Part 2 out of 4
fresh eye, and he did want scope for fresh methods.
There was something in his view, but it failed where
such things commonly fail, because the fresh eye
cannot see the unseen. It is true about the ladder and
the scarecrow, but not about the life and the soul; and
he made a bad mistake about what a man like
Michael would do when he heard a woman scream.
All Michael's very vanity and vainglory made him
rush out at once; he would have walked into Dublin
Castle for a lady's glove. Call it his pose or what you
will, but he would have done it. What happened when
he met her is another story, and one we may never
know, but from tales I've heard since, they must have been
reconciled. Wilson was wrong there; but there was something, for
all that, in his notion that the newcomer sees most, and
that the man on the spot may know too much to
know anything. He was right about some things. He
was right about me."
"About you?" asked Harold March in some wonder.
"I am the man who knows too much to know
anything, or, at any rate, to do anything," said Horne
Fisher. "I don't mean especially about Ireland. I mean
about England. I mean about the whole way we are
governed, and perhaps the only way we can be
governed. You asked me just now what became of
the survivors of that tragedy. Well, Wilson recovered
and we managed to persuade him to retire. But we
had to pension that damnable murderer more magnificently than any
hero who ever fought for England. I managed to save Michael from
the worst, but we had to send that perfectly innocent man to
penal servitude for a crime we know he never committed,
and it was only afterward that we could connive in a
sneakish way at his escape. And Sir Walter Carey is
Prime Minister of this country, which he would
probably never have been if the truth had been told of
such a horrible scandal in his department. It might
have done for us altogether in Ireland; it would
certainly have done for him. And he is my father's old
friend, and has always smothered me with kindness. I
am too tangled up with the whole thing, you see, and I
was certainly never born to set it right. You look
distressed, not to say shocked, and I'm not at all
offended at it. Let us change the subject by all means,
if you like. What do you think of this Burgundy? It's
rather a discovery of mine, like the restaurant itself."
And he proceeded to talk learnedly and luxuriantly
on all the wines of the world; on which subject, also,
some moralists would consider that he knew too much.
III. THE SOUL OF THE SCHOOLBOY
A large map of London would be needed to display
the wild and zigzag course of
one day's journey undertaken by an uncle and
his nephew; or, to speak more truly, of a nephew
and his uncle. For the nephew, a schoolboy on
a holiday, was in theory the god in the car, or in
the cab, tram, tube, and so on, while his uncle
was at most a priest dancing before him and
offering sacrifices. To put it more soberly, the
schoolboy had something of the stolid air of a
young duke doing the grand tour, while his
elderly relative was reduced to the position of a
courier, who nevertheless had to pay for everything like a
patron. The schoolboy was officially
known as Summers Minor, and in a more social
manner as Stinks, the only public tribute to his
career as an amateur photographer and electrician. The uncle was
the Rev. Thomas Twyford, a lean and lively old gentleman with a
red, eager face and white hair. He was in the ordinary way a
country clergyman, but he was one of
those who achieve the paradox of being famous
in an obscure way, because they are famous in
an obscure world. In a small circle of ecclesiastical
archaeologists, who were the only people who could
even understand one another's discoveries, he
occupied a recognized and respectable place. And a
critic might have found even in that day's journey at
least as much of the uncle's hobby as of the
His original purpose had been wholly paternal and
festive. But, like many other intelligent people, he was
not above the weakness of playing with a toy to
amuse himself, on the theory that it would amuse a
child. His toys were crowns and miters and croziers
and swords of state; and he had lingered over them,
telling himself that the boy ought to see all the sights
of London. And at the end of the day, after a
tremendous tea, he rather gave the game away by
winding up with a visit in which hardly any human
boy could be conceived as taking an interest--an
underground chamber supposed to have been a
chapel, recently excavated on the north bank of the
Thames, and containing literally nothing whatever
but one old silver coin. But the coin, to those who
knew, was more solitary and splendid than the Koh-i-noor. It was
Roman, and was said to bear the head of
St. Paul; and round it raged the most vital
controversies about the ancient British Church. It
could hardly be denied, however, that the
controversies left Summers Minor comparatively
Indeed, the things that interested Summers Minor,
and the things that did not interest him, had mystified
and amused his uncle for several hours. He exhibited
the English schoolboy's startling ignorance and
startling knowledge--knowledge of some special
classification in which he can generally correct and
confound his elders. He considered himself entitled,
at Hampton Court on a holiday, to forget the very
names of Cardinal Wolsey or William of Orange; but
he could hardly be dragged from some details about
the arrangement of the electric bells in the
neighboring hotel. He was solidly dazed by
Westminster Abbey, which is not so unnatural since
that church became the lumber room of the larger
and less successful statuary of the eighteenth
century. But he had a magic and minute knowledge
of the Westminster omnibuses, and indeed of the
whole omnibus system of London, the colors and
numbers of which he knew as a herald knows
heraldry. He would cry out against a momentary
confusion between a light-green Paddington and a
dark-green Bayswater vehicle, as his uncle would at
the identification of a Greek ikon and a Roman
"Do you collect omnibuses like stamps?" asked his
uncle. "They must need a rather large album. Or do
you keep them in your locker?"
"I keep them in my head," replied the nephew,
with legitimate firmness.
"It does you credit, I admit," replied the
clergyman. "I suppose it were vain to ask for what
purpose you have learned that out of a thousand
things. There hardly seems to be a career in it, unless
you could be permanently on the pavement to
prevent old ladies getting into the wrong bus. Well,
we must get out of this one, for this is our place. I
want to show you what they call St. Paul's Penny."
"Is it like St. Paul's Cathedral?" asked the youth
with resignation, as they alighted.
At the entrance their eyes were arrested by a
singular figure evidently hovering there with a similar
anxiety to enter. It was that of a dark, thin man in a
long black robe rather like a cassock; but the black
cap on his head was of too strange a shape to be a
biretta. It suggested, rather, some archaic headdress
of Persia or Babylon. He had a curious black beard
appearing only at the corners of his chin, and his large
eyes were oddly set in his face like the flat decorative
eyes painted in old Egyptian profiles. Before they had
gathered more than a general impression of him, he
had dived into the doorway that was their own
Nothing could be seen above ground of the sunken
sanctuary except a strong wooden hut, of the sort
recently run up for many military and official
purposes, the wooden floor of which was indeed a
mere platform over the excavated
cavity below. A soldier stood as a sentry outside, and a superior
soldier, an Anglo-Indian
officer of distinction, sat writing at the desk inside. Indeed,
the sightseers soon found that this
particular sight was surrounded with the most
extraordinary precautions. I have compared the
silver coin to the Koh-i-noor, and in one sense it
was even conventionally comparable, since by a
historical accident it was at one time almost
counted among the Crown jewels, or at least
the Crown relics, until one of the royal princes
publicly restored it to the shrine to which it was
supposed to belong. Other causes combined to
concentrate official vigilance upon it; there had
been a scare about spies carrying explosives in
small objects, and one of those experimental
orders which pass like waves over bureaucracy
had decreed first that all visitors should change
their clothes for a sort of official sackcloth, and
then (when this method caused some murmurs)
that they should at least turn out their pockets.
Colonel Morris, the officer in charge, was a
short, active man with a grim and leathery face,
but a lively and humorous eye--a contradiction
borne out by his conduct, for he at once derided
the safeguards and yet insisted on them.
"I don't care a button myself for Paul's Penny,
or such things," he admitted in answer to some
antiquarian openings from the clergyman who
was slightly acquainted with him, "but I wear the
King's coat, you know, and it's a serious thing when
the King's uncle leaves a thing here with his own
hands under my charge. But as for saints and relics
and things, I fear I'm a bit of a Voltairian; what you
would call a skeptic."
"I'm not sure it's even skeptical to believe in the
royal family and not in the 'Holy' Family," replied Mr.
Twyford. "But, of course, I can easily empty my
pockets, to show I don't carry a bomb."
The little heap of the parson's possessions which he
left on the table consisted chiefly of papers, over and
above a pipe and a tobacco pouch and some Roman
and Saxon coins. The rest were catalogues of old
books, and pamphlets, like one entitled "The Use of
Sarum," one glance at which was sufficient both for
the colonel and the schoolboy. They could not see the
use of Sarum at all. The contents of the boy's pockets
naturally made a larger heap, and included marbles, a
ball of string, an electric torch, a magnet, a small
catapult, and, of course, a large pocketknife, almost to
be described as a small tool box, a complex apparatus
on which he seemed disposed to linger, pointing out
that it included a pair of nippers, a tool for punching
holes in wood, and, above all, an instrument for taking
stones out of a horse's hoof. The comparative absence
of any horse he appeared to regard as irrelevant, as
if it were a mere appendage easily supplied. But when the turn
came of the gentleman in the black gown, he did not turn out
his pockets, but merely spread out his hands.
"I have no possessions," he said.
"I'm afraid I must ask you to empty your pockets
and make sure," observed the colonel, gruffly.
"I have no pockets," said the stranger.
Mr. Twyford was looking at the long black gown
with a learned eye.
"Are you a monk?" he asked, in a puzzled fashion.
"I am a magus," replied the stranger. "You have
heard of the magi, perhaps? I am a magician."
"Oh, I say!" exclaimed Summers Minor, with
"But I was once a monk," went on the other. "I am
what you would call an escaped monk. Yes, I have
escaped into eternity. But the monks held one truth at
least, that the highest life should be without
possessions. I have no pocket money and no pockets,
and all the stars are my trinkets."
"They are out of reach, anyhow," observed
Colonel Morris, in a tone which suggested that
it was well for them. "I've known a good many
magicians myself in India--mango plant and all.
But the Indian ones are all frauds, I'll swear. In fact, I
had a good deal of fun showing them up. More fun
than I have over this dreary job, anyhow. But here
comes Mr. Symon, who will show you over the old
Mr. Symon, the official guardian and guide, was a
young man, prematurely gray, with a grave mouth
which contrasted curiously with a very small, dark
mustache with waxed points, that seemed somehow,
separate from it, as if a black fly had settled on his
face. He spoke with the accent of Oxford and the
permanent official, but in as dead a fashion as the
most indifferent hired guide. They descended a dark
stone staircase, at the floor of which Symon pressed a
button and a door opened on a dark room, or, rather, a
room which had an instant before been dark. For
almost as the heavy iron door swung open an almost
blinding blaze of electric lights filled the whole interior.
The fitful enthusiasm of Stinks at once caught fire,
and he eagerly asked if the lights and the door worked
"Yes, it's all one system," replied Symon. "It was
all fitted up for the day His Royal Highness deposited
the thing here. You see, it's locked up behind a glass
case exactly as he left it."
A glance showed that the arrangements for
guarding the treasure were indeed as strong as they
were simple. A single pane of glass cut off one
corner of the room, in an iron framework let into the
rock walls and the wooden roof
above; there was now no possibility of
reopening the case without elaborate labor, except by
breaking the glass, which would probably arouse the
night watchman who was always within a few feet
of it, even if he had fallen asleep. A close
examination would have showed many more
ingenious safeguards; but the eye of the Rev. Thomas Twyford, at
least, was already riveted on
what interested him much more--the dull silver disk
which shone in the white light against a plain
background of black velvet.
"St. Paul's Penny, said to commemorate the visit of
St. Paul to Britain, was probably preserved in this
chapel until the eighth century," Symon was saying in
his clear but colorless voice. "In the ninth century it is
supposed to have been carried away by the
barbarians, and it reappears, after the conversion of
the northern Goths, in the possession of the royal
family of Gothland. His Royal Highness, the Duke of
Gothland, retained it always in his own private
custody, and when he decided to exhibit it to the
public, placed it here with his own hand. It was
immediately sealed up in such a manner--"
Unluckily at this point Summers Minor, whose
attention had somewhat strayed from the religious
wars of the ninth century, caught sight of a short
length of wire appearing in a broken patch in the
wall. He precipitated himself at it, calling out, "I say,
say, does that connect?"
It was evident that it did connect, for no sooner
had the boy given it a twitch than the whole room
went black, as if they had all been struck blind, and
an instant afterward they heard the dull crash of the
"Well, you've done it now," said Symon, in his
tranquil fashion. Then after a pause he added, "I
suppose they'll miss us sooner or later, and no doubt
they can get it open; but it may take some little time."
There was a silence, and then the unconquerable
"Rotten that I had to leave my electric torch."
"I think," said his uncle, with restraint, "that we are
sufficiently convinced of your interest in electricity."
Then after a pause he remarked, more amiably: "I
suppose if I regretted any of my own impedimenta, it
would be the pipe. Though, as a matter of fact, it's
not much fun smoking in the dark. Everything seems
different in the dark."
"Everything is different in the dark," said a third
voice, that of the man who called himself a magician.
It was a very musical voice, and rather in contrast
with his sinister and swarthy visage, which was now
invisible. "Perhaps you don't know how terrible a
truth that is. All you see are pictures made by the
sun, faces and furniture and flowers and trees. The
things themselves may be quite strange to you. Something else
may be standing now where you saw a table or a
chair. The face of your friend may be quite different
in the dark."
A short, indescribable noise broke the stillness.
Twyford started for a second, and then said, sharply:
"Really, I don't think it's a suitable occasion for
trying to frighten a child."
"Who's a child?" cried the indignant Summers,
with a voice that had a crow, but also something of a
crack in it. "And who's a funk, either? Not me."
"I will be silent, then," said the other voice out of
the darkness. "But silence also makes and unmakes."
The required silence remained unbroken for a long
time until at last the clergyman said to Symon in a
"I suppose it's all right about air?"
"Oh, yes," replied the other aloud; "there's a
fireplace and a chimney in the office just by the
A bound and the noise of a falling chair told them
that the irrepressible rising generation had once more
thrown itself across the room. They heard the
ejaculation: "A chimney! Why, I'll be--" and the rest
was lost in muffled, but exultant, cries.
The uncle called repeatedly and vainly, groped his
way at last to the opening, and, peering up it, caught a
glimpse of a disk of daylight, which seemed to
suggest that the fugitive had vanished in safety.
Making his way back to the group by the glass case, he
fell over the fallen chair and took a moment to
collect himself again. He had opened his mouth to
speak to Symon, when he stopped, and suddenly
found himself blinking in the full shock of the white
light, and looking over the other man's shoulder, he
saw that the door was standing open.
"So they've got at us at last," he observed to Symon.
The man in the black robe was leaning against the
wall some yards away, with a smile carved on his
"Here comes Colonel Morris," went on Twyford,
still speaking to Symon. "One of us will have to tell
him how the light went out. Will you?"
But Symon still said nothing. He was standing as
still as a statue, and looking steadily at the black
velvet behind the glass screen. He was looking at the
black velvet because there was nothing else to look
at. St. Paul's Penny was gone.
Colonel Morris entered the room with two
new visitors; presumably two new sightseers delayed
by the accident. The foremost was a tall,
fair, rather languid-looking man with a bald
brow and a high-bridged nose; his companion was a
younger man with light, curly hair and frank, and
even innocent, eyes. Symon scarcely seemed to hear
the newcomers; it seemed almost as if he had not
realized that the return of the light revealed his
brooding attitude. Then he started in a guilty fashion,
and when he saw the elder of the two strangers, his
pale face seemed to turn a shade paler.
"Why it's Horne Fisher!" and then after a pause
he said in a low voice, "I'm in the devil of a hole,
"There does seem a bit of a mystery to be cleared
up," observed the gentleman so addressed.
"It will never be cleared up," said the pale Symon.
"If anybody could clear it up, you could. But nobody
"I rather think I could," said another voice from
outside the group, and they turned in surprise to
realize that the man in the black robe had spoken
"You!" said the colonel, sharply. "And how do you
propose to play the detective?"
"I do not propose to play the detective," answered
the other, in a clear voice like a bell. "I propose to
play the magician. One of the magicians you show up
in India, Colonel."
No one spoke for a moment, and then Horne
Fisher surprised everybody by saying, "Well, let's go
upstairs, and this gentleman can have a try."
He stopped Symon, who had an automatic finger
on the button, saying: "No, leave all the lights on. It's
a sort of safeguard."
"The thing can't be taken away now," said Symon,
"It can be put back," replied Fisher.
Twyford had already run upstairs for news
of his vanishing nephew, and he received news
of him in a way that at once puzzled and reassured him. On the
floor above lay one of
those large paper darts which boys throw at
each other when the schoolmaster is out of the
room. It had evidently been thrown in at the
window, and on being unfolded displayed a
scrawl of bad handwriting which ran: "Dear
Uncle; I am all right. Meet you at the hotel
later on," and then the signature.
Insensibly comforted by this, the clergyman found
his thoughts reverting voluntarily to his favorite relic,
which came a good second in his sympathies to his
favorite nephew, and before he knew where he was
he found himself encircled by the group discussing its
loss, and more or less carried away on the current of
their excitement. But an undercurrent of query
continued to run in his mind, as to what had really
happened to the boy, and what was the boy's exact
definition of being all right.
Meanwhile Horne Fisher had considerably puzzled
everybody with his new tone and attitude. He had
talked to the colonel about the military and
mechanical arrangements, and displayed a
remarkable knowledge both of the details of
discipline and the technicalities of electricity. He had
talked to the clergyman, and shown an equally
surprising knowledge of the religious and historical
interests involved in the relic. He had talked to the
man who called himself a magician, and not only
surprised but scandalized the company by an equally
sympathetic familiarity with the most fantastic forms
of Oriental occultism and psychic experiment. And in
this last and least respectable line of inquiry he was
evidently prepared to go farthest; he openly
encouraged the magician, and was plainly prepared
to follow the wildest ways of investigation in which
that magus might lead him.
"How would you begin now?" he inquired, with an
anxious politeness that reduced the colonel to a
congestion of rage.
"It is all a question of a force; of establishing
communications for a force," replied that adept,
affably, ignoring some military mutterings about the
police force. "It is what you in the West used to call
animal magnetism, but it is much more than that. I
had better not say how much more. As to setting
about it, the usual method is to throw some
susceptible person into a trance, which serves as a
sort of bridge or cord of communication, by which
the force beyond can give him, as it were, an electric
shock, and awaken his higher senses. It opens the
sleeping eye of the mind."
"I'm suspectible," said Fisher, either with simplicity
or with a baffling irony. "Why not open my mind's
eye for me? My friend Harold March here will tell
you I sometimes see things, even in the dark."
"Nobody sees anything except in the dark," said
Heavy clouds of sunset were closing round the
wooden hut, enormous clouds, of which only the
corners* could be seen in the little window, like
purple horns and tails, almost as if some huge
monsters were prowling round the place. But the
purple was already deepening to dark gray; it would
soon be night.
"Do not light the lamp," said the magus with quiet
authority, arresting a movement in that direction. "I
told you before that things happen only in the dark."
How such a topsy-turvy scene ever came to be
tolerated in the colonel's office, of all places, was
afterward a puzzle in the memory of many, including
the colonel. They recalled it like a sort of nightmare,
like something they could not control. Perhaps there
was really a magnetism about the mesmerist;
perhaps there was even more magnetism about the man mesmerized.
Anyhow, the man was being mesmerized, for Horne
Fisher had collapsed into a chair with his long limbs
loose and sprawling and his eyes staring at vacancy;
and the other man was mesmerizing him, making
sweeping movements with his darkly draped arms as
if with black wings. The colonel had passed the point
of explosion, and he dimly realized that eccentric
aristocrats are allowed their fling. He comforted
himself with the knowledge that he had already sent
for the police, who would break up any such
masquerade, and with lighting a cigar, the red end of
which, in the gathering darkness, glowed with protest.
"Yes, I see pockets," the man in the trance was
saying. "I see many pockets, but they are all empty.
No; I see one pocket that is not empty."
There was a faint stir in the stillness, and the
magician said, "Can you see what is in the pocket?"
"Yes," answered the other; "there are two bright
things. I think they are two bits of steel. One of the
pieces of steel is bent or crooked."
"Have they been used in the removal of the relic
There was another pause and the inquirer added,
"Do you see anything of the relic itself?"
"I see something shining on the floor, like the
shadow or the ghost of it. It is over there in the
corner beyond the desk."
There was a movement of men turning and then a
sudden stillness, as of their stiffening, for over in the
corner on the wooden floor there was really a round
spot of pale light. It was the only spot of light in the
room. The cigar had gone out.
"It points the way," came the voice of the oracle.
"The spirits are pointing the way to penitence, and
urging the thief to restitution. I can see nothing
more." His voice trailed off into a silence that lasted
solidly for many minutes, like the long silence below
when the theft had been committed. Then it was
broken by the ring of metal on the floor, and the
sound of something spinning and falling like a tossed
"Light the lamp!" cried Fisher in a loud and even
jovial voice, leaping to his feet with far less languor
than usual. "I must be going now, but I should like to
see it before I go. Why, I came on purpose to see it."
The lamp was lit, and he did see it, for St. Paul's
Penny was lying on the floor at his feet.
"Oh, as for that," explained Fisher, when he was
entertaining March and Twyford at lunch about a
month later, "I merely wanted to play with the
magician at his own game."
"I thought you meant to catch him in his own trap,"
said Twyford. "I can't make head or tail of anything
yet, but to my mind he was always the suspect. I
don't think he was necessarily a thief in the vulgar
sense. The police always seem to think that silver is
stolen for the sake of silver, but a thing like that might
well be stolen out of some religious mania. A
runaway monk turned mystic might well want it for
some mystical purpose."
"No," replied Fisher, "the runaway monk is not a
thief. At any rate he is not the thief. And he's not
altogether a liar, either. He said one true thing at
least that night."
"And what was that?" inquired March.
"He said it was all magnetism. As a matter of fact,
it was done by means of a magnet." Then, seeing
they still looked puzzled, he added, "It was that toy
magnet belonging to your nephew, Mr. Twyford."
"But I don't understand," objected March. "If it
was done with the schoolboy's magnet, I suppose it
was done by the schoolboy."
"Well," replied Fisher, reflectively, "it rather
depends which schoolboy."
"What on earth do you mean?"
"The soul of a schoolboy is a curious thing," Fisher
continued, in a meditative manner. "It can survive a
great many things besides climbing out of a chimney.
A man can grow gray in great campaigns, and still
have the soul of a schoolboy. A man can return with
a great reputation from India and be put in charge of
a great public treasure, and still have the soul of a
schoolboy, waiting to be awakened by an accident.
And it is ten times more so when to the schoolboy
you add the skeptic, who is generally a sort of
stunted schoolboy. You said just now that things
might be done by religious mania. Have you ever
heard of irreligious mania? I assure you it exists very
violently, especially in men who like showing up
magicians in India. But here the skeptic had the
temptation of showing up a much more tremendous
sham nearer home."
A light came into Harold March's eyes as he
suddenly saw, as if afar off, the wider implication of
the suggestion. But Twyford was still wrestling with
one problem at a time.
"Do you really mean," he said, "that Colonel
Morris took the relic?"
"He was the only person who could use the
magnet," replied Fisher. "In fact, your obliging
nephew left him a number of things he could use. He
had a ball of string, and an instrument for making a
hole in the wooden floor--I made a little play with
that hole in the floor in my trance, by the way; with
the lights left on below, it shone like a new shilling."
Twyford suddenly bounded on his chair. "But
in that case," he cried, in a new and altered voice,
"why then of course--You said a piece of steel--?"
"I said there were two pieces of steel," said
Fisher. "The bent piece of steel was the boy's
magnet. The other was the relic in the glass case."
"But that is silver," answered the archaeologist, in
a voice now almost unrecognizable.
"Oh," replied Fisher, soothingly, "I dare say it was
painted with silver a little."
There was a heavy silence, and at last Harold
March said, "But where is the real relic?"
"Where it has been for five years," replied Horne
Fisher, "in the possession of a mad millionaire named
Vandam, in Nebraska. There was a playful little
photograph about him in a society paper the other
day, mentioning his delusion, and saying he was
always being taken in about relics."
Harold March frowned at the tablecloth; then,
after an interval, he said: "I think I understand your
notion of how the thing was actually done; according
to that, Morris just made a hole and fished it up with
a magnet at the end of a string. Such a monkey trick
looks like mere madness, but I suppose he was mad,
partly with the boredom of watching over what he
felt was a fraud, though he couldn't prove it. Then
came a chance to prove it, to himself at least, and he
had what he called 'fun' with it. Yes, I think I see a
lot of details now. But it's just the whole thing that
knocks me. How did it all come to be like that?"
Fisher was looking at him with level lids and an
"Every precaution was taken," he said. "The Duke
carried the relic on his own person, and locked it up
in the case with his own hands."
March was silent; but Twyford stammered. "I
don't understand you. You give me the creeps. Why
don't you speak plainer?"
"If I spoke plainer you would understand me less,"
said Horne Fisher.
"All the same I should try," said March, still
without lifting his head.
"Oh, very well," replied Fisher, with a sigh; "the
plain truth is, of course, that it's a bad business.
Everybody knows it's a bad business who knows
anything about it. But it's always happening, and in
one way one can hardly blame them. They get stuck
on to a foreign princess that's as stiff as a Dutch doll,
and they have their fling. In this case it was a pretty
The face of the Rev. Thomas Twyford certainly
suggested that he was a little out of his depth in the
seas of truth, but as the other went on speaking
vaguely the old gentleman's features sharpened and
"If it were some decent morganatic affair I
wouldn't say; but he must have been a fool to throw
away thousands on a woman like that. At the end it
was sheer blackmail; but it's something that the old
ass didn't get it out of the taxpayers. He could only
get it out of the Yank, and there you are."
The Rev. Thomas Twyford had risen to his feet.
"Well, I'm glad my nephew had nothing to do with
it," he said. "And if that's what the world is like, I
hope he will never have anything to, do with it."
"I hope not," answered Horne Fisher. "No one
knows so well as I do that one can have far too
much to do with it."
For Summers Minor had indeed nothing to do with
it; and it is part of his higher significance that he has
really nothing to do with the story, or with any such
stories. The boy went like a bullet through the tangle
of this tale of crooked politics and crazy mockery and
came out on the other side, pursuing his own
unspoiled purposes. From the top of the chimney he
climbed he had caught sight of a new omnibus, whose
color and name he had never known, as a naturalist
might see a new bird or a botanist a new flower. And
he had been sufficiently enraptured in rushing after it,
and riding away upon that fairy ship.
IV. THE BOTTOMLESS WELL
In an oasis, or green island, in the red and yellow
seas of sand that stretch beyond Europe toward the
sunrise, there can be found a rather fantastic
contrast, which is none the less typical of such ai
place, since international treaties have made it an
outpost of the British occupation. The site is famous
among archaeologists for something that is hardly a
monument, but merely a hole in the ground. But it is
a round shaft, like that of a well, and probably a part
of some great irrigation works of remote and
disputed date, perhaps more ancient than anything in
that ancient land. There is a green fringe of palm and
prickly pear round the black mouth of the well; but
nothing of the upper masonry remains except two
bulky and battered stones standing like the pillars of a
gateway of nowhere, in which some of the more
transcendental archaeologists, in certain moods at
moonrise or sunset, think they can trace the faint
lines of figures or features of more than Babylonian
monstrosity; while the more rationalistic
archaeologists, in the more rational hours of daylight,
see nothing but two shapeless rocks. It may have been noticed,
however, that all Englishmen are not archaeologists.
Many of those assembled in such a place for official
and military purposes have hobbies other than
archaeology. And it is a solemn fact that the English
in this Eastern exile have contrived to make a small
golf links out of the green scrub and sand; with a
comfortable clubhouse at one end of it and this
primeval monument at the other. They did not
actually use this archaic abyss as a bunker, because
it was by tradition unfathomable, and even for
practical purposes unfathomed. Any sporting
projectile sent into it might be counted most literally
as a lost ball. But they often sauntered round it in
their interludes of talking and smoking cigarettes, and
one of them had just come down from the clubhouse
to find another gazing somewhat moodily into the well.
Both the Englishmen wore light clothes and white
pith helmets and puggrees, but there, for the most
part, their resemblance ended. And they both almost
simultaneously said the same word, but they said it
on two totally different notes of the voice.
"Have you heard the news?" asked the man
from the club. "Splendid."
"Splendid," replied the man by the well. But the
first man pronounced the word as a young man
might say it about a woman, and the second as
an old man might say it about the weather, not
without sincerity, but certainly without fervor.
And in this the tone of the two men was sufficiently typical of
them. The first, who was a certain Captain Boyle, was of a bold
and boyish type, dark, and with a sort of native heat in his face
that did not belong to the atmosphere of the East, but rather to
the ardors and ambitions of the West. The other was an
older man and certainly an older resident, a civilian
official--Horne Fisher; and his drooping eyelids and
drooping light mustache expressed all the paradox of
the Englishman in the East. He was much too hot to
be anything but cool.
Neither of them thought it necessary to mention
what it was that was splendid. That would indeed
have been superfluous conversation about something
that everybody knew. The striking victory over a
menacing combination of Turks and Arabs in the
north, won by troops under the command of Lord
Hastings, the veteran of so many striking victories,
was already spread by the newspapers all over the
Empire, let alone to this small garrison so near to the
"Now, no other nation in the world could have
done a thing like that," cried Captain Boyle,
Horne Fisher was still looking silently into
the well; a moment later he answered: "We certainly have the art
of unmaking mistakes. That's where the poor old Prussians went
wrong. They could only make mistakes and stick to them. There is
really a certain talent in unmaking a mistake."
"What do you mean," asked Boyle, "what mistakes?"
"Well, everybody knows it looked like biting off
more than he could chew," replied Horne Fisher. It
was a peculiarity of Mr. Fisher that he always said
that everybody knew things which about one person
in two million was ever allowed to hear of. "And it
was certainly jolly lucky that Travers turned up so
well in the nick of time. Odd how often the right
thing's been done for us by the second in command,
even when a great man was first in command. Like
Colborne at Waterloo."
"It ought to add a whole province to the Empire,"
observed the other.
"Well, I suppose the Zimmernes would have
insisted on it as far as the canal," observed Fisher,
thoughtfully, "though everybody knows adding
provinces doesn't always pay much nowadays."
Captain Boyle frowned in a slightly puzzled
fashion. Being cloudily conscious of never having
heard of the Zimmernes in his life, he could only
"Well, one can't be a Little Englander."
Horne Fisher smiled, and he had a pleasant smile.
"Every man out here is a Little Englander," he
said. "He wishes he were back in Little England."
"I don't know what you're talking about, I'm
afraid," said the younger man, rather suspiciously.
"One would think you didn't really admire Hastings or-
"I admire him no end," replied Fisher. "He's by far
the best man for this post; he understands the
Moslems and can do anything with them. That's why
I'm all against pushing Travers against him, merely
because of this last affair."
"I really don't understand what you're driving at,"
said the other, frankly.
"Perhaps it isn't worth understanding," answered
Fisher, lightly, "and, anyhow, we needn't talk politics.
Do you know the Arab legend about that well?"
"I'm afraid I don't know much about Arab
legends," said Boyle, rather stiffly.
"That's rather a mistake," replied Fisher,
"especially from your point of view. Lord Hastings
himself is an Arab legend. That is perhaps the very
greatest thing he really is. If his reputation went it
would weaken us all over Asia and Africa. Well, the
story about that hole in the ground, that goes down
nobody knows where, has always fascinated me, rather. It's
Mohammedan in form now, but I shouldn't wonder if
the tale is a long way older than Mohammed. It's all
about somebody they call the Sultan Aladdin, not our
friend of the lamp, of course, but rather like him in
having to do with genii or giants or something of that
sort. They say he commanded the giants to build him
a sort of pagoda, rising higher and higher above all the
stars. The Utmost for the Highest, as the people said
when they built the Tower of Babel. But the builders
of the Tower of Babel were quite modest and
domestic people, like mice, compared with old
Aladdin. They only wanted a tower that would reach
heaven--a mere trifle. He wanted a tower that would
pass heaven and rise above it, and go on rising for
ever and ever. And Allah cast him down to earth with
a thunderbolt, which sank into the earth, boring a hole
deeper and deeper, till it made a well that was without
a bottom as the tower was to have been without a
top. And down that inverted tower of darkness the
soul of the proud Sultan is falling forever and ever."
"What a queer chap you are," said Boyle. "You
talk as if a fellow could believe those fables."
"Perhaps I believe the moral and not the fable,"
answered Fisher. "But here comes Lady Hastings.
You know her, I think."
The clubhouse on the golf links was used, of course,
for many other purposes besides that of golf. It was
the only social center of the garrison beside the strictly
military headquarters; it had a billiard room and a bar,
and even an excellent reference library for those
officers who were so perverse as to take their
profession seriously. Among these was the great
general himself, whose head of silver and face of
bronze, like that of a brazen eagle, were often to be
found bent over the charts and folios of the library.
The great Lord Hastings believed in science and study,
as in other severe ideals of life, and had given much
paternal advice on the point to young Boyle, whose
appearances in that place of research were rather
more intermittent. It was from one of these snatches
of study that the young man had just come out
through the glass doors of the library on to the golf
links. But, above all, the club was so appointed as to
serve the social conveniences of ladies at least as
much as gentlemen, and Lady Hastings was able to
play the queen in such a society almost as much as in
her own ballroom. She was eminently calculated and,
as some said, eminently inclined to play such a part.
She was much younger than her husband, an attractive
and sometimes dangerously attractive lady; and Mr.
Horne Fisher looked after her a little sardonically as
she swept away with the young soldier. Then his rather dreary eye
strayed to the green and
prickly growths round the well, growths of that
curious cactus formation in which one thick leaf
grows directly out of the other without stalk or twig.
It gave his fanciful mind a sinister feeling of a blind growth
without shape or purpose. A
flower or shrub in the West grows to the blossom
which is its crown, and is content. But this was as if
hands could grow out of hands or legs grow out of
legs in a nightmare. "Always adding a province to the
Empire," he said, with a smile, and then added, more
sadly, "but I doubt if I was right, after all!"
A strong but genial voice broke in on his
meditations and he looked up and smiled, seeing the
face of an old friend. The voice was, indeed, rather
more genial than the face, which was at the first
glance decidedly grim. It was a typically legal face, with
angular jaws and heavy, grizzled eyebrows; and it belonged to an
eminently legal character, though he was now attached in a
semimilitary capacity to the police of that wild district.
Cuthbert Grayne was perhaps more of a criminologist
than either a lawyer or a policeman, but in his more
barbarous surroundings he had proved successful in
turning himself into a practical combination of all
three. The discovery of a whole series of strange
Oriental crimes stood to his credit. But as few people
were acquainted with, or attracted to, such a hobby
or branch of knowledge, his intellectual life was
somewhat solitary. Among the few exceptions was
Horne Fisher, who had a curious capacity for talking
to almost anybody about almost anything.
"Studying botany, or is it archaeology?" inquired
Grayne. "I shall never come to the end of your
interests, Fisher. I should say that what you don't
know isn't worth knowing."
"You are wrong," replied Fisher, with a very
unusual abruptness 'and even bitterness. "It's what I
do know that isn't worth knowing. All the seamy side
of things, all the secret reasons and rotten motives
and bribery arid blackmail they call politics. I needn't
be so proud of having been down all these sewers
that I should brag about it to the little boys in the
"What do you mean? What's the matter with
you?" asked his friend. "I never knew you taken like
"I'm ashamed of myself," replied Fisher. "I've just
been throwing cold water on the enthusiasms of a boy."
"Even that explanation is hardly exhaustive," observed the
"Damned newspaper nonsense the enthusiasms
were, of course," continued Fisher, "but I ought to
know that at that age illusions can be ideals. And
they're better than the reality, anyhow. But there is
one very ugly responsibility
about jolting a young man out of the rut of the
most rotten ideal."
"And what may that be?" inquired his friend.
"It's very apt to set him off with the same energy
in a much worse direction," answered Fisher; "a
pretty endless sort of direction, a bottomless pit as
deep as the bottomless well."
Fisher did not see his friend until a fortnight later,
when he found himself in the garden at the back of
the clubhouse on the opposite side from the links, a
garden heavily colored and scented with sweet
semitropical plants in the glow of a desert sunset.
Two other men were with him, the third being the
now celebrated second in command, familiar to
everybody as Tom Travers, a lean, dark man, who
looked older than his years, with a furrow in his brow
and something morose about the very shape of his
black mustache. They had just been served with
black coffee by the Arab now officiating as the
temporary servant of the club, though he was a figure
already familiar, and even famous, as the old servant
of the general. He went by the name of Said, and
was notable among other Semites for that unnatural
length of his yellow face and height of his narrow
forehead which is sometimes seen among them, and
gave an irrational impression of something sinister,
in spite of his agreeable smile.
"I never feel as if I could quite trust that
fellow," said Grayne, when the man had gone away.
"It's very unjust, I take it, for he was certainly
devoted to Hastings, and saved his life, they say. But
Arabs are often like that, loyal to one man. I can't
help feeling he might cut anybody else's throat, and
even do it treacherously."
"Well," said Travers, with a rather sour smile, "so
long as he leaves Hastings alone the world won't
There was a rather embarrassing silence, full of
memories of the great battle, and then Horne Fisher
"The newspapers aren't the world, Tom. Don't you
worry about them. Everybody in your world knows
the truth well enough."
"I think we'd better not talk about the general just
now," remarked Grayne, "for he's just coming out of
"He's not coming here," said Fisher. "He's only
seeing his wife to the car."
As he spoke, indeed, the lady came out on the
steps of the club, followed by her husband, who then
went swiftly in front of her to open the garden gate.
As he did so she turned back and spoke for a
moment to a solitary man still sitting in a cane chair in
the shadow of the doorway, the only man left in the
deserted club save for the three that lingered in the
garden. Fisher peered for a moment into the shadow,
and saw that it was Captain Boyle.
The next moment, rather to their surprise, the
general reappeared and, remounting the steps,
spoke a word or two to Boyle in his turn. Then
he signaled to Said, who hurried up with two
cups of coffee, and the two men re-entered the
club, each carrying his cup in his hand. The
next moment a gleam of white light in the growing darkness showed
that the electric lamps had
been turned on in the library beyond.
"Coffee and scientific researches," said Travers,
grimly. "All the luxuries of learning and theoretical
research. Well, I must be going, for I have my work
to do as well." And he got up rather stiffly, saluted
his companions, and strode away into the dusk.
"I only hope Boyle is sticking to scientific
researches," said Horne Fisher. "I'm not very
comfortable about him myself. But let's talk about
They talked about something else longer than they
probably imagined, until the tropical night had come
and a splendid moon painted the whole scene with
silver; but before it was bright enough to see by
Fisher had already noted that the lights in the library
had been abruptly extinguished. He waited for the
two men to come out by the garden entrance, but
"They must have gone for a stroll on the links," he
"Very possibly," replied Grayne. "It's going
to be a beautiful night."
A moment or two after he had spoken they heard
a voice hailing them out of the shadow of the
clubhouse, and were astonished to perceive Travers
hurrying toward them, calling out as he came:
"I shall want your help, you fellows," he cried.
"There's something pretty bad out on the links."
They found themselves plunging through the club
smoking room and the library beyond, in complete
darkness, mental as well as material. But Horne
Fisher, in spite of his affectation of indifference, was a
person of a curious and almost transcendental
sensibility to atmospheres, and he already felt the
presence of something more than an accident. He
collided with a piece of furniture in the library, and
almost shuddered with the shock, for the thing moved
as he could never have fancied a piece of furniture
moving. It seemed to move like a living thing, yielding
and yet striking back. The next moment Grayne had
turned on the lights, and he saw he had only stumbled
against one of the revolving bookstands that had
swung round and struck him; but his involuntary recoil
had revealed to him his own subconscious sense of
something mysterious and monstrous. There were
several of these revolving bookcases standing here
and there about the library; on one of them stood the
two cups of coffee, and on another a large open book. It was
Budge's book on Egyptian hieroglyphics, with colored
plates of strange birds and gods, and even as he
rushed past, he was conscious of something odd
about the fact that this, and not any work of military
science, should be open in that place at that moment.
He was even conscious of the gap in the well-lined
bookshelf from which it had been taken, and it
seemed almost to gape at him in an ugly fashion, like
a gap in the teeth of some sinister face.
A run brought them in a few minutes to the other
side of the ground in front of the bottomless well, and
a few yards from it, in a moonlight almost as
broad as daylight, they saw what they had come to see.
The great Lord Hastings lay prone on his face, in a
posture in which there was a touch of something
strange and stiff, with one elbow erect above his
body, the arm being doubled, and his big, bony hand
clutching the rank and ragged grass. A few feet
away was Boyle, almost as motionless, but supported
on his hands and knees, and staring at the body. It
might have been no more than shock and accident;
but there was something ungainly and unnatural about
the quadrupedal posture and the gaping face. It was
as if his reason had fled from him. Behind, there was
nothing but the clear blue southern sky, and the
beginning of the desert, except for the two great
broken stones in front of the well. And it was in such
a light and atmosphere that men could fancy they
traced in them enormous and evil faces, looking
Horne Fisher stooped and touched the strong hand
that was still clutching the grass, and it was as cold
as a stone. He knelt by the body and was busy for a
moment applying other tests; then he rose again, and
said, with a sort of confident despair:
"Lord Hastings is dead."
There was a stony silence, and then Travers
remarked, gruffly: "This is your department, Grayne;
I will leave you to question Captain Boyle. I can
make no sense of what he says."
Boyle had pulled himself together and risen to his
feet, but his face still wore an awful expression,
making it like a new mask or the face of another man.
"I was looking at the well," he said, "and when I
turned he had fallen down."
Grayne's face was very dark. "As you say, this is
my affair," he said. "I must first ask you to help me
carry him to the library and let me examine things
When they had deposited the body in the library,
Grayne turned to Fisher and said, in a voice that had
recovered its fullness and confidence, "I am going to
lock myself in and make
a thorough examination first. I look to you to keep in
touch with the others and make a preliminary
examination of Boyle. I will talk to him later. And just
telephone to headquarters for a policeman, and let
him come here at once and stand by till I want him."
Without more words the great criminal investigator
went into the lighted library, shutting the door behind
him, and Fisher, without replying, turned and began to
talk quietly to Travers. "It is curious," he said, "that
the thing should happen just in front of that place."
"It would certainly be very curious," replied
Travers, "if the place played any part in it."
"I think," replied Fisher, "that the part it didn't play
is more curious still."
And with these apparently meaningless words he
turned to the shaken Boyle and, taking his arm, began
to walk him up and down in the moonlight, talking in
Dawn had begun to break abrupt and white when
Cuthbert Grayne turned out the lights in the library
and came out on to the links. Fisher was lounging
about alone, in his listless fashion; but the police
messenger for whom he had sent was standing at
attention in the background.
"I sent Boyle off with Travers," observed Fisher,
carelessly; "he'll look after him, and he'd better have
some sleep, anyhow."
"Did you get anything out of him?" asked Grayne.
"Did he tell you what he and Hastings were doing?"
"Yes," answered Fisher, "he gave me a pretty clear
account, after all. He said that after Lady Hastings
went off in the car the general asked him to take
coffee with him in the library and look up a point
about local antiquities. He himself was beginning to
look for Budge's book in one of the revolving
bookstands when the general found it in one of the
bookshelves on the wall. After looking at some of the
plates they went out, it would seem, rather abruptly,
on to the links, and walked toward the old well; and
while Boyle was looking into it he heard a thud behind
him, and turned round to find the general lying as we
found him. He himself dropped on his knees to
examine the body, and then was paralyzed with a sort
of terror and could not come nearer to it or touch it.
But I think very little of that; people caught in a real
shock of surprise are sometimes found in the queerest
Grayne wore a grim smile of attention, and said,
after a short silence:
"Well, he hasn't told you many lies. It's really a
creditably clear and consistent account of what
happened, with everything of importance left out."
"Have you discovered anything in there?" asked
"I have discovered everything," answered Grayne.
Fisher maintained a somewhat gloomy silence, as
the other resumed his explanation in quiet and
"You were quite right, Fisher, when you said that
young fellow was in danger of going down dark
ways toward the pit. Whether or no, as you
fancied, the jolt you gave to his view of the
general had anything to do with it, he has not been
treating the general well for some time. It's an
unpleasant business, and I don't want to dwell on
it; but it's pretty plain that his wife was not treating
him well, either. I don't know how far it went, but
it went as far as concealment, anyhow; for when
Lady Hastings spoke to Boyle it was to tell him
she had hidden a note in the Budge book in the
library. The general overheard, or came somehow
to know, and he went straight to the book and
found it. He confronted Boyle with it, and they
had a scene, of course. And Boyle was
confronted with something else; he was
confronted with an awful alternative, in which the
life of one old man meant ruin and his death meant
triumph and even happiness."
"Well," observed Fisher, at last, "I don't blame him
for not telling you the woman's part of the story. But
how do you know about the letter?"
"I found it on the general's body," answered
Grayne, "but I found worse things than that.
The body had stiffened in the way rather peculiar
to poisons of a certain Asiatic sort. Then I
examined the coffee cups, and I knew enough
chemistry to find poison in the dregs of one of
them. Now, the General went straight to the
bookcase, leaving his cup of coffee on the bookstand in the
middle of the room. While his
back was turned, and Boyle was pretending to
examine the bookstand, he was left alone with
the coffee cup. The poison takes about ten
minutes to act, and ten minutes' walk would
bring them to the bottomless well."
"Yes," remarked Fisher, "and what about the
"What has the bottomless well got to do with it?"
asked his friend.
"It has nothing to do with it," replied Fisher. "That
is what I find utterly confounding and incredible."
"And why should that particular hole in the
ground have anything to do with it?"
"It is a particular hole in your case," said Fisher.
"But I won't insist on that just now. By the way,
there is another thing I ought to tell you. I said I sent
Boyle away in charge of Travers. It would be just as
true to say I sent Travers in charge of Boyle."
"You don't mean to say you suspect Tom
Travers?" cried the other.
"He was a deal bitterer against the general than
Boyle ever was," observed Horne Fisher, with a
"Man, you're not saying what you mean," cried
Grayne. "I tell you I found the poison in one of the
"There was always Said, of course," added Fisher,
"either for hatred or hire. We agreed he was capable
of almost anything."
"And we agreed he was incapable of hurting his
master," retorted Grayne.
"Well, well," said Fisher, amiably, "I dare say you
are right; but I should just like to have a look at the
library and the coffee cups."
He passed inside, while Grayne turned to the
policeman in attendance and handed him a scribbled
note, to be telegraphed from headquarters. The man
saluted and hurried off; and Grayne, following his
friend into the library, found him beside the bookstand
in the middle of the room, on which were the empty
"This is where Boyle looked for Budge, or
pretended to look for him, according to your
account," he said.
As Fisher spoke he bent down in a half-crouching
attitude, to look at the volumes in the low, revolving
shelf, for the whole bookstand was not much higher
than an ordinary table. The next moment he sprang
up as if he had been stung.
"Oh, my God!" he cried.
Very few people, if any, had ever seen Mr.
Horne Fisher behave as he behaved just then. He
flashed a glance at the door, saw that the open
window was nearer, went out of it with a flying leap,
as if over a hurdle, and went racing across the turf, in
the track of the disappearing policeman. Grayne, who
stood staring after him, soon saw his tall, loose figure,
returning, restored to all its normal limpness and air of
leisure. He was fanning himself slowly with a piece
of paper, the telegram he had so violently intercepted.
"Lucky I stopped that," he observed. "We must
keep this affair as quiet as death. Hastings must die
of apoplexy or heart disease."
"What on earth is the trouble?" demanded the
"The trouble is," said Fisher, "that in a few days
we should have had a very agreeable alternative--of
hanging an innocent man or knocking the British
Empire to hell."
"Do you mean to say," asked Grayne, "that this
infernal crime is not to be punished?"
Fisher looked at him steadily.
"It is already punished," he said.
After a moment's pause he went on. "You
reconstructed the crime with admirable skill, old chap,
and nearly all you said was true. Two men with two
coffee cups did go into the library and did put their
cups on the bookstand and did go together to the well,
and one of them was a
murderer and had put poison in the other's cup. But it
was not done while Boyle was looking at the
revolving bookcase. He did look at it, though,
searching for the Budge book with the note in it, but I
fancy that Hastings had already moved it to the
shelves on the wall. It was part of that grim game
that he should find it first.
"Now, how does a man search a revolving
bookcase? He does not generally hop all round it in a
squatting attitude, like a frog. He simply gives it a
touch and makes it revolve."
He was frowning at the floor as he spoke, and
there was a light under his heavy lids that was not
often seen there. The mysticism that was buried deep
under all the cynicism of his experience was awake
and moving in the depths. His voice took unexpected
turns and inflections, almost as if two men were
"That was what Boyle did; he barely touched the
thing, and it went round as elasily as the world goes
round. Yes, very much as the world goes round, for
the hand that turned it was not his. God, who turns
the wheel of all the stars, touched that wheel and
brought it full circle, that His dreadful justice might
"I am beginning," said Grayne, slowly, "to have
some hazy and horrible idea of what you mean."
"It is very simple," said Fisher, "when Boyle
straightened himself from his stooping posture,
something had happened which he had not noticed,
which his enemy had not noticed, which nobody had
noticed. The two coffee cups had exactly changed
The rocky face of Grayne seemed to have
sustained a shock in silence; not a line of it altered,
but his voice when it came was unexpectedly
"I see what you mean," he said, "and, as you say,
the less said about it the better. It was not the lover
who tried to get rid of the husband, but--the other
thing. And a tale like that about a man like that would
ruin us here. Had you any guess of this at the start?"
"The bottomless well, as I told you," answered
Fisher, quietly; "that was what stumped me from the
start. Not because it had anything to do with it,
because it had nothing to do with it."
He paused a moment, as if choosing an approach,
and then went on: "When a man knows his enemy
will be dead in ten minutes, and takes him to the edge
of an unfathomable pit, he means to throw his body
into it. What else should he do? A born fool would
have the sense to do it, and Boyle is not a born fool.
Well, why did not Boyle do it? The more I thought of
it the more I suspected there was some mistake in
the murder, so to speak. Somebody had taken
somebody there to throw him in, and yet he was
not thrown in. I had already an ugly, unformed idea of
some substitution or reversal of parts; then I stooped
to turn the bookstand myself, by accident, and I
instantly knew everything, for I saw the two cups
revolve once more, like moons in the sky."
After a pause, Cuthbert Grayne said, "And what
are we to say to the newspapers?"
"My friend, Harold March, is coming along from
Cairo to-day," said Fisher. "He is a very brilliant and
successful journalist. But for all that he's a
thoroughly honorable man, so you must not tell him
Half an hour later Fisher was again walking to and
fro in front of the clubhouse, with Captain Boyle, the
latter by this time with a very buffeted and
bewildered air; perhaps a sadder and a wiser man.
"What about me, then?" he was saying. "Am I
cleared? Am I not going to be cleared?"
"I believe and hope," answered Fisher, "that you
are not going to be suspected. But you are certainly
not going to be cleared. There must be no suspicion
against him, and therefore no suspicion against you.
Any suspicion against him, let alone such a story
against him, would knock us endways from Malta to
Mandalay. He was a hero as well as a holy terror
among the Moslems. Indeed, you might almost call
him a Moslem hero in the English service. Of course
he got on with them partly because of his own little
dose of Eastern blood; he got it from his mother, the
dancer from Damascus; everybody knows that."
"Oh," repeated Boyle, mechanically, staring at him
with round eyes, "everybody knows that."
"I dare say there was a touch of it in his jealousy
and ferocious vengeance," went on Fisher. "But, for
all that, the crime would ruin us among the Arabs, all
the more because it was something like a crime
against hospitality. It's been hateful for you and it's
pretty horrid for me. But there are some things that
damned well can't be done, and while I'm alive that's
one of them."
"What do you mean?" asked Boyle, glancing at
him curiously. "Why should you, of all people, be so
passionate about it?"
Horne Fisher looked at the young man with a
"I suppose," he said, "it's because I'm a Little
"I can never make out what you mean by that sort
of thing," answered Boyle, doubtfully.
"Do you think England is so little as all that?" said
Fisher, with a warmth in his cold voice, "that it can't
hold a man across a few thousand miles. You
lectured me with a lot of ideal patriotism, my young
friend; but it's practical patriotism now for you and
me, and with no lies to help it. You talked as if
everything always went right with us all over the world, in
a triumphant crescendo culminating in Hastings. I tell
you everything has gone wrong with us here, except
Hastings. He was the one name we had left to
conjure with, and that mustn't go as well, no, by God!
It's bad enough that a gang of infernal Jews should
plant us here, where there's no earthly English
interest to serve, and all hell beating up against us,
simply because Nosey Zimmern has lent money to
half the Cabinet. It's bad enough that an old
pawnbroker from Bagdad should make us fight his
battles; we can't fight with our right hand cut off. Our
one score was Hastings and his victory, which was
really somebody else's victory. Tom Travers has to
suffer, and so have you."
Then, after a moment's silence, he pointed toward
the bottomless well and said, in a quieter tone:
"I told you that I didn't believe in the philosophy of
the Tower of Aladdin. I don't believe in the Empire
growing until it reaches the sky; I don't believe in the
Union Jack going up and up eternally like the Tower.
But if you think I am going to let the Union Jack go
down and down eternally, like the bottomless well,
down into the blackness of the bottomless pit, down
in defeat and derision, amid the jeers of the very
Jews who have sucked us dry--no I won't, and that's
flat; not if the Chancellor were blackmailed by
twenty millionaires with their gutter rags, not if the
Prime Minister married twenty Yankee Jewesses,
not if Woodville and Carstairs had shares in twenty
swindling mines. If the thing is really tottering, God
help it, it mustn't be we who tip it over."
Boyle was regarding him with a bewilderment that
was almost fear, and had even a touch of distaste.
"Somehow," he said, "there seems to be something
rather horrid about the things you know."
"There is," replied Horne Fisher. "I am not at all
pleased with my small stock of knowledge and
reflection. But as it is partly responsible for your not
being hanged, I don't know that you need complain of
And, as if a little ashamed of his first boast, he
turned and strolled away toward the bottomless well.
V. THE FAD OF THE FISHERMAN
A thing can sometimes be too extraordinary to be
remembered. If it is clean out of the course of
things, and has apparently no causes and no
consequences, subsequent events do not recall
it, and it remains only a subconscious thing, to
be stirred by some accident long after. It drifts
apart like a forgotten dream; and it was in the
hour of many dreams, at daybreak and very
soon after the end of dark, that such a strange
sight was given to a man sculling a boat down a
river in the West country. The man was
awake; indeed, he considered himself rather
wide awake, being the political journalist,
Harold March, on his way to interview various
political celebrities in their country seats. But
the thing he saw was so inconsequent that it
might have been imaginary. It simply slipped
past his mind and was lost in later and utterly
different events; nor did he even recover the
memory till he had long afterward discovered
Pale mists of morning lay on the fields and the
rushes along one margin of the river; along the
other side ran a wall of tawny brick almost
overhanging the water. He had shipped his oars
and was drifting for a moment with the stream, when
he turned his head and saw that the monotony of the
long brick wall was broken by a bridge; rather an
elegant eighteenth-century sort of bridge with little
columns of white stone turning gray. There had been
floods and the river still stood very high, with
dwarfish trees waist deep in it, and rather a narrow
arc of white dawn gleamed under the curve of the
As his own boat went under the dark archway he
saw another boat coming toward him, rowed by a
man as solitary as himself. His posture prevented
much being seen of him, but as he neared the bridge
he stood up in the boat and turned round. He was
already so close to the dark entry, however, that his
whole figure was black against the morning light, and
March could see nothing of his face except the end of
two long whiskers or mustaches that gave something
sinister to the silhouette, like horns in the wrong place.
Even these details March would never have noticed
but for what happened in the same instant. As the
man came under the low bridge he made a leap at it
and hung, with his legs dangling, letting the boat float
away from under him. March had a momentary vision
of two black kicking legs; then of one black kicking
leg; and then of nothing except the eddying stream and
the long perspective of the wall. But whenever he
thought of it again, long afterward, when he
understood the story in which it figured, it was
always fixed in that one fantastic shape--as if those
wild legs were a grotesque graven ornament of the
bridge itself, in the manner of a gargoyle. At the
moment he merely passed, staring, down the stream.
He could see no flying figure on the bridge, so it must
have already fled; but he was half conscious of some
faint significance in the fact that among the trees
round the bridgehead opposite the wall he saw a
lamp-post; and, beside the lamp-post, the broad blue
back of an unconscious policeman.
Even before reaching the shrine of his political
pilgrimage he had many other things to think of
besides the odd incident of the bridge; for the
management of a boat by a solitary man was not
always easy even on such a solitary stream. And
indeed it was only by an unforeseen accident that he
was solitary. The boat had been purchased and the
whole expedition planned in conjunction with a friend,
who had at the last moment been forced to alter all
his arrangements. Harold March was to have
traveled with his friend Horne Fisher on that inland
voyage to Willowood Place, where the Prime
Minister was a guest at the moment. More and more
people were hearing of Harold March, for his striking
political articles were opening to him the doors of
larger and larger salons; but he had never met the
Prime Minister yet. Scarcely anybody among the
general public had ever heard of Horne Fisher; but he
had known the Prime Minister all his life. For these
reasons, had the two taken the projected journey
together, March might have been slightly disposed to
hasten it and Fisher vaguely content to lengthen it out.
For Fisher was one of those people who are born
knowing the Prime Minister. The knowledge seemed
to have no very exhilarant effect, and in his case bore
some resemblance to being born tired. But he was
distinctly annoyed to receive, just as he was doing a
little light packing of fishing tackle and cigars for the
journey, a telegram from Willowood asking him to
come down at once by train, as the Prime Minister
had to leave that night. Fisher knew that his friend the
journalist could not possibly start till the next day, and
he liked his friend the journalist, and had looked
forward to a few days on the river. He did not
particularly like or dislike the Prime Minister, but he
intensely disliked the alternative of a few hours in the
train. Nevertheless, he accepted Prime Ministers as
he accepted railway trains--as part of a system which
he, at least, was not the revolutionist sent on earth to
destroy. So he telephoned to March, asking him, with
many apologetic curses and
faint damns, to take the boat down the river as
arranged, that they might meet at Willowood by the
time settled; then he went outside and hailed a
taxicab to take him to the railway station. There he
paused at the bookstall to add to his light luggage a
number of cheap murder stories, which he read with
great pleasure, and without any premonition that he
was about to walk into as strange a story in real life.
A little before sunset he arrived, with his light
suitcase in hand, before the gate of the long riverside
gardens of Willowood Place, one of the smaller seats
of Sir Isaac Hook, the master of much shipping and
many newspapers. He entered by the gate giving on
the road, at the opposite side to the river, but there
was a mixed quality in all that watery landscape
which perpetually reminded a traveler that the river
was near. White gleams of water would shine
suddenly like swords or spears in the green thickets.
And even in the garden itself, divided into courts and
curtained with hedges and high garden trees, there
hung everywhere in the air the music of water. The
first of the green courts which he entered appeared
to be a somewhat neglected croquet lawn, in which
was a solitary young man playing croquet against
himself. Yet he was not an enthusiast for the game,
or even for the garden; and his sallow but well-featured face
looked rather sullen than otherwise. He
was only one of those young men who cannot
support the burden of consciousness unless they are
doing something, and whose conceptions of doing
something are limited to a game of some kind. He
was dark and well. dressed in a light holiday fashion,
and Fisher recognized him at once as a young man
named James Bullen, called, for some unknown
reason, Bunker. He was the nephew of Sir Isaac;
but, what was much more important at the moment,
he was also the private secretary of the Prime
"Hullo, Bunker!" observed Horne Fisher. "You're
the sort of man I wanted to see. Has your chief come
"He's only staying for dinner," replied Bullen, with
his eye on the yellow ball. "He's got a great speech to-morrow at
Birmingham and he's going straight
through to-night. He's motoring himself there; driving
the car, I mean. It's the one thing he's really proud
"You mean you're staying here with your uncle,
like a good boy?" replied Fisher. "But what will the
Chief do at Birmingham without the epigrams
whispered to him by his brilliant secretary?"
"Don't you start ragging me," said the young man
called Bunker. "I'm only too glad not to go trailing
after him. He doesn't know a thing about maps or
money or hotels or anything, and I have to dance
about like a courier. As for my
uncle, as I'm supposed to come into the estate, it's
only decent to be here sometimes."
"Very proper," replied the other. "Well, I shall see
you later on," and, crossing the lawn, he passed out
through a gap in the hedge.
He was walking across the lawn toward the
landing stage on the river, and still felt all around him,
under the dome of golden evening, an Old World
savor and reverberation in that riverhaunted garden.
The next square of turf which he crossed seemed at
first sight quite deserted, till he saw in the twilight of
trees in one corner of it a hammock and in the
hammock a man, reading a newspaper and swinging
one leg over the edge of the net.
Him also he hailed by name, and the man slipped
to the ground and strolled forward. It seemed fated
that he should feel something of the past in the
accidents of that place, for the figure might well have
been an early-Victorian ghost revisiting the ghosts of
the croquet hoops and mallets. It was the figure of an
elderly man with long whiskers that looked almost
fantastic, and a quaint and careful cut of collar and
cravat. Having been a fashionable dandy forty years
ago, he had managed to preserve the dandyism while
ignoring the fashions. A white top-hat lay beside the
Morning Post in the hammock behind him. This was
the Duke of Westmoreland, the relic of a family
really some centuries old; and the antiquity was
not heraldry but history. Nobody knew better than
Fisher how rare such noblemen are in fact, and how
numerous in fiction. But whether the duke owed the
general respect he enjoyed to the genuineness of his
pedigree or to the fact that he owned a vast amount
of very valuable property was a point about which
Mr. Fisher's opinion might have been more interesting
"You were looking so comfortable," said Fisher,
"that I thought you must be one of the servants. I'm
looking for somebody to take this bag of mine; I
haven't brought a man down, as I came away in a
"Nor have I, for that matter," replied the duke, with
some pride. "I never do. If there's one animal alive I
loathe it's a valet. I learned to dress myself at an
early age and was supposed to do it decently. I may
be in my second childhood, but I've not go so far as
being dressed like a child."
"The Prime Minister hasn't brought a valet; he's
brought a secretary instead," observed Fisher.
"Devilish inferior job. Didn't I hear that Harker was
"He's over there on the landing stage," replied the
duke, indifferently, and resumed the study of the
Fisher made his way beyond the last green wall of
the garden on to a sort of towing path
looking on the river and a wooden island opposite.
There, indeed, he saw a lean, dark figure with a stoop
almost like that of a vulture, a posture well known in
the law courts as that of Sir John Harker, the
Attorney-General. His face was lined with headwork,
for alone among the three idlers in the garden he was
a man who had made his own way; and round his
bald brow and hollow temples clung dull red hair,
quite flat, like plates of copper.
"I haven't seen my host yet," said Horne Fisher, in
a slightly more serious tone than he had used to the
others, "but I suppose I shall meet him at dinner."
"You can see him now; but you can't meet him,"
He nodded his head toward one end of the island
opposite, and, looking steadily in the same direction,
the other guest could see the dome of a bald head
and the top of a fishing rod, both equally motionless,
rising out of the tall undergrowth against the
background of the stream beyond. The fisherman
seemed to be seated against the stump of a tree and
facing toward the other bank, so that his face could
not be seen, but the shape of his head was
"He doesn't like to be disturbed when he's fishing,"
continued Harker. "It's a sort of fad of his to eat
nothing but fish, and he's very proud of catching his
own. Of course he's all for simplicity, like so many of
these millionaires. He likes to come in saying he's
worked for his daily bread like a laborer."
"Does he explain how he blows all the glass and
stuffs all the upholstery," asked Fisher, "and makes all
the silver forks, and grows all the grapes and
peaches, and designs all the patterns on the carpets?
I've always heard he was a busy man."
"I don't think he mentioned it," answered the
lawyer. "What is the meaning of this social satire?"
"Well, I am a trifle tired," said Fisher, "of the
Simple Life and the Strenuous Life as lived by our
little set. We're all really dependent in nearly
everything, and we all make a fuss about being
independent in something. The Prime Minister prides
himself on doing without a chauffeur, but he can't do
without a factotum and Jack-of-all-trades; and poor
old Bunker has to play the part of a universal genius,
which God knows he was never meant for. The duke
prides himself on doing without a valet, but, for all
that, he must give a lot of people an infernal lot of
trouble to collect such extraordinary old clothes as he
wears. He must have them looked up in the British
Museum or excavated out of the tombs. That white
hat alone must require a sort of expedition fitted out
to find it, like the North Pole. And here we have old
Hook pretending to produce his own fish when he couldn't
produce his own fish knives or fish forks to eat it
with. He may be simple about simple things like food,
but you bet he's luxurious about luxurious things,
especially little things. I don't include you; you've
worked too hard to enjoy playing at work."
"I sometimes think," said Harker, "that you conceal
a horrid secret of being useful sometimes. Haven't
you come down here to see Number One before he
goes on to Birmingham?"
Horne Fisher answered, in a lower voice: "Yes;
and I hope to be lucky enough to catch him before
dinner. He's got to see Sir Isaac about something just
"Hullo!" exclaimed Harker. "Sir Isaac's finished
his fishing. I know he prides himself on getting up at
sunrise and going in at sunset."
The old man on the island had indeed risen to his
feet, facing round and showing a bush of gray beard
with rather small, sunken features, but fierce
eyebrows and keen, choleric eyes. Carefully carrying
his fishing tackle, he was already making his way
back to the mainland across a bridge of flat stepping-stones a
little way down the shallow stream; then he
veered round, coming toward his guests and civilly
saluting them. There were several fish in his basket
and he was in a good temper.
"Yes," he said, acknowledging Fisher's polite
expression of surprise, "I get up before anybody
else in the house, I think. The early bird catches
"Unfortunately," said Harker, "it is the early fish
that catches the worm."
"But the early man catches the fish," replied the old man,
"But from what I hear, Sir Isaac, you are the late
man, too," interposed Fisher. "You must do with very
"I never had much time for sleeping," answered
Hook, "and I shall have to be the late man to-night,
anyhow. The Prime Minister wants to have a talk, he
tells me, and, all things considered, I think we'd better
be dressing for dinner."
Dinner passed off that evening without a word
of politics and little enough but ceremonial trifles.
The Prime Minister, Lord Merivale, who was a
long, slim man with curly gray hair, was gravely
complimentary to his host about his success as a
fisherman and the skill and patience he displayed;
the conversation flowed like the shallow stream
through the stepping-stones.
"It wants patience to wait for them, no doubt," said