Old Reliable in Africa/Chapter 6
THE MAN WHO RAN
LATER that same afternoon Colonel Spottiswoode sat in his steamer chair, still thinking, still figuring, while Zack lounged against the rail and gazed upon the water.
"Zack! Zack!" he glanced up and asked, "if you had some money that you didn't want, what would you do with it?"
Zack grinned, "Well, Cunnel, you know how niggers is. Dey's mighty ginrous wid money what dey ain't got. But ef I had a lot o' money, I'd buy tickets to Missy's concert. She sho is one high qualified young lady, an' ain't got no bizness puttin' her foot to de groun'. Dem gent'men is plumb crazy 'bout de way she plays dat fiddle."
The Colonel straightened up in his chair. Presently he untangled himself from the steamer rug and began to pace the deck. Wheeling at the last turn, he stopped abruptly: "Zack, you've got more sense than a lead mule. Go find that little sharp-faced steward, and bring him to the writing room." Then the Colonel disappeared.
In a corner of the writing room where nobody could see him, Colonel Spottiswoode placed seven hundred and eighty-five dollars in an envelope. Then he took the four cards—Reifenstein, Castelleone, Torreale, and Shields—enclosed them with the money, and sealed the package.
"Steward," he said, "take this envelope straight to Signorina Certosa, and tell her it is from these gentlemen whose cards are inside—to buy one ticket each. If you mention my name, you don't get a cent; if you keep your mouth shut, I'll give you five dollars."
As he started for the music room that steward's mouth could not have been opened with a jimmy. Colonel Spottiswoode hurried out on deck and watched through a port hole. He saw the steward as he laid the envelope in Signorina's hand, and delivered the message accurately.
"Four more tickets sold, my dear," the singer laughed, and patted Miss Stanton's hands. But when Aurora saw the large size of the bills, and the gold besides, her eyes widened. Excitedly she counted: "Seven hundred and eighty-five dollars. Who sent this? Who——" She looked up but the steward had vanished. A card dropped out, "Carissima, look! It's that dear, dear Reifenstein. Where is he? Where is he? Come, we must find him dear, generous Reifenstein." Signorina sprang up and led Miss Stanton to the deck.
Reifenstein was standing near the forward screen, talking confidentially with the other two. Colonel Spottiswoode flattened himself against the wall as Aurora dragged the unwilling girl and went running past. Signorina Certosa rushed up behind Reifenstein, pulled him around, put both hands upon his shoulders and kissed his cheek: "Oh! you generous, generous darling——" The German stepped back amazed; the Italians looked on with blank and stupid faces. "How splendid of you—princely!" Aurora continued unbrokenly. "And when I heard you say 'seven hundred and eighty-five dollars' I thought you were taking no interest in my benefit—oh!"
None of the men had spoken. "Seven eighty-five," Reifenstein repeated vaguely, then reached out and took the card from Aurora's hand, his own card, with the ink spot. "Who sent this?" he asked.
"You sent it with the money, such an odd amount—seven hundred and eighty-five dollars." The three men glanced wonderingly at each other until an idea occurred to Reifenstein. He turned and strode off with the card in his hand.
Half-way down the long deck Colonel Spottiswoode was standing. Reifenstein went directly up to him and presented the card: "Did you send this, sir, to Signorina Certosa?"
"I did, sir," the Colonel answered.
"And you sent her the money that was in dispute—for the young lady's benefit?"
"I did, sir."
Reifenstein tore up the card and extended his hand, "I shall make any apology you demand. You must be my friend."
"I never wanted to be anything else"; the Colonel wrung his hand warmly, and the two men leaned against a corner of the passage, laughing at the untangling of their troubles. Zack came slipping along and pulled the Colonel's sleeve and warned him, "Look out, Cunnel! Dey's comin'."
And they were coming, Signorina still dragging Doris by the wrist. Behind her followed the chattering and excited Italians, jubilant with delight. In their rear the Colonel saw, or imagined, hundreds and hundreds of curious eyes, watching to see what the Signorina was going to do. Every human being on the vessel seemed surging toward them. The Colonel gave one look, just one.
"I can't stand the gaff," he whispered to Reifenstein, then melting behind the corner, turned and fled.
"Where is he?" demanded the breathless Signorina. "Where is that dear, dear American Prince?"
"Gone." Reifenstein choked out the word, his face very red.
"Run away? From me? me?" Then the singer turned upon Zack and berated him. "So your terreeble, terreeble fighter is run away—run from a woman?"
"No, ma'am," Zack defended him. "No, ma'am, he ain't run away. I seen Cunnel look at his watch; he got er engagement down stairs to kill a man."
They could not embrace the Colonel, so Castelleone and Torreale embraced each other.