Ships and Sharks
Ships and Sharks
SKIPPER AMOS BARCLAY placed a solid foot on the first step of the stairs leading to the Elevated. Then he paused to consider. Over his head a train rumbled to a halt. People brushed past his broad figure with the impatience of New Yorkers who seem to be always hoping to catch the train they are going to miss. Still Amos Barclay considered.
Not that he did not know whither he was bound. In the breast-pocket of his blue serge suit—patched and pressed with painstaking care for the trip by Matilda Barclay—was a chart of New York City with the skipper’s course picked out. Barclay’s broad, roughened face reflected no uneasiness as to his bearings. His small, gray eyes, surrounded by the network of wrinkles that come upon those who look long into distance over the surface of the sea, peered about him reflectively. A blunt forefinger thrust at his stiff, gray-brown beard while he mentally conned over his course.
Due south from the Pennsylvania Station, it was, until abreast the landmark of the City Hall post-office; then south by southeast to his destination. And Barclay, having the guidance of a warm, early summer morning sun, was in no doubt as to which was north and which south.
Rather, he had not counted on the number of steps leading up to the Elevated. His bulky form was all of two hundred pounds, and the rains of fifteen years in the South Pacific had left their trace of gout. While he hesitated, the seaman sighted something which sent him hurrying into the street. This something was the placard at the masthead of a street-car—South Ferry. Here was a craft undoubtedly bound in the direction he wished to go, and the word “ferry” had a welcoming aspect.
Another moment and Skipper Barclay had tendered his nickel and was ensconced in the seat beside the conductor, his worn leather valise between his knees, while the car clanged through the traffic.
Breathing a trifle heavily from the impetus of his plunge for the car, Barclay fumbled in the breast of his coat. He drew out a fragment of paper, clipped from a newspaper on the train. It bore the legend:
Jewels Bought and Sold. Highest Prices
The address was Maiden Lane. Barclay had already located Maiden Lane on his chart. He stared at the advertisement mildly, wasting no time in looking out at the sights of the city. Frisco was much the same as New York, and he had come on business. His trip was the fruit of an idea.
This idea had been born of hours of thought when Barclay had been alone on his schooner in the South Pacific. He had had plenty of time to think. The life of a South Seas trader is quieter than many narrators choose to picture it.
Between dickering with islanders for copra and pearl-shell, and hours of selecting arrows and shark’s teeth-swords for the tourist trade, the germ of the idea had grown. Barclay had sought and patiently accumulated pearls, bartering them for California-made clothing, knives, calico, pipes, and tobacco and English currency with the Kanakas. Venturing from the more familiar grounds of the Samoas and the Straits to the New Hebrides and Santa Cruz, Barclay had collected a fair assortment of pearls.
These he had kept for three or four years. It was part of his idea. The other part was that higher prices for his holdings might be had in New York than in Honolulu or Frisco. He was sure of this. He had heard of pearls sold by companion traders at Frisco which fetched double the price later in New York. So Barclay had come where the best prices were to be had.
Much was at stake on his trip. A month ago he had sold his schooner at Honolulu and taken passage to Frisco. Barclay had traded for fifteen years, and Matilda Barclay had asked him to stay ashore. They had a cottage on the coast near Oakland, a married, and a grandson, who was in school.
Barclay hoped to get enough for his pearls added to the money he had for the schooner and certain other savings—to keep him and his wife in the semi-luxury of a modern cottage with a phonograph, and to send the grandson to school.
Inquiry of the conductor of the car set the skipper afoot just south of City Hall. He caught the eye of a loitering teamster.
“Where might Maiden Lane be now?” he rumbled.
The man jerked his thumb indefinitely over his shoulder and Barclay passed on through the crowd of lower Broadway at noon. Eventually he came to the building that bore the brass sign: “Braddock—Jeweler.”
An elevator took him to an upper floor, and a similar inscription on the ground glass of a door admitted him to the sanctum of the jeweler. Barclay put down his bag, mildly surprised. Instead of the store he anticipated, he saw a boxlike office behind a mahogany railing. At a stenographer’s desk a well-dressed young woman was bending over a ledger. A table, a chair, and a row of filing-cabinets completed the furnishing. Barclay took off his felt hat, revealing a wide expanse of bald' forehead, reddened by wind and sun.
“Is this Mr. Braddock’s?” he asked.
The girl glanced up, noted the suit-case with a slight frown, looked again at the seaman’s earnest face, and smiled perfunctorily.
“Yes, it is,” she said sharply. “Do you want to see Mr. Braddock? What is the name, please?”
Barclay waited while she disappeared into a partitioned office behind her desk. Over the ground-glass partition Barclay heard a murmured conversation.
“Mr. Braddock will see you,” she announced, holding open the door of the inner office.
“Thank ye, miss,” said Barclay, and she smiled again, fleetingly, at his hearty tone.
Braddock proved to be a smooth-shaven individual of uncertain age, quietly dressed. He looked up inquiringly from a rolltop desk. Barclay was relieved to find the sanctum contained a glass cabinet, and a heavy safe. He had begun to wonder if this was really a jeweler’s shop.
He took the chair that was offered him and scrutinized his companion. Braddock’s lean face was strangely lifeless until he smiled, as he did now, cordially.
“What can I do for you—Captain Barclay?”
“I saw your advertisement in the paper,” began the seaman. “I’ve got some pearls to sell—came all the way from Frisco to New York.” He fumbled at his breast-pocket and drew out a leather case in which were two chamois bags. One of these he placed on the leaf of the jeweler’s desk.
“There’s no demand for pearls just now,” observed Braddock indifferently. “Too many on the market—”
He broke off, studying the contents of the bag which his visitor spread out carefully. There were a dozen pearls, of varying size, but all undeniably fine specimens.
“H-m. Where did these come from?”
Barclay fingered them slowly. “Some from the Straits, three or four from Malaita, some from Azore, and the two little fellows from Samoa. See that?” He held up a small, lustrous sphere. “Chief Tahuana sold that to me for trade worth maybe twenty pounds sterling. He was crazy for gin. I wouldn’t sell it to him, but he knew he could get it from one of the copra pedlers. Tahuana got his gin, and came aboard again—drunk. He ripped the skin off my collar-bone before we got ’em off the deck. There’s no trusting his kind—of that I’m quite positive.
Braddock smiled sceptically.
“Trader’s tales—eh? I guess you figure you’ll get more for your stuff by the telling of ’em. Stories don’t sell pearls in N’York.” Bending over the objects in question, he did not see the surprise that flashed into Barclay’s gray eyes. After all, South Seas traders were not common in the metropolis, and the captain’s speech savored of fiction—if it had not been true.
Barclay placed a heavy hand over his pearls.
“If ye do not believe me, Mr. Braddock,” he growled, “we’ll not do business. I’m a man of my word. These pearls come from the islands.”
The jeweler glanced up quickly at that, and his smile changed.
“No offense, cap’n—no offense, sir. We hear a lot of fake stuff about the South Seas pearl fisheries. I don’t doubt your word. Not a bit.” He fingered the pearls; then adjusted a jeweler’s glass over one eye. “As I said, cap’n, I’m overstocked with these things, but—h-m—let me see. What are you asking for this pair? They aren’t quite a match—”
This was familiar ground to Amos Barclay. Fifteen years he had bargained, bought and sold. Only it had been on the deck of his schooner, with the trade ranged before him, and a serviceable revolver slung at his waist. And the men he had bargained with were the shrewd, apparently childlike, but really treacherous islanders—or the human driftwood of Polynesia.
He had met with every trick of false dealing—traded a dozen bundles of arrows for as many sticks of tobacco with a certain chief, while the henchmen of that island potentate had rifled his cabin underneath, via the port, accessible to a nigger boy. He had passed over a Portuguese admiral’s full-dress uniform—bought at a costumers in San Francisco—to a warrior of Aoba, while the dexterous toes of his client were engaged in drawing valuable knives from the stock of trade between them, and passing the spoil back to his comrades to be divided between them.
And he had paid over the full price of a good pearl to a Kanaka, who put the payment in his lava-lava and forthwith dived over the rail of the schooner with the pearl—until checked in his swim ashore by a few well-chosen shots.
Barclay had learned his lesson many years ago in the hard school of the sea-trader. Now, he thought, he was dealing with a white man, in a white man’s city. They would haggle—they did haggle for more than an hour, over prices—but Braddock was a man of his own kind, who paid out good American money. Here was no concealed treachery, or the need of a drawn revolver. It was, Amos Barclay hoped, his last big trade. It was the fruit of his idea.
And Braddock at length paid him a good price—the figure the captain had in mind when he had come to New York. The jeweler took all the pearls Barclay had in his bag. They were worth the price. Both men were satisfied with the deal that had just been closed.
Barclay’s idea had worked out well. He had received forty per cent more than he would have got in Frisco. Braddock had met his demands readily.
“I’ll take cash, I reckon,” he said when the jeweler had mentioned a check. Braddock agreed.
“Wait outside, Captain Barclay,” he explained, “and I’ll send to the bank for the money. We haven’t got forty-six hundred dollars in our safe just now.”
Barclay nodded cordially, gathered up his pearls and retired to the outer office, to fall into a pleasant reverie while the woman assistant went out for the cash.
Braddock closed the partition door carefully. Then he retired to a closet behind his desk. He shut the door of the closet and unhooked a telephone.
“Give me Dorgan’s café,” he told the operator.
Evidently the switchboard operator was familiar with this call, for Braddock got his connection at once.
“Jim Mahoney there?” he asked briskly, and waited. “That you, Jim? This is Braddock—yes. Say, you’re the man I want. I got a customer on the hook here—pearls, good ones. I’m handing him forty-six hundred in cash in a half-hour.”
Mahoney’s voice was sharp.
“What sort of a guy is he?”
“Ripe, and a real boob. A trader—the South Seas. Thinks he knows more ’n all N’York. Wants to retire and stay ashore, now that he has a pile—”
“I get you,” laughed the man at the other end of the wire.
“Look here, Jim. Watch yourself. You know I got to keep clear of your little stunt—”
“Oh, don’t worry yourself, Brad. You’ll get fifty-fifty of what I get out’v—”
“Skipper Amos Barclay. If you get it—”
“Say, do I ever fail?”
“Well, watch yourself.”
“You’ll get your velvet—”
Mahoney hung up and Braddock returned to his desk, a satisfied gleam in his narrow eyes. Twenty-five minutes later he had paid the cash to Barclay, gripped the seaman’s hand and wished him well. Barclay replied with gruff heartiness, took up his valise, and sought the door. Outside in the corridor he noticed a slender individual, in a light, summer suit and straw hat. They went down in the elevator together. At the entrance Barclay paused, wondering whither his way led.
The stranger stopped also and lit a cigarette. “Nice day, cap’n,” he observed, flinging away the match. Barclay nodded, slightly curious.
“How d’ye know—”
“What I called you?” The man laughed pleasantly. He had a shrewd, youthful face and a frank manner. “Oh, I ought to know a seaman, cap’n. See a lot’v them. My business is ship construction—at one’v the big Jersey shipyards.”
Barclay nodded again, looking about for a street-car that would bear him northward.
They walked out together apparently bound in the same direction.
“I’m going to visit the works now, cap’n,” explained his companion. “One’v the biggest in the country. Say, you ought to see the neat little cargo-steamers we built for the Emergency Fleet—and the pair ’v dreadnoughts in the ways now. During the war visitors was barred, but now the plant’s a great place for the sightseers.” His quick glance swept sideways at the taciturn skipper. “We’re ready to launch a sweet four-master right now.”
“Didn’t know they made ’em any more.”
“Oh, we made everything during the war. Say, you ought to see that schooner. She’s a beauty. For the coast trade.”
Barclay scowled irresolutely. He had intended to spend his time otherwise. Still—
“The dreadnoughts will be the biggest afloat. Two thirty-five thousand-ton craft. Why don’t you give ’em the once-over, cap’n—”
“Barclay.” The skipper hesitated. He had heard much of the ships under construction in the New York yards. And he would never return to the metropolis. “Where might this place be, young man?”
An hour later the two were within the yard limits of one of the greatest shipbuilding-plants in the country. His companion had not overstated the magnitude of the work. Barclay scrutinized the panorama of steel fabrication keenly, and deeply interested in his tour of inspection.
He saw the new angle and plate shop, watched the seventy-ton traveling-crane in operation, looked into the power-house. The other, who seemed familiar with the place, led him to the ways, where the newly rivetted side of two great battle-ships loomed. Other visitors were there.
Barclay noticed an N. Y. S. C. initialed on the motor-trucks by the spur of railroad-track and his guide told him the name of the plant. Barclay recalled it vaguely.
He left the Jersey shore undeniably impressed with the aspect of the plant they had visited. It was late, and he accepted his companion’s invitation to dinner.
“I don’t think you know my name,” his host smiled when the waiter had been dismissed. He produced a card, which read
“Mighty fine plant, that, Cap’n Barclay. I ought to know. I sell its stock for a living”—the flicker of a smile passed over the man’s alert face unobserved by the seaman—“and it’s pretty soft for me, because the stock just about sells itself. It pays thirty per cent a year, and it’s so good everybody wants it.”
He ordered a steak, well done, and gazed reflectively at Barclay. The skipper had said little. But Mahoney had not forgotten Braddock’s tip.
“This shipyard stock is so safe,” he said confidentially, “that it’s an A1 investment for people who don’t want to worry about their money. Thousands get a fine income from it.”
Barclay nodded understandingly. He had heard of the great profits the shipyards had been making. And he understood something of investment He had bought up, in the past, little by little, the shares in his schooner until he was sole owner. He thought of the small schooner, compared with the giants of the sea he had just seen. It must be a fine thing to own even a tiny share of such craft. Even better, to invest in the plant that built them—
Mahoney produced a newspaper and examined it.
“Let’s see,” he meditated, “N. Y. S. C. is selling at forty-two to-day. Dirt-cheap, and a bargain.” He showed the list of stock prices to the skipper and the fleeting smile appeared again as Barclay verified what he had said. “Just think, it pays you thirty dollars on every hundred each year. Any man who has made a pile can profit by it.”
Barclay nodded again. Slowly, he computed the income on four thousand dollars, at thirty per cent. It would be more than a thousand dollars a year. It would give Matilda—
“A man who has worked hard to make a pile,” resumed Mahoney pleasantly, “has a right to get good money from it. A good living.”
“Yes,” assented Barclay, “that’s true.”
The problem had worried him. He had some money—enough, as he had once thought. But Matilda had told him that prices had gone up during his last trip to the South Seas, and his grandson was in school. All these things cost a great deal.
“Look here, young man,” he scowled thoughtfully. “Could ye get me some of this here stock—a little?”
No elation showed in Mahoney’s keen eyes. Instead he looked grave.
“It ’d be hard to do—and, say, cap’n—I didn’t want to try to sell you anything. Business is business and friends are friends—that’s my motto. But if you really want some—”
Barclay thought again of the giant ships. No need to tell him what money-makers these were, or how great the demand for more of their kind would be. Mahoney’s words were echoing in his mind: “A man who has worked hard has a right—to a good living.”
Twelve hundred dollars a year would keep him and his wife comfortably. He had seen the giant shipyard, and the price quoted in the newspaper. His only fear was that there might not be any of the stock to be had.
“I think I might be able to get you a hundred shares—maybe,” considered Mahoney. “I like you, Barclay, and I’ll do my best. Suppose you meet me at the National Bank to-morrow, at ten?”
Precisely at ten o’clock the next morning Mahoney met Barclay at the marble lobby of one of the oldest banks of the city. Fifteen minutes later he had produced a formal looking stock-certificate, made out in Barclay’s name and bearing the title and seal of the New York Shipyard Company.
The seaman read it through carefully, seated at one of the customer’s tables in the lobby. He saw that the certificate was correct in form. He was further impressed with the magnificence of the National Bank corridors. Truly, he thought, this was the place where highest prices were to be had—the city of wealth.
He counted out forty-two hundred dollars to Mahoney, who drew up and handed him a receipt for the amount.
“You got a good thing there, Cap’n Barclay,” Mahoney laughed jovially. “Hang onto it. Don’t let any swindler make you sell it. Your name’s on the books of the company, and they’ll send you a check for your thirty per cent each year.”
He slapped the burly seaman on the shoulder and leaned closer, confidentially.
“Say, it was hard to get this across to you. But—do I ever fail?”
Once more Captain Amos Barclay stood in the streets of Manhattan, this time with the stock-certificate buttoned where the money had been. He was well content. New York had more than satisfied him. He had got his money, and exchanged it for an investment that would fulfil all his needs. His idea had been put into effect successfully.
At the street comer he hesitated. The desire, common to new purchasers, to look over his property assailed him. He would visit the shipyard again before taking the train to Frisco.
He crossed once more to the Jersey shore, gained admittance to the plant, and seated himself on a convenient pile of lumber where he could watch the hivelike turmoil of the yards, and listen to the staccato of riveting machines. Time passed pleasantly. He wanted to tell Matilda about everything he had seen.
From the lumber-pile he wandered about idly, pausing at the door of the forge-shop. Here an attendant denied him admission to the office.
“I guess I got a right to look in, young man,” growled the skipper. “I’m a stockholder in this company.”
The man shook his head.
“You get a pass from the manager's office, over there he jerked his thumb over his shoulder—“and I’ll let you in, all right.”
Barclay had set his mind on seeing the forge-shop, and limped over to the office. Here, among a medley of draftsmen and stenographers, a clerk asked his business.
“I’d like a pass to the forge-shop,” he explained, “from the manager.”
The clerk gave place to a brisk young man, well dressed, who politely inquired his business in the shop. At Barclay’s explanation the eye-brows of the young man lifted slightly.
“A stockholder. Why”—he scanned the burly figure—“it isn’t usual—”
Barclay drew forth his stock-certificate and exhibited it proudly. His questioner took the paper and scrutinized it, idly at first, then intently.
“Wait here a minute,” he announced, vanishing, after handing back the certificate. Presently he returned, with the news that Mr. Henderson, the assistant manager, would see him.
Rather surprised at this formality about a pass, Barclay was led into an inner office.
Henderson swung around in his pivot chair without inviting the seaman to be seated. He was a middle-aged man in shirt sleeves, chewing at an unlighted cigar in a harassed manner.
“Let’s see that certificate,” he said sharply. Barclay handed him the paper silently, oppressed by a vague uneasiness. Henderson glanced it over, peered at the signatures, looked up at the tall skipper and thrust a lean jaw out ominously. “Where’d you get this?”
Barclay’s pulse quickened at the other’s tone, but his voice was calm.
“One of your salesmen sold it to me, Mr. Henderson. I have his receipt for my money.”
“Got it with you?”
Henderson’s scowl deepened as he scanned the receipt. A sudden fear tugged at the skipper’s heart.
“Ain’t that all right?” he rumbled anxiously. “It’s stock in your comp’ny.”
“No, it isn’t—it’s stock in the New York Shipyard Company, whatever that may be. We are the New York Ship Construction Company. Likewise, Mr. Barclay, we employ no salesmen. Never have.”
Barclay did not grasp the full meaning of this at once.
“But—hold hard, Mr. Henderson—I bought your stock. The one that’s printed in the newspaper tally list—N.Y.S.C.”
“This isn’t our stock. Our issue is quoted on the Stock Exchange under the initials you mention. Somebody’s swindled you. We can’t help it if grafters claim to be handling our stock, when they are not doing so.”
Henderson handed the papers to the immobile Barclay and swung back to his desk, which was littered with blueprints. A moment passed. Then he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and found himself listening to the trembling voice of the intruder.
“Just a minute, Mr. Henderson,” Barclay’s voice broke in on him. “I—I don’t seem to get the rights of this. Mahoney, who sold me this, showed me your plant. It looked mighty fine to me. I paid a lot for that there piece of paper—”
With an impatient grunt, the assistant manager surveyed his visitor. At sight of the heavy, patient face, and keen, gray eyes, his manner softened perceptibly. He pushed forward a chair.
“Sit down, Mr.—Cap’n Barclay. I’m sorry you invested your money in this swindle. But we can’t keep everybody out of our plant. One or two other cases like this have come to my notice. I’d give something to get my hand on the scoundrel who’s pulling off this stunt. It hurts our credit. Can you identify this Mahoney?”
Barclay ruminated, tugging at his whiskers fiercely. Carefully he described to Henderson how he had come to buy the stock.
“And the blighter sold it to me in one of the big banks,” he growled; “The National Bank. I thought—”
“Standing room in a bank-lobby is free to all, cap’n,” explained the manager concisely. “Mahoney guessed you’d hand over your money quicker inside the gate of a bank, that’s all. His kind aren’t connected with any national bank. I know the game,” he sighed, glancing at his watch. “Braddock probably tipped Mahoney that you had a bundle of coin on you. No one else knew it.”
Barclay’s broad mouth tightened, but he said nothing.
“Mahoney picked you for a sucker—no offense, cap’n. He showed you our plant and sold you his own stock—printed by one of these fly-by-night gangs. The quotes in the paper were ours—but he twisted the initials to suit his bogus firm, the shipyard company. Probably that stock-certificate is worth ten cents, maybe less. We can’t do anything for you.”
“I guess you can’t.” Barclay spoke quietly. He was not the one to whine over a loss. “I’ll have the law on that man Braddock.”
“Hold on,” Henderson checked him. “What can you do? You have no proof Braddock knows Mahoney. If you try to sue him, he’ll bring claim against you—defamation of character, most likely. These scoundrels know the Penal Code by heart.”
Barclay nodded slowly. The man was right. He had no case against Braddock.
“There’s Mahoney,” he meditated; “maybe I can get my hands on him.”
“It won’t do you much good if you do. He’s sold you stock in his company. Probably Mahoney owns a worthless acre of land somewheres about—in the Sound, perhaps. Some kind of a plant, with a wood jetty and a carpenter driving nails into a scabby barge that ’ll never feel salt-water again. Enough to keep him within the law.”
Henderson shrugged his shoulders.
“You have only your word against his, Barclay, that he faked a sale of our stock and his breed is clever. They know the blue-sky laws.”
The seaman pocketed his papers without further speech and turned to the door, his shoulders bent into a slouch. The assistant manager looked after him thoughtfully and keenly.
“Say, Barclay,” he called, as the skipper reached the door, “find Mahoney, and get proof that he had you over here, and we’ll take overyour side of the lawsuit. We—well, we’d like to see him behind the bars just as much as you would. I’d like to help you out; but—I can’t waste the company’s time and money.”
“No, Mr. Henderson, you can’t do that. Let it be, let it be.”
For half a moment after Barclay had gone, the assistant manager frowned, as if dwelling on an unpleasant thought. He knew that Barclay could not do what he asked. Then he lit his cigar, swung back to his desk, and plunged into his work.
From the Jersey shore Captain Amos Barclay made his way to his room in a small hotel by the water-front. It was evening when he arrived, but he did not eat any dinner. He seated himself in a battered chair by the window, gazing out over the near-by roofs with puckered brow.
It grew dark, and he did not get up to light the gas. Through the open window he caught the street noises of the metropolis—children playing in the open space by the docks, teams clattering homeward to the stables, the hoarse mutter of a ferry-boat feeling its way through the twilight.
Below him the street-lamps winked into light, throwing a faint gleam on the dingy ceiling over his head. Still Barclay did not stir. Once he turned his head at the distant echo of chimes from the Metropolitan tower.
He had a little money. Enough to get him back to California. But he knew that the men who had swindled him of four thousand dollars were beyond his reach. He recalled his interview with Braddock, the smooth manner of the man, the readiness with which the jeweler had paid the price he asked for the pearls. No one else had known he had the money.
Barclay was not accustomed to feel sorry for himself when he was cheated in a trade. But the four thousand dollars had meant much to him. And he had been robbed by men he had trusted—his own kind. In the South Pacific he might have gone to them, revolver in hand, and gained back the money. Here, the law protected them. And he had left his weapon at home.
He knew that the chances of finding Mahoney were one in a thousand. It would do no good to go to Braddock. And he had no delusions concerning possible help from Henderson.
Even if he should, by a stroke of luck, locate Mahoney, there was no way to get his money back. The man had money, which Barclay lacked, and doubtless friends among the shyster lawyers who would handle his case if the skipper tried to take the theft into court.
Barclay was facing the hopeless problem of many who had fallen victim to the sharpers of the underworld of finance—the men of the back-doors of honest investment. And, before the law, he was helpless. He was an upright man, and Mahoney no better than a thief; but the law of his own land offered him no remedy.
The semi-quiet of night descended on the city, and the noises in the street diminished. Only the distant clatter of surface-cars broke in on his thoughts. Then Barclay drew a long breath and struck a clenched fist on his thigh.
Rising from his chair, he stretched his bulk and undid his collar. Removing his shoes and coat, he lay down on the bed. Almost at once he fell asleep—the sleep of a man whose mind is no longer at fault and who has made a decision by which he intends to abide.
Braddock removed the magnifying-glass from his eye, and thrust the pearls he had been examining into a drawer of his desk. There was something watchful and reluctant in his manner as he turned to the girl in his office door. His sharp eyes stared at her questioningly as if he could read in her indifferent face the answer to a certain question in his mind.
“Captain Amos Barclay?” he repeated. He stroked a neatly shaven cheek with the fingers of a lean hand. It was the second morning after he had bought those same pearls of the trader. They had been a good bargain. Jim Mahoney had divided up promptly and fairly.
“Well, show him in,” he said sharply.
“When the seaman loomed in the door, he smiled cordially.
“Glad to see you again, Cap’n Barclay. Anything I can do for you?”
There was a shade of relief in his voice. Certainly the skipper did not look like one who knew that he had been robbed. Of course he had no claim against him—Braddock—but the jeweler was sometimes nervous, by temperament.
“I reckon there is, Mr. Braddock.”
Barclay seated himself and nodded cordially at the jeweler. “I reckon there is. You gave me a good price for those small pearls. I figure I couldn’t do better than to come to you with what I’ve got now. It’s sure a fine thing—this. For a while I thought I wouldn’t sell it; but I guess Matilda and I need the money.”
He produced the leather wallet and tossed the remaining chamois-sack on the desk. And Braddock stared, for the seaman had drawn from the bag a pearl, a black pearl, lustrous and splendid, and as large as a good-sized cherry.
Barclay held it up proudly between thumb and forefinger. Braddock took it silently, switched on a strong light under a green shade, and fixed his glass in his eye.
“Four years ago I got my hands on that,” ruminated the skipper. “It came from the Vatu Lavum bed. A Japanese diver brought it up, but the islanders got it from him. They wanted gin, and a renegade skipper out of Maryborough gave ’em the gin for it.”
Braddock fondled the pearl, turning it over in his thin, nervous fingers. There was no doubt of its value. Mounted by a Fifth Avenue jeweler in a tiara-like setting, and shown to those who can afford to ask for the best, it would fetch many thousands. It was a splendid thing, a patrician of pearls.
The jeweler had forgotten his early misgivings at Barclay’s visit. In his soul, he coveted the black pearl—pictured himself selling it. Nevertheless, he was cautious.
“Yes, I made you a liberal price for the others,” he murmured. “But this is different—harder to dispose of. It ’d be hard to match. It’s unusual—”
“That’s a mighty fine pearl.”
“Well, people aren’t paying high prices now. This is all right for a curio.” He replaced the sphere on its case with a caressing gesture. What price d’you expect to get?
“Twelve thousand dollars.”
Barclay spoke calmly. The jeweler stared; then shook his head with a sneer. Twelve thousand! Complete in a royal setting, the black pearl might bring ten thousand in time from the right person. But he, Braddock, could not get much more than half that figure, at the present market. And he did business on a cash basis—for good reasons.
“You don’t know what you’re saying!” he barked. “You’re crazy! Twelve thousand. I might give five.”
“I said twelve.”
Braddock laughed aloud.
“I thought you knew something about the price of pearls. I was wrong. You ain’t been drinking, have you, Barclay?”
The seaman picked up the black pearl and replaced it in its bag. In spite of himself, Braddock’s lips contracted. He coveted the thing; he yearned to own it—and take the profit he knew he could get from it.
“I’ll make you an offer of five and a half,” he ventured.
Barclay rose, slipping the wallet into his pocket.
“I might go as high as six thousand—maybe,” protested the jeweler. “Look here. You won’t get a better price anywhere else in the city—not in these times. I thought you wanted to sell.”
“That right—at twelve thousand.”
“I’ll tell you what I got my mind set on.” The skipper bent closer to Braddock, a peculiar gleam in his deep-set eyes, “No, I’m not crazy. I want to buy some more of a kind of stock I’ve invested in. I want twelve thousand dollars to buy that stock.”
For a moment the gray eyes peered into the faded blue; then Braddock looked away, biting at his lip.
“I don’t know anything about stocks.”
“It’s a mighty fine thing. It’s the New York Shipyard Company, and it pays thirty per cent. I saw their plant.”
“Never heard of it before.”
“I didn’t reckon you’d have heard of it.”
“Who sold it to you?”
“A fellow name of Mahoney—a real, friendly kind of fellow.”
Braddock plucked irresolutely at his lip, his glance straying to the leather wallet in Barclay’s hand. His small eyes were alert, as those of a terrier on the scent of a rat. But he was a careful man.
“How much’v that twelve thousand are you going to put into this stock?”
“Every cent of it.”
Barclay spoke with unmistakable conviction, and the jeweler brightened. Mahoney, he thought, had done his work well. Barclay had swallowed hook, line and sinker. He was a sucker of the finest breed, a deep-seas fish, and he was landed.
“I’m going to buy that shipyard stock to-day,” continued the skipper, “before it goes up in price. It’s a mighty fine thing. Trouble is, I don’t know where to run afoul of Mahoney. If I don’t find him before afternoon, I’ll have to cruise over to the shipyard for the stock. I guess they have it there.”
Braddock scowled, feeling that his sucker was about to slip the hook. He knew Mahoney’s game of the fake shipping stock. And that if Barclay went to the firm for the stock, he and Mahoney would be left empty-handed.
“I don’t know anything about speculation, cap’n,” he said, with friendly caution. “Are you sure it’s a good stock?”
“Good as gold.”
Braddock nodded decisively. He had made up his mind. His active brain had finished its problem of arithmetic. He would pay Barclay the twelve thousand. Mahoney would get it, in return for the worthless stock. They would divide fifty-fifty—probably he, Braddock, could claim a trifle more on the merits of this highly profitable transaction.
At most, the pearl would only cost him the six thousand. And he could get seven or more on Fifth Avenue. He would have the black pearl—perhaps he would keep the splendid thing a while.
He clapped Barclay cordially on the shoulder.
“I’ll strain a point for you, cap’n, this time. I’ll consult with a jeweler I know. I guess we can meet your figure. It may mean a loss for me—but I’ll buy it.”
He hurried to the door of the closet.
“You sit here, cap’n. Now, I don’t know Mahoney; but them salesmen hang out around the cafes at lunch time. I’ll give all the places I know a ring. Maybe I can get him to come here with the stock. That ’ll save you a trip over to Jersey. You don’t want to carry that bundle of coin around in your pocket.”
“I guess that’s right,” Barclay smiled grimly. “Hope you can get him, Mr. Braddock. I’ll wait.”
An hour later he was still waiting when Mr. Braddock returned from the bank with the money. A moment more and the fashionably dressed figure of Mahoney pushed through the office door. The salesman went up to Barclay with a cordial smile.
“Glad to see you again, cap’n. They told me at Dorgan’s Café you was looking for me, to buy some more of that N. Y. S. C. stock, so I came all prepared.”
Braddock frowned warningly and stared at Mahoney blankly. Barclay saw the stare.
“You gentlemen don’t know each other, do you?” he muttered. “Mr. Mahoney, meet Mr. Braddock.”
The salesman beamed as the two shook hands. Even Braddock smiled sourly. It had been long since they landed a sucker like Barclay. The skipper nodded to the jeweler, who laid the money on the desk.
Barclay counted it carefully and arranged it in a pile in front of him.
Braddock took the pearl the skipper gave him, inspected it, and placed it in the safe, closing the door and giving the combination a cautious twirl. He had the black pearl. For a second he surveyed the cash uneasily—it was twice the value of the pearl.
But Mahoney was already drawing up a receipt for the money. And Barclay had the stock-certificate in his hands. The skipper ran his eye over it and laid it on the table.
“This ain’t what I want,” he said.
Braddock’s brain worked quickly. A half-second after the skipper’s quiet words, the jeweler’s hand darted to the money. Another hand, a heavy, muscled fist was before him.
Barclay thrust the bills into his coat pocket. His broad face was tranquil, but a slow flush was spreading up from the throat.
“But you said—” Braddock’s voice thrilled in his excitement.
“I said, Mr. Braddock, I was going to buy stock in the shipyard. So I am—the New York Ship Construction Company, that Mr. Mahoney mentioned, and the plant he showed me. Not that—” Barclay crumpled the worthless stock-certificate and tossed it on the floor.
He faced the two, his voice deepening as he spoke.
“Yes I’m going to buy a stock, one that’s a good stock—and at the company’s office —with half 'this money. I’ll take the other half and give it to Matilda.” He stepped toward Braddock, and the jeweler shrank back. “Fifteen year’ I’ve traded with the godless islanders of the seas, and fifteen year’ I’ve met every brand of scoundrels. I thought when I come here to my own kind I’d have a square deal.” He laughed shortly.“But it ain’t any different here—”
Jim Mahoney’s brain was a trifle slower than that of Braddock. But more dangerous. The swindler’s hand went softly to his coat pocket.
Barclay had seen it, and knew what it meant. Wheeling swiftly, in spite of his bulk, he caught Mahoney’s wrist before the hand could withdraw from the pocket. A jerk with two hundred pounds of bone and sinew behind it and the salesman was flung from his feet and crashed into the desk. He wavered vaguely on his knees, then slumped to the floor quietly, his head propped against the desk.
Then the skipper spoke to Braddock. He spoke quietly; but he had thought of what was going to say, and he had the vocabulary of a seaman to draw from, backed by a knowledge of Malay, Polynesian, and a lime-juicer’s choicest language. When he had exhausted this, he returned to good American.
Braddock sat in his desk-chair, fumbling at his quivering cheeks. When Barclay had finished, he mustered his courage.
“I’ll get the law on you!” he shrilled. “For unprovoked assault on my friend—”
Barclay laughed and turned toward the door.
“Your friend?” he asked mildly. “No, Mr. Braddock. Mahoney is a stranger. You didn’t even know he was a stock-swindler, now, did you?”
And the captain’s laughter echoed down the corridor.