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THE GAMBLER AND THE COLLECTOR.
Things went swimmingly with George. He had weathered a crisis, and was now full of confidence, as well as the show of it. That he held himself a man who could do what he pleased, was plain to every one. His prosperity leaned upon that of certain princes of the power of money in America: gleaning after them he found his fortune.
But he did not find much increase of favor with Alexa. Her spiritual tastes were growing more refined. There was something about the man, and that not new, which she could no longer contemplate without dissatisfaction. It cost her tears at night to think that, although her lover had degenerated, he had remained true to her, for she saw plainly that it was only lack of encouragement that prevented him from asking her to be his wife. She must appear changeable, but this was not the man she had been ready to love! the plant had put forth a flower that was not in sequence with the leaf. The cause of his appearing different might lie in herself, but in any case he was not the gentleman she had thought! Had she loved him, she would have stood by him bravely, but now she could not help recalling the disgrace of the father, and shrunk from sharing it with the son. Would it be any wonder if the son himself proved less than honorable? She would have broken with him quite but for one thing: he had become intimate with her father, and the laird enjoyed his company.
George had a large straggling acquaintance with things, and could readily appear to know more than he did. He was, besides, that most agreeable person to a man with a hobby, a good listener--when he saw reason. He made himself so pleasant that the laird was not only always glad to see him, but would often ask him to stay to supper, when he would fish up from the wine-cellar he had inherited a bottle with a history and a character, and the two would pass the evening together, Alexa trying not to wish him away, for was not her poor old father happy with him! Though without much pleasure of his own in such things, George, moved by the reflection of the laird's interest, even began to collect a little, mainly in the hope of picking up what might gratify the laird; nor, if he came upon a thing he must covet, would hesitate to spend on it a good sum. Naturally the old man grew to regard him as a son of the best sort, one who would do anything to please his father and indulge his tastes.
It may seem surprising that such a man as George should have remained so true; but he had a bull-dog tenacity of purpose, as indeed his money-making indicated. Then there was good in him to the measure of admiring a woman like Alexa, though not of admiring a far better. He saw himself in danger of losing her; concluded influences at work to the frustration of his own; surmised that she doubted the character of his business; feared the clownish farmer-poet might have dazzled with his new reputation her womanly judgment; and felt himself called upon to make good his position against any and every prejudice she might have conceived against him! He would yield nothing! If he was foiled he was foiled, but it should not be his fault! His own phrase was, that he would not throw up the sponge so long as he could come up grinning. He had occasional twinges of discomfort, for his conscience, although seared indeed, was not seared as with the hottest iron, seeing he had never looked straight at any truth: it would ease those twinges, he vaguely imagined, so to satisfy a good woman like Alexa, that she made common cause with him, accepting not merely himself, but the money of which he had at such times a slight loathing. Then Alexa was handsome--he thought her very handsome, and, true to Mammon, he would gladly be true also to something better. There might be another camp, and it would be well to have friends in that too!
So unlike Andrew, how could he but dislike him! and his dislike jealousy fostered into hatred. Cowed before him, like Macbeth before Banquo, because he was an honest man, how could he but hate him! He called him, and thought him a canting, sneaking fellow--which he was, if canting consist in giving God His own, and sneaking consist in fearing no man--in fearing nothing, indeed, but doing wrong. How could George consent even to the far-off existence of such a man!
The laird also had taken a dislike to him.
From the night when Dawtie made her appeal, he had not known an hour's peace. It was not that it had waked his conscience, though it had made it sleep a little less soundly; it was only that he feared she might take further action in regard to the cup. She seemed to him to be taking part with the owner of the cup against him; he could not see that she was taking part with himself against the devil; that it was not the cup she was anxious about, but the life of her master. What if she should acquaint the earl's lawyer with all she knew! He would be dragged into public daylight! He could not pretend ignorance concerning the identity of the chalice! that would be to be no antiquarian, while Dawtie would bear witness that he had in his possession a book telling all about it! But the girl would never of herself have turned against him! It was all that fellow Ingram, with his overstrained and absurd notions as to what God required of His poor sinful creatures! He did not believe in the atonement! He did not believe that Christ had given satisfaction to the Father for our sins! He demanded in the name of religion more than any properly educated and authorized minister would! and in his meddlesomeness had worried Dawtie into doing as she did! The girl was a good and modest girl, and would never of herself have so acted! Andrew was righteous overmuch, therefore eaten up with self-conceit, and the notion of pleasing God more than other men! He cherished old grudges against him, and would be delighted to bring his old school-master to shame! He was not a bad boy at school; he had always liked him; the change in him witnessed to the peril of extremes! Here they had led to spiritual pride, which was the worst of all the sins! The favorite of heaven could have no respect for the opinion of his betters! The man was bent on returning evil for all the good he had done the boy! It was a happy thing young Crawford understood him! He would be his friend, and defeat the machinations of his enemy! If only the fellow's lease were out, that he might get rid of him!
Moved by George's sympathy with his tastes, he drew nearer and nearer to disclosing the possession which was the pride of his life. The enjoyment, of connoisseur or collector rests much on the glory of possession--of having what another has not, or, better still, what no other can possibly have.
From what he had long ago seen on the night of the storm, and now from the way the old man hinted, and talked, and broke off; also from the uneasiness he sometimes manifested, George had guessed that there was something over whose possession he gloated, but for whose presence among his treasures he could not comfortably account He therefore set himself, without asking a single question, to make the laird unbosom. A hold on the father would be a hold on the daughter!
One day, in a pawnbroker's shop, he lighted upon a rarity indeed, which might or might not have a history attributed to it, but was in itself more than interesting for the beauty of both material and workmanship. The sum asked for it was large, but with the chance of pleasing the laird, it seemed to George but a trifle. It was also, he judged, of intrinsic value to a great part of the price. Had he been then aware of the passion of the old man for jewels in especial, he would have been yet more eager to secure it for him. It was a watch, not very small, and by no means thin--a repeater, whose bell was dulled by the stones of the mine in which it lay buried. The case was one mass of gems of considerable size, and of every color. Ruby, sapphire, and emerald were judiciously parted by diamonds of utmost purity, while yellow diamonds took the golden place for which the topaz had not been counted of sufficient value. They were all crusted together as close as they could lie, the setting of them hardly showing. The face was of fine opals, across which moved the two larger hands radiant with rubies, while the second-hand flitted flashing around, covered with tiny diamonds. The numerals were in sapphires, within a bordering ring of emeralds and black pearls. The jewel was a splendor of color and light.
George, without preface, took it from his pocket, held it a moment in the sunlight, and handed it to the laird. He glowered at it. He saw an angel from heaven in a thing compact of earth-chips! As near as any thing can be loved of a live soul, the laird loved a fine stone; what in it he loved most, the color, the light, the shape, the value, the mystery, he could not have told!--and here was a jewel of many fine stones! With both hands he pressed it to his bosom. Then he looked at it in the sun, then went into the shadow of the house, for they were in the open air, and looked at it again. Suddenly he thrust it into his pocket, and hurried, followed by George, to his study. There he closed the shutters, lighted a lamp, and gazed at the marvel, turning it in all directions. At length he laid it on the table, and sunk with a sigh into a chair. George understood the sigh, and dug its source deeper by telling him, as he had heard it, the story of the jewel.
"It may be true," he said as he ended. "I remember seeing some time ago a description of the toy. I think I could lay my hand on it!"
"Would you mind leaving it with me till you come again?" faltered the laird.
He knew he could not buy it: he had not the money; but he would gladly dally with the notion of being its possessor. To part with it, the moment after having held it in his hand and gloated over it for the first time, would be too keen a pain! It was unreasonable to have to part with it at all! He ought to be its owner! Who could be such an owner to a thing like that as he! It was a wrong to him that it was not his! Next to his cup, it was the most precious thing he had ever wished to possess!--a thing for a man to take to the grave with him! Was there no way of carrying any treasure to the other world? He would have sold of his land to secure the miracle, but, alas, it was all entailed! For a moment the Cellini chalice seemed of less account, and he felt ready to throw open the window of his treasure-room and pitch everything out. The demon of having is as imperious and as capricious as that of drink, and there is no refuge from it but with the Father. "This kind goeth not out by prayer."
The poor slave uttered, not a sigh now, but a groan. "You'll tell the man," he said, thinking George had borrowed the thing to show him, "that I did not even ask the price: I know I can not buy it!"
"Perhaps he would give you credit!" suggested George, with a smile.
"No! I will have nothing to do with credit! I should not be able to call it my own!"--Money-honesty was strong in the laird. "But," he continued, "do try and persuade him to let me have it for a day or two--that I may get its beauty by heart, and think of it all the days, and dream of it all the nights of my life after!"
"There will be no difficulty about that," answered George. "The owner will be delighted to let you keep it as long as you wish!"
"I would it were so!"
"It is so!"
"You don't mean to say, George, that that queen of jewels is yours, and you will lend it me?"
"The thing is mine, but I will not lend it--not even to you, sir!"
"I don't wonder!--I don't wonder! But it is a great disappointment! I was beginning to hope I--I--might have the loan of it for a week or two even!"
"You should indeed if the thing were mine!" said George, playing him; "but--"
"Oh, I beg your pardon! I thought you said it was yours!"
"So it was when I brought it, but it is mine no longer. It is yours. I purchased it for you this morning."
The old man was speechless. He rose, and seizing George by both hands, stood staring at him. Something very like tears gathered within the reddened rims of his eyes. He had grown paler and feebler of late, ever in vain devising to secure possession of the cup--possession moral as well as legal. But this entrancing gift brought with it strength and hope in regard to the chalice! "To him that hath shall be given!" quoted the Mammon within him.
"George!" he said, with a moan of ecstasy, "you are my good angel!" and sat down exhausted. The watch was the key to his "closet," as he persisted in calling his treasury.
In old times not a few houses in Scotland held a certain tiny room, built for the head of the family, to be his closet for prayer: it was, I believe, with the notion of such a room in his head, that the laird had called his museum his closet; and he was more right than he meant to be; for in that chamber he did his truest worship--truest as to the love in it, falsest as to its object; for there he worshiped the god vilest bred of all the gods, bred namely of man's distrust in the Life of the universe.
And now here also were two met together to worship; for from this time the laird, disclosing his secret, made George free of his sanctuary.
George was by this time able to take a genuine interest in the collection. But he was much amused, sometimes annoyed, with the behavior of the laird in his closet: he was more nervous and touchy over his things than a she-bear over her cubs.
Of all dangers to his darlings he thought a woman the worst, and had therefore seized with avidity the chance of making that room a hidden one, the possibility of which he had spied almost the moment he first entered it.
He became, if possible, fonder of his things than ever, and flattered himself he had found in George a fellow-worshiper: George's exaggerated or pretended appreciation enhanced his sense of their value.
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