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The Bottomless Well
by [?]

A strong but genial voice broke in on his meditations and he looked up and smiled, seeing the face of an old friend. The voice was, indeed, rather more genial than the face, which was at the first glance decidedly grim. It was a typically legal face, with angular jaws and heavy, grizzled eyebrows; and it belonged to an eminently legal character, though he was now attached in a semimilitary capacity to the police of that wild district. Cuthbert Grayne was perhaps more of a criminologist than either a lawyer or a policeman, but in his more barbarous surroundings he had proved successful in turning himself into a practical combination of all three. The discovery of a whole series of strange Oriental crimes stood to his credit. But as few people were acquainted with, or attracted to, such a hobby or branch of knowledge, his intellectual life was somewhat solitary. Among the few exceptions was Horne Fisher, who had a curious capacity for talking to almost anybody about almost anything.

“Studying botany, or is it archaeology?” inquired Grayne. “I shall never come to the end of your interests, Fisher. I should say that what you don’t know isn’t worth knowing.”

“You are wrong,” replied Fisher, with a very unusual abruptness, and even bitterness. “It’s what I do know that isn’t worth knowing. All the seamy side of things, all the secret reasons and rotten motives and bribery and blackmail they call politics. I needn’t be so proud of having been down all these sewers that I should brag about it to the little boys in the street.”

“What do you mean? What’s the matter with you?” asked his friend. “I never knew you taken like this before.”

“I’m ashamed of myself,” replied Fisher. “I’ve just been throwing cold water on the enthusiasms of a boy.”

“Even that explanation is hardly exhaustive,” observed the criminal expert.

“Damned newspaper nonsense the enthusiasms were, of course,” continued Fisher, “but I ought to know that at that age illusions can be ideals. And they’re better than the reality, anyhow. But there is one very ugly responsibility about jolting a young man out of the rut of the most rotten ideal.”

“And what may that be?” inquired his friend.

“It’s very apt to set him off with the same energy in a much worse direction,” answered Fisher; “a pretty endless sort of direction, a bottomless pit as deep as the bottomless well.”

Fisher did not see his friend until a fortnight later, when he found himself in the garden at the back of the clubhouse on the opposite side from the links, a garden heavily colored and scented with sweet semitropical plants in the glow of a desert sunset. Two other men were with him, the third being the now celebrated second in command, familiar to everybody as Tom Travers, a lean, dark man, who looked older than his years, with a furrow in his brow and something morose about the very shape of his black mustache. They had just been served with black coffee by the Arab now officiating as the temporary servant of the club, though he was a figure already familiar, and even famous, as the old servant of the general. He went by the name of Said, and was notable among other Semites for that unnatural length of his yellow face and height of his narrow forehead which is sometimes seen among them, and gave an irrational impression of something sinister, in spite of his agreeable smile.

“I never feel as if I could quite trust that fellow,” said Grayne, when the man had gone away. “It’s very unjust, I take it, for he was certainly devoted to Hastings, and saved his life, they say. But Arabs are often like that, loyal to one man. I can’t help feeling he might cut anybody else’s throat, and even do it treacherously.”

“Well,” said Travers, with a rather sour smile, “so long as he leaves Hastings alone the world won’t mind much.”