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"The Eyes of Max Carrados/Chapter 9"

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IX

The Eastern Mystery

IT could scarcely be called Harris's fault, whatever the driver next behind might say in the momentary bitterness of his heart. In the two-fifths of a second of grace at his disposal Mr Carrados's chauffeur had done all that was possible and the bunt that his radiator gave the stair-guard of the London General in front was insignificant. Then a Railway Express Delivery skated on its dead weight into his luggage platform and a Pickford, turning adroitly out of the melee, slewed a stationary Gearless round by its hand-rail stanchion to spread terror among the other line of traffic.

The most unconcerned person, to all appearance, was the driver of the London General, the vehicle whose sudden stoppage had initiated the riot of confusion. He had seen a man, engrossed to the absolute exclusion of his surroundings by something that took his eye on the opposite footpath, dash into the road and then, brought up suddenly by a realisation of his position, attempt to retrace his steps. He had pulled up so expertly that the man escaped, so smoothly that not a passenger was jarred, and now he sat with a dazed and vacant expression on his face, leaning forward on his steering wheel, while caustic inquiry and retort winged unheeded up and down the line behind him.

It was not until the indispensable ceremony of everyone taking everyone else's name and number had been observed under the authority of the tutelary constable that the single occupant of the private car stirred to show any interest in the proceedings.

"Parkinson," he called quietly, summoning his attendant to the window. "Ask Mr Tulloch if he will come round here when he has finished with the policeman."

"Mr Tulloch, sir?"

"Yes; you remember Dr Tulloch of Netherhempsfield? He is on in front there."

A moment later Jim Tulloch, as genial as of old, but his exuberance temporarily damped by the cross-bickering in which he had just been involved, thrust his head and arm through the sash.

"Lord, lord, it really is you then, Wynn, old man?" he cried. "When your Parkinson came up I couldn't believe it for a minute, simply couldn't believe it. The world grows smaller, I declare."

"At all events this car does," responded Carrados, wringing the hearty, outstretched hand. "They've got us two inches less than the makers ever intended. Is it really your doing, Jim?"

"Did ever you hear such a thing?" protested Tulloch. "And yet that wall-eyed atrocity yonder has kidded the copper that if he hadn't stopped dead—well, I should."

"Was it a near thing?" asked Carrados confidentially.

"Well, strictly between ourselves, I don't mind admitting that it might have been something of a shave," confessed Tulloch, with a cheerful grin. "But, lord bless you, Wynn, the streets of London are paved with 'em nowadays, paved with them. You don't merely take your life in your hands if you want to get about; you carry it on each foot."

"Look here," said Carrados. "You never let me know that you were up in town, Tulloch. What are you doing to-day?"

"I beg your pardon, sir," interrupted Parkinson's respectful voice, "but the policeman wishes to speak with you, sir."

"With me?" queried Tulloch restlessly. "Oh, good lord! have we to go into all that again?"

"It's only the bus-driver, sir," apologised the constable with the tactful deference that the circumstances seemed to demand. "As you are a doctor—I think there's something the matter with him."

"I'm sure there is," assented Tulloch. "All right, I'm coming. Are you in a hurry, Wynn?"

"I'll wait," was the reply.

The doctor found his patient propped up on a doorstep. Having, as he expressed it afterwards, "run the rule over him," he prescribed a glass of water and an hour's rest. The man was shaken, that was all.

"Nerves, Wynn," he announced when he returned to his friend. "I don't quite understand his emotion, but the shock of not having run over me seems to have upset the poor fellow."

"I was asking you whether you were doing anything to-day," said Carrados. "Can you come back with me to Richmond?"

"I'm not doing anything as far as that goes, admitted Tulloch. "In fact," he added ruefully, "that's the plague of it. I'm waiting to hear from a man who's waiting to hear from another man, and he's depending on something that may or mayn't, you understand."

"Then you can come along now anyway. Get in."

"If it's dinner you mean, I can't come straight away, you know," protested Tulloch. "Look at me togs"—he stood back to display a serviceable Norfolk suit—"all right for the six-thirty sharp of a Bloomsbury boarding-house, but—eh, what?"

"Don't be an ass, Jim," said the blind man amiably. "I can't see your silly togs."

"No ladies or any of your tony friends?"

"Not a soul."

"The fact is," confided Tulloch, taking his place in the car, "I've been out of things for a bit, Wynn, and I'm finding civilisation a shade cast-iron now. I've been down in the wilds since you were with me."

"I wondered where you were. I wrote to you about six months ago and the letter came back."

"Did it actually? Now that must have been almighty careless of someone, Wynn. I'm sorry; I'm a bit of a rolling stone, I suppose. When Darrish came back to Netherhempsfield my job was done there. I felt uncommonly restless. I hadn't much chance of buying a practice or dropping into a partnership worth having and I jibbed at setting up in some God-forsaken backwater and slipping into middle age 'building up a connection.' Lord, lord, Carrados, the tragic monotony of your elderly professional nonentity! I've known men who've whispered to me between the pulls at confidential pipes that they've come to hate the streets and the houses and the same old everlasting silly faces that they met day after day until they began to think very queer thoughts of how they might get away from it all."

"Yes," said Carrados.

"Anyway, 'Not yet,' I promised myself, and when I got the chance of a temporary thing on a Red Cable liner I took it like a shot. That was something. If there was a mighty sameness about it after a bit, it wasn't the sameness I'd been accustomed to. Then, as luck of one sort or another would have it, I got laid out with a broken ankle on a Bombay quay."

Carrados voiced commiseration.

"But you made a very good mend of it," he said. "It's the left, of course. I don't suppose anyone ever notices it."

"I took care of that," replied Tulloch. "But it was a slow business and threw all my plans out. I was on a very loose end when one day, outside the Secretariat, as they call it, I ran up against a man called Fraser whom I'd known building a viaduct or something of that sort in the Black Country.

"'What on earth are you doing here?' we naturally both said at once, and he was the first to reply.

"I'm just off to repair an irrigation "bund" a thousand miles more or less away, and I'm looking for a doctor who can speak six words of Hindustani, and doesn't mind things as they are, to physic the camp. What are you doing?'

"'Good lord! old man,' I said, 'I was looking for you!'"

It only required an occasional word to keep Tulloch going, and Carrados supplied it. He heard much that did not interest him—of the journey inland, of the face of the country, the surprising weather, the great work of irrigation and the other impressive wonders of man and nature. These things could be got from books, but among the weightier cargo Tulloch now and again touched off some inimitable phase of life or told an uninventable anecdote of native character that lived.

Yet the buoyant doctor had something on his mind, for several times he stopped abruptly on the edge of a reminiscence, as though he was doubtful, if not of the matter, at least of the manner in which he should begin. These indications were not lost on his friend, but Carrados made no attempt to press him, being very well assured that sooner or later the ingenuous Jim would find himself beyond retreat. The occasion came with the cigarettes after dinner. There had been a reference to the language.

"I often wished that I was a better stick at it," said Tulloch. "I'd picked up a bit in Bombay and of course I threw myself into it when Fraser got me the post. I managed pretty well with the coolies in the camp, but when I tried to have a word with the ryots living round—little twopenny ha'penny farmers, you know—I could make no show of it. A lot of queer fish you come across out there, in one way or another, you take my word. You never know whether a man's a professional saint of extreme holiness or a hereditary body-snatcher whose shadow would make a begging leper consider himself unclean until he had walked seventy miles to drink a cupful of filthy water out of a stinking pond that a pock-marked ascetic had been sitting in for three years in order to contemplate quietly."

"Possibly he really was unclean—in consequence or otherwise," suggested Carrados.

"Help!" exclaimed Tulloch tragically. "There are things that have to be seen. But then so was the sanctified image, so that there's nothing for an outsider to go by. And then all the different little lots with their own particular little heavens and their own one exclusive way of getting there, and their social frills and furbelows—Jats and Jains and Thugs and Mairs and Gonds and Bhills and Toms, Dicks and Harrys—suburban society is nothing to it, Wynn, nothing at all. There was a strange old joker I've had in mind to tell you about, though it was no joke for him in the end. God alone knows where he came from, but he was in the camp one evening juggling for stray coppers in a bowl. Pretty good juggling too it seemed to be, of the usual Indian kind—growing a plant out of a pumpkin seed, turning a stick into a live snake, and the old sword and basket trick that every Eastern conjurer keeps up his sleeve; but all done out in the open, with people squatting round and a simplicity of appliance that would have taken all the curl out of one of your music-hall magicians. With him he had a boy, his son, a misshapen, monkey-like anatomy of about ten, but there was no doubt that the man was desperately fond of his unattractive offspring.

"That night this ungainly urchin, taking a cooler in one of the big irrigation canals, got laid hold of by an alligator and raised the most unearthly screech anything human—if he really was human—ever got out. I seemed to have had something prominent to do with the damp job of getting as much of him away from the creature as we could, and old Calico—that's what we anglicised the juggler's name into—had some sort of idea of being grateful in consequence. Although I don't doubt that he'd have put much more faith in a local wizard if one had been available, he let us take the boy into the hospital tent and do what we could for him. It wasn't much, and I told my assistant to break it to poor old Calico that he must be prepared for the worst. A handy man, that assistant, Wynn. He was a half-bred 'Portugoose,' as they say in Bombay, with the name of Vasque d'Almeydo, and I understood that he'd had some training. When we got out there he said that it was all the same to him, but he admitted quite blandly that he was really a cook and nothing more. What about his excellent testimonials? I asked him, and he replied with cheerful impenitence that he had hired them in the open market for one rupee eight, adding feelingly that he would willingly have given twice as much to qualify for my honourable service. In the end he did pretty much as he liked, and as he could speak five languages and scramble through seven dialects I was glad to have him about on any terms. I don't quite know how he broke it, but when I saw him later he said that Calico was a 'great dam fool.' He was a conjurer and knew how tricks were done and yet he had set out at once for some place thirty miles away—to procure a charm of some sort, the Portuguese would swear from a hint he had got. Vasque—of course by this time he'd become Valasquez to us—laughed pleasantly as he commented on native credulity. He was a Roman Catholic himself, so that he could afford it. The next day the boy died and an hour later poor Calico came reeling in. He'd got a nasty cut over the eye and a map of the route drawn over him in thorns and blisters and sand-burns, but he'd got something wrapped away in a bit of rag carried in the left armpit, and I felt for the poor old heathen. When he understood, he borrowed a spade and, taking up the child just as he was, he went off into the pagan solitude to bury him. I'd got used to these simple ways by that time.

"I thought that I'd seen the end of the incident, but late that night I heard the sentry outside challenge someone—we'd had so many tools and things looted by 'friendlies' that they'd lent us half a company of Sikhs from Kharikhas—and a moment later Calico was salaaming at the tent door. As it happened, Valasquez was away at a thing they called a village trafficking for some ducks, and I had to grapple with the conversation as best I could—no joke, I may tell you, for the juggler's grasp on conventional Urdu was about as slender as my own. And the first thing he did was to put his paws on to my astonished feet, then up to his forehead, and to prostrate himself to the ground.

"'Sahib.' he protested earnestly, 'I am thy slave and docile elephant for that which thou hast done for the man-child of my house.'

"Now you know, Carrados, I simply can't stand that sort of thing. It makes me feel such a colossal ass. So I tried, ungraciously enough I dare swear, to cut him short. But it couldn't be done. Poor old Calico had come to discharge what weighed on him as a formidable obligation and my 'Don't mention it, old chap,' style was quite out of the picture. Finally, from some obscure fold of his outfit, he produced a little screw of cloth and began to unwrap it.

"'Take it, O sahib, and treasure it as you would a cup of water in the desert, for it has great virtue of the hidden kind. Condescend to accept it, for it is all I have worthy of so great a burden.'

"'I couldn't think of it, Khaligar,' I said, trying to give his name a romantic twist, for the other sounded like guying him. 'I've done nothing, you know, and in any case this is much more likely to work with you than with me—an unbeliever. What is it, anyway?'

"'It is the sacred tooth of the ape-god Hanuman and its protects from harm,' he replied, reverently displaying what looked to me like an old rusty nail. 'Had I but been able to touch so much as the hem of the garment of my manlet with it before the hour of his outgoing he would assuredly have recovered.'

"'Then keep it for your own protection,' I urged. 'I expect that you run more risks that I do.'

"'When the flame has been extinguished from a candle the smoke lingers but a moment before it also fades away,' he replied. 'Thy mean servant has no wish to live now that the light of his eyes has gone out, nor does he seek to avert by magic that which is written on his forehead.'

"'Then it is witchcraft?' I said, pointing to the amulet.

"'I know not, my lord,' he answered; 'but if it be witchcraft it is of the honourable sort and not the goety of Sahitan. For this cause it is only of avail to one who acquires it without treachery or guile. Take it, sahib, but do not suffer it to become known even to those of your own table.'

"'Why not?' I asked.

"'Who should boast of pearls in a camp of armed bandits?' he replied evasively. 'A word spoken in a locked closet becomes a beacon on the hill-top for men to see. Yet have no fear; harm cannot come to you, for your hand is free from complicity.'

"I hadn't wanted the thing before, but that settled me. I very much doubted how the conjurer had got possession of it and I had no wish to be mixed up in an affair of any sort. I told him definitely that while I appreciated his motives I shouldn't deprive him of so great a treasure. He seemed really concerned, and Fraser told me afterwards that for one of that tribe to be under what he regarded as an unrequited obligation was a dishonour. I should probably have had some trouble to get him off, only just then we heard Valasquez returning. Calico hastily wrapped up the relic, stowed it away among his wardrobe and, with his most ceremonious salaam, disappeared.

"'Do you know anything about the tooth of the ape-god Hanuman, Valasquez?' I asked him some time later. The 'Portugoose' seemed to know a little about everything and in consequence of my dependence on him he strayed into a rather more free and easy manner than might have passed under other conditions. But I'm not ceremonious, you know, Wynn."

And Carrados laughed and agreed.

"The sacred tooth of Sira Hanuman, sir?' said Valasquez. 'Oh, that's all great tom dam foolery. There are a hundred million of them. The most notable one was worshipped at the Mountain of Adam in Ceylon until it was captured by my ancestor, the illustrious Admiral d'Almeydo, who sent it with much pomp and circumstance to Goa. Then the Princes of Malabar offered a ransom of rupees, forty lakhs, for it, which the Bishop of Goa refused, like a dam great fool!'

"'What became of it?' I asked, but Valasquez didn't know. He was somewhat of a liar, in fact, and I dare say that he'd made it all up to show off his knowledge."

"No," objected Carrados; "I think that Baldaeus, the Dutch historian, has a similar tale. What happened to Calico?"

"That was the worst of it. Some of our men found his body lying among the tamarisk scrub two days later. There was no doubt that he'd been murdered, and not content with that, the ghouls had mutilated him shamefully afterwards. Even his cheeks were slashed open. So, you see, the tooth of Hanuman had not protected him."

"No," assented Carrados, "it had certainly not protected him. Was anything done—anyone arrested?"

"I don't think so. You know what the natives are in a case like that: no one knows anything, even if they have been looking on at the time. I suppose a report would be sent up, but I never heard anything more. I always had a suspicion that Calico, with his blend of simple faith and gipsy blood, had violated a temple, or looted a shrine, to save his son's life, and that the guardians of the relic tracked him and revenged the outrage. Anyway, I was glad that I hadn't accepted it after that, for I had enough excitement without."

"What was that, Jim?"

"Oh, I don't know, but I always seemed to be running up against something about that time. Twice my tent was turned inside out in my absence, once my clothes were spirited away while I was bathing, and the night before we broke up the camp I was within an ace of being murdered."

"You bear a charmed life," said Carrados suggestively, but Tulloch did not rise to the suggestion.

"It was a bit of luck. Those dacoits are as quiet as death, but for some reason I woke suddenly with the idea that devilment was brewing. I slipped on the first few things that came to hand and went to reconnoitre. As I passed through the canvas I came face to face with a native, and two others were only a few yards behind. Without any ceremony the near man let drive at my throat with one of those beastly wavy daggers they go in for. I suppose I managed to dodge in the fraction of a second, for he missed me. I gave a yell for assistance, landed the leader one in the eye and backed into my tent for a weapon. By the time I was out again our fellows were running up, but the precious trio had disappeared."

"That was the last you saw of them?" asked Carrados tentatively.

"No, queerly enough. The day I sailed I encountered the one whose eye I had touched up. It was down by the water—the Apollo Bander—at Bombay, and I was so taken aback, never thinking but that the fellow was hundreds of miles away, that I did nothing but stare. But I promised myself that in the unlikely event of ever seeing him again I would follow him up pretty sharply."

"Not under the wheels of a London General again, I hope!"

Tulloch's brown fist came down upon the table with a crash.

"The devil, Carrados!" he exclaimed. "How did you know?"

"Parkinson was just describing to me a rather exotic figure. Then the rest followed."

"Well, you were right. There was the man in Holborn, and of all the fantastic things in the world for a bloodthirsty thug from the back wilds of Hindustan, I believe that he was selling picture post cards!"

"Possibly a very natural thing to be doing in the circumstances."

"What circumstances, Wynn?"

"Those you are telling me of. Go on."

"That's about all there is. When I saw the man I was so excited, I suppose, that I started to dash across without another thought. You know the result. Of course he had vanished by the time I could look round."

"You are quite sure he is the same?"

"There's always the possibility of a mistake, I admit," considered Tulloch, "but, speaking in ordinary terms, I should say that it's a moral certainty. On the first occasion it was bright moonlight and the sensational attack left a very vivid photograph on my mind. In Bombay I had no suspicion of doubt about the man, and he was still carrying traces of my fist. Here, it is true, I had less chance of observing him, but recognition was equally instantaneous and complete. Then consider that each time he has slipped away at once. No, I am not mistaken. What is he after, Carrados?"

"I am very much afraid that he is after you, my friend," replied Carrados, with some concern lurking behind the half-amused level of his voice.

"After me!" exclaimed Tulloch with righteous indignation. "Why, confound his nerve, Wynn, it ought to be the other way about. What's he after me for?"

"India is a conservative land. The gods do not change. A relic that was apprised at seven hundred thousand ducats in the days of Queen Elizabeth is worth following up to-day—apart, of course, from the merit thereby acquired by a devotee."

"You mean that Calico's charm was the real original thing that Valasquez spoke of?"

"It is quite possible; or it may be claimed for it even if it is not. Goa has passed through many vicissitudes; its churches and palaces are now in ruins. What is more credible——"

"But in any case I haven't got the thing. Surely the old ass needn't murder me to find out that."

The face he appealed to betrayed nothing of the thoughts behind it. But Carrados's mind was busy with every detail of the story he had heard, and the more he looked into it the less he felt at ease for his impetuous friend's safety.

"On the contrary," he replied, "from the pious believer's point of view, the simplest and most effective way of ascertaining it was to try to murder you, and your providential escape has only convinced them that you are now the holder of the charm."

"The deuce!" said Tulloch ruefully. "Then I have dropped into an imbroglio after all. What's to be done?"

"I wonder," mused the blind man speculatively, "I wonder what really became of the thing."

"You mean after Calico's death?"

"No, before that. I don't imagine that your entertaining friend had it at the end. He had nothing to look forward to, you remember; he did not wish to live. His assassins were those who were concerned in the recovery of the relic, for why else was he mutilated but in order to discover whether he had concealed it with more than superficial craft—perhaps even swallowed it? They found nothing or you would not have engaged their attention. As it was, they were baffled and had to investigate further. Then they doubtless learned that you had put this man under an undying obligation, possibly they even knew that he had visited you the last thing before he left the camp. The rest has been the natural sequence."

"It seems likely enough in an incredible sort of way," admitted the doctor. "But I don't see why this old sport should be occupying himself as he is in the streets of London."

"That remains to be looked into. It may be some propitiatory form of self-abasement that is so potent in the Oriental system. But it may equally well be something quite different. If this man is of high priestly authority there are hundreds of his co-religionists here at hand whose lives he could command in such a service. He may be in communication with some, or be contriving to make himself readily accessible. Are there any Indians at your boarding-house?"

"I have certainly seen a couple recently."

"Recently! Then they came after you did?"

"I don't know about that. I haven't had much to do with the place."

"I don't like it, Jim," said Carrados, with more gravity than he was accustomed to put into the consideration of his own risks. "I don't like the hang of it at all."

"Well, for that matter, I'm not exactly pining for trouble," replied his friend. "But I can take care of myself anyway."

"But you can't," retorted Carrados. "That's just the danger. If you were blind it would be all right, but your credulous, self-opinionated eyes will land you in some mess. . . . To-morrow, at all events, Carlyle shall put a watch on this enterprising Hindu and we shall at least find out what his movements are."

Tulloch would have declined the attention, but Carrados was insistent.

"You must let me have my way in such an emergency, Tulloch," he declared. "Of course you would say that it's out of your power to prevent me, but among friends like you and I one acquiesces to a certain code. I say this because I may even find it necessary to put a man on you as well. This business attracts me resistlessly. There's something more in it than we have got at yet, something that lies beyond the senses and strives to communicate itself through the unknown dimension that we have all stood just upon the threshold of, only to find that we have lost the key. It's more elusive than Macbeth's dagger: 'I have thee not and yet I see thee still'—always just out of reach. What is it, Jim; can't you help us? Don't you feel something portentous in the air, or is it only my blind eyes that can see beyond?"

"Not a bit of it," laughed Tulloch cheerfully. "I only feel that a blighted old heathen is leading himself a rotten dance through his pig-headed obstinacy. Well, Wynn, why can't he be rounded up and have it explained that he's on the wrong tack? I don't mind crying quits. I did get in a sweet one on the eye, and he's had a long journey for nothing. Eh, what?"

"He would not believe." Carrados was pacing the room in one of his rare periods of mental tension. Instinct, judgment, experience and a subtler prescience that enveloped reason seemed at variance in his mind. Then he swung round and faced his visitor.

"Look here, Tulloch, stay with me for the present," he urged. "You can go there for your things to-morrow and I can fix you up in the meantime. It's safer; I feel it will be safer."

"Safer! Good lord! what could you have safer than a stodgy second-rate boarding-house in Hapsburg Square? The place drones respectability. Miss Vole, the landlady, is related to an archdeacon and nearly all the people there are on half-pay. The two Indians are tame baboos. Besides, if I get this thing I told you of, I shall be off to South America in a few days, and that ought to shake off this old man of the tooth."

"Of course it won't; nothing will shake him off if he's made the vow. Well, have your own way. One can't expect a doctor of robust habit to take any reasonable precautions, I know. How is your room situated?"

"Pretty high up. Next to the attics, I imagine. It must be, because there is a little trap-door in the ceiling leading there."

"A trap-door leading to the attics! Well, at all events there can't be an oubliette, I suppose? Nor a four-post bed with a canopy that slides up and down, Jim; nor a revolving wardrobe before a secret passage in the oak panels?"

"Get on with you," retorted Tulloch. "It's just the ordinary contrivance that you find somewhere in every roof when the attics aren't made into rooms. There's nothing in it."

"Possibly; but there may be some time. Anyway, drive a tack in and hang up a tin can or something that must clatter down if the door is raised an inch. You have a weapon, I suppose?"

"Now you're talking, Wynn. I do put some faith in that. I have a grand little revolver in my bag and I can sleep like a feather when I want."

"Little? What size does it take?"

"Oh, well, it's a .320, if it comes to that. I prefer a moderate bore myself."

Carrados opened a drawer of his desk and picked up half-a-dozen brass cartridges.

"When you get back, throw out the old ones and reload with these to oblige me," he said. "Don't forget."

"Right," assented Tulloch, examining them with interest; "but they look just like mine. What are they?—something new?"

"Not at all; but we know that they are charged and you can rely on them going off if they are fired."

"What a chap you are," declared Tulloch with something of the admiring pity that summed up the general attitude towards Max Carrados. "Well, for that matter, I must be going off myself, old man. I'm hoping for a letter about that little job and if it comes I want to answer it to-night. You've given me a fine time and we've had a great talk."

"I'm glad we met. And if you go away suddenly don't leave it to chance the next time you are back." He did not seek to detain his guest, for he knew that Tulloch was building somewhat on the South American appointment. "Shall Harris run you home?"

"Not a bit of it. I'll enjoy a walk to the station, and these Tubes of yours'll land me within me loose-box by eleven. It's a fine place, this London, after all."

They had reached the front door, opened it and were standing for a moment looking towards the yellow cloud that arched the west end of the city like the mirage of a dawn.

"Well, good-bye, old man," said Tulloch heartily, and they shook hands. At the touch an extraordinary impulse swept over Carrados to drag his friend back into the house, to implore him to remain the night at all events, or to do something to upset the arranged order of things for the next few hours. With the cessation of physical contact the vehemence of the possession dwindled away, but the experience, short as it was, left him white and shaken. He could not trust himself to speak; he waved his hand and, turning quickly, went back to the room where they had sat together to analyse the situation and to determine how to act. Presently he rang for his man.

"Some notes were taken after that little touch in Holborn this afternoon, Parkinson," he said. "Have you the address of the leading motor-bus driver among them?"

"The London General, sir?"

"Yes; the man who was the first to stop."

Parkinson produced his memorandum book and referred to the latest of its entries.

"He gave his private residence as 14 Cogg's Lane, Brentford, sir."

"Brentford! That is fortunate. I am going to see him to-night if possible. You will come with me, Parkinson. Tell Harris to get out the car that is the most convenient. What is the time?"

"Ten-seventeen, sir."

"We will start in fifteen minutes. In the meanwhile just reach me down that large book labelled 'Xavier' from the top shelf there."

"Yes, sir. Very well, sir. I will convey your instructions to Harris, sir."

It was perhaps rather late for a casual evening call, but not, apparently, too late for Cogg's Lane, Brentford. Mr Fitzwilliam—Parkinson had infused a faint note of protest into his voice when he mentioned the bus-driver's name—Mr Fitzwilliam was out, but Mrs Fitzwilliam received the visitor with conspicuous felicity and explained the circumstances. Fitzwilliam was of a genial, even playful, disposition, but he had come home brooding and depressed. Mrs Fitzwilliam had not taken any notice of it—she put it down to his feet—but by cajolery and innuendo she had persuaded him to go to the picture palace to be cheered up, and as it was now on the turn of eleven he might be expected back at any moment. In the meantime the lady had a favourite niece who was suffering—as the doctor himself confessed—from a very severe and unusual form of adenoids. Carrados disclosed the fact that the subject of adenoids was one that interested him deeply. He knew, indeed, of a case that was thought by the patient's parents to be something out of the way, but even it, he admitted, was commonplace by the side of the favourite niece. The minutes winged.

"That's Fred," said Mrs Fitzwilliam as the iron gate beyond the little plot of beaten earth that had once been a garden gave its individual note. "Seems strange that they should be so ignorant at a hospital, doesn't it?"

"Hallo, what now?" demanded Mr Fitzwilliam, entering.

Mrs Fitzwilliam made a sufficient introduction and waited for the interest to develop. So far the point of Carrados's visit had not appeared.

"I believe that you know something about motors?" inquired the blind man.

"Well, what if I do?" retorted the bus-driver. His attitude was protective rather than intentionally offensive.

"If you do, I should be glad if you would look at the engine of my car. It got shaken, I fancy, in a slight accident that we had in Holborn this afternoon."

"Oh!" The driver looked hard at Mr Carrados, but failed to get behind an expression of mild urbanity. "Why didn't you say so at first?" he grumbled. "All right; I'll trot round with you. Shan't be long, missis."

He led the way out and closed the door behind them, not ceasing to regard his visitor with a distrustful curiosity. At the gate he stopped, having by that time brought his mind round to the requirements of the situation, and faced Carrados.

"Look here," he said, "what's up? You don't want me to look at no bloomin' engine, you know. I don't half like the whole bally business, let me tell you. What's the gaime?"

"It's a very simple game for you if you play it straightforwardly," answered Carrados. "I want to know just how much you had to do with saving that man's life in Holborn to-day."

Fitzwilliam instinctively fell back a step and his gaze on Carrados quickened in its tensity.

"What d'yer mean?" he demanded with a quality of apprehension in his voice.

"That is complicating the game," replied Carrados mildly. "You know exactly what I mean."

"And what if I do?" demanded the driver. "What have you got to do with it, may I ask?"

"That is very reasonable. I happened to be in the car following you. We were scraped, but I am not making any claim for paint whatever happened. I am satisfied that you did very well indeed in the circumstances, and if a letter to your people—I know one of the directors—saying as much would be of any use to you——"

"Now we're getting on, sir," was the mollified admission. "You mustn't mind a bit of freshness, so to speak. You took me by surprise, that's what it was, and I've been wound up ever since that happened." He hesitated, and then flung out the question almost with a passionate directness: "What was it, sir; in God's name, what was it?"

"What was it?" repeated the blind man's level voice persuasively.

"It wasn't me. I couldn't have done nothing. I didn't see the man, not in time to have an earthly. Then we stopped. Good Gawd, I've never felt a stop like that before. It was as though a rubber band had tightened and pulled us up against ten yards squoze into one, so that you didn't hardly know it. I hadn't nothing to do with it. Not a brake was on, and the throttle open and the engine running. There we were. And me half silly."

"You did very well," said Carrados soothingly.

"I did nothing. If it had been left to me there'd have been a inquest. You seem to have noticed something, sir. How do you work it out?"

Carrados parried the question with a disingenuous allusion to the laws of chance. He had not yet worked it out, but he was not disposed to lay his astonishing conclusions, so far as they went, before the bus-driver's crude discrimination. He had learned what he wanted. With a liberal acknowledgment of the service and a reiteration of his promise to write, he bade Mr Fitzwilliam good-night and returned to his waiting car.

"Back home, Harris," he directed. He had gone out with some intention of including Hapsburg Square in his peregrination. He was now assured that his anxiety was groundless.

But the next morning all his confidence was shattered in a moment. It was his custom before and during breakfast to read by touch the headings of the various items in the newspapers and to mark for Greatorex's later reading such paragraphs as claimed his interest. Generally he could, with some inconvenience, distinguish even the ordinary type by the same faculty, but sometimes the inequality of pressure made this a laborious process. There was no difficulty about the larger types, however, and with a terrible misgiving finger-tip and brain had at once grasped the significance of a prominent heading:


FATAL GAS EXPLOSION
Hapsburg Square Boarding-House in Flames


"Are you there, Parkinson?" he asked.

Parkinson could scarcely believe his well-ordered ears. Not since the early days of his affliction had Carrados found it necessary to ask such a question.

"Yes, sir, I'm here," he almost stammered in reply. "I hope you are not unwell, sir?"

"I'm all right, thanks," responded his master dryly—unable even then not to discover some amusement in having for once scared Parkinson out of his irreproachable decorum. "I was mentally elsewhere. I want you to read me this paragraph."

"The one about Dr Tulloch, sir?" The name had caught the man's eye at once. "Dear, dear me, sir."

"Yes; go on," said Carrados, with his nearest approach to impatience.

"'During the early hours of this morning,'" read Parkinson, "'52 Hapsburg Square was the scene of a gas explosion which was unhappily attended by loss of life. Shortly after midnight the neighbourhood was alarmed by the noise of a considerable explosion which appeared to blow out the window and front wall of one of the upper bedrooms, but as the part in question was almost immediately involved in flames it is uncertain what really happened. The residents of the house, which is a boarding establishment carried on by Miss Vole (a relative, we are informed, of Archdeacon Vole of Worpsley), were quickly made aware of their danger and escaped. The engines arrived within a few minutes of the alarm and soon averted any danger of the fire spreading. When it was possible to penetrate into the upper part of the house it was discovered that the occupant of the bedroom where the explosion took place, a Dr Tulloch who had only recently returned to this country from India, had perished. Owing to the charred state of the body it is impossible to judge how he died, but in all probability he was mercifully killed or at least rendered unconscious by the force of the explosion.' That is all, sir."

"I ought to have kept him," muttered Carrados reproachfully. "I ought to have insisted. The thing has been full of mistakes." He could discover very little further interest in his breakfast and turned to the other papers for possible enlargement of the details. "We shall have to go down," he remarked casually. "Say in half-an-hour. Tell Harris."

"Very well, sir."

Greatorex, just arrived for the day, and diffusing an atmosphere of easy competence and inoffensively general familiarity, put his head in at the door.

"Morning sir," he nodded. "Tulloch's here and wants to see you. Came in with me. Hullo, Parkinson, seen a ghost?"

"He hasn't yet," volunteered his master. "But we both expect to. Yes, send him in here. Only one mistake the more, you see," he added to his servant, "And one the less," he added to himself.

"I might just as well have stayed, you know," was Tulloch's greeting. He included the still qualmish Parkinson in his genial domination of the room and going across to his friend he dropped a weighty hand upon his shoulder.

"'There are more things in heaven and earth than in your philosophy, Horatio,'" he barbarously misquoted with significance. "There, you see, Wynn, I can apply Shakespeare to the situation as well as you."

"Quite so," assented Carrados. "In the meanwhile will you have some breakfast?"

"It's what I came in the hopes of," admitted the doctor. "That and being burned out of hearth and home. I thought that I might as well quarter myself on you for a couple of days. You've seen the papers?"

His friend indicated the still open sheet.

"Ah, that one. The Morning Reporter gave me a better obituary. I often had a sort of morbid fancy to know what they'd say about me afterwards. It seemed unattainable, but, like most things, it's a sad disappointment when it comes. Six lines is the longest, Wynn, and they've got me degree wrong."

"Whose was the body?" asked Carrados.

Gravity descended upon Tulloch at the question. He looked round to make sure that Parkinson had left the room.

"No one will ever know, I'm hoping," he replied. "He was charred beyond recognition. But you know, Wynn, and I know and we can hold our tongues."

"The Indian avenger, of course?"

"Yes. I went round there early this morning expecting nothing and found the place a wreck. One can only guess now what happened, but the gas-bracket is just beneath that trap-door I told you of and there's a light kept burning in the passage outside. One of the half-pay men brought me a nasty wavy dagger that had been picked up in the road. 'One of your Indian curiosities, I suppose, Dr Tulloch?' he remarked. I let it pass at that, for I was becoming cautious among so much devilment. I'm afraid that there's nothing else of yours left,' he went on, 'and there wouldn't have been this if it hadn't been blown through the window.' He was quite right. I haven't a thing left in the world but this now celebrated Norfolk suit that I stand up in, and, as matters are, I'm jolly well glad you didn't give me time to change yesterday."

"Ah," assented Carrados thoughtfully. "Still the Norfolk suit, of course. Tell me, Jim—you had it in India?"

"To be sure I had. It was new then. You know, one doesn't always go about there in white drill and a cork helmet, as your artists here seem to imagine. It's cold sometimes, I can tell you. This coat is warm; I got very fond of it. You can't understand one getting fond of a mere suit, you with your fifty changes of fine raiment."

"Of course I can. I have a favourite jacket that I would not part from for rubies, and it's considerably more of an antique than yours. That's still a serviceable suit, Jim. Come and let me have a look at it."

"What d'ye mean?" said Tulloch, complying half reluctantly. "You're making fun of me little suit and it's the only thing in the world that stands between me and the entire."

"Come here," repeated Carrados. "I am not in the least guying. I'm far too serious. I am more serious, I think, than I have ever been in my life before." He placed the wondering doctor before him and proceeded to run a light hand about the details of his garments, turning him round until the process was complete. "You wore these clothes when the native you call Calico came to you that night?"

"It's more than likely. The nights were cold."

Carrados seemed strangely moved. He got up, walked to the window, as his custom was, for enlightenment, and then, after wandering about the room, touching here and there an object indecisively, he unlocked a cabinet and slid out a tray of silver coins.

"You've never seen these, have you?" he asked with scanty interest.

"No, what are they?" responded Tulloch, looking on.

"Pagan art at its highest. The worship of the strong and beautiful."

"Worth a bit?" suggested Tulloch knowingly.

"Not what they cost." Carrados shot back the tray and paced the room again. "You haven't told me yet how you were preserved."

"How——?"

"Last night. You know that you escaped death again."

"I suppose I did. Yes. . . . And do you know why I have been hesitating to tell you?"

"Why?"

"Because you won't believe me."

Carrados permitted himself to smile a shade.

"Try," he said laconically.

"Well, of course, I quite intended to. . . . The sober truth is, Wynn, that I forgot the address and could not get there. It was the silliest and the simplest thing in the world. I walked to the station here, booked for Russell Square and took a train. When I got out there I started off and then suddenly pulled up. Where was I going? My mind, I found, on that one point had developed a perfect blank. All the facts had vanished. Drum my encephalon how I might, I could not recall Miss Vole, 52, or Hapsburg Square. Mark you, it wasn't loss of memory in the ordinary sense. I remembered everything else; I knew who I was and what I wanted well enough. Of course the first thing I did was to turn out my pockets. I had letters, certainly, but none to that address and nothing else to help me. 'Very well,' I said, 'it's a silly game, but I'll walk round till I find it.' Had again! I walked for half-an-hour, but I saw nothing the faintest degree familiar. Then I saw 'London Directory Taken Here' in a pub. window. 'Good,' I thought. 'When I see the name it will all come back again.' I went in, had something and looked through the 'Streets' section from beginning to end." He shook his head shrewdly. "It didn't work."

"Did it occur to you to ring me up? You'd given me the address."

"It did; and then I thought, 'No, it's midnight now'—it was by then—'and he may have turned in early and be asleep.' Well, things had got to such a pass that it seemed the simplest move to walk into the first moderate hotel I came to, pay for my bed and tell them to wake me at six, and that's what I did. Now what do you make of that?"

"That depends," replied Carrados slowly. "The scientist would perhaps hint at a telepathic premonition operating subconsciously through receptive nerve centres. The sceptic would call it a lucky coincidence. The Catholic—the devout Catholic—would claim another miracle."

"Oh, come now!" protested Tulloch.

"Yes, come now," struck in Carrados, rising with decision and moving towards the door. "Come to my room and then you shall judge for yourself. It's too much for any one man to contemplate alone. Come on." He walked quickly across the hall to his study, dismissing Greatorex elsewhere with a word, and motioned the mystified doctor to a chair. Then he locked the door and sat down himself.

"I want you to carry your mind back to that night in your tent when the native Khaligar, towards whom you had done an imperishable service, presented himself before you. By the inexorable ruling of his class he was your bondsman in service until he had repaid you in kind. This, Jim, you failed to understand as it stood vitally to him, for the whole world, two pantheons and perhaps ten thousand years formed a great gulf between your mind and his. You would not be repaid, and yet he wished to die."

The doctor nodded. "I dare say it comes to that," he said.

"He could not die with this debt undischarged. And so, in the obscurity of your tent, beneath your unsuspecting eyes, this conjurer did, as he was satisfied, requite you. You thought you saw him wrap the relic in its covering. You did not. You thought he put it back among his dress. He did not. Instead, he slipped it dexterously between the lining and the cloth of your own coat at the thick part of a band. You had seen him do much cleverer things even in the open sunlight."

"You don't say," exclaimed Tulloch, springing to his feet, "that even now——"

"Wait!" cried the blind man warningly. "Don't seek it yet. You have to face a more stupendous problem first."

"What is that?"

"Three times at least your life has been—as we may say—miraculously preserved. It was not your doing, your expertness, my friend. . . . What is this sacred relic that once was in its jewelled shrine on the high altar of the great cathedral at Goa, that opulent archbishopric of the East to which Catholic Portugal in the sixteenth century sent all that was most effective of treasure, brain and muscle to conquer the body and soul of India?"

"You suggested that it might be the original relic to which Valasquez had referred."

"Not now; only that the natives may have thought so. What would be more natural than that an ignorant despoiler should assume the thing which he found the most closely guarded and the most richly casketed to be the object for which he himself would have the deepest veneration?"

"Then I don't follow you," said Tulloch.

"Because I have the advantage of having turned to the local and historical records bearing on the circumstances since you first started me," Carrados replied. "For instance, in the year 1582 Akbar, who was a philosopher and a humorist as well as a model ruler, sent an invitation to the 'wise men among the Franks' at Goa to journey to Agra, there to meet in public controversy before him a picked band of Mohammedan mullas and prove the superiority of their faith. The challenge was accepted. Abu-l-Fazl records the curious business and adds a very significant detail. These Catholic priests, to cut the matter short in the spirit of the age, offered to walk through a fiery furnace in the defence of their belief. It came to nothing, because the other side backed out, but the challenge is suggestive because, however fond the priesthood of those times was of putting other people to the ordeal of fire and water, its members were singularly modest about submitting to such tests themselves. What mystery was there here, Tulloch? What had those priests of Goa that made them so self confident?"

"This relic, you suggest?"

"Yes, I do. But, now, what is that relic? A monkey's or an ape-god's tooth, an iron-stained belemnite, the fragment of a pagan idol—you and I can smile at that. We are Christians. No matter how unorthodox, no matter how non-committal our attitude may have grown, there is upon us the unconscious and hereditary influence of century after century of blind and implicit faith. To you and to me, no less than to every member of the more credent Church of Rome, to everyone who has listened to the story as a little child, it is only conceivable that if miraculous virtues reside in anything inanimate it must pre-eminently be in the close accessories of that great world's tragedy, when, as even secular and unfriendly historians have been driven to admit, something out of the order of nature did shake the heavens."

"But this," articulated Tulloch with dry throat, leaning instinctively forward from the pressure of his coat, "this—what is it, then?"

"You described it as looking like a nail," responded Carrados. "It is a nail. Rusty, you said, and it could not well be otherwise than red with rust. And old. Nearly nineteen hundred years old; quite, perhaps."

Tulloch came unsteadily to his feet and slowly slipping off his coat he put it gently away on a table apart from where they sat.

"Is it possible?" he asked in an awestruck whisper. "Wynn, is it—is it really possible?"

"It is not only possible," he heard the blind man's more composed voice replying, "but in one aspect it is even very natural. Physically, we are dealing with an historical fact. Somewhere on the face of the earth these things must be enduring; scattered, buried, lost perhaps, but still existent. And among the thousands of relics that the different churches have made claim to it would be remarkable indeed if some at least were not authentic. That is the material aspect."

"Yes," assented Tulloch anxiously, "yes; that is simple, natural. But the other side, Carrados—the things that we know have happened—what of that?"

"That," replied Carrados, "is for each man to judge according to his light."

"But you?" persisted Tulloch. "Are you convinced?"

"I am offered a solution that explains everything when no other theory will," replied the blind man evasively. Then on the top of Tulloch's unsatisfied "Ah!" he added: "But there is something else that confronts you. What are you going to do?" and his face was towards the table across the room.

"Have you thought of that?"

"It has occurred to me. I wondered how you would act."

It was some time before either spoke again. Then Tulloch broke the silence.

"You can lend me some things?" he asked.

"Of course."

"Then I will decide," he announced with resolution. "Whatever we may think, whatever might be urged, I cannot touch this thing; I dare not even look on it. It has become too solemn, too awful, in my mind, to be seen by any man again. To display it, to submit it to the test of what would be called 'scientific proof,' to have it photographed and 'written up'—impossible, incredible! On the other hand, to keep it safely to myself—no, I cannot do that either. You feel that with me?"

The blind man nodded.

"There is another seemly, reverent way. The opportunity offers. I found a letter at the house this morning. I meant to tell you of it. I have got the appointment that I told you of and in three days I start for South America. I will take the coat just as it is, weight it beyond the possibility of recovery and sink it out of the world in the deepest part of the Atlantic; beyond controversy, and safe from falling to any ignoble use. You can supply me with a box and lead. You approve of that?"

"I will help you," said Carrados, rising.

the end


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