Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Twice before in her life Kitty had looked upon death by violence; and it required only this present picture to convince her that she would never be able to gaze upon it callously, without pity and terror. Newspaper life - at least the reportorial side of it - has an odd effect upon men and women; it sharpens their tragical instincts and perceptions and dulls eternally the edge of tenderness and sentimentality. It was natural for Kitty to possess the keenest perceptions of tragedy; but she had been taken out of the reportorial field in time to preserve all her tenderness and romanticism. Otherwise she would have seen in that crumpled object with the sinister daub of blood on the forehead merely a story, and would have approached it from that angle. But was he dead? She literally forced her steps toward the body and stared. She dropped to her knees because they were threatening to buckle in one of those flashes of physical incoordination to which the strongest will must bow occasionally. She was no longer afraid of the tragedy, but she feared the great surging pity that was striving to express itself in sobs; and she knew that if she surrendered she would forthwith become hysterical for the rest of the evening and incompetent to carry out the plan in her head.
A strong, healthy young man done to death in this fashion only a few minutes after he had left her kitchen! Somehow she could not look upon him as a stranger. She had given him food; she had talked to him; she had even laughed with him. He was not like those dead she had seen in her reportorial days. Her orbit and Johnny Two-Hawks' had indeterminately touched; she had known old Gregory, or Gregor, who had been this unfortunate young man's friend. And he had hoped they might never meet again!
The murderous scoundrels had been watching. They must have entered the apartment shortly after he had entered hers. Conceivably they would have Gregor's key. And they had watched and waited, striking him down it may have been at the very moment he had crossed the sill of the window.
Her hand shook so idiotically that it was impossible for a time to tell if the man's heart was beating. All at once a wave of hot fury rushed over her - fury at the cowardliness of the assault - and the vertigo passed. She laid her palm firmly over Johnny Two-Hawks' heart. Alive! He was alive! She straightened his body and put a pillow under his head. Then she sought water and towels.
There was no cut on his forehead, only blood; but the top of his head had been cruelly beaten. He was alive, but without immediate aid he might die. The poor young man!
There were two physicians in the block; one or the other would be in. She ran to the door, to find it locked. She had forgotten. Next she found the telephone wire cut and the speaking tube battered and inutile. She would have to return to her own apartment to summon help. She dared not leave the light on. The scoundrels might possibly return, and the light would warn them that their victim had been discovered; and naturally they would wish to ascertain whether or not they had succeeded in their murderous assault.
As she was passing the first-landing windows she saw Cutty emerging from the elevator. She flew across the fire-escape platform with the resilient step of one crossing thin ice.
Probably the most astonished man in New York was the war correspondent when the door opened and a pair of arms were flung about him, and a voice smothered in the lapel of his coat cried: "Oh, Cutty, I never was so glad to see any one!"
"What in the name of - "
"Come! We'll handle this ourselves. Hurry!" She dragged him along by the sleeve.
"But - "
"It is life and death! No talk now!"
Cutty, immaculate in his evening clothes, very much perturbed, went along after her. As she passed through the kitchen window and beckoned him to follow he demurred.
"Kitty, what the deuce is going on here?"
"I'll answer your questions when we get him into my apartment. They tried to murder him; left him there to die!"
Cutty possessed a great art, an art highly developed only in explorers and newspaper reporters of the first order - adaptability; of being able to cast aside instantly the conventions of civilization and let down the bars to the primordial, the instinctive, and the natural. Thus the Cutty who stepped out beside Kitty into the drizzle was not the Cutty she had admitted into the apartment. She did not recognize this remarkable transition until later; and then she discovered that Cutty, the suave and lackadaisical in idleness, was a tremendous animal hibernating behind a crackle shell.
Ordinarily Cutty would have declined to come through this shell, thin as it was; he liked these catnaps between great activities. But this lovely creature was Conover's daughter, and she would have the seventh sense-divination of the born reporter. Something big was in the air.
"Go on!" he said, briskly. "I'm at your heels. And stoop as you pass those hall windows. No use throwing a silhouette for somebody in those rear houses to see." . . . Old Tommy Conover's daughter, sure pop! . . . There you go, under the ladder! You've dished the whole affair, whatever it is.... No, no! Just spoofing, Kitty. A long face is no good anywhere, even at a funeral.... This window? All right. Know where the lights are? Very good."
When Cutty saw the man on the floor he knelt quickly. "Nasty bang on the head, but he's alive. What's this? His cap. Poughkeepsie. By George, padded with his handkerchief! Must have known something was going to fall on him. Now, what's it all about?"
"When we get him to my apartment."
"Yours? Good Lord, what's the matter with this?"
"They tried to kill him here. They might return to see if they had succeeded. They mustn't find where he has gone. I'm strong. I can take hold of his knees."
"Tut! Neither of us could walk backward over that fire escape. He looks husky, but I'll try it. Now obey me without question or comment. You'll have to help me get him outside the window and in through yours. Between the two windows I can handle him alone. I only hope we shan't be noticed, for that might prove awkward. Now take hold. That's it. When I'm through the window just push his legs outside." Panting, Kitty obeyed. "All right," said Cutty. "I like your pluck. You run along ahead and be ready to help me in with him. A healthy beggar! Here goes."
With a heave and a hunch and another heave Cutty stood up, the limp body disposed scientifically across his shoulders. Kitty was quite impressed by this exhibition of strength in a man whom she considered as elderly - old. There was an underthought that such feats of bodily prowess were reserved for young men. With the naive conceit of twenty-four she ignored the actual mathematics of fifty years of clean living and thinking, missed the physiological fact that often men at fifty are stronger and tougher than men in the twenties. They never waste energy; their precision of movement and deliberation of thought conserve the residue against the supreme moment.
As a parenthesis: To a young woman what is a hero? Generally something conjured out of a book she has read; the unknown, handsome young man across the street; the leading actor in a society drama; the idol of the movie. A hero must of necessity be handsome; that is the first essential. If he happens to be brave and debonair, rich and aristocratic, so much the better. Somehow, to be brave and to be heroic are not actually accepted synonyms in certain youthful feminine minds. For instance, every maid will agree that her father is brave; but tell her he is a hero because he pays his bills regularly and she will accept the statement with a smile of tolerant indulgence.
Thus Kitty viewed Cutty's activities with a thrill of amazed wonder. Had the young man hoisted Cutty to his shoulders her feeling would have been one of exultant admiration. Let age crown its garnered wisdom; youth has no objections to that; but feats of physical strength - that is poaching upon youth's preserves. Kitty was not conscious of the instinctive resentment. At that moment Cutty was to her the most extraordinary old man in the world.
"Forward!" he whispered. "I want to know why I am doing this movie stunt." The journey began with Kitty in the lead. She prayed that no one would see them as they passed the two landing windows. Below and above were vivid squares of golden light. She regretted the drizzle; no clothes-laden lines intervened to obscure their progress. Someone in the rear of the houses in Seventy-ninth Street might observe the silhouettes. The whole affair must be carried off secretly or their efforts would come to nothing.
Once inside the kitchen Cutty shifted his burden into his arms, the way one carries a child, and followed Kitty into the unused bedroom. He did not wait for the story, but asked for the telephone.
"I'm going to call for a surgeon at the Lambs. He's just back from France and knows a lot about broken heads. And we can trust him absolutely. I told him to wait there until I called."
"Cutty, you're a dear. I don't wonder father loved you."
Presently he turned away from the telephone. "He'll be here in a jiffy. Now, then, what the deuce is all this about?"
Briefly Kitty narrated the episodes.
"Samaritan stuff. I see. Any absorbent cotton? I can wash the wound after a fashion. Warm water and Castile soap. We can have him in shape for Harrison."
Alone, Cutty took note of several apparent facts. The victim's flannel shirt was torn at the collar and there were marks of finger nails on the throat and chest. Upon close inspection he observed a thin red line round the neck - the mark of a thong. Had they tried to strangle him or had he carried something of value? Silk underwear and a clean body; well born; foreign. After a conscientious hesitance Cutty went through the pockets. All he found were some crumbs of tobacco and a soggy match box. They had cleaned him out evidently. There were no tailors' labels in any of the pockets; but there were signs that these had once existed. The man on the bed had probably ripped them out himself; did not care to be identified.
A criminal in flight? Cutty studied the face on the pillow. Shorn of that beard it would be handsome; not the type criminal, certainly. A bit of natural cynicism edged into his thoughts: Kitty had seen through the beard, otherwise she would have turned the affair over to the police. Not at all like her mother, yet equally her mother's match in beauty and intelligence. Conover's girl, whose eyes had nearly popped out of her head at the first sight of those drum-lined walls of his.
Two-Hawks. What was it that was trying to stir in his recollection? Two-Hawks. He was sure he had heard that name before. Hawksley meant nothing at all; but Two-Hawks possessed a strange attraction. He stared off into space. He might have heard the name in a tongue other than English.
A sound. It came from the lips of the young man. Cutty frowned. The poor chap wasn't breathing in a promising way; he groaned after each inhalation. And what had become of the old fellow Kitty called Gregory? A queer business.
Kitty came in with a basin and a roll of absorbent cotton.
"He is groaning!" she whispered.
"Pretty rocky condition, I should say. That handkerchief in his cap doubtless saved him. Now, little lady, I frankly don't like the idea of his being here. Suppose he dies? In that event there'll be the very devil to pay. You're all alone here, without even a maid."
"Am I all alone?" - softly.
"Well, no; come to think of it, I'm no longer your godfather in theory. Give me the cotton and hold the basin."
He was very tender. The wound bled a little; but it was not the kind that bled profusely. It was less a cut than a smashing bruise.
"Well, that's all I can do. Who was this tenant Gregory?"
"A dear old man. A valet at a Broadway hotel. Oh, I forgot! Johnny Two-Hawks called him Stefani Gregor."
"Yes. What is it? Why do you say it like that?"
"Say it like what?" - sparring for time.
"As if you had heard the name before?"
"Just as I thought!" cried Cutty, his nimble mind pouncing upon a happy invention. "You're romantic, Kitty. You're imagining all sorts of nonsense about this chap, and you must not let the situation intrigue you. If I spoke the name oddly - this Stefani Gregor - it was because I sensed in a moment that this was a bit of the overflow. Southeastern Europe, where the good Samaritan gets kicked instead of thanked. Now, here's a good idea. Of course we can't turn this poor chap loose upon the public, now that we know his life is in danger. That's always the trouble with this Samaritan business. When you commit a fine action you assume an obligation. You hoist the Old Man of the Sea on your shoulders, as it were. The chap cannot be allowed to remain here. So, if Harrison agrees, we'll take him up to my diggings, where no Bolshevik will ever lay eyes upon him."
"For the sake of a handle. They might be Chinamen, for all I know. I can take care of him until he is on his feet. And you will be saved all this annoyance.
"But I don't believe it's going to be an annoyance. I'm terribly interested, and want to see it through."
"If he can be moved, out he goes. No arguments. He can't stay in this apartment. That's final."
"Exactly why not?" Kitty demanded, rebelliously.
"Because I say so, Kitty."
"Is Stefani Gregor an undesirable?"
"You knew him. What do you say?" countered her godfather, evading the trap. The innocent child! He smiled inwardly.
Kitty was keen. She sensed an undercurrent, and her first attempt to touch it had failed. The mere name of Stefani Gregor had not roused Cutty's astonishment. She was quite positive that the name was not wholly unfamiliar to her father's friend.
Still, something warned her not to press in this direction. He would be on the alert. She must wait until he had forgotten the incident. So she drew up a chair beside the bed and sat down.
Cutty leaned against the footrail, his expression neutral. He sighed inaudibly. His delightful catnap was over. Stefani Gregor, Kitty's neighbour, a valet in a fashionable hotel! Stefani Gregor, who, upon a certain day, had placed the drums of jeopardy in the palms of a war correspondent known to his familiars as Cutty. And who was this young man on the bed?
"There goes the bell!" cried Kitty, jumping up.
The ring was repeated vigorously and impatiently.
"Kitty, I don't quite like the sound of that bell. Harrison would have no occasion to be impatient. Somebody in a hurry. Now, attend to me. I'm going to steal out to the kitchen. Don't be afraid. Call if I'm needed. Open the door just a crack, with your foot against it. If it's Harrison he'll be in uniform. Call out his name. Slam the door if it is someone you don't know."
Kitty opened the door as instructed, but she swung it wide because one of the men outside was a policeman. The man behind him was a thickset, squat individual, with puffed, discoloured eyes and a nose that reminded Kitty of an alligator pear.
"What's going on here?" the policeman demanded to know.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.