THE FLAW IN THE SAPPHIRE
BY CHARLES M. SNYDER
AUTHOR OF "COMIC HISTORY OF GREECE" "RUNAWAY ROBINSON" "SNAP SHOTS" ETC.
NEW YORK THE METROPOLITAN PRESS 1909
Copyright, 1909, by THE METROPOLITAN PRESS Registered at Stationers' Hall, London (All Rights Reserved) Printed in the United States of America
Press of Wm. G. Hewitt 24-26 Vandewater St. New York
Augustine E. McBee
A friend who stands since "Auld Lang Syne" To all that's fine related; To him, this little book of mine Is duly dedicated.
—Charles M. Snyder. New York, September, 1909.
THE FLAW IN THE SAPPHIRE
Not long since there lived, in the city of Philadelphia, a young man of singular identity.
His only parallel was the comedian who is compelled to take himself seriously and make the most of it, or a tart plum that concludes in a mellow prune.
He was the affinity of two celebrated instances to the contrary.
To those who enjoy the whimsies of paradox he presented an astonishing resemblance, in countenance, to the late Benjamin Disraeli, and maintained in speech the unmistakable accent of O'Connell, the Hebrew statesman's Celtic antagonist.
For these reasons, until the nature of his business was discovered, he was regarded with interest by that class which is disposed to estimate the contents of a book by the character of the binding, or thinks it can measure a man's ability by the size of his hat.
On nearer acquaintance, he was relegated to the dubious distinction of an oddity to whom you would be pleased to introduce your friends if you had only a satisfactory account of his antecedents.
He was cheerful, startling, ready and adroit.
Until betrayed by his brief but effectual familiarities, it was a curious experience to remark the approach of this singular being and wonder at the appraising suggestion in his speculative glance.
Presently you decided that it was the intention of this young man to address you, and, unconsciously, you accorded him the opportunity, only to be scandalized the moment afterward by the query, altogether incongruous in such a promising aspect:
"Any old clothes to-day?"
And you passed on, chagrined and wondering.
For a number of years, while his auditors paused in an attempt to disentangle the Semite from the Celt, there was scarcely a day in which he had not subjected himself to the more or less pronounced hazards of rebuff incident to his invariable query, and there were few citizens of the sterner sex whom he had not thus addressed.
Apparently no consideration restrained him.
None was too dignified, none sufficiently austere to escape his solicitation; and while, as a rule, he waited until the object of his regard came to a standstill, he had been known to approach diagonally, and, at the point of incidence, presenting his query, pass on with a glance of impassive impersonality when it was evident that his overtures were futile or worse.
When successful in his forays, he would convey the results of his efforts to his father, who, after getting the garments thus secured in a condition of fictitious newness, displayed them in front of his establishment, marked with prices which, as he explained to those unwary enough to venture within the radius of his personality, brought him as near to nervous prostration as was possible for the parent of such inconsequent offspring.
However, no matter what the rewards of such industry, it must not be imagined that its disabilities did not insist upon due recognition and ugly ravel, and that such shred and fibre did not obtrude their unwelcome appeals for repair upon their central figure.
Shrewd, intelligent, persistent, he soon discovered that the very qualities which made him successful in his calling rendered him obnoxious to those who were unable to harmonize his promise with his condition.
However, like the majority of his countrymen, outside of those who constituted the Manhattan police force and provided the country with justices of the peace, this young man was a philosopher.
He could always provide a silver lining for a cloud as long as it was plausible to do so, and when he had exhausted his genial resources, he looked at facts squarely.
On this basis he decided, finally, that his was a case of "bricks without straw," enthusiasm minus its basis, an unhappy conclusion which was emphasized by his patient attempts to soften his angularities with the advantages provided by a night school.
Unfortunately, a business man, with an eye to the bizarre, to whom Dennis had presented some of his characteristic enterprises, had put the young Irishman in the way of securing a biography of the Hebrew premier, whom he provided with such an absurd travesty of likeness, and the "ole clo' merchant" was so impressed by the resolution and dexterity of the celebrated statesman, that he became, from that moment, the prey of a consuming ambition whose direction he could not determine.
He grew positive daily, however, that, in view of these stimulating aspirations, he could no longer pursue his embarrassing avocation.
On the basis, therefore, that the greater the pent the more pronounced the explosion, the young merchant developed a dangerous readiness to embrace the first opportunity that presented herself in the hope that the caress would be returned.
Presently, the determination to exchange his present humiliations for future uncertainties advanced him to the point where he informed his father of his decision, and the latter immediately succumbed to a collapse which was Hebraic in its despair and entirely Celtic in its manifestation.
When this irate parent realized, at last, that this invaluable arm of his business could not be diverted from its purpose, with cruel celerity he cut off his son from all further consideration and forbade him the premises.
With the previous week's salary in his pocket, which, fortunately, had been undisturbed, Dennis Muldoon, on the day succeeding this unhappy interview with his sire, set out for New York City with his few belongings condensed, with campaigning foresight, in a satchel whose size and appearance would scarcely inspire the confidence man to claim previous acquaintance with its owner in order to investigate its contents later.
In this manner protected from the insinuating blandishments of the "buncoes," and guided by his native shrewdness, Dennis finally found accommodation for his meager impedimenta in an unassuming lodging-house called The Stag.
This establishment reflected, in a curious way, the demands of its patrons.
Almost the entire first floor was occupied by the glittering details of a seductive barroom, through which one was compelled to pass, challenged on every side by alluring labels, before reaching the restaurant immediately in the rear.
Above, the floors were divided into numerous sleeping-rooms barely large enough to accommodate a bed, washstand and one chair—a sordid ensemble, unrelieved by any other wall decoration than the inevitable announcement: "This way to the fire escape."
By a singular coincidence which would have aroused a lively emotion in the moralist, a Bible occupied a small shelf directly under the instructions quoted above.
Dennis, however, was too weary to recognize the grim association, and shortly after his arrival retired for the night to recuperate his energies for the uncertainties of the morrow.
Awakening at dawn with a sincere hope that his dreams of a succession of disasters were not prophetic, and, despite the appeals of the glitter and the labels in the bar, breakfasting with his customary abstemiousness, Dennis issued from The Stag with a determination to make the effort of his life to secure employment.
He had no definite plans other than a profound determination to resist the invitations of Baxter Street, a thoroughfare congested from end to end with innumerable shops devoted to the species of merchandizing from which he had so recently escaped.
Here his talents would have procured for him ready recognition, a condition which deepened his determination to avoid all possible contact with these solicitous sons of Shem.
Beyond a singular desire to enter a large publishing house, Dennis had no idea as to the direction of his efforts.
Aside from the fact that books held an unaccountable fascination for him, he could not explain this predilection, for their influence over him was in the aggregate.
He loved to wander, with aimless preoccupation, among closely-packed shelves, and in pursuance of this indirection was familiar with the interior of every library in the city of Philadelphia.
He appeared to have too much respect for the books to touch them, and was sufficiently in awe of their contents not to attempt to read them.
He was impressed by the volume of things, and had, unsuspected by himself, the capacity of the bibliophile to detect and enjoy the subtle aroma which emanates from leaves and binding.
In harmony, therefore, with the resolute quality which had secured to him what success he had enjoyed in his abandoned business, Dennis decided to exhaust the pleasing possibilities presented by this elevated industry before applying elsewhere.
The eclat of possible authorship did not influence him, despite the encouragement afforded him in the surprising efforts of his imagination displayed in achievements such as the following, with which he embellished the front of his father's establishment:
This Suit was $50 and cheap at that I'll let it go for $20
and so on indefinitely.
Urged, then, by the advantages which lubricate the lines of least resistance, and stimulated by that clarion phrase in his unfailing campaign document, his copy of Beaconsfield: "I have begun many things many times and have finally succeeded," Dennis presented himself, about ten o'clock, at one of the well-known publishing houses.
With all the alarm which affects the fair debutante at a court presentation, he beheld the confusing labyrinth of counters, department aisles and shelves, which combine in such a depressing suggestion of intellectual plethora and transient futility in this famous edifice.
Advised by his sensations, Dennis was quite ready to assure himself that he had entered at the wrong portal, and, returning to the street, he discovered that the building concluded upon a rearway congested with a disorderly array of drays, cases and porters.
Encouraged by the assurance of these more familiar surroundings, Dennis cast an anxious glance about him to discover one more in authority than the others.
His quest was given direction by a familiar accent.
"Wake up, ye lazy divils! It's dhramin' ye are this marnin'."
Guided by the sound, Dennis beheld a naturally cheerful Irishman occupied with the double task of assuming an austere demeanor, and quickening, with brisk orders, the movements of the porters under his direction.
His present difficulties mastered, this vivacious master of ceremonies turned to look, with an inquiring glance, upon Dennis, who had presented himself to the attention of the former with the unmistakable appeal of the candidate in his demeanor.
"I want a job," said Dennis simply.
"Phwat?" inquired the foreman sharply, staring at the mosaic of physiognomy and accent embodied in Dennis.
"I want a job," repeated Dennis. "I nade wurk."
There was no mistaking the peculiar burr in the utterance of the last two words, but the foreman continued to regard the speaker with suspicious amazement.
"Phwat are ye, annyway?" he said with guarded brusqueness.
"A poor man, sir; I nade wurk."
"Oi don't mane that," with less severity at this frank acknowledgment; "but where do yez hail from—Limerick or Jerusalem?"
At this pointed question, which promptly reminded Dennis of the singular contradiction he presented, he replied, with a genuine Celtic adroitness that had an immediate effect upon his hearer:
"Nayther; I got off at the midway junction."
"Ha, ha!" laughed the foreman, as he appreciated this clever explanation of the singular compromise presented by Dennis. "Shure, that's not bad. By the mug ye wear, I wud advise ye to go to Baxther Street, but by the sound av ye, Oi rickommind th' Broadway squad. Wurrk, is it? Why don't ye presint that face at th' front? I hear they're shy on editors."
"Shure!" said Dennis, who believed that he was progressing; "but the only things I iver wrote were store signs."
"Ah, ha!" replied the foreman, "so it's handy with th' brush ye are."
"Yes," answered Dennis.
"Wait a bit," said the foreman, and pointing to a marking-outfit he directed Dennis to display his name and address upon a smooth pine board which he provided for that purpose:
DENNIS MULDOON, The Stag Hotel, Vesey St., N.Y.
"Ah, ha!" cried the foreman as he contrasted the name with the incongruous face of the young man before him, "ye don't have to play it on a flute, annyway; there's nothin' Sheeny about that." Then, directing his attention to the character of the work itself, he added: "That's not bad at all, at all. See here," he said abruptly, as he picked up the board which Dennis had decorated and fastened it to the warehouse wall with a nail, "Oi'll kape that for riferince. Oh, Oi mane it," he said with gruff assurance, as he noted the disappointment which shadowed the expressive face before him; "an' mebbe ye won't have to wait so long, nayther."
"I hope not," said Dennis frankly.
"Well, ye see," said the foreman, "the prisint incoombent has been mixin' too much red wid his paint, an' it don't wurrk."
"You mean he drinks?" asked Dennis with humorous inquiry.
"Oi do," replied the foreman; "an' now that we have inthroduced th' subject, excuse a personal quistion: Do ye wet yure whistle in business hours?"
"No," answered Dennis promptly, "nor out of them. Father attended to that part of the business."
"Well," replied the foreman, "Oi can't talk longer wid ye this marnin'. Come 'round be th' ind of the wake," and dismissing Dennis with a nod he withdrew into the warehouse.
The main feature of discouragement which presented itself to Dennis as he left this locality to ponder over its possibilities, was that the end of the week was five days off.
This was serious.
His rupture with Muldoon, senior, had left him but poorly provided with linen and lucre; and a campaign of assault upon the barricades of prejudice and suspicion, which was involved in the anxious solicitude of the man seeking employment, demanded every possible accessory of personal appearance and a reasonably equipped commissariat.
Anxious, therefore, to subject his meager resources to the least strain possible, Dennis at last succeeded in securing, in one of the more pretentious stores on Baxter Street, a contrivance for the relief of penury and threadbare gentility known at that time by the name of "dickey."
This convenience consisted in a series of three shirt bosoms made of paper to resemble the luxury of linen.
When the surface first exposed showed symptoms of soil or wear, its removal revealed a fresh bosom directly under.
Adjusted to his waistcoat, it was almost impossible to detect the agreeable sham, which, under favorable auspices, could be made to last for a week.
Thus equipped, Dennis proceeded to his hotel, where, after according the cheerful salutation of the industrious barkeeper the acknowledgment of a lively Irish nod, in which there was both fellowship and refusal, he proceeded to the rear, to banquet upon whatever offered the most for his money.
During the two days succeeding, Dennis, true to the apprehensive calculation natural to the unemployed, did not propose to rest upon the assurances of his Irish friend in the publishing house.
Anything untoward might occur.
In fact, he was familiar with this seamy side of Providence.
He had been so often misled by promises that it was only his wholesome Celtic faith and prompt capacity to rebound which kept him from becoming entirely blase.
His experience, however, left him alert. So he applied industriously at various establishments for employment, and received his first lessons in the courteous duplicity which ostentatiously files the application for future reference, and the cruel kindness of frank rebuff.
On the morning of the third day of this futile foray, Dennis noticed that the exposed bosom of his dickey was not altogether presentable.
It appeared to have registered the record of his applications and failures, and, as such, was not a good campaign document, so to speak.
Having progressed in his simple toilet up to the point of embellishment, he proceeded to tear away the soiled surface, and in doing so discovered not only the clean bosom beneath, but that the rear of the one just detached was covered with a block of minute print.
Drawing the solitary chair close to the window, he read by the light of early dawn the following extraordinary compilation.
In the city of —— there lived one Rodman Raikes, unpopularly known as the "Fist."
The title, however, was not in recognition of personal prowess, for no more cringing, evasive creature ever existed.
He was little in mind, little in body, and little in his dealings.
If a principle could ever be concrete, Raikes was the embodiment of the grasping and the uselessly abstemious.
He appeared to shun a generous sentiment as one would avoid an infected locality, and usually walked with head tilted and body bent as if engaged in following a clue or intent upon the search of some stray nickel.
He was thoroughly despised by all who knew him, a sentiment which he returned with vicious interest, and never neglected an opportunity of lodging some sneering shaft where it would cause the most irritation.
His character was so much in harmony with these generalizations that he had been described as dividing his laughter into chuckles—if the strident rasp which he indulged could be called by that name—in order that it might last the longer; and that he grinned in grudging instalments.
His obvious possession was an entire row of brick houses, in the most insignificant of which he dwelt.
Over this sparse domicile a spinster sister presided, who reflected, on compulsion, in the manner of a sickly moon, the attenuity and shrivel of her brother.
A nephew of Raikes' completed the circuit.
This young man intruded upon this strange household an aspect so curiously at variance with that of his rickety elders that he suggested to the fanciful the grim idea of having exhausted the contents of the larder and compelled the other two to shift for themselves.
He was, in the eyes of the disapproving Raikes, offensively plump; an example of incredible expenditure applied to personal gratification and gluttonous indulgence.
The miser behaved as if he appeared to consider it a mark of studied disrespect to be compelled to contrast his gaunt leanness with the young man's embonpoint, and was propitiated only by the reflection that he contributed in no way to his nephew's physical disproportion, since the latter was able to be at charges for his own welfare from resources derived from steady outside employment.
Adjoining the house occupied by Raikes, and connected with it by a doorway let into the wall, was a series of three dwellings used as a boarding-establishment by a widow who had seen better days and was tireless in alluding to them.
These buildings had been remodeled to communicate with each other, a continuity that concluded with the Raikes apartments.
For some reason this miserable man preferred to occupy the portion just indicated with no other tenants than his gaunt sister and the robust Robert.
This arrangement was all the more curious from the fact that Raikes made no attempt to dispose of, in fact, strangely resented any suggestion of letting, the lower floor of his end of the row.
That one of his avaricious disposition could thus forego such a prospect of advantage was the occasion of much speculation.
If Robert understood he gave no hint; and if the boarders on the other side of the partition indulged in curious comment they refrained from doing so in his presence.
The suggestion had been made that Raikes secreted something about that portion of the premises he occupied, but since none had the courage to investigate such a possibility, the problems it created were permitted to pass unsolved or serve to tantalize the imagination.
Regularly, at meal-time, the door leading from the Raikes apartment would open, and the mean figure of the miser, after presenting itself for one hesitating, suspicious moment, would slip silently through and subside into a near-by chair at one of the tables.
Directly after, the spinster would filter through with the mien of an apologetic phantom, and Raikes at once established the basis of indulgence by tentative nibbles of this and that, which were almost Barmecidian in their meagerness, and the sister, under his sordid supervision, followed his miserable example.
With singular perversity, in the midst of reasonable abundance, he forbore to accept the full measure of his privileges.
The discipline of denial was essential to the austere economies he practiced in all other directions, and his sister, rather than submit to the hardness of his rebukes, acquiesced with dismal resignation.
Robert was able to endure the table behavior of his uncle no more than the others, and so occupied a seat in the dining-room surrounded by more agreeable conditions.
If this course was intended as a diplomatic frankness to indicate to Raikes that his nephew did not expect a legacy to follow the demise of that austere relative, no one could determine.
The young man, however, continued to sit in whatever portion of the apartment he pleased and enjoy himself as much as the handicap of his relationship would permit.
On this basis, as if to manifest in himself the law of compensation, Robert grew vicariously robust, and accepted, with cynical good humor, the irritation of his uncle over his adipose.
Raikes and his sister had the table at which they sat entirely to themselves.
Only on the infrequent occasions of congestion had others been known to occupy seats at the same board.
It was more than hungry human nature, as embodied in most of the inmates, could stand to witness this exasperating refusal to accept a reasonable measure of what was set before them; a disability to which the scarcely concealed scowls of the exacting miser added the chill finishing touch.
One morning, however, a new boarder arrived.
Accommodations could not be found for him at the other tables, and, as was the custom of the widow under such circumstances, he was intruded upon the society of this morbid duet, after the manner of his predecessors.
If the usual rebellion matured at such association on the part of this recent guest, the landlady expected to be assisted by one of those vacancies which occur with such incalculable irregularity, yet reasonable certainty, in establishments of this character.
At this a prompt transfer would be effected.
This, however, was an unusual boarder.
If his presence was obnoxious to Raikes, the latter refused to realize it; if the miser had his peculiarities, the newcomer did not see them.
He ate his meals in silence, with an abstemiousness that, unknown to himself, recommended him as cordially as any consideration might to his shriveled table companion; made friendly overtures, disguised in perfunctory courtesies, of passing the bread or the butter when either was beyond the nervous reach of the eccentric Raikes, and ventured an impassive suggestion or two as to the probable conduct of the weather.
In appearance the newcomer was startling.
His complexion was a berry-brown; his expression, aside from his eyes, was singularly composed.
These were uncommonly black and piercing, and peeped from receding sockets through heavy eyebrows, which hung like an ambush over their dart and gleam.
His nose was a decisive aquiline, beneath which his lips, at once firm and sensitive, pressed together changelessly.
His figure was tall and spare and usually clad in black, a habit which emphasized his already picturesque countenance.
There was an indescribable air about him which suggested event, transpired or about to transpire, which introduced a sort of eerie distinction to the commonplace surroundings in which he found himself, and invited many a glance of curious speculation in his direction.
All this was not without its effect upon Raikes, and it was remarked, with the astonishment the occasion justified, that the miser, in the ensuing days, emerged from his customary austerity to the extent of reciprocal amenities in the passage of bread and salt.
However, this was but the beginning.
Raikes discovered himself, at last, responding, with a degree of chill urbanity, to the advances of the stranger, and ere the week had concluded had assumed the initiative in conversation on more than one occasion.
By this time one of the inevitable vacancies had occurred at another table, and the widow, as usual, offered to translate this latest guest to the unoccupied seat.
The latter, however, for some strange reason, indicated a desire to remain in his present surroundings, and when this disposition was understood by Raikes, the conquest of the miser was complete.
As if to indorse the perverse aspect of inflexible things, it seemed, now that Raikes had ventured ever so little beyond his taciturn defenses, he was encouraged to further boldness.
The stranger exerted a fascination which, in others, Raikes would have considered dangerous and which he would have made his customary instinctive preparations to combat.
He could not recall a similar instance in all the years of his recent experience when he was constrained to recognize, nay, surrender to, a diffusive impulse such as this curious stranger awakened in his mind.
In yielding to its insinuations, even to the extent already recorded, he was agreeably conscious of a sort of guilty abandon which, at times, stupefies the moral qualities ere delivering them into the hands of a welcome invader.
For some time Robert, with the others, had enjoyed the entertainment offered by this transformation of Satyr to Faun, and the inversion advanced to still further degrees their curious regard of the "Sepoy," a picturesque description bestowed upon him by the blase boarders.
Consequently, one evening, when, at the conclusion of the dinner, the "Sepoy," in response to the invitation of Raikes, was seen to disappear with the latter through the doorway which led to his apartments, Robert's interest in the spectacle changed to genuine alarm, until a moment's reflection upon his uncle's well-known ability to take care of himself reassured him.
Intruding the door between themselves and all further speculation, the strangely-assorted pair proceeded along a dimly-illumed hallway to a room in which Raikes usually secluded himself.
As the Sepoy advanced, he could see that, with the exception of two sleeping-chambers, revealed by their open doors, the apartment in which he found himself was the only one where any kind of accommodation could be found, as the balance of the house offered unmistakable evidences of being unoccupied.
"Be seated, sir," croaked Raikes, with a voice strangely suggestive of a raven attempting the modulations of some canary it had swallowed. "I do not smoke myself, and, therefore, cannot provide you with that sort of entertainment; still, I have no objection to you enjoying yourself in that way if," with a cynical shrug of the shoulders by way of apology, "you have come prepared."
Accepting this frank inhospitality in the spirit of its announcement, the stranger, smiling with his curious eyes, produced two cigars, one of which he offered to Raikes, and which was consistently and promptly refused.
"I can't afford it," expostulated the latter. "I never indulge myself even in temptation; the nearest I will approach to dissipation will be, with your permission, to enjoy the aroma. I do not propose to rebuke myself for that."
"As you please," returned the other as he replaced the weed in his pocket. "It is my one indulgence; in other respects I challenge any man to be more abstemious."
"I have had none," returned Raikes with a rasping lack of emotion, "for the last ten years. It is too late to begin to cultivate a disability now."
"You are wrong," replied the Sepoy. "One's attitude cannot be rigid at all points; that is bad management. The finest tragedy I ever witnessed was emphasized by the trivialities of the king's jester.
"However," he added, as if in support of his theory, "I can, at least, trouble you for a match."
While Raikes busied himself in an effort to show the hospitality of the service indicated, the Sepoy's busy, furtive eyes glanced here and there about the room with quick, inquiring glances.
At one end a bedstead stood, which an antiquarian would have accepted gladly as collateral for a loan.
Near-by a wardrobe, equally remote if more decrepit, leaned against the wall to maintain the balance jeopardized by a missing foot.
One chair, in addition to those occupied by Raikes and his companion, appeared to extend its worn arms with a weary insistence and dusty disapproval of their emptiness.
A table, large enough to accommodate a student's lamp, several account books and a blotting-pad, completed this uninviting galaxy.
To the walls, however, the Sepoy directed his closest scrutiny.
With an incredibly rapid glance he surveyed every possible inch of space, turning his head cautiously to enable his eyes to penetrate into the more distant portions.
Presently, after an amount of rummaging altogether disproportionate to the nature of his quest, Raikes succeeded in finding a lucifer, which flared with a reluctance characteristic of the surroundings.
The Sepoy, availing himself of its blaze, deposited the remainder of the stick, with elaborate carefulness, upon the table, as if urged by the thought that his companion might convert it to further uses.
As Raikes resumed his chair, the Sepoy, recalling his glances from their mysterious foray, directed them, with curious obliqueness, upon his companion.
In no instance that Raikes could recall had the Sepoy looked upon him directly save in fleeting flashes.
At such moments Raikes was conscious of a strange tremor, a vanishing fascination, that he vainly sought to duplicate by attracting the other's attention, in order to analyze its peculiar influence.
"May I ask," he ventured after a few inhalations of his vicarious smoke, "may I ask the nature of your business?"
"Surely," replied the other. "I am a collector."
"Of what?" inquired Raikes, dissatisfied with the ambiguity of the answer.
"Sapphires," said the Sepoy.
"Ah!" cried Raikes.
"Yes," continued the other, regarding the kindling glance of the avaricious Raikes with a quick, penetrating look that was not without its effect upon the latter; "yes, and I have had many beautiful specimens in my time."
"But where is your establishment?" asked Raikes.
"Wherever I chance to be," was the reply.
"Still," ventured Raikes, astonished at this curious rejoinder, "you have some safe depository for such valuables."
"Doubtless," replied the other drily; "but I have a few in my room now, and, by the way, they are pretty fair specimens."
"Ah!" cried Raikes. "May I see them?"
"Why not?" assented the Sepoy. "In the meantime," he continued, as he inserted his hand in his waistcoat pocket, "what do you think of this?" and describing a glittering semicircle in the air with some brilliant object he held in his grasp, he deposited upon the table a sapphire of such extraordinary size and beauty, that Raikes, able as he was to realize the great value of this gleaming condensation, stared stupidly at it for a moment, and then, with a cry of almost gibbering avarice, caught the gem in his trembling hands and burglarized it with his greedy eyes.
As Raikes, oblivious of all else, continued to gaze upon the brilliant with repulsive fascination, a peculiar change transformed the face of the Sepoy.
He directed upon the unconscious countenance of his companion a glance of terrible intensity, moving his hands the while in a weird, sinuous rhythm, until presently, satisfied with the vacant expression which had replaced the eager look of the moment before in the eyes of the tremulous Raikes, the Sepoy began, with an indescribably easy, somnolent modulation, the following strange recital:
(To be continued on Dickey No. 2.)
* * * * *
"Thunder and lightning!" cried Dennis as he reached the exasperating announcement in italics at the bottom of the dickey back:
"Continued on Dickey No. 2."
"What th' div—now, what do you think of that? An' it's me crazy to hear what that meerschaum-colored divil was a-goin' to say. 'Dickey No. 2.' Why, that's the one I have to wear to-day, an' to think the story's on the back of it."
Truly was Dennis harassed.
He had been in many a pickle before, but never in one quite so exasperating.
Tantalized, in the first place, by the uncertainty surrounding his prospective employment, he was now confronted by a predicament which threatened to jeopardize a vital adjunct to his personal appearance.
A native curiosity, to which this outrageous tale appealed so strenuously, prompted him to detach bosom No. 2 regardless.
An equally characteristic thrift warned him against such an inconsiderate procedure.
Finally his good judgment prevailed, and with desperate haste he adjusted the remaining bosoms of the dickey to his waistcoat, plunged into his coat, clapped his hat on his head and rushed from the room.
All that day Dennis continued to receive his instalments of that bitter instruction in the ways of heedless employers and suspicious subordinates which, eased by a native good humor, conclude in the philosopher, or, unrelieved by this genial mollient, develop the cynic.
By evening he was compelled to admit, as he retraced his steps to The Stag, that he had not advanced in any way.
As he was about to pass under one of the dripping extensions of the elevated, a great splotch of grease detached itself from the ironwork and struck, with unerring precision, directly in the center of dickey No. 2.
"Ah!" exclaimed Dennis as he realized the nature of his mishap, "that settles it; I'll know what the Sepoy said to-night." A remark which proved conclusively that the philosophical element was still uppermost in the mind of this young Irishman.
After a brief exchange of courtesies with his countryman behind the bar, and a dinner so modest in the rear room as to arouse the suspicion and encourage the displeasure of the waiter, Dennis hastened up the stairway, divested himself of his upper garments, ripped off dickey bosom No. 2, and began.
As the Sepoy proceeded, Raikes leaned forward in an attitude, the discomfort and unbalance of which he seemed to be entirely unaware.
His only means of maintaining his rigid poise was in the arm which lay, with tense unrest, upon the table.
From his hand, the fingers of which had released their clutch, the stone had rolled and gleamed an unregarded invitation into the eyes of the drawn face above it.
The sickly grin of a long-delayed relaxation beguiled the extremities of his mouth, the grim lips had relaxed their ugly partnership, and his entire figure seemed upon the verge of collapse.
Raikes was listening as never before.
The clink of coin, the dry rattle and abrasion of brilliants, the rustle of bank notes could not have fascinated him more than the even, somnolent modulations of the speaker.
Every word found easy lodgment in his consciousness. There was not a sound or motion to divert, and the tale was a strange one.
* * * * *
"Ram Lal," said the Sepoy, "was a native merchant, trading between Meerut and Delhi, who decided to sacrifice the dear considerations of caste for the grosser conditions of gain.
"From the performance of mean and illy-rewarded services to his patron, Prince Otondo, Ram Lal had developed, with the characteristic patience and dangerous silence of the true Oriental, to a figure of some importance, whom it was a satisfaction for the prince to contemplate with a view to future exaction and levy as occasion demanded.
"His royal master resided in the Kutub, a palace situated not far from Delhi on the road to Meerut.
"This pretentious edifice, which had been established in the thirteenth century and which still presented, in some of its unrepaired portions, curious features of the bizarre architecture of that period, had been the dwelling place of a long line of ancient moghuls.
"Its present incumbent, however, regarded with indifference the ravages of time and decay, and satisfied himself with the lavish furnishing of that considerable portion of the palace which he occupied with his dusky retainers.
"To be at charges for all this the princely revenues had been seriously depleted.
"Since he could not look to decrepit relatives in Delhi for further allowances, and as the British Government proved equally obdurate, the prince found it necessary to calculate upon all possible sources of income.
"In such speculations, therefore, the unhappy Ram Lal became an object of logical interest.
"Up to the present the merchant had been undisturbed in the security of his possessions, which were suspected to be enormous.
"His royal patron had contented himself with the avarice of calculation, and, in order that his depredations might be worthy his proposed brigandage, he provided Ram Lal with every opportunity to develop his hoard to a respectable figure.
"The prince, having enjoyed the advantages of association with sundry British officials, was entirely too sagacious and philosophical to discourage the industry of the merchant at the outset; and with the patience which is enabled to foresee the end from the beginning, he awaited developments.
"In consequence, the merchant attained to everything but the ostentation of his possessions, and only assumed the dignity of his riches in the less calculating confines of his household.
"Even here, however, the subsidy of his liege was active, for among the servants of the merchant were those whose appraising eyes followed every movement, and whose mercenary memories recorded every transaction.
"With all the concern of a silent partner Prince Otondo balanced, in his philosophical mind, the various enterprises of Ram Lal.
"If they met with his august approval, the merchant's traffic was singularly free from obstruction; if the element of uncertainty was too pronounced for the apprehensive potentate, the most surprising occasions for the abandonment of his projects were developed for Ram Lal, whose intelligent mind was inclined to suspect the identity of his providence.
"Prince Otondo did not propose to have his interests jeopardized by precipitation or undue hazard.
"But this unhappy merchant, with perverse and unaware industry, advanced still another claim to the covert regard of his calculating highness.
"Although a widower, there remained, to remind him of his departed blessedness, a daughter, who was, as reported by the mercenaries of the prince, beautiful beyond their limited means of expression.
"The unfortunate Ram Lal, therefore, commending himself to this elevated espionage, first by his 'ducats' and next his 'daughter,' was in the predicament of the missionary whose embonpoint endears him to his savage congregation and whose edibility is convincing enough to arouse the regret that he is not twins.
"Prince Otondo, whose imagination was stimulated by this vicarious contemplation of beauty, did not find it difficult to decide that the transits of Ram Lal to and from the British barracks were open to suspicion that demanded some biased investigation.
"Unfortunately, too, the colonel in charge of the British forces at Delhi was equally uneasy concerning the integrity of the merchant, a state of mind which had been judiciously aggravated by the emissaries of Prince Otondo.
"The officer in charge knew that the merchant, with his license of exit and entry, was in an exceptional position to acquaint himself with considerable merchandisable information.
"Ram Lal, therefore, in response to the pernicious industry of his evil genius, like an unstable pendulum, was in danger of detention at either extreme.
"The prince speculated like a Machiavelli upon the advantages of such action on the part of the colonel, and the latter looked to the former to relieve him of the responsibility.
"However, diligence, even when baneful, has its rewards, for one day, when Ram Lal arrived at the British horn of the dilemma, he was arrested upon a charge framed to suit the emergency and subjected to a military court of investigation.
"At the end of eight days the merchant was released, acquitted, and on the ninth he directed his course homeward.
"The colonel, however, had provided the prince with his opportunity, for when the irritated merchant arrived at his dwelling, he was informed that sundry officials from the palace had searched the premises for evidence of sedition, and, failing in that, had decided to accept all of his portable chattels as a substitute.
"This was depressing enough, but still might have been accepted with the customary Oriental impassiveness had it not been for the fact that the marauders had added his daughter to the collection.
"At any rate, she could not be found, and as she had never ventured from the shelter of the paternal roof without the paternal consent, Ram Lal felt that his deductions as to her whereabouts were entitled to consideration.
"He was unable to get any indorsement of his unhappy logic, for the servants had all disappeared.
"He determined, however, to act in accordance with his assumption, and after taking an inventory of whatever had been overlooked in the foray, which was little else than the premises, he seated himself upon a mat beneath a banyan tree in the garden, which concluded the rear of his dwelling, and was presently ells-deep in a profound reflection, which was not only ominous in its outward calm, but curiously prolonged.
"The only evidence of mental disquiet which, it was natural to suspect, disturbed him, was a strange light which gleamed from his eyes at intervals with baleful significance.
"At the conclusion of two oblivious hours Ram Lal appeared to have arrived at some definite purpose.
"He rose to his feet and strode, with a marked degree of decision, to his dwelling, where he slept in apparent and paradoxical peace until morning.
"Ere the sky was red, or the dews, in harmony with this unhappy man's dilemma, had been appropriated by the sun from the tiara of dawn, Ram Lal set out for the palace of the Kutub, in which Prince Otondo was compelled to reside for the present for some very convincing reasons provided by the British Government.
"In a little while the merchant had traversed the short distance intervening and was admitted through the courtyard gates.
"The last of the kings of Delhi was a decrepit old man named Dahbur Dhu, whose sole object in life seemed to be an attempt to reanimate the pomp and pageantry of a dead dynasty.
"Pensioned by the British Government, which permitted him to continue this absurd travesty, if his feeble exasperation over his predicament and his silly ostentations could be called by that name, this realmless potentate occupied his waking hours in futile revilings of the hand that at once smote and sustained him.
"While not thus engaged, he would gravitate almost to the extreme of servility in his efforts to exact additional largess from the powers in control, to expend upon this senile attempt to augment the consideration of his pageant throne.
"Several efforts had already been made to remove the irritating presence of this royal household to Bengal, but the time had not yet arrived when the British could regard with indifference the native prejudice which would be aroused by such a procedure.
"The infirm moghul, therefore, continued his vaudeville, which was mainly confined within the palace walls at Delhi, and persisted in his endeavors to augment his revenues.
"However, to mitigate the nuisance as far as possible, the British Government consented to recognize his grandson, Prince Otondo, as the successor to the throne, and yield a degree to the exactions of the moghul if his young kinsman would agree to remove himself permanently from Delhi and reside in the Kutub.
"To this, for a reason which shortly transpired with almost laughable incongruity, Dahbur Dhu assented, and Prince Otondo established himself at this royal residence with an outward manifestation of satisfaction, at least.
"Despite the fact that the merchant was a familiar figure in this enclosure, he believed that he remarked an unusual degree of interest awakened by his presence, and was assured that he detected more than one sinister and smiling glance directed, with covert insinuation, upon his impassive countenance.
"An uneasy suggestion of conspiracy met him at every turn.
"With that gravid apprehension which creates in advance the very conditions one desires to combat, Ram Lal prepared himself for a series of events which made him shudder to contemplate.
"It seemed to him that the salutes of the swarthy satellites of the prince were a degree less considerate.
"He was convinced of a cynical estimation usually accorded to the destitute.
"The depression of disaster was upon him.
"He could only think in the direction of his forebodings, so when at last he arrived in the familiar ante-chamber and announced himself, his voice reflected his trepidation and his demeanor had lost a palpable degree of its customary assurance.
"While the merchant awaited the response to his request for an audience with the prince, he made a sorry attempt to assume a cheerful aspect, with the success of one who is permitted to listen to the details of his own obsequies.
"When not thus engaged, he traversed the apartment with intermittent strides—another Chryses about to make a paternal plea to this Oriental Agamemnon.
"He had canvassed his demeanor, reviewed his cautious phrases, and had even provided a desperate denunciation, which, when he considered the privileged rascality of his royal auditor, he felt assured would at once conclude the interview and his liberty.
"As Ram Lal was about to end his fifth attempt to apprehend the result of this expected interview, the curtains parted and a stalwart attendant, impassive and silent, appeared.
"In response to the eloquent concern betrayed in the glance of the merchant, the other, holding the curtains aside, indicated, by an inclination of his turbaned head and a sweep of his hand, the dignity of which was intended to convey some intimation of the personality of his master and the proportions of the privileges accorded, that the merchant was expected to proceed, which he did with trembling precipitation.
"As Ram Lal entered the room, his alert glance discerned the figure of the prince extended, with unceremonious abandon, upon a divan.
"Advancing, he made profound obeisance to the reclining potentate, who acknowledged his presence with a spiritless motion of his hand not unsuggestive of the humiliating degree of his condescension.
"At this period of his career Prince Otondo presented, in his personality and surroundings, considerable of the picturesque magnificence with which the native rulers delighted to surround themselves.
"His presence, at once dignified and carelessly amiable, was not the least vital accessory to the sumptuous abundance, to which he added the last touch of distinction.
"A smiling cynicism, which was one of his most engaging characteristics and an invaluable masquerade for his genuine sentiments, lingered about his thin, patrician lips.
"His features balanced with cameo precision, and in his eyes, usually veiled by lashes effeminately long, the whole gamut of a passionate, intolerant nature was expressed.
"'Well, most ancient and honorable!' said the prince, with an exasperating suggestion in his manner of appreciation of the travesty of his words, as he gazed upon the merchant with a glance whose speculation the latter could not determine. 'Well, how speeds thy traffic and thrive thy caravans?'
"'Not well, my lord,' answered Ram Lal, 'not well.'
"'Ah, ha!' exclaimed the prince, with an indescribable insinuation of biased rebuke in the look with which he challenged further revelations from the speaker. 'That touches me nearly; this must not be; an industrious subject may not suffer while there is a remedy at hand.'
"''Tis on that head I would beseech your majesty!' exclaimed the merchant, seizing the opportunity provided, with such plausible ingenuousness, by the august speaker.
"'Proceed, Ram Lal,' urged the prince, with an amiability which the merchant had known to be a dangerous prelude in the past.
"'Great prince!' replied the merchant with the prompt obedience which contemplates a possible reversal of privilege.
"'Nine days from home I strayed.
"'On my return I find my house despoiled of all its store.
"'And with the rest, O prince, the priceless tokens of thy high regard.
"'Aside from these, I do not mourn my loss, for it may be repaired.
"'Nor will I question fate, whose ears are dull to hear, whose eyes refuse to see the victims of her spleen.
"'But hear, O prince—my one ewe lamb, my sole delight—my daughter greets me not.
"'The empty halls no more re-echo to her tread.
"'No more sweet mur——'
"'Enough, Ram Lal,' interrupted the prince. 'I have heard that a needle thrust into the eye of a bullfinch will make it sing, but I did not know that misery could transform a merchant to a bard.
"'Disjoint your phrases a degree. You say your daughter greets you not?'
"'Yes, O prince,' replied Ram Lal, abashed at this cynical embargo upon the melancholy luxury of his rhythms; 'yes, and it is of her I would speak.'
"'Speak,' urged his august hearer.
"After a moment's reflection, in the manner of the unwelcome envoy who has reached the acute juncture of his recital and is about to disembarrass himself of a dangerous climax, the merchant continued in sordid Hindustani:
"'As I have said, O prince, my daughter has been taken from me, and I come to you in my extremity.'
"'And why to me, Ram Lal?' demanded the prince, with a gleam in his glance which was directly responsible for the pacific presentation which followed.
"'Because,' replied the merchant with discerning irreverence, 'if it so please your highness, your providence is practical, and the ways of Vishnu are tedious.'
"'Ah!' exclaimed the prince appreciatively; 'that was not so bad for a merchant; but to the point.'
"'Little can occur in this cantonment that is not known to your highness, or that cannot be determined if you so desire.
"'I ask your august assistance, and I have, as you will see, observed the proprieties in making my request.
"'It is a time-honored custom for the suppliant to signalize his appreciation of the importance of the favor he solicits, is it not so?'
"'I did not know,' replied the prince, 'that commerce could develop such an oracle; it is a subtle sense of fitness you express. I am interested. Proceed.'
"'I will, your highness,' responded Ram Lal, as he inserted his hand in one of the folds of the sash which encircled his waist. 'You recall the stone of Sardis?'
"'Ah!' exclaimed the prince, his cynical listlessness transformed at once into the abandon of eagerness. 'What of it, O merchant?'
"'This,' replied the latter as he withdrew his hand from his sash, 'if your highness will deign to examine it,' and the speaker extended toward the incredulous prince a small box of shagreen, which the latter clutched with the grasp of avarice.
"'Will his highness deign?' repeated Ram Lal to himself with bitter irony as the prince pressed back the lid and exposed to view a magnificent sapphire, the gleam and the glitter of which affected him like an intoxication.
"As the prince, oblivious to all else, fixed his avid glance upon the scintillant stone, an astonishing change transformed the merchant from the suppliant to a being of marked dignity of bearing and carriage.
"His eyes, no longer obliquely observant, were directed with baleful purpose upon the half-closed lids of the fascinated potentate.
"His hand disengaged itself from the sash, where it had reposed with something of the suggestion of a guardian of the treasury, and was gradually extended with sinuous menace over the declining head of the prince.
"His long, lithe figure straightened from its servile stoop, and a palpable degree of the authority which appeared gradually to fade from the fine countenance before him found an equally congenial residence in the expression of the merchant.
"There was command in every feature.
"As for the prince, his figure appeared to decline in majesty in proportion to the access of dignity which had added its unwonted emphasis to the personality of Ram Lal.
"He leaned inertly forward, one hand resting upon his knee.
"In his slowly relaxing clutch the brilliant gleamed. His forehead was moist; his lips dry; his delicate nostrils were indrawn in harmony with the concentrating lines of his brow, and the next moment, as if in response to an insinuating pass of the merchant's hand of cobra-like undulation, the rigid poise recoiled, he settled more easily upon the divan, and with eyes still fascinated by the entrancing bauble he listened, with anomalous impassiveness, to the weird proposal of Ram Lal.
"'Hearken, O prince!
"'My daughter has been taken from me by whom I shall not venture to inquire.
"'If she is returned to me, I shall be satisfied.
"'I am here therefore to beseech your highness to see that she is restored to me.
"'To-day, as the sun declines, I shall expect her.
"'If she does not come to me then, O prince, a heaping handful of the precious stones you hold so dearly will be missing, and in their stead will be as many pebbles from the fountain in the courtyard.
"'The sapphire I leave with you as a witness of my plea.'
"And slowly the merchant retreated toward the door, his eyes fastened the while upon the prince.
"As he reached the threshold he paused, and with a voice that seemed to lodge in the consciousness of his inert auditor like the sigh of Auster over the daffodils and buttercups of a dream, he repeated:
"'To-day as the sun declines.'
"And the next instant, with an abrupt motion of his hand strangely at variance with the placid gestures just preceding, the merchant disappeared through the curtains which screened the doorway.
"And now," said the Sepoy abruptly, as he moved his chair with a sharp rasp over the bare floor and transferred his glance at the same time from the drawn countenance of his rapt auditor to the gleaming gem on the table, "and now—is it not a beauty?"
"Ah, ha!" murmured Raikes, disturbed by the abrupt cessation of the sedative tones of the Sepoy and the abrasion of the chair, "superb!" And that instant all his keen animation returned.
Apparently Raikes was not aware of any blanks in his scrutiny and resumed his regard of the tantalizing facets with knowing sagacity and an envy that affected him like a hurt.
"In all my years," he creaked, as his long, prehensile fingers riveted like a setting to the fascinating bauble, "I have never seen such a gem.
"The cutting is exquisite; it is a study in intelligent execution; every facet here cost a pang; how vital it was not to waste an atom of this precious bulk.
"What a delicate adjustment of the lines of beauty to the material consideration; the balance is perfect." And with this confusion of frank cupidity and rapacious regard, the miser, with a supreme effort, pushed the stone impatiently toward the Sepoy.
"Ah!" exclaimed the latter, "it is a pleasure to show the gem to one who is able to comprehend it.
"It is even finer than you have discerned. The lapidary was subtle; his work sustains closer analysis. Have you a stray glass?
"No? Well, I will send you mine and you can entertain yourself until I see you again."
"What!" exclaimed Raikes, "you will leave this stone with me?"
"Why not?" returned the Sepoy evenly. "You have a due regard for property. I do not fear that this gem will meet with mishap in your possession. Besides, it will be a revelation to you under the glass," and, arising, he stepped to the door, leaving the brilliant upon the table in the grasp of the astonished Raikes, who was unable to comprehend such confidence and unconcern.
Traversing the hallway, the pair reached the door which opened upon the apartments controlled by the widow.
As he paused on the threshold to make his adieux to Raikes, the Sepoy, looking at the former with a marvelously glowing glance, repeated, with an emphasis so eerie as to occasion a thrill of vague uneasiness in his companion, the concluding phrase of the singular tale he had related to Raikes:
"To-day as the sun declines."
And the moment after he disappeared, leaving the startled miser to gaze, with greedy contemplation, upon the sapphire which he retained in his grasp.
(To be continued on Dickey No. 3.)
* * * * *
"Oh, ho!" exclaimed Dennis as the exasperating phrase in italics met his glance, "an' it's here you are again. Shure, a man would tear his shirt to tatters for a tale like that," and with appreciative meditation over the vexatious quandary presented by the cunning of the bosom-maker in thus adding another ruinous possibility to the inevitable soil and wear, he added:
"Shure, the man who put that sthory on the dickey-back knew his business. Where the dirt laves off the guessin' begins, and betwixt the two it's another dickey I'll be after—ah, ha, an' it's a fine thing to have brains like that."
With this discerning tribute, Dennis turned the last dickey around and discovered that it was protected in the rear with a sort of oiled paper, through which the story shadowed dimly.
Here was the pinch of his dilemma.
His curiosity was sharpened and his judgment impaired.
In a variety of ways literature incapacitates a man for the exigencies of existence.
Dennis found himself visibly enervated. At last he remembered that the week had advanced only as far as Thursday. Between that time and the Fabian Saturday a number of untoward events might occur.
A more seasoned applicant might present himself to the foreman upon whom Dennis depended, or, equally grievous, the present bibulous incumbent might be alarmed into mending his ways.
Hitherto Dennis had resisted the temptation to present himself to the attention of the foreman in advance of the date appointed.
In order, therefore, to master the anxiety which might betray him into some overt importunity, he decided to devote the day to a persistent canvass of the possibilities offered by the various wholesale houses.
Unknown to himself, Dennis had learned that the secret of patience was doing something else in the meantime.
However, the practical at last was triumphant, and Dennis, with a resolution that demanded prompt execution for its continued existence, adjusted the remaining chapter to his waistcoat in the early morning and descended to the lower floor.
On this occasion his solicitous friend behind the bar insisted upon detaining the young Irishman, who, urged by his solitary predicament and a degree depressed by the series of rebuffs which by now had developed a malicious habit, proceeded to the counter and, resting one foot upon the rail near the floor with a redeeming unfamiliarity, responded to the inquiry of the barman by admitting that he felt a "wee bit blue."
This statement led to the revelation that the barman was similarly affected, and was engaged, at that moment, in the preparation of a famous antidote greatly in demand by sundry newsgatherers and night editors in Park Row.
Dennis watched him with interest and remarked that he set out two glasses, after the manner of those who are about to compound an effervescent.
Such, however, was not the case, and Dennis was startled presently to see the barman, after filling both glasses with a decoction which caught the light from a dozen merry angles, push one of them in his direction with the companionable suggestion: "Have one with me."
Only once before had Dennis indulged in anything of a stimulating nature, and the effect upon his head the next morning had been sufficient to discourage its repetition, and he informed the barman of this disagreeable feature.
"Oh!" protested that insinuating Mephisto as he held his glass to the light the better to concentrate its hypnotic gleam and sparkle upon the vacillating youth, "there is no headache in this; this is a man's medicine. Get it down; it will do you good."
Persuaded by the example before him, duped by his depressions, and weary of his loneliness, Dennis responded to the dubious suggestion with the guilty haste of one who has decided to let down the moral bars for a short but sufficient interval.
Palliated from its original rawness by the additions of the barman, the draught was without special bite or pungency in its passage down his throat, and Dennis was aware of his indiscretion only by an increasing glow in the pit of his stomach and a disposition to credit the barman with a degree of amiability beyond that ordinarily manifested by this functionary.
The potation, however, had done its work but partially; there remained the itch of something still to be desired, an elevation yet unattained, and Dennis saw no other way up the sheer height than by an appeal to the barman to duplicate his initial effort.
When this had joined its fluent fellows in their several midsts, Dennis was inexperienced enough to accept, as a matter of course, the genial disposition toward the world in general which replaced the depression of the morning.
A native eloquence, long disused, began to urge him to a sort of confused improvisation.
His data was no longer morose.
"Holdin' on cud do annything," he assured the barman.
"It isn't a bad wurrld, at all, if wan looks at it through grane glasses.
"Shure, I'm in a bit av a hole at prisint, but not too dape to crawl out of."
Then after a pause, to enable himself to "shake hands," so to speak, with the suddenly developed genial aspect of affairs, he informed the barman, with the philosophy of his potations, that "A laugh will always mend a kick, providin' th' kick ain't too hard."
This pleased the barman, who responded in his characteristic fashion, and Dennis, in acknowledgment, substituted the price of breakfast as fitting return of civilities.
However, this was the climax.
Dennis could advance no farther. His bibulous friend, with apprehensive disapproval, offered a few diplomatic suggestions involving the retirement of the young man to his room, which the latter accepted with an unbalanced gravity that administered its reproof even through the callous epidermis of the barman.
Arrived at his room, Dennis, influenced by his accelerated circulation, was convinced that the apartment was oppressively warm, and divested himself of his coat and waistcoat.
In doing so he detached the dickey from his neck, and as it fell to the floor the curious tale contained in its predecessors appealed unmistakably to his enkindled imagination.
Oblivious of the campaign arranged for the day, heedless of the inner protest, Dennis, with all the abandon of his condition, hastened to remove the oil paper from the rear of the dickey, and began a race with his moral lapse in a feverish perusal of the following.
When Raikes returned to his room he seemed to himself like a sunset mocked by the adjacent horizon, with tantalizing suggestions for which it was reflectively responsible.
With the proper inspiration, there is a degree of poetry in the worst of us.
The knowledge that he would be compelled to restore the gem to its owner in the morning bestirred another comparison.
This time his idealism was not so elevated.
He likened it to a divorce from a vampire which had already digested his moral qualities.
The sapphire exhausted him.
The only parallel irritation was one which Raikes inflicted upon himself now and then.
This was on the occasions when he established himself in some unobtrusive portion of the bank and watched with greedy interest the impassive tellers handle immense sums of money with an impersonality which it was impossible for his avarice to comprehend.
The thievery of his thoughts and the ravin of his envy would have provided interesting bases of speculation for the reflective magistrate, since, if, according to the metaphysician, thoughts are things, he committed crimes daily.
Had the Sepoy, by entrusting the gem to the custody of this strange being, intended to harass his shriveled soul, he could not have adopted a more effective plan.
The certainty of the sharp bargain which Raikes could drive with such a commodity in certain localities, affected him with the exasperation which disturbs the lover who discovers in the eyes of his sweetheart the embrace to which he is welcome but from which he is restrained by the presence of her parent.
The many forms of value to which it could be transformed by the alchemy of intelligent barter made distracting appeals.
The facets danced their vivid vertigos into his brain.
At last, starting to his feet with impatient resolution, he hurried to a button in the wall, which controlled the radiator valves.
After a series of complicated movements, he succeeded in swinging aside the entire iron framework beneath it, revealing, directly in the rear, a considerable recess.
In the center of this space a knob protruded surrounded by a combination lock, which, under Raikes' familiar manipulation, disclosed a further cavity.
With an expression not unsuggestive of the mien of the disconsolate relict who has just made her melancholy deposit in the vault, Raikes placed the sapphire in this second recess, closed the combination door, replaced the swinging radiator, and prepared to retire for the remainder of the night.
When sleep, if that unrestful and populous trance to which he finally succumbed can be so designated, came to him, the disorders of his wakeful hours were emphasized in his dreams.
He had been haled to court; convicted without defense; sent headless to Charon, and was obliged, on that account, to make a ventriloquial request for a passage across the Styx; so that, in the morning, it was with genuine relief he returned the jewel to its owner and resumed his wonted meagerness of visage and useless deprivations.
As the Sepoy pocketed the gem he looked at Raikes with a glance at once searching and derisive as he asked:
"Was I not right in calling it a marvel?"
"Aye!" returned Raikes sourly, "marvel, indeed; but the miracle of it is that you have it back again. Your trust in human nature would be sublime were it not so unsupported; it needs the tonic of loss. I hope this is not habitual?"
"I will pay you the tribute of assuring you that it is not," replied the Sepoy.
"Ah, ha!" returned Raikes with a mirthless grin. "I am to accept the brief custody of this gem as a recognition of my personal integrity. I see, I see. Well, I would appreciate the courtesy more if I could indorse its incaution. However," he added abruptly, "why did you end that extraordinary tale so inconclusively? I could almost suspect you of a design to arouse my curiosity as to what is to follow."
"Ah, you remember, then?"
"Why not?" asked Raikes. "The narrative is singular enough, God knows, to make an impression, and sufficiently recent to be definite. I would not like to think that I could forget things so easily."
"Very well," said the Sepoy. "Come to my room at ten o'clock to-night; I am due elsewhere until then."
With a promptness that attested his interest, Raikes presented himself at the hour appointed, and his singular host again permitted him to enjoy a delegate smoke.
"Here!" he exclaimed abruptly, producing a strong magnifying glass, "here's a connoisseur whose revelations you may trust. Examine these facets with its help," and again the Sepoy placed the sapphire within reach of the covetous Raikes, who promptly availed himself of the tantalizing privilege.
Waiting, apparently, until his auditor became absorbed in his contemplation of the gem, the Sepoy at last began with the same even modulations which characterized his narrative at the outset:
"No sooner had Ram Lal disappeared through the curtains than the curious apathy of the prince vanished and was replaced by a demeanor of perplexed concentration in the direction pursued by the merchant.
"The prince had listened without comment or interruption during the recital of the narrator, his eyes fixed, the while, upon the brilliant.
"He did not know of the weird gestures of the speaker, nor had he seen the wonderful transformation of the man.
"Consequently he was startled for the moment to contemplate the blank so recently filled by Ram Lal.
"The sapphire, however, remained. That, at least, was real, and replacing it in the box, he proceeded, with a degree of absent preoccupation, to the courtyard, and presently found himself gazing aimlessly in the fountain basin.
"Curiously enough, it had not occurred to the prince to resent the assured attitude of the merchant, or to speculate upon the insinuating suggestions of complicity which the latter had managed to lodge in the consciousness of his august auditor.
"Nor did he feel outraged at the intrusion of the dangerous alternative proposed by the audacious Ram Lal.
"He appeared to be seduced by the sapphire and fascinated by the recital.
"Slowly he retraced the byways of the strange episode until he resumed, with singular precision of memory, the words of the merchant, which explained the presence of the gem:
"'I have observed the proprieties in making my request. It is a time-honored custom for the suppliant to signalize his appreciation of the importance of the favor he solicits.'
"Ah! a sudden illumination pervaded the mind of the prince.
"The sapphire was a royal subsidy.
"What favor could he grant in proportion to the value of such means of overture?
"The question established another point of association; unconsciously he quoted again:
"'To-day at sundown I shall expect my daughter. If she does not come to me then, O prince, a heaping handful of the precious stones you hold so dearly will be missing, and in their stead will be as many pebbles from the fountain in the courtyard.'
"'Pebbles for diamonds!' he repeated, and yet the proposition did not appeal to his cynical humor. There was menace in the suggestion, but his intolerant spirit did not resent it.
"In a vague way he was more convinced than alarmed, and did not pause to puzzle over the anomaly, although reassured somewhat as he reflected upon the cunning safeguards to his treasury, whose solitary sesame was known to himself alone.
"Prince Otondo, like other native rulers at this period, frightened at the mercenary reforms of the British in other sections, and instructed by the unhappy comparisons, had concentrated the whole of his fortune and considerable of his current revenues in jewels.
"These were portable and could be concealed about his person in any emergency demanding a hasty abdication on his part.
"To the shrewd Ram Lal the prince had entrusted the purchase of nearly all of this costly collection, contenting himself, for the present, with intelligent calculations as to the percentage of profit which had accrued to the merchant in these transactions.
"'Ah, well!' and with an impatient shrug of the shoulders, that was curiously devoid of its customary insolence, Prince Otondo dismissed these unfamiliar apprehensions and forbore to wonder at their strange intrusion upon his wonted complacency.
"Apparently, a more agreeable occasion of reflection presented itself, for a smile, half sinister, half genial, illumined the gloom of his fine countenance. As if in obedience to its suggestion, he turned abruptly from the fountain and re-entered the palace.
"Arrived at that portion of the structure set aside for his individual use, he hurried, with expectant, lithe agility, through an opening in the wall concealed hitherto by silken hangings, and entered upon a narrow passageway, which terminated in another undulating subterfuge of drapery.
"Pausing outside, the prince lightly touched a gong suspended from the ceiling and which replied with a solemn chime-like resonance.
"In response, the curtains parted, and a native woman, pathetically ugly and servile, appeared and prostrated herself in abject salutation.
"Following the direction of his hand the cringing creature arose and hurried along the passageway just traversed by the prince, who, satisfied as to her departure, parted the curtains and entered a small ante-chamber, beyond which a sumptuously-appointed apartment extended.
"At the extreme end, with a demeanor more suggestive of expectation than alarm or dejection, a young girl reclined upon a divan near the lattice-screened window.
"Advised of the approach of her distinguished visitor by an advance rendered as obvious as possible by the rustling sweep of the parted curtains and an unwonted emphasis of tread, which avoided the rugs and sought the tesselated floor for this purpose, the supple figure stood erect and in an attitude of questioning deference awaited whatever demonstration might follow this apparently not unexpected advent.
"As she stood thus in an unconscious pose of virginal dignity, the girl seemed to express a subtle majesty, in which, at the moment, the prince was manifestly deficient.
"A degree taller than her age would warrant, she appeared to the enamored gaze of the prince the ideal of symmetrical slenderness.
"Her figure, perfectly proportioned, and chastened, by the ardent rigors of the climate, of every fraction of superfluous flesh, appeared to bud and round for the sole purpose of concluding in exquisite tapers.
"Her eyes, large and luminous and harmoniously fringed with that placid length of lash usually associated with the sensuous, were saved from that suspicion by the innocent question and confiding abandon of her half-parted lips.
"Her hands, clasped at the moment before her, possessed the indescribable contour of refinement and high breeding, and manifested a degree of the tension of her present privileges by a closer interlace of the fingers than usual.
"A robe of white, confined loosely to her waist by a vari-colored sash, which drooped gracefully to catch up the folds in front, clung softly to her figure in sylphid revelation of the matchless proportions it could never conceal.
"'Lal Lu!' exclaimed the prince unevenly, his face reflecting the strife of deference and desire as he disengaged the clasped hands of the maiden and held them closely in his own, 'what is it to be, the Vale of Cashmere or the snows of Himalaya?'
"For a moment the girl gazed with disconcerting directness upon her ardent companion, as the warmth of his impulse deepened the dusk of his countenance and threaded the fine white of his eyes with ruddy suffusions.
"'O prince!' she replied, veiling her eyes the while with tantalizing lashes and reflecting, with exquisite duplication, a degree of the color which burned in the cheeks of her visitor, 'other answer have I none save that I gave thee yesterday.'
"With an impatient exclamation the prince released the hands he held in such vehement grasp, and stood, for a space, with his arms folded, directing upon the trembling beauty the while a gaze of vivid, glowing menace which was scarcely to be endured.
"'Ah!' he cried in a voice of husky contrast to his usual placid utterance, 'have you reflected, Lal Lu, how futile thy objections may be if I choose to make them so?'
"With surprising calmness and a sweet dignity, which was not without its effect upon the prince, although it sharpened to the refinement of torture the keenness of his infatuation, Lal Lu replied:
"'I have said, my lord.'
"At this reply the prince, exasperated beyond further control, with ruthless, fervent abandon, caught the trembling Lal Lu in his arms and held her, palpitating, reproachful, in his savage embrace.
"Bewildered at the quickness of his action, Lal Lu reposed inertly within the passionate restraint of his sinewy arms, but the next instant, transformed into an indignant goddess, struggled, with surprising strength, from his clasp and held the mortified prince in chafing repulse by the chaste challenge of her flaming eyes.
"'Hear me, Prince Otondo!' she cried with unmistakable candor and disturbing incisiveness of speech:
"'I love not save where I choose.
"'Of what avail is it to subdue this frail body? What is the joy of such a conquest? Where the pleasure in an empty casket?'
"Abashed, astounded, the prince retreated a space and looked, with savage intentness, upon the beautiful girl, superb in her denunciation, enchanting in the rebellious dishevel of her hair, the indignant rebuke of her eyes.
"Some reflection of contriteness must have beamed its acknowledgment of the justice of her virtuous outburst in the glance which held her in its ardent fascination, for Lal Lu resumed, in a voice sensibly modulated and with a demeanor curiously softened:
"'Long have I known of thee, O prince!
"'Before all others have I placed thee.
"'Wonder not, then, that I resent the ignoble assumption that my regard may be compelled.
"'My love is as royal as thine.
"'I bestow it where I will; unasked, if its object pleaseth me.
"'But I make no sign, O prince.
"'In such a stress a maiden may not speak her mind.'
"'Peace, Lal Lu!' exclaimed the prince, who, during her initial reproaches and her subsequent explanations, had recovered his native dignity of carriage and elevation of demeanor; 'peace! Never before have I hearkened to such speech as thine.
"'All my life I have had but to ask, and what I craved was mine.
"'My wish has been my command.
"'Hear, then, Lal Lu: Henceforward thou art as safe with me as in thy father's home.'
"'Aye! what of him?' interrupted the maiden; 'what of my father, O prince?'
"'All is well with him,' replied the prince, manifestly chagrined at the incautious introduction of this disturbing name and the filial solicitude it awakened.
"'He has been assured of thy safety; of him will I speak later. But now, Lal Lu——
"'I acknowledge thy rebuke. I stand before thee, thy sovereign, thy suppliant.
"'See!' he exclaimed, 'what I cannot demand, I entreat'; and with an indescribably fascinating tribute of surrender and yearning, this royal suitor awaited her reply.
"Leaning for support against a slender stand near-by, to which she communicated the trembling fervor which pulsed so warmly through every fiber of her being, the beautiful Lal Lu looked upon the fine countenance before her with a light in her eyes that dazzled with its subtle radiance.
"'Oh, Lal Lu!' cried the prince as he advanced toward the trembling maiden with eager precipitation.
"'One moment, O prince!' exclaimed Lal Lu, extending a restraining hand.
"'I know not what to say to thee; yet will I meet thy candor with equal frankness. Yea, Prince Otondo, I love thee indeed. I feel no shame in the confession. I have loved thee always. I am——'
"But the prince, after the fashion of lovers, made further speech impossible; and Lal Lu, with all the exquisite charm of womanly capitulation, threw her dusky arms about his neck and held his lips to hers in the only kiss beside her father's she had ever known.
"For one delirious moment, and then, releasing herself, she stood before the prince, a very blushing majesty of love, and said:
"'And now, O prince, I have told thee my secret. Be thou equally generous and restore me to my father, and then come to me when thou desirest and I am thine."
"Concealing his impatience at this last suggestion, the prince, with wily indirection, said:
"'It is too late to-day, Lal Lu. Thy father will be here on the morrow; rest thyself until then,' and fearful lest the maiden would penetrate his purpose, he added:
"'Lal Lu, I am compelled to leave thee for a space; I will send thy woman to thee. Until to-morrow, then, adieu.' And fixing upon her a glance so ardent that she almost followed him in its fascination, the prince withdrew from her presence with a reluctance which was duplicated in the bosom of the bewildered girl, if not so unmistakably evinced.
"As the prince retreated toward his apartments, the alarming alternative proposed by the merchant repeated itself with a sort of wordless insistence:
"'Unless Lal Lu shall be returned, a handful of my precious stones shall be missing.
"'In their place will be as many pebbles!
"And secure in his bedchamber, into which none might venture without ceremonious announcement, the prince hastened to a recess in the wall, where, in response to a pressure applied to a spot known only to himself, a cunningly devised panel shot back, revealing a gleaming, glittering mass of scintillating light and glamor.
"'Ah, ha!' he gloated, 'no pebbles yet'; and plunging his hands into the costly heap, he withdrew a motley of diamonds, sapphires, rubies and opals, and held them, with grudging avarice, to the regard of the declining sun.
"'No pebbles yet,' he repeated, as he challenged the fires of the gems with the fever of his eyes, and sent mimic lightnings hither and thither by communicating the tremble of his hands and the incidence of the sunbeams to the glorious confusion of facet and hue; 'no pebbles yet.'
"As Prince Otondo repeated this obvious reassurance, he replaced the gems, which seemed to quiver with lambent life, within the compartment, and withdrawing the shagreen case from his sash, he discharged the magnificent sapphire it contained upon the apex of the glittering heap, where it rested with a sort of insolent disproportion to the irradiant pyramid of brilliants beneath.
"Regarding the bewildering ensemble for a few moments of exulting ownership and familiar calculation, the prince closed the panel with the mien of Paris making restitution of Helen, and, turning aside, prepared to retire for the night.
"The ceremony was simple and so promptly observed that ere the radiance had ceased its revel in his mind the prince found himself reclining upon his couch, unusually ready to succumb to the sleep which he had so often sought in vain.
"The night was hot and stifling, and yet it seemed to the prince that he had only retired to rise the moment after, so profound had been his slumber and so quickly had daybreak arrived.
"For a few moments he lay in that agreeable condition of semi-realization ere the visages of his wonted obligations had assumed the definition of their customary insistence, or the menace of a restrained remorse had reannounced itself, when suddenly, without introduction or sequence, the phrase 'pebbles for diamonds' slipped into his consciousness.
"In a second he was alert and awake; the next instant he found himself at the panel, reaching tremulously for the concealed spring.
"At last he found it; the panel shot back, and the prince, after one searching glance, stood transfixed and uttered a cry of wondering despair.
"'The gleaming hoard still shot its varied lightnings. The royal sapphire still crowned its priceless apex. To his starting eyes his treasure was not a whit diminished, but directly in front, and at the base of the precious heap, lay as many as would make a heaping handful of pebbles."
As the Sepoy reached this startling climax in his recital, the even modulations of his voice ceased abruptly.
Raikes, missing the somnolent monotone, looked up quickly.
The eyes of the Sepoy were fixed upon him with a gleam in his glance not unlike that of the sapphire upon which the miser had been engaged during the whole of this singular narrative.
"That is a weird tale," he said at last. "Why do you pause at such a point? What is the conclusion?"
"That is some distance away yet," replied the Sepoy. "If you care to continue, I will resume the thread at this time to-morrow evening."
"Very well," answered Raikes with some impatience, "I will be here. I must, at least, congratulate you upon your observance of the proprieties in tale-telling; you manage to pause at the proper places."
"You are curious, then, to hear the rest?"
"Naturally," replied Raikes, with the sour candor which distinguished him. "The situation you describe I can appreciate—the loser confronted with his loss—and I am to conjecture his attitude until to-morrow night. Very well, I bid you good evening," and Raikes, with a curt inclination of the head, which made a travesty of his intention to be courteous, vanished through the doorway.
* * * * *
(The continuation of this remarkable story will be found on Dickey Series B, which may be bought from almost any haberdasher.)
* * * * *
As Dennis reached this announcement his head throbbed violently.
He had raced so apace with the movement of the tale that he had not remarked, in his absorption, an unfamiliar congestion about the base of his brain.
Directly, however, he was convinced of its disagreeable presence when this abrupt conclusion, which he had come to expect at the end of each bosom, materialized to his irritated anticipation.
He was no longer inclined to admire the calculating genius of the italicized phrase.
A temperance lecture was aching its way through his head. His conscience seemed to have decided to reside in the pit of his stomach, and a sense of surrender and defeat humiliated him.
His room looked cell-like.
The arrow pointing to the fire-escape seemed full of menace.
His face, reflected from the dingy glass, had never appeared so ugly and reproachful.
He needed something to restore his confidence, but was happily unaware of the nature of the remedy his system demanded.
It was his first offense.
He raised the window for a breath of fresh air, and the roaring street called him.
There was mockery and invitation in its hubbub. Why not? A little exercise would bring him around to his point of moral departure.
So, hastily adjusting the third chapter to his waistcoat and donning the balance of his garments, he fitted his hat to his head with thoughtful caution and hurried to the bustling thoroughfare.
Preoccupied by his gradually lessening disabilities, Dennis did not remark that the course pursued by him had the house of the publisher as its terminus, until he stood directly before that august establishment.
As the young Irishman recognized his surroundings, it did not take him long to persuade himself, with native superstition, as he considered the unaware nature of his arrival, that Providence had directed his footsteps thither, and, with the species of courage that can come from such a basis, he proceeded to the rearway, where he beheld the Celt in whom his hopes were centered, berating the porters, with a mien which offered anything but encouragement to the anxious young man.
However, he came forward tentatively, and found himself, presently, so much within the radius of the foreman's range of vision as to be compelled to accept, with enforced urbanity, the vituperation of the draymen, who objected to the amount of landscape he occupied with his bulk and eager personality.
At last, when the foreman had bullied his lusty understudies into a certain degree of sullen system, and the drays began to move away with their mysterious burdens, Dennis ventured to address him.
Greatly to his relief, the perturbed countenance of the latter softened perceptibly as he exclaimed:
"Ah, ha! an' it's there ye are?"
"Yes," replied Dennis with solicitous abnegation.
"Well," returned the other, "roll up yer sleeves; yer job's a-waitin' fur ye."
With an agility that betrayed the diplomacy of his countenance into ingenuous exultation, Dennis followed the foreman into the warehouse, and the latter at once began his instructions as to the system of marking, and Dennis mastered its simple mysteries with a quickness that was not only flattering to the discernment of his instructor but an indorsement of Celtic adjustability in general.
In the course of the morning Dennis discovered that his predecessor had put him under obligations by prolonging his debauch, and that his arrival upon the scene had been most opportune in consequence.
He was now assured of a position, whose only handicap was the prospect, delicately insinuated by the foreman for his consideration, of the possible state of mind of the previous incumbent when he realized that his niche had been filled, and it did not add to his cheerfulness when the foreman examined his biceps with an expert touch and remarked: "I guess that ye can take care of yerself."
There was nothing belligerent about Dennis, and he trusted that his predecessor would not regard him from that standpoint.
In the meantime Saturday arrived, and Dennis, in possession of his proportion of the week's pay, hurried to The Stag by way of Baxter Street.
In this locality he began a search for Series B of the dickies, and was finally successful, after a number of disappointments and a protracted hunt.
With the courage of his recently acquired situation, Dennis proposed to indulge in a little improvidence.
He decided that he would follow the singular recital on the dickey backs and rip off a chapter at a time.
After a night of fortifying slumber, Dennis arose, breakfasted, and boarded an elevated train, which presently conveyed him to the vicinity of Central Park.
Here, after securing a seat to his fancy, he withdrew Series B from the wrapper, detached bosom No. 1 and began.
When Raikes had parted from the Sepoy, a degree of his customary hardness and assurance was evident in his manner.
He had been able to comment sagaciously upon the extraordinary narrative, and had appropriated as much of the sapphire as his greedy glance and covetous memory could bear away; but now that he pursued his way along the dimly lighted hallway which led to his apartment, a singularly thoughtful mood oppressed him.
This phenomenon, due, in part, to the cessation of the drowsy cadences of the Sepoy and the absence of the fascination and gleam of the sapphire, was relegated by Raikes to the overtures of approaching drowsiness.
And yet the startling episode which confronted Prince Otondo in the evening's instalment of this Oriental complication recurred to his mind again and again.
Strangely, too, Raikes did not comment upon the singular fact of the narrative itself.
Why should the Sepoy take the trouble to relate it to him, and why should he, of all unconcerned and self-centered men, manifest such an unusual interest in a recital which lacked every practical feature and had nothing but the weird to commend it?
If he asked himself these questions, it was with the impersonality of lethargy, for they were dismissed as readily as they presented themselves.
With such sedative queries, which were gradually diminishing from fabric to ravel, Raikes finally reached his room and, securely bolting the door, began to prepare to retire.
This was not an elaborate proceeding.
His outer garments removed, he had only to seek the seclusion of the bedclothes, clad in the remainder of his attire.
In this manner he economized on the cost of a night-robe and the time it would consume to don and doff such a superfluity.