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2 - I Seek Shelter and Find It


"This is a fine piece of business," I said to myself, springing to my
feet. And then I called as loudly as my lungs would permit for
Hippopopolis. It was really exhilarating to do so. The name lends
itself so readily to a sonorous effect. The hills fairly echoed and
re-echoed with the name, but no answer came, and finally I gave up in
disgust, seeking meanwhile the very inadequate shelter of a tree, to
keep the rain off. A more woe-begone picture never presented itself, I
am convinced. I was chilled through, shivering in the dampness of the
night, a steady stream of water pouring upon and drenching my
clothing, void of property of an available nature, and lost in a
strange land. To make matters worse, I was familiar only with classic
Greek, which language is utterly unknown in those parts to-day, being
spoken only by the professors of the American school at Athens and the
war correspondents of the New York Sunday newspapers--a fact, by the
way, which probably accounts for the latter's unfamiliarity with
classic English. It is too much in these times to expect a man to
speak or write more than one language at a time. Even if I survived
the exposure of the night, a horrid death by starvation stared me in
the face, since I had no means of conveying to any one who might
appear the idea that I was hungry.

Still, if starvation was to be my lot, I preferred to starve dryly
and warmly; so, deserting the tree which was now rather worse as a
refuge than no refuge at all, since the limbs began to trickle forth
steady streams of water, which, by some accursed miracle of choice,
seemed to consider the back of my neck their inevitable destination, I
started in to explore as best I could in the uncanny light of the
night for some more sheltered nook. Feeling, too, that, having robbed
me, Hippopopolis would become an extremely unpleasant person to
encounter in my unarmed and exhausted state, I made my way up the
mountainside, rather than down into the valley, where my inconsiderate
guide was probably even then engaged in squandering my hard-earned
wealth, in company with the peasants of that locality, who see real
money so seldom that they ask no unpleasant questions as to whence it
has come when they do see it.

"Under the circumstances," thought I, "I sincerely hope that the paths
of Hippopopolis and myself may lie as wide as the poles apart. If so
be we do again tread the same path, I trust I shall see him in time to
be able to ignore his presence."

With this reflection I made my way with difficulty up the side of
Olympus. Several times it seemed to me that I had found the spot
wherein I might lie until the sun should rise, but quite as often an
inconsiderate leak overhead through the leaves of the trees, or an
undiscovered crack in the rocks above me, sent me travelling upon my
way. Physical endurance has its limits, however, and at the end of a
two hours' climb, wellnigh exhausted, I staggered into an opening
between two walls of rock, and fell almost fainting to the ground.
The falling rain revived me, and on my hands and knees I crawled
farther in, and, to my great delight, shortly found myself in a
high-ceiled cavern, safe from the storm, a place in which one might
starve comfortably, if so be one had to pass through that trying
ordeal.

"He might have left me my flask," I groaned as I thought over the pint
of warming liquid which Hippopopolis had taken from me. It was of a
particular sort, and I liked it whether I was thirsty or not. "If he'd
only left me that, he might have had my letter of credit, and no
questions asked. These Greeks are apparently not aware that there is
consideration even among thieves."

Huddling myself together, I tried to get warm after the fashion of the
small boy when he jumps into his cold-sheeted bed on a winter's night,
a process which makes his legs warm the upper part of his body, and
_vice versa_. It was moderately successful. If I could have wrung the
water out of my clothes, it might have been wholly so. Still, matters
began to look more cheerful, and I was about to drop off into a doze,
when at the far end of the cavern, where all had hitherto been black
as night, there suddenly burst forth a tremendous flood of light.

"Humph!" thought I, as the rays pierced through the blackness of the
cavern even to where I lay shivering. "I'm in for it now. In all
probability I have stumbled upon a bandits' cave."

Pleasing visions of the ways of bandits began to flit through my mind.

"In all likelihood," thought I, "there are seventeen of them. As I
have read my fiction, there are invariably seventeen bandits to a
band. It's like sixteen ounces to the pound, or three feet to the
yard, or fifty-three cents to the dollar. It never varies. What hope
have I to escape unharmed from seventeen bandits, even though five of
them are discontented--as is always the case in books--and are ready
to betray their chief to the enemy? I am the enemy, of course, but
I'll be hanged if I wish the chief betrayed into my hands. He could
probably thrash me single-handed. My hands are full anyhow, whether I
get the chief or not."

[Illustration: A DREAM OF BRIGANDAGE]

My heart sank into my boots; but as these were very wet, it promptly
returned to my throat, where it had rested ever since Hippopopolis had
deserted me. My heart is a very sane sort of an organ. I gazed towards
the light intently, expecting to see dark figures of murderous mould
loom up before me, but in this I was agreeably disappointed. Nothing
of the sort happened, and I grew easier in my mind, although my
curiosity was by no means appeased.

"I know what I will do," I said to myself. "I'll make friends with the
chief himself. That's the best plan. If he is responsive, my family
will be spared the necessity of receiving one of my ears by mail with
a delicate request for $20,000 ransom, accompanied by a P. S.
enclosing the other ear to emphasize the importance of the
complication."

By way of diversion, let me say here that, while slicing off the
victim's ear is a staple situation among novelists who write of
bandits, in all my experience with bandits--and I have known a
thousand, most of 'em in Wall Street--I have never known it done, and
I challenge those who write of South European highway-robbers to
produce any evidence to prove that the habit is prevalent. The idea
is, on the face of it, invalid. The ears of mankind, despite certain
differences which are acknowledged, are, after all, very much alike.
The point that differentiates one ear from another is the angle at
which it is set from the head. The angle, according to the most
scientific students of the organ of hearing, is the basis of the
estimate of the individual. Therefore, to convince the wealthy persons
at home that large sums of money are expected of them to preserve the
life of the father of the family, the truly expert bandit must send
something besides the ear itself, which, when cut off, has no angle
whatsoever. If I, who am no bandit, and who have not studied the art
of the banditti, may make a suggestion which may prove valuable to the
highwaymen of Italy and Greece, the only sure method of identifying
the individual lies in the cutting off of the head of the victim, by
which means alone the identity of the person to be ransomed may be
settled beyond all question. As one who has suffered, I will say that
I would not send a check for $20,000 to a bandit on the testimony of
one ear any more than I would lend a man ten dollars on his own
representation as to the meals he had not had, the drinks he wanted,
or the date upon which he would pay it back.

All these ideas flashed across my mind as I lay there worn in spirit
and chilled to the bone. At last, however, after a considerable
effort, I gathered myself together and resolved to investigate. I rose
up, stood uncertainly on my feet, and was about to make my way towards
the sources of the unexpected light, when a dark figure rushed past
me. I tried to speak to it.

"Hello, there!" said I, hoping to gain its attention and ask its
advice, since it came into the cavern in that breezy fashion which
betokens familiarity with surroundings. The being, whatever it really
was, and I was soon to find this out, turned a scornful and really
majestic face upon me, as much as to say, "Who are you that should
thus address a god?" The rushing thing wore a crown and flowing robes.
Likewise it had a gray beard and an air of power which made me, a mere
mortal, seem weak even in my own estimation. Furthermore, there was a
divine atmosphere following in his wake. It suggested the most
brilliant of brilliantine.

"Here," he cried as he passed. "I haven't time to listen to your
story, but here is my card. I have no change about me. Call upon me
to-morrow and I will attend to your needs."

The card fluttered to my side, and, not being a mendicant, I paid
little attention to it, preferring to watch this fast-disappearing
figure until I should see whither it was going. Arriving at the far
end of the cavern, the hurrying figure stopped and apparently pushed a
button at the side of the wall. Immediately an iron door, which I had
not before perceived, was pushed aside. The dark figure disappeared
into what seemed to be a well-lighted elevator, and was promptly
lifted out of sight. All became dark again, and I was frankly puzzled.
This was a situation beyond my ken. What it could mean I could not
surmise, and in the hope of finding a clew to the mystery I groped
about in the darkness for the card which the hurried individual had
cast at me with his words of encouragement. Ultimately I found it, but
was unable to decipher its inscription, if perchance it had one.
Nevertheless, I managed to keep my spirits up. This, I think, was a
Herculean task, considering the darkness and my extreme lonesomeness.
I can be happy under adverse circumstances, if only I have congenial
company. But to lie alone, in a black cavern, prey only to the
thoughts of my environment, thoughts suggesting all things apart from
life, thoughts which send the mind over the past a thousand centuries
removed--these are not comforting, and these were the only thoughts
vouchsafed to me.

A half-hour was thus passed in the darkness, and then the light
appeared again, and I resolved, though little strength was left to me,
to seek out its source. I stood up and staggered towards it, and as I
drew nearer observed that the illumination came from nothing more nor
less than an elevator at the bottom of a shaft, the magnitude of
which I could not, of course, at the moment determine.

The boy in charge was a pretty little chap, and, if I may so state it,
was absolutely unclad, but about his shoulders was slung a strap which
in turn held a leathern bag, which, to my eyes, suggested a golf-bag
more than anything else, except that it was filled with arrows instead
of golf-clubs.

"How do you do?" said I, politely. "Whose caddy are you?"

"Very well," said the little lad. "Not much to brag of, however.
Merely bobbish, pretty bobbish. In answer to your second question, I
take pleasure in informing you," he added, "that I am everybody's
caddy."

"You are--the elevator boy?" I queried, with some hesitation.

"That is my present position," said he.

"And, ah, whither do you elevate, my lad?"

[Illustration: IN THE ELEVATOR]

"Up!" said he, after the manner of one who does not wish to commit
himself, like most elevator boys. "But whom do you wish to see?" he
demanded, trying hard to frown and succeeding only in making a
ludicrous exhibition of himself.

Frankly, I did not know, but under the impulse of the moment I handed
out the card which the stranger had thrown to me.

"I forget the gentleman's name," said I, "but here is his card. He
asked me to call."

The elevator boy glanced at it, and his manner immediately changed.

"Oh, indeed. Very well, sir," he said. "I'll take you up right away.
Step lively, please."

I stepped into the elevator, and the lad turned a wheel which set us
upon our upward journey at once.

"I am sorry to have been so rude to you, sir," said the boy. "I
didn't really know you were a friend of his."

"Of whom?" I demanded.

"The old man himself," he replied, with which he handed me back the
card I had given him, upon reading which I ascertained the name of the
individual who had rushed past me so unceremoniously.

The card was this:

+--------------------------------+
| |
| |
| |
| MR. JUPITER JOVE ZEUS |
| |
| MOUNT OLYMPUS |
| GREECE |
+--------------------------------+

"Top floor, sir," said the elevator boy, obsequiously.


John Kendrick Bangs

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