Keeban (Little, Brown and Company)/Chapter 16

XVII WALK INTO A PARLOR.

Naturally I debated about opening the bag. She'd given me the key; she had told me to use it, "please!" to find her new toothbrush. But I didn't open it for that. She had meant, I thought, that I should see what I was carrying. So at last I unlocked it and in the light of the little berth lamp I came upon her own intimate attire—a kimono, slippers and silk pajamas, ridiculous little lovely things; stockings, some more gossamer silk which probably was what Field's advertise as an "envelope", a mirror, a brush, a manicure set. There was the new toothbrush and "This Freedom", and below the book, tied together, a pair of steel plates. After looking so far, I felt no harm in gazing further, especially at these.

One was engraved to print ten-dollar National Bank Notes; the other was good—or bad—for the denomination of a hundred. I'm no judge of engraving on steel but they looked like excellent plates to me.

I rewrapped them and brigaded them with "This Freedom" and shoved them back in the suit case, which I locked. I went to use the toothbrush and also to think about those plates. "Well, wasn't that what you expected when you gave her your word?" I said to myself. The answer was that then I hadn't the plates in my hand and I was talking to Doris.

Going to bed, I lay awake, mulling over all manner of doubts having to do with Doris and Jerry and Keeban, Christina, and with me. I did some practical speculating, too; I wondered whether old "Iron Age", when he rendezvoused Doris's luggage returned from Ashtabula, was going to note the omission of kimono, slippers, silk pajamas, envelope, mirror, brush and "This Freedom" from the normal equipment of a young lady of the day; I wondered if, missing them, he might feel strange suspicions of me, which even the memory of my cheese quotations would not allay. But evidently he did not.

I got to sleep; when I awoke, Doris's suit case and those plates remained as they were. Nobody had disturbed them or me.

Breakfasting beside the Hudson, I propped before me the New York Times. It was innocent of knowledge of minor doings in the west, such as a sudden getaway with shooting near the Lake Shore station at Cleveland, but it played a special from Chicago on the front page.

Janvier, the counterfeiter, had been taken with two of his new plates. The Times correspondent was feeling decidedly high up because of it. Trust New York to respond to word that the financial structure is just a bit more safe. Old Wally Bailey was gloriously bucked over the business too; he had himself interviewed in two places; first he certified that the plates, which had been captured, were the source of the highly deceptive and dangerous twenty and fifty-dollar false Federal Reserve notes recently put in circulation in great quantities; second he sounded the alarm that Janvier had completed, also, a couple of other plates, one for printing ten-dollar bills and one for striking off notes of one-hundred dollar denomination. The police had evidence that these plates existed but they had failed to find them.

For the best of reasons! I had them tied up with "This Freedom" underneath Doris's lingerie.

I carried her suit case myself across to the Belmont where I took it to my room and then, after locking myself in, I gathered Janvier's plates from it and carried them, in my pocket, up to our bank where I had a safe deposit box and I put them away there. Much happier in my head, I wired Fanneal and Company, Chicago, not to expect me at the desk that morning and dropped into our New York branch and pretended that business had brought me on.

Beans and butter never struck me so dull as upon this morning; and the only thrill I could squeeze from Philadelphia double daisies and Fond du Lac twins was the second-hand memory of yesterday. I kept 'phoning the Belmont inquiring for telegrams; but nothing came in for me.

What was happening in Cleveland? I wondered. Was Doris going back to Chicago, now that her father was taken; or would she stick to her plan to come on?

Vine—Keeban—was here, she said; Christina was here. So, if Jerry was anywhere, probably he also was here; and, if any of his old habits clung to him, he'd know I'd arrived, too. There is a column printed every day, you know, giving the news of arrivals of out-of-town buyers in every line of trade. My name, with New York address, was in the papers that afternoon. Jerry used to glance over the arrivals in our line.

I felt lonely as Crusoe that day, particularly when dinner time approached. I imagined I'd make myself better by drifting over to dine with some friends I'd met on Fifth. There was a daughter, there, about Doris's age and size; a popular girl,—a deb of a couple of years' standing. Sitting and smoking, I mean, rather.

I bored the poor dear. I always had, so why not now? She never flicked a stir in me. Not that she tried; she didn't. That was it. "Well, old Steve, we'll struggle through with the meal somehow!" Such was the sensation underlying the ennui; so, naturally, she made it mutual with me.

Thank God, she didn't try to mix salad dressing at the table; so I kept my memory clear.

That night, when I returned to the hotel, I had a wire filed at Buffalo; three words, no signature: "Seediness yonder thus."

You may suppose I had my Webster handy, and, counting my words up and down, made out "See you Thursday."

That was to-morrow; so I had to figure out, during the night, what I was to say. You see, I had to bring her those plates and give them to her; but she had to give me a chance to argue her out of using them.

Lying in bed, many a good way of putting my point of view came to me. I got up several times and jotted them down; some I just talked over with myself. I made rather a night of it; never was more earnest over anything in: my life. I looked to my talk with that girl as a sort of turning point in her life, and for me, if I could simply make her see matters straight. I was crazy over her; you've gathered that; and trusted her, too, or would trust her with anything but a counterfeit steel plate which her father had engraved. I figured I could make it so I could trust her with that, too.

About mid-morning, I got another wire; from Jersey City this: "Seven three chess omnivorus noose."

No signature again; but the system, which Doris taught me in that vestibule, gave me the place and the time. Up five from seven made twelve; down three from three, zero. Up five from chess, first syllable "cher" down three from omnivorous, "on"; up one from noose, "noon."

The telegram: "120 Cheron (Street) Noon."

Cheron proved to be one of those streets, turned at several angles, down by Brooklyn Bridge.

I rehearsed all my talk, went to the vault and withdrew that pair of plates. I decided to make this meeting on foot, not in taxi, so I took the subway from Grand Central to the Bridge and emerged in that intriguing maze which radiates under the ramp of that old roadway suspended above East River.

Cheron Street showed itself on a corner full fifteen minutes before noon. It was a sunny bit of city that clear, winter day; it was one of those houses-and-stores streets with red-brick fronts, tall narrow windows and iron stairs and railings. Children romped about; hucksters were making sales to sets of the wisest buyers I ever saw. Price quotations floated to me and I wondered how they could work so close to cost.

I was trying to make the time pass more swiftly by turning attention to such trifles while I waited. For I would not call at No. 120 till noon.

Of course I'd located the number and looked it over several times. It was on one of the regular red brick fronts which owned windows cleaner than most of its neighbors. Nice, old-fashioned curtains, stiffly starched, showed their white patterns. It seemed a precise and prim abode, not over-populated.

During the minutes I watched, men, women and children went in and out of the doors on each side,—practical looking men, who might be mechanics engaged in car repairs at a garage around the corner; in ways which I've mentioned, the women proved they were frugal housewives; the play of the children added to the decent domesticity of the street.

There was absolutely nothing sinster in sight and nothing and nobody menacing like the dyke-keeper in Klangenberg's delicatessen.

No one went in or out of Number 120; and I imagined it the abode of some aging, female relative of Doris; an aunt possibly, who might have been her guardian in some country town during Doris's childhood and who now had moved to the city and who probably took support from the proceeds of Janvier's plates but had nothing more to do with them.

When noon came, and Doris had not appeared, I realized that she must be waiting me within; and I went up and rang the bell.

An old woman admitted me, a nice-appearing, wrinkled and gray-haired thing.

"Come in," she said to me immediately, before I could ask for anyone. Plainly I had been expected; and she motioned me into the prim, red-plush parlor with an ancient piano and crayon enlargements on the wall; and also faded, plush hangings in the door.

These were particularly important furnishings; for it was when I was stepping between them that I was hit on the head; and not by that old woman nor by any infirm or failing person. The hit was wholly vigorous and expert; and right at the base of the back of my head.

Of course, I realized all this afterwards; at the time, I knew nothing. I was walking into that prim, red-plush parlor quite strong and happy; I passed the portières and instantaneously I was "out." I was also down but didn't know it; I went "out" while still on my feet; but naturally, when I found myself again, I was on the floor.