The Unspeakable Gentleman
John P. Marquand
Part 2 out of 4
He raised a hand in shocked denial.
"Pray do not believe I am so vulgar," he replied. "Yes, I wished to see
you, Henry, for two reasons. First, I was absentminded last evening. I
find I do not know the name of the gentleman with whom you had the
falling out. If you tell me--who knows--the world is small."
He waited expectantly, and I smiled at him. I had hoped he would ask me.
"You really care to know his name?"
"It might be useful," he confessed. "As I said--who knows? Perhaps we may
have something in common--some little mutual interest."
"I am sure you have," I told him. "The man I fought with was Mr.
Lawton--at my uncle's country house."
For a fraction of a second I thought he was astonished. I thought that
the look he gave was almost one of respect, but it was hard to tell.
"And you wounded him?" he asked quickly.
"I hardly think Mr. Lawton expected it," I acknowledged.
"I fear," he mused, "that the years are telling on Mr. Lawton--and your
Uncle Jason knew of this unpleasantness?"
"Not until afterwards."
"Of course he was shocked?"
I nodded. "You had another reason for seeing me?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied, "a simple one. I did not want you to go downstairs
till I went with you. Another cup of chocolate, Brutus. This morning, my
son, I am consuming two cups of chocolate instead of one."
"You expect to find me irritable?" I suggested.
He shook his head in smiling contradiction.
"It is because I have a surprise in store for you. Who do you think has
come to see me?"
"I am utterly at a loss," I said, bowing, "unless it is the constable."
"On the contrary," he replied, "it is the man I hate more than anyone
else in the world."
Only his words, however, hinted that the contingency was unpleasant. His
tone was one of pleased anticipation. He hummed a little tune, as Brutus
knelt before him to help him on with a new pair of top boots, spotless
A few minutes later he stood before his mirror critically examining a
coat of blue broadcloth. It evidently satisfied him, for he smiled back
indulgently at his image in the glass, and watched complacently while
Brutus smoothed its folds.
"A gentleman should always have twenty coats," he remarked, turning
toward me. "Personally, I never travel with less than twenty-five--a
point in my favor, is it not, my son?"
"And when we remember the lady who accompanies the coats--" I bowed, and
he turned slowly back to the mirror.
"Let us trust," he replied coldly, "you will not be obliged to remind
yourself often that she is a lady, and that she shall be treated as one
both by you and by me as long as she remains beneath this roof."
I felt a pleasing sense of triumph at the success of my remark, and
abruptly determined to drive it home.
"Sir," I said, "You astound me."
"Astound you?" He left his neckcloth half undone, and stepped toward
me, alertly courteous. "You mean you take exception to what I have
"Indeed not," I replied, with another bow. "I find you changed this
morning--into a good example instead of a bad one."
And then before he could reply, I leaned over the chair he had quitted.
Lying in the corner of the faded upholstery was an oval of gold. Before
he perceived my intention, I had picked it up, and almost at the same
moment his hand fell on my arm. I looked up quickly. His face was close
to mine, closer than I had ever seen it, placid still, but somehow
changed, somehow so subtly different that I wrenched myself free, and
stepped a pace away. Brutus dropped the coat he was folding, and shuffled
"How careless of me to have left it there," said my father gently. "Hand
me the locket, if you please, my son, and many thanks for picking it up."
The jewelled clasp was under my thumb I pressed it, and the gold locket I
was holding flew open, but before I could look further, he had struck a
sharp blow at my wrist, and the locket fell from my hand.
"Pick it up, Brutus," he said, his eyes never leaving mine, and we
watched each other for a second in silence.
"Come," he said, "let us go down stairs. You may find it instructive to
see how I treat my enemies."
"I am afraid," I said slowly, "that you will do better without me."
Slowly the thin line of his lips relaxed, and he raised his hands to
adjust his neckcloth.
"Your episode with Mr. Lawton makes me quite sure of it," he answered, in
a tone he might have used to an ambitious school boy. "But you forget.
You are still pursuing part of your education. Never, never neglect an
opportunity to learn, my son. Something tells me even now you will be
repaid for your trouble. Come, we are late already."
So I followed him down the, creaking stairs to the morning room. I could
not suppress a start as I passed over the threshold. In front of our
heavy mahogany table, attentively examining some maps and charts that had
been scattered there, was my Uncle Jason.
Of all the people I had expected to see that morning he was the last.
Almost unconsciously I recalled the little kindnesses he had rendered me.
Busy as he had been with commercial ventures, there was never a time when
he had not stood ready with his help. And even my father's name--he had
never recalled it, except with regretful affection in his sad little
reminiscences of older, pleasanter days.
I thought I detected a trace of that affection, a trace of appeal,
almost, in the look he gave us as we entered. They made a strange
contrast, my uncle, and my father, in his gay coat and laces, his
slender, upright figure, and his face, almost youthful beneath his
powdered hair. For my uncle was an older man, and years and care had
slightly bowed him. The wrinkles were deep about his mouth and eyes. His
brown hair, simply dressed, was gray already at the temples. His plain
black coat and knee breeches were wrinkled from travel. As he often put
it, he had no time to care for clothes. Yet his cheeks glowed from quiet
living, and there was a sly, good humored twinkle in his brown eyes
which went well with his broad shoulders and his strongly knit body. His
reputation for genial good nature was with him still.
He stretched forth a hand, but the moment was inopportune. My father had
given his undivided attention to the shutters on the east windows. He
walked swiftly over and drew them to, snapping a bolt to hold them in
place. Then he turned and rubbed his hands together slowly, examining my
uncle the while with a cool, judicial glance, and then he bowed.
"You are growing old, Jason," he said, by way of greeting.
"An, George," said my uncle, in his deep, pleasant voice. "It does me
good to see the father and the son together."
My father joined the tips of his fingers and regarded him solemnly.
"Now heaven be praised for that!" he exclaimed with a jovial fervor,
"though it is hard to believe, Jason, that anything could make you better
than you are. It was kind of you not to keep my son and me apart."
My father came a pace nearer, his eyes never for a moment leaving the
man opposite. His last words seemed to make a doubtful impression on my
uncle. He looked quickly across at me, but what he saw must have
"Ah, that wit!" he laughed. "It has been too long, George, too long since
I have tasted of it. It quite reminds me of the old days, George--with
the dances, and the races and the ladies. Ah, George, how they would
smile on you--and even today, I'll warrant! Ah, if I only had the receipt
that keeps you young."
"Indeed? You care to know it?" My father quite suddenly leaned forward
and tapped him on the shoulder. As though the abruptness of the gesture
startled him, my uncle drew hastily back. And still my father watched
him. Between them was passing something which I did not understand. The
silence in the room had become oppressive before my father spoke again.
"Lead a life of disrepute," he said gravely. "I cannot think of a better
"George!" cried my uncle in quick remonstrance. "Remember your son is
"And seems amply able to look out for himself--surprisingly able, Jason.
Have you not found it so?"
"Thank heaven, yes!" he laughed, and glanced hastily at me again.
My father's coat lapel was bothering him. He straightened it
thoughtfully, patted it gently into place, and then said:
"Surely, Jason, you did not come here to discuss the past."
"Perhaps not," Uncle Jason replied with another laugh, which seemed
slightly out of tune in the silence that surrounded him, "but how can I
not be reminded of it? This room and you--indeed Henry here is all that
brings me back. He is like you, George, and yet--" he paused to favor me
with another glance--"he has his mother's eyes."
My father flicked a speck of dust from his sleeve.
"Suppose," he suggested, "we leave your sister out of the discussion. Let
us come down to practical matters and leave the dead alone."
It was the first time he had mentioned her. His voice was coldly aloof,
but his hand began moving restlessly again over his coat in search of an
"You understand me?" he inquired gently after a second's pause. "Pray
remember, Jason, I have only two cheeks, and I can recall no biblical law
to follow if you should strike again."
"God bless me!" gasped my uncle in blank amazement. "I did not come here
to quarrel. I came because you are in trouble. I came as soon as I had
heard of it, because you need my help--because--" he had regained his
cordial eloquence from the very cadence of his words. He paused, and I
thought his eye moistened and his voice quavered, "because blood is
thicker than water, George."
At the last words my father inclined his head gravely, and was
momentarily silent, as though seeking an adequate reply.
"I thought you would come," he said slowly. "In fact, I depended
upon it before I set sail from France. Ha! That relieves you, does
it not, Jason?"
Yet for some reason the statement seemed to have an opposite effect. My
uncle's heavy brows knitted together, and his mouth moved uneasily.
"See, my son, how the plot thickens," said my father, turning to me with
a pleasant smile. "And all we needed was a hero. Who will it be. I
wonder, you or your uncle?"
But my uncle did not laugh again. Instead, he squared his shoulders and
his manner became serious.
"It is not a time to jest, George," he said ominously. "Don't you
understand what you have done? But you cannot know, or else you would not
be here. You cannot know that the house is watched!"
If he had expected to surprise my father, he must have felt a poignant
disappointment; but perhaps he knew that surprise was a sentiment he
"I know," replied my father, "that since my arrival here I have been the
object of many flattering attentions. But why are you concerned, Jason? I
have broken no law of the land. I have merely mixed myself up in French
Uncle Jason made an impatient gesture.
"You have mixed yourself up in such an important affair, in such a
ridiculous way, that every secret agent that France has in this country
will be in this town in the next twelve hours. That's all you have
My father tapped his silver snuff box gently.
"I had hoped as much," he remarked blandly. "When one is the center of
interest, it is always better to be the very center. You must learn to
know me better, Jason, and then you will understand that I always seek
two things. I always seek profit and pleasure. It seems as though I
should find them both in such pleasant company."
Then, as if the matter were settled, he looked again at the shuttered
window, and leaned down to place another log in the fire.
"Come, George," urged my uncle. "Let us be serious. Your nonchalance and
irony have been growing with the years. Surely you recognize that you
have reached the end of your rope. I tell you, George, these men will
stop at nothing."
"Has it ever occurred to you," returned my father, "that I also, may stop
My uncle frowned, and then smiled bleakly.
"No, George," he said, in a voice that dropped almost to a whisper.
"You are too fond of life for that. Suppose for a moment, just suppose,
they had means of taking you back to France. Just suppose there was a
boat in the harbor now, manned and victualled and waiting for the tide,
with a cabin ready and irons. They would admire to see you back in
Paris, George, for a day, or perhaps two days. I know, George. They
have told me."
"Positively," said my father, stifling a yawn behind his hand,
"positively you frighten me. It is an old sensation and tires me. Surely
you can be more interesting."
Jason's face, red and good-natured always, became a trifle redder.
"We have beat about the bush long enough," he said, with an abrupt lack
of suavity. "I tell you, once and for all, you are running against forces
which are too strong for you--forces, as I have pointed out, that will do
anything to gain possession of a certain paper. They know you have that
My father shrugged his shoulders.
"Indeed?" he said. "I hardly admire their perspicacity."
"And they will prevent your disposing of it at any cost. I tell you,
George, they will stop at nothing--" again his voice dropped to a
confidential monotone--"and that is why I'm here, George," my uncle
My father raised his eyebrows.
"I fear my mind works slowly in the early morning. Pardon me, if I still
must ask--Why are you here?"
Quite suddenly my uncle's patience gave way in a singular manner to
exasperation, exposing a side to his character which I had not till then
"Because I can save your neck, that's why! Though, God knows, you don't
seem to value it. I have interceded for you, George, I have come here to
induce you to give up that paper peacefully and quietly, or else to take
Evidently the force he gave his words contrived to drive them home, for
my father nodded.
"You mean," he inquired, "that they propose to take me to France, and
have me handed over to justice, a political prisoner?"
"It is what I meant, George, as a man in a plot to kill Napoleon--" then
his former kindliness returned--"and we cannot let that happen, can we?"
"Not if we can prevent it," my father replied. "If the trouble is that I
have the paper in my possession, I suppose I must let it go."
Uncle Jason smiled his benignest smile.
"I knew you would understand," he said, with something I took for a sigh
of relief. "I told them you were too sensible a man, George, not to
realize when a thing was useless."
My father drew the paper from his breast pocket, and looked at it
"Yes," he said slowly. "I suppose I must let it go."
"Good God! What are you doing?" cried my uncle.
My father had turned to the fireplace, and was holding the paper over the
blaze. But for some reason my uncle was not relieved. He made an
ineffectual gesture. His face became a blotched red and white. His eyes
grew round and staring, and his mouth fell helplessly open.
"Stop!" he gasped. "For God's sake, George--"
"Stay where you are, Jason," said my father. "I can manage alone, I think.
I suppose I should have burned it long ago."
He withdrew the paper slightly, as if to prolong the scene before him. If
my uncle had been on the verge of ruin, he could not have looked more
"Don't!" he cried. "Will you listen, George? I'll be glad to pay
you for it."
My father slowly straightened, placed the paper in his pocket,
"Now," he said pleasantly, "we are talking a language I understand.
Believe me, Jason, one of my chief motives in keeping this document was
the hope that you might realize its intrinsic qualities."
Uncle Jason moistened his lips. His call was evidently proving upsetting.
"How much do you want for it?" he asked, with a slight tremor in
"Twenty-five thousand dollars seems a fair demand," said my father, "in
notes, if you please."
"What!" my uncle shouted.
My father seated himself on the edge of the table, and surveyed his
"Be silent," he said. "Silent and very careful, Jason. You seem to forget
that I am a dangerous man." And he flicked an imaginary bit of dust from
his cuff. My uncle gave a hasty glance at the half opened door.
"And now listen to me," my father continued, his voice still gently
conversational. "You have tried to frighten me, Jason. You should have
known better. Of all the people in the world I fear you least. You forget
that I am growing old, and all my senses are becoming duller--fear along
with the rest. You have tried to cheat me of the money I have demanded,
and it has tried my patience. In fact, it has set my nerves quite on
edge. Pray do not irritate me again. I know you must have that paper, and
I know why. The price I offer is a moderate one compared with the
unpleasantness that may occur to you if you do not get it. Never mind
what occurrence. I know that you have come here prepared to pay that
price. The morning is getting on. You have the money in your inside
pocket. Bring it out and count it--twenty-five thousand dollars."
Hesitatingly my uncle produced a packet that crackled pleasantly.
"There! I said you had them," remarked my father serenely. "All perfectly
negotiable I hope, Jason, in case you should change your mind."
I stood helplessly beside him, beset with a hundred useless impulses.
Silently I watched Jason Hill hold out the notes.
"And now the paper," said my uncle.
My father, examining the packet with a minute care, waved his
"First you must let me see what you are giving me. I fear your hands are
trembling too much, Jason, for you to do justice to it. Twenty-five
thousand dollars! It seems to me I remember that a similar sum once
passed between us. In which direction? seem to have forgotten--Yes,
strangely enough they are quite correct. A modest little fortune, but
still something to fall back on."
"And now the paper!" demanded my uncle.
"Ah, to be sure, the paper," said my father, and he swung from the table
where he had been sitting, and smiled brightly.
"I have changed my mind about the paper, Jason, and business presses. I
fear it is time to end our interview."
"You mean you dare--"
"To accept a sum from you in payment of damage you have done my
character? I should not dare to refuse it. Or let us put it this way,
Jason. The paper is merely drawing interest. Positively, I cannot afford
to give it up."
The red had risen again to my uncle's face, giving his features the color
of ugly magenta. For a moment I thought he was going to leap at the
slighter man before him, but my father never moved a muscle, only stood
attentively watching him, with his hand folded behind his back.
"Show him the door, Brutus," he said briskly, "and as you go, Jason,
remember this. I know exactly what dangers I am running without your
telling me. For that reason I have ordered my servant to keep a fire
burning in every room I occupy in this house. I make a point of sitting
near these fires. If you or any of your friends so much as raise a finger
against me, the paper is burned. And as for you--"
With a quick, delicate motion, he raised a hand, and drew a finger
lightly across his throat.
"And as for you, Jason, even the slightest suspicion that you, or your
paid murderers, are interfering in any way with my affairs, will give me
too much pleasure. I think you understand. Pray don't make me overcome
with joy, Jason; and now I wish you a very good morning."
But Uncle Jason had recovered from the first cold shock of his surprise.
He drew himself up to his full height. His jaw, heavy and cumbersome
always, thrust itself forward, and I could see the veins swell
dangerously into a tangled, clotted mass on his temples. His fingers
worked convulsively, as though clawing at some unseen object close
beside him, and then his breath whistled through his teeth.
"You fool," he shouted suddenly, his temper bursting the weakened
barriers of control. "You damned, unregenerate fool!"
And then, for an instant, my father's icy placidity left him. His lips
leapt back from his teeth. There was a hissing whir of steel. His small
sword made an arc of light through the yard of space that parted them.
His body lunged forward.
"So you will have it, will you?" His words seemed to choke him. "Take it,
then," he roared, "take it to hell, where you belong."
It was, I say, the matter of an instant. In a leaden second he stood
poised, his wrist drawn back, while the eyes of the other stared in
horror at the long, thin blade. And then the welts of crimson that had
mounted to his face, disfiguring it into a writhing fury, slowly effaced
themselves. His lips once more assumed a thin, immobile line. Again his
watchful indolence returned to him, and slowly, very slowly, he lowered
the point to the floor's scarred surface. His voice returned to its
pleasant modulation, and with his words returned his icy little smile.
"Your pardon, Jason," he said. "I fear I have been too much myself this
morning. Thank your God, if you have one, that I was not entirely
natural. Take him away, Brutus, he shall live a little longer."
But Brutus had no need to obey the order. My father stood, still smiling,
watching the empty doorway. Then I realized that I was very cold and
weak, and that my knees were sagging beneath me. I walked unsteadily to
the table and leaned upon it heavily. Thoughtfully my father sheathed his
"The morning begins auspiciously, does it not, my son?" he said. "And
still the day is young. Indeed, it cannot be more than eleven of the
clock. The rum decanter, Brutus."
The lines about his mouth softened as his gaze met mine, and his smile
"I pride myself," he went on, "that my example is all I promised. I fear
I shall fall down in only one respect. Perhaps you have observed it?"
"If I have," I answered, "I have forgotten."
"My table manners," he said. "I fear they are almost impeccable." And
he walked over to the window, taking care, I noticed, not to stand in
front of it.
"Sad, is it not, that I should fail in such a trivial matter? But it
happened so long ago while I was courting your mother, to be exact. My
father-in-law, rest his soul, was an atrocity at table. The viands, my
son, scattered from his knife over the board, like chaff before the
flail. Yet, will you believe it? Any time he chose to speak his mouth
was always full. I watched him, watched him with wonder--or was it
horror?--I cannot remember which. And I resolved to go, to go
anywhere, but never to do likewise. The result today is perhaps
unfortunate. Yet watch me, my son, even in that you see the practical
value of a bad example."
"Yes," I said, "I am watching you."
He seemed about to turn from the window, and then something outside held
"Ha!" he said. "A sloop is coming in--a clumsy looking vessel. Whose is
I walked to the window to get a better look, but he reached out and drew
me near him.
"Let us be careful of the windows this morning. The light is bad, and we
have very much the same figure. There. Now you can see it--out by the
bar. It carries too much canvas forward and spills half the wind. Have
you seen it before, Henry?"
The sun had been trying to break through the clouds, and a few rays had
crept out, and glanced on the angry gray of the water, so that it shone
here and there like scratches in dull lead. The three ships near our
wharf were tossing fitfully, and on all three, the crews were busy with
the rigging. Out further towards the broad curve of the horizon was the
white smear of a sail, and as I looked, I could see the lines beneath
the canvas. He was right. It was a sloop, running free with the tide
pushing her on.
"Yes," I said, "I know the boat, though I do not see why she is
"Ah," said my father, "and do you not? And whose boat may she be, Henry?"
"Two days ago she sailed from Boston for France. She belongs to Jason
Hill," I told him; and, a little puzzled, I looked again at the low dunes
and the marshes by the harbor mouth.
"I think," my father murmured half to himself, "that perhaps after all I
should have killed him. Brutus!"
Brutus, who had watched the scene with the same aloof politeness that he
might have watched guests at the dinner table, moved quickly forward.
"Has no word come yet?"
Brutus grinned and shook his head.
"The devil," said my father. "Aiken was here last evening, and got the
message I left him?"
Brutus nodded, and my father compressed his lips. Apparently deep in
thought, he took a few unhurried steps across the room, and glanced
about him critically.
"A busy day, my son," he said, "a very busy day, and a humorous one as
well. They think they can get the paper. They think--but they are all
"You are sure?" I inquired.
"Perfectly," said my father. "I shall dispose of it in my own way. I am
merely waiting for the time."
Brutus cupped his great hand behind his ear, and nodded violently. My
father stepped toward the hallway, and listened. Above the hissing of the
fire I heard a voice and footsteps. He straightened the lace about his
wrists, and his features lost their strained attention. As he turned
towards Brutus, he seemed younger and more alertly active than I had ever
"Ah, what a day," he said, "what a day, to be sure. They are coming,
Brutus. Gad, but the years have been long since I have waited for them!
Place the glasses on the table, Brutus. We still must be hospitable."
The knocker on our front door sent a violent summons, but my father did
not seem to hear it. With graceful deliberation he was filling six
glasses from the decanter.
"Keep to the back of the room, my son," he said, "and listen. Who do you
think is coming? But you never can guess. Our neighbors, my son, our
neighbors. First your uncle, and then our neighbors. We are holding a
distinguished salon, are we not?"
But before I could answer or even conjecture why he should receive such a
visit, my father gave a low exclamation, partly of surprise, and partly
of well concealed annoyance, and stepped forward, bowing low.
Mademoiselle, bright-eyed, but very pale, had run into the morning room.
"The paper, captain," she cried, "are they coming for the paper? For, if
they are, they shall not have it. You--"
My father looked at her sharply, almost suspiciously.
"How are you here?" he demanded quickly, "Did not Brutus lock your door?"
"The lock was very rusty," she answered.
"Indeed?" said my father, "And how long ago did you find it out?"
"Only a minute back," she said, and again he glanced at her narrowly,
and finally shrugged his shoulders. As I look back on it, it was his
"Then I fear you have not seen much of the house," he said suavely, but
she disregarded his remark.
"Pray do not be alarmed, my lady," "At almost any time I am glad to see
you, but just at present--" he raised his voice to drown the din of the
knocker--"just at present your appearance, I fear, is a trifle
indiscreet. It is not the paper they wish, Mademoiselle. It is merely
myself, your humble servant, they require. But pray calm yourself and
rest assured they shall get neither. Let in our callers, Brutus."
He took her hand and bowed over it very low, and looked for an instant
into her eyes, with a faint hint of curiosity.
"And you?" she asked. "You have it still?"
"Temporarily, yes," he answered. "Show Mademoiselle a chair, my son, over
there behind me, where you both can witness the little drama. Perhaps it
is as well she came, after all."
Brutus had not forgotten his days as a house servant. Erect and
uncompromising he entered the room, facing toward us by the door.
"Mr. Penfield!" he called. "Captain Tracy! Captain Brown! Major Proctor!
Mr. Lane! Captain Dexter!"
"So," said Major Proctor, "you still have your damned party manners."
They had entered the room, and stood in a group before my father. Their
faces were set grimly. Their manner was stern and uncompromising, as
befitted men of unimpeachable position and integrity. As I watched them,
I still was wondering at their errand. Why should they, of all people
have paid this call? There was not one who did not own his ships and
counting house, not one who was not a leading trader in our seaport. In
all the years I had known them, not one had looked at me, or given me a
civil word, and indeed, they had little reason to give one. And yet, here
they were calling on my father.
It was an odd contradiction of the lesson books that of all the men in
the room, he should appear the most prepossessing. Though many of them
were younger, his clothes were more in fashion, and time had touched him
with a lighter hand. If I had come on them all as strangers, I should
have expected kindness and understanding from him first of any. His
forehead was broader, and his glance was keener. Indeed, there was none
who looked more the gentleman. There was no man who could have displayed
more perfect courtesy in his gravely polite salute.
"This," said my father, smiling, "is indeed a pleasure. I had hoped for
this honor, and yet the years have so often disappointed me that I had
Captain Tracy, short and squat, his hands held out in the way old sailors
have, as though ready instinctively to grasp some rope or bulwark, thrust
a bull neck forward, and peered at my father with little, reddened eyes,
opened in wide incredulity.
"You what?" he demanded hoarsely.
"I said, Captain Tracy, that I hoped,"--and my father helped himself to
snuff--"Will you be seated, gentlemen?"
"No," said Major Proctor.
"I have always noted," my father remarked, "that standing is better for
the figure. The climate, Major, has agreed with you."
Major Proctor launched on a savage rejoinder, but Mr. Penfield leaned
towards him with a whispered admonition.
"I take it," he said to my father, "that you did not read our letter. You
made a mistake, Mr. Shelton, a grave mistake, in not doing so."
"I am fond of reading," said my father, "and I found your letter--pardon
my rudeness--but I must be frank--I found your letter most amusing."
Mr. Lane stretched a claw-like hand toward him.
"You always did laugh," he cried shrilly.
"Never now, Mr. Lane," replied my father. "Yet I must admit, if
laughter were my habit--" he paused and surveyed Mr. Lane's pinched and
"You found the letter amusing, eh?" snapped Captain Tracy. "You found it
funny when we ordered you out of this town, did you? I suppose you
thought we were joking, eh? Well, by Gad, we weren't, and that's what
we've come to tell you. Heaven help us if we don't see you out on a rail,
"Gently, gently," interjected Mr. Penfield, in a soothing tone. "Let us
not use any harder words than necessary. Mr. Shelton will agree with us,
I am sure. Mr. Shelton did not understand. Perhaps Mr. Shelton has
"My memory," said my father, "still remains unimpaired. I recall the last
time I saw you was some ten years ago in this very house. I recall at
the time you warned me never to return here. In some ways, perhaps, you
were right, and yet at present I find my residence here most expedient.
Indeed, I find it quite impossible to leave. Frankly, gentlemen, the
house is watched, and it is as much as my life is worth to stir outside
"Good God!" cried Mr. Lane, in the shrill voice that fitted him so well.
"We might have known it!"
There was a momentary silence, and Major Proctor whispered in Mr.
"Captain Shelton," said Mr. Penfield, "I see your son and a woman are in
the room. It might be better if you sent them away. Your son, I have
heard, has learned to behave himself. There is no need for him to hear
what we have to say to you."
There was a note of raillery in his voice that must have offended
"Mr. Penfield is mistaken. I fear closed shutters make the room a trifle
dark to see clearly. It is a lady, Mr. Penfield, who is with us."
Captain Tracy laughed. My father's hand dropped to his side. For a moment
no one spoke. Captain Tracy moved his head half an inch further forward.
"Well?" he asked.
"Let us leave the matter for a moment," said my father. "It can wait.
Pray continue, Mr. Penfield. My son will be glad to listen."
Mr. Penfield cleared his throat, and looked at the others uncertainly.
"Go on, Penfield," said the Major.
"Mr. Shelton," began Mr. Penfield stiffly, "ten years ago you were a
"Could it have been possible?" said my father with a bow.
"Ten years ago you were a man that every one of us here trusted and
respected, a friend of several. In the War of the Revolution you
conducted yourself like a man of honor. You equipped your own brig with a
letter of marque, and sailed it yourself off Jamaica. You fought in three
engagements. You displayed a daring and bravery which we once admired."
"Could it have been possible?" my father bowed again. "I do recall I
failed to stay at home," he added, bowing again to Mr. Penfield.
Mr. Penfield frowned, and continued a little more quickly:
"And when you did return, you engaged in the China trade. You were a
successful man, Mr. Shelton. We looked upon you as one of the more
brilliant younger men of our seaport. We trusted you, Captain Shelton."
"Could it have been possible!" exclaimed my father.
"Yes," said Mr. Penfield in a louder tone, "we trusted you. You have only
to look at your books, if you have kept them, to remember that."
"My books," said my father, "still contrive to balance."
"In the year 1788," Mr. Penfield went on, "you remember that year, do you
not? In that year the six of us here engaged in a venture. From the north
we had carried here five hundred bales of fur, valued at fifty dollars to
the bale. You contracted with us, Captain Shelton, to convey those bales
to England. It would have been a nice piece of business, if your
supercargo had not been an honest man. He knew you, Shelton, if we did
not. He knew the game you had planned to play, and though he was your
brother-in-law, he was man enough to stop it."
Mr. Penfield's voice had risen, so that it rang through the room, and
his words followed each other in cold indictment. The others stood
watching my father with strained attention.
"Indeed," he said.
"Yes," said Mr. Penfield, "as you so aptly put it--indeed. Your ship
carrying that consignment, had Jason Hill as supercargo, and Ned Aiken,
that damned parasite of yours, as master. A day out from this port, a
plank sprung aft, which obliged him to put back to Boston for repairs.
The cargo was trans-shipped. When it was aboard again, Jason Hill
happened to examine that cargo. The furs had gone. In their place five
hundred bales of chips had been loaded in the hold. He went to the master
for an explanation. Mr. Aiken, who had been drinking heavily, was asleep
in the cabin, and on the table beside him was a letter, Shelton. You
remember that letter? It bore instructions from you to scuttle that ship
ten miles out of Liverpool harbor."
"And," said my father, with another bow, "I was to collect the insurance.
It was nicely planned."
"If you remember that, you recall what happened next. We called on you,
Shelton, and accused you of what you had done. You neither confirmed
nor denied it. We told you then to leave the town. We warned you never
to return. We warned you that we were through with your trickery. We
were through with your cheating and your thieving. We warned you,
Shelton, and now you're back, back, by your own confession, on another
"Not on another's," my father objected mildly. "One of my own, Mr.
Penfield. The experience you have outlined so lucidly convinced me that
it was better to stick closely to my own affairs."
"Mr. Shelton," Mr. Penfield went on, regardless of the interruption, "we
warned you yesterday to leave the town before nightfall, and you have
failed to take our advice."
"I see no reason why I should leave," replied my father easily. "I am
comfortable here for the moment. I would not be outside. Even the
arguments you have given are specious. You got your furs back, and if I
recall, they proved to be so badly moth eaten that they were not fit for
"Even though you see no reason," said Major Proctor smoothly, "you are
going to leave, Shelton. You are going to leave in one hour. If you
delay a minute later, we will come with friends who will know how to
handle you. We will come in an hour with a tar pot and a feather
"You are not only unwelcome to us on account of your past," said Mr.
Penfield, "but more recent developments make it impossible, quite
impossible for you to stay. We have heard your story already from Mr.
Jason Hill. You are right that it is no concern of ours, except that we
remember the good of this town. We have a business with France, and we
cannot afford to lose it. Major Proctor was blunt just now, and yet he is
right. Give us credit for warning you, at least. You will go, of course?"
My father smiled again, and smoothed the wrinkles of his coat. For
some reason the scene seemed vastly pleasant. He shrugged his
shoulders in a deprecatory gesture, walked over to the table, and
lifted up a glass of ram.
"I remarked before that I was quite comfortable here," he replied after a
moment's pause. "I may add that I am amused. Since I have returned to the
ancestral roof, and looked again at the portraits of my family, I have
had many callers to entertain me. Two have tried to rob me. One has
threatened me with death. And now six come, and threaten me with tar and
feathers. Positively, it is too diverting to leave. Pray don't interrupt
me, Captain Tracy. In a moment you shall have the floor."
He took a sip from his rum glass, watching them over the brim. And then
he continued, slowly and coldly, yet turning every period with a
"There is one thing, only one, that you and all my other callers appear
to have overlooked. You fail for some reason to realize that I do things
only of my own volition. It is eccentric, I know, but we all have our
He paused to place his glass daintily on the table, and straightened the
lace at his wrist with careful solicitude.
"Once before this morning I have stated that I am not particularly afraid
of anything. Strange as it may seem, this statement still applies. Or put
it this way,--I have grown blase. People have threatened me too often.
No, gentlemen, you are going to lose your trading privileges, I think.
And I am going to remain in my house quite as long as I choose."
"Which will be one hour," said Major Proctor.
"Be careful, Major," said my father. "You have grown too stout to risk
your words. Do you care to know why I am going to remain?"
No one answered.
"Then I will tell you," he went on. "Three of my ships are in the harbor,
and times are troublesome at sea. They are armed with heavy metal, and
manned by quite as reckless and unpleasant a lot of men as I have ever
beheld on a deck. Between them they have seventeen guns of varying
calibre, and there is powder in their magazines. Do I need to go any
further, or do we understand each other?"
"No," snapped Captain Tracy hoarsely. "I'm damned if we do."
"It sounds crude, as I say it," he continued apologetically, "and yet
true, nevertheless. As soon as I see anyone of you, or any of my other
neighbors enter my grounds again, I shall order my ships to tack down the
river, and open fire on the town. They have sail ready now, gentlemen. My
servant has gone already to carry them my order."
"And you'll hang for piracy tomorrow morning," laughed the Major
harshly. "Shelton, you have grown mad."
"Exactly," said my father gently. "Mad, Major. Mad enough to put my
threat into effect in five minutes, if you do not leave this house; mad
enough to scuttle every ship in this harbor; mad enough to set your
warehouses in flames; mad enough even to find the company of you and your
friends most damnably dull and wearisome; mad enough to wonder why I ever
suffered you to remain so long beneath my roof; mad enough to believe you
a pack of curs and cowards, and mad enough to treat you as such. Keep
off, Tracy, you bloated fool!"
"By God!" Captain Tracy shouted, "We'll burn this house over your head.
In an hour we'll have you shot against the town hall."
"Perhaps," said my father, "and yet I doubt it. Pray remember that I keep
my word. Your hats are in the hall, gentlemen. In three minutes now my
ships weigh anchor. If you do not go, I cannot stop them."
Mr. Penfield had grown a trifle pale. "Captain Shelton," he demanded
slowly, "are you entirely serious? I almost believe you are. Of course
you understand the consequences?"
"Perfectly," said my father.
"Let us go, gentlemen," said Mr. Penfield. "You will hear from us later."
And he turned quickly towards the hall.
As he did so, my father drew back his right arm, and drove his fist into
Captain Tracy's upturned face. His blow was well directed, for the
captain staggered and fell. In almost the same motion he wheeled on Major
Proctor, who had started back, and was tugging at his sword.
"Later, perhaps, Major," he said, without even lifting his voice. "But
today I am busy. Pray take him away. He was always indiscreet. And you,"
he added to Mr. Lane, "surely you know well enough not to try conclusions
with me. Take him away. Your hats are in the hall. I shall show you the
door myself. After you, gentlemen."
And he followed them, closing the door gently behind him.
Mademoiselle, who had risen from her chair, where she had listened, only
half understanding the conversation in a tongue foreign from hers, stared
at the closed door, her lips parted, and her forehead wrinkled.
"What have they been saying?" she asked. "Why are they afraid? Is
everyone afraid of this father of yours?"
And then, impulsively, she seized me by the arm.
"But it makes no difference. Come, it is our one chance; come quickly,
Monsieur. I must speak to you, where he will not disturb us."
"But where?" I asked, still staring straight before me; and then I
noticed a bolt on the morning room door. I sprang toward it and drew it
hastily. "It will do no good to talk, Mademoiselle. If you had
understood--" And as I spoke, the enormity of the thing loomed still
larger before me.
"Mademoiselle, this morning he has robbed my uncle of a fortune, snatched
it from him here in this very room, and now he has threatened to move
his ships into midstream, and to open fire on the town! And Mademoiselle,
he means to do it. I thought once--but he means to do it, Mademoiselle."
She pursed her lips, and looked at me from the corner of her eye.
"Pouf!" she said. "So you are growing frightened also. Yet I can
understand. The Marquis always said that Captain Shelton could frighten
the devil himself."
"Frightened!" I echoed, and the blood rushed into my cheeks.
"Mon Dieu! Perhaps you are not. Listen, Monsieur, I am not taunting you.
I am not saying he will not. He is serious, Monsieur, and you must leave
him alone, or perhaps I shall not get the paper after all, and remember,
I must have it. My brother must have it, and he shall, only you must not
disturb him. He may shoot at the town, if he cares to, or murder your
uncle. He has often spoken of it at Blanzy, but the paper is another
matter. You must leave it to me."
"To you!" I cried.
"Precisely," said Mademoiselle. "You--what can you do? You are young. You
are inexperienced. Pardon me, but you would be quite ineffective."
My cheeks flamed again. Somehow no sarcasm of my father's had bitten as
deep as those last words of hers. I do not know whether it was chagrin or
anger that I felt at the bitter sense of my own futility. And she had
seen it all. As coldly and as accurately as my father, she had watched
me, and as coldly she had given her verdict. She was watching me now with
a cool, confident smile that made me turn away.
"Ah," she said, "I have hurt you, and believe me, I did not mean to."
Something in the polite impersonality of her voice gave me a vague
resentment. She had moved nearer, and yet I could not meet her glance.
"I am sorry" she said, and paused expectantly, but I could only stare at
the floor in silence.
"Believe me, I am sorry."
It might have been different if I had detected the slightest contrition,
but instead I seemed only to afford her mild! amusement.
"There is no need to be sorry," I replied.
"Ah, but there is!" she said quickly, "Last night you were very kind.
Last night you tried to help me."
I seemed to see her again, standing pale and troubled, while my
father watched her, coldly appraising, and Brutus grinned at her
across the room.
"Mademoiselle" I began, "Anything that I did last night--"
"Was quite unnecessary," she said, "And very foolish."
I drew a sharp breath. The bit of gallantry I had on my mind to speak
seemed weak and useless now.
"Mademoiselle is mistaken" I lied smoothly, "Nothing that I did last
night was on her account."
"Nothing!" she exclaimed sharply, "I do not understand."
"No, nothing," I said, "Pray believe me, anything I did, however foolish,
was solely for myself. I have my own affair to settle with my father."
"Bah!" cried Mademoiselle, tapping her foot on the floor, and oddly
enough my reply seemed to have made her angry, "So you are like all the
rest of them, stupid, narrow, calculating!"
"If Mademoiselle will only listen," I began, strangely puzzled and
"Listen to you!" she cried, "No, Monsieur, I have listened to you quite
long enough to know your type. I see now you are quite what I thought you
would be. I say you are entirely ineffective, and must leave your father
alone. You do not understand him. You do not even know him. With me it is
different. I have seen the world. He is temperamental, your father, a
genius in his way, and a little mad, perhaps. Leave him to me, Monsieur,
and it will be quite all right. Last night, it was so sudden, that I was
frightened for a moment. I should have remembered he is erratic and apt
to change his mind. I should have guessed why he changed it. It is you,
Monsieur. You have had a bad effect upon him. You have made him turn
suddenly grotesque. What did you do to him last evening?
"Do to him?" I asked, stupidly enough. "Why, nothing. I listened to him,
Mademoiselle, just as I have been listening to him all this morning."
"And yet," she said, "it is your fault. Usually he is most well behaved.
He is moderate, Monsieur. At Blanzy a glass of wine at dinner was all he
ever desired. For days at a time, I have hardly heard him say a word. The
Marquis would call him the Sphinx, and what has he been doing here?
Drinking bottle after bottle, talking steadily, acting outrageously. What
is more, he has been doing so ever since he spoke of returning home. I
tell you, Monsieur, you must keep away from him, or perhaps he will do
with the paper exactly what he says. Pray do not scowl. Laugh, Monsieur,
it is funny."
"Funny?" I exclaimed, as stupidly as before. Mademoiselle sighed.
"If the Marquis had only lived--how he would have laughed. It was odd,
the sense of humor of the Marquis. Strange how much alike they were, the
Marquis and your father."
"It is pleasant that Mademoiselle and I should have something in
common," I said.
Her gaze grew very soft and far away.
"Not as much as they had. We never shall. I think it was because they
both were embittered with life, both a trifle tired and cynical. My
father thought there should be a king of France, and yet I think he knew
there could not be one. Your father--it is another story."
"Quite," I agreed. "And yet Mademoiselle will pardon me--I fail to see
what they had in common."
"You say that," said Mademoiselle, "because you do not know him as well
as I do. Do you not see that he is a bitter, disappointed man? They were
I examined the bolt on the door, and found it firm, despite its age. I
glanced over the long, low studded room, and moved a chair from the
center to a place nearer the wall. Her glance followed me inquiringly,
but I forestalled her question.
"Mademoiselle," I observed, "was pointing out that she found something
droll in the situation."
"And is it not droll you should have changed him?" she inquired, and yet
I thought she looked around uneasily. "You have, Monsieur. He was
cautious before this. He foresaw everything. He was willing to risk
nothing. He even warned the Marquis against attacking the coach."
I began to perceive why the Marquis honored my father with his
"Was attacking coaches a frequent habit of the Marquis?" I asked.
"Has he not told you?" she exclaimed, raising her eyebrows.
"One would hardly call our conversation confidential," I explained. "Is
that what you find so droll?"
And indeed, she seemed in a rare good humor, and inexplicably gay. A
curious Mona Lisa smile kept bending her lips and twinkling in her eyes.
The lowering clouds outside, the creakings of the beams and rafters under
the east wind, nor even the drab gloom of her surroundings seemed to
dampen her sudden access of good nature. The events she had witnessed
seemed also to please her. Was it spite that had made her smile when she
watched my father and his visitors? Was it spite that made her smile now,
as she gazed at the room's battered prosperity, and at my grandfather's
portrait above the mantlepiece, in the unruffled dignity of its
"It was the coach," said Mademoiselle, "of Napoleon at Montmareuil. A
dozen of them set upon the coach. The lead horses were killed, and in an
instant they were at the doors. They flung them open, but he was not
inside. Instead, the coach was filled with the consular police. The
paper, the paper they had signed, was at Blanzy, and your father had
agreed to rescue it in case of accident. He would not leave me, Monsieur,
and he would not destroy the paper."
She paused, and regarded me with a frown that had more of curiosity in it
"It was all well enough," she added, "until he heard of you, until you
and he had dinner. It is something you did, something you said, that has
made it all different. I ask you--what have you done to him? He was our
friend before he saw you. Or why would he have ridden through half of
France with Napoleon's police a half a league behind him? Why did he risk
everything to bring out the paper when he might have burned it? Why did
he not sell it there? He might have done so half a dozen times. Why does
he wait till now?
"Do you know what I would say if you were older and less transparent? Do
An imperious, ringing note had entered into her voice, which made me
regard her with a sudden doubt. About her was the same charm and mystery
that had held me silent and curious, the same unnatural assurance, and
cold disregard of her surroundings; but her eyes had grown watchful and
"I would say that you had turned him against us, and if you had--"
"Mademoiselle is overwrought," I said.
She tapped her foot on the floor impatiently, and compressed her lips.
"I am never overwrought," said Mademoiselle. "It is a luxury my family
has not been allowed for many years. I say your father was an honest man,
as men go, and a brave one too, and that you have changed him, and I warn
you to leave him alone in the future. You do not know him, or how to deal
with him. I tell you his trifling about the paper is a passing phase, and
that you must not disturb him. No, no, do not protest. I know well enough
you are not to blame. You must leave him to me. That is all."
"It pains me not to do as Mademoiselle suggests," I said.
"You mean you will not?" she flashed back at me angrily.
"I mean I will not," I answered with sudden heat, "No," I added more
harshly, as she attempted to interrupt, "Now you will listen to me. You
say I am a fool. You say I can do nothing against him. Perhaps not,
Mademoiselle, but what I see is this: I see you in a dangerous situation
through no fault of your own, and whether you wish it or not, I am going
to get you out of it. He has done enough, Mademoiselle, and this is going
to be the end. By heaven, if he looks at you again--"
"But you said--" she interrupted.
I did not have the chance to continue, for a hand was trying the latch of
the door, and then a sharp knock interrupted me. My father was standing
on the threshold. With a smile and a nod to me, he entered, and proceeded
to the center of the room, while I closed the door behind him, and bolted
it again. If he noticed my action, he did not choose to comment. Instead,
he continued towards the chair where Mademoiselle was seated.
"I had hoped that you might get along more pleasantly, you and my son,"
he observed. "Surely he has points in his favor--youth, candor, even a
certain amount of breeding. You have been hard on him, Mademoiselle. Take
my word for it--he is to blame for nothing."
"So you have been listening," she said.
"As doubtless Mademoiselle expected," said my father. "I had hoped--"
"And so had I," I said.
He turned and faced me.
"Hoped," I continued, raising my voice, "that you might enter here, and
leave your servant somewhere else. I have wanted to have a quiet talk
with you this morning."
If he noted anything unusual in my request, he did not show it, not so
much as by a flicker of an eyelash.
"It has hardly been opportune for conversation," he admitted. "But now,
as you say, Brutus is gone. He is out to receive a message I am
expecting, which can hardly be delivered at the front door. You were
saying--Doubtless Mademoiselle will pardon us--"
"Mademoiselle," I went on, "will even be interested. I have wanted to
speak to you so that I might explain myself. Since I have been here I
fear I have been impulsive. You must lay it to my youth, father."
He nodded a grave assent.
"You must not apologize. It has been quite refreshing."
"And yet I am not so young. I am twenty-three."
"Can it be possible?" exclaimed my father. "I had almost forgotten that
I was so near the grave."
"I came to see you here," I continued, "because, as my uncle said, you
are my father. I came here because--because I thought--" I paused and
drew a deep breath, and my father smiled.
"Why I came is aside from the point, at any rate," I said.
"Indeed yes," agreed my father, "and have we not been over the
"If you had accorded me one serious word, it might have been different,"
I continued; "but instead, sir, you have seen fit to jest. It is not what
you have done this morning, sir, as much as your manner towards me, which
makes me take this step. That you have brought a lady from France and
robbed her, that you have robbed my uncle, and have threatened to fire on
the town--somehow they seem no particular affair of mine except for this:
You seem to think that I am incapable of doing anything to hinder you,
and frankly, sir, this hurts my pride. You feel that I am going to sit by
passively and watch you."
I came a step nearer, but he did not draw back. He only continued
watching me with a patient intentness, which seemed gradually to merge
into some more active interest. His interest deepened when I spoke again,
but that was all.
"You feel I am going to be still, and do nothing, even after you
drugged me last evening. Did you think I would not resent it? You are
My father rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"I had not thought of it exactly so," he said, "yet I had to keep
"So, if the tables were turned, and I were you, and you were I, you would
hardly let matters go on without joining in?"
"Hardly," he agreed. "You have thought the matter out very prettily, my
son. It is an angle I seem to have neglected. It only remains to ask what
you are going to do. Let us trust it will be nothing stupid."
"I am glad you understand," I said, "because now it will be perfectly
clear why I am asking you for the paper, and you will appreciate any
steps I may take to get it."
He cast a quick glance around the room, and seemed satisfied that we were
"Do I understand," he inquired, "that you have asked me for the paper?"
I nodded, and his voice grew thoughtfully gentle.
"You interest me," he said. "I have a penchant for mysteries. May I ask
why you believe I shall give it to you?"
"I shall try to show you," I said, and tossed aside my coat and drew my
He stood rigid and motionless, and his face became more set and
expressionless than I had ever seen it; but before he could speak,
Mademoiselle had sprung between us.
"You fool!" she cried. "Put up your sword. Will you not be quiet as I
"Be seated, Mademoiselle," said my father gently. "Where are your senses,
Henry? Can you not manage without creating a scene? Put up your sword. I
cannot draw against you."
Mademoiselle, paler than I had seen her before, sank back into her chair.
"I am sorry you find yourself unable," I said, "because I shall attack
you in any event."
"What can you be thinking of?" my father remonstrated. "Engage me with a
small sword? It is incredible."
"I have been waiting almost twelve hours for the opportunity," I replied.
"Pray put yourself on guard, father."
His stony look of repression had left him. The lines about his mouth
relaxed again. For a moment I thought the gaze he bent upon me was almost
kindly. Then he sighed and shrugged his shoulders, and began slowly to
unwind a handkerchief which he had tied about his right hand, disclosing
several cuts on his knuckles.
"I forgot that Captain Tracy might have teeth," he said. "Positively, my
son, you become disappointing. I had given you credit for more
imagination, and instead you think you can match your sword against mine.
Pray do not interrupt, Mademoiselle," he added, turning to her with a
bow, "it will be quite nothing, and we have neither of us had much
He paused, and carefully divested himself of his coat, folding it neatly,
and placing it on the table. When it was placed to advantage, he drew his
sword, and tested its point on the floor.
"Who knows," he added, bending the blade, "perhaps we may have sport
after all. Lawton was never bad with the foils."
We had only crossed swords long enough for me to feel the supple play
of his wrist before I began to press him. I feinted, and disengaged,
and a second later I had lunged over his guard, and had forced him to
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed my father gaily. "You surprise me. What! Again?
Damn these chairs!"
A fire of exultation leapt through me. I grinned at my father over the
crossed blades, for I could read something in his face that steadied my
hand. My best attack might leave him unscathed, but I was doing more,
much more, than he had expected. I lunged again, and again he stepped
back, thrusting so quickly that I had barely time to recover.
"Excellent!" said my father. "You are quick, my son. You even have an
"Mademoiselle!" I called sharply. "The paper! In the breast pocket of his
coat. Take it out and burn it."
"Good God!" exclaimed my father.
"You see," I said, "I have my points."
"My son," he said, parrying the thrust with which I ended my last words,
"pray accept my apologies, and my congratulations. You have a better mind
and a better sword than I could reasonably have expected. Indeed, you
quite make me extend myself. But you must learn to recover more quickly,
Henry, much more quickly. I have seen too many good men go down for just
that failing. It may be well enough against an ordinary swordsman, my
son, or even a moderately good one, but as for me, I could run you
through twice over. Indeed I would, if--"
"The paper, Mademoiselle," I called again. "Have you got it?"
"Exactly," said my father. "The paper. If the paper were in my pocket,
you, my son, would now be in the surgeon's hands. The paper, however, is
upstairs in my volume of Rabelais. And now--"
His wrist suddenly stiffened. He made a feint at my throat, and in the
same motion lowered his guard. As I came on parade, my sword was wrenched
from my grasp. At the same time I stepped past his point, and seized him
around the waist.
"You heard, Mademoiselle," I cried. "The door!" and we fell together.
My father uttered something which seemed very near a curse, and clutched
at my throat. I loosened my grasp to fend away his hand, and he broke
away from my other arm, and sprang to his feet. Just as he did so there
was a blow, a splintering of wood. The door was carried off its hinges,
and Brutus leapt beside him. The floor had not been clean. My father
brushed regretfully at the smudges on his cambric shirt.
"My coat, if you please, Mademoiselle," he said. "I see you have it in
your hands. Gad, my son! It was a nearer thing than I expected. On my
word, I did not know that Brutus was back."
"He is like you, captain," said Mademoiselle, handing the coat to him.
"You are both stubborn."
For some reason I could not fathom, her good nature had returned. It was
relief, perhaps, that made her smile at us.
"It is a family trait," returned my father.
As though kicking down the door had been a simple household duty, Brutus
turned from it with quiet passivity, and adjusted the folds of the blue
broadcloth with an equal thoroughness, while my father straightened the
lace at his wrists.
"Huh," said Brutus suddenly. Then I noticed that his stockings were caked
with river mud, and that he had evidently been running. My father,
forgetful of his coat for the moment, whirled about and faced him.
"To think I had forgotten," he cried. "What news, you black rascal?"
"Huh," said Brutus again, and handed him a spotted slip of paper. My
father's lips parted. He seized it with unusual alacrity, read it, and
tossed it in the fire. Then he sighed, like a man from whose mind a heavy
weight of care has been lifted. The tenseness seemed to leave his slim
figure, and for an instant he looked as though the day had tired him, and
as though another crisis were over.
"He's there?" he demanded sharply.
"Huh," said Brutus.
"Now heaven be praised for that," said my father, with something that was
a close approach to fervor. "I was beginning to wonder if, perhaps,
something had happened."
Mademoiselle looked up at him demurely.
"The captain has good news?" she asked.
He turned to her and smiled his blandest smile.
"Under the circumstances," he said, "the best I could expect."
Still smiling, he smoothed his coat and squared his shoulders.
"Our little melodrama, my lady, is drawing to its close."
The sun had finally broken through the clouds, and already its rays were
slanting into the room, falling softly on the dusty furniture, and
making the shadows of the vines outside dance fitfully on the wall by
the fire; and the shadows of the elms were growing long and straight
over the rain soaked leaves, and the rank, damp grass of our lawn. It
was the dull, gentle sunshine of an autumn afternoon, soft and kindly,
and yet a little bleak.
"Yes," said my father, "it is nearly over. It turns into a simple matter,
after all. I wonder, Mademoiselle, will you be sorry? Will you ever
recall our weeks on the high-road? I shall, I think. And the Inn in
Britanny, with Brutus up the road, and Ned Aiken swearing at the post
boys. At least we were living life. And the _Eclipse_--I told you they
would never beat us on a windward tack. I told you, Mademoiselle, the
majority of mankind were very simple people."
"And you still feel so?" she asked him.
"Now more than ever," said my father. "I had almost hoped there would
be one sane man among the dozens outside, but they all have the brains
of school boys. No wonder the world moves so slowly, and great men seem
And he wound the handkerchief around his hand again.
"The captain has arranged to sell the paper?" asked Mademoiselle.
"Exactly," said my father. "The price has been fixed, and I shall deliver
it myself as soon as the day grows a little darker. I am sorry, almost.
It has not been uninteresting."
"No," said Mademoiselle, "it has not been uninteresting."
"You are pale, my son," said my father, turning to me. "I trust you are
I shook my head.
"It is only your pride? You will be better soon. Come, we have always
been good losers. We have always known when the game was up. Let us see
if we cannot end it gracefully, as gentlemen should. You cannot get the
paper. Why not make the best of it? You have tried, and tried not
unskilfully, but you see now that the right man cannot always win--a
useful lesson, is it not? I do not ask you to like me for it. You have
seen enough of me, I hope, to hate me. And yet--let us be philosophical.
Be seated, my son. Brutus, it is three o'clock. Bring in the Madeira, and
the noon meal."
I did not reply, and he stood for a moment watching me narrowly. Brutus
threw another log on the fire, which gave off a brisk crackling from the
bed of coals. He then stood waiting doubtfully, until my father nodded.
"Take the door out as you go," my father directed. "Mademoiselle,
He pointed out an armchair beside the fire. "And you, my son, opposite.
So." From the side pocket of his coat he drew a silver mounted pistol,
which he examined with studious attention.
"Come," he said, slipping it back, "let us be tranquil. Is there any
reason to bear ill will simply because we each stand on an opposite side
of a question of ethics? If you had only been to the wars, how
differently you would see it. There hundreds of men stab each other with
the best will in the world, none of the crudeness of personal animosity,
only the best of good nature. In a little time now we shall part, never,
if I can help it, to meet again. You have seen me as a dangerous,
reckless man, without any principles worth mentioning. Indeed, I have so
few that I shall have recourse to violence, my son, if you do not assume
a more reposeful manner. The evening will be active enough to make any
further excitement quite superfluous. Have patience. An hour or so means
little to anyone so young."
There fell a silence while he stood immovably watching us. A gust of wind
blew down the chimney, and scattered a cloud of dust over the hearth. The
rafters creaked. Somewhere in the stillness a door slammed. The very lack
of expression in his face was stamping it on my memory, and for the first
time its phlegmatic calm aroused in me a new emotion. I had hated it and
wondered at it before, and now in spite of myself it was giving me a
twinge of pity. For nature had intended it to be an expressive face,
sensitive and quick to mirror each perception and emotion. Was it pride
that had turned it into a mask, and drawn a curtain before the light that
burned within, or had the light burned out and left it merely cold and
"The captain is thinking?" said Mademoiselle.
He smiled, and fixed her with his level glance.
"Indeed yes," he answered briskly. "It is a rudeness for which I can only
crave your pardon. Strange that I should have tasted your father's
hospitality so often and should still be a taciturn host."
Mademoiselle bit her lip.
"There is only one thing stranger," she said coldly.
"And that is--?" said my father, bending toward her attentively.
"That you should betray the last request of the man who once sheltered
you and trusted you, and showed you every kindness. Tell me, captain, is
it another display of artistic temperament, or simply a lack of
Her words seemed to fall lightly on my father. He took a pinch of snuff,
and waved his hand in an airy gesture of denial.
"Bah," he said. "If the Marquis were alive, he would understand. He was
always an opportunist, the Marquis. 'Drink your wine,' he would say,
'drink your wine and break your glass. We may not have heads to drink it
with tomorrow.' I am merely drinking the wine, Mademoiselle. He would
not blame me. Besides, the Marquis owes me nothing. If it were not for
me, your brother would be drinking his wine in paradise, instead of
cursing at the American climate. And you, Mademoiselle--would you have
preferred to remain with the police?"
He looked thoughtfully into his snuff box.
"Dead men press no bills--surely you recall the Marquis said that also.
No, Mademoiselle, we must be practical to live. The Marquis would
understand. The Marquis was always practical."
She caught her breath sharply, but my father seemed not to have perceived
the effect of his words.
"Ah," he said, "here is Brutus with the meal."
Brutus had carried in a small round table on which were arranged a loaf
of bread and some salt meat.
"Mademoiselle will join me?" asked my father, rubbing his hands. I do not
think he expected her reply any more than I did. Indeed, it seemed to
give him a momentary uneasiness.
"One must eat," said Mademoiselle. "We will eat, captain, and then we
will talk." I am sorry you have made it necessary, but of course you
have expected it."
"Mademoiselle has been unnaturally subdued," he replied. "It is pleasant
she is coming to herself again. And you, my son, you should be hungry."
"As Mademoiselle says, one must eat," I answered.
"Good," he said. "The food is poor, but you will find the wine
excellent," and he filled the glasses. It was a strange meal.
"Now we shall talk," said Mademoiselle, when it was finished.
My father raised his wine glass to the light.
"It is always a pleasure to listen to Mademoiselle."
"I fear," replied Mademoiselle, "that this will be the exception."
"Impossible," said my father, sipping his wine.
"All this morning I have tried to have a word with you," said
Mademoiselle, "but your time has been well taken up. I hoped to speak to
you instead of your son, but he failed to take my advice and remain
quiet. As I said before, you are both stubborn. Not that it has made much
difference. You still have the paper."
She caused, and surveyed him calmly.
"Is it not painful to continue the discussion?" my father inquired. "I
assure you I have not changed my mind since last evening, nor shall I
change it. Must I repeat that the affair of the paper is finished?"
"We shall see," said Mademoiselle.
"As Mademoiselle wishes," said my father.
"It has been six years since I first saw you in Paris," said
Mademoiselle. Her voice was softly musical, and somehow she was no longer
cold and forbidding. My father placed his wine glass on the table, and
seemingly a little disturbed, gave her his full attention.
"Six years," said Mademoiselle. "I have often thought of you since then.
"You have done me too much honor," said my father. "You always
have, my lady."
She only smiled and shook her head.
"You are the sort of man whom women think about, and the sort whom women
admire. Surely you know that without my telling you. A man with a past is
always more pleasant than one with a future. Do you know what I thought
when I saw you that evening? You remember, they were in the room,
whispering as usual, plotting and planning, and you were to have a boat
off the coast of Normandy. You and the Marquis had ridden from Bordeaux.
I thought, Captain, that you were the sort of man who could succeed in
anything you tried--yes, anything. Perhaps you know the Marquis thought
so too, and even today I believe we were nearly right. We saw you in
Brussels later, and in Holland, and then at Blanzy this year. I have
known of a dozen commissions you have performed without a single blunder.
Indeed, I know of only one thing in which you have definitely failed."
"Only one? Impossible," said my father.
"Yes, only one, and it seemed simple enough."
A touch of color had mounted to her cheeks, and she looked down at the
"You have done your best, done your best in a hundred little ways to make
me hate you. You have studied the matter carefully, as you study
everything. You have missed few opportunities. Even a minute ago, about
the Marquis--and yet you have not succeeded."
My father raised his hand hastily to his coat lapel.
"Is there never a woman who will not reduce matters to personalities," he
murmured. "I should have known better. I see it now. I should have made
love to you."
Though her voice was grave, there was laughter in her eyes.
"I have often wondered why you did not. It was the only method you seem
to have overlooked."
"There is one mistake a man always makes about women." He smiled and
glanced at us both, and then back at his wine again. "He forgets they are
all alike. Sooner or later he sees one that in some strange way seems
different. I thought you were different, Mademoiselle. Heaven forgive me,
I thought you even rational. Surely you have every reason to dislike me.
Let us be serious, Mademoiselle. You do not hate me?"
"I am afraid," said Mademoiselle, "that you have had quite an
In spite of myself I started. Could it be that I was jealous? Her eyes
were lowered to the arm of her chair, and she was intent on the delicate
carving of the mahogany. It was true then. I might have suspected it
before, but was it possible that I cared?
"Good God!" exclaimed my father, and pushed back his chair.
Mademoiselle rested her chin on the palm of her hand.
"I told you the interview would not be pleasant," she said. "But you are
pessimistic, captain. I have not said I loved you. Do not be alarmed. I
was going to say I pitied you. That was all."
"Mon Dieu," my father murmured. "It is worse." And yet I thought I
detected a note of relief in his voice. "Surely I am not as old as that."
Mademoiselle, whose eyes had never left his face, smiled and shook her
"I know what you are thinking," she said. "No, no, captain. It is not the
beginning of a melodramatic speech. I am not offering pity to the villain
in the story. Even the first night I met you, I was sorry for you,
captain. I was sorry as soon as I saw your eyes. I knew then that
something had happened, and when I heard you speak, I told myself you
were not to blame for it. I still believe you were not to blame. You see,
I know your story now."
"Indeed?" said my father. "And you still are sorry. Mademoiselle, you
"Yes," said Mademoiselle, "I heard the story, and I believe she was to
blame, not you. After all, she took you for better or worse."
And then a strange thing happened. In spite of himself he started. His
race flushed, and his lips pressed tight together. It seemed almost as
though a spasm of pain had seized him, which he could not conceal in
spite of his best efforts. With an unconscious motion, he grasped his
wine glass and the color ebbed from his cheeks.
"Mademoiselle is mistaken," said my father. "Another wine glass, Brutus."
The stem of the one he was holding had snapped in his hand.
"Nonsense," said Mademoiselle shortly.
My father cleared his throat, and glanced restlessly away, his face still
set and still lined with the trace of suffering.
"Mademoiselle," he said finally, "you deal with a subject which is still
painful. Pray excuse me if I do not discuss it. Anything which you may
have heard of my affairs is entirely a fault of mine. You understand?"
"Yes," said Mademoiselle, "I understand, and we shall continue to
discuss it, no matter how painful it is to you. Who knows, captain;
perhaps I can bring you to your senses, or are you going to continue to
ruin your life on account of a woman?"
"Be silent, Mademoiselle," said my father sharply.
But she disregarded his interruption.
"So she believed that you had filled your ship with fifty bales of
shavings. She believed it, and called you a thief. She believed you were
as gauche as that. I can guess the rest of the story."
But my father had regained his equanimity.
"Five hundred bales of shavings," he corrected. "You are misinformed even
about the merest details."
"And for fifteen years, you have been roving about the world, trying to
convince her she was right. Ah, you are touched? I have guessed your
secret. Can anything be more ridiculous!"
He half started from his chair, and again his face grew drawn and
"She _was_ right," he said, a little hoarsely. "Believe me, she was
always right, Mademoiselle."
"Nonsense," said Mademoiselle. "I do not believe it."
My father turned to me with a shrug of his shoulders.
"It is pleasant to remember, is it not, my son, that your mother had a
keener discernment, and did not give way to the dictates of a romantic
"Sir," I said, "there is only one reason why I ever came here, and that
was because my mother requested it. She wanted you to know, sir, that she
regretted what she said almost the moment you left the house. If you had
ever written her, if you had ever sent a single word, you could have
changed it all. In spite of all the evidence, she never came fully to
"Ah, but you believe it," said my father quickly.
I do not think he ever heard my answer. He had turned unsteadily in his
chair, and was facing the dying embers of the fire, his left hand limp on
the table before him. Again the spasm of pain crossed his face.
Mademoiselle still watched him, but without a trace of triumph. Indeed,
she seemed more kindly and more gentle than I had ever known her.
"Five hundred bales of shavings," she softly. "Ah, captain, there
are not many men who would do it. Not any that I know, save you and
"Brutus," said my father, "a glass of rum."
With his eyes still on the fire, he drank the spirits, and sighed. "And
now, Brutus," he continued, "my volume of Rabelais."
But when it was placed beside him, he left it unopened, and still
continued to study the shifting scenes in the coals.
Was it possible that I cared? There she was leaning toward him, the
flames from the fire dancing softly before her face, giving her dark hair
a hundred new lights and shadows. Her lips were parted, and in her eyes
was silent entreaty. I felt a sudden unaccountable impulse to snatch up
the volume of Rabelais, to face my father again, weapon or no weapon, to
"Come, captain," said Mademoiselle gently. "Must you continue this after
it has turned into a farce? Must you continue acting from pique, when the
thing has been over for more years than you care to remember? Must you
keep on now because of a whim to make your life miserable and the lives
of others? Will you threaten fifty men with death and ruin, because you
once were called a thief? It is folly, sir, and you know it, utter
useless folly! Pray do not stare at me. It was easy enough to piece your
story together. I guessed it long ago. I have listened too often to you
and the Marquis at wine. Come, captain, give me back the paper."
With his old half smile, my father turned to her and nodded in pleasant
"Mademoiselle," he observed evenly, "I have gone further through the
world than most men, though to less purpose, and I have met many people,
but none of them with an intuition like yours."
He paused long enough to refill his glass.
"You are right, Mademoiselle. Indeed, it is quite wonderful to meet a
woman of your discernment. Yes, you are right. My wife called me a rogue
and a scoundrel--mind you, I am not saying she was mistaken--but my
temper was hotter then than it is now. I have done my best to convince
her she was not in error. And now, Mademoiselle, it has become as much of
a habit with me as strong drink, a habit which even you cannot break. I
have been a villain too long to leave off lightly. No, Mademoiselle, I
have the paper, and I intend to dispose of it as I see fit. Your mother,
my son, need have had no cause for regret. She was right in everything
she said. Brutus, tell Mr. Aiken I am ready to see him."
He must have been in the hall outside, for he entered the morning room
almost as soon as my father had spoken, dressed in his rusty black sea
cloak. At the sight of Mademoiselle, he bowed ceremoniously, and blew
loudly on his fingers.
"Wind's shifted southwest," he said. "But we're ready to put out."
"Sit down, Mr. Aiken," said my father. "My son, pour him a little
"Ah," said Mr. Aiken, selecting a chair by the fire, "pour it out, my
lad--fill her up. It's a short life and little joy 'less we draw it from
the bottle. And long life and much joy to you, sir, by the same token,"
he added, raising his glass and tossing the spirits adroitly down his
throat. Then, with a comfortable sigh, he drew out his pipe and lighted
it on an ember.
"Yes, she'll be blowing before morning."
"You don't mean," inquired my father, with a glance out of the window,
"that I can't launch a small boat from the beach?"
"You could, captain, if you'd a mind to," said Ned Aiken, tamping down
his tobacco, "but there's lots who couldn't."
"Then I shall," said my father languidly. "Brutus and I will board the
_Sea Tern_ at eight o'clock tonight. You will stand off outside and put
on your running lights."
"Yes," said Mr. Aiken, "it's time we was going."
"You mean they are taking steps?"
"A frigate's due in at midnight," said Mr. Aiken, grinning.
"A frigate! Think of that!" said my father. "At last we seem to be making
our mark on the world."
"We've never done the beat of this," said Mr. Aiken.
"And everything is quiet outside?"
"All right so far," said Mr. Aiken.
"How many men are watching the house?"
"There's four, sir," he answered.
"Ah," said my father, "and Mr. Lawton still stops at the tavern?"
"Hasn't showed his head all morning," answered Mr. Aiken.
"Ah," said my father, "perhaps he is right in concealing such a useless
member." And he helped himself from the decanter, seemed to hesitate for
a moment, and continued:
"And Mr. Jason Hill--he has been to call, Ned. Have you seen him since?"
"He's been walking out in the road, sir, all morning," replied Mr. Aiken.
"And a schooner of his is anchored upstream. And if you'll pardon the
liberty, I don't give that for Jason Hill," and he spat into the fire.
"It may please you to know," said my father, "that I quite agree
with you. I am afraid," he went on, looking at the back of his hand,
"that Jason does not take me seriously. I fear he will find he is
Brutus, apparently anticipating something pleasant, moved towards my
"My pistols, Brutus. And it is growing dark. You had best draw the
shutters and bring in the candles. We're sailing very close to the
wind this evening. Listen to me carefully, Brutus. You will have the
cutter by the bar at eight o'clock, and in five minutes you will bring
out my horse."
"What's the horse for?" asked Mr. Aiken.
My father settled himself back more comfortably in his chair before he
answered. A few drops of wine had spilled on the mahogany. He touched
them, and held up his fingers and looked thoughtfully at the stain.
"Because I propose to ride through them," he said. "I propose showing our
friends--how shall I put it so you'll understand?--that I don't care a
damn for the whole pack."
"Gad!" murmured Mr. Aiken. "I might have known it. And here I was
thinking you'd be quiet and sensible. Are you still going on with that
The red of the wine seemed to please my father. He dipped his fingers in
it again and drew them slowly across the back of his left hand.
"Precisely," he said. "I propose to deliver it tonight before I sail. I
leave it at Hixon's farm."
"He's dead," said Mr. Aiken.
"Exactly," said my father. "Only his shade will help me. Perhaps it will
be enough--who knows?"
"There'll be half a dozen after you before you get through the gate,"
said Mr. Aiken dubiously. "You can lay to it Lawton will be there before
you make a turn."
"That," said my father, "is why I say we're sailing very close to
"Good God, sir, burn it up," said Mr. Aiken plaintively. "What's it been
doing but causing trouble ever since we've got it? Running gear carried
away--man wounded from splinters. Hell to pay everywhere. Gad, sir,
they're afraid to sleep tonight for fear you'll blow 'em out of bed.
What's the use of it all? Damn it, that's what I say, what's the use? And
now here you go, risking getting a piece of lead thrown in you, all
because of a few names scrawled on a piece of paper. Here it's the first
time you've been back. It's a hell of a home-coming--that's what I say. I
told you you hadn't ought to have come. Now there's the fire. Why not
forget it and burn it up, and then it's over just as neat as neat, and
then we're aboard, and after the pearls again. Why, what must the boy be
thinking of all this? He must be thinking he's got a hell-cat for a
father. That's what he must be thinking."
"That will do," said my father coldly, and he rose slowly from his chair,
and stood squarely in front of me.
"Tie that boy up, Brutus," he commanded. "It is a compliment, my son. My
opinion of you is steadily rising. Tie him up, Brutus. You will find a
rope on the chimney piece."
He stood close to me, evidently pleased at the convulsive anger which had
gripped me. Brutus was still fumbling on the mantlepiece. Ned Aiken's
pipe had dropped from his mouth. It was Mademoiselle who was the first to
"Are you out of your senses?" she demanded, seizing him by the arm. "It
is too much, captain, I tell you it is too much. Think what you are
doing, and send the black man off."
"I have been thinking the matter over for some time," replied my father
tranquilly, "and I have determined to do the thing thoroughly. If he
cannot like me, it is better for him to hate me, and may save trouble.
Tie him up, Brutus."
"Bear away!" cried Mr. Aiken harshly. "Mind yourself, sir."
His warning, however, was late in coming. I had sprung at my father
before the sentence was finished. It was almost the only time I knew him
to miscalculate. He must have been taken unaware, for he stepped backward
too quickly, and collided with the very chair he had quitted. It shook
his balance for the moment, so that he thrust a hand behind him to
recover himself, and in the same instant I had the volume of Rabelais. I
leapt for the open doorway, but Ned Aiken was there to intercept me.
Brutus was up behind me with his great hands clamping down on my
shoulders. I turned and hurled the volume in the fireplace.
My father caught it out almost before it landed. With all the
deliberation of a connoisseur examining an old and rare edition, he
turned the pages with his slim fingers. There, as he had said, was
the paper, with the same red seals that I had admired the previous
evening. He placed it slowly in his inside pocket, and tossed the book
on the floor.
"Now here's a pretty kettle of fish," said Mr. Aiken.
My father was watching me thoughtfully.
"Take your hands off him, Brutus," he said, "and bring out the horse."
For a second longer we stood motionless, each watching the other. Then my
father crossed to the long table near which I was standing, picked up the
pistols that Brutus had left there, and slipped them into his capacious
"You disappoint me, Henry," he remarked. "You should have used
Back to Full Books