The American Claimant Part 10

"Yes, I think most anybody would notice that--anybody who wasn't dead."

"Well, I've been posting myself a good while. That's a great and, splendid nation, and deserves to be set free." He paused, then added in a quite matter-of-fact way, "When I get this money I'm going to set it free."

"Great guns!"

"Why, what makes you jump like that?"

"Dear me, when you are going to drop a remark under a man's chair that is likely to blow him out through the roof, why don't you put some expression, some force, some noise unto it that will prepare him? You shouldn't flip out such a gigantic thing as this in that colorless kind of a way. You do jolt a person up, so. Go on, now, I'm all right again. Tell me all about it. I'm all interest--yes, and sympathy, too."

"Well, I've looked the ground over, and concluded that the methods of the Russian patriots, while good enough considering the way the boys are hampered, are not the best; at least not the quickest. They are trying to revolutionize Russia from within; that's pretty slow, you know, and liable to interruption all the time, and is full of perils for the workers. Do you know how Peter the Great started his army? He didn't start it on the family premises under the noses of the Strelitzes; no, he started it away off yonder, privately,--only just one regiment, you know, and he built to that. The first thing the Strelitzes knew, the regiment was an army, their position was turned, and they had to take a walk. Just that little idea made the biggest and worst of all the despotisms the world has seen. The same idea can unmake it. I'm going to prove it. I'm going to get out to one side and work my scheme the way Peter did."

"This is mighty interesting, Rossmore. What is it you are, going to do?"

"I am going to buy Siberia and start a republic."

"There,--bang you go again, without giving any notice! Going to buy it?"

"Yes, as soon as I get the money. I don't care what the price is, I shall take it. I can afford it, and I will. Now then, consider this-- and you've never thought of it, I'll warrant. Where is the place where there is twenty-five times more manhood, pluck, true heroism, unselfishness, devotion to high and n.o.ble ideals, adoration of liberty, wide education, and brains, per thousand of population, than any other domain in the whole world can show?"

"Siberia!"

"Right."

"It is true; it certainly is true, but I never thought of it before."

"n.o.body ever thinks of it. But it's so, just the same. In those mines and prisons are gathered together the very finest and n.o.blest and capablest mult.i.tude of human beings that G.o.d is able to create. Now if you had that kind of a population to sell, would you offer it to a despotism? No, the despotism has no use for it; you would lose money. A despotism has no use for anything but human cattle. But suppose you want to start a republic?"

"Yes, I see. It's just the material for it."

"Well, I should say so! There's Siberia with just the very finest and choicest material on the globe for a republic, and more coming--more coming all the time, don't you see! It is being daily, weekly, monthly recruited by the most perfectly devised system that has ever been invented, perhaps. By this system the whole of the hundred millions of Russia are being constantly and patiently sifted, sifted, sifted, by myriads of trained experts, spies appointed by the Emperor personally; and whenever they catch a man, woman or child that has got any brains or education or character, they ship that person straight to Siberia. It is admirable, it is wonderful. It is so searching and so effective that it keeps the general level of Russian intellect and education down to that of the Czar."

"Come, that sounds like exaggeration."

"Well, it's what they say anyway. But I think, myself, it's a lie. And it doesn't seem right to slander a whole nation that way, anyhow. Now, then, you see what the material is, there in Siberia, for a republic." He paused, and his breast began to heave and his eye to burn, under the impulse of strong emotion. Then his words began to stream forth, with constantly increasing energy and fire, and he rose to his feet as if to give himself larger freedom. "The minute I organize that republic, the light of liberty, intelligence, justice, humanity, bursting from it, flooding from it, flaming from it, will concentrate the gaze of the whole astonished world as upon the miracle of a new sun; Russia's countless mult.i.tudes of slaves will rise up and march, march!--eastward, with that great light transfiguring their faces as they come, and far back of them you will see-what will you see?--a vacant throne in an empty land! It can be done, and by G.o.d I will do it!"

He stood a moment bereft of earthy consciousness by his exaltation; then consciousness returned, bringing him a slight shock, and he said with grave earnestness: "I must ask you to pardon me, Major Hawkins. I have never used that expression before, and I beg you will forgive it this time."

Hawkins was quite willing.

"You see, Washington, it is an error which I am by nature not liable to. Only excitable people, impulsive people, are exposed to it. But the circ.u.mstances of the present case--I being a democrat by birth and preference, and an aristocrat by inheritance and relish--"

The earl stopped suddenly, his frame stiffened, and he began to stare speechless through the curtainless window. Then he pointed, and gasped out a single rapturous word: "Look!"

"What is it, Colonel?"

"IT!"

"No!"

"Sure as you're born. Keep perfectly still. I'll apply the influence-- I'll turn on all my force. I've brought It thus far--I'll fetch It right into the house. You'll see."

He was making all sorts of pa.s.ses in the air with his hands.

"There! Look at that. I've made It smile! See?"

Quite true. Tracy, out for an afternoon stroll, had come unexpectantly upon his family arms displayed upon this shabby house-front. The hatchments made him smile; which was nothing, they had made the neighborhood cats do that.

"Look, Hawkins, look! I'm drawing It over!"

"You're drawing it sure, Rossmore. If I ever had any doubts about materialization, they're gone, now, and gone for good. Oh, this is a joyful day!"

Tracy was sauntering over to read the door-plate. Before he was half way over he was saying to himself, "Why, manifestly these are the American Claimant's quarters."

"It's coming--coming right along. I'll slide, down and pull It in. You follow after me."

Sellers, pale and a good deal agitated, opened the door and confronted Tracy. The old man could not at once get his voice: then he pumped out a scattering and hardly coherent salutation, and followed it with-- "Walk in, walk right in, Mr.--er--"

"Tracy--Howard Tracy."

"Tracy--thanks--walk right in, you're expected."

Tracy entered, considerably puzzled, and said: "Expected? I think there must be some mistake."

"Oh, I judge not," said Sellers, who--noticing that Hawkins had arrived, gave him a sidewise glance intended to call his close attention to a dramatic effect which he was proposing to produce by his next remark. Then he said, slowly and impressively--"I am--YOU KNOW WHO."

To the astonishment of both conspirators the remark produced no dramatic effect at all; for the new comer responded with a quite innocent and unembarra.s.sed air-- "No, pardon me. I don't know who you are. I only suppose--but no doubt correctly--that you are the gentleman whose t.i.tle is on the doorplate."

"Right, quite right--sit down, pray sit down." The earl was rattled, thrown off his bearings, his head was in a whirl. Then he noticed Hawkins standing apart and staring idiotically at what to him was the apparition of a defunct man, and a new idea was born to him. He said to Tracy briskly: "But a thousand pardons, dear sir, I am forgetting courtesies due to a guest and stranger. Let me introduce my friend General Hawkins--General Hawkins, our new Senator--Senator from the latest and grandest addition to the radiant galaxy of sovereign States, Cherokee Strip"--(to himself, "that name will shrivel him up!"--but it didn't, in the least, and the Colonel resumed the introduction piteously disheartened and amazed),-- "Senator Hawkins, Mr. Howard Tracy, of--er--"

"England."

"England!--Why that's im--"

"England, yes, native of England."

"Recently from there?"

"Yes, quite recently."

Said the Colonel to himself, "This phantom lies like an expert. Purifying this kind by fire don't work. I'll sound him a little further, give him another chance or two to work his gift." Then aloud--with deep irony-- "Visiting our great country for recreation and amus.e.m.e.nt, no doubt. I suppose you find that traveling in the majestic expanses of our Far West is--"

"I haven't been West, and haven't been devoting myself to amus.e.m.e.nt with any sort of exclusiveness, I a.s.sure you. In fact, to merely live, an artist has got to work, not play."

"Artist!" said Hawkins to himself, thinking of the rifled bank; "that is a name for it!"

"Are you an artist?" asked the colonel; and added to himself, "now I'm going to catch him."

"In a humble way, yes."

"What line?" pursued the sly veteran.

"Oils."

"I've got him!" said Sellers to himself. Then aloud, "This is fortunate. Could I engage you to restore some of my paintings that need that attention?"

"I shall be very glad. Pray let me see them."

No shuffling, no evasion, no embarra.s.sment, even under this crucial test. The Colonel was nonplussed. He led Tracy to a chromo which had suffered damage in a former owner's hands through being used as a lamp mat, and said, with a flourish of his hand toward the picture-- "This del Sarto--"

"Is that a del Sarto?"

The colonel bent a look of reproach upon Tracy, allowed it to sink home, then resumed as if there had been no interruption-- "This del Sarto is perhaps the only original of that sublime master in our country. You see, yourself, that the work is of such exceeding delicacy that the risk--could--er--would you mind giving me a little example of what you can do before we--"

"Cheerfully, cheerfully. I will copy one of these marvels."

Water-color materials--relics of Miss Sally's college life--were brought. Tracy said he was better in oils, but would take a chance with these. So he was left alone. He began his work, but the attractions of the place were too strong for him, and he got up and went drifting about, fascinated; also amazed.

CHAPTER XIX.

Meantime the earl and Hawkins were holding a troubled and anxious private consultation. The earl said: "The mystery that bothers me, is, where did It get its other arm?"

"Yes--it worries me, too. And another thing troubles me--the apparition is English. How do you account for that, Colonel?"

"Honestly, I don't know, Hawkins, I don't really know. It is very confusing and awful."

"Don't you think maybe we've waked up the wrong one?"

"The wrong one? How do you account for the clothes?"

"The clothes are right, there's no getting around it. What are we going to do? We can't collect, as I see. The reward is for a one-armed American. This is a two-armed Englishman."

"Well, it may be that that is not objectionable. You see it isn't less than is called for, it is more, and so,--"

But he saw that this argument was weak, and dropped it. The friends sat brooding over their perplexities some time in silence. Finally the earl's face began to glow with an inspiration, and he said, impressively: "Hawkins, this materialization is a grander and n.o.bler science than we have dreamed of. We have little imagined what a solemn and stupendous thing we have done. The whole secret is perfectly clear to me, now, clear as day. Every man is made up of heredities, long-descended atoms and particles of his ancestors. This present materialization is incomplete. We have only brought it down to perhaps the beginning of this century."

"What do you mean, Colonel!" cried Hawkins, filled with vague alarms by the old man's awe-compelling words and manner.

"This. We've materialized this burglar's ancestor!"

"Oh, don't--don't say that. It's hideous."

"But it's true, Hawkins, I know it. Look at the facts. This apparition is distinctly English--note that. It uses good grammar--note that. It is an Artist--note that. It has the manners and carriage of a gentleman-- note that. Where's your cow-boy? Answer me that."

"Rossmore, this is dreadful--it's too dreadful to think of!"

"Never resurrected a rag of that burglar but the clothes, not a solitary rag of him but the clothes."

"Colonel, do you really mean--"

The Colonel brought his fist down with emphasis and said: "I mean exactly this. The materialization was immature, the burglar has evaded us, this is nothing but a d.a.m.ned ancestor!"

He rose and walked the floor in great excitement.

Hawkins said plaintively: "It's a bitter disappointment--bitter."

"I know it. I know it, Senator; I feel it as deeply as anybody could. But we've got to submit--on moral grounds. I need money, but G.o.d knows I am not poor enough or shabby enough to be an accessory to the punishing of a man's ancestor for crimes committed by that ancestor's posterity."

"But Colonel!" implored Hawkins; "stop and think; don't be rash; you know it's the only chance we've got to get the money; and besides, the Bible itself says posterity to the fourth generation shall be punished for the sins and crimes committed by ancestors four generations back that hadn't anything to do with them; and so it's only fair to turn the rule around and make it work both ways."

The Colonel was struck with the strong logic of this position. He strode up and down, and thought it painfully over. Finally he said: "There's reason in it; yes, there's reason in it. And so, although it seems a piteous thing to sweat this poor ancient devil for a burglary he hadn't the least hand in, still if duty commands I suppose we must give him up to the authorities."

"I would," said Hawkins, cheered and relieved, "I'd give him up if he was a thousand ancestors compacted into one."

"Lord bless me, that's just what he is," said Sellers, with something like a groan, "it's exactly what he is; there's a contribution in him from every ancestor he ever had. In him there's atoms of priests, soldiers, crusaders, poets, and sweet and gracious women--all kinds and conditions of folk who trod this earth in old, old centuries, and vanished out of it ages ago, and now by act of ours they are summoned from their holy peace to answer for gutting a one-horse bank away out on the borders of Cherokee Strip, and it's just a howling outrage!"

"Oh, don't talk like that, Colonel; it takes the heart all out of me, and makes me ashamed of the part I am proposing to--"

"Wait--I've got it!"

"A saving hope? Shout it out, I am perishing."

"It's perfectly simple; a child would have thought of it. He is all right, not a flaw in him, as far as I have carried the work. If I've been able to bring him as far as the beginning of this century, what's to stop me now? I'll go on and materialize him down to date."

"Land, I never thought of that!" said Hawkins all ablaze with joy again. "It's the very thing. What a brain you have got! And will he shed the superfluous arm?"

"He will."

"And lose his English accent?"

"It will wholly disappear. He will speak Cherokee Strip--and other forms of profanity."

"Colonel, maybe he'll confess!"

"Confess? Merely that bank robbery?"

"Merely? Yes, but why 'merely'?"

The Colonel said in his most impressive manner: "Hawkins, he will be wholly under my command. I will make him confess every crime he ever committed. There must be a thousand. Do you get the idea?"

"Well--not quite."

"The rewards will come to us."

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