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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 30. Darwin K. Anthony
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The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 30. Darwin K. Anthony Post by :ninja1023 Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :1200

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The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 30. Darwin K. Anthony

CHAPTER XXX. DARWIN K. ANTHONY

About noon on Monday, Edith Cortlandt received a caller. The name she read on the card her maid handed her gave her a start of surprise, and set her wits whirling in speculation.

"Show him into the drawing-room," she said, at length. "I'll be right down."

As she descended, a few moments later, she was greeted by a gigantic old man with a rumbling voice, who, instead of seating himself in the drawing-room as he had been requested, had flung open the carefully closed shutters to admit more light, then kicked aside whatever articles of furniture happened to be in his way. He was now pacing back and forth with the restlessness of a polar bear.

"How do you do, Mrs. Cortlandt?" he began, at sight of her, his big voice flooding the room. "I'm sorry to disturb you under the circumstances."

"You are Mr. Anthony?"

"Yes, madam. You'll pardon my intrusion. I knew your husband slightly, and I've heard about you. I extend my sympathy."

She bowed. "When did you arrive?"

"Just now; came across in one of those damned joy-wagons--fifty miles an hour. We hit a nigger on the way, but we didn't stop. I know everything, madam. What I didn't know before I landed, I learned on the way across the Isthmus, so don't let's waste time. Hell of a position for you to be in--I understand and all that-- and I'm sorry for you. Now let's get down to business, for I must get back to New York."

It was impossible not to feel Darwin K. Anthony's force; it spoke in his every tone and action. It looked out from his harsh-lined features, and showed in his energetic movements. He was a great granite block of a man, powerful in physique, in mind, and in determination. He had Kirk's eyes, Mrs. Cortlandt noted, except that they were deeper set, more fierce and eager.

She was not used to being overridden, and his masterful air offended her.

"In what way may I be of service to you?" she inquired, coldly.

"I want my boy," he said, simply, and she began to see that underneath his cold and domineering exterior his heart was torn by a great distress.

"You know all the circumstances, of course?"

"I do. That's why I came straight to you. I know you're the keystone of the whole affair, so I didn't waste time with these other people. Kirk's a damned idiot, and always has been; he isn't worth the powder to blow him to--excuse me--I mean he's just a ne'er-do-well; but I suppose I'll have to do my duty by him."

"I understand that has always been your attitude."

"Exactly! I got sick of his performances and cut him off; couldn't stand for him any longer. I tried my best to make a man out of him, but he wouldn't have it, so we severed our connections absolutely. I just kicked him out. Sorry I didn't do it sooner."

"If you have cut him off, why do you care what becomes of him?"

Darwin K. Anthony's eyes dimmed, but his voice rose fiercely. "He's my boy, and I've a right to treat him any damned way I please, but nobody else is going to abuse him! These Spaniards can't do it! I'll teach them to lay hands on my--boy." He tore a handkerchief from his pocket and blew a blast into it. "I'll tear their little Republic to pieces," he shouted. "I'll buy the whole works and throw it away. I'll buy their President and their courts and their whole infernal population, and if they won't sell I've got enough men to take it. Hell's bells, madam, do you think these little black people can shoot MY son? I don't care what he's done, they've got to give him up. And he's going back with me. He's going home; I--I--want him."

"Why have you come to me?" she queried.

"Because you must know the truth, if anybody does, and I want your help." His voice softened suddenly, and he regarded her with a gentle kindness that was surprising. "I've heard all about you and Kirk. In fact, I've known what was going on all the time, for I've had a man on his track night and day. You may know him--Clifford? Well, he followed Kirk that night after the supper to your husband, but Anson didn't dare call him to the stand at the hearing for fear this Alfarez would perjure more of his black-and- tans." He ground his teeth in rage. "By God! I'll get that Ramon, if it costs me a million--they can't stand for such things even here. But I want MORE proof; I want to snow him under absolutely, completely."

"So Clifford is your man?"

"Yes! I took him off my system and sent him down here as soon as I got Kirk's idiotic, impudent letter--" The old man began to sputter with indignation. "What d'you think he wrote me, Mrs. Cortlandt? He had the impudence to turn down a good job I offered him because 'his wife might not like our climate!' Imagine! And I had positively begged him to come back--on any terms. Of course, it gave me an awful scare, and I lost no time in learning if it was true. Thank God, he had sense enough not to do that!"

"Then you don't know?"

"Know what?"

"That he is married."

"DAMNATION!" roared Anthony, furiously.

She nodded. "A Miss Garavel. They were married a--week ago." She broke down miserably and hid her face in her hands. He strode to her with a light of understanding in his eyes. Laying a great hand upon her drooping head, he exclaimed with wonderful softness:

"My dear Mrs. Cortlandt, I'm very sorry for you, indeed I am. How the boy ever let you go for any other woman I don't see, but he's always been a fool--that's why he never cared for me. Now, now, try to face it squarely--all good women are brave, and you're a good woman. We both love him, and I know we can save him if we pull together."

"Yes, yes!" She raised her drawn, white face eagerly to his. "It will only take a word, but I have been like a mad woman. I couldn't bear to give him up, and when I learned the truth I thought I could let him--suffer. But I couldn't. Oh, I couldn't, and I knew it all the time. I was distracted, that is all. You see I have no shame in telling you this, for he is the first and only man--"

"I know." He patted her in a way that said more than words.

"I couldn't have stood out much longer."

"Then you have proof?" His face was wild with eagerness.

"This. Take it quickly. I only found it last night. It had been mislaid in the confusion. I meant to give it up, I really did." With clumsy fingers she drew from the front of her dress an unsealed letter and handed it to him. "Stephen was not a bad man, you see, and he had no intention of wronging an innocent person."

Darwin K. Anthony's pallor matched hers as he read the sheet, then he exclaimed, weakly, "Thank God! Something told me to come straight to you. Something always tells me where to find the heart of things."

"Quick! You must lose no time," she exclaimed. "He is in prison, and the place is frightful. I will go with you to the Mayor. Ah, I'm very glad he will get his freedom from your hands. I was so weak. When this is done I shall go back North and try to live it out. But I love him very dearly, Mr. Anthony." Her lip trembled piteously. "And I could have done so much for him."

Grim-faced and scowling he re-read the letter in his hand during the moment it required for Edith to make ready. The injustice that had been done his blood roused every passion in him. He had himself well in hand, however, and he restrained his yearning to burst forcibly into the police barracks and take his boy to his heart. He determined there should be no possible slip--and he longed ferociously to meet Ramon Alfarez.

Kirk was considerably surprised that afternoon when a sergeant and two policemen came to his cell, signifying that he was to accompany them. He could not make out where they were taking him, and, despite their unusual politeness, they were dense to all inquiries. It was a bright, hot afternoon, and the city seemed very beautiful and desirous as he was driven through it; but the whole procedure filled him with uneasiness. He was sure that it had nothing to do with his trial, or Anson would have posted him, and he began to fear that it might concern his marriage. Perhaps Chiquita was ill, dying, or perhaps they were trying to annul the bond. The smiling little officer only shook his head, shrugged, and chattered unintelligibly at his questions.

The coach drew up at last before a large, white building, and he was told to descend. Up a flight of stairs he was escorted, his pulses quickening with apprehension, down a long corridor, and into a large room, where he saw Runnels, Colonel Jolson, Anson, Clifford, a dozen or more Panamanian officials, and--he stopped in his tracks as his eyes fell upon a huge, white-crowned figure that came to meet him. His heart leaped wildly, a great drumming set up in his ears, something gripped his throat with agonizing pressure and robbed him of speech.

A certain harsh yet tender voice pronounced his name. He felt his hands crushed in his father's palms, found the old man's arm about his shoulders, and saw the deep-set, steel-blue eyes he loved so well wet and shiny. Then, for once and for all time, he realized that in the whole wide world there was but one man who really mattered, one man for whom he honestly cared. A sudden sense of security swept over him, banishing all his fears. The room with its smiling faces became blurred and distant; a thousand words of endearment sprang to his lips. What he really said was:

"Hello!" And even that he pronounced as shyly as a girl.

"My kid!" the old man said, shakingly. "H-how have they treated you, Buster?" It was a nickname he had given his son when he was a sturdy, round-faced urchin of eight, and which he had laid away regretfully in lavender, so to speak, when the boy grew to manhood.

"You came, didn't you?" Kirk said, in a voice not at all like his own. "I knew you'd come."

"Of course I came, the instant Clifford cabled me that these idiots had arrested you. By God! They'll sweat for this. How are you anyhow, Kirk? Dammit, you need a shave! Wouldn't they give you a razor? Hey! Clifford, Colonel Jolson, come here! These scoundrels wouldn't give him a shave." Darwin K. Anthony's eyes began to blaze at this indignity, and he rumbled on savagely: "Oh, I'll smash this dinky government--try to convict my kid, eh? I suppose you're hungry, too; well, so'm I. We'll be out of here in a minute, then you show me the best place in town and we'll have a decent meal, just we two, the way we used to. I'll pay the bill. God Almighty! I've missed you, Buster."

"Wait, dad." Kirk was smiling, but his heart ached at his father's emotion. "I'm a jail-bird, you know. They think I--killed a fellow. But I don't care much what they think now."

"That's all over," Clifford broke in. "We've squared that, and you'll be discharged in ten minutes."

"Honest?"

"Certainly," said the old gentleman. "Cortlandt shot himself. Anybody but a blithering Spanish ass would have known it at the start. We have a letter he wrote to his wife an hour before he did it. She just found it and turned it over. She left here a moment ago, by-the-way, all broken up. She's a great woman, Kirk. That's not all, either. Clifford followed you that night, and knows you didn't go near Cortlandt. Oh, you should have seen 'em jump when we flashed it on 'em all at once and they learned who I was!"

"But those men who swore they saw me?"

"Bah! We've got that little Dago with the mustache, and both his witnesses. If they don't send him up, I'll run in a shipload of my brakemen, and we'll push this Isthmus overboard and him with it."

"I knew you could fix things."

"Fix 'em! Fix 'em! That's EASY! Say, how have you been getting along, anyhow?"

"Great!"

"And you married one of these Panamanicures, eh?" The father scowled. "Lord! I can trust you to make a fool of yourself."

"Say, dad. She's only--so big." Anthony Junior indicated his wife's stature, smiling rapturously.

"Dwarf, eh?"

"Oh no!"

"Love her?"

"DO I? It's fierce."

"Humph! You'll have to get over it. I'll pay your debts and take care of you, but I can't stand a mulatto around me."

"There aren't any debts, and she's not a mulatto. She's a--dream."

"They're waiting, Mr. Anthony," Clifford made bold to say. "I think we'd better get this over with."

Kirk paid little attention to the formalities of the next few minutes. He was too busy with thoughts of his amazing good- fortune, his mind was too dazzled by the joy of freedom. Allan appeared from somewhere and clung to him in an ecstasy of delight. Colonel Jolson, Runnels, Anson, even the Panamanian officials shook hands with him. He accepted their congratulations mechanically, meanwhile keeping very close to his father's side.

Some time later he found himself out in the open sunlight a free man once more, with Darwin K. Anthony and Runnels on either side of him. But before he had gone a block, he halted suddenly, saying:

"Williams! I'd forgotten him and his warrant."

"He's fixed," Runnels explained. "While your father and Mrs. Cortlandt and Colonel Jolson were getting you out of jail, Clifford and I told him the truth. He's rather a decent fellow. They have caught the real Jefferson Locke, or whatever his name is."

"No!"

"Yes; a week ago. He landed in Boston; couldn't stay away from his own country any longer. Williams hadn't heard of it."

"What has become of Higgins?" Kirk inquired of his father.

Anthony Senior exploded:

"Oh, he's back scorching up the Tenderloin as usual, but you'll have to cut him out, or I'll leave you here. That's final, understand?"

"I intend to stay here, anyhow."

"Huh?" The old man turned with a start. "I'm damned if you do." Then, savagely: "What do you suppose I came down here for? I'm lonesome. I want you to come home."

Kirk smiled craftily and looked at Runnels. "Well, what can you offer? I'm doing pretty well as it is, and I can't afford to lay off."

His father in turn appealed to the Acting Superintendent. "See! It's nothing less than blackmail. Is he any good, Mr. Runnels?"

"If there weren't so much politics in this job, he'd be Master of Transportation of the P. R. R. That's doing pretty well, isn't it? We're both going to quit and look for new work."

"Do you drink, Kirk?"

"I haven't even had an alcohol rub since I left New York. But, dad, if you place me, you'll have to take care of Runnels, too. He knows more about railroads than--you do."

Mr. Anthony grunted a trifle sceptically at this and murmured: "He must be a bright young man. I suppose what he doesn't know, you do. Well, how would you both like to come North and give me some lessons?"

"Do you mean it?" they cried in chorus.

"I do."

"Oh, there's Allan, too, he'll have to go."

"Any cats and dogs you'd like to have drawing salary from me? Now let's go somewhere and eat. I haven't tasted anything to speak of since Clifford's message came."

"If you don't mind, I--I'd like to stop at the Garavels' for a minute," Kirk said, longingly, and his father scowled.

"I'd forgotten this--wife of yours."

"She's not there," Runnels hastened to say. "I've tried to find her, but I was told she was out at the country place."

"Then I think I'd rather drive out there than eat. Won't you go with me, dad?"

"Well--yes! I want to see this banker fellow, and--I'm not so damned hungry, after all. We'll settle this thing right now."

The afternoon sun was still an hour high when Kirk Anthony came down the hill from the Garavels' home and crossed the meadow toward the forest glade he knew so well. The grateful coolness of evening was stealing downward, and Nature was roused from her midday lethargy. It was the vibrant, active hour when odors are freshest and spirits rise. The forest was noisy with the cry of birds, and flocks of shrill-voiced paroquets raised an uproar in the tallest trees. The dense canopy of green overhead was alive with fluttering wings; the groves echoed to the cries of all the loud-voiced thicket denizens. The pastured cattle, which had sauntered forth from shaded nooks, ceased their grazing to stare with gentle curiosity at the hurrying figure. Of course they recognized a lover speeding to his tryst, and gave him passage, shaking their heads at one another and wagging their ears in knowing fashion.

He faltered a bit despite his haste, for this nook had grown sacred to him, and even yet he felt that it was haunted. The laughter of the waterfall helped to drown the sound of his approach, but he surprised no dancing wood-sprites. Instead, he saw what filled his heart with a greater gladness than he had ever known.

Chiquita was there, huddled upon the seat where they had rested together, one foot curled beneath her like a child, her head bowed down disconsolately. From one brown hand, now drooping listlessly, a few wild flowers had scattered, and her slim figure was clad once more in the stiff, coarse denim dress of blue. Her other hand was toying with her beads mechanically, as if the fingers had learned their task from long practice. Her dusky eyes were fast upon the lights that wavered in the pool.

As if to prove that the spot was really peopled by kind spirits, a gentle voice seemed to whisper the news to her, and she turned to find him smiling at her. She rose and met him with her hands outstretched, her face transfigured.

After a time she leaned backward in his arms, and said, gravely: "You see! When one says many, many prayers, the good saints always answer. The padre told me that I should never cease until you came, but I grew very tired, senor."

"And you never doubted me?"

"Oh no!"

"I'm free, you know."

"Of course! What else were my prayers for? Had my father allowed, I would have gone to your prison, but he forbade it, so I had no choice. But every hour I prayed that he might give me leave, and I think his heart was yielding."

"I'm sure of that," he told her, "for I have just come from him."

It was some time later, when the sun was dipping, that voices sounded outside the wall of verdure, and Kirk heard Andres Garavel saying:

"Of a certainty I shall try that experiment, senor, for the ticks in this country are a pest to cattle. A little to the right, and you will find the path--So!"

An instant later the two white-haired men appeared.

"Hello! There you are, eh?" Darwin K. Anthony exclaimed, gruffly. "Where's that girl?" He paused and let his hostile eyes rest upon Gertrudis.

She saw a great, forbidding giant of a man scowling down at her with eyes like Kirk's, and she came forward timidly, holding out her hands. She was smiling up at him faintly.

"You are Keerk's father, yes? You are the Senor Antonio."

Mr. Anthony uttered a curious, choking exclamation, and gathered her gently in his arms. When he looked up, his eyes were wet and his deep-lined face was working.

"I couldn't wait any longer," he apologized humbly to his son. "I had to come and see her."

"Ah, then I hope you will like me," she said in her grave, quaint way.

"Your father has told me everything"--Garavel laid a hand upon his new son's shoulder--"and we have become good friends already. I fear I owe you a great apology, my boy; but if I consent that you take my little girl away to your country, will that be reparation?"

"Then you WILL let her go with us?" Kirk cried, happily.

"If she doesn't go, I'll stay," Anthony Senior rumbled. "I--I don't see how you ever did it, you're such a blamed fool. Now let's go back to the house, it's sundown."

"We'll be along directly," his son assented.

"There are chills in the evening air," Mr. Garavel protested.

"I'm sorry, but we were waiting for the fairies. They were almost in sight when you frightened them away."

Gertrudis nodded. "It is quite true, Senor Antonio. We heard them all about, everywhere." She placed her little hand in Kirk's, then checked her father's remonstrance, saying:

"Oh, it is quite proper for us to walk home together, even in the dark; we are married now, you know."

"Come on, Garavel," exclaimed Darwin K. Anthony. "You understand how it is." Together they went out through the fragrant path a little way, then old man Anthony paused and called back to his son, wistfully: "But, I say, Kirk, don't stay too long; we're lonesome."


(THE END)
Rex Beach's Novel: Ne'er-Do-Well

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