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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Doings Of Raffles Haw - Chapter 3. A House Of Wonders
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The Doings Of Raffles Haw - Chapter 3. A House Of Wonders Post by :wileycoyote Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Conan Doyle Date :May 2012 Read :3027

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The Doings Of Raffles Haw - Chapter 3. A House Of Wonders

CHAPTER III. A HOUSE OF WONDERS

Robert McIntyre's face must have expressed the utter astonishment which filled his mind at this most unlooked-for announcement. For a moment he thought that his companion must be joking, but the ease and assurance with which he lounged up the steps, and the deep respect with which a richly-clad functionary in the hall swung open the door to admit him, showed that he spoke in sober earnest. Raffles Haw glanced back, and seeing the look of absolute amazement upon the young artist's features, he chuckled quietly to himself.

"You will forgive me, won't you, for not disclosing my identity?" he said, laying his hand with a friendly gesture upon the other's sleeve. "Had you known me you would have spoken less freely, and I should not have had the opportunity of learning your true worth. For example, you might hardly have been so frank upon the matter of wealth had you known that you were speaking to the master of the Hall."

"I don't think that I was ever so astonished in my life," gasped Robert.

"Naturally you are. How could you take me for anything but a workman? So I am. Chemistry is one of my hobbies, and I spend hours a day in my laboratory yonder. I have only just struck work, and as I had inhaled some not-over-pleasant gases, I thought that a turn down the road and a whiff of tobacco might do me good. That was how I came to meet you, and my toilet, I fear, corresponded only too well with my smoke-grimed face. But I rather fancy I know you by repute. Your name is Robert McIntyre, is it not?"

"Yes, though I cannot imagine how you knew."

"Well, I naturally took some little trouble to learn something of my neighbours. I had heard that there was an artist of that name, and I presume that artists are not very numerous in Tamfield. But how do you like the design? I hope it does not offend your trained taste."

"Indeed, it is wonderful--marvellous! You must yourself have an extraordinary eye for effect."

"Oh, I have no taste at all; not the slightest. I cannot tell good from bad. There never was such a complete Philistine. But I had the best man in London down, and another fellow from Vienna. They fixed it up between them."

They had been standing just within the folding doors upon a huge mat of bison skins. In front of them lay a great square court, paved with many-coloured marbles laid out in a labyrinth of arabesque design. In the centre a high fountain of carved jade shot five thin feathers of spray into the air, four of which curved towards each corner of the court to descend into broad marble basins, while the fifth mounted straight up to an immense height, and then tinkled back into the central reservoir. On either side of the court a tall, graceful palm-tree shot up its slender stem to break into a crown of drooping green leaves some fifty feet above their heads. All round were a series of Moorish arches, in jade and serpentine marble, with heavy curtains of the deepest purple to cover the doors which lay between them. In front, to right and to left, a broad staircase of marble, carpeted with rich thick Smyrna rug work, led upwards to the upper storeys, which were arranged around the central court. The temperature within was warm and yet fresh, like the air of an English May.

"It's taken from the Alhambra," said Raffles Haw. "The palm-trees are pretty. They strike right through the building into the ground beneath, and their roots are all girt round with hot-water pipes. They seem to thrive very well."

"What beautifully delicate brass-work!" cried Robert, looking up with admiring eyes at the bright and infinitely fragile metal trellis screens which adorned the spaces between the Moorish arches.

"It is rather neat. But it is not brass-work. Brass is not tough enough to allow them to work it to that degree of fineness. It is gold. But just come this way with me. You won't mind waiting while I remove this smoke?"

He led the way to a door upon the left side of the court, which, to Robert's surprise, swung slowly open as they approached it. "That is a little improvement which I have adopted," remarked the master of the house. "As you go up to a door your weight upon the planks releases a spring which causes the hinges to revolve. Pray step in. This is my own little sanctum, and furnished after my own heart."

If Robert expected to see some fresh exhibition of wealth and luxury he was woefully disappointed, for he found himself in a large but bare room, with a little iron truckle-bed in one corner, a few scattered wooden chairs, a dingy carpet, and a large table heaped with books, bottles, papers, and all the other _debris which collect around a busy and untidy man. Motioning his visitor into a chair, Raffles Haw pulled off his coat, and, turning up the sleeves of his coarse flannel shirt, he began to plunge and scrub in the warm water which flowed from a tap in the wall.

"You see how simple my own tastes are," he remarked, as he mopped his dripping face and hair with the towel. "This is the only room in my great house where I find myself in a congenial atmosphere. It is homely to me. I can read here and smoke my pipe in peace. Anything like luxury is abhorrent to me."

"Really, I should not have though it," observed Robert.

"It is a fact, I assure you. You see, even with your views as to the worthlessness of wealth, views which, I am sure, are very sensible and much to your credit, you must allow that if a man should happen to be the possessor of vast--well, let us say of considerable--sums of money, it is his duty to get that money into circulation, so that the community may be the better for it. There is the secret of my fine feathers. I have to exert all my ingenuity in order to spend my income, and yet keep the money in legitimate channels. For example, it is very easy to give money away, and no doubt I could dispose of my surplus, or part of my surplus, in that fashion, but I have no wish to pauperise anyone, or to do mischief by indiscriminate charity. I must exact some sort of money's worth for all the money which I lay out You see my point, don't you?"

"Entirely; though really it is something novel to hear a man complain of the difficulty of spending his income."

"I assure you that it is a very serious difficulty with me. But I have hit upon some plans--some very pretty plans. Will you wash your hands? Well, then, perhaps you would care to have a look round. Just come into this corner of the room, and sit upon this chair. So. Now I will sit upon this one, and we are ready to start."

The angle of the chamber in which they sat was painted for about six feet in each direction of a dark chocolate-brown, and was furnished with two red plush seats protruding from the walls, and in striking contrast with the simplicity of the rest of the apartment.

"This," remarked Raffles Haw, "is a lift, though it is so closely joined to the rest of the room that without the change in colour it might puzzle you to find the division. It is made to run either horizontally or vertically. This line of knobs represents the various rooms. You can see 'Dining,' 'Smoking,' 'Billiard,' 'Library' and so on, upon them. I will show you the upward action. I press this one with 'Kitchen' upon it."

There was a sense of motion, a very slight jar, and Robert, without moving from his seat, was conscious that the room had vanished, and that a large arched oaken door stood in the place which it had occupied.

"That is the kitchen door," said Raffles Haw. "I have my kitchen at the top of the house. I cannot tolerate the smell of cooking. We have come up eighty feet in a very few seconds. Now I press again and here we are in my room once more."

Robert McIntyre stared about him in astonishment.

"The wonders of science are greater than those of magic" he remarked.

"Yes, it is a pretty little mechanism. Now we try the horizontal. I press the 'Dining' knob and here we are, you see. Step towards the door, and you will find it open in front of you."

Robert did as he was bid, and found himself with his companion in a large and lofty room, while the lift, the instant that it was freed from their weight, flashed back to its original position. With his feet sinking into the soft rich carpet, as though he were ankle-deep in some mossy bank, he stared about him at the great pictures which lined the walls.

"Surely, surely, I see Raphael's touch there" he cried, pointing up at the one which faced him.

"Yes, it is a Raphael, and I believe one of his best. I had a very exciting bid for it with the French Government. They wanted it for the Louvre, but of course at an auction the longest purse must win."

"And this 'Arrest of Catiline' must be a Rubens. One cannot mistake his splendid men and his infamous women."

"Yes, it is a Rubens. The other two are a Velasquez and a Teniers, fair specimens of the Spanish and of the Dutch schools. I have only old masters here. The moderns are in the billiard-room. The furniture here is a little curious. In fact, I fancy that it is unique. It is made of ebony and narwhals' horns. You see that the legs of everything are of spiral ivory, both the table and the chairs. It cost the upholsterer some little pains, for the supply of these things is a strictly limited one. Curiously enough, the Chinese Emperor had given a large order for narwhals' horns to repair some ancient pagoda, which was fenced in with them, but I outbid him in the market, and his celestial highness has had to wait. There is a lift here in the corner, but we do not need it. Pray step through this door. This is the billiard-room," he continued as they advanced into the adjoining room. "You see I have a few recent pictures of merit upon the walls. Here is a Corot, two Meissoniers, a Bouguereau, a Millais, an Orchardson, and two Alma-Tademas. It seems to me to be a pity to hang pictures over these walls of carved oak. Look at those birds hopping and singing in the branches. They really seem to move and twitter, don't they?"

"They are perfect. I never saw such exquisite work. But why do you call it a billiard-room, Mr. Haw? I do not see any board."

"Oh, a board is such a clumsy uncompromising piece of furniture. It is always in the way unless you actually need to use it. In this case the board is covered by that square of polished maple which you see let into the floor. Now I put my foot upon this motor. You see!" As he spoke, the central portion of the flooring flew up, and a most beautiful tortoise-shell-plated billiard-table rose up to its proper position. He pressed a second spring, and a bagatelle-table appeared in the same fashion. "You may have card-tables or what you will by setting the levers in motion," he remarked. "But all this is very trifling. Perhaps we may find something in the museum which may be of more interest to you."

He led the way into another chamber, which was furnished in antique style, with hangings of the rarest and richest tapestry. The floor was a mosaic of coloured marbles, scattered over with mats of costly fur. There was little furniture, but a number of Louis Quatorze cabinets of ebony and silver with delicately-painted plaques were ranged round the apartment.

"It is perhaps hardly fair to dignify it by the name of a museum," said Raffles Haw. "It consists merely of a few elegant trifles which I have picked up here and there. Gems are my strongest point. I fancy that there, perhaps, I might challenge comparison with any private collector in the world. I lock them up, for even the best servants may be tempted."

He took a silver key from his watch chain, and began to unlock and draw out the drawers. A cry of wonder and of admiration burst from Robert McIntyre, as his eyes rested upon case after case filled with the most magnificent stones. The deep still red of the rubies, the clear scintillating green of the emeralds, the hard glitter of the diamonds, the many shifting shades of beryls, of amethysts, of onyxes, of cats'-eyes, of opals, of agates, of cornelians seemed to fill the whole chamber with a vague twinkling, many-coloured light. Long slabs of the beautiful blue lapis lazuli, magnificent bloodstones, specimens of pink and red and white coral, long strings of lustrous pearls, all these were tossed out by their owner as a careless schoolboy might pour marbles from his bag.

"This isn't bad," he said, holding up a great glowing yellow mass as large as his own head. "It is really a very fine piece of amber. It was forwarded to me by my agent at the Baltic. Twenty-eight pounds, it weighs. I never heard of so fine a one. I have no very large brilliants--there were no very large ones in the market--but my average is good. Pretty toys, are they not?" He picked up a double handful of emeralds from a drawer, and then let them trickle slowly back into the heap.

"Good heavens!" cried Robert, as he gazed from case to case. "It is an immense fortune in itself. Surely a hundred thousand pounds would hardly buy so splendid a collection."

"I don't think that you would do for a valuer of precious stones," said Raffles Haw, laughing. "Why, the contents of that one little drawer of brilliants could not be bought for the sum which you name. I have a memo. here of what I have expended up to date on my collection, though I have agents at work who will probably make very considerable additions to it within the next few weeks. As matters stand, however, I have spent--let me see-pearls one forty thousand; emeralds, seven fifty; rubies, eight forty; brilliants, nine twenty; onyxes--I have several very nice onyxes-two thirty. Other gems, carbuncles, agates--hum! Yes, it figures out at just over four million seven hundred and forty thousand. I dare say that we may say five millions, for I have not counted the odd money."

"Good gracious!" cried the young artist, with staring eyes.

"I have a certain feeling of duty in the matter. You see the cutting, polishing, and general sale of stones is one of those industries which is entirely dependent upon wealth. If we do not support it, it must languish, which means misfortune to a considerable number of people. The same applies to the gold filigree work which you noticed in the court. Wealth has its responsibilities, and the encouragement of these handicrafts are among the most obvious of them. Here is a nice ruby. It is Burmese, and the fifth largest in existence. I am inclined to think that if it were uncut it would be the second, but of course cutting takes away a great deal." He held up the blazing red stone, about the size of a chestnut, between his finger and thumb for a moment, and then threw it carelessly back into its drawer. "Come into the smoking-room," he said; "you will need some little refreshment, for they say that sight-seeing is the most exhausting occupation in the world."

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