The Amateur Cracksman
The Gift Of The Emperor
When the King of the Cannibal Islands made faces at Queen Victoria, and a
European monarch set the cables tingling with his compliments on the exploit,
the indignation in England was not less than the surprise, for the thing was
not so common as it has since become. But when it transpired that a gift of
peculiar significance was to follow the congratulations, to give them weight,
the inference prevailed that the white potentate and the black had taken
simultaneous leave of their fourteen senses. For the gift was a pearl of price
unparalleled, picked aforetime by British cutlasses from a Polynesian setting,
and presented by British royalty to the sovereign who seized this opportunity
of restoring it to its original possessor.
The incident would have been a godsend to the Press a few weeks later. Even
in June there were leaders, letters, large headlines, leaded type; the Daily
Chronicle devoting half its literary page to a charming drawing of the island
capital which the new Pall Mall, in a leading article headed by a pun, advised
the Government to blow to flinders. I was myself driving a poor but not
dishonest quill at the time, and the topic of the hour goaded me into satiric
verse which obtained a better place than anything I had yet turned out. I had
let my flat in town, and taken inexpensive quarters at Thames Ditton, on the
plea of a disinterested passion for the river.
"First-rate, old boy!" said Raffles (who must needs come and see me there),
lying back in the boat while I sculled and steered. "I suppose they pay you
pretty well for these, eh?"
"Not a penny."
"Nonsense, Bunny! I thought they paid so well? Give them time, and you'll
get your check."
"Oh, no, I sha'n't," said I gloomily. "I've got to be content with the honor of
getting in; the editor wrote to say so, in so many words," I added. But I gave
the gentleman his distinguished name.
"You don't mean to say you've written for payment already?"
No; it was the last thing I had intended to admit. But I had done it. The
murder was out; there was no sense in further concealment. I had written for
my money because I really needed it; if he must know, I was cursedly hard
up. Raffles nodded as though he knew already. I warmed to my woes. It was
no easy matter to keep your end up as a raw freelance of letters; for my part,
I was afraid I wrote neither well enough nor ill enough for success. I suffered
from a persistent ineffectual feeling after style. Verse I could manage; but it