Bibi - His Mark/Chapter 4
THE MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS.
MANDELSON looked up, with the pity and strength of his ancient race in his eyes.
"I am sorry, my friend," he said simply; and at once, with the keen, terse buskin instinct of the Latin, the apache saw his chance—his double chance. He saw where he could kill two birds with one stone, how he could obtain his freedom and be paid into the bargain.
Speaking in a low, even voice, in that smooth, musical English he had learned so rapidly, he told the other that he loved France.
"France!" he repeated, rolling the word over his tongue as if he were enjoying the savor of it. He said that he loved her as he might a woman; that he wanted to fight for her, and if need be, gladly make the supreme sacrifice. Though he did not exactly put it that way. "Let those dirty, peeled onions of boches rip out my liver if it helps France," was his way of expressing it; and he continued:
"I—ah—I would be a Robespierre! A Marat!"
Then, rapidly, seeing the slight look of dismay in the judge's face at his rather gory choice of national heroes, he added:
"I mean—Joan of Arc! I would be a Joan of Arc! But, monsieur, I ask you as an American, as a fair man—can you imagine a Virgin of Orleans cursed with a weak heart, a diseased spleen, a bad digestion, due to starving—actual starving?"
He tore open his coat, exposing beneath the thin shirt a narrow chest and a thin frame which, had he been a shrewd doctor, the other would have known to hide muscles of steel and lungs of cast iron.
"Look at me, monsieur!" he went on, a piteous appeal in his voice. "I know. I was bad, bad at home, in Paris. I croaked the citizens and bled the gendarmes. But when I tried to—ah—reform, they would not believe me. The police would not let me. They—comment dire?"—he hunted for the word he had heard in dives and police courts—"Yes! They frame me up—you know?"
"I know," the judge inclined his head rather sadly.
"Bien! I dream of America—free land, eh? New land? Chance for everybody! But here—ah—I have no chance. I get no job. Monsieur!" he wound up suddenly, intensely dramatic, ringing down the curtain with a simple appeal: "I beg you to give me this chance!"
Bibi the Killer had only made one mistake. Seeing that the judge was kindly, he had jumped to conclusions, had dismissed him as a fool. He did not know that Mandelson, even in his most altruistic, idealistic moments, had always at the back of his fine Semite brain a constructive, straight-thinking, keenly reasoning precautionary germ.
Mandelson was deeply touched. But he was not exactly the man to cast bread upon the water without a fine-meshed net ready to hand.
"You are right, my friend," he said, after considering a few seconds. "We must heal the body before we can heal the soul. And so I will give you your chance. I will even help you to hold and grasp and use it. I will sentence you to three months—"
Mandelson never knew how near to death he came that moment. Unheeding the interruption, he went on:
"Yes. But I remand the sentence—well—indefinitely. In the mean time, I have a dear friend, Tim Sully, who owns a large Broadway restaurant."
He went on to explain that Sully, like himself, was a self-made man, a man, furthermore, in whom success had not atrophied the eternal charity to help others.
"Tim is a fine man, physically and mentally. He will give you a job. You will not find the work too hard, and you will be well fed, well treated, and earn decent money. Here is your chance."
"Thank you," mumbled Bibi, murder in his heart, while the judge continued:
"Wait. I said that I would help you to grasp and hold your chance."
He rose and walked to the door, opening it.
"Fitzgerald!" he called.
"Your honor?" the burly detective came into the room.
"Fitzgerald," said the judge, "Bibi and I have had a heart-to-heart talk. We have decided that the world owes him another chance. He will sleep in the Tombs to-night, and to-morrow morning early you will go with him to my friend Tim Sully."
"The restaurant man?"
"The same. I will give you a line to him. Tim will give Bibi a job, and I want you to watch over him, to see that he keeps straight and makes good."
"Sure I'll watch him, your honor," grinned the big Irishman, "I'll watch over him like a mother over her only child."
But Mandelson looked up sharply, reprovingly.
"None of your police tricks, Fitzgerald," he warned. "I don't want Bibi persecuted or hounded. I don't want you to hurt him. I ask you to help him." He put a hand on the detective's shoulder. "You're a decent lad, aren't you? You have a family—brothers—perhaps a son?" Fitzgerald inclined his head; and the judge went on: "Think of your brothers, your son. You would help them, wouldn't you, if they cut away from the straight and narrow path? Answer me. Would you?"
"Sure," replied Fitzgerald, moved in spite of himself.
"Good. Then think of Bibi here as your brother, your erring brother. Watch over him with fairness and kindliness. See that he does not lose his chance—his last chance!" he added sharply, to the apache; then, again addressing the other: "Better get somebody to help you. Detective Kramer will do, or Bill Kirk. Anybody you want. But give them my instructions. No persecution, mind you, no hounding. Is that understood?"
"Yes, your honor."
Mandelson shook hands with Bibi.
"Good luck, my friend," he said. "Take your chance. Use it."
And the apache decided that he would. Though not as the judge had intended.
He would take the job. He would earn all the money he could, stow away all the food and drink he could get hold of, which shouldn't be difficult in a restaurant. He would reform, outwardly, assume the smug, respectable look of prosperity that goes with regular meals and decent clothes. Then—vogue la galère!—that stupid specimen of a gendarme would find it easier to hold a greased eel than him—Bibi the Killer!
But right there he made another mistake in psychology. For Sarsfield Fitzgerald, although gently pitying the judge, loved him as at times a big, lusty man loves a small, fine man. Mandelson had trusted him with a certain task. He did not approve of it. It ran counter to his police instincts and training. But he would live up to it and—by the Rock of Cashel!—it was himself would see to it that this dirthy spalpeen of a murtherous apache didn't kick over the traces the fraction of an inch.
"Bill," he said to his friend, detective Kirk, whom he had chosen as a helper, "it seems that the judge—bless him for a dear little man!—is mistakin' me for a dry nurse. Will ye help moindin' the baby?"
"You bet!" replied Bill, who was short and broad and dark and of constructively Scots ancestry. "I'll wean him with my hickory. Lead me to him," twirling his club.
"No, no!" exclaimed Fitzgerald. "It's a different diet entirely the judge has prescribed, and he calls it the milk of human kindness. Listen, me lad!"—and he gave his friend Mandelson's instructions.