Then he wiped her eyes with his own handkerchief and led her in to the service. Their own pew was already full. He had to take her back into Dr. Metcalf's pew.
So Matty was spared one annoyance which was prepared for her.
Directly in front of her father's pew, sitting in the most conspicuous seat on the other side of the aisle, was the hateful Mr. Greenhithe.
Had he put himself there to watch Matty's face?
If he did, he was disappointed. If he had persuaded himself he was to see a pale cheek or tearful eyes, or that he was going to compel her to drop her veil, he had reckoned quite without his host. Whenever he did look that way, all he saw was the face of Master Horace. Horace was engaged in counting the large tassels on his side of the pulpit curtains; in counting, also, the number of small tassels between them, and from the data thus obtained, in calculating how many tassels there must be on all the curtains to the pulpit, and how many on the curtains behind the rail to the chancel. Mr. Greenhithe, therefore, had but little comfort in studying Horace's face.
Just as the Creed was finished, when the rest of the church was still, the sexton led up the aisle a grim- looking man, with a shaggy coat and a very dirty face, and brought him close to the door of Mr. Molyneux's pew— as if he would fain bring him in. Mr. Molyneux was at the end of the pew, but happened to be turning away from the aisle, and the sexton actually touched him. He turned round and looked at the stranger,—evidently did not know him,—but with the instinct of hospitality, stepped into the aisle and offered him his seat. The stranger was embarrassed; hesitated as if he would speak, then shook his head in refusal of the attention, and crossing the aisle, took a seat offered him there, in full sight of Mr. Molyneux, and, indeed, of Matty.
Poor girl! The trifle—of course it was a trifle— upset her sadly.
Was the man a marshal or a sheriff? Would they really arrest her father on Christmas Day, in church?
IS THIS CHRISTMAS?
Yes; it was, as you have said, a very curious Christmas service for all those people.
What Horace turned his mind to, at intervals, has been told.
Of the elder members of our little company who sat there near the head of the side aisle, it may be said, in general, that they did their best to keep their hearts and minds engaged in the service, and that sometimes they succeeded. They succeeded better while they could really join in the hymns and the prayers than they did when it came to the sermon. Good Dr. Gill, overruled by one of those lesser demons, whose work is so apparent though so inexplicable in this finite world, had selected for the text of his sermon of gladness the words, "Search and look." And so it happened—it was what did not often happen with him—he must needs repeat those words often, at the beginning and end, indeed, of every leading paragraph of the sermon. Now this duty of searching and looking had been just what all the elder members of the Molyneux family had been solidly doing—each in his way or hers, directly or by sympathy—in the last forty- eight hours. To get such relief as they might from it, they had come to church, to look rather higher if they could. So that it was to them more a misfortune than a matter of immediate spiritual relief that their dear old friend, who loved each one of them with an intimate and peculiar love, happened to enlarge on his text just as he did.
If poor Mr. Molyneux, by dint of severe self-command, had succeeded in abstracting his thoughts from disgrace almost certain,—from thinking over, in horrible variety, the several threads of inquiry and answer by which that disgrace was to be avoided or precipitated,—how was it possible to maintain such abstraction, while the worthy preacher, wholly unconscious of the blood he drew with every word, ground out his sentences in such words as these:—
"Search and look, my brethren. Time passes faster than we think. Our gray hairs gather apace above our foreheads. And the treasure which we prized beyond price in years bygone has perhaps, amid the cares of this world, or in the deceitfulness of riches, been thrust on one side, neglected, at last forgotten. How is it with you, dear friends? Are you the man? Are you the woman? Have you put on one side the very treasure of your life,—as some careless housewife might lay aside on a forgotten shelf this parcel or that, once so precious to her? Dear friends, as the year draws to a close, awaken from such neglect! Brush away the dust from these forgotten caskets! Lift them from their hiding-places and set them forth, even in your Christmas festivities. Search and look!"
Poor Mrs. Molyneux had never wished before so earnestly that a sermon might be done. She dared not look round to see her husband for a while, but after one of these invocations—not quite so terrible as the rest, perhaps—she stole a glance that way, to find—that she might have spared her anxiety. Two nights of "searching and looking" had done their duty by the poor man, and though his head was firm braced against the column which rose from the side of their pew, his eyes were closed, and his wife was relieved by the certainty that he was listening, as those happy members of the human family listen who assure me that they hear when their lids are tight pressed over their eyeballs. As for Beverly, he was assuming the resolute aspect of a sailor under fire, and was imagining himself taking the whole storm of Fort Constantine as he led an American squadron into the Bay of Sevastopol. Tom did not know what the preacher said, but was devising the method of his interview with Greenhithe. Matty did know. Dear girl! she knew very well. And with every well-rounded sentence of the sermon she was more determined as to the method of her appeal to Mrs. Gilbert, the widow of the notary. She would search and look there.
Yes! and it was well for every one of them that they went to that service. The sermon at the worst was but twenty minutes. "Twenty minutes in length," said Beverly, wickedly, "and no depth at all." But that was not true nor fair; nor was that, either way, the thing that was essential. By the time they had all sung
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow,"
even before the good old Doctor had asked for Heaven's blessing upon them, it had come. To Mr. Molyneux it had come in an hour's rest of mind, body, and soul. To Matty it had come in an hour's calm determination. To Mrs. Molyneux it had come in the certainty that there is One Eye which sees through all hiding-places and behind all disguises. To the children it had come, because the hour had called up to them a hundred memories of Galilee and Nazareth, of Mary Mother, and of children made happy, to supplement and help out their legends of Santa Claus. Yes, and even Beverly the brave, and Tom the outraged, as they stood to receive the benediction of the preacher, were more of men and less of firebrands than they were. They all stood with reverence; they paused a moment, and then slowly walked down the aisle.
"Where is your father, Horace?" said Mrs. Molyneux, a little anxiously, as she came where she could speak aloud. Horace was waiting for her.
"Papa? He went away with the gentleman who came in after service began; they crossed the street and took a carriage together."
"And did papa leave no message?"
"Why, no; he did not turn round. The strange man— the man in the rough coat—just touched him and spoke to him half-way down the aisle. Then papa whispered to him and he whispered back. Then, as soon as they came into the vestibule here, papa led him out at that side door, and did not seem to remember me. They almost ran across the street, and took George Gibb's hack. I knew the horses."
"That's too bad," said Laura; "I thought papa would walk home with us and tell us the story of the bears."
Poor Mrs. Molyneux thought it was too bad, too; but she said nothing.
And Matty, when she joined her mother, said,—
"I shall feel a thousand times happier, mamma, if I go and see Mrs. Gilbert now." And she explained who Mrs. Gilbert was. "Perhaps it may do some good. Anyway, I shall feel as if I were doing something. I will be home in time to finish the tree and things, for Horace will like to help me."
And the poor girl looked her entreaties so eagerly that her mother could not but assent to her plan. So she made Beverly go up the avenue with her,—Beverly, who would have swum the Potomac and back for her, had she asked him,—as he was on his way to join his father at the Bureau.
As they came out upon the broad sidewalk, that odious Greenhithe, with some one whom Beverly called a blackguard of his crew, pushed by them, and he had the impudence to turn and touch his hat to Matty again.
Matty's hand trembled on Beverly's arm, but she would not speak for a minute, only she walked slower and slower.
Then she said: "I am so afraid, Bev, that Tom and he will get into a quarrel. Tom declares he will go into Willard's and find out whether he does know anything."
But Beverly, very mannish, tried to reassure her and make her believe that Tom would be very self-restrained and perfectly careful.
On Christmas Day the Jew's dry-goods store, which had taken the place of old Mr. Gilbert's notary's office, was closed—not perhaps so much from the Israelite's enthusiasm about Christmas as in deference to what in New England is called "the sense of the street." Matty, however, acting from a precise knowledge of Washington life, rang boldly at the green door adjacent, Beverly still waiting to see what might turn up; and when a brisk "colored girl" appeared, Matty inquired if Mrs. Munroe was at home.
Now all that Matty knew of Mrs. Munroe was that her name was on a well-scoured brass plate on the door.
Mrs. Munroe was in. Beverly said he would wait in the passage. Mrs. Munroe proved to be a nice, motherly sort of a person, who, as it need hardly be said, was stone-deaf. It required some time for Matty to adjust her speaking apparatus to the exigency, but when this was done, Mrs. Munroe explained that Mr. Gilbert was dead,— that an effort had been made to continue the business with the old sign and the old good will, under the direction of a certain Mr. Bundy, who had sometimes been called in as an assistant. But Mr. Bundy, after some years, paid more attention to whiskey than he did to notarying, and the law business had suffered. Finally, Mr. Bundy was brought home by the police one night with a broken head, and then Mrs. Gilbert had withdrawn the signs, cancelled the lease, turned Mr. Bundy out-of- doors, and retired to live with a step-sister of her brother's wife's father near the Arsenal; good Mrs. Munroe was not certain whether on Delaware Avenue, or whether on T Street, U Street, or V Street. And, indeed, whether the lady's name were Butman before she married her second husband, and Lichtenfels afterward—or whether his name were Butman and hers Lichtenfels, Mrs. Munroe was not quite sure. Nor could she say whether Mr. Gilbert took the account books and registers —there were heaps on heaps of them, for Mr. Gilbert had been a notary ever since General Jackson's day—or whether Bundy did not take them, or whether they were not sold for old paper, Mrs. Munroe was not sure. For all this happened— all the break-up and removal—while Mrs. Munroe was on a visit to her sister not far from Brick Church above Little Falls, on your way to Frederic. And Mrs. Munroe offered this visit as a constant apology for her not knowing more precisely every detail of her old friend's business.
This explanation took a good deal of time, through all of which poor Beverly was fretting and fuming and stamping his cold feet in the passage, hearing the occasional questions of his sister, uttered with thunder tone in the "setting-room" above, but hearing no word of the placid widow's replies.
When Matty returned and held a consultation with him, the question was, whether to follow the books of account to Georgetown, where Mr. Bundy was understood to be still residing, or to the neighborhood of the Arsenal, in the hope of finding Mrs. Gilbert, Mrs. Lichtenfels, or Mrs. Butman, as the case might be. Readers should understand that these two points, both unknown to the young people, are some six miles asunder, the original notary's office being about half-way between them. Beverly was more disposed to advise following the man. He was of a mind to attack some one of his own sex. But the enterprise was, in truth, Matty's enterprise. Beverly had but little faith in it from the beginning, and Matty was minded to follow such clue as they had to Mrs. Gilbert, quite sure that, woman with woman, she should succeed better with her than, man with man, Beverly with Bundy. Beverly assented to this view the more willingly, because Matty was quite willing to undertake the quest alone. She was very brave about it indeed. "Plenty of nice people at the Arsenal," or near it, whom she could fall back upon for counsel or information. So they parted. Matty took a street car for the east and south, and Beverly went his ways to the Bureau of Internal Improvement to report for duty to his father.
This story must not follow the details of Matty's quest for the firm of "Gilbert, Lichtenfels, or Butman." Certain it is that she would never have succeeded had she rested simply on the directory or on such crude information as Mrs. Munroe had so freely given. But Matty had an English tongue in her head,—a courteous, which is to say a confiding, address with strangers; she seemed almost to be conferring a favor at the moment when she asked one, and she knew, in this business, that there was no such word as fail. After one or two false starts—some very stupid answers, and some very blunt refusals—she found her quarry at last, by as simple a process as walking into a Sunday-school of colored children, where she heard singing in the basement of a little chapel.
In a few words Matty explained her errand to the Superintendent, and that it was necessary that she should find Mrs. Gilbert before dark.
"Ting!" one stroke of the bell called hundreds of eager voices to silence.
"Who knows where Mrs. Gilbert lives? Is it at Mrs. Butman's house or Mrs. Lichtenfels'?"
Twenty eager hands contended with each other for the honor of giving the information, and in three minutes more, Matty, all encouraged by her success, was on her way.
And Mrs. Gilbert was at home. Good fortune number two! Matty's star was surely in the ascendant! Matty sent in her card, and the nice old lady presented herself at once, remembered who Matty was, remembered how much business Mr. Molyneux used to bring to the office, and how grateful Mr. Gilbert always was. She was so glad to see Matty, and she hoped Mr. Molyneux was well, and Mrs. Molyneux and all those little ones! She used to see them every Sunday as they went to church, if they went on the avenue.
Thus encouraged, Matty opened on her sad story, and was fairly helped from stage to stage by the wonder, indignation, and exclamations of the kind old lady. When Matty came to the end, and made her understand how much depended on the day-book, register, and ledger of her husband, it was a fair minute before she spoke.
"We will see, my dear, we will see. I wish it may be so, but I 'm all afeard. It would not be like him, my dear. It would not be like any of them. But come with me, my dear, we will see—we will see."
Then, as Matty followed her, through devious ways, out through the kitchen, across a queer bricked yard, into a half stable, half woodshed, which the good woman unlocked, she went on talking:—
"You see, my dear child, that though notaries are called notaries, as if it were their business to give notice, the most important part of their business is keeping secrets. Now, when a man's note goes to protest, the notary tells him what has happened, which he knew very well before; and then he comes to the notary and begs him not to tell anybody else, and of course he does not. And the business of a notary's account books, as my husband used to say, is to tell just enough, and not to tell any more.
"Why, my dear child, he would not use blotting-paper in the office,—he would always use sand. 'Blotting- paper! Never!' he would say; 'Blotting-paper tells secrets!'"
With such chatter they came to the little chilly room, which was shelved all around, and to Matty's glad eyes presented rows of green and blue and blue and red boxes,—and folio and quarto books of every date, from 1829 to 1869, forty years in which the late Mr. Gilbert had been confirming history, keeping secret what he knew, but making sure what, but for him, might have been doubted by a sceptic world.
Things were in good order. Mrs. Gilbert was proud to show that they were in good order. The day-book for 1863 was at hand. Matty knew the fatal dates only too well. And the fatal entries were here!
How her heart beat as she began to read!
Cr. To Thomas Molyneux Esq., (B. I. I.) official authentication of signature of Felipe Gazza . . . $1.25 Same, authentication of signature of Jose B. Du Camara . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.25 Same, authentication of signature of Jacob H. Cole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.25
And this was all! Poor Matty copied it all, but all the time she begged Mrs. Gilbert to tell her if there was not some note-book or journal that would tell more. And kind Mrs. Gilbert looked eagerly for what she called the "Diry." At the proper dates on the cash-book, at intervals of a week or two, Matty found similar entries— the names of the two Spaniards appearing in all these— but other names in place of Cole's just as Tom had told her already. By the time she had copied all of these, Mrs. Gilbert had found the "Diry." Eager, and yet heart- sick, Matty turned it over with her old friend.
This was all:—
"Mr. Molyneux here. Very private. Papers in R. G. E." And then followed a little burst of unintelligible short-hand.
Poor Matty! She could not but feel that here would not be evidence good for anything, even in a novel. But she copied every word carefully, as a chief clerk's daughter should do. She thanked the kind old lady, and even kissed her. She looked at her watch. Heavens! how fast time had gone! and the afternoons were so short!
"Yes, my dear Miss Molyneux; but they have turned, my dear, the day is a little longer and a little lighter."
Did the old lady mean it for an omen, or was it only one of those chattering remarks on meteors and weather change of which old age is so fond? Matty wondered, but did not know. Fast as she could, she tripped bravely on to the avenue for her street car.
"The day is longer and lighter."
Meanwhile Tom was following his clue in the public rooms at Willard's, to which, as he prophesied, Mr. Greenhithe had returned after the unusual variation in his life of a morning spent in the sanctuary. Tom bought a copy of the Baltimore "The Sun," and went into one of the larger rooms resorted to by travellers and loafers, and sat down. But Mr. Greenhithe did not appear there. Tom walked up and down through the passages a little uneasily, for he was sure the ex-clerk had come into the hotel. He went up and looked in at the ladies' sitting-rooms, to see if perhaps some Duchess of Devonshire, of high political circles, had found it worth while to drag Mr. Greenhithe up there by a single hair. No Mr. Greenhithe! Tom was forced to go down and drink a glass of beer to see if Mr. Greenhithe was not thirsty. But at that moment, though Mr. Greenhithe was generally thirsty in the middle of the day, and although many men were thirsty at the time Tom hung over his glass of lager, Mr. Greenhithe was not thirsty there. It was only as Tom passed the billiard-room that he saw Mr. Greenhithe was playing a game of billiards, by way of celebrating the new birth of a regenerated world.
What to do now! Tom could not, in common decency, go in to look on at the game of a man he wanted to choke. Yet Tom would have given all his chances for rank in the Academy to know what Greenhithe was talking about. Tom slowly withdrew.
As he withdrew, whom should be meet but one of his kindest friends, Commodore Benbow? When the boys made their "experimental cruise" the year before, they had found Commodore Benbow's ship at Lisbon. The Commodore had taken a particular fancy to Tom, because he had known his mother when they were boy and girl. Tom had even been invited personally to the flag-ship, and was to have been presented at Court, but that they sailed too soon.
To tell the whole truth, the Commodore was not overpleased to see his protege hanging about the bar and billiard-room on Christmas Day. For himself, his whole family were living at Willard's, but he knew Tom's father was not living there, and he thought Tom might be better employed.
Perhaps Tom guessed this. Perhaps he was in despair. Anyway he knew "Old Benbow," as the boys called him, would be a good counsellor. In point of statistics "Old Benbow" was just turned forty, had not a gray hair in his head, could have beaten any one of Tom's class, whether in gunning or at billiards, could have demonstrated every problem in Euclid while they were fiddling over the forty-seventh proposition. He was at the very prime of well-preserved power, but young nineteen called him "Old Benbow," as young nineteen will, in such cases.
Bold with despair, or with love for his father, Tom stopped "Old Benbow" and asked him if he would come into one of the sitting-rooms with him. Then he made this venerable man his confidant. The Commodore had seen the slurs in the "Scorpion" and the "Argus" and the "Evening Journal." "A pity," said he, "that Newspaper Row, that can do so much good, should do so much harm. What is Newspaper Row? Three or four men of honor, three or four dreamers, three or four schoolboys, three or four fools, and three or four scamps. And the public, Molyneux,— which is to say you and I,—accept the trumpet blast of one of these heralds precisely as we do that of another. Practically," said he, pensively, "when we were detached to serve with the 33d Corps in Mobile Bay, I found I liked the talk of those light-infantry men who had been in every scrimmage of the war, quite as much as I did that of the bandmen who played the trumpets on parade. But this is neither here nor there. I thought of coming round to see your father, but I knew I should bother him. What can I do, my boy?"
Then Tom told him, rather doubtfully, that he had reason to fear that Mr. Greenhithe was at the bottom of the whole scandal. He said he wished he did not think that Mr. Greenhithe had himself stolen the papers. "If I am wrong, I want to know it," said he; "if I am right, I want to know it. I do not want to be doing any man injustice. But I do not want to keep old Eben Ricketts down at the department hunting for a file of papers which Greenhithe has hidden in his trunk or put into the fire."
"No!—no!—no, indeed," said "old Benbow," musing. "No!—No!—No!—"
Then after a pause, "Tom," said he, "come round here in an hour. I know that young fellow your friend is playing with, and I wish he were in better company than he is. I think I know enough of the usages of modern society to 'interview' him and his companion, though times have changed since I was of your age in that regard. Come here in an hour, or give me rather more, come here at half-past two, and we will see what we will see."
So Tom went round to the Navy Department, and here he found the faithful Eben—faithful to him, though utterly faithless as to any success in the special quest which was making the entertainment of the Christmas holiday. Vainly did Tom repeat to him his formula,—
"If the Navy did the work, the Navy has the vouchers."
"My dear boy," Eben Ricketts repeated a hundred times, "though the Navy did the work, the Navy did not provide the pork and beans; it did not arrange in advance for the landing, least of all did it buy the greasers. I will look where you like, for love of your father and you; but that file of vouchers is not here, never was here, and never will be found here."
An assistant like this is not an encouraging companion or adviser.
And, in short, the vouchers were not found in the Navy Department, in that particular midday search. At twenty-five minutes past two Tom gave it up unwillingly, bade Eben Ricketts good-by, washed from his hands the accretions of coal-dust, which will gather even on letter-boxes in Navy Departments, and ran across in front of the President's House, to Willard's. He looked up at the White House, and wondered how the people there were spending their Christmas Day.
Commodore Benbow was waiting for him. He took him up into his own parlor.
"Molyneux, your Mr. Greenhithe is either the most ingenious liar and the best actor on God's earth, or he knows no more of your lost papers than a child in heaven.
"I went back to the billiard-room, after you left me. I walked up to Millet—that was Lieutenant Millet playing with Greenhithe—and I shook hands. He had to introduce me to your friend. Then I asked them both to come here, told Millet I had some papers from Montevideo that he would be glad to see, and that I should be glad of a call when they had done their game. Well, they came. I am sorry to say your friend—"
"Oh, don't, my dear Commodore Benbow, don't call him my friend, even in a joke; it makes me feel awfully."
"I am glad it does," said the Commodore, laughing. "Well, I am very sorry to say that the black sheep had been drinking more of the whisky downstairs than was good for him; and, no fault of mine, he drank more of my Madeira than he should have done, and, Tom, I do not believe he was in any condition to keep secrets. Well, first of all, it appeared that he had been in Bremen and Vienna for six months. He only arrived in New York yesterday morning."
Tom's face fell.
"And, next—you may take this for what it is worth— but I believe he spoke the truth for once; he certainly did if there is any truth in liquor or in swearing. For when I asked Millet what all this stuff about your father meant, Greenhithe interrupted, very unnecessarily and very rudely, and said, with more oaths than I will trouble you with, that the whole was a damned lie of the newspaper men; that they had lied about him (Greenhithe) and now were lying about old Molyneux; that Molyneux had been very hard on him and very unjust to him, but he would say that he was honest as the clock— honest enough to be mean. And that he would say that to the committee, if they would call on him, and so on and so on."
"Much good would he do before the committee," said poor Tom.
And thus ended Tom's branch of the investigation. "Come to me, if I can help you, my boy," said Old Benbow. "It is always the darkest, old fellow, the hour before day."
Tom was astronomer enough to know that this old saw was as false as most old saws. But with this for his only comfort, he returned to the bureau to seek Beverly and his father.
Neither Beverly nor his father was there! Tom went directly home. His mother was eager to see him.
She had come home alone, and, save Horace and Laura and Flossy and Brick, she had seen nobody but a messenger from the bureau.
Brick was the family name for Robert, one of the youngest of this household.
Of Beverly's movements the story must be more briefly told. They took more time than Tom's; as much indeed as his sister's, after they parted. But they were conducted by means of that marvel of marvels, the telegraph,—the chief of whose marvels is that it compels even a long- winded generation like ours to speak in very short metre.
Beverly began with Mr. Bundy at Georgetown. Georgetown is but a quiet place on the most active of days. On Christmas Day Beverly found but little stirring out of doors.
Still, with the directory, with the advice of a saloon-keeper and the information of a police officer, Beverly tracked Mr. Bundy to his lair.
It was not a notary's office, it was a liquor shop of the lowest grade, with many badly painted signs, which explained that this was "Our House," and that here Mr. Bundy made and sold with proper license—let us be grateful—Tom and Jerry, Smashes, Cocktails, and did other "deeds without a name." On this occasion, however, even the door of "Our House" was closed. Mr. Bundy had gone to a turkey-shooting match at Fairfax Court House. The period of his return was very doubtful. He had never done anything but keep this drinking-room since old Mrs. Gilbert turned him out of doors.
With this information Master Beverly returned to town. He then began on his own line of search. Relying on Tom's news, he went to the office of the Western Union Telegraph and concocted this despatch, which he thought a masterpiece.
GREENSBURG, Westmoreland Co., Pa.
TO ROBERT JOHN WHILTHAUGH:
When and where can I see you on important business? Answer.
BEVERLY MOLYNEUX, for THOMAS MOLYNEUX.
Then he took a walk, and after half an hour called at the office again. The office was still engaged in calling Greensburg. Greensburg was eating its Christmas dinner. But at last Greensburg was called. Then Beverly received this answer:—
Whilthaugh has been dead more than a year. GREENSBURG.
To which Beverly replied:—
Where does his wife live, or his administrator?
To which Greensburg, having been called a second time with difficulty, replied:—
His wife is crazy, and we never heard of any property. GREENSBURG.
With this result of his investment as a non-dividend member of the great Western Union Mutual Information Club, Beverly returned home, chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancies.
"There is no speech nor language," sang the choir in St. Matthews as he passed, "where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth—" And Tom heard no more, as he passed on.
As he walked, almost unwillingly, up the street to the high steps of his father's house, Matty, out of breath, overtook him.
"What have you found, Bev?"
"Nothing," said the boy, moodily. And poor Matty had to confess that she had hardly more to tell.
They came into the house by the lower entrance, that they need not attract their mother's attention. But she was on the alert. Even Horace and the younger children knew by this time that something was wrong.
Horace's story about the strange man and papa was the last news of papa. Papa had not been at the bureau. The bureau people waited for him till two, and he did not come. Then Stratton had come round to see if he was to keep open any longer. Stratton had told Mrs. Molyneux that her husband had not been there since church.
Where in the world was he?
Poor Mrs. Molyneux had not known where to send or to go. She had just looked in at the Doctor's, but he was not there.
Tom had appeared first to her tedious waiting. Tom would not tell her, but he even went and looked in on Newspaper Row, which he had been abusing so. For Tom's first thought was that a formal information had been lodged somewhere, and that his father was arrested.
But Newspaper Row evidently was unsuspicious of any arrest.
Tom even walked down to the old jail, and made an absurd errand to see the Deputy-Marshal. But the Deputy- Marshal was at his Christmas dinner.
Tom told all this in the hall to Beverly and to Matty.
Everything had failed, and papa was gone. Who could the man in the shaggy coat be?
The three went together into the parlor.
For a little, Matty and Horace and Tom and Beverly then made a pretence of arranging the tree. But, in truth, Mrs. Molyneux, in the midst of all her care, had done that, while they were all away.
Dinner was postponed half an hour, and they gathered, all in the darkness, looking at the sickliest blaze that ever rambled over half-burned Cumberland coal.
The Brick came climbing up on Tom's knees and bade him tell a story; but even Laura saw that something was wrong, and hushed the child, and said she and Flossy would sing one of their carols. And they sang it, and were praised; and they sang another, and were praised. But then it was quite dark, and nobody had any heart to say one word.
"Where is papa?" said the Brick.
"Where indeed?" everybody wanted to say, and no one did.
But then the door-bell rang, and Chloe brought in a note.
"He's waiting for an answer, mum."
And Tom lighted the gas. It popped up so bright that little Flossy said,—
"The people that sat in darkness saw a great light—"
This was just as Mrs. Molyneux tore open the note. For the instant she could not speak. She handed it to the three.
"FOUND "Home in half an hour! "All right! thank God! T. M."
"Saw a great light, indeed!" said Horace, who, for once, felt awed.
THIS IS CHRISTMAS
For half a minute, as it seemed afterwards, no one spoke. Then Matty flew to her mother, and flung her arms around her neck, and kissed her again and again.
Tom hardly knew what he was doing; but he recovered self-command enough to know that he must try to be manly and businesslike,—and so he rushed downstairs to find the man who brought the note. It proved to be a man he did not know. Not a messenger from the bureau, not one from the Navy Department, least of all, an aid of the Assistant Marshal's. He was an innocent waiter from the Seaton House, who said a gentleman called him and gave him the note, told him to lose no time, and gave him half a dollar for coming. He had asked for an answer, though the gentleman had not told him to do so.
Tom wrote: "Hurrah! All's well! All at home.—T." and gave this note to the man.
They all talked at once, and then they sat still without talking. The children—must it be confessed?— asked all sorts of inopportune questions. At last Tom was even fain to tell the story of the bear himself, by way of silencing the Brick and Laura; and with much correction from Horace, had got the bear well advanced in smelling at the almond-candy and the figs, when a carriage was heard on the street, evidently coming rapidly towards them. It stopped at the door. The bear was forgotten, as all the elders in this free-and-easy family rushed out of the parlor into the hall.
Papa was there, and was as happy as they. With papa, or just behind him, came in the man with the rough coat, whose face at church had been so dirty, whose face now was clean. To think that papa should have brought the Deputy-Marshal with him! For by the name of "the Deputy- Marshal" had this mysterious stranger been spoken of in private by the two young men since the fatal theory had been advanced that he had come into the church to arrest Mr. Molyneux.
The unknown, with great tact, managed to keep in the background, while Mrs. Molyneux kissed her husband, and while Matty kissed him, and while among them they pulled off his coat. But Mr. Molyneux did not forget. He made a chance in a moment for saying, "You must speak to our friend who has brought me here; no one was ever so welcome at a Christmas dinner. Mr. Kuypers, my dear, Mr. Kuypers, Matty dear; these are my boys, Mr. Kuypers."
Then the ladies welcomed the stranger, and the boys shook hands with him. Mr. Molyneux added, what hardly any one understood: "It is not every friend that travels two thousand miles to jog a friend's memory."
And they all huddled into the parlor. But in a moment more, Mrs. Molyneux had invited Mr. Kuypers to go upstairs to wash himself, and he, with good feeling, which he showed all the evening, gladly took himself out of the way, and so, as Tom returned from showing him to his room, the parlor was filled with "those God made there," as the little boy used to say, and with none beside.
"Now tell us all about it, dear papa," cried Tom.
"I was trying to tell your mother. But there is not much to tell. Poor Mr. Kuypers had travelled all the way from Colorado, the minute he heard I was in trouble. Yesterday he bought the 'Scorpion' in the train, and found the Committee was down on us. He drove here from the station as soon as the train came in. He missed you here, and drove by mistake to Trinity. That made him late with us, and so, as the service had begun, he waited till it was done."
"Well!" said Bev, perhaps a little impatiently.
"But so soon as we were going out he touched me, and said he had come to find me, in the matter of the Rio Grande vouchers. Do you know, Eliza, I can afford to laugh at it now, but at the moment I thought he was a deputy of the Sergeant-at-Arms?"
"There!" screamed Tom, "I said he was a deputy-marshal!"
"I said, 'Certainly;' and I laughed, and said they seemed to interest all my friends. Then he said, 'Then you have them? If I had known that, I would have spared my journey.' This threw me off guard, and I said I supposed I had them, but I could not find them. And he said eagerly—this was just on the church steps—'But I can.'
"Then he said he had a carriage waiting, and he bade me jump in.
"So soon as we were in the carriage he explained, what I ought to have remembered, but could not then recollect for the life of me, that after General Trebou returned from Texas, there was a Court of Inquiry, and that there was some question about these very supplies, the beans and the coffee particularly; they had nothing to do with the landing nor with the Mexicans. And the Court of Inquiry sent over one day from the War Department, where they were sitting, to our office for an account, because we were said to have it. Mr. Kuypers was their messenger to us, and because we had bound them all together, the whole file was sent as it was. He took them, and as it happened, he looked them over, and what was better, he remembered them. Where our receipt is, Heaven knows!
"Well, that Court of Inquiry was endless, as those army inquiries always are. Mr. Kuypers was in attendance all the time. He says he never shall forget it, if other people do.
"So, as soon as he saw that we were in trouble at the bureau—that I was in trouble, I mean," said Mr. Molyneux, stoutly, "he knew that he knew what nobody else knew,—that the vouchers were in the papers of that Court of Inquiry."
"And he came all the way to tell? What a good fellow!"
"Yes, he came on purpose. He says he could not help coming. He says he made two or three telegrams; but every time he tried to telegraph, he felt as if he were shirking. And I believe he was right. I believe we should never have pulled through without him. 'Personal presence moves the world,' as Eli Thayer used to say."
"And you found them?" asked Mrs. Molyneux, faintly essaying to get back to the story.
"Oh Yes, we found them; but not in one minute. You see, first of all, I had to go to the chief clerk at the War Department and get the department opened on a holiday. Then we had no end of clerks to disturb at their Christmas dinners, and at last we found a good fellow named Breen who was willing to take hold with Mr. Kuypers. And Mr. Kuypers himself," here he dropped his voice, "why, we have not three men in all the departments who know the history of this government or the system of its records as he does.
"Once in the office, he went to work like a master. Breen was amazed. Why! We found those documents in less than half an hour!
"Then I sent Breen with a note to the Secretary. He was good as gold; came down in his own carriage, congratulated me as heartily—well almost as heartily as you do, Tom—and took us both round, with the files, to Mr. McDermot, the Chairman of the House Committee. He was dining with his mess, at the Seaton House, but we called him out, and I declare, I believe he was as much pleased as we were.
"I only stopped to make him give me a receipt for the papers, because they all said it was idle to take copies, and here we are!"
On the hush that followed, the Brick made his way up on his father's knee and said,—
"And now, papa, will you tell us the story of the bear? Tom does not tell it very well."
They all laughed,—they could afford to laugh now; and Mr. Molyneux was just beginning upon the story of the bear, when Mr. Kuypers reappeared. He had in this short time revised his toilet, and looked, Mr. Molyneux said in an aside, like the angel of light that he was. "Bears!" said he, "are there any bears in Washington? Why, it was only last Monday that I killed a bear, and I ate him on Tuesday."
"Did you eat him all?" asked the Brick, whose reverence for Mr. Kuypers was much more increased by this story than by any of the unintelligible conversation which had gone before. But just as Mr. Kuypers began on the story of the bear, Chloe appeared with beaming face, and announced that dinner was ready.
That dinner, which this morning every one who had any sense had so dreaded, and which now seemed a festival indeed!
Well! there was great pretence in fun and form in marshalling. And Mr. Kuypers gave his arm to Matty, and Horace his to Laura, and Beverly his to Flossy, and Tom brought up the rear with the Brick on his shoulders. And Mr. Molyneux returned thanks and asked a blessing all together. And then they fell to, on the turkey and on the chicken pie. And they tried to talk about Colorado and mining; about Gold Hill and Hale-and-Norcross, and Uncle Sam and Overman and Yellow Jacket. But in spite of them all, the talk would drift back to Bundy and his various signs, "Our House" and Tom and Jerry; to the wife of Mr. Whilthaugh; to Commodore Benbow; to old Mrs. Gilbert and Delaware Avenue. And this was really quite as much the fault of Mr. Kuypers as it was of any of the Molyneux family. He seemed as much one of them as did Tom himself. This anecdote of failure and that of success kept cropping out. Walsingham's high-bred and dignified enthusiasm for the triumph of the office, and the satisfaction that Eben Ricketts would feel when he was told that the Navy never had the vouchers,—all were commented on. Then Mr. Molyneux would start and say, "We are talking shop again. You say the autumn has been mild in the mountains;" and then in two minutes they would be on the trail of "Search and Look" again.
It was in one of these false starts that Mr. Kuypers explained why he came, which in Horace's mind and perhaps in the minds of the others had been the question most puzzling of all.
"Why," said Horace, bluntly, "had you ever heard of papa before!"
"Had I heard of him? " said Mr. Kuypers. "I think so. Why, my dear boy, your father is my oldest and kindest friend!" At this exclamation even Mrs. Molyneux showed amazement. Tom laid down his fork and looked to see if the man was crazy, and Mr. Molyneux himself was thrown off his balance.
Mr. Kuypers was a well-bred man, but this time he could not conceal his amazement. He laid down knife and fork both, looked up and almost laughed, as he said with wonder,—
"Don't you know who I am?"
"We know you are our good angel to-day," said Mrs. Molyneux, bravely; "and that is enough to know."
"But don't you know why I am here, or what sent me?"
Mr. Molyneux said that he understood very well that his friend wanted to see justice done, and that he had preferred to see to this in person.
"I thought you looked queer," said Mr. Kuypers, frankly; "but still, I did not know I was changed. Why, don't you remember Bruce? You remember Mrs. Chappell, surely."
"Are you Bruce?" cried Mr. Molyneux; and he fairly left his chair and went round the table to the young man. "Why, I can see it now. But then—why, you were a boy, you know, and this black beard—"
"But pray explain, pray explain," cried Tom. "The mysteries increase on us. Who is Mrs. Chappell, and, for that matter, who is Bruce, if his real name be not Kuypers?"
And they all laughed heartily. People got back their self-possession a little, and Mr. Kuypers explained.
"I am Bruce Kuypers," said he, "though your father does not seem to remember the Kuypers part."
"No," said Mr. Molyneux, "I cannot remember the Kuypers part, but the Bruce part I remember very well."
"My mother was Mrs. Kuypers before she married Mr. Chappell, and Mr. Chappell died when my brother Ben was six years old, and little Lizzy was a baby."
"Lizzy was my godchild," said Mrs. Molyneux, who now remembered everything.
"Certainly she was, Mrs. Molyneux, and last month Lizzy was married to as good a fellow as ever presided over the melting of ingots. We marry them earlier at the West than you do here."
"Where Lizzie would have been," he said more gravely, addressing Tom again, "where my mother would have been, or where I should have been but for your father and mother here, it would be hard to tell. And all to-day I have taken it for granted that to him, as to me, this has been one part of that old Christmas! Surely you remember?" he turned to Mrs. Molyneux.
Yes, Mrs. Molyneux did remember, but her eyes were all running over with tears and she did not say so.
"Mr. Molyneux," said Bruce Kuypers, again addressing Tom, "seventeen years ago this blessed day, there was a Christmas morning in the poor old tenement above Massachusetts Avenue such as you never saw, and such as I hope you never may see.
"There was fire in the stove because your father had sent the coal. There was oatmeal mush on the table because your father paid my mother's scot at your father's grocer.
"But there was not much jollity in that house, and there were no Christmas presents, but what your mother had sent to Bruce and Ben and Flora, and even to the baby. Still we kept up such courage as we could. It was a terribly cold day, and there was a wet storm.
"All of a sudden a carriage stopped at the door, and in came your father here. He came to say that that day's mail had brought a letter from Dr. Wilder of the navy, conveying the full certificate that William Chappell's death was caused by exposure in the service. That certificate was what my mother needed for her pension. She never could get it, but your father here had sifted and worried and worked. The 'Macedonian' arrived Thursday at New York, and had Dr. Wilder on board, and Friday afternoon your father had Wilder's letter, and he left his own Christmas dinner to make light my mother's and mine. That was not all. Your father, as he came, had stopped to see Mr. Birdsall, who was the Speaker of the House. He had seen the Speaker before, and had said kind things about me. And that day the Speaker told him to tell me to come and see him at his room at the Capitol next day. Oh! how my mother dressed me up! Was there ever such a page seen before! What with your father's kind words and my dear mother's extra buttons, the Speaker made me his own page the next day, and there I served for four years. It was then that I was big enough to go into the War Department, and Mr. Goodsell—he was the next Speaker, if you remember—recommended me there.
"After that," said Bruce Kuypers, modestly, if I did not see you so often, but I used to see you sometimes, and I did not think"—this with a roguish twinkling of the eye—"that you forgot your young friends so soon."
"I remember you," said Tom. "I used to think you were the grandest man in Washington. You gave me the first ride on a sled I ever had, when there was some exceptional fall of snow."
"I think we all remember Mr. Kuypers now," said Matty, and she laughed while she blushed; "he always bought things for our stockings. I have a Noah's Ark upstairs now, that he gave me. In my youngest days I had a queer mixture of the name Bruce and the name Santa Claus. I believe I thought Santa Claus' name was Nicholas Bruce. I am sure I did not know that Mr. Bruce had any other name."
"If you had said you were Mr. Chappell," said Mr. Molyneux, "I should have known you in a minute."
"But I was not," said the young man, laughing.
"Well, if you had said you were 'Bruce,' I should have known."
"Dear me, yes; but I have been a man so long, and at Gem City nobody calls me Bruce, but my mother and Lizzy. So I said 'Mr. Kuypers,' forgetting that I had ever been a boy. But now I am in Washington again, I shall remember that things change here very fast in ten years. And yet not so fast as they change at the mines."
And now everybody was at ease. How well Mrs. Molyneux recalled to herself what she would not speak of that Christmas Day of which Mr. Kuypers told his story! It was in their young married life. She had her father and mother to dine with her, and the event was really a trial in her young experience. And then, just as the old folks were expected, her husband came dashing in and had asked her to put dinner a little later because he had had this good news for the poor Widow Chappell, and she had to tell her father and mother, when they came, that they must all wait for his return.
The Widow Chappell was one of those waifs who seem attracted to Washington by some fatal law. It had been two or three months before that Mr. Molyneux had been asked to hunt her up and help her. A letter had come, asking him to do this, from Mrs. Fales, in Roxbury, and Mrs. Fales had sent money for the Chappells. But the money had gone in back rent, and shoes, and the rest, and the wolf was very near the Chappells' door, when the telegraph announced the "Macedonian." Mr. Molyneux had telegraphed instanter to this Dr. Wilder. Dr. Wilder had some sense of Christmas promptness. He remembered poor Chappell perfectly, and mailed that night a thorough certificate. This certificate it was which Mr. Molyneux had carried to the poor old tenement of Massachusetts Avenue, and this had made happy that Christmas Day—and this.
"Why," said Mr. Bruce Kuypers, almost as if he were speaking aloud, "it seems so queer that Christmas comes and goes with you, and you have forgotten all about that stormy day, and your ride to Mrs. Chappell's!
"Why, at our place, we drink Mr. Molyneux's health every Christmas Day, and I am afraid the little ones used to think that you had a red nose, a gray beard, and came down the chimney!"
"As, at another place," said Matty, "they thought of Mr. Bruce—of Noah's Ark memory."
"Anyway," said Mr. Molyneux, "any crumbs of comfort we scattered that day were BREAD UPON THE WATERS."
Of Mr. Kuypers's quick journey the main points have been told. Six days before, by some good luck, which could hardly have been expected, the "Gem City Medium's" despatch from Washington was full enough to be intelligible. It was headed, "ANOTHER SWINDLER NAILED." It said that Mr. Molyneux, of the Internal Improvement office, had feathered his nest with $500,000 during the war, in a pretended expedition to the Rio Grande. It had now been discovered that there never was any such expedition, and the correspondent of the Associated Press hoped that justice would be done.
The moment Bruce Kuypers read this he was anxious. Before an hour passed he had determined to cross to the Pacific train eastward. Before night he was in a sleeping-car. Day by day as he met Eastern papers, he searched for news of the investigation. Day by day he met it, but thanks to his promptness he had arrived in time. It was pathetic to hear him describe his anxiety from point to point, and they were all hushed to silence when he told how glad he was when he found he should certainly appear on Christmas Day.
After the dinner, another procession, not wholly unlike the rabble rout of the morning, moved from the dining-room to the great front parlor, where the tree was lighted, and parcels of gray and white and brown lay round on mantel, on piano, on chairs, on tables, and on the floor.
No; this tale is too long already. We will not tell what all the presents were to all the ten,—to Venty, Chloe, Diana, and all of their color. Only let it tell that all the ten had presents. To Mr. Kuypers's surprise, and to every one's surprise, indeed, there were careful presents for him as for the rest, but it must be confessed that Horace and Laura had spelled Chipah a little wildly. The truth was that each separate person had feared that he would feel a little left on one side,—he to whom so much was due on that day. And each person, severally, down to the Brick himself, had gone secretly, without consulting the others, to select from his own possessions something very dear, and had wrapped it up and marked it for the stranger. When Mr. Kuypers opened a pretty paper, to find Matty's own illustrated Browning, he was touched indeed. When in a rough brown paper he found the Brick's jack-knife labelled "FOR THE MAN," the tears stood in his eyes.
The next day the "Evening Lantern" contained this editorial article:—
"The absurd fiasco regarding the accounts of Mr. Molyneux, which has occupied the correspondents of the periodical press for some days, and has even been adverted to in New York journals claiming the title of metropolitan, came to a fit end at the Capitol yesterday. The wiseacre owls who started it did not see fit to put in an appearance before the committee. Mr. Molyneux himself sent to the Chairman a most interesting volume of manuscript, which is, indeed, a valuable historical memorial of times that tried men's souls. The committee and other gentlemen present examined this curious record with great interest. Not to speak of the minor details, an autograph letter of the lamented Gen. Trebou gives full credit to the Bureau of Internal Improvement for the skill with which they executed the commission given them in a department quite out of their line. Our brethren of the 'Argus' will be pleased to know that every grain of oats and every spear of straw paid for by, the now famous $47,000, are accounted for in detail. The authenticated signatures of the somewhat celebrated Camara and Gazza and the mythical Captain Cole appear. Very valuable letters, throwing interesting light on our relations with the Government of Mexico, from the pens of the lamented Adams and Prigg, show what were the services of those Spanish turncoats and their allies.
"We cannot say that we regret the attention which has thus been given to a very important piece of history, too long neglected in the rush of more petty affairs. We take the occasion, however, to enter our protest once more against this preposterous system of 'Resolutions,' in which, as it were in echo to every niaiserie of every hired pen in the country, the House degrades itself to the work of the common scavenger, orders at immense expense an investigation into some subject where all well informed persons are fully advised, and at a cost of the national treasure, etc., etc., etc. to the end of that chapter.'"
But I fear no one at the Molyneux mansion had "the lantern." They had "found a man," and did not need a lantern to look farther.
It was as Mr. Molyneux had said: he had cast his Bread upon the Waters, and he had found it after many days.
THE LOST PALACE
THE LOST PALACE
[From the Ingham Papers.]
"Passengers for Philadelphia and New York will change cars."
This annoying and astonishing cry was loudly made in the palace-car "City of Thebes," at Pittsburg, just as the babies were well asleep, and all the passengers adapting themselves to a quiet evening.
"Impossible!" said I, mildly, to the "gentlemanly conductor," who beamed before me in the majesty of gilt lace on his cap, and the embroidered letters P. P. C. These letters do not mean, as in French, "to take leave," for the peculiarity of this man is, that he does not leave you till your journey's end: they mean, in American, "Pullman's Palace Car." "Impossible!" said I; "I bought my ticket at Chicago through to Philadelphia, with the assurance that the palace-car would go through. This lady has done the same for herself and her children. Nay, if you remember, you told me yourself that the 'City of Thebes' was built for the Philadelphia service, and that I need not move my hat, unless I wished, till we were there."
The man did not blush, but answered, in the well- mannered tone of a subordinate used to obey,
Here are my orders, sir; telegram just received here from headquarters: '"City of Thebes" is to go to Baltimore.' Another palace here, sir, waiting for you." And so we were trans-shipped into such chairs and berths as might have been left in this other palace, as not wanted by anybody in the great law of natural selection; and the "City of Thebes" went to Baltimore, I suppose. The promises which had been made to us when we bought our tickets went to their place, and the people who made them went to theirs.
Except for this little incident, of which all my readers have probably experienced the like in these days of travel, the story I am now to tell would have seemed to me essentially improbable. But so soon as I reflected, that, in truth, these palaces go hither, go thither, controlled or not, as it may be, by some distant bureau, the story recurred to me as having elements of vraisemblance which I had not noticed before. Having occasion, nearly at the same time, to inquire at the Metropolitan station in Boston for a lost shawl which had been left in a certain Brookline car, the gentlemanly official told me that he did not know where that car was; he had not heard of it for several days. This again reminded me of "The Lost Palace." Why should not one palace, more or less, go astray, when there are thousands to care for? Indeed had not Mr. Firth told me, at the Albany, that the worst difficulty in the administration of a strong railway is, that they cannot call their freight-cars home? They go astray on the line of some weaker sister, which finds it convenient to use them till they begin to show a need for paint or repairs. If freight-cars disappear, why not palaces? So the story seems to me of more worth, and I put it upon paper.
It was on my second visit to Melbourne that I heard it. It was late at night, in the coffee-room of the Auckland Arms, rather an indifferent third-class house, in a by-street in that city, to which, in truth, I should not have gone had my finances been on a better scale than they were. I laid down, at last, an old New York "Herald," which the captain of the "Osprey" had given me that morning, and which, in the hope of home-news, I had read and read again to the last syllable of the "Personals." I put down the paper as one always puts down an American paper in a foreign land, saying to myself, "Happy is that nation whose history is unwritten." At that moment Sir Roger Tichborne, who had been talking with an intelligent-looking American on the other side of the table, stretched his giant form, and said he believed he would play a game of billiards before he went to bed. He left us alone; and the American crossed the room, and addressed me.
"You are from Massachusetts, are you not?" said he. I said I had lived in that State.
"Good State to come from," said he. "I was there myself for three or four months,—four months and ten days precisely. Did not like it very well; did not like it. At least I liked it well enough: my wife did not like it; she could not get acquainted."
"Does she get acquainted here?" said I, acting on a principle which I learned from Scipio Africanus at the Latin School, and so carrying the war into the enemy's regions promptly. That is to say, I saw I must talk with this man, and I preferred to have him talk of his own concerns rather than of mine.
"O sir, I lost her,—I lost her ten years ago! Lived in New Altoona then. I married this woman the next autumn, in Vandalia. Yes, Mrs. Joslyn is very well satisfied here. She sees a good deal of society, and enjoys very good health."
I said that most people did who were fortunate enough to have it to enjoy. But Mr. Joslyn did not understand this bitter sarcasm, far less resent it. He went on, with sufficient volubility, to give to me his impressions of the colony,—of the advantages it would derive from declaring its independence, and then from annexing itself to the United States. At the end of one of his periods, goaded again to say something, I asked why he left his own country for a "colony," if he so greatly preferred the independent order of government.
Mr. Joslyn looked round somewhat carefully, shut the door of the room in which we were now alone,—and were likely, at that hour of the night, to be alone,—and answered my question at length, as the reader will see.
"Did you ever hear of the lost palace?" said he a little anxiously.
I said, no; that, with every year or two, I heard that Mr. Layard had found a palace at Nineveh, but that I had never heard of one's being lost.
"They don't tell of it, sir. Sometimes I think they do not know themselves. Does not that seem possible?" And the poor man repeated this question with such eagerness, that, in spite of my anger at being bored by him, my heart really warmed toward him. "I really think they do not know. I have never seen one word in the papers about it. Now, they would have put something in the papers,—do you not think they would? If they knew it themselves, they would."
"Knew what?" said I, really startled out of my determination to snub him.
"Knew where the palace is,—knew how it was lost."
By this time, of course, I supposed he was crazy. But a minute more dispelled that notion; and I beg the reader to relieve his mind from it. This man knew perfectly well what he was talking about, and never, in the whole narration, showed any symptom of mania,—a matter on which I affect to speak with the intelligence of the "experts" indeed.
After a little of this fencing with each other, in which he satisfied himself that my ignorance was not affected, he took a sudden resolution, as if it were a relief to him to tell me the whole story.
"It was years on years ago," said he. "It was when they first had palaces."
Still thinking of Nimrod's palace and Priam's, I said that must have been a great while ago.
"Yes, indeed," said he. "You would not call them palaces now, since you have seen Pullman's and Wagner's. But we called them palaces then. So many looking- glasses, you know, and tapestry carpets and gold spit- boxes. Ours was the first line that run palaces."
I asked myself, mentally, of what metal were the spit-boxes in Semiramis's palace; but I said nothing.
"Our line was the first line that had them. We were running our lightning express on the 'Great Alleghanian.' We were in opposition to everybody, made close connections, served supper on board, and our passengers only were sure of the night-boat at St. Louis. Those were the days of river-boats, you know. We introduced the palace feature on the railroad; and very successful it was. I was an engineer. I had a first-rate character, and the best wages of any man on the line. Never put me on a dirt-dragger or a lazy freight loafer, I tell you. No, sir! I ran the expresses, and nothing else, and lay off two days in the week, besides. I don't think I should have thought of it but for Todhunter, who was my palace conductor."
Again this IT, which bad appeared so mysteriously in what the man said before. I asked no question, but listened, really interested now, in the hope I should find out what IT was; and this the reader will learn. He went on, in a hurried way:—
"Todhunter was my palace conductor. One night he was full, and his palace was hot, and smelled bad of whale- oil. We did not burn petroleum then. Well, it was a splendid full moon in August; and we were coming down grade, making up the time we had lost at the Brentford junction. Seventy miles an hour she ran if she ran one. Todhunter had brought his cigar out on the tender, and was sitting by me. Good Lord! it seems like last week.
"Todhunter says to me, 'Joslyn,' says he, 'what's the use of crooking all round these valleys, when it would be so easy to go across?' You see, we were just beginning to crook round, so as to make that long bend there is at Chamoguin; but right across the valley we could see the stern lights of Fisher's train: it was not more than half a mile away, but we should run eleven miles before we came there."
I knew what Mr. Joslyn meant. To cross the mountain ranges by rail, the engineers are obliged to wind up one side of a valley, and then, boldly crossing the head of the ravine on a high arch, to wind up the other side still, so that perhaps half an hour's journey is consumed, while not a mile of real distance is made. Joslyn took out his pencil, and on the back of an envelope drew a little sketch of the country; which, as it happened, I still preserve, and which, with his comments, explains his whole story completely. "Here we are," said he. "This black line is the Great Alleghanian,—double track, seventy pounds to the yard; no figuring off there, I tell you. This was a good straight run, down grade a hundred and seventy-two feet on the mile. There, where I make this X, we came on the Chamoguin Valley, and turned short, nearly north. So we ran wriggling about till Drums here, where we stopped if they showed lanterns,—what we call a flag- station. But there we got across the valley, and worked south again to this other X, which was, as I say, not five-eighths of a mile from this X above, though it had taken us eleven miles to get there."
He had said it was not more than half a mile; but this half-mile grew to five-eighths as he became more accurate and serious.
"Well," said he, now resuming the thread of his story, "it was Todhunter put it into my head. He owns he did. Todhunter says, says he, 'Joslyn, what's the use of crooking round all these valleys, when it would be so easy to go across?'
"Well, sir, I saw it then, as clear as I see it now. When that trip was done, I had two days to myself,—one was Sunday,—and Todhunter had the same; and he came round to my house. His wife knew mine, and we liked them. Well, we fell talking about it; and I got down the Cyclopaedia, and we found out there about the speed of cannon-balls, and the direction they had to give them. You know this was only talk then; we never thought what would come of it; but very curious it all was."
And here Mr. Joslyn went into a long mathematical talk, with which I will not harass the reader, perfectly sure, from other experiments which I have tried with other readers, that this reader would skip it all if it were written down. Stated very briefly, it amounted to this: In the old-fashioned experiments of those days, a cannon-ball travelled four thousand and one hundred feet in nine seconds. Now, Joslyn was convinced, like every other engineman I ever talked to, that on a steep down-grade he could drive a train at the rate of a hundred miles an hour. This is thirteen hundred and fourteen feet in nine seconds,—almost exactly one-third of the cannon-ball's velocity. At those rates, if the valley at Chamoguin were really but five-eighths of a mile wide, the cannon-ball would cross it in seven or eight seconds, and the train in about twenty-three seconds. Both Todhunter and Joslyn were good enough mechanics and machinists to know that the rate for thirty-three hundred feet, the width of the valley, was not quite the same as that for four thousand feet; for which, in their book, they had the calculations and formulas; but they also knew that the difference was to their advantage, or the advantage of the bold experiment which had occurred to both of them when Todhunter had made on the tender his very critical suggestion.
The reader has already conceived the idea of this experiment. These rash men were wondering already whether it were not possible to leap an engine flying over the Chamoguin ravine, as Eclipse or Flying Childers might have leaped the brook at the bottom of it. Joslyn believed implicitly, as I found in talk with him, the received statement of conversation, that Eclipse, at a single bound, sprang forty feet. "If Eclipse, who weighed perhaps one thousand two hundred, would spring forty feet, could not my train, weighing two hundred tons, spring a hundred times as far?" asked he triumphantly. At least, he said that he said this to Todhunter. They went into more careful studies of projectiles, to see if it could or could not.
The article on "Gunnery" gave them just one of those convenient tables which are the blessing of wise men and learned men, and which lead half-trained men to their ruin. They found that for their "range," which was, as they supposed, eleven hundred yards, the elevation of a forty-two pounder was one degree and a third; of a nine- pounder, three degrees. The elevation for a railway train, alas! no man had calculated. But this had occurred to both of them from the beginning. In descending the grade, at the spot where, on his little map, Joslyn made the more westerly X, they were more than eleven hundred feet above the spot where he had made his second, or easterly X. All this descent was to the advantage of the experiment. A gunner would have said that the first X "commanded" the second X, and that a battery there would inevitably silence a battery at the point below.
"We need not figure on it," said Todhunter, as Mrs. Joslyn called them in to supper. "If we did, we should make a mistake. Give me your papers. When I go up, Monday night, I'll give them to my brother Bill. I shall pass him at Faber's Mills. He has studied all these things, of course; and he will like the fun of making it out for us." So they sat down to Mrs. Joslyn's waffles; and, but for Bill Todhunter, this story would never have been told to me, nor would John Joslyn and "this woman" ever have gone to Australia.
But Bill Todhunter was one of those acute men of whom the new civilization of this country is raising thousands with every year; who, in the midst of hard hand-work, and a daily duty which to collegians and to the ignorant men among their professors seems repulsive, carry on careful scientific study, read the best results of the latest inquiry, manage to bring together a first-rate library of reference, never spend a cent for liquor or tobacco, never waste an hour at a circus or a ball, but make their wives happy by sitting all the evening, "figuring," one side of the table, while the wife is hemming napkins on the other. All of a sudden, when such a man is wanted, he steps out, and bridges the Gulf of Bothnia; and people wonder, who forget that for two centuries and a half the foresighted men and women of this country have been building up, in the face of the Devil of Selfishness on the one hand, and of the Pope of Rome on the other, a system of popular education, improving every hour.
At this moment Bill Todhunter was foreman of Repair Section No. II on the "Great Alleghanian,"—a position which needed a man of first-rate promptness, of great resource, of good education in engineering. Such a man had the "Great Alleghanian" found in him, by good luck; and they had promoted him to their hardest-worked and best-paid section,—the section on which, as it happened, was this Chamoguin run, and the long bend which I have described, by which the road "headed" that stream.
The younger Todhunter did meet his brother at Faber's Mills, where the repair-train had hauled out of the way of the express, and where the express took wood. The brothers always looked for each other on such occasions; and Bill promised to examine the paper which Joslyn had carefully written out, and which his brother brought to him.
I have never repeated in detail the mass of calculations which Bill Todhunter made on the suggestion thus given to him. If I had, I would not repeat them here, for a reason which has been suggested already. He became fascinated with the problem presented to him. Stated in the language of the craft, it was this:
Given a moving body, with a velocity eight thousand eight hundred feet in a minute, what should be its elevation that it may fall eleven hundred feet in the transit of five-eighths of a mile?" He had not only to work up the parabola, comparatively simple, but he had to allow for the resistance of the air, on the supposition of a calm, according to the really admirable formulas of Robins and Coulomb, which were the best be had access to. Joslyn brought me, one day, a letter from Bill Todhunter, which shows how carefully he went into this intricate inquiry.
Unfortunately for them all, it took possession of this spirited and accomplished young man. You see, he not only had the mathematical ability for the calculation of the fatal curve, but, as had been ordered without any effort of his, he was in precisely the situation of the whole world for trying in practice his own great experiment. At each of the two X X of Joslyn's map, the company had, as it happened, switches for repair-trains or wood-trains. Had it not, Bill Todhunter had ample power to make them.
For the "experiment," all that was necessary was, that under the pretext of re-adjusting these switches, he should lay out that at the upper X so that it should run, on the exact grade which he required, to the western edge of the ravine, in a line which should be the direct continuation of the long, straight run with which the little map begins.
An engine, then, running down that grade at the immense rapidity practicable there, would take the switch with its full speed, would fly the ravine at precisely the proper slopes, and, if the switch had been rightly aligned, would land on the similar switch at the lower X. It would come down exactly right on the track, as you sit precisely on a chair when you know exactly how high it is.
"If." And why should it not be rightly aligned, if Bill Todhunter himself aligned it? This he was well disposed to do. He also would align the lower switch, that at the lower X, that it might receive into its willing embrace the engine on its arrival.
When the bold engineer had conceived this plan, it was he who pushed the others on to it, not they who urged him. They were at work on their daily duty, sometimes did not meet each other for a day or two. Bill Todhunter did not see them more than once in a fortnight. But whenever they did meet, the thing seemed to be taken more and more for granted. At last Joslyn observed one day, as he ran down, that there was a large working-party at the switch above Drums, and he could see Bill Todhunter, in his broad sombrero, directing them all. Joslyn was not surprised, somehow, when he came to the lower switch, to find another working-party there. The next time they all three met, Bill Todhunter told them that all was ready if they were. He said that he had left a few birches to screen the line of the upper switch, for fear some nervous bungler, driving an engine down, might be frightened, and "blow" about the switch. But he said that any night when the others were ready to make the fly, he was; that there would be a full moon the next Wednesday, and, if there was no wind, he hoped they would do it then.
"You know," said poor Joslyn, describing it to me, "I should never have done it alone; August would never have done it alone; no, I do not think that Bill Todhunter himself would have done it alone. But our heads were full of it. We had thought of it and thought of it till we did not think of much else; and here was everything ready, and neither of us was afraid, and neither of us chose to have the others think he was afraid. I did say, what was the truth, that I had never meant to try it with a train. I had only thought that we should apply to the supe, and that he would get up a little excursion party of gentlemen,—editors, you know, and stockholders,—who would like to do it together, and that I should have the pleasure and honor of taking them over. But Todhunter poohed at that. He said all the calculations were made for the inertia of a full train, that that was what the switch was graded for, and that everything would have to be altered if any part of the plan were altered. Besides, he said the superintendent would never agree, that he would insist on consulting the board and the chief engineer, and that they would fiddle over it till Christmas.
"'No,' said Bill, 'next Wednesday, or never! If you will not do it then, I will put the tracks back again.' August Todhunter said nothing; but I knew he would do what we agreed to, and he did.
"So at last I said I would jump it on Wednesday night, if the night was fine. But I had just as lief own to you that I hoped it would not be fine. Todhunter— Bill Todhunter, I mean—was to leave the switch open after the freight had passed, and to drive up to the Widow Jones's Cross Road. There he would have a lantern, and I would stop and take him up. He had a right to stop us, as chief of repairs. Then we should have seven miles down-grade to get up our speed, and then—we should see!
"Mr. Ingham, I might have spared myself the hoping for foul weather. It was the finest moonlight night that you ever knew in October. And if Bill Todhunter had weighed that train himself, he could not have been better pleased,—one baggage-car, one smoking-car, two regular first-class, and two palaces: she run just as steady as an old cow! We came to the Widow Jones's, square on time; and there was Bill's lantern waving. I slowed the train: he jumped on the tender without stopping it. I 'up brakes' again, and then I told Flanagan, my fireman, to go back to the baggage-car, and see if they would lend me some tobacco. You see, we wanted to talk, and we didn't want him to see. 'Mr. Todhunter and I will feed her till you come back,' says I to Flanagan. In a minute after he had gone, August Todhunter came forward on the engine; and, I tell you, she did fly!
"'Not too fast,' said Bill, 'not too fast: too fast is as bad as too slow.'
"'Never you fear me,' says I. 'I guess I know this road and this engine. Take out your watch, and time the mile-posts,' says I; and he timed them. 'Thirty-eight seconds,' says he; 'thirty-seven and a half, thirty-six, thirty-six, thirty-six,'—three times thirty-six, as we passed the posts, just as regular as an old clock! And then we came right on the mile-post you know at Old Flander's. 'Thirty-six,' says Bill again. And then she took the switch,—I can hear that switch-rod ring under us now Mr. Ingham,—and then—we were clear!
"Wasn't it grand? The range was a little bit up, you see, at first; but it seemed as if we were flying just straight across. All the rattle of the rail stopped, you know, though the pistons worked just as true as ever; neither of us said one word, you know; and she just flew—well, as you see a hawk fly sometimes, when he pounces, you know, only she flew so straight and true! I think you may have dreamed of such things. I have; and now,—now I dream it very often. It was not half a minute, you know, but it seemed a good long time. I said nothing and they said nothing; only Bill just squeezed my hand. And just as I knew we must be half over,—for I could see by the star I was watching ahead that we were not going up, but were falling again,—do you think the rope by my side tightened quick, and the old bell on the engine gave one savage bang, turned right over as far as the catch would let it, and stuck where it turned! Just that one sound, everything else was still; and then she landed on the rails, perhaps seventy feet inside the ravine, took the rails as true and sweet as you ever saw a ship take the water, hardly touched them, you know, skimmed—well, as I have seen a swallow skim on the sea; the prettiest, well, the tenderest touch, Mr. Ingham, that ever I did see! And I could just hear the connecting rods tighten the least bit in the world behind me, and we went right on.
"We just looked at each other in the faces, and we could not speak; no, I do not believe we spoke for three quarters of a minute. Then August said, 'Was not that grand? Will they let us do it always, Bill?' But we could not talk then. Flanagan came back with the tobacco, and I had just the wit to ask him why he had been gone so long. Poor fellow! he was frightened enough when we pulled up at Clayville, and he thought it was Drums. Drums, you see, was way up the bend, a dozen miles above Clayville. Poor Flanagan thought we must have passed there while he was skylarking in the baggage- car, and that he had not minded it. We never stopped at Drums unless we had passengers, or they. It was what we call a flag-station. So I blew Flanagan up, and told him he was gone too long.
"Well, sir, at Clayville we did stop,—always stopped there for wood. August Todhunter, he was the palace conductor; he went back to look to his passengers. Bill stayed with me. But in a minute August came running back, and called me off the engine. He led me forward, where it was dark; but I could see, as we went, that something was to pay. The minute we were alone he says,—
"'John, we've lost the rear palace.'
"'Don't fool me, August,' says I.
"'No fooling, John,' says he. 'The shackle parted. The cord parted, and is flying loose behind now. If you want to see, come and count the cars. The "General Fremont" is here all right; but I tell you the "James Buchanan" is at the bottom of the Chamoguin Creek.'
"I walked back to the other end of the platform, as fast as I could go and not be minded. Todhunter was there before me, tying up the loose end of the bell-cord. There was a bit of the broken end of the shackle twisted in with the bolt. I pulled the bolt and threw the iron into the swamp far as I could fling her. Then I nodded to Todhunter and walked forward just as that old goose at Clayville had got his trousers on, so he could come out, and ask me if we were not ahead of time. I tell you, sir, I did not stop to talk with him. I just rang 'All aboard!' and started her again; and this time I run slow enough to save the time before we came down to Steuben. We were on time, all right, there."
Here poor Joslyn stopped a while in his story; and I could see that he was so wrought up with excitement that I had better not interrupt, either with questions or with sympathy. He rallied in a minute or two, and said,—
"I thought—we all thought—that there would be a despatch somewhere waiting us. But no; all was as regular as the clock. One palace more or less,—what did they know, and what did they care? So daylight came. We could not say a word, you know, with Flanagan there; and we only stopped, you know, a minute or two every hour; and just then was when August Todhunter had to be with his passengers, you know. Was not I glad when we came into Pemaquid,—our road ran from Pemaquid across the mountains to Eden, you know,—when we came into Pemaquid, and nobody had asked any questions?
"I reported my time at the office of the master of trains, and I went home. I tell you, Mr. Ingham, I have never seen Pemaquid Station since that day.
"I had done nothing wrong, of course. I had obeyed every order, and minded every signal. But still I knew public opinion might be against me when they heard of the loss of the palace. I did not feel very well about it, and I wrote a note to say I was not well enough to take my train the next night; and I and Mrs. Joslyn went to New York, and I went aboard a Collins steamer as fireman; and Mrs. Joslyn, she went as stewardess; and I wrote to Pemaquid, and gave up my place. It was a good place, too; but I gave it up, and I left America.
Bill Todhunter, he resigned his place too, that same day, though that was a good place. He is in the Russian service now. He is running their line from Archangel to Astrachan; good pay, he says, but lonely. August would not stay in America after his brother left; and he is now captain's clerk on the Harkaway steamers between Bangkok and Cochbang; good place he says, but hot. So we are all parted.
"And do you know, sir, never one of us ever heard of the lost palace!"
Sure enough, under that very curious system of responsibility, by which one corporation owns the carriages which another corporation uses, nobody in the world has to this moment ever missed "The Lost Palace." On each connecting line, everybody knew that "she" was not there; but no one knew or asked where she was. The descent into the rocky bottom of the Chamouin, more than fifteen hundred feet below the line of flight, had of course been rapid,—slow at first, but in the end rapid. In the first second, the lost palace had fallen sixteen feet; in the second, sixty-four; in the third, one hundred and forty-four; in the fourth, two hundred and fifty-six; in the fifth, four hundred feet; so that it must have been near the end of the sixth second of its fall, that, with a velocity now of more than six hundred feet in a second, the falling palace, with its unconscious passengers, fell upon the rocks at the bottom of the Chamoguin ravine. In the dead of night, wholly without jar or parting, those passengers must have been sleeping soundly; and it is impossible, therefore, on any calculation of human probability, that any one of them can have been waked an instant before the complete destruction of the palace, by the sudden shock of its fall upon the bed of the stream. To them the accident, if it is fair to call it so, must have been wholly free from pain.
The tangles of that ravine, and the swamp below it, are such that I suppose that even the most adventurous huntsman never finds his way there. On the only occasion when I ever met Mr. Jules Verne he expressed a desire to descend there from one of his balloons, to learn whether the inhabitants of "The Lost Palace" might not still survive, and be living in a happy republican colony there,—a place without railroads, without telegrams, without mails, and certainly without palaces. But at the moment when these sheets go to press, no account of such an adventure has appeared from his rapid pen.