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Sunday, 1-Sep-2013 03:04 Email | Share | | Bookmark
It was not long after sunrise

It was not long after sunrise, and Stephen Waterman, fresh from his dip in the river, had scrambled up the hillside from the hut in the alder-bushes where he had made his morning toilet.
An early ablution of this sort was not the custom of the farmers along the banks of the Saco, but the Waterman house was hardly a stone's throw from the water, and there was a clear, deep swimming-hole in the Willow Cove that would have tempted the busiest man, or the least cleanly, in York County. Then, too, Stephen was a child of the river, born, reared, schooled on its very brink, never happy unless he were on it, or in it, or beside it, or at least within sight or sound of it.
The immensity of the sea had always silenced and overawed him, left him cold in feeling. The river wooed him, caressed him, won his heart. It was just big enough to love. It was full of charms and changes, of varying moods and sudden surprises. Its voice stole in upon his ear with a melody far sweeter and more subtle than the boom of the ocean. Yet it was not without strength, and when it was swollen with the freshets of the spring and brimming with the bounty of its sister streams, it could dash and roar, boom and crash, with the best of them.
Stephen stood on the side porch, drinking in the glory of the sunrise, with the Saco winding like a silver ribbon through the sweet loveliness of the summer landscape.
And the river rolled on toward the sea, singing its morning song, creating and nourishing beauty at every step of its onward path. Cradled in the heart of a great mountain-range, it pursued its gleaming way, here lying silent in glassy lakes, there rushing into tinkling little falls, foaming great falls, and thundering cataracts. Scores of bridges spanned its width, but no steamers flurried its crystal depths. Here and there a rough little rowboat, tethered to a willow, rocked to and fro in some quiet bend of the shore. Here the silver gleam of a rising perch, chub, or trout caught the eye; there a pickerel lay rigid in the clear water, a fish carved in stone: here eels coiled in the muddy bottom of some pool; and there, under the deep shadows of the rocks, lay fat, sleepy bass, old, and incredibly wise, quite untempted by, and wholly superior to, the rural fisherman's worm.
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The river lapped the shores of peaceful meadows; it flowed along banks green with maple, beech, sycamore, and birch; it fell tempestuously over dams and fought its way between rocky cliffs crowned with stately firs. It rolled past forests of pine and hemlock and spruce, now gentle, now terrible; for there is said to be an Indian curse upon the Saco, whereby, with every great sun, the child of a paleface shall be drawn into its cruel depths. Lashed into fury by the stony reefs that impeded its progress, the river looked now sapphire, now gold, now white, now leaden gray; but always it was hurrying, hurrying on its appointed way to the sea.
After feasting his eyes and filling his heart with a morning draught of beauty, Stephen went in from the porch and, pausing at the stairway, called in stentorian tones: "Get up and eat your breakfast, Rufus! The boys will be picking the side jams today, and I'm going down to work on the logs. If you come along, bring your own pick-pole and peavey." Then, going to the kitchen pantry, he collected, from the various shelves, a pitcher of milk, a loaf of bread, half an apple pie, and a bowl of blueberries, and, with the easy methods of a household unswayed by feminine rule, moved toward a seat under an apple tree and took his morning meal in great apparent content. Having finished, and washed his dishes with much more thoroughness than is common to unsuperintended man, and having given Rufus the second call to breakfast with the vigor and acrimony that usually mark that unpleasant performance, he strode to a high point on the riverbank and, shading his eyes with his hand, gazed steadily downstream.
Patches of green fodder and blossoming potatoes melted into soft fields that had been lately mown, and there were glimpses of tasseling corn rising high to catch the sun. Far, far down on the opposite bank of the river was the hint of a brown roof, and the tip of a chimney that sent a slender wisp of smoke into the clear air. Beyond this, and farther back from the water, the trees apparently hid a cluster of other chimneys, for thin spirals of smoke ascended here and there. The little brown roof could never have revealed itself to any but a lover's eye; and that discerned something even smaller, something like a pinkish speck, that moved hither and thither on a piece of greensward that sloped to the waterside.


Wednesday, 5-Jun-2013 07:05 Email | Share | | Bookmark
It was five o'clock Saturday afternoon

It was five o'clock Saturday afternoon, and Edgar Noble stood on the Olivers' steps, Mrs. Oliver waving her hand from an upper window, and Polly standing on the stairs saying good-by.
"Come over to dinner some night, won't you, Edgar?" she asked carelessly; "any night you like, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday."
"Wednesday, please, as it comes first!" said Edgar roguishly. "May I help cook it?"
"You not only may, but you must. Good-by."
Polly went upstairs, and, after washing the lunch-dishes in a reflective turn of mind which did away with part of the irksomeness of the task, went into the parlor and sat on a stool at her mother's feet.
A soft rain had begun to fall; the fire burned brightly; the bamboo cast feathery shadows on the wall; from a house across the street came the sound of a beautiful voice singing,--

"Oh, holy night! the stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth!"

All was peaceful and homelike; if it would only last, thought Polly.
"You are well to-night, mamacita."
A look of repressed pain crossed Mrs. Oliver's face as she smoothed the bright head lying in her lap. "Very comfortable, dear, and very happy; as who would not be, with such a darling comfort of a daughter? Always sunny, always helpful, these last dear weeks,--cook, housekeeper, nurse, banker, all in one, with never a complaint as one burden after another is laid on her willing shoulders."
"Don't, mamma!" whispered Polly, seeking desperately for her handkerchief. "I can stand scolding, but compliments always make me cry; you know they do. If Ferdinand and Isabella had told Columbus to discover my pocket instead of America, he would n't have been as famous as he is now; there, I 've found it. Now, mamma, you know your whole duty is to be well, well, well, and I 'll take care of everything else."
"I 've been thinking about Edgar, Polly, and I have a plan, but I shall not think of urging it against your will; you are the mistress of the house nowadays."
"I know what it is," sighed Polly. "You think we ought to take another boarder. A desire for boarders is like a taste for strong drink; once acquired, it is almost impossible to eradicate it from the system."
"I do think we ought to take this boarder. Not because it will make a difference in our income, but I am convinced that if Edgar can have a pleasant home and our companionship just at this juncture, he will break away from his idle habits, and perhaps his bad associations, and take a fresh start. I feel that we owe it to our dear old friends to do this for them, if we can. Of course, if it proves too great a tax upon you, or if I should have another attack of illness, it will be out of the question; but who knows? perhaps two or three months will accomplish our purpose. He can pay me whatever he has been paying in Berkeley, less the amount of his fare to and fro. We might have little Yung Lee again, and Mrs. Howe will be glad to rent her extra room. It has a fireplace, and will serve for both bedroom and study, if we add a table and student-lamp."
"I don't believe he will come," said Polly. "We are all very well as a diversion, but as a constancy we should pall upon him. I never could keep up to the level I have been maintaining for the last twenty-four hours, that is certain. It is nothing short of degradation to struggle as hard to amuse a boy as I have struggled to amuse Edgar. I don't believe he could endure such exhilaration week after week, and I am very sure it would kill me. Besides, he will fancy he is going to be watched and reported at headquarters in Santa Barbara!"
"I think very likely you are right; but perhaps I can put the matter so that it will strike him in some other light."
"Very well, mamacita; I 'm resigned. It will break up all our nice little two-ing, but we will be his guardian angel. I will be his guardian and you his angel, and oh, how he would dislike it if he knew it! But wait until odious Mr. Tony meets him to-night! What business is it of his if my hair is red! When he chaffs him for breaking his appointment, I dare say we shall never see him again."

"You are so jolly comfortable here! This house is the next best thing to mother," said Edgar, with boyish heartiness, as he stood on the white goatskin with his back to the Olivers' cheerful fireplace.
It was Wednesday evening of the next week. Polly was clearing away the dinner things, and Edgar had been arranging Mrs. Oliver's chair and pillows and footstool like the gentle young knight he was by nature.
What wonder that all the fellows, even "smirking Tony," liked him and sought his company? He who could pull an oar, throw a ball, leap a bar, ride a horse, or play a game of skill as if he had been born for each particular occupation,--what wonder that the ne'er-do-wells and idlers and scamps and dullards battered at his door continually and begged him to leave his books and come out and "stir up things"!
"If you think it is so 'jolly,'" said Mrs. Oliver, "how would you like to come here and live with us awhile?"
This was a bombshell. The boy hesitated naturally, being taken quite by surprise. ("Confound it!" he thought rapidly, "how shall I get out of this scrape without being impolite! They would n't give me one night out a week if I came!") "I 'd like it immensely, you know," he said aloud, "and it's awfully kind of you to propose it, and I appreciate it, but I don't think--I don't see, that is, how I could come, Mrs. Oliver. In the first place, I 'm quite sure my home people would dislike my intruding on your privacy; and then,--well, you know I am out in the evening occasionally, and should n't like to disturb you, besides, I 'm sure Miss Polly has her hands full now."
"Of course you would be often out in the evening, though I don't suppose you are a 'midnight reveler.' You would simply have a latch-key and go out and come in as you liked. Mrs. Howe's room is very pleasant, as you know; and you could study there before your open fire, and join us when you felt like it. Is it as convenient and pleasant for you to live on this side of the bay, and go back and forth?"
"Oh yes! I don't mind that part of it." ("This is worse than the Inquisition; I don't know but that she will get me in spite of everything!")
"Oh dear!" thought Tacoma Escort Mrs. Oliver, "he does n't want to Tacoma Escorts come; and I don't want him to come, and I must Tacoma Asian Escort urge him to come against his will. How very Tacoma Asian Escorts disagreeable missionary work is, to be sure! I sympathize with him, too. He is afraid of petticoat government, and fears that he will lose some of his precious liberty. If I had fifty children, I believe I should want them all girls."
"Besides, dear Mrs. Oliver," continued Edgar, after an awkward pause, "I don't think you are strong enough to have me here. I believe you 're only proposing it for my good. You know that I 'm in a forlorn students' boarding-house, and you are anxious to give me 'all the comforts of a home' for my blessed mother's sake, regardless of your own discomforts."
"Come here a moment and sit beside me on Polly's footstool. You were nearly three years old when Polly was born. You were all staying with me that summer. Did you know that you were my first boarders? You were a tiny fellow in kilts, very much interested in the new baby, and very anxious to hold her. I can see you now rocking the cradle as gravely as a man. Polly has hard times and many sorrows before her, Edgar! You are old enough to see that I cannot stay with her much longer."
Edgar was too awed and too greatly moved to answer.
"I should be very glad to have you with us, both because I think we could in some degree take the place of your mother and Margery, and because I should be glad to feel that in any sudden emergency, which I do not in the least expect, we should have a near friend to lean upon ever so little."
Edgar's whole heart went out in a burst of sympathy and manly tenderness. In that moment he felt willing to give up every personal pleasure, if he might lift a feather's weight of care from the fragile woman who spoke to him with such sweetness and trust. For there is nothing hopeless save meanness and poverty of nature; and any demand on Edgar Noble's instinct of chivalrous protection would never be discounted.
"I will come gladly, gladly, Mrs. Oliver," he said, "if only I can be of service; though I fear it will be all the other way. Please borrow me for a son, just to keep me in training, and I 'll try to bear my honors worthily."
"Thank you, dear boy. Then it is settled, if you are sure that the living in the city will not interfere with your studies; that is the main thing. We all look to you to add fresh laurels to your old ones. Are you satisfied with your college life thus far?"
("They have n't told her anything. That 's good," thought Edgar.) "Oh yes; fairly well! I don't--I don't go in for being a 'dig,' Mrs. Oliver. I shall never be the valedictorian, and all that sort of thing; it does n't pay. Who ever hears of valedictorians twenty years after graduation? Class honors don't amount to much."
"I suppose they can be overestimated; but they must prove some sort of excellence which will stand one in good stead in after years. I should never advise a boy or girl to work for honors alone; but if after doing one's very best the honors come naturally, they are very pleasant."
"Half the best scholars in our class are prigs," said Edgar discontentedly. "Always down on the live fellows who want any sport. Sometimes I wish I had never gone to college at all. Unless you deny yourself every pleasure, and live the life of a hermit, you can't take any rank. My father expects me to get a hundred and one per cent. in every study, and thinks I ought to rise with the lark and go to bed with the chickens. I don't know whether he ever sowed any wild oats; if he did, it was so long ago that he has quite forgotten I must sow mine some time. He ought to be thankful they are such a harmless sort."
"I don't understand boys very well," said Mrs. Oliver smilingly. "You see, I never have had any to study, and you must teach me a few things. Now, about this matter of wild oats. Why is it so necessary that they should be sown? Is Margery sowing hers? I don't know that Polly feels bound to sow any."
"I dare say they are not necessities," laughed Edgar, coloring. "Perhaps they are only luxuries."
Mrs. Oliver looked at the fire soberly. "I know there may be plenty of fine men who have a discreditable youth to look back upon,--a youth finally repented of and atoned for; but that is rather a weary process, I should think, and they are surely no stronger men _because_ of the 'wild oats,' but rather in _spite_ of them."
"I suppose so," sighed Edgar; "but it's so easy for women to be good! I know you were born a saint, to begin with. You don't know what it is to be in college, and to want to do everything that you can't and ought n't, and nothing that you can and ought, and get all tangled up in things you never meant to touch. However, we 'll see!"
Polly peeped in at the door very softly.
"They have n't any light; that 's favorable. He 's sitting on my footstool; he need n't suppose he is going to have _that_ place! I think she has her hand on his arm,--yes, she has! And he is stroking it! Oh, you poor innocent child, you do not realize that that soft little hand of my mother's never lets go! It slips into a five and three-quarters glove, but you 'll be surprised, Mr. Edgar, when you discover you cannot get away from it. Very well, then; it is settled. I 'll go back and put the salt fish in soak for my boarder's breakfast. I seem to have my hands rather full!--a house to keep, an invalid mother, and now a boarder. The very thing I vowed that I never would have--another boarder; what grandmamma would have called an 'unstiddy boy boarder!"
And as Polly clattered the pots and pans, the young heathen in the parlor might have heard her fresh voice singing with great energy:

"Shall we, whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high,--
Shall we to men benighted
The lamp of life deny?"


Thursday, 9-May-2013 07:43 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Have you ever journeyed to that Mountain?

It may have been ten o’clock on the following morning, or a little past it, when the Shaman Simbri came into my room and asked me how I had slept.
“Like a log,” I answered, “like a log. A drugged man could not have rested more soundly.”
“Indeed, friend Holly, and yet you look fatigued.”
“My dreams troubled me somewhat,” I answered. “I suffer from such things. But surely by your face, friend Simbri, you cannot have slept at all, for never yet have I seen you with so weary an air.”
“I am weary,” he said, with a sigh. “Last night I spent up on my business — watching at the Gates.”
“What gates?” I asked. “Those by which we entered this kingdom, for, if so, I would rather watch than travel them.”
“The Gates of the Past and of the Future. Yes, those two which you entered, if you will; for did you not travel out of a wondrous Past towards a Future that you cannot guess? ”
“But both of which interest you,” I suggested.
“Perhaps,” he answered, then added, “I come to tell you that within an hour you are to start for the city, whither the Khania has but now gone on to make ready for you.”
“Yes; only you told me that she had gone some days ago. Well, I am sound again and prepared to march, but say, how is my foster-son?”
“He mends, he mends. But you shall see him for yourself. It is the Khania’s will. Here come the slaves bearing your robes, and with them I leave you.”
So with their assistance I dressed myself, first in good, clean under-linen, then in wide woollen trousers and vest, and lastly in a fur-lined camel-hair robe dyed black that was very comfortable to wear, and in appearance not unlike a long overcoat. A flat cap of the same material and a pair of boots made of untanned hide completed my attire.
Scarcely was I ready when the yellow-faced servants, with many bows, took me by the hand and led me down the passages and stairs of the Gate-house to its door. Here, to my great joy, I found Leo, looking pale and troubled, but otherwise as well as I could expect after his sickness. He was attired like myself, save that his garments were of a finer quality, and the overcoat was white, with a hood to it, added, I suppose, to protect the wound in his head from cold and the sun. This white dress I thought became him very well, also about it there was nothing grotesque or even remarkable. He sprang to me and seized my hand, asking how I fared and where I had been hidden away, a greeting of which, as I could see, the warmth was not lost upon Simbri, who stood by.
I answered, well enough now that we were together again, and for the rest I would tell him later.
Then they brought us palanquins, carried, each of them, by two ponies, one of which was harnessed ahead and the other behind between long shaft-like poles. In these we seated ourselves, and at a sign from Simbri slaves took the leading ponies by the bridle and we started, leaving behind us that grim old Gate-house through which we were the first strangers to pass for many a generation.
For a mile or more our road ran down a winding, rocky gorge, till suddenly it took a turn, and the country of Kaloon lay stretched before us. At our feet was a river, probably the same with which we had made acquaintance in the gulf, where, fed by the mountain snows, it had its source. Here it flowed rapidly, but on the vast, alluvial lands beneath became a broad and gentle stream that wound its way through the limitless plains till it was lost in the blue of the distance.
To the north, however, this smooth, monotonous expanse was broken by that Mountain which had guided us from afar, the House of Fire. It was a great distance from us, more than a hundred miles, I should say, yet even so a most majestic sight in that clear air. Many leagues from the base of its peak the ground began to rise in brown and rugged hillocks, from which sprang the holy Mountain itself, a white and dazzling point that soared full twenty thousand feet into the heavens.
Yes, and there upon the nether lip of its crater stood the gigantic pillar, surmounted by a yet more gigantic loop of virgin rock, whereof the blackness stood out grimly against the blue of the sky beyond and the blinding snow beneath.
We gazed at it with awe, as well we might, this beacon of our hopes that for aught we knew might also prove their monument, feeling even then that yonder our fate would declare itself. I noted further that all those with us did it reverence by bowing their heads as they caught sight of the peak, and by laying the first finger of the right hand across the first finger of the left, a gesture, as we afterwards discovered, designed to avert its evil influence. Yes, even Simbri bowed, a yielding to inherited superstition of which I should scarcely have suspected him.
“Have you ever journeyed to that Mountain?” asked Leo of him.
Simbri shook his head and answered evasively.
“The people of the Plain do not set foot upon the Mountain. Among its slopes beyond the river which washes them, live hordes of brave and most savage men, with whom we are oftentimes at war; for when they are hungry they raid our cattle and our crops. Moreover, there, when the Mountain labours, run red streams of molten rock, and now and again hot ashes fall that slay the traveller.”
“Do the ashes ever fall in your country?” asked Leo.
“They have been known to do so when the Spirit of the Mountain is angry, and that is why we fear her.”
“Who is this Spirit?” said Leo eagerly.
“I do not know, lord,” he answered with impatience. “Can men see a spirit?”
“You look as though you might, and had, not so long ago,” replied Leo, fixing his gaze on the old man’s waxen face and uneasy eyes. For now their horny calm was gone from the eyes of Simbri, which seemed as though they had beheld some sight that haunted him.
“You do me too much honour, lord,” he replied; “my skill and vision do not reach so far. But see, here is the landing-stage, where boats await us, for the rest of our journey is by water.”
These boats proved to be roomy and comfortable, having flat bows and sterns, since, although sometimes a sail was hoisted, they were designed for towing, not to be rowed with oars. Leo and I entered the largest of them, and to our joy were left alone except for the steersman.
Behind us was another boat, in which were attendants and slaves, and some men who looked like soldiers, for they carried bows and swords. Now the ponies were taken from the palanquins, that were packed away, and ropes of green hide, fastened to iron rings in the prows of the boats, were fixed to the towing tackle with which the animals had been reharnessed. Then we started, the ponies, two arranged tandem fashion to each punt, trotting along a well-made towing path that was furnished with wooden bridges wherever canals or tributary streams entered the main river.
“Thank Heaven,” said Leo, “we are together again at last! Do you remember, Horace, that when we entered the land of Kor it was thus, in a boat? The tale repeats itself.”
“I can quite believe it,” I answered. “I can believe anything. Leo, I say that we are but gnats meshed in a web, and yonder Khania is the spider and Simbri the Shaman guards the net. But tell me all you remember of what has happened to you, and be quick, for I do not know how long they may leave us alone.”
“Well,” he said, “of course I remember our arrival at that Gate after the lady and the old man had pulled us out of the river, and, Horace, talking of spiders reminds me of hanging at the end of that string of yak’s hide. Not that I need much reminding, for I am not likely to forget it. Do you know I cut the rope because I felt that I was going mad, and wished to die sane. What happened to you? Did you slip?”
“No; I jumped after you. It seemed best to end together, so that we might begin again together.”
“Brave old Horace!” he said affectionately, the tears starting to his grey eyes.
“Well, never mind all that,” I broke in; “you see you were right when you said that we should get through, and we have. Now for your tale.”
“It is interesting, but not very long,” he answered, colouring. “I went to sleep, and when I woke it was to find a beautiful woman leaning over me, and Horace — at first I thought that it was — you know who, and that she kissed me; but perhaps it was all a dream.”
“It was no dream,” I answered. “I saw it.”
“I am sorry to hear it — very sorry. At any rate there was the beautiful woman — the Khania — for I saw her plenty of times afterwards, and talked to her in my best modern Greek — by the way, Ayesha knew the old Greek; that’s curious.”
“She knew several of the ancient tongues, and so did other people. Go on.”
“Well, she nursed me very kindly, but, so far as I know, until last night there was nothing more affectionate, and I had sense enough to refuse to talk about our somewhat eventful past. I pretended not to understand, said that we were explorers, etc., and kept asking her where you were, for I forgot to say I found that you had gone. I think that she grew rather angry with me, for she wanted to know something, and, as you can guess, I wanted to know a good deal. But I could get nothing out of her except that she was the Khania — a person in authority. There was no doubt about that, for when one of those slaves or servants came in and interrupted her while she was trying to draw the facts out of me, she called to some of her people to throw him out of the window, and he only saved himself by going down the stairs very quickly.
“Well, I could make nothing of her, and she could make little of me, though why she should be so tenderly interested in a stranger, I don’t know — unless, unless — oh! who is she, Horace?”
“If you will go on I will tell you what I think presently. One tale at a time.”
“Very good. I got quite well and strong, comparatively speaking, till the climax last night, which upset me again. After that old prophet, Simbri, had brought me my supper, just as I was thinking of going to sleep, the Khania came in alone, dressed like a queen. I can tell you she looked really royal, like a princess in a fairy book, with a crown on, and her chestnut black hair flowing round her.
“Well, Horace, then she began to make love to me in a refined sort of way, or so I thought, looked at me and sighed, saying that we had known each other in the past — very well indeed I gathered — and implying that she wished to continue our friendship. I fenced with her as best I could; but a man feels fairly helpless lying on his back with a very handsome and very imperial-looking lady standing over him and paying him compliments.
“The end of it was that, driven to it by her questions and to stop that sort of thing, I told her that I was looking for my wife, whom I had lost, for, after all, Ayesha is my wife, Horace. She smiled and suggested that I need not look far; in short, that the lost wife was already found — in herself, who had come to save me from death in the river. Indeed, she spoke with such conviction that I grew sure that she was not merely amusing herself, and felt very much inclined to believe her, for, after all, Ayesha may be changed now.
“Then while I was at my wits’ end I remembered the lock of hair — all that remains to us of her ,” and Leo touched his breast. “I drew it out and compared it with the Khania’s, and at the sight of it she became quite different, jealous, I suppose, for it is longer than hers, and not in the least like.
“Horace, I tell you that the touch of that lock of hair — for she did touch it — appeared to act upon her nature like nitric acid upon sham gold. It turned it black; all the bad in her came out. In her anger her voice sounded coarse; yes, she grew almost vulgar, and, as you know, when Ayesha was in a rage she might be wicked as we understand it, and was certainly terrible, but she was never either coarse or vulgar, any more than lightning is.
“Well, from that moment I was sure that whoever this Khania may be, she had nothing to do with Ayesha; they are so different that they never could have been the same — like the hair. So I lay quiet and let her talk, and coax, and threaten on, until at length she drew herself up and marched from the room, and I heard her lock the door behind her. That’s all I have to tell you, and quite enough too, for I don’t think that the Khania has done with me, and, to say the truth, I am afraid of her.”
“Yes,” I said, “quite enough. Now sit still, and don’t start or talk loud, for that steersman is probably a spy, and I can feel old Simbri’s eyes fixed upon our backs. Don’t interrupt either, for our time alone may be short.”
Then I set to work and told him everything I knew, while he listened in blank astonishment.
“Great Heavens! what a tale,” he exclaimed as I finished. “Now, who is this Hesea who sent the letter from the Mountain? And who, who is the Khania?”
“Who does your instinct tell you that she is, Leo?”
“Amenartas?” he whispered doubtfully. “The woman who wrote the Sherd , whom Ayesha said was the Egyptian princess — my wife two thousand years ago? Amenartas re-born?”
I nodded. “I think so. Why not? As I have told you again and again, I have always been certain of one thing, that if we were allowed to see the next act of the piece, we should find Amenartas, or rather the spirit of Amenartas, playing a leading part in it; you will remember I wrote as much in that record.
“If the old Buddhist monk Kou-en could remember his past, as thousands of them swear that they do, and be sure of his identity continued from that past, why should not this woman, with so much at stake, helped as she is by the wizardry of the Shaman, her uncle, faintly remember hers?
“At any rate, Leo, why should she not still be sufficiently under its influence to cause her, without any fault or seeking of her own, to fall madly in love at first sight with a man whom, after all, she has always loved?”
“The argument seems sound enough, Horace, and if so I am sorry for the Khania, who hasn’t much choice in the matter — been forced into it, so to speak.”
“Yes, but meanwhile your foot is in a trap again. Guard yourself, Leo, guard yourself. I believe that this is a trial sent to you, and doubtless there will be more to follow. But I believe also that it would be better for you to die than to make any mistake.”
“I know it well,” he answered; “and you need not be afraid. Whatever this Khania may have been to me in the past — if she was anything at all — that story is done with. I seek Ayesha, and Ayesha alone, and Venus herself shall not Tacoma Escort tempt me from her.”
Then we began to speak with Tacoma Escorts hope and fear of that mysterious Tacoma Asian Escort Hesea who had sent the letter from the Tacoma Asian Escorts Mountain, commanding the Shaman Simbri to meet us: the priestess or spirit whom he declared was “mighty from of old” and had “servants in the earth and air.”
Presently the prow of our barge bumped against the bank of the river, and looking round I saw that Simbri had left the boat in which he sat and was preparing to enter ours. This he did, and, placing himself gravely on a seat in front of us, explained that nightfall was coming on, and he wished to give us his company and protection through the dark.
“And to see that we do not give him the slip in it,” muttered Leo.
Then the drivers whipped up their ponies, and we went on again.
“Look behind you,” said Simbri presently, “and you will see the city where you will sleep to-night.”
We turned ourselves, and there, about ten miles away, perceived a flat-roofed town of considerable, though not of very great size. Its position was good, for it was set upon a large island that stood a hundred feet or more above the level of the plain, the river dividing into two branches at the foot of it, and, as we discovered afterwards, uniting again beyond.
The vast mound upon which this city was built had the appearance of being artificial, but very possibly the soil whereof it was formed had been washed up in past ages during times of flood, so that from a mudbank in the centre of the broad river it grew by degrees to its present proportions. With the exception of a columned and towered edifice that crowned the city and seemed to be encircled by gardens, we could see no great buildings in the place.
“How is the city named?” asked Leo of Simbri.
“Kaloon,” he answered, “as was all this land even when my fore-fathers, the conquerors, marched across the mountains and took it more than two thousand years ago. They kept the ancient title, but the territory of the Mountain they called Hes, because they said that the loop upon yonder peak was the symbol of a goddess of this name whom their general worshipped.”
“Priestesses still live there, do they not?” said Leo, trying in his turn to extract the truth.
“Yes, and priests also. The College of them was established by the conquerors, who subdued all the land. Or rather, it took the place of another College of those who fashioned the Sanctuary and the Temple, whose god was the fire in the Mountain, as it is that of the people of Kaloon today.”
“Then who is worshipped there now?”
“The goddess Hes, it is said; but we know little of the matter, for between us and the Mountain folk there has been enmity for ages. They kill us and we kill them, for they are jealous of their shrine, which none may visit save by permission, to consult the Oracle and to make prayer or offering in times of calamity, when a Khan dies, or the waters of the river sink and the crops fail, or when ashes fall and earthquakes shake the land, or great sickness comes. Otherwise, unless they attack us, we leave them alone, for though every man is trained to arms, and can fight if need be, we are a peaceful folk, who cultivate the soil from generation to generation, and thus grow rich. Look round you. Is it not a scene of peace?”
We stood up in the boat and gazed about us at the pastoral prospect. Everywhere appeared herds of cattle feeding upon meadow lands, or troops of mules and horses, or square fields sown with corn and outlined by trees. Village folk, also, clad in long, grey gowns, were labouring on the land, or, their day’s toil finished, driving their beasts homewards along roads built upon the banks of the irrigation dykes, towards the hamlets that were placed on rising knolls amidst tall poplar groves.
In its sharp contrast with the arid deserts and fearful mountains amongst which we had wandered for so many years, this country struck us as most charming, and indeed, seen by the red light of the sinking sun on that spring day, even as beautiful with the same kind of beauty which is to be found in Holland. One could understand too that these landowners and peasant-farmers would by choice be men of peace, and what a temptation their wealth must offer to the hungry, half-savage tribes of the mountains.
Also it was easy to guess when the survivors of Alexander’s legions under their Egyptian general burst through the iron band of snow-clad hills and saw this sweet country, with its homes, its herds, and its ripening grass, that they must have cried with one voice, “We will march and fight and toil no more. Here we will sit us down to live and die.” Thus doubtless they did, taking them wives from among the women of the people of the land which they had conquered — perhaps after a single battle.
Now as the light faded the wreaths of smoke which hung over the distant Fire-mountain began to glow luridly. Redder and more angry did they become while the darkness gathered, till at length they seemed to be charged with pulsing sheets of flame propelled from the womb of the volcano, which threw piercing beams of light through the eye of the giant loop that crowned its brow. Far, far fled those beams, making a bright path across the land, and striking the white crests of the bordering wall of mountains. High in the air ran that path, over the dim roofs of the city of Kaloon, over the river, yes, straight above us, over the mountains, and doubtless — though there we could not follow them — across the desert to that high eminence on its farther side where we had lain bathed in their radiance. It was a wondrous and most impressive sight, one too that filled our companions with fear, for the steersmen in our boats and the drivers on the towing-path groaned aloud and began to utter prayers. “What do they say?” asked Leo of Simbri.
“They say, lord, that the Spirit of the Mountain is angry, and passes down yonder flying light that is called the Road of Hes to work some evil to our land. Therefore they pray her not to destroy them.”
“Then does that light not always shine thus?” he asked again.
“Nay, but seldom. Once about three months ago, and now to-night, but before that not for years. Let us pray that it portends no misfortune to Kaloon and its inhabitants.”
For some minutes this fearsome illumination continued, then it ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and there remained of it only the dull glow above the crest of the peak.
Presently the moon rose, a white, shining ball, and by its rays we perceived that we drew near to the city. But there was still something left for us to see before we reached its shelter. While we sat quietly in the boat — for the silence was broken only by the lapping of the still waters against its sides and the occasional splash of the slackened tow-line upon their surface — we heard a distant sound as of a hunt in full cry.
Nearer and nearer it came, its volume swelling every moment, till it was quite close at last. Now echoing from the trodden earth of the towing-path — not that on which our ponies travelled, but the other on the west bank of the river — was heard the beat of the hoofs of a horse galloping furiously. Presently it appeared, a fine, white animal, on the back of which sat a man. It passed us like a flash, but as he went by the man lifted himself and turned his head, so that we saw his face in the moonlight; saw also the agony of fear that was written on it and in his eyes.
He had come out of the darkness. He was gone into the darkness, but after him swelled that awful music. Look! a dog appeared, a huge, red dog, that dropped its foaming muzzle to the ground as it galloped, then lifted it and uttered a deep-throated, bell-like bay. Others followed, and yet others: in all there must have been a hundred of them, every one baying as it took the scent.
“The death-hounds! ” I muttered, clasping Leo by the arm.
“Yes,” he answered, “they are running that poor devil. Here comes the huntsman.”
As he spoke there appeared a second figure, splendidly mounted, a cloak streaming from his shoulders, and in his hand a long whip, which he waved. He was big but loosely jointed, and as he passed he turned his face also, and we saw that it was that of a madman. There could be no doubt of it; insanity blazed in those hollow eyes and rang in that savage, screeching laugh.
“The Khan! The Khan!” said Simbri, bowing, and I could see that he was afraid.
Now he too was gone, and after him came his guards. I counted eight of them, all carrying whips, with which they flogged their horses.
“What does this mean, friend Simbri?” I asked, as the sounds grew faint in the distance.
“It means, friend Holly,” he answered, “that the Khan does justice in his own fashion — hunting to death one that has angered him.”
“What then is his crime? And who is that poor man?”
“He is a great lord of this land, one of the royal kinsmen, and the crime for which he has been condemned is that he told the Khania he loved her, and offered to make war upon her husband and kill him, if she would promise herself to him in marriage. But she hated the man, as she hates all men, and brought the matter before the Khan. That is all the story.”
“Happy is that prince who has so virtuous a wife!” I could not help saying unctuously, but with meaning, and the old wretch of a Shaman turned his head at my words and began to stroke his white beard.
It was but a little while afterwards that once more we heard the baying of the death-hounds. Yes, they were heading straight for us, this time across country. Again the white horse and its rider appeared, utterly exhausted, both of them, for the poor beast could scarcely struggle on to the towing-path. As it gained it a great red hound with a black ear gripped its flank, and at the touch of the fangs it screamed aloud in terror as only a horse can. The rider sprang from its back, and, to our horror, ran to the river’s edge, thinking evidently to take refuge in our boat. But before ever he reached the water the devilish brutes were upon him.
What followed I will not describe, but never shall I forget the scene of those two heaps of worrying wolves, and of the maniac Khan, who yelled in his fiendish joy, and cheered on his death-hounds to finish their red work.


Monday, 15-Apr-2013 07:08 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Donte Drumm's defense team.

The investigator trailed Joey Gamble for three days before he made contact. Gamble wasn't hiding, nor was he hard to find. He was an assistant manager at a mammoth auto parts discount warehouse in the Houston suburb of Mission Bend, his third job in the past four years. He had one divorce under his belt and perhaps another on the way. He and his second wife were not living together and had retreated to neutral corners where the lawyers were waiting. There wasn't much to fight over, at least not in assets. There was one child, a little boy with autism, and neither parent truly wanted custody. So they fought anyway.
The file on Gamble was as old as the case itself, and the investigator knew it by heart. After high school, the kid played one year of football at a junior college, then dropped out. He hung around Slone for a few years working at various jobs and spending most of his spare time in the gym, where he ate steroids and built himself into a hulking specimen. He boasted of becoming a professional bodybuilder, but eventually grew tired of the work. He married a local girl, divorced her, moved to Dallas, and then drifted to Houston. According to the high school yearbook, Class of 1999, he planned to own a cattle ranch if the NFL thing didn't work out.
It did not, nor did the ranch, and Joey was holding a clipboard and frowning at a display of windshield wipers when the investigator made his move. The long aisle was empty. It was almost noon, a Monday, and the store was practically empty.
"Are you Joey?" the investigator asked with a tight smile just under a thick mustache.
Joey glanced down at the plastic name badge pinned above his shirt pocket. "That's me." He tried to return the smile. This was, after all, retail, and the customer must be adored. However, this guy did not appear to be a customer.
"My name's Fred Pryor." The right hand shot out like a boxing punch bound for the gut. "I'm a private investigator." Joey grabbed it, almost in self-defense, and they shook hands for a few awkward seconds. "Nice to meet you."
"A pleasure," Joey said, his radar at full alert. Mr. Pryor was about fifty years old, thick in the chest, with a round tough face topped with gray hair that required work each morning. He wore a standard navy blazer, tan polyester slacks that were straining at the waist, and, of course, a pair of well-shined, pointed-toe boots.
"What kind of investigator?" Joey asked.
"I'm not a cop, Joey. I'm a private investigator, duly licensed by the State of Texas."
"You got a gun?"
"Yep." Pryor flung open his blazer to reveal a 9-millimeter Glock strapped under his left armpit. "You wanna see the permit?" he asked.
"No. Who are you working for?"
"Donte Drumm's defense team."
The shoulders sagged a bit, the eyes rolled, the air escaped in one quick sigh of frustration, as if to say, "Not that again." But Pryor expected this and moved in quickly. "I'll buy you lunch, Joey. We can't talk here. There's a Mexican place around the corner. Meet me there. Give me thirty minutes, okay? That's all I ask. You get lunch. I get some face time. Then maybe you'll never see me again."
The Monday special was quesadillas, all you can eat for $6.50. The doctor told him to lose some weight, but he craved Mexican food, especially the greased-up, flash-fried, American version.
"What do you want?" he asked.
Pryor glanced around as if others were listening. "Thirty minutes. Look, Joey, I'm not a cop. I have no authority, no warrant, no right to ask for anything. But you know the history better than me."
Pryor would later report to Robbie Flak that at that point the kid lost his edge, stopped smiling, and his eyes half closed in a look of submission and sadness. It was as if he knew this day would eventually arrive. At that moment, Pryor was certain they would catch a break.
Joey glanced at his watch and said, "I'll be there in twenty minutes. Order me one of their house margaritas."
"You got it." Pryor thought that drinking at lunch could be problematic, at least for Joey. But then, the alcohol might help.
The house margarita was served in a clear, bowl-shaped pitcher of some sort and was enough of a beverage for several thirsty men. As the minutes passed, condensation formed on the glass and the ice began to melt. Pryor sipped iced tea with lemon and sent a message to Flak: "Meeting JG for lunch now. Later."
Joey arrived on time and managed to squeeze his sizable frame into the booth. He slid the glass over, took the straw, and inhaled an impressive quantity of the booze. Pryor made some small talk until the waiter took their orders and disappeared, then he moved in closer and got to the point.
"Donte will be executed Thursday. Did you know that?"
Joey nodded slowly. Affirmative. "I saw it in the paper. Plus, I talked to my mother last night and she said the town is buzzing."
The mother was still in Slone. The father was working in Oklahoma, maybe separated. An older brother was in Slone. A younger sister had moved to California.
"We're trying to stop the execution, Joey, and we need your help."
"Who's we?"
"I'm working for Robbie Flak."
Joey almost spit. "Is that nut still around?"
"Of course he is. He'll always be around. He's represented Donte from day one, and I'm sure he'll be in Huntsville Thursday night at the bitter end. That is, if we can't stop the execution."
"The paper said the appeals have run out. There's nothing left to do."
"Maybe, but you never quit. A man's life is at stake, how can you quit?"
Another pull on the straw. Pryor hoped the guy was one of those passive drunks who take the booze and sort of melt into the furnishings, as opposed to the hell-raisers who knock back two drinks and try to clear out the bar.
Joey smacked his lips and said, "I guess you're convinced he's innocent, right?"
"I am. Always have been."
"Based on what?"
"Based on the complete lack of physical evidence; based on the fact that he had an alibi, he was somewhere else; based on the fact that his confession is as bogus as a three-dollar bill; based on the fact that he's passed at least four polygraph tests; based on the fact that he has always denied any involvement. And, Joey, for purposes of this discussion, based on the fact that your testimony at trial was completely unbelievable. You didn't see a green van in the parking lot in the vicinity of Nicole's car. It was impossible. You left the mall through the entrance to the cinema. She was parked on the west side, on the other side of the mall. You fabricated the testimony to help the cops nail their suspect."
There was no eruption, no anger. He took it well, much like a child caught red-handed with a stolen coin and unable to utter words.
"Keep going," Joey said.
"You want to hear it?"
"I'm sure I've heard it before."
"Indeed you have. You heard it at trial, eight years ago. Mr. Flak explained it to the jury. You were crazy about Nicole, but she wasn't crazy about you. Typical high school drama. You dated off and on, no sex, a rather stormy relationship, and at some point you suspected that she was seeing someone else. Turned out this was Donte Drumm, which, of course, in Slone and in a lot of other small towns, could lead to real problems. No one knew for sure, but the gossip was out of control. Maybe she tried to break it off with him. He denies this. He denies everything. Then she disappeared, and you saw the opportunity to nail the guy. Nail him you did. You sent him to death row, and now you're about to be responsible for killing him."
"So, I'm gettin' all the blame here?"
"Yes, sir. Your testimony placed him at the scene of the crime, or at least the jury thought so. It was almost laughable because it was so inconsistent, but the jury was anxious to believe you. You didn't see a green van. You lied. You fabricated. You also called Detective Kerber with the anonymous tip, and the rest is history."
"I did not call Kerber."
"Of course you did. We have the experts to prove it. You didn't even try to disguise your voice. According to our analysis, you had been drinking but weren't drunk. There was a slight slur in a few of your words. You want to see the report?"
"No. It was never admitted in court."
"That's because we didn't know about your phone call until after the trial, and that's because the cops and prosecutors concealed it, which should have led to a reversal, which, of course, is pretty rare here in Texas."
The waitress arrived with a platter of sizzling quesadillas, all for Joey. Pryor took his taco salad and asked for more tea. After a few generous bites, Joey said, "So who killed her?"
"Who knows? There's no proof she's even dead."
"They found her gym card and student ID."
"Yeah, but they didn't find her body. She could be alive for all we know."
"You don't believe that." A gulp of the margarita to wash things down.
"No, I don't. I'm sure she's dead. Right now it doesn't matter. We're racing against time here, Joey, and we need your help."
"What am I supposed to do?"
"Recant, recant, recant. Sign an affidavit telling the truth. Tell us what you really saw that night, which was nothing."
"I saw a green van."
"Your friend didn't see a green van, and he walked out of the mall with you. You didn't mention anything to him. In fact, you didn't say anything to anybody for over two weeks, then you heard the rumor that her gym card and student ID had been found in the river. That's when you put together your fiction, Joey, that's when you decided to nail Donte. You were outraged because she would prefer a black guy to you. You called Kerber with the anonymous tip, and all hell broke loose. The cops were desperate and stupid and couldn't wait to pursue your fiction. It worked perfectly. They beat a confession out of him, only took them fifteen hours, and, bingo! it's front-page news--'Donte Drumm Confesses.' Then your memory works a miracle. You suddenly remember that you saw a green van, just like the Drumms', moving suspiciously around the mall that night. What was it, Joey, three weeks later when you finally told the cops about the van?"
"I saw a green van."
"Was it a Ford, Joey, or did you just decide it was a Ford because that's what the Drumms owned? Did you really see a black guy driving it, or was that just your imagination?"
To keep from responding, Joey stuffed half a quesadilla into his mouth and chewed slowly. As he did so, he watched the other diners, unable or unwilling to make eye contact. Pryor took a bite, then pressed on. His thirty minutes would be gone soon enough.
"Look, Joey," he said in a much softer tone, "we can argue the case for hours. I'm not here to do that. I'm here to talk about Donte. You guys were friends, you grew up together, you were teammates for, what, five years? You spent hours together on the football field. You won together; you lost together. Hell, you were co-captains your senior year. Think of his family, his mother and brothers and sister. Think of the town, Joey, think how bad things will get if he's executed. You gotta help us, Joey. Donte didn't kill anybody. He's been railroaded from the beginning."
"Didn't realize I had this much power."
"Oh, it's a long shot. Appeals Tacoma Escort courts are not too impressed with witnesses who Tacoma Escorts suddenly change their minds Tacoma Asian Escort years after the trial and hours before the execution. You Tacoma Asian Escorts give us the affidavit, we'll run to court and scream as loud as possible, but the odds are against us. We gotta try, though. At this point, we'll try anything."
Joey stirred his drink with the straw, then took a sip. He rubbed his mouth with a paper napkin and said, "You know, this is not the first time I've had this conversation. Mr. Flak called me years ago, asked me to stop by his office. This was long after the trial. I think he was working on the appeals. He begged me to change my story, tell his version of the truth. Told him to go to hell."
"I know. I've been working on the case for a long time."
After demolishing half of the quesadillas, Joey suddenly lost interest in lunch. He shoved the platter away and pulled the drink in front of him. He stirred it slowly and watched the liquid spin around the glass.
"Things are a lot different now, Joey," Pryor said softly, pressing. "It's late in the fourth quarter, the game's almost over for Donte."
The thick maroon fountain pen clipped inside Pryor's shirt pocket was in fact a microphone. It was entirely visible, and next to it was a real pen with ink and a ballpoint in case writing was required. A tiny, hidden wire ran from Pryor's shirt pocket to the left front pocket of his slacks, where he kept his cell phone.
Two hundred miles away, Robbie was listening. He was in his office with the door locked, alone, on a speakerphone that also recorded everything.
"You ever see him play football?" Joey asked.
"No," Pryor answered. Their voices were clear.
"He was something. He roamed the field like Lawrence Taylor. Fast, fearless, he could wreck an offense all by himself. We won ten games when we were sophomores and juniors, but we could never beat Marshall."
"Why didn't the bigger schools recruit him?" Pryor asked. Keep him talking, Robbie said to himself.
"Size. He stopped growing in the tenth grade, and he could never get his weight above 220. That's not big enough for the Longhorns."
"You should see him now," Pryor said without missing a beat. "He weighs about 150, gaunt and skinny, shaves his head, and he's locked up in a tiny cell twenty-three hours a day. I think he's lost his marbles."
"He wrote me a couple of letters, did you know that?"
"No."
Robbie leaned closer to the speakerphone. He'd never heard this.
"Not long after he was sent away, when I was still living in Slone, he wrote to me. Two, maybe three letters. Long ones. He went on about death row and how awful it is--the food, the noise, the heat, the isolation, and so on. He swore he never touched Nikki, never got involved with her. He swore he was nowhere near the mall when she disappeared. He begged me to tell the truth, to help him win his appeal and get out of prison. I never wrote him back."
"You still have the letters?" Pryor asked.
Joey shook his head. "No, I've moved around so much."
The waitress appeared and removed the platter. "Another margarita?" she asked, but Joey waved her off. Pryor leaned forward on his elbows until their faces were two feet apart. He began, "You know, Joey, I've worked on this case for years. Spent thousands of hours, not only working, but thinking, trying to figure out what happened. Here's my theory. You went nuts over Nikki, and why not? She was cute as hell, popular, hot, the kind of girl you want to put in your pocket and take home forever. But she broke your heart, and nothing is more painful for a seventeen-year-old. You were devastated, crushed. Then she disappeared. The entire town was shocked, but you and those who loved her were especially horrified. Everyone wanted to find her. Everyone wanted to help. How could she simply vanish? Who snatched her? Who could harm Nikki? Maybe you believed Donte was involved, maybe not. But you were a wreck emotionally, and in that state you decided to get involved. You called Detective Kerber with the anonymous tip, and from there everything snowballed. At that moment, the investigation took a wrong turn and no one could stop it. When you heard the news that he'd confessed, you figured you'd done the right thing. Got the right guy. Then you decided that you wanted a little piece of the action. You concocted the story about the green van, and suddenly you're the star witness. You became the hero to all those wonderful people who loved and adored Nicole Yarber. You took the stand at the trial, raised your right hand, told something that was not the whole truth, but it didn't matter. You were there, helping your beloved Nikki. Donte was led away in shackles, taken straight to death row. Maybe you understood that he would one day be executed, maybe you didn't. I suspect that way back then, when you were still a teenager, you could not appreciate the gravity of what's happening now."
"He confessed."
"Yes, and his confession is about as reliable as your testimony. For many reasons, people say things that aren't true, don't they, Joey?"
There was a long gap in the conversation as both men considered what to say next. In Slone, Robbie waited patiently, though he had never been known for his patience or quiet moments of self-reflection.
Joey spoke next. "This affidavit, what goes in it?"
"The truth. You state, under oath, that your testimony at trial was not accurate, and so on. Our office will prepare it. We can have it done in less than an hour."
"Not so fast. So, I would say, basically, that I lied during the trial?"
"We can dress up the language, but that's the gist of it. We'd also like to settle the matter about the anonymous tip."
"And the affidavit would be filed in court and end up in the newspapers?"
"Sure. The press is following the case. Any last-minute motions and appeals will be reported."
"So, my mother will read in the newspaper that I'm now saying I lied at trial. I'll be admitting that I'm a liar, that right?"
"Yes, but what's more important here, Joey? Your reputation or Donte's life?"
"But you said it's a long shot, right? So, chances are I'll admit to being a liar and he still gets the needle. Who wins that one?"
"He damn sure doesn't."
"I don't think so. Look, I gotta get back to work."
"Come on, Joey."
"Thanks for lunch. Nice meetin' you." And with that, he slid out of the booth and hurried out of the restaurant.
Pryor took a deep breath and stared at the table in disbelief. They were talking about the affidavit, then the conversation ended. He slowly pulled out his cell phone and talked to his boss. "Did you get all that?"
"Yep, every word," Robbie said.
"Anything we can use?"
"No. Nothing. Not even close, really."
"I didn't think so. Sorry, Robbie. I thought at one point he was ready to snap."
"You did all you could, Fred. Nice job. He's got your card, right?"
"Yes."
"Call him after work, say hello, just remind him you're there and ready to talk."
"I'll try to meet him for a drink. Something tells me he tends to overindulge. Maybe I can get him drunk and he'll say something."
"Just make sure it's being recorded."
"Will do."


Friday, 12-Apr-2013 07:33 Email | Share | | Bookmark
This was quite too good to lose

"Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do well to follow them when up the lane came a neat little landau, the coachman with his coat only half-buttoned, and his tie under his ear, while all the tags of his harness were sticking out of the buckles. It hadn't pulled up before she shot out of the hall door and into it. I only caught a glimpse of her at the moment, but she was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for.
"'The Church of St. Monica, John,' she cried, 'and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.'
"This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing whether I should run for it, or whether I should perch behind her landau when a cab came through the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabby fare, but I jumped in before he could object. 'The Church of St. Monica,' said I, 'and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.' It was twenty-five minutes to twelve, and of course it was clear enough what was in the wind.
"My cabby drove fast. I don't think I ever drove faster, but the others were there before us. The cab and the landau with their steaming horses were in front of the door when I arrived. I paid the man and hurried into the church. There was not a soul there save the two whom I had followed and a surprised clergyman, who seemed to be expostulating with them. They were all three standing in a knot in front of the altar. I lounged up the side aisle like any other idler who has dropped into a church. Suddenly, to my surprise, the three at the altar faced round to me, and Godfrey Norton came running as hard as he could towards me.
"Thank God," he cried. "You'll do. Come! Come!"
"What then?" I asked.
"Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won't be legal."
I was half-dragged up to the altar, and before I knew where I was I found myself mumbling responses which were whispered in my ear. and vouching for things of which I knew nothing, and generally assisting in the secure tying up of Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and there was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and the lady on the other, while the clergyman beamed on me in front. It was the most preposterous position in which I ever found myself in my life, and it was the thought of it that started me laughing just now. It seems that there had been some informality about their license, that the clergyman absolutely refused to marry them without a witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved the bridegroom from having to sally out into the streets in search of a best man. The bride gave me a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch-chain in memory of the occasion."
"This is a very unexpected turn of affairs," said I; "and what then?"
"Well, I found my plans very seriously menaced. It looked as if the pair might take an immediate departure, and so necessitate very prompt and energetic measures on my part. At the church door, however, they separated, he driving back to the Temple, and she to her own house. 'I shall drive out in the park at five as usual,' she said as she left him. I heard no more. They drove away in different directions, and I went off to make my own arrangements."
"Which are?"
"Some cold beef and a glass of beer," he answered, ringing the bell. "I have been too busy to think of food, and I am likely to be busier still this evening. By the way, Doctor, I shall want your cooperation."
"I shall be delighted."
"You don't mind breaking the law?"
"Not in the least."
"Nor running a chance of arrest?"
"Not in a good cause."
"Oh, the cause is excellent!"
"Then I am your man."
"I was sure that I might rely on you."
"But what is it you wish?"
"When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now," he said as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlady had provided, "I must discuss it while I eat, for I have not much time. It is nearly five now. In two hours we must be on the scene of action. Miss Irene, or Madame, rather, returns from her drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet her."
"And what then?"
"You must leave that to me. I have already arranged what is to occur. There is only one point on which I must insist. You must not interfere, come what may. You understand?"
"I am to be neutral?"
"To do nothing whatever. There will probably be some small unpleasantness. Do not join in it. It will end in my being conveyed into the house. Four or five minutes afterwards the sitting-room window will open. You are to station yourself close to that open window."
"Yes."
"You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you."
"Yes."
"And when I raise my hand--so--you will throw into the room what I give you to throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry of fire. You quite follow me?"
"Entirely."
"It is nothing very Tacoma Escort formidable," he said, taking a long cigar- shaped Tacoma Escorts roll from his pocket. "It is an ordinary Tacoma Asian Escort plumber's smoke- rocket, fitted with a cap at either Tacoma Asian Escorts end to make it self-lighting. Your task is confined to that. When you raise your cry of fire, it will be taken up by quite a number of people. You may then walk to the end of the street, and I will rejoin you in ten minutes. I hope that I have made myself clear?"
"I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and at the signal to throw in this object, then to raise the cry of fire, and to wait you at the corner of the street."
"Precisely."
"Then you may entirely rely on me."
"That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it is almost time that I prepare for the new role I have to play."
He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the character of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman. His broad black hat, his baggy trousers, his white tie, his sympathetic smile, and general look of peering and benevolent curiosity were such as Mr. John Hare alone could have equalled. It was not merely that Holmes changed his costume. His expression, his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime.
It was a quarter past six when we left Baker Street, and it still wanted ten minutes to the hour when we found ourselves in Serpentine Avenue. It was already dusk, and the lamps were just being lighted as we paced up and down in front of Briony Lodge, waiting for the coming of its occupant. The house was just such as I had pictured it from Sherlock Holmes's succinct description, but the locality appeared to be less private than I expected. On the contrary, for a small street in a quiet neighborhood, it was remarkably animated. There was a group of shabbily dressed men smoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors-grinder with his wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting with a nurse-girl, and several well-dressed young men who were lounging up and down with cigars in their mouths.
"You see," remarked Holmes, as we paced to and fro in front of the house, "this marriage rather simplifies matters. The photograph becomes a double-edged weapon now. The chances are that she would be as averse to its being seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its coming to the eyes of his princess. Now the question is, Where are we to find the photograph?"
"Where, indeed?"
"It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is cabinet size. Too large for easy concealment about a woman's dress. She knows that the King is capable of having her waylaid and searched. Two attempts of the sort have already been made. We may take it, then, that she does not carry it about with her."
"Where, then?"
"Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I am inclined to think neither. Women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting. Why should she hand it over to anyone else? She could trust her own guardianship, but she could not tell what indirect or political influence might be brought to bear upon a business man. Besides, remember that she had resolved to use it within a few days. It must be where she can lay her hands upon it. It must be in her own house."


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