The Wrecker

Page 69

"Now don't you start disappointing me," said Pinkerton; "for you're talking without thought. I'm not going to give you the run of the books of this firm, am I? I guess not. Well, this is not only a cruise; it's a business operation; and that's in the hands of my partner. You sail that ship, you see to breaking up that wreck and keeping the men upon the jump, and you'll find your hands about full. Only, no mistake about one thing: it has to be done to Mr. Dodd's satisfaction; for it's Mr. Dodd that's paying."

"I'm accustomed to give satisfaction," said Mr. Nares, with a dark flush.

"And so you will here!" cried Pinkerton. "I understand you. You're prickly to handle, but you're straight all through."

"The position's got to be understood, though," returned Nares, perhaps a trifle mollified. "My position, I mean. I'm not going to ship sailing-master; it's enough out of my way already, to set a foot on this mosquito schooner."

"Well, I'll tell you," retorted Jim, with an indescribable twinkle: "you just meet me on the ballast, and we'll make it a barquentine."

Nares laughed a little; tactless Pinkerton had once more gained a victory in tact. "Then there's another point," resumed the captain, tacitly relinquishing the last. "How about the owners?"

"O, you leave that to me; I'm one of Longhurst's crowd, you know," said Jim, with sudden bristling vanity. "Any man that's good enough for me, is good enough for them."

"Who are they?" asked Nares.

"M'Intyre and Spittal," said Jim.

"O, well, give me a card of yours," said the captain: "you needn't bother to write; I keep M'Intyre and Spittal in my vest-pocket."

Boast for boast; it was always thus with Nares and Pinkerton-- the two vainest men of my acquaintance. And having thus reinstated himself in his own opinion, the captain rose, and, with a couple of his stiff nods, departed.

"Jim," I cried, as the door closed behind him, "I don't like that man."

"You've just got to, Loudon," returned Jim. "He's a typical American seaman--brave as a lion, full of resource, and stands high with his owners. He's a man with a record."

"For brutality at sea," said I.

"Say what you like," exclaimed Pinkerton, "it was a good hour we got him in: I'd trust Mamie's life to him to-morrow."

"Well, and talking of Mamie?" says I.

Jim paused with his trousers half on. "She's the gallantest little soul God ever made!" he cried. "Loudon, I'd meant to knock you up last night, and I hope you won't take it unfriendly that I didn't. I went in and looked at you asleep; and I saw you were all broken up, and let you be. The news would keep, anyway; and even you, Loudon, couldn't feel it the same way as I did."

"What news?" I asked.

"It's this way," says Jim. "I told her how we stood, and that I backed down from marrying. 'Are you tired of me?' says she: God bless her! Well, I explained the whole thing over again, the chance of smash, your absence unavoidable, the point I made of having you for the best man, and that. 'If you're not tired of me, I think I see one way to manage,' says she. "Let's get married to-morrow, and Mr. Loudon can be best man before he goes to sea.' That's how she said it, crisp and bright, like one of Dickens's characters. It was no good for me to talk about the smash. 'You'll want me all the more,' she said. Loudon, I only pray I can make it up to her; I prayed for it last night beside your bed, while you lay sleeping--for you, and Mamie and myself; and--I don't know if you quite believe in prayer, I'm a bit Ingersollian myself--but a kind of sweetness came over me, and I couldn't help but think it was an answer. Never was a man so lucky! You and me and Mamie; it's a triple cord, Loudon. If either of you were to die! And she likes you so much, and thinks you so accomplished and distingue- looking, and was just as set as I was to have you for best man. 'Mr. Loudon,' she calls you; seems to me so friendly! And she sat up till three in the morning fixing up a costume for the marriage; it did me good to see her, Loudon, and to see that needle going, going, and to say 'All this hurry, Jim, is just to marry you!' I couldn't believe it; it was so like some blame' fairy story. To think of those old tin-type times about turned my head; I was so unrefined then, and so illiterate, and so lonesome; and here I am in clover, and I'm blamed if I can see what I've done to deserve it."

So he poured forth with innocent volubility the fulness of his heart; and I, from these irregular communications, must pick out, here a little and there a little, the particulars of his new plan. They were to be married, sure enough, that day; the wedding breakfast was to be at Frank's; the evening to be passed in a visit of God-speed aboard the Norah Creina; and then we were to part, Jim and I, he to his married life, I on my sea-enterprise. If ever I cherished an ill-feeling for Miss Mamie, I forgave her now; so brave and kind, so pretty and venturesome, was her decision. The weather frowned overhead with a leaden sky, and San Francisco had never (in all my experience) looked so bleak and gaunt, and shoddy, and crazy, like a city prematurely old; but through all my wanderings and errands to and fro, by the dock side or in the jostling street, among rude sounds and ugly sights, there ran in my mind, like a tiny strain of music, the thought of my friend's happiness.

The Wrecker Page 70

Robert Louis Stevenson

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