Richard Harding Davis.

Van Bibber and Others online

. (page 8 of 12)
Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 8 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


for the first time as she handed him the things, and he felt, as he
had felt several times before, that her beauty was of a distinctly
disturbing quality. There was something so shy about her face when she
was not on the stage, and something so kindly, that he stood holding
the pieces of blue wool, still warm from her hands, without moving
from the position he had held when she gave them to him. When she came
off he gave them back to her and touched the visor of his cap as she
thanked him. One of the other beautiful amazons laughed and whispered,
"Agnes has a mash on the fire laddie," which made the retiring Mr.
M'Gee turn very red. He did not dare to look and see what effect it
had on Miss Carroll. But the next evening he took off his hat to her,
and she said "Good-evening," quite boldly. After that he watched her a
great deal. He thought he did it in such a way that she did not see
him, but that was only because he was a man; for the other women
noticed it at once, and made humorous comments on it when they were in
the dressing-rooms.

Old man Sanders, who had been in the chorus of different comic-opera
companies since he was twenty years old, and who was something of a
pessimist, used to take great pleasure in abusing the other members of
the company to Andy M'Gee, and in telling anecdotes concerning them
which were extremely detrimental to their characters. He could not
find anything good to say of any of them, and M'Gee began to believe
that the stage was a very terrible place indeed. He was more sorry for
this, and he could not at first understand why, until he discovered
that he was very much interested in Miss Agnes Carroll, and her
character was to him a thing of great and poignant importance. He
often wished to ask old Sanders about her, but he was afraid to do so,
partly because he thought he ought to take it for granted that she was
a good girl, and partly because he was afraid Sanders would tell him
she was not. But one night as she passed them, as proud and haughty
looking as ever, old Sanders grunted scornfully, and M'Gee felt that
he was growing very red.

"Now, there is a girl," said the old man, "who ought to be out of
this business. She's too good for it, and she'll never get on in it.
Not that she couldn't keep straight and get on, but because she is too
little interested in it, and shows no heart in the little she has to
do. She can sing a little bit, but she can't do the steps."

"Then why does she stay in it?" said Andy M'Gee.

"Well, they tell me she's got a brother to support. He's too young or
too lazy to work, or a cripple or something. She tried giving singing
lessons, but she couldn't get any pupils, and now she supports herself
and her brother with this."

Andy M'Gee felt a great load lifted off his mind. He became more and
more interested in Miss Agnes Carroll, and he began to think up little
speeches to make to her, which were intended to show how great his
respect for her was, and what an agreeable young person he might be if
you only grew to know him. But she never grew to know him. She always
answered him very quietly and very kindly, but never with any show of
friendliness or with any approach to it, and he felt that he would
never know her any better than he did on the first night she spoke to
him. But three or four times he found her watching him, and he took
heart at this and from something he believed he saw in her manner and
in the very reticence she showed. He counted up how much of his pay he
had saved, and concluded that with it and with what he received
monthly he could very well afford to marry. When he decided on this
he became more devoted to her, and even the girls stopped laughing
about it now. They saw it was growing very serious indeed.

One afternoon there was a great fire, and he and three others fell
from the roof and were burned a bit, and the boy ambulance surgeon
lost his head and said they were seriously injured, which fact got
into the afternoon papers, and when Andy turned up as usual at the
Opera House there was great surprise and much rejoicing. And the next
day one of the wounded firemen who had had to remain in the hospital
overnight told Andy that a most beautiful lady had come there and
asked to see him and had then said: "This is not the man; the papers
said Mr. M'Gee was hurt." She had refused to tell her name, but had
gone away greatly relieved.

Andy dared to think that this had been Agnes Carroll, and that night
he tried to see her to speak to her, but she avoided him and went at
once to her dressing-room whenever she was off the stage. But Andy was
determined to speak to her, and waited for her at the stage door,
instead of going back at once to the engine house to make out his
report, which was entirely wrong, and which cost him a day's pay. It
was Tuesday night, and salaries had just been given all around, and
the men and girls left the stage door with the envelopes in their
hands and discussing the different restaurants at which they would
fitly celebrate the weekly walk of the ghost. Agnes came out among the
last, veiled, and moving quickly through the crowd of half-grown boys,
and men about town, and poor relations who lay in wait and hovered
around the lamp over the stage door like moths about a candle. Andy
stepped forward quickly to follow her, but before he could reach her
side a man stepped up to her, and she stopped and spoke to him in a
low tone and retreated as she spoke. Andy heard him, with a sharp,
jealous doubt in his heart, and stood still. Then the man reached for
the envelope in the girl's hand and said, "Give it to me, do you
hear?" and she drew back and started to run, but he seized her arm.
Then Andy jumped at him and knocked him down, and picked him up again
by the collar and beat him over the head. "Stop!" the girl cried.
"Stop!"

"Stop like - ," said Andy.

"Stop! do you hear?" cried the woman again "He has a right to the
money. He is my husband."

Andy asked to be taken off theatre duty, and the captain did what he
asked. After that he grew very morose and unhappy, and was as cross
and disagreeable as he could be; so that the other men said they would
like to thrash him just once. But when there was a fire he acted like
another man, and was so reckless that the captain, mistaking
foolhardiness for bravery, handed in his name for promotion, and as
his political backing was very strong, he was given the white helmet
and became foreman of another engine-house. But he did not seem to
enjoy life any the more, and he was most unpopular. The winter passed
away and the summer came, and one day on Fifth Avenue Andy met old man
Sanders, whom he tried to avoid, because the recollections he brought
up were bitter ones; but Sanders buttonholed him and told him he had
been reading about his getting the Bennett medal, and insisted on his
taking a drink with him.

"And, by the way," said Sanders, just as Andy thought he had finally
succeeded in shaking him off, "do you remember Agnes Carroll? It seems
she was married to a drunken, good-for-nothing lout, who beat her.
Well, he took a glass too much one night, and walked off a ferry-boat
into the East River. Drink is a terrible thing, isn't it? They say the
paddle-wheels knocked the - "

"And his wife?" gasped Andy.

"She's with us yet," said Sanders. "We're at the Bijou this week. Come
in and see the piece."

Brady, the stage manager, waved a letter at the acting manager.

"Letter from Carroll," he said. "Sends in her notice. Going to leave
the stage, she says; going to get married again. She was a good girl,"
he added with a sigh, "and she sang well enough, but she couldn't do
the dance steps a little bit."




A LEANDER OF THE EAST RIVER


"Hefty" Burke was one of the best swimmers in the East River. There
was no regular way open for him to prove this, as the gentlemen of the
Harlem boat-clubs, under whose auspices the annual races were given,
called him a professional, and would not swim against him. "They won't
keep company with me on land," Hefty complained, bitterly, "and they
can't keep company with me in the water; so I lose both ways." Young
Burke held these gentlemen of the rowing clubs in great contempt, and
their outriggers and low-necked and picturesque rowing clothes as
well. They were fond of lying out of the current, with the oars pulled
across at their backs for support, smoking and commenting audibly upon
the other oarsmen who passed them by perspiring uncomfortably, and
conscious that they were being criticised. Hefty said that these
amateur oarsmen and swimmers were only pretty boys, and that he could
give them two hundred yards start in a mile of rough or smooth water
and pass them as easily as a tug passes a lighter.

He was quite right in this latter boast; but, as they would call him
a professional and would not swim against him, there was no way for
him to prove it. His idea of a race and their idea of a race differed.
They had a committee to select prizes and open a book for entries, and
when the day of the races came they had a judges' boat with gay
bunting all over it, and a badly frightened referee and a host of
reporters, and police boats to keep order. But when Hefty swam, his
two backers, who had challenged some other young man through a
sporting paper, rowed in a boat behind him and yelled and swore
directions, advice, warnings, and encouragement at him, and in their
excitement drank all of the whiskey that had been intended for him.
And the other young man's backers, who had put up ten dollars on him,
and a tugboat filled with other rough young men, kegs of beer, and
three Italians with two fiddles and one harp, followed close in the
wake of the swimmers. It was most exciting, and though Hefty never had
any prizes to show for it, he always came in first, and so won a great
deal of local reputation. He also gained renown as a life-saver; for
if it had not been for him many a venturesome lad would have ended his
young life in the waters of the East River.

For this he received ornate and very thin gold medals, with very
little gold spread over a large extent of medal, from grateful parents
and admiring friends. These were real medals, and given to him, and
not paid for by himself as were "Rags" Raegan's, who always bought
himself a medal whenever he assaulted a reputable citizen and the case
was up before the Court of General Sessions. It was the habit of Mr.
Raegan's friends to fall overboard for him whenever he was in
difficulty of this sort, and allow themselves to be saved, and to
present Raegan with the medal he had prepared; and this act of heroism
would get into the papers, and Raegan's lawyer would make the most of
it before the judges. Rags had been Hefty's foremost rival among the
swimmers of the East Side, but since the retirement of the former into
reputable and private life Hefty was the acknowledged champion of the
river front.

Hefty was not at all a bad young man - that is, he did not expect his
people to support him - and he worked occasionally, especially about
election time, and what he made in bets and in backing himself to swim
supplied him with small change. Then he fell in love with Miss Casey,
and the trouble and happiness of his life came to him hand and hand
together; and as this human feeling does away with class distinctions,
I need not feel I must apologize for him any longer, but just tell his
story.

He met her at the Hon. P.C. McGovern's Fourth Ward Association's
excursion and picnic, at which he was one of the twenty-five
vice-presidents. On this occasion Hefty had jumped overboard after one
of the Rag Gang whom the members of the Half-Hose Social Club had, in
a spirit of merriment, dropped over the side of the boat. This action
and the subsequent rescue and ensuing intoxication of the half-drowned
member of the Rag Gang had filled Miss Casey's heart with admiration,
and she told Hefty he was a good one and ought to be proud of himself.

On the following Sunday he walked out Avenue A to Tompkins Square with
Mary, and he also spent a great deal of time every day on her stoop
when he was not working, for he was working now and making ten dollars
a week as an assistant to an ice-driver. They had promised to give him
fifteen dollars a week and a seat on the box if he proved steady. He
had even dreamed of wedding Mary in the spring. But Casey was a
particularly objectionable man for a father-in-law, and his objections
to Hefty were equally strong. He honestly thought the young man no fit
match for his daughter, and would only promise to allow him to "keep
company" with Mary on the condition of his living steadily.

So it became Hefty's duty to behave himself. He found this a little
hard to do at first, but he confessed that it grew easier as he saw
more of Miss Casey. He attributed his reform to her entirely. She had
made the semi-political, semi-social organizations to which he
belonged appear stupid, and especially so when he lost his money
playing poker in the club-room (for the club had only one room), when
he might have put it away for her. He liked to talk with her about the
neighbors in the tenement, and his chance of political advancement to
the position of a watchman at the Custom-house Wharf, and hear her
play "Mary and John" on the melodeon. He boasted that she could make
it sound as well as it did on the barrel-organ.

He was very polite to her father and very much afraid of him, for he
was a most particular old man from the North of Ireland, and objected
to Hefty because he was a good Catholic and fond of street fights. He
also asked pertinently how Hefty expected to support a wife by
swimming from one pier to another on the chance of winning ten
dollars, and pointed out that even this precarious means of livelihood
would be shut off when the winter came. He much preferred "Patsy"
Moffat as a prospective son-in-law, because Moffat was one of the
proprietors in a local express company with a capital stock of three
wagons and two horses. Miss Casey herself, so it seemed to Hefty, was
rather fond of Moffat; but he could not tell for whom she really
cared, for she was very shy, and would as soon have thought of
speaking a word of encouragement as of speaking with unkindness.

There was to be a ball at the Palace Garden on Wednesday night, and
Hefty had promised to call for Mary at nine o'clock. She told him to
be on time, and threatened to go with her old love, Patsy Moffat, if
he were late.

On Monday night the foreman at the livery stable of the ice company
appointed Hefty a driver, and, as his wages would now be fifteen
dollars a week, he concluded to ask Mary to marry him on Wednesday
night at the dance.

He was very much elated and very happy.

His fellow-workmen heard of his promotion and insisted on his standing
treat, which he did several times, until the others became flippant in
their remarks and careless in their conduct. In this innocent but
somewhat noisy state they started home, and on the way were
injudicious enough to say, "Ah there!" to a policeman as he issued
from the side door of a saloon. The policeman naturally pounded the
nearest of them on the head with his club, and as Hefty happened to be
that one, and as he objected, he was arrested. He gave a false name,
and next morning pleaded not guilty to the charge of "assaulting an
officer and causing a crowd to collect."

His sentence was thirty days in default of three hundred dollars, and
by two o'clock he was on the boat to the Island, and by three he had
discarded the blue shirt and red suspenders of an iceman for the gray
stiff cloth of a prisoner. He took the whole trouble terribly to
heart. He knew that if Old Man Casey, as he called him, heard of it
there would be no winning his daughter with his consent, and he feared
that the girl herself would have grave doubts concerning him. He was
especially cast down when he thought of the dance on Wednesday night,
and of how she would go off with Patsy Moffat. And what made it worse
was the thought that if he did not return he would lose his position
at the ice company's stable, and then marriage with Mary would be
quite impossible. He grieved over this all day, and speculated as to
what his family would think of him. His circle of friends was so well
known to other mutual friends that he did not dare to ask any of them
to bail him out, for this would have certainly come to Casey's ears.

He could do nothing but wait. And yet thirty days was a significant
number to his friends, and an absence of that duration would be hard
to explain. On Wednesday morning, two days after his arrest, he was
put to work with a gang of twenty men breaking stone on the roadway
that leads from the insane quarters to the penitentiary. It was a
warm, sunny day, and the city, lying just across the narrow channel,
never looked more beautiful. It seemed near enough for him to reach
out his hand and touch it. And the private yachts and big
excursion-boats that passed, banging out popular airs and alive with
bunting, made Hefty feel very bitter. He determined that when he got
back he would go look up the policeman who had assaulted him and break
his head with a brick in a stocking. This plan cheered him somewhat,
until he thought again of Mary Casey at the dance that night with
Patsy Moffat, and this excited him so that he determined madly to
break away and escape. His first impulse was to drop his crowbar and
jump into the river on the instant, but his cooler judgment decided
him to wait.

At the northern end of the Island the grass runs high, and there are
no houses of any sort upon it. It reaches out into a rocky point,
where it touches the still terribly swift eddies of Hell Gate, and its
sharp front divides the water and directs it towards Astoria on the
east and the city on the west. Hefty determined to walk off from the
gang of workmen until he could drop into this grass and to lie there
until night. This would be easy, as there was only one man to watch
them, for they were all there for only ten days or one month, and the
idea that they should try to escape was hardly considered. So Hefty
edged off farther from the gang, and then, while the guard was busy
lighting his pipe, dropped into the long grass and lay there quietly,
after first ridding himself of his shoes and jacket. At six o'clock a
bell tolled and the guard marched away, with his gang shambling after
him. Hefty guessed they would not miss him until they came to count
heads at supper-time; but even now it was already dark, and lights
were showing on the opposite bank. He had selected the place he meant
to swim for - a green bank below a row of new tenements, a place where
a few bushes still stood, and where the boys of Harlem hid their
clothes when they went in swimming.

* * * * *

At half-past seven it was quite dark, so dark, in fact, that the
three lanterns which came tossing towards him told Hefty that his
absence had been discovered. He rose quickly and stepped cautiously,
instead of diving, into the river, for he was fearful of hidden rocks.
The current was much stronger than he had imagined, and he hesitated
for a moment, with the water pulling at his knees, but only for a
moment; for the men were hunting for him in the grass.

He drew the gray cotton shirt from his shoulders, and threw it back of
him with an exclamation of disgust, and of relief at being a free man
again, and struck his broad, bare chest and the biceps of his arms
with a little gasp of pleasure in their perfect strength, and then
bent forward and slid into the river.

The current from the opening at Hell Gate caught him up as though he
had been a plank. It tossed him and twisted him and sucked him down.
He beat his way for a second to the surface and gasped for breath and
was drawn down again, striking savagely at the eddies which seemed to
twist his limbs into useless, heavy masses of flesh and muscle. Then
he dived down and down, seeking a possibly less rapid current at the
muddy bottom of the river; but the current drew him up again until he
reached the top, just in time, so it seemed to him, to breathe the
pure air before his lungs split with the awful pressure. He was
gloriously and fiercely excited by the unexpected strength of his
opponent and the probably fatal outcome of his adventure. He stopped
struggling, that he might gain fresh strength, and let the current
bear him where it would, until he saw that it was carrying him swiftly
to the shore and to the rocks of the Island. And then he dived again
and beat his way along the bottom, clutching with his hands at the
soft, thick mud, and rising only to gasp for breath and sink again.
His eyes were smarting hotly, and his head and breast ached with
pressure that seemed to come from the inside and threatened to burst
its way out. His arms had grown like lead and had lost their strength,
and his legs were swept and twisted away from his control and were
numb and useless. He assured himself fiercely that he could not have
been in the water for more than five minutes at the longest, and
reminded himself that he had often before lived in it for hours, and
that this power, which was so much greater than his own, could not
outlast him. But there was no sign of abatement in the swift, cruel
uncertainty of its movement, and it bore him on and down or up as it
pleased. The lights on the shore became indistinct, and he finally
confused the two shores, and gave up hope of reaching the New York
side, except by accident, and hoped only to reach some solid land
alive. He did not go over all of his past life, but the vision of Mary
Casey did come to him, and how she would not know that he had been
innocent. It was a little thing to distress himself about at such a
time, but it hurt him keenly. And then the lights grew blurred, and
he felt that he was making heavy mechanical strokes that barely kept
his lips above the water-line. He felt the current slacken
perceptibly, but he was too much exhausted to take advantage of it,
and drifted forward with it, splashing feebly like a dog, and holding
his head back with a desperate effort. A huge, black shadow, only a
shade blacker than the water around him, loomed up suddenly on his
right, and he saw a man's face appear in the light of a hatchway and
disappear again.

"Help!" he cried, "help!" but his voice sounded far away and barely
audible. He struck out desperately against the current, and turned on
his back and tried to keep himself afloat where he was. "Help!" he
called again, feebly, grudging the strength it took to call even that.
"Help! Quick, for God's sake! help me!"

Something heavy, black, and wet struck him sharply in the face and
fell with a splash on the water beside him. He clutched for it
quickly, and clasped it with both hands and felt it grow taut; and
then gave up thinking, and they pulled him on board.

When he came to himself, the captain of the canal-boat stooped and
took a fold of the gray trousers between his thumb and finger. Then he
raised his head and glanced across at the big black Island, where
lights were still moving about on the shore, and whistled softly. But
Hefty looked at him so beseechingly that he arose and came back with
a pair of old boots and a suit of blue jeans.

"Will you send these back to me to-morrow?" he asked.

"Sure," said Hefty.

"And what'll I do with these?" said the captain, holding up the gray
trousers.

"Anything you want, except to wear 'em," said Mr. Burke, feebly, with
a grin.

* * * * *

One hour later Miss Casey was standing up with Mr. Patsy Moffat for
the grand march of the grand ball of the Jolly Fellows' Pleasure Club
of the Fourteenth Ward, held at the Palace Garden. The band was just
starting the "Boulanger March," and Mr. Moffat was saying wittily that
it was warm enough to eat ice, when Mr. Hefty Burke shouldered in
between him and Miss Casey. He was dressed in his best suit of
clothes, and his hair was conspicuously damp.

"Excuse me, Patsy," said Mr. Burke, as he took Miss Casey's arm, in
his, "but this march is promised to me. I'm sorry I was late, and I'm
sorry to disappoint you; but you're like the lad that drives the
hansom cab, see? - you're not in it."

"But indeed," said Miss Casey, later, "you shouldn't have kept me
a-waiting. It wasn't civil."

"I know," assented Hefty, gloomily, "but I came as soon as I could. I
even went widout me supper so's to get here; an' they wuz expectin' me
to stay to supper, too."




HOW HEFTY BURKE GOT EVEN




1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12

Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 8 of 12)