The Wrecker

Page 89

"Well, but at sea?" I said.

"You make me tired," retorted the captain. "What's the use--at sea? Everything's got to come to bearings at some port, hasn't it? You can't stop at sea for ever, can you?--No; the Flying Scud is rubbish; if it meant anything, it would have to mean something so almighty intricate that James G. Blaine hasn't got the brains to engineer it; and I vote for more axeing, pioneering, and opening up the resources of this phenomenal brig, and less general fuss," he added, arising. "The dime-museum symptoms will drop in of themselves, I guess, to keep us cheery."

But it appeared we were at the end of discoveries for the day; and we left the brig about sundown, without being further puzzled or further enlightened. The best of the cabin spoils-- books, instruments, papers, silks, and curiosities--we carried along with us in a blanket, however, to divert the evening hours; and when supper was over, and the table cleared, and Johnson set down to a dreary game of cribbage between his right hand and his left, the captain and I turned out our blanket on the floor, and sat side by side to examine and appraise the spoils.

The books were the first to engage our notice. These were rather numerous (as Nares contemptuously put it) "for a lime- juicer." Scorn of the British mercantile marine glows in the breast of every Yankee merchant captain; as the scorn is not reciprocated, I can only suppose it justified in fact; and certainly the old country mariner appears of a less studious disposition. The more credit to the officers of the Flying Scud, who had quite a library, both literary and professional. There were Findlay's five directories of the world--all broken-backed, as is usual with Findlay, and all marked and scribbled over with corrections and additions--several books of navigation, a signal code, and an Admiralty book of a sort of orange hue, called _Islands of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Vol. III._, which appeared from its imprint to be the latest authority, and showed marks of frequent consultation in the passages about the French Frigate Shoals, the Harman, Cure, Pearl, and Hermes reefs, Lisiansky Island, Ocean Island, and the place where we then lay--Brooks or Midway. A volume of Macaulay's _Essays_ and a shilling Shakespeare led the van of the belles lettres; the rest were novels: several Miss Braddons--of course, _Aurora Floyd_, which has penetrated to every isle of the Pacific, a good many cheap detective books, _Rob Roy_, Auerbach's _Auf der Hohe_ in the German, and a prize temperance story, pillaged (to judge by the stamp) from an Anglo-Indian circulating library.

"The Admiralty man gives a fine picture of our island," remarked Nares, who had turned up Midway Island. "He draws the dreariness rather mild, but you can make out he knows the place."

"Captain," I cried, "you've struck another point in this mad business. See here," I went on eagerly, drawing from my pocket a crumpled fragment of the _Daily Occidental_ which I had inherited from Jim: "'misled by Hoyt's Pacific Directory'? Where's Hoyt?"

"Let's look into that," said Nares. "I got that book on purpose for this cruise." Therewith he fetched it from the shelf in his berth, turned to Midway Island, and read the account aloud. It stated with precision that the Pacific Mail Company were about to form a depot there, in preference to Honolulu, and that they had already a station on the island.

"I wonder who gives these Directory men their information," Nares reflected. "Nobody can blame Trent after that. I never got in company with squarer lying; it reminds a man of a presidential campaign."

"All very well," said I. "That's your Hoyt, and a fine, tall copy. But what I want to know is, where is Trent's Hoyt?"

"Took it with him," chuckled Nares. "He had left everything else, bills and money and all the rest; he was bound to take something, or it would have aroused attention on the Tempest: 'Happy thought,' says he, 'let's take Hoyt.'"

"And has it not occurred to you," I went on, "that all the Hoyts in creation couldn't have misled Trent, since he had in his hand that red admiralty book, an official publication, later in date, and particularly full on Midway Island?"

"That's a fact!" cried Nares; "and I bet the first Hoyt he ever saw was out of the mercantile library of San Francisco. Looks as if he had brought her here on purpose, don't it? But then that's inconsistent with the steam-crusher of the sale. That's the trouble with this brig racket; any one can make half a dozen theories for sixty or seventy per cent of it; but when they're made, there's always a fathom or two of slack hanging out of the other end."

The Wrecker Page 90

Robert Louis Stevenson

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