Jennette Barbour Perry Lee.

Mr. Achilles online

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north, and the men who were "on the deal" would stop at nothing. They
had been approached, tentatively, in the beginning, for a share of
profits; but they had scorned the overture. "Catch me - if you can!" the
voice laughed and rang off. The police were hot against them. Just one
clue - the merest clue - and they would run it to earth - like bloodhounds.
They chewed the ends of their cigars and waited... and in the garden
the boy and his father watched the clouds go by and talked of Athens and
gods and temples and sunny streets. Back through the past, carefree they
went - and at every turn the boy's memory rang true. "Do you remember,
Alcie - the little house below the Temple of the Winds - " Achilles's
eyes were on his face - and the boy's face laughed - "Yes - father.
That house - " quick running words that tripped themselves - "where I
stole - figs - three little figs. You whipped me then!" The boy laughed
and turned on his side and watched the clouds and the talk ran on...
coming closer at last, across the great Sea, through New York and the
long hurrying train, into the grimy city - on the shore of the lake - the
boy's eyes grew wistful. "I go home - with you - father - ?" he said.
It was a quick question and his eyes flashed from the garden to his
father's face.

"Do you what to go home, Alcie?" The face smiled at him. "Don't you like
it here?" A gesture touched the garden.

"I like - yes. I go home - with you," he said simply.

"You must stay till you are strong," said the father, watching him. "You
were hurt, you know. It takes time to get strong.... You remember that
you were hurt?"

The words dropped slowly, one by one, and the day drowsed. The sun - warm
as Athens - shone down, waiting, while the boy turned slowly on his
side... his eyes had grown dark. "I try - remember" His voice was half a
whisper, " - but it runs - away!" The eyes seemed to be straining to see
something beyond them - through a veil.

Achilles's hand passed before them and shut them off. "Don't try, Alcie.
Never mind - it's all right. Don't mind!"

But the boy had thrown himself forward with a long cry, sobbing.
"I - want - to - see," he said, "it - hurts - here." His fingers touched
the faint line along his forehead. And Achilles bent and kissed it, and
soothed him, talking low words - till the boy sat up, a little laugh on
his lips - his grief forgotten.

So the detectives went back to the city - each with his expensive
cigar - cursing luck. And Achilles, after a day or two, followed them.
"He will be better without you," said the surgeon. "You disturb his
mind. Let him have time to get quiet again. Give nature her chance."

So Achilles returned to the city, unlocking the boy's fingers from his.
"You must wait a little while," he said gently. "Then I come for you."
And he left the boy in the garden, looking after the great machine that
bore him away - an unfathomable look in his dark, following eyes.



The next day it rained. All day the rain dripped on the roof and ran
down the waterspouts, hurrying to the ground. In her own room the
mistress of the house sat watching the rain and the heavy sky and
drenched earth. The child was never for a minute out of her thoughts.
Her fancy pictured gruesome places, foul dens where the child sat - pale
and worn and listless. Did they tie her hands? Would they let her run
about a little - and play? But she could not play - a child could not
play in all the strangeness and sordidness. The mother had watched the
dripping rain too long. It seemed to be falling on coffins. She crept
back to the fire and held out her hands to a feeble blaze that
flickered up, and died out. Why did not Marie come back? It was three
o'clock - where was Marie? She looked about her and held out her hands to
the blaze and shivered - there was fire in her veins, and beside her
on the hearth the child seemed to crouch and shiver and reach out thin
hands to the warmth. Phil had said they would not hurt her! But what
could a man know? He did not know the sensitive child-nature that
trembled at a word. And she was with rough men - hideous women - longing
to come home - wondering why they did not come for her and take her
away... dear child! How cruel Phil was! She crouched nearer the fire,
her eyes devouring it - her thoughts crowding on the darkness. Those
terrible men had been silent seven weeks - more than seven - desperate
weeks... not a word out of the darkness - and she could not cry out to
them - perhaps they would not tap the wires again! The thought confronted
her and she sprang up and walked wildly, her pulses beating in her
temples.... She stopped by a table and looked down. A little vial lay
there, and the medicine dropper and wine glass - waiting. She turned her
head uneasily and moved away. She must save it for the night - for the
dark hours that never passed. But she must think of something! She
glanced about her, and rang the bell sharply, and waited.

"I want the Greek boy," she said, "send him to me!"

"Yes, madame." Marie's voice hurried itself away... and Alcibiades stood
in the doorway, looking in.

The woman turned to him - a little comfort shining in the sleepless eyes.
"Come in," she said, "I want to talk to you - tell me about Athens - the
sun shines there!" She glanced again at the hearth and shivered.

The boy came in, flashing a gleam through the dark day. The little
sadness of the night before had gone. He was alive and lithe and happy.
He came over to her, smiling... and she looked at him curiously. "What
have you been doing all day?" she asked.

"I play," said Alcibiades, "I play - on flute - " His fingers made little
music gestures at his lips, and fell away. "And I - run - " he said, "I go
in rain - and run - and come in." He shook his dark head. Little gleams of
moisture shone from it. The earth seemed to breathe about him.

She drew a quick breath. "You shall tell me," she said, "but not here."
She glanced about the room filled with sickness and wild thoughts - not
even the boy's presence dispelled them. "We will go away somewhere - to
the gallery," she said quickly, "it is lighter there and I have not been
there - for weeks." Her voice dropped a little.

The boy followed her through the hall, across a covered way, to the
gallery that held the gems - and the refuse - that Philip Harris had
gathered up from the world. She looked about her with a proud,
imperious gesture. She knew - better now than when the pictures were
purchased - which ones were good, and which were very bad; but she could
not interfere with the gallery. It was Philip's own place in the house.
It had been his fancy - to buy pictures - when the money came pouring in
faster than they could spend it - and the gallery was his own private
venture - his gymnasium in culture! She smiled a little. Over there, a
great canvas had been taken down and carted off to make room for the
little Monticelli in its place. He was learning - yes! But she could not
bring guests to the gallery when they came to Idlewood for the day. If
he would only let a connoisseur go through the place and pick out
the best ones - the gallery was not so bad! She looked about her with
curious, tolerant smile.

The boy's gaze followed hers. He had not been in this big room, with the
high-reaching skylight, and the vari-coloured pictures and grey
walls. His dark eyes went everywhere - and flashed smiles and brought
a touch-stone to the place. Eyes trained to the Acropolis were on the
pictures; and the temples of the gods spoke in swift words or laughed
out in quick surprise.

The mistress of the house followed him, with amused step. If Phil could
only hear it! She must manage somehow - Phil was too shrewd and practical
not to see how true the boy was - and how keen! That great Thing - over
the fireplace - Chicago on her throne, with the nations prostrate before
her - how the boy wondered and chuckled - and questioned her - and brought
the colour to her face!... Philip had stood before the picture by the
hour - entranced; the man who painted it had made a key to go with it,
and Philip Harris knew the meaning of every line and figure - and he
gloried and wallowed in it. "That is a picture with some sense in it!"
was his proudest word, standing before it and waving his hand at the
vision on her throne. She was a lovely lady - a little like his wife,
Philip Harris thought. Perhaps the artist had not been unaware of this.
Certainly Mrs. Philip Harris knew it, and loathed the Thing. The boy's
words were like music to her soul, under the skylight with the rain
dripping softly down. She had thought of covering the Thing up - a velvet
curtain, perhaps. But she had not quite dared yet.... Across the room
another picture was covered by a curtain - the velvet folds sweeping
straight in front of it, and covering it from top to bottom. Only the
rim of the gilt frame that reached to the ceiling, glimmered about the
blue folds of the curtain. The boy's eyes had rested on the curtained
picture as they passed before it, but Mrs. Philip Harris had not turned
her head. She felt the boy's eyes now - they had wandered to it again,
and he stood with half-parted lips, as if something behind the curtain
called to him. She touched him subtly and drew his attention - and he
followed her a minute... then his attention wandered and he gazed at
the deep folds in the curtain with troubled eyes. She hesitated a
moment - and her hand trembled. It was as if the curtain were calling
her, too, and she moved toward it, the boy beside her.... They did not
speak - they moved blindly and paused a breath... the rain falling on the
skylight. The boy flashed a smile to her. "I have not see it," he said.

She reached out her hand then and drew back the curtain. "It is
Betty - my little girl - " she said, "she has gone away - " She was talking
aimlessly - to steady her hands. But the boy did not hear her - he had
stumbled a little - and his eyes were on the picture - searching the
roguish smile, the wide eyes, the straight, true little figure that
seemed stepping toward them - out from behind the curtain.... The
mother's eyes feasted on it a moment hungrily and she turned to the boy.
But he did not see - his gaze was on the picture - and he took a step - and
looked - and drew his hand across his eyes with a little breath. Then he
reached out his hands, " - I - see - her," he said swiftly. "She look at
me - on ground - she cry - " His face worked a minute - then it grew quiet
and he turned it toward her. "I see - her," he repeated slowly.

She had seized his shoulder and was questioning him, forcing him toward
the picture, calling the words into his ear as if he were deaf, or far
away - and the boy responded slowly - truly, each word lighting up the
scene for her - the great car crashing upon him, the overthrow of his
cart, the scattered fruit on the ground, and the Greek boy crawling
toward it - thrust forward as the car pushed by - and his swift, upward
glance of the girl's face as it flashed past, and of the men holding her
between them - "She cry," he said - as if he saw the vision again before
him. "She cry - and they stop - hands." He placed both hands across his
mouth, shutting out words and cry.

And the mother fondled him and cried to him and questioned him again.
_She_ had no fear - no knowledge of what might hang in the balance - of
the delicate grey matter that trembled at her strokes... no surgeon
would have dared question so sternly, so unsparingly. But the delicate
brain held itself steady and the boy's eyes were turned to her - piecing
her broken words, answering them before they came - as if she drew them
forth at will -

The door opened and she looked up and sprang forward. "Listen, Phil.
He saw Betty!" Her hand trembled to the boy. "He _saw_ her - _that last
day_ - it must be - tell him, Alcie - "

The boy was looking at him smiling quietly, and nodding to him.

Philip Harris closed the door with set face.



"What did you see - boy?" Philip Harris stood with his legs well apart,
looking at him.

The boy answered quickly, his quick gesture running to the picture above
them, and filling out his words. He had gathered the story of the child
as the mother had gathered his - and his voice trembled a little, but it
did not falter in the broken words.

Philip Harris glanced up. The rain on the skylight had ceased, but the
room was full of dusk. "There is not time," he said, "to-night - You must
rest now, and have your dinner and go to bed. To-morrow there will be
men to question you. You must tell them what you have told us."

"I tell them," said the boy simply, " - what I see."

So the boy slept quietly... and through the night, messages ran beneath
the ground, they leaped out and struck wires - and laughed. Men bent
their heads to listen... and spoke softly and hurried. Cars thrust
themselves forth, striking at the miles - their great bulk sliding on.
The world was awake - gathering itself... toward the boy.

In the morning they questioned him - they set down his answers with
quick, sharp jerks that asked for more. And the boy repeated faithfully
all that he had told; and the surgeon sitting beside him watched with
keen eyes - and smiled.... The boy would hold. He was sound. But they
must be careful... and after a little he sent him into the garden to
work - while the men compared notes and sent despatches and the story
travelled into the world, tallying itself against the face of every
rogue. But there were no faces that matched it - no faces such as the
boy had cherished with minute care... as if the features had been
stamped - one flashing stroke - upon his brain, and disappeared. There
could be no doubt of them - the description of the child was perfect - red
cherries, grey coat - and floating curls. He seemed to see the face
before him as he talked - and the face of the big man at her left, with
red moustache and sharp chin - and the smaller man beside her, who
had clapped his hand across her mouth and glared at the boy on the
ground - his eyes were black - yes, and he wore a cap - pulled down, and
collar up - you only saw the eyes - black as - The boy had looked about him
a minute, and pointed to the shoes of the chief of police gleaming
in the sunlight - patent leathers, and dress suit, hurried away from
a political banquet the night before. The men smiled and the pencils
raced.... There had been another man who drove the machine, but the boy
had not noticed him - his swift glance had taken in only the child, it
seemed, and the faces that framed her.

A little later they drove into the city - the boy accompanying them, and
the surgeon and Achilles, who had hurried out with the first news and
had listened to his son's story with dark, silent eyes. He sat in the
car close to Alcibiades, one hand on the back of the seat, the other
on the boy's hand. Through the long miles they did not speak. The boy
seemed resting in his father's strength. It was only when they reached
the scene of his disaster that he roused himself and pointed with
quick finger - to the place where he had fallen.... He was pushing his
cart - so - and he looked up - quick - and his cart went - so! - and all his
fruit, and he was down - looking up - and the car went by, close.... Which
way? - He could not tell that - no.... He shut his eyes - his face grew
pale. He could not tell.

The street forked here - it might have been either way - by swerving
a little. And the police looked wise and took notes and reporters
photographed the spot and before night a crowd had gathered about
it, peering hopefully at the pavement where Alcibiades had lain,
and pointing with eager fingers to bits of peel - orange and
banana - scattered by the last passer-by, and gazing at dark stains on
the pavement - something that might be marks of blood - after ten weeks of
rain and mud and dust!

Achilles and the boy returned to the shop. "I want to go home," the boy
had said, as the car turned away, "I - go - home - with you, father." So
they had drawn up at the little fruit shop; and Yaxis in the door, his
teeth gleaming, had darted out to meet them, hovering about them and
helping his brother up the stairs and out to the verandah that ran
across the windows at the rear. Down below, in tin-can backyards of the
neighbours, old bottles and piles of broken lumber filled the place;
but along the edge of the verandah, boxes of earth had been set, and the
vines ran to the top, shutting out the glare of the brick walls opposite
and making a cool spot in the blank heat.

Alcibiades looked at the vines with happy eyes. "They grow," he said

Yaxis nodded and produced a pot of forget-me-nots. He had been tending
them for three weeks - for Alcie. They bent over the pot, blue with
blossoms, talking eager words and little gestures and quick laughs. And
Achilles, coming out, smiled at the two heads bending above the plant.
Yaxis had been lonely - but now the little laughs seemed to stir softly
in the close rooms and wake something happy there.



The next day, life in the little shop went on as if there had been no
break. With the early light, Yaxis was off, to the south, pushing his
tip-cart before him and calling aloud - bananas and fruit and the joy of
Alcibiades's return, in his clear, high voice.... In the shop, Achilles
arranged the fruit - great piles of oranges, and grape fruit and
figs - and swung the heavy bunches of bananas to their hooks outside,
and opened crates and boxes and made ready for the day. By and by, when
trade slackened a little, he would slip away and leave Alcibiades in
charge of the shop. His mind was busy as he worked. He had something
to do that would take him away from the shop - every day for a while, it
might be - but the shop would not suffer. Alcibiades was strong - not well
enough, perhaps, to go out with the new push-cart that had replaced the
old one, and waited outside, but strong enough to make change and fill
up the holes in the piles of oranges as they diminished under the swift
rush of trade.

Achilles's eyes rested on him fondly. It had been lonely in the
shop - but now the long days of waiting were repaid... they had their
clue. Even now the detectives might have followed it up. The little lady
would be found. He hurried over the last things - his heart singing - and
called the boy to him.

"I go away," he said, looking at him kindly. "You stay in shop - till I

"Yes, father." The boy's eyes were happy. It was good to be in the
close, dark, home place with its fruity smell and the striped awning
outside. "I do all right!" he said gaily.

The father nodded. "To-morrow you go with push-cart - little way - every
day little way - " He waited a moment while the boy's face took in
the words - he spoke with slow significance - "Some day you see - those
men - then you run - like devil!" he said quickly, "you tell me!"

The boy's teeth made a quick line of light and his face flashed. "I
tell - quick!" he said, "I know those men!"

He left the shop and was lost in the crowd. He was going first to the
city hall for news - then he would seek Philip Harris. The plan that he
was shaping in his mind needed help.

But at the city hall there was no news. The chief of police seemed even
a little irritated at the sight of the dark face and the slim, straight
figure that stood before him. He eyed it a moment, almost hostilely;
then he remembered Philip Harris's command and told the man what steps
had been taken and the reports that had come in thus far through the
day. The Greek listened without comment, his dark face smouldering a
little over its quick fire. "You find nothing?" he said quietly.

"Not a damn thing!" answered the chief.

"I go try," said Achilles.

The man looked at him. Then he laughed out. The door opened. It was the
detective in charge of the case. He glanced at Achilles and went over
to the chief and said something. But the chief shook his head and they
looked carelessly at Achilles, while the chief drummed on the desk.
Achilles waited with slow, respectful gaze.

The detective came across to him. "No news," he said.

Achilles's face held its steady light. "I think we find her," he said.

The inspector did not laugh. He studied the man's face slowly, whistling
a little between his teeth. "What's your plan?" he said.

Achilles shook his head. "When I see those men - I go follow."

The detective smiled - a little line of smile... that did not scorn him.
"When you see them - yes!" he said softly.

The chief of police, listening with half an ear, laughed out. "Catch
your hare, Alexander!" He said it with superior ease.

Achilles looked at him. "I catch hair?" he asked with polite interest.

The chief nodded. "You catch your hare before you cook it, you know."

Achilles ran a slim, thoughtful hand along his dark locks and shook them
slowly. The conversation had passed beyond him.

The detective smiled a little. "Never mind him, Alexander. Anything that
you find - you bring to me - right off." He clinked a little money in his
pocket and looked at him.

But Achilles's gaze had no returning gleam. "When I find her," he said,
"I tell you - I tell everybody." His face had lightened now.

The detective laughed. "All right, Alexander! You're game, all right!"

Achilles looked at him with puzzled eyes. "I go now," he said. He moved
away with the smooth, unhurried rhythm that bore him swiftly along.

The eyes of the two men followed him. "You're welcome to him!" said the
chief carelessly.

"I don't feel so sure," said the other - "He may do it yet - right under
our noses. I've done it myself - you know."

The chief looked at him curiously.

"_I_ used to do it - time and again," said the man, thoughtfully. "_I_
couldn't 'a' told you - _how_. I'd study on a case - and study - and give
it up - and then, all of a sudden - pop! - and there it was - in my head.
I couldn't have told how it got there, but it worked all right!" He
lighted a cigar and threw the match from him, puffing slowly. "I'd do
it now - if I could." He was lost in thought. "There's something in
his eyes - that Greek. I'd like to be inside that black skull of his a
minute." He sauntered across the room and went out.

The eyes of the chief of police looked after him vaguely. He drew a
column of figures toward him and began to add it - starting at the bottom
and travelling slowly up. He was computing his revenues for the coming



Achilles found Philip Harris at luncheon, and waited for him to come
back, and laid his plan before him.

The millionaire listened, and nodded once or twice, and took up the
receiver and gave an order. "He'll be at your place every day," he said
to Achilles as he hung it up. "You tell him what you want - and let me
know if there's anything else - money - ?" He looked at him.

But Achilles shook his head. "I got money," he said quickly. "I get
money - six - seven dollar - every day. I do good business!"

The millionaire smiled, a little bitterly. "I do good business, too; but
it doesn't seem to count much. Well - let me know - " He held out his hand
and Achilles took it and hesitated and looked at the seamed red face
that waited for him to go - then he went quietly out.

He would have liked to speak swift words of hope - they rode high in his
heart - but something in the face put him off and he went out into the
sunshine and walked fast. He looked far ahead as he went, smiling softly
at his dream. And now and then a man passed him - and looked back and
smiled too - a shrew, tolerant, grown-up smile.

At ten o'clock the next morning Philip Harris's big touring car drew
up in front of the striped awning; it gave a little plaintive honk - and
stood still. Achilles came to the door with swift look. He turned back
to the shop. "I go," he said to Alcibiades, and stepped across the
pavement, and was off.

At two o'clock he returned to the shop, his face covered with big beads
of perspiration, his hat gone and his eyes shining - and, without a word,
he went about the shop with his wonted air of swift-moving silence.
But the next day he was off again, and the next; and Alcibiades grew
accustomed to the long car slipping up and the straight, slim figure
sliding into it and taking its place and disappearing down the street.

Where Achilles went on these excursions, or what he did, no one knew.
Promptly at two each day he returned - always dishevelled and alert, but
wearing a look of triumph that sat strangely on the quiet Greek reserve.
It could not be said that Achilles strutted as he walked, but he had an
air of confidence, as if he were seeing things - things far ahead - that
were coming to him on the long road.

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Online LibraryJennette Barbour Perry LeeMr. Achilles → online text (page 6 of 9)