The Madness of Trethevick
Author of “The Soul of Nanook,” “Porteoug, V.C.,” etc.
By Alan Sullivan
FROM a side lane he turned into St. Catherine Street immediately in front of me. a distinctive figure that one picked automatically from the overgroomed crowd that sauntered eastward in the bland sunshine of a June morning. He was rather below middle height, dressed in soft grey, well-worn tweeds, and walked with an easy, deliberate roll, that even without his sun-baked skin and loose, powerful hands would have marked him as a sea-faring man. For the rest of it,
I saw a bronzed neck, a broad, smooth shoulder and legs slightly bowed. He sent out curious suggestions that he was a citizen at large, foot-looee and unhampered with this world’s goods. He displayed no particular interest in either the place or the crowd.
So tempting was he to one's speculative fancy, that I fell in behind him, and it was not until we were opposite the window of a famous jeweller in Phillips Square that I saw his face. Here he wheeled abruptly and stood staring. I had a glimpse of rugged features, a short nose, an enormous mouth and a skin that resembled soft, brown leather. The eyes were small and green-grey. The visage was dotted with tiny scars, none of ihem disfiguring, but producing, in a multitude of fine, white cicatrices , an extraordinary impression of exposure and of innumerable hazards. He was not only weatherbeaten, but world-beaten, and on him rested the sign of the seven seas.
TN THE middle of the shop window, backed by a fold of white velvet, glowed a rub^. It was perhaps a third of an inch in diameter and shaped irregularly like a Maltese cross. Such at least was my first impression. But, looking closer, one perceived that it was owing to a curious refraction of light that this form presented No words can describe the vivid purity of its color, the cardinal gleam of its blood-like depth. It lay in the white folds so extraordinarily alive that it seemed capable of motion. What it was worth was impossible to guess.
From the stone I glanced at the stranger. His lids were half closed, but behind them his stare was cloudy with some intense emotion. Thrusting his hands into his pockets I noticed the great fists clinch and bulge. He paid no attention to me, but stared and stared. Presently his lips parted, and a sound, half sigh, half exclamation escaped him, while, to my imagination, the green of his eyes and the glow of the ruby mingled in a mysterious and mutual recognition. He glanced »t me almost truculently and resumed his scrutiny.
p' OR SEVERAL moments we stood * thus, till I found myself curiously loth to break away. I seemed to have toadied the edge of a charmed circle in the centre of which gleamed this amazing stone, while round it swung the orbit of this stranger. It was his affair, but his with an intensity that anchored me
there, while to my ears came the pounding of surf on distant shores and the babble of strange and melodious tongues. “It's a wonderful stone,” I ventured.
He nodded with a touch of impatience. It seemed that, lacking the language of his experience, I had begun without point. Presently he yielded to a communicable impulse.
“Like ’em?” The voice was deep with a quality that rumbled far down in his throat.
“They fascinate me.” I tried to explain what I felt about rubies, but with this man listening, it sounded thin and amateurish.
“A few,” I said. “Nothing unusual— nothiry? like that.” I turned, again to the great gem. “Shall we go in and look at it?”
His eyes opened wider. “Mean that?” “Of course.”
A MOMENT later the ruby was laid in his wide hand. Its blood-red pyramid rested just above a long white line that ran straight across from the thumb to the base of the little finger. When that gash was made it must have laid open his palm. For a long time he peered, the salesman eyeing him curiously. He gave it back with reluctance.
The jeweller, I learned, had only just received it; had picked it up, it was explained, quite at random. It had not come through a recognized dealer. They thought of mounting it, but in the meantime had that very morning exhibited it for the first time. It might remain till the end of a week or a month, they could not tell.
The stranger listened with an intentness that would have been stolid were it not for an occasional swift flicker in his green eyes. Finally I felt a tug at my sleeve. “Come on.”
Regaining the street we saw the gem replaced in its velvet fold. My companion watched it grimly and glanced at me with a sudden change of expression.
“I’ll tel! you something. Have a drink!”
“Alright,” I nodded. “Where?”
He glanced up and down the street. “Not here, come over east.” Hesitating, he surveyed me with a quiet and pondering eye. “Don’t know you—you don’t know me—just as you like.” He stood waiting while little, scimitar-shaped wrinkles puckered into being and the corners of the wide mouth twitched quizzically. I seemed to catch the faintest possible appeal. “Stay with me and you’re alright—anywhere,” he jerked out, half turning. Now for the first time I noted, not the breadth, but the enormous thickness of his chest.
ODDING quite automatically, I fol^ lowed him down town to the waterfront Here, plunging through a maze of streets unknown to me, he entered a small saloon, behind which was a large, low-
roofed room. From the walls projected short partitions. These, curtained in, made a ring of semi-private cubby-holes. In each was a small table and,, two short wooden benches. Half were empty, but from behind the drawn curtains of the others I caught fragments of Spanish and Italian and heard snatches of strange lingoes, sibilant and musical. Amid this suggestive murmur men loungoc in and out. I observed, a constant procession of olive faces, dark eyes and hair, loose, comfortable garments, noisele* movement, bright-colored neckcloths; but it was a procession that lacked any communication. There were no greetings. It seemed rather a place for the discussion of affairs that must not be mooted outside. Here, too, my companion lest much of his former distinction. The seamed face, the green eyes and nameless atmosphere of him were all of one nat ire with his surroundings. It was I who í p pea red out of place.
He pounded on the table. A Cbinaman shuffled in with a bottle of rum, ard looked at mé blandly. My companion, waiting till I was served, thrust a homy finger into the bowl of a bulldog pipe, and stared at me keenly over the spurting flame of a match.
“That ruby,” he said. “It’s mine.”
I put down my glass. “Yours” '
0 IS LARGE mouth was tightly com* * pressed. Presently he began again, blurting out his words with an accumulated explosive force as though tiiey had been gathering within him for months. “It’s because you asked me if I’d like to see it—that’s why. That’s—that’s why
1 talked. We’re different — n>t many would have asked that—know that yourself. My ruby just the same. Didn’t know I’d find it there. Don’t know if this interests you—say so if it doesr ’t. You said you liked rubies. Look!”
He thrust a hand inside his shirt and pulled out a small leather pouch. This was fastened to a fine steel chair that ran round his neck. “Put down year handkerchief, it’s cleaner than mine. '
I did so, wondering. He t lted the pouch and there slipped out hall a dozen rubies, not large, but of the very finest quality. I could see at a glance ‘ hat they were all pigeon blood. He picked one up, holding it between finger tip« of polished parchment worn white. It glowed there, a living flame. “You like 'em—I love ’em. That’s the difference. D >n't care for size—quality counts. Same thing all through. Eh?”
I nodded, rather breathless. On the table were thousands of dollars. My eye wandered to the top of the partition.
“That’s alright,” he interjected. “Most of ’em have something stowed away. Besides, no one next door. I loo ted. My name’s Trethevick, should have told you. Twenty years ago I started.” His eyes lingered on the gems. “That’s w far as I got. All except the big one. My God!” He toyed with his glass, his blows furrowed into sudden lines. “Know Burmah?”
“I wish I did.”
“Stay where you are. Never mind about Burmah. All mad there—natives I mean—whites get like that too. Slow, lazy madness—wakes you up in the middle of the night. It's like the flowers and orchids—beautiful and damnable. Air’s thick and heavy. Don’t want to sleep in case you miss something that’s coming. Like that in Burmah—always something coming. By and by you go look for it. Mustn’t do that. I did it.”
HIS VOICE trailed out and he examined the edge of his glass. I had visions of him examining the edges of countless other glasses «in queer places, with just that same deliberate interest. His hand dropped over the cluster of gems and a smile worked slowly along his lips. But his eyes did not smile.
“Best way to find rubies is to get lost up country.
Mogok’s fair and I’ve seen pretty stones at Kyat Pen.
Mostly w’orked out now.
Drifted back from there to Mandalay. Say, this interest you?” He checked himself and stared at me.
“Tremendously. Please go on.”
“Only talking because you were decent and like rubies.
Shut me up if you get tired, eh! Started out from Mandalay again and got over into the South Shan States.
Rough country, all shot to pieces, with a little paradise dumped into every wrinkle of the hills. Got over near Paug. It’s a stone’s throw out of China. That’s where I found Nyali.”
I sat motionless. It seemed somehow natural that he should have found Nyali. He was just the man. Leaving him there with his discovery I groped back and saw her waiting, wondering, even, why he did not come. Trethevick’s voice blended with this, sounding husky and distant. He had begun to talk about black earth, brown skins, green leaves and blue—no not hlue, but purple skies. Subjectively I plucked him out of his dissertation, and he went on in a jerky sequence.
“You see I was mad and went to look. Found her in village—sort of queen—worshipped all round that district—kind of incarnation of Krishna. She took to me. After a while I started to worship too— different way—you understand. Village all boxed in with big timber—like a hole in green, velvet carpet. Nyali sat all day in a little temple. Villagers came in with presents and kissed her feet. One day I kissed her lips instead—that started it.”
A SILENCE followed, broken by his . pounding again on the table. “Have another drink. Come on. You don’t know what it is to have a white man to drink With.” He spoke rapidly to the Chinaman ih a language I could not follow.
“It’s alright. Some of the stuff they keep here is loaded. But,” he added significantly, “they know me. Now to get back. It went on like that, then the heavy scent and orchids and incense all got in my blood. She understood—used to wTait and have me worship alone. One day I told her—sign language—looks—eyes— lips—old yarn. But, as I say, she understood. Tired of having feet kissed. Then Sukotai found out.”
Trethevick’s hand turned over and he glanced thoughtfully at the white scar that ran across his palm. “Didn’t tell you about Sukotai. Big man of village, plenty of wives, crazy about rubies. Had a good lot. He used to show ’em to me. Told me about an old mine he found. Used to go there at end of rainy season and
wash for ’em. Time was nothing to him. As I see it now, we were all crazy. Strange desires and love—mostly ended with a stab in the-back. Never went first on the trail—always sent other fellow. Didn’t like to hear ’em pad, pad along behind. Just between the shoulders— that’s the place.”
He paused, regarding me with a new interest "That’s it. just occurred to me. You ought to be thankful for what you’ve not got. People here are sane—no strange desires—damned lucky for them.”
A T THAT moment Trethevick took on new and compelling proportions.
In a flash I saw in him the man I had wanted to be, and read in his rugged lineaments the history of those flights and passions to which I myself had long and
secretly aspired. But, and the question baffled me, had I this man’s terrible and inborn fixity of purpose? What ravages would his experiences have made in my own face? Would I have come through like him, or would the mysterious East have smothered and straightway forgotten me? All this was at work in my brain till, in fancy, I entered that dusky temple. and kissed Nyali on the lips. Thethevick’s voice sounded again.
“I was the only white man there. That was it. Some half-castes—but blood runs down in the Orient when you mix it. Don’t know how Sukotai found out, but he cfid. Taxed me with it next day. He could talk Portugee, so could I. Told me many men had tried for what I wanted, all white men, and all dead now. I laughed. Told him Nyali was tired sitting on a teak throne and having her feet tickled. He didn’t like that —none of ’em liked it. As f I say, I was mad. Then I fixed it up with Nyali. Scheme was to get over to the head waters of the Menam River and raft it down to Bangkok.
“How far was that?” I
“Nothing much. Four or five hundred miles. We struck out one morning for Patung — that’s just inside the Laos States border — footing it, of course. Nyali had a couple of sarongs and that's about all. I carried food and a rifle. We made a good get-away. That night we slept in the bush. You don’t know what that is. Bush is qu»*t by day, alive at night. It creaks, crawls, groans, laughs and cries. It moves, it all moves. Understand that? The leaves move and the ferns, and the palms. You hear things creeping where there aren't any. Smell of the orchids is thick and chokes one. Butterflies as big as your hat, and bats that suck you dryNyali didn’t care—sh« was too happv—and I was mad. That night she plaited orchids and crowned me. I looked like a sacrifice. But I wasn’t the sacrifice.” He bn>ke off abruptly.
TN THE silence that fol*■ lowed I could hear the Chinaman shuffle past our cubby-hole and the rattle of curtain rings as he entered one further along. Trethevick had gathered up the*rubies and scattered them along the white scar that crossed his palm till it seemed to have spurted bright and symmetrical drops of blood. He began again, more jerkily than ever, drifting into pauses that he bridged with hard, searching glances, from his grey-green eyes.
“That night made a bunk in the moss. Just before she went to sleep, took out a little parcel. It was round her neck. Told me to open it. The ruby slid out.” My pulse leapt. “What ruby?”
“Mine. You saw in the shop.” His tones shook in spite of him.
“Go on.” My own voice was unsteady. “It was this way. Sacred stone—property of Krishna—worth a heap. Nyali knew that, she supposed to be descendant of Krishna—don’t know if I've got right » r.d of it. doesn't matter anyway. Sukotai Knew too. I didn’t. That' why she loved me. because I didn’t know. Wanted me to take it. Wouldn't, and left it round her neck. Told her we'd sell it outside, then I’d buy a place in Canada—come from here—ar.d settle down. That night Î heard a sound—like a sigh and a soft blow. Saw something. Grabbed at it. then swung the rifle. Too dark to see."
He delivered these words with abrupt velocity, palpably hurrying to p-et the thing over. What it cost him to say them he only knew, but I could see the muscles rise in ridges on his jaw and his eyes were like flint.
"Struck something—yelped like a dog. Nyali was dead—creese in her left breast —look here."
He tugged at his belt and laid on the table a Malay knife with a blade ten inches long. The steel rippled into a slow wave and on either side was a fine tracery of lines. The haft was of ivory. In the t-r.d of it a lump of jade shone pale and green.
“It’s Sukotai's. He got the ruby. They told me afterwards I’d knocked one of his eyes out.” He leaned forward intently. “Sukotai brought it to Montreal and sold it. Now lister.,Sukotai won’t leave it. It’s sold. I know, but he loves it. Bigger thing than Krishna to him. Understand? He’ll follow it—always. It’s like that with rubies and some men. Now I know, and this,” he patted the handle of the creese, “he’ll get this too. He never loved her—only wanted the ruby. I’m telling you. You’re decent —got me into that shop.”
'TMLTING his brown hand, the string of gems dripped along the furrow of the white scar and back into the little pouch. Trethevick bent forward to thrust the creese into its sheath and, as he did so. I heard or thought I heard a sound from above. Glancing at the top of the partition immediately behind him, I blinked and stared fixedly.
Projecting above the boards were a man’s head and shoulders. The hair was black and oily, the face smooth and copper-colored. The eyes, or indeed, as I noted marvelling, the one eye was black and lustrous, shining malevolently between a slit of narrowed lids. The other was but a blank and gaping hole, grotesquely horrible. Around his throat an orange colored cloth, twisted loosely. He stayed immovable for an instant, then ducked. I heard a soft thud as his feet reached the floor.
Trethevick started. “What’s that'?
What are you staring at'?" His hand moved swiftly to the creese.
"Sukotai. I think." My voice trembled and broke.
/"AN THE in.-^tar.t he plunged through the curtain. There followed a crash. Immediately outside had been moved or.e of the small tables. Into this he stumbled, cursing. Other curtains
were snatched open and strange faces protruded. At the sight of Trethevick. someone chuckled. He had the ring to himself. His lips had lifted like a dog’s. "Alright,’’ he said grimly. "I know now. I tell you it's alright. He’s hert1—it may
take a while, but-. Have another
drink.” He shook himself and breathed deeply.
I had sudden longings for air and sunlight. On the way out, he asked no questions of any one, for this was not a place where they were answered. As we struck back towards the Square he talked with a sort of blunt assurance as though to convince me that this was his affair and I must in no way intervene. Ho needed no advice—no help.
“It’s this way,” he went on. “I know this city. Only about eight places he can go to and be at home. I’ve got eighty. See? He’ll just trail between those and the shop. Can’t get away from that ruby. You won’t see that. No use telling you. Now he knows that I know. Don’t want you mixed up—anything happens to me. you never heard of me. Understand? A bit of up-country Burmah you sort of tripped over in Montreal. Best way to find it, believe me. Let the tropics sweat along without you. They’re rotten. Folks go rotten there too. I know—I’ve seen ’em. Don’t be sorry for any one. Nyali found out what love was before she died. That’s more than most of ’em do. If we meet we don’t know each other. What’s your address? If I get through you’ll hear. You like rubies. I’ll remember that. You’re decent—got me into that store. [So long.”
He sheered off and was instantly lost.
/"AF/THE days that followed it is not '^/necessary to speak save that again and again, as though magnetized, the great ruby drew me into its glowing presence^, I stared through the window till, had m* identity not been known to the jeweller, he might well have regarded me with suspicion. At night I looked from my high windows over the city, pondering that somewhere in its twinkling depths Trethevick moved inexorably towards his self-appointed task. I even saw him oc-
casionally, ar.d always in the viei tity of our first meeting, but only by a winkle in the grey eyes did he proclaim >ur acquaintance. Having spoken and i nburder.ed his lonely soul, he seemed no ." to be conserving himself absolutely for h s grim pursuit, and it was this silence, t iis imperturbable fixity, that convinced ne the end was not far off.
It might have been two weeks alter we parted that when nearing the jeveller’-hop I became aware that the gl ; n.ce of trose who approached and passed wail: reeled almost invariably to si meor.e who walked behind me. I seemec. as it were, preceding a personage in conpari-on with whom I was negligible, and these oblique glances, this continuous diverting of the gaze of the oncoming stream of pedestrians, aroused in me a strange fending of discomfort. I turned sharply to look into a window. In its polish-d surface I saw the face that so lately had glared over the partition. The black hair was hidden beneath a white turbin. 1 could perceive no eye. only an apj ailing cavity. With a thrill I remembere 1 that it was Sukotai’s right eye that was missing. Instinctively I shivered, knowing that on me was bent the baleful gl ire of the other and now invisible orb.
Falling in behind. I followed at Î little distance. Sukotai had bought Eut opean clothes, but they did not disguise tie extraordinary suppleness of his bod}, He walked easily and rapidly, apparently unconscious of an almost universal scrutiny. A moment later my heart bei t violently. On the opposite side of the : treet, and a little to the rear, moved T -ethevick’s broad, thick-set figure. It gave me an amazing sense of something p?rmar.ent. resourceful ar.d infinitely ietermined. which filtered into this WÍ Ik of death and carried me so far th it at last I caught a swift signal to resist. This, it said, was Trethevick’s affair and he wished to be left to it. Then the i rowd swallowed them both.
I_J OW OR where it happened I do not JAknow. There was nothing i i the papers about it. Montreal only absorbed in her teeming bosom another mystery. But Trethevick came through. I know that. I have often wondered whether his brown hands trembled at all when he wrapped up a small parcel that I received soon afterwards. In it I found an o-ange colored neckcloth, worn thin and stiined with long use. In or.e fold was a email ruby, pigeon blood.
"From Mogok,” pronounced my jewellers. So crimson is it, so lustrous, that it might have ebbed from the very îeart of Nyali herself.
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