A curious friendship had sprung up between old Adelbert and Bobby Thorpe. I_ff hours, after school, the boy hung about the ticket-taker's booth, swep_ow to a wonderful cleanliness and adorned within with pictures cut from th_llustrated papers. The small charcoal fire was Bobby's particular care. H_ed and watched it, and having heard of the baleful effects of charcoal fumes, insisted on more fresh air than old Adelbert had ever breathed before.
"You see," Bobby would say earnestly, as he brushed away at the floor beneat_he burner, "you don't know that you are being asphyxiated. You just fee_rowsy, and then, poof!—you're dead."
Adelbert, dozing between tickets, was liable to be roused by a vigorou_haking, to a pair of anxious eyes gazing at him, and to a draft of chil_pring air from the open door.
"I but dozed," he would explain, without anger. "All my life have I breathe_he fumes and nothing untoward has happened."
Outwardly he was peaceful. The daughter now received his pension in full, an_rote comforting letters. But his resentment and bitterness at the loss of hi_osition at the Opera continued, even grew.
For while he had now even a greater wage, and could eat three meals, beside_econd breakfast and afternoon coffee, down deep in his heart old Adelber_elt that he had lost caste. The Opera—that was a setting! Great staircases o_arble, velvet hangings, the hush before the overture, and over all the magi_nd dignity of music. And before his stall had passed and repassed th_orld—royalties, the aristocracy, the army. Hoi polloi had used anothe_ntrance by which to climb to the upper galleries. He had been, then, of th_lect. Aristocrats who had forgotten their own opera-glasses had requested hi_o give them of his best, had through long years learned to know him there, and had nodded to him as they swept by. The flash of jewels on beautifu_ecks, the glittering of decorations on uniformed chests, had been his life.
And now, to what had he fallen! To selling tickets for an American catch-penn_cheme, patronized by butchers, by housemaids, by the common people a noisy, uproarious crowd, that nevertheless counted their change with suspicious eyes, and brought lunches in paper boxes, which they scattered about.
"Riff-raff!" he said to himself scornfully.
There was, however, a consolation. He had ordered a new uniform. Not fo_wenty years had he ventured the extravagance, and even now his cautious sou_uailed at the price. For the last half-dozen years he had stumped through th_treets, painfully aware of shabbiness, of a shiny back, of patches, when, o_he anniversary of the great battle to which he had sacrificed a leg, th_eterans marched between lines of cheering people.
Now, on this approaching anniversary, he could go peacefully, nay, eve_roudly. The uniform was of the best cloth, and on its second fitting showe_lready its marvel of tailoring. The news of it had gone around th_eighborhood. The tailor reported visits from those who would feel of th_loth, and figure its expensiveness. In the evening—for he worked only unti_even—he had his other preparations: polishing his sword, cleaning hi_ccouterments.
On an evening a week before the parade would occur, he got out his boots. H_ought always large boots with straight soles, the right not much differen_rom the left in shape. Thus he managed thriftily to wear, on his one leg, first one of the pair, then the other. But they were both worn now, an_ecause of the cost of the new uniform, he could not buy others.
Armed with the better of the two he visited the cobbler's shop, and there me_ith bitter news.
"A patch here, and a new heel, comrade," he said. "With that and a polishing, it will do well enough for marching."
The usual group was in the shop, mostly young men, a scattering of gray heads.
The advocates of strange doctrines, most of them. Old Adelbert disapproved o_hem, regarded them with a sort of contempt.
Now he felt that they smiled behind his back. It was his clothing, he felt. H_hrugged his shoulders disdainfully. He no longer felt ashamed before them.
Already, although the tailor still pressed its seams and marked upon it wit_halk, he was clad in the dignity of the new uniform.
He turned and nodded to them. "A fine evening," he said. "If this weathe_olds, we will have—a good day for the marching." He squinted a faded eye a_he sky outside.
Old Adelbert turned on the speaker sharply. "Probably you have forgotten," h_aid scornfully, "but in a week comes an anniversary there are many who wil_emember. The day of a great battle. Perhaps," he added, "if you do not kno_f what I speak, there are some here who will tell you."
Unexpectedly the crowd laughed.
Old Adelbert flushed a dusky red and drew himself up. "Since when," h_emanded, "does such a speech bring laughter? It was no laughing matter then."
"It is the way of the old to live in the past," a student said. Then, imitating old Adelbert's majestic tone: "We, we live in the future. Eh, comrades?" He turned to the old soldier: "You have not seen the bulletins?"
"There will be no marching, my friend. The uniform now—that is a pity. Perhap_he tailor—" His eyes mocked.
"An order of the Council. It seems that the city is bored by these ancient- reminders. It is for peace, and would forget wars. And processions are costly.
We grow thrifty. Bands and fireworks cost money, and money, my hero, i_carce—very scarce."
Again the group laughed.
After a time he grasped the truth. There was such an order. The cause wa_iven as the King's illness.
"Since when," demanded old Adelbert angrily, "has the sound of his soldiers'
marching disturbed the King?"
"The sound of wooden legs annoys him," observed the mocking student, lightin_ cigarette. "He would hear only pleasant sounds, such as the noise of tax- money pouring into his vaults. Me—I can think of a pleasanter: the tolling o_he cathedral bell, at a certain time, will be music to my ears!"
Old Adelbert stood, staring blindly ahead. At last he went out into th_treet, muttering. "They shame us before the people," he said thickly.
The order of the Council had indeed been issued, a painful business over whic_ettlich and the Council had pondered long. For, in the state of things, i_as deemed unwise to permit any gathering of the populace en masse. Mobs lea_o riots, and riots again to mobs. Five thousand armed men, veterans, but man_f them in their prime, were in themselves a danger. And on these days o_nniversary it had been the custom of the University to march also, a guard o_onor. Sedition was rife among the students.
The order was finally issued…
Old Adelbert was not keen, but he did not lack understanding. And one thing h_new, and knew well. The concierge, downstairs was no patriot. Time had bee_hen, over coffee and bread, he had tried to instill in the old soldier hi_wn discontent, his new theories of a land where all were equal and no ma_ing. He had hinted of many who believed as he did. Only hints, because ol_delbert had raised a trembling hand and proclaimed treason.
Late in the evening he made his resolve, and visited the bureau of th_oncierge. He was away, however, and his niece spoke through the barre_indow.
"Two days, or perhaps three," she said. "He is inspecting a farm in th_ountry, with a view to purchase."
The old soldier had walked by the Palace that night, and had again shaken hi_ist at its looming shadow. "You will see," he said, "there be other sound_ore painful than the thump of a wooden leg."
He was ill that night. He tossed about in a fever. His body ached, even th_eg which so long ago had mouldered in its shallow grave on a battle-field.
For these things happen. By morning he was better, but he was a different man.
His eyes glowed. His body twitched. He was stronger, too, for now he broke hi_word across his knee, and flung the pieces out of the window. And with the_ent the last fragment of his old loyalty to his King.
Old Adelbert was now, potentially, a traitor.
The spring came early that year. The last of February saw the parks green.
Snowdrops appeared in the borders of paths. The swans left their wooden house_nd drifted about in water much colder than the air. Bobby abandoned th_eroplane for a kite and threw it aloft from Pike's Peak. At night, when h_ndressed, marbles spilled out of his pockets and rolled under the mos_ifficult furniture. Although it was still cold at nights and in the earl_ornings, he abandoned the white sweater and took to looking for birds an_ests in the trees of the park. It was, of course, much too early for nests, but nevertheless he searched, convinced that even if grown-ups talked wisel_f more cold weather, he and the birds knew it was spring. And, of course, th_now-drops.
On the morning after old Adelbert had turned his back on his King, Bobb_horpe rose early, so early, indeed, that even Pepy still slept in her narro_ed, and the milk-sellers had not started on their rounds. The early risin_as a mistake, owing to a watch which had strangely gained an hour.
Somewhat disconsolately, he wandered about. Heavy quiet reigned. From a windo_e watched the meat-seller hang out a freshly killed deer, just brought fro_he mountains He went downstairs and out on the street, past the niece of th_oncierge, who was scrubbing the stairs.
"I'm going for a walk," he told her. "If they send Pepy down you might tel_er I'll be back for breakfast."
He stood for a time surveying the deer. Then he decided to go hunting himself.
The meat-seller obligingly gave him the handle of a floor-brush, and with thi_mprovised gun Bobby went deer-stalking. He turned into the Park, goin_tealthily, and searching the landscape with keen hunter's eyes. Once or twic_e leveled his weapon, killed a deer, cut off the head, and went on. His do_rotted, at his heels. When a particularly good shot presented itself, Bobb_aid, "Down, Tucker," and Tucker, who played extremely well, would lie down, ears cocked, until the quarry was secured.
Around the old city gate, still standing although the wall of which it ha_een a part was gone, there was excellent hunting. Here they killed an_kinned a bear, took fine ivory tusks from a dead elephant, and searched fo_he trail of a tiger.
The gate was an excellent place for a tiger. Around it was planted an almos_mpenetrable screen of evergreens, so thick that the ground beneath was quit_are of grass. Here the two hunters crawled on stomachs that began to feel _rifle empty, and here they happened on the trail.
Tucker found it first. His stumpy tail grew rigid. Nose to the ground, h_rawled and wriggled through the undergrowth, Bobby at his heels. And no_obby saw the trail, footprints. It is true that they resembled those of heav_oots with nails. But on the other hand, no one could say surely that th_ail-marks were not those of claws.
Tucker circled about. The trail grew more exciting. Bobby had to crawl o_ands and feet under and through thickets. Branches had been broken as by th_assage of some large body. The sportsman clutched his weapon and went on.
An hour later the two hunters returned for breakfast. Washing did something t_estore the leader to a normal appearance, but a wondering family discovere_im covered with wounds and strangely silent.
"Why, Bob, where have you been?" his mother demanded. "Why, I never saw s_any scratches!"
"I've been hunting," he replied briefly. "They don't hurt anyhow."
Then he relapsed into absorbed silence. His mother, putting cream on hi_ereal, placed an experienced hand on his forehead. "Are you sure you fee_ell, dear?" she asked. "I think your head is a little hot."
"I'm all right, mother."
She was wisely silent, but she ran over in her mind the spring treatment fo_hildren at home. The blood, she felt, should be thinned after a winter o_ausages and rich cocoa. She mentally searched her medicine case.
A strange thing happened that day. A broken plate disappeared from the uppe_helf of a closet, where Pepy had hidden it; also a cup with a nick in it, similarly concealed; also the heel of a loaf of bread. Nor was that the end.
For three days a sort of magic reigned in Pepy's kitchen. Ten potatoes, lai_ut to peel, became eight. Matches and two ends of candle walked out, as i_ere, on their own feet. A tin pan with a hole in it left the kitchen-tabl_nd was discovered hiding in Bobby's bureau, when the Fraulein put away th_ashing.
On the third day Mrs. Thorpe took her husband into their room and closed th_oor.
"Bob," she said, "I don't want to alarm you. But there is something wrong wit_obby."
"Sick, you mean?"
"I don't know." Her voice was worried. "He's not a bit like himself. He i_lways away, for one thing. And he hardly eats at all."
"He looks well enough nourished!"
"And he comes home covered with mud. I have never seen his clothes in suc_ondition. And last night, when he was bathing, I went into the bathroom. H_s covered with scratches."
"Now see here, mother," the hunter's father protested, "you're the parent of _on, a perfectly hardy, healthy, and normal youngster, with an imagination.
Probably he's hunting Indians. I saw him in the Park yesterday with his air- rifle. Any how, just stop worrying and let him alone. A scratch or two won'_urt him. And as to his not eating,—well, if he's not eating at home he'_etting food somewhere, I'll bet you a hat."
So Bobby was undisturbed, save that the governess protested that he hear_othing she told him, and was absent-minded at his lessons. But as she wa_lways protesting about something, no one paid any attention. Bobby drew ahea_n his pocket allowance without question, and as his birthday was not far off, asked for "the dollar to grow on" in advance. He always received a dollar fo_ach year, which went into the bank, and a dollar to grow on, which was hi_wn to spend.
With the dollar he made a number of purchases candles and candlestick, a to_istol and caps, one of the masks for the Carnival, now displayed in all th_indows, a kitchen-knife, wooden plates, and a piece of bacon.
Now and then he appeared at the Scenic Railway, abstracted and viewing with _alculating eye the furnishings of the engine-room and workshop. From ther_isappeared a broken chair, a piece of old carpet, discarded from a car, and _arge padlock, but the latter he asked for and obtained.
His occasional visits to the Railway, however, found him in old Adelbert'_hack. He filled his pockets with charcoal from the pail beside the stove, an_ade cautious inquiries as to methods of cooking potatoes. But the pall of ol_delbert's gloom penetrated at last even through the boy's abstraction.
"I hope your daughter is not worse," he said politely, during one of hi_isits to the ticket-booth.
"She is well. She recovers strength rapidly."
"And the new uniform—does it fit, you?"
"I do not know," said old Adelbert grimly. "I have not seen it recently."
"On the day of the procession we are all going to watch for you. I'll tell yo_here we twill be, so you can look for us."
"There will be no procession."
Then to the boy old Adelbert poured out the bitterness of his soul. He showe_here he had torn down the King's picture, and replaced it with one of a dyin_tag. He reviewed his days in the hospital, and the hardships through which h_ad passed, to come to this. The King had forgotten his brave men.
Bobby listened. "Pretty soon there won't be any kings," he observed. "M_ather says so. They're out of date."
"Aye," said old Adelbert.
"It would be kind of nice if you had a president. Then, if he acted up, yo_ould put him out."
"Aye," said old Adelbert again.
During the rest of the day Bobby considered. No less a matter than the sharin_f a certain secret occupied his mind. Now; half the pleasure of a secret i_haring it, naturally, but it should be with the right person. And his ol_layfellow was changed. Bobby, reflecting, wondered whether old Adelbert woul_eally care to join his pirate crew, consisting of Tucker and himself. On th_ext day, however, he put the matter to the test, having resolved that ol_delbert needed distraction and cheering.
"You know," he said, talking through the window of the booth, "I think when _row up I'll be a pirate."
"There be worse trades," said old Adelbert, whose hand was now against ever_an.
"And hide treasure," Bobby went on. "In a—in a cave, you know. Did you eve_ead 'Treasure Island'?"
"I may have forgotten it. I have read many things."
"You'd hardly forget it. You know—
> 'Fifteen men on a dead man's chest Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.'"
Old Adelbert rather doubted the possibility of fifteen men on one dead man'_hest, but he nodded gravely. "A spirited song," he observed.
Bobby edged closer to the window. "I've got the cave already."
"Here, in the Park. It is a great secret. I'd like to show it to you. Onl_t's rather hard to get to. I don't know whether you'd care to crawl throug_he bushes to it."
"A cave—here in the Park?"
"I'll take you, if you'd like to see it."
Old Adelbert was puzzled. The Park offered, so far as he knew, no place for _ave. It was a plain, the site of the old wall; and now planted in grass an_lowers. He himself had seen it graded and sown. A cave!
"That's a secret. But I'll show it to you, if you won't tell."
Old Adelbert agreed to silence. In fact, he repeated after the boy, in Englis_e did not understand, a most blood-curdling oath of secrecy, and made th_irate sign—which, as every one knows, is a skull and crossbones—in the ai_ith his forefinger.
"This cave," he said, half smiling, "must be a most momentous matter!"
Until midday, when the Railway opened for business, the old soldier was free.
So the next morning, due precautions having been taken, the two conspirator_et off. Three, rather, for Tucker, too, was now of the band of the blac_lag, having been taken in with due formality a day or two before, an_ehaving well and bravely during the rather trying rites of initiation.
Outside the thicket Bobby hesitated. "I ought to blindfold you," he said. "Bu_ guess you'll need your eyes. It's a hard place to get to."
Perhaps, had he known the difficulties ahead, old Adelbert would not have gon_n. And; had he turned back then, the history of a certain kingdom of Europ_ould have been changed. Maps, too, and schoolbooks, and the life-story of _mall Prince. But he went on. Stronger than his young guide, he did not crawl, but bent aside the stiff and ungainly branches of the firs. He battled wit_he thicket, and came out victorious.. He was not so old, then, or so feeble.
His arm would have been strong for the King, had not— "There it is!" crie_obby.
Not a cave, it appeared at first. A low doorway, barred with an iron grating, and padlocked. A doorway in the base of a side wall of the gate, and so heape_ith leaves that its lower half was covered.
Bobby produced a key. "I broke the padlock that was on it," he explained. "_mashed it with a stone. But I got another. I always lock it."
Prolonged search produced the key. Old Adelbert's face was set hard. On wha_ungeon had this boy stumbled? He himself had lived there many years, and o_o such aperture had he heard mention. It was strange.
Bobby was removing the leaf-mould with his hands. "It was almost all covere_hen I found it," he said, industriously scraping. "I generally close it u_ike this when I leave. It's a good place for pirates, don't you think?"
"I've brought some things already. The lock's rusty. There it goes. There ar_ats. I hope you don't mind rats."
The door swung in, silently, as though the hinges had been recently oiled; a_ndeed they had, but not by the boy.
"It's rather dirty," he explained. "You go down steps first. Be very careful."
He extended an earthy hand and led the old man down. "It's dark here, bu_here's a room below; quite a good room. And I have candles."
Truly a room. Built of old brick, and damp, but with a free circulation o_ir. Old Adelbert stared about him. It was not entirely dark. A bit of ligh_ntered from the aperture at the head of the steps. By it, even before Bobb_ad lighted his candle, he saw the broken chair, the piece of old carpet, an_he odds and ends the child had brought.
"I cook down here sometimes," said Bobby, struggling with matches that ha_elt the damp. "But it is very smoky. I should like to have a stove. You don'_now where I can get a secondhand stove, do you? with a long pipe?"
Old Adelbert felt curiously shaken. "None have visited this place since yo_ave been here?" he asked.
"I don't suppose any one knows about it. Do you?"
"Those who built it, perhaps. But it is old, very old. It is possible—"
He stopped, lost in speculation. There had been a story once of a passagewa_nder the wall, but he recollected nothing clearly. A passageway leading ou_eyond the wall, through which, in a great siege, a messenger had been sen_or help. But that was of a passage; while this was a dungeon.
The candle was at last lighted. It burned fitfully, illuminating only a tin_one in the darkness.
"I need a lantern," Bobby observed. "There's a draft here. It comes from th_ther grating. Sometime, when you have time, I'd like to see what's beyond it.
I was kind of nervous about going alone."
It was the old passage, then, of course. Old Adelbert stared as Bobby took th_andle and held it toward a second grated door, like the first, but taller.
"There are rats there," he said. "I can hear them; about a million, I guess.
They ate all the bread and bacon I left. Tucker can get through. He must hav_illed a lot of them."
"Lend me your candle."
A close examination revealed to old Adelbert two things: First, that a brick- lined passage, apparently in good repair, led beyond the grating. Second, tha_t had been recently put in order. A spade and wheelbarrow, both unmistakabl_f recent make, stood just beyond, the barrow full of bricks, as though falle_nes had been gathered up. Further, the padlock had been freshly oiled, an_he hinges of the grating. No unused passage this, but one kept in order an_epair. For what?
Bobby had adjusted the mask and thrust the knife through the belt of hi_orfolk jacket. Now, folding his arms, he recited fiercely,
> "'Fifteen men on a dead man's chest.
> Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!'"
"A spirited song," observed old Adelbert, as before. But his eyes were on th_rating.
That evening Adelbert called to see his friend, the locksmith in th_niversity Place. He possessed, he said, a padlock of which he had lost th_ey, and which, being fastened to a chest, he was unable to bring with him. _arge and heavy padlock, perhaps the size of his palm.
When he left, he carried with him a bundle of keys, tied in a brown paper.
But he did not go back to his chest. He went instead to the thicket around th_ld gate, which was still termed the "Gate of the Moon," and there, armed wit_ lantern, pursued his investigations during a portion of the night.
When he had finished, old Adelbert, veteran of many wars, one-time patriot an_ewly turned traitor, held in his shaking hands the fate of the kingdom.