AUTHOR OF THE TAMING OF RED BUTTE WESTERN, ETC.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Published by Arrangement with Charles Scribner's Sons
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published May, 1911
MR. LATHROP BROCKWAY BULLENE
SOLE FRIEND OF MY BOYHOOD, WHO WILL RECALL BETTER THAN ANY THE YOUTHFUL MORAL AND SOCIAL SEED-TIME WHICH HAS LED TO THIS LATER HARVESTING OF CONCLUSION, THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
I. AT CHAUDIERE'S 1
II. SPINDRIFT 9
III. THE RIGHT OF MIGHT 16
IV. IO TRIUMPHE! 26
V. THE BELLE JULIE 34
VI. THE DECK-HAND 44
VII. GOLD OF TOLOSA 53
VIII. THE CHAIN-GANG 59
IX. THE MIDDLE WATCH 68
X. QUICKSANDS 75
XI. THE ANARCHIST 84
XII. MOSES ICHTHYOPHAGUS 94
XIII. GRISWOLD EMERGENT 110
XIV. PHILISTIA 116
XV. THE GOTHS AND VANDALS 126
XVI. GOOD SAMARITANS 143
XVII. GROPINGS 154
XVIII. THE ZWEIBUND 165
XIX. LOSS AND GAIN 175
XX. THE CONVALESCENT 187
XXI. BROFFIN'S EQUATION 201
XXII. IN THE BURGLAR-PROOF 218
XXIII. CONVERGING ROADS 234
XXIV. THE FORWARD LIGHT 248
XXV. THE BRIDGE OF JEHENNAM 260
XXVI. PITFALLS 274
XXVII. IN THE SHADOWS 286
XXVIII. BROKEN LINKS 295
XXIX. ALL THAT A MAN HATH 312
XXX. THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES 332
XXXI. NARROWING WALLS 347
XXXII. THE LION'S SHARE 354
XXXIII. GATES OF BRASS 368
XXXIV. THE ABYSS 375
XXXV. MARGERY'S ANSWER 384
XXXVI. THE GRAY WOLF 396
XXXVII. THE QUALITY OF MERCY 408
XXXVIII. THE PENDULUM-SWING 416
XXXIX. DUST AND ASHES 428
XL. APPLES OF ISTAKHAR 438
XLI. THE DESERT AND THE SOWN 448
In the days when New Orleans still claimed distinction as the only American city without trolleys, sky-scrapers, or fast trains—was it yesterday? or the day before?—there was a dingy, cobwebbed cafe in an arcade off Camp Street which was well-beloved of newspaperdom; particularly of that wing of the force whose activities begin late and end in the small hours.
"Chaudiere's," it was called, though I know not if that were the name of the round-faced, round-bodied little Marseillais who took toll at the desk. But all men knew the fame of its gumbo and its stuffed crabs, and that its claret was neither very bad nor very dear. And if the walls were dingy and the odors from the grille pungent and penetrating at times, there went with the white-sanded floor, and the marble-topped tables for two, an Old-World air of recreative comfort which is rarer now, even in New Orleans, than it was yesterday or the day before.
It was at Chaudiere's that Griswold had eaten his first breakfast in the Crescent City; and it was at Chaudiere's again that he was sharing a farewell supper with Bainbridge, of the Louisianian. Six weeks lay between that and this; forty-odd days of discouragement and failure superadded upon other similar days and weeks and months. The breakfast, he remembered, had been garnished with certain green sprigs of hope; but at the supper-table he ate like a barbarian in arrears to his appetite and the garnishings were the bitter herbs of humiliation and defeat.
Without meaning to, Bainbridge had been strewing the path with fresh thorns for the defeated one. He had just been billeted for a run down the Central American coast to write up the banana trade for his paper, and he was boyishly jubilant over the assignment, which promised to be a zestful pleasure trip. Chancing upon Griswold in the first flush of his elation, he had dragged the New Yorker around to Chaudiere's to play second knife and fork at a small parting feast. Not that it had required much persuasion. Griswold had fasted for twenty-four hours, and he would have broken bread thankfully with an enemy. And if Bainbridge were not a friend in a purist's definition of the term, he was at least a friendly acquaintance.
Until the twenty-four-hour fast was in some measure atoned for, the burden of the table-talk fell upon Bainbridge, who lifted and carried it generously on the strength of his windfall. But no topic can be immortal; and when the vacation under pay had been threshed out in all its anticipatory details it occurred to the host that his guest was less than usually responsive; a fault not to be lightly condoned under the joyous circumstances. Wherefore he protested.
"What's the matter with you to-night, Kenneth, old man? You're more than commonly grumpy, it seems to me; and that's needless."
Griswold took the last roll from the joint bread-plate and buttered it methodically.
"Am I?" he said. "Perhaps it is because I am more than commonly hungry. But go on with your joy-talk: I'm listening."
"That's comforting, as far as it goes; but I should think you might say something a little less carefully polarized. You don't have a chance to congratulate lucky people every day."
Griswold looked up with a smile that was almost ill-natured, and quoted cynically: "'Unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath.'"
Bainbridge's laugh was tolerant enough to take the edge from his retort.
"That's a pretty thing to fling at a man who never knifed you or pistoled you or tried to poison you! An innocent by-stander might say you envied me."
"I do," rejoined Griswold gravely. "I envy any man who can earn enough money to pay for three meals a day and a place to sleep in."
"Oh, cat's foot!—anybody can do that," asserted Bainbridge, with the air of one to whom the struggle for existence has been a mere athlete's practice run.
"I know; that is your theory. But the facts disprove it. I can't, for one."
"Oh, yes, you could, if you'd side-track some of your own theories and come down to sawing wood like the rest of us. But you won't do that."
Griswold was a fair man, with reddish hair and beard and the quick and sensitive skin of the type. A red flush of anger crept up under the closely cropped beard, and his eyes were bright.
"That is not true, and you know it, Bainbridge," he contradicted, speaking slowly lest his temper should break bounds. "Is it my fault, or only my misfortune, that I can do nothing but write books for which I can't find a publisher? Or that the work of a hack-writer is quite as impossible for me as mine is for him?"
Bainbridge scoffed openly; but he was good-natured enough to make amends when he saw that Griswold was moved.
"I take it all back," he said. "I suppose the book-chicken has come home again to roost, and a returned manuscript accounts for anything. But seriously, Kenneth, you ought to get down to bed-rock facts. Nobody but a crazy phenomenon can find a publisher for his first book, nowadays, unless he has had some sort of an introduction in the magazines or the newspapers. You haven't had that; so far as I know, you haven't tried for it."
"Oh, yes, I have—tried and failed. It isn't in me to do the salable thing, and there isn't a magazine editor in the country who doesn't know it by this time. They've been decent about it. Horton was kind enough. He covered two pages of a letter telling me why the stuff I sent from here might fit one of the reviews and why it wouldn't fit his magazine. But that is beside the mark. I tell you, Bainbridge, the conditions are all wrong when a man with a vital message to his kind can't get to deliver it to the people who want to hear it."
Bainbridge ordered the small coffees and found his cigar case.
"That is about what I suspected," he commented impatiently. "You couldn't keep your peculiar views muzzled even when you were writing a bit of a pot-boiler on sugar-planting. Which brings us back to the old contention: you drop your fool socialistic fad and write a book that a reputable publisher can bring out without committing commercial suicide, and you'll stand some show. Light up and fumigate that idea awhile."
Griswold took the proffered cigar half-absently, as he had taken the last piece of bread.
"It doesn't need fumigating; if I could consider it seriously it ought rather to be burnt with fire. You march in the ranks of the well-fed, Bainbridge, and it is your metier to be conservative. I don't, and it's mine to be radical."
"What would you have?" demanded the man on the conservative side of the table. "The world is as it is, and you can't remodel it."
"There is where you make the mistake common to those who cry Peace, when there is no peace," was the quick retort. "I, and my kind, can remodel it, and some day, when the burden has grown too heavy to be borne, we will. The aristocracy of rank, birth, feudal tyranny went down in fire and blood in France a century ago: the aristocracy of money will go down here, when the time is ripe."
"That is good anarchy, but mighty bad ethics. I didn't know you had reached that stage of the disease, Kenneth."
"Call it what you please; names don't change facts. Listen"—Griswold leaned upon the table; his eyes grew hard and the blue in them became metallic—"For more than a month I have tramped the streets of this cursed city begging—yes, that is the word—begging for work of any kind that would suffice to keep body and soul together; and for more than half of that time I have lived on one meal a day. That is what we have come to; we of the submerged majority. And that isn't all. The wage-worker himself, when he is fortunate enough to find a chance to earn his crust, is but a serf; a chattel among the other possessions of some fellow man who has acquired him in the plutocratic redistribution of the earth and the fulness thereof."
Bainbridge applauded in dumb show.
"Turn it loose and ease the soul-sickness, old man," he said indulgently. "I know things haven't been coming your way, lately. What is your remedy?"
Griswold was fairly started now, and ridicule was as fuel to the flame.
"The money-gatherers have set us the example. They have made us understand that might is right; that he who has may hold—if he can. The answer is simple: there is enough and to spare for all, and it belongs to all; to him who sows the seed and waters it, as well as to him who reaps the harvest. That is a violent remedy, you will say. So be it: it is the only one that will cure the epidemic of greed. There is an alternative, but it is only theoretical."
"It may be summed up in seven words: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' When the man who employs—and rules—uses the power that money gives him to succor his fellow man, the revolution will be indefinitely postponed. But as I say, it's only a theory."
Bainbridge glanced at his watch.
"I must be going," he said. "The Adelantado drops down the river at eleven. But in passing I'll venture a little prophecy. You're down on your luck now, and a bit hot-hearted in consequence; but some day you will strike it right and come out on top. When you do, you'll be a hard master; tattoo that on your arm somewhere so you'll be reminded of it."
Griswold had risen with his entertainer, and he put his hands on the table.
"God do so to me, and more, if I am, Bainbridge," he said soberly.
"That's all right: when the time comes, you just remember my little fortune-telling stunt. But before we shake hands, let's get back to concrete things for a minute or two. How are you fixed for the present, and what are you going to do for the future?"
Griswold's smile was not pleasant to look at.
"I am 'fixed' to run twenty-four hours longer, thanks to your hospitality. For that length of time I presume I shall continue to conform to what we have been taught to believe is the immutable order of things. After that——"
He paused, and Bainbridge put the question. "Well, after that; what then?"
"Then, if the chance to earn it is still denied me, and I am sufficiently hungry, I shall stretch forth my hand and take what I need."
Bainbridge fished in his pocket and took out a ten-dollar bank-note. "Do that first," he said, offering Griswold the money.
The proletary smiled and shook his head.
"No; not to keep from going hungry—not even to oblige you, Bainbridge. It is quite possible that I shall end by becoming a robber, as you paraphrasers would put it, but I sha'n't begin on my friends. Good-night, and a safe voyage to you."
The fruit steamer Adelantado, outward bound, was shuddering to the first slow revolutions of her propeller when Bainbridge turned the key in the door of the stuffy little state-room to which he had been directed, and went on deck.
The lines had been cast off and the ship was falling by imperceptible inches away from her broadside berth at the fruit wharf. Bainbridge heard the distance-softened clang of a gong; the tremulous murmur of the screw became more pronounced, and the vessel forged ahead until the current caught the outward-swinging prow. Five minutes later the Adelantado had circled majestically in mid-stream and was passing the lights of the city in review as she steamed at half-speed down the river.
Bainbridge had no mind to go back to the stuffy state-room, late as it was. Instead, he lighted a fresh cigar and found a chair on the port side aft where he could sit and watch the lights wheel past in orderly procession as the fruit steamer swept around the great crescent which gives New Orleans its unofficial name.
While the comfortable feeling of elation, born of his unexpected bit of good fortune, was still uppermost to lend complacency to his reflections, he yet found room for a compassionate underthought having for its object the man from whom he had lately parted. He was honestly sorry for Griswold; sorry, but not actually apprehensive. He had known the defeated one in New York, and was not unused to his rebellious outbursts against the accepted order of things. Granting that his theories were incendiary and crudely subversive of all the civilized conventions, Griswold the man was nothing worse than an impressionable enthusiast; a victim of the auto-suggestion which seizes upon those who dwell too persistently upon the wrongs of the wronged.
So ran Bainbridge's epitomizing of the proletary's case; and he knew that his opinion was shared with complete unanimity by all who had known Griswold in Printing House Square. To a man they agreed in calling him Utopian, altruistic, visionary. What milder epithets should be applied to one who, with sufficient literary talent—not to say genius—to make himself a working name in the ordinary way, must needs run amuck among the theories and write a novel with a purpose? a novel, moreover, in which the purpose so overshadowed the story as to make the book a mere preachment.
As a matter of course, the publishers would have nothing to do with the book. Bainbridge remembered, with considerable satisfaction, that he had confidently predicted its failure, and had given Griswold plentiful good advice while it was in process of writing. But Griswold, being quite as obstinate as he was impressionable, had refused to profit by the advice, and now the consequences of his stubbornness were upon him. He had said truly that his literary gift was novelistic and nothing else; and here he was, stranded and desperate, with the moribund book on his hands, and with no chance to write another even if he were so minded, since one can not write fasting.
Thus Bainbridge reflected, and was sorry that Griswold's invincible pride had kept him from accepting a friendly stop-gap in his extremity. Yet he smiled in spite of the regretful thought. It was amusing to figure Griswold, who, as long as his modest patrimony had lasted had been most emphatically a man not of the people, posing as an anarchist and up in arms against the well-to-do world. None the less, he was to be pitied.
"Poor beggar! he is in the doldrums just now, and it isn't quite fair to hold him responsible for what he says or thinks—or for what he thinks he thinks," said the reporter, letting the thought slip into speech. "Just the same, I wish I had made him take that ten-dollar bill. It might have— Why, hello, Broffin! How are you, old man? Where the dickens did you drop from?"
It was the inevitable steamer acquaintance who is always at hand to prove the trite narrowness of the world, and Bainbridge kicked a chair into comradely place for him.
Broffin, heavy-browed and clean-shaven save for a thick mustache that hid the hard-bitted mouth, replaced the chair to suit himself and sat down. In appearance he was a cross between a steamboat captain on a vacation, and an up-river plantation overseer recovering from his annual pleasure trip to the city. But his reply to Bainbridge's query proved that he was neither.
"I didn't drop; I walked. More than that, I kept step with you all the way from Chaudiere's to the levee. You'd be dead easy game for an amateur."
"You'll get yourself disliked, the first thing you know," said Bainbridge, laughing. "Can't you ever forget that you are in the man-hunting business?"
"Yes; just as often, and for just as long, as you can forget that you are in the news-hunting business."
"Tally!" said Bainbridge, and he laughed again. After which they sat in silence until the Adelantado doubled the bend in the great river and the last outposts of the city's lights disappeared, leaving only a softened glow in the upper air to temper the velvety blackness of the April night. The steamer had passed Chalmette when Broffin said:
"Speaking of Chaudiere's reminds me: who was that fellow you were telling good-by as you came out of the cafe? His face was as familiar as a ship's figure-head, but I couldn't place him."
The question coupled in automatically with the reporter's train of thought; hence he answered it rather more fully and freely than he might have at another time and under other conditions. From establishing Griswold's identity for his fellow passenger, he slipped by easy stages into the story of the proletary's ups and downs, climaxing it with a vivid little word-painting of the farewell supper at Chaudiere's.
"To hear him talk, you would size him up for a bloody-minded nihilist of the thirty-third degree, ready and honing to sweep the existing order of things into the farthest hence," he added. "But in reality he is one of the finest fellows in the world, gone a fraction morbid over the economic side of the social problem. He has a heart of gold, as I happen to know. He used to spend a good bit of his time in the backwater, and you know what the backwater of a big city will do to a man."
"I couldn't hold my job if I didn't," was the reply.
"That means that you know only half of it," Bainbridge asserted with cheerful dogmatism. "You're thinking of the crooks it turns out, 'which it is your nature to.' But Griswold wasn't looking for the crooks; he was eternally and everlastingly breaking his heart over the sodden miseries. One night he stumbled into a cellar somewhere down in the East Side lower levels, looking for a fellow he had been trying to find work for; a crippled 'longshoreman. When he got into the place he found the man stiff and cold, the woman with the death rattle in her throat, and a two-year-old baby creeping back and forth between the dead father and the dying mother—starvation, you know, straight from the shoulder. They say it doesn't happen; but it does."
"Of course it does!" growled the listener. "I know."
"We all know; and most of us drop a little something into the hat and pass on. But Griswold isn't built that way. He jumped into the breach like a man and tried to save the mother. It was too late, and when the woman died he took the child to his own eight-by-ten attic and nursed and fed it until the missionary people took it off his hands. He did that, mind you, when he was living on two meals a day, himself; and I'm putting it up that he went shy on one of them to buy milk for that kid."
"Holy Smoke!—and he calls himself an anarchist?" was the gruff comment. "It's a howling pity there ain't a lot more just like him—what?"
"That is what I say," Bainbridge agreed. Then, with a sudden twinge of remorse for having told Griswold's story to a stranger, he changed the subject with an abrupt question.
"Where are you headed for, Broffin?"
The man who might have passed for a steamboat captain or a plantation overseer, and was neither, chuckled dryly.
"You don't expect me to give it away to you, and you a newspaper man, do you? But I will—seeing you can't get it on the wires. I'm going down to Guatemala after Mortsen."
"The Crescent Bank defaulter? By Jove! you've found him at last, have you?"
The detective nodded. "It takes a good while, sometimes, but I don't fall down very often when there's enough money in it to make the game worth the candle. I've been two years, off and on, trying to locate Mortsen: and now that I've found him, he is where he can't be extradited. All the same, I'll bet you five to one he goes back with me in the next steamer—what? Have a new smoke. No? Then let's go and turn in; it's getting late in the night."
THE RIGHT OF MIGHT
Two days after the supper at Chaudiere's and the clearing of the fruit steamer Adelantado for the banana coast, or, more specifically, in the forenoon of the second day, the unimpetuous routine of the business quarter of New Orleans was rudely disturbed by the shock of a genuine sensation.
To shatter at a single blow the most venerable of the routine precedents, the sensational thing chose for its colliding point with orderly system one of the oldest and most conservative of the city's banks: the Bayou State Security. At ten o'clock, following the precise habit of half a lifetime, Mr. Andrew Galbraith, president of the Bayou State, entered his private room in the rear of the main banking apartment, opened his desk, and addressed himself to the business of the day. Punctually at ten-five, the stenographer, whose desk was in the anteroom, brought in the mail; five minutes later the cashier entered for his morning conference with his superior; and at half-past the hour the president was left alone to read his correspondence.
Being a man whose mental processes were all serious, and whose hobby was method, Mr. Galbraith had established a custom of giving himself a quiet half-hour of inviolable seclusion in which to read and consider his mail. During this sacred interval the stenographer, standing guard in the outer office, had instructions to deny his chief to callers of any and every degree. Wherefore, when, at twenty minutes to eleven, the door of the private office opened to admit a stranger, the president was justly annoyed.
"Well, sir; what now?" he demanded, impatiently, taking the intruder's measure in a swift glance shot from beneath his bushy white eyebrows.
The unannounced visitor was a young man of rather prepossessing appearance, a trifle tall for his breadth of shoulder, fair, with blue eyes and a curling reddish beard and mustache, the former trimmed to a point. So much the president was able to note in the appraisive glance—and to remember afterward.
The caller made no reply to the curt question. He had turned and was closing the door. There was a quiet insistence in the act that was like the flick of a whip to Mr. Galbraith's irritation.
"If you have business with me, you'll have to excuse me for a few minutes," he protested, still more impatiently. "Be good enough to take a seat in the anteroom until I ring. MacFarland should have told you."
The young man drew up a chair and sat down, ignoring the request as if he had failed to hear it. Ordinarily Mr. Andrew Galbraith's temper was equable enough; the age-cooled temper of a methodical gentleman whose long upper lip was in itself an advertisement of self-control. But such a deliberate infraction of his rules, coupled with the stony impudence of the visitor, made him spring up angrily to ring for the watchman.
The intruder was too quick for him. When his hand sought the bell-push he found himself looking into the muzzle of a revolver, and so was fain to fall back into his chair, gasping.
"Ah-h-h!" he stammered. And when the words could be managed: "So that's it, is it?—you're a robber!"
"No," said the invader of the presidential privacies calmly, speaking for the first time since his incoming. "I am not a robber, save in your own very limited definition of the word. I am merely a poor man, Mr. Galbraith—one of the uncounted thousands—and I want money. If you call for help, I shall shoot you."
"You—you'd murder me?" The president's large-jointed hands were clutching the arms of the pivot-chair, and he was fighting manfully for courage and presence of mind to cope with the terrifying emergency.
"Not willingly, I assure you: I have as great a regard for human life as you have—but no more. You would kill me this moment in self-defence, if you could: I shall most certainly kill you if you attempt to give an alarm. On the other hand, if you prove reasonable and obedient your life is not in danger. It is merely a question of money, and if you are amenable to reason——"
"If I'm—but I'm not amenable to your reasons!" blustered the president, recovering a little from the first shock of terrified astoundment. "I refuse to listen to them. I'll not have anything to do with you. Go away!"
The young man's smile showed his teeth, but it also proved that he was not wholly devoid of the sense of humor.
"Keep your temper, Mr. Galbraith," he advised coolly. "The moment is mine, and I say you shall listen first and obey afterward. Otherwise you die. Which is it to be? Choose quickly—time is precious."
The president yielded the first point, that of the receptive ear; but grudgingly and as one under strict compulsion.
"Well, well, then; out with it. What have you to say for yourself?"
"This: You are rich: you represent the existing order of things. I am poor, and I stand for my necessity, which is higher than any man-made law or custom. You have more money than you can possibly use in any legitimate personal channels: I have not the price of the next meal, already twenty-four hours overdue. I came here this morning with my life in my hand to invite you to share with me a portion of that which is yours chiefly by the right of possession. If you do it, well and good: if not, there will be a new president of the Bayou State Security. Do I make myself sufficiently explicit?"
Andrew Galbraith glanced furtively at the paper-weight clock on his desk. It was nearly eleven, and MacFarland would surely come in on the stroke of the hour. If he could only fend off the catastrophe for a few minutes, until help should come. He searched in his pockets and drew forth a handful of coins.
"You say you are hungry: I'm na that well off that I canna remember the time when I knew what it was to be on short commons, mysel'," he said; and the unconscious lapse into the mother idiom was a measure of his perturbation. "Take this, now, and be off wi' you, and we'll say no more about it."
The invader of privacies glanced at the clock in his turn and shook his head.
"You are merely trying to gain time, and you know it, Mr. Galbraith. My stake in this game is much more than a handful of charity silver; and I don't do you the injustice to believe that you hold your life so cheaply; you who have so much money and, at best, so few years to live."
The president put the little heap of coins on the desk, but he did not abandon the struggle for delay.
"What's your price, then?" he demanded, as one who may possibly consider a compromise.
"One hundred thousand dollars—in cash."
"But man! ye're clean daft! Do ye think I have——"
"I am not here to argue," was the incisive interruption. "Take your pen and fill out a check payable to your own order for one hundred thousand dollars, and do it now. If that door opens before we have concluded, you are a dead man!"
At this Andrew Galbraith saw that the end was nigh and gathered himself for a final effort at time-killing. It was absurd; he had no such balance to his personal credit; such a check would not be honored; it would be an overdraft, and the teller would very properly— In the midst of his vehement protests the stranger sprang out of his chair, stepped back a pace and raised his weapon.
"Mr. Galbraith, you are juggling with your life! Write that check while there is yet time!"
A sound of subdued voices came from the anteroom, and the beleaguered old man stole a swift upward glance at the face of his persecutor. There was no mercy in the fierce blue eyes glaring down upon him; neither compassion nor compunction, but rather madness and fell murder. The summons came once again.
"Do it quickly, I say, before we are interrupted. Do you hear?"
Truly, the president both heard and understood; yet he hesitated one other second.
"You will not? Then may God have mercy——"
The hammer of the levelled pistol clicked. Andrew Galbraith shut his eyes and made a blind grasp for pen and check-book. His hands were shaking as with a palsy, but the fear of death steadied them suddenly when he came to write.
"Indorse it!" was the next command. The voices had ceased beyond the partition, and the dead silence was relieved only by the labored strokes of the president's pen and the tap-tap of the typewriter in the adjacent anteroom.
The check was written and indorsed, and under the menace of the revolver Andrew Galbraith was trying to give it to the robber. But the robber would not take it.
"No, I don't want your paper: come with me to your paying teller and get me the money. Make what explanation you see fit; but remember—if he hesitates, you die."
They left the private office together, the younger man a short half-step in the rear, with his pistol-bearing hand thrust under his coat. MacFarland, the stenographer, was at his desk in the corner of the anteroom. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the unwonted thing, the president's forthfaring with a stranger who had somehow gained access to the private room during the sacred half-hour, would have made him look up and wonder. But this was the hundredth time, and Andrew Galbraith's anxious glance aside was wasted upon MacFarland's back.
Still the president did not despair. In the public lobby there would be more eyes to see, and perhaps some that would understand. Mr. Galbraith took a firmer hold upon his self-possession and trusted that some happy chance might yet intervene to save him.
But chance did not intervene. There was a goodly number of customers in the public space, but not one of the half-dozen or more who nodded to the president or passed the time of day with him saw the eye-appeal which was the only one he dared to make. On the short walk around to the paying teller's window, the robber kept even step with his victim, and try as he would, Andrew Galbraith could not summon the courage to forget the pistol muzzle menacing him in its coat-covered ambush.
At the paying wicket there was only one customer, instead of the group the president had hoped to find; a sweet-faced young woman in a modest travelling hat and a gray coat. She was getting a draft cashed, and when she saw them she would have stood aside. It was the robber who anticipated her intention and forbade it with a courteous gesture; whereat she turned again to the window to conclude her small transaction with the teller.
The few moments which followed were terribly trying ones for the gray-haired president of the Bayou State Security. None the less, his brain was busy with the chanceful possibilities. Failing all else, he was determined to give the teller a warning signal, come what might. It was a duty owed to society no less than to the bank and to himself. But on the pinnacle of resolution, at the instant when, with the robber at his elbow, he stepped to the window and presented the check, Andrew Galbraith felt the gentle pressure of the pistol muzzle against his side; nay, more; he fancied he could feel the cold chill of the metal strike through and through him.
So it came about that the fine resolution had quite evaporated when he said, with what composure there was in him: "You'll please give me currency for that, Johnson."
The teller glanced at the check and then at his superior; not too inquisitively, since it was not his business to question the president's commands.
"How will you have it?" he asked; and it was the stranger at Mr. Galbraith's elbow who answered.
"One thousand in fives, tens, and twenties, loose, if you please; the remainder in the largest denominations, put up in a package."
The teller counted out the one thousand in small notes quickly; but he had to leave the cage and go to the vault for the huge remainder. This was the crucial moment of peril for the robber, and the president, stealing a glance at the face of his persecutor, saw the blue eyes blazing with excitement.
"It is your time to pray, Mr. Galbraith," said the spoiler in low tones. "If you have given your man the signal——"
But the signal had not been given. The teller was re-entering the cage with the bulky packet of money-paper.
"You needn't open it," said the young man at the president's elbow. "The bank's count is good enough for me." And when the window wicket had been unlatched and the money passed out, he stuffed the loose bills carelessly into his pocket, put the package containing the ninety-nine thousand dollars under his arm, nodded to the president, backed swiftly to the street door and vanished.
Then it was that Mr. Andrew Galbraith suddenly found speech, opening his thin lips and pouring forth a torrent of incoherence which presently got itself translated into a vengeful hue and cry; and New Orleans the unimpetuous had its sensation ready-made.
If Kenneth Griswold, backing out of the street door of the Bayou State Security and vanishing with his booty, had been nothing more than a professional "strong-arm man," he would probably have been taken and jailed within the hour, if only for the reason that his desperate cast for fortune included no well-wrought-out plan of escape. But since he was at once both wiser and less cunning than the practised bank robber, he threw his pursuers off the scent by an expedient in which artlessness and daring quite beyond the gifts of the journeyman criminal played equal parts.
Once safely in the street, with a thousand dollars in his pocket and the packet of bank-notes under his arm, he was seized by an impulse to do some extravagant thing to celebrate his success. It had proved to be such a simple matter, after all: one bold stroke; a tussle, happily bloodless, with the plutocratic dragon whose hold upon his treasure was so easily broken; and presto! the hungry proletary had become himself a power in the world, strong to do good or evil, as the gods might direct.
This was the prompting to exultation as it might have been set in words; but in Griswold's thought it was but a swift suggestion, followed instantly by another which was much more to the immediate purpose. He was hungry: there was a restaurant next door to the bank. Without thinking overmuch of the risk he ran, and perhaps not at all of the audacious subtlety of such an expedient at such a critical moment, he went in, sat down at one of the small marble-topped tables, and calmly ordered breakfast.
Since hunger is a lusty special pleader, making itself heard above any pulpit drum of the higher faculties, it is quite probable that Griswold dwelt less upon what he had done than upon what he was about to eat, until the hue and cry in the street reminded him that the chase was begun. But at this, not to appear suspiciously incurious, he put on the mask of indifferent interest and asked the waiter concerning the uproar.
The serving man did not know what had happened, but he would go and find out, if M'sieu' so desired. "M'sieu'" said breakfast first, by all means, and information afterward. Both came in due season; and the hungry one ate while he listened.
Transmuted into the broken English of the Gascon serving man, the story of the robbery lost nothing in its sensational features.
"Ah! w'at you t'ink, M'sieu'? De bank on de nex' do' is been rob'!" And upon this theme excited volubility descanted at large. The bank had been surrounded by a gang of desperate men, with every exit guarded, while the leader, a masked giant armed to the teeth, had compelled the president at the muzzle of a pistol to pay a ransom of fifty—one hundred—five hundred thousand dollars! With the money in hand the gang had vanished, the masked giant firing the pistol at M'sieu' the president as he went. Cross-examined, the waiter could not affirm positively as to the shot. But as for the remaining details there could be no doubt.
Griswold ordered a second cup of coffee, and while the waiter was bringing it, conscience—not the newly acquired conscience, but the conventional—bent its bow and sped its final arrow. It was suddenly brought home to the enthusiast with sharp emphasis that to all civilized mankind, save and excepting those few chosen ones who shared his peculiar convictions, he was a common thief, a bandit, an outlaw. Public opinion, potential or expressed, is at best but an intangible thing. But for a few tumultuous seconds Griswold writhed under the ban of it as if it had been a whip of scorpions. Then he smiled to think how strong the bonds of custom had grown; and at the smile conscience flung away its empty quiver.
Now it was over, however, the enthusiast was rather grateful for the chastening. It served to remind him afresh of his mission. This money which he had just wrested from the claws of the plutocratic dragon must be held as a sacred trust; it must be devoted scrupulously to the cause of the down-trodden and the oppressed. Precisely how it was to be applied he had not yet determined; but that could be decided later.
Meanwhile, it was very evident that the dragon did not intend to accept defeat without a struggle, and Griswold set his wits at work upon the problem of escape.
"It's a little queer that I hadn't thought of that part of it before," he mused, sipping his coffee as one who need not hasten until the race is actually begun. "I suppose the other fellow, the real robber, would have figured himself safely out of it—or would have thought he had—before he made the break. Since I did not, I've got it to do now, and there isn't much time to throw away. Let me see—" he shut his eyes and went into the inventive trance of the literary craftsman—"the keynote must be originality; I must do that which the other fellow would never think of doing."
On the strength of that decision he ventured to order a third cup of coffee, and before it had cooled he had outlined a plan, basing it upon a further cross-questioning of the Gascon waiter. The man had been to the street door again, and by this time the sidewalk excitement had subsided sufficiently to make room for an approach to the truth. The story of an armed band surrounding the bank had been a canard. There had been but one man concerned in the robbery, and the sidewalk gossip was beginning to describe him with discomforting accuracy.
Griswold paid his score and went out boldly and with studied nonchalance. He reasoned that, notwithstanding the growing accuracy of the street report, he was still in no immediate danger so long as he remained in such close proximity to the bank. It was safe to assume that this was one of the things the professional "strong-arm man" would not do. But it was also evident that he must speedily lose his identity if he hoped to escape; and the lost identity must leave no clew to itself.
Griswold smiled when he remembered how, in fiction of the felon-catching sort, and in real life, for that matter, the law-breaker always did leave a clew for the pursuers. Thereupon arose a determination to demonstrate practically that it was quite as possible to create an inerrant fugitive as to conceive an infallible detective. Joining the passers-by on the sidewalk, he made his way leisurely to Canal Street, and thence diagonally through the old French quarter toward the French Market. In a narrow alley giving upon the levee he finally found what he was looking for; a dingy sailors' barber's shop. The barber was a negro, fat, unctuous and sleepy-looking; and he was alone.
"Yes, sah; shave, boss?" asked the negro, bowing and scraping a foot when Griswold entered.
"No; a hair-cut." The customer produced a silver half-dollar. "Go somewhere and get me a cigar to smoke while you are doing it. Get a good one, if you have to go to Canal Street," he added, climbing into the rickety chair.
The fat negro shuffled out, scenting tips. The moment he was out of sight, Griswold took up the scissors and began to hack awkwardly at his beard and mustache; awkwardly, but swiftly and with well-considered purpose. The result was a fairly complete metamorphosis easily wrought. In place of the trim beard and curling mustache there was a rough stubble, stiff and uneven, like that on the face of a man who had neglected to shave for a week or two.
"There, I think that will answer," he told himself, standing back before the cracked looking-glass to get the general effect. "And it is decently original. The professional cracksman would probably have shaved, whereupon the first amateur detective he met would reconstruct the beard on the sunburned lines. Now for a pawnbroker; and the more avaricious he happens to be, the better he will serve the purpose."
He went to the door and looked up and down the alley. The negro was not yet in sight, and Griswold walked rapidly away in the direction opposite to that taken by the obliging barber.
A pawnbroker's shop of the kind required was not far to seek in that locality, and when it was found, Griswold drove a hard bargain with the Portuguese Jew behind the counter. The pledge he offered was the suit he was wearing, and the bargaining concluded in an exchange of the still serviceable business suit for a pair of butternut trousers, a second-hand coat too short in the sleeves, a flannel shirt, a cap, and a red handkerchief; these and a sum of ready money, the smallness of which he deplored piteously before he would consent to accept it.
The effect of the haggling was exactly what Griswold had prefigured. The Portuguese, most suspicious of his tribe, suspecting everything but the truth, flatly accused his customer of having stolen the pledge. And when Griswold departed without denying the charge, suspicion became conviction, and the pledged clothing, which might otherwise have given the police the needed clew, was carefully hidden away against a time when the Jew's apprehensions should be quieted.
Having thus disguised himself, Griswold made the transformation artistically complete by walking a few squares in the dust of a loaded cotton float on the levee. Then he made a tramp's bundle of the manuscript of the moribund book, the pistol, and the money in the red handkerchief; and having surveyed himself with some satisfaction in the bar mirror of a riverside pot-house, a daring impulse to test his disguise by going back to the restaurant where he had breakfasted seized and bore him up-town.
The experiment was an unqualified success. The proprietor of the bank-neighboring cafe not only failed to recognize him; he was driven forth with revilings in idiomatic French and broken English.
"Bete! Go back on da levee w'ere you belong to go. I'll been kipping dis cafe for zhentlemen! Scelerat! Go!"
Griswold went out, smiling between his teeth.
"That settles the question of identification and present safety," he assured himself exultantly. Then: "I believe I could walk into the Bayou State Security and not be recognized."
As before, the daring impulse was irresistible, and he gave place to it on the spur of the moment. Fouling a five-dollar bill in the mud of the gutter, he went boldly into the bank and asked the paying teller to give him silver for it. The teller sniffed at the money, scowled at the man, and turned back to his cash-book without a word. Griswold's smile grew to an inward laugh when he reached the street.
"The dragon may have teeth and claws, but it can neither see nor smell," he said, contemptuously, turning his steps riverward again. "Now I have only to choose my route and go in peace. How and where are the only remaining questions to be answered."
THE BELLE JULIE
For an hour or more after his return to the river front, Griswold idled up and down the levee; and the end of the interval found him still undecided as to the manner and direction of his flight—to say nothing of the choice of a destination, which was even more evasive than the other and more immediately pressing decision.
It was somewhere in the midst of the reflective hour that the elate triumph of success began to give place to the inevitable reaction. The partition which stands upon the narrow dividing line between vagrancy and crime is but a paper wall, and any hot-hearted insurrectionary may break through it at will. But to accept the conditions of vagrancy one must first embrace the loathsome thing itself. Griswold remembered the glimpse he had had of himself in the bar mirror of the pot-house, and the chains of his transformed identity began to gall him. It was to little purpose that he girded at his compunctions, telling himself that he was only playing a necessary part; that one needs must when the devil drives. Custom, habit, convention, or whatever it may be which differentiates between the law-abiding and the lawless, would have its say; and from railing bitterly against the social conditions which made his act at once a necessity and a crime, he began to feel a prickling disgust for the subterfuges to which the crime had driven him.
Moreover, there was a growing fear that he might not always be able to play consistently the double role whose lines were already becoming intricate and confusing. To be true to his ideals, he must continue to be in utter sincerity Griswold the brother-loving. That said itself. But on the other hand, to escape the consequences of his act, he must hold himself in instant readiness to be in savage earnest what a common thief would be in similar straits; a thing of duplicity and double meanings and ferocity, alert to turn and slay at any moment in the battle of self-preservation.
He had thought that the supreme crisis was passed when, earlier in the day, he had pawned the last of his keepsakes for the money to buy the revolver. But he had yet to learn that there is no supreme crisis in the human span, save that which ends it; that all the wayfaring duels with fate are inconclusive; conflicts critical enough at the moment, but lacking finality, and likely to be renewed indefinitely if one lives beyond them.
He was confronting another of the false climaxes in the hour of aimless wanderings on the river front. More than once he was tempted to buy back his lost identity at any price. Never before had he realized what a precious possession is the fearlessness of innocency; weighed against it, the thick packet of bank-notes in the tramp's bundle, and all that it might stand for, were as air-blown bubbles to refined gold. Yet he would not go back; he could not go back. To restore the money would be more than a confession of failure; it would be an abject recantation—a flat denial of every article of his latest social creed, and a plunge into primordial chaos in the matter of theories, out of which he could emerge only as a criminal in fact.
When the conflict of indetermination became altogether insupportable, he put it aside with the resolution which was the strong thread in the loosely twisted warp of his character and forced himself to think concretely toward a solution of the problem of flight. The possession of the money made all things possible—in any field save the theoretical—and the choice of dwelling or hiding-places seemed infinite.
His first thought had been to go back to New York. But there the risk of detection would be greater than elsewhere, and he decided that there was no good reason why he should incur it. Besides, he argued, there were other fields in which the sociological studies could be pursued under conditions more favorable than those to be found in a great city. In his mind's eye he saw himself domiciled in some thriving interior town, working and studying among people who were not unindividualized by an artificial environment. In such a community theory and practice might go hand in hand; he could know and be known; and the money at his command would be vastly more of a moulding and controlling influence than it could possibly be in the smallest of circles in New York. The picture, struck out upon the instant, pleased him, and having sufficiently idealized it, he adopted it enthusiastically as an inspiration, leaving the mere geographical detail to arrange itself as chance, or subsequent events, might determine.
That part of the problem disposed of, there yet remained the choice of a line of flight; and it was a small thing that finally decided the manner of his going. For the third time in the hour of aimless wanderings he found himself loitering opposite the berth of the Belle Julie, an up-river steamboat whose bell gave sonorous warning of the approaching moment of departure. Toiling roustabouts, trailing in and out like an endless procession of human ants, were hurrying the last of the cargo aboard. Griswold stood to look on. The toilers were negroes, most of them, but with here and there among the blacks and yellows a paler face so begrimed with sweat and dust as to be scarcely distinguishable from the majority. The sight moved Griswold, as thankless toil always did; and he fell to contrasting the hard lot of the laborers with that of the group of passengers looking on idly from the comfortable shade of the saloon-deck awning. Griswold's thought vocalized itself in compassionate musings.
"Poor devils! They've been told that they are freemen, and perhaps they believe it. But surely no slave of the Toulon galleys was ever in bitterer bondage.... Free?—yes, free to toil and sweat, to bear burdens and to be driven like cattle under the yoke! Oh, good Lord!—look at that!"
The ant procession had attacked the final tier of boxes in the lading, and one of the burden-bearers, a white man, had stumbled and fallen like a crushed pack-animal under a load too heavy for him. Griswold was beside him in a moment. The man could not rise, and Griswold dragged him not untenderly out of the way of the others.
"Why didn't you stand from under and let it drop?" he demanded gruffly, as an offset to the womanish tenderness; but when the man gasped for breath and groaned, he took another tone: "Where are you hurt?"
The crushed one sat up and spat blood.
"I don't know: inside, somewheres. I been dyin' on my feet any time for a year or two back."
"Consumption?" queried Griswold, briefly.
"I reckon so."
"Then you have no earthly business in a deck crew. Don't you know that?"
The man's smile was a ghastly face-wrinkling.
"Reckon I hain't got any business anywheres—out'n a horspital or a hole in the ground. But I kind o' thought I'd like to be planted 'longside the woman and the childer, if I could make out some way to git there."
The consumptive named a small river town in Iowa.
"And you were going to work your passage on the boat?"
"I was allowin' to try for it. But I reckon I'm done up, now."
In Griswold impulse was the dominant chord always struck by an appeal to his sympathies. His compassion went straight to the mark, as it was sure to do when his pockets were not empty.
"What is the fare by rail to your town?" he inquired.
"I don't know: I never asked. Somewheres between twenty and thirty dollars, I reckon; and that's more money than I've seen sence the woman died."
Griswold hastily counted out a hundred dollars from his pocket fund and thrust the money into the man's hand.
"Take that and change places with me," he commanded, slipping on the mask of gruffness again. "Pay your fare on the train, and I'll take your job on the boat. Don't be a fool!" he added, when the man put his face in his hands and began to choke. "It's a fair enough exchange, and I'll get as much out of it one way as you will the other. What is your name? I may have to borrow it."
"Gavitt—John Wesley Gavitt."
"All right; off with you," said the liberator, curtly; and with that he shouldered the sick man's load and fell into line in the ant procession.
Once on board the steamer, he followed his file-leader aft and made it his first care to find a safe hiding-place for the tramp's bundle in the knotted handkerchief. That done, he stepped into the line again, and became the sick man's substitute in fact.
Inured to hard living as he was, the substitute roustabout had made no more than a half-dozen rounds between the levee and the cargo-deck of the Belle Julie before he was glad to note that the steamer's lading was all but completed. It was toil of the shrewdest, and he drew breath of blessed relief when the last man staggered up the plank with his burden. The bell was clanging its final summons, and the slowly revolving paddle-wheels were taking the strain from the mooring lines. Being near the bow line Griswold was one of the two who sprang ashore at the mate's bidding to cast off. He was backing the hawser out of the last of its half-hitches when a carriage was driven rapidly down to the stage and two tardy passengers hurried aboard. The mate bawled from his station on the hurricane-deck.
"Now, then! Take a turn on that spring line out there and get them trunks aboard! Lively!"
The larger of the two trunks fell to the late recruit; and when he had set it down at the door of the designated state-room, he did half-absently what John Gavitt might have done without blame: read the tacked-on card, which bore the owner's name and address, written in a firm round hand: "Charlotte Farnham, Wahaska, Minnesota."
"Thank you," said a musical voice at his elbow. "May I trouble you to put it inside?"
Griswold wheeled as if the mild-toned request had been a blow, and was properly ashamed. But when he saw the speaker, consternation promptly slew all the other emotions. For the owner of the tagged trunk was the young woman to whom, an hour or so earlier, he had given place at the paying teller's wicket in the Bayou State Security.
She saw his confusion, charged it to the card-reading at which she had surprised him, and smiled. Then he met her gaze fairly and became sane again when he was assured that she did not recognize him: became sane, and whipped off his cap, and dragged the trunk into the state-room. After which he went to his place on the lower deck with a great thankfulness throbbing in his heart and an inchoate resolve shaping itself in his brain.
Late that night, when the Belle Julie was well on her way up the great river, he flung himself down upon the sacked coffee on the engine-room guard to snatch a little rest between landings, and the resolve became sufficiently cosmic to formulate itself in words.
"I'll call it an oracle," he mused. "One place is as good as another, just so it is inconsequent enough. And I am sure I've never heard of Wahaska."
Now Griswold the social rebel was, before all things else, Griswold the imaginative literary craftsman; and no sooner was the question of his ultimate destination settled thus arbitrarily than he began to prefigure the place and its probable lacks and havings. This process brought him by easy stages to pleasant idealizings of Miss Charlotte Farnham, who was, thus far, the only tangible thing connected with the destination-dream. A little farther along her personality laid hold of him and the idealizings became purely literary.
"She is a magnificently strong type!" was his summing up of her, made while he was lying flat on his back and staring absently at the flitting shadows among the deck beams overhead. "Her face is as readable as only the face of a woman instinctively good and pure in heart can be. Any man who can put her between the covers of a book may put anything else he pleases in it and snap his fingers at the world. If I am going to live in the same town with her, I ought to jot her down on paper before I lose the keen edge of the first impression."
He considered it for a moment, and then got up and went in search of a pencil and a scrap of paper. The dozing night clerk gave him both, with a sleepy malediction thrown in; and he went back to the engine-room and scribbled his word-picture by the light of the swinging incandescent.
"Character-study: Young woman of the type Western Creole; not the daughter of aliens, but born in the West, of parents who have migrated from one of the older States. (I'll hazard that much as a guess.)
"Detail: Titian blonde, with hair like spun bronze; the complexion which neither freckles nor tans; cool gray eyes with underdepths in them that no man but her lover may ever quite fathom; a figure which would be statuesque if it were not altogether human and womanly; features cast in the Puritan mould, with the lines of character well emphasized; lips that would be passionate but for—no, lips that will be passionate when the hour and the man arrive. A soul strong in the strength of transparent purity, which would send her to the stake for a principle, or to the Isle of Lepers with her lover. A typical heroine for a story in which the hero is a man who might need to borrow a conscience."
He read it over thoughtfully when it was finished, changing a word here and a phrase there with a craftsman's fidelity to the exactnesses. Then he shook his head regretfully and tore the scrap of paper into tiny squares, scattering them upon the brown flood surging past the engine-room gangway.
"It won't do," he confessed reluctantly, as one who sacrifices good literary material to a stern sense of the fitness of things. "It is nothing less than a cold-blooded sacrilege. I can't make copy of her if I write no more while the world stands."
Charlotte Farnham's friends—their number was the number of those who had seen her grow from childhood to maiden—and womanhood—commonly identified her for inquiring strangers as "good old Doctor Bertie's 'only,'" adding, men and women alike, that she was as well-balanced and sensible as she was good to look upon.
As Griswold had guessed, she stood but a single remove from an American lineage much older than the America of the Middle West. Her father had been a country physician in New Hampshire, migrating to the dry winters of Minnesota for his young wife's health. The migration had been too long postponed to save the mother's life; but it had made a beautiful woman of the daughter, dowering her with the luxuriant physical charm which is the proof that transplantation to fresher soil is not less beneficial to human- than to plant-kind.
She had been spending the winter at Pass Christian with her aunt, who was an invalid; and it was for the invalid's sake that she had decided to make the return journey by river. Patient little Miss Gilman was the least querulous of sufferers, but she was always very ill on a railway train. Hence Charlotte, who was at once physician, nurse, mentor, and dutiful kinswoman to the frail little lady who looked old enough to be her grandmother, had chosen the longer, but less trying, route to the far North.
So it had come about that their state-rooms had been taken on the Belle Julie; and on the morning of the second day out from New Orleans, Miss Gilman was so far from being travel-sick that she was able to sit with Charlotte in the shade of the hurricane-deck aft, and to enjoy, with what quavering enthusiasm there was in her, the matchless scenery of the lower Mississippi.
At Baton Rouge the New Orleans papers came aboard, and Miss Farnham bought a copy of the Louisianian. As a matter of course, the first-page leader was a circumstantial account of the daring robbery of the Bayou State Security, garnished with startling head-lines. Charlotte read it, half-absently at first, and a second time with interest awakened and a quickening of the pulse when she realized that she had actually been a witness of the final act in the near-tragedy. Her little gasp of belated horror brought a query from the invalid.
"What is it, Charlie, dear?"
For answer, Charlotte read the newspaper story of the robbery, head-lines and all.
"For pity's sake! in broad daylight! How shockingly bold!" commented Miss Gilman.
"Yes; but that wasn't what made me gasp. The paper says: 'A young lady was at the teller's window when the robber came up with Mr. Galbraith—' Aunt Fanny, I was the 'young lady'!"
"You? horrors!" ejaculated the invalid, holding up wasted hands of deprecation. "To think of it! Why, child, if anything had happened, a terrible murder might have been committed right there before your very face and eyes! Dear, dear; whatever are we coming to!"
Charlotte the well-balanced, smiled at the purely personal limitations of her aunt's point of view.
"It is very dreadful, of course; but it is no worse just because I happened to be there. Yet it seems ridiculously incredible. I can hardly believe it, even now."
"Why, there wasn't anything about it to suggest a robbery. Now that I know, I remember that the old gentleman did seem anxious or worried, or at least, not quite comfortable some way; but the young man was smiling pleasantly, and he looked like anything rather than a desperate criminal. I can close my eyes and see him, just as I saw him yesterday. He had a good face, Aunt Fanny; it was the face of a man whom one would trust almost instinctively."
Miss Gilman's New England conservatism, unweakened by her long residence in the West, took the alarm at once.
"Did you notice him particularly, Charlotte? Would you recognize him if you should see him again?" she asked anxiously.
"Yes; I am quite sure I should."
"But no one in the bank knew you. They couldn't trace you by your father's draft and letter of identification, could they?"
Charlotte was mystified. "I should suppose they could, if they wanted to. But why? What if they could?"
"My dear child; don't you see? They are sure to catch the robber, sooner or later, and if they know how to find you, you might be dragged into court as a witness!"
Miss Farnham was not less averse to publicity than the conventionalities demanded, but she had, or believed she had, very clear and well-defined ideas of her own touching her duty in any matter involving a plain question of right and wrong.
"I shouldn't wait to be dragged," she asserted quietly. "It would be a simple duty to go willingly. The first thing I thought of was that I ought to write at once to Mr. Galbraith, giving him my address."
Thereupon issued discussion. Miss Gilman's opinion upon such a momentous question—a question involving an apparent conflict between the proprieties and an act of simple justice—leaned heavily toward silence. There could be no possible need for Charlotte's interference. Mr. Galbraith and the teller would be able to identify the robber, and a thousand eye-witnesses could do no more. At the end of the argument the conservative one had extorted a conditional promise from her niece. The matter should remain in abeyance until the question of conscientious obligation had been submitted to Charlotte's father and decided by him.
Being by nature and inclination averse to shacklings, verbal or other, Charlotte gave the promise reluctantly, and the subject was dismissed. Not from the younger woman's thoughts, however. In the reflective field the scene in the bank recurred again and again until presently it became a haunting annoyance. To banish it finally she went to her state-room and got a book for herself and a magazine for her aunt.
An hour later, when Miss Gilman had finished cutting the leaves of the magazine, and was deep in the last instalment of the current serial, Charlotte let her book slip from her fingers and gave herself to the passive enjoyment of the slowly passing panorama which is the chief charm of inland voyaging.
It was a delectable day, sweet-scented with the mingled perfume of roses and jasmine and chinaberry trees wafted from the open-air conservatories surrounding the plantation mansions on either bank. The majestic onrush of the steamer, the rhythmic drumbeat of the machinery, the alternating crash and pause of the great paddle-wheels, the unhasting backward sweep of the brown flood, all these were in harmony with the sensuous languor of time and place.
For the moment Charlotte Farnham yielded in pure delight to the spell of the encompassments, fancying she could deny her lineage and look upon this sylvan Southland world through the eyes of those to whom it was the birthland. Then the haunting scene in the New Orleans bank returned to disenchant her; and after striving vainly to put it aside, she reopened her book. But by this time the story had lost its hold upon her, and when she had read a page or two with only the vaguest possible notion of what it was all about, she gave up in despair and let the relentless recollection have its will of her.
From where she was sitting she could see the steamer's yawl swinging from its tackle at the stern-staff; and after many minutes it was slowly borne in upon her that the ropes were working loose. When it became evident that the boat would shortly fall into the river and go adrift, she got up and put the book aside, meaning to go forward and tell the captain. But before she had taken the first step a man came aft to make the loosened tackle fast, and she stood back to let him pass.
It was Griswold. Up to that moment he had thrown himself so zealously into the impersonation of his latest role as to be able to stand indifferently well in the shoes of the man whom he had supplanted. But at this crisis the machinery of dissimulation slipped a cog. Where the ordinary deck-hand would have gone about his errand heedless of the presence of the two women passengers, the proxy John Wesley Gavitt must needs take off his cap and apologize for passing in front of them.
Something half familiar in his manner of doing it attracted Charlotte's attention, and her eyes followed him as he went on and hoisted the yawl into place. When he came back she had a fair sight of his face and her eyes met his. In the single swift glance half-formed suspicion became undoubted certainty; she looked again and her heart gave a great bound and then seemed suddenly to forget its office. While he was passing she clung to the back of her chair and forebore to cry out or otherwise to advertise her emotion. But when the strain was off she sank into her seat and closed her eyes to grapple with the unnerving discovery. It was useless to try to escape from the dismaying fact. The stubble-bearded deck-hand with the manners of a gentleman was most unmistakably a later reincarnation of the pleasantly smiling young man who had courteously made way for her at the teller's wicket in the Bayou State Security; who had smiled and given place to her while he was holding his pistol aimed at President Galbraith.
It was said of Charlotte Farnham that she was sensible beyond her years, and withal strong and straightforward in honesty of purpose. None the less, she was a woman. And when she saw what was before her, conscience turned traitor and fled away to give place to an uprush of hesitant doubts born of the sharp trial of the moment.
She decided at once that there could be no question as to her duty. Of all those who were seeking the escaping bank robber, it was doubtful if any would recognize him as she had; and if she should hold her peace he would escape, perhaps to commit other crimes for which she could then justly be held accountable.
But, on the other hand, how could she bring herself to the point of giving him over to the vengeance of the law—just vengeance, to be sure, but cruel because it must inevitably crush out whatever spark of penitence or good intention there might be remaining in him? What did she know of his temptations? of the chain of circumstances which had dragged him down into the company of the desperately criminal? Some such compelling influence there must have been, she reasoned, since a child might see that he was no hardened felon. It was a painful conflict, but in the end the Puritan conscience triumphed and turned mercy out of doors. Her duty was plain; she had no right to argue the question of culpability.
She got upon her feet, steadying herself by the back of the chair. She felt that she could not trust herself if she once admitted the thin edge of the wedge of delay. The simple and straightforward thing to do was to go immediately to the captain and tell him of her discovery, but she shrank from the thought of what must follow. They would seize him: he had proved that he was a desperate man, and there would be a struggle. And when the struggle was over they would bring him to her and she would have to stand forth as his accuser.
It was too shocking, and she caught at the suggestion of an alternative with a gasp of relief. She might write to President Galbraith, giving such a description of the deck-hand as would enable the officers to identify him without her personal help. It was like dealing the man a treacherous blow in the back, but she thought it would be kinder.
"Aunt Fanny," she began, with her face averted, "I promised you I wouldn't write to Mr. Galbraith until after we reached home—until I had told papa. I have been thinking about it since, and I—I think it must be done at once."
Now Miss Gilman's conscience was also of the Puritan cast, and justice had been given time to make its claim paramount to that of the conventional proprieties. Hence the invalid yielded the point without reopening the argument.
"I don't know but you are right, after all, Charlie, dear," she said. "I've been thinking it over, too. But it seems like a very dreadful thing for you to have to do."
"It is very dreadful," said Charlotte, with a much deeper meaning in the words than her aunt suspected. Nevertheless, she went away quickly and locked herself in her state room to write the fateful letter which should set the machinery of the law in motion and deliver the robber deck-hand up to justice.
GOLD OF TOLOSA
In yielding to the impulse which had prompted him to change places with the broken-down deck-hand, Griswold had assumed that there was little risk and at least an even chance that the substitution would never be discovered. He knew that the river steamboats were manned by picked-up crews, usually assembled at the last moment, and that it was more than probable that the Belle Julie's officers had not yet had time to individualize the units of the main-deck squad. Therefore, he might take the name and place of the disabled Gavitt with measurable safety.
But apart from this, he was not unwilling to add another chapter to his experience among the toilers. He had been told that the life of a roustabout on the Western rivers was the most dismal of all the gropings in the social underworld, and he was the more eager to endure its hardships as a participant. Being an enthusiast, he had early laid down the foundation principle that one must see and feel and suffer if one would write convincingly.
As to the experience, he immediately found himself in a fair way to acquire it in great abundance. From the moment of his enlistment in the Belle Julie's crew it was heaped upon him unstintingly; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. Without having specialized himself in any way to M'Grath, the bullying chief mate, he fancied he was singled out as the vessel into which the man might empty the vials of his wrath without fear of reprisals. Curses, not loud—since a generation of travellers has arisen to whom profanity, however picturesque, is objectionable—but deep and corrosive; contumely and abuse; tongue-lashings that stung like the flick of a whip; and now and then, at a night landing when there were no upper-deck people looking on to be shocked, blows. All these slave-drivings, or at least his share of them, Griswold endured as became a man who had voluntarily put himself in the way of them. But they were hardening. Griswold fought manfully against the brutalizing effect of them, but with only partial success. Because of them, he was sure that his theories in the compassionate warp and woof of them must always afterward be shot through with flame-colored threads of fiery resentment reaching back through M'Grath to every master who wielded the whip of power; the power of the man who has, over the man who has not.
In such a lurid light it was only natural that the ethical perspective should be still further distorted; that any lingering doubt of the justice of his late rebellion against the accepted order of things should be banished by the persecutions of the bullying mate. It is easy to postulate a storm-driven world when the personal horizon is dark and lowering; easy, also, to justify the past by the present. From theorizing never so resolutely upon the rights of man in the abstract to robbing a bank is a broad step, and given an opportunity to reflect upon it calmly after the fact, even such an imaginative enthusiast as Griswold might have reconsidered. But the hasty plunge into the underdepth of roustabout life was like the brine bath of the blacksmith to heated steel; it served to temper him afresh.
Fortunately he was not altogether unequal to the physical test, severe as it was. With all of his later privations, he had lived a clean life; and his college training in athletics stood him in good stead. Physically, as intellectually, the material in him was of the fine-grained fibre in which quality counts for more than quantity. Lacking something in mass, the lack was more than compensated by the alertness and endurance which had made him at once the best man with the foils and the safest oar in the boat in his college days. None the less, the first night out of New Orleans, with its uncounted plantation landings, had tried him keenly, and he was thankful when the second day brought fewer stopping places and longer rest intervals.
It was in one of the resting intervals that he had been sent aft to resecure the loosened tackle of the suspended small boat. He had come upon Miss Farnham and her aunt unexpectedly, and so was off his guard. But in any event, he argued, he should have obeyed the instinctive impulse to excuse himself. He knew that the apology was a confession that he was a masquerader in some sort, and he had felt the steady gaze of the young woman's eyes while he was at work on the loosened tackle. Later, when he passed her on his way forward he had seen the swift change in her face betokening some sudden emotion, and the recollection of it troubled him.
What if this clear-eyed young person had recognized him? He knew that the New Orleans papers had come aboard; he had seen the folded copy of the Louisianian in the invalid's lap. Consequently, Miss Farnham knew of the robbery, and the incidents were fresh in her mind. What would she do if she had penetrated his disguise?
The query had its answer when he recalled his written estimate of her character scribbled a few hours earlier by the light of the engine-room incandescent. If her face were not merely a fair mask of the conscientious probity it stood for, she would denounce him without hesitation.
He tried to make himself doubt it, but the effort recoiled upon him. Already, in his imaginings, she was beginning to assume the characteristics of an ideal; and the ideal character with which he had endowed her would be true to itself at any cost; it would be quite sexless and just before it would be womanly and merciful. At least he hoped it would. Ideals are much too precious to be shattered recklessly by mere personal considerations; and he told himself, in a fine glow of artistic self-effacement, that he should be sorry to purchase even so great a boon as his liberty at the price of the broken ideal.
But the burning of sweet incense in the temple of the ideals is not necessarily incompatible with a just regard for the commonplace realities. In the aftermath of the fine artistic glow, Griswold found himself straightway wrestling with the problem of present safety. If Miss Farnham had recognized him, his chances of escape had suddenly narrowed down to flight, immediate and speedy. He must leave the Belle Julie at the next landing and endeavor to make his way north by wagon-road or rail, or by some later boat.
The emergency called for swift action, and his determination to leave the steamer was taken at once. While he was weighing the manifest dangers of a daylight desertion against the equally manifest hazard of waiting for darkness, the whistle was blown for a landing and he concluded not to wait. If Miss Farnham had identified him she would doubtless lose no time in giving the alarm. She might even now be in conference with the captain, he thought.
Griswold had a shock of genuine terror at this point in his reflections and his skin prickled as at the touch of something loathsome. Up to that moment he had suffered none of the pains of the hunted fugitive; but he knew now that he had fairly entered the gates of the outlaw's inferno; that however cunningly he might cast about to throw his pursuers off the track, he would never again know what it was to be wholly free from the terror of the arrow that flieth by day.
The force of the Scriptural simile came to him with startling emphasis, bringing on a return of the prickling dismay. The stopping of the paddle-wheels and the rattling clangor of the gang-plank winch aroused him to action and he shook off the creeping numbness and ran aft to rummage under the cargo on the engine-room guards for his precious bundle. When his hand reached the place where it should have been, the blood surged to his brain and set up a clamorous dinning in his ears like the roaring of a cataract. The niche between the coffee sacks was empty.
While Griswold was grappling afresh with the problem of escape, and planning to desert the Belle Julie at the next landing, Charlotte Farnham was sitting behind the locked door of her state-room with a writing pad on her knee over which for many minutes the suspended pen merely hovered. She had fancied that her resolve, once fairly taken, would not stumble over a simple matter of detail. But when she had tried a dozen times to begin the letter to Mr. Galbraith, the simplicities vanished and complexity stood in their room.
Try as she might to put the sham deck-hand into his proper place as an impersonal unit of a class with which society is at war, he perversely refused to surrender his individuality. At the end of every fresh effort she was confronted by the inexorable summing-up: in a world of phantoms there were only two real persons; a man who had sinned, and a woman who was about to make him pay the penalty.
It was all very well to reason about it, and to say that he ought to be made to pay the penalty; but that did not make it any less shocking that she, Charlotte Farnham, should be the one to set the retributive machinery in motion. Yet she knew she had the thing to do, and so, after many ineffectual attempts, the letter was written and sealed and addressed, and she went out to mail it at the clerk's office.
As it chanced, the engines of the steamer were slowing for a landing when she latched her state-room door, and by the time she had walked the length of the saloon the office was closed and the clerk had gone below with his way-bills. It was an added hardship to have to wait, and she knew well enough that delay would speedily reopen the entire vexed question of responsibility. But there was nothing else to be done. She told herself that she could not begin to breathe freely again until the letter was out of her hands and safely beyond recall.
The doors giving upon the forward saloon-deck were open, and she heard the harsh voice of the mate exploding in sharp commands as the steamer lost way and edged slowly up to the river bank. A moment later she was outside, leaning on the rail and looking down upon the crew grouped about the inboard end of the uptilted landing-stage. He was there; the man for whose destiny accident and the conventional sense of duty had made her responsible; and as she looked she had a fleeting glimpse of his face.
It was curiously haggard and woe-begone; so sorrowfully changed that for an instant she almost doubted his identity. The sudden transformation added fresh questionings, and she began to ask herself thoughtfully what had brought it about. Had he recognized her and divined her intention? But if that were the explanation, why had he not made his escape? Why was he waiting for her to point him out to the officers of the steamer?
The queries swept her out into a deeper sea of perplexity. What if he were already repentant? In that event, the result of her dutiful service to society would doubtless be to drive him back into impenitence and despair. For a little time she clung desperately to her purpose, hardening her heart and shutting her ears to the clamant appeal of the reawakened sentiment of commiseration. Then the man turned slowly and looked up at her as if the finger of her thought had touched him. There was no sign of recognition in his eyes; and she constrained herself to gaze down upon him coldly. But when the Belle Julie's bow touched the bank, and the waiting crew melted suddenly into a tenuous line of burden-bearers, she fled through the deserted saloon to her state-room and hid the fatal letter under the pillows in her berth.
Another hour had elapsed. It was nearly noon, and the stewards had bridged the spaces in the row of square saloon-tables and were laying the cloth for the mid-day meal. Charlotte opened her door guardedly, as one fearing to face prying eyes, and finding the coast clear, slipped out to rejoin her aunt under the awning abaft the paddle-box. Miss Gilman shut her finger into the magazine to keep her place and looked up in mild surprise.
"Where have you been?" she asked. "Has it taken you all this time to write to the bank people?"
Charlotte's answer satisfied the strict letter of the inquiry, though it slew the spirit.
"I wrote the letter quite awhile ago. I have been lying down, since."
The invalid reopened the magazine, and Charlotte was left to make peace as best she might with her conscience for having told the half-truth. It was characteristic of the inward monitor that even in such a trivial matter it refused to be coerced. Accordingly, a little while afterward, when Charlotte took her aunt's arm to lead her to the table, she said:
"I told you I had written to Mr. Galbraith, and so I have. But the letter is not yet mailed." And, since the natural inference was that there had been no opportunity to mail it, the conscientious little confession went as wide of the mark as if it had never been made.
At the captain's end of the long table the talk rippled pointlessly around the New Orleans bank robbery, and Miss Farnham took no part in it until Captain Mayfield spoke of the reward of ten thousand dollars which had been offered for the apprehension of the robber. The fact touched her upon the ethical side, and she said:
"That is something that always seems so dreadfully barbarous; to set a money price on the head of a human being."
The captain laughed.
"'Tis sort o' Middle-Aged, when you come to think of it. But it does the police business oftener than anything else, I guess. A detective will work mighty hard nowadays for ten thousand dollars."
"Yes, I suppose so; but it is barbarous," Charlotte persisted. "It is an open appeal to the lowest motive in human nature—cupidity."
The bluff riverman nodded a qualified approval, but a loquacious little gentleman across the table felt called upon to protest.
"But, my dear Miss Farnham, would you have us all turn thief-catchers for the mere honor of the thing?"
"For the love of justice, or not at all, I should say," was the straightforward return blow. "If I should see somebody picking your pocket, ought I to weigh the chances of your offering a reward before telling you of it?"
"Oh, no; of course not. But this is entirely different. A rich corporation has been robbed, and it says to the thief-catchers—and to everybody, for that matter—Here are ten thousand dollars if you will find us the robber. For myself, I confess that the reward would be the determining factor. If I knew where Mr. Galbraith's 'hold-up' is to be found, I should certainly go out of my way to earn the money."
Miss Farnham's sense of the fitness of things was plainly affronted.
"Do you mean to say that you would accept the reward, Mr. Latrobe?"
"Most certainly I should; any one would."
The frank avowal stood for public opinion. Charlotte knew it and went dumb in the presence of a new and more terrible phase of her entanglement. She might call the reward blood money, and refuse absolutely to touch it, but who, outside of her own little circle, would know or believe that she had refused? And if all the remainder of the world knew and should exonerate her, would not the wretched man himself always believe that she had sold him for a price?
The benumbing thought left her tongue-tied and miserable; and after the table-dispersal she sought out the captain to ask a question.
"Do you know the law in Louisiana, Captain Mayfield?" she began, with more embarrassment than the simple inquiry would account for. "This man who robbed the Bayou State Security yesterday; what is the penalty for his crime?"
The captain shook his head. "I don't know: being only a riverman, I'm not even a sea-lawyer. But maybe Mr. Latrobe could tell you. Oh, Mr. Latrobe!"
The loquacious one was on his way forward to smoke, but he turned and came back at the captain's call.
"The penalty?" he said, when the query had been repeated to him; "that would depend upon a good many things that could only be brought out at the trial. But under the circumstances—threatening to shoot the president, and all that, you know—I should say it would go pretty hard with him. He'll probably get the full limit of the law."
"And that is?" persisted Charlotte, determined to know the worst.
"In Louisiana, twenty years, I believe."
"Thank you; that is what I wished to find out."
The little man bowed and went his way; and Captain Mayfield, who was an observant man in the field of river stages and other natural phenomena, but not otherwise, did not remark Miss Farnham's sigh which was more than half a sob.
"Twenty years!" she shuddered; "it might as well be for life. He would be nearly fifty years old, if he lived through it."
It did not occur to the captain to wonder how Miss Farnham came to know anything about the bank robber's age, but he spoke to the conditional phrase in her comment.
"Yes; if he lives through it: that's a mighty big 'if' down here in the levee country. Twenty years of the chain-gang would be about the same as a life sentence to most white men, I judge."
Charlotte turned away quickly; and when she could trust herself in the presence of her aunt, she led the way back to the shade of the after-deck awning and tried, for her own sake, to talk about some of the many things that had gone to make up the sum of their daily life before this black cloud of perplexity had settled down. It was a dismaying failure; and when the invalid said she would go and lie down for awhile, Charlotte was thankful and went once more to lock herself and her trouble in her state-room.
That evening, after dinner, she went forward with some of the other passengers to the railed promenade which was the common evening rendezvous. The Belle Julie had tied up at a small town on the western bank of the great river, and the ant procession of roustabouts was in motion, going laden up the swing-stage and returning empty by the foot-plank. Left to herself for a moment, Charlotte faced the rail and again sought to single out the man whose fate she must decide.
She distinguished him presently; a grimy, perspiring unit in the crew, tramping back and forth mechanically, staggering under the heaviest loads, and staring stonily at the back of his file leader in the endless round; a picture of misery and despair, Charlotte thought, and she was turning away with the dangerous rebellion against the conventions swelling again in her heart when Captain Mayfield joined her.
"I just wanted to show you," he said; and he pointed out a gang of men repairing a slip in the levee embankment below the town landing. It was a squad of prisoners in chains. The figures of the convicts were struck out sharply against the dark background of undergrowth, and the reflection of the sunset glow on the river lighted up their sullen faces and burnished the use-worn links in their leg-fetters.
"The chain-gang;" said the captain, briefly. "That's about where the fellow that robbed the Bayou State Security will bring up, if they catch him. He'll have to be mighty tough and well-seasoned if he lives to worry through twenty years of that, don't you think?"
But Miss Farnham could not answer; and even the unobservant captain of river boats saw that she was moved and was sorry he had spoken.
THE MIDDLE WATCH
In any path of performance there is but one step which is irrevocable, namely, the final one, and in Charlotte Farnham's besetment this step was the mailing of the letter to Mr. Galbraith. Many times during the evening she wrought herself up to the plunging point, only to recoil on the very brink; and when at length she gave up the struggle and went to bed, the sealed letter was still under her pillow.
Now it is a well-accepted truism that an exasperated sense of duty, like remorse and grief, fights best in the night-watches. It was of no avail to protest that her intention was still unshaken. Conscience urged that delay was little less culpable than refusal, since every hour gave the criminal an added chance of escape. The logic was unanswerable, and trembling lest the implacable inward monitor should presently insist upon the immediate revealment of the fugitive's identity to Captain Mayfield, she got up and dressed hurriedly, meaning to end the agony once for all by giving the letter to the night clerk.
But once again the chapter of accidents intervened. While she was unbolting her door, the mellow roar of the whistle and the jangling of the engine-room bells warned her that the Belle Julie was approaching a landing. Remembering the cause of her earliest failure, she ran quickly to the office, only to find it deserted and the door locked.
This time, however, she determined not to be diverted. Going back to the state-room for a wrap she returned to wait for the clerk's reappearance. This final pause soon proved to be the severest trial of all. The minutes dragged leaden-winged; and to sit quietly in the silence and solitude of the great saloon became a nerve-racking impossibility. When it went past endurance, she rose and stepped out upon the promenade-deck.
The electric search-light eye on the hurricane-deck was just over her head, and its great white cone seemed to hiss as it poured its dazzling flood of fictitious noonday upon the shelving river bank and the sleeping hamlet beyond. The furnace doors were open, and the red glare of the fires quickened the darkness under the beam of the electric into lurid life. Out of the dusky underglow came the freight-carriers, giving birth to a file of grotesque shadow monsters as they swung up the plank into the field of the search-light.
The stopping-place was an unimportant one, and a few minutes sufficed for the unloading of the small consignment of freight. The mate had left his outlook upon the hurricane-deck and was down among the men, hastening them with harsh commands and epithets which owed their mildness to the presence of the silent onlooker beneath the electric.
The foot-plank had been drawn in, the steam winch was clattering, and the landing-stage had begun to come aboard, when the two men whose duty it was to cast off ran out on the tilting stage and dropped from its shore end. One of them fell clumsily, tried to rise, and sank back into the shadow; but the other scrambled up the steep bank and loosened the half-hitches in the wet hawser. With the slackening of the line the steamer began to move out into the stream, and the man at the mooring-post looked around to see what had become of his companion.
"Get a move on youse!" bellowed the mate; but instead of obeying, the man ran back and went on his knees beside the huddled figure in the shadow.
At this point the watcher on the promenade-deck began vaguely to understand that the first man was disabled in some way, and that the other was trying to lift him. While she looked, the engine-room bells jangled and the wheels began to turn. The mate forgot her and swore out of a full heart.
She put her fingers in her ears to shut out the clamor of abusive profanity; but the man on the bank paid no attention to the richly emphasized command to come aboard. Instead, he ran swiftly to the mooring-post, took a double turn of the trailing hawser around it and stood by until the straining line snubbed the steamer's bow to the shore. Then, deftly casting off again, he darted back to the disabled man, hoisted him bodily to the high guard, and clambered aboard himself, all this while M'Grath was brushing the impeding crew aside to get at him.
Charlotte saw every move of the quick-witted salvage in the doing, and wanted to cry out in sheer enthusiasm when it was done. Then, in the light from the furnace doors, she saw the face of the chief actor: it was the face of the man with the stubble beard.
The night was summer warm, but she shrank back and shivered as if a cold wind had breathed upon her. Why must he make it still harder for her by posing as the defender of the wretched negro? She would look on no longer; she would.... The harsh voice of the mate, dominating the noise of the machinery and the churning of the paddle-wheels, drew her irresistibly to the rail. She could not hear what M'Grath was saying, but she could read hot wrath in his gestures, and in the way the men fell back out of his reach. All but one: the stubble-bearded white man was facing him fearlessly, and he appeared to be trying to explain.
Griswold was trying to explain, but the bullying first officer would not let him. It was a small matter: with the money gone, and the probability that capture and arrest were deferred only from landing to landing, a little abuse, more or less, counted as nothing. But he was grimly determined to keep M'Grath from laying violent hands upon the negro who had twisted his ankle in jumping from the uptilted landing-stage.
"No; this is one time when you don't skin anybody alive!" he retorted, when a break in the stream of abuse gave him a chance. "You let the man alone. He couldn't help it. Do you suppose he sprained an ankle purposely to give you a chance to curse him out?"
The mate's reply was a brutal kick at the crippled negro. Griswold came closer.
"Don't try that again!" he warned, angrily. "If you've got to take it out on somebody, I'm your man."
This was mutiny, and M'Grath's remedy for that distemper was ever heroic. In a flash his big fist shot out and the crew looked to see its lighter champion go backward into the river at the impact. But the blow did not land. Griswold saw it coming and swerved the necessary body-breadth. The result was a demonstration of a simple theorem in dynamics. M'Grath reeled under the impetus of his own unresisted effort, stumbled forward against the low edge-line bulwark, clawed wildly at the fickle air and dropped overboard like a stone.
At the splashing plunge Griswold saw, planned, and acted in the same instant. The Belle Julie was forging ahead at full speed, and if the mate did not drown at once, the projecting paddle-wheel would batter the life out of him as he passed under it.
Clearing the intervening obstacles in a hurdler's leap, Griswold raced aft on the outer edge of the guards and jumped overboard in time to grapple the drowning man when he was within a few feet of the churning wheel. The struggle was short but fierce. Griswold got a strangling arm around the big man's neck and strove to sink with him so that the wheel might pass over them. He was only partly successful. The mate was terror-crazed and fought blindly. There was no time for trick or stratagem, and when the thunder of the wheel roared overhead, Griswold felt the jar of a blow and the mate's struggles ceased abruptly. A gasping moment later the worst was over and the rescuer had his head out; was swimming gallantly in the wake of the steamer, supporting the unconscious M'Grath and shouting lustily for help.
The help came quickly. The alarm had been promptly given, and the night pilot was a man for an emergency. Before the little-used yawl could be lowered, the steamer had swept a wide circle in mid-stream and the search-light picked up the castaways. From that to placing the Belle Julie so that the two bits of human flotsam could be hauled in over the bows was but a skilful hand's-turn of rudder-work, accomplished as cleverly as if the great steamboat had been a power-driven launch to be steered by a touch of the tiller.
All this Charlotte saw. She was looking on when the two men were dragged aboard, the big Irishman still unconscious, and the rescuer in the final ditch of exhaustion—breathless, sodden, reeling with weariness.