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Jennette Barbour Perry Lee.

Mr. Achilles online

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man's face, outlined against the glass, a high, white face fixed upon
a printed page - some magnate, travelling at his ease, sleepless...
thundering past in the night - unconscious of the Greek, plodding in the
roadside dust.

Achilles knew that he had only to lift his hand - to cry out to them, as
they sped, and they would turn with leaping wheel. There was not a man,
hurrying about his own affairs, who would not gladly stop to gather
up the child that was lost. Word had come to Philip Harris - east
and west - endless offers of help. But the great car thundered by and
Achilles's glance followed it, sweeping with it - on toward the city and
the dull glow of sky. He was breathing hard as he went, and he plunged
on a step - two steps - ten - before he held his pace; then he drew a deep,
free breath, and faced about. The knife dropped back in his breast,
and his hand sought the revolver in his hip pocket, crowding it down a
little. He had been sure he could face them - two of them - three - as
many as might be. But the car had swept on, bearing its strangers to
the city... and the little house on the plain was still asleep. He had a
kind of happy superstition that he was to save the child single-handed.
He had not trusted the police... with their great, foolish fingers. They
could not save his little girl. She had needed Achilles - and he had held
the thread of silken cobweb - and traced it bit by bit to the place where
they had hidden her. He should save her!

He glanced at the stars - an hour gone - and the long road to tramp. He
ran swiftly to the child in the grass and lifted the coat and she leaped
up, laughing - as if it were a game; and they swung out into the road
again, walking with swift, even steps. "Are you tired?" asked Achilles.
But she shook her head.

His hand in his pocket, in the darkness, had felt something and he
pressed it toward her - "Eat that," he said, "you will be hungry."

She took it daintily, and felt of it, and turned it over. "What is it?"
she asked. Then she set her small teeth in it - and laughed out. "It's
chocolate," she exclaimed happily. She held it up, "Will you have a
bite, Mr. Achilles?"

But Achilles had drawn out another bit of tin-foil and opened it. "I
have yet more," he said, " - two - three - six piece. I put here in my
pocket, every day - I carry chocolate - till I find you. Every day I say,
'she be hungry, maybe - then she like chocolate' - "

She nibbled it in happy little nibbles, as they walked. "I didn't eat
any supper," she said. "I was too happy - and too afraid, I guess. That
was a long time ago," she added, after a minute.

"A long time ago," said Achilles cheerfully. He had taken her hand
again, and they trudged on under the stars.

"Nobody must hurt Mrs. Seabury!" said the child suddenly.

"I tell you that," said Achilles - he had half stopped on the road.
"Nobody hurt that good lady - she, your friend."

"Yes, she is my friend. She was good to me.... _She_ had a little girl
once - like me - and some bad men hurt her.... I don't think they stole
her - " She pondered it a minute - "I don't seem to understand - " she gave
a little swift sigh. "But Mrs. Seabury is going to take her a long, long
way off - and keep her always."

Achilles nodded. "We help her do that," he said. "They don't hurt that
good lady."

His eyes were on the stars, and he lifted his face a little, breathing
in the freshness. A swift star shot across the sky, falling to earth,
and he pointed with eager finger. The child looked up and caught the
falling flash, and they ran a little, as if to follow the leaping of
their hearts. Then they went more slowly, and Achilles's long finger
traced the heavens for her - the Greek gods up there in their swinging
orbits... the warm, August night of the world. Betty Harris had never
known the stars like this. Safe from her window, she had seen them
twinkle out. But here they swept about her - and the plain reached
wide - and close, in the darkness, a hand held her safe and the long
finger of Achilles touched the stars and drew them down for her... Orion
there, marching with his mighty belt - and Mars red-gleaming. The long,
white plume of the milky way, trailing soft glory on the sky - and the
great bear to the north. The names filled her ears with a mighty din,
Calliope, Venus, Uranus, Mercury, Mars - and the shining hosts of
heaven passed by. Far beyond them, mysterious other worlds gleamed and
glimmered - without name. And the heart of the child reached to them - and
travelled through the vast arches of space, with her dusty little feet
on the wide plain, and a hand holding hers, safe and warm down there in
the darkness. Her eyes dropped from the stars and she trudged on.

When Achilles spoke again, he was telling her of Alcibiades and Yaxis
and of the long days of waiting and the happiness their coming would
bring - and of her father and mother, asleep at Idlewood - and the great
house on the lake, ready always, night and day, for her coming -

"Do they know - ?" she asked quickly, "that we are coming?"

"Nobody knows," said Achilles, "except you and me."

She laughed out, under the stars, and stood still. "We shall surprise
them!" she said.

"Yes - come!" They pressed on. Far ahead, foolish little stars had
glimmered out - close to the ground - the fingers of the city, stretching
toward the plain.

Her glance ran to them. "We're getting somewhere - ?" she said swiftly.
"We're getting home!" Her hand squeezed his, swinging it a little.

"Not yet - " said Achilles, "not yet - but we shall take the car there.
You need not walk any more."

She was very quiet and he leaned toward her anxiously. "You are not
tired?" he asked.

"No - Mr. Achilles - I don't think - I'm tired - " She held the words
slowly. "I just thought we'd go on forever, walking like this - " She
looked up and swept her small hand toward the stars. "I thought it was
a dream - " she said softly - "Like the other dreams!" He felt a little,
quick throb run through her, and he bent again and his fingers touched
her cheek.

"I am not crying, Mr. Achilles," she said firmly, "I only just - "
There was a little, choking sound and her face had buried itself in his
sleeve.

And Achilles bent to her with tender gesture. Then he lifted his head
and listened. There was another sound, on the plain, mingling with the
sobs that swept across the child's frame.

He touched her quietly. "Someone is coming," he said.

She lifted her face, holding her breath with quick lip.

The sound creaked to them, and muffled itself, and spread across the
plain, and came again in irregular rhythm that grew to the slow beat of
hoofs coming upon the road.

Achilles listened back to the sound and waited a minute. Then he covered
the child, as before, with his coat and turned back, walking along the
road to meet the sound. It creaked toward him and loomed through the
light of the stars - a great market wagon loaded with produce - the driver
leaning forward on the seat with loose rein, half asleep. Suddenly he
lifted his head and tightened rein, peering forward through the dark at
the figure down there in the road. Achilles held his way.

"Hello!" said the man sharply.

Achilles paused and looked up - one hand resting lightly on his hip,
turned a little back - the other thrust in his breast.

The man's eyes scanned him through the dimness. "Where you bound for?"
he asked curtly.

"I walk," said Achilles.

"Want a job?" asked the man.

"You got job for me?" asked Achilles. His voice had all the guileless
caution of the foreigner astray in a free land. The man moved along on
the seat. "Jump up," he said.

Achilles looked back and forth along the road. "I think I go long," he
said slowly.

The man gave an impatient sound in his throat and clicked to the horses.
The heavy wagon creaked into motion, and caught its rhythm and rumbled
on.

Achilles's ears followed it with deepest caution. The creaking mass of
sound had passed the flat-spread coat without stop, and gathered itself
away into a slow rumble, and passed on in the blurring dark.

Beyond it, the little, low lights still twinkled and the suburb waited
with its trailing cars.

But when he lifted the coat she had fallen asleep, her face resting on
her arm, and he bent to it tenderly, and listened.




XXXV

AND CLANGING CARS

He looked up into the darkness and waited. He would let her sleep a
minute... there was little danger now. The city waited, over there, with
its low lights; and the friendly night shut them in. Before the morning
dawned he should bring her home - safe home.... A kind of simple pride
held him, and his heart leaped a little to the stars and sang with
them - as he squatted in the low grass, keeping guard.

Presently he leaned and touched her.

She started with a shiver and sprang up, rubbing her eyes and crying
out, "I - had - a - dream - " she said softly - "a beautiful dream!" Then her
eyes caught the stars and blinked to them - through dusty sleep - and she
turned to him with swift cry, "You're here!" she said. "It's _not_ a
dream! It's _you_!"

And Achilles laughed out. "We're going home," he said, "when you're
rested a little."

"But I'm rested _now_!" she cried. "Come!" She sprang to her feet, and
they journeyed again - through the night. About them, the plain breathed
deep sleeping power - and the long road stretched from the west to the
east and brought them home.

Each step, the city lights grew larger, and sparkled more, and spread
apart farther, and a low rumble came creeping on the plain - jarring with
swift jolts - the clang of cars and lifting life... and, in the distance,
a line of light ran fire swiftly on the air, and darted, red and green,
and trailed again in fire... and Achilles's finger pointed to it. "That
fire will take us home," he said.

The child's eye followed the flashing cars - and she smiled out. The
first light of the city's rim touched her face.

"Just a little farther!" said Achilles.

"But I am not tired!" said the child, and she ran a little, beside him,
on the stone pavement, her small shoes clumping happily.


Achilles lifted a swift hand to a waiting car. The car clanged its
gone - impatient. A big conductor reached down his hand to the child.
The bell clanged again and they were off - "Clang-clang, clear the track!
Betty Harris is going home - This is the people's carriage - Going home!
Going home! Clear the track - clang-clang!" Through the blinking city
streets they rode. Safe among the friendly houses, and the shops and the
stores, and the people sleeping behind their blinds - all the people
who had loved the child - and scanned the paper for her, every day - and
asked, "Is Betty Harris found?"... Going home! Going home!... They would
waken in the morning and read the news and shout across the way - "She's
been found - yes - a Greek! He brought her home! Thank God. She's found!"

And little Betty Harris, leaning against the great shoulder beside
her, nodded in the car, and dreamed little dreams and looked about her
hazily.

The conductor came and stood in front of them with extended hand, and
rang the fares, and cast an indifferent, kindly glance at the Greek and
his child travelling by night.... He did not guess the "scoop" that his
two little nickels rang out. The child with roughened hair and clumsy,
hanging shoes, was nothing to him - nor to the policeman that boarded
the car at the next corner and ran his eye down its empty length to
the Greek, sitting erect - with the child sleeping beside him - her dark,
tousled head against his arm.

The conductor came again, and touched Achilles on the shoulder and bent
to him. "You change here," he said. He was pointing to a car across
the square - "You take that," he said. "You understand?" He shouted a
little - because the man was a foreigner - and dark - but his tone was
friendly. And Achilles got to his feet, guiding the sleepy child down
the rib-floored car that shook beneath them.... And the conductor and
policeman watched the two figures vanish through the door - and smiled
to each other - a friendly smile at foreign folks - who travel in strange
ways - and go among us with eager, intent faces fixed on some shining
goal we cannot see... with the patience of the centuries leaning down to
them, and watching them.




XXXVI

THE TELEPHONE AGAIN

In the middle of the square, Achilles stopped - a lighted sign had caught
his eye. He hurried the child across the blur of tracks to the sign, and
opened a door softly. A sleepy exchange-girl looked up and waited
while Achilles's dark fingers searched the page and turned to
her - "Main - four-four-seven - "

She drawled sleepily after him - "Go in there - number four."

Achilles, with the child's hand in his, entered the booth and closed the
door. Little noises clicked about them - queer meanings whispered - and
waited - and moved off - the whole night-life of the great city stirred in
the little cage.... "Go ahead - four!" called the girl lazily.

Achilles lifted the black tube. The child beside him pressed close, her
eyes fixed on the tube. Achilles's words ran swift on the wire, and her
eager face held them - other words came back - sharp - swift. And the child
heard them crackle, and leap, and break and crackle again in the misty
depths - and she touched Achilles's arm softly - "They must not hurt Mrs.
Seabury - ?" she said. "You tell them not to hurt Mrs. Seabury!"

Achilles's hand pressed her shoulder gently. "Yes - I tell - they know."
It was a swift aside - and his voice had taken up the tale - "That
woman - you not take that woman.... You hear? Yes - she good woman!"

"Tell them to look in the cellar!" said Betty. She had pressed closer,
on tiptoe. "There is a hole there - under a barrel - and a barrel in the
garden. You tell them - "

His eye dropped to her. "In cellar? You say that?"

"Yes - yes - " Her hands were clasped. "They took me there! You tell
them!"

Achilles's eye smiled. "Hallo - _you look in cellar_!... What you
say? - no - I don't see it. But you look in cellar - yes! They make
tunnel - yes!" He hung up the receiver and took her hand. "Now we go
home," he said.

They passed swiftly out, dropping payment - into a sleepy, unseeing
palm - and crossing the square to the car that should carry them home.
There were no delays now - only swift-running wheels... a few jolts and
stops - and they were out again, beneath the stars, hurrying along the
great breakwater of the lake - hurrying home.... The big, red-brown house
thrust itself up - its gables reaching to thin blackness - and, suddenly,
as they looked, it was touched lightly, as with a great finger, and the
dawn glowed mistily up the walls.

They crossed swiftly and mounted the steps, between the lions, the
child's feet stumbling a little as they went, but Achilles's hand held
fast and his touch on the bell summoned hurrying feet... there was a
fumbling at the chains - a swift, cautious creak, and the door swung
back. "Who is it?" said a voice that peered out. The dawn touched his
face grotesquely.

"It's me!" said the child. "It's Betty Harris, Conner."

The man's face fell back. Then he darted forward and glared at the
child - through the mysterious, dawning light - on the dark, tender face
and the little lip that trembled - looking up - "My God!" he said. He had
darted from them.

The door was open wide and the two glided in silently, and stood in the
emptiness. Achilles led the child to a great divan across the hall and
placed her beside him - her little feet were crossed in the rough shoes
and her hands hung listless.

Behind a velvet curtain, the butler's voice called frantic words - a
telephone bell rang sharply and whirred and rang a long fierce call and
the butler's voice took it up and flung it back - "Yes, sir. She's
here! Yes, sir - that's what I said - she's a-settin' here, sir - on the
sofa - with the furriner - yes, sir!" He put his head around the velvet
curtain. "Will you speak to your father, Miss?"

His awe-struck hand held the receiver and he helped the strange, little
figure to its seat in front of the 'phone. She put the tube to her lips.
"Hallo, Daddy. Yes, it's Betty.... Mr. Achilles brought me, father....
Yes - yes - your little Betty - yes - and I'm all ri-i-ght...." The receiver
dropped from her fingers. She had buried her face in her arms and was
sobbing softly.




XXXVII

THE BIG BED

Achilles sprang forward. "She's all right, Mr. Harris - all right!" His
hand dropped to the trembling shoulder and rested there, as his quiet
voice repeated the words. He bent forward and lifted the child in his
arms and moved away with her. But before he had traversed the long hall,
the little head had fallen forward on his shoulder and the child slept.
Behind the velvet curtain, the voice of Conner wrestled faintly with
the telephone and all about them great lights glowed on the walls; they
lighted the great staircase that swept mistily up, and the figure of
Achilles mounting slowly in the stately, lonely house, the child in his
arms. His hand steadied the sleeping head with careful touch, against
his shoulder.... They were not jolting now, in heavy cars, through the
traffic streets - or wandering on the plain.... Little Betty Harris had
come home.

Above them at the top of the long stairs, a grey figure appeared, and
paused a moment and looked down. Then Miss Stone descended swiftly, her
hands outstretched - they did not touch the sleeping child, but hovered
above her with a look - half pain - half joy.

Achilles smiled to her - "She come home," he whispered.

She turned with quick breath and they mounted the stairs - the child
still asleep... through the long corridor - to the princess's room
beyond - with its soft lights - and great, silken hangings and canopied
bed, open for the night - waiting for Betty Harris.

Achilles bent and laid her down, with lightest touch, and straightened
himself. "We let her sleep," he said gently. "She - very tired."

They stood looking down - at the brown face and the little, tired lip and
sleeping lids.... Their eyes met, and they smiled.... They knew - these
two, out of all the world - they knew what it meant - that the child was
safe.


And out in the glowing dawn, the great car thundered home, and Betty
Harris's mother looked out with swift eyes.

"See, Phil - the sun is up!" She reached out her hand.

"Sit still, Louie - don't tremble so - " he said gently. "She is safe
now - They have brought her home. She's there, you know, asleep." He
spoke slowly - as if to a child.... He was gathering up the morning in
his heart - this big, harsh, master of men - his little girl was safe - and
a common Greek - a man out of the streets - peddling bananas and calling
up and down - had made his life worth living. His big, tense mind gripped
the fact - and held it. Something seemed speaking to him - out of the
east, over there, past the rushing car.... A common Greek.... He had
flung his wealth and hammered hard - but somehow _this_ man had loved
her - _his_ little girl!

"Phil - ?" she said softly.

"Yes, dear?"

"Are we almost home?"

He looked out. "Half an hour yet - sit still, Louie - !" He held her hand
close. "Sit still!" he said - and the miles slipped past.

"She is there - Phil! Yes? They wouldn't lie to me. All these weeks!"
she said softly. "I don't think I could bear it much longer, Phil!" The
tears were on her cheeks, raining down and he put his rough face against
her, adrift in a new world.

And over the great lake the sun burst out, on a flashing car - and the
door flung wide to Betty Harris's mother, flying with swift, sure foot
up the great, stone steps.... "This way, ma'am - she's in here - her own
room - this way, ma'am."

She was kneeling by the great canopied bed, her head bent very low. The
brown face trembled a breath... the child put up a hand in her dream,
"Mother-dear!" she said - and dreamed on....


THE END







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