[From the Memoirs of a Pierrot.]
I had come with high expectations, for Mr Felix, a bachelor of sixty-five, was reputed to have made for thirty years this particular cabinet his idol. Any nabob or millionaire can collect. Mr Felix, being moderately well to do, had selected. He would have none but the best; and the best lay stored delicately on cotton-wool, ticketed with the tiniest handwriting, in a nest of drawers I could have unlocked with a hairpin.
The topmost drawer contained scarabs (of which I am no connoisseur); the second some two dozen intaglios, and of these, by the light of my bull’s-eye lantern, I examined five or six before sweeping the lot into my bag–Europa and the Bull, Ganymede in the eagle’s claw, Agave carrying the head of Pentheus, Icarus with relaxed wing dropping headlong to a sea represented by one wavy line; each and all priceless. In the third drawer lay an unset emerald, worth a king’s ransom, a clasp of two amethysts, and a necklace of black pearls graduated to a hair’s-breadth. By this time I could see–I read it even in the exquisite parsimony of the collection–that I had to deal with an artist, and sighed that in this world artists should prey upon one another. The fourth drawer was reserved for miniatures, the most of them circleted with diamonds: the fifth for snuff-boxes-gold snuffboxes bearing royal ciphers, snuff-boxes of tortoise-shell and gold, snuff-boxes of blue enamel set with diamonds. A couple of these chinked together as they dropped into the bag. The sound startled me, and I paused for a moment to look over my shoulder.
The window stood open as I had left it. Outside, in the windless frosty night, the snow on the house-roofs sparkled under a wintering moon now near the close of her first quarter. But though the night was windless, a current of air poured into the room, and had set a little flame dancing in the fireplace where, three minutes ago, the sea-coals had held but a feeble glow, half-sullen. Downstairs, in some distant apartment, fiddles were busy with a waltz tune, and a violoncello kept the beat with a low thudding pizzicato. For Mr Felix was giving a Christmas party.
I turned from this hasty glance to pick up another snuff-box. As my fingers closed on it the music suddenly grew louder, and I looked up as the door opened, and a man stood on the threshold–a short, square-set man, dressed in black.
‘Eh?’ He gave a little start of surprise. ‘No, no, excuse me, my friend, but you are seeking in the wrong cabinet.’
Before I could pull myself together, he had stepped to the window and closed it. ‘You had best keep quite still,’ he said, ‘and then we can talk. There are servants on the stairs below, and should you attempt the way you came there are three constables just around the corner. I hired them to regulate the carriage traffic: but now that the last guest has arrived, they will be cooling their heels for a spell; and I have a whistle. I have also a pistol.’ With a turn of his hand he flung open a door in a dark armoire beside the window, dived a hand into its recesses, and produced the weapon. ‘And it is loaded,’ he added, still in the same business-like voice, in which, after his first brief exclamation, my ear detected no tremor.
‘By all means let us talk,’ I said.
He was crossing to the fireplace, but wheeled about sharply at the sound of my voice. ‘Eh? An educated man, apparently!’ Laying the pistol on the mantelshelf, he plucked a twisted spill of paper from a vase hard by, stooped, ignited it from the flame dancing in the sea-coals, and proceeded to light the candles in an old-fashioned girandole that overhung the fireplace. There were five candles, and he lit them all.