Keeban (Little, Brown and Company)/Chapter 3

Keeban by Edwin Balmer
I Have Encounter by the River

IIII HAVE ENCOUNTER BY THE RIVER.

As long as I stayed by myself, I had some luck at believing; but there was morning and the newspapers and telephone calls. I had to tell my father then, and mother; and they talked with the police. They talked with Mrs. Sparling and Gibson and fifty others who were at the dance. And also they talked with Dorothy.

She was conscious now but in complete collapse, and her prostration, added to what she said, gave the final proof against Jerry. She'd loved him, too, it seemed; and he'd attacked and robbed her.

There's no sense in stringing here the sensations the papers spread; they were perfectly plain and obvious. "Foster Son of Millionaire Attacks and Robs Society Girl"; and "Foundling of Fanneals Turns Brute"; and "Waif Reared to Riches Reverts to Original Savagery" and all that tosh. They dogged my people and me, the servants and even our office force. They ran articles by "professors," cheap alienists, psychoanalysts and the rest of the ruck running after sensation.

Jerry had "reverted"; that was the seed of their stuff. He carried in his blood a "complex" which suddenly caused him to cast off all the restraints and habits of thought and conduct which our family had drilled into him and to plan and effect the robbery of the jewels about Dorothy Crewe's neck. The dance and drink that night had inflamed him, they said; then something flared up inside him and he forgot all that we had grafted into him, forgot even his own obvious advantage in remaining the son of Austin Fanneal, for the "primordial, overpowering instinct for violence."

I found nothing to put against all this. I talked to the people whom Jerry had told me he'd seen at the Drake at the time when Gibson and the rest said he was at the Sparlings'. Townsend and Sally Westman and Downs admitted they'd seen Jerry at the Drake but they all believed they'd become confused in guessing at the time. It was earlier that he was over there, they thought; then he must have gone back to the Sparlings' and taken Dorothy away. I got no help from them.

How could I tell them of Keeban? My own mother was sorry for me when I told her. She took the strong line she always does; she considered herself to blame for having taken in Jerry, twenty-eight years ago, and with no knowledge of his blood, rearing a child with unknown capacities for crime and putting him into a position to harm others.

Dorothy's people that day proclaimed a reward of ten thousand dollars for the taking of Jerry Fanneal, dead or alive; and my father, on that same day, put up ten more. He sent pictures of Jerry to all the papers and himself supplied the minute descriptions telegraphed to St. Louis, Cleveland, Denver, Philadelphia, New York, everywhere.

They set the whole world after Jerry while I—I, in those days, went down to business and tried to do it, there in my office with my name on the door, next to the door which had borne Jerry's name.

But now his name was gone. They dissolved it with acid, so that no one could see that the gold leaf on the glass had ever formed his initial; and they burned every sheet of paper with his name on it. So there by day, beside his empty office, I tried to do business and, when the day was over, I walked by the river.

The Chicago River, as many may know, cuts the city like a great, wide Y with long, narrow, irregular arms, one reaching northwest and the other southwest from the top of the short, straight shank which is the east-and-west channel from Lake Michigan. Not to the lake, remember, for the Chicago River flows in the opposite direction from the natural current, since men have turned it around to carry water from the lake up the shank of the Y and then up the southwest branch to the drainage canal and to the Illinois and the Mississippi rivers. It is a useful, but not the most fervent Chicagoan can call it a pleasing stream, even in its valuable reaches on the main channel east and west, and where the south branch turns past the most precious property of the city.

Here and there are modern warehouses with a hundred yards or so of decent, new dock between the bridges which cross the channel every block or so, but most of the buildings forming the river bank show straight up-and-down walls of narrow, tall, none-too-clean windows and cheap brick, badly painted. At the bottom of the wall, there may be only a pile strip to support the structure, but more frequently the buttress before the slow flow of the water is a couple of yards wide, offering a loading platform for ships which may tie up alongside or for the flat steam scows of the Merchants Lighterage Company which ply up and down the river.

Our building backs on the river, not far from its bend to the south and frequently, at the end of the day's work, Jerry and I would go out by the river way and along on the strip of platform beside the water. Instantly it took us from the world of streets and dust and carts and trucks and taxicabs, from the traffic pound and clatter; there a five-thousand-ton steamer, deep-laden, slips up beside one so silently that you hardly hear the plash of the bow wave washing before it and the lap of the eddies on the timber under your feet; you hear the sudden, clear voices of seamen; bells sounding from engine-room depths; now the whole air rumbles with a tremendous, unlandlike blast as the vessel blows for the opening of the bridge, under which scurries a black tug, lake bound, dipping her banded funnel for clearance. Watermen scull an open boat across the oily current on river business of their own. Before you and above reach the bridges bearing the streets; but they seem now concerned with affairs of another world.

No one else ever took that walk with Jerry and me; we had idled along the river hours on end together, following the black band of the narrow timber causeway above the water to which, here and there, elusive, unidentified doors would open. Somewhere along there, if anywhere, Jerry was likely to look for me, I thought, if he wanted me alone and unwitnessed. So, after Jerry was gone, I kept up by myself the habit we had formed together; and on the seventh night I came this way—it was Monday evening and the ninth day after Jerry disappeared—one of those doors to the water suddenly opened beside me.

The hour, which was half-past five, was more afternoon than evening, but the darkness was almost of night; for the month had turned to November, and between the brick walls of the canyon where the black river flowed there was less light from the sky than from the few windows where yellow bulbs glowed. It was so cool as to feel frosty as I walked against the fresh breeze blowing in from the lake.

"Steve!" said a girl's voice, hailing me.

I turned, and, in the light which came through the doorway, I found a trim young person gazing at me. As the illumination which came from a single, unshaded electric bulb set on a blank wall opposite the door was behind her, I could see at first only that she wore a dark, tailored suit and a small, dark hat over hair which was unbobbed, abundant and light in color—almost as light as Dorothy Crewe's had been.

"Steve, do you want to talk with Jerry?" she asked me calmly. "Come in, then."

She stepped back, and I stepped after her. As soon as I was in, she closed the door; and there was Jerry standing in the corner back of the door.

"Hello, Steve," he greeted me without emotion.

"Hello, Jerry," I said, and tried to show as little, but I was feeling more than ever before in my life. For here we were, Jerry and I, who'd spent all our lives together; here we were alone with that girl, who'd evidently come with him. I looked at her again and made sure I didn't know her.

"This is Christina, Steve," Jerry told me in that same, dull voice, purposely deadened to keep out emotion. "Christina," he said to her, "this is Steve."

"Who's Christina, Jerry?" I said; stupid thing to ask. He knew it was stupid and he smiled, as Jerry always did; he was used to my being stupid. He simply nodded toward her to say, "You see; there she is."

I stared from her and looked about the room, which was a square, bare place with whitewashed walls, corresponding to an ordinary cellar room.

Considered from the street side of the building, a hundred feet or so away, it was a cellar, though its riverside door was eight or ten feet above the water. A single window, with a drawn blind, was beside that door; in the opposite wall, beside the light, was another door, leading either to a basement cavern which could have no outside light, or to a stair; I could not know, for the door was closed and bolted.

The floor was cracked cement, strewn with straw and wisps of excelsior; old, open boxes and barrels stood about and a broken desk and chairs. Evidently the place had once been used as a shipping room but had been deserted. I tried to locate it in connection with some particular building, but failed, for I had not kept track how far I'd walked.

Suddenly Jerry told me, as though he'd seen my thought, "We're back of Linthrop's old warehouse, Steve."

Then I knew that the building above us was empty; and I knew, as I gazed at Jerry, that he'd chosen this place to stop me because of his uncertainty of me.

And here I stood before Jerry shaking with my uncertainty of him! He saw it. An impulse swept over me to seize him and drag him through that door to an arrest; for the instant, I stood before Jerry, not as his brother who believed in him—I who had given my word to believe in him—but as a representative of society which hunted him for his treacherous, savage attack upon Dorothy Crewe. For the instant, I saw him as others thought,—my brother with a beast inside him which had struck, through him, at Dorothy Crewe.

Then the sight of his face heaped upon me too many other memories of Jerry and me through twenty-eight years. He was not quite as he had been; how could he be? He was hunted for crime; for nine days he had known that all his world—all the world which we had made his—believed he had committed that attack on Dorothy Crewe. And she had believed!

So it showed in his eyes; it lined his lip stiffer and more defiantly; it cast something harder into his whole countenance. Of course his clothes made him different, too, for he had on a heavy, badly cut suit of cheap wool such as roustabouts and deckhands wear; he had a Mackinaw coat and cap on the chair behind him.

"I've got to get out, Steve," he said to me. "That's why I stopped you."

"You've been here all the time?"

He nodded. "In Chicago," he said.

The girl had been keeping away from us, but she stepped up beside him; and I saw again the corn color of her hair, which was like Dorothy Crewe's. She had blue eyes, too; otherwise, she was not like Dorothy. She was pert and bold, this girl—a sort to get what she went after. What was she to Jerry? I wondered. Where had he found her? What was her business here to-night with him?

"He's got to have coin, Steve, don't you see?" she said to me.

"Why?"

"Why?" She laughed at me body after him? Oh, perhaps you ain't heard? You don't read the papers; maybe you don't read. Can't Steve read, Jerry?"

Jerry made no reply but to shake his head a little at her; then he watched me.

"D'you suppose," Christina continued to me, "it's worth nothing to nobody—whoever sees him or gives him a hand or a cot or a meal—to do a squeal? Is everybody in this city so elegantly fixed that nobody could possibly find any use for twenty thousand smackers?"

"Keep still, Christina," Jerry said.

"How much do you need?" I asked him.

"How much can you drag with you?" the girl kept at me. "When you got to buy yourself past bulls and beefers, who can drag down twenty thou by simply settin' the squeal, how far do you suppose a dime'll go toward squarin' 'em?"

"Cut it, Christina," Jerry said this time. "Steve doesn't know how to be mean."

"Don't this time," she shot at me. "Have it with you along here at ten to-morrow night. If the old man can stick up ten thou to get him, can't you find something like it to help him away?" And she switched out the light.

I replied but stood in the dark and heard the door to the warehouse unbolted; I heard their steps within, echoing away. Outside, on the platform beside the river, somebody approached but did not stop. The warehouse went quiet and there was nobody by the river, so I stepped out.

Here I was, where I had gone in, and I tried to think how I'd changed from ten minutes before. I'd talked to Jerry; or hadn't I?

It was strange that never once, when he was before me and I was speaking to him, I doubted he was Jerry; yet I'd sworn to him, on that night they arrested him, that I'd believe Keeban existed also; I'd believe Keeban robbed Dorothy Crewe and threw her into the street. Consequently, I ought to believe that the man with Christina might be Keeban. But I didn't; I didn't believe in Keeban at all just now; and yet a few minutes ago, I did.

I went home and said nothing to my people; I said nothing about this to any one at all. I stayed by myself that evening and, about eleven o'clock, I walked down by the edge of the lake beyond that strip of park which turns in front of the homes on the Drive and near which we live.

"Steve!" a voice whispered to me; and I jumped about.

Jerry had come up beside me at the edge of the lake. This time he was alone.

He was not in deckhand's garb and Mackinaw coat; he wore a plain, dark jacket and felt hat. I could not plainly see his face; the light from the lamps on the Drive gave me only glints on his cheekbone and nose and chin and in his eyes turned to mine, but enough to make me know Jerry.

Then I remembered I'd known the man in the warehouse basement for Jerry when he was speaking to me.

"Hello," I said.

"Steve, he called on you to-day!"

"Who?"

"Keeban!"

I stopped and thought a minute; and I was shaking. "Oh," I asked him, "where was that?"

"You know," he came back. "I don't; but didn't he see you?"

"Yes," I said; and went right on. "What was over our old beds when we slept together in the north room?"

"You didn't ask him that?" this fellow said.

"No; but I'm asking you."

"Oh, a picture of the Constitution fighting the Guerrière, Steve, you old fool!"

"Anything peculiar about it?"

"I'd cracked the glass across the lower right corner, shooting my air rifle in the room, disobeying mother. She never would have it mended."

"What was opposite?"

"The charge up San Juan hill. Anything else?"

"No; that's enough. You're—Jerry. How do you know about that other meeting?"

"I don't; that's why I'm asking you. But I've been waiting for it and I got the hunch he'd reached you to-day."

"Keeban?"

"He goes by the name of Vine just now; Harry Vine. There was somebody with him?"

"A girl," I admitted.

"Light haired?"

"As light," I said slowly and deliberately, "as Dorothy Crewe's."

He had to draw breath deep after that. "Steve, how is Dot?"

"Don't you see the papers?"

"Of course."

"Well, they've told the truth about her condition."

Again he drew deep breath; then he struck his hands together. "I'll cure her, Steve, by the only way. I'll show her Keeban! But we've got to be careful—awfully, awfully careful, don't you see? I've got to catch him, not scare him away. Suppose he goes off forever; suppose he's drowned, body lost; suppose he's burnt; suppose a dozen wrong things, Steve, and I can never show him. Then I've got to be Keeban forever; nobody but you will ever believe! Will they?"

"Nobody," I agreed.

"Come, then; to-morrow's our chance. No word to the 'bulls' or he'll hear it and not show up. We have to handle this ourselves and close. Who was with him? Christina?"

"That's what he called her."

"She talked for him?"

"Come to think of it, Jerry, she did, mostly."

"That's why he had her; my voice gives him most trouble. Sometimes he gets it perfectly; then he goes off into things I'd never say. He knows it but doesn't know what to say. He's so near perfect for me that he fooled you, you see; no wonder he fooled Dot."

"No."

"What did he ask of you?"

"Money."

"How much?"

"He left that to me but suggested—Christina did—ten thousand dollars."

"Um," said Jerry and set to thinking.

I did some myself. "What did he want with ten thousand dollars if he has Dorothy's diamonds?" I demanded.

Jerry gazed at me and smiled; I could see the glisten of his teeth. "Don't you and the pater keep going down to business, Steve? Pater could buy ten strings like Dot's, if he'd a mind to, of course; but I never saw him refuse a chance to pick up a few thousand more. What're you going to do, Steve?"

"That's what I was down here for, thinking it out."

"Get the money, Steve. Draw it yourself from the bank. He'll have you watched so he'll know whether you have. Then have it; and tell nobody else but go to meet him."

"Alone?"

"I'll be there. Now, don't you see?"

"Yes," I said.

"Then you'll do it?"

"Yes."

"Great! Your hand on it, Steve!"

I gave it and he grabbed me. "Now I've got to go. Hamlet's father's ghost has nothing whatever on me! For a certain term, I can walk the night; then, 'fare thee well!' One minute; suppose you meet my friend before I do, don't forget; don't bother him with the battles of the War of 1812 or San Juan Hill or test him on Hamlet. Just try to interest him, till I arrive."

He stepped from me. "Don't follow," he asked, and I let him go; and once more, when he was gone, I wondered what I knew. Two of them there were, he said; but I had not yet seen two.

Why could not both be Jerry—clever, quick-seeing Jerry? Suppose he had known, after he'd met me in the room beside the river, that I was bound to doubt and waver; and so he'd come with this scheme, this clever scheme, to lead me on and make me give my word. Anyway, here I was with my word given and my hand on it.