"For money," he wrote back. "Shall I strike out? I think this is the time."
"Thirty thousand," said Pinkerton, making a leap of close upon three thousand dollars.
I could see doubt in Bellairs's eye; then, sudden resolution. "Thirty-five thousand," said he.
"Forty thousand," said Pinkerton.
There was a long pause, during which Bellairs's countenance was as a book; and then, not much too soon for the impending hammer, "Forty thousand and five dollars," said he.
Pinkerton and I exchanged eloquent glances. We were of one mind. Bellairs had tried a bluff; now he perceived his mistake, and was bidding against time; he was trying to spin out the sale until the messenger boy returned.
"Forty-five thousand dollars," said Pinkerton: his voice was like a ghost's and tottered with emotion.
"Forty-five thousand and five dollars," said Bellairs.
"Fifty thousand," said Pinkerton.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Pinkerton. Did I hear you make an advance, sir?" asked the auctioneer.
"I--I have a difficulty in speaking," gasped Jim. "It's fifty thousand, Mr. Borden."
Bellairs was on his feet in a moment. "Auctioneer," he said, "I have to beg the favour of three moments at the telephone. In this matter, I am acting on behalf of a certain party to whom I have just written----"
"I have nothing to do with any of this," said the auctioneer, brutally. "I am here to sell this wreck. Do you make any advance on fifty thousand?"
"I have the honour to explain to you, sir," returned Bellairs, with a miserable assumption of dignity. "Fifty thousand was the figure named by my principal; but if you will give me the small favour of two moments at the telephone--"
"O, nonsense!" said the auctioneer. "If you make no advance, I'll knock it down to Mr. Pinkerton."
"I warn you," cried the attorney, with sudden shrillness. "Have a care what you're about. You are here to sell for the underwriters, let me tell you--not to act for Mr. Douglas Longhurst. This sale has been already disgracefully interrupted to allow that person to hold a consultation with his minions. It has been much commented on."
"There was no complaint at the time," said the auctioneer, manifestly discountenanced. "You should have complained at the time."
"I am not here to conduct this sale," replied Bellairs; "I am not paid for that."
"Well, I am, you see," retorted the auctioneer, his impudence quite restored; and he resumed his sing-song. "Any advance on fifty thousand dollars? No advance on fifty thousand? No advance, gentlemen? Going at fifty thousand, the wreck of the brig Flying Scud--going--going--gone!"
"My God, Jim, can we pay the money?" I cried, as the stroke of the hammer seemed to recall me from a dream.
"It's got to be raised," said he, white as a sheet. "It'll be a hell of a strain, Loudon. The credit's good for it, I think; but I shall have to get around. Write me a cheque for your stuff. Meet me at the Occidental in an hour."
I wrote my cheque at a desk, and I declare I could never have recognised my signature. Jim was gone in a moment; Trent had vanished even earlier; only Bellairs remained exchanging insults with the auctioneer; and, behold! as I pushed my way out of the exchange, who should run full tilt into my arms, but the messenger boy?
It was by so near a margin that we became the owners of the Flying Scud.
IN WHICH THE CREW VANISH.
At the door of the exchange I found myself along-side of the short, middle-aged gentleman who had made an appearance, so vigorous and so brief, in the great battle.
"Congratulate you, Mr. Dodd," he said. "You and your friend stuck to your guns nobly."
"No thanks to you, sir," I replied, "running us up a thousand at a time, and tempting all the speculators in San Francisco to come and have a try."
"O, that was temporary insanity," said he; "and I thank the higher powers I am still a free man. Walking this way, Mr. Dodd? I'll walk along with you. It's pleasant for an old fogy like myself to see the young bloods in the ring; I've done some pretty wild gambles in my time in this very city, when it was a smaller place and I was a younger man. Yes, I know you, Mr. Dodd. By sight, I may say I know you extremely well, you and your followers, the fellows in the kilts, eh? Pardon me. But I have the misfortune to own a little box on the Saucelito shore. I'll be glad to see you there any Sunday--without the fellows in kilts, you know; and I can give you a bottle of wine, and show you the best collection of Arctic voyages in the States. Morgan is my name--Judge Morgan--a Welshman and a forty-niner."