The Wrecker

Page 59

"O, if you're a pioneer," cried I, "come to me and I'll provide you with an axe."

"You'll want your axes for yourself, I fancy," he returned, with one of his quick looks. "Unless you have private knowledge, there will be a good deal of rather violent wrecking to do before you find that--opium, do you call it?"

"Well, it's either opium, or we are stark, staring mad," I replied. "But I assure you we have no private information. We went in (as I suppose you did yourself) on observation."

"An observer, sir?" inquired the judge.

"I may say it is my trade--or, rather, was," said I.

"Well now, and what did you think of Bellairs?" he asked.

"Very little indeed," said I.

"I may tell you," continued the judge, "that to me, the employment of a fellow like that appears inexplicable. I knew him; he knows me, too; he has often heard from me in court; and I assure you the man is utterly blown upon; it is not safe to trust him with a dollar; and here we find him dealing up to fifty thousand. I can't think who can have so trusted him, but I am very sure it was a stranger in San Francisco."

"Some one for the owners, I suppose," said I.

"Surely not!" exclaimed the judge. "Owners in London can have nothing to say to opium smuggled between Hong Kong and San Francisco. I should rather fancy they would be the last to hear of it--until the ship was seized. No; I was thinking of the captain. But where would he get the money? above all, after having laid out so much to buy the stuff in China? Unless, indeed, he were acting for some one in 'Frisco; and in that case--here we go round again in the vicious circle--Bellairs would not have been employed."

"I think I can assure you it was not the captain," said I; "for he and Bellairs are not acquainted."

"Wasn't that the captain with the red face and coloured handkerchief? He seemed to me to follow Bellairs's game with the most thrilling interest," objected Mr. Morgan.

"Perfectly true," said I; "Trent is deeply interested; he very likely knew Bellairs, and he certainly knew what he was there for; but I can put my hand in the fire that Bellairs didn't know Trent."

"Another singularity," observed the judge. "Well, we have had a capital forenoon. But you take an old lawyer's advice, and get to Midway Island as fast as you can. There's a pot of money on the table, and Bellairs and Co. are not the men to stick at trifles."

With this parting counsel Judge Morgan shook hands and made off along Montgomery Street, while I entered the Occidental Hotel, on the steps of which we had finished our conversation. I was well known to the clerks, and as soon as it was understood that I was there to wait for Pinkerton and lunch, I was invited to a seat inside the counter. Here, then, in a retired corner, I was beginning to come a little to myself after these so violent experiences, when who should come hurrying in, and (after a moment with a clerk) fly to one of the telephone boxes but Mr. Henry D. Bellairs in person? Call it what you will, but the impulse was irresistible, and I rose and took a place immediately at the man's back. It may be some excuse that I had often practised this very innocent form of eavesdropping upon strangers, and for fun. Indeed, I scarce know anything that gives a lower view of man's intelligence than to overhear (as you thus do) one side of a communication.

"Central," said the attorney, "2241 and 584 B" (or some such numbers)--"Who's that?--All right--Mr. Bellairs--Occidental; the wires are fouled in the other place--Yes, about three minutes--Yes--Yes--Your figure, I am sorry to say--No--I had no authority--Neither more nor less--I have every reason to suppose so--O, Pinkerton, Montana Block--Yes--Yes--Very good, sir--As you will, sir--Disconnect 584 B."

Bellairs turned to leave; at sight of me behind him, up flew his hands, and he winced and cringed, as though in fear of bodily attack. "O, it's you!" he cried; and then, somewhat recovered, "Mr. Pinkerton's partner, I believe? I am pleased to see you, sir--to congratulate you on your late success." And with that he was gone, obsequiously bowing as he passed.

And now a madcap humour came upon me. It was plain Bellairs had been communicating with his principal; I knew the number, if not the name; should I ring up at once, it was more than likely he would return in person to the telephone; why should not I dash (vocally) into the presence of this mysterious person, and have some fun for my money. I pressed the bell.

"Central," said I, "connect again 2241 and 584 B."

A phantom central repeated the numbers; there was a pause, and then "Two two four one," came in a tiny voice into my ear-- a voice with the English sing-song--the voice plainly of a gentleman. "Is that you again, Mr. Bellairs?" it trilled. "I tell you it's no use. Is that you, Mr. Bellairs? Who is that?"

The Wrecker Page 60

Robert Louis Stevenson

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