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Chapter 7 ON THE DARK DECK

  • > Ease, of all good gifts the best, >   War and wave at last decree: > Love alone denies us rest, >   Crueler than sword or sea.
  • >
  • > William Watson.
  • "I am Columbus every time I cross," said Shirley. "What lies out there in th_est is an undiscovered country."
  • "Then I shall have to take the part of the rebellious and doubting crew. Ther_s no America, and we're sure to get into trouble if we don't turn back."
  • "You shall be clapped into irons and fed on bread and water, and turned ove_o the Indians as soon as we reach land."
  • "Don't starve me! Let me hang from the yard-arm at once, or walk the plank. _hoose the hour immediately after dinner for my obsequies!"
  • "Choose a cheerfuller word!" pleaded Shirley.
  • "I am sorry to suggest mortality, but I was trying to let my imagination pla_ little on the eternal novelty of travel, and you have dropped me down 'ful_addom five.'"
  • "I'm sorry, but I have only revealed an honest tendency of character. Pirac_s probably a more profitable line of business than discovery. Discoverer_enefit mankind at great sacrifice and expense, and die before they ca_eceive the royal thanks. A pirate's business is all done over the counter o_ strictly cash basis."
  • They were silent for a moment, continuing their tramp. Pair weather wa_eopling the decks. Dick Claiborne was engrossed with a vivacious Californi_irl, and Shirley saw him only at meals; but he and Armitage held nigh_essions in the smoking-room, with increased liking on both sides.
  • "Armitage isn't a bad sort," Dick admitted to Shirley. "He's either an awfu_iar, or he's seen a lot of the world."
  • "Of course, he has to travel to sell his glassware," observed Shirley. "I'_urprised at your seeming intimacy with a mere 'peddler,'—and you an office_n the finest cavalry in the world."
  • "Well, if he's a peddler he's a high-class one—probably the junior member o_he firm that owns the works."
  • Armitage saw something of all the Claibornes every day in the pleasan_ntimacy of ship life, and Hilton Claiborne found the young man an interestin_alker. Judge Claiborne is, as every one knows, the best-posted American o_is time in diplomatic history; and when they were together Armitage suggeste_opics that were well calculated to awaken the old lawyer's interest.
  • "The glass-blower's a deep one, all right," remarked Dick to Shirley. "H_ollies me occasionally, just to show there's no hard feeling; then he jollie_he governor; and when I saw our mother footing it on his arm this afternoon _lmost fell in a faint. I wish you'd hold on to him tight till we're docked.
  • My little friend from California is crazy about him—and I haven't dared tel_er he's only a drummer; such a fling would be unchivalrous of me—"
  • "It would, Richard. Be a generous foe—whether—whether you can afford to be o_ot!"
  • "My sister—my own sister says this to me! This is quite the unkindest. I'_oing to offer myself to the daughter of the redwoods at once."
  • Shirley and Armitage talked—as people will on ship-board—of everything unde_he sun. Shirley's enthusiasms were in themselves interesting; but she wa_nformed in the world's larger affairs, as became the daughter of a man wh_as an authority in such matters, and found it pleasant to discuss them wit_rmitage. He felt the poetic quality in her; it was that which had firs_ppealed to him; but he did not know that something of the same sort i_imself touched her; it was enough for those days that he was courteous an_musing, and gained a trifle in her eyes from the fact that he had no tangibl_ackground.
  • Then came the evening of the fifth day. They were taking a turn after dinne_n the lighted deck. The spring stars hung faint and far through thin cloud_nd the wind was keen from the sea. A few passengers were out; the dec_tewards went about gathering up rugs and chairs for the night.
  • "Time oughtn't to be reckoned at all at sea, so that people who fee_hemselves getting old might sail forth into the deep and defy the old ma_ith the hour-glass."
  • "I like the idea. Such people could become fishers—permanently, and grow ver_ise from so much brain food."
  • "They wouldn't eat, Mr. Armitage. Brain-food forsooth! You talk like _reakfast-food advertisement. My idea—mine, please note—is for such fortunat_eople to sail in pretty little boats with orange-tinted sails and pick u_ost dreams. I got a hint of that in a pretty poem once—
  • "'Time seemed to pause a little pace,   I heard a dream go by.'"
  • "But out here in mid-ocean a little boat with lateen sails wouldn't have muc_how. And dreams passing over—the idea is pretty, and is creditable to you_magination. But I thought your fancy was more militant. Now, for example, yo_ike battle pictures—" he said, and paused inquiringly.
  • She looked at him quickly.
  • "How do you know I do?"
  • "You like Detaille particularly."
  • "Am I to defend my taste?—what's the answer, if you don't mind?"
  • "Detaille is much to my liking, also; but I prefer Flameng, as a strictl_ersonal matter. That was a wonderful collection of military and battl_ictures shown in Paris last winter."
  • She half withdrew her hand from his arm, and turned away. The sea winds di_ot wholly account for the sudden color in her cheeks. She had seen Armitag_n Paris—in cafés, at the opera, but not at the great exhibition of world- famous battle pictures; yet undoubtedly he had seen her; and she remembere_ith instant consciousness the hours of absorption she had spent before thos_anvases.
  • "It was a public exhibition, I believe; there was no great harm in seeing it."
  • "No; there certainly was not!" He laughed, then was serious at once. Shirley'_ense, arrested figure, her bright, eager eyes, her parted lips, as he saw he_efore the battle pictures in the gallery at Paris, came up before him an_ave him pause. He could not play upon that stolen glance or tease he_uriosity in respect to it. If this were a ship flirtation, it might be wel_nough; but the very sweetness and open-heartedness of her youth shielded her.
  • It seemed to him in that moment a contemptible and unpardonable thing that h_ad followed her about—and caught her, there at Paris, in an exalted mood, t_hich she had been wrought by the moving incidents of war.
  • "I was in Paris during the exhibition," he said quietly. "Ormsby, the America_ainter—the man who did the _High Tide at Gettysburg_ —is an acquaintance o_ine."
  • "Oh!"
  • It was Ormsby's painting that had particularly captivated Shirley. She ha_eturned to it day after day; and the thought that Armitage had take_dvantage of her deep interest in Pickett's charging gray line was annoying, and she abruptly changed the subject.
  • Shirley had speculated much as to the meaning of Armitage's remark at th_arriage door in Geneva—that he expected the slayer of the old Austrian prim_inister to pass that way. Armitage had not referred to the crime in any wa_n his talks with her on the _King Edward_ ; their conversations had bee_itched usually in a light and frivolous key, or if one were disposed to b_erious the other responded in a note of levity.
  • "We're all imperialists at heart," said Shirley, referring to a talk betwee_hem earlier in the day. "We Americans are hungry for empire; we're simpl_aiting for the man on horseback to gallop down Broadway and up Fifth Avenu_ith a troop of cavalry at his heels and proclaim the new dispensation."
  • "And before he'd gone a block a big Irish policeman would arrest him fo_isorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, or for giving a show without _icense, and the republic would continue to do business at the old stand."
  • "No; the police would have been bribed in advance, and would deliver the key_f the city to the new emperor at the door of St. Patrick's Cathedral, and hi_ajesty would go to Sherry's for luncheon, and sign a few decrees, and orde_he guillotine set up in Union Square. Do you follow me, Mr. Armitage?"
  • "Yes; to the very steps of the guillotine, Miss Claiborne. But the looting o_he temples and the plundering of banks—if the thing is bound to be—I shoul_ike to share in the general joy. But I have an idea, Miss Claiborne," h_xclaimed, as though with inspiration.
  • "Yes—you have an idea—"
  • "Let me be the man on horseback; and you might be—"
  • "Yes—the suspense is terrible!—what might I be, your Majesty?"
  • "Well, we should call you—"
  • He hesitated, and she wondered whether he would be bold enough to meet th_ssue offered by this turn of their nonsense.
  • "I seem to give your Majesty difficulty; the silence isn't flattering," sh_aid mockingly; but she was conscious of a certain excitement as she walke_he deck beside him.
  • "Oh, pardon me! The difficulty is only as to title—you would, of course, occupy the dais; but whether you should be queen or empress—that's the rub! I_merica is to be an empire, then of course you would be an empress. So ther_ou are answered."
  • They passed laughingly on to the other phases of the matter in the whimsica_ein that was natural in her, and to which he responded. They watched th_ights of an east-bound steamer that was passing near. The exchange of rocke_ignals—that pretty and graceful parley between ships that pass in th_ight—interested them for a moment. Then the deck lights went out so suddenl_t seemed that a dark curtain had descended and shut them in with the sea.
  • "Accident to the dynamo—we shall have the lights on in a moment!" shouted th_eck officer, who stood near, talking to a passenger.
  • "Shall we go in?" asked Armitage.
  • "Yes, it is getting cold," replied Shirley.
  • For a moment they were quite alone on the dark deck, though they heard voice_ear at hand.
  • They were groping their way toward the main saloon, where they had left Mr.
  • and Mrs. Claiborne, when Shirley was aware of some one lurking near. A figur_eemed to be crouching close by, and she felt its furtive movements and kne_hat it had passed but remained a few feet away. Her hand on Armitage's ar_ightened.
  • "What is that?—there is some one following us," she said.
  • At the same moment Armitage, too, became aware of the presence of a stoopin_igure behind him. He stopped abruptly and faced about.
  • "Stand quite still, Miss Claiborne."
  • He peered about, and instantly, as though waiting for his voice, a tall figur_ose not a yard from him and a long arm shot high above his head and descende_wiftly. They were close to the rail, and a roll of the ship sent Armitage of_is feet and away from his assailant. Shirley at the same moment threw out he_ands, defensively or for support, and clutched the arm and shoulder of th_an who had assailed Armitage. He had driven a knife at John Armitage, and wa_oising himself for another attempt when Shirley seized his arm. As he dre_ack a fold of his cloak still lay in Shirley's grasp, and she gave a shar_ittle cry as the figure, with a quick jerk, released the cloak and slippe_way into the shadows. A moment later the lights were restored, and she sa_rmitage regarding ruefully a long slit in the left arm of his ulster.
  • "Are you hurt? What has happened?" she demanded.
  • "It must have been a sea-serpent," he replied, laughing.
  • The deck officer regarded them curiously as they blinked in the glare o_ight, and asked whether anything was wrong. Armitage turned the matter off.
  • "I guess it was a sea-serpent," he said. "It bit a hole in my ulster, fo_hich I am not grateful." Then in a lower tone to Shirley: "That was certainl_ strange proceeding. I am sorry you were startled; and I am under greates_bligations to you, Miss Claiborne. Why, you actually pulled the fellow away!"
  • "Oh, no," she returned lightly, but still breathing hard; "it was the instinc_f self-preservation. I was unsteady on my feet for a moment, and sough_omething to take hold of. That pirate was the nearest thing, and I caugh_old of his cloak; I'm sure it was a cloak, and that makes me sure he was _uman villain of some sort. He didn't feel in the least like a sea-serpent.
  • But some one tried to injure you—it is no jesting matter—"
  • "Some lunatic escaped from the steerage, probably. I shall report it to th_fficers."
  • "Yes, it should be reported," said Shirley.
  • "It was very strange. Why, the deck of the _King Edward_ is the safest plac_n the world; but it's something to have had hold of a sea-serpent, or _irate! I hope you will forgive me for bringing you into such an encounter; but if you hadn't caught his cloak—"
  • Armitage was uncomfortable, and anxious to allay her fears. The incident wa_y no means trivial, as he knew. Passengers on the great transatlanti_teamers are safeguarded by every possible means; and the fact that he ha_een attacked in the few minutes that the deck lights had been out of orde_ointed to an espionage that was both close and daring. He was greatl_urprised and more shaken than he wished Shirley to believe. The thing wa_isquieting enough, and it could not but impress her strangely that he, of al_he persons on board, should have been the object of so unusual an assault. H_as in the disagreeable plight of having subjected her to danger, and as the_ntered the brilliant saloon he freed himself of the ulster with its telltal_ash and sought to minimize her impression of the incident.
  • Shirley did not refer to the matter again, but resolved to keep her ow_ounsel. She felt that any one who would accept the one chance in a thousan_f striking down an enemy on a steamer deck must be animated by very bitte_atred. She knew that to speak of the affair to her father or brother would b_o alarm them and prejudice them against John Armitage, about whom he_rother, at least, had entertained doubts. And it is not reassuring as to _an of whom little or nothing is known that he is menaced by secret enemies.
  • The attack had found Armitage unprepared and off guard, but with swif_eaction his wits were at work. He at once sought the purser and scrutinize_very name on the passenger list. It was unlikely that a steerage passenge_ould reach the saloon deck unobserved; a second cabin passenger might do so, however, and he sought among the names in the second cabin list for a clue. H_id not believe that Chauvenet or Durand had boarded the _King Edward_. H_imself had made the boat only by a quick dash, and he had left those tw_entlemen at Geneva with much to consider.
  • It was, however, quite within the probabilities that they would send some on_o watch him, for the two men whom he had overheard in the dark house on th_oulevard Froissart were active and resourceful rascals, he had no doubt.
  • Whether they would be able to make anything of the cigarette case he ha_tupidly left behind he could not conjecture; but the importance of recoverin_he packet he had cut from Chauvenet's coat was not a trifle that rogues o_heir caliber would ignore. There was, the purser said, a sick man in th_econd cabin, who had kept close to his berth. The steward believed the man t_e a continental of some sort, who spoke bad German. He had taken the boat a_iverpool, paid for his passage in gold, and, complaining of illness, retired, evidently for the voyage. His name was Peter Ludovic, and the stewar_escribed him in detail.
  • "Big fellow; bullet head; bristling mustache; small eyes—"
  • "That will do," said Armitage, grinning at the ease with which he identifie_he man.
  • "You understand that it is wholly irregular for us to let such a matter pas_ithout acting—" said the purser.
  • "It would serve no purpose, and might do harm. I will take th_esponsibility."
  • And John Armitage made a memorandum in his notebook:
  • " _Zmai_ —; _travels as Peter Ludovic_."
  • Armitage carried the envelope which he had cut from Chauvenet's coat pinne_nto an inner pocket of his waistcoat, and since boarding the _King Edward _h_ad examined it twice daily to see that it was intact. The three red wax seal_ere in blank, replacing those of like size that had originally been affixe_o the envelope; and at once after the attack on the dark deck he opened th_acket and examined the papers—some half-dozen sheets of thin linen, writte_n a clerk's clear hand in black ink. There had been no mistake in the matter; the packet which Chauvenet had purloined from the old prime minister at Vienn_ad come again into Armitage's hands. He was daily tempted to destroy it an_ast it in bits to the sea winds; but he was deterred by the remembrance o_is last interview with the old prime minister.
  • "Do something for Austria—something for the Empire." These phrases repeate_hemselves over and over again in his mind until they rose and fell with th_adence of the high, wavering voice of the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna as h_hanted the mass of requiem for Count Ferdinand von Stroebel.