Have you ever fought with a knife?

Frank Norris
The ocean calls
Frank Norris

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Chapter Twelve

New surroundings

The season at the Coronado Hotel had been particularly lively that winter.

A young lady who reported the social sensations in diary form for one of the weekly magazines in San Francisco had provided an excellent description of the uninterrupted succession of the hotel's festivities.

When listing the newly arrived "well-known personalities," she had also announced that Mr. Nat Ridgeway from San Francisco had brought a cheerful company of the popular San Francisco stars with him on his feudal yacht "Petrel".

Among these was the name of Miss Josie Herrich, whose party was still discussed everywhere at the beginning of the season, after which one could read the everyday.

The "Petrel" had only been in port for a few days and that evening there was a ball held in her honor. At the beginning of the same they danced a cotillon, with which Nat Ridgeway was supposed to lead Josie Herrick.

An excursion to Tia Juana had taken place in the afternoon and Miss Herrick had just had enough time to dress for the evening.

At about half past nine she had finally finished this very important job with which her mother, her younger sister, the maid and a maid of the hotel had helped.

Soon afterwards it was floating in the ballroom, a gossamer cloud of tulle, white silk and Marshal Niel-Rosen, which had been sent by telegram from Monterey.

An hour passed. Ridgeway signaled the band to fly straight to the beat of a two-step with Josie Herrick, who was the most beautiful dancer on the floor of the grand, round ballroom of the Coronado Hotel.

The ball was a huge hit.

The Monitor's cadets and young officers had appeared in uniform.

The choicest society of San Francisco had come together here.

Even Jerry Haight, who had spent the beginning of the season in Oregon hunting moose, was among the dancers.

Ridgeway was devoted to dancing with Miss Herrick, who surveyed the crowd of dancers and looked for Jerry Haight.

“Do you see Mr. Haight anywhere?” She asked Ridgeway, “I have to give him this dance. I already owe him two dances, he would never forgive me if I ignored him. "

Jerry Haight had gone into the lobby for a moment to relax and smoke a cigarette; nobody found him there.

But when Miss Herrick was doing one of the following dances with a young cadet, she saw Jerry.

"Oh," she called, "Mr. Haight, you missed your chance, I was looking for you! "

But Jerry wasn't listening - something seemed to have aroused him. He walked quickly, almost ran across the stalls, jumped onto the podium where the band was playing "La Paloma" with feeling and interrupted the music.

"Hello! Haight! "Cried Ridgeway, who had danced again," how can you do this dance of mine ... "

"Give a signal on the trumpet for silence," Jerry called one of the musicians, ignoring Ridgeway.

The dance was canceled properly. All feet stood still, the conversation was silent.

What could have happened? Had a diamond jewelry been found, should the meal be announced?

But Jerry Haight made a violent gesture with his arm, still holding the cigarette between his fingers, and exclaimed, out of breath:

"Ross Wilbur, Ross Wilbur is in the lobby of the hotel!"

A moment of deep silence followed - then a wild commotion broke out.

Wilbur, Ross Wilbur is found? Ross Wilbur returned from the dead? Ross Wilbur, who had been feverishly searched for from Buenos Aires in the south to the Alëuts in the north? Ross Wilbur, the enigma of detective agencies all along the coast, the focus of innumerable theories, a name that had been in the headlines of every newspaper west of the Mississippi in big letters, Ross Wilbur, who was last seen one afternoon over a fine tea and later seen in a club, which then disappeared from the world without a trace?

No trace, not even the slightest trace, had been found of him.

Ross Wilbur, the murdered man, Ross Wilbur, the victim of a gang of kidnappers, the hero of a hideously mysterious novel that would go untold.

Now he was - he was there!

Returned from the mystery as if fallen from heaven. He now had to be able to shed light on all the conjectures and all the rumors of the last winter months!

"Here he comes!" Cried Jerry, his gaze fixed on a group of flashing uniforms and golden braids that marched through the ball room, an indescribable figure on his shoulders.

“Here it comes, the boys carry it! Oh! "He called to the band," can't you play something? What ever! Go on as best you can! "

“Ridgeway, Nat, come here! You know, Ross Wilbur was a Yale man, there are enough Yale people here to greet him with our battle cry! ”The band blew the national anthem with full force. Jerry, standing in a chair on the platform, gave Wilbur a long, thunderous thunder with some friends who surrounded him:

"Brek - kek - kek - kek -, co - ex, co - ex."

There was a lot of commotion in the hall. Excited young girls and mothers who had stood on chairs and tables tore their gloves with enthusiasm, while the cadets in gold-braided tails and white shirts screamed and hooted and fought each other to shake hands with the man whom two older Yale- People carried high on their shoulders through the ballroom in memory of their joint sports triumphs.

But he, the hero, the focus of these ovations, who had now triumphantly worn in this company in evening suits and white tulle, in the scent of precious perfumes, was an unspeakably dirty, neglected figure!

His hair was long, hanging over his eyes. A tousled beard barely showed anything from his mouth or chin. A Chinese blouse and trousers tucked into torn boots covered him poorly. In those six months, the sun and water had tanned his face almost beyond recognition. Half-healed wounds were seen on temples and cheeks. His hands and fingernails were dirty. The clothes were sticky with mud, oil, pitch and all the dirt of a neglected ship.

When the porters pressed against him, a hundred gloved hands stretched out towards him, the knife fell from his belt onto the smooth parquet with which he had killed in the fight in the bay and there were still dark, gruesome stains on the sheath.

There was no more dancing that evening.

Finally they let Wilbur down, in a few sentences he told of his forced hiring, of the Magdalena Bay, of his precious find and of the fight with the wreckers.

"You're going down there for target practice again, aren't you?" He said to the officers of the "Monterey" who had surrounded him. "You will find the Chinese who have fled there in the bay, they are waiting for you, all of them are there, except for one," he remarked grimly. “We left six men there, we didn't have to leave the seventh there. They wanted to hijack our ship, but what the devil, we completely salted the soup for them. "

"Take it easy, old friend!" Shouted Nat Ridgeway, looking worriedly at the women around him, "you must remember, this is not the Magdalena-Bai."

And only now did Wilbur feel disappointment and regret that it really was so.

Half an hour later, Ridgeway pulled him aside.

“Listen, Ross, we want to go away. You can't stop here and talk all night. Jerry, you and I want to go to my room. we can talk in peace. I want to order some more champagne. "

"Damn it with your champagne!" Said Wilbur, "if you like me, better give me a decent tobacco."

As they walked out of the ballroom, he saw Josie Herrick. He left his comrades standing and stepped in front of them.

“Oh!” She called out breathlessly, “it is hard to imagine that you will be back. I still can't quite believe it! I'll have to think about it all night. I only know that I am happier than ever in my life. Oh! "She said," do I have to say more how happy I am? It's too good to put into words. I was the person you last spoke to. The reporters came and everyone ..... but we have to talk about it when we're together in peace. And our dance? We never got around to it! I still have your card! Remember the card you wrote me over tea. All the newspapers brought a facsimile of it. When you come to San Francisco you will be celebrated as a hero. Oh, Ross Wilbur! "She said, when the tears came to her eyes," you really came back and are happy, just like me, that you are back, with me! "

Afterwards, in Ridgeway's room, Wilbur gave a more detailed account of his experiences. He omitted only one thing. He didn't have the heart to speak to these Moran socialites.

He had no idea how he would shape his future life, his life that seemed worthless to him without her. He put that off for later.

“We're going to have another ball,” said Ridgeway, “in town - in your honor, Ross! It will be the event of the season! "

Wilbur replied with contempt: "Leave me alone with such nonsense!"

“Oh what, imagine honoring yourself! Just think, all the girls in town will be there and you as a lion among them. "

"You don't seem to understand me!" Cried Wilbur restlessly, "do you think that I would really enjoy that?" Man, I've fought, fought with a bare knife, wrestled with a Chinese who snapped at me like an irritated monkey, and you tell me about pleasure, about dance! It wouldn't hurt you boys at all if you were shanghaied once and if it were of no use to anything else, it would at least give you the lack of seriousness. You make me sick with things like that, as if nothing else exists but thinking up dance and new tours. "

"So what are you going to do?" Asked Nat Ridgeway, "where are you going now - back to that Magdalena Bai?"

"No not that!"

"Where else to?"

Wilbur hit the table with his fist.

“To Cuba!” He shouted, “I have a small but seaworthy schooner anchored here in the bay and about a hundred thousand dollars on board! I also played coastal robbers for a while, why shouldn't I keep going on adventures? This idea may sound crazy, but it is certainly better than thinking about dancing. I'd rather lead an expedition than a cotillon, you can rely on it, Nathaniel Ridgeway. "

Jerry eyed him attentively as this Wilbur was standing in front of him, in a dirty, hideous smelling blouse and trousers, the ragged boots, a wild mane of hair and the shaggy beard. He remembered that Wilbur with the carefully pressed trousers, silk ties and shirts.

"You've changed, Ross!" Replied Jerry.

"You're right!" Replied Wilbur.

"But I will dare to predict something for you!" Said Jerry, giving Wilbur a serious look. “Ross Wilbur, you are a city person through and through, that is in your flesh and blood. I'll give you three years, by then your new point of view will be gone. Now you think you will have to spend the rest of your life as an adventurer. In less than three years you will be using your treasure, as you put it, or its interest to pay your taxes, the tailor, the rent for a church seat and your club dues, but you will be what the newspaper writers "make." to be called a respectable member of society. "

"Have you ever killed someone, Jerry?" Asked Wilbur instead of answering. "Well then, kill one in an honest fight, and you will find out how you feel, how something like that changes people, and then come and tell me your opinion!"

It was long past midnight. Wilbur got up.

“We're going to ring for a boy,” Ridgeway said, “so you can get a room. I can help you out with clothes tomorrow too. "

Wilbur looked at him in astonishment, then replied:

"No, I have to go to the schooner, I can't leave the coolies alone all night."

"You don't mean to say that you're going on board now, in the middle of the night?"

"Of course!"

"But you can catch a cold!"

Wilbur looked at Ridgeway, horrified, but then nodded resignedly, scratched his head and said half out loud:

“No, it's pointless, they don't get it. Good night! See you tomorrow morning! "

"We'll all come and see you on your yacht!" Ridgeway shouted after him, but Wilbur heard nothing more. At Wilbur's whistle, Jim took the boat over to him.

Moran met him as he stepped onto the ship.

"I took the night watch myself and let the coolies go to sleep," she said, "how is it on land, mate?"

"Moran, we have returned to the world of nothing," Wilbur said.

"But we set sail in the morning so that we can get to areas where there is reality!"

“Your news is good, mate! Let's go to the quarterdeck, I have a suggestion to make. "

Moran put her arm around his shoulder and they both moved aft.

For more than half an hour he seriously presented his new plans to her.

When he began to speak of battle and adventure, the very thought inflamed him, his cheeks glowed, his eyes shone.

But suddenly he broke off.

“No, no,” he exclaimed, “you don't understand, Moran. How then, you are a stranger in this country. It wouldn't be for you! "

“Maat, mate,” Moran called again, putting his hands on his shoulders, “it is you who do not understand, who do not understand me. Don't you feel it, don't you see it Your people are mine too. I can only be happy when it is you! You were right, the best gift is the one you share. Your worries belong to me too, just as I belong to you! Dearest! Your enemies are mine too, your fight is my fight too! "

She pulled his head towards her and kissed Wilbur.

In the morning the two of them had already decided on a plan, albeit a rather vague one.

A goal was initially set ... get away from here, somewhere!

Moran was by nature not made for civilization, but in Wilbur's blood the urge for adventure and the joy of action had suddenly come to life.

So they decided to go to San Francisco, sell the treasure, liquidate the insurance, complete the equipment of the "Bertha Millner" and go back to sea.

They had wondered if it would be wise to circumnavigate Cape Horn in such a small ship, but Moran was determined.

“I've got to know the schooner very well,” said Moran. “It's as healthy as a nut. So just get away from here! "

But around ten in the morning, just as they were about to go under sail, Hoang touched Wilbur's arm.

"See a steamboat, come on, quickly!"

Indeed, a steam pinasse was approaching the schooner quickly.

In the next instant she was alongside.

Jerry, Nat Ridgeway, Josie Herrick, and an elderly lady whom Wilbur vaguely recognized as a married sister of Miss Herrick were on deck.

"We have come to admire your yacht!" Called Miss Herrick Wilbur as the pinnace bumped against the hull of the schooner. "Can we get on board?" Wilbur gave her a big look.

"You my God!" He managed. "Yes, come on!"

The company stepped onto the deck.

"Oh God!" Said Josie Herrick and stopped as if spellbound.

The deck, the masts, the railing of the schooner stared with dirt, the sails were gray, a hideous stench of oil and tar, opium, Chinese fire sponge and dried fish hit the guests.

In the middle of the deck stood Hoang and Jim, bared to the girth, their braids tied around their necks. The Chinese were just tying up the boat, throwing Chinese exclamations at each other like balls.

Miss Herrick's sister had not come on board.

The three visitors, Jerry, Ridgeway and Josie, huddled nervously against each other, as if they were afraid of contaminating their immaculate white clothes on the filthy schooner.

They shone out of this environment.

"Oh God!" Repeated Josie with half-closed eyes in horror, "what may they have all been through! I thought you had some kind of yacht.I was unaware that this was the sight waiting for me here. "

As she spoke, Moran stepped out from behind the foresail and approached the group. She stopped in surprise, her thumbs hooked in her belt. She still wore men's clothes and high boots. The rough blue shirt was open at the neck, the sleeves half rolled up. The Scandinavian dagger was stuck in the belt. As usual, she was without a hat, the heavy braids of her grainy blond hair fell over her shoulders and chest to under her belt.

Miss Herrick winced, and Moran looked inquiringly at Wilbur.

He gathered up all his courage.

"Miss Herrick," he said, "this is Moran - Moran Sternersen."

Moran stepped forward a little, held out her hand. Josie, still frightened, put her slender fingers in her large hand and looked anxiously into Moran's face.

"I'm happy," said Josie weakly, almost breathless, "I'm happy to meet Miss Sternersen."

It took a long time for this image to fade from Wilbur's mind.

Josie Herrick, slim, dressed in white - and Moran, daughter of the Vikings, belted, in boots, Josie Herrick towering high and clasping the delicate hand in her big fist.

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