The House of a Thousand Candles

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A face at sherry’s

“Don’t mention my name an thou lovest me!” said Laurance Donovan, and he drew me aside, ignored my hand and otherwise threw into our meeting a casual quality that was somewhat amazing in view of the fact that we had met last at Cairo.

“Allah il Allah!”

It was undoubtedly Larry. I felt the heat of the desert and heard the camel-drivers cursing and our Sudanese guides plotting mischief under a window far away.

“Well!” we both exclaimed interrogatively.

He rocked gently back and forth, with his hands in his pockets, on the tile floor of the banking-house. I had seen him stand thus once on a time when we had eaten nothing in four days—it was in Abyssinia, and our guides had lost us in the worst possible place—with the same untroubled look in his eyes.

“Please don’t appear surprised, or scared or anything, Jack,” he said, with his delicious intonation. “I saw a fellow looking for me an hour or so ago. He’s been at it for several months; hence my presence on these shores of the brave and the free. He’s probably still looking, as he’s a persistent devil. I’m here, as we may say, quite incog. Staying at an East-side lodging-house, where I shan’t invite you to call on me. But I must see you.”

“Dine with me to-night, at Sherry’s—”

“Too big, too many people—”

“Therein lies security, if you’re in trouble. I’m about to go into exile, and I want to eat one more civilized dinner before I go.”

“Perhaps it’s just as well. Where are you off for,— not Africa again?”

“No. Just Indiana,—one of the sovereign American states, as you ought to know.”

“Indians?”

“No; warranted all dead.”

“Pack-train—balloon—automobile—camels,—how do you get there?”

“Varnished ears. It’s easy. It’s not the getting there; it’s the not dying of ennui after you’re on the spot.”

“Humph! What hour did you say for the dinner?”

“Seven o’clock. Meet me at the entrance.”

“If I’m at large! Allow me to precede you through the door, and don’t follow me on the street please!”

He walked away, his gloved hands clasped lazily behind him, lounged out upon Broadway and turned toward the Battery. I waited until he disappeared, then took an up-town car.

My first meeting with Laurance Donovan was in Constantinople, at a café where I was dining. He got into a row with an Englishman and knocked him down. It was not my affair, but I liked the ease and definiteness with which Larry put his foe out of commission. I learned later that it was a way he had. The Englishman meant well enough, but he could not, of course, know the intensity of Larry’s feeling about the unhappy lot of Ireland. In the beginning of my own acquaintance with Donovan I sometimes argued with him, but I soon learned better manners. He quite converted me to his own notion of Irish affairs, and I was as hot an advocate as he of head-smashing as a means of restoring Ireland’s lost prestige.

My friend, the American consul-general at Constantinople, was not without a sense of humor, and I easily enlisted him in Larry’s behalf. The Englishman thirsted for vengeance and invoked all the powers. He insisted, with reason, that Larry was a British subject and that the American consul had no right to give him asylum,—a point that was, I understand, thoroughly well-grounded in law and fact. Larry maintained, on the other hand, that he was not English but Irish, and that, as his country maintained no representative in Turkey, it was his privilege to find refuge wherever it was offered. Larry was always the most plausible of human beings, and between us,—he, the American consul and I,—we made an impression, and got him off.

I did not realize until later that the real joke lay in the fact that Larry was English-born, and that his devotion to Ireland was purely sentimental and quixotic. His family had, to be sure, come out of Ireland some time in the dim past, and settled in England; but when Larry reached years of knowledge, if not of discretion, he cut Oxford and insisted on taking his degree at Dublin. He even believed,—or thought he believed,— in banshees. He allied himself during his university days with the most radical and turbulent advocates of a separate national existence for Ireland, and occasionally spent a month in jail for rioting. But Larry’s instincts were scholarly; he made a brilliant record at the University; then, at twenty-two, he came forth to look at the world, and liked it exceedingly well. His father was a busy man, and he had other sons; he granted Larry an allowance and told him to keep away from home until he got ready to be respectable. So, from Constantinople, after a tour of Europe, we together crossed the Mediterranean in search of the flesh-pots of lost kingdoms, spending three years in the pursuit. We parted at Cairo on excellent terms. He returned to England and later to his beloved Ireland, for he had blithely sung the wildest Gaelic songs in the darkest days of our adventures, and never lost his love for The Sod, as he apostrophized—and capitalized—his adopted country.

Larry had the habit of immaculateness. He emerged from his East-side lodging-house that night clothed properly, and wearing the gentlemanly air of peace and reserve that is so wholly incompatible with his disposition to breed discord and indulge in riot. When we sat down for a leisurely dinner at Sherry’s we were not, I modestly maintain, a forbidding pair. We—if I may drag myself into the matter—are both a trifle under the average height, sinewy, nervous, and, just then, trained fine. Our lean, clean-shaven faces were well-browned —mine wearing a fresh coat from my days on the steamer’s deck.

Larry had never been in America before, and the scene had for both of us the charm of a gay and novel spectacle. I have always maintained, in talking to Larry of nations and races, that the Americans are the handsomest and best put-up people in the world, and I believe he was persuaded of it that night as we gazed with eyes long unaccustomed to splendor upon the great company assembled in the restaurant. The lights, the music, the variety and richness of the costumes of the women, the many unmistakably foreign faces, wrought a welcome spell on senses inured to hardship in the waste and dreary places of earth.

“Now tell me the story,” I said. “Have you done murder? Is the offense treasonable?”

“It was a tenants’ row in Galway, and I smashed a constable. I smashed him pretty hard, I dare say, from the row they kicked up in the newspapers. I lay low for a couple of weeks, caught a boat to Queenstown, and here I am, waiting for a chance to get back to The Sod without going in irons.”

“You were certainly born to be hanged, Larry. You’d better stay in America. There’s more room here than anywhere else, and it’s not easy to kidnap a man in America and carry him off.”

“Possibly not; and yet the situation isn’t wholly tranquil,” he said, transfixing a bit of pompano with his fork. “Kindly note the florid gentleman at your right —at the table with four—he’s next the lady in pink. It may interest you to know that he’s the British consul.”

“Interesting, but not important. You don’t for a moment suppose—”

“That he’s looking for me? Not at all. But he undoubtedly has my name on his tablets. The detective that’s here following me around is pretty dull. He lost me this morning while I was talking to you in the bank. Later on I had the pleasure of trailing him for an hour or so until he finally brought up at the British consul’s office. Thanks; no more of the fish. Let us banish care. I wasn’t born to be hanged; and as I’m a political offender, I doubt whether I can be deported if they lay hands on me.”

He watched the bubbles in his glass dreamily, holding it up in his slim well-kept fingers.

“Tell me something of your own immediate present and future,” he said.

I made the story of my Grandfather Glenarm’s legacy as brief as possible, for brevity was a definite law of our intercourse.

“A year, you say, with nothing to do but fold your hands and wait. It doesn’t sound awfully attractive to me. I’d rather do without the money.”

“But I intend to do some work. I owe it to my grandfather’s memory to make good, if there’s any good in me.”

“The sentiment is worthy of you, Glenarm,” he said mockingly. “What do you see—a ghost?”

I must have started slightly at espying suddenly Arthur Pickering not twenty feet away. A party of half a dozen or more had risen, and Pickering and a girl were detached from the others for a moment.

She was young,—quite the youngest in the group about Pickering’s table. A certain girlishness of height and outline may have been emphasized by her juxtaposition to Pickering’s heavy figure. She was in black, with white showing at neck and wrists,—a somber contrast to the other women of the party, who were arrayed with a degree of splendor. She had dropped her fan, and Pickering stooped to pick it up. In the second that she waited she turned carelessly toward me, and our eyes met for an instant. Very likely she was Pickering’s sister, and I tried to reconstruct his family, which I had known in my youth; but I could not place her. As she walked out before him my eyes followed her,—the erect figure, free and graceful, but with a charming dignity and poise, and the gold of her fair hair glinting under her black toque.

Her eyes, as she turned them full upon me, were the saddest, loveliest eyes I had ever seen, and even in that brilliant, crowded room I felt their spell. They were fixed in my memory indelibly,—mournful, dreamy and wistful. In my absorption I forgot Larry.

“You’re taking unfair advantage,” he observed quietly. “Friends of yours?”

“The big chap in the lead is my friend Pickering,” I answered; and Larry turned his head slightly.

“Yes, I supposed you weren’t looking at the women,” he observed dryly. “I’m sorry I couldn’t see the object of your interest. Bah! these men!”

I laughed carelessly enough, but I was already summoning from my memory the grave face of the girl in black,—her mournful eyes, the glint of gold in her hair. Pickering was certainly finding the pleasant places in this vale of tears, and I felt my heart hot against him. It hurts, this seeing a man you have never liked succeeding where you have failed!

“Why didn’t you present me? I’d like to make the acquaintance of a few representative Americans,—I may need them to go bail for me.”

“Pickering didn’t see me, for one thing; and for another he wouldn’t go bail for you or me if he did. He isn’t built that way.”

Larry smiled quizzically.

“You needn’t explain further. The sight of the lady has shaken you. She reminds me of Tennyson:

“ ‘The star-like sorrows of immortal eyes—’

and the rest of it ought to be a solemn warning to you, —many ‘drew swords and died,’ and calamity followed in her train. Bah! these women! I thought you were past all that!”

“I don’t know why a man should be past it at twenty-seven! Besides, Pickering’s friends are strangers to me. But what became of that Irish colleen you used to moon over? Her distinguishing feature, as I remember her photograph, was a short upper lip. You used to force her upon me frequently when we were in Africa.”

“Humph! When I got back to Dublin I found that she had married a brewer’s son,—think of it!”

“Put not your faith in a short upper lip! Her face never inspired any confidence in me.”

“That will do, thank you. I’ll have a bit more of that mayonnaise if the waiter isn’t dead. I think you said your grandfather died in June. A letter advising you of the fact reached you at Naples in October. Has it occurred to you that there was quite an interim there? What, may I ask, was the executor doing all that time? You may be sure he was taking advantage of the opportunity to look for the red, red gold. I suppose you didn’t give him a sound drubbing for not keeping the cables hot with inquiries for you?”

He eyed me in that disdain for my stupidity which I have never suffered from any other man.

“Well, no; to tell the truth, I was thinking of other things during the interview.”

“Your grandfather should have provided a guardian for you, lad. You oughtn’t to be trusted with money. Is that bottle empty? Well, if that person with the fat neck was your friend Pickering, I’d have a care of what’s coming to me. I’d be quite sure that Mr. Pickering hadn’t made away with the old gentleman’s boodle, or that it didn’t get lost on the way from him to me.”

“The time’s running now, and I’m in for the year. My grandfather was a fine old gentleman, and I treated him like a dog. I’m going to do what he directs in that will no matter what the size of the reward may be.”

“Certainly; that’s the eminently proper thing for you to do. But,—but keep your wits about you. If a fellow with that neck can’t find money where money has been known to exist, it must be buried pretty deep. Your grandfather was a trifle eccentric, I judge, but not a fool by any manner of means. The situation appeals to my imagination, Jack. I like the idea of it,— the lost treasure and the whole business. Lord, what a salad that is! Cheer up, comrade! You’re as grim as an owl!”

Whereupon we fell to talking of people and places we had known in other lands.

We spent the next day together, and in the evening, at my hotel, he criticized my effects while I packed, in his usual ironical vein.

“You’re not going to take those things with you, I hope!” He indicated the rifles and several revolvers which I brought from the closet and threw upon the bed. “They make me homesick for the jungle.”

He drew from its cover the heavy rifle I had used last on a leopard hunt and tested its weight.

“Precious little use you’ll have for this! Better let me take it back to The Sod to use on the landlords. I say, Jack, are we never to seek our fortunes together again? We hit it off pretty well, old man, come to think of it,—I don’t like to lose you.”

He bent over the straps of the rifle-case with unnecessary care, but there was a quaver in his voice that was not like Larry Donovan.

“Come with me now!” I exclaimed, wheeling upon him.

“I’d rather be with you than with any other living man, Jack Glenarm, but I can’t think of it. I have my own troubles; and, moreover, you’ve got to stick it out there alone. It’s part of the game the old gentleman set up for you, as I understand it. Go ahead, collect your fortune, and then, if I haven’t been hanged in the meantime, we’ll join forces later. There’s no chap anywhere with a pleasanter knack at spending money than your old friend L. D.”

He grinned, and I smiled ruefully, knowing that we must soon part again, for Larry was one of the few men I had ever called friend, and this meeting had only quickened my old affection for him.

“I suppose,” he continued, “you accept as gospel truth what that fellow tells you about the estate. I should be a little wary if I were you. Now, I’ve been kicking around here for a couple of weeks, dodging the detectives, and incidentally reading the newspapers. Perhaps you don’t understand that this estate of John Marshall Glenarm has been talked about a good bit.”

“I didn’t know it,” I admitted lamely. Larry had always been able to instruct me about most matters; it was wholly possible that he could speak wisely about my inheritance.

“You couldn’t know, when you were coming from the Mediterranean on a steamer. But the house out there and the mysterious disappearance of the property have been duly discussed. You’re evidently an object of some public interest,”—and he drew from his pocket a newspaper cutting. “Here’s a sample item.” He read:

“John Glenarm, the grandson of John Marshall Glenarm, the eccentric millionaire who died suddenly in Vermont last summer, arrived on the Maxinkuckee from Naples yesterday. Under the terms of his grandfather’s will, Glenarm is required to reside for a year at a curious house established by John Marshall Glenarm near Lake Annandale, Indiana.

This provision was made, according to friends of the family, to test young Glenarm’s staying qualities, as he has, since his graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology five years ago, distributed a considerable fortune left him by his father in contemplating the wonders of the old world. It is reported—”

“That will do! Signs and wonders I have certainly beheld, and if I spent the money I submit that I got my money back.”

I paid my bill and took a hansom for the ferry,— Larry with me, chaffing away drolly with his old zest. He crossed with me, and as the boat drew out into the river a silence fell upon us,—the silence that is possible only between old friends. As I looked back at the lights of the city, something beyond the sorrow at parting from a comrade touched me. A sense of foreboding, of coming danger, crept into my heart. But I was going upon the tamest possible excursion; for the first time in my life I was submitting to the direction of another, —albeit one who lay in the grave. How like my grandfather it was, to die leaving this compulsion upon me! My mood changed suddenly, and as the boat bumped at the pier I laughed.

“Bah! these men!” ejaculated Larry.

“What men?” I demanded, giving my bags to a porter.

“These men who are in love,” he said. “I know the signs,—mooning, silence, sudden inexplicable laughter! I hope I’ll not be in jail when you’re married.”

“You’ll be in a long time if they hold you for that. Here’s my train.”

We talked of old times, and of future meetings, during the few minutes that remained.

“You can write me at my place of rustication,” I said, scribbling “Annandale, Wabana County, Indiana,” on a card. “Now if you need me at any time I’ll come to you wherever you are. You understand that, old man. Good-by.”

“Write me, care of my father—he’ll have my address, though this last row of mine made him pretty hot.”

I passed through the gate and down the long train to my sleeper. Turning, with my foot on the step, I waved a farewell to Larry, who stood outside watching me.

In a moment the heavy train was moving slowly out into the night upon its westward journey.

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