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- The Blind Spot - 2/71 -
grace that without the blood will never come from training. Men noticed and women out of instinct cast curious furtive glances and then turned away; which was natural, inasmuch as the man was plainly old. But for all that many ventured a second glance--and wondered.
An old man with the poise of twenty, a strange face of remarkable features, swarthy, of an Eastern cast, perhaps Indian; whatever the certainty of the man's age there was still a lingering suggestion of splendid youth. If one persisted in a third or fourth look this suggestion took an almost certain tone, the man's age dwindled, years dropped from him, and the quizzical smile that played on the lips seemed a foreboding of boyish laughter.
We say foreboding because in this case it is not mistaken diction. Foreboding suggests coming evil; the laughter of boys is wholehearted. It was merely that things were not exactly as they should be; it was not natural that age should be so youthful. The fates were playing, and in this case for once in the world's history their play was crosswise.
It is a remarkable case from the beginning and we are starting from facts. The man crossed to the window of the Key Route ferry and purchased a ticket for Berkeley, after which, with the throng, he passed the turnstile and on to the boat that was waiting. He took the lower deck, not from choice, apparently, but more because the majority of his fellow passengers, being men, were bound in this direction. The same chance brought him to the cigar-stand. The men about him purchased cigars and cigarettes, and as is the habit of all smokers, strolled off with delighted relish. The man watched them. Had anyone noticed his eyes he would have noted a peculiar colour and a light of surprise. With the prim step that made him so distinctive he advanced to the news-stand.
"Pardon me; but I would like to purchase one of those." Though he spoke perfect English it was in a strange manner, after the fashion of one who has found something that he has just learned how to use. At the same time he made a suggestion with his tapered fingers indicating the tobacco in the case. The clerk looked up.
"A cigar, sir? Yes, sir. What will it be?"
"A cigar?" Again the strange articulation. "Ah, yes, that is it. Now I remember. And it has a little sister, the cigarette. I think I shall take a cigarette, if--if--if you will show me how to use it."
It was a strange request. The clerk was accustomed to all manner of men and their brands of humour; he was about to answer in kind when he looked up and into the man's eyes. He started.
"You mean," he asked, "that you have never seen a cigar or cigarette; that you do not know how to use them? A man as old as you are."
The stranger laughed. It was rather resentful, but for all that of a hearty taint of humour.
"So old? Would you say that I am as old as that; if you will look again--"
The young man did and what he beheld is something that he could not quite account for: the strange conviction of this remarkable man; of age melting into youth, of an uncertain freshness, the smile, not of sixty, but of twenty. The young man was not one to argue, whatever his wonder; he was first of all a lad of business; he could merely acquiesce.
"The first time! This is the first time you have ever seen a cigar or cigarette?"
The stranger nodded.
"The first time. I have never beheld one of them before this morning. If you will allow me?" He indicated a package. "I think I shall take one of these."
The clerk took up the package, opened the end, and shook out a single cigarette. The man lit it and, as the smoke poured out of his mouth, held the cigarette tentatively in his fingers.
"Like it?" It was the clerk who asked.
The other did not answer, his whole face was the expression of having just discovered one of the senses. He was a splendid man and, if the word may be employed of the sterner sex, one of beauty. His features were even; that is to be noted, his nose chiselled straight and to perfection, the eyes of a peculiar sombreness and lustre almost burning, of a black of such intensity as to verge into red and to be devoid of pupils, and yet, for all of that, of a glow and softness. After a moment he turned to the clerk.
"You are young, my lad."
"You are fortunate. You live in a wonderful age. It is as wonderful as your tobacco. And you still have many great things before you."
The man walked on to the forward part of the boat; leaving the youth, who had been in a sort of daze, watching. But it was not for long. The whole thing had been strange and to the lad almost inexplicable. The man was not insane, he was certain; and he was just as sure that he had not been joking. From the start he had been taken by the man's refinement, intellect and education. He was positive that he had been sincere. Yet--
The ferry detective happened at that moment to be passing. The clerk made an indication with his thumb.
"That man yonder," he spoke, "the one in black. Watch him." Then he told his story. The detective laughed and walked forward.
It was a most fortunate incident. It was a strange case. That mere act of the cigar clerk placed the police on the track and gave to the world the only clue that it holds of the Blind Spot.
The detective had laughed at the lad's recital--almost any one had a patent for being queer--and if this gentleman had a whim for a certain brand of humour that was his business. Nevertheless, he would stroll forward.
The man was not hard to distinguish; he was standing on the forward deck facing the wind and peering through the mist at the grey, heavy heave of the water. Alongside of them the dim shadow of a sister ferry screamed its way through the fogbank. That he was a landsman was evidenced by his way of standing; he was uncertain; at every heave of the boat he would shift sidewise. An unusually heavy roll caught him slightly off-balance and jostled him against the detective. The latter held up his hand and caught him by the arm.
"A bad morning," spoke the officer. "B-r-r-r! Did you notice the Yerbe Buena yonder? She just grazed us. A bad morning."
The stranger turned. As the detective caught the splendid face, the glowing eyes and the youthful smile, he started much as had done the cigar clerk. The same effect of the age melting into youth and--the officer being much more accustomed to reading men-- a queer sense of latent and potent vision. The eyes were soft and receptive but for all that of the delicate strength and colour that comes from abnormal intellect. He noted the pupils, black, glowing, of great size, almost filling the iris and the whole melting into intensity that verged into red. Either the man had been long without sleep or he was one of unusual intelligence and vitality.
"A nasty morning," repeated the officer.
"Ah! Er, yes--did you say it was a nasty morning? Indeed, I do not know, sir. However, it is very interesting."
"Stranger in San Francisco?"
"Well, yes. At least, I have never seen it."
"H-m!" The detective was a bit nonplussed by the man's evident evasion. "Well, if you are a stranger I suppose it is up to me to come to the defence of my city. This is one of Frisco's fogs. We have them occasionally. Sometimes they last for days. This one is a low one. It will lift presently. Then you will see the sun. Have you ever seen Frisco's sun?"
"My dear sir"--this same slow articulation--"I have never seen your sun nor any other."
It was an answer altogether unexpected. Again the officer found himself gazing into the strange, refined face and wonderful eyes. The man was not blind, of that he was certain. Neither was his voice harsh or testy. Rather was it soft and polite, of one merely stating a fact. Yet how could it be? He remembered the cigar clerk. Neither cigar nor sun! From what manner of land could the man come? A detective has a certain gift of intuition. Though on the face of it, outside of the man's personality, there could be nothing to it but a joke, he chose to act upon the impulse. He pulled back the door which had been closed behind them and re- entered the boat. When he returned the boat had arrived at the pier.
"You are going to Oakland?"
It was a chance question.
"No, to Berkeley. I take a train here, I understand. Do all the trains go to Berkeley?"
"By no means. I am going to Berkeley myself. We can ride together. My name is Jerome. Albert Jerome."
"Thanks. Mine is Avec. Rhamda Avec. I am much obliged. Your company may be instructive."
He did not say more, but watched with unrestrained interest their manoeuvre into the slip. A moment later they were marching with
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