The adventures of Captain Horn/Chapter 45
Edna went home faint, trembling, and her head in a whirl. When she had heard Cheditafa shout "Rackbird," the thought flashed into her mind that the captain had been captured in the caves by some of these brigands who had not been destroyed, that this was the cause of his silence, and that he had written to her for help. But she considered that the letter could not be meant for her, for under no circumstance would he have written to her as Madame Raminez—a name of which she had never heard. This thought gave her a little comfort, but not much. As soon as she reached the hotel, she had a private talk with Cheditafa, and what the negro told her reassured her greatly.
He did not make a very consecutive tale, but he omitted nothing. He told her of his meeting with the Rackbird in front of the Bon Marché, and he related every word of their short conversation. He accounted for this Rackbird's existence by saying that he had not been at the camp when the water came down. In answer to a question from Edna, he said that the captain of the band was named Raminez, and that he had known him by that name when he first saw him in Panama, though in the Rackbirds' camp he was called nothing but "the captain."
"And you only told him I was the captain's wife?" asked Edna. "You didn't say I was Captain Horn's wife?"
Cheditafa tried his best to recollect, and he felt very sure that he had simply said she was the captain's wife.
When his examination was finished, Cheditafa burst into an earnest appeal to his mistress not to go out again alone while she stayed in Paris. He said that this Rackbird was an awfully wicked man, and that he would kill all of them if he could. If the police caught him, he wanted to go and tell them what a bad man he was. He did not believe the police had caught him. This man could run like a wild hare, and policemen's legs were so stiff.
Edna assured him that she would take good care of herself, and, after enjoining upon him not to say a word to any one of what had happened until she told him to, she sent him away.
When Edna sat in council with herself upon the events of the morning, she was able to make some very fair conjectures as to what had happened. The scoundrel she met had supposed her to be the wife of the Rackbirds' captain. Having seen and recognized Cheditafa, it was natural enough for him to suppose that the negro had been brought to Paris by some of the band. All this seemed to be good reasoning, and she insisted to herself over and over again that she was quite sure that Captain Horn had nothing to do with the letter which the man had been intending to give her.
That assurance relieved her of one great trouble, but there were others left. Here was a member of a band of bloody ruffians,—and perhaps he had companions,—who had sworn vengeance against her and her faithful servant, and Cheditafa's account of this man convinced her that he would be ready enough to carry out such vengeance. She scarcely believed that the police had caught him. For she had seen how he could run, and he had the start of them. But even if they had, on what charge would he be held? He ought to be confined or deported, but she did not wish to institute proceedings and give evidence. She did not know what might be asked, or said, or done, if she deposed that the man was a member of the Rackbird band, and brought Cheditafa as a witness.
In all this trouble and perplexity she had no one to whom she could turn for advice and assistance. If she told Mrs. Cliff there was a Rackbird in Paris, and that he had been making threats, she was sure that good lady would fly to her home in Plainton, Maine, where she would have iron bars put to all the windows, and double locks to her doors.
In this great anxiety and terror—for, although Edna was a brave woman, it terrified her to think that a wild and reckless villain, purple with rage, had shaken his fist at her, and vowed he would kill Cheditafa—she could not think of a soul she could trust.
Her brother, fortunately, was still in Belgium with his tutor—fortunately, she thought, because, if he knew of the affair, he would be certain to plunge himself into danger. And to whom could she apply for help without telling too much of her story?
Mrs. Cliff felt there was something in the air. "You seem queer," said she. "You seem unusually excited and ready to laugh. It isn't natural. And Cheditafa looks very ashy. I saw him just a moment ago, and it seems to me a dose of quinine would do him good. It may be that it is a sort of spring fever which is affecting people, and I am not sure but that something of the kind is the matter with me. At any rate, there is that feeling in my spine and bones which I always have when things are about to happen, or when there is malaria in the air."
Edna felt she must endeavor in all possible ways to prevent Mrs. Cliff from finding out that the curses of a wicked Rackbird were in the air, but she herself shuddered when she thought that one or more of the cruel desperadoes, whose coming they had dreaded and waited for through that fearful night in the caves of Peru, were now to be dreaded and feared in the metropolis of France. If Edna shuddered at this, what would Mrs. Cliff do if she knew it?
As for the man with the white cap, who had walked slowly away about his business that morning when he grew tired of following the gendarmes, he was in a terrible state of mind. He silently raged and stormed and gnashed his teeth, and swore under his breath most awfully and continuously. Never had he known such cursed luck. One thousand dollars had been within two feet of his hand! He knew that the lady had that sum in her pocket-book. He was sure she spoke truthfully. Her very denunciation of him was a proof that she had not meant to deceive him. She hesitated a moment, but she would have given him the money. In a few seconds more he would have made her take the letter and give him the price she promised. But in those few seconds that Gehenna-born baboon had rushed in and spoiled everything. He was not enraged against the lady, but he was enraged against himself because he had not snatched the wallet before he ran, and he was infuriated to a degree which resembled intoxication when he thought of Cheditafa and what he had done. The more he thought, the more convinced he became that the lady had not brought the negro with her to spy on him. If she had intended to break her word, she would have brought a gendarme, not that ape.
No, the beastly blackamoor had done the business on his own account. He had sneaked after the lady, and when he saw the gendarmes coming, he had thought it a good chance to pay off old scores.
"Pay off!" growled Banker, in a tone which made a shop-girl, who was walking in front of him carrying a band-box, jump so violently that she dropped the box. "Pay off! I'll pay him!" And for a quarter of a mile he vowed that the present purpose of his life was the annihilation, the bloody annihilation, of that vile dog, whom he had trampled into the dirt of the Pacific coast, and who now, decked in fine clothes, had arisen in Paris to balk him of his fortune.
It cut Banker very deeply when he thought how neat and simple had been the plan which had almost succeeded. He had had a notion, when he went away to prepare the letter for the captain s wife, that he would write in it a brief message which would mean nothing, but would make it necessary for her to see him again and to pay him again. But he had abandoned this. He might counterfeit an address, but it was wiser not to try his hand upon a letter. The more he thought about Raminez, the less he desired to run the risk of meeting him, even in Paris. So he considered that if he made this one bold stroke and got five thousand francs, he would retire, joyful and satisfied. But now! Well, he had a purpose: the annihilation of Cheditafa was at present his chief object in life.
Banker seldom stayed in one place more than a day at a time, and before he went to a new lodging, that night, he threw away his slouch-hat, which he had rammed into his pocket, for he would not want it again. He had his hair cut short and his face neatly shaved, and when he went to his room, he trimmed his mustache in such a way that it greatly altered the cast of his countenance. He was not the penniless man he had represented himself to be, who had not three francs to jingle together, for he was a billiard sharper and gambler of much ability, and when he appeared in the street, the next morning, he was neatly dressed in a suit of second-hand clothes which were as quiet and respectable as any tourist of limited means could nave desired. With Baedeker's "Paris" in his hand, and with a long knife and a slung-shot concealed in his clothes, he went forth to behold the wonders of the great city.
He did not seem to care very much whether he saw the sights by day or by night, for from early morning until ten or eleven o'clock in the evening, he was an energetic and interested wayfarer, confining his observations, however, to certain quarters of the city which best suited his investigations. One night he gawkily strolled into the Black Cat, and one day he boldly entered the Hôtel Grenade and made some inquiries of the porter regarding the price of dations, which, however, he declared were far above his means. That day he saw Mok in the courtyard, and once, in passing, he saw Edna come out and enter her carriage with an elderly lady, and they drove away, with Cheditafa on the box.
Under his dark sack-coat Banker wore a coarse blouse, and in the pocket of this undergarment he had a white cap. He was a wonderful man to move quietly out of people's way, and there were places in every neighborhood where, even in the daytime, he could cast off the dark coat and the derby hat without attracting attention.
It was satisfactory to think, as he briskly passed on, as one who has much to see in a little time, that the incident in the Tuileries Gardens had not yet caused the captain's wife to change her quarters.