Away clattered the sabots up the steep stairs, and away they scurried down the bare corridor to Joplin’s room. There Tine knocked. Hearing no response she pushed open the door and looked in. The room was empty! Then she noticed that the bed had not been slept in, nor had anything on the washstand been used. Stepping in softly for some explanation of the unusual occurrence—no such thing had ever happened in her experience, not unless she had been notified in advance—her eye rested on a letter addressed to Stebbins propped up in full view against a book on Joplin’s table. Catching it up as offering the only explanation of his unaccountable disappearance, she raced downstairs and, crossing the cobbles on a run, laid the letter in Stebbins’s hand.
“For me, Tine?”
The girl nodded, her eyes on the painter’s.
The painter broke the seal and his face grew serious. Then he beckoned to Marny and read the contents aloud, the others crowding close:
Keep my things until I send for them. I take the night train for Rotterdam. Tell Schonholz I’ll join him there and go on with him to Fizzenbad. Sorry to leave this way, but I could not bear to bid you all good-by. Joplin.
That night the table was one prolonged uproar. The conspirators had owned up frankly to their share of the villany, and were hard at work concocting plans for its undoing. Marny was the one man in the group that would not be pacified; nothing that either Pudfut, Stebbins or Malone had said or could say changed his mind—and the discussion, which had lasted all day, brought him no peace.
“Drove him out!—that’s what you did, you bull-headed Englishman—you and Malone and Stebbins ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If I had known what you fellows were up to I’d have pitched you all over the dike. Cost Joppy a lot of money and break up all his summer work! What did you want to guy him like that for and send him off to be scalded and squirted on in a damned Dutch—”
“But we didn’t think he’d take it as hard as that.”
“You didn’t, didn’t you! What did you think he’d do? Didn’t you see how sensitive and nervous he was? The matter with you fellows is that Joppy is a thoroughbred and you never saw one of his kind in your life. Ever since he got here you’ve done nothing but jump all over him and try to rile him, and he never squawked once—came up smiling every time. He’s a thoroughbred—that’s what he is!”
The days that followed were burdened with a sadness the coterie could not shake off. Whatever they had laughed at and derided in Joplin they now longed for. The Bostonian may have been a nuisance in one way, but he had kept the ball of conversation rolling —had started it many times—and none of the others could fill his place. Certain of his views became respected. “As dear old Joppy used to say,” was a common expression, and “By Jove, he was right!” not an uncommon opinion. In conformity with his teachings, Marny reduced his girth measure an inch and his weight two pounds—not much for Marny, but extraordinary all the same when his appetite was considered.