“Can’t find him nowhere, sir. Door locked this morning; hadn’t used his bed; must have come aboard, for there was a violin lying on the bed in a black box, for all the world like a coffin, sir. Queer, ain’t it?”
The steward was called away, but Helwyse’s uneasiness had returned. Did this fellow suspect nothing? The student of men could not read his face; the power of insight seemed to have left him. Reason could tell him that it was impossible he should be suspected, but reason no longer satisfied him.
He left the cabin and once more sought the deck, harried and anxious. Why could not he be stolid and indifferent, as were many worse criminals than he? Or was his disquiet a gauge of his moral accountability? By as much as he was more finely gifted than other men, was the stain of sin upon his soul more ineffaceable? Last night, ignorance was the only evil; but had he been satisfied with less wisdom, might he not have sinned with more impunity? Nevertheless, Balder Helwyse would hardly have been willing to purchase greater ease at the price of being less a man.
The steamer descended the narrow and swift current of East River, rounded Castle Garden, and reached her pier before eight o’clock. Shoulder to shoulder with the other passengers, Helwyse descended the gangplank. The official who took his ticket eyed him so closely that there was the beginning of an impulse in his weary brain to knock the fellow down. Finding himself not interfered with, however, he passed on to the rattling street, beginning to understand that the attention he excited was not owing to a visible brand of Cain, but to his beard and hair which were at variance with the fashion of that day. He was neither more nor less a cynosure than at other times. But he was more sensitive to notice, and it now occurred to him that his unique appearance was unsafe as well as irksome. Were a certain body found, in connection with evidence more or less circumstantial, how readily might he be pointed out! He fancied himself reading the description in a newspaper, and realized how many and how easily noted were his peculiarities. His carelessness of public remark had been folly. The sooner his peculiarities were amended, the better!
At the corner of the street stood a couple of policemen,—ponderous, powerful men, able between them to carry to jail the most refractory criminal. One path was open to Helwyse, whereby to recover his self-respect, and regain his true footing with the world; and that led into the hands of those policemen! With a revulsion of feeling perhaps less strange than it seems, he walked up to them, resolved to surrender himself on a charge of murder. It was the simplest issue to his embarrassments.
“Policemen!” he began, with a return of his assured voice and bearing. They stared at him, and one said, “How?”
“Direct me to the best hotel near here!” said Helwyse.
They stared, and told him the way to the Astor House.