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Fate Knocks At The Door

A Novel


She Buildeth Her House

" The strongest American novel." Chicago Journal.
" Even stronger than his earlier novel."

Baton Tranicrift.

" Stands out in a bright light, and will live when
lesser sisters are forgotten." Brooklyn Eagle.
" Transcriptive of everybody s life. . . . Will
Levington Comfort, an American literary asset, un
limited." Washington Star.
" Unsurpassed for greatness in many years."

Pittsburgh Diifatch.

" Style hat distinction. Every page is stamped with
the hall-mark of brains." Chicago Ricord-Hirald.

With colored frontispiece by MARTIN JUSTICE.

Decorated cloth, net $1.25.

Routledge Rides Alone

"My candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize."

"One of the best stories of its kind we ever read."

r* Dial.

"A gripping story. The terrible intensity of the
writer holds one chained to the book."

Chicago Tribuni.

"Three such magnificent figures (as Routledge,
Noreen, and Rawder) have seldom appeared together
in fiction. For knowledge, energy, artistic concep
tion, and literary skill, it is easily the book of the
day a great novel one of the few novels that are as
ladders from heaven to earth."

San Franciico Argonaut.

With colored frontispiece by MARTIN JumcK.

I2ma. Cloth,v>ith inlaj in color, ff. JO.




Page 245

m mm

Fate Knocks At
The Door

A Novel


Will Levington Comfort

Author of
" Routledge Rides Alone," " She Buildeth Her House," etc.

With a Frontispiece by

M. Leone Bracker

Philadelphia & London

J. B. Lippincott Company


^* w Jk ""^^~ h^ J ^







In speaking of the first four notes of the opening
movement, Beethoven said, some time after he had
finished the Fifth Symphony: " So pocht das Shicksal
an die Pforte" ("Thus Fate Knocks at the Door");
and between that opening knock, and the tremendous
rush and sweep of the Finale, the emotions which
come into play in the great conflicts of life are depicted.

From Upton s Standard Symphonies.





I. ASIA. (Allegro con brio.) PAGE

First Chapter: The Great Wind Strikes 13

Second Chapter: The Pack-Train in Luzon 23

Third Chapter: Red Pigment of Service 30

Fourth Chapter: That Adelaide Passion 41

Fifth Chapter: A Flock of Flying Swans 54

Sixth Chapter: That Island Somewhere 65

Seventh Chapter: Andante con Moto Fifth 78

Eighth Chapter: The Man from The Pleiad 89

II. NEW YORK. (Andante con moto.)

Ninth Chapter: The Long- Awaited Woman 97

Tenth Chapter: The Jews and the Romans 109

Eleventh Chapter: Two Davids Come to Beth 121

Twelfth Chapter: Two Lesser Adventures 131

Thirteenth Chapter: About Shadowy Sisters 138

Fourteenth Chapter : This Clay-and-Paint Age 143

Fifteenth Chapter: The Story of the Mother 156

Sixteenth Chapter: "Through Desire for Her." 169

Seventeenth Chapter: The Plan of the Builder 173

Eighteenth Chapter: That Park Predicament 183

Nineteenth Chapter: In the House of Grey One 189

Twentieth Chapter: A Chemistry of Scandal 199

Twenty-first Chapter: The Singing Distances 212

Twenty-second Chapter: Beth Signs the Picture 222

Twenty-third Chapter: The Last Ride Together 234

Twenty-fourth Chapter: A Parable of Two Horses 247

III. EQUATORIA. (Allegro. Scherzo.)

Twenty-fifth Chapter: Bedient for The Pleiad 259

Twenty-sixth Chapter: How Startling is Truth 268

Twenty-seventh Chapter: The Art of Miss Mallory 276

Twenty-eighth Chapter: A Further Note from Rey 283

Twenty-ninth Chapter: At Treasure Island Inn 292


10 Contents


Thirtieth Chapter: Miss Mallory s Mastery 300

Thirty-first Chapter: The Glow-worm s One Hour 309

Thirty-second Chapter: In the Little Room Next 319

Thirty- third Chapter: The Hills and the Skies 326

Thirty-fourth Chapter: The Supreme Adventure 331

Thirty-fifth Chapter: Fate Knocks at the Door 337

IV. NEW YORK. (Allegro. Finale.)

Thirty-sixth Chapter: The Great Prince House 343

Thirty-seventh Chapter: Beth and Adith Mallory 348

Thirty-eighth Chapter: A Self-Conscious Woman 358

Thirty-ninth Chapter: Another Smilax Affair 363

Fortieth Chapter: Full Day Upon the Plain 371



Allegro con brio

Fate Knocks At The Door



ANDREW BEDIENT, at the age of seventeen, in a single
afternoon, indeed, in one moment of a single afternoon,
performed an action which brought him financial
abundance for his mature years. Although this narrative
less concerns the boy Bedient than the man as he
approaches twice seventeen, the action is worthy of
account, beyond the riches that it brought, because it
seems to draw him into somewhat clearer vision from
the shadows of a very strange boyhood.

April, 1895, the Truxton, of which Andrew was cook,
found herself becalmed in the China Sea, midway be
tween Manila and Hong Kong, her nose to the North.
She was a smart clipper of sixty tons burden, with a
slightly uptilted stern, and as clever a line forward as a
pleasure yacht. She was English, comparatively new,
and, properly used by the weather, was as swift and
sprightly of service as an affectionate woman. Her mas
ter was Captain Carreras, a tubby little man of forty-five,
bald, modest, and known among the shipping as " a per
fect lady." He wore a skull-cap out of port ; and as con
stantly, except during meals, carried one of a set of
rarely-colored meerschaum-bowls, to which were attach
able, bamboo-stems, amber-tipped and of various lengths.

The little Captain was fastidious in dress, wearing soft
shirts of white silk, fine duck trousers and scented silk
handkerchiefs, which he carried in his left hand with the
meerschaum-bowl. The Carreras perfume, mingled with
fresh tobacco, was never burdensome, and unlike any


14 Fate Knocks at the Door

other. The silk handkerchief was as much a feature of
the Captain s appearance as the skull-cap. To it was due
the really remarkable polish of the perfect clays so regu
larly cushioned in his palm. Always for dinner, the
Captain s toilet was fresh throughout. Invariably, too,
he brought with him an unfolded handkerchief upon
which he placed, at the farther end of the table when the
weather was fair (and in the socket of the fruit-bowl
when the weather-frames were on), a ready-filled pipe.
This he took to hand when coffee was brought.

His voice was seldom raised. He found great diffi
culty in expressing himself, except upon affairs of the
ship; yet, queerly enough, there were times when he
seemed deeply eager to say the things which came of his
endless silences. As unlikely a man as you would find in
the Pacific, or any other merchant-service, was this Car-
reras ; a gentleman, if a very bashful one ; a deeply-read
and kindly man, although it was quite as difficult for him
to extend a generous action, directly to be found out,
and his mind was continually furnishing inclinations of
this sort, as it was to express his thoughts. Either
brought on a nervous tension which left him shaken and
drained. The right woman would have adored Captain
Carreras, and doubtless would have called forth from
his breast a love of heroic dimension ; but she would have
been forced to do the winning; to speak and take the
initiative in all but the giving of happiness. Temperate
for a bachelor, clean throughout, charmingly innocent
of the world, and a splendid seaman. To one of fine
sensibilities, there was something about the person of
Captain Carreras of softly glowing warmth, and rarely

Bedient had been with him as cook for over a year,
during which the Truxton had swung down to Australia
and New South Wales, and called at half the Asiatic
and insular ports from Vladivostok to Bombay. Since
he was a little chap (back of which were the New York

The Great Wind Strikes 15

memories, vague, but strange and persistent), there had
always been some ship for Bedient, but the Truxton was
by far the happiest. ... It was from the Truxton
just a few months before that he had gone ashore day
after day for a fortnight at Adelaide ; and a wee woman
five 3 r ears older, and a cycle wiser, had invariably been
waiting with new mysteries in her house. . . . More
over, on the Truxton, he had nothing to do with the
forecastle galley there was a Chinese for that and
Captain Carreras, fancying him from the beginning, had
quartered him aft, where, except on days like this, when
Mother Earth s pneumatic cushion seemed limp and flat
tened, there was a breeze to hammock in, and plenty of
candles for night reading.

Then the Captain had a box of books, the marvel of
which cannot begin to be described. Andrew s books
were but five or six, chosen for great quantity and small
bulk ; tightly and toughly bound little books of which the
Bible was first. This was his book of fairies, his ^Esop ;
his book of wanderings and story, of character and mys
tery; his revelations, the source of his ideality, the great
expander of limitations ; his book of love and adventure
and war; the book unjudgable and the bed-rock of all
literary judgment. He knew the Bible as only one can
who has played with it as a child; as only one can who
has found it alone available, when an insatiable love of
print has swept across the young mind. Nothing could
change him now ; this was his book of Fate.

Except for those vision-times in the big city, Andrew
could not remember when he had not read the Bible, nor
did he remember learning to read. He seemed to
have forgotten how to read before he came to sea at
seven, but when an old sailor pointed out on the stern
of the jolly-boat, the letters that formed the name of his
first ship it had all come back to the child ; and then he
found his first Bible. Slowly conceiving its immensity,
and its fullness for him he was almost lifted from his

16 Fate Knocks at the Door

body with the upward winging of happiness. It was his
first great exaltation, and there was a sacredness about
it which kept him from telling anybody. . . . And
now all the structures of the great Scripture were tenoned
in his brain; so that he knew the frame of every part,
but the inner meanings of more and more marvellous
dimension seemed inexhaustible. Always excepting the
great Messianic Figure the white tower of his con
sciousness he loved Saint Paul and the Forerunner
best among the men. . . .

There was also a big book in the Captain s chest
Life and Death on the Ocean quarto-sized and printed
in agate. It was filled with mutiny, murder, storm, open-
boat cannibalism and agonies of thirst, handspike and cut
lass inhumanities. No shark, pirate nor man-killing whale
had been missed ; no ghastly wreck, derelict nor horrify
ing phantom of the sea had escaped the nameless, furious
compiler. For four days and nights, Andrew glared con-
sumingly into this terrible book, and when he came to the
writhing " Finis," involved in a sort of typhoon tail
piece he was whipped, and never could bring himself to
touch the book again. One reading had burned out his
entire interest. It was not Life nor Death nor Ocean, as
he had seen them in ten solid years at sea. He had given
the book his every emotion, and discovered it gave noth
ing back ; but had shaken, terrified, played furious taran
tellas upon his feelings and replenished naught. So he
turned for unguent to his Book of Books. Here was the
strong steady light in contrast to which the other was
an " angled spar." True, here crawled hate, avarice,
lust, flesh and its myriad forms of death not in their
own elemental darkness but as scurrying vermin forms
suddenly drenched with light. . . . There were other
and really wonderful books in Captain Carreras chest
a bashful welcome to his cabin, and such eager lend
ing from the Captain himself !

This had become a pleasant feature in the young

The Great Wind Strikes 17

man s life the queer kindly heart of the Captain. There
were few confidences between them, but a fine unspoken
regard, pleasing and permanent like the Carreras per
fume. Bedient s desire to show his gratitude and admira
tion was expressed in ways that could not possibly shock
the Captain s delicacy in the small excellences of his art,
for instance. To say that the boy was consummate in the
! limited way of a ship s cook does not overstate his
I effectiveness. He did unheard-of things even fruit and
| berry-pies, from preserves two years, at least, remote
| from vine and orchard. The two mates and boatswain,
! who also messed aft, bolted without speech, but marvelled
i between meals. To these three, the tension of the Cap-
! tain s embarrassment became insupportable, beyond four
or five minutes ; so that Carreras, a discriminating, though
not a valiant trencherman, was always the last to leave
the table.

And once after a first supper at sea out of Singapore
(there had been a green salad, a fish baked whole, a cut
of ham with new potatoes, and a peach-preserve tart),
the Captain put down his napkin and coffee-cup, drank
a liqueur, reached for his pipe and handkerchief, and
suddenly encountering the eyes of Andrew, who lit a
flare for him, jerked up decisively, as one encountering
a crisis. His face became hectic, and the desperate sen
tence he uttered was almost lost in the frantic clearing
of his throat :

" You re a very prime and wonderful chap, sir ! "
Moreover, Bedient s arm had been pressed for an
instant by the softest, plumpest hand seaman ever car
ried. Coughing alarmingly in the first fragrant cloud
from his Latakia and Virginia leaf, the Captain beat forth
to recover himself on deck.

The Truxton was now six days out of Manila. For
the past thirty-six hours, she might as well have been
sunk in pitch, for any progress she made. . . . The
X 2

18 Fate Knocks at the Door

ship s bell had just struck four. Bedient had finished
clearing away tiffin things, and stepped on deck. The
planking was like the galley-range he had left, and the
fresh white paint of the three boats raised in blisters.
The sea had an ugly look, yellow-green and dead, save
where a shark s fin knifed the surface. The crew was
lying forward under the awnings a fiend-tempered outfit
of Laskars and Chinese. Captain Carreras appeared on
deck through the companion-way still farther aft and
nodded to Bedient. Then both men looked at the sky,
which was brassy above, but thickening in the North. It
augmented darkly and streakily like a tub of water into
which bluing is added drop by drop. ... A Chinese
arose and tossed a handful of joss-tatters into the still
air. And now the voice of the Captain brought the rest
of the crew to its feet.

The China Sea can generate much deviltry to a square
mile. The calm of death and the burn of perdition are
in its bosom. Cholera, glutted with victims, steals to his
couch in the China Sea; and since it is the pool of a
thousand unclean rivers, the sins of Asia find a hiding-
place there. It has ended for all time the voyages of
brave mariners and mighty ships, and become a vault for
the cargoes, and a tomb for the bones of men. The China
Sea fostered the pirate, aided him in his bloody ways, and
dragged him down, riches and all. Bed of disease, secret-
place of the unclean, and graveyard of the seas ; yet,
this yellow-breasted fiend, ancient in devil-lore, can
smile innocently as a child at the morning sun, and be
guile the torrid stars to twinkling.

It was in this black heart that was first conceived the
Tai Fung (typhoon), and there the great wind has its
being to-day, resting and rising.

The Captain s eyes were deep in the North. Bedient s
soul seemed to sense the awful solemnity on the face of
the waters. He was unable afterward to describe his
varying states of consciousness, from that first moment.

The Great Wind Strikes 19

He remembered thinking what a fine little man the Cap
tain was; that their sailing together was done. . . .
A sympathetic disorder was brewing deep down on the
ocean floor ; the water now had a charged appearance, and
was foul as the roadstead along the mouths of the Godi-
vari a thick, whipped, yeasty look. The changes were
very rapid. Every few seconds, Bedient glanced at the
Captain, and as often followed his gaze into the churn
ing, blackening North.

A chill came into the deathly heat, but it was the cold
of caverns, not of the vital open. The heat did not mix
with it, but passed by in layers a novel movement of
the atmospheres. Had the coolness been clean and nor
mal, the sailors would have sprung to the rigging to
breathe it, and to bare their bodies to the rain after two
days of hell-pervading calm but they only murmured
now and fell to work.

An unearthly glitter, like the coloring of a dream,
wavered in the East and West, while the North thickened
and the South lay still in brilliant expectation. ... In
some hall-way when Bedient was a little boy, he recalled
a light like this of the West and East. There had been a
long narrow pane of yellow-green glass over the front
door. The light used to come through that in the after
noon and fill the hall and frighten him. It was so on
deck now.

The voices of the sailors had that same unearthly
quality as the light ineffectual, remote. Out of the
hold of the Truxton came a ghostly sigh. Bedient
couldn t explain, unless it was some new and mighty
strain upon the keel and ribs.

A moment more and the Destroyer itself was visible
in the changing North. It was sharp-lined a great
wedge of absolute night and from it, the last vestiges
of day dropped back affrighted. And Bedient heard the
voice of It; all that the human ear could respond to of
the awful dissonances of storm ; yet he knew there were

20 Fate Knocks at the Door

ranges of sound above and below the human register
for they awed and preyed upon his soul. . . . He
thought of some papers dear to him, and dropped below
for them. The ship smelled old as if the life were gone
from her timbers.

Above once more, he saw a hideous turmoil in the
black fabric just wind an avalanche of wind that
gouged the sea, that could have shaken mountains. . . .
The poor little Truxton stared into the End a puppy
cowering on the track of a train.

And then It struck. Bedient was sprawled upon the
deck. Blood broke from his nostrils and ears ; from the
little veins in his eyes and forehead. Parts of his body
turned black afterward from the mysterious pressure at
this moment. He felt he was being born again into an
other world. . . . The core of that Thing made of
wind smashed the Truxton a smash of air. It was like
a thick sodden cushion, large as a battle-ship hurled out
of the North. The men had to breathe it that seething
havoc which tried to twist their souls free. When pas
sages to the lungs were opened, the dreadful compres
sion of the air crushed through, tearing the membrane
of throat and nostril.

Water now came over the ship in huge tumbling
walls. Bedient slid over the deck, like a bar of soap from
an overturned pail clutching, torn loose, clutching again.
. . . Then the Thing eased to a common hurricane
such as men know. Gray flicked into the blackness, a
corpse-gray sky, and the ocean seemed shaken in a bottle.

Laskars and Chinese, their faces and hands dripping
red, were trying to get a boat overside when Bedient re
gained a sort of consciousness. The Truxton was wal
lowing underfoot as one in the saddle feels the tendons
of his mount give way after a race. The Captain helped
a huge Chinese to hold the wheel. The sea was insane.
. . . They got the boat over and tumbled in a dozen
men. A big sea broke them and the little boat like a
basket of eggs against the side of the ship.

The Great Wind Strikes 21

Another boat was put over and filled with men. An
other sea flattened them out and carried the stains away
on the surge. There were only nine men left and a
small boat that would hold but seven. Bedient helped to
make a rigging to launch this over the stern. He saw that
the thing might be done if the small craft were not broken
in two against the rudder.

The Captain made no movement, had no thought to
join these strugglers. He was alone at the wheel, which
played with his strength. His face was calm, but a little
dazed. It did not occur to him other than to go down
with his ship the old tradition. The fatuousness of this
appealed suddenly to Bedient. Carreras was his friend
the only other white man left. The two mates and boat
swain had tried out the first two boats eagerly.

Bedient ran to the wheel, tore the Captain from it
and carried him in his arms toward the stern. A Chinese
tried to knife him, but the man died, as if struck by
a flying bit of tackle. Bedient recaptured the Captain,
who during the brief struggle had dumbly turned back
to the wheel. It was all done in thirty seconds ; Carreras
was chucked into the stern-seat of the little boat, where
he belonged. The body of a Laskar cushioned the craft
from being broken against the rudder. And now they
were seven.

The Truxton had been broken above and below. She
strangled and was sucked down. Bedient saw her stern
fling high like an arm ; saw the big " X" in the centre of
the name in the whitish light.

He remembered hearing that typhoons always double
on their tracks ; and that a ship is not done that manages
to live through the first charge. This one never came
back. They had five days of thirst and equatorial sun.
Two men died ; two fell into madness ; Captain Carreras,
Andrew Bedient and a Chinese made Hong Kong without
fatal hurt.

Captain and cook took passage for London. The
former declared he was through with the sea, except as a

22 Fate Knocks at the Door

passenger. In twenty-five years he had never encoun
tered serious accident before; he had believed himself
accident-proof; and learning differently, did not propose
to lose a second ship. He could bring himself to say
very little about Bedient s action of the last moment on
deck, but he asked the young man to share his fortunes.
Captain Carreras intended to stay for a while at his
mother s house in Surrey, but realized he could not stand
that long. . . . Bedient told him he was not finished
with Asia yet. On the day they parted, the Captain said
there would be a letter for Bedient, on or before July first
of every year, sent care the "Marigold, New York."
. . . The old embarrassment intervened at the last
moment but the younger man did not miss the Captain s



THE first letter from Captain Carreras was a real
experience for Bedient. Hours were needed to adjust the
memories of his timid old friend to this flowing and
affectionate expression. Captain Carreras, shut in a
room with pen and white paper, loosed his pent soul in
utterance. A fine fragrant soul it was, and all its best
poured out to his memorable boy.

The letter had been written in England, of which the
Captain was already weary. He must have more space
about, he confessed; and although he did not intend to
break his pledge on the matter of navigating, he was
soon to book a passage for the Americas. He imagined
there was the proper sort of island for him somewhere
in those waters. He had always had a weakness for
" natives and hot weather." Bedient was asked to make
his need known in any case of misfortune or extremity.
This was the point of the first letter, and of all the
letters. . . .

At length Captain Carreras settled in Equatoria, a big
island well out of travel-lines in the Caribbean. The
second and third letters made it even plainer that the
old heart valves ached for the young man s coming.
A mysterious binding of the two seems to have taken
place in the months preceding the day of the great wind ;
and in that instant of stress and fury the Captain realized
his supreme human relationship. It grew strong as
only can a bachelor s love for a man. Indeed, Carreras
was probably the first to discover in Andrew Bedient
a something different, which Bedient himself was yet far
from realizing. . . . The latter wished that the let
ters from the West Indies would not always revert to the
strength of his hands. It brought up a memory of the


24 Fate Knocks at the Door

despoiled face of the Chinese with the knife, and of the

Online LibraryWill Levington ComfortFate knocks at the door; a novel → online text (page 1 of 27)