“Golly!” exclaimed Jeremy. “Your trade wouldn’t suit me, Jim! When doing tricks, it’s good to watch folks’ eyes pop open. What tickles my wish-bone is what I can see for myself on their silly faces, half of ’em trying to look as if they know how it’s done and the other half all grins. I did tricks for a Scotchman once, who got so angry I thought he’d hit me; he said, what I did was impossible, so I did it again and he still said it was impossible, and he ended by calling me a ’puir dementit men.’ That was my apogee; I’ve never reached that height since, not even when I first made a camel say prayers at Abu Keen and the Arabs hailed me as a prophet! Bread’s good, but it’s better with the butter on it right side up!”
“Not in this game, it isn’t,” answered Grim. “If your bread seems smeared with butter that’s a sure sign it’s dangerous. For God’s sake, as long as you stay in the game with me don’t play to the gallery, either of you! Let’s order breakfast.”
It was the longest lecture and expression of opinion I had ever listened to from James Schuyler Grim, and though I’ve turned it over in my mind a great deal since, I can’t discover anything but wisdom in it. I believe he told Jeremy and me the secret of power that morning.
“They are all right!”
There was no competition for seats on the Damascus train that morning. Several of the window-panes were smashed, there were bullet-marks and splinters on the woodwork everywhere—no need to ask questions. But I found time on the platform to chat with some British officers while keeping an eye lifting for Yussuf Dakmar and his friends.
“Damascus, eh? You’ll have a fine journey if you get through alive. Nine passengers were shot dead in the last train down.”
“No law up there, you know. Feisul’s army’s all concentrated for a crack at the French (good luck to ’em! No, I’m not wishing the French any particular luck this trip). Nobody to watch the Bedouins, so they take pot shots at every train that passes, just for the fun of it.”
“May be war, you know, at any minute. The French are sure to make a drive for the railway line—you’ll be hung up indefinitely—commandeered for an ambulance train—shot for the sake of argument—anything at all, in fact. They say those Algerian troops are getting out of hand—paid in depreciated francs and up against the high cost of debauchery. You’re taking a chance.”
“Wish I could go. Haven’t seen a healthy scrap sinze Zeitun Ridge. Hey! Hullo! What’s this? Lovely woman! Well, I’ll be!”
It was Mabel Ticknor, followed by the six men I was watching for, Yussuf Dakmar looking sulky and discouraged in their midst, almost like a prisoner, and the other five wearing palpably innocent expressions.
“Lord!” remarked the officer nearest me. “That gang’s got the wind up! Look at the color of their gills! Booked through, I’ll bet you, and been listening to tales all night!”