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The Bishop's Jaegers
DINNER IS SERVED
LISTEN, Peter,' said Jo a few minutes later. 'Do you know any poetry?'
Peter skidded back to consciousness with a wince. His arm was bad. Little flames of pain licking stiff flesh.
'What's that?' he asked, blinking at the girl. 'Do I know any what?'
'Poetry,' said Jo. 'You know. Like Milton or Ogden Nash?'
'I can't quote a line written by either gentleman,' Peter told her. 'Did you wake me up with the weird hope that I'd say little pieces for you?'
'No,' went on Jo, 'but if you're sure you don't know any poetry and you swear never to learn any, I'll give you a cup of chicken soup and a chunk of the chicken from which it oozed.'
'I don't know any poetry and I never will,' said Peter in a disgusted voice. 'I don't feel at all like poetry unless it's composed entirely of bad words.'
'Good!' exclaimed Jo, then hesitated. It could not be true. 'Sure you don't know anything about the mighty God that made you and you're white, clean white, inside?' She asked, watching his face anxiously.
'No,' said Peter, 'and I doubt very much if I am. Got a lot of different colours inside. So have you.'
'Let's not go into that,' Jo hastily put in. 'Here, take this soup and get that inside. Little Arthur, break out your magic knife and carve that ruddy chicken. I've got some cake and a small ration of coffee.'
She produced the cake and thermos bottle. Little Arthur placed the chicken between Aspirin Liz and the Bishop, then attacked it with his invaluable knife. Peter sat drinking an exceedingly pungent liquid which was nearer to chicken grease than chicken soup. However, it was hot and had food value in it. The other passengers looked on with expressions ranging from greed and envy to revulsion bordering on nausea. The little group, through lack of even the most primitive implements, was forced to be rough in its dealings with the chicken. Even Bishop Waller went at his section with tooth and nail. Yolanda strove to be dainty about it and nearly lost her share as a consequence. Soon she was gnawing away as cheerfully as the rest of them.
'My dear,' said Bishop Waller after his portion had disappeared into the pontificial belly, 'my dear young lady, how did you manage the chicken, may I ask?'
'We stole him or her,' Josephine replied. 'Little Arthur and I.'
The good Bishop thought this over, with a slight frown on his fine face. At last his expression cleared, and he favoured Jo with a smile.
'I am glad I asked that question after rather than before eating,' he admitted with happy sophistry. 'It was a delicious chicken in spite of the irregular circumstances surrounding its getting. But perhaps the less said the easier digested.'
'Was it already cooked?' asked Aspirin Liz.
'No,' replied Josephine. 'Just dead. We cooked it down in the engine room. There's the sweetest man there with a dirty black face and grimy hands. He helped us cook it.'
'Oh, dear!' murmured Yolanda, looking as if she had been poisoned. 'A dirty black man!'
'Only his hands and face,' Jo protested. 'Don't know about the rest of his body. May have been as white as yours, if that's saying anything.'
'It's saying too much,' Yolanda retorted. 'What did you cook it in?'
'A couple of old ashpans,' Jo informed her.
'My word!' said Yolanda, looking at the others with round eyes. 'Think what we have inside us besides chicken!'
'A lot of satisfaction,' Peter put in, 'where before there was nothing but craving. Good work, Jo! Our tame thief is a credit to his profession.'
'May I ask,' began the Bishop, 'why you occasionally refer to this seemingly harmless little chap as being a thief and a criminal?'
'Because he is,' Jo answered proudly. 'A regular thief.'
'Only a pickpocket, yer honour,' Little Arthur pro-tested. 'Just pockets, yer know. Little pockets. Never much in 'em.'
'But you take what little there is, don't you, Little Arthur?' Jo insisted.
'Nobody ever minds much,' he answered.
'Nobody has much these days to mind,' Aspirin Liz observed. 'You'll have better and bigger pockets to pick before you die, Little Arthur.'
'I'm thinking of giving it up,' he declared. 'Now that I've met a holy man—a real, live bishop, that is.'
'Splendid, Little Arthur! Splendid!' cried the Bishop. 'I'm gratified my presence has done some good. You might celebrate your career of regeneration by returning to me the watch you borrowed when Mr. Van Dyck asked for the time out there on deck. I've been wondering which of you had it.'
'Honest,' said Little Arthur, producing the watch from a side pocket, 'that watch had just gone clean out of my mind.'
'Very little can go clean out of your mind,' Aspirin Liz assured him.
'Honest, now,' the small crook repeated. 'Honest. I mean it. The Bishop shouldn't take out a valuable watch like that in a lot of wet fog. It's fairly criminal, it is. He'll spoil it.'
'It was most unwise, I'll admit, with you around,' said the Bishop with a benevolent smile as he courteously accepted the watch. 'However, all's well that ends well. We'll say no more about it.'
'Thank you, yer honour,' said Little Arthur gratefully.
'Your extensive acquaintance with judges, I imagine, has led you into error,' the Bishop continued. 'I do not judge men professionally, Little Arthur. Rather, I endeavour to save them. Privately, I have my own opinions which, I am sorry to say, are not high—far, far from high. I am not "your honour." If you insist on a title I might bear up beneath the weight of "your reverence."'
'Thank you, yer reverence,' said Little Arthur. 'Nice-sounding name, that—yer reverence. Never liked "yer honour" much. Always meant worry and trouble and a lot of—'
'Lying,' Jo helpfully supplied.
A large, rough-looking person wearing a strangely ingratiating smile had been standing for some minutes gazing down from his impressive height upon the remains of the chicken. It speaks well for Josephine Duval's character that she never suspected any one of being really bad at heart save herself, and she rarely if ever thought much about that. A few other passengers had gathered unobtrusively round the outskirts of the large rough-looking man.
'Young lady,' he now inquired, addressing Jo, in tones of respectful admiration, 'that was a mighty slick trick you did with that chicken. How did you manage to work it, if I may be so bold?'
Flushed with triumph, Jo turned to one whom she fondly believed to be her latest conquest.
'You're right it was a slick trick,' she told him. 'When it comes to the survival of the fittest you can't afford to stand on ceremony.'
'I should say not,' the man replied, a little over-enthusiastically. 'What did you do, miss? Let me in on it.'
'What did I do? Why, I helped myself, of course,' she asserted. 'And this little beggar helped me.'
'I found it,' Little Arthur proudly declared.
'Oh,' said the man, beaming so energetically he looked as if he were going to explode. 'So you found it. Now, that is good.' His voice dropped to a confidential whisper. 'And where did you find it, miss?' he asked.
'That would be telling,' Josephine hedged.
'Go on, miss,' the great man almost whined. 'Why not tell us? We're all hungry, too—like yourselves.'
'I suspect the integrity of that large individual's motives,' Bishop Waller murmured to Peter.
'There's an air about him,' agreed Peter. 'A faint suggestion of menace.'
Jo looked undecidedly at the man for a moment, then her impressionable French heart melted. Besides, it would cost her nothing. Furthermore, she decided, when a man as big as this one got hungry all over he was a danger to leis fellow men until glutted with food.
'Well, I'll tell you,' she began. 'There's a boob of a lorry-driver aboard this ferry—'
A spasm of terrific emotion passed over the great man's face.
'Yes, miss,' he broke in, his voice trembling with what Jo fully believed to be eagerness. 'You said a boob of a truckman. Hear that, everybody. Ha, ha! A boob of a lorry-driver! That's good! Oh, that's very good!'
Pleased by the reception of her words, Josephine endeavoured to better them.
'Yes,' she continued, 'a regular boob of a lorry-driver. Must be a poor fish—'
'Ha!' cried the great man. 'A poor fish, eh? So he's a poor fish no less than a boob?'
Jo nodded quite seriously.
'Yes,' she said. 'Do you know what he did, the saphead?'
'What did he do, lady?' the man whispered, as if he were having trouble with his throat. 'Tell us what the saphead did.'
'Why, he left his lorry unguarded,' replied Jo. 'That's what the saphead did just strolled off and left his lorry flat.'
'And what did you do?' asked the great man.
'My dear,' broke in Bishop Waller, 'I strongly advise against any further exchange of confidences.'
But the Bishop's cautious admonition came too late. Jo was in full cry.
'What did we do?' replied the girl. 'Why, naturally, we helped ourselves. Little Arthur there yanked out his knife, cut a hole through the canvas covering, and reached out a chicken just as easy as taking a rabbit from a hat. And the funny part of it is the half-wit who's driving the lorry isn't any the wiser yet. When he discovers that hole I'd like to take a look at his face.'
An amazing transformation had taken place in the great man's features. They were congealed now in an expression of superhuman malevolence in which a smile of tremendous bitterness cracked about his bared teeth. Outside of the movies Jo had never seen such a face, such an evil, sadistic mask. The man was wheezing as if some one had kicked him in the stomach.
'You'd like to see his face?' he gasped; then, squatting with surprising agility, he flung out : 'Then take a good look at it. This is his face, see—the boob's face, the face of the poor fish—the—the—the —' his voice broke in a sob of rage— 'the face of the saphead. Take a good look at it,'
But Jo had looked at the man's face once, and it was the last thing in the world she wanted to do again. It was nothing to see, that face. As a matter of fact, it was too much to see. The girl closed her eyes, but that awful face still hung suspended in her memory. Then the face moved and brought its baleful influence directly to bear on Little Arthur, who recoiled in mortal terror. Still squatting and with hands extended, their fingers suggestively working, the owner of the face drew near to Little Arthur. In a surprisingly short space of time he was dangling in mid-air and then approaching both his mortal as well as rear end at a high rate of speed. With an effect of complete finality the small man made a large noise as he hit the deck and remained very much there.
Then, as if what had already occurred had not been sufficiently surprising, an even more surprising element literally mingled itself with the situation. Before the great face had time to pick up Little Arthur and do some more things with him, Bishop Waller, with a roar of righteous indignation, launched himself in defence of his so recently acquired convert. It was a magnificent and inspiring spectacle. It became even more stupendous when the bared ecclesiastical head established resounding contact with the ungodly abdomen of the lorry-driver and sent him crashing to the planks. Outside, the fog horn told the fog what the ferry-boat thought of it, waves splashed against the sides, and ghostly voices drifted past, but within the cosy cabin the lorry-driver lay stunned while Josephine and Aspirin Liz took up positions and stood waiting for the kill.
In the meantime the highly edifying passengers, feeling sure the lorry-driver would never survive to drive his lorry to its destination, made a general movement in its direction. One can gain no true conception of the rugged determination of commuters, of their resource and clever teamwork, until one has witnessed them in concerted action. Respectable husbands and fathers—not to mention business executives, clerks and stenographers—literally swarmed all over the lorry. Men accustomed to the feel of golf clubs now swung chickens aloft with equal dexterity. The backbone of the nation was looking for its grub and finding it in lavish quantities. Presently other lorries were attacked by fresh detachments of commuters unable to find standing room on the original one. Every one seemed to have entered into the spirit of the occasion. Every one was alert and eager, ready to do his or her bit. Outcries of gratification could be heard as new discoveries were made. In vain did the drivers of the lorries protest. They were borne down and walked over by the sheer weight of numbers.
It was upon this scene of pillage and confusion that the originator of the outbreak opened his shocked and amazed eyes. With dawning comprehension he saw several figures, each provided with one of his chickens, dart through the small door leading to the engine room. It was enough to drive the past from his memory. The present was all-important. With a wild cry he sprang to his feet and staggered to the defence of his lorry which, by the time he reached it, contained little to defend.
Bishop Waller with a sigh of relief sank back on the seat and received the congratulations of the party. Loudest among these were those of Little Arthur, now partially recovered from his cataclysmic contact with the deck.
'I don't know what has come over me,' the good Bishop observed rather sadly. 'It must be this fog. First I lend my voice to an already sufficiently undignified and acrimonious dispute with an unseen ship, then calmly enter this cabin and assault one of our fellow creatures after having devoured his property. I have forsaken God, I fear.'
'But what that monster was doing to me was something fearful, yer reverence,' Little Arthur advanced consolingly. 'You arrived in the nick of time. I was nearly jarred out, I was.'
'Granted,' responded the Bishop, 'I had some slight provocation, but, Little Arthur, for all of that, it would gall me immeasurably to lose my chance of salvation through saving your wicked life, as invaluable as it may be to you.'
Not knowing which end of this observation to accept, Little Arthur maintained a discreet silence.
In the meantime the situation was developing in the engine room. The man with the black face was telephoning passionately to the captain.
'Yes, sir,' he was telling him. 'They're stealing all my fire, every blessed damn coal.'
'What do they want with your fire?' the captain wanted to know. 'It ain't as cold as all that.'
'They're trying to cook some chickens,' the black face roared.
'Where did they find the chickens?' came back the skipper's voice.
'How should I know that?' screamed the engineer. 'And does it really matter? Maybe they flew aboard.'
'Did you say chickens?' asked the skipper. 'Sure they're not seagulls?'
'Think I don't know the difference between a seagull and a chicken?' the other end of the wire inquired none too pleasantly.
'Not saying you don't,' said the captain. 'But a seagull and a chicken might look a lot alike when they're skinned or unfrocked or whatever they are when all their feathers are off.'
'They look altogether different,' said the engineer with cold dignity. 'And the word is "plucked" in case you want to use it some time.'
'How do they intend to cook these chickens?' asked the captain, a note of real interest creeping into his voice.
'Fricassee,' howled the engineer, his black face becoming swollen with anger.
'Not a bad way,' said the skipper thoughtfully. 'Very fond of chicken fricassee. You know, Charlie,'—and here his voice took on a persuasive note—' you see, Charlie, I've been thinking. We've been a long time without food. The way things stand I don't know where the hell we are and where the hell we're going, and as long as that fire ain't doing us any good we might as well be using it for something. What do you say, Charlie?'
For a few moments Charlie was unfit to say anything.
'I say,' he managed to get out at last, 'that my engine room ain't no damned galley for a flock of commuters with their goddam chickens. That's what I say.'
'But listen, Charlie,' said the skipper, trying to reason with the man, 'fricasseed chicken's mighty nice eating when it's properly done.'
'Should we be worrying about fricasseed chicken,' demanded Charlie, 'when it looks like the fishes will be gnawing on our bones?'
'Might as well gnaw on the chicken's bones first,' came the philosophic voice of the skipper. 'Gnaw and let gnaw, say I. How about it, Charlie?'
For reply the telephone broke into an incoherent babble. The skipper hung up the receiver, called a weary-looking deckhand, and went below to deal in person with the situation.
It was a strange scene indeed that greeted the skipper's gaze. Had it been not quite so small, the engine room or stokehold of the ship would have called to mind a prairie dotted by the fires of early American settlers engaged in cooking their rude evening meal. Perhaps it was because the place was entirely treeless that the captain gained this impression. One glance was sufficient to convince him it would be difficult to find a more unusual situation on any ferry-boat anywhere. Commuters, squatting in all positions, were holding chickens or various parts of chickens above piles of glowing coals. So frequently were such figures encountered that the captain found it difficult to walk without stepping on one of his passengers. The room was pervaded with an appetizing aroma of sizzling fowl. It was enough to make his eyes as well as his mouth water. In a corner of the compartment the engineer was standing with a newspaper raised between himself and his uninvited guests. After his conversation with his superior officer he had apparently lost all interest in what was going on in his engine room.
'Hello, Charlie,' said the skipper smoothly. 'Catching up with the news, I see.'
'Why not?' replied Charlie over the rim of his paper. 'You seem to care more about chicken than running this here ship. I'm interested in racing, myself. Picking to-morrow's winners.'
'Well,' observed the skipper, 'from the way it looks now you'll have to cable in your selection from mid-Atlantic. I don't even smell land about, but I do smell chicken.' He smiled engagingly down upon his passengers. 'You've taken things into your own hands, I see,' he continued in a not unfriendly voice. 'Well, I'll tell you what we'll do. If you provide us with a brace of chickens, we'll let you continue cooking yours.'
Several chickens were immediately produced and offered for the inspection of the skipper. Selecting two promising specimens of looted fowl, he turned to the newspaper.
'Charlie,' he began, 'what do you know about cooking chickens? Here are two beautiful birds.'
'Everything,' replied Charlies surprisingly. 'Slip me these chickens and I'll show these home-loving-trainsnatchers how to cook. I don't care what happens to this engine room any more.'
He rigged up his odd-looking oven and put the chickens through their paces. As he watched the expressions of envy on the faces of the pioneers gathered round him, his annoyance died away and he felt himself a little consoled.
'Can't you cram just one more in that contraption?' a voice asked wistfully. 'My fingers are better done than my chicken.'
Good-naturedly the black-faced man complied with the request. Some time later when the skipper emerged from the stokehold on his way to the pilot house, he was gnawing an a chicken's leg and carrying various carefully selected ports in his other hand. The driver of the assaulted truck followed the happy man's progress with gloomy, misanthropic eyes.
'Gord,' he muttered, 'what a trip this turned out to be. Even the captain himself is no better than a thief.'
Quiet water and moonlight and a world lost in fog. Hardly any one awake now. A few shadows by the rail. Sleep had overcome the commuters, their stomachs no longer empty. Back in the cabin they, the commuters, were draped and crumpled about in fantastic shapes as if a spell had been laid upon the ferry, its passengers turned to inanimate objects, inanimate save for the noises they made in their sleep. These are never attractive.
Moonbeams strained through fog—an eerie effect. It was like living inside a huge halo, its edges washed by black infinity. The ferry glided smoothly on, ever maintaining its position in the centre of a white circle. It was as if New York had been packed in cotton and magically removed. There was no New York, no Jersey shore, no open bay slashed by the prows of ships. Only fog horns sounded remotely in the darkness, and the occasional warning clang of a bell.
'Sounds like a cow out there in the fog,' said Peter to the girl leaning on the rail beside him. 'A lonely cow with a bell on grazing among the waves.'
'The old girl will get all foggy inside,' said Josephine poetically. 'Maybe we're scaling a Swiss Alp and are coming to a pasture.'
'Wouldn't mind that in the least,' said Peter.
'But wouldn't I be a drawback?' she asked. 'A sort of depraved lady fly reclining brazenly in the ointment?'
Peter looked down into the face upturned to his. Full lips a little moist, and shadows round the eyes. Somehow she contrived to make herself every inch a woman. And she made every inch felt.
'You're more like a wicked spider,' he told her thoughtfully. 'A dangerously attractive spideress.'
He heard her laugh softly and did not dislike the sound.
'I cling to the words "attractive," "wicked," and "dangerous," 'she said. 'They are more than I usually get from you. How about going inside and lying down?'
'A dangerous spideress would make a suggestion like that,' he observed.
'I mean on opposite sides of the ship,' she assured him. 'Under the circumstances your interpretation would be madness.'
'Then I say, no go,' he said. 'My head feels too giddy to park itself anywhere at present, and this damn arm keeps on throbbing. I like it out here with you.'
'Yes, strange as that may seem.'
'I don't think it's so strange. After all, I'm sort of nice.'
'Can't quite see you as being nice, Jo. You're not at all that way. You're really a very bad girl.'
'That's how I mean,' she agreed. 'I'm nice and bad.'
'Just plain bad,' he said. 'Why did you tell Aunt Sophie and Sanders and all those people that you were going to have a baby by me?'
'Well, aren't I, some time, maybe?' she asked. 'I thought I could read the writing on the wall.'
'To begin with you're not,' said Peter, 'and in the second place if you were going to have one of my babies there'd be no writing on the wall about it.'
'All right, mister,' she answered with a little shrug. 'Perhaps the wish was father to the thought.'
'Your prospective babies are none of my business.'
'You're a hard man, Peter Van Dyck.'
'But a just one,' said Peter.
'Can't you find a little moral weakness somewhere about you?'
Silence. Jo moved her tireless young body closer to the man's good arm. She liked being there. He was such a clean man. Daring little dreams came to her across the water—half-formed hopes swaddled in fog. But deep in her heart Josephine did not have any too much hope. Her confidence was all on the surface.
'You're letting me stay mighty close to you.'
'Why bring the matter to my attention?'
'Do you like us this way, Peter, all scrunched up?'
'The way you phrase it hardly presents an idyllic picture to my eyes. Scrunched up—no. Make it better.'
'I suppose you're such an old stick you just can't help being a stickler. Scrunched up is a fine way. It's so cosy.'
'Sounds almost immoral.'
'Your mind is much worse than mine, Peter.'
'Wouldn't be a bit surprised, young lady.'
'I'm glad you told me, Peter. I like your mind that way.'
'You deliberately make it that way. I think I'll call you a troll.'
'Oh, what a word to call me! I rather like it, too. I'd have done well in the days of Falstaff.'
'You'd have run the fat knight ragged.'
'Sir John was ragged most of the time—spiritually as well as sartorially.'
'You and Sir John have much in common,' said Peter, considering her thoughtfully. 'Do you read books ever?'
'Mostly pornography,' she told him. 'I read until I come to the nasty parts, then I stop to think of you.'
'Please spare me your thoughts.'
Silence again. The slow indolent churning of propellers and the crinkling splash of waves gossiping sleepily under the bow.
'All right. What now?'
'Isn't it funny about being in love and all?'
'I don't know. What are you trying to drag me into?'
'I mean about being in love,' the girl went on in a small reflective voice. 'When you are in love, I mean. It's so swell if everything's okay. Not quite so lonely any more, and everything takes on a fresh meaning—because much more interesting. Even dull things. Happy days waiting just round the corner. And all the time you're kind of quiet and still inside. It's like waiting for the curtain to go up or just after it's gone down. And you have private thoughts about God, and wonder if you're all right with Him and if He's going to see you through. Whenever you pass a furniture store you stop to look at the beds. I like a nice bed, Peter. Don't you?'
'I feared you would end up on some lewd note,' he remarked, secretly feeling the mood behind her words. 'What have we in common with a bed?'
'I don't mean right now, Peter. Not this very minute. But some day we might own a bed between us, don't you think?'
'How should I know? We might own a flock of beds.'
'Oh, you mean the babies. About how many babies would you like?'
Peter grinned at the fog.
'Oh, anywhere between five and ten,' he told her.
'I might manage five,' she said, 'but ten—oh, why bother about that now? We'll see how we stack up after the first five.'
'Sure,' replied Peter. We'll take stock of ourselves then, but in the meantime, has it occurred to you that we're not even married yet?'
'It has,' Jo said regretfully.—' And what about Yolanda?'
'Yes,' said Peter in a flat voice.—' What about Yolanda?'
'Is it all fixed about our loving each other?'
'You seem to have arranged it quite nicely,' said Peter. He was more in earnest than he cared to admit even to himself.
'Go on, then,' she urged in a low voice. 'Say it just once. You can lie a little if you have to.'
'You mean tell you in cold blood—in so many words —that I love you?'
'I don't care how many words you use, but I would like you to do a little something about your blood. Can't you warm it up a bit? I've been like that about you for a long time.'
'How do you mean like that about me?' he asked. 'Go on and say it yourself.'
'I love you, Peter,' she said in a small voice.
Jo was no longer a bold girl. Rather crushed and subdued, if anything. A little timid. She had thought a lot about love, talked a lot about love, and practised it a little, but never before had she told a real live man she loved him and meant it as she did now. And Peter, looking down at her, whether it was because he was becoming a trifle delirious or just beginning to realize what previously he had vaguely suspected, decided it would not be at all difficult to tell Jo he loved her, provided he said it very quickly and slurred a little on the edges.
'IloveyouJo,' he said at full speed ahead. 'Damned if I don't.'
'God, how quick!' gasped Jo. 'Where did it get to? Never mind. It sounded swell while it lasted. And now?'
She held her face up to his. Peter complied. He was at it quite a while. Long enough to let the freshly risen Yolanda witness more than enough.
'Peter!' she cried. 'Are you mad?'
'Through and through,' he muttered, removing his lips from Jo's slightly parted ones.
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