Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 16)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
Hildegarde learned other things the next morning besides how to do your marketing for two years in an hour. She brought away from Baumgarten 's the renewed impression that Mrs. Blumpitty was a person of some practical sense, and that Mr. Blumpitty, though lie might be an authority upon the Mother Lode and an estimable character to boot, did in reality himself need a good deal of looking after. It is impossible to say just how the "unlogical" feminine mind--in this case young and ignorant as well--may arrive at so definite a conclusion out of a small assemblage of apparently trifling data. For Hildegarde's judgment was not founded merely upon the outer man. Nor was it contributed to very largely by Mr. Blumpitty 's indifference to small economies, as shown in his readiness to order gallons of expensive "olive" when cotton-seed oil was as cheap as wholesome to cook with, and Mr. Blumpitty convicted by his wife of inability to detect any difference in taste. It was not merely that Mrs. Blumpitty was the one to offer reasons why methylated spirit, though cheap on the bill, was dearer in actual use than alcohol. It was not that He had forgotten after sixteen months' experience, "what a cravin' you get up there fur sweet and fur sour," and what a failure the California dried fruit had turned out the year before. Had he complained he
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could n't eat such insipid stuff till Mrs. Blumpitty had "livened" it with a dash of vinegar as well as sugar and spice? Wa-al, p'raps he had!
"You must n't give me dried apples from any place nearer here than Michigan," said Mrs. Blumpitty.
The Baumgarten Brother had smiled a little, and said, "She knows."
The upshot of the morning was to give Hildegarde an inkling that the chief use of Mr. Blumpitty, so far as she was concerned, might be that he would keep her family soothed by the illusion that this respectable man, pledged to her service, was "going to see that everything was all right." For the rest, should she not perhaps do well to imitate his spouse, and not expect any one to be wide awake in her interest who was half asleep before his own? Although he had said, "Ya-as, it 's all right about the ticket," Miss Mar interviewed the steamship people on her own behalf. "Quite right!" they indorsed Mr. Blumpitty's account of the matter. And as to the berths, Mr. Blumpitty already had twenty-eight, and had sent word lie wanted a twenty-ninth, "a pertickler good one fur a lady." "Noospaper woman I presoom," said the agent politely. It seemed to be only the press that inspired such respect. She was more glad than ever of the offer that had come that morning from Eddie Cox, editor, now, of the "San Miguel Despatch." "Yes," she told the agent, "I am to be a Regular Correspondent." In all sorts of ways she saw her status incomparably improved by falling in with Eddie Cox's suggestion. It appeared to be necessary to stand well with a "noospaper" woman. "What accommodation can I have?"
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"Why, the best we got."
"Is there much choice?"
"We put you down here, with Mr. Blumpitty 's party." A number was indicated.
"I 'd hike to see the cabin."
"Yes, before I decide."
Impossible. If she did n 't take and pay for the berth now, in an hour it would be in other hands. But seeing her quite unhustled by this horrid alternative, the agent said he would make a great, an unheard-of exception in her case, and promised to take her over the ship as soon as the Los Angeles came up from Tacoma, where she was being elaborately refitted, "new paint, electric light, everything." It would be a pity for a "noospaper" woman to go in any meaner vessel.
The crowds that composed the sailing list besieged the offices day by day, wildly impatient at the date of departure being "a little postponed" while the Los Angeles was further embellished for their reception. "Style 's all very well. But gettin' there 's the thing."
And among them this girl, with only half her ticket paid for, coming in twice a day to keep track of events.
At last, after a night of riot, when the office was very nearly pulled about the company's ears, all Seattle knew that the much-heralded steamer had been brought up from Tacoma and was at the Seattle wharf. The crowds on the water front could see her, glaring and white and respect-inspiring, but guarded like the gate of Paradise.
"Let 's go and see our quarters," Hildegarde suggested, meeting Mr. Blumpitty in the street.
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"Wish we could," said Blumpitty sadly. "No one allowed aboard till sailin' time, nine o'clock to-morrer."
Hildegarde spoke of the agent's promise.
"Promise! Oh, yes, promise anything." And Blumpitty moved gloomily away in the crowd.
Hildegarde found the agent without loss of time. He was overwhelmed with work. Did n't she see!
What she saw was a clay-faced individual, with a slight bulge in one lean jaw where he stored his tobacco--red-eyed, unwashed, and obviously irritated by her reappearance. His promise--quietly she insisted. The anaemic visage twitched, and he attended to another customer. But she stood waiting, and she looked as if she were prepared to camp there till she 'd had her way. Oh, these women! They wus always like that--fussin' and naggin' and goin' on!
He attended to two other customers. They did n't expect such things of him. But there she still stood with her eyes fixed upon the agent, blockin' up the way, waitin', waitin'. "What 'd I do if they all expected me to go runnin' round the wharves with 'em!" He demanded in an angry undertone.
"You promised," she began, glancing at the fact that there were three other clerks in the office.
"Mr. Blumpitty 's satisfied," he said severely, pointing out the lamentable contrast. And he 'd taken her for a lady. A lady would believe a gentleman when he told her it was all right--and not worry him. But though she must have seen plainly how she was still further lowering the agent's lofty ideal of how a lady should behave, there she stood looking at him with a grave steadiness that held no hope of her yielding her point. "Prom-
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ise! promise!" --why, it was damned good-natured of him to make a promise, but to expect him to-- He bent toward her. "Look yere," he said in an angry whisper, "I ain 't got a special permit yet."
"I 'll wait till you get it."
"Can't have it yere before three."
"Very well, I 'll come at three, but you must please not disappoint me again, or else I--" He jerked away. As he saw her going out-- Now what did she mean?-- "or else she--" You never know what pull these noospaper women have got.
He had forgotten all about her when - O Lor! There she was upon the stroke, like fate.
Well, well, did she promise not to tell none o' the rest o' the passengers? All right, then. Come ahead.
He led the way to the docks with every circumstance of secrecy; dodging through back streets, lying to acquaintances as to where he was going, and gradually growing cheerfuller, pausing to exchange humorous asides with friends along the wharf. Hildegarde, waiting, silent, patient, during these passages, was entirely aware of the curious looks bent upon her, and saw that her expedition with this little rat of a man was held by some to have a "larky" aspect (save the mark!). She saw it was incredible to these people that the agent should take this trouble for any other reason than that she was an attractive young woman who had smiled upon this poor little drink-sodden creature, and was giving him the rare sensation of being "a sad dog with the ladies." Even playing at the idea had quite transformed the agent. Poor little misery! She knew instinctively she had nothing to fear from him, and even if he had been a different type she had no doubt but
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what she would have known how to keep him in his place when they were alone. But before these pals of his the agent put on sly looks, carried himself rakishly, and tipped his hat very far back on his head. Well, it was an odd world evidently, but Hildegarde Mar had come out to see it. Now, after various formalities, they were going on board.
"See! paint 's wet yet. That 's why I did n't want y' to come. Spoil y' clo'es, sure 's a gun." Apparently to-morrow the paint would he dry as a bone. Past time strangely few decent, though cramped, staterooms of the first saloon, each ticketed with time names of prospective occupants, down into time dim region of the second saloon, down into the intermediate, further down, clinging on to ladders, down, down, into the bowels of the ship, Hildegarde and time ferret-faced agent went, looking for Mr. Blumupitty's quarters. And lo! though that gentleman had paid for first-class accommodation--as the agent admitted--he 'd been "glad to get the only accommodation left," and that was in time hold ! The twenty-nine berths were twenty-nine sections of deal shelves, ranged in tiers five deep, and set so close one on top of the other you could not believe it possible for a good-sized man to insert his body between time unsheeted ticking of his chuck-mattress and time hoard above his head. Hildegarde stood stooping in the awful hole and staring as one not crediting her eyes.
"It 'll look better," says the agent, a little shame-faced, "when the beds are made. The company supplies a piller each, and a pair o' blankets."
No ventilation. No light of day. One electric burner to illumine the horror of the gloom.
"You don't mean to say-- " began Hildegarde, turn-
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ing such a look upon the agent that he said hurriedly:
"No, no. This won't do for a noos-- fur a lady." And they climbed the ladders back to day.
He found the lady up-stairs quarters on the saloon deck.
"But there are only five berths here."
"Best cabin on the ship," said he, spitting with decision through the port.
"But on this card on tile door there are five names already."
"One 's comin' out," and he saw to that by the simple process of drawing an indelible pencil across "Miss Tillie Jump," and substituting "Miss H. Mar."
Still the young lady studied the card. "Look at this."
"Here, at the very top."
"Don't see nothin'."
"You don't see Mr. and Mrs. David M. Jones."
"Oh, yes, I see them."
"Surely that 's a mistake."
"Mistake? No. I 'tended to them folks myself. "As the young lady stared incredulous, he reassured her. "They 're comin' all right. Tip-top folks. He wus governor of--"
"They 're not coming in here!"
" Mr. Jones?"
"Yes, David M. He wus governor of--"
"In here, with all these-ladies!"
"Well, one 's his wife. Don't you be afraid. He 's all right."
"He can't possibly come in here."
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"He 's got to. No other place. Him an' his wife wus almost the first passengers on the list."
"Well, give them a cabin to themselves."
"Oh, see here! There ain 't room fur no style like that on this trip."
"Then put back Miss Jump and take out Mr. Jones."
She saw the agent blink at such cool juggling. "Mr. Jones Must go in a man's cabin," she explained.
"Don't you know they 're all full?"
"He can't come in here," said the young lady inflexibly.
"He 's got to, that 's all there is about it. I can't go playin' no monkey tricks with David M. Jones."
"Then please find me some other place."
"Ain't I already told you? They ain't no--"
"You mean you can 't, after all, accommodate me on this ship?"
"Lord! Lord!" The agent seemed to pray for patience and for light.
"You were prepared to make Miss Tillie Jump-- " and in spite of herself, gravity went by the board. But the agent's smile was wan.
"That was different," he assured her. "Well, here goes! "With the air of one who has cast the last shred of prudence to the winds, he wrote out a new card from which you might gather that David M. Jones had not been reëlected for this berth. And so, exit the former governor!
"Now you can 't say we ain't done everything."
"Thank you," said Hildegarde "There 's only one thing more. I should like to bring my steamer trunk in to-day and get settled."
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The agent gaped, and then, with a gesture of comic feebleness before the spectacle presented by this young lady, he sat down on the edge of the berth labeled, "T. Jump," and grinned.
"The paint 's nearly dry up here," urged Miss Mar. as one meeting the only possible objection.
It must be because she was on a "noospaper." Nothing else could give a woman a nerve like this. Well, it was positively refreshin'! Out of pure gaiety of heart the agent added a little new tobacco to the store already accumulated in his cheek. " 'T ain't a bad idear," he said. "More 'n you 'd like to try it on. But it would n't hardly do."
"Make a nawful rumpus." As still she seemed not to understand the enormity of her proposal." 'T would n 't be fair to let some and not let others."
She could see that. "But why not let them all?"
"Oh, haw! haw " The thing was somehow deliciously comic. But a compromise might be possible-- "fur a noos--" Luckily the purser happened to be on deck. Hildegarde, to her stark astonishment, heard the agent reply confidentially to some question, "Well, y' would n't think so, but from one or two things she let drop, I guess she 's one o' ------ 's hustlers, an' special correspondent fur the 'New York Herald,' I guess, an' Gawd knows what else." She was forthwith presented to Mr. Brown, and it was arranged that the "noospaper" woman should send her baggage down to the purser's care, and herself be allowed to come on board a couple of hours before the mob--say at seven o'clock in the evening.
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AT a quarter before that hour the street near the wharf where the - lay was dense with packed humanity. So much time and tact it took to worm one's way through the mass, that Madeleine, who had come down to see her friend off, began to despair. Already she had been longer away from her invalid than she had meant. Hildegarde urged her to turn back now. Madeleine looked about with anxious eyes. "It 's worse even than I imagined. It 's terrible to leave you here."
"It 's much more terrible for you to leave Mr. Dorn."
Madeleine did n't deny that.
"And if you come further there 's no telling when you 'll get out. It will be worse going back against the tide."
But Madeleine hesitated, with harassed face.
"I 'd much rather you went now," Hildegarde urged, taking her suit-case from her friend. "Good-by."
Madeleine clung to her with filling eyes. "I hate leaving you."
Hildegarde kissed her. "Good-by, dear. And thank you a thousand times."
In the act of going, Madeleine whispered, "Oh, I hope nothing will happen to you. But I 'in frightened to death. Good-by. Oh dear!"
And that was the last of the old familiar life.
As slowly Hildegarde got herself and her suit-case through the crowd, it was borne in upon her that perhaps she had been wrong to insist that neither of her brothers should come and see her off, as each had nobly suggested, in spite of their unwavering opposition to the
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enterprise. She had made a point of their trusting her "to do it alone."
Besides, she was n't alone. In every letter she flourished the Blumpittys. Where were those Blumpittys now? No sign of them since yesterday. Anyhow, she had prevented the boys from coming. Her fear, not of course formulated to them, had been that if they came, somehow, at the last moment they would try to prevent her going. Well--she looked about--they probably would. She pressed on, inwardly exulting, outwardly modest and asking pardon. And all the time she kept a sharp lookout, as if, in spite of everything, she was expecting some one. A Blumpitty? Not a bit of it.
"IT 's no use," said a red-faced man, with a wheezy voice, "not a bit o' use yer tryin' to get through yere."
"There would be," said the young lady, "if you helped me a little."
That was different. But, "Ye 'll only get to stand a yard or two further on till nine o'clock. They would n't open them gates fur President McKinley."
"I want to see if my baggage got here all right. I sent it hours and hours ago."
"Same bright idear 's occurred to the rest of us," said a sharp-faced youth. But they let the young lady pass. And in the uncertain light they looked after the tall, striking figure, dressed in close-fitting dark green, wearing a perfectly plain green felt hat, which was somehow more distinguishable and more distinguished set upon a head like that than if it had been furbelowed after the fashion of the other feminine headgear that flowered and feathered in the throng. Public opinion would have set
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her down as "stuck up," from the way she carried herself, had it not been for something too gentle in the face to support that view. The delicately molded chin, with the end softly turned up, gave an almost childish look to the face, and the long-lashed eyes, at once eager and abstracted, why were they always looking, looking? "Lost her party, I guess."
On she went, changing her suit-case from one tired hand to the other, looking here, looking there, just as she had done in the Seattle streets. She had gone about all these last days consciously braced for a final encounter with Cheviot--a last attempt on his part to make her abandon the undertaking. That, of course, was the reason he had not written, nor even telegraphed, to say good-by. There was nothing surly, or even sullen, about Cheviot. Though they had parted "like that," he would n't be willing she should go without his making some sign. Not having done so could only mean-- Oh, she knew what it meant.
She dramatized the coming scene--saw herself being "quite firm," defeating, utterly routing him. But in order to carry out the program she must n 't let him take her by surprise. And as now over this shoulder, now over that, she scrutinized the faces in the crowd, she felt her heart beat as she thought of the coming conflict. And the pink color rose in her face. She had been afraid "the boys" might want to turn her back. In her heart of hearts she was afraid that Louis, in some way not clearly foreseen, would succeed. She went forward with the sense of one escaping from a definite peril. At last, rather out of breath, she dropped her suit-case before the door of the brightly lighted bag-
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gage-room. Just inside was a man in his shirt-sleeves, and beyond him--
" There 's my trunk!" she cried out, with the cheerful air of one descrying a valued friend.
"Want it checked?"
"Where 's it goin'?"
"To Nome, of course, "answered Hildegarde, panting a little and straightening her hat. "Nobody is going anywhere else, are they?" she added, a little impatient at the man 's staring and delay.
"N-no. I guess not. But--" He grinned good-humoredly. "I did n't think you looked like a Nomer."
Here was a blow at the very start. Hildegarde glanced down at her plain clothes, and decided the man was mistaken. But he checked her trunk, her provision-box, her bag, her deck-chair, and her roll of wraps, and she, declining to give up the suit-case, turned about to make her way among the people, massed thicker than ever in this direction. For over yonder, hidden by the crowd, was the gate whose opening would give access to the Los Angeles. Progress here more difficult than ever.
Courage! Now if Louis were somewhere in the crush, if those critical blue-gray eyes were on her, he would be wondering to see how well she made her way, keeping her footing and her temper, gaining inch by inch her goal. She went the more unflinching as under the gray-blue eye. When it became obvious that this pink and white gentle-looking girl was intent, if you please, on working her way to the barrier in front of people who had been there an hour, she was treated to an experience of unyielding backs, sharp elbows, and surly looks. Why
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should n't she wait her turn? Yes, Hildegarde reflected, it was natural they should feel that, especially the women. Why, how many women there were! But no Mrs. Blumpitty, and no-- Hildegarde looked at her watch. How the time had flown. It really was rather odd about Cheviot. He might, of course, come still later, but suppose he did n't. It was almost incredible, and yet--
If he did come, he 'd see, at all events, there were some quite nice-seeming women here. But perhaps they were n't going. This one, with the white, white face under the orange ha--what little young voice was that beside her? Why, the woman was holding a boy by the hand. He reminded Hildegarde of Cheviot's small nephew, Billy. She smiled down into the solemn little face. "Are you seeing some one off?"
"Nop!" said the Curlyhead sturdily. "Goin' to Nome meself." And the crowd cheered. Either that demonstration frightened him, or he was tired and indifferent to popular approval. He began to fret and then to whimper. Was it his father who spoke so roughly and so thickly? Curlyhead's whimper blossomed into wailing. His father began to shake him.
"Oh', wait a minute," said the tall young lady, as if meaning only to delay the operation for a second. She set down the suit-case on her own toes, and out of a pocket in the close-fitting green jacket came a cake of chocolate, all glorious in silver foil. Hildegarde held it before the child's distorted little face. The features righted themselves as by magic. The youngest pioneer no longer took a gloomy view of his prospects.
The father 's been drinking heavily, Hildegarde said
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to herself as she went on. Poor wife. Poor little boy. She would know Curlyhead better on the ship.
How strange if Louis were to harbor such deep resentment as not to write and not to appear. That he should be the only one of her familiar circle that had not to be dissuaded from coming to see her off! If suddenly now in the crowd she should see him she would be almost glad. After all, he could n't prevent her sailing. What was he thinking of to let her go off like this, without-- Had her mother been right? Just then a woman, in a sealskin jacket and with diamonds twinkling in her ears, not only refused flatly to let Hildegarde pass but angrily admonished the men about her to stand firm.
The tall young lady only changed her course a little, and made obliquely for the barrier, but the encounter with that woman affected her more unpleasantly than the elbowing and jostling of the others. She had a distinct vision of Louis Cheviot's face as he had said "the kind of woman that goes to Nome" It had been horrible to him that Hildegarde was not daunted. For she had n't let him see that she was. And now that woman, with the hard face and the diamond ear-rings!-- and Louis too disgusted to want to come and see his old friend off, or even to send her a message of good-by.
She began to see how foolish it was to expect to see him here. He had washed his hands of her.
And still, in the back of her head, she thought he might come-- even built upon it. She looked back. No, he was n 't in sight; but a tall, grizzled man had given the youngest pioneer a seat on his shoulder. That was nice of the grizzled man.
But it was saddening to go on so great a journey without the good-will of so close a friend as--
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There was something very hard about Louis. He could enjoy himself quite comfortably, since he had washed his hands of her. Her mother-- (why was this man in front of her dressed in oilskins?) Yes-- washed his hands of her. Her mother had told her as much. Bella and Mrs. Wayne had come up from the country to the Valdivia G. H. Charity Ball. They had stayed at the great new hotel. Bella had worn pink at the ball, and danced constantly with Louis Cheviot. She stayed on for several days, and they drove together every evening. People had begun to talk. Well, it had seemed very possible once. Why not? And here was Hildegarde actually expecting he might have left Bella and come all that way from Valdivia just to wish Hildegarde God-speed on a journey he had loathed the very mention of. Idiocy. Of course He was out driving with Bella this soft, beautiful evening. He would be thinking: "Bella could never do anything so unfeminine as to go to a horrible place like Nome!" Bella and Louis. Why did she, the girl struggling here in the crowd, feel this half-incredulous aching at the thought? Bella and Louis. Natural enough. Even inevitable. The reason that she, Hildegarde, felt like this was that she was n't accustomed yet to being alone, and it was so hard to reach the barrier yonder. Jack Galbraith. Would he, too, join them-- the sensible stay-at-home folk? Curiously, Jack was grown as dim as last year's dreams. For weeks she had felt him fading out of the old picture. And in the new he had no place at all. Why was that? Perhaps he was dead. It seemed hardly to matter. Should she ever get to the barrier?
Oh, how they pushed and crowded upon her. It made her feel quite angry. Not so much with these poor
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struggling people. But with Cheviot. If he were here now, instead of driving about with Bella, if those broad shoulders of his were between Hildegarde and-- "Oh, please, please, you 're crushing me."
"Then stand back," said a man angrily.
And he was n't even drunk.
Over an hour it had taken her to penetrate from the outer fringes of the crowd, by way of the baggage-room, to this gate in the barrier, chained and barred. On the other side of it, an irate dragon on guard, ready to breathe fire and brimstone at the mere notion of letting anybody by. When Hildegarde signed to him, he only roared out over the heads of the people, "Nine o'clock 's the time everybody was told to come on board. If you don't like waitin' outside till the proper time you can go home." Hildegarde tried to convey across the barrier that she was acting under instructions. "Keep back," roared the dragon, quite as if he feared the tall figure might contemplate vaulting over.
"It is a special arrangement," she said quite low, "made by the purser himself."
"Yes, yes, very likely."
"I assure you the purser--"
"God A'mighty, what purser?"
Still Hildegarde spoke as confidentially as possible. "The purser of this ship."
"What 's the name o' the purser who could do a thing like that?"
"Mr. Brown is his name."
"Brown ain't the name o' the purser o' this ship. Guess again!"
The crowd exulted. The dodge had failed.
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"Is n't this the Los Angeles?"
"Yes, by--!" A gush of oaths before which the girl gasped as if a bowl of ice-cold water had been dashed in her face. "Oh-h!-- if Louis heard that! Luckily he will never know. He 's out driving with Bella."
She took her courage in both hands. "I shall report you if you don't let me by. Your own agent introduced me to the Los Angeles purser, and called him Mr. Brown."
"Purser, purser" --more blasphemy-- "I would n't let the owner of this ship on board before nine o'clock."
"Mr. Brown said--"
"Brown! Brown!" shouted the man, goaded to frenzy by this feminine obstinacy. "Look yere, if he was Black and the devil himself I would n't let ye in after the orders I 've had."
The crowd chuckled and swayed.
The tall girl craned her neck over the barrier in the uncertain light. She had caught sight of a lurking figure uncommonly hike the fat purser's, seeming to seek shelter behind a bale of merchandise." Why, there he is now," she said quite low. "Mr. Brown!" No answer, and the figure vanished. "Mr. Brown!" she called, in a clear penetrating voice. "I 'm here, as you told me to be. Mr. B--"
Hurriedly the tun-bellied figure reappeared and whispered to the dragon. A brief low-voiced altercation between the two men. Only one word distinguishable to the girl on the other side of the barrier, "noospaper." A growling menace of "trouble sure" from the dragon, and then the gate opened a cautious crack. The noospaper woman and her suit-case were plucked from the
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murmuring crowd and set upon the ship. She turned to thank her rescuer. For all his amplitude he had melted into air. On the far side of the barrier, under the electric light, the crowd murmured and swayed, coupling the name of Brown with opprobrium.
The ship was badly lit and silent as the grave. Hildegarde felt her way down into the saloon, where a single light was burning. She found her cabin, and she put a jacket and a suit-case in her berth. On reflection, to make it look the more occupied, she added a green felt hat with her card stuck in the narrow band. Then out into the dim saloon. How strange for her to be in this place. So strange, she had a fleeting notion she would presently wake up and find herself in the little white room at home. But no, for the purser, who appeared and disappeared like some incorporeal essence, was standing at the door of the saloon with a pile of letters and telegrams, and little packets, saying: "There 's flowers, too, an' a box o' fruit an' a basket. When the steward comes, I 'll send them to your room."
Last letters from the few who had been allowed to know the name of her ship, from her mother and the boys, from Bella, from Eddie Cox--no one had forgotten her except-- He might come yet. Even Bella's mother had sent a telegram, saying she hoped Hildegarde would find the traveling tea-basket a slight solace. Bella sent fruit, and wrote: "Come back as much the same Hildegarde as you can. You won't be quite the same I know. No one is after a great journey. Too much happens. No, I shan't ever see you again, dearest of all my friends, but let the Hildegarde that you bring home be as much like the old Hildegarde as you can manage."
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These letters, the last echo of the old voices. Why did she hear plainest of all the one who was silent.
What was this! Homesick already, and the anchor not yet weighed?
She would go on deck. At the foot of the companionway she took heart of grace, breathing in gratefully the whiff of fresh air that came down to greet her. But halfway up she paused. What was that--that sound like the deep groundswell of the seal? Why, that must be the crowd--those people on the other side of the barrier and the ever-augmenting legions all along the water front. It was the sharp-featured youth, with the shifty little eyes, who had called her wish to check her baggage "a brilliant idear"; it was the drunken man who had shaken his little tired child; the woman with the white, white face; that other woman with the ear-rings, who hated anybody who went in front of her-- all the people who had jostled and elbowed and tried to force her back. Soon they would be here, her daily companions. No escape. They were to become as familiar as people she had known all her life, as those home people who already seemed as far off as the dead folk are. But the home people were n't dead; they were driving and dancing, and they had nothing more in common with Hildegarde Mar. She was henceforth to be companioned by that hungry crowd out there, with its vague murmuring, like the sea at Monterey. Dancing and merrymaking fell back into that far-off world that she had heft so long ago, before she came all by herself to Seattle, all by herself was setting sail for Nome. Even when she reached the top of the companionway the noises on the wharf still sounded muffled for the most part and seemed to come
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from afar. But every now and then a single anger-sharpened note--or a cheer it might be--went up into the still air as startling as a rocket, and like a rocket seemed to burst in that higher region and come falling down to earth in a shower of sharp broken cries and strange, unnerving noises. She remembered the man who had set the child on his shoulder, and a woman with gray hair. She seemed to see them trampled under foot. The woman in the sealskin jacket looked on. Something menacing even in the muted cries, as though they presaged some mighty uprising of a trampled people. Had there been sounds like these abroad in Paris streets in the days of the Revolution? The solitary girl lent herself for a moment to that terror of the mob which dimly feels that no physical danger on the earth can match the peril you may stand in before the fury of the mass. Any single creature, however angry or debased, is a human being. But the mass!--the mass is a monster, and the monster was at the gate.
Along the deserted deck she went, making hardly any noise, and listening with tense nerves.
How strange for her to be in this place alone.
Oh, Louis! Louis! and suddenly she had stopped. She was leaning her head against a stanchion, and the tears were running down her face.
But very soon she was ashamed.
Drying her eyes, she went aft on the upper deck. The air was soft and wooing. All the harbor full of shipping; and lights--lights everywhere. The arch of heaven was very wide and filled with an infinite dusk. It was like some soothing and benignant presence. She faced about, still looking up, and saw the keen little crescent
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of the young moon hanging aslant, seeming to bend down over the Los Angeles. The sight of the little moon comforted the girl curiously. It seemed to be shining so hopefully, so gallantly, setting its tiny horns for a signal just over Hildegarde's ship. She turned a silver coin in her pocket while she wished, and in the dusk she curtsied to her Moonship. Feeling a little less forlorn after performance of these rites, she walked the silent deck with firmer step and the horned moon for company, trying not to listen to those sounds down there upon the wharf--trying to recapture her early zest in this enterprise. Now there were dim figures moving about the shadowy deck, and in the smoking-room a light was turned on. Through the window she could see a group of four men. They stood before a big sheet of paper laid upon the table, and they argued some point with anger. Why, one of the men was the little agent! "I swear it 's all right" - he raised his voice excitedly-- "all quite regillar an' legal."
A snigger near where the girl stood made her aware of the presence of two men behind her there in the dusk, one indifferent, half turned away; the other, through spectacles that caught the smoking-room light, looked in over Hildegarde's shoulder at the angry group.
"What are they arguing so about?" asked the girl, a little anxiously. If either of the men outside answered she did n't hear, for the noise below on the wharf had been growing louder. Surely there was a riot going on! "Oh, what is it?" she asked. "What 's the matter down there?"
"The matter is it 's close on ten o'clock," said the man with the spectacles.
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"But they promised to let the people in at nine!"
"That 's the trouble."
"Why didn't they?"
"That 's why." The spectacled face nodded toward the smoking-room window. The voices in there were held down now, but three of the faces were angrier than ever. The fourth was sullen and set.
"Won 't you tell me what is happening?"
"Only a little false swearing."
"The size of the passenger list. The Los Angeles is chartered to carry three hundred. They 've sold over five hundred first-class tickets."
"Is that the inspector in there?"
The spectacles moved up and down, making "Yes" with flashes of light, and the lowered voice said: "He 's refused to sign our clearance papers."
"Then we won 't get off?"
"Oh, probably." The reply rang so cynical, as the spectacled stranger walked after his silent companion, that Hildegarde stared the more earnestly through the window at the drama going on within."
Did they "square" the inspector? She only knew the party broke up and melted away, and a few minutes after, a change came over the crowd below. A sudden animation that exploded in yells. Was it triumph? Or was it rage? Or was it pain? Yes, surely some one was crying "Help," and a woman shrieked, and now a sound like a flood breaking all barriers and deluging the world. The lights went up on a sudden all over the ship, and down below the gates gave way. In an incredibly short time the ship that had seemed so lonely--it was full.
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And the torrent of humanity that swept in looked so wild-eyed and disheveled, angry, and possessed by evil passion, that Hildegarde turned and fled down the companionway, and hid herself in her cabin. Ah, yes, she was n't much of a heroine. It had been the work of a few seconds to turn the dim and silent ship into a howling, flaring pandemonium, hundreds of angry voices clamoring, complaining, threatening, shouting questions, muttering hoarse abuse. "The company"--everybody was blaming the company. Dozens of people tried to force their way into the cabin for five, at the foot of whose authorized list of occupants stood the name of "Miss H. Mar," and in one of whose berths that intrepid adventurer was sitting in the midst of her possessions, cross-legged like a Turk, staring, listening, wondering what was going to happen when Governor David M. Jones appeared. Was this he? No, only a huge young woman, in a man's hat and ulster, who growled and muttered unintelligibly--a foreigner, who seemed to be cursing in Dutch. But this other, breathing American fire and biblical brimstone, this must be Mrs. Governor Jones, holding up her skirt, half torn out of its gathers. Would she wreak vengeance for that as well as for graver misfortunes on the Turk in the upper berth? As the night wore on the people sorted themselves. Hildegarde came to distinguish between the interlopers and the women who belonged in here; battered and breathless and worn out, but held together by a common bond of fearsomne experience in getting on board, and agreed, besides, in regarding none too benevolently the person who sat up there in the farther top berth, staring with wide eyes at the stories of what the others had suffered,
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and herself saying never a word, till some one came to the door to ask if Miss Mar was "there all right." "I don 't know," said the nearest woman crossly.
"Oh, yes, yes," said the Turk, tumbling out of the top berth. "Is that you, Louis?" Now she knew how sure she had been, and how hugely glad of his coming. But there at the door only the fat purser, who seemed to have gone mad. He stared vacantly at the young lady, pulled off his cap, and polishing his shining crown with a large handkerchief, muttered abstractedly: "Oh--a-- that 's all hunky-dory!" and hurried away. As soon as she recovered her breath, Hildegarde caught up her hat and went after him to explain and to inquire.
But he was swallowed in the crowd. She made a tour of the deck. But no, one could n't stay long, and anyhow Cheviot was n't there. Not even the Blumpittys seemed to be there. Curlyhead was refusing to come and be put to bed, refusing in terms incredibly sulphurous for one of such tender years. It turned you sick to hear such language from baby lips.
"Where you off to?" said one man to another just in front of Hildegarde.
"Goin' to report to the authorities."
"The rat hole they 're askin' me to sleep in."
"Plenty o' time. We ain't goin' to get off till to-morrer, anyway."
" What! Why, we 're a week late a'ready."
"Some of us 'll be later 'n that. The authorities are goin' to hold back a couple of hundred fur the next ship."
"Who says so? I ain't goin' to wait."
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"Well"--he lowered his voice--"there 's inconvenient questions about over-crowdin'."
The raging malcontent of the moment before was straightway tamed. You saw in his face that he would do his share in hushing up the conditions under which he was to make the voyage.
As Hildegarde sped along the last stretch of the deck before going below, her astonished eyes fell upon the giant. Then he had n't got off by the Congress! She was about to ask him if he 'd seen the Blumpittys, but some one else was surprised to find the giant on board the Los Angeles--a puffing, excited individual, with a red beard, in the act of pushing past, stopped, stared, and then clapped the giant on the back. "Gawd A'mighty! Is that you!"
"No," says the giant calmly. "I 'm Ford O'Gorman."
Again Hildegarde hurried down the companionway, and very much as an agitated tabby seeks refuge in the attic, she clambered into the top berth furthest from the door.
And Cheviot had never come!
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