The Maid From Montreal
F. K. Scribner
in The Argosy
IT happened because at the psychological moment, when we had accepted an invitation for a ten-days’ yachting trip with the Van Arsdales, the nurse’s second cousin fell off a ladder, fractured three ribs, and was carried home in an ambulance.
He should have been taken to a hospital, anyway, and even if he wasn’t there was no necessity for our nurse feeling called upon to rush to the rescue. My wife and I argued until we had exhausted the vocabulary, but the lady of the white cap and apron was obdurate.
The second cousin’s wife had a good position in some sort of a factory, and could not be at home to nurse the invalid ; nothing would do but the call to duty must be obeyed; blood was thicker than water.
It made no difference that we had . counted upon the Van Arsdale outing for weeks, and it was too late to withdraw our acceptance; to New York she must go, and even the hand-. some bonus I dangled before her eyes counted for nothing.
If the cousin had been killed outright the thing would have been simplified; we could have spared the nurse for a day to attend the funeral. As it was, it would be a good month before she was willing to return to us, and in the meantime the cruise around Long Island was to take place.
For two days my wife was in despair, and I racked my brains for a satisfactory solution of the difficulty. Of course there were plenty of nurses in the city, but to get a new one would only partially relieve the situation : we could not think of leaving the children with some one of whom we knew nothing.
Then, suddenly, the clouds parted and a way seemed open before us. It came in the nature of a letter to my wife from Montreal.
Her old college room-mate, with her husband and family, were about to start on a protracted visit to some-
body; they were going to leave their nurse behind, a nurse peer among her kind. And the girl would want a situation for the summer.
I received the news when I came up from business at the end of a hot day ; all during that two hours’ sweltering train-ride I had been thinking of the cool breezes of the Sound, and cursing nurses in general. The expression upon my wife’s face when I stepped on the verandah told me something had happened.
“Is she coming back? Is the man dead,” I asked excitedly.
“Better than that,” my wife replied with a happy laugh, and fished the letter out of her pocket.
I shared in her enthusiasm.
“Better wire at once; they will leave Montreal to-morrow. ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken—’ ” I began, but she interrupted.
“I sent a telegram late this mornng, and here’s the answer.”
She thrust the yellow slip into my hand. I glanced over it hurriedly.
The best nurse in the provinces ; had her four years and often left the children with her. Delighted to have her go to you. Let us know ; leave tomorrow at two.
“Good for Emma !” I cried. “I presume you can rely upon anything she recommends?”
“Implicitly,” my wife answered. “She and George are very particular, especially where their children are concerned, and she knows we are. This is a perfect godsend.”
“Then we’d better take her?”
“Better?” cried my wife enthusiastically. “We will take her, Charles. And we’ll go on the yachting trip and not worry for one minute about leaving the children behind.”
I turned toward the steps, jamming my hat more firmly upon my head.
“Then I’d better make tracts for the telegraph office; it closes in half an hour. I’ll send.a night message, and it will reach them in Montreal the first thing in the morning; we want to nail such a good thing instantly. What did you say the address was?”
She gave it to me, and I covered the half mile to the telegraph office in record-breaking time. I sent this despatch :
Mrs. George Baker,
73 Y Street, Montreal, Canada.
Want nurse by all means. Send her on to us here in Canterbury, on first train she can get out of Montreal.
C. V. Harris.
We spent the evening in planning for the yachting trip, and retired in a more cheerful frame of mind than since the tumble of our late nurse’s unfortunate relative. But a shock waited us with the coming of the new day.
My telegram must have reached the Bakers early, for while we were yet at the breakfast table a reply was forthcoming. I read the message in silence and passed it over to my wife.
C. V. Harris,
Canterbury, New York.
Nurse will be glad to take situation, but cannot send her on alone. Not used to traveling, and extremely timid. Some one must meet her here.
“Well?” said my wife, looking across the table at me.
“Well!” I answered grimly.
She gave a little nod.
“Of course you will go to Montreal, Charles,” said she sweetly.
I laid down my fork.
“And the thermometer at ninety, if it’s a degree. My dear, do you consider? A journey to Montreal and back will require two days, or rather nights. You know how I de-
test riding in a sleeper; and the office—”
“I consider leaving the children; we can’t give up the yachting trip because you dislike riding in a sleeping car, can we, Charles? And the office can do without you—for twenty-four hours.”
My wife spoke in a tone with which I was familiar.
“But to take such a journey, just because a fool girl is afraid to—”
“But as she is afraid, and will not come alone—you can see how it is. Oh, Charles!”
I did see. It meant at trip to Montreal. I pushed back my plate savagely and glared out of the window.
My wife smiled sweetly.
“It will not be any tiouble for you at all,” she explained. “You can leave New York at seven-thirty to-night and reach Montreal early in the morning ; then you can leave there at seven to-morrow night and be here before noon the day after. It will give you a whole day in Montreal, and you won’t even have to go to an hotel.”
“Thanks,” said I, “I presume I can sit in one of the parks, or perhaps take the lady for a drive ; it may make her better natured.”
My wife came around to my chair and kissed me.
“You won’t even have to carry a dress suit case; I’ve half a mind to go with you. If it wasn’t for leaving the children we could take a nice little journey together,” she said coaxingly.
“Oh, we might take the children; a long ride in a stifling car would do them good. We might ask a few friends to go with us ; Montreal is a nice place in the middle of July,” I growled.
She ignored the sarcasm.
“Hadn’t you better go right down and telegraph? You know Emma will be leaving at two this afternoon. Make it clear just where you will meet the nurse, and find out how you can recognize her.”
I lighted a cigar and tramped through the heat to the telegraph office; fortunately it was on the way
to the station. I was mad, and the message I sent was to the point.
Will meet nurse at six-thirty to-morrow evening in waitingroom, Windsor station; train leaves at seven. Wire description.
It was not until I had almost reached New York I remembered I had not kissed my wife good-by, that I would not see her again until I returned from Montreal, and that the answer to my telegram would be sent to Canterbury, not to the office address. When I reached the latter I telephoned ; my wife replied cheerfully; she did not seem to mind my abrupt leave-taking. When the answer to my wire arrived she would call me up.
It came just as I was preparing to go out to lunch.
“Emma telegraphs the nurse will be at the station as you suggested, but wouldn’t it have been simpler to have met her at the Baker house? Still you will not have any trouble in knowing her. She has light hair, blue eyes, and is about twenty-five. Take good care of yourself, Charles, and don’t sit up all night.”
“But,” I yelled back, “what’s her name? Didn’t they send her name?” “I guess Emma forgot that; but it is hardly necessary—with the description you have,” came the reply buzzing over the wire.
I hung up the receiver and swore, it might be just possible that more than one girl with light hair and blue eyes should happen into the Windsor station. It was too late to wire again to Montreal ; the Bakers would be upon their journey within a quarter of an hour.
I passed the afternoon in a state of ill humor, secured my ticket and sleeping car berth for Montreal on the seven-thirty, and spent half the night in the smoking compartment. It was stifling behind the thick curtains of the berth. When I finally alighted in the Canadian city I had a racking headache, and resorted to a drug store for relief; afterward I
decided to act upon the suggestion my wife had made over the telephone. I drove around to 73 Y Street.
But I might have saved the expense and trouble. The house was closed. I could have inquired next door, but it never occurred to me ; I drove back to an hotel, ate my lunch and spent the afternoon in the lobby, trying to keep cool.
As evening approached I began to fancy the worst of my troubles were over; I had got through one night and a long day, and twelve hours more would see me back in New York—with that precious nurse. Had I known what was before me!
Somewhere about six-thirty I strolled into the waiting-room of the Windsor station. I had decided to get supper on the train ; it would help pass away the time, and doubtless the new nurse had had nothing since the midday meal.
There were a score or so of persons in the big place. I walked leisurely around, examining the different females from the corner of my eye, looking for light hair, blue eyes, age twenty-five.
There were all sorts scattered about upon the benches, but only one answered the requirements; she-was seated in a far corner, had an air of extreme timidity, and appeared to be waiting for some one.
I cut several circles, approaching a few feet nearer at every round. I suddenly began to realize that tackling a totally strange female was not such an easy matter. I was unused to that sort of thing, and there was danger of an embarrassing mistake.
The hands of the big clock over the door marked fifteen to seven; only a quarter of an hour before the train started. I had secured two berths during the afternoon, and the time for action had arrived.
I summoned all my nerve and approached the lady of the light hair, blue eyes, apparently about twentyfive. I say apparently: I was always poor at guessing ages, especially when it comes to women.
As I stopped before her the girl looked up quickly.
“Good evening/’ I said, pleasantly; “I see you are in good time.”
Her face flushed furiously, then turned paler, and she returned my gaze haughtily.
“The train will leave in fifteen minutes,’* I continued, and reached for her travelling bag.
She drew back, made a grab at the satchel, and her lips began to tremble.
“Sir! said she in a freezing tone.
I saw I had made a mistake ; I had forgotten to introduce myself.
“I am Mr. Harris, and I’ve come to take you on to Canterbury,” I explained.
She drew herself up, and her eyes began to flash.
“What do you mean, sir?” she cried angrily.
I remembered that she was blessed with extreme timidity, and to be accosted by a total stranger in a public waiting-room was doubtless something of a shock to delicate nerves.
“Oh!” said I reassuringly, “the journey is not a long one, and you'll be at home before you realize it. The children will be glad to see you.”
She arose and looked quickly around the waiting-room.
“If you insult me further I shall call for assistance,” cried she desperately, and then broke suddenly into a fit of weeping.
What course I might have pursued, for the hands of the clock were approaching seven, still remains an uncertainty. Here was our nurse on the verge of hysterics, and if we missed the train it meant a night in Montreal.
I braced myself in desperation, when the matter was snatched rudely out of my hands.
A fussy old gentleman, armed with a bundle of magazines, bustled through the doorway, and casting one hurried glance in our direction, rushed across the waiting-room. Already the few people who had not departed to get a train were gathering round ; the old gentleman pushed his way through these and trotted up to me.
The girl gave a little cry and fled to him, uttering some words which I could not plainly distinguish.
The old fellow turned upon me, his face flaming with anger.
“You miserable cur!” he shouted. “I’ll have the law on you for this: addressing and insulting defenseless women.”
He looked widly around for an officer, but, fortunately for me, none of this fraternity happened to be in the vicinity. The old gentleman looked hurriedly up at the clock, hesitated, then shook his fist under my nose.
“If I didn’t have to make this train you’d hear from me for this, you— you scoundrel,” he stormed.
The hot blood rose to my face, but realizing that I had made a mistake,
I replied, in as calm a voice as possible under the circumstances:
“No insult was intended, I assure you, sir. I was to meet a—a nurse, and her description—light hair, blue eyes—you see, I thought this lady might be—my name is Harris, and
“Damnation!” roared the old fellow. “So you took my daughter for a nurse, did vou? If I had time I’d—”
Most of the crowd were laughing ; even the girl began to smile feebly. Feeling myself a fool, I burst out :
“ I was to meet the—the creature here to-night—to take her back to New York ; you see, my wife expected—”
“ Drat your wife, sir,” he shouted angrily, and grabbing his daughter by the arm hurried her through the door which opened on to the train platform.
I glanced up at the clock. It lacked just three minutes of starting time.
And then the gods turned a smiling face upon me. From somewhere near at hand appeared before me a trimly clad figure carrying a dress-suit case. Her eyes were heavenly blue, her hair was light, and her age could not have been more than twenty-five.
She looked me up and down hurriedly, seemed to hesitate, threw a rapid glance around the room, then opened her lips.
“You are Mr. Harris, from—from' New York, and you are waiting for
There could be no mistake this time.
“Thank heaven !” I cried under my breath, seized the suit case from her hand, and gesticulated widly toward the door.
“Our train leaves in two minutes ; come on !” I almost shouted.
The gong was sounding as we climbed aboard, and I dropped the case on one of the seats I had reserved. The girl sank down by the window and shaded her face with one gloved, small hand. Until the train was well out of the station she did not alter her position.
“Scared half to death and embarassed,” thought I ; “no more hysterics for mine,” and I made for the smoker to give her time to get used to her surroundings and recover what little equanimity she might possess.
The buffet porter aroused me from my meditations.
“Anything you’d like, sir?” asked he, and shoved a menu under my nose.
The little incident in the waitingroom had destroyed my appetite, but I suddenly remembered the new nurse and that perhaps she was supperless. I threw away my half-smoked cigar and walked down the aisle.
The girl was gazing fixedly out of the window, but as I stopped before the seat she gave a little start and turned her head suddenly.
An expression of relief flashed into her eyes and the shadow of a smile crossed her lips.
“Oh!” said she, “it is you, Mr.— Mr. Harris.”
Really I began to feel sorry for her ; she could not help having timid nerves. I resolved to put her at her ease.
“Wylfi we’re well started, and it will be New York early in the morning. There is nothing to feel nervous about. Have you never travelled before?”
She raised her hand for a moment to her lips, then looked up into my face.
“Very little, sir; but—but I like children, and your little babv will be—”
“Baby?” I retorted. “Not a bit of
it. Eddie is seven and Maud just turned four. Didn’t Mrs. Baker tell you about them?”
Then, as she did not reply :
“But I suppose in the hurry of getting ready for their journey she didn’t think of such small matters. Fortunate she didn’t want to take a nurse wth her, else my wife couldn’t have got you. You’ll like Canterbury, Miss—”
She looked at me questioningly ; I hastened to explain.
“You see, Mrs. Baker failed to put your name in her telegram, but the description answered—when you finally got to the station.”
I glanced up and down the car; the other girl and her irate father were not there. Thank goodness, their berths were in another Pullman.
The new nurse nodded as I finished my last remark.
“It was not like Mrs. Baker, she is usually so thoughtful, but the hurry must have made her forget to give you my name. It’s Healy—Nellie Healy, sir.”
She seemed to be recovering from her timidity.
It had already dawned upon me that this girl was extremely pretty, though there was a certain look in her face which puzzled me. Why, in the name of common sense, should she be nervous a that stage of the game? I resolved to be just sufficiently familiar to put her at her ease, but not so familiar as to frighten her and bring on the timidity again.
“Well, Nellie,” said I easily, “I’m sure you’ll like your new place, and Mrs. Harris will explain everything to you—just what the children require. Have you had any supper?”
“No, sir,” she replied demurely; “you see, I hurried so—”
“Then I’ll have the menu brought to you ; the porter will set the table right here, and—order anything you want.”
I was moving off when sue spoke again.
“Mr. Harris,”'said she, in a nervous voice, “will I have to sleep in this car with all these people ?”
“Why, yes,” I replied, “but you must not let that trouble you; hundreds and hundreds of people do it.” “But I have read in the papers how easy it is to rob persons sleeping behind only a curtain for protection.” “Don’t let that worry you, either,”
I rejoined reassuringly.
“But, you see, I’ve got quite a little money with me, all Mr. Baker gave me yesterday : if you only would keep it until—we get to New York I wouldn’t feel so nervous about it.” “Certanly,” I answered, smilingly; “I’ll take care of it for you.”
She thrust her hand beneath her waist and drew out a little packet securely wrapped in brown tissue paper, looking nervously around as she did so. With a quick motion she thrust it into my hand.
“Hide it where no one will find it, sir,” she said in a whisper.
I dropped the packet into an inner pocket, glad that one cause of her nervousness was so easily relieved.
“I’ll return it in the morning,” said I lightly, and made my way back to the smoking compartment.
There I interviewed the buffet porter, ordered a sandwich and a bottle of beer to be served to me there, and told him to take the order of the girl in lower nine.
At the end of an hour I received my bill, glanced at it carelessly, then sat bolt upright. If the new nurse was unused to travel, the novelty had certainly not impaired her appetite and—one item which stared me in the face was—a Manhattan cocktail.
I paid the bill, and leaned back to think. Our old nurse—all the old nurses we ever had—and Manhattan cocktails were strangers. That sort of thing couldn’t go on ; I would speak to my wife about it. Nellie Healy, the timid, the unsophisticated, drinking cocktails in a public Pullman!
After a time I returned to the body of the car and found her gazing out of the window. She looked up with a little smile.
“If you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to— to—they have to make the beds some-, where, don’t they?” asked she.
“I’ll speak to the porter, but you’d
better wait till we stop at the next station; the customs man gets aboard there, and he’ll want to see all the baggage,” I replied.
Then, as she looked frightened and bewildered, I hastened to add reassuringly :
“It is simply a matter of form, and I don’t suppose either of us has anything he would even care to look at; on the whole, they are first-rate fellows.”
I began to wish the journey was at an end ; if I had to keep on explaining things in order to prevent this girl going into a funk I would be at my wits’ end presently. I secretly dreaded the hour when she should crawl in behind the curtains; a nervous female on a sleeping car— especially when you have her in charge—is something to be avoided.
I took the seat in No. 8 and settled back to wait for the appearance of the customs official, thinking it the part of wisdom to be on hand when he should tackle her. A quarter of an hour’s run brought us to the point where he boarded the train, and when the blue cap fronted by the golden eagle put in an appearance I nodded to her reassuringly.
The official came up the aisle, asking a question here and there, and looking into a bag or two; then he stopped in front of me and put the usual thing.
I had only a small hand-bag, and he just glanced inside; then he turned to No. 9.
The girl looked up with a frightened expression, just the sort to put the examiner on his guard.
“Anything dutiable, miss?” he asked.
The girl gazed at him for a moment as though he had demanded that precious packet of money I had dropped into my pocket.
“I’m sure I don’t know, sir,” she stammered. “I just left my last place, and —”
The official smiled.
“Open your bag, please, and we’ll see,” said he pleasantly.
The girl literally tore open the straps and threw back the cover ; the
official fumbled about for a moment, smiled once more, and passed on. I beckoned to the porter, asking him to make up lower nine.
“Sit over here,” said I to the new nurse, “and when it’s ready you can go to bed as soon as you please. Don’t forget to pull the curtains together; I’ll wake you in the morning.”
I went back to the smoking-room congratulating myself that the worst of it was over. If I had only known !
I smoked the part of a cigar and was thinking of turning in myself, when I suddenly remembered. I had not asked that girl about a trunk. If she possessed one it might be reposing somewhere in the Windsor station.
I began to kick myself mentally, when I recollected that, anyway, there had been no time to attend to baggage; I could face my wife with a clear conscience on that point.
The only other man in the smoker was a clean-cut individual with a carecully trimmed pair of grey muttonchop whiskers, and as I started for the door I stumbled over his feet. I apologized, and by way of pleasantry remarked that it was a deucedly hot night for traveling.
“Until one gets used to this sort of thing and knows how to get the most comfort out of nothing,” he replied. “Don’t crawl in behind those infernal curtains and lie in a hot box all night ; I’ve got a section, but can bet I’m not going to be cooped up. Get a couple of pillows from the porter, open your windows and you’ll be fairly comfortable. Ever try that way?”
But I had passed one night without sleep, and decided a bed, even in a sleeping car, was what I wanted. I turned in and presently fell asleep, it seemed only for an hour, when some fool yanked open the curtans and looked in on me.
For the next hour or so I lay sweltering, but consoled myself with the thought that the blundering idiot hadn’t poked his head into No. 9; I reckon the car would have heard from it.
At sx o’clock I got up, dressed, and woke up the new nurse, hastening to explain that I wasn’t a robber, but
that we were due to reach New York in three-quarters of an hour and I didn’t want her to be late. She answered, and I retreated to the smokng-room ; I wasn’t going to do any more explaining on that train— so I thought.
We must have been somewhere near Mott Haven, and I was going back to see what had happened to the new nurse when my friend of the mutton-chop whiskers, who had been sitting next me by the window, put out his hand and touched my arm. I turned in surprise, which changed to astonishment when his fingers closed upon my coat sleeve.
“Just sit down a minute,” said he sternly, “unless you want to kick up a row in here and put the passengers on.”
I tried to jerk away, but his grip was too firm for that.
“What do you mean, sir?” I demanded angrily. “If you are drunk or crazy it’s time you were—”
“Neither, my friend,” he retorted pleasantly. “But your game’s up. Better submit quietly, or I’ll have to put the irons on you right here.”
Astonishment deprived me of speech for the moment, then I found my voice and replied, as calmly as possible :
“I suppose you are an office of some kind; that, or a fool. I want to say right here that I won’t submit to this nonsense. Let go my arm.”
“Gently,” said he sternly, and the lines about his mouth grew tense.
Then it flashed upon me that he was doubtless an officer and I was the victim of one of those asinine mistakes which so frequently happen. He took me for some one else and had arrested me.
“Look here, my friend,” sad I, “you doubtless imagine you are attending to your business, but you’re a long way off the track. My name is Harris —C. V. Harris, of Harris & Davidson, brokers, in New Street; here’s my card.”
I pulled one out and stuck it in front of him, but he merely glanced at it.
“You may be Mr. Harris, broker—
diamond broker—but you’re the man I want, just the same. You can do your explaining before the commissioner.”
Now, there are times when a man wants to keep his nerve. Mad as I was, I realized that to raise a row right there would only make matters worse ; he was bigger than I, and stronger, and evdently thought he knew what he was about.
To pitch into him would only be to draw the attention of the whole train, and I’d be marched out, the centre of a gaping crowd. I forced myself to speak calmly.
“Very well,” said I ; “some one’s going to suffer for this ; I’ll prove who and what I am before the proper authorities. Would you mind telling me on what charge I’m arrested?”
He smiled grimly.
“Would you mind letting me have a look into your pockets?” he answered coolly.
“Oh;” thought I, “so that’s it? It’s ■either robbery or he thinks I’m smuggling something. We can settle this thing right here.”
I dumped out the contents of my pockets, which willing action brought a look of surprise to his face. There was my wallet, three cigars, some letters, a couple of note books, a few odds and ends, and the little packet of money the nurse had entrusted to my care. That was all.
He looked over the articles spread upon the seat, and suddenly his hand went out and closed on the tightly wrapped tissue paper. In a moment he had one end open, peeped in, and a grim smile crossed his lips.
He carefully stowed the packet away in his pocket, and looked sharply into my heated face.
“You’re a cool one, but you knew you’d be searched, anyway, I reckon,” was the statement which greeted my ears.
I could at that moment have committed murder without a regret, but we were well through the tunnel and in a co'ipie of minutes more must pull into t!w station; already some of the passenge ", v ere passing the door of the com u/tment, and to create a
scene would be the worst thing imaginable. I gulped down the overpowering desire to strike out at the sneering face before me.
“As it appears you are determined to go ahead with this thing, I’m not such a fool as to raise a row here,” I said desperately. “But there’s one thing before we leave the train. I’ve got a nurse back there, and she’s a stranger to New York; I presume your official duties will permit you to allow me to get her started on the right track before you carry this outrage any further. Then I’ll accompany you to the commissioner, or to the devil, if you say so.”
I can swear that the fellow grinned in my face, and he looked more the well-to-do gentleman than a plain clothes man.
“Oh,” said he lightly, “I guess your nurse won’t get lost in the wicked city. Here we are—come along.”
It was too much. I jerked myself loose, but he made a quick movement and grabbed me by the collar.
“Another move like that and—” The jingle of the handcuffs in his pocket put point to the unfinished sentence.
I realized that I was powerless; a line of passengers were streaming past the door. The last was the ebonyfaced porter. He glanced inquiringly into the compartment.
“New York, gentleman,” he announced.
I controlled myself as best I might.
“See here,” said I, “there’s a girl back there in number nine. Put her in a cab, will you? Send her over to the West Shore station ; tell her to follow these instructions.”
I took out one of my cards and wrote hurriedly on the back :
“Take 9.15 train from Weehawken; get out at first stop—Canterbury— and tell them to drive you up to the Harris place.”
I pulled out two bills, a one and a five, and handed them with the note to the porter.
“Give her the five and keep the other for yourself ; I trust you’ll attend to this at once,” said I.
The fool who stood at my elbow was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“I guess we’ll be moving, Mr. Harris,” said he, and I felt his hand on my shoulder.
He walked back with me and I got my bag; then, the last of the passengers to leave the car, for the nurse had also disappeared, we alighted from the train. On the broad platform a man was waiting who glanced at me sharply and nodded to my escort.
“The cab’s outside,” said he gruffly, and I marched along between the pair of them.
I had resolved to hold my peace until I was before the commissioner. Probably he would not be a blathering idiot, and the tangle could be straightened out. Some one was going to suffer before the game was over. On that I was resolved.
A cab was waiting outside the station and my captors headed for it. It was just then, as my foot was. upon the step, I caught sight of the girl I had brought from Montreal. She was getting into another cab; the porter had followed my instructions.
I don’t like to think of that ride downtown, or of the two hours I was kept waiting, under guard, until the commissioner appeared at the Federal Building. Because I was taken there, and not to police headquarters, I knew myself for a government prisoner : the charge would probably be “smuggling.”
I even smiled when I thought of it : how easy it would be to confound those fools when it came to a showdown.
It was a little after nine when the commissioner put in an appearance. I was taken into his office and arraigned before the desk.
There was quite a little gathering in the big room—Inspector Somebody or other, several important-looking clerks, and half a dozen reporters. I saw one of these latter engaged in making a hurried sketch of me.
I looked at the commissioner, and my spirits rose. He was apparently a pleasant official, who would not fly off on a tangent, but would listen to reason and judge accordingly.
He looked me over, leaned back in his chair, and nodded to the inspector. The latter nodded back, and gave vent to the following oratorical effort:
“The prisoner before you, your honor, was arrested by one of our secret-service men in a Pullman car on the seven o’clock express from Montreal. As your honor knows, the department has been on the lookout for a gang of clever smugglers who have been working the Canadian border for the past three months ; thousands of dollars’ worth of gems have come into the city free of duty, and we have been exhausting every resource to get at the source of leakage.
“Finally our agents in Montreal got a clue, and it has been followed up with gratifying success : a gang of half a dozen, with headquarters in Montreal and this city, was the party wanted. We discovered the identity of one of these smugglers, and two of the smartest men in the service have kept their eyes open. We didn’t want to arrest on suspicion—we wanted to take the gang, or at least one of the prime movers, redhanded.”
He glanced at me, then continued:
“Your honor will observe how clever these smugglers considered themselves to be when I inform you that they carried on their work without the little subterfuges so commonly employed by their kind. No hollow canes, false shoe bottoms, secret pockets in trunks and suit cases; they counted on their very boldness to throw us off the track. This was demonstrated last night.
“The day before yesterday it was learned that the member of the gang whose identity we had discovered was about to take a journey from Montreal to this city. This person was a woman, the cleverest of the whole lot. She was shadowed, followed to the Windsor station last night, and there, as we hoped, was joined by a confederate—the prisoner before you.
“One of our men followed them into the sleeper and saw the woman pass to her companion a little package, which the latter dropped carelessly into his pocket. Naturally, so simple an
action between a lady and gentleman traveling together would have passed unobserved—had neither been under surveillance and suspicion.
“Our man decided not to act then, for the train was still on Canadian territory ; instead, he permitted the pair to retire unmolested, but sat up all night with his eye on their respective sections. In response to a telegram a second officer boarded the train en route, and this morning, just before reaching the city, the pair were put under arrest. Both expressed indignation, but this is all the evidence we required. This package was taken from the prisoner by Detective Morrowson.”
He thrust his hand into his pocket and drew out that brown tissue paper covered packet which the new nurse had entrusted to me, and which the fellow with the mutton-chop whiskers had later appropriated. With a quick movement he tore off the wrapping and laid upon upon the desk before the commissioner a dozen or fifteen sparkling diamonds.
For a moment the room whirled around me and I gasped like a fish taken from its natural element. Then I heard the commissioner speaking, and a dreadful calm succeeded my emotion.
I realized it all then. It was the new nurse ; the timid, unsophisticated Nellie—the cleverest of a clever gang of smugglers.
Commissioner Spears rolled one of the diamonds over with his finger.'
“It seems to be a clear case; and you have*the woman?” said he.
“In another room, your honor,” replied the inspector.
The commissioner turned to me.
“Well,” said he, sternly, “do you care to make a statement?”
I did. I saw myself in about as tight a box as one can well imagine. I knew I was innocent, but I also knew the man with the mutton-chop whiskers was not the fool I had judged him. The smuggled diamonds had been passed to me, had been found in my possession; I had been used as an easy tool.
But better to prove myself such
than to accept the other alternative.
I stood up there and poured out my tale from beginning to end. I grew dramatic, wept almost in sympathy with myself, and, when I finished, even the commissioner was grinning broadly.
“A novel defense, a most novel defense, Mr. Harris,” said he quietly. “Of course you are prepared to prove what you say?”
“Yes!” I almost shouted. “Right here, if your honor will permit me the use of your telephone.”
He nodded toward the instrument on a little stand in the corner.
Go ahead, Mr. Harris,” said he quietly.
I called up Davidson, my lawyer, and my lawyer’s partners ; also a bank president, and two of the members of my club. Then I called up Canterbury and got my wife on the wire.
“Arrested and held for smuggling; all because of that beastly nurse business ;' come down to city at once— Commissioner Spear’s office, Post Office Building. Bring all those infernal telegrams from Emma; get copies of the messages I wired to Montreal. If you can’t leave the children bring them with you, or lock them in the cellar.” I sent the words hot over the wire.
I heard my wife gasp “Oh, Charles !” and knew that she had left the instrument. I arose and confronted the commissioner.
“Sounds like a good beginning; we’ll hold this case over for a while,” said he, with a friendly nod.
They began to wander in presently. First my lawyer, then Davidson, the bank president, and one of the club fellows; all substantial citizens whose word went for something. The commissioner explained; every one smiled but the lawyer; my character was lifted out of the mire and elevated to a pedestal.
The inspector and the secret-service men were frowning; there was a twinkle in the commissioner’s eye as he said softly:
“If Mr. Harris will step into my private room we will further adjourn
the hearing until the arrival of his wife.”
I sat by the window, guarded by one of the secret-service men, and listened to Davidson’s pleasantries for a couple of hours or so. Then the door opened, and my wife rushed into my arms.
There was another case before the commissioner, and we had to wait until it was finished, but at last my turn came again.
My wife had brought all the telegrams, and the commissioner read them carefully; then he asked her a few questions, took off his gold-rimmed eye glasses, and looked at the inspector.
“It seems to be a case of mistaken identity; I think Mr. Harris has proved conclusively that he is the victim of an unusual conspiracy ; we will call it that,” said he.
The inspector acknowledged the truth of the remarks, but he didn’t manifest any evidences of pleasure.
“Discharged !” quoth the commissioner briskly, and I was a free man.
My lawyer was frowning ominously; he drew himself up, faced the desk, and delivered himself of a brief statement.
“We shall begin a suit for heavy damages, your honor ; it is outrageous,” said he solemnly.
The case, as far as I was concerned, was over, but I turned to the commissioner.
“Your honor,” said I, “might I request a favor?”
“A dozen; you certainly deserve it, Mr. Harris,” he replied.
“Then,” said I, “I’d like to ask that —that woman just one question.”
He nodded to one of the detectives.
“I’ll grant the permission,” said he. They took me to the room where Nellie Healy was waiting under guard. As I entered she looked up, saw me, and a smile crossed her face. I did not return in kind.
“My girl,” asked I gravely, “would you mind telling me how you worked it? I confess that I am curious.”
For a moment she hesitated, then began to laugh.
“Well, I don’t mind telling you, if it will do you any good. I overheard all you said to that old party in the Windsor station, and saw a good chance to make use of you. Later, on the train, you gave me the rest I needed to know to work the scheme. Don’t you think I’d make a good nurse for the children, Mr. Harris?” I turned and left her without prolonging the conversation. As the secret-service man closed the door behind me I heard her last words : “And thank you so much for that nice supper, Mr. Harris.”
When we were well out of the building and bowling up-town in a cab, I asked my wife where she had left the children.
“With the Richards,” she answered. “And, Charles?”
“What?” said I crossly.
“Mary ’phoned yesterday that her cousin died suddenly; he was injured internally. She will come back to us if we want her. ”
“All right,” said I, “we need her, don’t we?”
“But what will Emma think? You know we agreed to—”
“Drat Emma, and this whole confounded nurse business,” I answered savagely.