Chapter 32




ISAAC IN HIDING


Arnold, as he neared the end of his journey, felt, indeed, that he had found his way into some alien world. The streets through which, after many directions, he had passed, had all been strange to him, strange not only because of their narrowness, their poverty, their ill flavor, but on account, also, of the foreign names above the shops, the street cries, and the dark, unfamiliar aspects of the people. After losing his way more than once, he discovered at last a short street branching out of a narrow but populous thoroughfare. There were no visible numbers, but counting the houses on the left-hand side, and finding the door of the seventh open, he made his way inside. The place was silent and seemed deserted. He climbed the stairs to the second story and knocked at the door of the front room. So far, although barely a hundred yards away was a street teeming with human beings, he had not seen a soul in the place.

His first knock remained unanswered. He tried again. This time he heard a movement inside which he construed as an invitation to enter. He threw open the door and stepped in. The blind was closely drawn, and to his eyes, unaccustomed to the gloom, there seemed to be no one in the place. Suddenly the fire of an electric torch flashed into his eyes, a familiar voice from a distant corner addressed him.

"What the devil are you doing here?"

The light was as suddenly turned off. Arnold could see now that the man whom he had come to visit had barricaded himself behind an upturned table in a distant corner of the room.

"I want a word or two with you, Isaac," Arnold said.

"Who told you where to find me?"

"Count Sabatini."

"Have you told any one else?"

"No!"

"Are you alone?"

"Absolutely."

Isaac came slowly out into the room. His appearance, if possible, was a little more ghastly even than when Arnold had seen him last. He was unshaven, and his eyes shone with the furtiveness of some hunted animal. In his hand he was holding a murderous-looking pistol.

"Say what you want--be quick--and get away," Isaac muttered. "I am not here to receive visitors--not your sort, any way. You understand that?"

"You seem to be prepared to receive some one in a most unpleasant manner," Arnold said gravely. "Is that sort of thing worth while, Isaac?"

"Worth while!"

There was a brief pause. Arnold, having asked his question, was looking at his companion, half in horror, half in pity. Isaac, white with passion, seemed unable for the moment to make any intelligible reply. Then, drawing in his breath as though with an effort, he walked past Arnold and stood for a moment on the threshold of the door, listening intently. Satisfied, apparently, that there was nothing to be heard save the usual street noises, he closed the door softly and came back into the room.

"You," he said to Arnold, "are one of the clods of the earth, to whom it is not given to understand. You are one of those who would fall before the carriages of the rich and hold out your hands for their alms. You are one of those who could weep and weep and watch the children die, wringing your hands, while the greedy ones of the world stuff themselves at their costly restaurants. The world is full of such as you. It is full, too, of many like myself, in whose blood the fever burns, into whose brain the knowledge of things has entered, in whose heart the seared iron burns."

"That's all right for Hyde Park," Arnold declared, bluntly, "but do you imagine you are going to help straighten the world by this sort of thing?"

"In my way, I am," Isaac snarled. "What do you know of it, you smooth-faced, healthy young animal, comfortably born, comfortably bred, falling always on your feet in comfortable fashion, with the poison of comfort in your veins? You look at my pistol as an evil thing, because it can spell the difference between life and death. I will tell you what it represents to me. It represents my rebellion and the rebellion of my class against what you choose to call here law and order. Law and order are good enough things, but they have become the tools with which the smug rich keep themselves in luxury in the fat places of the world, while millions of others, gripping vainly at the outside of life, fall off into the bottomless chasm."

"It's the wrong method, Isaac," Arnold insisted, earnestly.

Isaac threw out his hand--a little gesture, half of contempt, not altogether without its touch of dignity.

"This isn't any place for words," he said, "nor is it given to you to be the champion of your class. Let me alone. Speak your errand and be gone! No one can tell when the end may come. It will be better for you, when it does, that you are not here."

"I have come on account of your niece, whom you left penniless and homeless," Arnold said sternly. "With your immense sympathy for others, perhaps you can explain this little act of inattention on your part?"

Isaac's start of surprise was genuine enough.

"I had forgotten her," he admitted curtly. "I saw the red fires that night and since then there has been no moment to breathe or think--nothing to do but get ready for the end. I had forgotten her."

"She is safe, for the present," Arnold told him. "My circumstances have improved and I have taken a small flat in which there is a room for her. This may do for the present, but Ruth, after all, is a young woman. She is morbidly sensitive. However willing I may be, and I am willing, it is not right that she should remain with me. I have always taken it for granted that save for you she has no relatives and no friends. Is this the truth? Is there no one whom she has the right to ask for a home?"

Isaac was silent. Some movements in the street below disturbed him, and he walked with catlike tread to the window, peering through a hole in the blind for several moments. When he was satisfied that nothing unusual was transpiring, he came back.

"Listen," he said hoarsely, "I am a dead man already in all but facts. I can tell you nothing of Ruth's relatives. Better that she starved upon the streets than found them. But there is her chance still. My mind has been filled with big things and I had forgotten it. Before we moved into Adam Street, the last doctor who saw Ruth suggested an operation. He felt sure that it would be successful. It was to cost forty guineas. I have saved very nearly the whole of that money. It stands in her name at the Westminster Savings Bank. If she goes there and proves her identity, she can get it. I saved that money--God knows how!"

"What is the name of the doctor?" Arnold asked.

"His name was Heskell and he was at the London Hospital," Isaac replied. "Now I have done with you. That is Ruth's chance--there is nothing else I can do. Be off as quickly as you can. If you give information as to my whereabouts, you will probably pay for it with your life, for there are others besides myself who are hiding in this house. Now go. Do you hear?"

Arnold's anger against the man suddenly faded away. It seemed to him, as he stood there, that he was but a product of the times, fashioned by the grinding wheel of circumstance, a physical wreck, a creature without love or life or hope.

"Isaac," he said, "why don't you try and escape? Get away to some other country, out onto the land somewhere. Leave the wrongs of these others to come right with time. Work for your daily bread, give your brain a rest."

Isaac made no reply. Only his long, skinny forefinger shot out toward the door. Arnold knew that he might just as well have been talking to the most hopeless lunatic ever confined in padded room.

"If this is to be farewell, Isaac," he continued, "let me at least tell you this before I go. You are doing Ruth a cruel wrong. God knows I am willing enough to take charge of her, but it's none the less a brutal position for you to put her in. You have the chance, if you will, to set her free. Think what her life has been up till now. Have you ever thought of it, I wonder? Have you ever thought of the long days she has spent in that attic when you have been away, without books, with barely enough to eat, without companionship or friends? These are the things to which you have doomed her by your cursed selfishness. If she has friends who could take her away, and you refuse to speak, then all I can say is that you deserve any fate that may come to you."

Isaac remained silent for several moments. His face was dark and dogged. When he spoke, it was with reluctance.

"Young man," he said, "every word which you have spoken has been in my brain while I have lain here waiting for the end. A few hours ago I slept and had a dream. When I awoke, I was weak. See here."

He drew from his pocket two sheets of closely-written foolscap.

"The story of Ruth's life is here," he declared. "I wrote it with a stump of pencil on the back of this table. I wrote it, but I have changed my mind, and I am going to tear it up."

Arnold was light on his feet, with a great reach, and Isaac was unprepared. In a moment the latter was on his back, and the soiled sheets of foolscap were in Arnold's pocket. Isaac's fingers seemed to hover upon the trigger of his pistol as he lay there, crouched against the wall.

"Don't be a fool!" Arnold cried, roughly. "You'll do no good by killing me. The girl has a right to her chance."

There were several seconds of breathless silence, during which it seemed to Arnold that Isaac had made up and changed his mind more than once. Then at last he lowered his pistol.

"We'll call it chance," he muttered. "I never meant to write the rubbish. Since you have got it, though, it is the truth. Do with it what you will. There is one thing more. You know this man Sabatini?"

"If you mean the Count Sabatini, it was he who gave me your address," Arnold reminded him.

Isaac smiled grimly.

"Citizen Sabatini is all we know him by here. He knows well that to a man with his aspirations, a man who desires to use as his tools such as myself and my comrades, a title is an evil recommendation. He came to us first, as a man and a brother,--he, Count Sabatini, Marquis de Lossa, Chevalier de St. Jerome, Knight of the Holy Roman Empire,--an aristocrat, you perceive, and one of the worst. Yet we have trusted him."

"I do not believe," Arnold exclaimed, "that Sabatini would betray any one!"

"I am not accusing him," Isaac said solemnly. "I simply hold that he is not the man to lead a great revolutionary movement. It is for that reason, among others, that I have rejected his advances. Sabatini as president would mean very much the same thing as a king. Will you give him a message from me?"

"Yes," Arnold answered, "I will do that."

"Tell him, if indeed he has the courage which fame has bestowed upon him, to come here and bid me farewell. I have certain things to say to him."

"I will give him your message," Arnold promised, "but I shall not advise him to come."

A look of anger flashed in Isaac's face. The pistol which had never left his grip was slowly raised, only to be lowered again.

"Do as I say," he repeated. "Tell him to come. Perhaps I may have more to say to him about that other matter than I choose to say to you."

"About Ruth?"

"About Ruth," Isaac repeated, sternly.

"You would trust a stranger," Arnold exclaimed, "with information which you deny me--her friend?"

Isaac waved him away.

"Be off," he said, tersely. "I have queer humors sometimes lying here waiting for the end. Don't let it be your fate to excite one of them. You have had your escape."

"What do you mean?" Arnold demanded.

Isaac laughed hoarsely.

"How many nights ago was it," he asked, "that you threw up a window in the man Weatherley's house--the night Morris and I were there, seeking for Rosario?"

"I never saw you!" Arnold exclaimed.

"No, but you saw Morris," Isaac continued. "What is more, you saw him again on the stairs with me that night, and it very nearly cost you your life. Lucky for you, young man, that you were not at Hampstead the night when Morris went there to seek for you!"

Arnold was speechless.

"You mean that he was there that night looking for me?" he cried.

"He hated you all," Isaac muttered, "you and the woman and Sabatini, and he was a little mad--just a little mad. If he had found you all there--"

"Well?" Arnold interposed, breathlessly.

Isaac shook his head.

"Never mind!"

"But I do mind," Arnold insisted. "I want to know about that night. Was it in search of us--"

Isaac held out his skinny hand. There was a dangerous glitter in his eyes.

"It is enough," he snarled. "I have no more to say about what is past. Send me Sabatini and he shall hear news from me."

Arnold retreated slowly towards the threshold.

"If you will take the advice of a sane man," he said, "you will throw that thing away and escape. If I can help--"

Isaac was already creeping to his hiding-place. He turned around with a contemptuous gesture.

"There is no escape for me," he declared. "Every day the police draw their circle closer. So much the better! When they come, they will find me prepared! If you are still here in sixty seconds," he added, "I will treat you as I shall treat them."

Arnold closed the door and made his way into the street.




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