The Wrecker

Page 56

Pinkerton stared a moment on the intruder with no friendly eye, tore a leaf from his note-book, and scribbled a line in pencil, turned, beckoned a messenger boy, and whispered, "To Longhurst." Next moment the boy had sped upon his errand, and Pinkerton was again facing the auctioneer.

"Two hundred dollars," said Jim.

"And fifty," said the enemy.

"This looks lively," whispered I to Pinkerton.

"Yes; the little beast means cold drawn biz," returned my friend. "Well, he'll have to have a lesson. Wait till I see Longhurst. Three hundred," he added aloud.

"And fifty," came the echo.

It was about this moment when my eye fell again on Captain Trent. A deeper shade had mounted to his crimson face: the new coat was unbuttoned and all flying open; the new silk handkerchief in busy requisition; and the man's eye, of a clear sailor blue, shone glassy with excitement. He was anxious still, but now (if I could read a face) there was hope in his anxiety.

"Jim," I whispered, "look at Trent. Bet you what you please he was expecting this."

"Yes," was the reply, "there's some blame' thing going on here." And he renewed his bid.

The figure had run up into the neighbourhood of a thousand when I was aware of a sensation in the faces opposite, and looking over my shoulder, saw a very large, bland, handsome man come strolling forth and make a little signal to the auctioneer.

"One word, Mr. Borden," said he; and then to Jim, "Well, Pink, where are we up to now?"

Pinkerton gave him the figure. "I ran up to that on my own responsibility, Mr. Longhurst," he added, with a flush. "I thought it the square thing."

"And so it was," said Mr. Longhurst, patting him kindly on the shoulder, like a gratified uncle. "Well, you can drop out now; we take hold ourselves. You can run it up to five thousand; and if he likes to go beyond that, he's welcome to the bargain."

"By the by, who is he?" asked Pinkerton. "He looks away down."

"I've sent Billy to find out." And at the very moment Mr. Longhurst received from the hands of one of the expensive young gentlemen a folded paper. It was passed round from one to another till it came to me, and I read: "Harry D. Bellairs, Attorney-at-Law; defended Clara Varden; twice nearly disbarred."

"Well, that gets me!" observed Mr. Longhurst. "Who can have put up a shyster [1] like that? Nobody with money, that's a sure thing. Suppose you tried a big bluff? I think I would, Pink. Well, ta-ta! Your partner, Mr. Dodd? Happy to have the pleasure of your acquaintance, sir." And the great man withdrew.

[1] A low lawyer.

"Well, what do you think of Douglas B.?" whispered Pinkerton, looking reverently after him as he departed. "Six foot of perfect gentleman and culture to his boots."

During this interview the auction had stood transparently arrested, the auctioneer, the spectators, and even Bellairs, all well aware that Mr. Longhurst was the principal, and Jim but a speaking-trumpet. But now that the Olympian Jupiter was gone, Mr. Borden thought proper to affect severity.

"Come, come, Mr. Pinkerton. Any advance?" he snapped.

And Pinkerton, resolved on the big bluff, replied, "Two thousand dollars."

Bellairs preserved his composure. "And fifty," said he. But there was a stir among the onlookers, and what was of more importance, Captain Trent had turned pale and visibly gulped.

"Pitch it in again, Jim," said I. "Trent is weakening."

"Three thousand," said Jim.

"And fifty," said Bellairs.

And then the bidding returned to its original movement by hundreds and fifties; but I had been able in the meanwhile to draw two conclusions. In the first place, Bellairs had made his last advance with a smile of gratified vanity; and I could see the creature was glorying in the kudos of an unusual position and secure of ultimate success. In the second, Trent had once more changed colour at the thousand leap, and his relief, when he heard the answering fifty was manifest and unaffected. Here then was a problem: both were presumably in the same interest, yet the one was not in the confidence of the other. Nor was this all. A few bids later it chanced that my eye encountered that of Captain Trent, and his, which glittered with excitement, was instantly, and I thought guiltily, withdrawn. He wished, then, to conceal his interest? As Jim had said, there was some blamed thing going on. And for certain, here were these two men, so strangely united, so strangely divided, both sharp-set to keep the wreck from us, and that at an exorbitant figure.

The Wrecker Page 57

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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