"Very well," said Jim, and put his hat on. "Rather a strong step, isn't it?" (Between every sentence was a clear pause.) "Not think better of it? Well, come--call it a dollar?"
"Mr. Pinkerton, sir!" exclaimed the offended attorney; and, indeed, I myself was almost afraid that Jim had mistaken his man and gone too far.
"No present use for a dollar?" says Jim. "Well, look here, Mr. Bellairs: we're both busy men, and I'll go to my outside figure with you right away--"
"Stop this, Pinkerton," I broke in. "I know the address: 924 Mission Street."
I do not know whether Pinkerton or Bellairs was the more taken aback.
"Why in snakes didn't you say so, Loudon?" cried my friend.
"You didn't ask for it before," said I, colouring to my temples under his troubled eyes.
It was Bellairs who broke silence, kindly supplying me with all that I had yet to learn. "Since you know Mr. Dickson's address," said he, plainly burning to be rid of us, "I suppose I need detain you no longer."
I do not know how Pinkerton felt, but I had death in my soul as we came down the outside stair, from the den of this blotched spider. My whole being was strung, waiting for Jim's first question, and prepared to blurt out, I believe, almost with tears, a full avowal. But my friend asked nothing.
"We must hack it," said he, tearing off in the direction of the nearest stand. "No time to be lost. You saw how I changed ground. No use in paying the shyster's commission."
Again I expected a reference to my suppression; again I was disappointed. It was plain Jim feared the subject, and I felt I almost hated him for that fear. At last, when we were already in the hack and driving towards Mission Street, I could bear my suspense no longer.
"You do not ask me about that address," said I.
"No," said he, quickly and timidly. "What was it? I would like to know."
The note of timidity offended me like a buffet; my temper rose as hot as mustard. "I must request you do not ask me," said I. "It is a matter I cannot explain."
The moment the foolish words were said, that moment I would have given worlds to recall them: how much more, when Pinkerton, patting my hand, replied: "All right, dear boy; not another word; that's all done. I'm convinced it's perfectly right." To return upon the subject was beyond my courage; but I vowed inwardly that I should do my utmost in the future for this mad speculation, and that I would cut myself in pieces before Jim should lose one dollar.
We had no sooner arrived at the address than I had other things to think of.
"Mr. Dickson? He's gone," said the landlady.
Where had he gone?
"I'm sure I can't tell you," she answered. "He was quite a stranger to me."
"Did he express his baggage, ma'am?" asked Pinkerton.
"Hadn't any," was the reply. "He came last night and left again to-day with a satchel."
"When did he leave?" I inquired.
"It was about noon," replied the landlady. "Some one rang up the telephone, and asked for him; and I reckon he got some news, for he left right away, although his rooms were taken by the week. He seemed considerable put out: I reckon it was a death."
My heart sank; perhaps my idiotic jest had indeed driven him away; and again I asked myself, Why? and whirled for a moment in a vortex of untenable hypotheses.
"What was he like, ma'am?" Pinkerton was asking, when I returned to consciousness of my surroundings.
"A clean shaved man," said the woman, and could be led or driven into no more significant description.
"Pull up at the nearest drug-store," said Pinkerton to the driver; and when there, the telephone was put in operation, and the message sped to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company's office-- this was in the days before Spreckels had arisen--"When does the next China steamer touch at Honolulu?"
"The City of Pekin; she cast off the dock to-day, at half-past one," came the reply.
"It's a clear case of bolt," said Jim. "He's skipped, or my name's not Pinkerton. He's gone to head us off at Midway Island."
Somehow I was not so sure; there were elements in the case, not known to Pinkerton--the fears of the captain, for example --that inclined me otherwise; and the idea that I had terrified Mr. Dickson into flight, though resting on so slender a foundation, clung obstinately in my mind. "Shouldn't we see the list of passengers?" I asked.
"Dickson is such a blamed common name," returned Jim; "and then, as like as not, he would change it."