A Story That Tells You How to be One
By Peter B. Kyne
THIS LITTLE BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF MY DEAD CHIEF,
BRIGADIER-GENERAL LEROY S. LYON, SOMETIME COMMANDER OF THE 65TH
FIELD ARTILLERY BRIGADE, 40TH DIVISION, UNITED STATES ARMY.
HE PRACTICED AND PREACHED A RELIGION OF LOYALTY TO THE COUNTRY
AND THE APPOINTED TASK, WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE.
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 Matt Peasley 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
"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 do 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 the
Orient 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 the position of having to fire folks by
cable. Why? Because we're breaking into a game that can't be played
on the home grounds. A lot of our business is so far away we can't
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
"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 boobs lost your ability to judge men or did you ever
have such ability?"
"You're referring to Henderson, of 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 coast-wise 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. "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 from freight
clerk to passenger agent in the navigation company," Matt Peasley
"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
"And now I have an opportunity to tell you the little 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
"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
unknown to you and Matt. And I recall now that I was reminded by
you, Matthew, my son, that I had retired ten years ago and please,
would I quit interfering in the internal administration of your
"Well, I must admit your far-sightedness in that instance will
keep the Shanghai office out of the red ink this year," Matt
Peasley replied. "However, we face this situation, Cappy. Henderson
has drunk and gambled and signed chits in excess of his salary. He
hasn't attended to business and he's capped his inefficiency by
absconding with our bank account. We couldn't foresee that. When we
send a man out to the Orient to be our manager there, we have to
trust him all the way or not at all. So there is no use weeping
over spilled milk, Cappy. Our job is to select a successor to
Henderson and send him out to Shanghai on the next boat."
"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 cripples 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
"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 is too young--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 me why 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 Christian 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 to
keep our own ships busy freighting it--"
"Skinner, how dare you contradict me? 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,
you're a dodo! The killjoys like you who have straddled the neck of
industry and throttled it 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, have caused all
of our wars and strikes. This is a young man's world, Skinner, and
don't you ever forget it. The go-getters of this world are under
thirty years of age. Matt," he concluded, turning to his
son-in-law, "what do you think of Andrews for that Shanghai
"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 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 wash my hands of the job
of selecting Henderson's successor. You've butted in, so I suggest
you 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
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 a
quick decision 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 chill 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.
The President emeritus of the Ricks' interests was not destined
to uninterrupted cogitation, however. Within ten minutes his
private exchange operator called him to the telephone.
"What is it?" Cappy yelled into the transmitter.
"There is a young man in the general office. His name is Mr.
William E. Peck and he desires to see you personally."
Cappy sighed. "Very well," he replied. "Have him shown in."
Almost immediately the office boy ushered Mr. Peck into Cappy's
presence. The moment he was fairly inside the door the visitor
halted, came easily and naturally to "attention" and bowed
respectfully, while the cool glance of his keen blue eyes held
steadily the autocrat of the Blue Star Navigation Company.
"Mr. Ricks, Peck is my name, sir--William E. Peck. Thank you,
sir, for acceding to my request for an interview."
"Ahem! Hum-m-m!" Cappy looked belligerent. "Sit down, Mr.
Mr. Peck sat down, but as he crossed to the chair beside Cappy's
desk, the old gentleman noticed that his visitor walked with a
slight limp, and that his left forearm had been amputated half way
to the elbow. To the observant Cappy, the American Legion button in
Mr. Peck's lapel told the story.
"Well, Mr. Peck," he queried gently, "what can I do for
"I've called for my job," the veteran replied briefly.
"By the Holy Pink-toed Prophet!" Cappy ejaculated, "you say that
like a man who doesn't expect to be refused."
"Quite right, sir. I do not anticipate a refusal."
Mr. William E. Peck's engaging but somewhat plain features
rippled into the most compelling smile Cappy Ricks had ever seen.
"I am a salesman, Mr. Ricks," he replied. "I know that statement to
be true because I have demonstrated, over a period of five years,
that I can sell my share of anything that has a hockable value. I
have always found, however, that before proceeding to sell goods I
had to sell the manufacturer of those goods something,
to-wit--myself! I am about to sell myself to you."
"Son," said Cappy smilingly, "you win. You've sold me already.
When did they sell you a membership in the military forces of the
United States of America?"
"On the morning of April 7th, 1917, sir."
"That clinches our sale. I soldiered with the Knights of
Columbus at Camp Kearny myself, but when they refused to let me go
abroad with my division my heart was broken, so I went over the
That little touch of the language of the line appeared to warm
Mr. Peck's heart considerably, establishing at once a free masonry
"I was with the Portland Lumber Company, selling lumber in the
Middle West before the war," he explained. "Uncle Sam gave me my
sheepskin at Letter-man General Hospital last week, with half
disability on my ten thousand dollars' worth of government
insurance. Whittling my wing was a mere trifle, but my broken leg
was a long time mending, and now it's shorter than it really ought
to be. And I developed pneumonia with influenza and they found some
T.B. indications after that. I've been at the government
tuberculosis hospital at Fort Bayard, New Mexico, for a year.
However, what's left of me is certified to be sound. I've got five
inches chest expansion and I feel fine."
"Not at all blue or discouraged?" Cappy hazarded.
"Oh, I got off easy, Mr. Ricks. I have my head left--and my
right arm. I can think and I can write, and even if one of my
wheels is flat, I can hike longer and faster after an order than
most. Got a job for me, Mr. Ricks?"
"No, I haven't, Mr. Peck. I'm out of it, you know. Retired ten
years ago. This office is merely a headquarters for social
frivolity--a place to get my mail and mill over the gossip of the
street. Our Mr. Skinner is the chap you should see."
"I have seen Mr. Skinner, sir," the erstwhile warrior replied,
"but he wasn't very sympathetic. I think he jumped to the
conclusion that I was attempting to trade him my empty sleeve. He
informed me that there wasn't sufficient business to keep his
present staff of salesmen busy, so then I told him I'd take
anything, from stenographer up. I'm the champion one-handed typist
of the United States Army. I can tally lumber and bill it. I can
keep books and answer the telephone."
"No encouragement, eh?"
"Well, now, son," Cappy informed his cheerful visitor
confidentially, "you take my tip and see my son-in-law, Captain
Peasley. He's high, low and jack-in-the-game in the shipping end of
"I have also interviewed Captain Peasley. He was very kind. He
said he felt that he owed me a job, but business is so bad he
couldn't make a place for me. He told me he is now carrying a dozen
ex-service men merely because he hasn't the heart to let them go. I
"Well, my dear boy--my dear young friend! Why do you come to
"Because," Mr. Peck replied smilingly, "I want you to go over
their heads and give me a job. I don't care a hoot what it is,
provided I can do it. If I can do it, I'll do it better than it was
ever done before, and if I can't do that I'll quit to save you the
embarrassment of firing me. I'm not an object of charity, but I'm
scarcely the man I used to be and I'm four years behind the
procession and have to catch up. I have the best of
"I see you have," Cappy cut in blandly, and pressed the
push-button on his desk. Mr. Skinner entered. He glanced
disapprovingly at William E. Peck and then turned inquiring eyes
toward Cappy Ricks.
"Skinner, dear boy," Cappy purred amiably, "I've been thinking
over the proposition to send Andrews out to the Shanghai office,
and I've come to this conclusion. We'll have to take a chance. At
the present time that office is in charge of a stenographer, and
we've got to get a manager on the job without further loss of time.
So I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll send Andrews out on the next
boat, but inform him that his position is temporary. Then if he
doesn't make good out there we can take him back into this office,
where he is a most valuable man. Meanwhile--ahem! hum-m-m!
Harumph!--meanwhile, you'd oblige me greatly, Skinner, my dear boy,
if you would consent to take this young man into your office and
give him a good work-out to see the stuff he's made of. As a favor
to me, Skinner, my dear boy, as a favor to me."
Mr. Skinner, in the language of the sporting world, was down for
the count--and knew it. Young Mr. Peck knew it too, and smiled
graciously upon the general manager, for young Mr. Peck had been in
the army, where one of the first great lessons to be assimilated is
this: that the commanding general's request is always tantamount to
"Very well, sir," Mr. Skinner replied coldly. "Have you arranged
the compensation to be given Mr. Peck?"
Cappy threw up a deprecating hand. "That detail is entirely up
to you, Skinner. Far be it from me to interfere in the internal
administration of your department. Naturally you will pay Mr. Peck
what he is worth and not a cent more." He turned to the triumphant
Peck. "Now, you listen to me, young feller. If you think you're
slipping gracefully into a good thing, disabuse your mind of that
impression right now. You'll step right up to the plate, my son,
and you'll hit the ball fairly on the nose, and you'll do it early
and often. The first time you tip a foul, you'll be warned. The
second time you do it you'll get a month's lay-off to think it
over, and the third time you'll be out--for keeps. Do I make myself
"You do, sir," Mr. Peck declared happily. "All I ask is fighting
room and I'll hack my way into Mr. Skinner's heart. Thank you, Mr.
Skinner, for consenting to take me on. I appreciate your action
very, very much and shall endeavor to be worthy of your
"Young scoundrel! In-fer-nal young scoundrel!" Cappy murmured to
himself. "He has a sense of humor, thank God! Ah, poor old
narrow-gauge Skinner! If that fellow ever gets a new or
unconventional thought in his stodgy head, it'll kill him
overnight. He's hopping mad right now, because he can't say a word
in his own defense, but if he doesn't make hell look like a summer
holiday for Mr. Bill Peck, I'm due to be mercifully chloroformed.
Good Lord, how empty life would be if I couldn't butt in and raise
a little riot every once in so often."
Young Mr. Peck had risen and was standing at attention. "When do
I report for duty, sir?" he queried of Mr. Skinner.
"Whenever you're ready," Skinner retorted with a wintry smile.
Mr. Peck glanced at a cheap wrist watch. "It's twelve o'clock now,"
he soliloquized aloud. "I'll pop out, wrap myself around some
rations and report on the job at one P.M. I might just as well
knock out half a day's pay." He glanced at Cappy Ricks and
"Count that day lost whose low descending sun
Finds prices shot to glory and business done for fun."
Unable to maintain his composure in the face of such levity
during office hours, Mr. Skinner withdrew, still wrapped in his
sub-Antarctic dignity. As the door closed behind him, Mr. Peck's
eyebrows went up in a manner indicative of apprehension.
"I'm off to a bad start, Mr. Ricks," he opined.
"You only asked for a start," Cappy piped back at him. "I didn't
guarantee you a good start, and I wouldn't because I can't.
I can only drive Skinner and Matt Peasley so far--and no farther.
There's always a point at which I quit--er--ah--William."
"More familiarly known as Bill Peck, sir."
"Very well, Bill." Cappy slid out to the edge of his chair and
peered at Bill Peck balefully over the top of his spectacles. "I'll
have my eye on you, young feller," he shrilled. "I freely
acknowledge our indebtedness to you, but the day you get the notion
in your head that this office is an old soldiers' home--" He paused
thoughtfully. "I wonder what Skinner will pay you?" he
mused. "Oh, well," he continued, whatever it is, take it and say
nothing and when the moment is propitious--and provided you've
earned it--I'll intercede with the danged old relic and get you a
"Thank you very much, sir. You are most kind. Good-day,
And Bill Peck picked up his hat and limped out of The Presence.
Scarcely had the door closed behind him than Mr. Skinner re-entered
Cappy Ricks' lair. He opened his mouth to speak, but Cappy silenced
him with an imperious finger.
"Not a peep out of you, Skinner, my dear boy," he chirped
amiably. "I know exactly what you're going to say and I admit your
right to say it, but--as--ahem! Harumph-h-h!--now, Skinner, listen
to reason. How the devil could you have the heart to reject that
crippled ex-soldier? There he stood, on one sound leg, with his
sleeve tucked into his coat pocket and on his homely face the grin
of an unwhipped, unbeatable man. But you--blast your cold,
unfeeling soul, Skinner!--looked him in the eye and turned him down
like a drunkard turns down near-beer. Skinner, how could you
Undaunted by Cappy's admonitory finger, Mr. Skinner struck a
distinctly defiant attitude.
"There is no sentiment in business," he replied angrily. "A week
ago last Thursday the local posts of the American Legion commenced
their organized drive for jobs for their crippled and unemployed
comrades, and within three days you've sawed off two hundred and
nine such jobs on the various corporations that you control. The
gang you shipped up to the mill in Washington has already applied
for a charter for a new post to be known as Cappy Ricks Post No.
534. And you had experienced men discharged to make room for these
"You bet I did," Cappy yelled triumphantly. "It's always Old
Home Week in every logging camp and saw-mill in the Northwest for
I.W.W.'s and revolutionary communists. I'm sick of their
unauthorized strikes and sabotage, and by the Holy Pink-Toed
Prophet, Cappy Ricks Post. No. 534, American Legion, is the only
sort of back-fire I can think of to put the Wobblies on the
"Every office and ship and retail yard could be run by a
first-sergeant," Skinner complained. "I'm thinking of having
reveille and retreat and bugle calls and Saturday morning
inspections. I tell you, sir, the Ricks interests have absorbed all
the old soldiers possible and at the present moment those interests
are overflowing with glory. What we want are workers, not talkers.
These ex-soldiers spend too much time fighting their battles over
"Well, Comrade Peck is the last one I'll ask you to absorb,
Skinner," Cappy promised contritely. "Ever read Kipling's Barrack
Room Ballads, Skinner?"
"I have no time to read," Mr. Skinner protested.
"Go up town this minute and buy a copy and read one ballad
entitled 'Tommy,'" Cappy barked. "For the good of your immortal
soul," he added.
"Well, Comrade Peck doesn't make a hit with me, Mr. Ricks. He
applied to me for a job and I gave him his answer. Then he went to
Captain Matt and was refused, so, just to demonstrate his bad
taste, he went over our heads and induced you to pitchfork him into
a job. He'll curse the day he was inspired to do that."
"Skinner! Skinner! Look me in the eye! Do you know why I asked
you to take on Bill Peck?"
"I do. Because you're too tender-hearted for your own good."
"You unimaginative dunderhead! You jibbering jackdaw! How could
I reject a boy who simply would not be rejected? Why, I'll bet a
ripe peach that Bill Peck was one of the doggondest finest soldiers
you ever saw. He carries his objective. He sized you up just like
that, Skinner. He declined to permit you to block him. Skinner,
that Peck person has been opposed by experts. Yes, sir--experts!
What kind of a job are you going to give him, Skinner, my dear
"Andrews' job, of course."
"Oh, yes, I forgot. Skinner, dear boy, haven't we got about half
a million feet of skunk spruce to saw off on somebody?" Mr. Skinner
nodded and Cappy continued with all the naïve eagerness of one
who has just made a marvelous discovery, which he is confident will
revolutionize science. "Give him that stinking stuff to peddle,
Skinner, and if you can dig up a couple of dozen carloads of red
fir or bull pine in transit, or some short or odd-length stock, or
some larch ceiling or flooring, or some hemlock random stock--in
fact, anything the trade doesn't want as a gift--you get me, don't
Mr. Skinner smiled his swordfish smile. "And if he fails to make
good--au revoir, eh?"
"Yes, I suppose so, although I hate to think about it. On the
other hand, if he makes good he's to have Andrews' salary. We must
be fair, Skinner. Whatever our faults we must always be fair." He
rose and patted the general manager's lean shoulder. "There, there,
Skinner, my boy. Forgive me if I've been a
trifle--ah--ahem!--precipitate and--er--harumph-h-h! Skinner, if
you put a prohibitive price on that skunk fir, by the Holy
Pink-toed Prophet, I'll fire you! Be fair, boy, be fair. No dirty
work, Skinner. Remember, Comrade Peck has half of his left forearm
buried in France."
At twelve-thirty, as Cappy was hurrying up California Street to
luncheon at the Commercial Club, he met Bill Peck limping down the
sidewalk. The ex-soldier stopped him and handed him a card.
"What do you think of that, sir?" he queried. "Isn't it a neat
RICKS LUMBER &
and its products
William E. Peck
If you can drive nails in it--we have
Cappy Ricks ran a speculative thumb over Comrade Peck's business
card. It was engraved. And copper plates or steel dies are not made
in half an hour!
"By the Twelve Ragged Apostles!" This was Cappy's most terrible
oath and he never employed it unless rocked to his very
foundations. "Bill, as one bandit to another--come clean. When did
you first make up your mind to go to work for us?"
"A week ago," Comrade Peck replied blandly.
"And what was your grade when Kaiser Bill went A.W.O.L.?"
"I was a buck."
"I don't believe you. Didn't anybody ever offer you something
"Frequently. However, if I had accepted I would have had to
resign the nicest job I ever had. There wasn't much money in it,
but it was filled with excitement and interesting experiments. I
used to disguise myself as a Christmas tree or a box car and pick
off German sharp-shooters. I was known as Peck's Bad Boy. I was
often tempted to quit, but whenever I'd reflect on the number of
American lives I was saving daily, a commission was just a scrap of
paper to me."
"If you'd ever started in any other branch of the service you'd
have run John J. Pershing down to lance corporal. Bill, listen!
Have you ever had any experience selling skunk spruce?"
Comrade Peck was plainly puzzled. He shook his head. "What sort
of stock is it?" he asked.
"Humboldt County, California, spruce, and it's coarse and
stringy and wet and heavy and smells just like a skunk directly
after using. I'm afraid Skinner's going to start you at the
bottom--and skunk spruce is it.
"Can you drive nails in it, Mr. Ricks?"
"Does anybody ever buy skunk spruce, sir?"
"Oh, occasionally one of our bright young men digs up a half-wit
who's willing to try anything once. Otherwise, of course, we would
not continue to manufacture it. Fortunately, Bill, we have very
little of it, but whenever our woods boss runs across a good tree
he hasn't the heart to leave it standing, and as a result, we
always have enough skunk spruce on hand to keep our salesmen
"I can sell anything--at a price," Comrade Peck replied
unconcernedly, and continued on his way back to the office.
For two months Cappy Ricks saw nothing of Bill Peck. That
enterprising veteran had been sent out into the Utah, Arizona, New
Mexico and Texas territory the moment he had familiarized himself
with the numerous details regarding freight rates, weights and the
mills he represented, all things which a salesman should be
familiar with before he starts out on the road. From Salt Lake City
he wired an order for two carloads of larch rustic and in Ogden he
managed to inveigle a retail yard with which Mr. Skinner had been
trying to do business for years, into sampling a carload of skunk
spruce boards, random lengths and grades, at a dollar above the
price given him by Skinner. In Arizona he worked up some new
business in mining timbers, but it was not until he got into the
heart of Texas that Comrade Peck really commenced to demonstrate
his selling ability. Standard oil derricks were his specialty and
he shot the orders in so fast that Mr. Skinner was forced to wire
him for mercy and instruct him to devote his talent to the disposal
of cedar shingles and siding, Douglas fir and redwood. Eventually
he completed his circle and worked his way home, via Los Angeles,
pausing however, in the San Joaquin Valley to sell two more
carloads of skunk spruce. When this order was wired in, Mr. Skinner
came to Cappy Ricks with the telegram.
"Well, I must admit Comrade Peck can sell lumber," he announced
grudgingly. "He has secured five new accounts and here is an order
for two more carloads of skunk spruce. I'll have to raise his
salary about the first of the year.
"My dear Skinner, why the devil wait until the first of the
year? Your pernicious habit of deferring the inevitable parting
with money has cost us the services of more than one good man. You
know you have to raise Comrade Peck's salary sooner or later, so
why not do it now and smile like a dentifrice advertisement while
you're doing it? Comrade Peck will feel a whole lot better as a
result, and who knows? He may conclude you're a human being, after
all, and learn to love you?"
"Very well, sir. I'll give him the same salary Andrews was
getting before Peck took over his territory."
"Skinner, you make it impossible for me to refrain from showing
you who's boss around here. He's better than Andrews, isn't
"I think he is, sir."
"Well then, for the love of a square deal, pay him more and pay
it to him from the first day he went to work. Get out. You make me
nervous. By the way, how is Andrews getting along in his Shanghai
"He's helping the cable company pay its income tax. Cables about
three times a week on matters he should decide for himself. Matt
Peasley is disgusted with him."
"Ah! Well, I'm not disappointed. And I suppose Matt will be in
here before long to remind me that I was the bright boy who picked
Andrews for the job. Well, I did, but I call upon you to remember.
Skinner, when I'm assailed, that Andrews' appointment was
"Yes, sir, it was."
"Well, I suppose I'll have to cast about for his successor and
beat Matt out of his cheap 'I told you so' triumph. I think Comrade
Peck has some of the earmarks of a good manager for our Shanghai
office, but I'll have to test him a little further." He looked up
humorously at Mr. Skinner. "Skinner, my dear boy," he continued,
"I'm going to have him deliver a blue vase."
Mr. Skinner's cold features actually glowed. "Well, tip the
chief of police and the proprietor of the store off this time and
save yourself some money," he warned Cappy. He walked to the window
and looked down into California Street. He continued to smile.
"Yes," Cappy continued dreamily, "I think I shall give him the
thirty-third degree. You'll agree with me, Skinner, that if he
delivers the blue vase he'll be worth ten thousand dollars a year
as our Oriental manager?"
"I'll say he will," Mr. Skinner replied slangily.
"Very well, then. Arrange matters, Skinner, so that he will be
available for me at one o'clock, a week from Sunday. I'll attend to
the other details."
Mr. Skinner nodded. He was still chuckling when he departed for
his own office.
A week from the succeeding Saturday, Mr. Skinner did not come
down to the office, but a telephone message from his home informed
the chief clerk that Mr. Skinner was at home and somewhat
indisposed. The chief clerk was to advise Mr. Peck that he, Mr.
Skinner, had contemplated having a conference with the latter that
day, but that his indisposition would prevent this. Mr. Skinner
hoped to be feeling much better tomorrow, and since he was very
desirous of a conference with Mr. Peck before the latter should
depart on his next selling pilgrimage, on Monday, would Mr. Peck be
good enough to call at Mr. Skinner's house at one o'clock Sunday
afternoon? Mr. Peck sent back word that he would be there at the
appointed time and was rewarded with Mr. Skinner's thanks, via the
Promptly at one o'clock the following day, Bill Peck reported at
the general manager's house. He found Mr. Skinner in bed, reading
the paper and looking surprisingly well. He trusted Mr. Skinner
felt better than he looked. Mr. Skinner did, and at once entered
into a discussion of the new customers, other prospects he
particularly desired Mr. Peck to approach, new business to be
investigated, and further details without end. And in the midst of
this conference Cappy Riggs telephoned.
A portable telephone stood on a commode beside Mr. Skinner's
bed, so the latter answered immediately. Comrade Peck watched
Skinner listen attentively for fully two minutes, then heard him
"Mr. Ricks, I'm terribly sorry. I'd love to do this errand for
you, but really I'm under the weather. In fact, I'm in bed as I
speak to you now. But Mr. Peck is here with me and I'm sure he'll be
very happy to attend to the matter for you."
"By all means," Bill Peck hastened to assure the general
manager. "Who does Mr. Ricks want killed and where will he have the
"Hah-hah! Hah-Hah!" Mr. Skinner had a singularly annoying,
mirthless laugh, as if he begrudged himself such an unheard-of
indulgence. "Mr. Peck says," he informed Cappy, "that he'll be
delighted to attend to the matter for you. He wants to know whom
you want killed and where you wish the body delivered. Hah-hah!
Hah! Peck, Mr. Ricks will speak to you."
Bill Peck took the telephone. "Good afternoon, Mr. Ricks."
"Hello, old soldier. What are you doing this afternoon?"
"Nothing--after I conclude my conference with Mr. Skinner. By
the way, he has just given me a most handsome boost in salary, for
which I am most appreciative. I feel, however, despite Mr.
Skinner's graciousness, that you have put in a kind word for me
with him, and I want to thank you--"
"Tut, tut. Not a peep out of you, sir. Not a peep. You get
nothing for nothing from Skinner or me. However, in view of the
fact that you're feeling kindly toward me this afternoon, I wish
you'd do a little errand for me. I can't send a boy and I hate to
make a messenger out of you--er--ah--ahem! That is
"I have no false pride, Mr. Ricks."
"Thank you, Bill. Glad you feel that way about it. Bill, I was
prowling around town this forenoon, after church, and down in a
store on Sutter Street, between Stockton and Powell Street, on the
right hand side as you face Market Street, I saw a blue vase in a
window. I have a weakness for vases, Bill. I'm a sharp on them,
too. Now, this vase I saw isn't very expensive as vases go--in
fact, I wouldn't buy it for my collection--but one of the finest
and sweetest ladies of my acquaintance has the mate to that blue
vase I saw in the window, and I know she'd be prouder than Punch if
she had two of them--one for each side of her drawing room mantel,
"Now, I'm leaving from the Southern Pacific depot at eight
o'clock tonight, bound for Santa Barbara to attend her wedding
anniversary tomorrow night. I forget what anniversary it is, Bill,
but I have been informed by my daughter that I'll be very much
de trop if I send her any present other than something in
porcelain or China or Cloisonné--well, Bill, this crazy
little blue vase just fills the order. Understand?"
"Yes, sir. You feel that it would be most graceful on your part
if you could bring this little blue vase down to Santa Barbara with
you tonight. You have to have it tonight, because if you wait until
the store opens on Monday the vase will reach your hostess
twenty-four hours after her anniversary party."
"Exactly, Bill. Now, I've simply got to have that vase. If I had
discovered it yesterday I wouldn't be asking you to get it for me
"Please do not make any explanations or apologies, Mr. Ricks.
You have described the vase--no you haven't. What sort of blue is
it, how tall is it and what is, approximately, its greatest
diameter? Does it set on a base, or does it not? Is it a solid
blue, or is it figured?"
It's a Cloisonné vase, Bill--sort of old Dutch blue, or
Delft, with some Oriental funny-business on it. I couldn't describe
it exactly, but it has some birds and flowers on it. It's about a
foot tall and four inches in diameter and sets on a teak-wood
"Very well, sir. You shall have it."
"And you'll deliver it to me in stateroom A, car 7, aboard the
train at Third and Townsend Streets, at seven fifty-five
"Thank you, Bill. The expense will be trifling. Collect it from
the cashier in the morning, and tell him to charge it to my
account." And Cappy hung up.
At once Mr. Skinner took up the thread of the interrupted
conference, and it was not until three o'clock that Bill Peck left
his house and proceeded downtown to locate Cappy Rick's blue
He proceeded to the block in Sutter Street between Stockton and
Powell Streets, and although he walked patiently up one side of the
street and down the other, not a single vase of any description
showed in any shop window, nor could he find a single shop where
such a vase as Cappy had described might, perchance, be displayed
"I think the old boy has erred in the co-ordinates of the
target," Bill Peck concluded, "or else I misunderstood him. I'll
telephone his house and ask him to repeat them."
He did, but nobody was at home except a Swedish maid, and all
she knew was that Mr. Ricks was out and the hour of his return was
unknown. So Mr. Peck went back to Sutter Street and scoured once
more every shop window in the block. Then he scouted two blocks
above Powell and two blocks below Stockton. Still the blue vase
So he transferred his search to a corresponding area on Bush
Street, and when that failed, he went painstakingly over four
blocks of Post Street. He was still without results when he moved
one block further west and one further south and discovered the
blue vase in a huge plate-glass window of a shop on Geary Street
near Grant Avenue. He surveyed it critically and was convinced that
it was the object he sought.
He tried the door, but it was locked, as he had anticipated it
would be. So he kicked the door and raised an infernal racket,
hoping against hope that the noise might bring a watchman from the
rear of the building. In vain. He backed out to the edge of the
sidewalk and read the sign over the door:
B. Cohen's Art Shop
This was a start, so Mr. Peck limped over to the Palace Hotel
and procured a telephone directory. By actual count there were
nineteen B. Cohens scattered throughout the city, so before
commencing to call the nineteen, Bill Peck borrowed the city
directory from the hotel clerk and scanned it for the particular B.
Cohen who owned the art shop. His search availed him nothing. B.
Cohen was listed as an art dealer at the address where the blue
vase reposed in the show window. That was all.
"I suppose he's a commuter," Mr. Peck concluded, and at once
proceeded to procure directories of the adjacent cities of
Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda. They were not available, so in
despair he changed a dollar into five cent pieces, sought a
telephone booth and commenced calling up all the B. Cohens in San
Francisco. Of the nineteen, four did not answer, three were
temporarily disconnected, six replied in Yiddish, five were not the
B. Cohen he sought, and one swore he was Irish and that his name
was spelled Cohan and pronounced with an accent on both
The B. Cohens resident in Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, San
Rafael, Sausalito, Mill Valley, San Mateo, Redwood City and Palo
Alto were next telephoned to, and when this long and expensive task
was done, Ex-Private Bill Peck emerged from the telephone booth
wringing wet with perspiration and as irritable as a clucking hen.
Once outside the hotel he raised his haggard face to heaven and
dumbly queried of the Almighty what He meant by saving him from
quick death on the field of honor only to condemn him to be talked
to death by B. Cohens in civil life.
It was now six o'clock. Suddenly Peck had an inspiration. Was
the name spelled Cohen, Cohan, Cohn, Kohn or Coen?
"If I have to take a Jewish census again tonight I'll die," he
told himself desperately, and went back to the art shop.
The sign read: B. COHN'S ART SHOP.
"I wish I knew a bootlegger's joint," poor Peck complained. "I'm
pretty far gone and a little wood alcohol couldn't hurt me much
now. Why, I could have sworn that name was spelled with an E. It
seems to me I noted that particularly."
He went back to the hotel telephone booth and commenced calling
up all the B. Cohns in town. There were eight of them and six of
them were out, one was maudlin with liquor and the other was very
deaf and shouted unintelligibly.
"Peace hath its barbarities no less than war," Mr. Peck sighed.
He changed a twenty-dollar bill into nickles, dimes and quarters,
returned to the hot, ill-smelling telephone booth and proceeded to
lay down a barrage of telephone calls to the B. Cohns of all towns
of any importance contiguous to San Francisco Bay. And he was
lucky. On the sixth call he located the particular B. Cohn in San
Rafael, only to be informed by Mr. Cohn's cook that Mr. Cohn was
dining at the home of a Mr. Simons in Mill Valley.
There were three Mr. Simons in Mill Valley, and Peck called them
all before connecting with the right one. Yes, Mr. B. Cohn was
there. Who wished to speak to him? Mr. Heck? Oh, Mr. Lake! A
silence. Then--Mr. Cohn says he doesn't know any Mr. Lake and wants
to know the nature of your business. He is dining and doesn't like
to be disturbed unless the matter is of grave importance."
"Tell him Mr. Peck wishes to speak to him on a matter of very
great importance," wailed the ex-private.
"Mr. Metz? Mr. Ben Metz?
"No, no, no. Peck--p-e-c-k."
"Oh, yes, E. E-what?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Eckstein."
"Call Cohn to the 'phone or I'll go over there on the next boat
and kill you, you damned idiot," shrieked Peck. "Tell him his store
is on fire."
That message was evidently delivered for almost instantly Mr. B.
Cohn was puffing and spluttering into the phone.
"Iss dot der fire marshal?" he managed to articulate.
"Listen, Mr. Cohn. Your store is not on fire, but I had to say
so in order to get you to the telephone. I am Mr. Peck, a total
stranger to you. You have a blue vase in your shop window on Geary
Street in San Francisco. I want to buy it and I want to buy it
before seven forty-five tonight. I want you to come across the bay
and open the store and sell me that vase."
"Such a business! Vot you think I am? Crazy?"
"No, Mr. Cohn, I do not. I'm the only crazy man talking. I'm
crazy for that vase and I've got to have it right away."
"You know vot dot vase costs?" Mr. B. Cohn's voice dripped
"No, and I don't give a hoot what it costs. I want what I want
when I want it. Do I get it?"
"Ve-ell, lemme see. Vot time iss it?" A silence while B. Cohn
evidently looked at his watch. "It iss now a quarter of seven, Mr.
Eckstein, und der nexd drain from Mill Valley don't leaf until
eight o'clock. Dot vill get me to San Francisco at eight-fifty--und
I am dining mit friends und haf just finished my soup."
"To hell with your soup. I want that blue vase."
"Vell, I tell you, Mr. Eckstein, if you got to have it, call up
my head salesman, Herman Joost, in der Chilton Apardments--Prospect
three--two--four--nine, und tell him I said he should come down
right avay qvick und sell you dot blue vase. Goodbye, Mr.
And B. Cohn hung up.
Instantly Peck called Prospect 3249 and asked for Herman Joost.
Mr. Joost's mother answered. She was desolated because Herman was
not at home, but vouchsafed the information that he was dining at
the country club. Which country club? She did not know. So Peck
procured from the hotel clerk a list of the country clubs in and
around San Francisco and started calling them up. At eight o'clock
he was still being informed that Mr. Juice was not a member, that
Mr. Luce wasn't in, that Mr. Coos had been dead three months and
that Mr. Boos had played but eight holes when he received a
telegram calling him back to New York. At the other clubs Mr. Joust
"Licked," murmured Bill Peck, "but never let it be said that I
didn't go down fighting. I'm going to heave a brick through that
show window, grab the vase and run with it."
He engaged a taxicab and instructed the driver to wait for him
at the corner of Geary and Stockton Streets. Also, he borrowed from
the chauffeur a ball peen hammer. When he reached the art shop of
B. Cohn, however, a policeman was standing in the doorway,
violating the general orders of a policeman on duty by
surreptitiously smoking a cigar.
"He'll nab me if I crack that window," the desperate Peck
decided, and continued on down the street, crossed to the other
side and came back. It was now dark and over the art shop B. Cohn's
name burned in small red, white and blue electric lights.
And lo, it was spelled B. Cohen!
Ex-private William E. Peck sat down on a fire hydrant and cursed
with rage. His weak leg hurt him, too, and for some damnable
reason, the stump of his left arm developed the feeling that his
missing hand was itchy.
"The world is filled with idiots," he raved furiously. "I'm
tired and I'm hungry. I skipped luncheon and I've been too busy to
think of dinner."
He walked back to his taxicab and returned to the hotel where,
hope springing eternal in his breast, he called Prospect 3249 again
and discovered that the missing Herman Joost had returned to the
bosom of his family. To him the frantic Peck delivered the message
of B. Cohn, whereupon the cautious Herman Joost replied that he
would confirm the authenticity of the message by telephoning to Mr.
Cohn at Mr. Simon's home in Mill Valley. If Mr. B. Cohn or Cohen
confirmed Mr. Kek's story he, the said Herman Joost, would be at
the store sometime before nine o'clock, and if Mr. Kek cared to, he
might await him there.
Mr. Kek said he would be delighted to wait for him there.
At nine-fifteen Herman Joost appeared on the scene. On his way
down the street he had taken the precaution to pick up a policeman
and bring him along with him. The lights were switched on in the
store and Mr. Joost lovingly abstracted the blue vase from the
"What's the cursed thing worth?" Peck demanded.
"Two thousand dollars," Mr. Joost replied without so much as the
quiver of an eyelash. "Cash," he added, apparently as an
The exhausted Peck leaned against the sturdy guardian of the law
and sighed. This was the final straw. He had about ten dollars in
"You refuse, absolutely, to accept my check?" he quavered.
"I don't know you, Mr. Peck," Herman Joost replied simply.
"Where's your telephone?"
Mr. Joost led Peck to the telephone and the latter called up Mr.
"Mr. Skinner," he announced, "this is all that is mortal of Bill
Peck speaking. I've got the store open and for two thousand
dollars--cash--I can buy the blue vase Mr. Ricks has set his heart
"Oh, Peck, dear fellow," Mr. Skinner purred sympathetically.
"Have you been all this time on that errand?"
"I have. And I'm going to stick on the job until I deliver the
goods. For God's sake let me have two thousand dollars and bring it
down to me at B. Cohen's Art Shop on Geary Street near Grant
Avenue. I'm too utterly exhausted to go up after it."
"My dear Mr. Peck, I haven't two thousand dollars in my house.
That is too great a sum of money to keep on hand."
"Well, then, come downtown, open up the office safe and get the
money for me."
"Time lock on the office safe, Peck. Impossible."
"Well then, come downtown and identify me at hotels and
cafés and restaurants so I can cash my own check."
"Is your check good, Mr. Peck?"
The flood of invective which had been accumulating in Mr. Peck's
system all the afternoon now broke its bounds. He screamed at Mr.
Skinner a blasphemous invitation to betake himself to the lower
"Tomorrow morning," he promised hoarsely, "I'll beat you to
death with the stump of my left arm, you miserable, cold-blooded,
lazy, shiftless slacker."
He called up Cappy Ricks' residence next, and asked for Captain
Matt Peasley, who, he knew, made his home with his father-in-law.
Matt Peasley came to the telephone and listened sympathetically to
Peck's tale of woe.
"Peck, that's the worst outrage I ever heard of," he declared.
"The idea of setting you such a task. You take my advice and forget
the blue vase."
"I can't," Peck panted. "Mr. Ricks will feel mighty chagrined if
I fail to get the vase to him. I wouldn't disappoint him for my
right arm. He's been a dead game sport with me, Captain
"But it's too late to get the vase to him, Peck. He left the
city at eight o'clock and it is now almost half past nine."
"I know, but if I can secure legal possession of the vase I'll
get it to him before he leaves the train at Santa Barbara at six
o'clock tomorrow morning."
"There's a flying school out at the Marina and one of the pilots
there is a friend of mine. He'll fly to Santa Barbara with me and
"I know it. Please lend me two thousand dollars."
"To pay for the vase."
"Now I know you're crazy--or drunk. Why if Cappy Ricks ever
forgot himself to the extent of paying two hundred dollars for a
vase he'd bleed to death in an hour."
"Won't you let me have two thousand dollars, Captain
"I will not, Peck, old son. Go home and to bed and forget
"Please. You can cash your checks. You're known so much better
than I, and it's Sunday night--"
"And it's a fine way to keep holy the Sabbath day," Matt Peasley
retorted and hung up.
"Well," Herman Joost queried, "do we stay here all night?"
Bill Peck bowed his head. "Look here," he demanded suddenly, "do
you know a good diamond when you see it?"
"I do," Herman Joost replied.
"Will you wait here until I go to my hotel and get one?"
Bill Peck limped painfully away. Forty minutes later he returned
with a platinum ring set with diamonds and sapphires.
"What are they worth?" he demanded.
Herman Joost looked the ring over lovingly and appraised it
conservatively at twenty-five hundred dollars.
"Take it as security for the payment of my check," Peck pleaded.
"Give me a receipt for it and after my check has gone through
clearing I'll come back and get the ring."
Fifteen minutes later, with the blue vase packed in excelsior
and reposing in a stout cardboard box, Bill Peck entered a
restaurant and ordered dinner. When he had dined he engaged a taxi
and was driven to the flying field at the Marina. From the night
watchman he ascertained the address of his pilot friend and at
midnight, with his friend at the wheel, Bill Peck and his blue vase
soared up into the moonlight and headed south.
An hour and a half later they landed in a stubble field in the
Salinas Valley and, bidding his friend good-bye, Bill Peck trudged
across to the railroad track and sat down. When the train bearing
Cappy Ricks came roaring down the valley, Peck twisted a Sunday
paper with which he had provided himself, into an improvised torch,
which he lighted. Standing between the rails he swung the flaming
The train slid to a halt, a brakeman opened a vestibule door,
and Bill Peck stepped wearily aboard.
"What do you mean by flagging this train?" the brakeman demanded
angrily, as he signaled the engineer to proceed. "Got a
"No, but I've got the money to pay my way. And I flagged this
train because I wanted to change my method of travel. I'm looking
for a man in stateroom A of car 7, and if you try to block me
there'll be murder done."
"That's right. Take advantage of your half-portion arm and abuse
me," the brakeman retorted bitterly. "Are you looking for that
little old man with the Henry Clay collar and the white mutton-chop
"I certainly am."
"Well, he was looking for you just before we left San Francisco.
He asked me if I had seen a one-armed man with a box under his good
arm. I'll lead you to him."
A prolonged ringing at Cappy's stateroom door brought the old
gentleman to the entrance in his nightshirt.
"Very sorry to have to disturb you, Mr. Ricks," said Bill Peck,
"but the fact is there were so many Cohens and Cohns and Cohans,
and it was such a job to dig up two thousand dollars, that I failed
to connect with you at seven forty-five last night, as per orders.
It was absolutely impossible for me to accomplish the task within
the time limit set, but I was resolved that you should not be
disappointed. Here is the vase. The shop wasn't within four blocks
of where you thought it was, sir, but I'm sure I found the right
vase. It ought to be. It cost enough and was hard enough to get, so
it should be precious enough to form a gift for any friend of
Cappy Ricks stared at Bill Peck as if the latter were a
"By the Twelve Ragged Apostles!" he murmured. "By the Holy
Pink-toed Prophet! We changed the sign on you and we stacked the
Cohens on you and we set a policeman to guard the shop to keep you
from breaking the window, and we made you dig up two thousand
dollars on Sunday night in a town where you are practically
unknown, and while you missed the train at eight o'clock, you
overtake it at two o'clock in the morning and deliver the blue
vase. Come in and rest your poor old game leg, Bill. Brake-man, I'm
much obliged to you."
Bill Peck entered and slumped wearily down on the settee. "So it
was a plant?" he cracked, and his voice trembled with rage. "Well,
sir, you're an old man and you've been good to me, so I do not
begrudge you your little joke, but Mr. Ricks, I can't stand things
like I used to. My leg hurts and my stump hurts and my heart
He paused, choking, and the tears of impotent rage filled his
eyes. "You shouldn't treat me that way, sir," he complained
presently. "I've been trained not to question orders, even when
they seem utterly foolish to me; I've been trained to obey them--on
time, if possible, but if impossible, to obey them anyhow. I've
been taught loyalty to my chief--and I'm sorry my chief found it
necessary to make a buffoon of me. I haven't had a very good time
the past three years and--and--you can--pa-pa-pass your skunk
spruce and larch rustic and short odd length stock to some slacker
like Skinner--and you'd better--arrange--to replace--Skinner,
because he's young--enough to--take a beating--and I'm going
to--give it to him--and it'll be a hospital--job--sir--"
Cappy Ricks ruffled Bill Peck's aching head with a paternal
"Bill, old boy, it was cruel--damnably cruel, but I had a big
job for you and I had to find out a lot of things about you before
I entrusted you with that job. So I arranged to give you the Degree
of the Blue Vase, which is the supreme test of a go-getter. You
thought you carried into this stateroom a two thousand dollar vase,
but between ourselves, what you really carried in was a ten
thousand dollar job as our Shanghai manager."
"Every time I have to pick out a permanent holder of a job worth
ten thousand dollars, or more, I give the candidate the Degree of
the Blue Vase," Cappy explained. "I've had two men out of a field
of fifteen deliver the vase, Bill."
Bill Peck had forgotten his rage, but the tears of his recent
fury still glistened in his bold blue eyes. "Thank you, sir. I
forgive you--and I'll make good in Shanghai."
"I know you will, Bill. Now, tell me, son, weren't you tempted
to quit when you discovered the almost insuperable obstacles I'd
placed in your way?"
"Yes, sir, I was. I wanted to commit suicide before I'd finished
telephoning all the C-o-h-e-n-s in the world. And when I started on
the C-o-h-n-s--well, it's this way, sir. I just couldn't quit
because that would have been disloyal to a man I once knew."
"Who was he?" Cappy demanded, and there was awe in his
"He was my brigadier, and he had a brigade motto: It shall be
done. When the divisional commander called him up and told him to
move forward with his brigade and occupy certain territory, our
brigadier would say: 'Very well, sir. It shall be done.' If any
officer in his brigade showed signs of flunking his job because it
appeared impossible, the brigadier would just look at him once--and
then that officer would remember the motto and go and do his job or
"In the army, sir, the esprit de corps doesn't bubble up
from the bottom. It filters down from the top. An organization is
what its commanding officer is--neither better nor worse. In my
company, when the top sergeant handed out a week of kitchen police
to a buck, that buck was out of luck if he couldn't muster a grin
and say: 'All right, sergeant. It shall be done.'
"The brigadier sent for me once and ordered me to go out and get
a certain German sniper. I'd been pretty lucky--some days I got
enough for a mess--and he'd heard of me. He opened a map and said
to me: 'Here's about where he holes up. Go get him, Private Peck.'
Well, Mr. Ricks, I snapped into it and gave him a rifle salute, and
said, 'Sir, it shall be done'--and I'll never forget the look that
man gave me. He came down to the field hospital to see me after I'd
walked into one of those Austrian 88's. I knew my left wing was a
total loss and I suspected my left leg was about to leave me, and I
was downhearted and wanted to die. He came and bucked me up. He
said: 'Why, Private Peck, you aren't half dead. In civil life
you're going to be worth half a dozen live ones--aren't you?' But I
was pretty far gone and I told him I didn't believe it, so he gave
me a hard look and said: 'Private Peck will do his utmost to
recover and as a starter he will smile.' Of course, putting it in
the form of an order, I had to give him the usual reply, so I
grinned and said: 'Sir, it shall be done.' He was quite a man, sir,
and his brigade had a soul--his soul----"
"I see, Bill. And his soul goes marching on, eh? Who was he,
Bill Peck named his idol.
"By the Twelve Ragged Apostles!" There was awe in Cappy Ricks'
voice, there was reverence in his faded old eyes. "Son," he
continued gently, "twenty-five years ago your brigadier was a candidate
for an important job in my employ--and I gave him the Degree of the
Blue Vase. He couldn't get the vase legitimately, so he threw a
cobble-stone through the window, grabbed the vase and ran a mile
and a half before the police captured him. Cost me a lot of money
to square the case and keep it quiet. But he was too good, Bill,
and I couldn't stand in his way; I let him go forward to his
destiny. But tell me, Bill. How did you get the two thousand
dollars to pay for this vase?"
"Once," said ex-Private Peck thoughtfully, "the brigadier and I
were first at a dug-out entrance. It was a headquarters dug-out and
they wouldn't surrender, so I bombed them and then we went down. I
found a finger with a ring on it--and the brigadier said if I
didn't take the ring somebody else would. I left that ring as
security for my check."
"But how could you have the courage to let me in for a two
thousand dollar vase? Didn't you realize that the price was absurd
and that I might repudiate the transaction?"
"Certainly not. You are responsible for the acts of your
servant. You are a true blue sport and would never repudiate my
action. You told me what to do, but you did not insult my
intelligence by telling me how to do it. When my late brigadier
sent me after the German sniper he didn't take into consideration
the probability that the sniper might get me. He told me to get the
sniper. It was my business to see to it that I accomplished my
mission and carried my objective, which, of course, I could not
have done if I had permitted the German to get me."
"I see, Bill. Well, give that blue vase to the porter in the
morning. I paid fifteen cents for it in a five, ten and fifteen
cent store. Meanwhile, hop into that upper berth and help yourself
to a well-earned rest."
"But aren't you going to a wedding anniversary at Santa Barbara,
"I am not. Bill, I discovered a long time ago that it's a good
idea for me to get out of town and play golf as often as I can.
Besides which, prudence dictates that I remain away from the office
for a week after the seeker of blue vases fails to deliver the
goods and--by the way, Bill, what sort of a game do you play? Oh,
forgive me, Bill. I forgot about your left arm."
"Say, look here, sir," Bill Peck retorted, I'm big enough and
ugly enough to play one-handed golf."
"But, have you ever tried it?"
"No, sir," Bill Peck replied seriously, "but--it shall be