and every infernal young whelp we send out to take charge of one of our offices in Asia promptly gets the swelled head and thinks he's divinely ordained to drink up all the synthetic Scotch whiskey manufactured in Japan for the benefit of thirsty Americans. In my old age you two have forced us into theposition of having to fire folks by cable. Why? Because we're breaking into a game that isn't being played on the home grounds. A lot of our business is so far away we can't control it."
Matt Peasley leveled an accusing finger at Cappy Ricks. "We never argued you into taking over the management of those Shipping Board boats. We argued me into it. I'm the goat. You have nothing to do with it. You retired ten years ago. All the troubles in the marine end of this shop belong on my capable shoulders, old settler."
"Theoretically--yes. Actually--no. I hope you do not expect me to abandon mental as well as physical effort. Great Wampus Cats! Am I to be denied a sentimental interest in matters where I have a controlling financial interest? I admit you two boys are running my affairs and ordinarily you run them rather well, but--but--ahem! Harumph-h-h! What's the matter with you, Matt? And you, also, Skinner? If Matt makes a mistake, it's your job to remind him of it before the results manifest themselves, is it not? And vice versa. Have you two lost your ability to judge men and yourselves, or did you ever have such ability?"
"You're referring to Henderson in the Shanghai office, I dare say," Mr. Skinner cut in.
"I am, Skinner. And I'm here to remind you that if we'd stuck to our own game, which is coastwise shipping, and had left the trans-Pacific field with its general cargoes to others, we wouldn't have any Shanghai office at this moment and we would not be pestered by the Hendersons of this world."
"He's the best lumber salesman we've ever had," Mr. Skinner defended. "And the Pacific market is still untapped. I had every hope that he would send us orders for many a cargo for Asiatic delivery."
"And he had gone through every job in this office, from office boy to sales manager in the lumber department and even passenger agent in the navigation company." Matt Peasley supplemented.
"I admit all of that. But did you consult me when you decided to send him out to China on his own?"
"Of course not. I'm boss of the Blue Star Navigation Company, am I not? The man was in charge of the Shanghai office before you ever opened your mouth to discharge your cargo of free advice."
"I told you then that Henderson wouldn't make good, didn't I?"
"And now I have an opportunity to tell you thelittle tale you didn't give me an opportunity to tell you before you sent him out. Henderson was a good man--a crackerjack man--when he had a better man over him. But--I've been twenty years reducing a tendency on the part of that fellow's head to bust his hat-band. And now he's gone south with a hundred and thirty thousand taels of our Shanghai bank account."
"Permit me to remind you, Mr. Ricks," Mr. Skinner cut in coldly, "that he was bonded to the extent of a quarter of a million dollars."
"Not a peep out of you, Skinner. Not a peep. Permit me to remind you that I'm the little genius who placed that insurance."
"Well, I must admit your far-sightedness in that instance will keep the Shanghai office going this year," Matt Peasley replied. "However, we face this situation, Cappy. Henderson has wined and dined in excess of his salary. He's attended to the wrong business at the wrong time and he's capped his inefficiency by spending our bank account on who knows what. We couldn't foresee that. When we send a man out to Asia to be our manager there, we have to trust him all the way or not at all. There is no use weeping over spilled milk, Cappy. Our job isto select a successor to Henderson and send him out to Shanghai on the next boat to clean things up and get things in order."
"Oh, very well, Matt," Cappy replied magnanimously, "I'll not rub it into you. I suppose I'm far from generous, bawling you out like this. Perhaps, when you're my age and have a lot of mental and moral weaklings nip you and draw blood as often as they've drawn it on me you'll be a better judge than I of men worthy of the weight of responsibility. Skinner, have you got a candidate for this job?"
"I regret to say, sir, I have not. All of the men in my department are quite young--too young for the responsibility."
"What do you mean--young?" Cappy blazed.
"Well, the only man I would consider for the job is Andrews and he doesn't have the experience--he's only about thirty, I should say."
"About thirty, eh? Strikes me you were about twenty-eight when I threw ten thousand a year at you in actual cash, and a couple of million dollars' worth of responsibility."
"Yes, sir, but then Andrews has never been tested--"
"Skinner," Cappy interrupted in his most awful voice, "it's a constant source of amazement to mewhy I refrain from firing you. You say Andrews has never been tested. Why hasn't he been tested? Why are we maintaining untested material in this shop, anyhow? Eh? Answer me that. Tut, tut, tut! Not a peep out of you, sir. If you had done your duty, you would have taken a year's vacation when lumber was selling itself in 1919 and 1920, and you would have left Andrews sitting in at your desk to see the sort of stuff he's made of."
"It's a mighty lucky thing I didn't go away for a year," Skinner protested respectfully, "because the market broke--like that--and if you don't think we have to hustle to sell sufficient lumber these days to keep our own ships busy freighting it--"
"Skinner, how old was Matt Peasley when I turned over the Blue Star Navigation Company to him, lock, stock, and barrel? Why, he wasn't twenty-six years old. Skinner, are you so removed from those days that you don't remember the way I tested you both? When did you become a killjoy, throttling the neck of industry with absurd theories that a man's back must be bent like an ox-bow and his locks snowy-white before he can be entrusted with responsibility and a living wage? This is a smart man's world, a persistent man's world, not an old man's world, Skinner, and don't you ever forgetit. And the go-getters of this world are as often as not under thirty years of age. Matt," he concluded, turning to his son-in-law, "what do you think of Andrews for that Shanghai job?"
"I think he'll do."
"Why do you think he'll do?"
"Because he ought to do. He's been with us long enough to have acquired sufficient knowledge and experience to enable him--"
"Has he acquired the courage to tackle the job, Matt?" Cappy interrupted. "That's more important than this doggoned experience you and Skinner prate so much about."
"I know nothing of his courage. I assume that he has force and initiative. I know he has a pleasing personality."
"Well, before we send him out we ought to know whether or no he has force and initiative."
"Then," quoth Matt Peasley, rising, "I need a few more months to find Henderson's successor. Unless you can name the lucky man."
"Yes, indeed," Skinner agreed. "I'm sure it's quite beyond my poor abilities to uncover Andrews' force and initiative on such short notice. He does possess sufficient force and initiative for his present job, but--"
"But will he possess force and initiative when he has to make quick decisions six thousand miles from expert advice, and stand or fall by that decision? That's what we want to know, Skinner."
"I suggest, sir," Mr. Skinner replied with politeness, "that you conduct the examination."
"I accept the nomination, Skinner. By the Holy Pink-toed Prophet! The next man we send out to that Shanghai office is going to be a go-getter. We've had three managers go rotten on us and that's three too many."
And without further ado, Cappy swung his aged legs up on to his desk and slid down in his swivel chair until he rested on his spine. His head sank on his breast and he closed his eyes.
"He's framing the examination for Andrews," Matt Peasley whispered, as he and Skinner made their exits.
Copyright © 1921 by Peter B. Kyne Copyright renewed 1949 by Peter B. Kyne Revised edition copyright © 2003 by the Estate of Peter B. Kyne