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Jennette Barbour Perry Lee.

Mr. Achilles online

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wires concentrated now upon Philip Harris, working by suggestion, and
veiled threat, on his overwrought nerves till his hand shook when he
reached out to the receiver - and his voice betrayed him in his denials.
They were closing on him, with hints of an ultimatum. He dared not
trust himself. He left the house to the detectives and went down to the
offices, where he could work and no one could get at him. Every message
from the outside world came to him sifted, and he breathed more freely
as he took up the telephone. The routine of business steadied him. In a
week he should be himself - he could return to the attack.

Then a message got through to him - up through the offices. The man who
delivered it spoke in a clear, straight voice that did not rise or fall.
He had agreed to give the message, he said - a hundred thousand paid
to-day, or no communication for three months. The child would be taken
out of the country. The men behind the deal were getting tired and would
drop the whole business. They had been more than fair in the chances
they had offered for compromise.... There was a little pause in the
message - then the voice went on, "I am one of your own men, Harris,
inside the works - a man that you killed - in the way of business. I
agreed to give you the message - for quits. Good-bye." The voice rang off
and Philip Harris sat alone.

A man that he had killed - in the way of business - ! Hundreds of them - at
work for him - New York - Cincinnati - St. Louis. It would not be easy - to
trace a man that he had killed in business.

So he sat with bent head, in the circle of his own works... the network
he had spread over the land - and somewhere, outside that circle, his
child, the very heart, was held as hostage - three months. Little Betty!
He shivered a little and got op and reached for a flask of brandy and
poured it out, gulping it down. He looked about the room ... inside now.
He had shut himself in his citadel... and they were inside. The brandy
stayed his hand from shaking - but he knew that he had weakened. His mind
went back to the man he had "killed in business" - the straight, clear
voice sounding over the 'phone - he had not wanted to ruin him - them,
hundreds of them. It was the System - kill or be killed. He took his
chance and they took theirs - and they had gone down.




XVI

A CLUE GOES TO SLEEP

The morning was alive in the hospital. The sun glinted in. Pale faces,
lifted on their pillows, turned toward it; and Achilles, passing with
light step between the rows, smiled at them. Alcibiades was better. They
had told him, in the office, that he might talk to him to-day - a little
while - and his face glowed with the joy of it.

The boy hailed him, from far down the ward, his weak voice filled with
gladness, and Achilles hurried. He dropped into the chair beside him
and took the thin hand in his strong, dark one, holding it while he
talked - gentle words, full of the morning and of going home. The boy's
eyes brightened, watching his father's face.

"Pain - gone," he said, " - all gone." His hand lifted to his forehead.

Achilles bent forward and touched it lightly, brushing the hair across
it. "You are well now," he said gratefully.

The boy smiled, his dark eyes fixed absently on his thoughts. "They - bad
men!" he said abruptly.

Achilles leaned forward with anxious look, but the boy's eyes were
clear. "They run down," he said quietly, " - and go fast - like wind - I
try - I run. They shout and hit cart - and swear - and I lie on ground."
His lifted eyes seemed to be looking up at some great object passing
close above him... and a look of dread held them. He drew a quick
breath. "They bad men - " he said. "Little girl cry!"

Achilles bent forward, holding his breath. "What was it - Alcie?"

The boy's eyes turned toward him trustingly. "They hurt bad," he said.
"I try - I run - "

"And the little girl - ?" suggested Achilles gently. His voice would not
have turned the breath of a dream; but Alcibiades wrinkled his forehead.

"She cry - " he said. "She look at me and cry - quick - They hurt that
little girl. Yes - she cry - " His eyes closed sleepily. The nurse came
forward.

"Better not talk any more," she said.

Achilles got to his feet. He bent over the boy, his heart beating fast.
"Good-bye, Alcie. To-morrow you tell me more - all about the little
girl." The words dropped quietly into the sleeping ear and the boy
turned his face.

"To-morrow - tell - about - little girl..." he murmured - and was asleep.

Achilles passed swiftly out of the hospital - through the sun-glinting
wards, out to the free air - his heart choking him. At the corner, he
caught a car bound for the South side and boarded it.

And at the same moment Philip Harris, in his office in the works, was
summoning the Chief of Police to instruct him to open negotiations with
the kidnappers.

But Achilles reached the office first and before noon every member of
the force knew that a clue had been found - a clue light as a child's
breath between sleep and waking, but none the less a clue - and to-morrow
more would be known.

So Philip Harris stayed his hand - because of the muttered,
half-incoherent word of a Greek boy, drowsing in a great sunny ward, the
millionaire waited - and little children were safer that night.




XVII

PHILIP HARRIS WAKES UP

But the surgeon, the next morning, shook his head peremptorily. His
patient had been tampered with, and was worse - it was a critical
case - all the skill and science of modern surgery involved in it... the
brain had barely escaped - by a breath, it might be - no one could tell
... but the boy must be kept quiet. There must be no more agitation.
They must wait for full recovery. Above all - nothing that recalled the
accident. Let nature take her own time - and the boy might yet speak out
clearly and tell them what they wanted - otherwise the staff could not be
responsible.

It was to Philip Harris himself that the decree was given, sitting in
the consulting-room of the white hospital - looking about him with quick
eyes. He had taken out his cheque-book and written a sum that doubled
the efficiency of the hospital, and the surgeon had thanked him quietly
and laid it aside. "Everything is being done for the boy, Mr. Harris,
that we can do. But one cannot foresee the result. He may come through
with clear mind - he may remember the past - he may remember part of
it - but not the part you want. But not a breath must disturb him - that
is the one thing clear - and it is our only chance." His eyes were gentle
and keen, and Philip Harris straightened himself a little beneath them.
The cheque, laid one side, looked suddenly small and empty... and the
great stockyards were a blur in his thought. Not all of them together,
it seemed, could buy the skill that was being given freely for a Greek
waif, or hurry by a hair's breadth the tiny globule of grey matter that
held his life.

"Tell me if there is anything I can do," he said. He had risen and was
facing the surgeon, looking at him like a little boy - with his hat in
his hand.

The surgeon returned the look. "There will be plenty to do, Mr. Harris.
This, for instance - " He took up the cheque and looked at it and folded
it in slow fingers. "It will be a big lift to the hospital ... and the
boy - there will be things later - for the boy - "

"Private room?" suggested the great man.

"No - the ward is better. It gives him interests - keeps his mind off
himself and keeps him from remembering things. But when he can be
moved, he must be in the country - good food, fresh air, things to amuse
him - he's a jolly little chap!" The surgeon laughed out. "Oh, we shall
bring him through." He added it almost gaily. "He is so sane - he is a
Greek!"

Philip Harris looked at him, uncomprehending. "How long before he can be
moved?" he asked bluntly.

The surgeon paused - "two weeks - three - perhaps - I must have him under my
eye - I can't tell - " He looked at the great man keenly. "What he really
needs, is someone to come in for awhile everyday - to talk with him - or
keep quiet with him - someone with sense."

"His father?" said Philip Harris.

"Not his father. It must be someone he has never seen - no memories to
puzzle him - yet. But someone that he might have known always - all his
life."

"That is Miss Stone," said Philip Harris promptly.

"Does he know Miss Stone?" asked the surgeon.

Philip Harris shook his head. "No one knows Miss Stone," he said; "but
she is the friendliest person in all the world - when I get to heaven, I
hope Marcia Stone will be there to show me around - just to take the edge
off." He smiled a little.

"Well, she is the person we want - can she come?"

"She sits at home with her hands folded," said Philip Harris. He waited
a minute. "She was my little girl's friend," he said at last. "They were
always together.

"I remember - " The surgeon held out his hand. "Let her come. She will
be invaluable." His voice had a friendly ring. It was no longer a
millionaire that faced him - handing out cheques - but a father, like
himself. There were four of them at home, waiting on the stairs for him
to come at night - and he suddenly saw that Philip Harris was a brave
man - holding out for them all - waiting while the little fleck of grey
matter knit itself. He looked at him a minute keenly - "Why not come in
yourself, now and then," he said, "as he gets better? Later when you
take him away, he will know you - better for him."

So the ward became familiar with the red face and Prince Albert coat
and striped trousers and patent leather shoes, crunching softly down
the still, white room. It was a new Philip Harris, sauntering in at
noon with a roll of pictures - a box of sweets, enough candy to ruin the
ward - a phonograph under one arm and a new bull pup under the other. The
pup sprawled on the floor and waked happy laughs up and down the ward
and was borne out, struggling, by a hygienic nurse, and locked in the
bathroom. The phonograph stayed and played little tunes for them - jolly
tunes, of the music hall, and all outdoors. And Philip Harris enjoyed it
as if he were playing with the stock exchange of a world. The brain that
could play with a world when it liked, was devoted now, night and day,
to a great hospital standing on the edge of the plain, and to the big
free ward, and to a dark face, flashing a smile when he came.




XVIII

"ONCE - I - SAW - "

Miss Stone sat by the boy on the lawn at Idlewood. A great canopy of
khaki duck was spread above them, and the boy lay on a wicker couch that
could be lifted and carried from place to place as the wind or the sun,
or a whim directed.

Five days they had been here - every day full of sunshine and the
fragrance of flowers from the garden that ran along the terraces from
the house to the river bank, and was a riot of midsummer colour and
scent. The boy's face had gained clear freshness and his eyes, fixed on
Miss Stone's face, glowed. "I like - it - here," he said.

"Yes, Alcie." Miss Stone bent toward him. "You are getting strong every
day - you will soon be able to walk - to-morrow, perhaps." She glanced at
the thin legs under their light covering.

The boy laughed a little and moved them. "I can walk now - " he declared.

But she shook her head. "No, I will tell you a story." So her voice went
on and on in the summer quiet - insects buzzed faintly, playing the song
of the day. Bees bumbled among the flowers and flew past, laden. The
boy's eyes followed them. The shadow of a crow's wing dropped on the
grass and drifted by. The summer day held itself - and Miss Stone's voice
wove a dream through it.


When the boy opened his eyes again she was sitting very quiet, her hands
in her lap, her eyes fixed on the river that flowed beyond the garden.
The boy's eyes studied her face. "Once - I - saw - you - " he said. His hand
stole out and touched the grey dress.

Miss Stone started. They had waited a long time - but not for this. "Yes,
Alcie, once you saw me - go on - "

" - saw you - in a carriage," finished Alcie, with quick smile. "You ride
straight - you - straight - now." He looked at her with devoted eyes.

"Yes." She was holding her breath, very evenly - and she did not look at
him, but at the distant river. They seemed held in a charm - a word might
break it.

The boy breathed a happy sigh - that bubbled forth. "I like it - here," he
said dreamily.... Should she speak?

The long silence spread between them. The bird sang in the wood - a
clear, mid-summer call.

The boy listened, and turned his eyes. "A little girl - with you then,"
he said softly, "in carriage. Where is little girl?" It was the first
question he had asked.

She swayed a little - in her grey softness - but she did not look at him,
but at the river. "You would like that little girl, Alcie," she said
quietly. "We all love her. Some day you shall see her - only get well and
you shall see her." It was a soft word, like a cry, and the boy looked
at her with curious eyes.

"I get well," he said contentedly, "I see her." He slipped a hand under
his cheek and lay quiet.


"Doing well," said the surgeon, "couldn't be better." He had run down
for the day and was to go back in the cool evening.

He stood with Philip Harris on the terrace overlooking the river. Harris
threw away a stump of cigar. "You think he will make complete recovery?"

"No doubt of it," said the surgeon promptly.

"Then - ?" Philip Harris turned a quick eye on him.

But the man shook his head. "Wait," he said - and again, slowly, "wait."

The darkness closed around them, but they did not break it. A faint
questioning honk sounded, and Philip Harris turned. "The car is ready,"
he said, "to take you back."




XIX

A WOMAN IN THE GARDEN

"When it comes, it may come all at once," the surgeon had said, "and
overwhelm him. Better lead up to it - if we can - let him recall it - a bit
here - a bit there - feel his way back - to the old place - to himself."

"Where my child is," said Philip Harris.

"Where your child is," repeated the surgeon, "and that clue runs through
the frailest, intangiblest matter that fingers ever touched." He had
looked down at his own thin, long, firm fingers as if doubting that they
could have held that thread for a moment and left it intact.

Philip Harris moved restively a little, and came back. "There has not
been a word for seven weeks," he said, "not a breath - "

"They told you - ?" said the surgeon.

"That they would wait three months! Yes!" Philip Harris puffed fiercely.
"It is hell!" he said.

"The boy is better," said the surgeon. "You have only to wait a little
longer now."

And he was whirred away in the great car - to the children that needed
him, and Idlewood had settled, in its charmed stillness, into the
night.... No one would have guessed that it was a state of siege
there - the world passed in and out of the big gates - automobiles and
drays and foot passengers, winding their way up to the low, rambling
house that wandered through the flowers toward the river and the wood.
Windows were open everywhere and voices sounded through the garden.

In one of the rooms, darkened to the light, the mistress of the house
lay with closed eyes. She could not bear the light, or the sound of
voices - listening always to hear a child's laugh among them - the gay
little laugh that ran toward her in every room, and called.

She had shut herself away, and only Philip Harris came to the closed
room, bringing her news of the search, or sitting quietly by her in the
darkness. But for weeks there had been no news, no clue. The search
was baffled.... They had not told her of the Greek boy and the muttered
words.

"Better not trouble her," the physician had urged. "She cannot bear
disappointment - if nothing comes of it."

And no word filtered through to the dim room... and all the clues
withdrew in darkness.

Out in the garden Alcibiades and Miss Stone worked among the flowers. It
was part of the cure - that they should work there among growing things
every day - close to the earth - and his voice sounded happily as they
worked.

The woman in the closed room turned her head uneasily. She listened a
moment. Then she called.... Marie stood in the doorway.

"Who is _there_ - Marie - in the garden?"

The maid stole to the window and peered through the shutters. She came
back to the bed. "It's a boy," she said, "a Greek boy - and Miss Stone."

"Why is he here?" asked the woman, querulously.

The maid paused - discreet. She knew - everyone except the woman lying
with closed eyes - knew why the boy was here.... She bent and adjusted
the pillow, smoothing it. "He is someone Mr. Harris sent down," she
said, "someone to get well."

There was no reply. The woman lay quiet. "I want to get up, Marie," she
said at last. "It is stifling here."

"Yes, Madame."

The windows were opened a little - the light came in slowly, and
Mrs. Philip Harris stepped at last into the loggia that led from her
windows - out toward the garden. Grapevines climbed the posts and tendril
shadows were on the ground beneath. They rested on the frail figure
moving under them toward the light.

Marie hovered near her, with pillows and a sunshade, and her face full
of care.

But the woman waved her back. "I do not need you, Marie. Here - I will
take the sunshade. Now, go back." She moved on slowly. The voices had
died away. In the distance, she saw Miss Stone, moving toward the wood,
alone. She paused for a moment, watching the grey figure - a little cloud
passed across her face. She had not seen Miss Stone - since... she did
not blame her - but she could not see her. She moved on slowly, the
light from the sunshade touching the lines in her face and flushing them
softly. Suddenly she stopped. On a low couch, a little distance away, a
boy lay asleep. She came up to him softly and stood watching him. There
was something in the flushed face, in the childish, drooping lip and
tossed hair - that reminded her. Slowly she sank down beside him, hardly
breathing.

All about them, the summer went on - the quiet, gentle warmth and the
fresh scent of blossoms. The boy murmured a little, and threw out an
arm, and slept on. The woman's eyes watched the sleeping face. Something
mysterious was in it - a look of other worlds. It was the look of
Betty - at night... when she lay asleep. It certainly was from some other
world. The woman bent forward a little. The dark eyes opened - and looked
at her - and smiled. The boy sat up. "I sleep," he said.

He rubbed his eyes, boyishly, smiling still to her. "I very sleepy," he
said. "I work." He rubbed his arms. "I work hard."

She questioned him and moved a little away, and he came and sat at her
feet, telling her of himself - with quiet slowness. As she questioned him
he told her all that he knew. And they chatted in the sunshine - subtly
drawn to each other - happy in something they could not have said.

The boy had grown refined by his illness - the sturdy hands that had
guided the push-cart had lost their roughened look and seemed the shape
of some old statue; and the head, poised on the round throat, was as if
some old museum had come to life and laughed in the sun. If Mrs. Philip
Harris had seen Alcibiades shoving his cart before him, along the
cobbled street, his head thrown back, his voice calling "Ban-an-nas!"
as he went, she would not have given him a thought. But here, in her
garden, in the white clothes that he wore, and sitting at her feet, it
was as if the gates to another world had opened to them - and both looked
back together at his own life. The mystery in the boy's eyes stirred
her - and the sound of his voice... there was something in it... beauty,
wonder - mystery. She drew a quick breath. "I think I will go in," she
said, and the boy lifted himself to help her - and only left her, under
the loggia, with a quick, grateful flash of the dark smile.

Mrs. Philip Harris slept that night - the chloral, on the little table
beside her, untouched. And the next day found her in the garden.

All the household watched - with quickened hope. The mistress of the
house had taken up her life, and the old quick orders ran through the
house. And no one spoke of the child. It was as if she were asleep - in
some distant room - veiled in her cloud. But the house came back to its
life. Only, the social groups that had filled it every summer were not
there. But there was the Greek boy, in the garden, and Miss Stone, and
Philip Harris whirring out at night and sitting on the terrace in the
dusk, the light of his cigar glimmering a little, as he watched the
Greek boy flung on the ground at his feet, his eyes playing with the
stars. He knew them all by name under the skies of Greece. Achilles had
taught them to him; and he counted them, like a flock, as he lay on the
terrace - rolling out the great Greek names while they girdled the sky
above him in a kind of homely chant.

When the boy had gone to bed Philip Harris remained smoking thoughtfully
and looking still at the stars. He had had a long talk with the surgeon
to-day and he had given his consent. The boy was well, he admitted - as
well as he was likely to be - perhaps. Give him three more days - then, if
nothing happened, they might question him.

Philip Harris threw away his cigar - and its glimmering light went out in
the grass. Overhead the great stars still circled in space, travelling
on toward the new day.




XX

THE TEST IS MADE

"I will ask the questions," Achilles had said, in his quiet voice, and
it had been arranged that he should come to Idlewood when the surgeon
gave the word.

He arrived the next night, stepping from the car as it drew up before
the door, and Alcibiades, standing among the flowers talking with Miss
Stone, saw him and started and came forward swiftly. He had not known
that his father was coming - he ran a little as he came nearer and threw
himself in his arms, laughing out.

Achilles smiled - a dark, wistful smile. "You are grown strong," he said.
He held him off to look at him.

The boy's teeth gleamed - a white line. "To-morrow we go home?" he
replied. "I am all well - father - well now!"

But Achilles shook his head. "To-morrow we stay," he replied. "I stay
one day - two days - three - " He looked at the boy narrowly. "Then we go
home."

The boy smiled contentedly and they moved away. Early the next morning
he was up before Achilles, calling to him from the garden to hurry and
see the flowers before the mist was off them, and showing him, with
eager teeth, his own radishes - ready to pull - and little lines of green
lettuce that sprang above the earth. "I plant," said the boy proudly. "I
make grow." He swung his arm over the whole garden.

Achilles watched him with gentle face, following him from bed to bed
and stooping to the plants with courteous gesture. It was all like home.
They had never been in a garden before - in this new land... the melons
and berries and plums and peaches and pears that came crated into the
little fruit-shop had grown in unknown fields - but here they stretched
in the sun; and the two Greeks moved toward them with laughing, gentle
words and quick gestures that flitted and stopped, and went on, and
gathered in the day. The new world was gathering its sky about them;
and their faces turned to meet it. And with every gesture of the boy,
Achilles's eyes were on him, studying his face, its quick colour running
beneath the tan, and the clear light of his eyes. Indoors or out, he was
testing him; and with every gesture his heart sang. His boy was well...
and he held a key that should open the dark door that baffled them
all. When he spoke, that door would open for them - a little way,
perhaps - only a little way - but the rest would be clear. And soon the
boy would speak.

In the house Philip Harris waited; and with him the chief of police,
detectives and plain-clothes men - summoned hastily - waited what should
develop. They watched the boy and his father, from a distance, and
speculated and made guesses on what he would know; for weeks they had
been waiting on a sick boy's whim - held back by the doctor's orders.
They watched him moving across the garden - his quick, supple gestures,
his live face - the boy was well enough! They smoked innumerable cigars
and strolled out through the grounds and sat by the river, and threw
stones into its sluggish current, waiting while hours went by. Since the
ultimatum - a hundred thousand for three months - not a line had reached
them, no message over the whispering wires - the child might be in
the city, hidden in some safe corner; she might be in Europe, or in
Timbuctoo. There had been time enough to smuggle her away. Every port
had been watched, but there was the Canadian line stretching to the


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Online LibraryJennette Barbour Perry LeeMr. Achilles → online text (page 5 of 9)