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Chapter 25 THE GATE OF THE MOON

  • 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.
  • "What marching?"
  • 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?"
  • "Bulletins?"
  • "There will be no marching, my friend. The uniform now—that is a pity. Perhap_he tailor—" His eyes mocked.
  • "No marching?"
  • "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.
  • But now?
  • 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."
  • "So!"
  • "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!
  • "Where?"
  • "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?"
  • "Excellent!"
  • "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.