The Unspeakable Gentleman
John P. Marquand
Part 3 out of 4
"I had thought of them," I answered.
"I am glad of that," he said. "It is a relief to know you did not
overlook them. You were right, Mademoiselle. I should have known better
than to treat him so. We have ceased to play the game, my son. It only
remains to take my leave. I shall not trouble you again."
He was standing close beside me. Was it possible his eyes were a little
wistful, and his voice a trifle sad?
"I thought I should be glad to leave you," he said, "and somehow I am
sorry. Odd that we can never properly gauge our emotions. I feel that you
will be a very blithe and active gentleman in time, and there are not so
many left in these drab days. Ah, well--"
His sword was lying on the table. He drew it, and tucked the naked blade
under his arm. In spite of the two candles which Brutus had left, the
shadows had closed about us, so that his figure alone remained distinct
in the yellow light, slender and carelessly elegant. I think it pleased
him to have us all three watching. Any gathering, however small, that he
might dominate, appeared to give him enjoyment--his leave taking not less
than the others.
"It is growing dark, Mr. Aiken," he observed, "and our position is not
without its drawbacks. Call in the men from outside, and take them aboard
and give them a measure of rum. No one will disturb me before I leave, I
think. You had better weigh at once, and never mind your running lights
till it is time for them."
"So you're going to do it," said Mr. Aiken. "I might have known you
wouldn't listen to reason."
"You should have sailed with me long enough," said my father, "to know I
"And you not even dressed for it," added Mr. Aiken. "You might be going
to a party, so you might."
"I think," replied my father, "the evening will be more interesting than
a purely social affair. Keep the _Sea Tern_ well off, and we shall meet
only too soon again.'
"Why don't I take the boy along," Mr. Aiken suggested, eyeing me a little
furtively. "He'd be right useful where we're going, and the sea would do
him good, so it would."
"I fancy you'll have enough bother without him," replied my father.
"Personally I have found him quite distracting during my short visit."
"Hell," said Mr. Aiken, "he wouldn't be no trouble, but he looks fair
ugly here, so he does, and he knows too much. No offense, sir, but he's
too up and coming to be left alone with an ignorant nigger."
My father shrugged his shoulders.
"Brutus is fond of the boy. He will not hurt him."
"But the boy might hurt the nigger," said Mr. Aiken.
My father nodded blandly toward the hall.
"And you might be seasick," he said.
"Har," roared Mr. Aiken, seemingly struck by the subtle humor of the
remark. "Damned if you wouldn't joke if the deck was blowing off under
you. Damned if I ever seen the likes of you now, captain."
Still under the spell of mirth he left us. The house door closed behind
him, and Brutus glided into the room.
"Mademoiselle," said my father bowing, "I am sorry the cards have fallen
so we must part. If you had as few pleasant things as I to remember, you
also might understand how poignantly I regret it, even though I know it
is for the best. It is time you were leaving such low company."
"I have found it pleasant sometimes," she replied a little wistfully. "It
takes very little to please me, captain."
"Sometimes," he replied, smiling, "anything is pleasant, but only
sometimes. Your brother has been notified, Mademoiselle. You should hear
from him in a little while now, when this hurry and bustle is over, and
when you see him, give him my regards and my regrets. And Mademoiselle"
--he hesitated an instant--"would you think it insolent if I said I
sometimes wished--Mon Dieu, Mademoiselle, do not take it so. It was
entirely unpardonable of me."
Mademoiselle had hidden her face in her hands. My father, frowning
slightly, rubbed his thumb along his sword blade.
"Forgive me, if you can," he said. "I have often feared my manners would
fail me sometime."
She looked up at him then, and her eyes were very bright.
"Suppose," she said softly, "I told you there was nothing to forgive.
Suppose I said--"
My father, bowing his lowest, politely and rather hastily interrupted.
"Mademoiselle would be too kind. She would have forgotten that it is
"No," said Mademoiselle, shaking her head slowly, "it is not impossible.
You should have known better than to say that. Suppose--" her voice
choked a little, as though the words hurt her--"suppose I bade you
recall, captain, what you said on the stairs at Blanzy, when they were at
the door and you were going to meet them. Do you remember?"
My father smiled, and made a polite little gesture of assumed
despair. Then his voice, very slow and cool, broke in on her speech
and stilled it.
"Good God, Mademoiselle, one cannot remember everything."
Playing with the hilt of his sword, he stepped nearer, still smiling,
still watching her with a polished curiosity.
"I have said so many little things to women in my time, so many little
nothings. It is hard to remember them all. They have become confused now,
and blended into an interesting background, whose elements I can no
longer separate. Your pardon, my lady, but I have forgotten, forgotten so
completely that even the stairs seem merely a gentle blur."
And he pressed his hand over his brow and sighed, while he watched her
face flush crimson.
"You lie!" she cried. "You have not forgotten!"
My father ceased to smile.
"And suppose I have not," he said. "What is it to Mademoiselle? What are
the words of a ruined man, the idle speech of a fool who fancied he
would sup that night in paradise, and what use is it to recall them now?
Is it possible you believe I am touched by such trivial matters? Because
everyone had done what you wish, do you think I shall also? Do you think
you can make me give up the paper, as though I were a simpering, romantic
fool in Paris? Do you think I have gone this far to turn back?
Mademoiselle seems to forget that I have the game in my own hands. It
would be a foolish thing to throw it all away, even--"
He paused, and bowed again.
"Even for you, Mademoiselle. I have arrived where I am today only for one
reason. Can you not guess it? It was a pleasure to take you from Blanzy.
It is business now, and they cannot be combined.
"Listen, Mademoiselle," he continued. "Not three miles off the harbor
mouth is a French ship tacking back and forth, and not entirely for
pleasure. Around this house at present are enough men to run your
estates at Blanzy. A sloop has come into the harbor this morning, and
has landed its crew for my especial benefit. A dozen of Napoleon's
agents are waiting to spring at my throat. I have succeeded so that
there is not a man in town who would not be glad to see me on a yard
arm. And yet they are waiting, Mademoiselle. Is it not amusing? Can you
guess why they are waiting?"
He took a pinch of snuff and dusted his fingers.
"Because they fear that I may burn the paper if they disturb me.
They believe if they keep hidden, if I do not suspect, that I may
venture forth. They hope to take me alive, or kill me, and still
obtain the paper. Indeed, it is their one hope. It would be a pity
to disappoint them."
His lips had parted, and his eyes were shining in the candle light.
"There are few things which move me now, my lady. All that I really enjoy
is an amusing situation, and this one is very amusing. Do you think I
have crossed the ocean to deliver this document, and then I shall stop?
No, Mademoiselle, you are mistaken."
He bowed again, and stepped backwards towards the door.
"Pray do likewise, Mademoiselle, and forget," he said. "There is nothing
in this little episode fit for you to remember. It is not you they are
after, and you will be quite safe here. I have made sure of that. My son
will remain until your brother arrives, and will dispense what
hospitality you require.
"I trust," he added, turning to me, "you still remember why you have
"Indeed, yes," I answered.
"Then it is good-bye, Henry. I shall not bother to offer you my hand.
Brutus, you will remain with my son until a quarter to seven."
Even now I cannot tell what made a mist come over my eyes and a lump in
my throat any more than I can explain my subsequent actions on that
evening. Was it possible I was sorry to see the last of him? Or was it
simply self pity that shortened my breath and made my voice seem broken
"And after that?" I asked.
He looked at me appraisingly, tapping his thin fingers on his sword hilt.
"After that--" He stared thoughtfully at the shadows of the
darkened room. Was he thinking as I was, of the wasted years and
what the end would be?
"After that," he repeated, half to himself, "come, I will make an
appointment with you after that--on the other side of the Styx, my son.
I shall be waiting there, I promise you, and we shall drink some corked
ambrosia. Surely the gods must give a little to the shades, or at any
rate, Brutus shall steal some. And then perhaps you shall tell me what
happened after that. I shall look forward--I shall hope, even, that it
may be pleasant. Good-bye, my son."
I think he had often planned that leave taking. Surely it must have
He was gone, like the shades of which he had spoken, and Mademoiselle and
I were left staring at the black rectangle of the broken door. I drew a
deep breath and looked about me quickly. It seemed somehow as though a
spell were broken, as though the curtain had lowered on some final act in
the theatre. Slowly my mind seemed to free itself from a hundred
illusions, and to move along more logical paths. Brutus went to the arms
rack in the corner, and selected a rusted cutlass from the small arms
that still rested there, thrust it at me playfully and grinned. For a
minute or even more, the single log that was still burning in the
fireplace hissed drowsily, and I could hear the vines tapping gently on
the windows. Then I heard a pistol shot, followed by a hoarse cry.
Mademoiselle started to her feet, and then sank back in her chair again,
and from where I was standing I could see that her face was white and her
hands were trembling. So she loved him. My hand gripped hard against the
back of a chair. Why should I have hoped she did not?
"God!" she gasped. "I have killed him!"
"You?" I cried, but she did not answer.
"Huh!" said Brutus, and his grin grew broader. "Monsieur's pistol. He
"Indeed," I said, for the sense of unreality was still strong upon me.
"And whom did he kill, Brutus?"
Brutus cocked his head to one side, and listened. Somewhere behind came a
confusion of shouts and the thudding of horses' hoofs.
"He kill Mr. Jason Hill," said Brutus.
"Are you sure?" Mademoiselle demanded sharply.
Brutus nodded, and the dull, fixed look went out of her eyes, and slowly
a touch of color returned to her cheeks.
And then there was a clamor of voices and a tramp of feet and a crash on
the door outside.
Brutus looked about him in wild indecision.
"We have callers," I observed, doing my best to keep my voice calm. "Who
are they, Brutus?"
Brutus, however, had forgotten me, and had sprung into the hall. At
almost the same instant, someone must have discovered that the door was
unlocked, for a sudden draught eddied through the passage. Then there
was a confused babel of voices, to which I did not listen. I was busy
swinging up the sash of the nearest window.
"Quickly, Mademoiselle!" I whispered.
"Damn it!" someone shouted from the hall. "There's another of 'em!" And
there came the crack of a pistol that echoed loudly in the passage.
"It is time we were going," I said. "Out of the window, Mademoiselle!"
In my haste I almost pushed her from the sill to the lawn, and was
leaning towards her.
"Mademoiselle, listen! The stables are straight to the left. Can you
saddle a horse?"
"The first stall to the right. I shall be there in an instant!" For I
remembered my sword, and sprang back into the room to get it.
"Get that man!" someone was shouting. "In after him, you fools! Don't
shoot in the dark!"
I had a glimpse of Brutus darting through the passage and making a leap
for the stairs. Then there was a crash of glass.
"Begad!" came a hoarse voice. "He's jumped clean through the window!"
And another pistol exploded from the landing above me.
"Five hundred dollars for the man who gets him." I could swear I had
heard the voice before. "Damn it! Don't let him go! Out the door, all of
you! Out the door, men! Out the door!"
There was a rush of feet through the passage. I had a glimpse of men
running past, and then I was half out the window.
"Stop!" someone shouted. I took a hasty glance behind me to find that my
Uncle Jason had entered the morning room, his clothing torn and
disarranged, the good nature erased from his face, and a gash on his left
cheek that still was bleeding.
"Stop!" he shouted again, "or I fire!"
Then I was out on the lawn with the cool air from the river on my face,
and running for the stable. I wonder what would have happened if the
evening had been less far advanced, or the sky less overcast, or
Mademoiselle less adroit than providence had made her. She had bridled
the horse and was swinging the saddle on him when I had reached the
stable's shadow. I could hear my uncle shouting for assistance as I
tightened the girths, but Brutus must have led his men a pretty chase.
I mounted unmolested, as I somehow knew I should, and helped her up
behind me. Somehow with that first crash on our front door, I knew that
the game had turned. I knew that nothing would stop me. An odd sense of
exaltation came over me, and with it a strange desire to laugh. It would
be amusing enough when I met my father, but I wondered--I wondered as I
clapped my heels into my horse's flanks.
What had my uncle to do in this affair?
It was just that time in an autumn day when the light is fading out of
the sky. The thick, heavy mists that the cold air encourages were rolling
in chill and heavy from the river and leveling the hollow places in the
land. The clouds were still a claret colored purple in the west, but in
another few minutes that color would be gone. The shapes around us were
fast losing their distinctiveness, and their outlines were becoming more
and more a matter for the memory, and not the eye. And it seems to me
that I never knew the air to seem more fresh and sweet.
We had broken into a sharp gallop down the rutted lane. The house, gaunt
and spectral, and bleaker and more forbidding than the darkening sky,
was behind us, and ahead were the broad level meadows, checkered with
little clumps of willow and cedars, as meadows are that lie near the
salt marshes. I had feared we might be intercepted at our gate, but I
was mistaken. We had swerved to the left and were thudding down the
level road, when an exclamation from Mademoiselle made me turn in my
saddle. My look must have been a somewhat blank interrogation, for
Mademoiselle was laughing.
"To think," she cried, "I should have said you resembled your mother!
Where are we going, Monsieur?"
But I think she knew without my answering, for she laughed again, and I
did not entirely blame her. It was pleasant enough to leave our house
behind. It was pleasant to feel the bite of the salt wind, and to see the
trees and the rocks by the roadside slip past us, gaunt and spectral in
the evening. I knew the road well enough, which was fortunate, even when
we turned off the beaten track over a trail which was hardly as good as a
foot path. I was forced to reduce our pace to a walk, but I was confident
that it did not make much difference. Once on the path, the farm was not
half a mile distant, just behind a ridge of rocks that was studded by a
stunted undergrowth of wind beaten oak. I knew the place. I could already
picture the gaping black windows, the broken, sagging ridge pole, and the
crumbling chimney. For years the wind had blown sighing through its
deserted rooms, while the rain rotted the planking. It was not strange
that its owners had left it, for I can imagine no more mournful or
desolate spot. Our own house, three miles away, was its nearest neighbor,
and scarcely a congenial one. Around it was nothing but rain sogged
meadows that scarcely rose above the salt marshes that ran to the dunes
where the Atlantic was beating.
As I stared grimly ahead, I could picture her there behind me, the wind
whipping the color to her cheeks and playing with her hair, her eyes
bright and gay in the half-light. Save for the steady plodding of the
horse, it was very still. I fancied that she had leaned nearer, that her
shoulder was touching mine, that I could feel her breath on my cheek.
Then she spoke, and her voice was almost a whisper.
"It was good of you to take me with you," she said.
"Surely, Mademoiselle," I replied, "You did not think that I would
"I should, if I had been you," she answered, "I was rude to you,
Monsieur, and unjust to you this morning. You see I did not know."
"You did not know?"
"That the son would be as brave and as resourceful as the father. You
are, Monsieur, and yet you are different."
"Yes," I said.
"And I am glad, glad," said Mademoiselle.
"And I am sorry you are glad," I said.
"You are sorry?"
"Perhaps, Mademoiselle," I replied with a tinge of bitterness I could not
suppress, "if I had seen more of the world, if my clothes were in better
taste, and my manners less abrupt--you would feel differently. I wonder.
But let us be silent, for we are almost there."
As we drew near, making our way through damp thickets, a sense of
uneasiness came over me. Somehow I feared we might be too late, though I
knew that this was hardly possible. I feared, and yet I knew well enough
it was written somewhere that we should meet once more. With six men
after him he would not have ridden straight to the place. We should meet,
and it would be different from our other meetings. I wished that it was
light enough to see his face.
At a turn of the path I reined up and listened. It was very still.
Already the light had gone out of the sky, and little was left of the
land about us, save varying tones of black. Had he gone?
I cautiously dismounted. In a minute we should see. In a minute--Then
Mademoiselle interrupted me, and I was both astonished and irritated, for
my nerves were more on edge than I cared to have them. She was right. She
was never overwrought.
"We are there?" she inquired.
"Softly, Mademoiselle," I cautioned her. "If you will dismount, you can
see the place. It is not three hundred feet beyond the thicket. So! You
will admit it is not much to look at. If you will hold the horse's head,
I will go forward."
I did not listen to an objection that she was framing, but slipped
hastily through the trees. As the ugly mass of the house took a more
certain shape before me, I felt my pulse beat more rapidly, and not
entirely through elation. Even today when I look at a place that men have
built and then abandoned, something of the same feeling comes over me,
but not as strongly as it did that evening. It was another matter that
made me hesitate. From the shadow of the doorway I heard a sound which
was too much like the raising of a pistol hammer not to make me remember
that a sword was all I carried.
"There is no need to cock that pistol," I said, in a tone which I hoped
sounded more confident than my state of mind. I halted, but there was no
answer and no further sound.
"I said," I repeated, raising my voice, "there is no need to cock that
pistol. It is a friend of Captain Shelton who is speaking."
"So," said a voice in careful, precise English. "Walk three paces
forward, if you please, and slowly, v-e-r-y slowly. Now. You are a friend
of the captain?"
"In a sense," I replied. "I am his son. I have come to you with a
"So," said the voice again, and I saw that a man was seated before me on
the stone that had served as a doorstep, a man who was balancing a pistol
in the palm of his hand.
"I fear I have been rude," he said, "but I find this place--what shall I
say?--annoying. Your voices are alike, and I know he has a son. You say
you bring a message?"
I had thought what to say.
"It is about the paper," I began. "The captain was to bring it to you
here, and now he finds he cannot."
"Cannot?" he said, with the rising inflection of another language than
"Rather," I corrected myself hastily, "he finds it more expedient to meet
"Ah," he said, "that is better. For a moment I feared the captain was
dead. So the paper--he still has it?"
"He not only has it," I said, "but he is ready to give it to you--at
another place he has named. You are a stranger to the country here?"
My question was not a welcome one.
"Absolute!" he replied with conviction. "Do you take me for a native of
these sink holes? Mon Dieu! Does your mud so completely cover me? But
surely it must be this cursed darkness, or you would have said
differently. Where is this other place?"
I was glad it was too dark for him to see my smile.
"Unfortunately I cannot guide you there," I said, "for I am to stop here
in case I am followed. We have had to be careful, very careful
Impatiently he shifted his position.
"For six months," he replied irritably, "I have been doing nothing
else--careful--always careful. It becomes unbearable, but where is this
place you speak of--in some other bog?"
I pointed to the left of the trees where Mademoiselle was standing.
"I quite understand," I said politely, "even a day with this paper is
quite enough, but it is not a bog and you can reach it quite easily. You
see where I point? Simply follow that field in that direction for half a
mile, perhaps, and you will come to a road. Turn to your right, and after
three miles you will see a house, the first house you will meet, in fact.
It has a gambrel roof and overlooks the river. Simply knock on the door
so--one knock, a pause, and three in succession. It will be understood.
You have a horse?"
"What is left of him," he replied, "though the good God knows how he has
carried me along this far. Yes, he is attached to a post. Well, we are
off, and may the paper stay still till we get it. You wait here?"
"In case we are followed," I said.
He pointed straight before him.
"I have been hearing noises over there, breaking of branches and shouts."
"Then in the name of heaven ride on," I said, and added as an
afterthought, "and turn out to the side if you see anyone coming."
The pleasure I took in seeing him leave was not entirely unalloyed. As I
walked to the oak thicket where Mademoiselle was waiting, I even had some
vague idea of calling him back, for I do not believe in doing anyone a
turn that is worse than necessary. Yet there was only one other way I
could think of to keep him silent, besides sending him where he was
going. She was feeding the horse handfuls of grass.
"It is quite all right, Mademoiselle," I said. "Let us move to the house.
It may be more comfortable in the doorway."
We stood silently for a while, listening to the wind and the dull
monotonous roar of the surf, while the night grew blacker. I listened
attentively, but there was no sound. Surely he was coming.
"Tell me, Monsieur," said Mademoiselle, "what sort of woman was
Unbidden, a picture of her came before me, that seemed strangely
out of place.
"She was very beautiful," I said.
"And very proud," said Mademoiselle.
"Yes, very proud. Why did she call him a thief, Monsieur?"
But I did not answer.
"You are certain your father is coming?" she asked finally.
"I think there is no doubt," I told her. "I have seen him ride,
Mademoiselle. It would take more than a dozen men to lay hands on him.
They should have known better than let him leave the house. Listen,
Mademoiselle! I believe you can hear him now."
My ears were quicker in those days. For a minute we listened in silence,
and then on the wind I heard more distinctly still the regular thud of a
galloping horse. So he was coming, as I knew he would. I knew he would be
methodical and accurate.
"Yes, Mademoiselle," I continued, "my father has many accomplishments,
but this time even he may be surprised. Who knows, Mademoiselle? Pray
step back inside the doorway until I call you."
But she did not move.
"No," said Mademoiselle, "I prefer to stay where I am. I have seen too
much of you and your father to leave you alone together."
"But surely, Mademoiselle," I protested, "you forget why we have come."
"Yes," she answered quickly, "yes, you are right. I do forget. I have
seen too much of this, too much of utter useless folly--too many men
dying, too many suffering for a hopeless cause. I have seen three men
lying dead in our hall, and as many more wounded. I have seen a strong
man turned into a blackguard. I have seen a son turned against his
father, and all for a bit of paper which should never have been written.
I hate it--do you hear me?--and if I forget it, it is because I choose. I
forget it because--" She seemed about to tell me more, and then to think
better of it. "Surely you see, surely you see you cannot. He is your
father, Monsieur, the man who is coming here."
"Mademoiselle," I replied, "you are far too kind. I hardly think he or I
have much reason to hold our lives of any particular value, but as you
have said, my father was a gentleman once, and gentlemen very seldom kill
their sons, nor gentlemen's sons their fathers. Pray rest assured,
Mademoiselle, it will be a quiet interview. I beg you, be silent, for he
is almost here."
I was not mistaken. A horse was on the path we followed, running hard,
and crashing recklessly through the bushes. Before I had sight of him I
heard my father's voice.
"Ives!" he called sharply. "Where the devil are you?"
And in an instant he was at the door, his horse breathing in hard,
sobbing breaths, and he had swung from the saddle as I went forward
to meet him.
"Here," he said, "take it, and be off. Those fools have run me over half
the state. In fact," he continued in the calm tones I remember best, "in
fact, I have seldom had a more interesting evening. I was fired on before
I had passed the gate, and chased as though I carried the treasures of
the Raj. I have your word never to tell where you got it. Never mind my
reasons, or the thanks either. Take it Ives. It has saved me so many a
dull day that it has quite repaid my trouble."
There he was, half a pace away, and yet he did not know me. I think it
was that, more than anything else, which robbed me of my elation. To him
the whole thing seemed an ordinary piece of business. I saw him test his
girth, preparatory to mounting again, saw him slowly readjust his cloak,
and then I took the paper he handed me and buttoned it carefully in my
inside pocket. He turned to his horse again and laid a hand on his
withers, but still he did not mount. I think he was staring into the
night before him and listening, as I had been. Then he turned again
slowly, and half faced me. On the wind, far off still, but nevertheless
distinct, was the sound of voices.
"It is time we were going," said my father. "I only gave them the slip
five minutes back. It was closer work than I had expected."
And then he started, and looked at me more intently through the darkness.
"Name of the devil!" said my father. "How did you get here?"
But that was all. He never even started. His hand still rested tranquilly
on the reins and he still half faced me. Had it been so on that other
night long ago, when his world crumbled to ruins about him? Did he always
win and lose with the same passive acquiescence? Did nothing ever
astonish him? There was a moment's silence, and I felt his eyes on me,
and suddenly became very cautious. I knew well enough he would not let it
finish in such a manner, but what could he do? The game was in my hands.
"Quite simply," I told him. "My horse was in the stable."
When he spoke again his voice was still pleasantly conversational.
"And Brutus?" he asked. "Where the devil was Brutus? Surely the age of
miracles is past. Or do I see before me--" he bowed with all his old
"Brutus," I replied, "jumped through a second story window."
"Indeed?" he said. "He always was most agile."
"He was," I replied. "Not five minutes after you left, Uncle Jason
My father removed his hand from the reins and looped them through his
"Indeed?" he said. "He came in heels first, I trust?"
"No," I said, "he is alive and well."
"The devil!" said my father, and sighed. "I am growing old, my son. I
know my horse spoiled my aim, and yet he fell, and I rode over him. I
had hoped to be finished with your Uncle Jason. You say he entered
"And told me to stop," I said.
"And you did not?"
"No," I replied. "I succeeded in getting out of a window also."
And then, although I could not see him, I knew he had undergone a
change, and I knew that I was facing a different man.
His hand fell on my shoulder, and to my surprise, it was trembling.
"God!" he cried, in a voice that was suddenly harsh and forbidding. "Do
you mean to tell me you left Mademoiselle, and never struck a blow? You
left her there?"
"Not entirely," I replied.
My father became very gentle.
"Will you be done with this?" he said, "The lady, where is she now?"
And then, half to himself he added.
"How was I to know they would break in the house after I had gone?"
"Mademoiselle," I replied, "is not fifteen feet away."
His hand went up to the clasp of his cloak, and again his voice became
"Ah, that is better," said my father. "And so you got the paper after
all. Yes, I am growing old, my son. I appear to have bungled badly. Do
you hope to keep the paper?"
In the distance I heard a voice again, raised in a shout. Surely he
"They are coming," I said. "Yes, I intend to keep the paper."
"Indeed?" said my father. "Perhaps you will explain how, my son. I have
had an active evening, but you--I confess you go quite ahead of me."
"Because," I said, "you are not anxious to go back to France, father, and
you are almost on your way there."
"No, not to France," he answered, and I knew he saw my meaning.
"And yet they are coming to take you. If you so much as offer to touch me
again, I shall call them, father, and we shall go back together. Your
horse is tired. He cannot go much further."
He was silent for a moment, and I prudently stepped back.
"You might shoot me, of course," I added, "but a pistol shot would be
equally good. Listen! I can hear them on the road."
But oddly enough, he was not disturbed.
"On the road, to be sure," said my father. "You are right, Henry, you may
keep the paper. But tell me one thing more. Was there no one here when
"There was," I said, "but I sent him away--to our house, father."
He sighed and smoothed his cloak thoughtfully.
"I fear that I have become quite hopeless. As you say, if I fire a
pistol, they will come, and now I can hardly see any reason to keep them
away. So you sent him to the house, my son? And Jason is still alive? And
you have got the paper? Can it be that I have failed in everything?
Strange how the cards fall even if we stack the deck. Ah, well, then it
is the pistols after all."
There was a blinding flash and the roar of a weapon close beside me, and
I heard Mademoiselle scream. My father turned to quiet his horse.
"Do not be alarmed, Mademoiselle," he said gently, "we are not killing
each other. I am merely using a somewhat rigorous method of bringing my
son to his senses."
He paused, reached under his cloak, drew a second pistol and fired again.
From the road there came a sound that seemed to ring pleasantly to my
"Nearer than I thought," he said brightly. "They should be here in three
minutes at the outside. Shall we sit a while and talk, my son? It is
gloomy here, I admit, but still, it has its advantages. They thought my
rendezvous was ten miles to the north. Lord, what fools they were!
Lawton bit at the letter I let him seize as though it were pork. Ah, if
it had not been for Jason! Well, everything must have an ending."
He threw his bridle over his arm, and was walking toward the doorstep,
lightly buoyant, as though some weight were lifted from his mind. Hastily
I seized his arm.
"Stop!" I cried. "What is to become of Mademoiselle? We cannot leave her
here like this. Have you forgotten she is with us?"
Seemingly still unhurried, he paused, and glanced toward the road, and
then back at me, and then for the first time he laughed, and his
laughter, genuine and care-free, gave me a start which the sound of his
pistol had not. The incongruity of it set my nerves on edge. Was there
nothing that would give him genuine concern?
"Good God, sir!" I shouted furiously. "There's nothing to laugh about!
Don't you hear them coming?"
"Ah," said my father, "I thought that would fetch you. So you have come
to your senses then, and we can go on together? Untie your horse, Henry,
while I charge the pistols."
My hand was on the bridle rein, when a shout close by us made me loosen
the knot more quickly than I intended. I could make out the black form of
a horseman moving towards us at full gallop.
"It must be Lawton," observed my father evenly. "He is well mounted, and
quite reckless. I suppose we had better be going. I shall help
Mademoiselle, if she will permit. No, it is not Lawton. I am sorry."
He raised his arm and fired. My horse started at the sound of his
shot, and as I tried to quiet him, I saw my father lift Mademoiselle
to the saddle.
"Yes," he said again, "I think it is time to be going. These men seem to
have a most commendable determination. Ha! There are two more of them.
Put your horse to the gallop, my son. The tide is out, and we can manage
"The marsh!" I exclaimed.
"Quite," he replied tranquilly. "If Brutus is alive, he will have a boat
near the dunes opposite. It seems as though we might be obliged to take
an ocean voyage."
It seemed to me he had gone quite mad. The marsh, he knew as well as I,
was as full of holes as a piece of cheese. Even in the daytime one could
hardly ride across it. And then I knew that what he said was true, that
he would stop at nothing; and suddenly a fear came over me. For the first
time I feared the quiet, pleasant man who rode beside my bridle rein, as
though we were traversing the main street of our town.
"Ah," said my father, "it is pleasant to have a little exercise. Give him
the spurs Henry. We shall either get across or we shall not. There is no
use being cautious."
I put my horse over a ditch, and straight ahead, I may have ridden four
hundred yards with the even beating of his horse behind me, before what I
feared happened. My horse stumbled, and the pull of my bridle barely got
him up again. I gave him the spur, but he was failing. In a quarter of a
minute he had fallen again, and this time the bridle did not raise him. I
sprang free of him before he had entirely slipped down in the soft sea
mud. He was lashing about desperately, nor could I get him to answer when
I pulled at the bridle. My father reined up beside me and dismounted.
"His leg is broken," he said. "It is inopportune. Ah, they are still
after us." And he turned to look behind him.
"Why are you waiting?" I cried. "Ride on, sir!"
"And leave you here with the paper in your pocket?" said my father. "The
fall has quite got the better of you. The other pistol, Mademoiselle, if
you have finished loading it. Here they come, to be sure. Would you not
think the fools would realize I can hit them?"
He fired into the darkness and a riderless horse ran almost on top of us.
With a snort of fright, he reared and wheeled, and a second shot answered
"Ah," said my father, "they always will shoot before they can see. The
pistol from the holster, if you please, Mademoiselle."
They had not realized we had halted, for the last rider charged past us
before he could check himself. I had a glimpse of his face, white against
the night, and I saw him tug furiously at his bit--an unfortunate matter,
so it happened, for the footing beneath the marsh grass was bad, and his
horse slewed and fell on top of him.
"Pah!" exclaimed my father. "It is almost sad to watch them. Let us go,
Henry. He is knocked even more senseless than he was before. Keep the
saddle, Mademoiselle, and we will lead you across. I fancy that is the
last of them for a moment."
So we tumbled through the mud at a walk, slipping noisily at every step,
but my father was correct in his prophecy. Only the noise of our
progress interrupted us. The sand dunes were becoming something more than
a shadow. My father walked in tranquil silence at the bridle, while I
trudged beside him.
"Are you hurt, Captain?" Mademoiselle demanded.
"Indeed not," he replied. "What was there to hurt me? I was thinking.
That is all; but why do you ask, my lady?"
"Only," said Mademoiselle, "because you have been silent for the past
five minutes, and you never are more gay than when you embark on an
adventure. I never heard you say two words, Captain, until that night on
"Let us forget the Loire," replied my father. "Shall I be quite frank
with you, Mademoiselle?"
"It would be amusing," she admitted, leaning from the saddle towards him,
"if it were only possible," she added.
"Then listen, Mademoiselle," he continued, "and I shall be very frank
indeed. It must be the sea air which makes me so. I seldom talk unless I
feel that my days for talking are nearly over, and at present they seem
to stretch before me most interminably. In a moment we shall see the
boat, and in a moment the _Sea Tern_. I fear I have been very foolish."
"Father," I inquired, "will you answer me a question?"
"Perhaps," said my father.
"What has my uncle to do with the paper?"
"My son," said my father, "may I ask you a question?"
"Perhaps," I replied.
"How much money did your mother leave you at her death?"
"She had none to leave," I replied quickly.
"Ah," said my father, "have you ever wondered why?"
"You should be able to tell me," I answered coldly.
"Indeed," said my father. "But here we are at the dunes. The boat, my
son, do you see it?"
I scrambled up ahead through the sand and beach grass, and the white line
of the beach, which even the darkest night can never hide, lay clear
before me. A high surf was running, and beyond it I could see three
lights, blinking fitfully in the black and nearer on the white sand was
the shadow of a fishing boat, pulled just above the tide mark. A minute
later Brutus came running toward us.
My father was evidently used to such small matters. Indeed, the whole
affair seemed such a part of his daily life as to demand nothing unusual.
He glanced casually at the waves and the boat, tossed off his cloak on
the sand, carefully wrapped his pistols inside it, and placed the bundle
carefully beneath a thwart.
"The rocket, Brutus," said my father. "If you will get in, Mademoiselle,
we will contrive to push you through the breakers. Best take your coat
off, my son, and place it over the pistols."
Brutus had evidently kept a slow match burning, for with a sudden flare a
rocket flashed into the wind. In the momentary glare of the light I could
see my father, his lips pressed together more tightly than usual, but
alertly courteous as ever, helping Mademoiselle over the side, and there
was Brutus grinning at me. Then the light died, and my father continued
giving his directions.
"Stand by Master Henry at the stern, Brutus. I shall stay here amidships.
Now into the water when I give the word. Pray do not be alarmed,
Mademoiselle. There is quite nothing to bother."
A breaker crashed down on the beach ahead of us.
"Now!" he shouted, and a moment later we were up to our waists in water
that was stinging in its coldness.
"Get aboard," said my father. "The oars, Brutus."
Drenched and gasping, I pulled myself over the side just as we topped a
second wave. My father was beside me, as bland and unconcerned as ever.
"You see, Mademoiselle," he said, "we are quite safe. The _Sea Tern_ is
standing in already. While Brutus is rowing, my son, we had better load
"Surely we are through with them," I said. The boat was tossing wildly,
and Brutus was using all his strength and skill to keep it in the wind.
"Still," said my father, kneeling on the grating beside me, "let us load
them. Look, Henry, I think we got off in very good time."
A knot of horsemen were galloping down the beach we had just quitted.
"They must have taken the old wagon road," he said. "I had thought as
much. It becomes almost tiresome, this running away."
He reached for his cloak, placed it over Mademoiselle's shoulders, and
seated himself in the stern beside her, apparently forgetful that he was
drenched from head to foot.
"You are not afraid, Mademoiselle?" he asked.
"Afraid? Indeed not," I heard her reply, in a voice that was muffled by
the wind. "It is a luxury, Captain, which you have made me do without
"Good," said my father, a motionless shadow beside her. "If you cannot
trust yourself, there are plenty of other things to trust in--God, for
example, or the devil, if you prefer, or even in circumstances. How
useless it is to be afraid when you remember these! Put the boat up a
little more, Brutus."
And he sat silent, watching the lights of the ship towards which we were
moving with each tug that Brutus gave the oars. The ship also was drawing
nearer. We could make out the spars under shortened sail, and soon we
were hailed from the deck. My father called back, and then there came the
snapping of canvass as they put up the helm and the ship lost way tossing
in the wind.
Wet and shivering, I watched her draw toward us. So this was the end
after all, and I was glad it was over--glad that I would soon be quiet
and alone with my thoughts. Could it have been only yesterday that I had
turned my horse and passed between the sagging posts that marked the
entrance to his house? Was it only a day ago I had first seen him leaning
back idly in his arm chair by the fire?
My father leaned forward and thrust something into my hand.
"A pistol, Henry," he said. "Put it inside your shirt. It will be a
souvenir for you when you are home again."
We could hear the waves slapping against the vessel's sides, and the
orders from the deck above us. As I looked, it seemed a perilous
"Alongside, Brutus," said my father.
Two lanterns cast a feeble glow on the sheets of water that rolled under
us, shouldering our frail boat impatiently in their haste to move along.
Brutus pulled an oar sharply. I saw a ladder dangling perilously from the
bulwarks. I saw Brutus seize it, and then our boat, arrested and
stationary, began to toss madly in ill-concerted effort. My father sprang
up, balancing himself lightly and accurately against each sudden roll.
"Now, Mademoiselle," he said, "we will get on deck. Brutus will carry you
up quite safely. Hold the ladder, Henry, hold to it, or we may be in the
His voice was still coldly precise, not raised even to a higher pitch.
"You are chilled, my son?" he asked. "Never mind, we will have brandy in
Strange how the years make the path seem smooth and mellow. As I look
back on it today, boarding the ship seems a light enough matter, though I
know now that every moment we remained by the ladder, eternity was
staring us in the face. Even now, when I look back on it, the water is
not what I see, nor Brutus grasping at the dangling rope, but rather my
father, standing watching the ladder, detached from the motion and
excitement around him, a passive onlooker to whom what might happen
seemed a matter of small concern. Brutus, holding Mademoiselle on one
arm, managed the ladder with ready adroitness, and I followed safely, but
not before I had been hurled against the side with a force that nearly
drove away my breath. I reached the deck to find a lantern thrust into my
face, and stared into it, for the moment quite blinded.
"It is the son," remarked a voice which I thought I remembered, and then
my father followed me.
"We are on board, Mr. Aiken," he called. "Never mind the boat. Get your
men on the braces, or we'll blow on shore."
"Yes, Captain Shelton," said the voice again. "You are on board, to be
sure, and very prettily done. I have been waiting for you all evening.
"Indeed," said my father, in his old level tone, "and who the
devil are you?"
"Mr. Sims, Captain," came the reply. "I managed to seize your ship before
it left the river. It is hard, after so much trouble, but you are my
prisoner, Captain Shelton."
My eyes had become accustomed to the light. I looked about me to find we
were in the center of a group of men. Mr. Sims, small and watchful, his
face a pale yellow in the glow, was standing beside a tall man who held
the lantern at arm's length. My father was facing him about two paces
distant, his hand on the wet and bedraggled lapel of his coat, his glance
vague and thoughtful, as though he was examining at his leisure some
phenomenon of nature. Brutus, looking as unpleasant as I had ever seen
him, had half thrust Mademoiselle behind his back, and stood half
crouching, his eye on my father's hand, his thick lips moving nervously.
My father patted his coat gently and sighed.
"I must admit," he said, "that this is surprisingly, indeed, quite
delightfully unexpected. I hope you have been quite comfortable."
Mr. Sims permitted himself to smile.
"I told them you were a man of sense," he said. "Is it not odd that only
you and I should have imagination and ingenuity? I knew you would see
when the game is over. My compliments, Captain Shelton. You deserve to
have done better."
"Of course," said my father, with a slow nod of assent, "I see when the
game is over."
"I knew you would be reasonable," said Mr. Sims. "When it is finished,
you and I stop playing, do we not? I am sorry we were not on the same
side, but I have been commissioned to take you, captain, for a little man
whom you and I both knew back in Paris. I have a dozen men aboard now,
who will get us to the harbor. You are a prisoner of France, as you have
doubtless guessed. We shall all be trans-shipped to Mr. Jason Hill's
schooner, which has been waiting for you; and now you may go below."
Still staring thoughtfully before him, my father rested his chin in the
palm of his hand.
"I remember you now," he said. "And may I add it is a pleasure to have
met you? It is still a pleasure, much as I resent being taken on board a
ship I own."
Mr. Sims bowed ironically.
"And now, Captain, the document, if you please, unless you care to be
I thought my father had not heard, for he still looked quite blandly at
"Would you mind telling me," he inquired, "what became of my crew? You
bribed them, I suppose."
"There was only an anchor watch on deck when we came on board," said Mr.
Sims. "We drove them below quite easily. The only man who gave us any
trouble was your master. We had to hit him over the head when he reached
My father nodded slowly, seemed to lose his balance on the rolling deck,
recovered himself, and set his feet a trifle wider apart.
"I am sincerely sorry for you, Mr. Sims," he said.
But if Mr. Sims ever asked why, it was in another life than ours. I
recall his sudden bewilderment, but I never have understood exactly how
it happened. I remember Brutus' eyes on my father's hand, as it moved so
gently over his coat. It must have been some gesture, smooth and
imperceptible. For suddenly, my father's languor left him, suddenly his
lips curled back in a smile devoid of humor, and he leapt at the lantern.
He leapt, and at the same instant, as perfectly timed as though the whole
matter had been carefully rehearsed, Brutus' great bulk had streaked
across the deck, crashing towards Mr. Sims like an unleashed fury. The
speed of it, the unexpectedness, the sheer audacity, held the men around
us motionless. Mr. Sims had barely time to level the pistol he was
holding; but when he fired the deck was in darkness.
"This way, Mademoiselle," came my father's voice, and I ran towards it.
"Hold them off, Brutus," he was calling. "Ha! It is you, my son."
While he was speaking, he darted lightly aft, and I followed. Behind me
came the confused babel of struggling men. Someone was calling for a
light, and someone was shrieking for help. A man with a lantern was
running forward. I tripped him and we fell together, and then I felt a
hand on my collar. It dragged me to my feet. I struck at it blindly,
while I felt myself being half pulled, half carried through the black.
And then I heard my father's voice again, close beside me, as slow and
cold as ever.
"Close the door, Brutus," he said. "Listen to them. They must think we
are still there."
And then I knew what had happened. Brutus had dragged me with him, and we
were in a cabin. I heard my father fumbling about in the dark.
"Ah," he said, "here is the powder. Load these pistols, Brutus. Gently,
you fool! Do you want to kill me?"
"You are hurt, captain," cried Mademoiselle.
"It is not worth troubling over," said my father. "And you, my lady, you
are quite all right? I fear I handled you roughly. I was afraid for a
moment we might be inconvenienced."
"And now," I said sarcastically, speaking into the darkness before me, "I
suppose our troubles are over."
"I think so," replied my father. "Now that Brutus has thrown Mr. Sims
overboard. It might be different if he were still with us. He seemed to
be a determined and resourceful man. We are in the after cabin, Henry,
quite the pleasantest one on the ship, and not ten paces from the wheel."
Still out of breath, still confused, I tried to look, but could see
nothing. I could only smell the pungent odor of tarred rope and stale
tobacco smoke. Having finished speaking, I could hear my father still
moving about deliberately and moderately, seemingly well pleased at the
place where we had been driven.
"Yes," he said again, "not ten paces from the wheel, and now we will
"Will you never be serious, sir?" I cried. "Do you suppose they are going
to let you take charge of the ship?"
"I think so," replied my father. "But first, I must take a swallow from
my flask. There is nothing like a drink to rest one. Open the port by the
And I felt him groping his way past me.
"Brutus," he said, "pass the flask to my son, and give me a pistol, and
steady, me with your arm--so. Ah, that is better--much better...."
He fired, and the sound of his pistol in the closed room made my ears
ring, and then the ship lurched, so that I had nearly lost my balance. We
were rolling heavily, in the trough of the sea, and outside the canvas
was snapping like a dozen small arms, and then I knew what had happened.
My father had shot the man at the helm--shot him where he stood, so that
the wheel had broken from his grasp, so that the ship was out of
control, and the wind was blowing it on shore. Had he thought of the plan
while he was watching Mr. Sims in the light of the lantern? I half
suspected that he had not, but I never knew.
"Open the door, Brutus," said my father, and suddenly his voice was
raised to a shout that rose above the wind and the sails.
"Keep clear of that wheel! If a single man touches it--do you hear
me?--Stand clear!" And he fired again, and the _Sea Tern_ still lurched
in the trough of the sea.
I ran to the door beside him. Ten paces away the light of the binnacle
was burning, and by it I saw two men lying huddled on the deck, and the
ship's wheel whirling backwards and forwards as the waves hit the rudder.
"Get the wheel!" someone was shouting frantically. "Get the wheel! She's
being blown on the bar. Get the wheel!"
"Stand clear, you dogs," called my father. "We're all going on the bar
"Brutus," he added, "go forward and open the forecastle, and tell my
men to clear the decks. If any of these fools notice you, kill them,
but they won't, Brutus, they won't. Their minds are too much set on a
The ship heeled far over on her side as another gust of wind took her.
Six men were clinging to the rail to keep their balance, staring at my
father with white faces, while sea after sea swept over the bulwarks.
Three of them were edging toward us, when a wave caught them and sent
them sprawling almost to his feet.
"Your sword, Henry," called my father. I ducked under his arm, and
stepped out on the swaying deck, but they did not wait.
"Ah," said my father, "here they come. Brutus was quicker than I could
"Aiken!" he shouted, "are you there? Put up that helm, or we'll be
drowned. Put up that helm and get your men on the braces. D'you hear me?
Get some way on the ship."
A hoarse voice bellowed out an order, and another answered.
"Good," said my father. "It was a nearer thing than I expected. You can
hear the breakers now. Give me your arm, my son. A lantern, Brutus."
And so it was over, over almost before I could grasp what had happened.
The light that Brutus was holding showed me the white walls of the cabin,
with charts nailed upon them. A table was secured to the deck, with two
chairs beside it. These, two lockers and a berth made up the cabin's
entire furnishings. But I hardly took the time to look about me, for the
sight of my father gave me a start of consternation. His blue coat,
wringing wet with sea water, and still stamped with splashes of mud, was
half ripped from his shoulders. A piece of lace dangled like a dirty
ribbon from his neck. The powder in his hair was clotted in little
streaks of white. His face was like a piece of yellow parchment. His left
arm hung limp by his side, and in his right hand he still clutched an
empty pistol. He tossed it carelessly to the floor, and gripped the back
of the nearest chair, staring straight at Mademoiselle, who was standing
opposite, his cloak still about her. Slowly he inclined his head, and
when he looked up he was smiling.
"You are quite all right, my lady?" he asked anxiously. "I am sorry you
have been startled. Believe me, I did not realize this little surprise
would be waiting for us. It was careless of me not to have thought, very
careless. Help her to a chair, Henry."
"Will you always be polite?" she cried, with a little catch in her voice.
"Will you never think of yourself? You are wounded, Captain. And what are
you staring at?" she cried, turning to me. "Come here, sir, and help me
with his coat."
My father sank into a chair, and his pale lips relaxed.
"Pray do not concern yourself," he replied gravely. "I think of myself,
Mademoiselle, of myself always, and now I am very fortunate, but the blue
from my coat is running on your dress. Brutus will see to me,
Mademoiselle. He is quite used to it. The rum, Brutus. You will find it
in the starboard locker."
But it was Mademoiselle who found the bottle and poured him a glass. He
drank it quickly.
"Again, if you please," he said, and a shade of color returned to his
cheeks. "The water was uncommonly cold tonight. How much better the sea
would be, if the Lord had mixed in a dash of spirits. There is a coat in
the locker, Brutus, and you may find some splints and a piece of twine. I
fear my arm is broken."
Mademoiselle had taken Brutus' knife and was cutting away his sleeve,
half soaked with blood. He sighed and smiled a little sadly.
"So Sims hit me after all," he said. "It must be age. I was not so clumsy
once. The bandages, Brutus."
He watched us with a mild interest, and then his mind turned to other
matters, and he seemed regardless of the pain we caused him.
"My son," he said, turning to me, "you made a statement a while ago which
interested me strangely. I was preoccupied, and perhaps I did not hear
you aright, but it seemed you said I should know what had become of your
mother's money. What am I to understand by that?"
"You are hurt, sir," I replied. "Why go into a painful matter now?
We have kept it quiet long enough. Only three people knew that it
happened, and one of them is dead. Let us forget it, father. I am
willing if you are."
My father raised his eyebrows, and it seemed to me that pain had made
his face look older, and not even the smile on his lips concealed little
lines of suffering.
"And what are we to forget?" he asked.
"Surely you know," I said.
"No," said my father, "I do not. Out with it--what are we to forget?"
Was he still acting? Was it ever possible to understand him? Perhaps even
now he was turning the situation into a jest, and smiling to himself as
he watched me. And yet somehow I had ceased to hate him.
"Do you mean," I asked "that you never took it?"
Slowly my father's body straightened in his chair, and his lips, drawn
tight together, seemed to repress an exclamation.
"So he told you that," he said. "He told you that I made off with her
fortune? Gad! but he was clever, very, very clever."
He paused, and refilled his glass, and held it steadily before him.
His voice, when he spoke, was gentle, and, like his face, strung taut
"No wonder she never sent me word," he murmured.
"Do you mean," I asked, "that you never took it?"
For a second he did not reply--only looked thoughtfully before him, as
if he saw something that we would never see.
"Why go into a painful matter now?" said my father at length. "Brutus,
call in Mr. Aiken."
He lurched into the cabin a half a minute later. His sea cloak was gone.
His shirt, none too white the previous afternoon, was torn and scraped as
though it had scrubbed the deck, and he had transferred his red
handkerchief from his neck to his head, so that his tangled hair waved
around it like some wild halo. His heavy hands, bruised and scarred, were
working restlessly at his sides. He glanced at my father's bandaged arm,
and his jaw thrust forward.
"I warned 'em, captain," he cried hoarsely. "By heaven, I warned 'em.
'Damn you,' I says, 'hell will break loose when the captain climbs
aboard,' and it did, so help me. There was fifteen of 'em and now there's
six, and the crew has 'em in the forecastle now, beating 'em, sir! And
now, by thunder, we'll sling 'em overboard!"
"That would be a pity," said my father. "Let them sail with us. I shall
make it more unpleasant than drowning. Which way are we heading, Ned?"
"Due east by south," said Mr. Aiken, "and we're ready to show heels to
anything. I can drop a reef off now if you want it."
"Good," said my father. "Put on all the sail she will carry."
Mr. Aiken grinned.
"I thought you'd want to be moving," he said.
"Quite right," said my father, "and put about at once and head back up
Mr. Aiken whistled softly.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he muttered.
"I shall want ten men with me when I land," my father continued. "I've
done my best to keep the crew out of my private affairs, but now it seems
"They'd all like to go," said Mr. Aiken. "They've been hoping for
excitement all day, sir."
"Ten will be quite enough," said my father.
"What is it you are saying?" Mademoiselle asked sharply.
"Quite nothing," he replied, "except that we are going back."
His arm must have given him a twinge, for his face had grown very white.
"Surely you have done enough," she said, and her voice became a soft
entreaty. "Here we are on board your ship. If I told you I was not
entirely sorry, would you not go on? If I told you, captain, I did not
care about the paper--?"
My father waved his hand in graceful denial.
"Not go back? Ah, Mademoiselle," he added in grave rebuke, "can it be
possible after all, in spite of all this--let us say regrettable
melodrama--you are forgetting I am the villain of this piece, and not a
very pleasant one? Even if I wished, my lady, my sense of hospitality
would forbid it. My brother-in-law is waiting for me under my roof
tonight, and I could not leave him alone. He would be disappointed, I
feel sure, and so would I. I have had a strenuous evening. I need
recreation now. Load the pistols, Brutus."
And he fell silent again, his eyes on the blank wall before him, his
fingers playing with his glass.
The _Sea Tern_ had need to be a fast ship, and she lived up to
requirements. The easterly wind sent her lightly before it, cutting sheer
and quick through the roughened sea. With his arm in a sling of white
linen, my father sat motionless, apparently passive and regardless of the
flight of time. It was only when we veered in the wind and orders were
shouted from forward that he looked about him.
"Your arm, Brutus," he said.
On deck the crew was at work about the long boat, and over the port rail,
perhaps a quarter of a mile away, I could see our house, with a light
burning in the window, flickering through the waving branches of the elms
that half hid it. Nearer lay our wharf, a black, silent shadow. My father
watched without a word. The anchor chain growled out a sharp complaint,
and the anchor splashed into the tide.
"Mr. Aiken," said my father, "give orders to get under way in half an
hour. When we land, the men will wait at the wharf, and be ready to enter
the house when you call them. You shall come with me, my son. I can still
show you something amusing and instructive."
"And I?" Mademoiselle demanded. "Shall you leave me here?"
He seemed to hesitate for a moment.
"Earlier in the evening, Mademoiselle," he replied, "I had given orders
for my sloop to carry you to New Orleans. Your boxes will be taken from
the house, and you will be taken on board from here. May you have a
pleasant journey, and may your friends be well when you arrive."
"You mean it is good-by?" she asked, and her voice had a sound that
reminded me of tears. "You mean we shall not meet again?"
He bowed low over her hand.
"Mademoiselle will be relieved to know we shall not," said my father
gravely. "Let me hope you may always have more pleasant company."
She seemed about to speak again, but she did not. Instead, she turned
silently away and left him, and a second later I saw her disappear in the
shadow of the main-mast.
"Ah," said my father, "there is a woman for you. My son, in the side
pocket of my coat you will find a snuff box. Would you kindly open it for
me and permit me to take a pinch? And you, perhaps? No? It is a pleasant
He took a step nearer the rail, and the men about the long boat stiffened
"Get them into the boat, Mr. Aiken," he said, "You and I will sit in the
stern, my son. Your arm, Brutus, so."
"Stand by to lower away," directed Mr. Aiken in a harsh undertone; and
the blocks creaked and we were in the river.
The oars had been muffled, so that we moved to the wharf in silence.
"Land the men, and tell them to wait," said my father. "You shall come
with us, Mr. Aiken, and you, my son, and you, Brutus."
We walked silently up the path, with Brutus and my father in the lead.
Once he paused and listened, and then proceeded forward.
"I believe," said my father, "he is quite alone. Ha!"
He had stopped dead, and Brutus had leapt forward, crashing into a dense
thicket of overgrown bushes.
"Put up your pistol, Ned," said my father. "Brutus has him."
There was a moment's silence, followed by a faint cry.
"Bring him here, Brutus," said my father. The bushes cracked again, and
Brutus was back.
"Now who the devil may you be?" inquired my father, striding towards the
figure that Brutus was holding, and then he paused, and in the dark I
fancied he was reaching for his coat lapel.
"Lunacy, thy name is woman," said my father softly. "Will they never
stay where they are placed?"
It was Mademoiselle whom Brutus had thrust before him.
"I came in the boat," she stammered brokenly. "I--"
"You wanted to see the end, my lady?" my father inquired. "Surely you
should have known better, but it is too late now. You are going to be
present at a harrowing scene, which I hoped to save you. Mr. Aiken, help
the lady over the path."
And we proceeded to the house together. A minute later we made our way
over the rough, unkempt grass which once marked our brick terrace.
Brutus opened the door and we were in the dark hall, lighted by a square
of candle light from the morning room. He paused again and listened, and
then strode across the threshold. A blaze was burning high in the
morning fireplace, and six candles were lighted on the center table, and
seated before it, examining my father's papers, were my Uncle Jason and
"Ha!" cried Mr. Lawton, springing to his feet and eyeing my father
intently. "So you are here, Shelton, and every card in the deck."
He paused to nod and rub his hands.
"Yes, b'gad! There's the girl and there's the boy and there's the nigger.
It was Sims' idea your getting on the boat. He's bright as a trap, Jason.
I told you he was."
My father sighed a little sadly.
"He was indeed," he admitted.
My uncle surveyed him with his broadest smile, and his eyes twinkled with
a malign amusement, that was not wholly pleasant.
"So here you are, George," he cried in a voice that seemed to shake
with excitement. "God help you, but I won't or your son either, no, or
"Indeed?" inquired my father. "Pray go on, Jason. I had forgotten you
were diverting, or is it one of your latest virtues."
A slight crease appeared between my uncle's eyes, and his face became a
"So you still are jovial," he said. "I admire you for it, George. Yes, I
admire you, because of course you know what is going to happen to you,
George, and to your son also. Perhaps you will wipe away that smirk of
yours when a French firing squad backs you against a wall."
My father adjusted the bandage on his arm, and smiled, but his eyes had
become bright and glassy.
"So you have quite decided to send me to France, Jason?" he inquired
pleasantly. "Of course, I suspected it from the first. I knew you hated
me, and naturally my son. I knew you never felt the same after our
little falling out, when I found you forging--what am I saying?--reading
the letter I sent to Mr. Aiken. Gad! but your face was pasty then, you
He paused and took a step toward him. He was a different man when he
continued. It seemed as though some resistance in him was breaking down,
as though the years of repression were falling away. A hot, dull red had
come into his cheeks, and burned there like a fever. His whole body
trembled, shaken by some emotion which I could not fathom. His voice grew
sharp and discordant, his words hot and triumphant.
"Almost as pasty as when you challenged me to produce those damned bales
of fur. Do you remember, Jason? The party here at this house--the music,
the flowers? Oh, they were all there! And of course I had put the
shavings on my boat. You could prove it, and you could too, Lawton, do
you remember? And you could swear to it, and you could swear I had
cheated you before, that I had stolen your card money. Oh, you caught me.
You brought the wolf to bay and drew the sword of justice!"
Mr. Lawton half started from his seat.
"Be still, Shelton," he snapped, "or I'll have them gag you."
My father clenched his fist, drew a deep breath, and his voice lost its
"Ah, Lawton, Lawton," he said. "Will you always be impetuous? Will you
never be subtle, but always crude, always the true rough diamond with the
keen edge? No, you won't gag me, Lawton.
"And so you will send me to France, Jason, and my son too, criminals to
justice. It is thoughtful of you to think of justice, but tell me, Jason.
Is it I you hate, or my wife's money that you love? Tell me, Jason, I
have often wondered."
My uncle's face also became a flaming red; the veins stood out on his
temples. He tried to speak, but his words choked him.
"Sims," shouted Mr. Lawton. "Sims! Take him out! Take him away!"
My father raised his eyes to the ceiling and sighed.
"Ah Lawton," he said. "Is it possible that you did not know it? Can it
be that you do not understand? Poor Sims is dead, Lawton, a brave man,
but not of good physique. The evening was quite too much for him. Do not
take it so hard, man! We all must die, you among the rest. You should
have known me better, Lawton. You should have known I would not allow
myself to be taken prisoner."
"What!" shouted Mr. Lawton. "What the devil are you then?"
The scene appeared to move my father, for he sighed again, and paused,
the better to enjoy it.
"Only a poor man," he said, "only a poor chattel of the Lord's, a poor
frail jug that has gone too often to the well. A poor man of a blackened
reputation, who has been set upon by spies of France, and threatened in
his own house, but who has managed to escape--" and his voice became
sharp and hard.
"Take Mr. Lawton's pistol, Ned."
There fell a moment's silence in the room while my father, a little in
advance of the rest of us, stared fixedly into my uncle's eyes.
"Set upon by spies," he said, "persecuted and driven. It has set me
thinking, Jason. As I walked back here tonight, I still was thinking, and
can you imagine what was on my mind? It was you, Jason, you and Lawton.
And as I thought of you, my mind fell, as it naturally would, on holy
things, and a piece of the Scripture came back to me. Think of it, Jason,
a piece of the Holy Writ. Would you care to hear it?"
My father paused to adjust a wrinkle in his coat, and then his voice
became solemn and sonorous, and he spoke the words with metrical
"'To everything'," said my father, "there is a season, and a time to
every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die'."
He paused long enough to nod from one to the other.
"'A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted'."
He raised his eyes to the ceiling again, and placed the tips of his
"And 'a time to kill'," he concluded gently. His words died softly away
in the quiet room.
"I have often thought of that passage," he continued. "Many and many a
night I have repeated it to myself, under stars and under roof, and
sometimes I have prayed, Jason. Oh yes, we all pray sometimes. Sometimes
I have prayed for the time to come."
The red had gone out of my uncle's face, and Mr. Lawton was sitting rigid
in his chair, his eyes glued on the slender figure before him.
"And now," said my father, in a tone that was as near to the pious as I
ever heard him utter, "now it is here, and I thank thee, Lord."
"Good God!" gasped Mr. Lawton, in a voice that rose only a little above a
whisper. "Do you mean to murder us?"
My father still stood motionless, but when he spoke again his voice had
relapsed to its old genial courtesy.
"What a word for gentlemen to use!" he exclaimed in polite rebuke.
"Murder you? Of course not, Lawton. I am simply about to propose a game.
That is all, an exciting little game. Only one of us will die. Clear the
large table of the papers, Ned. Toss them on the floor."
Of all the people in the room, my father alone retained his
self-possession. My uncle's cheeks had sagged, and perspiration made them
moist and shiny, and Mr. Lawton seemed bent and as wrinkled as though he
had aged a dozen years.
"Brutus," said my father, "place the pistols on the table, the ones I
gave you as we came on shore. Side by side, Brutus. The silver mountings
look well against the dark mahogany. Do they not cheer you, Jason? And
now, Brutus, a pack of cards from the bookshelves. It will be a pretty
game, Lawton, as pretty a game as you have ever played."
"Good God! What are you going to do, Shelton?" stammered Mr. Lawton, and
he raised a trembling hand to his forehead.
"You grow interested?" my father inquired. "I thought you would, Lawton,
and now stand up and listen! And you too, Jason. Stand up, you dog! Stand
up! The world is still rolling. Are you ill?"
And indeed, my uncle seemed incapable of moving.
"Perhaps you would prefer to sit," said my father politely. "I have
known people who find it steadies them to fire across the table while
seated in a chair. Your attention, then, and I will tell you the game. On
the table are three pistols. One of them is loaded. The question
is--which? They are all made by the same smith. And yet one is different.
We shall find out which it is in a few minutes. Shuffle the cards,
Lawton. You and Jason shall draw. The low number selects the first
pistol, and is first to fire, and then the next. I shall take the last
pistol, and we shall stand across the table, you and Jason where you are,
while I stand over here. Brutus, give the cards to Mr. Lawton."
My father smiled and bowed. From his manner it might have been some treat
he was proposing, some pleasant bit of sport that all knew ended in
hilarity. Still smiling, he glanced from one to the other, and then
towards Mademoiselle and me, as though seeking our approbation. Even with
his bandaged arm and weather stained clothes, he carried himself with a
gaiety and grace.
"Always trust in chance, my son," he said.
My uncle leaned forward, and drew his hand across his lips, his eyes
blank and staring.
"And if you get the pistol?" he demanded hoarsely.
"In that case," replied my father, "Your troubles will be over, Jason.
Pray rest assured--I shall attend to that. And then, when that is
finished Brutus shall bring two other pistols, and Lawton and I shall
Mr. Lawton grasped the cards uncertainly.
"You give us the first two choices?" he demanded.
"The host naturally is last," said my father. "One must always be
"Then you're mad," said Mr. Lawton bluntly. "Come, Shelton, step outside,
and we'll finish it on the lawn."
"And I should undoubtedly kill you," said my father. "Pray do not tempt
"I tell you, you're mad," said Mr. Lawton.
"I have been told that once before today," said my father. "And still I
am not sure. I have often pictured this little scene, Lawton. We have
only one thing to add to it. Now tell me if I'm mad."
My father had reached up to his throat, and was fumbling at his collar.
When he drew away his hand, something glittered between his fingers.
Silently he placed his closed fist on the table, opened it, and there was
the gold locket which I had perceived in the morning. He pressed the
spring, and the lid flew free. Mr. Lawton leaned forward, glanced at the
picture inside, and then drew back very straight and pale.
"Come, Lawton," said my father gravely. "Which is it now--madness or an
appeal for justice and retribution? With her picture on the table,
Lawton, I have wondered--I have often wondered, Lawton--who will be the
lucky man to draw the loaded pistol? Let us leave it there, where we can
watch it before we fire. I have often thought that she would like it so.
And now--" he nodded again and smiled,--"surely you will oblige me.
Shuffle the cards, Lawton, and let the game go on."
Mr. Lawton bit his lower lip, fingered the cards uncertainly, and then
tossed them in the fire.
"Come, come, Lawton," said my father sharply. "Where are your manners?
Surely you are not afraid, not afraid of a picture, Lawton?"
"No," said Mr. Lawton, "I am not afraid."
"Ah," said my father, "I thought I knew you better. Another pack of
cards for Mr. Lawton, Brutus. Let us trust, Lawton, that these will suit
"You misunderstand me," said Mr. Lawton simply. "I am not going to play."
"Not going to play?" exclaimed my father, raising his eyebrows.
Slowly Mr. Lawton shook his head.
"You are far too generous, Shelton," he said. "If you shot me where I
stand, you would only be giving me my fair deserts. If I had been in your
place and you in mine, both you and Jason would have been dead ten
seconds after I had entered the door."
"Don't be a fool, Lawton," cried my father, raising his hand. "Think what
you are saying!"
"I have thought," he replied sharply. "The game is over, Shelton, and I
know when I am beaten. We have not got the paper, Jason, and you remember
what I said. If you failed to get it, I should tell the whole story, and
now, by heaven, I will. Every man in town will know it tomorrow morning.
I told you I would be shut out of this business, and I mean it, Jason."
On my father's face came something closer to blank astonishment than I
had ever seen there. Something in the situation was puzzling him, and for
the moment he seemed unable to cope with it.
"Lawton," he said slowly, "shuffle those cards, or I'll shoot you where
Mr. Lawton placed the cards on the table, and adjusted them thoughtfully.
"No, you won't," he replied. "I know you better than that. You would
never draw a weapon on any man unless he had an equal chance, and I
I had stepped forward beside him. Was there someone else at the bottom of
the whole wretched business? Was it possible that my father had no hand
in it? A glance at Mr. Lawton answered a half a hundred questions which
were darting through my mind.
And my father was still staring in a baffled way, eyeing Mr. Lawton in
"So," he said, "you think I'll forgive you? Is it possible you are
relying on my Christian spirit?"
"No," said Mr. Lawton, "I do not ask you to forgive me. I am saying I
have stopped. That is all--stopped, do you understand me? I should nave
stopped when Jason commissioned me to kill your son. I should have, if
this affair with France was not beginning. Even then the business
sickened me. What did I care about the money he stole from her? I did not
want her money. What did I care if the boy suspected you had not stolen
it, but that Jason had it all the time? I couldn't have killed him,
because he had some slight glimmerings of sense."
A dozen dim suspicions clashed suddenly together into fact. I looked
sharply at my father. He was nodding, with some faint suspicion of
"And so you did not," he said gently. "Your scruples do you credit,
"It was just as well," said Mr. Lawton. "I thought the news your son was
attacked would fetch you over. Jason did his best to hush it up, but I
knew you would suspect. And you know what it would have meant to me if I
could have sent you back to France."
And yet, for some reason, my father was strangely ill at ease. Like
someone detected in a falsehood, he looked restlessly about him. For the
moment his adroitness seemed to have left him. He made a helpless little
gesture of annoyance.
"You say you have stopped?" inquired my father. "Then why not do so,
Lawton, and stop talking. Do you think what you say interests me? Do you
think I do not know the whole damnable business, without your raking it
up again? Why should Jason have wished to be rid of me except for her
money? Why should you have helped him, except--At least it was not for
But Mr. Lawton did not heed my father's voice. His glance had come to
rest again upon the locket on the table, and the hard lines about his
mouth had vanished.
"And she never spoke to me, never looked at me again," he said.
My father started and looked at him quickly.
"Lawton," groaned my uncle, "are you out of your mind?"
Mr. Lawton turned sharp around and faced him with a scowl.
"I told you," he said harshly. "I told you to get me the paper, and I
told you what would happen if you did not, and it is happening already,
Jason. I am going to tell the story."
My uncle moved convulsively to his feet, and his voice was sharp and
"Do you suppose anyone will believe you?" he cried. "Do you fancy they
will take your word against mine?"
"We will try it," said Mr. Lawton. "There are still people who wonder
why Shelton stooped to the thing you accused him of. We certainly
will try it."
"And if you do," said my uncle, "I will show it was she who did it--that
it was she who urged him on. I'll tell them! D'you hear me? I'll tell
them, and they'll take my word for it. They'll take my word!"
"God!" cried Mr. Lawton. "So that's the reason! So that's the trick you
played. You dog! If I had only known--"
His face had become blanched with passion, and my uncle staggered back
before his upraised hand, but Mr. Lawton did not strike. For a moment he
stood rigid, and when he spoke he had regained his self-control.
"You will never tell it, Jason," he said slowly, and then he turned to my
father, and inclined his head very gravely, and his voice was no longer
harsh and strident.
"I often wondered why you left her so," he said, "and why you did not
face it. You feared her name might be dragged in the mire! Because he
threatened to bring her into that miserable business, you never raised a
hand. I always knew you were a gentleman, but I did not know you were Don
Quixote de la Mancha."
For the first time since the two had spoken, my father moved. He leaned
across the table, picked up the locket very gently, and placed it in his
coat. His eyes rested on Lawton, and returned his bow.
"Rubbish!" said my father. "One liar is bad enough, but why listen to
two? We will leave her name out of the conversation. Perhaps I had other
reasons for going away. Did they ever occur to you, Lawton? Perhaps, for
instance, I was sick of the whole business. Did you ever think I might
have found it pleasant to leave so uncongenial an atmosphere, that I was
relieved, delighted at the opportunity to leave lying relatives, and
friends who turned their backs? Faugh! I have kept the matter quiet for
fifteen years, merely because I was too indolent to stand against it. I
was too glad to see the cards fall as they did to call for a new deal.
There I was, tied up to a family of sniveling hypocrites. Look at Jason,
look at him. Who wouldn't have been glad to get away?"
And he bowed to my uncle ironically.
"Positively, I was glad to hear the crash. 'Very well,' I said, 'I am a
thief, since it pleases you to think so.' Thieves at least are a more
interesting society, and I have found them so, Lawton, not only more
interesting, but more honest."
But somehow there was no ring of conviction to his words. His voice
seemed unable to assume its old cynicism, and his face had lost its
former placidity. It had suddenly become old and careworn. Pain and
regret, sharp and poignant, were reflected there. His eyes seemed
strained and tired, the corners of his mouth had drooped, and his body
too was less erect and resolute. Something had been broken. For a moment,
his mask and his mantle had dropped where he could not find them. And
then, as he stood looking ahead of him at the shadows, he ended his
speech in a way that had no logic and no relation to the rest.
"If she had only said she did not believe them--Why did she not say it?"
And then he squared his shoulders and tried again to smile.
"But what difference does it make now? The road has turned too long ago
for us to face about."
"She never spoke to me, never looked at me again!" repeated Mr. Lawton.
My father's fist crashed down on the table, but when he spoke his words
were precise and devoid of all emotion.
"And why the devil should she," he answered. "We are not questioning her
taste. And you, Jason," he added. "No one will doubt your word, or
believe this little romance. Do you wonder why? They will never have the
opportunity. Brutus, take them down to the boat."
Brutus stepped forward and laid a hand on my uncle's shoulder. He
"George," he cried, "you shall have the money. I swear it, George. I have
wronged you, but--"
"Yes," said my father, "I shall have the money, and you too, Jason. I
shall have everything. Take them along, Brutus," and they left the room
in silence, while my father watched them thoughtfully, and arranged the
lapel on his coat.
"Ned," said my father, "the rum decanter is over on the bookshelves. Good
God, where is he going?" for Mr. Aiken had darted into the hall, and was
running up the staircase.
"Is the man mad? Is--"
My father stopped, and was looking at the table. I followed his glance,
and started involuntarily. There had been three pistols lying side by
side on the polished mahogany, and now there were only two.
"My son," said my father, "the rum decanter is on the bookshelves. The
A shout from the hall interrupted him.
"B'gad, captain!" Mr. Aiken was roaring. "Damme! Here's another of
'em! You would bite me, would you! Hell's fire if I don't cut your
"What an evening we are having, to be sure," said my father, turning to
Mr. Aiken was pushing a man before him into the room, and holding a dirk
at his throat.
"Ives!" shrieked Mademoiselle.
"She is right," said my father. "It is Ives de Blanzy. I had forgotten
you had sent him to the house."
The man Mr. Aiken was holding wrenched himself free, and sprang forward,
shaking a fist in my father's face.
"Forgotten!" he shouted. Was it you who sent me here and had me tied in
the cellar, and left me chewing at the rope, and set this pirate on me?
Mother of God! Captain Shelton! Is this a joke you are playing--"
"Only a very regrettable error," said my father. "A mistake of my son's.
Pray calm yourself, Ives. It is quite all right. My son, this is
"Her brother!" I cried.
"And who the devil did you think I was?" He walked slowly towards me.
"Have you no perceptions?"
He would have continued further, if my father had not laid a hand
on his arm.
"Gently, Ives," he said. "You know I would not treat you so. Give him the
paper, my son. He is the one who should have it."
I stared at my father in blank astonishment, but before I could speak, he
"I know what you are thinking. What was the use of all this comedy? Why
should I have deceived you? I was only running true to form, my son,
which is the only thing left to do when life tastes bitter. Do you not
understand? But you do not. Your palate is unused yet to gall and
wormwood. Only wait, my son--"
He raised his hand slowly, as though tilting an imaginary glass to his
"Only wait. They will offer you the cup some day, and we were always
heavy drinkers. Pray God that you will stand it with a better grace than
I--that you will forget the sting and rancor of it, and not carry it with
you through the years."
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