Read CHAPTER IV - COFFEE of Ambrotox and Limping Dick , free online book, by Oliver Fleming, on ReadCentral.com.

Randal Bellamy at fifty was the most successful patent lawyer of his day. He had taken silk before he was forty, and for many years had enjoyed, not only the largest practice, but a distinction unrivalled in his own country and unsurpassed in the world.

Such a man’s knowledge in physics, chemistry and biology, though less precise, is often wider than that of the individual specialist. His friendship with Theophilus Caldegard, begun at Cambridge, had lasted and grown stronger with the years.

On the evening of his brother’s arrival he dressed for dinner later than was his custom. His bath had filled him with a boyish desire to whistle and sing; and now, as he tied his bow and felt the silk-lined comfort of his dinner-jacket, he heard with a throb of elation the soft sound of a skirt go by his door.

He murmured as he followed:

lentus in umbra
Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.”

But before he reached the stairhead, all other sounds were drowned by shouts of laughter from the billiard-room good laughter and familiar; but the smile left his face and his pace slackened. He was, perhaps, too old to wake the echoes, and Dick’s laugh, he thought, was infectious as the plague.

In the wide, comfortable hall used instead of the drawing-room which Bellamy hated, he found Amaryllis smiling with a sparkle in her eyes, as if she too had been laughing.

“Did you hear them?” she asked.

Randal nodded.

“Father hasn’t laughed like that for years billiards!” she said. “Your brother is just telling him shocking stories, Sir Randal.”

“How d’you know?” he asked.

“I dressed as quickly as I could, and went to the billiard-room. Father couldn’t speak, but just ran me out by the scruff of the neck.”

At this moment her attention was distracted by the bull-dog, sliding and tumbling down the stairs in his eagerness to reach his mistress.

“Gorgon’s behaving like a puppy,” said Randal, smiling.

“Oh, he’s been laughing, too,” said Amaryllis, fondling the soft ears. “And he wants to tell me all the jokes.”

And then Caldegard and Dick Bellamy came down the stairs together.

“What have you been doing to Gorgon?” asked Amaryllis.

“Never mind the dog,” said her father. “It’s what this ’vaudeville artist’ has been doing to me!”

“Oh, Gorgon, Gorgon! If those lips could only speak!” laughed the girl. “Don’t you think Gorgon’s a good name for the ugly darling, Mr. Bellamy?” she said, as they went in to dinner.

“Surely the Gorgon was a kind of prehistoric suffragette,” objected Dick.

“There you are, Amy,” said her father, and turned to him. “Your brother and I have quite failed to convince my illiterate daughter that the word Gorgon is of the feminine gender.”

“Anyhow,” said Amaryllis defiantly, as she took her seat at the dinner-table, “I looked it up in the dictionary, and all it said was: A monster of fearful aspect.’”

“He deserves it,” said Dick.

“He seems to have taken a great fancy to you, Mr. Bellamy,” said the girl.

“Dogs always do,” said Randal.

“Always at the first meeting?” asked Amaryllis.

“Nearly always. But that doesn’t prove that I don’t travel without a ticket when I get the chance,” replied Dick.

“What do you mean?” asked the girl.

“Oh, the dog-and-baby theory’s not dead yet. But I assure you, Miss Caldegard, that the hardest case I ever met couldn’t walk through a town without collecting every dog in the place. That’s why he never succeeded in his first profession.”

“What was he?” asked the girl.

“Burglar,” said Dick.

“That’s all very well,” said his brother. “I know nothing about babies, but I’ve noticed that the man whom all dogs dislike is no good at all.”

“That’s quite true,” said Caldegard. “Remember Melchard, Amy?”

Dick Bellamy caught the quiver of disgust which passed over the girl’s face before she answered.

“Horrible person!” she said. “Trixy bit him, the dachshund next door always ran away from him, and Gorgon had to be chained up.”

“Who is this Melchard, Caldegard?” asked Randal.

“He came to me about eighteen months ago, and stayed about nine; a very capable practical chemist; had worked for some time in the factory of a Dutch rubber company. Sumatra, I think, or the Malay Peninsula. Tried unqualified dentistry after he came home, went broke and got an introduction to me. That’s what he told me. An accurate and painstaking worker, and never asked questions.”

Dick began to be interested.

“But I really can’t see anything horrible in all that,” said Randal.

“At first it was what he was, not what he did,” said Caldegard. “Tall, slender, effeminate, over-dressed, native coarseness which would not be hidden by spasmodic attempts at fine manners, and a foul habit of scenting his handkerchiefs and even his clothes with some weird stuff he made himself; left a trail behind him wherever he went. It smelt something like a mixture of orris-root and attar of roses.”

Amaryllis wiped her lips, and Dick Bellamy thought her cheeks nearly as white as the little handkerchief.

“What did the fellow do?” asked Randal.

“For one thing, I discovered that he carried a hypodermic syringe; so I watched him morphia not a bad case, but getting worse. And then,” said Caldegard, looking towards his daughter, “he had the presumption ”

“Oh, father, please!” cried Amaryllis.

“I’m sorry, my dear,” said her father. “I was only ”

He was interrupted by a crash, a fumbling and a burst of flame. One of the four-branched candlesticks had been upset, and its rose-coloured shades were on fire. Very coolly the two Bellamys’ pinched out the flames and replaced the candles.

“Hope that didn’t startle you, Miss Caldegard,” said Randal.

“Not a bit,” said Amaryllis, smiling.

“What a clumsy devil you are, Dick,” he continued.

“I was trying to get the sugar,” said Dick.

Randal tasted his coffee. “Cook’s got one fault, Dick,” he said. “She can’t make coffee; and we’ve been spoiled.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Caldegard. “I’ve never in my life drunk black coffee to beat what your yellow-haired Dutch girl used to make.”

Randal turned to his brother. “Parlour-maid, Dick. Best servant I ever had. Didn’t mind the country, and after she’d been here a fortnight disclosed a heaven-sent gift for making coffee. Took some diplomacy, I can tell you, to get cook to cede her rights.”

“Why haven’t you got her now?” asked Dick.

“Mother started dying in Holland,” replied his brother, “and we miss our coffee.”

“I’ll do it to-morrow night,” said Dick.

“What’ll Rogers say?” said Randal.

“Rogers? You don’t tell me you’ve got Rogers still?”

“Of course I have.”

“Not my Mrs. Rogers!” exclaimed Dick. “Why, she’d let me skate all over her kitchen, if I wanted to.”

Randal Bellamy, although he had a motor-car and used the telephone, lagged lovingly behind the times in less important matters. He was proud of his brass candlesticks, and hated electric light.

While Amaryllis was saying good-night to her host, Dick Bellamy lighted her candle and waited for her at the foot of the stairs. When she reached him, she did not at once take it, so that they mounted several steps together; then she paused.

“Good night, Mr. Bellamy. I hope you didn’t hurt your fingers, putting the fire out. Are you a very awkward person?” she asked, looking up at him whimsically.

“Shocking,” said Dick. “I’m always doing things like that.”

“I believe you are,” she replied softly. “Thank you so much.”

When he went to his room that night, Dick Bellamy was followed by a vivid ghost with reddish-gold hair, golden-brown, expressive eyes, adorable mouth, and skin of perfect texture, over neck and shoulders of a creamy whiteness which melted into the warmer colour of the face by gradation so fine that none could say where that flush as of a summer sunset first touched the snow.

As he got into bed, he told himself that he did not object to being haunted up to midnight, nor even over the edge of sleep, by a spook so attractive. But if it should come to waking too early to a spectre implacable well, that had happened to him once only, long ago, and he didn’t want it to happen again.

But the car would be all right to-morrow there was always the car.