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Title: Sundry Accounts
Author: Cobb, Irvin S. (Irvin Shrewsbury), 1876-1944
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sundry Accounts" ***

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SUNDRY ACCOUNTS

       *       *       *       *       *

BY IRVIN S. COBB


FICTION

SUNDRY ACCOUNTS
J. POINDEXTER, COLORED
BACK HOME
FROM PLACE TO PLACE
OLD JUDGE PRIEST
LOCAL COLOR
THOSE TIMES AND THESE
THE ESCAPE OF MR. TRIMM


WIT AND HUMOR

ONE THIRD OFF
A PLEA FOR OLD CAP COLLIER
THE ABANDONED FARMERS
THE LIFE OF THE PARTY
EATING IN TWO OR THREE LANGUAGES
"OH, WELL, YOU KNOW HOW WOMEN ARE!"
FIBBLE D. D.
"SPEAKING OF OPERATIONS----"
EUROPE REVISED
ROUGHING IT DE LUXE
COBB'S BILL OF FARE
COBB'S ANATOMY


MISCELLANY

THE THUNDERS OF SILENCE
THE GLORY OF THE COMING
PATHS OF GLORY
"SPEAKING OF PRUSSIANS----"


NEW YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

       *       *       *       *       *

SUNDRY ACCOUNTS

by

IRVIN S. COBB

Author of "Back Home," "Speaking of Operations--,"
"Old Judge Priest," Etc.



[Illustration: Publisher's logo]

New York
George H. Doran Company

Copyright, 1922,
by George H. Doran Company

[Illustration: Publisher's logo]

Printed in the United States of America



TO JOHN WILSON TOWNSEND, ESQUIRE



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                  PAGE

   I DARKNESS                              11

  II THE CATER-CORNERED SEX                57

 III A SHORT NATURAL HISTORY              104

  IV IT COULD HAPPEN AGAIN TO-MORROW      157

   V THE RAVELIN' WOLF                    212

  VI "WORTH 10,000"                       246

 VII MR. LOBEL'S APOPLEXY                 300

VIII ALAS, THE POOR WHIFFLETIT!           341

  IX PLENTIFUL VALLEY                     392

   X A TALE OF WET DAYS                   424



SUNDRY ACCOUNTS



CHAPTER I

DARKNESS


There was a house in this town where always by night lights burned. In
one of its rooms many lights burned; in each of the other rooms at least
one light. It stood on Clay Street, on a treeless plot among flower
beds, a small dull-looking house; and when late on dark nights all the
other houses on Clay Street were solid blockings lifting from the lesser
blackness of their background, the lights in this house patterned its
windows with squares of brilliancy so that it suggested a grid set on
edge before hot flames. Once a newcomer to the town, a transient guest
at Mrs. Otterbuck's boarding house, spoke about it to old Squire Jonas,
who lived next door to where the lights blazed of nights, and the answer
he got makes a fitting enough beginning for this account.

This stranger came along Clay Street one morning, and Squire Jonas, who
was leaning over his gate contemplating the world as it passed in
review, nodded to him and remarked that it was a fine morning; and the
stranger was emboldened to stop and pass the time of day, as the saying
goes.

"I'm here going over the books of the Bernheimer Distilling Company," he
said when they had spoken of this and that, "and, you know, when a
chartered accountant gets on a job he's supposed to keep right at it
until he's done. Well, my work keeps me busy till pretty late. And the
last three nights, passing that place yonder adjoining yours, I've
noticed she was all lit up like as if for a wedding or a christening or
a party or something. But I didn't see anybody going in or coming out,
or hear anybody stirring in there, and it struck me as blamed curious.
Last night--or this morning, rather, I should say--it must have been
close on to half-past two o'clock when I passed by, and there she was,
all as quiet as the tomb and still the lights going from top to bottom.
So I got to wondering to myself. Tell me, sir, is there somebody sick
over there next door?"

"Yes, suh," stated the squire, "I figure you might say there is somebody
sick there. He's been sick a powerful long time too. But it's not his
body that's sick; it's his soul."

"I don't know as I get you, sir," said the other man in a puzzled sort
of way.

"Son," stated the squire, "I reckin you've been hearin' 'em, haven't
you, singin' this here new song that's goin' 'round about, 'I'm Afraid
to Go Home in the Dark'? Well, probably the man who wrote that there
song never was down here in these parts in his life; probably he just
made the idea of it up out of his own head. But he might 'a' had the
case of my neighbor in his mind when he done so. Only his song is kind
of comical and this case here is about the most uncomic one you'd be
likely to run acrost. The man who lives here alongside of me is not only
afraid to go home in the dark but he's actually feared to stay in the
dark after he gets home. Once he killed a man and he come clear of the
killin' all right enough, but seems like he ain't never got over it; and
the sayin' in this town is that he's studied it out that ef ever he gets
in the dark, either by himself or in company, he'll see the face of that
there man he killed. So that's why, son, you've been seein' them lights
a-blazin'. I've been seein' 'em myself fur goin' on twenty year or more,
I reckin 'tis by now, and I've got used to 'em. But I ain't never got
over wonderin' whut kind of thoughts he must have over there all alone
by himself at night with everything lit up bright as day around him,
when by rights things should be dark. But I ain't ever asted him, and
whut's more, I never will. He ain't the kind you could go to him astin'
him personal questions about his own private affairs. We-all here in
town just accept him fur whut he is and sort of let him be. He's whut
you might call a town character. His name is Mr. Dudley Stackpole."

In all respects save one, Squire Jonas, telling the inquiring stranger
the tale, had the rights of it. There were town characters aplenty he
might have described. A long-settled community with traditions behind it
and a reasonable antiquity seems to breed curious types of men and women
as a musty closet breeds mice and moths. This town of ours had its town
mysteries and its town eccentrics--its freaks, if one wished to put the
matter bluntly; and it had its champion story-teller and its champion
liar and its champion guesser of the weight of livestock on the hoof.

There was crazy Saul Vance, the butt of cruel small boys, who deported
himself as any rational creature might so long as he walked a straight
course; but so surely as he came to where the road forked or two streets
crossed he could not decide which turning to take and for hours angled
back and forth and to and fro, now taking the short cut to regain the
path he just had quitted, now retracing his way over the long one, for
all the world like a geometric spider spinning its web. There was old
Daddy Hannah, the black root-and-yarb doctor, who could throw spells and
weave charms and invoke conjures. He wore a pair of shoes which had been
worn by a man who was hanged, and these shoes, as is well known, leave
no tracks which a dog will nose after or a witch follow, or a ha'nt.
Small boys did not gibe at Daddy Hannah, you bet you! There was Major
Burnley, who lived for years and years in the same house with the wife
with whom he had quarreled and never spoke a word to her or she to him.
But the list is overlong for calling. With us, in that day and time,
town characters abounded freely. But Mr. Dudley Stackpole was more than
a town character. He was that, it is true, but he was something else
besides; something which tabbed him a mortal set apart from his fellow
mortals. He was the town's chief figure of tragedy.

If you had ever seen him once you could shut your eyes and see him over
again. Yet about him there was nothing impressive, nothing in his port
or his manner to catch and to hold a stranger's gaze. With him,
physically, it was quite the other way about. He was a short spare man,
very gentle in his movements, a toneless sort of man of a palish gray
cast, who always wore sad-colored clothing. He would make you think of a
man molded out of a fog; almost he was like a man made of smoke. His
mode of living might testify that a gnawing remorse abode ever with him,
but his hair had not turned white in a single night, as the heads of
those suddenly stricken by a great shock or a great grief or any greatly
upsetting and disordering emotion sometimes are reputed to turn. Neither
in his youth nor when age came to him was his hair white. But for so
far back as any now remembered it had been a dullish gray, suggesting at
a distance dead lichens.

The color of his skin was a color to match in with the rest of him. It
was not pale, nor was it pasty. People with a taste for comparisons were
hard put to it to describe just what it was the hue of his face did
remind them of, until one day a man brought in from the woods the
abandoned nest of a brood of black hornets, still clinging to the
pendent twig from which the insect artificers had swung it. Darkies used
to collect these nests in the fall of the year when the vicious swarms
had deserted them. Their shredded parchments made ideal wadding for
muzzle-loading scatter-guns, and sufferers from asthma tore them down,
too, and burned them slowly and stooped over the smoldering mass and
inhaled the fumes and the smoke which arose, because the country
wiseacres preached that no boughten stuff out of a drug store gave such
relief from asthma as this hornet's-nest treatment. But it remained for
this man to find a third use for such a thing. He brought it into the
office of Gafford's wagon yard, where some other men were sitting about
the fire, and he held it up before them and he said:

"Who does this here hornet's nest put you fellers in mind of--this gray
color all over it, and all these here fine lines runnin' back and forth
and every which-a-way like wrinkles? Think, now--it's somebody you all
know."

And when they had given it up as a puzzle too hard for them to guess he
said:

"Why, ain't it got percisely the same color and the same look about it
as Mr. Dudley Stackpole's face? Why, it's a perfect imitation of him!
That's whut I said to myself all in a flash when I first seen it
bouncin' on the end of this here black birch limb out yonder in the
flats."

"By gum, if you ain't right!" exclaimed one of the audience. "Say, come
to think about it, I wonder if spendin' all his nights with bright
lights burnin' round him is whut's give that old man that gray color
he's got, the same as this wasp's nest has got it, and all them puckery
lines round his eyes. Pore old devil, with the hags furever ridin' him!
Well, they tell me he's toler'ble well fixed in this world's goods, but
poor as I am, and him well off, I wouldn't trade places with him fur any
amount of money. I've got my peace of mind if I ain't got anything else
to speak of. Say, you'd 'a' thought in all these years a man would get
over broodin' over havin' killed another feller, and specially havin'
killed him in fair fight. Let's see, now, whut was the name of the
feller he killed that time out there at Cache Creek Crossin's? I
actually disremember. I've heard it a thousand times, too, I reckin, if
I've heard it oncet."

For a fact, the memory of the man slain so long before only endured
because the slayer walked abroad as a living reminder of the taking off
of one who by all accounts had been of small value to mankind in his day
and generation. Save for the daily presence of the one, the very
identity even of the other might before now have been forgotten. For
this very reason, seeking to enlarge the merits of the controversy which
had led to the death of one Jesse Tatum at the hands of Dudley
Stackpole, people sometimes referred to it as the Tatum-Stackpole feud
and sought to liken it to the Faxon-Fleming feud. But that was a real
feud with fence-corner ambuscades and a sizable mortality list and
nighttime assassinations and all; whereas this lesser thing, which now
briefly is to be dealt with on its merits, had been no more than a
neighborhood falling out, having but a solitary homicide for its
climactic upshot. So far as that went, it really was not so much the
death of the victim as the survival of his destroyer--and his fashion of
living afterwards--which made warp and woof for the fabric of the
tragedy.

With the passage of time the actuating causes were somewhat blurred in
perspective. The main facts stood forth clear enough, but the underlying
details were misty and uncertain, like some half-obliterated scribble on
a badly rubbed slate upon which a more important sum has been overlaid.
One rendition had it that the firm of Stackpole Brothers sued the two
Tatums--Harve and Jess--for an account long overdue, and won judgment in
the courts, but won with it the murderous enmity of the defendant pair.
Another account would have it that a dispute over a boundary fence
marching between the Tatum homestead on Cache Creek and one of the
Stackpole farm holdings ripened into a prime quarrel by reasons of
Stackpole stubbornness on the one hand and Tatum malignity on the other.
By yet a third account the lawsuit and the line-fence matter were
confusingly twisted together to form a cause for disputation.

Never mind that part though. The incontrovertible part was that things
came to a decisive pass on a July day in the late 80's when the two
Tatums sent word to the two Stackpoles that at or about six o'clock of
that evening they would come down the side road from their place a mile
away to Stackpole Brothers' gristmill above the big riffle in Cache
Creek prepared to fight it out man to man. The warning was explicit
enough--the Tatums would shoot on sight. The message was meant for two,
but only one brother heard it; for Jeffrey Stackpole, the senior member
of the firm, was sick abed with heart disease at the Stackpole house on
Clay Street in town, and Dudley, the junior, was running the business
and keeping bachelor's hall, as the phrase goes, in the living room of
the mill; and it was Dudley who received notice.

Now the younger Stackpole was known for a law-abiding and a
well-disposed man, which reputation stood him in stead subsequently; but
also he was no coward. He might crave peace, but he would not flee from
trouble moving toward him. He would not advance a step to meet it,
neither would he give back a step to avoid it. If it occurred to him to
hurry in to the county seat and have his enemies put under bonds to keep
the peace he pushed the thought from him. This, in those days, was not
the popular course for one threatened with violence by another; nor,
generally speaking, was it regarded exactly as the manly one to follow.
So he bided that day where he was. Moreover, it was not of record that
he told anyone at all of what impended. He knew little of the use of
firearms, but there was a loaded pistol in the cash drawer of the mill
office. He put it in a pocket of his coat and through the afternoon he
waited, outwardly quiet and composed, for the appointed hour when
single-handed he would defend his honor and his brother's against the
unequal odds of a brace of bullies, both of them quick on the trigger,
both smart and clever in the handling of weapons.

But if Stackpole told no one, someone else told someone. Probably the
messenger of the Tatums talked. He currently was reputed to have a leaky
tongue to go with his jimberjaws; a born trouble maker, doubtless, else
he would not have loaned his service to such employment in the first
place. Up and down the road ran the report that before night there would
be a clash at the Stackpole mill. Peg-Leg Foster, who ran the general
store below the bridge and within sight of the big riffle, saw fit to
shut up shop early and go to town for the evening. Perhaps he did not
want to be a witness, or possibly he desired to be out of the way of
stray lead flying about. So the only known witness to what happened,
other than the parties engaged in it, was a negro woman. She, at least,
was one who had not heard the rumor which since early forenoon had been
spreading through the sparsely settled neighborhood. When six o'clock
came she was grubbing out a sorghum patch in front of her cabin just
north of where the creek cut under the Blandsville gravel pike.

One gets a picture of the scene: The thin and deficient shadows
stretching themselves across the parched bottom lands as the sun slid
down behind the trees of Eden's swamp lot; the heat waves of a
blistering hot day still dancing their devil's dance down the road like
wriggling circumflexes to accent a false promise of coolness off there
in the distance; the ominous emptiness of the landscape; the brooding
quiet, cut through only by the frogs and the dry flies tuning up for
their evening concert; the bandannaed negress wrangling at the weeds
with her hoe blade inside the rail fence; and, half sheltered within
the lintels of the office doorway of his mill, Dudley Stackpole, a slim,
still figure, watching up the crossroad for the coming of his
adversaries.

But the adversaries did not come from up the road as they had advertised
they would. That declaration on their part had been a trick and device,
cockered up in the hope of taking the foe by surprise and from the rear.
In a canvas-covered wagon--moving wagons, we used to call them in Red
Gravel County--they left their house half an hour or so before the time
set by them for the meeting, and they cut through by a wood lane which
met the pike south of Foster's store; and then very slowly they rode up
the pike toward the mill, being minded to attack from behind, with the
added advantage of unexpectedness on their side.

Chance, though, spoiled their strategy and made these terms of primitive
dueling more equal. Mark how: The woman in the sorghum patch saw it
happen. She saw the wagon pass her and saw it brought to a standstill
just beyond where she was; saw Jess Tatum slide stealthily down from
under the overhanging hood of the wagon and, sheltered behind it, draw a
revolver and cock it, all the while peeping out, searching the front and
the nearer side of the gristmill with his eager eyes. She saw Harve
Tatum, the elder brother, set the wheel chock and wrap the lines about
the sheathed whipstock, and then as he swung off the seat catch a boot
heel on the rim of the wagon box and fall to the road with a jar which
knocked him cold, for he was a gross and heavy man and struck squarely
on his head. With popped eyes she saw Jess throw up his pistol and fire
once from his ambush behind the wagon, and then--the startled team
having snatched the wagon from before him--saw him advance into the open
toward the mill, shooting again as he advanced.

All now in the same breath and in a jumble of shock and terror she saw
Dudley Stackpole emerge into full sight, and standing clear a pace from
his doorway return the fire; saw the thudding frantic hoofs of the nigh
horse spurn Harve Tatum's body aside--the kick broke his right leg, it
turned out--saw Jess Tatum suddenly halt and stagger back as though
jerked by an unseen hand; saw him drop his weapon and straighten again,
and with both hands clutched to his throat run forward, head thrown back
and feet drumming; heard him give one strange bubbling, strangled
scream--it was the blood in his throat made this outcry sound thus--and
saw him fall on his face, twitching and heaving, not thirty feet from
where Dudley Stackpole stood, his pistol upraised and ready for more
firing.

As to how many shots, all told, were fired the woman never could say
with certainty. There might have been four or five or six, or even
seven, she thought. After the opening shot they rang together in almost
a continuous volley, she said. Three empty chambers in Tatum's gun and
two in Stackpole's seemed conclusive evidence to the sheriff and the
coroner that night and to the coroner's jurors next day that five shots
had been fired.

On one point, though, for all her fright, the woman was positive, and to
this she stuck in the face of questions and cross-questions. After Tatum
stopped as though jolted to a standstill, and dropped his weapon,
Stackpole flung the barrel of his revolver upward and did not again
offer to fire, either as his disarmed and stricken enemy advanced upon
him or after he had fallen. As she put it, he stood there like a man
frozen stiff.

Having seen and heard this much, the witness, now all possible peril for
her was passed, suddenly became mad with fear. She ran into her cabin
and scrouged behind the headboard of a bed. When at length she
timorously withdrew from hiding and came trembling forth, already
persons out of the neighborhood, drawn by the sounds of the fusillade,
were hurrying up. They seemed to spring, as it were, out of the ground.
Into the mill these newcomers carried the two Tatums, Jess being
stone-dead and Harve still senseless, with a leg dangling where the
bones were snapped below the knee, and a great cut in his scalp; and
they laid the two of them side by side on the floor in the gritty dust
of the meal tailings and the flour grindings. This done, some ran to
harness and hitch and to go to fetch doctors and law officers, spreading
the news as they went; and some stayed on to work over Harve Tatum and
to give such comfort as they might to Dudley Stackpole, he sitting dumb
in his little, cluttered office awaiting the coming of constable or
sheriff or deputy so that he might surrender himself into custody.

While they waited and while they worked to bring Harve Tatum back to his
senses, the men marveled at two amazing things. The first wonder was
that Jess Tatum, finished marksman as he was, and the main instigator
and central figure of sundry violent encounters in the past, should have
failed to hit the mark at which he fired with his first shot or with his
second or with his third; and the second, a still greater wonder, was
that Dudley Stackpole, who perhaps never in his life had had for a
target a living thing, should have sped a bullet so squarely into the
heart of his victim at twenty yards or more. The first phenomenon might
perhaps be explained, they agreed, on the hypothesis that the mishap to
his brother coming at the very moment of the fight's beginning, unnerved
Jess and threw him out of stride, so to speak. But the second was not in
anywise to be explained excepting on the theory of sheer chance. The
fact remained that it was so, and the fact remained that it was strange.

By form of law Dudley Stackpole spent two days under arrest; but this
was a form, a legal fiction only. Actually he was at liberty from the
time he reached the courthouse that night, riding in the sheriff's buggy
with the sheriff and carrying poised on his knees a lighted lantern.
Afterwards it was to be recalled that when, alongside the sheriff, he
came out of his mill technically a prisoner he carried in his hand this
lantern, all trimmed of wick and burning, and that he held fast to it
through the six-mile ride to town. Afterwards, too, the circumstance was
to be coupled with multiplying circumstances to establish a state of
facts; but at the moment, in the excited state of mind of those present,
it passed unremarked and almost unnoticed. And he still held it in his
hand when, having been released under nominal bond and attended by
certain sympathizing friends, he walked across town from the county
building to his home on Clay Street. That fact, too, was subsequently
remembered and added to other details to make a finished sum of
deductive reasoning.

Already it was a foregone conclusion that the finding at the coroner's
inquest, to be held the next day, would absolve him; foregone, also,
that no prosecutor would press for his arraignment on charges and that
no grand jury would indict. So, soon all the evidence in hand was
conclusively on his side. He had been forced into a fight not of his own
choosing; an effort, which had failed, had been made to take him
unfairly from behind; he had fired in self-defense after having first
been fired upon; save for a quirk of fate operating in his favor, he
should have faced odds of two deadly antagonists instead of facing one.
What else then than his prompt and honorable discharge? And to top all,
the popular verdict was that the killing off of Jess Tatum was so much
good riddance of so much sorry rubbish; a pity, though, Harve had
escaped his just deserts.

Helpless for the time being, and in the estimation of his fellows even
more thoroughly discredited than he had been before, Harve Tatum here
vanishes out of our recital. So, too, does Jeffrey Stackpole, heretofore
mentioned once by name, for within a week he was dead of the same heart
attack which had kept him out of the fight at Cache Creek. The rest of
the narrative largely appertains to the one conspicuous survivor, this
Dudley Stackpole already described.

Tradition ever afterwards had it that on the night of the killing he
slept--if he slept at all--in the full-lighted room of a house which was
all aglare with lights from cellar to roof line. From its every opening
the house blazed as for a celebration. At the first, so the tale of it
ran, people were of two different minds to account for this. This one
rather thought Stackpole feared punitive reprisals under cover of night
by vengeful kinsmen of the Tatums, they being, root and branch, sprout
and limb, a belligerent and an ill-conditioned breed. That one suggested
that maybe he took this method of letting all and sundry know he felt no
regret for having gunned the life out of a dangerous brawler; that
perhaps thereby he sought to advertise his satisfaction at the outcome
of that day's affair. But this latter theory was not to be credited. For
so sensitive and so well-disposed a man as Dudley Stackpole to joy in
his own deadly act, however justifiable in the sight of law and man that
act might have been--why, the bare notion of it was preposterous! The
repute and the prior conduct of the man robbed the suggestion of all
plausibility. And then soon, when night after night the lights still
flared in his house, and when on top of this evidence accumulated to
confirm a belief already crystallizing in the public mind, the town came
to sense the truth, which was that Mr. Dudley Stackpole now feared the
dark as a timid child might fear it. It was not authentically chronicled
that he confessed his fears to any living creature. But his fellow
townsmen knew the state of his mind as though he had shouted of it from
the housetops. They had heard, most of them, of such cases before. They
agreed among themselves that he shunned darkness because he feared that
out of that darkness might return the vision of his deed, bloodied and
shocking and hideous. And they were right. He did so fear, and he
feared mightily, constantly and unendingly.

That fear, along with the behavior which became from that night
thenceforward part and parcel of him, made Dudley Stackpole as one set
over and put apart from his fellows. Neither by daytime nor by nighttime
was he thereafter to know darkness. Never again was he to see the
twilight fall or face the blackness which comes before the dawning or
take his rest in the cloaking, kindly void and nothingness of the
midnight. Before the dusk of evening came, in midafternoon sometimes, of
stormy and briefened winter days, or in the full radiance of the sun's
sinking in the summertime, he was within doors lighting the lights which
would keep the darkness beyond his portals and hold at bay a gathering
gloom into which from window or door he would not look and dared not
look.

There were trees about his house, cottonwoods and sycamores and one
noble elm branching like a lyre. He chopped them all down and had the
roots grubbed out. The vines which covered his porch were shorn away. To
these things many were witnesses. What transformations he worked within
the walls were largely known by hearsay through the medium of Aunt
Kassie, the old negress who served him as cook and chambermaid and was
his only house servant. To half-fearsome, half-fascinated audiences of
her own color, whose members in time communicated what she told to
their white employers, she related how with his own hands, bringing a
crude carpentry into play, her master ripped out certain dark closets
and abolished a secluded and gloomy recess beneath a hall staircase, and
how privily he called in men who strung his ceilings with electric
lights, although already the building was piped for gas; and how, for
final touches, he placed in various parts of his bedroom tallow dips and
oil lamps to be lit before twilight and to burn all night, so that
though the gas sometime should fail and the electric bulbs blink out,
there still would be abundant lighting about him. His became the house
which harbored no single shadow save only the shadow of morbid dread
which lived within its owner's bosom. An orthodox haunted house should
by rights be deserted and dark. This house, haunted if ever one was,
differed from the orthodox conception. It was tenanted and it shone with
lights.

The man's abiding obsession--if we may call his besetment thus--changed
in practically all essential regards the manners and the practices of
his daily life. After the shooting he never returned to his mill. He
could not bring himself to endure the ordeal of revisiting the scene of
the killing. So the mill stood empty and silent, just as he left it that
night when he rode to town with the sheriff, until after his brother's
death; and then with all possible dispatch he sold it, its fixtures,
contents and goodwill, for what the property would fetch at quick sale,
and he gave up business. He had sufficient to stay him in his needs. The
Stackpoles had the name of being a canny and a provident family, living
quietly and saving of their substance. The homestead where he lived,
which his father before him had built, was free of debt. He had funds in
the bank and money out at interest. He had not been one to make close
friends. Now those who had counted themselves his friends became rather
his distant acquaintances, among whom he neither received nor bestowed
confidences.

In the broader hours of daylight his ways were such as any man of
reserved and diffident ways, having no fixed employment, might follow in
a smallish community. He sat upon his porch and read in books. He worked
in his flower beds. With flowers he had a cunning touch, almost like a
woman's. He loved them, and they responded to his love and bloomed and
bore for him. He walked downtown to the business district, always alone,
a shy and unimpressive figure, and sat brooding and aloof in one of the
tilted-back cane chairs under the portico of the old Richland House,
facing the river. He took long solitary walks on side streets and
byways; but it was noted that, reaching the farther outskirts, he
invariably turned back. In all those dragging years it is doubtful if
once he set foot past the corporate limits into the open country. Dun
hued, unobtrusive, withdrawn, he aged slowly, almost imperceptibly. Men
and women of his own generation used to say that save for the wrinkles
ever multiplying in close cross-hatchings about his puckered eyes, and
save for the enhancing of that dead gray pallor--the wasp's-nest
overcasting of his skin--he still looked to them exactly as he had
looked when he was a much younger man.

It was not so much the appearance or the customary demeanor of the
recluse that made strangers turn about to stare at him as he passed, and
that made them remember how he looked when he was gone from their sight.
The one was commonplace enough--I mean his appearance--and his conduct,
unless one knew the underlying motives, was merely that of an
unobtrusive, rather melancholy seeming gentleman of quiet tastes and
habits. It was the feeling and the sense of a dismal exhalation from
him, an unhealthy and unnatural mental effluvium that served so
indelibly to fix the bodily image of him in the brainpans of casual and
uninformed passers-by. The brand of Cain was not on his brow. By every
local standard of human morality it did not belong there. But built up
of morbid elements within his own conscience, it looked out from his
eyes and breathed out from his person.

So year by year, until the tally of the years rolled up to more than
thirty, he went his lone unhappy way. He was in the life of the town,
to an extent, but not of it. Always, though, it was the daylit life of
the town which knew him. Excepting once only. Of this exceptional
instance a story was so often repeated that in time it became
permanently embalmed in the unwritten history of the place.

On a summer's afternoon, sultry and close, the heavens suddenly went all
black, and quick gusts smote the earth with threats of a great
windstorm. The sun vanished magically; a close thick gloaming fell out
of the clouds. It was as though nightfall had descended hours before its
ordained time. At the city power house the city electrician turned on
the street lights. As the first great fat drops of rain fell, splashing
in the dust like veritable clots, citizens scurrying indoors and
citizens seeing to flapping awnings and slamming window blinds halted
where they were to peer through the murk at the sight of Mr. Dudley
Stackpole fleeing to the shelter of home like a man hunted by a terrible
pursuer. But with all his desperate need for haste he ran no
straightaway course. The manner of his flight was what gave added
strangeness to the spectacle of him. He would dart headlong, on a sharp
oblique from the right-hand corner of a street intersection to a point
midway of the block--or square, to give it its local name--then go
slanting back again to the right-hand corner of the next street
crossing, so that his path was in the pattern of one acutely slanted
zigzag after another. He was keeping, as well as he could, within the
circles of radiance thrown out by the municipal arc lights as he made
for his house, there in his bedchamber to fortify himself about, like
one beset and besieged, with the ample and protecting rays of all the
methods of artificial illumination at his command--with incandescent
bulbs thrown on by switches, with the flare of lighted gas jets, with
the tallow dip's slim digit of flame, and with the kerosene's wick
three-finger breadth of greasy brilliance. As he fumbled, in a very
panic and spasm of fear, with the latchets of his front gate Squire
Jonas' wife heard him screaming to Aunt Kassie, his servant, to turn on
the lights--all of them.

That once was all, though--the only time he found the dark taking him
unawares and threatening to envelop him in thirty years and more than
thirty. Then a time came when in a hospital in Oklahoma an elderly man
named A. Hamilton Bledsoe lay on his deathbed and on the day before he
died told the physician who attended him and the clergyman who had
called to pray for him that he had a confession to make. He desired that
it be taken down by a stenographer just as he uttered it, and
transcribed; then he would sign it as his solemn dying declaration, and
when he had died they were to send the signed copy back to the town from
whence he had in the year 1889 moved West, and there it was to be
published broadcast. All of which, in due course of time and in
accordance with the signatory's wishes, was done.

With the beginning of the statement as it appeared in the _Daily Evening
News_, as with Editor Tompkins' introductory paragraphs preceding it, we
need have no interest. That which really matters began two-thirds of the
way down the first column and ran as follows:

"How I came to know there was likely to be trouble that evening at the
big-riffle crossing was this way"--it is the dying Bledsoe, of course,
who is being quoted. "The man they sent to the mill with the message did
a lot of loose talking on his way back after he gave in the message, and
in this roundabout way the word got to me at my house on the Eden's
Swamp road soon after dinnertime. Now I had always got along fine with
both of the Stackpoles, and had only friendly feelings toward them; but
maybe there's some people still alive back there in that county who can
remember what the reason was why I should naturally hate and despise
both the Tatums, and especially this Jess Tatum, him being if anything
the more low-down one of the two, although the youngest. At this late
day I don't aim to drag the name of anyone else into this, especially a
woman's name, and her now dead and gone and in her grave; but I will
just say that if ever a man had a just cause for craving to see Jess
Tatum stretched out in his blood it was me. At the same time I will
state that it was not good judgment for a man who expected to go on
living to start out after one of the Tatums without he kept on till he
had cleaned up the both of them, and maybe some of their cousins as
well. I will not admit that I acted cowardly, but I will state that I
used my best judgment.

"Therefore and accordingly, no sooner did I hear the news about the dare
which the Tatums had sent to the Stackpoles than I said to myself that
it looked like here was my fitting chance to even up my grudge with Jess
Tatum and yet at the same time not run the prospect of being known to be
mixed up in the matter and maybe getting arrested, or waylaid afterwards
by members of the Tatum family or things of such a nature. Likewise I
figured that with a general amount of shooting going on, as seemed
likely to be the case, one shot more or less would not be noticed,
especially as I aimed to keep out of sight at all times and do my work
from under safe cover, which it all of it turned out practically exactly
as I had expected. So I took a rifle which I owned and which I was a
good shot with and I privately went down through the bottoms and came
out on the creek bank in the deep cut right behind Stackpole Brothers'
gristmill. I should say offhand this was then about three o'clock in the
evening. I was ahead of time, but I wished to be there and get
everything fixed up the way I had mapped it out in my mind, without
being hurried or rushed.

"The back door of the mill was not locked, and I got in without being
seen, and I went upstairs to the loft over the mill and I went to a
window just above the front door, which was where they hoisted up grain
when brought in wagons, and I propped the wooden shutter of the window
open a little ways. But I only propped it open about two or three
inches; just enough for me to see out of it up the road good. And I made
me a kind of pallet out of meal sacks and I laid down there and I
waited. I knew the mill had shut down for the week, and I didn't figure
on any of the hands being round the mill or anybody finding out I was up
there. So I waited, not hearing anybody stirring about downstairs at
all, until just about three minutes past six, when all of a sudden came
the first shot.

"What threw me off was expecting the Tatums to come afoot from up the
road, but when they did come it was in a wagon from down the main
Blandsville pike clear round in the other direction. So at this first
shot I swung and peeped out and I seen Harve Tatum down in the dust
seemingly right under the wheels of his wagon, and I seen Jess Tatum
jump out from behind the wagon and shoot, and I seen Dudley Stackpole
come out of the mill door right directly under me and start shooting
back at him. There was no sign of his brother Jeffrey. I did not know
then that Jeffrey was home sick in bed.

"Being thrown off the way I had been, it took me maybe one or two
seconds to draw myself around and get the barrel of my rifle swung round
to where I wanted it, and while I was doing this the shooting was going
on. All in a flash it had come to me that it would be fairer than ever
for me to take part in this thing, because in the first place the Tatums
would be two against one if Harve should get back upon his feet and get
into the fight; and in the second place Dudley Stackpole didn't know the
first thing about shooting a pistol. Why, all in that same second, while
I was righting myself and getting the bead onto Jess Tatum's breast, I
seen his first shot--Stackpole's, I mean--kick up the dust not twenty
feet in front of him and less than halfway to where Tatum was. I was as
cool as I am now, and I seen this quite plain.

"So with that, just as Stackpole fired wild again, I let Jess Tatum have
it right through the chest, and as I did so I knew from the way he acted
that he was done and through. He let loose of his pistol and acted like
he was going to fall, and then he sort of rallied up and did a strange
thing. He ran straight on ahead toward the mill, with his neck craned
back and him running on tiptoe; and he ran this way quite a little ways
before he dropped flat, face down. Somebody else, seeing him do that,
might have thought he had the idea to tear into Dudley Stackpole with
his bare hands, but I had done enough shooting at wild game in my time
to know that he was acting like a partridge sometimes does, or a wild
duck when it is shot through the heart or in the head; only in such a
case a bird flies straight up in the air. Towering is what you call it
when done by a partridge. I do not know what you would call it when done
by a man.

"So then I closed the window shutter and I waited for quite a little
while to make sure everything was all right for me, and then I hid my
rifle under the meal sacks, where it stayed until I got it privately two
days later; and then I slipped downstairs and went out by the back door
and came round in front, running and breathing hard as though I had just
heard the shooting whilst up in the swamp. By that time there were
several others had arrived, and there was also a negro woman crying
round and carrying on and saying she seen Jess Tatum fire the first shot
and seen Dudley Stackpole shoot back and seen Tatum fall. But she could
not say for sure how many shots there were fired in all. So I saw that
everything was all right so far as I was concerned, and that nobody, not
even Stackpole, suspicioned but that he himself had killed Jess Tatum;
and as I knew he would have no trouble with the law to amount to
anything on account of it, I felt that there was no need for me to
worry, and I did not--not worry then nor later. But for some time past I
had been figuring on moving out here on account of this new country
opening up. So I hurried up things, and inside of a week I had sold out
my place and had shipped my household plunder on ahead; and I moved out
here with my family, which they have all died off since, leaving only
me. And now I am about to die, and so I wish to make this statement
before I do so.

"But if they had thought to cut into Jess Tatum's body after he was
dead, or to probe for the bullet in him, they would have known that it
was not Dudley Stackpole who really shot him, but somebody else; and
then I suppose suspicion might have fell upon me, although I doubt it.
Because they would have found that the bullet which killed him was fired
out of a forty-five-seventy shell, and Dudley Stackpole had done all of
the shooting he done with a thirty-eight caliber pistol, which would
throw a different-sized bullet. But they never thought to do so."

Question by the physician, Doctor Davis: "You mean to say that no
autopsy was performed upon the body of the deceased?"

Answer by Bledsoe: "If you mean by performing an autopsy that they
probed into him or cut in to find the bullet I will answer no, sir, they
did not. They did not seem to think to do so, because it seemed to
everybody such a plain open-and-shut case that Dudley Stackpole had
killed him."

Question by the Reverend Mr. Hewlitt: "I take it that you are making
this confession of your own free will and in order to clear the name of
an innocent party from blame and to purge your own soul?"

Answer: "In reply to that I will say yes and no. If Dudley Stackpole is
still alive, which I doubt, he is by now getting to be an old man; but
if alive yet I would like for him to know that he did not fire the shot
which killed Jess Tatum on that occasion. He was not a bloodthirsty man,
and doubtless the matter may have preyed upon his mind. So on the bare
chance of him being still alive is why I make this dying statement to
you gentlemen in the presence of witnesses. But I am not ashamed, and
never was, at having done what I did do. I killed Jess Tatum with my own
hands, and I have never regretted it. I would not regard killing him as
a crime any more than you gentlemen here would regard it as a crime
killing a rattlesnake or a moccasin snake. Only, until now, I did not
think it advisable for me to admit it; which, on Dudley Stackpole's
account solely, is the only reason why I am now making this statement."

And so on and so forth for the better part of a second column, with a
brief summary in Editor Tompkins' best style--which was a very dramatic
and moving style indeed--of the circumstances, as recalled by old
residents, of the ancient tragedy, and a short sketch of the deceased
Bledsoe, the facts regarding him being drawn from the same veracious
sources; and at the end of the article was a somewhat guarded but
altogether sympathetic reference to the distressful recollections borne
for so long and so patiently by an esteemed townsman, with a concluding
paragraph to the effect that though the gentleman in question had
declined to make a public statement touching on the remarkable
disclosures now added thus strangely as a final chapter to the annals of
an event long since occurred, the writer felt no hesitancy in saying
that appreciating, as they must, the motives which prompted him to
silence, his fellow citizens would one and all join the editor of the
_Daily Evening News_ in congratulating him upon the lifting of this
cloud from his life.

"I only wish I had the language to express the way that old man looked
when I showed him the galley proofs of Bledsoe's confession," said
Editor Tompkins to a little interested group gathered in his sanctum
after the paper was on the streets that evening. "If I had such a power
I'd have this Frenchman Balzac backed clear off the boards when it came
to describing things. Gentlemen, let me tell you--I've been in this
business all my life, and I've seen lots of things, but I never saw
anything that was the beat of this thing.

"Just as soon as this statement came to me in the mails this morning
from that place out in Oklahoma I rushed it into type, and I had a set
of galley proofs pulled and I stuck 'em in my pocket and I put out for
the Stackpole place out on Clay Street. I didn't want to trust either of
the reporters with this job. They're both good, smart, likely boys; but,
at that, they're only boys, and I didn't know how they'd go at this
thing; and, anyway, it looked like it was my job.

"He was sitting on his porch reading, just a little old gray shell of a
man, all hunched up, and I walked up to him and I says: 'You'll pardon
me, Mr. Stackpole, but I've come to ask you a question and then to show
you something. Did you,' I says, 'ever know a man named A. Hamilton
Bledsoe?'

"He sort of winced. He got up and made as if to go into the house
without answering me. I suppose it'd been so long since he had anybody
calling on him he hardly knew how to act. And then that question coming
out of a clear sky, as you might say, and rousing up bitter
memories--not probably that his bitter memories needed any rousing,
being always with him, anyway--may have jolted him pretty hard. But if
he aimed to go inside he changed his mind when he got to the door. He
turned round and came back.

"'Yes,' he says, as though the words were being dragged out of him
against his will, 'I did once know a man of that name. He was commonly
called Ham Bledsoe. He lived near where'--he checked himself up,
here--'he lived,' he says, 'in this county at one time. I knew him
then.'

"'That being so,' I says, 'I judge the proper thing to do is to ask you
to read these galley proofs,' and I handed them over and he read them
through without a word. Without a word, mind you, and yet if he'd spoken
a volume he couldn't have told me any clearer what was passing through
his mind when he came to the main facts than the way he did tell me just
by the look that came into his face. Gentlemen, when you sit and watch a
man sixty-odd years old being born again; when you see hope and life
come back to him all in a minute; when you see his soul being remade in
a flash, you'll find you can't describe it afterwards, but you're never
going to forget it. And another thing you'll find is that there is
nothing for you to say to him, nothing that you can say, nor nothing
that you want to say.

"I did manage, when he was through, to ask him whether or not he wished
to make a statement. That was all from me, mind you, and yet I'd gone
out there with the idea in my head of getting material for a long newsy
piece out of him--what we call in this business heart-interest stuff.
All he said, though, as he handed me back the slips was, 'No, sir; but I
thank you--from the bottom of my heart I thank you.' And then he shook
hands with me--shook hands with me like a man who'd forgotten almost
how 'twas done--and he walked in his house and shut the door behind him,
and I came on away feeling exactly as though I had seen a funeral turned
into a resurrection."

Editor Tompkins thought he had that day written the final chapter, but
he hadn't. The final chapter he was to write the next day, following
hard upon a dénouement which to Mr. Tompkins, he with his own eyes
having seen what he had seen, was so profound a puzzle that ever
thereafter he mentally catalogued it under one of his favorite
headlining phrases: "Deplorable Affair Shrouded in Mystery."


Let us go back a few hours. For a fact, Mr. Tompkins had been witness to
a spirit's resurrection. It was as he had borne testimony--a life had
been reborn before his eyes. Even so, he, the sole spectator to and
chronicler of the glory of it, could not know the depth and the sweep
and the swing of the great heartening swell of joyous relief which
uplifted Dudley Stackpole at the reading of the dead Bledsoe's words.
None save Dudley Stackpole himself was ever to have a true appreciation
of the utter sweetness of that cleansing flood, nor he for long.

As he closed his door upon the editor, plans, aspirations, ambitions
already were flowing to his brain, borne there upon that ground swell of
sudden happiness. Into the back spaces of his mind long-buried desires
went riding like chips upon a torrent. The substance of his patiently
endured self-martyrdom was lifted all in a second, and with it the
shadow of it. He would be thenceforth as other men, living as they
lived, taking, as they did, an active share and hand in communal life.
He was getting old. The good news had come late, but not too late. That
day would mark the total disappearance of the morbid lonely recluse and
the rejuvenation of the normal-thinking, normal-habited citizen. That
very day he would make a beginning of the new order of things.

And that very day he did; at least he tried. He put on his hat and he
took his cane in his hand and as he started down the street he sought to
put smartness and springiness into his gait. If the attempt was a sorry
failure he, for one, did not appreciate the completeness of the failure.
He meant, anyhow, that his step no longer should be purposeless and
mechanical; that his walk should hereafter have intent in it. And as he
came down the porch steps he looked about him, not dully, with sick and
uninforming eyes, but with a livened interest in all familiar homely
things.

Coming to his gate he saw, near at hand, Squire Jonas, now a gnarled but
still sprightly octogenarian, leaning upon a fence post surveying the
universe at large, as was the squire's daily custom. He called out a
good morning and waved his stick in greeting toward the squire with a
gesture which he endeavored to make natural. His aging muscles, staled
by thirty-odd years of lack of practice at such tricks, merely made it
jerky and forced. Still, the friendly design was there, plainly to be
divined; and the neighborly tone of his voice. But the squire,
ordinarily the most courteous of persons, and certainly one of the most
talkative, did not return the salutation. Astonishment congealed his
faculties, tied his tongue and paralyzed his biceps. He stared dumbly a
moment, and then, having regained coherent powers, he jammed his
brown-varnished straw hat firmly upon his ancient poll and went
scrambling up his gravel walk as fast as two rheumatic underpinnings
would take him, and on into his house like a man bearing incredible and
unbelievable tidings.

Mr. Stackpole opened his gate and passed out and started down the
sidewalk. Midway of the next square he overtook a man he knew--an
elderly watchmaker, a Swiss by birth, who worked at Nagel's jewelry
store. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of times he had passed this man upon
the street. Always before he had passed him with averted eyes and a
stiff nod of recognition. Now, coming up behind the other, Mr. Stackpole
bade him a cheerful good day. At the sound of the words the Swiss spun
on his heel, then gulped audibly and backed away, flinching almost as
though a blow had been aimed at him. He muttered some meaningless
something, confusedly: he stared at Mr. Stackpole with widened eyes like
one who beholds an apparition in the broad of the day; he stepped on his
own feet and got in his own way as he shrank to the outer edge of the
narrow pavement. Mr. Stackpole was minded to fall into step alongside
the Swiss, but the latter would not have it so. He stumbled along for a
few yards, mute and plainly terribly embarrassed at finding himself in
this unexpected company, and then with a muttered sound which might be
interpreted as an apology or an explanation, or as a token of profound
surprise on his part, or as combination of them all, he turned abruptly
off into a grassed side lane which ran up into the old Enders orchard
and ended nowhere at all in particular. Once his back was turned to Mr.
Stackpole, he blessed himself fervently. On his face was the look of one
who would fend off what is evil and supernatural.

Mr. Stackpole continued on his way. On a vacant lot at Franklin and Clay
Streets four small boys were playing one-eyed-cat. Switching his cane at
the weed tops with strokes which he strove to make casual, he stopped to
watch them, a half smile of approbation on his face. Pose and expression
showed that he desired their approval for his approval of their skill.
They stopped, too, when they saw him--stopped short. With one accord
they ceased their play, staring at him. Nervously the batsman withdrew
to the farther side of the common, dragging his bat behind him. The
three others followed, casting furtive looks backward over their
shoulders. Under a tree at the back of the lot they conferred together,
all the while shooting quick diffident glances toward where he stood. It
was plain something had put a blight upon their spirits; also, even at
this distance, they radiated a sort of inarticulate suspicion--a
suspicion of which plainly he was the object.

For long years Mr. Stackpole's faculties for observation of the motives
and actions of his fellows had been sheathed. Still, disuse had not
altogether dulled them. Constant introspection had not destroyed his
gift for speculation. It was rusted, but still workable. He had read
aright Squire Jonas' stupefaction, the watchmaker's ludicrous alarm. He
now read aright the chill which the very sight of his altered
mien--cheerful and sprightly where they had expected grim aloofness--had
thrown upon the spirits of the ball players. Well, he could understand
it all. The alteration in him, coming without prior warning, had
startled them, frightened them, really. Well, that might have been
expected. The way had not been paved properly for the transformation. It
would be different when the _Daily Evening News_ came out. He would go
back home--he would wait. When they had read what was in the paper
people would not avoid him or flee from him. They would be coming into
his house to wish him well, to reëstablish old relations with him. Why,
it would be almost like holding a reception. He would be to those of his
own age as a friend of their youth, returning after a long absence to
his people, with the dour stranger who had lived in his house while he
was away now driven out and gone forever.

He turned about and he went back home and he waited. But for a while
nothing happened, except that in the middle of the afternoon Aunt Kassie
unaccountably disappeared. She was gone when he left his seat on the
front porch and went back to the kitchen to give her some instruction
touching on supper. At dinnertime, entering his dining room, he had,
without conscious intent whistled the bars of an old air, and at that
she had dropped a plate of hot egg bread and vanished into the pantry,
leaving the split fragments upon the floor. Nor had she returned. He had
made his meal unattended. Now, while he looked for her, she was hurrying
down the alley, bound for the home of her preacher. She felt the need of
his holy counsels and the reading of scriptural passages. She was used
to queerness in her master, but if he were going crazy all of a sudden,
why that would be a different matter altogether. So, presently, she was
confiding to her spiritual adviser.

Mr. Stackpole returned to the porch and sat down again and waited for
what was to be. Through the heat of the waning afternoon Clay Street
was almost deserted; but toward sunset the thickening tides of
pedestrian travel began flowing by his house as men returned homeward
from work. He had a bowing acquaintance with most of those who passed.

Two or three elderly men and women among them he had known fairly well
in years past. But no single one of those who came along turned in at
his gate to offer him the congratulation he so eagerly desired; no
single one, at sight of him, all poised and expectant, paused to call
out kindly words across the palings of his fence. Yet they must have
heard the news. He knew that they had heard it--all of them--knew it by
the stares they cast toward the house front as they went by. There was
more, though, in the staring than a quickened interest or a sharpened
curiosity.

Was he wrong, or was there also a sort of subtle resentment in it? Was
there a sense vaguely conveyed that even these old acquaintances of his
felt almost personally aggrieved that a town character should have
ceased thus abruptly to be a town character--that they somehow felt a
subtle injustice had been done to public opinion, an affront offered to
civic tradition, through this unexpected sloughing off by him of the
rôle he for so long had worn?

He was not wrong. There was an essence of a floating, formless
resentment there. Over the invisible tendons of mental telepathy it
came to him, registering emphatically.

As he shrank back in his chair he summoned his philosophy to give him
balm and consolation for his disappointment. It would take time, of
course, for people to grow accustomed to the change in him--that was
only natural. In a few days, now, when the shock of the sensation had
worn off, things would be different. They would forgive him for breaking
a sort of unuttered communal law, but one hallowed, as it were, by rote
and custom. He vaguely comprehended that there might be such a law for
his case--a canon of procedure which, unnatural in itself, had come with
the passage of the passing years to be quite naturally accepted.

Well, perhaps the man who broke such a law, even though it were
originally of his own fashioning, must abide the consequences. Even so,
though, things must be different when the minds of people had
readjusted. This he told himself over and over again, seeking in its
steady repetition salve for his hurt, overwrought feelings.

And his nights--surely they would be different! Therein, after all, lay
the roots of the peace and the surcease which henceforth would be his
portion. At thought of this prospect, now imminent, he uplifted his soul
in a silent pæan of thanksgiving.

Having no one in whom he ever had confided, it followed naturally that
no one else knew what torture he had suffered through all the nights of
all these years stretching behind him in so terribly long a perspective.
No one else knew how he had craved for the darkness which all the time
he had both feared and shunned. No one else knew how miserable a
travesty on sleep his sleep had been, he reading until a heavy physical
weariness came, then lying in his bed through the latter hours of the
night, fitfully dozing, often rousing, while from either side of his
bed, from the ceiling above, from the headboard behind him, and from the
footboard, strong lights played full and flary upon his twitching,
aching eyelids; and finally, towards dawn, with every nerve behind his
eyes taut with pain and strain, awakening unrefreshed to consciousness
of that nimbus of unrelieved false glare which encircled him, and the
stench of melted tallow and the stale reek of burned kerosene foul in
his nose. That, now, had been the hardest of all to endure. Endured
unceasingly, it had been because of his dread of a thing infinitely
worse--the agonized, twisted, dying face of Jess Tatum leaping at him
out of shadows. But now, thank God, that ghost of his own conjuring,
that wraith never seen but always feared, was laid to rest forever.
Never again would conscience put him, soul and body, upon the rack. This
night he would sleep--sleep as little children do in the all-enveloping,
friendly, comforting dark.

Scarcely could he wait till a proper bedtime hour came. He forgot that
he had had no supper; forgot in that delectable anticipation the
disillusionizing experiences of the day. Mechanically he had, as dusk
came on, turned on the lights throughout the house, and force of habit
still operating, he left them all on when at eleven o'clock he quitted
the brilliantly illuminated porch and went to his bedroom on the second
floor. He undressed and he put on him his night wear, becoming a
grotesque shrunken figure, what with his meager naked legs and his ashen
eager face and thin dust-colored throat rising above the collarless
neckband of the garment. He blew out the flame of the oil lamp which
burned on a reading stand at the left side of his bed and extinguished
the two candles which stood on a table at the right side.

Then he got in the bed and stretched out his arms, one aloft, the other
behind him, finding with the fingers of this hand the turncock of the
gas burner which swung low from the ceiling at the end of a goosenecked
iron pipe, finding with the fingers of that hand the wall switch which
controlled the battery of electric lights roundabout, and with a
long-drawn sigh of happy deliverance he turned off both gas and
electricity simultaneously and sank his head toward the pillow.

The pæaned sigh turned to a shriek of mortal terror. Quaking in every
limb, crying out in a continuous frenzy of fright, he was up again on
his knees seeking with quivering hands for the switch; pawing about then
for matches with which to relight the gas. For the blackness--that
blackness to which he had been stranger for more than half his life--had
come upon him as an enemy smothering him, muffling his head in its
terrible black folds, stopping his nostrils with its black fingers,
gripping his windpipe with black cords, so that his breathing stopped.

That blackness for which he had craved with an unappeasable hopeless
craving through thirty years and more was become a horror and a devil.
He had driven it from him. When he bade it return it returned not as a
friend and a comforter but as a mocking fiend.

For months and years past he had realized that his optic nerves,
punished and preyed upon by constant and unwholesome brilliancy, were
nearing the point of collapse, and that all the other nerves in his
body, frayed and fretted, too, were all askew and jangled. Cognizant of
this he still could see no hope of relief, since his fears were greater
than his reasoning powers or his strength of will. With the fear lifted
and eternally dissipated in a breath, he had thought to find solace and
soothing and restoration in the darkness. But now the darkness, for
which his soul in its longing and his body in its stress had cried out
unceasingly and vainly, was denied him too. He could face neither the
one thing nor the other.

Squatted there in the huddle of the bed coverings, he reasoned it all
out, and presently he found the answer. And the answer was this: Nature
for a while forgets and forgives offenses against her, but there comes a
time when Nature ceases to forgive the mistreatment of the body and the
mind, and sends then her law of atonement, to be visited upon the
transgressor with interest compounded a hundredfold. The user of
narcotics knows it; the drunkard knows it; and this poor self-crucified
victim of his own imagination--he knew it too. The hint of it had that
day been reflected in the attitude of his neighbors, for they merely had
obeyed, without conscious realization or analysis on their part, a law
of the natural scheme of things. The direct proof of it was, by this
nighttime thing, revealed and made yet plainer. He stood convicted, a
chronic violator of the immutable rule. And he knew, likewise, there was
but one way out of the coil--and took it, there in his bedroom, vividly
ringed about by the obscene and indecent circlet of his lights which
kept away the blessed, cursed darkness while the suicide's soul was
passing.



CHAPTER II

THE CATER-CORNERED SEX


They had a saying down our way in the old days that Judge Priest
administered law inside his courthouse and justice outside of it.
Perhaps they were right. Certainly he had a way of seeking short cuts
through thickets of legal verbiage to the rights of things, the which
often gave acute sorrow to the souls of those members of the bar who
venerated the very ink in which the statutory act had been printed and
worshiped manfully before the graven images of precedent. But elsewise,
generally speaking, it appeared to give satisfaction. Nobody ever beat
the judge in any of his races for reëlection, and after a while they
just naturally quit trying.

Nor did it seem to distress him deeply when the grave and learned lords
of the highest tribunal of the commonwealth saw fit, as they sometimes
did, to quarrel with a decision of his which, according to their lights,
ran counter to the authorities and the traditions revered by these
august gentlemen.

"Ah-hah!" he would say in his high penny-flute voice when such a thing
happened. "I see where the honorable court of appeals has disagreed with
me agin. Well, they've still got quite a piece to go yit before they
ketch up with the number of times I've disagreed with them."

But he never said such a thing in open court. Such utterances he
reserved for his cronies and confidants. Once he was under the dented
tin dome where he sat for so many years he became so firm a stickler for
the forms and the dignities that practically a sacerdotal air was
imparted to the proceedings. As you might say, he was almost high church
in his adherence to the ritualisms. Lawyers coming before him did not
practice the law in their shirt sleeves. They might do this when
appearing on certain neighbor circuits, but not here. They did not smoke
while court was in session, or sit reared back in their chairs with
their feet up on the counsel tables and on the bar railings. Of course
when not actually engaged in addressing the court one might chew tobacco
in moderation, it being an indisputable fact that such was conducive to
lubrication of the mental processes and a sedative for the nerves
besides; but the act of chewing must be discreetly and inaudibly carried
on, and he who in the heat of argument or under the stress of
cross-questioning a perverse witness failed to patronize the cuspidors
which dotted the floor at suitable intervals stood in peril of a stern
admonishment for the first offense and a fine for the second.

Off the bench our judge was the homeliest and simplest of men. On the
bench he wore his baggy old alpaca coat as though it were a silken robe.
And, as has been heretofore remarked, he had for his official and his
private lives two different modes of speech. As His Honor, presiding,
his language was invariably grammatical and precise and as carefully
accented as might be expected of a man whose people never had very much
use anyway for the consonant "r." As William Pitman Priest, Esq.,
citizen, taxpayer, and Confederate veteran he mishandled the king's
English as though he had but small personal regard for the king or his
English either.

Similarly he always showed respect, outwardly at least, for the written
letter of the statute as written and cited. But when it seemed to him
that justice tempered with mercy stood in danger of being choked in a
lawyer's loop of red tape he sheared through the entanglements with a
promptitude which appealed more strongly, perhaps, to the lay mind than
to the professional. And if, from the bench, he might not succor the
deserving litigant or the penitent offender without violation to the
given principles of the law, which, aiming ever for the greater good to
the greater number, threatened present disaster for one deserving, he
very often privily would busy himself in the matter. This, then, was why
they had that saying about him.

It largely was in a private capacity that Judge Priest figured in the
various phases relating to the Millsap case, with which now we are about
to deal. The beginning of this was the ending of Felix Millsap, but from
its start to its finish he alone held the secrets of all its aspects.
The best people in town, those who made up the old families, knew the
daughter of this Felix Millsap; the people whose families were not so
old perhaps, but by way of compensation more likely to be large ones,
the common people, as the word goes, knew the father. The best people
commiserated decorously with the daughter when her father was abruptly
taken from this life; the others wondered what was going to become of
his widow. For, you see, the daughter moved in very different circles
from the one in which her parents moved. Their lines did not touch. But
Judge Priest had the advantage on his side of moving at will in both
circles. Indeed he moved in all circles without serious impairment to
his social position in the community at large.

Briefly, the case of her who had been Eleanor Millsap was the case of a
child who, diligently climbing out of the environment of her childhood,
has attained to heights where her parents may never hope to come, a
common enough case here in flux and fluid America, and one which some
will applaud and some will deplore, depending on how they view such
matters; a daughter proclaiming by her attitude that she is ashamed of
the sources of her origin; a father and a mother visibly proud of their
offspring's successful rise, yet uncomplainingly accepting the rôles to
which she has assigned them--there you have this small family tragedy in
forty words or less.

When the Millsaps moved to our town their baby was in her second summer.
With the passage of years the father and the mother came, as suitably
mated couples often do, to look rather like each other. But then,
probably there never had been a time when they, either in temperament or
port, had appeared greatly unlike, seeing that both the pair were
colorless, prosaic folk. So for Nature to mold them into a common
pattern was merely a detail of time and patience. But their little
Eleanor betrayed no resemblance to either in figure or face or
personality. It was in this instance as though hereditary traits had
been thwarted; as though two sober barnyard fowl had mated to bear a
golden pheasant. They were secluded, shy, unimaginative; she was vivid
and sprightly, with dash to her, and audacity.

They lived in one of those small gloomy houses whose shutters always are
closed and whose fronts always are blank; a house where the business of
living seems to be carried on surreptitiously, almost by stealth. She,
from the time she could walk alone, was actively abroad, a bright splash
of color in the small oblong of shabby front yard. The father, Felix
Millsap, was an odd-jobs woodworker. He made his living by undertakings
too trivial for a contracting carpenter and joiner to bid on and too
complicated for an amateur to attempt. The mother, Martha by name, took
in plain sewing to help out. She had about her the air of the needle
drudge, with shoulders bowed in and the pricked, scored fingers of a
seamstress, and a permanent pucker at one corner of her mouth from
holding pins there. The daughter showed trim, slender limbs and a bodily
grace and a piquant face which generations of breeding and wealth so
very often fail to fashion.

When she graduated as the valedictorian of her class in the high school
she cut a far better figure in the frock her mother had made for her
than did any there on the stage at St. Clair Hall; she had a trick of
wearing simple garments which gave them distinction. Already she had
half a dozen sweethearts. Boys were drawn to her; girls she repelled
rather. Girls found her too self-centered, too intent on attaining her
own aims to give much heed to companionships. They called her selfish.
Well, if selfishness is another name for a constant, bounding ambition
to get on and up in the world Eleanor Millsap was selfish. But for the
boys she had a tremendous attraction. They admired her quick, cruel wit,
her energy, her good looks. She met her sweethearts on the street, at
the soda fountain, in that trysting place for juvenile sweetheartings,
the far corner of the post-office corridor.

She never invited any of these youthful squires of hers to her house;
they kept rendezvous with her at the corner below and they parted from
her at the gate. They somehow gathered, without being told it in so many
words, that she was ashamed of the poverty of her home, and, boylike,
they felt a dumb sympathy for her that she should be denied what so many
girls had. But for all her sidewalk flirtations, she kept herself aloof
from any touch of scandal; the very openness of her gaddings protected
her from that. Besides, she seemed instinctively to know that if she
meant to make the best possible bargain for herself in life she must
keep herself unblemished--must give of her charms but not give too
freely. Town gossips might call her a forward piece, as they did;
jealousy among girls of her own age might have it that she was flip and
fresh; but no one, with truth, might brand her as fast.

Having graduated with honors, she learned stenography--learned it
thoroughly and well, as was her way with whatever she undertook--and
presently found a place as secretary to Dallam Wybrant, the leading
merchandise broker of the three in town. Now Dallam Wybrant was youngish
and newly widowed--bereft but rallying fast from the grief of losing a
wife who had been his senior by several years. Knowing people--persons
who could look through a grindstone as far as the next one, and maybe
farther--smiled with meaning when they considered the prospect. A
good-looking, shrewd girl, always smart and trig and crisp, always with
an eye open for the main chance, sitting hour by hour and day by day in
the same office with a lonely, impressionable, conceited man--well,
there was but one answer to it. But one answer to it there was. Nobody
was very much surprised, although probably some mothers with
marriageable daughters on their hands were wrung by pangs of envy, when
Dallam Wybrant and Eleanor Millsap slipped away one day to Memphis and
there were married.

As Eleanor Millsap, self-reliant, self-sufficient and latterly
self-supporting, the girl through the years had steadily been growing
out of the domestic orbit which bounded the lives of her parents. As
Mrs. Dallam Wybrant, bride of an up-and-coming business man, with an
assured social position and wealth--as our town measured wealth--in his
own name she was now to pass entirely beyond their humble horizon and
vanish out of their narrowed social ken. True enough, they kept right on
living, all three of them, in the same town and indeed upon paralleling
and adjacent streets; only the parents lived in their shabby little
sealed-up coffin box of a house down at the poorer end of Yazoo Street;
the daughter, in her handsome new stucco house, as formal and slick as a
wedding cake, up at the aristocratic head of Chickasaw Drive. And yet to
all intents and purposes they were as far apart, these two Millsaps and
their only child, as though they abode in different countries. For she,
mind you, had been taken up by the best people. But none of the best
people had the least intention of taking up her father and mother as
well. She probably was as far from expecting it or desiring it as any
other could be. In fact a tale ran about that she served notice upon her
parents that thereafter their lives were to run in different grooves.
They were not to seek to see her without her permission; she did not
mean to see them except when and where she chose, or if she chose--and
she did not choose.

One evening--it might have been about a year and a half after the
marriage of his daughter--Felix Millsap was on his way home from work, a
middle-aged figure, moving with the clunking gait of a tired laborer who
wears cheap, heavy shoes, his broad splayed hands dangling at the ends
of his arms as though in either of them he carried an invisible weight.
It had been a hot day, and where he had been toiling on a roof shed
which required reshingling the sun had blazed down upon him until it
sucked his strength out of him, leaving him limp and draggy. He walked
with his head down, indifferent in his sweated weariness to things about
him. All the same, the motorman on the Belt Line car swinging out of
Yazoo Street into Commercial should have sounded his gong for the
turning. Therein lay his contributory negligence. Also, disinterested
witnesses subsequently agreed that he took the curve at high speed. It
was one of these witnesses who saw what was about to happen and cried
out a vain warning even as the motorman ground on his brakes in a
belated effort to avoid the inevitable. Felix Millsap was dead when they
got him out from under the forward trucks. The doctors said he must have
died instantly; probably he never knew what hit him.

In all the short and simple annals of the poor nothing, usually, is
shorter and simpler than the funeral of one of them. For the putting
away underground of the odd-jobs man perhaps thirty persons of his own
walk in life assembled, attesting their sympathies by their presence.
But the daughter of the deceased neither attended the brief services at
the place of his late residence nor rode to the cemetery to witness the
burial. It was explained by the minister and by the undertaker to those
who made inquiry that for good and sufficient reasons Mrs. Wybrant was
not going anywhere at present. But she sent a great stiff set piece of
flowers, an elaborate, inadequate thing with a wire back to it and a
tin-foil footing, which sat alongside the black box during the service
and afterwards was propped upright in the rank grass at the head of the
grave. It was doubly conspicuous by reason of being the only example of
what greenhouse men call floral offerings that graced the occasion. And
she had written her mother a nice letter; the clergyman made this point
plain to such as spoke to him regarding the absence of Mrs. Wybrant. He
had seen the letter; that is to say, he had seen the envelope containing
it. What the clergyman did not know was that to the letter the daughter
had added a paragraph, underscored, suggesting the name of a leading
firm of lawyers as suitable and competent to defend their interests--her
mother's and her own--in an action for damages against the street-car
company.

However, as it developed, there was no need for the pressing of suit.
The street-railway company, tacitly confessing fault on the part of one
of its employees, preferred to compromise out of hand and so avoid the
costs of litigation and the vexations of a trial. The sum paid in
settlement was by order of the circuit court lodged in the hands of a
special administrator, as temporary custodian of the estate of the late
Felix Millsap, by him to be handed over to the heirs at law. So far as
the special administrator was concerned, this would end his duties in
the premises, seeing that other than this sum there was no property to
be divided.

The little house at the foot of Yazoo Street belonged to the widow. It
had been deeded to her at the time of its purchase years and years
before, and she had been a copartner in the undertaking of paying off
the mortgage upon it by dribs and bitlets which represented hard work
and the strictest economy. Naturally her husband had made no will.
Probably it had never occurred to him that he would have any property to
bequeath to anyone. But by virtue of his having died under a street car
rather than in his bed he was worth more dead than ever, living, he had
dreamed of being worth. He was worth eight thousand dollars in cash. So,
as it turned out, he had left something other than a name for sober
reliability and a reputation for paying his debts. And no doubt, in that
bourn to which his spirit had been translated out of a battered body,
his spirit rejoiced that the manner of his taking off had been as it
was.

But if the special administrator rested content in the thought that his
share in the transaction practically would end with but few added
details, his superior, the chief judicial officer of the district, felt
called upon to take certain steps on his own initiative solely, and
without consulting any person regarding the advisability of his action.
It was characteristic of Judge Priest that he should move promptly in
the matter. To a greater degree it also was characteristic of him that,
setting out for a visit to one of no social account whatsoever, he
should garb himself with more care than he might have shown had he been
going to see one of those mighty ones who sit in the high places. In a
suit of rumply but spotless white linen, and carrying in one hand his
best tape-edged palm-leaf fan, he rather suggested a plump old mandarin
as, on that same evening of the day when the street-railway company
effected settlement, he knocked at the front door of the cottage of the
Widow Millsap.

She was in and she was alone. She was one of those women who always are
in and nearly always are alone. Immediately, then, they sat in her front
room, which was her best room. Her sewing machine was there, and her
biggest oil lamp and her few small sticks of company furniture, her few
scraps of parlor ornamentation; a bad picture or two, gaudily framed;
china vases on a mantel-shelf; two golden-oak rockers, wearing on their
slick and shiny frontlets the brand of an installment-house Cain who
murdered beauty and yet failed in his designings to achieve comfort. It
was as hot as a Dutch oven, that little box of a room inclosed within
its thin-planked walls. It was not a place where one would care to
linger longer than one had to. Judge Priest came swiftly to the heart of
the business which had sent him thither.

"Ma'am," he was saying, "this is a kind of a pussonal matter that's
brought me down here this hot night, and with your consent I'll git
right to the point of it. Ordinarily I'm a poor hand at diggin' into the
business of other people. But seein' that I knowed your late lamented
husband both ez a worthy citizen and ez an honest, hard-workin' man, and
seein' that in my official capacity it has been incumbent upon me to
issue certain orders in connection with your rights and claims arisin'
out of his ontimely death, I have felt emboldened to interest myself,
privately, in your case--and that's why I'm here now.

"To-day at the cotehouse, when the settlement wuz formally agreed to by
the legal representatives of both sides, an idea come to me. And that
idea is this: Now there's eight thousand dollars due the heirs, you
bein' one and your daughter, Mrs. Dallam Wybrant, bein' the other. Half
of eight thousand dollars wouldn't be so very much to help take keer of
a person, no matter how keerful they wuz; but eight thousand dollars,
put out at interest, would provide a livin' in a way fur one who lived
simply, and more especially in the case of one who owned their own home
and had it free from debt, ez I understand is the situation with
reguards to you.

"On the other hand, your daughter is well fixed. Her husband is a rich
man, ez measured by the standards of our people. It's probable that
she'll always be well and amply provided fur. Moreover, she's young, and
you, ma'am, will some day come to the time when you won't be able to go
on workin' with your hands ez you now do.

"So things bein' thus and so, it seems to me that ef the suggestion was
made to your daughter, Mrs. Dallam Wybrant, that she should waive her
claim to her share of them eight thousand dollars and sign over her
rights to you, thereby inshorin' you frum the fear of actual want in
your declinin' years; and her, ez I have jest been statin', not needin'
the money--well, it seems to me that she would jest naturally jump at
the notion. So if you would go to her yourself with the suggestion, or
git somebody in whose good sense and judgment you've got due confidence
to go to her and her husband and lay the facts before them, I, fur one,
knowin' a little somethin' of human nature, feel morally sure of the
outcome. Why, I expect she'd welcome the idea; maybe she's already
thinkin' of the same thing and wonderin' how, legally, it kin be done.
And that, ma'am, is what brings me here to your residence to-night. And
I trust you will appreciate the motive which has prompted me and furgive
me if I, who's almost a stranger to you, seem to have meddled in your
affairs without warrant or justification."

He reared back in his chair, a plump hand upon either knee.

Through this the widow had not spoken, or offered to speak. Now that he
had finished, she answered him from the half shadow in which she sat on
the farther side of the sewing machine upon which the lamp burned. There
was no bitterness, he thought, in her words; merely a sense of
resignation to and acceptance of a state of things not of her own
contriving, and not, conceivably, to be of her own undoing.

"Judge," she said, "perhaps you know by hearsay at least that since my
daughter's marriage she has lived apart from us. Neither my husband nor
I ever set foot in the house where she lives. It was her wish"--she
caught herself here, and he, sensing that she was equivocating,
nevertheless inwardly approved of the deceit--"I mean to say that it was
not my wish to go among her friends, who are not my friends, or to
embarrass her in any way. I am proud that in marrying she has done so
well for herself. In thinking of her happiness I shall always try to
find happiness for myself.

"But, judge, you must know this too: She did not come to the--the
funeral. Well, there was a cause for that; she had a reason. But--but
she had not been here for months before that. She--oh, you might as well
hear it if you are to understand--she has never once been here since she
married!

"And so, Judge Priest, I cannot go to her until I am sent for--not under
any circumstances nor for any purpose. If she has her pride, I in my
poor small way have my pride, too, my self-respect. When she needs
me--if ever she does--I'll go to her wherever she may be if I have to
crawl there on my hands and knees. What has gone before will all be
forgotten. But don't you see, sir?--I can't go until she sends for me.
And so, Judge Priest, while I thank you with all my heart for your
thoughtfulness and your kindness, and while I'd be glad, too, if Ellie
saw fit or could be made to see that it would be a fine thing to give me
this money in the way you have suggested, I say to you again that I
cannot be the one to go to her. I will not even write to her on the
subject. That, with me, is final."

"But, ma'am," he said, "ef somebody else went--some friend of yours and
of hers--how about it then?"

She shook her head.

"Her friends--now--are not my friends. My friends are not hers any more;
most of them never were her friends. Besides, the idea did not originate
with me. Either the proposition must come from her direct or it must be
presented to her by some third party. And I can think of no third party
of my choosing that she would care to hear. No, Judge Priest, I have
nobody to send."

"All right then," he stated, "since I set this here ball in motion I'll
keep it rollin'. Ma'am, I'll take it on myself to speak to Mrs. Dallam
Wybrant in your behalf."

"But, Judge Priest," she protested, "I couldn't ask you to do that for
me--I couldn't!"

"Ma'am, you ain't asked me and you don't need to ask me. I'm askin'
myself--I'm doin' this on my own hook, and ef you'll excuse me I'll
start at it right away. When there's a thing which needs to be done ez
bad ez this thing needs to be done, there oughtn't to be no time lost."
He stood up and looked about him for his hat. "Ma'am, I confidently
expect to be back here inside of half an hour, or an hour at most, with
some good news fur you."

To one who had traveled about more and seen the homes of wealthy
folk--to a professional decorator, say, or an expert in furnishing
values--the drawing-room into which Judge Priest presently was being
ushered might have seemed overdone, overly cluttered up with drapery and
adornment. But to Judge Priest's eye the room was all that a rich man's
best room should be. The thick stucco walls cut out the heat of the
night; an electric fan whirred upon him as he sat in a deep chair of
puffed red damask. A mulatto girl in neat uniform--this uniform itself
an astonishing innovation--had answered his ring at the door and had
ushered him into this wonderful parlor and had taken his name and had
gone up the broad stairs with the word that he desired to see the lady
of the house for a few minutes upon important business. He had asked
first for Mr. and Mrs. Dallam Wybrant; but Mr. Wybrant, it seemed, was
out of town; Mrs. Wybrant, then, would do. The maid, having delivered
the message, had returned to say her mistress would be down presently
and the caller was to wait, please. Waiting, he had had opportunity to
contrast the present settings with those he had just quitted. Perhaps
the contrast between them appeared all the greater by reason of the
freshness of his recollection of the physical surroundings at the scene
of his first visit of that evening.

She came down soon, wearing a loose, frilly, wrapperlike garment which
hid her figure. Approaching maternity had not softened her face, had not
given to it the glorified Madonna look. Rather it had drawn her features
to haggardness and put in her eyes a look of sharpened apprehension as
though dread of the nearing ordeal of suffering and danger overrode the
hope which, along with the new life, was quick within her. She greeted
Judge Priest with a matter-of-fact directness. Her expression plainly
enough told him she was at a loss to account for his coming.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said in her rather metallic fashion of speaking,
"that Dallam isn't here. But he was called to St. Louis this morning on
business. I hope you will pardon my receiving you in negligée. I'm not
seeing much company at present. The maid, though, said the business was
imperative."

"Yes, ma'am, it is," answered Judge Priest, rather ceremoniously for
him, "and I am grateful to you fur lettin' me see you and I don't aim to
detain you very long. I kin tell you in a few words whut it is that has
brought me."

He was as good as his promise--he did tell her in a few words. Outlining
his suggestion, he used much the same language which he had used once
already that night. He did not tell her, though, he had come to her
direct from her mother. He did not tell her he had been to her mother at
all. It might have been inferred that his present hearer was the first
to hear that which now he set forth.

"Well, ma'am," he concluded, "that's the condition ez I view it. And if
you likewise see your way clear to view it ez I do the whole thing kin
be accomplished with the scratch of a pen. And you'll have the
satisfaction of knowin' that through your act your mother will be well
provided fur fur the rest of her life." He added a final argument, being
moved thereto perhaps by the fact that she had heard him without change
of expression and with no glance which might be interpreted as approval
for his plan. "I take it, ma'am, that you do not need the money
involved. You never will need it, the chances are. You are rich fur this
town--your husband is, anyway."

She replied then, and to the old man, harkening, it seemed that her
words fell sharp and brittle like breaking icicles. One thing, though,
might be said for her--she sought no roundabout course. She did not
quibble or seek to enwrap the main issue in specious excuses or
apologies for her position.

"I decline to do it," she said. "I do not feel that I have the right to
do it. I understand the motives which may have actuated you to interest
yourself in this affair, but I tell you very frankly that I have no
intention of surrendering my legal rights in the slightest degree. You
say I do not need the money, but in the very same breath you go on to
say the chances are that I shall never need it. So there you yourself
practically admit there is a chance that some day I might need it.
Besides, I do not rate my husband a rich man, though you may do so. He
is well-to-do, nothing more. And his business is uncertain--all business
is. He might lose every cent he has to-morrow in some bad investment or
some poor speculation.

"There is still another reason I think of: I have nothing--absolutely
nothing--in my own name. It irks me to ask my husband, generous though
he is, for every cent I use, to have to account to him for my personal
expenditures. Before I married him I earned my own living and I paid my
own way and learned to love the feeling of independence, the feeling of
having a little money that was all my own. My share of this inheritance
will provide me with a private fund, a fund upon which I may draw at
will, or which I may put away for a possible rainy day, just as I
choose."

"But ma'am," he blurted, knowing full well he was beaten, yet inspired
by a desperate, forlorn hope that some added plea from him might break
through the shell of this steel-surfaced selfishness--"but, ma'am, do
you stop to realize that it's your own mother who'd benefit by this
sacrifice on your part? Do you stop to consider that if there's one
person in all this world who's entitled--"

"Pardon me, sir, for interrupting you," she said crisply, her tone icy
and sharp, "but the one person who is entitled to most consideration at
my hands has not actually come into the world yet. It is of that person
that I must think. I had not meant to speak of this, but your insistence
forces me to it. As you may guess, Judge Priest, I am about to become a
mother myself. If my baby lives--and my baby is going to live--that
money will belong to my child should anything happen to me. I must think
of what lies ahead of me, not of what has gone before. My mother owns
the home where she lives; she will have her half of this sum of money;
she is, I believe, in good health; she is amply able to go on, as she
has in the past, adding to her income with her needle. So much for my
mother. As a mother myself it will be my duty, as I see it, to safeguard
the future of my own child, and I mean to do it, regardless of
everything else. That is all I have to say about it--that is, if I have
made myself sufficiently plain to you, Judge Priest."

"Madam," said he, and for once at least he dropped his lifelong
affectation of ungrammatical speech and reverted to that more stately
and proper English which he reserved for his judgments from the bench,
"you have indeed made your position so clear by what you have just said
that I feel there is nothing whatsoever to be added by either one of us.
Madam, I have the pleasure to bid you good night."

He clamped his floppy straw hat firmly down upon his head--a thing the
old judge in all his life never before had done in the presence of a
woman of his race--and he turned the broad of his back upon her; and if
a man whose natural gait was a waddle could be said to stride, then be
it stated that Judge Priest strode out of that room and out of that
house. Had he looked back before he reached the door he would have seen
that she sat in her chair, huddled in her silken garments, on her face a
half smile of tolerant contempt for his choler and in her eye a light
playing like winter sunlight on frozen water; would have seen that about
her there was no suggestion whatsoever that she was ruffled or upset or
in the least regretful of the course she had elected to follow. But
Judge Priest did not look back. He was too busy striding.

Perhaps it was the heat or perhaps it was inability long to maintain a
gait so forced, but the volunteer emissary ceased to stride long before
he had traversed the three-quarters of a mile--and yet, when one came to
think it over, a span as wide as a continent--which lay between the
restricted, not to say exclusive, head of Chickasaw Drive and the
shabby, not to say miscellaneous, foot of Yazoo Street. It was a very
wilted, very lag-footed, very droopy old gentleman who, come another
half hour or less, let himself drop with an audible thump into a
golden-oak rocker alongside the Widow Millsap's sewing machine.

"Ma'am," he had confessed, without preamble, as he entered her house,
she holding the door open for his passage, "I come back to you licked.
Your daughter absolutely declines even to consider the proposition I put
before her. As a plenipotentiary extraordinary I admit I'm a teetotal
failure. I return to you empty-handed--and licked."

To this she had said nothing. She had waited until he was seated; then
as she seated herself in her former place, with the lamp between them,
she asked quietly, almost listlessly, "My daughter saw you then?"

"She did, ma'am, she did. And she refused point-blank!"

"I am sorry, Judge Priest--sorry that you should have been put to so
much trouble needlessly," she said, still holding her voice at that
emotionless level. "I am sorry, sir, for your sake; but it is no more
than I expected. I let you go to her against my better judgment. I
should have known that your errand would be useless. Knowing Ellie, I
should have known better than to send you."

He snorted.

"Ma'am, when a little while ago, settin' right here, I told you I
thought I knowed a little something about human nature I boasted too
soon. Sech a thing ez this thing which has happened to-night is
brand-new in my experience. You will excuse my sayin' so, but I kin not
fathom the workin's of a mind that would--that would--" He floundered
for words in his indignation. "It is not natural, this here thing I have
just seen and heard. How your own flesh and blood could--"

"Judge Priest," she said steadily, "it is not my own flesh and blood
that you accuse. That is my consolation now. For I know the stock that
is in me. I know the stock that was in my husband. My own flesh and
blood could never treat me so."

He stared at her, his forehead twisted in a perplexed frown.

"I mean to say just this," she went on: "Ellie is not my own child. She
has not a drop of my blood or my husband's blood in her. Judge Priest, I
am about to tell you something which not another soul in this town
excepting me--now that my husband is gone--has ever known. We never had
any children, Felix and I. Always we wanted children, but none came to
us. Nearly twenty-three years ago it is now, we had for a neighbor a
young woman whose husband had deserted her--had run away with another
woman, leaving her without a cent, in failing health and with a
six-month-old girl baby. That was less than two years before we came to
this town. We lived then in a little town called Calais, on the Eastern
Shore of Maryland.

"Three months after the husband ran away the wife died. I guess it was
shame and a broken heart more than anything else that killed her. She
had not a soul in the world to whom she could turn for help when she was
dying. We two did what we could for her. We didn't have much--we never
have had much all through our lives--but what we had we divided with
her. We were literally the only friends she had in this world. At the
last we took turns nursing her, my husband and I did. When she was dying
she put her baby in my arms and asked me to take her and to care for
her. That was what I had been praying all along that she would do, and I
was glad and I gave her my promise and she lay back on the pillow and
died.

"Well, she was buried and we took the child and cared for her. We came
to love her as though she had been our own; we always loved her as
though she had been our own. Less than a year after the mother
died--that was when Ellie was about eighteen months old--we brought her
with us out here to this town. Her baptismal name was Eleanor, which had
been her mother's name--Eleanor Major. The father who ran away was named
Richard Major. We went on calling her Eleanor, but as our child she
became Eleanor Millsap. She has never suspected--she has never for one
moment dreamed that she was not our own. After she grew up and showed
indifference to us, and especially after she had married and began to
behave toward us in a way which has caused her, I expect, to be
criticized by some people, we still nursed that secret and it gave us
comfort. For we knew, both of us, that it was the alien blood in her
that made her turn her back upon us. We knew the reason, if no one else
did, for she was not our own flesh and blood. Our own could never have
served us so. And to-night I know better than ever before, and it
lessens my sense of disappointment and distress.

"Judge Priest, perhaps you will not understand me, but the mother
instinct is a curious thing. Through these last few years of my life I
have felt as though there were two women inside of me. One of these
women grieved because her child had denied her. The other of these women
was reconciled because she could see reflected in the actions of that
child the traits of a breed of strangers. And yet both these women can
still find it in them to forgive her for all that she has done and all
that she may ever do. That's motherhood, I suppose."

"Yes, ma'am," he said slowly, "I reckin you're right--that's
motherhood." He tugged at his tab of white chin whisker, and his
puckered old eyes behind their glasses were shadowed with a deep
compassion. Then with a jerk he sat erect.

"I take it that you adopted the child legally?" he said, seeking to make
his tone casual.

"We took her just as I told you," she answered. "We always treated her
as though she had been ours. She never knew any difference."

"Yes, ma'am, quite so. You've made that clear enough. But by law, before
you left Maryland, you gave her your name, I suppose? You went through
the legal form of law of adoptin' her, didn't you?"

"No, sir, we didn't do that. It didn't seem necessary--it never occurred
to us to do it. Her mother was dead and her father was gone nobody knew
where. He had abandoned her, had shown he didn't care what might become
of her. And her mother on her deathbed had given her to me. Wasn't that
sufficient?"

Apparently he had not heard her question. Instead of answering it he put
one of his own:

"Do you reckin now, ma'am, by any chance that there are any people still
livin' back there in that town of Calais--old neighbors of yours, or
kinfolks maybe--who'd remember the circumstances in reguard to your
havin' took this baby in the manner which you have described?"

"Yes, sir; two at least that I know of are still living. One is my half
sister. I haven't seen her in twenty-odd years, but I hear from her
regularly. And another is a man who boarded with us at the time. He was
young then and very poor, but he has become well-to-do since. He lives
in Baltimore now; is prominent there in politics. Occasionally I see his
name in the paper. He has been to Congress and he ran for senator once.
And there may be still others if I could think of them."

"Never mind the others; the two you've named will be sufficient. Whut
did you say their names were, ma'am?"

She told him. He repeated them after her as though striving to fix them
in his memory.

"Ah-hah," he said. "Ma'am, have you got some writin' material handy? Any
blank paper will do--and a pen and ink?"

From a little stand in a corner she brought him what he required, and
wonderingly but in silence watched him as he put down perhaps a dozen
close-written lines. She bided until he had concluded his task and read
through the script, making a change here and there. Then all at once
some confused sense of realization of his new purpose came to her. She
stood up and took a step forward and laid one apprehensive hand upon the
paper as though to stay him.

"Judge Priest," she said, "what have you written down here? And what do
you mean to do with what you have written?"

"Whut I have written here is a short statement--a memorandum, really, of
whut you have been tellin' me, ma'am," he explained. "I'll have it
written out more fully in the form of an affidavit, and then to-morrow I
want you to sign it either here or at my office in the presence of
witnesses."

"But is it necessary?" she demurred. "I'm ignorant of the law, and you
spoke just now of my failure to adopt Ellie by law. But if at this late
date I must do it, can't it be done privately, in secret, so that
neither Ellie nor anyone else will ever know?"

"Ellie will have to know, I reckin," he stated grimly, "and other folks
will know too. But this here paper has nothin' to do with any sech
proceedin' ez you imagine. It's too late now fur you legally to adopt
Mrs. Dallam Wybrant, even though any person should suggest sech a thing,
and I, fur my part, don't see how any right-thinkin' person could or
would do so. She's a free agent, of full age, and she's a married woman.
No, ma'am, she has no legal claim on you and to my way of thinkin' she
has no moral claim on you neither. She's not your child, a fact which
I'm shore kin mighty easy be proved ef anyone should feel inclined to
doubt your word. She ain't your legal heir. She ain't got a leg--excuse
me, ma'am--she ain't got a prop to stand on. I thought Ellie had us
licked. Instid it would seem that we've got Ellie licked."

He broke off, checked in his exultant flight by the look upon her face.
Her fingers turned inward, the blunted nails scratching at the sheet of
paper as though she would tear it from him.

"No, no, no!" she cried. "I won't do that! I can't do that! You mustn't
ask me to do that, judge!"

"But, ma'am, don't you git my meanin' yit? Don't you realize that not a
penny of this eight thousand dollars belongs to Mrs. Dallam Wybrant?
That she has no claim upon any part of it? That it's all yours and that
you're goin' to have it all for yourself--every last red cent of
it--jest ez soon ez the proof kin be filed and the order made by me in
court?"

"I'm not thinking of that," she declared. "It's Ellie I think of. Her
happiness means more to me than a million dollars would. What I have
told you was in confidence, and, judge, you must treat it so. I beg you,
I demand it of you. You must promise me not to go any further in this.
You must promise me not to tell a living soul what I have told you
to-night. I won't sign any affidavit. I won't sign anything. I won't do
anything to humiliate her. Don't you see, Judge Priest--oh, don't you
see? She feels shame already because she thinks she was humbly born.
She would be more deeply ashamed than ever if she knew how humbly she
really was born--knew that her father was a scoundrel and her mother
died a pauper and was buried in a potter's field; that the name she has
borne is not her own name; that she has eaten the bread of charity
through the most of her life. No, Judge Priest, I tell you no, a
thousand times no. She doesn't know. Through me she shall never know. I
would die to spare her suffering--die to spare her humiliation or
disgrace. Before God's eyes I am her mother, and it is her mother who
tells you no, not that, not that!"

He got upon his feet too. He crumpled the paper into a ball and thrust
it out of sight as though it had been a thing abominable and unclean. He
took no note that in wadding the sheet he had overturned the inkwell and
a stream from it was trickling down his trouser legs, marking them with
long black zebra streaks. He looked at her, she standing there, a
stooped and meager shape in her scant, ill-fitting gown of sleazy black,
yet seeming to him an embodiment of all the beatitudes and all the
beauties of this mortal world.

"Ma'am," he said, "your wishes shall be respected. It shall be ez you
say. My lawyer's sense tells me that you are wrong--foolishly, blindly
wrong. But my memory of my own mother tells me that you are right, and
that no mother's son has got the right to question you or try to
persuade you to do anything different. Ma'am, I'd count it an honor to
be able to call myself your friend."

Already, within the hour, Judge Priest had broken two constant rules of
his daily conduct. Now, involuntarily, without forethought on his part,
he was about to break another. This would seem to have been a night for
the smashing of habits by our circuit judge. For she put out to him her
hand--a most unlovely hand, all wrinkled at the back where dimples might
once have been and corded with big blue veins and stained and shriveled
and needle scarred. And he took her hand in his fat, pudgy, awkward one,
and then he did this thing which never before in all his days he had
done, this thing which never before he had dreamed of doing. Really,
there is no accounting for it at all unless we figure that somewhere far
back in Judge Priest's ancestry there were Celtic gallants, versed in
the small sweet tricks of gallantry. He bent his head and he kissed her
hand with a grace for which a Tom Moore or a Raleigh might have envied
him.


Let us now for a briefened space cast up in a preliminary way the tally
on behalf of the whimsical devils of circumstance and the part they are
to play in the culminating and concluding periods of this narrative. On
the noon train of the day following the night when that occurred which
has been set forth in the foregoing pages, Judge Priest, in the company
of Doctor Lake and Sergeant Jimmy Bagby, late of King's Hell Hounds,
C.S.A., departs for Reelfoot Lake upon his annual fishing trip. In the
afternoon Jeff Poindexter, the judge's body servant, going through his
master's wardrobe seeking articles suitable for his own adornment in the
master's absence, is pained to discern stripings of spilled ink down the
legs of a pair of otherwise unmarred white trousers, and, having no
intention that garments which will one day come into his permanent
possession shall be thus disfigured and sullied, promptly bundles them
up and bears them to the cleansing, pressing and repairing establishment
of one Hyman Pedaloski. The coat which matches the trousers goes along
too. Upon the underside of one of its sleeves there is a big ink blob.
Include in the equation this _emigré_, Hyman Pedaloski, newly landed
from Courland and knowing as yet but little of English, whether written
or spoken, yet destined to advance by progressive stages until a day
comes when we proudly shall hail him as our most fashionable merchant
prince--Hy Clay Pedaloski, the Square Deal Clothier, Also Hats, Caps &
Leather Goods. Include as a factor Hyman by all means, for lacking him
our chain of chancy coincidence would lack a most vital link.

At Reelfoot Lake many black bass, bronze-backed and big-mouthed, meet
the happy fate which all true anglers wish for them; and the white
perch do bite with a whole-souled enthusiasm only equaled by the
whole-souled enthusiasm with which also the mosquitoes bite. This brings
us to the end of the week and to the fifth day of the expedition, with
Judge Priest at rest at the close of a satisfactory day's sports,
exhaling scents of the oil of penny-royal. Sitting-there under a tent
fly, all sun blistered and skeeter stung, all tired out but most
content, he picks up a two-day-old copy of the _Daily Evening News_
which the darky boatman has just brought over to camp from the post
office at Walnut Log, and he opens it at the department headed Local
Laconics, and halfway down the first column his eye falls upon a
paragraph at sight of which he gives so deep a snort that Doctor Lake
swings about from where he is shaving before a hand mirror hung on a
tree limb and wants to know whether the judge has happened upon
disagreeable tidings. What the judge has read is a small item in this
wise, namely:


     Born last evening to Mr. and Mrs. Dallam Wybrant, at their palatial
     mansion on Chickasaw Drive, in the new Beechmont Park Realty
     Development tract, an infant daughter, their first-born. Mother and
     child both doing well; the proud papa reported this morning as
     being practically out of danger and is expected to be entirely
     recovered shortly, as Dock Boyd, the attending medico, says he has
     brought three hundred babies into the world and never lost a father
     yet. Ye editor extends heartiest congrats. Dal, it looks like the
     cigars were on you!


The next chapter in the sequence of chapters leading to our climax is
short but essential. Returning home Sunday evening, Judge Priest is
informed that twice that day a strange young white lady has stopped at
the house urgently requesting that immediately upon his arrival he be so
good as to call on Mrs. Dallam Wybrant on a matter of pressing moment.
Bidden to describe the messenger, Jeff Poindexter can only say that she
'uz a powerful masterful-lookin' Yankee-talkin' lady, all dressed up lak
she mout belong to some kind of a new secret s'ciety lodge, which is
Jeff's way of summing up his impressions of the first professional
trained nurse ever imported, capped, caped and white shod, to our town.

It was this same professional, a cool and starchy vision, who led the
way up the wide stairs of the Chickasaw Drive house, the old judge, much
mystified, following close behind her. She ushered him into a bedroom,
bigger and more gorgeous than any bedroom he had ever seen, and leaving
him standing, hat in hand, at the bedside of her chief charge, she went
out and closed the door behind her.

From the pillows there looked up at him a face that was paler than when
he had last seen it, a face still drawn from pangs of agony recently
endured, but a face transfigured and radiant. The Madonna look was in it
now. Outside, the dusk of an August evening was thickening; and inside,
the curtains were half drawn and the electrics not yet turned on, but
even so, in that half light, the judge could mark the change here
revealed to him. He could sense, too, that the change was more spiritual
than physical, and he could feel his animosity for this woman softening
into something distantly akin to sympathy. At her left side, harbored in
the crook of her elbow, lay a cuddling bundle; a tiny head, all red and
bare, as though offering to Judge Priest's own bald, pinkish pate the
sincere flattery of imitation, was exposed; and the tip of a very small
ear, curled and crinkled like a sea shell. You take the combination of a
young mother cradling her first-born within the hollow of her arm and
you have the combination which has tautened the heartstrings of man
since the first man child came from the womb. The old man made a silent
obeisance of reverence; then waited for her to speak and expose the
purpose behind this totally unexpected summons.

"Judge Priest," she said, "I have been lying here all day hoping you
would come before night. I have been wishing for you to come ever since
I came out from under the ether. Thank you for coming."

"Ma'am, I started fur here ez soon ez I got your word," he said. "In
whut way kin I be of service to you? I'm at your command."

She slid her free hand beneath the pillow on which her head rested and
brought forth a crinkled sheet of paper and held it out to him.

"Didn't you write this?" she asked.

He took it and looked at it, and a great astonishment and a great
chagrin screwed his eyes and slackened his lower jaw.

"Yes, ma'am," he admitted, "I wrote it. But it wuzn't meant fur you to
see. It wuzn't meant fur anybody a-tall to see--ever. And I'm wonderin',
ma'am, and waitin' fur you to tell me how come it to reach you."

"I'll tell you," she answered. "But first, before we get to that, would
you mind telling me how you came to write it, and when, and all? I think
I can guess. I think I have already pieced the thing together for
myself. Women can't reason much, you know; but they have intuition." She
smiled a little at this conceit. "And I want to know if my deductions
and my conclusions are correct."

"Well, ma'am," he said, "ez I wuz sayin', no human eye wuz to have read
this here. But since you have read it, I feel it's my bounden duty, in
common justice to another, to tell you the straight of it, even though
in doin' so I'm breakin' a solemn pledge."

So he told her--the how and the why and the where and the when of it;
details of which the reader is aware.

"I thought I wasn't very far wrong, and I wasn't," she said when he had
finished his confession. She was quiet for a minute, her eyes fixed on
the farther wall. Then: "Judge Priest, unwittingly, it seems, you have
been the god of the machine. I wonder if you'd be willing to continue
to serve?"

"Ef it lies within my powers to do so--yessum, and gladly."

"It does lie within your power. I want you to have the necessary papers
drawn up which will signalize my giving over to my mother my share of
that money which the railway paid two weeks ago, and then if you will
send them to me I will sign them. I want this done at once, please--as
soon as possible."

"Ma'am," he said, "it shall be as you desire; but ef it's all the same
to you I'd like to write out that there paper with my own hand. I kin
think of no act of mine, official or private, in my whole lifetime which
would give me more honest pleasure. I'll do so before I leave this
house." He did not tell her that by the letter of the law she would be
giving away what by law was not hers to give. He would do nothing to
spoil for her the sweet savor of her surrender. Instead he put a
question: "It would appear that you have changed your mind about this
here matter since I seen you last?"

"It was changed for me," she said. "This paper helped to change it for
me; and you, too, helped without your knowledge; and one other, and most
of all my baby here, helped to change it for me. Judge Priest, since my
baby came to me my whole view of life seems somehow to have been
altered. I've been lying here to-day with her beside me, thinking
things out. Suppose I should be taken from her, and suppose her father
should be taken, too, and she should be left, as I was, to the mercy of
the world and the charity of strangers. Suppose she should grow up, as I
did--although until I read that paper I didn't know it--beholden to the
goodness and the devotion and the love of one who was not her real
mother. Wouldn't she owe to that other woman more than she could have
owed to me, her own mother, had I been spared to rear her? I think
so--no, I know it is so. Every instinct of motherhood in me tells me it
is so."

"Lady," he answered, "to a mere man woman always will be an everlastin'
puzzle and a riddle; but even a man kin appreciate, in a poor, faint
way, the depths of mother love. It's ez though he looked through a break
in the clouds and ketched a vision of the glories of heaven. But you
ain't told me yit how you come to be in possession of this here sheet of
note paper."

"Oh, that's right! I had forgotten," she answered. "Try to think now,
judge--when my mother refused to let you go farther with your plan that
night at her house, what did you do with the paper?"

"I shoved it out of sight quick ez ever I could. I recall that much
anyway."

"Did you by any chance put it in your pocket?"

"Well, by Nathan Bedford Forrest!" he exclaimed. "I believe that's
purzackly the very identical thing I did do. And bein' a careless old
fool, I left it there instid of tearin' it up or burnin' it, and then I
went on home and plum' furgot it wuz still there--not that I now regret
havin' done so, seein' whut to-night's outcome is."

"And did your servant, after you were gone, send the suit you had worn
that night downtown to be cleaned or repaired? Or do you know about
that?"

"I suspicion that he done that very thing," he said, a light beginning
to break in upon him. "Jeff is purty particular about keepin' my clothes
in fust-rate order. He aims fur them to be in good condition when he
decides it's time to confiscate 'em away frum me and start in wearin'
'em himself. Yessum, my Jeff's mighty funny that way. And now, come to
think of it, I do seem to reckerlect that I spilt a lot of ink on 'em
that same night."

"Well, then, the mystery is no mystery at all," she said. "On that very
same day--the day your darky sent your clothes to the cleaner's--I had
two of Dallam's suits sent down to be pressed. That little man at the
tailor shop--Pedaloski--found this paper crumpled up in your pocket and
took it out and then later forgot where he had found it. So, as I
understand, he tried to read it, seeking for a clue to its ownership. He
can't read much English, you know, so probably he has had no idea then
or thereafter of the meaning of it; but he did know enough English to
make out the name of Wybrant. Look at it and you'll see my name occurs
twice in it, but your name does not occur at all. So don't you see what
happened--what he did? Thinking the paper must have come from one of my
husband's pockets, he smoothed it out as well as he could and folded it
up and pinned it to the sleeve of Dallam's blue serge and sent it here.
My maid found it when she was undoing the bundle before hanging up the
clothes in Dallam's closet, and she brought it to me, thinking, I
suppose, it was a bill from the cleaner's shop, and I read it. Simple
enough explanation, isn't it, when you know the facts?"

"Simple," he agreed, "and yit at the same time sort of wonderful too.
And whut did you do when you read it?"

"I was stunned at first. I tried at first not to believe it. But I
couldn't deceive myself. Something inside of me told me that it was
true--every word of it. I suppose it was the woman in me that told me.
And somehow I knew that you had written it, although really that part
was not so very hard a thing to figure out, considering everything. And
somehow--I can't tell you why though--I was morally sure that after you
had written it some other person had forbidden your making use of it in
any way, and instinctively--anyhow, I suppose you might say it was by
instinct--I knew that it had reached me, of all persons, by accident and
not by design.

"I tried to reach you--you were gone away. But I did reach that funny
little man Pedaloski by telephone, and found out from him why he had
pinned the paper on Dallam's coat. I did not tell my husband about it.
He doesn't know yet. I don't think I shall ever tell him. For two days,
judge, I wrestled with the problem of whether I should send for my
mother and tell her that now I knew the thing which all her life she had
guarded from me. Finally I decided to wait and see you first, and try to
find out from you the exact circumstances under which the paper was
written, and the reason why, after writing it, you crumpled it up and
hid it away.

"And then--and then my baby came, and since she came my scheme of life
seems all made over. And oh, Judge Priest"--she reached forth a white,
weak hand and caught at his--"I have you and my baby and--yes, that
little man to thank that my eyes have been opened and that my heart has
melted in me and that my soul has been purged from a terrible selfish
deed of cruelty and ingratitude. And one thing more I want you to know:
I'm not really sorry that I was born as I was. I'm glad, because--well,
I'm just glad, that's all. And I suppose that, too, is the woman in me."

One given to sonorous and orotund phrases would doubtless have coined a
most splendid speech here. But all the old judge, gently patting her
hand, said was:

"Well, now, ma'am, that's powerful fine--the way it's all turned out.
And I'm glad I had a blunderin' hand in it to help bring it about. I
shorely am, ma'am. I'd like to keep on havin' a hand in it. I wonder now
ef you wouldn't like fur me to be the one to go right now and fetch your
mother here to you?"

She shook her head, smiling.

"Thank you, judge, that's not necessary. She's here now. She was here
when the baby came. I sent for her. She's in her room right down the
hall; it'll be her room always from now on. I expect she's sewing on
things for the baby; we can't make her stop it. She's terribly jealous
of Miss McAlpin--that's the trained nurse Dallam brought back with him
from St. Louis--but Miss McAlpin will be going soon, and then she'll be
in sole charge. She doesn't know, Judge Priest, that what she told to
you I now know. She never shall know if I can prevent it, and I know
you'll help me guard our secret from her."

"I reckin you may safely count on me there, ma'am," he promised. "I've
frequently been told by disinterested parties that I snore purty loud
sometimes, but I don't believe anybody yit caught me talkin' in my
sleep. And now I expect you're sort of tired out. So ef you'll excuse
me I'll jest slip downstairs, and before I go do that there little piece
of writin' we spoke about a while ago."

"Wouldn't you like to see my baby before you go?" she asked. Her left
hand felt for the white folds which half swaddled the tiny sleeper.
"Judge Priest, let me introduce you to little Miss Martha Millsap
Wybrant, named for her grandmammy."

"Pleased to meet you, young lady," said he, bowing low and elaborately.
"At your early age, honey, it's easier fur a man, to understand you than
ever it will be agin after you start growin' up. Pleased indeed to meet
you."


If memory serves him aright, this chronicler of sundry small happenings
in the life and times of the Honorable William Pitman Priest has more
than once heretofore commented upon the fact that among our circuit
judge's idiosyncrasies was his trick, when deeply moved, of talking to
himself. This night as he went slowly homeward through the soft and
velvety cool of the summer darkness he freely indulged himself in this
habit. Oddly enough, he punctuated his periods, as it were, with
lamp-posts. When he reached a street light he would speak musingly to
himself, then fall silent until he had trudged along to the next light.
Something after this fashion:

Corner of Chickasaw Drive and Exall Boulevard:

"Well, sir, the older I git the more convinced I am that jest about the
time a man decides he knows a little something about human nature it's a
shore sign he don't know nothin' a-tall about it, 'specially human
nature ez it applies to the female of the species. Now, f'rinstance, you
take this here present instance: A woman turns aginst the woman she
thinks is her own mother. Then she finds out the other woman ain't her
own mother a-tall, and she swings right back round agin and--well, it's
got me stumped. Now ef in her place it had 'a' been a man. But a
woman--oh, shuckin's, whut's the use?"

Corner of Chickasaw Drive and Sycamore Avenue:

"Still, of course we've got to figger the baby as a prime factor
enterin' into the case and helpin' to straighten things out. Spry little
trick fur three days old, goin' on four, wuzn't she? Ought to be purty,
too, when she gits herself some hair and a few teeth and plumps out so's
she taken up the slack of them million wrinkles, more or less, that
she's got now. Babies, now--great institutions anyway you take 'em."

Corner of Sycamore Avenue, turning into Clay Street:

"And still, dog-gone it, you'll find folks in this world so blind that
they'll tell you destiny or fate, or whutever you want to call it, jest
goes along doin' things by haphazard without no workin' plans and no
fixed designs. But me, I'm different--me. I regard the scheme of
creation ez a hell of a success. Look at this affair fur a minute. I go
meddlin' along like an officious, absent-minded idiot, which I am, and
jest when it looks like nothin' is goin' to result frum my interference
but fresh heartaches fur one of the noblest souls that ever lived on
this here footstool, why the firm of Providence, Pedaloski and
Poindexter steps in, and bang, there you are! It wouldn't happen agin
probably in a thousand years, but it shore happened this oncet, I'll
tell the world. Let's see, now, how does that there line in the hymn
book run?--'moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.' Ain't it
the truth?"

Last street lamp on Clay Street before you come to Judge Priest's house:

"And they call 'em the opposite sex! I claim the feller that fust coined
that there line wuz a powerful conservative pusson. Opposite? Huh!
Listen here to me: They're so dad-gum opposite they're plum'
cater-cornered!"



CHAPTER III

A SHORT NATURAL HISTORY


If ever a person might be said to have dedicated his being to the
pursuit of leisure, that selfsame was Red Hoss Shackleford, of color,
and highly so. He was one who specialized in the deft and fine high art
of doing nothing at all. With him leisure was at once a calling to be
followed regularly and an ideal to be fostered. But also he loved to
eat, and he had a fancy for wearing gladsome gearings, and these
cravings occasionally interfered with the practice of his favorite
vocation. In order that he might enjoy long periods of manual inactivity
it devolved upon him at intervals to devote his reluctant energies to
gainful labor. When driven to it by necessity, which is said to be the
mother of invention and which certainly is the full sister to appetite,
Red Hoss worked. He just naturally had to--sometimes.

You see, in the matter of being maintained vicariously he was less
fortunately circumstanced than so many of his fellows in our town were,
and still are. He had no ministering parent doing cookery for the white
folks, and by night, in accordance with a time-hallowed custom with
which no sane housekeeper dared meddle, bringing home under a dolman
cape loaded tin buckets and filled wicker baskets. Ginger Dismukes,
now--to cite a conspicuous example--was one thus favored by the
indulgent fates.

Aunt Ca'line Dismukes, mother of the above, was as honest as the day was
long; but when the evening of that day came, such trifles, say, as part
of a ham or a few left-over slices of cake fell to her as a legitimate
if unadvertised salvage. Every time the quality in the big house had
white meat for their dinner, Ginger, down the alley, enjoyed drumsticks
and warmed-up stuffing for his late supper. He might be like the
tapeworm in that he rarely knew in advance what he would have to eat,
but still, like the tapeworm, he gratefully absorbed what was put before
him and asked no questions of the benefactor. Without prior effort on
his part he was fed even as the Prophet Elijah was fed by the ravens of
old. This simile would acquire added strength if you'd ever seen Aunt
Ca'line, her complexion being a crow's-wing sable.

Red Hoss had no dependable helpmate, such as Luther Maydew had, with a
neatly lettered sign in her front window: GOING-OUT WASHING TAKEN IN
HERE. Luther's wife was Luther's only visible means of support, yet
Luther waxed fat and shiny and larded the earth when he walked abroad.
Neither had Red Hoss an indulgent and generous patron such as Judge
Priest's Jeff--Jeff Poindexter--boasted in the person of his master.
Neither was he gifted in the manipulation of the freckled bones as the
late Smooth Crumbaugh had been; nor yet possessed he the skill of shadow
boxing as that semiprofessional pugilist, Con Lake, possessed it. Con
could lick any shadow that ever lived, and the punching bag that could
stand up before his onslaughts was not manufactured yet; wherefore he
figured in exhibition bouts and boxing benefits, and between these lived
soft and easy. He enjoyed no such sinecure as fell to the lot of Uncle
Zack Matthews, who waited on the white gentlemen's poker game at the
Richland House, thereby harvesting many tips and whose otherwise nimble
mind became a perfect blank twice a year when he was summoned before the
grand jury.

Red Hoss did, indeed, have a sister, but the relations between them were
strained since the day when Red Hoss' funeral obsequies had been
inopportunely interrupted by the sudden advent among the mourners of the
supposedly deceased, returning drippingly from the river which
presumably had engulfed him. His unexpected and embarrassing
reappearance had practically spoiled the service for his chief relative.
She never had forgiven Red Hoss for his failure to stay dead, and he
long since had ceased to look for free pone bread and poke chops in that
quarter.

So when he had need to eat, or when his wardrobe required replenishing,
he worked at odd jobs; but not oftener. Ordinarily speaking, his heart
was not in it at all. But at the time when this narrative begins his
heart was in it. One speaks figuratively here in order likewise to speak
literally. A romantic enterprise carried on by Red Hoss Shackleford
through a period of months promised now a delectable climax. As between
him and one Melissa Grider an engagement to join themselves together in
the bonds of matrimony had been arranged.

Before he fell under Melissa's spell Red Hoss had been regarded as one
of the confirmed bachelors of the Plunkett's Hill younger set. He had
never noticeably favored marriage and giving in marriage--especially
giving himself in marriage. It may have been--indeed the forked tongue
of gossip so had it--that the fervor of Red Hoss' courting, when once he
did turn suitor, had been influenced by the fortuitous fact that Melissa
ran as chambermaid on the steamboat _Jessie B._ The fact outstanding,
though, was that Red Hoss, having ardently wooed, seemed now about to
win.

But Melissa, that comely and comfortable person, remained practical even
when most loving. The grandeur of Red Hoss' dress-up clothes may have
entranced her, and certainly his conversational brilliancy was
altogether in his favor, but beyond the glamour of the present, Melissa
had the vision to appraise the possibilities of the future. Before
finally committing herself to the hymeneal venture she required it of
her swain that he produce and place in her capable hands for
safe-keeping, first, the money required to purchase the license; second,
the amount of the fee for the officiating clergyman; and third, cash
sufficient to pay the expenses of a joint wedding journey to St. Louis
and return. It was specified that the traveling must be conducted on a
mutual basis, which would require round-trip tickets for both of them.
Melissa, before now, had heard of these one-sided bridal tours. If Red
Hoss went anywhere to celebrate being married she meant to go along with
him.

Altogether, under these headings, a computed aggregate of at least
eighty dollars was needed. With his eyes set then on this financial
goal, Red Hoss sought service in the marts of trade. Perhaps the
unwonted eagerness he displayed in this regard may have been quickened
by the prospect that the irksomeness of employment before marriage would
be made up to him after the event in a vacation more prolonged than any
his free spirit had ever known. Still, that part of it is none of our
affair. For our purposes it is sufficient to record that the campaign
for funds had progressed to a point where practically fifty per cent of
the total specified by his prudent inamorata already had been earned,
collected and, in accordance with the compact, intrusted to the
custodianship of one who was at once fiancée and trustee.

On a fine autumnal day Red Hoss made a beginning at the task of amassing
the remaining half of the prenuptial sinking fund by accepting an
assignment to deliver a milch cow, newly purchased by Mr. Dick Bell, to
Mr. Bell's dairy farm three miles from town on the Blandsville Road.
This was a form of toil all the more agreeable to Red Hoss--that is to
say, if any form of toil whatsoever could be deemed agreeable to
him--since cows when traveling from place to place are accustomed to
move languidly. By reason of this common sharing of an antipathy against
undue haste, it was late afternoon before the herder and the herded
reached the latter's future place of residence; and it was almost dusk
when Red Hoss, returning alone, came along past Lone Oak Cemetery. Just
ahead of him, from out of the weed tangle hedging a gap in the cemetery
fence, a half-grown rabbit hopped abroad. The cottontail rambled a few
yards down the road, then erected itself on its rear quarters and with
adolescent foolhardiness contemplated the scenery. In his hand Red Hoss
still carried the long hickory stick with which he had guided the steps
of Mr. Bell's new cow. He flung his staff at the inviting mark now
presented to him. Whirling in its flight, it caught its target squarely
across the neck, and the rabbit died so quickly it did not have time to
squeak, and barely time to kick.

Now it is known of all men that luck of two widely different kinds
resides in the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit. There is bad luck
in it for the rabbit itself, seeing that the circumstance of its having
a left hind foot, to begin with, renders life for that rabbit more
perilous even than is the life of a commonplace rabbit. But there is
abiding good luck in it for the human who falls heir to the foot after
the original possessor has passed away. To insure the maximum of fair
fortune for the legatee, the rabbit while in the act of jumping over a
sunken grave in the dark of the moon should be killed with a crooked
stick which a dead man has carried; but since there is no known record
of a colored person hanging round sunken graves in the dark of the moon,
the left hind foot of an authentic graveyard rabbit slain under any
circumstances is a charm of rare preciousness.

With murky twilight impending, it was not for Red Hoss Shackleford to
linger for long in the vicinity of a burying ground. Already, in the
gloaming, the white fence palings gleamed spectrally and the shadows
were thickening in the honeysuckle jungles beyond them. Nor was it for
him to think of eating the flesh of a graveyard rabbit, even though it
be plump and youthful, as this one was.

Graveyard rabbits, when indubitably known to be such, decorate no
Afro-American skillet. Destiny has called them higher than frying pans.

Almost before the victim of his aim had twitched its valedictory twitch
he was upon it. In his hand, ready for use, was his razor; not his
shaving razor, but the razor he carried for social purposes. He bent
down, and with the blade made swift slashes right and left at a limber
ankle joint, then rose again and was briskly upon his homeward way,
leaving behind him the maimed carcass, a rumpled little heap, lying in
the dust. A dozen times before he reached his boarding house he fingered
the furry talisman where it rested in the bottom of his hip pocket, and
each touching of it conveyed to him added confidences in propitious
auguries.

Surely enough, on the very next day but one, events seemed organizing
themselves with a view to justifying his anticipations. As a consequence
of the illness of Tom Montjoy he was offered and accepted what promised
to be for the time being a lucrative position as Tom Montjoy's
substitute on the back end of one of Fowler & Givens' ice wagons. The
Eighteenth Amendment was not as yet an accomplished fact, though the
dread menace of it hung over that commonwealth which had within its
confines the largest total number of distilleries and bonded warehouses
to be found in any state of this union. Observing no hope of legislative
relief, sundry local saloon keepers had failed to renew their licenses
as these expired. But for every saloon which closed its doors it seemed
there was a soda fountain set up to fizz and to spout; and the books of
Fowler & Givens showed the name of a new customer to replace each
vanished old one. So trade ran its even course, and Red Hoss was
retained temporarily to understudy, as it were, the invalid Montjoy.

In an afternoon lull following the earlier rush of deliveries Mr. Ham
Givens came out to where Tallow Dick Evans, Bill Tilghman and Red Hoss
reclined at ease in the lee of the ice factory's blank north wall and
bade Red Hoss hook up one of the mules to the light single wagon and
carry three of the hundred-pound blocks out to Biederman's ex-corner
saloon, now Biederman's soft-drink and ice-cream emporium, at Ninth and
Washington.

"Better let him take Blue Wing," said Mr. Givens, addressing Bill
Tilghman, who by virtue of priority of service and a natural affinity
for draft stock was stable boss for the firm.

It was Bill Tilghman who once had delivered himself of the sage remark
that "A mule an' a nigger is 'zackly alike--'specially de mule."

"Can't tek Blue Wing, Mist' Givens," answered Bill. "She done went up to
Mist' Gallowayses' blacksmith shop to git herse'f some new shoes."

This pluralization of a familiar name was evidence on Bill Tilghman's
part of the estimation in which he held our leading farrier, Mr. P. J.
Galloway.

"All right, take one of the other mules then. But get a hustle on,"
ordered Mr. Givens as he reëntered his office.

"Dat bein' de case, I reckin I'll tek dat white Frank mule," said Red
Hoss. "'Tain't no use of him standin' in de stall eatin' his ole fool
haid off jes' 'cause Tom Montjoy is laid up."

"Boy," said Bill Tilghman, "lissen! You 'cept a word of frien'ship an'
warnin' f'um somebody dat's been kicked by more mules 'en whut you ever
seen in yore whole life, an' you let dat Frank mule stay right whar he
is. You kin have yore choice of de Maud mule or de Maggie mule or Friday
or January Thaw; but my edvice to you is, jes' leave dat Frank mule be
an' don't pester him none."

"How come?" demanded Red Hoss. "I reckin I got de strength to drive ary
mule dey is."

"I ain't sayin' you ain't," stated Bill Tilghman. "A born ijiot could
drive dat mule, so I jedge you mout mek out to qualify. 'Tain't de
drivin' of him--hit's de hitchin' up of him which I speaks of."

Tallow Dick put in, "Hit's dis way wid dat Frank: In his early chilehood
somebody muster done somethin' painful to dat mule's haid, an' it seem
lak it lef' one ondurin' scar in his mind. Anyway, f'um dat day
hencefor'ard he ain't let nobody a-tall, let alone hit's a plum'
stranger to him lak you is, go prankin' round his haid. Ef you think a
mule's back end is his dangersome end you jes' try to walk up to ole
Frank face to face, ez nigger to mule, an' try to hang de mule jewelry
over his years. Da's all, jes' try it! Tom Montjoy is de onliest one
which kin slip de bit in dat mule's mouf, an' de way he do it is to go
into de nex' stall an' keep speakin' soothin' words to him, an' put de
bridle on him f'um behinehand of his shoulder lak. But when Tom Montjoy
ain't wukkin', de Frank mule he ain't wukkin' neither any. Yessuh, Tom
Montjoy is de sole one which dat Frank mule gives his confidences to,
sech as dey is."

Red Hoss snorted his contempt for his warning.

"Huh, de trouble wid dat mule is he's pampered! You niggers done pamper
him twell he think he owns dese whole ice-factory premises. Whut he need
fur whut ails him is somebody which ain't skeered of him. Me, I aims to
go 'crost to dat stable barn over yonder 'crost de street an' walk right
in de same stall wid dat Frank same ez whut I would wid ary other mule,
an' ef he mek jes' one pass at me I'm gwine up wid my fistes an' give
him somethin' to brood over."

Bill Tilghman looked at Tallow Dick, looking at him sorrowfully, as
though haunted by forebodings of an impending tragedy, and shook his
head slowly from side to side. Tallow Dick returned the glance in kind,
and then both of them gazed steadfastly at the vainglorious new hand.

"Son, boy," inquired old Bill softly, "whut is de name of yore mos'
favorite hymn?"

"Whut my favorite hymn got to do wid it?"

"Oh, nothin', only I wuz jes' studyin'. Settin' yere, I got to thinkin'
dat mebbe dey wuz some purticular tune you might lak sung at de grave."

"An' whilst you's tellin' Unc' Bill dat much, you mout also tell us whar
'bouts in dis town you lives at?" added Tallow Dick.

"You knows good an' well whar I lives at," snapped Red Hoss.

"I thought mebbe you mout 'a' moved," said Tallow Dick mildly.
"'Twouldn't never do fur me an' Bill yere to be totin' de remains to de
wrong address. Been my experience dat nothin' ain't mo' onwelcome at a
strange house 'en a daid nigger, especially one dat's about six feet two
inches long an' all mussed up wid fresh mule tracks."

"Huh! You two ole fools is jes' talkin' to hear yo'se'fs talk," quoth
Red Hoss. "All I axes you to do is jes' set quiet yere, an' in 'bout six
minutes f'um now you'll see me leadin' a tamed-down white mule wid de
britchin' all on him outen through dem stable barn do's."

"All right, honey, have it yo' own way. Ef you won't hearken an' you
won't heed, go ahaid!" stated Uncle Bill, with a wave of his hand. "You
ain't too young to die, even ef you is too ole to learn. Only I trust
an' prays dat you won't be blamin' nobody but yo'se'f 'bout this time
day after to-mor' evenin' w'en de sexton of Mount Zion Cullud Cemetery
starts pattin' you in de face wid a spade."

"Unc' Bill, you said a moufful den," added Tallow Dick. "De way I looks
at it, dey ain't no use handin' out sense to a nigger ef he ain't got no
place to put it. 'Sides, dese things offen-times turns out fur de best;
orphants leaves de fewest mourners. Good-by, Red Hoss, an' kindly give
my reguards to any frien's of mine dat you meets up wid on 'yother side
of Jordan."

With another derisive grunt, Red Hoss rose from where he had been
resting, angled to the opposite side of the street and disappeared
within the stable. For perhaps ninety seconds after he was gone the
remaining two sat in an attitude of silent waiting. Their air was that
of a pair of black seers who likewise happen to be fatalists, and who
having conscientiously discharged a duty of prophecy now await with
calmness the fulfillment of what had been foretold. Then they heard,
over there where Red Hoss had vanished, a curious muffled outcry. As
they subsequently described it, this sound was neither shriek nor moan,
neither oath nor prayer. They united in the declaration that it was more
in the nature of a strangled squeak, as though a very large rat had
suddenly been trodden beneath an even larger foot. However, for all its
strangeness, they rightfully interpreted it to be an appeal for succor.
Together they rose and ran across Water Street and into the stable.

The Frank mule had snapped his tether and, freed, was backing himself
out into the open. If a mule might be said to pick his teeth, here was a
mule doing that very thing. Crumpled under the manger of the stall he
just had quitted was a huddled shape. The rescuers drew it forth, and in
the clear upon the earthen stable floor they stretched it. It was
recognizable as the form of Red Hoss Shackleford.

Red Hoss seemed numbed rather than unconscious. Afterward Bill Tilghman
in recounting the affair claimed that Red Hoss, when discovered, was
practically nude clear down to his shoes, which being of the variety
known as congress gaiters had elastic uppers to hug the ankles. This
snugness of fit, he thought, undoubtedly explained why they had stayed
on when all the rest of the victim's costume came off. In his version,
Tallow Dick averred he took advantage of the circumstance of Red Hoss'
being almost totally undressed to tally up bruise marks as
counter-distinguished from tooth marks, and found one of the former for
every two sets of the latter. From this disparity in the count, and
lacking other evidence, he was bound to conclude that considerable
butting had been done before the biting started.

However, these conclusions were to be arrived at later. For the moment
the older men busied themselves with fanning Red Hoss and with sluicing
a bucket of water over him. His first intelligible words upon partially
reviving seemed at the moment of their utterance to have no direct
bearing upon that which had just occurred. It was what he said next
which, in the minds of the hearers, established the proper connection.

"White folks suttinly is curious." Such was his opening remark,
following the water application. "An' also, dey suttinly do git up some
mouty curious laws." He paused a moment as though in a still slightly
dazed contemplation of the statutory idiosyncrasies of the Caucasian,
and then added the key words: "F'rinstance, now, dey got a law dat you
got to keep lions an' tigers in a cage. Yassuh, da's de law. Can't no
circus go 'bout de country widout de lions an' de tigers an' de
highyenas is lock' up hard an' fas' in a cage." Querulously his voice
rose in a tone of wondering complaintfulness: "An' yit dey delibert'ly
lets a man-eatin' mule go ramblin' round loose, wid nothin' on him but a
rope halter."

Across the prostrate form of the speaker Bill Tilghman eyed Tallow Dick
in the reminiscent manner of one striving to recall the exact words of a
certain quotation and murmured, "De trouble wid dat Frank mule is dat
he's pampered."

"Br'er Tilghman," answered back Tallow Dick solemnly, "you done said
it--de mule is been pampered!"

The sufferer stirred and blinked and sat up dizzily.

"Uh-huh," he assented. "An' jes' ez soon ez I gits some of my strength
back ag'in, an' some mo' clothes on, I'm gwine tek de longes', sharpes'
pitchfork dey is in dis yere stable an' I'm gwine pamper dat devilish
mule wid it fur 'bout three-quarters of an hour stiddy."

But he didn't. If he really cherished any such disciplinary designs he
abandoned them next morning at sunup, when, limping slightly, he propped
open the stable doors preparatory to invading its interior. The white
demon, which appeared to have the facility of snapping his bonds
whenever so inclined, came sliding out of the darkness toward him, a
malignant and menacing apparition, with a glow of animosity in two
deep-set eyes and with a pair of prehensile lips curled back to display
more teeth than by rights an alligator should have. It was immediately
evident to Red Hoss that in the Frank mule's mind a deep-seated aversion
for him had been engendered. He had the feeling that potential ill
health lurked in that neighborhood; that death and destruction, riding
on a pale mule, might canter up at any moment. Personally, he decided to
let bygones be bygones. He dropped the grudge as he tumbled backward
through the stable doors and slammed them behind him. That same day he
went to Mr. Ham Givens and announced his intention of immediately
breaking off his present associations with the firm.

"Me, I is done quit foolin' wid ole ice waggins," he announced airily
after Mr. Givens had given him his time. "Hit seems lak my gift is fur
machinery."

"A pusson which wuz keerful wouldn't trust you wid a shoe
buttoner--dat's how high I reguards yore gift fur machinery," commented
Bill Tilghman acidly. Red Hoss chose to ignore the slur. Anyhow, at the
moment he could put his tongue to no appropriate sentence of counter
repartee. He continued as though there had been no interruption:

"Yassuh, de nex' time you two pore ole foot-an'-mouth teamsters sees me
I'll come tearin' by yere settin' up on de boiler deck of a taxiscab.
You better step lively to git out of de way fur me den."

"I 'lows to do so," assented Bill. "I ain't aimin' to git shot wid no
stray bullets."

"How come stray bullets?"

"Anytime I sees you runnin' a taxiscab I'll know by dat sign alone dat
de sheriff an' de man which owns de taxiscab will be right behine
you--da's whut I means."

"Don't pay no 'tention to Unc' Bill," put in Tallow Dick. "Whar you aim
to git dis yere taxiscab, Red Hoss?"

"Mist' Lee Farrell he's done start up a regular taxiscab line,"
expounded Red Hoss. "He's lookin' fur some smart, spry cullid men ez
drivers. Dat natchelly bars you two out, but it lets me in. Mist' Lee
Farrell he teach you de trade fust, an' den he gives you three dollars a
day, an' you keeps all de tips you teks in. So it's so long and fare you
well to you mule lovers, 'ca'se Ise on my way to pick myse' out my
taxiscab."

"Be sure to pick yo'se'f out one which ain't been pampered," was Bill
Tilghman's parting shot.

"Nummine dat part," retorted Red Hoss. "You jes' remember dis after I'm
gone: Mules' niggers an' niggers' mules is 'bout to go out of style in
dis man's town."

In a way of speaking, Red Hoss in his final taunt had the rights of it.
Lumbering drays no longer runneled with their broad iron tires the
red-graveled flanks of the levee leading down to the wharf boats. They
had given way almost altogether to bulksome motor trucks. Closed hacks
still found places in funeral processions, but black chaser craft,
gasoline driven and snorting furiously, met all incoming trains and sped
to all outgoing ones. Betimes, beholding as it were the handwriting on
the wall, that enterprising liveryman, Mr. Lee Farrell, had set up a
garage and a service station on the site of his demolished stable, and
now was the fleet commander of a whole squadron of these tin-armored
destroyers.

Under his tutelage Red Hoss proved a reasonably apt pupil. At the end of
an apprenticeship covering a fortnight he matriculated into a regular
driver, with a badge and a cap to prove it and a place on the night
shift. Red Hoss felt impressive, and bore himself accordingly. He began
taking sharp turns on two wheels. He took one such turn too many. On
Friday night of his first week as a graduate chauffeur he steered his
car headlong into a smash-up from which she emerged with a dished front
wheel and a permanent marcel wave in one fender. As he nursed the
cripple back to the garage Red Hoss exercised an imagination which never
yet had failed him, and fabricated an explanation so plausibly shaped
and phrased as to absolve him of all blameful responsibility for the
mishap.

Mr. Farrell listened to and accepted this account of the accident with
no more than a passing exhibition of natural irritation; but next
morning when Attorney Sublette called, accompanied by an irate client
with a claim for damages sustained to a market wagon, and bringing with
him also the testimony of at least two disinterested eye-witnesses to
prove upon whose shoulders the fault must rest, Mr. Farrell somewhat
lost his customary air of sustained calm. Cursing softly under his
breath, he settled on the spot with a cash compromise; and then calling
the offender to his presence, he used strong and bitter words.

"Look here, boy," he proclaimed, "I've let you off this time with a
cussing, but next time anything happens to a car that you are driving
you've got to come clean with me. It ain't to be expected that a lot of
crazy darkies can go sky-hooting round this town driving pot-metal
omnibuses for me without one of them getting in a smash-up about every
so often, and I'm carrying accident insurance and liability insurance to
cover my risks; but next time you get into a jam I want you to come
through with the absolute facts in the case, so's I'll know where I
stand and how to protect myself in court or out of it. I don't care two
bits whose fault it is--your fault or some other lunatic's fault. The
truth is what I want--the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
truth, so help you God. And He'll need to help you if I catch you lying
again! Get me?"

"Boss," said Red Hoss fervently, "I gits you."

Two nights later the greater disaster befell. It was a thick, drizzly,
muggy night, when the foreground of one's perspective was blurred by the
murk and when there just naturally was not any background at all. Down
by the Richland House a strange white man wearing a hand-colored
mustache and a tiger-claw watch charm hailed Red Hoss. This person
desired to be carried entirely out of town, to the south yards of the P.
T. & A. Railroad, where Powers Brothers' Carnival Company was detraining
from its cars with intent to pitch camp in the suburb of Mechanicsville
hard by and furnish the chief attractions for a three days' street fair
to be given under the auspices of the Mechanicsville lodge of Knights of
Damon.

After they had quit the paved streets, Red Hoss drove a bumpy course
diagonally across many switch spurs, and obeying instructions from his
fare brought safely up alongside a red-painted sleeping car which formed
the head end of the show train where it stood on a siding. But starting
back he decided to skirt alongside the track, where he hoped the going
might be easier. As he backed round and started off, directly in front
of him he made out through the encompassing mists the dim flare of a
gasoline torch, and he heard a voice uplifted in pleading:

"Come on, Lena! Come on, Baby Doll! Come on out of that, you Queenie!"

Seemingly an unseen white man was urging certain of his lady friends to
quit some mysterious inner retreat and join him where he stood; all of
which, as Red Hoss figured it, was none of his affair. Had he known more
he might have moved more slowly; indeed might have stopped moving
altogether. But--I ask you--how was Red Hoss to know that the chief bull
handler for Powers Brothers was engaged in superintending the unloading
of his large living charges from their traveling accommodations in the
bull car?

There were three of these bulls, all of them being of the gentler sex.
Perhaps it might be well to explain here that the word "bull," in the
language of the white tops, means elephant. To a showman all cow
elephants are bulls just as in a mid-Victorian day, more refined than
this one, all authentic bulls were, to cultured people, cows.

Obeying the insistent request of their master, forth now and down a
wooden runway filed the members of Powers Brothers' World Famous Troupe
of Ponderous Pachydermic Performers. First came Lena, then Baby Doll and
last of all the mighty Queenie; and in this order they lumberingly
proceeded, upon huge but silent feet, to follow him alongside the
cindered right of way, feeling their way through the fog.

Now it is a fact well established in natural history--and in this
instance was to prove a lamentable one--that elephants, unlike lightning
bugs, carry no tail lamps. Of a sudden Red Hoss was aware of a vast,
indefinite, mouse-colored bulk looming directly in the path before him.
He braked hard and tried to swing out, but he was too close upon the
obstacle to avoid a collision.

With a loud metallic smack the bow of the swerving taxicab, coming up
from the rear, treacherously smote the mastodonic Queenie right where
her wrinkles were thickest. Her knees bent forward, and involuntarily
she squatted. She squatted, as one might say, on all points south.
Simultaneously there was an agonized squeal from Queenie and a crunching
sound from behind and somewhat under her, and the tragic deed was done.
The radiator of Red Hoss' car looked something like a concertina which
had seen hard usage and something like a folded-in crush hat, but very
little, if any, like a radiator.

At seven o'clock next morning, when Mr. Farrell arrived at his
establishment, his stricken gaze fastened upon a new car of his which
had become to all intents and purposes practically two-thirds of a car.
The remnant stood at the curbing, where his service car, having towed it
in, had left it as though the night foreman had been unwilling to give
so complete a ruin storage space within the garage. Alongside the
wreckage was Red Hoss, endeavoring more or less unsuccessfully to make
himself small and inconspicuous. Upon him menacingly advanced his
employer.

"The second time in forty-eight hours for you, eh?" said Mr. Farrell.
"Well, boy, you do work fast! Come on now, and give me the cold facts.
How did the whole front end of this car come to get mashed off?"

Tone and mien alike were threatening. Red Hoss realized there was no
time for extended preliminary remarks. From him the truth came
trippingly on the tongue.

"Boss, man, I ain't aimin' to tell you no lies dis time. I comes clean."

"Come clean and come fast."

"A elephint set down on it."

"What!"

"I sez, suh, a elephint set down on it."

In moments of stress, when tempted beyond his powers of self-control,
Mr. Farrell was accustomed to punctuate physically, as it were, the
spoken word. What he said--all he said--before emotion choked him was:
"Why--you--you--" What he did was this: His right arm crooked upward
like a question mark; it straightened downward like an exclamation
point; his fist made a period, or, as the term goes, a full stop on the
point of Red Hoss Shackleford's jaw. What Red Hoss saw resembled this:

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

Only they were all printed flashingly in bright primary colors, reds and
greens predominating.

As the last gay asterisk faded from before his blinking eyes Red Hoss
found himself sitting down on a hard concrete sidewalk. Coincidentally
other discoveries made themselves manifest to his understanding. One was
that the truth which often is stranger than fiction may also on occasion
be a more dangerous commodity to handle. Another was that abruptly he
had severed all business connections with Mr. Lee Farrell's industry.
His resignation had been accepted on the spot, and the spot was the
bulge of his left jaw.

Somewhat dazed, filled with an inarticulate but none the less sincere
conviction that there was neither right nor justice left in a misshapen
world, Red Hoss got up and went away from there. He deemed it the part
of prudence to go utterly and swiftly away from there. It seemed
probable that at any moment Mr. Farrell might emerge from his inner
office, whither, as might be noted through an open window, he had
retired to pour cold water on his bruised knuckles, and get violent
again. The language he was using so indicated.

Presently Red Hoss, with one side of his face slightly swollen and a
curious taste in his mouth, might have been seen boarding a Locust
Street car southbound. He was on his way to Mechanicsville. In the back
part of his brain lurked vaguely a project to seek out the man who owned
those elephants and plead for some fashion of redress for painful
injuries innocently sustained. Perhaps the show gentleman might incline
a charitable ear upon hearing Red Hoss' story. Just how the sufferer
would go about the formality of presenting himself to the consideration
of the visiting dignitary he did not yet know. It was all nebulous and
cloudy; a contingency to be shaped by circumstances as they might
develop. Really sympathy was the balm Red Hoss craved most.

He quit the car when the car quit him--at the end of the line where the
iron bridge across Island Creek marked the boundary between the
municipality and its principal suburb. Even at this hour
Mechanicsville's broadest highway abounded in fascinating sights and
alluring zoölogical aromas. The carnival formally would not open till
the afternoon, but by Powers Brothers' crews things already had been
prepared against the coming of that time. In all available open spaces,
such as vacant lots abutting upon the sidewalks and the junctions of
cross streets, booths and tents and canvas-walled arenas had been set
up. Boys of assorted sizes and colors hung in expectant clumps about
marquees and show fronts. Also a numerous assemblage of adults of the
resident leisure class, a majority of these being members of Red Hoss'
own race, moved back and forth through the line of fairings, inspired by
the prospect of seeing something interesting without having to pay for
it.

Red Hoss forgot temporarily the more-or-less indefinite purpose which
had brought him hither. He joined a cluster of watchful persons who
hopefully had collected before the scrolled and ornamented wooden
entrance of a tarpaulin structure larger than any of the rest. From
beneath the red-and-gold portico of this edifice there issued a blocky
man in a checkered suit, with a hard hat draped precariously over one
ear and with a magnificent jewel gleaming out of the bosom of a
collarless shirt. All things about this man stamped him as one having
authority over the housed mysteries roundabout. Visibly he rayed that
aura of proprietorship common to some monarchs and to practically all
owners of traveling caravansaries. Seeing him, Red Hoss promptly
detached himself from the group he had just joined, and advanced, having
it in mind to seek speech with this superior-appearing personage. The
white man beat him to it.

"Say, boy, that's right, keep a-coming," he called. His experienced eye
appraised Red Hoss' muscular proportions. "Do you want a job?"

"Whut kinder job, boss?"

"Best job you ever had in your life," declared the white man. "You get
fourteen a week and cakes. Get me? Fourteen dollars just as regular as
Saturday night comes, and your scoffing free--all the chow you can eat
thrown in. Then you hear the band play absolutely free of charge, and
you see the big show six times a day without having to pay for it, and
you travel round and see the country. Don't that sound good to you? Oh,
yes, there's one thing else!" He dangled a yet more alluring temptation.
"And you wear a red coat with brass buttons on it and a cap with a plume
in it."

"Sho' does sound good," said Red Hoss, warming. "Whut else I got to do,
cunnel?"

"Oh, just odd jobs round this pitch here--this animal show."

"Hole on, please, boss! I don't have no truck wid elephints, does I?"

"Nope. The elephants are down the line in a separate outfit of their
own. You work with this show--clean out the cages and little things like
that. Don't get worried," he added quickly, interpreting aright a look
of sudden concern upon Red Hoss' face. "You don't have to go inside the
cages to clean 'em out. You stay outside and do it with a long-handled
tool. I had a good man on this job, but he quit on me unexpectedly night
before last."

The speaker failed to explain that the recent incumbent had quit thus
abruptly as a result of having a forearm clawed by a lady leopard named
Violet.

"'Bout how long is dis yere job liable to last?" inquired Red Hoss. "You
see, cunnel, Ise 'spectin' to have some right important private business
in dis town 'fore so very long."

"Then this is the very job you want. After we leave here to-morrow night
we strike down across the state line and play three more stands, and
then we wind up with a week in Memphis. We close up the season there and
go into winter quarters, and you come on back home. What's your name?"

"My full entitled name is Roscoe Conklin' Shackleford, but 'count of my
havin' a kinder brightish complexion dey mos' gin'rally calls me Red
Hoss. I reckin mebbe dey's Injun blood flowin' in me."

"All right, Red Hoss, let it flow. You just come on with me and I'll
show you what you'll have to do. My name is Powers--Captain Powers."

Proudly sensing that already he was an envied figure in the eyes of the
group behind him, Red Hoss followed the commanding Powers back through a
canvas-sided marquee into a circular two-poled tent. There were no
seats. The middle spaces were empty. Against the side walls were ranged
four cages. One housed a pair of black bears of a rather weather-beaten
and travel-worn aspect. Next to the bears, the lady leopard, Violet,
through the bars contemplated space, meanwhile wearing that air of
intense boredom peculiar to most caged animals. A painted inscription
above the front of the third cage identified its occupant as none other
than The Educated Ostrich; the Bird That Thinks.

Red Hoss' conductor indicated these possessions with a lordly wave of
his arm, then led the way to the fourth cage. It was the largest cage of
all; it was painted a bright and passionate red. It had gilded
scrollings on it. Upon the ornamented façade which crossed its front
from side to side a lettered legend ran. Red Hoss spelled out the
pronouncement:

Chieftain, King of Feline Acrobats! The Largest Black-maned Nubian Lion
in Captivity! Danger!

The face of the cage was boarded halfway up, but above the top line of
the planked cross panel Red Hoss could make out in the foreground of the
dimmed interior a great tawny shape, and at the back, in one corner, an
orderly clutter of objects painted a uniform circus blue. There was a
barrel or two, an enormous wooden ball, a collapsible fold-up seesaw and
other impedimenta of a trained-animal act. Red Hoss had heard that the
lion was a noble brute--in short, was the king of beasts. He now was
prepared to swear it had a noble smell. Beneath the cage a white man in
overalls slumbered audibly upon a tarpaulin folded into a pallet.

"There's the man you take your orders from if you join us," explained
Powers, flirting a thumb toward the sleeper. "Name of Riley, he is. But
you draw your pay from me." With his arm he described a circle. "And
here's the stock you help take care of. The only one you need to be
careful about is that leopard over yonder. She gets a little peevish
once in a while. Well, I would sort of keep an eye on the ostrich here
alongside you too. The old bird's liable to cut loose when you ain't
looking and kick the taste out of your mouth. You give them both their
distances. But those bears behind you is just the same as a pair of
puppies, and old Chieftain here--well, he looks pretty fierce and he
acts sort of fierce too when he's called on for it, but it's just acting
with him; he's trained to it. Off watch, he's just as gentle as an
overgrown kitten. Riley handles him and works him, and all you've got to
do when Riley is putting him through his stunts is to stand outside here
and hand him things he wants in through the bars. Well, is it a go?
Going to take the job?"

"Boss," said Red Hoss, "you speaks late--I done already tooken it."

"Good!" said Powers. "That's the way I love to do business--short and
sweet. You hang round for an hour or two and sort of get acquainted with
things until Riley has his nap out. When he wakes up, if I ain't back by
that time, you tell him you're the new helper, and he'll wise you up."

"Yas suh," said Red Hoss. "But say, boss, 'scuse me, but did I
understand you to mention dat eatin' was in de contract?"

"Sure! Hungry already?"

"Well, suh, you see I mos' gin'rally starts de day off wid breakfust,
an' to tell you de truth I ain't had nary grain of breakfust yit!"

"Got the breakfast habit, eh? Well, come on with me to the cook house
and I'll see if there ain't something left over."

Despite the nature of his calling as a tamer of ferocious denizens of
the tropic jungle, Mr. Riley, upon wakening, proved to be a person of a
fairly amiable disposition. He made it snappy but not unduly burdensome
as he initiated Red Hoss into the rudimentary phases of the new
employment. As the forenoon wore on the conviction became fixed in Red
Hoss' mind that for an overlord he had a white man who would be apt to
listen to reason touching on any proposition promising personal profits
with no personal risks.

Sharp upon this diagnosis of his new master's character, a magnificent
idea, descending without warning like a bolt from the blue, struck Red
Hoss on top of his head and bored in through his skull and took prompt
root in his entranced and dazzled brain. It was a gorgeous conception;
one which promised opulent returns for comparatively minor exertions. To
carry it out, though, required coöperation, and in Riley he saw with a
divining glance--or thought he saw--the hope of that coöperation.

In paving the way for confidential relations he put to Riley certain
leading questions artfully disguised, and at the beginning seemingly
artlessly presented. By the very nature of Riley's answers he was
further assured of the safety of the ground on which he trod, whereupon
Red Hoss cautiously broached the project, going on to amplify it in
glowing colors the while Riley hearkened attentively.

It was a sheer pleasure to outline a proposition to a white gentleman
who received it so agreeably. Fifteen minutes after the first tentative
overtures had been thrown out feeler-wise, Red Hoss found that he and
Riley were in complete accord on all salient points. Indeed they already
were as partners jointly committed to a joint undertaking.

After the third and last afternoon performance, in which Red Hoss,
wearing a proud mien and a somewhat spotty uniform coat, had acquitted
himself in all regards creditably, Riley gave him a leave of absence of
two hours, ostensibly for the purpose of quitting his boarding house and
collecting his traveling wardrobe. As a matter of fact, these details
really required but a few minutes, and it had been privily agreed
between them that the rest of the time should be devoted by Red Hoss to
setting in motion the actual preliminaries of their scheme.

This involved a personal call upon Mr. Moe Rosen, who conducted a hide,
pelt, rag, junk, empty-bottle and old-iron emporium on lower Court
Street, just off the Market Square. September's hurried twilight had
descended upon the town when the scouting conspirator tapped for
admission at the alley entrance to the back room of Mr. Rosen's
establishment, where the owner sat amid a variegated assortment of
choicer specimens culled from his collected wares. Mr. Rosen needed no
sign above his door to inform the passing public of the nature of his
business. When the wind was right you could stand two blocks away and
know it without being told. Here at Mr. Rosen's side door Red Hoss
smacked his nostrils appreciatively. Even to one newly come from a
wild-animal show, and even when smelled through a brick wall, Mr.
Rosen's place had a graphic and striking atmosphere which was all its
own.

As one well acquainted with the undercurrents of community life, Red
Hoss shared, with many others, the knowledge that Mr. Rosen, while
ostensibly engaged in one industry, carried on another as a sort of
clandestine by-product. Now this side line, though surreptitiously
conducted and perilous in certain of its aspects, was believed by the
initiated to be really more lucrative than his legitimatized and avowed
calling. Mr. Rosen was by way of being--by a roundabout way of
being--what technically is known as a bootlegger. He bootlegged upon a
larger scale than do most of those pursuing this precarious avocation.

It was stated in an earlier paragraph that national prohibition had not
yet come to pass. But already local option held the adjoining
commonwealth of Tennessee in a firm and arid grasp; wherefore Mr.
Rosen's private dealings largely had to do with discreet clients
thirstily residing below the state line. It was common rumor in certain
quarters that lately this traffic had suffered a most disastrous
interruption. Tennessee revenue agents suddenly had evinced an
unfriendly curiosity touching on vehicular movements from the Kentucky
side.

A considerable chunk of Mr. Rosen's profits for the current year had
been irretrievably swallowed up when a squad of these suspicious
excisemen laid their detaining hands upon a sizable order of case stuff
which--disguised and broadly labeled as crated household goods--was
traveling southward by nightfall in a truck, heading toward a
destination in a district which that truck was destined never to reach.

Bottle by bottle the aromatic contents of the packages had been poured
into the wayside ditch to be sucked up by an unappreciative if porous
soil. The truck itself had been confiscated. Its driver barely had
escaped, to return homeward afoot across country bearing dire tidings to
his employer, who was reported, upon hearing the lamentable news,
literally to have scrambled the air with disconsolate flappings of his
hands, meanwhile uttering shrill cries of grief.

Moreover, as though to top this stroke of ill luck, further activities
in the direction of his most profitable market practically had been
brought to a standstill by reason of enhanced vigilance on the part of
the Tennessee authorities along the main highroads running north and
south. Between supply and demand, or perhaps one should say between
purveyor and consumer, the boundary mark dividing the sister
commonwealths stretched its dead line like a narrow river of despair. It
was not to be wondered at, therefore, that the sorely pestered Mr. Rosen
should be at this time a prey to care so carking as to border on
forthright melancholia. Never a particularly cheerful person, at Red
Hoss' soft knock upon his outer door he raised a countenance completely
clothed in moroseness where not clothed in whiskers and grunted
briefly--a sound which might or might not be taken as an invitation to
enter. Nor was his greeting, following upon the caller's soft-footed
entrance, calculated to promote cordial intercourse.

"What you want, nigger?" he demanded, breaking in on Red Hoss' politely
phrased greeting. Then without waiting for a reply, "Well, whatever it
is, you don't get it. Get out!"

Nevertheless, Red Hoss came right on in. Carefully he closed the door
behind him, shutting himself in with Mr. Rosen and privacy and a
symposium of strong, rich smells.

"'Scuse me, Mist' Rosen," he said, "fur bre'kin' in on you lak dis, but
I got a little sumpin' to say to you in mos' strictes' confidence. Seems
lak to me I heard tell lately dat you'd had a little trouble wid some
white folkses down de line. Co'se dat ain't none o' my business. I jes'
mentioned it so's you'd understan' whut it is I wants to talk wid you
about."

He drew up an elbow length away from Mr. Rosen and sank his voice to an
intimate half whisper.

"Mist' Rosen, le's you an' me do a little s'posin'. Le's s'posen' you
has a bar'l of vinegar or molasses or sumpin' which you wants delivered
to a frien' in Memphis, Tennessee. Seems lak I has heared somewhars dat
you already is got a frien' or two in Memphis, Tennessee? All right den!
S'posin', den, dat you wrote to your frien' dat dis yere bar'l would be
comin' along to him inside of a week or ten days f'um now wid me in de
full charge of it. S'posin', den, on top o' dat I could guarantee you to
deliver dat bar'l to your frien' widout nobody botherin' dat bar'l on de
way, and widout nobody 'spectin' whut wuz in dat bar'l, an' widout
nobody axin' no hard questions about dat bar'l. S'posin' all dem things,
ef you please, suh, an' den I axes you dis question: How much would dat
favor be wuth to you in cash money?"

As a careful business man, Mr. Rosen very properly pressed for further
particulars before in any way committing himself in the matter of the
amount of remuneration to be paid for the accommodation proposed. At
this evidence of interest on the other's part Red Hoss grinned in happy
optimism.

"Mist' Rosen, 'twon't hardly be no trouble a-tall," he stated. "In de
fust place, you teks a pot o' blue paint an' you paints dat bar'l blue
f'um head to foot. De bluer dat bar'l is de more safer she'll be. An' to
mek sure dat de color will be right yere's a sample fur you to go by."

With that, Red Hoss produced from a hip pocket a sliver of plank
painted on both sides in the cerulean hue universally favored by circus
folk for covering seat boards, tent poles and such paraphernalia of a
portable caravansary as is subject to rough treatment and frequent
handling. At this the shock of surprise was such as almost to lift Mr.
Rosen up on top of the cluttered desk which separated him from his
visitor. It did lift him halfway out of his chair.

"Nigger," he declared incredulously, "you talk foolishness! A mile away
those dam Tennessee constables would be able to see a plain barrel which
ain't got no paint on it at all, and now you tell me I should paint a
barrel so blue as the sky, and yet it should get through from here to
Memphis. Are you crazy in the head or something, or do you maybe think I
am?"

"Nummine dat," went on Red Hoss. "You do lak I tells you, an' you paints
de bar'l right away so de paint'll git good an' dry twixt now an'
We'n'sday night. Come We'n'sday night, you loads dat blue bar'l in a
waggin an' covers it up an' you fetches it to me at de back do' of de
main wild animal tent of dat carnival show which is now gwine on up yere
in Mechanicsville. Don't go to de tent whar de elephints is. Go to de
tent whar de educated ostrich is. Dar you'll fin' me. I done tuk a job
as de fust chief 'sistant wild-animal trainer, an' right dar I'll be
waitin'. So den you turns de bar'l over to me an' you goes on back home
an' you furgits all 'bout it. Den in 'bout two weeks mo' when I gits
back yere I brings you a piece o' writin' f'um de gen'elman in Memphis
sayin' dat de bar'l has been delivered to him in good awder, an' den you
pays me de rest o' de money dat's comin' to me." He had a canny second
thought. "Mebbe," he added, "mebbe it would be better for all concern'
ef you wrote to yore frien' in Memphis to hand me over de rest of de
money when I delivers de bar'l. Yassuh, I reckins dat would be de best."

"The rest of what money?" demanded Mr. Rosen sharply. "I ain't said
nothing about giving no money to nobody. What do you mean--money?"

"I mean de rest of de money which'll be comin' to me ez my share,"
explained Red Hoss patiently. "De white man dat's goin' to he'p me wid
dis yere job, he 'sists p'intedly dat he must have his share paid down
cash in advance 'count of him not bein' able to come back yere an'
collek it fur hisse'f, an' likewise 'count of him not keerin' to have no
truck wid de gen'elman at de other end of de line. De way he put it, he
wants all of his'n 'fore he starts. But me, Ise willin' to wait fur de
bes' part of mine anyhow. So dat's how it stands, Mist' Rosen, an'
'scusin' you an' me an' dis yere white man an' your frien' in Memphis,
dey ain't nary pusson gwine know nothin' 'bout it a-tall, 'ceptin' mebbe
hit's de lion. An' ez fur dat, w'y de lion don't count noways, 'count
of him not talkin' no language 'ceptin' 'tis his own language."

"The lion?" echoed Mr. Rosen blankly. "What lion? First you tell me blue
barrel and then you tell me lion."

"I means Chieftain--de larges' black-mangy Nubbin lion in captivation,"
stated Red Hoss grandly, quoting from memory his own recollection of an
inscription he but lately had read for the first time. "Mist' Rosen,
twixt you an' me, I reckins dey ain't no revenue officer in de whole
state of Tennessee which is gwine go projeckin' round a lion cage
lookin' fur evidence."

Disclosing the crux of his plot, his voice took on a jubilant tone.
"Mist' Rosen, please, suh, lissen to me whut Ise revealin' to you. Dat
blue bar'l of yourn is gwine ride f'um yere plum' to Memphis, Tennessee,
in a cage wid a lion ez big ez ary two lions got ary right to be! An'
now den, Mist' Rosen, le's you an' me talk 'bout de money part of it;
'cause when all is said an' done, dat's de principalest part, ain't it?"


The town of Wyattsville was, as the saying goes, all agog. Indeed, as
the editor of the Wyattsville Tri-Weekly Statesman most aptly phrased it
in the introductory sentence of a first-page, full-column article in his
latest issue: "This week all roads run to Wyattsville."

The occasion for all this pleasurable excitement wast the annual fair
and races of the Forked Deer County Jockey Club, and superimposed upon
that the street carnival conducted under the patronage and for the
benefit of Wyattsville Herd Number 1002 of the Beneficent and Patriotic
Order of American Bison. Each day would be a gala day replete with
thrills and abounding in incident; in the forenoons grand free
exhibitions upon the streets, also judgings and awards of prizes in
various classes, such as farm products, livestock, poultry, needlework,
pickles, preserves and art objects; in the afternoons, on the half-mile
track out at the fair grounds, trotting, pacing and running events; in
the evenings the carnival spirit running high and free, with
opportunities for innocent mirth, merriment and entertainment afforded
upon every hand.

This was Monday night, the opening night. The initial performance of the
three on the nightly schedule of Powers Brothers' Trained Wild Animal
Arena approached now its climax, the hour approximately being
eight-forty-five. The ballyhoo upon the elevated platform without had
been completed. Hard upon this an audience of townspeople and visitors
which taxed the standing capacity of the tented enterprise had flowed
in, after first complying with the necessary financial details at the
ticket booth. The Educated Ostrich, the Bird That Thinks, had performed
to the apparent satisfaction of all, though it might as well be
confessed that if one might judge by the intelligent creature's
expression, the things it thought while going through its paces scarcely
would be printable. Violet, the lady leopard, had obliged by yowling in
a spirited and spitty manner when stirred up with a broom handle. The
two bears had given a complete if somewhat lackadaisical rendition of
their act. And now the gentlemanly orator in charge, who, after his
ballyhoos, doubled as master of ceremonies and announcer of events,
directed the attention of the patrons to the largest cage of the four.

As was customary, the culminating feature of the program had been
invested with several touches of skillful stage management, the purpose
being to enhance the thrills provided and send the audience forth
pleased and enthusiastic. In high boots and a tiger-skin tunic, Mr.
Riley, armed with an iron bar held in one hand and a revolver loaded
with blank cartridges in the other, stood poised and prepared to leap
into the den at the ostensible peril of his life and put his ferocious
charge through a repertoire of startling feats. His eye was set, his
face determined; his lower jaw moved slowly. This steel-hearted man was
chewing tobacco to hide any concern he might feel.

Red Hoss Shackleford, resplendent in his official trappings, made an
elaborate ceremonial of undoing the pins and bolts which upheld the
wooden panels across the front elevation of the cage. The announcer took
advantage of the pause thus artfully contrived to urge upon the
spectators the advisability of standing well back from the guard ropes.
Every precaution had been taken, he informed them, every possible
safeguard provided, but for their own sakes it were well to be on the
prudent side in case the dauntless trainer should lose control over his
dangerous pupil. This warning had its usual effect. With a forward rush
everyone instantly pressed as closely as possible into the zone of
supposed menace.

Here a curious psychological fact obtrudes. In each gathering of this
character is at least one parent, generally a father, who habitually
conveys his offsprings of tender years to places where they will be
acutely uncomfortable, and by preference more especially to spots where
there is a strong likelihood that they may meet with a sudden and
violent end. Wyattsville numbered at least one such citizen within her
enrolled midst. He was here now, jammed up against the creaking rope,
holding fast with either clutch to a small and a sorely frightened child
who wept.

Red Hoss finished with the iron catches. Behind the shielding falsework
he heard and felt the rustle and the heave of a great sinewy body
threshing about in a confined space. He turned his head toward the
announcer, awaiting the ordained signal.

"Are you all ready?" clarioned that person. "Then go!"

With a clatter and crash down came the wooden frontage. It was a part
of the mechanics intrusted to the docile and intelligent Chieftain that
so soon as the woodwork had dropped he, counterfeiting an unappeasable
bloodthirstiness, should fling himself headlong against the straining
bars, uttering hair-raising roars. This also was the cue for Riley to
wriggle nimbly through a door set in the end of the cage and slam the
door behind him; then to outface the great beast and by threats, with
bar and pistol both extended, to force him backward step by step, still
snarling but seemingly daunted, round and round the cage. Finally, when
through the demonstrated power of the human eye Chieftain had been
sufficiently cowed, Riley would begin the stirring entertainment for
which all this had been a spectacular overture. Such was the preliminary
formula, but for once in his hitherto blameless life Chieftain failed to
sustain his rôle.

He did not dash at his prison bars as though to rend them from their
sockets; he did not growl in an amazingly deep bass, as per inculcated
schooling; he did not bare the yellow fang nor yet unsheathe the cruel
claw. With apparent difficulty, rising on his all fours from where he
was crouched in the rear left-hand corner of his den, Chieftain advanced
down stage with what might properly be called a rolling gait. Against
the iron uprights he lurched, literally; then, as though grateful for
their support, remained fixed there at a slanted angle for a brief
space.

A faunal naturalist, versed in the ways of lions, would promptly have
taken cognizance of the fact that Chieftain, upon his face, wore an
expression unnatural for lions to wear. It was an expression which might
be classified as dreamily good-natured. His eyes drooped heavily, his
lips were wreathed in a jovial feline smile. Transfixed as he was by a
shock of astonishment and chagrin, Riley under his breath snapped a word
of command.

In subconscious obedience to his master's voice, Chieftain slowly
straightened himself, came to an about face, and with his massive head
canted far to one side and all adroop as though its weight had become to
him suddenly burdensome, and his legs spraddled widely apart to hold him
upright, he benignantly contemplated the sea of expectant and eager
faces that stretched before him. Slowly he lifted a broad forefoot and
with its padded undersurface made a fumbling gesture which might have
been interpreted as an attempt on his part to wipe his nose.

The effort proved too much for him. Lacking one important prop, he lost
his balance, toppled over and fell heavily upon his side. The fall
jolted his mouth widely ajar, and from the depths of his great throat
was emitted an immense but unmistakable hiccup--a hiccup deep, sincere
and sustained, having a high muzzle velocity and humidly freighted with
an aroma as of a hundred hot mince pies.

From the spellbound crowd rose a concerted gasp of surprise. Chieftain
heeded it not. With the indubitable air of just recalling a pleasant but
novel experience, and filled with a newborn desire to renew the
sensation, he groggily regained his feet and reeled back to the corner
from whence he had come. Here, with the other properties of his act, a
slickly painted blue barrel stood upended. Applying his nose to a spot
at the base of it, he lapped greedily at a darkish aromatic liquid
which, as the entranced watchers now were aware, oozed forth in a stream
upon the cage floor through a cranny treacherously opened between two
sprung staves. And all the while he tongued up the escaping runlet of
fluid he purred and rumbled joyously and his tawny sides heaved and
little tremors of pure ecstasy ran lengthwise through him to expire
diminishingly in lesser wriggles at the tufted tip of his gently
flapping tail.

Then all at once understanding descended upon the audience, and from
them together rose a tremendous whoop. A joyous whoop it was, yet tinged
with a feather edging of jealous regret on the part of certain adult
whoopers there. They had paid their quarters, these worthy folk, to see
a lion perform certain tricks and antics; and lo, they had been
vouchsafed the infinitely more unique spectacle of a lion with a jag
on! It was a boon such as comes but once in many lifetimes, this
opportunity to behold majestic Leo, converted into a confirmed inebriate
by his first indulgence in strong and forbidden waters, returning to his
tippling.

To some perhaps in this land of ours the scene would have served to
point a moral and provide a text--a lamentable picture of the evils of
intemperance as exemplified in its effects upon a mere unreasoning dumb
brute. But in this assemblage were few or none holding the higher view.
Unthoughtedly they yelled their appreciation, yelling all the louder
when Chieftain, having copiously refreshed himself, upreared upon his
hind legs, with both his forepaws winnowing the perfumed air, and after
executing several steps of a patently impromptu dance movement, tumbled
with a happy, intoxicated gurgle flat upon his back and lapsed into a
coma of total insensibility.

But there was one among them who did not cheer. This one was a
square-jawed person who, shoving and scrooging, cleft a passage through
the applauding multitude, and slipped deftly under the ropes and laid a
detaining grasp upon the peltry-clad shoulder of the astonished Riley.
With his free hand he flipped back the lapel of his coat to display a
badge of authority pinned on the breast of his waistcoat.

"What's the main idea?" His tone was rough. "Who's the chief booze
smuggler of this outfit? How'd that barrel yonder come to be traveling
across country with a soused lion?"

"You can search me!" lied Riley glibly. "So help me, Mike, all I know is
that that barrel was slipped over on me by a big nigger that joined out
with us up here in Kentucky a week ago! I told him to get me a barrel,
meaning to teach the lion a new trick, and he stuck that one in there.
But I hadn't never got round to using it yet, and I didn't know it was
loaded--I'll swear to that!"

Cast in another environment, Mr. Riley might have made a good actor.
Even here, in an embarrassing situation calling for lines spoken ad lib.
and without prior rehearsals, he had what the critics term sincerity.
His fine dissembling deceived the revenue man.

"Well, that being the case, where is this here nigger, then?" demanded
the officer.

Riley looked about him.

"I don't see him," he said. "He was right alongside just a moment ago
too. I guess he's gone."

This, in a sense, was the truth, and in still another sense an
exaggeration. Red Hoss was not exactly gone, but he certainly was going.
A man on horseback might have overtaken him, but with the handicap of
Red Hoss' flying start against the pursuing forces no number of men
afoot possibly could hope to do so.

At the end of the second mile, and still going strong, the fugitive
bethought him to part with his red coat. He already had run out from
under his uniform cap, but a red coat with a double row of brass buttons
and brass-topped epaulettes on it flashing next morning across a bland
autumnal landscape would be calculated to attract undesired attention.
So without slackening speed he took it off and cast it behind him into
the darkness. Figuratively speaking, he breathed easier when he crossed
the state line at or about five A.M. As a matter of fact, though, he was
breathing harder. Some hours elapsed before he caught up with his
panting.

Traveling in his shirt sleeves, he reached home too late for the
wedding. Still, considering everything, he hardly would have cared to
attend anyhow. Either he would have felt embarrassed to be present or
else the couple would, or perhaps all three. On such occasions nothing
is more superfluous than an extra bridegroom. The wedding in question
was the one uniting Melissa Grider and Homer Holmes. It was generally
unexpected--in fact, sudden.

The marriage took place on a Wednesday at high noon in the office of
Justice of the Peace Dycus. Red Hoss arrived the same afternoon, shortly
after the departure of the happy pair for Cairo, Illinois, on a
honeymoon tour. All along, Melissa had had her heart set on going to
St. Louis; but after the license had been paid for and the magistrate
had been remunerated there remained but thirty-four dollars of the fund
she had been safeguarding, dollar by dollar, as her other, or regular,
fiancé earned it. So she and Homer compromised on Cairo, and by their
forethought in taking advantage of a popular excursion rate they had, on
their return, enough cash left over to buy a hanging lamp with which to
start up housekeeping.

Late that evening, while Red Hoss still wrestled mentally with the
confusing problem of being engaged to a girl who just had been married
to another, a disquieting thought came abruptly to him, jolting him like
a blow. Looking back on events, he was reminded that the sequence of
painful misadventures which had befallen him recently dated, all and
sundry, from that time when he was coming back down the Blandsville Road
after delivering Mr. Dick Bell's new cow and acquired a fresh hind foot
of a graveyard rabbit. He had been religiously toting that presumably
infallible charm against disaster ever since--and yet just see what had
happened to him! Surely here was a situation calling for interpretive
treatment by one having the higher authority. In the person of the
venerable Daddy Hannah--root, herb and conjure doctor--he found such a
one.

Before going into consultation the patriarch forethoughtedly collected a
fee of seventy-five cents from Red Hoss. At the outset he demanded two
dollars, but accepted the six bits, because that happened to be all the
money the client had. This formality concluded, he required it of Red
Hoss that he recount in their proper chronological order those various
strokes of ill fortune which lately had plagued him; after which Daddy
Hannah asked to see the talisman which coincidentally had been in the
victim's ownership from beginning to culmination of the enumerated
catastrophes. He took it in his wrinkled hand and studied it, sides, top
and bottom, the while Red Hoss detailed the exact circumstances
attending the death of the bunny. Then slowly the ancient delivered his
findings.

"In de fust an' fo'mos' place," stated Daddy Hannah, "dis yere warn't no
reg'lar graveyard rabbit to start off wid. See dis li'l' teeny black
spot on de und'neath part? Well, dat's a sho' sign of a witch rabbit. A
witch rabbit he hang round a buryin' ground, but he don't go inside of
one--naw, suh, not never nur nary. He ain't dare to. He stay outside an'
frolic wid de ha'nts w'en dey comes fo'th, but da's all. De onliest
thing which dey is to do when you kills a witch rabbit is to cut off de
haid f'um de body an' bury de haid on de north side of a log, an' den
bury de body on de south side so's dey can't jine together ag'in an'
resume witchin'. So you havin' failed to do so, 'tain't no wonder you
been havin' sech a powerful sorry time." He started to return the foot
to its owner, but snatched it back.

"Hole on yere a minute, boy! Lemme tek' nuther look at dat thing." He
took it, then burst forth with a volley of derisive chuckling. "Huh,
huh, well ef dat ain't de beatenes' part of it all!" wheezed Daddy
Hannah. "Red Hoss, you sho' muster been in one big hurry to git away
f'um dat spot whar you kilt your rabbit and ketched your charm. Looky
yere at dis yere shank j'int! Don't you see nothin' curious about de
side of de leg whar de hock sticks out? Well den, cullid boy, ef you
don't, all I got to say is you mus' be total blind ez well ez monst'ous
ignunt. Dis ain't no lef' hind foot of no rabbit."

"Whut is it den?"

"It's de right hind foot, dat's whut 'tis!" He tossed it away
contemptuously.

After a long minute Red Hoss, standing at Daddy Hannah's doorstep with
his hands rammed deep in pockets, which were both empty, spoke in tones
of profound bitterness. He addressed his remarks to space, but Daddy
Hannah couldn't help overhearing.

"Fust off, I gits fooled by de right laig of de wrong rabbit. Den a
man-eatin' mule come a-browsin' on me an' gnaw a suit of close right
offen my back. Den I runs into a elephint in a fog an' busts one of
Mist' Lee Farrell's taxiscabs fur him an' he busts my jaw fur me. Den I
gits tuk advantage of by a fool lion dat can't chamber his licker lak a
gen'l'man, in consequence of which I loses me a fancy job an' a chunk of
money. Den Melissa, she up an'--well, suh, I merely wishes to say dat
f'um now on, so fur ez I is concerned, natchel history is a utter
failure."



CHAPTER IV

IT COULD HAPPEN AGAIN TO-MORROW


"Sorry, ma'am," said the Pullman conductor, "but there's not a bit of
space left in the chair car, nor the sleeper neither."

"I'm sorry too," said the young woman in the tan-colored tailor-mades.
She was smartly hatted and smartly spatted; smart all over from
toque-tip to toe-tip. "I didn't know until almost the last minute that
I'd have to catch this train, and trusted to chance for a seat."

"Yes'm, I see," commiserated the man in blue. "But you know what the
rush is this time of year, and right now on top of all that so many of
the soldiers getting home from the other side and their folks coming
East to meet 'em and everything. I guess though, miss, you won't have
much trouble getting accommodated in one of the day coaches."

"I'll try it," she said, "and thank you all the same."

She picked up her hand bag.

"Wait a minute," he suggested. "I'll have my porter carry your valise on
up to the other cars."

Men of all stations in life were rather given to offering help to Miss
Mildred Smith, the distinguished interior decorator and--on the
side--amateur investigator for Uncle Sam with a wartime record for
services rendered which many a professional might have envied. Perhaps
they were the more ready to offer it since the young woman seemed so
rarely to need it.

This man's reward was a brisk little nod.

"Please don't bother," she said. "This bag isn't at all heavy, and I'm
used to traveling alone and looking out for myself." She footed it
briskly along the platform of the Dobb's Ferry station. At the door of
the third coach back from the baggage car a flagman stopped her.

"All full up in here, lady," he told her, "but I think maybe you might
find some place to sit in the next car beyond. If you'll just leave your
grip here I'll bring it along to you after we pull out."

As she reached the door of the coach ahead the train began to move. This
coach was comfortably filled--and more than comfortably filled. Into the
aisles projected elbows and feet and at either side doubled rows of
backs of heads showed above the red plush seats. She shrugged her
shoulders; it meant standing for a while at least; probably someone
would be getting off soon--this train was a local, making frequent
stops. It was not the train she would have chosen had the choosing been
left altogether to her, but Mullinix of the Secret Service, her
unofficial chief, had called her away from a furnishing and finishing
contract at a millionaire's mansion in the country back of Dobb's Ferry
to run up state to Troy, where there had arisen a situation which in the
opinion of the espionage squad a woman was best fitted to handle,
provided only that woman be Miss Mildred Smith. And so on an hour's
notice she had dropped her own work and started.

Now, though, near the more distant end of the car she saw a break in one
line of heads. Perhaps the gap might mean there would be room for her.
She made her way toward the spot, her trim small figure swaying to the
motion as the locomotive picked up speed. Drawing nearer, she saw the
back of one seat had been turned so that its occupants faced rearward
toward her. In this seat, the one farther from her as she went up the
aisle, were a man and a woman; in the nearer seat, facing this pair and
sitting next the window, was a second woman--a girl rather--all three of
them, she deduced from the seating arrangement, being members of the
same party. A suitcase rested upon the cushions alongside the younger
woman.

"I beg your pardon," said the lone passenger, halting here, "but is
this place taken?"

The man's face twisted as though in annoyance. He made an undecided
gesture which might be interpreted either as an affirmative or the other
thing. "I'm sorry if I am disturbing you," added Miss Smith, "but the
car is crowded--every inch of it except this seems to be occupied."

"Oh, I guess it's all right," he said, though in his begrudged consent
was a sort of indirect intimation that it was not altogether all right.
He half rose and swung the suitcase up into the luggage rack overhead,
then tucked in his knees so she might slip into the place opposite him
next the aisle.

"Excuse me," he said a moment later, "but I could change seats with you
if you don't mind."

Her eyebrows went up a trifle.

In her experiences it had not often happened that seemingly without
reason a male fellow traveler had suggested that she give him a place
commonly regarded as preferable to his own.

"I do mind, rather," she answered. "Riding backward makes me carsick
sometimes. Still I will change with you if you insist on it. I'm the
intruder, you know."

"No, no, never mind!" he hastened to say. "I guess it don't make any
difference. And there's no intrusion, miss--honest now, there ain't."

Miss Smith opened the book she had brought along and began to read. She
felt that obliquely her enforced companions were studying her--at least
two of them were. The one with whom she shared a seat had not looked her
way; except to draw in her body a trifle as Miss Smith sat down she had
made no movement of any sort. Certainly she had manifested no interest
in the new arrival. In moments when her glance did not cross theirs,
Miss Smith, turning the pages of her book, considered the two who faced
her, subconsciously trying--as was her way--to appraise them for what
outwardly they presumably were. Offhand she decided the man might be the
superintendent of an estate; or then again he might be somebody's head
gardener. He was heavily built and heavily mustached with a reddish cast
to his skin and fat broad hands. The woman alongside him had the look
about her of being a high-class domestic employee, possibly a
housekeeper or perhaps a seamstress. Miss Smith decided that if not
exactly a servant she was accustomed to dealing with servants and in her
own sphere undoubtedly would figure as a competent and authoritative
person.

Of her own seat mate she could make out little except that she was
young--young enough to be the daughter of the woman across from her, and
yet plainly enough not the woman's daughter. Indeed if first impressions
counted for anything she was of a different type and a different fiber
from the pair who rode in her company. One somehow felt that she was
with them but not of them; that she formed the alien apex of a triangle
otherwise harmonious in its social composition. She was muffled cheek to
knees in a loose cape of blue military cloth which quite hid the
outlines of her figure, yet nevertheless revealed that she was slimly
formed and of fair height. The flaring collar of the garment was
upturned, shielding her face almost to the line of her brows. But out of
the tail of her eye Miss Smith caught a suggestion of a youthful regular
profile and admiringly observed the texture of a mass of thick, fine,
auburn hair. Miss Smith was partial to auburn hair; she wondered if this
girl had a coloring to match the rich reddish tones that glinted in the
smooth coils about her head.

Presently the man fumbled in a breast pocket of his waistcoat and found
a long malignant-looking cigar. He bit the end of it and inserted the
bitten end in his mouth, rolling it back and forth between his lips.
Before long this poor substitute of the confirmed nicotinist for a smoke
failed to satisfy his cravings. He whispered a word to his middle-aged
companion, who nodded, and then with a mutter of apology to Miss Smith
for troubling her he scrouged out into the aisle and disappeared in the
direction of the smoker.

Left alone, the woman very soon began to yawn. It was to be judged that
the stuffy air of the car made her dozy. She kept her eyes open with an
effort, her head lolling in spite of her drowsy efforts to hold it
straight, yet all the while bearing herself after the fashion of one
determined not to fall asleep.

A voice spoke in Miss Smith's ear--a low and well-bred and musical
voice.

"I beg your pardon," it said hesitatingly, then stopped.

Miss Smith turned her head toward the speaker and now for the first time
had a fair chance to look into the face of the voice's owner. She looked
and saw the oval of a most comely face, white and drawn as though by
exhaustion or by deep sorrow, or perhaps by both. For all their pallor
the cheeks were full and smooth; the brow was broad and low; the mouth
firm and sweet. From between the tall collars of the cape the throat,
partly revealed, rose as a smooth fair column. What made the girl almost
beautiful were her eyes--eyes big and brown with a fire in them to
suggest the fine high mettle of a resolute character, but out of them
there looked--or else the other was woefully wrong--a great grief, a
great distress bravely borne. To herself--all in that instant of
looking--she said mentally that these were the saddest, most courageous
eyes she ever had seen set in a face so young and seemingly bespeaking
so healthful a body. For a moment Miss Smith was so held by what she saw
that she forgot to speak.

"I beg your pardon," repeated the girl. "I wonder if you would be good
enough to bring me a drink of water--if it isn't too much trouble. I'm
so thirsty. I can't very well go myself--there are reasons why I can't.
And I don't think she"--with a sidelong glance toward the nodding figure
opposite--"I don't think she would feel that she could go and leave me.'

"Certainly I will," said Miss Smith. "It's not a bit of bother."

"What is it?" The woman had been roused to full wakefulness by the
movement of the stranger in rising.

"Please don't move," said Miss Smith. "Your young lady is thirsty and
I'm going to bring her a drink of water--that's all."

"It's very good of you, miss," said the elder woman. She reached for her
hand bag. "I think I've got a penny here for the cup."

"I've plenty of pennies," said Miss Smith.

At the cooler behind the forward door she filled a paper cup and brought
it back to where the two were. To her surprise the elder woman reached
for the cup and took it from her and held it to the girl's lips while
she drank. With a profound shock of sympathy the realization went
through Miss Smith that the girl had not the use of her hands.

Having drunk, the girl settled back in her former posture, her face half
turned toward the window and her head drooping as if from weariness. The
woman laid the emptied cup aside and at once was dozing off again. The
third member of the group sat in pitying wonder. She wondered what
affliction had made a cripple of this wholesome-looking bonny creature.
She thought of ghastly things she had read concerning the dreadful after
effects of infantile paralysis, but rejected the suggestion, because no
matter what else of dread and woe the girl's eyes had betrayed the face
was too plump and the body, which she could feel touching hers, too firm
and well nourished to betoken a present and wasting infirmity. So then
it must have been some accident--some maiming mishap which probably had
not been of recent occurrence, since nothing else about the girl
suggested physical impairment. If this deduction were correct, the
wearing of the shrouding blue cape in an atmosphere almost stiflingly
close stood explained. It was so worn to hide the injured limbs from
view. That, of course, would be the plausible explanation. Yet at the
same time an inner consciousness gave Miss Smith a certain and absolute
conviction that the specter of tearfulness lurking at the back of those
big brown eyes meant more than the ever-present realization of some
bodily disfigurement.

Fascinated, she found her eyes searching the shape beside her for a clew
to the answer of this lamentable mystery. In her covert scrutiny there
was no morbid desire to spy upon another's hidden miseries--our Miss
Smith was too well-bred for that--only was there a sudden quickened
pity and with that pity a yearning to offer, if opportunity served, any
small comfort of act or word which might fitly come her way. As her
glance--behind the cover of her reopened book--traveled over the cloaked
shape searching for a clew to the secret she saw how that chance
promised to serve her ends. The girl was half turned from her, a
shoulder pressing against the window ledge; the twist of her body had
drawn one front breadth of the cape awry so that no longer did it
completely overlap its fellow. In the slight opening thus unwittingly
contrived Miss Smith could make out at the wearer's belt line a partly
obscured inch or two of what seemed to be a heavy leathern gear, or
truss, which so far as the small limits of the exposed area gave hint as
to its purpose appeared to engage the forearms like a surgical device,
supporting their weight below the bend of the elbows. With quickening
and enhanced sympathy the little woman winced.

Then she started, her gaze lifting quickly. Of a sudden she became aware
that the girl was regarding her straightforwardly with those haggard
eyes.

"Can you tell what the--the trouble is with me?" she asked.

She spoke under her breath, the wraith of a weary little smile about her
mouth.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," answered Miss Smith contritely. "But please believe
me--it was not mere cheap inquisitiveness that made me look."

"I think I know," said the girl softly. "You were sorry. And it doesn't
matter much--your seeing. Somehow I don't mind your seeing."

"But I haven't really seen--I only caught a glimpse. And I'm afraid now
that I've been pressing too closely against your side; perhaps giving
you pain by touching your arms."

"My arms are not hurting me," said the girl, still with that queer ghost
of a smile at her lips. "I've not been hurt or injured in any way."

"Not hurt? Then why--"

She choked the involuntary question even as she was framing it.

"This--this has been done, I suppose, to keep me from hurting anyone
else."

"But--but I don't understand."

"Don't you--yet? Then lift a fold of my wrap--carefully, so no one else
can see while you are looking. I'd rather you did," she continued,
seeing how Miss Smith hesitated.

"But I am a stranger to you. I don't wish to pry. I----"

"Please do! Then perhaps you won't be worrying later on about--about me
if you know the truth now."

With one hand Miss Smith turned back the edge of the cape, enlarging
slightly the opening, and what she saw shocked her more deeply than
though she had beheld some hideous mutilation. She saw that about both
of the girl's wrists were snugly strapped broad leather bands, designed
something after the fashion of the armlets sometimes worn by athletes
and artisans, excepting that here the buckle fastenings were set upon
the tops of the wrists instead of upon the inner sides; saw, too, that
these cuffs were made fast to a wide leather belt, which in an unbroken
band encircled the girl's trunk, so that her prisoned forearms were
pressed in and confined closely against her body at the line of her
waist. Her elbows she might move slightly and her fingers freely; but
the hands were held well apart and the fingers in play might touch only
the face of the broad girthing, which presumably was made fast by
buckles or lacings at her back. As if the better to indicate how firmly
she was secured, the wearer of these strange bonds flexed her arm
muscles slightly; the result was a little creaking sound as the harness
answered the strain. Then the girl relaxed and the sound ended.

"Oh, you poor child!" The gasped exclamation came involuntarily,
carrying all the deeper burden of compassion because it was uttered in a
half whisper. Quickly she snugged the cloak in to cover the ugly thing
she had looked upon. "What have you done that you should be treated so?"

Indignation was in the asking--that and an incredulous disbelief that
here had been any wrongdoing.

"It isn't what I've done--exactly. I imagine it is their fear of what
they think I might do if my hands were free."

"But where are you going? Where are these people taking you? You're no
criminal. I know you're not. You couldn't be!"

"I am being taken to a place up the road to be confined as a dangerous
lunatic."

In the accenting of the words was no trace of rebellion or even of
self-pity, but merely there was the dead weight and numbness of a
hopeless resignation to make the words sound flat and listless.

"I don't believe one word of it!" exclaimed Miss Smith, then broke off
short, realizing that the shock of the girl's piteous admission had sent
her own voice lifting and that now she had a second listener. The woman
diagonally across from her was sitting bolt upright and a pair of small
eyes were narrowing upon her in a squint of watchful and hostile
suspicion. Instantly she stood up--a small, competent, determined body.

"I'll be back," she stated, disregarding the elder woman and speaking to
the younger. "And I'm going to find out more about you, too, before I'm
done."

Her step, departing, was brisk and resolute.

In the aisle near the forward door she encountered the flagman.

"There is a man in the smoker I must see at once," she said. "Will you
please go in there and find him and tell him I wish--no, never mind. I
see him coming now."

She went a step or two on to meet the person she sought, halting him in
the untenanted space at the end of the coach.

"I want to speak with you, please," she began.

"Well, you'll have to hurry," he told her, "because I'm getting off with
my party in less'n five minutes from now. What was it you wanted to say
to me?"

"That young girl yonder--I became interested in her. I thought perhaps
she had been injured. Then more or less by chance I found out the true
facts. I spoke to her; she told me a little about her plight."

"Well, if you've been talking to her what's the big idea in talking to
me?"

His tone was churlish.

"This isn't mere vulgar curiosity on my part. I have a perfectly proper
motive, I think, in inquiring into her case. What is her name."

"Margaret Vinsolving."

"Spell it for me, please--the last name?"

He spelled it out, and she after him to fix it in her mind.

"Where does she live--I mean where is her home?"

"Village of Pleasantdale, this state," shortly.

"Who are her people?"

"She's got a mother and that's all, far as I know."

"What asylum are you taking her to?"

"No asylum. We're taking her to Doctor Shorter's Sanitarium back of
Peekskill two miles--Dr. Clement Shorter, specialist in nervous
disorders--he's the head."

"It is a private place then and not a state asylum?"

"You said it."

"You are connected with this Doctor Shorter's place, I assume?"

"Yep."

"In what capacity?"

"Oh, sort of an outside man--look after the grounds and help out
generally with the patients and all. And now, say, lady, if that'll
satisfy you I guess I better be stepping along. I got to see about
getting this here patient and the matron off the train; that's the
matron that's setting with her."

"Just a moment more, please."

She felt in a fob set under the cuff of her left sleeve and brought
forth a small gold badge and held it cupped in her gloved hand for him
to see. As he bent his head and made out the meaning of the badge the
gruff air dropped from him magically.

"Oh, I see!" he said. "Secret Service, eh? All right, ma'am, what more
did you want to know? Only I'd ask you speak brisk because there ain't
so much time."

"Tell me briefly what you know of that child."

"Not such a lot, excepting she's a dangerous lunatic, having been
legally adjudged so yestiddy. And her mother's paying for her keep at a
high-class place where she can have special treatment and special care
instead of letting her be put away in one of the state asylums. And so
I'm taking her there--me and the matron yonder. That's about all, I
guess."

"I don't believe it."

"You don't believe what?"

He was beginning to bristle anew.

"Don't believe she is insane at all, much less dangerously so. Why, I've
just been talking with her. We exchanged only a few words, but in all
that she said she was so perfectly rational, so perfectly sensible.
Besides, one has only to look at her to feel sure some terrible mistake
or some terrible injustice is being done. Surely there is nothing
eccentric, nothing erratic about her; now is there? You must have been
studying her. Don't you yourself feel that there might have been
something wrong about her commitment?"

He shook his head.

"Not a chancet. Everything's been positively regular and aboveboard. You
can't railroad folks into Doctor Shorter's place; he's got too high a
standing. Shorter takes no chances with anybody."

"But she seemed so absolutely normal in speech, manner--everything. I've
seen insane persons before now and--"

"Excuse me, but about how many have you seen?"

"Not many, I admit, but--"

"Well, excuse me again, lady, but I thought as much. Well, I
have--plenty of 'em I've seen in my time. See 'em every day for the
matter of that. Listen to me! For instance, now, we've got a case up
there with us now. He's been there going on fifteen years; used to be a
preacher, highly educated and all that. Look at him and you wouldn't see
a thing out of the way with him except that he'd be wearing a
strait-jacket. Talk to him for maybe a week and you wouldn't notice a
single thing wrong about him. He'd just strike you all along as being
one of the nicest, mildest, old Christian gents you ever met up with in
your whole life. But get him on a certain subject; just mention a
certain word to him and he'd tear your throat out with his bare hands if
he could get at you."

"But this poor girl, surely her case is different? Was it really
necessary to bind her hands as you've done?"

"Lady, about these here violent ones you can't never tell. Me, I never
saw her in my life before I went down after her this morning, and up to
now she hasn't made me a mite of trouble. But I had my warning from them
that turned her over to me. Anyhow, all I needed was the story of her
own mother, as fine a lady as you'd care to see and just about
broken-hearted over all this. You'd think from the way she carried on
she was the one that was being put away and not the daughter. And yet,
what did the mother swear to on her sacred oath? She swore to the
daughter's having tried, not once but half a dozen separate times to
kill her, till she was afraid for her own life--positively!

"Besides, lady, it's been my experience, and I've had a heap of it, that
it's the quiet-acting ones that are apt to strike the quickest and do
the most damage when the fit comes on 'em. So taking everything into
consideration, I felt like as if I oughter be purty careful handling her
on this trip. But she's all right. Probably nobody on this train,
outside of you, knows there's anything wrong with her and it was
accidental-like, so you tell me, the way you come to find out--you
taking that seat alongside her and getting into talk with her whilst I
was in yonder smoking. It's better she should be under control thataway
than that she should maybe get a spell on her right here in this car or
somewheres and me be forced to hold her down by main strength and
possibly have to handle her pretty rough. I put it to you now, ain't it?
The way she's fixed she can't harm herself nor no one else. You take it
from me, lady, that while I've been in this business for so long I don't
always get my private feelings harrowed up over the case of a
nice-looking young girl like this one is, like an outsider might, still
at that I ain't hard-hearted and I ain't aiming to be severe just
because I can. But what else is there for me to do except what I'm
doing? I ask you. Say, it's funny she talked to you. She ain't said
hardly a word to us since she started. Didn't even say nothing when I
put the hobbles on her."

"I'm not questioning your judgment," said Miss Smith, "but she is so
pitiable! She seemed to me like some dumb, frightened, wild creature
caught in a trap. And despite what you say I'm sure she can't be mad.
Please, may I speak with her again--if she herself doesn't mind?"

"I'm afeared it's too late," he said not unkindly. "We're slowing down
for Peekskill now. I'll have to step lively as it is to get 'em off
shipshape. But if you've still got any doubts left in your mind you can
look up the court records at White Plains. You'll find everything's been
done positively legal and regular. And if you should want to reach me
any time to find out how she's getting along or anything like that, why
my name is Abram Foley, care of Doctor Shorter."

He cast this farewell information back over his shoulder as he hurried
from her.

Half convinced yet doubting still, and filled wholly with an
overmastering pity, Miss Smith stood where she was while the train
jerkily came to a standstill. There she stayed, watching, as the trio
quitted the car. Past her where she stood the man Foley led the way,
burdened with the heavy suitcase. Next came his charge, walking steadily
erect, mercifully cloaked to her knees in the blue garment; and the
matron, in turn behind her, bearing a hand bag and an odd parcel or two.
About the departing group a casual onlooker would have sensed nothing
unusual. But our Miss Smith, knowing what she did know, held a clenched
hand to the lump that had formed in her throat. She was minded to speak
in farewell to the prisoner, and yet a second impulse held her mute.

She fell in behind the three of them though, following as far as the
platform, being minded to witness the last visible act of the tragedy
upon which she had stumbled. Her eyes and her heart went with them as
they crossed through the open shed of the station, the man still
leading, the matron with one hand guiding their unresisting ward toward
where a closed automobile, a sort of hybrid between a town car and an
ambulance, was drawn up on the driveway just beyond the eaves of the
building. A driver in a gray livery opened the door of the car for its
occupants.

Alongside the automobile the girl swung herself round, her head thrown
back, as a felon might face about at the gateway of his prison--for a
last view of the free world he was leaving behind. Seemingly the
vigilant woman misinterpreted this movement as the first indication of
a spirit of kindling obstinacy. Alarmed, she caught at the girl to
restrain her. Her grasp closed upon the shoulder of the cape and as the
wrenched garment came away in her hand the prisoner stood revealed in
her bonds--a slim graceful figure, for all the disfigurement of the
clumsy harness work which fettered her.

An instant later the cape had been replaced upon her shoulders, hiding
her state from curious eyes, but in that same brief space of time she
must have seen leaning from the train, which now again was in motion,
the shape of her unknown champion, for she nodded her head as though in
gratitude and good-by and her white face suddenly was lighted with what
the passenger upon the car platform, seeing this through a sudden mist
of tears, thought to be the bravest, most pitiable smile that ever she
had seen.

The train doubled round an abrupt curve, in the sharpness of its swing
almost throwing her off her feet, and when she had regained her balance
and looked again the station was furlongs behind her, hidden from sight
by intervening buildings.

It was that smile of farewell which acted as a flux to carry into the
recipient's mind a resolution already forming. Into things her emotions
were likely to lead her headlong and impetuously, but for a way out of
them this somewhat unusual young woman named Smith generally had for
her guide a certain clear quality of reasoning, backed by an intuition
which helped her frequently to achieve satisfactory results. So it was
with her in this instance.

Her share of the business in Troy completed, as speedily it was, she
stayed in Albany for half a day on her way back and called upon the
governor. At first sight he liked her, for her good looks, for her
trigness, her directness and more than any of these for the excellent
mental poise which so patently was a part of her. The outcome of her
visit to him and his enthusiastic admiration for her was that the
district attorney of Westchester County shortly thereafter instituted an
investigation, the chief fruitage of that investigation being embodied
in a somewhat longish letter from him, which Miss Smith read in her
studio apartment one afternoon perhaps three weeks after the date of her
meeting on trainboard with that adjudged maniac, the girl Margaret
Vinsolving.

To the letter was a polite preamble. She skipped it. We may do well to
follow her lead and come to the body of it, which ran like this:


"Mrs. Janet Vinsolving is the widow of a colonel in our Regular Army. My
information is that she is a woman of culture and refinement. Since the
death of her husband some eight years ago she has been residing in a
small home which she owns in the outskirts of Pleasantdale village in
this county. From the fact that she keeps no servants and from other
facts brought to me I gather that she is in very modest circumstances.
She has been living quite alone except for the daughter, Margaret, who
is her only child. The daughter was educated in the public schools of
the county. Lately she has been studying applied designing with a view
to becoming an interior decorator."

"Ah, now I know another reason why I was drawn to her!" interpolated the
reader, speaking to herself. With heightened interest she read on:

"On inquiry it appears that among her former schoolmates and teachers
she was popular, though not inclined to make intimates. She is reputed
to have been rather high-tempered, but seemingly throughout her
childhood and young girlhood there was nothing about her conduct or
appearance to indicate a disordered mind. Indeed there was no suggestion
of mental aberration on her part from any source until within the past
month. However, I should add that it is rather hard to arrive at any
accurate estimate of her general behavior by reason of the fact that
mother and daughter led so secluded a life. They had acquaintances in
the community, but apparently no close friends there or elsewhere.

"About four weeks ago, on the twenty-eighth of last month to be exact,
the mother, described to me as being in a state of great distress,
visited Justice Cannavan, then sitting in chambers at White Plains, and
asking for a private interview with him, requested an inquiry into the
sanity of the girl Margaret, with a view, as she explained, of
protecting her own life. Her daughter, she alleged, had without warning
developed a homicidal tendency aimed at the applicant.

"According to Mrs. Vinsolving, the girl, who always theretofore had been
a devoted and affectionate child, had made at least five separate and
distinct attempts to kill her, first by putting poison into her food and
later by attempting to strangle her at night in her bed. Next only to a
natural desire to have her own physical safety insured, the mother was
apparently inspired by a wish to surround the truth regarding her
beloved child's aberration with as much secrecy as possible. At the same
time she realized that a certain amount of publicity was inevitable.

"Acting under the statutes, the justice appointed two reputable
practicing physicians of the county, namely Dr. Ernest Malt, of
Wincorah, and Dr. James P. McGlore, of Pleasantdale, to sit as a
commission for the purpose of inquiring into Miss Vinsolving's mental
state. The mother, still exhibiting every evidence of maternal grief,
appeared before these gentlemen and repeated in detail the account of
the attacks made upon her, as previously described to His Honor.

"The girl was then brought before the commission. It was explained to
her that under the law she had the right to demand a hearing in open
court before a jury chosen to pass upon her sanity. This she waived, but
from this point on throughout the inquiry she steadfastly declined to
make answers to the questions propounded to her by the members of the
commission in an effort to ascertain her mental status, but on the
contrary persistently maintained a silence which they interpreted as a
phase of insane cunning characteristic of a type of abnormality not
often encountered, but in their opinion the more sinister and
significant because of its rarity.

"They accordingly drew up a finding setting forth that in their opinion
and deliberate judgment the unfortunate young woman was suffering from a
progressive and therefore probably incurable form of dementia. The
justice immediately signed the necessary orders for her detention and
commitment. To save the daughter from being sent to a state institution
the mother provided funds sufficient for her care at Doctor Shorter's
sanitarium, an establishment of unimpeachable reputation, and she
accordingly was taken there in proper custody, as you yourself are
aware.

"My information from the sanitarium, which I procured in response to
your request, and the governor's instructions to me for a full inquiry
into all the circumstances is that since her confinement Miss
Vinsolving has been under constant observation. She has been orderly and
obedient and except for slightly melancholic tendencies, which might
easily be provoked by the nature of her environment, is quite natural in
her behavior. I draw the inference, however, that this docility may be
merely the forerunner of an outburst at any time.

"Altogether my investigation convinces me that no miscarriage of the law
could possibly have occurred in this instance. There is certainly no
ground for suspecting that the mother had any ulterior or improper
motive in seeking to have her daughter and sole companion deprived of
liberty. Neither the mother nor any other person alive can hope to
profit in a financial sense by reason of the girl's temporary or
permanent detention.

"The girl herself is without means of her own. The mother for her
maintenance is largely dependent upon the pension she receives from the
United States Government. The girl had no income or estate of her own
and no expectancy of any inheritance from any imaginable source other
than the small estate she will legally inherit at the death of her
mother. Finally I may add that nowhere in the case has there developed
any suggestion of a scandal in the life of mother or daughter or of any
clandestine love affair on the part of either.

"These briefly are the available facts as compiled by a trustworthy
member of my staff, Assistant District Attorney Horace Wilkes, to whom
I detailed the duty of making a painstaking inquiry. If I may hereafter
be of service to you in this matter or any other matter, kindly command
me. I have the honor to be,

"Yours etc., etc."


With a little gesture of despairful resignation Miss Smith laid the
letter down. Well, there was nothing more she could do; nothing more to
be done. She had come to a blind end. The proof was conclusive of the
worst. But in her thoughts, waking and sleeping, persisted the image of
that gallant, pathetic little figure which she had seen last at the
Peekskill station, bound, helpless, alone and all so courageously facing
what to most of us would be worse than death itself. Awake or in sleep
she could not get it out of her mind.

At length one night following on a day which for the greater part she
had spent in a study of the somewhat curious laws that in New York
State--as well as in divers other states of the Union--govern the
procedure touching certain classes coming within purview of the code,
she awoke in the little hours preceding the dawn to find herself saying
aloud: "There's something wrong--there must be--there has to be!"

Until daylight and after she lay there planning a course of action until
finally she had it completed. True, it was a grasping at feeble straws,
but even so she meant to follow along the only course which seemed open
to her.

First she did some long-distance telephoning. Then immediately after
breakfast she sent to the garage round the corner for her runabout and
in it she rode up through the city and on into Westchester, now
beginning to flaunt the circus colors of a gorgeous Indian summer. An
hour and a half of steady driving brought her to the village of
Pleasantdale. She found it a place well named, seeing that it was tucked
down in a cove among the hills between the Hudson on the one side and
the Sound on the other.

Following the directions given her by a lone policeman on duty in the
tiny public square, she ran two blocks along the main street and drew up
where a window sign giving name and hours advertised that James P.
McGlore, M.D., here professionally received patients in his office on
the lower floor of his place of residence. A maidservant answered the
caller's knock, and showing her into a chamber furnished like a parlor
which had started out to be a reception room and then had tried--too
late--to change back again into a parlor, bade her wait. She did not
have long to wait. Almost immediately an inner door opened and in the
opening appeared the short and blocky figure of a somewhat elderly,
old-fashioned-looking man with a square homely face--a face which
instantly she classified as belonging to a rather stupid, very dogmatic
and utterly honest man. He had outjutting, belligerent eyebrows and a
stubborn underjaw that was badly undershot. He spoke as he entered and
his tone was noticeably not cordial.

"The girl tells me your name is Smith. I suppose from that you're the
young person that the district attorney telephoned me about an hour or
so ago. Well, how can I serve you?"

"Perhaps, doctor, the district attorney told you I had interested myself
in the case of the Vinsolving girl--Margaret Vinsolving," she began. "I
had intended to call also upon your associate, Doctor Malt, over at
Wincorah, but I learn he is away."

"Yes, yes," he said with a sort of hurried petulance. "Know all about
that. Malt's like a lot of these young new physicians--always running
off on vacations. Mustn't hold me responsible for his absences. Got no
time to think about the other fellow. Own affairs are enough--keep me
busy. Well, go on, why don't you? You were speaking of the Vinsolving
girl. Well, what of her?"

"I was saying that I had interested myself in her case and--"

He snapped in: "One moment. Let's get this all straightened out before
we start. May I inquire if you are closely related to the young person
in question?"

"I am not. I never saw her but once."

"Are you by any chance a close friend of the young woman?"

He towered over her, for she was seated and he had not offered to sit
down. Indeed throughout the interview he remained standing.

Looking up at him, where he glowered above her, she answered back
promptly:

"As I was saying, I never saw her but once--that was on the day she
was carried away to be placed in confinement. So I cannot call myself
her friend exactly, though I would like to be her friend. It was
because of the sympathy which her position--and I might add, her
personality--roused in me that I have taken the liberty of coming here
to see you about her."

Under his breath he growled and grunted and puffed certain sounds. She
caught the purport of at least two of the words.

"Pardon me, doctor," she said briskly, "but I am not an amateur
philanthropist. I trust I'm not an amateur anything. I am a business
woman earning my own living by my own labors and I pay taxes and for the
past year or so I have been a citizen and a voter. Please do not regard
me merely as an officious meddler--a busybody with nothing to do except
to mind other people's affairs. It was quite by chance that I came upon
this poor child and learned something of her unhappy state."

The choleric brows went up like twin stress marks accenting unspoken
skepticism.

"A child--of twenty-four?" he commented ironically.

"A child, measured by my age or yours. As I told you, I met her quite
accidentally. She appealed to me so--such a plucky, helpless, friendless
little thing she seemed with those hideous leather straps binding her."

"Do you mean to imply that she was being mistreated by those who had her
in charge?"

"No, her escorts--or attendants or warders or guards or whatever one
might call them--seemed kindly enough, according to their lights. But
she was so quiet, so passive that I--"

"Well, would you expect anyone who felt a proper sense of responsibility
to suffer dangerous maniacs to run at large without restraint or control
of any sort upon their limbs and their actions?"

"But, doctor, that is just the point--are you so entirely sure that she
is a dangerous maniac? That is what I want to ask you--whether there
isn't a possibility, however remote, that a mistake may conceivably have
been made? Please don't misunderstand me," she interjected quickly,
seeing how he--already stiff and bristly--had at her words stiffened and
bristled still more. "I do not mean to intimate that anything unethical
has been done. In fact I am quite sure that everything has been quite
ethical. And I am not questioning your professional standing or decrying
your abilities.

"But as I understand it, neither you nor Doctor Malt is avowedly an
alienist. I assume that neither of you has ever specialized in nervous
or mental disorders. Such being the case, don't you agree with me--this
idea has just occurred to me--that if an alienist, a man especially
versed in these things rather than a general practitioner, however
experienced and competent, were called in even now--"

"And you just said you were not reflecting upon my professional
abilities!"

His tone was heavily sarcastic.

"Of course I am not! I beg your pardon if my poor choice of language has
conveyed any such impression. What I am trying to get at, doctor, in my
inexpert way, is that I talked with this girl, and while I exchanged
only a few words with her, nevertheless what she said--yes, and her
bearing as well, her look, everything about her--impressed me as being
entirely rational."

He fixed her with a hostile glare and at her he aimed a blunt gimlet of
a forefinger.

"Are you quite sure you are entirely sane yourself?"

"I trust I am fairly normal."

"Got any little funny quirks in your brain? Any little temperamental
crotchets in which you differ from the run of people round you? Think
now!"

"Well," she confessed, "I don't like cats--I hate cats. And I don't like
figured wall paper. And I don't like--"

"That will be sufficient. Take the first point: You hate cats. On that
count alone any confirmed cat lover would regard you as being as crazy
as a March hare. But until you start going round trying to kill other
people's cats or trying to kill other people who own cats there's
probably no danger that anyone will prefer charges of lunacy against you
and have you locked up."

She smiled a little in spite of her earnestness.

"Perhaps it is symptomatic of a lesion in my brain that I should be
concerning myself in the case of a strange girl whom I have seen but
once--is that also in your thoughts, Doctor McGlore?"

"We'll waive that," he said. "For the sake of argument we'll concede
that your indicative peculiarities assume a harmless phase at present.
But this Vinsolving girl's case is different--hers were not harmless.
Her acts were amply conclusive to establish proof of her mental
condition."

"From the district attorney's statement to me I rather got the
impression that she did not indulge in any abnormal conduct while before
you for examination."

"Did he tell you of her blank refusal to answer the simplest of the
questions my associate and I put to her?"

"Doctor," she countered, seeking to woo him into a better humor, "would
you construe silence on a woman's part as necessarily a mark of
insanity? It is a rare thing, I concede. But might it not sometimes be
an admirable thing as well?"

But this gruff old man was not to be cajoled into pleasanter channels
than the course his mood steered for him.

"We'll waive that too. Anyhow, the mother's evidence was enough."

"But was there anything else other than the mother's unsupported story
for you to go on and be guided by?"

"What else was needed?" he retorted angrily. "What motive could the
mother have except the motives that were prompted by mother love? That
was a devoted, desolated woman if ever I saw one. Look here! A daughter
without cause suddenly turns upon her mother and tries to kill her.
Well, then, either she's turned criminal or she has gone crazy!

"But why should I go on debating with you a matter which you don't know
anything about in the first place and in which you have no call to
interfere in the second place?

"I don't want to be sharp with you, young woman, but that's the plain
fact. The duty which I undertook under the law and as a reputable
physician was not a pleasant one, and it becomes all the less pleasant
when an unqualified layman--laywoman if you prefer to phrase it that
way--cross-examines me on my judgment."

"Doctor, let me repeat again I have not sought to cross-question you or
belittle your knowledge. But you speak of the law. Do you not think it a
monstrous thing that two men even though they be of high standing in
their profession as general practitioners, but without special
acquaintance with mental derangements--I am not speaking of this
particular case now but of hundreds of other cases--do you not think it
a wrong thing that two such persons may pass upon a third person's
sanity and upon the uncorroborated testimony of some fourth person
recommend the confinement of the accused third person in an asylum for
the insane?"

"I suppose you know a person so complained of--or accused, as you put
it--has the right to a jury trial in open court. This girl that you're
so worked up about had that right. She waived it."

"But is a presumably demented person a fit judge of his or her own best
course of conduct? In your opinion shouldn't there be other safeguards
in their interests to insure against what conceivably might be a
terrible error or a terrible injustice?"

He didn't exactly sneer, but he indulged himself in the first cousin of
a sneer.

"You've evidently been fortifying yourself to give me a battle--reading
up on the subject, eh?"

"I've been reading up on the subject--not, though, for the purpose of
entering into a joint debate on the subject with anyone. But, doctor, I
have read enough to startle me. I never knew before there were such laws
on the statute books. And I have learned about another case, the case of
that rich man--a multimillionaire the papers called him, which means I
suppose that at least he was well-to-do. You remember about him, I am
sure? A commission declared him of unsound mind. He got away to another
state where the legal processes of this state could not reach him. The
courts of that other state declared him mentally competent and capable
of managing his own affairs--and for a period of years he did manage
them. Here the other month, under a pledge of safe conduct, he returned
to New York on legal business and while he was here he carried his cause
to a higher court and that court ruled him to be sane and entitled to
his complete freedom of body and action. But for years he had been a
pseudofugitive in enforced exile and for years he had carried the stigma
of having been adjudged insane. This thing happened, incredible as it
sounds. It might happen again to-day or to-morrow. It--"

"Excuse me for interrupting your flow of eloquence," he said with a
labored politeness, "but I thought you came here to discuss the case of
a girl named Vinsolving, not the case of a man I never heard of before.
Now, at least I'm not going to discuss generalities with you and I'm not
going to sit here and join with you in questioning the workings of the
law either. The laws are good enough for me as they stand. I'm a
law-abiding citizen, not one of these red-eyed socialistic Bolsheviks
that are forever trying to tear down things. I believe in taking the
laws as I find them. Let well enough alone--that's my motto, young
woman. And there are a whole lot more like me in this country."

"Pardon me for breaking in on you, sir," she said, fighting hard to keep
her temper, "but neither am I a socialist or a Bolshevik."

"Then I reckon probably you're one of these rampant suffragists. Anyhow,
what's the use of discussing abstracts? If you don't like the law why
don't you have it changed?"

"That's one of the very things I hope before long to try to do," she
replied.

"It'll keep you pretty busy," he responded with a sniff of profound
disapproval. "But then you seem to have a lot of spare time on your
hands to spend in crusading round. Well, I haven't. I've got my patients
to see to. One of 'em is waiting for me now--if you'll kindly excuse
me?"

She rose.

"I'm sorry," she said sincerely, "if either my mission or my language
has irritated you. I seem somehow to have defeated the purpose that
brought me--I mean a faint hope that perhaps somehow I might help that
girl. Something tells me--call it intuition or sentimentality or what
you will--but something tells me I must keep on trying to help her. I
only wish I could make you share my point of view."

"Well, you can't. Say, see here, why don't you go to see the mother? I
judge she might convince you that you are on the wrong tack, even if I
can't."

"That's exactly what I mean to do," she declared.

Something inside her brain gave a little jump. It was curious that she
had not thought of it before; even more curious that his labored
sarcasms had been required to set her on this new trail.

"Well, at that, you'd better think twice before you go," he retorted.
"She was a mighty badly broken-up woman the last time I saw her, but
even so I judge she's still got spunk enough left in her to resent
having an unauthorized and uninvited stranger coming about, seeking to
pry into her own private sorrow. But it's your affair, not mine.
Besides, judging by everything, you probably don't think my advice is
worth much anyhow."

"Oh, yes, but I do--I do indeed! And I thank you for it."

"Don't mention it! And good day!"

The slamming of the inner door behind him made an appropriate
exclamation point to punctuate the brevity of his offended and indignant
departure. For a moment she felt like laughing outright. Then she felt
like crying. Then she did neither. She left.

"Poor, old opinionated, stupid old, conscientious old thing!" she was
saying to herself as she let herself, unattended, out of the front door.
"And yet I'll wager he would sit up all night and work his fingers to
the bone trying to save a life. And when it comes to serving poor people
without expecting payment or even asking for it, I know he is a perfect
dear. Besides, I should be grateful to him--he gave me an idea. I don't
know where he got it from either--I don't believe he ever had so very
many of his own."

Again the handy cop in the communal center set her upon her way. But
when she came to the destination she sought--a small, rather shabby
cottage standing a mile or so westward from the middle of things
communal, out in the fringes of the village where outlying homesteads
tailed away into avowed farmsteads--the house itself was closed up fast
and tight. The shutters all were closely drawn and against the gatepost
was fastened a newly painted sign reading: "For Sale or Rent. Apply to
Searle, the Up-to-Date Real Estate Man, Next Door to Pythian Hall."

Not quite sure she had stopped at the right place, Miss Smith hailed a
man pottering in a chrysanthemum bed in the yard of the adjoining
cottage.

"Mrs. Vinsolving?" he said, lifting a tousled head above his palings.
"Yessum, she lives there--leastwise she did. She moved away only the day
before yesterday. Sort of sudden, I think it must have been. I didn't
know she was going till she was gone." He grinned in extenuation of the
unaccountable failure of a small-town man to acquaint himself with all
available facts regarding a neighbor's private affairs. "But then she
never wasn't much of a hand, Mrs. Vinsolving wasn't, for mixing with
folks. I'll say she wasn't!"

Back she turned to seek out Searle, he of up-to-date real estate. In a
dingy office upstairs over the local harness store a lean and rangy
gentleman raised a brindled beard above a roll-top desk and in answer to
her first question crisply remarked, "Can't tell."

"But surely if she put her property in your hands for disposal she must
have given you some address where you might communicate with her?"
pressed Miss Smith.

"Oh, yes, she done that all right, but that ain't the question you ast
me first. You ast me if I could tell you where she was--and that I can't
do."

"I see. Then I presume she left instructions with you not to give her
present whereabouts to anyone?"

"Well, you might figger it out that way and mebbe not so far wrong,"
said the cryptic Mr. Searle. "But if you think you'd like to buy or rent
her place I'm fully empowered to act. Got the keys right here and a car
standing outside--take you right on out there in a jiffy if you say the
word."

He rose up and followed her halfway down the steps, plainly torn
between a desire to make a commission and a regret that under orders
from his client he could furnish no details regarding her late
movements.

"If you're interested in any other piece of property in this vicinity--"
were the last words she heard floating down the stair well as she passed
out upon the uneven sidewalk.

She knew exactly what she meant to do next. At sight of her badge, as
shown to him through his wicketed window marked "General Delivery," the
village postmaster gave her a number on a side street well up-town in
New York, adding: "Going away, Mrs. Vinsolving particularly asked me not
to tell anybody where her mail was to be sent on to. Kind of a secretive
woman anyhow, she was, and besides she's had some very pressing trouble
come on her lately. I presume you've heard something about that matter?"

She nodded.

"I suppose now," went on the postmaster, his features sharpening with
curiosity, "that the Federal authorities ain't looking into that
particular matter? Not that I care to know myself, but I just thought it
wouldn't be any harm to ask."

"No," said Miss Smith, "I merely wanted to see her on a personal matter
and I only let you see my credential in order to learn her forwarding
address."

Provided with the requisite information, she figured that before night
she would interview the widow or know good reasons why. That the other
woman had quitted her home seemingly in a hurry and with efforts at
secrecy gave zest to the quest and added a trace of bepuzzlement to it
too. Even so, she did not herself know what she meant to say to the
woman when she had found her in her present abiding place or what
questions she would ask. Only she knew that an inner prompting stronger
than any reasoned-out process drove her forward upon her vague and
blinded mission. Fool's errand it might be--probably was--yet she meant
to see it through.

But she had not reckoned upon the contingency that on this fine October
forenoon, for the first time since buying his new touring car, Mr. Jake
Goebel, shirt-waist manufacturer in a small way in Broome Street and
head of a family in a large way in West One Hundred and Ninety-ninth
Street, would be undertaking to drive the said car unaided and untutored
by a more experienced charioteer on a trial spin up the Albany Post
Road, accompanied--it being merely a five-passenger car--only by Mrs.
Rosa Goebel, wife of the above, six little Goebels of assorted sizes and
ages and Mrs. Goebel's unmated sister, Miss Freda Hirschfeld of
Rivington Street. In Getty Square, Yonkers, about noontime occurred a
head-on collision, the subsequent upshots of which were variously that
divers of those figuring in the accident went in the following
directions:


Miss Smith to a doctor's office near by to have a sprained wrist
bandaged; and thence home in a hired automobile.

Her runabout to a Yonkers repair shop and garage.

Mr. Goebel, with lamentations, to the office of an attorney making a
specialty of handling damage suits, thence home by train with the seven
members of his family party, all uninjured as to their limbs and members
but in a highly distracted state nervously.

Mr. Goebel's car to another repair shop and garage.

The traffic policeman on duty in Getty Square to the station house to
make a report of the fifth smash-up personally officered by him within
eight hours--on a Sunday his casualty list would have been longer, but
this was a week day, when pleasure travel was less fraught with highway
perilousness.


It so happened that Mullinix came to town from Washington next morning
and, following his custom, rang up his unpaid but none the less valued
aid to inquire whether he might come a-calling. No, he might not, Miss
Smith being confined to her room with cold compresses on her injured
wrist, but he might render a service for her if so minded--and he was.
To him, then, over the wire Miss Smith stated her requirements.

"I want you please to go to this address"--giving it--"and see whether
you find there a Mrs. Janet Vinsolving, a widow. I rather imagine the
place may be a boarding house, though I won't be sure as to that. It
will not be necessary for you to see her in person; in fact I'd rather
you did not. What I want you to do is to learn whether she is still
there, and if so how long she expects to stay there, and generally
anything you can about her movements. She went there only three days ago
and inasmuch as she has a reputation in her former home for keeping very
much to herself this may be a more difficult job than it sounds. But do
the best you can, won't you, and then notify me of the results by
telephone? No, it is a personal affair--nothing to do with any of our
official undertakings. I'll tell you more about it when I see you. I
expect I shall be able to receive visitors in a day or two; just now I
feel a bit shaken up and unstrung. That's all, and thank you ever so
much."

Within an hour he had her on the telephone again.

"Hello!" she said. "Yes, this is Miss Smith. Oh, it's you, is it? Well,
what luck?... Oh, so it was a boarding house, after all.... And you
found her there?... No? Then where is she?... What? Where did you say?
Bellevue!... I knew it, I knew it, something told me!... No, no, never
mind my ravings! Go on, please, go on!... Yes, all right. Now then,
listen please: You jump in a taxi and get here to my apartments as soon
as you can. I'll be dressed and ready when you arrive to go over there
with you.... What?... Oh, bother the doctor's instructions. It's only a
sprain anyhow and I feel perfectly fit by now, honestly I do ... tell
you I'd get up out of my dying bed to go.... Yes, indeed, it is
important--much more important than you think! Come on for me, I'll be
waiting."

When fifteen minutes later the perplexed Mullinix halted a taxi at the
Deansworth Studio Building she was at the curbing, her left arm in a
sling and her eyes ablaze with barely controlled emotions. Before he
could move to get out and help her in she was already in.

"Bellevue Hospital, psychopathic ward," he told the driver as she
climbed nimbly inside.

As the taxi started she turned to Mullinix, demanding: "Now tell it to
me all over again. When you are through, then I'll explain to you why I
am so interested."

"Well," he said, "there isn't so very much to tell. The address you gave
me turned out to be a boarding house just as you suspected it might--a
second-rate place but apparently highly respectable, kept by a Mrs.
Sheehan. It's been under the same management at the same place for a
good many years. It wasn't very much trouble for me to find out what
you wanted to know, because the whole place was in turmoil after what
had happened just an hour or so before I got there. And when it
developed that I had come to inquire about the cause of all the
excitement every old-lady boarder in the house wanted to tell me about
it all at the same time.

"It seems that three days ago this Mrs. Vinsolving applied at the place
for room and board. Mrs. Sheehan vaguely remembered her as having been
her guest for a short time ten or twelve years ago. At that time she was
with her husband, Colonel Vinsolving, who it appears has since died, and
a daughter about ten years or twelve years of age--a little girl with
red hair, as Mrs. Sheehan recalls. This time, though, she came alone,
carrying only hand baggage. Except that she seemed to be nervous and
rather harassed and unhappy looking, there was nothing noticeably
unusual about her. Mrs. Sheehan took her in willingly enough.

"She went straight to her room on the third floor and stayed there,
having her meals brought up to her. But this morning early she went to
the landlady and begged for protection, saying she was in fear of her
life. Mrs. Sheehan very naturally inquired to know what was up--and then
Mrs. Vinsolving told her this story:

"She said she had discovered a conspiracy to murder her, headed
by--guess who? The late Kaiser, no less! She said that the Kaiser in
disguise had escaped from Holland, leaving behind him in his recent
place of exile over there a double made up to look like him, and was now
in hiding in this country for the sole purpose of having Mrs. Vinsolving
assassinated in revenge, because her late husband, while an officer in
the Army, had perfected a poison gas deadlier than any other known,
which, being kept a secret by this Government and used against the
German army in the war, had brought about the victory for our side and
led to the overthrow of the Kaiser's outfit.

"She went on to say she had run away from some suburban town or other to
hide in New York and that was why she had taken refuge at Mrs.
Sheehan's, thinking she would be in safety. But now she knew the
plotters had tracked her, because she had just detected that the maid
who had been bringing up her meals to her was really a German agent, and
acting under orders from the Kaiser had put poison into her food. All of
which naturally surprised Mrs. Sheehan considerably, especially as the
accused servant happened to be a perfectly reliable Finnish girl who has
been working for Mrs. Sheehan for five years and who had two brothers in
the Seventy-seventh Division overseas.

"It didn't take Mrs. Sheehan two minutes--she being a pretty
level-headed person evidently--to see what ailed her new boarder. She
managed to get Mrs. Vinsolving quieted down and get her back again into
her room, and then she called in the policeman on the post and inside
of an hour the woman had been smuggled out of the house and was on her
way to Bellevue in an ambulance with a doctor and a policeman guarding
her. But by that time, of course, the news had leaked out among the
other boarders and the whole place was beginning to stew with
excitement. It was still stewing when I got there.

"Well, as soon as you told me over the telephone that you were bent and
determined on going to Bellevue, though I do not see why you should be
in such a hurry about it and taking chances on setting up an
inflammation in your injured arm, because even though you do know the
poor crazed creature you can't be of any help--"

"I don't know her. I never saw her in my life."

"Then why--"

"That part can wait. I'll explain later. You were saying that as soon as
you talked with me over the telephone you did something. What was it?"

"Oh, yes, I called up Doctor Steele, chief surgeon in the psychopathic
ward, who happens to be a friend of mine and one of us besides"--he
tapped the badge he wore under his coat lapel--"and told him I was
bringing you down to see this woman, and he volunteered some information
of the case in advance of your coming. I've forgotten just what he
called the form of insanity which has seized her--it's a jaw-breaking
Latin name--but anyhow, he said his preliminary diagnosis convinced him
that it must have been coming on her for some time; that it was marked
by delusions of persecution and by an exaggerated ego, causing its
victims to imagine themselves the objects of plots engineered by the
most distinguished personages, such as rulers and high dignitaries; and
that while in this state a man or a woman suffering from this particular
brand of lunacy was apt to shift his or her suspicion from one person to
another--first perhaps accusing some perfectly harmless and well-meaning
individual, who might be a relative or a near friend, and then nearly
always progressing to the point in his or her madness where the charge
was directed against some famous character."

"Did you hear anywhere any mention made of a daughter--the red-haired
child of twelve years ago?" inquired Miss Smith.

"To be sure I did, but I'd forgotten about her," said Mullinix. "Mrs.
Sheehan told me that somewhere in her excited narrative Mrs. Vinsolving
did say something about the daughter. As nearly as I can recall, she
told Mrs. Sheehan that five or six weeks ago, or some such matter, her
daughter had tried to kill her and that she thought then the daughter
had gone mad, but that now she knew the girl had joined the Kaiser's
gang for pay. I made a mental note of this part of the rigmarole at the
time Mrs. Sheehan was repeating it to me, and then it slipped my mind.
But now putting that yarn alongside of what Doctor Steele tells me about
the symptoms of the disease, I see the connection--first the daughter,
then the strange servant girl and finally the Kaiser. But say, I wonder
why the daughter hasn't been keeping some sort of a guard over the poor
demented creature? What can she have been thinking about herself to let
her mother go running foot-loose round the country, nursing these
changing delusions?"

"She couldn't very well help herself," put in Miss Smith. "The daughter
is in an asylum--put there five weeks ago on the mother's complaint."

"But heavens alive, how could that have happened?"

"Very easily--under the laws of this state," she answered grimly. Then
speaking more quickly: "I've changed my mind about going to Bellevue
with you. Please tell the driver to take me to the Grand Central
Station. I don't know what train I'm going to catch, except that it's
the next one leaving on the Hudson River Division for up state. You go
on then, please, to the hospital and find out all you can about this
case and call me on the long-distance to-night--no, that won't do
either. I don't know where I'll be. I may be in Peekskill or in
Albany--I can't say which. I tell you--I'll call you at eight o'clock;
that will be better.

"No, no!" she went on impetuously, reading on his face the protest he
meant to utter. "My wrist is well bandaged and giving me no pain. I'm
thinking now of what a poor brave girl had on both her wrists when last
I saw her and of what she must have been enduring since then. I'll
explain the biggest chapter of the story to you on the way over before
you drop me at the station."

At the Grand Central she left behind a thoroughly astonished gentleman.
He was clear on some points which had been puzzling him from time to
time during this exceedingly busy morning, but still much mystified to
make out the meaning of Miss Smith's farewell remark as he put her
aboard her train.

"I only wish one thing," she had said. "I only wish I might take the
time to stop at the village of Pleasantdale and break the news to a
certain Doctor McGlore who lives there. I trust I am not unduly cattish,
but I dearly would love to watch the expression on his face when he
heard it. I think I'd do it, too, if I were not starting on the most
imperative errand that ever called me in my life."


A week later, to the day, two expected visitors were ushered into the
private chamber of the governor at Albany--one of them a small,
exceedingly well-groomed and good-looking woman in her thirties, and
one a slender pretty girl with big brown eyes and wonderful auburn hair.

"Governor," said Miss Smith, "I want the pleasure of introducing to you
the gamest girl in the whole world--Margaret Vinsolving."

He took the firm young hand she offered him. "Miss Vinsolving," he said,
"in the name of the State of New York and on behalf of it I ask your
forgiveness for the great and cruel wrong which unintentionally was done
to you."

"And I want to thank you for what you have done for me, sir," she
answered him simply.

"Don't thank me," he said. "You know the one to thank. If I had not set
the machinery of my office in motion on your behalf within five minutes
after your benefactress here reached me the other day I should have
deserved impeachment. But I should never have lived to face impeachment.
I'm sure the slightest sign of hesitation on my part would have been the
signal for your advocate to brain me with my own inkstand." His face
sobered. "But, my child, for my own information there are some things I
want cleared up. Why in the face of the monstrous charges laid against
you did you keep silent--that is one of the things I want to know?"

Before answering, the girl glanced inquiringly at her companion.

"Tell him," counseled Miss Smith.

Steadily the girl made answer.

"When my poor mother accused me of trying to kill her I realized for the
first time that her mind had become affected. No one else, though,
appeared to suspect the real truth. Perhaps this was because she seemed
so normal on every other subject. So I decided to keep silent. I thought
that if I were taken away from her for a while possibly the separation
and with it the lifting of the imaginary fear of injury at my hands,
which had upset her, might help her to regain her reason and no outsider
be ever the wiser for it. I am young and strong; I believed I could bear
the imprisonment without serious injury to me. I believe yet--for her
sake--I could have borne it. And I knew--I realized what would happen to
her if she were placed in such surroundings as I have been in and made
to pass through such experiences as those through which I have passed. I
felt that all hope of a cure for her would then be gone forever. And I
love my mother." She faltered, her voice trembling a bit, then added:
"That is why I kept silent, sir."

"But, my dear child," he said, "what a wrong thing for you to have done.
It was a splendid, chivalrous, gallant sacrifice, but it was wrong. And
if you don't mind I'd like to shake hands with you again."

"You see, sir, there was no one with whom I might advise in the
emergency that came upon me without warning," she explained. "I had no
confidante except my mother, and she--through madness--had turned
against me. I had no friend then--I have one now, though."

And she went to Miss Smith and put her head on the elder woman's
shoulder.

With her arms about the girl, Miss Smith addressed the governor.

"We are going away a while together for a rest," she told him. "We both
need it. And when we come back she is going to join me in my work. Some
day Margaret will be a better interior decorator than her teacher can
ever hope to be."

"Then from now on, so far as you two are concerned, this ghastly thing
should be only an unhappy dream which you'll strive to forget, I'm
sure," he said. "It's all over and done with, isn't it?"

"Over and done with for her--yes," said Miss Smith. "But how about your
duty as governor? How about my duty as a citizen? Shouldn't we each of
us, you in your big way and I in my small way, work to bring about a
reform in the statutes under which such errors are possible? Think,
governor, of what happened to this child! It may happen again to-day or
to-morrow to some other equally innocent sufferer. It might happen to
any one of us--to me or to someone dear to you."

"Miss Smith," he stated, "if ever it happens to you I shall take the
witness stand on your account and testify to two things: First, that you
are the sanest human being in this state; and second, that you certainly
do know how to play a hunch when you get one. If I had your intuition,
plus my ambition, I wouldn't be governor--I'd be running for president.
And I'd win out too!"



CHAPTER V

THE RAVELIN' WOLF


When the draft came to our town as it came to all towns it enmeshed Jeff
Poindexter, who to look at him might be any age between twenty-one and
forty-one. Jeff had a complexion admirably adapted for hiding the wear
and tear of carking years and as for those telltale wrinkles which
betray care he had none, seeing that care rarely abode with him for
longer than twenty-four hours on a stretch. Did worry knock at the front
door Jeff had a way of excusing himself out of the back window. But this
dread thing they called a draft was a worry which just opened the door
and walked right in--and outside the window stood a jealous Government,
all organized to start a rookus if anybody so much as stepped sideways.

Jeff had no ambition to engage in the jar and crash of actual combat;
neither did the idea of serving in a labor battalion overseas appeal to
one of his habits. The uniform had its lure, to be sure, but the
responsibilities presaged by the putting on of the uniform beguiled him
not a whipstitch. Anyhow, his ways were the ways of peace. As a diplomat
he had indubitable gifts; as a warrior he felt that he would be out of
his proper element. So when answering a summons which was not to be
disregarded Jeff appeared before the draft board he was not noticeably
happy.

"Unmarried, eh?" inquired his chief inquisitor.

"Yas, suh--I means, naw, suh," stated Jeff. "I ain't never been much of
a hand fur marryin' round."

He forced an ingratiating smile. The smile fell as seed on barren
soil--fell and died there.

"Mother and father? Either one or both of them living?"

Never had Jeff looked more the orphan than as he stood there confessing
himself one. He fumbled his hat in his hands.

"No dependents at all then, I take it?"

"Yas, suh, dey shorely is," answered Jeff smartly, hope rekindling
within him.

"Well, who is it that you help support--if it's anybody?"

"Hit's Jedge Priest--tha's who. Jedge, he jes' natchelly couldn't git
'long noways 'thout me lookin' after him, suh. The older he git the more
it seem lak he leans heavy on me."

"Well, Judge Priest may have to lean on himself for a while. Uncle Sam
needs every able-bodied man he can get these times and you look to be as
strong as a mule. Here, take this card and go on through that door
yonder to the second room down the hall and let Doctor Dismukes look you
over."

Jeff cheered up slightly. He knew Doctor Dismukes--knew him mighty well.
In Doctor Dismukes' hands he would be in the hands of a friend. Beyond
question the doctor would understand the situation as this strange and
most unsympathetic white man undoubtedly did not.

But Doctor Dismukes, all snap and smartness, went over him as though he
had never seen him before in all his life. If Jeff had been a horse for
sale and the doctor a professional horse coper, scarcely could the
examination have been carried forward with a more businesslike dispatch.

"Jeff," said the doctor when he had finished and the other was
rearranging his wardrobe, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself for being
so healthy. Take your teeth now--your teeth are splendid. I only wish I
had a set like 'em."

"Is dey?" said Jeff despondently, for the first time in his life
regretting his unblemished ivory.

"They certainly are. You wouldn't need a gun, not with those teeth you
wouldn't--you could just naturally bite a German in two."

Jeff shivered. The very suggestion was abhorrent to his nature.

"Please suh, don't--don't talk lak that," he entreated. "I ain't
cravin' to bite nobody a-tall, 'specially 'tis Germans. Live an' let
live--tha's my sayin'."

"Yep," went on the doctor, prolonging the agony for the victim, "your
teeth are perfect and your lungs are sound, your heart action is
splendid and I know something about your appetite myself, having seen
you eat. Black boy, listen to me! In every respect you are absolutely
qualified physically to make a regular man-eating bearcat of a
soldier"--he paused--"in every respect excepting one--no, two."

If a drowning man clutching for a straw might be imagined as
coincidentally asking a question, it is highly probable he would ask it
in the tone now used by Jeff.

"Meanin'--meanin' w'ich, suh?"

"I mean your feet. You've got flat feet, Jeff--you've got the flattest
feet I ever saw. I don't understand it either. So far as I've been able
to observe you've spent the greater part of your life sitting down.
Somebody must have hit you on the head with an ax when you were standing
on a plowshare and broke your arches down."

It was an old joke, but it fitted the present case, and Jeff, not to be
outdone in politeness, laughed louder at it than its maker did. Indeed
Jeff felt he had reason to laugh; a great load was lifting from his
soul.

"Jeff," went on the doctor, "deeply though it may grieve both of us, it
nevertheless is my painful duty to inform you that you have two
perfectly good exemptions from military service--a right one and a left
one. Now grab your hat and get out of here."

"Boss," cried Jeff, "Ise gone. Exemptions, tek me away frum yere!"

So while many others went away to fight or to learn how to fight, as the
case might be, Jeff stayed behind and did his bit by remaining
steadfastly cheerful. Never before, sartorially speaking, had he cut so
splendid a figure as now when such numbers of young white gentlemen of
his acquaintance were putting aside civilian garb to put on khaki. Jeff
had one of those adaptable figures. The garments to which he fell heir
might never have fitted their original owner, but always they would fit
Jeff. Gorgeous in slightly worn but carefully refurbished raiment, he
figured in the wartime activities of the colored population and in
ostensibly helpful capacities figured in some of the activities of the
white folks too.

Going among his own set his frequent companion was that straw-colored
light of his social hours, Ophelia Stubblefield. It helped to reconcile
Jeff to the rigors of the period of enforced rationing as he reflected
that the same issues and causes which made lump sugar a rarity and fat
meat a scarcity had rid him of his more dangerous competition in the
quarter where his affections centered. Particularly on one account did
he feel reconciled. A spirit of the most soothful resignation filled him
when he gave thought to the moral certainty that the most formidable and
fearsome of his rivals, that bloody-minded bravo, Smooth Crumbaugh,
would daunt him never again with threats of articular dismemberment with
a new-honed razor. For Smooth Crumbaugh was gone and gone for good.
First the draft had carried him away and then the pneumonia had carried
him off. War had its compensations after all.

Wearing Ophelia upon one arm and wearing in the crook of the other a
high hat which once had been the property of a young man now bossing an
infantry battalion in the muddiest part of France, Jeff appeared
prominently in the Armistice celebration at the First Ward Colored
Baptist Church. Still so accoutered--Ophelia on his one hand and the
high hat held in proper salute against his breast--he served upon the
official reception committee headed by the Rev. Potiphar Grasty and by
Prof. Rutherford B. H. Champers, principal of the Colored High School,
which greeted the first returning squad of service men of color.

Home-comers who had been clear across the ocean brought back with them
almost unbelievable but none the less fascinating accounts of life and
customs in foreign parts. The tales these traveled ones had to tell were
eagerly listened to and as eagerly passed along, dowered at each time
of retelling with prodigal enlargements and amplifications the most
generous.

A ferment of discontent began to stir under the surface of things; a
sort of inarticulate rebellion against existing conditions, which
presently manifested itself in small irritations at various points of
contact with the white race. It was nothing tangible as yet, nothing
upon which one might put a hand or cap with a word of comprehensive
description. Indeed it had been working for weeks like a yeast in the
minds of sundry black folk before their Caucasian neighbors began to
sense it at all, and for this there was a reason easily understandable
by anyone born and reared in any sizable town in any one of the older
states lying below Mason and Dixon's Line. For in each such community
there are two separate and distinct worlds--a black one and a white
one--interrelated by necessities of civic coördination and in an
economic sense measurably dependent one upon the other, and yet in many
other aspects as far apart as the North Pole is from the South.

Regarding what the white world is feeling and thinking and saying, the
lesser black world that is set down within it is nearly always better
informed than is the other and larger group touching on new movements
and growing sentiments amongst the darker-skinned factors. Into the
white man's house, serving in this or that domestic capacity, goes the
negro as an observant witness to the moods and emotions of his or her
employer and bringing away an understanding of the family complexities
and the current trend of opinion as it shapes itself beneath that roof.

But the white man, generally speaking, views the negro's private life
only from the outside, and if he be a Southern-born white man, wise in
his generation, seeks to look no further, for surface garrulity and
surface exuberance do not deceive him, but serve only to make him
realize all the more clearly that he is dealing with members of what at
heart is one of the most secretive and sensitive of all the breeds of
men. But since this started out to be the chronicle of an episode
largely relating to Jeff Poindexter and one other and not a
psychological study of actions and reactions as between the two most
numerous races in this republic, it is perhaps as well that we should
get on with our narrative.

If the leaven of unrest, vague and formless as it was at the outset,
properly might be said to date from the time of the return of divers
black veterans, it took on shape and substance after the advent of one
Dr. J. Talbott Duvall, an individual engaging in manner, and in
language, dress and deportment fascinating beyond degree; likewise an
organizer by profession and a charmer of the opposite sex by reason of
qualifications both natural and acquired.

A doctor he was, as witness the handle to his name, and yet a doctor of
any known variety he was not. Confessedly he was no doctor of medicine,
though his speech dripped gorgeous ear-filling Latin words which sounded
as though they might be the names of difficult and sinister diseases;
nor was he doctor of divinity, though speedily he proved himself to be
at home in pulpits. He was not a horse doctor or a corn doctor or a
conjure doctor or a root-and-herb doctor or a healer by faith or the
laying on of hands. His title, it seemed, was his by virtue of a degree
conferred upon him by a college--a white man's college--somewhere in the
North. His accent was that of a traveled cosmopolite superimposed upon
the speech of a place away off somewhere called the West Indies. He had
money and he spent it; he had a wardrobe of distinction and he wore it;
he had a gift for argumentation and he exercised it; he had a way with
the ladies and he used it. His coming had created a social furor; his
subsequent ministrations amounted to what for lack of a better word is
commonly called a sensation.

If there were those who from motives, let us say, of envy looked with
the jaundiced eye of disfavor upon his mounting popularity and his
constantly widening scope of influence they mainly kept their own
counsel or at least refrained from voicing their private prejudices in
public places. One gets fewer bumps traveling with the crowd than
against it.

Even so bold a spirit and customarily so outspoken a speaker as Aunt
Dilsey Turner, Judge Priest's black cook of many years' incumbency, saw
fit somewhat to dissemble on the occasion of a call paid by Sister
Eldora Menifee, who came dressed to kill and inspired by the zeal of the
new convert to win yet other converts. Entering by way of the alley gate
one fine forenoon, Sister Eldora found Aunt Dilsey sitting in the
kitchen doorway hulling out a mess of late green peas newly picked from
the house garden.

"Sist' Turner," began the visitor, "I hopes I ain't disturbin' you by
runnin' in on you this mawnin'."

"Honey," said Aunt Dilsey, "you're jes' ez welcome ez day is frum night.
Lemme fetch you a cheer out yere on the gallery." And she made as if to
heave her vast comfortable bulk upright.

"No'm, set right where you is," begged Sister Menifee. "I ain't got only
jes' a few minutes to stay. Things is mighty pressin' with me. I got
quite a number of my lady frien's to see to-day an' you happens to be
the fust one on de list."

"Is tha' so?" inquired Aunt Dilsey. Her tone was cordiality itself, but
one less carried away by the enthusiasm of the mission which had brought
her than Sister Eldora Menifee was might have caught a latent gleam of
hostility in the elder woman's eye. "Well, go on, Ise lis'enin'."

"Well, Sist' Turner, ef you's heared 'bout de work I been doin' lately
I reckin mebbe you kin guess whut brung me to yore do'. I is solicitin'
you fur yore fellership ez a reg'lar member of de ladies' auxiliary of
de new s'ciety w'ich Doct' J. Talbott Duvall is got up."

"Meanin' perzactly w'ich s'ciety? Dis yere Doct' Duvall 'pears to be so
busy gittin' up fust one thing an' then 'nother seems lak I ain't been
able to keep track of his doin's, 'count of my bein' so slow gittin'
round on my feet by reason of de rheumatism."

"Meanin' de Shinin' Star Cullid Uplift and Progress League--dat's de
principalest activity in w'ich he's now engaged. De dues is one dollar
down on 'nitiation an' twenty cents a week an'--"

"Wait jes' one minute, Sist' Menifee, ef you please. 'Fore we gits any
furder 'long answer me dis one question Ise fixin' to ast you--do dis
yere new lodge perpose to fune'lize de daid?"

"We ain't tuck up dat point yit; doubtless we'll come to de plans fur
dat part later. Fur de time bein' de work is jes' to form de ladies'
auxiliary an' git de main objec's set fo'th."

"Lis'en, chile. Me, I don't aim never so long as I lives an' keeps my
reason to jine no lodge w'ich don't start out fust thing by fune'lizin'
de daid. Ise thinkin' now of de case of dat pore shif'less Sist'
Clarabelle Hardin dat used to live out yere on Plunkett's Hill. She up
an' jined one of dese newfandangle' lodges w'ich didn't have nothin' to
it but a fancy name an' a fancy strange nigger man runnin' it, an' right
on top of dat she up an' died 'thout a cent to her back. An' you know
whut happen den? Well, I'm gwine tell you. Dat pore chile laid round de
house daid fur gwine on three days an' den she jes' natchelly had to git
out to de cemetery de bes' way she could. Not fur me, honey, not fur me.
Dey got to have de money in de bank waitin' an' ready to bury de fus'
member dat passes frum dis life before dey gits a cent of mine."

"But dis yere lodge is gwine have a more 'portant puppose 'en jes' to
fune'lize de daid," protested Sister Eldora. "We aims to do somethin'
fur de livin' whilst yet dey's still alive. Curious you ain't tuck
notice of de signs of de times ez dey's been expounded 'mongst de people
by Doct' Duvall. He sho' kin 'splain things in a way to mek you a true
believer." The advocate of the new order of things sank her voice to a
discreet half whisper. "Sist' Turner, we aims at gittin' mo' of de
rights dat's due us. We aims to see dat de pore an' de lowly an' de
downtrodden-on is purtected in dey rights. We aims--"

"Num'mine whut you aims at--de question is, is you gwine be able hit
whar you aims? An' lemme tell you somethin' more, Sist' Eldora Menifee.
I ain't needin' no ladies' auxiliary to tell me whut my rights is.
Neither I ain't needin' to pay out no twenty cents a week to find out
neither. W'en it comes to dat, all de ladies' auxiliary w'ich I needs is
jes' me, myse'f. I knows good an' well whut my rights is already an' Ise
gwine have 'em, too, or somebody'll sho' git busted plum wide open. Mind
you, I ain't sayin' nothin' 'ginst dis new man nur 'ginst dem w'ich
chooses to follow 'long after his teachin's. Ise jes' sayin' dat so fur
ez my jinin' in wid dis yere lodge is concern' you's wastin' yore
breath. Better pass along, honey, to de nex' one on dat list of your'n,
'thout you's a mind to stay yere an' watch me dish up Jedge Priest's
vittles fur 'im."

"Mebbe if Doct' Duvall wuz to come hisse'f an' mek manifest to you de
high pupposes--" began Sister Eldora. But Aunt Dilsey cut her off short.

"Wouldn't mek no diffe'nce ef he come eighty times a day an' twice ez
offen on Sunday. Anyway, I reckins my day fur jinin' things is done
over."

There was a dead weight of finality in her words. She rose heavily. As
Sister Menifee departed Aunt Dilsey became aware of the presence of Jeff
Poindexter. He was emerging from behind the door.

"Been hidin' inside dat kitchen lis'enin', I s'pose?" demanded Aunt
Dilsey.

"Couldn't help frum hearin'," admitted Jeff. It was evident that he was
not deeply grieved over the failure of Sister Menifee to make headway
against Aunt Dilsey's opposition. "At the last you suttinly give dat
woman her marchin' orders, didn't you, Aunt Dilsey?"

"An' sech wuz my intention frum de start off," she confided. "Minute she
come th'ough dat back gate yonder I knowed whut she wuz comin' fur an' I
wuz set an' ready wid de words waitin' on de tip of my tongue."

"Me, I don't fancy dat Duvall neither," stated Jeff. "I ain't been
sayin' much 'bout him one way or 'nother but I been doin' a heap o'
steddyin'."

"Yas, I knows all 'bout dat too," snapped Aunt Dilsey. "I got eyes in my
haid. You los' yore taste fur dis yere big-talkin', fine-lookin' man jes
ez soon ez he started sparkin' round dat tore-down limb of a 'Phelia
Stubblefield. Whut ails you is you is jealous; hadn't been fur dat I lay
you'd be runnin' round wid yore tongue hangin' out suckin' in ever'thing
he sez ez de gospil truth same ez a lot of dese other weak-minded ones
is doin'. Oh, I know you, boy, frum ze ground up! An' furthermo' I knows
dis Doct' Duvall likewise also, even ef I ain't never seen him but oncet
or twicet sence fust he come yere to dis town all dress' up lak a
persidin' elder. I don't lak his looks an' I don't lak his ways, jedgin'
by whut I hears of 'em frum dis one an' dat one, an' most in special I
don't lak his color. He ain't clear brown lak whut I is, an' he ain't
muddy black lak whut you is, neither he ain't high yaller lak some is.
To me he looks most of all lak de ground side of a nickel wahtermelon.
An' in all de goin' on sixty-two yeahs of my life I ain't never seen no
pusson callin' theyselves Affikins dat had dat kind of a sickly
greenish-yaller-whitish complexion but whut trouble come pourin' frum
'em sooner or later, an' most gin'rally sooner, lak manna pourin' from
de gourd of de Prophet Jonah. Dat man is a ravelin' wolf, ef ever I seen
one."

"Whut kind of a wolf did you say, Aunt Dilsey?" asked Jeff.

"Consult de Scriptures an' you won't be so ignunt," she answered
crushingly. "Consult de Scriptures an' you'll read whar de ravelin' wolf
come down on de fold, an' whut he done to de fold after he'd done come
down on it wuz more'n aplenty. An' now, boy, you git on out of my
kitchen an' go on 'bout yore business--ef you's got any business, w'ich
I doubts. I ain't got no mo' time to waste on you den whut I is on dat
flighty-haided Eldora Menifee, a-traipsin' round frum one back do' to
'nother with her talk 'bout ladies' auxiliaries an' gittin' yo rights
fur a dollah down an' twenty cents a week."

Jeff faded away. It was comforting in a way to find Aunt Dilsey on his
side, even though her manner rather indicated she resented the fact that
he was on hers. A few evenings later he found out something else. He was
made to know that in another and entirely unsuspected quarter the
endeavors of the diligently crusading and organizing Duvall person had
roused more than a passing curiosity.

One evening, supper being over, Judge Priest lingered on in his
low-ceiled dining room smoking his corncob pipe while Jeff cleared away
the supper dishes. It was the same high-voiced deliberately
ungrammatical Judge Priest that the kindly reader may recall--somewhat
older than at last accounts, somewhat slower in his step--but then he
never had been given to fast movements--and perhaps just a trifle
balder.

"Wuz dey anythin' else you wanted, jedge, 'fore I locks up the back of
the house an' lights out?" Jeff inquired when the table had been reset
for breakfast.

"Yes, I think mebbe there wuz," drawled the old man. He hesitated a
moment almost as though at a loss for a proper phrasing of the thing he
meant to say next. Then: "Jeff, what's come over your race in this town
here lately?"

"Meanin' w'ich, suh?" countered Jeff. "Me, I ain't notice nothin' out of
the way--nothin' particular."

"Haven't you? Well, I think I have. Jeff, I don't want to be put in the
position of pryin' into the private and the personal affairs of other
folks, reguardless of color. I have to do enough of that sort of thing
in my official capacity when I'm settin' in judgment up at the big cote
house. But unless I can get some confidential information frum you I
don't know where else I'm likely to git it, and at the same time I sort
of feel as ef I should try to get hold of it somewheres or other ef it's
humanly possible."

"Yas, suh."

"Now heretofore in this community the two races--white and black--have
got along purty tolerably well together. We managed to put up with your
shortcomings and you managed to put up with ours, which at times may
have been considerable of a strain on both sides. Still we've done it.
But it seems to me here of late there's been a kind of an undercurrent
of discontent stirrin' amongst your people--and no logical reason fur it
either, so fur as I kin see. Yet there it is.

"There wuz that rumpus two-three weeks ago down in Market Square. A
little more and that affair could have growed into a first-class race
riot. And here last Saturday night followed that mix-up out by the Union
Depot when Policeman Gip Futtrell got all carved up and two darkies got
purty extensively shot. And night before last the trouble that occurred
on that Belt Line car out in Hollandville; that looked mighty
threatenin', too, fur a while. And in between all these more serious
things a lot of little unpleasantnesses keep croppin' up--always takin'
the form of friction between whites and blacks.

"One of these here occurrences might be what you'd call an accident and
two of them in rapid succession a coincidence, but it looks to me like
now it's gittin' to be a habit. It's leadin' to bad blood and what's
worse it's leadin' to a lot of spilt blood and our city gittin' a bad
name and all that.

"And I know the respectable black folks in this town don't want that to
happen any more than the respectable white people do.

"Now then, Jeff, whut's at the bottom of all this--I mean on your side
of the color line? Who's stirrin' up old grudges and kindlin' new ones?
I've sort of got my own private suspicions, but I'd like to see ef your
ideas run along with mine. Got any suggestions as to the underlying
causes of this ill feelin' that's sprung up so lately and without any
good reason for it either so fur ez I kin see?"

Now ordinarily Jeff would have held firmly to the doctrine that white
folks should tend to their business and let black folks tend to theirs.
For all his loyalty to his master, a certain race consciousness in him
would have bade him keep hands off and tongue locked. But here a strong
personal prejudice operated to steer Jeff away from what otherwise would
have been his customary course.

"Jedge," he said, drawing a pace or two nearer his employer, "did you
ever hear tell of a pale-yaller party w'ich calls hisse'f Doct' J.
Talbott Duvall dat come yere a few weeks ago?"

"Ah, hah!" said the judge as though satisfied of the correctness of a
prior conclusion. "I thought possibly my mind might be on the right
track. Yes, I've heard of him and I've seen him. Whut of him?"

"Jedge, I trusts you won't tell nobody else whut I'm tellin' you, but
dat's sho' de one dat's at the bottom of the whole mess. He's the one
dat's plantin' the pizen. Me, I ain't had no truck wid him myse'f, but
dat ain't sayin' I don't know whut he's doin', case I do. He calls
hisse'f a organizer."

"Ah, hah! And whut is he organizin'?"

"Trouble, jedge. Dat's whut--trouble fur a lot of folks. Jedge, fo' we
goes any further lemme ast you a coupler questions, please, suh. Is it
true dat over dere in some of dem Youropean countries black folks is
jes' the same ez white folks, ef not more so?"

Choosing his words, the old man elucidated his understanding of the
social order as it prevailed in certain geographical divisions and
subdivisions of the continent of Europe.

"Yas, suh, thanky, suh," said Jeff when the judge had finished. "I
reckin mebbe one main trouble over dere is, jedge, dat dem folks ain't
been raised de way you an' me is."

"Jeff," said the judge, "I'm inclined to think probably you're right."

"Yas, suh. Now den, jedge, here's one mo' thing. Is it true dat in all
dem furrin countries--Russia an' Germany an' Bombay an' all--dat the
po' people, w'ite or black or whutever dey color is, is fixin' to rise
up in they might an' tek the money an' de gover'mint an' de fine houses
an' the cream of ever'thing away frum dem dat's had it all 'long?"

Again the judge expounded at length, touching both upon upheavals abroad
and on discords nearer home. Next it was Jeff's turn to make disclosures
having a purely local application and he made them. Listening intently,
Judge Priest puckered his bald brow into furrows of perplexity.

"Jeff," he said finally, "I'm much obliged to you fur tellin' me all
this. It backs up what I'd sort of figgered out all by myself. The whole
world appears to be engaged in standin' on its esteemed head at this
writin'. I reckin when old Mister Kaiser turned loose the war he didn't
stop to think that mebbe the war was only one of a whole crop of evils
he wuz lettin' out of his box of tricks. Or mebbe he didn't care--bein'
the kind of a person he wuz. And I'm prone to believe also that when the
Germans stopped fightin' us with guns they begun fightin' us with other
weapons almost as dangersome to our peace of mind and future well-bein'.
Different parts of this country are in quite a swivet--agitators
preachin' bad doctrine--some of 'em drawin' pay from secret enemies
across the sea fur preachin' it, too, I figger--and a lot of highly
disagreeable disturbances croppin' up here and there. But I was hopin'
that mebbe our little corner of the world wouldn't be pestered. But now
it looks ez ef we weren't goin' to escape our share of the trouble."

"Jedge," asked Jeff, "ain't they some way dis Duvall pusson could be
fetched up in cote? I suttinly would admire to see dat yaller man
wearin' a striped suit of clothes."

"Well, Jeff," said the judge, "I doubt either the legality or the
propriety of such a step, ef you get what I mean. From whut you tell me
I don't see where he's really broken any laws. He's got a right to come
here and organize his societies and lodges and things so long as he
don't actually come out in the open and preach violence. He's got a
perfect right under the law to organize this here new drill company you
speak about. I sometimes think that ef all the young men in this country
had been required to do a little more drillin' in years gone by we'd be
feelin' somewhat safer to-day. Anyway, it's a mighty great mistake
sometimes to make a martyr out of a rascal. Puttin' him in jail, unless
you're absolutely certain that a jail is where he properly belongs,
gives him a chance to raise the cry of persecution and gives his
followers an excuse to cut loose and smash up things. You git my drift,
don't you?"

"Yas, suh, think I do. Well den, suh, ef I wuz runnin' dis town seems to
me I'd git a crowd of strong-minded gen'elmen together some evenin' in
the dark of the moon an' let 'em call on dis yere slick-haided
half-strainer an' invite him to tek his foot in his hand an' marvil
further. Ef one of 'em wuz totin' a rope in his hand sorter keerless lak
it might help. Ropes is powerful influential. An' the sight of tar an'
feathers meks a mighty strong argument, too, Ise heared tell."

"Jeff," said the judge, "I'm astonished that you'd even suggest sech a
thing! Mob law is worse even than no law at all. Besides," he added--and
now there was a small twinkle in his eye to offset to a degree the
severity in his tones--"besides, the feller that was bein' called on by
the committee might decline to take the hint and then purty soon you
might have another self-made martyr on your hands. But ef he ran away on
his own hook now--ef something came up that made him go of his own
accord and go fast and cut a sort of a cheap figure in the eyes of his
deluded followers whilst he was goin'--that'd be a different thing
altogether. Start a crowd of folks, white or black or brown, to laughin'
at a feller and they'll quit believin' in him. Worshipin' a false god
and laughin' at him at the same time never has been successfully done
yit."

He sucked his pipe. "Jeff," he resumed, "what do you know, ef anything,
about the past career and movements of this here J. Talbott Et Cetery?"

Jeff knew a good deal--at second hand. Didn't the object of his deepest
aversions persist in almost nightly calls upon the object of his
deepest affections? Paying such calls, didn't the enemy spend
hours--hours upon hours doubtless--pouring into Ophelia's ear accounts
of his recent triumphs as an uplifter in other towns and other states?
Didn't the fascinated and flattered Ophelia in turn recount these tales
to one whose opportunities for traveling and seeing the great world had
been more circumscribed? Had not Jeff writhed in jealous misery the
while he heard the annals of a rival's successes? So Jeff made prompt
answer.

"Yas, suh, I suttinly does. Ise heared a right smart 'bout dis yere
Duvall's past life frum--frum somebody. 'Cordin' to the way he norrates
it, he wuz in Nashville, Tennessee 'fore he come yere; an' 'fore dat in
Mobile, Alabama; an' 'fore dat in Little Rock, Arkansaw. Seem lak w'en
he ain't organizin' or speechifyin' he ain't got nothin' better to do
den run round amongst young cullid gals braggin' 'bout the places he's
been an' the things he done whilst in 'em."

Jeff spoke with an enhanced bitterness.

"I see. Then I take it ef he spends so much time in seekin' out female
society that he's not a married man?"

"So he say--so he say! But, Jedge Priest, ef ever I looked on the
spittin'-image of a natchel-born marryin' nigger, dat ver' same Duvall
is de one."

Judge Priest seemed not to have heard this last. He sat for a bit
apparently studying the tips of his square-toed, low-quarter shoes.

"Jeff," he said when he had given his feet a long half minute of seeming
consideration, "I would like to know some facts about the previous life
and general history of the individual we've been discussin'--I really
would. In fact my curiosity is sech that I might even be willin' to
spend a little money out of my own pocket, ef needs be, in order to find
out. So I was jest wonderin' whether you wouldn't like to take a little
trip, with all expenses paid, and tour round through some of our sister
states and make a few private inquiries. It occurs to me that everything
considered you might make a better job of it as an amateur investigator
than a regular professional detective of a different color might. Do you
know where by any chance you could git hold of a good photograph of this
here individual--I mean without lettin' him know anything about it?"

"Yas, suh, dat I does," stated Jeff briskly.

The conference between master and man lasted perhaps fifteen minutes
longer before Jeff was dismissed for the night. Mainly it dealt with
ways, means and purposes. Upon the heels of it, within forty-eight hours
two events--seemingly nowise related or bearing one upon the
other--occurred. An ornately framed photograph lately bestowed as a gift
and treasured as a trophy of sentimental value mysteriously vanished
from the mantelpiece of the front room of Ophelia Stubblefield's pa's
house; and Jefferson Poindexter, carrying a new and very shiny suitcase,
unostentatiously left town late at night on a southbound train.

Darktown in Nashville knew him for a brief space as a visiting nobleman
with money in all his pockets and apparently nothing of importance to do
except to spend it in divertisements suitable to the social instincts of
a capitalist of leisure. In Mobile at the Elite Colored Beauty Parlors
for the first time in his life he tendered his finger nails for
ministrations at the hands of a dashing chocolate-ice-cream-colored
manicurist and spent the remainder of that same afternoon in a sunny
spot, glistening pleasantly.

If in both these cities and likewise in Little Rock, which next he
favored with his presence, he made himself known to brothers of his
particular lodge--the Afro-American Order of Supreme Kings of the
Universe has a large and a widely distributed membership--and if under
the sacred pledge of secrecy which only may be broken on pain of
mutilation and death by torture he--with the aid of these fraternal
allies of his--conducted certain discreet inquiries, why, that was his
own private business. Assuredly, so far as surface indications counted,
he appeared to have no business other than pleasurable pursuits. From
Little Rock he turned his face southeastward, landing at Macon, Georgia,
where he lingered on for upward of a week, breaking his visit only by a
day's side trip to a smaller town south of Macon. Altogether Jeff was
an absentee from his favorite haunts back home for the greater part of a
month.

He reached town on a Monday. Betimes Tuesday morning, inspired outwardly
by the zeal of one just won over from skepticism to the immediate
advisability of following a sapient course, he sought opportunity to
become a member in good standing of the Shining Star Colored Uplift and
Progress League, a simple ceremony and a brief, since it involved merely
the signing of one's name on Dotted Line A of a printed form card and
the paying of a dollar into the hand of Dr. J. Talbott Duvall. On
Tuesday evening the league met in stated session at Hillman's Hall on
Yazoo Street and Jeff was early on hand, visibly enthusiastic and
professedly ready to do all within his power to further the aims and
intents of the organization. As a brand snatched from the burning he was
elevated before the eyes of the assemblage so that all might see him and
mark his mien of newborn fervor, for Doctor Duvall, following his
custom, called to places upon the platform the proselytes enrolled since
the previous meeting, to the end that older members might observe the
physical proof of a steady and a healthful growth.

So there sat Jefferson in the very front row of wooden chairs, where all
might behold him and he might behold all and sundry. About him were his
recent fellow converts. Almost directly behind him was a door giving
upon a side entrance; there was another door serving similar purposes
upon the opposite side of the stage. Beyond him to the left in the
center of the stage were grouped the honorary officers of the league,
flanking and supporting their chief.

Being an honorary officer carried with it, as the title might imply,
honor and prominence second only to that enjoyed by the
president-organizer, but it entailed no great weight of responsibility,
since practically all the actual work of the league had from the very
outset been generously assumed by Doctor Duvall. It was he who cared for
the funds, he who handled disbursements, he who conducted the
proceedings, he who made the principal addresses on meeting nights, he
who between meetings labored without cessation to spread educational
propaganda. That he found time for all these purposeful endeavors and
yet crowded in such frequent opportunity for mingling socially among the
lambs of his flock--notably the ewe lambs--was but evidence,
accumulating daily, of his genius for leadership and direction.

This night the session opened with a prayer--by Doctor Duvall; an
eloquent and a moving prayer indeed, its sonorous periods set off and
adorned with noble big words and quotations in foreign tongues. The
prayer would be followed, it had been announced, by the reading of the
minutes of the previous session, after which Doctor Duvall would speak
at length with particular reference to things lately accomplished and
the even more important things in contemplation for the near future.

Standing for the prayer, Jeff could look out over what a master of words
before now has fitly described as a sea of upturned faces--faces black,
brown and yellow. Had he been minded to give thought to details he might
have noted how at every polysyllabic outburst from the inspired
invocationist old Uncle Ike Fauntleroy, himself accounted a powerful
hand at wrestling with sinners in prayer, was visibly jolted by
admiration; might, if he had had a head for figures, have kept count of
the hearty amens with which Sister Eldora Menifee punctuated each pause
when Doctor Duvall was taking a fresh breath; might have cast a side
glance upon Ophelia Stubblefield in a new and most becoming hat with
ostrich plumage grandly surmounting it. But under the hand which he held
reverently cupped over his brow Jeff's eyes were fixed upon a certain
focal point,--to wit, the door of the main entrance at the length of the
hall from him. It was as though Jeff waited for something or somebody he
was expecting.

Nor did he have so very long to wait. The prayer was done and well done.
In its wake, so to speak, there spouted up from every side veritable
geysers of hallelujahs and amens. The honorary secretary, Brother Lemuel
Diuguid, smelling grandly of expensive hair ointments--Brother Diuguid
being by calling a head barber--stood up to read the minutes of the
preceding regular session, and having read them sat down again. A
friendly and flattering bustle of anticipation filled the body of the
hall as Doctor Duvall rose and moved one pace forward and--raising a
hand for silence--began to speak. But he had no more than begun, had
progressed no farther than part way of his first smoothly launched
sentence, when he was made to break off by an unseemly interruption at
the rear. The honorary grand inner guard on duty at the far street door,
after a brief and unsuccessful struggle with unseen forces, was observed
to be shoved violently aside from his post. Bursting in together there
entered two strangers--a tall yellow woman and a short black man, and
both of them of a most grim and determined aspect. He moved fast, this
man, but even so his companion moved faster still. She was three paces
ahead of him when, bulging impetuously past those who sprang into the
center aisle as though to halt her onward rush--all others present being
likewise up on their feet--she came to a halt near the middle of the
hall and, glaring about her defiantly, just double-dog-dared any present
to lay so much as the weight of one detaining finger upon her. There was
something about her calculated to daunt the most willing of volunteer
opponents, and so while those at a safe distance demanded the ejection
of the intruders, those nearer her hesitated.

"Th'ow me out?" she whooped, echoing the words of outraged and startled
members of the Shining Star. "I'd lak to see de one dat's gwine try it!
An' 'fo' anybody talk 'bout th'owin' out lettum heah me whilst I sez my
say!"

Towering until she seemed to increase in stature by inches, she aimed a
long and bony finger dead ahead.

"Ax dat slinky yaller man up yonder on dat flatfo'm ef he gwine give de
order to th'ow me out!" she clarioned in a voice which rose to a
compelling shriek. "But fust off ax him whut he meant--marryin' me in
Mobile, Alabama, an' den runnin' 'way frum his lawful wedded wife under
cover of de night! Ax him--dat's all, ax him!"

"An' ax him one thing mo'!" It was the voice of her short companion
rising above the tumult. "Ax him whut he done wid de funds of de s'ciety
he 'stablished at Little Rock, Arkansaw, all of w'ich he absconded wid
dis last spring!"

As though the same set of muscles controlled every neck the heads of all
swung about, their eyes following where the accusers pointed, their ears
twitching for the expected blast of denial and denunciation which would
wither these mad and scandalous detractors in their tracks.

Alas and alackaday! With his splendid figure suddenly all diminished and
shrunken, with distress writ large and plain upon his features, the
popular idol was step by step flinching backward from the edge of the
platform--was step by step inching, edging toward the side door in the
right-hand wall.

And in this same instant the stunned assemblage realized that Jeff
Poindexter, by nimble maneuvering, had thrust himself between the
retreating figure and the exit, and Jeff was crying out: "Not dis way
out, Doct' Duvall. Not dis way! The one you married down below Macon is
waitin' fur you behin' dis do'!"

The doctor stopped in midflight and swung about and his eye fell upon
the right-hand door and he moved a yard or two in that direction; but no
more than a yard or two, for again Jeff spoke in warning, halting him
short:

"Not dat way neither! The one frum dat other town whar you uster live is
waitin' outside dat do'--wid a pistil! Seems lak you's entirely
s'rounded by wives dis evenin'!"

To the verge of the footlights the beset man darted, and like a
desperate swimmer plunging from a foundering bark into a stormy sea he
leaped far out and projected himself, a living catapult, along the
middle aisle. He struck the tall yellow woman as the irresistible force
strikes the supposedly immovable object of the scientists' age-old
riddle, but on his side was impetus and on hers surprise. She was bowled
over flat and her hands, clutching as she went down, closed, but on
empty and unresisting air. Literally he hurdled over the stocky form of
the little black man behind her, but as the other flitted by him the
fists of the stranger knotted firmly into the skirts of its wearer's
long black frock coat and held on. There was a rending, tearing sound
and as the back breadth of the garment ripped bodily away from the
waistband there flew forth from the capsized tail pockets a veritable
cloudburst of currency--floating, fluttering green and yellow bills and
with them pattering showers of dollars and halves and dimes and quarters
and nickels.

That canny instinct which had led the fugitive apostle of the uplift to
hide the collected funds of the league upon his person rather than trust
to banks and strong boxes was to prove his ruination financially but his
salvation physically. While those who had believed in him, now
forgetting all else, scrambled for the scattered money--their money--he
fled out of the unguarded door and was instantly gone into the shielding
night--a sorry shape in a bob-tailed garment.

At a somewhat later hour Judge Priest in his living room was receiving
from Jefferson Poindexter a much lengthier and more elaborated account
of the main occurrences of the evening at Hillman's Hall than has here
been presented. Speaking as he did in the dual rôle of spectator and of
an actuating force in the events of that crowded and exciting night,
Jeff spared no details. He had come to the big scene of his narrative
when his master interrupted him:

"Hold on a minute, Jeff! I don't know ez I get the straight of it all
yit. I rather gathered frum whut you told me yesterday when you landed
back home and made your report that you'd only been able to dig up one
certain-sure wife of this feller's--the one that came along with you and
that little Arkansaw darky. You didn't say anything then about bein'
able to prove he wuz a bigamist."

"Huh, jedge, I didn't have to prove it! Dat man wuz more'n jes' a plain
bigamist. He sho' wuz a trigamist, an' ef the full truth wuz knowed I
'spects he wuz a quadrupler at the very least. He proved it hisself--way
he act' w'en the big 'splosion come."

"But the two women you told him were waitin' behind those side doors for
him--how about them?"

"Law, jedge, dey wuzn't dere--neither one of 'em wuzn't. Jes' lak I told
you yistiddy, I couldn't find only jest one woman dat nigger'd married
an' run off frum, an' her I fetched 'long wid me. But lak I also told
you, I got kind of traces of one dat uster live below Macon but w'ich is
now vanished, an' ever'whar else I went whar he'd lived befo' he come
yere de signs wuz manifold dat he wuz a natchel-born marryin' fool, jes'
lak I 'spicioned fust time ever I see him. So w'en he started fur dat
fust do' I taken a chancet on him an' w'en I seen how he cringed an'
ducked back I taken another chancet on him, an' the subsequent evidences
offers testimony dat both times I reckined right. Jedge, the late Doct'
Duvall muster married some powerful rough-actin' gals in his time ef he
thought the Mobile one wuz the gentlest out of three. Well, anyway, suh,
the ravelin' wolf is gone frum us, an' fur one I ain't 'spectin' him
back never no mo'. An' I reckin dat's the main pint wid you an' me
both."

"The ravelin' whut?"

"Dat's whut Aunt Dilsey called him oncet, speechifyin' to me 'bout
him--the ravelin' wolf. Only he suttinly did look he wuz comin'
unraveled mighty fast the last I seen of him."



CHAPTER VI

"WORTH 10,000"


You might have called Vincent C. Marr a self-made man and be making no
mistake about it. For he was self-made; not merely self-assembled, as so
many men are who attain distinction in this profession or that calling.
Entirely through his own efforts, with only his native wit to light the
way for him, he had pulled himself up, step by step, from the very
bottom of his trade to the very top of it. His trade was the applied
trade of crookedness; his pursuit the pursuit of other folks' cash
resources. He had the envy and admiration of his friends in allied
branches of the same general industry; he had the begrudged respect of
his official enemies, the police; while his accomplishments--the tricks
he pulled, the coups he scored, the purses he garnered--were discussed
and praised by the human nits and lice of the Seamy Side, just as the
achievements in a legitimate field of a Hill or a Schwab or a
Rockefeller might be talked of among petty shopkeepers and little
business men. He had, as the phrase goes, everything--imagination,
resource, ingenuity, audacity, utter ruthlessness.

Yet it would seem hard to conceive a more humble beginning than his had
been. His father was a cobbler in a little West Virginia coal town. At
sixteen he ran away from home to go with a small circus. This circus was
a traveling shield for all manner of rough extortioners. Card sharps,
shell workers, petermen, sneak thieves, pickpockets, even burglars rode
its train. They had a saying that the owner of this show sold the
safe-blowing privileges outright but retained a one-third interest in
the hold-up concession. That was a whimsical exaggeration of what
perhaps had a kern of truth in it. Certainly it was the fact of the case
that the owner depended more upon his lion's cut of the swag which the
trailing jackals amassed than upon the intake at the ticket windows. Bad
weather might kill his business for a week; a crop failure might lame it
for a month; but the graft was as sure as anything graftified can be.
When the runaway youth, Vince Marr, inserted himself beneath the
protecting wing of this patron he knew exactly whither his ultimate
ambitions tended. He had no vague boyish design to serve a 'prenticeship
as stake driver or roustabout in the hope some day of graduating into a
rider or a tumbler, a ringmaster or a clown. He joined out in order that
among these congenial influences he might the quicker become an
accomplished thief.

Starting as a novice he had to carve out his own little niche in
company where the competition already was fierce. His rise, though, was
rapid. So far as the records show he was the first of the Monday guys.
He developed the line himself and gave to it its name. A Monday guy was
a plunderer of clotheslines. He followed the route of the daily street
parade; rather he followed a route running roughly parallel to it. He
set out coincidentally with it and he aimed to have his pilfering stint
finished when the parade was over. He prowled in alleys and skinned over
back fences, progressing from house yard to house yard while the parade
passed through the streets upon which the houses faced. From kitchen
boilers and laundry heaps, from wash baskets and drying ropes, he
skimmed the pick of what was offered--silk shirts, fancy hose, women's
embroidered blouses, women's belaced under-things. His work was made
comparatively easy for him, since the dwellers of the houses would be
watching the parade.

His strippings he carried to the show lot and there he hid them away.
That night in the privilege car the collections of the day would be
disposed of by sale or trade to members of the troupe and the affiliated
rogues. Especially desirable pieces might be reserved to be shipped on
to a professional receiver of stolen goods in a certain city. Naturally,
pickings were at their best on a Monday, for since Mother Eve on the
first Monday hanged her fig leaf out to dry, Monday has been wash day
the world over. Hence the name for the practitioner of the business.

Vince Marr did not very long remain a Monday guy. The risks were not
very great, everything considered. Suppose detection did come; suppose
the cry of "Stop thief!" was raised. Who would quit watching a circus
parade to join in a hunt for a marauder already vanished in a maze of
outbuildings and alleyways? Still there were risks to be taken, and the
rewards on the whole were small and uncertain. Before he reached his
nineteenth year young Marr was the manager of a weighing pitch.
Apparently he had but one associate in the enterprise; as a matter of
fact he had four. In the place where holidaying crowds gathered--on a
circus lot, at a street carnival, outside the gates of a county fair--he
and his visible partner would set up his weighing device, and then
stationing himself near it he would beseech you to let him guess your
correct weight. If he guessed within three pounds of it, as recorded by
the machine, you owed him a nickel; if he failed to guess within three
pounds of it you owed him nothing. "Take a chance, brother!" he would
entreat you with friendly jovial banter. "Be a sport--take a chance!"
Let us say you accepted his proposition. Swiftly he would flip with his
hands along your sides, would slap your flanks, would pinch you gently
as though testing your flesh for solidity, then would call out loudly
so that all within earshot might hear: "I figure that the gentleman
weighs--let me see--exactly one hundred and forty-seven pounds." Or
perhaps he would predict: "This big fellow will pull her down at two
hundred and eight pounds, no more and no less." Then you placed yourself
in the swinging seat of the machine with your feet clear of the earth,
and his partner duly weighed you. Sometimes Marr guessed your weight;
quite as often, though, he failed to come within three pounds of it and
you paid him nothing for his pains. It was difficult to figure how so
precarious a means of income could be made to yield a proper return
unless the scales were dishonest.

The scales were honest enough. The real profits were derived from quite
a different source. Three master dips--pickpockets--were waiting for you
as you moved off; they attended to your case with neatness and dispatch.
Their work was expedited for them by reason that already they knew where
you carried your valuables. Once Marr ran his swift and practiced
fingers over your body he knew where your watch was, your wallet, your
purse for small change, your roll of bills.

A code word in his patter advertised to his confederates exactly
whereabouts upon your person the treasure was carried. Really the
business gave splendid returns. It was Marr, though, who had seized upon
it when it merely was a catchpenny carnival device and made of it a
real money earner. Moreover, the pickpockets took the real peril. Even
in the infrequent event of the detection of them there was no evidence
to justify the suspicion that the proprietors of the weighing machine
were accessories to the pocket looting. Vince Marr was like that--always
playing safe for himself, always thinking a jump ahead of his crowd and
a jump and a half ahead of the police.

He was never the one to get into a rut and stay there. Long before the
old-time grafting circuses grew scarce and scarcer, and before the
street-fairing concessions progressed out of their primitive beginnings
into orderly and recognized organizations, he had quitted both fields
for higher and more lucrative ramifications of his craft. Ask any
old-time con man who ostensibly has reformed. If he tells you the
truth--which is doubtful--he will tell you it was Chappy Marr who really
evolved the fake foot-racing game, who patched up the leaks in the
wireless wire-tapping game, who standardized at least two popular forms
of the send game, who improved marvelously upon three differing versions
of the pay-off game.

All the time he was perfecting himself in his profession, fitting
himself for the practice of it in its highermost departments. He learned
to tone down his wardrobe. He polished his manners until they had a
gloss on them. He labored assiduously to correct his grammar, and so
well succeeded at the task that except when he was among associates and
relapsed into the argot of the breed, he used language fit for a college
professor--fit for some college professors anyway. At thirty he was a
glib, spry person with a fancy for gay housings. At forty-five, when he
reached the top of his swing, he had the looks, the vocabulary and the
presence of an educated and a traveled person.

He had one technical defect, if defect it might be called. In the larger
affairs of his unhallowed business he displayed a mental adaptability, a
talent to think quickly and shift his tactics to meet the suddenly
arisen emergency, which was the envy of lesser underworld notables; but
in smaller details of life he was prone to follow the line of least
resistance, which is true of the most of us, honest and dishonest men
the same. For instance, though he had half a dozen or more common
aliases--names which he changed as he changed his collars--he pursued a
certain fixed rule in choosing them, just as a man in picking out
neckties might favor mixed weaves and varied patterns but stick always
to the same general color scheme. He might be Vincent C. Marr, which was
his proper name, or among intimates Chappy Marr. Then again he might be
Col. Van Camp Morgan, of Louisiana; or Mr. Vance C. Michaels, a Western
mine owner; or Victor C. Morehead; he might be a Markham or a Murrill or
a Marsh or a Murphy as the occasion and the rôle and his humor suited.
Always, though, the initials were the same. Partly this was for
convenience--the name was so much easier to remember then--but partly it
was due to that instinct for ordered routine which in a reputable sphere
of endeavor would have made this man rather conventional and methodical
in his personal habits, however audacious and resourceful he might have
been on his public side and his professional. He especially was lucky in
that he never acquired any of those mouth-filling nicknames such as
Paper Collar Joe wore, and Grand Central Pete and Appetite Willie and
the Mitt-and-a-Half Kid and the late Soapy Smith--picturesque enough,
all of them, but giving to the wearers thereof an undesirable prominence
in newspapers and to that added extent curtailing their usefulness in
their own special areas of operation.

Nor had he ever smelled the chloride-of-lime-and-circus-cage smell of
the inside of a state's prison; no Bertillon sharp had on file his
measurements and thumb prints, nor did any central office or detective
bureau contain his rogues-gallery photograph. Times almost past counting
he had been taken up on suspicion; more than once had been arrested on
direct charges, and at least twice had been indicted. But because of
connections with crooked lawyers and approachable politicians and venal
police officials and because also of his own individual canniness, he
always had escaped conviction and imprisonment. There was no stink of
the stone hoosgow on his correctly tailored garments, and no barber
other than one of his own choosing had ever shingled Chappy Marr's hair.
Within reason, therefore, he was free to come and go, to bide and to
tarry; and come and go at will he did until that unfortuitous hour when
the affair of the wealthy Mrs. Propbridge and her husband came to pass.

When the period of post-wartime inflation came upon this country
specialized thievery marched abreast with legitimate enterprise; with it
as with the other, rewards became tremendously larger; small turnovers
were regarded as puny and contemptible, and operators thought in terms
of pyramiding thousands of dollars where before they had been glad to
strive for speculative returns of hundreds. By now Chappy Marr had won
his way to the forefront of his kind. The same intelligence invoked, the
same energies exercised, and in almost any proper field he would before
this have been a rich man and an honored one. By his twisted code of
ethics and unmorals, though, the dubious preëminence he enjoyed was
ample reward. He stood forth from the ruck and run, a creator and a
leader who could afford to pass by the lesser, more precarious games,
with their prospect of uncertain takings, for the really big and
important things. He was like a specialist who having won a prominent
position may now say that he will accept only such patients as he
pleases and treat only such cases as appeal to him.

This being so, there were open to him two especially favored lines: he
might be a deep-sea fisherman, meaning by that a crooked card player
traveling on ocean steamers; or he might be the head of a swell mob of
blackmailers preying upon more or less polite society. For the first he
had not the digital facility which was necessary; his fingers lacked the
requisite deftness, however agile and flexible the brain which directed
the fingers might be. So Chappy Marr turned his talents to blackmailing.
Blackmailing plants had acquired a sudden vogue; nearly all the
wise-cracking kings and queens of Marr's world had gone or were going
into them. Moreover, blackmailing offered an opportunity for variety of
scope and ingenuity in the mechanics of its workings which appealed
mightily to a born originator. Finally there was a paramount
consideration. Of all the tricks and devices at the command of the
top-hole rogue it was the very safest to play. Ninety-nine times out of
a hundred the victim had his social position or his business reputation
to think of, else in the first place he would never have been picked on
as a fit subject for victimizing. Therefore he was all the more disposed
to pay and keep still, and pay again.

The bait in the trap of the average blackmailing plant is a woman--a
young woman, good-looking, well groomed and smart. It is with her that
the quarry is compromisingly entangled. But against women confederates
Chappy Marr had a strong prejudice. They were such uncertain quantities;
you never could depend upon them. They were emotional, temperamental;
they let their sentimental attachments run away with their judgment;
they fell in love, which was bad; they talked too much, which was worse;
they were fickle-minded and jealous; they were given to falling out with
male pals, and they had been known to carry a jealous grudge to the
point of turning informer. So he set his inventions to the task of
evolving a blackmailing snare which might be set and sprung, and
afterwards dismantled and hidden away without the intervention of the
female knave of the species in any of its stages. Trust him--smooth as
lubricating oil, a veritable human graphite--to turn the trick. He
turned it.

The upshot was a lovely thing, almost foolproof and practically
cop-proof. To be sure, a woman figured in it, but her part was that of
the chosen prey, not the part of an accessory and accomplice. The
greater simplicity of the device was attested by the fact that for its
mounting, from beginning to end, only three active performers were
needed. The chief rôle he would play. For his main supporting cast he
needed two men, and knew moreover exactly where to find them. Of these
two only one would show ever upon the stage. The other would bide out
of sight behind the scenes, doing his share of the work, unsuspected,
from under cover.

For the part which he intended her to take in his production--the part
of dupe--Mrs. Justus Propbridge was, as one might say, made to order.
Consider her qualifications: young, pretty, impressionable, vain and
inexperienced; the second wife of a man who even in these times of
suddenly inflated fortunes was reckoned to be rich; newly come out of
the boundless West, bringing a bounding social ambition with her;
spending money freely and having plenty more at command to spend when
the present supply was gone; her name appearing frequently in those
newspapers and those weekly and monthly magazines catering particularly
to the so-called smart set, which is so called, one gathers, because it
is not a set and is not particularly smart.

Young Mrs. Propbridge figured that her name was becoming tolerably well
known along the Gold Coast of the North Atlantic Seaboard. It was too.
For example, there was at least one person entirely unknown to her who
kept a close tally of her comings and her goings, of her social
activities, of her mode of daily life. This person was Vincent Marr.
Thanks to the freedom with which a certain type of journal discusses the
private and the public affairs of those men and women most commonly
mentioned in its columns, he presently had in his mind a very clear
picture of this lady, and he followed her movements, as reflected in
print, with care and fidelity; it was as though he had a deep personal
interest in her. For a matter of fact, he did; he had a very personal
interest in her. He had been doing this for months; in his trade, as in
many others, patience was not only a virtue but a necessity. For
example, he knew that her determined and persistent but somewhat crudely
engineered campaigning to establish herself in what New York calls--with
a big S--Society was the subject in some quarters of a somewhat thinly
veiled derision; he knew that her husband was rather an elemental, not
to say a primitive creature, but genuine and aboveboard and generous, as
elemental beings are likely to be. Marr figured him to be of the jealous
type. He hoped he was; it might simplify matters tremendously.

On a certain summer morning a paragraph appeared in at least three daily
papers to the effect that Mr. and Mrs. Justus Propbridge had gone down
to Gulf Stream City, on the Maryland coast; they would be at the
Churchill-Fontenay there for a week or ten days. It was at his breakfast
that Marr read this information. At noon, having in the meantime done a
considerable amount of telephoning, he was on his way to the seaside
too. Mentally he was shaking hands with himself in a warmly
congratulatory way. Gulf Stream City was a place seemingly designed,
both by Nature and by man, for the serving of his purposes.

Residing there were persons of his own kidney and persuasion, on whom
he might count for at least one detail of invaluable coöperation. For a
certain act of his piece, a short but highly important one, he also must
have a borrowed stage setting and a supernumerary actor or so.

Immediately upon his arrival he sought out certain dependable
individuals and put them through a rough rehearsal. This he did before
he claimed the room he had engaged by wire at the Hotel Crofter. The
Hotel Crofter snuggled its lesser bulk under an imposing flank of the
supposedly exclusive and admittedly expensive Churchill-Fontenay. From
its verandas one might command a view of the main entrance of the
greater hotel.

It was on a Tuesday that the Propbridges reached Gulf Stream City. It
was on Wednesday afternoon that the husband received a telegram, signed
with the name of a business associate, calling him to Toledo for a
conference--so the wire stated--upon an urgent complication newly
arisen. Mr. Propbridge, as all the world knew, was one of the heaviest
stockholders and a member of the board of the Sonnesbein-Propbridge Tire
Company, which, as the world likewise knew, had had tremendous dealings
in contracts with the Government and now was having trouble closing up
the loose ends of its wartime activities.

He packed a bag and caught a night train West. On the following morning,
which would be Thursday, Mrs. Propbridge took a stroll on Gulf Stream
City's famous boardwalk. It was rather a lonely stroll. She had no
particular objective. It was too early in the day for a full display of
vivid costumes among the bathers on the beach. She encountered no one
she knew.

Really, for a resort so extensively advertised, Gulf Stream City was not
a particularly exciting place. For lack of anything better to do she had
halted to view the contents of a shop window when an exclamation of
happy surprise from someone immediately behind her caused Mrs.
Propbridge to turn around.

Immediately it was her turn to register astonishment. A tall,
well-dressed, gray-haired man, a stranger to her, was taking possession
of her right hand and shaking it warmly.

"Why, my dear Mrs. Watrous," he was saying, "how do you do? Well, this
is an unexpected pleasure! When did you come down from Wilmington? And
who is with you? And how long are you going to stay? General Dunlap and
his daughter Claire--you know, the second daughter--and Mrs.
Gordon-Tracy and Freddy Urb will be here in a little while. They'll be
delighted to see you! Why, we'll have a reunion! Well, well, well!"

He had said all this with scarcely a pause for breath and without giving
her an opportunity to speak, as though surprise made him disregardful of
labial punctuation of his sentences. Indeed, Mrs. Propbridge did not
succeed in getting her hand free from his grasp until he had uttered
the final "well."

"You have the advantage of me," she said. "I do not know you. I am sure
I never saw you before."

At this his sudden shift from cordiality to a look half incredulous,
half embarrassed was almost comic.

"What?" he demanded, falling back a pace. "Surely this is Mrs. Beeman
Watrous of Wilmington? I can't be mistaken!"

"But you are mistaken," she insisted; "very much mistaken. My name is
not Watrous; my name is Propbridge."

"Madam," he cried, "I beg ten thousand pardons! Really, though, this is
one of the most remarkable things I ever saw in my life--one of the most
remarkable cases of resemblance, I mean. I am sure anyone would be
deceived by it; that is my apology. In my own behalf, madam, I must tell
you that you are an exact counterpart of someone I know--of Mrs. Beeman
Watrous, a very good friend of mine. Pardon me once more, but may I ask
if you are related to Mrs. Beeman Watrous? Her cousin perhaps? It isn't
humanly possible that two persons should look so much alike and not be
related?"

"I don't think I ever heard of the lady," stated Mrs. Propbridge
somewhat coldly.

"Again, madam, please excuse me," he said. "I am very, very sorry to
have annoyed you." He bowed his bared head and turned away. Then
quickly he swung on his heel and returned to her, his hat again in his
left hand.

"Madam," he said, "I am fearful that you are suspecting me of being one
of the objectionable breed of he-flirts who infest this place. At the
risk of being tiresome I must repeat once more that your wonderful
resemblance to another person led me into this awkward error. My name,
madam, is Murrill--Valentine C. Murrill--and I am sure that if you only
had the time and the patience to bear with me I could find someone
here--some acquaintance of yours perhaps--who would vouch for me and
make it plain to you that I am not addicted to the habit of forcing
myself upon strangers on the pretext that I have met them somewhere."

His manner was disarming. It was more than that; it was outright
engaging. He was carefully groomed, smartly turned out; he had the
manner and voice of a well-bred person. To Mrs. Propbridge he seemed a
candid, courteous soul unduly distressed over a small matter.

"Please don't concern yourself about it," she said. "I didn't suspect
you of being a professional masher; I was only rather startled, that's
all."

"Thank you for telling me so," he said. "You take a load off my mind, I
assure you. Pardon me again, please--but did I understand you to say a
moment ago that your name was Propbridge?"

"Yes."

"It isn't a very common name. Surely you are not the Mrs. Propbridge?"

Without being in the least presuming he somehow had managed to convey a
subtle tribute.

"I am Mrs. Justus Propbridge, if that is what you mean," she said.

"Well, then," he said in tones of relief, "that simplifies matters. Is
your husband about, madam? If he is I will do myself the honor of
introducing myself to him and repeating to him the explanation I have
just made to you. You see, I am by way of being one of the small fish
who circulate on the outer edge of the big sea where the large financial
whales swim, and it is possible that he may have heard my name and may
know who I am."

"My husband isn't here," she explained. "He was called away last night
on business."

"Again my misfortune," he said.

They were in motion now; he had fallen into step alongside her as she
moved on back up the boardwalk. Plainly her amazing resemblance to
someone else was once more the uppermost subject in his mind. He went
back to it.

"I've heard before now of dual personalities," he said, "but this is my
first actual experience with a case of it. When I first saw you standing
there with your back to me and even when you turned round facing me
after I spoke to you, I was ready to swear that you were Mrs. Beeman
Watrous. Look, manner, size, voice, hair, eyes--all identical. I know
her very well too. I've been a guest at one or two of her house parties.
It's curious that you never heard of her, Mrs. Propbridge; she's the
widow of one of the Wilmington Watrouses--the firearms people, you
know--guns, rifles, all that sort of thing--and he left her more
millions than she knows what to do with."

Now Mrs. Propbridge had never heard of any Wilmington Watrouses, but
plainly, here in the East they were persons of consequence--persons who
would be worth knowing.

She nodded as though to indicate that now she did faintly recall who it
was this kindly stranger had meant.

He went on. It was evident that he was inclined to be talkative. The
impression was conveyed to her that here was a well-meaning but rather
shallow-minded gentleman who was reasonably fond of the sound of his own
voice. Yet about him was nothing to suggest over-effusiveness or
familiarity.

"I've a sort of favor to ask of you," he said. "I've some friends who're
motoring over to-day from Philadelphia. I had to run on down ahead of
them to see a man on business. They're to join me in about an hour from
now"--he consulted his watch--"and we're all driving back together
to-night. General Dunlap and Mrs. Claire Denton, his daughter--she's the
amateur tennis champion, you know--and Mrs. Gordon-Tracy, of Newport,
and Freddy Urb, the writer--they're all in the party. And the favor I'm
asking is that I may have the pleasure of presenting them to you--that
is, of course, unless you already know them--so that I may enjoy the
looks on their faces when they find out that you are not Mrs. Beeman
Watrous. I know they'll behave as I did. They won't believe it at first.
May I?"

What could Mrs. Propbridge do except consent? Indeed, inwardly she
rejoiced at the prospect. She did not know personally the four named by
this Mr. Murrill, but she knew mighty well who they were. What person
familiar with the Social Register could fail to know who they were?
Another thing had impressed her: The stranger had mentioned these
notables with no especial emphasis on the names; but instead, quite
casually and in a manner which carried with it the impression that such
noted folk as Mrs. Denton and her distinguished father, and Freddy Urb
the court jester of the innermost holies of holies of Newport and Bar
Harbor and Palm Beach, and Mrs. Gordon-Tracy, the famous beauty, were of
the sort with whom customarily he associated. Plainly here was a
gentleman who not only belonged to the who's-who but had a very clear
perception of the what-was-what. So fluttered little Mrs. Propbridge
promptly said yes--said it with a gratified sensation in her heart.

"That's fine of you!" said Murrill, visibly elated. It would appear
that small favors were to him great pleasures. "That's splendid!
Up until now the joke of this thing has been on me. I want to
transfer it to them. I'm to meet them up here in the lounge of the
Churchill-Fontenay."

"That's where I am stopping," said Mrs. Propbridge.

"Is it? Better and better! We might stroll along that way if you don't
mind. By Jove, I've an idea! Suppose when they arrive they found us
chatting together like old friends--suppose as they came up they were to
overhear me calling you Mrs. Beeman Watrous. That would make the shock
all the greater for them when they found out you really weren't Mrs.
Watrous at all, but somebody they'd never seen before! Are you game for
it?... Capital! Only, if we mean to do that we'll have to kill the time,
some way, for forty or fifty minutes or so. Do you mind letting me bore
you for a little while? I know it's unconventional--but I like to do the
unconventional things when they don't make one conspicuous."

Mrs. Propbridge did not in the least mind. So they killed the time and
it died a very agreeable death, barring one small incident. On Mr.
Murrill's invitation they took a short turn in a double-seated roller
chair, Mr. Murrill chatting briskly all the while and savoring his
conversation with offhand reference to this well-known personage and
that. At his suggestion they quit the wheel chair at a point well down
the boardwalk to drink orangeades in a small glass-fronted café which
faced the sea. He had heard somewhere, he said, that they made famous
orangeades in this shop. They might try for themselves and find out.

The experiment was not entirely a success. To begin with, a waiter
person--Mr. Murrill referred to him as a waiter person--sat them down
near the front at a small, round table whose enamel top was decorated
with two slopped glasses and a bottle one-third filled with wine gone
stale. At least the stuff looked and smelled like wine--like a poor
quality of champagne.

"Ugh!" said Mr. Murrill, tasting the air. "Somebody evidently couldn't
wait until lunch time before he started his tippling. And I didn't
suspect either that this place might be a bootlegging place in disguise.
Well, since prohibition came in it's hard to find a resort shop anywhere
where you can't buy bad liquor--if only you go about it the right way."

When the waiter person brought their order he bade him remove the bottle
and the slopped glasses, and the waiter person obliged, but so sulkily
and with such slowness of movement that Mr. Murrill was moved to speak
to him rather sharply. Even so, the sullen functionary took his time
about the thing. Nor did the orangeade prove particularly appetizing.
Mr. Murrill barely tasted his.

"Shall we clear out?" he asked, making a fastidious little grimace.

At the door, on the way out, he made excuses.

"Sorry I suggested coming into this place," he said, sinking his voice.
"Either it is a shop which has gone off badly or its merits have been
overadvertised by its loving friends. To me the whole atmosphere of the
establishment seemed rather dubious, eh, what? Well, what shall we do
next? I see a few bathers down below. Shall we go down on the beach and
find a place to sit and watch them for a bit?"

They went; and he found a bench in a quiet place under the shorings of
the boardwalk close up alongside one of the lesser bathing pavilions,
and they sat there, and he talked and she listened. The man had an
endless fund of gossip about amusing and noted people; most of them, it
would seem, were his intimates. Telling one or two incidents in which
these distinguished friends had figured, he felt it expedient to sink
his voice to a discreet undertone. There was plainly apparent a delicacy
of feeling in this; one did not shout out the names of such persons for
any curious passer-by to hear. It developed that there was one specially
close bond between him and the members of General Dunlap's family, an
attachment partly based upon old acquaintance and partly upon the fact
that the Dunlaps thought he once upon a time had saved the life of the
general's youngest daughter, Millicent.

"Really, though, it was nothing," he said deprecatingly, as befitted a
modest and a mannerly man. "The thing came about like this: It was once
when we were all out West together. We were spending a week at the Grand
Cañon. One morning we took the Rim Drive over to Mohave Point. No doubt
you know the spot? I was standing with Millicent on the outer edge of
the cliff and we were looking down together into that tremendous void
when all of a sudden she fainted dead away. Her heart isn't very
strong--she isn't athletic as Claire, her older sister, and the other
Dunlap girls are--and I suppose the altitude got her. Luckily I was as
close to her as I am to you now, and I saw her totter and I threw out my
arms--pardon me--like this." He illustrated with movements of his arms.
"And luckily I managed to catch her about the waist as she fell forward.
I held on and dragged her back out of danger. Otherwise she would have
dropped for no telling how many hundreds of feet. Of course it was only
a chance that I happened to be touching elbows with the child, and
naturally I only did what anyone would have done in the same
circumstances, but the whole family were tremendously grateful and made
a great pother over it. By the way, speaking of rescues, have you heard
about the thing that happened to the two Van Norden girls at Bailey's
Beach last week? I must tell you about that."

Presently they both were surprised to find that forty-five minutes had
passed. Mr. Murrill said they had better be getting along; he made so
bold as to venture the suggestion that possibly Mrs. Propbridge might
want to go to her rooms before the automobile party arrived, to change
her frock or something. Not that he personally thought she should change
it. If he might be pardoned for saying so, he thought it a most becoming
frock; but women were curious about such things, now honestly weren't
they? And Mrs. Propbridge was constrained to confess that about such
things women were curious. She had a conviction that if all things moved
smoothly she presently would be urged to waive formality and join the
party at luncheon. Mr. Murrill had not exactly put the idea into words
yet, but she sensed that the thought of offering the invitation was in
his mind. In any event the impending meeting called for efforts on her
part to appear at her best.

"I believe I will run up to our rooms for a few minutes before your
friends arrive," she said as they arose from the bench. "I want to
freshen up a bit."

"Quite so," he assented.

He left her at the doors of the Churchill-Fontenay, saying he would idle
about and watch for the others in case they should arrive ahead of time.

Ten minutes later, while she was still trying to make a choice between
three frocks, her telephone rang. She answered the ring; it was Mr.
Murrill, who was at the other end of the line. He was distressed to have
to tell her that word had just reached him that on the way down from
Philadelphia General Dunlap had been taken suddenly ill--an attack of
acute indigestion, perhaps, or possibly a touch of the sun--and the
motor trip had been halted at a small town on the mainland fifteen miles
back of Gulf Stream City. He was starting immediately for the town in a
car with a physician. He trusted the general's indisposition was not
really serious but of course the party would be called off; and the
invalid would return to Philadelphia as soon as he felt well enough to
move. He was awfully sorry--Mr. Murrill was--terribly put out, and all
that sort of thing; hoped that another opportunity might be vouchsafed
him of meeting Mrs. Propbridge; he had enjoyed tremendously meeting her
under these unconventional circumstances; and now he must go.

It was not to be denied that young Mrs. Propbridge felt distinctly
disappointed. The start of the little adventure had had promise in it.
She had forecast all manner of agreeable contingencies as the probable
outcome.

For some reason, though, or perhaps for no definite reason at all, she
said nothing to her husband, on his return from Toledo, of her encounter
with the agreeable Mr. Murrill. Anyway, he arrived in no very affable
state of mind. As a matter of fact he was most terrifically out of
temper. Somebody or other--presumably some ass of a practical joker, he
figured, or possibly a person with a grudge against him who had curious
methods of taking vengeance--had lured him into taking a hot, dusty,
tiresome and entirely useless trip. There was no business conference on
out at Toledo; no need for his presence there. If he could lay hands on
the idiot who had sent him that forged telegram--well, the angered Mr.
Propbridge indicated with a gesture of a large and knobby fist what he
would do to the aforesaid idiot.

The next time Mr. Propbridge was haled to the broiling Corn Belt he made
very sure that the warrant was genuine. One of these wild-goose chases a
summer was quite enough for a man with a size-nineteen collar and a
forty-six-inch waistband.

The next time befell some ten days after the Propbridges returned from
the shore to their thirty-thousand-dollars-a-year apartment on Upper
Park Avenue. The very fact that they did live in an apartment and that
they did spend a good part of their time there would stamp them for what
they were--persons not yet to be included among the really fashionable
group. The really fashionable maintained large homes which they occupied
when they came to town to have dental work done or to launch a débutante
daughter into society; the rest of the year they usually were elsewhere.
It was the thing.

Business of importance sent Mr. Propbridge to Detroit, and then on to
Chicago and Des Moines. On a certain afternoon he caught the Wolverine
Limited. Almost before his train had passed One Hundred and Twenty-fifth
Street Mrs. Propbridge had a caller. She was informed that a member of
the staff of that live paper, People You Know, desired to see her for a
few minutes. Persons of social consequence or persons who craved to be
of social consequence did not often deny themselves to representatives
of People You Know. Mrs. Propbridge told the switchboard girl downstairs
to tell the hallman to invite the gentleman to come up.

He proved to be a somewhat older man than she had expected to see. He
was well dressed enough, but about him was something hard and
forbidding, almost formidable in fact. Yet there was a soothing,
conciliatory tone in his voice when he spoke.

"Mrs. Propbridge," he began, "my name is Townsend. I am one of the
editors of People You Know. I might have sent one of our reporters to
see you, but in a matter so important--and so delicate as this one is--I
felt it would be better if I came personally to have a little talk with
you and get your side of the affair for publication."

"My side of what affair?" she asked, puzzled.

He lifted one lip in a cornerwise smile.

"Let me give you a little advice, Mrs. Propbridge," he said. "I've had a
lot of experience in such matters as these. The interested parties will
be better off if they're perfectly frank in talking to the press. Then
all misunderstandings are avoided and everybody gets a fair deal in
print. Don't you agree with me that I am right?"

"You may be right," she said, "but I haven't the least idea what you are
talking about."

"I mean your trouble with your husband--if you force me to speak
plainly; I'd like to have your statement, that's all."

"But I haven't had any trouble with my husband!" she said. Her amazement
made her voice shrill. "My husband and I are living together in perfect
happiness. You've made a mistake."

"No chance," he said, and suddenly his manner changed from the
sympathetic to the accusing. "Mrs. Propbridge, we have exclusive advance
information from reliable sources--a straight tip--that the proof
against you is about to be turned over to your husband and we've every
reason to believe that when he gets it in his hands he's going to sue
you for divorce, naming as corespondent a certain middle-aged man. Do
you mean to tell me you don't know anything about that?"

"Of course I mean to! Why, you're crazy! You're--"

"Wait just one minute please," he interrupted the distressed lady. "Wait
until I get through telling you how much I know already; then you'll see
that denials won't help you any. As a matter of fact we're ready now to
go ahead and spring the story in next week's issue, but I thought it
was only fair to come to you and give you a chance to make your defense
in print--if you care to make one."

"I still tell you that you've made a terrible mistake," she declared.
Her anger began to stir within her, as indignation succeeded to
astonishment. "How dare you come here accusing me of doing anything
wrong!"

"I'm accusing you of nothing. I'm only going by the plain evidence. I
might be lying to you. Other people might lie to you. But, madam,
photographs don't lie. That's why they're the best possible evidence in
a divorce court. And I've seen the evidence. I've got it in my pocket
right now."

"Evidence against me? Photographs of me?"

"Sure. Photographs of you and the gray-haired party." He reached in a
breast pocket and brought out a thin sheaf of unmounted photographs and
handed them to her. "Mrs. Propbridge, just take a look at these and then
tell me if you blame me for assuming that there's bound to be trouble
when your husband sees them?"

She looked, and her twirling brain told her it was all a nightmare, but
her eyes told her it was not. Here were five photographs, enlarged
snapshots apparently: One, a profile view, showing her standing on a
boardwalk, her hand held in the hand of the man she had known as
Valentine C. Murrill; one, a quartering view, revealing them riding
together in a wheel chair, their heads close together, she smiling and
he apparently whispering something of a pleasing and confidential nature
to her, the posture of both almost intimate; one, a side view, showing
the pair of them emerging from an open-fronted café--she recognized the
façade of the place where they had found the orangeades so
disappointing--and in this picture Mr. Murrill had been caught by the
camera as he was saying something of seeming mutual interest, for she
was glancing up sidewise at him and he had lowered his head until his
lips almost touched her ear; one, showing them sitting at a small round
table with a wine bottle and glasses in front of them and behind them a
background suggesting the interior of a rather shabby drinking place, a
distinct impression of sordidness somehow conveyed; and one, a rear
view, showing them upon a bench alongside a seemingly deserted wooden
structure of some sort, and in this one the man had been snapped in the
very act of putting his arms about her and drawing her toward him.

That was all--merely five oblong slips of chemically printed paper, and
yet on the face of them they told a damning and a condemning story.

She stared at them, she who was absolutely innocent of thought or intent
of wrong-doing, and could feel the fabric of her domestic life trembling
before it came crashing down.

"Oh, but this is too horrible for words!" the distressed lady cried
out. "How could anybody have been so cruel, so malicious, as to follow
us and waylay us and catch us in these positions? It's monstrous!"

"Somebody did catch you, then, in compromising attitudes--you admit
that?"

"You twist my words to give them a false meaning!" she exclaimed. "You
are trying to trap me into saying something that would put me in a wrong
light. I can explain--why, the whole thing is so simple when you
understand."

"Suppose you do explain, then. Get me right, Mrs. Propbridge--I'm all
for you in this affair. I want to give you the best of it from every
standpoint."

So she explained, her words pouring forth in a torrent. She told him in
such details as she recalled the entire history of her meeting with the
vanished Mr. Murrill--how a doctored telegram sent her husband away and
left her alone, how Murrill had accosted her, and why and what
followed--all of it she told him, withholding nothing.

He waited until she was through. Then he sped a bolt, watching her
closely, for upon the way she took it much, from his viewpoint,
depended.

"Well," he said, "if that's the way this thing happened and if you've
told your husband about it"--he dragged his words just a trifle--"why
should you be so worried, even if these pictures should reach him?"

Her look told him the shot had struck home. Inwardly he rejoiced,
knowing, before she answered, what her answer would be.

"But I didn't tell him," she confessed, stricken with a new cause for
concern. "I--I forgot to tell him."

"Oh, you forgot to tell him?" he repeated. Now suddenly he became a
cross-examiner, snapping his questions at her, catching her up sharply
in her replies. "And you say you never saw this Mr. Murrill--as you call
him--before in all your life?"

"No."

"And you've never seen the mysterious stranger since?"

"There was nothing mysterious about him, I tell you. He was merely
interesting."

"Anyhow, you've never seen him since?"

"No."

"Nor had any word from him other than that telephone talk you say you
had with him?"

"No."

"Did you ever make any inquiries with a view to finding out whether
there was such a person as this Mrs. Beeman Watrous?"

"No; why should I?"

"That's a question for you to decide. Did you think to look in the
papers to see whether General Dunlap had really been taken ill on a
motor trip?"

"No."

"Yet he's a well-known person. Surely you expected the papers would
mention his illness?"

"It never occurred to me to look. I tell you there was nothing wrong
about it. Why do you try to trip me up so?"

"Excuse me, I'm only trying to help you out of what looks like a pretty
bad mess. But I've got to get the straight of it. Let me run over the
points in your story: No sooner do you land in Gulf Stream City than
your husband gets a faked-up telegram and goes away? And you are left
all alone? And you go for a walk all by yourself? And a man you never
laid eyes on before comes up to you and tells you that you look a lot
like a friend of his, a certain very rich widow, Mrs. Watrous--somebody,
though, that I for one never heard of, and I know the Social Register
from cover to cover, and know something about Wilmington too. And on the
strength of your imaginary resemblance to an imaginary somebody he
introduced himself to you? And then you let him walk with you? And you
let him whisper pleasant things in your ear? Two of those pictures that
you've got in your hand prove that. And you let him take you into one of
the most notorious blind tigers on the beach? And you sit there with him
in this dump--this place with a shady reputation--"

"I've explained to you how that happened. We didn't stay there. We came
right out."

"Let me go on, please. And you let him buy you wine there?"

"I've told you about that part, too--how the bottles and the glasses
were already on the table when we sat down."

"I'm merely going by what the photographs tell, Mrs. Propbridge. I'm
merely saying to you what a smart divorce lawyer would say to you if
ever he got you on the witness stand; only he'd be trying to convict you
by your own words and I'm trying to give you every chance to clear
yourself. And then after that you go and sit with him--this perfect
stranger--in a lonely place alongside a deserted bath house and nobody
else in sight?"

"There were people bathing right in front of us all the time."

"Were there? Well, take a look at Photograph Number Five and see if it
shows any bathers in sight. And he slips his arm around you and draws
you to him?"

"I explained to you how that happened," protested the badgered,
desperate woman. "No matter what the circumstances seem to be, I did
nothing wrong, I tell you."

"All right, just as you say. Remember, I'm taking your side of it; I'm
trying to be your friend. But here's the important thing for you to
consider: With those pictures laid before them would any jury on earth
believe your side of it? Would they believe you had no hand in sending
your husband that faked-up telegram? Would they believe it wasn't a
trick to get him away so you could keep an appointment with this man?
Would any judge believe you? Would your friends believe you? Or would
they all say that they never heard such a transparent cock-and-bull
story in their lives?"

"Oh, oh!" she cried chokingly, and put her face in her hands. Then she
threw up her head and stared at him out of her miserable eyes. "Where
did those pictures come from? You say you believe in me, that you are
willing to help me. Then tell me where they came from and who took them?
And how did you manage to get hold of them?"

His baitings had carried her exactly to the desired place--the turning
point, they call it in the vernacular of the confidence sharp. The rest
should be easy.

"Mrs. Propbridge," he said, "you've been pretty frank with me. I'll be
equally frank with you. Those pictures were brought to our office by the
man who took them. I have his name and address, but am not at liberty to
tell them to anyone. I don't know what his motives were in taking them;
we did not ask him that either. We can't afford to question the motives
of people who bring us these exclusive tips. We pay a fancy price for
them and that lets us out. Besides, these photographs seemed to speak
for themselves. So we paid him the price he asked for the use of them.
Destroying these copies wouldn't help you any. That man still has the
plates; he could print them over again. The only hope you've got is to
get hold of those plates. And I'm afraid he'll ask a big price for
them."

"How big a price?"

"That I couldn't say without seeing him. Knowing the sort of person he
is, my guess is that he'd expect you to hand him over a good-sized chunk
of money to begin with--as a proof of your intentions to do business
with him. You'd have to pay him in cash; he'd be too wise to take a
check. And then he might want so much apiece for each plate or he might
insist on your paying him a lump sum for the whole lot. You see, what he
evidently expects to do is to sell them to your husband, and he'd expect
you at least to meet the price your husband would have to pay. Any way
you look at it he's got you at his mercy--and, as I see it, you'll
probably have to come to his terms if you want to keep this thing a
secret."

"Where is this man? You keep saying you want to serve me--can't you
bring him to me?"

"I'm afraid he wouldn't come. If he's engaged in a shady business--if
he's cooked up a deliberate scheme to trap you--he won't come near you.
That's my guess. But if you are willing to trust me to act as your
representative maybe the whole thing might be arranged and no one except
us ever be the wiser for it."

Mrs. Propbridge being an average woman did what the average woman, thus
cruelly circumstanced and sorely frightened and half frantic and
lacking advice from honest folk, would do. She paid and she paid and she
kept on paying. First off, it appeared the paper had to be recompensed
for its initial outlay and for various vaguely explained incidental
expenses which it had incurred in connection with the affair. Then,
through Townsend, the unknown principal demanded that a larger sum
should be handed over as an evidence of good faith on her part before he
would consider further negotiations. This, though, turned out to be only
the beginning of the extortion processes.

When, on this pretext and that, she had been mulcted of nearly fourteen
thousand dollars, when her personal bank account had been exhausted,
when most of her jewelry was secretly in pawn, when still she had not
yet been given the telltale plates, but daily was being tortured by
threats of exposure unless she surrendered yet more money, poor badgered
beleaguered little Mrs. Propbridge, being an honest and a
straightforward woman, took the course she should have taken at the
outset. She went to her husband and she told him the truth. And he
believed her.

He did not stop with believing her; he bestirred himself. He had money;
he had the strength and the authority which money gives. He had
something else--he had that powerful, intangible thing which among
police officials and in the inner politics of city governments is
variously known as a pull and a drag. Straightway he invoked it.

Of a sudden Chappy Marr was aware that he had made a grievous mistake.
He had calculated to garner for himself a fat roll of the Propbridge
currency; had counted upon enjoying a continuing source of income for so
long as the wife continued to hand over hush money. Deduct the cuts
which went to Zach Traynor, alias Townsend, for playing the part of the
magazine editor, and to Cheesy Mike Zaugbaum, that camera wizard of
newspaper staff work turned crook's helper--Zaugbaum it was who had
worked the trick of the photographs--and still the major share of the
spoils due him ought, first and last, to run into five gratifying
figures. On this he confidently had figured. He had not reckoned into
the equation the possibility of invoking against him the Propbridge pull
backed by the full force of this double-fisted, vengeful millionaire's
rage. Indeed he never supposed that there might be any such pull. And
here, practically without warning, he found his influence arrayed
against an infinitely stronger influence, so that his counted for
considerably less than nothing at all.

Still, there was a warning. He got away to Toronto. Traynor made Chicago
and went into temporary seclusion there. Cheesy Zaugbaum lacked the luck
of these two. As soon as Mrs. Propbridge had described the ingratiating
Mr. Murrill and the obliging Mr. Townsend to M. J. Brock, head of the
Brock private-detective agency, that astute but commonplace-appearing
gentleman knew whom she meant. Knowing so much, it was not hard for him
to add one to one and get three. He deduced who the third member of the
triumvirate must be. Mr. Brock owed his preëminence in his trade to one
outstanding faculty--he was an honest man who could think like a thief.
Three hours after he concluded his first interview with the lady one of
his operatives walked up behind Cheesy and tapped him on the shoulder
and inquired of him whether he would go along nice and quiet for a talk
with the boss or was inclined to make a fuss about it. In either event,
so Cheesy was assured, he, could have his wish gratified. And Cheesy,
who had the heart of a rabbit--a rabbit feeding on other folks' cabbage,
but a timorous, nibbling bunny for all that--Cheesy, he went.

In Toronto Marr peaked and pined. He probably was safe enough for so
long as he bided there; there had been no newspaper publicity, and he
felt reasonably sure that openly, at least, the aid of regular police
departments would not be set in motion against him; so he put the
thoughts of arrest and extradition and such like unpleasant
contingencies out of his mind. But li'l' old N'York was his proper
abiding place. The smell of its streets had a lure for him which no
other city's streets had. His crowd was there--the folk who spoke his
tongue and played his game. And there the gudgeons on which his sort
fed schooled the thickest and carried the most savory fat on their bones
as they skittered over the asphaltum shoals of the Main Stem.

For a month, emulating Uncle Remus' Brer Fox, he lay low, resisting the
gnawing discontent that kept screening delectable visions of Broadway
and the Upper Forties and Seventh Avenue before his homesick eyes. It
was a real nostalgia from which he suffered. He endured it, though, with
what patience he might lest a worse thing befall. And at the end of that
month he went back to the big town; an overpowering temptation was the
reason for his going. There had arisen a chance for a large turnover and
a quick get-away again, with an attractively large sum to stay him and
comfort him after he resumed his enforced exile. An emissary from the
Gulwing mob ran up to Toronto and dangled the lure before his eyes.

Harbored in New York at the present moment was a beautiful prospect--a
supremely credulous cattleman from the Far West, who had been playing
the curb market. A crooks' tipster who was a clerk in a bucket shop
downtown had for a price passed the word to the Gulwings, and the
Gulwings--Sig and Alf--were intentful to strip the speculative Westerner
before the curb took from him the delectable core of his bank roll. But
the Gulwing organization, complete as it is in most essential details,
lacked in its personnel for the moment a person of address to undertake
the steering and the convincing--to worm a way into the good graces of
the prospective quarry; to find out approximately about how much in
dollars and cents he might reasonably be expected to yield, and then to
stand by in the pose of a pretended fellow investor and fellow loser,
while the cleaning up of the plunger was done by the competent but
crude-mannered Messrs. Sigmund and Alfred Gulwing and their associates.
For the important rôle of the convincer Marr was suited above all
others. It was represented to him that he could slip back to town and,
all the while keeping well under cover, rib up the customer to go, as
the trade term has it, and then withdraw again to the Dominion. A price
was fixed, based on a sliding scale, and Marr returned to New York.

Three days from the day he reached town the Westerner, whose name was
Hartridge, lunched with him as his guest at the Roychester, a small,
discreetly run hotel in Forty-sixth Street. After luncheon they sat down
in the lobby for a smoke. For good and sufficient reasons Marr preferred
as quiet a spot and as secluded a one as the lobby of the hotel might
offer. He found it where a small red-leather sofa built for two stood in
a sort of recess formed on one side by a jog in the wall and on the
other side by the switchboard and the two booths which constituted the
Roychester's public telephone equipment. To call the guest rooms one
made use of an instrument on the clerk's desk, farther over to the left.

To this retreat Marr guided the big Oregonian. From it he had a fairly
complete view of the lobby. This was essential since presently, if
things went well or if they did not go well, he must privily give a
designated signal for the benefit of a Gulwing underling, a lesser
member of the mob, who was already on hand, standing off and on in the
offing. Sitting there Marr was well protected from the view of persons
passing through, bound to or from the grill room, the desk or the
elevators. This also was as it should be. Better still, he was
practically out of sight of those who might approach the telephone
operator to enlist her services in securing outside calls. The
outjutting furniture of her desk and the flanks of the nearermost pay
booth hid him from them; only the top of the young woman's head was
visible as she sat ten feet away, facing her perforated board.

The voices of her patrons came to him, and her voice as she repeated the
numbers after them: "Greenwich 978, please."

"Larchmont 54 party J."

"Worth 9009, please, miss."

"Vanderbilt 100."

And so on and so forth, in a steady patter, like raindrops falling; but
though he could hear he could not be seen. Altogether, the spot was, for
his own purposes, admirably arranged.

So they sat and smoked, and pretty soon, the occasion and the conditions
and the time being ripe, Marr outlined to his new friend Hartridge, on
pledge of secrecy, a wonderfully safe and wonderfully simple plan for
taking its ill-gotten money away from a Tenderloin pool room. Swiftly he
sketched in the details; the opportunity, he divulged in strict
confidence, had just come to him. He confessed to having taken a great
liking to Hartridge during their short acquaintance; Hartridge had
impressed him as one who might be counted upon to know a good thing when
he saw it, and so, inspired by these convictions, he was going to give
Hartridge a chance to join him in the plunge and share with him the
juicy proceeds. Besides, the more money risked the greater the killing.
He himself had certain funds in hand, but more funds were needed if a
real fortune was to be realized.

There was need, though, for prompt decision on the part of all
concerned, because that very afternoon--in fact, within that same
hour--there in the Roychester he was to meet, by appointment, the
conniving manager of an uptown branch office of the telegraph company,
who would coöperate in the undertaking and upon whose good offices in
withholding flashed race results at Belmont Park until his fellow
conspirators, acting on the information, could get their bets down upon
the winners, depended the success of the venture. Only, strictly
speaking, it would not be a venture at all, but a moral certainty, a
cinch, the surest of all sure things. Guaranties against mischance
entailing loss would be provided; he could promise his friend Hartridge
that; and the telegraph manager, when he came shortly, would add further
proof.

The question then was: Would Hartridge join him as a partner? And if so,
about how much, in round figures, would Hartridge be willing to put up?
He must know this in advance because he was prepared to match
Hartridge's investment dollar for dollar.

And at that Hartridge, to Marr's most sincere discomfiture, shook his
head.

"I'll tell you how it is with me," said Hartridge. "These broker fellows
downtown have been touchin' me up purty hard. I guess this here New York
game ain't exactly my game. I'm aimin' to close up what little deals
I've still got on here and beat it back to God's country while I've
still got a shirt on my back. I'm much obliged to you, Markham, for
wantin' to take me into your scheme. It sounds good the way you tell it,
but it seems like ever'thing round this burg sounds good till you test
it out--and so I guess you better count me out and find yourself a
partner somewheres else."

There was definiteness in his refusal; the shake of his head emphasized
it too. Marr's rôle should have been the persuasive, the insistent, the
argumentative, the cajoling; but Marr was distinctly out of temper.

Here he had ventured into danger to play for a fat purse and all he
would get for his trouble and his pains and the risk he had run would
be just those things--pains and trouble and risk--these, and nothing
more nourishing.

"Oh, very well then, Hartridge," he said angrily, "if you haven't any
confidence in me--if you can't see that this is a play that naturally
can't go wrong--why, we'll let it drop."

"Oh, I've got confidence in you--" began Hartridge, but Marr, no
patience left in him, cut him short.

"Looks like it, doesn't it?" he snapped. "Forget it! Let's talk about
the weather."

He lifted his straw hat as though to ease its pressure upon his head and
then settled it well down over his eyes. This was the sign to the
Gulwings' messenger, watching him covertly from behind a newspaper over
on the far side of the lobby, that the plan had failed. The signal he
had so confidently expected to give--a trick of relighting his cigar and
flipping the match into the air--would have conveyed to the watcher the
information that all augured well. The latter's job then would have been
to get up from his chair and step outside and bear the word to Sig
Gulwing, who, letter-perfect in the part of the conspiring telegraph
manager, would promptly enter and present himself to Marr, and by Marr
be introduced to the Westerner. The hat-shifting device had been devised
in the remote contingency of failure on Marr's part to win over the
chosen victim. Plainly the collapse of the plot had been totally
unexpected by the messenger. Over his paper he stared at Marr until
Marr repeated the gesture. Then, fully convinced now that there had been
no mistake, the messenger arose and headed for the door, the whole
thing--signaling, duplicated signaling and all--having taken very much
less time for its action than has here been required to describe it.

The signal bearer had taken perhaps five steps when Hartridge spoke
words which instantly filled Marr with regret that he had been so
impetuously prompt to take a no for a no.

"Say, hold your hosses, Markham," said Hartridge contritely. "Don't be
in such a hurry! Come to think about it, I might go so far as to risk
altogether as much, say, as eight or ten thousand dollars in this scheme
of yours--I don't want to be a piker."

In the hundredth part of a second Marr's mind reacted; his brain was
galvanized into speedy action. Ten thousand wasn't very much--not nearly
so much as he had counted on--still, ten thousand dollars was ten
thousand dollars; besides, if the Gulwings did their work cannily the
ten thousand ought to be merely a starter, an initiation fee, really,
for the victim. Once he was enmeshed, trust Sig and Alf to trim him to
his underwear; the machinery of the wire-tapping game was geared for
just that.

He must stop the departing messenger then, must make him understand that
the wrong sign had been given and that the fish was nibbling the bait.
Yet the messenger's back was to them; ten steps, fifteen steps more, and
he would be out of the door.

For Marr suddenly to hail a man he was supposed not to know might be
fatal; almost surely at this critical moment it would stir up suspicion
in Hartridge's mind. Yet some way, somehow, at once, he must stop the
word bearer. But how? That was it--how?

Ah, he had it! In the fraction of a moment he had it. It came to him
now, fully formed, the shape of it conjured up out of that jumble of
words which had been flowing to him from the telephone desk all the
while he had been sitting there and which had registered subconsciously
in his quick brain. The pause, naturally spaced, which fell between
Hartridge's 'bout-faced concession and Marr's reply, was not unduly
lengthened, yet in that flash of time Marr had analyzed the puzzle of
the situation and had found the answer to it.

"Bully, Hartridge!" he exclaimed. "You'll never regret it. Our man ought
to be here any minute now.... By Jove! That reminds me--I meant to
telephone for some tickets for to-night's Follies--you're going with me
as my guest. Just a moment!"

He got on his feet and as he came out of the corner and still was eight
feet distant from the telephone girl, he called out loudly, as a man
might call whose hurried anxiety to get an important number made him
careless of the pitch of his voice: "Worth 10,000! Worth 10,000!"

He feared to look toward the door--yet. For the moment he must seem
concerned only with the hasty business of telephoning.

Annoyed by his shouting, the girl raised her head and stared at him as
he came toward her.

"What's the excitement?" she demanded.

With enhanced vehemence he answered, putting on the key words all the
emphasis he dared employ:

"I should think anybody in hearing could understand what I said and what
I meant--_Worth 10,000_!"

He was alongside her now; he could risk a glance toward the door. He
looked, and his heart rejoiced inside of him, for the messenger had
swung about, as had half a dozen others, all arrested by the harshness
of his words--and the messenger was staring at him. Marr gave the
correct signal--with quick well-simulated nervousness drew a loose match
from his waistcoat pocket, struck it, applied it to his cigar, then
flipped the still burning match halfway across the floor. No need for
him again to look--he knew the artifice had succeeded.

"Here's your number," said the affronted young woman. With a vicious
little slam she stuck a metal plug into its proper hole.

Marr had not the least idea what concern or what individual owned Worth
10,000 for a telephone number. Nor did it concern him now. Even so, he
must of course carry out the pretense which so well had served him in
the emergency. He entered the booth, leaving the door open for
Hartridge's benefit.

"Hello, hello!" he called into the transmitter. "This is V. C. Markham
speaking. I want to speak to"--he uttered the first name which popped
into his mind--"to George Spillane. Want to order some tickets for a
show to-night." He paused a moment for the sake of the verities; then,
paying no heed to the confused rejoinder coming to him from the other
end of the wire, and improvising to round out his play, went on: "What's
that?... Not there? Oh, very well! I'll call him later.... No, never
mind, Spillane's the man I want. I'll call again."

He hung up the receiver. Out of the tail of his eye as he hung it up he
saw Sig Gulwing just entering the hotel, in proper disguise for the
character of the district telegraph manager with a grudge against pool
rooms and a plan for making enough at one coup to enable him to quit his
present job; the job was mythical, and the grudge, too--bits merely of
the fraudulent drama now about to be played--but surely Gulwing was most
solid and dependable and plausible looking. His make-up was perfect. To
get here so soon after receiving the cue he must have been awaiting the
word just outside the entrance. Gulwing was smart but he was not so
smart as Marr--Marr exulted to himself. In high good humor, he dropped
a dollar bill at the girl's elbow.

"Pay for the call out of that, miss, and keep the change," he said
genially. "Sorry I was so boisterous just now."

Thirty minutes later, still radiating gratification, Marr stood at the
cigar stand making a discriminating choice of the best in the humidor of
imported goods. Gulwing and Hartridge were over there on the sofa, cheek
by jowl, and all was going well.

Half aloud, to himself, he said, smiling in prime content: "Well, I
guess I'm bad!"

"I guess you are!" said a voice right in his ear; "and you're due to be
worse, Chappy, old boy--much worse!"

The smile slipped. He turned his head and looked into the complacent,
chubby face and the pleased eyes of M. J. Brock, head of Brock's
Detective Agency--the man of all men in this world he wished least to
see. For once, anyhow, in his life Marr was shaken, and showed it.

"That's all right, Chappy," said Brock soothingly, rocking his short
plump figure on his heels; "there won't be any rough stuff. I've got a
cop off the corner who's waiting outside if I should need him--in case
of a jam--but I guess we won't need him, will we? You'll go along with
me nice and friendly in a taxicab, won't you?" He flirted his thumb over
his shoulder. "And you needn't bother about Gulwing either. I've seen
him--saw him as soon as I came in. I guess he'll be seeing me in a
minute, too, and then he'll suddenly remember where it was he left his
umbrella and take it on the hop."

Marr said not a word. Brock rattled on in high spirits, still
maintaining that cat-with-a-mouse attitude which was characteristic of
him.

"Never mind worrying about old pal Gulwing--I don't want him now. You're
the one you'd better be worrying about; because that's going to be a
mighty long taxi ride that you're going to take with me, Chappy--fifteen
minutes to get there, say, and anywhere from five to ten years to get
back--or I miss my guess.... Yes, Chappy, you're nailed with the goods
this time. Propbridge is going through; his wife too. They'll go to
court; they'll shove the case. And Cheesy Zaugbaum has come clean. Oh, I
guess it's curtains for you all right, all right."

"You don't exactly hate yourself, do you?" gibed Marr. "Sort of pleased
with yourself?"

"Not so much pleased with myself as disappointed in you, Chappy,"
countered the exultant Brock. "I figured you were different from the
rest of your crowd, maybe; but it turns out you're like all the
others--you will do your thinking in a groove." He shook his head in
mock sorrow. "Chappy, tell me--not that it makes any difference
particularly, but just to satisfy my curiosity--curiosity being my
business, as you might say--what number was it you called up from here
about thirty minutes back? Come on. The young lady over yonder will tell
me if you don't. Was it Worth 10,000?"

"Yes," said Marr, "it was."

"I thought so," said Brock. "I guessed as much. But say Chappy, that's
the trunk number of the Herald. Before this you never were the one to
try to break into the newspapers on your own hook. What did you want
with that number?"

"That's my business," said Marr.

"Have it your way," assented Brock with ironic mildness. "Now, Chappy,
follow me a minute and you'll see how you dished your own beans: You
call up Worth 10,000--that's a private matter, as you say. But Central
gets the call twisted and gives you another number--that's a mistake.
And the number she happens to give you is the number of my new branch
office down in the financial district--that's an accident. And the
fellow who answers the call at my shop happens to be Costigan, my chief
assistant, who's been working on the Propbridge case for five weeks
now--and that's a coincidence. He doesn't recognize your voice over the
wire--that would be luck. But when, like a saphead, you pull your new
moniker, but with the same old initials hitched to it, and when on top
of that you ask for George Spillane, which is Cheesy by his most popular
alias--when you do these things, why Chappy, it's your own fault.

"Because Costigan is on then, bigger than a house. You've tipped him
your hand, see? And with our connections it's easy--and quick--for
Costigan to trace the call to this hotel. And inside of two minutes
after that he has me on the wire at my uptown office over here in West
Fortieth. And here I am; as a matter of fact, I've been here all of
fifteen minutes.

"It all proves one thing to me, Chappy. You're wiser than the run of
'em, but you've got your weak spot, and now I know what it is: You think
in a groove, Chappy, and this time, by looking at the far end of the
groove, you can see little old Warble-Twice-on-the-Hudson looming up.
And you won't have to look very hard to see it, either.... Well, I see
Gulwing has taken a tumble to himself and has gone on a run to look for
his umbrella. Suppose we start on our little taxi ride, old groove
thinker?"



CHAPTER VII

MR. LOBEL'S APOPLEXY


The real purpose of this is to tell about Mr. Lobel's attack of
apoplexy. What comes before must necessarily be in its nature
preliminary and preparatory, leading up to the climactic stroke which
leaves the distinguished victim stretched upon the bed of affliction.

First let us introduce our principal. Reader, meet Mr. Max Lobel,
president of Lobel Masterfilms, Inc., also its founder, its chief
stockholder and its general manager. He is a short, broad, thick,
globular man and a bald one, wearing gold-rimmed spectacles, carrying a
gold-headed cane and using a private gold-mounted toothpick after meals.
His collars are of that old-fashioned open-faced kind such as our
fathers and Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Sr., used to wear; collars rearing
at the back but shorn widely away in front to show two things--namely,
the Adam's apple and that Mr. Lobel is conservative. But for his
neckwear he patronizes those shops where ties are exclusively referred
to as _scarves_ and cost from five dollars apiece up, which proves also
he is progressive and keeps abreast of the times. When he walks he
favors his feet. Mostly, though, he rides in as good a car as domestic
currency can buy in foreign marts.

Aside from his consuming desire to turn out those surpassing
achievements of the cellular-cinema art known as Lobel's Masterfilms, he
has in life two great passions, one personal in its character, the other
national in its scope--the first a craving for fancy waistcoats, the
second a yearning to see the name of Max Lobel in print as often as
possible and in as large letters as likewise is possible; and for either
of these is a plausible explanation. Mr. Lobel has a figure excellently
shaped for presenting the patternings of a fanciful stomacher to the
world and up until a few years ago there were few occasions when he
might hope to see the name Lobel in print. For, know you, Mr. Lobel has
not always been in the moving-picture business. Nobody in the
moving-picture business has always been in the moving-picture
business--excepting some of the child wonders under ten years of age.
And ten years ago our hero was the M. Lobel Company, cloak and suit
jobbers in rather an inconspicuous Eastern town.

What was true of him as regards his comparatively recent advent into the
producing and distributing fields was true of his major associates.
Back in 1911 the vice president and second in command, Mr. F. X.
Quinlan, moved upward into a struggling infantile industry via the
stepping-stone of what in the vernacular of his former calling is known
as a mitt joint--summers at Coney, winters in store pitches--where he
guided the professional destinies of Madame Zaharat, the Egyptian
seeress, in private, then as now, Mrs. F. X. Quinlan née Clardy.

The treasurer and secretary, Mr. Simeon Geltfin, had once upon a time
been proprietor of the Ne Plus Ultra Misfit Clothing Parlors at Utica,
New York, a place where secondhand habiliments, scoured and ironed,
dangled luringly in show windows bearing such enticing labels as
"Tailor's Sample--Nobby--$9.80," "Bargain--Take Me Home For $5.60," and
"These Trousers Were Uncalled For--$2.75."

The premier director, Mr. Bertram Colfax, numbered not one but two
chrysalis changes in his career. In the grub stage, as it were, he had
begun life as Lemuel Sims, a very grubby grub indeed, becoming Colfax at
the same time he became property man for a repertoire troupe playing
county-fair weeks in the Middle West.

As for the scenario editor and continuity writer, he in a prior
condition of life had solicited advertisements for a trade journal. So
it went right down the line.

At the time of the beginning of this narrative Lobel Masterfilms, Inc.,
had attained an eminence of what might be called fair-to-medium
prominence in the moving-picture field. In other words, it now was able
to pay its stars salaries running up into the multiples of tens of
thousands of dollars a year and the bank which carried its paper had not
yet felt justified in installing a chartered accountant in the home
offices to check the finances and collect the interest on the loans
outstanding. Before reaching this position the concern had passed
through nearly all the customary intervening stages. Nearly a decade
rearward, back in the dark ages of the filmic cosmos, the Jurassic
Period of pictures, so to speak, this little group of pathfinders
tracking under the chieftainship of Mr. Lobel into almost uncharted
wilds of artistic endeavor had dabbled in slap-stick one reelers
featuring the plastic pie and the treacherous seltzer siphon, also the
trick staircase, the educated mustache and the performing doormat.

Next--following along the line of least resistance--the adventurers went
in more or less extensively for wild-western dramas replete with
stagecoach robberies and abounding in hair pants. If the head bad
man--not the secondary bad man who stayed bad all through, or the
tertiary bad man who was fatally extinguished with gun-fire in Reel Two,
but the chief, or primary, bad man who reformed and married Little Nell,
the unspoiled child of Death Valley--wore the smartest frontier get-up
of current year's vintage that the Chicago mail-order houses could turn
out; if Little Nell's father, appearing contemporaneously, dressed
according to the mode laid down for Forty-niners by such indubitable
authorities as Bret Harte; if the sheriff stalked in and out of lens
range attired as a Mississippi River gambler was popularly supposed to
have been attired in the period 1860 to 1875; and if finally the cavalry
troopers from the near-by army post sported the wide hats and khaki
shirts which came into governmental vogue about the time of the Spanish
War, all very well and good. The action was everything; the sartorial
accessories were as they might be and were and frequently still are.

Along here there intruded a season when the Lobel shop tentatively
experimented with costume dramas--the Prisoner of Chillon wearing the
conventional black and white in alternating stripes of a Georgia chain
gang and doing the old Sing Sing lock step and retiring for the night to
his donjon cell with a set of shiny and rather modern-looking leg irons
on his ankles; Mary Queen of Scots and Catharine de' Medici in costumes
strikingly similar; Oliver Goldsmith in Sir Walter Raleigh's neck ruff
and Captain Kidd's jack boots.

But this season endured not for long. Costume stuff was nix. It was not
what the public wanted. It was over their heads. Mr. Lobel himself said
so. Wake him up in the middle of the night and he could tell you exactly
what the public did and did not want. Divining the popular will amounted
with him to a gift; it approximated an exact art; really it formed the
corner stone of his success. Likewise he knew--but this knowledge
perhaps had come to him partly by experience rather than altogether by
intuition--that historical ten reelers dealing with epochal events in
the life of our own people were entirely unsuited for general
consumption.

When this particular topic untactfully was broached in his presence Mr.
Lobel, recalling the fate of the elaborate feature entitled Let Freedom
Ring, had been known to sputter violently and vehemently. Upon this
production--now abiding as a memory only, yet a memory bitter as
aloes--he had spared neither expense nor pains, even going so far as
personally to direct the filming of all the principal scenes. And to
what ends? Captious critics, including those who wrote for the daily
press and those who merely sent in offensive letters--college professors
and such like cheap high-brows--had raised yawping voices to point out
that Paul Revere galloping along the pre-Revolutionary turnpike to
spread the alarm passed en route two garages and one electric power
house; that Washington crossing the Delaware stood in the bow of his
skiff half shrouded in an American flag bearing forty-eight stars upon
its field of blue; that Andrew Jackson's riflemen filing out from New
Orleans to take station behind their cotton-bale breastworks marched for
some distance beneath a network of trolley wires; that Abraham Lincoln
signing the Emancipation Proclamation did so while seated at a desk in a
room which contained in addition to Lincoln and the desk and the
Proclamation a typewriter and a Persian rug; that at Manila Bay Admiral
Dewey wore spats and a wrist watch.

But these primitive adventurings, these earlier pioneering quests into
the realm of the speculative were all in limbo behind them, all wiped
off the slate, in part forgiven, in a measure forgotten. Since that
primitive beginning and those formulative middle periods Lobel
Masterfilms had found their field, and having found it, now plowed and
tilled it. To those familiar with the rise and the ever-forward movement
of this, now the fourth largest industry in the civilized globe--or is
it the third?--it sufficiently will fix the stage of evolutionary
development attained by this component unit of that industry when I
state that Lobel Masterfilms now dealt preponderantly with vampires. To
be sure, it continued to handle such side lines as taffy-haired ingénues
from the country, set adrift among the wiles and pitfalls of a cruel
city; such incidentals as soft-pie comickers and chin-whiskered
by-Hectors; such necessary by-products as rarely beautiful he-juveniles
with plush eyelashes and the hair combed slickly back off the forehead
in the approved Hudson seal effect--splendid, manly youths these, who
might have dodged a draft or two but never yet had flinched from before
the camera's aiming muzzle. But even though it had to be conceded that
Goldilockses and Prince Charmings endure and that while drolls and
jesters may come and go, pies are permanent and stale not, neither do
they wither; still, and with all that, such like as these were, in the
Lobel scheme of things, merely so many side lines and incidentals and
by-products devised and designed to fatten out a program.

Where Mr. Lobel excelled was in the vamp stuff. Even his competitors
admitted it the while they vainly strove to rival him. In this, his own
chosen realm of exploration and conquest he stood supremely alone; a
monarch anointed with the holy oils of superiority, coroneted with
success's glittering diadem. Look at his Woman of a Million Sins! Look
at his Satan's Stepchild, or How Human Souls are Dragged Down to Hell,
in six reels! Look at A Daughter of Darkness! Look at The Wrecker of
Lives! Look at The Spider Lady, or The Net Where Men Were the Flies!
Look at Fair of Face Yet Black of Heart! All of them his, all box-office
best bets and all still going strong!

Moreover by now Lobel Masterfilms had progressed to that milestone on
the path of progress and enterprise where genuine live authors--guys
that wrote regular books--frequently furnished vehicles for stardom's
regal usages. By purchase, upon the basis of so much cash or--as the
case might be--so little cash down on the signing of the contract and
the promise of so much more--often very very much more--to be paid in
royalties out of accrued net profits, the rights to a published work
would be acquired. Its name, say, was A Commonplace Person, which
promptly would be changed in executive conclave to The Cataract of
Destiny, or perhaps Fate's Plaything, or in any event some good catchy
title which would look well in electrics and on three sheets.

This important point having been decided on, Mr. Ab Connors, the
scenario editor, would take the script in hand to labor and bring forth
the screen adaptation. If the principal character in the work, as
originally evolved by her creator, was the daughter of a storekeeper in
a small town in Indiana who ran away from home and went to Chicago to
learn the millinery business, he, wielding a ruthless but gifted blue
pencil, would speedily transform her into the ebon-hearted heiress of a
Klondyke millionaire, an angel without but a harpy within, and after
opening up Reel One with scenes in a Yukon dance hall speedily would
move all the important characters to New York, where the plot thickened
so fast that only a succession of fade-outs and fade-ins, close-ups and
cut-backs saved it from clabbering right on Mr. Connors' hands.

The rest would be largely a matter of continuity and after that there
was nothing to worry about except picking out the cast and the locations
and building the sets and starting to shoot and mayhap detailing a head
office boy to stall off the author in case that poor boob came butting
in kicking about changes in his story or squawking about overdue royalty
statements or something. Anyhow, what did he know--what could he be
expected to know--about continuity or what the public wanted or what the
limitations and the possibilities of the screen were? He merely was the
poor fish who'd wrote the book and he should ought to be grateful that a
fellow with a real noodle had took his stuff and cut all that dull
descriptive junk out of it and stuck some pep and action and punch and
zip into the thing and wrote some live snappy subtitles, instead of
coming round every little while, like he was, horning in and beefing all
over the place.

And besides, wasn't he going to have his name printed in all the
advertising matter and flashed on the screen, too, in letters nearly a
fifth as tall as the letters of Mr. Lobel's name and nearly one-third as
tall as the name of the star and nearly one-half as tall as the name of
the director and nearly--if not quite--as tall as the name of the camera
man, and so get a lot of absolutely free advertising that would be
worth thousands of dollars to him and start people all over the country
to hearing about him? Certainly he was! And yet, with all that, was
there any satisfying some of these cheap ginks? The answer was that
there was not.

There was never any trouble, though, about casting the principal rôle.
That was easy--a matter of natural selection. If it could be played
vampishly from the ground up, and it usually could--trust Mr. Connors
for that--it went without question to Vida Monte, greatest of all the
luminaries in the Lobel constellation and by universal acknowledgment
the best vampire in the business. In vampiring Vida Monte it was who
led; others imitatively followed. Compared with her these envying lady
copy cats were as pale paprikas are to the real tabasco. Five pictures
she had done for Lobel Masterfilms since placing herself under Lobel's
management and a Lobel contract, all of them overpowering knock-outs,
sensations, sure-fire hits. On the sixth she now was at work and her
proud employer in conversation and in announcements to the trade stood
sponsor for the pledge that in its filming Monte literally would
out-Monte Monte.

Making his word good, he took over volunteer supervision of the main
scenes. His high-domed forehead glistening with sweat, his spectacles
aflame like twin burning glasses, his coat off, his collar off, his
waistcoat off, he snorted and churned, a ninety-horse dynamo of a
little fat man, through the hot glary studio, demanding this
improvement, detecting that defect, calling for this, that or the other
perfect thing in a voice which would have detained the admiring ear of
an experienced bull whacker. Before him Josephson, the little camera
man, quailed. From his path extra people departed, fleeing headlong; and
in his presence property men were as though they were not and never had
been. Out of the hands of Bertram Colfax, born Sims, he wrenched a
megaphone and through it he bellowed:

"Put more punch in it, Monte--that's what I'm asking you for--the punch!
Choke her, Harcourt! Choke him right back, Monte! Now-w-w then, clinch!
Clinch and hang on! Good! And now the kiss! You know, Monte, the long
kiss--the genuwine Monte kiss! Oh, if you love me, Monte, give me
footage on that kiss! That's it--hold it! Hold it! Keep on holding it!"

"But, Mr. Lobel, now," protested Colfax, born a Sims but living it down
and feeling that never more than at this minute, when rudely the
steersman's helm had been snatched from his grasp, was there greater
need that he should be a Colfax through and through----"but, Mr. Lobel,
it was my idea that up to this point anyway the action should be played
with restraint to sort of prepare the way for----"

"What do you mean restraint?"

"Well, I thought to emphasize what comes later--for a sort of
comparative value--that if we were just a little subtle at the
beginning--"

"Sufficient, Colfax! Listen! Don't come talking to me about no subtles!
When you're working the supporting members of the cast you maybe could
stick in some subtles once in a while to salve them censors, but so far
as Monte is concerned you leave 'em out!"

"But--but--"

"Don't but me any buts! Listen! Ain't I taken my paralyzed oath that
this here picture should make all the other vamp pictures which ever
were taken look like pikers? I have! Listen! For Monte, the way I feel,
I shouldn't care if she don't do a single subtle in the whole damn
picture."

He had taken his paralyzed oath and he kept it. It was a wonderful
story. The queen of the apaches, ruling the Parisian underworld by her
fire, her beauty, her courage, accepts German gold to betray her
country, and attempts by siren wiles to seduce from the path of duty
Capt. Stuyvesant Schuyler of the U. S. A. general staff; almost succeeds
too because of his blind passion for this glorious, sinful creature. At
the crucial moment, when about to surrender to his Delilah secrets which
would destroy the entire Allied cause and open the gates of Paris to the
conquering foe, he is saved by a vision of his sainted,
fade-in-and-fade-out mother's face. Overcome with remorse, he resigns
his commission, and fleeing from temptation returns to America, a
broken-hearted man; proves heart is broken by constantly pressing
clenched hand to left breast as though to prevent pieces from slipping
down into the abdominal cavity. Distress of the apache queen on finding
her intended victim gone. Suddenly a real love, not the love of the
wanton, but a purer, deeper emotion wakens in her breast. Close-up
showing muscular reflexes produced upon the human face by wakening
processes in the heart.

Quitting the gay life, she follows him to Land of Free. Finds him about
to marry his sweetheart of childhood, a New York society girl worth
uncounted millions but just middling looking. Prompt bust-up of
childhood sweetheart's romance. Abandonment of social position, wealth,
everything by Schuyler, who declares he will make the stranger his
bride--accompanying subtitle, "What should we care what the world may
say? For after all, love is all!" Discovery on day before marriage of
papers proving that Lolita--that's the lady apache's name--is really
Schuyler's half sister, due to carryings-on of Schuyler's late father as
a young art student in Paris with Lolita's mother, a famous gypsy model.
Renunciation by Lolita of Schuyler. Her suicide by imbibing poison from
secret receptacle in ring. Schuyler, after registering copious grief,
reënters American Army under assumed name as a private in the ranks.
Returns to battlefield in time to take part in decisive action of the
war. All the officers in his brigade above the rank of corporal having
apparently been killed by one devastating blast of high explosive, he
assumes command and leads dauntless charge of the heavy artillery
through the Hindenburg Line. Is made a colonel on the spot. Rides up
Fifth Avenue alongside of Pershing in grand triumphant parade of
home-coming First Division, carrying a large flag and occasionally
chatting pleasantly with Pershing. On eve of marriage to childhood's
sweetheart, who remains faithful, he goes to lonely spot where Lolita
lies buried and places upon the silent mound her favorite flower, a
single long-stemmed tiger lily. Fade out--finish!

Artistically, picturesquely, from the standpoint of timeliness, from the
standpoint of vampirishness, from any standpoint at all, it satisfied
fully every demand. It was one succession of thrilling, gripping,
heart-lifting scenes set amid vividly contrasting surroundings--the
lowest dive in all Paris; the citadel at Verdun; grand ballroom of the
Schuyler mansion at Newport; the Place Vendôme on a day when it was
entirely unoccupied except by moving-picture actors; Fifth Avenue on its
most gala occasion--these were but a few samples. The subtitles fairly
hissed to the sibilant swishing of such words as traitress, temptress,
tigress and sorceress. And the name of it--you'd never guess--the name
of it was The She-Demon's Doom! When Mr. Lobel spoke those words
inspired he literally took them up in his arms and fondled them and
kissed them on the temples. And why not? They were his own brain
children.

He had kept his paralyzed word and he could prove it. For because this
Vida Monte was one of those mimetic pieces of flesh which, without any
special mental coöperation, may alter the body, the face, the muscles,
the expression, the very look out of the eyes, to suit the demands of
prompters and teachers; because of the plan of direction so powerfully
engineered by the master mind of Lobel and, under Lobel, the lesser mind
of Colfax, born Sims; because of the very nature of the rôle of Lolita
the abandoned, this picture was more daring, more sensual, more filled
up with voluptuous suggestion, with coiling, clinging, writhing
snakiness, with rampant, naked sexuality--in short and in fine was more
vampirishly vampiratious than this, the greatest of all modern mediums
for the education, the moral uplift and the entertainment of the masses,
had ever known.

And then one week to the day after Mr. Lobel shot the last scene she up
and died on him.

That is to say, a woman named Glassman, a Hungarian by birth, in age
thirty-two years, widowed and without children or known next of kin,
died in a small bungalow in a small town up in the coast range north of
Los Angeles. When the picture was done and Vida Monte took off the
barbaric trappings and the heavy paste jewels and the clinging reptilian
half gowns of the rôle she played, with them she took off and laid aside
the animal emotionalism, the theatricalistic fever and fervor, the
passion and the lure that professionally made up Vida Monte, movie star.
She took off even the very aspect of herself as the show shop and as
patrons of the cinemas knew her; and she put on a simple traveling gown
and she tucked her black hair up in coils beneath a severely plain hat
and she became what really she was and always had been--a quiet,
self-contained, frugal and--except for her splendid eyes, her fine
figure and her full mobile mouth--a not particularly striking-looking
woman, by name Sarah Glassman, which was, in fact, her name; and quite
alone she got on a train and she went up into the foothills to a tiny
bungalow which she had rented there for a month or so to live alone, to
do her own simple housekeeping, to sew and to read and to rest.

It was the day after the taking of the last segment of the picture that
she went away. It was four days later that she sickened of the Spanish
influenza, so called. It was not Spanish and not influenza, though by
any other name it would have been as deadly in its devastating sweep
across this country. And it was within forty-eight hours after that, on
a November afternoon, that word came to the Lobel plant that she was
dead. Down there they had not known even that she was sick.

"The doctor in that there little jay town up there by the name
Hamletsburg is the one which just gets me on the long-distance telephone
and tells me that she died maybe half an hour ago."

Mr. Lobel in his private office was telling it to Vice President Quinlan
and Secretary-Treasurer Geltfin, the only two among his associates that
his messenger had been able to find about the executive department at
the moment. He continued:

"Coming like a complete shock, you could 'a' knocked me down with a
feather, I assure you. For a minute I couldn't believe it. This doctor
he has to say it to me twice before I get it into my head.
Shocking--huh? Sudden--huh? Awful--what? You bet you! That poor girl,
for her my heart is bleeding. Dead and gone like that, with absolutely
practically no warning! It don't seem possible! Taken down day before
yesterday, the doctor says, and commenced getting from bad to worse
right away. And this morning she goes out of her head and at
two-forty-five this afternoon all of a sudden her heart gives out on her
and she is dead before anybody knows it. Awful, awful!"

Mr. Lobel wagged a mournful poll.

"More than awful--actually it is horrifying!" quoth Mr. Geltfin. Visibly
at least his distress seemed greater than the distress of either of the
others. "All off alone up there by herself in some little rube town it
must come to her! Maybe if she had been down here with specialists and
surgeons and nurses and all she would 'a' been saved. Too bad, too bad!
People got no business going away from a big town! Me, I get nervous
even on a motor trip in the country and--"

"Everything possible which could be done was done," resumed Mr. Lobel.
"So you don't need you should worry there, Geltfin. The doctor tells me
he can't get no regular trained nurse on account there is so much
sickness from this flu and no regular nurses there anyway, but he tells
me he brings in his wife which she understands nursing and he says the
wife sticks right there day and night and gives every attention. There
ain't nothing we should reproach ourselves about, and besides we didn't
know even she was sick--nobody knew.

"Dead and gone, poor girl, and not one week ago--six days, if I got to
be exact--she is sitting right there in that same seat where you're
sitting now, Geltfin, looking just as natural and healthy as what you
look, Geltfin; looking just as if nothing is ever going to happen to
her."

Mr. Geltfin had hastily risen and moved nearer the outer door.

"An awful thing--that flu!" he declared. "Lobel, do you think maybe she
could 'a' had the germs of it on her then?"

"Don't be a coward, Geltfin!" rebuked his senior severely. "Look at me
how I am not frightened, and yet it was me she seen last, not you!
Besides, only to-day I am reading where that big doctor in Cincinnati,
Ohio--Silverwater--says it is not a disease which you could catch from
somebody else until after they have actually got down sick with it. Yes,
sir, she sits right there telling me good-by. 'Mr. Lobel,' she says to
me--I had just handed her her check--'Mr. Lobel,' she says, 'always to
you,' she says, 'I should be grateful. Always to you,' she says, 'I
should give thanks that two years ago when I am practically
comparatively unknown you should 'a' given me my big chance.' In them
very words she says it, and me setting here at this desk listening at
her while she said so!

"Well, I ain't lost no time, boys. Before even I sent to find you I
already got busy. I've got Appel starting for up there in half an hour
in my car to take charge of everything and with orders to spare no
expense. The funeral what I am going to give that girl! Well, she
deserves it. Always a hard worker, always on the job, always she minds
her own business, always she saves her money, always a perfect lady,
never throwing any of these here temperamentals, never going off in any
of these here highsterics, never making a kick if something goes wrong
because it happens I ain't on the lot to run things, never----"

It threatened to become a soliloquy. This time it was Quinlan who
interrupted:

"You said it all, Lobel, and it's no need that you should go on saying
it any more. The main points, I take it, are that we're all sorry and
that we've lost one swell big asset by her dying--only it's lucky for us
she didn't take ill before we got through shooting The She-Demon."

"Lucky? Huh! Actually, lucky ain't the right word for it!" said the
president. "When I think of the fix we should 'a' been in if she hadn't
finished up the picture first, I assure you, boys, it gives me the
shivers. Right here and now in the middle of being sorry it gives me the
shivers!"

"It does, does it?" There was something so ominous in Mr. Geltfin's
sadly ironic remark--something in tone and accent so lugubriously
foreboding that his hearers swung about to stare at him. "It does, does
it? Well, all what I've got to say is, Lobel, you've got some shivers
coming to you! We've all got some shivers coming to us! Having this girl
die on us is bad business!"

"Sure it is," agreed the head, "but it might be worse. There's one
awful big salary cut off the pay roll and if we can't have her with
us no longer there's nobody else can have her. And the profits
from that last picture should ought to be something positively
enormous--stupendous--sensational. Listen! I bet you that from the hour
we release----"

"You ain't going to release!" broke in Geltfin, his wizen features
sharpening into a peaky mask of grief.

"Don't talk foolishness!" snapped Mr. Lobel. "For why shouldn't we be
going to release?"

"That's it--why?" Mr. Quinlan seconded the demand.

"Because you wouldn't dare do it!" In his desire to make clear his point
Mr. Geltfin fairly shoveled the words out of himself, bringing them
forth overlapping one another like shingles on a roof. "Because the
public wouldn't stand for it! Always you brag, Lobel, that you know what
the public want! Well then, would the public stand for a picture where a
good, decent, straight girl that's dead and will soon be in her grave is
for six reels doing all them suggestive vampire stunts like what you
yourself, Lobel, made her do? Would the public stand for calling a dead
woman names like she-demon? They would not--not in a thousand years--and
you should both know it without I should have to tell you! With some
pretty rough things we could get by, but with that thing we could never
get by! The public, I tell you, would not stand for it. No, sir; when
that girl died the picture died with her. You just think it over once!"

Out of popped eyes he glared at them. They glared at him, then they
looked at each other. Slowly Mr. Lobel's head drooped forward as though
an unseen hand pressed against the back of his neck. Quinlan casting his
eyes downward traced with one toe the pattern of the rug under his feet.

On top of one sudden blow, heavy and hard to bear, another now had
followed. Since Lobel had become one of the topnotchers with a
reputation to maintain, expenses had been climbing by high jumps, but
receipts had not kept pace with expenses. There were the vast salaries
which even the lesser drawing cards among the stars now demanded--and
got. There were war taxes, excess profit taxes, amusement taxes. There
was to be included in the reckoning the untimely fate of Let Freedom
Ring, a vastly costly thing and quickly laughed to death, yet a smarting
memory still. Its failure had put a crimp in the edge of the exchequer.
This stroke would run a wide fluting of deficit right through the middle
of it.

The pall of silence lasted no longer than it has here taken to describe
how it fell and enveloped them. Mr. Geltfin broke the silence without
lifting the prevalent gloom. Indeed his words but depressingly served to
darken it to a very hue of midnight.

"Besides," he added, "there is anyhow another reason. We know what a
nice clean girl she was in private life. We know that all them wild
romance stories about her was cooked up in the press department to make
the suckers believe that both on and off the screen she was the same.
But she wasn't, and so I for one should be afraid that if we put that
fillum out she'd come back from the dead to stop it!"

He sank his voice, glancing apprehensively over his shoulder.

"Lobel, you wouldn't dare do it!"

"Lobel," said Quinlan, "he's right! We wouldn't dare do it!"

"Quinlan," admitted Lobel, "it's right--I wouldn't dare do it."

In that same instant of his confession, though, Mr. Lobel bounded out of
his chair, magically changing from a dumpy static figure of woe into the
dynamo of energy and resourcefulness the glassed-in studios and the
out-of-door locations knew.

"I got it!" he whooped. "I got it!" He threw himself at an inner door of
the executive suite and jerked it open. "Appel," he shouted, "don't
start yet! I got more instructions still for you. And say, Appel, you
ain't seen nobody but only Quinlan and Geltfin--eh? You ain't told
nobody only just them? Good! Well, don't! Don't telephone nobody! Don't
speak a word to nobody! Don't move from where you are!"

He closed the door and stood against it as though to hold his private
secretary a close prisoner within, and faced his amazed partners.

"It's a cinch!" he proclaimed to them. "I just this minute thought it up
myself. If I must say it myself, always in a big emergency I can think
fast. Listen! Nobody ain't going to know Monte is dead; not for a year,
not maybe for two years; not until this last big picture is old and worn
out; not until we get good and ready they should know. Vida Monte, she
goes right on living till we say the word."

"But--but--"

"Wait, wait, can't you? If I must do all the quick thinking for this
shop shouldn't I sometimes get a word in sideways? What I'm telling you,
if you'll please let me, is this: The girl is dead all right! But nobody
knows it only me and you, Quinlan, and you, Geltfin, and Appel in this
next room here. Even the doctor up there at Hamletsburg he don't know it
and his wife she don't know it and nobody in all that town knows it. And
why don't they know? Because they think only it is a woman named Sarah
Glassman that is dead. Actually that sickness no doubt changed her so
that even if them rubes ever go to see high-class feature fillums there
didn't nobody recognize her. If they didn't suspect nothing when she was
alive, for why should they suspect something now she is dead? They
shouldn't and they won't and they can't!

"What give me the idea was, I just remembered that when the doctor
called me up he spoke only the name Glassman, not the name Monte. He
tells me he calls up here because he finds in her room where she died a
card with the name Lobel Masterfilms on it. And likewise also I just
remembered that in the excitement of getting such a sad news over the
telephone I don't tell him who really she is neither."

"Holy St. Patrick!" blurted Quinlan, up now on his feet. "You mean,
Lobel----"

"Wait, wait, I ain't done--I ain't hardly started!" With flapperlike
motions of his hands Mr. Lobel waved him down. "It's easy--a pipe.
Listen! To date her salary is paid. The day she went away I gave her a
check in full, and if she done what always before she does, it's in the
bank drawing interest. Let it go on staying in the bank drawing
interest. So far as we know, she ain't got no people in this country at
all. In the old country, in Hungary? Maybe, yes. But Hungary is yet all
torn up by this war--no regular government there, no regular mails, no
American consuls there, no nothing. Time for them foreigners that they
should get their hands on her property one year from now or two years or
three. They couldn't come to claim it even if we should notify them,
which we can't. They don't lose nothing by waiting. Instead they
gain--the interest it piles up.

"Should people ask questions, why then through the papers we give it out
that Miss Vida Monte is gone far off away somewhere for a long rest;
that maybe she don't take no more pictures for a long time. That should
make The She-Demon go all the better. And to-morrow up there in that
little rube town very quietly we bury Sarah Glassman, deceased, with
the burial certificate made out in her own name." He paused a moment to
enjoy his triumph. "Boys, when I myself think out something, am I right
or am I wrong?"

He answered his own question.

"I'm right!"

By the look on Quinlan's face he read conviction, consent, full and
hearty approval. But Geltfin wavered. Inside Geltfin superstition
wrestled with opposing thoughts. Upon him then Lobel, the master mind,
advanced, dominating the scene and the situation and determined also to
dominate the lesser personality.

"But--but say--but look here now, Lobel," stammered Geltfin, hesitating
on the verge of a decision, "she might come back."

"Geltfin," commanded Lobel, "you should please shut up. Do you want that
we should make a lot of money or do you want that we should lose a lot
of money? I ask you. Listen! The dead they don't come back. When just
now you made your spiel, that part of it which you said about the dead
coming back didn't worry me. It was the part which you said about the
public not standing for it that got me, because for once, anyhow, in
your life you were right and I give you right. But what the public don't
know don't hurt 'em. And the public won't know. You leave it to me!"

It was as though this argument had been a mighty arm outstretched to
shove him over the edge. Geltfin ceased to teeter on the brim--he fell
in. He nodded in surrender and Lobel quit patting him on the back to
wave the vice president into activity.

"Quinlan," he ordered as he might order an office boy, "get busy! Tell
'em to rush The She-Demon! Tell 'em to rush the subtitles and all! Tell
'em to rush out an announcement that the big fillum is going to be
released two months before expected--on account the demand of the public
is so strong to see sooner the greatest vampire feature ever fillumed."

Quinlan was no office boy, but he obeyed as smartly as might any newly
hired office boy.


If it was Mr. Lobel's genius which guided the course of action,
energizing and speeding it, neither could it be denied that circumstance
and yet again circumstance and on top of that more circumstance matched
in with hue and shade to give protective coloration to his plan.
Continued success for it as time should pass seemed assured and
guaranteed, seeing that Vida Monte, beyond the studios and off the
locations, had all her life walked a way so secluded, so inconspicuous
and so utterly commonplace that no human being, whether an attaché of
the company or an outsider, would be likely to miss her, or missing her,
to pry deeply into the causes for her absence. So much for the
contingencies of the future as those in the secret foresaw it. As for
the present, that was simplicity.

As quietly as she had moved in those earlier professional days of hers,
when she played small rôles in provincial stock companies; as quietly as
she had gone on living after film fame and film money came her way; as
quietly as she had laid her down and died, so--very quietly--was her
body put away in the little cemetery at Hamletsburg. To the physician
who had ministered to her, to his good-hearted wife, to the official who
issued the burial certificate, to the imported clergyman who held the
service, to the few villagers who gathered for the funeral, drawn by the
morbid lure which in isolated communities brings folk to any funeral--to
all of these the dead woman merely was a stranger with a strange name
who, temporarily abiding here, had fallen victim to the plague which
filled the land.

Of those who had a hand in the last mortal rôle she would ever play only
Lobel's private secretary, young Appel, who came to pay the bills and
take over the private effects of this Sarah Glassman and after some
fashion to play the rôles of next friend and chief mourner, kenned the
truth. The clergyman having done his duty by a deceased coreligionist,
to him unknown, went back to the city where he belonged. The physician
hurried away from the cemetery to minister to more patients than he
properly could care for. The townspeople scattered, intent upon their
own affairs. Appel returned to headquarters, reporting all well.

At headquarters all likewise went well--so briskly well in fact that
under the urge for haste things essential were accomplished in less time
by fewer craftsmen than had been the case since those primitive
beginnings when Lobel's, then a struggling short-handed concern,
frequently had doubled up its studio staffs for operative service in the
makeshift laboratory. Reporting progress to the president, Mr. Quinlan
expanded with self-satisfaction.

"I'm fixing to show you something in the way of a speed record," he
proudly proclaimed. "The way I looked at it, the fewer people I had
rushing this thing through the factory the less chance there was for
loose talk round the plant and the less loose talk there was going on
round the plant the less chance there was for maybe more loose talk
outside. Yes, I know we'd figured we'd got everything caulked up
air-tight, but I says to myself, 'What's the use in taking a chance on a
leak if you don't have to?'

"So I practically turned the big part of the job--developing and all the
rest of it--over to Josephson, same as we used to do back yonder when we
was starting out in this game and didn't have a regular film cutter and
the camera man had to jump in and develop and cut and assemble and print
and everything. Josephson shot all the scenes for The She-Demon--he
knows the run of it better even than the director does. Besides,
Josephson is naturally close-mouthed. He minds his own business and
never butts in anywhere. To look at him you can't never tell what he's
thinking about. But even if he suspected anything--and, of course, he
don't--he's the kind that'd know enough to keep his trap shut. So I've
had him working like a nailer and he's pretty near done.

"Soon as he had the negative ready, which was late yesterday afternoon
after you'd went home, I had it run off with nobody there but me and
Josephson, and I took a flash at it--and, Lobel, it's a bear! No need
for you to worry about the negative--it was a heap too long, of course,
in the shape it was yesterday, but it had everything in it we hoped
would be in it--and more besides.

"So then without losing a minute I stuck Josephson on the printing
machine himself. I'd already gave the girl on the machine a couple of
days off to get her out of the way. Josephson stayed on the job alone
pretty near all last night, I guess. He had things to himself without
anybody to bother him and I tell you he shoved it along.

"Connors ain't lost no time neither. He's got the subtitles pretty near
done, and believe it or not, as you're a mind to, but, Lobel, I'm
telling you that this time to-morrow morning and not a minute later I'll
have the first sample print all cut and assembled and ready for you to
give it a look! Then it'll just be a job of matching up the negative and
sticking in the subtitles and starting to turn out the positives faster
than the shipping-room gang can handle 'em. I guess that ain't moving,
heh?"

"Quinlan," said Mr. Lobel, "I give you right."


By making his word good to the minute the gratified Mr. Quinlan derived
additional gratification. At the time appointed they sat in darkness in
the body of the projection room--Lobel, Quinlan, Geltfin and Appel,
these four and none other--behind a door locked and barred. Promptly on
Quinlan's order the operator in the box behind them started his machine
and the accomplished rough draft of the great masterpiece leaped into
being and actuality upon the lit square toward which they faced.

The beginning was merely a beginning--graphic enough and offering
abundant proof that in this epochal undertaking the Lobel shop had
spared no expense to make the production sumptuous, but after all only
preliminary stuff to sauce the palate of the patron for a greater feast
to come and suitably to lead up to the introduction of the star. Soon
the star was projected upon the screen, a purring, graceful panther of a
woman, to change at once into a sinuous python of a woman and then to
merge the feline and the ophidian into a sinister, splendid, menacing
composite bespeaking the dramatic conception and the dramatic
presentment of all feminine evil, typifying in every move of the lithe,
half-clad body, in every shift of the big eyes, wickedness unleashed and
unashamed.

Mr. Lobel sitting unseen in the velvet blackness uttered grunts of
approbation. The greatest of all film vampires certainly had delivered
the goods in this her valedictory. Never before had she so well
delivered them. The grunting became a happy rumble.

But all this, too, was in a measure dedicatory--a foretaste of more
vivid episodes to follow, when the glorious siren, displaying to the
full her powers of fascination over the souls and the bodies of men,
would rise to heights yet greater and the primitive passion she so well
simulated would shine forth like a malignant jewel in a setting that was
semibarbaric and semicivilized, too, and altogether prodigal and lavish.
The first of these bigger scenes started--the scene where the queen of
the apaches set herself to win the price of her hire from the Germans by
seducing the young army officer into a betrayal of the Allied cause; the
same scene wherein at the time of filming it Mr. Lobel himself had taken
over direction from Colfax's hands.

The scene was launched, acquired headway, then was halted as a bellow
from Mr. Lobel warned the operator behind him to cut off the power.

"What the hell!" sputtered the master. "There's a blur on the picture
here, a sort of a kind of smokiness. Did you see it, Geltfin? Right
almost directly in front of Monte it all of a sudden comes! Did you,
Quinlan?"

"Sure I seen it," agreed Geltfin. "Like a spot--sort of."

"It wasn't on the negative when I seen it day before yesterday," stated
Quinlan. "I can swear to that. A little defect from faulty printing, I
guess."

"All right then," said Mr. Lobel. "Only where you got efficiency like I
got it in this plant such things should have no business occurring.

"Go on, operator--let's see how goes it from now on."

Out again two shadow figures--the vampire and the vampire's
prey--flashed in motion. Yes, the cloudy spot was there, a bit of murky
shadow drifting between the pair of figures and the audience. It
thickened and broadened--and then from the suddenly constricted throats
of the four watchers, almost as though all in the same moment an
invisible hand had laid gripping hold on each of their several
windpipes, came a chorused gasp.

For they saw how out of the drifting patch of spumy wrack there emerged
a shape vague and indistinct and ghostly, but taking on instantly the
sharpened outlines of one they recognized. It was the shape, not of Vida
Monte, the fabled wrecker of lives, but the shape of her other self,
Sarah Glassman, and the face it wore was not the face of the stage
vampire, aflame with the counterfeited evil which the actor woman had so
well known how to simulate but the real face of the real woman, who lay
dead and buried under a mound of fresh-cut sods seventy miles away--her
own face, melancholy and sadly placid, as God had fashioned it for her.

Out from the filmy umbra it advanced to the center, thus hiding its
half-naked double writhing in the embrace of the deluded lover, and
clearly revealed itself in long sweeping garments of pure white--fit
grave clothes for one lately entombed--with great masses of loosened
black hair falling like a pall about the passionless brooding face; and
now lifting reproachful eyes, it looked out across the intervening void
of blackness into their staring eyes, and from the folds of the cerement
robes raised a bare arm high as though to forbid a lying sacrilege. And
stood there then as a wraith newly freed from the burying mold, filling
and dominating the picture so that one looking saw nothing else save the
shrouded figure and the head and the face and those eyes and that upheld
white arm.

Cowering low in his seat with a sleeve across his eyes to shut out the
accusing apparition, Mr. Geltfin whispered between chattering teeth: "I
told him! I told him the dead could maybe come back!"

Mr. Quinlan, a bolder nature but even so terribly shaken, was muttering
to himself: "But it wasn't in the negative! I swear to God it wasn't in
the negative!"

It is probable that Mr. Lobel heard neither of them, or if he heard he
gave no heed. He had a feeling that the darkness was smothering him.

"Shut off the machine!" he roared as he wrenched his body free of the
snug opera chair in which he sat. "And turn on the lights in this
room--quick! And let me out of here--quick!"

Lunging into the darkness he stumbled over Appel's legs and tumbled
headlong out into the narrow aisle. On all fours as the lights flashed
on, he gave in a choking bellow his commands.

"Burn that print--you hear me, burn it now! And then burn the negative
too! Quick you burn it, like I am telling you!"

"But, Lobel, I'll swear to the negative!" protested Quinlan, jealous
even in his fright for his own vindication. "If you'll look at the
neg--"

"I wouldn't touch it for a million dollars!" roared Lobel. "Burn it up,
I tell you! And bury the ashes!"

Still choking, still bellowing, he scrambled to his feet, an ungainly
embodiment of mortal agitation, and ran for the door. But Mr. Geltfin
beat him to it and through it, Quinlan and Appel following in the order
named.

Outside their chief fell up against a wall, panting and wheezing for
breath, his face swollen and all congested with purple spots. They
thought he was about to have a stroke or a seizure of some sort. But
they were wrong. This merely was Nature's warning to a man with a size
seventeen neckband and a forty-six-inch girth measurement. The stroke he
was to have on the following day.

Probably Quinlan and Geltfin as experienced business men should have
known better than to come bursting together into the office of a stout
middle-aged man who so lately had suffered a considerable nervous shock
and still was unstrung; and having after such unseemly fashion burst in,
then to blurt out their tidings in concert without first by soft and
soothing words preparing their hearer's system to receive the tidings
they bore. But themselves, they were upset by what they just had learned
and so perhaps may be pardoned for a seeming unthoughtfulness. Both
speaking at once, both made red of face and vehement by mingled emotions
of rage and chagrin, each nourishing a perfectly natural and human
desire to place the blame for a catastrophe on shoulders other than
their own two pairs, they sought to impart the tale they brought. Ensued
for an exciting moment a baffling confusion of tongues.

"It was that Josephson done it--the mousy little sneak!"

These words became intelligible as Quinlan, exerting his superior vocal
powers, dinned out the sputtering inarticulate accents of Geltfin.

"He fixed it so that you'd spill the beans, Lobel! He fixed The
She-Demon--Josephson. And me trusting him!

"How should I be knowing that all this time him and that girl was
secretly engaged to be married? How should I be knowing that he would
find out for himself the day after the funeral that she was dead and yet
never say a word about it? How should I be knowing that he would have
all tucked away somewhere a roll of film showing her dressed up like a
madonna or a saint or a martyr or a ghost or something which he took
privately one time when they was out together on location--slipping away
with her and taking 'em without nobody knowing about it? How should I be
knowing that without tipping his hand he would cook up the idea to work
a slick fake on you, Lobel, and scare you into killing off the whole
thing? How should I be knowing that while he was on the printing machine
all by himself the other night that he would work the old double
exposure stunt and throw such a scare into you in the projecting room
yesterday?"

By reason of his valvular resources Mr. Quinlan might shout louder than
Geltfin. But he could not shout louder than Mr. Lobel. Nobody in that
section of Southern California could. Mr. Lobel outblared him:

"How should you be knowing? You come now and ask me that when all along
it was you that had the swell idee to stick him into the laboratory all
by himself where he could play some funny business? You!"

"But it was you, Lobel, that wouldn't listen to me when I begged you to
wait and not burn up the negative. I tried to tell you that the negative
was O. K. when I'd seen it run off."

"You told me? It's a lie!"

"Sure I told you! Geltfin remembers my telling you, don't you, Geltfin?
You're an old bird, Lobel--you ought to know by now about retouching and
doctoring and all. You know how easy it is to slip over a double
exposure. But it was only the sample print that was doctored. The
negative was all right, but you wouldn't listen."

"That's right too, Lobel!" shrilled Geltfin. "I heard him when he yelled
out to you that you should wait!"

Quinlan amplified the indictment.

"Sure he heard me--and so did you! But no, you had to lose your nerve
and lose your head just because you'd had a scare throwed into you."

"I never lose my head! I never lose my nerve!" denied Mr. Lobel. He
turned the counter tide of recriminations on Geltfin.

"Anyhow,--it was you started it, Geltfin--you in the first place, right
here in this room, with your craziness about the dead coming back. Only
for your fool talk I would never have had the idee of a ghost at all.
And now--now when the cow is all spilt milk you two come and--"

"Oh, but Lobel," countered Geltfin, "remember you was the one that made
'em burn up the negative without giving it a look at all!"

"He said it, Lobel!" reënforced Quinlan. "You was the one that just
would have the negative burned up whether or no. And now it's burned
up!"

Mr. Lobel was not used to being bullied in his own office or elsewhere.
If there was bullying to be done by anyone, he was his own candidate
always. Surcharged with distracting regrets as he was, he had an
inspiration. He would turn the flood of accusation away from himself.

"Where is that Josephson?" he whooped. "He is the one actually to blame,
not us. Let me get my hands on that Josephson once!"

"You can't!" jeered Quinlan. "He's quit--he's gone--he's beat it! He
wrote me a note, though, and mailed it back to me when he was beating it
out of town, telling me to tell you how slick he'd worked it on you." He
felt in his pockets. "I got that note here somewhere--here it is. I'll
read it to you, Lobel--he calls you an old scoundrel in one place and an
old sucker in another."

"Look out--catch him, Quinlan!" cried Mr. Geltfin. "Look at his
face--he's fixing to faint or something."


The prime intent of this recital, as set forth at the beginning, was to
tell why Mr. Max Lobel had an attack of apoplexy. That original purpose
having been now carried out, there remains nothing more to be added and
the chapter ends.



CHAPTER VIII

ALAS, THE POOR WHIFFLETIT!


Over Jefferson Poindexter's usually buoyant spirits a fabric of gloom,
black, thick, and heavy, was spread like a burying-pall. His thoughts
were the color of twelve o'clock at night at the bottom of a coal-mine
and it the dark of the moon. Moroseness crowned his brow; sorrow berode
his soul, and on his under lip the bull-bat, that eccentric bird which
has to sit lengthwise of the limb, might have perched with room to
spare. You couldn't see the ointment for the flies, and Gilead had gone
out of the balm business. There was a reason. The reason was Ophelia
Stubblefield.

On an upturned watering-piggin alongside Mittie May's stall in the
stable back of the house, Jeff sat and just naturally gloomed. To this
retreat he had been harried against his will. Out of her domain, which
was the kitchen, Aunt Dilsey had driven him with words barbed and
bitter.

"Tek yo'se'f on 'way f'um yere, black boy!" Such had been her command.
"Me, I's plum distracted an' wore out jes' f'um lookin' at you settin'
'round sullin' lak a' ole possum. Ef Satan fine some labor still fur
idle hands to do, same ez de Holy Word say he do, he suttinly must be
stedyin' 'bout openin' up a branch employmint agency fur cullid only,
'specially on yore account. You ain't de Grand President of de Order of
de Folded Laigs, tho' you shorely does ack lak it. You's s'posed to be
doin' somethin' fur yore keep an' wages. H'ist yo'se'f an' move."

"I ain't doin' nothin'!" Jeff protested spiritlessly.

"Dat you ain't!" agreed Aunt Dilsey. "An' whut you better do is better
do somethin'--tha's my edvices to you. S'posin' ole boss-man came back
yere to dis kitchen an' ketch you 'cumberin' de earth de way you is. You
knows, well ez I does, w'ite folks suttinly does hate to see a strappin'
nigger settin' 'round doin' nothin'."

"Boss-man ain't yere," said Jeff. "He's up at the cote-house. Mos'
doubtless jes' about right now he's sendin' some flippy cullid woman to
the big jail fur six months fur talkin' too much 'bout whut don't
concern her."

"Is tha' so?" she countered. "Well, ef he should come back home he'll
find one of de most fragrant cases of vagromcy he ever run acrost right
yere 'pon his own household premises. Boy, is you goin' move, lak I
patiently is warned you, or ain't you? Git on out yander to de stable
an' confide yo' sorrows to de Jedge's old mare. Mebbe she mout be able
to endure you, but you p'intedly gives me de fidgits. Git--befo' I
starts findin' out ef dat flat haid of yourn fits up smooth ag'inst de
back side of a skillit."

Nervously she fingered the handle of her largest frying-pan. Jeff knew
the danger-signals. Too deeply sunken in melancholy to venture any
further retorts, he withdrew himself, seeking sanctuary in the lee of
Mittie May. He squatted upon the capsized keeler, automatically
balancing himself as it wabbled under him on its one projecting handle,
and, with his eyes fixed on nothing, gave himself over unreservedly to a
consuming canker. For all that unhappiness calked his ears as with
pledgets of cotton wool, there presently percolated to his aloof
understanding the consciousness that somebody was speaking on the other
side of the high board fence which marked the dividing line between
Judge Priest's place and the Enders' place next door. Listlessly he
identified the voice as the property of the young gentleman from up
North who was staying with his kinsfolk, the Enders family. This was a
gentleman already deeply admired by Jeff at long distance for the
sprightliness of his wardrobe and for his gay and gallus ways. Against
his will--for he craved to be quite alone with his griefs and no
distracting influences creeping in--Jeff listened. Listening, he heard
language of such splendor as literally to force him to rise up and
approach the fence and apply his eye to a convenient cranny between two
whitewashed boards.

Under an Injun-cigar tree which grew in the Enders' back yard the
fascinating visitor out of Northern parts was stretched in a hammock,
between draws on a cigarette discoursing grandiloquently to a
half-incredulous but wholly delighted audience of three. His three small
nephews were hunkered on the earth beside him, their grinning faces
upturned to his the while he dealt first with this and then with that
variety of curious fauna which, he alleged, were to be encountered in
the wilds of a strange place called the State of Rhode Island, where, it
seemed, he had spent the greater part of an adventurous and crowded
youth.

"Well," he was saying now, beginning, as it were, a new chapter, "if you
think the sulfur-crested parabola is a funny bird you should hear about
the great flannel-throated golosh, or arctic bird of the polar seas,
which is a creature so rare that nobody ever saw one, although Dr. Cook,
the imminent ex-explorer, made an exhaustive study of its habits and
peculiarities and told the King of Denmark about them, afterward
amplifying his remarks on the subject in the lecture which he delivered
in this, his native land, under the auspices of the International
School of Poor Fish. By the way, I'm sure the Doctor must have visited
this town on his tour. Only yesterday, I think it was, I saw an
illuminated sign down on Franklin Street which surely was used
originally to advertise his lecture. It was a sign which said, 'Cook
With Gas!' But speaking of fish, I am reminded of the fur-bearing
whiffletit; only some authorities say the whiffletit is not a fish at
all, but a subspecies of the wampus family. Now, the wampus--"

"Say, tell us about the whiffletit next," begged one wriggling
youngster, plainly allured by the sound of the name.

"With pleasure," said the speaker. "The whiffletit is found only in
streams running in a south-northerly direction. This is because the
whiffletit, being a sensitive creature with poor vision, insists on
having the light falling over its left shoulder at all times. A creek,
river, inlet, or estuary which has a wide mouth and a narrow head, such
as a professional after-dinner speaker has, is a favorite haunt for the
whiffletit. To the naturalist it is a constant source of joy. It always
swims backward upstream, to keep the water out of its eyes, and it has
only one fin, which grows just under its chin, so that the whiffletit
can fan itself in warm weather, thus keeping cool, calm, and collected.
Most marvelous thing of all about this marvelous creature is its diet.
For the whiffletit, my dear young friends, lives exclusively on imported
Brie cheese.

"Did I say exclusively? Ah, there I fell into error. It has been known
to nibble at a chiropodist's finger, but it prefers imported Brie
cheese, aged in the wood. The mode employed in catching it is very
interesting, and I shall now describe it to you. Selecting a body of
water wherein the whiffletit resides, you enter a round-bottomed boat
and row out to the middle of it. Then you take a square timber, and,
driving it into the water, withdraw it very swiftly so as to leave a
square hole in the water. Care should be taken to use a perfectly square
timber because the whiffletit being, as I forgot to tell you, shaped
like a brick, cannot move up and down a round hole without barking its
shins, much to the discomfort of the pretty creature.

"Pray follow me closely now, for at this juncture we come to the most
important phase of the undertaking. You bait the edges of the hole with
the cheese cut in small cubes and quietly await results. Nor do you have
long to wait. Far down below in his watery retreat the whiffletit
catches the alluring aroma of the cheese. He swims to the surface and
devours it to the last crumb. But alas for the greedy whiffletit!
Instantly the cheese swells him up so that he cannot change gears nor
retreat back down the hole, and as he circles about, flapping
helplessly, you lean over the side of the boat and laugh him to death!
And such, my young friends, such is the fate of the whiffletit."

"'Scuse me, suh."

The amateur aspirant for the robe of Munchausen paused from lighting a
fresh cigarette and lifted his eyes, and was aware of an
anthracite-colored face risen, like some new kind of crayoned full moon,
above the white skyline of the side fence.

"'Scuse me, suh, fur interruptin'," repeated the voice belonging to the
apparition, "but I couldn't he'p frum overhearin' whut you wuz tellin'
the boys yere. An' I got sort of interested myse'f."

"It's Judge Priest's Jeff, Uncle Dwight," explained the oldest nephew.
"Jeff makes us fluttermills out of corn-stalks, and he learned
us--taught us, I mean--to call a brickbat an alley-apple, and he can
make his ears wiggle just like a rabbit and everything. Don't you,
Jeff?--I mean, can't you, Jeff?"

"Ah, I see," said the fabulist with a wink aside for Jeff's benefit. "I
am indeed delighted to make the acquaintance of one thus gifted, even
under the present informal circumstances. In what way, if any, may I be
of service to you, Judge Priest's Jeff?"

"That air thing you named the whiffletit--near ez I made out you said,
boss, that fust you tolled him up to whar you wanted him wid cheese an'
'en you jest natchelly laffed him to death?"

"Such are the correct facts accurately repeated, Judge Priest's Jeff,"
gravely assented this affable faunalist.

"Yas, suh," said Jeff. "D'ye s'pose now, boss, it would he'p any ef
they wuz a whole passel of folks to do the laffin' 'stid of jes' one?"

"Beyond the peradventure of a doubt. Concerted action on the part of
many, guffawing merrily in chorus, assuredly would hasten the death of
the ill-starred victim, if you get what I mean, Judge Priest's most
estimable Jeff?"

"Yas, suh," said Jeff. "Thanky, suh." He did not exactly smile his
thanks, but the mask of his melancholy crinkled round the edges and
raised slightly. One who knew Jeff, and more particularly one who had
been cognizant of his depressed state during the past fortnight, would
have said that a heartening thought suddenly had come to him, lightening
and lifting in ever so small a degree the funereal mantlings. He made as
though to withdraw from sight. A gesture from the visiting naturalist
detained him.

"One moment," said Uncle Dwight. "Might I, a comparative stranger, be
pardoned for inquiring into the motives underlying the interest you have
evinced in my perhaps poorly expressed but veracious narration?"

The wraith of Jeff's grin took on flesh visibly. It was a pleasure--even
to one beset by grievous perplexities--it was a pleasure to hear such
noble big words fall thus trippingly from human lips. His answer, tho,
was in a measure evasive, not to say cryptic.

"I wuz jes' stedyin', tha's all, suh," he fenced. He ducked from view,
then bobbed his head up again.

"'Scuse me, suh, but they is one mo' thing I craves to ast you."

"Proceed, I pray you. Our aim is to please and instruct."

"Well, suh, I jes' wanted to ast you ef you ever run acrost one of these
yere whiffletits w'ich played on the jazzin'-valve?"

"Prithee?"

"Naw, suh, not the prith--prith--whut you jes' said. I mentioned the
jazzin'-valve--whut some folks calls the saxophone. D'ye reckin they
mout' 'a' been a whiffletit onct 'at played on one?"

"Oh, the saxophone! Well, as to that I could not with certainty speak.
But, mark you, the whiffletit is a creature of infinite
resources--versatile, abounding in quaint conceits and whimsies, and,
having withal a wide repertoire. Sometimes its repertoire is twice as
wide as it is, thus producing a peculiar effect when the whiffletit is
viewed from behind. On second thought, I have no doubt that in the
privacy of its subterranean fireside the whiffletit wiles away the
tedium of the long winter evenings by playing on the saxophone."

"Come on over, Jeff, and Uncle Dwight will tell us some more," urged the
hospitable oldest nephew.

But Jeff had vanished. He wished to be alone for the working out of a
project as yet vague and formless, but having a most definite object to
be attained. Stimulated by hope new-born, he was now a sort of twelfth
carbon-copy of the regular Jeff--faint, perhaps, and blurry, but
recognizable. Through the clouds which encompassed him the faint promise
of a rift was apparent.

By rights one would have said that Jeff had no excuse for hiding in a
shadowed hinterland at all. The world might have been excused for its
failure to plumb the underlying causes which roiled the waters of his
soul. Seemingly the currents of life ran for him in agreeable channels.
He had an indulgent employer whose clothes fitted Jeff. Indeed,
anybody's clothes fitted Jeff. He had one of those figures which seem to
give and take. He was well nourished, gifted conversationally, of a
nimble wit, resourceful, apt. Moreover, home-grown watermelons were
ripe. The Eighth of August, celebrated in these parts by the race as
Emancipation Day, impended. The big revival--the biggest and most
tremendously successful revival in his people's local history--was in
full swing at the Twelfth Ward tabernacle, affording thrill and
entertainment every week-night and thrice on Sundays.

There never had been such a revival; probably there never would be
another such. Justifiably, the pastor of Emmanuel Chapel took credit to
himself that he had planted the seed which at this present time so
gloriously yielded harvest. Theretofore his chief claim to public
attention had rested upon the sound of the name he wore. He had been
born a Shine and christened a Rufus. But to him the name of Rufus Shine
had seemed lacking in impressiveness and euphony for use by one about
entering the ministry. Thanks to the ingenuity of a white friend who was
addicted to puns and plays upon words, the defect had been cured. As the
Rev. A. Risen Shine he bore a name which fitted its bearer and its
bearer's calling--at once it was a slogan and a testimony, a trade-mark
and a watch-cry.

Proudly now he walked the earth, broadcasting the favor of his smile on
every side. For it had been he who divined that the times were ripe for
the importation of that greatest of all exhorting evangelists of his
denomination, the famous Sin Killer Wickliffe, of Nashville, Tenn. His
had been the zeal which inspired the congregation to form committees on
ways and means, on place and time, on finance; his, mainly, the energy
behind the campaign for subscriptions which filled the war-chest. As
resident pastor, chief promotor, and general manager of the project, he
had headed the delegation which personally waited upon the great man at
his home and extended the invitation. Almost immediately, upon learning
that the amount of his customary guaranty already had been raised and
deposited in bank, the Rev. Wickliffe felt that he had a call to come
and labor, and he obeyed it. He brought with him his entire
organization--his private secretary, his treasurer, his musical
director. For, mind you, the Sin Killer had borrowed a page from the
book of certain distinguished revivalists of a paler skin-pigmentation
than his. As the saying goes among the sinful, he saw his Caucasian
brethren and went them one better. His musical director was not only an
instrumentalist but a composer as well. He adapted, he wrote, he
originated, he improvised, he interpolated, he orchestrated, he played.
As one inspired, this genius played the saxophone.

Now, in the world at large the saxophone has its friends and its foes.
Its detractors agree that the late Emperor Nero was a maligned man;
cruel, perhaps, in some of his aspects, but not so cruel as has been
made out in the case against him. It was a fiddle he played while Rome
burned--it might have been a saxophone. But to the melody-loving heart
of the black race in our land the mooing tones of this long-waisted,
dark-complected horn carry messages as of great joy. It had remained,
though, for the resourceful Rev. Wickliffe to prove that it might be
made to fill a nobler and a higher destiny than setting the feet of the
young men to dancing and the daughters to treading the syncopated
pathways of the ungodly. Discerning this by a sort of higher intuition,
he had thrown himself into the undertaking of luring the most expert
saxophone performer of his acquaintance away from the flaunting tents of
the transgressor and herding him into the fold of the safely regenerate.
He succeeded. He saved Cephus Fringe, plucking him up as a brand from
the burning, to remold him into a living torch fitted to light the way
for others.

Of Cephus it might be said, paraphrasing the lines about little dog
Rover, that when he was saved he was saved all over. Being redeemed, he
straightway disbanded his orchestra. He tore up his calling-card
reading,


     +-----------------------------------------+
     |     PROFESSOR CEPHUS FRINGE ESQUIRE     |
     |        THE ANGLO-SAXOPHONE KING         |
     |   Address: Care Champey's Barber-Shop   |
     |SOLE PROPRIETOR FRINGE'S ALL-STAR TROUPE |
     +-----------------------------------------+


He enlisted under the militant banners and on the personal staff of the
Sin Killer. Amply then was the prior design of his new commander
justified. For if it was the eloquence, the magnetism, the compelling
force of the revivalist which brought the penitents shouting down the
tan-bark trail to the mourner's bench, it was the harmonious croonings
of Prof. Fringe as he conducted the introductory program--now rendering
as a solo his celebrated original composition, "The Satan Blues," now
leading the special choir--which psychologically paved the way for the
greater scene to follow after. There was distress in the devil's
glebe-lands when this pair struck their proper stride--first the
Fringian outpourings harmoniously exalting the spirits of the assemblage
and then the exhorters tying his hands to the Gospel plow and driving
down into the populous valleys of sin, there to furrow and harrow, to
sow and tend, to garner and glean.

The team had struck its stride early at the protracted meeting so
competently fostered by the resident pastor of Emmanuel Chapel, the Rev.
A. Risen Shine. To himself, as already stated, the latter took prideful
credit for results achieved and results promised. Well he might. Already
hundreds of converts had come halleluiahing through; hundreds more
teetered and swayed, back and forth, between doubt and conviction, ready
at a touch to fall like the ripe and sickled grain in the lap of the
husbandman. Wavering brethren had been fortified and were made stalwart
again. Confirmed backsliders rubbed their wayward feet in the resin of
faith and were boosted up the treacherous skids of their temptation and
over the citadel walls to bask among the chosen in a Jericho City of
repentance. Proselytes from other and hostile creeds trooped over with
hosannas and loud outcries of rejoicing. Even the place where, each
evening, the triumph of the preceding evening was repeated and amplified
seemed appropriate for such scenes. For the Twelfth Ward tabernacle had
not always been a tabernacle; it had been a tobacco-warehouse--but it
was converted. And its present chief ornament, next only to the Sin
Killer himself--indeed, its chiefest ornament of all in the estimation
of impressionable younger unmarried female members--was Prof. Cephus
Fringe.

At thought of him and of this, Jeff Poindexter, reperched on his wabbly
piggin, wove his furrowed brow into a closer and more intricate pattern
of cordial dislike. For if the main reason of his unhappiness was
Ophelia Stubblefield, the secondary reason and principal contributory
cause was this same Cephus Fringe. Ophelia's favorite letter may not
have been F, but it should have been. She was fair, fickle, fawn-toned,
flirty, flighty, and frequently false. Jeff cast back in his mind. He
certainly had had his troubles since he became permanently engaged to
Ophelia. For instance, there had been her affair with that ferocious
razor-wielder Smooth Crumbaugh. In this matter the fortuitous return
from the dead of Red Hoss Shackleford, as skilfully engineered by Jeff,
had broken up Red Hoss's own memorial services, had also operated to
scare Smooth Crumbaugh clean out of Colored Odd Fellows' Hall and leave
the fainting Ophelia in the rescuing arms of Jeff. But there had been
half a dozen other affairs, each of such intensity as temporarily to
undermine Jeff's peace of mind. Between spells of infatuations for
attractive strangers, she accepted Jeff's devotions. The trouble was,
though, that life, with Ophelia, seemed to be just one infatuation after
another. And now, to cap all, she had suffered herself, nay, offered
herself, to fall thrall to the dashing personality and the varied
accomplishments of this Fringe person. It was this entanglement which
for two weeks past had made Jeff, her official 'tween-times fiancé, a
prey to carking cares and dark forebodings.

Hourly and daily the situation, from Jeff's point of view, had grown
more desperate as Ophelia's passion for the fascinating sojourner grew.
He had even lost his relish for victuals which, with Jeff, was indeed a
serious sign. In long periods of self-imposed solitude he had devised
and discarded as hopeless various schemes for bringing discomfiture upon
his latest and most dangerous rival. For a while he had thought somehow,
somewhere, to rake up proofs of the interloper's former wild and
reckless life. But of what avail to do that?

By his own frank avowal the Professor had had a spangled past; had been
an adventurer and a wanton, a wandering minstrel bard; had even been in
jail. This background of admitted transgressions, now that he was so
completely reformed and reclaimed, merely made him an all-the-more
attractive figure in the eyes of those to whom he offered confession.
Again, Jeff had trifled with a vague design of taunting Fringe into a
quarrel and beating him up something scandalous. To this end he
tentatively had approached our leading exponent of the art of
self-defense and our most dependable sporting authority, one Mr. Jerry
Ditto.

Mr. Ditto had grown out of a clerkship at Gus Neihiem's cigar-store into
the realm of fistiana. As a shadow-boxer he excelled; as a bag-puncher
also. But in an incautious hour for himself and his backer, Flash Purdy,
owner of Purdy's Dixieland Bar, he had permitted himself to be entered
for a match before an athletic club at Louisville against one Max
Schorrer, a welter-weight appearing professionally under the _nom de
puge_ of Slugging Fogarty. It was to have been a match of twelve rounds,
but early in the second round Mr. Ditto suddenly lost all conscious
interest in the proceedings.

He retired from the ring after this with a permanent lump on the point
of his jaw and a profound conviction that the Lord had made a mistake
and drowned the wrong crowd that time at the Red Sea. He fitted up a
gymnasium in the old plow factory and gave instructions in sparring to
the youth of the town. Naturally, his patronage was all-white, but he
offered to take Jeff on for a few strictly private lessons at night
provided Jeff would promise not to tell anybody about it. But at last
the prospective client drew back. His ways were the ways of peace and
diplomacy. Why depart from them? And, anyhow, this Cephus Fringe was so
dog-goned sinewy-looking. Playing a saxophone ought to give a man wind
and endurance. If not knocked cold in the first onslaught he might
become seriously antagonized toward Jeff.

But now, in the sportive fablings of the young white gentleman from up
North who was visiting the Enders family, he had found a clue to what he
sought. The difficult point, though, was to evolve the plan for the plot
nebulously floating about in his brain; for while he envisaged the
delectable outcome, the scheme of procedure was as yet entirely without
form and substance. It was as though he looked through a tunnel under a
hill. At the far end he beheld the sunlight, but all this side of it was
utter darkness. Seeking to pluck inspiration out of the air, his roving
eye fell upon the dappled rump of Mittie May as she stood in her stall
placidly munching provender, and with that, _bang_! inspiration hit him
spang between the eyes.

To look on her, ruminative, ewe-like, fringed of fetlock and deliberate
in her customary amblings, you would never have reckoned Mittie May to
be a mare with a past. But such was the case. Her youth had been spent
in travel over the continent with a tented caravan; in short, a circus.
Her broad flat top-side, her dependable gait, her amiable disposition,
her color--white with darkish half-moons on shoulder and flank--all
these admirably had fitted her for the ring. When, long years before,
Hooper's wagon-shows came to grief in our town Mittie May had been
seized by Farrell Brothers to satisfy an unpaid hay-bill.

Through her sobering maturer years she had passed from one set of hands
to another, until finally, in her declining days, she found asylum in
the affectionate ownership of Judge Priest, with Jeff to curry her fat
sides and no more arduous labor to perform than occasionally to draw the
Judge about from place to place in his ancient shovel-topped buggy.
About her now there was naught to suggest the prancing rozin-back she
once had been; the very look of her eye conjured up images of simple
pastoral scenes--green meadows and purling brooks.

But let a certain signal be sounded and on top of that let a certain air
be played and Mittie May, instantly losing that air she had of a
venerable and dignified sheep, became a Mittie May transformed; a Mittie
May reverted to another and more feverish time; a Mittie May stirred by
olden memories to nightmarish performances. By chance once Jeff had
happened upon her secret, and now, all in one illuminating flash,
recalling the conditions governing this discovery, he gave vent to a low
anticipatory chuckle. It was the first chuckle he had uttered in a
fortnight, and this one was edged with a sinister portent. He had his
idea now. He had at hand the agency for bringing the scheme to fruition.
But yet there remained much of preliminary detail to be worked out. His
plan still was like a fine-toothed comb which has seen hard usage in a
wiry thatch--there were wide gaps between its prongs.

Jeff gave himself over to sustained thought. He made calculations
calendar-wise. This was the first day of August; the eighth, therefore,
was but seven short days removed. This plot of his seemed to resemble a
number of things. It was like a piece of pottery, too. First the plastic
clay must be assembled, then the vessel itself turned from it; finally
the completed product must be given time to harden before it would be
ready for use. He must move fast but warily.

To begin with, now, he must create a setting of plausibility for the
rôle he meant, in certain quarters, to essay; must dress the character,
as it were, in its correct housings and provide just the right touches
of local color. Ready at hand was Aunt Dilsey; he would make her,
unwittingly so far as she kenned, a supporting member of the cast. She
would never know it, but she would play an accessory part, small but
important, in his prologue.

Five minutes later she lifted her eyebrows in surprise. As he reinserted
himself halfway across the portals of the realm where she queened it his
recent moroseness was quite gone from him. About him now was the
suggestion, subtly conveyed, that here stood one who, after profound
cogitation, had found out what ailed him and, by the finding out, was
filled with a gentle, chastened satisfaction. He seated himself on the
kitchen door-step, facing outward so that comparative safety might be
attained with a single flying leap did her uncertain temper, flaring up
suddenly, lead her to acts of hostility before he succeeded in winning
her over. He uttered a long-drawn sigh, then sat a minute in silence. In
silence, too--a suspicious, menacing silence--she glared at him.

"Aunt Dilsey," he ventured, speaking over his shoulder, with his face
averted from her, "mebbe you been noticin' yere lately I seemed kind of
downcasted an' shiftless, lak ez ef I had a mood on me?"

"Has I noticed it?" she repeated--"huh!" The punctuating grunt was
non-committal. It might mean nothing; it might mean anything.

He cleared his throat and went on,

"An', mebbe--I ain't sayin' you actually is; I's sayin' it with a
mebbe--mebbe you been marvelin' in yore mind whut it wuz w'ich pestered
me an' made me ack so kind of no-'count?"

"I ain't needin' to marvel," she stated coldly. "I knows. Laziness! Jes'
pyure summer-time nigger laziness, wid a rich streak of meanness th'owed
in."

"Nome, you is wrong," he corrected her gently. "You is wrong there.
'Ca'se likewise an' furthermo' I also is been off my feed--ain't that a
sign to you?"

"Sign of a tapeworm, I 'spects."

"Don't say that, please, Ma'am," he humbly pleaded. "You speakin' in
sich a way meks me 'most discouraged to confide in you whut I aims to
confide in you. I'm tellin' it to you the fust one, too. 'Tain't nary
'nother soul heared it. Aunt Dilsey, I's grateful to you in my heart,
honest I is, fur runnin' me 'way frum yore presence yere jes' a little
w'ile ago. You never knowed it at the time--I didn't s'picion it also
neither--but you done me a favor. 'Ca'se settin' out yonder in the
stable all alone and ponderin' deep, all of a sudden somethin' jes' come
right over me an' I knowed whut's been the matter wid me lately. Aunt
Dilsey, I's felt the quickenin' tech."

"Better fur you ef somebody made you feel de quickenin' buggy-whup."

He disregarded the brutal suggestion.

"Yessum, I's felt the quickenin' tech. Ez you doubtless full well knows,
I ain't been 'tendin' much 'pon the big revival. But even so--even an'
evermo' so--the influence frum it done stretch fo'th its hand an' reach
me. I ain't sayin' I's plum won over yit, but 'way down deep insides of
me I's stirred--yessum, tha's the word--stirred. I ain't sayin' the
spirit of grace is actually th'owed me, but I feel prone to say I thinks
it's fixin' to rassle wid me. I ain't sayin' I stands convicted, but I
aims to be a searcher fur the truth; I aims to stop, look, an' lissen. I
ain't sayin'--" He broke off, the floods of his imagery dammed by the
skeptical eye which swept him; then made a lame conclusion, "Tha's whut
I sez, Ma'am, to you in strict confidences."

"Den lemme say somethin' to you. You figgers it's salvation you needs,
huh? I figgers it's vermifuge. Oh, I knows you, boy--I knows you f'um de
grass-roots up. Still an' wid all dat, ef you should crave to mend yo'
ways--an' de Heavens above knows dey kin stand a heap of mendin'!--I
ain't gwine be de one to hender you."

Against her better judgment her tone was softening. For she gave her
allegiance unrestrainedly to the doctrine preached at Emmanuel Chapel.
She was one of its stanch pillows. Indeed, it might be said of her that
she was one of its plumpest bolsters; and Jeff, although admittedly of
no religious persuasion, had grown up in the shadow of a differing
creed. The winning over of the black ram of another fold would be a
greater victory than the reclamation of any wandering sheep who had been
reared as a true believer.

"Well, boy," she went on, in this new mood, "let us hope an' pray dat in
yore case dey's yit hope. De ways of de Almighty is pas' findin' out.
Fur do not de Scriptures say dey's room fur both man an' beast?--de maid
servant an' de man servant, de ox an' de ass, dey all may enter in? So
dey mout be a skimsy, bare chanct fur sech even ez you is. One thing
shore--ef dey's ary grain of contritefulness in yore soul, trust de Sin
Killer to fetch it fo'th to de light of day. He's de ole fambly doctor
w'en it come to dat kind of sickness. You go to dat tabernickle to-night
an' you keep on goin' an' le's see whut come to pass.... Jeffy, dey's a
little mossil of cold peach cobbler lef over f'um dinner yistiddy
settin' up yonder amongst de shelfs of my cu'board!"

"Nome, thank you," said Jeff. "The emotions w'ich is in me seems lak
they ain't left me no room fur nothin' else. Seems lak I can't git my
mind on vittles yit. But I shore aims to be at the tabernickle to-night,
Aunt Dilsey--I means, Sist' Dilsey. You jes' watch me. Tha's all I asts
of you now--jes' watch me!"

Head down and shoulders hunched, in the manner of one harkening to inner
voices, Jeff betook himself around the corner of the back porch. Once
out of her sight, though, he flung from him his mien of absorption. The
overture had been rendered; there remained much to be done before the
curtain rose. The languorous shade invited one to tarry and rest, but
Jeff breasted the sunshine, going hither and yon upon his errands. Back
of a cabin on Plunket's Hill he had private conference with one Gumbo
Rollins, by profession a carnival concessionaire and purveyor of
amusements in a small way. No cash actually changed hands, but on Jeff's
part there was a promise of moneys to be paid in the event of certain
as-yet-problematical contingencies.

Next he sought for and, at the Bleeding Heart restaurant, found a limber
individual named Tecumseh Sherman Glass, called Cump for short. This
Tecumseh Sherman Glass was a person of two trades and one outstanding
trait. By day a short-order cook, by night he played in 'Gustus
Hillman's Colored String Band. It is to be marked down in the reader's
memory that the instrument he played was the saxophone; also that he was
heavily impregnated with that form of professional jealousy which lurks
in the souls of so many _artistes_; likewise that he was a member in
fair standing of the Rev. A. Risen Shine's congregation, and, finally,
that he was a born meddler in other folks' affairs. These facts all
should be borne in mind; they have their value.

With Tecumseh Sherman Glass, Jeff spent some time in a confidential
exchange of words. Here, again, the matter of a subsequent financial
reward, to be paid by the party of the first part, meaning Jeff, to the
party of the second part, meaning Cump, following the satisfactory
outcome of sundry developments, was arranged. Would there were space to
tell how cunningly, how craftily Jeff, in the subtleties marking this
interview, played upon three chords in the other's being--the chord of
vengeful envy, the chord of malice, the chord of avarice. There is not
space.

Four o'clock found the plotter entering the parlor of what once had
been the establishment of T. Marshall, undertaker, now the Elite Colored
Funeral Home, Marshall & Kivil, proprietors. These transformations had
dated from the time Percy C. Kivil (Tuskegee '18) entered the firm. Here
was no plain undertaker. Here was an expert and a graduate mortician,
with diploma to prove it; also one gifted of the pen. Two inscriptions
done in flowing type hung on the wall. One of these inscriptions read:


     Oh, Death, where is thy sting
       When we officiates?
     Embalming done attentively
       At standard pre-war rates.


And the other:


     Blest be the tie that binds!
       Tho death thy form may shake.
     Call in a brother of thy race
       And let him undertake!


At a desk between these two decorative objects and half shadowed by the
bright-green fronds of a large artificial palm, sat Æsop Loving,
son-in-law of the senior partner. From his parent-by-marriage Æsop had
borrowed desk-room for the carrying on of the multitudinous business
relating to the general management of one of the celebrations projected
in honor, and on account of, the Eighth of August. He might appear to be
absorbed in important details, as he now did. But inside of him he was
not happy and Jeff knew the reasons; the reasons were common rumor.
This year there was to be more than one celebration; there were to be
two; and the opposition, organizing secretly and stealing a march on
that usually wide-awake person, Æsop, had rented Belt Line Park, thus
forcing Æsop's crowd to make a poor second choice of the old
show-grounds, a treeless common away out near the end of Tennessee
Street. On top of this and in an unexpected quarter, even more
formidable competition was foreshadowed. A scant eighth of a mile
distant from the show-lot and on the same thoroughfare stood the Twelfth
Ward tabernacle, and here services would be held both afternoon and
evening of the Eighth. The Rev. Wickliffe had so announced, and the Rev.
Shine had backed him in the decision.

It was inevitable, with this surpassing magnet of popular interest so
near at hand, that for every truant convert who might halt to taste of
the pleasures provided by Æsop Loving and his associate promoters, half
a dozen possible patrons would pass on by and beyond, drawn away by the
compelling power of the Sin Killer's eloquence. Representations had been
made to the revivalist that, with propriety, he might suspend his
ministry for the great day. His answer was the declaration that on the
Eighth he would preach not merely once, but twice.

By him and his there would be no temporizing with the powers of evil,
however insidiously cloaked. Would not dancing be included in the
entertainments planned by these self-seeking laymen who now approached
him? Would not there be idle sports and vain pastimes calculated to
entice the hearts of the populace away from consideration of the welfare
of their own souls? Admittedly there would be drinking of soft drinks.
And into the advertised softness some hardness assuredly would slip. You
could not fool the Sin Killer. Having taken a firm stand, his rectitude
presently moved him to further steps. On his behalf it was stated that
he, personally, would lead the elect in triumphant procession out
Tennessee Street to the tabernacle between the afternoon preaching and
the evening. As an army with banners, the saved, the sober, and the
seeking would march past, thus attesting their fealty to the cause which
moved them. He defied all earthly forces to lure a single one from the
ranks.

And, after the preaching, under his auspices, there would be a mighty
cutting of watermelons for those deemed to be qualified to participate
therein. By the strict tenets of the Rev. Wickliffe's theology it seemed
that watermelons were almost the only luscious things of this carnal
world not held to be potentially or openly sinful. Small wonder then
that Jeff, jauntily entering the Elite Funeral Home, read traces of an
ill-concealed distress writ plain upon the face of Æsop Loving.

"Well, Brother Lovin', you shore does look lak you'd hung yore harp
'pon the willer-tree an' wuz fixin' to tek in sorrow fur a livin'," he
said in greeting. "Cheer yo'se'f up; 'tain't nothin' so worse but whut
it mout be worser."

"Easy fur you to say so, Brother Poindexter; harder fur me to do so,"
stated Æsop. "Gallivantin' 'round the way you is, you ain't got no idea
of the aggervations w'ich keeps comin' up in connection wid an occasion
sech ez this one, an' mo' 'specially the aggervations w'ich pussonally
afflicts the director-general of the same, w'ich I is him."

"I been hearin' somethings myse'f," said Jeff. "Word is come to me, fur
one thing, that this yere smart-ellicky gang out at the Belt Line Park
is aimin' to try to cut some of the groun' frum under yore feet. I
regrets to hear it."

"'Tain't them so much," said Æsop. "We couldn't 'spect to go 'long
havin' a nomopoly furever. Sooner or late they wuz bound to be
opposition arisin' up. 'Tain't them so much, although I will say it wuz
a low-flung trick to tek an' rent that park right out frum under our
noses 'thout givin' us no warnin' so's we mout go an' rent it fu'st. No,
hit's the action of that Emmanuel Chapel bunch w'ich gives me the mos'
deepest concern. Seems lak ev'ry time that Rev'n' Sin Killer open his
mouth I kin feel cold cash crawlin' right out of my pocket. Mind you,
Brother Poindexter, I ain't got a word to say ag'in religion. I's strong
fur it on Sundays, ez you well knows, but dog-gone religion w'en it
come interferin' wid a pusson's chanct to pick up a little spare change
fur hisse'f on a week-day!"

"Spoke lak a true business man, Brother Lovin'," said Jeff. "Still, I
reckin you's mebbe countin' the spoilt eggs 'fore they's all laid. The
way I sees it, you'll do fairly well, nevertheless an' to the contrary
notwithstandin'. Le's see. Ain't you goin' to have the dancin'-pavilion
goin' all day?"

"Yas, but--"

"Ain't you goin' to have money rollin' in frum all the snack-stands an'
frum the fried-fish privilege an' frum the cane rackits an' frum the
knock-the-babies-down an' all?"

"Tubby shore, but--"

"Ain't you due to pick up a right smart frum the kitty of the private
crap game an' the chuck-a-luck layout?"

"Natchelly. But--"

"Hole on; I ain't th'ough yit. Seems lak to me you ain't properly
counted up yore blessin's a-tall. Ain't the near-beer--" he sank his
voice discreetly, although there was no one to overhear "ain't the
near-beer an' the _still nearer_ beer goin' fetch you in a right peart
lil' income? I'll say they is. An' ain't you goin' do mighty well on
yore own account out of yore share of the commission frum Gumbo
Rollinses' Flyin' Jinny?"

"Hole on, hole on! How come Gumbo Rollins?"

"W'y tha's all fixed," stated Jeff. "Gumbo he'll be out there 'fore
sunup on the 'p'inted day wid his ole Flyin' Jinny an' his ole
grind-organ an'--"

"Tain't nothin' fixed," demurred the astonished and indignant Æsop.
"'Tain't nothin' fixed 'thout I fixes it. Ain't I had pestermints 'nuff
las' yeah settlin' up, or tryin' to, wid that Rollins? Ain't I told him
then that never ag'in would I--"

"Oh, tha's settled," announced Jeff soothingly.

"Who settled it?"

"Me."

"You?"

"Yas, me--out of pyure frien'ship fur you. Lissen, Brother Lovin', an'
give due heed. I comes to you d'rect frum Gumbo Rollins. He's done seen
the error of the way he acked tow'ds you that time. He's cravin' that
all the grudges of the bygone past shall be disremembered. Here's whut
he's goin' to do: He's goin' give yore organization the reg'lar cut, an'
'pon top of that he's goin' hand you, pussonally an' private, a special
extra five pur cent, on all he teks in; that comes ez a free-will
offerin' to you. He's goin' 'bandon his plan to run ez a independint
attraction on the Eighth down back of the market-house. He's goin' be
wid you heart an' soul an' Flyin' Jinny. All he asts, through me, is
that he kin have the right to set her up on the purtic'lar spot w'ich
he's got in mind out there on them show-ground lots. An' finally an'
furthermo' he's done commission me to hand you ten dollars, unbeknownst
to anybody, jes' to prove to you that his heart's in the right place an'
that he's wishful fur to do the square thing." He felt in his pockets,
producing a crumpled bill. "An' here 'tis!"

Æsop pouched the currency on the flank where he carried his personal
funds before his commercial instinct inspired him to seek out the
motives actuating the volunteer peacemaker. Experience had taught him to
beware of Greeks bearing gifts--not of the gifts particularly, but of
the Greeks.

"Well," he said, "ef Gumbo Rollins aims to be honest an' open an'
abovebode wid us, w'y that puts a diff'unt face on it. But so fur ez I
heared tell, you an' Gumbo Rollins ain't been so thick ez all this up
till now. I's wonderin' whut does you 'spect to git out of the little
transaction fur yo'se'f? 'Ca'se I gives you warnin' right yere an' now
that ef you's hopin' to git a split out of me you mout jes' ez well stop
dreamin' ary sech a delusion an' become undelirious ag'in."

"Stop, Brother Lovin'," broke in Jeff in the tone of one aggrieved at
being unjustly accused. "Has I asted you fur anything? Then wait till I
does so."

"All right," agreed Æsop. "I'll wait till you does so an' w'en you does
so I'll say no, same ez I's already sayin' it to you in advance. Say,
boy, you must have yore reasons fur the int'rust you is displayin' in
dis matter."

"Whutever 'tis 'taint got nothin' to do wid lurin' no money out of yore
possession," said Jeff. His voice changed to one of deep gravity.
"Brother Lovin', look yere at me."

He glanced about him, making doubly sure they were alone. He advanced
one step and came to a halt; he made his figure rigid and gave first the
grand hailing-sign of the Afro-American Society of Supreme Kings of the
Universe, then the private signal of distress which invokes succor and
support, and he wound up by uttering the cabalistic words which bind a
fellow Supreme King in the vows of eternal secrecy on pain of having his
heart cut out of his bosom and burned and the ashes scattered to the
four winds. For his part, Æsop Loving arose and, obeying the ritual,
made the proper responses. In a solemn silence they exchanged the
symbolic grip which is reserved only for occasions of emergency and
stress and which unites brother to brother in bonds stronger than steel.
A moment later Æsop Loving was alone.

It was not Jeff, the intriguer, who had colleagued with Gumbo Rollins
and conspired with Cump Glass, who came in the evening to the Twelfth
Ward tabernacle and sought a seat on a bench well up toward the front
where he could be fairly conspicuous and yet not too conspicuous;
neither was it the persuasive person who had dangled the bait of
private profit before the beguiled eyes of Æsop Loving. Rather was it
the serious, self-searching, introspective Jeff, who earlier that day
had besought counsel and comfort of Aunt Dilsey Turner. He came alone,
walking with head bowed as walks one who is wrapped in his own thoughts.
He arrived betimes; he remained silent and apart, inwardly communing,
one would have said, while the audience rustled in.

So engrossed was he that he seemed to have no eyes even for Ophelia, who
perched high aloft, the brightest flower in the hanging garden of color
that banked the tiers of the choir division terracing up behind the
platform. She, in turn, had no eyes for any there save Prof. Cephus
Fringe, who, it should be added, had one eye for Ophelia and the other
for his own person. Even by those prejudiced in his favor it was not to
be denied that the Professor was, as one might say, passionately
addicted to himself. When, with Cephus Fringe accompanying and
directing, the opening hymn was offered, Ophelia, lifting high her
soprano voice, sang directly at, to, and for him. From the front this
plainly was to be observed; in fact was the subject of whispered comment
among some of Jeff's neighbors.

As though he heard them not nor saw the byplay, he gave no sign which
might be interpreted as denoting annoyance or chagrin. There was only a
friendly and whole-souled approval in his look when, following the
song, Prof. Fringe rendered--I believe this is the customary
phrase--rendered as a solo on his saxophone one of the compositions
bearing his name as author. There was rapt attention and naught else in
his pose and on his face the while the Rev. Wickliffe, swinging his
scythe of righteousness, mowed for a solid hour in Satan's weedy back
yard, so that the penitents fell in a broad swath.

From her place hard by, Aunt Dilsey vigilantly watched Jeff and was, in
spite of herself, convinced of his sincerity. She marked how, at the
close of the meeting, he passed slowly, almost reluctantly out, stopping
more than once and looking rearward as though half inclined to turn back
and join the ranks of those who clustered still at the foot of the
pulpit, completely and utterly won over. She was moved to direct the
notice of certain of the sistren and brethren to his behavior as
conspicuous proof of the compelling fervor of the Sin Killer. Swiftly
the word spread that Jeff Poindexter magically had ceased to be a
horrible example and was betraying evidences that he might yet become
what insurance agents call a prospect.

As though to justify this hope Jeff attended Tuesday night; his presence
attesting him a well-wisher, his deportment an added testimony that he
deeply had been stirred by the outpoured words of the revivalist. Before
the service got under way he seized upon an opportunity to be
introduced to the Rev. Wickliffe. Many were spectators to the meeting
between them, and speculation ran higher upon the possibility that
before the week ended he would be enrolled among the avowedly convicted.
Again on Wednesday night he was on hand, an attentive and earnest
listener.

Prior to the preliminary exercise of song on this night, the Rev.
Wickliffe outlined the amplified plans for the great moral jubilation on
the evening of the Eighth and invited suggestions from the assemblage to
the end that naught be overlooked which might add to its splendors. At
this invitation, almost as though he had been awaiting some such
favorable opening, there stood up promptly Tecumseh Sherman Glass, and
Tecumseh made a certain motion which on being put to the vote of the
house carried unanimously amid sounds of a general approval. Some
applauded, no doubt, because of the popularity of the idea embodied in
the motion and some perhaps because the brother, in offering it, was
deemed to have displayed a most generous, a most becoming, and a totally
unexpected spirit of magnanimity toward a fellow professional occupying
a place which Cump Glass or any other saxophonist might well envy him.

If at this Jeff's heart gave a joyous jump inside of him, his face
remained a mask to hide his real feelings. If, privily, by day he
labored to gather up all the loose ends of his shaping design, publicly
by night he patronized the tabernacle. He was present on Thursday night
and on Friday and on Saturday, and three times on Sunday he was present,
maintaining still his outward bearing of interest and sympathy. He was
like a tree which bends before the compelling blast yet refuses for a
little while longer to topple headlong. This brings us up to Monday, the
Glorious Eighth.

With the morning of that day or with its nooning or with its
afternooning we need have no concern, replete though they were in
variety of entertainment and abounding in pleasurable incident. For us
the interest chiefly centers in the early evening and especially in that
part of the evening falling between seven o'clock and forty minutes past
seven. At seven, prompt on the clock's stroke and as guaranteed in the
announcements, the parade fathered by the Rev. Wickliffe, started from
the corner of Tennessee and Front Streets, down by the river, and
wended, as the saying goes, its way due westward into the sunset's
painted afterglow.

This was a parade! A great man had sired it; a tried organizer had
fostered it; proved executives had worked out the problems of its
divisions and its groupings. At its head, suitably mounted upon a white
steed, rode a grand marshal who was more than a grand marshal. For in
his one person this dignitary combined two parts: not only was he the
grand marshal with a broad sash draped diagonally across his torso to
prove it, but likewise he was the official trumpeter. At intervals he
raised his horn to his lips and sounded forth inspiring notes. That his
horn was neither a trumpet nor yet a bugle but a long, goose-necked
thing might be regarded as merely a detail. Only one who was overly
technical would have noted the circumstance at all. Behind him, sixteen
abreast, appeared the special tabernacle choristers with large
fluttering badges of royal purple. They came on magnificently, filling
the street from curb-line to curb-line, and the sound of their singing
was as a great wind gathering. The second one on the left, counting from
the end, in the front row, was Ophelia Stubblefield, tawny and splendid
as a lithesome tiger-lily. She wore white with long white kid gloves and
a beflowered hat which represented the hoarded total of six weeks'
wages. You would have said it was worth the money. Anybody would.

In the second section rode the Rev. Wickliffe and the Rev. Shine; they
were in a touring-car with its top flattened back. You might say they
composed the second section. Carriages and automobiles rolling along
immediately behind them bore the members of the official board of
Emmanuel Chapel in sets of fours, and the chief financial contributors
to the revival which this night would reach its climax. Flanking the
carriages and following after them marched the living garnerings of the
campaign--the converts to date, a veritable Gideon's Band of them, in
number amounting to a host, and all afoot as befitting the palmer and
the pilgrim. Established members of the congregation, in hired hacks, in
jitneys, in rented and privately owned equipages, and also afoot came
next.

Voluntarily aligned representatives of the colored population at large
formed the tail of the column. Of these last there surely were hundreds.
Hundreds more, in holiday dress now somewhat rumpled after a day of
pleasure-seeking and pleasure-finding, lined the sidewalks to see this
spectacle. Nowhere along the straightaway of the line of march did the
pavements lack for onlookers, but nearing the end of the route, and
especially where the wide vacant spaces of the Tennessee Street common
had been preëmpted by the festal enterprises of Director General Æsop
Loving and his confrères, the press became thicker and ever thicker.
Here the crowds overflowed upon the gravel roadway, narrowing the
thoroughfare to a lane through which the paraders barely might pass.
They did pass, though at a lessened pace, until their front ranks had
reached the approximate middle breadth of the old show-grounds, with the
tabernacle looming against the sunset's dying fires an eighth of a mile
on beyond.

It is necessary here and now that, taking our eyes from this scene, we
hark back to the Wednesday evening preceding. It will be recalled that
on this evening a certain motion was made and by acclamation adopted.
The maker of the motion, as we know, was Tecumseh Sherman Glass; its
beneficiary, as the reader shrewdly may have divined, was Cephus Fringe.
Beforehand perhaps the Professor had had vague misgivings as to the part
he was to play in the pageantry on the Eighth; perhaps in his mind he
had forecast the probability that he might suffer eclipse--a temporary
eclipse--but to an _artiste_ none the less distasteful--in the shadow of
the Sin Killer, for since the Sin Killer had originally promulgated the
idea of the procession it was only natural and only human that the Sin
Killer should devise to himself the outstanding place of honor in it.

Be these conjectures as they may be, it is not to be gainsaid that the
suggestion embodied in Cump Glass's motion was to Prof. Fringe highly
agreeable, insuring, as it did, a fair measure of prominence for him
without infringing upon his chief's distinctions. He showed his
approbation. I believe I already have intimated that Prof. Fringe was
not exactly prejudiced against himself. Any lingering aversions he may
have entertained in this quarter had long since been overcome.
Nevertheless a fresh doubt, arising from fresh causes, assailed him as
the first flush of satisfaction abated within him.

This new-born uneasiness betrayed itself in his voice and his manner
when, at the conclusion of the night's services, he encountered Cump
Glass in the middle aisle. The meeting was not entirely by chance; if
the truth is to be known, Cump had maneuvered to bring it about. The act
was his; a greater mind than his, though, had sponsored the act. And
Cump Glass, rightly interpreting the look upon Prof. Fringe's large,
plump face, guilefully set himself to play upon the emotional nature of
the other. With a gracious wave of his hand he checked the Professor's
expression of thanks.

"Don't mention it," he said generously, "don't mention it. It teks a
purformer to understand another purformer's feelin's. So I therefo'
teken it 'pon myse'f to nomernate you fur the gran' marshal and also ez
the proper one to sound the buglin' blasts endurin' of the turnout.
Seems lak somebody else would 'a' had the sense to do so, but w'en they
wuzn't nobody w'ich did so, I steps in. But right soon afterwards I gits
to stedyin' 'bout the hoss you'll be ridin', an' it's been worryin' me
quite some little--the question of the hoss."

"I been thinkin' concernin' of 'at very same thing," confessed Cephus
Fringe.

"Is that possible?" exclaimed Cump Glass with well-simulated surprise.
"Well, suh, smart minds shorely runs in the same grooves, ez the sayin'
goes. Yas, suh, settin' yonder after I made that motion, I sez to
myse'f, I sez, 'Glass, you done started this thing an' you must see it
th'ough. 'Twon't never do in this world fur the gran' marshal to be
stuck up 'pon the top side of a skittish, skeery liver'-stable hoss
that'll mebbe start cuttin' up right in the smack middle of things and
distrac' the gran' marshal's mind frum his business.' I seen that happen
mo' times 'en onct, wid painful results. I s'pose, tho, you kin ride
mighty nigh ary hoss they is, can't you, Purfessor?"

"Well, I could do so onct," stated Cephus in the manner of one who
formerly had followed rough-riding for a calling, "but leadin' a public
life fur so long, lak I has, I ain't had much time fur private
pleasures. 'Sides w'ich, ef I'm goin' sound the notes I'll be needin'
both hands free fur my instermint."

"Puzzactly the same thought w'ich came to me, jes' lak I'm tellin' it to
you," agreed Cump. "It teks a musician to think of things w'ich an
ordinary pusson wouldn't never dream of. So, fur the las' hour or so I
been castin' about in my mind an' jes' a minute ago the idee come to me.
I feels shore I kin arrange wid a frien' of mine to he'p us out. I
s'pose you is acquainted with this yere Jeffy Poindexter?"

"I has met him," said Cephus with chill creeping into his tones. "An' I
has observed him present yere the last two-three nights. But I ain't
aimin' to ax no favors frum him."

"You ain't needin' to," said Cump. "I'll 'tend to that myse'f. Besides,
Purfessor, you is sizin' up Jeffy Poindexter wrong. He's went an'
'sperienced a change of heart in his feelin's tow'ds whut's goin' on
yere. Furthermo'"--and here he favored his flattered listener with a
confidential and a meaning wink--"he got sense 'nuff, Jeffy has, to know
w'en he's crowded plum out of the runnin' by somebody w'ich is mo'
swiftly gaited 'en whut he is, an' natchelly he crave to stand in well
wid a winner. Naw, suh, that Jeffy, he'd be most highly overjoyed to
haul off an' lend a helpin' hand, ef by so doin' he mout put you onder a
favor to him."

Cephus sniffed, half disarmed but wavering.

"Wharin' could he he'p out? He ain't ownin' no private string of
ridin'-hosses so fur ez I've took note of."

"The w'ite man he wuks fur is got one an' Jeffy gits the borrowin' use
of her--it's a mare--w'enever he want to, ez I knows frum whut he tells
me an' frum whut I seen. Purfessor, that mare is jes' natchelly ordained
an' cut out fur peradin'--broad ez a feather-tick, gentle ez the onborn
lamb, an' mouty nigh pyure white--perzactly the right color fur a gran'
marshal's hoss. Crowds ain't goin' pester that lady-mare none. Music
ain't goin' disturb her none whutsoever, neither."

"Whut's her reg'lar gait?"

"Her reg'lar gait is standin' still. But w'en she's travelin' at her
bestest speed she uses the cemetery walk. See that mare goin' pas' you
w'en she's in a hurry an' you say to yo'se'f, you say, 'Yere you is,
bound fur de buryin'-groun', but how come you got separated frum the
hearse?' Purfessor, that mare's entitled Christian name is Mittie May.
Did you ever hear of ary thing on fo' laigs, ur two, w'ich answered to
the name of Mittie May that wuz tricky?"

"Better be mouty sure," said the cautious Cephus, concerned for the
safety and dignity of the creature which he held most dear of all on
this earth. "'Member, I'll be needin' both hands free--'twon't be no
time fur me to go jerkin' on the reins w'en my saxophone is requirin' to
be played."

"You's right there," agreed Cump. "Twouldn't never do, neither, fur you
to slip off an' mebbe git yo'se'f crippled up. Whar would this yere
pertracted meetin' be then? Lemme think. Ah, hah! I got it--the notion
jes' come to me. Purfessor, listen yere." He placed his lips close to
the other's ear and spoke perhaps fifty words in a confidential whisper.
In token of approval and acquiescence the Professor warmly clasped the
right hand of this forethoughted Glass.

After such a manner was Cephus Fringe, all unwittingly, thrust into the
pit which had been digged for him.

At the point where the narrative was broken into for the interpolation
of the episode now set forth, the head of the parade, as will be
remembered, was just coming abreast of the old show-grounds. Now, the
head of the parade was Cephus Fringe, and none other. One glance at him,
upon a white steed, all glorious in high hat and frock coat and with
that wide crimson sash dividing his torso in two parts, would have
proved that to the most ignorant. As for his palfrey, she ambled along
as though Eighth of August celebrations and a saxophone blaring between
her drooping ears, and jubilating crowds and all that singing behind
her, and all these carnival barkers shouting alongside her, had been her
daily portion since first she was foaled into the world. The compound
word lady-like would be the word fittest to describe her.

Not twenty feet from her, close up to where the abutting common met the
straggling brick pavement, stood the battered Flyin' Jinny of Gumbo
Rollins. It was nearermost to the street-line of all the attractions
provided by Æsop Loving and his associates. Here, on the site which he
had chosen, was Gumbo Rollins himself, competently in charge. At the
precise moment when Mittie May and her proud rider had reached a point
just opposite him, Gumbo Rollins elected to set his device in motion and
with it the steam-organ which was part and parcel of the thing's
organism. Really he might have waited a bit.

Lured by the prospect of beholding something for nothing, most of his
consistent patrons temporarily had deserted him to flock out into the
roadway and witness the passing by of the Sin Killer's cohorts. Two
infatuated lovers, country darkies, sat with arms entwined in a rickety
wooden chariot. Here and there a piccaninny clung to the back of a
spotted wooden pony or a striped wooden zebra. These, for the moment,
were his only customers; nevertheless Gumbo Jones Rollins swung a lever
and started the machinery. The merry-go-round moved with a shriek of
steam; the wheezy organ began spouting forth the introductory bars of a
rollicking _galop_, a tune so old that its very name had been forgotten,
although the air of it lived anonymously.

As though she had been bee-stung, Mittie May flung up her head. She
arched her neck and pranced with all four of her feet. She spun about,
scattering those of the pedestrian classes who hemmed her so closely in.
Unmindful of a sudden anxious command from her rider, she swung her
foreparts this way and that. She was looking for it. It must be directly
hereabouts somewhere. In those ancient days of her youthful vagabondage
it had always been close at hand when that tune--her own tune--was
played.

Then above the heads of the crowd she saw it--a scuffed circlet of earth
measuring exactly fifty-two feet across and marking the location where
the middle ring had been builded when Runyon & Bulger's Mighty United
Railroad Shows pitched their tents on the occasion of their annual
Spring engagement. That had been in early May and this was summer's
third month; the attrition of the weather had worn down the sharp edges
of that low turfen parapet; by rights, too, there should have been much
sawdust and much smell of the same and a center pole rising like one
lone blasted tree from the exact middle of a circular island of this
sawdust; there should have been a ringmaster and at least two clowns and
an orderly clutter of paraphernalia. Nevertheless there before her was
the middle ring. And the music had started. And Mittie May answered the
cue which had lived in her brain for fifteen long years and more, just
as always she answered it, or sought to, when that tune smote her
eardrums.

The startled spectators gave backward and to either side in scrambling
retreat as she lunged forward, cleaving a passage for herself to the
proper spot of entrance. She whisked in. Around the ring she sped, her
hoofs drumming against the flanks of the ring-back, her barrel slanting
far over in obedience to the laws of centripetal force, her tail
rippling out behind her like a homebound pennon in a fair breeze--around
and around and yet again and then some more.

To be sure there were irregularities in the procedure. Upon her back,
springily erect, there should have been a jaunty equestrian swinging a
gay pink leg in air and anon uttering the traditional _Hoop-la_. Instead
there was a heavy bulk which embraced her neck with two strong arms,
which wallowed about on her spinal column, which continually cried out
entreaties, threats, commands, even profanities. Yet with Mittie May,
as with most of us, habit was stronger than all else. She knew her duty
as of old. She did it. Accommodating her gait to the quickening measures
of the music, she stretched her legs, passing out of a rolling gallop
into a hard run. Yet one more thing, or rather the lack of it, perplexed
her. Attendants should be bringing forth knockdown fence-panels for her
to leap over and hoops of paper for her rider to leap through. Never
mind; out of her imagination she would supply these missing details when
the proper moment came. She'd hurdle the hurdles which weren't there.
Meanwhile she knew what to do--around and around and around, right
willingly, right blithely went Mittie May.

And, with her, around and around went also Prof. Cephus Fringe, but not
willingly and by no means blithely. He shed his high hat and with it all
lingering essences of his dignity. One of Mittie May's feet squashed
down on the high hat and it folded up like a condensed time-card. He
lost the last vestige of his vanishing authority when he lost his
saxophone. The Professor did not understate the case when he had
intimated that he was somewhat out of practice at equestrian exercises.
Stark terror convulsed his frame; instinct of self-preservation made him
careless of the language he used. Indeed, a good deal of the language he
used was bounced right out of him.

Haply perhaps for him--and surely nothing else that happened was for
him haply circumstanced--most of the naughty words reached no ears save
those of Mittie May. There were sounds which drowned them--sounds which
began with a fluttered outcry of alarm, which progressed to a great gasp
of astonishment, which swelled and rippled into a titter, which grew
into a vast rocking roar of unrestrained joyousness. Children shrieked,
old women cackled, old men wheezed, adults guffawed, strong men rolled
upon the earth in uncontrollable outbursts of thunderous mirth. As
though stricken in all his members, Gumbo Rollins fell alongside his
whirling Flyin' Jinny, but failed not, even in that excess of his
mounting hysteria, to see to it that the steam-driven organ continued to
grind out the one tune of its repertoire. The members of the choir
forgot that their mission was to sing. They were too busy laughing to
sing. And high and clear above the chorus of their glad outcry rose the
soprano gurglings of Ophelia Stubblefield as she leaned for support up
against somebody.

You ask, Why did not Prof. Cephus Fringe fall off of Mittie May? He
tried to. At first he sought only to stay on; then after a bit he sought
to get off; he couldn't. The cause for his staying on was revealed when
Mittie May took the first of those mental hazards of hers. As she rose
grandly into space to clear the imagined top-rail of the imagined panel
and with hind heels drawn well in under her, descended and continued on
her circling way, a keen-eyed spectator, all bent double though he was,
alongside the ring, and beating himself in the short ribs, caught a
flashing glimpse of a strong but narrow strap which bound the rider's
ankles to the saddle-girth and which, through the ordered march of the
parade, had been safely hidden from view behind the ornament housings of
the broad Spanish stirrups. Cump Glass had done his fiendish work well;
those straps strained, but they held.

"Name of Glory!" shouted out the observer. "He done tie hisse'f on! He
done tie hisse'f--" Overcome he choked.

With a great sweeping, swooping heave Mittie May made the last leap. And
then at the precise second when the music stopped, the leathern thongs
parted, and as the burden on her tumbled off and lay struggling in the
dust, Mittie May swerved from the ring and, magically and
instantaneously becoming once more Judge Priest's staidly respectable
old buggy-mare, stood waiting for Jeff Poindexter to come and lead her
out of all this shrieking, whooping jam of folks back to her stable. And
Jeff came. He had been there all the time. It was against his supporting
frame that Ophelia had slanted limply the while she laughed.

Here the curtain is lowered for two seconds to denote the passage of two
days. At its rise Jeff Poindexter and Gumbo Rollins are discovered
sitting side by side on the back step of a cabin in the Plunket's Hill
neighborhood.

"An' so they ain't nobody seen him sence?" It is Jeff who is speaking.

"So they tells me," answers Gumbo. "Ain't nary soul seen hair nur hide
of him frum the moment he riz out 'en that ring an' tuk his foot in his
hand an' marviled further. Yas, suh, the pertracted meetin' will have to
worry 'long the best way it kin 'thout its champion purty man. Well,
sometimes it seems lak these things turns out fur the bes'. It suttin'ly
would damage his lacinated feelin's still mo' ef he wus yere an' heared
folks all over town callin' him the Jazzed-up Circus Rider."

"I got a better name fur him 'en that," says Jeff, "Whiffletit."

"W'ich?" asks Gumbo.

Seemingly Jeff has not heard his friend's question. In an undertone, and
as though seeking to recall the words of a given formula, he communes
with himself, "Fust you baits him wid the cheese. An' 'en w'en he nibble
the cheese, he git all swelled up an' 'en whilst he's flappin' helpless
you leans over the side of the boat an jes' natchelly laffs him to
death."

"Whut-all is you mumblin'?" demands Gumbo Rollins, puzzled by these
seemingly unrelated and irrelevant mouthings. "Is you crazy?"

"Yas," concurs Jeff, "crazy lak the king of the weazels."



CHAPTER IX

PLENTIFUL VALLEY


"So this here head brakeman, the same being a large, coarse, hairy,
rectangular person with a square-toed jaw and a square-jawed toe, he up
and boots the two of us right off this here freight train."

My old and revered friend, Scandalous Doolan, is much addicted to
opening a narrative smack down the middle, as though it were an oyster,
and then, by degrees, working both ways--toward the start and the
finish. So it did not greatly surprise me that without preface,
dedication, index or chapter-heading, he should suddenly introduce a
head brakeman and a freight train into a conversation which until that
moment had dealt with topics not in the least akin to these. Indeed,
knowing him as I did, it seemed to me all the better reason why I should
promptly incline the greedy ear, for over and above his eccentricities
in the matter of launching a subject, Mr. Doolan is the only member of
his calling I ever saw who talks in real life as all the members of his
calling are fondly presumed to talk, in story-books and on the stage.

I harkened, therefore, saying nothing, and sure enough, having dealt for
a brief passage of time with the incident of a certain enforced
departure from a certain as yet unnamed common carrier, he presently
retraced his verbal footsteps and began at the beginning.

I quote in full:


"Yes, sir, that's what he does. Refusing to listen to reason, this here
head brakeman, which anybody could tell just by looking at him that he
didn't have no heart a-tall and no soul, so as you could notice it, he
just red lights us off into the peaceful and sun-lit bosom of the rooral
New York State landscape. But before reaching the landscape it becomes
necessary for us to slide down a grade of a perpendicular character, and
in passing I am much pleased to note that the right-of-way is
self-trimmed to match the prevalent style of scenery, with maybe a few
cinders interspersed for decorations. There is one class of travelers
which prefers a road-bed rock-ballasted, and these is those which goes
on trains from place to place. There's another kind which likes a
road-bed done in the matched or natural materials, and them's the kind
which goes off trains from time to time. And us two, being for the
moment in this class, we are much gratified by the circumstance.

"And we sits up and dusts ourselves off in a nonchalant manner while
the little old choo-choo continues upon her way to Utica, Syracuse, and
all points west, leaving me and the Sweet Caps Kid with all the bright
world before us, and nothing behind us but the police force.

"For some months previous to this, me and the Sweet Caps Kid has been
sojourning in that favored metropolis which is bounded on one side by a
loud Sound and on the other by a steep Bluff, and is doing her constant
best at all times to live up to the surroundings. Needless to say, I
refer to little Noo Yawk, the original haunt of the come-on and the
native habitat of the sure thing, where the jays bite freely and the
woods are full of fish. We have been doing very well there--very, very
well, considering. What with working the nuts on the side streets right
off Broadway and playing a little three-card monte down round Coney in
the cool of the evening and once in a while selling a sturdy husbandman
from over Jersey way a couple of admission tickets to Central Park, we
have found no cause to complain at the business depression. It sure
looks to us like confidence has been restored and any time she seems a
little backward we take steps to restore her some ourselves. But all of
a sudden, something seems to tell me that we oughter be moving.

"You know how them mysterious premonitions comes to a feller. A little
bird whispers to you, or you have a dream, or else you walk into the
mitt-joint and hand a he-note to a dark complected lady wearing a red
kimono and a brown mustache, and she takes a flash at your palm and
seems to see a dark man coming with a warrant, followed by a trip up a
great river to a large stone building like a castle. Or else
Headquarters issues a general alarm, giving names, dates, personal
description, size of reward and place where last seen. This time it's a
general alarm. From what I could gather, a downcasted Issy Wisenheimer
has been up to the front parlor beefing about his vanishing bankroll and
his disappearing breast-pin. You wouldn't think a self-respecting
citizen of a great Republic like this'n would carry on so over
thirty-eight dollars in currency and a diamond so yeller it woulda been
a topaz if it had been any yellower. But such was indeed the case. I
gleans a little valuable information from a friendly barkeeper who's got
a brother-in-law at the Central Office, and so is in position to get
hold of much interesting and timely chit-chat before it becomes common
gossip throughout the neighborhood. So then I takes the Sweet Caps Kid
off to one side and I says to him, I says:

"'Kiddo,' I says, 'listen: I've got a strong presentiment that we should
oughter be going completely away from here. If we don't, the first thing
you know some plain-clothes bull with fallen arches and his neck shaved
'way up high in the back will be coming round asking us to go riding
with him down town into the congested district, and if we declines the
invitation, like as not he'll muss our clothes all up. Do you seem to
get my general drift?' I says.

"'Huh,' he says, 'you talk as if there'd been a squeal.'

"'Squeal?' I says. 'Squeal? Son, you can take it from me there's been a
regular season of grand opera. You and me are about to be accused of
pernicious activity. What's more, they're liable to prove it. There's a
movement on foot in influential quarters to provide us with board and
lodgings at a place which I will not name to you in so many words on
account of your weak heart. The work there,' I says, 'is regular, and
the meals is served on time, and you're protected from the damp night
air; but,' I says, 'the hours is too long and too confining to suit me.'
I've knowed probably a thousand fellers in my time that sojourned up at
Bird Center-on-the-Hudson anywhere from one to fifteen years on a
stretch, and I never seen one of them yet but had some fault to find
with the place.

"'Whereas, on the other hand,' I says, 'all nature seems to beckon to
us. Let's you and me steal forth under the billowy blue caliber of
Heaven and make hay while the haymakers are good. Let us quit the city
with its temptations and its snares and its pitfalls, 'specially the
last named,' I says, 'and in some peaceful spot far, far away, let us
teach Uncle Joshua Whitcomb that the hand is quicker than the eye, him
paying cash down in advance for the lessons. Tubby sure, the pickings
has been excellent here in the shadow of the skyscrapers, and it'll
probably be harder sledding out amongst the disk-harrow boys. Everybody
reads the papers these days, only the Rube believes what he reads and
the city guy don't. I hate to go, but I ain't comfortable where I am.
When my scalp begins to itch like it does now that's a sign of a close
hair-cut coming on. I've got educated dandruff,' I says, 'and it ain't
never fooled me yet. In short,' I says, 'I've been handed the office to
skiddoo, and in such cases I believe in skiddooing. Let us create a
vacancy in these parts _sine quinine_--which,' I says, 'is Latin,
meaning it's a bitter dose but you gotta take it.'

"'I can start right this minute,' says Sweet Caps; 'my tooth-brush is
packed and all I've got to do is to put on my hat. S'pose we run up to a
Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, which is a nice secluded spot,' he
says, 'and catch the rattler.'

"'How are you fixed for currency?' I says.

"'Fixed?' he says. 'I ain't fixed a-tall. A'int you been carrying the
firm's bank-roll? Say, ain't you?'

"Well, right there I has to break the sad news to him. I does it as
gentle as I could but still he seems peeved. Money has caused a lot of
suffering in this world, they tell me, but I'm here to tell you the lack
of it's been responsible for consider'ble many heartburnings too. Up
until that minute I hadn't had the heart to tell the Sweet Caps Kid that
our little joint partnership bank-roll is no longer with us. I'd been
saving back them tidings for a more suitable moment, but now I has to
tell him.

"It seems that the night before, I had been tiger hunting in the jungle
down at Honest John Donohue's. Of course I should have knowed better
than to go up against a game run by anybody calling hisself Honest John.
Them complimentary monakers always work with the reverse English. You
are walking along and you see a gin-mill across the street with a sign
over the door which says it's Smiling Pete's Place, and you cross over
and look in, and behind the bar is an old guy who ain't heard anything
that really pleased him since the Martinique disaster. He's standing
there with his lip stuck out like a fender on a street car, and a bung
starter handy, just hoping that somebody will come in and start to start
something. That's Smiling Pete. As for this here Donohue, he's so
crooked he can't eat nothing such as stick candy and cheese straws
without he gets cramps in his stomach. He'd take the numbers off your
house. That's why they call him Honest John. I know all this, good and
well, but what's a feller going to do when his is the only place in
town that's open? You've got to play somewheres, ain't you? Somehow, I
always was sort of drawed to faro.

"Well, you know the saying--one man's meat is another's pizen. He was my
pizen and I certainly was his meat. So now, I ain't got nothing in my
pockets except the linings.

"I tells the Sweet Caps Kid just how it was--how right up to the very
last minute I kept expecting the luck to turn and how even then I mighta
got it all back if the game-keeper hadn't been so blamed unreasonable
and mercenary. When my last chip is gone I holds up a finger for a
marker and tells him I'll take another stack of fifty, all blues this
time, but he only looks at me sort of chilly and distrustful and remarks
in a kind of a bored way that there's nothing doing.

"'That'll be all right,' I says to him. 'I'll see you to-morrow.'

"'No, you wont,' he says, spiteful-like.

"'Why,' I says, 'wont you be here to-morrow?'

"'Oh, yes,' he says, 'we'll be here to-morrow, but you wont.'

"'Is that so?' I says, sarcastical. 'Coming in,' I says, 'I thought I
seen the word _Welcome_ on the doormat.'

"'Going out,' he says, 'you'll notice that, spelled backward, it's a
French word signifying _Mind Your Step_.'

"And while I'm thinking up a proper comeback for that last remark of
his'n somebody hands me my hat, and in less'n a minute, seems-like, I'm
out in the street keeping company with myself.

"I tells all this to the Sweet Caps Kid, but still he don't seem
satisfied with my explanation. That's one drawback to the Kid's
disposition--he gets all put out over the least little thing. So I says
to him: 'Cheer up,' I says, 'things ain't so worse. Due to my being in
right with the proper parties we gets this here advance tip, and we
beats the barrier while this here fat Central Office bull, who thinks he
wants us, is slipping his collar on over his head in the morning.
Remember,' I says, 'we are going to the high grass where the little
birdies sing and the flowers bloom. Providence,' I says, 'has an eye on
every sparrow that falls, but nothing is said about the jays,' I says,
'and we'll see if a few of them wont fall for our little cute tricks.'

"Tubby sure, I'm speaking figurative. I aint really aiming for the deep
woods proper. Only I've been in Noo Yawk long enough to git the Noo Yawk
habit of thinking everybody beyond Rahway, New Jersey, is the Far West.
I'm really figuring to land in one of them small junction points, such
as Cleveland or Pittsburgh. And we would too, if it hadn'ta been for
that there head brakeman.

"Anyway, we moons round in a kind of an unostentatious way, with the Kid
still acting peevish and low in his mind, and me saying little things
every now and then to chirk him up, until the shank of the evening
arrives 'long about two A.M. Then we slips over into the yards below
Riverside Drive, taking due care not to wake up no sleeping policeman on
the way. There we presently observes a freight train, which is giving
signs of getting ready to make up its mind to go somewheres.

"A freight train is like a woman. When you see a woman coming out of the
front door and running back seven or eight times to get something she's
forgot, you know that woman is on her way. And it's the same with
freights; that's why they call 'em '_shes_'. Pretty soon this here
freight quits vacilliating back and forth, and comes sliding down past
where we're waiting.

"'Here comes a side-door Pullman, with the side door open,' I says.
'Let's get on and book a couple of lowers.'

"'How do you know where she's going?' says the Kid, him being greatly
addicted to idle questions.

"'I don't,' I says; 'the point is that she's going. To-night she will be
here but to-morrow she will be extensively elsewhere; and so,' I says,
'will we. Let us therefore depart from these parts while the departing
is good,' I says.

"Which we done so, just like I'm telling you. And for some hours we
trundles along very snug and comfortable, both of us being engrossed in
sleep. When we wakes up it's another day, and the wicked city is far,
far behind us, and we are running through a district which is entirely
surrounded by scenery. If it hadn'ta been that something keeps reminding
me I ai'nt had no breakfast I coulda been just as happy.

"'Where'll we git off?' says Sweet Caps, setting up and rubbing his
eyes.

"'Well,' I says, 'we takes our choice. Maybe Albany,' I says. 'The
legislature is in special session there, and a couple of grafters more
or less wont make no material difference--they'll probably take us for
members. Maybe Rochester,' I says, 'which is a pleasant city, full of
large and thriving industries. Maybe,' I says, 'if this here train don't
take a notion to climb down off the track and go berry-picking, maybe
Chicago. Of course,' I says, 'Chi ain't quite so polished as Noo Yawk.
Chi has been called crude by some. When I think of Noo Yawk,' I says, 'I
think of a peroxide chorus lady going home at three o'clock in the
morning in two taxicabs, but when I think of Chicago I'm reminded of a
soused hired girl, with red hair, on a rampage. But,' I says, 'what's
the difference? Everywhere you go,' I says, 'there's always human life,
and Chicago is reputed to be quite full of population and very probably
we can find a few warm-hearted persons there who are more or less
addicted to taking a chance.'

"But you know how it is in these matters--you never can tell. Just as
I'm concluding my remarks touching on our two largest cities, this here
brakeman comes snooping along and intimates that we better be thinking
about getting off. He's probably the biggest brakeman living. If he was
any bigger than what he is, he'd be twins. We endeavors to argue him out
of the notion but it seems like he's sort of set in his mind. Besides,
being so much larger than either one of us or both of us put together,
for that matter, he has the advantage in repartee. So he makes an issue
of it and we sees our way clear to getting off without waiting for the
locomotive to slow up or anything. After our departure, the train
continues on its way thither, we remaining hither.

"'My young friend,' I says when the dust has settled down, 'the question
which you propounded about five minutes ago is now answered in the
affirmative. This is where we get off--right here on this identical
spot. I don't know the name of the place,' I says; 'maybe it's so far
out in the suburbs that they ain't found time to get round to it yet and
give it a name; but,' I says, 'there's one consolation. By glancing
first up this way and then down that way you will observe that from here
to the point where the rails meet down yonder is exactly the same
distance that it is from here to where the rails meet up
yonderways--proving,' I says, 'that we are in the exact center of the
country. So let us be up and doing,' I says, 'specially doing. But the
first consideration,' I say, 'is vittles.'

"You know me well enough to know," interjected Mr. Doolan, interrupting
the thread of his narrative for a moment and turning to me with a wave
of his stout arm, "that I ain't no glutton. I can eat my grub when it's
set before me or I can let it alone, only I never do. I never begin to
think about the next meal till I'm almost through with the last one. And
right now my mind seems to dwell on breakfast.

"Well, anyway we arises up and goes away from there, walking in a
general direction, and before long we comes to a sign which says we are
now approaching the incorporated village of Plentiful Valley--Autos
Reduce Speed to Eight Miles an Hour--No Tramps Allowed. I kind of
favors the sound of that name--Plentiful Valley. And as I remarks to the
Sweet Caps Kid, 'We ain't no autos and we ain't no tramps but merely two
professional men, looking for a chance to practise our profession.'

"This here is the first valley I ever see in the course of a long and
more or less polka-dotted career that it is all up-hill and never no
downhill. Be that as it may, we rambles on until it must be going on
towards nine forty-five o'clock, and comes to a neat bungalow on a green
slope inside of a high white fence. There's a venerable party setting on
the front porch, in his shirt-sleeves. He looks beneficent and well fed.

"'Pull down your vest, son-boy,' I says to Sweet Caps, 'and please
remember not to drink your coffee out of the sasser. I have a growing
conviction,' I says, 'that we are about to partake of refreshment.'

"'Hadn't we better sell this ancient guy a few Bermuda oats, or
something to start off with?' says he.

"'Not until after we have et,' I says; business before pleasure. And
anyway,' I says, 'I works best on a full stomach. Follow your dear
uncle,' I says, 'and don't do nothing till you hear from me.'

"With that I opens the gate and we meanders up a neat gravel path. As we
draws near, the venerable party takes his feet down off the railings.

"'Come in,' he says cordially, 'come right in and rest your face and
hands. You're out nice and early.'

"'Suffer us,' I says, 'to introduce ourselves. We are a couple of
prominent tourist-pedestrians walking from Noo Yawk to Portland, Oregon,
on a bet. This,' I says, pointing to Sweet Caps, 'is Young Twinkletoes,
and I am commonly knowed as old King Lightfoot the First. By an
unfortunate coincidence,' I says, 'we got separated at an early hour
from our provision wagon, as a result of which we have omitted breakfast
and feel the omission severely. If we might impose,' I says, 'upon your
good nature to the extent of--'

"'Don't mention it,' he says; 'take two or three chairs and set down,
and we'll talk it over. To tell you the truth,' he says, 'I was jest
setting here wishing somebody would come along and visit with me a
spell. I'm keeping bachelor's hall,' he says, 'and raising chickens on
the side, and sometimes I get a mite lonely. I guess maybe the Chink
might scare up something, although,' he says, 'to tell you the truth
there ain't hardly a bite in the house, except a couple of milk-fed
broilers and some fresh tomattuses right out of the garden and a few hot
biscuits and possibly some razzberries with cream; for I'm a simple
feeder,' he says, 'and a very little satisfies me.'

"He pokes his head inside the door and yells to a Jap to put two more
places at the table. So we reclines and indulges in edifying
conversation upon the current topics of the day and, very shortly,
nourishing smells begin for to percolate forth from within, causing me
to water at the mouth until I has all the outward symptoms of being an
ebb-tide. But this here pernicious Sweet Caps Kid, he can't let well
enough alone. Observing copious signs of affluence upon every side he
gets ambitious and would abuse the sacred right of hospitality about
half to three-quarters of an hour too soon. Out of the tail of my eye I
sees him reaching in his pocket for the educated pasteboards and I gives
him the high sign to soft pedal, but he don't mind me. Out he comes with
'em.

"'A little harmless game of cards,' he says, addressing the elderly
guy, 'entitled,' he says, 'California euchre. I have here, you will
observe, two jacks and an ace--the noble ace of spades. I riffle and
shuffle and drop 'em in a row, the trick being to pick out the ace. Now,
then,' goes on this besetted Sweet Caps, with a winning smile, 'just to
while away the time before breakfast, s'pose you make a small bet with
me regarding the present whereabouts of said ace.'


"The party with the whiskers gets up; and now, when he speaks I sees
that in spite of him wearing a brush arbor, he aint no real rube.

"'To think,' he says, more in sorrow than in anger, 'to think that I
should live to see this day! To think that me, who helped Canady Bill
sell the first gold brick that ever was molded in this country, should
in my declining years have a couple of wooden-fingered amatoors come
along and try to slip me the oldest graft in the known world! It is too
much,' he says, 'it is too much too much. You lower a noble pursuit,' he
says, 'and I must respectfully but firmly request you to be on your way.
I'll try to forgive you,' he says, 'but at this moment your mere
presence offends me. On your way out,' he says, 'kindly latch the gate
behind you--the chickens might stray off. Chickens,' he says, 'is not
exciting for steady company,' he says, 'but in comparison with some
humans I've met lately, chickens is absolutely gifted intellectually.

"'Furthermore,' he says, 'I would offer you a word of advice, although
you don't really deserve it. Beware,' he says, 'of the constable in the
village beyond. You'll recognize him by his whiskers,' he says.
'Alongside of him, I look like an onion in the face. Ten years ago,' he
says, 'that constable swore a solemn oath not never to shave until he'd
locked up a thousand bums, and,' he says, 'he's now on his last lap.
Keep moving,' he says, 'till you feel like stopping, and then don't
stop.'

"Them edifying smells has made me desperate. Besides, not counting the
Chink, who don't count we outnumbers him two to one.

"'We don't go,' I says, 'until we gets a bite.'

"'Oh! I'll see that you get a bite,' he says. 'Sato,' he says, calling
off-stage, 'kindly unchain Ophelia and Ralph Waldo. Ophelia,' he says,
turning to us, 'is a lady Great Dane, standing four feet high at the
shoulder and very morose in disposition. But Ralph Waldo is a
crossbreed--part Boston bull and part snapping turtle. Sometimes I think
they don't neither one of them care much for strangers. Here they come
now! Sick 'em, pups!'

"Sweet Caps starts first but I beats him to the gate by half a length,
Ophelia and Ralph Waldo finishing third and fourth, respectively. We
fades away down the big road, and the last thing we sees as we turns a
wistful farewell look over our shoulders is them two man-eaters raging
back and forth inside the fence trying to gnaw down the palings, and the
old guy standing on the steps laughing.

"So we pikes along, me frequently reproaching Sweet Caps for his
precipitancy in spilling the beans. We passes through the village of
Plentiful Valley without stopping and walks on and on and on some more,
until we observes a large, prosperous-looking building of red brick,
like a summer hotel with a lawn in front and a high stone wall in front
of that. A large number of persons of both sexes, but mainly females, is
wandering about over the front yard dressed in peculiar styles. Leaning
over the gates is a thickset man gazing with repugnance upon a lettuce
leaf which he is holding in his right hand. He sees us and his face
lights up some, but not much.

"'What ho, comrades!' he says; 'what's the latest and newest in the
great world beyond?'

"'Mister,' I says, disregarding these pleasantries, 'how's the prospects
for a pair of footsore travelers to get a free snack of vittles here?'

"'Poor,' he says, 'very poor. Even the pay-patients, one or two of whom
I am which, don't get anything to eat to speak of. The diet here,' says,
'is exclusively vegeterrible. You wouldn't scarcely believe it,' he
says, 'but we're paying out good money for this. Some of us is here to
get cured of what the docters think we've got, and some of us is here,'
he says, 'because as long as we stay here they ain't so liable to lock
us up in a regular asylum. Yes,' he says, pensively, 'we've got all
kinds here. That lady yonder,' he says, pointing to a large female who's
dressed all in white like a week's washing and ain't got no shoes on,
'she's getting back to nature. She walks around in the dew barefooted.
It takes quite a lot of dew,' he says. 'And that fat one just beyond her
believes in reincarnation.'

"'You don't say!' I says.

"'Yes,' he says, 'I do. She wont eat potatoes not under no
circumstances, because she thinks that in her last previous existence
she was a potato herself.'

"I takes a squint at the lady. She has a kind of a round face with two
or three chins that she don't actually need, and little knobby features.

"'Well,' I says, 'if I'm any judge, she ain't entirely recovered yet.
Might I ask,' I says, 'what is your particular delusion? Are you a
striped cabbage worm or a pet white rabbit?'

"I was thinking about that lettuce leaf which he held in his mitt.

"'Not exactly,' he says, 'I was such a good liver that I developed a bad
one and so I paid a specialist eighty dollars to send me here. At this
writing,' he says, 'the beasts of the field have but little on me. We
both browse, but they've got cuds to chew on afterwards. It's
sickening,' he says in tones of the uttermost conviction. 'Do you know
what we had for breakfast this morning? Nuts,' he says, 'mostly nuts,
which it certainly was rank cannibalism on the part of many of those
present to partake thereof,' he says. 'This here frayed foliage which I
hold in my hand,' he says, 'is popularly known as the mid-forenoon
refreshment. It's got imitation salad dressing on it to make it more
tasty. Later on there'll be more of the same, but the big doings will be
pulled off at dinner to-night. You just oughter see us at dinner,' he
says with a bitter laugh. 'There'll be a mess of lovely boiled carrots,'
he says, 'and some kind of chopped fodder, and if we're all real good
and don't spill things on our bibs or make spots on the tablecloth, why,
for dessert we'll each have a nice dried prune. I shudder to think,' he
says, 'what I could do right this minute to a large double sirloin
cooked with onions _Desdemona_ style, which is to say, smothered.'

"'Mister,' I says, 'I never thought I'd fall so low as to be a
vegeterrier, but necessity,' I says, 'is the mother of vinegar. Could
you please, sir, spare us a couple of bites out of that there ensilage
of yourn--one large bite for me and one small bite for my young friend
there to keep what little life we have until the coming of the corned
beef and cabbage?'

"'Fellow sufferer,' he says, 'listen here to me. I've got a dear old
white-haired grandmother, which she was seventy-four her last birthday
and has always been a life-long member of the First Baptist Church. I
love my dear old grandmother, but if she was standing right here now and
asked me for a nibble off my mid-day refreshment I'd tell her to go
find a truck patch of her own. Yes sir, I'd turn her down cold; because
if I don't eat enough to keep me alive to get out of here when the times
comes I wont be alive to get out of here when the time comes. Anywhere
else I could love you like a brother,' he says, 'and divide my last bite
with you, but not here,' he says, 'not here! Do you get me?' he says.

"'Sir,' I says, 'I get you. Take care of yourself and don't get
foundered on the green truck,' I says. 'A bran mash now and then and a
wisp of cured timothy hay about once in so long ought to keep off the
grass colic,' I says. 'Come on, little playmate,' I says to Sweet Caps,
'let us meander further into this here vale of plenty of everything
except something to eat. Which, by rights,' I says, 'its real name
oughter be Hungry Hollow.'

"So we meanders some more miles and pretty soon I'm that empty that I
couldn't be no emptier than I am without a surgical operation. My voice
gets weak, and objects dance before my eyes.

"After while they quits dancing, and I realizes that I'm bowing low
before probably the boniest lady that ever lived. A gold watch has got
more extra flesh on it than this lady has on her. She is looking out of
the front window of a small cottage and her expression verges on the
disapproving. As nearly as I can figure out she disapproves of
everything in general, and a large number of things in particular. And
I judges that if there is any two things in the world which she
disapproves of more than any other two things, those two things is me
and the Sweet Caps Kid.

"I removes my lid and starts to speak, but she merely waves her arm in a
majestic manner, meaning, if I know anything about the sign language,
'Exit in case of dog.' So we exits without even passing the time of the
day with her and continues upon our way through the bright sunshine. The
thermometer now registers at least ninety-eight in the shade, but then
of course we don't have to stay in the shade, and that's some
consolation.

"The next female land-owner we encounters lives away down in the woods.
She's plump and motherly-looking, with gold bows on her spec's. She is
out in her front garden picking pansies and potato bugs and other flora
and fauna common to the soil. She looks up as the gate-latch clicks, and
beholds me on the point of entering.

"'Madam,' I says, 'pardon this here intrusion but in us you behold two
weary travelers carrying no script and no purse. Might I ask you what
the chances are of us getting a square meal before we perish?'

"'You might,' she says.

"'Might what?' I says.

"'Might ask me,' she says,'but I warn you in advance, that I ain't very
good at conundrums. I'm a lone widder woman,' she says, 'and I've got
something to do,' she says, 'besides standing out here in the hot sun
answering riddles for perfect strangers,' she says. 'So go ahead,' she
says.

"'Madam,' I says pretty severe, 'don't trifle with me. I'm a desperate
man, and my friend here is even desperater than what I am. Remember you
are alone, and at our mercy and--'

"'Oh,' she says, with a sweet smile, 'I ain't exactly alone. There's
Tige,' she says.

"I don't see no Tige,' I says, glancing around hurriedly.

"'That ain't his fault,' she says. 'I'll call him,' she says, looking
like it wont be no trouble whatsoever to show goods.

"But we don't wait. 'Sweet Caps,' I says to him as we hikes round the
first turn in the road, 'this district ain't making no pronounced hit
with me. Every time you ast 'em for bread they give you a dog. The next
time,' I says,' anybody offers me a canine, I'm going to take him,' I
says. 'If he can eat me any faster than I can eat him,' I says, 'he'll
have to work fast. And,' I says, 'if I should meet a nice little clean
boy with fat legs--Heaven help him!'

"And just as I'm speaking them words we comes to a lovely glade in the
woods and stops with our mouths ajar and our eyes bulged out like push
buttons. 'Do I sleep,' I says to myself, 'or am I just plain delirious?'

"For right there, out in the middle of the woods, is a table with a
white cloth on it, and it's all covered over with the most lucivicious
looking viands you ever see in your life, including a ham and a couple
of chickens and a pie and some cool-looking bottles with long necks on
'em and gilt-foil crowns upon their regal heads. And a couple of
flunkies in long-tailed coats and knee breeches and white wigs are
mooning round, fixing things up ship shape. And just then a tall lady
comes sauntering out of the bushes, and she strolls up close and the
flunkies bow and fall back and she says something about everything being
now ready for Lady Gwyndolin's garden party and departs the same way she
came. And the second she's out of sight, me and Sweet Caps can't hold in
no longer. We busts through the roadside thicket and tear acrost that
open place, licketty-split. It seems too good to be true. And it is.
When we gets up close we realizes the horrible truth.

"The ham is wood and the chickens is pasteboard and the pie is a prop
pie and the bottles aint got nothing in 'em but the corks. As we pauses,
stupefied with disappointment, a cheerful voice calls out: 'That's the
ticket! Hold the spot and register grief--we can work the scene in and
it'll be a knock-out!'

"And right over yonder at the other side of the clearing stands a guy in
a checked suit grinding the handle of a moving-picture machine. We has
inadvertently busted right into the drammer. So we kicks over his table
and departs on the run, with a whole troupe of them cheap fillum
troopers chasing after us, calling hard names and throwing sticks and
rocks and things.

"After while, by superior footwork, we loses 'em and resumes our
journey. Well, unless you've got a morbid mind you wont be interested in
hearing about our continued sufferings. I will merely state that by the
time five o'clock comes we have traveled upwards of nine hundred miles,
running sometimes but mostly walking, and my feet is so full of water
blisters I've got riparian rights. Nearly everything has happened to us
except something to eat. So we comes to the edge of a green field
alongside the road and I falls in a heap, and Sweet Caps he falls in
another heap alongside of me, making two heaps in all.

"'Kiddo,' I says, 'let us recline here and enjoy the beauties of
Nature,' I says.

"'Dern the beauties of Nature!' says Sweet Caps. 'I've had enough Nature
since this morning to last me eleven thousand years. Nature,' he says,
'has been overdone, anyway.'

"'Ain't you got no soul?' I says.

"'Oh yes,' he says, 'I've got a soul, but the trouble is,' he says,
'I've got a lot of other vital organs, too. When I ponder,' he says,
'and remember how many times I've got up from the table and gone away
leaving bones and potato peels and clam shells and lobster claws on the
plate--when I think,' he says, 'of them old care-free, prodigal days, I
could bust right out crying.'

"'Sh-h!' I says, 'food has gone out of fashion--the best people ain't
eating any more. Put your mind on something else,' I says. 'Consider the
setting sun,' I says, 'a-sinking in the golden west. Gaze yonder,' I
says, 'upon that great yellow orb with all them fleecy white clouds
banked up behind it.'

"'I'm gazing,' he says. 'It looks something like a aig fried on one
side. That's the way I always uster take mine,' he says, 'before I quit
eating--fried with the sunny side up.'

"I changed the subject.

"'Ain't it a remarkable fact,' I says, 'how this district is addicted to
dogs? Look at that there little stray pup, yonder,' I says, 'jumping up
and down in the wild mustard, making himself all warm and panty. That's
an edifying sight,' I says.

"'You bet,' says the Sweet Caps Kid, kind of dreamy, 'it's a great
combination,' he says, '--hot dog with fresh mustard. That's the way we
got 'em at Coney,' he says.

"'Sweet Caps,' I says, 'you are breaking my heart. Desist,' I says. 'I
ask you to desist. If you don't desist,' I says, 'I'm going to tear your
head off by the roots and after that I'll probably get right rough with
you. Fellow me,' I says, 'and don't speak another word of no description
whatsoever. I've got a plan,' I says, 'and if it don't work I'll know
them calamity howlers is right and I wont vote Democratic never
again--not,' I says, 'if I have to vote for Bryan!'

"He trails along behind me, and his head is hanging low and he mutters
to hisself. Injun file we retraces our weary footsteps until we comes
once more to the village of Plentiful Valley. We goes along Main
Street--I know it's Main Street because it's the only street there
is--until we comes to a small brick building which you could tell by the
bars at the windows that it was either the local bank or the calaboose.
On the steps of this here establishment stands a party almost entirely
concealed in whiskers. But on his breast I sees a German silver badge
gleaming like a full moon seen through thick brush.

"'The town constable, I believe?' I says to him.

"'The same,' he says. 'What can I do for for you?'

"'Lock us up,' I says, '--him and me both. We're tramps,' I says,
'vagrants, derilicks wandering to and fro,' I says, 'like raging lions
seeking whatsoever we might devour--and not,' I says, 'having no luck.
We are dangerous characters,' I says, 'and it's a shame to leave us at
large. Lock us up,' I says, 'and feed us.'

"'Nothing doing,' he says. 'Try the next town--it's only nine miles and
a good hard road all the way.'

"'I thought,' I says, 'that you took a hidebound oath never to shave
until you'd locked up a thousand tramps.'

"'Yep, he says, 'that's so; but you're a little late. I pinched him
about an hour ago.'

"'Pinched who?' I says.

"'The thousandth one,' he says. 'Early to-morrow morning,' he says, 'I'm
going to get sealed bids and estimates on a clean shave. But first,' he
says, 'in celebration of a historic occasion, I'm giving a little supper
to-night to the regular boarders in the jail. I guess you'll have to
excuse me--seems to me like I smell the turkey dressing scorching.'

"And with that he goes inside and locks the door behind him, and don't
pay no attention to us beating on the bars, except to open an upstairs
window and throw a bucket of water at us.

"That's the last straw. My legs gives way, both at once, in opposite
directions. Sweet Caps he drags me across the street and props me up
against a building, and as he fans me with his hat I speaks to him very
soft and faint and low.

"'Sweep Caps,' I says, 'I'm through. Leave me,' I says, 'and make for
civilization. And,' I says, 'if you live to get there, come back
sometime and collect my mortal remains and bury 'em,' I says, 'in some
quiet, peaceful spot. No,' I says, 'don't do that neither! Bury me,' I
says, 'in a Chinee cemetary. The Chinees,' I says, 'puts vittles on the
graves of their dear departeds, instead of flowers. Maybe,' I says, 'my
ghost will walk at night,' I says, 'and eat chop suey.'

"'Wait,' he says, 'don't go yet. Look yonder,' he says, pointing up
Main Street on the other side. 'Read that sign,' he says.

"I looks and reads, and it says on a front window; '_Undertaking and
Emba'ming In All Its Branches._'

"I rallies a little. 'Son boy,' I says, 'you certainly are one
thoughtful little guy--but can't you take a joke? I talk about passing
away, and before I get the words out of my pore exhausted vacant frame
you begin to pick out the fun'el director. What's your rush?' I says.
'Can't you wait for the remains?'

"'Keep ca'm,' he says, 'and look again. Your first look wasn't a
success. I don't mean the undertaker's,' he says; 'I mean the place next
door beyond. It's a delicatessen dump,' he says, 'containing cold grub
all ready to be et without tools,' he says. 'And what's more,' he says,
'the worthy delicatessener is engaged at this present moment in locking
up and going away from here. In about a half an hour,' he says, 'he'll
be setting in his happy German-American home picking his teeth after
supper, and reading comic jokes to his little son August out of the
_Fleagetty Bladder_. And shortly thereafter,' he says, 'what'll you and
me be doing? We'll be there, in that vittles emporium, in the midst of
plenty,' he says, 'filling our midsts with plenty of plenty. That's what
we'll be doing,' he says.

"'Sweet Caps,' I says, reviving slightly, remember who we are? Remember
the profession which we adorn? Would you,' I says, 'sink to burglary?'

"'Scandalous,' he says, with feeling, 'I'm so hollow I could sink about
three feet without touching nothing whatsoever. Death before dishonor,
but not death by quick starvation. Are you with me,' he says, 'or ain't
you?'

"Well, what could you say to an argument like that? Nothing, not a
syllable. So eventually night ensoos. And purty soon the little stars
come softly out and at the same juncture me and the Sweet Caps Kid goes
in. We goes into an alley behind that row of shops and after feeling
about in the darkness for quite a spell and falling over a couple of
fences and a lurking wheelbarrow and one thing and another, we finds a
back window with a weak latch on it and we pries it open and we crawls
in.

"Only, just as we gits inside all nice and snug, Sweet Caps he has to go
and turn over a big long box that's standing up on end, and down it
comes _ker-blim_! making a most hideous loud noise.

"Then we hears somebody upstairs run across the floor over our heads and
hears 'em pile down the steps, which is built on the outside of the
building to save building 'em on the inside of the building, and in
about a half a minute a fire bell or some similar appliance down the
street a piece begins to ring its head off.

"'The stuff's off,' says Sweet Caps to me in a deep, skeered whisper.
'Let's beat it.'

"'Nix,' I says. 'You fasten that there window! I'm too weak to run now,
and if they'll give me about five minutes among the vittles I'll be too
full to run. Either way,' I says, 'it's pinch, and,' I says, 'we'd
better face it on a full stomach, than an empty one.'

"'But they'll have the goods on us,' he says.

"'Son,' I says, 'if they'll only hang back a little we'll have the goods
in us. They won't have no trouble proving the corpus delicatessen,' I
says, '--not if they bring a stomach pump along. Bar that window,' I
says, 'and let joy be unconfined.'

"So he fastens her up from the inside, and while we hears the aroused
and infuriated populace surrounding the place and getting ready to begin
to think about making up their minds to advance en massy, I pulls down
the front shades and strikes a match and lights up a coal-oil lamp and
reaches round for something suitable to take the first raw edge off my
appetite--such as a couple of hams.

"Then right off I sees where we has made a fatal mistake, and my heart
dies within me and I jest plum collapses and folds up inside of myself
like a concertina. And that explains," he concluded, "why you ain't seen
me for going on the last eighteen months."


"Did they give you eighteen months for breaking into the delicatessen
shop?" I asked.

Mr. Doolan fetched a long, deep, mournful sigh.

"No," he said simply, "they gave us eighteen months for breaking into
the undertaker's next door."



CHAPTER X

A TALE OF WET DAYS


In the days before the hydrant-headed specter of Prohibition reared its
head in the Sunny South I had this tale from a true Kentucky gentleman.
As he gave it to me, so, reader, do I give it to you:

"Yes, suh, to this good day Colonel Bud Crittenden ain't never fergot
that time he made the mistake about Stony Buggs and the Bear Grass
County man. It learnt him a lesson, though. It learnt him that the
deceivingest pusson on earth, when it comes to seeping up licker, is a
little feller with his eyes fur apart and one of these here excitable
Adamses' apples.

"Speaking about it afterwards to a passel of boys over in the swopping
ring, he said the experience, while dissapinting at the time, was worth
a right smart to him subsequent. Previous to that time he said he was in
error regarding the amount of licker a little man, with them
peculiarities of features I just mentioned, could chamber at one
setting.

"Said he knowed some of the derndest, keenest gunfighters in the state
was little men and he'd always acknowledged that spare-built,
narrer-waisted men made the best hands driving trotting hawses; but he
didn't know, not until then, that they was so gifted in the matter of
putting away sweet'ning drams.

"It happened the time we all was up at Frankfort nomernating a Clerk of
the Court of Appeals. There'd been a deadlock for nigh on to three days.
The up-state delegates was all solid for old General Marcellus Brutus
Hightower of Limestone County, and our fellers to a man was pledged to
Major Zach Taylor Simms, of Pennroyal.

"Ballot after ballot it stood the same way--fifty-three to fifty-three.
Then on the mawning of the third day one of their deligates from the
mountains was called home suddenly by a message saying a
misunderstanding had come up with a neighboring fambly and two of his
boys was shot up consid'rable.

"The convention had voted the first day not to recognize no proxies for
absentees, and so, having one vote the advantage, we was beginning to
feel like winners, when just then Breck Calloway from McCorkin County,
he up and taken the cramps the worst way. For a spell it shore looked
like he was going to be cholera-morbussed. Breck started in for luxuries
in the line of vittles soon as he hit town, and between votes he kept
filling hisself up on fried catfeesh and red bananas and pickled pigs'
feet and gum drops and cove eyesters and cocoanut out of the shell and
ice cream and sardines--greasy minners, Breck called 'em--and aig-kisses
and a whole lot of them kind of knick-knacks.

"That mout not a-bothered him so much if he hadn't switched from
straight licker and taken on consid'able many drinks of this here
new-fangled stuff called creamy de mint--green stuff like what you see
in a big bottle in a drug store winder with a light behind it. By the
middle of the third day Breck was trying to walk on his hands. He had a
figger like one of them Mystic Mazes. 'Course, all kinked up that way,
he warn't fitten for a deligate, and Colonel Bud Crittenden had to ship
him home.

"I heard tell afterwards that going back on the steam cars the conductor
told Breck he didn't care if he was a contortionist, he couldn't
practise none of his didoes on that there train.

"So there we was, each side shy one vote and still tied--52 and 52. And
at dinner time the convention taken a recess until ha'f past three in
the evening with the understanding that we'd vote again at foah o'clock.

"Jest as soon as our fellers had got a drink or two and a snack to eat,
Colonel Bud Crittenden, he called a caucus, him being not only manager
of Major Zach Taylor Simms' campaign but likewise chairman of the
district committee. Colonel Bud rapped for order and made a speech. He
said the paramountest issue was how to nominate Major Simms on that
there next ballot. Said they'd done trying buying off members of the
opposition and other regular methods without no success whatsomever.
Said the Chair would now be glad to hear suggestions from any gen'elman
present.

"So Morg Holladay he got up and moved the Chair to appoint a committee
of one or more to shoot up some deligate or, if desired, deligates, in
the other crowd. But the Colonel said no. We wuz in a strange town, fur
removed from the time-honored institutions of home, and the police mout
be hosstile. Customs differed in different towns. Whil'st shooting up of
a man for purely political purposes mout be accepted as necessary and
proper in one place; then agin it mout lead to trouble, sich as
lawsuits, in another. And so on.

"Morg he got up again and said how he recognized the wisdom of the
Chair's remarks. Then he moved to amend his motion by substituting the
word 'kidnapping' for 'shooting up.' Said as a general proposition he
favored shooting up, not being familiar with kidnapping; in fact not
knowing none of the rules, but was willing to try kidnapping as an
experiment. But Colonel Bud 'peared to be even more dead set, ef
possible, agin kidnapping than agin shooting. He advanced the thought
that shooting was recognized as necessary under proper conditions and
safeguards, ever'where, but that kidnapping was looked on as bordering
on the criminal even in the case of a child. How much more so, then, in
the case of a growed-up adult man and Dimocrat?

"Nobody couldn't think of nothing else then, but Colonel Bud 'lowed we
was bleeged to do something. There warn't no telling, he said, when
another one of our deligates would get to craving dainties and
gormandize hisself with a lot of them fancy vittles the same as Breck
Calloway had done, and go home all quiled up like a blue racer in a
pa'tridge nest. Finally Colonel Bud he said he had a suggestion to
advance his ownse'f, and we all set up and taken notice, knowing there
wasn't no astuter political leader in the State and maybe none so
astuted.

"Colonel Bud he said he was shamed to admit that the scheme hadn't
suggested itself to him or ary other gen'elman present before now--it
was so plum doggone simple.

"'We got mighty nigh three hours yet,' says Colonel Bud, 'and enduring
of that time all we got to do is to get one of them Hightower deligates
deef, dumb and blind drunk--so drunk he won't never git back to answer
roll-call; and if he does, won't know his own name if he heered it. We
will simply appint a committee of one, composed of some gen'elman from
amongst our midst of acknowledged capacity and experience, to accomplish
this here undertaking, and likewise also at the same time we will pick
out some accessible deligate in the opposition and commission said
committee of one to put said opposition deligate out of commission by
means of social conversation and licker between the present time and the
hour of 4 P.M. By so doing victory will perch on our banners, and there
can't be no claim of underhand work or fraud from the other side. It'll
all be according to the ethics made and purvided in such emergencies.'

"Right off everybody seen Colonel Bud had the right idee, and he put the
suggestion in the form of a motion and it carried unanimous. Colonel Bud
stated that it now devolved upon the caucus to name the committee of
one. And of course we all said that Colonel Bud was the very man for the
place hisse'f; there wasn't none of us qualified like him for sich a
job. Everybody was bound to admit that. But Colonel Bud said much as he
appreciated the honor and high value his colleagues put on his humble
abilities, he must, purforce, sacrifice pussonal ambition in the
intrusts of his esteemed friend, Major Zach Taylor Simms. As manager of
the campaign he must remain right there on the ground to see which way
the cat was going to jump--and be ready to jump with her. So, if the
caucus would kindly indulge him for one moment moah he would nominate
for the post of honor and responsibility as noble a Dimocrat, as true a
Kintuckian and as chivalrous a gen'elman as ever wore hair. And with
all the requisited qualifications and gifts, too.

"Needless to state he referred to that sterling leader of Fulman
County's faithful cohorts, Captain Stonewall Jackson Bugg, Esquire.

"And so everybody voted for Stony. We knowed of course that while Stony
Bugg had both talents and education he warn't no sich genius as Colonel
Bud Crittenden when it came to storing away licker; yet so far as the
record showed he never had been waterlooed by anybody. And we couldn't
ask no more than that. Stony was all hoped up and proud at being
selected.

"Then there came up the question of picking out the party of the second
part, as Colonel Bud said he would call him for short. Colonel Bud said
he felt the proper object for treatment, beyond the peradventure of a
doubt, was that there Mr. Wash Burnett, of Bear Grass.

"He believed the caucus would ricolect this here Burnett gen'elman
referred to by the Chair. And when he described him we all done so,
owing to his onusual appearance. He was a little teeny feller, rising of
five feet tall, with a cough that unbuttoned his vest about every three
minutes. He had eyes 'way round on the side of his head like a
grasshopper and the blamest, busiest, biggest, scariest, nervousest
Adamses' apple I ever see. It 'peared like it tried to beat his brains
out every time he taken a swaller of licker--or even water.

"Right there old Squire Buck Throckmorton objected to the selection of
Mr. Wash Burnett. Near as I can recall here's what Squire says:

"'You all air suttenly fixing to make a monstrous big mistake. I've give
a heap of study in my time to this question of licker drams. I have
observed that when you combine in a gen'elman them two features jest
mentioned--a Adamses' apple that's always running up and down like a cat
squirrel on a snag, and eyes away 'round yonder so's he can see both
ways at once without moving his head--you've got a gen'elman that's
specially created to store away licker.

"'I don't care ef your Bear Grass County man is so shortwaisted he can
use his hip pockets for year-muffs in the winter time. Concede, if you
will, that every time he coughs it shakes the enamel off'n his teeth.
The pint remains, I repeat, my feller citizens, that there ain't no
licker ever distilled can throw him with them eyes and that there
Adamses' apple. You gen'elmen 'd a sight better pick out some big feller
which his eyes is bunched up close together like the yallers in a double
yolk aig and which his Adamses' apple is comparatively stationary.'

"But Colonel Bud, he wouldn't listen. Maybe he was kinder jealous at
seeing old Squire Buck Throckmorton setting hisse'f up as a jedge of
human nature that-a-way. Even the greatest of us air but mortal, and I
reckon Colonel Bud wouldn't admit that anybody could outdo him reading
character offhand, and he taken the floor agin. Replying to his
venerable friend and neighbor, he would say that the Squire was talking
like a plain derned fool. Continuing he would add that it didn't make no
difference if both eyes was riding the bridge of the nose side-saddle,
or if they was crowding the ears for position.

"'Now, as to the Adamses' apple, which he would consider next in this
brief reply,' he went on to explain, 'Science teached us that the
Adamses' apple didn't have no regular functions to speak of, and what
few it did have bore no relation to the consumption of licker in the
reg'lar and customary manner, viz., to-wit, by swallowing of the same
from demijohn, dipper, tumbler or gourd. The Adamses' apple was but a
natchel ornament nestled at the base of the chin whiskers. He asked if
any gen'elman in the sound of his voice ever see a bowlder on the side
of a dreen, enlessen it was covered, in whole or in part, by vines? The
same wise provision of Nature was to be observed in the Adamses' apple,
it being, ef he mout be pardoned for using such a figger of speech, at
sich a time, the bowlder, and the chin whiskers, the vine.

"'It's the size that counts,' said Colonel Bud Crittenden. 'It natchelly
stands to reason that a big scaffolded-up man like Stony Bugg can
chamber more licker than a little runt like that Burnett. Why, he could
do it if Burnett was spangled all over with Adamses' apples and all of
them palpitating like skeered lizards. He could do it if Burnett's eyes
were so fur apart he was cross-eyed behind. Besides, this here Burnett
is a mountaineering gen'elman, and I mistrust not, he's been educated
altogether on white moonshine licker fresh out of the still. When red
licker, with some age behind it, takes holt of his abbreviated vitals
he's shore going to wilt and wilt sudden and complete.

"'Red licker, say about fourteen year old, is mighty deceivin' to a
mountaineer. It tastes so smooth he forgets that it's strong enough to
take off warts.'

"Well, suzz, that argument fetched us and we all coincided; all but
Squire Buck Throckmorton, who still looked mighty dubiousome. Anyway,
Stony Bugg, he went out and found this here Mister Wash Burnett and
invited him to see if there was anything left in the bar; and Burnett,
he fell into the trap, not apparently suspicioning nothing, and said he
didn't care if he did. So they sashayed off together t'wards the nighest
grocery arm in arm.

"Being puffectly easy in our minds, we all went back to the convention
hall 'bout half past two. The Forks of Elkhorn William Jinnings Bryan
and Silver Cornet Band was there and give a concert, playin 'Dixie' foah
times and 'Old Kentucky Home' five. And Senator Joe Blackburn spoke
three or foah times. I never before heard Republicans called out of
their name like he done it. Senator Joe Blackburn shore proved hisse'f
a statesman that day.

"Well, it got on t'wards half past three, and while we warn't noways
uneasy we taken to wishing that Stony Bugg would report back. At ten
minutes befoah foah there warn't no signs of Stony Bugg. At five minutes
befoah foah our fellers was gettin' shore nuff worried, and jest then
the doah opened and in comes that there little Wash Burnett--alone! He
was coughing fit to kill hisse'f. His Adamses' apple was sticking out
like a guinney egg, and making about eighteen reverlutions to the
second, and them fur-apart eyes of his'n was the glassiest I ever seen,
but it was him all right. He stopped jest inside the hall and turned up
his pants at the bottom and stepped high over a shadder on the floor.
But he warn't too fur gone to walk. Nor he warn't too fur gone to vote.

"'Fore we could more'n ketch our breaths the chairman called for a
ballot and they taken it, and General Hightower was nominated--52 to
51--Captain Stonewall J. Bugg being recorded by the secretary as absent
and not voting. And while the up-state fellers was carrying on and
swapping cheers with one another, our fellers sat there jest
dumfoundered. Colonel Bud Crittenden, he was the first one to speak.

"'Major Simms being beat ain't the wust of it,' he says. 'Our committee
on irrigation is deceased. The solemn and sorryful duty devolves upon
us, his associates, to go send a dispatch to Mrs. Stony Bugg and fambly
informing them that they air widows. Stony, he must have choked hisse'f
to death on some free barroom vittles, or else he got run over by a
hawse and waggin. Otherwise he'd a' been here as arranged, and that
there little human wart of a Wash Burnett would be spraddled out on the
floor, face-down, right this very minute, a'trying to swim out of some
licker store dog fashion.'

"But jest then we heard a kind of to-do outside, and the doah flew open
and something rolled in and flattened out in the main aisle. Would you
believe me, it was Stony Bugg, more puffectly disguised in licker than I
ever expected to see.

"Two of us grabbed holt of him by the arms and pulled him up on his
feet. He opened his eyes kind of dazed-like and looked around. Colonel
Bud, he done the talking.

"'Stony,' he says, not angry but real pitiful, in his tones, 'Stony, why
the name of Gawd didn't you git him drunk?'

"Stony, he sort of studied a minute. Then he says, slow and deliberate
and thick:

"'Drunk? Why, boys, I gozzom so drunk I couldn't see him.'

"And as we came on home, we all had to admit you couldn't git a man no
drunker than that, and live."





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