Walter laid down his cards, leaned back in his chair, and folded his arms resolutely across his chest. How quick some folks do learn," he said to himself. Once the ice was broken the game went on for higher, and still higher, stakes, until Walter, getting actually frightened at the recklessness with which Ramon played and lost, rose to go.
After vainly urging him to remain, annoyed at his failure to make Walter play, enraged by his own losses, Ramon followed Walter outside the door, shut it behind them, and said in a menacing sort of way, "Not a word of this at the store. Who set you up for my guardian? If you're mean enough to play the sneak, tell if you dare! Walter felt his anger rising, but controlled himself. Quick as a flash, Ramon sprang before Walter, and barred his way. All the tiger in his nature gleamed in his eyes. Bright, and I'll—I'll fix you!
With that the two young men clinched, and for a few minutes nothing could be heard but their heavy breathing. This did not last. Walter soon showed himself much the stronger of the two, and Master Ramon, in spite of his struggles, found himself lying flat on his back, with his adversary's knee on his chest.
Ramon instantly gave in. Choking down his wrath, he jerked out, "There, I promise. Let me up. He then left the house without another word. He did not see Ramon shaking his fist behind [Pg 65] his back, or hear him muttering threats of vengeance to himself, as he went back to his vicious companions.
Walter did wish, however, that he had given Ramon just one more punch for keeps. So they parted. Satisfied that Walter would not break his promise, Ramon made all haste back to his companions, laughing in his sleeve to think how easily he had fooled that milksop Seabury.
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His companions were two as notorious sharpers as Boston contained. He continued to lose heavily, they luring him on by letting him win now and then, until they were satisfied he had nothing more to lose. He had found the road from gambling to forgery a natural and easy one. Leaving Ingersoll to follow his crooked ways, we must now introduce a character, with whom Walter had formed an acquaintance, destined to have no small influence upon his own future life.
Bill Portlock was probably as good a specimen of an old, battered man-o'-war's man as could be scared up between Montauk and Quoddy Head. While a powder-monkey, on board the President frigate, he had been taken prisoner and confined in Dartmoor Prison, from which he had made his escape, with some companions in captivity, by digging a hole under the foundation wall with an old iron spoon. Shipping on board a British merchantman, he had deserted at the first neutral port she touched at.
He was now doing [Pg 67] odd jobs about the wharves, as 'longshoreman; and as Walter had thrown many such in the old salt's way a kind of intimacy had grown up between them. Bill loved dearly to spin a yarn, and some of his adventures, told in his own vernacular, would have made the late Baron Munchausen turn green with envy. No need o' lyin'. Sober airnest beats all they make up. Bill's castle was a condemned caboose, left on the wharf by some ship that was now plowing some distant sea.
Her name, the Orpheus , could still be read in faded paint on the caboose; so that Bill always claimed to belong to the Orpheus , or she to him, he couldn't exactly say which. When he was at work on the wharf, after securing his castle with a stout padlock, he announced the fact to an inquiring public by chalking up the legend, [Pg 68] "Aboard the brig," or "Aboard the skoner," as the case might be. If called to take a passenger off to some vessel in his wherry, the notice would then read, "Back at eight bells.
No one but a sailor, and an old sailor at that, could have squeezed himself into the narrow limits of the caboose, where it was not possible, even for a short man like Bill, to stand upright, though Bill himself considered it quite luxurious living. There was a rusty old cooking stove at one end, with two legs of its own, and two replaced by half-bricks; the other end being taken up by a bench, from which Bill deftly manipulated saucepan or skillet. Was I ever in Kalerforny? Didn't I go out to Sandy Ager, in thirty-eight, in a hide drogher?
And d'ye know why they call it Sandy Ager? I does. Why, blow me if it ain't sandy 'nuff for old Cape Cod herself; and as for the ager, if you'll b'leeve me, our ship's crew shook so with it, that all hands had to turn to a-settin' up riggin' twict a month, it got so slack with the shakin' up like.
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Then suddenly changing the subject, he said: "Bill, you know the Racehorse is a good two months overdue. No wonder. Valuable cargo, and no insurance. What's your idea? Bill gave a few whiffs at his pipe before replying. The next day happened to be Saturday. As Walter was going into the warehouse he met Ramon coming out. Since the night at his lodgings, his manner toward Walter, outwardly at least, had undergone a marked change. If anything it was too cordial. Seabury, that you?
It's steamer day, and I'm awfully hard pushed for time. Would you mind getting this check on the Suffolk cashed for me? That's a good fellow. Do as much for you some time. And, stay, on your way back call at the California steamship agency—you know? Well, see if there are any berths left in the Georgia. You [Pg 71] won't forget the name? The Georgia. And, oh! It's to pay duties with, you know," Ramon hurriedly explained in an undertone. He quite forgot all about the gold, though, until after he had left the bank; when, suddenly remembering it, he hurried back to get the coin, quite flurried and provoked at his own forgetfulness.
The cashier, however, counted out the double-eagles, for the notes, without remark.
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Such little instances of forgetfulness were too common to excite his particular notice. On that same evening, finding time hanging rather heavily on his hands, Walter strolled uptown in the direction of Mr. Bright's house, which was in the fashionable Mt. Vernon Street. The truth is that the silly boy thought he might possibly catch a glimpse of a certain young lady, or her shadow, at least, in passing the brilliantly lighted residence. It was, he admitted to [Pg 72] himself, a fool's errand, after walking slowly backwards and forwards two or three times, with his eyes fastened upon the lighted windows; and with a feeling of disappointment he turned away from the spot, heartily ashamed of himself, as well, for having given way to a sudden impulse.
Glad he was that no one had noticed him. Walter's queer actions, however, did not escape the attention of a certain lynx-eyed policeman, who, snugly ensconced in the shadow of a doorway, had watched his every step. The young man had gone but a short distance on his homeward way, when, as he was about crossing the street, he came within an ace of being knocked down and run over by a passing hack, which turned the corner at such a break-neck pace that there was barely time to get out of the way.
There was a gaslight on this corner.
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At Walter's warning shout to the driver, the person inside the hack quickly put his head out of the window, and as quickly drew it in again; but in that instant [Pg 73] the light had shone full upon the face of Ramon Ingersoll. The driver lashed his horses into a run. Walter stood stupidly staring after the carriage.
Then, without knowing why, he ran after it, confident that if he had recognized Ramon in that brief moment, Ramon must also have recognized him. The best he could do, however, was to keep the carriage in sight, but he soon saw that it was heading for the railway station at the South End. Out of breath, and nearly out of his head, too, Walter dashed through the arched doorway of the station, just in time to see a train going out at the other end in a cloud of smoke. In his eagerness, Walter ran headlong into the arms of the night-watchman, who, seeing the blank look on Walter's face, said, as he had said a hundred times before to belated travelers, "Too late, eh?
While walking home he began to think he had been making [Pg 74] a fool of himself again. After all, what business was it of his if Ramon had gone to New York? He might have gone on business of the firm. Of course that was it. And what right had he, Walter, to be chasing Ramon through the streets, anyhow?
Still, he was sure that Ramon had recognized him, and just as sure that Ramon had wished to avoid being recognized, else why had he not spoken or even waved his hand? Walter gave it up, and went home to dream of chasing carriages all night long. Walter went to the wharf as usual the next morning.
In the course of the forenoon a porter brought word that he was wanted at the counting-room. When Walter went into the office, Mr.
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Bright was walking the floor, back and forth, with hasty steps, while a very dark, clean-shaven, alert-looking man sat leaning back in a chair before the door. This person immediately arose, locked the office door, put the key in his pocket, and then quietly sat down again. Walter's heart was in his mouth. He grew red and pale by turns. Before he could collect his ideas Mr. Bright stopped in his walk, looked him squarely in the eye, and, in an altered voice, demanded sharply and sternly: "Ingersoll—where is he?
No prevarication. I want the truth and nothing but the truth.