A GENTLEMAN VAGABOND AND SOME OTHERS
F. HOPKINSON SMITH
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
There are gentlemen vagabonds and vagabond gentlemen. Here and there one finds a vagabond pure and simple, and once in a lifetime one meets a gentleman simple and pure.
Without premeditated intent or mental bias, I have unconsciously to myself selected some one of these several types,—entangling them in the threads of the stories between these covers.
Each of my readers can group them to suit his own experience.
F.H.S. NEW YORK, 150 E. 34TH ST.
PAGE A GENTLEMAN VAGABOND 1 A KNIGHT OF THE LEGION OF HONOR 36 JOHN SANDERS, LABORER 67 BAeADER 82 THE LADY OF LUCERNE 102 JONATHAN 126 ALONG THE BRONX 141 ANOTHER DOG 147 BROCKWAY'S HULK 160
A GENTLEMAN VAGABOND
I found the major standing in front of Delmonico's, interviewing a large, bare-headed personage in brown cloth spotted with brass buttons. The major was in search of his very particular friend, Mr. John Hardy of Madison Square, and the personage in brown and brass was rather languidly indicating, by a limp and indecisive forefinger, a route through a section of the city which, correctly followed, would have landed the major in the East River.
I knew him by the peculiar slant of his slouch hat, the rosy glow of his face, and the way in which his trousers clung to the curves of his well-developed legs, and ended in a sprawl that half covered his shoes. I recognized, too, a carpet-bag, a ninety-nine-cent affair, an "occasion," with galvanized iron clasps and paper-leather sides,—the kind opened with your thumb.
The major—or, to be more definite, Major Tom Slocomb of Pocomoke—was from one of the lower counties of the Chesapeake. He was supposed to own, as a gift from his dead wife, all that remained unmortgaged of a vast colonial estate on Crab Island in the bay, consisting of several thousand acres of land and water,—mostly water,—a manor house, once painted white, and a number of outbuildings in various stages of dilapidation and decay.
In his early penniless life he had migrated from his more northern native State, settled in the county, and, shortly after his arrival, had married the relict of the late lamented Major John Talbot of Pocomoke. This had been greatly to the surprise of many eminent Pocomokians, who boasted of the purity and antiquity of the Talbot blood, and who could not look on in silence, and see it degraded and diluted by an alliance with a "harf strainer or worse." As one possible Talbot heir put it, "a picayune, low-down corncracker, suh, without blood or breedin'."
The objections were well taken. So far as the ancestry of the Slocomb family was concerned, it was a trifle indefinite. It really could not be traced back farther than the day of the major's arrival at Pocomoke, notwithstanding the major's several claims that his ancestors came over in the Mayflower, that his grandfather fought with General Washington, and that his own early life had been spent on the James River. These statements, to thoughtful Pocomokians, seemed so conflicting and improbable, that his neighbors and acquaintances ascribed them either to that total disregard for salient facts which characterized the major's speech, or to the vagaries of that rich and vivid imagination which had made his conquest of the widow so easy and complete.
Gradually, however, through the influence of his wife, and because of his own unruffled good-humor, the antipathy had worn away. As years sped on, no one, except the proudest and loftiest Pocomokian, would have cared to trace the Slocomb blood farther back than its graft upon the Talbot tree. Neither would the major. In fact, the brief honeymoon of five years left so profound an impression upon his after life, that, to use his own words, his birth and marriage had occurred at the identical moment,—he had never lived until then.
There was no question in the minds of his neighbors as to whether the major maintained his new social position on Crab Island with more than ordinary liberality. Like all new vigorous grafts on an old stock, he not only blossomed out with extraordinary richness, but sucked the sap of the primeval family tree quite dry in the process. In fact, it was universally admitted that could the constant drain of his hospitality have been brought clearly to the attention of the original proprietor of the estate, its draft-power would have raised that distinguished military gentleman out of his grave. "My dear friends," Major Slocomb would say, when, after his wife's death, some new extravagance was commented upon, "I felt I owed the additional slight expenditure to the memory of that queen among women, suh—Major Talbot's widow."
He had espoused, too, with all the ardor of the new settler, the several articles of political faith of his neighbors,—loyalty to the State, belief in the justice and humanity of slavery and the omnipotent rights of man,—white, of course,—and he had, strange to say, fallen into the peculiar pronunciation of his Southern friends, dropping his final g's, and slurring his r's, thus acquiring that soft cadence of speech which makes their dialect so delicious.
As to his title of "Major," no one in or out of the county could tell where it originated. He had belonged to no company of militia, neither had he won his laurels on either side during the war; nor yet had the shifting politics of his State ever honored him with a staff appointment of like grade. When pressed, he would tell you confidentially that he had really inherited the title from his wife, whose first husband, as was well known, had earned and borne that military distinction; adding tenderly, that she had been so long accustomed to the honor that he had continued it after her death simply out of respect to her memory.
But the major was still interviewing Delmonico's flunky, oblivious of everything but the purpose in view, when I touched his shoulder, and extended my hand.
"God bless me! Not you? Well, by gravy! Here, now, colonel, you can tell me where Jack Hardy lives. I've been for half an hour walkin' round this garden lookin' for him. I lost the letter with the number in it, so I came over here to Delmonico's—Jack dines here often, I know, 'cause he told me so. I was at his quarters once myself, but 't was in the night. I am completely bamboozled. Left home yesterday—brought up a couple of thoroughbred dogs that the owner wouldn't trust with anybody but me, and then, too, I wanted to see Jack."
I am not a colonel, of course, but promotions are easy with the major.
"Certainly; Jack lives right opposite. Give me your bag."
He refused, and rattled on, upbraiding me for not coming down to Crab Island last spring with the "boys" when the ducks were flying, punctuating his remarks here and there with his delight at seeing me looking so well, his joy at being near enough to Jack to shake the dear fellow by the hand, and the inexpressible ecstasy of being once more in New York, the centre of fashion and wealth, "with mo' comfo't to the square inch than any other spot on this terrestrial ball."
The "boys" referred to were members of a certain "Ducking Club" situated within rifle-shot of the major's house on the island, of which club Jack Hardy was president. They all delighted in the major's society, really loving him for many qualities known only to his intimates.
Hardy, I knew, was not at home. This, however, never prevented his colored servant, Jefferson, from being always ready at a moment's notice to welcome the unexpected friend. In another instant I had rung Hardy's bell,—third on right,—and Jefferson, in faultless evening attire, was carrying the major's "carpet-bag" to the suite of apartments on the third floor front.
Jefferson needs a word of comment. Although born and bred a slave, he is the product of a newer and higher civilization. There is hardly a trace of the old South left in him,—hardly a mark of the pit of slavery from which he was digged. His speech is as faultless as his dress. He is clean, close-shaven, immaculate, well-groomed, silent,—reminding me always of a mahogany-colored Greek professor, even to his eye-glasses. He keeps his rooms in admirable order, and his household accounts with absolute accuracy; never spilled a drop of claret, mixed a warm cocktail, or served a cold plate in his life; is devoted to Hardy, and so punctiliously polite to his master's friends and guests that it is a pleasure to have him serve you.
Strange to say, this punctilious politeness had never extended to the major, and since an occurrence connected with this very bag, to be related shortly, it had ceased altogether. Whether it was that Jefferson had always seen through the peculiar varnish that made bright the major's veneer, or whether in an unguarded moment, on a previous visit, the major gave way to some such outburst as he would have inflicted upon the domestics of his own establishment, forgetting for the time the superior position to which Jefferson's breeding and education entitled him, I cannot say, but certain it is that while to all outward appearances Jefferson served the major with every indication of attention and humility, I could see under it all a quiet reserve which marked the line of unqualified disapproval. This was evident even in the way he carried the major's bag,—holding it out by the straps, not as became the handling of a receptacle containing a gentleman's wardrobe, but by the neck, so to speak,—as a dog to be dropped in the gutter.
It was this bag, or rather its contents, or to be more exact its lack of contents, that dulled the fine edge of Jefferson's politeness. He unpacked it, of course, with the same perfunctory care that he would have bestowed on the contents of a Bond Street Gladstone, indulging in a prolonged chuckle when he found no trace of a most important part of a gentleman's wardrobe,—none of any pattern. It was, therefore, with a certain grim humor that, when he showed the major to his room the night of his arrival, he led gradually up to a question which the unpacking a few hours before had rendered inevitable.
"Mr. Hardy's orders are that I should inform every gentleman when he retires that there's plenty of whiskey and cigars on the sideboard, and that"—here Jefferson glanced at the bag—"and that if any gentleman came unprepared there was a night shirt and a pair of pajams in the closet."
"I never wore one of 'em in my life, Jefferson; but you can put the whiskey and the cigars on the chair by my bed, in case I wake in the night."
When Jefferson, in answer to my inquiries as to how the major had passed the night, related this incident to me the following morning, I could detect, under all his deference and respect toward his master's guest, a certain manner and air plainly implying that, so far as the major and himself were concerned, every other but the most diplomatic of relations had been suspended.
The major, by this time, was in full possession of my friend's home. The only change in his dress was in the appearance of his shoes, polished by Jefferson to a point verging on patent leather, and the adoption of a black alpaca coat, which, although it wrinkled at the seams with a certain home-made air, still fitted his fat shoulders very well. To this were added a fresh shirt and collar, a white tie, nankeen vest, and the same tight-fitting, splay-footed trousers, enriched by a crease of Jefferson's own making.
As he lay sprawled out on Hardy's divan, with his round, rosy, clean-shaven face, good-humored mouth, and white teeth, the whole enlivened by a pair of twinkling eyes, you forgot for the moment that he was not really the sole owner of the establishment. Further intercourse thoroughly convinced you of a similar lapse of memory on the major's part.
"My dear colonel, let me welcome you to my New York home!" he exclaimed, without rising from the divan. "Draw up a chair; have a mouthful of mocha? Jefferson makes it delicious. Or shall I call him to broil another po'ter-house steak? No? Then let me ring for some cigars," and he touched the bell.
To lie on a divan, reach out one arm, and, with the expenditure of less energy than would open a match-box, to press a button summoning an attendant with all the unlimited comforts of life,—juleps, cigars, coffee, cocktails, morning papers, fans, matches out of arm's reach, everything that soul could covet and heart long for; to see all these several commodities and luxuries develop, take shape, and materialize while he lay flat on his back,—this to the major was civilization.
"But, colonel, befo' you sit down, fling yo' eye over that garden in the square. Nature in her springtime, suh!"
I agreed with the major, and was about to take in the view over the treetops, when he tucked another cushion under his head, elongated his left leg until it reached the window-sill, thus completely monopolizing it,-and continued without drawing a breath:—
"And I am so comfo'table here. I had a po'ter-house steak this mornin'—you're sure you won't have one?" I shook my head. "A po'ter-house steak, suh, that'll haunt my memory for days. We, of co'se, have at home every variety of fish, plenty of soft-shell crabs, and 'casionally a canvasback, when Hardy or some of my friends are lucky enough to hit one, but no meat that is wo'th the cookin'. By the bye, I've come to take Jack home with me; the early strawberries are in their prime, now. You will join us, of course?"
Before I could reply, Jefferson entered the room, laid a tray of cigars and cigarettes with a small silver alcohol lamp at my elbow, and, with a certain inquiring and, I thought, slightly surprised glance at the major's sprawling attitude, noiselessly withdrew. The major must have caught the expression on Jefferson's face, for he dropped his telescope leg, and straightened up his back, with the sudden awkward movement of a similarly placed lounger surprised by a lady in a hotel parlor. The episode seemed to knock the enthusiasm out of him, for after a moment he exclaimed in rather a subdued tone:—
"Rather remarkable nigger, this servant of Jack's. I s'pose it is the influence of yo' New York ways, but I am not accustomed to his kind."
I began to defend Jefferson, but he raised both hands in protest.
"Yes, I know—education and thirty dollars a month. All very fine, but give me the old house-servants of the South—the old Anthonys, and Keziahs, and Rachels. They never went about rigged up like a stick of black sealing-wax in a suit of black co't-plaster. They were easy-goin' and comfortable. Yo' interest was their interest; they bore yo' name, looked after yo' children, and could look after yo' house, too. Now see this nigger of Jack's; he's better dressed than I am, tips round as solemn on his toes as a marsh-crane, and yet I'll bet a dollar he's as slick and cold-hearted as a high-water clam. That's what education has done for him.
"You never knew Anthony, my old butler? Well, I want to tell you, he was a servant, as was a servant. During Mrs. Slocomb's life"—here the major assumed a reminiscent air, pinching his fat chin with his thumb and forefinger—"we had, of co'se, a lot of niggers; but this man Anthony! By gravy! when he filled yo' glass with some of the old madeira that had rusted away in my cellar for half a century,"—here the major now slipped his thumb into the armhole of his vest,—"it tasted like the nectar of the gods, just from the way Anthony poured it out.
"But you ought to have seen him move round the table when dinner was over! He'd draw himself up like a drum-major, and throw back the mahogany doors for the ladies to retire, with an air that was captivatin'." The major was now on his feet—his reminiscent mood was one of his best. "That's been a good many years ago, colonel, but I can see him now just as plain as if he stood before me, with his white cotton gloves, white vest, and green coat with brass buttons, standin' behind Mrs. Slocomb's chair. I can see the old sidebo'd, suh, covered with George III. silver, heirlooms of a century,"—this with a trance-like movement of his hand across his eyes. "I can see the great Italian marble mantels suppo'ted on lions' heads, the inlaid floor and wainscotin'."—Here the major sank upon the divan again, shutting both eyes reverently, as if these memories of the past were a sort of religion with him.
"And the way those niggers loved us! And the many holes they helped us out of. Sit down there, and let me tell you what Anthony did for me once." I obeyed cheerfully. "Some years ago I received a telegram from a very intimate friend of mine, a distinguished Baltimorean,—the Nestor of the Maryland bar, suh,—informin' me that he was on his way South, and that he would make my house his home on the followin' night." The major's eyes were still shut. He had passed out of his reverential mood, but the effort to be absolutely exact demanded concentration.
"I immediately called up Anthony, and told him that Judge Spofford of the Supreme Co't of Maryland would arrive the next day, and that I wanted the best dinner that could be served in the county, and the best bottle of wine in my cellar." The facts having been correctly stated, the major assumed his normal facial expression and opened his eyes.
"What I'm tellin' you occurred after the war, remember, when putty near everybody down our way was busted. Most of our niggers had run away,—all 'cept our old house-servants, who never forgot our family pride and our noble struggle to keep up appearances. Well, suh, when Spofford arrived Anthony carried his bag to his room, and when dinner was announced, if it was my own table, I must say that it cert'ly did fa'rly groan with the delicacies of the season. After the crabs had been taken off,—we were alone, Mrs. Slocomb havin' gone to Baltimo',—I said to the judge: 'Yo' Honor, I am now about to delight yo' palate with the very best bottle of old madeira that ever passed yo' lips. A wine that will warm yo' heart, and unbutton the top button of yo' vest. It is part of a special importation presented to Mrs. Slocomb's father by the captain of one of his ships.—Anthony, go down into the wine-cellar, the inner cellar, Anthony, and bring me a bottle of that old madeira of '37—stop, Anthony; make it '39. I think, judge, it is a little dryer.' Well, Anthony bowed, and left the room, and in a few moments he came back, set a lighted candle on the mantel, and, leanin' over my chair, said in a loud whisper: 'De cellar am locked, suh, and I'm 'feard Mis' Slocomb dun tuk de key.'
"'Well, s'pose she has,' I said; 'put yo' knee against it, and fo'ce the do'.' I knew my man, suh. Anthony never moved a muscle.
"Here the judge called out, 'Why, major, I couldn't think of'—
"'Now, yo' Honor,' said I, 'please don't say a word. This is my affair. The lock is not of the slightest consequence.'
"In a few minutes back comes Anthony, solemn as an owl. 'Major,' said he, 'I done did all I c'u'd, an' dere ain't no way 'cept breakin' down de do'. Las' time I done dat, Mis' Slocomb neber forgib me fer a week.'
"The judge jumped up. 'Major, I won't have you breakin' yo' locks and annoyin' Mrs. Slocomb.'
"'Yo' Honor,' I said, 'please take yo' seat. I'm d——d if you shan't taste that wine, if I have to blow out the cellar walls.'
"'I tell you, major,' replied the judge in a very emphatic tone and with some slight anger I thought, 'I ought not to drink yo' high-flavored madeira; my doctor told me only last week I must stop that kind of thing. If yo' servant will go upstairs and get a bottle of whiskey out of my bag, it's just what I ought to drink.'
"Now I want to tell you, colonel, that at that time I hadn't had a bottle of any kind of wine in my cellar for five years." Here the major closed one eye, and laid his forefinger against his nose.
"'Of co'se, yo' Honor,' I said, 'when you put it on a matter of yo' health I am helpless; that paralyzes my hospitality; I have not a word to say. Anthony, go upstairs and get the bottle.' And we drank the judge's whiskey! Now see the devotion and loyalty of that old negro servant, see his shrewdness! Do you think this marsh-crane of Jack's"—
Here Jefferson threw open the door, ushering in half a dozen gentlemen, and among them the rightful host, just returned after a week's absence,—cutting off the major's outburst, and producing another equally explosive:—
Before the two men grasp hands I must, in all justice to the major, say that he not only had a sincere admiration for Jack's surroundings, but also for Jack himself, and that while he had not the slightest compunction in sharing or, for that matter, monopolizing his hospitality, he would have been equally generous in return had it been possible for him to revive the old days, and to afford a menage equally lavish.
It is needless for me to make a like statement for Jack. One half the major's age, trained to practical business life from boyhood, frank, spontaneous, every inch a man, kindly natured, and, for one so young, a deep student, of men as well as of books, it was not to be wondered at that not only the major but that every one else who knew him loved him. The major really interested him enormously. He represented a type which was new to him, and which it delighted him to study. The major's heartiness, his magnificent disregard for meum and tuum, his unique and picturesque mendacity, his grandiloquent manners at times, studied, as he knew, from some example of the old regime, whom he either consciously or unconsciously imitated, his peculiar devotion to the memory of his late wife,—all appealed to Jack's sense of humor, and to his enjoyment of anything out of the common. Under all this he saw, too, away down in the major's heart, beneath these several layers, a substratum of true kindness and tenderness.
This kindness, I know, pleased Jack best of all.
So when the major sprang up in delight, calling out, "Why, Jack!" it was with very genuine, although quite opposite individual, sympathies, that the two men shook hands. It was beautiful, too, to see the major welcome Jack to his own apartments, dragging up the most comfortable chair in the room, forcing him into it, and tucking a cushion under his head, or ringing up Jefferson every few moments for some new luxury. These he would catch away from that perfectly trained servant's tray, serving them himself, rattling on all the time as to how sorry he was that he did not know the exact hour at which Jack would arrive, that he might have had breakfast on the table—how hot had it been on the road—how well he was looking, etc.
It was specially interesting, besides, after the proper introductions had been made, to note the way in which Jack's friends, inoculated with the contagion of the major's mood, and carried away by his breezy, buoyant enthusiasm, encouraged the major to flow on, interjecting little asides about his horses and farm stock, agreeing to a man that the two-year old colt—a pure creation on the moment of the major—would certainly beat the record and make the major's fortune, and inquiring with great solicitude whether the major felt quite sure that the addition to the stables which he contemplated would be large enough to accommodate his stud, with other similar inquiries which, while indefinite and tentative, were, so to speak, but flies thrown out on the stream of talk,—the major rising continuously, seizing the bait, and rushing headlong over sunken rocks and through tangled weeds of the improbable in a way that would have done credit to a Munchausen of older date. As for Jack, he let him run on. One plank in the platform of his hospitality was to give every guest a free rein.
Before the men separated for the day, the major had invited each individual person to make Crab Island his home for the balance of his life, regretting that no woman now graced his table since Mrs. Slocomb's death,—"Major Talbot's widow—Major John Talbot of Pocomoke, suh," this impressively and with sudden gravity of tone,—placing his stables, his cellar, and his servants at their disposal, and arranging for everybody to meet everybody else the following day in Baltimore, the major starting that night, and Jack and his friends the next day. The whole party would then take passage on board one of the Chesapeake Bay boats, arriving off Crab Island at daylight the succeeding morning.
This was said with a spring and joyousness of manner, and a certain quickness of movement, that would surprise those unfamiliar with some of the peculiarities of Widow Talbot's second husband. For with that true spirit of vagabondage which saturated him, next to the exquisite luxury of lying sprawled on a lounge with a noiseless servant attached to the other end of an electric wire, nothing delighted the major so much as an outing, and no member of any such junketing party, be it said, was more popular every hour of the journey. He could be host, servant, cook, chambermaid, errand-boy, and grand seigneur again in the same hour, adapting himself to every emergency that arose. His good-humor was perennial, unceasing, one constant flow, and never checked. He took care of the dogs, unpacked the bags, laid out everybody's linen, saw that the sheets were dry, received all callers so that the boys might sleep in the afternoon, did all the disagreeable and uncomfortable things himself, and let everybody else have all the fun. He did all this unconsciously, graciously, and simply because he could not help it. When the outing ended, you parted from him with all the regret that you would from some chum of your college days. As for him, he never wanted it to end. There was no office, nor law case, nor sick patient, nor ugly partner, nor complication of any kind, commercial, social, or professional, which could affect the major. For him life was one prolonged drift: so long as the last man remained he could stay. When he left, if there was enough in the larder to last over, the major always made another day of it.
The major was standing on the steamboat wharf in Baltimore, nervously consulting his watch, when Jack and I stepped from a cab next day.
"Well, by gravy! is this all? Where are the other gentlemen?"
"They'll be down in the morning, major," said Jack. "Where shall we send this baggage?"
"Here, just give it to me! Po'ter, po'ter!" in a stentorian voice. "Take these bags and guns, and put 'em on the upper deck alongside of my luggage. Now, gentlemen, just a sip of somethin' befo' they haul the gang-plank,—we've six minutes yet."
The bar was across the street. On the way over, the major confided to Jack full information regarding the state-rooms, remarking that he had selected the "fo' best on the upper deck," and adding that he would have paid for them himself only a friend had disappointed him.
It was evident that the barkeeper knew his peculiarities, for a tall, black bottle with a wabbly cork—consisting of a porcelain marble confined in a miniature bird-cage—was passed to the major before he had opened his mouth. When he did open it—the mouth—there was no audible protest as regards the selection. When he closed it again the flow line had fallen some three fingers. It is, however, fair to the major to say that only one third of this amount was tucked away under his own waistcoat.
The trip down the bay was particularly enjoyable, brightened outside on the water by the most brilliant of sunsets, the afternoon sky a glory of purple and gold, and made gay and delightful inside the after-cabin by the charm of the major's talk,—the whole passenger-list entranced as he skipped from politics and the fine arts to literature, tarrying a moment in his flight to discuss a yellow-backed book that had just been published, and coming to a full stop with the remark:—
"And you haven't read that book, Jack,—that scurrilous attack on the industries of the South? My dear fellow! I'm astounded that a man of yo' gifts should not—Here—just do me the favor to look through my baggage on the upper deck, and bring me a couple of books lyin' on top of my dressin'-case."
"Which trunk, major?" asked Jack, a slight smile playing around his mouth.
"Why, my sole-leather trunk, of co'se; or perhaps that English hat-box—no, stop, Jack, come to think, it is in the small valise. Here, take my keys," said the major, straightening his back, squeezing his fat hand into the pocket of his skin-tight trousers, and fishing up with his fore-finger a small bunch of keys. "Right on top, Jack; you can't miss it."
"Isn't he just too lovely for anything?" said Jack to me, when we reached the upper deck,—I had followed him out. "He's wearing now the only decent suit of clothes he owns, and the rest of his wardrobe you could stuff into a bandbox. English sole-leather trunk! Here, put your thumb on that catch," and he drew out the major's bag,—the one, of course, that Jefferson unpacked, with the galvanized-iron clasps and paper-leather sides.
The bag seemed more rotund, and heavier, and more important looking than when I handled it that afternoon in front of Delmonico's, presenting a well-fed, even a bloated, appearance. The clasps, too, appeared to have all they could do to keep its mouth shut, while the hinges bulged in an ominous way.
I started one clasp, the other gave way with a burst, and the next instant, to my horror, the major's wardrobe littered the deck. First the books, then a package of tobacco, then the one shirt, porcelain-finished collars, and the other necessaries, including a pair of slippers and a comb. Next, three bundles loosely wrapped, one containing two wax dolls, the others some small toys, and a cheap Noah's ark, and last of all, wrapped up in coarse, yellow butcher's paper, stained and moist, a freshly cut porter-house steak.
Jack roared with laughter as he replaced the contents. "Yes; toys for the little children—he never goes back without something for them if it takes his last dollar; tobacco for his old cook, Rachel; not a thing for himself, you see—and this steak! Who do you suppose he bought that for?"
"Did you find it?" called out the major, as we reentered the cabin.
"Yes; but it wasn't in the English trunk," said Jack, handing back the keys, grave as a judge, not a smile on his face.
"Of co'se not; didn't I tell you it was in the small bag? Now, gentlemen, listen!" turning the leaves. "Here is a man who has the impertinence to say that our industries are paralyzed. It is not our industries; it is our people. Robbed of their patrimony, their fields laid waste, their estates confiscated by a system of foreclosure lackin' every vestige of decency and co'tesy,—Shylocks wantin' their pound of flesh on the very hour and day,—why shouldn't they be paralyzed?" He laughed heartily. "Jack, you know Colonel Dorsey Kent, don't you?"
Jack did not, but the owners of several names on the passenger-list did, and hitched their camp-stools closer.
"Well, Kent was the only man I ever knew who ever held out against the damnable oligarchy."
Here an old fellow in a butternut suit, with a half-moon of white whiskers tied under his chin, leaned forward in rapt attention.
The major braced himself, and continued: "Kent, gentlemen, as many of you know, lived with his maiden sister over on Tinker Neck, on the same piece of ground where he was bo'n. She had a life interest in the house and property, and it was so nominated in the bond. Well, when it got down to hog and hominy, and very little of that, she told Kent she was goin' to let the place to a strawberry-planter from Philadelphia, and go to Baltimo' to teach school. She was sorry to break up the home, but there was nothin' else to do. Well, it hurt Kent to think she had to leave home and work for her living, for he was a very tender-hearted man.
"'You don't say so, Jane,' said he, 'and you raised here! Isn't that very sudden?' She told him it was, and asked him what he was going to do for a home when the place was rented?
"'Me, Jane? I shan't do anythin'. I shall stay here. If your money affairs are so badly mixed up that you're obliged to leave yo' home, I am very deeply grieved, but I am powerless to help. I am not responsible for the way this war ended. I was born here, and here I am going to stay." And he did. Nothing could move him. She finally had to rent him with the house,—he to have three meals a day, and a room over the kitchen.
"For two years after that Kent was so disgusted with life, and the turn of events, that he used to lie out on a rawhide, under a big sycamore tree in front of the po'ch, and get a farm nigger to pull him round into the shade by the tail of the hide, till the grass was wore as bare as yo' hand. Then he got a bias-cut rockin'-chair, and rocked himself round.
"The strawberry man said, of co'se, that he was too lazy to live. But I look deeper than that. To me, gentlemen, it was a crushin', silent protest against the money power of our times. And it never broke his spirit, neither. Why, when the census man came down a year befo' the colonel's death, he found him sittin' in his rockin'-chair, bare-headed. Without havin' the decency to take off his own hat, or even ask Kent's permission to speak to him, the census man began askin' questions,—all kinds, as those damnable fellows do. Colonel Kent let him ramble on for a while, then he brought him up standin'.
"'Who did you say you were, suh?'
"'The United States census-taker.'
"'Ah, a message from the enemy. Take a seat on the grass.'
"'It's only a matter of form,' said the man.
"'So I presume, and very bad form, suh,' looking at the hat still on the man's head. 'But go on.'
"'Well, what's yo' business?' asked the agent, taking out his book and pencil.
"'My business, suh?' said the colonel, risin' from his chair, mad clear through,—'I've no business, suh. I am a prisoner of war waitin' to be exchanged!' and he stomped into the house."
Here the major burst into a laugh, straightened himself up to his full height, squeezed the keys back into his pocket, and said he must take a look into the state-rooms on the deck to see if they were all ready for his friends for the night.
When I turned in for the night, he was on deck again, still talking, his hearty laugh ringing out every few moments. Only the white-whiskered man was left. The other camp-stools were empty.
At early dawn the steamboat slowed down, and a scow, manned by two bare-footed negroes with sweep oars, rounded to. In a few moments the major, two guns, two valises, Jack, and I were safely landed on its wet bottom, the major's bag with its precious contents stowed between his knees.
To the left, a mile or more away, lay Crab Island, the landed estate of our host,—a delicate, green thread on the horizon line, broken by two knots, one evidently a large house with chimneys, and the other a clump of trees. The larger knot proved to be the manor house that sheltered the belongings of the major, with the wine-cellars of marvelous vintage, the table that groaned, the folding mahogany doors that swung back for bevies of beauties, and perhaps, for all I knew, the gray-haired, ebony butler in the green coat. The smaller knot, Jack said, screened from public view the little club-house belonging to his friends and himself.
As the sun rose and we neared the shore, there came into view on the near end of the island the rickety outline of a palsied old dock, clutching with one arm a group of piles anchored in the marsh grass, and extending the other as if in welcome to the slow-moving scow. We accepted the invitation, threw a line over a thumb of a pile, and in five minutes were seated in a country stage. Ten more, and we backed up to an old-fashioned colonial porch, with sloping roof and dormer windows supported by high white columns. Leaning over the broken railing of the porch was a half-grown negro boy, hatless and bare-footed; inside the door, looking furtively out, half concealing her face with her apron, stood an old negro woman, her head bound with a bandana kerchief, while peeping from behind an outbuilding was a group of children in sun-bonnets and straw hats,—"the farmer's boys and girls," the major said, waving his hand, as we drove up, his eyes brightening. Then there was the usual collection of farm-yard fowl, beside two great hounds, who visited each one of us in turn, their noses rubbing our knees.
If the major, now that he was on his native heath, realized in his own mind any difference between the Eldorado which his eloquence had conjured up in my own mind, the morning before in Jack's room, and the hard, cold facts before us, he gave no outward sign. To all appearances, judging from his perfect ease and good temper, the paint-scaled pillars were the finest of Carrara marble, the bare floors were carpeted with the softest fabrics of Turkish looms, and the big, sparsely furnished rooms were so many salons, where princes trod in pride, and fair ladies stepped a measure.
The only remark he made was in answer to a look of surprise on my face when I peered curiously into the bare hall and made a cursory mental inventory of its contents.
"Yes, colonel; you will find, I regret to say, some slight changes since the old days. Then, too, my home is in slight confusion owin' to the spring cleanin', and a good many things have been put away."
I looked to Jack for explanation, but if that thoroughbred knew where the major had permanently put the last batch of his furniture, he, too, gave no outward sign.
As for the servants, were there not old Rachel and Sam, chef and valet? What more could one want? The major's voice, too, had lost none of its persuasive powers.
"Here, Sam, you black imp, carry yo' Marster Jack's gun and things to my room, and, Rachel, take the colonel's bag to the sea-room, next to the dinin'-hall. Breakfast in an hour, gentlemen, as Mrs. Slocomb used to say."
I found only a bed covered with a quilt, an old table with small drawers, a wash-stand, two chairs, and a desk on three legs. The walls were bare except for a fly-stained map yellow with age. As I passed through the sitting-room, Rachel preceding me with my traps, I caught a glimpse of traces of better times. There was a plain wooden mantelpiece, a wide fireplace with big brass andirons, a sideboard with and without brass handles and a limited number of claw feet,—which if brought under the spell of the scraper and varnish-pot might once more regain its lost estate,—a corner-cupboard built into the wall, half full of fragments of old china, and, to do justice to the major's former statement, there was also a pair of dull old mahogany doors with glass knobs separating the room from some undiscovered unknown territory of bareness and emptiness beyond. These, no doubt, were the doors Anthony threw open for the bevies of beauties so picturesquely described by the major, but where were the Chippendale furniture, the George III. silver, the Italian marble mantels with carved lions' heads, the marquetry floors and cabinets?
I determined to end my mental suspense. I would ask Rachel and get at the facts. The old woman was opening the windows, letting in the fresh breath of a honeysuckle, and framing a view of the sea beyond.
"How long have you lived here, aunty?"
"'Most fo'ty years, sah. Long 'fo' Massa John Talbot died."
"Where's old Anthony?" I said.
"What Anthony? De fust major's body-servant?"
"Go 'long, honey. He's daid dese twenty years. Daid two years 'fo' Massa Slocomb married Mis' Talbot."
"And Anthony never waited at all on Major Slocomb?"
"How could he wait on him, honey, when he daid 'fo' he see him?"
I pondered for a moment over the picturesque quality of the major's mendacity.
Was it, then, only another of the major's tributes to his wife,—this whole story of Anthony and the madeira of '39? How he must have loved this dear relict of his military predecessor!
An hour later the major strolled into the sitting-room, his arm through Jack's.
"Grand old place, is it not?" he said, turning to me. "Full of historic interest. Of co'se the damnable oligarchy has stripped us, but"—
Here Aunt Rachel flopped in—her slippers, I mean; the sound was distinctly audible.
"All right, Rachel. Come, gentlemen!"
When we were all seated, the major leaned back in his chair, toyed with his knife a moment, and said with an air of great deliberation:—
"Gentlemen, when I was in New York I discovered that the fashionable dish of the day was a po'ter-house steak. So when I knew you were coming, I wired my agent in Baltimo' to go to Lexington market and to send me down on ice the best steak he could buy fo' money. It is now befo' you.
"Jack, shall I cut you a piece of the tenderloin?"
A KNIGHT OF THE LEGION OF HONOR
It was in the smoking-room of a Cunarder two days out. The evening had been spent in telling stories, the fresh-air passengers crowding the doorways to listen, the habitual loungers and card-players abandoning their books and games.
When my turn came,—mine was a story of Venice, a story of the old palace of the Barbarozzi,—I noticed in one corner of the room a man seated alone wrapped in a light shawl, who had listened intently as he smoked, but who took no part in the general talk. He attracted my attention from his likeness to my friend Vereschagin the painter; his broad, white forehead, finely wrought features, clear, honest, penetrating eye, flowing mustache and beard streaked with gray,—all strongly suggestive of that distinguished Russian. I love Vereschagin, and so, unconsciously, and by mental association, perhaps, I was drawn to this stranger. Seeing my eye fixed constantly upon him, he threw off his shawl, and crossed the room.
"Pardon me, but your story about the Barbarozzi brought to my mind so many delightful recollections that I cannot help thanking you. I know that old palace,—knew it thirty years ago,—and I know that cortile, and although I have not had the good fortune to run across either your gondolier, Espero, or his sweetheart, Mariana, I have known a dozen others as romantic and delightful. The air is stifling here. Shall we have our coffee outside on the deck?"
When we were seated, he continued, "And so you are going to Venice to paint?"
"Yes; and you?"
"Me? Oh, to the Engadine to rest. American life is so exhausting that I must have these three months of quiet to make the other nine possible."
The talk drifted into the many curious adventures befalling a man in his journeyings up and down the world, most of them suggested by the queer stories of the night. When coffee had been served, he lighted another cigar, held the match until it burned itself out,—the yellow flame lighting up his handsome face,—looked out over the broad expanse of tranquil sea, with its great highway of silver leading up to the full moon dominating the night, and said as if in deep thought:—
"And so you are going to Venice?" Then, after a long pause: "Will you mind if I tell you of an adventure of my own,—one still most vivid in my memory? It happened near there many years ago." He picked up his shawl, pushed our chairs close to the overhanging life-boat, and continued: "I had begun my professional career, and had gone abroad to study the hospital system in Europe. The revolution in Poland—the revolt of '62—had made traveling in northern Europe uncomfortable, if not dangerous, for foreigners, even with the most authentic of passports, and so I had spent the summer in Italy. One morning, early in the autumn, I bade good-by to my gondolier at the water-steps of the railroad station, and bought a ticket for Vienna. An important letter required my immediate presence in Berlin.
"On entering the train I found the carriage occupied by two persons: a lady, richly dressed, but in deep mourning and heavily veiled; and a man, dark and smooth-faced, wearing a high silk hat. Raising my cap, I placed my umbrella and smaller traps under the seat, and hung my bundle of traveling shawls in the rack overhead. The lady returned my salutation gravely, lifting her veil and making room for my bundles. The dark man's only response was a formal touching of his hat-brim with his forefinger.
"The lady interested me instantly. She was perhaps twenty-five years of age, graceful, and of distinguished bearing. Her hair was jet-black, brushed straight back from her temples, her complexion a rich olive, her teeth pure white. Her lashes were long, and opened and shut with a slow, fan-like movement, shading a pair of deep blue eyes, which shone with that peculiar light only seen when quick tears lie hidden under half-closed lids. Her figure was rounded and full, and her hands exquisitely modeled. Her dress, while of the richest material, was perfectly plain, with a broad white collar and cuffs like those of a nun. She wore no jewels of any kind. I judged her to be a woman of some distinction,—an Italian or Hungarian, perhaps.
"When the train started, the dark man, who had remained standing, touched his hat to me, raised it to the lady, and disappeared. Her only acknowledgment was a slight inclination of the head. A polite stranger, no doubt, I thought, who prefers the smoker. When the train stopped for luncheon, I noticed that the lady did not leave the carriage, and on my return I found her still seated, looking listlessly out of the window, her head upon her hand.
"'Pardon me, madame,' I said in French, 'but unless you travel some distance this is the last station where you can get anything to eat.'
"She started, and looked about helplessly. 'I am not hungry. I cannot eat—but I suppose I should.'
"'Permit me;' and I sprang from the carriage, and caught a waiter with a tray before the guard reclosed the doors. She drank the coffee, tasted the fruit, thanking me in a low, sweet voice, and said:—
"'You are very considerate. It will help me to bear my journey. I am very tired, and weaker than I thought; for I have not slept for many nights.'
"I expressed my sympathy, and ended by telling her I hoped we could keep the carriage to ourselves; she might then sleep undisturbed. She looked at me fixedly, a curious startled expression crossing her face, but made no reply.
"Almost every man is drawn, I think, to a sad or tired woman. There is a look about the eyes that makes an instantaneous draft on the sympathies. So, when these slight confidences of my companion confirmed my misgivings as to her own weariness, I at once began diverting her as best I could with some account of my summer's experience in Venice, and with such of my plans for the future as at the moment filled my mind. I was younger then,—perhaps only a year or two her senior,—and you know one is not given to much secrecy at twenty-six: certainly not with a gentle lady whose good-will you are trying to gain, and whose sorrowful face, as I have said, enlists your sympathy at sight. Then, to establish some sort of footing for myself, I drifted into an account of my own home life; telling her of my mother and sisters, of the social customs of our country, of the freedom given the women,—so different from what I had seen abroad,—of their perfect safety everywhere.
"We had been talking in this vein some time, she listening quietly until something I said reacted in a slight curl of her lips,—more incredulous than contemptuous, perhaps, but significant all the same; for, lifting her eyes, she answered slowly and meaningly:—
"'It must be a paradise for women. I am glad to believe that there is one corner of the earth where they are treated with respect. My own experiences have been so different that I have begun to believe that none of us are safe after we leave our cradles.' Then, as if suddenly realizing the inference, the color mounting to her cheeks, she added: 'But please do not misunderstand me. I am quite willing to accept your statement; for I never met an American before.'
"As we neared the foothills the air grew colder. She instinctively drew her cloak the closer, settling herself in one corner and closing her eyes wearily. I offered my rug, insisting that she was not properly clad for a journey over the mountains at night. She refused gently but firmly, and closed her eyes again, resting her head against the dividing cushion. For a moment I watched her; then arose from my seat, and, pulling down my bundle of shawls, begged that I might spread my heaviest rug over her lap. An angry color mounted to her cheeks. She turned upon me, and was about to refuse indignantly, when I interrupted:—
"'Please allow me; don't you know you cannot sleep if you are cold? Let me put this wrap about you. I have two.'
"With the unrolling, the leather tablet of the shawl-strap, bearing my name, fell in her lap.
"'Your name is Bosk,' she said, with a quick start, 'and you an American?'
"'Yes; why not?'
"'My maiden name is Boski,' she replied, looking at me in astonishment, 'and I am a Pole.'
"Here were two mysteries solved. She was married, and neither Italian nor Slav.
"'And your ancestry?' she continued with increased animation. 'Are you of Polish blood? You know our name is a great name in Poland. Your grandfather, of course, was a Pole.' Then, with deep interest, 'What are your armorial bearings?'
"I answered that I had never heard that my grandfather was a Pole. It was quite possible, though, that we might be of Polish descent, for my father had once told me of an ancestor, an old colonel, who fell at Austerlitz. As to the armorial bearings, we Americans never cared for such things. The only thing I could remember was a certain seal which my father used to wear, and with which he sealed his letters. The tradition in the family was that it belonged to this old colonel. My sister used it sometimes. I had a letter from her in my pocket.
"She examined the indented wax on the envelope, opened her cloak quickly, and took from the bag at her side a seal mounted in jewels, bearing a crest and coat of arms.
"'See how slight the difference. The quarterings are almost the same, and the crest and motto identical. This side is mine, the other is my husband's. How very, very strange! And yet you are an American?'
"'And your husband's crest?' I asked. 'Is he also a Pole?'
"'Yes; I married a Pole,' with a slight trace of haughtiness, even resentment, at the inquiry.
"'And his name, madame? Chance has given you mine—a fair exchange is never a robbery.'
"She drew herself up, and said quickly, and with a certain bearing I had not noticed before:—
"'Not now; it makes no difference.'
"Then, as if uncertain of the effect of her refusal, and with a willingness to be gracious, she added:—
"In a few minutes—at ten o'clock—we reach Trieste. The train stops twenty minutes. You were so kind about my luncheon; I am stronger now. Will you dine with me?'
"I thanked her, and on arriving at Trieste followed her to the door. As we alighted from the carriage I noticed the same dark man standing by the steps, his fingers on his hat. During the meal my companion seemed brighter and less weary, more gracious and friendly, until I called the waiter and counted out the florins on his tray. Then she laid her hand quietly but firmly upon my arm.
"'Please do not—you distress me; my servant Polaff has paid for everything.'
"I looked up. The dark man was standing behind her chair, his hat in his hand.
"I can hardly express to you my feelings as these several discoveries revealed to me little by little the conditions and character of my traveling companion. Brought up myself under a narrow home influence, with only a limited knowledge of the world, I had never yet been thrown in with a woman of her class. And yet I cannot say that it was altogether the charm of her person that moved me. It was more a certain hopeless sort of sorrow that seemed to envelop her, coupled with an indefinable distrust which I could not solve. Her reserve, however, was impenetrable, and her guarded silence on every subject bearing upon herself so pronounced that I dared not break through it. Yet, as she sat there in the carriage after dinner, during the earlier hours of the night, she and I the only occupants, her eyes heavy and red for want of sleep, her beautiful hair bound in a veil, the pallor of her skin intensified by the sombre hues of her dress, I would have given anything in the world to have known her well enough to have comforted her, even by a word.
"As the night wore on the situation became intolerable. Every now and then she would start from her seat, jostled awake by the roughness of the road,—this section had just been completed,—turn her face the other way, only to be awakened again.
"'You cannot sleep. May I make a pillow for your head of my other shawl? I do not need it. My coat is warm enough.'
"'No; I am very comfortable.'
"'Forgive me, you are not. You are very uncomfortable, and it pains me to see you so weary. These dividing-irons make it impossible for you to lie down. Perhaps I can make a cushion for your head so that you will rest easier.'
"She looked at me coldly, her eyes riveted on mine.
"'You are very kind, but why do you care? You have never seen me before, and may never again.'
"'I care because you are a woman, alone and unprotected. I care most because you are suffering. Will you let me help you?'
"She bent her head, and seemed wrapped in thought. Then straightening up, as if her mind had suddenly resolved,—
"'No; leave me alone. I will sleep soon. Men never really care for a woman when she suffers.' She turned her face to the window.
"'I pity you, then, from the bottom of my heart,' I replied, nettled at her remark. 'There is not a man the length and breadth of my land who would not feel for you now as I do, and there is not a woman who would misunderstand him.'
"She raised her head, and in a softened voice, like a sorrowing child's, it was so pathetic, said: 'Please forgive me. I had no right to speak so. I shall be very grateful to you if you can help me; I am so tired.'
"I folded the shawl, arranged the rug over her knees, and took the seat beside her. She thanked me, laid her cheek upon the impromptu pillow, and closed her eyes. The train sped on, the carriage swaying as we rounded the curves, the jolting increasing as we neared the great tunnel. Settling myself in my seat, I drew my traveling-cap well down so that its shadow from the overhead light would conceal my eyes, and watched her unobserved. For half an hour I followed every line in her face, with its delicate nostrils, finely cut nose, white temples with their blue veins, and the beautiful hair glistening in the half-shaded light, the long lashes resting, tired out, upon her cheek. Soon I noticed at irregular intervals a nervous twitching pass over her face; the brow would knit and relax wearily, the mouth droop. These indications of extreme exhaustion occurred constantly, and alarmed me. Unchecked, they would result in an alarming form of nervous prostration. A sudden lurch dislodged the pillow.
"'Have you slept?' I asked.
"'I do not know. A little, I think. The car shakes so.'
"'My dear lady,' I said, laying my hand on hers,—she started, but did not move her own,—'it is absolutely necessary that you sleep, and at once. What your nervous strain has been, I know not; but my training tells me that it has been excessive, and still is. Its continuance is dangerous. This road gets rougher as the night passes. If you will rest your head upon my shoulder, I can hold you so that you will go to sleep.'
"Her face flushed, and she recovered her hand quickly.
"'You forget, sir, that'—
"'No, no; I forget nothing. I remember everything; that I am a stranger, that you are ill, that you are rapidly growing worse, that, knowing as I do your condition, I cannot sit here and not help you. It would be brutal.'
"Her lips quivered, and her eyes filled. 'I believe you,' she said. Then, turning quickly with an anxious look, 'But it will tire you.'
"'No; I have held my mother that way for hours at a time.'
"She put out her hand, laid it gently on my wrist, looked into my face long and steadily, scanning every feature, as if reassuring herself, then laid her cheek upon my shoulder, and fell asleep.
* * * * *
"When the rising sun burst behind a mountain-crag, and, at a turn in the road, fell full upon her face, she awoke with a start, and looked about bewildered. Then her mind cleared.
"'How good you have been. You have not moved all night so I might rest. I awoke once frightened, but your hands were folded in your lap.'
"With this her whole manner changed. All the haughty reserve was gone; all the cynicism, the distrust, and suspicion. She became as gentle and tender as an anxious mother, begging me to go to sleep at once. She would see that no one disturbed me. It was cruel that I was so exhausted.
"When the guard entered, she sent for her servant, and bade him watch out for a pot of coffee at the next station. 'To think monsieur had not slept all night!' When Polaff handed in the tray, she filled the cups herself, adding the sugar, and insisting that I should also drink part of her own,—one cup was not enough. Upon Polaff's return she sent for her dressing-case. She must make her toilet at once, and not disturb me. It would be several hours before we reached Vienna; she felt sure I would sleep now.
"I watched her as she spread a dainty towel over the seat in front, and began her preparations, laying out the powder-boxes, brushes, and comb, the bottles of perfume, and the little knickknacks that make up the fittings of a gentlewoman's boudoir. It was almost with a show of enthusiasm that she picked up one of the bottles, and pointed out to me again the crest in relief upon its silver top, saying over and over again how glad she was to know that some of her own blood ran in my veins. She was sure now that I belonged to her mother's people. When, at the next station, Polaff brought a basin of water, and I arose to leave the car, she begged me to remain,—the toilet was nothing; it would be over in a minute. Then she loosened her hair, letting it fall in rich masses about her shoulders, and bathed her face and hands, rearranging her veil, and adding a fresh bit of lace to her throat. I remember distinctly how profound an impression this strange scene made upon my mind, so different from any former experience of my life,—its freedom from conventionality, the lack of all false modesty, the absolute absence of any touch of coquetry or conscious allurement.
"When it was all over, her beauty being all the more pronounced now that the tired, nervous look had gone out of her face, she still talked on, saying how much better and fresher she felt, and how much more rested than the night before. Suddenly her face saddened, and for many minutes she kept silence, gazing dreamily down into the abysses white with the rush of Alpine torrents, or hidden in the early morning fog. Then, finding I would not sleep, and with an expression as if she had finally resolved upon some definite action, and with a face in which every line showed the sincerest confidence and trust,—as unexpected as it was incomprehensible to me,—she said:—
"'Last night you asked me for my name. I would not tell you then. Now you shall know. I am the Countess de Rescka Smolenski. I live in Cracow. My husband died in Venice four days ago. I took him there because he was ill,—so ill that he was carried in Polaff's arms from the gondola to his bed. The Russian government permitted me to take him to Italy to die. One Pole the less is of very little consequence. A week ago this permit was revoked, and we were ordered to report at Cracow without delay. Why, I do not know, except perhaps to add another cruelty to the long list of wrongs the government have heaped upon my family. My husband lingered three days with the order spread out on the table beside him. The fourth day they laid him in Campo Santo. That night my maid fell ill. Yesterday morning a second peremptory order was handed me. I am now on my way home to obey.'
"Then followed in slow, measured sentences the story of her life: married at seventeen at her father's bidding to a man twice her age; surrounded by a court the most dissolute in eastern Europe; forced into a social environment that valued woman only as a chattel, and that ostracized or defamed every wife who, reverencing her womanhood, protested against its excesses. For five years past—ever since her marriage—her husband's career had been one long, unending dissipation. At last, broken down by a life he had not the moral courage to resist, he had succumbed and taken to his bed; thence, wavering between life and death, like a burnt-out candle flickering in its socket, he had been carried to Venice.
"'Do you wonder, now, that my faith is gone, my heart broken?'
"We were nearing Vienna; the stations were more frequent; our own carriage began filling up. For an hour we rode side by side, silent, she gazing fixedly from the window, I half stunned by this glimpse of a life the pathos of which wrung my very heart. When we entered the station she roused herself, and said to me half pleadingly:—
"'I cannot bear to think I may never see you again. To-night I must stay in Vienna. Will you dine with me at my hotel? I go to the Metropole. And you? Where did you intend to go?'
"'To the Metropole, also.'
"'Not when you left Venice?'
"'Yes; before I met you.'
"'There is a fate that controls us,' she said reverently. 'Come at seven.'
"When the hour arrived I sent my card to her apartment, and was ushered into a small room with a curtain-closed door opening out into a larger salon, through which I caught glimpses of a table spread with glass and silver. Polaff, rigid and perpendicular, received me with a stiff, formal recognition. I do not think he quite understood, nor altogether liked, his mistress's chance acquaintance. In a moment she entered from a door opposite, still in her black garments with the nun's cuffs and broad collar. Extending her hand graciously, she said:—
"'You have slept since I left you this morning. I see it in your face. I am so glad. And I too. I have rested all day. It was so good of you to come.'
"There was no change in her manner; the same frank, trustful look in her eyes, the same anxious concern about me. When dinner was announced she placed me beside her, Polaff standing behind her chair, and the other attendants serving.
"The talk drifted again into my own life, she interrupting with pointed questions, and making me repeat again and again the stories I told her of our humble home. She must learn them herself to tell them to her own people, she said. It was all so strange and new to her, so simple and so genuine. With the coffee she fell to talking of her own home, the despotism of Russia, the death of her father, the forcing of her brothers into the army. Still holding her cup in her hands, she began pacing up and down, her eyes on the floor (we were alone, Polaff having retired). Then stopping in front of me, and with an earnestness that startled me:—
"'Do not go to Berlin. Please come to Cracow with me. Think. I am alone, absolutely alone. My house is in order, and has been for months, expecting me every day. It is so terrible to go back; come with me, please.'
"'I must not, madame. I have promised my friends to be in Berlin in two days. I would, you know, sacrifice anything of my own to serve you.'
"'And you will not?' and a sigh of disappointment escaped her.
"'No; I must not ask you. You are right. It is better that you keep your word.'
"She continued walking, gazing still on the floor. Then she moved to the mantel, and touched a bell. Instantly the curtains of the door divided, and Polaff stood before her.
"'Bring me my jewel-case.'
"The man bowed gravely, looked at me furtively from the corner of his eye, and closed the curtains behind him. In a moment he returned, bearing a large, morocco-covered box, which he placed on the table. She pressed the spring, and the lid flew up, uncovering several velvet-lined trays filled with jewels that flashed under the lighted candles.
"'You need not wait, Polaff. You can go to bed.'
"The man stepped back a pace, stood by the wall, fixed his eye upon his mistress, as if about to speak, looked at me curiously, then, bowing low, drew the curtains aside, and closed the door behind him.
"Another spring, and out came a great string of pearls, a necklace of sapphires, some rubies, and emeralds. These she heaped up upon the white cloth beside her. Carefully examining the contents of the case, she drew from a lower tray a bracelet set with costly diamonds, a rare and beautiful ornament, and before I was aware of her intent had clasped it upon my wrist.
"'I want you to wear this for me. You see it is large enough to go quite up the arm."
"For a moment my astonishment was so great I could not speak. Then I loosened it and laid it in her hand again. She looked up, her eyes filling, her face expressive of the deepest pain.
"'And you will not?'
"'I cannot, madame. In my country men do not accept such costly presents from women, and then we do not wear bracelets, as your men do here.'
"'Then take this case, and choose for yourself.'
"I poured the contents of a small tray into my hand, and picked out a plain locket, almond-shaped, simply wrought, with an opening on one side for hair.
"'Give me this with your hair.'
"She threw the bracelet into the case, and her eyes lighted up.
"'Oh, I am so glad, so glad! It was mine when I was a child,—my mother gave it to me. The dear little locket—yes; you shall always wear it.'
"Then, rising from her seat, she took my hands in hers, and, looking down into my face, said, her voice breaking:—
"'It is eleven o'clock. Soon you must leave me. You cannot stay longer. I know that in a few hours I shall never see you again. Will you join me in my prayers before I go?'
"A few minutes later she called to me. She was on her knees in the next room, two candles burning beside her, her rich dark hair loose about her shoulders, an open breviary bound with silver in her hands. I can see her now, with her eyes closed, her lips moving noiselessly, her great lashes wet with tears, and that Madonna-like look as she motioned me to kneel. For several minutes she prayed thus, the candles lighting her face, the room deathly still. Then she arose, and with her eyes half shut, and her lips moving as if with her unfinished prayer, she lifted her head and kissed me on the forehead, on the chin, and on each cheek, making with her finger the sign of the cross. Then, reaching for a pair of scissors, and cutting a small tress from her hair, she closed the locket upon it, and laid it in my hand.
"Early the next morning I was at her door. She was dressed and waiting. She greeted me kindly, but mournfully, saying in a tone which denoted her belief in its impossibility:—
"'And you will not go to Cracow?'
"When we reached the station, and I halted at the small gate opening upon the train platform, she merely pressed my hand, covered her head with her veil, and entered the carriage followed by Polaff. I watched, hoping to see her face at the window, but she remained hidden.
* * * * *
"I turned into the Ringstrasse, still filled with her presence, and tortured by the thought of the conditions that prevented my following her, called a cab, and drove to our minister's. Mr. Motley then held the portfolio; my passport had expired, and, as I was entering Germany, needed renewing. The attache agreed to the necessity, stamped it, and brought it back to me with the ink still wet.
"'His excellency,' said he, 'advises extreme caution on your part while here. Be careful of your associates, and keep out of suspicious company. Vienna is full of spies watching escaped Polish refugees. Your name'—reading it carefully—'is apt to excite remark. We are powerless to help in these cases. Only last week an American who befriended a man in the street was arrested on the charge of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and, despite our efforts, is still in prison.'
"I thanked him, and regained my cab with my head whirling. What, after all, if the countess should have deceived me? My blood chilled as I remembered her words of the day before: recalled by the government she hated, her two brothers forced into the army, the cruelties and indignities Russia had heaped upon her family, and this last peremptory order to return. Had my sympathetic nature and inexperience gotten me into trouble? Then that Madonna-like head with angelic face, the lips moving in prayer, rose before me. No, no; not she. I would stake my life.
"I entered my hotel, and walked across the corridor for the key of my room. Standing by the porter was an Austrian officer in full uniform, even to his white kid gloves. As I passed I heard the porter say in German:—
"'Yes; that is the man.'
"The Austrian looked at me searchingly, and, wheeling around sharply, said:—
"'Monsieur, can I see you alone? I have something of importance to communicate.'
"The remark and his abrupt manner indicated so plainly an arrest, that for the moment I hesitated, running over in my mind what might be my wisest course to pursue. Then, thinking I could best explain my business in Vienna in the privacy of my room, I said stiffly:—
"'Yes; I am now on my way to my apartment. I will see you there.'
"He entered first, shut the door behind him, crossed the room; passed his hand behind the curtains, opened the closet, shut it, and said:—
"'We are alone?'
"Then, confronting me, 'You are an American?'
"'You are right.'
"'And have your passport with you?'
"I drew it from my pocket, and handed it to him. He glanced at the signature, refolded it, and said:—
"'You took the Countess Smolensk! to the station this morning. Where did you meet her?'
"'On the train yesterday leaving Venice.'
"'Why did she not leave Venice earlier?'
"'The count was dying, and could not be moved. He was buried two days ago.'
"A shade passed over his face, 'Poor De Rescka! I suspected as much.'
"Then facing me again, his face losing its suspicious expression:—
"'Monsieur, I am the brother of the countess,—Colonel Boski of the army. A week ago my letters were intercepted, and I left Cracow in the night. Since then I have been hunted like an animal. This uniform is my third disguise. As soon as my connection with the plot was discovered, my sister was ordered home. The death of the count explains her delay, and prevented my seeing her at the station. I had selected the first station out of Vienna. I tried for an opportunity this morning at the depot, but dared not. I saw you, and learned from the cabman your hotel.'
"'But, colonel,' said I, the attache's warning in my ears, 'you will pardon me, but these are troublous times. I am alone here, on my way to Berlin to pursue my studies. I found the countess ill and suffering, and unable to sleep. She interested me profoundly, and I did what I could to relieve her. I would have done the same for any other woman in her condition the world over, no matter what the consequences. If you are her brother, you will appreciate this. If you are here for any other purpose, say so at once. I leave Vienna at noon.'
"His color flushed, and his hand instinctively felt for his sword; then, relaxing, he said:—
"'You are right. The times are troublous. Every other man is a spy. I do not blame you for suspecting me. I have nothing but my word. If you do not believe it, I cannot help it. I will go. You will at least permit me to thank you for your kindness to my sister,' drawing off his glove and holding out his hand.
"'The hand of a soldier is never refused the world over,' and I shook it warmly. As it dropped to his side I caught sight of his seal-ring.
"'Pardon me one moment. Give me your hand again.' The ring bore the crest and motto of the countess.
"'It is enough, colonel. Your sister showed me her own on the train. Pardon my suspicions. What can I do for you?' He looked puzzled, hardly grasping my meaning.
"'Nothing. You have told me all I wanted to know.'
"'But you will breakfast with me before I take the train?' I said.
"'No; that might get you into trouble—serious trouble, if I should be arrested. On the contrary, I must insist that you remain in this room until I leave the building.'
"'But you perhaps need money; these disguises are expensive,' glancing at his perfect appointment.
"'You are right. Perhaps twenty rubles—it will be enough. Give me your address in Berlin. If I am taken, you will lose your money. If I escape, it will be returned.'
"I shook his hand, and the door closed. A week later a man wrapped in a cloak called at my lodgings and handed me an envelope. There was no address and no message, only twenty rubles."
* * * * *
I looked out over the sea wrinkling below me like a great sheet of gray satin. The huge life-boat swung above our heads, standing out in strong relief against the sky. After a long pause,—the story had strangely thrilled me,—I asked:—
"Pardon me, have you ever seen or heard of the countess since?"
"Nor her brother?"
"Nor her brother."
"And the locket?"
"It is here where she placed it."
At this instant the moon rolled out from behind a cloud, and shone full on his face. He drew out his watch-chain, touched it with his thumb-nail, and placed the trinket in my hand. It was such as a child might wear, an enameled thread encircling it. Through the glass I could see the tiny nest of jet-black hair.
For some moments neither of us spoke. At last, with my heart aglow, my whole nature profoundly stirred by the unconscious nobility of the man, I said:—
"My friend, do you know why she bound the bracelet to your wrist?"
"No; that always puzzled me. I have often wondered."
"She bound the bracelet to your wrist, as of old a maid would have wound her scarf about the shield of her victorious knight, as the queen would pin the iron cross to the breast of a hero. You were the first gentleman she had ever known in her life."
JOHN SANDERS, LABORER
[The outlines of this story were given me by my friend Augustus Thomas, whose plays are but an index to the tenderness of his own nature.]
He came from up the railroad near the State line. Sanders was the name on the pay-roll,—John Sanders, laborer. There was nothing remarkable about him. He was like a hundred others up and down the track. If you paid him off on Saturday night you would have forgotten him the next week, unless, perhaps, he had spoken to you. He looked fifty years of age, and yet he might have been but thirty. He was stout and strong, his hair and beard cropped short. He wore a rough blue jumper, corduroy trousers, and a red flannel shirt, which showed at his throat and wrists. He wore, too, a leather strap buckled about his waist.
If there was anything that distinguished him it was his mouth and eyes, especially when he smiled. The mouth was clean and fresh, the teeth snow-white and regular, as if only pure things came through them; the eyes were frank and true, and looked straight at you without wavering. If you gave him an order he said, "Yes, sir," never taking his gaze from yours until every detail was complete. When he asked a question it was to the point and short.
The first week he shoveled coal on a siding, loading the yard engines. Then Burchard, the station-master, sent him down to the street crossing to flag the trains for the dump carts filling the scows at the long dock.
This crossing right-angled a deep railroad cut half a mile long. On the level above, looking down upon its sloping sides, staggered a row of half-drunken shanties with blear-eyed windows, and ragged roofs patched and broken; some hung over on crutches caught under their floor timbers. Sanders lived in one of these cabins,—the one nearest the edge of the granite retaining-wall flanking the street crossing.
Up the slopes of this railroad cut lay the refuse of the shanties,—bottomless buckets, bits of broken chairs, tomato cans, rusty hoops, fragments of straw matting, and other debris of the open lots. In the summer-time a few brave tufts of grass, coaxed into life by the warm sun, clung desperately to an accidental level, and now and then a gay dandelion flamed for a day or two and then disappeared, cut off by some bedouin goat. In the winter there were only patches of blackened snow, fouled by the endless smoke of passing trains, and seamed with the short-cut footpaths of the yard men.
There were only two in Sanders's shanty,—Sanders and his crippled daughter, a girl of twelve, with a broken back. She barely reached the sill when she stood at the low window to watch her father waving his flag. Bent, hollow-eyed, shrunken; her red hair cropped short in her neck; her poor little white fingers clutching the window-frame. "The express is late this morning," or "No. 14 is on time," she would say, her restless, eager blue eyes glancing at the clock, or "What a lot of ashes they do be haulin' to-day!" Nothing else was to be seen from her window.
When the whistle blew she took down the dinner-pail, filled it with potatoes and the piece of pork hot from the boiling pot, poured the coffee in the tin cup, put on the cover, and, limping to the edge of the retaining-wall, lowered it over by a string to her father. Sanders looked up and waved his hand, and the girl went back to her post at the window.
When the night came he would light the kerosene lamp in their one room and read aloud the stories from the Sunday papers, she listening eagerly and asking him questions he could not answer, her eyes filling with tears or her face breaking into smiles. This summed up her life.
Not much in the world, all this, for Sanders!—not much of rest, or comfort, or happy sunshine,—not much of song or laughter, the pipe of birds or smell of sweet blossoms,—not much room for gratitude or courage or human kindness or charity. Only the ceaseless engine-bell, the grime, the sulphurous hellish smoke, the driving rain, the ice and dust,—only the endless monotony of ill-smelling, steaming carts, the smoke-stained signal-flag and greasy lantern,—only the tottering shanty with the two beds, the stove, and the few chairs and table,—only the blue-eyed crippled girl who wound her thin arms about his neck.
It was on Sundays in the summer that the dreary monotony ceased. Then Sanders would carry her to the edge of the woods, a mile or more back of the cut. There was a little hollow carpeted with violets, and a pond, where now and then a water-lily escaped the factory boys, and there were big trees and bushes and stretches of grass, ending in open lots squared all over by the sod gatherers.
On these days Sanders would lie on his back and watch the treetops swaying in the sunlight against the sky, and the girl would sit by him and make mounds of fresh mosses and pebbles, and tie the wild flowers into bunches. Sometimes he would pretend that there were fish in the pond, and would cut a pole and bend a pin, tie on a bit of string, and sit for hours watching the cork, she laughing beside him in expectation. Sometimes they would both go to sleep, his arm across her. And so the summer passed.
One day in the autumn, at twelve-o'clock whistle, a crowd of young ruffians from the bolt-works near the brewery swept down the crossing chasing a homeless dog. Sanders stood in the road with his flag. A passing freight train stopped the mob. The dog dashed between the wheels, doubling, and then bounding up the slope of the cut, sprang through the half-open door of the shanty. When he saw the girl he stopped short, hesitated, looked anxiously into her face, crouched flat, and pulling himself along by his paws, laid his head at her feet. When Sanders came home that night the dog was asleep in her lap. He was about to drive him out until he caught the look in her face, then he stopped, and laid his empty dinner-pail on the shelf.
"I seen him a-comin'," he said; "them rats from the bolt-factory was a-humpin' him, too! Guess if the freight hadn't a-come along they'd a-ketched him."
The dog looked wistfully into Sanders's face, scanning him curiously, timidly putting out his paw and dropping it, as if he had been too bold, and wanted to make some sort of a dumb apology, like a poor relation who has come to spend the day. He had never had any respectable ancestors,—none to speak of. You could see that in the coarse, shaggy hair, like a door mat; the awkward ungainly walk, the legs doubling under him; the drooping tail with bare spots down its length, suggesting past indignities. He was not a large dog—only about as high as a chair seat; he had mottled lips, too, and sharp, sawlike teeth. One ear was gone, perhaps in his puppyhood, when some one had tried to make a terrier of him and had stopped when half done. The other ear, however, was active enough for two. It would curl forward in attention like a deer's, or start up like a rabbit's in alarm, or lie back on his head when the girl stroked him to sleep. He was only a kickable, chasable kind of a dog,—a dog made for sounding tin pans tied to his tail and whooping boys behind.
All but his eyes! These were brown as agates, and as deep and clear. Kindly eyes that looked and thought and trusted. It was these eyes that first made the girl love him; they reminded her, strange to say, of her father's. She saw, too, perhaps unconsciously to herself, down in their depths, something of the same hunger for sympathy that stirred her own heart—the longing for companionship. She wanted something nearer her own age to love, though she never told her father. This was a heartache she kept to herself, perhaps because she hardly understood it.
The dog and the girl became inseparable. At night he slept under her bed, reaching his head up in the gray dawn, and licking her face until she covered him up warm beside her. When the trains passed he would stand up on his hind legs, his paws on the sill, his blunt little nose against the pane, whining at the clanging bells, or barking at the great rings of steam and smoke coughed up by the engines below.
She taught him all manner of tricks. How to walk on his hind feet with a paper cap on his head, a plate in his mouth, begging. How to make believe he was dead, lying still a minute at a time, his odd ear furling nervously and his eyes snapping fun; how to carry a basket to the grocery on the corner, when she would limp out in the morning for a penny's worth of milk or a loaf of bread, he waiting until she crossed the street, and then marching on proudly before her.
With the coming of the dog a new and happier light seemed to have brightened the shanty. Sanders himself began to feel the influence. He would play with him by the hour, holding his mouth tight, pushing back his lips so that his teeth glistened, twirling his ear. There was a third person now for him to consult and talk to. "It'll be turrible cold at the crossin' to-day, won't it, Dog?" or, "Thet's No. 23 puffin' up in the cut: don't yer know her bell? Wonder, Dog, what she's switched fur?" he would say to him. He noticed, too, that the girl's cheeks were not so white and pinched. She seemed taller and not so weary; and when he walked up the cut, tired out with the day's work, she always met him at the door, the dog springing half way down the slope, wagging his tail and bounding ahead to welcome him. And she would sing little snatches of songs that her mother had taught her years ago, before the great flood swept away the cabin and left only her father and herself clinging to a bridge, she with a broken back.
After a while Sanders coaxed him down to the track, teaching him to bring back his empty dinner-pail, the dog spending the hour with him, sitting by his side demurely, or asleep in the sentry-box.
All this time the dog never rose to the dignity of any particular name. The girl spoke of him as "Doggie," and Sanders always as "the Dog." The trainmen called him "Rags," in deference, no doubt, to his torn ear and threadbare tail. They threw coal at him as he passed, until it leaked out that he belonged to "Sanders's girl." Then they became his champions, and this name and pastime seemed out of place. Only once did he earn any distinguishing sobriquet. That was when he had saved the girl's basket, after a sharp fight with a larger and less honest dog. Sanders then spoke of him, with half-concealed pride, as "the Boss," but this only lasted a day or so. Publicly, in the neighborhood, he was known as "Sanders's dog."
One morning the dog came limping up the cut with a broken leg. Some said a horse had kicked him; some that the factory boys had thrown stones at him. He made no outcry, only came sorrowfully in, his mouth dry and dust-covered, dragging his hind leg, that hung loose like a flail; then he laid his head in the girl's lap. She crooned and cried over him all day, binding up the bruised limb, washing his eyes and mouth, putting him in her own bed. There was no one to go for her father, and if there were, he could not leave the crossing. When Sanders came home he felt the leg over carefully, the girl watching eagerly. "No, Kate, child, yees can't do nothin'; it's broke at the jint. Don't cry, young one."
Then he went outside and sat on a bench, looking across the cut and over the roofs of the factories, hazy in the breath of a hundred furnaces, and so across the blue river fringed with waving trees where the blessed sun was sinking to rest. He was not surprised. It was like everything else in his life. When he loved something, it was sure to be this way.
That night, when the girl was asleep, he took the dog up in his arms, and wrapping his coat around him so the corner loafers could not see, rang the bell of the dispensary. The doctor was out, but a nurse looked at the wound. "No, there was nothing to be done; the socket had been crushed. Keep it bandaged, that was all." Then he brought him home and put him under the bed.