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Chapter 26


CHAPTER XXVI.

IF the professor and Mrs. Wainwright had descended
sooner to a lower floor of the hotel, they
would have found reigning there a form of anarchy.
The students were in a smoking room which was also
an entrance hall to the dining room, and because there
was in the middle of this apartment a fountain containing
gold fish, they had been moved to license and
sin. They had all been tubbed and polished and
brushed and dressed until they were exuberantly beyond
themselves. The proprietor of the hotel brought
in his dignity and showed it to them, but they minded
it no more than if he had been only a common man.
He drew himself to his height and looked gravely
at them and they jovially said: " Hello, Whiskers."
American college students are notorious in their country
for their inclination to scoff at robed and crowned
authority, and, far from being awed by the dignity of
the hotel-keeper, they were delighted with it. It was
something with which to sport. With immeasurable
impudence, they copied his attitude, and, standing before
him, made comic speeches, always alluding with
blinding vividness to his beard. His exit disappointed
them. He had not remained long under fire. They
felt that they could have interested themselves with
him an entire evening. " Come back, Whiskers! Oh,
come back! " Out in the main hall he made a ges.
ture of despair to some of his gaping minions and then
fled to seclusion.

A formidable majority then decided that Coke was
a gold fish, and that therefore his proper place was in
the fountain. They carried him to it while he strug.
gled madly. This quiet room with its crimson rugs
and gilded mirrors seemed suddenly to have become
an important apartment in hell. There being as yet
no traffic in the dining room, the waiters were all at
liberty to come to the open doors, where they stood
as men turned to stone. To them, it was no less than
incendiarism.

Coke, standing with one foot on the floor and the
other on the bottom of the shallow fountain, blas-
phemed his comrades in a low tone, but with inten-
tion. He was certainly desirous of lifting his foot out
of the water, but it seemed that all movement to that
end would have to wait until he had successfully ex-
pressed his opinions. In the meantime, there was
heard slow footsteps and the rustle of skirts, and then
some people entered the smoking room on their way
to dine. Coke took his foot hastily out of the fountain.

The faces of the men of the arriving party went
blank, and they turned their cold and pebbly eyes
straight to the front, while the ladies, after little ex.
pressions of alarm, looked As if they wanted to run.
In fact, the whole crowd rather bolted from this ex-
traordinary scene.

" There, now," said Coke bitterly to his companions.
"You see? We looked like little schoolboys-"

" Oh, never mind, old man," said Peter Tounley.
"We'll forgive you, although you did embarrass us.
But, above everything, don't drip. Whatever you do,
don't drip."

The students took this question of dripping and
played upon it until they would have made quite insane
anybody but another student. They worked it
into all manner of forms, and hacked and haggled at
Coke until he was driven to his room to seek other
apparel. " Be sure and change both legs," they told
him. " Remember you can't change one leg without
changing both legs."

After Coke's departure, the United States minister
entered the room, and instantly they were subdued.
It was not his lofty station-that affected them. There
are probably few stations that would have at all af-
fectedthem. They became subdued because they un-
feignedly liked the United States minister. They,
were suddenly a group of well-bred, correctly attired
young men who had not put Coke's foot in the fountain.
Nor had they desecrated the majesty of the
hotelkeeper.

"Well, I am delighted," said the minister, laughing
as he shook hands with them all. " I was not sure I
would ever see you again. You are not to be trusted,
and, good boys as you are, I'll be glad to see you once
and forever over the boundary of my jurisdiction.
Leave Greece, you vagabonds. However, I am truly
delighted to see you all safe."

" Thank you, sir," they said.

" How in the world did you get out of it? You
must be remarkable chaps. I thought you were in a
hopeless position. I wired and cabled everywhere I
could, but I could find out nothing."

" A correspondent," said Peter Tounley. " I don't
know if you have met him. His name is Coleman.
He found us."

" Coleman ? " asked the minister, quickly.

" Yes, sir. He found us and brought us out safely."

" Well, glory be to Coleman," exclaimed the min-
ister, after a long sigh of surprise. " Glory be to Cole-
man! I never thought he could do it."

The students were alert immediately. "Why, did
you know about it, sir? Did he tell you he was coming
after us ? "

"Of course. He came tome here in Athens. and
asked where you were. I told him you were in a
peck of trouble. He acted quietly and somewhat
queerly,. and said that he would try to look you up.
He said you were friends of his. I warned him
against trying it. Yes, I said it was impossible, I    
had no idea that he would really carry the thing out.
But didn't he tell you anything about this himself?"

" No, sir ' " answered Peter Tounley. " He never
said much about it. I think he usually contended
that it was mainly an accident."

" It was no accident," said the minister, sharply.
"When a man starts out to do a thing and does it,
you can't say it is an accident."

" I didn't say so, sir," said Peter Tounley diffidently.

" Quite true, quite true ! You didn't, but-this
Coleman must be a man! "

" We think so, sir," said be who was called Billie.
" He certainly brought us through in style."

" But how did he manage it? " cried the minister,
keenly interested. " How did he do it ? "

" It is hard to say, sir. But he did it. He met us
in the dead of night out near Nikopolis-"

"Near Nikopolis?"

"Yes, sir. And he hid us in a forest while a fight
was going on, and then in the morning he brought us
inside the Greek lines. Oh, there is a lot to tell-"

Whereupon they told it, or as much as they could
of it. In the end, the minister said: " Well, where are
the professor and Mrs. Wainwright ? I want you all
to dine with me to-night. I am dining in the public
room, but you won't mind that after Epirus."
" They should be down now, sir," answered a Student.

People were now coming rapidly to dinner and presently
the professor and Mrs. Wainwright appeared.
The old man looked haggard and white. He accepted
the minister's warm greeting with a strained pathetic
smile. " Thank you. We are glad to return safely."

Once at dinner the minister launched immediately
into the subject of Coleman. " He must be altogether
a most remarkable man. When he told me, very
quietly, that he was going to try to rescue you, I
frankly warned him against any such attempt. I
thought he would merely add one more to a party of
suffering people. But the. boys tell- me that he did
actually rescue you."

"Yes, he did," said the professor. " It was a very
gallant performance, and we are very grateful."

"Of course," spoke Mrs. Wainwright, "we might
have rescued ourselves. We were on the right road,
and all we had to do was to keep going on."

" Yes, but I understand-" said the minister. " I
understand he took you into a wood to protect you
from that fight, and generally protected you from all,
kinds of trouble. It seems wonderful to me, not so
much because it was done as because it was done by
the man who, some time ago, calmy announced to me
that he was going to do it. Extraordinary."

"Of course," said Mrs. Wainwright. " Oh, of
course."

"And where is he now? " asked the minister suddenly.
"Has he now left you to the mercies of civilisation ? "

There was a moment's curious stillness, and then
Mrs. Wainwright used that high voice which-the
students believed-could only come to her when she
was about to say something peculiarly destructive to
the sensibilities. " Oh, of course, Mr. Coleman rendered
us a great service, but in his private character
he is not a man whom we exactly care to associate
with."

" Indeed" said the minister staring. Then he
hastily addressed the students. " Well, isn't this a
comic war? Did you ever imagine war could be like
this ? " The professor remained looking at his wife
with an air of stupefaction, as if she had opened up to
him visions of imbecility of which he had not even
dreamed. The students loyally began to chatter at
the minister. " Yes, sir, it is a queer war. After all
their bragging, it is funny to hear that they are running
away with such agility. We thought, of course,
of the old Greek wars."

Later, the minister asked them all to his rooms for
coffee and cigarettes, but the professor and Mrs.
Wainwright apologetically retired to their own quarters.
The minister and the students made clouds of smoke,
through which sang the eloquent descriptions of late
adventures.

The minister had spent days of listening to questions
from the State Department at Washington as to
the whereabouts of the Wainwright party. "I suppose
you know that you,are very prominent people in, the
United States just now ? Your pictures must have
been in all the papers, and there must have been
columns printed about you. My life here was made
almost insupportable by your friends, who consist, I
should think, of about half the population of the
country. Of course they laid regular siege to the de.
partment. I am angry at Coleman for only one thing.
When he cabled the news of your rescue to his news.
paper from Arta, he should have also wired me, if only
to relieve my failing mind. My first news of your
escape was from Washington-think of that."

"Coleman had us all on his hands at Arta," said
Peter Tounley. " He was a fairly busy man."

" I suppose so," said the minister. " By the way,"
he asked bluntly, "what is wrong with him? What
did Mrs. Wainwright mean? "

They were silent for a time, but it seemed plain to
him that it was not evidence that his question had
demoralised them. They seemed to be deliberating
upon the form of answer. Ultimately Peter Tounley
coughed behind his hand. " You see, sir," he began,
" there is-well, there is a woman in the case. Not
that anybody would care to speak of it excepting to
you. But that is what is the cause of things, and then,
you see, Mrs. Wainwright is-well-" He hesitated
a moment and then completed his sentence in the
ingenuous profanity of his age and condition. " She is
rather an extraordinary old bird."

" But who is the woman ?

"Why, it is Nora Blaick, the actress."
"Oh," cried the minister, enlightened. " Her
Why, I saw her here. She was very beautiful, but she
seemed harmless enough. She was somewhat-er-
confident, perhaps, but she did not alarm me. She
called upon me, and I confess I-why, she seemed
charming."
" She's sweet on little Rufus. That's the point,"
said an oracular voice.

" Oh," cried the host, suddenly. " I remember. She
asked me where he was. She said she had heard he
was in Greece, and I told her he had gone knight-
erranting off after you people. I remember now. I
suppose she posted after him up to Arta, eh ? "

" That's it. And so she asked you where he was?

" Yes."

" Why, that old flamingo-Mrs. Wainwright insists
that it was a rendezvous."

Every one exchanged glances and laughed a little.
" And did you see any actual fighting ? " asked the
minister.

" No. We only beard it-"

Afterward, as they were trooping up to their rooms,
Peter Tounley spoke musingly. " Well, it looks to me
now as if Old Mother Wainwright was just a bad-minded
old hen."

" Oh, I don't know. How is one going to tell what
the truth is ? "

" At any rate, we are sure now that Coleman had
nothing to do with Nora's debut in Epirus."

They had talked much of Coleman, but in their tones
there always had been a note of indifference or
carelessness. This matter, which to some people was as
vital and fundamental as existence, remained to others
who knew of it only a harmless detail of life, with no
terrible powers, and its significance had faded greatly
when had ended the close associat.ions of the late adventure.

After dinner the professor had gone directly to his
daughter's room. Apparently she had not moved.
He knelt by the bedside again and took one of her
hands. She was not weeping. She looked at him
and smiled through the darkness. " Daddy, I would
like to die," she said. " I think-yes-I would like to
die."

For a long time the old man was silent, but he arose
at last with a definite abruptness and said hoarsely
" Wait! "

Mrs. Wainwright was standing before her mirror
with her elbows thrust out at angles above her head,
while her fingers moved in a disarrangement of 'her
hair. In the glass she saw a reflection of her husband
coming from Marjory's room, and his face was set
with some kind of alarming purpose. She turned to
watch him actually, but he walked toward the door
into the corridor and did not in any wise heed her.

" Harrison! " she called. " Where are you going? "

He turned a troubled face upon her, and, as if she
had hailed him in his sleep, he vacantly said:
"What ? "

"Where are you going?" she demanded with increasing
trepidation.

He dropped heavily into a chair. "Going?" he
repeated.

She was angry. "Yes! Going? Where are you
going? "

"I am going-" he answered, "I am going to
see Rufus Coleman."

Mrs. Wainwright gave voice to a muffled scream.
" Not about Marjory ? "

"Yes," he said, "about Marjory."

It was now Mrs. Wainwright's turn to look at her
husband with an air of stupefaction as if he had
opened up to her visions of imbecility of which she
had not even dreamed. " About Marjory!" she
gurgled. Then suddenly her wrath flamed out.
"Well, upon my word, Harrison Wainwright, you
are, of all men in the world, the most silly and stupid.
You are absolutely beyond belief. Of all projects!
And what do you think Marjory would have to say of
it if she knew it ? I suppose you think she would like
it ? Why, I tell you she would keep her right hand
in the fire until it was burned off before she would
allow you to do such a thing."

" She must never know it," responded the professor,
in dull misery.

" Then think of yourself! Think of the shame of
it! The shame of it ! "

The professor raised his eyes for an ironical glance
at his wife. " Oh I have thought of the shame
of it!"

" And you'll accomplish nothing," cried Mrs. Wain-
wright. " You'll accomplish nothing. He'll only
laugh at you."

" If he laughs at me, he will laugh at nothing but a
poor, weak, unworldly old man. It is my duty to go."

Mrs. Wainwright opened her mouth as if she was
about to shriek. After choking a moment she said:
" Your duty? Your duty to go and bend the knee to
that man? Yourduty?"

"'It is my duty to go,"' he repeated humbly. "If
I can find even one chance for my daughter's happi-
ness in a personal sacrifice. He can do no more than
he can do no more than make me a little sadder."

His wife evidently understood his humility as a
tribute to her arguments and a clear indication that
she had fatally undermined his original intention.
" Oh, he would have made you sadder," she quoth
grimly. "No fear! Why, it was the most insane
idea I ever heard of."

The professor arose wearily. " Well, I must be
going to this work. It is a thing to have ended
quickly." There was something almost biblical in his
manner.

" Harrison! " burst out his wife in amazed lamenta-
tion. You are not really going to do it? Not
really!"

" I am going to do it," he answered.

" Well, there! " ejaculated Mrs. Wainwright to the
heavens. She was, so to speak, prostrate. " Well,
there! "

As the professor passed out of the door she cried
beseechingly but futilely after him. " Harrison." In
a mechanical way she turned then back to the mirror
and resumed the disarrangement of her hair. She ad-
dressed her image. " Well, of all stupid creatures
under the sun, men are the very worst! " And her
image said this to her even as she informed it, and afterward
they stared at each other in a profound and
tragic reception and acceptance of this great truth.
Presently she began to consider the advisability of
going to Marjdry with the whole story. Really, Harrison
must not be allowed to go on blundering until
the whole world heard that Marjory was trying to
break her heart over that common scamp of a Coleman.
It seemed to be about time for her, Mrs. Wainwright,
to come into the situation and mend matters.

Stephen Crane

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