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COURT OF JUDGMENT

By DAVID ELY

A bleak landscape beneath lowering clouds
that weighed heavily on the painted human figures—that
was Reutenwald's long lost canvas. The Major looked
at it with greed, not noticing the thing at the mountain
.

SULLEN crowds pushed impatiently through the crooked, dusk-dimmed streets of Soho. In the gathering fog, the cautious cars honked softly, like worried geese; street lamps had begun to spot the fast-falling night.

His tweedy bulk brushed packages from a woman's arms. As he bent to retrieve them, the blood thundered up behind his ears. He gasped, "Terribly sorry." The woman seized the packages and darted off. He leaned against a cold and unfriendly wall until- the dizziness passed. How had that idiot medical man phrased it? "Spend the winter in a more congenial climate..." Yes, that was it. Congenial! He twisted his gray mustache bitterly and started off again. On a military pension? The fool!

Somewhere in the damp arcade, an unseen drop of moisture echoed faintly, like a distant footstep. He found the shop and peered for a moment through its grimy window. Inside, a single unshaded bulb illuminated a bald head, glinted off a pair of spectacles, gently touched a dusty background of paintings, sculpture, a tarnished breastplate, a stuffed malicious owl, a fierce-eyed parrot swinging in its cage.

The doorbell twinkled. Old Mr. Carstairs glanced up greedily from his littered desk, his blurred eyes searching; the parrot screeched and tore vainly at the bars.

"Ah, Major Dance!" Mr. Carstairs said, blinking in uncertain recognition. The Major inclined his massive head. He noticed that his Indian niello pipe still gleamed on the shelf.

"Nothing yet?"

Mr. Carstairs shook his head. "No offers, even," he said in his wrecked tenor. A professional expression of dubiety threaded among the seams of his face. "My dear sir, I feel you are asking too much for it."

"But the Maharajah himself presented—"

Mr. Carstairs cut him off with a fluttering hand. "Undoubtedly, it has great sentimental value to you, Major, Undoubtedly. To you. But to a stranger—?"

Outside, the dripping moisture beat a slow funereal drum, muffled and distant. Major Dance traced circles in the desktop dust.

"Fifty pounds!" Mr. Carstairs croaked. "I myself," he declared pityingly, "I would buy it from you now—on the spot—for twenty." The parrot chuckled and swung from side to side.

"Twenty!"

"No more, dear sir."

MAJOR DANCE stared hopelessly at the sharp features beneath the smooth pate. The tiny shop seemed suddenly close, unswept and musty, like an unclean cage. Mr. Carstairs rocked gently back and forth; so, gravely, did the parrot.

"A lovely pipe, it's true," said the old man, soothingly. "Twenty pounds—not to be sneezed at." He sighed and scratched at his stained gray vest. "Perhaps you have other mementos you would like to sell?"

Major Dance shook his head. There was only one thing left, back in his threadbare little flat—the regimental sword. He would never part with that.

"Come, sir—be of good cheer! We will try some more. Perhaps there will be an offer." Mr. Carstairs absently stroked his glowing skull, then snapped his fingers. "Ah!" He bustled toward the rear of the shop. "I have a treat for you, Major. Just wait, sir. With your ...

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