The Ape, The Idiot and Other People Fourth Edition
THE APE, THE IDIOT & OTHER PEOPLE
W. C. MORROW
PHILADELPHIA J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY 1910
Copyright, 1897 By J. B. Lippincott Company
The stories in this volume are published with the kind permission of the periodicals in which they originally appeared—Lippincott's Magazine, Philadelphia, and the Overland Monthly, the Argonaut, the Examiner, the News Letter, and the Call, all of San Francisco.
The Resurrection of Little Wang Tai 9
The Hero of the Plague 24
His Unconquerable Enemy 48
The Permanent Stiletto 67
Over an Absinthe Bottle 90
The Inmate of the Dungeon 109
A Game of Honor 134
Treacherous Velasco 147
An Uncommon View of It 168
A Story Told by the Sea 188
The Monster-Maker 213
An Original Revenge 245
Two Singular Men 256
The Faithful Amulet 275
The Resurrection of Little Wang Tai
A train of circus-wagons, strung along a dusty road, in the Santa Clara Valley, crept slowly under the beating heat of a July sun. The dust rolled in clouds over the gaudy wagons of the menagerie. The outer doors of the cages had been opened to give access of air to the panting animals, but with the air came the dust, and the dust annoyed Romulus greatly. Never before had he longed for freedom so intensely. Ever since he could remember he had been in a cage like this; it had been so all through his childhood and youth. There was no trace in his memory of days when he of a time had been free. Not the faintest recollection existed of the time when he might have swung in the branches of equatorial forests. To him life was a desolation and a despair, and the poignancy of it all was sharpened by the clouds of dust which rolled through the grated door.
Romulus, thereupon, sought means of escape. Nimble, deft, sharp-sighted, he found a weak place in his prison, worked it open, and leaped forth upon the highway a free anthropoid ape. None of the sleepy, weary drivers noticed his escape, and a proper sense of caution caused him to seek security under a way-side shrub until the procession had safely passed. Then the whole world lay before him.
His freedom was large and sweet, but, for a while, perplexing. An almost instinctive leap to catch the trapeze-bar that had hung in his cage brought his hands in contact with only unresisting air. This confused and somewhat frightened him. The world seemed much broader and brighter since the black bars of his prison no longer striped his vision. And then, to his amazement, in place of the dingy covering of his cage appeared a vast and awful expanse of blue heaven, the tremendous depth and distance of which terrified him.
The scampering of a ground-squirrel seeking its burrow soon caught his notice, and he watched the little animal with great curiosity. Then he ran to the burrow, and hurt his feet on the sharp wheat-stubble. This made him more cautious. Not finding the squirrel, he looked about and discovered two owls sitting on a little mound not far away. Their solemn gaze fastened upon him inspired him with awe, but his curiosity would not permit him to forego a closer view. He cautiously crept towards them; then he stopped, sat down, and made grotesque faces at them. This had no effect. He scratched his head and thought. Then he made a feint as though he would pounce upon them, and they flew. Romulus gazed at them with the greatest amazement, for never before had he seen anything skim through the air. But the world was so wide and freedom so large that surely everything free ought to fly; so Romulus sprang into the air and made motions with his arms like to those the owls had made with their wings; and the first grievous disappointment which his freedom brought came when he found himself sprawling on the field.
His alert mind sought other exercise. Some distance away stood a house, and at the front gate was a man, and Romulus knew man to be the meanest and most cruel of all living things and the conscienceless taskmaster of weaker creatures. So Romulus avoided the house and struck out across the fields. Presently he came upon a very large thing which awed him. It was a live-oak, and the birds were singing in the foliage. But his persistent curiosity put a curb upon his fears, and he crept closer and closer. The kindly aspect of the tree, the sweetness of the shade which it cast, the cool depths of its foliage, the gentle swaying of the boughs in the soft north wind—all invited him to approach. This he did, until he arrived at the gnarled old bole, and then he leaped into the branches and was filled with delight. The little birds took flight. Romulus sat upon a limb, and then stretched himself at full length upon it and enjoyed the peace and comfort of the moment. But he was an ape and had to be employed, and so he ran out upon the smaller branches and shook them after the manner of his parents before him.
These delights all exploited, Romulus dropped to the ground and began to explore the world again; but the world was wide and its loneliness oppressed him. Presently he saw a dog and made quickly for him. The dog, seeing the strange creature approach, sought to frighten it by barking; but Romulus had seen similar animals before and had heard similar sounds; he could not be frightened by them. He went boldly towards the dog by long leaps on all fours. The dog, terrified by the strange-looking creature, ran away yelping and left Romulus with freedom and the world again.
On went Romulus over the fields, crossing a road now and then, and keeping clear of all living things that he found. Presently he came to a high picket-fence, surrounding a great inclosure, in which sat a large house in a grove of eucalyptus-trees. Romulus was thirsty, and the playing of a fountain among the trees tempted him sorely. He might have found courage to venture within had he not at that moment discovered a human being, not ten feet away, on the other side of the fence. Romulus sprang back with a cry of terror, and then stopped, and in a crouching attitude, ready to fly for his life and freedom, gazed at the enemy of all creation.
But the look he received in return was so kindly, and withal so peculiar and so unlike any that he had ever seen before, that his instinct to fly yielded to his curiosity to discover. Romulus did not know that the great house in the grove was an idiot-asylum, nor that the lad with the strange but kindly expression was one of the inmates. He knew only that kindness was there. The look which he saw was not the hard and cruel one of the menagerie-keeper, nor the empty, idle, curious one of the spectators, countenancing by their presence and supporting with their money the infamous and exclusively human practice of capturing wild animals and keeping them all their lives in the torture of captivity. So deeply interested was Romulus in what he saw that he forgot his fear and cocked his head on one side and made a queer grimace; and his motions and attitude were so comical that Moses, the idiot, grinned at him through the pickets. But the grin was not the only manifestation of pleasure that Moses gave. A peculiar vermicular movement, beginning at his feet and ending at his head, was the precursor of a slow, vacant guffaw that expressed the most intense delight of which he was capable. Moses never before had seen so queer a creature as this little brown man all covered with hair; he never before had seen even a monkey, that common joy of ordinary childhood, and remoter from resemblance to human kind than was Romulus. Moses was nineteen; but, although his voice was childlike no longer and his face was covered with unsightly short hair, and he was large and strong, running mostly to legs and arms, he was simple and innocent. His clothes were much too small, and a thick growth of wild hair topped his poll, otherwise innocent of covering.
Thus gazed these two strange beings at each other, held by sympathy and curiosity. Neither had the power of speech, and hence neither could lie to the other. Was it instinct which made Romulus believe that of all the bipedal devils which infested the face of the earth there was one of so gentle spirit that it could love him? And was it by instinct that Romulus, ignorant as he was of the larger ways of the world, discovered that his own mind was the firmer and cleverer of the two? And, feeling the hitherto unimaginable sweetness of freedom, did there come to him a knowledge that this fellow-being was a prisoner, as he himself had been, and longed for a taste of the open fields? And if Romulus so had reasoned, was it a sense of chivalry or a desire for companionship that led him to the rescue of this one weaker and more unfortunate than he?
He went cautiously to the fence, and put through his hand and touched Moses. The lad, much pleased, took the hand of the ape in his, and at once there was a good understanding between them. Romulus teased the boy to follow him, by going away a few steps and looking back, and then going and pulling his hand through the fence—doing this repeatedly—until his intention worked its way into the idiot's mind. The fence was too high to be scaled; but now that the desire for freedom had invaded his being, Moses crushed the pickets with his huge feet and emerged from his prison.
These two, then, were at large. The heavens were lifted higher and the horizon was extended. At a convenient ditch they slaked their thirst, and in an orchard they found ripe apricots; but what can satisfy the hunger of an ape or an idiot? The world was wide and sweet and beautiful, and the exquisite sense of boundless freedom worked like rich old wine in unaccustomed veins. These all brought infinite delight to Romulus and his charge as over the fields they went.
I will not tell particularly of all they did that wild, mad, happy afternoon, while drunk and reeling with freedom. I might say in passing that at one place they tore open the cage of a canary-bird swinging in a cherry-tree out of sight of the house, and at another they unbuckled the straps which bound a baby in a cart, and might have made off with it but for fear of arrest; but these things have no relation to the climax of their adventures, now hastening to accomplishment.
When the sun had sunk lower in the yellow splendor of the west and the great nickel dome of the observatory on Mount Hamilton had changed from silver to copper, the two revellers, weary and now hungry again, came upon a strange and perplexing place. It was a great oak with its long, cone-shaped shadow pointed towards the east and the cool depths of its foliage that first attracted them. About the tree were mounds with wooden head-boards, which wiser ones would have known the meaning of. But how could an ape or an idiot know of a freedom so sweet and silent and unencompassed and unconditional as death? And how could they know that the winners of so rich a prize should be mourned, should be wetted with tears, should be placed in the ground with the strutting pomp of grief? Knowing nothing at all of things like this, how could they know that this shabby burying-ground upon which they had strayed was so unlike that one which, in clear sight some distance away, was ordered in walks and drive-ways and ornamented with hedges, and fountains, and statues, and rare plants, and costly monuments—ah, my friends, how, without money, may we give adequate expression to grief? And surely grief without evidence of its existence is the idlest of indulgences!
But there was no pomp in the shadow of the oak, for the broken fence setting apart this place from the influence of Christian civilization enclosed graves holding only such bones as could not rest easy in soil across which was flung the shadow of the cross. Romulus and Moses knew nothing of these things; knew nothing of laws prohibiting disinterment within two years; knew nothing of a strange, far-away people from Asia, who, scorning the foreign Christian soil upon which they walked, despising the civilization out of which they wrung money, buried their dead in obedience to law which they had not the strength to resist, and two years afterwards dug up the bones and sent them to the old home to be interred for everlasting rest in the soil made and nourished by a god of their own.
Should either Romulus or Moses judge between these peoples? They were in better business than that.
Their examination of a strange brick furnace in which printed prayers were burned, and of a low brick altar covered with the grease of used-up tapers, had hardly been finished when an approaching cloud of dust along the broken fence warned them to the exercise of caution. Romulus was the quicker to escape, for a circus-train makes a trail of dust along the road, and with swift alacrity he sprang into the boughs of the oak, the heavy Moses clambering laboriously after, emitting guffaws in praise of the superior agility of his guardian. It made Moses laugh again to see the little hairy man stretch himself on a branch and sigh with the luxurious comfort of repose, and he nearly had fallen in trying to imitate the nimble Romulus. But they were still and silent when the cloud of dust, parting at a gate, gave forth into the enclosure a small cavalcade of carriages and wagons.
There was a grave newly dug, and towards this came the procession,—a shallow grave, for one must not lie too deep in the Christian soil of the white barbarian,—but it was so small a grave! Even Romulus could have filled it, and, as for Moses, it was hardly too large for his feet.
For little Wang Tai was dead, and in this small grave were her fragile bones to rest for twenty-four months under three feet of Christian law. Interest tempered the fright which Romulus and Moses felt when from the forward carriage came the sound of rasping oboes, belly-less fiddles, brazen tom-toms, and harsh cymbals, playing a dirge for little Wang Tai; playing less for godly protection of her tiny soul than for its exemption from the torture of devils.
With the others there came forth a little woman all bent with grief and weeping, for little Wang Tai had a mother, and every mother has a mother's heart. She was only a little yellow woman from Asia, with queer wide trousers for skirts and rocker-soled shoes that flapped against her heels. Her uncovered black hair was firmly knotted and securely pinned, and her eyes were black of color and soft of look, and her face, likely blank in content, was wet with tears and drawn with suffering. And there sat upon her, like a radiance from heaven, the sweetest, the saddest, the deepest, the tenderest of all human afflictions,—the one and the only one that time can never heal.
So they interred little Wang Tai, and Romulus and Moses saw it all, and paper prayers were burned in the oven, and tapers were lighted at the altar; and for the refreshment of the angels that should come to bear little Wang Tai's soul to the farther depths of blue heaven some savory viands were spread upon the grave. The grave filled, the diggers hid their spades behind the oven, Romulus watching them narrowly. The little bent woman gathered her grief to her heart and bore it away; and a cloud of dust, widening away alongside the broken fence, disappeared in the distance. The dome of Mount Hamilton had changed from copper to gold; the purple canyons of the Santa Cruz Mountains looked cold against the blazing orange of the western sky; the crickets set up their cheerful notes in the great old oak, and night fell softly as a dream.
Four hungry eyes saw the viands of the grave, and four greedy nostrils inhaled the aroma. Down dropped Romulus, and with less skill down fell Moses. Little Wang Tai's angels must go supperless to heaven this night—and it is a very long road from Christendom to heaven! The two outlaws snatched, and scrambled, and fought, and when all of this little was eaten they set their minds to other enterprises. Romulus fetched the spades and industriously began to dig into Wang Tai's grave, and Moses, crowing and laughing, fell to as assistant, and as the result of their labor the earth flew to either side. Only three feet of loose Christian law covered little Wang Tai!
* * * * *
A small yellow woman, moaning with grief, had tossed all night on her hard bed of matting and her harder pillow of hollowed wood. Even the familiar raucous sounds of early morning in the Chinese quarter of San Jose, remindful of that far-distant country which held all of her heart not lying dead under Christian sod, failed to lighten the burden which sat upon her. She saw the morning sun push its way through a sea of amber and the nickel dome of the great observatory on Mount Hamilton standing ebony against the radiant East. She heard the Oriental jargon of the early hucksters who cried their wares in the ill-smelling alleys, and with tears she added to the number of pearls which the dew had strewn upon the porch. She was only a small yellow woman from Asia, all bent with grief; and what of happiness could there be for her in the broad sunshine which poured forth from the windows of heaven, inviting the living babies of all present mankind to find life and health in its luxurious enfolding? She saw the sun climb the skies with imperious magnificence, and whispering voices from remote Cathay tempered the radiance of the day with memories of the past.
Could you, had your hearts been breaking and your eyes blinded with tears, have seen with proper definition the figures of a strange procession which made its way along the alley under the porch? There were white men with three prisoners—three who so recently had tested the sweets of freedom, and they had been dragged back to servitude. Two of these had been haled from the freedom of life and one from the freedom of death, and all three had been found fast asleep in the early morning beside the open grave and empty coffin of little Wang Tai. There were wise men abroad, and they said that little Wang Tai, through imperfect medical skill, had been interred alive, and that Romulus and Moses, by means of their impish pranks, had brought her to life after raising her from the grave. But wherefore the need of all this talk? Is it not enough that these two brigands were whipped and sent back into servitude, and that when the little yellow woman from Asia had gathered her baby to her breast the windows of her soul were opened to receive the warmth of the yellow sunshine that poured in a flood from heaven?
The Hero of the Plague
On a sweltering July day a long and ungainly shadow, stretching thirty feet upon the ground, crept noiselessly up an avenue leading to a fashionable hotel at a great summer resort. The sun was setting, and its slanting rays caused the shadow to assume the appearance of an anamorphosis of ludicrous proportions. It was a timid shadow—perhaps a shadow of strange and unnerving experiences.
The original of it was worthy of study. He was a short, stout, stoop-shouldered man; his hair was ragged and dusty, his beard straggling and scant. His visible clothing consisted of a slouch hat, torn around the rim and covered with dust; a woollen shirt; a pair of very badly soiled cotton trousers; suspenders made of rawhide strips, fastened to his trousers with wooden pins, and the strangest of old boots, which turned high up at the toes like canoes (being much too long for his feet), and which had a rakish aspect.
The man's face was a protest against hilarity. Apparently he had all the appurtenances of natural manhood, yet his whole expression would have at once aroused sympathy, for it was a mixture of childishness, confidence, timidity, humility, and honesty. His look was vague and uncertain, and seemed to be searching hopelessly for a friend—for the guidance of natures that were stronger and minds that were clearer. He could not have been older than thirty-five years, and yet his hair and beard were gray, and his face was lined with wrinkles. Occasionally he would make a movement as if to ward off a sudden and vicious blow.
He carried a knotty stick, and his ample trousers-pockets were filled to such an extent that they made him appear very wide in the hips and very narrow in the shoulders. Their contents were a mystery. The pockets at least produced the good effect of toning down the marvellous ellipticity of his legs, and in doing this they performed a valuable service.
"Hullo! who are you?" gruffly demanded a porter employed in the hotel, as the disreputable-looking man was picking his way with great nicety up the broad interior stairs, afraid that his dusty boots would deface the polished brasses under foot.
"Baker," promptly replied the man, in a small, timid voice, coming to a halt and humbly touching his hat.
"Baker? Well, what's your other name?"
The stranger was evidently puzzled by the question. He looked vacantly around the ceiling until his gaze rested upon a glass chandelier above him; but, finding no assistance there, his glance wandered to an oriel, in which there was a caged mocking-bird.
"Jess Baker—that's all," he answered at last, in his thin voice and slow, earnest manner.
"What! don't know your other name?"
"No, I reckin not," said Baker, after a thoughtful pause. "I reckin it's jess Baker—that's all."
"Didn't they ever call you anything else?"
Again Baker looked helplessly around until he found the chandelier, and then his eyes sought the oriel. Then he started as if he had received a blow, and immediately reached down and felt his ankles.
"Yes, sir," he answered.
"What was it?"
"Hunder'd'n One," he quietly said, looking at his questioner with a shade of fear and suspicion in his face.
The porter believed that a lunatic stood before him. He asked:
"Where are you from?"
"What part of Georgia?"
Again was Baker at sea, and again did his glance seek the chandelier and the oriel.
"Me?" he asked.
"Yes, you. What part of Georgia are you from?"
"Jess Georgy," he finally said.
"What do you want here?"
"Well, I'll tell you. I want you to hire me," he replied, with a faint look of expectancy.
"What can you do?"
"Oh, well, I'll tell you. Most everything."
"What salary do you want?"
"Of course you."
"Oh, well, about five dollars a day, I reckin."
The porter laughed coarsely. "You needn't talk to me about it," he said; "I'm not the proprietor."
"The which?" asked Baker.
"Oh, ain't you?" and then he looked very much puzzled indeed.
The porter had had sufficient amusement, and so he demanded, in a brusque and menacing tone, "Now, say—you get away from here quick! We don't want no crazy tramps around here. You understand?"
Baker did not stir, but stood looking helplessly at the porter, surprised and grieved.
"Get out, I say, or I'll set the dogs on you!"
A look of deep mortification settled on Baker's face, but he was not frightened; he did not move a muscle, except to glance quickly around for the dogs.
"Ain't you going, you crazy old tramp? If you don't I'll lock you up and send for the sheriff;" and the porter rattled some keys in his pocket.
Instantly a great horror overspread the countenance of Baker from Georgia. He looked wildly about and seemed ready to run, and labored with an imaginary weight that clung to his ankles. He took a single step in his agitation, and suddenly realized that no such encumbrance detained him. He shook off the delusion and sprang to the bottom of the stairs. His whole appearance had changed. Humility had given way to uncontrollable fear, and he had become a fleeing wild beast that was hunted for its life. He sprang through the outer door and reached the ground in another bound, and gathered his strength for immediate flight from terrors without a name.
"Stop, there!" called a stern, full voice.
Baker obeyed instantly; obeyed as might a man long accustomed to the most servile obedience; as might a dog that has been beaten until his spirit is broken. He bared his head, and stood in the warm glow of the fading light, meek and submissive. All signs of fear had disappeared from his face; but he was no longer the Baker from Georgia who, a few minutes ago, had trudged along the gravelled walk after the ungainly shadow. He had sought a thing and had not found it—had bitten a rosy apple and was choked with dust. Even the rakish boots looked submissive, and showed their brass teeth in solemn acquiescence to an inevitability; and somehow they looked not nearly so rakish as formerly.
The voice that had checked Baker had not a kindly tone; it was that of a suspicious man, who believed that he had detected a thief in the act of making off with dishonest booty stored in ample pockets. Yet his face had a generous look, though anger made his eyes harsh. The two men surveyed each other, anger disappearing from the face of one to give place to pity, the other regarding him with mild docility.
"Come along with me," said the gentleman to Baker.
Evidently Baker had heard those words before, for he followed quietly and tamely, with his dusty old hat in his left hand and his head bowed upon his breast. He walked so slowly that the gentleman turned to observe him, and found him moving laboriously, with his feet wide apart and his right hand grasping an invisible something that weighted down his ankles. They were now passing the end of the hotel on their way to the rear, when they came near a hitching-post, to which rings were affixed with staples. Baker had been looking around for something, and, as the gentleman (who was Mr. Clayton, the proprietor of the hotel) stopped near the post, Baker walked straight up to it, without having looked to the left or the right. Upon reaching it he dropped the invisible something that he carried in his right hand, laid his hat on the ground, slipped the rawhide suspenders from his shoulders, unbuttoned his shirt, pulled it over his head, and laid it on the grass alongside his hat. He then humbly embraced the post and crossed his hands over a ring to which a chain was attached. He laid his cheek against his bare right arm and waited patiently, without having uttered a protest or made an appeal. The old boots looked up wistfully into his sorrowing face.
His naked back glistened white. It was a map on which were traced a record of the bloody cruelties of many years; it was a fine piece of mosaic—human flesh inlaid with the venom of the lash. There were scars, and seams, and ridges, and cuts that crossed and recrossed each other in all possible directions. Thus stood Baker for some time, until Mr. Clayton kindly called to him:
"Put on your shirt."
He proceeded to obey silently, but was confused and embarrassed at this unexpected turn of events. He hesitated at first, however, for he evidently did not understand how he could put on his shirt until his hands had been released.
"Your hands are not chained," explained Mr. Clayton.
The revelation was so unexpected that it almost startled the man from Georgia. He pulled out one hand slowly, that a sudden jerk might not lacerate his wrist. Then he pulled out the other, resumed his shirt and hat, picked up the imaginary weight, and shuffled along slowly after his leader.
"What is your name?" asked the gentleman.
They were soon traversing the corridor in the servants' quarter of the hotel, when Baker halted and ventured to say:
"I reckin you'r in the wrong curryder." He was examining the ceiling, the floor, and the numbers on the doors.
"No, this is right," said the gentleman.
Again Baker hobbled along, never releasing his hold on the invisible weight. They halted at No. 13. Said Baker, with a shade of pity in his voice,—
"'Taint right. Wrong curryder. Cell hunder'd'n one's mine."
"Yes, yes; but we'll put you in this one for the present," replied the gentleman, as he opened the door and ushered Baker within. The room was comfortably furnished, and this perplexed Baker more and more.
"Hain't you got it wrong?" he persisted. "Lifer, you know. Hunder'd'n One—lifer—plays off crazy—forty lashes every Monday. Don't you know?"
"Yes, yes, I know; but we'll not talk about that now."
They brought a good supper to his room, and he ate ravenously. They persuaded him to wash in a basin in the room, though he begged hard to be permitted to go to the pump. Later that night the gentleman went to his room and asked him if he wanted anything.
"Well, I'll tell you. You forgot to take it off," Baker replied, pointing to his ankles.
The gentleman was perplexed for a moment, and then he stooped and unlocked and removed an imaginary ball and chain. Baker seemed relieved. Said the gentleman, as Baker was preparing for bed:
"This is not a penitentiary. It is my house, and I do not whip anybody. I will give you all you want to eat, and good clothes, and you may go wherever you please. Do you understand?"
Baker looked at him with vacant eyes and made no reply. He undressed, lay down, sighed wearily, and fell asleep.
A stifling Southern September sun beat down upon the mountains and valleys. The thrush and the mocking-bird had been driven to cool places, and their songs were not heard in the trees. The hotel was crowded with refugees from Memphis. A terrible scourge was sweeping through Tennessee, and its black shadow was creeping down to the Gulf of Mexico; and as it crept it mowed down young and old in its path.
"Well, Baker, how are you getting along?" It was the round, cheerful voice of Mr. Clayton.
The man from Georgia was stooping over a pail, scouring it with sand and a cloth. Upon hearing the greeting he hung the cloth over the pail and came slowly to the perpendicular, putting his hands, during the operation, upon the small of his back, as if the hinges in that region were old and rusty and needed care.
"Oh, well, now, I'll tell you. Nothin' pertickler to complain on, excep'——"
"I don't believe it's quite exactly right."
"Tell me about it."
"Well, now, you see—there ain't nobody a-listenin', is there?"
"I think they ought to give me one more piece, any way."
"Piece of what?"
"Mebbe two more pieces."
"Pie. It was pie I was a-talkin' about all the time."
"Don't they give you sufficient?"
"No, sir; not nigh enough. An'—an'—come here closter. I'm a-gittin' weak—I'm a-starvin'!" he whispered.
"You shall not starve. What do you want?"
"Well, now, I was jess a-thinkin' that one or two more pieces fur dinner every day—every day——"
"Yes, sir; pie. I was a-talkin' about pie."
"You shall certainly have it; but don't they give you any?"
"Oh, well, they do give me some."
"Yes, sir; every day."
"How much do they give you?"
"Well, I'll tell you. About two pieces, I believe."
"Aren't you afraid that much more than that would make you sick?"
"Oh, well, now, I'm a-goin' to tell you about that, too, 'cause you don't know about it. You see, I'm mostly used to gittin' sick, an' I ain't mostly used to eatin' of pie." He spoke then, as he always spoke, with the most impressive earnestness.
Baker had undergone a great change within the two months that had passed over him at the hotel. Kindness had driven away the vacant look in his eyes and his mind was stronger. He had found that for which his meagre soul had yearned—a sympathizing heart and a friend. He was fat, sleek, and strong. His old boots—the same as of yore, for he would not abandon them—looked less foolish and seemed almost cheerful. Were they not always in an atmosphere of gentleness and refinement, and did they not daily tread the very ground pressed by the bravest and richest boots in the land? It is true that they were often covered with slops and chickens' feathers, but this served only to bring out in bolder relief the elevating influences of a healthy morality and a generous prosperity that environed them. There are many boots that would have been spoiled by so sudden an elevation into a higher sphere of life; but the good traits of Baker's boots were strengthened not only by a rooting up of certain weaknesses, but also by the gaining of many good qualities which proved beneficial; and to the full extent of their limited capability did they appreciate the advantages which their surroundings afforded, and looked up with humble gratitude whenever they would meet a friend.
There were six hundred guests at the hotel, and they all knew Baker and had a kind word to give him. But they could never learn anything about him other than that his name was Baker—"jess Baker, that's all"—and that he came from Georgia—"jess Georgy." Occasionally a stranger would ask him with urgent particularity concerning his past history, but he then would merely look helpless and puzzled and would say nothing. As to his name, it was "jess Baker;" but on rare occasions, when pressed with hard cruelty, his lips could be seen to form the words, "Hunder'd'n One," as though wondering how they would sound if he should utter them, and then the old blank, suffering look would come into his face. It had become quite seldom that he dodged an imaginary blow, and the memory of the ball and chain was buried with other bitter recollections of the past. He had free access to every part of the house, and was discreet, diligent, faithful, and honest. Sometimes the porters would impose upon his unfailing willingness and great strength by making him carry the heaviest trunks up three or four flights of stairs.
One day the shadow of death that was stealing southward passed over the house containing so much life, and happiness, and wealth, and beauty. The train passed as usual, and among the passengers who alighted was a man who walked to the counter in a weary, uncertain manner. One or two persons were present who knew him, and upon grasping his hand they found that it was cold. This was strange, for the day was very hot. In his eyes was a look of restlessness and anxiety, but he said that he had only a pain across the forehead, and that after needed rest it would pass away. He was conducted to a room, and there he fell across the bed, quite worn out, he said. He complained of slight cramps in the legs and thought that they had been caused by climbing the stairs. After a half-hour had passed he rang his bell violently and sent for the resident physician. That gentleman went to see him, and after remaining a few minutes went to the office, looking anxious and pale. He was a tall, quiet man, with white hair. He asked for Mr. Clayton, but when he was informed that that gentleman was temporarily absent he asked for Baker.
"Is your patient very ill, doctor?" inquired the cashier, privately and with a certain dread.
"I want Baker," said the doctor, somewhat shortly.
"Nothing serious, I hope."
"Send me Baker instantly."
The physician had a secret of life and death. To treat it wisely he required confidants of courage, sagacity, patience, tact, and prompt action. There were only two to whom he should impart it,—one was the proprietor and the other the man from Georgia.
When Baker had come the physician led him up-stairs to the floor which held the patient's room, brought him to the window at the end of the corridor and turned him so that the light fell full upon his face.
"Baker, can you keep a secret?"
"Yes; can you keep a secret?"
"Well, let me tell you about it; I don't know; mebbe I can."
"Have you ever seen people die?"
"Oh, yes, sir!"
"A great many in the same house?"
"Yes, sir; yes, sir."
"Baker," said the physician, placing his hand gently on the broad shoulder before him, and looking the man earnestly in the eyes, and speaking very impressively—"Baker, are you afraid to die?"
There was no expression whatever upon his patient, gentle face. He gazed past the physician through the window and made no reply.
"Are you afraid of death, Baker?"
There was no sign that he would answer the question or even that he comprehended it. He shifted his gaze to his upturned boot-toes and communed with them, but still kept silence.
"There is a man here, Baker, who is very ill, and I think that he will die. I want some one to help me take care of him. If you go into his room, perhaps you, too, will die. Are you afraid to go?"
"Was you a-talkin' 'bout wantin' me to wait on him?"
A brighter look came into Baker's face and he said:
"Oh, now, I'll tell you; I'll go."
They entered the stranger's room and found him suffering terribly. The physician already had put him under vigorous treatment, but he was rapidly growing worse. Baker regarded him attentively a moment, and then felt his pulse and put his hand on the sufferer's forehead. A look of intelligence came into his sad, earnest face, but there was not a trace of pallor or fear. He beckoned the physician to follow him out to the passage, and the two went aside, closing the door.
"He's a-goin' to die," said Baker, simply and quietly.
"Yes; but how do you know?"
"Well, I'll tell you about that; I know."
"Have you seen it before?"
"Are you afraid of it?"
"Oh, well, they all ought to know it," he said, with a sweep of his hand towards the corridors.
"Hurry and find Mr. Clayton first and bring him to me."
Baker met Mr. Clayton at the main entrance below and beckoned him to follow. He led the way into a dark room stored with boxes and then into the farther corner of it. There he stood Mr. Clayton with his back against the wall and looked straight into his face. His manner was so mysterious, and there was so strange an expression in his face,—a kind of empty exaltation it seemed,—and his familiarity in touching Mr. Clayton's person was so extraordinary, that that gentleman was alarmed for Baker's sanity. Then Baker leaned forward and whispered one terrible word,—
Cholera! Great God! No wonder that Mr. Clayton turned deathly pale and leaned heavily against the wall.
At midnight the stranger died, and none in the house had heard of the frightful danger which had come to assail them. The physician and Baker had been with him constantly, but their efforts had availed nothing; and after preparing him for the grave they went out and locked the door. Mr. Clayton was waiting for them. The anxious look in the faces of the two gentlemen was intensified; Baker's evinced nothing but calm consciousness of responsibility. The guests were slumbering.
"We must alarm the house," whispered Mr. Clayton.
The doctor shook his head sadly. "If we do," he said, "there will be a panic; and, besides, the night air of these mountains is very cool, and if they go from their warm beds into it, likely without taking time to dress, the danger will be great."
They both seemed helpless and undecided, and in need of some one to choose between two evils for them. They turned to Baker in silence and for his decision. He seemed to have expected it, for without a word, without submitting it for their concurrence, he went to the end of that passage and rapped upon a door. There was an answer, Baker mentioned his name, the door was opened, and the dreadful news was quietly imparted. The guest was terror-stricken, but a word from Baker gave him heart, and he hastily but quietly began preparations to leave the house. Thus went Baker from one door to another, imposing silence and care and careful dressing, and advising the people to take with them such bedding as they could. Mr. Clayton and the physician, observing the remarkable success of Baker's method, adopted it, and soon the three men had the great house swarming. It was done swiftly, quietly, and without panic, and the house became empty.
But selfishness appeared without shame or covering. Every one in the house wanted Baker's assistance, for all the porters had fled, and there was none other than he to work. So he staggered and toiled under the weight of enormous trunks; listened to a hundred orders at once; bore frightened children and fainting women in his strong, sure arms; labored until his face was haggard and his knees trembled from exhaustion. He did the work of fifty men—a hundred men.
The seeds of the plague had been sown. Towards morning the physician retired to his room, stricken down. Baker administered to his needs, and discovered a surprising knowledge of the malady and its treatment. A few of those who had scattered about in the surrounding hills were taken down and brought to the house moaning with fear and pain. Baker treated them all. Mr. Clayton and a few other stout hearts provided him with whatever he ordered, and assisted in watching and in administering the simple remedies under his direction. These were such as the resources of the hotel permitted,—warm blankets, hot brandy, with water and sugar, or pepper and salt in hot water, heated bricks at the feet, and rubbing the body with spirits of camphor. Many recovered, others grew worse; the physician was saved.
At sunrise, while Baker was working vigorously on a patient, he suddenly straightened himself, looked around somewhat anxiously, and reeled backward to the wall. The strong man had collapsed at last. Leaning against the partition, and spreading out his arms against it to keep from falling, he worked his way a few feet to the door, and when he turned to go out his hand slipped on the door-facing and he fell heavily upon his face in the passage. He lay still for a moment, and then crawled slowly to the end of the passage and lay down. He had not said a word nor uttered a groan. It was there, silent, alone, and uncomplaining, that Mr. Clayton found this last victim of the plague waiting patiently for death. Others were hastily summoned. They put him upon a bed, and were going to undress him and treat him, but he firmly stopped them with uplifted hand, and his sunken eyes and anxious face implored more eloquently than his words, when he said:
"No, no! Now, let me tell you: Go an' take care of 'em."
Mr. Clayton sent them away, he alone remaining.
"Here, Baker; take this," he gently urged.
But the man from Georgia knew better. "No, no," he said; "it won't do no good." His speech was faint and labored. "I'll tell you: I'm struck too hard. It won't do no good. I'm so tired.... I'll go quick ... 'cause I'm ... so tired."
His extreme exhaustion made him an easy prey. Death sat upon his face, and was reflected from his hollow, suffering, mournful eyes. In an hour they were dimmer; then he became cold and purple. In another hour his pulse was not perceptible. After two more hours his agony had passed.
"Baker, do you want anything?" asked Mr. Clayton, trying to rouse him.
"Me?" very faintly came the response.
"Yes. Do you want anything?"
"Oh, ... I'll tell you: The governor ... he found out my brother ... done it ... an' ... an' he's goin' to ... pardon me.... Fifteen years, an' played off ... played off crazy.... Forty lashes every Monday ... mornin'.... Cell hunder'd'n one's mine.... Well, I'll tell you: Governor's goin' to ... pardon me out."
He ceased his struggling to speak. A half-hour passed in silence, and then he roused himself feebly and whispered:
"He'll ... pardon ... me."
The old boots stared blankly and coldly at the ceiling; their patient expression no longer bore a trace of life or suffering, and their calm repose was undisturbed by the song of the mocking-bird in the oriel.
His Unconquerable Enemy
I was summoned from Calcutta to the heart of India to perform a difficult surgical operation on one of the women of a great rajah's household. I found the rajah a man of a noble character, but possessed, as I afterwards discovered, of a sense of cruelty purely Oriental and in contrast to the indolence of his disposition. He was so grateful for the success that attended my mission that he urged me to remain a guest at the palace as long as it might please me to stay, and I thankfully accepted the invitation.
One of the male servants early attracted my notice for his marvellous capacity of malice. His name was Neranya, and I am certain that there must have been a large proportion of Malay blood in his veins, for, unlike the Indians (from whom he differed also in complexion), he was extremely alert, active, nervous, and sensitive. A redeeming circumstance was his love for his master. Once his violent temper led him to the commission of an atrocious crime,—the fatal stabbing of a dwarf. In punishment for this the rajah ordered that Neranya's right arm (the offending one) be severed from his body. The sentence was executed in a bungling fashion by a stupid fellow armed with an axe, and I, being a surgeon, was compelled, in order to save Neranya's life, to perform an amputation of the stump, leaving not a vestige of the limb remaining.
After this he developed an augmented fiendishness. His love for the rajah was changed to hate, and in his mad anger he flung discretion to the winds. Driven once to frenzy by the rajah's scornful treatment, he sprang upon the rajah with a knife, but, fortunately, was seized and disarmed. To his unspeakable dismay the rajah sentenced him for this offence to suffer amputation of the remaining arm. It was done as in the former instance. This had the effect of putting a temporary curb on Neranya's spirit, or, rather, of changing the outward manifestations of his diabolism. Being armless, he was at first largely at the mercy of those who ministered to his needs,—a duty which I undertook to see was properly discharged, for I felt an interest in this strangely distorted nature. His sense of helplessness, combined with a damnable scheme for revenge which he had secretly formed, caused Neranya to change his fierce, impetuous, and unruly conduct into a smooth, quiet, insinuating bearing, which he carried so artfully as to deceive those with whom he was brought in contact, including the rajah himself.
Neranya, being exceedingly quick, intelligent, and dexterous, and having an unconquerable will, turned his attention to the cultivating of an enlarged usefulness of his legs, feet, and toes, with so excellent effect that in time he was able to perform wonderful feats with those members. Thus his capability, especially for destructive mischief, was considerably restored.
One morning the rajah's only son, a young man of an uncommonly amiable and noble disposition, was found dead in bed. His murder was a most atrocious one, his body being mutilated in a shocking manner, but in my eyes the most significant of all the mutilations was the entire removal and disappearance of the young prince's arms.
The death of the young man nearly brought the rajah to the grave. It was not, therefore, until I had nursed him back to health that I began a systematic inquiry into the murder. I said nothing of my own discoveries and conclusions until after the rajah and his officers had failed and my work had been done; then I submitted to him a written report, making a close analysis of all the circumstances and closing by charging the crime to Neranya. The rajah, convinced by my proof and argument, at once ordered Neranya to be put to death, this to be accomplished slowly and with frightful tortures. The sentence was so cruel and revolting that it filled me with horror, and I implored that the wretch be shot. Finally, through a sense of gratitude to me, the rajah relaxed. When Neranya was charged with the crime he denied it, of course, but, seeing that the rajah was convinced, he threw aside all restraint, and, dancing, laughing, and shrieking in the most horrible manner, confessed his guilt, gloated over it, and reviled the rajah to his teeth,—this, knowing that some fearful death awaited him.
The rajah decided upon the details of the matter that night, and in the morning he informed me of his decision. It was that Neranya's life should be spared, but that both of his legs should be broken with hammers, and that then I should amputate the limbs at the trunk! Appended to this horrible sentence was a provision that the maimed wretch should be kept and tortured at regular intervals by such means as afterwards might be devised.
Sickened to the heart by the awful duty set out for me, I nevertheless performed it with success, and I care to say nothing more about that part of the tragedy. Neranya escaped death very narrowly and was a long time in recovering his wonted vitality. During all these weeks the rajah neither saw him nor made inquiries concerning him, but when, as in duty bound, I made official report that the man had recovered his strength, the rajah's eyes brightened, and he emerged with deadly activity from the stupor into which he so long had been plunged.
The rajah's palace was a noble structure, but it is necessary here to describe only the grand hall. It was an immense chamber, with a floor of polished, inlaid stone and a lofty, arched ceiling. A soft light stole into it through stained glass set in the roof and in high windows on one side. In the middle of the room was a rich fountain, which threw up a tall, slender column of water, with smaller and shorter jets grouped around it. Across one end of the hall, half-way to the ceiling, was a balcony, which communicated with the upper story of a wing, and from which a flight of stone stairs descended to the floor of the hall. During the hot summers this room was delightfully cool; it was the rajah's favorite lounging-place, and when the nights were hot he had his cot taken thither, and there he slept.
This hall was chosen for Neranya's permanent prison; here was he to stay so long as he might live, with never a glimpse of the shining world or the glorious heavens. To one of his nervous, discontented nature such confinement was worse than death. At the rajah's order there was constructed for him a small pen of open iron-work, circular, and about four feet in diameter, elevated on four slender iron posts, ten feet above the floor, and placed between the balcony and the fountain. Such was Neranya's prison. The pen was about four feet in depth, and the pen-top was left open for the convenience of the servants whose duty it should be to care for him. These precautions for his safe confinement were taken at my suggestion, for, although the man was now deprived of all four of his limbs, I still feared that he might develop some extraordinary, unheard-of power for mischief. It was provided that the attendants should reach his cage by means of a movable ladder.
All these arrangements having been made and Neranya hoisted into his cage, the rajah emerged upon the balcony to see him for the first time since the last amputation. Neranya had been lying panting and helpless on the floor of his cage, but when his quick ear caught the sound of the rajah's footfall he squirmed about until he had brought the back of his head against the railing, elevating his eyes above his chest, and enabling him to peer through the open-work of the cage. Thus the two deadly enemies faced each other. The rajah's stern face paled at sight of the hideous, shapeless thing which met his gaze; but he soon recovered, and the old hard, cruel, sinister look returned. Neranya's black hair and beard had grown long, and they added to the natural ferocity of his aspect. His eyes blazed upon the rajah with a terrible light, his lips parted, and he gasped for breath; his face was ashen with rage and despair, and his thin, distended nostrils quivered.
The rajah folded his arms and gazed down from the balcony upon the frightful wreck that he had made. Oh, the dreadful pathos of that picture; the inhumanity of it; the deep and dismal tragedy of it! Who might look into the wild, despairing heart of the prisoner and see and understand the frightful turmoil there; the surging, choking passion; unbridled but impotent ferocity; frantic thirst for a vengeance that should be deeper than hell! Neranya gazed, his shapeless body heaving, his eyes aflame; and then, in a strong, clear voice, which rang throughout the great hall, with rapid speech he hurled at the rajah the most insulting defiance, the most awful curses. He cursed the womb that had conceived him, the food that should nourish him, the wealth that had brought him power; cursed him in the name of Buddha and all the wise men; cursed by the sun, the moon, and the stars; by the continents, mountains, oceans, and rivers; by all things living; cursed his head, his heart, his entrails; cursed in a whirlwind of unmentionable words; heaped unimaginable insults and contumely upon him; called him a knave, a beast, a fool, a liar, an infamous and unspeakable coward.
The rajah heard it all calmly, without the movement of a muscle, without the slightest change of countenance; and when the poor wretch had exhausted his strength and fallen helpless and silent to the floor, the rajah, with a grim, cold smile, turned and strode away.
The days passed. The rajah, not deterred by Neranya's curses often heaped upon him, spent even more time than formerly in the great hall, and slept there oftener at night; and finally Neranya wearied of cursing and defying him, and fell into a sullen silence. The man was a study for me, and I observed every change in his fleeting moods. Generally his condition was that of miserable despair, which he attempted bravely to conceal. Even the boon of suicide had been denied him, for when he would wriggle into an erect position the rail of his pen was a foot above his head, so that he could not clamber over and break his skull on the stone floor beneath; and when he had tried to starve himself the attendants forced food down his throat; so that he abandoned such attempts. At times his eyes would blaze and his breath would come in gasps, for imaginary vengeance was working within him; but steadily he became quieter and more tractable, and was pleasant and responsive when I would converse with him. Whatever might have been the tortures which the rajah had decided on, none as yet had been ordered; and although Neranya knew that they were in contemplation, he never referred to them or complained of his lot.
The awful climax of this situation was reached one night, and even after this lapse of years I cannot approach its description without a shudder.
It was a hot night, and the rajah had gone to sleep in the great hall, lying on a high cot placed on the main floor just underneath the edge of the balcony. I had been unable to sleep in my own apartment, and so I had stolen into the great hall through the heavily curtained entrance at the end farthest from the balcony. As I entered I heard a peculiar, soft sound above the patter of the fountain. Neranya's cage was partly concealed from my view by the spraying water, but I suspected that the unusual sound came from him. Stealing a little to one side, and crouching against the dark hangings of the wall, I could see him in the faint light which dimly illuminated the hall, and then I discovered that my surmise was correct—Neranya was quietly at work. Curious to learn more, and knowing that only mischief could have been inspiring him, I sank into a thick robe on the floor and watched him.
To my great astonishment Neranya was tearing off with his teeth the bag which served as his outer garment. He did it cautiously, casting sharp glances frequently at the rajah, who, sleeping soundly on his cot below, breathed heavily. After starting a strip with his teeth, Neranya, by the same means, would attach it to the railing of his cage and then wriggle away, much after the manner of a caterpillar's crawling, and this would cause the strip to be torn out the full length of his garment. He repeated this operation with incredible patience and skill until his entire garment had been torn into strips. Two or three of these he tied end to end with his teeth, lips, and tongue, tightening the knots by placing one end of the strip under his body and drawing the other taut with his teeth. In this way he made a line several feet long, one end of which he made fast to the rail with his mouth. It then began to dawn upon me that he was going to make an insane attempt—impossible of achievement without hands, feet, arms, or legs—to escape from his cage! For what purpose? The rajah was asleep in the hall—ah! I caught my breath. Oh, the desperate, insane thirst for revenge which could have unhinged so clear and firm a mind! Even though he should accomplish the impossible feat of climbing over the railing of his cage that he might fall to the floor below (for how could he slide down the rope?), he would be in all probability killed or stunned; and even if he should escape these dangers it would be impossible for him to clamber upon the cot without rousing the rajah, and impossible even though the rajah were dead! Amazed at the man's daring, and convinced that his sufferings and brooding had destroyed his reason, nevertheless I watched him with breathless interest.
With other strips tied together he made a short swing across one side of his cage. He caught the long line in his teeth at a point not far from the rail; then, wriggling with great effort to an upright position, his back braced against the rail, he put his chin over the swing and worked toward one end. He tightened the grasp of his chin on the swing, and with tremendous exertion, working the lower end of his spine against the railing, he began gradually to ascend the side of his cage. The labor was so great that he was compelled to pause at intervals, and his breathing was hard and painful; and even while thus resting he was in a position of terrible strain, and his pushing against the swing caused it to press hard against his windpipe and nearly strangle him.
After amazing effort he had elevated the lower end of his body until it protruded above the railing, the top of which was now across the lower end of his abdomen. Gradually he worked his body over, going backward, until there was sufficient excess of weight on the outer side of the rail; and then, with a quick lurch, he raised his head and shoulders and swung into a horizontal position on top of the rail. Of course, he would have fallen to the floor below had it not been for the line which he held in his teeth. With so great nicety had he estimated the distance between his mouth and the point where the rope was fastened to the rail, that the line tightened and checked him just as he reached the horizontal position on the rail. If one had told me beforehand that such a feat as I had just seen this man accomplish was possible, I should have thought him a fool.
Neranya was now balanced on his stomach across the top of the rail, and he eased his position by bending his spine and hanging down on either side as much as possible. Having rested thus for some minutes, he began cautiously to slide off backward, slowly paying out the line through his teeth, finding almost a fatal difficulty in passing the knots. Now, it is quite possible that the line would have escaped altogether from his teeth laterally when he would slightly relax his hold to let it slip, had it not been for a very ingenious plan to which he had resorted. This consisted in his having made a turn of the line around his neck before he attacked the swing, thus securing a threefold control of the line,—one by his teeth, another by friction against his neck, and a third by his ability to compress it between his cheek and shoulder. It was quite evident now that the minutest details of a most elaborate plan had been carefully worked out by him before beginning the task, and that possibly weeks of difficult theoretical study had been consumed in the mental preparation. As I observed him I was reminded of certain hitherto unaccountable things which he had been doing for some weeks past—going through certain hitherto inexplicable motions, undoubtedly for the purpose of training his muscles for the immeasurably arduous labor which he was now performing.
A stupendous and seemingly impossible part of his task had been accomplished. Could he reach the floor in safety? Gradually he worked himself backward over the rail, in imminent danger of falling; but his nerve never wavered, and I could see a wonderful light in his eyes. With something of a lurch, his body fell against the outer side of the railing, to which he was hanging by his chin, the line still held firmly in his teeth. Slowly he slipped his chin from the rail, and then hung suspended by the line in his teeth. By almost imperceptible degrees, with infinite caution, he descended the line, and, finally, his unwieldy body rolled upon the floor, safe and unhurt!
What miracle would this superhuman monster next accomplish? I was quick and strong, and was ready and able to intercept any dangerous act; but not until danger appeared would I interfere with this extraordinary scene.
I must confess to astonishment upon having observed that Neranya, instead of proceeding directly toward the sleeping rajah, took quite another direction. Then it was only escape, after all, that the wretch contemplated, and not the murder of the rajah. But how could he escape? The only possible way to reach the outer air without great risk was by ascending the stairs to the balcony and leaving by the corridor which opened upon it, and thus fall into the hands of some British soldiers quartered thereabout, who might conceive the idea of hiding him; but surely it was impossible for Neranya to ascend that long flight of stairs! Nevertheless, he made directly for them, his method of progression this: He lay upon his back, with the lower end of his body toward the stairs; then bowed his spine upward, thus drawing his head and shoulders a little forward; straightened, and then pushed the lower end of his body forward a space equal to that through which he had drawn his head; repeating this again and again, each time, while bending his spine, preventing his head from slipping by pressing it against the floor. His progress was laborious and slow, but sensible; and, finally, he arrived at the foot of the stairs.
It was manifest that his insane purpose was to ascend them. The desire for freedom must have been strong within him! Wriggling to an upright position against the newel-post, he looked up at the great height which he had to climb and sighed; but there was no dimming of the light in his eyes. How could he accomplish the impossible task?
His solution of the problem was very simple, though daring and perilous as all the rest. While leaning against the newel-post he let himself fall diagonally upon the bottom step, where he lay partly hanging over, but safe, on his side. Turning upon his back, he wriggled forward along the step to the rail and raised himself to an upright position against it as he had against the newel-post, fell as before, and landed on the second step. In this manner, with inconceivable labor, he accomplished the ascent of the entire flight of stairs.
It being apparent to me that the rajah was not the object of Neranya's movements, the anxiety which I had felt on that account was now entirely dissipated. The things which already he had accomplished were entirely beyond the nimblest imagination. The sympathy which I had always felt for the wretched man was now greatly quickened; and as infinitesimally small as I knew his chances for escape to be, I nevertheless hoped that he would succeed. Any assistance from me, however, was out of the question; and it never should be known that I had witnessed the escape.
Neranya was now upon the balcony, and I could dimly see him wriggling along toward the door which led out upon the balcony. Finally he stopped and wriggled to an upright position against the rail, which had wide openings between the balusters. His back was toward me, but he slowly turned and faced me and the hall. At that great distance I could not distinguish his features, but the slowness with which he had worked, even before he had fully accomplished the ascent of the stairs, was evidence all too eloquent of his extreme exhaustion. Nothing but a most desperate resolution could have sustained him thus far, but he had drawn upon the last remnant of his strength. He looked around the hall with a sweeping glance, and then down upon the rajah, who was sleeping immediately beneath him, over twenty feet below. He looked long and earnestly, sinking lower, and lower, and lower upon the rail. Suddenly, to my inconceivable astonishment and dismay, he toppled through and shot downward from his lofty height! I held my breath, expecting to see him crushed upon the stone floor beneath; but instead of that he fell full upon the rajah's breast, driving him through the cot to the floor. I sprang forward with a loud cry for help, and was instantly at the scene of the catastrophe. With indescribable horror I saw that Neranya's teeth were buried in the rajah's throat! I tore the wretch away, but the blood was pouring from the rajah's arteries, his chest was crushed in, and he was gasping in the agony of death. People came running in, terrified. I turned to Neranya. He lay upon his back, his face hideously smeared with blood. Murder, and not escape, had been his intentions from the beginning; and he had employed the only method by which there was ever a possibility of accomplishing it. I knelt beside him, and saw that he too was dying; his back had been broken by the fall. He smiled sweetly into my face, and a triumphant look of accomplished revenge sat upon his face even in death.
The Permanent Stiletto
I had sent in all haste for Dr. Rowell, but as yet he had not arrived, and the strain was terrible. There lay my young friend upon his bed in the hotel, and I believed that he was dying. Only the jewelled handle of the knife was visible at his breast; the blade was wholly sheathed in his body.
"Pull it out, old fellow," begged the sufferer through white, drawn lips, his gasping voice being hardly less distressing than the unearthly look in his eyes.
"No, Arnold," said I, as I held his hand and gently stroked his forehead. It may have been instinct, it may have been a certain knowledge of anatomy that made me refuse.
"Why not? It hurts," he gasped. It was pitiful to see him suffer, this strong, healthy, daring, reckless young fellow.
Dr. Rowell walked in—a tall, grave man, with gray hair. He went to the bed and I pointed to the knife-handle, with its great, bold ruby in the end and its diamonds and emeralds alternating in quaint designs in the sides. The physician started. He felt Arnold's pulse and looked puzzled.
"When was this done?" he asked.
"About twenty minutes ago," I answered.
The physician started out, beckoning me to follow.
"Stop!" said Arnold. We obeyed. "Do you wish to speak of me?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the physician, hesitating.
"Speak in my presence then," said my friend; "I fear nothing." It was said in his old, imperious way, although his suffering must have been great.
"If you insist——"
"Then," said the physician, "if you have any matters to adjust they should be attended to at once. I can do nothing for you."
"How long can I live?" asked Arnold.
The physician thoughtfully stroked his gray beard. "It depends," he finally said; "if the knife be withdrawn you may live three minutes; if it be allowed to remain you may possibly live an hour or two—not longer."
Arnold never flinched.
"Thank you," he said, smiling faintly through his pain; "my friend here will pay you. I have some things to do. Let the knife remain." He turned his eyes to mine, and, pressing my hand, said, affectionately, "And I thank you, too, old fellow, for not pulling it out."
The physician, moved by a sense of delicacy, left the room, saying, "Ring if there is a change. I will be in the hotel office." He had not gone far when he turned and came back. "Pardon me," said he, "but there is a young surgeon in the hotel who is said to be a very skilful man. My specialty is not surgery, but medicine. May I call him?"
"Yes," said I, eagerly; but Arnold smiled and shook his head. "I fear there will not be time," he said. But I refused to heed him and directed that the surgeon be called immediately. I was writing at Arnold's dictation when the two men entered the room.
There was something of nerve and assurance in the young surgeon that struck my attention. His manner, though quiet, was bold and straightforward and his movements sure and quick. This young man had already distinguished himself in the performance of some difficult hospital laparotomies, and he was at that sanguine age when ambition looks through the spectacles of experiment. Dr. Raoul Entrefort was the new-comer's name. He was a Creole, small and dark, and he had travelled and studied in Europe.
"Speak freely," gasped Arnold, after Dr. Entrefort had made an examination.
"What think you, doctor?" asked Entrefort of the older man.
"I think," was the reply, "that the knife-blade has penetrated the ascending aorta, about two inches above the heart. So long as the blade remains in the wound the escape of blood is comparatively small, though certain; were the blade withdrawn the heart would almost instantly empty itself through the aortal wound."
Meanwhile, Entrefort was deftly cutting away the white shirt and the undershirt, and soon had the breast exposed. He examined the gem-studded hilt with the keenest interest.
"You are proceeding on the assumption, doctor," he said, "that this weapon is a knife."
"Certainly," answered Dr. Rowell, smiling; "what else can it be?"
"It is a knife," faintly interposed Arnold.
"Did you see the blade?" Entrefort asked him, quickly.
"I did—for a moment."
Entrefort shot a quick look at Dr. Rowell and whispered, "Then it is not suicide." Dr. Rowell looked puzzled and said nothing.
"I must disagree with you, gentlemen," quietly remarked Entrefort; "this is not a knife." He examined the handle very narrowly. Not only was the blade entirely concealed from view within Arnold's body, but the blow had been so strongly delivered that the skin was depressed by the guard. "The fact that it is not a knife presents a very curious series of facts and contingencies," pursued Entrefort, with amazing coolness, "some of which are, so far as I am informed, entirely novel in the history of surgery."
A quizzical expression, faintly amused and manifestly interested, was upon Dr. Rowell's face. "What is the weapon, doctor?" he asked.
Arnold started. Dr. Rowell appeared confused. "I must confess," he said, "my ignorance of the differences among these penetrating weapons, whether dirks, daggers, stilettos, poniards, or bowie-knives."
"With the exception of the stiletto," explained Entrefort, "all the weapons you mention have one or two edges, so that in penetrating they cut their way. A stiletto is round, is ordinarily about half an inch or less in diameter at the guard, and tapers to a sharp point. It penetrates solely by pushing the tissues aside in all directions. You will understand the importance of that point."
Dr. Rowell nodded, more deeply interested than ever.
"How do you know it is a stiletto, Dr. Entrefort?" I asked.
"The cutting of these stones is the work of Italian lapidaries," he said, "and they were set in Genoa. Notice, too, the guard. It is much broader and shorter than the guard of an edged weapon; in fact, it is nearly round. This weapon is about four hundred years old, and would be cheap at twenty thousand florins. Observe, also, the darkening color of your friend's breast in the immediate vicinity of the guard; this indicates that the tissues have been bruised by the crowding of the 'blade,' if I may use the term."
"What has all this to do with me?" asked the dying man.
"Perhaps a great deal, perhaps nothing. It brings a single ray of hope into your desperate condition."
Arnold's eyes sparkled and he caught his breath. A tremor passed all through him, and I felt it in the hand I was holding. Life was sweet to him, then, after all—sweet to this wild dare-devil who had just faced death with such calmness! Dr. Rowell, though showing no sign of jealousy, could not conceal a look of incredulity.
"With your permission," said Entrefort, addressing Arnold, "I will do what I can to save your life."
"You may," said the poor boy.
"But I shall have to hurt you."
"Perhaps very much."
"And even if I succeed (the chance is one in a thousand) you will never be a sound man, and a constant and terrible danger will always be present."
Entrefort wrote a note and sent it away in haste by a bell-boy.
"Meanwhile," he resumed, "your life is in imminent danger from shock, and the end may come in a few minutes or hours from that cause. Attend without delay to whatever matters may require settling, and Dr. Rowell," glancing at that gentleman, "will give you something to brace you up. I speak frankly, for I see that you are a man of extraordinary nerve. Am I right?"
"Be perfectly candid," said Arnold.
Dr. Rowell, evidently bewildered by his cyclonic young associate, wrote a prescription, which I sent by a boy to be filled. With unwise zeal I asked Entrefort,—
"Is there not danger of lockjaw?"
"No," he replied; "there is not a sufficiently extensive injury to peripheral nerves to induce traumatic tetanus."
I subsided. Dr. Rowell's medicine came and I administered a dose. The physician and the surgeon then retired. The poor sufferer straightened up his business. When it was done he asked me,—
"What is that crazy Frenchman going to do to me?"
"I have no idea; be patient."
In less than an hour they returned, bringing with them a keen-eyed, tall young man, who had a number of tools wrapped in an apron. Evidently he was unused to such scenes, for he became deathly pale upon seeing the ghastly spectacle on my bed. With staring eyes and open mouth he began to retreat towards the door, stammering,—
"I—I can't do it."
"Nonsense, Hippolyte! Don't be a baby. Why, man, it is a case of life and death!"
"But—look at his eyes! he is dying!"
Arnold smiled. "I am not dead, though," he gasped.
"I—I beg your pardon," said Hippolyte.
Dr. Entrefort gave the nervous man a drink of brandy and then said,—
"No more nonsense, my boy; it must be done. Gentlemen, allow me to introduce Mr. Hippolyte, one of the most original, ingenious, and skilful machinists in the country."
Hippolyte, being modest, blushed as he bowed. In order to conceal his confusion he unrolled his apron on the table with considerable noise of rattling tools.
"I have to make some preparations before you may begin, Hippolyte, and I want you to observe me that you may become used not only to the sight of fresh blood, but also, what is more trying, the odor of it."
Hippolyte shivered. Entrefort opened a case of surgical instruments.
"Now, doctor, the chloroform," he said, to Dr. Rowell.
"I will not take it," promptly interposed the sufferer; "I want to know when I die."
"Very well," said Entrefort; "but you have little nerve now to spare. We may try it without chloroform, however. It will be better if you can do without. Try your best to lie still while I cut."
"What are you going to do?" asked Arnold.
"Save your life, if possible."
"How? Tell me all about it."
"Must you know?"
"Very well, then. The point of the stiletto has passed entirely through the aorta, which is the great vessel rising out of the heart and carrying the aerated blood to the arteries. If I should withdraw the weapon the blood would rush from the two holes in the aorta and you would soon be dead. If the weapon had been a knife, the parted tissue would have yielded, and the blood would have been forced out on either side of the blade and would have caused death. As it is, not a drop of blood has escaped from the aorta into the thoracic cavity. All that is left for us to do, then, is to allow the stiletto to remain permanently in the aorta. Many difficulties at once present themselves, and I do not wonder at Dr. Rowell's look of surprise and incredulity."
That gentleman smiled and shook his head.
"It is a desperate chance," continued Entrefort, "and is a novel case in surgery; but it is the only chance. The fact that the weapon is a stiletto is the important point—a stupid weapon, but a blessing to us now. If the assassin had known more she would have used——"
Upon his employment of the noun "assassin" and the feminine pronoun "she," both Arnold and I started violently, and I cried out to the man to stop.
"Let him proceed," said Arnold, who, by a remarkable effort, had calmed himself.
"Not if the subject is painful," Entrefort said.
"It is not," protested Arnold; "why do you think the blow was struck by a woman?"
"Because, first, no man capable of being an assassin would use so gaudy and valuable a weapon; second, no man would be so stupid as to carry so antiquated and inadequate a thing as a stiletto, when that most murderous and satisfactory of all penetrating and cutting weapons, the bowie-knife, is available. She was a strong woman, too, for it requires a good hand to drive a stiletto to the guard, even though it miss the sternum by a hair's breadth and slip between the ribs, for the muscles here are hard and the intercostal spaces narrow. She was not only a strong woman, but a desperate one also."
"That will do," said Arnold. He beckoned me to bend closer. "You must watch this man; he is too sharp; he is dangerous."
"Then," resumed Entrefort, "I shall tell you what I intend to do. There will undoubtedly be inflammation of the aorta, which, if it persist, will cause a fatal aneurism by a breaking down of the aortal walls; but we hope, with the help of your youth and health, to check it.
"Another serious difficulty is this: With every inhalation, the entire thorax (or bony structure of the chest) considerably expands. The aorta remains stationary. You will see, therefore, that as your aorta and your breast are now held in rigid relation to each other by the stiletto, the chest, with every inhalation, pulls the aorta forward out of place about half an inch. I am certain that it is doing this, because there is no indication of an escape of arterial blood into the thoracic cavity; in other words, the mouths of the two aortal wounds have seized upon the blade with a firm hold and thus prevent it from slipping in and out. This is a very fortunate occurrence, but one which will cause pain for some time. The aorta, you may understand, being made by the stiletto to move with the breathing, pulls the heart backward and forward with every breath you take; but that organ, though now undoubtedly much surprised, will accustom itself to its new condition.
"What I fear most, however, is the formation of a clot around the blade. You see, the presence of the blade in the aorta has already reduced the blood-carrying capacity of that vessel; a clot, therefore, need not be very large to stop up the aorta, and, of course, if that should occur death would ensue. But the clot, if one form, may be dislodged and driven forward, in which event it may lodge in any one of the numerous branches from the aorta and produce results more or less serious, possibly fatal. If, for instance, it should choke either the right or the left carotid, there would ensue atrophy of one side of the brain, and consequently paralysis of half the entire body; but it is possible that in time there would come about a secondary circulation from the other side of the brain, and thus restore a healthy condition. Or the clot (which, in passing always from larger arteries to smaller, must unavoidably find one not sufficiently large to carry it, and must lodge somewhere) may either necessitate amputation of one of the four limbs or lodge itself so deep within the body that it cannot be reached with the knife. You are beginning to realize some of the dangers which await you."
Arnold smiled faintly.
"But we shall do our best to prevent the formation of a clot," continued Entrefort; "there are drugs which may be used with effect."
"Are there more dangers?"
"Many more; some of the more serious have not been mentioned. One of these is the probability of the aortal tissues pressing upon the weapon relaxing their hold and allowing the blade to slip. That would let out the blood and cause death. I am uncertain whether the hold is now maintained by the pressure of the tissues or the adhesive quality of the serum which was set free by the puncture. I am convinced, though, that in either event the hold is easily broken and that it may give way at any moment, for it is under several kinds of strains. Every time the heart contracts and crowds the blood into the aorta, the latter expands a little, and then contracts when the pressure is removed. Any unusual exercise or excitement produces stronger and quicker heart-beats, and increases the strain on the adhesion of the aorta to the weapon. A fright, fall, a jump, a blow on the chest—any of these might so jar the heart and aorta as to break the hold."
"Is that all?" asked Arnold.
"No; but is not that enough?"
"More than enough," said Arnold, with a sudden and dangerous sparkle in his eyes. Before any of us could think, the desperate fellow had seized the handle of the stiletto with both hands in a determined effort to withdraw it and die. I had had no time to order my faculties to the movement of a muscle, when Entrefort, with incredible alertness and swiftness, had Arnold's wrists. Slowly Arnold relaxed his hold.
"There, now!" said Entrefort, soothingly; "that was a careless act and might have broken the adhesion! You'll have to be careful."
Arnold looked at him with a curious combination of expressions.
"Dr. Entrefort," he quietly remarked, "you are the devil."
Bowing profoundly, Entrefort replied: "You do me too great honor;" then he whispered to his patient: "If you do that"—with a motion towards the hilt—"I will have her hanged for murder."
Arnold started and choked, and a look of horror overspread his face. He withdrew his hands, took one of mine in both of his, threw his arms upon the pillow above his head, and, holding my hand, firmly said to Entrefort,—
"Proceed with your work."
"Come closer, Hippolyte," said Entrefort, "and observe narrowly. Will you kindly assist me, Dr. Rowell?" That gentleman had sat in wondering silence.
Entrefort's hand was quick and sure, and he used the knife with marvellous dexterity. First he made four equidistant incisions outward from the guard and just through the skin. Arnold held his breath and ground his teeth at the first cut, but soon regained command of himself. Each incision was about two inches long. Hippolyte shuddered and turned his head aside. Entrefort, whom nothing escaped, exclaimed,—
"Steady, Hippolyte! Observe!"
Quickly was the skin peeled back to the limit of the incisions. This must have been excruciatingly painful. Arnold groaned, and his hands were moist and cold. Down sank the knife into the flesh from which the skin had been raised, and blood flowed freely; Dr. Rowell handled the sponge. The keen knife worked rapidly. Arnold's marvellous nerve was breaking down. He clutched my hand fiercely; his eyes danced; his mind was weakening. Almost in a moment the flesh had been cut away to the bones, which were now exposed,—two ribs and the sternum. A few quick cuts cleared the weapon between the guard and the ribs.
"To work, Hippolyte—be quick!"
The machinist had evidently been coached before he came. With slender, long-fingered hands, which trembled at first, he selected certain tools with nice precision, made some rapid measurements of the weapon and of the cleared space around it, and began to adjust the parts of a queer little machine. Arnold watched him curiously.
"What——" he began to say; but he ceased; a deeper pallor set on his face, his hands relaxed, and his eyelids fell.
"Thank God!" exclaimed Entrefort; "he has fainted—he can't stop us now. Quick, Hippolyte!"
The machinist attached the queer little machine to the handle of the weapon, seized the stiletto in his left hand, and with his right began a series of sharp, rapid movements backward and forward.
"Hurry, Hippolyte!" urged Entrefort.
"The metal is very hard."
"Is it cutting?"
"I can't see for the blood."
In another moment something snapped. Hippolyte started; he was very nervous. He removed the little machine.
"The metal is very hard," he said; "it breaks the saws."
He adjusted another tiny saw and resumed work. After a little while he picked up the handle of the stiletto and laid it on the table. He had cut it off, leaving the blade inside Arnold's body.
"Good, Hippolyte!" exclaimed Entrefort. In a minute he had closed the bright end of the blade from view by drawing together the skin-flaps and sewing them firmly.
Arnold returned to consciousness and glanced down at his breast. He seemed puzzled. "Where is the weapon?" he asked.
"Here is part of it," answered Entrefort, holding up the handle.
"And the blade——"
"That is an irremovable part of your internal machinery." Arnold was silent. "It had to be cut off," pursued Entrefort, "not only because it would be troublesome and an undesirable ornament, but also because it was advisable to remove every possibility of its withdrawal." Arnold said nothing. "Here is a prescription," said Entrefort; "take the medicine as directed for the next five years without fail."
"What for? I see that it contains muriatic acid."
"If necessary I will explain five years from now."
"If I live."
"If you live."
Arnold drew me down to him and whispered, "Tell her to fly at once; this man may make trouble for her."
Was there ever a more generous fellow?
* * * * *
I thought that I recognized a thin, pale, bright face among the passengers who were leaving an Australian steamer which had just arrived at San Francisco.
"Dr. Entrefort!" I cried.
"Ah!" he said, peering up into my face and grasping my hand; "I know you now, but you have changed. You remember that I was called away immediately after I had performed that crazy operation on your friend. I have spent the intervening four years in India, China, Tibet, Siberia, the South Seas, and God knows where not. But wasn't that a most absurd, hare-brained experiment that I tried on your friend! Still, it was all that could have been done. I have dropped all that nonsense long ago. It is better, for more reasons than one, to let them die at once. Poor fellow! he bore it so bravely! Did he suffer much afterwards? How long did he live? A week—perhaps a month?"
"He is alive yet."
"What!" exclaimed Entrefort, startled.
"He is, indeed, and is in this city."
"It is true; you shall see him."
"But tell me about him now!" cried the surgeon, his eager eyes glittering with the peculiar light which I had seen in them on the night of the operation. "Has he regularly taken the medicine which I prescribed?"
"He has. Well, the change in him, from what he was before the operation, is shocking. Imagine a young dare-devil of twenty-two, who had no greater fear of danger or death than of a cold, now a cringing, cowering fellow; apparently an old man, nursing his life with pitiful tenderness, fearful that at any moment something may happen to break the hold of his aorta-walls on the stiletto-blade; a confirmed hypochondriac, peevish, melancholic, unhappy in the extreme. He keeps himself confined as closely as possible, avoiding all excitement and exercise, and even reads nothing exciting. The constant danger has worn out the last shred of his manhood and left him a pitiful wreck. Can nothing be done for him?"
"Possibly. But has he consulted no physician?"
"None whatever; he has been afraid that he might learn the worst."
"Let us find him at once. Ah, here comes my wife to meet me! She arrived by the other steamer."
I recognized her immediately and was overcome with astonishment.
"Charming woman," said Entrefort; "you'll like her. We were married three years ago at Bombay. She belongs to a noble Italian family and has travelled a great deal."
He introduced us. To my unspeakable relief she remembered neither my name nor my face. I must have appeared odd to her, but it was impossible for me to be perfectly unconcerned. We went to Arnold's rooms, I with much dread. I left her in the reception-room and took Entrefort within. Arnold was too greatly absorbed in his own troubles to be dangerously excited by meeting Entrefort, whom he greeted with indifferent hospitality.
"But I heard a woman's voice," he said. "It sounds——" He checked himself, and before I could intercept him he had gone to the reception-room; and there he stood face to face with the beautiful adventuress,—none other than Entrefort's wife now,—who, wickedly desperate, had driven a stiletto into Arnold's vitals in a hotel four years before because he had refused to marry her. They recognized each other instantly and both grew pale; but she, quicker witted, recovered her composure at once and advanced towards him with a smile and an extended hand. He stepped back, his face ghastly with fear.
"Oh!" he gasped, "the excitement, the shock,—it has made the blade slip out! The blood is pouring from the opening,—it burns,—I am dying!" and he fell into my arms and instantly expired.
The autopsy revealed the surprising fact that there was no blade in his thorax at all; it had been gradually consumed by the muriatic acid which Entrefort had prescribed for that very purpose, and the perforations in the aorta had closed up gradually with the wasting of the blade and had been perfectly healed for a long time. All his vital organs were sound. My poor friend, once so reckless and brave, had died simply of a childish and groundless fear, and the woman unwittingly had accomplished her revenge.
Over an Absinthe Bottle
Arthur Kimberlin, a young man of very high spirit, found himself a total stranger in San Francisco one rainy evening, at a time when his heart was breaking; for his hunger was of that most poignant kind in which physical suffering is forced to the highest point without impairment of the mental functions. There remained in his possession not a thing that he might have pawned for a morsel to eat; and even as it was, he had stripped his body of all articles of clothing except those which a remaining sense of decency compelled him to retain. Hence it was that cold assailed him and conspired with hunger to complete his misery. Having been brought into the world and reared a gentleman, he lacked the courage to beg and the skill to steal. Had not an extraordinary thing occurred to him, he either would have drowned himself in the bay within twenty-four hours or died of pneumonia in the street. He had been seventy hours without food, and his mental desperation had driven him far in its race with his physical needs to consume the strength within him; so that now, pale, weak, and tottering, he took what comfort he could find in the savory odors which came steaming up from the basement kitchens of the restaurants in Market Street, caring more to gain them than to avoid the rain. His teeth chattered; he shambled, stooped, and gasped. He was too desperate to curse his fate—he could only long for food. He could not reason; he could not understand that ten thousand hands might gladly have fed him; he could think only of the hunger which consumed him, and of food that could give him warmth and happiness.
When he had arrived at Mason Street, he saw a restaurant a little way up that thoroughfare, and for that he headed, crossing the street diagonally. He stopped before the window and ogled the steaks, thick and lined with fat; big oysters lying on ice; slices of ham as large as his hat; whole roasted chickens, brown and juicy. He ground his teeth, groaned, and staggered on.
A few steps beyond was a drinking-saloon, which had a private door at one side, with the words "Family Entrance" painted thereon. In the recess of the door (which was closed) stood a man. In spite of his agony, Kimberlin saw something in this man's face that appalled and fascinated him. Night was on, and the light in the vicinity was dim; but it was apparent that the stranger had an appearance of whose character he himself must have been ignorant. Perhaps it was the unspeakable anguish of it that struck through Kimberlin's sympathies. The young man came to an uncertain halt and stared at the stranger. At first he was unseen, for the stranger looked straight out into the street with singular fixity, and the death-like pallor of his face added a weirdness to the immobility of his gaze. Then he took notice of the young man.
"Ah," he said, slowly and with peculiar distinctness, "the rain has caught you, too, without overcoat or umbrella! Stand in this doorway—there is room for two."
The voice was not unkind, though it had an alarming hardness. It was the first word that had been addressed to the sufferer since hunger had seized him, and to be spoken to at all, and have his comfort regarded in the slightest way, gave him cheer. He entered the embrasure and stood beside the stranger, who at once relapsed into his fixed gaze at nothing across the street. But presently the stranger stirred himself again.
"It may rain a long time," said he; "I am cold, and I observe that you tremble. Let us step inside and get a drink."
He opened the door and Kimberlin followed, hope beginning to lay a warm hand upon his heart. The pale stranger led the way into one of the little private booths with which the place was furnished. Before sitting down he put his hand into his pocket and drew forth a roll of bank-bills.
"You are younger than I," he said; "won't you go to the bar and buy a bottle of absinthe, and bring a pitcher of water and some glasses? I don't like for the waiters to come around. Here is a twenty-dollar bill."
Kimberlin took the bill and started down through the corridor towards the bar. He clutched the money tightly in his palm; it felt warm and comfortable, and sent a delicious tingling through his arm. How many glorious hot meals did that bill represent? He clutched it tighter and hesitated. He thought he smelled a broiled steak, with fat little mushrooms and melted butter in the steaming dish. He stopped and looked back towards the door of the booth. He saw that the stranger had closed it. He could pass it, slip out the door, and buy something to eat. He turned and started, but the coward in him (there are other names for this) tripped his resolution; so he went straight to the bar and made the purchase. This was so unusual that the man who served him looked sharply at him.
"Ain't goin' to drink all o' that, are you?" he asked.
"I have friends in the box," replied Kimberlin, "and we want to drink quietly and without interruption. We are in Number 7."
"Oh, beg pardon. That's all right," said the man.
Kimberlin's step was very much stronger and steadier as he returned with the liquor. He opened the door of the booth. The stranger sat at the side of the little table, staring at the opposite wall just as he had stared across the street. He wore a wide-brimmed, slouch hat, drawn well down. It was only after Kimberlin had set the bottle, pitcher, and glasses on the table, and seated himself opposite the stranger and within his range of vision, that the pale man noticed him.
"Oh! you have brought it? How kind of you! Now please lock the door."
Kimberlin had slipped the change into his pocket, and was in the act of bringing it out when the stranger said,—
"Keep the change. You will need it, for I am going to get it back in a way that may interest you. Let us first drink, and then I will explain."
The pale man mixed two drinks of absinthe and water, and the two drank. Kimberlin, unsophisticated, had never tasted the liquor before, and he found it harsh and offensive; but no sooner had it reached his stomach than it began to warm him, and sent the most delicious thrill through his frame.
"It will do us good," said the stranger; "presently we shall have more. Meanwhile, do you know how to throw dice?"
Kimberlin weakly confessed that he did not.
"I thought not. Well, please go to the bar and bring a dice-box. I would ring for it, but I don't want the waiters to be coming in."
Kimberlin fetched the box, again locked the door, and the game began. It was not one of the simple old games, but had complications, in which judgment, as well as chance, played a part. After a game or two without stakes, the stranger said,—
"You now seem to understand it. Very well—I will show you that you do not. We will now throw for a dollar a game, and in that way I shall win the money that you received in change. Otherwise I should be robbing you, and I imagine you cannot afford to lose. I mean no offence. I am a plain-spoken man, but I believe in honesty before politeness. I merely want a little diversion, and you are so kind-natured that I am sure you will not object."