The Wrecker

Page 101

"Well, and that's a consideration," said the captain. "As a matter of principle, I wouldn't look at this business at the money. 'Not good enough,' would be my word. But even principle goes under when it comes to friends--the right sort, I mean. This Pinkerton is frightened, and he seems sick; the medico don't seem to care a cent about his state of health; and you've got to figure how you would like it if he came to die. Remember, the risk of this little swindle is all yours; it's no sort of risk to Mr. Pinkerton. Well, you've got to put it that way plainly, and see how you like the sound of it: my friend Pinkerton is in danger of the New Jerusalem, I am in danger of San Quentin; which risk do I propose to run?"

"That's an ugly way to put it," I objected, "and perhaps hardly fair. There's right and wrong to be considered."

"Don't know the parties," replied Nares; "and I'm coming to them, anyway. For it strikes me, when it came to smuggling opium, you walked right up?"

"So I did," I said; "sick I am to have to say it!"

"All the same," continued Nares, "you went into the opium- smuggling with your head down; and a good deal of fussing I've listened to, that you hadn't more of it to smuggle. Now, maybe your partner's not quite fixed the same as you are; maybe he sees precious little difference between the one thing and the other."

"You could not say truer: he sees none, I do believe," cried I; "and though I see one, I could never tell you how."

"We never can," said the oracular Nares; "taste is all a matter of opinion. But the point is, how will your friend take it? You refuse a favour, and you take the high horse at the same time; you disappoint him, and you rap him over the knuckles. It won't do, Mr. Dodd; no friendship can stand that. You must be as good as your friend, or as bad as your friend, or start on a fresh deal without him."

"I don't see it!" said I. "You don't know Jim!"

"Well, you WILL see," said Nares. "And now, here's another point. This bit of money looks mighty big to Mr. Pinkerton; it may spell life or health to him; but among all your creditors, I don't see that it amounts to a hill of beans--I don't believe it'll pay their car-fares all round. And don't you think you'll ever get thanked. You were known to pay a long price for the chance of rummaging that wreck; you do the rummaging, you come home, and you hand over ten thousand--or twenty, if you like--a part of which you'll have to own up you made by smuggling; and, mind! you'll never get Billy Fowler to stick his name to a receipt. Now just glance at the transaction from the outside, and see what a clear case it makes. Your ten thousand is a sop; and people will only wonder you were so damned impudent as to offer such a small one! Whichever way you take it, Mr. Dodd, the bottom's out of your character; so there's one thing less to be considered."

"I daresay you'll scarce believe me," said I, "but I feel that a positive relief."

"You must be made some way different from me, then," returned Nares. "And, talking about me, I might just mention how I stand. You'll have no trouble from me--you've trouble enough of your own; and I'm friend enough, when a friend's in need, to shut my eyes and go right where he tells me. All the same, I'm rather queerly fixed. My owners'll have to rank with the rest on their charter-party. Here am I, their representative! and I have to look over the ship's side while the bankrupt walks his assets ashore in Mr. Speedy's hat-box. It's a thing I wouldn't do for James G. Blaine; but I'll do it for you, Mr. Dodd, and only sorry I can't do more."

"Thank you, captain; my mind is made up," said I. "I'll go straight, RUAT COELUM! I never understood that old tag before to-night."

"I hope it isn't my business that decides you?" asked the captain.

"I'll never deny it was an element," said I. "I hope, I hope I'm not cowardly; I hope I could steal for Jim myself; but when it comes to dragging in you and Speedy, and this one and the other, why, Jim has got to die, and there's an end. I'll try and work for him when I get to 'Frisco, I suppose; and I suppose I'll fail, and look on at his death, and kick myself: it can't be helped--I'll fight it on this line."

"I don't say as you're wrong," replied Nares, "and I'll be hanged if I know if you're right. It suits me anyway. And look here-- hadn't you better just show our friends over the side?" he added; "no good of being at the risk and worry of smuggling for the benefit of creditors."

"I don't think of the creditors," said I. "But I've kept this pair so long, I haven't got the brass to fire them now."

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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