Tag/Chapter VIII

From Wikisource
< Tag
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Chapter VIII

Before setting out to find the runaways Mr. Burns had endured a bad quarter of an hour. He, his prisoners and the tearful landlady were ranged before the captain’s desk, and explanations ensued. ‘The detective grew vehement in his denunciation of the bridegroom, who, pale with wrath, endeavoured to preserve his dignity and shield his bride from a scene by haughty silence. In a lull due to the denunciator’s lack of breath Mrs. Patterson murmured sweetly, “It seems so odd to lose children at a police station, doesn’t it?” She sniffed daintily at a bunch of violets in her coat, and the captain’s eyes met hers with an answering twinkle. At intervals during Mr. Burns’ speech Mrs. Trent had tremulously interjected “But they was here just a minute ago. I saw them myself.” She repeated the remark now with more animation, causing the captain to say testily, “Yes, ma’am, yes, probably you did see them a minute ago, but the question is, Do—you—see—them—now?” Which retort, thundered at her, reduced her to a state of limp speechlessness.

“Now, see here, Burns” (as that worthy was about to hold forth anew), “I’ve heard all I want to about this. I know the case an’ we've got the parties. You don’t want to waste any time chewin’ the rag, but get out and hustle. See? The kids are in Noo York an’ it’s your business to find ’em. You let ’em go, now bring em back. I give you five hours to do it in. Shut up now—Go!” And Burns, having had dealings with this particular captain before, lost no time in obeying.

He first heard from a street urchin of a “dago and his pianner” followed by a “skinny goyle, fat kid an’ a reg’lar bruiser of a dawg,” and as the trio were somewhat noticeable, he had little difficulty in finding and following clues. Upon reaching the neighbourhood of Abe’s emporium all was plain sailing, for the fame of “de show in Abe’s winder” had travelled fast. He was thus enabled to capture his quarry and return to the police station in four hours and forty minutes. He burst in upon the tired group awaiting him with triumphant bearing, and thrust forward the runaways. They were not received with effusion. Mr. Patterson frankly glared, Mrs. Patterson’s expression was one of whimsical resignation, while Mrs. Trent tearfully shook her head over Josephine’s flowing locks as betokening further depravity in her household. ‘The wanderers themselves were subdued and silent; even Cairlo appeared dejected, as if weary of this uncertain existence. Mr. Burns alone was all cheerful volubility, his antagonism to the young couple quite forgotten in the success of his mission. His account of the scene in the shop window and subsequent interview with the shop keeper and his wife was graphic in the extreme and proved quite absorbing to most of the party. While the tale was in progress Josephine looked furtively and anxiously about her, the terror of possible imprisonment once more shadowing her young soul, but observing that the owners of the hated blue uniform were grinning in a very human and jovial manner, that Mrs. Patterson was pink with laughter, and her husband wore a grim, reluctant smile, while Mrs. Trent looked merely depressed and bewildered, she took heart of grace and bobbed her head long and vigorously at Bateese. This was done partly to enjoy the sensation of billowy hair about her face, partly to allay any anxiety her fellow sinner might be experiencing. Her re-assurance was quite unnecessary however, for the plump Bateese, sitting on a bench with his legs braced on Cairlo’s back, was in a state of semi-coma induced by the fatigues and indulgences of the day. He roused once to respond to a ripple of laughter from Patty with a sleepy chuckle, then sank again into lethargy.

The story being concluded, a silence fell upon the room. The captain shifted some papers and frowned upon the door through which the French father should have entered hours ago. One of the two policemen occasionally rose, opened the door and glanced out, returning softly to his place. Mr. Burns seated himself next Bateese and watched the alleged kidnappers of that young person with keen but puzzled eyes. His inability to come to a decision in their case annoyed him. The recent escapades of the children would appear to be instigated but that it was such a clumsy affair; two odd looking youngsters and a bull dog could scarcely escape notice even in New York. Then, too, they seemed impatient, even eager, for the advent of the father, whose testimony would doubtless clear up the mystery and set the seal of guilt upon their brows. And there was always the unanswerable query—why in thunder did an apparently pleasure-loving bridal couple want to saddle themselves with a half foreign kid and a bull dog? Well, he supposed it would be explained eventually and, meanwhile, he fell back upon the usual decision that it was a question of money. The objects of his thoughts stood somewhat apart from the other occupants of the room and leaned on a window: sill, their eyes fixed on a dingy patch of courtyard, their minds busy with the possible outcome of the claiming of their protégé. The Frenchman’s late arrival at the station had been the cause of all their woe, and his present tardiness was beginning to get on their nerves. Pat turned suddenly to the captain and was about to make some irritable remark when the door was thrown open with violence and a dishevelled figure of a man stumbled in. He was excited and not over clean, and stood blinking as if suddenly thrust from sunlight to gloom. The occupants of the room became alert and expectant, all except Bateese, who continued to drowse peacefully. Leaning over his desk, the captain addressed the new arrival with some sharpness, asking his name, age, etc. The Frenchman furnished the information in stammering, broken English, then, gaining confidence, poured forth a torrent of explanations and lamentations regarding the loss of his petit garçon and his own subsequent anguish. He was silenced by a peremptory command from the desk to “look about him” and see if he recognized any of those present. As the man’s eyes travelled slowly around the room Pat and Patty held their breath in suspense. They were the first to stand the fire of his inspection. He scanned their faces carefully, but his expression underwent no change; evidently their features were not familiar; Mr. Burns he passed over with a careless glance, seemed puzzled at the tearful whiteness of Mrs. Trent’s countenance and slightly interested in the sharp eagerness of that of Josephine. Then his eyes reached Bateese and paused. Only the tapping of the captain’s pencil on his desk broke the tense stillness. The man stood gazing with dumb stupidity from the small boy to the bull dog, back to the boy again. Where was the joyful outcry? Where the glad rush to gather his son to his yearning bosom? ‘The ecstatic reunion expected by all? —Simply the man stood and stared, while Bateese dozed on and Cairlo did not so much as blink an eyelid. Patty shivered a little with nervousness and laid a hand on Pat’s arm as he in turn braced himself for the coming outburst of recognition, which he imagined to be merely delayed by the gorgeous attire of Bateese. The seconds dragged on; still no sound from the gaping foreigner, who was motionless save for restless glancing from dog to boy. Feeling eyes upon him, Bateese slowly wakened, sat up with a yawn and stretched his little legs. The spell was broken, the Frenchman stepped back muttering, “Wan boule dog! Ma foi! I see wan boule dog go on ze cab.” He turned to the captain, who said in sharp interrogation,

“Well, sir, what now?”

“Monsieur,” answered the man, his face white with disappointment, “it ees ze boule dog of ze cab, but mon petit he ees not ere, an’ for les autres I know zem not.” Then he
Page 115 (Tag, August 1909).png
broke into entreaty. “Ah, monsieur, it ees one treek you put upon me—wan leetle treek. You have heem safe, mine pauvre petit. But do not keep me to be unsure, for I so lof mine leetle one.” He looked about with wild eagerness, as if expecting the lost child to rush upon him from some hiding-place. Finding his appeal unanswered, he began to pace to and fro, gesticulating and unheeding the tears which streamed over his pale cheeks.

Patty stepped to the side of Bateese, raising his face to hers and causing it to break into its characteristic beaming smile. “There—see how he smiles. It is surely your little boy, only the clothes are different, and he was so sleepy you could not see his eyes or expression.” She looked anxiously at the distracted parent, who stopped his restless walk to exclaim,

“Ze cloes, madame! Ze cloes! You t’ink I not know mine leetle boy w’en ees cloes are change? Mon Dieu! I know heem w’en he wear everyt’ing or not’ing, an’ I say to you zis ees not mon fils. I know heem not. Nevaire before did I see heem, but a boule dog I haf seen, an’ de leetle one he was dere. A so ugly chien an’ mine leetle boy bote togedder haf I seen.” The man’s voice rose to a piercing note, as if accusing his listener of spiriting away the missing child. The captain put an end to the scene in summary fashion.

“See here,” he said sternly, “come out of your hysterics and get down to business. It seems you saw a dog an’ a kid in a cab and you think this is the dog but you know it ain’t the kid. There’s about two thousand bull dogs in New York, I guess, all havin’ a kind of family likeness, so it’s just possible you’ve made a mistake in the dog as well as the boy. Anyhow, as you ain’t lost a bull dog an’ never had one to lose, I don’t see what’s exciting you so. The question is— Is—that—boy—your—son—or—is—he—not? Answer yes or no.”

“He ees not.”

“Very well, we have to start on another tack, that’s all, an’ look somewheres else, so the sooner you git cool and give us more information on the subject, the sooner you're likely to gather in your boy. Just you sit down please, ’till I settle these people, an’ I'll see what we can do for you.”

The Frenchman sank dejectedly into a chair and the officer turned to his erstwhile prisoners.

“Now it’s up to you to see that this sort of thing—” he began briskly, but his eye was caught by the woebegone beauty of Patty’s face and his tone became gentler: “I must say, madam, we are sorry to have brought you here for nothing, and as it has been proved that you are not concerned in this business, you are free to go.” A grim smile lighted his face as he added “ and take the little boy and the bull dog with you. They are now minutely described in the police records, so you need have no fear of ever losing them again in New York.”

Pat looked at Patty and Patty looked at Pat, mutely questioning. Should they venture on the cream puff story or not? Then Pat surprised a wicked twinkle in the captain’s eye and his decision was made. Turning to Bateese, he extended a frigid hand, bowed in haughty silence and stalked out, dragging the small boy in his wake. As Patty was about to follow she met the quizzical gaze of the captain fixed upon her and her eyes were led by his to the shambling bull dog at her heels. In spite of herself her lips curled at the corners and her eyes danced, but she felt that the visible dignity of her husband must be upheld; so, merely murmuring a “good morning,” she joined Mrs. Trent and Josephine, leaving the room with a face so demure and serene as to cause the police officer some precious moments just wondering.