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Those Who Smiled - And Eleven Other Stories
by Perceval Gibbon
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She lifted the cup. "A short life and a merry one," she murmured, toasting herself before she drank.

Six francs remained to her, and there were yet three employers to visit. The lady in need of a governess and the shop which required a cashier were at opposite ends of Paris; the establishment which desired a young lady for "reception" was between the two. Annette, surveying the field', decided to reserve the "reception" to the last. She finished her coffee, flavoring to the last drop the warm stimulation of it; then, having built up again her hopeful mood, she set out anew.

It was three hours later, towards two o'clock in the afternoon, that she came on foot, slowly, along the Rue St. Honore, seeking the establishment which had proclaimed in the Journal its desire to employ, for purposes of "reception," a young lady of good figure and pleasant manners. She had discovered, at the cost of one of her remaining francs for omnibus fares, that a 50-franc a month governess must possess certificates, that governessing is a skilled trade overcrowded by women of the most various and remarkable talents. At the shop that advertised for a cashier a floor-walker had glanced at her over his shoulder for an instant, snapped out that the place was filled, and walked away.

The name she sought appeared across the way, lettered upon a row of first-floor windows; it was a photographer's.

"Now!" said Annette. "The end this is the end!"

A thrill touched her as she went up the broad stairway of the building; the crucial thing was at hand. The morning had been bad, but at each failure there had still been a possibility ahead. Now, there was only this and nothing beyond.

A spacious landing, carpeted, and lit by the tall church-windows on the staircase, great double doors with a brass plate, and a dim indoor sense pervading all the place! Here, evidently, the sharp corners of commerce were rounded off; its acolytes must be engaging female figures with affable manners.

Annette's ringer on the bronze bell-push evoked a manservant in livery, with a waistcoat of horizontal yellow and black stripes like a wasp and a smooth, subtle, still face. He pulled open one wing of the door and stood aside to let her pass in, gazing at her with demure eyes, in whose veiled suggestion there was something satiric. Annette stepped past him at once.

"There is an advertisement in the Journal for a young lady," she said. "I have come to apply for the post."

The smooth manservant lowered his head in a nod that was just not a bow, and closed the tall door.

"Yes," he said. "If mademoiselle will give herself the trouble to be seated I will inform the master."

The post was not filled, then. Annette sat down, let the wasp-hued flunkey pass out of sight, and looked round at the room in which she found herself. It was here, evidently, that the function of "reception" was accomplished. The manservant admitted the client; one rose from one's place at the little inlaid desk in the alcove and rustled forward across the gleaming parquet, with pleased and deferential alacrity to bid Monsieur or Madame welcome, to offer a chair and the incense of one's interest and delight in service. One added oneself to the quality of the big, still apartment, with its antique furniture, its celebrities and notorieties pictured upon its walls, its great chandelier, a-shiver with glass lusters hanging overhead like an aerial iceberg. No noises entered from the street; here, the business of being photographed was magnified to a solemnity; one drugged one's victim with pomp before leading him to the camera.

"I could do it," thought Annette. "I'm sure I could do it. I could fit into all this like a like a snail into a shell. I'd want shoes that didn't slide on the parquet; and then oh, if only this comes off!"

A small noise behind her made her turn quickly. The door by which the footman had departed was concealed by a portiere of heavy velvet; a hand had moved it aside and a face was looking round the edge of it at her. As she turned, the owner of it came forward into the room, and she rose.

"Be seated, be seated!" protested the newcomer in a high emasculate voice, and she sat down again obediently upon the little spindle-legged Empire settee from which she had risen.

"And you have come in consequence of the advertisement?" said the man with a little giggle. "Yes; yes! We will see, then!"

He stood in front of her, half-way across the room, staring at her. He was a man somewhere in the later thirties, wearing the velvet jacket, the cascading necktie, the throat-revealing collar, and the overlong hair which the conventions of the theatre have established as the livery of the artist. The details of this grotesque foppery presented themselves to Annette only vaguely; it was at the man himself as he straddled in the middle of the polished floor, staring at her, that she gazed with a startled attention a face like the feeble and idiot countenance of an old sheep, with the same flattened length of nose and the same weakly demoniac touch in the curve and slack hang of the wide mouth. It was not that he was merely ugly or queer to the view; it seemed to Annette that she was suddenly in the presence of something monstrous and out of the course of Nature. His eyes, narrow and seemingly colorless, regarded her with a fatuous complacency.

She flushed and moved in her seat under his long scrutiny. The creature sighed.

"Yes," he said, always in the same high, dead voice. "You satisfy the eye, mademoiselle. For me, that is already much, since it is as an artist that I consider you first. And your age?"

She told him. He asked further questions, of her previous employment, her nationality, and so forth, putting them perfunctorily as though they were matters of no moment, and never removing his narrow eyes from her face. Then, with short sliding steps, he came across the parquet and sat down beside her on the Empire settee.

Annette backed to the end of it and sat defensively on the edge, facing the strange being. He, crossing his thin legs, leaned with an arm extended along the back of the settee and his long, large-knuckled hand hanging limp. His sheep's face lay over on his shoulder towards her; in that proximity its quality of feeble grotesqueness was enhanced. It was like sitting in talk with a sick ape.

"Curiouser and curiouser!" quoted Annette to herself. "I ought to wake up next and find he really doesn't exist."

"Mademoiselle!" The creature began to speak again. "You are the ninth who has come hither today seeking the post I have advertised. Some I rejected because they failed to conciliate my eye; I cannot, you will understand, be tormented by a presence which jars my sense."

He paused to hear her agree.

"And the others?" inquired Annette.

"A-ah!" The strange being sighed. "The others in each case, what a disappointment! Girls beautiful, of a personality subdued and harmonious, capable of taking their places in my environment without doing violence to its completeness; but lacking the plastic and responsive quality which the hand of the artist should find in his material. Resistant they were resistant, mademoiselle, every one of them."

"Silly of them," said Annette briefly. She was meeting the secret stare of his half-closed eyes quite calmly now; she was beginning to understand the furtive satire in the regard of the smooth footman who had admitted each of those eight others in turn and seen their later departure. "What was it they wouldn't do?" she inquired.

"Do!" The limp hand flapped despairingly; the thin voice ran shrill. "I required nothing of them. One enters; I view her; I seat myself at her side as I sit now with you; I seek in talk to explore her resources of sentiment, of temperament, of sympathy. Perhaps I take her hand" As though to illustrate the recital, his long hand dropped suddenly and seized hers. He ceased to talk, surveying her with a scared shrewdness.

Annette smiled, letting her hand lie where it was. She was not in the least afraid; she had forgotten for the moment the barrenness of the streets that awaited her outside, and the fact that she had come to the end of her hopes.

"And they objected to that?" she inquired sweetly.

"Ah, but you." He was making ready to hitch closer along the seat, and she was prepared for him.

"Oh, I'd let you hold them both if that were all," she replied. "But it isn't all, is it?"

She smiled again at the perplexity in his face; his hands slackened and withdrew slowly. "You haven't told me what salary you are offering," she reminded him.

"Mademoiselle you, too?"

She nodded. "I, too," she said, and rose. The man on the settee groaned and heaved his shoulders theatrically; she stood, viewing in quiet curiosity that countenance of impotent vileness. Other failures had left her with a sense of defenselessness in a world so largely populated by men who glanced up from their desks to refuse her plea for work. But now she had resources of power over fate and circumstance; the streets, the night, the river, whatever of fear and destruction the future held, could neither daunt nor compel her. She could go out to meet them, free and victorious.

"Mademoiselle!" The man on the settee bleated at her.

She shook her head at him. It was not worth while to speak. She went to the door and opened it for herself; the smooth manservant was deprived of the spectacle of her departure.

She went slowly down the wide stairs. "Nine of us," she was thinking. "Nine girls, and not one of us was what did he call it? plastic. I'm not really alone in the world, after all."

But it was very like being alone in the world to go slowly, with tired feet, along the perspectives of the streets, to turn corners aimlessly, to wander on with no destination or purpose. There was yet money in the old purse a single broad five-franc piece; it would linger out her troubles for her till to-morrow.

She would need to eat, and her room at Madame Mardel's would come to three francs; she did not mean to occupy it any longer than she could pay for it. And then the morning would find her penniless in actuality.

Her last turning brought her out to the arches of the Rue de Rivoli; across the way the trees of the Tuileries Gardens lifted their green to the afternoon sunlight. She hesitated; then crossed the wide road towards the gardens, her thoughts still hovering about the five-franc piece.

"It's a case for riotous living," she told herself, as she passed in to the smooth paths beneath the trees. "Five francs' worth of real dinner or something like that. Only I'm not feeling very riotous just now."

What she felt was that the situation had to be looked at, but that looking at it could not improve it. Things had come to an end; food to eat, a bed to sleep in, the mere bare essentials of life had ceased, and she had not an idea of what came next; how one entered upon the process of starving to death in the streets. Passers-by, strolling under the trees, glanced at her as she passed them, preoccupied and unseeing, a neat, comely little figure of a girl in her quiet clothes with her still composed face. She went slowly; there was a seat which she knew of farther on, overshadowed by a lime tree, where she meant to rest and put her thoughts in order; but already at the back of her mind there had risen, vague as night, oppressive as pain, tainting her disquiet with its presence, the hint of a consciousness that, after all, one does not starve to death pas si bete! One takes a shorter way.

A lean youth, with a black cotton cap pulled forward over one eye, who had been lurking near, saw the jerk with which she lifted her head as that black inspiration was clear to her, and the sudden coldness and courage of her face, and moved away uneasily.

"Ye-es," said Annette slowly. "Ye-es! And now Ghh!"

A bend in the path had brought her suddenly to the seat under the lime tree; she was within a couple of paces of it before she perceived that it had already its occupant the long figure of a young man who sprawled back with his face upturned to the day and slumbered with all that disordered and unbeautiful abandon which goes with daylight sleep. His head had fallen over on one shoulder; his mouth was open; his hands, grimy and large, showed half shut in his lap. There was a staring patch of black sticking plaster at the side of his chin; his clothes, that were yet decent, showed stains here and there; his face, young and slackened in sleep, was burned brick-red by exposure. The whole figure of him, surrendered to weariness in that unconscious and uncaring sprawl, seemed suddenly to answer her question this was what happened next; this was the end unless one found and took that shorter way.

"They walk till they can't walk any longer; then they sleep on benches. I could never do that!"

She stood for some seconds longer, staring at the sleeping man. Resolution, bitter as grief, mounted in her like a tide. "No, it shan't come to that with me!" she cried inwardly. "Lounging with my mouth open for anyone to stare at! No!"

She turned, head up, body erect, face set strongly, and walked away. Neither sheep-faced human grotesques in palatial offices nor all Paris and its civilization should make her other than she wished to be. She stepped out defiantly and stopped short.

The old purse was in her hand; through its flabby sides she could feel with her fingers the single five-franc piece which it yet contained. Somehow, that had to be disposed of or provided for; five francs was a serious matter to Annette. She looked round; the man in the seat was still sleeping.

Treading quietly, she went back to him, taking the coin from her purse as she went. Upon his right side his coat pocket bulged open; she could see that in it was a little wad of folded papers. "His testimonials poor fellow!" she breathed. Carefully she leaned forward and let the broad coin slip into the pocket among the papers. Then, with an end of a smile twisted into the set of her lips, she turned again and departed. Among the trees the lean youth in the black cotton cap watched her go.

A day that culminates in sleep upon a bench in a public place is commonly a day that has begun badly and maintained its character. In this case it may be said to have begun soon after nine A.M. when a young man in worn tweed clothes and carrying a handkerchief pressed to his jaw, stepped out from a taxi and into that drug-store which is nearest to the Gare de Lyon. The bald, bland chemist who presides there has a regular practice in the treatment of razor-cuts acquired through shaving in the train; he looked up serenely across his glass-topped counter.

"Good morning, monsieur," he said. "A little cut yes?"

Young Raleigh gazed at him across the handkerchief.

"No! A thundering great gash," he answered with emphasis. "I want something to patch it up with."

"Certainly certainly!" The bald apothecary had the airs of a family physician; he smiled soothingly. "We shall find something. Let me now see the cut!"

Raleigh protruded his face across the soaps and the bottles of perfume, and the apothecary rose on tiptoe to scrutinize the wound. The razor had got home on the edge of the jaw with a scraping cut that bled handsomely.

"Ah!" The bald man nodded, and sought a bottle. "A little of this" he was damping a rag of lint with the contents of the bottle "as a cleansing agent first. If monsieur will bend down a little so."

Daintily, with precision and delicacy, he proceeded to apply the cleansing agent to the cut; at the first dab the patient leapt back with an exclamation.

"Confound you!" he cried. "This stuff burns like fire."

"It will pass in a moment," soothed the chemist. "And now, a little patch, and all will be well."

His idea of a suitable dressing was two inches of stiff and shiny black plaster that gripped at the skin like a barnacle and looked like a tragedy. Raleigh surveyed the effect of it in a show-case mirror gloomily.

"I wonder you didn't put it in a sling while you were about it," he remarked ungratefully. "People'll think I've been trying to cut my throat."

"Monsieur should grow a beard," counseled the chemist as he handed him his change.

Raleigh grunted, disdaining, retort, and passed forth to his waiting cab. The day had commenced inauspiciously. The night before, smoking his final cigarette in his upper berth in the wagon-lit, he had tempted Providence by laying out for himself a programme and a time schedule; and it looked as if Providence had been unable to resist the temptation. The business of the firm in which he was junior partner had taken him to Zurich; he had given himself a week's holiday in the mountains, and was now on his way back to London. The train was due to land him in Paris at half-past eight in the morning, and his plans were clear. First, a taxi to the Cafe de la Paix and breakfast there under the awning while the day ripened towards the hours of business; then a small cigar and a stroll along the liveliness of the boulevard to the offices of the foundry company, where a heart-to-heart talk with the manager would clear up several little matters which were giving trouble. Afterwards, a taxi across the river and a call upon the machine-tool people, get their report upon the new gear-steels and return to the Gare du Nord in time to catch the two o'clock train for Calais.

He had settled the order of it to his satisfaction before he pulled the shade over the lamp and turned over to sleep; and then, next morning, he had gashed himself while shaving, and the train was forty minutes late.

"These clothes" there was a narrow slip of mirror between the front windows of the taxi which reflected him, a section at a time "these clothes 'ud pass," he considered gloomily, considering their worn and unbusinesslike quality. "But with this" his fingers explored his chin "folks'll think we only do business between sprees."

The manager of the foundry company was a French engineer who had been trained in Pittsburg, a Frenchman of the new style, whose silky sweetness of manner was the mask of a steely tenacity of purpose. He had a little devilish black moustache, waxed at the points, like an earl of melodrama, and with it a narrow cheerless smile that jeered into futility Raleigh's effort to handle the subject on a basis of easy good fellowship. The heart-to-heart talk degenerated into a keen business controversy, involving the consultation of letter-files; it took more time than Raleigh had to spare; and in the end nothing was settled.

"You catch the airly train to London?" inquired the manager amiably, when Raleigh was leaving.

"Yes," replied Raleigh warmly. "I'm going to get out of this while I've got my fare left."

"Bon voyage," said the Frenchman smilingly. "You will present my compliments to your father?"

"Not me," retorted Raleigh. "I'm not going to let him know I saw you."

The machine-tool people, to whom his next visit was due, were established south of the river, a long drive from the boulevards. They were glad to receive him; there was a difficulty with some of the new steels, and they took him into the shops that he might see and appreciate the matter for himself. In the end it was necessary for Raleigh to reset the big turret lathe and demonstrate the manner of working, standing to the machine in his ancient tweed clothes nobody offered him overalls while the swift belting slatted at his elbow and fragments of shaved steel and a fine spray of oil welcomed him back to his trade. The good odor of metal, the engine-room smell, filled his nostrils; he was doing the thing which he could do best; it was not till it was finished that he looked at his watch and realized that the last item of his time-table had gone the way of the first, and he had missed the two o'clock train.

He paid off his return cab in the Place de la Concorde and stood doubtfully on the curb, watching it skate away with the traffic. His baggage had gone on by the two o'clock train; he was committed now to an afternoon in those ancient clothes with the oily stigma of the workshop upon them. His hands, too, were black from his work; he had slept badly in the train and done without a bath. In the soft sunlight that rained upon those brilliant streets he felt foul and unsightly.

He yawned, between a certain afternoon drowsiness and a languid depression.

"I'll wander up to the Meurice an' get a wash, anyhow," he decided, and turned to stroll through the Tuileries Gardens towards the hotel. He went slowly; it was pleasant among the trees, and when a seat in the shadows offered itself he sank down into it.

"I'll sleep all right in the train to-night," he thought, shoving back his cap.

There were children playing somewhere out of sight; their voices came to him in an agreeable tinkle. He crossed one leg over the other and settled himself more comfortably; he had plenty of time to spare now. His eyes closed restfully.

The touch that roused him was a very gentle one, scarcely more than a ghost of a sensation, the mere brush of a dexterous hand that slid as quietly as a shadow along the edge of his jacket pocket and groped into it with long clever fingers, while its owner, sitting beside him on the bench, gazed meditatively before him with an air of complete detachment from that skilled felonious hand. Raleigh, waking without moving, was able for a couple of seconds to survey his neighbor, a slim white-faced youth with a black cotton cap slouched forward over one eye. Then, swiftly, he caught the exploring hand by the wrist and sat up.

"Your mistake," he said crisply. "There's nothing but old letters in that pocket."

The youth at the first alarm tried to wrench loose, writhing in startled effort like a pronged snake, with all his smooth, vicious face clenched in violent fear. Raleigh gave a twisting jerk to the skinny wrist and the struggle was over; the lad uttered a yelp and collapsed back on the seat.

"Be good," warned Raleigh in easy French; "be good, or I'll beat you, d'you hear?"

The youth sniffed, staring at him with eyes in which a mere foolish fear was giving place to cunning. He was a creature flimsy as paper, a mere lithe skinful of bones, in whom the wit of the thief supplied the place of strength. He was making now his hasty estimate of the man he had to deal with.

"Well," demanded Raleigh, "what have you got to say for yourself?"

"Monsieur!" the youth struck into an injured whine. "I meant no harm, but I was desperate; I have not eaten today" his eyes noted the amused contempt on Raleigh's face, and he poised an instant like a man taking aim "and when I saw the lady slip the money into monsieur's pocket while he slept, and reflected that he would never even know that he had lost it."

"Eh?" Raleigh sat up. The thief suppressed a smile. "What lady, espece de fourneau? What are you talking about?"

"It's not a minute ago," replied the youth, discarding the whine. "See, she is perhaps not out of sight yet, if monsieur will look along the path. No, there she goes that one!"

His hand was free now; he was using it to point with; but he made no attempt to escape.

"She approached monsieur while he slept, walking cautiously, and slipped the money it was a five-franc piece, I think into his pocket. Yes, monsieur, that was the pocket."

He smiled patronizingly as Raleigh plunged a hand into the pocket in question, fumbled among the papers there, and drew out the coin and stared at it. He had the situation in hand now; he could get rid of this strong young man as soon as he pleased.

"She is going out of the gate now, monsieur," he said.

Raleigh turned. At the farther end of the path the woman who had been pointed out to him was close to the exit; in a few seconds more she would be gone. He could see of her nothing save her back that and a certain quality of carriage, a gait measured and deliberate.

He threw a word to the thief, who stood by with his hands in his pockets and an air of relishing the situation. "All right; you can go," he said, and started upon the chase of the secret bestower of alms.

"And me?" the outraged thief cried after him in tones of bitterness. "And me? I get nothing, then?"

The serge-clad back was disappearing through the gates into the welter of sunlight without; Raleigh gathered up his feet and sprinted along the tree shaded path. He was going to understand this business. He picked up the view of the serge-clad back again, walking towards the bridge, hastened after it and slowed down to its own pace when he was still some ten yards behind.

"Why, it's a girl!"

Somehow, he had counted upon finding an elderly woman, some charitable eccentric who acquired merit by secret gifts. He saw, instead, a slim girl, neatly and quietly clad, whose profile, as she glanced across the parapet of the bridge, showed pearl-pale in the shadow of her hat, with a simple and almost childlike prettiness of feature. There was something else, too, a quality of the whole which Raleigh, who did not deal in fine shades, had no words to describe to himself. But he saw it, nevertheless a gravity, a character of sad and tragic composure, that look of defeat which is prouder than any victory; it waked his imagination.

"Something wrong!" he said to himself vaguely, and continued to follow.

At the southern end of the bridge she turned her back to the sun and went east along the quay where the second-hand booksellers lounged beside their wares. She neither hurried nor slackened that deliberate pace of hers; Raleigh, keeping well behind, his wits at work acutely, wondered what it reminded him of, that slow trudge over the pavements. It was when the booksellers were left behind that an incident enlightened him.

She stopped for a minute and leaned upon the parapet; he crossed the road to be out of sight in case she should look back. She had been carrying in her hand a purse, and now he saw her open it and apparently search its interior, but idly and without interest as though she knew already what to expect of it. Then she closed it and tossed it over the parapet into the river.

"Ah!" Sudden comprehension rushed upon him; he knew now what that slow, aimless gait suggested to him. He recalled evenings in London, when he walked or drove through the lit streets and saw, here and there, the figures of those homeless ones who walked walked always, straying forward in a footsore progress till the night should be ripe for them to sit down in some corner. And then, that shadow in her face, that mouth, tight-held but still drooping; her way of looking at the river! His hand, in his pocket, closed over the five-franc piece which she had dropped there; he started across the road to accost her forthwith, but at that moment she moved on again, and once more he fell into step behind her.

There is a point, near the Ile de la Cite, where the Seine projects an elbow; the quay goes round in a curve under high houses; a tree or two overhangs the water, and there is a momentary space of quiet, almost a privacy at the skirts of bristling Paris. Here, commonly, men of leisure sit through the warm hours, torpidly fishing the smooth green depth of water below; but now there was none. The girl followed the elbow round and stopped at the angle of it. She leaned her arms on the coping and gazed down at the quiet still water below.

She was looking at it with such a preoccupation that Raleigh was able to come close to her before he spoke. He, too, put an arm on the parapet at her side.

"Looks peaceful, doesn't it?" he said quietly.

The girl's head rose with a jerk, and she stared at him, startled. The words had been deftly chosen to match her own thoughts; and for the while she failed to recognize in this tall young man the sprawling figure of the slumberer in the Tuileries Gardens.

"I, I who are you?" she stammered. "What do you want?"

He was able to see now that her pale composure was maintained only by an effort, that the strain of it was making her tremble. He answered in tones of careful conventionality.

"I'm afraid I startled you," he said. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have ventured to speak to you at all if you hadn't—" He paused. "You don't happen to remember me at all?" he asked.

"No," said Annette. "If I hadn't, what?"

He slipped a hand into his pocket and drew forth the five-franc piece. The broad palm it lay on was still grimy from the workshop.

"I happened to fall asleep in the Tuileries this afternoon," he said. "Idiotic thing to do, but—."

"Oh!" The color leapt to her face. "Was that you?"

Raleigh nodded. "You had hardly moved away when a man who had been watching you tried to pick my pocket and woke me in doing so. He told me what he'd seen and pointed you out."

Annette gazed at him in tired perplexity. When he was on his feet, the condition of his clothes and hands and the absurd black patch on his chin were noticeable only as incongruities; there was nothing now to suggest the pauper or the outcast in this big youth with the pleasant voice and the strongly tanned face.

"I, I made a mistake," she said. "I saw you sleeping on the bench and I thought a little help, coming from nowhere like that you'd be so surprised and glad when you found it." She sighed. "However, I was wrong. I'm sorry."

"I'm not!" Raleigh put the money back in his pocket swiftly. "I think it was a wonderful idea of yours; it's the most splendid thing that ever happened to me. There was I, grumbling and making mistakes all day, playing the fool and pitying myself, and all the time you were moving somewhere within a mile or two, out of sight, but watching and saying: 'Yes, you're no good to anybody; but if the worst comes to the worst you shan't starve. I'll save you from that!' I'll never part with that money."

Annette shook her head; weariness inhabited her like a dull pain. "I didn't say that" she answered; "you weren't starving, and you don't understand. It doesn't matter, anyhow."

"Please," said Raleigh. He saw that she wanted to get rid of him, and he had no intention of letting her do so. "It matters to me, at any rate. But there is one thing I didn't understand."

She did not answer, gazing over her clasped hands at the water, across whose level the spires and chimneys of the city bristled like the skyline of a forest.

"It was while I was following you here, wondering whether I might speak to you," he continued. "I was watching you as you went, and it seemed to me that you were well, unhappy; in trouble or something. And then, back there on the quay, I saw you open your purse and throw it into the river."

He paused. "There was a hole in it," said Annette shortly, without turning her head.

"But" he spoke very quietly "you are in trouble? Yes, I know I'm intruding upon you" she had moved her shoulders impatiently "but haven't you given me just the shadow of a right? Your gift it might have saved my life if I'd been what you thought; I might have fetched up in the Morgue before morning. Men do, you know, every day women, too!" Her fingers upon the parapet loosened and clasped again at that. "You can't tie me hand and foot with such an obligation as that and leave me plante la."

"Oh!" Annette sighed. "It's nothing at all," she said. "But, as you want so much to know I'm a typist; I'm out of work; I've been looking for it all day, and I'm disappointed and very tired."

"And that's really all?" demanded Raleigh.

"All!" She turned to look at him at last, meeting his steady and penetrating eyes quietly. She had an impulse to tell him what was comprehended in that "all"; to speak deliberately plain words that should crumple him into an understanding of her tragedy. But even while she hesitated there came to her a sense that he knew more than he told; that the grey eyes in the red-brown face had read more of her than she was willing to show. She subsided.

"Yes, that's all," she said.

He nodded, a quick and business-like little jerk of the head. "I see. I've been worrying you, I'm afraid; but I'm glad I made you tell, because I can put that all right for you at once, as it happens."

The girl, leaning on the wall, drew in a harsh breath and turned to him. Young Raleigh, who had written a monograph on engineering stresses, had still much to learn about the stresses that contort and warp the souls of men and women. He learned some of it then, when he saw the girl's face deaden to a blanker white and the flame of a hungry hope leap into her eyes. He looked away quickly.

"You mean you can?"

He hushed her with his brisk and matter-of-fact little nod.

"I mean I can find you a situation in a business office as a typist," he said explicitly. "Wasn't that what you wanted?"

"Yes, yes." She was trembling; he put one large, grimy hand upon her sleeve to steady her. "Oh, please, where is the office? I'll go there at once, before."

"Hush!" he said. "It's all right. We'll get a taxi and I'll take you there. It's the Machine-Tool and Gear-Cutting Company; I don't know what they pay, but—."

"Anything," moaned Annette. "I'll take anything."

"Well, it's more than that," he smiled. "A typist with Raleigh and Son at her back isn't to be had every day of the week."

A taxicab drifted out of a turning on to the quay a hundred yards away; Raleigh waved a long arm and it came towards them.

"And after we've fixed this little matter," suggested Raleigh, "don't you think we might go somewhere and feed? I can get a sketchy kind of wash at the office while you're talking to the manager; and I'm beginning to notice that I didn't have my lunch to-day."

"I didn't either," said Annette, as the taxi slid to a standstill beside them. "But, oh! you don't know you don't know all you're doing for me. I'll never be able to thank you properly."

Raleigh opened the door of the cab for her. "You can try," he said. "I'm in Paris for three days every fortnight."

The taxicabs of Paris include in their number the best and the worst in the world. This was one of the latter; a moving musical-box of grinding and creaking noises. But Annette sank back upon its worn and knobly cushions luxuriously, gazing across the sun-gilt river to the white, window-dotted cliffs of Paris with the green of trees foaming about their base.

"Oh, don't you love Paris?" she cried softly.

"I do," agreed Raleigh, warmly, watching the soft glow that had come to her face. "I can't keep away from it."



IX

THE DARKENED PATH

The captain reached a hand forth and touched the mate's arm.

"Sit down, James," he said quietly.

The mate made a curious quick grimace and sat forthwith. "Shove off," ordered the captain.

Johnny Cos, the yellow, woolly-haired boatman, plying his oars, sat perforce in face of his passengers and close to them. He would have preferred it otherwise; there had been something in the mate's face which daunted him. He glanced at it again furtively as he pulled away from the square-sterned American schooner which had ridden over the bar in the twilight of dawn and anchored, spectral and strange, in Beira Harbor. The mate's face was strong and sunburnt, the face of a man of lively passions and crude emotions; but as he sat gazing forth at the little hectic town across the smooth harbor, it had a cast of profound and desperate unhappiness. Johnny Cos had not words to tell himself what he saw; he only knew, with awe and a certain amount of fear, that he moved in the presence of something tragic.

"James," began the captain again.

The mate withdrew his miserable eyes from the scene. "What?"

"There ain't any reason why" began the captain, and paused and Hooked doubtfully upon the faithful Johnny Cos. "D'you speak English?"

"Yes, sar," replied Johnny, ingratiatingly. "You want good 'otel, Cap'n? Good, cheap 'otel? I geeve you da card; 'Otel Lisbon, sar. All cap'n go there."

"No," said the captain shortly. "We can talk better when we get ashore, James," he added to the mate.

"Ver' good 'otel, Cap'n; ver' cheap" coaxed Johnny Cos. "You want fruit, Cap'n: mango, banan', coconut, orange, grenadeel, yes? I geeve you da card, Cap'n ver' cheap!"

"That'll do," said the captain. "I don't want anything. Get a move on this boat o' yours, will you?"

Johnny Cos sighed and resigned himself to row in silence, only murmuring at intervals: "'Otel Lisbon; good, ver' good, an' cheap!" When that murmur, taking courage to grow audible, drew the mate's eye upon him, he stopped short in the middle of it and murmured no more.

"You c'n wait to take me aboard again," said the captain, when the wharf was reached; and the two men went slowly together into the town, along the streets of ankle-deep sand, towards the office of the consul.

It was an hour later that the loafers on the veranda of the Savoy Hotel observed their slow approach. They had done whatever business they had with the consul. They were deep in talk; the captain's grizzled head was bent toward his shorter companion, and something of the mate's trouble reflected itself in his hard, strongly-graven face. In the merciless deluge of sunlight, and upon the openness of the street, they made a singular grouping; they seemed to be, by virtue of some matter that engrossed and governed them, aloof and remote, a target set up by Destiny.

By the steps of the hotel the captain paused, wiping the shining sweat from his face. The eavesdroppers in the long chairs cocked their ears.

"James," they heard him say; "it's bad, it's just as bad as it can be. But it ain't no reason to go short of a drink with a saloon close handy."

He motioned with his head towards the shade of the long veranda, with the bar opening from it and its bottles in view. The mate, frowning heavily, nodded, and the pair of them entered and passed between the wicker chairs with the manner of being unconscious of their occupants.

From within the bar their voices droned indistinctly forth to the listeners.

"Leavin' you here," they heard the captain say; "James, I'm sorry right through; but you said yourself."

"Sure;" the mate's voice answered hoarsely. "Here or Hell or anywhere, what's the difference to me now?"

After that they moved to the window, and what they said further was indistinguishable. The loafers on the veranda exchanged puzzled looks; they lacked a key to the talk they had heard. When at last the two seamen departed they summoned forth the barman for further information. But that white-jacketed diplomat, who looked on from the sober side of the bar at so much that was salient to the life of Beira was not able to help them.

"I couldn't make out what was troublin' them," he said, playing with the diamond ring on his middle finger. "They was talking round and round it, but they never named it right out. But it seems the younger one has been paid off. He looks bad, he does."

"Well," said a man of experience from his chair; "he'll be drunk tonight, and then we'll hear."

"H'm!" The barman paused on his way back to his post. "When I see that feller drunk, I'm goin' to climb a tree. I got no use for trouble."

But the mate's conduct continued to be as unusual as his words overheard on the hotel veranda. He did not accompany the captain back to the ship, and in the afternoon he was seen sitting on the parapet of the sea-wall, his face propped in his hands, staring out across the shining water of the harbor. The vehement sun beat down upon his blue-coated back and the hard felt hat that covered his head; he should have been in an agony of discomfort and no little danger, clad as he was; but he sat without moving, facing the water and the craft that lay at their anchors upon it. It was Father Bates, the tall Scottish priest, who saw him and crossed the road to him.

"My friend," the priest accosted him, with a light tap on the shoulder. "You'll die the sooner if you take your hat off. But you'll die anyhow if you go on sitting here."

At his touch the mate looked round sharply. The tall white-clad Father, under his green-lined sun umbrella, rested a steady look on his face.

"You're in trouble, I'm afraid," said the priest. "Is there anything a man can do for you?"

"No!" The word came hoarsely but curt from the mate's throat. "Leave me alone!"

The tall priest nodded. "Nothing a man can do, eh?" he said. "Well, then you know who can help you, don't you?"

The miserable rebellious eyes of the young man hardened.

"Leave me alone," he growled. "Say, you're a kind of a missionary, ain't you? Well, I don't want none of your blasted cant, see?"

The Father smiled. "I know how you feel. My name is Father Bates, and anyone will show you where I live. Bates don't forget! And I really wouldn't sit much longer in that sun, if I were you."

A sound like a snarl was his answer as he passed on. Looking back before he turned the corner, he saw that the mate had returned to his old posture, brooding in his strange and secret sorrow over the irresponsive sea.

He was still there at sunset when the schooner went out, holding himself apart from the little group of Beira people who halted to watch her departure. Upon her poop a couple of figures were plain to sight, and one of these waved a hand towards the shore as though to bid farewell to the man they left behind. The mate, however, made no response. He watched unmoving while she approached the heads and glided from view, her slender topmasts lingering in sight over the dull green of the mangroves, with the sunset flush lighting them delicately. Then she was gone, like a silent visitor who withdraws a presence that has scarcely been felt.

The mate crossed the road and addressed the man who stood nearest.

"Where's the deepo?" he demanded, abruptly. "The railway station."

The other gave directions which the mate heard, frowning. Then, without thanking his guide, he turned to walk heavily through the foot-clogging sand in the direction indicated.

It was a hundred and fifty miles up the line that he next emerged to notice, at Mendigos, that outpost set in the edge of the jungle, where the weary telegraphists sweat through the sunny monotony of the days and are shaken at night by the bitter agues that infest the land.

The mate dropped from the train here, still clad as at Beira in thick, stifling sea-cloth and his hard hat, though his collar was now but a limp frill. He came lurching, on uncertain feet, into the establishment of Hop Sing, the only seller of strong drink at Mendigos. The few languid, half-clad men who lounged within looked up at him in astonishment. He pointed shakily towards a bottle on the primitive bar. "Gimme some of that," he croaked, from a parched throat.

The smiling Chinaman, silk-clad and supple, poured a drink for him, watched him consume it, and forthwith poured another. With the replenished tumbler in his hand, the mate returned his look.

"What you starin' at, you Chow?" he demanded.

The subtle-eyed Chinaman ceased neither to smile nor to stare.

"My t'ink you velly sick man. Two shillin' to pay, please."

"Sick!" repeated the mate. "Sick! You you know, do ye?"

The idle men who lounged behind were spectators to the drama, absorbed but uncomprehending. They saw the fierce, absurdly-clad sailor, swaying on his feet with the effects of long-endured heat and thirst, confronting the suave composure of the Chinaman as though the charge of being unwell were outrageous and shameful.

"Say," he demanded hoarsely, "it, it don't show on me."

The Chinaman made soothing gestures. "My see," he answered. "But dem feller belong here, him not see nothing. All-a-light foh him. Two shillin' to pay, please."

The mate dragged a coin from his pocket and dropped it on the bar. He turned at last to the others, as though he now first noticed them.

"What's back of here?" he asked abruptly, motioning as he spoke to the still palms which poised over the galvanized iron roofs.

"How d'you mean?" A tall, willowy man in pajamas answered him surprisedly. "There's nothing beyond here. It's just wild country."

"No white men?" asked the mate.

"Lord, no!" said the other. "White men die out there. It's just trees and niggers and wild beasts and fevers." He looked at the mate with a touch of amusement breaking through his curiosity. "You weren't thinking of goin' there in that kit were you?"

The mate finished his drink and set his glass down.

"I am goin' there," he answered.

"But look here!" The telegraphists broke into a clamor. "You've been too long in the sun; that's what's the matter with you. You can't go up there, man; you'd be dead before morning."

The tall man, to whom the mate had spoken first, had a shrewd word to add. "If it's any little thing like murder, dontcher know, why the border's just a few hours up the line."

"Murder!" exclaimed the mate, and uttered a bark of laughter.

They were possibly a little afraid of him. He had the physique of a fighter and the presence of a man accustomed to exercise a crude authority. Their protests and warnings died down; and, after all, a man's life and death are very much his own concern in those regions.

"D'you think he's mad?" one of them was whispering when the mate turned to Hop Sing again.

"Set up the drinks for them," he commanded. "I'll not wait meself, but here's the money."

"You not dlink?" asked the Chinaman, as the mate laid the coins on the counter.

"No," was the reply. "No need to spoil another glass."

He gave a half nod to the other men, but no word, pulled his hard hat forward on his brow, and walked out to the aching sunlight, and towards a path that led between two iron huts to the fringe of the riotous bush. The telegraphists crowded to look after him, but he did not turn his head. He paused beneath the great palms, where the ground was clear; then the thigh-deep grass, which is the lip of the bush, was about him, grey, dry as straw, rustling as he thrust through it with the noise of paper being crumpled in the hands. A green parrot, balancing clown-like on a twig, screamed raucously; he glanced up at its dazzle of feathers. Then the wall of the bush itself yielded to his thrusting, let him through, and closed behind his blue-clad back. Africa had received him to her silence and her mystery.

"Well, I'm blowed!" The tall telegraphist stared at the place where he had vanished. "I say, you chaps, we ought to go after him."

No one moved. "I shouldn't care to come to my hands with him," said another. "Did you did you see his face?"

They had all seen it; the speaker was voicing the common feeling.

"It's like drinkin' at a wake," observed the tall man, his glass in his hand. "Well, here's to his memory!"

"His memory," they chorused, and drank.

But the end of the tale came later. It was told in the veranda of Father Bates's house at Beira, by Dan Terry, as he lay on his cot and drank in the air from the sea in life-restoring draughts. He had been up in the region of lost and nameless rivers for three years of fever and ague and toil, and now he was back, a made man ready to be done with Africa, with square gin bottles full of coarse gold to sell to the bank, and a curious story to tell of a thing he had seen in the back country.

It was evening when he told it, propped up on his pillows, with the blankets drawn up under his chin, and his lean, leathery face, a little softened by his fever, fronting the long, benevolent visage of Father Bates. The Father had a deckchair, and sprawled in it at length, listening over his deep Boer pipe. A faint, bitter ghost of an odor tainted the still air from the mangroves beyond the town, and there was heard, like an undertone in the talk, the distant slumberous murmur of the tide on the beach.

"But how did you first get to hear of him?" the Father was asking, carrying on the talk.

"Oh, that was queer!" said Dan. "You see, I was making a cut clean across country to that river of mine, and, as far as I could tell, I was in a stretch of land where there hasn't been one other white man in twenty years. Bad traveling it was swamp, cane, and swamp again for days; the mud stinking all day, the mist poisoning you all night, the cane cutting and scratching and slashing you. It was as bad as anything I've seen yet. And it was while we were splashing and struggling through this that I saw, lying at the foot of an aloe of all created things an old hat. I thought for a moment that the sun had got to my brain. An old, hard, black bowler hat it was, caved in a bit, and soaked, and all that, but a hat all the same. I couldn't have been more surprised if it had been an iceberg. You see, except my own hat, I hadn't seen a hat for over two years."

Father Bates nodded and stoked the big bowl of his pipe with a practiced thumb.

"It might ha' meant anything," Dan went on; "a chap making for my river, for instance. So the next Kaffir village I came to I went into the matter. I sat down in the doorway of the biggest hut and had the population up before me to answer questions."

"They were willing?" asked the Father.

"I had a gun across my knees," explained Dan; "but they were willing enough without that. And a queer yarn they had to tell, too; I couldn't quite make it out at first. It began with an account of a village hit by smallpox close by. Their way of dealing with smallpox is simple: they quarantine the infected village by posting armed men round it until all the villagers are starved to death or killed by the smallpox. Then they burn the village. It costs nothing, and it keeps the disease under. This village, it seems, was particularly easy to deal with, since it stood three hundred yards from the nearest water, and the water was placed out of bounds.

"It must have been about the third day after the quarantine was declared that the, the incident occurred. A man and a girl, carrying empty waterpots, had come out of the village towards the stream. The armed outposts, with their big stabbing assegais ready in their hands, ordered them back, but the poor creatures were crazed with thirst and desperate. They were pleading and crying and still creeping forward, the man first, the girl a few steps behind, mad for just water. What happened first was in the regular order of things in those parts. The fellows on guard simply waited, and when the man was up to them one stepped forward and drove the thirty-inch blade of a stabbing assegai clean through him. Then they stood ready to do the same to the girl as soon as she arrived.

"She had tumbled to her knees at the sight of the killing, and was still crying and begging piteously for water. They said she held out her arms to them, and bowed her head between. After a while, when they did not answer, she got to her feet and stood looking at the dead body stretched in the sun, the long blades of the spears, and the shining of the water beyond. It was as though she was making up her mind about them, for at last she picked up her waterpot and came forward towards her sure and swift death. The assegai-men were so intent on her that none of them seem to have heard a man who came out of the bush close behind them. One of them, as I was told, had actually flung back his arm for the thrust and the girl, she hadn't even flinched! The thing was within an inch of being done; the stabbing assegai goes like lightning, you know; she must have been tasting the very bitterness of death. The man from the bush was not a second too soon. The first they knew of him was a roar, and he had the shaft of the assegai in his hand and had plucked it from its owner.

"He must have moved like a young earthquake, and bellowed like a full-grown thunderstorm. All my informants laid stress on his voice; he exploded in their midst with an uproar that overthrew their senses, and whacked right and left with fist and foot and assegai. He was a white man; it took them some seconds to see that through the dirt on him; he was clad in rags of cloth, and his head was bare, and he raged like a sackful of tiger-cats. He really must have been something extraordinary in the way of a fighter, for he scattered a clear dozen of them, and sent them flying for their lives. One man said that when he was safe he looked back. The white man, with the assegai on his shoulder, was stumping ahead into the infected village, and the girl she was lying down at the edge of the water drinking avidly. She hadn't even looked up at the fight."

Father Bates nodded. "Poor creatures," he said. "Yes?"

"Well, the cordon being broken, those of the villagers who weren't too far gone to walk on their feet promptly scattered, naturally, and no one tried to stop them. When at last the people from the neighboring kraals plucked up courage to go and look at the place, they found there only the bodies of the dead. The white man had gone, too. They never saw him again, but from time to time there came rumors from the north and east tales of a wanderer who injected himself suddenly into men's affairs, withdrew again and went away, and they remembered the white man who roared. He was already passing into a myth.

"I couldn't make head nor tail of the thing; but one point was clear. Since this white man had neither Kaffirs nor gear he couldn't hurt my river, and that was what chiefly mattered to me just then. I might have forgotten him altogether, but that I came on his tracks again, and then, to finish with, I saw the man himself."

"Eh?" Father Bates looked up.

"I'm telling you the whole thing, Padre. You keep quiet and you'll hear."

The sad evening light was falling, and the faint breeze from the sea had a touch of chill in it.

"Keep your blankets up, Dan," said the Father.

"You bet," replied Dan. "Well, about this fellow I'm telling you of! He must have been getting a reputation for uncanniness from every village he touched at. By the time I came up with the scene of his next really notable doings he was umtagati in full form supernatural, you know, a thing to be dreaded and conciliated. And I don't wonder, really. Here was a man without weapons, bareheaded in the sun, speaking no word of any native language, alone and nearly naked, plunging ahead through that wild unknown country and no harm coming to him. You can't play tricks of that sort with Africa; the old girl holds too many trumps; but this chap was doing it. It was against Nature.

"He'd made his way up to a place where I always expect trouble. There is, or rather, there was then a brute of a chief there, a fellow named N'Komo, who paid tribute to M'Kombi, and was sort of protected and supported by him. He was always slopping over his borders with a handful of fighting men and burning and slaughtering and raping among the peaceful kraals. A devil he was, a real black devil for cruelty and lust. He had just started on a campaign when this lonely white man arrived in the neighborhood, passing through a bit of district with N'Komo's mark on it in the form of burned huts and bodies of people. A man N'Komo had killed was a sight to make Beelzebub sick. Torture, you know; mutilation beastliness! The white man must have seen a good many such bodies.

"N'Komo and his swashbucklers had slept the night in a captured kraal, and were still there in the morning when the white man arrived. I know exactly the kind of scene it was. The carcasses of the cattle slaughtered for meat would be lying all over the place between the round huts, and bodies of men and women and children with them. The place would be swarming with the tall, black spearmen, each with a skin over his shoulder and about his loins; there would be a fearful jabber, a clatter of voices and laughter and probably screams, horrible screams, from some poor nigger whose death they'd be dragging out, hour after hour, for their fun. Near the main gate N'Komo was holding an indaba with his chief bucks. I've seen him many times a great coal-black brute, six feet four in height, with the flat, foolish, good-natured-looking face that fooled people into thinking him a decent sort. I wish I'd shot him the first time I saw him.

"Well, the indaba, the council, you know was in full swing when up comes this white man, running as if for his life, and wailing, wailing! The Kaffir who told me had seen it from where he was lying, tied hand and foot, waiting his turn for the firebrands and the knives. He said: 'He wailed like one who mourns for the dead!' There was a burnt kraal not a mile away, so one can guess what he had been seeing and was wailing about. 'His face,' the nigger told me, 'was like the face of one who has lived through the torment of N'Komo and is thirsty for death; a face to hide one's eyes before. And it was white and shining like ivory!' He came thus, pelting blindly at a run, into the midst of N'Komo's war indaba.

"He picked out N'Komo as the chief man there in a moment; that was easy enough, and he broke into a torrent of words, gesticulating and pointing back in the direction from which he had come. Telling him of what he had seen, of course poor beggar! Can't you imagine him, with those tall surprised black soldiers all round him and the great dangerous bulk of negro king before him, trying to make them understand, trembling with horror and fury, raging in homely useless English against the everyday iniquity of Africa? Can't you imagine it, Padre?"

"Ssh! You'll get a temperature," warned Father Bates. "Yes; I can imagine it. It makes me humble."

"You see, I know what had maddened him. The first work of N'Komo's I ever saw was a young mother and a baby dead and and finished with, and it nearly sent me off my head. If I'd been half the man this poor beggar was I'd have had N'Komo's skin salted and sun-dried before I slept. He he didn't wait to mourn about things; he went straight ahead to find the man who had done them and deal with him.

"Probably they took him for a lunatic; at any rate, they soon began to laugh at him, shaking and talking in their midst. He was a new thing to have sport with, and N'Komo presently leaned forward, grinning, touched him on the arm, and pointed. The white man's eyes followed the black finger to where a poor devil lay on the ground, impaled by a stake through his stomach. It was N'Komo's way of telling him what to expect, and he understood. He stopped talking.

"The nigger who saw it all and told me about it said that when he had looked round on all the horrors he turned again towards N'Komo, and at the sight of his eyes N'Komo ceased to grin. His big brute face went all to bits, as a Kaffir's does when he is frightened. But the white man made a little backward jerk with his hand that's what it seemed like to the nigger who told me and suddenly, from nowhere in particular, a big pistol materialized in his grip. He must have been pretty clever at the draw. His hand came up, there was a smart little crack, a spit of smoke, and N'Komo, the great war chief, was rolling on the ground, making horrible noises like like bad plumbing, with half his throat shot away, and the man who had done it was backing towards the main gate with the big revolver swinging to right and left across the group of warriors.

"And he got away, too. That, really, is the most wonderful part of the whole thing. I expect that as soon as N'Komo was settled, the usual row and the usual murders began by various would-be successors. By night they had all started north again, on a hot-foot race to occupy and hold the head kraal, and the country was clear of them, and the white man's credit as a magic worker stood higher than ever. He could have had anything he liked in any of the kraals for the asking; he could have been law-giver, king, and god. But he was off in the bush again, alone and restless and mysterious, with his ivory-white face and his eyes full of pain and anger."

"Aye," said Father Bates. "Pain and anger that's what it was! And at last you saw him yourself, didn't you?"

"Yes," said Dan. "I saw him. I was at my river then, combing the gold out of it, when a Kaffir trekking down told me of him. He was at a kraal fifty miles away two days' journey, lying, up with a hurt foot. The gold was coming out of that river by the bottleful; it wasn't a thing to take one's eyes off for a moment; but a white man, the white man who had killed N'Komo well, I couldn't keep away. I spun a yarn to my men about lion spoor that I wanted to follow, and off I went by myself and did that fifty miles of bush and six-foot grass and rocks in thirty hours, which was pretty good, considerin'. It was afternoon when I came through a patch of palms and saw the kraal lying just beyond.

"I hadn't much of an idea what kind of man I expected to see. I rather fancy I expected to be disappointed to find him nothing out of the way after all, and to learn that nine-tenths of the yarns about him were just nigger lies. I was thinking all that as I stopped in the palms' shade to mop the sweat out of my hat, and then I saw him!

"He was passing between me and the huts, a strange lame figure, leaning on a stick, with a few rags of clothing bound about him. His head, with its matted thick hair, was bare to the thresh of the sun; he was thick-set, shortish, slow-moving, a sorrowful and laborious figure. I saw the shine of his bare skin, and even the droop and sorrow of his heavy face. I stood and watched him for perhaps a minute in the shadow under those great masts of palms; I saw him as clearly as I see you; and suddenly a light came to me and I knew I understood it all. His loneliness, his pain and anger, his wanderings in that savage wilderness, the wild misery of his eyes and the ivory-white of his stricken face I understood completely. He had run away from the sight of men of his own color he would have no use for me. So then and there I turned and went back through the palms and started on the trek for my own camp. It was all I could do for him."

"But," said Father Bates, "you've not said what it was that you saw."

"Padre," said Dan; "that poor, poor fellow, who loomed to the Kaffirs like a great and merciful god, he was a leper as white as snow!"

"Holy saints defend us!" The Father made a startled motion of crossing himself, staring at Dan's lean, somber face in a blankness of consternation. "So that's what it was, then! A leper!"

"That's what it was," said Dan. "I've seen it before in the East."

"He said," continued the Father "he said he had no use for my blasted cant. And he hadn't, he hadn't! He knew more than I."



X

MISS PILGRIM'S PROGRESS

The double windows of the big office overlooked the quays of Nikolaieff and the desk was beside them; so that the vice-consul had only to turn his head to see from his chair the wide river and its traffic, with the great grain-steamers, like foster-children thronging at the breast of Russia, waiting their turn for the elevators, and the gantries of the shipyards standing like an iron filigree against the pallor of the sky. The room was a large one, low-ceilinged, and lighted only upon the side of the street; so that a visitor, entering from the staircase, looked as from the bottom of a well of shadow across the tables where the month-old American newspapers were set forth to the silhouette of the vice-consul at his roll-top desk against his background of white daylight.

Mr. Tim Waters, American citizen in difficulties, leaned upon the top of the desk and pored absorbedly across the head of his country's representative at the scene beyond the window. A tow-boat with a flotilla of lighters was at work in midstream; there was a flash of white foam at her forefoot, and her red-and-black funnel trailed a level scarf of smoke across the distance. It was a sketch done vigorously in strong color, and he broke off the halting narrative of his troubles to watch if with profound unconscious interest.

Selby, the vice-consul, shifted impatiently in his chair. He was a small, dyspeptic, short-sighted man, and he was endeavoring under difficulties to give the impression that he had no time to spare.

"Well," he snapped; "go on. You were walking peaceably along the street, you said. What comes next?"

Tim Waters turned mild eyes upon him, withdrawing them from the tow-boat with patient reluctance.

"There was one o' them dvorniks" (doorkeepers), he resumed in a voice of silky softness. "He was settin' outside his gate on one o' them stools they have. And he was talkin' to one o' them istvostchiks." (cabmen).

His thin, sun-browned face, furrowed with whimsical lines, with its faint-blue eyes that wandered from his hearer to the allurement of the window and back again, overhung the desk as he spoke, drawling in those curiously soft tones of his an unconvincing narrative of sore provocation and the subsequent fight. He was a man in the later twenties, lean and slack-limbed; the workman's blouse of coarse linen, belted about him, and the long Russian boots which he wore, gave him, by contrast with the humor and sophistication of his face and the controlled ease of his attitude as he lounged, something of the effect of a man in fancy dress. Actually he belonged to the class familiar to missionaries and consuls of world-tramps, those songless troubadours for whom no continent is large enough and no ocean too wide. With his slightly parted lips of wonder and interest, a pair of useful fists and a passport granted by the American Minister in Spain, he had worked his way up the Mediterranean to the Levant, drifted thence by way of the Black Sea to Nikolaieff, and remained there ever since. Riveter in the shipyards, winch driver on the wharves, odd-man generally along the waterside, he and his troubles had come to Selby's notice before.

The vice-consul sniffed and stared unsympathetically as the recital wandered unhurried to its end. For him, the picaroon who leaned upon his desk was scarcely more than a tramp; Selby had respectability for a religion; and his beaky, irritable face, behind the glasses that straddled across his nose, answered Tim Waters's mild conciliatory gaze with stiff hostility. The dvornik and the istvostchik, it seemed, had laughed loudly and significantly as Waters went by, and he had turned to inquire into the joke.

"Because, y'see, Mr. Selby, them Russians just don't laugh in a general way, except they're wantin' to start something. An' I heard 'em say 'Amerikanetz' just as plain as I can see you settin' there. So, a' course, I knowed it was me they was pickin' on." The fight had followed; Tim Waters, while he told of it, raised the hand in which he held his cap and looked thoughtfully at a row of swollen and abraded knuckles; and lastly, the police had intervened.

"It was that big sergeant with the medals," said the victim. "Come at me with his sword, he did. Seems like it ain't safe to be an American citizen in this town, Mr. Selby."

"Does it?" Selby sat back sharply in his chair, his ragged moustache bristling, his glasses malevolently askew on his nose. "You're a mighty fine example of an American citizen, aren't you? Say, Waters, you don't think you can put that over again, do you?"

"Eh?" Tim Waters opened his pale blue eyes in the mildest surprise. "Why, Mr. Selby?" he began, fumbling in his pocket. The vice-consul interrupted him with a snarl.

"Now you don't want to pull that everlasting passport of yours on me again," he cried. "Every crook and hobo that's chased off a steamer into this town has got papers as good as yours, red seal an' all. You seem to think that bein' an American citizen's a kind of license to play hell and then come here to be squared. Well, I'm going to prove to you that it's not."

Waters was watching him as he spoke with something of that still interest which he had given to the scene beyond the window. Now he smiled faintly.

"But say, Mr. Selby," he protested gently. "It it ain't the sergeant I'm worried about. I'll get him all right. But there's what they call a protocol fer breakin' up that istvostchik, an' you bein' our consul here."

Selby rose, jerking his chair back on its castors. "Cut that out," he shrilled. "Your consul, eh? Your kind hasn't got any consul, not if you had forty passports see? You get out o' this office right now; and if they hand you six months with that protocol."

He was a ridiculous little man when he was angry; the shape of him as he stood, pointing peremptorily across the room to the door, rose grotesque and pitiable against the window. The wanderer, still leaning on the desk, looked over at him with lips parted as though he found a profit of interest even in his anger.

"And you can tell your friends, if you got any," fulminated the vice-consul, "that this place isn't."

He broke off short in mid-word; the rigid and imperative arm with which he still pointed to the door lost its stiffening; he made a snatch at his sliding glasses, saved them, and stood scaring. Waters turned his head to look likewise.

"This is the American Consulate?" inquired a voice from the doorway.

For the moment neither answered, and the newcomer came down between the tables towards the light of the window.

Of the two men, it was assuredly Waters, who had followed the lust of the eye across the continents, who was best able to flavor and relish that entry and approach. For him, stilly intent and watchful, it was as though a voice, the voice which had spoken from the shadowy doorway, had incarnated itself and become visible, putting on a form to match its own quality, at once definite and delicate. The newcomer moved down the room with a subdued rustling of skirts, resolving at last into a neat and appealing feminine presence that smiled confidently and yet conciliatorily and offered a hand towards Selby.

"It is the American Consulate, isn't it?" she asked again.

Selby, ruffled like an agitated hen, woke to spasmodic movement, and took the hand.

"Why, yes," he answered, pushing towards her the chair he had not offered to Waters and erupting forthwith into uneasy volubility. "This is it. Sit down, madam; sit right down and tell me what I can do for you."

The girl, still smiling, took the seat he gave her; across the desk-top, Waters, unmoving, his battered hand grasping his peaked Russian cap, gazed upon her absorbedly.

"Just got in, have you?" inquired Selby fussily.

"Yes," she answered. "I got in this morning by the boat from Odessa. You see, I've come up from Bucharest, and as I don't know very much about Russia, I thought."

Selby, seated again in his chair of office, his fingers judicially joined, nodded approvingly. "You just naturally came along to your consul," he finished for her. "Quite right, Miss, er."

"Pilgrim," supplied the girl.

"Miss Pilgrim?" he hesitated. She nodded. "Well, Miss Pilgrim, if there's any information I can give you, or assistance, or, or advice, I'll be very happy to do what I can. You're, er, traveling alone?"

"Yes," she replied, with her little confirming nod.

He had forgotten for the while the mere existence of Waters, brooding wordlessly over them, and Waters after his manner, had forgotten everything in the world. The girl between them, sitting unconscious and tranquil under their converging gaze, had snared their faculties. She was perhaps twenty-four, and both Selby and Waters, when afterwards they used to speak of her, always insisted on this, not pretty. She was fair in a commonplace way, middle-sized and inconspicuous, the fashion of young woman who goes to compose the background of life. She raised to the light of the window a face of creamy pallor, with large serious grey eyes, and lips of a gentle and serene composure; but it was not these that redeemed her from being merely negligible and made her the focus of the two men's eyes. It was rather a quality implicit in the whole of her as she sat, feminine and fragile by contrast with even the meager masculinity of Selby, with a suggestion about her, an emanation, of steadfastness and courage as piteous and endearing as the bravery of a lost child. In Selby, staled and callous long since to all those infirmities of the wits or the purse which are carried to a consul as to a physician, there awoke at sight of her all that was genial and protective in his sore and shriveled soul; in Waters, who shall say what visions and interpretations?

She looked from one to the other of them with her trustful eyes. On Waters they seemed to dwell for a moment as though in question.

"Yes," she repeated; "I came alone; there wasn't anybody to come with me." Her voice, mild and pleasant, corresponded to the rest of her. "I've been working down in Rumania for nearly a year, in the Balkan Bank, and before that I was in Constantinople. But I've always wanted to see Russia; I'd heard and read so much about it; so" with a little explanatory shrug of her shoulders "I came."

Waters's still eyes widened momentarily; he, at any rate, understood. He knew, contentedly and well, that need to see, the unease of the spirit that moves one on, that makes of the road a home and of every destination a bivouac. His chin settled upon his crossed arms as he continued to take stock of this compatriot of the highways.

"Oh!" Selby was enlightened and a little disconcerted. This was not turning out as he had expected. He had diagnosed a tourist, and now discovered that he had been entertaining a job-seeker unawares. But the girl's charm and appeal held good; she was looking at him trustfully and expectantly, and he surrendered. He set his glasses straight with a fumbling hand and resumed his countenance of friendly and helpful interest.

"Then, you propose to, er, seek employment here in Nikolaieff," he inquired.

"Yes," she answered serenely. "Typist and stenographer, or secretary or translator in French and German and Rumanian" she was numbering off the occupations on her fingers as she listed them "or even governess, if there isn't anything else. But it seems to me, with the English steamers coming here all the time and the shipbuilding works, there ought to be some office I could get into."

Selby pursed his lips doubtfully.

"You don't know of anything?", she asked. "That's what I came in to see you about if you happened to know of anything? Because our consuls hear of pretty nearly everything that's going on, don't they?"

It wasn't flattery; her good faith was manifest in her face and voice; and Selby suppled under it like a stroked cat.

"I wouldn't say that, Miss Pilgrim," he demurred coyly. He paused. Her mention of shipping offices disturbed him. He had much business with shipping offices; and he was picturing to himself, involuntarily and with distaste, that gentle courage bruising itself upon the rough husks of managers and their like, peddling itself from one noisy Russian office to another, wearing thin its panoply of innocence upon evil speech and vile intention. There were the dregs of manhood in him, for all his narrowness and feebleness, and the prospect offended him like an indecency.

"No, there's only one job I know of in Nikolaieff that you could take," he said abruptly. "And that's right here in this office."

He had said it upon a rare impulse of generosity; all men are subject to such impulses; and he halted upon the word for his reward. She rendered it handsomely.

"Oh!" she cried, her grey eyes shining and all her pale and gentle face alive with sudden enthusiasm. "Here in the Consulate?" She spoke the word as a devotee might speak of a temple. "That, oh, that's glorious!"

It was utterly satisfactory; Selby swelled and bridled.

"Er, secretary and stenographer," he said largely. "I had a young man here a while since, but I let him go. He couldn't seem to be respectful. And, er, as to terms, Miss Pilgrim."

"Yes?" murmured Miss Pilgrim, as respectfully as he could wish.

But the vice-consul did not continue. In his moment of splendor, it may be that he became aware that only a part of his audience was applauding, and his eyes had fallen on Waters. Till that moment he had actually forgotten him; he seized now on an occasion to be still more impressive.

"Hey, you Waters!" he cried commandingly. "What you waitin' there for? Didn't you hear me tell you to clear out of this? Go on, now; an' don't let me see you in this office again!"

She failed to come up to his expectations this time; she looked puzzled and distressed and seemed to shrink. Waters, removing his eyes from her face, stood deliberately upright. His vagueness and dreaminess gathered themselves into gravity. His lips moved as though on the brink of an answer, but he said nothing.

"Go on!" yapped Selby again.

"I'm goin'," replied Waters, turning from him.

He sent the girl a look that was a claim upon her. "Pleased to meet ye," he said clearly. "Me name's Waters; I'm an American too."

Selby bounced in his chair behind him, squeaking and spluttering; the girl, surprised and uncertain, stammered something. But her face, for all her embarrassment, acknowledged his claim. He took his reply from it, nodded slowly in satisfied comprehension and walked past her towards the door. His worn blouse glimmered white in the shadows of the entry; and he was gone.

Behind him, the office was suddenly uncomfortable and cheerless. Selby was no longer sure of himself and the figure he had cut; the girl looked at him with eyes in which he read a doubt.

"You don't want to take any notice of that fellow," he blustered. "He'd no right to speak to you. He's just a tough in trouble with the police and wanting me to fix it for him. He won't come here again in a hurry."

"But" she hesitated. "Isn't he an American?" she ventured.

"Huh!" snorted Selby. "Americans like him are three for a nickel round here."

"Oh!" she murmured, and sat looking at him while he plunged into the question of "terms." His glasses wobbled on his nose; his hands moved jerkily as he talked, fidgeting with loose papers on his desk; but his weak eyes did not return her gaze.

Nikolaieff, which yet has a quality of its own, has this in common with other abiding places of men that life there shapes itself as a posture or a progress in the measure that one gives to it or receives from it. Tim Waters, who fed upon life like a leech, returned to it after a six weeks' enforced absence (the protocol had valued a damaged istvostchik at that price) with a show of pallor under the bronze on his skin and a Rip van Winkle feeling of having slumbered through far-reaching changes. During his absence the lingering southern autumn had sloped towards winter; the trees along the sad boulevard were already leafless; the river had changed from luminous blue to the blank hue of steel. The men in the streets went fortified with sheepskins or furs; Waters, still in his linen blouse, with hands sunk deep in his pockets and shoulders hunched against the acid of the air, passed among them as conspicuous as a naked man, marking as he moved the stares he drew across high, raised collars.

He was making his way across the city to his old haunts by the waterside; he crossed the Gogol Street through its brisk, disorderly traffic of trams and droschkies and gained the farther sidewalk hard by where a rank of little cabs stood along the gutter. A large sedate officer, moving like a traction-engine, jostled him back into the gutter; he swore silently, and heard a shout go up behind him, a blatant roar of jeers and laughter. Startled, he turned; the istvostchiks, the padded, long-skirted drivers of the little waiting cabs, were gathered together in the roadway; their bearded and brutal faces, discolored with the cold, were agape and hideous with their laughter; and in the forefront of them, pointing with a great hand gloved to the likeness of a paw, stood and roared hoarsely the particular istvostchik on whose account he had suffered the protocol and the prison. The discord of their mirth rilled the street; the big men, padded out under their clothes to a grotesque obesity, their long coats hanging to their heels giving them the aspect of figures out of a Noah's Ark, drew all eyes. The beginnings of a crowd gathered to watch and listen.

"The Amerikanetz," the foremost istvostchik was roaring. "Look at him! Look at his clothes! Just out of prison Look at him!"

Everybody looked; the word "Amerikanetz" fled from lip to lip like a witticism. Waters, stunned by the suddenness of it all, daunted and overwhelmed, turned to move away, to get out of sound and hearing. Forthwith a fresh howl went up. He caught at his self-possession and turned back.

The moment had epic possibilities; the istvostchiks were not fewer than eight in number and the crowd was with them. Waters's face was dark and calm and his movements had the deliberate quiet of purpose. Another instant and Nikolaieff would have been gladdened and scandalized by something much more spectacular than a pogrom. The leading istvostchik, still pointing and bellowing, was inviting disaster; when from behind him, ploughing through the onlookers', came the overdue policeman, traffic baton in hand.

"Circulate, circulate!" he cried to the loiterers, waving at them with his stick. "It is not permitted to congregate. Circulate, gentlemen!"

He advanced into the clear space of roadway behind the rearmost cab, between Waters and his tormentors. His darting official eye fell on the former, standing in his conspicuous blouse, his thin face tense and dire.

"And this?" he demanded. "What is this?"

A chorus of explanations from the istvostchiks answered him. "Amerikanetz," they told him, "just out of prison!" They thronged round him, bubbling over with the story, while he stood, trim and armed, his hard, neat face arrogant under the sideways-tilted peak of his cap, hearing them augustly. Then he smiled.

"Tak!" he said briefly. "So!" He turned on Waters, coming round on him with a movement like a slow swoop. Never was anything so galling as the air he had of contemptuous and amused comprehension.

"You march!" he ordered. "Get off this street!" He pointed with his white-painted baton to the nearest turning. "Don't say anything, now," he warned. "March!"

Waters hesitated. The istvostchiks, still hopeful of sport, pressed nearer. To disobey and resist meant being cut down and stamped to death under their heavy boots. Across the policeman's pointing arm, Waters saw the face of his enemy, expectant, avid, bestial with hideous and cruel mirth. He regarded it for a moment thoughtfully. Then, with a shrug, he turned and moved in the direction he had been ordered to go.

Again, behind him, there was that jeering outcry, as the policeman, smiling indulgently and watching his departure, seemed to preside over the chorus.

He came at length, going slowly, to the water side. It was dark by then; the sheds of the wharves shut out the river and made a barrier against the sweep of the wind. From over their roofs came the glare of the high arc-lamps at the wharf-edge and the masts and the rigging of ships lifted into view. The stridency of day was over in the shabby street; its high houses, standing like cliffs, showed tier upon tier of windows, dimly lighted or dark, while from under the feet of the buildings, from cellar-saloons to traktirs below the street-level, there spouted up the ruddiness of lamplight and the jangle of voices. There was a smell in the sharp air of ships and streets blended, the aromatic freshness of tar, the sourness of crowds and uncleanliness.

Waters, halting upon the cobbles, sniffed with recognition and unstiffened his mind as he gazed along the dreary street. He was here, on his own ground; somewhere in the recesses of those gaunt houses he would sleep that night, and next day he would wedge himself back into his place in that uneasy waterside community and all would be as before. He shivered under the lee of the sheds as he stood, looking, scarcely thinking, merely realizing the scene in its evening disguise.

Down the street towards him, walking with strong and measured steps that resounded upon the cobbles, vague under the shadow of the sheds, came a man. Waters glanced casually in his direction as he came near, aware of him merely as in shape that inhabited the darkness, a dim thing that fitted in with the hour and the furtive street. Then the man was close to him and visible.

"By gosh!" exclaimed Waters aloud.

It was, of all possible people, "the sergeant with the medals." He stared at him helplessly.

"Nu!" cried the sergeant heartily. He possessed all that patronizing geniality which policemen can show to evil-doers, as to colleagues in another department of the same industry. "You are back again yes? And how did you find it up there?"

Waters swallowed and hesitated. The sergeant was a vast man, blond as a straw and bearded like an Assyrian bull, the right shape of man to wear official buttons. His short sword hung snugly along his leg in its black, brass-tipped scabbard; his medals, for war-service in the army, for exemplary conduct, for being alive and in the police at the time of the Tsar's coronation and so forth, made a bright bar on the swell of his chest. A worthy and responsible figure; yet the sum of him was to Waters an offence and a challenge.

He found his tongue. "About the same as you left it, I guess," he answered unpleasantly.

The big man laughed, standing largely a-straddle with the thumbs of his gloved hands hooked into his sword-belt. He was rosy as a pippin and cheery as a host.

"It has done you good," he declared. "For one thing, I can see that you speak Russian better now oh, much better! It is a fine school. By and by, we will send you up for six months, and after that nobody will know you for an Amerikanetz. Ah, you will thank me some day!"

Waters heard him stonily and nodded with meaning.

"You bet I will," he replied. "And when I'm through with you, you'll know just how grateful I am." The need for words with a taste to them mastered him. He broke into his own tongue. "You'll get yours, you big slob!"

"Eh?" The sergeant cocked an ear alertly, "Beek slab? What is that in Russian?"

"It's your middle name," retorted Waters cryptically and made to move on.

"Do svidania!" called the sergeant mockingly, raising his voice to a shout. "Till we meet again! Because I shall be watching you, Votters; I shall be."

"Here!" Waters wheeled on him, hands withdrawn from his pockets and cleared for action.

"You start bellerin' at me in the street that way an' I'll just about."

There was no cohort of hostile istvostchiks here, and anger ached in him like a cancer. He stepped up to the sergeant with a couple of long, cat-footed strides and the out-thrust jaw of war. But the sergeant, instead of bristling and giving battle, held up one large, leather-clad hand with the motion of hushing him.

"St!" he clicked warningly. "Not now! Be orderly, Votters. See your lady-consul!"

"What?" Waters halted, taken by surprise, and turned his head. The sergeant, rigid and formal upon the instant, was saluting. Upon the high sidewalk, a dozen paces away, a girl was passing; she acknowledged the sergeant's salute with a small bow. Her eyes seemed to fall on Waters and she stopped.

"Why, it's" she began, and hesitated as though at a loss for his name. She stood, inspecting the grouping of the pair in the road, the massive sergeant and his slighter, more vivid companion. "Is there is there anything the matter?"

Waters turned his back upon the sergeant and moved slowly towards her, peering at her where she waited in the growing darkness.

"Not with me," he answered.

"Oh!" It was, of course, Miss Pilgrim, the girl whom he had watched across the top of the vice consul's desk. She stood above him now at the edge of the high sidewalk, whence the deep cobbled revetment of the gutter sloped like a fortification. Gazing at her with all his eyes, he identified again, like dear and long-remembered landmarks, the poise of her head, the fragile slope of her shoulders, the softly lustrous pallor of her face. Even her attitude, perched over him there and leaning a little towards him, was a thing individual and characteristic.

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