"Seymour," my brother-in-law said, with a deep-drawn sigh, as we left Lak_eorge next day by the Rennselaer and Saratoga Railroad, "no more Peter Porte_or me, _if_ you please! I'm sick of disguises. Now that we know Colone_lay is here in America, they serve no good purpose; so I may as well receiv_he social consideration and proper respect to which my rank and positio_aturally entitle me."
"And which they secure for the most part (except from hotel clerks), even i_his republican land," I answered briskly.
For in my humble opinion, for sound copper-bottomed snobbery, registered A1 a_loyd's, give _me_ the free-born American citizen.
We travelled through the States, accordingly, for the next four months, fro_aine to California, and from Oregon to Florida, under our own true names,
"Confirming the churches," as Charles facetiously put it—or in other words, looking into the management and control of railways, syndicates, mines, an_attle-ranches. We inquired about everything. And the result of ou_nvestigations appeared to be, as Charles further remarked, that the Sabean_ho so troubled the sons of Job seemed to have migrated in a body to Kansa_nd Nebraska, and that several thousand head of cattle seemed mysteriously t_anish, à la Colonel Clay, into the pure air of the prairies just before eac_randing.
However, we were fortunate in avoiding the incursions of the Colonel himself, who must have migrated meanwhile on some enchanted carpet to other happ_unting-grounds.
It was chill October before we found ourselves safe back in New York, en rout_or England. So long a term of freedom from the Colonel's depredations (a_harles fondly imagined—but I will not anticipate) had done my brother-in- law's health and spirits a world of good; he was so lively and cheerful tha_e began to fancy his tormentor must have succumbed to yellow fever, the_aging in New Orleans, or eaten himself ill, as we nearly did ourselves, on _enerous mixture of clam-chowder, terrapin, soft-shelled crabs, Jerse_eaches, canvas-backed ducks, Catawba wine, winter cherries, brandy cocktails, strawberry-shortcake, ice-creams, corn-dodger, and a judicious brew commonl_nown as a Colorado corpse-reviver. However that may be, Charles returned t_ew York in excellent trim; and, dreading in that great city the wiles of hi_ntagonist, he cheerfully accepted the invitation of his brother millionaire, Senator Wrengold of Nevada, to spend a few days before sailing in th_enator's magnificent and newly-finished palace at the upper end of Fift_venue.
"There, at least, I shall be safe, Sey," he said to me plaintively, with _eary smile. "Wrengold, at any rate, won't try to take me in—except, o_ourse, in the regular way of business."
Boss-Nugget Hall (as it is popularly christened) is perhaps the handsomes_rown stone mansion in the Richardsonian style on all Fifth Avenue. We spent _elightful week there. The lines had fallen to us in pleasant places. On th_ight we arrived Wrengold gave a small bachelor party in our honour. He kne_ir Charles was travelling without Lady Vandrift, and rightly judged he woul_refer on his first night an informal party, with cards and cigars, instead o_eing bothered with the charming, but still somewhat hampering addition o_emale society.
The guests that evening were no more than seven, all told, ourselve_ncluded—making up, Wrengold said, that perfect number, an octave. He was _ouveau riche himself—the newest of the new—commonly known in exclusive old- fashioned New York society as the Gilded Squatter; for he "struck his reef" n_ore than ten years ago; and he was therefore doubly anxious, after th_merican style, to be "just dizzy with culture." In his capacity of Mæcenas, he had invited amongst others the latest of English literary arrivals in Ne_ork—Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, and leader of the Briar-ros_chool of West-country fiction.
"You know him in London, of course?" he observed to Charles, with a smile, a_e waited dinner for our guests.
"No," Charles answered stolidly. "I have not had that honour. We move, yo_ee, in different circles."
I observed by a curious shade which passed over Senator Wrengold's face tha_e quite misapprehended my brother-in-law's meaning. Charles wished to convey, of course, that Mr. Coleyard belonged to a mere literary and Bohemian set i_ondon, while he himself moved on a more exalted plane of peers an_oliticians. But the Senator, better accustomed to the new-rich point of view, understood Charles to mean that _he_ had not the entrée of tha_istinguished coterie in which Mr. Coleyard posed as a shining luminary. Whic_aturally made him rate even higher than before his literary acquisition.
At two minutes past the hour the poet entered. Even if we had not been alread_amiliar with his portrait at all ages in The Strand Magazine, we should hav_ecognised him at once for a genuine bard by his impassioned eyes, hi_elicate mouth, the artistic twirl of one gray lock upon his expansive brow, the grizzled moustache that gave point and force to the genial smile, and th_wo white rows of perfect teeth behind it. Most of our fellow-guests had me_oleyard before at a reception given by the Lotus Club that afternoon, for th_ard had reached New York but the previous evening; so Charles and I were th_nly visitors who remained to be introduced to him. The lion of the hour wa_ttired in ordinary evening dress, with no foppery of any kind, but he wore i_is buttonhole a dainty blue flower whose name I do not know; and as he bowe_istantly to Charles, whom he surveyed through his eyeglass, the gleam of _ig diamond in the middle of his shirt-front betrayed the fact that the Briar- rose school, as it was called (from his famous epic), had at least succeede_n making money out of poetry. He explained to us a little later, in fact, that he was over in New York to look after his royalties. "The beggars," h_aid, "only gave me eight hundred pounds on my last volume. I couldn't stan_that_ , you know; for a modern bard, moving with the age, can only sing whe_uly wound up; so I've run across to investigate. Put a penny in the slot, don't you see, and the poet will pipe for you."
"Exactly like myself," Charles said, finding a point in common. " _I'm_nterested in mines; and I, too, have come over to look after my royalties."
The poet placed his eyeglass in his eye once more, and surveyed Charle_eliberately from head to foot. "Oh," he murmured slowly. He said not a wor_ore; but somehow, everybody felt that Charles was demolished. I saw tha_rengold, when we went in to dinner, hastily altered the cards that marke_heir places. He had evidently put Charles at first to sit next the poet; h_aried that arrangement now, setting Algernon Coleyard between a railway kin_nd a magazine editor. I have seldom seen my respected brother-in-law s_ompletely silenced.
The poet's conduct during dinner was most peculiar. He kept quoting poetry a_nopportune moments.
"Roast lamb or boiled turkey, sir?" said the footman.
"Mary had a little lamb," said the poet. "I shall imitate Mary."
Charles and the Senator thought the remark undignified.
After dinner, however, under the mellowing influence of some excellen_oederer, Charles began to expand again, and grew lively and anecdotal. Th_oet had made us all laugh not a little with various capital stories of Londo_iterary society—at least two of them, I think, new ones; and Charles wa_oved by generous emulation to contribute his own share to the amusement o_he company. He was in excellent cue. He is not often brilliant; but when h_hooses, he has a certain dry vein of caustic humour which is decidedly funny, though not perhaps strictly without being vulgar. On this particular night, then, warmed with the admirable Wrengold champagne—the best made in America—h_aunched out into a full and embroidered description of the various ways i_hich Colonel Clay had deceived him. I will not say that he narrated them i_ull with the same frankness and accuracy that I have shown in these pages; h_uppressed not a few of the most amusing details—on no other ground, apparently, than because they happened to tell against himself; and h_nlarged a good deal on the surprising cleverness with which several times h_ad nearly secured his man; but still, making all allowances for native vanit_n concealment and addition, he was distinctly funny—he represented the matte_or once in its ludicrous rather than in its disastrous aspect. He observe_lso, looking around the table, that after all he had lost less by Colone_lay in four years of persecution than he often lost by one injudicious mov_n a single day on the London Stock Exchange; while he seemed to imply to th_olid men of New York, that he would cheerfully sacrifice such a fleabite a_hat, in return for the amusement and excitement of the chase which th_olonel had afforded him.
The poet was pleased. "You are a man of spirit, Sir Charles," he said. "I lov_o see this fine old English admiration of pluck and adventure! The fello_ust really have some good in him, after all. I should like to take notes of _ew of those stories; they would supply nice material for basing a romanc_pon."
"I hardly know whether I'm exactly the man to make the hero of a novel,"
Charles murmured, with complacence. And he certainly didn't look it.
" _I_ was thinking rather of Colonel Clay as the hero," the poet responde_oldly.
"Ah, that's the way with you men of letters," Charles answered, growing warm.
"You always have a sneaking sympathy with the rascals."
"That may be better," Coleyard retorted, in an icy voice, "than sympathy wit_he worst forms of Stock Exchange speculation."
The company smiled uneasily. The railway king wriggled. Wrengold tried t_hange the subject hastily. But Charles would not be put down.
"You must hear the end, though," he said. "That's not quite the worst. Th_eanest thing about the man is that he's also a hypocrite. He wrote me _such_ letter at the end of his last trick—here, positively here, in America." An_e proceeded to give his own version of the Quackenboss incident, enlivene_ith sundry imaginative bursts of pure Vandrift fancy.
When Charles spoke of Mrs. Quackenboss the poet smiled. "The worst of marrie_omen," he said, "is—that you can't marry them; the worst of unmarried wome_s—that they want to marry you." But when it came to the letter, the poet'_ye was upon my brother-in-law. Charles, I must fain admit, garbled th_ocument sadly. Still, even so, some gleam of good feeling remained in it_entences. But Charles ended all by saying, "So, to crown his misdemeanours, the rascal shows himself a whining cur and a disgusting Pharisee."
"Don't you think," the poet interposed, in his cultivated drawl, "he may hav_eally meant it? Why should not some grain of compunction have stirred hi_oul still?—some remnant of conscience made him shrink from betraying a ma_ho confided in him? I have an idea, myself, that even the worst of rogue_ave always some good in them. I notice they often succeed to the end i_etaining the affection and fidelity of women."
"Oh, I said so!" Charles sneered. "I told you you literary men have always a_nderhand regard for a scoundrel."
"Perhaps so," the poet answered. "For we are all of us human. Let him that i_ithout sin among us cast the first stone." And then he relapsed into mood_ilence.
We rose from table. Cigars went round. We adjourned to the smoking-room. I_as a Moorish marvel, with Oriental hangings. There, Senator Wrengold an_harles exchanged reminiscences of bonanzas and ranches and other excitin_ost-prandial topics; while the magazine editor cut in now and again with _ertinent inquiry or a quaint and sarcastic parallel instance. It was clear h_ad an eye to future copy. Only Algernon Coleyard sat brooding and silent, with his chin on one hand, and his brow intent, musing and gazing at th_mbers in the fireplace. The hand, by the way, was remarkable for a curious, antique-looking ring, apparently of Egyptian or Etruscan workmanship, with _rojecting gem of several large facets. Once only, in the midst of a game o_hist, he broke out with a single comment.
"Hawkins was made an earl," said Charles, speaking of some Londo_cquaintance.
"What for?" asked the Senator.
"Successful adulteration," said the poet tartly.
"Honours are easy," the magazine editor put in.
"And two by tricks to Sir Charles," the poet added.
Towards the close of the evening, however—the poet still remaining moody, no_o say positively grumpy—Senator Wrengold proposed a friendly game of Swedis_oker. It was the latest fashionable variant in Western society on the ol_ambling round, and few of us knew it, save the omniscient poet and th_agazine editor. It turned out afterwards that Wrengold proposed tha_articular game because he had heard Coleyard observe at the Lotus Club th_ame afternoon that it was a favourite amusement of his. Now, however, for _hile he objected to playing. He was a poor man, he said, and the rest wer_ll rich; why should he throw away the value of a dozen golden sonnets just t_dd one more pinnacle to the gilded roofs of a millionaire's palace? Besides, he was half-way through with an ode he was inditing to Republican simplicity.
The pristine austerity of a democratic senatorial cottage had naturall_nspired him with memories of Dentatus, the Fabii, Camillus. But Wrengold, dimly aware he was being made fun of somehow, insisted that the poet must tak_ hand with the financiers. "You can pass, you know," he said, "as often a_ou like; and you can stake low, or go it blind, according as you're incline_o. It's a democratic game; every man decides for himself how high he wil_lay, except the banker; and you needn't take bank unless you want it."
"Oh, if you insist upon it," Coleyard drawled out, with languid reluctance,
"I'll play, of course. I won't spoil your evening. But remember, I'm a poet; _ave strange inspirations."
The cards were "squeezers"—that is to say, had the suit and the number of pip_n each printed small in the corner, as well as over the face, for ease o_eference. We played low at first. The poet seldom staked; and when he did—_ew pounds—he lost, with singular persistence. He wanted to play for doubloon_r sequins, and could with difficulty be induced to condescend to dollars.
Charles looked across at him at last; the stakes by that time were fast risin_igher, and we played for ready money. Notes lay thick on the green cloth.
"Well," he murmured provokingly, "how about your inspiration? Has Apoll_eserted you?"
It was an unwonted flight of classical allusion for Charles, and I confess i_stonished me. (I discovered afterwards he had cribbed it from a review i_hat evening's Critic.) But the poet smiled.
"No," he answered calmly, "I am waiting for one now. When it comes, you may b_ure you shall have the benefit of it."
Next round, Charles dealing and banking, the poet staked on his card, unsee_s usual. He staked like a gentleman. To our immense astonishment he pulle_ut a roll of notes, and remarked, in a quiet tone, "I have an inspiratio_ow. _Half-hearted_ will do. I go five thousand." That was dollars, o_ourse; but it amounted to a thousand pounds in English money—high play for a_uthor.
Charles smiled and turned his card. The poet turned his—and won a thousand.
"Good shot!" Charles murmured, pretending not to mind, though he detest_osing.
"Inspiration!" the poet mused, and looked once more abstracted.
Charles dealt again. The poet watched the deal with boiled-fishy eyes. Hi_houghts were far away. His lips moved audibly. "Myrtle, and kirtle, an_urtle," he muttered. "They'll do for three. Then there's turtle, meanin_ove; and that finishes the possible. Laurel and coral make a very bad rhyme.
Try myrtle; don't you think so?"
"Do you stake?" Charles asked, severely, interrupting his reverie.
The poet started. "No, pass," he replied, looking down at his card, an_ubsided into muttering. We caught a tremor of his lips again, and hear_omething like this: "Not less but more republican than thou, Half-hearte_atcher by the Western sea, After long years I come to visit thee, And tes_hy fealty to that maiden vow, That bound thee in thy budding prime Fo_reedom's bride—"
"Stake?" Charles interrupted, inquiringly, again.
"Yes, five thousand," the poet answered dreamily, pushing forward his pile o_otes, and never ceasing from his murmur: "For Freedom's bride to al_ucceeding time. Succeeding; succeeding; weak word, succeeding. Couldn't g_ive dollars on it."
Charles turned his card once more. The poet had won again. Charles passed ove_is notes. The poet raked them in with a far-away air, as one who looks a_nfinity, and asked if he could borrow a pencil and paper. He had a fe_riceless lines to set down which might otherwise escape him.
"This is play," Charles said pointedly. " _Will_ you kindly attend to on_hing or the other?"
The poet glanced at him with a compassionate smile. "I told you I ha_nspirations," he said. "They always come together. I can't win your money a_ast as I would like, unless at the same time I am making verses. Whenever _it upon a good epithet, I back my luck, don't you see? I won a thousand o_half-hearted_ and a thousand on _budding_ ; if I were to back _succeeding_ , I should lose, to a certainty. You understand my system?"
"I call it pure rubbish," Charles answered. "However, continue. Systems wer_ade for fools—and to suit wise men. Sooner or later you _must_ lose at suc_ stupid fancy."
The poet continued. "For Freedom's bride to all _ensuing_ time."
"Stake!" Charles cried sharply. We each of us staked.
" _Ensuing_ ," the poet murmured. "To all _ensuing_ time. First-rate epithe_hat. I go ten thousand, Sir Charles, on _ensuing_."
We all turned up. Some of us lost, some won; but the poet had secured his tw_housand sterling.
"I haven't that amount about me," Charles said, in that austerely nettle_oice which he always assumes when he loses at cards; "but—I'll settle it wit_ou to-morrow."
"Another round?" the host asked, beaming.
"No, thank you," Charles answered; "Mr. Coleyard's inspirations come too pa_or my taste. His luck beats mine. I retire from the game, Senator."
Just at that moment a servant entered, bearing a salver, with a small note i_n envelope. "For Mr. Coleyard," he observed; "and the messenger said, _urgent_."
Coleyard tore it open hurriedly. I could see he was agitated. His face gre_hite at once.
"I—I beg your pardon," he said. "I—I must go back instantly. My wife i_angerously ill—quite a sudden attack. Forgive me, Senator. Sir Charles, yo_hall have your revenge to-morrow."
It was clear that his voice faltered. We felt at least he was a man o_eeling. He was obviously frightened. His coolness forsook him. He shook hand_s in a dream, and rushed downstairs for his dust-coat. Almost as he close_he front door, a new guest entered, just missing him in the vestibule.
"Halloa, you men," he said, "we've been taken in, do you know? It's all ove_he Lotus. The man we made an honorary member of the club to-day is _not_lgernon Coleyard. He's a blatant impostor. There's a telegram come in on th_ape to-night saying Algernon Coleyard is dangerously ill at his home i_ngland."
Charles gasped a violent gasp. "Colonel Clay!" he shouted, aloud. "And onc_ore he's done me. There's not a moment to lose. After him, gentlemen! afte_im!"
Never before in our lives had we had such a close shave of catching and fixin_he redoubtable swindler. We burst down the stairs in a body, and rushed ou_nto Fifth Avenue. The pretended poet had only a hundred yards' start of us, and he saw he was discovered. But he was an excellent runner. So was I, weigh_or age; and I dashed wildly after him. He turned round a corner; it proved t_ead nowhere, and lost him time. He darted back again, madly. Delighted wit_he idea that I was capturing so famous a criminal, I redoubled my efforts—an_ame up with him, panting. He was wearing a light dust-coat. I seized it in m_ands. "I've got you at last!" I cried; "Colonel Clay, I've got you!"
He turned and looked at me. "Ha, old Ten Per Cent!" he called out, struggling.
"It's you, then, is it? Never, never to _you_ , sir!" And as he spoke, h_omehow flung his arms straight out behind him, and let the dust-coat sli_ff, which it easily did, the sleeves being new and smoothly silk-lined. Th_uddenness of the movement threw me completely off my guard, and off my leg_s well. I was clinging to the coat and holding him. As the support gave way _olled over backward, in the mud of the street, and hurt my back seriously. A_or Colonel Clay, with a nervous laugh, he bolted off at full speed in hi_vening coat, and vanished round a corner.
It was some seconds before I had sufficiently recovered my breath to pic_yself up again, and examine my bruises. By this time Charles and the othe_ursuers had come up, and I explained my condition to them. Instead o_ommending me for my zeal in his cause—which had cost me a barked arm and _ood evening suit—my brother-in-law remarked, with an unfeeling sneer, tha_hen I had so nearly caught my man I might as well have held him.
"I have his coat, at least," I said. "That may afford us a clue." And I limpe_ack with it in my hands, feeling horribly bruised and a good deal shaken.
When we came to examine the coat, however, it bore no maker's name; the stra_t the back, where the tailor proclaims with pride his handicraft, had bee_arefully ripped off, and its place was taken by a tag of plain black tap_ithout inscription of any sort. We searched the breast-pocket. _andkerchief, similarly nameless, but of finest cambric. The side-pockets—ha, what was this? I drew a piece of paper out in triumph. It was a note—a rea_ind—the one which the servant had handed to our friend just before at th_enator's.
We read it through breathlessly:—
> "DARLING PAUL,—I _told_ you it was too dangerous. You should have listene_o me. You ought _never_ to have imitated any real person. I happened t_lance at the hotel tape just now, to see the quotations for Cloetedorps to- day, and what do you think I read as part of the latest telegram from England?
'Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, is lying on his death-bed at his hom_n Devonshire.' By this time all New York knows. Don't stop one minute. Sa_'m dangerously ill, and come away at once. Don't return to the hotel. I a_emoving our things. Meet me at Mary's. Your devoted, MARGOT."
"This is _very_ important," Charles said. "This _does_ give us a clue. W_now two things now: his real name is Paul—whatever else it may be, and Madam_icardet's is Margot."
I searched the pocket again, and pulled out a ring. Evidently he had thrus_hese two things there when he saw me pursuing him, and had forgotten o_eglected them in the heat of the mêlée.
I looked at it close. It was the very ring I had noticed on his finger whil_e was playing Swedish poker. It had a large compound gem in the centre, se_ith many facets, and rising like a pyramid to a point in the middle. Ther_ere eight faces in all, some of them composed of emerald, amethyst, o_urquoise. But _one_ face—the one that turned at a direct angle towards th_earer's eye—was _not_ a gem at all, but an extremely tiny convex mirror. I_ moment I spotted the trick. He held this hand carelessly on the table whil_y brother-in-law dealt; and when he saw that the suit and number of his ow_ard mirrored in it by means of the squeezers were better than Charles's, h_ad "an inspiration," and backed his luck—or rather his knowledge—with perfec_onfidence. I did not doubt, either, that his odd-looking eyeglass was _owerful magnifier which helped him in the trick. Still, we tried anothe_eal, by way of experiment—I wearing the ring; and even with the naked eye _as able to distinguish in every case the suit and pips of the card that wa_ealt me.
"Why, that was almost dishonest," the Senator said, drawing back. He wished t_how us that even far-Western speculators drew a line somewhere.
"Yes," the magazine editor echoed. "To back your skill is legal; to back you_uck is foolish; to back your knowledge is—"
"Immoral," I suggested.
"Very good business," said the magazine editor.
"It's a simple trick," Charles interposed. "I should have spotted it if it ha_een done by any other fellow. But his patter about inspiration put me clea_ff the track. That's the rascal's dodge. He plays the regular conjurer's gam_f distracting your attention from the real point at issue—so well that yo_ever find out what he's really about till he's sold you irretrievably."
We set the New York police upon the trail of the Colonel; but of course he ha_anished at once, as usual, into the thin smoke of Manhattan. Not a sign coul_e find of him. "Mary's," we found an insufficient address.
We waited on in New York for a whole fortnight. Nothing came of it. We neve_ound "Mary's." The only token of Colonel Clay's presence vouchsafed us in th_ity was one of his customary insulting notes. It was conceived as follows:—
> "O ETERNAL GULLIBLE!—Since I saw you on Lake George, I have run back t_ondon, and promptly come out again. I had business to transact there, indeed, which I have now completed; the excessive attentions of the English polic_ent me once more, like great Orion, "sloping slowly to the west." I returne_o America in order to see whether or not you were still impenitent. On th_ay of my arrival I happened to meet Senator Wrengold, and accepted his kin_nvitation solely that I might see how far my last communication had had _roper effect upon you. As I found you quite obdurate, and as you furthermor_ersisted in misunderstanding my motives, I determined to read you one mor_mall lesson. It nearly failed; and I confess the accident has affected m_erves a little. I am now about to retire from business altogether, and settl_own for life at my place in Surrey. I mean to try just one more small coup; and, when that is finished, Colonel Clay will hang up his sword, lik_incinnatus, and take to farming. You need no longer fear me. I have realise_nough to secure me for life a modest competence; and as I am not possesse_ike yourself with an immoderate greed of gain, I recognise that goo_itizenship demands of me now an early retirement in favour of some younge_nd more deserving rascal. I shall always look back with pleasure upon ou_greeable adventures together; and as you hold my dust-coat, together with _ing and letter to which I attach importance, I consider we are quits, and _hall withdraw with dignity. Your sincere well-wisher, CUTHBERT CLAY, Poet."
"Just like him!" Charles said, "to hold this one last coup over my head i_errorem. Though even when he has played it, why should I trust his word? _camp like that may say it, of course, on purpose to disarm me."
For my own part, I quite agreed with "Margot." When the Colonel was reduced t_ressing the part of a known personage I felt he had reached almost his las_ard, and would be well advised to retire into Surrey.
But the magazine editor summed up all in a word. "Don't believe that nonsens_bout fortunes being made by industry and ability," he said. "In life, as a_ards, two things go to produce success—the first is chance; the second i_heating."