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   Chapter 18 The Uniform

The Two Vanrevels By Booth Tarkington Characters: 19379

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Crailey was not the only man in Rouen who had been saying to himself all day that each accustomed thing he did was done for the last time. Many of his comrades went about with "Farewell, old friend," in their hearts, not only for the people, but for the usual things of life and the actions of habit, now become unexpectedly dear and sweet to know or to perform. So Tom Vanrevel, relieved of his hot uniform, loose as to collar, wearing a big dressing-gown, and stretched in a chair, watched the sunset from the western window of the dusty office, where he had dreamed through many sun-sets in summers past, and now took his leave of this old habit of his in silence, with a long cigar, considering the chances largely against his ever seeing the sun go down behind the long wooden bridge at the foot of Main Street again.

The ruins of the warehouses had been removed, and the river was laid clear to his sight; it ran between brown banks like a river of rubies, and, at the wharf, the small evening steamboat, ugly and grim enough to behold from near by, lay pink and lovely in that broad glow, tooting imminent departure, although an hour might elapse before it would back into the current. The sun widened, clung briefly to the horizon, and dropped behind the low hills beyond the bottom lands; the stream grew purple, then took on a lustre of pearl as the stars came out, while rosy distances changed to misty blue; the chatter of the birds in the Main Street maples became quieter, and, through lessening little choruses of twittering, fell gradually to silence. And now the blue dusk crept on the town, and the corner drug-store window-lights threw mottled colors on the pavement. From the hall, outside the closed office-door, came the sound of quick, light footsteps; it was Crailey going out; but Tom only sighed to himself, and did not hail him. So these light footsteps of Crailey Gray echoed but a moment in the stairway and were heard no more.

A few moments later a tall figure, dressed from neck to heels in a gray cloak crossed the mottled lights, and disappeared into Carewe Street. This cloaked person wore on his head a soldier's cap, and Tom, not recognizing him surely, vaguely wondered why Tappingham Marsh chose to muffle himself so warmly on a evening. He noted the quick, alert tread as like Marsh's usual gait, but no suspicion crossed his mind that the figure might be that of partner.

A rocket went up from the Rouen House, then another, followed by a salvo of anvils and rackety discharge of small-arms; the beginning a noble display of fireworks in celebration of prospective victories of the United States and utter discomfiture of the Mexicans when the Rouen Volunteers should reach the seat of war, an Exhibition of patriotism which brought little pleasure to Mr. Vanrevel.

But over the noise of the street he heard his own name shouted from the stairway, and almost instantly a violent knocking assailed the door. Be-fore he could bid the visitor enter, the door was flung open by a stout and excited colored woman, who, at sight of him, threw up her hands in tremulous thanksgiving. It was the vain Mamie.

She sank into a chair, and rocked herself to and fro, gasping to regain her lost breath. "Bless de good God 'Imighty you am' gone out!" she panted. "I run an' I run, an' I come so fas' I got stitches in de side f'um head to heel!"

Tom brought her a glass of water, which she drank between gasps.

"I nevah run so befo' enduin' my livin' days," she asserted. "You knows me, who I am an' whum I cum f'um, nigh's well's I knows who you is, I reckon, Maje' Vanrevel?"

"Yes, yes, I know. Will you tell me who sent you?"

"Miz Tanberry, suh, dat who sended me, an' in a venomous hurry she done de same!"

"Yes. Why? Does she want me?"

Mamie emitted a screech. "'Deed she mos' everlas'in'ly does not! Dat de ve'y exackindes' livin' t'ing she does not want!"

"Then what is it, Mamie?"

"Lemme git my bref, suh, an' you hole yo'ne whiles I tell you! She say to me, she say: 'Is you 'quainted Maje' Vanrevel, Mamie?' s' she, an' I up'n' ansuh, 'Not to speak wid, but dey ain; none on 'em I don' knows by sight, an' none betterer dan him,' I say. Den she say, she say: 'You run all de way an' fin' dat young man,' she say, s' she, 'an' if you don' git dah fo' he leave, er don' stop him on de way, den God 'imighty fergive you!' she say. 'But you tell him f'um Jane Tanberry not to come nigh dis house or dis gyahden dis night! Tell him dat Jane Tanberry warn him he mus' keep outer Carewe's way ontel he safe on de boat to-morrer. Tell him Jane Tanberry beg him to stay in he own room dis night, an' dat she beg it on her bented knees!' An' dis she say to me when I tole her what Nelson see in dat house dis evenin'. An' hyuh I is, an' hyuh yew is, an' de blessed Jesus be thank', you ir hyuh!"

Tom regarded her with a grave attention. "What made Mrs. Tanberry think I might be coming there to-night?"

"Dey's cur'ous goin's-on in dat house, suh! De young lady she ain' like herself; all de day long she wanduh up an' down an' roun' about. Miz Tanberry are a mighty guessifying woman, an' de minute I tell her what Nelse see, she s'pec' you a-comin' an' dat de boss mos' pintedly preparin' fo' it!"

"Can you make it a little clearer for me, Mamie? I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Well, suh, you know dat ole man Nelson, he allays tell me ev'yt'ing he know, an' ev'yt'ing he think he know, jass de same, suh. An' dat ole Nelse, he mos' 'sessful cull'd man in de worl' to crope roun' de house an' pick up de gossip an' git de 'fo' an' behine er what's goin' on. So 'twas dat he see de boss, when he come in to'des evenin', tek dat heavy musket offn' de racks an' load an' clean her, an' he do it wid a mighty bad look 'bout de mouf. Den he gone up to de cupoly an' lef' it dah, an' den come down ag'in. Whiles dey all is eatin', he 'nounce th'ee time' dat he goin' be 'way endu'in' de evenin'. Den he gone out de front do', an' out de gates, an' down de street. Den, su, den, suh, 'tain't no mo'n a half-'n-'our ago, Nelse come to me an' say dat he see de boss come roun' de stable, keepin' close in by de shrubbery, an' crope in de ball-room win-der, w'ich is close to de groun', suh. Nelse 'uz a cleanin' de harness in de back yo'd an' he let on not to see him, like. Miss Betty, she walkin' in her gyahden an' Miz Tanberry fan' on de po'ch. Nelse, he slip de house whuh de lights ain' lit, an' stan' an' listen long time in de liberry at de foot er dem sta'hs; an' he hyuh dat man move, suh! Den Nelse know dat he done crope up to de cupoly room an'-an' dat he settin' dah, waitin'! Soze he come an' tole me, an' I beg Miz Tanberry come in de kitchen, an' I shet de do' an' I tole her. An' she sended me hyuh to you, suh. An' if you 'uz a-goin', de good God 'lmighty mus' er kep' you ontel I got hyuh!"

"No; I wasn't going." Tom smiled upon her sadly. "I dare say there's a simpler explanation. Don't you suppose that if Nelson was right and Mr. Carewe really did come back, it was because he did not wish his daughter and Mrs. Tanberry to know that-that he expected a party of friends, possibly, to join him there later?"

"What he doin' wid dat gun, suh? Nobody goin' play cyahds ner frow dice wid a gun, is dey?" asked Mamie, as she rose and walked toward the door.

"Oh, that was probably by chance."

"No, suh!" she cried, vehemently. "An' dem gelmun wouldn' play t'-night, no way; mos' on 'em goin' wid you to-morrer an' dey sayin' goodby to de'r folks dis evenin', not gamblin'! Miz Tanberry'll be in a state er mine ontel she hyuh f'um me, an' I goin' hurry back. You won' come dah, suh? I kin tell her dat you say you sutney ain' comin' nigh our neighborhood dis night?"

"I had not dreamed of coming, tell her, please. Probably I shall not go out at all this evening. But it was kind of you to come. Good-night."

He stood with a candle to light her down the stairs, but after she had gone he did not return to the office. Instead, he went slowly up to his own room, glancing first into Crailey's-the doors of neither were often locked-to behold a chaos of disorder and unfinished packing. In his own chamber it only remained for him to close the lids of a few big boxes, and to pack a small trunk which he meant to take with him to the camp of the State troops, and he would be ready for departure. He set about this task, and, concluding that there was no necessity to wear his uniform on the steamboat, decided to place it in the trunk, and went to the bed where he had folded and left it. It was not there. Nor did a thorough search reveal it anywhere in the room. Yet no one could have stolen it, for when he had gone down to the office Crailey had remained on this floor. Mamie had come within a few minutes after Crailey went out, and during his conversation with her the office-door had been open; no one could have passed without being seen. Also, a thief would have taken other things as well as the uniform; and surely Crailey must have heard; Crailey would-Crailey-!

Then Tom remembered the figure in the long cloak and the military cap, and, with a sick heart, began to understand. He had read the Journal, and he knew why Crailey might wish to masquerade in a major's uniform that night. If Miss Carewe read it too, and a strange wonder rose in her mind, this and a word would convince her. Tom considered it improbable that the wonder would rise, for circumstances had too well established her in a mistake, trivial and ordinary enough at first, merely the confusing of two names by a girl new to the town, but so strengthened by every confirmation Crailey's wit could co

mpass that she would, no doubt, only set Cummings's paragraph aside as a newspaper error. Still, Crailey had wished to be on the safe side!

Tom sighed rather bitterly. He was convinced that the harlequin would come home soon, replace the uniform (which was probably extremely becoming to him, as they were of a height and figure much the same), and afterward, in his ordinary dress, would sally forth to spend his last evening with Fanchon. Tom wondered how Crailey would feel and what he would think about himself while he was changing his clothes, but he remembered his partner's extraordinary powers of mental adjustment-and for the first time in his life Vanrevel made no allowance for the other's temperament, and there came to him a moment when he felt that he could almost dislike Crailey Gray.

At all events, he would go out until Crailey had come and left again, for he had no desire to behold the masquerader's return. So he exchanged his dressing-gown for a coat, fastened his collar, and had begun to arrange his cravat at the mirror, when, suddenly, the voice of the old negress seemed to sound close beside him in the room.

"He's settin' dah-waitin'!"

The cravat was never tied; Tom's hands dropped to his sides as he started back from the staring face in the mirror. Robert Carewe was waiting-and Crailey-- All at once there was but one vital necessity in the world for Tom Vanrevel, that was to find Crailey; he must go to Crailey-even in Carewe's own house-he must go to Crailey!

He dashed down the stairs and into the street. The people were making a great uproar in front of the hotel, exploding bombs, firing muskets in the air, sending up rockets; and rapidly crossing the outskirts of the crowd, he passed into Carewe Street, unnoticed. Here the detonations were not so deafening, though the little steamboat at the wharf was contributing to the confusion with all in her power, screeching simultaneously approval of the celebration and her last signals of departure.

At the first corner Tom had no more than left the sidewalk when he came within a foot of being ridden down by two horsemen who rode at so desperate a gallop that (the sound of their hoof-beats being lost in the uproar from Main Street) they were upon him before he was aware of them.

He leaped back with an angry shout to know who they were that they rode so wildly. At the same time a sharp explosion at the foot of the street sent a red flare over the scene, a flash, gone with such incredible swiftness into renewed darkness that he saw the flying horsemen almost as equestrian statues illumined by a flicker of lightning, but he saw them with the same distinctness that lightning gives, and recognized the foremost as Robert Carewe. And in the instant of that recognition, Tom knew what had happened to Crailey Gray, for he saw the truth in the ghastly face of his enemy.

Carewe rode stiffly, like a man frozen upon his horse, and his face was like that of a frozen man; his eyes glassy and not fixed upon his course, so that it was a deathly thing to see. Once, long ago, Tom had seen a man riding for his life, and he wore this same look. The animal bounded and swerved under Vanrevel's enemy in the mad rush down the street, but he sat rigid, bolt upright in the saddle, his face set to that look of coldness.

The second rider was old Nelson, who rode with body crouched forward, his eyeballs like shining porcelain set in ebony, and his arm like a flail, cruelly lashing his own horse and his master's with a heavy whip. "De steamboat!" he shouted, hoarsely, bringing down the lash on one and then on the other. "De steamboat, de steamboat-f o' God's sake, honey, de steamboat!"

They swept into Main Street, Nelson leaning far across to the other's bridle, and turning both horses toward the river, but before they had made the corner, Tom Vanrevel was running with all the speed that was in him toward his enemy's house. The one block between him and that forbidden ground seemed to him miles long, and he felt that he was running as a man in a dream, and, at the highest pitch of agonized exertion, covering no space, but only working the air in one place, like a treadmill. All that was in his mind, heart, and soul was to reach Crailey. He had known by the revelation of Carewe's face in what case he would find his friend; but as he ran he put the knowledge from him with a great shudder, and resolved upon incredulity in spite of his certainty. All he let himself feel was the need to run, to run until he found Crailey, who was somewhere in the darkness of the trees about the long, low house on the corner. When he reached the bordering hedge, he did not stay for gate or path, but, with a loud shout, hurled himself half over, half through, the hedge, like a bolt from a catapult.

Lights shone from only one room in the house, the library; but as he ran toward the porch a candle flickered in the hall, and there came the sound of a voice weeping with terror.

At that he called more desperately upon his incredulity to aid him, for the voice was Mrs. Tan-berry's. If it had been any other than she, who sobbed so hopelessly-she who was always steady and strong! If he could, he would have stopped to pray, now, before he faced her and the truth; but his flying feet carried him on.

"Who is it?" she gasped, brokenly, from the hall. "Mamie? Have you brought him?"

"It's I," he cried, as he plunged through the doorway. "It's Vanrevel."

Mrs. Tanberry set the iron candlestick down upon the table with a crash.

"You've come too late!" she sobbed. "Another man has taken your death on himself."

He reeled back against the wall. "Oh, God!" he said. "Oh, God, God, God! Crailey!"

"Yes," she answered. "It's the poor vagabond that you loved so well."

Together they ran through the hall to the library. Crailey was lying on the long sofa, his eyes closed, his head like a piece of carven marble, the gay uniform, in which he had tricked himself out so gallantly, open at the throat, and his white linen stained with a few little splotches of red.

Beside him knelt Miss Betty, holding her lace handkerchief upon his breast; she was as white as he, and as motionless; so that, as she knelt there, immovable beside him, her arm like alabaster across his breast, they might have been a sculptor's group. The handkerchief was stained a little, like the linen, and like it, too, stained but a little. Nearby, on the floor, stood a flask of brandy and a pitcher of water.

"You!" Miss Betty's face showed no change, nor even a faint surprise, as her eyes fell upon Tom Vanrevel, but her lips soundlessly framed the word. "You!"

Tom flung himself on his knees beside her.

"Crailey!" he cried, in a sharp voice that had a terrible shake in it. "Crailey! Crailey, I want you to hear me!" He took one of the limp hands in his and began to chafe it, while Mrs. Tanberry grasped the other.

"There's still a movement in the pulse," she faltered. ..

"Still!" echoed Tom, roughly. "You're mad! You made me think Crailey was dead! Do you think Crailey Gray is going to die? He couldn't, I tell you-he couldn't; you don't know him! Who's gone for the doctor?" He dashed some brandy upon his handkerchief and set it to the white lips.

"Mamie. She was here in the room with me when it happened."

"'Happened'! 'Happened'!" he mocked her, furiously. "'Happened' is a beautiful word!"

"God forgive me!" sobbed Mrs. Tanberry. "I was sitting in the library, and Mamie had just come from you, when we heard Mr. Carewe shout from the cupola room: 'Stand away from my daughter, Vanrevel, and take this like a dog!' Only that;-and Mamie and I ran to the window, and we saw through the dusk a man in uniform leap back from Miss Betty-they were in that little open space near the hedge. He called out something and waved his hand, but the shot came at the same time, and he fell. Even then I was sure, in spite of what Mamie had said, I was as sure as Robert Carewe was, that it was you. He came and took one look-and saw-and then Nelson brought the horses and made him mount and go. Mamie ran for the doctor, and Betty and I carried Crailey in. It was hard work."

Miss Betty's hand had fallen from Crailey's breast where Tom's took its place. She rose unsteadily to her feet and pushed back the hair from her forehead, shivering convulsively as she looked down at the motionless figure on the sofa.

"Crailey!" said Tom, in the same angry, shaking voice. "Crailey, you've got to rouse yourself! This won't do; you've got to be a man! Crailey!" He was trying to force the brandy through the tightly clenched teeth. "Crailey!"

"Crailey!" whispered Miss Betty, leaning heavily on the back of a chair. "Crailey?" She looked at Mrs. Tanberry with vague interrogation, but Mrs. Tanberry did not understand.

"Crailey!"

It was then that Crailey's eyelids fluttered and slowly opened; and his wandering glance, dull at first, slowly grew clear and twinkling as it rested on the ashy, stricken face of his best friend.

"Tom," he said, feebly, "it was worth the price, to wear your clothes just once!"

And then, at last, Miss Betty saw and understood. For not the honest gentleman, whom everyone except Robert Carewe held in esteem and af-fection, not her father's enemy, Vanrevel, lay before her with the death-wound in his breast for her sake, but that other-Crailey Gray, the ne'er-do-weel and light-o'-love, Crailey Gray, wit, poet, and scapegrace, the well-beloved town scamp.

He saw that she knew, and, as his brightening eyes wandered up to her, he smiled faintly. "Even a bad dog likes to have his day," he whispered.

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