Jennette Barbour Perry Lee.

Mr. Achilles online

. (page 4 of 9)
Online LibraryJennette Barbour Perry LeeMr. Achilles → online text (page 4 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of Athens and his beloved land. The room had been lighted then, with
coloured lamps and globes - a kind of rosy radiance. Now the daylight
came in through the high windows and filtered down upon him over brown
books and soft, leather-covered walls. There was no sound in the big
room. It seemed shut off from the world and Achilles sat very quiet, his
dark face a little bent, his gaze fixed on the rug at his feet. He was
thinking of the child - and of her face when she had lifted it to him out
of the crowded street, that first day, and smiled at him... and of their
long talks since. It was the Child who understood. The strange ladies
had smiled at him and talked to him and drank their tea and talked
again... he could hear the soft, keen humming of their voices and the
flitter of garments all about him as they moved. But the child had sat
very still - only her face lifted, while he told her of Athens and its
beauty... and he had told her again - and again. She would never tire of
it - as he could never tire. She was a child of light in the great new
world... a child like himself - in the hurry of the noise. A sound came
to him in the distant house - people talking - low voices that spoke and
hurried on. The house was awake - quick questions ran through it - doors
sounded and were still. Achilles turned his face toward the opening into
the long wide hall, and waited. Through the vista there was a glimpse
of the stairway and a figure passing up it - a short, square man who
hurried. Then silence again - more bells and running feet. But no one
came to the library - and no one sought the dark figure seated there,
waiting. Strange foreign faces flashed themselves in the great
mirror and out. The outer door opened and closed noiselessly to admit
them - uncouth figures that passed swiftly up the stairway, glancing
curiously about them - and dapper men who did not look up as they went.
The house settled again to quiet, and the long afternoon, while Achilles
waited. The light from the high windows grew dusky under chairs and
tables; it withdrew softly along the gleaming books and hovered in the
air above them - a kind of halo - and the shadows crept up and closed
about him. Through the open door, a light appeared in the hall. A moving
figure advanced to the library, and paused in the doorway, and came
in. There was a minute's fumbling at the electric button, and the soft
lights came, by magic, everywhere in the room. The servant gave a
quick glance about him, and started sternly - and came forward. Then he
recognised the man. It was the Greek. But he looked at him sternly. The
day had been full of suspicion and question - and the house was alive to
it - "What do you want?" he said harshly.

"I wait," said Achilles.

"Who told you to come?" demanded the man.

"I come. I wait," said Achilles.

The man disappeared. Presently he returned. "You come with me," he
said. His look was less stern, but he raised his voice a little, as if
speaking to a child, or a deaf man. "You come with me," he repeated.

Achilles followed with quick-gliding foot - along the corridor, through
a great room - to a door. The man paused and lifted his hand and knocked.
His back was tense, as if he held himself ready to spring.

A voice sounded and he turned the handle softly, and looked at Achilles.
Then the door opened and the Greek passed in and the man closed the door
behind him.

A man seated at a table across the room looked up. For a minute the two
men looked at each other - the one short and square and red; the other
thin as a reed, with dark, clear eyes.

The short man spoke first. "What do you know about this?" His hand
pressed a heap of papers upon the desk before him and his eyes searched
the dark face.

Achilles's glance rested on the papers - then it lifted itself.

"Your name is Achilles?" said the other sharply.

"Achilles Alexandrakis - yes." The Greek bowed.

"I know - she called you Mr. Achilles," said the man.

A shadow rested on the two faces, looking at each other.

"She is lost," said the father. He said it under his breath, as if
denying it.

"I find her," said Achilles quietly.

The man leaned forward - something like a sneer on his face. "She is
stolen, I tell you - and the rascals have got at their work quick!" He
struck the pile of papers on the desk. "They will give her up for
ten thousand dollars - to-night." He glanced at the clock on the wall,
ticking its minutes, hurrying to six o'clock.

The dark eyes had followed the glance; they came back to the man's
face - "You pay that - ten thousand dollar?" said Achilles.

"I shall be damned first!" said the man with slow emphasis. "But we
shall find them - " His square, red jaw held the words, "and _they_ shall
pay - God! They shall pay!" The room rang to the word. It was a small
bare room - only a table and two chairs, the clock on the wall and a
desk across the room. "Sit down," said Philip Harris. He motioned to the
chair before him.

But Achilles did not take it, he rested a hand on the back, looking down
at him. "I glad - you not pay," he said.

The other lifted his eyebrows. "I shall pay the man that finds her - the
man that brings her back! You understand that?" His bright, little
glance had keen scorn.

But the face opposite him did not change. "I find her," said Achilles

"Then you get the ten thousand," said the man. He shifted a little in
his chair. They were all alike - these foreigners - money was what they
wanted - and plenty of it. The sneer on his face deepened abruptly.

Achilles's glance was on the clock. "It makes bad - to pay that money,"
he said. "When you pay - more child stole - to-morrow, more child
stole - more money - " His dark hand lifted itself out over the houses of
the great city - and all the sleepy children making ready for bed.

The other nodded. His round, soft paunch pressed against the table and
his quick eyes were on Achilles's face. His great finger leaped out and
shook itself and lay on the table. "I - will - not - give - one cent!" he
said hoarsely.

"You be good man," said Achilles solemnly.

"I will not be bullied by them - and I will not be a fool!" He lifted
his eyes to the clock - and a look passed in his face - a little whirring
chime and the clock was still.

In the silence, the telephone rang sharply. His hand leaped out - and
waited - and his eye sought Achilles - and gathered itself, and he lifted
the dark, burring Thing to his ear.



Slowly the look on his face grew to something hard and round and bright.
His lips tightened - "is that all? - Good-bye!" His voice sounded in the
tube and was gone, and he hung up the receiver. "They make it twenty
thousand - for one hour," he said drily.

Achilles bent forward, his face on fire, his finger pointing to the

"They are right there!" said the man. He gave a short laugh - "Can't
trace them that way - we have tried - They've tapped a wire. Central is
after them. But they won't get 'em that way. Sit down and I will talk
to you." He motioned again to the chair and the Greek seated himself,
bending forward a little to catch the murmur and half-incoherent jerks
that the man spoke.

Now and then the Greek nodded, or his dark face lighted; and once or
twice he spoke. But for the most part it was a rapid monologue, told in
breathless words.

The great Philip Harris had no hope that the ignorant man sitting before
him could help him. But there was a curious relief in talking to him;
and as he talked, he found the story shaping itself in his mind - things
related fell into place, and things apart came suddenly together. The
story ran back for years - there had been earlier attempts, but the child
had been guarded with strictest care; and lately they had come to feel
secure. They had thought the band was broken up. The blow had fallen out
of a clear sky. They had not the slightest clue - all day the detectives
had gathered the great city in their hands - and sifted it through
careful fingers. A dozen men had been arrested, but there was no clue.
The New York men were on the way; they would arrive in the morning, and
meantime the great man sat in his bare room, helpless. He looked into
the dark eyes opposite him and found a curious comfort there. "The child
knew you," he said.

"Yes - she know me. We love," said Achilles simply.

The other smiled a little. It would not have occurred to _him_ to say
that Betty loved him. He was not sure that she did - as he thought of it.
She had always the quick smile for him - and for everyone. But there had
been no time for foolishness between him and Betty. He had hardly known
her for the last year or two. He shifted a little in his place, shading
his eyes from the light, and looked at the Greek.

The Greek rose, and stood before him. "I go now," he said.

Philip Harris made no reply. He was thinking, behind his hand; and his
mind, wrenched from its stockyards and its corners and deals, seemed to
be groping toward a point of light that glimmered somewhere - mistily. He
could not focus it. The darkness tricked him, but somehow, vaguely,
the Greek held a clue. He had known the child. "Don't go," said Philip
Harris, looking up at last.

"I find her," said Achilles.

Philip Harris shook his head. "You cannot find her." He said it
bitterly. "But you can tell me - sit down." He leaned forward. "Now, tell
me - everything - you know - about her."

The face of Achilles lighted. "She was a nice child," he said blithely.

The man smiled. "Yes - go on."

So the voice of Achilles was loosened and he told of Betty Harris - to
her father sitting absorbed and silent. The delight of her walk, her
little hands, the very tones of her voice were in his words.

And the big man listened with intent face. Once the telephone rang and
he stopped to take down something. "No clue," he said, "go on." And
Achilles's voice took up the story again.

His hands reached out in the words, quick gestures made a halo about
them, lips and smiles spoke, and ran the words to a laugh that made the
child's presence in the room.

The father listened dumbly. Then silence fell in the room and the clock

And while the two men sat in silence, something came between them and
knit them. And when Achilles rose to go, the great man held out his
hand, simply. "You have helped me," he said.

"I help - yes - " said Achilles. Then he turned his head. A door across
the room had opened and a woman stood in it - looking at them.



Achilles saw her, and moved forward swiftly. But she ignored him - her
eyes were on the short, square man seated at the table, and she came
to him, bending close. "You must pay, Phil," she said. The words held
themselves in her reddened eyes, and her fingers picked a little at the
lace on her dress... then they trembled and reached out to him.

"You _must_ pay!" she said hoarsely.

But the man did not stir.

The woman lifted her eyes and looked at Achilles. There was no
recognition in the glance - only a kind of impatience that he was there.
The Greek moved toward the door - but the great man stayed him. "Don't
go," he said. He reached up a hand to his wife, laying it on her
shoulder. "We can't pay, dearest," he said slowly.

Her open lips regarded him and the quick tears were in her eyes. She
brushed them back, and looked at him - "Let _me_ pay!" she said fiercely,
"I will give up - everything - and pay!" She had crouched to him, her
groping fingers on his arm.

Above her head the glances of the two men met.

Her husband bent to her, speaking very slowly... to a child.

"Listen, Louie - they might give her back to-day - if we paid... but they
would take her again - to-morrow - next week - next year. We shall never be
safe if we pay. Nobody will be safe - "

Her face was on his arm, sobbing close. "I hate - it!" she said brokenly,
"I _hate_ - your - money! I want Betty!" The cry went through the
room - and the man was on his feet, looking down at her -

"Don't, Louie," he said - "don't, dear - I can't bear that! See, dear - sit
down!" He had placed her in the chair and was crooning to her, bending
to her. "We shall have her back - soon - now."

The telephone was whirring and he sprang to it.

The woman lifted her face, staring at it.

The Greek's deep eyes fixed themselves on it.

The room was so still they could hear the tiny, ironic words flinging
themselves spitefully in the room, and biting upon the air. "Time's
up," the Thing tittered - "Make it fifty thousand now - for a day. Fifty
thousand down and the child delivered safe - Br-r-r-r!"

The woman sprang forward. "Tell them we'll pay, Phil - give it to
me - Yes - yes - we'll pay!" She struggled a little - but the hand had
thrust her back and the receiver was on its hook.

"We shall _not_ pay!" said the man sternly, "not if they make it a

"I think they make it a million," said Achilles quietly.

They looked up at him with startled eyes.

"They know you - rich - " His hands flung themselves. "So rich! They
_make_ you pay - yes - they make everyone pay, I think!" His dark eyes
were on the woman significantly -

"What do you mean?" she said swiftly.

"If you pay - they steal them everywhere - little children." His eyes
seemed to see them at play in the sunshine - and the dark shadows
stealing upon them. The woman's eyes were on his face, breathless.

"They have taken Betty!" she said. It was a broken cry.

"We find her," said Achilles simply. "Then little children play - happy."
He turned to go.

But the woman stayed him. Her face trembled to hold itself steady under
his glance. "I want to save the children, too," she said. "I will be

Her husband's startled face was turned to her and she smiled to it
bravely. "Help me, Phil!" she said. She reached out her hands to him and
he took them tenderly. He had not been so near her for years. She was
looking in his face, smiling still, across the white line of her lip. "I
shall help," she said slowly. "But you must not trust me, dear - not too
far.... I want my little girl - "

There were tears in the eyes of the two men - and the Greek went softly
out, closing the door. Down the wide hallway - out of the great door,
with its stately carvings and the two pink stone lions that guarded
the way - out to the clear night of stars. The breeze blew in - a little
breath from the lake, that lapped upon the breakwater and died out.
Achilles stood very still - lifting his face to it. Behind him, in the
city, little children were asleep... and in the great house the man and
the woman waited alone - for the help that was coming to them - running
with swift feet in the night. It sped upon iron rails and crept beneath
the ground and whispered in the air - and in the heart of Achilles it
dreamed under the quiet stars.



The little shop was closed. The fruit-trays had been carried in and the
shutters put up, and from an upper window a line of light gleamed on the
deserted street. Achilles glanced at it and turned into an alley at the
side, groping his way toward the rear. He stopped and fumbled for a knob
and rapped sharply. But a hand was already on the door, scrambling to
undo it, and an eager face confronted him, flashing white teeth at him.
"You come!" said the boy swiftly.

He turned and fled up the stairs and Achilles followed. A faint sense
of onions was in the air. Achilles sniffed it gratefully. He remembered
suddenly that he had not eaten since morning. But the boy did not
pause for him - he was beckoning with mysterious hand from a doorway
and Achilles followed. "Alcie - got hurt," whispered the boy. He was
trembling with fear and excitement, and he pointed to the bed across the

Achilles stepped, with lightest tread, and looked down. A boy, half
asleep, murmured and turned his head restlessly. A red-clotted blur ran
along the forehead, and the face, streaked with mud, was drawn in a look
of pain. As Achilles bent over him, the boy cried out and threw up a
hand; then he turned his head, muttering, and dozed again.

Achilles withdrew lightly, beckoning to the boy beside him.

Yaxis followed, his eyes on the figure on the bed. "All day," he said,
"he lie sick."

Achilles closed the door softly and turned to him. "Tell me, Yaxis, what
happened," he said.

The boy's face opened dramatically. "I look up - I see Alcie - like
that - " his gesture fitted to the room - "He stand in door - all covered
mud - blood run - cart broke - no fruit - no hat." The boy's hands were
everywhere, as he spoke, dispensing fruit, smashing carts and filling up
the broken words with horror and a flow of blood. Achilles's face grew
grave. The Greeks were not without persecution in the land of freedom,
and his boy had lain all day suffering - while he had been lost in the
great house by the lake.

He took off his coat and turned back his sleeves. "You bring water," he
said gently. "We will see what hurts him."

But the boy had put his supper on the table and was beckoning him with
swift gesture. "You eat," he said pleadingly. And Achilles ate hastily
and gave directions for the basin of water and towels and a sponge, and
the boy carried them into the room beyond.

Half an hour later Alcibiades lay in bed, his clothes removed and the
blood washed from his face and hair. The clotted line still oozed a
little on the temple and the look of pain had not gone away. Achilles
watched him with anxious eyes. He bent over the bed and spoke to him
soothingly, his voice gentle as a woman's in its soft Greek accents;
but the look of pain in the boy's face deepened and his voice chattered

They watched the ambulance drive away from in front of the striped
awning. Achilles held a card in his thin fingers - a card that would
admit him to his boy. Yaxis's eyes were gloomy with dread, and his
quick movements were subdued as he went about the business of the shop,
carrying the trays of fruit to the stall outside and arranging the
fruit under the striped awning. He was not to go out with the push-cart
to-day. There was too much work to do - and Achilles could not let the
boy go from him. Later, too, Achilles must go to the hospital - and to
the big house on the lake, and someone must be left with the shop.

So he kept the boy beside him, looking at him, now and then, with deep,
quiet eyes that seemed to see the city taking its toll of life - of
children - the children at play and the children at work. This land that
he had sought with his boys - where the wind of freedom blew fresh from
the prairies and the sea... and even little children were not safe! He
seemed to see it - through the day - this great monster that gathered them
in - from all lands - and trod them beneath its great feet, crushing them,
while they lifted themselves to it and threw themselves - and prayed to
it for the new day - that they had come so far to seek.

But when Achilles presented his ticket for the boy, at the hospital
door, it was a woman of his own race who met him, dark-eyed and
strong - and smiled at him a flash of sympathy. "Yes - he is doing well.
They operated at once. Come and see. But you must not speak to him." She
led him cautiously down the long corridor between the beds. "See, he is
asleep." She bent over him, touching the bandage. Beneath it, the dark
skin was pallid, but the breath came easily from the sleeping lips.

She smiled at Achilles, guiding him from the room, ignoring the tears
that looked at her. "He is doing well, you see. It was pressure that
caused the fever, the bone was not injured. He will recover quickly.
Yes. We are glad!"

And Achilles, out under the clear sky, raised his face and caught the
sound of the city - its murmured, innumerable toil and the great clang
of wheels turning. And he drew a deep, quick breath. A city of power
and swift care for its own. The land of many hands reaching out to the
world. And Achilles's head lifted itself under the sky; and a mighty
force knit within him - a deep, quiet force out of the soul of the
past - pledging itself.



Life was busy for Achilles. There were visits to the hospital - where he
must not speak to his boy, but only look at him and catch little silent
smiles from the bandaged face - and visits to the great house on the
lake, where he came and went freely. The doors swung open of themselves,
it seemed, as Achilles mounted the steps between the lions. All the
pretty life and flutter of the place had changed. Detectives went in and
out; and instead of the Halcyon Club, the Chief of Police and assistants
held conferences in the big library. But there was no clue to the
child!... She had withdrawn, it seemed, into a clear sky. James had
been summoned to the library many times, and questioned sharply; but his
wooden countenance held no light and the tale did not change by a hair.
He had held the horses. Yes - there wa'n't nobody - but little Miss Harris
and him.... She was in the carriage - he held the horses. The horses?
They had frisked a bit, maybe, the way horses will - at one o' them
autos that squirted by, and he had quieted 'em down - but there wa'n't
nobody.... And he was the last link between little Betty Harris and the
world - all the bustling, wrestling, interested world of Chicago - that
shouted extras and stared at the house on the lake and peered in at
its life - at the rising and eating and sleeping that went on behind the
red-stone walls. The red-stone walls had thinned to a veil and the whole
world might look in - because a child had been snatched away; and the
heart of a city understood. But no one but James could have told what
had happened to the child sitting with her little red cherries in the
light; and James was stupid - and in the bottomless abyss of James's face
the clue was lost.

Achilles had come in for his share of questioning. The child had been
to his shop it seemed... and the papers took it up and made much of
it - there were headlines and pictures... the public was interested. The
tale grew to a romance, and fathers and mothers and children in Boston
and New York and London heard how Betty had sat in the gay little
fruit-shop - and listened to Achilles's stories of Athens and Greece, and
of the Acropolis - and of the studies in Greek history, and her gods and
goddesses and the temples and ruins lying packed in their boxes waiting
her return. The daily papers were a thrilling tale - with the quick touch
of love and human sympathy that brings the world together.

To Achilles it was as if the hand of Zeus had reached and touched the
child - and she was not. What god sheltered her beneath a magic veil - so
that she passed unseen? He lifted his face, seeking in air and sun and
cloud, a token. Over the lake came the great breeze, speaking to him,
and out of the air a thousand hands reached to him - to tell him of the
child. But he could not find the place that held her. In the dusky shop,
he held his quiet way. No one, looking, would have guessed - "Two cen's,
yes," and his swift fingers made change while his eyes searched every
face. But the child, in her shining cloud, was not revealed.

When he was summoned before the detectives and questioned, with swift
sternness, it was his own questions that demanded answer - and got it.
The men gathered in the library, baffled by the search, and asking
futile, dreary questions, learned to wait in amusement for the quick,
searching gestures flung at them and the eager face that seemed to drink
their words. Gradually they came to understand - the Greek was learning
the science of kidnapping - its methods and devices and the probable plan
of approach. But the Chief shook his head. "You won't trace these men
by any of the old tricks. It's a new deal. We shall only get them by a
fluke." And to his own men he said, "Try any old chance, boys, run it
down - if it takes weeks - Harris won't compromise - and you may stumble
on a clue. The man that finds it makes money." Gradually they drew their
lines around the city; but still, from the tapped wires, the messages
came - to them, sitting in conclave in the library - to Philip Harris in
his bare office and to the mother, waiting alone in her room.

At last she could not bear it. "I cannot hold out, Philip," she said,
one day, when he had come in and found her hanging up the receiver with
a fixed look. "Don't trust me, dear. Take me away." And that night the
big car had borne her swiftly from the city, out to the far-breathing
air of the plain and the low hills. In her room in the house on
the lake, her little telephone bell tinkled, and waited, and rang
again - baffled by long silence and by discreet replies.... The tapped

1 2 4 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryJennette Barbour Perry LeeMr. Achilles → online text (page 4 of 9)