"Who were the owners?" inquired one of the club men.
"O, the usual parties!" returned Loudon,--"Capsicum & Co."
A smile and a glance of intelligence went round the group; and perhaps Loudon gave voice to the general sentiment by remarking, "Talk of good business! I know nothing better than a schooner, a competent captain, and a sound, reliable reef."
"Good business! There's no such a thing!" said the Glasgow man. "Nobody makes anything but the missionaries--dash it!"
"I don't know," said another. "There's a good deal in opium."
"It's a good job to strike a tabooed pearl-island, say, about the fourth year," remarked a third; "skim the whole lagoon on the sly, and up stick and away before the French get wind of you."
"A pig nokket of cold is good," observed a German.
"There's something in wrecks, too," said Havens. "Look at that man in Honolulu, and the ship that went ashore on Waikiki Reef; it was blowing a kona, hard; and she began to break up as soon as she touched. Lloyd's agent had her sold inside an hour; and before dark, when she went to pieces in earnest, the man that bought her had feathered his nest. Three more hours of daylight, and he might have retired from business. As it was, he built a house on Beretania Street, and called it for the ship."
"Yes, there's something in wrecks sometimes," said the Glasgow voice; "but not often."
"As a general rule, there's deuced little in anything," said Havens.
"Well, I believe that's a Christian fact," cried the other. "What I want is a secret; get hold of a rich man by the right place, and make him squeal."
"I suppose you know it's not thought to be the ticket," returned Havens.
"I don't care for that; it's good enough for me," cried the man from Glasgow, stoutly. "The only devil of it is, a fellow can never find a secret in a place like the South Seas: only in London and Paris."
"M'Gibbon's been reading some dime-novel, I suppose," said one club man.
"He's been reading _Aurora Floyd_," remarked another.
"And what if I have?" cried M'Gibbon. "It's all true. Look at the newspapers! It's just your confounded ignorance that sets you snickering. I tell you, it's as much a trade as underwriting, and a dashed sight more honest."
The sudden acrimony of these remarks called Loudon (who was a man of peace) from his reserve. "It's rather singular," said he, "but I seem to have practised about all these means of livelihood."
"Tit you effer vind a nokket?" inquired the inarticulate German, eagerly.
"No. I have been most kinds of fool in my time," returned Loudon, "but not the gold-digging variety. Every man has a sane spot somewhere."
"Well, then," suggested some one, "did you ever smuggle opium?"
"Yes, I did," said Loudon.
"Was there money in that?"
"All the way," responded Loudon.
"And perhaps you bought a wreck?" asked another.
"Yes, sir," said Loudon.
"How did that pan out?" pursued the questioner.
"Well, mine was a peculiar kind of wreck," replied Loudon. "I don't know, on the whole, that I can recommend that branch of industry."
"Did she break up?" asked some one.
"I guess it was rather I that broke down," says Loudon. "Head not big enough."
"Ever try the blackmail?" inquired Havens.
"Simple as you see me sitting here!" responded Dodd.
"Well, I'm not a lucky man, you see," returned the stranger. "It ought to have been good."
"You had a secret?" asked the Glasgow man.
"As big as the State of Texas."
"And the other man was rich?"
"He wasn't exactly Jay Gould, but I guess he could buy these islands if he wanted."
"Why, what was wrong, then? Couldn't you get hands on him?"
"It took time, but I had him cornered at last; and then----"
"The speculation turned bottom up. I became the man's bosom friend."
"The deuce you did!"
"He couldn't have been particular, you mean?" asked Dodd pleasantly. "Well, no; he's a man of rather large sympathies."
"If you're done talking nonsense, Loudon," said Havens, "let's be getting to my place for dinner."