The Ruby of Kishmoor by Howard Pyle
III. The Terrific Encounter with the One-eyed Little Gentleman in Black
Finding himself once more in the open street, Jonathan Rugg stood for a while in the moonlight, endeavoring to compose his mind into somewhat of that sobriety that was habitual with him; for, indeed, he was not a little excited by the unexpected incidents that had just befallen him. From this effort at composure he was aroused by observing that a little gentleman clad all in black had stopped at a little distance away and was looking very intently at him. In the brightness of the moonlight our hero could see that the little gentleman possessed but a single eye, and that he carried a gold-headed cane in his hand. He had hardly time to observe these particulars, when the other approached him with every appearance of politeness and cordiality.
"Sir," said he, "surely I am not mistaken in recognizing in you the supercargo of the ship Susanna Hayes, which arrived this afternoon at this port?"
"Indeed," said Jonathan, "thou art right, friend. That is my occupation, and that is whence I came."
"To be sure!" said the little gentleman. "To be sure! To be sure! The Susanna Hayes, with a cargo of Indian-corn meal, and from dear good friend Jeremiah Doolittle, of Philadelphia. I know your good master very well--very well indeed. And have you never heard him speak of his friend Mr. Abner Greenway, of Kingston, Jamaica?"
"Why, no," replied Jonathan, "I have no such recollection of the name nor do I know that any such name hath ever appeared upon our books."
"To be sure! To be sure!" repeated the little gentleman, briskly, and with exceeding good-nature. "Indeed, my name is not likely to have ever appeared upon his books, for I am not a business correspondent, but one who, in times past, was his extremely intimate friend. There is much I would like to ask about him, and, indeed, I was in hopes that you would have been the bearer of a letter from him. But I have lodgings at a little distance from here, so that if it is not requesting too much of you maybe you will accompany me thither, so that we may talk at our leisure. I would gladly accompany you to your ship instead of urging you to come to my apartments, but I must tell you I am possessed of a devil of a fever, so that my physician hath forbidden me to be out of nights."
"Indeed," said Jonathan, whom, you may have observed, was of a very easy disposition--"indeed, I shall be very glad to accompany thee to thy lodgings. There is nothing I would like better than to serve any friend of good Jeremiah Doolittle's."
And thereupon, and with great amity, the two walked off together, the little one-eyed gentleman in black linking his arm confidingly into that of Jonathan's, and tapping the pavement continually with his cane as he trotted on at a great pace. He was very well acquainted with the town (of which he was a citizen), and so interesting was his discourse that they had gone a considerable distance before Jonathan observed they were entering into a quarter darker and less frequented than that which they had quitted. Tall brick houses stood upon either side, between which stretched a narrow, crooked roadway, with a kennel running down the centre.
In front of one of these houses--a tall and gloomy structure--our hero's conductor stopped and, opening the door with a key, beckoned for him to enter. Jonathan having complied, his new-found friend led the way up a flight of steps, against which Jonathan's feet beat noisily in the darkness, and at length, having ascended two stairways and having reached a landing, he opened a door at the end of the passage and ushered Jonathan into an apartment, unlighted, except for the Moonshine, which, coming in through a partly open shutter, lay in a brilliant patch of light upon the floor.
His conductor having struck a light with a flint and steel, our hero by the illumination of a single candle presently discovered himself to be in a bedchamber furnished with no small degree of comfort, and even elegance, and having every appearance of a bachelor's chamber.
"You will pardon me," said his new acquaintance, "if I shut these shutters and the window, for that devilish fever of which I spoke is of such a sort that I must keep the night air even out from my room, or else I shall be shaking the bones out of my joints and chattering the teeth out of my head by to-morrow morning."
So saying he was as good as his word, and not only drew the shutters to, but shot the heavy iron bolt into its place. Having accomplished this he bade our hero to be seated, and placing before him some exceedingly superior rum, together with some equally excellent tobacco, they presently fell into the friendliest discourse imaginable. In the course of their talk, which after awhile became exceedingly confidential, Jonathan confided to his new friend the circumstances of the adventure into which he had been led by the beautiful stranger, and to all that he said concerning his adventure his interlocutor listened with the closest and most scrupulously riveted attention.
"Upon my word," said he, when Jonathan had concluded, "I hope that you may not have been made the victim of some foolish hoax. Let me see what it is she has confided to you."
"That I will," replied Jonathan. And thereupon he thrust his hand into his breeches-pocket and brought forth the ivory ball.
No sooner did the one eye of the little gentleman in black light upon the object than a most singular and extraordinary convulsion appeared to seize upon him. Had a bullet penetrated his heart he could not have started more violently, nor have sat more rigidly and breathlessly staring.
Mastering his emotion with the utmost difficulty as Jonathan replaced the ball in his pocket, he drew a deep and profound breath and wiped the palm of his hand across his forehead as though arousing himself from a dream.
"And you," he said, of a sudden, "are, I understand it, a Quaker. Do you, then, never carry a weapon, even in such a place as this, where at any moment in the dark a Spanish knife may be stuck betwixt your ribs?"
"Why, no," said Jonathan, somewhat surprised that so foreign a topic should have been so suddenly introduced into the discourse. "I am a man of peace and not of blood. The people of the Society of Friends never carry weapons, either of offence or defence."
As Jonathan concluded his reply the little gentleman suddenly arose from his chair and moved briskly around to the other side of the room. Our hero, watching him with some surprise, beheld him clap to the door and with a single movement shoot the bolt and turn the key therein. The next instant he turned to Jonathan a visage transformed as suddenly as though he had dropped a mask from his face. The gossiping and polite little old bachelor was there no longer, but in his stead a man with a countenance convulsed with some furious and nameless passion.
"That ball!" he cried, in a hoarse and raucous voice. "That ivory ball! Give it to me upon the instant!"
As he spoke he whipped out from his bosom a long, keen Spanish knife that in its every appearance spoke without equivocation of the most murderous possibilities.
The malignant passions that distorted every lineament of the countenance of the little old gentleman in black filled our hero with such astonishment that he knew not whether he were asleep or awake; but when he beheld the other advancing with the naked and shining knife in his hand his reason returned to him like a flash. Leaping to his feet, he lost no time in putting the table between himself and his sudden enemy.
"Indeed, friend," he cried, in a voice penetrated with terror--"indeed, friend, thou hadst best keep thy distance from me, for though I am a man of peace and a shunner of bloodshed, I promise thee that I will not stand still to be murdered without outcry or without endeavoring to defend my life!"
"Cry as loud as you please!" exclaimed the other. "No one is near this place to hear you! Cry until you are hoarse; no one in this neighborhood will stop to ask what is the matter with you. I tell you I am determined to possess myself of that ivory ball, and have it I shall, even though I am obliged to cut out your heart to get it!" As he spoke he grinned with so extraordinary and devilish a distortion of his countenance, and with such an appearance of every intention of carrying out his threat as to send the goose-flesh creeping like icy fingers up and down our hero's spine with the most incredible rapidity and acuteness.
Nevertheless, mastering his fears, Jonathan contrived to speak up with a pretty good appearance of spirit. "Indeed, friend," he said, "thou appearest to forget that I am a man of twice thy bulk and half thy years, and that though thou hast a knife I am determined to defend myself to the last extremity. I am not going to give thee that which thou demandest of me, and for thy sake I advise thee to open the door and let me go free as I entered, or else harm may befall thee."
"Fool!" cried the other, hardly giving him time to end. "Do you, then, think that I have time to chatter with you while two villains are lying in wait for me, perhaps at the very door? Blame your own self for your death!" And, gnashing his teeth with an indescribable menace, and resting his hand upon the table, he vaulted with incredible agility clean across it and upon our hero, who, entirely unprepared for such an extraordinary attack, was flung back against the wall, with an arm as strong as steel clutching his throat and a knife flashing in his very eyes with dreadful portent of instant death.
With an instinct to preserve his life, he caught his assailant by the wrist, and, bending it away from himself, set every fibre of his body in a superhuman effort to guard and protect himself. The other, though so much older and smaller, seemed to be composed entirely of fibres of steel, and, in his murderous endeavors, put forth a strength so extraordinary that for a moment our hero felt his heart melt within him with terror for his life. The spittal appeared to dry up within his mouth, and his hair to creep and rise upon his head. With a vehement cry of despair and anguish, he put forth one stupendous effort for defence, and, clapping his heel behind the other's leg, and throwing his whole weight forward, he fairly tripped his antagonist backward as he stood. Together they fell upon the floor, locked in the most desperate embrace, and overturning a chair with a prodigious clatter in their descent--our hero upon the top and the little gentleman in black beneath him.
As they struck the floor the little man in black emitted a most piercing and terrible scream, and instantly relaxing his efforts of attack, fell to beating the floor with the back of his hands and drubbing with his heels upon the rug in which he had become entangled.
Our hero leaped to his feet, and with dilating eyes and expanding brain and swimming sight stared down upon the other like one turned to a stone.
He beheld instantly what had occurred, and that he had, without so intending, killed a fellow-man. The knife, turned away from his own person, had in their fall been plunged into the bosom of the other, and he now lay quivering in the last throes of death. As Jonathan gazed he beheld a thin red stream trickle out from the parted and grinning lips; he beheld the eyes turn inward; he beheld the eyelids contract; he beheld the figure stretch itself; he beheld it become still in death.