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Andrew Lang

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Andrew Lang

The Mark of Cain

 
EAN 8596547233596
DigiCat, 2022 Contact: [email protected]

Table of Contents

THE MARK OF CAIN
By Andrew Lang 1886
THE MARK OF CAIN.
CHAPTER I.—A Tale of Two Clubs.
CHAPTER II.—In the Snow.
CHAPTER III.—An Academic Pothouse.
CHAPTER IV.—Miss Marlett’s.
CHAPTER V.—Flown.
CHAPTER VI.—At St. Gatien’s.
CHAPTER VII.—After the Inquest.
CHAPTER VIII.—The Jaffa Oranges.
“Letting I dare not wait upon I would .”
CHAPTER IX.—Mrs. St. John Deloraine
CHAPTER X.—Traps.
CHAPTER XI.—The Night of Adventures.
CHAPTER XII.—A Patient.
CHAPTER XIII.—Another Patient.
CHAPTER XIV.—Found.
CHAPTER XV.—The Mark of Cain.
CHAPTER XVI.—The Verdict of Fate.
EPILOGUE.
And what became of them all?

THE MARK OF CAIN

Table of Contents

By Andrew Lang 1886

Table of Contents

THE MARK OF CAIN.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER I.—A Tale of Two Clubs.

Table of Contents
“Such arts the gods who dwell on high Have given to the Greek.”—Lays of Ancient Rome.

In the Strangers’ Room of the Olympic Club the air was thick with tobacco-smoke, and, despite the bitter cold outside, the temperature was uncomfortably high. Dinner was over, and the guests, broken up into little groups, were chattering noisily. No one had yet given any sign of departing: no one had offered a welcome apology for the need of catching an evening train.

Perhaps the civilized custom which permits women to dine in the presence of the greedier sex is the proudest conquest of Culture. Were it not for the excuse of “joining the ladies,” dinner-parties (Like the congregations in Heaven, as described in the hymn) would “ne’er break up,” and suppers (like Sabbaths, on the same authority) would never end.

“Hang it all, will the fellows never go?”

So thought Maitland, of St. Gatien’s, the founder of the feast. The inhospitable reflections which we have recorded had all been passing through his brain as he rather moodily watched the twenty guests he had been feeding—one can hardly say entertaining. It was a “duty dinner” he had been giving—almost everything Maitland did was done from a sense of duty—yet he scarcely appeared to be reaping the reward of an approving conscience. His acquaintances, laughing and gossipping round the half-empty wine-glasses, the olives, the scattered fruit, and “the ashes of the weeds of their delight,” gave themselves no concern about the weary host. Even at his own party, as in life generally, Maitland felt like an outsider. He wakened from his reverie as a strong hand was laid lightly on his shoulder.

“Well, Maitland,” said a man sitting down beside him, “what have you been doing this long time?”

“What have I been doing, Barton?” Maitland answered. “Oh, I have been reflecting on the choice of a life, and trying to humanize myself! Bielby says I have not enough human nature.”

“Bielby is quite right; he is the most judicious of college dons and father-confessors, old man. And how long do you mean to remain his pupil and penitent? And how is the pothouse getting on?”

Frank Barton, the speaker, had been at school with Maitland, and ever since, at college and in life, had bullied, teased, and befriended him. Barton was a big young man, with great thews and sinews, and a broad, breast beneath his broadcloth and wide shirt-front. He was blonde, prematurely bald, with an aquiline commanding nose, keen, merry blue eyes, and a short, fair beard. He had taken a medical as well as other degrees at the University; he had studied at Vienna and Paris; he was even what Captain Costigan styles “a scoientific cyarkter.” He had written learnedly in various Proceedings of erudite societies; he had made a cruise in a man-of-war, a scientific expedition; and his Les Tatouages, Étude Médico-Lêgale, published in Paris, had been commended by the highest authorities. Yet, from some whim of philanthropy, he had not a home and practice in Cavendish Square, but dwelt and labored in Chelsea.

“How is your pothouse getting on?” he asked again.

“The pothouse? Oh, the Hit or Miss you mean? Well, I’m afraid it’s not very successful I took the lease of it, you know, partly by way of doing some good in a practical kind of way. The working men at the waterside won’t go to clubs, where there is nothing but coffee to drink, and little but tracts to read. I thought if I gave them sound beer, and looked in among them now and then of an evening, I might help to civilize them a bit, like that fellow who kept the Thieves’ Club in the East End. And then I fancied they might help to make me a little more human. But it does not seem quite to succeed. I fear I am a born wet blanket But the idea is good. Mrs. St. John Delo-raine quite agrees with me about that. And she is a high authority.”

“Mrs. St. John Deloraine? I’ve heard of her. She is a lively widow, isn’t she?”

“She is a practical philanthropist,” answered Maitland, flushing a little.

“Pretty, too, I have been told?”

“Yes; she is ‘conveniently handsome,’ as Izaak Walton says.”

“I say, Maitland, here’s a chance to humanize you. Why don’t you ask her to marry you? Pretty and philanthropic and rich—what better would you ask?”

“I wish everyone wouldn’t bother a man to marry,” Maitland replied testily, and turning red in his peculiar manner; for his complexion was pale and unwholesome.

“What a queer chap you are, Maitland; what’s the matter with you? Here you are, young, entirely without encumbrances, as the advertisements say, no relations to worry you, with plenty of money, let alone what you make by writing, and yet you are not happy. What is the matter with you?”

“Well, you should know best What’s the good of your being a doctor, and acquainted all these years with my moral and physical constitution (what there is of it), if you can’t tell what’s the nature of my complaint?”

“I don’t diagnose many cases like yours, old boy, down by the side of the water, among the hardy patients of Mundy & Barton, general practitioners. There is plenty of human nature there!”

“And do you mean to stay there with Mundy much longer?”

“Well, I don’t know. A fellow is really doing some good, and it is a splendid practice for mastering surgery. They are always falling off roofs, or having weights fall on them, or getting jammed between barges, or kicking each other into most interesting jellies. Then the foreign sailors are handy with their knives. Altogether, a man learns a good deal about surgery in Chelsea. But, I say,” Barton went on, lowering his voice, “where on earth did you pick up——?”

Here he glanced significantly at a tall man, standing at some distance, the centre of half a dozen very youthful revellers.

“Cranley, do you mean? I met him at the Trumpet office. He was writing about the Coolie Labor Question and the Eastern Question. He has been in the South Seas, like you.”

“Yes; he has been in a lot of queerer places than the South Seas,” answered the other, “and he ought to know something about Coolies. He has dealt in them, I fancy.”

“I daresay,” Maitland replied rather wearily. “He seems to have travelled a good deal: perhaps he has travelled in Coolies, whatever they may be.”

“Now, my dear fellow, do you know what kind of man your guest is, or don’t you?”

“He seems to be a military and sporting kind of gent, so to speak,” said Maitland; “but what does it matter?”

“Then you don’t know why he left his private tutor’s; you don’t know why he left the University; you don’t know why he left the Ninety-second; you don’t know, and no one does, what he did after that; and you never heard of that affair with the Frenchman in Egypt?”

“Well,” Maitland replied, “about his ancient history I own I don’t know anything. As to the row with the Frenchman at Cairo, he told me himself. He said the beggar was too small for him to lick, and that duelling was ridiculous.”

“They didn’t take that view of it at Shephard’s Hotel”

“Well, it is not my affair,” said Maitland. “One should see all sort of characters, Bielby says. This is not an ordinary fellow. Why, he has been a sailor before the mast, he says, by way of adventure, and he is full of good stories. I rather like him, and he can’t do my moral character any harm. I’m not likely to deal in Coolies, at my time of life, nor quarrel with warlike aliens.”

“No; but he’s not a good man to introduce to these boys from Oxford,” Barton was saying, when the subject of their conversation came up, surrounded by his little court of undergraduates.

The Hon. Thomas Cranley was a good deal older than the company in which he found himself. Without being one of the hoary youths who play Falstaff to every fresh heir’s Prince Harry, he was a middle-aged man, too obviously accustomed to the society of boys. His very dress spoke of a prolonged youth. À large cat’s-eye, circled with diamonds, blazed solitary in his shirt-front, and his coat was cut after the manner of the contemporary reveller. His chin was clean shaven, and his face, though a good deal worn, was ripe, smooth, shining with good cheer, and of a purply bronze hue, from exposure to hot suns and familiarity with the beverages of many peoples. His full red lips, with their humorous corners, were shaded by a small black mustache, and his twinkling bistre-colored eyes, beneath mobile black eyebrows, gave Cranley the air of a jester and a good fellow. In manner he was familiar, with a kind of deference, too, and reserve, “like a dog that is always wagging his tail and deprecating a kick,” thought Barton grimly, as he watched the other’s genial advance.

“He’s going to say good-night, bless him,” thought Maitland gratefully. “Now the others will be moving too, I hope!”

So Maitland rose with much alacrity as Cranley approached him. To stand up would show, he thought, that he was not inhospitably eager to detain the parting guest.

“Good-night, Mr. Maitland,” said the senior, holding out his hand.

“It is still early,” said the host, doing his best to play his part. “Must you really go?”

“Yes; the night’s young” (it was about half-past twelve), “but I have a kind of engagement to look in at the Cockpit, and three or four of your young friends here are anxious to come with me, and see how we keep it up round there. Perhaps you and your friend will walk with us.” Here he bowed slightly in the direction of Barton.

“There will be a little bac going on,” he continued—“un petit bac de santé; and these boys tell me they have never played anything more elevating than loo.”

“I’m afraid I am no good at a round game,” answered Maitland, who had played at his Aunt’s at Christmas, and who now observed with delight that everyone was moving; “but here is Barton, who will be happy to accompany you, I daresay.”

“If you’re for a frolic, boys,” said Barton, quoting Dr. Johnson, and looking rather at the younger men than at Cranley, “why, I will not balk you. Good-night, Maitland.”

And he shook hands with his host.

“Good-nights” were uttered in every direction; sticks, hats, and umbrellas were hunted up; and while Maitland, half-asleep, was being whirled to his rooms in Bloomsbury in a hansom, his guests made the frozen pavement of Piccadilly ring beneath their elegant heels.

“It is only round the corner,” said Cranley to the four or five men who accompanied him. “The Cockpit, where I am taking you, is in a fashionable slum off St. James’s. We’re just there.”

There was nothing either meretricious or sinister in the aspect of that favored resort, the Cockpit, as the Decade Club was familiarly called by its friends—and enemies. Two young Merton men and the freshman from New, who were enjoying their Christmas vacation in town, and had been dining with Maitland, were a little disappointed in the appearance of the place. They had hoped to knock mysteriously at a back door in a lane, and to be shown, after investigating through a loopholed wicket, into a narrow staircase, which, again, should open on halls of light, full of blazing wax candles and magnificent lacqueys, while a small mysterious man would point out the secret hiding-room, and the passages leading on to the roof or into the next house, in case of a raid by the police. Such was the old idea of a “Hell;” but the advance of Thought has altered all these early notions. The Decade Club was like any other small club. A current of warm air, charged with tobacco-smoke, rushed forth into the frosty night when the swinging door was opened; a sleepy porter looked out of his little nest, and Cranley wrote the names of the companions he introduced in a book which was kept for that purpose.

“Now you are free of the Cockpit for the night,” he said, genially. “It’s a livelier place, in the small hours, than that classical Olympic we’ve just left.”

They went upstairs, passing the doors of one or two rooms, lit up but empty, except for two or three men who were sleeping in uncomfortable attitudes on sofas. The whole of the breadth of the first floor, all the drawing-room of the house before it became a club, had been turned into a card-room, from which brilliant lights, voices, and a heavy odor of tobacco and alcohol poured out when the door was opened. A long green baize-covered table, of very light wood, ran down the centre of the room, while refreshments stood on smaller tables, and a servant out of livery sat, half-asleep, behind a great desk in the remotest corner. There were several empty chairs round the green baize-covered table, at which some twenty men were sitting, with money before them; while one, in the middle, dealt out the cards on a broad flap of smooth black leather let into the baize. Every now and then he threw the cards he had been dealing into a kind of well in the table, and after every deal he raked up his winnings with a rake, or distributed gold and counters to the winners, as mechanically as if he had been a croupier at Monte Carlo. The players, who were all in evening dress, had scarcely looked up when the strangers entered the room.

“Brought some recruits, Cranley?” asked the Banker, adding, as he looked at his hand, “J’en donne!” and becoming absorbed in his game again.

“The game you do not understand?” said Cranley to one of his recruits.

“Not quite,” said the lad, shaking his head.

“All right; I will soon show you all about it; and I wouldn’t play, if I were you, till you know all about it. Perhaps, after you know all about it, you’ll think it wiser not to play at all At least, you might well think so abroad, where very fishy things are often done. Here it’s all right, of course.”

“Is baccarat a game you can be cheated at, then—I mean, when people are inclined to cheat?”

“Cheat! Oh, rather! There are about a dozen ways of cheating at baccarat.”

The other young men from Maitland’s party gathered round their mentor, who continued his instructions in a low voice, and from a distance whence the play could be watched, while the players were not likely to be disturbed by the conversation.

“Cheating is the simplest thing in the world, at Nice or in Paris,” Cranley went on; “but to show you how it is done, in case you ever do play in foreign parts, I must explain the game. You see the men first put down their stakes within the thin white line on the edge of the tabla Then the Banker deals two cards to one of the men on his left, and all the fellows on that side stand by his luck. Then he deals two to a chappie on his right, and all the punters on the right, back that sportsman. And he deals two cards to himself. The game is to get as near nine as possible, ten, and court cards, not counting at all. If the Banker has eight or nine, he does not offer cards; if he has less, he gives the two players, if they ask for them, one card each, and takes one himself if he chooses. If they hold six, seven, or eight, they stand; if less, they take a card. Sometimes one stands at five; it depends. Then the Banker wins if he is nearer nine than the players, and they win if they are better than he; and that’s the whole affair.”

“I don’t see where the cheating can come in,” said one of the young fellows.

“Dozens of ways, as I told you. A man may have an understanding with the waiter, and play with arranged packs; but the waiter is always the dangerous element in that little combination. He’s sure to peach or blackmail his accomplice. Then the cards may be marked. I remember, at Ostend, one fellow, a big German; he wore spectacles, like all Germans, and he seldom gave the players anything better than three court cards when he dealt One evening he was in awful luck, when he happened to go for his cigar-case, which he had left in the hall in his great-coat pocket. He laid down his spectacles on the table, and someone tried them on. As soon as he took up the cards he gave a start, and sang out, ‘Here’s a swindle! Nous sommes volés!’ He could see, by the help of the spectacles, that all the nines and court cards were marked; and the spectacles were regular patent double million magnifiers.”

“And what became of the owner of the glasses?”

“Oh, he just looked into the room, saw the man wearing them, and didn’t wait to say good-night. He just went!”

Here Cranley chuckled.

“I remember another time, at Nice: I always laugh when I think of it! There was a little Frenchman who played nearly every night. He would take the bank for three or four turns, and he almost always won. Well, one night he had been at the theatre, and he left before the end of the piece and looked in at the Cercle. He took the Bank: lost once, won twice; then he offered cards. The man who was playing nodded, to show he would take one, and the Frenchman laid down an eight of clubs, a greasy, dirty old rag, with théâtre français de nice stamped on it in big letters. It was his ticket of readmission at the theatre that they gave him when he went out, and it had got mixed up with a nice little arrangement in cards he had managed to smuggle into the club pack. I’ll never forget his face and the other man’s when Théâtre Français turned up. However, you understand the game now, and if you want to play, we had better give fine gold to the waiter in exchange for bone counters, and get to work.”

Two or three of the visitors followed Cranley to the corner where the white, dissipated-looking waiter of the card-room sat, and provided themselves with black and red jetons (bone counters) of various values, to be redeemed at the end of the game.

When they returned to the table the banker was just leaving his post.

“I’m cleaned out,” said he, “décavé. Good-night,” and he walked away.

No one seemed anxious to open a bank. The punters had been winning all night, and did not like to desert their luck.

“Oh, this will never do,” cried Cranley. “If no one else will open a bank, I’ll risk a couple of hundred, just to show you beginners how it is done!”

Cranley sat down, lit a cigarette, and laid the smooth silver cigarette-case before him. Then he began to deal.

Fortune at first was all on the side of the players. Again and again Cranley chucked out the counters he had lost, which the others gathered in, or pushed three or four bank-notes with his little rake in the direction of a more venturesome winner. The new-comers, who were winning, thought they had never taken part in a sport more gentlemanly and amusing.

“I must have one shy,” said Martin, one of the boys who had hitherto stood with Barton, behind the Banker, looking on. He was a gaudy youth with a diamond stud, rich, and not fond of losing. He staked five pounds and won; he left the whole sum on and lost, lost again, a third time, and then said, “May I draw a cheque?”

“Of course you may,” Cranley answered. “The waiter will give you tout ce qu’il faut pour écrire, as the stage directions say; but I don’t advise you to plunge. You’ve lost quite enough. Yet they say the devil favors beginners, so you can’t come to grief.”

The young fellow by this time was too excited to take advice. His cheeks had an angry flush, his hands trembled as he hastily constructed some paper currency of considerable value. The parallel horizontal wrinkles of the gambler were just sketched on his smooth girlish brow as he returned with his paper. The bank had been losing, but not largely. The luck turned again as soon as Martin threw down some of his scrip. Thrice consecutively he lost.

“Excuse me,” said Barton suddenly to Cranley, “may I help myself to one of your cigarettes?”

He stooped as he spoke, over the table, and Cranley saw him pick up the silver cigarette-case. It was a handsome piece of polished silver.

“Certainly; help yourself. Give me back my cigarette-case, please, when you have done with it.”

He dealt again, and lost.

“What a nice case!” said Barton, examining it closely. “There is an Arabic word engraved on it.”

“Yes, yes,” said Cranley, rather impatiently, holding out his hand for the thing, and pausing before he dealt. “The case was given me by the late Khédive, dear old Ismail, bless him! The word is a talisman.”

“I thought so. The case seemed to bring you luck,” said Barton.

Cranley half turned and threw a quick look at him, as rapid and timid as the glance of a hare in its form.

“Come, give me it back, please,” he said.

“Now, just oblige me: let me try what there is in luck. Go on playing while I rub up my Arabic, and try to read this ineffable name on the case. Is it the word of Power of Solomon?”

Cranley glanced back again. “All right,” he said, “as you are so curious—-j’en donne!”

He offered cards, and lost. Martin’s face brightened up. His paper currency was coming back to him.

“It’s a shame,” grumbled Cranley, “to rob a fellow of his fetich. Waiter, a small brandy-and-soda! Confound your awkwardness! Why do you spill it over the cards?”

By Cranley’s own awkwardness, more than the waiter’s, a little splash of the liquid had fallen in front of him, on the black leather part of the table where he dealt. He went on dealing, and his luck altered again. The rake was stretched out over both halves of the long table; the gold and notes and counters, with a fluttering assortment of Martin’s I O U’s, were all dragged in. Martin went to the den of the money-changer sullenly, and came back with fresh supplies.

“Banco?” he cried, meaning that he challenged Cranley for all the money in the bank. There must have been some seven hundred pounds.

“All right,” said Cranley, taking a sip of his soda water. He had dealt two cards, when his hands were suddenly grasped as in two vices, and cramped to the table. Barton had bent over from behind and caught him by the wrists.

Cranley made one weak automatic movement to extricate himself; then he sat perfectly still. His face, which he turned over his shoulder, was white beneath the stains of tan, and his lips were blue.

“Damn you!” he snarled. “What trick are you after now?”

“Are you drunk, Barton?” cried some one.

“Leave him alone!” shouted some of the players, rising from their seats; while others, pressing round Barton, looked over his shoulder without seeing any excuse for his behavior.

“Gentlemen,” said Barton, in a steady voice, “I leave my conduct in the hands of the club. If I do not convince them that Mr. Cranley has been cheating, I am quite at their disposal, and at his. Let anyone who doubts what I say look here.”

“Well, I’m looking here, and I don’t see what you are making such a fuss about,” said Martin, from the group behind, peering over at the table and the cards.

“Will you kindly—— No, it is no use.” The last remark was addressed to the captive, who had tried to release his hands. “Will you kindly take up some of the cards and deal them slowly, to right and left, over that little puddle of spilt soda water on the leather? Get as near the table as you can.”

There was a dead silence while Martin made this experiment.

“By gad, I can see every pip on the cards!” cried Martin.

“Of course you can; and if you had the art of correcting fortune, you could make use of what you see. At the least you would know whether to take a card or stand.”

“I didn’t,” said the wretched Cranley. “How on earth was I to know that the infernal fool of a waiter would spill the liquor there, and give you a chance against me?”

“You spilt the liquor yourself,” Barton answered coolly, “when I took away your cigarette-case. I saw you passing the cards over the surface of it, which anyone can see for himself is a perfect mirror. I tried to warn you—for I did not want a row—when I said the case ‘seemed to bring you luck.’ But you would not be warned; and when the cigarette-case trick was played out, you fell back on the old dodge with the drop of water. Will anyone else convince himself that I am right before I let Mr. Cranley go?”

One or two men passed the cards, as they had seen the Banker do, over the spilt soda water.

“It’s a clear case,” they said. “Leave him alone.”

Barton slackened his grip of Cranley’s hands, and for some seconds they lay as if paralyzed on the table before him, white and cold, with livid circles round the wrists. The man’s face was deadly pale, and wet with perspiration. He put out a trembling hand to the glass of brandy-and-water that stood beside him; the class rattled against his teeth as he drained all the contents at a gulp.

“You shall hear from me,” he grumbled, and, with an inarticulate muttering of threats he made his way, stumbling and catching at chairs, to the door. When he had got outside, he leaned against the wall, like a drunken man, and then shambled across the landing into a reading-room. It was empty, and Cranley fell into a large easy-chair, where he lay crumpled up, rather than sat, for perhaps ten minutes, holding his hand against his heart.

“They talk about having the courage of one’s opinions. Confound it! Why haven’t I the nerve for my character? Hang this heart of mine! Will it never stop thumping?”

He sat up and looked about him, then rose and walked toward the table; but his head began to swim, and his eyes to darken; so he fell back again in his seat, feeling drowsy and beaten. Mechanically he began to move the hand that hung over the arm of his low chair, and it encountered a newspaper which had fallen on the floor. He lifted it automatically and without thought: it was the Times. Perhaps to try his eyes, and see if they served him again after his collapse, he ran them down the columns of the advertisements.

Suddenly something caught his attention; his whole lax figure grew braced again as he read a passage steadily through more than twice or thrice. When he had quite mastered this, he threw down the paper and gave a low whistle.

“So the old boy’s dead,” he reflected; “and that drunken tattooed ass and his daughter are to come in for the money and the mines! They’ll be clever that find him, and I shan’t give them his address! What luck some men have!”

Here he fell into deep thought, his brows and lips working eagerly.