The Recipe for Diamonds
THE RECIPE FOR DIAMONDS
C. J. CUTCLIFFE HYNE
Thomas Nelson and Sons, London, Edinburgh, and New York
UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME
THE OCTOPUS. Frank Norris.
WHITE FANG. Jack London.
THE PRINCESS PASSES. C. N. & A. M. Williamson.
THE MAN FROM AMERICA. Mrs. H. de la Pasture.
SIR JOHN CONSTANTINE. "Q"
A LAME DOG'S DIARY. S. Macnaughtan.
FORTUNE OF CHRISTINA M'NAB. S. Macnaughtan.
THE BATTLE OF THE STRONG. Sir G. Parker.
THE TRANSLATION OF A SAVAGE. Sir G. Parker.
INCOMPARABLE BELLAIRS. A. and E. Castle.
IF YOUTH BUT KNEW! A. and E. Castle.
JOHN CHARITY. H. A. Vachell.
HIS GRACE. W. E. Norris.
MATTHEW AUSTIN. W. E. Norris.
CLEMENTINA. A. E. W. Mason.
THE AMERICAN PRISONER. Eden Phillpotts.
THE HOSTS OF THE LORD. Mrs. F. A. Steel.
THE LADY OF THE BARGE. W. W. Jacobs.
THE INTRUSIONS OF PEGGY. Anthony Hope.
QUISANTE. Anthony Hope.
THE KING'S MIRROR. Anthony Hope.
THE GOD IN THE CAR. Anthony Hope.
No. 5 JOHN STREET. Richard Whiteing.
THE ODD WOMEN. George Gissing.
MARRIAGE OF WILLIAM ASHE. Mrs. Humphry Ward.
ROBERT ELSMERE. Mrs. Humphry Ward.
HISTORY OF DAVID GRIEVE. Mrs. Humphry Ward.
WOODSIDE FARM. Mrs. W. K. Clifford.
MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE, AND THE BEAUTIFUL LADY. Booth Tarkington.
THE PIT. Frank Norris.
AN ADVENTURER OF THE NORTH. Sir G. Parker.
THE WAGES OF SIN. Lucas Malet.
Transcriber's Note: In this e-text, characters with macrons are preceded by an equal sign and enclosed in brackets, e.g., ā. Characters with breves are preceded by a right parenthesis and enclosed in brackets, e.g., ă. Superscripted characters are preceded by a carat, e.g., 2^a.
I. BIG GAME 3
II. HALCYONII DIES 15
III. VAGABOND 27
IV. MR. WEEMS AND HIS PURCHASE 46
V. WANTED, A PASSAGE 69
VI. FORE AND AFT SEAMANSHIP 81
VII. A DIPLOMATIC REMOVAL 102
VIII. TWO EVENINGS 115
IX. TALAITI DE TALT 132
X. WITH A THREE-ANGLED HOE 146
XI. THE RED DELF AMPHORA 166
XII. A PROFESSIONAL CONSPIRATOR 182
XIII. AT A MALLORQUIN FONDA 204
XIV. HEREINGEFALLEN 217
XV. CAMARADERIE 226
XVI. CRUELLY INTERRUPTED 240
XVII. VENTRE A TERRE 258
THE RECIPE FOR DIAMONDS.
[Extracted from the home correspondence of George Slade Methuen, Esq., which was written at his hired place on the Foldenfjord.]
... The first shot was just a rib too far back, and though it staggered him, he didn't stop to it. Out tinkled cartridge number one and in went a second, and "cluck" said the breech-block. And then as he slewed round, I got the next bullet home, bang behind the shoulder. That did it. He tucked down his long Roman nose, and went heels over tip like a shot rabbit; and when a big elk that stands seventeen hands at the withers plays that trick, I tell you it shows a new hand something he hadn't much idea of before.
We ran up eagerly enough. "Meget stor bock," shouted Ulus, and whipped out his knife, and proceeded to do the offices, being filled with strong glee, which he imparted to the driving rain, the swishing trees, and my dripping self.
And, by Jove, his highness was a beauty too! Antlers in velvet, of course, as is the fashion with all Norwegian deer at this time of year; but there were eight points on each, and they've got the most approved "impudent" downward curve. What with no rype and few trout, I'd been feeling rather down on my luck all these long weeks till now; but this big elk turned the scale. Glad I came.
September nights drop down early here, and day was getting on, so we hurried up with the work, and loitered not for tempting admiration. Off came the coarse-haired pelt, pull by pull; and away dropped head and neck, after a haggle through sinew and vertebrae; and then we got heavy stones and built in the meat securely, lest the lynxes should thieve the lot. It all took time, and meanwhile the weather worsened steadily. The rain was snorting down in heavy squalls, and often there were crashes from amongst the pines. But the stor bock's trophies repaid one for these things.
At last we got through the obsequies, shouldered the spoils between us, and started.
It was slow passage. On this primaeval ground one is so constantly being baulked. There are so many knotted jungles of splintered rock, such frequent swamps, so much fallen timber. And, moreover, the watercourses and torrents were all new-bloated with the rain, so that we had to cast about for fords, and then to grip one another at stiff arm's length, so as not to get swept adrift whilst wading amongst the eddying boulders. And when at last we did come to the lake, we saw there in the gray dusk a thing which caused Ulus to offer up hot words in Norsk, which were not words of prayer.
To remind you again of where we were:—
Some eight miles distant in crow-flight was the salt-water fjord. From it two mountain walls sprout out towards the north. At first the valley between these is filled with land which is mostly forest. Then comes a lake, hemmed by two precipices. Then another two-mile-wide strip of forest. Then another lake, with shiny granite walls running up sheer two thousand feet, so that of the fosses which jump in cream over the brinks above, only the stouter ones reach more than half-way down.
We were on the farther side of this last sheet of water, and across it lay our only practicable way to the coast—to home, dinner, dry things, and other matters longed for. And on this lake a lake-sea was running, short, quick, and steep, which is the wettest of all seas for small craft to tackle. The boat which had carried us up was one of those retrousse-nosed punts peculiar to the country, the very worst possible breed of craft for the weather. She would not face it for thirty seconds. Her turn-up snout would fall off the moment we left the shingle, she would fill and swamp, and we should be left a swim without having in any degree furthered our cause. Wherefore I also bowed to the inevitable, but like Ulus I said things. There was no chance of reaching the abodes of men by any other route. We were booked till the gale chose to ease—at any rate till morning; and for myself, I contemplated a moist bivouac under streaming Jove, with one clammy elk-skin for a joint coverlet.
But luckily Ulus was a man of the land besides being a vagrant hunter. He led back into the forest. A score of yards from the margin, in an overgrown clearing, was an abandoned saeter hut. It was in none of the best of repair, was seven feet square inside, and held five feet of head-room under the roof-tree. It was about half filled with dried birch-bark, piled up against the farther end. It also contained a rude wooden trough and ball for pounding up coffee, three sections of pine-stem for seats, and a rusted old stove which had not been worth carrying away.
Four words made a division of labour. Ulus set off to revisit the stor bock, Se going with him in case there should be any doubt about the track. It was my task to create a blaze with the dry, spluttering birch-bark, and collect a stack of solider fuel to feed it with. Afterwards I went and stopped the more obvious gaps in the roof with turf and logs, and by the time these things were done hunter and hound had returned. Then we wrung the supersaturation of wet from our clothes, and Se had a centrifugal shake; and so prepared, we went inside. Thanks to wasteful use of an absent person's store of birch-bark, the place was warm as an oven. Such an atmosphere was grateful and comforting. Se indeed revelled in the heat too much at first, and pressing over near its source, thrust out a moist black nose, and got the full effect. There followed a hiss and a howl, and a sulky retreat to the farther angle. Then we two bipeds hacked off gobbets from the venison, and taking us sharpened sticks, roasted and charred and toasted the meat in the doorway of the stove and over the gap in its lid. And in time we made a satisfying meal, though the courses straggled, and their texture was savage. And so on to pipes, and water boiled in a pewter flask-cup with whisky added, whilst the injured Se champed over juicy rib-bones in his corner.
The hum and crackle from the stove, the grinding of the gray dog's teeth, the bumping and hissing of the gale outside, the boom of the cascades at the precipices, made up most of the sounds for that evening. Of chat there was a paucity. My knowledge of Norsk extends to few parts of speech beyond the common noun; and Ulus, ignorant person that he is, has no Sassenach: pantomime makes our usual phrase-book. Talk under these circumstances is a strain, and we were too tired for unnecessary athletics. So we smoked, and pondered over the slaying of the great deer.
In a while we discarded the stump-stools and trundled them aside. A bunk ran along the farther side of the hut where the bark had been stowed, but I had my doubts about its vacancy, and surrendered it to Ulus. His hide is tough; he had no qualms. I spread for myself a spring mattress of birch-bark upon the floor. Se annexed the clammy skin. And so we were all satisfied.
One does not wind up watches in these regions, and as time is arbitrarily marked off by the cries of the gastric juices, I cannot tell you how the hours were reckoned up that evening. I think we two humans verged into a semi-torpid condition after that barbaric meal. Repletion, heat, and fatigue were too strong a combination for complete wakefulness; and though perhaps not exactly asleep, we were, like hibernating animals, very dully conscious of passing events. Se's condition was inscrutable. His eyes were closed, but that is no criterion. He may have been asleep. But yet he possessed certain senses more keenly active than ours. As evidence of this, when the night had worn on to a tolerable age, we heard him give a growl in crescendo, and then a short yap.
Se in general is undemonstrative to a degree. Hence the short culminating bark, which might have been overlooked if emanating from another dog, in his case commanded attention.
I rose on an elbow, but could hear no new sound except the soft rustle of Ulus's wet clothes. He was moving too. There was a pause. Presently he whispered "Bjorn," and I saw in the stove's faint glow the butt of the Martini steal across to me.
You can lay your life to it I was awake enough then. What sportsman in Norway would not tingle with delight at the chance of getting a bear? Ulus had slipped a thong round Se's throat, and that wily hound was mute. He was as keen on bjorn as either of us, and being gray, and vastly experienced, he knew better than to bay or otherwise create a disturbance.
"Patron?" whispered Ulus.
I loaded cautiously, not sending the lever quite home, so as to avoid a click, and nodded. Then we slipped our knife-sheaths round to the hip—for a shot in the dark is apt to wound only and cause a red-mouthed charge—and then the door was opened.
We stooped and went outside. The rain was tumbling in sheets; the night was dark as the pit, and very noisy; we could make out nothing. Se strained forward in the leash, neck thrust out, nose on high, up wind towards the lake shore. As we neared the edge of the clearing a falling branch struck me across the face. The pine-needles stung, and I stopped, blinded for the moment. Then Ulus gripped my shoulder and I wiped the tears away, and saw dimly a dark shape coming out of the trees. The Martini swung up, and I squinted along the barrel. A mountain-ash was in the line of fire, swishing, swaying, so that it was impossible to aim; but the animal was coming along bravely—had not seen us probably—and so I determined to hold the shot till I could make sure.
The beast came nearer, dodging amongst the stems.
Suddenly, as it got into an opener space, I noted that it was erect. This surprised me, for I had heard that bears never reared on to their hind feet till wounded. Still you can bet that I intended to shoot first and inquire afterwards.
But just at that moment Ulus screamed "Nei bjorn," and hitting up the rifle barrel, brought my finger sufficiently hard on the hair trigger to cause explosion. The shot went Lord knows where. I swore, and when the echoes had finished bellowing, I heard the bear swearing too. Then I began to sweat, for it dawned upon me that I had been within an ace of deliberately potting a man.
Ulus also used powerful language, and by letting drop the word "Finne," gave me to understand that he supposed the intruder to be a Laplander; but it seemed to me that the shape that loomed through the trees was too big for one of those dwarfish aborigines. And, moreover, although I only caught the import of the stranger's words by tone and not by literal meaning, I could have taken affidavit that none of them were Norsk.
However, we did not stay in ignorance long. Before the powder smoke had been all driven away by the rain the intruder was out of the trees, and had pulled up in front of us, chuckling. Then—"Hallo! an Englishman? How we islanders do get to out-of-the-way chinks of the globe!"
He paused, and I began to apologize—to say how sorry I was, and work up a neat speech generally—when he cut me short.
"Nearly sent me to the happy hunting grounds, sir? Well, perhaps so, p'raps not. I've seen men missed at shorter rise."
I was a bit piqued at this, and said something about being pretty useful with a rifle.
He laughed again. "We won't quarrel over it, sir, anyway. I expect we're both of us satisfied as it is. My hide would have been no use to you; and for myself, I'm quite content to wear it a bit longer. It fits tolerably enough. But you've a camp somewhere hereaway, haven't you? I thought I caught the gleam of a flying spark from down by the shingle yonder. That's what brought me up."
I explained how we had got pinned in by the gale, and the quartette of us went back to the saeter hut. The newcomer feasted there off elk-venison (contriving to cook it, I noticed, much more cannily than we had done, though with exactly the same appliances), and between whiles he was told of the chase of the meget stor bock—the tracking, the view, and the place of the bullet wounds. Afterwards, when we got to pipes and the last drainings of the grog, he explained his presence.
"I expect the wandering Englishman is about as scarce up here as the hoopoo, even when he's got a rifle or a rod in his fist; and as I've neither the one nor the other, I must be very much of a rara avis, and quite the sort of animal to shoot on sight. Fact is, I was round on the fjord there with my boat, and from what my eyes showed me, and from what a local topografisk chart told, the country on the norrard side was much as God stuck it together. I wanted to see a strip of that sort up here, so I fixed a rendezvous and slipped ashore. As it turned out, the map is a pretty bad one, and I lost time in culs-de-sac. Finally came this lake with the steep flanks. I couldn't see to prick out another course, and I was just casting about for a rock that held a dry lee when I saw your light. And now, as I hear you chaps yawning and as I'm about spun out, 'twouldn't be a bad notion to turn in."
It is a tolerably insane amusement for a foreigner to go tramping over wild fields and valleys in Northern Norway with no other guide than the thing they call an ordnance map and a bit of a pocket-compass. And to do the same without intent to slay the beasts, the birds, or the fish of the country seems, to my way of thinking, even more mad still. Perhaps I am peculiarly constituted, but that's the way it strikes me personally. So I was rather curious to know what make of man it was that did these things.
Overnight I had seen little of him that was not heavily shadowed. The stranger preferred to do his own cooking, saying that he was used to it, and had elected to heat his meat at the doorway of the stove. Through this gap little radiance escaped. The only matters illuminated were the slices of venison, the toasting-splinter, and the hands that held it alternately. These last, being the solitary things one's eyes could make out, naturally were glanced over more than once. They were slightly above the medium size for hands, and long in proportion to their breadth. The fingers were tapered like a woman's. The nails were filbert-shaped, and grimy with recent climbing. The palms were hard. The knuckle-side was very brown, and showed the tendons prominently. They were those lean, nervous sort of hands which you find out at times can grip like thumbscrews.
My couch was an uneasy one, and I awoke early. The visitor was snoring away on the log-floor, looking comfortable and contented.
He was a man of about two-and-thirty, dark, tall, and well-built. His clothes were those of the merchant seamen—that is, they smacked in no degree whatever of the sea. Indeed, the only outward things which connected him with the water were certain weather stains. He wore a moustache cropped somewhat over close, and the teeth then showing beneath it, though white, were chaotic; and, moreover, there was the purple ridge of a scar running from the corner of his mouth which might advantageously have been hidden. A beard also would have become him, for his chin verged slightly to the cut-away type, and a three-days' stubble looks merely unkempt. He would never have been a beauty, but groomed up he would have made a very passable appearance amongst other men, although the scar near his mouth, and another similar emblem of roughness over the opposite eye, would have made him a trifle remarkable.
After staring there dully for pretty nearly an hour, it began to dawn upon me that I had seen this man before somewhere, though under what circumstances I could not for the life of me remember. That his outward person was that of the ordinary deck-hand ashore went for nothing. Besides, he had spoken overnight of "my boat." That evidently meant yacht, and might stand for anything from an eight-hundred ton steamer downwards.
The more I puzzled over his identity the less hope I seemed to have of guessing it.
At last he woke, yawned, stretched, and sat up. Then he looked at me and whistled. Then, "Slidey Methuen, by all that's odd! Fancy stumbling across you here!"
Still I couldn't put a name to the man, and after a bit of hesitation told him so bluntly.
He laughed, and said he didn't wonder at it. It was only eight years since last we had met, but in that time he had been about the world a good deal, and, as he himself expressed it, "got most of the old landmarks ground off his face, and new ones rubbed in." He was Michael Cospatric.
I had to take his word for it. There didn't seem to be a trace left of the man I had known at Cambridge, either of manner or outward form. However, Cospatric of C—— he was, fast enough; and after the manner of 'Varsity men, we started on to "shop" there and then, and had the old days over again in review.
We had both been of the same year, and although in a small college that argues some knowledge of one another, we were by no means in the same set. In fact, up there Cospatric had been rather an anomaly: a man in no clique, a man without a nickname, a man distinguished only by the halo of his exit. He came up, one of a bunch of fifty-two undergraduates, joined all the clubs, was tubbed, rowed four at the end of his first October term in a losing junior trial eight, and was promptly shelved. He was never in evidence anywhere, but was reported to be a subscriber of Rolandi's, and to spend his time reading novels in foreign tongues. As he seldom kept either lectures or chapels, a chronic gating fostered this occupation. His second October he again navigated the Cam in a junior trial. He lugged with the arms incurably and swung like a corkscrew, but we had five trials on that term, and men were wanted to fill them. So he rowed and raced, and again helped his crew to lose, and then was shelved as hopeless. He was a man of no account. Not three men, out of his own year, knew him by name.
At the beginning of his second Easter term he began to distinguish himself. Of all places, he started to do this at the Union—an institution few of us C—— men belonged to. There was a debate upon something connected with Education. An unknown person got up and savagely attacked existing methods as being useless, impracticable, and in the interests of the teacher and not of the taught. "Of what use to society is a College fellow?" he asked, and answering, "Of none, except to reproduce his species," backed up his case with such cleverness that a majority grew out of nothing. Johnians howled; Trinity men and Hall men cheered with delight; Non-Colls hissed and made interruptions; and as the ragged-gowned crowd trooped out, a universal cry went up of, "Who the devil is he?"
We undergraduates at C—— were not much moved by this exploit, because, as I have hinted, the Union was not in our line. We rowed and danced and drove tandem; never preached, except to election mobs. We quite agreed with Cospatric that Classics and Mathematics, and Natural Science as she is taught at Cambridge, are one and all of them useless burdens, not worth the gathering; but we were not prepared to say with him that we hungered after the acquisition of French, German, Spanish, Norsk, and Italian, or eke Lingua Franca or Japanese.
The higher authorities saw the matter in a different light. Master and fellows looked upon Mr. Cospatric as a dangerous heretic—much, in fact, as Urban VIII. and his cardinals regarded Galileo—and resolved to make him recant. The senior tutor was chosen as their instrument. He was an official with what were described as "little ways of his own." He hauled Cospatric. Union speech and revolutionary sentiments were not referred to. The delinquent was (amid a cacophony of "Hems") accused, on the strength of coming up Chapel with surplice unbuttoned, of being inebriated within the walls of a sacred edifice. He was not allowed to speak a word in his own defence. He was gated for a week at eight, and coughed out of the room.
An eminently steady man, and conscious of being at the moment in question sober as an archangel, the iron of the accusation and punishment entered into his soul. For gatings as a general thing he cared not one jot. He had lived his year and a half in an atmosphere of them. Whether free or chained, he had always stayed in his rooms after hall, preferring the green-labelled books to any other evening companionship.
But to this present confinement, a piece of obviously rank injustice, he determined not to submit; and in consequence spent a dreary evening parading the streets, not arriving back till close upon twelve.
He kept in College. The porter sent up his name. He was again hauled, and again, without being allowed to say a word in his own defence, gated for the remainder of the term, and given to understand that he would be sent down for good if he cut a single gate.
The sentence was barbarous. A call at the Lodge and a patient explanation to the Master would probably have set matters right. But Cospatric was not the man such a course would occur to. Some long-slumbering demon rose within him, and he indulged heavily in College Audit in hall. Afterwards he came to my rooms, where there was a conclave of some sort going on, and made a statement. It was his first recorded appearance in any one's quarters but his own, and his first recorded look of excitement, and consequently his words were listened to. He did not stay long. He told us in forcible language that as the College authorities had seen fit to take it out of him, he intended to do the like by them, and we might form ourselves into umpires of the proceedings. Then he departed, and next morning joined a knot of us who were gazing with admiration at the stone angels beside the clock, who, during the hours of darkness, had been helmeted with obscene earthenware. No ladder in the College could reach that decorated statuary, and as the porter did not see fit to risk his neck over such a ghastly climb, decorated they stayed till mid-day, and our court teemed with ribald undergraduates.
The succeeding morning there was another raree-show. The College skeleton—framework of a long-passed don, so tradition stated—had been, by help of a screwdriver and patience, untombed from its dusty resting-place at the top of the Hall staircase. It had been dressed in some flashy Scotch tweeds well known as belonging to the junior tutor, and perched astride of the weather-cock. Again the position was impregnable, and again the trophy drew delighted crowds till long past mid-day.
And so one puerile outrage succeeded another, scarcely a day passing without some new triumph of the kind to report. Cospatric leaped at one bound into a public character. Of course every soul in the place knew that he was at the bottom of it all—the dons getting the news through the gyps—but no one in authority was smart enough to bring anything home to him. He even took to keeping lectures and chapels, which piece of pharisaism put, to our mind then, the finishing touch of this comedy of revenge.
It all seems a great piece of foolery when one looks back, but at the time we thought it high-minded and justifiable rebellion. We assembled in the court, and cheered after the senior tutor had been three parts smothered in his bed by a red-pepper squib dropped down the chimney; and on the morning after the Master's laundry was raided, and the linen (belonging to both sexes) distributed amongst the crows' nests in the avenue, I think special trains must have been running into Cambridge, so thick was the throng of sight-seers.
There is no doubt about it that Cospatric came to be a young man of much renown in those days.
Had he been a popular person beforehand, far-seeing friends would have advised him to retire on his laurels after, say, the first half-dozen exploits. But as it was, there was no one amongst the newly-formed acquaintances sufficiently interested in the hero of the moment to forgo his own personal anticipations of enjoyment. The man was egged on unthinkingly, although a moment's thought must have pointed to a certain deluge ahead.
And that deluge came, as usual, from an unlooked-for quarter.
Cospatric, in all his sober senses, was helping an overcome roisterer across the court late at night. The junior tutor arrived, and ordered Cospatric to his rooms. Cospatric went obediently, waited in the shadow of an archway, and returned to the overcome one. Enter once more the junior tutor; nothing said to the roisterer; Cospatric to pay an official call at twelve-thirty on the morrow. There is no use giving detail. They had a College meeting next day, and sent him down for an offence that was absolutely trivial; and every soul in the College, the culprit included, saw the justice of the injustice.
He came down the steps from the Combination room in triumph, and we chaired him round the court in a bath, some hundred and twenty men forming in procession behind, and singing an idiotic march-song from a current burlesque. Then we went to his rooms, and he sat on two tables, one above the other, with a tea-cosy on his head, and held an auction of his effects, which those of us who happened to possess any ready cash bought up at long figures. He had no plans for the future, so we stuck a false moustache on him, corked his eyebrows, and thus disguised kept him smuggled in our rooms for ten days, during which time Bacchus created Babel. And then we had him photographed in various attitudes—singly, and surrounded by groups of admirers—and then we went out with him to the station, saw him in a train for Liverpool Street, and—that's all. He was never viewed or heard of again. His period of brilliance up there was very comet-like.
"Hysterical madness" was the definition Cospatric clapped on to that culminating episode of his Cambridge life; "but," he added, with a chuckle, "I did enjoy myself whilst the fun lasted. That's just typical of the particular fool I am. Nature intended me for clown in a third-rate travelling circus. The father made up his mind I was to be a big thing in the lawyering way. The two clashed, and the present state of affairs is the result. If some far-seeing guardian could only have averaged matters, I might have turned out very differently. I'd have made a good courier, for instance, if such an animal had been in demand nowadays; or a continental drummer, if the commercial part of the work could have been left out; or even a passable navy officer. As it is, I'm nothing; I'm no mortal good to anybody: and I have a very tolerable time of it. Look, that's my boat."
We had worked our way down past the intervening barriers of water and wood, and were walking on the fjord shore. Rounding a bluff, we had suddenly opened out a small cutter of some six-and-twenty or thirty tons, riding to her anchor in the mouth of the river. One concluded that she was a yacht, as she was flush-decked, and had a skylight instead of a cargo-hatch amidships; but her lines were a good deal of the dray-horse type, and as for smartness, she did not know the meaning of the word. I expect traces of this opinion showed in my face, for Cospatric saw fit to explain.
"I learnt my sailoring in an untidy school," he said—"tramp steamers, coasting schooners, collier brigs, and timber barques; and those aren't the sort of craft that rub neatness into a man. Our motto in the little drogher yonder is to keep her afloat with the least possible bother to ourselves. We never lie in swagger harbours to be looked at. There isn't a burgee or a brass button on board. Strict Spartan utility is very much the motto of the ship's company. Hence, for example, you find the decks brown and not white, and yet I can assure you that they are absolutely staunch. She scarcely leaks a tear anywhere; and although she's beamy and heavy-bowed and deep, she isn't such a sluggard either, especially when it's blowing. In fact, dirty weather's our strong point with that ugly duckling of a cutter. She'd sail most of your dandy craft slick under water if it came on really bad. And we got it a week ago by the Dogger here, and last year just to s'uthard of the Bay, as foul as I've ever seen it anywhere."
"Here's our boat," I cut in. "My headquarters are in that house at the other side of the river. I'll drop you at your craft as we cross."
"Not a bit of it, man. You must come and see me now we are here; and, besides"—here he chuckled—"perhaps the belly of the old cutter isn't quite so uncouth as her hide. You can send Ulus on with the impedimenta if he wants to report himself."
So we did that—dropped down with the ebb, stepped over the rail, bidding Ulus go his ways with boat and news and trophies. As our shoes clattered on the grimy deck-planks, a close-cropped head bobbed up through the forehatch, bowed, and retired.
"That's Celestin," said Cospatric, "my professional crew. He's principally cook; and at times he's a very good cook, as you may learn. There's another man below; my mate, part-owner with me. We're a queerly-assorted couple, but we've rubbed on very well together this past eighteen months."
He led the way down the ladder, and I followed. The inside of the cutter was certainly "not so uncouth as her hide." Indeed, seldom have I seen a cosier cabin, and I have been into a good many of one sort and another. The items of furniture and fitting had evidently been picked up from over a very wide area, but they had been selected with taste, and harmonized thoroughly. The effect aimed at was comely comfort, and that effect had been thoroughly gained.
One thing only seemed out of balance with the whole. The forecastle door was a narrow sliding panel well over to port. All the starboard side of the bulk-head was filled by a piano, which was bevelled off at its lower right-hand corner so as to fit against the sheathing.
Cospatric followed my glance. "Yes, it's an upright 'grand,' and German, specially made. It is rather bulky for the size of the ship, but you see we're a bit musical here. Haigh plays. By the way, you haven't seen Haigh yet."
He called out, and his mate came down the narrow alleyway from the after-cabin. He was a tall, lean, smooth-faced man, with moist black hair that was partly sleek and shining, partly bristling out in straggling wisps. His face was dewy, and his eyes perpetually blinking. Cospatric asked him to play something. He peered at me for a moment or two as though taking my measure, and then went to the piano and gave vent to a particularly low comic song.
"Forecastle tastes," thought I; "that upright grand's a wasted instrument."
Aloud I expressed conventional thanks. Haigh had another blink or two in my direction, and then broke into Gounod's "Chantez toujours," singing it very passably. He hadn't much voice, but he knew how to sing.
"Like that?" inquired Cospatric.
"Remarkably," said I.
"Better than the other?"
"A hundred per cent."
"Then keep the same stop out, Haigh, and go ahead."
And Haigh turned to the piano and rattled off half a dozen other goodish ballads. Then he said he was tired, and straggled out on a sofa and blinked at the ceiling, whilst Cospatric and I wallowed in Cambridge shop again. It's extraordinary how men do like to talk over the follies of those old times. And afterwards Celestin indulged us in dinner, a regular epicurean feast, washed down with decent wine, a thing worth much fine gold after a month and a half in Norway.
"You do know how to take care of yourself on this craft," I observed to Cospatric that evening.
"We don't live like this at sea, you know. It's regular ship's fare with us then. And so, you see, we appreciate little bouts of gourmandise when we get into port. Personally, I've got that principle somewhat ingrained. In fact, I've rubbed along that way ever since I got adrift from England and respectability. The system has its drawbacks, but from my point of view it makes life worth living. I've had roughish spells between whiles, but I'm so peculiarly constituted that a short bright spot of comfort makes me forget the disagreeables that have gone before, and wipes the slate clean for a fresh start."
During the days that followed, when not shooting or fishing, I was generally on that ugly little cutter. Two things drew me: firstly (I'm sorry to own), the fare, which was so vastly superior to my own; and secondly, yarns. There was another attraction later, but I did not know of it then.
Those yarns of Cospatric's were tales one would not forget. He told of things which are not written down in books. He had travelled because he couldn't help it, and consequently had seen and done things that more well-to-do travellers are debarred from. He had housed amongst the most iniquitous places on God's earth, from Callao to Port Said; he had wandered from Yokohama to Mandalay; he had been trimmer on a Shaw-Savile boat; he had served as mate on a Genovese timber barque.
He told of all these matters with an open contempt, in which Haigh (when he did not happen to be dozing) readily joined him. The pair of them had both knocked about the world largely. But it was not because they liked it. It was the Fates that had ordained their first cycle of vagabondage. This new mode of living in a shifting house—to wit, the ugly cutter—was taken up because sea-roaming had been so thoroughly ingrained into their natures that as yet neither of them had found a spot he cared to settle down in permanently.
The rolling stone aphorism had been pretty accurately fulfilled in Cospatric's case. He had gathered during the greater part of his nomadic life little moss which he could convert into a bank-note equivalent. Another man might have utilized some of the material; he lacked the skill to set it in vendible form. With one solitary exception, his gains during those vagrant years may be summed up under two heads. He had gathered a knowledge of certain orders of his species that was both extensive and peculiar; and he had amassed a collection of tattooings that was unique for a European. The former he cared not one jot about, displaying his intimate acquaintance with the shadier side of the world's peoples with apologies; but in the latter he took an almost childish pride. They were not, he pointed out, the rude frescoings of the British mariner, who outlines a diagrammatic female with a sail needle, tints her with gunpowder, and labels her with the name of his current lady-love to prevent mistakes. Such crude efforts have their good points; for instance, they promote constancy. But they are hideously inartistic, and, moreover, to a man of ordinarily fickle nature, are apt to bring in very damning evidence at the most inopportune moments. Whereas (still according to Cospatric) the higher types of these human frescoes spell Art, with a very big A, and form a portable picture gallery which no spasmodic poverty can ever induce one to pawn or otherwise part with.
The adaptability of the medium for artistic design is a matter open to argument. However, Cospatric bore upon his person better specimens than I have ever seen before. He had sat to none but the most noted artists of Burmah and Japan, and the outcome of their brushes—or, rather, needles, as I suppose it should be termed—was in places more than remarkable. Buddhas, nautch-girls, sacred white elephants, serial fairy stories, and the rest were all worth studying; but I think the chefs-d'oeuvre of the two artistic centres were a peacock and a multi-coloured dragon. The bird stood before a temple (on the mid forearm), serenely conscious of its own perfection. Every feather on its body was true to life, every spot on its tail a microscopic wonder. The beast (or the creeping thing, if you so prefer to name it) twined round one of his lower limbs, leaving the dent of its claws in the flesh, and resting its squat, outstretched head on the centre of the knee-cap. And so cunningly was the creature perched (as its owner gleefully pointed out) that the least movement of his crural muscles set the jagged backbone a-quivering, and the slobbering lips to mumble and mow. Cospatric said that dragon was a most finished piece of workmanship, and worth all he had cost.
"That's the worst of really good tattooing," he explained, a propos of this beast; "it's so infernally expensive to get the best men. You've no idea how they are run after. But luckily they've a soft place for a real connoisseur, even though he comes from the West. And, besides, I've got such a grand skin...."
Music and dinners absorbed his spare cash when such were available; but out in Burmah and Japan neither were to his taste, and consequently all ready funds were wont to be sunk in corporeal decoration.
Whether the outlay seems judicious I will not say. It was not my hide that these uncanny limners operated upon.
Another of Cospatric's tastes was one I could chime in with more readily. He did not flaunt it, by any means. On the contrary, he kept the thing hidden, and I stumbled across it only by accident. Moreover, it was a stroke of luck for me that I did so, as my want of knowledge had been a bar to any intimacy; whereas, once in his confidence upon this point, we got on together swimmingly, and I had a good time.
It was an unpremeditated return to the yacht late at night with news of bear that helped the discovery. Ulus had brought the tidings just as I was going to bed that his bjorn-ship was expected to call at a neighbouring farm to polish off the remains of a sheep; and as bear was the only sort of local game which Cospatric considered worth powder and ball, I thought I'd knock him up for the chance of a shot. So I went out, and tramped down to the shore opposite to where the ugly cutter was riding. But I did not hail. I stood there and listened—listened with some wonder and some delight—I believe I gaped. The strings of the "upright grand" were in motion, but they were giving vent to neither ballad tune nor comic jig. And chiming in with them were the notes of a violin, played tunefully, accurately, boldly. That last, I knew, must be Cospatric's. I had not seen the instrument here as yet, but I remembered he was supposed to be rather good on it up at Cambridge.
After a bit I pulled myself together and hailed. The music ceased abruptly. Cospatric's head appeared through the hatch, and Cospatric's voice inquired with a good deal of impatience what I wanted.
I told him about the bear, and then added a few words in praise of the music. "Why ever didn't you let me hear your concert before?" I asked. "Did you think it was a case of pearls and pigs?"
"That's exactly the reason! I didn't know you cared for anything more advanced than those ballad affairs. However, if that's a wrong idea, I'm very glad. We'll have some tunes together after this, and perhaps Haigh and I may knock out an item or two that's fresh to you. But for the present, as you suggest—bjorn. I'll be with you on the sand there in nine seconds."
As for the bear, of course he didn't turn up, and we three and Se spent a particularly cold night in the open, with absolutely nothing to show far it. In this there was nothing surprising. It was quite in the ordinary way of business. Only Cospatric, who is at heart no sportsman, murmured, "Small potatoes."
It was not till a couple of days afterwards that we got on the subject of music again. We came at it this way: the cutter was going to work south and west again, and it was proposed that I should join her. "Don't go down in one of those beastly coasting steamers," said Cospatric. "They'll give you five sorts of cheese for breakfast, and poison you at all other meals. You'll live in an atmosphere of dried fish and engine-room oil, and you'll be driven half-mad by children who squall, and other children who rattle the saloon domino-box all through the watches. You'd much better come with me. I'll drop you at a steamer's port in the Channel somewhere some time. You aren't in a hurry. Come, and hear Haigh play again."
I said I preferred duets.
"All right, you shall hear the humble combined effort," said he; and then, after a good deal of pumping, I got more out of him as to whence sprang his powers.
"The thing's simple enough," he said. "I was fond of fiddling, and I stuck to it. I used to scrape at Cambridge, if you remember, as probably you don't, and had some goodish lessons there. Afterwards, when I got on the wander and took to pawning things, my spare shirt went frequently, but I always managed to stick to that little black box somehow. And I played on forecastle heads and on beaches and in sailors' lodgings ashore, and occasionally I got a week or so's lessons from a good man ashore; and then I heard concerts and good orchestras all up and down. And so, you see, I picked it up that way.... No, I don't play from paper much, but Haigh's a bit of a kindred spirit, and between us we evolve things. And now let's talk of something else—say, the ptarmigan prospects for next year; you'll be good on that."
* * * * *
Now I am fond of music—ordinary music, that is—and I can appreciate a good song or well-performed operas such as Carmen and the Yeomen of the Guard, or even a classical concert if it is not too long. In fact, I had always plumed myself on being what one calls "very tolerably musical." But these two were streets in advance of such mediocrity. To begin with, they had a strong contempt for most vocal efforts, considering them as merely a sop for the outside public. Orchestral music was their formula for the highest form of the art, and orchestral music they accordingly played, that queer creature Haigh blinking over the upright grand, and Cospatric behind him bringing sounds out of his violin such as I never heard amateur produce before, with a combined result that was always marvellous, and sometimes verged upon that abstract goal, perfection.
They seldom had a screed of notes before them. Either they knew the stuff by heart, or, what seemed more likely, there was some sympathetic link between them which kept both instruments unerringly to the theme. I could not find how it was done; I could only acknowledge the results.
It was by no means always within my powers to appreciate their work. Sometimes the charm of what they played was too esoteric for my understanding. The sounds were unmeaning to me; not infrequently they were absolutely discordant. But I had confidence enough in the superiority of their intellects over mine not to condemn, still less to scoff. At these times I held my tongue. Genius is not improved by irreverent criticism.
I spoke with Cospatric one day about keeping all these creative gifts to himself. Why did he not share them with the outside world?
He gave a bit of a shudder. "Don't suggest such an idea," he said. "It's my one sensitive place. All the rest have been hammered dull in my roamings. I must keep that as it is."
And then at another time: "You know I can't conceive of a sensitive man, be he musician or painter, or even writer of romance, who would put out his very best for an indiscriminate public to browse upon or trample over. He knows and feels the thing he has created to be a beautiful thing and an original thing, and he has been at much pains to arrive at it, although there were special items in his own constitution which helped him. And he can be sure that there are a large percentage of pigs in the public by whom his pearl will not be appreciated. Its shape and its colour are new to them; and not having come within the range of their limited vision before, therefore its building must be altogether wrong. But that is not the worst. Spoken babblings one might be deaf to; written stuff is sure to be cut out by a friend and posted for you to enjoy with your morning's coffee. Those infernal newspapers get hold of the thing you have made, and their verdict depends upon the individual taste of some anonymous 'we.' He may not like your sardines, and accordingly, though it does not therefore follow that sardines are unfit for human food, he proceeds to slate sardines with all his tricks of satire and argument, and to cover the maker and even the eater of sardines with ridicule."
He stopped then, and I asked if he had been catching it somewhere.
He laughed, "No, I've never had my name once in a paper that I know of; not even under the heading of Police Intelligence. I'm singularly uneager for fame. I'm only talking from what I've seen occasionally. That's been warning enough for me. It must sour a man to be jeered at in that sort of way, and, thanks, I prefer not to be soured. I've no superfluous sweetness."
* * * * *
All this may seem rather absurd, but I give it just to show what manner of a man Cospatric is when you come to know him intimately. No one from meeting him casually would guess that he had failings of this sort. In fact, you would take him for a very tough subject indeed, inured to hardship in the past, and liking hardship in the present for its own sake. As an instance: instead of taking his ugly cutter down coast by the inner passages, he must needs get out into the open water, which is at this time of year exceptionally unquiet, from sheer delight at getting kicked about. Indeed, when we picked up an equinoctial gale half-way across, and had our hands exceedingly full to keep the boat afloat, the man fairly revelled in the scene and the work; and what's more, that sleepy, straggling person Haigh did too. It wasn't in my line at all. I've not the smallest objection to getting cold and wet when there is a big elk or a good bag of grouse in question; that's different. But when one is perpetually half-drowned and frozen in a little tub of a sailing craft, I fail to see where the fun comes in. Still, in spite of the hard, rough time, I should have been sorry to have missed that hammering across the North Sea and the trip down Channel to queer old St. Malo. There was one strong redeeming feature—Cospatric's accounts of his hunting after the Raymond Lully inscription. He and I took one watch between us, and to the accompaniment of northern gale and northern spindrift, he yarned about a chase under southern skies for an object which I believe to be an absolutely unique one. He was one of the men who were scouring after that Recipe for making Diamonds lost to this world since the death of its original finder in 1315.
[Follows, an account of the contention for the blessed Raymond Lully's Recipe, as given from Michael Cospatric's own lips.]
MR. WEEMS AND HIS PURCHASE.
... Genoa no doubt has its drawbacks. Incessant rain, perennial stink, and big prices can go to make up a heaven for few people. But for taking the taste of really bitter hard times out of one's mouth, the place has its good points.
I'd been catching it bad just before. I'd got on my beam-ends in Oporto, and couldn't afford to be fastidious about a berth. Consequently, I'd found myself in a rotten old Genovese tramp barque that most of the crew had run from because they thought she'd founder next time she put to sea. Of course the owners didn't want to see her again, and the skipper had been doing his best to play into their hands all the way down from the Baltic. His mate had contrived to baulk his losing her during the previous half of the trip, but got sick of the job and cleared when he found the chance. It was into the mate's shoes that I stepped; and having no interest in the insurance policy, and placing a certain value on my own hide, I continued at the same game. We'd a beautiful chance four days out. We picked up a sou'easter off St. Vincent, and the putty began to tumble out, and she got more of a basket than ever. We'd only ten of a crew all told, and there wasn't a man of them that had had a whole watch below since we got our clearance. Fore t'gallant mast had gone like a carrot at the cap, and mizzen-mast head was so sprung that she wouldn't bear the spanker. She was squattering along under the two lower topsails only, and we amused ourselves by betting when they'd split.
She was so infernally full of water that she steered like a haystack; and as any one in the waist got half-drowned every minute, long spells at the pumps weren't popular.
We couldn't make our easting a bit, and the old man kept saying that we should never get through the Straits. That was by way of preparation, but I understood what he was up to and said nothing.
At last he put it to me squarely. 'Twasn't good enough going on like this. The barque would have to be "Lost at Sea"—luckily the boat down yonder amidships was a thumping big one.
I said open-boat cruising in a December Atlantic wasn't an amusement I hankered after, and then asked him bluntly how much he was going to clear out of the job.
He said, "Nothing;" called a large squad of saints to witness that the loss of his vessel would ruin him; and then, changing tack, promised that I should make a good thing out of it.
But when I tried to pin him, it was no go. He wouldn't make me out a cheque; he wouldn't put pen to paper in any way; he wouldn't even pledge his owners for a figure; and I damned him for a slippery Maccaroni, and swore I'd drive his old tramp in between Genoa pierheads just to square up his meanness. He daren't knife me, because the crew would have understood why, and raised a wasp's nest; and he had to play the sailor, because I promised him if he piled her up anywhere I'd go to the nearest Italian consul and report him; but I'll give the man credit for keeping me in blacker Hades during the rest of that crawl across than I ever knew existed before. However, he got settled with when once we were snugly into harbour, and was a long fortnight in hospital repairing damages. That's where an Englishman scores. Whip away the coltello from the back of his belt, get him to put up his hands, steer clear of his feet, and you have a southerner on toast.
After living like a brute—and acting, of course, so as not to spoil the completeness of the part—for all that time, I naturally set to doing what the sailor man always does under the circumstances. I got ashore, and started washing the taste out of my mouth. Every man does this according to his own lights, and perhaps mine were a trifle out of the general groove. Lodging I was not fastidious about, neither did I long for drink, nor clothes, nor women. So I put up at a bit of an upstairs albergo in the Via S. Siro, where one who knows the ropes can get a decent room for a lira, and spent my time and money in having daily a real good dinner and hearing some tip-top music. And, by Jove, I did enjoy myself. It seemed almost worth going through the bad spell, just for the sake of the contrast.
But, more's the pity, my pay had been small, and it fractionized rapidly. The spree could only be a short one.
However, I wasn't going to run matters too fine this time and get cornered again, as had been my fate at Oporto, so I loafed amongst the shipping offices during my mornings, and had the good luck to stumble into a berth on one of the American liners. It was only as third mate, to be sure; but then she was a big ship, and I, professionally speaking, was a small man. I hadn't exactly been schooled for the sea, you know, so you can guess I was feeling pretty comfortable over it.
It's just spells like those which prove to a man how thoroughly life is worth living.
The end of my tether was not long in coming. A man, when his shore riotings are thoroughly systematic, as mine were, can calculate his days of revelry to a nicety. I had arrived at my last two twenty-lire notes. I was going to finish up with a ten-lire dinner, then spend four lire for entrance and a seat at the Carlo Felice to hear "Cavalleria Rusticana," leaving part of six lire for bed, morning coffee, and other sundries, besides twenty odd to carry on the war with before I got my advance on the steamer. Being stone-broke when you go on board doesn't matter if you ship forward; but aft, to start with bare pockets may get you a bad name.
I had maundered out to the Campo Santo that last day, and on the road back, just after passing through the walls, an Englishman who had lost himself asked the way to the market-place. He was a little bit of a self-important chap, with a gruff, coarse voice, and schoolmaster written in large letters all over him. He knew no word of Italian, and was evidently feeling lonely to a degree; and so, as I had no objection to chatting with a countryman, we paced off together and dropped into conversation. He was "doing" North Italy with a circular ticket, and as he had read it all up with much thoroughness beforehand, he was very naturally much disappointed with the reality. "S. Mark's was too small, and Venice was most unhealthy. The sanitation of that part over the Rialto Bridge, where the butchers' shops were, was a disgrace to the country. The Duomo at Milan was squat, ugly, overrated, and the hotel charges in that city were most exorbitant. Turin might be a good place for shopping, but he had not gone there for that purpose. And Genoa, again, was unsanitary." In fact, he was the stereotyped travelling Briton, so full of melancholy discontent and disappointment that one wondered why he did not commit suicide or go home. And as, add to this, he laid down the law with the true schoolmaster's dogmaticalness on every conceivable subject that cropped up, from music to tattooing, you can guess that he had in him the makings of a very objectionable beast indeed. However, he was so appallingly ignorant of all the matters he plunged amongst as to be correspondingly amusing, and for that reason alone I didn't give him the go-by at once.
We were passing a bookseller's shop, where he caught sight of a mangy, leather-bound MS. in the window, and said he'd ask the price. He didn't know in the least what it was about, and didn't seem to care; but saying that he would make a good profit out of it at Quaritch's, went into the shop. I didn't offer an opinion about his last statement, but just followed. He was demanding "How much?"
"Vous parlez francais, m'sieu'?" asked the bookseller.
"Nong, mais this gentleman here parlez Italiano.—I say, will you translate for me? Ask the fellow what he'll sell this for."
I did, and the bookseller started a long yarn about the MS. having come out of the Marchese di Somebody-or-other's library, where it had lain undisturbed for several thousand years. "Signor," said he, "the book is of inestimable value, and I cannot part with it for less than thirty lire."
I repeated the gist of this to my man—Weems was his name, by the way, of New, Oxford, so he said—and told him he could get the thing for about twelve lire, if he cared about it. And, to cut the yarn short, he did buy it for twelve-fifty, and left the shop feeling that he had been swindled out of at least half a crown.
"What's your purchase about?" I asked when we were in the street again.
He hadn't looked; didn't see that it mattered much; the stuff was old, and that was the main thing. All these old MSS. were valuable, and Quaritch was sure to buy it at a good price.
I still had my doubts about that last, but didn't argue. It was his affair, not mine.
Finally, he suggested dining together, and (as he had been in Genoa exactly twelve hours) laid down the law without the smallest hesitation as to which was the best place to go to, and what was best to have. By that time I had got about sick of his society, and said bluntly that, as I knew Genoa thoroughly, I was not going anywhere in the Galleria Mazzini, as he suggested, but to somewhere in another direction; and, further, that as his idea of his menu and mine didn't appear to coincide in any one item, we had better bid one another good afternoon. But the horror of loneliness loomed near him again, and for one of the few times in his life he changed front without argument. He would grant, upon second thoughts, that I must know best about such a matter, and would take it as a great favour if he might place himself under my guidance. After which, of course, I could not say anything except that I should be proud to act as his cicerone.
We had our meal—which was to be my last good one for many a long day to come—and a beauty it was. Even my North of England grammar-school master could not but admit the excellence, although he grumbled at the price. Afterwards we went through into the caffe, and I offered him a good cigar, saying that if he had been undergoing a course of the local vegetable he would appreciate it. However, the creature didn't smoke; and as he also didn't drink black coffee, and as I did both, he took occasion to point out to me at some length that I was deliberately crumpling up my constitution. To turn the conversation, I suggested over-hauling his recent purchase. He seemed sorry to cut short his sermon, but finding that I was paying no attention, asked what the book was.
"It's a diary," said I, "written in Spanish, or to be more accurate, Catalan; and," I added rather maliciously, "I'm afraid you won't get much of a fortune out of Quaritch for it, as there seems to be nothing here except the merest tittle-tattle."
His face lengthened for a moment at the idea, but the old cocksure manner came back again, and he pooh-poohed my valuation with lofty superiority.
"I presume you are not an expert in such matters as these—er—Mr. Cospatric? No, of course not; it couldn't be expected. But let me assure you that I did not make this outlay with my eyes shut. Trust me for knowing what I was about." He turned over some dozen of the yellow pages, looking at them curiously. "That y there standing by itself means 'and.' H'm, yes. The thing's clear enough when one looks into it. I don't profess to translate this old MS. at sight. You see the—ar—the writing's crabbed; and my time is too much occupied to study it carefully. No, I shall just sell the thing to the man I mentioned as it stands. To return to what I was telling you about the use of tobacco, though. Whether you consider the matter from a scientific or merely from a rational point of view——" And away he steamed again, whilst I conned over the tangled quill-work.
My inattention was purposely obvious. I had got thoroughly sick of the man, and wanted to drive him away. But he had only his own society to fall back upon, and he had evidently the good taste to object strongly to that. And so he preached on.
There was only one other person at our end of the caffe, a dark, good-looking man with blue spectacles, who sat at an adjoining table with an Eco d'Italia before him, sipping cognac and sugar. But when Weems tried to drag him into conversation, the curse of the Tower of Babel applied the cloture, and, "Ignorant lot, these Italians," said the schoolmaster, going on to show with many statistics and arguments that English, being founded on dead languages, was irrevocably destined by the Fates to become the universal tongue of all terrestrial peoples.
I looked at the clock. Half an hour yet before the doors of the Carlo Felice opened. The steep street outside was wet and miserable. I went back to turning over the old book. The pages were a queer medley, superbly uninteresting most of them, and tedious to spell out. There were the usual Spanish flourishes of lettering and expression, and when one had winnowed away all this chaff, it needed a great deal of hunger to make one appreciate the grain. In fact, I was on the point of closing the old scribble book through sheer weariness, when my eye lit on something which, as I read it further, made me fairly sweat.
Weems droned on with his sermon, and I chucked in question and retort from time to time, just to keep him at it. I was wanting to gain time for a little argument of my own. It was a case of should I keep what I had found to myself, or should I share it with Weems? Common sense said, "Don't be a fool. If Providence has chucked a good thing in your way, stick it in your own pocket. That self-sufficient idiot will be none the wiser." But the plague one calls Honour kept shoving in all manner of objections. By Jove, how a rational-minded cad would have scored there!
In the long run Honour, confound it, got a bit of a balancer which helped it to win. I'd a light purse; Weems seemed better off; he must supply the trifle of shot necessary for the pair of us; and together we should split the proceeds. Yes, that would be the idea. And besides, on second thoughts, there'd be lashings and lavings of plunder for both. No need for a bit of sharp practice on my part after all. So up I spoke:—
"See here, signor, you've had the carpet for long enough, so give me a turn. This twaddling old screed which you were going to sell without ever skimming it through holds what means nothing more or less than a thumping great fortune for each of us. You've heard of Raymond Lully? No? Well, he was an old swell who flourished in the twelve hundreds, and who was by trade rake, philosopher, quack, fanatic, organizer, and martyr. He hailed from Mallorca—or Majorca, as you English persist in calling it—and he wrote books on Apologetic Theology, Dogmatic Divinity, and Practical Alchemy. Also he penned this diary, which has evidently been kept pretty snug so far, and thanks to its general dreary tone, no one has read the memorandum on page the last but one."
"Let me see," interrupted Weems, stretching out his hand for the volume.
"It's of no use to you, as you can't read Spanish. However, I'll tell you what's here; only let me gently remind you first that if it hadn't been for my knowing the language and conning some of this stuff through, the book would have passed out of your hands without your ever having learnt a word about it. Shall I go on now? It's a bit important."
"Yes, we are practically alone here. That person with the blue spectacles speaks no English, and there is no one else within earshot. But you are slightly in error about my ignorance of Spanish, Mr. Cospatric!"
"Yes, yes; you know y means 'and,' don't you, and that si stands for 'yes,' and all the rest? But don't let's bother about that now. Just marvel at this wonderful find. If the old gentleman had only written 'R. Lully, His Book,' on the title-page or at the conclusion, some bibliophile would have picked the thing up for a certainty, and read it with the view of finding what I have found; and part of the world's history would be different. But as it is, Lully happily omitted his signature, and in consequence the memorandum of where the Recipe could be found has never been read since the day it was written."
"But," broke in Weems, "what is this all about? I can't understand what you are driving at, except that the book is a diary of Raymond Lully's, whose name, of course, I recollect clearly enough now."
"My dear sir, whilst this old quack was trafficking with alchemy, and trying to discover the elixir vital, or the philosopher's stone, or some other myth like that, he accidentally found out a method whereby common wood charcoal may be crystallized."
"What!" gasped the schoolmaster, "made into diamonds! Great heavens, how was it done? Tell me quick."
"He doesn't give it here. This diary was evidently a private one which he carried about with him, and it was liable to be destroyed. So he wrote up the Recipe in a quiet place where no one would stumble on it, and where, as he remarks, he could send his heir to if he thought fit to do such a thing. But still, I don't think that there is much fear of the secret having been given away. In the first place, we should undoubtedly hear of it if any one was manufacturing real diamonds for the market, as the diamond mines of the world are all known, and their output most strictly regulated. And, in the second place, he had a strong reason of his own for not divulging the formula. Listen, and I'll read. 'If,' he says, 'diamonds were made common and cheap so that the lower orders of people might obtain them, I can conceive that much dissension would arise. For the nobles, finding their stored gems to have become in a sudden of no richness, would be deeply embittered thereby—they and their woman-kind. And the common folk, being able to flaunt jewels equal to those of their betters, would wax arrogant and dissatisfied; and though being in reality no whit better off than before, would deem themselves the inferiors of none and the superiors to most; in support of which vain dreams they would strive to their own sore detriment. For as in the beginning the sons of Adam were equal, and as of their descendants some rose to be of ruling classes through mental and physical fitness, so if all men were to be levelled again to-day, to-morrow they would be uneven once more, and the next day more uneven, the weak getting trampled under foot, and the strong fighting a red path upward with their ruthless sword.'"
"I need hardly inform you," interrupted Weems, "that those crude ideas of political economy are not what we modern thinkers accept. Even John Stuart—but I will tell you about that afterwards. Please let me hear how the diamonds are made. Never mind about the other twaddle. It pains one to listen to it."
"As I told you, the actual Recipe is not in the diary here. Lully wrote it out, so he says, in imperishable form, in a place where he conceived it would pass down through the centuries absolutely undisturbed. I am not quite so confident about that as he is, as I know the inquisitiveness of the present generation better than he could imagine it. But to cut the story short, he found a way into one of the Talayots of Minorca, carved his secret upon the plaster of the interior, hid the entrance again, and came away. He says that the Talayot was believed by the Minorcans to be solid throughout, and adds that his only confidant, the priest who helped him to gain the internal chamber, died of a fever two days afterwards. Then he mentions the name of the spot—Talaiti de Talt, near Mercadal—and says if you dig a man's length down in the middle of the side facing seaward, you'll come across the entrance passage. Oddly enough, I've been at Mercadal myself, when a brig I was on was weather-bound in Port Mahon; and though I don't recollect this Talaiti de Talt, it's very probable I saw it, as we overhauled all the Talayots in the neighbourhood."
"By the way, what is a Talayot? I'm—ar—sorry to confess ignorance——"
That last made me grin, which he saw, and didn't like a bit. However, I pulled my face together again, and explained. "'Talayot' is a generic term for the groups of prehistoric remains which lie all over the island. There are monoliths, short underground passages, duolithic altars, and rude pyramids. Talaiti de Talt is evidently one of these last."
"Tolerably. The race of men who put them up were extinct before the Egyptian pyramid-builders came upon the scene."
"I don't quite see how that can be. You must understand, Mr. Cospatric——"
"Oh, what does it matter, man? If it pleases you, I'll grant that Cheops and Co. took to architecture first. But, anyway, these Minorcan pyramids were up long before Lully's time, and that's enough for us. The Recipe's there, just waiting to be fetched. We must drink success to this."
A waitress brought us filled glasses, and we toasted one another. Then I told Weems openly enough about my financial position, and asked him to advance me enough for passage money. I said I knew the language and the route and all the rest of it, and the outlay for the pair of us would be very little more than what it would cost him to go alone. In fact, I was going on to sketch out the trip, and tot up the items of cost, when he cut me short, and coldly intimated that he did not intend to part with a cent. He did not even plead poverty. He gave no reason whatever.
I stared at him for a minute or so blankly. That he would refuse what I asked had never occurred to me. At last I blurted out, "Why, good God, man, I needn't have told you about the thing at all. If I'd held my tongue, you know very well you'd have parted with the book in absolute ignorance of what it contained."
"I might or might not have looked into it, Mr. Cospatric. That is as may be. But the most ordinary honesty would have compelled you to speak when I did. Perhaps I refused your request too abruptly just now. Believe me, I am not ungrateful for the service you have rendered. In fact, I should like to prove my obligation. But I could not have you labour under the error that you are entitled to a half share of whatever profits may accrue. This Recipe is mine, entirely mine, Mr. Cospatric, and it is not likely that I am going to put you in the way of annexing a share of it. Of course, legally, you have no claim on me; but as you say you are in indigent circumstances, I am willing to stretch a point, and do more than I otherwise should. I will give you the remainder of my circular ticket. That will take you back to England, let me see—via——"
"You scurvy little blackguard," said I, beginning to lose my temper, "aren't you afraid of being killed?"
He got very red, and exclaimed pompously, "Don't you attempt bombast with me, Mr. Cospatric. I am as safe from your personal violence here as I should be at home."
"Then," said I, "you must live at a tolerably lively place, for here there are at least four men knifed every week, and more when things are brisk."
"I shall put myself under the protection of the police if you threaten me," said he, evidently beginning to feel a bit uneasy.
"And I should like to know how the devil you would set about doing that same? Why, my blessed rustic, supposing you knew the lingo, which you don't, and you went up to the local substitute for a bobby, and said you wanted to get under his cloak, d'ye know what he'd do? Why, run you in straight away. And in quod you'd stop; there isn't a soul in the city here who'd say a word for you." Of course all this was a bluff, but I knew the average Briton has an intense belief in official lawlessness on the Continent, and I thought I'd reckoned up this specimen pretty accurately. It looked as if I was right. He changed tack promptly, dropped the dictatorial schoolmaster, and started fawning. I seemed to have mistaken his motives. As a man of science, he naturally took an intense interest in this Recipe, and wished to have the administration of it entirely in his own hands. But, of course, I must have known that as a gentleman he would feel bound to divide any fortune that might proceed from it equally with me.
As a point of fact, I hadn't understood this. I had also overlooked the item that he was a gentleman, and even then did not recognize it. But I kept these trifles to myself; and as he was evidently trying to bury the hatchet, I got out my spade as well. And for the rest of that evening we were as civil to one another as a couple of smugglers with one load of bales.
We were to work the thing together on his coin and my experience, both of which were equally necessary; and as for the plunder, there'd be a belly-full for the pair of us, and a lot to spare. Thank goodness women existed; and as long as they didn't die out, the inhabitants of this globe would always buy diamonds, if the market was not over-glutted.
And we'd start by the train which set off westward along the coast at 7.10 the next morning.
When we get comfortably to Mahon, thought I, I'll tell Mr. Schoolmaster that the proof of the pudding can be found near the Recipe, for, according to the illustrious doctor's account, he has buried in the floor of the Talayot a fist-full of diamonds from his own manufactory. But as the little chap seems keen enough already, I'll let that stand over for the present. If at any time he wants an extra spur, it will come in handy.
WANTED, A PASSAGE.
It had been agreed that we were to start off next morning by the 7.10 train, and half an hour before that time saw me standing before the Columbus statue in the Piazza Acquaverdi. Weems was such a mighty squeamish little creature about the proprieties that I thought an old dunnage-sack would scandalize him, and so had purchased a drab portmanteau for my kit at the cost of half my remaining capital. I intended to have no more breezes with him if it could be avoided.
The minute-hand of the clock above the central entrance of the station crept up to the vertical, and began to droop. Cab after cab rolled up over the flagstones and teemed out people and properties. Still my man came not. He had distinctly said he would be in good time, as he had baggage to be registered, and disliked being hurried. It began to look, in spite of his bragging about never having overslept himself in his life, as if he had been late in turning out.
The clock showed three minutes past the hour, and the big hand, being on the down grade, began to race. I walked through the rank of waiting cabs, and stood by the pillars of the central doorway. If we missed this train we should lose a day. The 9.35 didn't go through, as we had seen from the time-table overnight. It only landed one at Marseille.
The crowd of incoming people began to lessen, and finally ceased altogether. The last passenger passed through on to the platform, and the officials locked the waiting-room doors. We had missed that blessed train.
I cursed Weems vigorously, and set off to Isotta's, where he was staying, to beat him up, swinging the drab portmanteau in my fist, as I didn't want to pay for leaving it, as somehow or other economy seemed to me at that moment to be a strong line.
The Swiss day-porter was just coming down. He was a gorgeous personage who could have saved the architect of Babel his great disappointment, and at first he knew nothing of Mistaire Weem. Evidently the schoolmaster had not been generous. So I inquired in the bureau for my man's number, intending to beat up his room then and there, but was met by the staggering announcement that the signor had cleared by the Marseille train which left Genoa at 3.30 in the morning. But there was a letter for me.
I tore the limp envelope, and read:—
"GRAND HOTEL ISOTTA, Genova, Tuesday.
"DEAR SIR,—Upon consideration I must return to my original decision. I fear I shall have left Genoa before you receive this, but do not trouble to give me any thanks. The balance of the circular ticket is very much at your service.—Yours faithfully,
"R. E. WEEMS.
The little beast had done me brown.
It was getting on for eight o'clock then. I glanced at a time-table. He was due to leave Marseille at 8.4. By Jove, if I could have trumped up any charge that would have held water a minute I'd have had him arrested by wire. Anything to delay him! I was just savage mad. And I was as helpless as a figure-head.
I swung out into the Via Roma wondering what to do next. Common sense said go and take up my berth on the American steamer, and quit crying for the moon now that it had bounced out of reach again. But I was far too wild to listen to any sane sober plan like that. I couldn't swim out to Minorca, and I could not fly; but I told myself grimly that I was going somehow, and if Weems had got there first and collared the Recipe, he'd just have to hand over—or—well, it would be the worse for Weems. I shouldn't buy lavender kid gloves to handle him with.
All that day I hunted about, trying to get a passage across to the islands; needless to remark, without success. The mail steamers run there from Valencia and Barcelona only, and though there are occasional orange boats passing between Soller in North Mallorca and Marseille, they aren't to be depended on. By a singular irony of fate, I did come across an old white—painted barque which had just come out of Palma in ballast; but her skipper only told what I knew full well in my own heart, that I might very likely wait three years before I found a craft going the other way.
There seemed nothing for it but to go like a sensible Christian by train round the coast, and then across from one of the two Spanish ports by the regular ramshackle mail steamer. And so I bowed to fate, and converted the drab portmanteau and all its contents into the compactest form. The lot didn't fetch much. By dint of tedious haggling, I scraped together twenty-three lire thirty; and without selling the clothes on my back, and one other item, which I had rather sell the teeth out of my head than part with, I didn't see a possibility of getting more by that sort of trade. However, I had only collected this slender store in the hopes of increasing it, and as soon as night came down and such places are open, I marched off to a gambling hell which I knew of in the low part of the town near the harbour side. The way lay through many passages and up many steps, and it was by no means a place to which the general public were admitted. In fact, in its style it was far more exclusive than the salle de jeu run by Monsieur Blanc's successors at Monte. But I had been there before, and knew how to get the entree.
The whitewashed walls were grimy, the two naked gas-jets jumped and hooted spasmodically, and those who knew said that the atmosphere was reminiscent of a slaver's hold. The officials wore their shirt-sleeves rolled up for greater ease in movement, and no gentleman was allowed to enter the room till he had deposited his knife outside the door.
With the fluctuating population of a seaport, one might reasonably expect to find most nationalities represented at such a seductive spot; but, as a point of fact, the operators on that night were almost exclusively Italians. The sailor, take him in the bulk, is a tolerable fool all the world over; but the northerner has some grains of sense though he is a sportsman, and roulette with twenty-six numbers and a zero is a trifle too strong an order even for him.
I had fixed my desires at a hundred and twenty lire. Less would not see me through; more I was not going to try for.
In that assembly a man who plunges half-lire pieces on every spin of the ball is a man who means business; and the dilettanti soon let me press through to a stool at the table. Going on pair and impair or the colour was not to my taste. Either luck was going to stand by me that evening, or I was going to be broke; so I planked my money haphazard on four numbers every time, and didn't handicap myself with a system. I'd a distinct suspicion that the bank had even a greater pull than was apparent on the surface; but there was no chance of investigation, and I submitted to the fact that chances all-told stood about two to one against me.
The play was slow, and for ordinary people unexciting, though you can guess it did not send me to sleep. I won a little, and lost a little; but on the whole was able to shove a ten-lire note every now and again into my pocket. It doesn't do to leave such trifles about in some places.
A clock outside chimed ten, and I could count up sixty-four lire fifty. What with Italian tobacco and Italian garlic and Italian humanity, the air had got something too awful for words. The arteries inside my skull were playing some devil's tune of Thumpetty Bump that caused me to see mistily, and to wish for an earthquake which would rearrange terrestrial economy. In short, I couldn't stand it any longer, and so went out for a few minutes' spell in the open.
But I didn't luxuriate over-long. The thought occurred to me that Weems was already at Cerbere, and in another hour and forty minutes would be having his baggage examined by an individual in green cotton gloves at Port Bou, previous to pursuing his career of conquest down into Spain. And by this time my grudge against that schoolmaster person had grown to be a very big one indeed. So I gave up parading the muddy paving-stones, and turned back into the biscazza.
A new arrival had turned up during my absence, a long, lean Englishman named Haigh, whom I had met casually once before. His nerves seemed in a delicate condition, for when the water-logged gas jumped, he jumped too, and, moreover, tried to do it as unobtrusively as possible, as if conscious and not over-proud of the failing. But he was gambling keenly and coolly enough, picking his notes one by one from a leather pocket-book, blinking over them to make sure of their value, and watching them unfailingly gathered up by the grimy paw of the croupier without an outward sign of regret.
I looked on a minute, thinking what a queer fish he was, and then elbowing in to the table started afresh on my own trading.
Fortune seemed to have improved by the rest. Three rattles of the pea brought my total up to a hundred and fifteen francs in Greek, French, and Italian money.
A hundred and twenty was certainly the original goal, but I had a precious great mind then to let the other five slide. In fact, I drew away from the table intending to stop. But instead of quitting the place there and then, I was fool enough to argue the position out solemnly to myself, with the result that I eventually decided the whole affair from beginning to end to be entirely of the nature of a gamble, and naturally felt bound to test whether the luck was going to hold any longer.
Indecision's my strong point, and many's the time I've had to pay for it. If I'd cleared out on the first impulse, I should have been comparatively affluent. As it was, ten more minutes beside that greasy baize cleared me down to the lining.