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Mr. Achilles by Jennette Lee

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around her neck--and tell her /everything/! She could not hurt Mrs.
Seabury. . . . Mr. Achilles had said they would not hurt her. She had
asked him that--three times, herself--and Mr. Achilles had said it--no
one should hurt Mrs. Seabury--if Betty went away. . . . She held her
breath. . . . The footsteps had come across the room--to her door--
they waited there . . . then they moved on--and she drew a free
breath. Her heart thumped to the vague movements that came and went in
the next room--they pottered about a little, and finally ceased and a
light, indrawn breath blew out the lamp--a hand was groping for the
handle of her door--and opening it softly--and the bare feet moved
away. The bed-springs in the next room creaked a little and everything
was still. Betty Harris had a quick sense of pain. Mrs. Seabury was
kind to her! She had been so kind that first day, when they brought
her in out of the hot sun, and she had stumbled on the stairs and
sobbed out--Mrs. Seabury had picked her up and carried her up the
stairs and comforted her . . . and told her what it meant--these
strange harsh men seizing her in the open sunshine, as they swept past
--covering her mouth with hard hands and hurrying her out of the city
to this stifling place. She loved Mrs. Seabury. Perhaps they would put
her in prison . . . and /never/ let her out--and Mollie would not get
well. The child gave a little, quick sob, in her thought, and lay very
still. Mollie had been good once, and wicked men had hurt her . . .
and now her mother could not help her. . . . But Mr. Achilles said--
yes--he said it--no one should hurt her. . . . And with the thought
of the Greek she lay in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the
night. . . . There was a long, light call somewhere across the plain,
a train of heavy Pullmans pushing through the night--the sound came to
the child like a whiff of breath, and passed away . . . and the
crickets chirped--high and shrill. In the next room, the breathing
grew loud, and louder, in long, even beats. Mrs. Seabury was asleep!
Betty Harris sat up in bed, her little hands clinched fast at her
side. Then she lay down again--and waited . . . and the breathing in
the next room grew loud, and regular, and full. . . . Mrs. Seabury was
very tired! And Betty Harris listened, and slipped down from the bed,
and groped for her shoes--and lifted them like a breath--and stepped
high across the floor, in the dim room. It was a slow flight . . .
tuned to the long-drawn, falling breath of the sleeper--that did not
break by a note--not even when the brown hand released the latch and a
little, sharp click fell on the air. . . . "Wake up, Mrs. Seabury!
Wake up--for Mollie's sake--wake up!" the latch said. But the sleeper
did not stir--only the long, regular, dream-filled, droning sleep. And
the child crept down the stair--across the kitchen and reached the
other door. She was not afraid now--one more door! The men would not
hear her--they were asleep--Mrs. Seabury was asleep--and her fingers
turned the key softly and groped to the bolt above--and pushed at it--
hard--and fell back--and groped for it again--and tugged . . . little
beads of sweat were coming on the brown forehead. She drew the back of
her hand swiftly across them and reached again to the bolt. It was too
high--she could reach it--but not to push. She felt for a chair, in
the darkness--and lifted it, without a sound, and carried it to the
door and climbed up. There was a great lump in her throat now. Mr.
Achilles did not know the bolt would stick like this--she gave a
fierce, soft tug, like a sob--and it slid back. The knob turned and
the door opened and she was in the night. . . . For a moment her eyes
groped with the blackness. Then a long, quiet hand reached out to her
--and closed upon her--and she gave a little sob, and was drawn
swiftly into the night.



"Is that you, Mr. Achilles?" she asked--into the dark.

And the voice of Achilles laughed down to her. "I'm here--yes. It's
me. We must hurry now--fast. Come!"

He gripped the small hand in his and they sped out of the driveway,
toward the long road. Up above them the little stars blinked down, and
the warm wind touched their faces as they went. The soft darkness shut
them in. There was only the child, clinging to Achilles's great hand
and hurrying through the night. Far in the distance, a dull, sullen
glow lit the sky--the city's glow--and Betty's home, out there beneath
it, in the dark. But the child did not know. She would not have known
which way the city lay--but for Achilles's guiding hand. She clung
fast to that--and they sped on.

By and by he ran a little, reaching down to her--and his spirit
touched hers and she ran without fatigue beside him, with little
breathless laughs--"I--like--to run!" she said.

"Yes--come--" He hurried her faster over the road--he would not spare
her now. He held her life in his hand--and the little children--he saw
them, asleep in their dreams, over there in the glow. . . . "Come!" he
said. And they ran fast.

It was the first half hour he feared. If there was no pursuit, over
the dark road behind them, then he would spare her--but not now.
"Come!" he urged, and they flew faster.

And behind them the little house lay asleep--under its stars--no sign
of life when his swift-flashing glance sought it out--and the heart of
Achilles stretched to the miles and laughed with them and leaped out
upon them, far ahead. . . . He should bring her home safe.

Then, upon the night, came a sound--faint-stirring wings--a long-drawn
buzz and rush of air--deep notes that gripped the ground, far off--and
the pulse of pounding wheels--behind them, along the dark road. . . .
And Achilles seized the child by the shoulder, bearing her forward
toward the short grass--his quick-running hand thrusting her down--
"Lie still!" he whispered. The lights of the car had gleamed out,
swaying a little in the distance, as he threw his coat across her and
pressed it flat. "Lie still!" he whispered again, and was back in the
road, his hand feeling for the great banana knife that rested in his
shirt--his eye searching the road behind. There was time--yes--and he
turned about and swung into the long, stretching pace that covers the
miles--without hurry, without rest. The roar behind him grew, and
flashed to light--and swept by--and his eye caught the face of the
chauffeur, as it flew, leaning intently on the night; and in the
lighted car behind him, flashed a face--a man's face, outlined against
the glass, a high, white face fixed upon a printed page--some magnate,
travelling at his ease, sleepless . . . thundering past in the night--
unconscious of the Greek, plodding in the roadside dust.

Achilles knew that he had only to lift his hand--to cry out to them,
as they sped, and they would turn with leaping wheel. There was not a
man, hurrying about his own affairs, who would not gladly stop to
gather up the child that was lost. Word had come to Philip Harris--
east and west--endless offers of help. But the great car thundered by
and Achilles's glance followed it, sweeping with it--on toward the
city and the dull glow of sky. He was breathing hard as he went, and
he plunged on a step--two steps--ten--before he held his pace; then he
drew a deep, free breath, and faced about. The knife dropped back in
his breast, and his hand sought the revolver in his hip pocket,
crowding it down a little. He had been sure he could face them--two of
them--three--as many as might be. But the car had swept on, bearing
its strangers to the city . . . and the little house on the plain was
still asleep. He had a kind of happy superstition that he was to save
the child single-handed. He had not trusted the police . . . with
their great, foolish fingers. They could not save his little girl. She
had needed Achilles--and he had held the thread of silken cobweb--and
traced it bit by bit to the place where they had hidden her. He should
save her!

He glanced at the stars--an hour gone--and the long road to tramp. He
ran swiftly to the child in the grass and lifted the coat and she
leaped up, laughing--as if it were a game; and they swung out into the
road again, walking with swift, even steps. "Are you tired?" asked
Achilles. But she shook her head.

His hand in his pocket, in the darkness, had felt something and he
pressed it toward her-- "Eat that," he said, "you will be hungry."

She took it daintily, and felt of it, and turned it over. "What is
it?" she asked. Then she set her small teeth in it--and laughed out.
"It's chocolate," she exclaimed happily. She held it up, "Will you
have a bite, Mr. Achilles?"

But Achilles had drawn out another bit of tin-foil and opened it. "I
have yet more," he said, "--two--three--six piece. I put here in my
pocket, every day--I carry chocolate--till I find you. Every day I
say, 'she be hungry, maybe--then she like chocolate'--"

She nibbled it in happy little nibbles, as they walked. "I didn't eat
any supper," she said. "I was too happy--and too afraid, I guess. That
was a long time ago," she added, after a minute.

"A long time ago," said Achilles cheerfully. He had taken her hand
again, and they trudged on under the stars.

"Nobody must hurt Mrs. Seabury!" said the child suddenly.

"I tell you that," said Achilles--he had half stopped on the road.
"Nobody hurt that good lady--she, your friend."

"Yes, she is my friend. She was good to me. . . . /She/ had a little
girl once--like me--and some bad men hurt her. . . . I don't think
they stole her--" She pondered it a minute--"I don't seem to
understand--" she gave a little swift sigh. "But Mrs. Seabury is going
to take her a long, long way off--and keep her always."

Achilles nodded. "We help her do that," he said. "They don't hurt that
good lady."

His eyes were on the stars, and he lifted his face a little, breathing
in the freshness. A swift star shot across the sky, falling to earth,
and he pointed with eager finger. The child looked up and caught the
falling flash, and they ran a little, as if to follow the leaping of
their hearts. Then they went more slowly, and Achilles's long finger
traced the heavens for her--the Greek gods up there in their swinging
orbits . . . the warm, August night of the world. Betty Harris had
never known the stars like this. Safe from her window, she had seen
them twinkle out. But here they swept about her--and the plain reached
wide--and close, in the darkness, a hand held her safe and the long
finger of Achilles touched the stars and drew them down for her . . .
Orion there, marching with his mighty belt--and Mars red-gleaming. The
long, white plume of the milky way, trailing soft glory on the sky--
and the great bear to the north. The names filled her ears with a
mighty din, Calliope, Venus, Uranus, Mercury, Mars--and the shining
hosts of heaven passed by. Far beyond them, mysterious other worlds
gleamed and glimmered--without name. And the heart of the child
reached to them--and travelled through the vast arches of space, with
her dusty little feet on the wide plain, and a hand holding hers, safe
and warm down there in the darkness. Her eyes dropped from the stars
and she trudged on.

When Achilles spoke again, he was telling her of Alcibiades and Yaxis
and of the long days of waiting and the happiness their coming would
bring--and of her father and mother, asleep at Idlewood--and the great
house on the lake, ready always, night and day, for her coming--

"Do they know--?" she asked quickly, "that we are coming?"

"Nobody knows," said Achilles, "except you and me."

She laughed out, under the stars, and stood still. "We shall surprise
them!" she said.

"Yes--come!" They pressed on. Far ahead, foolish little stars had
glimmered out--close to the ground--the fingers of the city,
stretching toward the plain.

Her glance ran to them. "We're getting somewhere--?" she said swiftly.
"We're getting home!" Her hand squeezed his, swinging it a little.

"Not yet--" said Achilles, "not yet--but we shall take the car there.
You need not walk any more."

She was very quiet and he leaned toward her anxiously. "You are not
tired?" he asked.

"No--Mr. Achilles--I don't think--I'm tired--" She held the words
slowly. "I just thought we'd go on forever, walking like this--" She
looked up and swept her small hand toward the stars. "I thought it was
a dream--" she said softly--"Like the other dreams!" He felt a little,
quick throb run through her, and he bent again and his fingers touched
her cheek.

"I am not crying, Mr. Achilles," she said firmly, "I only just--"
There was a little, choking sound and her face had buried itself in
his sleeve.

And Achilles bent to her with tender gesture. Then he lifted his head
and listened. There was another sound, on the plain, mingling with the
sobs that swept across the child's frame.

He touched her quietly. "Someone is coming," he said.

She lifted her face, holding her breath with quick lip.

The sound creaked to them, and muffled itself, and spread across the
plain, and came again in irregular rhythm that grew to the slow beat
of hoofs coming upon the road.

Achilles listened back to the sound and waited a minute. Then he
covered the child, as before, with his coat and turned back, walking
along the road to meet the sound. It creaked toward him and loomed
through the light of the stars--a great market wagon loaded with
produce--the driver leaning forward on the seat with loose rein, half
asleep. Suddenly he lifted his head and tightened rein, peering
forward through the dark at the figure down there in the road.
Achilles held his way.

"Hello!" said the man sharply.

Achilles paused and looked up--one hand resting lightly on his hip,
turned a little back--the other thrust in his breast.

The man's eyes scanned him through the dimness. "Where you bound for?"
he asked curtly.

"I walk," said Achilles.

"Want a job?" asked the man.

"You got job for me?" asked Achilles. His voice had all the guileless
caution of the foreigner astray in a free land. The man moved along on
the seat. "Jump up," he said.

Achilles looked back and forth along the road. "I think I go long," he
said slowly.

The man gave an impatient sound in his throat and clicked to the
horses. The heavy wagon creaked into motion, and caught its rhythm and
rumbled on.

Achilles's ears followed it with deepest caution. The creaking mass of
sound had passed the flat-spread coat without stop, and gathered
itself away into a slow rumble, and passed on in the blurring dark.

Beyond it, the little, low lights still twinkled and the suburb waited
with its trailing cars.

But when he lifted the coat she had fallen asleep, her face resting on
her arm, and he bent to it tenderly, and listened.



He looked up into the darkness and waited. He would let her sleep a
minute . . . there was little danger now. The city waited, over there,
with its low lights; and the friendly night shut them in. Before the
morning dawned he should bring her home--safe home. . . . A kind of
simple pride held him, and his heart leaped a little to the stars and
sang with them--as he squatted in the low grass, keeping guard.

Presently he leaned and touched her.

She started with a shiver and sprang up, rubbing her eyes and crying
out, "I--had--a--dream--" she said softly--"a beautiful dream!" Then
her eyes caught the stars and blinked to them--through dusty sleep--
and she turned to him with swift cry, "You're here!" she said. "It's
/not/ a dream! It's /you/!"

And Achilles laughed out. "We're going home," he said, "when you're
rested a little."

"But I'm rested /now/!" she cried. "Come!" She sprang to her feet, and
they journeyed again--through the night. About them, the plain
breathed deep sleeping power--and the long road stretched from the
west to the east and brought them home.

Each step, the city lights grew larger, and sparkled more, and spread
apart farther, and a low rumble came creeping on the plain--jarring
with swift jolts--the clang of cars and lifting life . . . and, in the
distance, a line of light ran fire swiftly on the air, and darted, red
and green, and trailed again in fire . . . and Achilles's finger
pointed to it. "That fire will take us home," he said.

The child's eye followed the flashing cars--and she smiled out. The
first light of the city's rim touched her face.

"Just a little farther!" said Achilles.

"But I am not tired!" said the child, and she ran a little, beside
him, on the stone pavement, her small shoes clumping happily.

Achilles lifted a swift hand to a waiting car. The car clanged its
gone--impatient. A big conductor reached down his hand to the child.
The bell clanged again and they were off--"Clang-clang, clear the
track! Betty Harris is going home-- This is the people's carriage--
Going home! Going home! Clear the track--clang-clang!" Through the
blinking city streets they rode. Safe among the friendly houses, and
the shops and the stores, and the people sleeping behind their blinds
--all the people who had loved the child--and scanned the paper for
her, every day--and asked, "Is Betty Harris found?" . . . Going home!
Going home! . . . They would waken in the morning and read the news
and shout across the way--"She's been found--yes--a Greek! He brought
her home! Thank God. She's found!"

And little Betty Harris, leaning against the great shoulder beside
her, nodded in the car, and dreamed little dreams and looked about her

The conductor came and stood in front of them with extended hand, and
rang the fares, and cast an indifferent, kindly glance at the Greek
and his child travelling by night. . . . He did not guess the "scoop"
that his two little nickels rang out. The child with roughened hair
and clumsy, hanging shoes, was nothing to him--nor to the policeman
that boarded the car at the next corner and ran his eye down its empty
length to the Greek, sitting erect--with the child sleeping beside him
--her dark, tousled head against his arm.

The conductor came again, and touched Achilles on the shoulder and
bent to him. "You change here," he said. He was pointing to a car
across the square--"You take that," he said. "You understand?" He
shouted a little--because the man was a foreigner--and dark--but his
tone was friendly. And Achilles got to his feet, guiding the sleepy
child down the rib-floored car that shook beneath them. . . . And the
conductor and policeman watched the two figures vanish through the
door--and smiled to each other--a friendly smile at foreign folks--who
travel in strange ways--and go among us with eager, intent faces fixed
on some shining goal we cannot see . . . with the patience of the
centuries leaning down to them, and watching them.



In the middle of the square, Achilles stopped--a lighted sign had
caught his eye. He hurried the child across the blur of tracks to the
sign, and opened a door softly. A sleepy exchange-girl looked up and
waited while Achilles's dark fingers searched the page and turned to

She drawled sleepily after him-- "Go in there--number four."

Achilles, with the child's hand in his, entered the booth and closed
the door. Little noises clicked about them--queer meanings whispered--
and waited--and moved off--the whole night-life of the great city
stirred in the little cage. . . . "Go ahead--four!" called the girl

Achilles lifted the black tube. The child beside him pressed close,
her eyes fixed on the tube. Achilles's words ran swift on the wire,
and her eager face held them--other words came back--sharp--swift. And
the child heard them crackle, and leap, and break and crackle again in
the misty depths--and she touched Achilles's arm softly--"They must
not hurt Mrs. Seabury--?" she said. "You tell them not to hurt Mrs.

Achilles's hand pressed her shoulder gently. "Yes--I tell--they know."
It was a swift aside--and his voice had taken up the tale--"That
woman--you not take that woman. . . . You hear? Yes--she good woman!"

"Tell them to look in the cellar!" said Betty. She had pressed closer,
on tiptoe. "There is a hole there--under a barrel--and a barrel in the
garden. You tell them--"

His eye dropped to her. "In cellar? You say that?"

"Yes--yes--" Her hands were clasped. "They took me there! You tell

Achilles's eye smiled. "Hallo--/you look in cellar/! . . . What you
say?--no--I don't see it. But you look in cellar--yes! They make
tunnel--yes!" He hung up the receiver and took her hand. "Now we go
home," he said.

They passed swiftly out, dropping payment--into a sleepy, unseeing
palm--and crossing the square to the car that should carry them home.
There were no delays now--only swift-running wheels . . . a few jolts
and stops--and they were out again, beneath the stars, hurrying along
the great breakwater of the lake--hurrying home. . . . The big, red-
brown house thrust itself up--its gables reaching to thin blackness--
and, suddenly, as they looked, it was touched lightly, as with a great
finger, and the dawn glowed mistily up the walls.

They crossed swiftly and mounted the steps, between the lions, the
child's feet stumbling a little as they went, but Achilles's hand held
fast and his touch on the bell summoned hurrying feet . . . there was
a fumbling at the chains--a swift, cautious creak, and the door swung
back. "Who is it?" said a voice that peered out. The dawn touched his
face grotesquely.

"It's me!" said the child. "It's Betty Harris, Conner."

The man's face fell back. Then he darted forward and glared at the
child--through the mysterious, dawning light--on the dark, tender face
and the little lip that trembled--looking up-- "My God!" he said. He
had darted from them.

The door was open wide and the two glided in silently, and stood in
the emptiness. Achilles led the child to a great divan across the hall
and placed her beside him--her little feet were crossed in the rough
shoes and her hands hung listless.

Behind a velvet curtain, the butler's voice called frantic words--a
telephone bell rang sharply and whirred and rang a long fierce call
and the butler's voice took it up and flung it back--"Yes, sir. She's
here! Yes, sir--that's what I said--she's a-settin' here, sir--on the
sofa--with the furriner--yes, sir!" He put his head around the velvet
curtain. "Will you speak to your father, Miss?"

His awe-struck hand held the receiver and he helped the strange,
little figure to its seat in front of the 'phone. She put the tube to
her lips. "Hallo, Daddy. Yes, it's Betty. . . . Mr. Achilles brought
me, father. . . . Yes--yes--your little Betty--yes--and I'm all
ri-i-ght. . . ." The receiver dropped from her fingers. She had buried
her face in her arms and was sobbing softly.



Achilles sprang forward. "She's all right, Mr. Harris--all right!" His
hand dropped to the trembling shoulder and rested there, as his quiet
voice repeated the words. He bent forward and lifted the child in his
arms and moved away with her. But before he had traversed the long
hall, the little head had fallen forward on his shoulder and the child
slept. Behind the velvet curtain, the voice of Conner wrestled faintly
with the telephone and all about them great lights glowed on the
walls; they lighted the great staircase that swept mistily up, and the
figure of Achilles mounting slowly in the stately, lonely house, the
child in his arms. His hand steadied the sleeping head with careful
touch, against his shoulder. . . . They were not jolting now, in heavy
cars, through the traffic streets--or wandering on the plain. . . .
Little Betty Harris had come home.

Above them at the top of the long stairs, a grey figure appeared, and
paused a moment and looked down. Then Miss Stone descended swiftly,
her hands outstretched--they did not touch the sleeping child, but
hovered above her with a look--half pain--half joy.

Achilles smiled to her--"She come home," he whispered.

She turned with quick breath and they mounted the stairs--the child
still asleep . . . through the long corridor--to the princess's room
beyond--with its soft lights--and great, silken hangings and canopied
bed, open for the night--waiting for Betty Harris.

Achilles bent and laid her down, with lightest touch, and straightened
himself. "We let her sleep," he said gently. "She--very tired."

They stood looking down--at the brown face and the little, tired lip
and sleeping lids. . . . Their eyes met, and they smiled. . . . They
knew--these two, out of all the world--they knew what it meant--that
the child was safe.

And out in the glowing dawn, the great car thundered home, and Betty
Harris's mother looked out with swift eyes.

"See, Phil--the sun is up!" She reached out her hand.

"Sit still, Louie--don't tremble so--" he said gently. "She is safe
now-- They have brought her home. She's there, you know, asleep." He
spoke slowly--as if to a child. . . . He was gathering up the morning
in his heart--this big, harsh, master of men--his little girl was
safe--and a common Greek--a man out of the streets--peddling bananas
and calling up and down--had made his life worth living. His big,
tense mind gripped the fact--and held it. Something seemed speaking to
him--out of the east, over there, past the rushing car. . . . A common
Greek. . . . He had flung his wealth and hammered hard--but somehow
/this/ man had loved her--/his/ little girl!

"Phil--?" she said softly.

"Yes, dear?"

"Are we almost home?"

He looked out. "Half an hour yet--sit still, Louie--!" He held her
hand close. "Sit still!" he said--and the miles slipped past.

"She is there--Phil! Yes? They wouldn't lie to me. All these weeks!"
she said softly. "I don't think I could bear it much longer, Phil!"
The tears were on her cheeks, raining down and he put his rough face
against her, adrift in a new world.

And over the great lake the sun burst out, on a flashing car--and the
door flung wide to Betty Harris's mother, flying with swift, sure foot
up the great, stone steps. . . . "This way, ma'am--she's in here--her
own room--this way, ma'am."

She was kneeling by the great canopied bed, her head bent very low.
The brown face trembled a breath . . . the child put up a hand in her
dream, "Mother-dear!" she said--and dreamed on. . . . . .


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