The Wrecker

Page 102

Indeed, I believe that was my only reason for entering upon a transaction which was now outside my interest, but which (as it chanced) repaid me fifty-fold in entertainment. Fowler and Sharpe were both preternaturally sharp; they did me the honour in the beginning to attribute to myself their proper vices; and before we were done had grown to regard me with an esteem akin to worship. This proud position I attained by no more recondite arts, than telling the mere truth and unaffectedly displaying my indifference to the result. I have doubtless stated the essentials of all good diplomacy, which may be rather regarded, therefore, as a grace of state, than the effect of management. For to tell the truth is not in itself diplomatic, and to have no care for the result a thing involuntary. When I mentioned, for instance, that I had but two hundred and forty pounds of drug, my smugglers exchanged meaning glances, as who should say, "Here is a foeman worthy of our steel!" But when I carelessly proposed thirty-five dollars a pound, as an amendment to their offered twenty, and wound up with the remark: "The whole thing is a matter of moonshine to me, gentlemen. Take it or want it, and fill your glasses"--I had the indescribable gratification to see Sharpe nudge Fowler warningly, and Fowler choke down the jovial acceptance that stood ready on his lips, and lamely substitute a "No--no more wine, please, Mr. Dodd!" Nor was this all: for when the affair was settled at fifty dollars a pound--a shrewd stroke of business for my creditors--and our friends had got on board their whaleboat and shoved off, it appeared they were imperfectly acquainted with the conveyance of sound upon still water, and I had the joy to overhear the following testimonial.

"Deep man, that Dodd," said Sharpe.

And the bass-toned Fowler echoed, "Damned if I understand his game."

Thus we were left once more alone upon the Norah Creina; and the news of the night, and the lamentations of Pinkerton, and the thought of my own harsh decision, returned and besieged me in the dark. According to all the rubbish I had read, I should have been sustained by the warm consciousness of virtue. Alas, I had but the one feeling: that I had sacrificed my sick friend to the fear of prison-cells and stupid starers. And no moralist has yet advanced so far as to number cowardice amongst the things that are their own reward.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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