"Let me present you to Miss Sylvia Futvoye," Ventimore continued, "the lady whose name you have already heard."
There was a momentary gleam in Fakrash's odd, slanting eyes as they lighted on Sylvia's shrinking figure, but he made no acknowledgment of the introduction.
"The damsel is not without comeliness," he remarked to Horace; "but there are lovelier far than she."
"I didn't ask you for either criticisms or comparisons," said Ventimore, sharply; "there is nobody in the world equal to Miss Futvoye, in my opinion, and you will be good enough to remember that fact. She is exceedingly distressed (as any dutiful daughter would be) by the cruel and senseless trick you have played her father, and she begs that you will rectify it at once. Don't you, Sylvia?"
"Yes, indeed!" said Sylvia, almost in a whisper, "if—if it isn't troubling you too much!"
"I have been turning over thy words in my mind," said Fakrash to Horace, still ignoring Sylvia, "and I am convinced that thou art right. Even if the contents of the seal were known of all men, they would raise no clamour about affairs that concern them not. Therefore it is nothing to me in whose hands the seal may be. Dost thou not agree with me in this?"
"Of course I do," said Horace. "And it naturally follows that——"
"It naturally follows, as thou sayest," said the Jinnee, with a cunning assumption of indifference, "that I have naught to gain by demanding back the seal as the price of restoring this damsel's father to his original form. Wherefore, so far as I am concerned, let him remain a mule for ever; unless, indeed, thou art ready to comply with my conditions."
"Conditions!" cried Horace, utterly unprepared for this conclusion. "What can you possibly want from me? But state them. I'll agree to anything, in reason!"
"I demand that thou shouldst renounce the hand of this damsel."
"That's out of all reason," said Horace, "and you know it. I will never give her up, so long as she is willing to keep me."
"Maiden," said the Jinnee, addressing Sylvia for the first time, "the matter rests with thee. Wilt thou release this my son from his contract, since thou art no fit wife for such as he?"
"How can I," cried Sylvia, "when I love him and he loves me? What a wicked tyrannical old thing you must be to expect it! I can't give him up."
"It is but giving up what can never be thine," said Fakrash. "And be not anxious for him, for I will reward and console him a thousandfold for the loss of thy society. A little while, and he shall remember thee no more."
"Don't believe him, darling," said Horace; "you know me better than that."
"Remember," said the Jinnee, "that by thy refusal thou wilt condemn thy parent to remain a mule throughout all his days. Art thou so unnatural and hard-hearted a daughter as to do this thing?"
"Oh, I couldn't!" cried Sylvia. "I can't let poor father remain a mule all his life when one word—and yet what am I to do? Horace, what shall I say? Advise me.... Advise me!"
"Heaven help us both!" groaned Ventimore. "If I could only see the right thing to do. Look here, Mr. Fakrash," he added, "this is a matter that requires consideration. Will you relieve us of your presence for a short time, while we talk it over?"
"With all my heart," said the Jinnee, in the most obliging manner in the world, and vanished instantly.
"Now, darling," began Horace, after he had gone, "if that unspeakable old scoundrel is really in earnest, there's no denying that he's got us in an extremely tight place. But I can't bring myself to believe that he does mean it. I fancy he's only trying us. And what I want you to do is not to consider me in the matter at all."
"How can I help it?" said poor Sylvia. "Horace, you—you don't want to be released, do you?"
"I?" said Horace, "when you are all I have in the world! That's so likely, Sylvia! But we are bound to look facts in the face. To begin with, even if this hadn't happened, your people wouldn't let our engagement continue. For my prospects have changed again, dearest. I'm even worse off than when we first met, for that confounded Jinnee has contrived to lose my first and only client for me—the one thing worth having he ever gave me." And he told her the story of the mushroom palace and Mr. Wackerbath's withdrawal. "So you see, darling," he concluded, "I haven't even a home to offer you; and if I had, it would be miserably uncomfortable for you with that old Marplot continually dropping in on us—especially if, as I'm afraid he has, he's taken some unreasonable dislike to you."
"But surely you can talk him over?" said Sylvia; "you said you could do anything you liked with him."
"I'm beginning to find," he replied, ruefully enough, "that he's not so easily managed as I thought. And for the present, I'm afraid, if we are to get the Professor out of this, that there's nothing for it but to humour old Fakrash."
"Then you actually advise me to—to break it off?" she cried; "I never thought you would do that!"
"For your own sake," said Horace; "for your father's sake. If you won't, Sylvia, I must. And you will spare me that? Let us both agree to part and—and trust that we shall be united some day."
"Don't try to deceive me or yourself, Horace," she said; "if we part now, it will be for ever."
He had a dismal conviction that she was right. "We must hope for the best," he said drearily; "Fakrash may have some motive in all this we don't understand. Or he may relent. But part we must, for the present."
"Very well," she said. "If he restores dad, I will give you up. But not unless."
"Hath the damsel decided?" asked the Jinnee, suddenly re-appearing; "for the period of deliberation is past."
"Miss Futvoye and I," Horace answered for her, "are willing to consider our engagement at an end, until you approve of its renewal, on condition that you restore her father at once."
"Agreed!" said Fakrash. "Conduct me to him, and we will arrange the matter without delay."
Outside they met Mrs. Futvoye on her way from the study. "You here, Horace?" she exclaimed. "And who is this—gentleman?"
"This," said Horace, "is the—er—author of the Professor's misfortunes, and he had come here at my request to undo his work."
"It would be so kind of him!" exclaimed the distressed lady, who was by this time far beyond either surprise or resentment. "I'm sure, if he knew all we have gone through——!" and she led the way to her husband's room.
As soon as the door was opened the Professor seemed to recognise his tormentor in spite of his changed raiment, and was so powerfully agitated that he actually reeled on his four legs, and "stood over" in a lamentable fashion.
"O man of distinguished attainments!" began the Jinnee, "whom I have caused, for reasons that are known unto thee, to assume the shape of a mule, speak, I adjure thee, and tell me where thou hast deposited the inscribed seal which is in thy possession."
The Professor spoke; and the effect of articulate speech proceeding from the mouth of what was to all outward seeming an ordinary mule was strange beyond description. "I'll see you damned first," he said sullenly. "You can't do worse to me than you've done already!"
"As thou wilt," said Fakrash; "but unless I regain it, I will not restore thee to what thou wast."
"Well, then," said the mule, savagely, "you'll find it in the top right-hand drawer of my writing-table: the key is in that diorite bowl on the mantelpiece."
The Jinnee unlocked the drawer, and took out the metal cap, which he placed in the breast pocket of his incongruous frock-coat. "So far, well," he said; "next thou must deliver up to me the transcription thou hast made, and swear to preserve an inviolable secrecy regarding the meaning thereof."
"Do you know what you're asking, sir?" said the mule, laying back his ears viciously. "Do you think that to oblige you I'm going to suppress one of the most remarkable discoveries of my whole scientific career? Never, sir—never!"
"Since if thou refusest I shall assuredly deprive thee of speech once more and leave thee a mule, as thou art now, of hideous appearance," said the Jinnee, "thou art like to gain little by a discovery which thou wilt be unable to impart. However, the choice rests with thee."
The mule rolled his one eye, and showed all his teeth in a vicious snarl. "You've got the whip-hand of me," he said, "and I may as well give in. There's a transcript inside my blotting-case—it's the only copy I've made."
Fakrash found the paper, which he rubbed into invisibility between his palms, as any ordinary conjurer might do.
"Now raise thy right forefoot," he said, "and swear by all thou holdest sacred never to divulge what thou hast learnt"—which oath the Professor, in the vilest of tempers, took, clumsily enough.
"Good," said the Jinnee, with a grim smile. "Now let one of thy women bring me a cup of fair water."
Sylvia went out, and came back with a cup of water. "It's filtered," she said anxiously; "I don't know if that will do?"
"It will suffice," said Fakrash. "Let both the women withdraw."
"Surely," remonstrated Mrs. Futvoye, "you don't mean to turn his wife and daughter out of the room at such a moment as this? We shall be perfectly quiet, and we may even be of some help."
"Do as you're told, my dear!" snapped the ungrateful mule; "do as you're told. You'll only be in the way here. Do you suppose he doesn't know his own beastly business?"
They left accordingly; whereupon Fakrash took the cup—an ordinary breakfast cup with a Greek key-border pattern in pale blue round the top—and, drenching the mule with the contents, exclaimed, "Quit this form and return to the form in which thou wast!"
For a dreadful moment or two it seemed as if no effect was to be produced; the animal simply stood and shivered, and Ventimore began to feel an agonising suspicion that the Jinnee really had, as he had first asserted, forgotten how to perform this particular incantation.
All at once the mule reared, and began to beat the air frantically with his fore-hoofs; after which he fell heavily backward into the nearest armchair (which was, fortunately, a solid and capacious piece of furniture) with his fore-legs hanging limply at his side, in a semi-human fashion. There was a brief convulsion, and then, by some gradual process unspeakably impressive to witness, the man seemed to break through the mule, the mule became merged in the man—and Professor Futvoye, restored to his own natural form and habit, sat gasping and trembling in the chair before them.
"SINCE THERE'S NO HELP, COME, LET US KISS AND PART!"
As soon as the Professor seemed to have regained his faculties, Horace opened the door and called in Sylvia and her mother, who were, as was only to be expected, overcome with joy on seeing the head of the family released from his ignoble condition of a singularly ill-favoured quadruped.
"There, there," said the Professor, as he submitted to their embraces and incoherent congratulations, "it's nothing to make a fuss about. I'm quite myself again, as you can see. And," he added, with an unreasonable outburst of ill-temper, "if one of you had only had the common sense to think of such a simple remedy as sprinkling a little cold water over me when I was first taken like that, I should have been spared a great deal of unnecessary inconvenience. But that's always the way with women—lose their heads the moment anything goes wrong! If I had not kept perfectly cool myself—"
"It was very, very stupid of us not to think of it, papa," said Sylvia, tactfully ignoring the fact that there was scarcely an undamaged article in the room; "still, you know, if we had thrown the water it mightn't have had the same effect."
"I'm not in a condition to argue now," said her father; "you didn't trouble to try it, and there's no more to be said."
"No more to be said!" exclaimed Fakrash. "O thou monster of ingratitude, hast thou no thanks for him who hath delivered thee from thy predicament?"
"As I am already indebted to you, sir," said the Professor, "for about twenty-four hours of the most poignant and humiliating mental and bodily anguish a human being can endure, inflicted for no valid reason that I can discover, except the wanton indulgence of your unholy powers, I can only say that any gratitude of which I am conscious is of a very qualified description. As for you, Ventimore," he added, turning to Horace, "I don't know—I can only guess at—the part you have played in this wretched business; but in any case you will understand, once for all, that all relations between us must cease."
"Papa," said Sylvia, tremulously, "Horace and I have already agreed that—that we must separate."
"At my bidding," explained Fakrash, suavely; "for such an alliance would be totally unworthy of his merits and condition."
This frankness was rather too much for the Professor, whose temper had not been improved by his recent trials.
"Nobody asked for your opinion, sir!" he snapped. "A person who has only recently been released from a term of long and, from all I have been able to ascertain, well-deserved imprisonment, is scarcely entitled to pose as an authority on social rank. Have the decency not to interfere again with my domestic affairs."
"Excellent is the saying," remarked the imperturbable Jinnee, "'Let the rat that is between the paws of the leopard observe rigidly all the rules of politeness and refrain from words of provocation.' For to return thee to the form of a mule once more would be no difficult undertaking."
"I think I failed to make myself clear," the Professor hastened to observe—"failed to make myself clear. I—I merely meant to congratulate you on your fortunate escape from the consequences of what I—I don't doubt was an error of justice. I—I am sure that, in the future, you will employ your—your very remarkable abilities to better purpose, and I would suggest that the greatest service you can do this unfortunate young man here is to abstain from any further attempts to promote his interests."
"Hear, hear!" Horace could not help throwing in, though in so discreet an undertone that it was inaudible.
"Far be this from me," replied Fakrash. "For he has become unto me even as a favourite son, whom I design to place upon the golden pinnacle of felicity. Therefore, I have chosen for him a wife, who is unto this damsel of thine as the full moon to the glow-worm, and as the bird of Paradise to an unfledged sparrow. And the nuptials shall be celebrated before many hours."
"Horace!" cried Sylvia, justly incensed, "why—why didn't you tell me this before?"
"Because," said the unhappy Horace, "this is the very first I've heard of it. He's always springing some fresh surprise on me," he added, in a whisper—"but they never come to anything much. And he can't marry me against my will, you know."
"No," said Sylvia, biting her lip. "I never supposed he could do that, Horace."
"I'll settle this at once," he replied. "Now, look here, Mr. Jinnee," he added, "I don't know what new scheme you have got in your head—but if you are proposing to marry me to anybody in particular——"
"Have I not informed thee that I have it in contemplation to obtain for thee the hand of a King's daughter of marvellous beauty and accomplishments?"
"You know perfectly well you never mentioned it before," said Horace, while Sylvia gave a little low cry.
"Repine not, O damsel," counselled the Jinnee, "since it is for his welfare. For, though as yet he believeth it not, when he beholds the resplendent beauty of her countenance he will swoon away with delight and forget thy very existence."
"I shall do nothing of the sort," said Horace, savagely. "Just understand that I don't intend to marry any Princess. You may prevent me—in fact, you have—from marrying this lady, but you can't force me to marry anybody else. I defy you!"
"When thou hast seen thy bride's perfections thou wilt need no compulsion," said Fakrash. "And if thou shouldst refuse, know this: that thou wilt be exposing those who are dear to thee in this household to calamities of the most unfortunate description."
The awful vagueness of this threat completely crushed Horace; he could not think, he did not even dare to imagine, what consequences he might bring upon his beloved Sylvia and her helpless parents by persisting in his refusal.
"Give me time," he said heavily; "I want to talk this over with you."
"Pardon me, Ventimore," said the Professor, with acidulous politeness; "but, interesting as the discussion of your matrimonial arrangements is to you and your—a—protector, I should greatly prefer that you choose some more fitting place for arriving at a decision which is in the circumstances a foregone conclusion. I am rather tired and upset, and I should be obliged if you and this gentleman could bring this most trying interview to a close as soon as you conveniently can."
"You hear, Mr. Fakrash?" said Horace, between his teeth, "it is quite time we left. If you go at once, I will follow you very shortly."
"Thou wilt find me awaiting thee," answered the Jinnee, and, to Mrs. Futvoye's and Sylvia's alarm, disappeared through one of the bookcases.
"Well," said Horace, gloomily, "you see how I'm situated? That obstinate old devil has cornered me. I'm done for!"
"Don't say that," said the Professor; "you appear to be on the eve of a most brilliant alliance, in which I am sure you have our best wishes—the best wishes of us all," he added pointedly.
"Sylvia," said Horace, still lingering, "before I go, tell me that, whatever I may have to do, you will understand that—that it will be for your sake!"
"Please don't talk like that," she said. "We may never see one another again. Don't let my last recollection of you be of—of a hypocrite, Horace!"
"A hypocrite!" he cried. "Sylvia, this is too much! What have I said or done to make you think me that?"
"Oh, I am not so simple as you suppose, Horace," she replied. "I see now why all this has happened: why poor dad was tormented; why you insisted on my setting you free. But I would have released you without that! Indeed, all this elaborate artifice wasn't in the least necessary!"
"You believe I was an accomplice in that old fool's plot?" he said. "You believe me such a cur as that?"
"I don't blame you," she said. "I don't believe you could help yourself. He can make you do whatever he chooses. And then, you are so rich now, it is natural that you should want to marry some one—some one more suited to you—like this lovely Princess of yours."
"Of mine!" groaned the exasperated Horace. "When I tell you I've never even seen her! As if any Princess in the world would marry me to please a Jinnee out of a brass bottle! And if she did, Sylvia, you can't believe that any Princess would make me forget you!"
"It depends so very much on the Princess," was all Sylvia could be induced to say.
"Well," said Horace, "if that's all the faith you have in me, I suppose it's useless to say any more. Good-bye, Mrs. Futvoye; good-bye, Professor. I wish I could tell you how deeply I regret all the trouble I have brought on you by my own folly. All I can say is, that I will bear anything in future rather than expose you or any of you to the smallest risk."
"I trust, indeed," said the Professor, stiffly, "that you will use all the influence at your command to secure me from any repetition of an experience that might well have unmanned a less equable temperament than my own."
"Good-bye, Horace," said Mrs. Futvoye, more kindly. "I believe you are more to be pitied than blamed, whatever others may think. And I don't forget—if Anthony does—that, but for you, he might, instead of sitting there comfortably in his armchair, be lashing out with his hind legs and kicking everything to pieces at this very moment!"
"I deny that I lashed out!" said the Professor. "My—a—hind quarters may have been under imperfect control—but I never lost my reasoning powers or my good humour for a single instant. I can say that truthfully."
If the Professor could say that truthfully amidst the general wreck in which he sat, like another Marius, he had little to learn in the gentle art of self-deception; but there was nothing to gain by contradicting him then.
"Good-bye, Sylvia," said Horace, and held out his hand.
"Good-bye," she said, without offering to take it or look at him—and, after a miserable pause, he left the study. But before he had reached the front door he heard a swish and swirl of drapery behind him, and felt her light hand on his arm. "Ah, no!" she said, clinging to him, "I can't let you go like this. I didn't mean all the things I said just now. I do believe in you, Horace—at least, I'll try hard to.... And I shall always, always love you, Horace.... I shan't care—very much—even if you do forget me, so long as you are happy.... Only don't be too happy. Think of me sometimes!"
"I shall not be too happy," he said, as he held her close to his heart and kissed her pathetically drawn mouth and flushed cheeks. "And I shall think of you always."
"And you won't fall in love with your Princess?" entreated Sylvia, at the end of her altruism. "Promise!"
"If I am ever provided with one," he replied, "I shall loathe her—for not being you. But don't let us lose heart, darling. There must be some way of talking that old idiot out of this nonsense and bringing him round to common sense. I'm not going to give in just yet!"
These were brave words—but, as they both felt, the situation had little enough to warrant them, and, after one last long embrace, they parted, and he was no sooner on the steps than he felt himself caught up as before and borne through the air with breathless speed, till he was set down, he could not have well said how, in a chair in his own sitting-room at Vincent Square.
"Well," he said, looking at the Jinnee, who was standing opposite with a smile of intolerable complacency, "I suppose you feel satisfied with yourself over this business?"
"It hath indeed been brought to a favourable conclusion," said Fakrash. "Well hath the poet written——"
"I don't think I can stand any more 'Elegant Extracts' this afternoon," interrupted Horace. "Let us come to business. You seem," he went on, with a strong effort to keep himself in hand, "to have formed some plan for marrying me to a King's daughter. May I ask you for full particulars?"
"No honour and advancement can be in excess of thy deserts," answered the Jinnee.
"Very kind of you to say so—but you are probably unaware that, as society is constituted at the present time, the objections to such an alliance would be quite insuperable."
"For me," said the Jinnee, "few obstacles are insuperable. But speak thy mind freely."
"I will," said Horace. "To begin with, no European Princess of the Blood Royal would entertain the idea for a moment. And if she did, she would forfeit her rank and cease to be a Princess, and I should probably be imprisoned in a fortress for lese majeste or something."
"Dismiss thy fears, for I do not propose to unite thee to any Princess that is born of mortals. The bride I intend for thee is a Jinneeyeh; the peerless Bedeea-el-Jemal, daughter of my kinsman Shahyal, the Ruler of the Blue Jann."
"Oh, is she, though?" said Horace, blankly. "I'm exceedingly obliged, but, whatever may be the lady's attractions——"
"Her nose," recited the Jinnee, with enthusiasm, "is like unto the keen edge of a polished sword; her hair resembleth jewels, and her cheeks are ruddy as wine. She hath heavy lips, and when she looketh aside she putteth to shame the wild cows...."
"My good, excellent friend," said Horace, by no means impressed by this catalogue of charms, "one doesn't marry to mortify wild cows."
"When she walketh with a vacillating gait," continued Fakrash, as though he had not been interrupted, "the willow branch itself turneth green with envy."
"Personally," said Horace, "a waddle doesn't strike me as particularly fascinating—it's quite a matter of taste. Do you happen to have seen this enchantress lately?"
"My eyes have not been refreshed by her manifold beauties since I was enclosed by Suleyman—whose name be accursed—in the brass bottle of which thou knowest. Why dost thou ask?"
"Merely because it occurred to me that, after very nearly three thousand years, your charming kinswoman may—well, to put it as mildly as possible, not have altogether escaped the usual effects of Time. I mean, she must be getting on, you know!"
"O, silly-bearded one!" said the Jinnee, in half-scornful rebuke; "art thou, then, ignorant that we of the Jinn are not as mortals, that we should feel the ravages of age?"
"Forgive me if I'm personal," said Horace; "but surely your own hair and beard might be described as rather inclining to grey."
"Not from age," said Fakrash, "This cometh from long confinement."
"I see," said Horace. "Like the Prisoner of Chillon. Well, assuming that the lady in question is still in the bloom of early youth, I see one fatal difficulty to becoming her suitor."
"Doubtless," said the Jinnee, "thou art referring to Jarjarees, the son of Rejmoos, the son of Iblees?"
"No, I wasn't," said Horace; "because, you see, I don't remember having ever heard of him. However, he's another fatal difficulty. That makes two of them."
"Surely I have spoken of him to thee as my deadliest foe? It is true that he is a powerful and vindictive Efreet, who hath long persecuted the beauteous Bedeea with hateful attentions. Yet it may be possible, by good fortune, to overthrow him."
"Then I gather that any suitor for Bedeea's hand would be looked upon as a rival by the amiable Jarjarees?"
"Far is he from being of an amiable disposition," answered the Jinnee, simply, "and he would be so transported by rage and jealousy that he would certainly challenge thee to mortal combat."
"Then that settles it," said Horace. "I don't think any one can fairly call me a coward, but I do draw the line at fighting an Efreet for the hand of a lady I've never seen. How do I know he'll fight fair?"
"He would probably appear unto thee first in the form of a lion, and if he could not thus prevail against thee, transform himself into a serpent, and then into a buffalo or some other wild beast."
"And I should have to tackle the entire menagerie?" said Horace. "Why, my dear sir, I should never get beyond the lion!"
"I would assist thee to assume similar transformations," said the Jinnee, "and thus thou mayst be enabled to defeat him. For I burn with desire to behold mine enemy reduced to cinders."
"It's much more likely that you would have to sweep me up!" said Horace, who had a strong conviction that anything in which the Jinnee was concerned would be bungled somehow. "And if you're so anxious to destroy this Jarjarees, why don't you challenge him to meet you in some quiet place in the desert and settle him yourself? It's much more in your line than it is in mine!"
He was not without hopes that Fakrash might act on this suggestion, and that so he would be relieved of him in the simplest and most satisfactory way; but any such hopes were as usual doomed to disappointment.
"It would be of no avail," said the Jinnee, "for it hath been written of old that Jarjarees shall not perish save by the hand of a mortal. And I am persuaded that thou wilt turn out to be that mortal, since thou art both strong and fearless, and, moreover, it is also predestined that Bedeea shall wed one of the sons of men."
"Then," said Horace, feeling that this line of defence must be abandoned, "I fall back on objection number one. Even if Jarjarees were obliging enough to retire in my favour, I should still decline to become the—a—consort of a Jinneeyeh whom I've never seen, and don't love."
"Thou hast heard of her incomparable charms, and verily the ear may love before the eye."
"It may," admitted Horace, "but neither of my ears is the least in love at present."
"These reasons are of no value," said Fakrash, "and if thou hast none better——"
"Well," said Ventimore, "I think I have. You profess to be anxious to—to requite the trifling service I rendered you, though hitherto, you'll admit yourself, you haven't made a very brilliant success of it. But, putting the past aside," he continued, with a sudden dryness in his throat; "putting the past aside, I ask you to consider what possible benefit or happiness such a match as this—I'm afraid I'm not so fortunate as to secure your attention?" he broke off, as he observed the Jinnee's eyes beginning to film over in the disagreeable manner characteristic of certain birds.
"Proceed," said Fakrash, unskinning his eyes for a second; "I am hearkening unto thee."
"It seems to me," stammered Horace, inconsequently enough, "that all that time inside a bottle—well, you can't call it experience exactly; and possibly in the interval you've forgotten all you knew about feminine nature. I think you must have."
"It is not possible that such knowledge should be forgotten," said the Jinnee, resenting this imputation in quite a human way. "Thy words appear to me to lack sense. Interpret them, I pray thee."
"Why," explained Horace, "you don't mean to tell me that this young and lovely relation of yours, a kind of immortal, and—and with the devil's own pride, would be gratified by your proposal to bestow her hand upon an insignificant and unsuccessful London architect? She'd turn up that sharp and polished nose of hers at the mere idea of so unequal a match!"
"An excellent rank is that conferred by wealth," remarked the Jinnee.
"But I'm not rich, and I've already declined any riches from you," said Horace. "And, what's more to the point, I'm perfectly and hopelessly obscure. If you had the slightest sense of humour—which I fear you have not—you would at once perceive the absurdity of proposing to unite a radiant, ethereal, superhuman being to a commonplace professional nonentity in a morning coat and a tall hat. It's really too ridiculous!"
"What thou hast just said is not altogether without wisdom," said Fakrash, to whom this was evidently a new point of view. "Art thou, indeed, so utterly unknown?"
"Unknown?" repeated Horace; "I should rather think I was! I'm simply an inconsiderable unit in the population of the vastest city in the world; or, rather, not a unit—a cipher. And, don't you see, a man to be worthy of your exalted kinswoman ought to be a celebrity. There are plenty of them about."
"What meanest thou by a celebrity?" inquired Fakrash, falling into the trap more readily than Horace had ventured to hope.
"Oh, well, a distinguished person, whose name is on everybody's lips, who is honoured and praised by all his fellow-citizens. Now, that kind of man no Jinneeyeh could look down upon."
"I perceive," said Fakrash, thoughtfully. "Yes, I was in danger of committing a rash action. How do men honour such distinguished individuals in these days?"
"They generally overfeed them," said Horace. "In London the highest honour a hero can be paid is to receive the freedom of the City, which is only conferred in very exceptional cases, and for some notable service. But, of course, there are other sorts of celebrities, as you could see if you glanced through the society papers."
"I cannot believe that thou, who seemest a gracious and talented young man, can be indeed so obscure as thou hast represented."
"My good sir, any of the flowers that blush unseen in the desert air, or the gems concealed in ocean caves, so excellently described by one of our poets, could give me points and a beating in the matter of notoriety. I'll make you a sporting offer. There are over five million inhabitants in this London of ours. If you go out into the streets and ask the first five hundred you meet whether they know me, I don't mind betting you—what shall I say? a new hat—that you won't find half a dozen who've ever even heard of my existence. Why not go out and see for yourself?"
To his surprise and gratification the Jinnee took this seriously. "I will go forth and make inquiry," he said, "for I desire further enlightenment concerning thy statements. But, remember," he added: "should I still require thee to wed the matchless Bedeea-el-Jemal, and thou shouldst disobey me, thou wilt bring disaster, not on thine own head, but on those thou art most desirous of protecting."
"Yes, so you told me before," said Horace, brusquely. "Good evening." But Fakrash was already gone. In spite of all he had gone through and the unknown difficulties before him, Ventimore was seized with what Uncle Remus calls "a spell of the dry grins" at the thought of the probable replies that the Jinnee would meet with in the course of his inquiries. "I'm afraid he won't be particularly impressed by the politeness of a London crowd," he thought; "but at least they'll convince him that I am not exactly a prominent citizen. Then he'll give up this idiotic match of his—I don't know, though. He's such a pig-headed old fool that he may stick to it all the same. I may find myself encumbered with a Jinneeyeh bride several centuries my senior before I know where I am. No, I forget; there's the jealous Jarjarees to be polished off first. I seem to remember something about a quick-change combat with an Efreet in the "Arabian Nights." I may as well look it up, and see what may be in store for me."
And after dinner he went to his shelves and took down Lane's three-volume edition of "The Arabian Nights," which he set himself to study with a new interest. It was long since he had looked into these wondrous tales, old beyond all human calculation, and fresher, even now, than the most modern of successful romances. After all, he was tempted to think, they might possess quite as much historical value as many works with graver pretentions to accuracy.
He found a full account of the combat with the Efreet in "The Story of the Second Royal Mendicant" in the first volume, and was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the Efreet's name was actually given as "Jarjarees, the son of Rejmoos, the son of Iblees"—evidently the same person to whom Fakrash had referred as his bitterest foe. He was described as "of hideous aspect," and had, it seemed, not only carried off the daughter of the Lord of the Ebony Island on her wedding night, but, on discovering her in the society of the Royal Mendicant, had revenged himself by striking off her hands, her feet, and her head, and transforming his human rival into an ape. "Between this fellow and old Fakrash," he reflected ruefully, at this point, "I seem likely to have a fairly lively time of it!"
He read on till he reached the memorable encounter between the King's daughter and Jarjarees, who presented himself "in a most hideous shape, with hands like winnowing forks, and legs like masts, and eyes like burning torches"—which was calculated to unnerve the stoutest novice. The Efreet began by transforming himself from a lion to a scorpion, upon which the Princess became a serpent; then he changed to an eagle, and she to a vulture; he to a black cat, and she to a cock; he to a fish, and she to a larger fish still.
"If Fakrash can shove me through all that without a fatal hitch somewhere," Ventimore told himself, "I shall be agreeably disappointed in him," But, after reading a few more lines, he cheered up. For the Efreet finished as a flame, and the Princess as a "body of fire." "And when we looked towards him," continued the narrator, "we perceived that he had become a heap of ashes."
"Come," said Horace to himself, "that puts Jarjarees out of action, any way! The odd thing is that Fakrash should never have heard of it."
But, as he saw on reflection, it was not so very odd, after all, as the incident had probably happened after the Jinnee had been consigned to his brass bottle, where intelligence of any kind would be most unlikely to reach him.
He worked steadily through the whole of the second volume and part of the third; but, although he picked up a certain amount of information upon Oriental habits and modes of thought and speech which might come in useful later, it was not until he arrived at the 24th Chapter of the third volume that his interest really revived.
For the 24th Chapter contained "The Story of Seyf-el-Mulook and Bedeea-el-Jemal," and it was only natural that he should be anxious to know all that there was to know concerning the antecedents of one who might be his fiancee before long. He read eagerly.
Bedeea, it appeared, was the lovely daughter of Shahyal, one of the Kings of the Believing Jann; her father—not Fakrash himself, as the Jinnee had incorrectly represented—had offered her in marriage to no less a personage than King Solomon himself, who, however, had preferred the Queen of Sheba. Seyf, the son of the King of Egypt, afterwards fell desperately in love with Bedeea, but she and her grandmother both declared that between mankind and the Jann there could be no agreement.
"And Seyf was a King's son!" commented Horace. "I needn't alarm myself. She wouldn't be likely to have anything to say to me. It's just as I told Fakrash."
His heart grew lighter still as he came to the end, for he learnt that, after many adventures which need not be mentioned here, the devoted Seyf did actually succeed in gaining the proud Bedeea as his wife. "Even Fakrash could not propose to marry me to some one who has a husband already," he thought. "Still, she may be a widow!"
To his relief, however, the conclusion ran thus; "Seyf-el-Mulook lived with Bedeea-el-Jemal a most pleasant and agreeable life ... until they were visited by the terminator of delights and the separator of companions."
"If that means anything at all," he reasoned, "it means that Seyf and Bedeea are both deceased. Even Jinneeyeh seem to be mortal. Or perhaps she became so by marrying a mortal; I dare say that Fakrash himself wouldn't have lasted all this time if he hadn't been bottled, like a tinned tomato. But I'm glad I found this out, because Fakrash is evidently unaware of it, and, if he should persist in any more of this nonsense, I think I see my way now to getting the better of him."
So, with renewed hope and in vastly improved spirits, he went to bed and was soon sound asleep.
It was rather late the next morning when Ventimore opened his eyes, to discover the Jinnee standing by the foot of his bed. "Oh, it's you, is it?" he said sleepily. "How did you—a—get on last night?"
"I gained such information as I desired," said Fakrash, guardedly; "and now, for the last time, I am come to ask thee whether thou wilt still persist in refusing to wed the illustrious Bedeea-el-Jemal? And have a care how thou answerest."
"So you haven't given up the idea?" said Horace. "Well, since you make such a point of it, I'll meet you as far as this. If you produce the lady, and she consents to marry me, I won't decline the honour. But there's one condition I really must insist on."
"It is not for thee to make stipulations. Still, yet this once I will hear thee."
"I'm sure you'll see that it's only fair. Supposing, for any reason, you can't persuade the Princess to meet me within a reasonable time—shall we say a week?——"
"Thou shalt be admitted to her presence within twenty-four hours," said the Jinnee.
"That's better still. Then, if I don't see her within twenty-four hours, I am to be at liberty to infer that the negotiations are off, and I may marry anybody else I please, without any opposition from you? Is that understood?"
"It is agreed," said Fakrash, "for I am confident that Bedeea will accept thee joyfully."
"We shall see," said Horace. "But it might be as well if you went and prepared her a little. I suppose you know where to find her—and you've only twenty-four hours, you know."
"More than is needed," answered the Jinnee, with such childlike confidence, that Horace felt almost ashamed of so easy a victory. "But the sun is already high. Arise, my son, put on these robes"—and with this he flung on the bed the magnificent raiment which Ventimore had last worn on the night of his disastrous entertainment—"and when thou hast broken thy fast, prepare to accompany me."
"Before I agree to that," said Horace, sitting up in bed, "I should like to know where you're taking me to."
"Obey me without demur," said Fakrash, "or thou knowest the consequences."
It seemed to Horace that it was as well to humour him, and he got up accordingly, washed and shaved, and, putting on his dazzling robe of cloth-of-gold thickly sewn with gems, he joined Fakrash—who, by the way, was similarly, if less gorgeously, arrayed—in the sitting-room, in a state of some mystification.
"Eat quickly," commanded the Jinnee, "for the time is short." And Horace, after hastily disposing of a cold poached egg and a cup of coffee, happened to go to the windows.
"Good Heavens!" he cried. "What does all this mean?"
He might well ask. On the opposite side of the road, by the railings of the square, a large crowd had collected, all staring at the house in eager expectation. As they caught sight of him they raised a cheer, which caused him to retreat in confusion, but not before he had seen a great golden chariot with six magnificent coal-black horses, and a suite of swarthy attendants in barbaric liveries, standing by the pavement below. "Whose carriage is that?" he asked.
"It belongs to thee," said the Jinnee; "descend then, and make thy progress in it through the City."
"I will not," said Horace. "Even to oblige you I simply can't drive along the streets in a thing like the band-chariot of a travelling circus."
"It is necessary," declared Fakrash. "Must I again recall to thee the penalty of disobedience?"
"Oh, very well," said Horace, irritably. "If you insist on my making a fool of myself, I suppose I must. But where am I to drive, and why?"
"That," replied Fakrash, "thou shalt discover at the fitting moment." And so, amidst the shouts of the spectators, Ventimore climbed up into the strange-looking vehicle, while the Jinnee took his seat by his side. Horace had a parting glimpse of Mr. and Mrs. Rapkin's respective noses flattened against the basement window, and then two dusky slaves mounted to a seat at the back of the chariot, and the horses started off at a stately trot in the direction of Rochester Row.
"I think you might tell me what all this means," he said. "You've no conception what an ass I feel, stuck up here like this!"
"Dismiss bashfulness from thee, since all this is designed to render thee more acceptable in the eyes of the Princess Bedeea," said the Jinnee.
Horace said no more, though he could not but think that this parade would be thrown away.
But as they turned into Victoria Street and seemed to be heading straight for the Abbey, a horrible thought occurred to him. After all, his only authority for the marriage and decease of Bedeea was the "Arabian Nights," which was not unimpeachable evidence. What if she were alive and waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom? No one but Fakrash would have conceived such an idea as marrying him to a Jinneeyeh in Westminster Abbey; but he was capable of any extravagance, and there were apparently no limits to his power.
"Mr. Fakrash," he said hoarsely, "surely this isn't my—my wedding day? You're not going to have the ceremony there?"
"Nay," said the Jinnee, "be not impatient. For this edifice would be totally unfitted for the celebration of such nuptials as thine."
As he spoke, the chariot left the Abbey on the right and turned down the Embankment. The relief was so intense that Horace's spirits rose irrepressibly. It was absurd to suppose that even Fakrash could have arranged the ceremony in so short a time. He was merely being taken for a drive, and fortunately his best friends could not recognise him in his Oriental disguise. And it was a glorious morning, with a touch of frost in the air and a sky of streaky turquoise and pale golden clouds; the broad river glittered in the sunshine; the pavements were lined with admiring crowds, and the carriage rolled on amidst frantic enthusiasm, like some triumphal car.
"How they're cheering us!" said Horace. "Why, they couldn't make more row for the Lord Mayor himself."
"What is this Lord Mayor of whom thou speakest?" inquired Fakrash.
"The Lord Mayor?" said Horace. "Oh, he's unique. There's nobody in the world quite like him. He administers the law, and if there's any distress in any part of the earth he relieves it. He entertains monarchs and Princes and all kinds of potentates at his banquets, and altogether he's a tremendous swell."
"Hath he dominion over the earth and the air and all that is therein?"
"Within his own precincts, I believe he has," said Horace, rather lazily, "but I really don't know precisely how wide his powers are." He was vainly trying to recollect whether such matters as sky-signs, telephones, and telegraphs in the City were within the Lord Mayor's jurisdiction or the County Council's.
Fakrash remained silent just as they were driving underneath Charing Cross Railway Bridge, when he started perceptibly at the thunder of the trains overhead and the piercing whistles of the engines. "Tell me," he said, clutching Horace by the arm, "what meaneth this?"
"You don't mean to say," said Horace, "that you have been about London all these days, and never noticed things like these before?"
"Till now," said the Jinnee, "I have had no leisure to observe them and discover their nature."
"Well," said Horace, anxious to let the Jinnee see that he had not the monopoly of miracles, "since your days we have discovered how to tame or chain the great forces of Nature and compel them to do our will. We control the Spirits of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and make them give us light and heat, carry our messages, fight our quarrels for us, transport us wherever we wish to go, with a certainty and precision that throw even your performances, my dear sir, entirely into the shade."
Considering what a very large majority of civilised persons would be as powerless to construct the most elementary machine as to create the humblest kind of horse, it is not a little odd how complacently we credit ourselves with all the latest achievements of our generation. Most of us accept the amazement of the simple-minded barbarian on his first introduction to modern inventions as a gratifying personal tribute: we feel a certain superiority, even if we magnanimously refrain from boastfulness. And yet our own particular share in these discoveries is limited to making use of them under expert guidance, which any barbarian, after overcoming his first terror, is quite as competent to do as we are.
It is a harmless vanity enough, and especially pardonable in Ventimore's case, when it was so desirable to correct any tendency to "uppishness" on the part of the Jinnee.
"And doth the Lord Mayor dispose of these forces at his will?" inquired Fakrash, on whom Ventimore's explanation had evidently produced some impression.
"Certainly," said Horace; "whenever he has occasion."
The Jinnee seemed engrossed in his own thoughts, for he said no more just then.
They were now nearing St. Paul's Cathedral, and Horace's first suspicion returned with double force.
"Mr. Fakrash, answer me," he said. "Is this my wedding day or not? If it is, it's time I was told!"
"Not yet," said the Jinnee, enigmatically, and indeed it proved to be another false alarm, for they turned down Cannon Street and towards the Mansion House.
"Perhaps you can tell me why we're going through Victoria Street, and what all this crowd has come out for?" asked Ventimore. For the throng was denser than ever; the people surged and swayed in serried ranks behind the City police, and gazed with a wonder and awe that for once seemed to have entirely silenced the Cockney instinct of persiflage.
"For what else but to do thee honour?" answered Fakrash.
"What bosh!" said Horace. "They mistake me for the Shah or somebody—and no wonder, in this get-up."
"Not so," said the Jinnee. "Thy names are familiar to them."
Horace glanced up at the hastily improvised decorations; on one large strip of bunting which spanned the street he read: "Welcome to the City's most distinguished guest!" "They can't mean me," he thought; and then another legend caught his eye: "Well done, Ventimore!" And an enthusiastic householder next door had burst into poetry and displayed the couplet—
"Would we had twenty more Like Horace Ventimore!"
"They do mean me!" he exclaimed. "Now, Mr. Fakrash, will you kindly explain what tomfoolery you've been up to now? I know you're at the bottom of this business."
It struck him that the Jinnee was slightly embarrassed. "Didst thou not say," he replied, "that he who should receive the freedom of the City from his fellow-men would be worthy of Bedeea-el-Jemal?"
"I may have said something of the sort. But, good heavens! you don't mean that you have contrived that I should receive the freedom of the City?"
"It was the easiest affair possible," said the Jinnee, but he did not attempt to meet Horace's eye.
"Was it, though?" said Horace, in a white rage. "I don't want to be inquisitive, but I should like to know what I've done to deserve it?"
"Why trouble thyself with the reason? Let it suffice thee that such honour is bestowed upon thee."
By this time the chariot had crossed Cheapside and was entering King Street.
"This really won't do!" urged Horace. "It's not fair to me. Either I've done something, or you must have made the Corporation believe I've done something, to be received like this. And, as we shall be in the Guildhall in a very few seconds, you may as well tell me what it is!"
"Regarding that matter," replied the Jinnee, in some confusion, "I am truly as ignorant as thyself."
As he spoke they drove through some temporary wooden gates into the courtyard, where the Honourable Artillery Company presented arms to them, and the carriage drew up before a large marquee decorated with shields and clustered banners.
"Well, Mr. Fakrash," said Horace, with suppressed fury, as he alighted, "you have surpassed yourself this time. You've got me into a nice scrape, and you'll have to pull me through it as well as you can."
"Have no uneasiness," said the Jinnee, as he accompanied his protege into the marquee, which was brilliant with pretty women in smart frocks, officers in scarlet tunics and plumed hats, and servants in State liveries.
Their entrance was greeted by a politely-subdued buzz of applause and admiration, and an official, who introduced himself as the Prime Warden of the Candlestick-makers' Company, advanced to meet them. "The Lord Mayor will receive you in the library," he said. "If you will have the kindness to follow me——"
Horace followed him mechanically. "I'm in for it now," he thought, "whatever it is. If I can only trust Fakrash to back me up—but I'm hanged if I don't believe he's more nervous than I am!"
As they came into the noble Library of the Guildhall a fine string band struck up, and Horace, with the Jinnee in his rear, made his way through a lane of distinguished spectators towards a dais, on the steps of which, in his gold-trimmed robes and black-feather hat, stood the Lord Mayor, with his sword and mace-bearers on either hand, and behind him a row of beaming sheriffs.
A truly stately and imposing figure did the Chief Magistrate for that particular year present: tall, dignified, with a lofty forehead whose polished temples reflected the light, an aquiline nose, and piercing black eyes under heavy white eyebrows, a frosty pink in his wrinkled cheeks, and a flowing silver beard with a touch of gold still lingering under the lower lip: he seemed, as he stood there, a worthy representative of the greatest and richest city in the world.
Horace approached the steps with an unpleasant sensation of weakness at the knees, and no sort of idea what he was expected to do or say when he arrived.
And, in his perplexity, he turned for support and guidance to his self-constituted mentor—only to discover that the Jinnee, whose short-sightedness and ignorance had planted him in this present false position, had mysteriously and perfidiously disappeared, and left him to grapple with the situation single-handed.
A KILLING FROST
Fortunately for Ventimore, the momentary dismay he had felt on finding himself deserted by his unfathomable Jinnee at the very outset of the ceremony passed unnoticed, as the Prime Warden of the Candlestick-makers' Company immediately came to his rescue by briefly introducing him to the Lord Mayor, who, with dignified courtesy, had descended to the lowest step of the dais to receive him.
"Mr. Ventimore," said the Chief Magistrate, cordially, as he pressed Horace's hand, "you must allow me to say that I consider this one of the greatest privileges—if not the greatest privilege—that have fallen to my lot during a term of office in which I have had the honour of welcoming more than the usual number of illustrious visitors."
"My Lord Mayor," said Horace, with absolute sincerity, "you really overwhelm me. I—I only wish I could feel that I had done anything to deserve this—this magnificent compliment!"
"Ah!" replied the Lord Mayor, in a paternally rallying tone. "Modest, my dear sir, I perceive. Like all truly great men! A most admirable trait! Permit me to present you to the Sheriffs."
The Sheriffs appeared highly delighted. Horace shook hands with both of them; indeed, in the flurry of the moment he very nearly offered to do so with the Sword and Mace bearers as well, but their hands were, as it happened, otherwise engaged.
"The actual presentation," said the Lord Mayor, "takes place in the Great Hall, as you are doubtless aware."
"I—I have been given to understand so," said Horace, with a sinking heart—for he had begun to hope that the worst was over.
"But before we adjourn," said his host, "you will let me tempt you to partake of some slight refreshment—just a snack?"
Horace was not hungry, but it occurred to him that he might get through the ceremony with more credit after a glass of champagne; so he accepted the invitation, and was conducted to an extemporised buffet at one end of the Library, where he fortified himself for the impending ordeal with a caviare sandwich and a bumper of the driest champagne in the Corporation cellars.
"They talk of abolishing us," said the Lord Mayor, as he took an anchovy on toast; "but I maintain, Mr. Ventimore—I maintain that we, with our ancient customs, our time-honoured traditions, form a link with the past, which a wise statesman will preserve, if I may employ a somewhat vulgar term, untinkered with."
Horace agreed, remembering a link with a far more ancient past with which he devoutly wished he had refrained from tinkering.
"Talking of ancient customs," the Lord Mayor continued, with an odd blend of pride and apology, "you will shortly have an illustration of our antiquated procedure, which may impress you as quaint."
Horace, feeling absolutely idiotic, murmured that he felt sure it would do that.
"Before presenting you for the freedom, the Prime Warden and five officials of the Candlestick-makers' Company will give their testimony as compurgators in your favour, making oath that you are 'a man of good name and fame,' and that (you will be amused at this, Mr. Ventimore)—that you 'do desire the freedom of this city, whereby to defraud the Queen or the City.' Ha, ha! Curious way of putting it, is it not?"
"Very," said Horace, guiltily, and not a little concerned on the official's account.
"A mere form!" said the Lord Mayor; "but I for one, Mr. Ventimore—I for one should be sorry to see the picturesque old practices die out. To my mind," he added, as he finished a pate de foie gras sandwich, "the modern impatience to sweep away all the ancient landmarks (whether they be superannuated or not) is one of the most disquieting symptoms of the age. You won't have any more champagne? Then I think we had better be making our way to the Great Hall for the Event of the Day."
"I'm afraid," said Horace, with a sudden consciousness of his incongruously Oriental attire—"I'm afraid this is not quite the sort of dress for such a ceremony. If I had known——"
"Now, don't say another word!" said the Lord Mayor. "Your costume is very nice—very nice indeed, and—and most appropriate, I am sure. But I see the City Marshal is waiting for us to head the procession. Shall we lead the way?"
The band struck up the March of the Priests from Athalie, and Horace, his head in a whirl, walked with his host, followed by the City Lands Committee, the Sheriffs, and other dignitaries, through the Art Gallery and into the Great Hall, where their entrance was heralded by a flourish of trumpets.
The Hall was crowded, and Ventimore found himself the object of a popular demonstration which would have filled him with joy and pride if he could only have felt that he had done anything whatever to justify it, for it was ridiculous to suppose that he had rendered himself a public benefactor by restoring a convicted Jinnee to freedom and society generally.
His only consolation was that the English are a race not given to effusiveness without very good reason, and that before the ceremony was over he would be enabled to gather what were the particular services which had excited such unbounded enthusiasm.
Meanwhile he stood there on the crimson-draped and flower-bedecked dais, bowing repeatedly, and trusting that he did not look so forlornly foolish as he felt. A long shaft of sunlight struck down between the Gothic rafters, and dappled the brown stone walls with patches of gold; the electric lights in the big hooped chandeliers showed pale and feeble against the subdued glow of the stained glass; the air was heavy with the scent of flowers and essences. Then there was a rustle of expectation in the audience, and a pause, in which it seemed to Horace that everybody on the dais was almost as nervous and at a loss what to do next as he was himself. He wished with all his soul that they would hurry the ceremony through, anyhow, and let him go.
At length the proceedings began by a sort of solemn affectation of having merely met there for the ordinary business of the day, which to Horace just then seemed childish in the extreme; it was resolved that "items 1 to 4 on the agenda need not be discussed," which brought them to item 5.
Item 5 was a resolution, read by the Town Clerk, that "the freedom of the City should be presented to Horace Ventimore, Esq., Citizen and Candlestick-maker" (which last Horace was not aware of being, but supposed vaguely that it had been somehow managed while he was at the buffet in the Library), "in recognition of his services"—the resolution ran, and Horace listened with all his ears—"especially in connection with ..." It was most unfortunate—but at this precise point the official was seized with an attack of coughing, in which all was lost but the conclusion of the sentence, " ... that have justly entitled him to the gratitude and admiration of his fellow-countrymen."
Then the six compurgators came forward and vouched for Ventimore's fitness to receive the freedom. He had painful doubts whether they altogether understood what a responsibility they were undertaking—but it was too late to warn them and he could only trust that they knew more of their business than he did.
After this the City Chamberlain read him an address, to which Horace listened in resigned bewilderment. The Chamberlain referred to the unanimity and enthusiasm with which the resolution had been carried, and said that it was his pleasing and honourable duty, as the mouthpiece of that ancient City, to address what he described with some inadequacy as "a few words" to one by adding whose name to their roll of freemen the Corporation honoured rather themselves than the recipient of their homage.
It was flattering, but to Horace's ear the phrases sounded excessive, almost fulsome—though, of course, that depended very much on what he had done, which he had still to ascertain. The orator proceeded to read him the "Illustrious List of London's Roll of Fame," a recital which made Horace shiver with apprehension. For what names they were! What glorious deeds they had performed! How was it possible that he—plain Horace Ventimore, a struggling architect who had missed his one great chance—could have achieved (especially without even being aware of it) anything that would not seem ludicrously insignificant by comparison?
He had a morbid fancy that the marble goddesses, or whoever they were, at the base of Nelson's monument opposite, were regarding him with stony disdain and indignation; that the statue of Wellington knew him for an arrant impostor, and averted his head with cold contempt; and that the effigy of Lord Mayor Beckford on the right of the dais would come to life and denounce him in another moment.
"Turning now to your own distinguished services," he suddenly heard the City Chamberlain resuming, "you are probably aware, sir, that it is customary on these occasions to mention specifically the particular merit which had been deemed worthy of civic recognition."
Horace was greatly relieved to hear it, for it struck him as a most sensible and, in his own particular case, essential formality.
"But, on the present occasion, sir," proceeded the speaker, "I feel, as all present must feel, that it would be unnecessary—nay, almost impertinent—were I to weary the public ear by a halting recapitulation of deeds with which it is already so appreciatively familiar." At this he was interrupted by deafening and long-continued applause, at the end of which he continued: "I have only therefore, to greet you in the name of the Corporation, and to offer you the right hand of fellowship as a Freeman, and Citizen, and Candlestick-maker of London."
As he shook hands he presented Horace with a copy of the Oath of Allegiance, intimating that he was to read it aloud. Naturally, Ventimore had not the least objection to swear to be good and true to our Sovereign Lady Queen Victoria, or to be obedient to the Lord Mayor, and warn him of any conspiracies against the Queen's peace which might chance to come under his observation; so he took the oath cheerfully enough, and hoped that this was really the end of the ceremony.
However, to his great chagrin and apprehension, the Lord Mayor rose with the evident intention of making a speech. He said that the conclusion of the City to bestow the highest honour in their gift upon Mr. Horace Ventimore had been—here he hesitated—somewhat hastily arrived at. Personally, he would have liked a longer time to prepare, to make the display less inadequate to, and worthier of, this exceptional occasion. He thought that was the general feeling. (It evidently was, judging from the loud and unanimous cheering). However, for reasons which—for reasons with which they were as well acquainted as himself, the notice had been short. The Corporation had yielded (as they always did, as it would always be their pride and pleasure to yield) to popular pressure which was practically irresistible, and had done the best they could in the limited—he might almost say the unprecedentedly limited—period allowed them. The proudest leaf in Mr. Ventimore's chaplet of laurels to-day was, he would venture to assert, the sight of the extraordinary enthusiasm and assemblage, not only in that noble hall, but in the thoroughfares of this mighty Metropolis. Under the circumstances, this was a marvellous tribute to the admiration and affection which Mr. Ventimore had succeeded in inspiring in the great heart of the people, rich and poor, high and low. He would not detain his hearers any longer; all that remained for him to do was to ask Mr. Ventimore's acceptance of a golden casket containing the roll of freedom, and he felt sure that their distinguished guest, before proceeding to inscribe his name on the register, would oblige them all by some account from his own lips of—of the events in which he had figured so prominently and so creditably.
Horace received the casket mechanically; there was a universal cry of "Speech!" from the audience, to which he replied by shaking his head in helpless deprecation—but in vain; he found himself irresistibly pressed towards the rail in front of the dais, and the roar of applause which greeted him saved him from all necessity of attempting to speak for nearly two minutes.
During that interval he had time to clear his brain and think what he had better do or say in his present unenviable dilemma. For some time past a suspicion had been growing in his mind, until it had now almost swollen into certainty. He felt that, before he compromised himself, or allowed his too generous entertainers to compromise themselves irretrievably, it was absolutely necessary to ascertain his real position, and, to do that, he must make some sort of speech. With this resolve, all his nervousness and embarrassment and indecision melted away; he faced the assembly coolly and gallantly, convinced that his best alternative now lay in perfect candour.
"My Lord Mayor, my lords, ladies, and gentlemen," he began, in a clear voice which penetrated to the farthest gallery and commanded instant attention. "If you expect to hear from me any description of what I've done to be received like this, I'm afraid you will be disappointed. For my own belief is that I've done nothing whatever."
There was a general outcry of "No, no!" at this, and a fervid murmur of protest.
"It's all very well to say 'No, no,'" said Horace, "and I am extremely grateful to you all for the interruption. Still, I can only repeat that I am absolutely unaware of having ever rendered my Country, or this great City, a single service deserving of the slightest acknowledgment. I wish I could feel I had—but the truth is that, if I have, the fact has entirely slipped from my memory."
Again there were murmurs, this time with a certain under-current of irritation; and he could hear the Lord Mayor behind him remarking to the City Chamberlain that this was not at all the kind of speech for the occasion.
"I know what you're thinking," said Horace. "You're thinking this is mock modesty on my part. But it's nothing of the sort. I don't know what I've done—but I presume you are all better informed. Because the Corporation wouldn't have given me that very charming casket—you wouldn't all of you be here like this—unless you were under a strong impression that I'd done something to deserve it." At this there was a fresh outburst of applause. "Just so," said Horace, calmly. "Well, now, will any of you be kind enough to tell me, in a few words, what you suppose I've done?"
There was a dead silence, in which every one looked at his or her neighbour and smiled feebly.
"My Lord Mayor," continued Horace, "I appeal to you to tell me and this distinguished assembly why on earth we're all here!"
The Lord Mayor rose. "I think it sufficient to say," he announced with dignity, "that the Corporation and myself were unanimously of opinion that this distinction should be awarded—for reasons which it is unnecessary and—hum—ha—invidious to enter into here."
"I am sorry," persisted Horace, "but I must press your lordship for those reasons. I have an object.... Will the City Chamberlain oblige me, then?... No? Well, then, the Town Clerk?... No?—it's just as I suspected: none of you can give me your reasons, and shall I tell you why? Because there aren't any.... Now, do bear with me for a moment. I'm quite aware this is very embarrassing for all of you—but remember that it's infinitely more awkward for me! I really cannot accept the freedom of the City under any suspicion of false pretences. It would be a poor reward for your hospitality, and base and unpatriotic into the bargain, to depreciate the value of so great a distinction by permitting it to be conferred unworthily. If, after you've heard what I am going to tell you, you still insist on my accepting such an honour, of course I will not be so ungracious as to refuse it. But I really don't feel that it would be right to inscribe my name on your Roll of Fame without some sort of explanation. If I did, I might, for anything I know, involuntarily be signing the death-warrant of the Corporation!"
There was a breathless hush upon this; the silence grew so intense that to borrow a slightly involved metaphor from a distinguished friend of the writer's, you might have picked up a pin in it! Horace leaned sideways against the rail in an easy attitude, so as to face the Lord Mayor, as well as a portion of his audience.
"Before I go any farther," he said, "will your lordship pardon me if I suggest that it might be as well to direct that all reporters present should immediately withdraw?"
The reporters' table was instantly in a stir of anger, and many of the guests expressed some dissatisfaction. "We, at least," said the Lord Mayor, rising, flushed with annoyance, "have no reason to dread publicity. I decline to make a hole-and-corner affair of this. I shall give no such orders."
"Very well," said Horace, when the chorus of approval had subsided. "My suggestion was made quite as much in the Corporation's interests as mine. I merely thought that, when you all clearly understood how grossly you've been deluded, you might prefer to have the details kept out of the newspapers if possible. But if you particularly want them published over the whole world, why, of course——"
An uproar followed here, under cover of which the Lord Mayor contrived to give orders to have the doors fastened till further directions.
"Don't make this more difficult and disagreeable for me than it is already!" said Horace, as soon as he could obtain a hearing again. "You don't suppose that I should have come here in this Tom-fool's dress, imposing myself on the hospitality of this great City, if I could have helped it! If you've been brought here under false pretences, so have I. If you've been made to look rather foolish, what is your situation to mine? The fact is, I am the victim of a headstrong force which I am utterly unable to control...."
Upon this a fresh uproar arose, and prevented him from continuing for some time. "I only ask for fair play and a patient hearing!" he pleaded. "Give me that, and I will undertake to restore you all to good humour before I have done."
They calmed down at this appeal, and he was able to proceed. "My case is simply this," he said. "A little time ago I happened to go to an auction and buy a large brass bottle...."
For some inexplicable reason his last words roused the audience to absolute frenzy; they would not hear anything about the brass bottle. Every time he attempted to mention it they howled him down, they hissed, they groaned, they shook their fists; the din was positively deafening.
Nor was the demonstration confined to the male portion of the assembly. One lady, indeed, who is a prominent leader in society, but whose name shall not be divulged here, was so carried away by her feelings as to hurl a heavy cut-glass bottle of smelling-salts at Horace's offending head. Fortunately for him, it missed him and only caught one of the officials (Horace was not in a mood to notice details very accurately, but he had a notion that it was the City Remembrancer) somewhere about the region of the watch-pocket.
"Will you hear me out?" Ventimore shouted. "I'm not trifling. I haven't told you yet what was inside the bottle. When I opened it, I found ..."
He got no farther—for, as the words left his lips, he felt himself seized by the collar of his robe and lifted off his feet by an agency he was powerless to resist.
Up and up he was carried, past the great chandeliers, between the carved and gilded rafters, pursued by a universal shriek of dismay and horror. Down below he could see the throng of pale, upturned faces, and hear the wild screams and laughter of several ladies of great distinction in violent hysterics. And the next moment he was in the glass lantern, and the latticed panes gave way like tissue paper as he broke through into the open air, causing the pigeons on the roof to whirr up in a flutter of alarm.
Of course, he knew that it was the Jinnee who was abducting him in this sensational manner, and he was rather relieved than alarmed by Fakrash's summary proceeding, for he seemed, for once, to have hit upon the best way out of a situation that was rapidly becoming impossible.
Once outside in the open air, the Jinnee "towered" like a pheasant shot through the breast, and Horace closed his eyes with a combined swing-switchback-and-Channel-passage sensation during a flight which apparently continued for hours, although in reality it probably did not occupy more than a very few seconds. His uneasiness was still further increased by his inability to guess where he was being taken to—for he felt instinctively that they were not travelling in the direction of home.
At last he felt himself set down on some hard, firm surface, and ventured to open his eyes once more. When he realised where he actually was, his knees gave way under him, and he was seized with a sudden giddiness that very nearly made him lose his balance. For he found himself standing on a sort of narrow ledge or cornice immediately under the ball at the top of St. Paul's.
Many feet beneath him spread the dull, leaden summit of the dome, its raised ridges stretching, like huge serpents over the curve, beyond which was a glimpse of the green roof of the nave and the two west towers, with their grey columns and urn-topped buttresses and gilded pineapples, which shone ruddily in the sun.
He had an impression of Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street as a deep, winding ravine, steeped in partial shadow; of long sierras of roofs and chimney-pots, showing their sharp outlines above mouse-coloured smoke-wreaths; of the broad, pearl-tinted river, with oily ripples and a golden glitter where the sunlight touched it; of the gleaming slope of mud under the wharves and warehouses on the Surrey side; of barges and steamers moored in black clusters; of a small tug fussing noisily down the river, leaving a broadening arrow-head in its wake.
Cautiously he moved round towards the east, where the houses formed a blurred mosaic of cream, slate, indigo, and dull reds and browns, above which slender rose-flushed spires and towers pierced the haze, stained in countless places by pillars of black, grey, and amber smoke, and lightened by plumes and jets of silvery steam, till all blended by imperceptible gradations into a sky of tenderest gold slashed with translucent blue.
It was a magnificent view, and none the less so because the indistinctness of all beyond a limited radius made the huge City seem not only mystical, but absolutely boundless in extent. But although Ventimore was distinctly conscious of all this, he was scarcely in a state to appreciate its grandeur just then. He was much too concerned with wondering why Fakrash had chosen to plant him up there in so insecure a position, and how he was ever to be rescued from it, since the Jinnee had apparently disappeared.
He was not far off, however, for presently Horace saw him stalk round the narrow cornice with an air of being perfectly at home on it.
"So there you are!" said Ventimore; "I thought you'd deserted me again. What have you brought me up here for?"
"Because I desired to have speech with thee in private," replied the Jinnee.
"We're not likely to be intruded on here, certainly," said Horace. "But isn't it rather exposed, rather public? If we're seen up here, you know, it will cause a decided sensation."
"I have laid a spell on all below that they should not raise their eyes. Be seated, therefore, and hear my words."
Horace lowered himself carefully to a sitting position, so that his legs dangled in space, and Fakrash took a seat by his side. "O, most indiscreet of mankind!" he began, in an aggrieved tone; "thou hast been near the committal of a great blunder, and doing ill to thyself and to me!"
"Well, I do like that!" retorted Horace; "when you let me in for all that freedom of the City business, and then sneaked off, leaving me to get out of it the best way I could, and only came back just as I was about to explain matters, and carried me up through the roof like a sack of flour. Do you consider that tactful on your part?"
"Thou hadst drunk wine and permitted it to creep as far as the place of secrets."
"Only one glass," said Horace; "and I wanted it, I can assure you. I was obliged to make a speech to them, and, thanks to you, I was in such a hole that I saw nothing for it but to tell the truth."
"Veracity, as thou wilt learn," answered the Jinnee, "is not invariably the Ship of Safety. Thou wert about to betray the benefactor who procured for thee such glory and honour as might well cause the gall-bladder of lions to burst with envy!"
"If any lion with the least sense of humour could have witnessed the proceedings," said Ventimore, "he might have burst with laughter—certainly not envy. Good Lord! Fakrash," he cried, in his indignation, "I've never felt such an absolute ass in my whole life! If nothing would satisfy you but my receiving the freedom of the City, you might at least have contrived some decent excuse for it! But you left out the only point there was in the whole thing—and all for what?"
"What doth it signify why the whole populace should come forth to acclaim thee and do thee honour, so long as they did so?" said Fakrash, sullenly. "For the report of thy fame would reach Bedeea-el-Jemal."
"That's just where you're mistaken," said Horace. "If you had not been in too desperate a hurry to make a few inquiries, you would have found out that you were taking all this trouble for nothing."
"How sayest thou?"
"Well, you would have discovered that the Princess is spared all temptation to marry beneath her by the fact that she became the bride of somebody else about thirty centuries ago. She married a mortal, one Seyf-el-Mulook, a King's son, and they've both been dead a considerable time—another obstacle to your plans."
"It is a lie," declared Fakrash.
"If you will take me back to Vincent Square, I shall be happy to show you the evidence in your national records," said Horace. "And you may be glad to know that your old enemy, Mr. Jarjarees, came to a violent end, after a very sporting encounter with a King's daughter, who, though proficient in advanced magic, unfortunately perished herself, poor lady, in the final round."
"I had intended thee to accomplish his downfall," said Fakrash.
"I know," said Horace. "It was most thoughtful of you. But I doubt if I should have done it half as well—and it would have probably cost me an eye, at the very least. It's better as it is."
"And how long hast thou known of these things?"
"Only since last night."
"Since last night? And thou didst not unfold them unto me till this instant?"
"I've had such a busy morning, you see," explained Horace. "There's been no time."
"Silly-bearded fool that I was to bring this misbegotten dog into the august presence of the great Lord Mayor himself (on whom be peace!)," cried the Jinnee.
"I object to being referred to as a misbegotten dog," said Horace, "but with the rest of your remark I entirely concur. I'm afraid the Lord Mayor is very far from being at peace just now." He pointed to the steep roof of the Guildhall, with its dormers and fretted pinnacles, and the slender lantern through which he had so lately made his inglorious exit. "There's the devil of a row going on under that lantern just now, Mr. Fakrash, you may depend upon that. They've locked the doors till they can decide what to do next—which will take them some time. And it's all your fault!"
"It was thy doing. Why didst thou dare to inform the Lord Mayor that he was deceived?"
"Why? Because I thought he ought to know. Because I was bound, particularly after my oath of allegiance, to warn him of any conspiracy against him. Because I was in such a hat. He'll understand all that—he won't blame me for this business."
"It is fortunate," observed the Jinnee, "that I flew away with thee before thou couldst pronounce my name."
"You gave yourself away," said Horace. "They all saw you, you know. You weren't flying so particularly fast. They'll recognise you again. If you will carry off a man from under the Lord Mayor's very nose, and shoot up through the roof like a rocket with him, you can't expect to escape some notice. You see, you happen to be the only unbottled Jinnee in this City."
Fakrash shifted his seat on the cornice. "I have committed no act of disrespect unto the Lord Mayor," he said, "therefore he can have no just cause of anger against me."
Horace perceived that the Jinnee was not altogether at ease, and pushed his advantage accordingly.
"My dear good old friend," he said, "you don't seem to realise yet what an awful thing you've done. For your own mistaken purposes, you have compelled the Chief Magistrate and the Corporation of the greatest City in the world to make themselves hopelessly ridiculous. They'll never hear the last of this affair. Just look at the crowds waiting patiently below there. Look at the flags. Think of that gorgeous conveyance of yours standing outside the Guildhall. Think of the assembly inside—all the most aristocratic, noble, and distinguished personages in the land," continued Horace, piling it on as he proceeded; "all collected for what? To be made fools of by a Jinnee out of a brass bottle!"
"For their own sakes they will preserve silence," said Fakrash, with a gleam of unwonted shrewdness.
"Probably they would hush it up, if they only could," conceded Horace. "But how can they? What are they to say? What plausible explanation can they give? Besides, there's the Press: you don't know what the Press is; but I assure you its power is tremendous—it's simply impossible to keep anything secret from it nowadays. It has eyes and ears everywhere, and a thousand tongues. Five minutes after the doors in that hall are unlocked (and they can't keep them locked much longer) the reporters will be handing in their special descriptions of you and your latest vagaries to their respective journals. Within half an hour bills will be carried through every quarter of London—bills with enormous letters: 'Extraordinary Scene at the Guildhall.' 'Strange End to a Civic Function.' 'Startling Appearance of an Oriental Genie in the City.' 'Abduction of a Guest of the Lord Mayor.' 'Intense Excitement.' 'Full Particulars!' And by that time the story will have flashed round the whole world. 'Keep silence,' indeed! Do you imagine for a moment that the Lord Mayor, or anybody else concerned, however remotely, will ever forget, or be allowed to forget, such an outrageous incident as this? If you do, believe me, you're mistaken."
"Truly, it would be a terrible thing to incur the wrath of the Lord Mayor," said the Jinnee, in troubled accents.
"Awful!" said Horace. "But you seem to have managed it."
"He weareth round his neck a magic jewel, which giveth him dominion over devils—is it not so?"
"You know best," said Horace.
"It was the splendour of that jewel and the majesty of his countenance that rendered me afraid to enter his presence, lest he should recognise me for what I am and command me to obey him, for verily his might is greater even than Suleyman's, and his hand heavier upon such of the Jinn as fall into his power!"
"If that's so," said Horace, "I should strongly advise you to find some way of putting things straight before it's too late—you've no time to lose."
"Thou sayest well," said Fakrash, springing to his feet, and turning his face towards Cheapside. Horace shuffled himself along the ledge in a seated position after the Jinnee, and, looking down between his feet, could just see the tops of the thin and rusty trees in the churchyard, the black and serried swarms of foreshortened people in the street, and the scarlet-rimmed mouths of chimney-pots on the tiled roofs below.
"There is but one remedy I know," said the Jinnee, "and it may be that I have lost power to perform it. Yet will I make the endeavour." And, stretching forth his right hand towards the east, he muttered some kind of command or invocation.
Horace almost fell off the cornice with apprehension of what might follow. Would it be a thunderbolt, a plague, some frightful convulsion of Nature? He felt sure that Fakrash would hesitate at no means, however violent, of burying all traces of his blunder in oblivion, and very little hope that, whatever he did, it would prove anything but some worse indiscretion than his previous performances.
Happily none of these extreme measures seemed to have occurred to the Jinnee, though what followed was strange and striking enough.
For presently, as if in obedience to the Jinnee's weird gesticulations, a lurid belt of fog came rolling up from the direction of the Royal Exchange, swallowing up building after building in its rapid course; one by one the Guildhall, Bow Church, Cheapside itself, and the churchyard disappeared, and Horace, turning his head to the left, saw the murky tide sweeping on westward, blotting out Ludgate Hill, the Strand, Charing Cross, and Westminster—till at last he and Fakrash were alone above a limitless plain of bituminous cloud, the only living beings left, as it seemed, in a blank and silent universe.
"Look again!" said Fakrash, and Horace, looking eastward, saw the spire of Bow Church, rosy once more, the Guildhall standing clear and intact, and the streets and house-tops gradually reappearing. Only the flags, with their unrestful shiver and ripple of colour, had disappeared, and, with them, the waiting crowds and the mounted constables. The ordinary traffic of vans, omnibuses, and cabs was proceeding as though it had never been interrupted—the clank and jingle of harness chains, the cries and whip-crackings of drivers, rose with curious distinctness above the incessant trampling roar which is the ground-swell of the human ocean.
"That cloud which thou sawest," said Fakrash, "hath swept away with it all memory of this affair from the minds of every mortal assembled to do thee honour. See, they go about their several businesses, and all the past incidents are to them as though they had never been."
It was not often that Horace could honestly commend any performance of the Jinnee's, but at this he could not restrain his admiration. "By Jove!" he said, "that certainly gets the Lord Mayor and everybody else out of the mess as neatly as possible. I must say, Mr. Fakrash, it's much the best thing I've seen you do yet."
"Wait," said the Jinnee, "for presently thou shalt see me perform a yet more excellent thing."
There was a most unpleasant green glow in his eyes and a bristle in his thin beard as he spoke, which suddenly made Horace feel uncomfortable. He did not like the look of the Jinnee at all.
"I really think you've done enough for to-day," he said. "And this wind up here is rather searching. I shan't be sorry to find myself on the ground again."
"That," replied the Jinnee, "thou shalt assuredly do before long, O impudent and deceitful wretch!" And he laid a long, lean hand on Horace's shoulder.
"He is put out about something!" thought Ventimore. "But what?" "My dear sir," he said aloud, "I don't understand this tone of yours. What have I done to offend you?"
"Divinely gifted was he who said: 'Beware of losing hearts in consequence of injury, for the bringing them back after flight is difficult.'"
"Excellent!" said Horace. "But I don't quite see the application."
"The application," explained the Jinnee, "is that I am determined to cast thee down from here with my own hand!"
Horace turned faint and dizzy for a moment. Then, by a strong effort of will, he pulled himself together. "Oh, come now," he said, "you don't really mean that, you know. After all your kindness! You're much too good-natured to be capable of anything so atrocious."
"All pity hath been eradicated from my heart," returned Fakrash. "Therefore prepare to die, for thou art presently about to perish in the most unfortunate manner."
Ventimore could not repress a shudder. Hitherto he had never been able to take Fakrash quite seriously, in spite of all his supernatural powers; he had treated him with a half-kindly, half-contemptuous tolerance, as a well-meaning, but hopelessly incompetent, old foozle. That the Jinnee should ever become malevolent towards him had never entered his head till now—and yet he undoubtedly had. How was he to cajole and disarm this formidable being? He must keep cool and act promptly, or he would never see Sylvia again.
As he sat there on the narrow ledge, with a faint and not unpleasant smell of hops saluting his nostrils from some distant brewery, he tried hard to collect his thoughts, but could not. He found himself, instead, idly watching the busy, jostling crowd below, who were all unconscious of the impending drama so high above them. Just over the rim of the dome he could see the opaque white top of a lamp on a shelter, where a pigmy constable stood, directing the traffic.
Would he look up if Horace called for help? Even if he could, what help could he render? All he could do would be to keep the crowd back and send for a covered stretcher. No, he would not dwell on these horrors; he must fix his mind on some way of circumventing Fakrash.
How did the people in "The Arabian Nights" manage? The fisherman, for instance? He persuaded his Jinnee to return to the bottle by pretending to doubt whether he had ever really been inside it.
But Fakrash, though simple enough in some respects, was not quite such a fool as that. Sometimes the Jinn could be mollified and induced to grant a reprieve by being told stories, one inside the other, like a nest of Oriental boxes. Unfortunately Fakrash did not seem in the humour for listening to apologues, and, even if he were, Horace could not think of or improvise any just then. "Besides," he thought, "I can't sit up here telling him anecdotes for ever. I'd almost sooner die!" Still, he remembered that it was generally possible to draw an Arabian Efreet into discussion: they all loved argument, and had a rough conception of justice.
"I think, Mr. Fakrash," he said, "that, in common fairness, I have a right to know what offence I have committed."
"To recite thy misdeeds," replied the Jinnee, "would occupy much time."
"I don't mind that," said Horace, affably. "I can give you as long as you like. I'm in no sort of a hurry."
"With me it is otherwise," retorted Fakrash, making a stride towards him. "Therefore court not life, for thy death hath become unavoidable.'
"Before we part," said Horace, "you won't refuse to answer one or two questions?"
"Didst thou not undertake never to ask any further favour of me? Moreover, it will avail thee nought. For I am positively determined to slay thee."
"I demand it," said Horace, "in the most great name of the Lord Mayor (on whom be peace!)"
It was a desperate shot—but it took effect. The Jinnee quailed visibly.
"Ask, then," he said; "but briefly, for the time groweth short."
Horace determined to make one last appeal to Fakrash's sense of gratitude, since it had always seemed the dominant trait in his character.