Gabrielle did confide in her mother, but her father was none the wiser. He listened to Smith, and concluded that Hosley had skipped, having learned in some way that the authorities were after him. If he should be found and brought back to New York, the coroner might begin his investigations at once and proceed with other witnesses. In that event the name of Tescheron would undoubtedly be dragged into the case, but if the family kept out of the State they could not be made to testify. In Mr. Tescheron's judgment, therefore, it was wise to spend a few weeks well out of the way until they were certain the affair had been forgotten.
"Mother, I think the change may do us good, if we don't take father too seriously," said Gabrielle, "and if you can find enough to occupy yourself until some favorable suggestion changes father's course, and he is seized by a desire to return home, I shall be happy. Aren't you getting tired of the company of these stuffed birds, though? I shall send your parrot over to-morrow and have Bridget come to talk over the housekeeping affairs with you, shall I?"
"No, dear; we shall be happy enough with these silent birds for a while yet. Alas! if it is true that the officials want us—and it must be true, as Bridget and Mr. King have both written—"
"Don't worry about that, mother; you will be just as proud of Mr. Hosley some day as I am. Oh, he is so brave! Think how he rescued his companion, Ben Hopkins, and then fell blinded by the flames. What a terrible fall that was, mother! just twice the height of this building—you really cannot imagine it. Do rogues show such heroism? I tell you, mother, you'll find, one of these brighter days, that James Hosley is a great, big-hearted hero, as far above these petty attacks on his character, so readily believed by father, as the mountains are above the sea. He has nothing to fear. Remember, a cruel fate struck him down at the very moment he might have explained away every circumstance to which father attaches weight, merely by stating the truth. Mother, I have never doubted my hero!"
"Yes, my dear child, you are right. I feel that you are. Forgive me for expressing that shadow of doubt; it is now gone. I am thankful that God led your footsteps to his bedside, where you might help to rescue him and his companion. I am indeed proud of you, Gabrielle. How greatly I am blessed by you every minute!" And the dear old soul cried, her heart welling with love for her daughter, her confidante and support.
Then Gabrielle knelt at her mother's side and buried her face in her mother's lap, her tears flowing in sympathetic response to this declaration of maternal faith.
It is a good thing I was not there at that time, for at the sight of tears in the faces of those dear women I would have been driven to sheer madness. I believe I would have taken a club to the hard-hearted or stupid Tescheron and murdered him with mince-meat minuteness in the presence of the gossipers lolling around the fireplace in the living-room. At the time of the tearful scene between mother and daughter, a dramatic passage that has its counterpart in many homes invaded by a son-in-law, the cruel Tescheron, the obstacle in the path of true love, was listening to mine host, August Stuffer, three hundred and fifty-two pounds of Hoboken manhood seated in a Windsor chair built of wood and steel to resemble the Williamsburg Bridge about the legs, so stoutly was it trussed, braced and riveted to carry its enormous load. This wheezy spinner of yarns, in a tone of apoplectic huskiness, was telling his guests about the peculiar stuffed cat, which advertised the hotel far and wide from its glass case near the main entrance.
It was my joke that introduced Mr. Tescheron to this cat. Mr. Stuffer's eloquence and the fire's hypnotic rays must have worked the consequent charm at which I have often marveled.
"Jersey Jerry was the name of that cat," said Stuffer, a gentle wheeze playing about his upper rigging, as he spread out into the open sea of truth. "And he was a most unfortunate cat, because he was born blind and had to learn the town by feeling his way. He went everywhere and had more friends than most cats with eyes—strange but true—and principally among cats. He was sociable because he had to work his friends. He knew us around here by our sounds" (it was an easy matter for him to sound the tale-teller), "and he used to rub his whiskers against a stranger's legs till he got to know the man. You'd 'a' thought he'd rub 'em all off, but not so; it seemed to make 'em grow twice as long—biggest whiskers for a cat of his size I ever see. Well, sir, I came down here to the back door one night to lock up, heard him scratching and let him in. He gave me an awful scare, for as he looked up two big blazing eyes shone brighter than the lantern I was carrying. From his squeal I knew it was Jerry, so I picked him up and brought him over here to get a good look at him. I could see at once that it was the work of those Stevens students. They had taken an ordinary pair of glass eyes such as are made for stuffed cats, and in the back of each eye had fitted a tiny electric light, such as you've probably seen attached to a button-hole bouquet, only they were smaller, of course. I noticed when his tail went up the lights were turned on and they blazed like he had gone mad, but when his tail went down it cut off the lights like you've seen 'em shut off in a trolley car when the pole falls—same principle, I guess, somehow. It all kind of puzzled me for a time, till I got to thinking about it."
"Nonsense! Where did the electricity come from?" asked a man who doubted.
"Electricity? A cat's full of electricity. Everybody knows that, and those Stevens students simply connected it up to run two lights with a cut-out at the back. Of course, when the cat died the natural electricity gave out, and so I had him connected with the company's wires and the tail fixed to run by works run by the current, to make 'em blaze and shut off and seem just as old Jerry used to. He was a great comfort to me with those eyes, and I think they helped him to see as well as feel, for he didn't rub any more, but flashed his eyes when he was inquisitive and wanted to save steps.
"But it killed him. Modern improvements on a cat brought up to going it blind in Hoboken were too much. A man got the delirium tremblings looking at Jerry one night and kicked him nine mortal blows before he could get his tail up."
"Well," said Mr. Tescheron, "those Stevens students must be wonders. I never supposed there was any good thing came out of Hoboken."
"The town suits me all right," replied Mr. Stuffer. "There's many a good thing passes through here." He winked at Emil.
"There ain't nothing a Stevens student can't do—nothing calling for brains," said Mr. Stuffer. "They get chock full of mathematics up there, so's they can engineer anything from a turbine plant to a pin where it's most needed, or a marriage factory. Anything that calls for brains is right in their line. If I ever get into any kind of trouble at all I'll get a Stevens engineer to rig me up some kind of a derrick to pull me out of it."
At his leisure, Mr. Tescheron now marvels at the great ability of Stevens men. He feels that he is a competent judge.
It was evident that the Stevens students who crowded the Stuffer House had duly impressed the present proprietor with their ability to overcome every obstacle in life's path with special machinery to fit each case.
"Why, one of those students told me some years ago," continued Mr. Stuffer, "that he once provided plans and specifications to supply a girl with beaus."
None of the company now seemed to doubt, so Mr. Stuffer proceeded to prove his proposition that a technical education at Stevens comprehends the repairing of difficult cases of side-stepped heart.
"Yes, I remember, now, it was the case of little Mary Schwarz," he continued. "And she never knew, doesn't to this day probably, how it all came about that suddenly she had more beaus than she could attend to. They fairly froze her in ice cream—"
Mrs. Tescheron had recovered and was ringing three times for hot water as per the card of instructions tacked near the push-button in her room.
"They are not remarkably prompt here," she murmured. "I wonder what can be the matter every evening."
Mr. Stuffer, who was supposed to be on duty at the annunciator, in his dual capacity of hall boy and host, heard not its alarm, for he was well under way with a yarn.
"She got so she didn't care for Hoboken, Mary didn't. The beaus then took her to every theatre in New York. And they were a fine lot of chaps—Stevens students, bachelor professors, leading merchants' sons—all the best people in town. Before that Stevens student started up the necessary machinery to repair this case, she had no beaus at all; but he fixed things so's she had a regular monopoly because she controlled the raw material. They teach just enough of political economy on the side up there at the institute to bring that in; that you can't have a monopoly unless you control the raw material; so he figured to have her control it. But when she lost it the thing was off."
"What became of it?" asked Mr. Tescheron, who, I am informed, was fearful that the narrator might be interrupted by the ringing of the bell.
"She ate it up. You see, Brown, that smart Stevens man, who laid out this job, went around to where Mary kept her little lamb and sheared it every once so often. He gave the wool to our swellest tailor and had him make it up into an extra fancy line of trousering. The best people bought those trousers, and of course everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go. You can see why she had so much good company. The fellows simply couldn't stop going to Mary's till they shed 'em. It took a mechanical engineer to do it. But when the lamb got old her pa, who had not been told about this thing, thought he'd have to eat the pet to save its mutton."
"But she got married, of course, didn't she?" asked a stranger, who was en route to Europe on his wedding tour and was full of romance.
"Why, no. You see, she was having such fun fishing, she never stopped till they stopped biting—that is, the snappy bass that she liked to ketch. She landed a lot, but just kept throwing back, probably waiting for some whale in the shape of a Duke to land on one of the steamers, but those Dukes that pass through Hoboken are terribly long on trousers, and generally bring 'em over by the trunk-load. They all passed right through, at any rate. Instead of a whale coming along, the next to bite were a lot of old skates—a regular lot of tramps. They had come into the trousers second hand, usually got for the asking, when preparing to start into New York for the slumming season; but, of course, they had to make for Mary's house just as soon as they put 'em on and the charm got to working. So she has been spending the balance of her life shooing away tramps. The chances are the pet lamb will never quite wear out—excuse me, gentlemen, I think I hear the bell ringing."
Gabrielle did not find it necessary to confide immediately in Hygeia, who cared for us both, but as Jim progressed more favorably than I, and was able to sit up in bed propped with pillows, he became talkative and inclined to drop remarks that might create suspicion in the mind of the nurse. Unless Hygeia became her confidante, Gabrielle feared Jim's identity might become known and his whereabouts learned by the officers of the law, who were now apparently searching for him on misleading clues.
"You will be my good friend, will you not?" asked Gabrielle, as she drew Hygeia closely to her one morning about a week after our entrance to the hospital. "I want you to help me, and I know you now so well that I feel I may safely ask you to. May I?"
"My dear Miss Marshall, there is nothing I will not do for you, believe me. I rejoice that your brother is showing such rapid improvement. How much more fortunate he is than the poor fellow in the next room—his friend, I believe you said?"
"Yes, Mr. Hopkins is his friend. But Mr. Marshall is not my brother, and—"
"Tut, tut! Didn't I know it, my dear! Have I not watched you both? I am already keeping your secret, never fear. Tell me only what you please, but you need not tell me to have your good-will, for my heart is with you, my dear."
"Oh, you are such a kind, good friend!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "It is your sympathy and care that will save the lives of these men. Let me tell you why I so promptly had him" (pointing to Jim, who was beyond hearing), "registered as George Marshall, my brother. My father accuses him of many things—many foolish things—but you know how it is with an impetuous father; these things have been enlarged in his eyes by wicked men, who are conspiring for gain. Detectives, they call themselves, and so long as my father hesitates to publicly expose his family, these men feed upon his fears. I have good reason to believe that Mr. Hopkins, so long friendly to him—whose real name is James Hosley—is now his bitter enemy, for he has given information concerning him to the authorities. And my real name is Gabrielle Tescheron, so you see—"
"Gracious! But this is a conspiracy," exclaimed Hygeia, deeply interested and ready to declare her loyalty to the lovers. "How can you account for the base treachery of that man?" (pointing toward my room, the quarters of the despicable villain in the case.) "What a miserable wretch he must be!"
"But, my dear," said Gabrielle, who now felt that she was established on a firm footing of intimacy with the nurse, "I am not positive as to that, although I have good reason to believe he has deserted his old chum; still I am not sure, for I have only heard so through my father, who is, of course, strongly prejudiced. There are many things I do not understand. I do know that a subpoena has been issued for my father on the complaint of Mr. Hopkins, and so, of course, he must have informed the officials concerning Mr. Hosley, probably accusing him directly as alleged by the detectives and outlined to me hastily by my father. Had Mr. Hopkins not done this we would not have been hurried out of the State to escape the unpleasant publicity of which my father has a horror. Oh, father is such a hot-head!"
"Your love is all you base your loyalty on," smiled Hygeia, and embracing Gabrielle, she kissed her desperately. "Indeed, no harm shall visit either of you," Hygeia tenderly assured Gabrielle.
"But to me this situation is very silly," added Gabrielle. "And were it not for my hasty father and this fire intervening, I know full well that Mr. Hopkins would have made an explanation which would have exonerated Jim. I feel so, but I shall take no risks—no risks whatever, mind you. While I do feel that perfidy in Mr. Hopkins is beyond belief, I shall be cautious, and with your help shall keep him in ignorance of Mr. Hosley's whereabouts. If he did tell a lie to my father about notifying the officials, then let him come forward with the denial. But we must not be too hard on the poor fellow; think how much more he has suffered than Jim. Let us divide the beautiful flowers. Half the time let poor Benny Hopkins gaze on these roses and orchids I send to Jim, and tell him, too, my dear, that they come from me. Let us hear what he says. Perhaps some day all will be clear to us again. Jim and Ben will again be friends, and you will be our new-found friend, whom we shall all rejoice in finding in our hour of need. How beautiful it will be then, and these days of sorrow will be turned into pleasant memories! Poor Mr. Hopkins, he does seem so low at times! Do you think he will get well?"
"I think he will," assured Hygeia. "Each day he rests a little better, but his head is not clear. He wanders a good deal. But Dr. Hanley says that condition will improve—in fact, it shows signs of improvement as his temperature becomes more even."
"I do pray he will recover," said Gabrielle, sadly, shaking her head. "Jim has such faith in him—laughs at my fears and bids me let him be wheeled into Ben's room as soon as the doctors will allow us to go in there, for he knows he can cheer him. Jim says Ben is so given to sarcasm and joking that people who do not know him well misunderstand him. I shall not allow it, however, as there is too much at risk. Jim does not know all. If I am wrong in this, Ben Hopkins is responsible, for he deceived my father and drove us all over there to Hoboken. What a place for an exile! Jim laughs every time I tell him about it. Oh, such a state of affairs, just as we had planned to be married!"
"Isn't it too bad!" exclaimed Hygeia. "Never mind; we shall all laugh over it at the wedding, if I may be there."
"When everything comes out all right in our affairs, indeed you shall be there. You shall be my bridesmaid; Nellie Gibson is to be my maid of honor, and Benny Hopkins, Jim's best man. Won't it be grand! Let me tell you about my gowns. I have nearly all of them ready. First there is the—"
Here I shall leave them to talk of the trousseau. My notes on this branch of the subject were gathered from Hygeia and are full enough to give an adequate description. This I would do, but I am afraid I would get tangled in the trail, scalp the bride by tearing off her veil with a flying heel, and fall down on some of the fine lace flouncing around the box pleats hiding the chiffon and the crepe de chine. Hygeia told me the style of the wedding gown was Princess, but there was a reception gown—I was told, but I forget now how many yards it contained; if the 8,643 tucks were taken out and the goods stretched, I understood there was enough to show that a silk mill and lace factory had been busy several days. As for the silkworms, I suppose they were all summer chewing up a row of mulberry bushes on this job. Weddings make a lot of work for everybody.
Hygeia did everything possible to make it pleasant for Gabrielle at the hospital. She tactfully left the sick man alone with his "sister" the greater part of every afternoon. With sorrow to knit more firmly the bonds of love, it would appear that no disturbing influence could enter there. They chatted quietly and laughed merrily, and when they were not doing either they were silently telling each other of their happiness by those glances that had partially betrayed their secret to Hygeia before she learned it from Gabrielle's lips.
Gabrielle became such a motherly person at the hospital! With a dainty white dotted Swiss apron tied in sprightly bows about her waist, "in sweet perfection cast," she sat near the window sewing or embroidering some bit of finery that must be finished for the wedding, and by her hands alone. Jim was so full of joy he didn't care how long it took his broken leg to mend. The aches and twinges from that quarter were hardly felt by him after the first day of his confinement; his head was right, and he was eager for the daily coming of Gabrielle.
Well do I comprehend how Jim felt. He did not yearn with sickening hope deferred, for he had won the heart of the girl. Contentedly he rested in the sunshine of her smiles, and fell asleep beneath the shadow of her tresses, her small, cool hand on his fevered brow, her low words of sympathy lulling him to the land of rest and sweet dreams of her. I realize how it was with them, because it was so different with me. The chill of loneliness cast by suspicion compelled my silence on the things I was bursting to tell to sympathetic ears. My only visitor was the cheerful nurse, but she was a stranger to my woes, I thought, and could not help me.
Jim frequently asked Gabrielle concerning me. When he had been there three weeks, he manifested an unusual anxiety, for none of his inquiries had received satisfactory replies. Hygeia reported that I was slowly gaining—but very, very slowly, and could not be disturbed, not even by my brother who had called. None of Jim's folks had been down from the North to see him, as he had written them with his own hand that he would soon be out again. This made it clear to them that he was safe.
"Gabrielle, I must see Ben the minute the doctors say he is well enough," declared Jim. "Why, it is nonsense to suspect him. That fellow is my best friend; never mind what you think, you will find him loyal to me. I must see him. What will he think of me?"
"You are not well enough to manage your own affairs, Jim; believe me, you are not. I want you to give over everything into my hands and let me be your guide. Please do as I say."
She had early outlined to him the grounds for her father's suspicions, but said nothing concerning the Browning case. She emphasized my action which had frightened her father, but did not go into details, for Jim was too weak to stand the mental strain she feared might be imposed on him if he were to enter into a discussion of the matters her father had told her were conclusive evidence that Jim was a notorious criminal. It was all too ridiculous for her to believe. Her father laid great stress on the fact that Hosley had left for parts unknown, fearing to face his accusers, as corroborative of the other evidence supplied by the detectives, including his long criminal record and photographs from the Rogues' Gallery. This made it seem all the more ridiculous. Not a suspicion concerning Jim had ever entered her mind. Her knowledge of her father's obstinacy, and the evil influences surrounding him, were all the protection Jim needed. His enemies counted for him.
"Well, I suppose I shall have to do as you say, Gabrielle," said Jim, "but Ben is a good friend of mine, and it may hurt him to find I am neglecting him."
"That will come out all right, Jim. If he is a friend we shall probably learn of it as soon as he regains control of himself. He may say something about you to the nurse. If he is friendly I will talk with him first, and then we shall learn just where he stands in this matter. Perhaps when we hear what he says we shall be glad we kept him in ignorance of you."
That day when my head appeared to be perfectly clear for the first time, and I began to ask questions, Hygeia hurried into the next room and breathlessly announced:
"Miss Tescheron, Mr. Hopkins has begun to ask questions at last. The first thing he asked almost was: 'Where is Hosley? Is he in jail? Hasn't he been here to see me? Was he hurt? Was he killed? Hasn't he written to me?' and I asked him why he should ask me. He also wanted to know who sent the flowers, and I told him, but he made no answer. He didn't seem to think it possible Miss Tescheron should send flowers to him. What do you make of it? I think he is perfectly friendly, don't you? He wants to know so much about Mr. Hosley."
"Certainly he's friendly; let me be wheeled right in to see him. Oh, please; just for a minute," begged Jim, who was now sitting up with his leg stretched out on a pillow.
"Why should he ask if you are in jail? I don't like that at all; not at all. I will not consent. He has not forgotten his treachery. I will not trust the fellow. Let us wait until he talks a little more." And so Gabrielle's caution intervened.
But I didn't ask any more questions about Hosley.
Circumstances usually arise along the path of folly to make it increasingly expensive. Emil Stuffer appeared to supply one important item. He had been attracted to Stevens Institute by the associations of his home. The students from this great school gathered around his father's hospitable fire and rested their brains when weary with the curves of analytical geometry and the stupid exactness of the differential calculus. Emil was clever at his profession—that of mechanical engineer—and for five years after his graduation from the Institute had devoted himself to that career. Then his father needed his assistance in running the hotel, for in his older years A. Stuffer found it difficult to move with alacrity, and unless more speed could be introduced in the management he saw that it might appear in the departure of the guests. Emil, therefore, had come home to fall heir in due time to the business, and prior to the ceremonies attending that event, he was to be his father's lieutenant, practicing his avocation as an ornithologist, whose specialty was rare birds, at leisure moments. Emil enjoyed also the work of the taxidermist, and loved dearly to cut and stuff. Jerry, the wonderful cat of the glass case in the office, gave only a hint of his skill and the remarkable perfection he achieved in improving the designs of nature. Under Emil's mechanical touch Jerry became far more interesting and a better advertisement for the business, when connected with his father's yarn regarding him as an electric phenomenon, than he had ever been during the days of his active existence on earth.
Mrs. Tescheron particularly admired the many specimens of birds shown in nearly every room in the house, and even Gabrielle found them interesting. Mr. Tescheron, who was something of an expert on fish, and had written a number of articles on rare specimens in the line of his specialty for the Fish Journal, was glad to take up the subject of rare birds and pursue it with similar interest. Birds and fish are allied in the student mind. Under the tutorship of Emil, he drank from the Hoboken source of bird wisdom. If Emil by some stroke of Fate had been thrown into Fulton Market for six weeks he might have become a student of fish, and Mr. Tescheron the enthusiastic teacher. If any stranger from the briny deep was hauled aboard a fishing smack and brought to our city, Mr. Tescheron was the expert who told the newspapers all about it. He told a straight, scientific story in popular language, and until it had been rewritten by local fish editors and some twenty times more by as many other piscatorial experts, it was hardly cured to a point where it would pass in the domain of post-prandial fact. A very large whale was once brought into the market and placed on exhibition at an admission fee of one dime. The story of this whale, as interpreted by Mr. Tescheron, appeared throughout the country for many weeks afterward. A Western version of the New York interview, as it appeared in some stereotyped plate matter of a Western news association, I give here verbatim, to show how truth may be improved:
JONAH'S WHALE APARTMENT.
* * * * *
New York Fish Expert Proves the Bible Story True.
* * * * *
The Higher Criticism of the Market.
* * * * *
Nothing at all strange that a man should be very comfortable inside the roomy mammal with plenty of light and air and good wholesome food—Structure shows it was built for the purpose.
* * * * *
Albert Tescheron, the celebrated Fulton Market expert on rare fish, who is thoroughly familiar with the anatomy of whales, consented to give his opinion concerning Jonah this morning to the reporter of the Sporting Extra.
"Mr. Tescheron, please tell me," said the reporter, "in just what part of the whale Jonah lived for three days. My paper wants the true story, with such Biblical data as may bear upon it, interpreted by the higher criticism of the Fish Market. I want to get an interior view of the apartments he lived in by flashlight or the X-ray, so as to print the Jonah story right up to date. There were none of our men present, you understand, when the thing happened."
"The belly of the whale is commodious, as you may see," replied Mr. Tescheron, pointing to the spot with his cane. "Here we have the probable position of Jonah, seated with a knee against each ear and his hands clasped over his ankles. Now this episode as narrated plainly tells us that Jonah was 'swallowed up;' he wasn't chewed up, but swallowed whole, and from such investigations as I have made, studying whales before and after meals, and from what I know of the layout of the interior occupied by Jonah, he sat, as I say, a solid chunk of a man which no whale could digest. Now you know the whale is a regular submarine vessel equipped the same as those divers of our navy, with a perfect outfit of air valves. You must remember reading that this fish was prepared for the special business of swallowing Jonah, and for no other purpose. The whale comes up at regular intervals and blows the water out of his air-tight compartments and sucks in a fresh air supply—enough to last him and two or three more passengers, so that Jonah, it may be seen, had no trouble at all to breathe, and agreed with the whale until the whale was beached, while asleep, at low water. The lack of all rolling motion in the land, and the fact that an uneven keel made Jonah claw around more than usual, made the whale land-sick. A whale can throw a stream from its snout for about five rods, but when it strikes land that way under heavy ballast it chucks all its load, water and solids, like a torpedo hitting a ship. I have experimented with small whales—say from ten to twenty feet over all, and never knew one to miss when he bumped land. The whale was prepared especially to do that—to release Jonah, and does it with wonderful automatic economy—the same that we scientific men note throughout nature. If the people who laugh at this story of Jonah would watch whales a little closer, especially at low tide, when stranded and taking a nap, they would be surprised to find how the whale wakes up and heaves ballast.
"Just see the inside arrangements here," and Mr. Tescheron outlined on the surface of the dead monster the exterior elevation of Jonah's home. "Just behind this outer covering is a splendid living-room, 6 feet by 4, lighted by the phosphorescent glow of the interior walls. A whale is full of phosphorus. The ceiling is a little low, but the ventilation is perfect, without draughts, and the temperature is about what you would find in Florida in January. The humidity is a little heavy, so that when the whale runs too far North he may chill inside and steam like a London fog or a Russian bath, but when Jonah entered and stayed for three days it was warm weather, and he was able to see plainly and be quite comfortable, although you may remember he referred to the place in strong terms when he was praying to get out. The two rooms adjoining the living-room are also cosy, you see—hot-water heating system and all—open plumbing. How far did the whale throw Jonah? About a hundred feet, I should say, and this lightened his ballast so that he floated again and was able to reverse his tail motion and back off into deep water."
Through the courtesy of Mr. Tescheron the reporter was able to arrange with the whale owners to have it opened and the artists of the Sporting Extra peeked in, and viewed the three-room-and-bath apartment arranged in a kind of ham-shaped building with accordeon sides. The artist's recollection of the plan is as follows:
We regret that space will not permit us to present the picture taken by our imaginative artist showing Jonah in his disguise as a prophet, reading one of his own sermons at a phosphorescent chandelier. But the following picture,[A] indicating the camera-like arrangement of the whale's Jonah suite in the dry-land collapse, with Jonah seated on a wad of compressed air shooting upstairs and through the vestibule, presents the Tescheron theory with greater vividness.
Emil Stuffer's father was very proud of his accomplished son. "That boy of mine," he used to say to Mr. Tescheron, "thinks nothing of starting out any time, day or night, for a rare bird. He'll just leave a note here saying he's started, and like as not the next time I hear from him he's caught a new kind of sand-piper, a god-wit or killyloo bird in a Florida swamp, or one of them glossy ibises he hankers so for. That extra pale bubo up there (pointing to a case above the office desk), he picked up in Northeast Labrador."
Mr. Tescheron was greatly impressed with all this. He liked Emil, the student, and found much in common with him. He questioned Emil frequently, and was always glad to hear that enthusiast talk on his hobby.
When Mr. Tescheron's enthusiasm had attained the proper pitch, he was admitted by Emil to view his private collection of the Rare Birds of Eastern North America, attractively displayed in glass cases around three attic rooms. Collectors from far and near had seen this collection and had praised it in letters which Emil showed in an off-hand way to the eager fish expert. One of these letters contained an offer of $15,000 for the collection.
"I wouldn't take $25,000 for that lot of birds," said Emil to the amazed Tescheron at the first interview.
"Do you suppose you'll ever get that much?" asked the unbelieving guest, making full allowance for the high opinion a collector has of his own wares. "Who'd give it?"
"Any museum that wants the finest collection of Rare Birds of Eastern North America will give it readily. A friend of mine who has been collecting postage stamps, values his collection at that, and he hasn't begun to put the time and money into it I have put in this work. Here are over one hundred of the rarest birds to be found from Florida to Labrador—any bird expert can tell that."
Mr. Tescheron became deeply interested. He consulted his friend Smith, the great detective, who recommended a bird expert he knew to appraise the collection and get a price from its fond owner. For a consideration of fifty dollars, the bird expert spent an hour in Hoboken viewing the Emil Stuffer collection without letting it be known whom he represented. At least that was the agreement he made with Mr. Tescheron. He reported that the collection would be a bargain at five thousand dollars, and he believed it might be bought for that, as he understood Mr. Stuffer was in need of money and was beginning to hint he might sacrifice it among people in the trade; but of course he gave no sign of anxiety to possible purchasers.
A man makes his pile in the fish business, but it is not monumental; it will not live after him in memorial grandeur, and the business itself is far from imposing—the phosphate of ammonia and its volatile allies passing even from the recollection of reminiscent contemporaries. The people with rare collections to sell work among that class of trade represented by Tescheron, a man with money seeking to benefit mankind in some way that will insure the perpetuation of his name carved in stone or cast in bronze, with the cost of maintenance shouldered by contract on the impersonal taxpayer, for whom glory pro rata is reserved to be enjoyed by reflection from the monumented name of the philanthropist. Thus the good a taxpayer does is interred with his bones, if he has been careful to pay up and not be sold out beforehand for arrears. But the good the philanthropist does is resolved into fame founded on one of the surest things known—taxes.
It is not ethical for a man engaged in supplying rare collections to advertise, but like the most fashionable jewelers, whose correspondence with ladies is in copper-plate long-hand, penned on delicate note-paper, by a clerical force of slender-fingered young gentlemen—refined, polite, indirect and apparently disinterested appeals must be made. Emil Stuffer comprehended the art of the sales department.
Some day I hope to get enough out of the public to give a set of my writings on political economy to every town that will firmly bind itself, as the party of the second part, to keep them dusted.
The town authorities of Stukeville, N. Y., a village of three thousand inhabitants, were already the proud possessors of the Tescheron collection of rare fish, comprising some three hundred prepared specimens, displayed in rooms set apart in the library building. They were glad to furnish the additional rooms needed for the accommodation of the celebrated Stuffer Collection of the Rare Birds of Eastern North America, and also to provide, according to the deed of gift: "for the proper maintenance of the same, with the understanding that the gift is absolute to the citizens of Stukeville without further conditions or reservations, whatsoever," etc.
The dealer, acting as Mr. Tescheron's agent, secretly, made the purchase about a week before the Tescheron family departed, and the outfit was shipped to Stukeville, where it was set up by Miss Griggs, the librarian (who kept two canaries and understood birds), assisted by three men, who did the carting. There it stands to-day, a monument to the benefactor of Stukeville. The smile on the elongated face of the pelican, who is scratching his left ear with a broad web flipper, reflects in mummied perpetuity the gratitude hidden behind the quiet exterior of the studious Emil Stuffer, ornithologist and mechanical engineer—but principally the latter, when he received word from the expert that the sale had been made.
In Hoboken they now tell of the sale of this collection as a joke, but in Stukeville it is a serious matter. Up there it is in the domain of natural history.
Afterward, when I started out to visit the places involved in the wages of my unlucky interference, I ran up to Stukeville and looked over the birds. I could see that a stretched neck or lengthened legs and fancy tail feathers, with a few minor alterations in the bill and wings, were all that was necessary to make a rare wild bird out of a tame duck. Hoboken-built birds seemed to answer every purpose, however, in Stukeville.
When it was all over except spending the money, A. Stuffer used to ask his scholarly son:
"Say, Emil, which was the hardest to make—Jerry, or one of them Stukeville pets?"
A man who writes his friend's love-letters is twice a fool if he admires his work. Burns, Byron, Morris and the others who contributed toward these high crimes and misdemeanors were dead, and so escaped the wrath of the angry gods, who switch triflers in Love's domain. I got all the punishment due for the guilt of writing the compositions, and piled on top of that came another turn on the hard road of the transgressor for issuing them again. I did not intend to put them into general circulation, of course; but my carelessness in leaving one of the letters in the sun parlor really amounted to the same thing. The fellow who carelessly hits a can of dynamite with an axe gets the same perfect results as if he had planned to do it for several months. The worst, however, was the swelling pride which led to the discussion of the letters with Hygeia. It snatched her forcibly from my life at a time when sustaining hope was most needed. The hypnotizing poets were to blame. As I read the letters, I got the notion that I was responsible for the inspired as well as the uninspired portions, and so became topheavy and foolhardy in handling a kind of fire I did not understand. Many another has been burned the same way.
Before letters of this character are passed out for general reading, it must be understood that the audience shall not include the man who sent them to a woman he afterwards killed, for the simple purpose of marrying an accomplished lady of means, who is also a listener with him at the recital. It is one of the rules in reading aloud second-hand love-letters, never to have these conditions present, for they are apt to induce distress in both parties. Had I been consulted with full details presented for my consideration, I know I should have advised against it.
Gabrielle and Jim listened to the reading of the letter left in the sun parlor. It seemed to be public property, as there was no name attached to it, and so it went the rounds of the hospital. Hygeia had intended to read it for my entertainment first, but before doing so she chanced to read it in the next room; perhaps because she thought the audience would know more than I did of such matters, and would be more appreciative. In this she was not mistaken. Jim's interest was there in cold shivers, which made the springs hum and the slat gables whistle. Gabrielle laughed and giggled like a schoolgirl.
"It's the funniest letter you ever heard," declared Hygeia, who seemed to lose sight of its serious character. "I am sure you will both think it so."
"If it's a love-letter, ought we to trifle with it?" asked Gabrielle. "The man or woman to whom it belongs might not regard it as a joke."
"There are no names on it, and it will never be claimed now," said Hygeia, hesitatingly.
"Read it, by all means, then, to cheer us," said Gabrielle.
Hygeia proceeded to read this collaboration of R. Burns and B. Hopkins:
"'My Darling Margaret: During your visits to the country your letters cheer me as I fondly dwell upon the sweet suggestive thought that you are ever thinking of me, as I am thinking of you, every waking and dreaming moment. I fade away into dreamland, hand in hand with you, and joyously together like innocent children we walk across the broad meadows and through the woods to some hidden bower by the brook; there as I look up into your eyes, the pebbly streamlet flashing a glint of wayward sunshine, the wooing songbirds and the reposeful harmonies of Nature soothe me like your tender glances when they fall upon me alone. Aye, quite alone I would have them fall, to produce that magic sensation of a dream's delight. Then when I awake in the morning and realize that you are far, far away, and read your latest letter again with pangs of the bitterest remorse, I dwell only upon those passages which hint of other joys quite apart from your interest in me. My desolation is that of a storm-tossed soul, seized by every breath of fear and tortured by every agony known to the forsaken. Have you no pity for me, Margaret? Drive no more shafts of anguish through my bruised and shattered heart, but gently administer in words of endearment the potency of your enthralling glances.
"'Forlorn, my love, no comfort near, Far, far from thee, I wander here; Far, far from thee, the fate severe, At which I most repine, love.
"O, wert thou, love, but near me; But near, near, near me; How kindly thou wouldst cheer me, And mingle sighs with mine, love!
"Around me scowls a wintry sky, That blasts each bud of hope and joy, And shelter, shade nor home have I, Save in those arms of thine, love.'"
"Oh, my! How gushy!" exclaimed Gabrielle, as she laughed, and looked at Jim to see if he were enjoying it as thoroughly.
"Yes, but how jolly it is to read," said Hygeia. "Listen to this:
"'There comes a faint ray of sunshine and hope when I read just a word of your possible home-coming in a fortnight. Would that I might keep that single thought in mind to illumine the dreary prospect! There are times when it blazes brightly, and with the tripping footsteps of joy I think of you as here at my side. How sweet the fancy—
"'We'll gently walk, and sweetly talk, Till the silent moon shine clearly; I'll grasp thy waist, and, fondly prest, Swear how I love thee dearly; Not vernal showers to budding flow'rs, Not autumn to the farmer, So dear can be as thou to me, My fair, my lovely charmer!'"
"My, but wouldn't it be fine to have such letters to treasure!" laughed Gabrielle, teasingly. "Jim, don't you think it splendid?"
But Jim looked glum and tried to dodge under the quilts.
"'It is not every night I can dream, believe me, darling,'" continued Hygeia, her face in smiles, for she felt that her audience was now in sympathy with the reading. "'Many and many a night I pace the floor of my dark room or idly sit by the window gazing out at the flickering stars and the pale moon until they fade away in the dawn, and then I rush out into the turmoil of the unheeding, jostling world, with nothing to live for but your return. On those nights one soft word from your fair lips would summon me to peaceful dreams. Alas! to realize that you are far, far from me, and the agony of the thought that you may never return seizes and holds me fast. Then it is—
"'O, thou pale orb, that silent shines, While care-untroubled mortals sleep! Thou seest a wretch who inly pines, And wanders here to wail and weep! With woe I nightly vigils keep, Beneath thy wan, unwarming beam, And mourn in lamentation deep How life and love are all a dream.
"'Encircled in her clasping arms, How have the raptured moments flown! How have I wished for fortune's charms, For her dear sake and hers alone! And must I think it!—is she gone, My secret heart's exulting boast? And does she heedless hear my groan? And is she ever, ever lost?
"'Oh! can she bear so base a heart, So lost to honor, lost to truth, As from the fondest lover part, The plighted husband of her youth!'"
"Jim, why didn't you learn how to write letters, so that you could send some to me like that? Don't you think it lovely? Please don't stop. Pardon my interruptions," said Gabrielle.
"Never mind the interruptions. Let us get all the fun out of it we can," replied Hygeia, who continued to read with frequent interruptions from Gabrielle, but none whatever from Jim—the livelier the comments and laughter, the greater he was inclined to silence and disappearance beneath the covers.
"Jim, why don't you laugh?" Gabrielle would say, turning to the poor fellow, who was as meek as any beggar could be. The partition wall was too thick for me to hear what was going on, although by direct line I was probably not two feet away from Jim, for our beds stood head to head.
The idea of entertaining Miss Tescheron and her ill companion in this way was pleasing to Hygeia. Of course, she knew there was nothing in those letters that could make a woman cry, so on she read, and as she proceeded the fun for Gabrielle and the interest from Jim's standpoint became intensified. I don't suppose I did anything except snore.
"'I have tried hard, my sweetheart,'" continued Hygeia, "'to find distraction by visiting the places of amusement alone, but the music of the orchestras became jarring discord in my ears; the plays, either dull, or if interesting in plot with lovers happily united, they but added to my anguish. There is no escape for a heart crushed as mine has been. How I long for the wilderness; to be alone with my sorrow since heaven calling for your companionship cannot be mine!
"'Had I a cave on some wild distant shore, Where the winds howl to the waves' dashing roar; There would I weep my woes, There seek my lost repose, Till grief my eyes should close, Ne'er to wake more.
"'Every time you mention a birdie in one of your letters, Margaret, I am driven to desperation. Why have I not the charms of the woodland warblers to pierce with dulcet note the inmost fortresses of your heart buttressed to strong resistance against my awkward protestations of undying love? Nature has taught these creatures of the wild to woo with a finer art. Man is but a clod—too sordid to rise on wings of song into that vast expanse of heaven, a woman's heart. Let me learn of the birds:
"'O, stay, sweet warbling woodlark, stay! Nor quit for me the trembling spray; A hapless lover courts thy lay, Thy soothing, fond complaining.
"'Again, again, that tender part, That I may catch thy melting art, For surely that would touch her heart, Wha kills me wi' disdaining.'"
"Why, how apt those quotations are and how full!" laughed Gabrielle. "You don't suppose the writer could have been so cruel as to deliberately copy them, and yet he must have done so, of course. Just think of it: some man sitting there wildly in love, seeking counsel of the inspired poets to plead his cause. His great devotion leads him to select the tenderest passages; only those verses that speak the deep sentiments of his flaming heart does he see, and with them he presents his case. Why, really, I find that I am arguing myself into a friendly attitude toward this poor soul. Perhaps it is not right for us to laugh at that which is so real to this earnest pleader. Still, it is funny to stand aside and see two people in love, isn't it, Jim? Really one can't help laughing, and as we don't know whose letters these are, why shouldn't we laugh? Then think of the poor girl, up there in the country, writing long letters in return, proud of her lover's ardor, yet shy in penning words of devotion. Isn't it an attractive picture, Jim?—full of that 'soothing, fond complaining' for them, and comedy for the rest of us? Go on, my dear, and let us hear more of this poetic woe; although Jim doesn't say anything, I can see that he is listening. Does it make you tired, Jim?"
"Oh, no. No, no, Gabrielle—not at all!" Jim managed to spruce up enough to deny the intimation.
"Then please continue," urged Gabrielle.
Hygeia was delighted to find her entertainment so successful, and proceeded, not noting, of course, the inward groans which spread through the quaking man in the bed. Jim could see that unless a great stroke of luck turned up there would be another fire, and he would take a fall that would probably kill him next time.
It is dangerous to leave waste paper like those letters lying around close to such highly inflammable material.
Poor Hygeia! She played with the fire like a child. What did she know about the rules of the Board of Underwriters! Neither had she ever heard of the Bureau of Combustibles!
It's a mighty lucky thing for my nerves that I was dreaming an easier plot.
If Jim had been able to reach over the back of his bed and slit me with a cleaver into rosette ribbons, one-quarter inch wide, I believe he would have done it and been proud of the job.
Hygeia continuing, with Gabrielle expectant and Jim well muffled, must have presented a picture I would give anything to have preserved in oil paint.
"'How dearly I cherish the lock of hair I stole from you the evening we parted! You are not angry with me, are you, Margaret?'" read Hygeia.
"'Her hair is like the curling mist That climbs the mountain sides at e'en, When flow'r-reviving rains are past.
"'Really I do not wonder at the volumes of poetry that have been written on the beautiful tresses of the fair enshrined in lovers' hearts. Sweet dreams hover near this soft remembrance and I only regret that I did not snip off enough to have a jeweler braid it for my watch-charm locket. Enclosed please find some of mine in return.'"
"Here it is," exclaimed Hygeia, and she produced the small allotment of Jim's, tied with a cotton thread in the middle. Fortunately the original quantity had dwindled in fondling or transit, so that with an exhibit of only eighteen strands, as per my inventory, there was not enough to bulk and show the same depth of shade as the original on the neighboring pillow. Gabrielle took the fragmentary token and held it up, playfully remarking:
"Why, the dear fellow was a blond; almost your color, Jim, I should imagine; perhaps a little lighter. He probably had eyes like yours, Jimmy. Now, what a fortunate girl she was! Oh, my! Some men are so tender and thoughtful about these little matters. Jim, you never teased me by stealing a lock of my hair, did you? and so of course I never asked for yours. What a slow old chap you are! These letters will teach you a lesson, which I hope you will heed. Put the lock back with that poetry to preserve it, and do let us hear the rest of it."
"Listen, then," said Hygeia, continuing:
"'How the fresh breezes must be painting their ruddy hues on those cheeks of yours, Margaret, for you write me that you are spending most of your time in the open these beautiful days. How I long to be with you and behold, for as the poet would sing of you—
"'Her cheeks are like yon crimson gem, The pride of all the flow'ry scene, Just opening on its thorny stem.
* * * * *
"'Aye, and then—
"'Her lips are like yon cherries ripe, That sunny walls from Boreas screen— They tempt the taste and charm the sight; An' she has twa sparkling roguish een.'"
* * * * *
At this point I awoke, sat up in bed and reached out for the suspended electric button, which I pushed for two long rings and a short one, my private signal. I was thirsty for grape-juice. Hygeia seldom traveled beyond range of my bell. As soon as she heard it, she stopped reading and asked to be excused for a few minutes, until she could attend to my wants.
It was now my eighth week at the hospital, and it found me with little to do. I pined silently. The nurse flitting in and out cheered and then distracted me; she was too busy elsewhere most of the time to suit me. I dared not think too much of my troubles, for I found it discouraging and weakening. The letters from Obreeon furnished the material I needed to sustain a happy train of thought. Sitting up in bed with this precious poetic patchwork piled over my lap, I had many a good sneeze. I am sure I got some of my money back by reading them over and over again, with the memory of the original spirit in which they were slapped together. For a time the happy days of the fifth flat came back to me, and I smiled and chuckled over the wildest specimens in suppressed glee. Robert Burns, of Scotland, and I were responsible for many of these lone lover's laments. I must say that Burns held up his end fairly well, because I knew just where to place his underpinning to make it support my magnificent prose. The Byron and Shakespeare-built letters were also good. Scott rumbled a little too hard; his stride was too firm to answer the purpose, except for short fillers now and then. All the big licks were put in with Byron and Burns, and Morris occasionally as a substitute. Those fellows warmed up to the subject in a way that pleased me; they took right hold of a girl with as little timidity as a dancing professor and poured their song into her inclining ear, happy in the understanding that they were delivering the goods she wanted. Early in the business I had come to the conclusion that it was useless to fool with the cold-blooded wooers if results were wanted. Shakespeare, of course, was a leader, but his best stuff was getting to be so common in the language I found it impossible to quote him and maintain an air of dignified originality, so as to make it appear that the gems fell naturally by suggestion from Jim's well-stocked poem reservoir. If the maiden should get the idea that the prose was written around the poetry the scenic effect would be destroyed. The great thing was to make a hit by getting the sincerity in the prose boiled down so thick that the following poetry would seem to be only a breath of steam arising from the solid mass of seething sentiment. It was assumed that the lady would know who the poet was, but give Jim credit for selecting the verses the same as if he had written them; she would not doubt him on the prose, for occasionally I brought that down to the style of a plain business letter to destroy suspicion.
The more I read those letters over at the hospital, the prouder I became. My calm judgment was that they were well worth the price and any woman might be proud to have them sent to her. Perhaps I would copy them off again some time when I needed help that way myself; at any rate, I was so proud of them I decided I would always keep them for their literary value.
When Hygeia entered, I was deeply interested in this documentary mass. I had forgotten about my thirst, imbibing from this fount of poetic inspiration. She asked me what it was that pleased me so much, but I dodged that question politely.
Soon I began to regret my evasive answer. When a man gets to be real proud of his work of art, he wants somebody to admire it with him and tell him how nice it is. I had believed I should be close-mouthed about those letters, but when I had taken off the few at the top signed with Jim's name I noticed there was nothing in them to tell who wrote them. Why shouldn't Hygeia enjoy them with me? If a few seemed to affect her, a clue to her heart's entrance would appear, and then I could undertake the composition of more with greater earnestness than ever. A man can do better in such business for himself. Just a few would do no harm, at any rate. She would not know who "Devoted Darling" and "Jamie" and "My Dearest Own" might be, with no envelopes and addresses to give the thing away, and if she did, what would it matter? She would soon forget me as well as the letters. Why not brighten the dull moments?
There is no limit to the persuasive questions a fool can put to himself.
"I thought you rang for something," she said.
"Why, I remember—I was thirsty. Please let me have some grape-juice off the ice."
While she was gone I thought it all out carefully and decided not to show the letters. It would be better to be a little cagy for a while. When Hygeia returned, I again changed my mind and passed over to her a dozen or so choice specimens.
"Please sit right down and read these and tell me what you think of them," said I.
She went over to the window and presently began to laugh a little louder than the regulations would permit. That suited me, because it proved the style would melt if addressed to her; taken second-hand and cold that way, she was bound to laugh at them. Letters in divorce cases referring to the defendant woman as "a dream in curves" were no joke to the fair one who had sighed over them. Buckwheat cakes and love-letters must be done to order and served hot, or the steam dews on them and soggy fermentation ensues, giving off laughing-gas.
"Why, who in the world could have written this nonsense?" laughed Hygeia. "It sounds exactly like that letter one of the nurses found in the sun parlor the other day—the same in many respects as that letter—which has been passed around for the entertainment of the nurses and the doctors. That also must belong to you. Shall I get it for you?"
"Perhaps I dropped some carelessly, but it's no matter," said I. "Let me see it some time and I can tell you. What do you think of them?"
"Think of them!" And she smiled as if she was pleased, as she continued to turn page after page. "Surely you could not have written them, did you, Mr. Hopkins?"
"I? A friend of mine—you showed him in the other day—thought they would keep my mind occupied, so he brought them here."
"Well, I'm glad he did and that you let me read them. I think the other nurses would enjoy them. May I not read a few to them?"
"Certainly, take all you want and read all you please; only return them in order."
"But did your friend say who wrote them? If they concerned you personally at all, or your friend, Mr. Hosley, of course I should not want to take such liberties with them. Do they?"
"Why, my friend who brought them to me thought of publishing those letters," said I, "just before he brought them to me, but I persuaded him not to. Both the woman and her husband—"
"Why, did he really win her heart with them, and did they get married?"
"Certainly. Letters like that are written to win," I answered, with quiet satisfaction, even though murder had been the outcome of my art. "The lady and her husband dead and gone (honesty would have made me say 'or gone'), the letters fell into the possession of my friend, who in a way deals in such curios. I bought them from him for a song (some songs are worth one thousand dollars), although he was not over-anxious to sell them."
"Well, if you bought them from a dealer in letters, then they must have belonged to strangers. Really, are you fooling? Are you telling me the truth?"
"I have not, since I have known you, told you a single thing which is not true. But tell me, why do you doubt my sincerity? Why do you care if they concern me?" I wondered if I could have smitten her slightly, and my shoulders began to broaden against the pillow and a sensation of feeling handsome passed over me, although I had not been to a barber in weeks.
"Well, it would seem cruel to take your love-letters, you know, Mr. Hopkins, and read them to the other nurses to laugh over, now wouldn't it?"
"As you state it, perhaps it would," said I. "But what do you care about Hosley? Why do you ask if they concern him? Has Miss Tescheron spoken to you about him?" I was getting suspicious again, for she had refused, on one excuse or another, to let me see Mr. Marshall. It had flashed on me several times again that there was a bare chance of Marshall being Hosley under another name given to him by a person mistaken in identifying him, or that he was trying to hide from me under an alias so easy for him to assume, and had induced Miss Tescheron, perhaps, to avoid meeting me. The flowers, perhaps, were only to mislead me.
"Did I really ask if they concerned Mr. Hosley?" And she looked at me with such a teasing air.
"You surely did."
"Well, you used to have so much to say about him I thought perhaps you might have heard from him, you know, through this gentleman who called, and if you are still friendly to him you would not want to have his letters read around the hospital to furnish entertainment. Still, these letters were written by a married man, and I understand you and Mr. Hosley are bachelors. Mr. Hosley might have written these letters as a bachelor, I feared, and might not be proud to hear them now. He—"
"Tell me, if you thought of reading them to Mr. Hosley, where is he? It might interest me to know. You sometimes talk strangely, as if you know where he is, and yet you will not tell me. Has Miss Tescheron confided his whereabouts to you? If so, please tell me, for I would, indeed, like to confront that gentleman mighty well."
"Then you are really friendly to Mr. Hosley, and may look for him when you leave here?" She spoke as if I were about to confirm her impression that I knew only good of Hosley.
"I shall certainly find him, never fear. But my friendship for that man is dead—slain by his own hand," said I, bitterly.
This seemed to shock her rudely, but she quickly recovered and asked:
"Why look for a man in whom you have no interest? Has he committed some crime that you would track him down?"
"I will track that man down to his very grave," said I, solemnly, shaking my forefinger at her as she rested one hand on the foot of the bed and looked at me with breathless interest. "Miss Tescheron shall know all that I learn. If she should ever happen to call here to see you, be sure to tell her that, if you please; but you need not say I told you to tell her. Only, I shall be willing to have her know that I am on the trail of that scoundrel. There—I did not mean to burden you with my opinion of Hosley. I had intended to leave here quietly without saying a word about him. The secret has clawed at my heart so that I have not been able to keep it. And what matters it? You do not know him. I am satisfied that he has skipped to parts unknown, because he fears that officers are watching for him here. My, but it is terrible! Terrible! How can such villains achieve their dastardly ends with women and escape detection! Some mysterious influence seems to cover them, in all their devilish ways, from the suspicion of innocent people. Perhaps their victims in many cases shrink from exposing them. Oh, forgive me for burdening you with this awful mystery! It almost drives me mad!"
"Mystery! What has he done? In heaven's name, tell me!" And she almost screamed as she clenched the bed with both hands and leaned far toward me, those wonderful eyes staring in horror. The effect of my eloquence was greater than I suspected, but I continued to expand with commensurate pride.
"He murdered a woman but two days before he sought to marry Miss Tescheron"; and as I said it, I sank upon my pillow with a hand across my eyes to stay the tears which a more vivid presentation of the crimes of Hosley brought to my eyes. When I looked up, the nurse, pale but calm, was looking at me.
How wide I was of the mark! Instantly she had conceived the idea that the letter she had been reading to furnish diverting comedy in the next room was burdened with tragedy for the young woman to whom she had become deeply attached. Her training had taught her to maintain self-control in the emergency. Another woman, brought face to face with a murderer fondling his next victim with gory hands, might have swooned or excitedly rushed to the rescue of the fair prey with wild denunciations of the criminal.
"My! but you seem pale," I said anxiously.
"Your ghost story frightened me, Mr. Hopkins. Please don't tell me any more like that. It is now time for your luncheon."
There were so many things on my schedule of routine that it was always time for some cruel requirement to steal her away from me.
As she passed out I noticed a strange expression of care upon her beautiful face. I could not account for it, unless my earnestness had impressed her. Her point of view made the serious letters comedy for her at first; perhaps this was the reaction. There could be no reason for her agitation, based on her transient interest in Miss Tescheron, I imagined, for she had only met her for a few minutes at a time. It must have been my eloquence, the power of my dramatic art to so vividly portray the hideous Hosley that she became quite as much affected as if she had intimately known the criminal, and had followed his creeping, serpentine ways for bringing the next creature into his power. It rather pleased me to find that I could exercise this wonderful influence—a force so long latent in a superior intellectual equipment, obscured by a disenchanting personal appearance, especially unconvincing then, for I never looked particularly well in bed.
A nurse I had not seen before brought my luncheon, and with it the letter, which I quickly recognized belonged to my thousand-dollar collection.
"Your nurse sends this letter, which I am told is yours," said my new guardian. "She is ill and the doctor has ordered her to rest."
"Ill? Why, I am very, very sorry to hear that," said I. "Tell me, please, how seriously ill she is. Only a moment ago she left here looking very pale. Do tell me about her."
"Why, that is all I know."
The next day I learned that Hygeia had gone to her home in Connecticut for a brief vacation. Something had happened; I did not know what. The doctor, it appears, advised that a vacation would be the thing. I could learn no more. I was able to get her address, and wrote a long letter to her, but no reply came. I began to doubt the strength of my magnetic power over her, so encouragingly demonstrated, and was utterly miserable again. Every other worldly interest became dim; the last ray of hope had gone and through the dark valley of despair I stumbled alone.
Marshall, I learned, had left the same day Hygeia departed, but I did not care. I should not have spoken to him. I was in no humor to talk with him over that tame experience passed through while I was unconscious. When burning over a slow fire, a man is not fit for reminiscence. Two weeks later, after an illness of ten weeks, I was discharged from the hospital with all wounds healed except the one I received there, and perhaps that other—the maddening effect of Hosley's infidelity.
It was an unfortunate day for Mr. Tescheron and his family when I isolated him among the scheming natives of Hoboken, that seat of wonderful mechanical learning. When the birds had been shipped to Stukeville, Mrs. Tescheron insisted that the family return home at once, and, if necessary, take the consequences of a terrible publicity. Life without her friends had become unbearable. She must have the comforts of her home. Daily she begged, implored, teased and pined. Gabrielle, too, urged her father to consider her mother's health, for Hoboken had gotten upon Mrs. Tescheron's nerves to a dangerous degree.
"I care nothing now for the publicity," said Mrs. Tescheron. "It cannot be worse than this sort of privacy. Albert, I hope you will see the folly of remaining longer."
"Mr. Smith tells me it would not be safe to return yet, Marie. Be patient; in a little while everything will have blown over. Remember, we are paying Mr. Smith, who is experienced in these matters, and it is good business to take his advice."
Gabrielle remained silent during the conversation between her father and mother. She had, as usual, spent the best part of the day attending her hero at the hospital, protecting him from the consequences of her foolish father's acts and from his traitorous chum. Her plans were carrying well, and were it not for her mother's fretfulness Hoboken or any spot within a reasonable distance from the hospital would be a satisfactory abiding place for her.
Gabrielle's disinterestedness had already aroused her father's suspicion.
"You seem to be satisfied here, Gabrielle," said he, turning to his daughter, whose air of contentment seemed to him to be based on something more than a sustaining faith in Jim Hosley; it must, he thought, include a full knowledge of Jim's retreat. That night she seemed to be most aggravatingly self-satisfied, although she had really never been otherwise from the moment of his first denunciation of Jim, closely followed by the family's flight. This must be something more than stoicism. She had outgeneraled him in some way.
"Yes, I am perfectly satisfied, father," replied Gabrielle. "Mother, however, needs her home. The days drag heavily here. A few weeks' change was well enough, and I believe it might have helped her; but you can see that she is worrying a great deal now. Is it worth while, do you think, to sacrifice mother's comfort, perhaps her health?"
"These rooms are not to my liking so well as those in Ninety-sixth Street, but Mr. King wrote to me again the other day that the same fellow was around again to serve me with that subpoena. Hoboken may not be so desirable as home, but I think you would both be sorry to return and undergo the ordeal we have been delivered from by coming here. I am trying a little plan now which, if it works, may bring us home soon. I think it is the safe way out. Mr. Smith and I are now at work on it. If all goes well, Marie, you will be happily returned to your home very soon, so please be as patient as you can a few days longer. This miserable incident will then be closed forever, and we may walk abroad again among our friends, with our reputations unsullied and no one the wiser for our leaving as we did. Ah! it will please me, mother, to have it so."
"Indeed, it will please us all, Albert," Mrs. Tescheron assured him sadly, although it seemed to her there could be nothing more disappointing than an indefinite postponement of her heart's desire.
What those plans were Gabrielle would have given Smith a retainer to know, for if they involved the arrest of her Jim and his extradition to another State. She wondered how her father could believe they would get away safely in a week. If the detectives had lost track of the fugitive during the time he was in the hospital she did not believe they would find him now in the hiding-place she had in mind. The moment the hospital physicians consented, Jim Hosley would be removed to a spot where he might convalesce without fear of molestation. Not a soul, not even her mother, should know of that place, for if the pursuit was to be renewed in earnest, her vigilance must be all the greater.
Gabrielle's fears, as is usually the case with lovers whose wisdom is intuitional, were not well founded. The detectives had long ago ceased to do any actual work in following clues to determine the whereabouts of the bad man. Why should they? Their idea was to keep him mysteriously at large, with the district attorney and police always just around the corner. Suspended interest pays well, for the service was charged at so much per week with occasionally a bonus for an "extra."
Mr. Tescheron did not have in mind a further pursuit of Hosley after he had paid the detective bureau for weeks of service, which brought no results other than rumors. To have the disturber of his peace in hiding where no man could find him would have pleased Mr. Tescheron; but from the reports of Smith it seemed certain that a crisis was about to be reached. Hosley had been located in South Dakota, claiming a residence antedating our fire by several weeks. A man who has had trouble with his wives generally goes there. The officials were about to send men on to arrest him, and then await his extradition. There was enough evidence, Mr. Smith said, in the Browning case alone to warrant the belief that the authorities would readily secure the transfer of their man to New York; but long before that time, all the horrible details would appear in the papers.
"We have staved this thing off for five weeks, Mr. Tescheron," said Mr. Smith, in one of his private interviews with his client at the Stuffer House. They sat that afternoon in a corner of the writing-room adjoining the large living-room.
"Yes, I think you have done well," replied Mr. Tescheron. "But how much have I paid you altogether? About one thousand eight hundred dollars, isn't it?"
"Yes, or a trifle more or less, one way or the other. I can't remember just now. It has involved me in heavy expense, this case has, Mr. Tescheron. If I had it to do over again, I could not possibly quote such favorable terms for our facilities—I could not possibly. No, sir, I could not possibly think of doing so." Mr. Smith's emphasis took the form of dwindling repetition so common to men of business, who have hold of the best end of the bargain, and have decided to keep their hold.
"Well, in the fish business, one thousand eight hundred dollars stands for enough to feed ten thousand people," remarked Mr. Tescheron, glumly. "I feel as if it ought to pay for a lot of detective work. I am sorry you think you are so underpaid."
There was a trace of a sneer that Mr. Smith did not like, and as he held the upper hand in the detective business he did not need to tolerate such conduct in his client.
"Perhaps we'd better call the thing off," said Mr. Smith. "You and your family remain here—or you might go down to Lakewood. In that way you will escape much of the disagreeable notoriety—quite a good deal of it, at any rate. Yes, sir, a considerable amount of it."
Mr. Smith snapped some documentary-looking papers, and as he drew his lips together and nervously twisted his head, he thrust the papers deep in an inside pocket. They contained a memorandum of the estimated price for engineering the return of the Tescheron family to New York under an iron-clad guarantee of protection.
But the sarcasm was more of an irritant than the client could stand.
"See here, Smith, you talk to me in a way I don't like"; and Mr. Tescheron glared as he became more combative than he had ever been in his dealings with this prosperous leech. "I don't care to have you threaten me in this underhanded manner. Perhaps I have been a fool to have placed so much confidence in you from the start. You have kept me scared and away from my home for five weeks, and now you hint that the end is not in sight. We are all sick and tired of this place. Hoboken is no paradise, let me tell you. I am bored to death here. For the money paid to you to date, you have produced nothing but discomfort. I am thinking of packing up and starting back to-morrow, let the consequences be what they may. I think I have been a victim quite long enough, and have paid just about all a fool ought to pay for a vacation of five weeks."
"Well, you know your own business best, of course, Mr. Tescheron. If you really don't fear the publicity, why did you engage me at all? Why did you go to any expense whatever? Of course, it is foolish, as you say, to spend money to avoid that which you do not fear. Go back and take your medicine; let your wife and daughter take theirs. Go back by all means; start to-morrow. Don't delay."
That fellow Smith certainly knew enough about fishing for men to fill a volume with pointers on the best lines, rods, and bait—artificial, worms or minnows. He knew just what he could do with a man restrained by fear, and filled with the idea that his money and superior business judgment would enable him to gain his ends in every emergency. A poor man is protected against many parasites by his lean purse. It gets back to the saying, "A fool and his money are soon parted"; but what impresses me at this turn of our narrative is the fact that the fool is only interesting up to the point of the parting. After that he is dropped from the plans of his pursuers. Notice of the failure of Mr. Tescheron's business in the reports of the day would have removed him from the realm of mystery to sure footing on the hard-pan of tough luck.
Mr. Tescheron had in his haste begun to find fault before he knew just what move to make. He realized that Smith read that fact in his manner and peevish complaining. He felt the hook in his gills. Smith felt the tug on the line. Perhaps at that interview he thought how like my advice this sarcastic statement from Smith seemed. At times he felt like a coward, and then encouraged himself to believe he was really a brave man, saving his loved ones from the blasting breath of scandal more awful than any calamity that might overtake them.
Smith's shrewd little brain turned on cash. Gold dollars were the ball bearings that eased its frictionless revolutions. Pine forests have their charms, no doubt, for those misguided creatures who enjoy the bracing ozone of the balsam-laden air. To Smith the pungent sap of the evergreen tree was a poor substitute for the stimulating essence of greenback, the cologne of greasy bills, and it would take a big pile of them to make the room "stuffy" enough to have him raise the window. When it came to drawing nigh to money, Mr. Smith was the pink of propinquity.
Noting that Mr. Tescheron had been subdued, Mr. Smith started to go. He bade his patron to be of good cheer, and promised him the outlook would surely brighten in time.
"Keep your seat a minute, Smith," urged Mr. Tescheron, whose ideas had been strengthened by the tonic of Smith's stimulating rejoinder, and I may add that the turn was about what Smith had planned to happen. "What are those papers you put back in your pocket?" The observing, gullible man of business was trying to swim where the current was a little too swift for him.
"Why, I had here a memorandum of what it would cost to have you go back and have the whole business hushed up forever."
"Three thousand dollars."
"Whew! That's a scorcher."
"Flanagan wanted six, but I got next to him myself and I think—I'm not sure—but I think he would take three."
"I can't think of it. I'll give a thousand, but not a cent more. And say—how much do you keep out of it, Smith?"
Mr. Tescheron cast a suspicious eye on the detective, who proceeded to apply his formula for suspicion.
"That is an insult, Mr. Tescheron," exclaimed Mr. Smith. "You may not have intended it as such, but really that is too much for me to bear. I have served you untiringly and faithfully, and really you should give me better treatment. I cannot allow you to insinuate that I would be guilty of—"
"There, there, Smith, forget it. I shouldn't have accused you of that. But this expense is too heavy. I'll stay here a while longer. As there seems to be no danger of the case being revived, I think we may return in a week or so without paying the hush money."
"Just as you say, but I confess the newspaper reports have scared me, even though you—"
"The reports!" Tescheron colored and blanched in turn. "The reports! Where?"
"You saw them."
"Certainly I did not. Where did they appear? When? Why have you not told me?"
"But you read the papers, and I understood you did not fear them while over here."
"Fear them! What am I here for except to escape the scandal that would attach to my family? Smith, are you lying to me? There were no reports. Had there been I could not have missed them; my man King or some one would have called my attention to them."
Mr. Smith handed a carefully folded newspaper clipping, with ragged edges, to Mr. Tescheron. It had the appearance of being hastily torn from a paper. Mr. Tescheron read it slowly, and as he did so Smith watched the victim writhe as the prepared venom paralyzed it for the death-blow. I have seen this clipping. It read as follows:
MURDER HIDDEN BY THE POLICE.
MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF A WOMAN NOT REPORTED FOR SIX WEEKS.
The mysterious death of a woman, supposed to have been murdered in an apartment house in this city by her husband, two days prior to an incendiary fire that took place six weeks ago and destroyed all traces of the crime, was considered by the Grand Jury to-day, with Coroner Flanagan as one of the witnesses. The names of the parties concerned in the tragedy could not be learned at the Central Office, and Coroner Flanagan refused to give any details concerning the autopsy. He admitted, however, that the matter had been called to his attention anonymously, and his subsequent investigations had led him to report the matter to the Central Office. The police say that publicity at this time might make it impossible for them to secure the presence of the murderer, who has been found in a Western State. As the case has reached the Grand Jury, an indictment may follow at any time.
A well-known merchant who has been absent from the city since the date of the fire is in some way said to be involved as an important witness.
On the back of the clipping, Mr. Tescheron's dazed eyes noted a market report dated at Chicago, but he did not scan the paper more closely. Nervously he handed it to Smith. When he had pondered a moment he said:
"I'll pay it."
What should I do with myself? That was my problem, when I went out into the world again. No boarding-house could satisfy me, so I determined to set up in light housekeeping, which is a city imitation of Robinson Crusoe in two rooms. There I could be melancholy without interruption; it would not be necessary to chatter with the other boarders either to keep them from observing my absent-mindedness or to divert my own attention from the dull routine of cannery products, synthetic meats, and "laid down eggs"—laid only a little way down by the hen and away down in a barrel by a man under water-glass for eight months and eight cents more per dozen. Besides, if you keep house in the city an arrangement may be made with your milkman so that you may irrigate your milk to suit yourself. You simply request him to deliver the water he usually blends with the milk in a separate vessel, which, of course, you are glad to provide. Then if you get only a pint of cow's milk for the price of a quart, you are satisfied, because you have the privilege of seasoning it by superior home-methods of irrigation to suit yourself. I was too much of a farmer to ever board comfortably in the city.
Jim always agreed with me in those days before nervousness induced by woman drove us through fire and over the bumpy paths of error, that housekeeping was the ideal life. Knowledge of what the people will stand is power, and it has packed some powerful doses in cans. They used to throw away half the hog until they got knowledge. Some epicure who lived on rats and bats' eyes, announced that the black spot in the oyster is the best part. What he had to say was published in a bulletin or a report—let me see, was it from the Department of Agriculture? I've read a good many of their bulletins, but I can't be sure if they did that for the country or not. At any rate, the report went into oysters from away back, quoted authorities from Egypt and Persia, who were fond of dogs, and gave the needed impetus to the captains of the canning industry, who are always on the lookout for pointers—or pugs. Since then all the black spots have been saved on the farm, whether in hogs or apples, done up at some factory in neat glass jars, with a chemist's certificate that they do not contain boracic acid or turpentine, and will not eat the enamel off a stew-kettle; sterilized, gold-labeled and rechristened "Meadfern" crab apples, mince-meat, gelatine, invalid's food and what not, until it is hard to tell where the economy will stop. The latest thing in this line is the current information that it pays to feed the stimulating prickers from the wild gooseberries to make the hens lay.
I once asked a fellow who ran a cannery why he used such expensive labels.
"To please the goats," he answered.
And so his business is largely human nature, too. We laugh at the foolish goats for eating the label off a can—we eat the same thing ourselves. When I come to drink the bitter hemlock, I pray it may be labeled so as to take the pucker out of it.
I would rather starve than board, so I started out to find my desert island.
"You advertise rooms for light housekeeping," said I to a sad-faced, middle-aged woman, who answered my ringing of the bell of a three-story brownstone house in East Thirty-eighth Street. Some prosperous merchant had probably lived there twenty years before, but it had been converted into a nest for workers.
"Yes, sir," she replied. "Two back rooms."
"What floor?" I asked, having in mind the force of gravity.
"Second floor. How many in your family?"
"You keep house alone?"
"Certainly. I know how."
"Don't you find it lonesome?"
"I hope so. I want to be lonesome."
"Well, I don't know." She hesitated and looked me over with great care. "Have you anybody to recommend you?"
"I see that you doubt my sanity, madam. My nerves are a little out of line; I have just left the hospital and must be quiet. Do you see? If you must have references, I work for the Department of Health."
"Oh, that's all right, then, if you work for the Department of Health."
The rooms suited me. The small hall-room was the kitchen, and the larger room was the living-room, equipped with one of those furniture alligators and diabolical economizers of space, a folding bed, and a few chairs bravely presenting a polished but brittle front, under the bracing influence of the gluepot, as I afterward learned. Every time one of those chairs broke down under me, my heart also went out to the poor soul, Mrs. Dewey, the landlady, who made her living by pinching a profit out of every penny. She was a generous creature, so far as she could be; but a hard world's exactions squeezed her to a meanness she herself detested, but must practice or starve. When I think long of poor Mrs. Dewey, whom I knew for only a few weeks, I want to begin life over again as a reformer. I'd take an axe to Mr. Dewey, and begin my reforms on him as a typical subject in need of annihilation, and get as far as a man a few centuries ahead of his time might expect to.
Old Dewey—the Mr. Dewey herein before referred to—was the black background and cellar of the institution. Like a rat, he came from the coal heap or a hidden corner unawares and was gone into further darkness before you could turn to learn the cause of the noise he made. His shadowy participation in home management contributed to the family's progress as a millstone about the neck of its mistress, and did not follow over-stimulation, the common cause of chronic depression in husbands of boarding-house keepers and women who rent furnished rooms. Bone-laziness filling the marrow and changing its natural pink to a Roquefort verdigris of decay, was my diagnosis of old Dewey's ailment. He moved with a premeditation which nine times out of ten amounted to standing still; rest resulted from two opposing forces, Mrs. Dewey's beseeching and threats colliding with his will traveling against her purpose with counter-balancing velocity and mass. A hired man would have left her long ago under such tongue-lashing, but old Dewey could not leave, because to leave is an act. There were no verbs in his vocabulary comprehending possibilities of usefulness within range of the present tense. What an irony in names! I often thought.