By ST. GEORGE RATHBORNE
Author of "Dr. Jack," "Dr. Jacks Wife," "Captain Tom," "Baron Sam," "Miss Pauline of New York," etc.
A little party of tourists might be seen one lovely day in January, on the hill back of the city of Valetta, on that gem of Mediterranean islands, Great Britain's Malta.
The air is as clear as a bell, and the scene is certainly one to charm the senses, with the blue Mediterranean, dotted with sails, a hazy line far, far away that may be the coast of Africa, the double harbor below, one known as Quarantine, where general trade is done, the other, Great Harbor, being devoted to government vessels.
Quaint indeed is the appearance of the Maltese city that rests mostly upon the side of the hill under the fortifications, a second Quebec as it were.
The streets are, some of them, very steep, the houses, built of limestone, generally three stories in height, with a flat roof that answers the same purpose as the Spanish or Mexican azotea.
Valetta has three city gates, one the Porta Reale, through which our little tourist group came to reach their present position, leads to the country; the Porta Marsamuscetto to the general harbor where lie craft of all nations, while the government harbor is reached by means of the Marina gate.
Thus they hold to many of the ways of Moorish and Mohammedan countries.
The fortifications of limestone are massive—England has a second Gibraltar here.
In general, the Maltese speak a language not unlike the Arabic, though English and Italian are used in trade.
They are a swarthy, robust, fearless people, strong in their loves and hates, and the vendetta has been known to exist here just as fiercely as in its native home of Corsica.
Many dress in the costume of the Franks, but the native garb is still worn by the lower classes, and is a picturesque sight, such as we see upon the stage.
It consists of a long bag made of wool, and dyed various colors, making a cap such as is worn by the sailors in stage scenes like the "Pirates of Penzance."
The top part of this is used for a purse, or forms a receptacle for any small articles the wearer desires to carry.
A short, loose pantaloon, to the knee, which leaves the lower leg bare, is confined at the waist by a girdle or sash of colored cotton or silk. Then there is worn a cotton shirt, with a short, loose vest, or waistcoat, as they were formerly known, covering the same; the latter often ornamented with rows of silver buttons, quarter-dollars, or English shillings.
As to the ladies of Malta, their costume is very odd, and reminds one somewhat of Spain. In part, it consists of a black silk petticoat, bound round the waist, over a body of some other kind of silk or print which is called the half onuella. The upper part, the onuella, of the same material, is drawn into neat gathers for the length of a foot about the center of one of the outer seams. In the seam of one of the remaining divisions is inclosed a piece of whalebone, which is drawn over the head, and forms a perfect arch, leaving the head and neck bare.
As may be expected, it requires much practice to wear such a dress gracefully. Many of the best ladies of Valetta now get their fashions direct from Paris—so the world moves.
The little party of tourists have ascended the hill for the purpose of obtaining the glorious view referred to, and at the same time whiling away a few hours of time, for their stay at the Island of Malta has not been of their choosing, a peculiar accident causing the steamer on which they were taking passage to put in here for some necessary repairs.
The tourists are five in number, and a very brief description will give the reader an idea as to their identity, leaving individual peculiarities to be developed as our story progresses.
Probably the one that would attract the attention of a stranger first would be the young lady with the peach-bloom complexion and sunny blue eyes, whose figure is so stylish, and whose rather haughty manner bespeaks proud English blood.
There is another female, whom the young lady calls Aunt Gwen, and as a specimen of a man-female she certainly takes the premium, being tall, angular, yet muscular, and with a face that is rather Napoleonic in its cast. A born diplomat, and never so happy as when engaged in a broil or a scene of some sort, they have given this Yankee aunt of Lady Ruth the name of Gwendolin Makepeace. And as she has an appendage somewhere, known as a husband, her final appellation is Sharpe, which somehow suits her best of all.
Aunt Gwen is a character to be watched, and bound to bob up serenely, with the most amazing assurance, at unexpected times.
Then there is Sharpe, her worse half, a small gentleman over whom she towers, and of whom she is secretly fond in her way, though she tyrannizes him dreadfully.
Near him may be seen a young American, whom they have somehow dubbed "Doctor Chicago," because he is a medical student hailing from that wonderful city, by name John Alexander Craig. Among his friends he is simply Aleck. His manner is buoyant, and he looks like an overgrown boy, but his record thus far proves his brain to contain that which will some day cause him to forge ahead.
No one knows why Craig is abroad. That he has some mission besides a tour for health and sight-seeing, several little things have proved.
There is another member of the group, a gentleman of sturdy build, with a handsome face, whose ruddy tint suggests the English officer, even without the flowing whiskers.
Colonel Lionel Blunt has seen much service in India and around Cape Colony. He gained an enviable reputation for deeds of valor, and is disposed to look upon our friend from Chicago as an amiable boy, though after seeing how they rush things out in that Western metropolis he may have occasional qualms of fear lest this young doctor finally reach the goal for which both are aiming. That goal, any one can see, is the favor of the bright English girl whom fate has thrown in their way. Perhaps it is not all fate, since Colonel Lionel has recently crossed the States coming from India, and seems to pursue Lady Ruth with singular pertinacity.
Others are present, one a Maltese gentleman, the proprietor of a select club-house, where the garrison officers fence and engage in gymnastics, but Signor Giovani is not of our party.
There are also several commissionaires or guides, at five francs a day, for one cannot move at Malta without being attended, and it is wise to engage one cicerone to keep the rest of his tribe at bay.
Thus, on the hill above the singular Maltese city of Valetta, our story opens.
Aunt Gwen is sweeping a field-glass around, and emphasizing her admiration of the picturesque scene with various phrases that would immediately give her away as a Western Yankee.
Lady Ruth, with an admirer on each side, looks a trifle tired, or, it may be, bored.
She may be planning some innocent little scheme, such as girls are wont to indulge in when they have a superfluity of beaus, in order to extract some amusement from the situation, even if it come under the head of "cruelty to animals."
Philander Sharpe, with his hands under the tails of his long coat, and his glasses pushed up on his forehead, is a study for a painter.
He was once a professor in a Western college, and with his smooth face, hair reached up from his high forehead, standing collar, and general dignified air, is no mean-looking figure, though dwarfed into insignificance by the side of his spouse, the wonderful Aunt Gwen.
The conversation runs upon what lies there before them, and an animated discussion arises as to the possibility of a foreign enemy ever being able to successfully assault this second Gibraltar of the Mediterranean.
Of course, the young American is enthusiastic, and has unbounded faith in the new White Squadron to accomplish anything, while, on the other hand, the British officer, like most of his class, believes that John Bull is invincible on land or wave. Of course, the young man from Chicago disputes the point, and energetically contends that no nation is superior to the Republic, or that any flag can be more desperately defended than "Old Glory."
And right in the midst of the heated discussion Lady Ruth smiles, as though she has suddenly hit upon an idea at last—an idea that offers a solution to the problem that has been perplexing her of late, concerning the courage of these rival admirers.
She turns to the American, and smiles sweetly.
"Doctor, you speak of your countrymen being brave; will you prove it?" is what she says.
The young man turns a trifle red.
"I beg your pardon. In speaking of Americans I did not intend to sound my own praises. Personally, I never claimed more than the average amount of boldness, though I don't know that I was ever called a coward."
His manner is modest, but the young girl with English ideas chooses to look upon his words with suspicion.
"Doctor Chicago must not take water. I have surely understood him to be a regular fire-eater—that all Chicago has rung with his escapades," says the colonel of Royal Engineers, sneeringly.
"Nonsense! But, Lady Ruth, you spoke of my proving something—what can I do for you?"
She extends a shapely arm. Her finger points to a white flower growing out upon the face of the precipice beside them.
"Do you see that flower?" she asks.
"I do," he replies, calmly.
"I would like to possess it."
The young man looks down. A fall means instant death, and it would be impossible for even an experienced Alpine traveler to pass along the face of the rock in safety.
"I see no means of reaching the flower, or I assure you I would gladly secure it for you."
"Ah! but a bold man would climb out there."
"Pardon—he would be a fool—his life would pay the penalty for a pretty girl's whim. Unfortunately, perhaps, my life is too precious to some one other than myself, to admit of the sacrifice. I am willing to do much for Lady Ruth, but I decline to be made a fool of."
"Well spoken," begins the professor.
"Philander!" exclaims his spouse, and the little man draws in his head very much after the style of a tortoise.
The English girl is sorry as soon as the low word leaves her lips. No one hears it but the young doctor, for the attention of all the others is at that time directed elsewhere.
This time the object of her scorn does not flush, but turns very white, as he looks her steadily in the eyes.
"I am sorry you have such a poor opinion of me, Lady Ruth. I make no apologies, save the one that my life is too valuable—to others, to myself—to throw it away at the mere caprice of a girl."
"There is a gentleman who finds a way to accomplish what he wants. Take a lesson from him, Doctor Chicago," she says.
Colonel Lionel has noticed a long pole near by, in the end of which is a cleft. This he has secured, and, by crawling as far as is safe along the face of the rock, he is enabled to just reach the flower.
After a number of ineffectual lunges he succeeds in clutching the coveted article in the cleft of the pole, and draws it toward him.
A moment later he presents the flower to Lady Ruth, with a smile and a bow.
"No English lady ever expressed a wish that a British officer did not feel bound in honor to grant," he says.
The girl thanks him, and then says:
"After all, the flower was prettier at a distance than when in my hands."
Colonel Lionel hardly knows whether he has made such a huge advance over his rival after all.
The afternoon sun is waning.
"We must go down," declares Aunt Gwen.
"One more look around and I am ready," says Lady Ruth.
Already she is sorry for her cruel words. Like the best of women, she can wound at one moment and be contrite the next. She finds an opportunity a minute later, when the colonel lingers to get the shawl she—perhaps purposely—left behind, to say in a low tone:
"I was cruel—forgive me—forget that foolish word," and while what she utters gives him a pleasurable feeling, and brings the color into his set face, he only smiles, as he answers:
"Willingly, Lady Ruth. I did not believe you could mean it."
Then, as the colonel bustles up, the subject is tabooed, and the party of tourists proceed down the steep street leading to the Hotel Imperial.
A DEADLY ENCOUNTER.
The scene, so peaceful, so picturesque, is rudely broken in upon by a clamor so strange and awful that the blood is chilled in the listeners' veins. Cries are heard down the steep street; cries that indicate alarm, even terror; cries that proceed from children, women, ay, and strong men, too.
Our party comes to a halt midway between the brow of the hill and the base. On either side tall houses, the declivity ending only at the water. It is a bustling street at all hours, with loungers, business men, women going to and returning from market, and children playing as children do the world over, in the dirt.
"What can it mean?" says Lady Ruth, as she looks breathlessly down the street.
No one in their party can explain the cause of the excitement. They see people running madly this way and that, as if panic-stricken.
"By Jove! it must be a fire!" suggests the colonel, twirling his whiskers.
"Nonsense! we should see the smoke," declares sensible Aunt Gwen.
"You are right; it is something more than a fire. Those people are almost crazed. I've seen such a sight in Chicago, when a wild Texan steer got loose and tossed things right and left," asserts the medical student.
"That's what's the matter. See! they point at something as they run! Look out for the bull!" cries Philander.
Thus, in watching for a bulky frame to appear, they fail to notice the actual cause of the disturbance.
The street is almost deserted, save where people begin to reappear below, as though the danger were past, to reappear and shout afresh as they wave their arms.
Some one is shouting close to them now. They turn their heads and behold the crowd of commissionaires dashing headlong for the shelter of adjacent houses, and acting like crazy men.
It is Signor Giovani who shouts, first in Arabic, then in Italian, and finally in English. They hear him now, and no wonder the blood runs cold in their veins—it is a cry to alarm the boldest warrior on earth.
"Mad dog! Run, signors!—save the ladies! To the houses, or you are lost!"
That is what the old fencing-master of Malta shouts while he retreats. It causes them to turn their heads, and what do they see? Advancing up the middle of the inclined street, turning aside for neither king nor peasant, comes a great gaunt beast, his square head wagging from side to side, his eyes blood-shot, and the foam dropping from his open jaws.
Heavens! What a spectacle to rivet one with horror to the spot. Fortunately there are some people of action present.
Aunt Gwen clutches her infant by the shoulder, and drags him along in the direction of the nearest house.
"Run, Philander, or you're a goner! It's worse than snake poison, the bite of a mad dog is. Haven't I seen a bitten man so furious that it required six to hold him down? Faster, professor! on your life!"
With that iron grip on his shoulder poor Philander's feet barely touch the ground as he is whirled through space, and the dog, mad or not, that overtakes Aunt Gwen and her infant must be a rapid traveler, indeed. Thus they reach a house, and in another minute reappear upon a balcony, to witness a scene they will never forget.
Lady Ruth, though naturally quivering with excitement, has plenty of cavaliers to hurry her to a place of safety. Besides, after that one first shock, she shows more grit than might have been expected of her.
She allows herself to be hurried along. A strong hand grasps each arm; and if every one in the path of the mad brute were as well attended, there would be little cause for anxiety or alarm.
Now they have reached a house, and safety is assured, for the hospitable door stands open to welcome them.
Already a number have preceded them, for they seem to be the last in the vicinity.
Just as they arrive, the colonel, who appears intensely excited, is saying, hoarsely:
"Enter quickly, I beg, Lady Ruth."
She turns her head in curiosity for one last look, impelled by an unknown power—turns, and is at once petrified by what she sees.
They notice the look of horror on her lovely face, and instinctively guessing, also cast a glance in the direction where last the savage brute was seen.
He has continued to advance in the interim, and is now quite close, though not moving out of the straight line in the center of the street—a repulsive looking object truly, and enough to horrify the bravest.
Colonel Lionel gives a gasp. He is trembling all over, for it chances that this brave soldier, who has led forlorn hopes in the Zulu war, and performed prodigies of valor on Egyptian battle-fields, has a peculiar dread of dogs, inherited from one of his parents.
It is not the animal that has fixed Lady Ruth's attention. Just in front and directly in the line of the dog's advance is a small native child that has been playing in the street.
He cannot be over three years of age, and with his curly black head and half-naked body presents a picture of robust health.
Apparently engrossed in his play, he sees and hears nothing of the clamor around until, chancing to look up, he sees the dog, and fearlessly extends his chubby arms toward it.
The picture is one never to be forgotten.
It thrills every one who looks on.
No one seems to have a gun or weapon of any kind. A peculiar paralysis affects them, a feeling of dumb horror.
A shriek sounds; from a window is seen the form of a native woman, who wrings her hands in terrible anguish.
The child's mother! God pity her! to be an eye-witness of her darling's fate!
Lady Ruth turns to the colonel, to the man who so recently proudly declared that no English woman ever asked a favor that a British officer would not grant, no matter what the risk.
"Save the darling!" her pallid lips utter.
He trembles all over, groans, takes a couple of tottering steps forward, and then leans against the wall for support.
"I cannot," he gasps.
Other Britons there are who would be equal to the emergency. Mortal man has never done aught in this world that Englishmen dare not imitate, and indeed they generally lead. It is unfortunate for England that an antipathy for dogs runs in the Blunt family.
This time Lady Ruth does not say "coward," but her face expresses the fine contempt she feels. With that mother's shrieks in her ears, what can she think of a man who will hesitate to save a sweet child, even at the risk of meeting the most terrible death known to the world?
She turns to face the man who a short time before positively refused to risk his life because Miss Caprice desired it.
What can she hope from him?
As she thus turns she discovers that John Craig is no longer there, though three seconds before his hand was on her arm.
A shout comes from the street, where, when last she looked, not a living thing could be seen but the advancing mad dog and the kneeling child. A shout that proceeds from a strong pair of lungs, and is intended to turn the attention of the brute toward the person emitting it. A shout that causes hope to thrill in many hearts, to inspire a confidence that the innocent may be saved.
The young doctor from Chicago is seen bounding to meet the maddened brute, now so terribly close to the child.
None knows better than John Craig what the result of a bite may be. He has seen more than one hydrophobia patient meet death in the most dreadful manner known to the profession.
Yet he faces this fate now, the man who was thought too cowardly to crawl out along that bleak rock and secure a white flower for a girl's whim.
He goes not because it will be a great thing to do, or on account of the admiration which success will bring him. That mother's shriek of agony rings in his ears, and if he even knew that he was going to his death, yet would he still assume the risk.
It was on account of a mother—his own—he refused to risk his life before, and the same sacred affection inspires his action now, for he could never look into her dear eyes again, except in a shame-faced way, if he allowed this child to meet death while he stood an inactive spectator of the tragedy.
As he advances, John draws his right arm from his coat-sleeve. It is not the act of thoughtlessness, but has been done with a motive.
When the coat is free, with a quick motion he whirls it around, so that it rolls about his left arm.
Those who see the act comprehend his purpose, and realize that he means to force the brute to seize him there.
All this has occurred in a very brief time. Perhaps a quarter of a minute has elapsed since Lady Ruth turned to Colonel Lionel, and besought his aid.
John Craig has at least accomplished one purpose. Just as the mad dog is about to snap at the child, the young medical student snatches the boy away, and throws him to the rear. The child rolls over and over, and then, sitting up, begins to cry, more from surprise at the rough treatment than because he is hurt.
There is no time for John to turn and fly, and pick up the child on the way.
The dog is upon him.
John has only a chance to drop on his knee, and thrust his left arm forward.
Those who are watching, and they are many, hold their breath in dread suspense.
"Heaven preserve him!" says Lady Ruth, wringing her clasped hands in an agony of fear.
They see the youth, he is hardly more, offer his bound arm to the beast, and those glittering fangs at once close upon it.
Then, quick as a flash, having filled the dog's jaws, John Craig throws himself forward, his whole effort being to crush the animal to the ground by his weight.
It is the work of a strategist. A veteran hunter when met by a fierce panther could not do better than this.
As John has expected, the dog, taken by surprise, does not offer the resistance that his powerful strength would warrant, but is at once borne backward, nor can he release his hold from the cloth-bound arm which his teeth have seized upon.
A struggle under such circumstances must be a terrible thing, and the shorter it can be made the better.
They see the man throw himself upon the brute; they know his other hand has sought the animal's throat, as the only means of ending his existence.
Prayers for his safety arise from many a heart, as the people watch the dreadful conflict from windows, and balconies, and other places where they have sought refuge.
The struggle is of brief duration.
John has the advantage in the contest, and the desire in his soul to prevent this mad beast from injuring others lends him a strength beyond what is naturally his portion.
With a grip of iron he clutches the brute's throat, and in a few moments the dog stiffens in death.
The young medical student arises, but the ferocious brute lies there harmless in the roadway. The smallest child in Valetta may play on the street now and fear no evil, thanks to the love one American bears for his mother.
Now that the danger is past, people flock out.
With the rest our tourists hasten toward the young hero. A form flies past them with wild eyes and disheveled hair; a form that pounces upon the little chap still crying in fright, and presses him convulsively to her breast.
That is the mother of the child.
They rush to the spot, some to congratulate the youth who slew the dog, others to gaze upon the horrible spectacle the animal presents as he lies there devoid of life.
Lady Ruth comes with the rest, and upon her fair face and in her sunny eyes can be seen a warmth of keenest admiration, such as poor Blunt failed to receive when he leaned far over the dizzy precipice to secure the flower Miss Caprice desired.
"Oh, doctor, how noble of you! I shall never forgive myself for the foolish blunder I made. See! these people look upon you as a hero, for you risked your life for a child of Malta. I am proud to be known as your friend."
Her looks as well as her words are enough to send any man into the seventh heaven of delight.
John Craig is very white; a set look is upon his face, but he smiles a little.
"I am glad the little fellow was not touched."
"And you?" she gasps, a sudden fear arising.
He slowly unwinds the coat which was thrust into the mad dog's mouth, and then rolls up his shirt-sleeve, to disclose to her horrified eyes the blue imprint of two fangs in the muscular part of his forearm.
SAVED BY FIRE.
She looks up into his eyes; there is a set expression to be seen there, but his face is no whiter than before, although it must be a terrible shock to any man to see the imprint of a mad dog's teeth in the flesh of his arm.
"Oh, it has happened, the worst that could come about! What will you do, doctor?"
He is a man of medicine, and he knows full well what such a wound means.
"There is only one thing to be done. Excuse me for a minute or two, Lady Ruth."
He springs away from her side, and, turning with surprise, she sees him dart into the smithy of a worker in iron, just down the road a bit.
"Let us follow him!" says Philander.
"Poor, poor boy!" remarks Aunt Gwen.
"Oh, aunt! do you believe he will go mad?" gasps the younger lady, in a trembling voice.
"I am afraid; I've known of cases that happened like this. One thing's in his favor."
"He wasn't bit in the face, or on the hand."
"How does that matter?" demands Sharpe.
She gives him a look of scorn.
Then, ignoring her spouse, she says, as if continuing her speech to Lady Ruth:
"The dog's teeth went through several thicknesses of woolen cloth before entering the skin. The fabric very probably absorbed the poison. A rattlesnake's fangs are a different thing; they cut through the cloth and the poison is then injected from the hollow teeth or fangs."
They have reached the smithy, and, standing in the door-way, witness a singular scene.
The smith is a brawny native Maltese, with a form a Hercules might envy. He has just taken from the fire a slender rod of iron, one end of which is hissing hot, even red.
With this he advances upon John Craig, who has laid his arm, bared almost to the shoulder, upon a high window ledge.
Then the iron just touches the flesh, and a little gust of white smoke puffs up.
"Jove! the boy has grit," mutters Colonel Lionel, unable to restrain his admiration, even for a rival in love.
As if overcome with the sensation of inflicting such pain, the blacksmith shudders and draws back.
"Again, it is not near enough," cries John Craig.
The blacksmith shakes his head.
"I cannot," he says, in English.
"My life may depend on it, man. This is no time for hesitation. Give me the iron!"
His words are spoken with authority, and the brawny smith surrenders the rod of glowing iron.
Without an instant's hesitation, only compressing his lips firmly together, the Chicagoan presses the red-hot iron upon his arm.
Then he tosses the hissing thing aside, and begins to draw his shirt over the raw red scar an inch square, which the merciless brand has seared upon his white arm.
Seeing the blanched face of Lady Ruth, and the anxious countenances of the others near-by, the doctor, who has recovered from the shock, smiles in a reassuring way.
"I am sorry you saw this; I didn't intend you should. Let us go to the hotel!" he says, slipping a coin in the hand of the honest smith, who seems loth to accept it.
Then the party continue down in the direction of the hotel, where they stop while the steamer undergoes repairs.
"Colonel Blunt, will you do me the favor to come to my room? I want to put a small bandage with iodoform on the burn," he says aside, but Lady Ruth hears it.
"Colonel Blunt, indeed! What sort of trained nurse do you suppose he would make? I have had experience—you may smile if you like. Tell the colonel where to find your box of liniments and bandages, and bring it to me."
"But, my dear Lady—"
"Not a word, doctor. I shall esteem it an honor; and what I lack in scientific knowledge my aunt can supply."
This clinches the matter, and John can offer no further argument against her wish; so Blunt, the Royal Engineer officer, is sent after the doctor's case, which errand he performs willingly enough, for although he knows this affair has brightened up the chances of his rival, still, as an Englishman, he has a deep, inborn admiration for bravery, no matter whether shown in a Zulu warrior, armed with war club and assagai, or in a Yankee youth who throws himself between a dusky child of Malta and a mad dog, to receive the monster's attack.
So he hastens up stairs to the room which John Alexander Craig temporarily occupies, opens the door, and speedily returns with the little traveling case in which the young physician keeps many important medicines, an assortment of ready liniment and lint, with the wonderful remedial agents known to modern surgery.
To John's surprise, after he has opened the case and started to arrange the small bandage, it is gently taken from his hands.
"Allow me," says the pretty "doll," as he has at times been forced to mentally term Lady Ruth, after she has played with his admiration.
"But, do you know—"
"I never told you my uncle was a surgeon, Sir Archibald Gazzam—"
"What! that great man your uncle!" cries the student, with the deep respect a young M.D. has for a famous practitioner.
"Yes; and more than once I have assisted him in some simple case at the house. He gave me credit for a fair amount of nerve."
"Fair amount! Jove! for a girl you have a wonderful quantity. Why, I believe you'd have faced that brute yourself, if I hadn't gone," he says, enthusiastically, the others being momentarily at the window to witness a procession pass the hotel, with the dead dog on a litter.
"No, no, I could not do that; but, Doctor Chicago, was that what sent you out to meet that awful beast?"
Her head is bent over her work, so that the intense blush remains unseen, but it fades away at his cool reply.
"Oh, no; quite another thing! I told you I never considered myself a coward, and when I saw that dear little child apparently doomed to a terrible death, I could see the eyes of one I revere looking at me, and though death were sure I could not refrain."
He says this quietly and earnestly, yet without an apparent desire to arouse any feelings of chagrin on her side.
Lady Ruth bites her lips, but her hands are steady, and the touch is exceedingly gentle as she binds up the ugly red mark which he has inflicted on himself with what she is disposed to term Spartan-like courage.
"There; it is done, doctor."
"And neatly done, too," says Aunt Gwen, with a nod and a look of pride.
"I thank you sincerely, Lady Ruth."
"Ah! you are a thousand times welcome. There is not a woman in Valetta who would not feel it an honor to bind up the wound of the hero who saved that Maltese child," says this young lady, frankly.
More shouts without.
This time the men of Valetta are clamoring for the American to show himself. They do not know much of America, but they recognize true grit wherever they meet it.
Of course, a rush is made for the balcony, but John remains behind.
He is feeling somewhat weak after the exciting events of the afternoon.
And, as he sits there, smiling to hear the clamor without—for he is human, this young Chicago M.D.—some one touches his arm.
"Lady Ruth, I thought you went out with the rest," he stammers, with a guilty blush, for it chances that at the very moment he is thinking of her, and what a soft, electric touch she has, so soothing, so very delightful.
"I did not go; I was watching you."
"An interesting study, surely."
"It was to me. I desired to know whether you secretly feared the results of your wound."
"And I did not dream you were so concerned about me. Considering the matter calmly, I am disposed to believe there is now no danger—that the hot iron radically destroyed the last chance of infection."
"I am very glad to hear you say so."
"You care a little, then?"
How quickly she is on her guard.
"Because I would not see a brave boy needlessly sacrificed."
"You look on me as a boy. I am twenty-three."
"My own age, sir. That gives me the right to feel myself your senior."
"You know a woman is older at twenty-three than a man. Then you do not wear a beard."
"I shall cultivate one from this hour. Why, a year ago I looked like a pard, but was influenced to change."
Again that quick flash of intelligence.
"Ah! Doctor Chicago has left a lady love in the city on the lake."
"What makes you say that?"
"Several remarks you have made; the one just now, and then in reference to the spur that sent you to face that dog. Ah! my friend, it must have been a strong motive to influence you like that."
He overlooks the peculiar patronizing air, such as a young woman sometimes assumes toward a boy her junior.
"Lady Ruth, the person you refer to, the thought of whom sent me to save that child, bears what is to me the holiest name on earth—mother."
She draws a quick breath.
"Forgive me. I was rude."
"Not at all. My words admitted of just such a meaning as you placed upon them."
"You left her in Chicago, of course."
John looks at her steadily.
"Lady Ruth, it may sound strange to you after what I have said, but my memories of my mother are all confined to the far past, to a period when I was a mere child; but they are none the less previous on that account."
She looks puzzled, as well she may.
"Do you mean she is—dead?"
"Heaven forbid, but I have not seen her in all these years. That is one reason I am abroad, Lady Ruth. I have a sacred mission to perform—to find my mother—to seek the solution of a mystery which has embittered my life. Perhaps some time, if we know each other a little better, I may confide a strange and sad story to you."
"Just as you please, doctor," she replies, with deep feeling in her voice, and at this moment the others bustle in.
"You must show yourself on the balcony. The dear people clamor for a sight of you, and I am really afraid they'll tear the house down soon if you don't appear before them," says Aunt Gwen, with unusual vigor.
"Yes, they unquestionably desire to publicly show their appreciation of your services, and I for one feel proud to be an American this day."
"Excuse me, my dear. John, my boy, allow me to lead you out."
"One minute, please," says Lady Ruth, who has made a comfortable sling of a long white silk kerchief, which she wore around her neck.
This she insists on securing over John's shoulder.
"That arm must be painful. I know it from my long experience as the reliable assistant of my surgeon uncle. You will be glad to have this."
"But—for such a mere scratch—people will laugh at me," he protests, feebly, though it may be noticed that he makes no effort to deliver himself from the silk sling which she is now tying.
"People laugh at you! A mere scratch! Confound it, boy, there isn't a man living who would go through with what you have to-day for a cool, hundred thousand. I know one man a million would not tempt," cries the professor.
"I suppose I must submit," and accompanied by Philander, with the two women bringing up the rear, he passes out upon the balcony, where the colonel of Royal Engineers has remained, to be a curious spectator of the scene.
At sight of the hero of the street drama, those in the square before the hotel shout and cheer. They are mostly natives, but men and women feel very strongly drawn toward this young, smooth-faced American who risked his life to save a child, and that child a Maltese boy.
John bows, and presses his uninjured hand upon his heart, bows again, and retires.
Slowly the crowd disperses.
Lady Ruth completely ignores the colonel, but that veteran is not crushed by any means. He watches the capricious maiden with a quizzical light in his eye, which shows that he has not yet lost confidence in the kindness of fate, or his own charms as a beau.
Lionel Blunt's success in life has come from the fact that he has ever been ready to watch his chance and take advantage of every possible opportunity.
So night settles over Malta, over the dreamy, blue Mediterranean, over the singular city of Valetta, where this little company of tourists have been temporarily marooned, and where Doctor Chicago, aided by fate, has been enabled to make his first charge upon the heart of the proud English girl, Lady Ruth.
A WORLD-WIDE SEARCH.
It is a night of nights, destined to mark, as with a white stone, the progress of at least two life currents that have until recently flown contentedly on, each in its own individual channel.
Valetta, being a city of the Italian school, makes much ado over the coming of Lent. The people, as if to prepare for six weeks of fasting, indulge in all manner of feasting.
Even the Mohammedans, who are present in no small numbers, join the festivities, for they, too, have a period of fasting, according to the example set by the prophet, and commanded in the Koran.
Hence Valetta is very gay when night comes on; fancy Chinese lanterns hang in the streets, music is heard on every hand, and laughing, good-natured crowds jostle elbows in a way that would horrify a high caste Hindoo.
Valetta has long been known as the headquarters of the famous Order of Malta. The representative commanderies of different nations have their inns, each called an auberge, on the principal streets, while the palace of the Grand Master is three hundred feet on each side, facing four streets, with a large square in front known as the Piazza St. Giorgio.
A small tower on the top known as the Torretta is used as a station from which men-of-war are signaled.
Everywhere can be seen the insignia of this ancient order, the white Maltese cross on a blood-red field, arousing thoughts of men in armor, the crusades, and much that is stirring and romantic in the history of the centuries that are gone.
A student of history would find much to entrance him in this peculiar hill-side city on the British Island of Malta.
Supper is served at the hotel just as night comes on, and John Craig, M.D., has managed to eat in an unconcerned way, talking with his friends, and trying to appear unconscious of the fact that two score of curious eyes are upon him, the incident of the afternoon having spread like wild-fire among the rest of the delayed steamer's passengers who stop at the same hotel.
This is the first time the young master of medicine has found himself the center of observation, and he comes through the ordeal very fairly, as Lady Ruth informs him laughingly, when they by chance leave the dining-room together.
Another ordeal awaits John. In the parlor he finds the mother of the boy whose life he saved. She cannot talk much English and John is hardly at home in Arabic, or the mixed language used by the Maltese.
When two persons are very much in earnest they manage to get on, and the poor woman calls down the blessings of Heaven on his head ere she leaves.
"I wish all this were over," he laughs, rejoining the English girl.
"Make the most of it, doctor," says the colonel, sauntering up with a choice weed between his teeth; "such occasions come rarely and had better be appreciated. Take the advice of an old campaigner, and make hay while the sun shines."
"Oh! I mean to, colonel," replies John, and there is a hidden meaning in his words that causes the officer to look at him steadily and mutter:
"Hang the boy! I really believe he expects to enter the lists against me, Colonel Lionel Blunt, who carries a Victoria Cross and knew what a love affair was before he was born. Well, the end is not yet, and he laughs loudest who laughs last."
All of which is very true, and proves that the colonel of Royal Engineers does not mean to let the opportunity pass.
A few minutes later John and Lady Ruth stand on the piazza of the hotel. The scene is well worth looking at, with its many lights, bright colors, and constantly changing crowds.
She expresses surprise, and seeks an explanation which fortunately the young doctor is able to give, thanks to certain information he picked up in scanning his guide book.
"In time of peace prepare for war. They seek by a double allowance of gayety to make up for the amount to be lost during Lent," he says.
"Is Mr. Craig here?" asks a voice, and all look at the speaker, who is a quiet appearing man, perhaps a native of England.
"That is my name, sir."
"John Alexander Craig?"
"Well, what can I do for you?"
The other has been looking at him steadily.
"I desire to speak a few words with you, Doctor John Craig."
"I beg your pardon—it must be in private."
"In that case my friends will excuse me for a few minutes."
"Oh! yes," replies Lady Ruth, looking at the bearer of the message again.
"Certainly," says Blunt, promptly dropping into the chair John vacates at her ladyship's side, and his celerity to take advantage of the circumstance arouses a little suspicion in her mind that after all it may be a ruse to get him away, with the Briton's gold backing it.
She pays little attention to what the colonel is talking about; twice she turns her head and looks to where John and the stranger talk, while to herself she says:
"Strange why I am interested in him and his fortunes. What is this singular story concerning his mother, which some time he means to tell me—when we become better friends? And now comes this man to hold a secret consultation with him! Where have I seen him before, where heard his voice? I cannot remember just now, but there is something familiar about him. The doctor appears to be excited—there, he lays his well hand on the other's arm and speaks quickly. Pshaw! it's none of my business," and she resolutely turns her face toward the bright scene on the street, only to glance back again a dozen seconds later.
The doctor comes up; singularly enough Lady Ruth has just bethought herself of her fan, and the military figure of the stalwart Briton is seen passing through the door-way upon a wild-goose chase for the much maligned article of ladies' warfare, which has played its part in many a bit of diplomacy, and which he will never find, as it is at that moment resting in the folds of milady's dress, cleverly hidden from view.
"I trust you have had no bad news, doctor?" says the English girl, with a touch of sympathy in her voice.
"On the contrary, Lady Ruth, I have heard something that is of intense moment to me," he replies, showing emotion.
"About—your mother?" she asks, quickly.
"It is so. Lady Ruth, you have heard me speak enough of my past to realize that it has been a lonely life. My father loves me after his own fashion, and I—respect him deeply; but all my life I have longed for the love of a mother, until it has reached an intensity you can hardly comprehend. Now I have received certain news that gives me a wild hope."
"I, too, lost my mother when young, and that circumstance enables me to feel for you."
Her tender eyes thrill him as he never yet has been touched; the bond of sympathy is akin to love; he has never had a confidant, and human nature yearns to unbosom itself.
"I promised to tell you the story, Lady Ruth. If I were sure we would not be interrupted, I would be inclined to speak now, for I am about starting upon a mission, the result of which Heaven alone can foresee."
His earnestness impresses her ladyship; trust a bright girl for bridging over a trifling difficulty such as this.
"There is a little private parlor attached and generally empty," she suggests, artlessly.
"Just the ticket," he boldly exclaims.
In a few minutes they are seated alone in this bijou parlor; its decorations are quaint, even barbaric in their splendor, and a lover of the bizarre would happen upon such a scene with the keenest of pleasure.
"Here are some drawings we can be looking over," she suggests, and he nods eagerly, inwardly blessing her ready sagacity.
Thus they look harmless enough.
"Now I will play the lady confessor. What is it all about? Have you fallen into debt like a bad boy, and don't dare write the pater?"
He looks at her and laughs.
"You see the comical side of everything, Lady Ruth. This I fear bids fair to be a tragedy."
"A tragedy! Dear me, didn't we have quite enough of that this afternoon? What can it be? Surely, you and the colonel—" and she colors furiously upon realizing how near she has come to betraying her thoughts.
"The colonel and I have had no words, as yet, Lady Ruth. This affair is something that concerns my past. Let me briefly tell you a few facts that are of especial interest to me, and may claim your attention.
"I told you I had not seen my mother since I was a child, yet she is not dead. An unfortunate affair happened, and she was exiled from home. Heaven knows I have ever believed her innocent.
"On several occasions, unbeknown to my stern father, I have received a line without a signature, a line that called down Heaven's blessings on my head, a line that caused me to cry like a baby.
"Thus year by year my resolve became stronger; I would find my mother, I would seek the solution of the dreadful mystery that hangs over the Craig home.
"My studies were done; I graduated at the head of the medical class and spent a year under the most eminent professors at Heidelberg. When they gave me my diploma, they wrote my father that I ought to have a year of travel to improve my health before entering upon the life work to which I am devoted.
"Of course my desire was granted, and I began the search. I have been six months at it without success; it is like pursuing an ignis fatuus. A clew would take me to Russia, whence I would fly to Persia, then to Turkey, and next to London. In Paris I felt sure of success, but the lady I was tracking turned out to be a grandmother, and there was a lively scene in her house when I sprung my game.
"Talk of 'Japhet in search of his father!' why, he wasn't in it at all compared with me. At last came another clew; among the letters forwarded in a bunch from home was a line in the same precious hand. See, here it is."
He takes out from a note-book a slip of paper; the writing is elegant and feminine.
"January 12th. Just twenty years to-day. Oh! Heaven! teach me to kiss the rod."
No signature, only a mark like a tear-drop.
"Now you realize my position; you can, in a measure, understand the peculiar mingling of love, reverence, and pity with which I think of this mother, and how the thought of her enters into every act of mine."
"Yes, yes, I do indeed," sympathetically.
"I have sworn to find her—to let her know there is one who loves the poor exile. Let my father rage if he will, my heart burns to meet her. I will proceed. This letter was postmarked Malta, here at Valetta."
"But you did not mention—"
"I knew the steamer would stop a few hours at least, and thought that might be enough in which to learn the truth. Strange things have happened since we landed. I have learned several facts which astound me.
"You saw a man come in and draw me aside? That man controls the destinies of these people of Valetta, even as a chief of police would in our cities. When first I landed I sought the presence of Luther Keene—"
"There—your mention of his name revives my recollection like a flash. Now I know just when and where I met that man," she says.
"He promised to assist me, for a consideration, of course, and was especially delighted at the chance to prove that even out here in Malta there might be a second Vidocq.
"In his first report he told me the party I sought had been in Valetta only recently, but he believed she was now gone.
"The man told me just now where Blanche Austin staid during her residence here, at a house on the Strada Mezzodi, and I shall go as soon as I leave you, to make inquiries there. If you are interested in my story, you might, perhaps, care to hear what news I may pick up on my visit to this house, which has so recently covered my mother."
"Indeed, I am more than interested in your story, and anxious to learn how you succeed. Would you know your mother if you should meet her to-day?" she asks, mentally wondering why he has taken her into his confidence.
"I believe so. A son's loving eyes would do much toward solving the problem."
"But your memory of her must be exceedingly hazy, to say the least."
"That is true; but I have another clew. Once, when a boy, I was rummaging through some old papers in an antique secretary which I found in the attic, when I ran across an ivory miniature that had been overlooked.
"Upon it was painted a girl's face; my heart told me who it was, and underneath I found the words 'Blanche Austin at eighteen.'
"I have treasured that ever since; it has been my most valued possession. Would you like to see it, Lady Ruth?"
"Must assuredly," she replies, warmly, eagerly.
He places it in her hands.
"It was plain when I found it; with my spending money for a whole year I had that gold locket made which holds it now. Ever since it has been very close to my heart."
"Such devotion is wonderful. I sincerely hope it will meet its reward."
Then she looks at the miniature, which time has not in the least harmed, looks at it—and utters a little ejaculation.
"She was beautiful indeed, Doctor Chicago—most charming. A face to haunt one. I can see a trace of sadness in it, even at this early age, as though her coming troubles cast a shadow before. You will be surprised when I tell you I have met her."
THE PROFESSOR ACTS.
The medical student looks at her eagerly.
"When—where?" he asks, huskily.
Any one who has met the woman about whom cluster all the tender associations and thoughts of his lonely years of childhood, must assume new importance in his eyes.
"It was a year or so ago. At the time I was in Paris with my uncle, Sir Hugh, then alive."
"Yes, yes, she was there about that time, as I have since learned."
"I was out driving alone; it was just at dusk when we were returning from the boulevards, and a wheel came off the vehicle.
"Though a little alarmed, I kept my senses, and bade the driver tie his horse and then seek another vehicle for me.
"The neighborhood chanced to be a rather unsavory one. I could hear boisterous men singing, and on finding myself alone I grew alarmed. From windows frowzy heads were thrust out and rude women mocked at me. I feared insult, injury. I was ready to fly for my life when a hand touched my arm, and a gentle voice said:
"'Come with me, miss, I will protect you.'"
John trembles with emotion.
"Then you have heard her speak! Oh, what bliss that would be for me—my mother, my poor mother who has suffered so long."
"When I looked in her face I knew I could trust her. Besides, her garb reassured me."
"Her garb?" wonderingly.
"Yes. She was dressed as a Sister of Charity or some other order in Paris. Willingly I followed her to an adjoining house. She begged me to sit down and await the vehicle. I was grateful and asked her questions about the great work being done by such organizations in the gay city of Paris.
"I was interested in her and asked her name. She told me she was known as Sister Magdalen. Then the carriage came and I left her."
"One question, Lady Ruth—how did she impress you?"
"Frankly, as one who had passed through the furnace of affliction; her face was sad, yet oh, so inexpressibly sweet. It haunted me. I have looked at every sister I met wherever I traveled, in the hope of meeting her, but it has been useless."
It can be readily believed that this arouses the deepest interest in the young student of medicine. The desire to find his mother has been the one aim of his life; it has carried him over many a dark crisis, and has become stronger with the passage of years.
Now he is getting daily, hourly, nearer the object of his solicitude, and his anticipation so long and fondly cherished, bids fair to be a realization.
"How I envy you, Lady Ruth. You have seen her, pressed her hand. It makes you seem less a stranger to me to think that my mother was able to do you a service."
"I am positive it was she. Wait—perhaps I can prove it. I noticed she had a medallion secured around her neck with a guard, and once I was enabled to see the face upon it. It was that of a man."
"Oh! describe it if you can."
"The gentleman, I should judge, was about twenty-three. He wore a mustache and small side whiskers. I judged he was English. His hair was light and inclined to be curly."
John Craig smiles.
"Ah! the last doubt has been swept away."
"You recognize this picture, then?"
"Yes; your description answers for my father when he was a young man. I have not the slightest doubt that it was the one I seek who rendered you this service. And she a Sister of Charity! I don't understand."
"Your story has interested me deeply, doctor. You have my most sincere wishes for success; and if I can in any way assist you, don't hesitate to call upon me."
"I believe you mean every word of it, and from my heart I thank you. I must leave you now, to seek the house in the Strada Mezzodi—the house that may reveal much or little."
At this moment the others enter; fortune has been kind to allow the conversation to reach its legitimate end, and John, with a pleasant word for Aunt Gwen and her husband, and only a peculiar look for the Briton, hurries out.
In five minutes more he comes down stairs, ready for the street. To his surprise he is stopped near the door by some one he knows—Philander Sharpe, wearing a ridiculous helmet hat, as becomes a traveler.
"Pardon me, but I'm in a hurry," he says, as the other plucks his sleeve.
"Oh! yes; but I'm going with you, Chicago," pipes the little professor, shutting one eye and nodding in a very knowing manner.
"But I'm not off to paint the town red," says John, believing the other thinks it is his intention to see the sights of Malta's capital by night—"I have an engagement."
"In the Strada Mezzodi; eh?"
"Thunder; how did you guess it?" ejaculates the man of medicine, astonished beyond measure.
"I am not a guesser. I know what I know, and a dused sight more than some people think, especially my beloved wife, Gwendolin."
"What do you know—come to the point?"
"First, all about your past, and the trouble in the Craig family."
"Confusion! and you never told me you had ever heard of me before? This explains the manner in which you seemed to study me at times on the steamer," reproachfully.
"Just so. I had reasons for my silence; she was one of them," jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the parlor above, whence the voice of the amiable Gwendolin Makepeace floats to their ears.
"In haste, then, let me tell you a secret, John. I was not always what you see me, a docile, hen-pecked man. Twenty-five years ago Philander Sharpe, young, good-looking, conceited, and rich, had the world before him."
"Cut it short, I beg, professor," groans John, impatient to be off.
"I fell in love; my affection was returned; we were engaged; a friend in whose honor I fully believed stole her heart away from me, but all these years I have never forgotten—never. John Craig, the girl I loved and who was to have been my wife was—your mother."
The little man folds his arms and throws his head back in a peculiar way he has. How strangely full of dignity these undersized people can be at times.
"Is it possible, and you never breathed a word of all this to me before?"
"Ah! my dear boy, the time was not ripe. I said nothing but sawed wood."
"Why do you speak now?"
"I have an idea that you are about to make a step in the dark, and after duly considering the matter, came to the conclusion that it was time to speak—time to let you know my sympathies were with you, time to take a hand in this game myself."
John hardly knows what to do or say, he is so amazed at such a strange happening.
"But, professor, I am only going now to see if I can learn anything about my mother at the house where she staid six weeks ago, when a line was sent to me."
The little man wags his head wisely.
"That information was given to you by one whom you believed to be Signor Stucco, otherwise Luther Keene, the person having charge of the police of Valetta?"
"Yes," replies John, wonderingly.
"At that hour the signer was in his own room, engaged in other business, and oblivious of the fact whether one John Alexander Craig, M.D., was in the land of the living or not."
All of which excites the curiosity of the young man not a little.
"Since you know so much, professor, perhaps you can tell me who it is plays with me, the object he has, and whether my mother was ever in that house on the Strada Mezzodi."
"I can answer in part. I believe she was there. These enemies of yours, dear boy, have baited a trap. You are about to walk into it."
"A trap, professor! why should they seek to harm me?"
"They have reasons. I can't mention them all, but perhaps some event in your past may give you a clew. Have you ever heard of a person, by name Pauline Potter?"
The young man starts.
"Ah! I see you have," pursues Philander, dryly.
"I confess it; she was a pretty actress, but my boyish passion for her died out when I discovered her perfidy."
"Very true; but she has never forgiven you. What harm did you do her, boy?"
"The harm was on her side. When I found what deception she had put upon me I simply denounced her in the presence of several who were at supper with her, a new admirer among them. Perhaps she hates me for that, but it seems queer that Pauline Potter, whom I knew in Chicago, should bob up in Malta. Almost like a modern play."
"Well, she's here. I've seen her."
"Professor, pardon me for saying it, but you've allowed yourself to be maligned. I believed you were a nonentity, but I find you possessed of a remarkable mind. You are a second Richelieu."
"You flatter me. John, grant my favor; allow me to accompany you on this errand. I will then have a chance to explain how I managed to learn all these things."
"I see no reason to refuse."
"Good! Come, let's move off," with a quick glance over his shoulder.
"Oh," laughs the student, "she's up stairs yet," and his words are corroborated, for a burst of almost masculine laughter comes floating down from the next floor, causing Philander to shrug his shoulders.
"She'll imagine I'm off seeing the sights. I went to see the modern Mabille in Paris and have never heard the last of it. Stand by me in case of war, my boy."
"That I will, professor."
They have left the hotel, and John's face tells of the puzzle which he is trying to solve—the strange connection between Pauline Potter, the actress who won his boyish admiration only to deceive him, and she whom he seeks with reverent love in his heart, his mother, the Sister Magdalen of Lady Ruth's Paris adventure.
And the professor guesses the truth.
"I may be able to assist you, John, though you shall be the judge. Will you listen to my yarn?"
They walk on, arm in arm; the doctor has lighted a cigar, and seems to take much comfort in the mechanical puffs of smoke which he sends out into the darkness—not that there is anything of the inky pall about this, throwing a silvery path way along the mysterious waters of the romantic sea, and besides, the lanterns that flash on trees and from house fronts serve to render the scene far from gloomy, though a modern city dweller, used to electric lights, might notice the change.
"Before we enter into a discussion, my dear boy, let me explain how I came to know these facts connected with the presence of Pauline Potter in Valetta, and the duplicity of the man representing the head of the police, Signor Stucco.
"After returning from our eventful walk to the hill-top back of the town, I had business in another section, business connected with my trip along the Mediterranean, and which has been kept a secret from my spouse.
"When on my way back to the hotel, just at dusk, I crossed and passed down a street, thinking to shorten my route, but in a way became confused, and made up my mind I would inquire of the first person I came to.
"That, my boy, was the hand of fate leading me on, as you will speedily learn.
"In all these years that have flown I have at times heard of you. I knew the skeleton that lay hidden in your family closet, and believing your mother innocent, made no sign, for she was supposed to be dead.
"Let me go back a step, and begging your pardon for the fact, confess that I heard your interesting interview with Lady Ruth."
"Professor!" in reproach.
"My dear boy, it was all an accident. I had thrown myself upon the lounge in the corner of the little parlor, for an after-dinner nap, when you came in and failed to notice me, owing to the arm-chair I had drawn in front of me to shut out the light.
"At first I thought you would simply look at the picture and then go away, but when I heard you telling her your sad story and the new hopes you entertained, I felt that I had a right to listen then. Thus you understand how I know these facts.
"This takes me back to where I was lost in the streets of Valetta and forced to inquire my way. As luck would have it I saw a man before me, but ere I reached him he was joined by a woman.
"I stood still; in the dusk I heard him say something that gave me a thrill, and as near as I can remember those words were:
"'For love of you, Pauline Potter, I have assumed this disguise and become for the present Signor Stucco, the master of Valetta's police. Now give me orders; tell me how I am to win your favor; how bring to the Strada Mezzodi—' I heard no more, as his voice fell, but presently my ears, sharpened to an intensity, caught a name—it was—'Doctor Chicago.'"
"You interest me, professor; please proceed."
"Ah! that is all. I lost track of them and managed to work my way to the hotel in time for dinner. When that man called you out, I recognized the dim figure I had seen talking with the soft-voiced woman at dusk. It takes time for me to figure things out, and I must be beyond the range of her voice. That was one reason I lay down in the little parlor. When I heard you announce your intention of visiting the Strada Mezzodi I made up my mind to act quickly. That is why I tapped you on the arm, why I am now tramping at your side. Now let us probe deeper.
"Mark the first point; this Pauline is a shrewd creature, and doubtless possessed of more than an ordinary Corsican nature to hate so bitterly."
"Ah! you know her mother was a Corsican?"
"I believe I have heard it told in New York, and it is easy to realize the fact now. Pauline is a good hater—her father was Scotch I presume.
"What I want to point out is this—she has been investigating your record—the skeleton in your closet, or rather your family, is no secret with her."
"I understand that, sir. It is no accident, her presence in the same house my mother occupied."
"Well, as to that, you're not sure. That fellow who brought the news was paid to represent the head of the Valetta police, for they knew you had invoked official aid, and just as like as not he gave you an address that your mother never heard of."
"Well, here we are!" suddenly.
"Eh? This is the Strada Mezzodi?"
"Any objections to it?" laughing.
"Oh, no! one place is as good as another to me, in this Maltese city, where you seem to be climbing to paradise or descending into hades all the time. Only I'm glad I came."
"Well," with a look down the street, "I'm afraid you'll need the services of a friend before long—that you are about to experience a sensation you won't soon forget," replies Philander, coolly.
PAULINE POTTER'S HOUR COMES.
"It is possible!" declares John; "and under such circumstances I shall indeed be glad to have a friend in need. At the same time it seems as strange to me to think Pauline Potter can be here—that the Chicago actress whom I once adored and with a youth's ardor swore to make my wife, can be here and bothering her head about one John Craig, M.D."
"It will soon be known. You have a good description of this house which the man supposed to be Luther Keene brought?" asks Philander, showing unexpected business qualities; indeed, he is proving more of a wonder to the young Chicagoan every hour.
"Yes, and can find it easily enough by the red lamp in front," he replies.
"I see such a light along the strado."
"That is, in all probability, our destination."
They advance, and in another minute are at the door of the domicile marked so conspicuously with a red light.
John allows himself a brief period of ecstasy as he remembers that his mother crossed this threshold only recently, and in his eyes this renders it holy.
Then he recovers his common sense, and is once more the wide-awake, vigilant John Craig who met the advance of the mad dog so coolly upon the hill road of Valetta.
"There's a knocker," says the professor.
"I'll try it," John replies, and as he swings the weight a ponderous sound ensues, a hollow clamor that is loud enough to arouse the whole street, John thinks.
"Great guns!" mutters Philander, "it's a great piece of luck there's no grave-yard near."
"How's that?" demands his companion.
"Well, that clang would arouse the dead," is the amazing reply.
Further conversation is cut short by the sound of footsteps within—a bolt is withdrawn, proving that the inmates of the house on the Strada Mezzodi do not have the Maltese sense of honor that makes the presence of locks and bars unnecessary.
Then the door is opened.
The red lantern gives a light that shows them the interior of this Valetta house, and in the brilliant illumination stands a man, a native Maltese servant.
John has arranged his plan of action in such an event. He hopes the man who opens the door may talk English.
"Good evening," he says, courteously.
The man returns the salutation gravely.
"I would see the gentleman of the house on business of importance."
"Are you Doctor Craig?"
"That is my name."
"John Alexander Craig?"
"You hit it, my friend of Malta."
"Ah! you are expected—enter," is the surprising reply, and the professor calls his attention to it by a sly dig in the ribs.
They start to enter, when the faithful servitor of the house bars the way of the professor.
"Pardon; I said Doctor Craig."
"Well?" demands Philander, bristling up.
"You can wait for him outside. I will give you a chair, a cigar."
The professor laughs in good humor.
"Bless you, I'm Doctor Craig's shadow; he can't go anywhere but with me. Fetch two chairs. We will interview your master outside."
The citizen of Malta appears perplexed. John comes to the rescue.
"It will be all right; this gentleman is my companion, my interpreter. It is necessary that he accompany me. Enter, professor."
His assurance carries the day; the man backs down and allows Philander a passage.
Their first point is gained.
The servant having closed and barred the door and asked them to follow, goes on ahead. The professor takes advantage of the opportunity presented, and plucks John's sleeve, and as that worthy bends down, he whispers:
"Have you noticed it?"
"What?" asks the young doctor.
"His style of address, my boy; same words exactly that were used at the hotel by the man who brought you the news."
"Jove! you are right, professor. I imagine that must be the formal style in this country."
"You'll have to guess closer to the mark than that, my boy, when you want to strike the truth."
"What can you mean, sir?"
"Bless you, it's the same man. Notice his walk; doesn't he hold himself just so?"
"Professor, you're wide awake. I admit all you say. There is a wonderful resemblance. Yes, I believe it is the same man. Really, this affair grows more and more interesting. Talk about your comedies, they're not in it."
Further conversation is cut off by the fact of their guide ushering them into a room that is lighted with an antique lamp.
"Wait here," he says, and disappears.
John Craig manages to retain his self-possession, though it gives him a thrill to think that he may be looking upon a scene which was only recently graced by the presence of the being whom he seeks far and wide—his mother.
Now some one comes; they hear the rustle of skirts, and know it is no man who advances.
"Steady, boy," warns Philander, knowing the sensation produced in John's quivering, expectant heart; "steady it is now, and keep your wits bright."
"Steady it is," replies John, who knows it is only right he should brace up.
Then the party advancing enters the apartment, and looking up the two men behold one who is garbed in a peculiar habit, the insignia of an order; a heavy black gown, corded at the waist, with a white flowing collar, and a strange bonnet both black and white, the size of which is astonishing.
Her face they do not see, as a gauze vail hides it from mortal view.
In this city of orders, where the nations of the world seem to vie with each other in creating strange commanderies, it is nothing to meet with such a garb.
John Craig is a gentleman; he rises from his chair and bows; ditto Philander, who keeps a little in his rear, as becomes a sensible, well-behaved "shadow."
The dress of the woman gives John an idea she is at the head of some charitable organization which has set rules for dress and duty, although his knowledge of such matters is not most profound.
"Madame, pardon this intrusion," he says, at the same time wondering whether she is English, French, or a native of Malta.
Her reply comes in a low voice, and tells him she is as familiar with the English language as himself, no matter what her nationality.
"It is no intrusion, Doctor Craig. I have been expecting you."
"Indeed; you surprise me, madame, since I sent no word of my coming."
"Ah! a little bird sent me the news."
"Do you know why I enter your abode without an invitation, madame?"
"You seek news, Doctor Craig."
"That is true."
"News of one who has long been lost; news concerning a member of our holy order; the dear sister who has consecrated her life to charity, and who, under my fostering care, has long since redeemed her past—Sister Magdalen."
The words almost unnerve John; he has a feeling that perhaps Heaven means to be kind and allow him the bliss he craves.
"Ah! madame, you know my secret. It is true. I would find her, would hear from her own lips the story of the past. I believe you can help me. She has occupied this house."
"That very chair upon which you are seated sustained her fainting form one afternoon when she came in. I thought she was dying. In her hand she carried a paper, an American daily. I glanced at it to see if I could learn the truth, and saw it there as plain as day. She had read a notice of a fire in Chicago where a young man named John Craig, said to be a medical student, perished."
"Did she see that account? It was cruel. The next day's paper refuted the lie, and explained how he escaped," says John, warmly.
"Yes, I saw it. She would give us no rest until we procured a later copy of the same paper, and there she read the truth. Sister Magdalen was all smiles from that hour; she said that Heaven had indeed answered her prayer."
"Tell me, is she here now?" holding his breath with suspense.
"Oh! no, she went away several weeks ago. We shall not see her again unless she chances to be one of three lay delegates now on their way here from a sister sanctuary."
"Then you can give me hope; let me know where I may find her?"
"If I see my duty in that way, Doctor Craig," is the astonishing reply he receives.
He conceives the idea what this may mean.
"Madame, I am ready to do what I can for the good of your order if you will bring about this long anticipated meeting."
"Your word shall be your bond. We need five hundred dollars to endow another bed in the hospital at Rome."
"It shall be yours; I swear it."
"Hush, impious man! Your word is enough. On my part I promise that ere an hour goes by you shall be in a fair way to look upon the face of one who loves you more dearly than if you had never been lost to her."
John hears and believes; he is not suspicious enough to put a double meaning upon the words.
"An hour—so soon? What am I to do in order to gain this consummation of my hopes?" he asks, in deep surprise.
"Nothing, only be content to remain here as my guests."
John looks at Philander and the latter nods, for it all seems clear and above board.
"We agree, madame," says the young doctor.
The Mother Superior, as they take her to be, bows her head solemnly.
"It is well," she says, and touches a bell.
Almost immediately the native servant appears, to whom she speaks in low tones, while John wonders when so great a revolution in the affairs of orders like this occurred whereby they are enabled to have men-servants.
Hardly has the native vanished than another sister appears, carrying a small tray upon which are seen a crystal bottle full of grape juice, three odd glasses and a plate of plain flat cakes.
"Doctor Craig, our order refuses the use of wines; this is the pure juice of the grape, expressed at our own vineyard on this island. It is as harmless as water, but refreshing. It is our simple habit to invite our guests to join us in this way; we believe in the Arab rule of breaking bread; those with whom we take salt are ever more our friends. You will not, cannot refuse."
How should they?
John looks at the professor, and in turn the latter looks at John.
"Madame, you have given me cause for happiness; we will join you in your simple lunch," returns the young man.
"You are wounded," noticing his arm in its sling.
"By chance I saw your adventure this day. I am proud to have the hero of that noble deed for my guest."
"Pardon; please do not mention it."
He accepts a glass of the grape juice and an anise-seed cake, for this plant is grown in Malta for export.
The liquid is cold and very refreshing. John has a dozen questions on the tip of his tongue, all of which relate to Sister Magdalen, but he does not put them, for his thoughts become somewhat incoherent, and it is so comfortable sitting there.
When the Mother Superior raises her vail to sip from the amber glass of unfermented wine John Craig, M.D., has sense enough to notice two things; the hand that holds the glass is plump and fair, and the lips under the vail form a Cupid's bow such as age can never know.
This arouses a wild curiosity in his mind; he wonders what this woman, who wears such a strange habit, can be like, and watches her with something of eagerness.
Surely the room is growing very close; a window opened would be a good thing he believes, and yet somehow lacks the energy to open it, turns his head, and sees the professor lying back in his chair fast asleep.
This gives him a faint shock, but his nerves are deadened; nothing would surprise him very much now, unless an earthquake occurred.
"Rest your head, Doctor Craig; the back of the chair is very comfortable," he hears a soft voice say.
Warm breath fans his face. The Mother Superior has thrown aside that ugly bonnet; it is a young, face, a fair face, surrounded by golden curls, that looks down upon him, as with a stage laugh the woman rests one hand on the head of the drugged medical student from Chicago, to exclaim:
"At last! he belongs to Pauline Potter!"
THE BEAUTIFUL TIGRESS.
John Craig dreams. He fancies himself bathing with demon apes in the wilds of Africa, having read an explorer's account of such a scene very recently.
They press him hard, and he can see no hope of escaping with his life.
In the midst of his mental torture he opens his eyes, and the disagreeable features of the case are suddenly swept away.
Where can he be? Soft music throbs upon the scented air, he hears the gentle plash of a fountain in a court near by; a mellow light, anything but garish, shows him the most luxurious surroundings, silks and velvets, brightness in color and gorgeousness in taste, everywhere.
This amazes him; almost takes his breath away; it is so different from his dream, which left him in a desperate hole.
His mind seems dull of comprehension, which must be the effect of the drug, so that for a brief time he is unable to understand the situation, or grasp his condition.
Then it dawns upon him, the mission that took him away from the hotel; and having reached that point, he is wrestling with what must have followed when something touches his face, something that is cool and pleasant—the soft, white hand of a woman.
Then Doctor Chicago's eyes flash open again, and he looks up startled; he has just recollected Lady Ruth's story, and a wild hope rushes into existence, a hope that could not be put into words, but which takes the form of an idea that she whom the English girl met as Sister Magdalen, his mother, is near.
He looks up; his eyes fall upon a face that boasts of extreme beauty, a face of wondrous black eyes and cheeks aflame, a face that, set in sable coils of hair, would drive an artist wild with the desire to transfer its charms to canvas.
And John Craig, strange man, frowns.
Evidently there is something in his composition that prevents him from accepting what the prodigal gods have thrown in his path.
"You?" he says, bluntly, and with disdain.
The woman with the black eyes smiles sweetly as she continues to soothingly touch his forehead, which throbs and burns as though he endures the keenest pain.
"Did you imagine it could be any other, my dear John? You deserted me, but I believe you failed to know your own mind. At any rate I have determined not to desert you."
"Pauline, you do not—it is impossible for you to care for me after what has happened."
"Impossible! Why should it be? I can't help myself. I have seen others profess to love me, have played with them as a queen might with her subjects who prostrated themselves before her. Yet, John Craig, I never loved but once. You have stirred my heart to its depths. I am not able to analyze these feelings. I only know what I know."
She does not feel the modesty of a young girl; much acting before the public has made her brazen, this midnight beauty with the glowing eyes black as sloes, the pouting lips, the figure of a Hebe.
John Craig may have seen adventures before in his life, and probably has been in many a fix, being fond of spending his vacations in rambling over the wilderness away up in the Michigan peninsula, with a gun on his shoulder; but plainly he has now met the crisis of his whole career.
"Pauline, I am a frank fellow, as you know. It is not in me to dissemble. I am going to speak plainly with you," he says, rising to a sitting posture, and looking the actress full in the eyes.
She moves uneasily, and her cheeks, which were erstwhile tinted with scarlet, grow pallid. Then she sets her teeth and with a smile continues:
"That is right, I hate a deceiver worse than anything else on earth. It was your honest way, John Craig, that first drew me toward you. Yes, speak your mind."
Evidently she is in part prepared for the worst, though she has hoped that the old witchery might be thrown about the young doctor.
"When you treated me in that merciless way, long ago, the regard I felt for you died out of my heart—your spell was broken."
"Ah! John, you have thought so, perhaps, just as I did, but I learned that these affections of ours are deeper than we suspect. I believed I had dropped you forever, but time has taught me what a terrible wrench it must be that would tear the image of John Craig from my heart."
"I am sorry to hear you say so, Pauline, for on my part I have been effectually cured. I even look back and regard our love-making as a foolish, boyish fancy in which neither of us knew our own minds. Why can't you do the same?" he says, calmly.
"I am not built that way—my nature is of the tropical order, for my mother was born in Corsica, you know. Some of these fair English girls may be fickle, but Pauline Potter is the same as when she knew you in Chicago. But, John Craig, this same love can change to hate; it is but a step between the two, and no magician's wand is needed to make the transformation."
Already a change has swept over her face; it does not look so lovely now, for the arched black brows meet in a frown, while from the midnight eyes the fires of aroused passions begin to scintillate.
Craig knows that when he stirs up the pool he arouses the worst elements in her nature. Still he will not disguise his feelings and assume an ardor he is far from feeling.
Mentally he contrasts this girl with the English maid, and Pauline suffers by the comparison.
Perhaps a trifle of the scorn he feels shows upon his face. Pauline can no longer call him her slave, and it may be this that arouses the new feeling in her heart, for a woman will never bear the sneers of one whom she has madly loved.
"This is worse than foolish, Pauline. You seem to know at least a portion of my mission abroad, and hence must be aware that I am in no humor for love-making—that my whole soul is bound up in my search."
"Well, I can help you, John," she says, quietly, holding her feelings in check until she has ventured upon this last resort.
"You can? Then I beg of you, Pauline, to give me assistance. To find my mother is the one thought of my existence, and any one who can shorten my quest must have my deepest gratitude."
Pauline frowns again.
"I hate that word; it has no place with me, John Craig. Friendship I despise—it is either love or hate with me. Let me tell you what I am in a position to do—find your mother for you, bring you face to face, or, on the other hand, render it impossible for you to ever set eyes upon her."
Her manner proves it to be no idle boast, but the young man will not descend to deceit, even when he might accomplish so much.
"Will you bring about this meeting?" he asks.
"On one condition, John."
"That you marry me," is the prompt reply, and even Pauline, actress by nature and vocation as she is, turns a trifle rosy under his gaze, though not abashed.
"That is a sudden ultimatum. Kindly tell me when you would like this little affair to come off?" he asks, lightly.
"Now—before I take you to the one you have long sought."
"Pardon me; I can hardly collect my wits. You see I had not dreamed of marrying for years. It is very, very sudden."
"Oh! I'll give you time to reflect upon it, John. I wouldn't hurry up such grave business."
"I don't believe I need much time. Don't you think it is a rather strange thing to demand payment before you deliver the goods?"
"If you gave me your word, John, I would wait until I had carried out my word."
"You think you could trust me?"
"I am willing to accept the chances."
"Will you make the promise?"
"Then you were simply gaining time," with a clenching of the small hands and a gathering of the black brows.
"I wanted to uncover your batteries; to learn what you knew; to understand your designs. Now that you give me no alternative, I am compelled to hurt your feelings by declaring myself able to find the one I seek without the aid of Pauline Potter."
As he speaks the last word he rises to his feet, once more feeling like himself.
"What would you do now, John Craig?"
"Leave this building, since I was lured here under false pretenses. What have you done with my companion?"
"The funny little man? Oh, he left here long ago when he learned you had fallen among old friends," she replies, carelessly.
John remembers something now; it is the sight of Philander Sharpe lying back in his chair drugged, and therefore he does not credit what the actress says.
"Will you show me the way out?" he asks.
"I will do more."
She claps her hands together in the oriental way of summoning a servant.
Instantly the curtains move; three men enter the apartment, and John realizes that Pauline Potter is about to show her teeth.
He draws his figure up, for while not a pugnacious man, he knows how to defend himself. As to his bravery who can question it after his action of the afternoon?
"Does it take three to show me to the door? With your permission I will depart."
"Not yet Doctor Chicago—not yet."
"Ha! you would attempt violence. Well, I'm ready to meet these fellows, thanks to the forethought that caused me to arm myself before starting on this quixotic errand to-night."
The young Chicagoan throws a hand back, meaning to draw the little pocket revolver which has more than once served him well, but, to his dismay, it is gone.
He sees a derisive smile upon the features of Pauline, and knows she has taken it while he lay there unconscious on the couch.
"I was afraid you might do yourself damage, John. If you are wise you will submit tamely," she says, and clapping her hands again sets the three men upon him.
Craig is no Hercules in build, and besides, his left arm is in rather a poor condition for warfare, being exceedingly sore.
Still he is not the one to submit tamely so long as a single chance remains, and for the space of a minute there is a lively scene in the oriental apartment, in which divans are overturned, men swinging desperately around, and even Pauline Potter, accustomed to stage battles only, is constrained to utter a few little shrieks of alarm.
Then it is over.
Doctor Chicago, breathing hard and looking his dogged defiance, stands there in the hands of his captors.
"Do you change your mind, John Craig?" asks the woman, fastening her burning gaze upon his face.
"I have too much Scotch blood in me for that. On the contrary, I am more than ever determined to pursue my mission without any outside assistance," he answers.
"Take him away!" she cries, and the look that crosses her face can only be likened to the black clouds preceding the hurricane.
John struggles no longer, for he realizes that he is safer out of her sight than in it.
They take him through a door-way and the last he hears from the beautiful tigress is her taunting cry of: