"To-night! Not another hour will you stay here. I will go to the Purser at once and—"
"You mean to turn me out?"
"Oh, merciful God! Don't! Listen—you MUST listen. Let me stay! What difference should it make to you. You have nursed hundreds of men. You have saved many lives. Save mine—give me back my little girl! She can come to me in Quebec and then we can get away somewhere in America and be safe. I can still pass as a Sister and she as a child in my charge until I can find some place where I can throw off my disguise. See how good the real Sisters are to me; they do not condemn me. Here is a letter from the Mother Superior in Paris to the Mother Superior of a convent in Quebec. It is not forged—it is genuine. If they believe in me, why cannot you? Let me stay here, and you stay, too. You would if you could see my child."
The sound of a heavy step was heard outside in the corridor.
Then came a quick, commanding voice: "Miss Jennings, open the door, please."
The Nurse turned quickly and made a step toward the door. The fugitive sank upon the sofa and drew the hood over his face.
Again her name rang out—this time in a way that showed them both that further delay was out of the question.
Nurse Jennings shot back the bolt.
Outside stood the First Officer.
"There has been a bad accident in the steerage. I hate to ask you, Miss Jennings, knowing how tired you are—but one of the emigrants has fallen down the forecastle hatch. The Doctor wants you to come at once."
During the rest of the voyage Nurse Jennings slept in the steerage; she would send to Number 49 during the day for her several belongings, but she never passed the night there, nor did she see her companion. The case was serious, she told the Stewardess, who came in search of her, and she dared not leave.
The fugitive rarely left the stateroom. Some days he pleaded illness and had his meals brought to him; often he ate nothing.
As the day approached for the vessel to arrive in New York a shivering nervousness took possession of him. He would stand behind the door by the hour listening for her lightest footfall, hoping against hope that, after all, her heart would soften toward him. One thought absorbed him: would she betray him, and if so, when and where? Would it be to the First Officer—the friend of Hobson—or would she wait until they reached New York and then hand him over to the authorities?
Only one gleam of hope shone out illumining his doubt, and that was that she never sent to the stateroom during the Hour of Silence, thus giving him a chance to continue his disguise. Even this ray was dimmed when he began to realize as they approached their destination that she had steadily avoided him, even choosing another deck for a breath of fresh air whenever she left her patient. That she had welcomed the accident to the emigrant as an excuse for remaining away from her stateroom was evident. What he could not understand was, if she really pitied and justified him, as she had done his prototype, why she should now treat him with such suspicion. At her request he had opened his heart and had trusted her; why then could she not forgive him for the deceit of that first night—one for which he was not responsible?
Then a new thought chilled him like an icy wind: her avoidance of him was only an evidence of her purpose! Thus far she had not exposed him, because then it would be known aboard that they had shared the stateroom together. He saw it all now. She was waiting until they reached the dock. Then no one would be the wiser.
When the steamer entered her New York slip and the gangplank was hoisted aboard, another thick-set, closely-knit man pushed his way through the crowd at the rail, walked straight to the Purser and whispered something in his ear. The next moment he had glided to where the Nurse and fugitive were standing.
"This is Miss Jennings, isn't it? I'm from the Central Office," and he opened his coat and displayed the gold shield. "We've just got a cable from Hobson. He said you were on board and might help. I'm looking for a man. We've got no clew—don't know that he's on board, but I thought we'd look the list over. The Purser tells me that you helped the Doctor in the steerage—says somebody had been smashed up. Got anything to suggest?—anybody that would fit this description: 'Small man, only five-feet-six; blue eyes'"—and he read from a paper in his hand.
"No, I don't think so. I was in the steerage, of course, four or five days, and helped on a bad case, but I didn't notice anybody but the few people immediately about me."
"Perhaps, then, among the first-class passengers? Anybody peculiar there? He's a slick one, we hear, and may be working a stunt in disguise."
"No. To tell you the truth, I was so tired when I came aboard that I hardly spoke to any one—no one, really, except my dear Sister Teresa here, who shared my stateroom. They have driven her out of France and she is on her way to a convent in Quebec. I go with her as far as Montreal."
SAM JOPLIN'S EPIGASTRIC NERVE
"You eat too much, Marny." It was Joplin, of Boston, who was speaking—Samuel Epigastric Joplin, his brother painters called him. "You treat your stomach as if it were a scrap-basket and you dump into it everything you—"
"I do? You caricature of a codfish ball!"
"Yes, you do. You open your mouth, pin back your ears and in go pickles, red cabbage, Dutch cheese. It's insanity, Marny, and it's vulgar. No man's epigastric can stand it. It wouldn't make any difference if you were a kangaroo with your pouch on the outside, but you're a full-grown man and ought to have some common-sense."
"And you think that if I followed your idiotic theory it would keep me out of my coffin, do you? What you want, Joppy, is a square meal. You never had one, so far as I can find out, since you were born. You drank sterilized milk at blood temperature until you were five; chewed patent, unhulled wheat bread until you were ten, and since that time you've filled your stomach with husks—proteids, and carbohydrates, and a lot of such truck—isn't that what he calls em, Pudfut?"
The Englishman nodded in assent.
"And now just look at you, Joppy, instead of a forty-inch chest—"
"And a sixty-inch waist," interjected Joplin with a laugh, pointing at Marny's waistcoat.
"I acknowledge it, old man, and I'm proud of it," retorted Marny, patting his rotundity. "Instead, I say, of a decent chest your shoulders crowd your breast-bone; your epigastric, as you call it—it's your solar plexus, Joppy—but that's a trifle to an anatomist like you—your epigastric scrapes your back-bone, so lonely is it for something warm and digestible to rub up against, and your— Why, Joppy, do you know when I look at you and think over your wasted life, my eyes fill with tears? Eat something solid, old man, and give your stomach a surprise. Begin now. Dinner's coming up—I smell it. Open your port nostril, you shrivelled New England bean, and take in the aroma of beatific pork and greens. Doesn't that put new life into you? Puddy, you and Schonholz help Joppy to his feet and one or two of you fellows walk behind to pick up the pieces in case he falls apart before we can feed him. There's Tine's dinner-bell!"
White-capped, rosy-checked, bare-armed Tine had rung that bell for this group of painters for two years past—ever since Mynheer Boudier of the Bellevue over the way, who once claimed her services, had reproved Johann, the porter, for blocking up with the hotel trunks that part of the sidewalk over which the steamboat captain slid his gangplank. Thereupon Tine slipped her pretty little feet into her white sabots—she and Johann have been called in church since—and walked straight over to the Holland Arms. Johann now fights the steamboat captain, backed not only by the landlord of the Arms, who rubs his hands in glee over the possession of two of his competitor's best servants, but by the whole coterie of painters whose boots Johann blacks, whose kits be packs and unpacks, whose errands he runs; while Tine, no less loyal and obliging, darns their stockings, mends their clothes, sews on buttons, washes brushes, stretches canvases, waits on table, rings the dinner-bell, and with her own hands scrubs every square inch of visible surface inside and out of this quaint old inn in this sleepy old town of Dort-on-the-Maas—side-walks, windows, cobbles—clear to the middle of the street, her ruddy arms bare to the elbow, her sturdy, blue-yarn-stockinged legs thrust into snow-white sabots to keep her trim feet from the wet and slop.
Built in 1620, this inn of the Holland Arms—so the mildewed brick in the keystone over the arch of the doorway says—and once the home of a Dutchman made rich by the China trade, whose ships cast anchor where Fop Smit's steamboats now tie up (I have no interest in the Line); a grimy, green-moulded, lean-over front and moss-covered, sloping-roof sort of an inn, with big beams supporting the ceilings of the bedrooms; lumbering furniture blackened with the smoke of a thousand pipes flanking the walls of the coffee-room; bits of Delft a century old lining the mantel; tiny panes of glass with here and there a bull's-eye illumining the squat windows; rows of mugs with pewter tops crowding the narrow shelves beside the fireplace, and last, and by no means least, a big, bulky sun-moon-and-stars clock, with one eye always open, which strikes the hours as if it meant to beat the very life out of them.
But there is something more in this coffee-room—something that neither Mynheer Boudier of the Bellevue nor any other landlord in any other hostelry, great or small, up and down the Maas, can boast. This is the coffee-room picture gallery—free to whoever comes.
It began with a contribution from the first impecunious painter in payment of an overdue board-bill, his painting being hung on a nail beside the clock. Now; all over the walls—above the sideboard with its pewter plates and queer mugs; over the mantel holding the Delft, and between the squat windows—are pinned, tacked, pasted and hung—singly and in groups—sketches in oil, pastel, water color, pencil and charcoal, many without frames and most of them bearing the signature of some poor, stranded painter, preceded by the suggestive line, "To my dear friend, the landlord"—silent reminders all of a small cash balance which circumstances quite beyond their control had prevented their liquidating at the precise hour of their departure.
Mynheer had bowed and smiled as each new contribution was handed him and straightway had found a hammer and a nail and up it went beside its fellows. He never made objection: the more the merrier. The ice wind would soon blow across the Maas from Papendrecht, the tall grasses in the marshes turn pale with fright, and the lace-frost with busy fingers pattern the tiny panes, and then Johann would pack the kits one after another, and the last good-byes take place. But the sketches would remain. Oh! yes, the sketches would remain and tell the story of the summer and every night new mugs would be filled around the coal-fire, and new pipes lighted—mugs and pipes of the TOWNSPEOPLE this time, who came to feast their eyes,—and, although the summer was gone, the long winter would still be his. No, Mynheer never objected!
And this simple form of settlement—a note of hand (in color), payable in yearly patronage—has not been confined to modern times. Many an inn owes its survival to a square of canvas—the head of a child, a copper pot, or stretch of dune; and more than one collector now boasts of a masterpiece which had hung for years on some taproom wall, a sure but silent witness of the poverty of a Franz Hals, Wouverman or Van der Helst.
Each year had brought new additions to the impecunious group about Mynheer's table.
Dear old Marny, with his big boiler amidships, his round, sunburned face shaded by a wide-brimmed, slouch hat—the one he wore when he lived with the Sioux Indians—loose red tie tossed over one shoulder, and rusty velveteen coat, was an old habitue. And so was dry, crusty Malone, "the man from Dublin," rough outside as a potato and white inside as its meal. And so, too, was Stebbins, the silent man of the party, and the only listener in the group. All these came with the earliest birds and stayed until the boys got out their skates.
But there were others this year who were new. Pudfut, the Englishman, first—in from Norway, where he had been sketching on board some lord's yacht—he of the grizzly brown beard, brown ulster reaching to his toes, gray-checked steamer-cap and brierwood pipe—an outfit which he never changed—"slept in them," Marny insisted.
"Me name's Pudfut," he began, holding out his hand to Marny. "I've got a letter in my clothes for ye from a chap in Paris."
"Don't pull it out," had come the answer. "Put it there!" and within an hour the breezy fellow, his arm through the Englishman's, had trotted him all over Dort from the Groote Kerk to the old Gate of William of Orange, introducing him to every painter he met on the way, first as Pudfut, then as Puddy, then as Pretty-foot, then as Tootsie-Wootsie, and last as Toots—a name by which he is known in the Quartier to this day. This done, he had taken him up to his own room and had dumped him into an extra cot—his for the rest of the summer.
Then Schonholz wandered in—five gulden a week board was the magnet—a cheese-faced, good-natured German lad with forehead so high that when he raised his hat Marny declared, with a cry of alarm, that his scalp had slipped, and only regained his peace of mind when he had twisted his fat fingers in the lad's forelock to make sure that it was still fast. Schonholz had passed a year at Heidelberg and carried his diploma on his cheek—two crisscross slashes that had never healed—spoke battered English, wore a green flat-topped cap, and gray bobtailed coat with two rows of horn buttons ("Come to shoot chamois, have you?" Marny had asked when he presented his credentials.)—laughed three-quarters of the time he was awake, and never opened his kit or set a palette while he was in Dort. "Too vet and too fodgy all dime," was the way he accounted for his laziness.
Last came Joplin—a man of thirty-five; bald as an egg and as shiny. ("Dangerous to have a hen around," Marny would say, rubbing the pate after the manner of a phrenologist.) Gaunt, wiry; jerky in his movements as a Yankee clock and as regular in his habits: hot water when he got up—two glasses, sipped slowly; cold water when he went to bed, head first, feet next, then the rest of him; window open all night no matter how hard it blew or rained; ate three meals a day and no more; chewed every mouthful of food thirty times—coffee, soup, even his drinking-water (Gladstone had taught him that, he boasted)—a walking laboratory of a man, who knew it all, took no layman's advice, and was as set in his ways as a chunk of concrete.
And his fads did not stop with his food; they extended to his clothes—everything he used, in fact. His baggy knickerbockers ended in leather leggins to protect his pipe-stem shanks; his shirts buttoned all the way down in front and went on like a coat; he wore health flannels by day and a health shirt at night ("Just like my old Aunt Margaret's wrapper," whispered Marny in a stage voice to Pudfut); sported a ninety-nine-cent silver watch fastened to a leather strap (sometimes to a piece of twine); stuck a five-hundred-dollar scarab pin in his necktie—"Nothing finer in the Boston Museum," he maintained, and told the truth—and ever and always enunciated an English so pure and so undefiled that Stebbins, after listening to it for a few minutes, proposed, with an irreverence born of good-fellowship, that a subscription be started to have Joplin's dialect phonographed so that it might be handed down to posterity as the only real and correct thing.
"Are you noticing, gentlemen, the way in which Joplin handles his mother tongue?" Stebbins had shouted across the table: "never drops his 'g's,' never slights his first syllable; says 'HUmor' with an accent on the 'HU.' But for the fact that he pronounces 'bonnet' 'BUNNIT' and 'admires' a thing when he really ought only to 'like' it, you could never discover his codfish bringing up. Out with your wallets—how much do you chip in?"
These peculiarities soon made Joplin the storm-centre of every discussion. Not only were his views on nutrition ridiculed, but all his fads were treated with equal disrespect. "Impressionism," "plein air," the old "line engraving" in contrast to the modern "half-tone" methods—any opinion of Joplin's, no matter how sane or logical, was jostled, sat on, punched in the ribs and otherwise maltreated until every man was breathless or black in the face with assumed rage—every man except the man jostled, who never lost his temper no matter what the provocation, and who always came up smiling with some such remark as: "Smite away, you Pharisees; harmony is heavenly—but stupid. Keep it up—here's the other cheek!"
On this particular night Joplin, as I have said, had broken out on diet. Some movement of Marny's connected with the temporary relief of the lower button of his waistcoat had excited the great Bostonian's wrath. The men were seated at dinner inside the coffee-room, Johann and Tine serving.
"Yes, Marny, I'm sorry to say it, but the fact is you eat too much and you eat the wrong things. If you knew anything of the kinds of food necessary to nourish the human body, you would know that it should combine in proper proportions proteid, fats, carbohydrates and a small percentage of inorganic salts—these are constantly undergoing oxidation and at the same time are liberating energy in the form of heat."
"Hear the bloody bounder!" bawled Pudfut from the other end of the table.
"Silence!" called Marny, with his ear cupped in his fingers, an expression of the farthest-away-boy-in-the-class on his face.
Joplin waved his hand in protest and continued, without heeding the interruption: "Now, if you're stupid enough to stuff your epigastrium with pork, you, of course, get an excess of non-nitrogenous fats, and in order to digest anything properly you must necessarily cram in an additional quantity of carbohydrates—greens, potatoes, cabbage—whatever Tine shoves under your nose. Consult any scientist and see if I am not right—especially the German doctors who have made a specialty of nutrition. Such men as Fugel, Beenheim and—"
Here a slice of Tine's freshly-cut bread made a line-shot, struck the top of Joplin's scalp, caromed on Schonholz's shirt-front and fell into Stebbins's lap, followed instantly by "Order, gentlemen!" from Marny. "Don't waste that slab of proteid. The learned Bean is most interesting and should not be interrupted."
"Better out than in," continued Joplin, brushing the crumbs from his plate. "Bread—fresh bread particularly—is the very worst thing a man can put into his stomach."
"And how about pertaties?" shouted Malone. "I s'pose ye'd rob us of the only thing that's kep' us alive as a nation, wouldn't ye?"
"I certainly would, 'Loney, except in very small quantities. Raw potatoes contain twenty-two per cent. of the worst form of non-nitrogenous food, and seventy-eight per cent. of water. You, Malone, with your sedentary habits, should never touch an ounce of potato. It excites the epigastric nerve and induces dyspepsia. You're as lazy as the devil and should only eat nitrogenous food and never in excess. What you require is about one hundred grams of protein, giving you a fuel value of twenty-seven hundred calories, and to produce this fifty-five ounces of food a day is enough. When you exceed this you run to flesh—unhealthy bloat really—and in the wrong places. You've only to look at Marny's sixty-inch waist-line to prove the truth of this theory. Now look at me—I keep my figure, don't I? Not a bad one for a light-weight, is it? I'm in perfect health, can run, jump, eat, sleep, paint, and but for a slight organic weakness with my heart, which is hereditary in my family and which kills most of us off at about seventy years of age, I'm as sound as a nut. And all—all, let me tell you, due to my observing a few scientific laws regarding hygiene which you men never seem to have heard of."
Malone now rose to his feet, pewter mug in hand, and swept his eye around the table.
"Bedad, you're right, Joppy," he said with a wink at Marny—"food's the ruination of us all; drink is what we want. On yer feet, gintlemen—every mother's son of ye! Here's to the learned, livin' skeleton from Boston! Five per cint. man and ninety-five per cint. crank!"
The next morning the group of painters—all except Joplin, who was doing a head in "smears" behind the Groote Kerk a mile away—were at work in the old shipyard across the Maas at Papendrecht. Marny was painting a Dutch lugger with a brown-madder hull and an emerald-green stern, up on the ways for repairs. Pudfut had the children of the Captain posed against a broken windlass rotting in the tall grass near the dock, and Malone and Schonholz, pipe in mouth, were on their backs smoking. "It wasn't their kind of a mornin'," Malone had said.
Joplin's discourse the night before was evidently lingering in their minds, for Pudfut broke out with: "Got to sit on Joppy some way or we'll be talked to death," and he squeezed a tube of color on his palette. "Getting to be a bloody nuisance."
"Only one way to fix him," remarked Stebbins, picking up his mahlstick from the grass beside him.
"How?" came a chorus.
"Scare him to death."
The painters laid down their brushes. Stebbins rarely expressed an opinion; any utterance from him, therefore, carried weight.
"Go for him about his health, I tell you," continued Stebbins, dragging a brush from the sheaf in his hand.
"But there's nothing the matter with him," answered Marny. "He's as skinny as a coal-mine mule, but he's got plenty of kick in him yet."
"You're dead right, Marny," answered Stebbins, "but he doesn't think so. He's as big a fool over every little pain as he is over his theories."
"Niver cracked his jaw to me about it," sputtered Malone from between the puffs of his pipe.
"No, and he won't. I don't jump on him as you fellows do and so I get his confidence. He's in my room two or three times every night going over his symptoms. When his foot's asleep he thinks he's got creeping paralysis. Every time his breath comes short, his heart's giving out."
"That's hereditary!" said Marny; "he said so."
"Hereditary be hanged! Same with everything else. Last night he dug me out of bed and wanted me to count his pulse—thought it intermitted. He's hipped, I tell you, on his health!"
"That's because he lives on nothing," rejoined Marny. "Tine puts the toast in the oven over night so it will be dry enough for him in the morning—she told me so yesterday. Now he's running on sour milk and vinegar—'blood too alkaline,' he says—got a chalky taste in his mouth!"
"Well, whatever it is, he's a rum-nuisance," said Pudfut, "and he ought to be jumped on."
"Yes," retorted Stebbins, "but not about his food. Jump on him about his health, then he'll kick back and in pure obstinacy begin to think he's well—that's his nature."
"Don't you do anything of the kind," protested Marny. "Joppy's all right—best lad I know. Let him talk; doesn't hurt anybody and keeps everything alive. A little hot air now and then helps his epigastric."
Malone and Schonholz had raised themselves on their elbows, twisted their shoulders and had put their heads together—literally—without lifting their lazy bodies from the warm, dry grass—so close that one slouch hat instead of two might have covered their conspiring brains. From under the rims of these thatches came smothered laughs and such unintelligible mutterings as:
"Dot's de vay, by chimminy, 'Loney! And den I—"
"No, begorra! Let me have a crack at him fu'st!"
"No, I vill before go and you come—"
"Not a word to Marny, remimber; he'd give it away—"
"Yes, but we vill tell Poodfut und Sthebbins, eh?"
That afternoon the diabolical plot was put in motion. The men had finished for the day; had crossed the ferry and had found Joplin wandering around the dock looking for a new subject. The Groote Kerk "smear" was under his arm.
Pudfut, under pretence of inspecting the smear—a portrait of the old Sacristan on a bench in front of the main entrance—started back in surprise on seeing the Bostonian, and asked with an anxious tone in his voice:
"Aren't you well, old man? Look awfully yellow about the gills. Worked too hard, haven't you? No use overdoing it."
"Well? Of course I'm well! Sound as a nut. Little bilious, maybe, but that's nothing. Why?"
"Oh, nothing! Must say, though, you gave me a twist when I came on you suddenly. Maybe it's your epigastric nerve; maybe it's your liver and will pass off, but I'd knock off work for a day or two if I were you."
Malone now took a hand.
"Let me carry yer kit, Joppy, ye look done up. What's happened to ye, man, since mornin'?"
"Never felt better in my life," protested Joplin. "No, I'll carry it—not heavy—"
Then he quickened his pace—they were all on their way back to the inn—and overtook Stebbins and Schonholz.
"Stebbins, old man—"
"What I told you last night is turning out just as I expected. Heart's been acting queer all morning and my epigastric nerve is very sensitive. Puddy says I look awful. Do you see it?"
Stebbins looked into the Bostonian's face, hesitated, and said with an apologetic tone in his voice:
"Well, everybody looks better one time than another. You've been working too hard, maybe."
"But do I look yellow?"
"Well, to tell you the truth, Joppy, you do—yellow as a gourd—not always, just now and then when you walk fast or run upstairs."
"I've been afraid of that. Was my pulse all right when you counted it last night?"
"Yes, certainly—skipped a beat now and then, but that's nothing. I had an uncle once who had a pulse that wobbled like that. He, of course, went off suddenly; some said it was apoplexy; some said it was his heart—these doctors never agree. I wouldn't worry about it, old man. Hold on, Pudfut, don't walk so fast."
Pudfut held on, and so did Schonholz and Malone, and then the four slipped behind a pile of oil barrels and concentrated their slouch hats and Schonholz slapped his thigh and said with a smothered laugh that it was "sphlendeed!" and Malone and Pudfut agreed, and then the three locked arms and went singing up the street, their eyes on Joplin's pipe-stem legs as he trotted beside Marny on his way to the inn.
When the party reached the coffee-room Marny called Tine to his side, spread out the fingers and thumb of one hand, and that rosy-cheeked lass without the loss of a second, clattered over to the little shelf, gathered up five empty mugs and disappeared down the cellar steps. This done the coterie drew their chairs to one of Tine's hand-scrubbed tables and sat down, all but Joplin, who kept on his way to his room. There the Bostonian remained, gazing out of the window until Johann had banged twice on his door in announcement of dinner. Then he joined the others.
When all were seated Schonholz made a statement which was followed with results more astounding to the peace of the coterie than anything which had occurred since the men came together.
"I haf bad news, boys," he began, "offle bad news. Mine fader has wrote dat home I must. Nod anuder mark he say vill he gif me. Eef I could sell somedings—but dat ees very seldom. No, Marny, you don't can lend me noddings. What vill yourselluf do? Starve!"
"Where do you live, Schonholz?" asked Joplin.
"What kind of a place is it—baths?"
"What are they good for?" continued Joplin in a subdued tone.
"Noddings, but blenty peoples go."
"I can tell you, Joppy," said Pudfut gravely, with a wink at Malone. "There are two spas, both highly celebrated. Lord Ellenboro spent a month there and came back looking like another man. One is for the liver and the other for something or other, I can't recollect what."
"Heart?" asked Joplin.
"I don't know."
He didn't,—had never heard the place mentioned until Schonholz had called its name a moment before.
Joplin played with his knife and made an attempt to nibble a slice of Tine's toast, but he made no reply. All the fight of every kind seemed to have been knocked out of him.
"Better take Fizzenbad in, Joppy," remarked Pudfut in an undertone. "May do you a lot of good."
"How far is it, Schonholz?" asked Joplin, ignoring the Englishman's suggestion.
"Oh, you leafe in de morgen and you come by Fizzenbad in a day more as do one you go oud mid."
"No—can't afford it."
Here Joplin pushed back his chair, and with the remark that he thought he would go downtown for some colors, left the room.
"It's working like a dose of salts," cried Pudfut when the Bostonian was out of hearing. "Hasn't said 'epigastric nerve,' 'gram' or 'proteids' once. Got real human in an hour. Stebbins, you're a wonder."
The next morning everybody was up bright and early to see Schonholz off. One of Fop Smit's packets was to leave for Rotterdam at seven and Schonholz was a passenger. He could go by rail, but the boat was cheaper. No deceptions had been practised and no illusions indulged in as to the cause of his departure. He had had his supplies cut off, was flat broke and as helpless as a plant without water. They had all, at one time or another, passed through a similar crisis and knew exactly what it meant. A purse, of course, could have been made up—Marny even insisted on sharing his last hundred francs with him—and Mynheer would have allowed the board-bill to run on indefinitely with or without an addition to his collection, but the lad was not built along those lines.
"No—I go home and help mine fader once a leetle, den maybe I come back, don't it?" was the way he put it.
The next morning, when the procession formed to escort him through the Old Gate, every man answered to his name except Joplin—he had either overslept himself or was taking an extra soak in his portable tub.
"Run, Tine, and call Mr. Joplin," cried Marny—"we'll go ahead. Tell him to come to the dock."
Away clattered the sabots up the steep stairs, and away they scurried down the bare corridor to Joplin's room. There Tine knocked. Hearing no response she pushed open the door and looked in. The room was empty! Then she noticed that the bed had not been slept in, nor had anything on the washstand been used. Stepping in softly for some explanation of the unusual occurrence—no such thing had ever happened in her experience, not unless she had been notified in advance—her eye rested on a letter addressed to Stebbins propped up in full view against a book on Joplin's table. Catching it up as offering the only explanation of his unaccountable disappearance, she raced downstairs and, crossing the cobbles on a run, laid the letter in Stebbins's hand.
"For me, Tine?"
The girl nodded, her eyes on the painter's.
The painter broke the seal and his face grew serious. Then he beckoned to Marny and read the contents aloud, the others crowding close:
Keep my things until I send for them. I take the night train for Rotterdam. Tell Schonholz I'll join him there and go on with him to Fizzenbad. Sorry to leave this way, but I could not bear to bid you all good-by. Joplin.
That night the table was one prolonged uproar. The conspirators had owned up frankly to their share of the villany, and were hard at work concocting plans for its undoing. Marny was the one man in the group that would not be pacified; nothing that either Pudfut, Stebbins or Malone had said or could say changed his mind—and the discussion, which had lasted all day, brought him no peace.
"Drove him out!—that's what you did, you bull-headed Englishman—you and Malone and Stebbins ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If I had known what you fellows were up to I'd have pitched you all over the dike. Cost Joppy a lot of money and break up all his summer work! What did you want to guy him like that for and send him off to be scalded and squirted on in a damned Dutch—"
"But we didn't think he'd take it as hard as that."
"You didn't, didn't you! What DID you think he'd do? Didn't you see how sensitive and nervous he was? The matter with you fellows is that Joppy is a thoroughbred and you never saw one of his kind in your life. Ever since he got here you've done nothing but jump all over him and try to rile him, and he never squawked once—came up smiling every time. He's a thoroughbred—that's what he is!"
The days that followed were burdened with a sadness the coterie could not shake off. Whatever they had laughed at and derided in Joplin they now longed for. The Bostonian may have been a nuisance in one way, but he had kept the ball of conversation rolling—had started it many times—and none of the others could fill his place. Certain of his views became respected. "As dear old Joppy used to say," was a common expression, and "By Jove, he was right!" not an uncommon opinion. In conformity with his teachings, Marny reduced his girth measure an inch and his weight two pounds—not much for Marny, but extraordinary all the same when his appetite was considered.
Pudfut, in contrition of his offence, wrote his English friend Lord Something-or-other, who owned the yacht, and who was at Carlsbad, begging him to run up and see the "best ever" and "one of us"—and Malone never lost an opportunity to say how quick he was in repartee, or how he missed him. Stebbins kept his mouth shut.
He had started the crusade, he knew, and was personally responsible for the result. He had tried to arouse Joplin's obstinacy and had only aroused his fears. All he could do in reparation was to keep in touch with the exile and pave the way for his homecoming. If Joppy was ill, which he doubted, some of the German experts in whom the Bostonian believed would find the cause and the remedy. If he was "sound as a nut," to quote Joplin's own words, certainty of that fact, after an exhaustive examination by men he trusted, would relieve his nervous mind and make him all the happier.
The first letter came from Schonholz. Liberally translated, with the assistance of Mynheer, who spoke a little German, it conveyed the information that the Bostonian, after being put on a strict diet, had been douched, pounded and rubbed; was then on his second week of treatment; had one more to serve; was at the moment feeling like a fighting-cock, and after a fifth week at Stuckbad, in the mountains, where he was to take the after-cure, would be as strong as a three-year-old, and as frisky.
The second letter was from Joplin himself and was addressed to Stebbins. This last was authentic, and greatly relieved the situation. It read:
Nothing like a thoroughly trained expert, my dear Stebbins. These German savants fill me with wonder. The moment Dr. Stuffen fixed his eyes upon me he read my case like an open book. No nitrogenous food of any kind, was his first verdict; hot douches and complete rest packed in wet compresses, the next. I am losing flesh, of course, but it is only the "deadwood" of the body, so to speak. This Dr. Stuffen expects to replace with new shoots—predicts I will weigh forty pounds more—a charming and, to me, a most sane theory. You will be delighted also to hear that my epigastric nerve hasn't troubled me since I arrived. Love to the boys, whom I expect to see before the month is out. Joppy.
"Forty pounds heavier!" cried Marny from his end of the table. "He'll look like a toy balloon in knee pants. Bully for Joppy! I wouldn't let any Schweizerkase with a hot douche get within a hundred yards of me, but then I'm not a bunch of nerves like Joppy. Anyhow, boys, we'll give the lad a welcome that will raise the roof. Joppy thin was pretty good fun, but Joppy fat will be a roaring farce."
And so it was decided, and at once all sorts and kinds of welcomes were discussed, modified, rearranged and discussed again. Pudfut suggested meeting him in Rotterdam and having a night of it. Malone thought of chartering a steam launch, hiring a band and bringing him past the towns with flags flying. Stebbins and Marny favored some demonstration nearer home, where everybody could join in.
The programme finally agreed upon included a pathway of boughs strewn with wild flowers from the steamboat landing, across the planking, over the cobbles, under the old Gate of William of Orange, and so on to the door of the inn; the appointment of Tine, dressed in a Zeeland costume belonging to her grand-mother, as special envoy, to meet him with a wreath of laurel, and Johann in short clothes—also heirlooms—was to walk by his side as First Groom of the Bed Chamber.
The real Reception Committee, consisting of Mynheer in a burgomaster suit borrowed from a friend, and the four painters—Marny as a Dutch Falstaff, Pudfut as a Spanish Cavalier, Stebbins got up as a Night Watch, and Malone in the costume of a Man-at-Arms—all costumes loaned for the occasion by the antiquary in the next street—were to await Joplin's coming in the privacy of the Gate—almost a tunnel—and so close to the door of the inn that it might have passed for a part of the establishment itself.
Meantime the four painters were to collect material for the decoration of the coffee-room—wreaths of greens over the mantel and festoons of ivy hanging down the back of Joplin's chair being prominent features; while Mynheer, Tine and Johann were to concentrate their energies in preparing a dinner the like of which had never been eaten since the sluiceways in the dikes drowned out the Spanish duke. Not a word of all this, of course, had reached the ears of the Bostonian. Half, three-quarters, if not all, the enjoyment of the occasion would be realized when they looked on Joplin's face and read his surprise.
The eventful day at last arrived. Stebbins, as prearranged, had begged the exile to telegraph the exact hour of his departure and mode of travel from Rotterdam, suggesting the boat as being by far the best, and Joplin had answered in return that Fop Smit's packet, due at sundown the following day, would count him among its passengers.
The deep tones of the whistle off Papendrecht sent every man to his post, the villagers standing back in amazement at the extraordinary spectacle, especially at Tine and Johann in their queer clothes, who, being instantly recognized, were plied with questions.
The boat slowed down; made fast; out came the gangplank; ashore went the little two-wheel carts drawn by the sleepy, tired dogs; then the baskets of onions were rolled off, and the few barrels of freight, and then two or three passengers—among them a small, feeble man, in a long coat reaching to his heels—made their way to the dock.
"That's the last man to come ashore here," said Marny. "What's become of the lad?"
"Maybe he's gone aft," cried Stebbins; "maybe—"
Here Tine gave a little scream, dropped her wreath and running toward the small, feeble man, threw her arms around his neck. Marny and the others bounded over the cobbles, tossing the bystanders out of the way as they forged ahead. When they reached Joplin he was still clinging to Tine, his sunken cheeks and hollow deep-set eyes telling only too plainly how great an effort he was making to keep on his legs. The four painters formed a close bodyguard and escorted their long-lost brother to the inn.
Mynheer, in his burgomaster suit, met the party at the door, conducted them inside and silently drew out the chairs at the coffee-room table. He was too overcome to speak.
Joplin dropped into the one hung with ivy and rested his hands on the table.
"Lord! how good it is to get here!" he said, gazing about him, a tremble in his voice. "You don't know what I've gone through, boys."
"Why, we thought you were getting fat, Joppy," burst out Marny at last. Up to this time his voice, like that of the others, seemed to have left him, so great was his surprise and anxiety.
Joplin waved his forefinger toward Marny in a deprecatory way, as if the memory of his experience was too serious for discussion, played with his fork a moment, and said slowly:
"Will you lay it up against me, fellows, if I tell you the truth? I'm not as strong as I was and a good deal of the old fight is out of me."
"Lay up nothin'!" cried Malone. "And when it comes to fightin' ye kin count on me every—"
"Dry up!" broke in Marny. "You're way off, Malone. No, Joppy, not a man here will open his head: say the rest."
"Well, then, listen," continued the Bostonian. "I did everything they told me: got up at daylight; walked around the spring seven times; sipped the water; ate what they prescribed; lay in wet sheets two hours every day; was kneaded by a man with a chest as hairy as a satyr's and arms like a blacksmith's; stood up and was squirted at; had everything about me looked into—even stuck needles in my arm for a sample of my blood; and at the end of three weeks was so thin that my trousers had to be lapped over in the back under a leather strap to keep them above my hips, and my coat hung down as if it were ashamed of me. Doctor Stuffen then handed me a certificate and his bill. This done he stood me up and repeated this formula—has it printed—all languages:
"'You have now thrown from your system every particle of foul tissues, Mr.—, ah, yes—Mr. Joblin, I believe.' And he looked at the paper. 'You thought you were reasonably fat, Mr. Joblin. You were not fat, you were merely bloated. Go now to Stuckbad for two weeks. There you will take the after-cure; keep strictly to the diet, a list of which I now hand you. At the expiration of that time you will be a strong man. Thank you—my secretary will send you a receipt.'
"Well, I went to Stuckbad—crawled really—put up at the hotel and sent for the resident doctor, Professor Ozzenbach, Member of the Board of Pharmacy of Berlin, Specialist on Nutrition, Fellow of the Royal Society of Bacteriologists, President of the Vienna Association of Physiological Research—that kind of man. He looked me all over and shook his head. He spoke broken English—badly.
"'Who has dreated you, may I ask, Meester Boblin?'
"'Doctor Stuffen, at Fizzenbad.'
"'Ah, yes, a fery goot man, but a leedle de times behindt. Vat did you eat?'
"I handed him the list.
"'No vonder dot you are thin, my frent—yoost as I oxpected—dis ees de olt deory of broteids. Dot is all oxbloded now. Eef you haf stay anuder mont you vould be dead. Everyting dot he has dold you vas yoost de udder way; no bread, no meelk, no vegebubbles—noddings of dis, not von leedle bit. I vill make von leest—come to-morrow.'"
"Did you go, Joppy?" inquired Stebbins.
"DID I GO? Yes, back to the depot and on to Cologne. That night I ate two plates of sauerkraut, a slice of pork and a piece of cheese the size of my hand; slept like a top."
"So the proteids and carbohydrates didn't do your epigastric any good, old chap," remarked Pudfut in an effort to relieve the gloom.
"Proteids, carbohydrates and my epigastric be damned," exploded Joplin. "On your feet, boys, all of you. Here's to the food of our fathers, with every man a full plate. And here's to dear old Marny, the human kangaroo. May his appetite never fail and his paunch never shrink!"
MISS BUFFUM'S NEW BOARDER
He was seated near the top end of Miss Buffum's table when I first saw his good-natured face with its twinkling eyes, high cheekbones and broad, white forehead in strong contrast to the wizened, almost sour, visage of our landlady. Up to the time of his coming every one had avoided that end, or had gradually shifted his seat, gravitating slowly toward the bottom, where the bank clerk, the college professor and I hobnobbed over our soup and boiled mutton.
It was his laugh that attracted my attention—the first that had come from the upper end of the table in the memory of the oldest boarder. Men talk of the first kiss, the first baby, the first bluebird in the spring, but to me, who have suffered and know, the first, sincere, hearty laugh, untrammelled and unlimited, that rings down the hide-bound table of a dismal boarding-house, carries with it a surprise and charm that outclasses them all. The effect on this occasion was like the opening of a window letting in a gust of pure air. Some of the more sensitive shivered at its freshness, and one woman raised her eyeglasses in astonishment, but all the rest craned their heads in the new boarder's direction, their faces expressing their enjoyment. As for Miss Buffum and the schoolmistress, they so far forgot themselves as to join audibly in the merriment.
What the secret of the man's power, or why the schoolteacher—who sat on Miss Buffum's right—should have become suddenly hilarious, or how Miss Buffum herself could be prodded or beguiled into smiles, no one at my end of the table could understand; and yet, as the days went by, it became more and more evident that not only were these two cold, brittle exteriors being slowly thawed out, but that every one else within the sound of his seductive voice was yielding to his influence. Stories that had lain quiet in our minds for months for lack of a willing or appreciative ear, or had been told behind our hands,—small pipings most of them of club and social gossip, now became public property, some being bowled along the table straight at the new boarder, who sent his own rolling back in exchange, his big, sonorous voice filling the room as he replied with accounts of his life in Poland among the peasants; of his experiences in the desert; of a shipwreck off the coast of Ceylon in which he was given up for lost; of a trip he made across the Russian steppes in a sleigh—each adventure ending in some strangely humorous situation which put the table in a roar.
None of these narratives, however, solved the mystery of his identity or of his occupation. All our good landlady knew was that he had driven up in a hack one afternoon, bearing a short letter of introduction from a former lodger—a man who had lived abroad for the previous ten years—introducing Mr. Norvic Bing; that after its perusal she had given him the second-story front room, at that moment empty—a fact that had greatly influenced her—and that he had at once moved in. His trunks—there were two of them—had, she remembered, been covered with foreign labels (and still were)—all of which could be verified by any one who had a right to know and who would take the trouble to inspect his room when he was out, which occurred every day between ten in the morning and six in the afternoon, and more often between six in the afternoon and ten the next morning. The slight additional information she possessed came from the former lodger's letter, which stated that the bearer, Mr. Norvic Bing, was a native of Denmark, that he was visiting America for the first time, and that, desiring a place where he could live in complete retirement, the writer had recommended Miss Buffum's house.
As to who he was in his own country—and he certainly must have been some one of importance, judging from his appearance—and what the nature of his business, these things did not concern the dear lady in the least. He was courteous, treated her with marked respect, was exceedingly agreeable, and had insisted—and this she stated was the one particular thing that endeared him to her—had insisted on paying his board a MONTH IN ADVANCE, instead of waiting until the thirty days had elapsed. His excuse for this unheard-of idiosyncrasy was that he might some day be suddenly called away, too suddenly even to notify her of his departure, and that he did not want either his belongings or his landlady's mind disturbed during his absence.
Miss Buffum's summing up of Bing's courtesy and affability was shared by every one at my end of the table, although some of them differed as regarded his origin and occupation.
"Looks more like an Englishman than a Dane," said the bank clerk; "although I don't know any Danes. But he's a daisy, anyhow, and ought to have his salary raised for being so jolly."
"I don't agree with you," rejoined the professor. "He is unquestionably a Scandinavian—you can see that in the high cheekbones and flat nose. He is evidently studying our people with a view of writing a book. Nothing else would persuade a man of his parts to live here. I lived in just such a place the winter I spent in Dresden. You want to get close to the people when you study their peculiarities. But whoever he is, or wherever he comes from, he is a most delightful gentleman—perfectly simple, and so sincere that it is a pleasure to hear him talk."
As for myself, I am ashamed to say that I did not agree with either the bank clerk or the professor. Although I admitted Mr. Bing's wide experience of men and affairs, and his marvellous powers of conversation, I could not divest myself of the conviction that underneath it all there lay something more than a mere desire to be either kindly or entertaining; in fact, that his geniality, though outwardly spontaneous, was really a cloak to hide another side of his nature—a fog into which he retreated—and that some day the real man would be revealed.
I made no mention of my misgivings to any of my fellow-boarders. My knowledge of men of his class—brilliant conversationalists with a world-wide experience to draw upon—was slight, and my grounds for doubting his sincerity were so devoid of proof that few persons would have considered them anything but the product of a disordered mind.
And yet I still held to my opinion.
I had caught something, I fancied, that the others had missed. It occurred one night after he had told a story and was waiting for the laugh to subside. Soon a strange, weary expression crept over his face—the same look that comes into the face of a clown who has been hurt in a tumble and who, while wrestling with the pain, still keeps his face a-grin. Suddenly, from out of his merry, smooth-shaven face, there came a flash from his eyes so searching, so keen, so suspicious, so entirely unlike the man we knew, so foreign to his mood at the moment, that I instantly thought of the burglar peering through the painted spectacles of the family portrait while he watched his unconscious victim counting his gold.
This conviction so possessed me that I found myself for days after peering into Bing's face, watching for its repetition—so much so that the professor asked me with a laugh:
"Has Mr. Bing hypnotized you as badly as he has the ladies? They hang on his every word. Curious study of the effect of mind on matter, isn't it?"
The second time I caught the strange flash was BEFORE he had told his story—when his admonitory glance—his polite way of compelling attention—was sweeping the table. In its course his eyes rested for an instant on mine, kindled with suspicion, and then there flashed from their depths a light that seemed to illuminate every corner of my brain. When I looked again his face was wreathed in smiles, his eyes sparkling with merriment. Instantly my doubts returned with redoubled force. What had he found in that instantaneous flash, I wondered? Had he read my thoughts, or had he, from his place behind the painted canvas, caught some expression on some victim's face which had roused his fears?
Then a delightful thing happened to me. I was but a young fellow trying to get a foothold in literature, who had never been out of his own country, and who spoke no tongue but his own; he was a man of the world, a traveller over the globe and speaking five languages.
"If you're not going out," he said, that same night, "come and have a smoke with me." This in his heartiest manner, laying his hand on my shoulder as he spoke. "You'll find me in my room. I've some books that may interest you, and we can continue our talk by my coal-fire. Come with me now."
We had had no special talk—none that I could remember. I recalled that I had asked him an irrelevant question after the flash had vanished, and that he had answered me in return—but no talk followed.
"I never invite any one up here," he began when we reached his room; "the place is so small" Here he closed the door, drew up the only armchair in the room and placed me in it—"but it is large enough for a place to crawl into and sleep—much larger, I can tell you, than I have had in many other parts of the world. I can write here, too, without interruption. What else do we want, really?—To be warm, to be fed and then to have some congenial spirits about us! I am quite happy, I assure you, with all those dear, good people downstairs. They are so kind, and they are so human, and they are all honest, each in his way, which is always refreshing to me. Most people, you know, are not honest." And he looked me over curiously.
I made no answer except to nod my assent. My eyes were wandering over the room in the endeavor to find something to confirm my suspicions—over the two trunks with their labels; over a desk littered, piled, crammed with papers; over the mantel, on which was spread a row of photographs, among them the portrait of a distinguished-looking woman with a child resting in her lap, and next to it that of a man in uniform.
"Yes—some of my friends across the sea." I had not asked him—he had read my mind. "This one you did not see—I keep it behind the others—three of them, like a little pair of steps—all I have left. The oldest is named Olga, and that little one in the middle, with the cap on her head—that is Pauline."
"Where are they?"
"Oh, many thousand miles from here! But we won't talk about it. They are well and happy. And this one"—here he took down the photograph of the man in full uniform—"is the Grand Duke Vladimir. Yes, a soldierly-looking man—none of the others are like him. But come now, tell me of yourself—you have some one at home, too?"
I nodded my head and mentioned my mother and the others at home.
"No sweetheart yet? No?—You needn't answer—we all have sweethearts at your age—at mine it is all over. But why did you leave her? It is so hard to do that. Ah, yes, I see—to make your bread. And how do you do it?"
He lowered his brows and looked at me under his lids.
"What sort of writing? Books? What is called a novel?"
"No—not yet. I work on special articles for the newspapers, and now and then I get a short story or an essay into one of the magazines."
He was replacing the pictures as I talked, his back to me. He turned suddenly and again sought my eye.
"Don't waste your time on essays or statistics. You will not succeed as a machine. You have imagination, which is a real gift. You also dream, which is another way of saying that you can invent. If you can add construction to your invention, you will come quite close to what they call genius. I saw all this in your face to-night; that is why I wanted to talk to you. So many young men go astray for want of a word dropped into their minds at the right time. As for me, all I know is statistics, and so I will never be a genius." And a light laugh broke from his lips. "Worse luck, too. I must exchange them for money. Look at this—I have been all day correcting the proofs."
With this he walked to his table—he had not yet taken a seat, although a chair was next to my own—and laid in my lap a roll of galley-proofs.
"It is the new encyclopaedia. I do the biographies, you see—principally of men and the different towns and countries. I have got down now to the R's—Richelieu—Rochambeau—" his fingers were now tracing the lines. "Here is Romulus, and here is Russia—I gave that half a column, and—dry work, isn't it? But I like it, for I can write here by my fire if I please, and all my other time is my own. You see they are signed 'Norvic Bing.' I insisted on that. These publishers are selfish sometimes, and want to efface a writer's personality, but I would not permit it, and so finally they gave in. But no more of that—one must eat, and to eat one must work, so why quarrel with the spade or the ground? See that you raise good crops—that is the best of all."
Then he branched off into a description of a ball he had attended some years before at the Tuileries—of the splendor of the interior; the rich costumes of the women; the blaze of decorations worn by the men; the graciousness of the Empress and the charm of her beauty—then of a visit he had made to the Exile a few months after he had reached Chiselhurst. Throwing up his hands he said: "A feeble old man with hollow eyes and a cracked voice. Oh, such a pity! For he was royal—although all Europe laughed."
When the time came for me to go—it was near midnight, to my astonishment—he followed me to the door, bidding me good-night with both hands over mine, saying I should come again when he was at leisure, as he had been that night—which I promised to do, adding my thanks for what I declared was the most delightful evening I had ever spent in my life.
And it had been—and with it there had oozed out of my mind every drop of my former suspicion. There was another side that he was hiding from us, but it was the side of tenderness for his children—for those he loved and from whom he was parted. I had boasted to myself of my intuition and had looked, as I supposed, deep into his heart, and all I found were three little faces. With this came a certain feeling of shame that I had been stupid enough to allow my imagination to run away with my judgment. Hereafter I would have more sense.
All that winter Bing was the life of the house. The days on which his seat was empty—off getting statistics for the encyclopaedia, I explained to my fellow-boarders, I being looked upon now as having special information owing to my supposed intimacy, although I had never entered his room since that night—on these days, I say, the table relapsed into its old-time dullness.
One night I found his card on my pin-cushion. I always locked my door myself when I left my room—had done so that night, I thought, but I must have forgotten it. Under his name was written: "Say good-by to the others."
I concluded, of course, that it was but for a few days and that he would return as usual, and hold out his two big generous hands to each one down the table, leaving a warmth behind him which they had not known since he last pressed their palms—and so on down until he reached Miss Buffum and the school-teacher, who would both rise in their seats to welcome him.
With the passing of the first week the good lady became uneasy; the board, as usual, had been paid in advance, but it was the man she missed. No one else could add the drop of oil to the machinery of the house, nor would it run smoothly without him.
At the end of the second week she rapped at my door and with trembling steps led me to Bing's room. She had opened it with her own pass-key—a liberty she never allowed any one to take except herself, and never then unless some emergency arose. It was empty of everything that belonged to him—had been for days. The room had been set in order and the bed had been made up by the maid the day he left and had not been slept in since. Trunks, books, manuscripts, photographs—all were gone—not a vestige of anything belonging to him was visible.
I stooped down and examined the grate. On the top of the dead coals lay a little heap of ashes—all that was left of a package of letters.
Five years passed. Times had changed with me. I had long since left my humble quarters at Miss Buffum's and now had two rooms in an uptown apartment-house. My field of work, too, had become enlarged. I had ceased to write for the Sunday papers and was employed on special articles for the magazines. This had widened my acquaintance with men and with life. Heretofore I had known the dark alleys and slums, the inside of station-houses, bringing me in contact with the police and with some of the detectives, among them Alcorn of the Central Office, a man who had sought me out of his own accord. Many of these trusted me and from them I gathered much of my material. Now I explored other fields. With the backing of the editor I often claimed seats at the opening of important conventions—not so much political as social and scientific; so, too, at many of the public dinners given to our own and distinguished foreign guests, would a seat be reserved for me, my object being the study of men when they were off their guard—reading their minds, finding out the man behind the mask, a habit I had never yet thrown off. Most men have some mental fad—this was mine. Sometimes my articles found an echo in a note written to me by the guests themselves; this would fill me with joy. Often I was criticised for the absurdity of my views.
On this occasion a great banquet was to be given to Prince Polinski, a nephew of the Czar and possible heir to the throne. The press had been filled with the detail of his daily life—of the dinners, teas and functions given by society in his honor; of his reception by the mayor, of his audience at the White House; of the men who guarded his person; of his "opinions," "impressions" and "views" on this, that and the other thing, but so far no one had dissected the man himself.
What our editor wanted was a minute analysis of the mind of a young Russian studied at close range. The occasion of the banquet was selected because I could then examine him at my leisure. The results were to be used by the editor in an article of his own, my memoranda being only so much padding.
When I entered and took up a position near the door where I could look him over, Delmonico's largest reception-room was crowded with guests: bankers, railroad presidents, politicians, officers of the army and navy, judges, doctors, and the usual collection of white shirt-fronts that fill the seats at a public dinner of this kind. The Prince was in the uniform of an officer of the Imperial Navy. He was heavily built and tall, with a swarthy face enlivened by a pointed mustache. The Russian Ambassador at his side was in full dress and wore a number of decorations: these two needed no pointing out. Some of the others were less distinguishable-among them a heavily-built man in evening-dress, with a full beard and mustache which covered his face almost to his eyes—soft and bushy as the hair on a Spitz dog and as black. With a leather apron and a broad-axe he would have passed at a masquerade for an executioner of the olden time. Despite this big beard, there was a certain bearing about the man—a certain elegance both of manner and gesture—talking with his hands, accentuating his sentences with outstretched fingers, lifting his shoulders in a shrug (I saw all this from across the room where I stood)—that showed clearly not only his high position, but his breeding. What position he held under the Prince I was, of course, unaware, but it must have been very close, for the big Russian kept him constantly at the royal side. I noted, too, that the Prince was careful to introduce him to many who were brought up to shake his hand.
When the procession was formed to march into the dining-hall, Polinski came first on the arm of the mayor; then followed a group of dignitaries, including the Ambassadors, the black-bearded man walking by the side of the Prince, who would now and then turn and address him.
My seat was against the wall opposite the dais, and knowing that I should have scant opportunity to study the Prince's face from where I sat, I edged my way along the side of the corridor, the crowd making progress difficult for him, but easy for me, as I crept close to the wall. When I reached the door opening into the banquet hall I took up a position just inside the jamb, so that I could get a full view of the Prince as he passed.
At this instant I became aware that a pair of broad shoulders were touching mine. Turning quickly, I found myself looking into the face of the bearded Russian. His eyes were fastened on mine, an inquiring, rather surprised look on his face, as if he was wondering at the bad manners of a man who would thrust himself ahead of a royal personage. For an instant the features were calm and impassive, then as he continued to look at me there flashed out of his eyes a search-light glance that shot straight through me.
It was Bing!
Bearded like a Cossack; more heavily built, solemn, dignified, elegant in carriage and demeanor, with not a trace of jollity about him—but Bing all the same! I could have sworn to it!
The flash burned for an instant; the eyes behind the canvas dodged back, then with a graceful wave of the hand he turned to the Ambassador who was now abreast of him and said in a voice so low that I caught the words but not the full tone:
"Isn't it a charming sight, your Excellency? There is nothing like the hospitality of these wonderful Americans." And the two passed into the brilliantly-lighted hall.
I made my way to my seat and sat thinking it over. That he had recognized me was without question; that he had ignored me was equally true—why, I could not tell.
For years I had made him one of my heroes. He had stood for cheerfulness, for contentment with one's lot, for consideration for another—and always a weaker brother. When his abrupt departure had been criticised by my fellow-boarders, I had stemmed the tide against him, dilating on his love for his children, on his loneliness away from them; on his simplicity, his common-sense, his desire to help even a young fellow like me who had no claim upon him. In return he had seen fit to treat me with contempt—I who would have been so proud to tell him how his advice had helped me and what progress I had made by following it.
The incident took such hold upon me that I found myself dissecting his mentality instead of that of the Great Personage in the public eye. As I analyzed my feelings I found that he had hurt my heart more than my pride. I would have been so glad to shake his hand—so glad to rejoice with him over his changed conditions—once the occupant of a front room in a cheap boarding-house, supporting himself by filling space in the columns of an encyclopaedia, and now the bosom friend of Princes and Ambassadors!
Then a doubt arose in my mind. WAS it Bing? Had I not made a mistake? How could a smooth-shaven Dane with blond hair transform himself into a swarthy Russian with the beard of a Cossack? There was, it is true, no change in the eyes or in the round head—in the whiteness and width of the forehead, or the breadth of the shoulders. All these I went over one by one as I watched him every now and then lean across the table and speak to some of the distinguished guests that surrounded him. The thing which puzzled me was his grave, sedate demeanor, dignified, almost austere at times. A man, I thought, might grow a beard and dye it, but how could he grow a different set of manners, how smother his jollity, how wipe out his spontaneous buoyancy?
No, it was not Bing! It was only my stupid self. I was always ready to find the mysterious and unnatural. I turned to the guest next me.
"Do you know who that man is on the dais," I asked; "the one all black and white, with the big beard?"
"Yes, one of the Prince's suite; some jaw-breaking name with an '-usski' on the end of it. He brought him with him; looks like a bull pup chewing a muff, doesn't he?"
I smiled at the comparison, but I was still in doubt.
When the banquet broke up I hurried out ahead of the others and posted myself at the top of the staircase leading down to the side door of the street. The Prince's carriage—an ordinary cab—was ordered to this door to escape the crowd and to avoid any delay. This I learned from my old friend Alcorn of the Central Office, who was in charge of the detectives at the dinner, and who in answer to my request said:
"Certainly I'll let you through. Come alone, and don't speak to me as you go by. I'll say you're one of us. The crowd thinks he's going out by the other door, and you can get pretty close to him."
The Prince came first, wrapped in furs—the black-bearded Russian at his side in overcoat, silk hat and white gloves. The Ambassador and the others had bidden them good-night at the top of the staircase.
Under Alcorn's direction I had placed myself just inside the street door where I could slip out behind the Prince and his black-bearded companion. As a last resort I determined to walk straight up to him and say: "You haven't forgotten me, Mr. Bing, have you?" If I had changed so as to need proof of my identity Alcorn would furnish it. Whatever his answer, his voice would solve my mystery.
He walked down the stairs with an easy, swinging movement, keeping a little behind the Prince; waited until Alcorn had opened the street door and with a nod of thanks followed Polinski out into the night. Once outside I shrank back into the shadow of the doorway and held my breath to catch his first spoken word—to the coachman—to the Prince—to any one who came in his way.
At this moment a man in a slouch hat and poorly dressed, a light cane under his arm, evidently a tramp, hurried across the street to hold the cab door. I edged nearer, straining my ears.
The Prince bent his head and stooped to enter the cab. The tramp leaned forward, shot up his right arm; there came a flash of steel, and the next instant the tramp lay writhing on the sidewalk, one hand twisted under his back, the other held in the viselike grip of the black-bearded man. Alcorn rushed past me, threw himself on the prostrate tramp, slipped a pair of handcuffs over his wrists, dragged him to his feet, and with one hand on his throat backed him into the shadow of the side door.
The Prince smiled and stepped into his carriage. The black-bearded man dusted his white gloves one on the other, gave an order in a low tone to the coachman, took his place beside his companion and the two drove off.
I stood out in the rain and tried to pull myself together. The rapidity of the attack; the poise and strength of the black-bearded Russian; the quickness with which Alcorn had risen to the occasion; the absence of all outcry or noise of any kind—no one but ourselves witnessing the occurrence—had taken my breath away. That an attack had been made on the life of the Prince, and that it had been frustrated by his friend, was evident. It was also evident that accosting a Prince on the sidewalk at night without previous acquaintance was a dangerous experiment. When I recovered my wits both Alcorn and the would-be assassin had disappeared. So had the cab.
Only two morning journals had an account of the affair; one dismissed it with a fling at the police for not protecting our guests from annoyance, and the other stated that a drunken tramp had demanded the price of a night's lodging from the Prince as he was leaving Delmonico's, and that a member of the Prince's suite had held the fellow until a policeman came along and took him to the station-house. Not a word of the murderous lunge, the flash of steel, the viselike grip of the black-bearded man or the click of the handcuffs.
That night I found Alcorn.
"Did that fellow try to stab the Prince?" I asked.
"With a knife?"
"No, a sword cane."
"The papers didn't say so."
"No, I didn't intend they should. Wouldn't have been pleasant reading for his folks in St. Petersburg. Besides, we haven't rounded up his gang yet."
"The Prince didn't seem to lose his nerve?" I asked.
"No, he isn't built that way."
"You know him, then?"
"Yes—been with him every day since he arrived."
"Who is the black-bearded man with him?"
"He is his intimate friend, Count Lovusski. Been all over the world together."
"Is Lovusski his ONLY name?" This seemed to be my chance.
Alcorn turned quickly and looked into my face.
"On the dead quiet, is it?"
"Yes, Alcorn, you can trust me."
"No—he's got half a dozen of 'em. In Paris in '70 he was Baron Germunde with estates in Hungary. Lived like a fighting-cock; knew everybody at the Palace and everybody knew him—stayed there all through the Franco-Prussian War. In London in '75 he was plain Mr. Loring, trying to raise money for a mine somewhere in Portugal—knew nobody but stockbrokers and bank presidents. In New York five years ago he was Mr. Norvic Bing, and worked on some kind of a dictionary; lived in a boarding-house on Union Square."
I could not conceal my delight.
"I knew I was right!" I cried, laying my hand on his arm. "I lived with him there a whole winter."
"Yes, he told me so. That's why I am telling you the rest of it." Alcorn was smiling, a curious expression lighting his face.
"And how came he to be such a friend of the Prince's?" I asked.
"He isn't his friend—isn't anybody's friend. He's a special agent of the Russian Secret Service."
CAPTAIN JOE AND THE SUSIE ANN
Wide of beam, stout of mast, short-bowspritted, her boom clewed up to clear her deck load of rough stone; drawing ten feet aft and nine feet for'ard; a twelve-horse hoisting engine and boiler in her forecastle; at the tiller a wabbly-jointed, halibut-shaped, moon-faced (partially eclipsed, owing to a fringe of dark whiskers), sleepy-eyed skipper named Baxter,—such was the sloop Susie Ann, and her outfit and her commander, as she lay alongside the dock in New London Harbor, ready to discharge her cargo at the site of Shark Ledge Lighthouse, eight miles seaward.
On the dock itself, over a wharf post sprawled her owner, old Abram Marrows, a thin, long, badly put together man, awkward as a stepladder and as rickety, who, after trying everything from farming to selling a patent churn, had at last become a shipowner, the Susie Ann, comprising his entire fleet. Marrows had come to see her off; this being the sloop's first trip for the season.
Lying outside the Susie Ann—her lines fast to an off-shore spile, was the construction tug of the lighthouse gang, the deck strewn with diving gear, water casks and the like,—all needed in the furthering of the work at the ledge. On the tug's forward deck, hat off and jacket swinging loose, stood Captain Joe Bell in charge of the submarine work at the site, glorious old Captain Joe, with the body of a capstan, legs stiff as wharf posts, arms and hands tough as cant hooks and heart twice as big as all of them put together.
Each and every piece of stone,—some of them weighed seven tons,—stowed aboard the Susie Ann, was, when she arrived alongside the foundation of the lighthouse, to be lowered over her side and sent down to Captain Joe to place in thirty feet of water. This fact made him particular both as to the kind of vessel engaged and the ability of the skipper. Bad seamanship might not only endanger the security of the work but his own life as well,—a diver not being as quick as a crab or blackfish in getting from under a seven-ton stone dropped from tripdogs at the signal to "lower away."
Captain Joe's inspection of the Susie Ann's skipper was anything but satisfactory, judging from the way he opened his battery of protest.
"Baxter ain't fittin', I tell ye, Abram Marrows," he exploded. "He ain't fittin' and never will be. Baxter don't know most nothin'. Set him to grubbin' clams, Abram, but don't let him fool 'round the Ledge. He'll git the sloop ashore, I tell ye, or drop a stone and hurt somebody. Go and git a MAN som'ers and put him in charge,—not a half-baked—" here he lowered his muzzle and fired point-blank at the object of his wrath,—"Yes, and I'll say it to your face, Captain Baxter. You take my advice and lay off for this v'yage,—it ain't no picnic out to the Ledge. You ain't seen it since we got the stone 'bove high water. Reg'lar mill tail! You go ashore, I tell ye,—or ye'll lose the sloop."
Many of the men ranged along the top of the cabin of the tug, or perched on its rail, wondered at the vehemence of the captain's attack, "Moon-faced Baxter," as he was called, having a fair reputation as a seaman. They knew, too, that Captain Joe was aware of the condition of Marrows's affairs, for it had been common talk that the bank had loaned Abram several hundred dollars with the sloop as security on the captain's own personal inspection. Some of them had even been present when Mrs. Marrows,—a faded old woman with bleached eyes and a pursed-up mouth, her shawl hooding her head and pinned close under her chin with her thumb and forefinger,—had begged Captain Joe to try the Susie Ann for a few loads until Abram could "ketch up," and had heard his promise to help her.
But they made no protest. Such outbursts on the captain's part were but the escaping steam from the overcharged boiler of his indignation. Underneath lay the firebox of his heart, chock full of red-hot coals glowing with sympathy for every soul who needed his help. If his safety valve let go once in a while it was to escape from greater danger.
His long range ammunition exhausted, Captain Joe turned on his heel and walked aft to where his diving gear was piled, venting his indignation at every step. This time the outburst was directed to me,—(it was my weekly inspection at the Ledge).
"Can't jam nothin' into his head, sir. Stubbornest mule 'round this harbor. Warn't for that wife o' his Abe Marrows would a-been high and dry long ago. Every time he gits something purty good he goes and fools it away;—sold his farm and bought that sloop; then he clapped a plaster on it in the bank to start a cook shop. But the wife's all right;—only last week she come to me lookin' like she'd bu'st out cryin',—sayin' the sloop was all they had, and I promised her then I'd use the Susie, but she never said nothin' 'bout Baxter being in charge, or I'd stopped him 'fore he loaded her. Well, there ain't no tellin' what nat'ral born fools like Abe Marrows'll do, but it's something ornery and criss-cross if Abe Marrows does it. That woman's worked her fingers off for him, but he'll git her in the poor-house yit,—see if he don't."
Marrows had heard every word of Captain Joe's outburst, but he made no answer except to lift his thin elbows and spread his fingers in a deprecatory way, as if in protest. Baxter maintained a dogged silence;—the least said in answer the better. Captain Joe Bell was not a man either to contradict or oppose;—better let him blow it all out. Both owner and skipper determined to take the risk. The Susie Ann had been laid up all winter awaiting the opening of the spring work, and the successful carrying out of the present venture was Marrows's only escape from financial ruin, and Baxter's only chance of getting his back wages. There was an unpaid bill, too, for caulking, then a year old, lying in Abram's bureau drawer, together with an account at Mike Lavin's machine shop for a new set of grate bars, now almost worn out. Worse than all the bank's lien on the sloop was due in a few weeks. What money the sloop earned, therefore, must be earned quickly.
And then again, Abram ruminated, Shark Ledge wasn't the worst place on the coast,—despite Captain Joe's warning,—especially on this particular morning, when a light wind was blowing off shore. Plenty of other sloops had delivered stone over their rails to the divers below. Marrows remembered that he had been out to the Ledge himself when the Screamer came up into the wind and crawled slowly up until her forefoot was within a biscuit toss of the stone pile.
What Marrows forgot was that Captain Bob Brandt of Cape Ann had then held the spokes of the Screamer's wheel,—a man who knew every twist and turn of the treacherous tide.
So Baxter shook out the sloop's jib and mainsail and started on his journey eight miles seaward, with orders to make fast on arrival to the spar buoy which lay within a few hundred yards of the Ledge, and there wait until the tide turned, when she could drop into position to unload. The tug with all of us on board would follow when we had taken on fresh water and coal.
On the run out Captain Joe watched the sloop until she had made her first tack, then he turned to his work and again busied himself in overhauling his diving dress; tightening the set-screws in his copper collar, re-cording his breastplate and putting new leather thongs in his leaden shoes. There was some stone on the sloop's deck which was needed to complete a level down among the black fish and torn cod,—twenty-two feet down,—where the sea kelp streamed up in long blades above the top of his helmet and the rock crabs scurried out of his way. If Baxter didn't make a "tarnel fool of himself and git into one o' them swirl-holes," he intended to get these stones into place before night.
He knew these "holes," as he did every other swirl around the ledge and what they could do and what they couldn't. They were his swirls, really,—for he had placed every individual fragment of the obstructions that caused them with his own hands, in thirty feet of water.
Some three years before the site had been marked by a spindle bearing an iron cage and fastened to a huge boulder known as Shark Ledge Rock, and covered at low water. The unloading of various sloops and schooners under his orders had enlarged this submerged rock to a miniature island, its ragged crest thrust above the sea. This obstruction to the will of the wind and tide, and the ever-present six-mile current, caused by the narrowing of Long Island Sound in its onrush to the sea, acted as a fallen log that blocks a mountain stream, or a boulder that plugs a torrent. That which for centuries had been a steady "set" every six hours east and west, had now become a "back-and-in suck" fringed by a series of swirling undercurrents dealing death and destruction to the ignorant and unwary.
Not been long since a schooner loaded with concrete had been saved from destruction by the merest chance, and later on a big scow caught in the swirl had parted her buoy lines and would have landed high and dry on the stone pile had not Captain Joe run a hawser to her, twisted its bight around the drum of his engine and warped her off just in time to save her bones from sea worms.
As the tug approached, the Ledge, looming up on the dim horizon line, looked like a huge whale spouting derricks, a barnacle of a shanty clinging to its back. Soon there rose into relief the little knot of men gathered about one of the whale's fins—our landing stage,—and then, as we came alongside, the welcome curl of the smoke, telling of fried pork and saleratus biscuit.
Captain Joe's orders now came thick and fast.
"Hurry dinner, Nichols,"—this to the shanty cook, who was leaning out of the galley window,—"And here,—three or four o' ye, git this divin' stuff ashore, and then all hands to dinner. The wind's ag'in Baxter,—he won't git here for an hour. Startin' on one o' them long legs o' his'n now,"—and the captain's eye rested on the sloop beating up Fisher's Island way.
"And, Billy,—'fore ye go ashore, jump into the yawl and take a look at that snatch block on the spar buoy,—that clam digger may want it 'fore night."
This spar buoy lay a few hundred yards off the Whale's Snout. Loaded vessels were moored to this quill bob, held in place by a five-ton sinker, until they were ready to drop into the eddy and there discharge their stone.
Dinner over the men fell to work, each to his job. The derrick gang was set to shifting a boom on to the larger derrick, the concrete mixers picked up their shovels, and I went to work on the pay-roll of the week. This I always figured up in the little dry-goods box of a room opening out of the galley in the end of our board shanty, its window looking toward Montauk.
As I leaned my arms on the sill for a glimpse of the wide expanse of blue and silver, the cotton rag that served as a curtain flapped in my face. I pushed it aside and craned my neck north and south. The curtain had acted as a weather vane,—the wind had hauled to the east.
The sky, too, had dulled. Little lumpy clouds showed near the horizon line, and, sailing above these, hung a dirt spot of vapor, while aloft glowed some prismatic sundogs, shimmering like opals. Etched against the distance, with a tether line fastened to the spar buoy, lay the Susie Ann. She had that moment arrived and had made fast. Her sails were furled, her boom swinging loose and ready, the smoke from her hoister curling from the end of her smoke pipe thrust up out of the forward hatch.
Then I looked closer in.
Below me, on the concrete platform, rested our big air pump, and beside it stood Captain Joe. He had slipped into his diving dress and was at the moment adjusting the breastplates of lead, weighing twenty-five pounds each, to his chest and back. His leaden shoes were already on his feet. With the exception of his copper helmet, the signal line around his wrist, and the life line about his waist, he was ready to go under water.
Pretty soon he would don his helmet, and, with a last word to Jimmy, his tender, would tuck his chin whisker inside the round opening, wait until the face plate was screwed on, and then, with a cheerful nod behind the glass, denoting that his air was coming all right, would step down his rude ladder into the sea,—down,—down,—down to his place among the crabs and the seaweed.
Suddenly my ears became conscious of a conversation carried on in a low tone around the corner of the shanty.
"Old Moon-face'll have to git up and git in a minute," said a derrick man to a shoveller,—born sailors, these,—"there'll be a red-hot time 'round here 'fore night."
"Well, there ain't no wind."
"Ain't no wind,—ain't there? See that bobble waltzin' in?"
I looked seaward, and my eyes rested on a ragged line of silver edging the horizon toward Montauk.
"Does look soapy, don't it?" answered the shoveller. "Wonder if Cap'n Joe sees it."
Cap'n Joe had seen it—fifteen minutes ahead of anybody else,—had been watching it to the exclusion of any other object. He knew the sea,—knew every move of the merciless, cunning beast; had watched it many a time, lying in wait for its chance to tear and strangle. More than once had he held on to the rigging when, with a lash of its tail, it had swept a deck clean, or had stuck to the pumps for days while it sucked through opening seams the life-blood of his helpless craft. The game here would be to lift its victim on the back of a smooth under-roller and with mighty effort hurl it like a battering ram against the shore rocks, shattering its timbers into drift wood.
"Billy," said Captain Joe to the shoveller, "go down to the edge of the stone pile and holler to the sloop to cast off and make for home. Hurry, now! And, Jimmy,"—this to his pump tender,—"unhook this breastplate,—there won't be no divin', today. I've been mistrustin' the wind would haul ever since I got up this mornin'."
The shoveller sprang from the platform and began clambering over the slippery, slimy rocks like a crab, his red shirt marked with the white "X" of his suspenders in relief against the blue water. When he reached the outermost edge of the stone pile, where the ten-ton blocks lay, he made a megaphone of his fingers and repeated the captain's orders to the Susie Ann.
Baxter listened with his hands cupped to his ears.
"Who says so?" came back the reply.
"Goin' to blow,—don't ye see it?"
Baxter stepped gingerly along the sloop's rail. Obeying the order meant twenty-four hour's delay in making sure of his wages,—perhaps a week, spring weather being uncertain. He didn't "see no blow." Besides, if there was one coming, it wasn't his sloop or his stone. When he reached the foot of the bowsprit Moon-face sent this answer over the water:
"Let her blow and be d—! This sloop's chartered to deliver this stone. We've got steam up and the stuff's goin' over outside. Get your divers ready. I ain't shovin' no baby carriage and don't you forgit it. I'm comin' on! Cast off that buoy line, you,"—this to one of his men.
Captain Joe continued stripping off his leaden breastplate. He had heard his order repeated and knew that it had been given correctly,—Baxter's subsequent proceedings did not interest him. If he had anything to say in answer it was of no moment to him. His word was law on the Ledge; first, because the men daily trusted their lives to his guidance, and, second, because they all loved him with a love hard for a landsman to understand, especially today, when the boss and the gang never, by any possibility, pull together.
"Baxter says he's comin' on, sir," said Billy, when he reached the captain's side, the grin on his sunburnt face widening until its two ends hooked over his ears. Billy had heard nothing so funny for weeks.
"That's what he hollered. Wants you to git ready to take his stuff, sir."
I was out of the shanty now. I came in two jumps. With that squall rushing from the eastward and the tide making flood, any man who would leave the protection of the spar buoy for the purpose of unloading was fit for a lunatic asylum.