IT WAS near noon of the next day that Rowland, seated in a steamer-chair with Myra and looking out on a sail-spangled stretch of blue from the saloon-deck of a west-bound liner, remembered that he had made no provisions to have Mrs. Selfridge notified by cable of the safety of her child; and unless Mr. Meyer or his associates gave the story to the press it would not be known.
“Well,” he mused, “joy will not kill, and I shall witness it in its fullness if I take her by surprise. But the chances are that it will get into the papers before I reach her. It is too good for Mr. Meyer to keep.”
But the story was not given out immediately. Mr. Meyer called a conference of the underwriters concerned with him in the insurance of the Titan at which it was decided to remain silent concerning the card they hoped to play, and to spend a little time and money in hunting for other witnesses among the Titan’s crew, and in interviewing Captain Barry, to the end of improving his memory. A few stormy meetings with this huge obstructionist convinced them of the futility of further effort in his direction, and, after finding at the end of a week that every surviving member of the Titan’s port watch, as well as a few of the other, had been induced to sign for Cape voyages, or had otherwise disappeared, they decided to give the story told by Rowland to the press in the hope that publicity would avail to bring to light corroboratory evidence.
And this story, improved upon in the repeating by Mr. Meyer to reporters, and embellished still further by the reporters as they wrote it up, particularly in the part pertaining to the polar bear,—blazoned out in the great dailies of England and the Continent, and was cabled to New York, with the name of the steamer in which John Rowland had sailed (for his movements had been traced in the search for evidence), where it arrived, too late for publication, the morning of the day on which, with Myra on his shoulder, he stepped down the gang-plank at a North River dock. As a consequence, he was surrounded on the dock by enthusiastic reporters, who spoke of the story and asked for details. He refused to talk, escaped them, and gaining the side streets, soon found himself in crowded Broadway, where he entered the office of the steamship company in whose employ he had been wrecked, and secured from the Titan’s passenger-list the address of Mrs. Selfridge—the only woman saved. Then he took a car up Broadway and alighted abreast of a large department store.
“We’re going to see mamma, soon, Myra,” he whispered in the pink ear; “and you must go dressed up. It don’t matter about me; but you’re a Fifth Avenue baby—a little aristocrat. These old clothes won’t do, now.” But she had forgotten the word “mamma,” and was more interested in the exciting noise and life of the street than in the clothing she wore. In the store, Rowland asked for, and was directed to the children’s department, where a young woman waited on him.
“This child has been shipwrecked,” he said. “I have sixteen dollars and a half to spend on it. Give it a bath, dress its hair, and use up the money on a dress, shoes, and stockings, underclothing, and a hat.” The young woman stooped and kissed the little girl from sheer sympathy, but protested that not much could be done.
“Do your best,” said Rowland; “it is all I have. I will wait here.”
An hour later, penniless again, he emerged from the store with Myra, bravely dressed in her new finery, and was stopped at the corner by a policeman who had seen him come out, and who marveled, doubtless, at such juxtaposition of rags and ribbons.
“Whose kid ye got?” he demanded.
“I believe it is the daughter of Mrs. Colonel Selfridge,” answered Rowland, haughtily—too haughtily, by far.
“Ye believe—but ye don’t know. Come back into the shtore, me tourist, and we’ll see who ye shtole it from.”
“Very well, officer; I can prove possession.” They started back, the officer with his hand on Rowland’s collar, and were met at the door by a party of three or four people coming out. One of this party, a young woman in black, uttered a piercing shriek and sprang toward them.
“Myra!” she screamed. “Give me my baby—give her to me.”
She snatched the child from Rowland’s shoulder, hugged it, kissed it, cried, and screamed over it; then, oblivious to the crowd that collected, incontinently fainted in the arms of an indignant old gentleman.
“You scoundrel!” he exclaimed, as he flourished his cane over Rowland’s head with his free arm. “We’ve caught you. Officer, take that man to the station-house. I will follow and make a charge in the name of my daughter.”
“Then he shtole the kid, did he?” asked the policeman.
“Most certainly,” answered the old gentleman, as, with the assistance of the others, he supported the unconscious young mother to a carriage. They all entered, little Myra screaming for Rowland from the arms of a female member of the party, and were driven off.
“C’m an wi’ me,” uttered the officer, rapping his prisoner on the head with his club and jerking him off his feet.
Then, while an approving crowd applauded, the man who had fought and conquered a hungry polar bear was dragged through the streets like a sick animal by a New York policeman. For such is the stultifying effect of a civilized environment.