The Wrecker

Page 68



I was unhappy when I closed my eyes; and it was to unhappiness that I opened them again next morning, to a confused sense of some calamity still inarticulate, and to the consciousness of jaded limbs and of a swimming head. I must have lain for some time inert and stupidly miserable, before I became aware of a reiterated knocking at the door; with which discovery all my wits flowed back in their accustomed channels, and I remembered the sale, and the wreck, and Goddedaal, and Nares, and Johnson, and Black Tom, and the troubles of yesterday, and the manifold engagements of the day that was to come. The thought thrilled me like a trumpet in the hour of battle. In a moment, I had leaped from bed, crossed the office where Pinkerton lay in a deep trance of sleep on the convertible sofa, and stood in the doorway, in my night gear, to receive our visitors.

Johnson was first, by way of usher, smiling. From a little behind, with his Sunday hat tilted forward over his brow, and a cigar glowing between his lips, Captain Nares acknowledged our previous acquaintance with a succinct nod. Behind him again, in the top of the stairway, a knot of sailors, the new crew of the Norah Creina, stood polishing the wall with back and elbow. These I left without to their reflections. But our two officers I carried at once into the office, where (taking Jim by the shoulder) I shook him slowly into consciousness. He sat up, all abroad for the moment, and stared on the new captain.

"Jim," said I, "this is Captain Nares. Captain, Mr. Pinkerton."

Nares repeated his curt nod, still without speech; and I thought he held us both under a watchful scrutiny.

"O!" says Jim, "this is Captain Nares, is it? Good morning, Captain Nares. Happy to have the pleasure of your acquaintance, sir. I know you well by reputation."

Perhaps, under the circumstances of the moment, this was scarce a welcome speech. At least, Nares received it with a grunt.

"Well, Captain," Jim continued, "you know about the size of the business? You're to take the Nora Creina to Midway Island, break up a wreck, call at Honolulu, and back to this port? I suppose that's understood?"

"Well," returned Nares, with the same unamiable reserve, "for a reason, which I guess you know, the cruise may suit me; but there's a point or two to settle. We shall have to talk, Mr. Pinkerton. But whether I go or not, somebody will; there's no sense in losing time; and you might give Mr. Johnson a note, let him take the hands right down, and set to to overhaul the rigging. The beasts look sober," he added, with an air of great disgust, "and need putting to work to keep them so."

This being agreed upon, Nares watched his subordinate depart and drew a visible breath.

"And now we're alone and can talk," said he. "What's this thing about? It's been advertised like Barnum's museum; that poster of yours has set the Front talking; that's an objection in itself, for I'm laying a little dark just now; and anyway, before I take the ship, I require to know what I'm going after."

Thereupon Pinkerton gave him the whole tale, beginning with a businesslike precision, and working himself up, as he went on, to the boiling-point of narrative enthusiasm. Nares sat and smoked, hat still on head, and acknowledged each fresh feature of the story with a frowning nod. But his pale blue eyes betrayed him, and lighted visibly.

"Now you see for yourself," Pinkerton concluded: "there's every last chance that Trent has skipped to Honolulu, and it won't take much of that fifty thousand dollars to charter a smart schooner down to Midway. Here's where I want a man!" cried Jim, with contagious energy. "That wreck's mine; I've paid for it, money down; and if it's got to be fought for, I want to see it fought for lively. If you're not back in ninety days, I tell you plainly, I'll make one of the biggest busts ever seen upon this coast; it's life or death for Mr. Dodd and me. As like as not, it'll come to grapples on the island; and when I heard your name last night--and a blame' sight more this morning when I saw the eye you've got in your head--I said, 'Nares is good enough for me!'"

"I guess," observed Nares, studying the ash of his cigar, "the sooner I get that schooner outside the Farallones, the better you'll be pleased."

"You're the man I dreamed of!" cried Jim, bouncing on the bed. "There's not five per cent of fraud in all your carcase."

"Just hold on," said Nares. "There's another point. I heard some talk about a supercargo."

"That's Mr. Dodd, here, my partner," said Jim.

"I don't see it," returned the captain drily. "One captain's enough for any ship that ever I was aboard."

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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