E-text prepared by Charles Klingman
THE SECOND CLASS PASSENGER
London Chapman & Dodd, Ltd. 25 Denmark Street, W.C. 2 First Published (Methuen & Co.) 6s. 1913 First Published in the Abbey Library 1922
I. THE SECOND-CLASS PASSENGER II. THE SENSE OF CLIMAX III. THE TRADER OF LAST NOTCH IV. THE MURDERER V. THE VICTIM VI. BETWEEN THE LIGHTS VII. THE MASTER VIII. "PARISIENNE" IX. LOLA X. THE POOR IN HEART XI. THE MAN WHO KNEW XII. THE HIDDEN WAY XIII. THE STRANGE PATIENT XIV. THE CAPTAIN'S ARM XV. THE WIDOWER
THE SECOND-CLASS PASSENGER
The party from the big German mail-boat had nearly completed their inspection of Mozambique, they had walked up and down the main street, admired the palms, lunched at the costly table of Lazarus, and purchased "curios"—Indian silks, Javanese; knives, Birmingham metal-work, and what not—as mementoes of their explorations. In particular, Miss Paterson had invested in a heavy bronze image— apparently Japanese—concerning which she entertained the thrilling delusion that it was an object of local worship. It was a grotesque thing, massive and bulky, weighing not much less than ten or twelve pounds. Hence it was confided to the careful porterage of Dawson, an assiduous and favored courtier of Miss Paterson; and he, having lunched, was fated to leave it behind at Lazarus' Hotel.
Miss Paterson shook her fluffy curls at him. They were drawing towards dinner, and the afternoon was wearing stale.
"I did so want that idol," she said plaintively. She had the childish quality of voice, the insipidity of intonation, which is best appreciated in steamboat saloons. "Oh, Mr. Dawson, don't you think you could get it back for me?"
"I'm frightfully sorry," said the contrite Dawson. "I'll go back at once. You don't know when the ship goes, do you?"
Another of Miss Paterson's cavaliers assured him that he had some hours yet. "The steward told me so," he added authoritatively.
"Then I'll go at once," said Dawson, hating him.
"Mind, don't lose the boat," Miss Paterson called after him.
He went swiftly back up the wide main street in which they had spent the day. Lamps were beginning to shine everywhere, and the dull peace of the place was broken by a new life. Those that dwell in darkness were going abroad now, and the small saloons were filling. Dawson noted casually that evening was evidently the lively time of Mozambique. He passed men of a type he had missed during the day, men of all nationalities, by their faces, and every shade of color. They were lounging on the sidewalk in knots of two or three, sitting at the little tables outside the saloons, or lurking at the entrances of narrow alleys that ran aside from the main street every few paces. All were clad in thin white suits, and some wore knives in full sight, while there was that about them that would lead even the most innocent and conventional second-class passenger to guess at a weapon concealed somewhere. Some of them looked keenly at Dawson as he passed along; and although he met their eyes impassively, he—even he—was conscious of an implied estimate in their glance, as though they classified him with a look. Once he stepped aside to let a woman pass. She was large, flamboyantly southern and calm. She lounged along, a cloak over her left arm, her head thrown back, a cigarette between her wide, red lips. She, too, looked at Dawson—looked down at him with a superb lazy nonchalance, laughed a little, and walked on. The loungers on the sidewalk laughed too, but rather with her than at Dawson.
"I seem rather out of it here," he told himself patiently, and was glad to enter the wide portals of Lazarus' Hotel. A grand, swarthy Greek, magnificent in a scarlet jacket and gold braid, pulled open the door for him, and heard his mission smilingly.
"A brass-a image," he repeated. "Sir, you wait-a in the bar, an' I tell-a the boy go look."
"You must be quick, then," said Dawson, "'cause I'm in a hurry to get back."
"Yais," smiled the Greek. "Bimeby he rain-a bad."
"Rain?" queried Dawson incredulously. The air was like balm.
"You see," the Greek nodded. "This-a way, sir. I go look-a quick."
Dawson waited in the bar, where a dark, sallow bar-man stared him out of countenance for twenty minutes. At the end of that time the image was forthcoming. The ugly thing had burst the paper in which it was wrapped, and its grinning bullet-head projected handily. The paper was wisped about its middle like a petticoat. Dawson took it thankfully from the Greek, and made suitable remuneration in small silver.
"Bimeby rain," repeated the Greek, as he opened a door for him again.
"Well, I'm not made of sugar," replied Dawson, and set off.
It was night now, for in Mozambique evening is but a brief hiatus between darkness and day. It lasts only while the sun is dipping; once the upper limb is under the horizon it is night, full and absolute. As Dawson retraced his steps the sky over him was velvet- black, barely punctured by faint stars, and a breeze rustled faintly from the sea. He had not gone two hundred yards when a large, warm drop of rain splashed on his back. Another pattered on his hat, and it was raining, leisurely, ominously.
Dawson pulled up and took thought. At the end of the main street he would have to turn to the left to the sea-front, and then to the left again to reach the landing-stage. If, now, there were any nearer turning to the left—if any of the dark alleys that opened continually beside him were passable—he might get aboard the steamer to his dinner in the second-class saloon with a less emphatic drenching than if he went round by the way he had come. Mozambique, he reflected, could not have only one street—it was too big for that. From the steamer, as it came to anchor, he had seen acre upon acre of flat roofs, and one of the gloomy alleys beside him must surely debouch upon the sea-front. He elected to try one, anyhow, and accordingly turned aside into the next.
With ten paces he entered such a darkness as he had never known. The alley was barely ten feet wide: it lay like a crevasse between high, windowless walls of houses. The warm, leisurely rain dropped perpendicularly upon him from an invisible sky, and presently, hugging the wall, he butted against a corner, and found, or guessed, that his way was no longer straight. Underfoot there was mud and garbage that once gulfed him to the knee, and nowhere in all those terrible, silent walls on each side of him was there a light or a door, nor any sight of life near at hand. He might have been in a catacomb, companioned by the dead.
The stillness and the loneliness scared and disturbed him. He turned on a sudden impulse to make his way back to the lights of the street.
But this was to reckon without the map of Mozambique—which does not exist. Ten minutes sufficed to overwhelm him in an intricacy of blind ways. He groped by a wall to a turning, fared cautiously to pass it, found a blank wall opposite him, and was lost. His sense of direction left him, and he had no longer any idea of where the street lay and where the sea. He floundered in gross darkness, inept and persistent. It took some time, many turnings, and a tumble in the mud to convince him that he was lost. And then the rain came down in earnest.
It roared, it pelted, it stamped on him. It was not rain, as he knew it: it was a cascade, a vehement and malignant assault by all the wetness in heaven. It whipped, it stung, it thrashed; he was drenched in a moment as though by a trick. He could see nothing, but groped blind and frightened under it, feeling along the wall with one hand, still carrying the bronze image by the head with the other. Once he dropped it, and would have left it, but with an impulse like an effort of self-respect, he searched for it, groping elbow-deep in the slush and water, found it, and stumbled on. Another corner presented itself; he came round it, and almost at once a light showed itself.
It was a slit of brightness below a door, and without a question the drenched and bewildered Dawson lifted the image and hammered on the door with it. A hum of voices within abated as he knocked, and there was silence. He hammered again, and he heard bolts being withdrawn inside. The door opened slowly, and a man looked out.
"I've lost my way," flustered Dawson pitifully. "I'm wet through, and I don't know where I am." Even as he spoke the rain was cutting through his clothes like blades. "Please let me in;" he concluded. "Please let me in."
The man was backed by the light, and Dawson could see nothing of him save that he was tall and stoutly made. But he laughed, and opened the door a foot farther to let him pass in.
"Come in," he bade him. His voice was foreign and high. "Come in. All may come in to-night."
Dawson entered, leading a trail of water over a floor of bare boards. His face was running wet, and he was newly dazzled with the light. But when he had wiped his eyes, he drew a deep breath of relief and looked about him. The room was unfurnished save for a littered table and some chairs, and a gaudy picture of the Virgin that hung on the wall. On each side of it was a sconce, in which a slovenly candle guttered. A woman was perched on a corner of the table, a heavy shawl over her head. Under it the dark face, propped in the fork of her hand, glowed sullenly, and her bare, white arm was like a menacing thing. Dawson bowed to her with an instinct of politeness. In a chair near her a grossly fat man was huddled, scowling heavily under thick, fair brows, while the other man, he who had opened the door, stood smiling.
The woman laughed softly as Dawson ducked to her, scanning him with an amusement that he felt as ignominy. But she pointed to the image dangling in his hand.
"What is that?" she asked.
Dawson laid it on the floor carefully. "It's a curio," he explained. "I was fetching it for a lady. An idol, you know."
The fat man burst into a hoarse laugh, and the other man spoke to Dawson.
"An' you?" he queried. "What you doing 'ere, so late an' so wet?"
"I was trying to take a short cut to the landing-stage," Dawson replied. "Like a silly fool, I thought I could find my way through here. But I got lost somehow."
The fat man laughed again.
"You come off the German steamer?" suggested the woman.
Dawson nodded. "I came ashore with some friends," he answered, "from the second-class. But I left them to go back and fetch this idol, and here I am."
The tall man who had opened the door turned to the woman.
"So we must wait a leetle longer for your frien's," he said.
She tossed her head sharply.
"Friends!" she exclaimed. "Mother of God! Would you walk about with your knives for ever? When every day other men are taken, can you ask to go free? Am I the wife of the Intendente?"
"No, nod the vife!" barked the stout man violently. "But if you gan't tell us noding better than to stop for der police to dake us, vot's der good of you?"
The woman shrugged her shoulders, and the shawl slipped, and showed them bare and white above her bodice.
"I have done all that one could do," she answered sullenly, with defiant eyes. "Seven months you have done as you would, untouched. That was through me. Now, fools, you must take your turn—one month, three months, six months—who knows?—in prison. One carries a knife —one goes to prison! What would you have?"
"Gif der yong man a chair, Tonio," said the fat man, and his companion reached Dawson a seat. He sat on it in the middle of the floor, while they wrangled around him. He gathered that the two men anticipated a visit from the police very shortly, and that they blamed it on the woman, who might have averted it. Both the men accused her of their misfortune, and she faced them dauntlessly. She tried to bring them, it seemed, to accept it as inevitable, as a thing properly attendant on them; to show that she, after all, could not change the conditions of existence.
"You stabbed the Greek," she argued once, turning sharply on the tall man.
"Well," he began, and she flourished her hand as an ergo.
"Life is not spending money," she even philosophized. "One pays for living, my friend, with work, with pain, with jail. Here you have to pay. I have paid for you, seven months nearly, with smiles and love. But the price is risen. It is your turn now."
Dawson gazed at her fascinated. She spoke and gesticulated with a captivating spirit. Life brimmed in her. As she spoke, her motions were arguments in themselves. She put a case and demolished it with a smile; presented the alternative, left a final word unspoken, and the thing was irresistible. Dawson, perched lonely on his chair, experienced a desire to enter the conversation.
The men were beyond conviction. "Why didn't you"—do this or that? the tall man kept asking, and his fat comrade exploded, "Yea, vy?" They seemed to demand of her that she should accept blame without question; and to her answers, clear and ready, the fat man retorted with a gross oath.
"Excuse me, sir," began Dawson, shocked. He was aching to be on the woman's side.
"Vott" demanded the fat man.
"That's hardly the way to speak to a lady," said Dawson gravely.
The tall man burst into a clear laugh, and the fat man glared at Dawson. He flinched somewhat, but caught the woman's eye and found comfort and reinforcement there. She, too, was smiling, but gratefully, and she gave him a courteous little nod of thanks.
"I don't like to hear such language used to a lady," he said, speaking manfully enough, and giving the fat man eyes as steady as his own. "No gentleman would do it, I'm sure."
"Vot der hell you got to do mit it?" demanded the other ferociously, while his companion laughed.
The woman held up a hand. "Do not quarrel," she said. "There is trouble enough already. Besides, they may be here any moment. Is there anything to get ready?"
"But vot der hell," cried the fat man again. She turned on him.
"Fool! fool! Will you shout and curse all night, till the algemas are on you?"
"Yes; an' you put dem on us," the tall man interrupted.
She turned swiftly on him, poising her small head over her bare breasts with a superb scorn.
"Why do you lie?" she demanded hotly. "Why do you lie? Must you hide even from your own blame behind my skirts? Mother of God!"—an outstretched hand called the tawdry Virgin on the wall to witness— "you are neither man nor good beast—just——"
The tall man interrupted. "Don' go, on!" he said quietly. "Don' go on!" His eyes were shining, and he carried one hand beneath his coat. "Don' dare to go on!"
"Dare!" The woman lifted her face insolently, brought up her bare arm with a slow sweep, and puffed once at an imaginary cigarette. There was so much of defiance in the action that Dawson, watching her, breathless, started to his feet with something hard and heavy in his hand. It was the image.
"Thief!" said the woman slowly, gazing under languorous eyelids at the white, venomous face of the tall man. "Thief and——" she leaned forward and said the word, the ultimate and supreme insult of the coast.
It was barely said when there flashed something in the man's hand. He was poised on his toes, leaning forward a little, his arm swinging beside him. The woman flung both arms before her face and cried out; then leaned rapidly aside as a pointed knife whizzed past her head and struck twanging in the wall behind her. The man sprang forward, and the next instant the room was chaos, for Dawson, tingling to his extremities, stepped in and spread him out with a crashing blow on the head. The "idol" was his weapon.
The stout German thundered an oath and heaved to his feet, fumbling at his hip and babbling broken profanity.
Dawson swung the image and stepped towards him.
"Keep still," he cried, "or I'll brain you!"
"Der hell!" vociferated the German, and fired swiftly at him. The room filled with smoke, and Dawson, staggering unhurt, but with his face stung with powder, did not see the man fall. As the German drew the revolver clear, the woman knifed him in the neck, and he collapsed on his face, belching blood upon the boards of the floor. The woman stood over him, the knife still in her hand, looking at Dawson with a smile.
"My God!" he said as he glanced about him. The tall man was lying at his feet, huddled hideously on the floor. The room stank of violence and passion. "My God!" and he stooped to the body.
The woman touched him on the shoulder. "Gome," she said. "It's no good. It was a grand blow, a king's blow. 'You cannot help him."
"But—but——" he flustered as he rose. The emergency was beyond him. He had only half a strong man's equipment—the mere brawn. "Two men killed. I must get back to the ship."
He saw the woman smiling, and caught at his calmness. There was comprehension in her eyes, and to be understood is so often to be despised. "You must come too," he added, on an impulse, and stopped, appalled by the idea.
"To the ship?" she cried and laughed. "Oh, la la! But no! Still, we must go from here. The police will be here any minute, and if they find you——" She left it unsaid, and the gap was ominous.
The police! To mention them was to touch all that was conventional, suburban, and second-class in Dawson. He itched to be gone. A picture of Vine Street police court and a curtly aloof magistrate flashed across his mind, and a reminiscence of evening paper headlines, and his mind fermented hysterically.
The woman put back her knife in some secret recess of her clothes, and opened the door cautiously. "Now!" she said, but paused, and came back. She went to the picture of the Virgin and turned its face to the wall. "One should not forget respect," she observed apologetically. "These things are remembered. Now come."
No sooner were they in the gloomy alley outside than the neighborhood of others was known to them. There was a sound of many feet ploughing in the mud, and a suppressed voice gave a short order. The woman stopped and caught Dawson's arm.
"Hush!" she whispered. "It is the police. They have come for the men. They will be on both sides of us. Wait and listen."
Dawson stood rigid, his heart thumping. The darkness seemed to surge around him with menaces and dangers. The splashing feet were nearer, coming up on their right, and once some metal gear clinked as its wearer scraped against the wall. He could smell men, as he remembered afterwards. The woman beside him retained her hold on his arm, and remained motionless till it seemed that the advancing men must run into them.
"Come quietly," she whispered at length, putting warm lips to his ear. Her hand dropped along his arm till she grasped his fingers. She led him swiftly away from the place, having waited till the police should be so near that the noise they made would drown their own retreat.
On they went, then, as before, swishing through the foulness underfoot, and without speaking. Only at times the woman's hold on his hand would tighten, and, meeting with no response, would slacken again, and she would draw him on ever more quickly.
"Where are we going?" he ventured to ask.
"We are escaping," she answered, with a brief tinkle of laughter. "If you knew from what we are escaping, you would not care where. But hurry, always!"
Soon, however, she paused, still holding his hand. Again they heard footsteps, and this time the woman turned to him desperately.
"There is a door near by," she breathed. "We must find it, or——" again the unspoken word. "Feel always along the wall there. Farther, go farther. It should be here."
They sprang on, with hands to the rough plaster on the wall, till Dawson encountered the door, set level with the wall, for which they sought.
"Push," panted the woman, heaving at it with futile hands. Even in the darkness he could see the gleam of her naked arms and shoulders. "Push it in."
Dawson laid his shoulder to it, his arms folded, and shoved desperately till his head buzzed. As he eased up he heard the near feet of the menacing police again.
"You must push it in!" cried the woman. "It is the only way. If not—"
"Here, catch hold of this," said Dawson, and she found the bronze image in her hands. "Let me come," he said, and standing back a little, he flung his twelve stone of bone and muscle heavily on the door. It creaked, and some fastening within broke and fell to the ground.
Once again he assaulted it, and it was open. They passed rapidly within, and closed it behind them, and with the woman's hand guiding, Dawson stumbled up a long, narrow, sloppy stair that gave on to the flat roof of the building. Above them was sky again. The rain had passed, and the frosty stars of Mozambique shone faintly. He took a deep breath as he received the image from the hands of the woman.
"You hear them?" she said, and he listened with a shudder to the passing of the men below.
"But we must go on," she said. "We are not safe yet. Over the wall to the next roof. Come!"
They clambered over a low parapet, and dropped six feet to another level. Dawson helped the woman up the opposite wall, and she sat reconnoitering on the top.
"Come quietly," she warned him, and he clambered up beside her and looked down at the roof before them. In a kind of tent persons appeared to be sleeping; their breath was plainly to be heard.
"You must walk like a rat," she whispered, smiling, and lowered herself. He followed. She was crouching in the shadow of the wall, and drew him down beside her. Somebody had ceased to sleep in the tent, and was gabbling drowsily, in a monotonous sing-song.
"If they see us," she whispered to him, "they will think you have come here after the women."
"But we could say——" he began.
"There will be nothing to say," she interrupted. "Hush! There he comes."
Out of the tent crawled a man, lean and black and bearded, with a sheet wrapped around him. He stood up and looked around, yawning. The woman nestled closer to Dawson, who gripped instinctively on the bronze image. The man walked to the parapet on their left and looked over, and then walked back to the tent and stood irresolutely, muttering to himself. Squatted under the wall, Dawson found room amid the race of his disordered thoughts to wonder that he did not instantly see them.
He was coming towards them, and Dawson felt the bare shoulder that pressed against his arm shrug slightly. The man was ten paces away, walking right on to them, and looking to the sky, when, with throbbing temples and tense lips, Dawson rose, ran at him, and gripped him. He had the throat in the crutch of his right hand, and strangled the man's yell as it was conceived. They went down together, writhing and clutching, Dawson uppermost, the man under him scratching and slapping at him with open hands. He drew up a knee and found a lean chest under it, drove it in, and choked his man to silence and unconsciousness.
"Take this, take this," urged the woman, bending beside him. She pressed her slender-bladed knife on him. "Just a prick, and he is quite safe!"
Dawson rose. "No," he said. "He's still enough now. No need to kill him." He looked at the body and from it to the woman. "Didn't I get him to rights?" he asked exultantly.
She raised her face to his.
"It was splendid," she said. "With only the bare hands to take an armed man——"
"Armed!" repeated Dawson.
"Surely," she answered. "That, at least, is always sure. See," she pulled the man's sheet wide. Girt into a loin-cloth below was an ugly, broad blade. "Yes, it was magnificent. You are a man, my friend."
"And you," he said, thrilled by her adulation and, the proximity of her bare, gleaming bosom, "are a woman."
"Then——" she began spiritedly; but in a heat of cordial impulse he took her to him and kissed her hotly on the lips.
"I was wondering when it would come," she said slowly, as he released her. "When you spoke to the German about the bad word, I began to wonder. I knew it would come. Kiss me again, my friend, and we will go on."
"Are we getting towards the landing-stage?" he asked her, as the next roof was crossed. "I mustn't miss my boat, you know."
"Oh, that!" she answered. "You want to go back?"
"Well, of course," he replied, in some surprise. "That's what I was trying to do when I knocked at your door. I've missed my dinner as it is."
"Missed your dinner!" she repeated, with a bubble of mirth. "Ye-es; you have lost that, but,"—she came to him and laid a hand on his shoulder, speaking softly—"but you have seen me. Is it nothing, friend, that you have saved me?"
He had stopped, and she was looking up to him, half-smiling, half- entreating, wholly alluring. He looked down into her dark face, with a sudden quickening about the heart.
"And all this fighting," she continued, as though he were to be convinced of something. "You conquer men as though you were bred on the roofs of Mozambique. You fight like—like a hero. It is a rush, a blow, a tumble, and you have them lying at your feet. And when you remember all this, will you not be glad, friend—will you not be glad that it was for me?"
He nodded, clearing his throat huskily. Her hand on his shoulder was a thing to charm him to fire.
"I'd fight—I'd fight for you," he replied uneasily, "as long as—as long as there was any one to fight."
He was feeling his way in speech, as best he could, past conventionalities. There had dawned on him, duskily and half-seen, the unfitness of little proprieties and verbose frills while he went to war across the roofs with this woman of passion.
"You would," she said fervently, with half-closed eyes. "I know you would."
She dropped her hand, and stood beside him in silence. There was a long pause. He guessed she was waiting for the next move from him, and he nerved himself to be adequate to her unspoken demand.
"You lead on," he said at last unsteadily.
"Where?" she asked breathlessly.
He did not speak, but waved an open hand that gave her the freedom of choice. It was his surrender to the wild spirit of the Coast, and he grasped the head of the brass image the tighter when he had done it. She and Fate must guide now; it rested with him only to break opposing heads.
She smiled and shivered. "Come on, then," she said, and started before him.
They traversed perhaps a score of roofs enclosed with high parapets, on to each of which he lifted her, hands in her armpits, swinging her cleanly to the level of his face and planting her easily and squarely on the coping. He welcomed each opportunity to take hold of her and put out the strength of his muscles, and she sat where he placed her, smiling and silent, while he clambered up and dropped down on the other side.
At length a creaking wooden stair that hung precariously on the sheer side of a house brought them again to the ground level. It was another gloomy alley into which they descended, and the darkness about him and the mud underfoot struck Dawson with a sense of being again in familiar surroundings. The woman's hand slid into his as he stood, and they started along again together.
The alley seemed to be better frequented than that of which he already had experience. More than once dark, sheeted figures passed them by, noiseless save for the underfoot swish in the mud, and presently the alley widened into a little square, at one side of which there was a fresh rustle of green things. At the side of it a dim light showed through a big open door, from which came a musical murmur of voices, and Dawson recognized a church.
"The Little Garden of St. Sebastien," murmured the woman, and led him on to cross the square. A figure that had been hidden in the shadow now lounged forth; and revealed itself to them as a man in uniform. He stood across their way, and accosted the woman briefly in Portuguese.
Dawson stood fidgeting while she spoke with him. He seemed to be repeating a brief phrase over and over again, harshly and irritably; but she was cajoling, remonstrating, arguing, as he had seen her argue in that ill-fated room an hour back.
"What's the matter with him?" demanded Dawson impatiently.
"He says he won't let me go," answered the woman, with a tone of despair in her voice.
"The devil he won't! What's he got to do with it?"
"Oh, these little policemen, they always arrest me when they can," she replied, with a smile.
"Here, you!" cried Dawson, addressing himself to the man in uniform— "you go away. Voetsaak, see! You mind your own business, and get out."
The officer drawled something in his own tongue, which was, of course, unintelligible to Dawson, but it had the effect of annoying him strangely.
"You little beast!" he said, and knocked the man down with his fist.
"Run," hissed the woman at his elbow—"run before he can get up. No, not that way. To the church and out by another way!"
She caught his hand, and together they raced across the square and in through the big door.
There were a few people within, most sleeping on the benches and along the floor by the walls. In the chancel there were others, masked by the lights, busy with some offices. A wave of sudden song issued from among them as Dawson and the woman entered, and gave way again to the high, nervous voice of a map that stood before the altar. All along the sides of the church was shadow, and the woman speedily found a little arched door.
"Come through the middle of it," she whispered urgently to Dawson, as she packed her loose skirts together in her hand—"cleanly through the middle; do not rub the wall as you come."
He obeyed and followed her, and they were once more in the darkness of an alley.
"It was the door of the lepers," she explained, as she let her skirts swish down again. "See, there is the light by the sea!"
The wind came cleanly up the alley, and soon they were at its mouth, where a lamp flickered in the breeze. Dawson drew a deep breath, and tucked the image under his arm. His palm was sore with the roughness of its head.
"Some one is passing," said the woman in a low tone. "Wait here till they are by."
Footsteps were approaching along the front, and very soon Dawson heard words and started.
"What is it!" whispered the woman, her breath on his neck.
"Listen!" he answered curtly.
The others came within the circle of the lamp—a girl and two men.
"I do hope he's found my idol," the girl was saying.
Dawson stepped into the light, and they turned and saw him.
"Why, here he is," exclaimed Miss Paterson shrilly.
He raised his hat to the woman who stood at the entrance to the alley—raised it as he would have raised it to a waitress in a bun- shop, and went over to the people from the second-class saloon.
"I found it," he said, lifting the image forward, and brushing with his hand at the foulness of blood and hair upon it. "But I was almost thinking I should miss the boat."
THE SENSE OF CLIMAX
It was in the fall of the year that Truda Schottelius on tour came to that shabby city of Southern Russia. Nowadays, the world remembers little of her besides her end, which stirred it as Truda Schottelius could always stir her audience; but in those days hers was a fame that had currency from Paris to Belgrade, and the art of drama was held her debtor.
It was soon after dawn that she looked from her window in the train, weary with twelve hours of traveling, and saw the city set against the pale sky, unreal and remote like a scene in a theatre, while about it the flat land stretched vacant and featureless. The light was behind it, and it stood out in silhouette like a forced effect, and Truda, remarking it, frowned, for of late she found herself impatient of forced effects. She was a pale, slender, brown-haired woman, with a small clear, pliant face, and some manner of languor in all her attitudes that lent them a slow grace of their own and did not at all impair the startling energy she could command for her work. While she looked out at the city there came a tap at the door of her compartment, and her maid entered with tea. Behind her, a little drawn in that early hour, came Truda's manager, Monsieur Vaucher.
"Madame finds herself well?" he asked solicitously, but shivering somewhat. "Madame is in the mood for further triumphs?"
Truda gave him a smile. Monsieur Vaucher was a careful engineer of her successes, a withered little middle-aged Parisian, who had grown up in the mechanical service of great singers and actors. There was not a tone in his voice, not a gesture in his repertory, that was not an affectation; and, with it all, she knew him for a man of sterling loyalty and a certain simplicity of heart.
"We are on the point of arriving," went on Monsieur Vaucher. "I come to tell Madame how the ground lies in this city. It is, you see, a place vexed with various politics, an arena of trivialities. In other words, Madame, the best place in the world for one who is—shall we say?—detached."
Truda laughed, sipping her warm tea.
"Politics have never tempted me, my friend," she replied.
Monsieur Vaucher bowed complaisantly.
"Your discretion is frequently perfect," he said. "And if I suggest that here is an occasion for a particular discretion, it is only because I have Madame's interests at heart. Now, the chief matters of dispute here are——"
Truda interrupted him. "Please!" she said. "It does not matter at all. And think! Politics before breakfast. I am surprised at you, Monsieur Vaucher."
The little man shrugged. "It is as Madame pleases," he said. "However, here we are at the station; I will go to make all ready."
Truda had a wide experience of strange towns, and preserved yet some interest in making their acquaintance. At that early hour the streets were sparsely peopled; the city was still at its toilet. A swift carriage, manned by a bulky coachman of that spacious degree of fatness which is fashionable in Russia, bore her to her hotel along wide monotonous ways, flanked with dull buildings. It was all very prosaic, very void of character; it did not at all engage her thoughts, and it was in weariness that she gained her rooms and disposed herself for a day of rest before the evening's task.
Another woman might have gathered depression and the weakness of melancholy from this dullness of arrival, following on the dullness of travel; but a great actress is made on other lines. A large audience was gathered in the theatre that night to make acquaintance with her, for her coming was an event of high importance. Only one box was empty—that of the Governor of the city, a Russian Prince whom Truda had met before; it was understood that he was away, and could not return till the following day.
But for the rest the house was full; its expectancy made itself felt like an atmosphere till the curtain went up and the play began to shape itself. Audiences, like other assemblies of people, have their racial characteristics; it was the task of Truda to get the range, as it were—to find the measure of their understanding; and before the first act was over she had their sympathy. The rest was but the everyday routine of the stage, that grotesque craft wherein delicate emotions are handled like crowbars, and only the crude colors of life are visible. It was a success—even a great success, and nobody save Truda had an inkling that there was yet something to discover in the soul of a Russian audience.
At her coming forth, the square was thick with people under the lights, and those nearest the stage-door cheered her as she passed to her carriage. But Truda was learned in the moods of crowds, and in her reception she detected a perfunctory note, as though the people who waved and shouted had turned from graver matters to notice her. She saw, as the carriage dashed away, that the crowd was strongly leavened with uniforms of police; there was not time to see more before a corner was turned and the square cut off from view. She sat back among her cushions with a shrug directed at those corners in her affairs which always shut off the real things of life.
The carriage went briskly towards her hotel, traversing those wide characterless streets which are typical of a Russian town. The pavements were empty, the houses shuttered and dark; save for the broad back of the coachman perched before her, she sat in a solitude. Thus it was that the sound which presently she heard moved her to quick attention, the noise of a child crying bitterly in the darkness. She sat up and leaned aside to look along the bare street, and suddenly she called to the coachman to halt. When he did so, the carriage was close to the place whence the cry came.
"What is it? What is it?" called Truda, in soft Russian, and stepped down to the ground. Only that shrill weeping answered her.
She picked her way to the pavement, where something lay huddled against the wall of the house, and the coachman, torpid on his box behind the fidgety horses, started at her sharp exclamation.
"Come here!" she called to him. "Bring me one of the lamps. Here is a horrible thing. Be quick!"
He was nervous about leaving his horses, but Truda's tone was compelling. With gruntings and ponderously he obeyed, and the carriage-lamp shed its light over the matter in hand. Under the wall, with one clutching hand outspread as though to grip at the stones of the pavement, lay the body of a woman, her face upturned and vacant. And by it, still crying, crouched a child, whose hands were closed on the woman's disordered dress. Truda, startled to stillness, stood for a space of moments staring; the unconscious face on the ground seemed to look up to her with a manner of challenge, and the child, surprised by the light, paused in its weeping and cowered closer to the body.
"Murder?" said Truda hoarsely. It was a question, and the coachman shuffled uneasily.
"I think," he stammered, while the lamp swayed in his gauntleted hand and its light traveled about them in wild curves—"I think, your Excellency, it is a Jew."
"A Jew!" Truda stared at him. "Yes." He bent to look closer at the dead woman, puffing with the exertion. "Yes," he repeated, "a Jew. That is all, your Excellency."
He seemed relieved at the discovery. Truda was still staring at him, in a cold passion of horror.
"My God!" she breathed; then turned from him with a shudder and knelt beside the child. "Go back to the carriage! Wait!" she bade him, with her back turned, and he was fain to obey her with his best speed. There, ere his conventional torpor claimed him again, he could hear her persuading and comforting the child in a voice of gentle murmurs, and at last she returned, carrying the child in her arms, and bade him drive on. As he went, the murmuring voice still sounded, gentle and very caressing.
Truda paused to make no explanations at all when the hotel was reached, but passed through the hall and up to her own rooms with the frightened child in her arms. But what the coachman had to say, when questioned, presently brought her manager knocking at her door. He was hot and nervous, and Truda met him with the splendid hauteur she could assume upon occasion to quell interference with her actions. Behind her, upon a couch, the child was lying wrapped in a shawl, looking on the pair of them and Truda's hovering maid with great almond eyes set in a little smooth swarthy face.
"Madame, Madame!" cried M. Vaucher. "What is this I hear? How are we to get on in Russia—in Russia of all places—if you go in the face of public opinion like this?"
"I do not know," replied Truda very calmly. She took a chair beside the child, leaving him standing, and put a long white hand on the little tumbled head.
"It is incredible!" he said. "Incredible! And at such a time as this, too. What do you propose to do with the child?"
"I do not know," answered Truda again.
"It will be claimed," he said, biting his nails. "These Jews are never short of relatives."
"If it is claimed by a relative, that will be the end of the matter," replied Truda. "If not—we shall see."
"Then let us hope it will be claimed," he said quickly. He gazed absently at the child, and shook his head. "Ah, Madame," he said, "if only one could cut an actress's heart out! The worst of them is, they are all woman, even the greatest."
Truda smiled a little. "That is inconvenient, no doubt," she suggested.
"Inconvenient!" He hoisted his shoulders in a mighty shrug. "It is devastating, Madame. See now! Here is this city—a beastly place, it is true, but with much money, and very busy exterminating Jews. Which will you, Madame—its money or its Jews? You see the choice! But I will weary you no longer; the child will assuredly be claimed."
He bowed and took his departure; it was not well, he knew, for any manager to push Truda Schottelius too far. Therefore he went to make it known that a Jewish baby of two or thereabouts was to be had for the asking, at the hotel; and Truda went to work to make her newly- found responsibility comfortable. For that night she experienced what a great artist must often miss—something with a flavor more subtle than the realization of a strong role, than passion, than success. It was when the baby was sleeping in her own bed, its combed head dinting one of her own white pillows, that she looked across to her deft, tactful maid.
"I believe I have found a new sensation, Marie," she remarked.
The maid smiled. "I had little sisters," she answered inconsequently.
"Yes?" said Truda. "I had nothing—not even a little sister."
The new sensation remained with her that night, for the baby slumbered peacefully in her arms; and several times she awoke to bend above it and wonder, with happiness and longing, over the miracle of that little dependent life cast away on the shores of the world. By morning its companionship had so wrought in her that she could have given the manager a clear answer if he had come again to ask what she proposed to do with the child in the event of no one claiming it. But he did not come. Instead, there came a big red-haired young Jew, asserting that he was the child's uncle.
Truda was at breakfast in her room when he arrived and was shown in; opposite to her at the table, the baby was making the most of various foods. It greeted him with shouts and open welcome; no further proof was needed to establish his claim. Truda, delicate and fragile in a morning wrapper, a slender vivid exotic of a woman, shaped as though by design to the service of art, looked up to scan him. He stood just within the door, his peaked cap in his hand, great of stature, keen- faced, rugged, with steady eyes that took her in unwinkingly. The pair of them made a contrast not the less grotesque because in each there was strength. For some moments neither spoke, while the baby gurgled happily.
Truda sighed. "She knows you," she said. "She is a dear little thing."
The Jew nodded. "She is dear to us," he said. "And we are very grateful to you, Excellency."
He was still watching her with a shrewd scrutiny, as though he made an estimate of her worth.
"That was her mother?" asked Truda. "The dead woman in the street, I mean?"
"Yes," answered the man. "That was her mother. Her father went the same way six months ago, but in another street."
Truda's lips parted, but she said nothing.
"Ah, perhaps your Excellency does not understand?" suggested the man. The cynical humor in his face had no resemblance to mirth. "They were Jews, you see—Jews."
"Judenhetze?" asked Truda. She had heard of old of that strange fever that seizes certain peoples and inflames them with a rabid lust for Jewish blood.
"Yes," answered the Jew. "That is what they call it. But a local variety. Here it is not sudden passion, but a thing suggested to the mob, and guided by police and officers. It is an expedient of politics."
He spoke with a restraint that was more than any, emphasis.
"And therefore," he went on, "the kindness of your Excellency is the greater, since you saved the child not from law-breakers, but from authority itself."
"I have done nothing," said Truda. "The child is a dear little thing. I—I wish she were mine."
"She, too, is a Jew," said the other.
"I know," answered Truda. The steadiness of his gaze was an embarrassment by now. She flushed a little under it.
"I am wondering," she said, "if nothing can be done. I think—I believe—that the world does not know of this persecution. Perhaps I could say a word—in some high quarter——"
"Why should you concern yourself?" asked the Jew evenly. "Why should you take this trouble?"
"Why?" Truda looked up at him, doubtful of his meaning.
He nodded. "Why?" he repeated. "It cannot be good for Truda Schottelius to stand on the side of Jews?"
"What do you mean?" demanded Truda.
He continued to look at her steadily, but made no answer. She rose from her chair and took one step towards him; then paused. A tense moment of silence passed, and Truda Schottelius sighed.
"How did you know?" she asked, in a matter-of-fact tone.
The big young man smiled. "How did I know that you, too, were a Jew— is that what you mean?" Truda nodded. "Ah, Excellency, there is an instinct in this thing, and, besides, who but a Jew is a great artist nowadays? Believe me, there is not one of us from whom you could hide it."
"Is it as plain as that?" asked Truda.
"As plain as that," he replied. She laughed frankly, meeting his eyes with unabashed mirth, till he perforce smiled in sympathy.
"Then," she cried, "what, does it matter? Here I am, a Jewess. I cannot hide it. The first Jewish baby that cries for me wins me over; and there are worse things—yes, many worse things—than being knocked on the head by a drunken Christian. You didn't know that, did you?"
"I do not doubt what you say," he answered.
"You do not doubt!" repeated Truda, with quick contempt. "I tell you it is so, and I know. Yes!" For a moment her face darkened as though with memories. "But," she went on, "I have a place. I have a name. What I say will be heard."
"Yes," said the Jew simply. "What you say will be heard."
She nodded two or three times slowly. "Wait!" she said. "I know the Governor of this place; he is by way of being a friend of mine. And beyond him there are greater men all easy of access—to me. And beyond them is the sentiment of Europe, the soft hearts of the world, easiest and nearest of all. I tell you, something can be done; presently there will be a reckoning with these gentle Christians."
She had stirred him at last. "And you will acknowledge that you are a Jewess?" he asked.
She laughed. "I will boast of it," she cried. "And now, this is the time to take the baby away, while I am nerved for sacrifices. Soon I shall have nothing left at all."
The young Jew looked over to the child, who was getting new effects out of a spoon and a dish of jam. "The child is in good hands," he said. "We shall know she is safe with you."
"Ah!" Truda turned to him with a light in her wonderful eyes. "I shall not fail you, if it were only for this."
"I am sure you will not fail your own people," he answered; "you do not come of traitors."
He patted the baby's cheek with a couple of big fingers and turned to the door.
"You do not come of traitors," he repeated, and then Truda was alone again with the child. But she did not go to it at once, to make sure of its company. She stood where the Jew had left her, deep in thought. And the manner of her thinking was not one of care; for the first time she seemed to taste a sense of freedom.
Of the wrath and bewilderment of her manager there is no need to speak; a long experience of famous actresses and singers had not exhausted that expert's capacity for despair. His pessimism gained some color that evening, when Truda had to face a house that was plainly willing to be unsympathetic; applause came doubtfully and in patches, till she gained a hold of them and made herself their master by main force of personality. Monsieur Vaucher, the manager, was still a connoisseur of art. Years of feeling the public pulse through the box-office had not stripped him of a certain shrewd perception of what was fine and what was mean in drama; and he chuckled and wagged his head in the wings as minute by minute the spell of Truda's genius strengthened, till there came that tenseness of silence in the great theatre which few actors live to know, and Truda, vibrant, taut- nerved, and superb, plucked at men's hearts as if they had been harp- strings. It was not till the curtain was down that the spell broke, and then crash upon crash roared the tumultuous applause of the audience.
It was Vaucher who rushed forward, as Truda came from the stage, to kiss her hand extravagantly.
"Ah! Madame!" he cried, looking up to her with his shrewd face working; "it is not for me to guide you. Do as you will by day, but be a genius at night. At this rate you could unman an army."
Truda smiled and withdrew her hand.
"That was Prince Sarasin in the great box," she said. "Presently he will send his card in."
Vaucher nodded. "That was he," he said. "He is Governor of this town. Madame will receive him? Or not?"
"Oh yes; let him in to me," she answered. "He is an old friend of mine."
Vaucher bowed. "What a happiness for him, then!" he said gravely, and opened the door of her dressing-room for her.
Prince Sarasin lost no time in making Truda's word good. By the time she was ready to receive him, he was waiting for admission. He strode in, burly in his uniform, and bowed to her effusively, full of admiration. He was a great dark Russian, heavy and massive, with a big petulant face not without intelligence, and Truda had known him of old in Paris. She looked at him now with some anxiety, trying to gauge his susceptibility. He had the spacious manners of a man of action, smiled readily and with geniality; but Truda realized that she had never before made him a request, and the real character of the man was still to find.
"Superb! Magnificent!" he was saying. "You have ripened, my friend; your power has grown to maturity. It is people like you who make epochs."
"Sit down!" she bade him. "I am a little tired, as you may think. Your town is hard on one's nerves, Prince."
"Hard!" He laughed as he drew a chair towards her and seated himself. "It is death to the intelligence. It is suffocation to one's finer nature. It has a dullness that turns men into vegetables. I have been here now for three years, and till to-night I have not felt a thrill."
"No?" Truda spoke lightly of design. "But you are the Governor, are you not? You are aloof, far above thrills. Why, it was only last night, while I was driving home, that I found a dead woman in the street."
"I know," he said. "And a live baby; I heard all about it. If you had been an hour later they would have been cleaned away. I am sorry if you were shocked."
"Shocked?" repeated Truda. "I was not thinking of that." She shivered a little, and gathered her big cloak more closely about her. "But I had not heard—I did not know—what the Judenhetze really was. And I think the world does not know, or it would not tolerate it."
"Eh?" The prince stared at her. "But it has upset you," he said soothingly. "You must forget it. It is not well to dwell on these things."
The big mirror against the wall, bright with lights, reflected the pair of them sitting face to face in the attitude of intimacy. The Prince, bearded and big, felt protective and paternal, for Truda, muffled in her great cloak, looked very small and feminine just then.
His tone, so consoling and smooth, roused her; she sat up.
"Prince," she said, "you could stop it."
"The Judenhetze, you mean?" He made a gesture of resignation. "You are wrong, dear lady. I can do nothing. It does not rest with me."
"You mean, there are higher powers who are responsible?" she demanded.
"We will not talk politics," suggested the Prince. "But roughly that is what I mean."
She scanned him seriously. "Yes," she said; "I thought that was so. And you can do nothing? I see."
"But why," asked the Prince—"why let yourself be troubled, dear lady? This is a pitiful business, no doubt; it has thrust itself on you by an accident; you are moved and disturbed. But, after all, the Jews are not our friends."
The courage to deal forthrightly was not lacking to her. As she sat up again, the fur cloak slipped, and her bare shoulders gleamed above it. Her face was grave with the gravity of a serious child.
"I am a Jewess," she said.
"Eh? What?" The Prince smiled uncertainly.
"I am a Jewess," repeated Truda. "The Jews are my friends. And if you can do nothing, there is something I can do."
He smiled still, but now there was amusement in his smile. He was not at all disconcerted.
"Do you know," he said, "I had almost guessed it? There is something in you—I noticed it again to-night, in your great scene—that suggests it. A sort of ardor, a glow, as it were; something burning and poignant. Well, if all the Jews were like you there would be no Judenhetze."
She put the futile compliment from her with a movement of impatience.
"You can still do nothing?" she asked
"My powers are where they were, Madame," he answered.
"Then," she said slowly, "it rests with me." She gathered her cloak about her again. "I am tired, as you see," she said wearily—"tired and a little strained. I will beg you to excuse me."
He rose to his feet at once and bowed formally.
"At least," he said, "such a matter is not to interrupt our friendship, Madame."
"It is for you to say," she answered, smiling faintly. He laughed, pressed her hand, and bade her good-night, leaving her with more matter for thought than he could have suspected.
There was real cheering for her that night when she left the theatre. Truda had been cheered before in many cities; but that night she took note of it, looking with attention at the thrusting crowd collected to applaud her. It filled the square, restless as a sea under the tall lamps; rank upon rank of shadow-barred faces showed themselves, vociferous and unanimous—a crowd in a good temper. She bowed in acknowledgment of the shouts, but her face was grave, for she was taking account of what it meant to be alone amid an alien multitude, sharing none of its motives and emotions. The fat coachman edged his horses through the men that blocked the way, till there was space to go ahead, and the cheers, steady and unflagging, followed her out of sight.
The baby was in bed when she arrived at her hotel; Truda paid a brief visit to its side, then ordered that her manager should be summoned, and sat down to write a note. It was to the big young Jew, the baby's uncle; she had a shrewd notion that Monsieur Vaucher would be able to lay hands on him. The note was brief: "I fear there will be more persecutions. The Governor can do nothing. When there is another attack on our people send to me. Send to me without fail, for I have one resource left."
"You can find the man?" she demanded of Vaucher.
The little hardened Frenchman was still under the spell of her acting.
"Madame," he said grandly, "I can do anything you desire. He shall have the note to-night."
Poor Monsieur Vaucher, the charred remains of a man of sentiment, preserving yet a spark or two of the soft fire! Could he have known the contents of that note and their significance, with what fervor of refusal he would have cast it back at her! But he knew nothing, save that Truda's acting restored to him sometimes for an hour or two the emotions of his youth, and he was very much her servant. It was in the spirit of devotion and service that he called a droshky, and fared out to the crooked streets of the Jewish quarter to do his errand. It was a fine soft night, with a clear sky of stars, and Monsieur Vaucher enjoyed the drive. And as he went, jolting over the cobbles of the lesser streets, he suffered himself to recall the great scene of that night's play—a long slow situation of a woman at bay, opposing increasing odds with increasing spirit—and experienced again his thrill.
"Ah," he murmured over his cigar; "the Schottelius, she has the sense of climax!"
And so he duly delivered the note and returned to the hotel and bed, a man content with the conduct of his own world.
Things went well with Truda and Vaucher and all the company for the next two days. Never had she been so amenable to those who charged themselves with her interests, never so generally and mildly amiable to those who had to live at her orders. But none of those who came in contact with her failed to observe a new note in her manner. It was not that she was softer or gentler; rather it seemed that she was more remote, something absent and thoughtful, with a touch of raptness that lent the true air of inspiration to her acting. Her spare time she spent with the baby—she and Marie, her maid, playing with it, making a plaything of it, ministering to it, and obeying it. It had never cried once since Truda had taken it in her arms, but adapted itself with the soundest skill to its surroundings and companions.
"I found it ten years too late," said Truda once.
Her maid looked at her curiously.
"It is surprising that Madame should not have found one before," she said.
Those two days were placid and full of peace, quiet with the lull of emptiness. But in them Truda did not forget. She was realizing herself, and her capacity to deal with a situation that would not be devised to show her talents. She felt that she stood, for the first time, on the threshold of brisk, perilous, actual life, of that life which was burlesqued, exaggerated, in the plays in which she acted. It was expectancy that softened her eyes and lit her face with dreams—expectancy and exhilaration.
She was about to be born into the world.
The summons came suddenly on the evening of the second day. Even as she drove to the theatre, Truda had noted how the streets were uneasy, how men stood about in groups and were in the first stages of drunkenness. The play that night was that harrowing thing La Tosca; she was dressed for her part when the word came, written on a scrap of paper: "It is to-night. I am waiting at the stage door." She pondered for a few moments over it, then reached for her cloak and drew it on over her brilliant stage dress.
"Find Vaucher," she said to her maid. "Tell him I cannot play to- night. He must put on my understudy. Say I am ill."
The maid, startled out of her composure, threw up her hands.
"But, Madame——!" she cried.
Truda waved her aside. "Lose no time," she ordered. "Tell Vaucher I am ill. And then go back to the baby."
She wasted no more words on the woman, but swept forth from the room and down the draughty ill-lit passage to the stage-door. Its guardian, staggered at her appearance, let her out; on the pavement outside, muffled to the eyes like a man that evades observation, was the big young Jew. He was gazing out over the square; her fingers on his arm made him look round with a start.
"I am here," she said. "Now tell me."
With eyes that glanced about warily while he spoke, he told her quickly, in low tones of haste.
"There is a mob gathering again at the market," he said. "Two spirit- shops have been broken open. That is how it begins always. Some Jews who were found in the street were beaten to death; soon they will move down to the Jewish streets, and then"—his breath came harsh through set teeth—"then murder and looting—the old programme. Now I have told you; can you do anything?"
"Let us find a droshky," said Truda, "and go to the Jewish quarter."
"A droshky!" He stared at her. "Do you think any driver will take us there to-night?"
"Then we can walk," said Truda; "show the way. If we stay here any longer, I shall be seen and prevented."
He hesitated an instant; then set off sharply, so that now and again she had to run a few paces to keep up with him. He took her round by the back of the theatre and into a muddle of streets that led thence. The quiet of the night closed about them; Truda was embarked upon her purpose.
"How can you help?" asked the young man again. "Tell me what you will do?"
"Me?" said Truda. "For to-night I can do nothing; I am not an army. But I think that after to-night there will be no more Judenhetze in this city. That is what I think. For, after all, I am the Schottelius; people know me and set a value on me, and if harm comes to me there will be a reckoning."
He was looking down sideways on her as she spoke.
"Is that all?" he asked.
"All!" cried Truda, and braced herself to subdue his doubts. "All! It is enough, and more than enough. Have I come so far without knowing what will rouse my audience?" She slowed her steps, and he slowed to keep by her side. She lifted her clear face proudly. "I tell you," she said, "the part I am to play to-night will move Europe to its core. Paris! Berlin! Vienna! Even cautious prim London! I have them under my hand; even to-morrow they will be asking an account, crying for the heads of the wrongdoers on a charger. And you ask me if that is all!"
"You do not know," he said. "To-night, it is not a play; it is life and death."
"But to-morrow it is life!" she retorted. "Let us go on; we must not be late."
They came by roundabout ways at last to that little groups of streets, beyond the jail and the markets, where the Jews had their homes. Here were tall brick houses overshadowing narrow streets ill- lit by infrequent lamps, little shops closely shuttered, courtyards with barred gates. Over the roofs there rose against the sky the clustered spires and domes of a typical Russian church, flanking the quarter on the south. The streets were empty; they met no one; and the young man led her to a courtyard in which, perhaps, a couple of hundred Jews were gathered, waiting. His knock brought a face to the top of the wall, and after a parley the great gate was opened wide enough to let them slip through. When they were in, Truda touched her companion.
"Would I be here for a fancy?" she whispered. "Believe what I say: after this there shall be no Judenhetze."
The courtyard was a large one, penned between a couple of houses, and separated from the street by the wall which the great gate pierced. From it half a dozen doors led into the houses, each a possible road of escape when the hour should come. Truda looked about her calmly.
The people were standing about in large groups—men, women, and children—and they spoke in whispers among themselves. But all of them were listening; each sound from without stiffened them to scared attention. From somewhere distant there traveled a dull noise of shouts and singing, a confused blatancy of far voices; and as it swelled and sank and swelled again, a tremor ran over that silent waiting throng like a wind-ripple on standing crops. Overhead the sky shone with pin-point stars; a breath of air stirred about them faintly; all seemed keyed to that tense furtive quiet of the doomed Jews. Not a child cried, not a woman sobbed; they had learned, direfully enough, the piteous art of the oppressed—the knack of silence and concealment.
It was by slow degrees that the distant shoutings came nearer; the mob had yet to unite in purpose and ferocity. Truda, listening, and marking its approach, could almost tell by the violence of its noise how it wound through the streets, staggering drunkenly, waving bludgeons, working itself to the necessary point of brutal fury. And always it grew nearer. Its note changed and deepened, till it sank to a long snarling drone; she, wise in the moods of men in the mass, a practicer on the minds of multitudes, knew the moment was at hand; this was the voice of human beings with the passions of beasts. The noise dwindled as the mob poured through an alley, and then broke out again, loud and daunting, as it emerged. It was near at hand; now there was added to its voice the drum of its footsteps on cobble- paved streets, and suddenly, brief and agonizing, a wild outcry of shrieks as some wretched creature was found out of hiding and the bludgeons beat it out of human semblance. All round Truda there was a stir among the Jews; a child wrought beyond endurance whimpered and was gagged under an apron; the howl of the mob startled her ears as it poured along the street outside the great gate.
Then came confusion, a chaos of voices, of ringing blows upon the gate, screams and moans, the shrill sound of the glee that goes with open murder, and a sudden light that shot up against the sky from a house on fire. The crowd of Jews in the courtyard thinned as some slipped swiftly into the dark doorways to be ready for flight, startled by a tattoo of blows on the gate that broke out abruptly. Truda stood fast where she was, listening with a kind of detachment. The blows on the gate increased; she could even hear, among the other sounds, the heavy breathing of those who strove to break a way in. Men came running to aid them, and the stout gate bent under their efforts. It was fastened within by an iron bar lying in sockets across it; with an interest that was almost idle she saw how these sockets, one by one, were yielding and let the bar go loose. One broke off with a sharp crack, and sent the rest of the Jews racing to the dark doorways. Truda loosened her cloak and let it fall about her feet, and stood up alone, vivid in the dancing light of the burning house, in saffron and white. She moved deliberate hands over her hair and patted a loose strand into its place. Another rending crash; she set her hand on her hip and stood still. The door yielded and sprang back. There was a raw yell, and the mob was in.
Prince Sarasin was again in his box when Monsieur Vaucher, broken in spirit and looking bleak and old, came before the curtain to announce that owing to circumstances—unforeseen circumstances—of a—a peculiar nature, Madame Schottelius would be unable to appear that night, and her place would be taken, etc. The announcement was not well received, and nobody was less pleased than the Prince. He knit his heavy brows in a scowl as poor Vaucher sidled back to obscurity, and thought rapidly. His thoughts, and what he knew of the night's programme in the Jewish quarter of his city, carried him round to the stage door, with his surprised aide-de-camp at his heels.
Monsieur Vaucher, tearful and impotent, was at his service.
"Never before has she played me such a trick," he lamented. "Ill! Why, I have known her go on and make a success when she was ill enough to keep another woman in bed. It is a trick; she is not even at the hotel. No one knows where she is."
The Governor, his last interview with Truda fresh in his recollection, asked curt questions. He was a man of direct mind. In less time than one might have supposed from the condition of poor Vaucher, he had elicited some outstanding facts—the note which Truda had sent to the Jewish quarter among them. The keeper of the stage- door added the little he knew. Prince Sarasin turned to his aide.
"Dragoons," he ordered. "Half a squadron. I shall be at the barracks in ten minutes, when they must be ready. Go at once."
The aide-de-camp, who knew the Prince, recognized that this was an occasion for speed. When the Prince, mounted, arrived at the barracks, the dragoons were drawn up-awaiting him. He moved them off towards the Jewish quarter at the trot. The streets echoed their hoof-beats, and little time elapsed before they were on the skirts of the mob. The Prince spurred alongside a watching police-officer.
"A lady!" repeated the officer, in amazement. "I have seen no lady, your Excellency. But the principal—er—disorder is in the street behind the church. The Jews are making no resistance at all."
The Prince pushed on, and came with his dragoons at the rear of the mob. With a fine Russian callousness he thrust into it, his horses clearing a way for themselves and bowling men to right and left. The street was in darkness and resounded with violence. Standing in his stirrups and peering ahead, the Prince realized that he might ride Truda down without ever seeing her.
He leaned back and caught his aide-de-camp by the arm.
"We must have light," he shouted. "Dismount a dozen men and fire a house."
At the order, men swung from their saddles, and in a few minutes the house was ablaze; its windows, red with fire, cast a dancing glow on the tumult of the street. They pressed on, the fire sparkling on their accoutrements, and on the housetops cowering Jews broke into tremblings at a wild hope that here was salvation. The Prince peered anxiously about, unconcerned at all the savagery that was unloosened to each side of him. He did not pause to aid a woman dragged shrieking from a doorway by the hair, nor look back at that other scream when a dragoon, unmanned and overwrought, reined from the ranks and cut her assailant down.
At one point the crowd was thick about the gate of a walled courtyard, thundering on it with crowbars and axes; here, again, the Prince paused to look sharply among them, lest somewhere there might be a brown head and a pale clear-cut face that he sought. Even as he tightened his bridle, the gate gave rendingly; he turned his head as the mob, roaring, poured in. For the space of perhaps a second he sat motionless and stricken, but it was long enough to see what he never forgot—a woman, composed, serene, bright against her dark background in the shifting light of the burning house, gay in saffron and white. Then the mob surged before her and hid her, and his voice returned to him.
"Charge!" he roared, and tore his sword out.
The dragoons, eager enough, followed him; the courtyard overflowed with them as their great horses thundered in at the gate, and the long swords got to their work on that packed and cornered throng. There were swift bitter passages as the troopers cleared the place— episodes such as only Jews knew till then, ghastly killings of men who crawled among the horses' feet and were hunted out to be slaughtered. And in the middle of it, the Prince was on his knees, holding up a brown head in the crook of his arm, seeing nothing of the butchery at his elbow.
It was when the killing was done, and the dragoons were clearing the street, that there arrived on tiptoe Monsieur Vaucher, searching through tears for Madame. When he saw her he ceased to weep, but stood looking down, with his hands clasped behind his back.
"Dead?" he asked abruptly.
The Prince glanced up. "Yes," he answered.
"Ah!" Monsieur Vaucher pondered. "Who killed her?" he asked presently.
"Look!" said the Prince, and motioned with one hand to the dragoons' leavings, the very silent citizens who lay about on the flagstones.
"Ah!" said Vaucher again. "And to-morrow the world will ask for an account. It is not wise to destroy a great genius like this, here in a corner of your dirty town. That is what you have to learn."
"Yes," said the Prince. "We shall learn something now. She gave her life to teach it. There will be no more Judenhetze in this city."
"Her life to teach it," repeated Monsieur Vaucher. "She gave her life." His composure failed him suddenly, and he fell on his knees on the other side of what had been Truda Schottelius, weeping openly.
"She never failed," he said. "She never failed. A great artist, Monsieur, the Schottelius! She—she had the sense of climax!"
From the windows of the houses above them, scared curious Jews looked down uncomprehendingly.
THE TRADER OF LAST NOTCH
In Manicaland, summer wears the livery of the tropics. At the foot of the hills north of Macequece every yard of earth is vocal with life, and the bush is brave with color. Where the earth shows it is red, as though a wound bled. The mimosas have not yet come to flower, but amid their delicate green—the long thorns, straight or curved like claws, gleam with the flash of silver. Palms poise aloft, brilliant and delicate, and under foot, flowers are abroad. The flame-blossom blazes in scarlet. The sangdieu burns in sullen vermilion. Insects fill the world with the noise of their business—spiders, butterflies, and centipedes, ants, beetles, and flies, and mysterious entities that crawl nameless under foot. A pea-hen shrieks in the grass, and a kite whistles aloft. A remote speck in the sky denotes a watchful vulture, alert for any mishap to the citizens of the woods, and a crash of twigs may mean anything from a buck to a rhinoceros. There is a hectic on the face of nature.
The trader of Last Notch went homewards to his store through such a maze of urgent life, and panted in the heat. He had been out to shoot guinea-fowl, had shot none and expended all his cartridges, and his gun, glinting in the strong light as he walked, was heavy to his shoulder and hot to his hand. His mood was one of patient protest, for the sun found him an easy prey and he had yet some miles to go. Where another man would have said: "Damn the heat," and done with it, John Mills, the trader, tasted the word on his lips, forbore to slip it, and counted it to himself for virtue. He set a large value on restraint, which, in view of his strength and resolute daring, was perhaps not wholly false. He was a large man, more noticeable for a sturdy solidness of proportion than for height, and his strong face was won to pleasantness by a brown beard, which he wore "navy fash." His store, five big huts above the kloof known as Last Notch, was at the heart of a large Kafir population; and the natives, agriculturists by convention and warriors between whiles, patronized him very liberally. The Englishmen and Portuguese of the country held him in favor, and he enjoyed that esteem which a strong quiet man, who has proved himself to have reserves of violence, commonly wins from turbulent neighbors.
He was trying for a short cut home, and purposed to wade the Revue river wherever he should strike it. Over the low bush about him he could see his hills yet a couple of hours off, and he sighed for thirst and extreme discomfort. No one, he knew, lived thereabouts—no one, at least, who was likely to have whisky at hand, though, for the matter of that, he would have welcomed a hut and a draught of Kafir itywala. His surprise was the greater, then, when there appeared from the growth beside his path as white a man as himself, a tall, somewhat ragged figure—but rags tell no news at all in Manicaland— who wore a large black moustache and smiled affably on him.
He noted that the stranger was a fine figure of a man, tall and slim, with clear dark eyes and tanned face, and he saw, too, that he wore a heavy Webley on his right hip. The newcomer continued to smile as Mills scanned him over, and waited for the trader to speak first.
"Hullo!" said Mills at length.
"'Ullo!" replied the stranger, smiling still. He had a capital smile, and Mills was captivated into smiling in sympathy.
"Who may you be?" he asked agreeably; "didn't expect to meet no white men about here. Where's your boys?"
The tall man waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the coast, as though to imply that he had carriers somewhere in that part of the world.
"Yais," he said pleasantly. "An' you are Jone Mills, eh?"
"That's me," said Mills promptly, lowering the butt of his gun to the ground and resting both hands on the muzzle. The stranger started slightly, but did not cease to smile.
"I don't seem to know you," pondered Mills. "I can't fix you at all."
"Ah, but you will. Le' me see. Was it Beira, eh?"
Mills shook his head decidedly. "I never was in Beira," he said.
"Not Beira?" queried the stranger. "Oh, but surelee. No? Well, Mandega's, per'aps?"
"Mandega's? Yes, I was there for a bit. I had a block of claims on the ditch, next to old Jimmy Ryan's."
"Ah yais," said the tall man eagerly. "I know 'im. An' there you shoot the Intendente, not? That was ver' fine. I see you coom down all quiet, an' shoot 'im in the 'ead. It was done ver' naice, eh!"
Mills's face darkened. "He was robbin' me, the swine," he answered. "He'd been robbin' me for six months. But that's nobody's business but mine, and anyhow I didn't shoot him in the head. It was in the chest. An' now, who the blazes are you?"
"You do' know me?" smiled the stranger; "but I know you. Oh, ver' well. I see you ver' often. You see. My name is Jacques."
"Jack what?" demanded Mills.
"Not Jack—Jacques. Tha's all. All the people call me Frenchy, eh? You don' remember?"
"No," said Mills thoughtfully; "but then I seen a good many chaps, and I'd be like to forget some o' them. You doin' anything round here?"
The man who called himself Jacques held up a finger. "Ah, you wan' to know, eh? Well, I don' tell you. I fin' anything, I don' tell all the people; I don' blow the gaff. I sit still, eh? I lie low, eh? I keep 'im all for me, eh? You see?"
"Well, of course," agreed Mills; "struck a pocket, I suppose. I shouldn't have thought you'd have found much here. But then, of course, you're not going to give your game away. Where's your camp? I could do with a drink."
"Back there," said the Frenchman, pointing in the direction whence Mills had come. "'Bout five miles. You don' wan' to come, eh? Too far, eh?"
"Yes, I reckon it's too far," replied Mills. "I'm not more than four miles from my own kia now. You goin' on?"
"Yais," agreed the Frenchman. "I go a leetle bit. Not too far, eh!"
They moved on through the bush. Mills shifted his; gun from shoulder to shoulder, and suffered still from heat and sweat. His taller companion went more easily, striding along as Mills thought, glancing at him, "like a fox." The warmth appeared not to distress him in the least.
"By Jove," exclaimed the trader. "You're the build of man for this blooming country. You travel as if you was born to it. Don't the heat trouble you at all?"
"Oh no," answered the Frenchman carelessly. "You see, I come from a 'ot country. In France it is ver' often 'ot. But you don' like it, eh?"
"No," said the trader, with emphasis. "I was after pea-hen, or you wouldn't see me out this time o' the day. English chaps can't stand it."
"English chaps can't stand it, I said," repeated Mills. "They mos'ly lie up till it's cooler."
They were now nearing the river. A steam rose over the bushes and spiraled into the air, and the hum of water going slowly was audible. A few minutes of walking brought them to its banks. The stream flowed greasily and dark, some forty yards wide, but in the middle it forked about a spit of sand not more than ten paces broad. It was a very Lethe of a river, running oilily and with a slumberous sound, and its reputation for crocodiles was vile.
Mills sat down and began to pull off his boots.
"As well here as anywhere," he said. "I'll try it, anyhow."
"I go back now," said the Frenchman. "Some day I come up an' see you, eh? You like that?"
"Come along any time," replied Mills cheerfully as he slung his boots across his shoulders. "You don't think that island's a quicksand, eh?"
The Frenchman turned and stared at it. "I do' know," he answered. "Per'aps. You goin' to try, eh?"
"Yes, I'll have a shot at it. You can mos'ly trust yourself on 'em if you walk light an' quick. But we'll see."
The Frenchman watched him as he waded out. The black water reached no higher than his knees, but the ground was soft under foot, and he floundered anxiously.
"It sucks at you," he called. "It's all greasy."
He moved on, and came to the sand island.
"It's better here," he called. "I'll be all right now."
The Frenchman jumped to his feet.
"Look out!" he shouted, gesticulating violently. "You go down; walk off 'im!"
Mills glanced down, and saw that the creeping sand had him knee-deep. He dragged his right foot forth and plunged forward, but with the action his left leg sank to the crutch, and he only kept his balance with a violent effort.
The Frenchman danced on the bank. "Throw you' gun down," he shouted. "Throw you' boots down. You' in to the waist now. Push yo'self back to the water. Push hard."
He wrung his hands together with excitement.
Mills threw down his gun, and the sand swallowed it at once. He turned his head to the man at the bank.
"It's no good, chum," he said quietly. "I reckon you better take a shot at me with that revolver."
The sand was in his armpits. The Frenchman ceased to jump and wring his hands, and smiled at him oddly. Mills, in the midst of his trouble, felt an odd sense of outraged propriety. The smile, he reflected, was ill-timed—and he was sinking deeper.
"What you grinning at?" he gasped. "Shoot, can't you?"
"I coom pull you out," said the Frenchman, fumbling at the buckle of his belt, and he forthwith stepped into the water.
He waded swiftly to within five feet of the sinking man, and flung him the end of the belt. Mills failed to catch it, and the Frenchman shifted his feet cautiously and flung again.
"Now," he shouted as the trader gripped it, "catch 'old tight," and he started to drag him bodily forwards.
"Careful," cried Mills; "you're sinking!"
The Frenchman stepped free hastily, and strained on the belt again. Mills endeavored to kick with his entombed legs, and called a warning as his rescuer sunk in the sands. Thus they wrestled, and at length Mills found his head in the water and his body free.
He rose, and they waded to the bank.
"Of all the quicksands I ever saw," said the trader slowly, as he sat down and gazed at the place that had so nearly been his grave, "that one's the worst."
"'Orrid," agreed the Frenchman, smiling amicably. "You was ver' near buried, eh?"
"Yes," said the trader thoughtfully. "I suppose anyone 'ud say you saved my life, Frenchy."
"Yea," replied the other.
"Exactly," said Mills. "Well there's my hand for you, Frenchy. You done me a good turn. I'll do as much for you one of these days."
"Eh?" said the Frenchman as he shook hands.
"You've got a nasty habit of saying 'Eh?'" retorted the trader. "I said I'd do as much for you one of these days. Comprenny?"
"Oh yais," smiled the Frenchman. "I think you will. Tha's all right."
"Well," said Mills, "I wish you'd come up and see me at my kia. Sure you can't come now?"
"Yais, I coom now," answered the other.
Mills stared. "'Fraid you can't trust me to go alone, are you?" he queried. "'Cause, if so——"
"Tha's all right," interrupted the Frenchman. "I coom now."
"Right you are," said Mills heartily. "Come along then!"
They strode off in the direction of the drift, Mills going thoughtfully, with an occasional glance at his companion. The Frenchman smiled perpetually, and once he laughed out.
"What's the joke?" demanded the trader.
"I think I do a good piece of business to-day," replied the Frenchman.
"H'm, yes," continued Mills suspiciously.
It was a longish uphill walk to the trader's store, and the night fell while they were yet on the way. With the darkness came a breeze, cool and refreshing; the sky filled with sharp points of light, and the bush woke with a new life. The crackle of their boots on the stiff grass as they walked sent live things scattering to left and right, and once a night-adder hissed malevolently at the Frenchman's heel. They talked little as they went, but Mills noticed that now and again his companion appeared to check a laugh. He experienced a feeling of vague indignation against the man who had saved his life; he was selfish in not sharing his point of view and the thoughts which amused him. At times reserve can be the most selfish thing imaginable, and one might as well be reticent on a desert island as in Manicaland. Moreover, despite the tolerant manners of the country, Mills was conscious of something unexplained in his companion— something which engendered a suspicion on general grounds.
The circle of big dome-shaped huts which constituted the store of Last Notch came into view against a sky of dull velvet as they breasted the last rise. The indescribable homely smell of a wood-fire greeted the nostrils with the force of a spoken welcome. They could hear the gabble of the Kafirs at their supper and the noise of their shrill, empty laughter.