Keeban (Little, Brown and Company)/Chapter 15

XVIN WHICH I ASSIST A GET-AWAY.

She came into my car, blithe and smiling; at least she smiled at me. Every one looked up and every one, seeing that smile for me, put me down as lucky, I know. When she was past and out of the car, I could feel them gazing at me and wondering what I'd done to deserve such a smile.

She was a gay, delightful maid. Suppose that, not having had the advantage of acquaintance at the Flamingo Feather, I had met her in an ordinary way. I'd have been mad over that girl. Heaven salvage my soul, I was anyway.

She had a trick of playing up to me, which probably she used with everybody, but I never really saw it except with me. Anyway, she did it with me; and nobody else ever did. It was her trick of looking up quickly, when I was about to say something, and smiling in that pleasant way of hers (pleasant doesn't half do it; but it has to go at that) as if she was always sure of something good every time I talked and as if she liked my line and me. When you're decidedly slow and ordinary, that makes quite a hit.

I sat figuring out her life. Put her down as twenty-two; then she was born during the year Janvier was out after his first term in the "long house" and while he was busy engraving the plates which sent him in again. Some one—she hadn't said who—took her into the country for ten years. Maybe she had a mother then; maybe not; her mother had dropped out somewhere. She was about twelve, then, when her father got out again and began his famous "living Cleveland" series of engravings.

Twelve, they say, is the child's most impressionable age; the parent or guardian molds the future then.

Now I knew nothing about the guardian, when the parent was in the "long house," but I had considerable information about father; and I could imagine him emerging from the pen all filled with eagerness to be back at his game of showing up the government engravers and of getting away with what he'd tried twice.

Wally Bailey had given me a graphic glimpse of Janvier and his aim which, from one point of view, was actually a pursuit of perfection. What Wally suggested was that Janvier wanted, more than anything else, the satisfaction of doing the thing which had stumped him. That was what he wanted his sight back for,—to have a go at it again. And here he had it.

His daughter was helping him, naturally. She'd been born and bred to his business and surely had caught something of the spirit of her father who wouldn't give in, in spite of three terms, till he'd shown up the government.

I thought of what Jerry had told me of the Socratic genius of gervers and housemen; undoubtedly counterfeiters had their talent for dialectics too.

It might go something like this: the printing of a little extra money would not directly injure any individual. In fact, there was quite an argument whether it damaged people in general at all.

Many highly approved people were openly in favor of a freer issue of currency without bothering whether a gold or silver dollar was behind every bank note. Mr. Ford and Mr. Edison themselves had spoken for a scheme which, while not similar to Janvier's system, yet had sent the good bankers into frightful attacks of financial hydrophobia.

Mightn't Janvier show plenty of authority to suggest that he wasn't in a bad business at all?

And suppose he compared it with other businesses; mine, for choice. What was the harm in shoving out a little informal currency compared with the damage in passing out drugged and adulterated food, which many a first family has done?

Then compare it with the coal brokerage business, from which many of my firmest friends are fat. What did they do for their profits, during a late, lamented shortage, but hold a few carloads of coal back from the market and away from people freezing for it so they could whoop the price a little more? Wouldn't everybody be a bit ahead if these people, who haven't the slightest fear of any "long house," had stayed out of the coal business and simply printed their own money for their profits and shoved it into circulation without harming anybody?

You see, as I thought it over, it didn't seem strange to me that Doris Wellington could smile and smile at me and not feel herself a villainess at all.

I wondered, from time to time, exactly what was in that nice, new suit case under my feet. A few hundred thousand in neat, new bills, I thought; or possibly plates. Maybe both.

That suit case kept bothering my bean-business conscience. It was decidedly one matter to like Doris Wellington and wish her to stay out of the clutches of old "Iron Age"; but it was something quite up another street to take charge of that handbag full of cash and plates and deliver them at destination for her. Obviously, this was what she meant me to do.

The day was waning; and all lights were on as we drew into Toledo, where old "Iron Age" sent his sheaf of telegrams over to Western Union. He received a couple of yellow envelopes too. I saw him strolling on the platform, reading enclosures and watching the doors of the train. He was developing a more menacing look.

Neither Doris nor George got off; Felice did, flirting expertly with one of the clothing merchants. "All aboard." We were going again. Cleveland, the next stop.

In the observation car, I found "Iron Age" ponderously on duty beside Doris who was reading Harper's. A good touch that, I thought; there's something so disarming about Harper's. But it wasn't Harper's alone which made the effect. There was George a couple of seats away and he was reading the Atlantic Monthly, with Galsworthy's "Forsythe Saga" ready beside him for good measure, yet he didn't appear half so innocuous.

This was probably because he wasn't. The more I looked at George, the more I questioned his general character; but the more I gazed at Doris, the surer I was that—in all but one of the essential senses—she was a "good" girl. Looseness of living simply wasn't in her make-up.

You couldn't associate her with anything personally depraved or disagreeable. She'd no more steal a diamond ring, left in the ladies' wash room, than my mother, I felt certain. No; I was confident that her dereliction was highly specialized to the subject represented in that suit case of hers under my seat.

I wanted to talk to her about that and about other topics; but old "Iron Age" was asserting a priority claim just now.

He looked up at me and cut me dead, signifying of course that just now he and I weren't to know each other. Doris nodded to me and I to her and I found a chair opposite.

Watching Dibley, I perceived that he was in the throes of opening a casual conversation. Of course Doris perceived it, too, and about a minute after I sat down, she dropped her Harper's.

Old "Iron Age" dove for it and restored it to her, pompously. She thanked him.

He said, "You're entirely welcome. You're going to New York?"

"Oh, no," Doris told him. "We're off at Cleveland."

"Iron Age" gave a glance at me, which eloquently said, "You see, you believed that. Now watch me."

I watched them both and George, too.

Evidently she'd told Dibley what she wished and she was at her Harper's again, as though she enjoyed it. George was at his Atlantic but he was poised; oh, decidedly poised.

"Iron Age" had two options, either to stay silent or start something crude like an arrest. But I doubted whether, in spite of his telegrams, he had enough evidence yet. So that was as far as he got in the light talk; and he'd jeered at me!

A waiter from the dining car appeared with the usual word for six o'clock; and Doris got up.

"We're going in early," she volunteered to me, "since we're off at Cleveland."

This gave Dib another cue to rehearse his superior glance at me.

George followed her out of the car and Dibley beckoned me over to him.

"Get her talking again," he told me. "Leave him to me."

When I found her seated alone at a table for two in the dining car, I interpreted Dib's orders liberally. She smiled at me and, when I asked, "How about my sitting here?" she said, "Oh, I'd like it!" So there I was across the table from her, ordering her supper and mine together.

There's something about that—the breaking of bread together, you know—which rather does more than you'd ever suspect unless you've tried it under conditions like mine. We not only broke bread; we broke a full portion of broiled white fish between us, another of cauliflower au gratin. I served those while she poured our two cups of orange pekoe from the same little pot and, for both of us, she mixed salad dressing of her own in a bowl. The best dressing, by the way, I'd ever tasted.

She'd the prettiest hands I'd ever seen; and to have them doing things for me!

Occasionally, but with rapidly lessening frequency, I wondered about George,—why he didn't show up for supper and to what I'd left him with Dib. I ventured to ask Doris about him.

"Oh, he's not hungry," she assured me.

As I remembered him, he hadn't looked it; he'd only looked worried, whereas she didn't at all. She had true nerve, you see.

That dinner was so delightful that I longed to forget that she was playing for her liberty for the next ten years. I didn't want any other element in this but just her and me.

It ended with the check which she let me pay without silly argument; then we had to get up, and never more reluctant feet than mine moved from a dining car.

She went through the Pullmans in front of me; at each door, I came beside her, opened it; for a moment we were close. I hoped we were going to her compartment; but she surprised me in the vestibule of the third car rear from the diner.

No one was following just then; the doors on both sides were tightly shut.

She turned and looked up at me. "Which is it?" she asked, straight.

I knew what she meant; and at that second I suddenly decided. "I keep your suit case," I said.

"And you'll give it back to me?"

"Where will you want it?"

"New York. I'm off at Cleveland, as I said, but I'll come to New York later."

"I'll take it there for you," I said, and it was in the manner of an agreement, "if I possibly can; and I will give it to you under one condition." I waited.

"Nobody's listening," she urged me.

I told her. "It's this. I bring it to you, alone. I'll be alone; you must be. You must give me a chance then to talk to you."

"What about?"

"Can't you imagine?"

She gazed into my eyes without wavering. "I reckon! You'll give it back and ask me to give it back again to you—to destroy! All right! That's a go! I'll run that chance with you!"

She held out her hand and I grasped it and she grasped mine, firmly and well. Somebody came through; just an ordinary passenger; but of course we dropped hands. When the doors were closed again, she went into her bag.

"Here's the key to the suit case," she offered it to me. "Sorry you won't find more for you to use inside; but there's a new toothbrush, anyway. Please have it!"

"You've another?" We were suddenly particular about little things with each other.

"There're more in Cleveland," she replied. "Where do you stop in New York?"

"The Belmont."

"I'll wire you my address."

"Where we'll meet?"

"That's it. Can you remember this?" she asked. "Don't put it down. "Take five from the first number, three from the second; one from the third. That much for numbers. For words read from Webster's Collegiate Dictionary—they're everywhere—first five second three down, third one up, and so on. A street named after a number will be spelled in syllables, taking the first in a word. You can find any syllable in the dictionary. Now tell me that."

I told it to her; and still we had an instant there alone.

"What do you know about happenings after the scatter from the Feather?" I said to her. "Did Vine get Christina?"

"No; she got away."

"He's in Chicago?"

"No; New York."

"What else do you know about him?"

She shook her head and opened the door toward her car. "Don't stay about now," she asked me; and she went into her compartment.

I should have known that she wouldn't talk over others' affairs. She'd said a good deal, all things considered. So Christina had escaped Keeban and he was back in New York, whence he had come. Probably, therefore, Jerry was in New York, too.

I asked myself what Doris's move to the east might have to do with them; how might she be mixed in?

Likely she was not mixed with them at all except when, more or less by chance, her group encountered one of their group in business. I could not possibly connect her with any scheme for murder. Christina, herself, had refused such a scheme; how much more surely would Doris have kept free from anything like that!

With her key in my hand, I stood in the vestibule of the next car, daydreaming about her. The train was bounding along too beautifully, rushing us right into Cleveland. I wanted to see Doris again but she'd dismissed me; I could only endanger her now by hanging around.

When we stopped at Cleveland, at eight-thirty, old "Iron Age" again was on the platform; and this time I tumbled off with him. I didn't plan anything quite so subtle as the succeeding event; really, I wasn't up to that at all. You see, what happened was this.

I'd reported to him, on parting from Doris after dinner, that I was sure they were leaving the train at Cleveland because she'd mentioned the matter, quite definitely, again. Of course Dibley only regarded me more in sorrow than otherwise; he was certain they were only playing me. So when I was on the platform with him, for my benefit he was a bit over-ostentatious in acting out his conviction that they were staying on the train. He had a new sheaf of messages to clutter up the telegraph office and Western Union had a boy burdened down with replies for him; so Doris and George, with Felice, were off and started away almost before "Iron Age" guessed it.

They were all without baggage, of course. After he saw them, Dibley got into action quickly. He yelled for guards to close in; he had out his gun. But they were down the stairs and I didn't need to grab that gun; so I didn't. Shots sounded below, however. I couldn't tell who fired them. I went down the stairs with Dibley and the rest of the drift from the platform; but my three friends had doubled, dodged and were away.

I waited as long as I dared; then I climbed and caught the train. Dibley didn't; but his orders overtook us. At Ashtabula, an hour or so cast, they stopped us and officers came aboard to take off all baggage from compartment E, car No. 424, and also to capture George's large, piggy portmanteau. A special engine was about to start with all that for Cleveland.

During the stop, I rather expected a word or two might be said to me; but it became plain that Dibley's opinion of me continued true to form. Nobody bothered me; the train went on; my berth was made and I took that new suit case of Doris Janvier's behind the curtains.