7. San Francisco ladies and divnation
Curtis was as good as his word. The following day he remained indoors eating, and planning what he should eat, whilst Hamar and Kelson went out with the express purpose of adding to their banking accounts.
In a garden in Bryant Street, Hamar saw a man resting on his spade and mopping the perspiration from his forehead. As he stopped mechanically to see what was being done, a cold sensation ran up his right leg into his right hand, the first and third fingers of which were drawn violently down. With a cry of horror he shrank back. Directly beneath where he had been standing, he saw, under a fifteen or sixteen feet layer of gravel soil—water; a huge caldron of water, black and silent; water, that gave him the impression of tremendous depth and coldness.
"Hulloa! matey, what's the matter?" the man with the spade called out. "Are you looking for your skin, for I never saw any one so completely jump out of it?"
"So would you," Hamar said with a shudder, "if you saw what I do!"
"What's that, then?" the man said leering on the ground. "Snakes! That's what I always see when I've got them."
"So long as you don't see yourself, there's some chance for you!" Hamar retorted. "What makes you so hot?"
"Why, digging!" the man laughed; "any one would get hot digging at such hard ground as this. As for a little whippersnapper like you, you'd melt right away and only your nose would remain. Nothing would ever melt that—there's too much of it."
Hamar scowled. "You needn't be insulting," he said, "I asked you a civil question, and I repeat it. What makes you so hot—when you should be cold—or at least cool?"
"Oh, should I!" the man mimicked, "I thought first you was merely drunk; I can see quite clearly now that you're mad."
"And yet you have such defective sight."
"What makes you say that?" the man said testily.
"Why," Hamar responded, "because you can't see what lies beneath your very nose. Shall I tell you what it is?"
"Yes, tell away," the man replied, "tell me my old mother's got twins, and that Boss Croker is coming to lodge with us. I'd know you for a liar anywhere by those teeth of yours."
"Look here," said Hamar drawing himself up angrily, "I have had enough of your abuse. If I have any more I'll tell your employers. It is evident you take me for a bummer, but see,"—and plunging his hand in his pocket he pulled it out full of gold. "Kindly understand I'm somebody," he went on, "and that I'm staying at one of the biggest hotels in the town."
"I'm damned if I know what to make of you," the man muttered, "unless you're a hoptical delusion!"
"Underneath where I was standing—just here,"—and Hamar indicated the spot—"is water. Any amount of it, you have only to sink a shaft fifteen feet and you would come to it."
"Water!" the man laughed, "yes, there is any amount of it—on your brain, that's the only water near here."
"Then you don't believe me?" Hamar demanded.
"Not likely!" the man responded, "I only believe what I see! And when I see a face like yours holding out a potful of dollars, I know as how you've stolen them. Git!"—and Hamar flew.
But Hamar was not so easily nonplussed; not at least when he saw a chance of making money. Entering the garden, and keeping well out of sight of the gardener, he arrived at the front door by a side path, and with much formality requested to see the owner of the establishment. The latter happening to be crossing the hall at the time, heard Hamar and asked what he wanted.
Hamar at once informed him he was a dowser, and that, chancing to pass by the garden on his way to his hotel, he had divined the presence of water.
"I only wish there were," the gentleman exclaimed, "but I fear you are mistaken. I have attempted several times to sink a well but never with the slightest degree of success. I have had all the ground carefully prospected by Figgins of Sacramento Street—he has a very big reputation—and he assures me there isn't a drop of water anywhere near here within two hundred feet of the surface."
"I know better," Hamar said. "Will you get your gardener—who by the way was very rude to me just now when I spoke to him—to dig where I tell him. I have absolute confidence in my power of divination."
The owner of the property, whom I will call Mr. B. assented, and several gardeners, including the one who had so insulted Hamar, were soon digging vigorously. At the depth of fifteen feet, water was found, and, indeed, so fast did it begin to come in that within a few minutes it had risen a foot. The onlookers were jubilant.
"I shall send an account of it to the local papers," Mr. B. remarked. "Your fame will be spread everywhere. You have increased the value of my property a thousandfold, I cannot tell you how grateful I am"—and he, then and there, invited Hamar to luncheon.
After luncheon Mr. B. made him a present of a cheque—rather in excess of the sum which Hamar had all along intended to have, and could not have refrained from demanding much longer.
In the afternoon all the San Francisco specials were full of the incident, and Hamar, seeing his name placarded for the first time, was so overcome that he spent the rest of the evening in the hotel deliberating how he could best turn his sudden notoriety to account.
At ten o'clock Kelson came in, looking somewhat fatigued, but, nevertheless, pleased. He, too, had had adventures, and he detailed them with so much elaboration that the other two had frequently to tell him to "dry up."
"I began the morning," he commenced, "by accosting a very fashionably dressed lady coming out of Bushwell's Store in Commercial Street. Divination at once told me she was the popular widow of J.K. Bater, the Biscuit King of Nob Hill, and that she was carrying in her big seal-skin muff a gold hatpin mounted with an emerald butterfly, a silver-backed hair brush, a blue enamelled scent bottle, and a porcelain jar, all of which she had slyly 'nicked,' when no one was looking.
"I stepped up to her, and politely raising my hat said, 'Good morning, Mrs. Bater. I've a message for you.'
"'I don't know you,' she said eyeing me very doubtfully, 'who are you?'
"'Forgotten!' I said tragically, 'and I had flattered myself it would be otherwise. Still I must try and survive. I wanted to ask you a favour, Mrs. Bater.'
"'A favour!' she exclaimed nervously, 'what is it? You are really a very extraordinary individual.'
"'I was only going to ask if I might examine the contents of your muff? I think you have certain articles in it that have not been paid for—and I believe I am right in saying this is by no means the first time such a thing has happened.'
"She turned so pale I thought she was going to faint. 'Why, whatever do you mean,' she stammered, 'I've nothing that does not belong to me.'
"'Opinions differ on that score, Mrs. Bater,' I replied, 'you have a pin, a hair brush, a scent bottle and a jar,' and I described them each minutely, 'whilst in your house you have on your dressing-table a silver-backed clothes brush, a silver manicure set you kleptomaniad—if you prefer to call it so—from Deacon's in Sacramento Street; a tortoiseshell manicure set, and an ivory card case you obtained in the same manner from Varter's in Market Street; a set of silver buttons, a glove stretcher, and a mauve pin-cushion—you likewise helped yourself to—from Selter's in Kearney Street; but I might go on detailing them to you till further orders, for your house is literally crammed with them. You have done very well, Mrs. Bater, with the San Francisco storekeepers.'
"'Good God, man, what are you?' she gasped. 'You seem to read into the innermost recesses of my soul, and to know everything.'
"'You are right, madam,' I said, trying to appear very stern and almost failing, she was so pretty. By Jove! you fellows, I wonder I didn't kiss her; she had such fine eyes, my favourite nose, a ripping mouth and—"
"Oh! go on! go on with your story. Never mind her looks," Curtis interrupted, "I've got a touch of indigestion."
"As I was saying," Kelson went on complacently, "I could have kissed her and I felt downright mean for upsetting her so.
"'Now you have found me out,' she said, 'what do you intend doing? Show me up in there?' and she pointed shudderingly at the store.
"'No,' I said, 'not if you are sensible and come to terms. I will agree to say nothing about either this or any of your other—ahem!—thefts—if you let me escort you home, and write me out a cheque for a thousand dollars!'
"'Beast!' she hissed, 'so you are a blackmailer!'
"'A black beetle if you like,' I responded, 'but I assure you, Mrs. Bater, I am letting you off cheap. I have only to call for a policeman and your reputation would be gone at once. Besides, I know other things about you.'
"'What other things?' she stuttered.
"'Well, madam!' I replied, 'some things are rather delicate—er—for single men like me to mention, but I do know that—er—a lady—very like—remarkably like—you, has in her pocket at this moment a rattle which she bought and paid for in Oakland's late last night. And as, madam, Mr. Bater has been dead over two years—let me see—yes, two years yesterday—one can—!'
"'Stay! that will do,' she whispered; 'come to my house and I will give you the thousand dollars. You must pretend you are my cousin.'
"'I will pretend anything, Mrs. Bater,' I murmured, helping her into a taxi, 'anything so long as I can be with you.'"
"You got the money?" Hamar queried.
"Yes," Kelson said with a smile, "I got the money—in fact, everything I asked for."
There was silence for some minutes, and then Hamar said, "What next?"
"What next!" Kelson said, "why I thought I had done a very good day's work and was on my way back here to take a much needed rest, when I'm dashed if the Unknown hadn't another adventure in store for me. Coming out of a garden in Gough Street, within sight of Goad's house, was a lady, young and very plain, but rigged out in one of those latest fashion costumes—a very tight, short skirt, and huge hat with high plume in it. By the bye, I can't think why this costume, which is so admirably suited to pretty girls—because it attracts attention to them—should be almost exclusively adopted by the ugly ones. But to continue. I knew immediately that she was Ella Barlow, the much-pampered and only daughter of J.B. Barlow, the vinegar magnate; that she was in love, or imagined herself in love with Herbert Delmas, the manager of the Columbian Bank—a young, good-looking fellow, whom she had been trying to set against his fiancée, Dora Roberts. Dora is only nineteen, very pretty and a trifle giddy—nothing more. But this failing of hers—if you can call it a failing, was just the very weapon Ella Barlow wanted. She worked on it at once, and by sending Delmas a series of anonymous letters made him mad with jealousy. This resulted in a breach between Delmas and Dora, and Ella Barlow, much elated, at once tried to step into her shoes. She has been going out a good deal with Delmas, who is in reality still very much in love with Dora, and consequently exceedingly miserable. This morning Ella, anxious to show off a magnificent set of diamonds, given her by her father, telephoned to Delmas to take her to the Baldwyn Theatre, where she has engaged a box for this evening—fondly hoping that the diamonds will bring him up to the scratch, and that he will propose to her. When I saw her she was on her way to a notorious quack doctor and beauty specialist in Californian Street. She suffers from some nasty skin disease, and is in mortal terror lest Delmas should get to know of it, and also of the fact that all her teeth are false, and that two of her toes are badly deformed."
"By Jupiter!" Hamar ejaculated, "this divination of yours beats mine into fits—nothing escapes you!"
"No!" Kelson laughed, "nothing! Ella Barlow, metaphysical and physical was laid before me just as bare as if the Almighty had got hold of her with his dissecting knife. I saw everything—and what is more I said to myself—here's plenty I can turn to a profitable account. Well! I didn't stop her—I let her go."
"Let her go!" Curtis growled, his mouth full of almonds and raisins. "You squirrel!"
"Only for a time," Kelson said, "I went to see Delmas!"
"Delmas!" Hamar interlocuted, "why the deuce Delmas?"
"Impulse!" Kelson explained, "purely impulse."
"Yes, but impulse is often a dangerous thing!" Hamar said, "it is essential for us three, especially, to be on our guard against impulse. What did you get out of Delmas?"
"Nothing!" Kelson said looking rather shamefaced, "But the matter hasn't ended yet. I'm going to the theatre after I've had something to eat. I'll tell you what happens, to-morrow."
It was late ere Kelson came down to breakfast the following day, and Hamar and Curtis were comfortably seated in armchairs reading the Examiner, when he joined them.
"Well!" Hamar said, looking up at him, "what luck?"
But Kelson wouldn't say a word till he had finished eating. He then lolled back in his seat and began:—
"Arriving at the Baldwyn I went straight to box one. A tall figure rose to greet me, and then, an angry voice exclaimed, 'Why it's not Herbert! Who are you, sir? Do you know this box is engaged?'
"'I humbly beg your pardon, Miss Barlow,' I said, 'I do know it is engaged, but I came as Mr. Delmas' deputy and friend.'
"'Came as Herbert's deputy and friend,' Ella Barlow repeated—and by Jove the diamonds did shine—she was simply a mass of them, hair, neck, arms and fingers—and she had been so well faked up for the occasion that she was almost good-looking; but I thought of all I knew about her—and shuddered.
"'I will explain myself,' I said, 'Mr. Delmas telephoned to you this afternoon, did he not?'
"'Saying that he very much regretted he could not leave business in time to escort you here. Would you mind very much going by yourself, and he would join you as soon as possible.'
"'Yes,' Ella Barlow said, 'he told me all that.'
"'Very well, then,' I went on, 'he rang me up some minutes later and asked me if I would take his place for the first hour or so, and he would be here by the end of the first act.'
"'But it is most unheard of,' Ella Barlow ejaculated, 'I don't know you—I've never seen you before!'
"'That is, of course, very regrettable,' I said, 'but I will do all I can for the past. I've something to say that I'm sure will interest you. Have I your permission?'—and without waiting for her reply I sat next to her. The box was a big one, big enough to hold half a dozen people, and we sat in the extreme front of it. The lights were not full up, as the orchestra had not started playing. I kept her attention fixed on my face so that she was unaware what was taking place, immediately behind her.
"'What is it?' she said, 'whatever can you have to say that can be of any possible interest to me?'
"'Why,' I replied, 'to begin with I know something about your character!'
"'Then you're a fortune teller!' she exclaimed eagerly, 'can you read hands?'
"'I can read everything,' I said looking hard at her, 'hands, head, and feet. I am psychometrist, dentist, physician, metaphysician all in one!'
"'I don't understand,' she said looking queer, 'what is the meaning of all this?'
"'It means,' I said slowly, 'that I have discovered who sent those anonymous letters to Herbert Delmas!'
"'Anonymous letters! how dare you!' she cried, 'what have anonymous letters to do with me?'
"'A very great deal, madam,' I replied, 'shall I remind you of their contents and the occasions on which you wrote them?' I did so. I recited every word in them and told her the hour, day and place—namely, when and where each was written, and I summed up by asking what she would pay me not to tell Delmas.
"For some minutes she was too overcome to say anything; she sat grim and silent, her pale eyes glaring at me, her freckled fingers toying with the diamonds. She was baffled and perplexed—she did not know what course to pursue!
"'Well,' I repeated, 'what have you to say? Do you deny it?'
"She roused herself with an effort. 'No,' she said venomously, 'I don't deny it. Denial would be useless. How did you find out? Through one of the maids, I suppose. They were bribed to spy on me!'
"'How I discovered it is of no consequence,' I said, 'but what is of consequence to you as much as to me—is the payment for hushing it up!'
"'Payment!' she cried, raising her voice to a positive shriek in her excitement, 'pay you—you nasty, beastly, cadging toad. You—' but I can't repeat all she said, it would make you both blush! I let her go on till she had worn herself out and then I said, 'Well, Miss Barlow, why all this fuss—why these fireworks! It can't do you any good. We must come to business sooner or later. If you don't pay me handsomely I shall tell Miss Roberts as well as Mr. Delmas.'
"'Mr. Delmas won't believe you,' she hissed, 'you've no proofs at all!'
"'Perhaps not,' I said, 'but I've proofs of this. I know you have two deformed toes on your left foot, that all your teeth are false, and that you go to that charlatan, Howard Prince, in Californian Street to be faked up. I must be brutal—it's no use being anything else to women of your sort. You've got a certain species of eczema, and you flatter yourself that no one but you and Prince are aware of it. What have you got to say now, Miss Barlow?' But Ella Barlow had fainted. When she came to, which I managed after vigorous application of salts and water—the effects of the latter on her complexion I leave you to imagine—I again broached the subject.
"'What is it you propose?' she said feebly.
"'Why this,' I said, 'you hand me over all those diamonds, and your defects will—as far as I am concerned—always remain a secret. Refuse, and Miss Roberts and Mr. Delmas shall know all there is to be known at once.'
"For some minutes she sat with her face buried in her hands—shivering. Then she looked up at me—and Jerusalem! it was like looking at an old woman. 'Take them,' she said, 'take them! I shall never wear them again, anyhow. Take them—and leave me.'
"Well, you fellows, I steeled my heart, and slipped every Jack one that was on her into my pocket.
"'You won't tell them,' she whispered, catching hold of me by the arm, 'you swear you won't.' I won't try and remember exactly what I answered—but outside the door of the box Delmas joined me. He had been concealed within and had heard everything that passed.
"'I can't say how grateful I am to you,' he said. 'It's a bit low down, perhaps, but, then, we were dealing with a low-down person. You thoroughly deserve those diamonds—will you accept an offer for them from me? I should like to buy them for Miss Roberts and present them to her on our reconciliation.' We came to terms then and there, and he 'phoned through to me an hour ago to say that he had made it up with Miss Roberts, that she was delighted with the diamonds, and that they are going to be married next month."
"So out of evil good comes," Hamar said, "the maxim for us, remember, is—out of evil evil alone must come. What are you going to do to-day, you two?"
"Rest!" said Kelson, "I'm tired."
"Eat!" said Curtis, "I'm hungry!"
"Now look here, this won't do," Hamar remarked, "you've earned your rest, Matt, but you haven't, Ed. You can't go on eating eternally."
"Can't I?" Curtis snapped, "I'm not so sure of that, I've years to make up for."
"Then do the thing in moderation, for goodness sake!" Hamar expostulated, "and recollect we must, at all costs, act together. We have now twelve thousand dollars between us in the bank—that is to say, the capital of the Firm of Hamar, Curtis and Kelson represents that amount. It is our ambition to increase that amount—and to go on increasing it till we can fairly claim to be the richest Firm in the world. Now to do that we must work, and work hard, if we are to live at the pace Ed is setting us—but there is no reason why we should remain here, and I propose that we move elsewhere. I've got a scheme in my head, rather a colossal one I admit, but not altogether impossible."
"What is it?" Kelson asked.
"Yes, out with it," Curtis grunted.
"It is this," Hamar said, "I suggest that we go to London—London in England—I guess it's the richest town in the world—and there set up as sorcerers—The Sorcery Company Ltd. We should begin with divination and juggling, and go on, according to the seven stages. We should of course sell our cures and spells, and there is not the slightest doubt but that we should make an enormous pile, with which we would gradually buy up, not merely London, but the whole of England."
"That's rather a tall order," Kelson murmured.
"A small one, you mean," Curtis sneered, "you could put the whole of England twice over in California, and from what I've heard I don't go much on London. I reckon it isn't much bigger than San Francisco."
"Still you wouldn't mind being joint owner of it," Hamar laughed."
"No, perhaps not," Curtis said rather dubiously. "I guess we could buy the crown and wear it in turn. Sam Westlake up at Meidler's always used to say the Britishers would sell their souls if any one bid high enough. They think of nothing but money over there. When shall we go?"
"At the end of our week," Hamar said, "that is to say on Wednesday—in three days' time."
"First class all the way, of course," Curtis said, "I'll see to the arrangements for the catering and berths."
"All right!" Hamar laughed, as he filled three glasses with champagne. "Here, drink, you fellows, 'Long life, health and prosperity—to Hamar, Curtis and Kelson, the Modern Sorcery Company Ltd.'"