Frank Richard Stockton.

The Adventures of Captain Horn online

. (page 25 of 28)
Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe Adventures of Captain Horn → online text (page 25 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

one was scolding the other. Then he saw the other man drop down on his
knees. Then, being still nearer, he perceived that the man on his knees
was Cheditafa. Then he saw the man in front of him draw a knife from
under his coat.

As a rule, Mok was a coward, but two glasses of beer were enough to turn
his nature in precisely the opposite direction. A glass less would have
left him timorous, a glass more would have made him foolhardy and silly.
He saw that somebody was about to stab his old friend. In five long,
noiseless steps, or leaps, he was behind that somebody, and had seized
the arm which held the knife.

With a movement as quick as the stroke of a rattlesnake, Banker turned
upon the man who had clutched his arm, and when he saw that it was Mok,
his fury grew tornado-like. With a great oath, and a powerful plunge
backward, he endeavored to free his arm from the grasp of the negro. But
he did not do it. Those black fingers were fastened around his wrist as
though they had been fetters forged to fit him. And in the desperate
struggle the knife was dropped.

In a hand-to-hand combat with a chimpanzee, a strong man would have but
little chance of success, and Mok, under the influence of two glasses of
beer, was a man-chimpanzee. When Banker swore, and when he turned so that
the light of the street lamp fell upon his face, Mok recognized him. He
knew him for a Rackbird of the Rackbirds - as the cruel, black-eyed savage
who had beaten him, trodden upon him, and almost crushed the soul out of
him, in that far-away camp by the sea. How this man should have suddenly
appeared in Paris, why he came there, and what he was going to do,
whether he was alone, or with his band concealed in the neighboring
doorways, Mok did not trouble his mind to consider. He held in his brazen
grip a creature whom he considered worse than the most devilish of
African devils, a villain who had been going to kill Cheditafa.

Every nerve under his black skin, every muscle that covered his bones,
and the two glasses of beer, sung out to him that the Rackbird could not
get away from him, and that the great hour of vengeance had arrived.

Banker had a pistol, but he had no chance to draw it. The arms of the
wild man were around him. His feet slipped from under him, and instantly
the two were rolling on the wet pavement. But only for an instant. Banker
was quick and light and strong to such a degree that no man but a
man-chimpanzee could have overpowered him in a struggle like that. Both
were on their feet almost as quickly as they went down, but do what he
would, Banker could not get out his pistol.

Those long black arms, one of them now bared to the shoulder, were about
him ever. He pulled, and tugged, and swerved. He half threw him one
instant, half lifted the next, but never could loosen the grasp of that
fierce creature, whose whole body seemed as tough and elastic as the
shoes he wore.

Together they fell, together they rolled in the dirty slime, together
they rose as if they had been shot up by a spring, and together they went
down again, rolling over each other, pulling, tearing, striking, gasping,
and panting.

Cheditafa had gone. The moment of Mok's appearance, he had risen and
fled. There were now people in the street. Some had come out of their
houses, hearing the noise of the struggle, for Banker wore heavy shoes.
There were also one or two pedestrians who had stopped, unwilling to pass
men who were engaged in such a desperate conflict.

No one interfered. It would have seemed as prudent to step between two
tigers. Such a bounding, whirling, tumbling, rolling, falling, and rising
contest had never been seen in that street, except between cats. It
seemed that the creatures would dash themselves through the windows of
the houses.

It was not long before Cheditafa came back with two policemen, all
running, and then the men who lay in the street, spinning about as if
moving on pivots, were seized and pulled apart. At first the officers
of the law appeared at a loss to know what had happened, and who had
been attacked. What was this black creature from the Jardin des
Plantes? But Banker's coat had been torn from his back, and his pistol
stood out in bold relief in his belt, and Cheditafa pointed to the
breathless bandit, and screamed: "Bad man! Bad man! Try to kill me!
This good Mok save my life!"

Two more policemen now came hurrying up, for other people had given the
alarm, and it was not considered necessary to debate the question as to
who was the aggressor in this desperate affair. Cheditafa, Mok, and
Banker were all taken to the police station.

As Cheditafa was known to be in the service of the American lady at the
Hotel Grenade, the _portier_ of that establishment was sent for, and
having given his testimony to the good character of the two negroes, they
were released upon his becoming surety for their appearance when wanted.

As for Banker, there was no one to go security. He was committed
for trial.

* * * * *

When Ralph went to his room, that night, he immediately rang for his
valet. Mok, who had reached the hotel from the police station but a few
minutes before, answered the summons. When Ralph turned about and beheld
the black man, his hair plastered with mud, his face plastered with mud,
and what clothes he had on muddy, torn, and awry, with one foot wearing a
great overshoe and the other bare, with both black arms entirely denuded
of sleeves, with eyes staring from his head, and his whole form quivering
and shaking, the young man started as if some afrit of the "Arabian
Nights" had come at this dark hour to answer his call.

To the eager questions which poured upon him when his identity became
apparent, Mok could make no intelligible answer. He did not possess
English enough for that. But Cheditafa was quickly summoned, and he
explained everything. He explained it once, twice, three times, and then
he and Mok were sent away, and told to go to bed, and under no
circumstances to mention to their mistress what had happened, or to
anybody who might mention it to her. And this Cheditafa solemnly
promised for both.

The clock struck one as Ralph still sat in his chair, wondering what
all this meant, and what might be expected to happen next. To hear
that a real, live Rackbird was in Paris, that this outlaw had
threatened his sister, that the police had been watching for him, that
he had sworn to kill Cheditafa, and that night had tried to do it,
amazed him beyond measure.

At last he gave up trying to conjecture what it meant. It was foolish to
waste his thoughts in that way. To-morrow he must find out. He could
understand very well why his sister had kept him in ignorance of the
affair in the Gardens. She had feared danger to him. She knew that he
would be after that scoundrel more hotly than any policeman. But what the
poor girl must have suffered! It was terrible to think of.

The first thing he would do would be to take very good care that she
heard nothing of the attack on Cheditafa. He would go to the police
office early the next morning and look into this matter. He did not
think that it would be necessary for Edna to know anything about
it, except that the Rackbird had been arrested and she need no
longer fear him.

When Ralph reached the police station, the next day, he found there the
portier of the hotel, together with Cheditafa and Mok.

After Banker's examination, to which he gave no assistance by admissions
of any sort, he was remanded for trial, and he was held merely for his
affair with the negroes, no charge having been made against him for his
attempt to obtain money from their mistress, or his threats in her
direction. As the crime for which he had been arrested gave reason
enough for condign punishment of the desperado, Ralph saw, and made
Cheditafa see, it would be unnecessary as well as unpleasant to drag
Edna into the affair.

That afternoon Mr. Banker, who had recovered his breath and had collected
his ideas, sent for the police magistrate and made a confession. He said
he had been a member of a band of outlaws, but having grown disgusted
with their evil deeds, had left them. He had become very poor, and having
heard that the leader of the band had made a fortune by a successful
piece of rascality, and had married a fine lady, and was then in Paris,
he had come to this city to meet him, and to demand in the name of their
old comradeship some assistance in his need. He had found his captain's
wife. She had basely deceived him after having promised to help him, and
he had been insulted and vilely treated by that old negro, who was once a
slave in the Rackbirds' camp in Peru, and who had been brought here with
the other negro by the captain. He also freely admitted that he had
intended to punish the black fellow, though he had no idea whatever of
killing him. If he had had such an idea, it would have been easy enough
for him to put his knife into him when he met him in that quiet street.
But he had not done so, but had contented himself with telling him what
he thought of him, and with afterwards frightening him with his knife.
And then the other fellow had come up, and there had been a fight.
Therefore, although he admitted that his case was a great misdemeanor,
and that he had been very disorderly, he boldly asserted that he had
contemplated no murder. But what he wished particularly to say to the
magistrate was that the captain of the Rackbirds would probably soon
arrive in Paris, and that he ought to be arrested. No end of important
results might come from such an arrest. He was quite sure that the great
stroke of fortune which had enabled the captain's family to live in Paris
in such fine style ought to be investigated. The captain had never made
any money by simple and straightforward methods of business.

All this voluntary testimony was carefully taken down, and although the
magistrate did not consider it necessary to believe any of it, the
arrival of Captain Horn was thenceforth awaited with interest by the
police of Paris.

It was not very plain how Miss Markham of the Hotel Grenade, who was well
known as a friend of a member of the American legation, could be the wife
of a South American bandit. But then, there might be reasons why she
wished to retain her maiden name for the present, and she might not know
her husband as a bandit.



It was less than a week after the tumbling match in the street between
Banker and Mok, and about eleven o'clock in the morning, when a brief
note, written on a slip of paper and accompanied by a card, was brought
to Edna from Mrs. Cliff. On the card was written the name of Captain
Philip Horn, and the note read thus:

"He is here. He sent his card to me. Of course, you
will see him. Oh, Edna! don't do anything foolish when
you see him! Don't go and throw away everything
worth living for in this world! Heaven help you!"

This note was hurriedly written, but Edna read it at a glance.

"Bring the gentleman here," she said to the man.

Now, with all her heart, Edna blessed herself and thanked herself that,
at last, she had been strong enough and brave enough to determine what
she ought to do when she met the captain. That very morning, lying awake
in her bed, she had determined that she would meet him in the same spirit
as that in which he had written to her. She would be very strong. She
would not assume anything. She would not accept the responsibility of
deciding the situation, which responsibility she believed he thought it
right she should assume. She would not have it. If he appeared before her
as the Captain Horn of his letters, he should go away as the man who had
written those letters. If he had come here on business, she would show
him that she was a woman of business.

As she stood waiting, with her eyes upon his card, which lay upon the
table, and Mrs. Cliffs note crumpled up in one hand, she saw the captain
for some minutes before it was possible for him to reach her. She saw him
on board the _Castor_, a tall, broad-shouldered sailor, with his hands in
the pockets of his pea-jacket. She saw him by the caves in Peru, his
flannel shirt and his belted trousers faded by the sun and water, torn
and worn, and stained by the soil on which they so often sat, with his
long hair and beard, and the battered felt hat, which was the last thing
she saw as his boat faded away in the distance, when she stood watching
it from the sandy beach. She saw him as she had imagined him after she
had received his letter, toiling barefooted along the sands, carrying
heavy loads upon his shoulders, living alone night and day on a dreary
desert coast, weary, perhaps haggard, but still indomitable. She saw him
in storm, in shipwreck, in battle, and as she looked upon him thus with
the eyes of her brain, there were footsteps outside her door.

As Captain Horn came through the long corridors and up the stairs,
following the attendant, he saw the woman he was about to meet, and saw
her before he met her. He saw her only in one aspect - that of a tall, too
thin, young woman, clad in a dark-blue flannel suit, unshapely,
streaked, and stained, her hair bound tightly round her head and covered
by an old straw hat with a faded ribbon. This picture of her as he had
left her standing on the beach, at the close of that afternoon when his
little boat pulled out into the Pacific, was as clear and distinct as
when he had last seen it.

A door was opened before him, and he entered Edna's salon. For a moment
he stopped in the doorway. He did not see the woman he had come to meet.
He saw before him a lady handsomely and richly dressed in a Parisian
morning costume - a lady with waving masses of dark hair above a lovely
face, a lady with a beautiful white hand, which was half raised as he
appeared in the doorway.

She stood with her hand half raised. She had never seen the man before
her. He was a tall, imposing gentleman, in a dark suit, over which he
wore a light-colored overcoat. One hand was gloved, and in the other he
held a hat. His slightly curling brown beard and hair were trimmed after
the fashion of the day, and his face, though darkened by the sun, showed
no trace of toil, or storm, or anxious danger. He was a tall,
broad-shouldered gentleman, with an air of courtesy, an air of dignity,
an air of forbearance, which were as utterly unknown to her as everything
else about him, except his eyes - those were the same eyes she had seen on
board the _Castor_ and on the desert sands.

Had it not been for the dark eyes which looked so steadfastly at him,
Captain Horn, would have thought that he had been shown into the wrong
room. But he now knew there was no mistake, and he entered. Edna raised
her hand and advanced to meet him.

He shook hands with her exactly as he had written to her, and she shook
hands with him just as she had telegraphed to him. Much of her natural
color had left her face. As he had never seen this natural color, under
the sun-brown of the Pacific voyage, he did not miss it.

Instantly she began to speak. How glad she was that she had prepared
herself to speak as she would have spoken to any other good friend! So
she expressed her joy at seeing him again, well and successful after
all these months of peril, toil, and anxiety, and they sat down near
each other.

He looked at her steadfastly, and asked her many things about Ralph, Mrs.
Cliff, and the negroes, and what had happened since he left San
Francisco. He listened with a questioning intentness as she spoke. She
spoke rapidly and concisely as she answered his questions and asked him
about himself. She said little about the gold. One might have supposed
that he had arrived at Marseilles with a cargo of coffee. At the same
time, there seemed to be, on Edna's part, a desire to lengthen out her
recital of unimportant matters. She now saw that the captain knew she did
not care to talk of these things. She knew that he was waiting for an
opportunity to turn the conversation into another channel, - waiting with
an earnestness that was growing more and more apparent, - and as she
perceived this, and as she steadily talked to him, she assured herself,
with all the vehemence of which her nature was capable, that she and this
man were two people connected by business interests, and that she was
ready to discuss that business in a business way as soon as he could
speak. But still she did not yet give him the chance to speak.

The captain sat there, with his blue eyes fixed upon her, and, as she
looked at him, she knew him to be the personification of honor and
magnanimity, waiting until he could see that she was ready for him to
speak, ready to listen if she should speak, ready to meet her on any
ground - a gentleman, she thought, above all the gentlemen in the world.
And still she went on talking about Mrs. Cliff and Ralph.

Suddenly the captain rose. Whether or not he interrupted her in the
middle of a sentence, he did not know, nor did she know. He put his hat
upon a table and came toward her. He stood in front of her and looked
down at her. She looked up at him, but he did not immediately speak. She
could not help standing silently and looking up at him when he stood and
looked down upon her in that way. Then he spoke.

"Are you my wife?" said he.

"By all that is good and blessed in heaven or earth, I am," she answered.

Standing there, and looking up into his eyes, there was no other answer
for her to make.

* * * * *

Seldom has a poor, worn, tired, agitated woman kept what was to her a
longer or more anxious watch upon a closed door than Mrs. Cliff kept that
day. If even Ralph had appeared, she would have decoyed him into her own
room, and locked him up there, if necessary.

In about an hour after Mrs. Cliff began her watch, a tall man walked
rapidly out of the salon and went down the stairs, and then a woman came
running across the hall and into Mrs. Cliff's room, closing the door
behind her. Mrs. Cliff scarcely recognized this woman. She had Edna's
hair and face, but there was a glow and a glory on her countenance such
as Mrs. Cliff had never seen, or expected to see until, in the hereafter,
she should see it on the face of an angel.

"He has loved me," said Edna, with her arms around her old friend's neck,
"ever since we had been a week on the _Castor_."

Mrs. Cliff shivered and quivered with joy. She could not say anything,
but over and over again she kissed the burning cheeks of her friend.
At last they stood apart, and, when Mrs. Cliff was calm enough to
speak, she said:

"Ever since we were on the _Castor!_ Well, Edna, you must admit that
Captain Horn is uncommonly good at keeping things to himself."

"Yes," said the other, "and he always kept it to himself. He never let it
go away from him. He had intended to speak to me, but he wanted to wait
until I knew him better, and until we were in a position where he
wouldn't seem to be taking advantage of me by speaking. And when you
proposed that marriage by Cheditafa, he was very much troubled and
annoyed. It was something so rough and jarring, and so discordant with
what he had hoped, that at first he could not bear to think of it. But he
afterwards saw the sense of your reasoning, and agreed simply because it
would be to my advantage in case he should lose his life in his
undertaking. And we will be married to-morrow at the embassy."

"To-morrow!" cried Mrs. Cliff. "So soon?"

"Yes," replied Edna. "The captain has to go away, and I am going
with him."

"That is all right," said Mrs. Cliff. "Of course I was a little surprised
at first. But how about the gold? How much was there of it? And what is
he going to do with it?"

"He scarcely mentioned the gold," replied Edna. "We had more precious
things to talk about. When he sees us all together, you and I and Ralph,
he will tell us what he has done, and what he is going to do, and - "

"And we can say what we please?" cried Mrs. Cliff.

"Yes," said Edna, - "to whomever we please."

"Thank the Lord!" exclaimed Mrs. Cliff. "That is almost as good as
being married."

* * * * *

On his arrival in Paris the night before, Captain Horn had taken
lodgings at a hotel not far from the Hotel Grenade, and the first thing
he did the next morning was to visit Edna. He had supposed, of course,
that she was at the same hotel in which Mrs. Cliff resided, which
address he had got from Wraxton, in Marseilles, and he had expected to
see the elderly lady first, and to get some idea of how matters stood
before meeting Edna. He was in Paris alone. He had left Shirley and
Burke, with the negroes, in Marseilles. He had wished to do nothing, to
make no arrangements for any one, until he had seen Edna, and had found
out what his future life was to be.

Now, as he walked back to his hotel, that future life lay before him
radiant and resplendent. No avenue in Paris, or in any part of the world,
blazing with the lights of some grand festival, ever shone with such
glowing splendor as the future life of Captain Horn now shone and
sparkled before him, as he walked and walked, on and on, and crossed the
river into the Latin Quarter, before he perceived that his hotel was a
mile or more behind him.

From the moment that the _Arato_ had left the Straits of Magellan, and
Captain Horn had had reason to believe that he had left his dangers
behind him, the prow of his vessel had been set toward the Strait of
Gibraltar, and every thought of his heart toward Edna. Burke and Shirley
both noticed a change in him. After he left the Rackbirds' cove, until he
had sailed into the South Atlantic, his manner had been quiet, alert,
generally anxious, and sometimes stern. But now, day by day, he appeared
to be growing into a different man. He was not nervous, nor apparently
impatient, but it was easy to see that within him there burned a steady
purpose to get on as fast as the wind would blow them northward.

Day by day, as he walked the deck of his little vessel, one might have
thought him undergoing a transformation from the skipper of a schooner
into the master of a great ship, into the captain of a swift Atlantic
liner, into the commander of a man-of-war, into the commodore on board a
line-of-battle ship. It was not an air of pride or assumed superiority
that he wore, it was nothing assumed, it was nothing of which he was not
entirely aware. It was the gradual growth within him, as health grows
into a man recovering from a sickness, of the consciousness of power.
The source of that consciousness lay beneath him, as he trod the deck of
the _Arato_.

This consciousness, involuntary, and impossible to resist, had nothing
definite about it. It had nothing which could wholly satisfy the soul of
this man, who kept his eyes and his thoughts so steadfastly toward the
north. He knew that there were but few things in the world that his power
could not give him, but there was one thing upon which it might have no
influence whatever, and that one thing was far more to him than all other
things in this world.

Sometimes, as he sat smoking beneath the stars, he tried to picture to
himself the person who might be waiting and watching for him in Paris,
and to try to look upon her as she must really be; for, after her life in
San Francisco and Paris, she could not remain the woman she had been at
the caves on the coast of Peru. But, do what he would, he could make no
transformation in the picture which was imprinted on the retina of his
soul. There he saw a woman still young, tall, and too thin, in a suit of
blue flannel faded and worn, with her hair bound tightly around her head
and covered by a straw hat with a faded ribbon. But it was toward this
figure that he was sailing, sailing, sailing, as fast as the winds of
heaven would blow his vessel onward.



When Ralph met Captain Horn that afternoon, there rose within him a
sudden, involuntary appreciation of the captain's worthiness to possess a
ship-load of gold and his sister Edna. Before that meeting there had been
doubts in the boy's mind in regard to this worthiness. He believed that
he had thoroughly weighed and judged the character and capacities of the
captain of the _Castor_, and he had said to himself, in his moments of
reflection, that although Captain Horn was a good man, and a brave man,
and an able man in many ways, there were other men in the world who were
better fitted for the glorious double position into which this fortunate
mariner had fallen.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 25 27 28

Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe Adventures of Captain Horn → online text (page 25 of 28)