It shows how much I had suffered morally during my sojourn in San Francisco, that even now when our fortunes trembled in the balance, I should have consented to become a smuggler and (of all things) a smuggler of opium. Yet I did, and that in silence; without a protest, not without a twinge.
"And suppose," said I, "suppose the opium is so securely hidden that I can't get hands on it?"
"Then you will stay there till that brig is kindling-wood, and stay and split that kindling-wood with your penknife," cried Pinkerton. "The stuff is there; we know that; and it must be found. But all this is only the one string to our bow--though I tell you I've gone into it head-first, as if it was our bottom dollar. Why, the first thing I did before I'd raised a cent, and with this other notion in my head already--the first thing I did was to secure the schooner. The Nora Creina, she is, sixty-four tons, quite big enough for our purpose since the rice is spoiled, and the fastest thing of her tonnage out of San Francisco. For a bonus of two hundred, and a monthly charter of three, I have her for my own time; wages and provisions, say four hundred more: a drop in the bucket. They began firing the cargo out of her (she was part loaded) near two hours ago; and about the same time John Smith got the order for the stores. That's what I call business."
"No doubt of that," said I. "But the other notion?"
"Well, here it is," said Jim. "You agree with me that Bellairs was ready to go higher?"
"I saw where he was coming. "Yes--and why shouldn't he?" said I. "Is that the line?"
"That's the line, Loudon Dodd," assented Jim. "If Bellairs and his principal have any desire to go me better, I'm their man."
A sudden thought, a sudden fear, shot into my mind. What if I had been right? What if my childish pleasantry had frightened the principal away, and thus destroyed our chance? Shame closed my mouth; I began instinctively a long course of reticence; and it was without a word of my meeting with Bellairs, or my discovery of the address in Mission Street, that I continued the discussion.
"Doubtless fifty thousand was originally mentioned as a round sum," said I, "or at least, so Bellairs supposed. But at the same time it may be an outside sum; and to cover the expenses we have already incurred for the money and the schooner--I am far from blaming you; I see how needful it was to be ready for either event--but to cover them we shall want a rather large advance."
"Bellairs will go to sixty thousand; it's my belief, if he were properly handled, he would take the hundred," replied Pinkerton. "Look back on the way the sale ran at the end."
"That is my own impression as regards Bellairs, I admitted. "The point I am trying to make is that Bellairs himself may be mistaken; that what he supposed to be a round sum was really an outside figure."
"Well, Loudon, if that is so," said Jim, with extraordinary gravity of face and voice, "if that is so, let him take the Flying Scud at fifty thousand, and joy go with her! I prefer the loss."
"Is that so, Jim? Are we dipped as bad as that?" I cried.
"We've put our hand farther out than we can pull it in again, Loudon," he replied. "Why, man, that fifty thousand dollars, before we get clear again, will cost us nearer seventy. Yes, it figures up overhead to more than ten per cent a month; and I could do no better, and there isn't the man breathing could have done as well. It was a miracle, Loudon. I couldn't but admire myself. O, if we had just the four months! And you know, Loudon, it may still be done. With your energy and charm, if the worst comes to the worst, you can run that schooner as you ran one of your picnics; and we may have luck. And, O, man! if we do pull it through, what a dashing operation it will be! What an advertisement! what a thing to talk of, and remember all our lives! However," he broke off suddenly, "we must try the safe thing first. Here's for the shyster!"
There was another struggle in my mind, whether I should even now admit my knowledge of the Mission Street address. But I had let the favourable moment slip. I had now, which made it the more awkward, not merely the original discovery, but my late suppression to confess. I could not help reasoning, besides, that the more natural course was to approach the principal by the road of his agent's office; and there weighed upon my spirits a conviction that we were already too late, and that the man was gone two hours ago. Once more, then, I held my peace; and after an exchange of words at the telephone to assure ourselves he was at home, we set out for the attorney's office.