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The Master of Silence: A Romance, a novel by Irving Bacheller

Chapter 12

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After waiting for him nearly an hour I went to a neighboring restaurant for breakfast. On returning I found that he had not yet come back. Alarmed at his continued absence I went at once to Hester's apartments, scarcely expecting, however, to find him there, but confident that she would be able to tell me where he was likely to go.

"No doubt he has gone on some good errand," she said. "Has he not told you of his charitable enterprises?"

"He told me last night how they had reduced his fortune."

"Poor fellow!" she continued. "In his zeal for others he quite forgot his own needs. I would have told you about it, but that he implored me to spare you any knowledge of his condition. I think we shall be able to find him. Let us go and try."

Hester and I set out at once, walking rapidly against a biting east wind toward the river. On reaching Second Avenue we took a car and rode down among the big tenements towering into the sky on all sides in the lower part of the city. Alighting in the midst of these human hives, we made our way through a wretched crowd, shivering in the livery of destitution, down a long and narrow alley. Entering one of the doorways we climbed a steep flight of stairs, above which was a squalid throng pressing about an open door on the landing. The women held children in their arms, and many of them were crying bitterly. The men stood in silence peering curiously over the heads of the further throng into the crowded chamber. Some of them greeted Hester with great respect, and moved aside that we might have room to enter. As we neared the door I could hear a babel of strange tongues and the voices of women calling down the blessings of Heaven upon some one in their midst. It was Rayel. He stood in a corner of the room holding two little children in his arms, and the crowd was pressing forward as if eager to speak with him. He was talking in a low voice to those nearest him, but I was unable to catch his words. There were men and women of many nationalities in the throng. I saw Italians, Celts, Poles, Germans and even men whose swarthy faces and peculiar garb betokened Syrian origin. When we pressed nearer to Rayel I saw some, as they came within reach, extend their hands and touch him fondly, uttering exclamations as they did so, often in a tongue that was strange to me. These simple-minded people seemed to regard him as a supernatural being whom it was good to talk with, and whose touch it was a blessing to feel. A look of love and gentleness and sympathy irradiated his face and invited their confidence. These were evidently the poor whom he had befriended, and he was now taking leave of them, probably forever. It was a scene the like of which few can ever hope to witness. After all, I thought, what manner of riches can be compared to the satisfaction which Rayel feels at this moment? I was quite ready then to applaud his unselfish generosity, for in that gloomy and unclean place I first saw the full radiance of God's truth that it is infinitely more blessed to give than to receive. We stood for a long time looking upon this memorable meeting of Cadmus and Caliban. When at length he caught sight of us, Rayel came where we stood, and said he was ready to go home. Perceiving that we were about to go, the crowd hurried from the building into the narrow alley leading out upon the street. Some shouted endearing farewells as we passed them, and many of their hardened faces were wet with tears. The sun was just going down and the shadows were deepening between the high walls looming above us as we started homeward. Hester insisted that we must dine with her and decide upon the day of our departure. Rayel and I went directly home for a bath and a change of clothing, after which we proceeded at once to Hester's apartments. Evidently somewhat fatigued by the day's experience, Rayel had little to say while we were eating dinner. It was arranged that we would start for England by the first steamer on which we could secure a comfortable passage. We had no sooner finished our coffee than a servant announced Mr. Benjamin Murmurtot, who wished to see Miss Bronson.

"A reporter!" exclaimed Hester. "There's no dodging them in America. Shall I ask him in for a moment?"

We said yes, of course, and Mr. Murmurtot presently fluttered into the room. He was a natty little man, with a large nose, a bald head and a decidedly English accent.

"Delighted to see you, Miss Bronson," said he, "delighted, I'm sure. Thought I'd call and pay my respects before you leave the city."

He greeted us all with like effusiveness and sat down facing Hester.

"It's very kind of you," said she; "but pray how did you know I was to leave the city?"

"Why, I'm sure, Miss Bronson, everybody knows you are going home to be married?"

"It is true that I am going home soon," said she, "but I must decline to discuss my object in doing so."

"Pray pardon me; I'm a journalist, you know," said Mr. Murmurtot, "and I earn my living by impertinence. Have I not seen you before, sir?" he continued, facing Rayel. "I think you were at the theatre one evening some time ago--sat in the lower box at the right of the stage--I remember it well, sir."

"I remember the occasion," said my cousin, with his accustomed gravity.

"I read about that occurrence at Mr. Paddington's dinner-party, sir," continued Mr. Murmurtot. "It was decidedly clever in you, sir--deucedly clever! Everybody is talking about it, now that the Count has been arrested."

"Arrested!" I exclaimed; "has he been arrested?"

"Yes, this morning, for the robbery, you know. They say that the police have secured evidence that will convict him sure, but it seems they are not yet ready to make it public; reporters can't get the Inspector to say a word about it, you know--not a word."

There were exclamations of surprise and gratification from all present, save Rayel, who remained silent, while a faint smile stole over his face.

"I knew they would find him out," said he.

"I hear that you are a mind-reader, sir," said Mr. Murmurtot, again addressing my cousin.

"And you are a detective, I believe, and not a reporter," said Rayel. "It is good that we understand each other."

Mr. Murmurtot started with surprise at the remark.

"I do not know how fully you may be acquainted with my secret," said he, "but permit me to assure you that I am here on a friendly mission.

"I have no doubt of that," said my cousin.

"Let me proceed directly to the object of my visit, then, which is to learn how soon you expect to return to England."

"By Saturday, if possible," I replied.

"That is good," said he, turning toward me. "The sooner the better. In the meantime it will be my duty to keep a sharp eye upon you; I have been near you all day. You need not feel any alarm--only do not be surprised if you meet me often. I am responsible for your safety, that is all."

"For whom are you acting?" I asked.

"My dear sir," said he, rising to go, "men in my line of business must not talk too much. Good night."

After he had gone we asked Rayel to tell us more about this mysterious visitor, but he was unable to do so.

When we started away Hester put on her wraps and walked with us to the cab. As we alighted at our own door I saw a man standing by the street lamp on the corner, some distance away, whom I recognized as Mr. Murmurtot. I found a letter from Mr. Earl awaiting me at home, in which he urged us to hasten back to England as soon as possible after my recovery.

"You and Rayel," he said, "will, I trust, make your home at my house."

Next day we began our preparations for the voyage. _

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