Cap'n Warren's Wards by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
But, in spite of his promise, Sylvester did not report during the following week or the next. Meanwhile, his client tried his best to keep the new mystery from troubling his thoughts, and succeeded only partially. The captain's days and evenings were quiet and monotonous. He borrowed a book or two from Mrs. Hepton's meager library, read, walked a good deal, generally along the water front, and wrote daily letters to Miss Baker. He and Pearson were together for at least a portion of each day. The author, fighting down his dejection and discouragement, set himself resolutely to work once more on the novel, and his nautical adviser was called in for frequent consultation. The story, however, progressed but slowly. There was something lacking. Each knew what that something was, but neither named it.
One evening Pearson entered the room tenanted by his friend to find the latter seated beside the table, his shoes partially unlaced, and a pair of big slippers ready for putting on.
"Captain," said the visitor, "you look so comfortable I hate to disturb you."
Captain Elisha, red-faced and panting, desisted from the unlacing and straightened in his chair.
"Whew!" he puffed. "Jim, your remarks prove that your experience of the world ain't as big as it ought to be. When you get to my age and waist measure you'll realize that stoopin' over and comfort don't go together. I hope to be comfortable pretty soon; but I sha'n't be till them boots are off. Set down. The agony'll be over in a minute."
Pearson declined to sit. "Not yet," he said. "And you let those shoes alone, until you hear what I've got to say. A newspaper friend of mine has sent me two tickets for the opera to-night. I want you to go with me."
Captain Elisha was surprised.
"To the opera?" he repeated. "Why, that's a--a sort of singin' theater ain't it?"
"Yes, you're fond of music; you told me so. And Aida is beautiful. Come on! it will do us both good."
"Hum! Well, I don't know."
"I do. Get ready."
The captain looked at his caller's evening clothes.
"What do you mean by gettin' ready?" he asked. "You've got on your regimentals, open front and all. My uniform is the huntin' case kind; fits in better with church sociables and South Denboro no'theasters. If I wore one of those vests like yours Abbie'd make me put on a red flannel lung-protector to keep from catchin' pneumonia. And she'd think 'twas sinful waste besides, runnin' the risk of sp'ilin' a clean biled shirt so quick. Won't I look like an undertaker, sittin' alongside of you?"
"Not a bit. If it will ease your mind I'll change to a business suit."
"I don't care. You know how I feel; we had a little talk about hats a spell ago, you remember. If you're willin' to take me 'just as I am, without a plea,' as the hymn-tune says, why, I cal'late I'll say yes and go. Set down and wait while I get on my ceremonials."
He retired to the curtain alcove, and Pearson heard him rustling about, evidently making a hurried change of raiment. During this process he talked continuously.
"Jim," he said, "I ain't been to the theater but once since I landed in New York. Then I went to see a play named 'The Heart of a Sailor.' Ha! ha! that was a great show! Ever take it in, did you?"
"No. I never did."
"Well, you'd ought to. It's a wonder of it's kind. I learned more things about life-savin' and 'longshore life from that drayma than you'd believe was possible. You'd have got some p'ints for your Cap'n Jim yarn from that play; you sartin would! Yes, indeed! Way I happened to go to it was on account of seein' a poster on a fence over nigh where that Moriarty tribe lived. The poster pictured a bark ashore, on her beam ends, in a sea like those off the Horn. On the beach was a whole parcel of life-savers firin' off rockets and blue lights. Keepin' the Fourth of July, I judged they was, for I couldn't see any other reason. The bark wa'n't more'n a hundred foot from 'em, and if all hands on board didn't know they was in trouble by that time, then they deserved to drown. Anyhow, they wa'n't likely to appreciate the celebration. Ho! ho! Well, when I run afoul of that poster I felt I hadn't ought to let anything like that get away; so I hunted up the theater--it wa'n't but a little ways off--and got a front seat for that very afternoon."
"Was it up to the advertising?" asked Pearson.
"Was it? Hi hum! I wish you'd been there. More 'special I wished some of the folks from home had been there, for the whole business was supposed to happen on the Cape, and they'd have realized how ignorant we are about the place we live in. The hero was a strappin' six-footer, sort of a combination fisherman and parson, seemed so. He wore ileskins in fair weather and went around preachin' or defyin' folks that provoked him and makin' love to the daughter of a long-haired old relic that called himself an inventor.... Oh, consarn it!"
"What's the matter?"
"Dropped my collar button, as usual. Collar buttons are one of the Old Harry's pet traps. I'll bet their responsible for 'most as many lapses from grace as tangled fishlines. Where... Ow!... All right; I found it with my bare foot, and edge up, of course."
A series of grunts and short-breathed exclamations followed, indicating that the sufferer was struggling with a tight collar.
"Go on," commanded Pearson. "Tell me some more about the play."
"Hey? Oh, the play. Where was I?"
"You were saying that the heroine's father was an inventor."
"That's what he said he was, though he never furnished any proof. His daughter helped him with his inventions, but if she'd cut his hair once in a while 'twould have been a better way of puttin' in the time, 'cordin' to my notion. And there was a rich squire, who made his money by speculatin' in wickedness, and a mortgage, and--I don't know what all. And those Cape Cod folks! and the houses they lived in! and the way they talked! Oh, dear! oh, dear! I got my money's wuth that afternoon."
"What about the wreck? How did that happen?"
"Don't know. It happened 'cause it had to be in the play, I cal'late. The mortgage, or an 'invention' or somethin', was on board the bark and just naturally took a short cut for home, way I figgered it out. But, Jim, you ought to have seen that hero! He peeled off his ileskin-slicker--he'd kept it on all through the sunshine, but now, when 'twas rainin' and rainin' and wreckin' and thunderin', he shed it--and jumped in and saved all hands and the ship's cat. 'Twas great business! No wonder the life-savers set off fireworks! And thunder! Why, say, it never stopped thunderin' in that storm except when somebody had to make a heroic speech; then it let up and give 'em a chance. Most considerate thunder ever I heard. And the lightnin'! and the way the dust flew from the breakers! I was glad I went.... There!" appearing fully dressed from behind the curtains. "I'm ready if you are. Did I talk your head off? I ask your pardon; but that 'Heart of a Sailor' touched mine, I guess. I know I was afraid I'd laugh until it stopped beatin'. And all around the people were cryin'. It was enough sight damper amongst the seats than in those cloth waves."
The pair walked over to Broadway, boarded a street car, and alighted before the Metropolitan Opera House. Pearson's seats were good ones, well down in the orchestra. Captain Elisha turned and surveyed the great interior and the brilliantly garbed audience.
"Whew!" he muttered. "This is considerable of a show in itself, Jim. They could put our town hall inside here and the folks on the roof wouldn't be so high as those in that main skys'l gallery up aloft there. Can they see or hear, do you think?"
"Oh, yes. The accepted idea is that they are the real music lovers. They come for the opera itself. Some of the others come because--well, because it is the proper thing."
"Yes, yes; I see. That's the real article right over our heads, I suppose."
"Yes. That's the 'Diamond Horseshoe.'"
"All proper things there, hey?"
"Why--er--yes, I suppose so. What makes you ask?"
"Nothing much. I was thinking 'twas better Abbie wa'n't along on this cruise. She'd probably want to put an 'im' in front of that 'proper.' I envy those women, Jim; they didn't have to stop to hunt up collar buttons, did they."
He was silent during the first act of the opera. When the curtain fell his companion asked how he liked it.
"Good singin'," he replied; "best I ever heard. Do you understand what they say?"
"No. But I'm familiar with the story of Aida, of course. It's a favorite of mine. And the words don't really matter."
"I suppose not. It's the way they say it. I had an Irishman workin' round my barn once, and Tim Bailey drove down from Bayport to see me. I was out and Tim and the Irishman run afoul of each other. Tim stuttered so that he made a noise when he talked like one of these gasoline bicycles goin' by. He watched Mike sweepin' out the horse stall and he says, 'You're a pup--pup... I say you're a pup--.' He didn't get any further 'cause Mike went for him with the broom. Turned out later that he was tryin' to compliment that Irishman by sayin' he was a particular sort of feller. These folks on the stage might be sayin' most anythin', and I wouldn't know it. But I sha'n't knock 'em down, for I like the way it's said. When the Almighty give us music he more than made up for makin' us subject to toothache, didn't he."
Pearson bought a copy of the libretto, and the captain followed the performance of the next two acts with interest.
"Say, Jim," he whispered, with a broad grin, "it's a good thing this opera idea ain't carried into real life. If you had to sing every word you said 'twould be sort of distressin', 'specially if you was in a hurry. A fust-rate solo when you was orderin' the crew to shorten sail would be a high old brimstone anthem, I'll bet you. And think of the dinner table at our boardin' house! Mrs. Van and C. Dickens both goin' at once, and Marm Hepton serenadin' the waiter girl! Ho! ho! A cat fight wouldn't be a circumstance."
Between the third and the fourth acts the pair went out into the foyer, where, ascending to the next floor, they made the round of the long curve behind the boxes, Pearson pointing out to his friend the names of the box lessees on the brass plates.
"There!" he observed, as, the half circle completed, they turned and strolled back again, "isn't that an imposing list, Captain? Don't you feel as if you were close to the real thing?"
"Godfreys mighty!" was the solemn reply; "I was just thinkin' I felt as if I'd been readin' one of those muck-rakin' yarns in the magazines!"
The foyer had its usual animated crowd, and among them Pearson recognized a critic of his acquaintance. He offered to introduce the captain, but the latter declined the honor, saying that he cal'lated he wouldn't shove his bows in this time. "You heave ahead and see your friend, Jim," he added. "I'll come to anchor by this pillar and watch the fleet go by. I'll have to write Abbie about all this; she'll want to know how the female craft was rigged."
Left alone, he leaned against the pillar and watched the people pass and repass just behind him. Two young men paused just behind him. He could not help overhearing their conversation.
"I presume you've heard the news?" asked one, casually.
"Yes," replied the other, "I have. That is, if you mean the news concerning Mal Dunn. The mater learned it this afternoon and sprung it at dinner. No one was greatly surprised. Formal announcement made, and all that sort of thing, I believe. Mal's to be congratulated."
"His mother is, you mean. She managed the campaign. The old lady is some strategist, and I'd back her to win under ordinary circumstances. But I understand these were not ordinary; wise owl of a guardian to be circumvented, or something of that sort."
"From what I hear the Dunns haven't won so much after all. There was a big shrinkage when papa died, so they say. Instead of three or four millions it panned out to be a good deal less than one. I don't know much about it, because our family and theirs have drifted apart since they moved."
"Humph! I imagine whatever the pan-out it will be welcome. The Dunns are dangerously close to the ragged edge; everybody has been on to that for some time. And it takes a few ducats to keep Mal going. He's no Uncle Russell when it comes to putting by for the rainy day."
"Well, on the whole, I'm rather sorry for--the other party. Mal is a good enough fellow, and he certainly is a game sport; but--"
They moved on, and Captain Elisha heard no more. But what he had heard was quite sufficient. He sat through the remainder of the opera in silence and answered all his friend's questions and remarks curtly and absently.
As they stepped into the trolley Pearson bought an evening paper, not the Planet, but a dignified sheet which shunned sensationalism and devoted much space to the doings of the safe, sane, and ultra-respectable element. Perceiving that his companion, for some reason, did not care to talk, he read as the car moved downtown. Suddenly Captain Elisha was awakened from his reverie by hearing his friend utter an exclamation. Looking up, the captain saw that he was leaning back in the seat, the paper lying unheeded in his lap.
"What's the matter?" asked the older man, anxiously.
Pearson started, glanced quickly at his friend, hesitated, and looked down again.
"Nothing--now," he answered, brusquely. "We get out here. Come."
He rose, picked up the paper with a hand that shook a little, and led the way to the door of the car. Captain Elisha followed, and they strode up the deserted side street. Pearson walked so rapidly that his companion was hard pushed to keep pace with him. When they stood together in the dimly lit hall of the boarding house, the captain spoke again.
"Well, Jim," he asked in a low tone, "what is it? You may as well tell me. Maybe I can guess, anyhow."
The young man reached up and turned the gas full on. In spite of the cold from which they had just come, his face was white. He folded the paper in his hand, and with his forefinger pointed to its uppermost page.
"There it is," he said. "Read it."
Captain Elisha took the paper, drew his spectacle case from his pocket, adjusted his glasses and read. The item was among those under the head of "Personal and Social." It was what he expected. "The engagement is to-day announced of Miss Caroline Warren, daughter of the late A. Rodgers Warren, the well-known broker, to Mr. Malcolm Corcoran Dunn, of Fifth Avenue. Miss Warren, it will be remembered, was one of the most charming of our season-before-last's debutantes and--" etc.
The captain read the brief item through.
"Yes," he said, slowly, "I see."
Pearson looked at him in amazement.
"You see!" he repeated. "You--Why! Did you know it?"
"I've been afraid of it for some time. To-night, when you left me alone there in the quarter-deck of that opera house, I happened to hear two young chaps talkin' about it. So you might say I knew--Yes."
"Good heavens! and you can stand there and--What are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know--yet."
"Are you going to permit her to marry that--that fellow?"
"Well, I ain't sartin that I can stop her."
"My God, man! Do you realize--and she--your niece--why--"
"There! there! Jim. I realize it all, I cal'late. It's my business to realize it."
"And it isn't mine. No, of course it isn't; you're right there."
He turned and strode toward the foot of the stairs.
"Hold on!" commanded the captain. "Hold on, Jim! Don't you go off ha'f cocked. When I said 'twas my business to realize this thing, I meant just that and nothin' more. I wa'n't hintin', and you ought to know it. You do know it, don't you?"
The young man paused. "Yes," he answered, after an instant's struggle with his feelings; "yes, I do. I beg your pardon, Captain."
"All right. And here's somethin' else; I just told you I wasn't sartin I could stop the marriage. That's the truth. But I don't recollect sayin' I'd actually hauled down the colors, not yet. Good night."
"Good night, Captain. I shouldn't have misunderstood you, of course. But, as you know, I respected and admired your niece. And this thing has--has--"
"Sort of knocked you on your beam ends, I understand. Well, Jim," with a sigh, "I ain't exactly on an even keel myself."
They separated, Pearson going to his room. As Captain Elisha was passing through the hall on the second floor, he heard someone calling him by name. Turning, he saw his landlady's head, bristling with curl papers, protruding from behind the door at the other end of the passage.
"Captain Warren," she asked, "is that you?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied the captain, turning back.
"Well, I've got a message for you. A Mr. Sylvester has 'phoned you twice this evening. He wishes to see you at his office at the earliest possible moment. He says it is very important."