The Old Flute-Player
A Romance of To-day
CHARLES T. DAZEY
J. KNOWLES HARE, JR.
G.W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright, 1910, By
G.W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY
Almost instantly the Italian bully was sprawling in the scuppers and Vanderlyn had raised the old man to his feet
It was as if the "sweet birds singing in his heart" had risen and were perched, all twittering and cooing, chirping, carolling upon his lips
"She is not guilty! No; it is I—I—I!"
The Old Flute-Player
Herr Kreutzer was a mystery to his companions in the little London orchestra in which he played, and he kept his daughter, Anna, in such severe seclusion that they little more than knew that she existed and was beautiful. Not far from Soho Square, they lived, in that sort of British lodgings in which room-rental carries with it the privilege of using one hole in the basement-kitchen range on which to cook food thrice a day. To the people of the lodging-house the two were nearly as complete a mystery as to the people of the orchestra.
"Hi sye," the landlady confided to the slavey, M'riar, "that Dutch toff in the hattic, 'e's somethink in disguise!"
"My hye," exclaimed the slavey, who adored Herr Kreutzer and intensely worshiped Anna. She jumped back dramatically. "Not bombs!"
The neighborhood was used to linking thoughts of bombs with thoughts of foreigners whose hair hung low upon their shoulders as, beyond a doubt, Herr Kreutzer's did, so M'riar's guess was not absurd. England offers refuge to the nightmares of all Europe's political indigestion. Soho offers most of them their lodgings. For years M'riar had been vainly waiting, with delicious fear, for that terrific moment when she should discover a loaded bit of gas-pipe in some bed as she yanked off the covers. Now real drama seemed, at last, to be coming into her dull life. Somethink in disguise—Miss Anna's father! She hoped it was not bombs, for bombs might mean trouble for him. She resolved that should she see a bobby trying to get up into the attic she would pour a kettleful of boiling water on him.
The landlady relieved her, somewhat, by her comment of next moment. "'E's too mild fer bombs by 'arf," she said, with rich disgust. "Likelier 'e's drove away, than that 'e's one as wishes 'e could drive. Hi sye, fer guess, that 'e's got titles, an' sech like, but's bean cashiered." (The landlady had had a son disgraced as officer of yeomanry and used a military term which, to her mind, meant exiled.) "'E's got that look abaht 'im of 'avin' bean fired hout."
"No fault o' 'is, then," said the slavey quickly, voicing her earnest partisanship without a moment's wait. She even looked at her employer with a belligerent eye.
"'E doos pye reg'lar," the landlady admitted with an air which showed that she had more than once had tenants who did not.
"Judgin' from 'is manners an' kind 'eart 'e might be princes," said the slavey, drawing in her breath exactly as she would if sucking a ripe orange.
"An' 'is darter might be princesses!" exclaimed the landlady with a sniff. Quite plainly she did not approve of the seclusion in which Herr Kreutzer kept his daughter. "Five years 'ave them two lived 'ere in this 'ere 'ouse, an' not five times 'as that there man let that there 'aughty miss stir hout halone!"
"'Ow 'eavingly!" sighed the maid, who never, in her life, had been cared for, at all, by anyone.
"'Ow fiddlesticks!" the landlady replied. "You'd think she might be waxworks, liable to melt if sun-shone-on! Fer me, Hi says that them as is too fine for Soho houghtn't to be livin' 'ere. That's w'at Hi says—halthough 'e pyes as reg'lar as clockworks."
"Clockworks fawther with a waxworks darter!" cried the slavey, who had a taste for humor of a kind. "Th' one 'ud stop if t'other melted. That's sure."
"'E hidolizes 'er that much hit mykes me think o' Roman Catholics an' such," the landlady replied.
Then, for a time, she paused in thought, while the slavey lost herself in dreams that, possibly, she had been serving and been worshiping a real princess. As the height of the ambition of all such as she, in London, is to be humble before rank, the mere thought filled her with delight and multiplied into the homage of a subject for an over-lord the love she felt already for the charming German girl of whom they spoke.
"She might be," said the landlady, at length.
"W'at? Princesses?" inquired the wistful slavey.
The landlady looked shrewdly at her. It might be that by thus confiding to the servant her own speculations as to her lodgers' rank, she had been sowing seed of some extravagance. Hypnotized by the idea, the slavey might slip to the two mysterious Germans, sometime, something which would not be charged upon the bill! "Nothink of the sort!" she cried, therefore, hastily. "An' don't you never tyke no coals to 'em that you don't tell abaht—you 'ear?"
The slavey promised, but the seed was sown. From that time on full many a small attention fell to the Herr Kreutzer and his pretty, gentle-mannered, dark-haired, big-eyed Anna of which the landlady knew nothing, and many a dream of romance did the smutted slavey's small, sad eyes see in the kitchen fire on lonely evenings while she was waiting for the last lodger to come in before she went to bed behind the kindlings-bin. And the central figures of these dreams were, always, the beautiful young German girl and her dignified, independent, shabby, courteous old father.
In the small orchestra where Kreutzer played, he made no friends among the other musical performers; when the manager of the dingy little theatre politely tried to pump him as to details of his history he managed to evade all answers in the least illuminating, although he never failed to do so with complete politeness.
All that really was known of him was that he had arrived in London, years ago, with only two possessions which he seemed to value, and, indeed, but two which were worth valuing. One of these, of course, was his exquisite young daughter, then a little child; the other was his wonderful old flute. The daughter he secluded with the jealous care of a far-eastern parent; the flute he played upon with an artistic skill unequalled in the history of orchestras in that small theatre.
With it he could easily have found a place in the best orchestra in London, but, apparently, he did not care to offer such a band his services. On the one or two occasions when a "cruising listener" for the big orchestras came to the little theatre, heard the old man's masterful performance, found himself enthralled by it and made the marvelous flute-player a rich offer, the old man refused peremptorily even to talk the matter over with him—to the great delight of the small manager, who was paying but a pittance for his splendid work.
So anxious did Herr Kreutzer seem to be to keep from winning notice from the outside world, indeed, that when a stranger who might possibly be one of those explorers after merit in dim places appeared there in the little theatre, the other members of the orchestra felt quite sure of wretched playing from the grey-haired flutist. If it chanced that they had noticed no such stranger, but yet Herr Kreutzer struck false notes persistently, they all made sure that they had missed the entrance of the "cruiser," searched the audience for him with keen and speculative eyes and played their very best, certain that the man was there and hopeful of attracting the attention and the approbation which the old flute-player shunned. More than one had thus been warned, to their great good.
And Herr Kreutzer, on such evenings, was privileged to strike false notes with painful iteration, even to the actual distress of auditors, without a word of criticism from the leader or the manager. Excruciating discord from the flute, on three or four nights of a season, was accepted as part payment for such playing, upon every other night, as seldom had been heard from any flute in any orchestra in London or elsewhere.
The theatre saw very little of the daughter. Once at the beginning of the run of every fit new play, the flute-player requested of the manager a box and always got it. In this box, on such occasions, his daughter sat in solitary state, enjoying with a childish fervor the mumming of the actors on the stage, the story of the play, the music of the orchestra. Such glimpses, only, had the theatre of her. Her father never introduced her to an attache of the establishment. Once, after she had grown into magnificent young womanhood, he very angrily refused an earnest supplication for an introduction from the manager, himself. On the nights when she came to the theatre he took her to the box, before the overture began, and she sat there, quite alone, until he went to her after the audience had been "played out."
His own exclusiveness was very nearly as complete. He formed no intimacies among the members of the orchestra with whom he played eight times a week, although his face showed, sometimes, that he yearned to join their gossip, in the stuffy little room beneath the stage, which housed them when they were not in their places in the crowded space "in front" allotted to them.
"Tiens!" said the Frenchman who played second-violin. "Ze ol' man have such fear zat we should wiss to spik us wiz 'is daughtaire, zat 'e trit us lak we 'ave a seeckness catchable!"
It was almost true. He did avoid the chance of making her acquainted with any of the folk with whom his daily routine threw him into contact, with a care which might suggest a fear of some sort of contagion for her. But not all the members of the orchestra resented it. The drummer (who also played the triangle and tambourine when need was, imitated railway noises with shrewd implements, pumped an auto-horn when motor-cars were supposed to be approaching or departing "off-stage" and made himself, in general, a useful man on all occasions) was his firm friend and partisan.
"Garn, Frawgs!" he sneered, to the resentful Frenchman. "Yer 'yn't fit ter sye ther time o' dye ter 'er; yer knows yer 'yn't."
"Wat? To ze daughtaire of a flute!" the Second-Violin replied. "W'y—"
"Garn!" said the drummer. "Sye, yer myke me sick! You, with yer black-'aired fyce an' paytent boots! Hi bean 'ammerin' 'ide in horchestras since me tenth birthdye, but Hi knows a hangel w'en Hi sees one, an' lawst night Hi missed a 'ole bar on the snare fer lookin' up at 'er just once. Hi never see a brunette look so habsolutely hinnocent. Th' Ol' Nick's peekin' out o' brunettes' faces, somew'eres, mostly. Don't know w'at she myde me think of—m'ybe wreaths o' roses red an' pink, an' m'ybe crowns o' di'mun's—but Hi missed a 'ole bar on th' snare fer thinking somethink."
"Tiens!" the Frenchman began scornfully. "He is too much—"
"Garn!" said the drummer, threateningly, and it may be that the tinkle of the "ready" bell prevented something more than words between them, for the drummer, at the time, was holding the bass-drum-stick. He could have struck a mighty blow with it.
Just when the thought of leaving for America first began to grow in Kreutzer's mind, it would be hard to say, but it took definite form immediately subsequent to the London visit of a Most Exalted Personage from Prussia. On the last day of this Most Exalted Personage's stay Herr Kreutzer was enjoying, with his Anna, the long Sunday twilight in Hyde Park. They often strolled there of a Sunday evening. The Most Exalted Personage, being in a democratic mood and wishful of seeing London and its people quietly, was also strolling in Hyde Park and met the father and the daughter, face to face.
There was nothing, so far as Anna saw, about the stranger in plain mufti, to make her father drop his head, pull down his hat and hurry on, almost as if in sudden panic, dragging her by a slender wrist clasped in a hand which trembled; but he did do all these things, while the queer gentleman with the upturned moustaches (Anna had no notion who he was) stopped stonestill in his stroll and gazed after them with puzzled eyes in which a semi-recognition and a very lively curiosity seemed growing.
"Who is he, father?" Anna asked, in English, which the father much preferred to German from her lips and which she spoke with carefully exact construction, but with charming rolling of the r's and hissing of the s's. Her accent was much more pronounced than his, due, doubtless, to the fact that while he went daily to his little corner of the English world to earn their living, her seclusion was complete. She saw few English save M'riar and the landlady—whose accent never tempted her to imitation. "He seemed to know you," she went on. "He seemed to wish, almost, to speak with you, but seemed to feel not positive that you were you."
Kreutzer gave her a quick glance, then seemed to pull himself together with an effort. He assumed a carefully surprised air. "Who is he? Who is who, mine liebschen?"
"The gentleman from whom you ran away?"
"I run!" said Kreutzer, doubling his demeanor of astonishment as if in total ignorance of what she meant. "I run! Why should I run, my Anna? Why should I run from anybody?"
The daughter looked at him and sighed and then she looked at him and smiled, and said no more. So many times, in other days, had things like this occurred; so many times had she been quite unable to get any lucid exposition from him of the strange occurrences, that, lately, she never probed him for an explanation. She well knew, in advance, that she would get none, and was unwilling to compel him into laboring evasions. But such matters sorely puzzled her.
She did not learn, therefore, that the tall and handsome man who had so curiously stared at them was the Exalted Personage; she did not learn why it had been that from him Kreutzer had fled swiftly with her, obviously worrying intensely lest they might be followed. She did not know why, later, she was in closer espionage than ever. Two or three days afterwards, when Kreutzer came in with his pockets full of steamship time-tables and emigration-agents' folders, she did not dream that it was that the Most Exalted Personage had cast his eyes upon them, rather than the fact that wonderful advantages were promised to the emigrant by all this steamship literature, which had made him make a wholly unexpected plan to go from London and to cross the mighty sea. He swore her to close secrecy.
It was with the utmost difficulty that she concealed their destination from the landlady and from the slavey who assisted her in packing the small trunks which held their all. She was always glad of anything which made it absolutely necessary for them to be with her, for her father, long ago, had told her not to ask them into their small rooms when their presence there was not imperatively needed. She was and had been, ever since she could remember clearly, very lonely, full of longing for companionship—so very full of longing that, had he not commanded it, she would not have been, as he was, particular about the social status of the friends she made.
Even poor M'riar's love was very sweet and dear to her, and now, as she was packing for departure the meagre garments of her wardrobe, her scanty little fineries, the few small keepsakes she had hoarded of the pitifully scarce bright days of her life (almost every one of these a gift from her old father, token of a birth-or feast-day) it was with a sudden burst of tears, a rushing, overwhelming feeling of anticipatory loneliness, that she looked at the grimy little child who was assisting her.
M'riar fell back on her haunches with a gasp. "Garn!" she cried. "Garn, Miss! Don't yer dare to beller!"
A stranger might have thought she was impertinent, for "garn" on cockney lips means "go on, now," in the slang of the United States, and "beller" is not elegant, but Anna knew that she did not intend an impudence.
"I feel very sad at leaving you, M'ri-arrr." There was pathos, now, in the way Miss Anna rolled her r's.
"Sad! Huh! Hi thinks Hi'll die of it!" was the reply, accompanied by more choked sobs and many snuffles. "An' yer won't heven tell me w'ere yer hoff to!"
"I don't know, exactly, where we're off to M'ri-arrr. Somewhere very far—oh, very far!"
M'riar, in spite of a firm resolution not to yield to tears, cast herself upon the floor in anguish, and, as she kicked and howled, grasped one of Anna's hands and kissed it, mumbling it, as an anguished mother might a babe's—the hand of an exceedingly loved babe whom she expected, soon, to lose by having given it to someone in adoption.
At that time M'riar looked upon the separation as inevitable. The wild scheme which, afterwards, grew in her alert and worried brain, had not yet had its birth and she could not take the thought of her Miss Anna's going with composure.
"Hi didn't want ter 'oller," she said, at length, when she had regained her self-control, "but that there yell hinside o' me was bigger'n Hi 'ad room fer, Miss."
"It is very sweet of you to weep," said Anna gravely, "although it is not sweet to hear you weep; but I think it means you love me, M'ri-arrr, doesn't it?"
"Hi fair wusships yer," said M'riar. "Fair wusships yer."
And there was a strange thing about Miss Anna. It did not in the least surprise her to be told with an undoubted earnestness, indeed to know, that she was literally worshiped as a goddess might be. There was something in her blood which made this seem quite right and proper. She looked at the poor slavey with the kind eyes of a princess gazing at a weeping subject, whose suffering has come through loyalty, and kindly smiled.
"It is very nice of you, M'riarr. I am fond of you, M'riarr."
"I knows yer is; I knows yer is," said M'riar. "Tyke me with yer, won't yer, Miss?"
"Oh, I couldn't take you with me," Anna answered, as she laid a kind, if queenly hand upon the poor thing's cheek. "But you must let me know just where you are at all times, and, perhaps, some day, I will send you something to remind you of me."
"Hi won't need nothink ter remind me, Miss," said M'riar. "Hi'll remember yer, hall right."
The next morning came a four-wheeled cab up to the dingy door, to the vast amazement of the other lodgers, and, indeed, the entire neighborhood. Into this Herr Kreutzer handed his delightful daughter with as much consideration as a minister could show a queen, and then, with courtly bows, climbed in himself, having, with much ceremony, bade the landlady adieu. Anna cast a keen glance all about, expecting a last glimpse of M'riar, but had none and was grieved. So soon do the affections of the lower classes fade!
After the cab started, the Herr Kreutzer carefully pulled down the blinds a little way, on both side windows, so that the inside of the cab was dark enough to make it impossible for wayfarers to note who was within.
"Father," said Anna, curiously, "why do you pull down the blinds?"
"Er—er—mine eyes. The light is—"
He did not complete the sentence.
"Father," she asked presently, "why did you change the tickets?"
"Change the tickets, Anna? I have not changed the tickets."
"But you told the landlady we were to sail from Southampton. The tickets, which you showed to me, say Liverpool."
"A little strategy, mine Anna; just a little strategy."
"I do not understand."
"No, liebschen; you do not," he granted gravely.
A moment later and the cab jounced over a loose paving-block, almost unseating M'riar from her place on the rear springs. The little scream she gave attracted the attention of the vehicle's two passengers and they peered from the window at the rear; but it was small and high and they did not catch sight through it of the strange, ragged little figure, with the set, determined face, which was clinging to their chariot with a desperate tenacity.
M'riar's feelings would have been difficult of real analysis and she did not try to analyze them, any more than a devoted dog who desperately follows his loved master when that master is not cognizant of it and does not wish it, tries to analyze the dog-emotions which compel him to cling to the trail. Such a dog knows quite enough, at such a time, to keep clear of his master's view, although his following is an expression of his love and though that love is born, he knows, of like love in his master's heart for him. M'riar was yielding to an uncontrolled, an uncontrollable impulse of love, and, though her brain was active with the cunning of the slums, had not the least idea of combatting it, or letting anything less strong than actual death would be in its deterrent force, prevent her from obeying the swift impulse to the very end. She had not taken any of her mistress' money, when she fled. Her only sin, she told herself, was leaving without notice. She had only made a little bundle of her own worn, scanty, extra clothes, which, now, was tied about her waist and hung beneath the skirt she wore. There were not many of those clothes, so the dangling bundle did not discommode her when she dodged behind the cab, ran beside it (on the far side from the lodging-house) till it turned a corner, and then sought her perch upon its springs behind. In her mouth were seven golden sovereigns, the hoard of her whole lifetime, barring some small silver and an Irish one-pound note stowed in her left stocking. Her right stocking had been darned till it was nowise to be trusted with one-eighth of her whole wealth. She had no dimmest thought of whither she was bound; she only knew that she would go, if Fate permitted, wherever Anna went, to serve her.
Arrived at the confusion of the railway station known as Waterloo, Herr Kreutzer helped his Anna from the cab, paid the cabman from his slender store of silver, hired a porter with another shilling to take all their luggage to the train and went to get their third-class railway tickets, keeping, meanwhile, a keen eye for anyone who looked to be a German of position, and noting with delight that in the crowd not one pair of moustaches stuck straight up beside its owner's nose. Slinking after him, at a slight distance, but near enough to hear quite all he said, came M'riar, and, when he had passed on, bought for herself a third-class ticket to Southampton. Her keen eyes fixed upon the backs of the two folk with whom, without their knowledge, she had cast her fortunes, she then went into the train-shed and found a place, at length, in the next carriage to the one which they had entered. Then she trained a wary eye out of the window, to make sure they did not change their minds and slip out and away without her knowledge before the train departed.
On the arrival in Southampton she waited in the railway carriage till she saw them started down the platform; then, again, she trailed them. Two minutes after the Herr Kreutzer had purchased steerage tickets on the Rochester for far America, M'riar had bought one for herself. When the German and his daughter reached the shore-end of the slightly-angled gang-plank leading to the steamer's steerage-deck (close it was beside the steeper one which led up to the higher and more costly portions of the ship) she was not far behind them, trailing, watchful, terrified by the ship's mighty warning whistle which reverberated in the dock-shed till her teeth were set a-chatter in an agony of fear of the mere noise.
At this point she nearly lost her self-control and let her quarries see her, for Herr Kreutzer, in his hurry and excitement, dropped one of his small hand-bags. Almost she sprang to pick it up for him, through mere working of her strong instinct to serve him. Indeed, she would have done so had it not been for a tall and handsome youth.
This young man's eyes, M'riar had been noting, had been closely fixed upon the lovely face of Anna, doubly lovely, flushed as it now was by the excitement of the start of a great journey. He sprang forward, picked up the handbag and presented it to the old German with a frank good-fellowship of courtesy which took not the least account of the mere fact that he, himself, was on the point of stepping to the gang-plank leading to the first-cabin quarters, while Kreutzer, obviously, was about to seek the steerage-deck. M'riar, with her sharp, small eyes, noted that the youth, strong, graceful, tall, sun-burned and distinctly wholesome of appearance, did not look at Kreutzer, as he did the little service, but at Anna.
"Reg'lar toff!" she muttered, gazing at him with frank admiration, quite impersonal.
An instant later she saw that when he turned back from the rough, unpainted gang-plank to the steerage-deck to the more exclusive bridge, railed, hung with canvas at the sides and carpeted with red, which led to the first-cabin quarters, a lady seized his arm with a proprietary grasp and spoke a little crossly to him because he had delayed to do this tiny service for the pair of steerage passengers.
"Rg'lar cat!" said M'riar, estimating her as quickly as she had appraised the youth. "She's 'is mother, but she's catty. Dogs 'ud 'ate 'er, Hi'll go bail."
Her attention was absorbed, then, by the great problem of getting by the officer who examined steerage-tickets, without being seen by Kreutzer and his daughter.
"W'ere's yer luggage?" asked the officer.
"Luggage! Huh!" said M'riar. "W'at would Hi want o' luggage? Think Hi'm a hactress startin' hout hon tour?"
"Tykes six poun' ten to land on t'other side," the officer went on, suspiciously. "'Yn't got that, nyther, 'ave yer?"
"Betcher bloomink heye Hi gawt it," said M'riar confidently, and stooped as if she would pull out her wealth to show him, then and there.
"Hin yer stawckin', eh?" the man said grinning.
That which had been in her mouth was spent for ticket, mostly, but a little still was in her hand. "W'ere'd yer think Hi'd 'ave it?" she asked scornfully. "Hin me roight hear?" Then she showed him what was in her fist.
"Garn aboard," the man said, grinning.
"'Yn't I?" she asked briskly, and, seeing that Herr Kreutzer and his Anna had passed quite out of sight into the ship's mysterious interior, went up the gang-plank hurriedly, fearing to lose sight of them. She did not realize that on an impulse she was starting to go a quarter of the way around the earth. She only knew that love, love irresistible, supreme, was drawing her to follow where they led. But notwithstanding that it was pure love which drew her, she told herself, as she went up the plank: "Hif they ketches me they'll 'eave me hoverboard an' give me to th' fish, like's not."
Twenty minutes later the great ship was swinging out into the harbor. In a dark passage on the steerage-deck cowered M'riar, for the first time in her life afloat, and wondering why the motion of the vessel seemed to make her wish to die; her white face, strained, frightened eyes and trembling hands marking her, to the experienced, unsympathetic eyes of the stern steerage-stewardess, an early victim of seasickness.
"Hi, w'ere's yer ticket?" that fierce female cried, and M'riar showed it to her, weakly, scarcely caring whether it entitled her to passage or condemned her to expulsion from the ship by a sharp toss overside.
"Garn in there," said the stewardess, studying the ticket and its bearer's symptoms simultaneously. "S'y, yer goin' ter be a nice sweet passenger to 'ave hon board, now 'yn't yer?"
"Hi'm goin' ter die," said M'riar with firm conviction and not at all appalled but rather pleased at thought of it.
"No such luck fer hus!" the stewardess replied. "Get in there, cawn't yer, before hit comes quite hon?"
So M'riar, long before the ship began to definitely feel even the gentle Channel sea, was thrust into retirement, willy, nilly, and immediately sought a bunk, absolutely without interest in anything, even in her own sad fate. All she wished to do was die, at once, and she had too little energy even to wish that very vividly. Miss Anna, Herr Kreutzer and the fine young man who had been kind to them, who, ten minutes earlier, had all been real and potent interests, dimmed into hazy phantoms of a bygone activity of mind.
"Oh,—ar-r-r-r-r-r!" M'riar groaned. "Th' bloomink ship is standin' on 'er bloody 'ead, yn't 'er?"
"Garn! Keep yer 'ead flat. Lay down," the stewardess replied, "er you'll be."
M'riar kept her head flat.
Out on the open deck, forward of the bridge, where, as well as aft, the vessel, like many of a bygone type was cut away, leaving the forward and after railings of the promenade-deck, like the barriers of a balcony, for the first-cabin passengers to peer across at their less lucky fellows of the steerage, Herr Kreutzer and his Anna, both bewildered, stood by their little pile of baggage, waiting for direction and assistance in searching out their quarters. Surrounding them a motley group of many nationalities was gathered. There were Germans, Swedes, some French, some Swiss, a group of heavy-browed and jowled Hungarians, a few anaemic, underfed young cockneys, and, dominating all, to the casual eye, because of their bright colors, a small group of Italians. To these the largest one among them was making himself clear.
"I," he was saying, "am Pietro Moresco. I have-a da nice political posish, an' nice-a barber-shop on Mulberry-a Strit. Some-a day I getta on da force—da pollis-force. Sure t'ing. I been-a home to see ma moth. I go-a back to make-a da more mon." He pulled out from his corded bundle of red quilts and coats and rugs some bottles of cheap wine. "I getta place for all you men." He was beginning, thus early in the voyage of these would-be citizens, to prepare to use them in the politics of his over-crowded ward in New York City. "Come-a! We drink-a to Americ. We drink-a to New York. New York da mos' reech-a place."
Catching sight of the bewildered beauty of poor Anna, and the no less bewildered dignity of Herr Kreutzer, being dazzled by the former, as was everyone in sight, and being quite as anxious to make friends among prospective German citizens as among those of his own country (a German vote is likely to be useful, now and then, on Mulberry Street) he offered her a cup, and, as she took it automatically, would have poured some wine into it with a gallant smile. Kreutzer took the cup out of her hand and passed it back to him.
"Bitte," he said, calmly. "I thank you. My daughter does not care for wine."
Moresco, angered, gave him a black scowl and took the cup.
"By Jove," said the youth who had, upon the dock, picked up Herr Kreutzer's bag. He was standing on the promenade-deck, above, beside his very, very stately mother, who, over-dressed and full of scorn for the whole world, was complaining because her doctor's orders had suggested traveling upon so slow and old a ship. "There's that stunning little German girl down there. Isn't she a picture? Gee! Her old man wouldn't let her drink with that black dago—not that she wanted to. But bully for Professor Pretzel!" "How very vulgar!" said his mother, looking down at the small, animated scene before her with disfavor. "Mere immigrants."
"I s'pose our folks were, sometime," John Vanderlyn replied. "But isn't she a corker, mother?"
"John, your language is too shocking! Please see about our deck-chairs," Mrs. Vanderlyn replied.
Under a brilliant summer sky the ocean heaved in mighty swells. Anna, on one of the most delightful mornings of this ideal voyage to America, found the port side of the ship unpleasant, because of the sun's brilliance. From every tiny facet of the water, which a brisk breeze crinkled, the light flashed at her eyes with the quick vividness of electric sparks, and almost blinded her. Not even her graceful, slender, and (surprising on that steerage-deck) beautifully white hand, now curved against her brow, could so shade her vision as to enable her to look upon the sea in search of the far sail which the lookout in the crow's nest had just reported to the bridge in a long, droning hail. Her curiosity in the passing stranger had been aroused by the keen interest which the more fortunately situated, on the promenade-deck, above, had shown by crowding to their rail. They were, as she could see from her humbler portion of the ship, talking of the far craft interestedly; but from her station, owing either to its lack of altitude or to the more dazzling glitter of the sea, due to the differing angle of her vision, she failed to catch a glimpse of it. The glare made her give up the search.
She shrugged her small, plaid shawl about her shoulders to meet the wind's now freshening assaults, pulled her knitted hood a little closer all about her face to hide it, through some sort of instinct (the first-cabin folk, above, all through the voyage, had been wont to gaze down on the steerage passengers as if they were a sort of interesting animals), and made her way across the slowly heaving planks to starboard. Glancing quickly upward as she went, she colored gloriously, for looking down straight at her from behind the rail which edged the elevated platform of the prosperous, stood the youth who had picked up her father's bag as they had come on board, and whose eyes, since the first day of the voyage, she had found it wise to dodge if she would keep the crimson from her cheeks.
Not that there had been anything, at any time, in the youth's gaze which could offend; rather had there been in it that which bewitched and thrilled. There was not another girl upon that steerage-deck who would not have been immensely pleased by and who would not have shyly answered his admiring glances, had they turned toward her, although there probably was not a girl there who was other than quite sweet and pure. Purity and sweetness are no bars to answering a glance and giggling. But he paid no heed, at all, to pretty emigrants who would have been delighted by flirtatious glances. It may, in fact, have been because of the shy fright, not in the least resentful, but sweetly, girlishly embarrassed, with which Anna greeted his, whenever her eyes caught them, that he turned them toward her so exclusively and frequently. Admiring youth called to admiring youth in surreptitious glances from the high deck to the lower, and, it may be, from the steerage-deck up to the promenade.
But, although she found no slightest thing offensive in the young man's veiled, approving surveillance, Anna felt almost as if she were in flight from peril—some brand-new, delightful peril—as, now, she hurried out of range of it and sought her father where, by the after-hatch, he perched upon a great coiled cable staring, staring, staring out across the sea toward Germany, the land to which, a few days since, although his actual departure had been from English shores, his heart had said a passionate farewell.
If Anna, with her graceful form, her delicately-colored, healthful cheeks, her cleancut and dainty features, offered a strong contrast to the buxom German maidens, dark, big-eyed Italian girls and others of the many-nationed women-travelers upon that steerage-deck, her father offered as strong contrast to the men. Among the swart Italians, blonde, stupid-looking Swedes, Danes and Norwegians and fat, red-faced Germans of the male steerage company, his finely-chiselled features, pale and ascetic-looking in their frame of whitened hair, stood out with accentuated testimony to high breeding, right living and exalted aims. And there was another difference, but less pleasing. By this, the ninth day out from port, grief, born of leaving friends and childhood scenes had vanished from the faces of the other voyagers, and, under the influence of a moderately smooth sea and splendid, sparkling weather, their thoughts were busy with the new shores to which the voyagers were journeying, with expectations of great days. But on his face no glow of pleasant anticipation ever shone. The old man's eyes were always turned toward that dear Germany which, first, he had been forced to leave for London, and now was, by the stern necessities of life, obliged to go still further from. Rarely, since the voyage had begun, had he, when on deck, raised his gaze from the great vessel's churning wake, which stretched, he liked to think, straight back toward Germany, save when his daughter spoke to him and roused him, for a moment, from his black depression. It was as if that thread of foam was the one thing, brief, evanescent, futile, though it was, which bound him, now, to the only land he cared for. His face was that of one who passes into final exile. Only when his eyes were on his daughter's did the expression of suppressed grief and despondency go from them for a moment; but when they looked at her they lighted brilliantly with love.
He had found adjustment to his crude surroundings with the utmost difficulty. Poor he had been in London, but his work had been among musicians, and even cheap musicians have in them something better, finer, higher than the majority of human cattle in the steerage of this ship could show. He felt uncomfortably misplaced.
This had been apparent from the start to his most interested observer—the handsome youth of the first cabin, whose glances sometimes made the daughter's eyes dodge and evade. It added to that young man's growing conviction that the aged man and beautiful young girl were not at all of the same class as their enforced associates upon the steerage-deck.
He remarked upon this to the second officer of the ship, who was highly flattered by his notice and anxious to give ear. He, too, had given some attention to the old man and his daughter and agreed with Vanderlyn about their great superiority to their surroundings.
He would have agreed with Vanderlyn in almost anything, that second officer, for every year he met and talked with some few thousand passengers who said it was the longer voyage which had tempted them to the old Rochester, while rarely was he in the least convinced by what they said. With the Vanderlyns, who did not say it, he thought that it was truth. Money they obviously had in plenty, and, inasmuch as they were, therefore, such pronounced exceptions to the rule, he spent what time with them he could. They were prosperous and yet they sailed by that slow ship, therefore they loved the sea. Of this he was convinced—and in his firm conviction was entirely wrong.
The real truth was that Mrs. Vanderlyn, made bold by the possession of her money, had thought it was the magic key which certainly would open every door for her. There were doors in New York City, which, coming from the West, she had been palpitantly anxious to pass through, and, to her amazement, she found that money would not open them. Then there had occurred to her the brilliant plan of conquering, first, the aristocracy of Europe, who, the newspapers had told her, bowed in great humility before the eagle on the Yankee gold-piece. To the doors with crests upon their paneling, abroad, she had therefore borne her golden key that summer, only to discover that it fitted their locks quite as ill as those upon Fifth Avenue. Her heart was saddened with the woe of failure. The second officer could not guess that, sore from buffetings from those who would have none of her, she had been glad to secure passage on this ten-day boat, where, during the long voyage, she could haughtily refuse to notice those of whom she would have none. She had searched for a place and found one where she could scorn as she had recently been scorned. Her soul was black-and-blue from snubs. She wished to snub. A climber, who had failed to climb the highest social ladder, the handsome, haughty lady found a certain satisfaction in sitting for ten days upon the very apex of another ladder—briefer, less important, very little, to be sure, but still a social ladder—and giving it a quick, sharp shake as humble people put their feet upon it timidly, bowing and smiling tentatively at her unresponsive person. It was a sort of balm to her sore soul so see them tumble metaphorically, upon their backs. Her demeanor on the Rochester was the demeanor of a princess among aliens whom she utterly despises. The Cook's tourists, traveling school-teachers and young married couples homeward-bound after modest European honeymoons, were plainly scum to her, and it gave her ardent joy to see that most of them were hurt when she impressed this on them mercilessly. It was safer for her son to talk about the interesting German couple to the second officer than it was for him to talk about them to his mother, but, lo! youth knows not wisdom.
"Mother," he suggested upon the sixth day out, "I want to have you come and see a fascinating couple on the steerage-deck."
"Another bride and groom?" she asked, in a bored voice. Brides and grooms had come to be monotonous. She had seen all sorts since she had started on this journey and now loathed the thought of newly married fellow-creatures. She could not understand why John's interest had been maintained in them.
He laughed. "No, not a bride and groom. The man is an old German, handsome and refined, evidently out of place upon the steerage-deck, the girl—she—why, mother, she's a peach. She'd be out of place 'most anywhere but on a throne!"
"How very vulgar, John," his mother answered with that cold assumption of superiority which had come to her with money. "I cannot see how even you can link the steerage-deck with thrones. Princesses do not travel steerage except between the covers of cheap books."
He laughed again. John Vanderlyn was clean and healthy-souled. He did not always take his mother (whom he idolized) too seriously.
"I didn't say she was a princess," he replied, "but she might well be. It was, however, rather the old man than the girl, though she is very beautiful and quite as much misplaced upon the steerage-deck as he is, that I wished to have you see." He was, it will be noted, learning something of diplomacy. "He has a magnificent old face—the face of a fine nature which has suffered terribly. I have seen him as he stood at the ship's rail, astern, watching the white wake as if every bubble on it was a marker on a tragic path. It is as if all he loved on earth except the girl—you ought to see him look at her!—lies at the far end of that frothy, watery trail."
"You become almost poetic!" she said without enthusiasm.
But, a day afterwards, she went with him and looked down at the steerage passengers, singling out the pair he meant without the slightest difficulty.
"What a distinguished-looking man he is!" said she, involuntarily.
"Isn't he?" said her delighted son.
The daughter was not on the deck, just then, and young Vanderlyn was politic enough to say nothing of her, merely talking of the old man's impressive bearing, asking his mother to help him speculate about his history.
"I don't wonder he attracted you," she granted. "He looks very interesting. I am sure he has a history."
Her gaze was so intent, that, in a few moments, it attracted the attention of Herr Kreutzer, and the youth, observing that he seemed annoyed and shamed, hurried her away. Instinctively he had felt the old man flinch; instinctively he knew his pride, already, had been sorely hurt by the necessity of "traveling steerage"; that as they gazed at him the handsome, white-haired, emigrant had felt that his dire poverty had made of him a curiosity.
The young man led his mother back to her rug-padded deck-chair, pleased by the result of the first step in what he had resolved must be a strategy of worth. In some way he must fix things so that properly and pleasantly he could get acquainted with that girl. This, he thought (not being a born prophet), could only be accomplished through his mother, and already he had plans for it indefinitely sketched out in his mind. Events were fated to assist him and do better for him than his mother could have done for him, but, of course, he did not know that then.
From the moment when he saw the dignified old German shrink before his mother's gaze the youth was careful to avoid appearances of curiosity. If either old man or young girl came into view while he stood at the rail, above the steerage-deck, he went away, though other passengers, attracted by the beauty of the girl, and the distinguished look of the old man, were less considerate and stared, to their distress. When, later, the young man saw his mother staring as the others did and as he had, himself, at first, he hesitantly spoke to her about it.
"Nonsense," she replied. "You give them credit for too much fine feeling. Attention doubtless flatters them. It always does such people."
That she had lost her first idea that the pair might be entitled to unusual consideration bothered him; but he feared, because of his great plan, to make too vehement defense, so only said, with studied mildness:
"They are not 'such people', I am sure. You yourself, at first, said they looked 'different.' It's hard luck, I'll bet a hat, and not a lack of brains, decency or real distinction that's forced them to herd down there with those cattle. I'll guarantee they know the whole thing about the little social game in Germany." He watched his mother closely, to see if the shot told, and was delighted when he saw it did.
"Yes; he really looks superior," she admitted. "I have no doubt their German is quite perfect. I wonder—perhaps he might, at one time, have been someone of distinct importance."
"I have no doubt of it. Anyone can see it makes him sore as a mashed thumb to have his poverty make him into a free side-show to be stared at on this old canal-boat. I've seen the 'Cookies' rubbering and making comments that I know he heard. He flushed red as beets and took his daughter somewhere where their gimlet stare could not bore to her. Those glass-eyed school-ma'ams actually drove them out of the fresh air!"
"He seems to make no friends among the steerage passengers, as all the others do."
"Those swine? They drive him crazy. The girl is constantly annoyed by men that try to sidle up to her. I've been half expecting the old man would bat that big Italian who's always talking New York politics—shoot him with whatever he has always with him in that queer, oval case, and throw him to the fish."
"I think that is some instrument—some music thing."
"Might be a flute."
"Perhaps he is some really great musician," Mrs. Vanderlyn said, speculatively. "They go everywhere in Germany. No doors are closed to them. It wouldn't be at all surprising for a musician to travel as he's doing. Such people are eccentric, and often so foolishly improvident. Something about music makes them so. But they worship them in Germany. They know the very highest people."
Her son grasped at the suggestion. "Funny, isn't it—how crazy all the lieber-deutchers are when they hear music! Hoch der Kaiser sets the pace, himself."
"Yes, I know he does," said Mrs. Vanderlyn, a little shocked by his irreverent way of making reference to Heaven's Chosen. "Poor things!" Her sympathy was quite aroused, now. She became quite certain that the steerage couple had highly influential friends abroad. "Would it please him, do you think, if I should show the daughter some attention?"
John knew that "some attention" from his mother to the emigrants would mean a course of open patronage and he didn't wish to have her try that on with that particular pair. He shook his head. "I don't believe they'd stand for it," he said. "But if you could do them some real kindness—a courtesy that wasn't—er—er—patronizing, it—"
He gazed thoughtfully at Mrs. Vanderlyn for a short moment and then thought better, even, of encouraging her thus much. He loved his mother dearly but felt certain that she would be sure to wound the strangers if she did anything whatever for them.
"Perhaps the best thing, after all," he said, "will be to let them, undisturbed, preserve the incognito which they evidently wish to keep in their misfortune." He had roused his mother's interest more keenly than he had thought was possible. He would do no more to rouse it. He could only hope that it might bear for him the fruit he wished—a pleasant way of gaining an acquaintance with the lovely girl. He knew that it was possible it might do otherwise and make a pleasant meeting harder, even, than it seemed to be at present, but he had had to take the chance. At any rate he had sufficiently excused himself, in her eyes, for any reasonable thing he might, himself, do, when the opportunity occurred, to gain the friendship of the steerage travelers.
As for himself, he now carefully avoided any appearance of observing them. In one way or another he watched them a good deal, but he did so with such care that he was certain they were unaware of it—at least was certain that the old man did not notice it. He found his heart athrob with quite unusual speed, when, once or twice, he saw the girl's big eyes directed toward him, not resentfully. They were, he thought, the most resplendent eyes which ever had been turned in his direction, but he did not let her know that he observed her glances.
His interest continually deepened, and the voyage, which he had thought would be a tiresome trip, became one of the most absorbing journeys he had ever known. Memories of those eyes were with him, even when he was beyond the shy range of their timid glances. When, at the ship's bow, he gazed over at the sporting dolphins or watched the water curving gracefully from the black prow, they floated in the sea, alluringly. If he turned his glance above to watch the fleecy clouds which were the only vapors in the sky upon this ideal crossing, they shaped themselves into her profile, the azure of the sky lost by comparison with that which glowed serene from her great eyes. John Vanderlyn was really dismayed to find that they were everywhere. He had not been susceptible, as youths go, in the past; now he found himself enthralled, spellbound by the appeal of this small German girl who traveled cheaply in the steerage of a slow ship toward America, a part of a large company of needy aliens seeking a new home in what they thought the land of promise.
As the voyage neared its end he saw with some dismay that the old man had managed to make enemies among the emigrants by his aloofness. The sea was very smooth, these days, and, under smiling skies the steerage-deck was swarming. The stewardess announced that but one of all the seasick passengers, a young English girl, was left in the infirmary; the only other call for the ship's doctor came from a mother for her tiny babe of two or three months which had been stricken with some increasing ailment before they had embarked upon the ship. The emigrants were making merry daily, from early morning until nine or ten of evenings; there were few moments when from their part of the ship some crude music was not rising.
Concertinas, mouth-organs, a badly-mastered violin gave forth their notes from time to time, their harshness softened by the mingling of the waves' lap on the vessel's sides. Now and then the first-class passengers looked down with amused curiosity upon rude dances, the dancers' merriment enhanced by stumbling lurches born of the vessel's slow, long rollings on the sea's vast, smooth-surfaced swells.
The old man and his daughter never joined in these crude pleasurings and John found in this a certain comfort which he did not try to analyze. His mother, also watching now and then, observed it, too, and felt her interest in them increasing. Two days before the slow old ship was due to reach New York she had almost made her mind up to investigate the pair. Should she find that they were worthy, she told John (that is, should she find they could, in any way, be useful in her campaign of next summer, which, already, she was planning) she might try to help them in New York. Her resentment of John's interest in them had faded. If they were ordinary emigrants he would not see them after the ship docked, if they were of enough importance to be useful to her, if they had influential friends abroad, the more he saw of them the better. Mrs. Vanderlyn was not a mercenary woman. The only gold she worshiped had been beaten into coronets; of that which had been minted she had plenty. She did not envy fortunes, though her envy of position was unbounded.
"You might make a little inquiry," she told her son. "If they should really have friends among the aristocracy—"
It both amused and angered him. He had imbibed, at a small western college and in the little taste of business life which he had had in New York City, a wondrous spirit of democracy which his stay in Europe had by no means lessened. It was not the man's potential social usefulness which made appeal to him, it was the soul which he saw shining, clear and lovely, in his daughter's eyes; it was not the father's slow, grey dignity which made him wish to help him, it was the long, pathetic gaze, which, from time to time, he saw him cast back along the vessel's wake, the lines of patiently-borne sorrow which had formed about his fine, strong mouth, the stoop of weariness and woe endured with uncomplaining fortitude which bent his shoulders. He might be of an artistic worth which made him peer of and received by kings—of that John Vanderlyn knew nothing and cared less; but that he was a gentleman of lofty mind and many sorrows patiently endured he felt quite certain, and, as such, his heart yearned to him. He would have been delighted if some way had come to help him, but he could not bring himself to such a curious investigation of his poor affairs as his mother would have had him make with prying inquiries. It seemed to him that such a course would be impertinent, and so, whenever she suggested it, he temporized and hesitated.
As the voyage progressed, too, it was plain enough that others than the Vanderlyns began to feel, instinctively, the real superiority of the old man and his daughter. Down on the steerage-deck they were, involuntarily, given a certain courteous consideration by the passengers, and even by the stewards—and to impress a steerage-steward is no ordinary victory. The old man showed a kindly heart, especially to the many women with small babes among the huddled passengers. Love of children, plainly, was mighty in his soul and by the hour he sat, surrounded by a circle of the little ones, to their very great delight and the relief of the poor mothers who thus obtained the first hours of freedom from continual care which they had had since the long voyage had begun.
It was his playing with the children that gave birth to a sensation which thrilled the ship from end to end. He was trying patiently, persistently, to amuse a little, ailing tot. It was beginning to seem certain that she would not last the voyage out. The mother was in agony as she held the tiny wailing, creature out toward him while he cooed to it and touched its cheek with tender fingers, trying to arouse its interest without success. It was as a final effort to amuse it that he took his flute out of the curious leather case he always carried.
Just as dusk fell on the vessel he began to play.
At first, the strains were soft and low, for the child's benefit, alone, scarce audible at any distance. Almost instantly she quieted, and, as Vanderlyn came up from dinner in the big saloon and glanced across the rail, as usual, he saw a little group of fascinated folk there, close about the flute-player, and faintly heard the sweet, pathetic strains of an old German cradle-song. So soft the sounds were, though, that he could barely catch them, and, therefore, at first, he did not wholly realize their beauty.
Soon, though, the old man plainly utterly forgot the fact that there were other people near than the now quiet child, its mother, his Anna and himself, for he threw more force into his playing. The steerage-passengers drew closer in a reverent silence, as the European peasant always will at sound of really good music, and many of the first-cabin passengers joined John at the rail, attracted by the sweet and soaring melody. In a few moments a full score had gathered there, all listening, intent, enthralled, quite silent.
"Marfellous! He iss a firtuoso!" grumbled a big German at John's side. John turned to him and smiled. The man, he knew, was Anton Karrosch an operatic impresario. He was glad to have his own impression of the wondrous merit of the playing confirmed by an authority.
"He seems to be quite poor," he whispered eagerly. "Perhaps you might find something for him, when we reach New York. He—"
"Ach! He will have no droobles," said Herr Karrosch. "A man who blays like dot! Ven ve land, I see him; yes."
A moment later the flute-player glanced up and saw the audience behind the rail. Instantly he lowered his slim instrument, from whose silver mountings, now, the moonlight was beginning to glint prettily. He gave the prosperous folk above but one short glance, apparently a bit resentful, and then, as if they were of small importance, turned from them to the mother of the child.
"Does she sleep, still?" John could hear him ask, as he bent above the infant.
"Si, si," said the grateful mother, understanding what he meant, although, apparently, she spoke no English.
"Good," said the flute-player, "I stop playing, then." And in spite of a mild spatter of applause from the first-cabin deck and one or two requests for more of his delightful music, he rose and went within. It was clear that his soft courtesies, free performances, were for the poor folk in the steerage, not for the rich upon the promenade.
Mrs. Vanderlyn was, after this, more than ever anxious to have John approach the man and make acquaintance with him; but his belief that such a course would be impertinent was strengthened. What the impresario had said saddened him a little as he reflected on it. He had begun to hope that, when they landed (not before), he might be of service to the pair; but if what Karrosch had said was true, then they would not need his kindnesses. Almost he had made up his mind, thus soon, that the shy little German girl was the one woman in the world for him, so he found it difficult to stop himself from hoping that the fat manager's predictions would prove false; that the flute-player might really find difficulty in arranging a career in the United States; that he, himself, might prove to be essential to the development of his opportunity.
He felt a little gloomy, when, long after most of the ship's company had gone to sleep, he sought his stateroom. Fear that he would find it quite impossible to win his way even to acquaintance, much depressed him.
But the very day the ship turned into the wide beauty of the Lower Bay, a situation grew out of the commonplace of life upon the steerage-deck which sharply and dramatically involved him with the two who had so interested him.
The steerage passengers were dancing to the music of a concertina, many of them, more especially the Italians, joining in the merriment with a gay fervor born of their elation at approach to the rich mysteries of the new land they sought. Much cheap wine had been consumed among them, and in some of them this had, already, wrought its vicious alchemy and changed the gold of sunny tempers into the dross of ugliness. Among those most affected by the liquor was the man Moresco, who so continually boasted of the great things he had done in New York politics and who, since his rebuff by the old German, when he had tried to induce Anna to drink with him, had eyed the pair askance, resentfully.
Young Vanderlyn observed that he was oftener and oftener, as he drank and danced with women of his own race, turning envious and longing eyes toward the beautiful young German girl, throwing resentful, scowling glances at her father, who, on that previous occasion, had so notably rebuffed him. It became quite plain, ere long, that the man had worked up a great wrath against the flute-player.
"I am Pietro Moresco," he boasted, many times, as if the very name should awe the world. Then, impressively: "I am no common emigrant. Not a common emigrant, as all may learn, in time. In New York none are too proud to dance with me. It is not a land for the aristocrat—the aristocrat who travels steerage!"
He gazed at the old man fixedly, with that malevolent look of which none but an Italian really is capable. Vanderlyn saw, also, with amazement, that there were those among his countrymen—men evidently knowing him—who were as much impressed by what he said as, evidently, he believed the whole world ought to be. It almost seemed, indeed, that these folk took his boastings seriously and thought the old man and his daughter really had cause to fear the man's reprisals.
The old man paid no heed to him, however. He only drew his daughter closer to his side. John noted that her cheeks were hotly flushed with anger, combined, perhaps, with fear, and felt the blood of wrath flood to his own and out again, leaving them, he knew, quite ghastly pale. He always flushed, then paled, when he was very angry, and when that pallor clung, as it did now, dire things inevitably impended. He was astonished at the strength of cold resentment in his heart toward the Italian. He did not for an instant hesitate in deciding to protect the little girl from her tormentor, if need arose, at any hazard. It did not once occur to him that this was not his work, that the ship's officers would doubtless maintain order and, themselves, protect her as a matter of mere discipline on board. Indeed, it seemed to him that for some reason the Italian received more than ordinary courtesy from them. As the episode developed, they appeared to edge away, leaving the swarthy bully wholly undisturbed.
He did not fail to take advantage of this situation, but, after glancing somewhat cautiously around, followed his declaration of his own importance and resentment with an angry dive, and, an instant later, had the girl by the right arm, while his countrymen called loudly in approval. Another instant and the man was dragging Anna to the center of the open space where dancing had been going on.
She screamed, her father rose, amazed, resentful, lurching with fierce but futile rage toward their tormentor as the ship rolled, and the slight push which the Italian gave him as he advanced upon him, was all that was required to throw him heavily. Dazed by the fall he lay there, for a moment, helpless, and by the time he rose the girl, shrieking with alarm, was being whirled in the Italian's arms in a crude dance. With a short laugh the man with the accordeon had started up a faster waltz, and there were dozens who, applauding their bold leader, looked on with delight.
But the single spectator above, behind the promenade-deck rail, did not look on with delight. He lost no time. He did not even waste ten seconds in rushing to the little stairway which led downward from his place of vantage, but, with the wiry hand and arm of the trained college athlete to help him in the spring, he vaulted lightly clean across the barrier, and, with legs bent skilfully to break the force of the long drop, landed like a lithe and angry tiger on the deck below, within two feet of the utterly amazed and terrified Moresco.
Once there the young American proceeded neatly, rapidly. Almost instantly the Italian bully was sprawling in the scuppers and Vanderlyn had raised the old man to his feet. In another moment he had taken the girl's hand, led her to her father and they were both trying, in excited German and in English, suffering from the stress of their emotions, to express their thanks to him.
It was at this moment that they met with one of the greatest surprises of their lives. With a sharp cry M'riar burst on them. She had been, as usual, hiding miserably in the narrow entrance to the companion-way which led down to the steerage sleeping quarters, where, daily, since she had in part recovered from her fierce attack of seasickness, she had lurked with furtive eyes and worried heart, squeezing herself against the bulkhead to give others way as they went up or down, afraid to let the voyage end without revealing to her friends her presence, lest they escape to leave her at the mercy of the outraged law of the new land, of which she heard much gossip; afraid to let them know that she was there, lest they, in anger at her presence, refuse to let her join them. But this situation was too much for her. Seeing her adored ones in distress she could restrain herself no longer. She sprang out to the open deck and ranged herself, a veritable little fury, between her friends and the prostrate Italian.
"Garn! Don't yer dare to tech 'er! Garn! Garn!" she cried and poised, tense, vicious, ready to pit her puny strength against his might if he should rise, vanquish Vanderlyn and try, again, to trouble Anna and her father.
But members of the ship's crew now rushed up, and, seemingly almost against their will (Moresco, being in New York City politics, might control much steerage business for the line), but yielding to the loud demand of many passengers above, who, attracted by the shouts, had crowded to the rail, caught the man as, rising, he would have sprung upon the young American. A moment later and he had been dragged away and the blushing rescuer of beauty in distress and old age vanquished, had, stammering in embarrassment before the thanks of his two beneficiaries, gone back to his own part of the ship. He might have wholly lost his self-possession had not the vicious glance of the Italian and a shouted curse come to him while the man was struggling viciously with his unwilling captors. It cheered him unto laughter to hear Moresco laying claim to that mysterious importance which he had so often boasted, and note that he was threatening him with awful things. Much more interesting he found the small scene he was leaving, in which two utterly bewildered and astonished Germans and a little cockney girl were the three actors.
"M'ri-arrr! M'ri-arrr!" he heard Anna cry in sheer amazement. "M'ri-arrr!"
"Mine Gott im himmel! It is M'ria-arrr!" he heard Kreutzer say.
Bartholdi's mighty Liberty loomed high above the vessel as she grandly swept her way among the crowded shipping of the Upper Bay. On the huddled steerage-deck Moresco, quickly and mysteriously free from durance and not at all abashed by what had happened to him, led a little cheering, in which his countrymen joined somewhat faintly. On the promenade-deck Vanderlyn was acting as the leader of enthusiastic rooters for his native land.
With his mother, whose interest in the old German and his daughter he now fostered very eagerly, he stood close by the rail across which he had vaulted when Moresco had assaulted the old man. Not even the enthusiasm of partings from new friends, ship made, could draw him from this point as the vessel neared her dock. From it he watched the workings of the health-and customs-officers among the steerage-passengers, while he tried to definitely decide upon what means he might employ to keep from losing sight of the two people in whom his interest had grown to be so great, after they were diverted by the formalities of immigration laws from the line of travel he would naturally follow when the ship tied up.
"The immigrants are sent to Ellis Island," he explained to Mrs. Vanderlyn. "A case of sheep and goats, all right, according to the tenets of this land of liberty and lucre. If you've got money you're a sheep. Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, has wide-open arms for you. No one tries to stop your entrance. If you've none, why you're the goat and everybody butts you."
"Your English is as hard to understand as any of the foreign languages!" his mother chided. "Every other word is slang. I haven't an idea what you mean." Down upon the steerage-deck Moresco, after the faint cheering, was declaiming loudly, now, about the towering statue and the liberty she symbolizes.
Towards the mighty effigy the old flute-player's eyes were also turned, but the emotions it aroused in him were very different from those which the Italian laid his claim to. To him she did not stand for license, but for a freedom from that mysterious worry, which, in London, had been so horridly persistent, which had reached an intolerable climax in Hyde Park, that day when he had run across the German with the turned-up moustache, and from which the journey to America was a veritable flight. The Giant Woman of the Bay would prove to be to him, the old musician fondly hoped, what her designer had intended her to be to all the worried, fleeing people of all the balance of the earth—a great torch-bearer who would light the way to peace and plenty, free from the social and political turmoil and oppression of the worn-out lands across the sea. He drew a breath of crisp air into his lungs, held his daughter closer to his side, took off his hat and stood agaze while the brisk wind, strengthening for the moment, blew the folk around him free of steerage odors, waved his long grey hair about his forehead and flapped his long grey coat about his legs until its tails snapped.
An instant later and combined assaults of manifold officials, pregnant with prying questions and suspicious glances, had driven all thoughts from his mind and those of other steerage passengers that America meant freedom. Never had he been so suddenly and vigorously deluged with such an avalanche of legal interference and investigation. Many a Russian, fleeing here in search of liberty, has been dismayed into concluding that he has but stumbled into a new serfdom, when blue-coats and brass-buttons have descended on him as his ship reached New York Bay.
One arm clasped tight in one of his, the other holding M'riar closely to her side in the dense, swaying crowd, his daughter, as he pondered on these matters, answered questions, worried, was thinking of far different things. Ever since the champion of her cause and her father's against the common enemy, Moresco, had sprung lightly to the steerage-deck from back of the first-cabin rail, her thoughts had been more of that champion than of all other combined details of these most exciting days. Shy and delighted, venturing on new and untried paths they had been, till now; but now, as the long voyage was ending, she was filled with blank dismay. She had heard the talk about the separation of the steerage passengers from the first-cabin passengers, before they landed, and this gave birth to painfully defined convictions that the dream, which, almost without her knowledge, had sprung into being in her heart, must now abruptly end. She would never see her champion again! The thought led on to others, equally disturbing. For the first time in her life her heart was asking questions of her reason.
Who was she? What was she? Why had her father kept her, all her life, in such seclusion? In London she had noted it and wondered at it, but had been content to make no inquiries, because she had not had the wish to go about and do as, from behind the lattice of the close seclusion which confined her, she saw other girls of her age do. She had never had a close friend in her life, except her father, unless one counted M'riar, humble and devoted worshiper, a friend, or unless some memories of bygone days, so faint that they might well be dreams, and which, sometimes, she thought were dreams, were truth instead of waking fancies. Vague, they were, and shadowy, including visions of a merry life, as a small tot, in a far country, and a lovely woman who sometimes, while propped up with the pillows of a bed, held her to her breast. Then it seemed as if all these delightful things had been brought to an end in one short day. Vaguely she recalled a dreadful time when the great bed on which the lovely woman had reclined was empty.
All that her brain presented in the way of record of the weeks which followed, were, first, a series of dim pictures of a hurried journey, partaking of the nature of a flight from some impending danger. Her father, she remembered, held her almost constantly against his breast, while they were on this journey, so tightly that the clasp of his strong arms was, sometimes, almost painful, and watched continually from carriage windows, from the deck of a small vessel, and, afterwards, from the windows of a railway train, when they paused at stations in the pleasant English country, as if he ever feared that someone would appear to intercept them and carry her away from him. Then her home had been of a kind new to her—the lodging-house. Instead of being in the midst of splendid lawns and mighty trees, she had been hedged about by grimy streets and dull brick buildings; the air which had been all a-sparkle for her in her babyhood, was, through her youth, dull, smoke-grimed, fog-soaked; for roomy spaciousness and gentle luxury had been exchanged the dinginess and squalor of the place in Soho. The occasional visits to the theatre where her father played the flute, now and then a Sunday walk with him when the weather was sufficiently urbane (marred, always, by his peering watch of every passing face, which had never been rewarded till they met the staring stranger in Hyde Park) had been almost the only variations of a dull routine of life, until this journey had begun which had just brought them to the mighty New World harbor. She was vastly puzzled by existence as she stood there in the stuffy crowd and let her mind roam back in retrospect. Her life was all a mystery to her.
This journey was the one tremendous episode of her career; her life in London had been singularly bare of real events; there had only been her daily grind at books which her father wished to have her diligently study, the bi-weekly visits of a woman who had taught her languages and needlework and never talked of anything but youth and romance, although she, herself, was old, and, presumably, beyond the pale of romance. Except for this old woman and the landlady of the cheap lodging-house she had had no friends except poor M'riar.
From such a dull existence, to be thrust into the whirl of this amazing voyage, had been very wonderful, for what might not the new life in the new land mean? Anything, to her young and keen imagination. In this marvelous new country the old Frenchwoman had assured her women were as free as men. What would such freedom bring to her? Riches, possibly, would here reward her father for his artistry upon the flute, and luxuries surround them both, in consequence. And romance! Her heart began to flutter at mere thought of the word, and her mind, against her modest maiden will, involuntarily turned to the youth who had so splendidly sprung to their rescue from the malign Moresco. Ah, how strong, how handsome he had been as he had thrown himself upon the big Italian! She blushed before her own brain's boldness. In that youth undoubtedly might, even now, be found the hero of the romance which the new world would undoubtedly unfold for her delighted eyes to read! Singularly innocent and ignorant of many things which most girls of her age know well, she did not stop to reason any of this out—she merely felt the firm conviction of its certainty, and, for a time, was glad.
But as the ship passed slowly up the river, and, finally, was taken charge of by the grimy tugs which nosed her with much labor into place at a great dock, the officers began to hustle all the steerage passengers into more compact masses on the deck and her attention once more centered on the matters of the moment. The building on the dock shut off the free salt breeze and quickly the unclean breath of the crowd distressed her lungs. The worried immigrants trod on one another's heels, fell across their huddled trunks and bundles, chattered, gayly or in fright, close in each other's ears. There was a long delay, in which, if one of the poor throng dared move beyond the boundaries set for them by the burly officers in charge, loud language, not too nice to hear, was the result, and, even, once or twice, a blow. She heard an English-speaking veteran of many voyages explaining to his uncomfortable fellows what Vanderlyn had told his mother about them: that because they had come in the steerage they could not land upon the dock, as did the passengers of the first-cabin, but would be borne to some far spot for further health-inspection and examination as to their ability to earn their livelihoods.
This worried her, as it had Vanderlyn. Suppose her father should not satisfy these stern examiners? Would the authorities consider that ability to play a flute divinely was sufficient ground for thinking that a man could earn his way? And, if they were landed in two different places, how would the young man know just where to look for her? She almost paled at thought that, possibly, she might be whisked beyond his ken; but then there came the thought of his ability in an emergency, as evidenced by his flying leap down to her rescue, and, shyly smiling, she comforted herself with the reflection that that wondrous youth could make no failures. That he thought of her she could not doubt, for she had never missed one of his frank, admiring glances, although, apparently, she had missed most of them. She finally became quite sure he would not lose sight of her, and this was comforting.
For a full hour, after the ship had tied up to her dock, all on that deck were forced to stand in stuffy quarters, odorous and almost dark. Between Anna and her father huddled M'riar, frightened, now, and snuffling, clinging desperately to the hand of the loved mistress she had run away to serve. The flute-player, almost fainting from the heat and weariness, strove bravely to conceal this from his daughter, and, with pitiful assumption of fine strength, smiled down at her, through the thick gloom, from time to time, with reassurance, attempting to instill in her a courage which he, himself, she plainly saw, was losing rapidly.
Clearly some of his oldtime worry had returned to him. It might be, he was reflecting, that this far America was not as far as he had thought, and that he stood as much chance of encountering that danger which had made him fly from London, as he had stood there! This troubled her intensely.
The odors of that crowded steerage gangway, the pressing of the weary women, the wailing of the frightened babies, the cursing of the men, as time passed, made the place seem an inferno. M'riar, weak from seasickness, terrified by conversation which she heard around her about the deportation of such immigrants as had no money or too little, and fearful that she might be torn from the dear side of her beloved mistress in spite of all which she had done to follow her, shivered constantly and sometimes shook with a dry sob. The hours were hours of nightmare.
Many of the women were half-fainting when, at last, the barges of the government were drawn up at the ship's side for the transfer of the immigrants to Ellis Island, and across the narrow planks which stretched from them to the dingy little liner the motley crowd trooped wearily. Kreutzer was near to absolute exhaustion, and shouldered their heavy trunk, lifted their heaviest bag, with difficulty. His knees, it seemed to him, must certainly give way beneath him. Seeing this gave M'riar something other than her fears to think of.
"Gimme th' bag, now, guvnor," she said quietly, although both she and Anna already were well burdened.
"Nein," said the old man, gravely. "Child, you could not carry it."
"I could," said Anna, quickly, and tried to take it from his hand, abashed that the small servant should have been more thoughtful of him than she was.
"Not much yer cawn't," said M'riar, positively. "I 'yn't goin' ter let yer, miss. Ketch me! Me let yer carry bags! My heye!"
"But M'riarrr," Anna answered. "You are so very little and it iss so very big!"
"Carry ten of 'em," said M'riar, nonchalantly and nobly rose to the occasion despite the protests of both Anna and the flute-player.
There was little time for argument, for, an instant later, they were forced forward irresistibly by the pressure of the crowd behind them and soon found themselves, to their inexpressible relief, in the clear air of an open-sided deck on one of the big barges. In another quarter of an hour they had started on their little voyage to the landing station upon Ellis Island, where Uncle Sam decides upon the fitness of such applicants for admission to his domain as have reached his shores "third-class."
The ordeal at Ellis Island was less formidable, for Kreutzer and his daughter, than the gossip of the steerage had led them to expect. Both were in good health, he had the money which the law requires each immigrant to bring with him, letters avowed his full ability to make a living for himself and daughter, he had not come over under contract. But poor M'riar! Her skinny little form, weak eyes, flat chest, barely passed the medical examination; Herr Kreutzer did not understand some of the questions put to her and thus she nearly went on record as being without friends or means of winning her support. Indeed he did not realize the situation until a uniformed official had begun to lead the screaming child away and then he made things worse by letting his rare German temper rise as he protested. Had not Anna laid restraining fingers on his arm he might have found himself charged with a serious offense, upon the very threshold of the new land he had journeyed to.
They now formed a thoroughly dismayed, disheartened group of three there under the high, girdered roof of Uncle Sam's reception chamber for prospective children by adoption. Anna, alarmed for both the threatened child and angry flute-player, stood, woefully distressed between the two, a hand upon the arm of each and big, alarmed and wondrously appealing eyes fixed on the gruff official, who stirred uneasily beneath the power of their petition; Kreutzer was frightened, also, now that his wrath was passing and he took time to reflect that if he should involve himself with this new government inquiries would certainly be started which would result in the revelation of his whereabouts to those whom he had hoped utterly to evade; M'riar, the cause of all the trouble, wept like a Niobe, quite soundlessly, shaking like an aspen, managing to maintain her weight upon her weakening knees with desperate effort only.
"Sorry, Miss," said the official, with gruff kindness. "But law's law, you know, and she's against it."
"Little M'riarrr is against your laws?" said Anna, much surprised.
"She's likely to become a public charge," the man said, anxious to defend himself and his government before the lovely girl. "We've got enough of European paupers to support, here in this country, now."
"But she would live with us," said Anna.
"Sure—until you fired her," said the man with a short laugh.
"Firrred her?" Anna said, inquiringly, not guessing at his meaning. "Firrred her? We should be very kind to her. We would not burn her, hurt her in the slightes' way. I promise, sir; I promise."
The official laughed again. "Oh, that's all right, Miss," he explained. "I know you wouldn't hurt her. That ain't what I meant. I meant until you let her go, discharged her, turned her off, decided that you didn't need her help around the house, found somebody who'd work better for you for less money, or something of that sort. She'd never get another job. She's too skinny and too ignorant."
"Hi'll fat up, 'ere, Hi swears Hi will," Maria interrupted hopefully. "Hi'm certain to fat up."
"Yes, yes," said Anna, "I am certain that she will be very fat. She will not have so much to do and will have much to eat. She shall fat up at once." She spoke with honest earnestness. Could leanness be against the law, too, here?
And M'riar, also, had understood exactly what he meant when he had said she was too ignorant. "An' Hi'm that quick to learn!" she said. "You cawn't himagine! W'y, 'yn't Hi halmost learnt me letters off from bundle carts an' 'oardings? M, he, hay, t—that spells 'beef.' The bobby on hour beat, 'e told me, an' Hi 'yn't fergot a mite. T, haych, he, hay, t, r, he, spells 'show.' 'E told me that, too. Hi 'yn't one as would st'y hignorant, Hi 'yn't."
"Fer Gawd's sake!" said the officer, entirely nonplussed by this display of the girl's erudition. "Say—well—now—come here, Bill!" He beckoned to another man in blue and shiny buttons. "Spell them words ag'in, Miss, won't you?" he implored.
Anna looked at him reproachfully. "No, no," she said, and made him feel ashamed with her big eyes, "please, sir, not. It is not funny—not for us. Please, please do not send our M'riarrr back to England. It was her love which brought her with us. Real love. You would not punish any one for being truly loving, eh?"
Subdued and made, again, uneasy by her lovely eyes, the man did not complete the exposition of the joke to the newcomer, but took refuge in an attitude of most regretful, but impregnable officialism. "I ain't got a word to say about it, Miss," he hurried to assure the eyes. "Law's law, and law says that the likes of her has got to be sent back. The only way that you could keep her here would be to put up bonds to guarantee th' gover'ment against her goin' on th' town or anything like that."
She did not understand him in the least. "What is it that you mean?" she asked.
Laboriously he made things clear to her, Herr Kreutzer helping and coming to an understanding just before she did.
"Ach!" said the old flute-player, "We cannot. We have not so much."
"Sure. I know that," the man replied. "That is why I say th' girl has got to be sent back."
Argument proved unavailing, and, ten minutes later, poor M'riar, screaming as if red-hot irons were begrilling her most tender spots, was being led into the "pen."
"We'll keep her here a while," the man explained, as he endeavored to avoid the child's astonishingly skilful and astonishingly painful kicks. "Maybe you can find somebody to go bond for her. There ain't no other way. There really ain't, Miss."
During all this speech he still was under the strong influence of Anna's wondrous eyes, else he would never have been able to articulate with such unruffled calm. His charge was doing agonizing things to his official shins, and even pinching him just over the short ribs on his left side with a forefinger and a thumb which showed amazing strength and malice quite infernal.
Anna and her father turned away, perforce, to attend to their own business, after having promised M'riar that they would never let her be sent back; that they would come and take her from the pen tomorrow. Neither had the least idea of a way in which to make this possible, but both swore in their hearts that it should be accomplished.
"Ach!" said Anna, "if only he had traveled in the third class, too! He then would have been with us and would never have permitted it."
"But who, mine liebschen?"
Anna, realizing what she had been saying, colored vividly, but never in her life had she deceived her father, hidden anything from him, or in the slightest way evaded with him, so she summoned courage and said softly: "Why, the—the young gentleman."
"The one on the ship who sprang down when that wicked man caught me to dance with him."
Herr Kreutzer slowly nodded, seeing no significance in her quick thought of Vanderlyn, save that the thought was rare good sense. Being an American, the young man naturally would have been better able to explain the matter to the officers, and, had the matter been enough explained, he thought, they could not, possibly, have had the heart to hold the child. "Ach, yes," said he. "If he was here! He certainly would know."
Luck, that day, as usually in his wealth-smoothed life, was with young Vanderlyn, for, just as Anna and her father were regretting that he was not there, lo, he appeared! It had been through his bull-dog persistence that the elder Vanderlyn had won the wealth which son and wife were spending now, since he had passed on to a shore where wealth of gold may not be freighted. That same bull-dog persistence had the son applied to the momentous problem which confronted him. Not only had he won his difficult mother over to a friendly interest in the lovely German girl who had so utterly enthralled him, but he had made her eager to keep track of her, see more of her. Thus had he readily been freed from the small services which a mother might expect of her grown son on landing day; not only freed, but urged to go upon the search for which his heart craved avidly.