“Guess so,” he said. “You needn't fool with it. There's nothing else but a lead-pencil and a kind of worked-out knife.”
I looked in the bag, however, and was well rewarded.
“Every man to his trade, captain,” said I. “You're a sailor, and you've given me plenty of points; but I am an artist, and allow me to inform you this is quite as strange as all the rest. The knife is a palette-knife; the pencil a Winsor and Newton, and a B B B at that. A palette-knife and a B B B on a tramp brig! It's against the laws of nature.”
“It would sicken a dog, wouldn't it?” said Nares.
“Yes,” I continued, “it's been used by an artist, too: see how it's sharpened—not for writing—no man could write with that. An artist, and straight from Sydney? How can he come in?”
“Oh, that's natural enough,” sneered Nares. “They cabled him to come up and illustrate this dime novel.”
We fell a while silent.
“Captain,” I said at last, “there is something deuced underhand about this brig. You tell me you've been to sea a good part of your life. You must have seen shady things done on ships, and heard of more. Well, what is this? is it insurance? is it piracy? what is it about? what can it be for?”
“Mr. Dodd,” returned Nares, “you're right about me having been to sea the bigger part of my life. And you're right again when you think I know a good many ways in which a dishonest captain mayn't be on the square, nor do exactly the right thing by his owners, and altogether be just a little too smart by ninety-nine and three-quarters. There's a good many ways, but not so many as you'd think; and not one that has any mortal thing to do with Trent. Trent and his whole racket has got to do with nothing—that's the bed-rock fact; there's no sense to it, and no use in it, and no story to it—it's a beastly dream.
I couldn't find any wording like this. Is 'too smart by ninety-nine and three-quarters' common usage in such a context, is it idiomatic or have you to take it literally? Especially the wording 'by ninety-nine and three-quarters' troubles me. 'What does it mean or what does it express there?