The Mountain of Fears/Two Gentlemen
LOOK at that cat, Doctor," said Leyden, "but do not let her see that you are looking. There!—did you see the beast crouch, and glance at us, and then begin to wash its face!"
I glanced at the ship's cat—an interesting beast, as are most ship's cats, either because one has more time to study their actions, or because a limited sphere develops the animal's ingenuity. Some one had brought aboard a tulu-pial bird and hung its cage over the hand steering-gear, where the pineapples are strung out to ripen. The cat had lost no time in locating the bird and was busy measuring distances when we interrupted.
"That cat," said Leyden, "would be typified by a sneak-thief among men. Do you know, Doctor, I believe that domestic animals, like men, have their grades of honesty. Have you not seen a finely bred dog of high courage subdue an animal impulse which he feels to be degrading?"
I had observed this thing, but, seeing that the subject had suggested something to Leyden's mind, I merely nodded. Few men had looked as deeply into the nature of all things made as had this keen-sensed Teuton collector, who seemed equally at home in any part of the civilized or savage world. He had at times played the same quiet, modest part in the founding of empires as in the advancement of science; his friends were to be found from the palm tree to the palace, and I fear that a great many of his enemies were dead.
"I had. once an occasion to watch a striking case of noblesse oblige in an animal," Leyden continued. "I would not tell the story if it were a simple animal yarn, as such tales are, as a rule, tiresome and untruthful. This story concerns people, principally, but as those upon whom it reflects discreditably are dead—with certain others—there is no reason why it should not be told.
"This was a good many years ago, Doctor, when the steamer transportation in the Pacific was less efficient than to-day. I had engaged passage from 'Frisco to Samoa on a schooner which was owned and captained by the son of one of those early blackguards who used to land their crews upon an island full of harmless cannibals, show them the way of civilization, demonstrate the wickedness of their present lives, and then go off and leave them to infect each other with constitutional disease in the place of eating one another. I hope there is an interesting corner of hell reserved for all such! Our captain, whose name was Deshay, was the frequent handsome outcrop of a vicious sire; his father had eloped with his mother, who was the half-caste wife of a missionary in the Marquesas and one of the most beautiful women I ever saw. Later, Deshay, senior, had made a good bit of money in the island trade, sent his son to England to be educated, and while the boy was there the parents had been lost in a typhoon.
"When I went down to the schooner on the morning of her sailing date I found aboard her a young man of very pleasing appearance, who introduced himself as Claud Dillingham and told me that we were to be shipmates.
" 'You are related to Claud Dillingham, the owner of the Great Bear Mine?' I asked. This Dillingham was a Virginia gentleman, who had made a great fortune in mining claims, and was at that time the richest man on 'the Slope.'
" 'I am his son,' said he; and as he was speaking, a magnificent bloodhound walked from behind the house, his fine, velvety head raised, the delicate nostrils twitching and the dreamy, half-closed eyes reinforcing the more potent sense of smell.
" 'What a magnificent animal!' said I.
" 'Yes,' he answered. 'I am taking him with me; he is so intelligent that he soon accustoms himself to new surroundings; besides, he would die if I left him behind.'
"I remarked that I had heard of dogs being devoted to their masters to that extent. There was no skepticism in my voice, but he was so sensitive that he flushed like a girl.
" 'I speak from experience,' said he, quickly. 'I once left him for a fortnight and then had to return, as they wrote me that he had not eaten since I left. When I got back he was as thin as a coyote. I always took him with me after that.'
"We talked together for a little while, and it did not take me long to discover that the master was as thoroughbred as the hound; in fact, he impressed one as a trifle too finely bred—inbred, possibly. He was too delicately charming—six feet in height, gracefully and slenderly built, very fair, with the pure complexion and blue eyes of a very pretty girl. I almost laughed when he presently confided in me that he was taking the voage in the hope of overcoming the liquor habit. I suspected that there was a girl in the case—that Claud was in love and had conceived that he was in danger of becoming addicted to the vice because he sometimes drank a glass of beer when in college.
"As we were chatting together the hound walked suddenly to me and raised his hand some head as if inviting a caress.
" 'That is unusual,' said Claud. 'His reception of people is often embarrassing. He will not go near Captain Deshay. He is too polite to growl; he simply gets out of the way, but he can't keep his hair from bristling a little.'
"I asked Claud presently if he had met the mate, and he said that he had not, that he had not even seen him, which I thought rather singular. Claud told me that we had another fellow-passenger, a Professor Lentz, a scientist, not a mere collector like myself. He added that Professor Lentz was below, engaged in storing a wagon-load of instruments for recording everything from a falling star to his last bottle of beer. A little while later I met him, and he proved to be a genial, if somewhat secretive, old crank, who apparently had some complex theory regarding ocean currents which he was afraid that some of us might try to steal.
"Captain Deshay came aboard at noon, and with him came a squat, heavily bearded individual, who proved to be the mate. Deshay himself was a well-educated man, of very finished manners and strikingly handsome in a rather animal way. The casual observer would have described his face as strong, but it was not it was well-featured; but he had a lumpish jaw, which is different from a masterful jaw, and his eyes were petulant rather than determined. His manner was inclined to be loud, authoritative and with a coarse bonhomie always repellant to me. The most assertive thing about him was a big voice, and a big voice is scarcely ever associated with cold-blooded courage; it belongs to the blustering, bullying kind.
"It was at once evident to me that Deshay was very nervous about something; we were anchored half a mile out, and I noticed that he frequently scanned the water-front while getting under way. His crew appeared to be the scrapings of the wharves, a sulky-looking lot of ragamuffins, but Deshay seemed to have them well in hand.
"As the weather had been cold and raw, we three passengers went below, and as soon as we got under way Deshay left the deck to his mate and joined us. He called at once for spirits and the steward brought whiskey. I noticed an expression of surprised resentment in Claud's face at this proceeding; it appears that Deshay had given him to understand that he did not drink himself and that he did not expect any other passengers, and therefore he might never be subjected to temptation. I was not aware of this at the time; nevertheless, I knew that there was a struggle going on. You are aware, Doctor, of the faculty possessed by certain people of placing themselves in a condition receptive to the more potent impulses of another; it is an inherent faculty, but can by training be developed to an amazing extent—a faculty with which women are more generously endowed than men, but in most cases a woman possessing this will depend upon it to the exclusion of logic; more than that, she abuses it, overworks it, lazily attempts to make it do the work of her mind to a point where it is no longer accurate, hence a negative benefit. A diplomat must possess it; the best diplomats develop it, just as a great musician of rich natural, talent must develop this by years of arduous practice; perhaps an explorer or collector like myself may possess it even most of all, because he must be a trained observer, which enables .him to buttress the psychic and the mental with a precise faculty for grasping subtle physical signs.
"Therefore, Doctor, in the brief moment in which the whiskey was brought I knew that Claud felt himself to be tricked, and I was curious to see what he would do about it, because, in spite of his effeminacy, my instinct told me that he was not weak. The whiskey was set upon the table. Lentz helped himself; I did likewise, and as I did so I heard Claud's feet scuffle a trifle on the rug, and knew that his impulse was to arise and leave the table. I knew that he was staring indignantly at Deshay; there was a reflection of this look in the lurking gleam of contempt in Deshay's dark eyes and the sardonic lines at the corners of his mouth, and when he spoke, in the pleasantest voice which one can conceive, the words and the expression which accompanied them was the drop in excess needed to crystallize the solution of my dislike and distrust of Deshay.
" 'Oh, come, Dillingham, ' said he, lightly, 'we all know that you're on a swear-off, but just a glass for bon voyage will do you no harm. Once we're under way you can settle down to a life of undiluted virtue—say when.'
"He reached across the table, decanter in hand, and began to pour the liquor slowly into Claud's glass, while I with difficulty repressed an inclination to knock the vessel out of his hand—not that I laid much importance on Claud's breaking his resolution, but because he was in danger of breaking it not through his own will, and I knew that if he sagged at this moment he would have an up-hill fight to get back his own while aboard that schooner, and the agonizing part of it all to me was that Deshay was not a strong character; he was a pine post painted to look like granite, and Claud had not enough knowledge of men to recognize the paint.
" 'No, thank you, Captain,' said Claud, in a voice of such weak determination that it positively brought the blood to my face. 'I'm off for good,' he said, and threw the inflection on the wrong words, as a man will when trying to show a determination which is lacking in him.
" 'Of course you are, ' said Deshay, in a big, good-humored voice which seemed to jar the glasses, 'but the swear-off starts with the voyage, and a voyage out of 'Frisco is not begun until you get through the Golden Gate. Come, now, matey, just one to bring us fair winds.' One cannot describe the large persuasion of his tone.
" 'Really, I'd rather not,' replied Claud, with a school-boy squirm. It was a beastly spectacle, Doctor—an immoral spectacle; had Deshay been overcoming the scruples of a woman it would have been less offensive, be cause such an act is prompted by animal impulse, whereas this was purely Satanic—the violation of an unproved entity. I was strongly tempted to interfere, but many years of contact with all sorts of people have so confirmed me in the habit of minding my own business that very often I do not interfere when perhaps I should.
" 'Oh, nonsense,' said Deshay, and there was in his full voice the slightest hint of the imperative, and his eyes, as they fixed them selves on Claud, were insolently authoritative. If he had looked at me in that way I should have planted my fist in his face; with Claud I think that it was less lack of will than the obedience of a hyper-sensitive mind to a dominant suggestion. At any rate, Deshay poured out some Scotch and added some water, and Claud raised the glass, drained it, then sprang suddenly to his feet and left the saloon, nor did I see him again until dinner time, and, Doctor, I knew that from that moment this brute Deshay, whom I correctly estimated as a creature of animal cunning, utter lack of principle and an amazing effrontery substituting strength, had one of his coarse, clumsy paws on the gold bags of Claud Dillingham, senior, and, barring accident, would squeeze out many a yellow coin before he allowed the son to escape from his clutches. Do not misunderstand me, Doctor; this free booter was simply after gold.
"The following morning I happened to be talking with Deshay, for at sea dislike of a shipmate is no reason for not getting what entertainment there is in him, and while we were talking Claud came up and requested a few words with him.
" 'Anything personal?' I asked. Claud hesitated for a moment, apparently embarrassed.
" 'Oh, no,' said he, and went on, stammering like a school-boy who had forgotten his recitation. 'You see, Doctor Leyden,' said he, 'when I engaged my passage I was afraid that I might be seasick, so I made an arrangement with Captain Deshay by which he was to drop me at Honolulu if I wished it. He—he—told me that there were to be no other passengers.'"
" 'But you are not seasick, are you?' said I.
" 'No,' he answered, 'but I am—I am—I am homesick.' Upon my word, he gulped like a little girl the first day in school and his blue eyes filled with tears; he could not have been under twenty years of age.
" 'I do not think that you have dealt quite fairly with me, Captain,' said he, in a voice which he tried to make cold and assertive, but would have been only contemptible if one had not been sorry for him—and then as he looked at our faces and saw scant sympathy in either, he crumbled.
" 'To tell the truth, Captain,' he continued, with a rather nervous laugh, 'I'm afraid that I've lost my nerve; I'm sick of the voyage already and want to get back home. Of course, I'll defray any additional expense due to taking you out of your course,' he concluded, with a sort of shy eagerness.
" 'Oh, come, old fellow,' said Deshay, coaxingly, and clapped him on the shoulder. 'The first twenty-four hours——'
" 'Look out for your dog!' I cried suddenly, for as Deshay's hand fell upon Claud's shoulder I had happened to glance at Dixie. The dog was standing quietly enough at his master's heel, and at Deshay's action had made none of the usual canine expressions of displeasure, and it was this absence which made him so alarming, for as I glanced at his great, dark, intelligent eye it seemed filled with such a smouldering, slumbering intensity of hate that it gave me a positive start. The fine, silky hair was not even ruffled, there was not the slightest twitch to the velvet lips, but I could see that every muscle of the beautifully moulded body was tense as our weather shrouds and there was a fine quiver to the strong flanks. Have you ever, Doctor, closely watched a woman who is married to a man she hates, loathes, despises, as her husband enters the room? Perhaps he is a plausible brute who only shows the cloven hoof after he has shot the bolt of her bedroom door; no one else may guess it unless one watches the wife. The dilatation of the pupil, the faintest quiver of the nostrils, the little shiver—Dixie had all of these, but, as Claud had said, he was too self-contained, too much of a gentleman, to further reveal his emotions.
"I could see Claud shrivel at Deshay's familiarity. One guessed that he longed to throw off the man's hand, which still clutched his shoulder good-humoredly, but he was too sensitive, too fearful of giving offense, not through any liking for the man, but because it seemed gauche, boorish, and would fill the air with a sort of rough impulse, shocking to his fine sensitiveness. No doubt he had suffered at times from rebuffs to his own timid advances, and had not enough knowledge of the world and men to keep from putting a coarse, thick-skinned brute like Deshay in his own class of emotions.
"His class—ach! the nervous sensibilities of those two were about as similar as those of a Kentucky thoroughbred and a Galapagos turtle! There are some men who can never get it through their heads that the only way to hurt another man's feelings is with a club.
"When I spoke, Claud glanced down at Dixie, and he saw the danger in the animal's eyes, to which Deshay was quite blind.
" 'Dixie!' said Claud, reprovingly; that was all, but Dixie understood and his beautiful head dropped contritely.
" 'Oh, Dixie's all right,' said Deshay, carelessly, and, will you believe it, he swung down and took the dog's two forepaws, raised him up on his hind legs, while he pulled his ears playfully, and, taking the sensitive muzzle in his coarse hand, shook it back and forth! Ach! I have never been so overcome with admiration for the self-control of any living creature as I was for its amazing exhibition by that bloodhound! One saw him shudder, half close his eyes, as if in a disgust too deep for any expression. I really believe, Doctor, that the dog and master were at the psychological instant of Deshay's caress possessed of precisely the same emotions. Do you know, I believe that the hound accepted the human animal's familiarity less through discipline than a high-minded sense of courtesy which forbade his rejecting overtures which had the semblance of good will, for at first Deshay actually liked Dixie, and was unable to see that the dog had loathed him from the start.
"Deshay turned to Claud. 'There's a good chap,' he said; 'you don't mind sticking it out to Samoa, do you, now?'
" 'I'm sorry,' began Claud.
" 'Oh, come,' said Deshay, and again there was in his voice that imperative note which had struck me so unpleasantly the day before. 'You can't tell yet whether you're going to like the cruise or not; you will begin to enjoy it in a couple of days—you know you will.' He fastened his lustrous eyes fixedly on the seraphic blue ones of the boy. 'You know you will like it—don't you, now?' There was in his voice a peremptory assertion.
" 'Perhaps you are right,' said Claud, and looked over the rail.
" 'Of course I am right,' said Deshay, loudly, and clapped him on the shoulder again. 'Now, let's have a drink to show there's no hard feeling. Steward!' he bellowed down the companionway.
" 'But, look here, Captain,' said Claud, feebly, 'you seem to forget that I've given up drinking.'
" 'Not a bit of it,' said Deshay, 'but there's a big difference between a man's giving up drinking and a man's never taking a drink. If you only drink at my suggestion you'll never come to any harm. Will you join us, Leyden?'
" 'No, thanks,' I answered.
" 'Oh, yes, you will,' said Deshay, in his large way.
"I shrugged my shoulders and, turning on my heel, walked aft. To tell the truth, Doctor, although I am a mild-mannered man who will make a very great detour to avoid a quarrel, I think that just at that moment——"
Eight bells were struck forward, and Leyden paused to hold the stump of his cigar to the dial of the taffrail-log.
"A little more than ten," he muttered; "that schooner did better for days on end!" He drummed softly with his fingers until I grew irritated at his abstraction, which emotion he perceived, for he flicked the stump of his cigar into the wake and resumed.
"Doctor, have you ever witnessed the spectacle of a strong will and high courage becoming completely and utterly dominated, less through lack of strength than excess of imagination, by a creature of far inferior qualities, but overwhelming impudence? These are the conditions which often give the bully his amazing autocracy; his victims are auto-hypnotized by the sheer impudence of his assertions, until some day the bubble is pricked by an individual more practical and less imaginative and the reign of terror is at an end. In a week's time Deshay had Claud, and Dixie, too, for that matter, as entirely cowed and subjugated as if he had broken their spirits with a cat-o '-nine-tails, and the harrowing part of it was that, in spite of their high degree of sensitiveness, neither the dog nor the master were weak. I had studied Claud and felt his underlying force; he was of that high-bred, nervous type, vacillating in little things, but, deeper, of the resistance of chilled steel; like the bulkheads in the ward-room of a battle-ship, white and gold on the surface, but able to stand the pressure of hundreds of tons. If the petty aggressions of Deshay had all been combined into a solid weight, requiring a forceful resistance, he could no more have held Claud than he could have held a handful of guncotton detonated in his clenched fist; that is, he could not have done so at first, and his animal cunning told him this, so that he began by accustoming his victim to yield in minor matters until he had given him the yielding habit; but as I watched the whole thing I was convinced that Deshay was too crude a production and too lacking in finesse to continue his course successfully, and I awaited the denouement with interest. Deshay had already shown his lack of cleverness by not taking the trouble to conceal the aversion that he had come to feel for Dixie, and the silent hate of the dog for him was a thing as extraordinary to contemplate as the animal's marvellous dignity and self-control. Deshay had come to openly maltreat him, but not as yet in Claud's presence; he maltreated him once in mine, and only once, for I said a few words to him, at which he stared into my eyes and first blustered and then laughed and then went out with a sizzle—and we understood one another perfectly. On this occasion he had kicked the dog across the deck because the poor brute had placed both paws on the polished teak rail in a longing effort to discover land, and the dog had neither yelped nor growled nor become abject; he had simply walked away, albeit with a slight limp, but without the drooping tail and other signs of canine dejection. Perhaps you have seen a gentleman, Doctor, a fearless man, avoid a quarrel thrust upon him by a low fellow, and avoid it quietly and without loss of dignity. This was Dixie 's behavior.
"We were not a pleasant party on that schooner. I had come to detest Deshay, and he knew it; Lentz would no longer speak to him; the old fellow simply grunted when Deshay addressed him, as if he considered the captain a swine and able to understand the language. Claud did not hate him; he simply loathed him, and yet was dominated by him, and the same was true of Dixie. The air was heavily pregnant with possibilities, and, Doctor, when the denouement finally arrived it was as funny as the grin on the face of a corpse. Who do you suppose it was that pulled out the boat-plug? Why, none other than that black-browed humorist of a mate, who was, it seems, a murderer escaped from the Santa Clara county jail, and who had paid Deshay a good price for his billet.
"We were down in the neighborhood of Christmas Island, when we cut in close to some other little island; to this day I don't know what it was. Our course would trim it close, so at Deshay's suggestion we hove to and he and Lentz and Claud, Dixie and myself went in with two sailors to pull the boat. Possibly it was his plan to get Lentz and me ashore and leave us there, but he never had the chance, for no sooner had we struck the beach than Mister Mate up with his headsails, up stick and away!
"I must have a bizarre sense of humor, for I will confess that I dropped in a heap on the sand and laughed until the tears came. It was such a tremendous joke on the lot of us—especially upon Deshay.
"Deshay was like a crazy man; he tore up and down the beach and shook his fists and raved until his face was blue. He was an edifying sight, and we white people sat in a little row in our proscenium box and admired the exhibition. You see, he was three-quarters white, and that gave him imagination; but the other quarter, which should have been self-control, was Kanaka, and that knocked up the pawls and let his line run off the reel, so to speak.
"We were really badly off, Doctor; the island was very small and offered no food that we could see. There was a small cluster of dwarfed palms, and they bore a few immature nuts; aside from these trees there was no shelter. We had not even a boat-sail. Fortunately there was water on this island—brackish, but potable.
"Deshay pulled himself together after a while, but he was savage and morose. I managed to get out of him the pleasing news that the next island was over one hundred miles distant, and probably no better than the one which we were on. Fancy our condition, Doctor!—our utter lack of everything but bad feeling. All of us, including the two sailors who had pulled the boat, hated Deshay; Deshay returned the sentiment; the two sailors, with their mates, had from the first been insolent to Claud, of whom they said rough things owing to his subjugation by Deshay; and on this, as well as from personal causes, both Lentz and I had more than once fallen foul of them. Within the last fortnight the tedium of the voyage had begun to tell upon Leutz, and the old fellow had grown peevish and sulky; both of us had incurred Deshay's dislike by having very little to say to him. Conceive, then, the delights of the first few days of hardship with such a company.
"It was, I believe, the morning of the third day that I was awakened by hearing Deshay cry out: 'Where's that cursed dog?' I rolled over and saw that he held in his hand one of the heavy oak stretchers of the boat and was looking savagely about him. Near by sat Claud, his face in his hands.
"Deshay snarled out: 'Where's that dog, you droolin' baby?'
"Claud mumbled something, without looking up, and then I heard him say: 'We haven't come to that—yet, and he said it with a groan, and I could see his face working painfully.
"Deshay walked toward him, talking as he went. He said: 'You'll see if we haven't when I find the cur, you chicken-livered little milksop!' and at that moment there came from up the beach a musical bay which tolled out like a church-bell and died lingeringly away, to be drowned in the crash of the breakers; again this mournful note welled forth, rising like the voice of a bell-buoy above the roar of the surf, and this time it ended in a series of short, excited barks—such a bark as a hound gives when he has 'treed.'
"Claud sprang to his feet. 'He's found something!' he cried, and began to run down the beach. Deshay and I followed, and soon we came upon Dixie, whovwas very carefully uncovering a nest of new-laid turtle's eggs.
"Deshay was for eating his fill then and there, but this I would not permit, so we gathered them up and carried them back to the others, where we proceeded to divide them.
" 'Give Dixie his share,' said I to Deshay, who had undertaken the division.
" 'Give Dixie nothin',' he snarled back at me. And then he added: 'Why, you Dutch fat-head, d'ye think I'm goin' to give good food to a dog?'
"He had carelessly dropped the boat-stretcher beside him, and before he could lay down the eggs it was in my hand. There is an etiquette, Doctor, to be observed even upon a desert island, and if Lentz had not grasped the other end of the stick I fancy that Dixie could have had Deshay's share.
" 'We must not,' said Lentz; 've haf troobles enough alretty. Der hound found der eggs; gif him von or two.'
"Deshay growled, but I had frightened him, and he did as he was told, giving Dixie two of the eggs. The dog ate one of them, the other he carried to Claud; I saw Claud give it to Deshay.
"For ten days this thing went on. Every day or two Dixie would find a nest of eggs, but at the end of that time he could find no more, and after two days of hunger Deshay, backed by one of the sailors, demanded that he be killed. We were all fairly weak by this time, Deshay being perhaps the strongest, because Claud had shared his own and the hound's food with him in the hope of prolonging the dog's life. In spite of this the lad held up wonderfully, sustained by his marvellous nervous vitality.
" 'It seems to me that Dixie has earned his right to live,' said Claud, the tears streaming from his eyes. 'He has already fed us for ten days; but if you all demand that he—be killed—I will not oppose it!' He buried his face in his hands.
" 'Guess you won't!' growled Deshay. 'We do demand it——'
" 'Speak for yourself, you mongrel swine!' said I, and added that I would starve before I would kill the hound or eat him, either. You see, Doctor, to my way of thinking Dixie had purchased the human right to die decently, like the brave, unselfish gentleman he was. Besides, he had the cleanest soul of any, save, perhaps, his master. What right had we to prolong our lives at the cost of his? Lentz felt this.
" 'I von't eat him,' he said; 'he is vort more as me.'
" 'Ah, what's the use o' killin' 'im?' said one of the sailors, a hard specimen whom Deshay had picked up on the 'Barbary Coast.' 'Dawg 'r no dawg, we're all goin' up the flue. The quicker the sooner, say I.'
"The other sailor agreed with Deshay, who pulled out his knife and sidled toward the hound. If my strength had been equal to it I would have opposed him, but a touch of fever on top of other hardships had left me as weak as a kitten. However, it was unnecessary.
"And then, Doctor, there began a strange and savage spectacle. Dixie was by this time a hide-wrapped skeleton, yet his strength seemed in no way impaired. He was asleep by his master's side, but at the stealthy approach of Deshay he seemed to slide away—as one drags a rug across a floor. Deshay continued to approach—at an angle—craft ily, and still the hound slid away in that peculiar manner, his lustrous brown eyes fastened on the man in an agony of doubt and dread, which seemed to partly paralyze his movements. Deshay began to wheedle, to whine, to talk 'baby-talk' of the 'nice-doggy' type, and he actually hid the knife as he might if about to murder a man instead of a dog! Such a spectacle, my friend! this gaunt, savage, bloodshot, hairy, human animal, far more of a beast in all effect than the sad-eyed dog who had for days prolonged his worthless life—this bloodthirsty, literally bloodthirsty human hyena, crazed at feeling his wretched, life slipping through his weakening grip, slinking along that beach in the bright, dewy morning, talking baby talk to the hound—making a disgusting exhibition of his craven soul, when he might have been waiting for death with the dignity of a gentleman!
"Still he slunk and the dog slunk before him, his hair bristling less in fear than disgust, certainly not in anger, for of this emotion there was no trace in the quiver of a lip, the echo of a growl, nor in the gleam of the beautiful, lustrous eyes. Bather it was a sense of deepest shame—a shame for his master's race!
"And then the brute in the man tore through the thin envelope; he screamed like a cat and threw himself at the dog, only to sprawl his length on the sand. He sprang to his feet and ran braying at the animal, who fled down the beach as silently and with the even interval of the man's own sinister shadow, until Deshay, his strength utterly gone, fell face downward on the sand, screaming obscenities. Ach! never have I seen a thing more disgusting.
" 'Dixie will take care of himself,' said I to Claud. 'He will not be caught napping.'
"From that time, Doctor, there began a series of psychological phenomena of which I was more appreciative afterwards. Up to the moment of this shocking outburst of Deshay, Claud had been in all ways subservient, but as he looked upon the contour of this man's naked soul and saw its hideously dwarfed deformity I observed a peculiar expression on his face. I think that he was feeling Deshay's shame as if it had been his own—not through any charity, but through sympathy, which is such an entirely different thing. You see, Doctor, Claud was one of those hyper-sensitized natures which reflects an emotion as a still lake reflects its bank: you know the type—that which will listen to a poorly given address with a sense of deepest personal responsibility toward the speaker, or will see some person in a conspicuous place make a fool of himself and fairly writhe with shame—as Dixie had done. And do you know, I think that for the time the sentiments of master and dog toward Deshay were identical; the natures of the two were very similar; and I can say no better thing of Claud than this. They were two gentlemen, Doctor, gentlemen by birth and breed and associations, and they possessed the natural instincts which result from generations of these things.
"Left to himself at just that moment, Claud would, I believe, have attempted to condone Deshay's behavior and to go to the rescue of his strangled decency, but it seemed to me that the psychological moment had arrived for placing matters in their due proportion. You see, Doctor, I had about concluded that we were all going to die, and I disliked the idea of letting Claud die without the opportunity of redeeming such manhood as he might possess, and with this in mind I reached out and dragged the veil rather roughly from his eyes.
" 'And to think,' said I, 'that yonder object should be your master—you, a gentleman and a white man!'
"Claud leaped as if I had lashed him across the face.
" 'What!' he cried. 'What—what—what's that you say?'
" 'It seems to me to be plain enough,' said I. 'Haven't you kow-towed and groveled and beat your forehead before that thing, and broken your promise to stop drinking—to whomever you made that promise—for fear of that Kanaka thug out there?'
"Claud stared at me—stared like a baby—with his mouth and his big blue eyes wide open, and while he stared what little blood was left in his wasted body found its way up into his face; at last, it seemed to me, he was ashamed on his own account. While he was staring at me Deshay came up.
" 'Call your cur,' he growled. I was vexed that he interfered just when he did, as Claud in his weakened state had not yet assimilated the pre-digested idea which I had fed him. I was scarcely normal at the time, Doctor; to my mind, the whole thing mattered very little; it was like one of those nightmares in which one is sub-consciously aware that it is really only a dream and acts with delightful disregard of consequences. I thought of dying as one thinks of waking up, and before waking up I wanted to see Claud kill Deshay. I knew that he could kill him if he wanted to, for all of us had passed the physical limits and were living upon our mentalities, and Claud's being so much more virile than Deshay's, he was just that much more alive; yet Deshay was too stupid to discover this, although I think that he must have felt it in a way.
" 'Call your cur!' he repeated, but this time there was a change in his tone. It reminded me of the voice in which Claud had attempted to assert himself upon that first day aboard the schooner, but in Deshay's case this irresolution was on his own account; subjective, you see—not objective, like Claud's.
"I noticed this and began to laugh, and Deshay looked at me sheepishly. It was not a pleasant laugh; one feels sorry, Doctor, for a man who sacrifices his self-respect for the sake of some one else, but one laughs as I did at the man who does so for himself. This was the proportion between Claud and Deshay, and, although I found it amusing, I was nevertheless grievously disappointed when I saw that Deshay was subtle enough to feel his side of the see-saw go down—for, as I have said, I wanted to see Claud kill him before any of us died.
"As it was, Claud simply ignored his demands—and that was a little step toward preponderance. You see, Doctor, the two were dying men; we were all dying men. Deshay's investment was ultra-physical, and consequently low; Claud's was psychical, and although he might not last any longer, or as long, for that matter, he was all there as long as he did last; he was either alive or dead, not half-alive, like Deshay—and as the springs of our lives ran low Deshay's grew muddy, while Claud's was still clear and cold.
"The following morning Dixie again discovered a nest of eggs. I do not wish to tax your credulity, Doctor, and yet I will ask you to believe that so nearly approached the types of these two gentlemen that the sensibilities predominant in Claud obtained in Dixie to an extent where he, too, felt the fall of Deshay, and when he had found the eggs and we starving wretches shambled up to the cache, Dixie, the fine, thoroughbred, peace-loving aristocrat, stood over his find with bared fangs and flashing eyes and allowed all to approach but Deshay.
"Yet gentlemen do not press these things, these matters of authority, as do your ruffians who have cut a high card in the shuffle of Fate—they accept them as a matter of course—and so neither Claud nor Dixie emphasized this occult change of balance, and as the days passed Deshay, crass fool that he was, lost sight of the fact that he had been relegated with any other dejecta. He would thrust in with surliness rather than ugliness, according to the nature of the low-grade, overthrown bully; but Claud and Dixie ignored him, his two sailors grinned at him, old Lentz blinked at him, and I, the mean average of the lot, laughed at him and explained carefully to him in how very many different sorts of ways he was a fool, neglecting to help him out. This was quite safe, for, although my own mentality is of a fairly low grade, it was still in excess of Deshay's, and this fact gave me the whip hand. I did not tell him too much, as I still cherished hopes of seeing him killed.
"There came another season of starvation in this epoch of famine and none of us had anything to eat, and it was at this time that Deshay began a systematic stalking of Dixie, who was still a peace-lover and preferred, when nothing of greater value than his own life was at stake, to get out of the way. The dog slept always at his master's side, and, although the nights were cool to men starved and shelterless, Claud would never draw near the fire, because he wished to avoid the propinquity of Deshay. More than once I had awakened from my light, fitful, fever sleep to see this sneaking wretch creeping stealthily on hands and knees toward the sleeping animal, but with invariable result—Dixie would slip silently away and Deshay would return to the fire, cursing savagely. Often through the day one would see him slyly maneuvering to get within reach of his prey; and as our starvation proceeded, this desire fastened upon his famished brain with the force of an insistent idea, until I really believe that he was impelled less by his hunger than through a sort of dementia. At times he would awake with a sharp cry, spring to his feet and rush at Dixie, who would lope away before him, when Deshay would fall into a paroxysm of rage. At these times Claud would turn away with a shiver of disgust, Lentz would blink rapidly, the two sailors would lie upon their empty bellies and snigger, while I would laugh.
"Yet all of this time Deshay had been encroaching little by little upon Claud's liberty, for, you see, Doctor, he was one of those unimaginative animals who require a clubbing at certain intervals as a sort of tonic treatment. Claud had utterly ignored him; he had rubbed against the rest of us in little ways and found himself of baser metal, but Claud, like Dixie, had only avoided him, and this avoidance he continued to misinterpret until his confidence returned.
"It was after one of his frantic attempts to catch Dixie that he sought to force the issue. He turned suddenly and strode to where Claud was lying on the sand, and at the sight of his face the lad struggled to his feet—while I sat and waited, for something seemed to tell me that the time had come, and I felt no fear of the result.
" 'Call your dog, you putty-face!' snarled Deshay. 'Call your dog!'—he thrust out his matted jaw; 'call him up where I can get my hands on him!' said he. He had put away his knife and gripped the stretcher. 'Call him up, d'ye hear, or I'll spatter your fool brains all over the shop!'
"It was here that he struck the steel beneath the fresco. Claud looked him over, carefully, coolly, and, although their faces were almost in contact, from such an infinite distance—and then he spoke, in a voice which matched his look, and at the chill of it Deshay drew back.
"Claud half turned and pointed to the cluster of palms. 'Go over there,' said he, very quietly, 'and see if you cannot die a little more decently than you have lived.' Words fail to express the icy dignity of his tone. 'It is the only thing left for you,' he continued, and leaned slightly toward Deshay, looking intently into his face, and at something in the look Deshay drew back with a shiver. 'There is death in your eyes,' said Claud; 'I think that you are going to die this very day'—and then the bolt fell
"Deshay, terrified, panic-struck at some quality of the cold voice and the words and the chill light of the eyes, staggered and threw up one arm as if to ward a blow. There was no suspicion of a threat in the gesture—no intent—but Dixie, crouching at his master's side, read it differently. Before Deshay's arm began to descend the hound had sprung. There was the shock of contact, gurgling noises, convulsive forms heaving upon the sand, the guttering sounds of—of—the abattoir! I saw the snout of the hound twisted sideways, the nose pushed comically upwards, the full mouth in a grotesque grin. Ah, what is more terrible, Doctor, than to see something in human guise worried and throttled by something in the guise of a brute beast?"
Leyden walked to the rail, drummed upon it with his fingers and spat several times into the sea. One guessed that he felt with the hound.
"Dixie sprang back," he continued, his face still from me; "he sprang back and stood panting, salivating—as a dog does when for the first and only time in his life he commits the error of picking up a toad. Dixie was a starving animal—you understand, Doctor—and his mouth was full of blood, but he did not want that blood—that human blood—nor did he want a human life, to save his own. He backed away, then leaned far forward—as far as he could without stepping nearer, and his delicate nostrils twitched at his work—where his hold had been.
"Soon he turned and walked slowly down to the water, waded out and swam seaward, until all that I could see was the brown speck of his head just entering the outer line of surf; and then he disappeared, and it seemed to me that there were other specks about in the water; but I did not see much of anything for a while. I heard Claud laughing as if to kill himself, and apparently he did, for the natives who found me said that he was dead and one of the sailors was dead. The other sailor, Lentz and myself hung on—the sailor because he took advantage of what Dixie would not do; Lentz, because his pulse was slow, like a tortoise, and, like a camel, he was able to live for a while on his reserve adipose; and I, because the fever had banked my fires so low that no food was required. Besides, I am tough, and—will you please tell me, Doctor, what in the devil ever possessed me to tell such a villainous story! That cat? Ach!—yes—p'st!—scat, you beast!"
I walked over and put a "sheep-shank" in the lanyard on the cage of the tulu-pial bird, and then the cat was unable to reach it.