“I did, sir,” came the answer in a meek voice, as if he had been detected in filching an apple from a stand; “and I would do it again—do it over and over again. And it has been a great pleasure for me to do it. I might say, sir, that it has been a kind of exTREME bliss to do it.”
“Why?” There was a tremor now in Temple’s voice that even Todd had never noticed before.
Gadgem turned his head away. “I don’t know, sir,” he replied in a lower tone. “I couldn’t explain it on oath; I don’t care to explain it, sir.” No lie could serve him now—better make a clean breast of the villany.
“And you still own the gun?” Todd had never seen his master so gentle before—not under a provocation such as this.
“I do, sir.” Gadgem’s voice was barely audible.
“Then it means that you have locked up just that much of your own money for a thing you can never use yourself and can’t sell. Am I right?”
Gadgem lowered his head and for a moment studied the carpet. His activities, now that the cat was out of the bag, were fair subjects for discussion, but not his charities.
“I prefer not to answer, sir, and—” the last words died in his throat.
“But it’s true, isn’t it?” persisted St. George. He had never once taken his eyes from Gadgem.
“Yes, it’s true.”
St. George turned on his heel, walked to the mantel, stood for an instant gazing into the empty fireplace, and then, with that same straightening of his shoulders and lift of his head which his friends knew so well when he was deeply stirred, confronted the collector again:
“Gadgem!” He stopped and caught his breath. For a moment it seemed as if something in his throat choked his utterance. “Gadgem—give me your hand! Do you know you are a gentleman and a thoroughbred! No—don’t speak—don’t explain. We understand each other. Todd, bring three glasses and hand me what is left of the old Port. And do you join us, Pawson.”
Todd, whose eyes had been popping from his head during the entire interview, and who was still amazed at the outcome, suddenly woke to the dangers of the situation: on no account must his master’s straits be further revealed. He raised his hand as a signal to St. George, who was still looking into Gadgem’s eyes, screwed his face into a tangle of puckers and in a husky whisper muttered, so low that only his master could hear:
“Dat Port, Marse George”—one eye now went entirely out in a wink—“is gittin’ a leetle mite low” (there hadn’t been a drop of it in the house for six months) “an’ if—”
“Well, then, that old Brown Sherry—get a fresh bottle, Todd—” St. George was quite honest, and so, for that matter, was Todd: the Brown Sherry had also seen its day.
“Yes, sah—but how would dat fine ol’ peach brandy de jedge gin ye do? It’s sp’ilin’ to be tasted, sah.” Both eyes were now in eclipse in the effort to apprise his master that with the exception of some badly corked Madeira, Tom Coston’s peach brandy was about the only beverage left in the cellar.