Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 4 THE BOTTOMLESS WELL

  • IN an oasis, or green island, in the red and yellow seas of sand that stretc_eyond Europe toward the sunrise, there can be found a rather fantasti_ontrast, which is none the less typical of such a place, since internationa_reaties have made it an outpost of the British occupation. The site is famou_mong archaeologists for something that is hardly a monument, but merely _ole in the ground. But it is a round shaft, like that of a well, and probabl_ part of some great irrigation works of remote and disputed date, perhap_ore ancient than anything in that ancient land. There is a green fringe o_alm and prickly pear round the black mouth of the well; but nothing of th_pper masonry remains except two bulky and battered stones standing like th_illars of a gateway of nowhere, in which some of the more transcendenta_rchaeologists, in certain moods at moonrise or sunset, think they can trac_he faint lines of figures or features of more than Babylonian monstrosity; while the more rationalistic archaeologists, in the more rational hours o_aylight, see nothing but two shapeless rocks. It may have been noticed, however, that all Englishmen are not archaeologists. Many of those assemble_n such a place for official and military purposes have hobbies other tha_rchaeology. And it is a solemn fact that the English in this Eastern exil_ave contrived to make a small golf links out of the green scrub and sand; with a comfortable clubhouse at one end of it and this primeval monument a_he other. They did not actually use this archaic abyss as a bunker, becaus_t was by tradition unfathomable, and even for practical purposes unfathomed.
  • Any sporting projectile sent into it might be counted most literally as a los_all. But they often sauntered round it in their interludes of talking an_moking cigarettes, and one of them had just come down from the clubhouse t_ind another gazing somewhat moodily into the well.
  • Both the Englishmen wore light clothes and white pith helmets and puggrees, but there, for the most part, their resemblance ended. And they both almos_imultaneously said the same word, but they said it on two totally differen_otes of the voice.
  • "Have you heard the news?" asked the man from the club. "Splendid."
  • "Splendid," replied the man by the well. But the first man pronounced the wor_s a young man might say it about a woman, and the second as an old man migh_ay it about the weather, not without sincerity, but certainly without fervor.
  • And in this the tone of the two men was sufficiently typical of them. Th_irst, who was a certain Captain Boyle, was of a bold and boyish type, dark, and with a sort of native heat in his face that did not belong to th_tmosphere of the East, but rather to the ardors and ambitions of the West.
  • The other was an older man and certainly an older resident, a civilia_fficial—Horne Fisher; and his drooping eyelids and drooping light mustach_xpressed all the paradox of the Englishman in the East. He was much too ho_o be anything but cool.
  • Neither of them thought it necessary to mention what it was that was splendid.
  • That would indeed have been superfluous conversation about something tha_verybody knew. The striking victory over a menacing combination of Turks an_rabs in the north, won by troops under the command of Lord Hastings, th_eteran of so many striking victories, was already spread by the newspaper_ll over the Empire, let alone to this small garrison so near to th_attlefield.
  • "Now, no other nation in the world could have done a thing like that," crie_aptain Boyle, emphatically.
  • Horne Fisher was still looking silently into the well; a moment later h_nswered: "We certainly have the art of unmaking mistakes. That's where th_oor old Prussians went wrong. They could only make mistakes and stick t_hem. There is really a certain talent in unmaking a mistake."
  • "What do you mean," asked Boyle, "what mistakes?"
  • "Well, everybody knows it looked like biting off more than he could chew,"
  • replied Horne Fisher. It was a peculiarity of Mr. Fisher that he always sai_hat everybody knew things which about one person in two million was eve_llowed to hear of. "And it was certainly jolly lucky that Travers turned u_o well in the nick of time. Odd how often the right thing's been done for u_y the second in command, even when a great man was first in command. Lik_olborne at Waterloo."
  • "It ought to add a whole province to the Empire," observed the other.
  • "Well, I suppose the Zimmernes would have insisted on it as far as the canal,"
  • observed Fisher, thoughtfully, "though everybody knows adding province_oesn't always pay much nowadays."
  • Captain Boyle frowned in a slightly puzzled fashion. Being cloudily consciou_f never having heard of the Zimmernes in his life, he could only remark, stolidly:
  • "Well, one can't be a Little Englander."
  • Horne Fisher smiled, and he had a pleasant smile.
  • "Every man out here is a Little Englander," he said. "He wishes he were bac_n Little England."
  • "I don't know what you're talking about, I'm afraid," said the younger man, rather suspiciously. "One would think you didn't really admire Hasting_r—or—anything."
  • "I admire him no end," replied Fisher. "He's by far the best man for thi_ost; he understands the Moslems and can do anything with them. That's why I'_ll against pushing Travers against him, merely because of this last affair."
  • "I really don't understand what you're driving at," said the other, frankly.
  • "Perhaps it isn't worth understanding," answered Fisher, lightly, "and, anyhow, we needn't talk politics. Do you know the Arab legend about tha_ell?"
  • "I'm afraid I don't know much about Arab legends," said Boyle, rather stiffly.
  • "That's rather a mistake," replied Fisher, "especially from your point o_iew. Lord Hastings himself is an Arab legend. That is perhaps the ver_reatest thing he really is. If his reputation went it would weaken us al_ver Asia and Africa. Well, the story about that hole in the ground, that goe_own nobody knows where, has always fascinated me, rather. It's Mohammedan i_orm now, but I shouldn't wonder if the tale is a long way older tha_ohammed. It's all about somebody they call the Sultan Aladdin, not our frien_f the lamp, of course, but rather like him in having to do with genii o_iants or something of that sort. They say he commanded the giants to buil_im a sort of pagoda, rising higher and higher above all the stars. The Utmos_or the Highest, as the people said when they built the Tower of Babel. Bu_he builders of the Tower of Babel were quite modest and domestic people, lik_ice, compared with old Aladdin. They only wanted a tower that would reac_eaven— a mere trifle. He wanted a tower that would pass heaven and rise abov_t, and go on rising for ever and ever. And Allah cast him down to earth wit_ thunderbolt, which sank into the earth, boring a hole deeper and deeper, till it made a well that was without a bottom as the tower was to have bee_ithout a top. And down that inverted tower of darkness the soul of the prou_ultan is falling forever and ever."
  • "What a queer chap you are," said Boyle. "You talk as if a fellow coul_elieve those fables."
  • "Perhaps I believe the moral and not the fable," answered Fisher. "But her_omes Lady Hastings. You know her, I think."
  • The clubhouse on the golf links was used, of course, for many other purpose_esides that of golf. It was the only social center of the garrison beside th_trictly military headquarters; it had a billiard room and a bar, and even a_xcellent reference library for those officers who were so perverse as to tak_heir profession seriously. Among these was the great general himself, whos_ead of silver and face of bronze, like that of a brazen eagle, were often t_e found bent over the charts and folios of the library. The great Lor_astings believed in science and study, as in other severe ideals of life, an_ad given much paternal advice on the point to young Boyle, whose appearance_n that place of research were rather more intermittent. It was from one o_hese snatches of study that the young man had just come out through the glas_oors of the library on to the golf links. But, above all, the club was s_ppointed as to serve the social conveniences of ladies at least as much a_entlemen, and Lady Hastings was able to play the queen in such a societ_lmost as much as in her own ballroom. She was eminently calculated and, a_ome said, eminently inclined to play such a part. She was much younger tha_er husband, an attractive and sometimes dangerously attractive lady; and Mr.
  • Horne Fisher looked after her a little sardonically as she swept away with th_oung soldier. Then his rather dreary eye strayed to the green and prickl_rowths round the well, growths of that curious cactus formation in which on_hick leaf grows directly out of the other without stalk or twig. It gave hi_anciful mind a sinister feeling of a blind growth without shape or purpose. _lower or shrub in the West grows to the blossom which is its crown, and i_ontent. But this was as if hands could grow out of hands or legs grow out o_egs in a nightmare. "Always adding a province to the Empire," he said, with _mile, and then added, more sadly, "but I doubt if I was right, after all!"
  • A strong but genial voice broke in on his meditations and he looked up an_miled, seeing the face of an old friend. The voice was, indeed, rather mor_enial than the face, which was at the first glance decidedly grim. It was _ypically legal face, with angular jaws and heavy, grizzled eyebrows; and i_elonged to an eminently legal character, though he was now attached in _emimilitary capacity to the police of that wild district. Cuthbert Grayne wa_erhaps more of a criminologist than either a lawyer or a policeman, but i_is more barbarous surroundings he had proved successful in turning himsel_nto a practical combination of all three. The discovery of a whole series o_trange Oriental crimes stood to his credit. But as few people were acquainte_ith, or attracted to, such a hobby or branch of knowledge, his intellectua_ife was somewhat solitary. Among the few exceptions was Horne Fisher, who ha_ curious capacity for talking to almost anybody about almost anything.
  • "Studying botany, or is it archaeology?" inquired Grayne. "I shall never com_o the end of your interests, Fisher. I should say that what you don't kno_sn't worth knowing."
  • "You are wrong," replied Fisher, with a very unusual abruptness, and eve_itterness. "It's what I do know that isn't worth knowing. All the seamy sid_f things, all the secret reasons and rotten motives and bribery and blackmai_hey call politics. I needn't be so proud of having been down all these sewer_hat I should brag about it to the little boys in the street."
  • "What do you mean? What's the matter with you?" asked his friend. "I neve_new you taken like this before."
  • "I'm ashamed of myself," replied Fisher. "I've just been throwing cold wate_n the enthusiasms of a boy."
  • "Even that explanation is hardly exhaustive," observed the criminal expert.
  • "Damned newspaper nonsense the enthusiasms were, of course," continued Fisher,
  • "but I ought to know that at that age illusions can be ideals. And they'r_etter than the reality, anyhow. But there is one very ugly responsibilit_bout jolting a young man out of the rut of the most rotten ideal."
  • "And what may that be?" inquired his friend.
  • "It's very apt to set him off with the same energy in a much worse direction,"
  • answered Fisher; "a pretty endless sort of direction, a bottomless pit as dee_s the bottomless well."
  • Fisher did not see his friend until a fortnight later, when he found himsel_n the garden at the back of the clubhouse on the opposite side from th_inks, a garden heavily colored and scented with sweet semitropical plants i_he glow of a desert sunset. Two other men were with him, the third being th_ow celebrated second in command, familiar to everybody as Tom Travers, _ean, dark man, who looked older than his years, with a furrow in his brow an_omething morose about the very shape of his black mustache. They had jus_een served with black coffee by the Arab now officiating as the temporar_ervant of the club, though he was a figure already familiar, and even famous, as the old servant of the general. He went by the name of Said, and wa_otable among other Semites for that unnatural length of his yellow face an_eight of his narrow forehead which is sometimes seen among them, and gave a_rrational impression of something sinister, in spite of his agreeable smile.
  • "I never feel as if I could quite trust that fellow," said Grayne, when th_an had gone away. "It's very unjust, I take it, for he was certainly devote_o Hastings, and saved his life, they say. But Arabs are often like that, loyal to one man. I can't help feeling he might cut anybody else's throat, an_ven do it treacherously."
  • "Well," said Travers, with a rather sour smile, "so long as he leaves Hasting_lone the world won't mind much."
  • There was a rather embarrassing silence, full of memories of the great battle, and then Horne Fisher said, quietly:
  • "The newspapers aren't the world, Tom. Don't you worry about them. Everybod_n your world knows the truth well enough."
  • "I think we'd better not talk about the general just now," remarked Grayne,
  • "for he's just coming out of the club."
  • "He's not coming here," said Fisher. "He's only seeing his wife to the car."
  • As he spoke, indeed, the lady came out on the steps of the club, followed b_er husband, who then went swiftly in front of her to open the garden gate. A_e did so she turned back and spoke for a moment to a solitary man stil_itting in a cane chair in the shadow of the doorway, the only man left in th_eserted club save for the three that lingered in the garden. Fisher peere_or a moment into the shadow, and saw that it was Captain Boyle.
  • The next moment, rather to their surprise, the general reappeared and, remounting the steps, spoke a word or two to Boyle in his turn. Then h_ignaled to Said, who hurried up with two cups of coffee, and the two men re- entered the club, each carrying his cup in his hand. The next moment a glea_f white light in the growing darkness showed that the electric lamps had bee_urned on in the library beyond.
  • "Coffee and scientific researches," said Travers, grimly. "All the luxuries o_earning and theoretical research. Well, I must be going, for I have my wor_o do as well." And he got up rather stiffly, saluted his companions, an_trode away into the dusk.
  • "I only hope Boyle is sticking to scientific researches," said Horne Fisher.
  • "I'm not very comfortable about him myself. But let's talk about somethin_lse."
  • They talked about something else longer than they probably imagined, until th_ropical night had come and a splendid moon painted the whole scene wit_ilver; but before it was bright enough to see by Fisher had already note_hat the lights in the library had been abruptly extinguished. He waited fo_he two men to come out by the garden entrance, but nobody came.
  • "They must have gone for a stroll on the links," he said.
  • "Very possibly," replied Grayne. "It's going to be a beautiful night."
  • A moment or two after he had spoken they heard a voice hailing them out of th_hadow of the clubhouse, and were astonished to perceive Travers hurryin_oward them, calling out as he came:
  • "I shall want your help, you fellows," he cried. "There's something pretty ba_ut on the links."
  • They found themselves plunging through the club smoking room and the librar_eyond, in complete darkness, mental as well as material. But Horne Fisher, i_pite of his affectation of indifference, was a person of a curious and almos_ranscendental sensibility to atmospheres, and he already felt the presence o_omething more than an accident. He collided with a piece of furniture in th_ibrary, and almost shuddered with the shock, for the thing moved as he coul_ever have fancied a piece of furniture moving. It seemed to move like _iving thing, yielding and yet striking back. The next moment Grayne ha_urned on the lights, and he saw he had only stumbled against one of th_evolving bookstands that had swung round and struck him; but his involuntar_ecoil had revealed to him his own subconscious sense of something mysteriou_nd monstrous. There were several of these revolving bookcases standing her_nd there about the library; on one of them stood the two cups of coffee, an_n another a large open book. It was Budge's book on Egyptian hieroglyphics, with colored plates of strange birds and gods, and even as he rushed past, h_as conscious of something odd about the fact that this, and not any work o_ilitary science, should be open in that place at that moment. He was eve_onscious of the gap in the well-lined bookshelf from which it had been taken, and it seemed almost to gape at him in an ugly fashion, like a gap in th_eeth of some sinister face.
  • A run brought them in a few minutes to the other side of the ground in fron_f the bottomless well, and a few yards from it, in a moonlight almost a_road as daylight, they saw what they had come to see.
  • The great Lord Hastings lay prone on his face, in a posture in which there wa_ touch of something strange and stiff, with one elbow erect above his body, the arm being doubled, and his big, bony hand clutching the rank and ragge_rass. A few feet away was Boyle, almost as motionless, but supported on hi_ands and knees, and staring at the body. It might have been no more tha_hock and accident; but there was something ungainly and unnatural about th_uadrupedal posture and the gaping face. It was as if his reason had fled fro_im. Behind, there was nothing but the clear blue southern sky, and th_eginning of the desert, except for the two great broken stones in front o_he well. And it was in such a light and atmosphere that men could fancy the_raced in them enormous and evil faces, looking down.
  • Horne Fisher stooped and touched the strong hand that was still clutching th_rass, and it was as cold as a stone. He knelt by the body and was busy for _oment applying other tests; then he rose again, and said, with a sort o_onfident despair:
  • "Lord Hastings is dead."
  • There was a stony silence, and then Travers remarked, gruffly: "This is you_epartment, Grayne; I will leave you to question Captain Boyle. I can make n_ense of what he says."
  • Boyle had pulled himself together and risen to his feet, but his face stil_ore an awful expression, making it like a new mask or the face of anothe_an.
  • "I was looking at the well," he said, "and when I turned he had fallen down."
  • Grayne's face was very dark. "As you say, this is my affair," he said. "I mus_irst ask you to help me carry him to the library and let me examine thing_horoughly."
  • When they had deposited the body in the library, Grayne turned to Fisher an_aid, in a voice that had recovered its fullness and confidence, "I am goin_o lock myself in and make a thorough examination first. I look to you to kee_n touch with the others and make a preliminary examination of Boyle. I wil_alk to him later. And just telephone to headquarters for a policeman, and le_im come here at once and stand by till I want him."
  • Without more words the great criminal investigator went into the lighte_ibrary, shutting the door behind him, and Fisher, without replying, turne_nd began to talk quietly to Travers. "It is curious," he said, "that th_hing should happen just in front of that place."
  • "It would certainly be very curious," replied Travers, "if the place playe_ny part in it."
  • "I think," replied Fisher, "that the part it didn't play is more curiou_till."
  • And with these apparently meaningless words he turned to the shaken Boyle and, taking his arm, began to walk him up and down in the moonlight, talking in lo_ones.
  • Dawn had begun to break abrupt and white when Cuthbert Grayne turned out th_ights in the library and came out on to the links. Fisher was lounging abou_lone, in his listless fashion; but the police messenger for whom he had sen_as standing at attention in the background.
  • "I sent Boyle off with Travers," observed Fisher, carelessly; "he'll loo_fter him, and he'd better have some sleep, anyhow."
  • "Did you get anything out of him?" asked Grayne. "Did he tell you what he an_astings were doing?"
  • "Yes," answered Fisher, "he gave me a pretty clear account, after all. He sai_hat after Lady Hastings went off in the car the general asked him to tak_offee with him in the library and look up a point about local antiquities. H_imself was beginning to look for Budge's book in one of the revolvin_ookstands when the general found it in one of the bookshelves on the wall.
  • After looking at some of the plates they went out, it would seem, rathe_bruptly, on to the links, and walked toward the old well; and while Boyle wa_ooking into it he heard a thud behind him, and turned round to find th_eneral lying as we found him. He himself dropped on his knees to examine th_ody, and then was paralyzed with a sort of terror and could not come neare_o it or touch it. But I think very little of that; people caught in a rea_hock of surprise are sometimes found in the queerest postures."
  • Grayne wore a grim smile of attention, and said, after a short silence:
  • "Well, he hasn't told you many lies. It's really a creditably clear an_onsistent account of what happened, with everything of importance left out."
  • "Have you discovered anything in there?" asked Fisher.
  • "I have discovered everything," answered Grayne.
  • Fisher maintained a somewhat gloomy silence, as the other resumed hi_xplanation in quiet and assured tones.
  • "You were quite right, Fisher, when you said that young fellow was in dange_f going down dark ways toward the pit. Whether or no, as you fancied, th_olt you gave to his view of the general had anything to do with it, he ha_ot been treating the general well for some time. It's an unpleasant business, and I don't want to dwell on it; but it's pretty plain that his wife was no_reating him well, either. I don't know how far it went, but it went as far a_oncealment, anyhow; for when Lady Hastings spoke to Boyle it was to tell hi_he had hidden a note in the Budge book in the library. The general overheard, or came somehow to know, and he went straight to the book and found it. H_onfronted Boyle with it, and they had a scene, of course. And Boyle wa_onfronted with something else; he was confronted with an awful alternative, in which the life of one old man meant ruin and his death meant triumph an_ven happiness."
  • "Well," observed Fisher, at last, "I don't blame him for not telling you th_oman's part of the story. But how do you know about the letter?"
  • "I found it on the general's body," answered Grayne, "but I found worse thing_han that. The body had stiffened in the way rather peculiar to poisons of _ertain Asiatic sort. Then I examined the coffee cups, and I knew enoug_hemistry to find poison in the dregs of one of them. Now, the General wen_traight to the bookcase, leaving his cup of coffee on the bookstand in th_iddle of the room. While his back was turned, and Boyle was pretending t_xamine the bookstand, he was left alone with the coffee cup. The poison take_bout ten minutes to act, and ten minutes' walk would bring them to th_ottomless well."
  • "Yes," remarked Fisher, "and what about the bottomless well?"
  • "What has the bottomless well got to do with it?" asked his friend.
  • "It has nothing to do with it," replied Fisher. "That is what I find utterl_onfounding and incredible."
  • "And why should that particular hole in the ground have anything to do wit_t?"
  • "It is a particular hole in your case," said Fisher. "But I won't insist o_hat just now. By the way, there is another thing I ought to tell you. I sai_ sent Boyle away in charge of Travers. It would be just as true to say I sen_ravers in charge of Boyle."
  • "You don't mean to say you suspect Tom Travers?" cried the other.
  • "He was a deal bitterer against the general than Boyle ever was," observe_orne Fisher, with a curious indifference.
  • "Man, you're not saying what you mean," cried Grayne. "I tell you I found th_oison in one of the coffee cups."
  • "There was always Said, of course," added Fisher, "either for hatred or hire.
  • We agreed he was capable of almost anything."
  • "And we agreed he was incapable of hurting his master," retorted Grayne.
  • "Well, well," said Fisher, amiably, "I dare say you are right; but I shoul_ust like to have a look at the library and the coffee cups."
  • He passed inside, while Grayne turned to the policeman in attendance an_anded him a scribbled note, to be telegraphed from headquarters. The ma_aluted and hurried off; and Grayne, following his friend into the library, found him beside the bookstand in the middle of the room, on which were th_mpty cups.
  • "This is where Boyle looked for Budge, or pretended to look for him, accordin_o your account," he said.
  • As Fisher spoke he bent down in a half-crouching attitude, to look at th_olumes in the low, revolving shelf, for the whole bookstand was not muc_igher than an ordinary table. The next moment he sprang up as if he had bee_tung.
  • "Oh, my God!" he cried.
  • Very few people, if any, had ever seen Mr. Horne Fisher behave as he behave_ust then. He flashed a glance at the door, saw that the open window wa_earer, went out of it with a flying leap, as if over a hurdle, and wen_acing across the turf, in the track of the disappearing policeman. Grayne, who stood staring after him, soon saw his tall, loose figure, returning, restored to all its normal limpness and air of leisure. He was fanning himsel_lowly with a piece of paper, the telegram he had so violently intercepted.
  • "Lucky I stopped that," he observed. "We must keep this affair as quiet a_eath. Hastings must die of apoplexy or heart disease."
  • "What on earth is the trouble?" demanded the other investigator.
  • "The trouble is," said Fisher, "that in a few days we should have had a ver_greeable alternative—of hanging an innocent man or knocking the Britis_mpire to hell."
  • "Do you mean to say," asked Grayne, "that this infernal crime is not to b_unished?"
  • Fisher looked at him steadily.
  • "It is already punished," he said.
  • After a moment's pause he went on. "You reconstructed the crime with admirabl_kill, old chap, and nearly all you said was true. Two men with two coffe_ups did go into the library and did put their cups on the bookstand and di_o together to the well, and one of them was a murderer and had put poison i_he other's cup. But it was not done while Boyle was looking at the revolvin_ookcase. He did look at it, though, searching for the Budge book with th_ote in it, but I fancy that Hastings had already moved it to the shelves o_he wall. It was part of that grim game that he should find it first.
  • "Now, how does a man search a revolving bookcase? He does not generally ho_ll round it in a squatting attitude, like a frog. He simply gives it a touc_nd makes it revolve."
  • He was frowning at the floor as he spoke, and there was a light under hi_eavy lids that was not often seen there. The mysticism that was buried dee_nder all the cynicism of his experience was awake and moving in the depths.
  • His voice took unexpected turns and inflections, almost as if two men wer_peaking.
  • "That was what Boyle did; he barely touched the thing, and it went round a_asily as the world goes round. Yes, very much as the world goes round, fo_he hand that turned it was not his. God, who turns the wheel of all th_tars, touched that wheel and brought it full circle, that His dreadfu_ustice might return."
  • "I am beginning," said Grayne, slowly, "to have some hazy and horrible idea o_hat you mean."
  • "It is very simple," said Fisher, "when Boyle straightened himself from hi_tooping posture, something had happened which he had not noticed, which hi_nemy had not noticed, which nobody had noticed. The two coffee cups ha_xactly changed places."
  • The rocky face of Grayne seemed to have sustained a shock in silence; not _ine of it altered, but his voice when it came was unexpectedly weakened.
  • "I see what you mean," he said, "and, as you say, the less said about it th_etter. It was not the lover who tried to get rid of the husband, but—th_ther thing. And a tale like that about a man like that would ruin us here.
  • Had you any guess of this at the start?"
  • "The bottomless well, as I told you," answered Fisher, quietly; "that was wha_tumped me from the start. Not because it had anything to do with it, becaus_t had nothing to do with it."
  • He paused a moment, as if choosing an approach, and then went on: "When a ma_nows his enemy will be dead in ten minutes, and takes him to the edge of a_nfathomable pit, he means to throw his body into it. What else should he do?
  • A born fool would have the sense to do it, and Boyle is not a born fool. Well, why did not Boyle do it? The more I thought of it the more I suspected ther_as some mistake in the murder, so to speak. Somebody had taken somebody ther_o throw him in, and yet he was not thrown in. I had already an ugly, unforme_dea of some substitution or reversal of parts; then I stooped to turn th_ookstand myself, by accident, and I instantly knew everything, for I saw th_wo cups revolve once more, like moons in the sky."
  • After a pause, Cuthbert Grayne said, "And what are we to say to th_ewspapers?"
  • "My friend, Harold March, is coming along from Cairo to-day," said Fisher. "H_s a very brilliant and successful journalist. But for all that he's _horoughly honorable man, so you must not tell him the truth."
  • Half an hour later Fisher was again walking to and fro in front of th_lubhouse, with Captain Boyle, the latter by this time with a very buffete_nd bewildered air; perhaps a sadder and a wiser man.
  • "What about me, then?" he was saying. "Am I cleared? Am I not going to b_leared?"
  • "I believe and hope," answered Fisher, "that you are not going to b_uspected. But you are certainly not going to be cleared. There must be n_uspicion against him, and therefore no suspicion against you. Any suspicio_gainst him, let alone such a story against him, would knock us endways fro_alta to Mandalay. He was a hero as well as a holy terror among the Moslems.
  • Indeed, you might almost call him a Moslem hero in the English service. O_ourse he got on with them partly because of his own little dose of Easter_lood; he got it from his mother, the dancer from Damascus; everybody know_hat."
  • "Oh," repeated Boyle, mechanically, staring at him with round eyes, "everybod_nows that."
  • "I dare say there was a touch of it in his jealousy and ferocious vengeance,"
  • went on Fisher. "But, for all that, the crime would ruin us among the Arabs, all the more because it was something like a crime against hospitality. It'_een hateful for you and it's pretty horrid for me. But there are some thing_hat damned well can't be done, and while I'm alive that's one of them."
  • "What do you mean?" asked Boyle, glancing at him curiously. "Why should you, of all people, be so passionate about it?"
  • Horne Fisher looked at the young man with a baffling expression.
  • "I suppose," he said, "it's because I'm a Little Englander."
  • "I can never make out what you mean by that sort of thing," answered Boyle, doubtfully.
  • "Do you think England is so little as all that?" said Fisher, with a warmth i_is cold voice, "that it can't hold a man across a few thousand miles. Yo_ectured me with a lot of ideal patriotism, my young friend; but it'_ractical patriotism now for you and me, and with no lies to help it. Yo_alked as if everything always went right with us all over the world, in _riumphant crescendo culminating in Hastings. I tell you everything has gon_rong with us here, except Hastings. He was the one name we had left t_onjure with, and that mustn't go as well, no, by God! It's bad enough that _ang of infernal Jews should plant us here, where there's no earthly Englis_nterest to serve, and all hell beating up against us, simply because Nose_immern has lent money to half the Cabinet. It's bad enough that an ol_awnbroker from Bagdad should make us fight his battles; we can't fight wit_ur right hand cut off. Our one score was Hastings and his victory, which wa_eally somebody else's victory. Tom Travers has to suffer, and so have you."
  • Then, after a moment's silence, he pointed toward the bottomless well an_aid, in a quieter tone:
  • "I told you that I didn't believe in the philosophy of the Tower of Aladdin. _on't believe in the Empire growing until it reaches the sky; I don't believ_n the Union Jack going up and up eternally like the Tower. But if you think _m going to let the Union Jack go down and down eternally, like the bottomles_ell, down into the blackness of the bottomless pit, down in defeat an_erision, amid the jeers of the very Jews who have sucked us dry—no I won't, and that's flat; not if the Chancellor were blackmailed by twenty millionaire_ith their gutter rags, not if the Prime Minister married twenty Yanke_ewesses, not if Woodville and Carstairs had shares in twenty swindling mines.
  • If the thing is really tottering, God help it, it mustn't be we who tip i_ver."
  • Boyle was regarding him with a bewilderment that was almost fear, and had eve_ touch of distaste.
  • "Somehow," he said, "there seems to be something rather horrid about th_hings you know."
  • "There is," replied Horne Fisher. "I am not at all pleased with my small stoc_f knowledge and reflection. But as it is partly responsible for your no_eing hanged, I don't know that you need complain of it."
  • And, as if a little ashamed of his first boast, he turned and strolled awa_oward the bottomless well.