Literary Lapses/Getting the Thread of it

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Have you ever had a man try to explain to you what happened in a book as far as he has read? It is a most instructive thing. Sinclair, the man who shares my rooms with me, made such an attempt the other night. I had come in cold and tired from a walk and found him full of excitement, with a bulky magazine in one hand and a paper-cutter gripped in the other.

"Say, here's a grand story," he burst out as soon as I came in; "it's great! most fascinating thing I ever read. Wait till I read you some of it. I'll just tell you what has happened up to where I am--you'll easily catch the thread of it--and then we'll finish it together."

I wasn't feeling in a very responsive mood, but I saw no way to stop him, so I merely said, "All right, throw me your thread, I'll catch it."

"Well," Sinclair began with great animation, "this count gets this letter..."

"Hold on," I interrupted, "what count gets what letter?"

"Oh, the count it's about, you know. He gets this letter from this Porphirio."

"From which Porphirio?"

"Why, Porphirio sent the letter, don't you see, he sent it," Sinclair exclaimed a little impatiently--"sent it through Demonio and told him to watch for him with him, and kill him when he got him."

"Oh, see here!" I broke in, "who is to meet who, and who is to get stabbed?"

"They're going to stab Demonio."

"And who brought the letter?"

"Demonio."

"Well, now, Demonio must be a clam! What did he bring it for?"

"Oh, but he don't know what's in it, that's just the slick part of it," and Sinclair began to snigger to himself at the thought of it. "You see, this Carlo Carlotti the Condottiere..."

"Stop right there," I said. "What's a Condottiere?"

"It's a sort of brigand. He, you understand, was in league with this Fra Fraliccolo..."

A suspicion flashed across my mind. "Look here," I said firmly, "if the scene of this story is laid in the Highlands, I refuse to listen to it. Call it off."

"No, no," Sinclair answered quickly, "that's all right. It's laid in Italy...time of Pius the something. He comes in--say, but he's great! so darned crafty. It's him, you know, that persuades this Franciscan..."

"Pause," I said, "what Franciscan?"

"Fra Fraliccolo, of course," Sinclair said snappishly. "You see, Pio tries to..."

"Whoa!" I said, "who is Pio?"

"Oh, hang it all, Pio is Italian, it's short for Pius. He tries to get Fra Fraliccolo and Carlo Carlotti the Condottiere to steal the document from...let me see; what was he called?...Oh, yes...from the Dog of Venice, so that...or...no, hang it, you put me out, that's all wrong. It's the other way round. Pio wasn't clever at all; he's a regular darned fool. It's the Dog that's crafty. By Jove, he's fine," Sinclair went on; warming up to enthusiasm again, "he just does anything he wants. He makes this Demonio (Demonio is one of those hirelings, you know, he's the tool of the Dog)...makes him steal the document off Porphirio, and..."

"But how does he get him to do that?" I asked.

"Oh, the Dog has Demonio pretty well under his thumb, so he makes Demonio scheme round till he gets old Pio--er--gets him under his thumb, and then, of course, Pio thinks that Porphirio--I mean he thinks that he has Porphirio--er--has him under his thumb."

"Half a minute, Sinclair," I said, "who did you say was under the Dog's thumb?"

"Demonio."

"Thanks. I was mixed in the thumbs. Go on."

"Well, just when things are like this..."

"Like what?"

"Like I said."

"All right."

"Who should turn up and thwart the whole scheme, but this Signorina Tarara in her domino..."

"Hully Gee!" I said, "you make my head ache. What the deuce does she come in her domino for?"

"Why, to thwart it."

"To thwart what?"

"Thwart the whole darned thing," Sinclair exclaimed emphatically.

"But can't she thwart it without her domino?"

"I should think not! You see, if it hadn't been for the domino, the Dog would have spotted her quick as a wink. Only when he sees her in the domino with this rose in her hair, he thinks she must be Lucia dell' Esterolla."

"Say, he fools himself, doesn't he? Who's this last girl?"

"Lucia? Oh, she's great!" Sinclair said. "She's one of those Southern natures, you know, full of--er--full of..."

"Full of fun," I suggested.

"Oh, hang it all, don't make fun of it! Well, anyhow, she's sister, you understand, to the Contessa Carantarata, and that's why Fra Fraliccolo, or...hold on, that's not it, no, no, she's not sister to anybody. She's cousin, that's it; or, anyway, she thinks she is cousin to Fra Fraliccolo himself, and that's why Pio tries to stab Fra Fraliccolo."

"Oh, yes," I assented, "naturally he would."

"Ah," Sinclair said hopefully, getting his paper-cutter ready to cut the next pages, "you begin to get the thread now, don't you?"

"Oh, fine!" I said. "The people in it are the Dog and Pio, and Carlo Carlotti the Condottiere, and those others that we spoke of."

"That's right," Sinclair said. "Of course, there are more still that I can tell you about if..."

"Oh, never mind," I said, "I'll work along with those, they're a pretty representative crowd. Then Porphirio is under Pio's thumb, and Pio is under Demonio's thumb, and the Dog is crafty, and Lucia is full of something all the time. Oh, I've got a mighty clear idea of it," I concluded bitterly.

"Oh, you've got it," Sinclair said, "I knew you'd like it. Now we'll go on. I'll just finish to the bottom of my page and then I'll go on aloud."

He ran his eyes rapidly over the lines till he came to the bottom of the page, then he cut the leaves and turned over. I saw his eye rest on the half-dozen lines that confronted him on the next page with an expression of utter consternation.

"Well, I will be cursed!" he said at length.

"What's the matter?" I said gently, with a great joy at my heart.

"This infernal thing's a serial," he gasped, as he pointed at the words, "To be continued," "and that's all there is in this number."