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The Vultures
by Henry Seton Merriman
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THE VULTURES

A NOVEL

By Henry Seton Merriman



I

ALL AT SEA

Mr. Joseph P. Mangles, at his ease in a deck-chair on the broad Atlantic, was smoking a most excellent cigar. Mr. Mangles was a tall, thin man, who carried his head in the manner curtly known at a girls' school as "poking." He was a clean-shaven man, with bony forehead, sunken cheeks, and an underhung mouth. His attitude towards the world was one of patient disgust. He had the air of pushing his way, chin first, doggedly through life. The weather had been bad, and was now moderating. But Mr. Mangles had not suffered from sea-sickness. He was a dry, hard person, who had suffered from nothing but chronic dyspepsia—had suffered from it for fifty years or so.

"Fine weather," he said. "Women will be coming on deck—hang the fine weather."

And his voice was deep and low like a growl.

"Joseph," said Miss Mangles, "growls over his meals like a dog."

The remark about the weather and the women was addressed to a man who leaned against the rail. Indeed, there was no one else near—and the man made no reply. He was twenty-five or thirty years younger than Mr. Mangles, and looked like an Englishman, but not aggressively so. The large majority of Britons are offensively British. Germans are no better; so it must be racial, this offensiveness. A Frenchman is at his worst, only comically French—a matter of a smile; but Teutonic characteristics are conducive to hostility.

The man who leaned against the rail near to Joseph P. Mangles was six feet high, and rather heavily built, but, like many big men, he seemed to take up no more than his due share of room in this crowded world. There was nothing distinctive about his dress. His demeanor was quiet. When he spoke he was habitually asked to repeat his remark, which he did, with patience, in the same soft, inaudible voice.

There were two men on board this great steamer who were not business men—Joseph P. Mangles and Reginald Cartoner; and, like two ships on a sea of commercial interests, they had drifted together during the four days that had elapsed since their departure from New York. Neither made anything, or sold anything, or had a card in his waistcoat-pocket ready for production at a moment's notice, setting forth name and address and trade. Neither was to be suspected of a desire to repel advances, and yet both were difficult to get on with. For human confidences must be mutual. It is only to God that man can continue telling, telling, telling, and getting never a word in return. These two men had nothing to tell their fellows about themselves; so the other passengers drifted away into those closely linked corporations characteristic of steamer life and left them to themselves—to each other.

And they had never said things to each other—had never, as it were, got deeper than the surface of their daily life.

Cartoner was a dreamy man, with absorbed eyes, rather deeply sunk under a strong forehead. His eyelids had that peculiarity which is rarely seen in the face of a man who is a nonentity. They were quite straight, and cut across the upper curve of the pupil. This gave a direct, stern look to dreamy eyes, which was odd. After a pause, he turned slowly, and looked down at his companion with a vague interrogation in his glance. He seemed to be wondering whether Mr. Mangles had spoken. And Mangles met the glance with one of steady refusal to repeat his remark. But Mangles spoke first, after all.

"Yes," he said, "the women will be on deck soon—and my sister Jooly. You don't know Jooly?"

He spoke with a slow and pleasant American accent.

"I saw you speaking to a young lady in the saloon after luncheon," said Cartoner. "She had a blue ribbon round her throat. She was pretty."

"That wasn't Jooly," said Mr. Mangles, without hesitation.

"Who was it?" asked Cartoner, with the simple directness of those who have no self-consciousness—who are absorbed, but not in themselves, as are the majority of men and women.

"My niece, Netty Cahere."

"She is pretty," said Cartoner, with a spontaneity which would have meant much to feminine ears.

"You'll fall in love with her," said Mangles, lugubriously. "They all do. She says she can't help it."

Cartoner looked at him as one who has ears but hears not. He made no reply.

"Distresses her very much," concluded Mangles, dexterously shifting his cigar by a movement of the tongue from the port to the starboard side of his mouth. Cartoner did not seem to be very much interested in Miss Netty Cahere. He was a man having that air of detachment from personal environments which is apt to arouse curiosity in the human heart, more especially in feminine hearts. People wanted to know what there was in Cartoner's past that gave him so much to think about in the present.

The two men had not spoken again when Miss Netty Cahere came on deck. She was accompanied by the fourth officer, a clean-built, clean-shaven young man, who lost his heart every time he crossed the Atlantic. He was speaking rather earnestly to Miss Cahere, who listened with an expression of puzzled protest on her pretty face. She had wondering blue eyes and a complexion of the most delicate pink and white which never altered. She was slightly built, and carried herself in a subtly deprecating manner, as if her own opinion of herself were small, and she wished the world to accept her at that valuation. She made no sign of having perceived her uncle, but nevertheless dismissed the fourth officer, who reluctantly mounted the ladder to the bridge, looking back as he went.

Mr. Mangles threw his cigar overboard.

"She don't like smoke," he growled.

Cartoner looked at the cigar, and absent-mindedly threw his cigarette after it. He had apparently not made up his mind whether to go or stay, when Miss Cahere approached her uncle, without appearing to notice that he was not alone.

"I suppose," she said, "that that was one of the officers of the ship, though he was very young—quite a boy. He was telling me about his mother. It must be terrible to have a near relation a sailor."

She spoke in a gentle voice, and it was evident that she had a heart full of sympathy for the suffering and the poor.

"I wish some of my relations were sailors," replied Mr. Mangles, in his deepest tones. "Could spare a whole crew. Let me introduce my friend, Mr. Cartoner—Miss Cahere."

He completed the introduction with an old-fashioned and ceremonious wave of the hand. Miss Cahere smiled rather shyly on Cartoner, and it was his eyes that turned away first.

"You have not been down to meals," he said, in his gentle, abrupt way.

"No; but I hope to come now. Are there many people? Have you friends on board?"

"There are very few ladies. I know none of them."

"But I dare say some of them are nice," said Miss Cahere, who evidently thought well of human nature.

"Very likely."

And Cartoner lapsed into his odd and somewhat disconcerting thoughtfulness.

Miss Cahere continued to glance at him beneath her dark lashes—dark lashes around blue eyes—with a guileless and wondering admiration. He certainly was a very good-looking man, well set up, with that quiet air which bespeaks good breeding.

"Have you seen the ship on the other side?" she asked, after a pause; "a sailing ship. You cannot see it from here."

As she spoke she made a little movement, as if to show him the spot from whence the ship was visible. Cartoner followed her meekly, and Mr. Mangles, left behind in his deck-chair, slowly sought his cigar-case.

"There," said Miss Cahere, pointing out a sail on the distant horizon. "One can hardly see it now. When I first came on deck it was much nearer. That ship's officer pointed it out to me."

Cartoner looked at the ship without much enthusiasm.

"I think," said Miss Cahere, in a lower voice—she had a rather confidential manner—"I think sailors are very nice, don't you? But . . . well, I suppose one ought not to say that, ought one?"

"It depends what you were going to say."

Miss Cahere laughed, and made no reply. Her laugh and a glance seemed, however, to convey the comfortable assurance that whatever she had been about to say would not have been applicable to Cartoner himself. She glanced at his trim, upright figure.

"I think I prefer soldiers," she said, thoughtfully.

Cartoner murmured something inaudible, and continued to gaze at the ship he had been told to look at.

"Did you know my uncle before you came on board, or were you brave enough to force him to speak? He is so silent, you know, that most people are afraid of him. I suppose you had met him before."

"No. It was a mere accident. We were neither of us ill. We were both hungry, and hurried down to a meal. And the stewards placed us next to each other."

Which was a long explanation, without much information in it.

"Oh, I thought perhaps you were in the diplomatic service," said Miss Cahere, carelessly.

For an instant Cartoner's eyes lost all their vagueness. Either Miss Cahere had hit the mark with her second shot, or else he was making a mental note of the fact that Mr. Mangles belonged to that amiable body of amateurs, the American Diplomatic Corps.

Mr. Mangles had naturally selected the leeward side of the deck-house for his seat, and Miss Cahere had brought Cartoner round to the weather side, where a cold Atlantic breeze made the position untenable. Without explanation, and for her own good, he led the way to a warmer quarter. But at the corner of the deck-house a gust caught Miss Cahere, and held her there in a pretty attitude, with her two hands upraised to her hat, looking at him with frank and laughing eyes, and waiting for him to come to her assistance. The same gust of wind made the steamer lurch so that Cartoner had to grasp Miss Cahere's arm to save her from falling.

"Thank you," she said, quietly, and with downcast eyes, when the incident had passed. For in some matters she held old-fashioned notions, and was not one of the modern race of hail-fellow-well-met girls who are friendly in five minutes with men and women alike.

When she came within sight of her uncle, she suddenly hurried towards him, and made an affectionate, laughing attempt to prevent his returning his cigar-case to his jacket pocket. She even took possession of the cigar-case, opened it, and with her own fingers selected a cigar.

"No," she said, firmly, "you are going to smoke again at once. Do you think I did not see you throw away the other? Mr. Cartoner—is it not foolish of him? Because I once said, without reflecting, that I did not care about the smell of tobacco, he never lets me see him smoke now."

As she spoke she laid her hand affectionately on the old man's shoulder and looked down at him.

"As if it mattered whether I like it or not," she said. "And I do like it—I like the smell of your cigars."

Mr. Mangles looked from Cartoner to his niece with an odd smile, which was perhaps the only way in which that lean countenance could express tenderness.

"As if it mattered what I think," she said, humbly, again.

"Always like to conciliate a lady," said Mr. Mangles, in his deep voice.

"Especially when that lady is dependent on you for her daily bread and her frocks," answered Netty, in an affectionate aside, which Cartoner was, nevertheless, able to overhear.

"Where is your aunt Jooly?" inquired the old man, hurriedly. "I thought she was coming on deck."

"So she is," answered Netty. "I left her in the saloon. She is quite well. She was talking to some people."

"What, already?" exclaimed the lady's brother. And Netty nodded her head with a mystic gravity. She was looking towards the saloon stairway, from whence she seemed to expect Miss Mangles.

"My sister Jooly, sir," explained Mr. Mangles to Cartoner, "is no doubt known to you—Miss Julia P. Mangles, of New York City."

Cartoner tried to look as if he had heard the name before. He had lived in the United States during some months, and he knew that it is possible to be famous in New York and quite without honor in Connecticut.

"Perhaps she has not come into your line of country?" suggested Mr. Mangles, not unkindly.

"No—I think not."

"Her line is—at present—prisons."

"I have never been in prison," replied Cartoner.

"No doubt you will get experience in course of time," said Mr. Mangles, with his deep, curt laugh. "No, sir, my sister is a lecturer. She gets on platforms and talks."

"What about?" asked Cartoner.

Mr. Mangles described the wide world, with a graceful wave of his cigar.

"About most things," he answered, gravely; "chiefly about women, I take it. She is great on the employment of women, and the payment of them. And she is right there. She has got hold of the right end of the stick there. She had found out what very few women know—namely, that when women work for nothing, they are giving away something that nobody wants. So Jooly goes about the world lecturing on women's employment, and pointing out to the public and the administration many ways in which women may be profitably employed and paid. She leaves it to the gumption of the government to discover for themselves that there is many a nice berth for which Jooly P. Mangles is eminently suited, but governments have no gumption, sir. And—"

"Here is Aunt Julie," interrupted Miss Cahere, walking away.

Mr. Mangles gave a short sigh, and lapsed into silence.

As Miss Cahere went forward, she passed another officer of the ship, the second in command, a dogged, heavy man, whose mind was given to the ship and his own career. He must have seen something to interest him in Netty Cahere's face—perhaps he caught a glance from the dark-lashed eyes—for he turned and looked at her again, with a sudden, dull light in his face.



II

SIGNAL HOUSE

Where Gravesend merges into Northfleet—where the spicy odors of chemical-fertilizing works mingle with the dry dust of the cement manufactories which throw their tall chimneys into an ever-gray sky—there stands a house known as the Signal House. Why it is so called no one knows and very few care to inquire. It is presumably a square house of the Jacobean period—presumably because it is so hidden by trees, so wrapped in grimy ivy, so dust-laden and so impossible to get at, that its outward form is no longer to be perceived.

It is within sound of the bells that jingle dismally on the heads of the tram-car horses, plying their trade on the high-road, and yet it is haunted. Its two great iron gates stand on the very pavement, and they are never opened. Indeed, a generation or two of painters have painted them shut, and grime and dirt have laid their seals upon the hinges. A side gate gives entrance to such as come on foot. A door in the wall, up an alley, is labelled "Tradesman's Entrance," but the tradesmen never linger there. No merry milkman leaves the latest gossip with his thin, blue milk on that threshold. The butcher's chariot wheels never tarry at the corner of that alley. Indeed, the local butcher has no chariot. His clients mostly come in a shawl, and take their purchases away with them wrapped in a doubtful newspaper beneath its folds. The better-class buyers wear a cloth cricketing cap, coquettishly attached to a knob of hair by a hat-pin.

The milkman, moreover, is not a merry man, hurrying on his rounds. He goes slowly and pessimistically, and likes to see the halfpenny before he tips his measure.

This, in a word, is a poor district, where no one would live if he could live elsewhere, with the Signal House stranded in the midst of it—a noble wreck on a barren, social shore. For the Signal House was once a family mansion; later it was described as a riverside residence, then as a quaint and interesting demesne. Finally its price fell with a crash, and an elderly lady of weak intellect was sent by her relations to live in it, with two servants, who were frequently to be met in Gravesend in the evening hours, at which time, it is to be presumed, the elderly lady of weak intellect was locked in the Signal House alone. But the house never had a ghost. Haunted houses very seldom have. The ghost was the mere invention of some kitchen-maid.

Haunted or not, the house stood empty for years, until suddenly a foreigner took it—a Russian banker, it was understood. A very nice, pleasant-spoken little gentleman this foreigner, who liked quiet and the river view. He was quite as broad as he was long, though he was not preposterously stout. There was nothing mysterious about him. He was well known in the City. He had merely mistaken an undesirable suburb for a desirable one, a very easy mistake for a foreigner to make; and he was delighted at the cheapness of the house, the greenness of the old lawn, the height of the grimy trees within the red brick wall.

He lived there all one summer, and the cement smoke got into his throat in the autumn and gave him asthma, for which complaint he had obviously been designed by Providence, for he had no neck. He used the Signal House occasionally from Saturday till Monday. Then he gave it up altogether, and tried to sell it. It stood empty for some years, while the Russian banker extended his business and lived virtuously elsewhere. Then he suddenly began using the house again as a house of recreation, and brought his foreign servants, and his foreign friends and their foreign servants, to stay from Saturday till Monday.

And all these persons behaved in an odd, Continental way, and played bowls on the lawn at the back of the house on Sundays. The neighbors could hear them but could see nothing, owing to the thickness of the grimy trees and the height of the old brick wall. But no one worried much about the Signal House; for they were a busy people who lived all around, and had to earn their living, in addition to the steady and persistent assuagement of a thirst begotten of cement dust and the pungent smell of bone manure. One or two local amateurs had made sure of the fact that there was nothing in the house that would repay a burglarious investigation, which, added to the fact that the police station is only a few doors off, tended to allay a natural curiosity as to the foreign gentleman's possessions.

When he came he drove in a close cab from Gravesend Station, and usually told the cabman when his services would again be required. He came thus with three friends one summer afternoon, some years ago, and came without luggage. The servants, who followed in a second cab, carried some parcels, presumably of refreshments. These grave gentlemen were, it appeared, about to enjoy a picnic at the Signal House—possibly a tea-picnic in the Russian fashion.

The afternoon was fine, and the gentlemen walked in the garden at the back of the house. They were walking thus when another cab stopped at the closed iron gate, and the banker hurried, as fast as his build would allow, to open the side door and admit a seafaring man, who seemed to know his bearings.

"Well, mister," he said, in a Northern voice, "another of your little jobs?"

The two men shook hands, and the banker paid the cabman. When the vehicle had gone the host turned to his guest and replied to the question.

"Yes, my fren'," he said, "another of my little jobs. I hope you are well, Captain Cable?"

But Captain Cable was not a man to waste words over the social conventions. He was obviously well—as well as a hard, seafaring life will make a man who lives simply and works hard. He was a short man, with a red face washed very clean, and very well shaven, except for a little piece of beard left fantastically at the base of his chin. His eyes were blue and bright, like gimlets. He may have had a soft heart, but it was certainly hidden beneath a hard exterior. He wore a thick coat of blue pilot-cloth, not because the July day was cold, but because it was his best coat. His hat was carefully brushed and of hard, black felt. It had perhaps been the height of fashion in Sunderland five years earlier. He wore no gloves—Captain Cable drew the line there. As for the rest, he had put on that which he called his shore-going rig.

"And yourself?" he answered, mechanically.

"I am very well, thank you," replied the polite banker, who, it will have been perceived, was nameless to Captain Cable, as he is to the reader. The truth being that his name was so absurdly and egregiously Russian that the plain English tongue never embarked on that sea of consonants. "It is an affair, as usual. My friends are here to meet you, but I think they do not speak English, except your colleague, the other captain, who speaks a little—a very little."

As he spoke he led the way to the garden, where three gentlemen were awaiting them.

"This is Captain Cable," he said, and the three gentlemen raised their hats, much to the captain's discomfiture. He did not hold by foreign ways; but he dragged his hat off and then expectorated on the lawn, just to show that he felt quite at home. He even took the lead in the conversation.

"Tell 'em," he said, "that I'm a plain man from Sun'land that has a speciality, an' that's transshipping cargo at sea, but me hands are clean."

He held them out and they were not, so he must have spoken metaphorically.

The banker translated, addressing himself to one of his companions, rather markedly and with much deference.

"You're speakin' French," interrupted Captain Cable.

"Yes, my fren', I am. Do you know French?"

"Not me," returned Captain Cable, affably. "They're all one to me. They're all damn nonsense."

He was, it seemed, that which is called in these days of blatant patriotism a thorough Englishman, or a true Blue, according to the social station of the speaker.

The gentleman to whom the translation had been addressed smiled. He was a tall and rather distinguished-looking man, with bushy white hair and mustache. His features were square-cut and strong. His eyes were dark, and he had an easy smile. He led the way to some chairs which had been placed near a table at the far end of the lawn beneath a cedar-tree, and his manner had something faintly regal in it, as if in his daily life he had always been looked up to and obeyed without question.

"Tell him that we also are plain men with clean hands," he said.

And the banker replied:

"Oui, mon Prince."

But the interpretation was taken out of his mouth by one of the others, the youngest of the group—a merry-eyed youth, with a fluffy, fair mustache and close-cropped, flaxen hair.

"My father," he said, in perfect English, "says that we also are plain men, and that your hands will not be hurt by touching ours."

He held out his hand as he spoke, and refused to withdraw it until it had been grasped, rather shame-facedly, by Captain Cable, who did not like these effusive foreign ways, but, nevertheless, rather liked the young man.

The banker ranged the chairs round the table, and the oddly assorted group seated themselves. The man who had not yet spoken, and who sat down last, was obviously a sailor. His face was burned a deep brown, and was mostly hidden by a closely cut beard. He had the slow ways of a Northerner, the abashed manner of a merchant skipper on shore. The mark of the other element was so plainly written upon him that Captain Cable looked at him hard and then nodded. Without being invited to do so they sat next to each other at one side of the table, and faced the three landsmen. Again Captain Cable spoke first.

"Provided it's nothing underhand," he said, "I'm ready and willing. Or'nary risks of the sea, Queen's enemies, act o' God—them's my risks! I am uninsured. Ship's my own. I don't mind explosives—"

"There are explosives," admitted the banker.

"Then they must be honest explosives, or they don't go below my hatches. Explosives that's to blow a man up honest, before his face."

"There are cartridges," said the young man who had shaken hands.

"That'll do," said the masterful sailor. And pointing a thick finger towards the banker, added, "Now, mister," and sat back in his chair.

"It is a very simple matter," explained the banker, in a thick, suave voice. "We have a cargo—a greater part of it weight, though there is some measurement—a few cases of light goods, clothing and such. You will load in the river, and all will be sent to you in lighters. There is nothing heavy, nothing large. There is also no insurance, you understand. What falls out of the slings and is lost overside is lost."

The banker paused for breath.

"I understand," said Captain Cable. "It's the same with me and my ship. There is no insurance, no tricking underwriters into unusual risks. It's neck or nothing with me."

And he looked hard at the breathless banker, with whom it was, in this respect, nothing.

"I understand right enough," he added, with an affable nod to the three foreigners.

"You will sail from London with a full general cargo for Malmo or Stockholm, or somewhere where officials are not wide-awake. You meet in the North Sea, at a point to be fixed between yourselves, the Olaf, Captain Petersen—sitting by your side."

Captain Cable turned and gravely shook hands with Captain Petersen.

"Thought you was a seafaring man," he said. And Captain Petersen replied that he was "Vair pleased."

"The cargo is to be transshipped at sea, out of sight of land or lightship. But that we can safely leave to you, Captain Cable."

"I don't deny," replied the mariner, who was measuring Captain Petersen out of the corner of his eye, "that I have been there before."

"You can then go up the Baltic in ballast to some small port—just a sawmill, at the head of a fjord—where I shall have a cargo of timber waiting for you to bring back to London. When can you begin loading, captain?"

"To-morrow," replied the captain. "Ship's lying in the river now, and if these gentlemen would like to see her, she's as handy a—"

"No, I do not think we shall have time for that!" put in the banker, hastily. "And now we must leave you and Captain Petersen to settle your meeting-place. You have your charts?"

By way of response the captain produced from his pocket sundry folded papers, which he laid tenderly on the table. For the last ten years he had been postponing the necessity of buying new charts of certain sections of the North Sea. He looked round at the high walls and the overhanging trees.

"Hope the wind don't come blustering in here much," he said, apprehensively, as he unfolded the ragged papers with great caution.

The fair-haired young man drew forward his chair, and Cable, seeing the action, looked at him sharply.

"Seafaring man?" he inquired, with a weight of doubt and distrust in his voice.

"Not by profession, only for fun."

"Fun? Man and boy, I've used the sea forty years, and I haven't yet found out where the fun comes in!"

"This gentleman," explained the banker, "his Ex—Mr.—" He paused, and looked inquiringly at the white-haired gentleman.

"Mr. Martin."

"Mr. Martin will be on board the Olaf when you meet Captain Petersen in the North Sea. He will act as interpreter. You remember that Captain Petersen speaks no English, and you do not know his language. The two crews, I understand, will be similarly placed. Captain Peterson undertakes to have no one on board speaking English. And your crew, my fren'?"

"My crew comes from Sun'land. Men that only speak English, and precious little of that," replied Captain Cable.

He had his finger on the chart, but paused and looked up, fixing his bright glance on the face of the white-haired gentleman.

"There's one thing—I'm a plain-spoken man myself—what is there for us two—us seafaring men?"

"There is five hundred pounds for each of you," replied the white-haired gentleman for himself, in slow and careful English.

Captain Cable nodded his grizzled head over the chart.

"I like to deal with a gentleman," he said, gruffly.

"And so do I," replied the white-haired foreigner, with a bow.

Captain Cable grunted audibly.



III

A SPECIALTY

A muddy sea and a dirty gray sky, a cold rain and a moaning wind. Short-capped waves breaking to leeward in a little hiss of spray. The water itself sandy and discolored. Far away to the east, where the green-gray and the dirty gray merge into one, a windmill spinning in the breeze—Holland. Near at hand, standing in the sea, the picture of wet and disconsolate solitude, a little beacon, erect on three legs, like a bandbox affixed to a giant easel. It is alight, although it is broad daylight; for it is always alight, always gravely revolving, night and day, alone on this sandbank in the North Sea. It is tended once in three weeks. The lamp is filled; the wick is trimmed; the screen, which is ingeniously made to revolve by the heat of the lamp, is lubricated, and the beacon is left to its solitude and its work.

There must be land to the eastward, though nothing but the spinning mill is visible. The land is below the level of the sea. There is probably an entrance to some canal behind the moving sandbank. This is one of the waste-places of the world—a place left clean on sailors' charts; no one passes that way. These banks are as deadly as many rocks which have earned for themselves a dreaded name in maritime story. For they never relinquish anything that touches them. They are soft and gentle in their embrace; they slowly suck in the ship that comes within their grasp. Their story is a long, grim tale of disaster. Their treasure is vast and stored beneath a weight, half sand, half water, which must ever baffle the ingenuity of man. Fog, the sailors' deadliest foe, has its home on these waters, rising on the low-lying lands and creeping out to sea, where it blows to and fro for weeks and weeks together. When all the world is blue and sunny, fog-banks lie like a sheet of cotton-wool on these coasts.

"Barrin' fogs—always barrin' fogs!" Captain Cable had said as his last word on leaving the Signal House. "If ye wait a month, never move in a fog in these waters, or ye'll move straight to Davy Jones!"

And chance favored him, for a gale of wind came instead of a fog, one of those May gales that sweep down from the northwest without warning or reason.

At sunset the Olaf had crept cautiously in from the west—a high-prowed, well-decked, square-rigged steamer of the old school, with her name written large amidships and her side-lights set aft. Captain Petersen was a cautious man, and came on with the leadsman working like a clock. He was a man who moved slowly. And at sea, as in life, he who moves slowly often runs many dangers which a greater confidence and a little dash would avoid. He who moves slowly is the prey of every current.

Captain Petersen steamed in behind the beacon. He sighted the windmill very carefully, very correctly, very cautiously. He described a half-circle round the bank hidden a few feet below the muddy water. Then he steamed slowly seawards, keeping the windmill full astern and the beacon on his port quarter. When the beacon was bearing southeast he rang the engine-room bell. The steamer, hardly moving before, stopped dead, its bluff nose turned to the wind and the rustling waves. Then Captain Petersen held up his hand to the first mate, who was on the high forecastle, and the anchor splashed over. The Olaf was anchored at the head of a submarine bay. She had shoal water all round her, and no vessel could get at her unless it came as she had come. The sun went down, and the red-gray clouds in the stormy west slowly faded into night. There was no land in sight. Even the whirligig windmill was below the horizon now. Only the three-legged beacon stood near, turning its winking, wondering eye round the waste of waters.

Here the Olaf rode out the gale that raged all through the night, and in the morning there was no peace, for it still rained and the northwest wind still blew hard. There was no depth of water, however, to make a sea big enough to affect large vessels. The Olaf rode easily enough, and only pitched her nose into the yellow sea from time to time, throwing a cloud of spray over the length of her decks, like a bird at its bath.

Soon after daylight the Prince Martin Bukaty came on deck, gay and lively in his borrowed oilskins. His blue eyes laughed in the shadow of the black sou'wester tied down over his eyes, his slight form was lost in the ample folds of Captain Petersen's best oilskin coat.

"It remains to be seen," he said, peering out into the rain and spray, "whether that little man will come to us in this."

"He will come," said Captain Petersen.

Prince Martin Bukaty laughed. He laughed at most things—at the timidity and caution of this Norse captain, at good weather, at bad weather, at life as he found it. He was one of those few and happy people who find life a joy and his fellow-being a huge joke. Some will say that it is easy enough to be gay at the threshold of life; but experience tells that gayety is an inward sun which shines through all the changes and chances of a journey which has assuredly more bad weather than good. The gayest are not those who can be pointed out as the happiest. Indeed, the happiest are those who appear to have nothing to make them happy. Martin Bukaty might, for instance, have chosen a better abode than the stuffy cabin of a Scandinavian cargo-boat and cheerier companions than a grim pair of Norse seamen. He might have sought a bluer sky and a bluer sea, and yet he stood on the dripping deck and laughed. He clapped Captain Petersen on the back.

"Well, we have got here and we have ridden out the worst of it, and we haven't dragged our anchors and nobody has seen us, and that exceedingly amusing little captain will be here in a few hours. Why look so gloomy, my friend?"

Captain Petersen shook the rain from the brim of his sou'wester.

"We are putting our necks within a rope," he said.

"Not your neck—only mine," replied Martin. "It is a necktie that one gets accustomed to. Look at my father! One rarely sees an old man so free from care. How he laughs! How he enjoys his dinner and his wine! The wine runs down a man's throat none the less pleasantly because there is a loose rope around it. And he has played a dangerous game all his life—that old man, eh?"

"It is all very well for you," said Captain Petersen, gravely, turning his gloomy eyes towards his companion. "A prince does not get shot or hanged or sent to the bottom in the high seas."

"Ah! you think that," said Prince Martin, momentarily grave. "One can never tell."

Then he broke into a laugh.

"Come!" he said, "I am going aloft to look for that English boat. Come on to the fore-yard. We can watch him come in—that little bulldog of a man."

"If he has any sense he will wait in the open until this gale is over," grumbled Petersen, nevertheless following his companion forward.

"He has only one sense, that man—a sense of infinite fearlessness."

"He is probably afraid—" Captain Petersen paused to hoist himself laboriously on to the rail.

"Of what?" inquired Martin, looking through the ratlines.

"Of a woman."

And Martin Bukaty's answer was lost in the roar of the wind as he went aloft.

They lay on the fore-yard for half an hour, talking from time to time in breathless monosyllables, for the wind was gathering itself together for that last effort which usually denotes the end of a gale. Then Captain Petersen pointed his steady hand almost straight ahead. On the gray horizon a little column of smoke rose like a pillar. It was a steamer approaching before the wind.

Captain Cable came on at a great pace. His ship was very low in the water, and kicked up awkwardly on a following sea. He swung round the beacon on the shoulder of a great wave that turned him over till the rounded wet sides of the steamer gleamed like a whale's back. He disappeared into the haze nearer the land, and presently emerged again astern of the Olaf, a black nozzle of iron and an intermittent fan of spray. He was crashing into the seas at full speed—a very different kind of sailor to the careful captain of the Olaf. His low decks were clear, and each sea leaped over the bow and washed aft—green and white. As the little steamer came down he suddenly slackened speed, and waved his hand as he stood alone on the high bridge.

Then two or three oilskin-clad figures crept forward into the spray that still broke over the bows. The crew of the Olaf, crowding to the rail, looked down on the deeply laden little vessel from the height of their dry and steady deck. They watched the men working quickly almost under water on the low forecastle, and saw that it was good. Captain Cable stood swaying on the bridge—a little, square figure in gleaming oilskins—and said no word. He had a picked crew.

He passed ahead of the Olaf and anchored there, paying out cable as if he were going to ride out a cyclone. The steamer had no name visible, a sail hanging carelessly over the stern completely hid name and port of registry. Her forward name-boards had been removed. Whatever his business was, this seaman knew it well.

No sooner was his anchor down than Captain Cable began to lower a boat, and Petersen, seeing the action, broke into mild Scandinavian profanity. "He is going to try and get to us!" he said, pessimistically, and went forward to give the necessary orders. He knew his business, too, this Northern sailor, and when, after a long struggle, the boat containing Captain Cable and two men came within reach, a rope—cleverly thrown—coiled out into the flying scud and fell across the captain's face.

A few minutes later he scrambled on to the deck of the Olaf and shook hands with Captain Petersen. He did not at once recognize Prince Martin, who held out his hand.

"Glad to see you, Captain Cable," he said. Cable finished drying the salt water from his face with a blue cotton handkerchief before he shook hands.

"Suppose you thought I wasn't coming," he said, suspiciously.

"No, I knew you would."

"Glad to see me for my own sake?" suggested the captain, grimly smiling.

"Yes, it always does one good to see a man," answered Prince Martin.

"They tell me you're a prince."

"That is all."

The captain measured him slowly with his eyes.

"Makings of a man as well, perhaps," he said, doubtfully. Then he turned to cast an eye over the Olaf.

"Tin-kettle of a thing!" he observed, after a pause.

"My little cargo won't be much in her great hold. Hatches are too small. Now, I'm all hatch. Can't open up in this weather. We can turn to and get our running tackle bent. It'll moderate before the evening, and if it does we can work all night. Will your Rile Highnes' be ready to work all night?"

"I shall be ready whenever your High Mightiness is."

The captain gave a gruff laugh.

"Dammy, you're the right sort!" he muttered, looking aloft at the rigging with that contempt for foreign tackle which is essentially the privilege of the British sailor.

Cable gave certain orders, announced that he would send four men on board in the afternoon to bend the running tackle "ship-shape and Bristol fashion," and refused to remain on board the Olaf for luncheon.

"We've got a bit of steak," he said, conclusively, and clambered over the side into his boat. In confirmation of this statement the odor of fried onions was borne on the breeze a few minutes later from the small steamer to the large one.

The men from Sunderland came on board during the afternoon—men who, as Captain Cable had stated, had only one language and made singularly small use of that. Music and seamanship are two arts daily practised in harmony by men who have no common language. For a man is a seaman or a musician quite independently of speech. So the running tackle was successfully bent, and in the evening the weather moderated.

There was a half-moon, which struggled through the clouds soon after dark, and by its light the little English steamer sidled almost noiselessly under the shadow of her large companion. Captain Cable's crew worked quickly and quietly, and by nine o'clock that work was begun which was to throw a noose round the necks of Prince Bukaty, Prince Martin, Captain Petersen, and several others.

Captain Cable divided the watches so that the work might proceed continuously. The dawn found the smaller steamer considerably lightened, and her captain bright and wakeful at his post. All through the day the transshipping went on. Cases of all sizes and all weights were slung out of the capacious hatches of the one to sink into the dark hold of the other vessel, and there was no mishap. Through the second night the creaking of the blocks never ceased, and soon after daylight the three men who had superintended the work without resting took a cup of coffee together in the cabin of the Olaf.

"Likely as not," said Captain Cable, setting down his empty cup, "we three'll not meet again. I have had dealings with many that I've never seen again, and with some that have been careful not to know me if they did see me."

"We can never tell," said Martin, optimistically.

"Of course," the captain went on, "I can hold me tongue. That's agreed—we all hold our tongues, whatever the newspapers may be likely to pay for a word or two. Often enough I've read things in the newspaper that I could put a different name to. And that little ship of mine has had a hand in some queer political pies."

"Yes," answered Martin, with his gay laugh, "and kept it clean all the same."

"That's as may be. And now I'll say good-bye. I'll be calling on your father for my money in three days' time—barrin' fogs. And I'll tell him I left you well. Good-bye, Petersen; you're a handy man. Tell him he's a handy man in his own langwidge, and I'll take it kindly."

Captain Cable shook hands, and clattered out of the cabin in his great sea-boots.

Half an hour later the Olaf was alone on that shallow sea, which seemed lonelier and more silent than ever; for when a strong man quits a room he often bequeaths a sudden silence to those he leaves behind.



IV

TWO OF A TRADE

"His face reminds one of a sunny graveyard," a witty Frenchwoman had once said of a man named Paul Deulin. And it is probable that Deulin alone could have understood what she meant. Those who think in French have a trick of putting great thoughts into a little compass, and, as the hollow ball of talk is tossing to and fro, it sometimes rings for a moment in a deeper note than many ears are tuned to catch.

The careless word seized the attention of one man who happened to hear it—Reginald Cartoner, a listener, not a talker—and made that man Paul Deulin's friend for the rest of his life. As there is point de culte sans mystere, so also there can be no lasting friendship without reserve. And although these two men had met in many parts of the world—although they had in common more languages than may be counted on the fingers—they knew but little of each other.

If one thinks of it, a sunny graveyard, bright with flowers and the gay green of spring foliage, is the shallowest fraud on earth, endeavoring to conceal beneath a specious exterior a thousand tragedies, a whole harvest of lost illusions, a host of grim human comedies. On the other hand, this is a pious fraud; for half the world is young, and will discover the roots of the flowers soon enough.

Cartoner had met Deulin in many strange places. Together they had witnessed queer events. Accredited to a new president of a new republic, they once had made their bow, clad in court dress, and official dignity, to the man whom they were destined to see a month later hanging on his own flagstaff, out over the plaza, from the spare-bedroom window of the new presidency. They had acted in concert; they had acted in direct opposition. Cartoner had once had to tell Deulin that if he persisted in his present course of action the government which he (Cartoner) represented would not be able to look upon it with indifference, which is the language of diplomacy, and means war.

For these men were the vultures of their respective Foreign Offices, and it was their business to be found where the carcass is.

"The chief difference between the gods and men is that man can only be in one place at a time," Deulin had once said to Cartoner, twenty years his junior, in his light, philosophic way, when a turn of the wheel had rendered a long journey futile, and they found themselves far from that place where their services were urgently needed.

"If men could be in two places at the same moment, say once only during a lifetime, their lives would be very different from what they are." Cartoner had glanced quickly at him when he spoke, but only saw a ready, imperturbable smile.

Deulin was a man counting his friends among all nationalities. The captain of a great steamship has perhaps as many acquaintances as may be vouchsafed to one man, and at the beginning of a voyage he has to assure a number of total strangers that he remembers them perfectly. Deulin, during fifty-odd years of his life, had moved through a maze of men, remembering faces as a ship-captain must recollect those who have sailed with him, without attaching a name or being able to allot one saving quality to lift an individual out of the ruck. For it is a lamentable fact that all men and all women are painfully like each other; it is only their faces that differ. For God has made the faces, but men have manufactured their own thoughts.

Deulin had met a few who were not like the others, and one of these was Reginald Cartoner, who was thrown against him, as it were, in a professional manner when Deulin had been twenty years at the work.

"I always cross the road," he said, "when I see Cartoner on the other side. If I did not, he would go past."

This he did in the literal sense the day after Cartoner landed in England on his return from America. Deulin saw his friend emerge from a club in Pall Mall and walk westward, as if he had business in that direction. Like many travellers, the Frenchman loved the open air. Like all Frenchmen, he loved the streets. He was idling in Pall Mall, avoiding a man here and there. For we all have friends whom we are content to see pass by on the other side. Deulin's duty was, moreover, such that it got strangely mixed up with his pleasure, and it often happens that discretion must needs overcome a natural sociability.

Cartoner saw his friend approaching; for Deulin had the good fortune, or the misfortune, to be a distinguished-looking man, with a tall, spare form, a trim white mustache and imperial, and that air of calm possession of his environment which gives to some paupers the manner of a great land-owner. He shook hands in silence, then turned and walked with Cartoner.

"I permit myself a question," he said. "When did you return from Cuba?"

"I landed at Liverpool last night."

Cartoner turned in his abrupt way and looked his companion up and down. Perhaps he was wondering for the hundredth time what might be buried behind those smiling eyes.

"I am in London, as you see," said Deulin, as if he had been asked a question. "I am awaiting orders. Something is brewing somewhere, one may suppose. Your return to London seems to confirm such a suspicion. Let us hope we may have another little . . . errand together—eh?"

As he spoke, Deulin bowed in his rather grand way to an old gentleman who walked briskly past in the military fashion, and who turned to look curiously at the two men.

"You are dressed in your best clothes," said Deulin, after a pause; "you are going to pay calls."

"I am going to call on one of my old chiefs."

"Then I will ask your permission to accompany you. I, too, have put on a new hat. I am idle. I want something to do. Mon Dieu, I want to talk to a clean and wholesome Englishwoman, just for a change. I know all your old chiefs, my friend. I know where you have been every moment since you made your mark at this business. One watches the quiet men—eh?"

"She will be glad to see you," said Cartoner, with his slow smile.

"Ah! She is always kind, that lady; for I guess where we are going. She might have been a great woman . . . if she had not been a happy one."

"I always go to see them when I am in town," said Cartoner, who usually confined his conversation to the necessaries of daily intercourse.

"And he—how is he?"

"He is as well as can be expected. He has worked so hard and so long in many climates. She is always anxious about him."

"It is the penalty a woman pays," said Deulin. "To love and to be consumed by anxiety—a woman's life, my friend. Oddly enough, I should have gone there this afternoon, whether I had met you or not. I want her good services—again."

And the Frenchman shrugged his shoulders with a laugh, as if suddenly reminded of some grievous error in his past life.

"I want her to befriend some friends of mine, if she has not done so already. For she knows them, of course. They are the Bukatys. Of course, you know the history of the Bukatys of Warsaw."

"I know the history of Poland," answered Cartoner, looking straight in front of him with reflective eyes. He had an odd way of carrying his head a little bent forward, as if he bore behind his heavy forehead a burden of memories and knowledge of which his brain was always conscious—as a man may stand in the centre of a great library, and become suddenly aware that he has more books than he can ever open and understand.

"Of course you do; you know a host of things. And you know more history that was ever written in books. You know more than I do, and Heaven knows that I know a great deal. For you are a reader, and I never look into a book. I know the surface of things. The Bukatys are in London. I give you that—to put in your pipe and smoke. Father and son. It is not for them that I seek Lady Orlay's help. They must take care of themselves—though they will not do that. It does not run in the family, as you know, who read history books."

"Yes, I know," said Cartoner, pausing before crossing to the corner of St. James's Street, in the manner of a man whose life had not been passed in London streets. For it must be remembered that English traffic is different to the traffic of any other streets in the world.

"There is a girl," pursued the Frenchman. "Families like the Bukatys should kill their girls in infancy. Not that Wanda knows it; she is as gay as a bird, and quite devoted to her father, who is an old ruffian—and my very dear friend."

"And what do you want Lady Orlay to do for Princess Wanda?" inquired Cartoner, with a smile. It was always a marvel to him that Paul Deulin should have travelled so far down the road of life without losing his enthusiasm somewhere by the way.

"That I leave to Lady Orlay," replied Deulin, with an airy wave of his neat umbrella, which imperilled the eyesight of a passing baker-boy, who abused him. Whereupon Deulin turned and took off his hat and apologized.

"Yes," he said, ignoring the incident, "I would not presume to dictate. All I should do would be to present Wanda to her. 'Here is a girl who has the misfortune to be a Bukaty; who has no mother; who has a father who is a plotter and an old ruffian—a Polish noble, in fact—and a brother who is an enthusiast, and as brave as only a prince can be.' I should say, 'You see that circumstances have thrown this girl upon the world, practically alone—on the hard, hard upper-class world—with only one heart to break. It is only men who have a whole row of hearts on a shelf, and, when one is broken, they take down another, made, perhaps, of ambition, or sport, or the love of a different sort of woman—and, vogue la galere, they go on just as well as they did before.'"

"And my accomplished aunt . . ." suggested Cartoner.

"Would laugh at me, I know that. I would rather have Lady Orlay's laugh than another woman's tears. And so would you; for you are a man of common-sense, though deadly dull in conversation."

As if to prove the truth of this assertion, Deulin was himself silent until they had ascended St. James's Street and turned to the left in Piccadilly; and, sure enough, Cartoner had nothing to say. At last he broke the silence, and made it evident that he had been placidly following the stream of his own thoughts.

"Who is Joseph P. Mangles?" he asked, in his semi-inaudible monotone.

"An American gentleman—the word is applicable in its best sense—who for his sins, or the sins of his forefathers, has been visited with the most terrible sister a man ever had."

"So much I know."

Deulin turned and looked at his companion.

"Then you have met him—that puts another complexion on your question."

"I have just crossed the Atlantic in the next chair to him."

"And that is all you know about him?"

Cartoner nodded.

"Then Joseph P. Mangles is getting on."

"What is he?" repeated Cartoner.

"He is in the service of his country, my friend, like any other poor devil—like you or me, for instance. He spends half of his time kicking his heels in New York, or wherever they kick their heels in America. The rest of his time he is risking his health, or possibly his neck, wherever it may please the fates to send him. If he had been properly trained, he might have done something, that Joseph P. Mangles; for he can hold his tongue. But he took to it late, as they all do in America. So he has come across, has he? Yes, the storm-birds are congregating, my silent friend. There is something in the wind."

Deulin raised his long, thin nose into the dusty May air and sniffed it.

"Was that girl with them?" he inquired presently—"Miss Netty Cahere?"

"Yes."

"I always make love to Miss Cahere—she likes it best."

Cartoner stared straight in front of him, and made no comment. The Frenchman gave a laugh, which was not entirely pleasant. It was rare that his laugh was harsh, but such a note rang in it now. They did not speak again until they had walked some distance northward of Piccadilly, and stopped before a house with white window-boxes. Several carriages stood at the other side of the road against the square railings.

"Is it her day?" inquired Deulin.

"Yes."

Deulin made a grimace expressive of annoyance.

"And we shall see a number of people we had better not see. But, since we are here, let us go in—with a smile on the countenance, eh? my brave Cartoner."

"And a lie on the tongue."

"There I will meet you, too," replied Deulin, looking into his card-case.

They entered the house, and, as Deulin had predicted, there found a number of people assembled, who noted, no doubt, that they had come together. It was observable that this was not a congregation of fashionable or artistic people; for the women were dressed quietly, and the men were mostly old and white-haired. It was also dimly perceptible that there was a larger proportion of brain in the room than is allotted to the merely fashionable, or to that shallow mixture of the dramatic and pictorial, which is usually designated the artistic world. Moreover, scraps of conversation reached the ear that led the hearer to conclude that the house was in its way a miniature Babel.

The two men separated on the threshold, and Deulin went forward to shake hands with a tall, white-haired woman, who was the centre of a vivacious group. Over the heads of her guests this lady had already perceived Cartoner, who was making his way more slowly through the crowd. He seemed to have more friends there than Deulin. Lady Orlay at length went to meet Cartoner, and as they shook hands, one of those slight and indefinable family resemblances which start up at odd moments became visible.

"I want you particularly to-morrow night," said the lady; "I have some people coming. I will send a card to your club this evening."

And she turned to say good-bye to a departing guest. Deulin was at Cartoner's elbow again.

"Here," he said, taking him by the sleeve and speaking in his own tongue, "I wish to present you to friends of mine. Prince Pierre Bukaty," he added, stopping in front of a tall, old man, with bushy, white hair, and the air of a mediaeval chieftain, "allow me to present my old friend Cartoner."

The two men shook hands without other greeting than a formal bow. Deulin still held Cartoner by the sleeve, and gently compelled him to turn towards a girl who was looking round with bright and eager eyes. She had a manner full of energy and spirit, and might have been an English girl of open air and active tastes.

"Princess Wanda," said the Frenchman, "my friend Mr. Cartoner."

The eager eyes came round to Cartoner's face, of which the gravity seemed suddenly reflected in them.

"He is the best linguist in Europe," said Deulin, in a gay whisper; "even Polish; he speaks with the tongue of men and of angels."

And he himself spoke in Polish.

Princess Wanda met Cartoner's serious eyes again, and in that place, where human fates are written, another page of those inscrutable books was folded over.



V

AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE

Prince Bukaty was an affable old man, with a love of good wine and a perfect appreciation of the humorous. Had he been an Englishman, he would have been an honest squire of the old Tory type, now fast fading before facilities for foreign travel and a cheap local railway service. But he was a Pole, and the fine old hatred which should have been bestowed upon the Radicals fell to the lot of the Russians, and the contempt hurled by his British prototype upon Dissent was cast upon Commerce as represented in Poland by the thrifty German emigre.

The prince carried his bluff head with that air which almost invariably bespeaks a stormy youth, and looked out over mankind from his great height as over a fine standing crop of wild oats. As a matter of fact, he had grown to manhood in the years immediately preceding those wild early sixties, when all Europe was at loggerheads, and Poland seething in its midst, as lava seethes in the crater of a volcano.

The prince had been to England several times. He had friends in London. Indeed, he possessed them in many parts of the world, and, oddly enough, he had no enemies. To his credit be it noted that he was not an exile, which is usually another name for a scoundrel. For he who has no abiding city generally considers himself exempt from the duties of citizenship.

"They do not take me seriously," he said to his intimate friends; "they do not honor me by recognizing me as a dangerous person; but we shall see."

And the Prince Bukaty was thus allowed to go where he listed, and live in Warsaw if he so desired. Perhaps the secret of this lay in the fact that he was poor; for a poor man has few adherents. In the olden times, when the Bukatys had been rich, there were many professing readiness to follow him to the death—which is the way of the world. "You have but to hold up your hand," cries the faithful follower. But wise men know that the hand must have something in it. The prince had been young and impressionable when Poland was torn to pieces, when that which for eight centuries had been one of the important kingdoms of the world was wiped off the face of Europe, like writing off a slate. He was not a ruffian, as Deulin had described him; but he was a man who had been ruffled, and nothing could ever smooth him.

He was too frank by nature to play a hopeless game with the cunning and the savor of spite which hopeless games require. If he liked a man, he said so; if he disliked one, he was equally frank about it. He liked Cartoner on the briefest of brief introductions, and said so.

"It is difficult to find a man in London who speaks anything but English, and of anything but English topics. You are the narrowest people in the world—you Londoners. But you are no Londoner; I beg your pardon. Well, then, come and see me to-morrow. We are in a hotel in Kensington—will you come? That is the address."

And he held out a card with a small gold crown emblazoned in the corner, after the mode of eastern Europe. Cartoner reflected for a moment, which was odd in a man whose decisions were usually arrived at with lightning speed. For he had a slow tongue and a quick brain. There are few better equipments with which to face the world.

"Yes," he said at length; "it will give me much pleasure."

The prince glanced at him curiously beneath his bushy eyebrows. What was there to need reflection in such a small question?

"At five o'clock," he said. "We can give you a cup of the poisonous tea you drink in this country."

And he went away laughing heartily at the small witticism. People whose lives are anything but a joke are usually content with the smallest jests.

It was scarcely five o'clock the next day when Cartoner was conducted by a page-boy to the Bukatys' rooms in the quiet old hotel in Kensington. The Princess Wanda was alone. She was dressed in black. There is in some Varsovian families a heritage of mourning to be worn until Poland is reinstated. She was slightly but strongly made. Like her father and her brother, there was a suggestion of endurance in her being, such as is often found in slightly made persons.

"I came as early as I could," said Cartoner, and, as he spoke, the clock struck.

The princess smiled as she shook hands, and then perceived that she had not been intended to show amusement. Cartoner had merely made a rather naive statement in his low monotone. She thought him a little odd, and glanced at him again. She changed color slightly as she turned towards a chair. He was quite grave and honest.

"That is kind of you," she said, speaking English without the least suspicion of accent; for she had had an English governess all her life. "My father will take it to mean that you wanted to come, and are not only taking pity on lonely foreigners. He will be here in a minute. He has just been called away."

"It was very kind of him to ask me to call," replied Cartoner.

There was a simple directness in his manner of speech which was quite new to the Princess Wanda. She had known few Englishmen, and her own countrymen had mostly the manners of the French. She had never met a man who conveyed the impression of purpose and of the habit of going straight towards his purpose so clearly as this. Cartoner had not come to pay an idle visit. She wondered why he had come. He did not rush into conversation, and yet his silence had no sense of embarrassment in it. His hair was turning gray above the temples. She could see this as he took a chair near the window. He was probably ten years older than herself, and gave the impression of experience and of a deep knowledge of the world. From living much alone he had acquired the habit of wondering whether it was worth while to say that which came into his mind—which is a habit fatal to social success.

"Monsieur Deulin dined with us last night," said the princess, following the usual instinct that silence between strangers is intolerable. "He talked a great deal of you."

"Ah, Deulin is a diplomatist. He talks too much."

"He accuses you of talking too little," said Wanda, with some spirit.

"You see, there are only two methods of leaving things unsaid, princess."

"Which is diplomacy?" she suggested.

"Which is diplomacy."

"Then I think you are both great artists," she said, with a laugh, as the door opened and her father entered the room.

"I only come to ask you a question—a word," said the prince. "Heavens! your English language! I have a man down-stairs—a question of business—and he speaks the oddest English. Now what is the meaning of the word jettison?"

Cartoner gave him the word in French.

"Ah!" cried the prince, holding up his two powerful hands, "of course. How foolish of me not to guess. In a moment I will return. You will excuse me, will you not? Wanda will give you some tea."

And he hurried out of the room, leaving Cartoner to wonder what a person so far removed above commerce could have to do with the word jettison.

The conversation returned to Deulin. He was a man of whom people spoke continually, and had spoken for years. In fact, two generations had found him a fruitful topic of conversation without increasing their knowledge of him. If he had only been that which is called a public man, a novelist or a singer, his fortune would have been easy. All his advertising would have been done for him by others. For there was in him that unknown quantity which the world must needs think magnificent.

"I want you to tell me all you know about him," said the princess in her brisk way. "He is the only old man I have ever seen whose thoughts have not grown old too. And, of course, one wonders why. He is the sort of person who might do anything surprising. He might fall in love and marry, or something like that, you know. Papa says he is married already, and his wife is in a mad asylum. He says there is a tragedy. But I don't. He has no wife—unless he has two."

"I know nothing of that side of his life. I only know his career."

"I do not care about his career," said the princess, lightly. "I go deeper than careers."

She looked at Cartoner with a wise nod and a shrewd look in her gay, blue eyes.

"A man's career is only the surface of his life."

"Then some men's lives are all surface," said Cartoner.

Wanda gave a little, half-pitying, half-contemptuous jerk of her head.

"Some men have the soul of an omnibus-horse," she replied.

Cartoner reflected for a moment, looking gravely the while at this girl, who seemed to know so much of life and to have such singularly clear and decisive views upon it.

"What would you have them do beyond going on when required and stopping when expedient—and avoiding collisions?" he inquired.

"I should like them to break the omnibus up occasionally," she answered, "and take a wrong turning sometimes, just to see if a little happiness lay that way."

"Yes," he laughed. "You are a Pole and a Bukaty. I knew it as soon as I saw you."

"One must do something. We were talking of such things last night, and Monsieur Deulin said that his ideal combination in a man was an infinite patience and a sudden premeditated recklessness."

"Now you have come down to a mere career again," said Cartoner.

"Not necessarily."

The prince came into the room again at this moment.

"What are you people discussing," he asked, "so gravely?"

He spoke in French, which was the language that was easiest to him, for he had been young when it was the fashion in Poland to be French.

"I do not quite know," answered Cartoner, slowly. "The princess was giving me her views."

"I know," retorted the old man, with his rather hollow laugh. "They are long views, those views of hers."

Cartoner was still standing near the window. He turned absently and looked out, down into the busy street. There he saw something which caused him intense surprise, though he did not show it; for, like any man of strong purpose, his face had but one expression, and that of thoughtful attention. He saw Captain Cable, of the Minnie, crossing the street, having just quitted the hotel. This was the business acquaintance of Prince Bukaty's, who had come to speak of jettison.

Cartoner knew Captain Cable well, and his specialty in maritime skill. He had seen war waged before now with material which had passed in and out of the Minnie's hatches.

The prince did not refer again to the affairs that had called him away. The talk naturally turned to the house where they had first met, and Wanda mentioned that her father and she were going to the reception given by the Orlays that evening.

"You're going, of course?" said the prince.

"Yes, I am going."

"You go to many such entertainments?"

"No, I go to very few," replied Cartoner, looking at Wanda in his speculative way.

Then he suddenly rose and took his leave, with a characteristic omission of the usual "Well, I must be off," or any such catch-word. He certainly left a great deal unsaid which this babbling world expects.

He walked along the crowded streets, absorbed in his own thoughts, for some distance. Then he suddenly emerged from that quiet shelter, and accepted the urgent invitation of a hansom-cab driver to get into his vehicle.

"Westminster Bridge," he said.

He quitted the cab at the corner of the bridge, and walked quickly down to the steamboat-landing.

"Where do you want to go to?" inquired the gruff, seafaring ticket-clerk.

"As far as I can," was the reply.

A steamer came almost at once, and Cartoner selected a quiet seat over the rudder. He must have known that the Minnie was so constructed that she could pass under the bridges, for he began to look for her at once. It was six o'clock, and a spring tide was running out. All the passenger traffic was turned to the westward, and a friendly deck-hand, having leisure, came and gave Cartoner his views upon cricket, in which, as was natural in one whose life was passed on running water, his whole heart seemed to be absorbed. Cartoner was friendly, but did not take advantage of this affability to make inquiries about the Minnie. He knew, perhaps, that there is no more suspicious man on earth than a river-side worker.

The steamer raced under the bridges, and at last shot out into the Pool, where a few belated barges were drifting down stream. A number of steamers lay at anchor, some working cargo, others idle. The majority were foreigners, odd-shaped vessels, with funnels like a steam threshing-machine, and gayly painted deck-houses.

In one quiet corner, behind a laid-up excursion-boat and a file of North Sea fish-carriers, lay the Minnie, painted black, with nothing brighter than a deep brown on her deck-house, her boats painted a shabby green. She might have been an overgrown tug or a superannuated fish-carrier.

Cartoner landed at the Cherry Orchard Pier, and soon found a boatman to take him to the Minnie.

"Just took the skipper on board a few minutes ago, sir," he said. "He must have come down by the boat before yours."

A few minutes later Cartoner stood on the deck of the Minnie, and banged with his fist on the cover of the cabin gangway, which was tantamount to ringing at Captain Cable's front door.

The sailor's grim face appeared a moment later, emerging like the face of a hermit-crab from its shell. The frown slowly faded, and the deep, unwashed wrinkles took a kindlier curve.

"It's you, Mr. Cartoner," he said. "Glad to see you."

"I was passing in a steamer," answered Cartoner, quietly, "and recognized the Minnie."

"I take it friendly of you, Mr. Cartoner, remembering the rum time you and me had together. Come below. I've got a drop of wine somewhere stowed away in a locker."



VI

THE VULTURES

"I suppose," Miss Mangles was saying—"I suppose, Joseph, that Lady Orlay has been interested in the work without our knowing it?"

"It is possible, Jooly—it is possible," replied Mr. Joseph P. Mangles, looking with a small, bright, speculative eye out of the window of his private sitting-room in a hotel in Northumberland Avenue.

Miss Mangles was standing behind him, and held in her hand an invitation-card notifying that Lady Orlay would be at home that same evening from nine o'clock till midnight.

"This invitation," said the recipient, "accompanied as it is by a friendly note explaining that the shortness of the invitation lies in the fact that we only arrived the day before yesterday, seems to point to it, Joseph. It seems to indicate that England is prepared to give me a welcome."

"On the face of it, Jooly, it would seem—just that."

Mr. Mangles continued to gaze with a speculative eye into Northumberland Avenue. If, as Cartoner had suggested, the profession of which Mr. Joseph P. Mangles was a tardy ornament, needed above all things a capacity for leaving things unsaid, the American diplomatist was not ignorant in his art. For he did not inform his sister that the invitation to which she attached so flattering a national importance owed its origin to an accidental encounter between himself and Lord Orlay—a friend of his early senatorial days—in Pall Mall the day before.

Miss Mangles stood with the card in her hand and reflected. No woman and few men would need to be told, moreover, the subject of her thoughts. Of what, indeed, does every woman think the moment she receives an invitation?

"Jooly," Mr. Mangles had been heard to say behind that lady's back—"Jooly is an impressive dresser when she tries."

But the truth is that Jooly did not always try. She had not tried this morning, but stood in the conventional hotel room dressed in a black cloth garment which had pleats down the front and back and a belt like a Norfolk jacket. Miss Mangles was large and square-shouldered. She was a rhomboid, in fact, and had that depressing square-and-flat waist which so often figures on the platform in a great cause. Her hair was black and shiny and straight; it was drawn back from her rounded temples by hydraulic pressure. Her mouth was large and rather loose; it had grown baggy by much speaking on public platforms—a fearsome thing in a woman. Her face was large and round and white. Her eyes were dull. Long ago there must have been depressing moments in the life of Julia P. Mangles—moments spent in front of her mirror. But, like the woman of spirit that she was, she had determined that, if she could not be beautiful, she could at all events be great.

One self-deception leads to another. Miss Mangles sat down and accepted Lady Orlay's invitation in the full and perfect conviction that she owed it to her greatness.

"Are they abstainers?" she asked, reflectively, going back in her mind over the causes she had championed.

"Nay," replied Joseph, winking gravely at a policeman in Northumberland Avenue.

"Perhaps Lord Orlay is open to conviction."

"If you tackle Orlay, you'll find you've bitten off a bigger bit than you can chew," replied Joseph, who had a singular habit of lapsing into the vulgarest slang when Julia mounted her high horse in the presence of himself only. When others were present Mr. Mangles seemed to take a sort of pride in this great woman. Let those explain the attitude who can.

Lady Orlay's entertainments were popularly said to be too crowded, and no one knew this better than Lady Orlay.

"Let us ask them all and be done with them," she said; and had said it for thirty years, ever since she had begun a social existence with no other prospects than that which lay in her husband's brain—then plain Mr. Orlay. She had never "done with them," had never secured that peaceful domestic leisure which had always been her dream and her husband's dream, and would never secure it. For these were two persons, now old and white-haired and celebrated, who lived in the great world, and had a supreme contempt for it.

The Mangleses were among the first to arrive, Julia in a dress of rich black silk, with some green about it, and a number of iridescent beetle-wings serving as a relief. Miss Netty Cahere was a vision of pink and self-effacing quietness.

"We shall know no one," she said, with a shrinking movement of her shoulders as they mounted the stairs.

"Not even the waiters," replied Joseph Mangles, in his lugubrious bass, glancing into a room where tea and coffee were set out. "But they will soon know us."

They had not been in the room, however, five minutes before an acquaintance entered it, tall and slim, like a cheerful Don Quixote, with the ribbon of a great order across his shirt-front. He paused for a moment near Lord and Lady Orlay, and his entrance caused, as it usually did, a little stir in the room. Then he turned and greeted Joseph Mangles. Over the large, firm hand of that gentleman's sister he bowed in silence.

"I have nothing to say to that great woman," he sometimes said. "She is so elevated that my voice will not reach her."

Deulin then turned to where Miss Cahere had been standing. But she had moved away a few paces, nearer to a candelabrum, under which she was now standing, and a young officer in full German uniform was openly admiring her, with a sort of wonder on his foolish, Teutonic face.

"Ah! I expected you had forgotten me," she said, when Deulin presented himself.

"Believe me—I have tried," he replied, with great earnestness; but the complete innocence of her face clearly showed that she did not attach any deep meaning to his remark.

"You must see so many people that you cannot be expected to remember them all."

"I do not remember them all, mademoiselle—only a very, very few."

"Then tell me, who is that lovely girl you bowed to as you came into the room?"

"Is there another in the room?" inquired Deulin, looking around him with some interest.

"Over there, with the fair hair, dressed in black."

"Ah! talking to Cartoner. Yes. Do you think her beautiful?"

"I think she is perfectly lovely. But somehow she does not look like one of us, does she?" And Miss Cahere lowered her voice in a rather youthful and inexperienced way.

"She is not like one of us, Miss Cahere," replied Deulin.

"Why?"

"Because we are plebeians, and she is a princess."

"Oh, then she is married?" exclaimed Miss Cahere, and her voice fell three semitones on the last word.

"No. She is a princess in her own right. She is a Pole."

Miss Cahere gave a little sigh.

"Poor thing," she said, looking at the Princess Wanda, with a soft light of sympathy in her gentle eyes.

"Why do you pity her?" asked Deulin, glancing down sharply.

"Because princesses are always obliged to marry royalties, are they not—for convenience, I mean—not from . . . from inclination, like other girls?"

And Miss Cahere's eyelids fluttered, but she did not actually raise her eyes towards her interlocutor. An odd smile flickered for an instant on Deulin's lips.

"Ah!" he said, with a sharp sigh—and that was all. He bowed, and turned away to speak to a man who had been waiting at his elbow for some minutes. This also was a Frenchman, who seemed to have something special to report, for they walked aside together.

It was quite late in the evening before Deulin succeeded in his efforts to get a few moments' speech with Lady Orlay. He found that unmatched hostess at leisure in the brief space elapsing between the arrival of the latest and the departure of the earliest.

"I was looking for you," she said; "you, who always know where everybody is. Where is Mr. Mangles? An under-secretary was asking for him a moment ago."

"Mangles is listening to the music in the library—comparatively happy by himself behind a barricade of flowers."

"And that preposterous woman?"

"That preposterous woman is in the refreshment-room."

Thus they spoke of the great lecturer on Prison Wrongs.

"You have seen the Bukatys?" inquired Lady Orlay. "I called on them the moment I received your note from Paris. They are here to-night. I have never seen such a complexion. Is it characteristic of Poland?"

"I think so," replied Deulin, with unusual shortness, looking away across the room.

Lady Orlay's clever eyes flashed round for a moment, and she looked grave. It was as if she had pushed open the door of another person's room.

"I like the old man," she said, with a change of tone. "What is he?"

"He is a rebel."

"Proscribed?"

"No—they dare not do that. He was a great man in the sixties. You remember how in the great insurrection an unfailing supply of arms and ammunition came pouring into Poland over the Austrian frontier—more arms than the national government could find men for."

"Yes, I remember that."

"That is the man," said Deulin, with a nod of his head in the direction of the Prince Bukaty, who was talking and laughing near at hand.

"And the girl—it is very sad—I like her very much. She is gay and brave."

"Ah!" said Deulin, "when a woman is gay and brave—and young—Heaven help us."

"Thank you, Monsieur Deulin."

"And when she is gay and brave, and . . . old . . . milady—God keep her," he said with a grave bow.

"I liked her at once. I shall be glad to do anything I can, you know. She has a great capacity for making friends."

"She has already made a few—this evening," put in the Frenchman, with a significant gesture of his gloved hand.

"Ah!"

"Not one who can hurt her, I think. I can see to that. The usual enemy—of a pretty girl—that is all."

He broke off with a sudden laugh. Once or twice he had laughed like that, and his manner was restless and uneasy. In a younger man, or one less experienced and hardened, the observant might have suspected some hidden excitement. Lady Orlay turned and looked at him curiously, with the frankness of a friendship which had lasted nearly half a century.

"What is it?"

He laughed—but he laughed uneasily—and spread out his hands in a gesture of bewilderment.

"What is what?"

Lady Orlay looked at her fan reflectively as she opened and closed it.

"Reginald Cartoner has turned up quite suddenly," she said. "Mr. Mangles has arrived from Washington. You are here from Paris. A few minutes ago old Karl Steinmetz, who still watches the nations en amateur, shook hands with me. This Prince Bukaty is not a nonentity. All the Vultures are assembling, Paul. I can see that. I can see that my husband sees it."

"Ah! you and yours are safe now. You are in the backwater—you and Orlay—quietly moored beneath the trees."

"Finally," continued Lady Orlay, without heeding the interruption, "you come to me with a light in your eye which I have seen there only once or twice during nearly fifty years. It means war, or something very like it—the Vultures."

She gave a little shiver as she looked round the room. After a short silence Deulin rose suddenly and held out his hand.

"Good-bye," he said. "You are too discerning. Good-bye."

"You are going—?"

"Away," he answered, with a wave of the hand descriptive of space. "I must go and pack my trunks."

Lady Orlay had not moved when Mr. Mangles came up to say good-night. Miss Julia P. Mangles bowed in a manner which she considered impressive and the world thought ponderous. Netty Cahere murmured a few timid words of thanks.

"We shall hope to see you again," said Lady Orlay to Mr. Mangles.

"'Fraid not," he answered; "we're going to travel on the Continent."

"When do you start?" asked her ladyship.

"To-morrow morning."

"Another one," muttered Lady Orlay, watching Mr. Mangles depart. And her brief reverie was broken into by Reginald Cartoner.

"You have come to say good-bye," she said to him.

"Yes."

"You are going away again?"

"Yes."

"And you will not tell me where you are going."

"I cannot," answered Cartoner.

"Then I will tell you," said Lady Orlay, who, as Paul Deulin had said, was very experienced and very discerning.

"You are going to Russia, all of you."



VII

AT THE FRONTIER

Daylight was beginning to contend with the brilliant electric illumination of the long platform as that which is called the Warsaw Express steamed into Alexandrowo Station. There are many who have never heard of Alexandrowo, and others who know it only too well.

How many a poor devil has dropped from the footboard of the train just before these electric lights were reached—to take his chance of crossing the frontier before morning—history will never tell! How many have succeeded in passing in and out of that dread railway station with a false passport and a steady face, beneath the searching eye of the officials, Heaven only knows! There is no other way of passing Alexandrowo—of getting in or out of the kingdom of Poland—but by this route. Before the train is at a standstill at the platform each one of the long corridor carriages is boarded by a man in the dirty white trousers, the green tunic and green cap, the top-boots, and the majesty of Russian law. Here, whatever time of day or night, winter or summer, it is always as light as day, thanks to an unsparing use of electricity. There are always sentries on the outer side of the train. The platform is a prison-yard—the waiting rooms are prison-yards.

With a passport in perfect order, vised for here and there and everywhere, with good clothes, good luggage, and nothing contraband in baggage or demeanor, Alexandrowo is easy enough. Obedience and patience will see the traveller through. There is no fear of his being left in the huge station, or of his going anywhere but to his avowed and rightful destination. But with a passport that is old or torn, with a visa which bears any but a recent date, with a restless eye or a hunted look, the voyager had better take his chance of dropping from the footboard at speed, especially if it be a misty night.

Like sheep, the passengers are driven from the train in which not so much as a newspaper is left. Only the sleeping-car is allowed to go through, but it is emptied and searched. The travellers are penned within a large room where the luggage is inspected, and they are deprived of their passports. When the customs formalities are over they are allowed to find the refreshment-room, and there console themselves with weak tea in tumblers until such time as they are released.

The train on this occasion was a full one, and the great inspection-room, with its bare walls and glaring lights, crammed to overflowing. The majority of the travellers seemed, as usual, to be Germans. There were a few ladies. And two men, better dressed than the others, had the appearance of Englishmen. They drifted together—just as the women drifted together and the little knot of shady characters who hoped against hope that their passports were in order. For the most part, no one spoke, though one German commercial traveller protested with so much warmth that an examination of his trunks was nothing but an intrusion on the officer's valuable time that a few essayed to laugh and feel at their ease.

Reginald Cartoner, who had been among the first to quit Lady Orlay's, was an easy first across the frontier. He had twelve hours' start of anybody, and was twenty-four hours ahead of all except Paul Deulin, whose train had steamed into Berlin Station as the Warsaw Express left it. He seemed to know the ways of Alexandrowo, and the formalities to be observed at the frontier, but he was not eager to betray his knowledge. He obeyed with a silent patience the instructions of the white-aproned, black-capped porter who had a semi-official charge of him. He made no attempt to escape an examination of his luggage, and he avoided the refreshment-room tea.

Cartoner glanced at the man, whose appearance would seem to indicate that he was a fellow-countryman, and made sure that he did not know him. Then he looked at him again, and the other happened to turn his profile. Cartoner recognized the profile, and drew away to the far corner of the examination-room. But they drifted together again—or, perhaps, the younger man made a point of approaching. It was, at all events, he who, when all had been marshalled into the refreshment-room, drew forward a chair and sat down at the table where Cartoner had placed himself.

He ordered a cup of coffee in Russian, and sought his cigarette-case. He opened it and laid it on the table in front of Cartoner. He was a fair young man, with an energetic manner and the clear, ruddy complexion of a high-born Briton.

"Englishman?" he said, with an easy and friendly nod.

"Yes," answered Cartoner, taking the proffered cigarette. His manner was oddly stiff.

"Thought you were," said the other, who, though his clothes were English and his language was English, was nevertheless not quite an Englishman. There was a sort of eagerness in his look, a picturesque turn of the head—a sense, as it were, of the outwardly pictorial side of existence. He moved his chair, in order to turn his back on a Russian officer who was seated near, and did it absently, as if mechanically closing his eye to something unsightly and conducive to discomfort. Then he turned to his coffee with a youthful spirit of enjoyment.

"All this would be mildly amusing," he said, "at say any other hour of the twenty-four, but at three in the morning it is rather poor fun. Do you succeed in sleeping in these German schlafwagens?"

"I can sleep anywhere," replied Cartoner, and his companion glanced at him inquiringly. It seemed that he was sleepy now, and did not wish to talk.

"I know Alexandrowo pretty well," the other volunteered, nevertheless, "and the ways of these gentlemen. With some of them I am quite on friendly terms. They are inconceivably stupid; as boring as—the multiplication-table. I am going to Warsaw; are you? I fancy we have the sleeping-car to ourselves. I live in Warsaw as much as anywhere."

He paused to feel in his pocket, not for his cigarettes this time, but for a card.

"I know who you are," said Cartoner, quietly: "I recognized you from your likeness to your sister. I was dancing with her forty-eight hours ago in London."

"Wanda?" inquired the other, eagerly. "Dear old Wanda! How is she? She was the prettiest girl in the room, I bet."

He leaned across the table.

"Tell me," he said, "all about them. But, first, tell me your name. Wanda writes to me nearly every day, and I hear about all their friends—the Orlays and the others. What is your name? She is sure to have made mention of it in her letters."

"Reginald Cartoner."

"Ah! I have heard of you—but not from Wanda."

He paused to reflect.

"No," he added, rather wonderingly, after a pause. "No, she never mentioned your name. But, of course, I know it. It is better known out of England than in your own country, I fancy. Deulin—you know Deulin?—has spoken to us of you. No doubt we have dozens of other friends in common. We shall find them out in time. I am very glad to meet you. You say you know my name—yes, I am Martin Bukaty. Odd that you should have recognized me from my likeness to Wanda. I am very glad you think I am like her. Dear old Wanda! She is a better sort than I am, you know."

And he finished with a frank and hearty laugh—not that there was anything to laugh at, but merely because he was young, and looked at life from a cheerful standpoint.

Cartoner sipped his coffee, and looked reflectively at his companion over the cup. "Cartoner," Paul Deulin had once said to a common friend, "weighs you, and naturally finds you wanting." It seemed that he was weighing Prince Martin Bukaty now.

"I saw your father also," he said, at length. "He was kind enough to ask me to call, which I did."

"That was kind of you. Of course we know no one in London—no one, I mean, who speaks anything except English. That is a thing which is never quite understood on the Continent—that if you go to London you must speak English. If you cannot, you had better hang yourself and be done with it, for you are practically in solitary confinement. My father does not easily make friends—you must have been very civil to him."

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