Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 19)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
The Arctic Cap had vanished from the ship. Everyone else able to be afoot appeared on deck the next morning in the clear and strangely milder weather. Even the purser was abroad, passing by with averted eye, receiving haughtily the homage of the fair who hastened to inquire after his health, thereby further emphasizing Miss Mar's neglect. She sat watchful but silent in the sunshine, drinking in the air that seemed to bring a blessing with it from some golden land that yesterday had been far off, and that to-day was very near. Mrs. Blumpitty had resumed the perpendicular and her most cheerful air. All the Blumpitty "outfit" in the best of spirits. The business woman to the company was exhibiting her vaunted competency in "dealing with men" and "affairs" by industrious prosecution of her flirtation with the oldest dentist. Shifting groups of lawyers, "judges," senators, were cheerfully objurgating the mining laws. The lean bean-feaster, who between meals was for ever chewing gum, paused in his nervous pacing of the deck, though not in his labor of mastication, to assure ex-Governor Reinhart that he was "dead wrong." This seemed, on the face of it, improbable. But Reinhart condescended to remind him, "Nome is n't like any other camp. Wait till you see the state of things there."
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The bean-feaster had an audience before you could wink, for he had nodded, chewing harder than ever. Then a pause long enough for him to say modestly, "I'm the man appointed by the Nome miners to go in the commission to Washington and report."
"Why did n't you go?"
"Did. Coming back now." With immense respect al within earshot listened to the disquisition on Alaskan mining laws, and the bean-feaster's modest assurance that through his exertions they were being amended.
Some one aft in the steerage was playing a fiddle, and a couple of darkies were dancing. The older woman is Mrs. L'Estrange's cook, and Mrs. L'Estrange is the Southern lady of fallen fortunes who is going, with a store of fine damask and all her family silver, to open a high-class boarding-house at Nome! She had read of Mrs. Millicent Egerton Finney, who, in the Klondike, by this means, had made a "pile."
Mrs. Locke's admirer, Mr. Meyer, was displaying a small working model of a superfine contrivance, only to discover that every man on the ship had a superfine contrivance of his own which was the grandest thing on earth in the way of gold-saving. Many of the people, as they moved from group to group, greeted Mrs. Locke and Miss Mar; but to Hildegarde's intent eye all other faces were just merely not the one under the arctic cap.
Her companion watched the whale birds that swarmed so low this morning over the water. Every now and then a fountain spouted up into the sunshine.
But when Hildegarde, distracting herself an instant
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from her own watch, said, "Do you suppose it 's true those birds feed off barnacles on the whale's back?"--Mrs. Locke's little concern for what she stared at was evident in her answering, "There 's one thing I don't understand."
"You don't seem to have much to say to your friend, the purser."
"He is n't my friend."
"What made you think--"
"Merely that he seemed to be when you came on board."
"You mean because he let me get into my room before the crowd came?"
"Well, that was real friendliness, but is was 't what I meant."
"What did you mean?"
"Oh, I only thought since you called him by his Christian name, he might be a friend." The tone conveyed the widest latitude--the most varied experience of other women's vagaries, or their weakness."
"I called him by his Christian name!" ejaculated Hildegarde.
"When in the world?"
"That very first night."
"You must be dreaming."
"Mrs. Lock shook her head. "Of course it 's no crime. I did n't mean that."
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"Crime? No. It would have been lunacy. But I never did it."
Mrs. Locke opened a little book that lay in her lap.
Hildegarde leaned forward. For the first moment since waking she forgot the Arctic Cap. "Do help me to understand. What did I say?"
Mrs. Locke's clear brown eyes looked into the earnest face of the girl, and then a little unwillingly, "It was n't in the least my business," she added.
"What did you think you heard?"
"Did n't the purser come to the door asking if Miss Mar was 'all right'? And did n't you call out, 'Is that you, Louis? and did n't you call out, 'Is that you, Louis?' and did n't you run after him?" As Hildegarde's perplexed face yielded to a gleam of horrified enlightenment, "Of course it was n't any business of mine," Mrs. Locke repeated, and looked intently at the sea-birds flocking in a new place.
"Do you--do you mean you think his name is--"
"I don't think. I know his name is Louis Napoleon Brown."
Hildegarde gasped out, "Then that was why!"
"Why he was so--surprising. His name daring to be Louis! The purser! Oh, dear. Oh, dear," and the girl began suddenly to laugh, and grew more and more convulsed the longer she though about it, till she became hysterical. Mrs. Locke looked gravely at her, even frowning slightly.
"Oh, dear. Oh, dear. He thought I meant him. Oh! oh!"
"You did n't?"
"And you think you know the world. You called me an infant."
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"Well, I own I never could make it square with the rest of you."
"Oh, I must make you understand. You see I was expecting a great friend of min--an old friend of all our family was coming to see me off; at least, I hoped he was. When I heard that somebody was asking for me, I was sure it was--" Up and down the deck her eye went roving. She lowered her voice--"a man called Louis Cheviot." And she told Mrs. Locke what he was like, this old friend. "You see the reason I jumped so quickly to the conclusion he was asking for me, is that he never before failed me. He 's been a quite uncommon sort of friend. He 's the man I 've once or twice mentioned." (Mrs. Locke kept her lops from smiling, "once or twice!"_ "Though I never said what his name was. I told you about his hunting up my father and staying with him all those month; about his coming out with dogs over the ice, just to bring us word; and that kind of thing. He's a very particular friend of all of us. And then he 's the most wonderful company. He makes you always see the fun of things. And you-- Yes, life is always more interesting, somehow, when he 's there. Did you ever know anybody like that?"
"He did n't, after all, come to see you off. Yes, I 've known some one like that."
Hildegarde turned her head suddenly. Up the deck and down the deck the wide eyes vainly traveled. How had it come that she had felt so sure? What had she to go on? likeness in the shoulder outline. Something the same trick in the carriage of the head. A pang shot through her. "Yes," she said, as though agreeing that he had failed her, "I 've often said to myself, 'To
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think of his never even saying good-by.'" (Yet she had been imagining-- A dullness fell upon her that was worse than acute disappointment.) "He was angry," she went on. "We had quarreled, because I would go to Nome."
"He was right and you were wrong," said Mrs. Locke.
Hildegarde smiled. She rather liked this woman for veering round and taking his part. "Well, all the same, I thought it was n't very nice of him not to send me any sign of forgiveness at the last. And the odd thing is" (her spirits revived a little in the act of talking about this old friend) "it was so unlike Louis Cheviot. He can be rather severe, but he never sulks. He 's the kind of person" (Hildegarde had no idea how often she had said "he is the kind of person"), "the kind that always looks after his friends. And no matter how badly they treat him he goes on looking after them. He was like that even when he was little. His sister once told me a thing about him that just shows you what kind of-- He was seven years old, Barbara said, and the most fiery little patriot you ever heard of. And in other ways, yes, I 've often thought there could never have been a little boy so like the grown man as this child was like the Louis Cheviot I know." She said it with an air of one making an effective point.
"Is that so?: said Mrs. Locke, telling herself she had n't realized how handsome the girl was until this morning.
"Just to give you an idea. He had a perfect passion, his sister says, for making a noise. Yes, but more than any boy she ever knew. You had only to say fire-crackers to make Louis explode with enthusiasm. The only
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reason he wanted to grow up was so that he could get a gun, and he'd rather let off torpedoes than eat pie. No picnic or birthday or holiday of any sort was the real thing unless he could make a fearful rumpus. And the day he lived for the year round was the Fourth of July. Yes, yes, I know most American boys are like that, only Louis was more so than any boy you ever heard of. So his sister says. Well, I forgot to tell you when he was two his father died awfully in debt. For years the Cheviots were so poor they did n't always have enough bread. So they were naturally pretty short of fire-crackers. And for those early years poor little Louis had to get his fun out of other boys' noise."
"Ah, the thing is to make it yourself." Mrs. Locke spoke with the accent of one who makes the wider application.
"Of course." Hildegarde nipped the generalization in the bud. "Well, he learned very early that if he was to have even a little Fourth of July he had to save up for it. And he did. When he got a nickel or two he would n't waste it on candy, and he did n't even buy chewing-gum. Just saved up for July. The year he was seven his mother had to give up trying to live in part of their nice big house. They moved into a very small cottage on the other side of the garden. But Louis and his cousins, and the rest of the little boys of the neighborhood, were going to have the greatest and most glorious Fourth they 'd any of them ever known. The others had toy pistols and rockets and little cannon. Louis had saved up and had got some fire-crackers and two little flags, and he was going to make things hum. Well, there was a man who had just moved into the Cheviots' big
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house and nobody liked him, but I expect they would n't have liked anybody who lived in that house without being a Cheviot. And he had a little boy about Louis's age. And the little boy was very ill. Scarlet fever. Well, on the evening of the third (you know they never can wait till the Fourth), the boys all over town began to celebrate, but they were going to celebrate most just in front of Louis's house, for that was where they were going to beat the British all over again. It was always more fun, and lots more noise and slaughter if Louis was one of the generals. So they came trooping down the street after supper, letting off torpedoes by the way. And when Louis heard them he tore out with his flags and his crackers, wild with excitement. And he lined the boys up and told them where the red-coats were in ambush behind the wood house. Louis had lit some punk, and the new neighbor came rushing out just as a big cracker went off with a bang. Barbara Cheviot was on her side of the laurel and she saw the man throw up his hands as though he 'd been shot, and then make for Louis exactly as if he meant to strike him. Barbara was scared for a moment. But by the time the new neighbor got to where the boys were he was holding himself down pretty well. Barbara heard him speaking quite kindly. What were they going to do, and that kind of thing. And when they told him, Barbara says a sound like a little groan came out of his tight lips, and he looked up at the window where the curtains were drawn. But he asked the boys how many more crackers they had. And when he saw what a lot there were, he only said that was fine to have so many. When he was a little boy he had
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to share one pack with three brothers. And he said he hoped they knew what the Fourth of July meant and why they had a right to be proud and make a noise. Louis answered up and told him. The man said 'Good, good!' He did n't want to put a stop to the fun, he said. He was only thinking about the little boy up in that room there, who was n't having any Fourth of July at all this year. He was ill So ill he might never see another July. Yes, he was probably dying, and Barbara says, he could n't go on for a minute. He had to wait. And all the little boys looked down at the ground. 'There 's just a chance, I think,' the father said, 'if he sleeps to-night, just a little chance--if you boys would celebrate on the other side of the town. And I 'd be very much obliged to you,' he said. As he was going off he turned to Louis and asked him if he'd tell all the boys he saw, and try to keep them from coming into this street. Louis said, Yes, he would, and the man went back to his child. But he didn't go to bed--just sat in the sick-room and watched. The oddest thing about that third of July was that Mrs. Cheviot and the girls slept the whole night through. It was the only year of their lives that ever happened. There was n't a sound in their street. But the man in the big house was too anxious and miserable about the sick child to notice or remember anything outside that room where they were all watching. Just before sunrise the crisis was passed, and the doctor, who 'd been sent a long way for, and had been watching, too, said the fever had gone down and the boy was saved. The father came out for a breath of air. In the grayness he saw something moving down by the fence. 'Who 's that?' he called out,
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and when he got close up he saw a little figure, patroling the dim street. 'Why, are n't you the boy--' he began to say. 'Yes,' Louis told him, 'I 'm doin' what I said.' 'What you said?' The man did n't remember even then. 'Yes,' Louis said, 'I 'm bein' a sort o' watchman to see the boys don't make a noise just here.' And he had a bunch of fire-crackers in his hand and two little flags in his hat."
With suffused eyes, the girl looked out across the shining water. The old story had a new significance for her, if none at all for Mrs. Locke.
"It was, as I began by saying, more exactly like the Louis Cheviot I know than a whole book of biography might be. It 's because he 's precisely like that to this day that I was so surprised when he let me go off without a word, because, you see, he 'd been 'sort o' watchman' for us, too. It 's easier to believe that nothing else will do for him but just to see you through." She turned her head, and her grasp on the railing tightened--nothing else had done! For that figure outlined against the sky--no use any longer that he turns his collar up above his ears, no efficient mask any more the arctic cap. That was the "watchman" yonder on the bridge, standing guard over the fortunes of Hildegarde Mar!
"What 's the matter? What is it?" asked Mrs. Locke.
"Only--only that the most wonderful thing that ever happened is happening right now."
"The man I 've been telling you about --he 's there!"
Not that one on the bridge!"
"Hush. 'Sh. Don't stir. I must be very quiet."
"Because you are n't sure?"
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"Because I am. Oh-h--"
Mrs. Locke looked steadily into Hildegarde's face for an instant, before she turned away.
The girl leaned forward. "No, no. It's not that," she said, and from under the brim of her hat she sent another glance to the figure against the sky. "He 's made a lot of money in the North--he has all kinds of business interests up here."
"How long have you known he was on board?"
"I almost think that in the back of my head I suspected before, but I did n't know till last night. And I was n't sure till this minute," she added, with girl's logic.
"You have n't spoken at all--you two?"
Hildegarde shook her head.
"Why do you think he wants to spy on you?"
"Oh, Louis does n't want to spy." Her tone convicted the suggestion of rank absurdity. "I told you he 's been dreadfully angry. To angry to write. Perhaps too angry to speak." Was that it? Again the upward glance. "But "--she clutched at the inalienable comfort--"it 's Louis Cheviot."
"Well, don't be too certain this time, that 's all."
Not be certain? But that was just what she must be. Another quick look, and lo! the bridge was empty. "I 'm quite sure--but I--I 'll just go and see."
He was standing near the door of the chart-room. As Hildegarde's head came up the figure vanished. When she reached the threshold there it was, back turned to the door, cap bent over a map. Incredible to her now that she had n't known him all along; but, nevertheless, she stood wavering, seized by something else than mere ex-
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citement--a wholly unexpected shyness. Was he indeed nursing that old anger against her? Was it conceivable he wanted to avoid her the whole voyage? She half turned back, telling herself that at all events something was the matter with her tongue--it was a physical impossibility for her to speak. Then the next thing was, she heard her own voice saying quite steadily, with even a faint ring of defiance, "It's no use! I've found you out!"
The figure flashed about, and Hildegarde caught the shine in the black-fringed eyes as he pulled off the cap, leaving his hair ruffled. He held out his hand, laughing, but, as it would almost seem, a little shamefaced. "Well, it took you long enough."
"No wonder!" She felt an imperative need to prevent her gladness from appearing excessive. "You can't ever say again there 's nothing of the actor in you."
"Why can't I?"
"After masquerading all these days?"
"I did n't mean to masquerade."
"Why did you go about in that horrid cap then, and never speak to me, or--"
"Oh, I never meant to stay incog. I was only waiting--"
"My opportunity; and it never came."
"Well"--he leaned against the lintel, and he was smiling in that old whimsical way of his--"I suppose what I was waiting for was your getting into some sort of scrape."
"You were hoping for that!" but while she denounced him, she, too, was smiling.
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"Well, I had prophesied it. I suppose a prophet usually has a weakness for seeing his wisdom verified."
She laughed out as light-heartedly as though the journey had been without care or cloud. "And you did n't like your prophecy not to come true. Poor false prophet! No wonder you hid your face."
"Yes, as for pretending--no, it isn't any earthly use. The truth is, I expected that very first evening to step in at some psychological moment."
"Save-my-life sort of thing?"
"Well, save you some anxiety or discomfort at the least. But you were the one passenger on the ship who did n't suffer the one or the other."
(Ah, he did n't know! And she was 'n't going to tell him. Oh, dear, no!)
"I go to see about your baggage. It 's checked, and on the ship. I curry favor with the captain, so as to get you a seat at the first table. You 've got one for yourself."
"No. I did n't."
"Well, whoever got it, you sit in it. Same thing on deck. While I 'm looking for a sheltered place for your chair you are established. I bring special provisions to keep you from starvation. You are somehow as well supplied and with as exactly the right things as though you 'd made the trip twenty times."
"It was the Blumpittys," Hildegarde began.
"The whattatys? Never mind. Call it any name you like I could n't have promised you new-laid eggs every morning for breakfast a thousand miles from land. I could only hang about ready to save you from unpleasantness. But, God bless me, unpleasantness never comes within a league of you."
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"The purser," Hildegarde prompted, with a gleam of eye.
But he tossed the suggestion aside with, "A little over pleasantness that you 're able to check for yourself."
"It 's plain I 'm not the stuff romantic heroines are made of."
He did n't contradict that. "You certainly have n't given me much excuse for coming along."
She was glad he was n't looking her way at that moment. It was like him to declare his mission so simply, and yet he stood there in the sunshine, smiling philosophically, as he turned down his collar, saying, "The merest superfluity. That 's what I am. Except," he added more seriously, "that if I had n't come I should never have believed I was so little needed. So it turns out that what I 've come for is my own enlightenment."
"Not only your enlightenment," and her eyes invited him to understanding of a friend's gratefulness to a friend. But he lifted his bare head to the breeze that swept in with the sunshine at the open door, as though, having delivered himself of his grievance, he could think of nothing now but the comfort of being free of that all-enveloping cap. His eyes seemed to shine only for joy in the sun, as he stood there ruffling still more his short, waving hair--the hair that did, as Bella said, "fit" him so uncommonly well. And he certainly looked as little sentimental as some sturdy mountain pine.
"Some people," Hildegarde remarked in a detached tone, "would think it was a waste for two old friends--we might have all these days together."
"Yes. I give you my word I never meant--" He seemed to intend an apology as though he assumed the
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deprivation to be chiefly, if not solely, hers. "The very first time I passed you I thought, of course, you 'd find me out. Then, as you did n't, I kept putting off--Morning, Captain."
"I should think you did keep putting off!"
"I did n't want you to"--he lowered his voice--"I did n't want to take you by surprise before people."
"You thought the joy might be too much for me?" she demanded.
"Cheviot looked at her with the swift speculation in his eye of the man you is thinking: "Now, is she going to insist on quarreling with me?" "This is the lady I was talking to you about, Captain. Pretty cool of me having her up here without asking you! Miss Mar--Captain Gillies. Now, the least I can do is to take her down," and, in spite of the captain's gruff civility, that was what Cheviot proceeded to do. "Don Quixote's signaling. Let 's go and see what 's up."
Hildegarde had not perceived that the gaunt old person below was making any unusual demonstration. He was always waving his arms and addressing the multitude. "I 've been rather afraid of that one," she confided.
"Afraid? Then it 's only because you don't know him. He 's the most interesting person on the ship."
"No, my Blumpitty 's the most interesting."
"Well, you show me your blumpitty and I 'll show you mine. Mine's got an invention for pumping water for the placers."
"Mine 's got something far more wonderful."
"Don't believe you. Wait till you know about Don
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Quixote 's systems of windmills'; the 're the greatest ever. I don't say his windmills will work at the mines; but they 've gone without a let-up, straight through the North Pacific and the Bering Sea. Windmills all the morning. Windmills every night. You must have heard as you passed him on the deck, 'Windmills,' 'Windmills.' No? Well, come along."
Rather nice to be "coming along" with Louis once more. It was going to make a difference in this expedition.
Hildegarde got a compliment to her seamanship out of the fantastic old Alabaman. "I 've watched this young lady," he informed Cheviot. "She 's as happy in a 'norther' as one o' my windmills." And he sent a rattling laugh after them as they two went down the swinging deck.
"How different everybody looks to-day--it 's the sunshine."
"Yes, I think they do look different." But he did not say it was the sunshine.
"I don't see my Blumpitty, nor, what 's more important, Mrs. Locke."
"That 's the woman you 're so much with?"
"Yes. It looks as if she 'd gone below." What did it matter? Nothing mattered now. Miss Mar had a distinct sense of repressing a quite foolish sense of radiant content, not to say elation. How this having a friend along lit up the rude and sordid ship! Not the first time this particular friend had wrought this particular miracle in her sight. The fact that Louis's eyes rested on things constrained them to reveal an "interestingness." unsuspected before.
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"There are my three financiers," she whispered. "They are n't as splendid as your Don Quixote, but they 're very nice to me at the table."
"I 'm relieved to hear you 've found some one who contrives to be 'nice' there. I 've wondered how you were getting on," he chuckled.
The temptation to confess was strong upon her. But no. Even Louis would be obliged to say, "I told you so."
At first," she said, with the detached air of the investigator, "I watched my neighbors, because everything they did was so surprising. But by and by I got so I could see nice distinctions and fine shades. Some of the roughest-looking have n't by any means the roughest manners."
"Oh, you 've discovered that, have you?"
"Yes. This man here"--it was necessary to draw close and to whisper again--"he 's Mr. Simeon Peters, from Idaho. He shouted across the table to me at dinner yesterday to pass the butter. He was just plunging his own knife into it as everybody at our table does."
"As everybody at every table does," Cheviot corrected.
"Well, but wait. You don't know how elegant we are down at our end. Mr. Sim Peters hesitated, and you could see a misgiving dawning behind his spectacles. he drew back just before he reached the butter-dish, and carefully and very thoroughly he licked his knife the whole length of the blade. yes! Then he felt quite happy about plunging it in the public butter." She was able to laugh now at what had driven her from the table in that dark yesterday. Louis laughed, too; he even
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carried his genial good-will the excessive length of joining in the conversation of those same financiers.
"Did you succeed in getting your plant on board?" he asked the nearest of the trio.
"Yes. But we had to pay another fellow to take off half his stuff to make room for ours," said financier number two.
"What process have got?"
"Oh, the McKeown," said number three.
"And it 's the greatest ever?"
"That 's right," said all three together.
But why, Hildegarde wondered, why did he talk to financiers, when he might talk to her?
"Them innercents think that about the MCKeown," said a grizzled man across Cheviot's shoulder, "only jest becuz they ain't never seen the Dingley workin'."
"You got the Dingley?" Cheviot asked; just as though it mattered. "No good goin' to Nome 'nlessy' have got the Dingley." And while Cheviot lingered to hear just why it was the Dingley could "lick creation," Hildegarde leaned against the stanchion, watching him with that interest the better-born American woman commonly feels in seeing something of what she has less opportunity for than any member of her sex in Europe, viz., the way her men fold bear themselves with men. She had the sense that again the American enjoys in its quiddity, of making acquaintance with a new creature, while observing her old friend in this new light. Cheviot was not only at is ease with these people, he put them at ease with him. They were content to reveal themselves, even eager before the task. Was it because he looked "a likely customer,"
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or did men commonly turn to him? Now Mr. Isaiah Joslin and his sour-dough friend were pushing in between Hildegarde and the group where Cheviot had been buttonholed. Joslin was scoffing at the Dingley as well as the McKeown. "Yes, sir!" --he demanded Cheviot's attention by striking his fist in his palm under that gentleman's nose--"I 'll do more with a plain rocker than any feller can make for himself out of a store box and three sticks, than all these cheechalkers and their new-fangled machines."
"Maybe that 's so," said a broad, squat Ohioan, the man Hildegarde had noticed before, going about the ship with a tiny bottle, a little square of sheet copper, and a deal of talk. "Maybe that 's right. But you old sour-doughs lost a terrible lot o' leaf and flour gold whenever you did n't use amalgam plates in your rockers."
"'Tain't so easy gittin' plates."
"'T is now!" said the Ohioan, producing, as it were, automatically, his little square of copper and his bottle of fluid.
"Quicksilver, is n't it?" Hildegarde came nearer Cheviot to ask.
"Quacksilver, I guess," but still he followed the discussion about the McKeown "process" as though Hildegarde had been a hundred miles away.
"Now, you just time me," the Ohioan was challenging Cheviot. "I can silver-plate this copper in twenty seconds by the watch." And he did it. The only person there who was not a witness to the triumph was the girl whose clear eyes seemed to follow the process with a look of flattering interest. Should she, after all, tell Louis,
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not how glad, but just that she was glad of his coming? Had n't he earned that much? Not that he seemed to care greatly about acknowledgements from her. He seemed to have forgotten her existence already, and they had n't been together twenty minutes. All the simpler, then!
"I tell you what!"--the Ohioan had raised his voice and enlarged his sphere of influence--"I tell you there 's a lot o' poor prospectors would have been rich men to-day if only I 'd discovered sooner how to make amalgam plates this easy and this cheap."
"Cheap, is it?"
"Yes, a damned lot cheaper than losin' half your gold. Cheaper than linin' your rockers--yes, and your sluices, too, with silver dollars as some fellers did. Now, this little piece of copper"--he produced a new bit--"a child can turn that into an amalgam plate by my process. Here, let the lady show you." Before Hildegarde knew what was happening, the fragment of metal was in her hand and the owner had tipped the tiny bottle till a drop of the liquid ran out on the copper. "Quick! Rub it all over."
As she did so, she saw that Cheviot's attention was now undividedly hers. He did not look as if he altogether approved her acting as show woman. But not to disappoint the inventor, Hildegarde rubbed the silvered tip of her finger lightly and evenly over the copper. "Why, yes!" she cried out. "Look!" And as she held up the miraculous result the Ohioan roared with satisfaction, "Ain't I been tellin' you?" The copper was turned into a sheet of silver. "Rub and rub as hard as you like now"--he passed the object-lesson round--
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"you can no more budge a particle of that stuff than you can rub off triple plate. And that 's what you want to line your rockers with!"
"Looks like that silverin' business might be worth somethin'."
"Worth a clean million," says the Ohioan, as he pocketed his bottle of miracle and walked jauntily away in the sunshine.
Hildegarde and Cheviot, exchanging smiles, went on down the deck in his wake. But suddenly the Ohioan stopped and wheeled about in the direction of a voice that had just said: "No, siree, I ain't worrittin' with no Dingley and no nothin' I ain't never tried." The inventor of amalgam-plated copper, as though he 'd heard himself called by name, retraced his steps with a precipitation that nearly capsized Miss Mar. The gentleman who had just declined Dingley squared his shoulders and announced to all and sundry: "No, siree! Y' got to show me. I 'm from Missoura." Hildegarde caught at Cheviot's arm. "They 've got hold of our saying!"
"Oh, that 's everybody's saying now," he answered. I've heard it twenty times since I came on board." She waited, incredulous, listening. "If I got any minin' to do," the man from Missouri went on, "give me Swain's Improved Amalgamator every time. D' ye know what they done to test Swain's Improved Amalgamator?"
"Well, lemme tell yer. They took a gold dollar and they pulverized it."
"I 've pulverized many a dollar in my day," says a
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gloomy and familiar voice. While the deck chuckled with sympathy. Hildegarde whispered, "That 's my Blumpitty."
"Well, sir," the other went on unmoved, "they passed that dollar in gold dust that I tellin' y' 'bout, they passed it through a sixty-mesh sieve, and they mixed it good and through with a ton--a ton, sir, of gravel and sand. And they run that through Swain's Improved Gold Amalgamator, and what do you think they got?"
"Guess," says Mr. Blumpitty, "they got to know that any feller can pulverize a dollar--"
"--but it 's the daisy that can pick one up."
"Well, sir, Swain's Improved Amalgamator 's jest that kind of a daisy. It picked up jest exactly ninety-eight cents out of that gold dollar." And every owner of a rival invention roared with derision.
"Oh, Mr. Purser!" Louis Napoleon Brown was hailed with a suddenness that arrested his steps, but did not deprive him of his haughty mien. "I find I own you an apology," said Miss Mar.
His sternness of visage relaxed slightly. "Well, you have treated me mighty mean," he admitted in a low voice.
Cheviot was staring and making his way to the girl.
"Yes," she said, with a subdued air that might, to the purser, have seemed to be penitential, but she spoke so that Cheviot could hear, "You must have thought it very forward of me to call you 'Louis,' that first evening. I meant this gentleman, who is an old friend of mine. I 've only just realized how mystified you must
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have been." Wherewith she took Cheviot's arm, and away the two went, leaving the purser transfixed.
Oh, the sun warmed wind blowing in your face! Oh, this seeing the brave world, with a friend at your side!
"I don't remember you at meals," she said to him.
"I never was at meals."
"Where did you eat?"
"Up in the captain's room."
"Well, you won't any more, will you?"
"I don't know."
"You want us to eat apart!"
"I don't 'want.' But I can't turn anybody out of his seat, and they 're all taken."
"Well, if he were content with this arrangement it hardly behooved her to protest. "Come and be introduced to my Blumpitty. I can tell from the look on his face exactly what he 's talking about."
"Come and listen."
"Ya-as," Blumpitty was saying, ostensibly to Governor Reinhart, but really to a distinguished and rapidly increasing circle, "Ya-as, queerest feller ever I see."
"Why, the feller I found dyin' on the cost up above Cape Polaris. The man that gave me the tip. I can see that feller now. Could n't get his face out o' my head fur months. His eyes--used t' see them eyes in my sleep." Blumpitty paused, and seemed to struggle feebly with an incubus. "Never see such eyes in any man's head 'fore nor since." Again he paused an instant to think out something. "Reckon it makes a man look like that."
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"What does?" demanded the Governor.
"Knockin' up agin the Mother Lode."
"Oh, the Mother Lode!" said Reinhart, slightingly.
"Ya-as; those of us that 's practical miners"--his look weeded out the Governor--"guess we all know that every bit o' gold that 's found its way to the creek bottoms and the coast, it 's all come from the Mother Lode, off there in them low ground--down hills to the North."
The breathless respect with which this information was received by the rest was broken in upon by the Governor's roaring a great infidel laugh. "Why, Joslin, here tells me the gold comes out o' the sea!"
"Maybe he believes it," says Blumpitty, sympathetically.
"Believe it!" bellowed Isaiah, sticking his head over Dr. Daly's shoulder. "So 'll you believe it when you get to Nome. The further out you go at low tide the richer you 'll find it."
Blumpitty's pale-eyed pity for his delusion seemed to get on Joslin's nerves.
"Was n't I there when Jake Hitz and Tough Nut went way out with a wheelbarra'?"
"Any man can go out with a wheelbarra'," said Blumpitty.
"Yes, but it ain't every man can come back with pay dirt and rock out what they did."
Blumpitty just smiled.
"Twenty-two hundred dollars, sir!"
"Guess you were n't watchn' which way they went for that dire?" said one of the capitalists.
"That 's right!" laughed his partner. "Tough Nut
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must have got that twenty-two hundred out of the tundra."
"Hope that is n't where you fellows count on findin' gold," said Joslin, sympathetically.
"We just about are."
"Why, don't you know the tundra 's froze the year round?"
"That 's why we 're takin' up thawin' machines--$90,000 worth."
"Might as well take up ninety thousand pianners and play toons to the tundra."
As though this idea had some special significance for him, a poorly-dressed boy detached himself from the group with a cheerful whistling of the eternal Boulanger march.
"There 's a hell of a lot o' machinery goin'; I ain't sorry I 'm takin' in chickens m'self," observed Hildegarde's table companion.
Cheviot caught the eye of the whistling boy as he went by. "What are you taking in?"
The boy held up a banjo. "This!" he laughed, and went briskly back to the dancers in the steerage.
Hildegarde smiled into Cheviot's eyes. "Was n't that nice?" How easily he made people say amusing, revealing things. "Do you notice how happy everybody looks to-day?"
"Yes," he admitted. "The Los Angeles is a pretty dismal place, but most of these people have been happier on this horrible ship than they 've been for years. Happier, some of them, than they 've ever been before."
She did n't quite like him to speak so of the Los Angeles. Yesterday she would have agreed. But to-day--
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"How do you know they 're happier here?" (Shame on him if he was n't. But it was just as well. Oh, much simpler!) "Talk to them and you 'll see. Everybody on the ship has had the worst luck you ever heard of; and all through 'circumstances over which'!" His voice made a period, with that old trick of assuming a phrase complete, when you could finish it for yourself. "Even those that look prosperous like you and me, they 've all failed at the main business of life."
So far as she was concerned in this review she felt only impatience at his going back upon old loss and pain. What if you have been sorry and sad. It was n't the part of a friend to remind you of it. But if Louis must talk of failure here was a ship-load of it! She told herself this thought was the hag that was riding her happiness down. She looked round her. The world was a pretty terrible place, after all, "for the mass," that Mrs. Locke had taunted her with not caring about. The wind blew out a wisp of straight, fair hair till it played like a golden flame above the brim of her hat of Lincoln-green.
"A whole ship-load of failure!" she said aloud. A sense of the grim business life was for "the mass" pressed leaden, and the scarlet mouth closed pitiful upon the words, "Poor, poor people!" But Cheviot, with his eyes on that beguiling little flame of gold, was ready to reassure her. It did n't matter if every soul on board had seen unmerciful disaster follow fast and follow faster, up to the hour he set foot upon the ship. Hildegarde need n't waste her pity. Look at their faces, listen to them making incantations with McKeown and Dingley. Anything would do to work the spell. Why? Be-
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cause the place they were bound for had the immense advantage of being unknown. No one could say of any of these contrivances, "It 's been tried." "Not a soul on the ship but has his thawing machine or his banjo, or--"
"Or her black cook."
He nodded. How well they understood each other, "Some talisman.
"What 's ours?" said the girl quickly.
"Oh, I was n't thinking of us."
"I don't know."
"Well, I know what mine is."
"You won't tell me, I suppose."
"Why not?" She spoke lightly, even a little teasingly. "It 's a sort of rough diamond, my talisman. Or" --her sunny look flashed in his face--"perhaps it 's adamant. Which is the most unyielding?" Then, with sudden gravity, "It 's a wonderful thing, the trust you make people feel. Nothing can shake it."
"I thought we were talking about talismans."
"It makes every difficult thing seem easy. And it makes every dangerous thing seem safe."
"Well, it 's the very last effect I intend to produce!"
She swept his declaration aside. "Impossible to feel anything can go very wrong now that you 're here."
His face was so unmoved by this handsome tribute that she found herself venturing further. "I don't know why I should pretend I don't appreciate. I 've been so afraid these last days--"
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He caught at that. "Afraid, were you?"
Afraid that one of us two would die before I had a chance to tell you." Should she go on? She had meant to write--it was different saying it.
"Tell me what?"
"That I 've got over minding your having opposed me so." If she expected any outburst of joy on his part she was denied the spectacle. "I 've come to understand such a lot of things on board ship." She waited an instant, but he leaned over the railing quite silent, staring down into the water. "Among other things," she went on, "I see when I look back that you 've always been the one to bring me strength. A feeling that I 'd set my feet upon the rock--"
"And it was n't rock, after all, what you set your feet on," he said quietly.
She tightened her hands on the railing, and something like veiled warning crept into the words: "You 've made me feel safer, Louis, than any one else in the world. I owe you a great deal for that."
"Oh, owe!" He turned away impatiently.
Not the sea-birds sweeping so low over the water that their white feather brooms raised a dust of silver in the sunlight; not the motley crew upon the ship half as clear to the girl's vision as that little figure with the flags in his hat patroling a deserted street in the dawn. "One reason people depend on you so is, I suppose, because they see as I do, it is n't only that you 're good to some particular one. You 'd be good to anybody."
"Oh, would I!"
"Just as you gave up your Fourth of July to be watchman for the neighbor's boy."
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"How did you get hold of that yarn?"
"Well, look here" --he moved his square shoulders uneasily, like one in an ill-fitting coat. "Look here, if you 're thinking of trying to make a hero out of me--it is n't any earthly--"
"Hero? Nonsense. We were talking about talismans," she said, with recovered gaiety. "I have n't brought along a machine of any sort, and I have n't got a black cook. Not even a banjo! But I 've got a friend!" she triumphed. "So I can't be scared now any more than the rest of the wild adventurers."
"Then you were scared?"
"Oh, here she is! Mrs. Locke! This is 'the sort o' watchman' I was telling you about."
In the act of holding out her hand, the woman's delicate face took on that marble look that once or twice Hildegarde had seen there. And the hand dropped before it reached Cheviot's.
Hildegarde looked from one to the other. "Why, what is it?"
"We have met before," said Mrs. Locke.
When was that?"
On the Seattle wharf."
"Oh, I did n't remember."
"I do. You are the man who nearly broke my arm."
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