The Skipper sat beside the table, quiet and self-contained as usual. His arm lay on the table, his hand was never far from the more precious shells, and his eyes did not leave the old man’s face; but he showed no sign of uneasiness. Why should he, when he could have lifted Mr. Endymion with his left hand and set him at any minute at the top of the cabin stairs? Now and then he took up a shell with apparent carelessness (though in reality he handled them with fingers as fine as a woman’s, knowing their every tenderest part, and where they might best be approached without offence to their delicacy), looked it over, and made some remark about its quality or value; but for the most part he was silent, letting the shells speak for themselves and make their own effect.
The old man had been wheezing and grunting painfully for some minutes, opening and shutting his hands, and actually scratching the table-cloth in his distress. At length he broke out, after a long silence.
“Who are ye, I want to know? How come you by these shells? I know something about what they’re wuth—that is—well, I know they aint wuth what you say they are, well enough; but they air wuth a good deal,—I know that. What I want to understand is, what you’re after here! What do you want, and why do you show me these things if—if—you come by them honestly. Hey?”
The Skipper smiled meditatively. “Yes!” he said, “we all like to know things,—part of our nature, sir—part of our nature. I, now, I like to know things, too. What you going to do with that boy, Mr. Scrape? I like to know that. You tell me, and perhaps you hear something about the shells, who know?”
The old man’s face darkened into a very ugly look.
“My name is Scraper, thank ye, not Scrape!” he said, dryly; “and as for the boy, I don’t know exactly where you come in there.”
The Skipper nodded. “True!” he said, tracing with his finger the fine lines of the Voluta Aulica; “you do not know where I come in there. In us both, knowledge has a limit, Mr. Scraper; yet I at the least am acquaint with your name. It is a fine name you have there,—Endymion! You should be a person of poetry, with this and your love for shells, hein? You love, without doubt, to gaze on the moon, Sir Scraper? You feel with her a connection, yes?”
“What the dickens are you talking about?” asked the old gentleman, testily. “How much do you want to swindle me out of for this Junonia, hey? not that I shall buy it, mind ye!”
“Three hundred!” said the Skipper; “and a bargain at that!”