A LARGE map of London would be needed to display the wild and zigzag course o_ne day's journey undertaken by an uncle and his nephew; or, to speak mor_ruly, of a nephew and his uncle. For the nephew, a schoolboy on a holiday, was in theory the god in the car, or in the cab, tram, tube, and so on, whil_is uncle was at most a priest dancing before him and offering sacrifices. T_ut it more soberly, the schoolboy had something of the stolid air of a youn_uke doing the grand tour, while his elderly relative was reduced to th_osition of a courier, who nevertheless had to pay for everything like _atron. The schoolboy was officially known as Summers Minor, and in a mor_ocial manner as Stinks, the only public tribute to his career as an amateu_hotographer and electrician. The uncle was the Rev. Thomas Twyford, a lea_nd lively old gentleman with a red, eager face and white hair. He was in th_rdinary way a country clergyman, but he was one of those who achieve th_aradox of being famous in an obscure way, because they are famous in a_bscure world. In a small circle of ecclesiastical archaeologists, who wer_he only people who could even understand one another's discoveries, h_ccupied a recognized and respectable place. And a critic might have foun_ven in that day's journey at least as much of the uncle's hobby as of th_ephew's holiday.
His original purpose had been wholly paternal and festive. But, like man_ther intelligent people, he was not above the weakness of playing with a to_o amuse himself, on the theory that it would amuse a child. His toys wer_rowns and miters and croziers and swords of state; and he had lingered ove_hem, telling himself that the boy ought to see all the sights of London. An_t the end of the day, after a tremendous tea, he rather gave the game away b_inding up with a visit in which hardly any human boy could be conceived a_aking an interest—an underground chamber supposed to have been a chapel, recently excavated on the north bank of the Thames, and containing literall_othing whatever but one old silver coin. But the coin, to those who knew, wa_ore solitary and splendid than the Koh-i-noor. It was Roman, and was said t_ear the head of St. Paul; and round it raged the most vital controversie_bout the ancient British Church. It could hardly be denied, however, that th_ontroversies left Summers Minor comparatively cold.
Indeed, the things that interested Summers Minor, and the things that did no_nterest him, had mystified and amused his uncle for several hours. H_xhibited the English schoolboy's startling ignorance and startlin_nowledge—knowledge of some special classification in which he can generall_orrect and confound his elders. He considered himself entitled, at Hampto_ourt on a holiday, to forget the very names of Cardinal Wolsey or William o_range; but he could hardly be dragged from some details about the arrangemen_f the electric bells in the neighboring hotel. He was solidly dazed b_estminster Abbey, which is not so unnatural since that church became th_umber room of the larger and less successful statuary of the eighteent_entury. But he had a magic and minute knowledge of the Westminster omnibuses, and indeed of the whole omnibus system of London, the colors and numbers o_hich he knew as a herald knows heraldry. He would cry out against a momentar_onfusion between a light-green Paddington and a dark-green Bayswater vehicle, as his uncle would at the identification of a Greek ikon and a Roman image.
"Do you collect omnibuses like stamps?" asked his uncle. "They must need _ather large album. Or do you keep them in your locker?"
"I keep them in my head," replied the nephew, with legitimate firmness.
"It does you credit, I admit," replied the clergyman. "I suppose it were vai_o ask for what purpose you have learned that out of a thousand things. Ther_ardly seems to be a career in it, unless you could be permanently on th_avement to prevent old ladies getting into the wrong bus. Well, we must ge_ut of this one, for this is our place. I want to show you what they call St.
"Is it like St. Paul's Cathedral?" asked the youth with resignation, as the_lighted.
At the entrance their eyes were arrested by a singular figure evidentl_overing there with a similar anxiety to enter. It was that of a dark, thi_an in a long black robe rather like a cassock; but the black cap on his hea_as of too strange a shape to be a biretta. It suggested, rather, some archai_eaddress of Persia or Babylon. He had a curious black beard appearing only a_he corners of his chin, and his large eyes were oddly set in his face lik_he flat decorative eyes painted in old Egyptian profiles. Before they ha_athered more than a general impression of him, he had dived into the doorwa_hat was their own destination.
Nothing could be seen above ground of the sunken sanctuary except a stron_ooden hut, of the sort recently run up for many military and officia_urposes, the wooden floor of which was indeed a mere platform over th_xcavated cavity below. A soldier stood as a sentry outside, and a superio_oldier, an Anglo-Indian officer of distinction, sat writing at the des_nside. Indeed, the sightseers soon found that this particular sight wa_urrounded with the most extraordinary precautions. I have compared the silve_oin to the Koh-i-noor, and in one sense it was even conventionall_omparable, since by a historical accident it was at one time almost counte_mong the Crown jewels, or at least the Crown relics, until one of the roya_rinces publicly restored it to the shrine to which it was supposed to belong.
Other causes combined to concentrate official vigilance upon it; there ha_een a scare about spies carrying explosives in small objects, and one o_hose experimental orders which pass like waves over bureaucracy had decree_irst that all visitors should change their clothes for a sort of officia_ackcloth, and then (when this method caused some murmurs) that they should a_east turn out their pockets. Colonel Morris, the officer in charge, was _hort, active man with a grim and leathery face, but a lively and humorou_ye—a contradiction borne out by his conduct, for he at once derided th_afeguards and yet insisted on them.
"I don't care a button myself for Paul's Penny, or such things," he admitte_n answer to some antiquarian openings from the clergyman who was slightl_cquainted with him, "but I wear the King's coat, you know, and it's a seriou_hing when the King's uncle leaves a thing here with his own hands under m_harge. But as for saints and relics and things, I fear I'm a bit of _oltairian; what you would call a skeptic."
"I'm not sure it's even skeptical to believe in the royal family and not i_he 'Holy' Family," replied Mr. Twyford. "But, of course, I can easily empt_y pockets, to show I don't carry a bomb."
The little heap of the parson's possessions which he left on the tabl_onsisted chiefly of papers, over and above a pipe and a tobacco pouch an_ome Roman and Saxon coins. The rest were catalogues of old books, an_amphlets, like one entitled "The Use of Sarum," one glance at which wa_ufficient both for the colonel and the schoolboy. They could not see the us_f Sarum at all. The contents of the boy's pockets naturally made a large_eap, and included marbles, a ball of string, an electric torch, a magnet, _mall catapult, and, of course, a large pocketknife, almost to be described a_ small tool box, a complex apparatus on which he seemed disposed to linger, pointing out that it included a pair of nippers, a tool for punching holes i_ood, and, above all, an instrument for taking stones out of a horse's hoof.
The comparative absence of any horse he appeared to regard as irrelevant, a_f it were a mere appendage easily supplied. But when the turn came of th_entleman in the black gown, he did not turn out his pockets, but merel_pread out his hands.
"I have no possessions," he said.
"I'm afraid I must ask you to empty your pockets and make sure," observed th_olonel, gruffly.
"I have no pockets," said the stranger.
Mr. Twyford was looking at the long black gown with a learned eye.
"Are you a monk?" he asked, in a puzzled fashion.
"I am a magus," replied the stranger. "You have heard of the magi, perhaps? _m a magician."
"Oh, I say!" exclaimed Summers Minor, with prominent eyes.
"But I was once a monk," went on the other. "I am what you would call a_scaped monk. Yes, I have escaped into eternity. But the monks held one trut_t least, that the highest life should be without possessions. I have n_ocket money and no pockets, and all the stars are my trinkets."
"They are out of reach, anyhow," observed Colonel Morris, in a tone whic_uggested that it was well for them. "I've known a good many magicians mysel_n India—mango plant and all. But the Indian ones are all frauds, I'll swear.
In fact, I had a good deal of fun showing them up. More fun than I have ove_his dreary job, anyhow. But here comes Mr. Symon, who will show you over th_ld cellar downstairs."
Mr. Symon, the official guardian and guide, was a young man, prematurely gray, with a grave mouth which contrasted curiously with a very small, dark mustach_ith waxed points, that seemed somehow, separate from it, as if a black fl_ad settled on his face. He spoke with the accent of Oxford and the permanen_fficial, but in as dead a fashion as the most indifferent hired guide. The_escended a dark stone staircase, at the floor of which Symon pressed a butto_nd a door opened on a dark room, or, rather, a room which had an instan_efore been dark. For almost as the heavy iron door swung open an almos_linding blaze of electric lights filled the whole interior. The fitfu_nthusiasm of Stinks at once caught fire, and he eagerly asked if the light_nd the door worked together.
"Yes, it's all one system," replied Symon. "It was all fitted up for the da_is Royal Highness deposited the thing here. You see, it's locked up behind _lass case exactly as he left it."
A glance showed that the arrangements for guarding the treasure were indeed a_trong as they were simple. A single pane of glass cut off one corner of th_oom, in an iron framework let into the rock walls and the wooden roof above; there was now no possibility of reopening the case without elaborate labor, except by breaking the glass, which would probably arouse the night watchma_ho was always within a few feet of it, even if he had fallen asleep. A clos_xamination would have showed many more ingenious safeguards; but the eye o_he Rev. Thomas Twyford, at least, was already riveted on what interested hi_uch more—the dull silver disk which shone in the white light against a plai_ackground of black velvet.
"St. Paul's Penny, said to commemorate the visit of St. Paul to Britain, wa_robably preserved in this chapel until the eighth century," Symon was sayin_n his clear but colorless voice. "In the ninth century it is supposed to hav_een carried away by the barbarians, and it reappears, after the conversion o_he northern Goths, in the possession of the royal family of Gothland. Hi_oyal Highness, the Duke of Gothland, retained it always in his own privat_ustody, and when he decided to exhibit it to the public, placed it here wit_is own hand. It was immediately sealed up in such a manner—"
Unluckily at this point Summers Minor, whose attention had somewhat straye_rom the religious wars of the ninth century, caught sight of a short lengt_f wire appearing in a broken patch in the wall. He precipitated himself a_t, calling out, "I say, does that connect?"
It was evident that it did connect, for no sooner had the boy given it _witch than the whole room went black, as if they had all been struck blind, and an instant afterward they heard the dull crash of the closing door.
"Well, you've done it now," said Symon, in his tranquil fashion. Then after _ause he added, "I suppose they'll miss us sooner or later, and no doubt the_an get it open; but it may take some little time."
There was a silence, and then the unconquerable Stinks observed:
"Rotten that I had to leave my electric torch."
"I think," said his uncle, with restraint, "that we are sufficiently convince_f your interest in electricity."
Then after a pause he remarked, more amiably: "I suppose if I regretted any o_y own impedimenta, it would be the pipe. Though, as a matter of fact, it'_ot much fun smoking in the dark. Everything seems different in the dark."
"Everything is different in the dark," said a third voice, that of the man wh_alled himself a magician. It was a very musical voice, and rather in contras_ith his sinister and swarthy visage, which was now invisible. "Perhaps yo_on't know how terrible a truth that is. All you see are pictures made by th_un, faces and furniture and flowers and trees. The things themselves may b_uite strange to you. Something else may be standing now where you saw a tabl_r a chair. The face of your friend may be quite different in the dark."
A short, indescribable noise broke the stillness. Twyford started for _econd, and then said, sharply:
"Really, I don't think it's a suitable occasion for trying to frighten _hild."
"Who's a child?" cried the indignant Summers, with a voice that had a crow, but also something of a crack in it. "And who's a funk, either? Not me."
"I will be silent, then," said the other voice out of the darkness. "Bu_ilence also makes and unmakes."
The required silence remained unbroken for a long time until at last th_lergyman said to Symon in a low voice:
"I suppose it's all right about air?"
"Oh, yes," replied the other aloud; "there's a fireplace and a chimney in th_ffice just by the door."
A bound and the noise of a falling chair told them that the irrepressibl_ising generation had once more thrown itself across the room. They heard th_jaculation: "A chimney! Why, I'll be—" and the rest was lost in muffled, bu_xultant, cries.
The uncle called repeatedly and vainly, groped his way at last to the opening, and, peering up it, caught a glimpse of a disk of daylight, which seemed t_uggest that the fugitive had vanished in safety. Making his way back to th_roup by the glass case, he fell over the fallen chair and took a moment t_ollect himself again. He had opened his mouth to speak to Symon, when h_topped, and suddenly found himself blinking in the full shock of the whit_ight, and looking over the other man's shoulder, he saw that the door wa_tanding open.
"So they've got at us at last," he observed to Symon.
The man in the black robe was leaning against the wall some yards away, with _mile carved on his face.
"Here comes Colonel Morris," went on Twyford, still speaking to Symon. "One o_s will have to tell him how the light went out. Will you?"
But Symon still said nothing. He was standing as still as a statue, an_ooking steadily at the black velvet behind the glass screen. He was lookin_t the black velvet because there was nothing else to look at. St. Paul'_enny was gone.
Colonel Morris entered the room with two new visitors; presumably two ne_ightseers delayed by the accident. The foremost was a tall, fair, rathe_anguid-looking man with a bald brow and a high-bridged nose; his companio_as a younger man with light, curly hair and frank, and even innocent, eyes.
Symon scarcely seemed to hear the newcomers; it seemed almost as if he had no_ealized that the return of the light revealed his brooding attitude. Then h_tarted in a guilty fashion, and when he saw the elder of the two strangers, his pale face seemed to turn a shade paler.
"Why it's Horne Fisher!" and then after a pause he said in a low voice, "I'_n the devil of a hole, Fisher."
"There does seem a bit of a mystery to be cleared up," observed the gentlema_o addressed.
"It will never be cleared up," said the pale Symon. "If anybody could clear i_p, you could. But nobody could."
"I rather think I could," said another voice from outside the group, and the_urned in surprise to realize that the man in the black robe had spoken again.
"You!" said the colonel, sharply. "And how do you propose to play th_etective?"
"I do not propose to play the detective," answered the other, in a clear voic_ike a bell. "I propose to play the magician. One of the magicians you show u_n India, Colonel."
No one spoke for a moment, and then Horne Fisher surprised everybody b_aying, "Well, let's go upstairs, and this gentleman can have a try."
He stopped Symon, who had an automatic finger on the button, saying: "No, leave all the lights on. It's a sort of safeguard."
"The thing can't be taken away now," said Symon, bitterly.
"It can be put back," replied Fisher.
Twyford had already run upstairs for news of his vanishing nephew, and h_eceived news of him in a way that at once puzzled and reassured him. On th_loor above lay one of those large paper darts which boys throw at each othe_hen the schoolmaster is out of the room. It had evidently been thrown in a_he window, and on being unfolded displayed a scrawl of bad handwriting whic_an: "Dear Uncle; I am all right. Meet you at the hotel later on," and the_he signature.
Insensibly comforted by this, the clergyman found his thoughts revertin_oluntarily to his favorite relic, which came a good second in his sympathie_o his favorite nephew, and before he knew where he was he found himsel_ncircled by the group discussing its loss, and more or less carried away o_he current of their excitement. But an undercurrent of query continued to ru_n his mind, as to what had really happened to the boy, and what was the boy'_xact definition of being all right.
Meanwhile Horne Fisher had considerably puzzled everybody with his new ton_nd attitude. He had talked to the colonel about the military and mechanica_rrangements, and displayed a remarkable knowledge both of the details o_iscipline and the technicalities of electricity. He had talked to th_lergyman, and shown an equally surprising knowledge of the religious an_istorical interests involved in the relic. He had talked to the man wh_alled himself a magician, and not only surprised but scandalized the compan_y an equally sympathetic familiarity with the most fantastic forms o_riental occultism and psychic experiment. And in this last and leas_espectable line of inquiry he was evidently prepared to go farthest; h_penly encouraged the magician, and was plainly prepared to follow the wildes_ays of investigation in which that magus might lead him.
"How would you begin now?" he inquired, with an anxious politeness tha_educed the colonel to a congestion of rage.
"It is all a question of a force; of establishing communications for a force,"
replied that adept, affably, ignoring some military mutterings about th_olice force. "It is what you in the West used to call animal magnetism, bu_t is much more than that. I had better not say how much more. As to settin_bout it, the usual method is to throw some susceptible person into a trance, which serves as a sort of bridge or cord of communication, by which the forc_eyond can give him, as it were, an electric shock, and awaken his highe_enses. It opens the sleeping eye of the mind."
"I'm suspectible," said Fisher, either with simplicity or with a bafflin_rony. "Why not open my mind's eye for me? My friend Harold March here wil_ell you I sometimes see things, even in the dark."
"Nobody sees anything except in the dark," said the magician.
Heavy clouds of sunset were closing round the wooden hut, enormous clouds, o_hich only the corners could be seen in the little window, like purple horn_nd tails, almost as if some huge monsters were prowling round the place. Bu_he purple was already deepening to dark gray; it would soon be night.
"Do not light the lamp," said the magus with quiet authority, arresting _ovement in that direction. "I told you before that things happen only in th_ark."
How such a topsy-turvy scene ever came to be tolerated in the colonel'_ffice, of all places, was afterward a puzzle in the memory of many, includin_he colonel. They recalled it like a sort of nightmare, like something the_ould not control. Perhaps there was really a magnetism about the mesmerist; perhaps there was even more magnetism about the man mesmerized. Anyhow, th_an was being mesmerized, for Horne Fisher had collapsed into a chair with hi_ong limbs loose and sprawling and his eyes staring at vacancy; and the othe_an was mesmerizing him, making sweeping movements with his darkly draped arm_s if with black wings. The colonel had passed the point of explosion, and h_imly realized that eccentric aristocrats are allowed their fling. H_omforted himself with the knowledge that he had already sent for the police, who would break up any such masquerade, and with lighting a cigar, the red en_f which, in the gathering darkness, glowed with protest.
"Yes, I see pockets," the man in the trance was saying. "I see many pockets, but they are all empty. No; I see one pocket that is not empty."
There was a faint stir in the stillness, and the magician said, "Can you se_hat is in the pocket?"
"Yes," answered the other; "there are two bright things. I think they are tw_its of steel. One of the pieces of steel is bent or crooked."
"Have they been used in the removal of the relic from downstairs?"
There was another pause and the inquirer added, "Do you see anything of th_elic itself?"
"I see something shining on the floor, like the shadow or the ghost of it. I_s over there in the corner beyond the desk."
There was a movement of men turning and then a sudden stillness, as of thei_tiffening, for over in the corner on the wooden floor there was really _ound spot of pale light. It was the only spot of light in the room. The ciga_ad gone out.
"It points the way," came the voice of the oracle. "The spirits are pointin_he way to penitence, and urging the thief to restitution. I can see nothin_ore." His voice trailed off into a silence that lasted solidly for man_inutes, like the long silence below when the theft had been committed. The_t was broken by the ring of metal on the floor, and the sound of somethin_pinning and falling like a tossed halfpenny.
"Light the lamp!" cried Fisher in a loud and even jovial voice, leaping to hi_eet with far less languor than usual. "I must be going now, but I should lik_o see it before I go. Why, I came on purpose to see it."
The lamp was lit, and he did see it, for St. Paul's Penny was lying on th_loor at his feet.
"Oh, as for that," explained Fisher, when he was entertaining March an_wyford at lunch about a month later, "I merely wanted to play with th_agician at his own game."
"I thought you meant to catch him in his own trap," said Twyford. "I can'_ake head or tail of anything yet, but to my mind he was always the suspect. _on't think he was necessarily a thief in the vulgar sense. The police alway_eem to think that silver is stolen for the sake of silver, but a thing lik_hat might well be stolen out of some religious mania. A runaway monk turne_ystic might well want it for some mystical purpose."
"No," replied Fisher, "the runaway monk is not a thief. At any rate he is no_he thief. And he's not altogether a liar, either. He said one true thing a_east that night."
"And what was that?" inquired March.
"He said it was all magnetism. As a matter of fact, it was done by means of _agnet." Then, seeing they still looked puzzled, he added, "It was that to_agnet belonging to your nephew, Mr. Twyford."
"But I don't understand," objected March. "If it was done with the schoolboy'_agnet, I suppose it was done by the schoolboy."
"Well," replied Fisher, reflectively, "it rather depends which schoolboy."
"What on earth do you mean?"
"The soul of a schoolboy is a curious thing," Fisher continued, in _editative manner. "It can survive a great many things besides climbing out o_ chimney. A man can grow gray in great campaigns, and still have the soul o_ schoolboy. A man can return with a great reputation from India and be put i_harge of a great public treasure, and still have the soul of a schoolboy, waiting to be awakened by an accident. And it is ten times more so when to th_choolboy you add the skeptic, who is generally a sort of stunted schoolboy.
You said just now that things might be done by religious mania. Have you eve_eard of irreligious mania? I assure you it exists very violently, especiall_n men who like showing up magicians in India. But here the skeptic had th_emptation of showing up a much more tremendous sham nearer home."
A light came into Harold March's eyes as he suddenly saw, as if afar off, th_ider implication of the suggestion. But Twyford was still wrestling with on_roblem at a time.
"Do you really mean," he said, "that Colonel Morris took the relic?"
"He was the only person who could use the magnet," replied Fisher. "In fact, your obliging nephew left him a number of things he could use. He had a bal_f string, and an instrument for making a hole in the wooden floor—I made _ittle play with that hole in the floor in my trance, by the way; with th_ights left on below, it shone like a new shilling." Twyford suddenly bounde_n his chair. "But in that case," he cried, in a new and altered voice, "wh_hen of course— You said a piece of steel—?"
"I said there were two pieces of steel," said Fisher. "The bent piece of stee_as the boy's magnet. The other was the relic in the glass case."
"But that is silver," answered the archaeologist, in a voice now almos_nrecognizable.
"Oh," replied Fisher, soothingly, "I dare say it was painted with silver _ittle."
There was a heavy silence, and at last Harold March said, "But where is th_eal relic?"
"Where it has been for five years," replied Horne Fisher, "in the possessio_f a mad millionaire named Vandam, in Nebraska. There was a playful littl_hotograph about him in a society paper the other day, mentioning hi_elusion, and saying he was always being taken in about relics."
Harold March frowned at the tablecloth; then, after an interval, he said: "_hink I understand your notion of how the thing was actually done; accordin_o that, Morris just made a hole and fished it up with a magnet at the end o_ string. Such a monkey trick looks like mere madness, but I suppose he wa_ad, partly with the boredom of watching over what he felt was a fraud, thoug_e couldn't prove it. Then came a chance to prove it, to himself at least, an_e had what he called 'fun' with it. Yes, I think I see a lot of details now.
But it's just the whole thing that knocks me. How did it all come to be lik_hat?"
Fisher was looking at him with level lids and an immovable manner.
"Every precaution was taken," he said. "The Duke carried the relic on his ow_erson, and locked it up in the case with his own hands."
March was silent; but Twyford stammered. "I don't understand you. You give m_he creeps. Why don't you speak plainer?"
"If I spoke plainer you would understand me less," said Horne Fisher.
"All the same I should try," said March, still without lifting his head.
"Oh, very well," replied Fisher, with a sigh; "the plain truth is, of course, that it's a bad business. Everybody knows it's a bad business who know_nything about it. But it's always happening, and in one way one can hardl_lame them. They get stuck on to a foreign princess that's as stiff as a Dutc_oll, and they have their fling. In this case it was a pretty big fling."
The face of the Rev. Thomas Twyford certainly suggested that he was a littl_ut of his depth in the seas of truth, but as the other went on speakin_aguely the old gentleman's features sharpened and set.
"If it were some decent morganatic affair I wouldn't say; but he must hav_een a fool to throw away thousands on a woman like that. At the end it wa_heer blackmail; but it's something that the old ass didn't get it out of th_axpayers. He could only get it out of the Yank, and there you are."
The Rev. Thomas Twyford had risen to his feet.
"Well, I'm glad my nephew had nothing to do with it," he said. "And if that'_hat the world is like, I hope he will never have anything to do with it."
"I hope not," answered Horne Fisher. "No one knows so well as I do that on_an have far too much to do with it."
For Summers Minor had indeed nothing to do with it; and it is part of hi_igher significance that he has really nothing to do with the story, or wit_ny such stories. The boy went like a bullet through the tangle of this tal_f crooked politics and crazy mockery and came out on the other side, pursuin_is own unspoiled purposes. From the top of the chimney he climbed he ha_aught sight of a new omnibus, whose color and name he had never known, as _aturalist might see a new bird or a botanist a new flower. And he had bee_ufficiently enraptured in rushing after it, and riding away upon that fair_hip.