The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Orde did not return to the office; he felt unwilling to face Newmark until he had a little more thoroughly digested the situation. He spent the rest of the afternoon about the place, picking up the tool house, playing with Bobby, training Duke, the black and white setter dog. Three or four times he called up Carroll by telephone; and three or four times he passed Dr. McMullen's house to shout his half of a long-distance and fragmentary conversation with her. He ate solemnly with Bobby at six o'clock, the two quite subdued over the vacant chair at the other end of the table. After dinner they sat on the porch until Bobby's bed-time. Orde put his small son to bed, and sat talking with the youngster as long as his conscience would permit. Then he retired to the library, where, for a long time, he sat in twilight and loneliness. Finally, when he could no longer distinguish objects across the room, he arose with a sigh, lit the lamp, and settled himself to read.
The last of the twilight drained from the world, and the window panes turned a burnished black. Through the half-open sashes sucked a warm little breeze, swaying the long lace curtains back and forth. The hum of lawn-sprinklers and the chirping of crickets and tree- frogs came with it.
One by one the lawn-sprinklers fell silent. Gradually there descended upon the world the deep slumbrous stillness of late night; a stillness compounded of a thousand and one mysterious little noises repeated monotonously over and over until their identity was lost in accustomedness. Occasionally the creak of timbers or the sharp scurrying of a mouse in the wall served more to accentuate than to break this night silence.
Orde sat lost in reverie, his book in his lap. At stated intervals the student lamp at his elbow flared slightly, then burned clear again after a swallow of satisfaction in its reservoir. These regular replenishments of the oil supply alone marked the flight of time.
Suddenly Orde leaned forward, his senses at the keenest attention. After a moment he arose and quietly walked toward the open window. Just as he reached the casement and looked out, a man looked in. The two stared at each other not two feet apart.
"Good Lord! Heinzman!" cried Orde in a guarded voice. He stepped decisively through the window, seized the German by the arm, and drew him one side.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
Heinzman was trembling violently as though from a chill.
"Dake me somewheres," he whispered hoarsely. "Somewheres quick. I haf broke quarantine, and dey vill be after me."
"The place for you is at your own house," said Orde, his anger rising. "What do you mean by coming here and exposing my house to infection?"
Heinzman began to blubber; choked, shivered all over, and cried aloud with an expression of the greatest agony:
"You must dake me somewheres. I must talk with you and your goot wife. I haf somedings to say to you." He in his turn grasped Orde by the arm. "I haf broke quarantine to gome and tell you. Dey are dere mit shotguns to kill me if I broke quarantine. And I haf left my daughter, my daughter Mina, all alone mit dose people to come and tell you. And now you don't listen."
He wrung his hands dramatically, his soft pudgy body shaking.
"Come with me," said Orde briefly.
He led the way around the house to the tool shed. Here he lit a lantern, thrust forward one nail keg, and sat down on another.
Heinzman sat down on the nail keg, almost immediately arose, walked up and down two or three times, and resumed his seat.
Orde looked at him curiously. He was half dressed, without a collar, his thin hair unkempt. The usual bright colour of his cheeks had become livid, and the flesh, ordinarily firm and elastic, had fallen in folds and wrinkles. His eyes burned bright as though from some internal fire. A great restlessness possessed him. Impulsively Orde leaned forward to touch his hand. It was dry and hot.
"What is it, Heinzman?" he asked quietly, fully prepared for the vagaries of a half delirium.
"Ach, Orde!" cried the German, "I am tortured mit hollenqualle--what you call?--hell's fire. You, whose wife comes in and saves my Mina when the others runs away. You, my best friends! It is Schrecklich! She vas the noblest, the best, the most kindest--"
"If you mean Mrs. Orde's staying with Mina," broke in Orde, "it was only what any one should have done, in humanity; and I, for one, am only too glad she had the chance. You mustn't exaggerate. And now you'd better get home where you can be taken care of. You're sick."
"No, no, my friend," said Heinzman, vigourously shaking his head. "She might take the disease. She might die. It vas noble." He shuddered. "My Mina left to die all alone!"
Orde rose to his feet with decision.
"That is all right," said he. "Carroll was glad of the chance. Now let me get you home."
But Heinzman's excitement had suddenly died.
"No," said he, extending his trembling hand; "sit down. I want to talk business."
"You are in no condition to talk business," said Orde.
"No!" cried Heinzman with unexpected vigour. "Sit down! Listen to me! Dot's better. I haf your note for sefenty-five t'ousand dollars. No?"
"Dot money I never lent you. NO! I'm not crazy. Sit still! I know my name is on dot note. But the money came from somewheres else. It came from your partner, Joseph Newmark."
Orde half rose from his keg.
"Why? What?" he asked in bewilderment.
"Den ven you could not pay the note, I vas to foreclose and hand over dot Northern Peninsula land to Joseph Newmark, your partner."
"Impossible!" cried Orde.
"I vas to get a share. It vas a trick."
"Go on," said Orde grimly.
"Dere is no go on. Dot is all."
"Why do you come to tell me now?"
"Because for more than one year now I say to mineself, 'Carl Heinzman, you vas one dirty scoundrel. You vas dishonest; a sneak; a thief'; I don't like to call myself names like dose. It iss all righdt to be smart; but to be a thief!"
"Why didn't you pull out?" asked Orde.
"I couldn't!" cried Heinzman piteously. "How could I? He haf me cold. I paid Stanford five hundred dollars for his vote on the charter; and Joseph Newmark, he know dot; he can prove it. He tell me if I don't do what he say, he put me in jail. Think of dot! All my friends go back on me; all my money gone; maybe my daughter Mina go back on me, too. How could I?"
"Well, he can still put you in prison," said Orde.
"Vot I care?" cried Heinzman, throwing up both his arms. "You and your wife are my friends. She save my Mina. Du lieber gott! If my daughter had died, vot good iss friends and money? Vot good iss anything? I don't vant to live! And ven I sit dere by her always something ask me: 'Vy you do dot to the peoples dot safe your Mina?' And ven she look at me, her eyes say it; and in the night everything cry out at me; and I get sick, and I can't stand it no longer, and I don't care if he send me to prison or to hell, no more."
His excitement died. He sat listless, his eyes vacant, his hands between his knees.
"Vell, I go," he said at last.
"Have you that note?" asked Orde.
"Joseph Newmark, he keeps it most times," replied Heinzman, "but now it is at my office for the foreclosure. I vill not foreclose; he can send me to the penitentiary."
"Telephone Lambert in the morning to give it to me. No; here. Write an order in this notebook."
Heinzman wrote the required order.
"I go," said he, suddenly weary.
Orde accompanied him down the street. The German was again light- headed with the fever, mumbling about his daughter, the notes, Carroll, the voices that had driven him to righteousness. By some manoeuvring Orde succeeded in slipping him through the improvised quarantine without discovery. Then the riverman with slow and thoughtful steps returned to where the lamp in the study still marked off with the spaced replenishments from its oil reservoir the early morning hours.