The Wrecker

Page 95

"I didn't bring you ashore to sound my praises," he interrupted. "We understand one another now, that's all; and I guess you can trust me. What I wished to speak about is more important, and it's got to be faced. What are we to do about the Flying Scud and the dime novel?"

"I really have thought nothing about that," I replied. "But I expect I mean to get at the bottom of it; and if the bogus Captain Trent is to be found on the earth's surface, I guess I mean to find him."

"All you've got to do is talk," said Nares; "you can make the biggest kind of boom; it isn't often the reporters have a chance at such a yarn as this; and I can tell you how it will go. It will go by telegraph, Mr. Dodd; it'll be telegraphed by the column, and head-lined, and frothed up, and denied by authority, and it'll hit bogus Captain Trent in a Mexican bar-room, and knock over bogus Goddedaal in a slum somewhere up the Baltic, and bowl down Hardy and Brown in sailors' music halls round Greenock. O, there's no doubt you can have a regular domestic Judgment Day. The only point is whether you deliberately want to."

"Well," said I, "I deliberately don't want one thing: I deliberately don't want to make a public exhibition of myself and Pinkerton: so moral--smuggling opium; such damned fools--paying fifty thousand for a 'dead horse'!"

"No doubt it might damage you in a business sense," the captain agreed. "And I'm pleased you take that view; for I've turned kind of soft upon the job. There's been some crookedness about, no doubt of it; but, Law bless you! if we dropped upon the troupe, all the premier artists would slip right out with the boodle in their grip-sacks, and you'd only collar a lot of old mutton-headed shell-backs that didn't know the back of the business from the front. I don't take much stock in Mercantile Jack, you know that; but, poor devil, he's got to go where he's told; and if you make trouble, ten to one it'll make you sick to see the innocents who have to stand the racket. It would be different if we understood the operation; but we don't, you see: there's a lot of queer corners in life; and my vote is to let the blame' thing lie."

"You speak as if we had that in our power," I objected.

"And so we have," said he.

"What about the men?" I asked. "They know too much by half; and you can't keep them from talking."

"Can't I?" returned Nares. "I bet a boarding-master can! They can be all half-seas-over, when they get ashore, blind drunk by dark, and cruising out of the Golden Gate in different deep-sea ships by the next morning. Can't keep them from talking, can't I? Well, I can make 'em talk separate, leastways. If a whole crew came talking, parties would listen; but if it's only one lone old shell-back, it's the usual yarn. And at least, they needn't talk before six months, or--if we have luck, and there's a whaler handy--three years. And by that time, Mr. Dodd, it's ancient history."

"That's what they call Shanghaiing, isn't it?" I asked. "I thought it belonged to the dime novel."

"O, dime novels are right enough," returned the captain. "Nothing wrong with the dime novel, only that things happen thicker than they do in life, and the practical seamanship is off- colour."

"So we can keep the business to ourselves," I mused.

"There's one other person that might blab," said the captain. "Though I don't believe she has anything left to tell."

"And who is SHE?" I asked.

"The old girl there," he answered, pointing to the wreck. "I know there's nothing in her; but somehow I'm afraid of some one else--it's the last thing you'd expect, so it's just the first that'll happen--some one dropping into this God-forgotten island where nobody drops in, waltzing into that wreck that we've grown old with searching, stooping straight down, and picking right up the very thing that tells the story. What's that to me? you may ask, and why am I gone Soft Tommy on this Museum of Crooks? They've smashed up you and Mr. Pinkerton; they've turned my hair grey with conundrums; they've been up to larks, no doubt; and that's all I know of them --you say. Well, and that's just where it is. I don't know enough; I don't know what's uppermost; it's just such a lot of miscellaneous eventualities as I don't care to go stirring up; and I ask you to let me deal with the old girl after a patent of my own."

"Certainly--what you please," said I, scarce with attention, for a new thought now occupied my brain. "Captain," I broke out, "you are wrong: we cannot hush this up. There is one thing you have forgotten."

"What is that?" he asked.

"A bogus Captain Trent, a bogus Goddedaal, a whole bogus crew, have all started home," said I. "If we are right, not one of them will reach his journey's end. And do you mean to say that such a circumstance as that can pass without remark?"

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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