A REPUBLIC WITHOUT A PRESIDENT
AND OTHER STORIES
BY HERBERT D. WARD
AUTHOR OF "THE NEW SENIOR AT ANDOVER,"
"THE MASTER OF THE MAGICIANS,"
TAIT, SONS & COMPANY
BY HERBERT D. WARD.
A REPUBLIC WITHOUT A PRESIDENT.
THE LOST CITY.
A TERRIBLE EVENING.
THE ROMANCE OF A MORTGAGE.
A REPUBLIC WITHOUT A PRESIDENT.
On the morning of the eighth of June, 1893, at about ten o'clock, crowds
were seen clustered in front of the daily newspaper bulletins in New
York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston. The excitement
rivalled that occasioned by the assassination of Garfield, and by night
the country was as bewildered and aghast as when the news came that
Lincoln was murdered. This was the announcement as it appeared in
blood-red, gigantic capitals by the door of the New York Tribune
THE PRESIDENT AND HIS WIFE SPIRITED AWAY FROM
THE WHITE HOUSE!
TWO SERVANTS FOUND GAGGED!
NOT A TRACE OF THE DISTINGUISHED COUPLE!
THE COUNTRY AGHAST AT THE DREADFUL POSSIBILITIES
OF THIS DISAPPEARANCE!
Extras found enormous sales, but they contained no more news than this.
Business was brought to a standstill and stocks fell in half an hour
from five to twenty per cent. The land was convulsed. It was true that
there were those who thought the whole thing a colossal hoax perpetrated
by the defeated party. But as time went on the startling and incredible
news was confirmed. The evening edition of the New York Sun had these
THE PRESIDENT AND HIS WIFE HAVE ACTUALLY DISAPPEARED.
THE GAGGED SERVANTS OF THE WHITE HOUSE TELL THEIR STORY.
THEY ARE IN PRISON ON GRAVE SUSPICION OF CONSPIRACY.
THE CARD OF AN EMINENT POLITICIAN FOUND IN THE
VESTIBULE OF THE EXECUTIVE MANSION.
IS A DARK POLITICAL PLOT ABOUT TO BE UNEARTHED?
The next day found the situation unchanged. Rumors of every description
ran wild. Telegrams of condolence from all the sovereigns of the world
were received at Washington by the dazed Department of State. These were
fully given to the omnivorous press. By order of the Vice-President, all
other news was for the present rigorously withheld from publication. To
this censorship the press submitted cordially. Mystery was brooding over
the land, and despair laughed detectives in the face. Men met each other
and asked only this question:
"Have they been found?"
A sad shake of the head always followed.
"No wonder," the Governor of Massachusetts was heard to say, "with
thousands of assassins coming over here every year. Even our President
was not safe. God help our country!"
At the end of a few days the full news, as far as it went, was
published, and the nation then drew its second breath. The facts about
this stupendous abduction, as given to the public by the end of the
week, were briefly these: This is the affidavit of the night sentry, who
was stationed in the vestibule of the White House.
"My name is George Henry. I am thirty-four years old. I was born in this
country. My father was a slave. It was about one-thirty last night when
I was aroused by a double rap at the main entrance. I was not asleep,
but I may have been a little sleepy. I asked who was there, and a voice
answered that the Secretary of State wished to see the President on
business of the greatest importance. I answered that the President was
in bed. He said that he must see the President immediately. Then I
thought I recognized the voice of Mr. Secretary. I opened the door and,
sure enough, Mr. Secretary entered. He had on a silk hat and the gray
overcoat he usually wears. He gave me his card, and told me to take it
right up to the President. The door was left open and I noticed it was
raining. The carriage of the Secretary was standing under the portico. I
did not see the coachman. When I bowed and turned to go upstairs there
was a strange smell in the air, and I remember nothing more."
The cross-examination brought out from the prisoner, who seemed to
answer honestly and intelligently, that he was sure it was the Secretary
of State, but his voice seemed changed by a cold. He felt positive about
the carriage, for he recognized the team, a gray and a black. He heard
no voices outside. When chloroform was produced, he said that was the
same smell, but there was something more that was considerably tarter.
He persisted in the same story, and repeated it over and over without
variation. It looked dubious for his excellency the Secretary of State.
The next witness was the night sentry on the second floor. He was badly
frightened, was a little confused, but told a straight story. His
deposition was as follows:
"Yes, sah, my name is Frank Steven. I have alluz been a colored man. I
was bahn in Ohio when I was twelve years old." [At this juncture a glass
of ice water restored the equilibrium of the witness.] "I moved to Ohio
when I was twelve years old. I was born in Mississipy. I'm forty-two
now, I think. It might have been half after one or two when I heard a
step a-coming up the stairs. I went to the landing and saw Mr. Secretary
of State a-coming up with his hat on; and how he got there the Lawd only
knows. He told me to show him to Mr. President's room. He spoke mighty
sharp, and I thought it was all right, so I led the way. When I was
a-going to knock at Mr. President's door, he told me to stop and have a
cigar first. He never offered me one before, and I was mighty surprised.
There was a strange smell, like an apothecary store and I don't know
anything more about it. That is all I know, sir."
Subsequent examination brought out no new fact, except that the prisoner
remembered that the Secretary coughed behind a handkerchief as he spoke,
and that one hand was concealed under his gray overcoat; this was pulled
over his ears. The thing that struck him most was that the Secretary
kept his hat on during the whole interview. The watchman had never known
him to keep his hat on in the house before. Like the first witness, he
recognized the odor of chloroform, and thought there was something else
besides. He was surprised to find himself gagged and bound when he came
As the two witnesses corroborated each other, and as neither had any
communication with the other, they were substantially believed. The fact
that this testimony was indisputably damaging to the Secretary of State,
and the further circumstantial evidence of his card having been
recovered from the floor of the lower vestibule, caused the
investigating committee, of which Inspector Byrnes was the chairman,
rigorously to exclude all reporters, lest the evidence might make it, to
say the least, uncomfortable for the suspected dignitary. It was natural
that, by ten o'clock on the morning of the drama, a secret guard should
be placed over the head of the Department of State, though no movement
was made as yet toward his arrest.
The next witness of importance was the President's valet, who swore that
the President retired unusually early that night and dismissed him with
the special injunction that the house should be kept quiet, as the
President had a headache and wished perfect rest.
It may be well to state here that the new incumbent of the presidential
chair shared with his wife the traditions of Jeffersonian simplicity of
living, and that they departed so little from their original home habits
that house detectives were abolished, and the distinguished pair lived,
entertained, and slept with as scant formality as the sovereign people
allowed. The doors communicating with their sleeping apartments were
rarely locked. Full dependence for safety was placed upon the two
trusted watchmen whose deposition has been given.
The children and their attendants, who slept in adjacent rooms, heard no
noise during the night. In short, none but the two under strict arrest
were aware of the entrance of any person or persons after twelve
o'clock. In the meanwhile, detectives were stationed unostentatiously
throughout the White House, watching with professional acuteness the
movements of everyone within its doors.
At eleven o'clock precisely on the morning of the ninth of June,
Inspector Byrnes and the chief of the Washington police drove up in a
hack to the door of the Secretary's mansion, and requested a private
interview. Within was feverish commotion. Senators and Representatives,
public officials and men of eminence were sending in their cards and
excitedly discussing the dreadful news. Telegrams were beginning to pour
in. The first impression was confirmed that a political coup or revenge
was at the bottom of the shocking affair, and whispers were mysteriously
exchanged between sombre and stately heads.
When the Secretary saw the cards he immediately withdrew, with an aside
to the Secretary of War: "This visit may clear up some of the mystery."
These words were not calculated to soothe the impatience of the inner
When the three were alone in the private office, the chief of the
Washington police force tersely opened the subject. He was a blunt
official of adamantine integrity, a veteran of the war.
"Mr. Secretary," he began, "this is the saddest day the country has
known for many a year. You must pardon me if I ask you a few leading
Inspector Byrnes sat with his back to the light; for, with an inimitable
fashion of his own, he had, upon entering, made a debouch between two
chairs and a table, forcing the Secretary to sit with his face to the
glare of the window. Shaded himself he could with impunity watch the
least expression on the sensitive and noble countenance before him.
"Sir, do you recognize this card?" The question came like a musket shot,
and a card dropped, face upwards, on the Secretary's knee. Kellar could
not have performed this feat more neatly.
The Secretary glanced at the pasteboard for a moment, and said in
"Why, yes. It is one of my cards."
"Have you any more with you?" asked Inspector Byrnes, speaking for the
The Secretary seemed puzzled, but good-naturedly opened his wallet, and
produced several of the same description. These he handed to the
Inspector, who took them and bowed profoundly. A moment was spent in
"You must pardon me if I ask you if you use these cards when calling
upon the President?" proceeded the Washington officer. The Inspector's
eyes seemed to be still riveted upon the cards in his hands.
"Why, yes—no—that is, once in a while, if I happen to desire an
audience at an unusual hour," answered the Secretary, exhibiting the
first signs of embarrassment.
"Will you please tell us when you called there last?" asked Inspector
Byrnes, furtively glancing up and speaking in a chatty, assuring tone.
The Secretary's face expressed relief.
"Certainly," he answered; "that is easy enough. I attended an informal
reception in the Blue Room from three to four yesterday and saw the
President alone a minute afterward. That is the last time I saw him."
One might almost have fancied at the last sentence that tears arose to
the eyes of the cabinet officer; at least there were tears in his voice.
"Just as a matter of formality, Mr. Secretary, will you tell us where
you were between twelve and two o'clock this morning?" asked the
Inspector, with the unconscious look of a man who was asking for a glass
"What does this mean, sir? Do you suspect me in this infernal mystery?"
ejaculated the Secretary. His face was pale from excitement; his eyes
flashed in manly protest.
"Not at all, not at all, sir. Calm yourself. This is only a matter of
curious coincidence and a disagreeable formality," answered the
Inspector, waving his hand as if he were brushing away a fly.
The Secretary stood a moment in thought, and then turned and touched a
button. Immediately a servant appeared to whom the Secretary whispered a
few words. The man in livery bowed and went.
"Now, gentlemen," said the Secretary, standing with much dignity before
his callers, "wait a moment, and so far as I am concerned this mystery
shall be cleared. I happened to be in this room last night from twelve
until half-past two with some gentlemen, whom I am sure you will
recognize. Ah! here they are."
A tap at the door and a "Come in" revealed to the astonished detectives
the Secretaries of War and of the Interior, who entered the room.
"Now, Inspector," continued the Secretary of State in his grandest
manner, "will you kindly ask your question again?"
It then transpired that the three Secretaries had conducted an informal
meeting to confer about the distressing question of war with Canada
which was at that time agitating the country, and that their interview
had been prolonged into the small hours of the morning. The chief of
the Washington police could not refrain from profuse apologies after
this denouement. Inspector Byrnes thought profoundly, and then, after a
pause, burst out with unparalleled frankness:
"Gentlemen, this is the most startling mystery in the annals of American
crime. I must confess that up to this moment I am absolutely foiled." He
then recounted, under seal of secrecy, the whole story as we have seen
it. Ending his exciting narrative, he said:
"And, Mr. Secretary, do you know of any one in Washington or in the
country that resembles you enough to deceive two men, taking into
account a natural drowsiness that each admitted?"
The three gentlemen of the Cabinet thought hard but were soon bound to
answer in the negative. For the Secretary of State was no
ordinary-looking man. Conspicuous on any occasion, though not what might
be strictly called handsome, he always commanded attention by his
distinguished air. His luxuriant side whiskers, which were really
magnificent were the most noticeable feature of his face. He had the
happy consciousness that there were none like them in the United States.
"There is only one more question you can answer, Mr. Secretary," said
Inspector Byrnes, with a deferential look. "The watchman on the first
floor said he recognized your team. Will you please find out whether
your coupé was in or not between twelve and two? Coachmen have queer
tricks at times."
The coachman was immediately sent for. Meanwhile the Secretary stated
that he had come in at twelve from a late call on a personal friend.
"May I ask your friend's name?" interrupted the national sleuth-hound,
swiftly and politely.
"The Patagonian Ambassador," replied the Secretary with hauteur. He
added that he had sent his carriage instructing John, the family
coachman, to be on hand at eleven that morning. The carriage was
evidently not there, and in the excitement of the news the Secretary had
foregone his morning's Department business.
After half an hour of waiting, during which the two police officers had
sent out several messages, the coachman was ushered in among the
impatient quintet. Instead of the prim and stately master of the horse,
who was the despair of even his co-peer the Jehu of the English
Ambassador, and the admiration of the Washington gamin, there skulked in
a battered, bandaged, hastily-dressed man, who shuffled out incoherent
excuses, and burst into moist apologies.
"It wasn't my fault. The divil was in it. The hosses are safe. The
kerridge is well. I woke up in the gutter, the blood sputterin' down me
backbone. They were picked up this morning. Don't discharge me! I've
served you fifteen years and only trained twicst. What'll become of me?
Lord have mercy!" The coachman of the Secretary had a stock of
irreproachable syntax, which had been utterly scattered during the
experience of the last night. At this spontaneous moment his native
grammar got the best of him.
The coachman's testimony amounted to this: The driver was walking his
horses to the stable in the fog when he saw a man beckon him from the
sidewalk. Not a soul was on the street. Beyond was a dark, private lane.
He stopped, and, to his surprise, saw, as he thought, his master
standing and motioning him to come to a halt and get down. The
Secretary's face was turned toward the dark. The voice sounded muffled.
When the coachman alighted his master produced a silver flask and told
him to take a drink as it was so damp. He dared not disobey, though full
of wonder at this unprecedented favor. As soon as he had taken a pull he
felt dizzy. Two or three more black figures appeared like ghosts before
his eyes. He thought he struck out or tried to run to the coach, he
didn't know which. A queer odor mounted to his head. Then he lost
consciousness. He came to, early in the morning, a little after four,
and staggered to the stable. The team was not there. He fell into a
stupor of despair. About an hour after, an acquaintance of his drove the
span up, and said they had been found unchecked, grazing near the
Smithsonian Institute. He supposed that they had run away. The
Secretary's coachman had then given the fellow five dollars for his
services and to hold his tongue. He was afraid of being discharged. He
had just heard of the disappearance of the President and he feared being
implicated in the affair. After the name of the person who found the
horses was taken down, and after a searching cross-examination, the
frightened man was sent away to rest, with assurance of continued favor.
Subsequent examinations failed to find any traces of the catastrophe in
the coupé. It had been carefully cleaned when it came back to the
stable. There was no blood visible.
This completes the whole of the testimony and information that was
received or discovered by the united efforts of all the detectives in
America up to the fourteenth of the month. Clews had been manufactured
and followed with desperate rapidity, but to no avail. Numberless
arrests had been made, but no one could be legally held for high treason
against the Chief Executive. All that was known was this: that some bold
villain had successfully personated the Secretary of State; that he had
gulled three servants by a close resemblance; that he, with others,
probably, had forcibly carried the President and his wife from their
very beds, leaving them but scant time to take the necessary articles of
clothing; that these abductors had audaciously used the State carriage
for their nefarious purpose; that they had left absolutely no trace
behind; and, that moreover, in the darkness of the fog and rain no
further track could be found of the direction they took. They could not
have gone by train; so every house in the city of Washington and in the
suburbs, to the distance of fifteen miles or more, had been searched in
vain. A like systematic investigation was carried on along the river, to
the bay, in search of anything suspicious afloat. The authorities gave
the robbers of the nation no time or opportunity to escape by land or
water. All avenues were watched. Where were they and their noble booty?
In short the foremost couple of the United States had utterly
disappeared, to the horror and despair of the civilized world.
It was just one week from the morning of the shock when the New York
Herald published the following manifesto in its original form. It was
sent as an advertisement with five dollars enclosed. The envelope was
postmarked from division II of the New York Post-office. The document
bore no superscription. It read as follows:
TO THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES:
We have abducted your President and his wife, and hold them
for ransom. They will not be delivered up until their fine be
paid publicly, under full sanction of Congress. Moreover,
Congress and the people must guarantee, in addition to the full
payment, C. O. D., entire liberty to the abductors permanently
to withdraw from this country and live in future peace. Unless
Congress and the nation give their honor for the payment of the
ransom and our personal and impregnable liberty, we will not
deliver our prisoners. We impose a ransom of a million dollars
apiece for each week, for such time as this offer may remain
unaccepted. The time begins from date of capture. These
conditions are final. When the country, through its
representatives, accedes to this demand, the time and place of
delivery will be published in these columns. The loyalty and
honor of the nation are now on exhibition before the world.
This communication burst like dynamite upon the people. Did it not bear
an undeniable stamp of genuineness upon its face, not only through the
firmness of its tone, but by the audacity of the demand? Yet there was
an equal division of opinion. Some thought it was the raving of a crank
in search of notoriety, but others looked upon it as a veritable
communication from those who held the President and his wife in their
Two millions of dollars a week! A princely ransom worthy of a royal
couple and of the United States.
It was natural that the handwriting of this letter should be scrutinized
severely. Every ingenuity that detective art could devise for finding
the sender was employed. During the next few days New York underwent an
espionage worthy of the court of St Petersburg. But, to the utter
mortification of Inspector Byrnes and his myriads, of Pinkerton and his
myrmidons, they were bound to confess their utter failure. The
perpetrators of the incredible deed, like
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,"
brandished the sword in the air and disappeared.
In the meantime the political nation was aroused. It experienced some
measure of relief to know, if it were true, that its chief was held for
paltry gold. In that case, he and his would be safe from the assassin's
sword or the vengeance of an alien party whose hatred he had incurred by
patriotic scorn in his inaugural address. An yet, the question was
raised whether some treasonable secret society had not secluded him,
hoping to increase its revenue at the expense of the United States
treasury. Many went so far as to pronounce it a Fenian plot to raise
money for Parnell in his final overthrow of English rule in Ireland.
Constituents wrote to their representatives in Washington, instructing
them to vote the ransom, without delay, from the surplus fund, which was
now one hundred and seventy-eight million dollars. Others instructed
them not to waste the public money, as the President and his spouse must
soon be found by competent detectives, and thus a "creditable saving to
the treasury" would be made. The Vice-President, who had succeeded to
full powers, sent a special message to Congress, requesting it to vote
the ransom, no matter how enormous. The strain on him was not worth the
people's money. So Congress met in secret session, and spent the balance
of the week fighting, temporizing, and receiving telegrams to the effect
that new clews were found.
On the twenty-second of June, exactly two weeks from the time of the
distinguished capture, the following epigrammatic communication was
printed by the New York Herald, in the same handwriting as the
previous one. The envelope bore a Chicago postmark:
"Congress has disregarded our generous offer: The ransom for
the President of the United States and for his wife is
therefore raised two million dollars."
This was all; cold and ominous. Like the first message it was unsigned.
The style was unrelenting and imperious. Citizens awoke to the sensation
that they who were now the nation's martyrs were in the hands of men who
would not shrink from enforcing their demand. It was now universally
believed that these were bonâ fide bulletins sent by the unscrupulous
abductors themselves. This became the detectives' final theory, and they
massed their skill towards it.
The unsolved mystery brooded like dog-days over man, woman, and child. A
nameless fear, that of an unknown and irresistible enemy in their midst,
paralyzed the citizens. Prayers were offered in every church,
school-house, and home. The hostilities that but lately threatened the
country ceased. Civilization breathed nothing but sympathy for the
bereaved republic. Sovereigns redoubled their private guards and quaked
upon their thrones. And yet, in the face of fears, petitions, and
threats, Congress, in a spirit of disastrous conservatism that has
marked so many of its deliberations, allowed itself to be ruled by a
dissenting minority. Detective Byrnes, hoping to gain imperishable
credit and also the reward of five hundred thousand dollars which
Congress had been liberal enough to offer, counselled delay in a private
letter to the Speaker of the House. So it happened that this august body
would not ratify the overwhelming vote for immediate payment of ransom
which had just been passed by the Senate.
This filibustering brought the country into the third week of the
calamity. The following communication to the New York Herald,
postmarked Boston, written in the same hand as before, brought matters
to a crisis:
"The nation has evidently more love for their surplus than for
their President. The requisite ransom has reached six millions
of dollars in gold. The treasury is not yet exhausted, nor are
we. None can find us. Our defences are unapproachable. We laugh
at your attempts. The wife of your President, we are grieved to
say, is ill."
This proclamation aroused a new element, which had been smouldering, to
white heat. The women of the country rose en masse. They fired old
societies and organized new to collect ransom. The W. C. T. U. and W. H.
M. A. and A. S. A. and A. B. C. and X. Q. B. Z. thrilled to the
occasion. Infant Bands of Hope and Daughters of Endeavor invaded private
families with demands for penny subscriptions. Weeping women persuaded
dollars by the tens, hundreds and thousands from responsive men. They
renounced their bon-bons and new dresses, parties and dowries in their
patriotic fervor. The presidents of all the women's societies in the
land trooped to Washington. They cried shame at those who trifled for
the sake of the fiftieth part of the gold in the vaults with the noblest
life in the Union. These unselfish women stormed the capital, and
literally poured two millions of dollars, which they had collected in
less than three days, upon the floor of the House to rescue the first
lady of the land from who knew what? They forced their husbands, their
representatives, to do their bidding, and the final vote was passed amid
The ransom was now ready for the President and their lady. It had to be
accompanied by the national promise to secure freedom to those who
delivered up the suffering couple. That was the third of July. Still the
impotence of the nation in this new crisis filled thoughtful men with
apprehension. Was it moral that cash instead of justice should be given
to these stupendous criminals? What a precedent for infamous success! Of
what avail courts of law and prisons if such consummate daring goes
unpunished? Is there a portion of our national machinery out of gear? If
so, which? Nevertheless the excitement was now beyond fever heat. It is
safe to say that the temperature of the people had risen ten degrees
when the news was flashed abroad that the "President's money," as it was
called, had been unanimously voted by Congress. Tears streamed as
patriots met each other. Many developed a new species of insanity in
The country had now done its part toward the rescue of its chief
magistrate and of his perishing consort. Would the abductors be true to
their portion of the contract? Party strife had been forgotten in this
new anguish. All Fourth of July demonstrations had been postponed until
a loving people's thanksgiving for their President's safety could blend
with the time honored celebration of a nation's birth.
But suspense was not long delayed. Promptly the New York Herald
received a manifesto, this time the last, sent by the arch-conspirators
to Congress and the people. This envelope was boldly postmarked
Washington. This fact made those in the capital city almost afraid to
stir from their homes lest unawares they might meet the demon in their
midst who had dwarfed all principals in the records of crime up to the
present date. But this final proclamation read as follows:
TO CONGRESS AND ALL AMERICANS.
We note your late and liberal response to our proposal. We
shall not be outdone in the honorable discharge of obligations.
At precisely eight (8) o'clock on the morning of July sixth
(6th) the payment of ransom and delivery of captives will take
place within one mile of Washington's homestead, Mt. Vernon.
The government vessel with ransom and proper officials on board
will remain in near sight of Mt. Vernon. At our signal (which
shall consist of four Japanese day rockets, each representing a
flaming sword) whether hurled from land or water, the officers
of the government will steam toward the place of delivery.
Guards will fall back immediately upon the discharge of
whistling bombs until the ransom and the ransomed meet. The
Presidential party will bear a flag, vertically striped black
and crimson. On its centre will be a gold half-eagle. Payment
must be made as follows: There must be eighty (80) leathern
bags, each containing one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000)
in gold; the amount of ransom being eight million dollars
($8,000,000) for four weeks' board at one million dollars
($1,000,000) a week apiece. This money must be paid and its
genuineness certificated upon the honor of the United States by
the Secretaries of State and of the Treasury. If there is any
suspicion of infidelity on the part of the nation, the
President and his wife will be held for another month on the
same terms. Should we be betrayed in the trust which we have
reposed in the American people, on the 6th of July, at, or
previous to the time of delivery, the distinguished hostages
will immediately be put permanently beyond reach of hope.
Unscrupulous and stern was the message, yet tinged with a spurious color
of honor that demanded the true blue in return. It was the consensus of
opinion that it would be madness to attempt arrest during the
culminative ceremonies. The required gold was transferred from the
treasury vaults to the new and swift cruiser Washington.
Final arrangements were made for giving the imprisoned couple the most
glorious reception which ingenuity and patriotism could devise.
Reporters by hundreds bivouacked on the grounds of Mt. Vernon on the
night of the fifth. Gunboats, steamers, yachts and sail of every
description congregated to the scene of the surrender. The land teemed
with sight-seers and soldiers with stacked arms. In the midst of all
this apparent disorder, Inspector Byrnes, on his own responsibility, had
his thousand trained men, who patrolled every foot of ground within five
miles of the historic site, and who had surveyed every inch of water
from the mouth of the Potomac to the city of Washington. He had hoped to
retrieve his fame by a successful capture at the eleventh hour.
At last, though it seemed a century in coming, the morning of the sixth
of July broke solemnly upon Mt. Vernon. The revered site was flanked on
all sides by seething, excited, hopeful humanity such as these historic
shores had never before witnessed. The official command had been to
abstain from all noise and confusion on land or water from the time of
the sunrise gun.
The cannon boomed from the new navy. Then came the hush. The last hours
of waiting were spent in maddening inactivity, in strained repose. From
what quarter would the ominous signal be seen? Who would catch the first
glimpse of the boldest and most successful gang of malefactors that this
country had ever produced?
Colonel Oddminton was a widower, with only one son, fifteen years old.
It was natural, then, that the colonel himself should balance between
forty-five and fifty years of age. Let the fact only be whispered in
desert places that the colonel was no more a colonel than you are. He
had never smelt powder, except when shooting mallard ducks. He never had
seen a regiment, except when it was marching on Decoration Day
peacefully through the woebegone streets of Charleston, preparatory to a
good dinner. His nearest idea of regalia and medals consisted of the
many adornments worn by Queer Fellows or any other order of Honorable
Unextinguished Redskins as they either laid a corner-stone or a comrade
ceremoniously in the ground. Where could he have lived and not have been
an active partisan in the stirring days of our devastating civil war?
Surely, not in the United States!
Of English exile blood, that came over a hundred years ago, he would
have been a thorough American had his parents and his environment
permitted. His family had settled on one of the many Sea Islands that
dot the coast of South Carolina, and there they had staid and raised the
famous Sea Island cotton which is still successfully used, so fine its
fibre, to adulterate a fashionable fabric. Like the baryte of Cheshire,
the cotton of Oddminton Island became valuable as it became an ally to
fraud. The one increased the weight of white lead; the other swelled the
unlawful receipts of the manufacturers of silk. Oddminton Island did not
follow the regular markets of trade. It always had its peculiar channels
of commerce; its cotton had an undiscoverable destination.
The colonel, as we will still call him, was, from his earliest memory,
sternly brought up under an atmosphere of uncanniness and secrecy, nor
did he leave his fertile island, except, as we shall mention, until his
father died and made him sole proprietor of land, slaves and family
traditions. Fully two hundred acres were under cotton cultivation. The
insignificant remainder was unentangled marsh.
Colonel Oddminton's father died in eighteen hundred and sixty-one. Then
the colonel began to expand. He had two hobbies that consumed his
imagination by day and agitated his visions by night. The one had been
shared by his deceased parent, namely, an inordinate desire to be rich;
not as wealthy as the richest family in Charleston, but as rich as all
the merchants in the "City by the Sea" put together. Cotton had always
given a comfortable living, but cotton was declining. It became
unsatisfactory. It was not enough.
Colonel Oddminton's other hobby was a fast boat. He had always been a
more than enthusiastic sailor. When the boy was only eighteen, his
father had given him a ten-ton sloop and allowed him to go anywhere,
provided he did not touch the mainland. This order was in accordance
with the old man's peculiarities, but was strictly obeyed. With his
black sailors the boy had cruised in every bay and inlet for a hundred
miles about. Though no one else knew it, he was the best pilot those
waters ever saw. During the war, when he was master, he never left his
island except to put his own cotton aboard English blockade runners. In
these hazardous attempts he never failed. This experience cultivated his
native qualities of courage and of self-possession.
On this island of his there was a bay that afforded fine anchorage for
two large boats. It abutted on the marsh. It was there he had built a
small camphouse. Neither the cove nor the house could be seen from the
open sea. The former could only be entered through an intricate channel,
and that when the wind and tide were favorable. The latter was
approached through heavy underbrush by a winding passage that was known
only to a few.
Colonel Oddminton was a tall, fine-looking man. He wore a long flowing
beard that had never seen the razor. His build was massive; his height
About the time of which we are writing—this was in—but the reader
remembers—his new schooner, which he had dignified by the name of
yacht, much to the amusement of a few acquaintances, had been easily
beaten by a trim stranger, that ploughed its way to windward as if it
had been a knife eating into the teeth of the gale. He had followed this
new craft to harbor and found her to be a Herreshoff model. That night,
for the colonel's schooner was really an able and fast one, the
disappointed man was sadder than when he saw his only friend, his
father, die. He was proud of his schooner. He had cruised in her from
Baltimore to the St. John's river, and had never been so disgracefully
out-pointed and outfooted by any boat of her size before.
It was at this time that he fell into a revery that lasted a month. It
was the longest month in his life, the only one he had ever spent upon
the mainland. People pronounced him "daft," decidedly cracked, but
"harmless, you know." His tall figure flitted from the lobby of the
Charleston Hotel to the great cotton wharves, and then back again. At
last he awoke, and this was the outcome of his supposed aberration.
"I don't care if it costs me my last cent, I'll have the fastest boat in
the world, and no one shall beat me again, by gum!"
To make a long story short, he sold to an eager syndicate of English
capitalists his island for an asparagus farm, reserving for himself the
odd acres of marsh, his camp house and bay with its two moorings. On
this sale he realized a hundred thousand cash down. He then turned his
father's savings, fifty thousand dollars' worth of London consols, into
ready money. He now had a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. With this
he and his boat disappeared. No note was taken of his absence either on
his former property or in Charleston, the only other place that really
knew him, so frequent were his vagaries, so infrequent his presence.
Let us follow the Colonel in his unostentatious wanderings. He first
sailed with his son and his two trusty men direct to Washington city.
He took in the sights of the Capital for a few weeks, and then, leaving
his boat behind, pushed on by train to New York, that wonderful
metropolis that obliterates or worships men with an idea. He took
lodgings with his son in a modest boarding-house, and there met a
Swedish sailor, a man who had been captain of a steam yacht during the
summer, and now happened to be out of employment. Nautical people do not
take a long time to become acquainted. Colonel Oddminton at the end of a
week had engaged Hans Christian on the strength of his name, without
further references, at a salary of one hundred and twenty-five dollars a
month, with the proviso that his new captain should hold his tongue and
obey orders. This was about the first of November. During the last week
of the same month the yachting world, and indeed the whole maritime
contingency, were interested in the following paragraph, which was duly
copied and commented upon by the national and foreign press:
"The famous builders, the Herreshoffs, have taken a contract
to build a steel yacht that shall develop the enormous speed of
35 knots an hour. They are given 'carte blanche' for everything
that pertains to increase of speed. The new phenomenon will be
about a hundred and fifty feet long, as less water line will
not admit of the speed contracted for. A bonus of $500, it is
rumored, will be paid for each additional one half-knot speed
over the contract requirements of 35 knots. The engines that
will effect this speed will be of a new and untried pattern.
They will not be exhibited unless the vessel prove a success.
The owner of this phenomenal craft, which will be the fastest
in the world, is unknown. It is suspected that it will go to
the Swedish government for use as a torpedo boat. The yacht
will be finished in five months, and her name is undecided. We
should respectfully suggest 'Sheet Lightning.'"
At this time Colonel Oddminton and his son began to travel restlessly.
They kept it up all winter until the first of May. The lad had developed
as much aptness for the land as he had for the water. There were two
things the boy did admirably, and for which he was conspicuous beyond
his years. He held his tongue and obeyed his father; moreover, he was
clever enough to take care of himself.
With the first of May the ceaseless journeying came to an end, and
Rupert Oddminton was sent to Washington to put his father's old schooner
in readiness for future orders.
The press, which had volunteered during the winter much plausible but
little real information about the wonderful new Herreshoff model, now
blazed into the rare glory of fact.
"The first trial trip of the unknown took place yesterday. The
marvellous witch astonished spectators by showing up to the
tune of 35-1/2 knots, and it is suspected the end was not
reached. This unparalleled speed was continued for 125 minutes
in favorable weather. This proved the most successful trial
trip the Herreshoffs ever held. Thus the singular and hitherto
undivulged electric machinery proves a triumphal hit. After a
few minor changes the unnamed yacht will be ready for its
destination. Who will own the fastest ship in the world? It is
conceded that she goes to Sweden. Her crew, which is entirely
composed of Swedes, is strangely uncommunicative——" and so
One fine day, the magic craft shot out of Newport harbor and vanished.
Some said she went straight to Europe. Each daily had its own theory.
The boat and her evanescence were a nine days' wonder. The yacht that
represented the most exhaustive skill man had ever applied to navigation
had melted away, unnamed, unlicensed, and without destination. Even her
builder knew her no more.
The reader knows, as well as we, that this triumph of speed was Colonel
Oddminton's venture. He had literally sunk his all in it with maniacal
satisfaction, and had only a few thousands left, barely enough to pay
expenses for three months. He had pursued his ideal until he had her
under foot. He had not touched the new yacht until after it had left the
world in wonder. He had now met her on the high seas in his old
schooner, and the four—himself, his boy Rupert and the two black
sailors—with sad eyes, scuttled the home of many years. When the
Colonel's foot touched his new, bright deck, Captain Christian nodded,
and the blue flag to starboard of the mainmast (signifying owner absent)
was hauled down. The crew beheld their master for the first time. Not a
sail was in sight. The Colonel was dazed. He went below, gulped down a
pint of whiskey, and tried to think. He was intoxicated—not on liquor,
but on final possession. When he came aloft, spray was whistling from
stem to stern, and behind was a wake that overtopped the racer itself.
Water rushed as though projected through a pipe, past the shining sides
of the vessel. Colonel Oddminton, in a trance, leaned over and touched
the steel plates carefully. He expected to feel the heat generated by
the tremendous friction. Captain Hans Christian stood respectfully at
"What speed does she register, Captain?" asked the owner, with a
tremulousness new to the man.
"Only thirty-two knots, sir, in this chop, but we can drive her
thirty-eight. I think she can go forty on the hardest push."
Only the owner of Nancy Hanks, the fastest racing horse the world has
yet produced, can imagine the sensations of the Colonel at this answer.
"What is the speed of the fastest government boat?" he asked with
"Twenty-six knots, sir," was the quick reply; "they've only two torpedo
boats that go that; and they are always up for repairs. As for war-ships
or cruisers, none average over twenty. A common ocean steamer can beat
them out." This last was uttered with the contemptuousness one always
feels toward a mighty government that allows itself to be outdone by
corporations or individuals.
"Suppose you change her top hampers, and make her so that no one can
recognize her; say, tack on a false stem and stern to the water line,
will she still go as fast?" continued the Colonel cautiously.
"Certainly, provided you don't interfere with her hull," answered the
captain in surprise.
"I will take the wheel," the Colonel said. The electric vessel from
whose wheel there was an unobstructed view ahead, without smokestack,
with masts that could for speed's sake be lowered, was steered like any
sail-boat, from her heaving stern. The owner's hand marked half speed,
quarter speed upon the indicator. To the disgust of the crew he gave
orders not to have the speed increased except to keep out of sight of
coasters. At dead of night the beauty was anchored in his own cove,
opposite his clapboard shooting lodge on the marsh. No one noticed his
approach. The marsh and the bay hid their secret.
The next day at dawn a transformation began to take place. The white
paint, the original and dainty body color of the electric yacht, was
changed to a dull gray, and the new coat looked as if it had been put on
in amateur patches, so dingy was its appearance. The boats on the davits
were touched up with a combination of green and black. They looked at
first glance as if a collier might have lost them at sea. The electric
launch was smeared with the refuse of the paintshop put into one pot.
The mixture attained was indescribable. But by far the greatest change
consisted of a false stem and stern. These were modelled and put on, so
that after a few screws were drawn, the mask would slip off, leaving the
original sheer of the boat in all its beauty. A large smokestack of
hollow timber, painted black with a red stripe, was improvised and set
up. This ornament led into the galley stove below, and the cook was
instructed to burn smoky materials when on the run. The deck was then
covered with canvas and painted a sickly yellow. The brass work went
unpolished. As may be imagined, the new model was as different from the
old as the carefully disguised ruffian on the stage is from his elegant
"Now she is ready," said Colonel Oddminton to his captain. "I will
double the wages of all on board if the crew does not leave the ship or
converse with any person off of it except by order. My two colored men
will get all supplies. The future speed of my boat will be eight knots
an hour. She is incapable of going more. That is her limit until further
orders. Give command for an immediate start. We will now go to
The son and the crew from the captain down suspected that something was
in contemplation out of the usual run of pleasure trips. The son dared
ask his father no questions, though he burned with indignation at the
vandal changes. The crew did not care, even if they went pirating.
Nothing could overtake them. Their fuel was limitless. Their pay was
princely. Their cook was supreme. These stolid natures obeyed orders and
drew their rations with faithful punctuality.
It does not take long to run to Charleston, going at even so slow a
pace. Small steamers ply daily between the Sea Islands and the cotton
metropolis. It happened that some of the Colonel's acquaintances were on
board one of the passenger boats, and they saw this new craft lumbering
along, puffing out volumes of black smoke. They slowed up, and were soon
overtaken by the strange boat. The Colonel was sitting on deck.
"Halloa," one of them yelled, laughing. "Where did you pick up that
"Oh, down in New York. She's an old-fashioned steamer. I haven't had
time to get her fixed up yet," answered the Colonel. "I always wanted a
steam yacht, and I got this cheap." The passengers set up a laugh.
"We'll race you in," spoke up one of the Colonel's acquaintances, with a
wink at the others. The man knew the Colonel's weakness when he
"All right," said the Colonel briskly. "John!" yelling forward, "tell
the engineers to put more steam on and let her go."
New puffs of smoke came from the bogus smokestack. The sidewheeler
increased her pressure. It forged ahead at its highest speed, ten knots,
and no more. Colonel Oddminton swore, but to no effect. The passenger
vessel left the Colonel behind, amid jeers and all the catcalls familiar
to Southern methods of demonstration. The Colonel seemed heartbroken.
When he steamed into Charleston harbor two hours after his ancient
rival, the wharf was crowded with the Colonel's "friends." When the
Colonel came ashore he dropped a few characteristic oaths, ordered
drinks all around, and said that, after the Mary Jane (that was the
name painted, on her square-stern) was prinked up and her bottom
scoured, she would beat the best of them yet. He had great faith in her
possibilities. At any rate she could go in a calm.
Similar performances were repeated for a week. The Colonel planned it to
get to the city in the morning and he went back at night, until
Charleston was thoroughly familiar with his ridiculously antique yacht,
and had joked itself tired at his expense. Soon an elopement and a
murder tickled the palate of the city, and the Colonel and the Mary
Jane were forgotten. When that stage was reached Charleston knew him no
more. It was now the second of June, and the Mary Jane turned her ugly
prow toward the mouth of the Potomac river.
Every one knows that the Potomac empties itself into the Chesapeake bay.
The Potomac is between ninety and a hundred miles long, in its tortuous
route from Washington to the bay. At its mouth are many inlets. Each one
of these was known to Rupert and the two negro sailors. It was in the
most retired estuary that the Mary Jane cast anchor on the evening of
the fifth of June. At her normal rate of speed she lay within two and a
half hours run of the Capital. At nine, at black of night, she started
for Washington. Her deck-log registered thirty-six knots an hour. She
hugged the shore, where she laid for safe passage, until she modestly
crept to an anchorage near a city wharf. Then the Colonel went ashore
with his two black men and two Swedes, to reconnoitre the town. He
always took with him a preparation of chloroform and another drug,
which, for the sake of public safety, we will not mention. This was
compounded for him in Chicago, by a chemist formerly in the employ of
Anarchists. This preparation was warranted to "make a man who smelled it
lose consciousness in less time that it takes to say Herr Most."
When Colonel Oddminton was last in Washington a casual smoking-room
acquaintance remarked, eying him with the gaze of a professional
"If you'd shave off your chin, and keep your hat on, you'd be the very
picture of Senator X——."
Now Senator X——, through a revolution of the political wheel, had
become Secretary of State. That casual remark had penetrated into the
imagination of the Colonel. He tried to shake the impression off.
Flattered by this suggestion—no one had ever made it before—he bought
photographs of the Senator, all he could find, and studied them
diligently. For days he haunted the Senate chamber and learned the
personnel of the Senator by heart. [This, it will be remembered, was in
the last administration.] Then was born the thought, Why not make
capital out of this resemblance which art could easily magnify? The
Senator was a millionaire. There might be money in it. But this seemed,
after all, rather impracticable and rather commonplace. The Colonel was
no sneak thief. He had broader elements than that. The man, but not the
blood, was ignorant that his grandfather's great-grandfather was hung
for piracy in England. It would be impossible to state when the
stupendous plot, which he finally executed, shaped itself in his subtile
brain. This idea startled him, haunted him, conquered him; why not
kidnap the President of the United States, demand a ransom and throw
suspicion, for a time at least, upon the wily politician? His thoughts
now worked only in that conduit. Jacobi said that the greater a man's
ability to act for distant ends, the stronger his mind. The Colonel
silently plotted for months. We see where it had led him. Having
studiously perfected himself in the rôle of Secretary, which he was
prepared to play at a moment's notice, the Colonel spent the remainder
of these last nights in Washington, awaiting an opportunity to capture
the Secretary's coach, after it had been dismissed by its owner for the
He also kept himself closely informed of the President's habits and his
simple domestic hours without arousing any suspicion. All Washington
knew the customs of its unostentatious chief. Society had criticised his
"affected Democratic ways." Every one knew that he habitually retired as
early as a New England deacon, never later than eleven. White House
dissipation was now out of season. The Colonel knew that the interior of
the executive mansion was unguarded at night. Could he once gain access
thereto, the rest of his plot, so ignorant and so trustworthy his tools,
could not miscarry. The Colonel made the attempt for three consecutive
nights to capture the Secretary's coach. He arrived each time in
Washington between eleven and twelve. He knew the approaches to the
stable, and luckily for him, on the dark night of the eighth of June he
accomplished his design, how successfully the reader well knows.
The strategic Colonel, with his four devoted men, invaded the privacy of
the White House at exactly quarter of two o'clock in the morning; he had
the aid of a card taken from the case in the coupé, and the
re-enforcement of his now marvellous resemblance. What he now did the
veriest tyro could have performed. He had not meant to abduct the first
lady of the land, but what could he do with her? His native chivalry
would not permit him to harm her, though the President was made
unconscious by the aid of the Chicago anæsthetic. The wife entreated to
accompany her husband. She would undergo any fate so that he should not
be taken without her. On condition of perfect quiet her wish was
gratified. She was softly led, the President was carried, down the
deserted stairs. The familiar state coach bore the distinguished victims
away, and the deed that baffled the detective skill of the country was
done with an ease which seems ridiculous.
The next evening the President and his wife might have been seen by
Inspector Byrnes, had he been there, silently sitting on the deck of a
murky-looking vessel, bearing name Mary Jane, and anchored in a little
cove off a swamp and cottage on Oddminton Island. So remote and quiet
was this locality that the rumor of the President's effacement had not
even reached it. The kidnapped couple waited patiently for the relief
that they momentarily expected. They had no news, nothing but scrupulous
consideration, attention, and a respectful but firm guard night and day.
But rescue did not come.
One member of that dark crew was left in Washington to hold continual
communication with the Colonel. This was the boy Rupert, who, if he had
suspected by this time what had happened, was either too loyal or too
terrified to reveal the fact. The letters that astonished the world were
written by the Colonel, sent to his son sealed, directed each in a
different handwriting, and stamped with full instructions how and where
to mail them. The boy had travelled faithfully and far. Of course a
letter posted by an innocent-looking boy of fifteen, who was unsuspected
and unknown, was able to baffle the law. He was the only confederate, a
helpless and faithful tool.
A country that opens itself in so many ways to foreign foes must not be
startled if one of its own sons, perceiving the weakness of the armor,
should take advantage of it and choose his direction for the vital
thrust. The Colonel aimed high. He kept his counsel and accomplished the
incredible in the simplest way. Who thought of him and the crazy Mary
Jane? The President and his wife were as far away from rescue as if
they were on the Island of Borneo. There are a thousand such places on
our coast where a hostile fleet might ride without even the suspicion of
our "Lord High Admiral."
It was ten minutes of eight o'clock on the morning of the eighth of
July. A fleet of many hundred vessels of every description lined the
banks of the Potomac opposite the revered home of Washington. There were
gunboats and catboats, excursion steamers and yachts from every part of
the country. They idly lay at anchor, or jogged barely enough to hold
their own in the tidal river. All flags hung at half-mast. While most
eyes scanned the heights with impatient glance, others watched the water
for a revelation. The sides of the hills were black with humanity. The
world seemed to wait there with a throe of hope subsiding to an interval
The high officials of the government were standing on the quarter-deck
of the new man-of-war. The Washington. Each had a pair of glasses to
his intent eyes. This was the moment when the Secretary of State, from
his high elevation, spied a long, low vessel moving slowly amid the
floating palaces and dreary hulks. It seemed apologetic in its
movements, and afforded a sad contrast to the jaunty yachts it almost
grazed. None but the Secretary had as yet noticed this in significant
boat. Somehow it fascinated him, and he followed it intently. It was
propelled by steam, and crept up as if it wanted a nearer view of the
Now a police patrol launch whistled that way, and gave the sailor at the
wheel an abrupt command to bring her up to a stop. Hardly was this order
given when there came a puff of smoke from her uncouth bow, and an
ominous flaming sword appeared against the dead gray sky. A sound that
could at first have been mistaken for a subterranean growl rolled upon
the still air. When the second flaming sword flashed into mid-heaven the
mutter of the populace became a roar. It was true! True! The President
and their lady were at hand and in their midst. Two more ill-omened
rockets gleamed above. Was it execration or was it joy—this mighty
sound that broke from river to shore? Then silence came again. Eyes
strained to see this mysterious thing that made straight for the great
man-of-war. But one soul was seen on its dingy decks. Only the man at
the wheel was visible. He was clad in black. A hundred vessels
instinctively closed about this daring and defiant craft. Its escape was
cut off. It could neither go to the right nor to the left, forward nor
back. It sullenly stopped.
Then came a whistling shriek, followed by a cannon peal from its
forequarter—another—and the flag of black and crimson crowned by the
gilt eagle, touched by unseen hands, shot like a baleful spirit from
"Keep off!" shouted a stern voice from the bow. "Keep off, ahead there!
Let the nation stand back at the peril of their chief magistrate!"
Now the Mystery swung ahead, until she was abreast of the high warship,
any one of whose lowering guns would have gladly shattered her if it had
When the execrable vessel came to a halt, and breathless and dignified
faces peered upon her decks from above, a sudden bustle was observed.
From below there mounted slowly his excellency the President of the
United States, attended by the first lady of the land. Both looked pale
and anxious, but bore signs of powerful self-restraint. At sight of the
revered couple, the man-of-war's crew could not control themselves, and
set up a mighty cheer. This was caught up from ship to ship, from shore
to height. Flags were hauled aloft. Guns were discharged. A pandemonium
of joy set in. Behind the captured couple two men in black walked, each
with a cocked revolver. The honored pair reclined on steamer chairs in
full view of their people. The world knew now that they were safe and
nearly home. Greetings were exchanged between Cabinet and Chief. Even
war-scarred veterans could not choke down the rising apple in their
Again there was a hush. A figure now stepped from a forward hatchway on
deck of the Mary Jane, walked up to the captured couple, and bowed
low. This salute was succeeded by a courteous recognition of the
impatient crowd above on board the Washington. As the unknown raised
his silk hat for the second time, he stood directly in line with the
Secretary of State. The Secretary of State and Col. Oddminton regarded
each other. Bystanders started in surprise. The resemblance between the
two men was deeply suggestive of the success of the plot. The villain
had the same noble brow, the same delicate complexion, the same
incomparable whiskers. But, alas! he was bald on the top of his head.
The Secretary involuntarily stroked his own luxuriant crown with a sigh
"Gentlemen, representatives of these United States," said the Colonel
slowly, "I have faithfully fulfilled my part of the contract. Do you
yours. I will come aboard and inspect the ransom. Then it may be lowered
down, and the President is free. I have not long to stay." In the
meanwhile, so intent were all eyes upon the star actors of this scene,
it was not noticed that men were busily engaged at stem and stern of
the unshipshape-looking steamer.
Hands worked deftly at masts and funnel.
After a few minutes, during which the expectant couple sat with as much
comfort as one can before loaded pistols, the ransom was inspected, the
Colonel satisfied. Eighty bags of gold were carefully lowered to the
As the Colonel descended alone to his own deck he motioned with his
hand. Immediately the pistols were flung into the water. The seamen in
black fell back as a guard of honor. The Colonel, with Southern grace
and British dignity, extended his arm to the distinguished and trembling
hostage. This she did not refuse and he led her to the cream-white
companionway that now reached from the Washington to the Mary Jane.
The marines presented arms. The women sobbed. Then came the President.
When his foot touched his own deck there thundered forth a salute of
twenty-one guns from the American navy. Whistles blew, flags and
handkerchiefs fluttered, and mad salvos rent the air from subjects that
any sovereign would gladly call his own.
The President now looked down with sad curiosity upon his former prison.
But there strange things had happened. The caterpillar had cast off its
chrysalis, and the incomparable butterfly appeared. Where was the
smokestack? Where were the masts? Where was the Mary Jane? A load
seemed to fall from stem to stern, and there appeared beneath dingy
paint a sheer which a king might long to possess. This was the crowning
surprise. Naval officers now recognized for the first time the nautical
marvel which had deluded the nation. The Colonel stood alone upon the
deck of the transfigured boat. With uncovered head he spoke. His left
hand grasped the wheel.
"Mr. President—I have guarded you safely, and treated you as well as
circumstances could permit. Your patience in adversity, and that of your
wife, have compelled my reverence. You were but the scapegoat of a
nation. This country can never afford to be careless of its defences and
of the treasures which they protect. People of America! You regard me as
the chief malefactor of your times. The day may come when you will call
me its greatest benefactor. To-day you execrate me. To-morrow you may
bless me. I have taught you a solemn and a costly lesson, but the price
of such wisdom is cheap. Good-morning!"
There was no opening, but the hawsers were suddenly cut. There was a
rush and billows of foam. As a cat plays here and there in her pretty
antics the "Lightning" (for a blow of the hammer on the stern had
annihilated the Mary Jane) wound in and out at an unequal rate. When
she turned, she careened far over on her side. The water lapped the
Colonel's feet. Who could stop her? Who could overtake her? At the first
shock the gunners stood motionless, then sprang to their guns. The
President, Commander-in-chief of the army and navy, raised his hand and
shook his head.
The faith of the nation was pledged, and the pirate escaped without a
shot. The incredible speed of the Lightning increased. It became
terrific. Nothing like it had ever been witnessed in maritime history.
Spectators stood with held breath.
A lieutenant in his excitement shouted: "For God's sake, overtake her!"
The crowd yelled: "Run them down! See where they go!"
But the navy of the United States might as well have chased a cannon
ball. The mental pressure became tremendous. Spectators had hardly drawn
a breath when the miracle was hull down. The American love of audacity
and speed struggled mightily for the moment with American patriotism.
The moral sense of the people could not prevent a murmur of admiration
when the Lightning, with eight millions of national gold aboard, in
less than nine minutes was but a speck. A bend of the river, and the
mysterious, courtly and successful pirate was gone.
THE LOST CITY.
"Great guns!" The ejaculator tipped his straw hat off with his left
hand, let it roll upon the office floor, made a dab for a damp pocket
handkerchief in his right pistol pocket, and stared at the yellow paper
again. "Whew! I don't believe it!" he muttered. Then, aware that the
keen eyes of the three-and-a-half-foot messenger boy were upon him, as
if sizing him up for news, he stared at the telegram again, mumbled
"It's a fake! Great guns!" and rushed from the room.
The messenger boy looked after the editor's retreating form with a
knowing wink, as if the whole thing had been a special job put up by
himself, whistled "Annie Rooney," took up a tattered copy of "Famous
Quotations," laid it down again with an expression of mingled respect
and scepticism, characteristic of his kind, and then swaggered out of
the editorial sanctum.
"Well, Swift, what's up now?"
The editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet (Democratic) lifted his young,
alert face from the evening edition of his own journal to that of his
news editor. Interruptions were the expected thing in that stirring
Swift did not speak, but laid the telegram upon the desk, pulled out a
Victoria Regina, and chewed it nervously. The chief read the message
through once to himself, gave one glance at the face of his subordinate,
and then said:
"This is a repeat, is it not?"
"Yes sir. First news came three hours ago. I didn't believe it. Thought
it a fake. Half think so still. I wouldn't insert it, and wired for an
immediate reply. Here it is. It is too late for the five o'clock
edition. What shall I do?"
"Well, this is extraordinary!" conceded the chief. This admission
meant a great deal in that office, deluged with news from all parts of
the world, where it frequently happened that fourteen columns of
purchased and paid for telegraphic despatches were not considered
important enough to use, and were dropped in the waste-paper basket. The
chief pressed the button in his desk and asked the boy that appeared to
inform Mr. Ticks that he was wanted at once.
Mr. Stalls Ticks answered the summons promptly. He was a sallow, faded,
middle-aged man, dressed in a sere and faded Prince Albert coat, with
sallow and faded boots. In fact, the whole appearance of this invaluable
member of the Planet corps gave one the impression of the last minute
of autumn, when even the trunks of the trees, the stones of the hills,
the soil of the valleys look sere and yellow and faded and ready for a
winter's sleep. Mr. Ticks looked as if he were waiting for the trance
that never overcame him.
"I wish to know something of Russell, the capital of the new State of
Harrison, Mr. Ticks."
Mr. Ticks pulled out a yellow, faded, silk bandanna, wiped his
spectacles sadly, and with an over-aspirated tone asked:
Mr. Swift looked at him with mingled disgust and respect, and tapped his
foot impatiently on the bare floor.
"Let me see; it is situated?" proceeded the chief quietly.
"On the southeast shore of the Great Gopher lake." Mr. Ticks finished
the sentence mechanically.
"Ah! I remember. Its population?"
"Twenty-nine thousand five hundred and fifty-two. It increases at the
rate of thirty a day."
"Exactly so! It is—?"
"Just two years nine months and twelve days old."
"To be sure. Its property—?"
"Is one hundred and sixty-four million dollars, in round numbers."
"Of course. Its industries are—?"
"The usual pertaining to Western cities, I suppose. I confess ignorance
to concrete particulars. The reports have been singularly deficient in
this respect. I credit this entirely to its youth."
"Indeed! Its railroad facilities—?"
"The C. H. & S. F. is its great trunk line. Three branch lines have
their centre there—just built. Two roads are surveyed to shorten the
distance to Chicago and San Francisco respectively."
"Any other facts of interest, Mr. Ticks?" Mr. Ticks hesitated.
"Well—no—yes—no. In fact, there is nothing of special importance that
I—that is different from any other city—except—nothing, sir, that I
am willing to stake my professional reputation upon; you must excuse me,
"Is it in the cyclone area, Mr. Ticks?"
"No, sir. The centre of barometric depression is farther north. The
Buzzard mountains to the south deflect all such storm centres. Russell
will be singularly free from tornadoes."
The editor-in-chief looked somewhat nonplussed, and handed Mr. Ticks the
telegram, with the remark:
"What do you think of that?"
"I do not know, sir. I cannot give an opinion."
"I, Mr. Ticks, I for one believe this is true. I'll—I'll stake my
reputation on it!" said Swift decidedly. Mr. Ticks' exasperating caution
grated on the news editor and converted his scepticism into conviction.
"If it is," replied his chief, quietly, "you can start for the scene
to-night on the six thirty express. You did up the Charleston
earthquake. You were the first on the spot at Johnstown, and this
promises to be as bad—or as good."
Swift tried to look indifferent at this cumulation of trust. He had been
on the paper for five years; he had started in as night reporter, and
his own ability and quickness, united with a certain caution, one might
call it a news integrity, had raised him to his present position. The
Planet had the singular reputation of printing the truth. It rarely
was "taken in," with a false item. It aspired far beyond the local.
The Planet, under the able management of its chief and of Swift, had
become the mirror of the world. And, if at times it reflected important
news from a convex surface, it did no more and far less than the
majority of its contemporaries, who had no telegraphic facts to throw
away daily, and who, when hard pressed to it, manufactured a murder at
home or a war rumor abroad to help pad their lean columns.
"Let me see! It is five forty-five," continued the chief, consulting his
watch. "I will not detain you any longer, Mr. Ticks. We shall want a
column from you on Russell, to-night. And now, Swift,"—when Mr. Ticks
had faded out of the room,—"who's this correspondent signed D.?"
"It's Dubbs. You know him. Associated press man and special
correspondent. Never failed me. He's the only one there who knows our
The editor-in-chief did not change his expression, but his eyes had the
steady, stern look that showed easy determination. He quickly wrote a
few words on his pad and handed them to his favorite "sub."
"Take this to the cashier! Get to the elevated as fast as you can! Buy
what you need when you get time, and—go! I depend on you for the
fullest description to be had. If you do as well as you did on the
Conemaugh, I'll give you a raise on your return. Good luck to you."
It did not take Mr. Swift five minutes to rush to his den, slip on his
coat, snatch his hat from the floor, run downstairs, receive a fat roll
of bills from the phlegmatic cashier and bolt for the elevated train. In
twenty-five minutes he was at the central station, with two minutes to
spare. He nodded pleasantly to the gatekeeper and boarded the train as
nonchalantly as if he were going to his suburban boarding-house.
All of our readers will remember the curiosity, the speculation, the
horror, the apprehension, and the sympathy universally excited when, on
the tenth of September, it was learned from the morning papers that
Russell, the new capital of Harrison, was cut off from all
communication. Each morning sheet hinted darkly at the cause of this
unheard-of calamity. The Daily Braggart said there was no doubt that a
cyclone of gigantic proportions, followed by a water-spout, had swept
the city entirely away, and that its evening edition would print full
details of the "awful visitation," with pictures by their special
artists, now on the spot, illustrating the ruin.
Rut there was one piece of additional news about Russell that only the
Daily Planet gave. Let us quote, in order to be perfectly accurate.
The sheet is before us as we write:
"RUSSELL CUT OFF FROM ALL COMMUNICATION!
"The citizens of the State of Harrison are wild with
apprehension. As yet we cannot speculate on the nature of this
disaster. Up to this moment no one knows what it is. We will be
honest, and say we know no more than our neighbors. But this
much is assured: Not only is communication cut off within a
radius of twenty miles of the ill-fated city, but it is
impossible to re-establish it at present. There are forces at
work as yet uncatalogued by scientists. There is a definite
circle drawn about Russell, and to cross it means death. Two
men repairing the C. H. & S. F. tracks dropped, smitten by a
mysterious and invisible hand. The white mile post announced
that Russell was twenty miles from the spot where the corpses
of these brave fellows lay. What baneful miasma envelops this
broad area? What is the fate of the thousands within its
borders? Time will tell. Our reporters are on the spot. But as
we go to press we do not know."
Most people sniffed at this "dead line" as the wildest newspaper canard
of the lot. Many shook their heads. While those who had relatives or
friends or business connections in Russell tried to drown their horrible
suspense as best they could.
The Planet, it may be remembered, closed its leading editorial as
"We are a Democratic paper, and we had little love for this
baby State and its upstart capital, created solely to guarantee
a Republican majority at the next presidential election. But
when the news that an inscrutable fate had overtaken this
fraudulent State (we may be pardoned for saying that it seems
to us a sort of Divine retribution for political jobbery) party
feeling was washed away in that common compassion that all
Christians feel for their enemies in adversity."
Who could mistake the diction of the uncompromising but tender chief?
But it happened this time, as so often before, that the Planet's
information was true. Again that enterprising daily had made its "scoop"
on the other papers. Its elation was pardonable.
It is an indisputable fact that civilization as it progresses develops
in its advance new diseases and new catastrophes. Hay fever and la
grippe were not popular a hundred years ago. To breed a first-class
cyclone, cut down your trees and dry up your water supply. This has been
conscientiously attended to, and the natural consequences have
followed. Science can eliminate the simooms that strike Bombay and
Calcutta at such a day year after year, by simply flooding the desert of
Sahara. England can be more easily conquered by deflecting the Gulf
Stream a quarter of a point than by a thousand ironclads. Who knows but
that it would be less expensive to change her into a glacier than to
bombard her with hundred-ton guns?
More white people are killed by railroad accidents yearly in our highly
civilized land than were slaughtered by native braves in the palmy days
of the "Last of the Mohicans." It is a fact that our boasted
civilization, instead of affording surer protection, murders more men in
one way or another than barbarism, only in the present case the victims
are not eaten; the coffins are sumptuous; the processions decorous; the
mourners in good form; the burial service pregnant with hope, and
culture is not shocked. With us murder is committed by corporations, not
by paid assassins. That is the difference. The assassin fails in his
blows once in a while; the corporation never.
But where was Russell? What was the nature of the calamity? The
impenetrable fact that there was an actual, invisible dead line cast
about that territory, with Russell as its centre, became confirmed with
every report. It will be recalled that all the railroad tracks entering
the doomed city were twisted as if clawed by a maddened monster. It
presented a similar appearance to the South Carolina railroad on the day
of the Charleston earthquake. This gave rise again to the earthquake
theory. But why had not the shock been felt? No rumble had been heard.
Could an earthquake account for the deadly something that filled the
No intelligence came from Russell. The way must be forced to it.
Who forgets the relief expeditions started in wagons and on foot from
every point of the compass? These were invariably repelled on reaching
the dead line. We could understand the fetid miasma that made the Great
Dismal Swamp an unknowable country. We could comprehend the encroaching
dead line of the spreading yellow fever bacillus. But this fearful
death, that brooded silently, impenetrably, mysteriously and occultly
over a vast area once the garden of civilization, baffled all attempts
at explanation. Even birds were observed to vacate this tract. Only a
few sinister buzzards wheeled their flight, with straight, unflapping
wings, high above Russell, almost out of sight, as if they were the
embodied ghosts of Russell's unbaptized inhabitants.
What was that implacable power? Reporters and trackmen who steadily
scoffed at it were themselves attacked with violent heart-beats when
they crossed the invisible and fatal line. A convulsion of all the
members followed, as if in an epileptic fit,—insensibility and,
generally, death ensued. Many who were with difficulty rescued, and who
finally recovered, averred that they experienced an overcoming odor,
acid and penetrating, such as is peculiar to ozone when manufactured in
a chemical laboratory.
At the end of the fourth day of Russell's complete isolation a despair
settled upon the country. England was staggered by the uniqueness of
these phenomena. The French Academy of Sciences, after a prolonged
sitting, announced that they could suggest no solution. It is only too
well remembered that the newspaper bulletins were besieged in our own
cities, but these offered no further information or encouragement. Was
advanced civilization responsible for this disaster or not? That was the
burning question. Or was this a special visitation of God, a plague new
to the medical world, spontaneously generated, sporadic in its
appearance, and destined forever to be an obscurum per obscurius or
perhaps to spread with further undetermined horrors?
Thousands were now on the ground. They encompassed that section about as
Joshua did the city of Jericho, as the settlers did the Territory of
Oklahoma on the day of its opening, as the rabble do a house when a
murder has been committed.
On the evening of the fourth day from the time when the messenger boy
brought the first despatch to the office of the Daily Planet, its
chief, obviously nervous for the first time in his public life, received
the following cipher telegram, which cheered him wonderfully:
"On the spot. Situation desperate. Worse than described. Will
penetrate to Russell or die. Dead line still impassable. Trust
When Swift boarded the Western express he walked through, starting from
the last car, to see if any rival reporters happened to be there for the
same purpose. He scanned the backs of the heads of the passengers first,
and then looked keenly into each man's face as he passed. He had, in
common with all newspaper men, the detective instinct. Who knew what
eminent defaulter or renowned cracksman was fleeing the city in dark
disguise? However, he observed no familiar or suspicious character until
he entered the smoking car.
He did not go through, for, although a great smoker, he took no pleasure
in indulging in his favorite vice in the air of a democratic smoking
car. What fastidious smoker does? He was content to let his eyes wander
up and down the aisle. He was about to turn, when his gaze fell upon the
back of a dingy linen duster, which was surmounted by a large, faded,
black sombrero. The man under these garments had the upper part of his
face hidden beneath the broad flap of his hat, while the under part of
his face was entirely submerged in a large pamphlet. The man had the air
of extreme retirement. Something about the dinginess of the felt hat
seemed familiar to Swift. But, no; it could not be. To make sure, the
new editor of the Planet approached, and bent behind the man. The
gentleman was ignorant of the attention he attracted, and did not stir.
He seemed to be engrossed in one of Mr. Atkinson's incomprehensible
financial reports. Swift caught sight of the travellers face, started
back in amazement, and said:
"Excuse me, sir: is this seat engaged?" and without further ceremony sat
down beside the recondite stranger, who dropped his paper and stared at
Swift in return.
"Great Cæsar!" blurted out Swift. "How the D—epartment did you come
"On the five fifty-eight elevated," replied the man, imperturbably.
"I—I didn't know you were sent, too." Swift's heart burned within him
at the fancied slight.
"I wasn't," answered Mr. Statis Ticks, laconically and wearily.
"Where the dickens are you going, then?" asked Swift, warmly.
"To Russell, of course."
"How on earth did you get off?"
"I didn't, young man. I skipped." This exceptional occasion doubtless
accounted for the only bit of slang that was ever heard to fall from
those dry lips. "You see," proceeded Mr. Ticks drearily, "the
circumstance is a little unusual. I have read of nothing similar in the
casualty reports. I thought it best for my reputation to make my own
personal observations and figures on the spot."
"But your position?" asked Swift in surprise.
Mr. Statis Ticks raised his head proudly.
"If the Planet can get on without me, let it!"
"But your family?" continued Swift, somewhat dazed. Who had suspected
this animated reference library of such enterprise?
"I sent messenger number thirty-seven to them," he answered with a sigh,
as if he were bored by such trifles.
Then considering this topic exhausted, Mr. Ticks took out his notebook
and looked absently out of the window; now and then he jotted down a few
abstruse figures. He was engrossed in calculating the farm acreage
adjacent to the railroad track between New York and Albany.
When they drew nearer to the region of the catastrophe the papers gave
more lurid accounts of it. These were purchased and read with avidity by
those on board the flying express. Groups centred in the cars talked
only of one thing. Reporters now joined the train at each prominent
As the train approached the stricken territory it became crammed to
suffocation. It crept at a funeral pace. People fought at each station
for seats. The train split into sections on account of the added cars,
filled with mourners, with rescuers, with sight-seers, with villains.
Swift now took to himself a certain measure of authority. Was he not the
experienced representative of the greatest daily in America? But no one
noticed Mr. Statis Ticks, who silently blinked at the excited crowds and
then jotted down his estimates of them.
On the afternoon of the fourth day Swift bounded from the front platform
of the baggage car, the first to leave the train, and looked with a
professional eye about him. The scene that met his quick gaze was
unprecedented. Clamoring, gesticulating, shrieking, crying men and women
were rushing here and there in frenzy. Here was a group of women wailing
for their husbands, imprisoned or dead—and who knew which?—within that
awful circle. There a man looked, vacantly, with trembling lips, from
group to group, hunting for the wife snatched from him. Here was a rude
fellow peddling half a bushel of potatoes from a rickety farm wagon.
There a woman, hungry and desperate, was aimlessly dragging an orphan
child about. Yonder a confidence man was set upon and beaten by
infuriated victims. In the midst of a jostling, eager, credulous mob was
a man who fancied he had some real news to tell.
Now and then, as if by mutual consent, these people lifted up their
heads towards the Great Buzzard mountains, toward Russell, the city of
their despair, and clenched their fists and uttered an exasperated
groan. Agents of the Red Cross Society and of the Law and Order League
had already erected their tents, and were doing all they could to
restrain the lawlessness and relieve the discomforts of the mob. Swift
critically watched these seething thousands, who had come upon the spot
from motives of sorrow, curiosity, gain, and plunder, all miserable,
poorly housed and scantily fed. The reporter's inquisitiveness was well
ahead of his human sympathy up to this point.
Within these few days the border line about the afflicted city had
become an improvised camp, that extended for miles and miles. It was
enforced here by a railroad track, there by a village, until, having
completed the gigantic circle, it met again. Thousands were flowing in
each hour. They came from all points of the compass, like flocks of
angels and of devils. As yet the military was not at hand, and the
little law that existed was not of the gospel, but of brute force and
Swift, having sent off his dispatch at the improvised office, and having
forgotten his companion, whom he expected to be a nuisance on his hands,
retraced his steps and hurried to the dead line, where it impinged on
the railroad track. Here was the centre of the maddest rush. Here men
groaned and cursed and wept aloud. Swift pushed his way through until he
reached that portion of the track that defied further passage. A cord
had been stretched there to keep the crowds back. Upon showing his badge
he was received with respect.
"Take keer, boss," said the huge policeman, whose sole duty up to this
time had been to drive the spikes into the sleepers. "I tried it
yesterday. They just pulled me out. I got the d—d shakes yet." With a
grave smile Swift ducked under the rope and looked before him. The
solitary, motionless, blasted prairie stretched out, relieved only by
the outlines of the Buzzard mountains. Where once the tops of towers,
grain elevators and steeples were to be seen on the horizon, there was a
cloud. A dense, strange, ominous mist overhung the stricken city.
This cloud was of a yellowish color that recalled to Swift the dreadful
yellow day of '72. It reached nearly to the summit of the great Buzzard
mountain. Within five miles of the spot on which he stood this
phenomenon became more and more attenuated until it disappeared in dull
transparency. What did that cloud contain? What horrors did it hide? Of
what was its nature? What was the secret of its deadly influence? No
American catastrophe had impressed the reporter so much as the sight of
this veil, hiding the unattainable city. Curse this maledict, deadly
vapor! It paralyzed his inventiveness. It baffled his imagination. For
the first time in his reportorial career Swift was stunned and without
Now it was said that not a breath of air had stirred over the polluted
area since the morning of the loss of Russell.
As the news editor looked down the tracks he saw that the tracks, which
were torn up and twisted beneath him, within a hundred feet, disappeared
utterly from view. The wooden ties were blackened into charcoal in their
places, but the iron rails had evaporated. It was the same with the
telegraph wires. At a certain point they stopped and were gone. The
poles, tottering and scorched and bare, looked like a procession of
naked ghosts, undressed for livelier mockery. Before him the trees, the
shrubs, the grain, the grasses—in fine, all vegetation had been smitten
The face of the earth was black and crumbling. It looked as if the roots
of this unconscious vegetable life had been suddenly touched by volcanic
fires and had died from the ground up. There was not a vestige of life
as far as the eye could see. Had a fire swept the land? But no! No smoke
had been hitherto visible, unless this inexplicable cloud were smoke.
And yet, to Swift's practiced eye, there were evidences of a violent, a
sudden, a consuming heat. The men in line behind Swift stood
respectfully back while he observed this unique scene. He noticed a
white mile-post close at hand. It was inscribed, "Russell, 20 m."
"Only twenty miles to Russell! and no one there yet! What a field for
the news editor of the greatest paper in the land! The competitors were
keen. The chances were even, the honor great, and no favors asked. As he
stood for a moment, lost in thought over the apparent hopelessness of
the undertaking, and almost wishing he had not sent so confident a
telegram to his chief, he felt a hand upon his arm.
"I have found one," said a slow voice.
"Have you? What?" asked Swift, with careless interest. He recognized the
aspirated tones of Mr. Ticks.
"I have calculated this thing over. There are between six and seven
thousand on the spot. Five hundred reporters are here, and more expected
by every train. There is no food, no bed, no roof for us here. This
place has been completely done up. It is exhausted. To get facts we must
"Jove, you're right, old man!"
Mr. Ticks acknowledged the compliment with a slight motion of his hand.
"Yes, I have just purchased the only team to be had, for four hundred
Swift glanced enviously at his autumnal colleague, who had already
outdone him in enterprise.
"Cyclones and tornadoes in this part of the country," proceeded Mr.
Ticks sententiously, "travel to the northeast. We will go to the north.
If there are any remains they are to be found there," Mr. Ticks had, it
would seem, embraced the tornado theory.
"We will go immediately!" exclaimed Swift.
"Hold!" cried the man of figures quietly, "I wish to test this
phenomenon. Wait for me here!"
Before Swift could utter a protest or arrest his colleague's arm, the
philosopher started up the vacant track. No one dared to follow him. The
crowd were too much stunned at his audacity. Had they not dragged a
dozen adventurers back from the same mad enterprise? Men shuddered
before this unknown fate that stretched out its relentless arms so far
and no further. A cocked pistol would have been more comfortable.
But Mr. Ticks walked on slowly, unconsciously, as if in a revery. He put
his hands out as if to feel the air. He put his tongue out as if to
taste it. He had not gone forty feet when he was observed to tremble
violently. Those on the dead line united with Swift in shrieking "Come
back!" The experimenting member of the Planet staff only shook his
head. He was not twenty yards away when he stopped abruptly. He put his
hands to his head and heart, and struggled against the unseen force. It
beat upon him: but he steadied his legs the firmer and met the shock. It
smote at him, but he wearily smiled in return. He even made a motion as
if for his notebook. But such temerity was too much for the occult
fluid to suffer. It breathed upon him and felled him to the ground. As
he dropped he rested for a moment spasmodically upon one knee, and
peered into the air as if he were penetrating the secret of this baleful
agent. Then he fell back insensible.
Half an hour afterwards the newspaper man came to. Swift was bending
"We rushed you out. You'll pull through all right, old man," said his
"Did you note the symptoms?" asked Mr. Ticks feebly.
"Did you wire them?"
"No; I hadn't time. I——"
"Then do so!" He sank back exhausted.
"But how did you feel? How do you feel?" asked Swift anxiously.
"As mortal never felt before," replied Mr. Ticks solemnly. With these
words upon his lips he lapsed away again into unconsciousness.
That evening at a late hour Swift made his way to the
four-hundred-dollar team under whose protecting shelter he had ensconced
his patient with such poor comfort as was possible.
Mr. Ticks raised himself from the cushions upon one arm.
"Are you ready?" he said restlessly.
"For what?" asked Swift in astonishment.
"Not to-night surely?"
"Yes—immediately. Harness up! We must be at the extreme north of this
unclassified belt by to-morrow morning."
Empiria, the new county seat of the new county Dominion of the new State
of Harrison, was twenty miles away to the northward as the crow flies,
and at least thirty miles off by road. The horse that Mr. Ticks had the
forethought to purchase developed an unaccountable spavin, united with
an unmistakable case of the heaves: when the whip was applied it
furthermore exhibited an innate tendency to back. Mr. Swift drove
through the darkness of the night, picking out the road with that genius
for locality which the general and the reporter in the field share
alike. Barring mistakes, accidents, or further exhibitions of depravity
on the part of the equine department, they hoped to reach Empiria by
Mr. Ticks leaned back upon the jolting seat in unbroken silence. When
his colleague, who drove, hazarded a question, the only reply was a low
grunt. As sleep was out of the question in that wagon, behind that horse
and in those roads, was it pain or mighty thought or nebulous
calculation that oppressed the wise man of the Planet? At about two
o'clock in the morning Mr. Stalls Ticks broke his long reserve with the
"If it is, it is a unique case. The phenomenon is isolated."
"I hope you feel better now?" Swift had been anxious about his
colleague, and had interpreted his silence as evidence of physical
distress. Mr. Ticks gave an invisible shrug of his shoulders to express
the contempt he felt for his own anatomy in comparison with the
attainment of exact knowledge. Otherwise, heedless of the interruption,
"It is physically impossible that a low-pressured area could have had
its centre three or four hundred miles northwest of Russell."
"Indeed?" replied Swift, vaguely and unsympathetically.
"It must travel towards the centre of the low pressure."
"Of course," assented Swift, as he would to a lunatic. Evidently that
inexpressible shock had been too much for the middle-aged man.
"The Gopher lake on the north, and the Buzzard mountain on the south,
prevent the isothermal curve from being deflected toward the north."
"Really?" said Swift.
"It will be deflected to the south, young man," said Mr. Ticks,
severely. "The atmospheric equilibrium can suffer no centripetal
"Well, what then?" asked Swift, a little bored.
"There could be no gyrating motion of the atmosphere. There will be no
aerial contest. There could be no colder stratum above the warmer layer
coming from another direction. Both would flow from the south. There
could be no inversion of these conditions. My friend, Russell has
experienced no tornado or cyclone. And yet—" he added wistfully and
thoughtfully, "and yet—"
"Well, if there was no tornado, what the deuce are we going to
Empiria for?" demanded Swift. He forgot himself, and gave the
four-hundred-dollar horse a sharp cut with the whip, in consequence of
which the animal backed them so nearly toward the place from which they
started that the journey to Empiria was seriously lengthened. Mr. Ticks
did not notice this delay.
"—And yet?" he mused.
"What is the matter, then, if it isn't wind?" asked Swift, impatiently,
after he had persuaded his horse to defer the next attack of backing for
a mile or so. "Is there a new variety of atmospheric disturbance? If
so, it might strike us here!"
"Sir—no! This is not a common tornado. As to further theories, they are
not formulated as yet. No, this quadrant of the State of Harrison was
not subjected to such a violent disturbance. I am prepared to say that
there will be no evidences of a vortex wind in or near Empiria." Mr.
Ticks relapsed into further thought, nor could he be aroused until the
jaded horse brought the two jaded reporters into the open square of the
It was early, about five o'clock, but still there were evidences of
stirring and excitement. Upon the village common two or three large
tents were erected, and from out of these, scantily dressed men and
woman emerged. As these came into the cool, open air they lifted up
their faces to the south, searching the horizon and sky to see if there
was anything new in the smitten district. It was a motion as instinctive
as that of the Mahomedan toward Mecca when he prays. The appearance of
our two strangers excited no notice. Empiria was on a branch road,
difficult of access, but people had flocked in and the village had
become a city.
After a hard struggle, in which persistent ingenuity won, Swift obtained
a little corn for his horse, and a promise of breakfast for himself and
By six the populace was awake, bustling with feverish eagerness and
oppressed with dread and suspense. Swift questioned a hundred, climbed
to the tops of trees, advanced upon the mysterious dead line, and
retired baffled at every step.
As he thought of that vast enclosure, that was now an unapproachable
cemetery, his soul shuddered within him. Like a thousand beside him,
this man of nerve was baffled and overcome.
By nine o'clock, Swift had exhausted the spot, and was for pushing on to
the westward to complete the perplexing circle if necessary. Perhaps an
entrance might be forced elsewhere. He was sitting in his buggy with Mr.
Ticks, who was as uncommunicative as the dasher when he looked for the
hundredth time towards the Buzzard mountains. As he gazed he saw turkey
buzzards, of which there are thousands in that land, wheeling their
spiral flight above the afflicted territory. Swift looked at them as he
always did, wondering how they could fly so long without flapping their
wings, when suddenly he cried out:
"By Jove! I have it!" This startled Mr. Ticks.
"What? Have you new information? What has occurred?"
"No; but I have an idea—the idea—but I don't see how I could put it
through without time. I will go to Russell, or over Russell in a
The light of inspiration and sympathy flashed from one to the other.
"I congratulate you on the thought," said Mr. Ticks gravely. "I think I
can procure you one in a quarter of an hour."
Now, under no circumstances is a balloon an easy thing to obtain. Even
in a metropolis like New York or London it will take the cleverest
reporter at least eighteen minutes, if not a few seconds longer, to hunt
up a suitable means of ascension. It is not as simple a matter as one
may suppose, to "go up." Therefore, when Mr. Ticks, in a matter-of-fact
voice, asserted that he would procure the balloon in fifteen minutes,
Swift fetched a long low whistle. But not in the least disconcerted by
Swift's manner, Mr. Ticks slowly descended from the vehicle, and said:
"Just wait here until I come back, so that no time may be lost." He
strode towards one of the large tents on the common and disappeared
within its flaps. Had Mr. Ticks the formula for inflating a canvas tent
into a balloon? Who knew?
In a few minutes the statistician returned, bringing with him a tall,
cadaverous man, whose leanness was heightened by a long chin beard,
which descended upon his chest to the middle button of his coat. Having
a beard of this description, the gentleman had no need of a necktie, and
having no necktie, he, of course, dispensed with a collar.
"Professor Ariel, my friend Mr. Swift, who wishes to talk business." Mr.
Ticks performed the introduction in his blandest manner. The man who
seemed to see nothing had seen everything. It had taken the unpractical,
the scholar, the dreamer, the muser, to observe the broken remnants of a
county fair, and the advertisement of that aeronautic expedition,
conducted by the renowned Professor Ariel, who was to have made an
ascension at twelve o'clock that awful day, taking with him a couple to
be married in the seventh heavens and a Seventh-Day Baptist clergyman to
tie the knot. It was at ten in the morning that Russell was closed in,
and the balloon and the professor had been ignominiously forgotten.
"Where is your balloon, professor?" asked Swift, when he had learned
these preliminary details.
"Darn it all, in that barn there!" The professor spoke as if he had a
personal grievance against the barn.
"Are—were they to have paid you for your ascension?"
"Five hundred dollars, and I hain't seen a red, and I can't get out of
this infernal place."
"I suppose it is in good condition?" inquired the editor.
"You bet! It's new. Never been used. Cost twenty-five hundred dollars.
"How long would it take you to get her ready?"
"Three hours' pushing would do it, I suppose."
"We want to go up in that balloon, Professor Ariel," said Swift, after
deliberation. Mr. Ticks confirmed this demand with an affirmative
gesture of his sad head.
"Can't be done, sir. I wouldn't risk her in this crowd!"
The professor spoke decisively.
"Do you know who we are?"
The professor shook his head.
"We are here representing the Daily Planet, and it will be the biggest
advertisement you ever had."
The professor still shook his head doubtfully.
"If you were the President and all his angels I wouldn't risk it. A
counter-current might carry us over that cussed spot, and we'd all be
stiff before you could say Jinks."
Nothing daunted, Swift took the aeronaut by the arm, offered him a
cigar, and pointed towards the Buzzard mountains.
"That's just where we want to go. D'ye see those birds up there? If they
can stand it we can. This deadly what-you-call-it doesn't reach as high
The professor stared and then muttered to himself:
"Gee—mima! The feller's hit it right."
"Now, look here, professor! You're a famous man. Everybody knows you.
The Planet charters your balloon for five hundred dollars. Is it a
The professor's eyes glittered yellow, the color of greed.
"I couldn't think of it. I couldn't risk the danger. It's an unknown
country, now—no, I couldn't."
"Call it six hundred."
"That wouldn't pay me if she breaks."
"Eight hundred dollars!"
"Couldn't do it."
"Nine hundred dollars. I'm tired."
"Subtract eight and add a cipher, and I'm your man."
"Very well! Mr. Ticks is witness. I will give you five hundred when we
leave the ground, and the balance when we touch it again."
The two men shook hands over their bargain.
"Let me see," said Swift, glancing at his watch, "it is ten o'clock. We
will ascend at one."
"I will assist the professor in preparing his airship," said Mr. Ticks.
"By the way, how tall is your balloon, professor? What is her cognomen?"
"I call her High Tariff, mister. That's her name. You'll see it on
her. Wait till she gets her forty thousand cubic feet of gas in her, and
you'll see her height."
By twelve o'clock the multitude had got wind of the undertaking, and
were thronging towards the fenced enclosure, where the huge monster was
flapping with that inane motion that only a half-filled balloon can take
to itself. Rumors of the wildest description were afloat. By half-past
twelve the balloon was, to all appearance, full, and sandbags were being
put aboard. By one the crowd could hardly be kept back by self-sworn
marshals, and the balloon tugged at its warps as if it would burst its
bonds at the slightest provocation.
The High Tariff now awakened the utmost enthusiasm. Men came by tens
and hundreds to make offers for the risky trip.
"Blank it all, she's chartered, the High Tariff is," was the
aeronaut's invariable reply. "She don't belong to me this trip. Ask the
At ten minutes after one precisely Swift appeared upon the ground. He
had just sent off the following message to his paper:
"Start immediately for Russell by thousand dollar balloon."
He had sold his horse and team and had purchased provisions with the
proceeds. Five minutes after the sale the horse backed into the hotel
and smashed the buggy into Chinese joss-sticks.
Swift walked calmly to the car and ordered the provisions aboard.
"Have you a long ladder and grapnel?" he inquired.
"Two hundred and fifty feet each."
"Two hundred pounds."
"Are you ready, professor?" asked Swift, satisfied with his inspection.
"She's full to bustin'!" said the professor, looking uneasily at the
"Jump in, Mr. Ticks!" The crowd was almost beside itself at the boldness
of the undertaking. Men yelled and hooted encouragement as the venerable
and musty editor stepped into the car with a natural air. It took more
than this to embarrass Mr. Ticks.
"Now, professor!" As Swift spoke he handed the professor a draft on the
Planet for five hundred dollars. The professor hesitated no longer. He
snatched the check and bounded in. An assistant stood ready with an axe
to cut the ropes that held the impatient balloon. Swift then stepped in
leisurely. It was just twenty-nine minutes and a quarter past one
o'clock. The crowd shrieked as if their throats would burst. Swift
lifted his hat in acknowledgment.
"Never say die!"
"Come back and tell us all about it."
"If you see my husband tell him I'm waiting for him."
They cheered and yelled and cried and cheered again.
"Are you ready?" asked Swift, looking at his companions.
"Then let her go!"
A cut, a swirl, an indescribable motion, and shouts became to those in
the High Tariff whispers, men became ants, and they were gone.
"Look! For God's sake, look! What is it?"
Swift strained his eyes to the southward, toward the death-bound
territory. The malignant cloud that settled over plain and mountain
slope was broken on the Gopher lake. As soon as Swift had recovered from
the first bound of the balloon he had scanned the dark mist, and by the
borders of the lake he had found a rift. This rift indicated the spot
where the city of Russell should have been. As he spoke he clutched the
arm of his colleague, and pointed over the side of the rising car.
"I—I'm afraid I can't see what you mean," stammered Mr. Statis Ticks,
"my glasses are blurred."
The man of figures was really agitated. But Professor Ariel, like many
an adventurer, had more than his share of what one may politely call
sang-froid, but what is known in common North American as simple
"cheek." Besides, in some sections of the country, he might have been
called a profane man. With his hands on the safety valve, he looked and
"By ——. It's gone!"
"I see nothing—nothing but black streaks," said the elder member of the
Planet corps hurriedly. "Can't we stop, professor? Perhaps that isn't
the site of the unfortunate city!"
The professor, obedient to the suggestion, pulled the safety valve, and
the gas rushed out with a wheeze.
"You bet it is! That's the place! Didn't I land there before I struck
Empiria? Darned lucky for me they didn't take stock in the High
Tariff. I might have been—God knows what, now!"
Even as the three men looked, the cloud closed in upon the land.
Strangely enough, it shunned the surface of the water. The travellers
cast their eyes upon the sullen bosom of the Gopher lake. This body of
water glittered like the scales of a leaden serpent. It looked from that
great height poisonous and discontented. Swift gazed upon it intently.
"Why? Wouldn't they have you?" inquired Mr. Ticks, absent-mindedly of
the professor. "See! Haven't we struck another current?"
As he spoke the huge High Tariff swayed. A breath of chilly air smote
them. Then gently the balloon swung toward the Gopher lake—toward the
"Well, you see, the balloon was too old-fashioned for them," answered
the professor, still bent upon his grievance. "Now, if it had gone by
electricity that 'ud been another thing."
"How so?" asked Mr. Ticks, with polite interest.
"Well! Everything in that gol-darned town went by electricity. They had
electric cars, electric lights, electric shampooing, electric cigars,
electric sewing machines, electric elevators, electric table service in
the hotel; worst was, they had electric cabs. They kept quiet about some
of their notions. Folks did say they had their reasons. I didn't hear
nothing about all this electric tomfoolery till I struck the city."
"Ah!" interrupted Mr. Ticks, pricking up his ears. "I have heard about
those cabs, but I have had no reliable information that they were a
"They ain't!" answered the professor, rubbing his right arm with a wince
of memory. "Like a darn jack I took one for a spin. They go on three
wheels; one in front, two behind. The driver, he sits in front and
steers the shebang with the forward wheel. I hadn't gone two blocks when
I leaned out of the window and the current struck me in the arm like a
shot. You bet I yelled bloody murder and got out of that trap in two
shakes of a colt's tail."
"How does all that electrical system work otherwise?" asked Mr. Ticks
slowly, after some thought.
"Everybody perfectly wild over it. They won't allow a horse in town, nor
even a ton of coal. Electricity is the big thing of the future. They
fight electrical duels. Feller that stands the greatest number of
alternating volts gets the apology. I saw a dog-fight in the street
stopped by the Humane Society. A man would drop a wet sponge on the
dog's head, another on his back, and turn on the circuit. They generally
both dropped and never knew what struck 'em. Two dead dogs better than
one fight. But they kept it all dark enough. These were jest
experiments, they said. When they were done that they were going to have
an electrical exhibition and invite the hull world. Why, I heard they
were fool enough to put in a bill in the Legislature to have the name of
Russell changed to Electra. As if Russell wasn't good enough for them!"
Mr. Ticks mused over these facts. Why was it that his acquisitive mind
had not roamed over this field before? Perhaps because it was
acquisitive, not imaginative. He could only account for the
unpardonable omission on the ground that there were so many new
competing Western cities, each with its peculiar advantages: and that
there were so many strange electrical inventions new each day, that he
had overlooked Russell and its progressive hobby. Besides, was he not on
the staff of a Democratic paper, which would, perhaps, on the whole,
prefer to ignore the new Republican State and its flourishing capital.
"How was all this power produced if coal was excluded?" asked Mr. Ticks.
"Oh, windmills did that. A half a dozen huge windmills, with wings, each
as big as the High Tariff, were the first things you saw. They were
nearly three hundred feet high——"
"Good Heavens! Look, man! Look down there! Don't you see something in
the middle of the lake!" Swift pulled the professor over to his side of
the car, and pointed directly below the balloon.
They had now struck a dead calm and the High Tariff floated motionless
two thousand feet above the lake. Directly below them was something
resting upon the waters. It looked fixed and dead. A log? A wreck? A
raft? Slowly the outline took to itself the form of a boat.
"Have you a pair of glasses here?" asked Swift, all of a quiver.
The professor shoved one of Steward's field-glasses in his hand.
"There's a body in that boat!" cried Swift, after a prolonged
examination. "No—Great God! It's alive! It moves! It's a woman!"
The professor took a long look.
"I guess you're right. She's a female!"
"But she must be saved," insisted Swift. "We must save her."
"Yes, Professor Ariel," said Mr. Statis Ticks, sententiously and with
trembling dignity; "being a woman, she demands our attention, and,
besides, as a survivor she can give us the information and suggest the
figures we need."
"I'll do my best, gentlemen," said the professor, shaking, his head,
"but it's mighty ticklish business. Supposing we drift into the deadly
air. I don't know what that vapor means, but it evidently means the
'Sweet By and By.' Even the High Tariff wouldn't save us then!"
"Look here, professor," jerked out Swift, peremptorily, "it's got to be
done. Now dry up!"
"All right, it's a go. I can stand it if you can."
So the valve was opened cautiously, and the balloon with majestic
slowness, obedient to its master's hand, descended toward the Great
Gopher lake, and hovered over the cockle-shell upon its malignant
As the High Tariff approached the little boat, Mr. Ticks looked at it
"She's alive and unmarried," said the oracle, slowly.
"Why unmarried?" asked Swift, with a vague flutter of the heart. He had
watched the figure of the woman attentively with the spyglass. It was
rounded and supple. Masses of dark-brown hair hid her shoulders and
"Because," answered Mr. Ticks, "she is under eighteen. The statistics of
this section of the West show that no female over eighteen years of age
The balloon had now descended to within three hundred feet of the boat.
The girl in it did not stir. She lay with her head propped in the bow,
so stiffly and so still that to all appearance she was a dead woman. But
the three men agreed they had seen her move. Had her rescuers arrived
"Let down the ladder!" cried Swift. "I'll go down and pick her up!"
Ignorant how hard it is even for an experienced hand to climb up and
down a rope ladder swinging in space, he clambered over the side of the
"Hold, young fellow!" Professor Ariel spoke sharply. By this time they
were within two hundred feet of the water.
"Hold, I say!" yelled the professor in a rage, letting go the rope to
the safety-valve and at the same time, grabbing a sand-bag. "If you stir
out of this car I'll pitch ballast out and you'll never see your gal
Swift stopped short. The rope-ladder swayed like a double snake beneath
them. Its end was fifty feet above the boat, but, O horrors! It was also
nearly fifty feet to one side of the boat—no human power could reach
the lady from the ladder. A breath might blow the High Tariff even
At the same time the girl, doubtless aroused from her stupor by the
professor's loud call, opened her eyes slowly. Above her loomed a
gigantic monster. Was it a dream? Was this apparition a final terror
added to her awful experience, sent to crush out the last remnant of her
buoyant life and magnificent courage? She stared at the thing above her;
then opened her mouth and gave a scream, such as can only be the result
of full Western tracheal development.
"Oh! don't be frightened!" cried Swift quickly, "Don't! We've come to
save you!" He could not think of anything more to say; and it occurred
to him that he was a donkey to say anything.
But the professor, who had few delicate scruples, waved his hat and
"What's the matter with the High Tariff? She's all right!"
This yell, so frequently heard on Eastern land and sea, had penetrated
even to the Great Gopher lake, and it reassured the girl more than
anything else could have done.
She sat up weakly enough in the boat, and, after waving her hand, with
feminine instinct tried to coil her hair and otherwise prepare herself
as best she could to receive these angels from the clouds.
"Can you catch?" yelled the professor.
"Try me!" came back a voice undaunted, though enfeebled by long
The professor coiled a stout, light rope on his arm, shot out a few
thundering orders about safety-valves and ballast, and cautiously, but
with gymnastic quickness, descended the yielding rounds of the long
To the lady in the boat, to the passengers in the car it seemed hours
before the professor reached the last of the two hundred rounds. It
might have been forty seconds.
Swift called out to the young lady encouragingly:
"Hold out a little while longer and you'll be safe!"
"I'm all right now, since you have come." The young woman's trembling
voice seemed to lay an actual emphasis on "you" that Swift was selfish
enough to take to himself.
"How long have you been there?"
"Five days. I am nearly dead!"
"Poor, poor thing!" said Swift to himself. Tears of sympathy came into
his eyes. Even Mr. Ticks blinked.
"She's office editor on some Russell daily," said Mr. Ticks after
another long look through the field glasses.
"How do you know?" asked Swift in displeasure.
"She's got a stylograph behind her right ear and a yellow pad in her
lap; besides, there are some clippings at the bottom of the boat."
By this time Professor Ariel had reached the lower end of his ladder.
"Now, catch!" he cried, hurling the light rope with sure skill. It
whistled through the air and the end fell across the boat.
"Make fast to something, quick, now!"
As he spoke he felt a breath of air upon his face. The balloon careened
over slightly and righted itself. The High Tariff was slowly settling
to the water's surface. As quickly as he could the professor pulled the
boat toward him.
"You can't. It's anchored," cried the girl. She tugged at the rope with
the last strength of hope, and actually brought it up. The skiff yielded
to the professor's clutch. By this time the balloon was so low down that
the aeronaut's feet were nearly in the water.
"Throw out sand by the handful!" he ordered. This gentle lighting kept
her at the right elevation.
Now the professor touched the boat. He jumped in. "Don't talk!" he
cried, "hold out your arms instead!" He knotted the rope underneath her
arms and tied the other end firmly to the ladder.
"We've got to hurry. Now, Miss! you keep cool, and we'll save you all
right." It was a desperate chance.
"Now let go a couple of sandbags!" the order came up to Swift in the
Mr. Statis Ticks, with his hand upon the safety-valve, and hearing the
order, became, for the first time in his life, confused. He pulled the
safety-valve wide open, and the gas rushed furiously out. Even with the
two sandbags overboard and lightened of fifty pounds dead weight, the
balloon descended suddenly.
The professor saw the mistake at a glance. He yelled furiously:
"Good God! Close that valve or we're lost!"
But the mischief was already done.
"Heave it all out!" shrieked the professor, climbing up the ladder like
a cat. The car of the balloon grazed the side of the boat. Mr. Statis
Ticks, in such atonement as he could make for his awful error, reached
over his thin arms. The girl arose, tottering to her feet, and, with a
mighty effort, the gray, gaunt man lifted the heavy girl into the car.
That was the most humane, and, at the same time, the maddest thing he
could have done. Under the influence of the added weight the car struck
the boat, over-turned it, and then dragged in the water.
"Out with everything!" howled the professor.
The three looked around in despair. The girl had dropped limp upon the
floor, and the water was upon her. Above them was a cloud of the
darkness of night. Cirrhus clouds scudded here and there in confusion.
There was strange atmospheric howling in the distance, approaching
nearer and nearer. The water assumed that angry hue it takes to itself
before a desperate storm. The monstrous balloon writhed intelligently
above them. All the sandbags were now pitched out. The High Tariff
shook itself loose from the water. It rose. It fell. It rose again.
"Are we safe?" cried Swift, looking anxiously at the girl.
"Take off your coat and vest and shoes, everything, and chuck 'em over
like lightning, and we'll see," answered the professor, solemnly.
With wild energy the men threw out of the car everything that had a
semblance of weight. Aeronauts well know the difference that a few
ounces make to safety when the gas has been exhausted from their
balloon. Professor Ariel had cast everything overboard with maniacal
celerity, and now, clad only in his undershirt and trousers, was hacking
at the trailing ladder to cut that off. The balloon had risen some fifty
or a hundred feet. It now halted irresolute. Could it recover itself and
mount? or would it lose courage and fall, dragging its passengers to a
But far more fearful than the latter imminent danger was the sight of
the threatening sky. Not one of these imperilled people had ever seen
such whirling masses of mad, black, revengeful clouds. These centred
from all sides upon the site of the lost city. They rushed together and
formed eddies and funnels. They roared like live things. It was in one
of these smaller whirlwinds that the balloon was caught.
The massive folds of silk beat and writhed and tried to tear themselves
loose from the clutches of the elements. The four in the car clung to it
with terror, watching the mad-cap play of the wind.
"It's no use—I can't!" cried the professor with damp, white face,
throwing down his knife. "The wire is too strong. We must get to the
rigging, cut off the car, and God help us!"
The situation was indeed appalling. The ladder, for purposes of greater
stability, was made of wire woven over with manila. The sharp knife
could not cut that useless weight.
In this crisis the young lady recovered her equipoise. She began to take
off her shoes.
"It will help a little," she said. Then she began shyly to loose her
overskirt. But the whirlwind caught the car and nearly upset it. It
swirled and almost touched the ground.
"Up!" cried the professor. He caught the girl and tied her in
dexterously. Every man held himself in the ropes that bound the car to
the balloon as best he might. It was a fearful chance. The professor cut
a rope and made bowline chairs. Each sat in his noose and held on for
dear life. The professor, who never lost his coolness, worked as if he
had done this before. And indeed he had.
Swift had the presence of mind or the presence of heart to support the
young lady in this perilous moment.
Cut! cut! The car had been caught in a counter eddy, and was five
hundred feet or so in the air, but rapidly descending. Then the last
strand parted. Relieved of several hundred-weight, the balloon bounded
up. It was buffeted and whirled and tossed from cloud to cloud. The
maddened elements clutched at it. Balls of fire danced upon the ground
beneath, and darted here and there from cloud to cloud. As the professor
gave the last cut and the balloon soared aloft, there was a report as if
a thousand rounds of artillery were concentrated in one shot. There was
a dazzling streak of light. It smote the adventurers blind. It smote
them deaf. It stunned them into insensibility. Like limp corpses the
four sat as they were whirled on high, each clasping his arms
instinctively about the rope that held him.
It seemed as if death had overtaken them all and petrified them with its
"I have solved the problem." Mr. Ticks opened his eyes and gasped. "By
my faith, where are we?"
Far below were opaque blackness, storm and wind. Above, the blue,
infinite ether. The sun shone brilliantly. It warmed the balloon. It
expanded the gas. The High Tariff kept rising. The stillness was a
miracle. Beneath stretched the panorama of a stricken country. The
highest peaks of the Buzzard mountains were below the balloon. The storm
raged over the lake and the lost city like a mock storm, it was so
distant and so unimportant. Now and then there was a flash of yellow
light and a distant reverberation. The storm was fearful, but it was
only a small blot upon a fair landscape when viewed from such a height.
"Yes," mused Mr. Ticks aloud, pulling his energies together. "I know now
what it all means. I know the secret of Russell's unparalleled
As he spoke he reached out and shook the professor, then Swift; then he
touched the young lady with gentle deference. The three opened their
eyes, one after another.
"We're saved! Oh, what luck! We're saved!" cried Professor Ariel. Tears
of joy started from his eyes. "Say, mister," his devil-may-care manner
returning to him in the fulness of his ecstasy. "Say," punching Swift,
"you ain't got a chaw about you, have you?"
But Swift, lifting up his bewildered eyes, took in the glorious blue sky
and sun, then his gaze fell upon the horror from which they had
escaped. Mechanically he searched the pockets of his trousers. Out of
his pistol pocket he pulled a flask of brandy—all that survived to him
of his outfit for this ghastly journey. This he had forgotten, otherwise
it would have gone by the rail along with his pocketbook, to lighten the
"Not yet," he said, pushing aside the professor's longing hand, "the
The brandy, the warm sun and the prospect of safety roused the girl
considerably. Possibly Swifts supporting arm hastened her recuperation.
Swift passed the bottle to Mr. Ticks, who drank, and coughed, and drank
"It's St. Croix, vintage of forty-two," said Mr. Ticks, gratefully. The
professor got what he could. But Swift would not touch any. He was
experiencing a finer intoxication. His eyes met those of the girl, who
had been the unconscious cause of all their danger. She seemed to
perceive this, for she soon broke the profound silence by suggesting
with a blush:
"You needn't hold me so tight, sir. I'll try not to fall."
"Can you talk now?" asked Mr. Ticks of their lady companion.
This question deflected a possible embarrassment, but Swift, deeming it
safe to allow no risk, did not relax his hold of the girl.
"Are you a reporter?" he asked, with an unaccountable desire to keep the
conversation in his own hands. "This gentleman and myself are on the
Daily Planet, the other man is professor of the balloon."
"How did you know?" she answered with a first approach to a smile. "I
am, or at least I was, society reporter on the Russell Telegraph." The
last word started Mr. Ticks up again.
"You witnessed the destruction of Russell? Do you know that its cause is
the despair of the world? Do you know——"
"Oh, it was dreadful! dreadful! dreadful!" interrupted the girl with a
shudder. "I was out in my boat alone and saw it all!"
The lady hid her face. "I was so tired that morning I couldn't breathe.
It was oppressive. The air was over-charged so strangely. You touched an
iron post and a spark shot out and gave you a shock. I couldn't stay, so
I begged off and took my lunch and my work in my little skiff and rowed
two miles out and anchored and tried to write."
"Can you state for the Planet, Miss——?"
"Insula Magnet, that's my name, sir."
"Miss Magnet, can you state at what exact hour the catastrophe
The balloon had now come to a standstill, and floated quietly above the
lake and the doomed city. The four wriggled uncomfortably in the
improvised seats. The ropes cut them. The sun beat upon them hotly. They
were exhausted and hungry and parched.
"Can't we go down?" suggested Swift. His brain reeled at the great depth
below him. The person who lost his hold and fell would die before he
reached the earth. The first stage in the Strasburg cathedral is two
hundred and fifty feet high, and it is a terrible sight to look over its
stone balustrade. No one forgets his sensation when he leans over the
top of the Eiffel tower, a thousand feet from the asphalt pavement
below. Judge what it was to those inexperienced travellers to be over
ten thousand feet high, clinging like weather-beaten flies to these
"No, I wouldn't descend yet in this calm for as many dollars as we are
feet high. We're safe enough here. Look up, man! Look up! Shut your
eyes. That's best!"
But Mr. Ticks pugnaciously returned to his question. What was a little
matter of falling ten thousand feet or so? A fact startling and valuable
was at stake and at hand.
"It was just a quarter of ten," answered Miss Magnet, in a low,
horror-stricken tone. "I was writing. Suddenly a bitter vapor enveloped
everything. There was no wind, no sun, no clouds, only this dense,
strange atmosphere. It prostrated me. There were a number of boats near
me. These were all of the new patent. They were steel. I saw great balls
of fire dance from boat to boat. Then there came from the city a light
such as I never saw before. It flashed like an enormous meteor, like an
incandescent flame. It enveloped Russell. I was scorched even where I
was by the flash. I heard a hissing sound like water on melted iron. And
"And then?" persisted Mr. Ticks in a kind of rapture.
"And then I must have fainted away. When I came to there was no city,
only masses of blackness and—and—Oh, the boats! The people! They were
all gone! Not capsized—not drowning—but gone. There were no boats.
There were no people. There wasn't even a dead body to keep me company.
I, only I, was left, living and alone upon the hissing water.... When I
was able I rowed back. The shore looked horrible and ridged, as if
molten lead had been poured into it. When I came nearer an awful heat
and a deadly odor overcame me. I had barely strength to row back and
anchor again. Then the mist settled everywhere except where I was." The
girl stopped for a moment, breathless.
"I couldn't see anything. It was hot, and then it was cold. I tried to
eat my luncheon. I tried to get some sleep. I called and called for
help. I couldn't tell night from day. I can't say whether it was four or
five days. I said five. I must have been faint a good deal. The worst
thing was being alone. I expected to die. I got pretty weak.... Then I
saw the balloon." The girl bowed the face which she could not hide, and
sobbed at her own dreadful story.
Swift was greatly moved. "Miss Magnet," he said gently, putting her head
upon his shoulder. "I think you had better rest. You are tired out. This
is different, you know. You needn't when you get safely down." The girl
gave him a grateful glance and obeyed him quietly.
"How did she escape?" soliloquized Mr. Ticks, loud enough to be
"Oh, I don't know—don't ask me—unless it was that I was in a wooden
boat. All the rest on the lake go by storage battery and are made of
steel. Mine is the only old-fashioned boat, but I was always afraid.
Everybody laughed at me, but I did what I do at home. I cut off the legs
of a chair and fixed them in glass tumblers. I always sit in my office
on glass tumblers. My bed rests on glass tumblers, too. It's a
non-conductor, you know. I used to get shocked every day. Everybody got
shocked in Russell, but they pretended not to mind it."
"But, Miss Magnet, do you know what is the cause of Russell's fate? of
this deadly atmosphere beneath us?"
"N-no—unless—of course that can't be. I guess it's a visitation of
Providence—but I don't know for what." The girl stopped, awed at the
thoughts she had evoked.
"A visitation of Providence!" repeated Mr. Ticks, slowly. "Yes, she is
right. The sin of presumptuousness was visited upon that unhappy place."
"Do you mean to say"—Swift started up. Somehow he had forgotten
Russell, its mysterious fate, his mission, everything but the girl. He
had awaked to his duty. "Do you mean to say that the whole thing is due
"Hold on! Look below!" interrupted the professor.
They clung to the ropes and glued their gaze upon the sight so far
beneath them. The storm had magically cleared away. The sunlight now
pierced the whole landscape for the first time since the disaster. The
lost city, in black, shapeless ruins, lay directly beneath them.
"We will go down." The professor opened the safety-valve cautiously.
"The devil has been chased away by the storm," he said emphatically.
Indeed, the baleful vapor had gone. As they swiftly descended strange
sights met their eyes. They could still see everything microscopically
for a radius of twenty miles around. Black specks were rushing up the
stricken railroad tracks, along the roads, hurrying to the city of doom.
Linemen began to extend the wires; trackmen began laying new tracks.
Fully fifty thousand impatient men were madly plunging these twenty
miles from different points of the circumference, converging toward
Russell. The dead line had become a mysterious thing of the past. The
danger to life was over, and it became an unprecedented race to see who
would get first upon the spot.
"If this calm lasts, as I think it will, we will be on the ground two
hours ahead of the crowd."
Swift's eyes sparkled in reportorial ecstasy.
There was no time now nor inclination for words. In ten minutes the
High Tariff was within a few hundred feet of the doomed city. Buzzards
followed its descent curiously.
"My kingdom for a notebook!" cried Swift, in anguish.
"Take mine," said his companion, shyly, "and my stylo, too."
Swift would have been more moved by this attention had he not been
absorbed in the sight at his feet.
"Do you mean," he turned to Mr. Ticks, "that this is all the effect of
"Look sharp, now!" interrupted Professor Ariel. "Stand ready to be cut
down!" The Professor had manipulated the safety-valve so skilfully that
in another minute they grazed the serrated ground. They were not hurt.
One wide sweep of the professor's knife, and the High Tariff freed now
from all restraint, bounded away never to be seen again.
"I am sorry, Professor Ariel," said Swift, immediately, "that
circumstances compel me to postpone my part of the contract. But, as we
are responsible for your loss, I will guarantee that the Planet will
make it all right."
The professor did not answer. Absorbed, he followed the High Tariff in
its capricious departure with tender interest.
When the three turned and stared about them, they stood palsied by the
terrible sight before them: a sight never permitted to mortal view
before, and we pray that such be withheld from the gaze of our poor race
The wide-awake, the proud, the busy city of Russell had vanished.
Russell in its short and meteoric career had spent hundreds of thousands
of dollars on its tall, iron, fireproof blocks, its steel grain
elevators, its gilded capitol, its granite churches, its hundred
factories, its indestructible depots. Where were they? Where was the
"busy hum of men"? Not a girder, not a column, not a trace of the
complicated iron vertebræ of this metal city was left to mourn the
grandeur of its structures. Not a corpse, not even a bone remained to
tell the tale of the death agony.
Stricken as dumb as the lower brute creation, this one poor girl, the
sole survivor of thirty thousand hopeful citizens, bereft of home, of
friends, of employment, of hope, of everything in life but this hideous
memory, uttered a low cry and sank senseless. Swift laid her gently on
the parched, cracked ground; it was yet heated as if a conflagration had
passed over the place. Where but five days ago haughty, frowning, iron
blocks of stores, of hotels and exchanges stood, there were ragged
gullies and deep fissures and jagged ravines, shining in the sunlight
with a black, streaked crust. The sight was dreary and dead and deserted
as if our travellers had been suddenly dropped upon the surface of the
moon. The ground was riven as by some prehistoric upheaval. It looked as
if subterranean springs of molten steel lava had spurted from the ground
and had melted the unhappy city in their onward path and had carried it
down in liquid solution to the lake.
Mr. Statis Ticks picked up a piece of this plutonian slag and examined
"I didn't know that brick would melt like this," he said. Then again:
"Here is platinum fused with iron and another substance I do not know."
In a second or two he added:
"I see no remains of glass. It must have evaporated." He then took a few
steps. "It is lucky," he said meditatively; "if we had been landed a few
more feet to the left we should have been broiled to death. A part of
this lava is still in a liquid state."
The three men looked each other in the eye. Swift forgot the girl. The
professor forgot the balloon. Mr. Statis Ticks had forgotten his wife
and seven children; but this was no unusual circumstance. The aeronaut,
having less awe to the cubic inch in his make-up than his companions,
was the first to speak.
"What does this gol-darned thing mean, anyhow?"
"Hush!" said Swift, recoiling.
But Mr. Statis Ticks bared his head before the extinct city.
"It means," said the student, solemnly, "the presumptuous impiety of man
and the vengeance of Almighty God! It means," he added, slowly,
"incalculable volts of uncontrollable electricity acting and acted upon
by nascent oxygen and hydrogen. It means that Russell, the greatest
producer of the electro-motor power on the continent, has been smitten
by its servant. It means that man has outstripped his knowledge of this
mysterious fluid, and has ignorantly converted through millions of
inadequate conductors and faultily insulated wires the terrible, the
unfathomed power of electricity into light and heat and force; that
Russell was gradually becoming a gigantic storage battery, charged and
surcharged, until the time when its electrostatic capacity had been
criminally abused, the negative forces of the heavens concentrated over
the obnoxious territory, and a discharge unparalleled in electrical
experiments restored nature's equilibrium, and consumed in one
unspeakable spark Russell and its blind inhabitants."
"My God! Can this happen to Boston?" cried the professor, trembling.
"Or New York?" asked Swift.
"Or to Chicago?" added the girl, faintly. She had revived and was
looking about her in a ghastly way. "My mother used to live there."
This truly feminine view of a scientific subject passed unnoticed.
Mr. Ticks stood with his uncovered head yet bent before the annihilated
city. He spread his two hands out, palms to the ground, with a gesture
of indescribable significance, and made no reply.
Black, vitreous masses of melted conglomerate spread before them. Where
had stood the city, the sloping plain offered no obstruction to the
view. Russell, to the last splinter of iron or of wood, to the last chip
of brick or stone, to the last bone of the last corpse, was fused into a
terrible warning to the world by the rebellion of its own electricity.
"I guess none of 'em knew what struck 'em!" The professor hazarded this
humane suggestion, feeling that the oppressive silence should be broken
"The Kremmler chair was nothing to it," said Swift.
"You are right," answered Mr. Ticks, gravely. "That was the only boon.
So sudden and intense was the heat that men were ashes and the city was
molten before nerves could convey sensation to the brain. In the
fraction of a second, in the twinkling of a thought it was not, for God
The four breathed heavily. Again Mr. Ticks broke the silence. He laid
his hand paternally upon the young lady's shoulder.
"It is very fortunate, Miss Magnet, that you were the only thoroughly
insulated person in this whole territory. The wooden boat, the inverted
glasses saved you. You only had a normal amount of electricity in you.
You were a poor conductor, otherwise you would have evaporated through
the law of induction."
"I can't stand this any longer, or I'll be a fit candidate for an idiot
asylum!" blurted out the professor finally. "I am dying for a chaw."
He cast impatient glances at a trackless, desolated grade a mile away.
This grave of a great trunk line extended beyond their view.
The four had not stirred from where they had been dropped by the
balloon. To do so they would have had to pick their way cautiously.
Russell was like an extinct volcano. She was yet hot. But she did not
smoke, as one might have expected. There were no smouldering embers left
to produce smoke. Combustion had been instantaneous and complete.
But the travellers had no need to go sight-seeing. Everywhere was the
same blackened, cooling, ferruginous slag. To see one square yard was to
see the whole. The appalling thing about the effect was the cause.
Civilization, ever ready with revengeful thrusts, as if protesting
against the advance of science, had produced a new accident, a unique
Swift made an automatic motion for his watch.
"I must go," he said; "I must get my despatch to the Planet in time
for the evening edition. We will have a scoop on the whole world."
"I'm your man," said the professor. "We can foot it to the nearest
telegraph station in four hours."
"Ah, I forgot," said Swift. "That will lose me the four o'clock edition.
I'll have to hold the wire all night if I can get it. I'll wire such an
account as no other paper will ever get. There isn't a minute to lose!"
It was then that Mr. Statis Ticks, realizing, whether from calculation
or from sympathy, that Miss Magnet could make no such forced march, and
seeing that the girl only held herself together under the tension of the
great excitement, gallantly proposed to remain by her and join the rest
of the party that evening by the first team that could be chartered.
But the young lady unexpectedly refused the proposition. Her whole
nature shrank from spending another minute in that blasted spot. It was
therefore arranged, much to Mr. Ticks' disappointment (for he had hoped
to add to his copious stock of mental notes by further investigation on
the ground), that the girl should accompany them, as far as she was
able, down the railroad, away from the lost city.
After a drink of lake water they started off, Swift supporting Miss
Magnet on the one side and Mr. Ticks on the other, the professor
"Even the lake tastes of it," said Swift. "Ugh!"
"Pass a current of electricity through a tumbler of water and there will
be detected the same flavor, though not so strong," answered Mr. Ticks.
The party made two miles slowly. Despite all her Western courage and
energy, Insula Magnet tottered by the way. To divert her attention, Mr.
Ticks led her on to talk about the electrical wonders of the extinct
city. The girl enlarged in a sad way upon its many and its curious uses.
The baby carriages, she said, took their helpless occupants on an
unaided turn around a large oval track in the park. They went by storage
battery. One electrician could take the place of twenty nurses and
control the power. Once in a while a baby died suddenly. The doctors
invariably pronounced it a case of heart failure. Washing was now
entirely done by electrical apparatus, likewise ironing and cooking. The
great American problem of the "hired girl," Russell considered herself
to have solved.
An ingenious arrangement had been recently devised to have the
electricity supply the place of valet-de-chambre, but only a few had
used it. One or two thought it a hardship to be aroused from bed
whether one would or no, to be washed and summarily dressed by an
implacable power that performed its set tasks stolidly in spite of
anathemas and threats. Can a man abuse his electrical valet? Let him try
it if he dare.
The phonograph was in universal use. The Phonograph Daily was a
rival—one cannot call it sheet, rather wax cylinder—just started, and
the din made by those loquacious instruments was worse than the chatter
of monkeys in the cocoanut groves of New Guinea.
Electric heaters warmed the rooms. Electric paper lighted them with a
suffused and generous glow. No one used stairs. Electric elevators did
all the arduous house-climbing. No one made calls any more, for it was
an easy matter to ring your acquaintance up and see her in her
drawing-room while you talked to her. Women made an elaborate toilet for
such interviews. It was soon expected that conversation would be
entirely dispensed with, for with a sensitive galvanoscope attached to
the brain at a certain point, that was to be patented, the minutest
current of thought could be registered upon a cylinder.
Authors would only need to fix their attention upon the plot; the
delicate instrument would record it indelibly for their hearers'
The well-appointed electric coupé was always ready. There was no worry
about oats and spavin and glanders. Miss Magnet told of many other new
contrivances that electricity had now to perform. The development of
this power through the new dynamos made it possible for men in Russell
to dispense utterly with work. You went so far as to put five cents in
the slot at any one of a hundred street corners, and your shoes were
electrically polished to a patent leather shine. There was no more
night, for carbon and incandescent lamps had stabbed the night so that
any hovel was brighter than the average day. The girl stopped for breath
and sat down. She was exhausted. Swift cheered her tenderly. But Mr.
Ticks dryly remarked:
"Better a city without electricity than electricity without a city!"
The girl smiled at this heresy, and nodded her head emphatically in a
feeble way. She could hardly move.
It was at this stage that Mr. Ticks seemed overcome with uneasiness. He
got up and sat down again. He kicked the earth. He examined the charred
sleepers. He dug for the lost rails. Then he awoke from his occupation
with a sudden start as if rudely shaken from a dream. Swift was used to
his colleague's idiosyncrasies. Besides he did not now notice them. He
was otherwise occupied. But the professor could stand these performances
no longer, and with rude emphasis he burst forth:
"Dang it, man, if you've got anything on your darned mind, jerk it out,
if not—" Professor Ariel's manners had become decadent in proportion to
the time that had elapsed since he and the High Tariff had parted
"I—I—" interrupted Mr. Ticks, with a start. "The fact is, I cannot as
yet account for that deadly atmosphere that enveloped this section. What
was in it to kill? Its effect on me was unlike any other experience that
I can recall. It is my inconsolable regret that it is not classified in
"Did you know," asked Miss Magnet, suddenly, "that a new land
improvement company was started this spring for raising four crops a
year? All the farms for twenty miles around were bought up. They spent
over a million dollars in laying wires in the ground throughout the
whole country, on the theory that these voltaic currents applied to
grain and fruit and vegetables would excite such crops to quicker
verdure and maturity. The company said that it was an experiment on a
grand scale; but they were much laughed at. I said it was a dangerous
scheme, and nearly lost my position in consequence. I have heard,
though, that it was a great success."
During this recital Mr. Ticks' eyes glistened with excitement.
"Ah!" he said, "I am under a thousand obligations to you, young lady. Of
course I could not conceive of such a thing, not knowing the facts. It
is all plain now. The first discharge, enormous and deadly as it was,
was not enough. This network of wires attracted the surplus electricity.
The soil must be of such a quality as to convert this territory into an
enormous secondary battery. The subsoil must have acted as a monstrous
insulator. I shall subject it to a minute analysis. Are we on the verge
of a new electrical discovery? Was this deadly phenomenon a hitherto
unknown property of the electrical fluid? For to walk within the dead
line was like walking into a saturated Leyden jar. Its effect must have
also been to devitalize the oxygen and nitrogen of the atmosphere. The
victim was electrified and suffocated to death at the same instant. At
last I understand the complexity of my astonishing symptoms. The
vibratory storm that we so narrowly escaped was not due to barometric
depression, but came as a responsive consequence of this surcharged
area. When that wire ladder was finally cut off and fell; when it
reached a certain position; when one end touched the negative, the other
the positive pole, then the current became completed and this gigantic
battery was discharged. Had we not been rising at the rate of a hundred
feet a second we should have been fused after the fashion of the
inhabitants of this ghastly territory. The discharge once having taken
place, this country is again free to man and beast."
"Gosh!" was all that the subdued professor could say.
And now the four travellers lifted up their eyes, and saw before them on
the horizon black moving, indistinct masses, as if brobdignagian locusts
were swarming up the track. Here were the hosts of careworn men,
plunging impatiently toward the lost city for the news that the
unaccountable and malignant power had hitherto denied them. The four
needed courage to meet this unrestrained and desperate mob. Who were
these in the van? What pallid faces, what haggard eyes, what piteous
gestures! Alas, they were the mourners of the dead! Love had wrestled
its way ahead of plunder, and grief had outrun greed. In the front ranks
were women wailing and panting desperately to keep pace with unmanned
This woeful sight aroused Mr. Ticks. He raised his hands towards the
lost city after the manner of an inspired prophet, and there and then
uttered the following impassioned warning to humanity, which Swift took
down in shorthand in the borrowed notebook:
"Woe unto you that multiply currents you cannot control! Woe unto you
that net your country with the trap of sudden death! Woe unto you that
toss innocent men on broken wires; that surprise your victims in the
counting-house, the home, the street, with destructive bolts! Woe unto
you that undermine and overcast the land with a mysterious foe! Behold!
your dead shall rise in serried phalanx against you, and their mourners
shall rend you to pieces!"
The only burst of eloquence known to the biography of this prosaic man
subsided into apathetic silence. His hands dropped heavily at his sides.
He turned away from Russell and beheld its blackened site no more.
The throng was now upon them. Multitudes of wild faces asked questions
of the four. Who would answer these? Who could tell the terrible truth?
The professor paled and walked behind Swift. Mr. Ticks shrank at the
awful responsibility, and took refuge behind the professor. Swift halted
"Go," he said to the girl. "Go! Only a woman can."
And she went. She stepped out alone—a few paces, and stood quite still.
Instinctively the masses stopped before her. Eyes, sleepless with
weeping and waiting, riveted themselves upon eyes that were still
haunted with a portentous experience. The girl stretched out one hand in
mute appeal, and then burst into tears and sobbed:
"Don't! Don't look like that! Oh, you poor people! I am the only one!"
Awestruck and silently, men and women enveloped her and ministered unto
her. It was the advance guard of the Red Cross Society, led by Clara
Barton, that sheltered this derelict and messenger of woe.
Set upon by a thousand men, Mr. Ticks and the professor told what they
knew. Some cursed and doubted and pressed on. Some bowed their heads and
turned back. But Swift, who had recognized Dubbs driving two powerful
horses and unreeling two telegraph wires, one for the special use of
the Associated Press and the other for the Planet, accosted him, and
sent the most famous message known to the American newspaper world since
the close of the civil war.
It was a long message, and we can only give the more important
Russell is no more!
Thirty thousand people killed by one unparalleled electric
The gigantic spark fuses the whole city into one
indistinguishable molten slag.
Miraculous escape of one lady. The sole survivor.
Thrilling rescue by the Planet reporters in a special
The reporters complete the circuit and touch off an
over-charged storage battery with a circumference of one
hundred and fifty miles.
The territory that was impassable now open.
Fifty thousand people race toward the lost city.
Russell perished of her own electricity.
Civilization's new and formidable danger.
Three months later, on a secular evening, the upholstered pews of an
uptown church were filled with a fashionable audience. As the church
bells tolled eight the organ pealed forth the wedding march. It was
noticed with much comment that the vast audience-room was lighted with
gas, the new electric lights being dispensed with. The bride, Miss
Insula Magnet, had especially desired this.
When the solemn ceremony was ended, and when, amid the craning of necks,
the bride and groom were walking down the white-ribboned aisle, a
diversion happened that arrested the newly wedded couple. But this was
not construed into an ill-omen. A diminutive messenger boy, with a
super-experienced countenance, had met them half way to the vestibule,
and, with a saucy smile, held up an envelope to Mr. Swift's face.
"It's half an hour late. Wires burned out. Guess you'll read it now!"
Mr. Statis Ticks, who, although well and worthily married, officiated in
some unprecedented capacity as best man, gave Professor Ariel, one of
the ushers, an intelligent glance. The latter, being the happy possessor
of a new balloon (which he ingenuously called Reciprocity), supplied
to him by the always generous Planet, and fully elated by his present
position, answered with a broad wink. Mr. Swift, unconscious of the
thousands that were standing in their seats to look at him, and of the
general buzz of interest, tore open the colored envelope with
reportorial haste, and read as follows. It was cabled from his chief,
the proprietor of the Planet, now unavoidably detained in England:
"Congratulations. Advance of one thousand a year. Report after
two months' bliss. God bless you!"
A TERRIBLE EVENING.
Harland Slack sat in the café of the Parker House carelessly sipping
whiskey and Apollinaris. He fondly cherished the thought that this
combination was an excellent anti-intoxicant, a brain-quieter; on the
same principle that B & S is supposed to clarify an Englishman's head.
Harland Slack was an attractively repulsive man. He was tall, and
vigorously put together. Evening dress was becoming to him. He never
appeared after six o'clock without it: for it set off his long blond
mustache, his fine artificially curled, blond hair, and his pale regular
features to their best advantage. Seen from the front there were times
when he was considered positively handsome, after the same fashion that
an aristocratic French doll is admired. When he turned his profile, then
there appeared certain hard lines of the check and weak lines of the
forehead and chin that grated on austere physiognomists. The giddy set
of fashionable women, at whose five o'clock teas he still remained the
éprouvette positive, thought him adorable: the matrons with
marriageable girls thought him debatable: if he chanced upon a spiritual
woman, she considered him dangerous. The club men privately thought him
It was not so in college before his father died. Then the main features
of his life were promising. If he indulged in occasional gayety he did
not lose all of his self-respect. His classmates noted in him a certain
quality of strength or reserve that was supposed to emanate from himself
rather than from the hard fact that his paternal allowance was only
seven hundred a year, and that he was threatened with disinheritance if
he ran into debt.
But now he had inherited. He had changed. His hands trembled. His eyes
twitched. The corners of his mouth danced the dance of St. Vitus. He had
terrible nightmares, and awoke with parched mouth and with disagreeable
eyes, and with a rebellious head whose disorders required what he called
"an eye-opener" to cause them to abate.
His best friends took him apart and said: "Now really, old fellow, this
won't do. Its—playing the devil with you. Come now, knock off for a
bit. I'll bet you a hundred dollars you can't confine yourself to claret
for a month."
And Harland Slack would answer:
"Done! Have a cocktail?" He usually paid the bet before three hours were
up. The limitation, he said, was too strict.
"I'll give him two years," said his nearest intimate; "and then—" He
whistled The Dead March in Saul, and the fellows wagged their heads
ominously over the sad case—and their ale.
In short, Harland was not only addicted to drink, but he was given over
to it hand and soul. Yet he was very seldom drunk. He paused at that
excessively polite stage which was the surveyor's line of inebriety. An
eminent bar-keeper pointed him out one day and said:
"It isn't the boys that get drunk and then get over it, that go to the
devil so fast: it's the fellows that take a little all day long and keep
at it who can't be reformed."
So it naturally came about that while Harland Slack was in this
benevolent mood, which usually lasted from ten in the morning till one
in the morning, and which might aptly be described as betwixt Hell and
Earth, he became the common prey of common humanity.
His was not to reason why;
His was but to lend a fi'.
Theirs was but to take and sigh:
"I'll pay you sometime by and by."
He seemed to take it as a compliment that his purse was everybody's
bank, with a daily run on it. It was lucky for him that the enormous
principal left by his economical father could not be touched. But at
last, as it once in a while happens to the repleted, the unqualified
ability to borrow, or rather, in this instance, to steal, led to a pall.
Unlock every safe, unbar every vault, open up every store to pillage,
and the robber, glutted with desire, will disappear. On the same
principle, at the time of our historiette, Harland's friends, even his
bar-room acquaintances, were overtaken by a sentiment of self-reproach
or honor, and there was a general movement to swear off borrowing from
this man who never refused a loan.
On the evening of which we speak Harland sat languidly waiting for a
friend who had an appointment to accompany him to the club. It was
early, scarcely eight, and he aimlessly fingered a loose roll of bills
in his waistcoat pocket, smiled inanely at the man behind the desk, and
then, despairing of entertainment, began to spin a trade-dollar on the
polished table. The café was nearly empty, and he was to all purposes
alone. This was a state which he dreaded above all others. Like
Napoleon, in the company of even one he felt an inspiring confidence and
security. When he was with people, he forgot that whiskey was an
insisting necessity: he only thought he drank because he was a good
fellow and "one of the boys."
Harland had never been visited by the uttermost penalty of his
condition. It cannot be said that he never feared that state whose ugly
name we omit when we can, or reduce to its significant initials; as if
that reduced the horror of the fact. But he feared it: he feared it
greatly. The possibility of delirium tremens unmanned him. Then he sweat
drops of apprehension, and with vague, shuffling remorse promised
himself to improve. He possessed all the weakness of Sydney Carton with
none of that martyr's pathetic nobility or ability.
Harland Slack sat alone and began to scowl at the bottle of Apollinaris.
His weak face looked haggard. Perhaps he felt that he had cast the key
of his tomb through the grated door after he had immured himself within.
He glared at the whiskey, and his thoughts cursed it; then he smiled and
took another swallow. Even as he drank his mind wandered back to his
college days when he was unimplicated in high treason against himself.
He could not help remembering, sometimes: he seldom thought of the
The door opened. He tossed the remainder of his glass off, and looked
around, expecting his companion. Then he turned back, disappointed. Then
he looked again.
A stalwart man entered with an air of vitality which is often mistaken
for authority. The vigorous development of his body gave a startling
impression of height and power. He was dressed with elegant negligence.
His dark beard was cut to a point, and he looked like a Parisian artist.
Black eyes from under the brim of a silk hat compelled attention by
reason of an imperious steadiness that indicated the possession of
unusual self-control. The waiters jumped to serve this man. Harland was
annoyed at this obsequiousness which he had never received. He tried to
look haughtily indifferent, but he could not take his eyes from this
person. The stranger returned his glance. He advanced upon the
fashionable inebriate, and paused at his table. Harland Slack arose as
if he were accepting a challenge, and trembled. The two looked at each
"I declare, old fellow. Is it you? Why, I haven't seen you since Class
Day. You know me, Slack, don't you?"
The speaker smiled and took off his hat. This action heightened the
impression of power which he had first made. His forehead was literally
the dome of his body. It was as if the Creator had determined on
granting this man an unusual supply of brains, and had then packed them
in until the pressure had distended the frontal lobes. His brow was an
overhanging arch, massive, high, compelling. This was so marked that the
head gave almost a painful impression of superabundant intellectuality.
Harland immediately recognized his classmate from that distinguishing
feature. It was the only recognizable one left.
"The same. Do you live in Boston now?"
"Oh yes, of course. Sit down—and you?"
"I? I am a practising physician, now: that's all. Am just back from
Paris a while ago, and have taken an office. I was telephoned suddenly
to a patient out of town and ran in here for a chop before I went home."
The keen eyes of Dr. Alaric Randolph examined his vis-à-vis as he gave
his brief explanation. He ordered his chops, declined an offer to
drink, and noticed with professional intelligence Harland's demand for
some more whiskey and the tremulous way with which it was taken. No
words were necessary to tell this student of human miseries the nature
of Harland Slack's disease.
Randolph was as much changed for the better as his classmate was for the
worse. It was a wonder that they recognized each other at all. Harland
felt the difference, but could not analyze it; while Randolph studied it
more than he felt it. The college student who did not room in "Beck,"
and who was not a member of the Hasty Pudding Club, who had no time for
society and theatricals, who was never seen at Carl's, who was suspected
of being a little diffident, had suddenly become the patron; and the
classmate whose father's wealth had given him an unassailable social
rank, yielded with feeble will to his own unspoken instinct of
Harland's face had become weazened since he had left college. His manly
frame had shrunken. On the other hand, Alaric's features had expanded.
His skull had filled out: even his frontal arch was rounded.
"What have you been doing in Paris, Randolph?" asked Harland with a
good-natured laugh and a faint attempt at condescension.
Dr. Randolph looked across the table; his eyes twinkled over his
classmate's tone, but he courteously answered:
"I've been experimenting there for five years. I went the usual round of
hospitals and studied with Pasteur, and have raised scores of colonies
of bacilli. Lately I have busied myself with investigations of too
complex a nature to discuss. And you——"
"Oh,—I'm a—a member of the clubs, you know. I'm now engaged in
breeding beagles. That takes lots of time you know. My father died some
years ago, and I—eh—take care of the estate."
"So?" exclaimed Randolph with a German lengthening of the vowel sound.
Then taking the opportunity while Harland was emptying his glass, he
regarded him thoughtfully.
"Look here, Slack," said the young doctor after a moment's hesitation.
"What do you say to spending the evening with me? I am lonely and want
to talk over old days. You're done up and not fit to go to the club
Now Harland, though considerably astonished by the invitation, was also
"But my appointment! I never missed an appointment in my life, you
know," wavered Harland unsteadily, while shifting his eyes to the door.
"Never mind that now. I'll leave word at the desk. Psst—garçon!"
The Doctor spoke masterfully; the gentleman obeyed him as readily as the
servant. A pencil note, with strict injunctions for delivery solved the
inebriate's sodden difficulty. Slack insisted upon adding that he would
still meet his friend between ten and eleven o'clock. Randolph smiled
indulgently, and they passed out into the cool air arm in arm. Randolph
hailed a coupé and got his friend into it with pardonable alacrity.
Harland was unusually communicative that evening with the man from whom
he would have hardly deigned to accept a cigarette in his college days.
He could not understand the reason for what he considered this sudden
social degradation. He accepted it in a dazed way, for he had been
drinking steadily all day.
The cab stopped before one of the few stone houses less common in Boston
than in New York, whose construction is at once singularly deceptive and
honest. It had a frontage of seventeen feet.
"A good sized dog-kennel!" observed Harland Slack, glancing at it
superciliously as he got out.
"These are my offices," answered Dr. Randolph urbanely, paying no
attention to the half-maudlin discourtesy.
Supposing that one of these houses with a frontage of seventeen feet,
has a depth of two hundred feet, and is five stories high? The
dog-kennel assumes an area of nearly half an acre. There may be large
rooms, almost a spacious salon in one of these insignificant homes.
Seemingly unlimited space behind ridiculously narrow stone walls, is one
of the many mysteries of city life.
Harland Slack sank upon the sofa, and languidly watched the Doctor turn
up the gas.
"You haven't a nip of brandy, have you? I feel so confoundedly thirsty."
Dr. Randolph looked at the speaker, whose wavering eye vainly strove to
elude his. The Doctor seemed to be balancing in his mind whether to
grant the guest his wish or not.
"Look here, old boy," said Harland, almost with a whine, "it isn't fair,
doncherno, to bring a fellow in here and stare at him that way. My
beagles wouldn't treat me so. I'm burning up with thirst. Just a little.
That's hospitable, you know." He finished with a sigh and a fuddled look
of entreaty. He had gone a half an hour without alcohol.
"I beg your pardon, Slack," said Randolph slowly, "of course you shall
have it. But I would rather give you some cordial of mine first. It
will take your thirst away sooner than your infernal liquor."
Slack nodded wearily, while the Doctor unlocked a black cabinet and took
from thence a brittle flask and a liqueur glass. He held the flask up to
the light before Slack's face. The liquid flamed yellow in the gaslight.
It seemed to have concentrated in its ebullient elements the
exhilaration of life. Now, the yellow cordial, even as the inebriate
looked upon it, glowed and became incandescent. It seemed to be endowed
with its own principle of energy. Harland Slack started up, and looked
at this phenomenon more closely with intelligent astonishment.
"This," said Dr. Alaric Randolph observantly, "is the issue of many
laborious years abroad. This is the theriaca against all vital poisons.
Watch it; for even as you look upon it, you absorb its virtue."
There was no melodrama in the Doctor's action or accent. He spoke quite
naturally. Harland was as much impressed by his friend's sincerity as by
the singular appearance of this elixir vitæ. He did not need to be
urged to look at the glass again. It was a fountain of boiling light.
At this moment, a knock was heard at that door of the reception room
which evidently led into the Doctor's inner office. Dr. Randolph
started, quickly locked the door leading into the hall, and put the
priceless flask gently upon a high bookcase. It was on a level with his
face. The liquid shot bubbles of animation to the surface; and before
Slack's eyes, as if gathering fire from the light or the heat, it slowly
began to turn red. The languid debauchee now jumped nimbly to his feet
and stood entranced before this beautiful, perplexing transformation.
"Keep your eyes on it for a moment, my friend," whispered Dr. Randolph:
"watch it carefully for me. I wish to note its changes. It differs under
variable conditions. Tell me about it. Do not touch it. When I come back
you shall taste, and then—" Harland lost the last words as the
physician hurried out.
Harland Slack, feeling a dull sense of scientific responsibility, fixed
his eyes upon the occult fluid, watching its strange manifestations
eagerly. His brain throbbed with thoughts. If the mere sight of this
curious elixir could clear the clots of alcohol from his blood and his
will, what might come of a draught? He walked for the first few moments
about the room briskly. He stood erect: but he did not take his gaze
from the flask, nor did he touch it. It now shot forth colors of the
ruby. Along the rim played the fires of the spinel. These gave way to
the glow of the garnet; which in turn vanished before gleams whose
indescribable radiance is only likened to the blood of the pigeon.
Harland was eager not to lose the lightest stage of this marvellous
metamorphosis. With every new hue fresh streams of blood seemed to come
into his heart. He felt so strangely that he soon began to doubt whether
he were sober or not. He rubbed his eyes, and pinched his ears. Yes, he
was awake and sane. This was no delirium of a caked brain. His mind was
as clear as the waters of the Bermuda reefs. If he had been an opium
eater, he might have thought these the legitimate effects of the dusky
As soon as he had thoroughly assured himself of the validity of his
reason he began to hear music. It came from the inner room whither the
Doctor had gone. Without taking his eyes off of the blazing flask,
Harland backed up to the door and listened. The strains sounded louder
as he approached. There seemed to be a castanet, and a harp, and
singing. In surprise he touched the door. It opened lightly. His
curiosity proved stronger then the power of the elixir to restrain him,
and he turned. A low cry of amazement leaped from his lips. He stopped
irresolute and looked back. The glittering alembic was extinguished. The
liquid shone but dully in the feeble jets of gas. What could there have
been to fascinate, he mused, in that carafe of—water?
He forgot the Doctor. He abandoned the theriaca. He strode into the vast
hall that opened up before him. As he advanced, his head whirled with a
new intoxication. He wondered how so narrow a house could contain such a
superb apartment. Then he perceived, or he fancied that two or more
buildings had been thrown into one. It was the only explanation of the
spacious area which his imagination afforded, and it satisfied him.
Before him extended a banquet-hall decorated with Oriental magnificence,
and lighted with many lamps. In its centre was a sumptuous table. Black
servants flitted noiselessly about. Upon a yellow rug at one side
crouched a dark dancing girl, clad in gauze, waving a gauze scarf. She
reminded him of something he had read about the celebrated dancers of
the Maharajah of Mysore. This beautiful girl, with a bewitching effort
at unconsciousness, arose and whirled down the long hall towards the
young man, waving her bare arms to the accompaniment of stringed
instruments and the measured drone of the players. Suddenly the dancer,
with a blinding pirouette, wound her veils modestly about her, saluted
Harland with a profound, mocking courtesy, and then pointing to the
table wafted herself away. Harland was confounded. What strange orgy was
this? What a scene from India dropped upon bleak, staid New England!
When he had accustomed his eyes to the blaze of light he saw that
another woman was in the room. This one was reclining at the table. He
recognized her immediately. This fact pleased him; for it assured him
that he was still himself. It also troubled him, for he had solemnly
vowed never to allow his eyes to rest upon her again. She had haunted
him with her beauty and her insolence since he had forsworn her. There
flashed his sapphire bracelet on her slender arm, and the Alexandrite
for which he had sent to Russia, took to itself at her white throat
alternate virulent moods of red and green. She was entrancing, and he
loved her. She was his evil genius, and he feared her. She had flattered
and despised him, and he hated her. How laughingly she had lured him
with her jewelled hand and iridescent eyes down the pleasant path that
brought up at his fatal vice! He thought of her polite orgies, her
theatre suppers, her one o'clock germans, and her select parties at
suburban hotels. To his besotted brain she was a scarlet witch and he
fled from her, and returned, and fled again.
But what manner of man was this Doctor? Why would they trap him?—weak,
sodden thing that he was, and knew that he was.
Now, as he looked upon her there was a snap in his heart, and her power
upon him seemed to give away and break like a valve in the aorta. How
was this possible? Could a man not care for her? With sudden
surprising disdain he approached the beautiful creature before whom he
had so often trembled. She did not look up at him, but threw herself
back further on the couch and motioned to a servant for some wine.
Something about her super-human grace revolted him. The music redoubled.
The Indian dancer fanned him as she sped past. He did not notice her. He
was above intoxication of the senses. What was this woman? What her
wine? In a kind of sacred, cold revolt, he stood aloof. He was in an
ecstasy of moral freedom. He advanced a step or two, looked down at her
from his tall height and ejaculated brutally:
She did not look up at this insult. Her cheek, neck, and ears flushed
and then became deadly pale. A sneer now spread itself over her chin
"And why not, you poor fool?" The opprobrious epithet seemed feebly to
express the infinite contempt in which she—even she—had held him. She
had called him this with equal scorn more than once before, in her
drawing-room, and he had never felt the shadow of resentment. He had
been accustomed to laugh feebly and to turn the unpleasant personality
away as well as he could. But now, he became aware of the contumely for
the first time. He clenched his fists; he breathed heavily. He did not
trust himself to speak. He ground his teeth. His thoughts became
singularly clear. He took another step nearer. She turned her haughty
head and smiled mockingly at him, clicking the glass with her
"I did not know, sir, that you were a friend of the great Doctor," she
chirped in her falsetto voice, and her lip curled.
"Its a lie! I am not! He is a scoundrel!"
Harland spoke savagely. He could not understand this moral convulsion
that within the last few minutes, had dominated his nature. He could
only express it. What was this house? For the first time the query
arose: What had he to do with a questionable evening?
"You are drunk, as usual," answered the woman with a pert upward motion
At this, which he knew to be a libel for once, Harland's hand tore at
his heart: a terrible rush of blood ran to his brain. The music hushed.
The dark dancing-girl sank with exhaustion to her rug. The room was
stifling. The air was heavy with the perfume of roses, and attar, and
wine. Yet the young man's head was poised, his eyes were sane, his
senses untouched. With a supreme effort he held his anger in check. The
beauty, not realizing the extent to which she had tortured him, laughed
aloud and contemptuously cried:
"Harland Slack, you are a coward. You dare not call your soul your own;
for you are always drunk. Bah!" She made as if to draw herself from
beyond his touch. He did not stir, but a frightful whiteness extended
over his hands and face.
"Go on," he said metallically.
With a refinement of insolence difficult to describe, ignoring his
person, she looked through him, and with a gesture ordered the music
to begin again.
Harland stood motionless for a moment. Immovable, he fixed his gray eyes
upon a little black square of court-plaster under the lobe of her left
ear. The music crashed through the banquet-hall. The dancing-girl tried
to distract the man of stone. He looked at that little black patch. Its
wearer shrugged her shoulders significantly; then, as if wearied of the
thought of him, she moved her white arm to the table and took up a glass
flaming with champagne; waving it towards him she said malevolently:
"There! That's what you are waiting for. Drink and go!—Sot!" The
viciousness of the act and word served as the key to the situation. Like
rusting steel, Harland became unlocked. Oddly enough, at this crisis it
occurred to him to question whether this were his old friend at all.
Then who? Then what? Was the woman an embodiment of all the past evil of
his own soul? By some horrible law of metempsychosis had his old spirit
passed into this too fashionable married flirt at his side? That
outstretched, mocking hand—was it what the abstainers called the "demon
of drink?" How often he had laughed at the phrase, lighting his
cigarette with their tracts!
At the fearful import of these thoughts, he felt himself endowed by a
bidding higher than fate. Justice arose and compelled him. His eyes
brightened before he did the deed. With a sweep, he shattered the hand
that held the slender glass, and snatching up a silver knife from the
table he poised it for an instant: then buried it to the hilt.
It struck just below her left ear. It obliterated the little black
patch. With a sound more like a hiss than a cry the woman drooped to her
divan. The music stopped with a frightened crash. The dancing-girl fled
with a shriek; but Harland stood immovable, exultant, holding his hands
ready to strangle if the wound did not kill. His face, but now so weak,
had acquired an inexorable strength. Strange! At this moment he felt
himself not a murderer, but a man.
He watched his victim dying, without a word; and when her curse was
spent, he turned and walked triumphantly back through the wasted
magnificence to the room from whence he had come.
He did not hurry. At first, he did not apprehend arrest. He felt as if
he had accomplished a great deed. Without looking back he closed the
door and sought for his hat. He put it on and made for the outer
entrance. He tried it and found it locked.
Now at last he began to comprehend his situation. Terror fell upon him.
Cold drops bathed him. The enormity of his act flashed upon his
conscience. Kill! Kill a woman? He struggled at the window and the
door. Both were impervious. He dared not go back. How could he look at
her? Escape was cut off. His head became clotted with the old
sensations. Fear, such as makes a man's heart stand still, assailed him.
He looked in vain for the flask. It was gone. With a loud cry, he flung
himself upon the sofa and fainted dead away.
How long he lay there of course he did not know. Soon, vague
cerebrations began to torture his mind. It burned as if it were being
recalled to life from a frozen state. Then, soaring upward from deeps
beyond the deeps, supported through irremediable turmoil by an
overwhelming power, he felt himself gently laid upon a couch. There was
a moment when the brain, recovering its equilibrium, swam and spun. Then
suddenly he found consciousness and emerged through the mist of pain. He
tried to use his limbs, but could not rise. With an effort he strove to
loosen his tongue, but could not speak. With desperate will he
endeavored to open his eyes. Their lids were riveted together. This was
no hallucination. He was never more alert nor more helpless.
He knew that some one was bending over him.
He felt two eyes examining his soul. He had the consciousness that there
was nothing hid from this intense gaze. Then a commanding voice spoke
to him, and a hand of unutterable persuasion touched his forehead.
"Harland Slack!" said the ringing voice. Beginning a little above a
whisper it seemed to increase to oratorical tones: then it reverberated
throughout his nature, and burst upon him like the rattle of thunder.
"Harland Slack, you have had a terrible lesson. Harland Slack, you will
not drink again!" Then after a pause in a different voice, "Now, Slack
get up! You're all right now. Come!"
With a mighty wrench Harland, at his bidding, cast off the numbness from
his body, the incubus from his will, and staggering to his feet opened
Before him stood Dr. Alaric Randolph holding his hand and looking
searchingly into his face.
This fact recalled to him his awful deed. He understood perfectly that
he had committed a murder. He knew not how, or why, or where. With a
tremulous look about him he burst into tears and clung for protection to
his enigmatical host.
As tenderly as a hospital nurse Dr. Randolph led the criminal to a deep
chair and placed him in it.
"There, there, old fellow. It's all right. You will come out of it all
straight. I'll see you through. Trust me. There, take my hand. That will
help you, see?"
The broken man, shuddering from weakness, clasped the sympathetic hand
and wrung it. Harland sat still a long while with closed eyes. The
doctor watched him professionally, even tenderly, at times anxiously.
"Now," he said, "I'll go and bring you a demitasse. It will set you on
"No, no!" cried Harland in terror, "don't leave me. I can't be left
"But only to the next room."
The patient's hands relaxed, and he assented wearily. When the coffee
came, he drank a little obediently.
"Now, my boy," said the Doctor, with what under the circumstances seemed
to Harland a ghastly cheerfulness, "this will get you up entirely. When
you finish it, I am going to send you to the Club!" At the mention of
the Club Harland began to tremble.
"My God, Randolph! I can't go there. I'll be arrested." He glanced
apprehensively at the outer door as if expecting a policeman. "Don't you
know," he added in a whisper, "what I've done in your infernal place?"
"Nonsense!" replied Randolph lightly, "not a soul shall know you've been
here. She deserved it. I'll take all the blame. Now brace up and be a
man. Don't be nervous. You're feverish. You need a tonic before you
start. What'll you drink?"
Harland looked at his host in a state divided between dementia and moral
nausea. What manner of man was this American Doctor with his accursed
"I am horribly thirsty," he admitted: "I will take a glass of water,
He said this without surprise at himself, naturally and quite sincerely.
He longed for it. It was the first request of the kind he had made for
years. Randolph handed the water to him and watched him narrowly.
Harland held up the glass to the light with a connoisseur's eye, smiled
with satisfaction, and took the clear draught down at one swallow.
"Ah!" he said: "that is good. I feel better now. Now swear that you will
save me. Don't give me up. Hide me somehow. It happened in your house,
"Give yourself no concern," said the Doctor easily.
"Why, man," blazed Harland Slack, "don't you know that I've murdered
somebody? It was a woman. I've murdered that woman you keep here. I am
"Your Club is only two blocks off," answered the physician with
astonishing indifference; "It will do you good to walk there. Trust me.
Don't worry over it. Let me feel your hand. It's moist and soft. No
fever; that's good. When you step foot into the Club you will never
think of the affair again."
The Doctor quietly gave the criminal his hat and coat, put a cane into
his hand, and conducted him to the door.
"Go!" he said, "go directly to your Club as usual. As a physician I
order it. It is the best thing you can do."
Mutely the trembling man obeyed, and thus the two actors in this awful
evening parted; so, perhaps, criminal and accomplice are wont to part in
the extremity of great emergencies, as if nothing had happened out of
the moral order of things.
Harland Slack walked into his fashionable Club slowly. As he did so,
whether by reason of the familiar atmosphere, or the contrast to the
scene from which he had escaped, he did not stop to consider, his crime
dropped from his memory like the burden from Christian's back. He handed
his outer garments to the liveried boy, and, as was his wont, turned
towards the poker and billiard rooms. There were the usual number of
useless gambling and playing men uselessly drinking. Harland Slack was
greeted in the usual boisterous manner.
"Hilloa! What'll you take? Here, boy, bring the same old stuff to Mr.
The gossip proceeded, the chips rattled, the balls clicked, the smoke
mounted, the liquors gurgled, and the regular Club life proceeded.
The friend of his appointment now joined him.
"By ——! You look as white as that foam there. You need a nerve
restorer. You haven't been idiot enough to buck the tiger again, have
you? What will you take?"
"No," said Harland slowly. "I have not gambled." He shook his head with
a strange expression. He did not understand. The Club seemed different
to him. It was not as entrancing or as necessary as usual. The odor of
stale liquor and of staler tobacco nauseated him. Still, it did not
occur to him that this was an unusual state of mind for him to be in.
The attendant placed the chased tray upon the table. His friend took the
decanter from the boy and poured out the brown liquid into the delicate
glasses. He then offered one to Harland and held up his own in token of
"Well, here's to luck," he said, and nodded to Harland. Harland nodded
in return. His nerves twitched him. What was this new sensation of
repugnance? He lifted his glass higher to his mouth. He tried to put it
to his lips. It would not go. He tried again. His arm refused him
service. But the fumes of this familiar liquor mounted to his nostrils,
which dilated with horror. What was this terrible thing which he was
asked to drink? Never had he felt such physical repulsion. A shudder of
disgust shook him. With a curse he dashed the glass to the floor, and
glared suspiciously upon his companion.
"How dare you ask me to drink this stuff?" His voice rang with passion.
"I loathe it! I cannot stand it. Let me go. This is an infernal den, and
I will get out!"
The men around jumped up and held him. They thought that D. T. had come
"Somebody send for the nearest expert," said his nearest friend.
This inebriate's first resistance to his dipsomania was interpreted
darkly, with sundry shrugs and winks and gestures.
"It is too devilish bad," said his companion, "but I knew it would
happen some day."
They called a cab and put him in and sent him home. But he gave no
further evidence of insanity. His case became a seven days' gossip and
warning behind the bulging windows of the great Club.
Harland Slack went straightway to Colorado, and came back a man. He went
into law, and succeeded. It is well known that he does not drink. The
committee elected a new heir to damnation in Harland's place at the
At the end of an address delivered a year afterward before a close
medical meeting Dr. Alaric Randolph said:
"A bit of bright, cut glass, and a healthy will, and the proportional
training did this thing. I have not given the man's name, not only on
account of his high social standing and marked mental ability, but also
because he himself is still ignorant of the facts. I have no fear of a
relapse. He has forgotten that he ever believed himself to have murdered
a woman who never existed. But he has not forgotten that he no longer
drinks. This case is now a tested cure. My first successful experiment
in this great, unknown field, rests upon its facts. Alcoholism is
probably as serious an illustration as we could present. The hypnotic
therapeutics have come to stay."
It was the morning after my arrival. I had just come, jaded from
examination papers, agued with the incessant ring of orations, abhorrent
of the rustle of white tarlatans, distrustful of the future attitude of
trustees, and utterly wilted from the effect of a country academy
exhibition held in the heat of June in the torridest of Western towns. I
had never seen the ocean, and before my window the glorious old Atlantic
heaved solemnly. Its intermittent swash upon the rocks sent peace into
my soul. I found myself near enough even to throw something into the
water. The longing to communicate with this new friend, dreamed of for
so many inland years, overpowered me. A box of buttons was all I had,
and I leaned far out into the air, pungent with a mixture of fish and
kelp, and cast into the deep these feminine necessities, one by one.
Now a tiny disk of mother-of-pearl would glance on the float and bounce
off into a gray ripple; and then a bit of jet would clatter on the red
granite rocks, and be swallowed by a lapping wavelet that seemed to rise
on purpose for this strange offering. Too soon the box was emptied of
its contents; then there came a mad desire to throw cologne, shoes,
satchel, anything, everything, myself, from the second-story window into
this mysterious, beckoning, repelling Atlantic tide beneath me. Leaning
on the sill, with my whole soul absorbed in this new Nirvana, I was
suddenly and yet not unpleasantly aroused by a strident yell:
"Hellow, Scud! Wha'che got this mornin'?"
"Oh, no-thin', only twenty-six little 'uns, an' a couple bucket o'
The answer came back in a deep, orotund, sing-song voice. It was the
natural intoning of the man of the sea. Two boats shot from under a
rocky headland a few hundred yards before me to the left. One of the
boats made fast to some black corks that formed a huge rectangle in the
water, and two men began pulling in a net. The one in the other boat,
who answered to the name of Scud, stopped rowing for a moment, exchanged
a word or two, and laughed aloud, then cast a critical look at the sun's
altitude, and pulled lazily away. When he was at some distance, he
rested on his oars, and hilloaed with that penetrating sea cry:
"I hope you'll get two barr'l. I guess thar's 'nough to go all round."
That undulatory cadence is entirely lacking in landsmen's tones. Still
this was an extraordinarily joyous voice, as if the life of a fisherman
were a dream without a care or a struggle. But Scud and his queer, green
boat disappeared behind the jagged outline of the rocks, and I turned at
the sound of the first bell to dress for breakfast.
"Well, how do you like your room? I hope that the fishermen didn't wake
you up too early."
My cousin offered me some smoking flakes of fish, new to my limited
experience. This, he said, was inland hake, and was caught that morning
in Scud's trap. Now, although I was hitherto ignorant of this delicious
fish with its paradoxical cognomen, I felt that Scud and I were already
friends; and gravely informed my host that Scud had caught twenty-six
little ones that morning. This piece of information was immediately
greeted with impertinent hilarity.
"So Scud woke you up?" said my cousin. "He's always doing that. There
was one nervous boarder here. She threatened to have him arrested for
breaking the peace. But you might as well arrest a fog-whistle."
"Does he always get up as early in the morning?" I asked,
apprehensively. "He must be a very energetic person. Do tell me about
it. What are 'little 'uns'?"
I must confess to a degree of perplexity when the the whole family burst
into further roars of laughter at my simple question.
"Scud energetic? Why, he is the easiest, the slowest, the sleepiest, the
most lovable, good-natured fellow on the whole coast. He makes the
surest and perhaps the best living of any of the fishermen around here.
If he didn't get up early he wouldn't do even that. As it is, Salt does
most of the work. Salt is his oldest boy," explained my cousin.
"I am sure Scud needs all he can make," interrupted Mabel (she is my
cousin's wife), "with his dozen children and a wife to support, and only
one trap to do it on."
"For my part," interposed the oldest daughter, with a pert motion of her
head, "I am tired to death having to save clothes for that—You needn't
look so shocked, mamma. Yes, I am. It's always 'Take care of that
petticoat; Betty can use it;' or, 'That dress can be turned and made
over nicely for the twins.' I declare I don't get a new dress but the
whole Scud family troop over and inspect it, and criticise it, and
quarrel over it, and gloat over it the first day I wear it. I caught two
of their boys fighting over which of them should have Reginald's summer
ulster when he was done with it."
"I shall give it to Tommy," observed her mother, in an absent,
After breakfast my cousin rowed over to the station; the eldest two
children took their guest, a boy of about sixteen, out fishing; while I
eagerly accompanied Mabel across the rocks and fields to Scud's house—a
little rented hut, hidden and sheltered from the east winds behind a
huge barrack of a boarding-house.
How clear the day! How warm the sun! How hospitable this forbidding,
granite-clad North Shore! As I look back upon that memorable morning it
seemed as if the bay could never be ruffled by any but the tenderest
breezes, or its bright water reflect any but the dazzling glare of the
hottest sun. Clouds hovered over us, delicate and fleecy as the feathers
of the marabou, and white and curly as the feathers of the ostrich. They
radiated from a centre in translucent films, and shot out monstrous
ciliated fingers like a fan. Such a sky was never seen in my part of
the country, and I attributed this ravishing cloud phenomenon to the
peculiar influence of the sea, being too ignorant to notice that these
streamers shot out from the west. The stillness was intoxicating after
the scurry of the school-room. And now even the water made no ripples on
the beach. The sea was motionless, like a distilled elixir in a serrated
We stopped before a low, pitch-roofed house that looked as if it
contained three rooms at most. The yard was piled up with wreckage and
drift-wood. Who ever heard of a fisherman buying kindling? Within the
gate four children were playing with twice as many cats and kittens.
They were all fighting like animals between themselves for a plateful of
scraps of fried fish. A baby would grab a piece from the plate, and
offer the remainder to a grave tabby, which in turn distributed it to
her offspring. Then the kittens and "humans" rolled and scratched, and
shrieked and scratched again.
"Keep yer mouths shet out there, or I'll be after ye with a stick!" This
maternal sentiment, spoken in a loud shrill voice, greeted us as we
stepped within the gate.
"It's I, Betty. I have brought you a little something, and a friend who
wants to see the children."
"Dear sakes! 'tain't you, is it?" The shrill voice was now modulated in
an entirely different tone. "Ain't I glad you've come! Step right in and
set down. No? Then I'll be out and see ye ez soon ez I've tended the
"Baby!" I gasped, looking at the four fighting infants at my feet, none
of whom looked over thirteen months. "Are these hers too?"
"These are the twins," answered Mabel, quite seriously. "They call them
'the twin.' These are the two sets, just a year apart. The baby was born
a month ago. The baby isn't named. Let me see: these are Bessie and
Maurie and Robbie and Susie."
"Why, I thought you knew better," protested the mother, in a grieved
voice. "Susie is in the house there. That's Bessie." She wiped her hands
on her apron, and thrust one of them out through a rent in the
mosquito-netted door. "I'm glad to see any of her friends. Yes. Good
mor'n'. The children? Laws sakes, they're round the house like pups!"
The face was remarkable for a pair of brilliant black eyes, an
inheritance of Italian ancestry. She was not yet middle-aged, and her
hair had turned prematurely gray. Her hands were bony, nervous hands,
indicative of great executive capacity, but the incessant work had left
"Are all your children here?" I asked, not knowing what else to say.
"Here's four of 'em. Come out here, you in there, an' I'll count ye." It
was a pitiful sight to see these five plump, rosy youngsters pass in
review before the frail, emaciated mother.
"But here are only nine," I ventured.
"Salt's missing, mother," said the eldest girl; "he's with father to the
"So he is, Kittie. They've rowed round the cove with what they ketched.
They'll be back d'rectly."
"But how do you manage, Mrs.—ah—Scud?" I asked. I am afraid there was
a slight choke in my throat as I spoke. The mother cast a quick look at
my face, and shoving her children into the house, one by one, said:
"Now go, Kittie; finish the dishes. You, Mamie, put the baby kearfully
in the box. What did you hit Jim for, Sammy? Let me ketch you a-hitten
your little brother agin an' I'll spank you. Now get in the house, all
of ye. You see, miss," turning to me, "we manage somehow. If it wa'n't
fur her, we'd give up. There's that boy Jim, he took to swearing this
spring. I declare it was jess awful to hear him go on. I spanked him,
and Scud he switched him, but it wa'n't to no use. That boy talked jess
scand'lous, till your cousin here, miss, she heerd him one mornin', an'
took a white powder an' put a little on his tongue. It made Jim powerful
sick. And, says she, 'If I hear you swearin' agin I'll pizen ye; an'
you'll die in a minute an' never see God,' and I declare to goodness he
was so skeared that I hain't heerd him swear since. There's Scud.
Where's Salt, pa? Come here an' speak to the ladies. She's brought ye
"Salt's makin' the boat fast," began Scud, nodding with inimitable ease
to his visitors. "I'm afraid ther's goin' to be—"
Scud stopped short in open-mouthed pleasure when he saw a couple of
brilliant red and blue ties dangling from Betty's hand. He had come up
the rocky path, whistling like a boy, with every line and pucker in his
face on a broad smile. If Lavater had seen this fisherman's physiognomy
he would have pronounced it indicative of incomparable good nature.
Indeed, Scud's good nature went so far at times as to be incomparably
inadequate to the demands of existence. If he happened to go for weeks
without catching so much as a sculpin in his net, and the starvation of
his youngsters stared him in the face, he showed none of the common
symptoms of discouragement, such as swearing, drinking, beating his
wife, or cursing his luck. He only whistled the blither, ran up bills at
the butcher's and grocer's with irresistible faith, borrowed his "chaws"
of his luckier mates, and laughed as if poverty were an excellent joke
that Providence was cracking at him. Why shouldn't he appreciate it,
even if it were at his own expense.
Scud was born "easy." Who could blame him? He gave up his lobster-pots
because it took too much time to dry them and keep them in repair, and
it was too cold and dangerous hauling them in stormy weather off the
rocks. Scud found it too troublesome to underrun his trap more than
twice a-day—once at six o'clock in the morning, then at six o'clock at
night. Even when the mackerel or the herring struck, and every man who
had a trap hovered over it night and day to keep the catch from
mysteriously immaterializing, as well as to gather it in, Scud was
satisfied with his diurnal visits. He "wa'n't a-goin' to keep a-runnin'
to see the fish swim in. If they were fool 'nough to go in the trap,
they could stay there till he underrun an' bailed 'em out." His methods
of gaining a livelihood were unique on the coast; yet it was Scud who
"stocked" eight hundred and fifty dollars that summer clean, two hundred
dollars above any one else in the harbor. It was the saying among some
of the jealous fishermen in the cove, who were not blessed with two
pairs of twins, that "nobody 'arned so easy a livin' as Scud without
doin' no work." But these indistinct murmurs never stimulated Scud nor
impaired his good nature. Indeed, Scud was the happiest man that ever
lived. What a dancing, laughing eye! What a catalogue of joys therein!
What contagious, hopeful humor! What irrepressible buoyancy of spirits!
Who could help loving Scud, as one loves a huge, long-coated St. Bernard
dog? Scud was the laughing, joyous, piping Pan of the ocean. He smoked
not, neither did he drink. He had no vices that debased him. Chewing is
not a vice for a fisherman. But he did have a curious taste for candy.
No present pleased him so much as a half a pound of caramels or of
sugar-coated nuts. It was the sweet animal nature instinctively laying
hold of sweets.
Scud's "easiness" was unmitigated—at times it was exasperating; but
this made him all the fatter, the jollier, the more companionable; and
as it succeeded so well, why not? Summer boarders were appreciative of
Scud. He lived upon them. Twins?—they did it. It was a dime show, and
the money was paid.
Two sets of authentic twins! It was enough to drain a woman's heart of
sympathy, a woman's pocket of money; and the summer boarders were mostly
women—married women, with husbands sweating in the city to support
them; single women, school-teachers and that sort.
But Scud stood looking at the ties. He seldom bought clothes, any more
than he purchased firewood or paid for his fish. They came to him. Here
was a pair of trousers that was once a bishop's. That coat and vest were
the velveteen relics of a posing artist. The cap was a yachtsman's gift,
and the neckties came as a matter of course. Yet Scud never begged. And
once when he caught one of his four-year-old boys insinuating to a
summer boarder, with outstretched palm, that he would like a penny, Scud
thrashed him within a centimeter of his life. New England fishermen will
take a gift as a sort of neighborly accommodation to you; but he'll
starve before he will ask you for it.
"Are them fur me?" (Scud was always surprised at such a crisis.) "Thank
ye, ma'am. Ain't them showy? I guess they'll skeer the mac'rel off the
"I wanted you to take me out sailing this morning, Mr. Scud," I began,
after a formal introduction. Scud looked somewhat gratified with the
prefix to his name, and regarded me with interest. To take boarders out
sailing at the rate of seventy-five cents an hour was the kind of work
he would do.
"Yes, ma'am. But I'm 'fraid it'll be a little fresh to-day, if ye hain't
used to sailin'." He jerked his head to the westward. "Salt is a makin'
the dory fast with a new haulin'-line, ma'am. I guess we'll have a
squall pretty soon."
We followed Scud's gesture and looked. A squall on a day like this? The
white streamers had vanished, and above us was dark, unfathomable blue.
But on the western horizon, stretching far to the south, a black bank
had arisen. No cloud in the physical geography was ever sketched
blacker. It had come up as stealthily as a Zulu warrior. It was the hue
of unpolished iron. It had a faint reddish tint. Its outline was as
clear cut as a cameo. It sent ahead here and there jagged tentacles,
broad at the base and fine at the tip, that advanced, dissolved, and
reappeared again with significant rapidity. The ocean had suddenly grown
lethargic. It seemed unable to reflect the sun that still shone. It
became like a platter of tarnished silver. As we looked, the sight
rapidly grew uglier.
Now my cousin Mabel seemed hypnotized by it. She stood for a few
minutes with her hands hanging at her sides; her delicate jaw dropped.
Suddenly she pulled herself together, and whispered: "It is horrible! It
is awful!" Then, as if seized with the full import of the scene, she
cried aloud, "My children! They are out fishing in a sail-boat! My
children!" She began to run towards the shore leaving us all staring
My nautical sense was not as highly trained as Mabel's, but I thought
the sight terrifying and fine. It was part of the Eastern culture
towards the education of the Western girl. But seeing Scud look sober—I
had the impression that it was for the first time in his life—I
"Do come too, Scud. Is it so bad? Won't it blow over?"
"It's goin' to be as bad as I ever seed in these parts, miss. I'll do
what I can. 'Twon't be much, I'll bet."
I ran down to the house, followed by Scud at a moderate walk. Scud never
ran. Would he have run for the drowning? I doubted it.
The clouds had arisen with terrible velocity. They coursed over the bare
sky like a black bull with horns down. White cirrhus clouds now darted
out here and there ahead, like fluttering standards of warning. And now
the sun was gored to death. The black bank advanced in one wide line.
Blackness had fallen everywhere. Anxiety was visible in every form of
nature—in the cries of the birds, the skulking of the dogs, the
blanched faces of the boarders, the attention of the fishermen.
In the British navy, when any terrible and sudden disaster occurs on a
man-of-war, such as the bursting of a gun, a collision, or striking upon
the rocks, the bugler sounds, what is known as "the still." On hearing
it every man aboard comes to a standstill. This momentary pause enables
each to collect his nerves to meet the summons of the shock. Nature was
now commanding "the still"; but the order came through the eyes. No
sound was as yet heard. The sea, the air, sentient life, all souls, held
their breath before the shock that must come. Men collected along the
coast to meet the threatened tornado. By that subtle force which
sensitive organisms will recognize, be it called telepathy or psychic
power or magnetism, I knew, ignorant as I was, that nature was silently
preparing for a terrific struggle.
When Scud and I joined Mabel on the rocks in front of her house we found
her wringing her hands, sobbing and crying for help. It seemed that her
two children, who had gone out fishing with their city guest, were in a
sail-boat. This was managed by a boy about their age—none of them were
over sixteen. But the lad who sailed the little boat was a fisherman's
son. He was considered very expert, and had broad experience from his
babyhood up. But this fact did not soothe the mother. Appalled by the
color and the swiftness of the clouds, and the ominous import to the
safety of the little sail-boat, we scanned the harbor and the coast; but
no boat answering to the description was in sight. Scud tried to comfort
the mother in his shaggy way. "The b'ys hev sailed to the inner cove,
ma'am. They's ashore by this time, I'll bet."
As Scud spoke, the large fishing-schooners, leaving and entering the
broad harbor shot, one after the other, as if by mutual impulse, into
the direction of the clouds, into the west, and dropped sails and
anchors with incredible rapidity. Far out to sea vessels were now seen
to ride with bare poles; it was evident that they had anticipated a
formidable blow. We stood on a bend in the shore, and the broad bay lay
between us and the rising storm. The rocky coast stood forth in a long,
broken outline opposite to us, far down towards Great Brabant. The open
Atlantic spread before us to the south-west. And now lightnings flashed
in angry sheets. The sea took to itself suddenly a peculiar greenish
tinge. There were heard distant bellowings. We strained our eyes for the
boys. Where were they? Where were they? Two miles out ships began to
"They've cotched it!" shouted Scud. "Here it comes. Look out, leddies!"
Driven by earth's mightiest, most implacable, most invisible force, a
line of foam dashed across the bay. Spray from the water twenty feet
below struck us in the face simultaneously with the wind. The white
squall had burst upon us. I dragged my poor cousin with me to the
piazza, into the house, which shuddered through all its frame and would
have fallen had it not, after the fashion of this bleak shore, been
chained to the rocks.
Now Scud staid outside. It did not seem clear at first why. Pretty soon
we saw him trying to pull the tender upon the float, that was clean
washed by every wave.
Then came the first lull. The mother ran out into it wildly. The water
was green and white. Two coasters and a large yacht were running in for
shelter without a stitch of canvas. They were making straight for the
"Look! Come here! Look! What's that boat? See! Way out there beyond the
island! My God! It's my children!"
A half-mile or more away, in the very heart of the squall, a little boat
with full sail set was staggering unto death. Language cannot hint at
the horror in the mother's face. She had made her summer's home for
fifteen years within a shell's throw of the sea, and she knew perfectly
well what this situation meant. No one could have undeceived her, and no
one tried. She stood for a moment staring straight ahead, stretched out
her arms, swayed, and fell. She was one of the fainting kind, and there
was nothing to be done about it. We carried her in and laid her down. It
was my impulse to trust her to her terrified servants. I was too
terrified myself to know whether I was right or wrong. Irresistibly
compelled, I rushed out of doors again, and appealed (with feminine
instinct, I suppose) to the only man, within reach. Scud responded
"Yes; that's them!" He pitched his orotund voice upon me as if he were
giving a command in a gale at sea.
Men now began to gesticulate wildly at the ill-fated boat from the
rocks, as if that could help the matter.
"Drop that mains'l, you —— fools, or you'll go to ——!" The voices
struck me like a volley of bullets, but they could not have penetrated
ten feet to windward.
"Scud!" I cried. "Help! Save them, Scud!"
"I can't do nothing," he howled in my ear. "No one can't. You can't row
in them breakers."
By this time the wind had increased its force. The sail-boat was near
enough for one to see the desperate attempts the boyish skipper made to
lower the sail. One of the halyards had become caught. The boy made wild
rushes to the mast. Then the boat would rock and fly around. To save her
the lad darted back to the helm just in time. This sickening struggle
against a knot was repeated several times. On the bottom the three
passengers lay inert with terror. A twenty-foot boat with full sail,
when hundred-ton schooners trembled under bare poles! Even my
inexperience grasped the situation.
"He's doing all-fired well, but he can't last no longer if that—He'll
be druv on the rocks! They'll be druv to——!"
The rocks were now lined with men commenting in an apathetic way upon
the tragedy enacting before their eyes.
"Why don't they do something?" In my ignorance of the curious
stolidity which falls upon the shore in face of danger upon the sea, I
stood shrieking: "Why doesn't somebody go? Why don't you men do
The fishermen and the summer people looked into each other's eyes, but
no man answered a word.
"Can't you help them?" I pleaded with another weather-beaten
"Can't be done, or I'd do it."
"I came down to see them capsize, an' I guess they'll go," said a gruff
But Scud gave me a long look. He stood quite silent. An expression of
rare gravity was on his joyous face. He glanced apprehensively from the
boat to the house.
"She can't, Scud; she's fainted. There isn't anybody but me. I've
got to do something. The children have got to be saved, Scud!" The
Western girl shook him by the arm. Her very ignorance gave a force to
her appeal that intelligence could not have supplied. Had I understood
what I asked I should not have said: "Scud, won't you go? They are
drowning. See, Scud! Go!"
The doomed sail was beaten here and there in the fierce wind; the jib
was blown to tatters. The boat took in water, righted, and careened
with every riotous puff. A hundred times men turned their faces away and
women shrieked, expecting it to go down. A hundred times repeated
miracle protected the helpless boat.
Scud walked slowly down the heaving gangway that connected the rocks
with the float. The man who came down to see the boat capsize followed
with his hands in his pockets. He balanced himself on the railing with
his elbows as the gangway jumped beneath him.
"What yer up ter, Scud?" he yelled above the tempest. "They're driftin'
on yer trap. That'll fetch 'em."
Scud looked up. His feet were washed in the water that flooded the float
at every surge. To strike the trap meant instant overturn. To become
entangled in and driven on to the meshes of the broad, deep net meant
"I guess I'll go. Help me shove the dingy off." So spoke Scud,
"You—" The rest of the expletive was lost in the gale. The breakers
made sport of Scud, and spat at him with their white tongues. "Your
childer! The twins! Betty!" thundered his friend.
Scud hurriedly put in the oar-locks. As he bent, the wind caught his
cap and dashed it on the rocks. Scud shook his brown hair to the furies.
"Ye see!" yelled his companion significantly. "Now get in, will ye?"
"Shet up, Steve! Gimme them oars. Don't ye see I'm goin'? I wish I hed
A murmur of applause went up from the crowd as the fisherman shoved off.
The light tender was twisted about and all but cast upon the cliffs
before he could gain his first stroke.
And now the man of the sea set his weak mouth into petrified resolve.
The wind and the water attacked his boat like assassins. They meant to
kill. Scud knew this. He rowed guardedly, mistrustful of a cowardly
feint, of an underhand lunge. The tender quivered beneath each dash of
the waves, each onslaught of the squall, each hurried stroke of the
oars. Scud rowed warily, lest he be over-turned and buried between the
trough and the height of the waves. The wind howled at him. The bay
showered upon him. The gale clutched him and turned him about. How now!
Whence came these muscles of steel that subdued such powers arrayed
against lazy Scud? How now! Whence came that indomitable judgment that
baffled the elements at their own wildest sport? Fishermen stared from
the shore at this unparalleled exhibition of skill, coolness, courage
and strength from Scud.
Then, with the spite of which only a white squall is capable, it
thundered against Scud, and with the animosity of which only the
Atlantic Ocean is capable, it rose upon Scud and well-nigh bore him
under. Hope is easily dashed in the hearts of inert spectators, but Scud
did not falter. The crowd stood by commenting:
"Scud! Thet Scud? Poor Betty! Poor widder! We'll hev ter fish him up
ter-night. Plucky fellow! Brave deed! That's grit! Thar's skill! Who'd
'a' thought it? Scud!"
But Scud the "easy," Scud the do-little, Scud the good-for-naught—Scud,
of whom nobody expected anything—comfortable, self-indulgent Scud,
rowed on sturdily straight out into that hell. Could he ever overtake
the boat? How was it possible? If he did the extra weight would swamp
the fancy tender, built only to carry two or three at the most in light
weather. How could he get one in?
"Why the —— didn't he take his dory?" asked an old man.
"How in —— can he bring her up with a haulin'-line an' git in from the
rocks?" answered another contemptuously.
"Scud may get 'em," ventured an expert, "but what'll he do with 'em?"
Now Scud had rowed beyond the net to the right, in order to bear down
upon it the easier.
"Thar she strikes! God help 'em!" Cries came from a dozen throats. The
sail-boat struck against the leader of the net. It swung broadside to
the wind, that forced it over and under. Agonized shrieks were borne to
the shore. I was glad that Mabel was a fainting woman.
For some time Scud's wife had stood apart and looked upon the scene. Her
eyes were dry and feverish. She did not talk. She hugged a baby at her
breast desperately. Salt held a pair of twins; the oldest girl another.
Children sprawled upon the ground, clinging to their mother's feet and
dress. None drew near or spoke to this pathetic group. What could one
do? What word could one say? The storm swayed Betty here and there. Her
hair waved in the hurricane. She had long, pretty hair. Spray drenched
her. She did not cry out. She stood like the Niobe of the sea. She
looked like one expecting the fate that had been only delayed. An
average of two hundred men a year from this fishing-town are swallowed
up by the ocean that affords them sustenance, and their starving widows
are left after them. Betty was only one of a thousand of her kind who
stolidly concealed a desolate suspense. And now her turn had come,
harder than the rest, for she was in at the death.
It is a mystery until this day how Scud reached the over-turned
sail-boat as he did. With a dory his work would not have been
comparatively easy; but with a thirteen-foot yacht's tender it was
super-human. The two girls clinging to the wreck were lifted bodily into
the boat. Scud was quick but cool, and imparted perfect confidence to
the water-sodden children. At the fisherman's peremptory order, the two
boys clung to each side of the tender. We could see them dragging in the
water; it was the only way. Scud now began to row before the storm.
There were no cheers from the rocks. Not a man of them stirred. The
fishermen, hardened to perils of the sea, had been fascinated by this
exhibition of cool-blooded heroism from the least heroic of them all.
The cockle-shell dashed madly towards the shore.
No power could row it weighted against the wind that beat upon it with
fitful concentration. Straight before the tender was a little beach
between the rocks, not more than twenty feet wide, but this was
protected at its entrance by a line of reefs, easily passable at high
tide, and bare at low. The rollers broke upon most of these rocks, and
the spume swirled in dirty froth upon the pebbly beach. Scud made for
the opening. The gale drove him wildly along. A few men now ran to the
beach and the outlying rocks, ready to do the possible at any emergency.
Would Scud pass the reef or not? There was not time to answer the
question. The boat rose upon a huge wave. Foam and spray enveloped it
from view. There was a rumbling cry of horror. There was a dull
splintering crash. Fifty men rushed to the beach and lined the cliffs.
The boat had struck upon the last rock. As the wave passed on, the
terrible sight of black human heads appeared in a setting of white foam.
But these were within reach almost. These could be saved. Ah! Men wade
in, somehow, anyhow, forming a line, and pass one to shore. Saved! And
then another. Thank God! Here comes the third on that wave! Grasp that
dress! Tenderly, it is a girl. All here! All saved!
But where is Scud? Oh, but he can swim. He is strong and used to
chilling water and fierce waves. The helpless children safe, and Scud
gone? Impossible! Incredible! Too horrible!
Involuntarily one man and then another turned to look at the widow and
the orphans, and then they turned and cursed the sea aloud.
At this moment a dark little figure shot past them all, by the
bewildered man, and dashed with a shriek into the foam. What did she do?
How did she do it? What could be done? A woman—a little woman—her baby
only one month old—Betty! She caught the sinking hand, the drowning
head—she never knew how. A dozen men plunged in now. Spectators who had
not wet their feet during all that horrible scene swam now in the
whirlpool for the woman's sake, and for the shame she wrought upon them.
Brawny arms and steady feet bore her back. Her little hand, rigid,
clutched her husband by the collar of his shirt.
Scud was carried quickly up and laid upon the piazza. An ugly bruise was
upon his forehead.
The wind died down. The rain came in white torrents. Betty stood in the
deluge and shielded her husband automatically. The children, most of
them too small to know the reason why, lifted up their voices and wept.
"Father," said Betty, softly, "why don't ye speak to me? Dearie, dearie
Scud. I saved ye. Hain't ye nothing to say to me, Scud?"
"You'd better go into the house," said some one. "Leave Scud to us
awhile." For in truth not a man or woman of us but believed that Scud
"You jess get us to a kitchen fire," said Betty, quietly, "and leave him
And it was repeated with many a trembling lip far down the coast that
night that Scud would live.
It was the morning of my departure, and it had come by the last express
the night before. It had been kept a profound secret, for we would not
risk a cruel disappointment. Scud had rowed to town with a full fare of
fish, and Salt was with him, doing the rowing. We left word that they
should come to the house as soon as they had put up their dory. A
peremptory message was sent to Betty to come over immediately to do some
work. A few neighbors happened to drop in. There might have been a dozen
or so in all. My cousin did not go into town that day. He said he wanted
to see me off. Betty came a little early, and was set to scrubbing the
But Scud, a hero? He had forgotten all about it now. He was the same old
fellow, just as easy, just as jolly, just as careless. Scud wasn't at
all spoiled by what had happened. He was as comfortable as the sea,
this very morning. Who would have suspected the passing of a grand storm
upon the hearts of either? Scud's sluggish blood had been "up" for one
fiery hour. For one great day he had been the hero of the coast—the
peer of all its heroes. Then the fire went out, and Scud became as he
was. Perhaps Scud was more popular; his babies were better fed.
Fishermen treated him with a grudged respect, and when he was pointed
out to every new squad of boarders as the bravest man on the whole
coast, they smiled. How could that grinning, singing Scud save a
It was just eleven o'clock. With what impatience we had waited for the
tramp of those rubber boots! We rushed upon the piazza and greeted Scud
and Salt, dressed in their oil-skins, just as they had come from the
trap. Scud halted uneasily at the front door.
"No miss, I can't come in in this toggery; I'm all gurry. I'll go home
and change my clothes. Couldn't get here sooner. Herrin' jess struck. We
sold ten barr'l this mornin'."
But we constrained him, and Scud entered, staring about, shuffling his
rubber boots and wiping them as best he might. White scales of fish
glittered upon his black oil-skins. He looked as if he were mailed in
It devolved upon me to fetch Betty from the pantry; but I saw as I went
that all of the people in the parlor stood up as Scud entered, as if
they were greeting a prince. Scud looked from one to the other
uncomfortably. He blushed a deep russet red, and stared, and then
laughed in a vacant way. Betty now appeared in the doorway, and the
three made a most impressive group in their working-clothes, wondering
what it was all about, and what the city folk were after now.
"Scud," said the master of the house, clearing his throat, "you have
done the bravest deed this coast has record of for twenty years. You
have saved to us our children, dearer than our life. You had your own
wife to think of, and the children who depend upon you for their bread.
You have been a hero. To us you are always a hero, and our love and
gratitude will last as long as our days. I have the privilege of
presenting to you the highest tribute Massachusetts pays to her brave
men—the gold medal of her great Humane Society, one hundred years old.
This honor has not been sought, but has been eagerly bestowed. May it
never leave your family! It will be an inspiration to your boys. You
have obtained the reward of your pluck, and you deserve it, old fellow.
Now shake!" The speech broke in eloquence, but not in feeling.
"See," said Mabel, "I kiss the medal for you and for my dear children's
sake." She flashed it from its plush case, and placed the solemn emblem,
whose exquisite engravings glittered like a jewel, in his great wet
Salt turned his face to the wall. Betty put her apron over her face, and
Scud's eyes ran dripping over. He opened his mouth, but no sound came
"And now, Betty, look here," said her mistress in a gay, tremulous tone,
"I have something for you." She held out in her delicate hand forty
silver dollars, the gift of the Humane Society to Betty herself. "You
are a woman, and you saved a man's life," explained my cousin, "and the
society always recognizes the courage of a woman."
But Betty drew herself up in her scrubbing dress. She had a fine look.
"Thank you, ma'am," she said, "and the gentleman too. But he was my
husband; I don't take no money from nobody for savin' of my husband. I'm
just as much obleeged to ye." Almost every child in her house was
dressed in "given" clothes, but the unpauperized soul looked out of
Betty's faded eyes.
"Well," said my cousin, looking nonplussed, "how would it do to make it
over to the twins?"
"As ye please," said Betty, shining. So the four twin babies received
ten silver dollars apiece from the Humane Society for plunging into the
water and saving their father's life. This was an illegal procedure. I
grant it. And if the Society now for the first time learneth of the
matter, I am fain to believe that it is too old and too great to take
We were rowing over to catch my train. Scud was the oarsman. He sat
quite still, and had a dazed look. Midway of the bay he stopped pulling,
lifted and crossed his oars. I saw his Adam's apple rising and falling
like an irresolute tide.
"I were took all of a sudden," he said, slowly; "I never felt so in all
my life. My throat felt kinder queer an' dry. But I'm mightily obliged
to yer. It might give Salt a lift. But I didn't know what to say, an' so
I didn't say nothing'."
THE ROMANCE OF A MORTGAGE.
1111 Court Street,
Boston, Mass., Nov. 12, 1890.
Mr. Francis B. Ellesworth, University Club,
My dear Frank, I am sorry to inform you that the Benson note is
still uncollected. The party writes that he will try to pay it
soon. Our correspondent in Sunshine, S. C., considers the
Benson security in Cherokee first-class. As this is the only S.
C. mortgage that has slipped up so far on our hands, I should
advise you to be patient a few more days. Perhaps you had
better give the party leeway up to Dec. 1, if necessary, as it
is his first default since you took the papers, three years
ago. However, if you are impatient and wish to settle the
matter, send me down the trust deeds and notes. Run in any
time. I shall be glad to see you.
Very truly yours,
Young Ellesworth carefully deposited his cigar in the bronze ash
receiver on the polished table by his side, and pulled out from his
breast pocket a notebook which he consulted. After a few moments he
seemed to satisfy himself as to the identity of his mortgager Benson;
put his papers up, and sank back into a reverie.
The gray November day seemed to have contented itself with monopolizing
the streets and the faded Common, and the poor tenements, and the ragged
stragglers, and to have passed by the windows of Beacon Street, and the
luxurious smoking-room of the new University Club. Francis Ellesworth
sprawled listlessly in the deep chair by the window, and vaguely
congratulated himself that he did not have to earn his supper. It was
lucky that he did not have to, for any tyro of a physiognomist could
have seen at a glance that the delicate features, the sallow complexion,
brightened by red spots upon his cheeks, the gentle black eyes and the
straight black hair, did not belong to a robust New England body.
The trouble with Ellesworth was, not that he was rich enough not to have
to work, but that he was born at all. He considered it only a fair
compensation for this insult that three years ago he had fallen heir to
seventy-five thousand dollars, which he had successfully invested and
reinvested ever since. This occupation, and the clubs and a few other
necessary amusements formed his life.
He was not handsome, but just interesting looking enough not to pass
unnoticed. He was not vulgar; that is to say, he did not drink too much,
did not swear, and was not the kind of a fellow who compromises a woman
by his attentions. He was neither clever nor stupid. Thousands of young
men in our great cities are of this type, unimportant to men of intent,
and a missionary field to women of character.
He needed an electric shock either to kill him or make a man of him. But
perhaps, after all, Ellesworth was not wholly to blame for not trying to
make his mark; for he was not so strong as other men, as I said before,
and had, besides, so thoroughly coddled himself into that belief that
useful activity was struck off of his list of possibilities.
Now it happened that this Benson mortgage was the first which he had
taken out under his inheritance; it had a certain special interest to
him for that reason; it had netted him eight per cent. clear, and he
considered his fifteen hundred dollars well invested. His Harvard
classmate, Todd, a good judge, had selected the mortgage for him, and
altogether it seemed to the young property-holder quite an important, if
not to say a public, financial affair that this first of October passed
without producing sixty dollars from Benson. He didn't know who Benson
was; nor did he care. How many a capitalist in the East knows the sturdy
settler whose hard-earned home he holds in his relentless safe! The
drought comes, the crops wither away; the cyclone sweeps the land; the
only horse that does the ploughing dies; the mother is sick and the
father tends the babies instead of the wheat—a hundred catastrophes
menace the farmer, but whatever happens, the semi-annual dividend must
be paid or the nightmare of his life comes to pass—the terrible
capitalist in the East, less compassionate than the cyclone or the
inundation or the drought, takes the home as a matter of course, just as
he takes his dinner. Who would dare complain? Not Benson surely, thought
Ellesworth, with the smile of a man who holds a "full hand."
"Work Benson for all he is worth," wrote Ellesworth on some blue
club-paper, "and give him until the first of December."
The first of December came, but no South Carolina interest. Francis
Ellesworth was greatly annoyed and told Todd so plainly.
"He is sick," explained Todd. "Somebody else wrote for him. The letter
came the other day. But he signed it. He asks for another fifteen days."
"I'm deuced hard up just now," he said, "Christmas is coming on. That
would just settle my flower bill. Halvin has sent me three confoundedly
gentlemanly bills. That's the worst of it. Write and tell Benson I'll
give him until the fifteenth of December—not another day."
"Just as you say," answered Todd. "It's all safe enough, but it will
take some time to realize. Cherokee isn't exactly booming, but he's got
fifty acres and one half cleared, the other half is heavy yellow pine.
The timber is worth the whole amount, my correspondent assures me,
besides the house and out-buildings. You won't lose, not a cent, I'll
guarantee; but it's annoying, I will admit."
Then they fell to talking about the Yale foot-ball victory. Of course
they talked late and Ellesworth walked to his apartments in a heavy
That night, one of the catastrophes which prove demons or angels to our
lives, occurred to the young man. He was taken suddenly and violently
ill. Of the three physicians summoned by the excited janitor, to
prescribe for the sickness, one called the case pneumonia; another
preferred malaria; and the third, having just delivered an original
paper on the subject, suggested brain grippe. In only one respect the
three wise men agreed—their patient must spend the winter in the
South. Oddly enough, they recommended Sunshine, South Carolina; and as
Sunshine is a fashionable resort, with plenty of hotels and tennis and
girls, Ellesworth found no difficulty in obeying the medical counsel.
Thus in ten days he found himself in the land of the palmetto and the
japonica. It was an abrupt change, and therefore all the more natural
for that. The other day an invalid started for India on an eighteen
Ellesworth's illness and the journey had entirely driven the Benson
matter out of his mind. He had drawn upon an emergency fund for his
trip, and the fact that he was sixty dollars short had escaped his easy
memory. Therefore the further announcement from Todd that Benson could
not pay at the date agreed upon came to him as a new shock. Todd had
written a formal letter to his classmate, merely stating the fact and
asking for instructions. As Ellesworth read it, he had a vague feeling
that there was something behind that was not told. But he had just lost
a game of billiards to an inferior player, and felt cross.
"Confound that Benson!" he ejaculated. Then he sat down and wrote:
"Foreclose at once. My attorneys, Squeeze & Claw, will give you the
Benson trust deeds on presentation of this. Hurry it through as soon as
He heaved a sigh of relief, and lighted a cigar with Todd's letter.
There are critics who assert that the modern story fails of its mission
unless it deals in extraordinary characters embedded like the rare
crystals of Hiddenite, in an extraordinary matrix; and that the public,
tired to suffocation of its own commonplaces, has a right to expect
something out of the usual run. If such a dictum were final Francis
Ellesworth is in nowise a fit hero for a "penny-dreadful," nor was it
even an extraordinary circumstance that made him inquire how far
Cherokee Garden was from Sunshine.
"You can go by railroad," answered the Northern clerk, "or you can go
horseback. It's only eight miles by road through the pines. It's a very
pretty ride to take before dinner."
Ellesworth had two reasons for amusing himself by an easy trip to
Cherokee. He had a vague feeling of remorse which often follows the
decree of justice. Lincoln was made ill by being obliged to refuse a
pardon. The greater the power the heavier it hangs upon the heart.
Ellesworth, as he entertained himself in the conventional way, ever
spending, never earning, began to feel that he had done a brutal thing,
without even looking into the circumstances, to order a man's home sold
over his head, because he had failed to pay interest for the first
time. If Benson's farm were only eight miles away why did he not see him
before he sent the command to foreclose? There was an atonement owing,
and this feeling, rising like a mist in the mind of the young man, who
knew much of pleasure and little of misery, drew him to the mortgaged
plantation. And then, if Benson did prove a shiftless fellow, he wanted
to see what kind of a place he might be soon forced to own. He might
make it his winter resort and come down there every year. The more
selfish thought reinforced the generous one, and piqued his curiosity,
as he rode slowly into the wilderness, leaving Sunshine and its
fashionable savor behind.
It was a December morning. To one not used to the tropics, the sun, the
heat, the greenness, the exhilaration were magical. Under what cold
comforter was Boston Common shivering on this winter day! What pneumonic
gales roared up Beacon Street and gnashed through Commonwealth Avenue,
seeking whom they might devour, and having not a great way to go! How
blue the street vendors looked—the Italian boys who gilded statuettes
on Tremont Street, and the man under the old courthouse who offers to
clean your gloves of the unpardonable sin—for five cents! How the
fellows shivered as they stamped the snow off in the club vestibule!
The wonder that New England is not depopulated when there is such an
Eden in which to spend the devastating winter! So Ellesworth thought as
he jogged along the uneven, sandy road, congratulating himself with
every deep breath, and sitting straight and straighter in the saddle. He
had never felt so happy and so free as he did this December morning.
Passing slowly by a deserted orchard, he could see the yellow larks
flying from tree to tree, and could hear the robins and the cat-birds
calling each other names, and mocking each other merrily. Now and then
he stopped his horse to watch a couple of quails leisurely hopping
across the road, and strained his ears to hear their thrum as they were
startled in the thicket. The very air seemed happy. Care and illness
slipped away as the sunshine slipped on the faces of the leaves. It was
December? No, it was summer with something thrown in that is never
present in our Northern June.
Ellesworth galloped along until his horse stumbled into a mud-hole.
Before him, in a hollow, a stream had to be forded in the usual Southern
way. Above and beyond, a cabin could be seen from whose outside chimney
smoke arose in a perpendicular column. Cocks crew in the distance, and
there was every indication that the outskirts of Cherokee were
represented in the hut before him. As Ellesworth halted in the deepest
part of the brook, allowing his horse to drink, he saw clusters of
mistletoe on the tops of slender trees. The dark green of this romantic
parasite set against the gray of the trees and their moss formed a new
picture for the Northerner. The glistening mistletoe with its white
berries recalled scenes that he had read about. Ellesworth had played
too lightly with life to have ever been seriously in love. The
flirtation of a few weeks or months and the solemn tenderness of devoted
love are not allied. The one passes into the other as seldom as silicon
passes into the cells of a fallen tree. Ellesworth had never gone beyond
conventional devotion: and this he had so far discreetly given to
married women. This emblem of Christmas troth actually growing before
his eyes, and seen by him in its native state for the first time,
produced a vague longing upon the young New Englander. He remembered a
precise and beautiful Boston girl, rich enough and all that, whom he had
vainly tried to consider in the light of a possible wife. What well-bred
surprise would she have poured upon him if he had attempted to claim the
right of the mistletoe branch! He had waited in order to give and
receive spontaneous, unconventional tokens of affection. He had dreamed
of walking in the fields by the side of the phantom he loved, clasping
her hand and swinging it with his, just like children in Arcadia. He
wanted no wife who would accept her husband's kiss as a matter of
necessity. He had seen them, and cynically watched the husband casting
furtive, longing looks at her who swore to cherish him unto death.
Thus spoke the chaste, the alluring mistletoe to his heart. These
thoughts surprised him, and he hurried along in vague discomfort over
the little slope (the natives called it a hill) and up to the straggling
village, called in his papers of description Cherokee Garden for no
earthly reason whatever.
"Is this Cherokee Garden?" he asked of the wrinkled white woman sitting
in the doorway of the solitary suburban residence.
"This ain't the hull of it, young man," she answered severely, taking
her corn-cob pipe out of her mouth and looking at Ellesworth as if he
had cast an aspersion upon a city. "Ye kin ride down the road a right
smart bit until ye come to the kyars. The post office is on the other
side o' the track." This she said with an accent of resentment.
"Do you know where a man called William Benson lives, whom I understand
has a—a farm here somewhere?"
When Ellesworth had finished his question the old woman got up and,
supported by her stick, tottered to his side, and peered up into his
"Air ye any kin ter Bill Benson? Air ye an'thin' to him?"
"No, no," stammered Ellesworth, taken aback. "I only wanted to call on
"Ye'll hev'ter go right smart ways to find Bill Benson," replied the old
She peered up into his face again, and shook her head. Ellesworth,
wondering whether his creditor had "skipped to Cuba to avoid payment,"
"Bill Benson" (she stopped to take a whiff, and then proceeded with a
tone of awe caught from Methodist preachers) "hez gone to glory!"
"Where?" asked Boston, ignorant of the longitude and latitude of that
"To glory, young man!" repeated the old woman, impressively. "Elder
Jones buried Bill in Tantallon buryin' ground, four mile from hyar down
the track," added the woman, severely.
Her voice dropped to a whisper on the last words, and she looked to see
their effect upon the horseman. The red handkerchief, tied over her head
and under her chin, had fallen down behind her neck and revealed a bald
head. The cock crew from the step of the hut.
Benson dead! This, then, accounted for the note so long overdue. Benson
had been sick, and could not pay. Why had Ellesworth not known this
before? He reddened with self-reproach. This was the first tragedy which
he had stumbled upon, and how much of it was his own doing! The old
woman looked at him suspiciously.
"When did he die?" he asked softly.
The woman counted backwards on her fingers with the stem of her pipe.
"Right smart onto two weeks," she answered after much calculation. Then
she shot this question at him with a scowl, "Ye hain't no Northerner,
Taken off his guard, Ellesworth hesitated, and then forswore his
"I—I am living at—eh—Sunshine."
Her face lighted.
"Mebbe ye'r raised in Charleston. Ye look like a South Carolinian."
Ellesworth was drawn to it by some occult power, and nodded assent. The
old woman's manner was now totally different, and she approached him
confidentially, and offered him the use of her tin snuff-box, which he
"Ye haint heerd, so Colonel Tom Garvin told me, that a dum Northerner
hez got a holt on Bill's place; and there ain't none left now 'cept
Georgy and Mrs. McCorkle as is a widder nigh on ten year. Colonel Tom is
kin to her mother's second cousin, and he says thet thet dum Yankee hed
better not show up 'round these parts, for he'd get plugged if he tries
to take Bill's place away from Georgy, poor, innercent thing that she
is." The old woman's cracked voice thrilled with the passion and
tenderness of her kind; but Ellesworth did not look at her as she
finished. He felt a little frightened, and he bent over his horse to
fleck a bit of bark with his whip to conceal it.
"How far do they live from here?" he asked after a pause, which she
interpreted as actuated by sympathy.
"'Tain't no fur at all. Ye take the next turn to yer left. It's the
first plantation ye come to. I reckon ye'll see Georgy a dustin' and
sweepin'. She's almighty pertikler, she is, poor creetur."
Ellesworth thanked the old woman dreamily and rode in the direction
which she pointed out.
Ellesworth had never thought of this view of the subject. It never
occurred to him that he would be an object of hatred in Cherokee Garden.
He glanced around furtively, as if he expected to see an enemy hiding
behind the trees. At any rate, so far, he was not known. He made up his
mind that he should not be. Benson's daughter was undoubtedly a sallow,
withered young girl, with a hot temper and a deep sense of injury; and,
if she found out his identity would probably call the country to arms
against him. But the Yankee had no idea of giving up his rights. His
hands tightened on reins and whip. He meant to see the plantation that
was mortgaged in his name at any cost. But about one thing he was now
certain. Cherokee would never be a winter resort for him.
He walked his horse to the cross-road, to the left, about a thousand
yards or so, until he came in front of a house. He halted and looked at
it long and critically. It was a two-story house, built of yellow pine,
that had not been painted. In spite of this, it did not look neglected.
It had an air of scrupulous neatness and care. Around the house ran a
simple fence, made to keep the chickens and the pigs that swarmed about
him, from the garden and the piazza. A huge rose-bush covered one whole
side of the house, while in the garden and on the veranda red and white
japonicas were in flower. Flanking the walk from the gate to the house,
high azalea bushes were pushing forth their buds for the spring
blooming, and little borders of box protected with wooden boards, and
bunches of holly intersected the little garden. It was more than a
home-like looking place: it was fascinatingly cozy, with its roses and
camellias and azaleas and a single protecting palmetto, and
over-towering live oaks, and majestic pines. It was just the place
Ellesworth had dreamed of possessing. It was luxuriant; it was tropical.
The air, semi-spiced with odors of gum and blooms mounted to his brain
like a narcotic. He sat upon his horse and looked about. His eyes roamed
past the house and caught the contrast of the unkempt fields with the
neatness within the enclosure. He noted the olive fingers of the high
pines beyond the ploughed land.
It was a fair and a sad sight—William Benson was not there to enjoy his
With a sigh of longing and of self-reproach he turned his face toward
the house again. Before him, with one hand on the gate, stood a woman.
She was looking at him. Questions were in her eyes. Ellesworth stared at
her in amazement, and only superlatives crowded into his mind; for she
was the most glorious woman he had ever seen. She was tall, almost to
his own height, and with a proportional figure. Dressed without
ornament, without ruffle, or frill or white at the throat, in plain
black, her face revealed itself on the green background as if it were
upon a canvas by Bastien Lepage. It was a face in which there seemed to
be many nationalities blended: Italian eyes, Spanish coloring of the
cheeks, black Indian hair, rich Mexican lips,—these coördinated into
the most startling type he had ever seen, through a quick, sensitive,
high-spirited intelligence, the inheritance of Southern blood. He could
not analyze this beauty; he could only gasp at it.
Francis B. Ellesworth was, as has been intimated, not a captivating man
per se; but as he sat upon his horse, with the flush of excitement
upon his face, and a certain refinement in his carriage that looked as
much out of place in Cherokee Garden as the face of the girl before him,
he was not an unattractive fellow. Now, as the two were not over fifteen
feet apart, and were both looking at each other, one of them had to
speak. She waited for him to do so. He simply couldn't. So she spoke
"Have you lost your way, sir?"
The tremor of the dimple in her chin and the marked effort which she
made to steady her voice, showed that she was much agitated. Had she not
been expecting the man who was to take away her home for a paltry sum of
unpaid money? She had looked upon the Yankee who held her fathers notes
as little more than a thief. And now that her father had died, she
seriously considered him in the light of a murderer. She thought of his
agent as his "minion," whom it was clearly due her dignity to resist.
The case had been the talk of the scraggly village, and the judge of the
district, who was reputed to know the intricacies of all the law that
ever was tabulated, asserted vehemently in her presence that to eject
her from her home was an outrage that could not and would not be
permitted as long as the able-bodied men of Cherokee could carry a gun.
This testimony of Southern chivalry the girl fully believed.
And now the invader had come at last. She clutched the gate and
collected herself to meet him.
"No, miss, that is—is this William Benson's?—I mean——" Ellesworth
halted, remembering that his debtor was no more, and not wishing to
remind her of the fact. "Was this his place?"
The magnificent girl looked at him over that fence and measured him.
Yes, the worst had come at last, and an uncalled-for insult with it. How
the stranger gloated over the fact that the place was not her
father's! She drew herself to her full height; her black eyes blazed;
her cheeks became carmine. She could hardly control her voice from
"You mistake, sir. This is his place, and I think, sir, it will remain
She looked at him fiercely and waited to let that sentiment fructify in
the young man's soul.
"Indeed, I—I hope so," ventured Ellesworth.
Disregarding this as a feeble attempt at apology, she asked,—
"What is your name, sir? Do you come from him? Or are you he?"
The contempt which she cast into the personal pronouns had a marked
effect upon Ellesworth. The mere fact that a woman, for whom at first
sight he felt a greater admiration than he had ever bestowed elsewhere,
should be so antagonistic to him at the start, made his heart contract
within him. Yet he managed to pull himself together and say, with
"Excuse me. You must labor under a mistake. I am a total stranger here.
I am—eh—merely looking about. I am staying at Sunshine, for my
He noted with satisfaction a look of relief stealing over her face, and
a slight touch of spontaneous sympathy, too, at his last statement.
Ellesworth immediately followed the lead up.
"Yes," he said, "I am an invalid, and was ordered South for my lungs. I
have heard so much about Southern hospitality, would it be asking too
much for me to rest here awhile? I am a trifle tired after this long
He heaved a sigh and tried to look utterly fagged out as he noticed how
admirably that tack succeeded.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, sir," said the girl impulsively. "I thought you
were a lawyer or a sheriff, or perhaps a man from—Boston." She could
hardly pronounce the name of the cultured city. It stuck in her throat.
"I?" he asked in a tone of reproach. "Not at all," he answered,
laughing. "I told you that I have come from Sunshine," he added,
The girl, taking his negative as a reply to all her doubts, now opened
the gate hospitably.
"Forgive my rudeness, sir, and come in and sit awhile," she said, as
prettily as a woman could. "I'll ask Aunt McCorkle to get
you—something. Would you take a glass of milk?"
She blushed as she remembered her empty wine cellar. With a
well-feigned, languid air, which he could hardly maintain, so
boisterously the blood surged through his veins, Ellesworth walked up to
the piazza and sat down.
He looked about him in a bewildered way. The passionless white camellia
blooming by his side seemed singularly out of place. He thought of the
intoxicating Jacqueminot roses he used to order at Halvin's for that
chilly Boston girl he tried to love and couldn't. The red camellia had
more of this splendid Southern creature's color, but that too, with its
waxen, expressionless petals, had no business there either. It
exasperated him. It looked at him coolly and sarcastically as if that
which happens to a man but once in his life had not come to him.
Aunt McCorkle appeared with the glass of milk. She was a vague Southern
gentlewoman, gentle and faded and appealing. She was just what he
expected the daughter of William Benson to be. He thought of the
middle-aged and elderly Boston dames with their strong profiles and keen
eyes and decisive opinions of reforms and literature and charity. Any
one of them might have put out her arms and have taken Mrs. McCorkle up
in her lap and trotted her to sleep. Yet Ellesworth liked the Southern
lady. Already he felt a queer movement of the heart toward Georgiella
"Is it lung trouble?" inquired Aunt McCorkle sympathetically. The girl
came out of the house at this moment and sat down on the veranda under
the white camellia. She glanced at her guest with interest.
"The doctors think I shall come out all right if I am careful of my
self," replied Ellesworth, evasively.
"It is hard to be sick," said Georgiella sincerely. Illness and death
had touched her so lately and so cruelly that she could not help feeling
sorry for the sick young man.
"I have just ridden over from Sunshine, where I am living now,"
explained Ellesworth again, although his conscience gave him a twinge.
He hurried on: "You see, I'm looking for a quiet place to board in." He
made a diplomatic pause. "The Sunshine Hotel is too noisy, what with
billiards and bowling and late dances; so I rode over here to look
about, and an old lady with a pipe told me you lived here."
"That was Aunt Betsey," said the girl decisively. "But we never took
boarders," with a stately drawing up of her head, "why should she send
"My dear," protested Mrs. McCorkle mildly, "the Randolphs of Sunshine
took boarders last winter; and I suppose we could get Aunt Betsey to
cook." She rose to carry away Ellesworth's glass, and beckoned to the
girl to follow her. Evidently the two poor ladies whispered together in
the hall, consulting upon the awful problem suddenly presented to their
empty pockets and plethoric pride. They came out on the veranda again,
and Mrs. McCorkle asked him point blank what his name was. Without
perceptible hesitation he replied:
"Bigelow, madam. Frank Bigelow." The unimagined value of a middle name
suddenly presented itself to the young man's mind, and his conscience
slipped behind the camellias and made no protest. A very irreligious
baby, black in the face from howling, had been indeed baptized Francis
Bigelow in King's Chapel, twenty-nine years ago—and had since bought a
mortgage on the Benson property.
"Couldn't you take me? It's a case of charity," he pleaded, turning to
the girl beside him. "It's so noisy at the hotel, I can't sleep."
This last shot went straight to the mark. Sympathy and need are powerful
partners, and they worked together for Ellesworth's case in the hearts
of the two poor, lonely women.
It is only in the South that one can find women—ladies, and who dress
like ladies, and who hardly have ten dollars in cash the year round. The
mystery of the maintenance of their existence is not solved outside the
walls of their own homes. Proud, refined and shy, they divulge nothing.
Who is a boarder that he should think to comprehend the pathetic
ingenuity of their eventless lives?
"Are you connected with the Bigelows of Charleston?" asked Mrs.
"I think we must be another branch," replied Ellesworth, boldly.
"I will—I would pay you," added Ellesworth, blushing, "just what they
would charge me at the Sunshine Hotel, if that would be satisfactory."
"How much is that, Mr. Bigelow?" inquired Mrs. McCorkle, reddening too.
"Twenty-five dollars a week."
"That is too much. We should think that enough for a month," said the
girl, turning her wonderful face upon her visitor.
"I could not think of giving less," he insisted. Still he did not look
"Perhaps," admitted Mrs. McCorkle with a sigh, "we might take you, sir,
seeing that you are one of the Bigelow family—on trial."
"I will come," returned Ellesworth, quickly, looking straight at
Georgiella, "I will come next Monday—on trial.
"You won't look upon me as a sheriff, will you?" he added, as he mounted
at the gate, to ride back to his hotel.
The girl shook her head, as he looked down at her quizzically.
"That was very stupid of me. My mind has been full of my trouble. I have
dreamed about it, and hate the man who holds that mortgage.
"Please do not think of it any more. And when you come, sir, perhaps you
can advise us what to do."
Ellesworth looked at her gravely. What would the following week, and the
next, and the winter bring forth?
"Perhaps," he said in a whisper that might have come from the Delphian
oracle; and then he cantered away.
For the first time since her father's death, Georgiella sang that
afternoon as she walked about the garden teasing her plants to bloom.
It was Monday, the fifteenth of December. Mrs. McCorkle ushered
Ellesworth upstairs into his own room in the cottage mortgaged in his
own name. The sun poured into it like a living blessing. The rose-bush
enveloped the windows, and when the sash was raised, delicate tendrils
insinuated themselves within, as if, in Southern fashion, they would
"shake howdy." The room was dainty and home-like. It flashed across
Ellesworth as he sank into the cushioned rocking-chair with a long
breath of content, that it might have been Georgiella's. It was in the
dreamy part of the day. The sun was dipping under the high branches of
the pines. Then the luxury of leaning out of the window in December! He
could not help but think of it as his sun, and his garden and his
trees. And now Georgiella came out, bareheaded, and swept the pine
needles and leaves from the narrow box-bordered path, and snipped dead
branches from the shrubs, and then before she went to feed the chickens
she cast up at him a shy glance that made his heart leap within him. He
did not leave his room until he was called to supper. His fancy was
feverish, and kept picturing his mortgaged girl in a Boston
drawing-room, thrilling all the people he knew with her beauty. He
called it carmine beauty; but he was young and ardent.
He felt it when he first saw her, but that eventful afternoon he
formulated it and repeated it over and over again until he became
dizzy—"I love her! I love her!" And then visions of work and strength
and success, and ambitions that had been stifled, began to spring within
him like blades from watered bulbs. The electric shock had come. He knew
it. He meant to spring to it like a man.
Dreamily he dressed for supper, and dreamily descended. Mrs. McCorkle
greeted him with her fine, thin manner. The young man looked about him
curiously. Aunt Betsey waited on the table. He tried not to think of her
hospitality in the matter of snuff. The room was worn and bare and
gray; so bereft of all but the most necessary furniture that its few
ornaments had a startling conspicuousness. He noticed a fat Chinese vase
set up like an idol in an old escritoire. Over the mantel was a
glass-case religiously protecting some coins and ancient papers. A rusty
sword hung on the wall. Biographies of Lee and Jackson, flanking the
Chinese fat vase in the dilapidated escritoire, and a villainous crayon
framed in immortelles upon the wall, that probably represented his
deceased debtor, completed the ornamentation of the room. Miss Benson
entered when he had gone as far as this, and vivaciously exhibited the
bric-à-brac of the room.
"This is a Ming." She pointed to the fat vase. "I understand there isn't
another like it in the country. It belongs to the Ming dynasty."
Although from Boston, Ellesworth was not familiar with the Ming dynasty,
but he bowed and feebly ejaculated,—
"Ah! this is a real Ming, is it?"
"And there," said the young lady, bringing him before the glass-case,
"are family possessions. That is a coin of George II.; those are
Pine-tree shillings; those yellow papers are two copies of a continental
newspaper, and this is the South Carolinian continental penny."
Ellesworth inspected the treasures gravely. He did his best not to
"Very remarkable!" he murmured. "How Southern!" he thought.
"Colonel Tom Garvin says there are nothing like them in the country. I
suppose they would bring a great deal if sold," she added, wistfully.
"But we don't like to sell them. Besides, we never saw anybody who
wanted to buy them."
Acquaintance under one roof passes quickly into intimacy. Love moves
with fleet feet when two young people breakfast and dine together with a
vague chaperone. A tropical garden, soft evenings and youthful
impetuosity shorten the span to experience thought necessary to precede
Georgiella was the soul of domestic comfort—as Southern women are. She
was a high-spirited, variable, bewitching creature. At first, the
Northerner could not understand her indifference to her obligations as a
mortgager. Why did she not sell the Ming vase? She looked upon debt not
as a disgrace, but as an inconvenience. Foreclosure proceedings were
under way, and it never occurred to the two women to stop them with even
a part of the fifty dollars which Ellesworth paid for his board in
advance. When Ellesworth found out that this trait was not a pauper's,
but like Georgiella's strange beauty, constitutional, he forbore to
criticise it. In truth, he was too much in love now to criticise the
girl at all. It is probable that if she had robbed his pocketbook he
would have merely said, "How interesting! it is her tropical way."
A day or two before Christmas he drove over to Sunshine and returned
with a happy, tired face.
"You would take a Christmas present from me, wouldn't you?" he asked
with unprecedented humility.
"It's in a paper," he explained.
"What is it?" she asked uncomfortably, for she felt his serious look
"It's—eh—a trifle that I think you will like," replied Ellesworth
without a smile.
Christmas came cheerfully into the mortgaged house. Georgiella cried a
little for her father's sake. In spite of her bereavement, and of the
fact that she was sure the sheriff would attach the house that day of
all others, she did not feel very wretched. She felt that she was wicked
because she was so happy. There were wings in her heart.
It was not the custom to hang up stockings at the Benson's.
"My things have always been put into the Ming vase," Georgiella
explained, "and the others went on the breakfast table."
She did not look at Ellesworth often. Her eyes dropped. Her cheeks were
like red camellias. She felt in a hurry all of the time. The young man
himself took the situation out in looking at his watch. It seemed to him
as if the world were turning over too fast. He thought of what he meant
to do stolidly, notwithstanding.
They went out and gathered mistletoe in the swamps. He climbed trees and
tore his hands and fell into the water with zest. They brought home a
barrelful of it. He thought how he had bought it at twenty-five cents a
spray on Washington street. He held a great branch of it behind
Georgiella over her head, and looked at her. She started like a wild
animal, and kept ahead of him all the way home.
On Christmas morning Ellesworth got up early—he had hardly slept; he
could not rest, and went softly downstairs. The door into the
dining-room was open, and she was there before him. She stood before the
Ming vase. The mistletoe branch to which he had fastened his present,
and which he had set into the vase to look like a little Christmas tree,
lay tossed beneath her feet. The pearly white berries were scattered on
the floor. The mortgage was in her hand—trust deeds, principal notes,
interest notes, insurance policy. She was turning the papers over
helplessly. She looked scared and was quite pale. Her bosom heaved
boisterously. She heard him and confronted him. She managed to stammer
"What, sir, does this mean?"
It required a brave man to tell her in her present mood; but he did.
"It only means that I love you," said Ellesworth point blank.
The girl went from blinding white to blazing crimson, but she stood her
ground. The mortgage papers shook in her hands. He thought that she was
going to tear them up. To gain time, for he dared not approach her, he
stooped and picked up the disdained mistletoe. When he had raised
himself she shot out this awful question, looking at him as she did when
they first met.
The young man bowed his head before her. If he had set fire to her
place, or robbed her father's grave, she could not have regarded him
with a more crushing scorn. She tried to speak again, but her passion
"I—I give you back your home," he protested humbly. "It is mine no
longer. It is your own Don't blame me. I love you."
"My father did not bring me up to take valuable presents
from—Boston—gentlemen!" blazed the Southern girl.
She waved him aside, swept by him without another look, and melted out
of the room. But he noticed that she took the mortgage papers with her.
In the course of the morning he threw himself upon the mercy of Mrs.
"I have a right," he said; "I want to make her my wife."
"Georgiella is not behaving prettily," said Mrs. McCorkle severely. "If
a Northerner does act like a gentleman, the least a Southern girl can
do is to behave like a lady. I will speak to Georgiella, sir."
Georgiella came to the Christmas dinner with blazing eyes. She ate in
silence, looking like an offended goddess, dressed in an old black silk
gown of her mother's trimmed with aged Valenciennes lace.
But after dinner she stayed in the dining-room while Mrs. McCorkle and
Aunt Betsey went into the kitchen. She walked up to the Ming vase and
stood before it. Ellesworth followed her.
"I have been thinking it over," she began abruptly in a quaint
affectation of a business-like tone. "I will keep the mortgage—thank
you, sir. It is my home, you know," she put in pugnaciously. "But I
will pay for it, if you please."
"Pay for it!" gasped Ellesworth.
"Yes, sir; I will sell you the Ming vase," returned Miss Benson calmly,
"and the two Revolutionary papers, and the coin of George the Second and
the rest—" She waved her hand toward the glass-case. "You may take them
to Boston with you."
These were her assets. Ellesworth looked at her for a moment, torn
between astonishment, pity, amusement and love; but love got the better
of them all, and he answered solemnly,—
"Yes, I will take the Ming vase, and the Revolutionary papers, and the
old coins and you too, my darling!"
"Well, I do like you," admitted Georgiella. Suddenly she began to
droop and tremble, and then to sob. Then he held her.
"You must give me a first mortgage; you must," demanded the young man.
"I must have everything—the whole—no other claims to come in from any
quarter of the universe. You understand. You've got to be my wife!" he
exploded in a kind of glorious anger.
She could not deny him, for she thought it was the Northern way of
wooing, and smiled divinely.
"And now—may I?" He took the mistletoe branch from the Ming vase and
held it over her head. Their eyes closed in ecstacy.
Mrs. McCorkle gave a funny little feminine scream of dismay. She had
heard no sound, and had come in from the kitchen to see if they were
"And I'll put it in the trust deed," he whispered humbly, "that I will
make you happy, dear!"
When Ellesworth rode over to Sunshine for his next mail he found the
following letter awaiting him:
1111 Court Street,
Boston, Mass., Dec. 22, 1890.
Mr. Francis B. Ellesworth:
Dear Frank,—What the deuce do you mean by countermanding
Benson's foreclosure at this time of day? It makes a peck of
trouble. In Boston we are too busy to fool with affairs this
Messrs. Screw & Claw desire me to enclose their little bill.
Mine will keep until you get here.
A SEQUEL TO "A REPUBLIC WITHOUT A PRESIDENT."
The Colonel paced his cabin alone. The new expression which success
models was becoming intensified from day to day upon his face. He had
outwitted the greatest nation in the world; he had defied the best
detective service of modern times; he was rich beyond his dizziest
dreams; he could aspire to any position; he would be an eastern prince
perhaps, and drowsy-looking girls should wave peacock fans and soothe
his memory to rest with crooning songs. What a delicious future he saw
rising before him! His consummate stroke of piracy should purchase him a
life of lotus ease.
The Colonel, had at last achieved; and, as is too often the case with
extraordinary success, his stupendous act had robbed him of vitality and
invention. Already he felt and acknowledged a dismemberment of his will.
But a few days before, he was of all men, the most alert, the most
ingenious, the most courageous, the most ambitious; while now, he lived
in dreams, which he evoked as persistently as the witch of Endor evoked
the ghost of Saul. His nature had undergone a revolution, in which he
gloried. Had he been poor, he would not have accepted his sudden
enervation without a struggle. But he was rich—thank God! rich—and
rejoiced that he was to gratify his new-born languor.
His son alone had access to his luxurious cabin. That boy, who had been
the ready and ignorant accomplice of his father's picturesque villainy,
had already begun to grow thin with shame. He saw his father transformed
from a virile into a sleek man. He himself had changed during the few
days of his knowledge of the secret from a pliant boy into a silent
accusation. The Colonel could not look his son straight in the eyes.
This was the first warning to his diseased mind that he was not the
greatest man of his age.
The Colonel had moreover a sense of security that unapprehended
malefactors cannot feel. The pledge of the United States Government had
been solemnly given. He could not be punished. His freedom was assured.
Whenever he paced the deck, he filled his lungs with the pure, salt air,
and allowed them to expand without stint. There was nothing contracted
on his horizon. True, he had lost his country—but he had gained wealth.
He felt sure of admiration, and of some applause. He remembered that an
unextradited bank-robber had purchased a barony from the King of
Würtemburg, and had lived there much respected. What position might he
not buy with his American gold?
Still, he was haunted by a feeling of mingled dissatisfaction and unrest
that marred the pride he felt in his own achievement. Was it due to his
son's speechless denunciation? Or did it come from the fact that his
authority seemed to be impaired? There was no insubordination nor mutiny
among the sailors. It had not gone so far as that, with the well-paid
and well-fed men. Perhaps it never would. But men do not easily obey a
scoundrel or an outlaw except when it is understood that they are felons
In a certain sense the crew of the "Lightning" rejoiced in their
master's superb feat. The venom of piracy had entered their veins. They
firmly believed that Colonel Odminton would soon cast off his mask, and
turn the most wonderful product of marine architecture into an
irresistible pirate craft.
They dreamed of an inaccessible island—of confused wealth, of many
vices, and unrestricted carousals. Therefore they still obeyed readily,
but with an air of abandon that puzzled their commander. But Colonel
Odminton did not suspect these natural speculations, for he was looking
forward to a life of great respectability as well as of unrivalled
For ten days or so, the "Lightning" danced over the Atlantic. Of course,
it must come to shore somewhere. People cannot live on gold. They must
eat. The superb electric vessel had ice-making machines; and retorts for
distilling the salt water into fresh; but no electrodes were there, to
reduce wood to sugar or coal to beef. The Colonel felt his cheek sting
with the excitement of coming to land. At the same time he felt a
reluctance to do so. He dreaded to meet men. He could not expel the
consciousness that is common to all culprits,—namely, the feeling that
he would be the centre of observation. He could not be apprehended; but
supposing that he were not well received?
On the other hand, when the crew learned of the decision to make for
land, they were almost riotous with joy. They were mad for the
long-delayed chance to spend their high wages in vice and drink. If
nations would conspire to pass an international law to prohibit women
and rum at every port, what a magnificent stride to uninterrupted
manhood all sailors would be forced to take!
But Captain Hans Christian shook his head as the "Lightning" forged
toward the land.
There were some traits that Rupert did not inherit. His limpid heart
understood the disgrace of his position. He pined for freedom and
gradually wasted away. With feverish eyes he watched for the English
coast. It is possible that he had, bereft of an honest father, meditated
desertion at his first opportunity.
Now, at last, they sighted land. The vessel that was swifter than all
other ships afloat, was undisguised. The Colonel had no thought of
converting her into the "Mary Jane" again. No flight, no concealment was
now necessary. It was just past sunrise when the "Lightning" glided into
the troubled harbor of Penzance.
The inhabitants of Land's End are no stay-a-beds, and when the
oil-skinned fishermen, who were ready to push their boats off in the
rising tide, lifted up their eyes and beheld the graceful monster
mysteriously undulating in, with no help of sails or steam, they called
to each other, they uttered direful exclamations, and they assembled in
ever increasing groups upon the sands. One ran to the public house and
brought back to the throng a greasy proclamation, upon which the picture
of a vessel was stamped.
Upon the cliffs, red-coats pointed to the stranger, and shook their
Before the "Lightning" had dropped her anchor, the whole population of
Penzance was out, gesticulating, pointing, execrating.
"That's she, sure enough. That's her sheer in the pictur'. Them's the
di-mensions given. Blast the pirates! Old England hain't no place for
"'Ere, Bill! you get the Colonel down. We'll send 'em buzzin' to Davy
Jones' locker if they ventur' ashore here!"
The "Lightning" had come to anchor without colors at her stern. As she
had no mast, there was no opportunity to fly a signal at her head, or
the Union Jack at her peak. After the manner of steam yachts she had a
pole that could be fitted in a raking position aft.
"As it isn't eight bells, we need no flags," explained Colonel Odminton.
"Shall we fly the Union Jack, then?" asked Captain Hans Christian.
The Colonel changed color. "Fly?" he snarled, "By ——! Fly nothing!"
The men on board had noticed the confusion on the shore. They thought
little of it.
When they had escaped down the Potomac with the ransom, they forgot that
a hundred cameras were trained upon them. Even their stupendous speed
could not outstride the sensitive plate that can catch a perfect
likeness in one two-thousandth part of a second. The duplex shutter is
craftier than the criminal. The camera can outwit the cannon ball.
It did not occur to the Colonel that the United States Government would
send proclamations to every friendly nation in the world, begging each
to distribute them broadcast to every port; and that these contained a
reproduced picture of Colonel Odminton's venture, with a description of
himself; calling upon the nations to do him no harm, but to grant him no
hospitality whatever. While the Colonel was dawdling across the water,
the telegraph and the swift "Liners," had alarmed the world.
There was neither admiration nor mercy in the hearts of the millions who
were watching for the "Lightning's" appearance. For once, there were no
sentimental women waiting to cosset the bandit. He had held the
President's wife his prisoner. At last the soft heart of womanhood was
turned to stone.
In short, Colonel Odminton and his crew were declared outcasts from the
world; and even the most abandoned nations sprang to the appeal of the
United States, and stood ready to enforce the decree.
Colonel Odminton watched his launch approaching the beach. He had not
allowed his son to go, and the two stood together facing the enraged
town. Already the coast guards were drawn up, awaiting the launch. When
it had come within fifty yards of the pier, the man in command,
cried:—"Stop her!" in a loud voice.
Captain Christian obeyed quickly. He and his crew were near enough to
see that the hand of every inhabitant had grasped a stone, ready to
hurl. Hate distorted the faces of the honest Englishmen, who
traditionally loathed a pirate worse than a papist.
"We will give you half an hour to leave the harbor!" bawled the Captain
at the launch. "My orders are to fire upon every one of you who attempts
to land. There is no landing for pirates on England's shores. Get out!"
"D—— ye, get out!" The refrain was caught up from throat to throat and
hurled at the frightened sailors. The shouts reached to the vessel,
until the Colonel easily understood their import. But neither he nor
his, as yet, knew that the sight of this beautiful vessel would raise a
similar howl of hate, a like demonstration of hostility, in every port
from China, westward to San Francisco.
Hastily he gave orders to trip the anchor: in ten minutes he picked up
his men, who were cursing civilization. With the pale skin cramped upon
his face, with trembling hands and blinded eyes he guided the
"Lightning" out of the inhospitable harbor.
In an hour the world knew what had happened at Penzance. The smallest
harbor on the English and French coast thrilled with the excitement of
the novel sport, while Colonel Odminton sat in his cabin alone, bereft
of his complacency, and beginning to be touched with the terrors that
the hunted fox feels when it sights the first hound.
"Where now?" Captain Christian had been knocking gently, and now opened
his commander's door for orders. The Captain was a cautious man, and was
the only one on board, who by reason of his temperament, felt the
serious position to the full.
Colonel Odminton turned his head moodily, and scowled at his Captain.
"To hell with you!" he ejaculated.
"Yes, sir," said Captain Christian respectfully, "but we cannot get
It was deepest night when a gurgling thud, a splash of returning waters,
a rustling of chain, told that another anchor had been dropped, and that
another vessel had found rest in the harbor of Brest. Her side lights
were quickly extinguished, and a white light at her bow as she swung to
the tide, told curious eyes, if there were any, that the stranger was
snug for the night. Four bells tinkled here and tinkled there, nor did
the new-comer omit the resonant salutation to Father Time.
To starboard and to port, great hulls, not many hundred feet away, could
be distinguished by the sharpest eyes, rising blacker than the night.
The Mediterranean squadron of France had but made port the day before,
and were due in Cherbourg on the morrow. The last patient launch had
brought the last gay officer aboard, and peace commanded the formidable
Through the port-holes, veiled with silk, a light glimmered from the
unconscious vessel that had just dipped anchor. Colonel Odminton, at
that moment, was parting the curtains from his son's bed, and was
regarding him with conflicting expressions. The lad slept restlessly,
and under his father's eyes began to toss and mutter. Fearing to waken
him, the unhappy man withdrew softly to his own cabin. There he poured
himself out a full glass of brandy and began to pace the floor
It was a changed face that looked apprehensively at the door every time
the timbers creaked in the chop of the sea. He was no longer the
elegant, complacent, and successful criminal; he was the bandit at bay.
He was distrustful, suspicious, ready for revenge. If he had only had
Gatling guns aboard, he would have taught the inhabitants of Penzance a
costly lesson for their threats and curses. Now, for the first time he
rebelled against his lineage, and hated Englishmen and England with a
But France was different. Tolerant blood ran in her veins. Here he felt
secure from insult. The nation that had died in ecstasy under the nod of
Napoleon, could not be otherwise than liberal to him. Colonel Odminton
did not exactly expect a reception by the President of the Republic; but
he did look forward to a respectful and harmless curiosity that would
titillate his pride and remove the memory of his indignities.
His face began to assume a more benevolent expression, and the cowering,
snarling look which comes to those who find themselves detested for good
reasons, and thrust out, gave way to one of hope, such as comes to the
convict when his term of imprisonment is nearly over.
Soothed by such imaginations, the Colonel smiled with disdain, snapped
his finger at all the world, furtively examined his secret safe, and
went to bed.
It did not seem to him that he had been slumbering as many minutes as he
had hours, when he was startled by a violent tramping upon the deck
above him, by the clanking revolutions of the machinery that hoisted the
anchor, and then, before he had mastered his laggard senses, by
imperative knocks at his door. Colonel Odminton pulled the spring, and
his Captain bounded in. Terror was engraved on every line of that
usually calm and observant face.
"For God's sake!" he cried in broken English and Danish, "we are to be
blown up in ten minutes!" His jaws chattered without saying any more. He
was stiff with fear.
With inconceivable rapidity Colonel Odminton thrust himself into his
clothes and rushed upon deck. He had not time to put on his cap, and as
he emerged in the rosy light of the breaking sun, his bare head was seen
in all its now notorious characteristics. A cry greeted him.
Encompassed about by the huge mastiffs of war, more formidable than
anything the vaunted navy of the United States could boast, the toy
At the earliest dawn, the look-out upon the "Formidable" had discerned
the stranger, and had reported the suspicious-looking vessel to his
The French Republic, so friendly to the Government of the United States,
had eagerly distributed placards describing the nefarious Colonel and
his yacht. But yesterday, copies had been delivered into the hands of
the officers of the squadron with orders to keep a sharp watch for the
outlaw. He was not to be harmed, but to be driven away from France, if
necessary, at the torpedoes breath.
The Admiral gave quick orders, which were enthusiastically obeyed. A
fleet of launches were now untethered upon the "Lightning."
"No masts! No steam! Propelled by electricity! It is she!" Such
exclamations mixed with oaths were exchanged by the Frenchmen as they
surrounded Colonel Odminton's venture.
"Ahoy there!" cried an officer.
The sleepy Scandinavian in the Colonel's pay made no answer. He scowled
at France vindictively.
"I know you. I give you ten minutes to depart. Va t'en! Sacre Nom de
Dieu, if you ever appear on ze coast of France again, pouf! sink!"
By this time the Colonel had appeared on deck. The French natives, a
hundred of them, within less than a biscuit's throw of the most eminent
malefactor of the age, gazed at him curiously, and then burst into a
medley of curses.
As these envenomed oaths struck Colonel Odminton, he staggered as if he
had been slapped in the face. Carbines were levelled at him
threateningly; but the French officers imperiously gave orders for all
weapons to be laid aside.
By this time, Captain Hans had the anchor raised. Although this was done
by electricity, still the men worked furiously. These embryonic pirates
tottered like their commander with an overwhelming fear.
This terrible, this unexpected, this deadly persecution—how far did it
extend? What was its origin? Was it a chance indignation that had
fomented in England, and had leaped the channel, or was it a decree of
outlawry that was passed by all the world?
It was enough to scatter the Colonel's pride, to tear out of him his
complacency. The proud Southerner now knew, like the prisoner at
Chillon, what it was to feel the hair turn white. An arch traitor may
lose his own country, and get a footing in a foreign land, however
contemptible his position may be: but Colonel Odminton and his crew had
no country whatever to turn to. Civilization had with one accord arisen
against him. The islands of the sea were three thousand leagues away.
Unsteadily he touched the lever and his ill-omened craft forged ahead.
As it did so, it grazed the side of a boat. With a final curse, one of
the men in the launch stood up, wadded a piece of paper in his hands and
flung it at the Colonel. It struck the malefactor full in the face. The
paper itself did not hurt him, but that malicious act was as fatal to
him as if he had been hit in the groin by a French bullet.
Amid derisive shrieks and whistles the "Lightning" sped out of the
harbor. The men upon its decks shook their fists at France, and cast
sinister looks at their employer.
As the Colonel went below, his face white as the silver poplar, his
hands trembling like leaves in a storm, he mechanically turned at the
companionway and picked up the wad of paper that had rolled to the sill.
It was a copy of the Proclamation warning every nation not to grant him
hospitality; in the name of the American Republic.
Two hours later, the Colonel and his Captain sat opposite each other,
talking in low tones. The Proclamation lay open on the table between
"It is impossible then to provision her at all," said the Captain
slowly; "there is no hope for us, but to surrender or starve: disguise
The Colonel nodded wearily.
"We have food for twenty men for three days; we have power left to go
three thousand knots at ten knots an hour. The men are murmuring; where
can we renew our power? The yacht is useless in two weeks."
"It is lucky," continued Captain Hans, after a pregnant pause, "that
none of the men picked up this paper; you would have been knifed before
If it is possible, Colonel Odminton turned a shade paler, but he did not
say anything. The smallest child could see that he was a broken man.
What a trap had he sprung for himself!
"The case is desperate, sir," began the Captain again. "What do you
The Colonel shook his head vacantly.
"We can take the launch, the men, and the gold, abandon her here, and
land on the coast. We might escape clear."
The Colonel shook his head vigorously. He was ready to give up his life,
but not his venture.
"Then we will go, sir. Pay us, give us the launch, and we will go. We
cannot stay to be starved and tossed upon the sea with not even a
jury-mast and a handkerchief."
"Let them go, father!" Rupert had entered from his own room, and stood
pleadingly before the criminal.
The unhappy man looked at his son: back at his Captain; and nodded
"Then we will go now," said the Captain decidedly. "We are within ten
miles of the coast. The launch will carry us easily. Will you give us a
hundred thousand in gold? You may keep the rest, you and the boy and the
The Colonel mechanically went to an inner room, unlocked a secret safe,
took out a heavy weight of gold and threw it upon the table before the
Captain with a clang.
The stolen money was newly coined, and the gold glistened in the
port-hole light. The Captain tied the bag, and held out his hand as he
arose. He was honest after his kind, though a masterful man; but the
Proclamation had thrown him upon his self-interest. Still, he felt sorry
for the man whom the Proclamation had shrivelled.
One of the Colonel's faithful colored sailors was sent to the wheel. For
a half an hour there was a bustle of chests and men. There was a
counting of gold, and a commanding and warning voice. Finally there was
a splash, as the powerful launch dipped into the water from its davits.
There was a bounding of many feet, and a cry to shove her off.
"Good-bye, Colonel!" one man shouted; but the rest kept a silence. They
knew that many dangers were before them.
Then the launch became a speck against a gray coast.
"Where now, father?" asked Rupert timidly.
For the first time since the conception of his infamous deed, the man
looked his son straight between the eyes. Both faces were furrowed, and
worn, and prematurely aged; the eyes of both were sunken and rigid.
"Home, my son—home," said the Colonel gently.
"Oh, father!" cried the lad.
"Kiss me, my son, if you care to, and now leave me."
The United States had been plunged into a war with Patagonia. The How of
it was a disgrace to the Great Republic. Jingoism had done the deed,
and the mischief of the matter was that the Patagonian cruisers
outnumbered our own.
There was scurry in the navy yards, especially within that upon the
Potomac. Old, disabled monitors were galvanized into the delusion of
life: guns were hurried to bombard an inhospitable coast thousands of
Officials at their desks were telegraphing cipher dispatches to England
to furnish vessels of war on hire, which she politely refused to do.
Congress was passing an unrestricted maritime bill.
During this hubbub a very unusual thing happened to increase the
confusion of the Navy Department at Washington.
About nine o'clock in the morning, while several ships of war were
making ready for sea, a foreign torpedo boat was seen to ricochet up
the river, passing by hidden torpedoes as if she were inspired, and then
suddenly, with a swirl, coming to a dead halt before one of the largest
of the formidable vessels.
In alarm, the crew of the American flagship was drummed to arms, and the
gunners were called to their ports. Evidently the virulent torpedo-boat
was a foe, bent to suicide after she had destroyed. The fact that she
carried no flag, no masts, nothing but a bare hull, made her alarming in
the extreme. It was an apparition of death. The American fleet
trembled. At what invincible vessel would the bolt be launched? Officers
paled and swore. At this terrible display of audacity, a paralysis had
Only a boy was visible on the stern of the ominous stranger. He pulled
out a handkerchief and waved it. He seemed to touch a button, and the
anchor rattled to its length. Captain and gunners breathed relief. By
this time the murmur of the arrival had spread, and thousands of quaking
men lined the wharves to inspect the mystery.
At last someone thought of sending a boat to board her. Twenty men
manned a launch and steamed out cautiously.
"Ahoy, there! Where do you belong?" demanded the officer in charge of
"I have a letter to the President of the United States," answered the
boy with quivering lips.
"Whose vessel is this? Let down the gangway."
Two black sailors sprang from the hold of the mysterious vessel to obey.
"She belongs to the United States," replied the boy. "Please let me take
the letter. You can take the boat."
Astounded beyond measure, the officer leaped on board. No name was
"What is her name?" he asked eagerly.
"She has none. The President can name her. She was called the
'Lightning,'" said the boy steadily.
"By ——! I might have known," cried the officer. "Where is He? Who are
"He is not here. The letter tells, sir. I am his son."
Rupert put both hands upon the spokes of the wheel, and held his head up
straight. He faced the officer who had ordered the chase when the
"Lightning" escaped with his country's gold.
What thoughts went through the lad's mind? Did he regret this last and
most quixotic step? Did he long to "up the anchor," and give the signal
to fly ahead? Did he regret freedom and lawlessness? Or was his heart
that was broken by disgrace, healed by the atonement?
"Let me have the letter." The officer spoke after a long look at the son
of America's most execrated malefactor. His voice was not harsh, for he
divined how the boy's loyalty to his father and his country really
blended into an emotion which men call honor.
Rupert put his hand to his breast:—
"My orders are to deliver the letter to the President with my own hand."
"You shall do so. The President is there."
The officer pointed to a high, white monster of distinction. "He is
aboard there. He is watching you this minute. Jump in!"
The boy paled. For only a moment his courage deserted him, and he almost
tumbled into the launch.
A great crowd of witnesses had gathered about the President, as if to
The word "assassin," was whispered from man to man. Even the officer
could not command an avenue to the Chief Executive.
"Let him be brought," said the President authoritatively. With a marine
glass he had watched the motions of the vessel, the boy, and the
"I know him. Give way there! Let him come alone."
Then the men formed a living circle with the President in its midst, and
Rupert stood alone with him in it, with head bared, and with a letter in
his shaking hand.
"You are Rupert Odminton," said the President distinctly, after a long
searching gaze. "You have come with a noble purpose. What is it?"
Without answer, with blood beating a wild tattoo, the boy bowed his head
in acquiescence. He handed the President the letter. This the President
took, and opened and read. Then he did what the people will not soon
forget. He drew the son of his captor towards him, put his left hand
protectingly upon the lad's head, and with a ringing voice read the
"Mr. President, and people of the United States:—I thought
myself a god, and know myself a felon. I, who meant to instruct
the people, have learned a lesson such as even death cannot
teach. I render to you my account. My son will show you in what
secret safe in the vessel is preserved the gold that I stole
from the Treasury. It belongs to the Country. There lack a
hundred and twenty thousand dollars. I hereby bequeath the boat
to the United States in payment for the balance I owe. It cost
much more, and is the fastest vessel in the world.
Re-christened, it may be of service in the approaching war; and
the stain upon it, which my soul tells me is indelible, may
fade. I give my son to you as hostage of my good faith.
"Mr. President, I am without a country. I have no citizenship in
the world. I beg you, if your kindness prompts you, to offer me
pardon, that my bones may rest upon the soil I love. My son
will guide such a messenger of forgiveness to me. Let him be
sent soon, if at all, for my crime scourges me so that I cannot
"He was no common man," said the Secretary of State, in a voice of great
feeling. "Mr. President, I suggest that the pardon be sent immediately.
I think he has suffered enough."
The President smiled benignly.
"Mr. Secretary," he said, turning to the head of the navy, "shall we
accept the yacht? I think the Treasury will find room for the gold. Can
the navy find room for Colonel Odminton's atonement?"
The eyes of the Secretary of the Navy glistened.
"With that vessel fixed into a torpedo boat, we can whip the world! I
shall put the youngster as middy aboard of her; he understands her
better than any one else. With your permission, Mr. President, the boy
is enrolled, and his commission will be made out at once."
The Secretary bowed deferentially.
"Do you wish to enter the United States navy?" The great head of the
nation bent to the lad as he would have to his own son.
"Oh, sir! But my father," cried Rupert, broken by pride and shame and
"You will bear the pardon to-morrow," said the President kindly.
"I would rather go now. I think he needs it," whispered Rupert timidly.
Then the boy, keyed so high, fell and was borne away.
Who does not love the Everglades when he knows them? The adorer of the
warm woods had rather put his arm about a palmetto, and his cheek
against its rough surface, than be softly met by the tenderest of women.
Oh, the witchery of the moss-waving Everglades!
A longing treble cut the languorous air.
The hidden hut behind the hidden bay was empty.
The boy and the officer searched hastily and fearfully.
"He is in the woods. Oh, you know—come!"
Behind the terror-stricken son the officer plunged into the thicket.
Gloomy shades surrounded him. Warm breaths and new odors caressed him.
Almost lifted out of the body by these new sensations, he followed with
"Help! Quick!" The shrill voice recalled him. Before the officer knew
it, he was upon a figure kneeling beside a body under a great tree.
"Father! Father! He has forgiven you. It is all right!"
But the pleading voice of the lad faltered into an awful silence. The
soldier put his hand upon the penitent's head. It was warm. The dead
man's arms were outstretched upon the great tree. His body was upon the
huge roots. His lips were as if he had but just kissed the bark.
Did his sin at the last restrain him, that he dared not to touch the
soil of America, and fondle it as his own?
He had died unpardoned: it was to be, that he should be tortured to the
end. But as to when he died, they could not tell—for his strong limbs
were set; the swarming Southern ants had not desecrated him, and the
moaning tree seemed to be explaining that she had kept him warm upon her
He was buried beneath the sod to which, with the home-sickness of the
true Southerner, he had crawled back to die. They laid the pardon in
his folded hands.
The officer walked out of the Everglades, with bared head. He could not
understand his own emotion. But the weeping lad followed slowly. He
heard a cadence above the grave. Rupert understood it. It was the dirge
of the Live Oak.