The slave of the lamp, p.16
The Slave of the Lamp,
When Mr. Bodery opened the door of the room upon the second floor of thetall house in the Strand that morning, he found Mr. Morgan seated at thetable surrounded by proof-sheets, with his coat off and shirt-sleevestucked up. The subeditor of the _Beacon_ was in reality a good hardworker in his comfortable way, and there was little harm in his desirethat the world should be aware of his industry.
"Good morning, Morgan," said the editor, hanging up his hat.
"Morning," replied the other genially, but without looking up. BeforeMr. Bodery had seated himself, however, the sub-editor laid his handwith heavy approval upon the odoriferous proof-sheet before him, andlooked up.
"This article of Vellacott's is first-rate," he said. "By Jove! sir, hedrops on these holy fathers--lets them have it right and left. The wayhe has worked out the thing is wonderful, and that method of puttingeverything upon supposition is a grand idea. It suggests how the thing_could_ be done upon the face of it, while the initiated will seequickly enough that it means to show how the trick was in realityperformed--ha, ha!"
"Yes," replied Mr. Bodery absently. He was glancing at the pile ofletters that lay upon his desk. There were among them one or twotelegrams, and these he put to one side while he took up each envelopein succession to examine the address, throwing it down again unopened.At length he turned again to the telegrams, and picked up the top one.He was about to tear open the envelope when there was a sharp knock atthe door.
"'M'in!" said Mr. Morgan sharply, and at the same moment the silent doorwas thrown open. The diminutive form of the boy stood in the aperture.
"Gentleman to see you, sir," he said, with great solemnity.
"What name?" asked Mr. Bodery.
"Wouldn't give his name, sir--said you didn't know it, sir."
Even this small office-boy was allowed his quantum of discretionarypower. It rested with him whether an unknown visitor was admitted orpolitely dismissed to a much greater extent than any one suspected. Intohis manner of announcing a person he somehow managed to convey hisopinion as to whether it was worth the editor's time to admit him ornot, and he invariably received Mr. Bodery's "Tell him I'm engaged" witha little nod of mutual understanding which was intensely comprehensive.
On this occasion, his manner said, "Have him in, have him in my boy, andyou will find it worth your while."
"Show him in," said Mr. Bodery.
The nameless gentleman must have been at the door upon the boy's heels,for no sooner had the words left Mr. Bodery's lips than a tall, darkform slid into the room. So noiseless and rapid were this gentleman'smovements that there is no other word with which to express his mode ofprogression.
He made a low bow, and shot up erect again with startling rapidity. Hethen stood quietly waiting until the door had closed behind the smallboy, who, after having punctiliously expectorated upon a silver coinwhich had found its way into the palm of his hand, proceeded to slidedown the balustrade upon his waistcoat.
It often occurred that strangers addressed themselves to Mr. Morgan whenushered into the little back room, under the impression that he was theeditor of the _Beacon_. Not so, however, this tall, clean-shaven person.He fixed his peculiar light-blue eyes upon Mr. Bodery, and, with aslight inclination, said suavely--
"This, sir, is, I believe, your printing day?"
"It is, sir, and a busy day with us," replied the editor, with no greatwarmth of manner.
"Would it be possible now," inquired the stranger conversationally, "atthis late hour, to remove a printed article and substitute another?"
At these words Mr. Morgan ceased making some pencil notes with which hewas occupied, and looked up. He met the stranger's benign glance and,while still looking at him, deliberately turned over all theproof-sheets before him, leaving no printed matter exposed to the gazeof the curious.
Mr. Bodery had in the meantime consulted his watch.
"Yes," he replied, with dangerous politeness. "There would still be timeto do so if necessary--at the sacrifice of some hundredweight of paper."
"How marvellously organised your interesting paper must be!"
Dead silence. Most men would have felt embarrassed, but no sign of suchfeeling was forthcoming from any of the three. It is possible that thedark gentleman with the sky-blue eyes wished to establish a sense ofembarrassment with a view to the furtherance of his own ends. If so, hisattempt proved lamentably abortive. Mr. Bodery sat with his plump handsresting on the table, and looked contemplatively up into the stranger'sface. Mr. Morgan was scribbling pencil notes on a tablet.
"The truth is," explained the stranger at length, "that a friend ofmine, who is unfortunately ill in bed this morning--"
(Mr. Bodery did not look in the least sympathetic, though he listenedattentively.)
"... has received a telegram from a gentleman who I am told is on thestaff of your journal--Mr. Vellacott. This gentleman wishes to withdraw,for correction, an article he has sent to you. He states that he willre-write the article, with certain alterations, in time for next week'sissue."
Mr. Bodery's face was pleasantly illegible.
"May I see the telegram?" he asked politely.
The stranger produced and handed to the editor a pink paper covered withfaint black writing.
"You will see at the foot this--Mr. Vellacott's reason for not wiring toyou direct. He wished my friend to be here before the printers got towork this morning; but owing to this unfortunate illness--"
"I am afraid you are too late, sir," interrupted Mr. Bodery briskly."The press is at work--"
"My friend instructed me," interposed the stranger in his turn, "to makeyou rather a difficult proposition. If a thousand pounds will compensatefor the loss incurred by the delay of issue, and defray the expense ofpaper spoilt--I--I have that amount with me."
Mr. Bodery did not display the least sign of surprise, merely shakinghis head with a quiet smile. Mr. Morgan, however, laid aside his pencil,and placed his elbow upon the proof-sheets before him.
The stranger then stepped forward with a sudden change of manner.
"Mr. Bodery," he said, in a low, concentrated voice, "I will give youfive hundred pounds for a proof copy of Mr. Vellacott's article."
A dead silence of some moments' duration followed this remark. Mr.Morgan raised his head and looked across the table at his chief. Theeditor made an almost imperceptible motion with his eyebrows in thedirection of the door.
Then Mr. Morgan rose somewhat heavily from his chair, with a hand uponeither arm, after the manner of a man who is beginning to put on weightrapidly. He went to the door, opened it, and, turning towards thestranger, said urbanely:
This kind invitation was not at once accepted.
"You refuse my offers?" said the stranger curtly, without deigning tonotice the sub-editor.
Mr. Bodery had turned his attention to his letters, of which he wascutting open the envelopes, one by one, with a paper-knife, without,however, removing the contents. He looked up.
"To-morrow morning," he said, "you will be able to procure a copy fromany stationer for the trifling sum of sixpence."
Then the stranger walked slowly past Mr. Morgan out of the room.
"A curse on these Englishmen!" he muttered, as he passed down the narrowstaircase. "If I could only see the article I could tell whether it isworth resorting to stronger measures or not. However, that is Talma'sbusiness to decide, not mine."
Mr. Morgan closed the door of the small room and resumed his seat. Hethen laughed aloud, but Mr. Bodery did not respond.
"That's one of them," observed Mr. Morgan comprehensively.
"Yes," replied the editor, "a dangerous customer. I do not like ablue-chinned man."
"I was not much impressed with his diplomatic skill."
"No; but you must remember that he had difficult cards to play. No doubthis information was of the scantiest, and--we are not chickens, Morgan."
"No," said Mr. Morgan, with a little sigh. He turned to the revision ofthe proof-sheets again, while the editor began opening and reading histelegrams.
"This is a little strong," exclaimed Mr. Morgan, after a few moments ofsilence, broken only by the crackle of paper. "Just listen here:--
"'It simply comes to this--the General of the Society of Jesus is anautocrat in the worst sense of the word. He holds within his fingers thewires of a vast machine moving with little friction and no noise. Nofarthest corner of the world is entirely beyond its influence; nopolitical crisis passes that is not hurried on or restrained by itspower. Unrecognised, unseen even, and often undreamt of, the vastSociety does its work. It is not for us who live in a broad-minded,tolerant age to judge too harshly. It is not for us to say that theJesuits are unscrupulous and treacherous. Let us be just and give themtheir due. They are undoubtedly earnest in their work, sincere in theirbelief, true to their faith. But it is for us to uphold our ownintegrity. We are accused--as a nation--of stirring up the seeds ofrebellion, of crime and bloodshed in the heart of another country. Ourdenial is considered insufficient; our evidence is ignored. Thereremains yet to us one mode of self-defence. After denying the crime (forcrime it is in humane and political sense) we can turn and boldly lay itupon those whom its results would chiefly benefit: the Roman CatholicChurch in general--the Society of Jesus in particular. We haveendeavoured to show how the followers of Ignatius Loyola could havebrought about the present crisis in France; the extent to which theywould benefit by a religious reaction is patent to the most casualobserver; let the Government of England do the rest.'"
Mr. Bodery was, however, not listening. He was staring vacantly at atelegram which lay spread out upon the table.
"What is the meaning of this?" he exclaimed huskily.
The sub-editor looked up sharply, with his pen poised in the air. ThenMr. Bodery read:
"Is Vellacott with you? Fear something wrong. Disappeared from here lastnight."
Mr. Morgan moved in his seat, stretching one arm out, while he pensivelyrubbed his clean-shaven chin and looked critically across the table.
"Who is it from?" he asked.
"Sidney Carew, the man he is staying with."
They remained thus for some moments; the editor looking at the telegramwith a peculiar blank expression in his eyes; Mr. Morgan staring at himwhile he rubbed his chin thoughtfully with outspread finger and thumb.In the lane beneath the window some industrious housekeeper was sweepingher doorstep with aggravating monotony; otherwise there was no sound.
At length Mr. Morgan rose from his seat and walked slowly to the window.He stood gazing out upon the smoke-begrimed roofs and crooked chimneys.Between his lips he held his pen, and his hands were thrust deeply intohis trouser pockets. It was on that spot and in that attitude that heusually thought out his carefully written weekly article upon "HomeAffairs." He was still there when the editor touched a small gong whichstood on the table at his side. The silent door instantly opened, andthe supernaturally sharp boy stood on the threshold grimly awaiting hisorders.
"Yess'r," replied the boy, closing the door. His inventive mind hadconceived a new and improved method of going downstairs. This was to lieflat on his back upon the balustrade with a leg dangling on either side.If the balance was correct, he slid down rapidly and shot out some feetfrom the bottom, as he had, from an advantageous point of view onBlackfriars Bridge, seen sacks of meal shoot from a Thames warehouseinto the barge beneath. If, however, he made a miscalculation, heinevitably rolled off sideways and landed in a heap on the floor. Eitherresult appeared to afford him infinite enjoyment and exhilaration. Onthis occasion he performed the feat with marked success.
"Guv'nor's goin' on the loose--wants the railway guide," he confided toa small friend in the printing interest whom he met as he was returningwith the required volume.
"Suppose you'll be sitten' upstairs now, then," remarked theblack-fingered one with fine sarcasm. Whereupon there followed afeint--a desperate lunge to one side, a vigorous bob of the head, and aresounding bang with the railway guide in the centre of the sarcasticyouth's waistcoat.
Having executed a strategic movement, and a masterly retreat up thestairs, the small boy leant over the banisters and delivered himself ofthe following explanation:
"I 'it yer one that time. Don't do it agin. _Good_ morning, sir."
Mr. Bodery turned the flimsy leaves impatiently, stopped, looked rapidlydown a column, and, without raising his eyes from the railway guide,tore a telegraph form from the handle of a drawer at his side. Then hewrote in a large clear style:
"Will be with you at five o'clock. Invent some excuse for V.'s absence.On no account give alarm to authorities."
The sharp boy took the telegram from the editor's hand with anexpression of profound respect upon his wicked features.
"Go down to Banks," said Mr. Bodery, "ask him to let me have two copiesof the foreign policy article in ten minutes."
When the silent door was closed, Mr. Morgan wheeled round upon hisheels, and gazed meditatively at his superior.
"Going down to see these people?" he asked, with a jerk of his headtowards the West.
"Yes, I am going by the eleven-fifteen."
"I have been thinking," continued the sub-editor, "we may as well keepthe printing-office door locked to-day. That slippery gentleman with thewatery eyes meant business, or I am very much mistaken. I'll just sendupstairs for Bander to go on duty at the shop door to-day as well asto-morrow; I think we shall have a big sale this week."
Mr. Bodery rose from his seat and began brushing his faultless hat.
"Yes," he replied; "do that. It would be very easy to get at themachinery. Printers are only human!"
"Machinery is ready enough to go wrong when nobody wishes it," murmuredMr. Morgan vaguely, as he sat down at the table and began setting thescattered papers in order.
Mr. Bodery and his colleagues were in the habit of keeping at the officea small bag, containing the luggage necessary for a few nights in caseof their being suddenly called away. This expedient was due to ChristianVellacott's forethought.
The editor now proceeded to stuff into his bag sundry morning newspapersand a large cigar case. Telegraph forms, pen, ink, and foolscap paperwere already there.
"I say, Bodery," said the sub-editor with grave familiarity, "it seemsto me that you are taking much too serious a view of this matter.Vellacott is as wide awake as any man, and it always struck me that hewas very well able to take care of himself."
"I have a wholesome dread of men who use religion as a means ofjustification. A fanatic is always dangerous."
"A sincere fanatic," suggested the sub-editor.
"Exactly so; and a sincere fanatic in the hands of an agitator is thevery devil. That is whence these fellows got their power. Half of themare fanatics and the other half hypocrites."
Mr. Bodery had now completed his preparations, and he held out his plumphand, which the subeditor grasped.
"I hope," said the latter, "that you will find Vellacott at the stationto meet you--ha, ha!"
"I hope so."
"If," said Mr. Morgan, following the editor to the door--"if he turns uphere, I will wire to Carew and to you, care of the station-master."
The Slave of the Lamp by Henry Seton Merriman / Actions & Adventure have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes