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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER XXV A DELICATE POINT
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 The afternoon was drawing to a close when Andrew, Olcott, and a friend of the latter's, carrying guns and spread out in line, entered a stretch of rough, boggy1 pasture near the river. Clumps2 of reeds and rushes grew along the open drains, water gleamed among the grass, and the bare trees on the high bank across the stream stood out sharp and black against a glow of saffron light. The men were wet to the knees, and a white setter, splashed with mire3, trotted4 in front of them. Murray, Olcott's friend, who was on Andrew's right, sprang across a broad drain and laughed when he alighted.  
"Over my boots, but my feet can't get any wetter," he remarked. "I don't know that this is a judicious5 amusement after being invalided6 home from the tropics; but it looks a likely place for a mallard."
Allinson had met Murray for the first time that morning, and noticed that the man, a government official in a West African colony, looked at him rather intently when they were introduced. They had, however, spent a pleasant day, and Andrew was going to Olcott's to dinner.
"I'm afraid the plover7 will put up any ducks there are about," he said. "They're a nuisance and you're not allowed to shoot them here. It will be bad to keep our line over this rough ground."
[Pg 258]Four or five lapwings, screaming shrilly8, wheeled in wide circles overhead, showing sharply black and white as the light struck them, and fading into indistinct gray patches as they turned in erratic9 flight. The men advanced cautiously, searching the ground with eager eyes, and keeping their positions as closely as possible. This was needful for the safety of the party in case a bird got up and crossed their line of march, when the right to first shot would be determined10 by the code of shooting etiquette11.
Andrew was plodding12 through a belt of rush with a plover circling close above his head when the setter, after creeping slowly forward for a few paces, suddenly stopped. Then a small gray object sprang up from a drain and Andrew threw his gun to his shoulder. He dropped it the next moment, with a low call to Murray:
"Your bird!"
The snipe had swung a little to the right in its swift flight, swerving13 in sharp corkscrew twists, and Murray's gun twice flashed. The bird, however, held on and faded against the dusky background of the river bank. Murray stopped and turned to Andrew with a laugh.
"I'm afraid I'm hardly up to snipe," he said. "It's a pity you were generous enough to give me the shot."
"It was yours by right."
"That," Murray disputed, "is an open point. If I had been in your place and could have hit the bird, I wouldn't have let it go. However, if the firing hasn't made them wild, you may get another chance."
The sun had sunk behind the tall bank and the pale yellow light that lingered was confusing when the setter flushed a second snipe, which went away at long range in front of Andrew. During a part of each quick gyration14 he could not see it, but when it was outlined[Pg 259] for a second, black against the light, his gun flashed and the bird fell among the reeds. When the setter had found it Murray looked surprised.
"Considering the bad light and the distance, it was a remarkably15 clean shot," he said. "I expected to see that you had hit it with only a stray pellet or two."
"I used the left barrel," Andrew explained, smiling. "It's a half-choke; an old gun. That accounts for the charge hanging together."
"It doesn't account for your killing16 your bird at a long range with shot which wouldn't spread. But it's getting dark and we've had enough."
They turned back to the nearest road, and an hour or two after reaching home Andrew walked across to Olcott's. Ethel Hillyard was there, and when they went into dinner Murray, sitting next to her, glanced at Andrew near the other end of the table.
"I was out with Mr. Allinson to-day," he said. "As he's a neighbor of yours, I've no doubt you know him pretty well. He struck me as a particularly straight man."
"He is so," declared Ethel warmly. "I don't know a straighter. Still, I don't see how you came to that conclusion by watching his shooting."
"It doesn't seem very obvious," Murray responded with a smile. "However, so far as my experience goes, a man who's scrupulous17 in one thing is very apt to prove the same in another. When we were out this afternoon, a snipe got up in front of him and he let me have the shot."
"But how does that prove his general honesty?"
"I'm not sure I was entitled to the shot, though as the bird headed slightly toward me there was some doubt about the matter. Allinson gave me the full benefit,[Pg 260] though I think he must have known that I would miss."
"Is it a great sacrifice to give up a shot?"
"A snipe," said Murray, "is very hard to hit, though Allinson showed us afterward18 that he is capable of bringing one down. Now when you know you can do a difficult thing neatly19, it's not easy to refrain."
"Perhaps that's true," Ethel agreed. "No doubt the temptation's stronger when you have an appreciative20 audience."
"Mine," said Murray, "was too polite to laugh."
Mrs. Olcott asked him a question and they changed the subject, but after dinner Murray found an opportunity for a word with Andrew, whom Olcott had left alone in his smoking-room.
"Perhaps it's hardly correct to talk to you on business here, and I won't press you, but there's some information you may be able to give me," he said.
Andrew looked at the man more carefully than he had hitherto done. Murray's face was thin and rather haggard, but it bore the stamp of authority. His manner was grave but pleasant.
"I am at your service," he replied.
"Then I want to ask about the Rain Bluff21 mine. A little time ago a stock-jobbing friend told me it ought to turn out a good thing. He said that whatever Allinson's took up could be relied on, and it was clear that he had a high opinion of your house. On the strength of it, I put some money into the venture." He paused with a smile. "Now, you are wondering why a man with means enough to speculate should go to West Africa?"
"Something like that was in my mind."
"Well, I learned that I'd the knack22 of getting on[Pg 261] with primitive23 peoples; in fact, it's my only talent, and I felt that I had to make use of it. Then it's a mysterious country, that gets hold of one, and perhaps is hardly so bad as it's painted. As a rule, I don't have fever more than half a dozen times a year. What's more to the purpose, part of the money was lately left to me. But I'm getting away from the point."
Andrew was favorably impressed by the man. They had something in common, for both were imbued24 with a sense of responsibility. Murray had lightly indicated this, and Andrew knew that West Africa is far from a desirable place to live.
"You have a reason for feeling anxious about those shares?"
"Yes. In my district, the risk of getting permanently25 disabled by the climate or shot by an ambushed26 nigger has to be considered. Stipend27 and pension are small, and I felt that I needed something to fall back on. That was why I bought the Rain Bluff stock. Now my friend tells me that the shares are being quietly sold in small lots, which he seems to think ominous28. If you can tell me anything about the matter, I'll be grateful."
Andrew was silent for a minute or two, feeling troubled. He did not pity the regular stock-jobbers and speculators who had bought Rain Bluff stock, for they were accustomed to playing a risky29 game. It was, however, different with such investors30 as Murray—men of small means, who had carefully saved something to provide for old age, and women left with just enough to keep them from want. These, he thought, formed a numerous class and demanded his sympathy. They had, no doubt, avoiding ventures which offered a larger return, been influenced by a desire for security,[Pg 262] which would seem to be promised by Allinson's connection with the mine.
"Well," he said at last, "I believe it is true that shares have been parted with by a man who has a say in the management of the company."
"That sounds discouraging. If I sell out, I'll lose three or four shillings on every share."
"Yes; and if others follow your example, it will weaken the Company's position. However, I think you can venture to keep your stock."
"You can't expect me to take the risk of holding, in order to support a concern in which I'm badly disappointed. I must ask you frankly31 what is wrong at the mine?"
"In strict confidence, I may say that the ore we are working does not promise well."
Murray looked at him in astonishment32.
"You are remarkably candid33; but you give me a curious reason for holding on to my shares."
"Here's a better one," said Andrew. "We have another mine in view; but whether it turns out rich or not, no holder34 of Rain Bluff stock shall lose a penny by his confidence in Allinson's."
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