highly improbable event of a heavy N.W. gale, might last until next
"You will never know anything of literature," said I, when Jim had
finished. "That is a good, honest, plain piece of work, and tells the
story clearly. I see only one mistake: the cook is not a Chinaman; he is
a Kanaka, and I think a Hawaiian."
"Why, how do you know that?" asked Jim.
"I saw the whole gang yesterday in a saloon," said I. "I even heard the
tale, or might have heard it, from Captain Trent himself, who struck me
as thirsty and nervous."
"Well, that's neither here nor there," cried Pinkerton. "The point is,
how about these dollars lying on a reef?"
"Will it pay?" I asked.
"Pay like a sugar trust!" exclaimed Pinkerton. "Don't you see what this
British officer says about the safety? Don't you see the cargo's valued
at ten thousand? Schooners are begging just now; I can get my pick of
them at two hundred and fifty a month; and how does that foot up? It
looks like three hundred per cent. to me."
"You forget," I objected, "the captain himself declares the rice is
"That's a point, I know," admitted Jim. "But the rice is the sluggish
article, anyway; it's little more account than ballast; it's the tea
and silks that I look to: all we have to find is the proportion, and one
look at the manifest will settle that. I've rung up Lloyd's on purpose;
the captain is to meet me there in an hour, and then I'll be as posted
on that brig as if I built her. Besides, you've no idea what pickings
there are about a wreck - copper, lead, rigging, anchors, chains, even
the crockery, Loudon!"
"You seem to me to forget one trifle," said I. "Before you pick that
wreck, you've got to buy her, and how much will she cost?"
"One hundred dollars," replied Jim, with the promptitude of an
"How on earth do you guess that?" I cried.
"I don't guess; I know it," answered the Commercial Force. "My dear boy,
I may be a galoot about literature, but you'll always be an outsider in
business. How do you suppose I bought the James L. Moody for two hundred
and fifty, her boats alone worth four times the money? Because my name
stood first in the list. Well it stands there again; I have the naming
of the figure, and I name a small one because of the distance: but it
wouldn't matter what I named; that would be the price."
"It sounds mysterious enough," said I. "Is this public auction
conducted in a subterranean vault? Could a plain citizen - myself, for
instance - come and see?"
"O, everything's open and above board!" he cried indignantly. "Anybody
can come, only nobody bids against us; and if he did, he would get
frozen out. It's been tried before now, and once was enough. We hold
the plant; we've got the connection; we can afford to go higher than
any outsider; there's two million dollars in the ring; and we stick at
nothing. Or suppose anybody did buy over our head - I tell you, Loudon,
he would think this town gone crazy; he could no more get business
through on the city front than I can dance; schooners, divers, men - all
he wanted - the prices would fly right up and strike him."
"But how did you get in?" I asked. "You were once an outsider like your
neighbours, I suppose?"
"I took hold of that thing, Loudon, and just studied it up," he replied.
"It took my fancy; it was so romantic, and then I saw there was boodle
in the thing; and I figured on the business till no man alive could give
me points. Nobody knew I had an eye on wrecks till one fine morning I
dropped in upon Douglas B. Longhurst in his den, gave him all the facts
and figures, and put it to him straight: 'Do you want me in this ring?
or shall I start another?' He took half an hour, and when I came back,
'Pink,' says he, 'I've put your name on.' The first time I came to the
top, it was that Moody racket; now it's the Flying Scud."
Whereupon Pinkerton, looking at his watch, uttered an exclamation,
made a hasty appointment with myself for the doors of the Merchants'
Exchange, and fled to examine manifests and interview the skipper. I
finished my cigarette with the deliberation of a man at the end of many
picnics; reflecting to myself that of all forms of the dollar hunt, this
wrecking had by far the most address to my imagination. Even as I went
down town, in the brisk bustle and chill of the familiar San Francisco
thoroughfares, I was haunted by a vision of the wreck, baking so far
away in the strong sun, under a cloud of sea-birds; and even then, and
for no better reason, my heart inclined towards the adventure. If not
myself, something that was mine, some one at least in my employment,
should voyage to that ocean-bounded pin-point and descend to that
Pinkerton met me at the appointed moment, pinched of lip and more than
usually erect of bearing, like one conscious of great resolves.
"Well?" I asked.
"Well," said he, "it might be better, and it might be worse. This
Captain Trent is a remarkably honest fellow - one out of a thousand. As
soon as he knew I was in the market, he owned up about the rice in so
many words. By his calculation, if there's thirty mats of it saved, it's
an outside figure. However, the manifest was cheerier. There's about
five thousand dollars of the whole value in silks and teas and nut-oils
and that, all in the lazarette, and as safe as if it was in Kearney
Street. The brig was new coppered a year ago. There's upwards of a
hundred and fifty fathom away-up chain. It's not a bonanza, but there's
boodle in it; and we'll try it on."
It was by that time hard on ten o'clock, and we turned at once into
the place of sale. The Flying Scud, although so important to ourselves,
appeared to attract a very humble share of popular attention. The
auctioneer was surrounded by perhaps a score of lookers-on, big fellows,
for the most part, of the true Western build, long in the leg, broad in
the shoulder, and adorned (to a plain man's taste) with needless finery.
A jaunty, ostentatious comradeship prevailed. Bets were flying, and
nicknames. "The boys" (as they would have called themselves) were very
boyish; and it was plain they were here in mirth, and not on business.
Behind, and certainly in strong contrast to these gentlemen, I could
detect the figure of my friend Captain Trent, come (as I could very well
imagine that a captain would) to hear the last of his old vessel. Since
yesterday, he had rigged himself anew in ready-made black clothes, not
very aptly fitted; the upper left-hand pocket showing a corner of
silk handkerchief, the lower, on the other side, bulging with papers.
Pinkerton had just given this man a high character. Certainly he
seemed to have been very frank, and I looked at him again to trace (if
possible) that virtue in his face. It was red and broad and flustered
and (I thought) false. The whole man looked sick with some unknown
anxiety; and as he stood there, unconscious of my observation, he tore
at his nails, scowled on the floor, or glanced suddenly, sharply, and
fearfully at passers-by. I was still gazing at the man in a kind of
fascination, when the sale began.
Some preliminaries were rattled through, to the irreverent,
uninterrupted gambolling of the boys; and then, amid a trifle more
attention, the auctioneer sounded for some two or three minutes the pipe
of the charmer. Fine brig - new copper - valuable fittings - three fine
boats - remarkably choice cargo - what the auctioneer would call a
perfectly safe investment; nay, gentlemen, he would go further, he would
put a figure on it: he had no hesitation (had that bold auctioneer) in
putting it in figures; and in his view, what with this and that, and one
thing and another, the purchaser might expect to clear a sum equal to
the entire estimated value of the cargo; or, gentlemen, in other words,
a sum of ten thousand dollars. At this modest computation the
roof immediately above the speaker's head (I suppose, through the
intervention of a spectator of ventriloquial tastes) uttered a clear
"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" - whereat all laughed, the auctioneer himself
"Now, gentlemen, what shall we say?" resumed that gentleman, plainly
ogling Pinkerton, - "what shall we say for this remarkable opportunity?"
"One hundred dollars," said Pinkerton.
"One hundred dollars from Mr. Pinkerton," went the auctioneer, "one
hundred dollars. No other gentleman inclined to make any advance? One
hundred dollars, only one hundred dollars - - "
The auctioneer was droning on to some such tune as this, and I, on my
part, was watching with something between sympathy and amazement the
undisguised emotion of Captain Trent, when we were all startled by the
interjection of a bid.
"And fifty," said a sharp voice.
Pinkerton, the auctioneer, and the boys, who were all equally in the
open secret of the ring, were now all equally and simultaneously taken
"I beg your pardon," said the auctioneer. "Anybody bid?"
"And fifty," reiterated the voice, which I was now able to trace to
its origin, on the lips of a small, unseemly rag of human-kind. The
speaker's skin was gray and blotched; he spoke in a kind of broken song,
with much variety of key; his gestures seemed (as in the disease called
Saint Vitus's dance) to be imperfectly under control; he was badly
dressed; he carried himself with an air of shrinking assumption, as
though he were proud to be where he was and to do what he was doing,
and yet half expected to be called in question and kicked out. I think I
never saw a man more of a piece; and the type was new to me; I had never
before set eyes upon his parallel, and I thought instinctively of Balzac
and the lower regions of the _Comedie Humaine_.
Pinkerton stared a moment on the intruder with no friendly eye, tore
a leaf from his note-book, and scribbled a line in pencil, turned,
beckoned a messenger boy, and whispered, "To Longhurst." Next moment
the boy had sped upon his errand, and Pinkerton was again facing the
"Two hundred dollars," said Jim.
"And fifty," said the enemy.
"This looks lively," whispered I to Pinkerton.
"Yes; the little beast means cold drawn biz," returned my friend. "Well,
he'll have to have a lesson. Wait till I see Longhurst. Three hundred,"
he added aloud.
"And fifty," came the echo.
It was about this moment when my eye fell again on Captain Trent.
A deeper shade had mounted to his crimson face: the new coat was
unbuttoned and all flying open; the new silk handkerchief in busy
requisition; and the man's eye, of a clear sailor blue, shone glassy
with excitement. He was anxious still, but now (if I could read a face)
there was hope in his anxiety.
"Jim," I whispered, "look at Trent. Bet you what you please he was
"Yes," was the reply, "there's some blame' thing going on here." And he
renewed his bid.
The figure had run up into the neighbourhood of a thousand when I
was aware of a sensation in the faces opposite, and looking over my
shoulder, saw a very large, bland, handsome man come strolling forth and
make a little signal to the auctioneer.
"One word, Mr. Borden," said he; and then to Jim, "Well, Pink, where are
we up to now?"
Pinkerton gave him the figure. "I ran up to that on my own
responsibility, Mr. Longhurst," he added, with a flush. "I thought it
the square thing."
"And so it was," said Mr. Longhurst, patting him kindly on the shoulder,
like a gratified uncle. "Well, you can drop out now; we take hold
ourselves. You can run it up to five thousand; and if he likes to go
beyond that, he's welcome to the bargain."
"By the by, who is he?" asked Pinkerton. "He looks away down."
"I've sent Billy to find out." And at the very moment Mr. Longhurst
received from the hands of one of the expensive young gentlemen a folded
paper. It was passed round from one to another till it came to me, and I
read: "Harry D. Bellairs, Attorney-at-Law; defended Clara Varden; twice
"Well, that gets me!" observed Mr. Longhurst. "Who can have put up a
shyster  like that? Nobody with money, that's a sure thing. Suppose
you tried a big bluff? I think I would, Pink. Well, ta-ta! Your partner,
Mr. Dodd? Happy to have the pleasure of your acquaintance, sir." And the
great man withdrew.
 A low lawyer.
"Well, what do you think of Douglas B.?" whispered Pinkerton, looking
reverently after him as he departed. "Six foot of perfect gentleman and
culture to his boots."
During this interview the auction had stood transparently arrested, the
auctioneer, the spectators, and even Bellairs, all well aware that Mr.
Longhurst was the principal, and Jim but a speaking-trumpet. But now
that the Olympian Jupiter was gone, Mr. Borden thought proper to affect
"Come, come, Mr. Pinkerton. Any advance?" he snapped.
And Pinkerton, resolved on the big bluff, replied, "Two thousand
Bellairs preserved his composure. "And fifty," said he. But there was a
stir among the onlookers, and what was of more importance, Captain Trent
had turned pale and visibly gulped.
"Pitch it in again, Jim," said I. "Trent is weakening."
"Three thousand," said Jim.
"And fifty," said Bellairs.
And then the bidding returned to its original movement by hundreds and
fifties; but I had been able in the meanwhile to draw two conclusions.
In the first place, Bellairs had made his last advance with a smile of
gratified vanity; and I could see the creature was glorying in the kudos
of an unusual position and secure of ultimate success. In the second,
Trent had once more changed colour at the thousand leap, and his relief,
when he heard the answering fifty was manifest and unaffected. Here then
was a problem: both were presumably in the same interest, yet the one
was not in the confidence of the other. Nor was this all. A few bids
later it chanced that my eye encountered that of Captain Trent, and his,
which glittered with excitement, was instantly, and I thought guiltily,
withdrawn. He wished, then, to conceal his interest? As Jim had said,
there was some blamed thing going on. And for certain, here were these
two men, so strangely united, so strangely divided, both sharp-set to
keep the wreck from us, and that at an exorbitant figure.
Was the wreck worth more than we supposed? A sudden heat was kindled
in my brain; the bids were nearing Longhurst's limit of five thousand;
another minute, and all would be too late. Tearing a leaf from my
sketch-book, and inspired (I suppose) by vanity in my own powers of
inference and observation, I took the one mad decision of my life. "If
you care to go ahead," I wrote, "I'm in for all I'm worth."
Jim read and looked round at me like one bewildered; then his eyes
lightened, and turning again to the auctioneer, he bid, "Five thousand
one hundred dollars."
"And fifty," said monotonous Bellairs.
Presently Pinkerton scribbled, "What can it be?" and I answered, still
on paper: "I can't imagine; but there's something. Watch Bellairs; he'll
go up to the ten thousand, see if he don't."
And he did, and we followed. Long before this, word had gone abroad that
there was battle royal: we were surrounded by a crowd that looked on
wondering; and when Pinkerton had offered ten thousand dollars (the
outside value of the cargo, even were it safe in San Francisco Bay)
and Bellairs, smirking from ear to ear to be the centre of so much
attention, had jerked out his answering, "And fifty," wonder deepened to
"Ten thousand one hundred," said Jim; and even as he spoke he made a
sudden gesture with his hand, his face changed, and I could see that he
had guessed, or thought that he had guessed, the mystery. As he
scrawled another memorandum in his note-book, his hand shook like a
"Chinese ship," ran the legend; and then, in big, tremulous half-text,
and with a flourish that overran the margin, "Opium!"
To be sure! thought I: this must be the secret. I knew that scarce a
ship came in from any Chinese port, but she carried somewhere, behind a
bulkhead, or in some cunning hollow of the beams, a nest of the valuable
poison. Doubtless there was some such treasure on the Flying Scud. How
much was it worth? We knew not, we were gambling in the dark; but Trent
knew, and Bellairs; and we could only watch and judge.
By this time neither Pinkerton nor I were of sound mind. Pinkerton was
beside himself, his eyes like lamps. I shook in every member. To any
stranger entering (say) in the course of the fifteenth thousand, we
should probably have cut a poorer figure than Bellairs himself. But we
did not pause; and the crowd watched us, now in silence, now with a buzz
Seventeen thousand had been reached, when Douglas B. Longhurst, forcing
his way into the opposite row of faces, conspicuously and repeatedly
shook his head at Jim. Jim's answer was a note of two words: "My
racket!" which, when the great man had perused, he shook his finger
warningly and departed, I thought, with a sorrowful countenance.
Although Mr. Longhurst knew nothing of Bellairs, the shady lawyer knew
all about the Wrecker Boss. He had seen him enter the ring with manifest
expectation; he saw him depart, and the bids continue, with manifest
surprise and disappointment. "Hullo," he plainly thought, "this is not
the ring I'm fighting, then?" And he determined to put on a spurt.
"Eighteen thousand," said he.
"And fifty," said Jim, taking a leaf out of his adversary's book.
"Twenty thousand," from Bellairs.
"And fifty," from Jim, with a little nervous titter.
And with one consent they returned to the old pace, only now it was
Bellairs who took the hundreds, and Jim who did the fifty business. But
by this time our idea had gone abroad. I could hear the word "opium"
pass from mouth to mouth; and by the looks directed at us, I could see
we were supposed to have some private information. And here an incident
occurred highly typical of San Francisco. Close at my back there had
stood for some time a stout, middle-aged gentleman, with pleasant eyes,
hair pleasantly grizzled, and a ruddy, pleasing face. All of a sudden he
appeared as a third competitor, skied the Flying Scud with four fat
bids of a thousand dollars each, and then as suddenly fled the field,
remaining thenceforth (as before) a silent, interested spectator.
Ever since Mr. Longhurst's useless intervention, Bellairs had seemed
uneasy; and at this new attack, he began (in his turn) to scribble a
note between the bids. I imagined naturally enough that it would go to
Captain Trent; but when it was done, and the writer turned and looked
behind him in the crowd, to my unspeakable amazement, he did not seem to
remark the captain's presence.
"Messenger boy, messenger boy!" I heard him say. "Somebody call me a
At last somebody did, but it was not the captain.
"He's sending for instructions," I wrote to Pinkerton.
"For money," he wrote back. "Shall I strike out? I think this is the
"Thirty thousand," said Pinkerton, making a leap of close upon three
I could see doubt in Bellairs's eye; then, sudden resolution.
"Thirty-five thousand," said he.
"Forty thousand," said Pinkerton.
There was a long pause, during which Bellairs's countenance was as
a book; and then, not much too soon for the impending hammer, "Forty
thousand and five dollars," said he.
Pinkerton and I exchanged eloquent glances. We were of one mind.
Bellairs had tried a bluff; now he perceived his mistake, and was
bidding against time; he was trying to spin out the sale until the
messenger boy returned.
"Forty-five thousand dollars," said Pinkerton: his voice was like a
ghost's and tottered with emotion.
"Forty-five thousand and five dollars," said Bellairs.
"Fifty thousand," said Pinkerton.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Pinkerton. Did I hear you make an advance, sir?"
asked the auctioneer.
"I - I have a difficulty in speaking," gasped Jim. "It's fifty thousand,
Bellairs was on his feet in a moment. "Auctioneer," he said, "I have to
beg the favour of three moments at the telephone. In this matter, I am
acting on behalf of a certain party to whom I have just written - - "
"I have nothing to do with any of this," said the auctioneer, brutally.
"I am here to sell this wreck. Do you make any advance on fifty
"I have the honour to explain to you, sir," returned Bellairs, with a
miserable assumption of dignity. "Fifty thousand was the figure named by
my principal; but if you will give me the small favour of two moments at
the telephone - "
"O, nonsense!" said the auctioneer. "If you make no advance, I'll knock
it down to Mr. Pinkerton."
"I warn you," cried the attorney, with sudden shrillness. "Have a care
what you're about. You are here to sell for the underwriters, let me
tell you - not to act for Mr. Douglas Longhurst. This sale has been
already disgracefully interrupted to allow that person to hold a
consultation with his minions. It has been much commented on."
"There was no complaint at the time," said the auctioneer, manifestly
discountenanced. "You should have complained at the time."
"I am not here to conduct this sale," replied Bellairs; "I am not paid
"Well, I am, you see," retorted the auctioneer, his impudence quite
restored; and he resumed his sing-song. "Any advance on fifty thousand
dollars? No advance on fifty thousand? No advance, gentlemen? Going at
fifty thousand, the wreck of the brig Flying Scud - going - going - gone!"
"My God, Jim, can we pay the money?" I cried, as the stroke of the
hammer seemed to recall me from a dream.
"It's got to be raised," said he, white as a sheet. "It'll be a hell of
a strain, Loudon. The credit's good for it, I think; but I shall have to
get around. Write me a cheque for your stuff. Meet me at the Occidental
in an hour."
I wrote my cheque at a desk, and I declare I could never have recognised
my signature. Jim was gone in a moment; Trent had vanished even earlier;
only Bellairs remained exchanging insults with the auctioneer; and,
behold! as I pushed my way out of the exchange, who should run full tilt
into my arms, but the messenger boy?
It was by so near a margin that we became the owners of the Flying Scud.
CHAPTER X. IN WHICH THE CREW VANISH.
At the door of the exchange I found myself along-side of the short,
middle-aged gentleman who had made an appearance, so vigorous and so
brief, in the great battle.
"Congratulate you, Mr. Dodd," he said. "You and your friend stuck to
your guns nobly."
"No thanks to you, sir," I replied, "running us up a thousand at a time,
and tempting all the speculators in San Francisco to come and have a
"O, that was temporary insanity," said he; "and I thank the higher
powers I am still a free man. Walking this way, Mr. Dodd? I'll walk
along with you. It's pleasant for an old fogy like myself to see the
young bloods in the ring; I've done some pretty wild gambles in my time
in this very city, when it was a smaller place and I was a younger man.
Yes, I know you, Mr. Dodd. By sight, I may say I know you extremely
well, you and your followers, the fellows in the kilts, eh? Pardon me.
But I have the misfortune to own a little box on the Saucelito shore.
I'll be glad to see you there any Sunday - without the fellows in kilts,
you know; and I can give you a bottle of wine, and show you the best
collection of Arctic voyages in the States. Morgan is my name - Judge
Morgan - a Welshman and a forty-niner."
"O, if you're a pioneer," cried I, "come to me and I'll provide you with
"You'll want your axes for yourself, I fancy," he returned, with one
of his quick looks. "Unless you have private knowledge, there will be a
good deal of rather violent wrecking to do before you find that - opium,
do you call it?"
"Well, it's either opium, or we are stark, staring mad," I replied. "But
I assure you we have no private information. We went in (as I suppose
you did yourself) on observation."
"An observer, sir?" inquired the judge.
"I may say it is my trade - or, rather, was," said I.
"Well now, and what did you think of Bellairs?" he asked.
"Very little indeed," said I.
"I may tell you," continued the judge, "that to me, the employment of a
fellow like that appears inexplicable. I knew him; he knows me, too; he
has often heard from me in court; and I assure you the man is utterly
blown upon; it is not safe to trust him with a dollar; and here we find
him dealing up to fifty thousand. I can't think who can have so trusted
him, but I am very sure it was a stranger in San Francisco."