"Would you object to relating it to me?" inquired Gratz.
"Heavens!" cried Raikes, aghast at the prospect of the extended effort which this would impose upon him. "Is it necessary?"
"I would not be surprised," replied Gratz. "At any rate, if your story is more mysterious than the predicament which confronts us, it must be worth hearing."
With an ill grace, after making the elaborate arrangements which usually precede a protracted campaign, Raikes hastened to comply with the request of the detective.
As he proceeded, he was startled to note, now that he made his first conscious effort to review the weird recital of the Sepoy, just how vividly the incidents presented themselves.
Aside from the phraseology, he recounted, in precise order, the incredible incidents, and by the time he had reached the climax in the first division of his effort his hearers were interested enough to hasten through a light meal, which, at the suggestion of Gratz, had been sent to the room they occupied.
With something of the calculation of the Sepoy, or remembering, perhaps, the effect which his abrupt terminations had upon him, Raikes contrived his irritating pauses with remorseless enjoyment and the ostensible purpose of stimulating his sorely taxed energies with draughts of brandy and water.
In this way Raikes consumed the time until the hour of eleven, which enabled him to develop the narrative to the point at which the Sepoy had concluded.
"And now," exclaimed Raikes with unmistakable relief, as he signified that his hearers were in possession of all he knew, "and now will you kindly tell me what you expect to gain by this tedious task you have imposed upon me?"
Gratz did not reply at once, but after a few moments of reflection, he asked, apparently ignoring the question of the narrator: "Will you give me the keys of this building you occupy, and indicate to me the means of rummaging about the other building on the opposite side of the wall?"
"If it is necessary," replied Raikes with grudging assent.
"Why else should I make the request?" suggested Gratz with emotionless directness of speech and a momentary gleam of the eyes.
"True!" responded Raikes.
"Now," exclaimed Gratz, when the various keys were placed in his hand, "you can sleep in peace to-night, and bolt your doors with all the assurance in the world, for I guarantee that your property will be undisturbed."
Then turning to Robert, he said: "I want you to guide me for a short while, and as soon as I get my bearings you can retire."
At this the two bade the thoroughly exhausted Raikes good-night and departed from the room, which the miser hastily secured with his usual precautions.
Without, Robert soon discovered that his services were no longer required, and at the suggestion of the detective he retired, after indicating to this curious official that when he had concluded his investigations he would find a cot in his room which he was at liberty to occupy.
As dawn began to make its appearance on the ensuing morning, Robert was disturbed by a curious dream.
He appeared to be alone upon a fragile raft in the midst of a destructive sea.
Bit by bit the hastily joined structure upon which he rode the waters so insecurely began to disintegrate, until but one scarcely sufficing plank remained.
To this, however, he clung with rapidly failing strength, shouting at intervals with what vim remained, in an attempt to attract the attention of the keepers of the light, not far away.
But with devilish perversity, an immense fog-horn sent forth a heavy blast seaward precisely at the moments he raised his voice.
No matter how far apart or how near he planned the intervals, he was bound to coincide with the deafening horn.
At last in despair he desisted in his efforts, and the monster horn, with hoarse mockery, continued its grewsome noises at dismal intervals, until one, more stentorian than the others, caused the very tempest to hush, and Robert awoke to discover Gratz the cause of his fictitious misery, sleeping upon the cot near the foot of his bed, emitting a series of snores which had managed to communicate their odious telepathy to his slumbering consciousness.
As this singular being lay there in the relaxation and undisguise to which the most diplomatic must submit at times, his countenance, so impassive in his wakeful hours, depicted singular lines of determination.
An expression of tense anxiety contracted his features; resolution held the thin lips in rigid partnership; there was a hint of purpose in the solitary wrinkle which corrugated his forehead; the general aspect was impressive, its suggestion indefatigable.
In this paradoxical fashion, the emotions, concealed during the day, revealed themselves at night.
What in others would have concluded in a vacant mien and colorless repose, in him expressed all that he was so sedulous to conceal.
Scarcely had Robert placed his feet upon the floor when Gratz opened his eyes, awakened partly by the sounds of rising and partly by his tumult of snores, and in an instant the flaccid mask descended over his face, and Gratz was his apathetic self again.
"Well?" inquired Robert.
"You have said it," replied Gratz; "it is well."
"You have succeeded, then?" demanded Robert breathlessly.
"I believe so; but do not question me further just now. I want to see your uncle before I go."
A few moments later the two presented themselves before the closed door leading to the apartment occupied by Raikes, whom they fancied they could hear stirring about within.
In answer to their raps, he opened the door and they entered.
"What news?" demanded Raikes.
"The best, I hope; but I will not communicate it to you until to-morrow morning."
"Ah!" exclaimed Raikes with manifest disappointment.
"But," continued Gratz, as he noted the expression on the face of the other, "at that time I fancy that I shall not only have solved the mystery but I will also secure the thief."
"Do you know him, then?" asked Raikes.
"You are wrong," replied Gratz. "Unless I am seriously mistaken, there are two."
"Two!" repeated Raikes incredulously.
"Yes—but listen: I am anxious to hear the conclusion of that remarkable story you began last night."
"But," objected Raikes, "I have already told you all I know."
"I am aware of that," answered the detective, "but your friend, the Sepoy, will doubtless oblige you with the balance. Arrange with him at breakfast-time for a continuation. I will return either to-night or to-morrow morning to hear it."
"But——" began Raikes.
"Do not refuse to do as I ask," urged Gratz impressively. "It may be useful; I'm inclined to think it will."
"Very well," answered Raikes. "I will do as you suggest."
"And," continued Gratz, "I need not assure you that if a living soul learns of my presence here last night, I can do nothing for you."
"I understand," said Raikes.
"And I," added Robert.
With this Gratz departed, and Raikes prepared to make his appearance in the dining-room.
Advised of the intention of her brother to breakfast at the table, the spinster had hastened to precede him, and by the time Raikes presented himself she had managed to bestow a couple of furtive biscuits in her pocket, and had devoured another couple, lavishly buttered, accompanied by a fairly liberal cut of beefsteak.
Consequently, when Raikes conveyed his customary intimation that she was at liberty to begin, the spinster obediently proceeded to add a moderate breakfast to the one she had already enjoyed.
Trembling lest her brother would remark the developing suggestions of well-being which had resulted from her recent regimen, she welcomed with genuine relief the advent of the Sepoy, to whom Raikes transferred his speculative glance.
"Well!" exclaimed the Sepoy, "you have had quite a siege, I hear."
"I have," replied Raikes shortly; then added with a sort of grim humor: "My physician has recommended a little diversion, and I have just thought of a simple way of following his advice."
"What is that?" asked the Sepoy.
"I would like to present myself at the usual hour and hear the conclusion of the story, for I judge, from the predicament of Prince Otondo, that the end is not far off."
"Ah, you remember?" exclaimed the Sepoy.
"Decidedly!" replied Raikes.
"Very well, then," returned the other. "Come at ten and I will gather the tangled threads together."
During the balance of that day Raikes devoted his powers of concentration to the consummation of the treatment to which he had subjected himself, and this, together with the prospect of the recovery of his property, resulted in a condition which made the visits of the astonished physician no longer necessary.
With an eagerness intensified to a childish impatience, almost, by the vague suggestions of Gratz that the story would be personally interesting, and exhausting his mind with futile speculations as to the manner of its application to the unnatural conditions which distressed him so, Raikes at last concluded his contemplation of the clock, and promptly upon the stroke of ten, hastened from his room and hurried to the apartment occupied by the Sepoy.
Seating himself in the chair indicated by his host, he shortly found that he was unable to avoid recalling his recent guilty appropriation of the diamond, and a degree of confusion, which he could not entirely disguise, manifested itself in his difficulty of adjusting his eyes to the inscrutable gaze of the Sepoy.
On this occasion the narrator, as hitherto, did not provide his auditor with a brilliant to look upon during the progress of the story—an omission that was radiantly repaired by the two lambent gems in the eyes of the former.
Upon these the shifting gaze of the restless listener finally fastened itself with a fascination which he found it impossible to resist, and the Sepoy, with all the modulated lights and shadows of ardor, animation, lethargy, somnolence, peace, with which he complemented his sedative phrases, began:
(The conclusion of this interesting tale will be found on Bosom No. 1, Dickey Series C.)
As Dennis looked up from his reading, a pair of eyes of unclouded blue, vivid with interest and altogether friendly, met his animated glance.
With alert intuition his sweet-faced auditor believed that she discovered a shadow of vexation in the ingenuous countenance of the reader.
"What is it?" she asked.
To Dennis, in his absorption, it seemed impossible that the question could refer to anything else than the habitual disability at the end of each chapter, and he answered promptly:
"'Tis the way the dickey ends—to be concluded in Series C—an' it's me here an' Series C in Baxter Street, so I can't read the rest; it's too bad, so it is."
"So it is," repeated the lady softly, with a dexterous parody of his concluding words, but with a subtle intimation in her manner that she did not consider the inconvenient termination such a misfortune, after all, and that it somehow suggested an alternative that was not displeasing.
"Do you want to hear the rest?" asked Dennis frankly.
"I do, indeed," replied his companion with an adroitly conveyed insinuation of disappointed expectation that seemed to place the responsibility of measuring to this agreeable emergency entirely upon Dennis.
The same degree of sensitiveness which leaves an Irishman so open to offense, enables him, with equal celerity, to comprehend a hint, and Dennis, when he realized that the lady understood that the continuation of the tale involved a subsequent reading, exclaimed, with a delicious paraphrase of Sancho Panza: "God bless the man who first invented 'Continued in our next!'"
Presently the one certain that her telepathy had not miscarried, and the other equally convinced that his reception of the message was accredited to him, the conversation was given an abrupt direction by an apparently alien question:
"Do you know anything about flowers?" asked his companion.
"Only the difference between a rose and a cauliflower," replied Dennis with a twinkle in his eye, to which the lady responded with a shade of disappointment.
"An' why flowers?" asked Dennis.
"Listen!" answered the lady with a slight return of her original sadness.
"Eleven months ago I was left a widow.
"My husband's estate consisted of a moderate amount of life insurance, a prosperous business, and no debts.
"He was a florist.
"The establishment is located in the heart of a very fashionable district.
"There has scarcely been a function of the elite in this section which my husband has not supplied with floral decorations.
"His taste was exquisite, and his taste was his undoing, for he added refinement to refinement until he began to lose sight of the practical side of existence.
"By degrees he became as attenuated as some of the tendrils he cultivated with such absorption, and as frail as an orchid.
"The intrusion of a pronounced scent was sufficient to induce a serious nervous disturbance, and he could no more endure disproportionate and sharp distinctions of color than a lapidary could tolerate a serious unevenness of facets.
"I was compelled to paper his room with a delicate shade of lavender.
"The furniture was stained a light buff, and the upholstering was a delicate cretonne livened by exquisite tracings of wisteria.
"The carpet was light blue, surrounded by a border of deeper blue, lightly emphasized by suggestions of trailing arbutus.
"Despite all this," continued the lady sadly as she paused to enjoy an intentness of interest on the part of the bewildered Dennis, so profound that the dickey backs had been permitted to fall unregarded to the ground, and their printed extravagances, by contrast with this unusual recital, relegated to the most prosaic of occurrences, "despite all these precautions, the most carefully guarded recesses are not entirely secure.
"For one day an elaborately protected package arrived during my absence, and my husband opened it.
"At once a pungent, overpowering sweetness filled the air, and the very surfeit of its fragrance threw my husband into a convulsion of delight which ended in a stupor so replete that we were able only to restore the poor man to consciousness by hypodermics of—what was to him a most violent stimulant—Cambric Tea."
Dennis looked his astonishment at these accumulating refinements, and in the pause that followed the narration of this last episode he inquired, with the appreciative hesitation of one who is reluctant to advance lest he destroy the dew-gemmed tracery of a fragile spider's web.
"An' what kind of flowers did all this?"
"Cape Jessamine," replied the lady; "and we were never able to discover who sent them.
"His physicians claimed that his disorder was paralleled by similar disturbances instanced in pathological records, but that the contributing causes were different and that my husband's particular debility was not induced by his devotion to flowers but aggravated by it.
"To further complicate matters, the physician assured me that to deprive the invalid of his floral diversions would be to remove his remaining impulse to continued existence.
"He went on to say that he had reached the limit of his skill, and that nothing further was to be done than to surround the sufferer with placid considerations and neutral odors, and intimated that he disliked to contemplate the possible result of a second contact with Cape Jessamine.
"In a short time it became evident that I possessed merely the essence of a husband, and one day, as he wafted—that's the word, for his step seemed to be almost devoid of specific gravity—so I repeat, one day, as he wafted to the room in which he usually experimented with his floral attenuations, I happened to be engaged in the dwelling adjoining the conservatory and into which it opened.
"Presently, my duties concluded, I proceeded in the direction taken by my husband.
"As I advanced I grew momently conscious of a ravishing fragrance which seemed to pervade and invite the consciousness to all varieties of agreeable surrender.
"Ah!—in a moment I recognized this pungent delight: Cape Jessamine!
"Aware of the consequences to him should he inhale anything so transporting, I hastened forward.
"The fragrance grew stronger as I hurried on. It seemed to envelop every delicate, fainting scent in the conservatory, and as I placed my hand upon the door-latch leading to the section where I was positive my husband would be found, I knew that I had traced the occasion to its source.
"In another second I had opened the door, and there, a few feet away, lay my unfortunate husband.
"I hurried to his side.
"His countenance, which exhibited that singular placidity which sometimes comes with death, was as serene as a lily, and gave no evidence of the convulsion that must have ensued.
"He was dead.
"All about him, distributed with devilish malignity and criminal intent, were various clusters of the flowers that had transported him, literally."
"My God!" exclaimed Dennis. "What a situation!"
"Wasn't it?" exclaimed the widow. "It almost equals the story on the dickeys."
"Equals!" exclaimed Dennis with profound conviction. "I don't know that I care to read the balance of the story after this. Do you know the guilty party?"
"I think so," answered the widow; "but you can judge for yourself as I proceed.
"Now follow me closely."
There was no need of this advice, for Dennis would not have missed a word for the world, and gazed upon the sweet-faced narrator with a sort of superstitious admiration as she continued:
"Since his death the patronage is larger than ever.
"I now find myself confronted with what is equivalent to an embarrassment of riches on the one hand, and a famine of intelligent help on the other."
At this statement Dennis attempted not to appear too deeply interested.
"I employ a manager, the one we have always had, who desires to become a partner in the business; but his proposition is handicapped by the character of the consideration he is willing to offer for such an interest.
"In other words, he considers that a proposal of marriage is an equivalent for any financial objection I may suggest."
Despite his efforts, Dennis looked troubled.
The lady smiled and continued:
"I received this proposition two months since. Its suddenness surprised a plan which I have been perfecting for a long time.
"In order to avoid any interruption to my purposes, I permitted the manager to believe that I was impressed with his offer, but desired a little time for consideration."
"An' true, now," asked Dennis with genuine Irish impulse, "an' true, now, were you?"
The lady smiled again. "Wait," she urged, "you shall see.
"I have never trusted this man. He is not only personally obnoxious to me, but I fear that I cannot rely upon his business integrity.
"Little by little, I have gathered together the threads of the business, and I now have a strong legal grip upon the situation, which enables me to decline this alliance with no possible jeopardy to the property.
"But one consideration restrains me: I need a man of enterprise and address to succeed him. And now," she added with a simple, business-like directness, "I have a suggestion to offer:
"You ransack Baxter Street to-morrow for Dickey Series C, and come with it to this address," and she placed a small card in his hand.
"We can reach the end of the story, in which I am exceedingly interested, and when we have set our minds at rest on that point, I will give myself the pleasure of listening to whatever recommendations you may offer as to your fitness to take the place of the retiring management."
"Oh!" exclaimed Dennis as he went through an absurd pantomime of punching himself, "an' is it awake you are, Dennis Muldoon?"
At this the lady, with a cordial smile, indicated that the interview was at an end, and as she turned to depart, said: "You will come, then, to-morrow night?"
And Dennis, hat in hand, with an unmistakable deference of attitude and demeanor, cheerily responded with a query that required no further answer than a rosy acknowledgment:
"Will a duck swim?"
On the succeeding morning it seemed to the foreman of the shipping department of the publishers that his new marker did not manifest the same enthusiasm for his work which had distinguished his earlier efforts.
It looked to him as if Dennis handled his paint-brush with the mien of one who considered his occupation a diversion rather than a means of livelihood.
As the day advanced and Dennis located an "e" in the spot designed for an "i," and concluded an address with Detroit in place of Duluth, the foreman was more than ever convinced that something was wrong, and asked the young man if he was not feeling well.
"Sure!" exclaimed Dennis, a degree too cheerily, the foreman thought, in view of his delinquencies with the brush, "sure; but why do you ask?"
"Well," returned the foreman, "iv'ry thing's wid you this mornin' but yure head," and he pointed out several blunders which Dennis had made.
"Sure, an' I'm sorry for that," he said with blushing contriteness; "it will not happen again."
The foreman, however, had told the truth only in part, for Dennis had left not only his head behind him, but a considerable portion of his heart.
All day he continued to think about the sweet-faced woman who had listened with such gratifying attention to the story, and more than once, in his agreeable preoccupation, had he noted an impulse to substitute the address she had provided for the one demanded by the shipping invoices.
"To-night at eight," he repeated to himself over and over, like the refrain of a popular ballad, invariably concluding, by way of chorus: "Oh, I'll be there; oh, I'll be there."
Therefore, as soon as his day's duties were over, Dennis speeded to Baxter Street in search of Dickey Series C.
After a foray in a half dozen separate establishments, where neckties, collars and all the accessories were offered in place of what he required, he succeeded at last in securing the missing series.
At The Stag he was so full of emotion and anticipation that there was little room for such a substantial consideration as supper, so, dismissing that he proceeded to his room, and after indulging in the luxury of one of the few genuine shirts which remained to him, he anticipated his appointment a half hour by boarding the elevated, which carried him shortly to a point within three blocks of his destination.
In order that he might not appear too anxious or come into a premature collision with social usage, Dennis obliged himself to walk slowly in the vicinity indicated by the address.
The general aspect of his immediate surroundings looked promising and offered a comfortable assurance that his visit would not introduce him to a disappointment.
At last, from the opposite side of the street, he was able to measure, with an approving glance, a prepossessing dwelling of four stories and a mansard.
The front was of brown stone and differed but little from its neighbors, but to Dennis it seemed that it possessed an identity which was largely the recollection of the lingering presence of its owner.
Directly alongside, a large conservatory extended rearward an indefinite length.
The glittering front was picturesque with clusters of ingeniously disposed electric lights within, which revealed to advantage a mass of varied plants and flowers in prosperous abundance.
Charmed by the glow and color, and stimulated by the dancing lights, Dennis presented himself "on the minute" before the door of the adjacent dwelling.
In response to his ring, a trim, bright-eyed maid appeared, who, accepting his name in place of his card with an amiable lack of surprise, instructed him to enter, which he did, with alert, observing eyes.
Although Dennis was not much of a judge of the elaborate surroundings in which he found himself, he figured it out that the business of a florist must be a profitable one, and speculated, with wondering calculation, upon the length of time and the degree of application demanded to enable him to possess similar advantages.
Acting upon the parting instructions of the widow, Dennis had already canvassed his eligible points and was prepared to give an account of himself that was little short of eulogy.
At this juncture in his reflections the hangings at the parlor entrance parted with a musical swish that was suggestive of feminine approach, and the widow advanced into the room, with one slender hand extended in cordial informality.
If this woman had seemed charming to him in the park, she was certainly bewitching now.
The street costume in which she had first appeared was replaced by a gown of some clinging white fabric, which shimmered the light with a thousand blending radiations and fitted to every movement and contour like an embrace conscious of its privileges.
A delicate collar of filmy lace surrounded her neck like the intricate etchings of frost upon frost, and this was fastened with a solitary pearl as chaste as the exquisite skin with which it managed to offer only the faintest contrast.
Her head, crowned with a wavy nimbus of Titian auburn, was superbly set upon her fine, symmetrical shoulders.
As she flashed upon the vision of this palpitating young man through the parting curtains, like a dramatic climax or the goddess of reward, or denunciation, she seemed to Dennis, whose mythology was centralized from that moment, like another Aphrodite churned into lovely being by the sea.
At the entrance of this beautiful woman Dennis had risen to his feet, and stood for a moment, offering, with his helpless silence, a compliment whose genuineness she thoroughly enjoyed.
When at last his tongue resumed its function, Dennis, like many another with even more self-possession and experience, uttered just the words which were intended for concealment, as he stammered:
"An' it's no wonder, at all, at all."
The exclamation, however, was barely above a whisper, and it was only by following the motion of his lips and a shrewd intuition as to the rest which enabled the widow to realize what he had uttered, as she asked, smiling to note that the young man had neglected to release her hand:
"And what is it that is no wonder?"
At this question, Dennis, deserted for the moment by his customary adroitness, was unable to do anything else than respond, without evasion or subterfuge:
"Well, I was thinkin' it's no wonder the manager wanted to go into the business."
"Ah!" laughed the widow with genuine enjoyment and a sensible realization of the spirit which urged his exclamation and its explanation, "that is Irish, I am sure"; and with that Dennis began to feel more at home, although still subdued by the accumulation of practical beatitudes.
"Tell me," he said, when each was agreeably established, Dennis upon a comfortable divan and his listener in a chair which supplied its fascinating occupant with a sort of solicitous support, which Dennis assured himself would be poetry realized if he could be permitted to share, "tell me, shall I recite my abilities first or read the story?"
"Suppose," suggested his hearer, "we hear the story first and reserve your catalogue as a climax, like the dessert after the banquet."
"All right!" assented Dennis, as he produced a circular bundle, from which he extracted his absurd medium.
"One moment," suggested his hearer, as she arranged an electric cluster in a manner that enabled her to witness every alternation of expression in that mobile countenance—"now."
Withdrawing his gaze from the sweet face of his auditor with a reluctance sufficiently marked to advance him several leagues further in her good graces, Dennis, directing his attention to the closely-printed dickey, began, with racy Irish emphasis, as follows:
* * * * *
"With a bound the prince swept aside the curtains and reached his room.
"Advancing to the gong, which was suspended by silken cords near the divan, he struck it sharply several times.
"There was no response.
"He repeated his summons with the added vigor of his irritation at the delay.
"Only the sullen echo answered.
"With impatient incredulity the prince was about to hasten to the ante-room in which his faithful Sepoy had always been found, when a strange trembling seized his limbs.
"A confusion obscured his mind; his sight grew dim.
"Alarmed at this unusual sensation, the prince asserted himself against its depressing influence with all his customary resolution, and was finally able to reach the ante-room.
"It was deserted!
"He hastened to the passageway outside.
"Not a soul was visible; an unearthly stillness prevailed.
"'Ah!' he cried with sudden realization, 'my messenger has been too liberal with his news; they have heard of the British advance.'
"Thirty vital minutes had passed, and away in the dim distance an animated spot of red and gleam began to emerge.
"Again that inexplicable numbness and alarming physical weakness.
"With trembling hands he supported himself along the walls and finally reached the apartment in which he held his mimic court.
"A burning thirst began to parch his lips and throat; he hastened to the carafe in which the water for his use was usually held.
"It was empty.
"'Ah!' the prince groaned aloud; the veins of his forehead knotted; a sharp, strained look appeared in his eyes, and he shivered with a mortal chill.
"A stinging, sharp surge attracted his attention to his right wrist.
"It was swollen beyond its usual size, and a bluish discoloration surrounded the livid line where the dagger point had penetrated.
"He placed his hands together and noted their disproportion, considered the wounded arm, and then—he remembered.
"'The dagger!' he gasped, and a new horror charged his bloodshot eyes as he recalled the devilish craft employed by the natives to envenom their weapons.
"'Poisoned! and by Lal Lu!'
"At this thought the malignant light of a fearful determination illumed his features and revealed their frightful distortion.
"'I shall not—go—alone!' he sighed, and repossessing himself of the fatal dagger, which he had cast upon the table on entering the room, he rose from the chair, looked with fearful purpose upon the curtains which disguised the entrance to the secret passageway from which he had emerged but a short time before, took one step forward, and then fell inertly on to the couch from which he had risen in the excitement of his malignant impulse.
"'Ha!' The faint sound of an alien air smote his ears.
"'The bagpipes!' he muttered; 'the Scots, the hellish Highlanders.'
"Nearer and nearer the lively air was borne to him.
"His raging pulse thrummed through his palpitating veins a rhythmic, mocking accompaniment to the swelling music.
"His frame stiffened and stretched as though subjected to the distortion of the ancient rack.
"The agony was unendurable. With a final conscious effort he reached for the poisoned weapon to bring his sufferings to a summary conclusion, but his failing will could no longer vitalize his palsied arm, and with a gasp that seemed to rend his tortured body, to the weird orchestration of that refrain which was destined in the near future to herald such joy at Lucknow, 'The Campbells Are Coming, Hi-ay, Hi-ay!' the spirit of Prince Otondo returned to Him who gave it, to be put into what repair was possible for such a proposition.
"As the last writhing rigor ceased to convulse his frame, the prince lurched forward, and his body collapsed into an attitude not unlike that of one engaged in some dejecting reflection.
"By a singular nervous caprice he had raised his hands to his face, which he had clutched in his agony, and his elbows rested upon the table in grewsome support of his head.
"This ghastly calm, however, of which he was the center, was to be interrupted.
"A trumpet blast sounded without the gate; a clamor of voices filled the air.
"The bagpipes, in anticipation of some show of resistance, had ceased their stirring strains; within, the silence of an ambuscade prevailed.
"Suddenly, through the unguarded entrance rushed a body of red-coated soldiers; but their advance was unopposed; the courtyard was abandoned.
"One danger alone remained—an attack from within. But there was none to receive the detested intruders but the pulseless master, from whom all majesty had departed.
"Over the grounds they swarmed, through the doors, along the passageways.
"Abreast of the leading officer appeared the turbaned head and white-robed figure of Ram Lal.
"As the two entered the apartment and gazed upon its silent occupant, with the same impulse both came to a standstill, impressed by the unnatural attitude and the chill undemonstration of the richly-clad figure.
"'It is the prince!' cried Ram Lal.
"At once the officer turned to command the curious detachment which had followed them to remain without, and placing a sergeant on guard in the ante-room, he resumed his investigation of the dead man.
"He had not seen the quick approach of Ram Lal, nor the rapid movement of his searching hand.
"It was over in an instant, but in that instant Ram Lal had assured himself of the presence of the precious jacket beneath the cambric folds.
"'He is dead!' he cried to the officer, as the latter approached to discover some reason for this shocking sight.
"'He is still warm,' exclaimed the other, as he placed his hand, with careless familiarity, upon the cheek of the prince.
"'Let us see,' he continued, 'if his heart still beats.'
"As the officer knelt in order to accommodate his head to the leaning position of the body, Ram Lal stood as one transfixed.
"His hand crept slowly to the dagger upon the table, which he grasped with an expression of desperate determination as the officer placed his ear close to the riches concealed beneath the tunic of the prince.
"Kneeling thus, with scarcely a hand-breadth between him and wealth such as he had never dared to dream of, with the menacing figure of the merchant directly above him, prepared to strike at the least indication of suspicion of the jacket and its priceless contents, the pair presented a striking tableau of the sardonic jest in which fate sometimes indulges in providing such nearness of opportunity and such a threat to its embrace.
"'There is something thick about the body!' exclaimed the kneeling officer.
"Ram Lal crept nearer.
"'Yes,' he replied with a stifled voice, as he shot a quick glance toward the curtained doorway, on the other side of which the sergeant was posted, 'yes, the prince was of a phthisical tendency.
"'He was compelled to protect himself against inequalities of temperature.'
"At this instant the quick eye of the merchant detected the livid scratch on the dead man's arm. 'Ha!' he cried, with an intonation which caused the officer to forego his examination for the moment and regard the merchant attentively.
"'Here!' cried the latter, pointing to the discolored and swollen wrist, 'here! There is no need to look for further sign of life; his heart will beat no more. This dagger has been inserted in the poison sac of the cobra—and here is the result!'
"As the officer rose to regard the wound, and understood its significance, he shuddered and looked upon the hapless heir-apparent with a sort of bluff compassion, but he made no further attempt to pursue his investigations, and Ram Lal was spared one sanguinary entry upon the book of his recording angel.
"'At least,' said the officer, as if in continuation of some unexpressed idea, 'let us do ourselves the honor of disposing the prince upon his bed'; and Ram Lal supporting the head and shoulders and the officer grasping the feet, they carried the stiffened form to the bed.
"'May I ask the privilege,' said Ram Lal, 'of composing the features and the body of the prince?'
"'Surely,' replied the officer, as he bestowed a departing glance upon this last descendant of the long line of moghuls with a degree of deference that was the result of his military training and his own subjection to discipline, 'surely he is sadly in need of such a service.'
"For his arms, although disengaged somewhat by their efforts, and the clutch of the distorted fingers, though not so distended, still pointed upward in a sort of eerie, rigid salutation to the subdued watchers.
"The eyes, too, which but a short time before had been so vivid with the contentions of restraint and desire, stared with a ghastly lack of speculation.
"As the officer turned to leave Ram Lal undisturbed in the performance of this last duty to the dead, the merchant, presently assured that he would be free from intrusion for a time sufficient for his ostensible purposes, approached the body, tore aside the delicate fabric, which covered the breast, and with surprising dexterity released the fastenings which held the jacket to the body, wrenched it away with desperate haste, and in an incredibly short time had secured this treasure-trove around his own loins beneath the folds of his linen.
"Then, with a grin of malignant triumph, he murmured: 'This is more speedy, O prince, than pebbles for diamonds—and now for Lal Lu.'
"With this the merchant darted to the hangings from which the prince had issued with such desperate purpose, cast them ruthlessly aside, hurried along the passageway, shouting as he speeded: 'Lal Lu—Lal Lu!'
"A joyful cry responded.
"'Here, father, here!' and Lal Lu, who had recognized her father's call, rushed toward the entrance just as the merchant crossed its threshold, and in a moment she was enfolded in his protecting embrace."
* * * * *
"Is that all?" asked Raikes as the Sepoy paused.
"Isn't it enough?" laughed the narrator. "The villain punished, the righteous rewarded, the maiden rescued. It seems to me that all the proprieties are preserved."
"True," assented Raikes. "You are to be congratulated upon your consistency. But as usual your art is a bit too refined. You still discontinue with a question unsolved."
"Name it," replied the Sepoy; "perhaps I can clear up the difficulty at once."
"Well," returned Raikes, "there is all that wealth concealed about the person of Ram Lal; I am interested to know if he retained it, to what use he put it. If it is inconsistent in your narrative to reply to these questions, waive your formalities for once."
"Why not?" laughed the Sepoy. "Still, I can only approximate to your request. There was a report that Ram Lal and his daughter disappeared shortly after the raid upon the Kutub.
"It is also said that a dealer in precious stones opened an establishment on the Strand in London, and that his description corresponded in so many points with that of Ram Lal that it is safe to infer that the twain are identical."
"That is better," sighed Raikes. "I will assume that the report is correct since it relieves my mind on one point, at any rate. However, there is one question more: Can you tell me how that substitution was made?"
"Pebbles for diamonds?"
"To do so requires another story, which I cannot tell you to-night," replied the Sepoy. "How about to-morrow evening?"
"If that's the only way?" queried Raikes.
"It is," the Sepoy assured him.
"I will be here, then," said Raikes, "but I must leave you now; I will see you at breakfast-time."
With this Raikes departed and made his way along the dim passages to his room.
Arrived at this point, and taking his customary precautions for the night, Raikes prepared to retire.
Since the process involved such little attention to detail in its almost aboriginal readiness, it was not long before Raikes was tucked away in his uneasy rest.
Possibly a half hour later a series of labored snores announced his successful escape from the disturbing realities of the day and his stentorian entrance upon more fictitious complications.
Just across the hallway, in the room occupied by his nephew, conditions were more animated, for Robert, giving his admiring and somewhat incredulous attention to the alert Gratz, sat with his eyes bright with the acknowledgment of the purport of the speaker.
Just a trace of excitement appeared in the manner of the detective.
He had witnessed the return of the sleepy Raikes to his room, and was relieved to be able to assure himself that the miser was altogether unaware of his presence.
Gratz was about to provide himself with the confirmation of a theory which he dared not discuss in advance.
The possibilities of failure were numerous enough to provide him with the element of fascination, and its bizarre unfamiliarity piqued his imagination.
If he was not mistaken in his calculations, he would be in possession, before morning, of some interesting data which would make a startling addition to the criminal records to which his past activities had contributed.
The suggestion which stimulated him was the last which would occur to a wholly sensible man and the first which would be likely to present itself to a genius for speculation and morbid analysis.
Consequently silence upon these somewhat abstruse reasonings was his safeguard against ridicule in the event of failure.
However, he had intimated to Robert that events would transpire during the night which would be illuminative, but he could not be persuaded to indicate to the curious youth just what to expect.
Whatever was to occur, Robert was assured that he would witness; in fact, he would be a necessary feature to the mysterious plans of the detective.
Stimulated, therefore, by these occult hints and the lively prospect they introduced, the young man developed a clandestine emotion of weird anticipation, which he readily accredited to an unsuspected fitness for intrigue.
Gratz, in the meantime, having primed the young enthusiast, maintained an irritating silence, and when an hour had passed in this spiritless fashion Robert was electrified by the solitary word "Now!" from the lips of the enigmatical Gratz.
Unable to comprehend the significance of the subdued exclamation, Robert nevertheless followed the detective with confiding docility, and the pair hastened down a flight of stairs which conducted them to the main hallway.
From this Gratz proceeded to a door directly beneath the stairway which they had just traversed, and which opened upon another short series of steps that concluded in the cellar.
Descending these, the two hastened along the chill floor and presently paused by the main coal-bin in which the widow stored her fuel.
With an impressive injunction to silence, Gratz indicated the course which Robert was expected to pursue, and in the recess created by a flight of disused stairs the two secreted themselves.
It was pitch dark.
Neither of the watchers could see the other, and communication was only maintained by the reassuring pressure of the hand of the detective upon the arm of the excited Robert.
At last the latter ventured to inquire in a whisper what it was that Gratz expected to discover.
"The solution of the puzzle," replied the other in the same tone.
"The thief?" asked Robert.
"No, the accessory," was the reply; "but do not ask any further questions; you will be treated to the surprise of your life in a little while, unless I am much mistaken."
Scarcely had the detective uttered these words when the faint click of a door-latch was borne to their ears from the direction of the stairway they had just descended.
The next moment a dim ray of light flickered into the darkness, and a figure vaguely shadowed its grotesque disproportion on the walls just behind as it crept, with cautious lightness, step by step down the stairs.
At last it reached the floor and moved in the direction of the bin.
The light, which was furnished by a candle, was raised in the air at about the height of a man's face, and directly behind it a man's face appeared.
"Great heavens!" whispered Robert as the strange figure advanced, "it is uncle!"
"Steady, now!" whispered the detective; "not a word or you will ruin everything."
Revealed by the weird light, the miserable countenance of the miser had never looked so contemptible.
The sputtering flame seemed to have the power to betray all the miserly emotions and mean parsimonies usually concealed behind its starved pallor.
The lips had fallen inanely apart with an absurd look of silly wonder.
The eyes were wide open and stared directly ahead with the most unnatural expression or lack of it that Robert had ever beheld in the visage of mortal man.
Even the detective, accustomed as he was to all sorts of uncommon spectacles, could not repress a slight disposition to shudder.
One bony hand grasped the candlestick, and the other held some sort of round object, to which Robert directed his attention.
By the sudden motion he made the detective knew that the young man had discovered what this object was, and pressed his arm warningly.
It was one of the canvas bags from the recess in the wall.
Just before the opening of the bin his uncle paused, like a speculative phantom, as if to consider its next doleful move.
His entire countenance, upon nearer view, like the canvas which the painter has roughly outlined, was suggestive of anything, according to the fancy of the beholder.
Upon this spiritless blank Robert depicted, with a morbid genius and the stimulation of his unnatural surroundings, all that was reminiscent of his uncle's littleness.
But this uneasy transit from the room upstairs to the bin below, the vacant, irresponsible ensemble, the inscrutable determination to fulfill some strange obligation, enforced by what influence or moral unrest he could not tell, culminated in the mind of the young man in the only possible explanation:
His uncle was engaged in the unaware execution of some fixed idea.
He was responding to an uncontrollable, secret impulse, and Robert, guiding himself by the touch of his hand in order to locate his lips as close to the ear of the detective as he might, whispered with conviction:
"No," replied Gratz—"worse; be silent."
Amazed and wondering what could possibly be worse, and rummaging through the garret of all his unusual experiences, Robert could find nothing to correspond to this inexplicable phenomenon; and it was with a sort of superstitious distraction that he beheld his uncle discard his transient hesitation and proceed with ghostly purpose to the opening of the bin.
Advancing, Raikes placed the candle upon the bed of coals and began to unfasten the cord which secured the mouth of the bag which he carried.
Robert had never beheld anything so ghastly as his uncle's eyes, intent but unseeing; nor so frightful as his motions, direct but unintelligent, like those of a midnight marionette controlled by invisible strings.
In a few moments his efforts were successful, and the incredulous Robert beheld his uncle invert his precious burden and send a clinking, intrinsic shower of coin to the floor.
Apparently this familiar sound had penetrated in some degree to his inner consciousness.
An expression of vague uneasiness, of troubled irresolution, clouded his eyes, but this semi-intellection and its transient phasis subsided to his original apathy as, with a sigh of helpless impersonality, he began to collect, with a silly, childish selection, as if to balance, by the size of the individual coals, the proportion of the discharged gold, handfuls of these dusky diamonds and substitute the sordid heaps in the bag.
This weird absurdity concluded, Raikes, repossessing himself of the candle, turned wearily and retraced the path of his ghostly journey.
In a little while his shuffling footfalls had concluded with the doorway at the top of the cellar stairs, the latch was heard to click into place, and all was still.
"Now," whispered Gratz with concentrated emphasis, "not a word—not a sound from this moment. We have seen the accessory, now for the principal."
In reply Robert pressed his hand upon the arm of the detective to indicate that his instructions were understood and would be obeyed, and in a silence through which he felt that his heart-throbs must certainly be audible, the watchers awaited developments.
The obscurity and silence which prevailed, and the vault-like chill and dampness, harmonized so fully with the unnatural spectacle which he had just witnessed, and the grim expectation of something untoward still to come, that Robert was prepared to reconsider his views of the earlier portion of the evening as to his fitness for secret investigation and criminal analysis.
He no longer felt the exultation of this association with relentless and cunning pursuit, and began to wonder how any normal human being could adopt a profession which embraced all these cheerless handicaps when there were so many occupations into which a little sunlight and geniality penetrated now and then.
He had about decided that such industry was the manifestation of a disease, and that his silent companion was a desperate incurable, when his diagnosis was suddenly interrupted.
The detective pressed the shoulders of his companion, communicating a slight impulse toward the opposite end of the cellar, and Robert, in obedience to its intimation, turned and beheld an approaching light.
It had the unreal appearance of a detached eye of some malignant Cyclops, glancing in a ghastly, bodiless way, from object to object, and concentrating itself at last in a definite course along the floor.
To witness the approach of this stealthy, gleam, without visible means of support or guidance, caused the young man's flesh to creep and his heart to throb almost to the point of suffocation.
If it requires experience to become a successful narrator, Robert was certainly in a way to accumulate a budget of startling data.
Nothing, hitherto, in his life could explain the marvel, but Gratz, with trained certainty, knew that he gazed upon the disk of a dark lantern which, exposing all else to view, shielded, with its distracting flash, the object of this midnight quest.
With an assurance that indicated a definite purpose, the figure at last stood within the door of the coal bin.
At once the searching gleam began to dance hither and thither upon the floor, and finally, with unerring pause, fell directly upon the heap of glittering coin.
"Ah!" exclaimed a voice.
In its concentrated emphasis there was the unmistakable accent of certitude, of expectation gratified.
The next instant the light was placed upon the floor with a tilt that sent its rays upon the treasure, and the unknown began to collect the gold with oblivious haste and bestow it in some receptacle near-by.
Suddenly Robert felt his companion move forward noiselessly, at the same time he recognized the intimation of a detaining hand; and then he stood alone.
Scarcely had he adjusted himself to these startling conditions when he heard a sharp, metallic snap, and beheld a sudden flood of light directed upon the kneeling figure.
There was a cry of desperate amazement, the quick clink of scattering coin, and the next instant a wild, rage-distorted face shot into view.
"My God!" cried Robert.
It was the Sepoy!
"Hands up!" commanded a voice which the young man recognized as that of Gratz; "hands up, or you are a dead man. There are five bullets in reserve for you if you budge from where you stand."
With an imprecation that was charged with malignant venom, the Sepoy looked upon the gleaming barrel of a pistol which was advancing into the light, recognized his helplessness, and with snarling obedience elevated his arms in the air.
"Robert!" called Gratz.
The young man, trembling, hurried to the opening.
"Get behind me," directed Gratz; "put your hand in my coat pocket; you'll find a pair of bracelets there for our friend here."
With shaking hands Robert followed these sharply delivered instructions, and withdrew a set of handcuffs, gaping at the fastenings to receive a pair of guilty wrists.
"Now move around to the rear of this gentleman," continued the relentless Gratz, "and snap them on his wrists."
Somehow Robert managed to obey these commands.
He reached to the uplifted hands of the Sepoy, embraced his wrists with the handcuffs, and closed them with a snap.
(To be continued on Bosom No. 2, Series C.)
Unknown to himself, Dennis, stimulated by the lively succession of incidents, had spurred his enunciation in a racy adjustment to these animated conditions.
His eyes appeared to have appropriated the sparkle which had intensified the glance of the Sepoy of whom he had just read, and when he arrived at the familiar legend at the bottom of the bosom, his expression, vivid with all these communicated emotions, was duplicated in the sweet, absorbed face of his bewitching listener, who, in order the better to follow his rapid utterance, leaned, with the exquisite intoxication of her presence, in rapt nearness to the reader.
Consequently, when Dennis looked up from his reading, he was transported along the highway of a sympathetic glance into deeps of dazzling blue.
For a moment he abandoned himself to the enchanting witchery with the dreamful enjoyment of the voluptuary inhaling the odors of a scented bath.
He seemed to be on the best of terms with some well-disposed harlequin.
Scarcely had the excitement of one series of events developed to its climax when he was whisked to another.
His providence was working overtime in his behalf, and being at heart sound and genuine, the weight of his obligations to all these auspices warned him not to be too prodigal with his privileges; so, with an effort, the stress of which communicated some of its rigors to his countenance, he closed his eyes for one ascetic moment and came bravely to earth again.
Suspecting something of the nature of his confusion, as a lovely woman will, and secretly applauding his undemonstrative deference, which, in the cynical atmosphere to which she was habituated, came to her like a refreshing zephyr, the widow asked him with an engaging smile of encouragement:
"Of what were you thinking, Mr. Muldoon?"
"Mr. Muldoon!" he repeated to himself with an endeavor to reflect the intonation of personal distinction which issued so entrancingly from the Cupid's bow of a mouth. He had not been so ceremoniously addressed since he knew not when, and never realized that his homely name had such music in it. "Oh!" he thought, "if she would only say 'Dennis,' it would be like grand opera."
"Why," replied Dennis with simple frankness. "I was thinking, for one thing—for one thing"—but encouraged by her smiling invitation he stammered—"how beautiful you are!" and added to himself, or it looked as though he might express his sentiments that way: "There, you've done it!"
"Ah!" exclaimed his companion, with a rosy enjoyment of this unstudied situation and frank appreciation, "and what was the other?"
"I don't know how to tell you the other," answered Dennis. Then with an unreflective inspiration: "Did you ever read about Launcelot and Guinevere?"
"Ye-yes," was the apprehensive answer.
"Well," continued Dennis with a naive remembrance only of the chivalry of this idyllic indiscretion, "when I look at you I can understand how a knight could battle for a queen."
There was silence for a moment, but in the interval the lady did not laugh, though her eyes were bright as she said:
"You are a strange boy."
"Oh!" cried Dennis, "tell me, have I offended? I would not do that for the world."
"I am sure of that," replied the widow, "and I believe that you mean what you say."
"Oh, I do, I do!" exclaimed Dennis impulsively; then, with a realization of the thin surface over which he was making such rapid strides despite the danger signals of conventionality, and with a diplomacy born of his native good sense, he glided, with cheerful Celtic sagacity, to safer footing by asking abruptly: "May I recommend myself"—as if he had not already done so—"for the position you offer?"
"Ah!" exclaimed the widow, from whom no alternation of his mobile countenance seemed to escape, "it is your turn now; I must not receive all the honors."
"Well," replied Dennis, altogether aware of the graceful courtesy of this exquisite woman, and constituted by nature, if not by past association, to accord it due appreciation, "well, there isn't much to say, but here's my outfit:
"I am sorry to have to begin badly. I don't know anything about flowers. I can't tell you, even, the difference between a shamrock and a clover."
"All that can be easily remedied," his listener reassured him; "but proceed."
"But there's one thing I'm sure about," continued Dennis. "You can rely upon me, an' that's better."
"It is, indeed," answered the widow.
"I am anxious to do the best I can for myself," resumed Dennis. "I have just one way of doing it, and that is to do the best I can for others."
"That is real business principle," exclaimed his companion, "and very rare. What else?"
"I guess that's about all," answered Dennis, "an' it don't sound so very much, does it?"
"More than you think," answered the widow. "Now listen to me:
"I need such service as I hope from you very much. Would you like to come and help me here?"
"Oh!" cried Dennis.
"I am answered," responded his companion, "When can you come?"
"At once!" cried Dennis—"or no, wait a bit; that wouldn't be fair to my present employer. But I can tell him to look out for somebody else right away; surely he can fill my place within a week. Suppose I say next Monday?"
"Very well, that will suit," answered the widow; "but you have not asked me what your salary will be."
Dennis blushed, and his blush was appreciated. To enjoy the genial inspiration of such an association would be a perquisite which, other things being only approximately even, would repair any possible shortage.
"Will twenty dollars a week and your board satisfy you for the present?"
Dennis held his breath and pictured the contrast.
His present employment brought him just ten dollars and the association of a barkeeper—would it satisfy him? However, he managed to say, without too great a show of emotion: "It is more than I expected."
"Well, then, that point is settled," said the widow with a brisk business air, which provided such a sharp contrast to her delightful womanly qualities and caused Dennis to wonder at the graceful alternation of the one with the other. "Now as to board: In the rear of the conservatory is a suite of rooms as cozy as any young man could wish. At the end of the week I expect to have them vacated.
"They are occupied just now by the manager, but he has already been notified through my attorney, and all will be in readiness for you by next Monday.
"It has been somewhat difficult to make him comprehend my purpose; it is so different from what he expected. He is incautious enough to demand a reason."
"There is one," ventured Dennis boldly, "if I may venture to suggest it."
"Surely!" replied the widow, remarking Dennis curiously.
"Well," replied the young man as he recalled the astonishing array of details surrounding the death of the aesthetic proprietor, "just enclose him a note with two words in it."
"And those?" queried the widow as Dennis paused.
For a space Dennis feared that he had offended. A shade of depression darkened the lovely features before him, but his companion looked into his apprehensive eyes reassuringly as she said: "You have penetration."
His momentary embarrassment, however, introduced another perturbation, for in glancing away for an instant to reassemble himself, so to speak, his eyes fell upon the clock, which at that very moment chimed the hour of eleven.
This was startling!
Dennis was familiar enough with social usage, or, at least, had the practical good sense to realize that he had exceeded the limits of good taste by an hour, and began to make disconcerted preparations for departure.
Perceiving his embarrassment, his companion relieved him with genial tact by asking: "And what about bosom No. 2? I want to hear the rest of that story."
"Ah!" exclaimed Dennis, brightening, "when shall it be?"
"How will Wednesday evening suit?" suggested the widow.
And Dennis, with a mien which plainly indicated that he considered the time represented in the space that must elapse between the delightful present and the evening appointed embodied his views of a brief eternity, assured the widow that he would be on hand, and added: "I will not read a line until then."
"Leave the story here, then, and I will put it away until you make your appearance. I promise, too, that I will not read it in the meantime," and the widow received the remaining bosoms from Dennis with an extravagant show of gravity, which caused them both to laugh, in view of its absurd occasion, as she bestowed them in a music rack and turned to conduct him to the entrance.
"Good-by!" she said, and once more extended her hand, which Dennis received with an unmistakable indication of his appreciation of the exceptional favor.
"Good-by!" he responded as he prepared to descend the steps, "good-by!" and added to himself, with a fervor which conveyed some intimation of his sentiments if it did not suggest his words:
"An' may the saints preserve you!"
When Dennis retired for the night at The Stag, his transit from his room, which had never seemed so contracted as now, to the Land of Nod was somewhat delayed by reason of the exhilarating conditions through which he had just passed.
Toward midnight, however, his pulse had resumed its normal, and the young man, reaching his drowsy destination at last, began a series of the most surprising horticultural experiments until, what with orchids as big as a barrel, and geraniums which could be reached only by a ladder, he had converted the silvery strand of the dreamful domain into a forest of atrocious color and floral monstrosity.
Awakening on the succeeding morning, Dennis, accepting the sense of general lassitude which oppressed him as an indication of the arduous nature of his efforts in his dreams, began to prepare for the activities of the day.
On this occasion he was compelled to attire himself in the shirt which he had worn on the occasion of his visit the evening before, since his remaining bosoms, along with his heart, were in the possession of the beautiful widow.
But the extravagance of such indulgence did not alarm him now.
Under the circumstances, what did a shirt more or less matter?
Was he not about to be admitted into paradise and receive twenty dollars per week besides?
"Shirt, ha!" he exclaimed with a touch of Celtic wit; "it's a robe of white I want." However, he compromised on a new necktie, and almost ventured the length of patent leathers.
Stimulated by the prospect of all this beatitude, Dennis proceeded to the dining-room and revived the spirit of the discouraged waiter by ordering a liberal breakfast.
At the conclusion of the meal he further celebrated his disposition to mortgage providence by the bestowal of a gratuity moderate enough to renew the waiter's original unflattering estimation.
Had his father witnessed this imprudence he would have been prepared to believe that Dennis was under the influence of a danseuse, and the proportions of the breakfast could only have indicated a determination to commit suicide by repletion.
On his way to the street Dennis paused to inform the barman of his intended departure.
As an indication of his sentiments at this announcement, the barman, who was engaged in the mixture of a mysterious decoction, said, as he poured an amber-colored fluid into the glass: "This wan is fur grief at the goin', an' this wan"—pouring from another bottle—"is fur good luck when ye git there," and he pushed the mixture toward Dennis.
But the young Irishman, remembering his recent experience, declined with thanks.
"No?" queried the barman. "Well, an' that's not a bad idea at all. It's the right sthart fur a bad day an' a bad sthart fur a right wan. 'Tis th' divil's own way av showin' wan's sintimints." Then, reaching for the glass, he added: "I'll do th' honors fur th' two av us"; and with the singular tendency, so often noted under such circumstances, to swallow with haste that which it required such trouble to prepare, the barman bolted the contents of the glass and looked his appreciation through moist eyes.
As Dennis neared the establishment of his employer, he recalled his obligation.
He must begin the day by informing the foreman of his changed intentions.
He disliked the idea of the possible friction involved in the performance of this disagreeable duty, but there seemed to be no other way out of the dilemma.
His announcement, however, was to be less embarrassing than he anticipated.
His providence was about to take a short nap.
As he approached the foreman, he discovered that individual, several degrees less breezy than usual, engaged in an animated conversation with a young man whose prevailing expression was so penitential that Dennis, with prompt Celtic intuition, decided that he was gazing upon his predecessor in office.
He was assured of this by the glance of belligerent appraisement with which the young fellow surveyed him from head to foot, in response to some suggestive indication from the foreman.
He seemed, to the apprehensive eyes of Dennis, to be calculating his chances in the event of a physical contest.
And this recalled what the foreman had said about his biceps.
"You want to see me?" queried the latter with an expression in which the sunshine seemed overdue.
"Yes," answered Dennis as his employer stepped aside to hear what he had to say.
As Dennis proceeded the look of perplexity which he had noted upon the face of his listener seemed to give way to one of unmistakable relief, and when Dennis had stated his case he exclaimed: "Shure, now, it's an aisy way out av a bad muss, so it is. Here, Phil!" he shouted, turning to the young fellow in the background, who had witnessed this brief interview with scowling interest, "here, you two can t'row th' gloves down an' shake; Muldoon here wants to hand yure job back to ye."
At this announcement, the disfavor in the countenance of the other disappeared and was replaced by an expression which indicated that he regarded such liberality as something in the nature of a freak.
Some evidences of his debauch still clung to him.
His eyes were moist and heavy-lidded; his lips dry and tremulous, and the hand which he extended to Dennis shook somewhat.
"Come, now!" exclaimed the foreman, "that's well over"; and addressing the one he called Phil he added: "Now get to work."
Dennis looked his astonishment.
He had not calculated upon such a prompt acceptance of his resignation. He felt that he presented an absurd appearance, and that the foreman did not appear to his usual bluff advantage.
"Come this way," said the latter to Dennis, who followed him into his office with a strange sinking at heart.
"I did not mean to hand over everything right off!" exclaimed Dennis.
"Well," replied the foreman, "Phil's wife came here early this mornin' an' put up a few tears, an' Phil made all sorts av promises; an' you have no children an' he has, an—oh, the divil!" cried the foreman, weary of the series of explanations in which he was getting involved. "I can't kape th' two av ye, an' Phil there is an ould hand at th' paint-pot."
"Then," cried Dennis, "you mean that I must leave at once?"
"That's about th' size of it."
"Why," exclaimed Dennis, indignant at this injustice, "I tried to be fair with you, and you haven't——"
"Here," interrupted the foreman, in evident haste to conclude a disagreeable interview; "there's no use talking about it, it's got to be done"; and turning to a drawer in the desk he extracted Monday's pay and placed it in the young man's hand.
At that moment a burly porter filled up the doorway.
"What is it?" asked the foreman, glad of the interruption, as he hastened, with unnecessary and suspicious promptness, to attend to the wants of the intruder.
In a little while Dennis realized that he waited in vain for the return of the foreman, and that, in so far as he was concerned, he was out of a job.
Dennis had been, at various times in his life, subjected to some rugged experiences, but could not recall any treatment quite so heartless as this.
It upset all his calculations.
He must exist somehow between the unhappy realities of the present and the blissful expectations of the approaching Monday.
He recalled, with the self-accusation of a repentant prodigal, his needlessly elaborate breakfast, the extravagance of the necktie.
His return led him past the cheap amusement district of the Bowery.
Never had their tawdry invitations seemed so alluring.
By that singular perversity which opens up every suggestion of riotous expenditure to destitution, the poor fellow felt inclined to indulge himself regardless.
An obese nymph pictured in the foam of a beer sign, apparently elaborated with a whitewash brush and finished in the throes of an epileptic fit, solicited a share of his patronage.
Long rows of slot machines offered all sorts of libidinous suggestions in placards, which proposed to debauch his morals for a penny a sight.
And with absurd propriety a vender of shoddy jewels presented the chance of his lifetime in bizarre decoration.
But somehow Dennis reached Broadway at last, and faced the unpleasant prospect of the next few days with despairing calculation.
As Dennis looked up and down this busy thoroughfare, with its thousands speeding oppositely in preoccupied interest, as if all that was vital and worthy was to be found at either extreme of its splendid distances, he paused for a moment to account his meager finances.
He found that he possessed just four one-dollar bills and about eighty cents in small change.
Since he was compelled to pay a half dollar each night in advance for his lodgings, a little over two dollars would remain to him.
With rigid economy and almost miserly abstemiousness this sum would suffice for his meals, unless he developed a mania for Delmonico's, and for his carfare, provided he did not venture outside the possibilities of the elevated.
As he was about to return his resources to his pocket there was a rattle and clamor up the street, and looking in that direction he beheld a glittering engine, drawn by a splendid team of white horses, speed along with plunging dash and portent rumble.
Along the sidewalk directly in his rear the usual mob of men and boys who have nothing more to do apparently than to attend fires and scramble with a morbid curiosity to behold the misery of some victim of accident, ran in scuffling uproar.
With a pathetic realization of his own idleness, Dennis turned to join the speeding throng, when suddenly he became aware of a desperate clutch at his hand, heard the rattle of scattering change at his feet, and felt the bills which he held slip away from his grasp and disappear in the rush.
It was over in a second. Apparently no one noticed him or his loss. He was as abandoned as the unfortunate marooned by rushing waters; as unheeded as a lame lamb in the multitude of the flock.
Not a head turned, and by the time he realized precisely what had happened and prepared to give chase to the thief, a score of other men and boys formed an unconscious barricade between the unfortunate boy and the rogue.
His suddenly created interest in the fire vanished and was replaced by the despair of his own disaster.
The nap of his providence was developing into a sound slumber, and since this deity never gets up before noon Dennis had still two hours of despair before him.
And what despair!
Of his pitiful hoard of a few moments since only a few dimes and nickels remained.
And just across the street was the Third National Bank with barrels of them.
The whimsies of the contrast almost amused him; but there was not enough of the Tapley about him to detect its humor.
Again he counted his resources.
He could lodge to-night, at any rate, and dine on one of those sidewalk pretzels.
"The darkest hour is just before the dawn." Dennis tried to cheer himself with this reflection, but the only dawn upon which he could calculate was five days off.
In vain the poor fellow adjured his brains for some homely suggestion, some meager inspiration.
Nothing responded but his destitution, like the echo of a groan; and through such mental straits he arrived, at last, at The Stag.
He decided that he would do nothing radical until the following day.
He could afford a night's rest, at least, and that might revive his numbed faculties.
As he reached the office he glanced at the proprietor.
Could he persuade that cynical-visaged individual to trust him until he received his first week's pay?
Would he be credited if he related his prospects?
As a measure in this assurance, would not the proprietor feel justified in calling upon the widow for indorsement of the statement of the young man?
This would never do.
He could not endure the humiliation of such a revelation.
The poor fellow got little encouragement from the face of the proprietor.
This was suspicious and hard. It had scarcely the perfunctory smile of the professional boniface.
The prospect of having to address that forbidding ensemble was disheartening.
Suddenly his reflections were interrupted.
The proprietor waved a beckoning hand to him.
Dennis hurried to the desk.
"A letter for you," said the proprietor, as he placed in the young man's hand an envelope addressed in a handwriting which he recognized at once.
"'Dennis Muldoon'; yes, that's mine," and hastening to an unoccupied seat in a remote portion of the office, Dennis hastily opened the envelope and withdrew a short letter, and—ye gods! was it possible?—a postal order for twenty-five dollars.
It's a hard row you have to hoe, I'm a-think-in', and it's a bad spot you have to hoe it in. I know New York of old, and it's a lonesome place for a poor lad.
I send you the week's wages due you, and an extry five to come back with in case your dreams don't come true.
I've got over my mad, my boy, and I'll be glad to see you.
Run over annyhow; it's a dull place without you. The mother misses you bad.
Come Saturday if you can; I've got a business proposition I want to make.
Tell me how you're getting on, annyway.
THE OLD MAN.
"Oh, ho!" cried Dennis. His providence was wide awake now, had made its toilet, and was ready for business.
For a long while Dennis sat with the letter in his hand, gazing, with unseeing eyes, upon its eccentric chirography.
His exultation had not fully materialized.
To grope in the valley of despair one moment and skip along the summit of beatitude the next was a little too much for immediate comprehension.
Somewhat in the manner of the metaphysician, he was inclined to believe, since his misfortune was no longer a reality, that his prosperity might be equally immaterial, and in unaware corroboration he made a minute tear in the edge of the postal order to establish its tangibility.
In the evening, influenced perhaps by his comparative weal, Dennis decided that he would purchase a ticket to the Olympus, and climbing the rear approach to that elevation, found himself seated shortly with the gallery gods, viewing with uncritical contrasts the relative merits of the clown, the harlequin and the columbine.
Between the acts his roving glance found a sudden destination and his elation went into abrupt decline, for seated in one of the boxes, her glass surveying the house in all sorts of disconcerting directions, sat the beautiful widow.
Instinctively Dennis crouched into his seat.
Fortunately he was able by thus collapsing within himself, to escape the radius of her vision, which was interrupted by the railing extending around the balcony.
It would never do to be discovered in his present situation. The elevation was degrading, and Dennis understood the unhappy paradox.
It emphasized the social distinctions too much, and caused the distance from where he sat to the placid beauty below to appear immeasurable.
But this was not the least of his perturbations.
Near the widow a gentleman sat, solicitous, engaging, persistent.
A certain air of distinction rendered doubly obnoxious the assumption of proprietorship which Dennis believed he remarked, and while the young man was able to comfort himself with the discovery that his bewitching companion devoted more attention to the stage and the house than to her escort, still, as Dennis contemplated the faultless attire of the gentleman in the box and contrasted it with his own modest apparel, he felt unaccountably depressed.
All this was revealed by the furtive glances which the young Irishman ventured over the gallery rail.
A strange foreboding overwhelmed him.
The bewildering tinsel of the stage no longer diverted, and he would have been astonished to analyze the reason why.
As the last curtain fell and Dennis was no longer able to adjust his gloomy contemplation to incongruous orchestration, he hastened from the theater, scrambled down the precipitate stairs and hastened to The Stag.
It was midnight before he slept, and scarcely morning when he awoke.
He dressed himself like an automaton, and breakfasted like an anchorite.
He left the hotel without his personal knowledge, and traversed half the length of Broadway without volition. His mind was making the visit in advance of the appointed time, and his torpid body alone observed the social usages.
By noon the patent leathers were a reality; by six-thirty he had assumed a clean shirt and his new necktie.
When the clock struck seven he hastened to the elevated; a half hour later found him parading the street opposite the conservatory, and at eight he arrived with a promptness which, persistently observed, commends a young man to a junior partnership.
When the widow finally presented herself, Dennis was more than ever convinced, by the richness of her attire, that the business must be in a flourishing condition.
For some unknown reason the beautiful woman was dressed entirely in black with the exception of some exquisite traceries in white about her throat and wrists.
Had his life depended upon it Dennis could never have described the fabric of her gown.
He only knew that it was distinguished by a sort of subdued sheen; that it rustled with an entrancing swish and suggestion of femininity as she moved, and that it was adjusted to her shapely figure as though her delightful personality had been moulded into it.
A slim wonder of a white hand was extended to him, a bright smile illumed her bewildering eyes and bent the Cupid bow of her lips into a curve which sent an intangible arrow into the young man's heart as she said with musical simplicity:
"I am glad to see you."
To this Dennis made no direct reply.
His eyes gleamed their idealized eloquence, however; his attitude presented unmistakable shades of deference, and to save himself further revelation he collapsed into the chair indicated by his hostess.
Apparently the widow extracted the same enjoyment from these ingenuous acknowledgments as ever, for she did not immediately resume the conversation.
Fortunately, Dennis assembled himself, so to speak, and realized his psychological moment.
"Shure," he said as he became aware of his involuntary self-revelations, "'shure, an' you would know that I am glad to see you if I was deaf and dumb."
The widow laughed heartily at this, as she replied:
"I'm afraid that you have kissed the blarney stone, Mr. Muldoon."
Having no response for this, Dennis substituted: "I saw you at the theater last night," and a palpable degree of joy left his countenance at the announcement.
"Ah!" exclaimed the widow, regarding him curiously. "Where were you?"
"In th' lobby," replied Dennis unblushingly.
"What did you think of the performance?" asked his companion after a moment.
Dennis looked her directly in the eyes with the light of inspiration in his glance as he said:
"I did not see it."
The widow gazed at the young man for one searching moment, reddened slightly, and, rising, proceeded to the music rack, from which she extracted bosoms Nos. 2 and 3.
"Suppose we read the story," was her reply.
As the widow extended the bosoms toward him, Dennis could not avoid the thought which had presented itself to him on the day before, that this woman had not only two bosoms of his in her possession, but his heart as well; and a certain degree of the animation of this reflection found its way into his eyes.
"Well," inquired this observing woman, "what is it?"
Dennis flushed as he replied: "I'll tell you by-and-by," and added: "Will you do me a great favor?"
"What is it?" she asked.
"Why," answered Dennis, "I would like to hear you read bosom No. 2."
"Well," replied the young man, with a sincerity that was unmistakable, "I think it would sound like a song then."
"Very well," she assented, "let me have it"; and with a voice that reflected, to this young man's ears, at least, at one moment the rippling of silver brooks, the trill of woodbirds, the sigh of zephyrs scented with daffodils, and the next the full, round resonance of an animated day in June, she read:
* * * * *
"Now!" exclaimed Gratz as the familiar click assured him that the handcuffs were in place, "now you can lower your hands and come over here."
As the Sepoy advanced into the light, Gratz instructed Robert to pick up the remaining coins and restore them to the bag.
During all this time the Sepoy had not uttered a word, but his fierce eyes, which stared with savage intentness in the direction of the disk of light, from the rear of which issued that implacable voice, were vital with rage and impotent menace.
As he gazed thus with his distorted countenance concentrated into a look of bitter speculation in his futile attempt to discover by whom he was addressed in this tone of insolent authority, there was something frightful in the quest and uncertainty of the disturbed features.
An unnatural luster, partly the reflection of his somber eyes and partly from the tawny hue of his saturnine visage, added an inexpressible degree of malignant rancor to his expression.
His hands, which he was compelled by the manacles to hold directly in front of him in an absurd travesty of penitential clasp, gripped each other in his consuming resentment until the tendons of his wrist stood out with the tense distinction of whipcords.
While Robert was engaged in restoring the coins to the bag, the only sound came from the derisive click and fall of the gold-pieces as they chinked their mockery into the ears of the raging prisoner.
As the last coin joined its fellows a neighboring clock chimed the hour of two.
"Good!" exclaimed Gratz; "there is time to settle this business before morning"; and turning to the Sepoy he added: "I will trouble you to precede me to your room."
There was something unreal in the silence which the Sepoy still maintained and the enforced apathy with which he proceeded to obey these instructions, and Robert, unaccustomed to such episodes as this, in which he was a contributing factor, was more affected than if he had witnessed some violent demonstration or listened to a raging vituperation.
The transit of the trio from the cellar to the apartment of the Sepoy was effected without attracting further regard, and the balance of the boarders slept away in snoring oblivion and provided another instance of the frail partition which separates the violent from the placid.
Arrived at the room of their swarthy prisoner, Gratz provided the uncomfortable Robert with the relief he required by instructing him to hasten to his uncle and summon him to the scene, and to avoid giving him any of the details of what had transpired.
Glad to escape the depression of the gloomy vicinity, and the unabashed directness of the Sepoy's glance, the young man hurried away.
If the terrible concentration which the Sepoy resumed, with his luminous eyes upon the countenance of the detective, affected the latter, there was certainly no such evidence.
It was as dull and lifeless as ever; the eyelids had fallen to their accustomed suggestion of ambush, and it seemed scarcely possible that the sharp directions of a few moments since could issue from such flaccid lips, and so much determination could dominate such an insignificant figure.
Apparently exasperated by the undemonstration of this negative aspect, the Sepoy was near the limit of his repression.
The lines about his lips relaxed somewhat, the pupils of his eyes reduced their staring diameter, and his head was inclined forward a trifle.
Gratz concluded that his companion had decided to speak.
He was not mistaken.
"Can I be spared the humiliation of meeting that old dotard you have sent for?"
"I do not see how," replied Gratz.
"What do you gain by it?" asked the Sepoy.
"I cannot tell that in advance; possibly nothing," replied Gratz.
"That is likely," replied the Sepoy quietly.
"We shall see," exclaimed the detective. "I am working out a theory; I need the assistance of all concerned."
"Look at me!" exclaimed the Sepoy abruptly. "I will credit you with being something of a physiognomist. Do you see any evidences of determination in my face?"
"And if I do?" queried Gratz.
"Only this," was the reply: "No matter what your object may be, I will oppose it with all the resolution and dexterity at my command, if you conduct your inquiries as you contemplate."
In reply Gratz offered an exasperating shrug of the shoulders.
"There is no mystery to be solved," he said. "I have no further facts to discover; I know that you have managed to secure three separate bags of coin from Raikes, and I am aware of your process."
"If you know all this," replied the other with curious calmness, "why do you——"
The question was interrupted by the sound of approaching footsteps.
"Now!" exclaimed Gratz, as if with sudden determination, "I will try to grant your request in part. Retire into your bedchamber, leave the door open, and listen.
"I will place Raikes and his nephew where they cannot see you, but I will sit here where I can note your slightest move."
The Sepoy arose hastily and entered the bedchamber, seating himself according to the direction of the detective.
At that moment there was a knock upon the door.
In answer to the salutation of the detective Raikes and his nephew entered.
Seating themselves in the chairs indicated, they awaited with intense curiosity the proceedings of this enigmatical man.
Noting the alert questioning in the eyes of the young man, and the half-awakened inquiry in the sordid countenance of Raikes, Gratz, in order to prevent the intrusion of any disturbing remark upon his present purpose, said impressively:
"I must ask you both to listen without interruption. When I want you to speak I will question you"; and fastening his strange eyes upon the blinking Raikes, he added: "Now we will proceed.
"You have lost four bags of coin."
"Three!" corrected Raikes, despite his instructions to silence.
"Pardon me," continued Gratz, "and please do not interrupt. I said four—and here is the fourth," and he pointed to the bag upon the table.
The miser's jaw dropped helplessly, and he stared at the bag with a superstitious terror.
"But," continued Gratz, "what seems so incredible to you is merely the logical outcome of a cunningly established sequence," and the speaker shot an incredibly quick glance at the silent figure in the adjoining room.
"Now attend me closely.
"During the last few evenings you have heard some very curious narratives."
Raikes nodded with gloomy corroboration.
"A series of well-arranged events have introduced a startling episode—the substitution of pebbles for diamonds."
Again Raikes nodded.
"At this point in the narrative the first instalment concludes. Am I right?"
"Yes," answered Raikes.
"Then," continued Gratz, "you went directly to your room; you retired. In the morning you are prompted, with more than your usual eagerness, to open your private safe."
"Right!" exclaimed Raikes in indorsement of this relentless resume.
"You find the locks undisturbed; the contents apparently as you left them on retiring. Some difference in the conformity of one of the bags urges a nearer examination. You discover that this indicates a difference in the contents. You grasp it; it comes away in your hands with startling lightness. You discharge its deposit upon the table—a shower of coals follows."
"Yes, yes!" stammered Raikes with impatient eagerness.
"Well, you are convinced, by an examination of the fastenings of the door, an inspection of the window, that no human being could have effected an entrance from either direction.
"The next evening is a repetition of the history of the night before.
"The strange Indian narrative, another gem to examine—an additional loss on the succeeding morning."
Raikes nodded savagely.
"On the following night the same unhappy series of events occur, followed by the loss of the third bag."
"But why all this again?" inquired Raikes.
"That concerns me," exclaimed the detective with another rapid glance at the undemonstrative figure in the next room. "You must follow my instructions or you will conclude as badly as you have begun. Now," continued Gratz, "it is incredible to me that, with the astuteness with which you are credited, that having such a good standpoint to begin with, you did not proceed upon that basis."
"I?" questioned the astonished Raikes. "What standpoint had I?"
"Elimination," replied Gratz.
"Several puzzling possibilities were retired permanently.
"Recall the details as we have enumerated them: An impossible door; the window equally out of the question; the substitution of the coals for the coin.
"It is very simple. The outside agency unfeasible, we must look within. There is but one conclusion——"
"And that?" interrupted Raikes.
"Ah!" cried Raikes, "unthinkable!"
"Not at all," replied Gratz; "there was an accessory—yourself!"
At this announcement Raikes seemed about to collapse into his original helplessness. The facts of his losses were extraordinary enough, but this was too much.
But Gratz hurried on, explained the unconscious visits of his astounded hearer to the cellar, and all that followed.
"Then," exclaimed Raikes, when he had concluded, "I have been the victim of hypnotic suggestion."
"Precisely!" replied Gratz. "The story was merely the medium of transmission, and through this weird conduit the story-teller conveyed his instructions to your subconsciousness."
"But," demanded Raikes, "why this substitution of coals? It strikes me that a scheme so clever as all this would scarcely be jeopardized by such an absurdity."
"That contingency," answered Gratz, "was never intended. In your condition of mind, having discharged the coin upon the floor of the bin, a mental idiosyncrasy of years insisted upon recognition.
"In some inexplicable way you retained enough of your mental identity to preserve some manifestation of the law of equivalents. In other words, having parted with something, you demanded something in return.
"With as much deliberation, therefore, as you manifested in contributing to your loss, you attempted to reimburse yourself by filling the bag with coal.
"In some occult way you assured yourself that you were engaged in a transaction where one commodity took the place of another.
"To this freak of mentality the idea of the pebbles in the story being substituted for the diamonds contributed; and what was intended by the narrator as a consistency of detail, to be explained later on, made an unforeseen appeal to your native cupidity and provided me with a very satisfactory clue.
"Moreover, the narrator assisted himself by allowing you to contemplate some brilliants—a sapphire, a diamond.
"In such demonstrations a centralizing object is an almost indispensable adjunct; and putting the two together, the stories, the brilliants, it is not difficult to see that you have received your instructions in the manner indicated, and obeyed them with unexpected consistency."
For a moment there was silence, which was sharply disturbed by an unexpected and apparently unsuggested query from Gratz.
"Were you ever," he asked, looking directly at Raikes, "in this apartment during the absence of its occupant?"
"No!" stammered Raikes, apparently very much astonished at the question.
Raikes and his nephew sprang to their feet, their eyes bulging in the direction of the bedroom.
In the doorway stood the Sepoy.
"You lie!" he repeated, "you miserable husk, you! You were here one evening in my absence, or, at least, what you supposed was my absence," and raising his manacled hands the speaker pointed to the closet. "I was there," he said.
"Ah—ah!" faltered Raikes chokingly.
"And now," continued the Sepoy, "let us get to the end of this business. It ought to be a simple proceeding. You want three missing bags of gold; they will be forthcoming on one condition."
"And what is that?" cried Raikes, beginning to withdraw into himself as if he expected a sharp bargain.
"That you leave the details of the transaction in the hands of this gentleman," answered the Sepoy, pointing to Gratz. "You had better consent," he added as he analyzed the hesitation of the startled Raikes, "or I shall describe, with photographic minuteness, all that occurred in the few short moments of your visit."
Raikes regarded Gratz helplessly.
During all this conversation the detective had been doing some rapid thinking and had decided upon his course, so nodding to Raikes, he said: "Leave the matter to me; I will restore your coin to you in the morning. See that neither of you leaves the house until then, or speak to a soul before I see you."
Whatever objections may have been forming in the mind of the miser were quickly dissipated by a look from the Sepoy, and without another word Raikes and his nephew departed.
"Well," inquired Gratz, when the two were again alone, "what have you to say to me that you do not want Raikes to hear?"
"You will know shortly," replied the Sepoy after a few moments of reflection, with his eyes directed upon the handcuffs. "I do not have to resort to your elaborate reasoning to discover the nature of your profession. These," holding up his hands, "are unmistakable."
"Yes," answered Gratz drily, "they require no trope or metaphor to illustrate their application."
"However," continued the Sepoy, "I have just listened to the deductions of an unusual acumen for analysis along abstract lines."
Gratz bowed his acknowledgments.
"That is simple," he said, "when there is such a liberal supply of data."
"True," responded the Sepoy. "That was an oversight on my part. Still, your constructive application, too, is no less convincing."
"But to what does all this lead?" inquired Gratz with a degree of impatience. "Suppose we admit that there is an exquisite balance maintained between my analysis and my synthesis, and have done with it. You have some appeal to make to one or both of these faculties."
"Your penetration is the peer of your reasoning. Listen: Will you do me the favor of assuming that your comprehensive resume of a few moments ago is all I care to hear on the subject?" asked the Sepoy.
"I understand," replied Gratz.
"Very well, then," continued the Sepoy. "I will extend to you the courtesy of offering no denial to anything you have said."
"That," laughed Gratz, "is the height of affability, under the circumstances; but proceed."
"Good!" responded the Sepoy. "I have a suggestion to make. It is understood, in the first place, that Raikes is to recover his coin; on that point he will be fully satisfied. But there still remains the recognition of your services to him; you will have more difficulty in convincing him of his obligation than you had in persuading me of your acumen."
"Ah!" murmured Gratz; "it is coming."
"Are you any judge of brilliants?" inquired the Sepoy abruptly.
"Somewhat," answered Gratz; "I have seen a few in my time."
"Well," continued the Sepoy, "kindly put your hand in my right vest pocket and withdraw a small case of shagreen which you will find there."
"Now," continued the Sepoy, "press the spring."
As Gratz complied with this instruction, the lid of the shagreen case flew open and revealed the superb sapphire which had radiated such insidious depravity into the mind of the miser.
"What do you think of that?" inquired the Sepoy.
For a moment or so Gratz did not reply. The mastery of its cutting, its magnificent bulk, its unrivaled purity overwhelmed him. "I have never seen one like it," he said finally, "if it is genuine."
"Oh, you need not doubt it!" exclaimed the Sepoy, "or, if you do, you can assure yourself on that point. Now follow me. Six bags of Raikes' coin could not buy that."
"You set its value high," suggested Gratz.
"Naturally; its like does not exist. Money has never been able to purchase it. There is just one consideration I can accept for it."
"And that?" inquired Gratz as the Sepoy paused.
"A lapse of memory," replied the Sepoy.
"A lapse of memory!" repeated Gratz.
"Yes. Unlock these handcuffs and forget that you have done so."
A sudden irradiation seemed to shoot from the gem. It was the impulse communicated by the trembling hand of the detective, who, either to conceal the flush that was gradually transforming his pallid face, or from his reluctance to remove his gaze, continued to hold the brilliant in much the same oblivious regard as that bestowed upon it by the unhappy Raikes.
Gratz was having the struggle of his life.
The veins fretted through his temples with frightful distinction; his forehead was moist with a profuse perspiration; his breath labored with intermittent entrance and egress.
His well-known apathy, his exasperating negation of demeanor, where were they now?
Gradually, however, in the manner of disheartened stragglers whipped again into the firing line, there shadowed in his expression evidences of moral recovery which the Sepoy did not like.
The professional instincts of the detective, reinspired by his better nature, were making some very obvious appeals.
The eclat of this singular case beckoned. He seemed to brace himself morally and physically as he leaned back in his chair and again looked at his desperate companion.
At once the Sepoy, upon whom no vestige of this mental tumult was lost, again restored the ebbing temptation to its flood by exclaiming:
"Here is a more convincing reason still," and raising his hands to his breast, in order to give the detective easier access to the point designated beneath his arms, he said: "Reach into the pocket on the left."