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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCelebrity - Volume 4 - Chapter 19
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Celebrity - Volume 4 - Chapter 19 Post by :Sheri_Graber Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :May 2012 Read :878

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Celebrity - Volume 4 - Chapter 19

VOLUME 4 CHAPTER XIX

When the biography of the Celebrity is written, and I have no doubt it will be some day, may his biographer kindly draw a veil over that instant in his life when he was tenderly and obsequiously raised by Mr. Cooke from the trap in the floor of the Maria's cabin.

It is sometimes the case that a good fright will heal a feud. And whereas, before the arrival of the H. Sinclair, there had been much dissension and many quarrels concerning the disposal of the quasi Charles Wrexell Allen, when the tug steamed away to the southwards but one opinion remained,--that, like Jonah, he must be got rid of. And no one concurred more heartily in this than the Celebrity himself. He strolled about and smoked apathetically, with the manner of one who was bored beyond description, whilst the discussion was going on between Farrar, Mr. Cooke, and myself as to the best place to land him. When considerately asked by my client whether he had any choice in the matter, he replied, somewhat facetiously, that he could not think of making a suggestion to one who had shown such superlative skill in its previous management.

Mr. Trevor, too, experienced a change of sentiment in Mr. Cooke's favor. It is not too much to say that the senator's scare had been of such thoroughness that he was willing to agree to almost anything. He had come so near to being relieved of that most precious possession, his respectability, that the reason in Mr. Cooke's course now appealed to him very strongly. Thus he became a tacit assenter in wrong-doing, for circumstances thrust this, once in a while, upon the best of our citizens.

The afternoon wore cool; nay, cold is a better word. The wind brought with it a suggestion of the pine-clad wastes of the northwestern wilderness whence it came, and that sure harbinger of autumn, the blue haze, settled around the hills, and benumbed the rays of the sun lingering over the crests. Farrar and I, as navigators, were glad to get into our overcoats, while the others assembled in the little cabin and lighted the gasoline stove which stood in the corner. Outside we had our pipes for consolation, and the sunset beauty of the lake.

By six we were well over the line, and consulting our chart, we selected a cove behind a headland on our left, which seemed the best we could do for an anchorage, although it was shallow and full of rocks. As we were changing our course to run in, Mr. Cooke appeared, bundled up in his reefer. He was in the best of spirits, and was good enough to concur with our plans.

"Now, sir," asked Farrar, "what do you propose to do with Allen?"

But our client only chuckled.

"Wait and see, old man," he said; "I've got that all fixed."

"Well," Farrar remarked, when he had gone in again, "he has steered it deuced well so far. I think we can trust him."

It was dark when we dropped anchor, a very tired party indeed; and as the Maria could not accommodate us all with sleeping quarters, Mr. Cooke decided that the ladies should have the cabin, since the night was cold. And so it might have been, had not Miss Thorn flatly refused to sleep there. The cabin was stuffy, she said, and so she carried her point. Leaving Farrar and one of Mr. Cooke's friends to take care of the yacht, the rest of us went ashore, built a roaring fire and raised a tent, and proceeded to make ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow. The sense of relief over the danger passed produced a kind of lightheartedness amongst us, and the topics broached at supper would not have been inappropriate at a friendly dinner party. As we were separating for the night Miss Thorn said to me:

"I am so happy for your sake, Mr. Crocker, that he was not discovered."

For my sake! Could she really have meant it, after all? I went to sleep thinking of that sentence, beside my client beneath the trees. And it was first in my thoughts when I awoke.

As we dipped our faces in the brook the next morning my client laughed softly to himself between the gasps, and I knew that he had in mind the last consummate touch to his successful enterprise. And the revelation came when the party were assembled at breakfast. Mr. Cooke stood up, and drawing from his pocket a small and mysterious paper parcel he forthwith delivered himself in the tone and manner which had so endeared him to the familiars of the Lake House bar.

"I'm not much for words, as you all know," said he, with becoming modesty, "and I don't set up to be an orator. I am just what you see here,--a damned plain man. And there's only one virtue that I lay any claim to,--no one can say that I ever went back on a friend. I want to thank all of you (looking at the senator) for what you have done for me and Allen. It's not for us to talk about that hundred thousand dollars. --My private opinion is (he seemed to have no scruples about making it public) that Allen is insane. No, old man, don't interrupt me; but you haven't acted just right, and that's a fact. And I won't feel square with myself until I put him where I found him, in safety. I am sorry to say, my friends," he added, with emotion, "that Mr. Allen is about to leave us."

He paused for breath, palpably satisfied with so much of it, and with the effect on his audience.

"Now," continued he, "we start this morning for a place which is only four miles or so from the town of Saville, and I shall then request my esteemed legal adviser, Mr. Crocker, to proceed to the town and buy a ready-made suit of clothes for Mr. Allen, a slouch hat, a cheap necktie, and a stout pair of farmer's boots. And I have here," he said, holding up the package, "I have here the rest of it. My friends, you heard the chief tell me that Drew was doing the lake for a summer hotel syndicate. But if Drew wasn't a detective you can throw me into the lake! He wasn't exactly Pinkerton, and I flatter myself that we were too many for him," said Mr. Cooke, with deserved pride; "and he went away in such a devilish hurry that he forgot his hand-bag with some of his extra things."

Then my client opened the package, and held up on a string before our astonished eyes a wig, a pair of moustaches, and two bushy red whiskers.

And this was Mr. Cooke's scheme! Did it electrify his hearers? Perhaps. Even the senator was so choked with laughter that he was forced to cast loose one of the buttons which held on his turn-down collar, and Farrar retired into the woods. But the gravity of Mr. Cooke's countenance remained serene.

"Old man," he said to the Celebrity, "you'll have to learn the price of potatoes now. Here are Mr. Drew's duplicates; try 'em on."

This the Celebrity politely but firmly refused to do.

"Cooke," said he, "it has never been my lot to visit so kind and considerate a host, or to know a man who pursued his duty with so little thought and care of his own peril. I wish to thank you, and to apologize for any hasty expressions I may have dropped by mistake, and I would it were possible to convince you that I am neither a maniac nor an embezzler. But, if it's just the same to you, I believe I can get along without the disguise you mentioned, and so save Mr. Crocker his pains. In short, if you will set me down at Saville, I am willing to take my chances of reaching the Canadian Pacific from that point without fear of detection."

The Celebrity's speech produced a good impression on all save Mr. Cooke, who appeared a trifle water-logged. He had dealt successfully with Mr. Allen when that gentleman had been in defiant moods, or in moods of ugly sarcasm. But this good-natured, turn-you-down-easy note puzzled my client not a little. Was this cherished scheme a whim or a joke to be lightly cast aside? Mr. Cooke thought not. The determination which distinguished him still sat in his eye as he bustled about giving orders for the breaking of camp. This refractory criminal must be saved from himself, cost what it might, and responsibility again rested heavy on my client's mind as I rowed him out to the Maria.

"Crocker," he said, "if Allen is scooped in spite of us, you have got to go East and make him out an idiot."

He seemed to think that I had a talent for this particular defence. I replied that I would do my best.

"It won't be difficult," he went on; "not near as tough as that case you won for me. You can bring in all the bosh about his claiming to be an author, you know. And I'll stand expenses."

This was downright generous of Mr. Cooke. We have all, no doubt, drawn our line between what is right and what is wrong, but I have often wondered how many of us with the world's indorsement across our backs trespass as little on the other side of the line as he.

After Farrar and the Four got aboard it fell to my lot to row the rest of the party to the yacht. And this was no slight task that morning. The tender was small, holding but two beside the man at the oars, and owing to the rocks and shallow water of which I have spoken, the Maria lay considerably over a quarter of a mile out. Hence each trip occupied some time. Mr. Cooke I had transferred with a load of canvas and the tent poles, and next I returned for Mrs. Cooke and Mr. Trevor, whom I deposited safely. Then I landed again, helped in Miss Trevor and Miss Thorn, leaving the Celebrity for the last, and was pulling for the yacht when a cry from the tender's stern arrested me.

"Mr. Crocker, they are sailing away without us!"

I turned in my seat. The Maria's mainsail was up, and the jib was being hoisted, and her head was rapidly falling off to the wind. Farrar was casting. In the stern, waving a handkerchief, I recognized Mrs. Cooke, and beside her a figure in black, gesticulating frantically, a vision of coat-tails flapping in the breeze. Then the yacht heeled on her course and forged lakewards.

"Row, Mr. Crocker, row! they are leaving us!" cried Miss Trevor, in alarm.

I hastened to reassure her.

"Farrar is probably trying something," I said. "They will be turning presently."

This is just what they did not do. Once out of the inlet, they went about and headed northward, up the coast, and we remained watching them until Mr. Trevor became a mere oscillating black speck against the sail.

"What can it mean?" asked Miss Thorn.

I had not so much as an idea.

"They certainly won't desert us, at any rate," I said. "We had better go ashore again and wait."

The Celebrity was seated on the beach, and he was whittling. Now whittling is an occupation which speaks of a contented frame of mind, and the Maria's departure did not seem to have annoyed or disturbed him.

"Castaways," says he, gayly, "castaways on a foreign shore. Two delightful young ladies, a bright young lawyer, a fugitive from justice, no chaperon, and nothing to eat. And what a situation for a short story, if only an author were permitted to make use of his own experiences!"

"Only you don't know how it will end," Miss Thorn put in.

The Celebrity glanced up at her.

"I have a guess," said he, with a smile.

"Is it true," Miss Trevor asked, "that a story must contain the element of love in order to find favor with the public?"

"That generally recommends it, especially to your sex, Miss Trevor," he replied jocosely.

Miss Trevor appeared interested.

"And tell me," she went on, "isn't it sometimes the case that you start out intent on one ending, and that your artistic sense of what is fitting demands another?"

"Don't be silly, Irene," said Miss Thorn. She was skipping flat pebbles over the water, and doing it capitally, too.

I thought the Celebrity rather resented the question.

"That sometimes happens, of course," said he, carelessly. He produced his inevitable gold cigarette case and held it out to me. "Be sociable for once, and have one," he said.

I accepted.

"Do you know," he continued, lighting me a match, "it beats me why you and Miss Trevor put this thing up on me. You have enjoyed it, naturally, and if you wanted to make me out a donkey you succeeded rather well. I used to think that Crocker was a pretty good friend of mine when I went to his dinners in New York. And I once had every reason to believe," he added, "that Miss Trevor and I were on excellent terms."

Was this audacity or stupidity? Undoubtedly both.

"So we were," answered Miss Trevor, "and I should be very sorry to think, Mr. Allen," she said meaningly, "that our relations had in any way changed."

It was the Celebrity's turn to flush.

"At any rate," he remarked in his most offhand manner, "I am much obliged to you both. On sober reflection I have come to believe that you did the very best thing for my reputation."

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