"I only want to put a single question," said I, civilly. "Why do you want to buy the Flying Scud?"
No answer came. The telephone vibrated and hummed in miniature with all the numerous talk of a great city; but the voice of 2241 was silent. Once and twice I put my question; but the tiny, sing-song English voice, I heard no more. The man, then, had fled? fled from an impertinent question? It scarce seemed natural to me; unless on the principle that the wicked fleeth when no man pursueth. I took the telephone list and turned the number up: "2241, Mrs. Keane, res. 942 Mission Street." And that, short of driving to the house and renewing my impertinence in person, was all that I could do.
Yet, as I resumed my seat in the corner of the office, I was conscious of a new element of the uncertain, the underhand, perhaps even the dangerous, in our adventure; and there was now a new picture in my mental gallery, to hang beside that of the wreck under its canopy of sea-birds and of Captain Trent mopping his red brow--the picture of a man with a telephone dice-box to his ear, and at the small voice of a single question, struck suddenly as white as ashes.
From these considerations I was awakened by the striking of the clock. An hour and nearly twenty minutes had elapsed since Pinkerton departed for the money: he was twenty minutes behind time; and to me who knew so well his gluttonous despatch of business and had so frequently admired his iron punctuality, the fact spoke volumes. The twenty minutes slowly stretched into an hour; the hour had nearly extended to a second; and I still sat in my corner of the office, or paced the marble pavement of the hall, a prey to the most wretched anxiety and penitence. The hour for lunch was nearly over before I remembered that I had not eaten. Heaven knows I had no appetite; but there might still be much to do--it was needful I should keep myself in proper trim, if it were only to digest the now too probable bad news; and leaving word at the office for Pinkerton, I sat down to table and called for soup, oysters, and a pint of champagne.
I was not long set, before my friend returned. He looked pale and rather old, refused to hear of food, and called for tea.
"I suppose all's up?" said I, with an incredible sinking.
"No," he replied; "I've pulled it through, Loudon; just pulled it through. I couldn't have raised another cent in all 'Frisco. People don't like it; Longhurst even went back on me; said he wasn't a three-card-monte man."
"Well, what's the odds?" said I. "That's all we wanted, isn't it?"
"Loudon, I tell you I've had to pay blood for that money," cried my friend, with almost savage energy and gloom. "It's all on ninety days, too; I couldn't get another day--not another day. If we go ahead with this affair, Loudon, you'll have to go yourself and make the fur fly. I'll stay of course--I've got to stay and face the trouble in this city; though, I tell you, I just long to go. I would show these fat brutes of sailors what work was; I would be all through that wreck and out at the other end, before they had boosted themselves upon the deck! But you'll do your level best, Loudon; I depend on you for that. You must be all fire and grit and dash from the word 'go.' That schooner and the boodle on board of her are bound to be here before three months, or it's B. U. S. T.--bust."
"I'll swear I'll do my best, Jim; I'll work double tides," said I. "It is my fault that you are in this thing, and I'll get you out again or kill myself. But what is that you say? 'If we go ahead?' Have we any choice, then?"
"I'm coming to that," said Jim. "It isn't that I doubt the investment. Don't blame yourself for that; you showed a fine, sound business instinct: I always knew it was in you, but then it ripped right out. I guess that little beast of an attorney knew what he was doing; and he wanted nothing better than to go beyond. No, there's profit in the deal; it's not that; it's these ninety-day bills, and the strain I've given the credit, for I've been up and down, borrowing, and begging and bribing to borrow. I don't believe there's another man but me in 'Frisco," he cried, with a sudden fervor of self admiration, "who could have raised that last ten thousand!--Then there's another thing. I had hoped you might have peddled that opium through the islands, which is safer and more profitable. But with this three-month limit, you must make tracks for Honolulu straight, and communicate by steamer. I'll try to put up something for you there; I'll have a man spoken to who's posted on that line of biz. Keep a bright lookout for him as soon's you make the islands; for it's on the cards he might pick you up at sea in a whaleboat or a steam-launch, and bring the dollars right on board."