Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/A dreadful bell
A DREADFUL BELL.
CHAPTER I. OUT OF DOORS.
It was one of those large and important hotels that seem to swoop down and take possession of little villages. The first object that caught the eye of the traveller as he approached the hamlet over the neighbouring hill was the new Grand Hotel, with its white staring walls and numberless windows, and the letters of its name in black paint running across it. It had scattered the little houses to the right and left of it. It had fixed itself in the best possible situation in front of the sea, and had swallowed up in its erection all the most time-honoured and distinguished characteristics of the locality. In short, instead of the hotel being considered as belonging to the village, the village was now looked upon as an appurtenance to the hotel. The cause of this change was that the little fishing hamlet being prettily situated on the sea coast in North Wales, “the Faculty” had passed its opinion in favour of the place, and the hotel had in consequence sprung up like magic—“The Montmorency Hotel,” with plate-glass windows and a grand portico, hundreds of bed-rooms and sitting-rooms, bathing-machines, hot and vapour baths, invalid chairs, and various other conveniences.
How I came to be stopping at “The Montmorency” was in this wise: my old college chum, Tom Marlowe, had just got married to his Julia, and having spent their honeymoon abroad, they took it into their heads that a little repose and a little peaceful enjoyment of each other’s society would not be an inappropriate change. Accordingly they had taken apartments in one of the houses in Montmorency Terrace. Tom had heard that I was going to Ireland for my vacation, and had written to ask me to stop and see him on my way.
I accepted the invitation, and put up at the hotel, as there was no vacant room in Tom’s house, and I intended to make only a flying visit.
On an evening when the village was undergoing one of its very heartiest squalls, and the wind and the rain and the sea were all roaring together, I had enjoyed a pleasant dinner with Tom and his Julia. The storm without had made the windows rattle rather noisily in their frames: and the street door would persist in flying open suddenly, and when once open, banging itself; the chimneys, too, were altogether uncomfortable, and grumbled incessantly, and the whole establishment had exhibited decided symptoms of a general shakiness of constitution peculiar to mansions that are rapidly “run up” in rising localities. But we were so merry, and had so much to talk about—Tom was in such good spirits, and his Julia was emphatically what he had so often described her to me to be, “a born angel”—that I believe if the house itself had been carried away bodily out to sea, it would have been a matter of indifference to them, provided they had gone with it, in each other’s society. The time had passed so pleasantly and quickly that I was quite startled when a clock struck eleven; and, as I knew they were early people at the “Montmorency,” I rose to take my leave.
“By Jove! what a night!” said Tom, as he opened the street door to let me out. “Will you have a rug to put round you, or my top coat?”
“No, thank you.”
“Well, get home as fast as you can. How it does come down, and as dark as pitch. Come round in the morning, there’s a good fellow.”
“All right. Good night, old boy.”
“The Montmorency” was only about 500 yards distant. I ran as fast as I could, and soon reached the portico, but the whole of the hotel was in darkness. Everybody had evidently gone to bed.
“They are early people with a vengeance,” I muttered, as I seized the bell and rang vigorously.
“They will think that rather a strong pull, but one can’t wait out long in such a night as this.”
And it was a night! The portico afforded no protection. The wind howled round its columns, and the rain dashed through it. There was not a soul about. The sky and the sea were both as black as ink.
“Confound it,” I said, after I had waited some considerable time; “I wonder when they’re going to open the door. I’ll wait two minutes more and then I’ll ring again.”
The two minutes seemed to be twenty, and no one came.
Surely it was not intentional to keep me out in the rain, to give me the street for shelter, because I was not in before the door was shut. It certainly was an hotel where such an arrangement might have been adopted as a “Rule,” but the mere thought of such an absurdity gave me new vigour, and I rang the bell violently for several minutes, and only desisted from sheer exhaustion. I had just commenced to consider whether under the circumstances I should not be justified in throwing a few stones and smashing one or two of the upstairs windows, when, through the pane of glass at the side of the door I saw to my great relief a faint glimmer of light thrown into the hall. This gradually became brighter and brighter, as if some one were slowly coming down the principal staircase, which was at right angles with the door, bearing a light. It proved to be so, for the next moment I saw, standing on the last step of the stairs, an old gentleman of about sixty, with perfectly white hair, habited in a dressing-gown, and carrying high above his head a lighted bedroom candle.
“Some one I have awakened at last by my ringing,” thought I. “One of the visitors, no doubt. I shall apologise to him when he has opened the door, and the early hour at which I commenced to ring, and the state of the night will surely be a sufficient excuse.”
I steadily fixed my eyes on the old gentleman, and got nearer to the door ready for the chain to be dropped and the bolts to be drawn, for I was becoming more bitterly cold every minute. The old gentleman advanced cautiously into the hall and crossed it, without however once looking towards the door. When he had reached the side of the hall farthest from the stairs he looked up, as if contemplating something fearfully high upon the wall, and as he did so I saw that his arm which held the candle trembled violently.
“You shall hear me at any rate,” thought I, and I rang again.
To my utter astonishment immediately I had done this, the old gentleman, still without looking towards the door, gave a start, and appeared to shake from head to foot. By his profile, which was towards me, I could see that the expression of his face was one of intense alarm. I heard him utter a shout of horror, and then with a bound he turned on his heel, dashed up the stairs he had so lately descended, and the hall was once more plunged in darkness.
I had scarcely time to question myself as to what could possibly be the meaning of these strange proceedings, before my attention was attracted by a great noise in the upper part of the hotel. It sounded to me as if a number of people were running about. Then doors banged violently. Then there were a succession of crashes. Then shouts of men and screams of women. Nobody however appeared in the hall. I rushed into the road and looked up at the hotel. Gracious Heavens! What was the matter? Nearly all the windows, before so black, were now illumined with a bright light. Dark outlines of the human form passed hurriedly backwards and forwards upon the blinds looking like struggling and excited phantoms. Still not a window opened. The noise continued with unabated fury; then, as gradually as it had commenced, the shouting ceased and became murmurs, the doors banged off one by one, until there seemed no more to bang, the lights went out like specks of fire upon a burnt paper, and then all was again in darkness and silence. What could it mean? In vain I asked myself the question, and no one came to the door to enlighten me upon the subject, or to give me admittance. “I’ll try once more,” I exclaimed, “and this shall be the last time.” I rang feebly and despairingly. Instantly bells seemed to ring all over the house and passages. Big bells and little bells, near bells and distant bells, up-stairs bells and down-stairs bells, burst out together in one long continuous angry jangle. The last little bell was still tinkling away somewhere up in the garrets, when a light once again appeared, and this time as if it were coming up a trap in the floor of the hall. I saw it was borne by the head waiter. He was only partly dressed, and he wore a nightcap made out of a red handkerchief. He looked for an instant towards where I stood, and then shambled in his slippers to the door, let down the chain, half opened the door, put his nose through the opening, and breathed out a ghostly, inflamed, husky whisper, “Who is it?”
“It’s me,” I said somewhat petulantly, “open the door.”
He rubbed his eyes, held up the light, looked intensely hard at the wick of the candle, said “Oh!” and opened the door.
“Well, you have kept me a pretty time outside,” I said, as I entered. “I have been ringing the bell since eleven, and by George, there goes one o’clock. I’m wet to the skin and nearly dead with cold.”
The head-waiter was putting the chain up in a fumbling uncertain sort of gaoler fashion. He didn’t seem to be altogether quite awake yet, and from the fumes of rum and the smell of tobacco smoke that pervaded him, and the very fishy and winking condition of his eyes, I concluded that Bacchus had assisted Morpheus in the task of lulling him to sleep. In reply to my observation he simply breathed out another rum-and-water “Oh!” and hoisted his apparel about his waist in a dreamy way.
“Has anything been the matter?” I continued, as I lighted a bedroom candle. “What a terrible row there was in the house at about half-past twelve.”
“Was there, though?” he said, with a yawn, a hiccup, and a lurch. “Now, was there, though? Well, you knows best, I’ve no doubt.”
And without another word he shuffled away, with his two long braces dragging behind him and bumping their buckles on the floor, looking like a drunken old bashaw, whilst I went off to bed.
CHAPTER II. IN-DOORS.
I never slept so sound in my life as I did that night. It was eleven o’clock before I came down-stairs and entered the coffee-room to order breakfast. There was only one gentleman in the room, and he was seated at a table at the extreme end having breakfast, with a newspaper balancing against the coffee biggin, and simultaneously devouring the news and the buttered toast in the heartiest manner possible. He was a small, middle-aged gentleman, and was evidently suffering from severe nervousness, for he made a great clatter with the cups and spoons, knocking them together loudly; and I noticed that his hands and head shook so continuously that he had the greatest difficulty in carrying anything in a direct line to his mouth. His hair, which was short and black, stood up very straight and stiff, and he wore a large pair of gold eye-glasses. As I entered and took my seat at a table near the window, he fixed his glasses with greater steadiness upon his nose, and directed at me a long and anxious gaze. Apparently, however, finding that I was a stranger, he turned the newspaper with much gesticulation, and went on with his breakfast.
It was not a rude look. It was only the stare of a short-sighted man; but still it made me think of three trifling incidents that had occurred to me on my passage down-stairs from my bedroom to the coffee-room. On the first landing I had met the chambermaid. Immediately she had seen me she had backed into a corner, and had stared at me with mingled curiosity and terror until I had passed. On a lower floor I had encountered the Boots. On seeing me, he had instantly dropped a bootjack, two chamber-candlesticks, three pair of slippers, and a warming-pan, with a terrible clatter, and then wagged his head reprovingly at me as if I had done it. Finally, in crossing the hall, the second waiter—a limp wretch in a perpetual perspiration—on meeting me, turned on his heel, and, with a half-smothered cry, fled up a passage. The head-waiter here entered the room. He had resumed his usual dignified appearance; his white cravat was stiff and spotless, and his black wig was curled and oiled into quite a lustrous condition. He made a complete circuit of the room, walking in a solemn manner, and looking at me gravely the while; and, having done this, he approached my table, leant over it on the knuckles of his hands, and contemplated me sternly and inquiringly.
“Breakfast, waiter, if you please.”
“Oh! breakfast?” he repeated, without altering his position. “Well now, sir, did you order breakfast?”
“Yes,” I answered; “and I should like it as quick as possible.”
“Ah!” said the waiter, heaving a deep sigh, and still in a contemplative condition. “Should you? Mind, I don’t say you shouldn’t. Only it may be difficult—and then, again, it’s rather unnatural—that’s all.”
And then, before I could express my surprise at this extraordinary conduct on his part, he bent his head near to mine, and whispered in my ear:
“You’ve done it.”
“Done it! Done what? What do you mean?” I said, instinctively adopting a whispered tone.
“Horful!” gasped the waiter, in the same horrid whisper, and throwing his head and eyes up. “No one could have believed it. I am not a bad sort, sir; but I am a family man, sir; I have a wife and three small children, one of ’em, sir, now in arms and cutting its teeth, sir; and when a family man has been examined in the way I have been; when it’s been extricated out of me by threats—threats of the most horrid natur—when a hunder waiter has been threatened to be put over my head—a hunder waiter so ignorant of ’rithmetic that he don’t know plated spoons from silver ones—how could I help it?”
“Help what?” I said. “What are you talking about? I don’t understand a word of what you are saying. Am I to have any breakfast, or not?”
At this last question the head-waiter drew himself up to his full height, and in a perfectly serious—indeed, solemn—manner, said:
“Well, sir, if you ask me as a matter of opinion, I should say that you are not to have any breakfast. Mind, it is a matter of opinion on my part. Howiver, no one have ever accused me of possessing the feelings of a wolf, and so I will go and make the inquiry.”
Either the waiter was mad, or he had not entirely recovered from his last night’s libations. I ordered him again to bring the breakfast, and threatened to speak to the proprietor of the hotel if he any longer delayed doing so.
“Well!” he said, looking at me curiously. “Well, I always said philosophy were a wonderful invention, but if ever I see such a go as this—skewer me! You knows what I mean, and what you’ve done—you knows you did!” And then, with a look full of meaning and reproach, he whispered, “F. D.!” and slid gravely out of the room.
I was still lost in astonishment at the waiter’s conduct, when, happening to look round, I perceived that the little gentleman at the other end of the room, having by this time clattered through his breakfast and finished with the newspaper, was now steadily observing me. He had certainly not been able to overhear my whispered conversation with the waiter, but he had evidently noticed that what had taken place had been the cause of exciting my anger, for he now said:
“Stupid fellow, that!”
I experienced quite a feeling of gratitude towards the stranger for his sympathy.
“I cannot think what is the matter with him,” I said, as I passed down the room to a table nearer to the little gentleman. “He don’t seem in condition to take an order for breakfast.”
“Oh!” said the stranger, fidgeting in his chair, and nervously endeavouring to fix the cruets in their stand. “Ah, it’s very extraordinary! I can’t make him out either. He has been bringing me wrong things all the morning. I ordered fish, and he brought me cutlets. I don’t like cutlets. Then he brought me a fish-slice to cut the butter with. Ridiculous! And, look at these cruets, not one of them will go into the stand. As an excuse, he says he has been greatly agitated. So have I been agitated! So has everyone been agitated after the disgraceful proceedings of last night.”
“Indeed?” said I. “I heard something, but I was unable to distinguish what it was.”
The little gentleman stared hard at me.
“You must be a sound sleeper, young man—a very sound sleeper; but perhaps it did not happen to you. Did it?”
Not having the remotest idea as to what the question referred, I answered in the negative.
“Perhaps,” said the little gentleman, “you do not even know what did happen—eh?”
“Very extraordinary,” said the little gentleman, and then he went on nervously: “I never went through such a night—never. A man of my weak nerves, too. My doctor sent me down here for quiet and repose, ‘Go down, Bamby,’ he said, ‘no railway-station within three miles, no organs, no yelling black men, no Punches and Judies, in fact, a Paradise of peace and comfort.’ So I came. I arrived yesterday in the midst of the most terrible storm I ever saw. I went to bed about half-past ten, and, contrary to my usual custom, soon dropped off to sleep. I am a bad sleeper, young man. About half-past twelve o’clock I was awoke by some one knocking violently at my door. I had bolted it before getting into bed. Judge of my alarm at such a proceeding at such an hour. The knocking continued in violence, then a heavy body seemed to be thrown against the door, which, after repeated shocks, burst open, and a man fell head foremost into my room;—a tall, powerful man, in a coloured gown and Wellington boots, with a pair of trousers tied round his throat. Before I had time to utter a word, he had started to his feet and assumed a threatening attitude. ‘Help! murder! fire! thieves!’ I shouted out at the top of my voice. ‘I’ll help you,’ he cried, dancing wildly round me, ‘come out of this!’ And in a moment he had seized the bedclothes and had dragged off the counterpane and blankets. ‘Come out of this!’ he again cried, and again pounced upon me, this time clutching me by the ankle of my left leg and commencing to drag me—a man of my weak nerves—bodily off the bed. Maddened with terror, I clung to the head of the bedstead, and shouted still louder for assistance. The more I shouted the more the villain tugged at my leg. The struggle was fearful. Chairs, table, drawers, looking-glasses and fire-irons, all seemed to be tumbling and crashing about the room indiscriminately. The very bedstead, with myself still madly clinging to it, seemed to be whirled round and round in the fury of the conflict. At length my assailant appeared to weaken in his efforts, and summoning all my remaining strength with my disengaged leg, I gave him one terrible kick full in the chest that sent him staggering back on to the wash-hand stand, in his fall knocking it down, smashing the jugs and basins into atoms, and deluging the room with water. Just fancy the situation to a man of my weak nerves!”
“Did you capture him?”
“No; before I could recover myself he was on his legs again,—had rushed out of the room and was gone. Winding the remains of the bedclothes round me, I dashed out after him, shouting ‘stop thief!’ To my astonishment I found the whole house in an uproar. Ladies and gentlemen in the most extraordinary state of deshabille I ever saw, were running about with lights, asking each other what it was, and where it was, and who had done it, and what it meant? Everybody seemed to have been served in the way I had been. The mistress of the hotel appeased us by saying that the matter should have full inquiry in the morning, and eventually we retired to rest again. You must admit, young man, you were a very sound sleeper, not to have been awakened by these proceedings.”
I was considerably astonished at this recital. This, then, accounted for the excitement in the hotel whilst I was ringing at the door.
“And what was the explanation of this extraordinary affair?” I inquired.
“The explanation,” continued Mr. Bamby, “as far as I have heard it, is more mysterious to me than the affair itself. The landlady in answer to my inquiries this morning, informed me it was the F. D., and everybody I have asked has answered me in the same way; but who the F. D. is, or what the F. D. is, or why the deuce the F. D. pulled everybody out of bed, last night, by the leg, is a problem I mean to have unravelled before I leave this place.”
I gave quite a start of astonishment. The head waiter had whispered these mysterious letters into my ear. For a moment a thought flashed through my mind that I might be suspected of being the perpetrator of the outrages described by Mr. Bamby; but then I was not in the hotel at the time they occurred, and no one knew this better than the head-waiter, who had opened the door to me.
“Do you think you should know your aggressor again,” I said, “if you saw him?”
“I don’t know,” said Mr. Bamby. “It was so dark at the time, and I was so bewildered; but dear me, how very late it is. What a thing it is to have one’s rest disturbed. It loses one’s whole day. I should like to catch my friend the F. D. or the Funny Devil, or whatever he is, I’d show him some fun, although I am a man of weak nerves. Good morning.”
And Mr. Bamby took up his hat and umbrella, and trotted out of the room. As he went out the head-waiter came in. I looked hungrily towards him, but he only carried an empty plate in one hand, and advanced with great solemnity, bearing it before him like a church-warden going round after a charity sermon. He presented it to me. I looked at him, and then at the plate.
“What’s this? Where is the breakfast, fellow? What in the name of heaven is the meaning of all this? What’s that plate for?”
Without a movement of his face he still advanced the plate before me. I really think I was about to take it out of his hand and hurl it through the window, when I caught sight of a paper lying upon it. I took it up and looked at it. It was my bill!
“What’s this?” I demanded fiercely.
“What is that, sir?” said the head-waiter. “That is the bill, sir. We have not charged for breakfast. We have not, I believe, charged for a bed to-night; but the attendance is included.”
“I will see the proprietor at once,” I cried, “and have this affair explained. A pretty hotel this seems to be. I am kept waiting half the night ringing at the bell. Breakfast is refused me, and my bill is thrust upon me without my asking for it. Who do you take me for? Eh?”
I advanced upon the head-waiter; he retreated in terror.
“Don’t, sir, don’t. I am a family man, and not a bad sort: but hotels is hotels, sir, and can’t afford to be ruined. Whole families turning out—families from the Philippine Islands—two Nabobs, and one a general—ain’t they nothing? Then, to see the deluges—the breakages—the spiled linen—oh! to see it—”
It was clear I was taken for the author of the last night’s proceedings—the mysterious F. D. referred to by Mr. Bamby. I heard no more. I rushed out of the room, intending at once to have an interview with the proprietor of the hotel, and explain matters. In the hall there were groups of servants, all talking anxiously. As I made my appearance there was a general movement of excitement amongst them; all eyes were directed towards me, and I again heard the mention of the mysterious letters in an under tone, clearly in reference to myself.
“Can I see the proprietor?” I addressed a young woman in the bar of the hotel.
“Walk this way,” she answered, in a sharp, snappish tone.
I passed through the bar and into a back room. Here was seated the landlady, with a large book before her. As I entered, and she saw who it was, she started up, took off her spectacles, and confronted me with a glare of terrible indignation.
“So, Number 24,” she said, before I could open my mouth, “I hope you are satisfied with the mischief of which you have been the cause. The affair of last night may be my ruin, and I have to thank you for it. (She pointed to the book.) I am now making out the bill of Number 4; a gentleman suffering from the gout. How can he be expected to remain in a hotel where he is pulled out of bed in the middle of the night, and dragged about his room by the leg? Here is the family in Number 18, who have been in hysterics ever since, and who threaten me with an action for the loss of wigs and teeth and all sorts of valuable property. And here is the Indian General in Number 82, who declares he will have your life, and there will be murder on the premises in the height of the season. It’s shameful of you. It is disgraceful.”
“Madam,” I interrupted, “I assure you I am perfectly innocent of the outrages which I have heard were committed last night in this hotel.”
“How dare you, Number 24,” cried the landlady, “utter such wilful falsehoods? Is it not enough, what you have done? I have perfect confidence in the statement made to me by Mr. Loverock, our head-waiter.”
“If Mr. Loverock,” I urged, “has made a charge against me of being the author of this affair, he is a villain, since he knows that such a charge is false.”
“He is no villain,” said the landlady, now in a towering passion. “He is no villain; and he is not false. He was not at first willing to divulge you; and it was only when I threatened to remove him from his situation that he made the statement he did. He is no villain, Number 24. It is you, and you alone, who are the villain. You, who have been the cause of all this misery and ruin.”
The matter was becoming to me momentarily more inexplicable. I was about to make further reply to the landlady, when I was startled by a loud noise outside the bar, and I heard a man’s voice exclaiming,
“Where is he? Where is he? Where is the ruffian? Let me reach him. Let me grasp his throat. Let me revenge my wife. Let me revenge my three daughters. Out of the way!”
“It is the General!” shrieked the landlady; and at the same moment a gentleman in a furious rage bounded into the room. He carried a bootjack in one hand, which he waved wildly over his head, and he was advancing to seize me, when another gentleman jumped into the room after him, threw his arms round his waist, and held him as if he were in a vice.
“Let me go,” shouted the first gentleman, struggling to get free.
“I shan’t,” shouted the second gentleman. “What do you want to do?”
I knew the voice. It was Tom Marlowe.
“Tom,” I cried, “what is all this about? I am charged with the most extraordinary conduct. Speak for me, old fellow.”
“Why—what—” exclaimed Tom, putting his head round the General’s body without relaxing his hold. “Good gracious! is it you? If this gentleman would only have the kindness to leave off struggling, and abandon his bloodthirsty intentions, I could discuss the matter with him. There is some mistake.”
“There’s not!” roared the General.
“There is!” I shouted.
“You had better retire, sir,” interposed the landlady, addressing me. “Your presence only serves to excite the General’s frenzy. I am willing to explain matters to Mr. Marlowe.”
“Go into the next room, will you,” said Tom, again putting his head round the General’s body, “and lock the door on him, ma’am. I won’t let go of this gentleman unless you do.”
“Go, sir!” exclaimed the landlady to me; and pointing to an inner room in a Lady Macbeth attitude.
I entered. The door was immediately closed, and locked upon me. It was quite an hour before Tom made his appearance. Directly he came in he fell into a chair, and burst into a fit of laughter. When he had partially recovered himself, he said:
“Excuse me, my dear fellow, laughing in this wild manner; but for the last hour I have been dying with suppressed emotion. I have been wanting to laugh, and have not dared.”
“What is it all about?”
“Well, my dear boy,” said Tom, “it seems it was you who did it after all.”
“Impossible! I wasn’t in the hotel.”
“Just listen for one moment. I have been making inquiries all over the house, and have had interviews with the parties concerned. I think I have found it all out, and if I know anything of the laws of cause and effect, it was you who did it. However, don’t make yourself uneasy. I have cleared up the matter now, and appeased the landlady, and they have determined to forgive you.”
“Forgive me—but what for? What have I done?”
“It seems,” said Tom, “that there is an elderly gentleman from America stopping in the house with his family. He is of very nervous temperament, and from having some short time ago severely suffered from the effects of a fire upon his premises, exists in a perpetual state of alarm as to one breaking out wherever he may be. In fact, he is almost a monomaniac upon the subject. Now, it appears that it was you who rang the bell last night. Loverock, the waiter, who sleeps down-stairs, says he opened the street-door to you at one o’clock. You left me at eleven, so that you were at it about two hours.”
“That’s true,” I said. “They wouldn’t open the door. What was I to do?”
“Precisely,” continued Tom. “At about half-past twelve o’clock it further appears that the fire-fearing gentleman having listened to a violent and almost continuous ringing of a bell for an hour and a half, at length took it into his head to travel out of his bedroom to discover the cause. On reaching the hall—”
“Yes, I saw him through the door-window.”
“On reaching the hall, he examined all the bells upon the wall, and seeing a particularly large one madly ringing came to the conclusion it was the fire-bell. The alarm of fire always drives him out of his senses, and the instinct of preserving his fellow-creatures at such a time is so strong upon him that it becomes a madness. It was this feeling that drove him through the house shouting for help, bursting open doors, pulling the furniture out of the rooms and the people out of their beds,—in fact, acting as if a fire were actually raging in the hotel.”
“But why should he have thought it was the fire-bell?”
“Come and see,” said Tom.
We passed into the hall.
In the midst of a cluster of bells hanging upon the wall, each of which had its number, was one bell of an unusually large size, and underneath this, painted in red, were the mysterious letters “F. D.”
“That’s the bell you rung,” said Tom. “The American gentleman, in his excitement, not unnaturally concluded it gave the alarm of fire.”
“And what, in the name of Heaven, do those initials stand for?”