The adventures of Captain Horn/Chapter 44

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That night Banker was greatly disturbed by surmises and conjectures concerning the presence of the two negroes in the French capital. He knew Cheditafa quite as well as he knew Mok, and it was impossible that he should be mistaken. It is seldom that any one sees a native African in Paris, and he was positive that the men he had seen, dressed in expensive garments, enjoying themselves like gentlemen of leisure, and living at a grand hotel, were the same negroes he had last seen in rags and shreds, lodged in a cave in the side of a precipice, toiling and shuddering under the commands of a set of desperadoes on a desert coast in South America. There was only one way in which he could explain matters, and that was that the band had had some great success, and that one or more of its members had come to Paris, and had brought the two negroes with them as servants. But of one thing he had no doubts, and that was that he would follow up the case. He had met with no successes of late, but if any of his former comrades had, he wanted to meet those dear old friends. In Paris he was not afraid of anything they might say about his desertion.

Very early in the morning Banker was in front of the Hôtel Grenade. He did not loiter there; he did not wander up and down like a vagrant, or stand about like a spy. It was part of his business to be able to be present in various places almost at the same time, and not to attract notice in any of them. It was not until after ten o'clock that he saw anything worthy of his observation, and then a carriage drove up to the front entrance, and on the seat beside the driver sat Cheditafa, erect, solemn, and respectable. Presently the negro got down and opened the door of the carriage. In a few moments a lady, a beautiful lady, handsomely dressed, came out of the hotel and entered the carriage. Then Cheditafa shut the door and got up beside the driver again. It was a fine thing to have such a footman as this one, so utterly different from the ordinary groom or footman, so extremely distingué!

As the carriage rolled off, Banker walked after it, but not in such a way as to attract attention, and then he entered a cab and told the cocher to drive to the Bon Marché. Of course, he did not know where the lady was going to, but at present she was driving in the direction of that celebrated mart, and he kept his eye upon her carriage, and if she had turned out of the Boulevard and away from the Seine, he would have ordered his driver to turn also and go somewhere else. He did not dare to tell the man to follow the carriage. He was shaved, and his clothes had been put in as good order as possible, but he knew that he did not look like a man respectable enough to give such an order without exciting suspicion.

But the carriage did go to the Bon Marché, and there also went the cab, the two vehicles arriving at almost the same time. Banker paid his fare with great promptness, and was on the pavement in time to see the handsomely dressed lady descend and enter the establishment. As she went in, he took one look at the back of her bonnet. It had a little green feather in it. Then he turned quickly upon Cheditafa, who had shut the carriage door and was going around behind it in order to get up on the other side.

"Look here," whispered Banker, seizing the clerical butler by the shoulder, "who is that lady? Quick, or I'll put a knife in you."

At these words Cheditafa's heart almost stopped beating, and as he quickly turned he saw that he looked into the face of a man, an awfully wicked man, who had once helped to grind the soul out of him, in that dreadful cave by the sea. The poor negro was so frightened that he scarcely knew whether he was in Paris or Peru.

"Who is she?" whispered again the dreadful Rackbird.

"Come, come!" shouted the coachman from his seat, "we must move on."

"Quick! Who is she?" hissed Banker.

"She?" replied the quaking negro. "She is the captain's wife. She is—" But he could say no more, for a policeman was ordering the carriage to move on, for it stopped the way, and the coachman was calling impatiently. Banker could not afford to meet a policeman. He released his hold on Cheditafa and retired unnoticed. An instant afterward he entered the Bon Marché.

Cheditafa climbed up to the side of the driver, but he missed his foothold several times, and came near falling to the ground. In all Paris there was no footman on a carriage who looked less upright, less sedate, and less respectable than this poor, frightened black man.

Through the corridors and passageways of the vast establishment went Banker. But he did not have to go far. He saw at a counter a little green feather in the back of a bonnet. Quietly he approached that counter, and no sooner had the attendant turned aside to get something that had been asked for than Banker stepped close to the side of the lady, and leaning forward, said in a very low but polite voice:

"I am so glad to find the captain's wife. I have been looking for her."

He was almost certain, from her appearance, that she was an American, and so he spoke in English.

Edna turned with a start. She saw beside her a man with his hat off, a rough-looking man, but a polite one, and a man who looked like a sailor.

"The captain!" she stammered. "Have you—do you bring me anything? A letter?"

"Yes, madam," said he. "I have a letter and a message for you."

"Give them to me quickly!" said she, her face burning.

"I cannot," he said. "I cannot give them to you here. I have much to say to you, and much to tell you, and I was ordered to say it in private."

Edna was astounded. Her heart sank. Captain Horn must be in trouble, else why such secrecy? But she must know everything, and quickly. Where could she meet the man? He divined her thought.

"The Gardens of the Tuileries," said he. "Go there now, please. I will meet you, no matter in what part of it you are." And so saying, he slipped away unnoticed.

When the salesman came to her, Edna did not remember what she had asked to see, but whatever he brought she did not want, and going out, she had her carriage called, and ordered her coachman to take her to the Gardens of the Tuileries. She was so excited that she did not wait for Cheditafa to get down, but opened the door herself, and stepped in quickly, even before the porter of the establishment could attend to her.

When she reached the Gardens, and Cheditafa opened the carriage door for her, she thought he must have a fit of chills and fever. But she had no time to consider this, and merely told him that she was going to walk in the Gardens, and the carriage must wait.

It was some time before Edna met the man with whom she had made this appointment. He had seen her alight, and although he did not lose sight of her, he kept away from her, and let her walk on until she was entirely out of sight of the carriage. As soon as Edna perceived Banker, she walked directly toward him. She had endeavored to calm herself, but he could see that she was much agitated.

"How in the devil's name," he thought to himself, "did Raminez ever come to marry such a woman as this? She's fit for a queen. But they say he used to be a great swell in Spain before he got into trouble, and I expect he's put on his old airs again, and an American lady will marry anybody that's a foreign swell. And how neatly she played into my hand! She let me know right away that she wanted a letter, which means, of course, that Raminez is not with her."

"Give me the letter, if you please," said Edna. "Madam," said Banker, with a bow, "I told you I had a letter and a message. I must deliver the message first."

"Then be quick with it," said she.

"I will," said Banker. "Our captain has had great success lately, you know, but he is obliged to keep a little in the background for the present, as you will see by your letter, and as it is a very particular letter, indeed, he ordered me to bring it to you."

Edna's heart sank. "What has happened?" said she. "Why—"

"Oh, you will find all that in the letter," said Banker. "The captain has written out everything, full and clear. He told me so himself. But I must get through with my message. It is not from him. It is from me. As I just said, he ordered me to bring you this letter, and it was a hard thing to do, and a risky thing to do. But I undertook the job of giving it to you, in private, without anybody s knowing you had received it."

"What!" exclaimed Edna. "Nobody to know!"

"Oh, that is all explained," said he, hurriedly. "I can't touch on that. My affair is this: The captain sent me with the letter, and I have been to a lot of trouble to get it to you. Now, he is not going to pay me for all this,—if he thanks me, it will be more than I expect,—and I am going to be perfectly open and honest with you, and say that as the captain won't pay me, I expect you to do it; or, putting it in another way, before I hand you the letter I brought you, I want you to make me a handsome present."

"You rascal!" exclaimed Edna. "How dare you impose on me in this way!"

It humiliated and mortified her to think that the captain was obliged to resort to such a messenger as this. But all sorts of men become sailors, and although her pride revolted against the attempted imposition, the man had a letter written to her by Captain Horn, and she must have it.

"How much do you want?" said she.

"I don't mind your calling me names," said Banker. "The captain has made a grand stroke, you know, and everything about you is very fine, while I haven't three francs to jingle together. I want one thousand dollars."

"Five thousand francs!" exclaimed Edna. "Absurd! I have not that much money with me. I haven't but a hundred francs, but that ought to satisfy you."

"Oh, no," said Banker, "not at all. But don't trouble yourself. You have not the money, and I have not the letter. The letter is in my lodgings. I was not fool enough to bring it with me, and have you call a policeman to arrest me, and take it for nothing. But if you will be here in two hours, with five thousand francs, and will promise me, upon your honor, that you will bring no one with you, and will not call the police as soon as you have the letter, I will be here with it."

"Yes," said Edna, "I promise."

She felt humbled and ashamed as she said it, but there was nothing else to do. In spite of her feelings, in spite of the cost, she must have the letter.

"Very good," said Banker, and he departed.

Banker had no lodgings in particular, but he went to a brasserie and procured writing materials. He had some letters in his pocket,—old, dirty letters which had been there for a long time,—and one of them was from Raminez, which had been written when they were both in California, and which Banker had kept because it contained an unguarded reference to Raminez's family in Spain, and Banker had thought that the information might some day be useful to him. He was a good penman, this Rackbird,—he was clever in many ways,—and he could imitate handwriting very well, and he set himself to work to address an envelope in the handwriting of Raminez.

For some time he debated within himself as to what title he should use in addressing the lady. Should it be "Señora" or "Madame"? He inclined to the first appellation, but afterwards thought that as the letter was to go to her in France, and that as most likely she understood French, and not Spanish, Raminez would probably address her in the former language, and therefore he addressed the envelope to "Madame Raminez, by private hand." As to the writing of a letter he did not trouble himself at all. He simply folded up two sheets of paper and put them in the envelope, sealing it tightly. Now he was prepared, and after waiting until the proper time had arrived he proceeded to the Gardens.

Edna drove to her hotel in great agitation. She was angry, she was astounded, she was almost frightened. What could have happened to Captain Horn? But two things encouraged and invigorated her: he was alive, and he had written to her. That was everything, and she would banish all speculations and fears until she had read his letter, and, until she had read it, she must keep the matter a secret—she must not let anybody imagine that she had heard anything, or was about to hear anything. By good fortune, she had five thousand francs in hand, and, with these in her pocket-book, she ordered her carriage half an hour before the time appointed.

When Cheditafa heard the order, he was beset by a new consternation. He had been greatly troubled when his mistress had gone to the Gardens the first time—not because there was anything strange in that, for any lady might like to walk in such a beautiful place, but because she was alone, and, with a Rackbird in Paris, his lady ought never to be alone. She had come out safely, and he had breathed again, and now, now she wanted to go back! He must tell her about that Rackbird man. He had been thinking and thinking about telling her all the way back to the hotel, but he had feared to frighten her, and he had also been afraid to say that he had done what he had been ordered not to do, and had told some one that she was the captain's wife. But when he had reached the Gardens, he felt that he must say something—she must not walk about alone. Accordingly, as Edna stepped out of the carriage, he began to speak to her, but, contrary to her usual custom, she paid no attention to him, simply telling him to wait until she came back.

Edna was obliged to wander about for some time before Banker appeared.

"Now, then, madam," said he, "don't let us waste any time on this business. Have you the money with you?"

"I have," said she. "But before I give it to you, I tell you that I do so under protest, and that this conduct of yours shall be reported. I consider it a most shameful thing, and I do not willingly pay you for what, no doubt, you have been sufficiently paid before."

"That's all very well," said Banker, "I don't mind a bit what you say to me. I don't mind your being angry—in fact, I think you ought to be. In your place, I would be angry. But if you will hand me the money—"

"Silence!" exclaimed Edna. "Not another word. Where is my letter?"

"Here it is," said Banker, drawing the letter he had prepared from his pocket, and holding it in such a position that she could read the address. "You see, it is marked, 'by private hand,' and this is the private hand that has brought it to you. Now, if you will count out the money, and will hand it to me, I will give you the letter. That is perfectly fair, isn't it?"

Edna leaned forward and looked at it. When she saw the superscription, she was astonished, and stepped back.

"What do you mean?" she exclaimed, and was about to angrily assert that she was not Madame Raminez, when Banker interrupted her. The sight of her pocket-book within two feet of his hands threw him into a state of avaricious excitement.

"I want you to give me that money, and take your letter!" he said savagely. "I can't stand here fooling."

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"I want you to give me that money, and take your letter!" he said savagely.

Edna firmly gripped her pocket-book, and was about to scream, but there was no occasion for it. It had been simply impossible for Cheditafa to remain on the carriage and let her go into the Gardens alone; he had followed her, and, behind some bushes, he had witnessed the interview between her and Banker. He saw that the man was speaking roughly to her and threatening her. Instantly he rushed toward the two, and at the very top of his voice he yelled:

"Rackbird! Rackbird! Police!"

Startled out of her senses, Edna stepped back, while Banker turned in fury toward the negro, and clapped his hand to his hip pocket. But Cheditafa's cries had been heard, and down the broad avenue Banker saw two gendarmes running toward him. It would not do to wait here and meet them.

"You devil!" he cried, turning to Cheditafa, "I'll have your blood before you know it. As for you, madam, you have broken your word! I'll be even with you!" And, with this, he dashed away.

When the gendarmes reached the spot, they waited to ask no questions, but immediately pursued the flying Banker. Cheditafa was about to join in the chase, but Edna stopped him.

"Come to the carriage—quick!" she said. "I do not wish to stay here and talk to those policemen." Hurrying out of the Gardens, she drove away.

The ex-Rackbird was a very hard man to catch. He had had so much experience in avoiding arrest that his skill in that direction was generally more than equal to the skill, in the opposite direction, of the ordinary detective. A good many people and two other gendarmes joined in the chase after the man in the slouch-hat, who had disappeared like a mouse or a hare around some shrubbery. It was not long before the pursuers were joined by a man in a white cap, who asked several questions as to what they were running after, but he did not seem to take a sustained interest in the matter, and soon dropped out and went about his business. He did not take his slouch-hat out of his pocket, for he thought it would be better to continue to wear his white cap for a time.

When the police were obliged to give up the pursuit, they went back to the Gardens to talk to the lady and her servant who, in such strange words, had called to them, but they were not there.