In three or four weeks he was about again, dragging the leg when he walked. He could still get around the shanty and over to the grocer's, but he could not climb the hill, even with the pail empty. He tried one day, but he only climbed half way. Sanders found him in the path when he went home, lying down by the pail.
Sanders worried over the dog. He missed the long talks at the crossing over the dinner, the poor fellow sitting by his side watching every spoonful, his eyes glistening, the old ear furling and unfurling like a toy flag. He missed, too, his scampering after the sparrows and pigeons that often braved the desolation and smoke of this inferno to pick up the droppings from the carts. He missed more than all the companionship,—somebody to sit beside him.
As for the girl—there was now a double bond between her and the dog. He was not only poor and an outcast, but a cripple like herself. Before, she was his friend, now, she was his mother, whispering to him, her cheek to his; holding him up to the window to see the trains rush by, his nose touching the glass, his poor leg dangling.
The train hands missed him too, vowing vengeance, and the fireman of No. 6, Joe Connors, spent half a Sunday trying to find the boy that threw the stone. Bill Adams, who ran the yard engine, went all the way home the next day after the accident for a bottle of horse liniment, and left it at the shanty, and said he'd get the doctor at the next station if Sanders wanted.
One broiling hot August day—a day when the grasshoppers sang among the weeds in the open lot, and the tar dripped down from the roofs, when the teams strained up the hill reeking with sweat, a wet sponge over their eyes, and the drivers walked beside their carts mopping their necks—on one of these steaming August days the dog limped down to the crossing just to rub his nose once against Sanders as he stood waving his flag, or to look wistfully up into his face as he sat in the little pepper-box of a house that sheltered his flags and lantern. He did not often come now. They were making up the local freight—the yard engine backing and shunting the cars into line. Bill Adams was at the throttle and Connors was firing. A few yards below Sanders's sentry-box stood an empty flat car on a siding. It threw a grateful shade over the hard cinder-covered tracks. The dog had crawled beneath its trucks and lay asleep, his stiffened leg over the switch frog. Adams's yard engine puffing by woke him with a start. There was a struggle, a yell of pain, and the dog fell over on his back, his useless leg fast in the frog. Sanders heard the cry of agony, threw down his flag, bounded over the cross-ties, and crawled beneath the trucks. The dog's cries stopped. But the leg was fast. In a moment more he had rushed back to his box, caught up a crowbar, and was forcing the joint. It did not give an inch. There was but one thing left—to throw the switch before the express, due in two minutes, whirled past. In another instant a man in a blue jumper was seen darting up the tracks. He sprang at a lever, bounded back, and threw himself under the flat car. Then the yelp of a dog in pain, drowned by the shriek of an engine dashing into the cut at full speed. Then a dog thrown clear of the track, a crash like a falling house, and a flat car smashed into kindling wood.
When the conductor and passengers of the express walked back, Bill Adams was bending over a man in a blue jumper laid flat on the cinders. He was bleeding from a wound in his head. Lying beside him was a yellow dog licking his stiffened hand. A doctor among the passengers opened his red shirt and pressed his hand on the heart. He said he was breathing, and might live. Then they brought a stretcher from the office, and Connors and Bill Adams carried him up the hill, the dog following, limping.
Here they laid him on a bed beside a sobbing, frightened girl; the dog at her feet.
Adams bent over him, washing his head with a wad of cotton waste.
Just before he died he opened his eyes, rested them on his daughter, half raised his head as if in search of the dog, and then fell back on his bed, that same sweet, clear smile about his mouth.
"John Sanders," said Adams, "how in h—- could a sensible man like you throw his life away for a damned yellow dog?"
"Don't, Billy," he said. "I couldn't help it. He was a cripple."
I was sitting in the shadow of Mme. Poulard's delightful inn at St. Michel when I first saw Baeader. Dinner had been served, and I had helped to pay for my portion by tacking a sketch on the wall behind the chair of the hostess. This high valuation was not intended as a special compliment to me, the wall being already covered with similar souvenirs from the sketch-books of half the painters in Europe.
Baeader, he pronounced it Bayder, had at that moment arrived in answer to a telegram from the governor, who the night before, in a moment of desperation, had telegraphed the proprietor of his hotel in Paris, "Send me a courier at once who knows Normandy and speaks English." The bare-headed man who, hat in hand, was at this moment bowing so obsequiously to the governor, was the person who had arrived in response. He was short and thick-set, and perfectly bald on the top of his head in a small spot, friar-fashion. He glistened with perspiration that collected near the hat-line, and escaped in two streams, drowning locks of black hair covering each temple, stranding them like wet grass on his cheek-bones below. His full face was clean-shaven, smug, and persuasive, and framed two shoe-button eyes that, while sharp and alert, lacked neither humor nor tenderness.
He wore a pair of new green kid gloves, was dressed in a brown cloth coat bound with a braid of several different shades, showing different dates of repair, and surmounted by a velvet collar of the same date as the coat. His trousers were of a nondescript gray, and flapped about a pair of brand-new gaiters, evidently purchased for the occasion, and, from the numerous positions assumed while he talked, evidently one size too small.
His hat—the judicious use of which added such warmth, color, and picturesqueness to his style of delivery, now pressed to his chest, now raised aloft, now debased to the cobbles—had once had some dignity and proportions. Continual maltreatment had long since taken all the gay and frolicsome curl out of its brim, while the crown had so often collapsed that the scars of ill-usage were visible upon it. And yet at a distance this relic of a former fashion, as handled by Baeader,—it was so continually in his grasp and so seldom on his head, that you could never say it was worn,—this hat, brushed, polished, and finally slicked by its owner to a state slightly confusing as to whether it were made of polished iron or silk, was really a very gay and attractive affair.
It was easy to see that the person before me had spared neither skill, time, nor expense to make as favorable an impression on his possible employers as lay in his power.
"At the moment of the arrival of ze depeche telegraphique," Baeader continued, "I was in ze office of monsieur ze proprietaire. It was at ze conclusion of some arrangement commercial, when mon ami ze proprietaire say to me: 'Baeader, it is ze abandoned season in Paris. Why not arrange for ze gentlemen in Normandy? The number of francs a day will be at least'"—here Baeader scrutinized carefully the governor's face—'"at least to ze amount of ten'—is it not so, messieurs? Of course," noting a slight contraction of the eyebrows, "if ze service was of long time, and to ze most far-away point, some abatement could be posseeble. If, par exemple, it was to St. Malo, St. Servan, Parame, Cancale speciale, Dieppe petite, Dinard, and ze others, the sum of nine francs would be quite sufficient."
The governor had never heard Dieppe called "petite" nor Cancale "speciale," and said so, lifting his eyebrows inquiringly. Baeader did not waver. "But if messieurs pretend a much smaller route and of few days, say to St. Michel, Parame, and Cancale,"—here the governor's brow relaxed again,—"then it was imposseeble,—if messieurs will pardon,—quite imposseeble for less zan ten francs."
So the price was agreed upon, and the hat, now with a decided metallic sheen, once more swept the cobblestones of the courtyard. The ceremony being over, its owner then drew off the green kid gloves, folded them flat on his knee, guided them into the inside pocket of the brown coat with the assorted bindings as carefully as if they had been his letter of credit, and declared himself at our service.
It was when he had been installed as custodian not only of our hand luggage, but to a certain extent of our bank accounts and persons for some days, that he urged upon the governor the advisability of our at once proceeding to Cancale, or Cancale speciale, as he insisted on calling it. I immediately added my own voice to his pleadings, arguing that Cancale must certainly be on the sea. That, from my recollection of numerous water-colors and black-and-whites labeled in the catalogue, "Coast near Cancale," and the like, I was sure there must be the customary fish-girls, with shrimp-nets carried gracefully over one shoulder, to say nothing of brawny-chested fishermen with flat, rimless caps, having the usual little round button on top.
The governor, however, was obdurate. He had a way of being obdurate when anything irritated him, and Baeader began to be one of these things. Cancale might be all very well for me, but how about the hotel for him, who had nothing to do, no pictures to paint? He had passed that time in his life when he could sleep under a boat with water pouring down the back of his neck through a tarpaulin full of holes.
"The hotel, messieurs! Imagine! Is it posseeble that monsieur imagine for one moment that Baeader would arrange such annoyances? I remember ze hotel quite easily. It is not like, of course, ze Grand Hotel of Paris, but it is simple, clean, ze cuisine superb, and ze apartment fine and hospitable. Remembare it is Baeader."
"And the baths?" broke out the governor savagely.
Baeader's face was a study; a pained, deprecating expression passed over it as he uncovered his head, his glazed headpiece glistening in the sun.
"Baths, monsieur—and ze water of ze sea everywhere?"
These assurances of future comfort were not overburdened with details, but they served to satisfy and calm the governor, I pleading, meanwhile, that Baeader had always proved himself a man of resource, quite ready when required with either a meal or an answer.
So we started for Cancale.
On the way our courier grew more and more enthusiastic. We were traveling in a four-seated carriage, Baeader on the box, pointing out to us in English, after furtive conversations with the driver in French, the principal points of interest. With many flourishes he led us to Parame, one of those Normandy cities which consist of a huge hotel with enormous piazzas, a beach ten miles from the sea, and a small so-called fishing-village as a sort of marine attachment. To give a realistic touch, a lone boat is always being tarred somewhere down at the end of one of its toy streets, two or three donkey-carts and donkeys add an air of picturesqueness, and the usual number of children with red pails and shovels dig in the sand of the roadside. All the fish that are sold come from the next town. It was too early in the season when we reached there for girls in sabots and white caps, the tide from Paris not having set in. The governor hailed it with delight. "Why the devil didn't you tell me about this place before? Here we have been fooling away our time."
"But it is only Parame, monsieur," with an accent on the "only" and a lifting of the hands. "Cancale speciale will charm you; ze coast it is so immediately flat, and ze life of ze sea charmante. Nevare at Parame, always at Cancale." So we drove on. The governor pacified but anxious—only succumbing at my argument that Baeader knew all Normandy thoroughly, and that an old courier like him certainly could be trusted to select a hotel.
* * * * *
You all know the sudden dip from the rich, flat country of Normandy down the steep cliffs to the sea. Cancale is like the rest of it. The town itself stands on the brink of a swoop to the sands; the fishing-village proper, where the sea packs it solid in a great half-moon, with a light burning on one end that on clear nights can be seen as far as Mme. Poulard's cozy dining-room at St. Michel.
One glimpse of this sea-burst tumbled me out of the carriage, sketch-trap in hand. Baeader and the governor kept on. If the latter noticed the discrepancy between Baeader's description of the country and the actual topography, no word fell from him at the moment of departure.
From my aerie, as I worked under my white umbrella below the cliff, I could distinctly make out our traveling-carriage several hundred feet below and a mile away, crawling along a road of white tape with a green selvage of trees, the governor's glazed trunk flashing behind, Baeader's silk hat burning in front. Then the little insect stopped at a white spot backed by dots of green; a small speck broke away, and was swallowed up for a few minutes in the white dot,—doubtless Baeader to parley for rooms,—and then to my astonishment the whole insect turned and began crawling back again, growing larger every minute. All this occurred before I had half finished my outline or opened my color-box. Instantly the truth dawned upon me,—the governor was going back to Parame. An hour, perhaps, had elapsed when Baeader, with uncovered head and beaded with perspiration, the two locks of hair hanging limp and straight, stood before me.
"What was the matter with the governor, Baeader? No hotel after all?"
"On the contraire, pardonnez-moi, monsieur, a most excellent hotel, simple and quite of ze people, and with many patrons. Even at ze moment of arrival a most distinguished artist, a painter of ze Salon, was with his cognac upon a table at ze entrance."
"No bath, perhaps," I remarked casually, still absorbed in my work, and with my mind at rest, now that Baeader remained with me.
"On the contraire, monsieur, les bains are most excellent—primitive, of course, simple, and quite of ze people. But, monsieur le gouverneur is no more young. When one is no more young,"—with a deprecating shrug,—"parbleu, it is imposseeble to enjoy everything. Monsieur le gouverneur, I do assure you, make ze conclusion most regretfully to return to Parame."
I learned the next morning that he evinced every desire to drown Baeader in the surf for bringing him to such an inn, and was restrained only by the knowledge that I should miss his protection during my one night in Cancale.
"Moreover, it is ze grande fete to-night—ze fete of ze Republique. Zare are fireworks and illumination and music by ze municipality. It is simple, but quite of ze people. It is for zis reason that I made ze effort special with monsieur le gouverneur to remain with you. Ah! it is you, monsieur, who are so robust, so enthusiastic, so appreciative."
Here Baeader put on his hat, and I closed my sketch-trap.
"But monsieur has not yet dined," he said as we walked, "nor even at his hotel arrived. Ze inn of Mme. Flamand is so very far away, and ze ascent up ze cliffs difficile. If monsieur will be so good, zare is a cafe near by where it is quite posseeble to dine."
Relieved of the governor's constant watchfulness Baeader became himself. He bustled about the restaurant, called for "Cancale speciale," a variety of oysters apparently entirely unknown to the landlord, and interviewed the chef himself. In a few moments a table was spread in a corner of the porch overlooking a garden gay with hollyhocks, and a dinner was ordered of broiled chicken, French rolls, some radishes, half a dozen apricots, and a fragment of cheese. When it was over,—Baeader had been served in an adjoining apartment,—there remained not the amount mentioned in a former out-of-door feast, but sufficient to pack at least one basket,—in this case a paper box,—the drumsticks being stowed below, dunnaged by two rolls, and battened down with fragments of cheese and three apricots.
"What's this for, Baeader? Have you not had enough to eat?"
Baeader's face wore its blandest smile. "On ze contraire, I have made for myself a most excellent repast; but if monsieur will consider—ze dinner is a prix fixe, and monsieur can eat it all, or it shall remain for ze proprietaire. Zis, if monsieur will for one moment attend, will be stupid extraordinaire. I have made ze investigation, and discover zat ze post depart from Cancale in one hour. How simple zen to affeex ze stamps,—only five sous,—and in ze morning, even before Mme. Baeader is out of ze bed, it is in Paris—a souvenir from Cancale. How charmante ze surprise!"
I discovered afterward that since he had joined us Baeader's own domestic larder had been almost daily enriched with crumbs like these from Dives's table.
The fete, despite Baeader's assurances, lacked one necessary feature. There was no music. The band was away with the boats, the triangle probably cooking, the French horn and clarinet hauling seines.
But Baeader, not to be outdone by any contretemps, started off to find an old blind fellow who played an accordeon, collecting five francs of me in advance for his pay, under the plea that it was quite horrible that the young people could not dance. "While one is young, monsieur, music is ze life of ze heart."
He brought the old man back, and with a certain care and tenderness set him down on a stone bench, the sightless eyes of the poor peasant turning up to the stars as he swayed the primitive instrument back and forth. The young girls clung to Baeader's arm, and blessed him for his goodness. I forgave him his duplicity, his delight in their happiness was so genuine. Perhaps it was even better than a fete.
When, later in the evening, we arrived at Mme. Flamand's, we found her in the doorway, her brown face smiling, her white cap and apron in full relief under the glare of an old-fashioned ship's light, which hung from a rafter of the porch. Baeader inscribed my name in a much-thumbed, ink—stained register, which looked like a neglected ship's log, and then added his own. This, by the by, Baeader never neglected. Neither did he neglect a certain little ceremony always connected with it.
After it was all over and "Moritz Baeader Courrier et Interprete" was duly inscribed,—and in justice it must be confessed it was always clearly written with a flourish at the end that lent it additional dignity,—Baeader would pause for a moment, carefully balance the pen, trying it first on his thumb-nail, and then place two little dots of ink over the first a, saying, with a certain wave of his hand, as he did so, "For ze honor of my families, monsieur." This peculiarity gained for him from the governor the sobriquet of "old fly-specks."
The inn of Mme. Flamand, although less pretentious than many others that had sheltered us, was clean and comfortable, the lower deck and companionway were freshly sanded,—the whole house had a decidedly nautical air about it,—and the captain's state-room on the upper deck, a second-floor room, was large and well-lighted, although the ceiling might have been a trifle too low for the governor, and the bed a few inches too short.
I ascended to the upper deck, preceded by the hostess carrying the ship's lantern, now that the last guest had been housed for the night. Baeader followed with a brass candlestick and a tallow dip about the size of a lead pencil. With the swinging open of the bedroom door, I made a mental inventory of all the conveniences: bed, two pillows, plenty of windows, washstand, towels. Then the all-important question recurred to me, Where had they hidden the portable tub?
I opened the door of the locker, looked behind a sea-chest, then out of one window, expecting to see the green-painted luxury hanging by a hook or drying on a convenient roof. In some surprise I said:—
"And the bath, Baeader?"
"Does monsieur expect to bathe at ze night?" inquired Baeader with a lifting of his eyebrows, his face expressing a certain alarm for my safety.
"No, certainly not; but to-morrow, when I get up."
"Ah, to-morrow!" with a sigh of relief. "I do assure you, monsieur, zat it will be complete. At ze moment of ze deflexion of monsieur le gouverneur zare was not ze time. Of course it is imposseeble in Cancale to have ze grand bain of Paris, but then zare is still something,—a bath quite special, simple, and of ze people. Remember, monsieur, it is Baeader."
And so, with a cheery "Bon soir" from madame, and a profound bow from Baeader, I fell asleep.
The next morning I was awakened by a rumbling in the lower hold, as if the cargo was being shifted. Then came a noise like the moving of heavy barrels on the upper deck forward of the companionway. The next instant my door was burst open, and in stalked two brawny, big-armed fish-girls, yarn-stockinged to their knees, and with white sabots and caps. They were trundling the lower half of a huge hogshead.
"Pour le bain, monsieur," they both called out, bursting into laughter, as they rolled the mammoth tub behind my bed, grounded it with a revolving whirl, as a juggler would spin a plate, and disappeared, slamming the door behind them, their merriment growing fainter as they dropped down the companionway.
I peered over the head-board, and discovered the larger half of an enormous storage-barrel used for packing fish, with fresh saw-marks indenting its upper rim. Then I shouted for Baeader.
Before anybody answered, there came another onslaught, and in burst the same girls, carrying a great iron beach-kettle filled with water. This, with renewed fits of laughter, they dashed into the tub, and in a flash were off again, their wooden sabots clattering down the steps.
There was no mistaking the indications; Baeader's bath had arrived.
I climbed up, and, dropping in with both feet, avoiding the splinters and the nails, sat on the sawed edge, ready for total immersion. Before I could adjust myself to its conditions there came another rush along the companionway, accompanied by the same clatter of sabots and splashing of water. There was no time to reach the bed, and it was equally evident that I could not vault out and throw myself against the door. So I simply ducked down, held on, and shouted, in French, Normandy patois, English:—
"Don't come in! Don't open the door! Leave the water outside!" and the like. I might as well have ruined my throat on a Cancale lugger driving before a gale. In burst the door, and in swept the Amazons, letting go another kettleful, this time over my upper half, my lower half being squeezed down into the tub.
When the girls had emptied the contents of this last kettle over the edge, and caught sight of my face,—they evidently thought I was still behind the head-board,—both gave one prolonged shriek that literally roused the house. The brawnier of the two,—a magnificent creature, with her corsets outside of her dress,—after holding her sides with laughter until I thought she would suffocate, sank upon the sea-chest, from which her companion rescued her just as Mme. Flamand and Baeader opened the door. All this time my chin was resting on the jagged rim of the tub, and my teeth were chattering.
"Baeader, where in thunder have you been? Drag that chest against that door quick, and come in. Is this what you call a bath?"
"Monsieur, if you will pardon. I arouse myself at ze daylight; I rely upon Mme. Flamand that ze Englishman who is dead had left one behind; I search everywhere. Zen I make inquiry of ze mother of ze two demoiselles who have just gone. She was much insulted; she make ze bad face. She say with much indignation: 'Monsieur, since I was a baby ze water has not touched my body.' At ze supreme moment, when all hope was gone, I discover near ze house of ze same madame this grand arrangement. Immediately I am on fire, and say to myself, 'Baeader, all is not lost. Even if zare was still ze bath of ze Englishman, it would not compare.' In ze quickness of an eye I bring a saw, and ze demoiselles are on zare knees making ze arrangement, one part big, one small. I say to myself, 'Baeader, monsieur is an artist, and of enthusiasm, and will appreciate zis utensile agreable of ze fisherman.' If monsieur will consider, it is, of course, not ze grand bain of Paris, but it is simple, and quite of ze people."
* * * * *
Some two months later, the governor and I happened to be strolling through the flower-market of the Madeleine. He had been selecting plants for the windows of his apartment, and needed a reliable man to arrange them in suitable boxes.
"That fellow Baeader lives down here somewhere; perhaps he might know of some one," he said, consulting his notebook. "Yes; No. 21 Rue Chambord. Let us look him up."
In five minutes we stood before a small, two-story house, with its door and wide basement-window protected by an awning. Beneath this, upon low shelves, was arranged a collection of wicker baskets, containing the several varieties of oysters from Normandy and Brittany coasts greatly beloved by Parisian epicures of Paris. On the top of each lid lay a tin sign bearing the name of the exact locality from which each toothsome bivalve was supposed to be shipped. These signs were all of one size.
The governor is a great lover of oysters, especially his own Chesapeakes, and his eye ran rapidly over the tempting exhibit as he read aloud, perhaps, unconsciously, to himself, the several labels: "Dinard, Parame, Dieppe petite, Cancale speciale." Then a new light seemed to break in upon him.
"Dieppe petite, Cancale speciale,"—here his face was a study,—"why, that's what Baeader always called Cancale. By thunder! I believe that's where that fellow got his names. I don't believe the rascal was ever in Normandy in his life until I took him. Here, landlord!" A small shop-keeper, wearing an apron, ran out smiling, uncovering the baskets as he approached. "Do you happen to know a courier by the name of Baeader?"
"Never as courier, messieurs—always as commissionaire; he sells wood and charcoal to ze hotels. See! zare is his sign."
"Where does he live?"
THE LADY OF LUCERNE
Above the Schweizerhof Hotel, and at the end of the long walk fronting the lake at Lucerne,—the walk studded with the round, dumpy, Noah's-ark trees,—stands a great building surrounded by flowers and palms, and at night ablaze with hundreds of lamps hung in festoons of blue, yellow, and red. This is the Casino. On each side of the wide entrance is a bill-board, announcing that some world-renowned Tyrolean warbler, famous acrobat, or marvelous juggler will sing or tumble or bewilder, the price of admission remaining the same, despite the enormous sum paid for the appearance of the performer.
Inside this everybody's club is a cafe, with hurrying waiters and a solid brass band, and opening from its smoke and absinthe laden interior blazes a small theatre, with stage footlights and scenery, where the several world-renowned artists redeem at a very considerable discount the promissory notes of the bill-boards outside.
During the performance the audience smoke and sip. Between the acts most of them swarm out into the adjacent corridors leading to the gaming-rooms,—licensed rooms these, with toy-horses ridden by tin jockeys, and another equally delusive and tempting device of the devil—a game of tipsy marbles, rolling about in search of sunken saucers emblazoned with the arms of the nations of the earth. These whirligigs of amateur crime are constantly surrounded by eager-eyed men and women, who try their luck for the amusement of the moment, or by broken-down, seedy gamblers, hazarding their last coin for a turn of fortune. Now and then, too, some sweet-faced girl, her arm in her father's, wins a louis with a franc, her childish laughter ringing out in the stifling atmosphere.
* * * * *
The Tyrolean warbler had just finished her high-keyed falsetto, bowing backward in her short skirts and stout shoes with silver buckles, and I had just reached the long corridor on my way to the garden, to escape the blare and pound of the band, when a man leaned out of a half-opened door and touched my shoulder.
"Pardon, monsieur. May I speak to you a moment?"
He was a short, thick-set, smooth-shaven, greasy man, dressed plainly in black, with a huge emerald pin in his shirt front. I have never had any particular use for a man with an emerald pin in his shirt front.
"There will be a game of baccarat," he continued in a low voice, his eyes glancing about furtively, "at eleven o'clock precisely. Knock twice at this door."
Old habitues of Lucerne—habitues of years, men who never cross the Alps without at least a day's stroll under the Noah's-ark trees,—will tell you over their coffee that since the opening of the St. Gotthard Tunnel this half-way house of Lucerne—this oasis between Paris and Rome—has sheltered most of the adventurers of Europe; that under these same trees, and on these very benches, nihilists have sat and plotted, refugees and outlaws have talked in whispers, and adventuresses, with jeweled stilettos tucked in their bosoms, have lain in wait for fresher victims.
I had never in my wanderings met any of these mysterious and delightful people. And, strange to say, I had never seen a game of baccarat. This might be my opportunity. I would see the game and perhaps run across some of these curious individuals. I consulted my watch; there was half an hour yet. The man was a runner, of course, for this underground, unlicensed gaming-house, who had picked me out as a possible victim.
When the moment arrived I knocked at the door.
It was opened, not by the greasy Jack-in-the-box with the emerald pin, but by a deferential old man, who looked at me for a moment, holding the door with his foot. Then gently closing it, he preceded me across a hall and up a long staircase. At the top was a passageway and another door, and behind this a large room paneled in dark wood. On one side of this apartment was a high desk. Here sat the cashier counting money, and arranging little piles of chips of various colors. In the centre stood a table covered with black cloth: I had always supposed such tables to be green. About it were seated ten people, the croupier in the middle. The game had already begun. I moved up a chair, saying that I would look on, but not play.
Had the occasion been a clinic, the game a corpse, and the croupier the operating surgeon, the group about the table could not have been more absorbed or more silent; a cold, death-like, ominous stillness that seemed to saturate the very air. The only sounds were the occasional clickings of the ivory chips, like the chattering of teeth, and the monotones of the croupier announcing the results of the play:—
"Faites vos jeux. Le jeu est fait; rien ne va plus."
I began to study the personnel of this clinic of chance.
Two Englishmen in evening dress sat side by side, never speaking, scarcely moving, their eyes riveted on the falling cards flipped from the croupier's hands. A coarse-featured, oily-skinned woman—a Russian, I thought—looked on calmly, resting her head on her palm. A man in a gray suit, with waxy face and watery, yellow eyes, made paper pills, rolling them slowly between thumb and forefinger—his features as immobile as a death-mask. A blue-eyed, blond German officer, with a decoration on the lapel of his coat, nonchalantly twirled his mustache, his shoulders straining in tension. A Parisienne, with bleached hair and penciled eyebrows, leaned over her companion's arm. There was also a flashily dressed negro, evidently a Haytian, who sat motionless at the far end, as stolid as a boiler, only the steam-gauge of his eyes denoting the pressure beneath.
No one spoke, no one laughed.
Two of the group interested me at once,—the croupier and a woman who sat within three feet of me.
The croupier, who was in evening dress, might have been of any age from thirty to fifty. His eyes were deep-set and glassy, like those of a consumptive. His hair was jet-black, his face clean-shaven; the skin, not ivory, but a dirty white, and flabby, like the belly of a toad. His thin and bloodless lips were flattened over a row of pure white teeth with glistening specks of gold that opened when he smiled; closing again slowly like an automaton's. His shrunken, colorless hands lay on the black cloth like huge white spiders; their long, thin legs of fingers turned up at the tips—stealthy, creeping fingers. Sometimes, too, in their nervous workings, they drooped together like a bunch of skeleton keys. On one of these lock picks he wore a ring studded alternately with diamonds and rubies.
The cards seemed to know these fingers, fluttering about them, or lighting noiselessly at their bidding on the cloth.
When the bank won, the croupier permitted a slight shade of disappointment to flash over his face, fading into an expression of apology for taking the stakes. When the bank lost, the lips parted slowly, showing the teeth, in a half smile. Such delicate outward consideration for the feelings of his victims seemed a part of his education, an index to his natural refinement.
The woman was of another type. Although she sat with her back to me, I could catch her profile when she pushed her long veil from her face. She was dressed entirely in black. She had been, and was still, a woman of marked beauty, with an air of high breeding which was unmistakable. Her features were clean-cut and refined, her mouth and nose delicately shaped. Her forehead was shaded by waves of brown hair which half covered her ears. The eyes were large and softened by long lashes, the lids red as if with recent weeping. Her only ornament was a plain gold ring, worn on her left hand. Outwardly, she was the only person in the room who betrayed by her manner any vital interest in the game.
There are some faces that once seen haunt you forever afterward—faces with masks so thinly worn that you look through into the heart below. Hers was one of these. Every light and shadow of hope and disappointment that crossed it showed only the clearer the intensity of her mental strain, and the bitterness of her anxiety.
Once when she lost she bit her lips so deeply that a speck of blood tinged her handkerchief. The next instant she was clutching her winnings with almost the ferocity of a hungry animal. Then she leaned back a moment later exhausted in her chair, her face thrown up, her eyes closing wearily.
In her hand she held a small chamois bag filled with gold; when her chips were exhausted she would rise silently, float like a shadow to the desk, lay a handful of gold from the bag upon the counter, sweep the ivories into her hand, and noiselessly regain her seat. She seemed to know no one, and no one to know her, unless it might have been the croupier, who, I thought, watched her closely when he pushed over her winnings, parting his lips a little wider, his smile a trifle more cringing and devilish.
At twelve o'clock she was still playing, her face like chalk, her eyes bloodshot, her teeth clenched fast, her hair disheveled across her face.
The game went on.
When the clock reached the half-hour the man in gray pushed back his chair, gathered up his winnings, and moved to the door, an attendant handing him his hat. With the exception of the Parisienne, who had gone some time before, taking her companion with her, the devotees were the same,—the two Englishmen still exchanging clean, white Bank of England notes, the German and Haytian losing, but calm as mummies, the fat, oily woman, melting like a red candle, the perspiration streaming down her face.
Suddenly I heard a convulsive gasp. The woman in black was on her feet leaning over the table. Her eyes blazed in a frenzy of delight. She was sweeping into her open hands the piles of gold before her. By some marvelous stroke of luck, and with almost her last louis, she had won every franc on the cloth!
Then she drew herself up defiantly, covered her face with her veil, hugged the money to her breast, and staggered from the room.
So deep an impression had the gambling scene of the night before made upon me that the next morning I loitered under the Noah's-ark trees, hoping I might identify the woman, and in some impossible, improbable way know more of her history. I even lounged into the Casino, tried the door at which I had knocked the night before, and, finding it locked and the scrubwoman suspicious, strolled out carelessly into the garden, and, sitting down under the palms, tried to pick out the windows that opened into the gaming-room. But they were all alike, with pots of flowers blooming in each.
Still burdened with these memories, I entered the church,—the old church with square towers and deep-receding entrance, that stands on the crest of a steep hill overlooking the Casino, and within a short distance of the Noah's-ark trees. Every afternoon, near the hour of twilight, when the shadows reach down Mount Pilatus, and the mists gather in the valley, a broken procession of strollers, in twos and threes and larger groups, slowly climb its path. They are on their way to hear the great organ played.
The audience was already seated. It was at the moment of that profound hush which precedes the recital. Even my footfall, light as it was, reechoed to the groined arches. The church was ghostly dark,—so dark that the hundreds of heads melted into the mass of pews, and they into the gloom of column and wall. The only distinguishable gleam was the soft glow of the dying day struggling through the lower panes of the dust-begrimed windows. Against these hung long chains holding unlighted lamps.
I felt my way to an empty pew on a side aisle, and sat down. The silence continued. Now and again there was a slight cough, instantly checked. Once a child dropped a book, the echoes lasting apparently for minutes. The darkness became almost black night. Only the clean, new panes of glass used in repairing some break in the begrimed windows showed clear. These seemed to hang out like small square lanterns.
Suddenly I was aware that the stillness was broken by a sound faint as a sigh, delicate as the first breath of a storm. Then came a great sweep growing louder, the sweep of deep thunder tones with the roar of the tempest, the rush of the mighty rain, the fury of the avalanche, the voices of the birds singing in the sunlight, the gurgle of the brooks, and the soft cadence of the angelus calling the peasants to prayers. Then, a pause and another burst of melody, ending in profound silence, as if the door of heaven had been opened and as quickly shut. Then a clear voice springing into life, singing like a lark, rising, swelling—up—up—filling the church—the roof—the sky! Then the heavenly door thrown wide, and the melody pouring out in a torrent, drowning the voice. Then above it all, while I sat quivering, there soared like a bird in the air, singing as it flew, one great, superb, vibrating, resolute note, pure, clear, full, sensuous, untrammeled, dominating the heavens: not human, not divine; like no woman's, like no man's, like no angel's ever dreamed of,—the vox humana.
It did not awaken in me any feeling of reverence or religious ecstasy. I only remember that the music took possession of my soul. That beneath and through it all I felt the vibrations of all the tragic things that come to men and women in their lives. Scenes from out an irrelevant past swept across my mind. I heard again the long winding note of the bugle echoing through the pines, the dead in uneven rows, the moon lighting their faces. I caught once more the cry of the girl my friend loved, he who died and never knew. I saw the quick plunge of the strong swimmer, white arms clinging to his neck, and heard once more that joyous shout from a hundred throats. And I could still hear the hoarse voice of the captain with drenched book and flickering lantern, and shivered again as I caught the dull splash of the sheeted body dropping into the sea.
The vox humana stopped, not gradually, but abruptly, as if the heart had broken and its life had gone out in the one supreme effort. Then silence,—a silence so profound that a low sob from the pew across the aisle startled me. I strained my eyes, and caught the outlines of a woman heavily veiled. I could see, too, a child beside her, his head on her shoulder. The boy was bare-headed, his curls splashed over her black dress. Then another sob, half smothered, as if the woman were strangling.
No other sound broke the stillness; only the feeling everywhere of pent-up, smothered sighs.
In this intense moment a faint footfall was heard approaching from the church door, walking in the gloom. It proved to be that of an old man, bent and trembling. He came slowly down the sombre church, with unsteady, shambling gait, holding in one hand a burning taper,—a mere speck. In the other he carried a rude lantern, its wavering light hovering about his feet. As he passed in his long brown cloak, the swaying light encircled his white beard and hair with a fluffy halo. He moved slowly, the spark he carried no larger than a firefly. The sacristan had come to light the candles.
He stopped half way down the middle aisle, opposite a pew, the faint flush of his lantern falling on the nearest upturned face. A long thin candle was fastened to this pew. The firefly of a taper, held aloft in his trembling hand, flickered uncertainly like a moth, and rested on the top of this candle. Then the wick kindled and burned. As its rays felt their way over the vast interior, struggling up into the dark roof, reaching the gilded ornaments on the side altar enshrouded in gloom, glinting on the silver of the hanging lamps, a plaintive note fluttered softly, swelled into an ecstasy of sound, and was lost in a chorus of angel voices.
The sacristan moved down the aisle, kindled two other candles on the distant altar, and was lost in the shadows.
The woman in the pew across the aisle bent forward, resting her head on the back of the seat in front, drawing the child to her. The boy cuddled closer. As she turned, a spark of light trickled down her cheek. I caught sight of the falling tear, but could not see the face.
The music ceased; the last anthem had been played; a gas-jet flared in the organ-loft; the people began to rise from their seats. The sacristan appeared again from behind the altar, and walked slowly down the side aisle, carrying only his lantern. As he neared my seat the woman stood erect, and passed out of the pew, her hand caressing the child. Surely I could not be mistaken about that movement, the slow, undulating, rhythmic walk, the floating shadow of the night before. Certainly not with the light of the sacristan's lantern now full on her face. Yes: the same finely chiseled features, the same waves of brown hair, the same eyes, the same drooping eyelids, like blossoms wet with dew! At last I had found her.
I walked behind,—so close that I could have laid my hand on her boy's head, or touched her hand as it lay buried in his curls. The old, bent sacristan stepped in front, swinging his lantern, the ghostly shadows wavering about his feet. Then he halted to let the crowd clear the main aisle.
As he stood still, the woman drew suddenly back as if stunned by a blow, clutched the boy to her side, and fixed her eyes on the lantern's ghostly shadows. I leaned over quickly. The glow of the rude lamp, with its squares of waving light flecking the stone flagging, traced in unmistakable outlines the form of a cross!
For some minutes she stood as if in a trance, her eyes fastened upon the floating shadow, her whole form trembling, bent, her body swaying. Only when the sacristan moved a few paces ahead to hold open the swinging door, and the shadow of the cross faded, did she awake from the spell.
Then, recovering herself slowly, she bowed reverently, crossed herself, drew the boy closer, and, with his hand in hers, passed out into the cool starlit night.
The following morning I was sitting under the Noah's-ark trees, watching the people pass and repass, when a man in a suit of white flannel, carrying a light cane, and wearing a straw hat with a red band, and a necktie to match, stopped a flower-girl immediately in front of me, and affixed an additional dot of blood-color to his buttonhole.
In the glare of the daylight he was even more yellow than when under the blaze of the gas-jets. His eyes were still glassy and brilliant, but the rims showed red, as if for want of sleep, and beneath the lower lids lay sunken half-circles of black. He moved with his wonted precision, but without that extreme gravity of manner which had characterized him the night of the game. Looked at as a mere passer-by, he would have impressed you as a rather debonair, overdressed habitue, who was enjoying his morning stroll under the trees, without other purpose in life than the breathing of the cool air and enjoyment of the attendant exercise. His spider-ship had doubtless seen me when he entered the walk,—I was still an untrapped fly,—and had picked out this particular flower-girl beside me as a safe anchorage for one end of his web. I turned away my head; but it was too late.
"Monsieur did not play last night?" the croupier asked deferentially.
"No; I did not know the game." Then an idea struck me. "Sit down; I want to talk to you." He touched the edge of his hat with one finger, opened a gold cigarette-case studded with jewels, offered me its contents, and took the seat beside me.
"Pardon the abruptness of the inquiry, but who was the woman in black?" I asked.
He looked at me curiously.
"Ah, you mean madame with the bag?"
"She was once the Baroness Frontignac."
"Was once! What is she now?"
"Now? Ah, that is quite a story." He stopped, shut the gold case with a click, and leaned forward, flicking the pebbles with the point of his cane. "If madame had had a larger bag she might have broken the bank. Is it not so?"
"You know her, then?" I persisted.
"Monsieur, men of my profession know everybody. Sooner or later they all come to us—when they are young, and their francs have wings; when they are gray-haired and cautious; when they are old and foolish."
"But she did not look like a gambler," I replied stiffly.
He smiled his old cynical, treacherous smile.
"Monsieur is pleased to be very pronounced in his language. A gambler! Monsieur no doubt means to say that madame has not the appearance of being under the intoxication of the play." Then with a positive tone, still flicking the pebbles, "The baroness played for love."
"Of the cards?" I asked persistently. I was determined to drive the nail to the head.
The croupier looked at me fixedly, shrugged his shoulders, laughed between his teeth, a little, hissing laugh that sounded like escaping steam, and said slowly:—
"No; of a man."
Then, noticing my increasing interest, "Monsieur would know something of madame?"
He held up his hand, and began crooking one finger after another as he recounted her history. These bent keys, it seemed, unlocked secrets as well.
"Le voila! the drama of Madame la Baronne! The play opens when she is first a novice in the convent of Saint Ursula, devoted to good works and the church. Next you find her a grand dame and rich, the wife of Baron Alphonse de Frontignac, first secretary of legation at Vienna. Then a mother with one child,—a boy, now six or seven years old, who is hardly ever out of her arms." He stopped, toyed for a moment with his match-safe, slipped it into his pocket, and said carelessly, "So much for Act I."
Then, after a pause during which he traced again little diagrams in the gravel, he said suddenly:—
"Does this really interest you, monsieur?"
"You know her, then?" This with a glance of suspicion as keen as it was unexpected by me.
"Never saw her in my life before," I answered frankly, "and never shall again. I leave for Paris to-day, and sail from Havre on Saturday."
He drew in the point of his cane, looked me all over with one of those comprehensive sweeps of the eye, as if he would read my inmost thought, and then, with an expression of confidence born doubtless of my evident sincerity, continued:—
"In the next act Frontignac gets mixed up in some banking scandals,—he would, like a fool, play roulette—baccarat was always his strong game,—disappears from Vienna, is arrested at the frontier, escapes, and is found the next morning under a brush-heap with a bullet through his head. This ends the search. Two years later—this is now Act III.—Madame la Baronne, without a sou to her name, is hard at work in the hospitals of Metz. The child is pensioned out near by.
"Now comes the grand romance. An officer attached to the 13th Cuirassiers—a regiment with not men enough left after Metz to muster a company—is picked up for dead, with one arm torn off, and a sabre-slash over his head, and brought to her ward. She nurses him back to life, inch by inch, and in six months he joins his regiment. Now please follow the plot. It is quite interesting. Is it not easy to see what will happen? Tender and beautiful, young and brave! Vive le bel amour! It is the old story, but it is also une affaire de coeur—la grande passion. In a few months they are married, and he takes her to his home in Rouen. There he listens to her entreaties, and resigns his commission.
"This was five years ago. To-day he is a broken-down man, starving on his pension; a poor devil about the streets, instead of a general commanding a department; and all for love of her. Some, of course, said it was the sabre-cut; some that he could no longer hold his command, he was so badly slashed. But it is as I tell you. You can see him here any day, sitting under the trees, playing with the child, or along the lake front, leaning on her arm."
Here the croupier rose from the bench, looked critically over his case of cigarettes, selected one carefully, and began buttoning his coat as if to go.
By this time I had determined to know the end. I felt that he had told me the truth as far as he had gone; but I felt, also, that he had stopped at the most critical point of her career. I saw, too, that he was familiar with its details.
"Go on, please. Here, try a cigar." My interest in my heroine had even made me courteous. My aversion to him, too, was wearing off. Perhaps, after all, croupiers were no worse than other people. "Now, one thing more. Why was she in your gambling-house?"
He lighted the cigar, touched his hat with his forefinger, and again seated himself.
"Well, then, monsieur, as you will. I always trust you Americans. When you lose, you pay; when you win, you keep your mouths shut. Besides,"—this was spoken more to himself,—"you have never seen him, and never will. Le voila. One night,—this only a year ago, remember,—in one of the gardens at Baden, a hand touched the baroness's shoulder.
"It was Frontignac's.
"The body under the brush-heap had been that of another man dressed in Frontignac's clothes. The bullet-hole in his head was made by a ball from Frontignac's pistol. Since then he had been hiding in exile.
"He threatened exposure. She pleaded for her boy and her crippled husband. She could, of course, have handed him over to the nearest gendarme; but that meant arrest, and arrest meant exposure. At their home in Vienna, let me tell you, baccarat had been played nightly as a pastime for their guests. So great was her luck that 'As lucky as the Baronne Frontignac' was a byword. Frontignac's price was this: she must take his fifty louis and play that stake at the Casino that night; when she brought him ten thousand francs he would vanish.
"That night at Baden—I was dealing, and know—she won twelve thousand francs in as many minutes. Here her slavery began. It will continue until Frontignac is discovered and captured; then he will put a second bullet into his own head. When I saw her enter my room I knew he had turned up again. As she staggered out, one of my men shadowed her. I was right; Frontignac was skulking in the garden."
All my disgust for the croupier returned in an instant. He was still the same bloodless spider of the night before. I could hardly keep my hands off him.
"And you permit this, and let this woman suffer these tortures, her life made miserable by this scoundrel, when a word, even a look, from you would send him out of the country and"—
"Softly, monsieur, softly. Why blame me? What business is it of mine. Do I love the cripple? Have I robbed the bank and murdered my double? This is not my game; it is Frontignac's. Would you have me kick over his chess board?"
He was so ugly,—outside, I mean: long and lank, flat-chested, shrunken, round-shouldered, stooping when he walked; body like a plank, arms and legs like split rails, feet immense, hands like paddles, head set on a neck scrawny as a picked chicken's, hair badly put on and in patches, some about his head, some around his jaws, some under his chin in a half moon,—a good deal on the back of his hands and on his chest. Nature had hewn him in the rough and had left him with every axe mark showing.
He wore big shoes tied with deer hide strings and nondescript breeches that wrinkled along his knotted legs like old gun covers. These were patched and repatched with various hues and textures,—parts of another pair,—bits of a coat and fragments of tailor's cuttings. Sewed in their seat was half of a cobbler's apron,—for greater safety in sliding over ledges and logs, he would tell you. Next came a leather belt polished with use, and then a woolen shirt,—any kind of a shirt,—cross-barred or striped,—whatever the store had cheapest, and over that a waistcoat with a cotton back and some kind of a front, looking like a state map, it had so many colored patches. There was never any coat,—none that I remember. When he wore a coat he was another kind of a Jonathan,—a store-dealing Jonathan, or a church-going Jonathan, or a town-meeting Jonathan,—not the "go-a-fishin'," or "bee-huntin'," or "deer-stalkin'" Jonathan whom I knew.
There was a wide straw hat, too, that crowned his head and canted with the wind and flopped about his neck, and would have sailed away down many a mountain brook but for a faithful leather strap that lay buried in the half-moon whiskers and held on for dear life. And from under the rim of this thatch, and half hidden in the matted masses of badly adjusted hair, was a thin, peaked nose, bridged by a pair of big spectacles, and somewhere below these, again, a pitfall of a mouth covered with twigs of hair and an underbrush of beard, while deep-set in the whole tangle, like still pools reflecting the blue and white of the sweet heavens above, lay his eyes,—eyes that won you, kindly, twinkling, merry, trustful, and trusting eyes. Beneath these pools of light, way down below, way down where his heart beat warm, lived Jonathan.
I know a fruit in Mexico, delicious in flavor, called Timburici, covered by a skin as rough and hairy as a cocoanut; and a flower that bristles with thorns before it blooms into waxen beauty; and there are agates encrusted with clay and pearls that lie hidden in oysters. All these things, somehow, remind me of Jonathan.
His cabin was the last bit of shingle and brick chimney on that side of the Franconia Notch. There were others, farther on in the forest, with bark slants for shelter, and forked sticks for swinging kettles; but civilization ended with Jonathan's store-stove and the square of oil-cloth that covered his sitting-room floor. Upstairs, under the rafters, there was a guest-chamber smelling of pine boards and drying herbs, and sheltering a bed gridironed with bed-cord and softened by a thin layer of feathers encased in a ticking and covered with a cotton quilt. This bed always made a deep impression upon me mentally and bodily. Mentally, because I always slept so soundly in it whenever I visited Jonathan,—even with the rain pattering on the roof and the wind soughing through the big pine-trees; and bodily, because—well, because of the cords. Beside this bed was a chair for my candle, and on the floor a small square plank, laid loosely over the stovepipe hole which, in winter, held the pipe.
In summer mornings Jonathan made an alarm clock of this plank, flopping it about with the end of a fishing-rod poked up from below, never stopping until he saw my sleepy face peering down into his own. There was no bureau, only a nail or so in the scantling, and no washstand, of course; the tin basin at the well outside was better.
Then there was an old wife that lived in the cabin,—an old wife made of sole leather, with yellow-white hair and a thin, pinched face and a body all angles,—chest, arms, everywhere,—outlined through her straight up and down calico dress. When she spoke, however, you stopped to listen,—it was like a wood sound, low and far away,—soft as a bird call. People living alone in the forests often have these voices.
Last there was a dog,—a mean, sniveling, stump-tailed dog, of no particular breed or kidney. One of those dogs whose ancestry went to the bad many generations before he was born. A dog part fox,—he got all his slyness here; and part wolf, this made him ravenous; and part bull-terrier, this made him ill-tempered; and all the rest poodle, that made him too lazy to move.
The wife knew this dog, and hung the bacon on a high nail out of his reach, and covered with a big dish the pies cooling on the bench; and the neighbors down the road knew him and chased him out of their dairy-cellars when he nosed into the milk-pans and cheese-pots; and even the little children found out what a coward he was, and sent him howling home to his hole under the porch, where he grumbled and pouted all day like a spoiled child that had been half whipped. Everybody knew him, and everybody despised him for a low-down, thieving, lazy cur,—everybody except Jonathan. Jonathan loved him,—loved his weepy, smeary eyes, and his rough, black hair, and his fat round body, short stumpy legs, and shorter stumpy tail,—especially the tail. Everything else that the dog lacked could be traced back to the peccadillos of his ancestors,—Jonathan was responsible for the tail.
"Ketched in a b'ar-trap I hed sot up back in thet green timber on Loon Pond Maountin' six year ago last fall, when he wuz a pup," he would say, holding the dog in his lap,—his favorite seat. "I swan, ef it warn't too bad! Thinks I, when I sot it, I'll tell the leetle cuss whar it wuz; then—I must hev forgot it. It warn't a week afore he wuz runnin' a rabbet and run right into it. Wall, sir, them iron jaws took thet tail er his'n off julluk a knife. He's allus been kinder sore ag'in me sence, and I dunno but he's right, fur it wuz mighty keerless in me. Wall, sir, he come yowlin' hum, and when he see me he did look saour,—no use talkin',—jest ez ef he wuz a-sayin', 'Yer think you're paowerful cunnin' with yer b'ar-traps, don't ye? Jest see what it's done to my tail. It's kinder sp'ilt me for a dog.' All my fault, warn't it, George?" patting his head. (Only Jonathan would call a dog George.)
Here the dog would look up out of one eye as he spoke,—he hadn't forgotten the bear-trap, and never intended to let Jonathan forget it either. Then Jonathan would admire ruefully the end of the stump, stroking the dog all the while with his big, hairy, paddle-like hands, George rooting his head under the flap of the party-colored waistcoat.
One night, I remember, we had waited supper,—the wife and I,—we were obliged to wait, the trout being in Jonathan's creel,—when Jonathan walked in, looking tired and worried.
"Hez George come home, Marthy?" he asked, resting his long bamboo rod against the porch rail and handing the creel of trout to the wife. "No? Wall, I'm beat ef thet ain't cur'us. Guess I got ter look him up." And he disappeared hurriedly into the darkening forest, his anxious, whistling call growing fainter and fainter as he was lost in its depths. Marthy was not uneasy,—not about the dog; it was the supper that troubled her. She knew Jonathan's ways, and she knew George. This was a favorite trick of the dog's,—this of losing Jonathan.
The trout were about burnt to a crisp and the corn-bread stone cold when Jonathan came trudging back, George in his arms,—a limp, soggy, half-dead dog, apparently. Marthy said nothing. It was an old story. Half the time Jonathan carried him home.
"Supper's ready," she said quietly, and we went in.
George slid out of Jonathan's arms, smelt about for a soft plank, and fell in a heap on the porch, his chin on his paws, his mean little eyes watching lazily,—speaking to nobody, noticing nobody, sulking all to himself. There he stayed until he caught a whiff of the fragrant, pungent odor of fried trout. Then he cocked one eye and lifted an ear. He must not carry things too far. Next, I heard a single thump of his six-inch tail. George was beginning to get pleased; he always did when there were things to eat.
All this time Jonathan, tired out, sat in his big splint chair at the supper-table. He had been thrashing the brook since daylight,—over his knees sometimes. I could still see the high-water mark on his patched trousers. Another whiff of the frying-pan, and George got up. He dared not poke his nose into Marthy's lap,—there were too many chunks of wood within easy reach of her hand. So he sidled up to Jonathan, rubbing his nose against his big knees, whining hungrily, looking up into his face.
"I tell ye," said Jonathan, smiling at me, patting the dog as he spoke, "this yere George hez got more sense'n most men. He knows what's become of them trout we ketched. I guess he's gittin' over the way I treated him to-day. Ye see, we wuz up the East Branch when he run a fox south. Thinks I, the fox'll take a whirl back and cross the big runway; and, sure enough, it warn't long afore I heard George a-comin' back, yippin' along up through Hank Simons' holler. So I whistled to him and steered off up onto the maountin' to take a look at Bog-eddy and try and git a pickerel. When I come daown ag'in, I see George warn't whar I left him, so I hollered and whistled ag'in. Then, thinks I, you're mad 'cause I left ye, an' won't let on ye kin hear; so I come along hum without him. When I went back a while ago a-lookin' for him, would yer believe it, thar he wuz a-layin' in the road, about forty rod this side of Hank Simons' sugar maples, flat onto his stummick an' disgusted an' put out awful. It wuz about all I could do ter git him hum. I knowed the minute I come in fust time an' see he warn't here thet his feelin's wuz hurt 'cause I left him. I presaume mebbe I oughter hollered ag'in afore I got so fer off. Then I thought, of course, he knowed I'd gone to Bog-eddy. Beats all, what sense some dogs hez."
I never knew Jonathan to lose patience with George but once: that was when the dog tried to burrow into the hole of a pair of chipmunks whom Jonathan loved. They lived in a tree blanketed with moss and lying across the wood road. George had tried to scrape an acquaintance by crawling in uninvited, nearly scaring the little fellows to death, and Jonathan had flattened him into the dry leaves with his big, paddle-like hands. That was before the bear-trap had nipped his tail, but George never forgot it.
He was particularly polite to chipmunks after that. He would lie still by the hour and hear Jonathan talk to them without even a whine of discontent. I watched the old man one morning up beneath the ledges, groping, on his hands and knees, filling his pockets with nuts, and when he reached the wood road, emptying them in a pile near the chipmunk's tree, George looking on good-naturedly.
"Guess you leetle cunnin's better hurry up," he said, while he poured out the nuts on the ground, his knees sticking up as he sat, like some huge grasshopper's. "Guess ye ain't got more 'n time to fill yer cubbud,—winter's a-comin'! Them leetle birches on Bog-eddy is turnin' yeller,—that's the fust sign. 'Fore ye knows it snow'll be flyin'. Then whar'll ye be with everything froze tighter'n Sampson bound the heathen, you cunnin' leetle skitterin' pups. Then I presaume likely ye'll come a-drulin' raound an' want me an' George should gin ye suthin to git through th' winter on,—won't they, George?"
"Beats all," he said to me that night, "how thoughtful some dogs is. Hadn't been fer George to-day, I'd clean forgot them leetle folks. I see him scratching raound in the leaves an' I knowed right away what he wuz thinkin' of."
Often when I was sketching in the dense forest, Jonathan would lie down beside me, the old flop of a hat under his head, his talk rambling on.
"I don't wonder ye like to paint 'em. Thar hain't nothin' so human as trees. Take thet big hemlock right in front er yer. Hain't he led a pretty decent life? See how praoud an' tall he's growed, with them arms of his'n straight aout an' them leetle chillen of his'n spraouting up raound him. I tell ye them hemlocks is pretty decent people. Now take a look at them two white birches down by thet big rock. Ain't it a shame the way them fellers hez been goin' on sence they wuz leetle saplin's, makin' it so nothin' could grow raound 'em,—with their jackets all ragged an' tore like tramps, an' their toes all out of their shoes whar ther roots is stickin' clear of the bark,—ain't they a-ketchin' it in their ole age? An' then foller on daown whar thet leetle bunch er silver maples is dancin' in the sunlight, so slender an' cunnin',—all aout in their summer dresses, julluk a bevy er young gals,—ain't they human like? I tell ye, trees is the humanest things thet is."
These talks with me made George restless. He was never happy unless Jonathan had him on his mind.
But it was a cluster of daisies that first lifted the inner lid of Jonathan's heart for me. I was away up the side of the Notch overlooking the valley, my easel and canvas lashed to a tree, the wind blew so, when Jonathan came toiling up the slope, a precipice in fact, with a tin can strapped to his back, filled with hot corn and some doughnuts, and threw himself beside me, the sweat running down his weather-tanned neck.
"So long ez we know whar you're settin' at work it ain't nat'ral to let ye starve, be it?" throwing himself beside me. George had started ahead of him and had been picked up and carried as usual.
When Jonathan sat upright, after a breathing spell, his eye fell on a tuft of limp, bruised daisies, flattened to the earth by the heel of his clumsy shoe. There were acres of others in sight.
"Gosh hang!" he said, catching his breath suddenly, as if something had stung him, and reaching down with his horny, bent fingers, "ef thet ain't too bad." Then to himself in a tone barely audible,—he had entirely forgotten my presence,—"You never had no sense, Jonathan, nohow, stumblin' raound like er bull calf tramplin' everything. Jes' see what ye've gone an' done with them big feet er yourn," bending over the bruised plant and tenderly adjusting the leaves. "Them daisies hez got jest ez good a right ter live ez you hev."
* * * * *
I was almost sure when I began that I had a story to tell. I had thought of that one about Luke Pollard,—the day Luke broke his leg behind Loon Mountain, and Jonathan carried him down the gorge on his back, crossing ledges that would have scared a goat. It was snowing at the time, they said, and blowing a gale. When they got half way down White Face, Jonathan's foot slipped and he fell into the ravine, breaking his wrist. Only the drifts saved his life. Luke caught a sapling and held on. The doctor set Jonathan's wrist last, and Luke never knew it had been broken until the next day. It is one of the stories they tell you around the stove winter evenings.
"Julluk the night Jonathan carried aout Luke," they say, listening to the wind howling over the ledges.
And then I thought of that other story that Hank Simons told me,—the one about the mill back of Woodstock caving in from the freshet and burying the miller's girl. No one dared lift the timbers until Jonathan crawled in. The child was pinned down between the beams, and the water rose so fast they feared the wreckage would sweep the mill. Jonathan clung to the sills waist-deep in the torrent, crept under the floor timbers, and then bracing his back held the beam until he dragged her clear. It happened a good many years ago, but Hank always claimed it had bent Jonathan's back.
But, after all, they are not the things I love best to remember of Jonathan.
It is always the old man's voice, crooning his tuneless song as he trudges home in the twilight, his well-filled creel at his side,—the good-for-nothing dog in his arms; or it is that look of sweet contentment on his face,—the deep and thoughtful eyes, filled with the calm serenity of his soul. And then the ease and freedom of his life! Plenty of air and space, and plenty of time to breathe and move! Having nothing, possessing all things! No bonds to guard,—no cares to stifle,—no trains to catch,—no appointments to keep,—no fashions to follow,—no follies to shun! Only the old wife and worthless, lazy dog, and the rod and the creel! Only the blessed sunshine and fresh, sweet air, and the cool touch of deep woods.
No, there is no story—only Jonathan.
ALONG THE BRONX
Hidden in our memories there are quaint, quiet nooks tucked away at the end of leafy lanes; still streams overhung with feathery foliage; gray rocks lichen-covered; low-ground meadows, knee-deep in lush grass; restful, lazy lakes dotted with pond-lilies; great, wide-spreading trees, their arms uplifted in song, their leaves quivering with the melody.
I say there are all these delights of leaf, moss, ripple, and shade stored away somewhere in our memories,—dry bulbs of a preceding summer's bloom, that need only the first touch of spring, the first glorious day in June, to break out into flower. When they do break out, they are generally chilled in the blooming by the thousand and one difficulties of prolonged travel, time of getting there and time of getting back again, expense, and lack of accommodations.
If you live in New York—and really you should not live anywhere else!—there are a few buttons a tired man can touch that will revive for him all these delights in half an hour's walk, costing but a car-fare, and robbing no man or woman of time, even without the benefits of the eight-hour law.
You touch one of these buttons when you plan to spend an afternoon along the Bronx.
There are other buttons, of course. You can call up the edges of the Palisades, with their great sweep of river below, the seething, steaming city beyond; or, you can say "Hello!" to the Upper Harlem, with its house-boats and floating restaurants; or you can ring up Westchester and its picturesque waterline. But you cannot get them all together in half an hour except in one place, and that is along the Bronx.
The Bronx is the forgotten, the overlooked, the "disremembered," as the provincial puts it. Somebody may know where it begins—I do not. I only know where it ends. What its early life may be, away up near White Plains, what farms it waters, what dairies it cools, what herds it refreshes, I know not. I only know that when I get off at Woodlawn—that City of the Silent—it comes down from somewhere up above the railroad station, and that it "takes a header," as the boys say, under an old mill, abandoned long since, and then, like another idler, goes singing along through open meadows, and around big trees in clumps, their roots washed bare, and then over sandy stretches reflecting the flurries of yellow butterflies, and then around a great hill, and so on down to Laguerre's.
Of course, when it gets to Laguerre's I know all about it. I know the old rotting landing-wharf where Monsieur moors his boats,—the one with the little seat is still there; and Lucette's big eyes are just as brown, and her hair just as black, and her stockings and slippers just as dainty on Sundays as when first I knew her. And the wooden bench is still there, where the lovers used to sit; only Monsieur, her father, tells me that Francois works very late in the big city,—three mouths to feed now, you see,—and only when le petit Francois is tucked away in his crib in the long summer nights, and Lucette has washed the dishes and put on her best apron, and the Bronx stops still in a quiet pool to listen, is the bench used as in the old time when Monsieur discovered the lovers by the flash of his lantern.
Then I know where it floats along below Laguerre's, and pulls itself together in a very dignified way as it sails under the brand-new bridge,—the old one, propped up on poles, has long since paid tribute to a spring freshet,—and quickens its pace below the old Dye-house,—also a wreck now (they say it is haunted),—and then goes slopping along in and out of the marshes, sousing the sunken willow roots, oozing through beds of weeds and tangled vines.
But only a very little while ago did I know where it began to leave off all its idle ways and took really to the serious side of life; when it began rushing down long, stony ravines, plunging over respectable, well-to-do masonry dams, skirting once costly villas, whispering between dark defiles of rock, and otherwise disporting itself as becomes a well-ordered, conventional, self-respecting mountain stream, uncontaminated by the encroachments and frivolities of civilized life.
All this begins at Fordham. Not exactly at Fordham, for you must walk due east from the station for half a mile, climb a fence, and strike through the woods before you hear its voice and catch the gleam of its tumbling current.
They will all be there when you go—all the quaint nooks, all the delights of leaf, moss, ripple, and shade, of your early memories. And in the half-hour, too,—less if you are quick-footed,—from your desk or shop in the great city.
No, you never heard of it. I knew that before you said a word. You thought it was the dumping-ground of half the cast-off tinware of the earth; that only the shanty, the hen-coop, and the stable overhung its sluggish waters, and only the carpet shaker, the sod gatherer, and the tramp infested its banks.
I tell you that in all my wanderings in search of the picturesque, nothing within a day's journey is half as charming. That its stretches of meadow, willow clumps, and tangled densities are as lovely, fresh, and enticing as can be found—yes, within a thousand miles of your door. That the rocks are encrusted with the thickest of moss and lichen, gray, green, black, and brilliant emerald. That the trees are superb, the solitude and rest complete. That it is finer, more subtle, more exquisite than its sister brooks in the denser forest, because that here and there it shows the trace of some human touch,—and nature is never truly picturesque without it,—the broken-down fence, the sagging bridge, and vine-covered roof.
But you must go now.
Now, before the grip of the great city has been fastened upon it; before the axe of the "dago" clears out the wilderness of underbrush; before the landscape gardener, the sanitary engineer, and the contractor pounce upon it and strangle it; before the crimes of the cast-iron fountain, the varnished grapevine arbor, with seats to match, the bronze statues presented by admiring groups of citizens, the rambles, malls, and cement-lined caverns, are consummated; before the gravel walk confines your steps, and the granite curbing imprisons the flowers, as if they, too, would escape.
Now, when the tree lies as it falls; when the violets bloom and are there for the picking; when the dogwood sprinkles the bare branches with white stars, and the scent of the laurel fills the air.
Touch the button some day soon for an hour along the Bronx.
Do not tell me dogs cannot talk. I know better. I saw it all myself. It was at Sterzing, that most picturesque of all the Tyrolean villages on the Italian slope of the Brenner, with its long, single street, zigzagged like a straggling path in the snow,—perhaps it was laid out in that way,—and its little open square, with shrine and rude stone fountain, surrounded by women in short skirts and hobnailed shoes, dipping their buckets. On both sides of this street ran queer arcades sheltering shops, their doorways piled with cheap stuffs, fruit, farm implements, and the like, and at the far end, it was almost the last house in the town, stood the old inn, where you breakfast. Such an old, old inn! with swinging sign framed by fantastic iron work, and decorated with overflows of foaming ale in green mugs, crossed clay pipes, and little round dabs of yellow-brown cakes. There was a great archway, too, wide and high, with enormous, barn-like doors fronting on this straggling, zigzag, sabot-trodden street. Under this a cobble-stone pavement led to the door of the coffee-room and out to the stable beyond. These barn-like doors keep out the driving snows and the whirls of sleet and rain, and are slammed to behind horse, sleigh, and all, if not in the face, certainly in the very teeth of the winter gale, while the traveler disentangles his half-frozen legs at his leisure, almost within sight of the blazing fire of the coffee-room within.
Under this great archway, then, against one of these doors, his big paws just inside the shadow line,—for it was not winter, but a brilliant summer morning, the grass all dusted with powdered diamonds, the sky a turquoise, the air a joy,—under this archway, I say, sat a big St. Bernard dog, squat on his haunches, his head well up, like a grenadier on guard. His eyes commanded the approaches down the road, up the road, and across the street; taking in the passing peddler with the tinware, and the girl with a basket strapped to her back, her fingers knitting for dear life, not to mention so unimportant an object as myself swinging down the road, my iron-shod alpenstock hammering the cobbles.
He made no objection to my entering, neither did he receive me with any show of welcome. There was no bounding forward, no wagging of the tail, no aimless walking around for a moment, and settling down in another spot; nor was there any sudden growl or forbidding look in the eye. None of these things occurred to him, for none of these things was part of his duty. The landlord would do the welcoming, the blue-shirted porter take my knapsack and show me the way to the coffee-room. His business was to sit still and guard that archway. Paying guests, and those known to the family,—yes! But stray mountain goats, chickens, inquisitive, pushing peddlers, pigs, and wandering dogs,—well, he would look out for these.
While the cutlets and coffee were being fried and boiled, I dragged a chair across the road and tilted it back out of the sun against the wall of a house. I, too, commanded a view down past the blacksmith shop, where they were heating a huge iron tire to clap on the hind wheel of a diligence, and up the street as far as the little square where the women were still clattering about on the cobbles, their buckets on their shoulders. This is how I happened to be watching the dog.
The more I looked at him, the more strongly did his personality impress me. The exceeding gravity of his demeanor! The dignified attitude! The quiet, silent reserve! The way he looked at you from under his eyebrows, not eagerly, nor furtively, but with a self-possessed, competent air, quite like a captain of a Cunarder scanning a horizon from the bridge, or a French gendarme, watching the shifting crowds from one of the little stone circles anchored out in the rush of the boulevards,—a look of authority backed by a sense of unlimited power. Then, too, there was such a dignified cut to his hairy chops as they drooped over his teeth beneath his black, stubby nose. His ears rose and fell easily, without undue haste or excitement when the sound of horses' hoofs put him on his guard, or a goat wandered too near. Yet one could see that he was not a meddlesome dog, nor a snarler, no running out and giving tongue at each passing object, not that kind of a dog at all! He was just a plain, substantial, well-mannered, dignified, self-respecting St. Bernard dog, who knew his place and kept it, who knew his duty and did it, and who would no more chase a cat than he would bite your legs in the dark. Put a cap with a gold band on his head and he would really have made an ideal concierge. Even without the band, he concentrated in his person all the superiority, the repose, and exasperating reticence of that necessary concomitant of Continental hotel life.
Suddenly I noticed a more eager expression on his face. One ear was unfurled, like a flag, and almost run to the masthead; the head was turned quickly down the road. A sound of wheels was heard below the shop. His dogship straightened himself and stood on four legs, his tail wagging slowly.
Another dog was coming.
A great Danish hound, with white eyes, black-and-tan ears, and tail as long and smooth as a policeman's night-club;—one of those sleek and shining dogs with powerful chest and knotted legs, a little bowed in front, black lips, and dazzling, fang-like teeth. He was spattered with brown spots, and sported a single white foot. Altogether, he was a dog of quality, of ancestry, of a certain position in his own land,—one who had clearly followed his master's mountain wagon to-day as much for love of adventure as anything else. A dog of parts, too, who could perhaps, hunt the wild boar, or give chase to the agile deer. He was certainly not an inn dog. He was rather a palace dog, a chateau, or a shooting-box dog, who, in his off moments, trotted behind hunting carts filled with guns, sportsmen in knee-breeches, or in front of landaus when my lady went an-airing.
And with all this, and quite naturally, he was a dog of breeding, who, while he insisted on his own rights, respected those of others. I saw this before he had spoken ten words to the concierge,—the St. Bernard dog, I mean. For he did talk to him, and the conversation was just as plain to me, tilted back against the wall, out of the sun, waiting for my cutlets and coffee, as if I had been a dog myself, and understood each word of it.
First, he walked up sideways, his tail wagging and straight out, like a patent towel-rack. Then he walked round the concierge, who followed his movements with becoming interest, wagging his own tail, straightening his forelegs, and sidling around him kindly, as befitted the stranger's rank and quality, but with a certain dog-independence of manner, preserving his own dignities while courteously passing the time of day, and intimating, by certain twists of his tail, that he felt quite sure his excellency would like the air and scenery the farther he got up the pass,—all strange dogs did.
During this interchange of canine civilities, the landlord was helping out the two men, the companions of the dog. One was round and pudgy, the other lank and scrawny. Both were in knickerbockers, with green hats decorated with cock feathers and edelweiss. The blue-shirted porter carried in the bags and alpenstocks, closing the coffee-room door behind them.
Suddenly the strange dog, who had been beguiled by the courteous manner of the concierge, realized that his master had disappeared. The man had been hungry, no doubt, and half blinded by the glare of the sun. After the manner of his kind, he had dived into this shelter without a word to the dumb beast who had tramped behind his wheels, swallowing the dust his horses kicked up.
When the strange dog realized this,—I saw the instant the idea entered his mind, as I caught the sudden toss of the head,—he glanced quickly about with that uneasy, anxious look that comes into the face of a dog when he discovers that he is adrift in a strange place without his master. What other face is so utterly miserable, and what eyes so pleading, the tears just under the lids, as the lost dog's?
Then it was beautiful to see the St. Bernard. With a sudden twist of the head he reassured the strange dog,—telling him, as plainly as could be, not to worry, the gentlemen were only inside, and would be out after breakfast. There was no mistaking what he said. It was done with a peculiar curving of the neck, a reassuring wag of the tail, a glance toward the coffee-room, and a few frolicsome, kittenish jumps, these last plainly indicating that as for himself the occasion was one of great hilarity, with absolutely no cause in it for anxiety. Then, if you could have seen that anxious look fade away from the face of the strange dog, the responsive, reciprocal wag of the night-club of a tail. If you could have caught the sudden peace that came into his eyes, and have seen him as he followed the concierge to the doorway, dropping his ears, and throwing himself beside him, looking up into his face, his tongue out, panting after the habit of his race, the white saliva dropping upon his paws.
Then followed a long talk, conducted in side glances, and punctuated with the quiet laughs of more slappings of tails on the cobbles, as the concierge listened to the adventures of the stranger, or matched them with funny experiences of his own.
Here a whistle from the coffee-room window startled them. Even so rude a being as a man is sometimes mindful of his dog. In an instant both concierge and stranger were on their feet, the concierge ready for whatever would turn up, the stranger trying to locate the sound and his master. Another whistle, and he was off, bounding down the road, looking wistfully at the windows, and rushing back bewildered. Suddenly it came to him that the short cut to his master lay through the archway.
Just here there was a change in the manner of the concierge. It was not gruff, nor savage, nor severe,—it was only firm and decided. With his tail still wagging, showing his kindness and willingness to oblige, but with spine rigid and hair bristling, he explained clearly and succinctly to that strange dog how absolutely impossible it would be for him to permit his crossing the archway. Up went the spine of the stranger, and out went his tail like a bar of steel, the feet braced, and the whole body taut as standing rigging. But the concierge kept on wagging his tail, though his hair still bristled,—saying as plainly as he could:—
"My dear sir, do not blame me. I assure you that nothing in the world would give me more pleasure than to throw the whole house open to you; but consider for a moment. My master puts me here to see that nobody enters the inn but those whom he wishes to see, and that all other live-stock, especially dogs, shall on no account be admitted." (This with head bent on one side and neck arched.) "Now, while I have the most distinguished consideration for your dogship" (tail wagging violently), "and would gladly oblige you, you must see that my honor is at stake" (spine more rigid), "and I feel assured that under the circumstances you will not press a request (low growl) which you must know would be impossible for me to grant."
And the strange dog, gentleman as he was, expressed himself as entirely satisfied with the very free and generous explanation. With tail wagging more violently than ever, he assured the concierge that he understood his position exactly. Then wheeling suddenly, he bounded down the road. Though convinced, he was still anxious.
Then the concierge gravely settled himself once more on his haunches in his customary place, his eyes commanding the view up and down and across the road, where I sat still tilted back in my chair waiting for my cutlets, his whole body at rest, his face expressive of that quiet content which comes from a sense of duties performed and honor untarnished.
But the stranger had duties, too; he must answer the whistle, and find his master. His search down the road being fruitless, he rushed back to the concierge, looking up into his face, his eyes restless and anxious.
"If it were inconsistent with his honor to permit him to cross the threshold, was there any other way he could get into the coffee-room?" This last with a low whine of uneasiness, and a toss of head.
"Yes, certainly," jumping to his feet, "why had he not mentioned it before? It would give him very great pleasure to show him the way to the side entrance." And the St. Bernard, everything wagging now, walked with the stranger to the corner, stopping stock still to point with his nose to the closed door.
Then the stranger bounded down with a scurry and plunge, nervously edging up to the door, wagging his tail, and with a low, anxious whine springing one side and another, his paws now on the sill, his nose at the crack, until the door was finally opened, and he dashed inside.
What happened in the coffee-room I do not know, for I could not see. I am willing, however, to wager that a dog of his loyalty, dignity, and sense of duty did just what a dog of quality would do. No awkward springing at his master's chest with his dusty paws leaving marks on his vest front; no rushing around chairs and tables in mad joy at being let in, alarming waitresses and children. Only a low whine and gurgle of delight, a rubbing of his cold nose against his master's hand, a low, earnest look up into his face, so frank, so trustful, a look that carried no reproach for being shut out, and only gratitude for being let in.
A moment more, and he was outside again, head in air, looking for his friend. Then a dash, and he was around by the archway, licking the concierge in the face, biting his neck, rubbing his nose under his forelegs, saying over and over again how deeply he thanked him,—how glad and proud he was of his acquaintance, and how delighted he would be if he came down to Vienna, or Milan, or wherever he did come from, so that he might return his courtesies in some way, and make his stay pleasant.
Just here the landlord called out that the cutlets and coffee were ready, and, man-like, I went in to breakfast.
I first saw Brockway's towards the close of a cold October day. Since early morning I had been tramping and sketching about the northern suburbs of New York, and it was late in the afternoon when I reached the edge of that high ground overlooking the two rivers. I could see through an opening in the woods the outline of the great aqueduct,—a huge stone centipede stepping across on its sturdy legs; the broad Hudson, with its sheer walls of rock, and the busy Harlem crowded with boats and braced with bridges. A raw wind was blowing, and a gray mist blurred the edges of the Palisades where they cut against the sky.
As the darkness fell the wind increased, and scattered drops of rain, piloting the coming storm, warned me to seek a shelter. Shouldering my trap and hurrying forward, I descended the hill, followed the road to the East River, and, finding no boat, walked along the shore hoping to hail a fisherman or some belated oarsman, and reach the station opposite.
My search led me around a secluded cove edged with white sand and yellow marsh grass, ending in a low, jutting point. Here I came upon a curious sort of dwelling,—half house, half boat. It might have passed for an abandoned barge, or wharf boat, too rotten to float and too worthless to break up,—the relic and record of some by-gone tide of phenomenal height. When I approached nearer it proved to be an old-fashioned canal-boat, sunk to the water line in the grass, its deck covered by a low-hipped roof. Midway its length was cut a small door, opening upon a short staging or portico which supported one end of a narrow, rambling bridge leading to the shore. This bridge was built of driftwood propped up on shad poles. Over the door itself flapped a scrap of a tattered sail which served as an awning. Some pots of belated flowers bloomed on the sills of the ill-shaped windows, and a wind-beaten vine, rooted in a fish basket, crowded into the door, as if to escape the coming winter. Nothing could have been more dilapidated or more picturesque.
The only outward sign of life about the dwelling was a curl of blue smoke. Without this signal of good cheer it had a menacing look, as it lay in its bed of mud glaring at me from under its eaves of eyebrows, shading eyes of windows a-glint in the fading light.
I crossed the small beach strewn with oyster shells, ascended the tottering bridge, and knocked. The door was opened by a gray-bearded old man in a rough jacket. He was bare-footed, his trousers rolled up above his ankles, like a boy's.
"Can you help me across the river?" I asked.
"Yes, perhaps I can. Come into the Hulk," he replied, holding the door against the gusts of wind.
The room was small and low, with doors leading into two others. In its centre, before a square stove, stood a young child cooking the evening meal. I saw no other inmates.
"You are wet," said the old man, laying his hand on my shoulder, feeling me over carefully; "come nearer the stove."
The child brought a chair. As I dropped into it I caught his eye fixed upon me intently.
"What are you?" he said abruptly, noting my glance,—"a peddler." He said this standing over me,—his arms akimbo, his bare feet spread apart.
"No, a painter," I answered smiling; my trap had evidently misled him.
He mused a little, rubbing his beard with his thumb and forefinger; then, making a mental inventory of my exterior, beginning with my slouch hat and taking in each article down to my tramping shoes, he said slowly,—
"Yes, we all are." And I laughed; his manner made me a little uncomfortable.
My reply, however, seemed to reassure him. His features relaxed and a more kindly expression overspread his countenance.
"And now, what are you?" I asked, offering him a cigarette as I spoke.
"Me? Nothing," he replied curtly, refusing it with a wave of his hand. "Only Brockway,—just Brockway,—that's all,—just Brockway." He kept repeating this in an abstracted way, as if the remark was addressed to himself, the words dying in his throat.
Then he moved to the door, took down an oilskin from a peg, and saying that he would get the boat ready, went out into the night, shutting the door behind him, his bare feet flapping like wet fish as he walked.
I was not sorry I was going away so soon. The man and the place seemed uncanny.
I roused myself and crossed the room, attracted by the contents of a cupboard filled with cheap pottery and some bits of fine old English lustre. Then I examined the furniture of the curious interior,—the high-backed chairs, mahogany table,—one leg replaced with pine,—the hair sofa and tall clock in the corner by the door. They were all old and once costly, and all of a pattern of by-gone days. Everything was scrupulously clean, even to the strip of unbleached muslin hung at the small windows.
The door blew in with a whirl of wind, and Brockway entered shaking the wet from his sou'wester.
"You must wait," he said. "Dan the brakeman has taken my boat to the Railroad Dock. He will return in an hour. If you are hungry, you can sup with us. Emily, set a place for the painter."
His manner was more frank. He seemed less uncanny too. Perhaps he had been in some special ill humor when I entered. Perhaps, too, he had been suspicious of me; I had not thought of that before.