The King Of The Streets Torrent
Toward the end of the year 1920 the Government of the United States hadpractically completed the programme, adopted during the last months ofPresident Winthrop's administration. The country was apparentlytranquil. Everybody knows how the Tariff and Labour questions weresettled. The war with Germany, incident on that country's seizure of theSamoan Islands, had left no visible scars upon the republic, and thetemporary occupation of Norfolk by the invading army had been forgottenin the joy over repeated naval victories, and the subsequent ridiculousplight of General Von Gartenlaube's forces in the State of New Jersey.The Cuban and Hawaiian investments had paid one hundred per cent and theterritory of Samoa was well worth its cost as a coaling station. Thecountry was in a superb state of defence. Every coast city had been wellsupplied with land fortifications; the army under the parental eye ofthe General Staff, organized according to the Prussian system, had beenincreased to 300,000 men, with a territorial reserve of a million; andsix magnificent squadrons of cruisers and battle-ships patrolled the sixstations of the navigable seas, leaving a steam reserve amply fitted tocontrol home waters. The gentlemen from the West had at last beenconstrained to acknowledge that a college for the training of diplomatswas as necessary as law schools are for the training of barristers;consequently we were no longer represented abroad by incompetentpatriots. The nation was prosperous; Chicago, for a moment paralyzedafter a second great fire, had risen from its ruins, white and imperial,and more beautiful than the white city which had been built for itsplaything in 1893. Everywhere good architecture was replacing bad, andeven in New York, a sudden craving for decency had swept away a greatportion of the existing horrors. Streets had been widened, properlypaved and lighted, trees had been planted, squares laid out, elevatedstructures demolished and underground roads built to replace them. Thenew government buildings and barracks were fine bits of architecture,and the long system of stone quays which completely surrounded theisland had been turned into parks which proved a god-send to thepopulation. The subsidizing of the state theatre and state opera broughtits own reward. The United States National Academy of Design was muchlike European institutions of the same kind. Nobody envied the Secretaryof Fine Arts, either his cabinet position or his portfolio. TheSecretary of Forestry and Game Preservation had a much easier time,thanks to the new system of National Mounted Police. We had profitedwell by the latest treaties with France and England; the exclusion offoreign-born Jews as a measure of self-preservation, the settlement ofthe new independent negro state of Suanee, the checking of immigration,the new laws concerning naturalization, and the gradual centralizationof power in the executive all contributed to national calm andprosperity. When the Government solved the Indian problem and squadronsof Indian cavalry scouts in native costume were substituted for thepitiable organizations tacked on to the tail of skeletonized regimentsby a former Secretary of War, the nation drew a long sigh of relief.When, after the colossal Congress of Religions, bigotry and intolerancewere laid in their graves and kindness and charity began to draw warringsects together, many thought the millennium had arrived, at least in thenew world which after all is a world by itself.
The King Of The Streets Torrent
I had walked down that day from Dr. Archer's house on Madison Avenue,where I had been as a mere formality. Ever since that fall from myhorse, four years before, I had been troubled at times with pains in theback of my head and neck, but now for months they had been absent, andthe doctor sent me away that day saying there was nothing more to becured in me. It was hardly worth his fee to be told that; I knew itmyself. Still I did not grudge him the money. What I minded was themistake which he made at first. When they picked me up from the pavementwhere I lay unconscious, and somebody had mercifully sent a bulletthrough my horse's head, I was carried to Dr. Archer, and he,pronouncing my brain affected, placed me in his private asylum where Iwas obliged to endure treatment for insanity. At last he decided that Iwas well, and I, knowing that my mind had always been as sound as his,if not sounder, "paid my tuition" as he jokingly called it, and left. Itold him, smiling, that I would get even with him for his mistake, andhe laughed heartily, and asked me to call once in a while. I did so,hoping for a chance to even up accounts, but he gave me none, and I toldhim I would wait.
I glanced in at the doorway and saw Hawberk busy in his little shop atthe end of the hall. He looked up, and catching sight of me cried in hisdeep, hearty voice, "Come in, Mr. Castaigne!" Constance, his daughter,rose to meet me as I crossed the threshold, and held out her prettyhand, but I saw the blush of disappointment on her cheeks, and knew thatit was another Castaigne she had expected, my cousin Louis. I smiled ather confusion and complimented her on the banner she was embroideringfrom a coloured plate. Old Hawberk sat riveting the worn greaves of someancient suit of armour, and the ting! ting! ting! of his little hammersounded pleasantly in the quaint shop. Presently he dropped his hammer,and fussed about for a moment with a tiny wrench. The soft clash of themail sent a thrill of pleasure through me. I loved to hear the music ofsteel brushing against steel, the mellow shock of the mallet on thighpieces, and the jingle of chain armour. That was the only reason I wentto see Hawberk. He had never interested me personally, nor didConstance, except for the fact of her being in love with Louis. This didoccupy my attention, and sometimes even kept me awake at night. But Iknew in my heart that all would come right, and that I should arrangetheir future as I expected to arrange that of my kind doctor, JohnArcher. However, I should never have troubled myself about visiting themjust then, had it not been, as I say, that the music of the tinklinghammer had for me this strong fascination. I would sit for hours,listening and listening, and when a stray sunbeam struck the inlaidsteel, the sensation it gave me was almost too keen to endure. My eyeswould become fixed, dilating with a pleasure that stretched every nervealmost to breaking, until some movement of the old armourer cut off theray of sunlight, then, still thrilling secretly, I leaned back andlistened again to the sound of the polishing rag, swish! swish! rubbingrust from the rivets.
Passing Hawberk's door again I saw him still at work on the armour, butI did not stop, and stepping out into Bleecker Street, I followed it toWooster, skirted the grounds of the Lethal Chamber, and crossingWashington Park went straight to my rooms in the Benedick. Here Ilunched comfortably, read the Herald and the Meteor, and finallywent to the steel safe in my bedroom and set the time combination. Thethree and three-quarter minutes which it is necessary to wait, while thetime lock is opening, are to me golden moments. From the instant I setthe combination to the moment when I grasp the knobs and swing back thesolid steel doors, I live in an ecstasy of expectation. Those momentsmust be like moments passed in Paradise. I know what I am to find at theend of the time limit. I know what the massive safe holds secure for me,for me alone, and the exquisite pleasure of waiting is hardly enhancedwhen the safe opens and I lift, from its velvet crown, a diadem ofpurest gold, blazing with diamonds. I do this every day, and yet the joyof waiting and at last touching again the diadem, only seems to increaseas the days pass. It is a diadem fit for a King among kings, an Emperoramong emperors. The King in Yellow might scorn it, but it shall be wornby his royal servant.
"That little cigar shaped thing is a torpedo boat," he explained; "thereare four more lying close together. They are the Tarpon, the Falcon,the Sea Fox, and the Octopus. The gun-boats just above are thePrinceton, the Champlain, the Still Water and the Erie. Next tothem lie the cruisers Faragut and Los Angeles, and above them thebattle ships California, and Dakota, and the Washington which isthe flag ship. Those two squatty looking chunks of metal which areanchored there off Castle William are the double turreted monitorsTerrible and Magnificent; behind them lies the ram, Osceola."
As I turned into the city with Hawberk I heard Constance murmursomething to Louis which I did not understand; but Louis whispered "Mydarling," in reply; and again, walking ahead with Hawberk through thesquare I heard a murmur of "sweetheart," and "my own Constance," and Iknew the time had nearly arrived when I should speak of importantmatters with my cousin Louis.
I was glad he thought the crown was made of brass and paste, yet Ididn't like him any the better for thinking so. I let him take it frommy hand, knowing it was best to humour him. He tossed the splendiddiadem in the air, and catching it, turned to me smiling.
"See here, old fellow," he began, "I've got something to suggest to you.It's four years now that you've shut yourself up here like an owl, nevergoing anywhere, never taking any healthy exercise, never doing a damnthing but poring over those books up there on the mantelpiece."
His voice died into a choking rattle, for Mr. Wilde had leapt on him andhis right hand encircled the man's throat. When Vance fell in a heap onthe floor, Mr. Wilde clambered nimbly into his chair again, and rubbinghis mangled ears with the stump of his hand, turned to me and asked mefor the ledger. I reached it down from the shelf and he opened it. Aftera moment's searching among the beautifully written pages, he coughedcomplacently, and pointed to the name Vance. 350c69d7ab