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Title: Local Color
Author: Cobb, Irvin S. (Irvin Shrewsbury), 1876-1944
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Local Color" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



LOCAL COLOR



THE WORKS OF
IRVIN S. COBB


LOCAL COLOR



The Review of Reviews Corporation
_Publishers_ New York

Published by Arrangement With George H. Doran Company



Copyright, 1916,
By George H. Doran Company



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
COPYRIGHT, 1914, 1915 AND 1916,
BY THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY



TO MY SISTERS



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                       PAGE
      I Local Color                               11

     II Field of Honor                            47

    III The Smart Aleck                           91

     IV Blacker than Sin                         129

      V The Eyes of the World                    159

     VI The Great Auk                            204

    VII First Corinthians: Chap. XIII, v. 4      246

   VIII Enter the Villain                        303

     IX Persona au Gratin                        368

      X Smooth Crossing                          408



LOCAL COLOR



CHAPTER I

LOCAL COLOR


Felix Looms, the well-known author, disappeared--or, rather, he went
away--on or about June fifteenth, four years ago. He told his friends,
his landlady and his publisher--he had no immediate family--he felt run
down and debilitated and he meant to go away for a good long stay. He
might try the Orient; then again perhaps he would go to the South Seas.
When he came back, which might be in a year or two years or even three,
he expected to bring with him the material for a longer and better book
than any he had written. Meantime he wanted to cut loose, as he put it,
from everything. He intended, he said, to write no letters while he was
gone and he expected to receive none.

He gave a power of attorney to a lawyer with whom he had occasional
dealings, left in bank a modest balance to meet any small forgotten
bills that might turn up after his departure, surrendered his bachelor
apartments in the Rubens Studio Building, paid off his housekeeper,
said good-bye to a few persons, wrote explanatory notes to a few more;
and then quietly--as he did everything in this life--he vanished.

Nobody particularly missed him, for he was not a famous author or even
a popular one; he was merely well known as a writer of tales dealing in
the main with crime and criminals and criminology. People that liked his
writings said he was a realist, who gave promise of bigger things.
People that did not like his writings said he was a half-baked
socialist. One somewhat overcritical reviewer, who had a bad liver and
a bitter pen, once compared him to an ambitious but immature hen pullet,
laying many eggs but all soft-shelled and all of them deficient in yolk.

Personally Felix Looms was a short, slender, dark man, approaching
forty, who wore thick glasses and coats that invariably were too long in
the sleeves. In company he was self-effacing; in a crowd he was entirely
lost, if you know what I mean. He did not know many people and was
intimate with none of those he did know. Quite naturally his departure
for parts unknown left his own little literary puddle unrippled.

Looms went away and he did not come back. His publisher never heard from
him again; nor did his lawyer nor the manager of the warehouse where he
had stored his heavier belongings. When three years had passed, and
still no word came from him, his acquaintances thought--such of them as
gave him a thought--that he must have died somewhere out in one of the
back corners of the East. He did die too; but it was not in the East. He
died within a block and a half of the club of his lawyer and not more
than a quarter of a mile from the town house of his publisher. However,
that detail, which is inconsequential, will come up later.

At about seven-forty-five on the evening of June seventeenth, four years
ago, Patrolman Matthew Clabby was on duty--fixed post duty--at the
corner of Thirty-fourth Street and Second Avenue. According to the
report made by him at the time to his immediate superior and
subsequently repeated by him under oath before the grand jury and still
later at the trial, his attention was attracted--to use the common
formula--by a disturbance occurring on a crosstown trolley car, eastward
bound, which had halted just west of the corner.

Patrolman Clabby boarded the car to find a small, shabby man
endeavouring to break away from a larger and better-dressed man, who
held him fast by the collar. In reply to the officer's questions the
large man stated that he had detected the small one in the act of
picking his pocket. He had waited, he said, until the other lifted his
watch and chain and then had seized him and held him fast and called for
help. At least three citizens, passengers on the car, confirmed the main
points of the accuser's story. For added proof there were the watch and
chain. They were in the thief's side coat pocket. With his own large
firm hands Patrolman Clabby fished them out from there and confiscated
them for purposes of evidence. As for the prisoner, he said nothing at
all.

The policeman totted down in his little book the names and addresses of
the eyewitnesses. This done, he took the small man and led him off afoot
to the East Thirty-fifth Street Station, the owner of the watch going
along to make a formal charge. Before the desk in the station house this
latter person said he was named Hartigan--Charles Edward Hartigan, a
private detective by occupation; and he repeated his account of the
robbery, with amplifications. The pickpocket gave his name as James
Williams and his age as thirty-eight, but declined to tell where he
lived, what occupation he followed, or what excuse he had for angling
after other people's personal property on a crosstown car.

At this juncture Clabby grabbed one of his prisoner's hands and ran a
finger over its inner surface, seeking for callosities of the palm; then
he nodded meaningly to the desk lieutenant.

"I guess he's a dip all right, Loot," said Clabby; "the inside of his
hand is as soft as a baby's."

"Take him back!" said the lieutenant briefly.

Before obeying, Clabby faced the man about and searched him, the search
revealing a small amount of money but no objects that might serve for
the prisoner's better identification. So, handling James Williams as
casually and impersonally as though he were merely a rather unwieldy
parcel, Clabby propelled him rearward along a passageway and turned him
over to a turnkey, who turned him into a cell and left him there--though
not very long. Within an hour he was taken in a patrol wagon to the
night court, sitting at Jefferson Market, where an irritable magistrate
held him, on the strength of a short affidavit by Clabby, to await the
action of the grand jury.

Thereafter for a period James Williams, so far as the processes of
justice were concerned, ceased to be a regular human being and became a
small and inconspicuous grain in the whirring hopper of the law. He was
as one pepper-corn in a crowded bin--one atom among a multitude of
similar atoms. Yet the law from time to time took due cognisance of this
mote's existence.

For example, on the morning of the eighteenth a closed van conveyed him
to the Tombs. For further example, an assistant district attorney, in
about a month, introduced Clabby and Hartigan before the July grand
jury. It took the grand jury something less than five minutes to vote an
indictment charging James Williams with grand larceny; and ten days
later it took a judge of General Sessions something less than
three-quarters of an hour to try the said Williams.

The proceedings in this regard were entirely perfunctory. The defendant
at the bar had no attorney. Accordingly the judge assigned to the task
of representing him a fledgling graduate of the law school. Hartigan
testified; Clabby testified; two eyewitnesses, a bricklayer and a
bookkeeper, testified--all for the state. The prisoner could produce no
witnesses in his own behalf and he declined to take the stand himself,
which considerably simplified matters.

Red and stuttering with stage fright, the downy young law-school
graduate made a brief plea for his client on the ground that no proof
had been offered to show his client had a previous criminal record.
Perfunctorily the young assistant district attorney summed up. In a
perfunctory way the judge charged the jury; and the jury filed out,
and--presumably in a perfunctory fashion also--took a ballot and were
back in less than no time at all with a verdict of guilty.

James Williams, being ordered to stand up, stood up; being ordered to
furnish his pedigree for the record, he refused to do so; being
regarded, therefore, as a person who undoubtedly had a great deal to
conceal, he was denied the measure of mercy that frequently is bestowed
on first offenders. His Honour gave him an indeterminate sentence of not
less than three years at hard labour in state prison, and one of the
evening newspapers gave him three lines in the appropriate ratio of one
line for each year. In three days more James Williams was at Sing Sing,
wearing among other things a plain grey suit, a close hair-cut and a
number, learning how to make shoes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now then, the task for me is to go back and begin this story where
properly it should begin. Felix Looms, the well-known writer who went
away on or about June fifteenth, and James Williams, who went to jail
June seventeenth for picking a pocket, were one and the same person; or
perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that James Williams was
Felix Looms.

Lest my meaning be misunderstood let me add that this is no tale of
a reversion to type. It has nothing whatever to do with any suddenly
awakened hereditary impulse. In the blend of Felix Looms' breed no
criminal strain persisted. His father was a Congregational preacher from
Massachusetts and his mother a district school-teacher from Northern New
York. His grandsires, on both sides, were good, clean-strain American
stock. So far as we know, never a bad skeleton had rattled its bones in
his family's closet. He himself was a product of strict training in a
Christian home, a Yale education and much book reading. The transition
from Felix Looms, bookworm, author and sociologist, to James Williams,
common rogue and convict, was accomplished deliberately, and, as it
were, with malice aforethought.

Here was how the thing came about. Secretly, through a period of years,
Felix Looms had nursed an ambition to write a great novel of prison
life. It is true he had written a number of short stories and at least
one novelette dealing with prison life, and, what was more to the point,
had sold them after writing them; but they lacked sincerity. There was
neither sureness nor assurance about them. He felt this lack; his
publishers felt it; and in a way his readers no doubt felt it too,
without knowing exactly why they felt it.

It is one of the inexplicable mysteries of the trade of writing that no
man, however well he handles the tools of that trade, can write
convincingly of things about which he personally does not know. A man
might aspire, let us say, to write a story with scenes laid in Northern
Africa. In preparation for this task he might read a hundred volumes
about Northern Africa, its soil, its climate, its natives, its
characteristics. He might fairly saturate himself in literature
pertaining to Northern Africa; then sit him down and write his story.
Concede him to be a good craftsman; concede that the story was well
done; that his descriptions were strong, his phrasing graphic, his
technic correct--nevertheless, it would lack that quality they call
plausibility. Somehow the reader would sense that this man had never
seen Northern Africa with his own eyes or breathed its air with his own
nostrils.

To this rule there are two exceptions: A writer may write of things that
happened in a past generation, after the last man of that generation is
dead--therefore historical novelists are common; or, provided his
imagination be sufficiently plastic, he may write of things that are
supposed to happen in the future--he may even describe the inhabitants
of the planet Mars and their scheme of existence. None will gainsay him,
seeing that no contemporary of his has been to Mars or knows more of the
conditions that will prevail a year or a century hence than he knows.
But where he deals with the actualities of his own day and time he must
know those actualities at first hand, else his best efforts fall to the
ground and are of no avail. He simply cannot get away with it. Hearsay
evidence always was poor evidence.

Felix Looms knew this. In his own case he knew it better than his
readers knew it--or even his publisher. Critical analysis of his work
had revealed its flaws to him until in his own soul he was ashamed and
humiliated, feeling himself to be a counterfeiter uttering a most
spurious coinage. So one day he said to himself:

"The worst thing in our modern civilisation is a prison. It is wrong and
we know it is wrong; and yet we have devised nothing to take its place.
A prison is crime's chemical laboratory; it is a great retort where
virulent poisons are distilled. Civilisation maintains it in the hope
of checking certain gross evils; yet in it and by it evils as great are
born and fostered. And the truth about it has never been told in the
form of fiction, which is the most convincing form of telling the truth.
Always the trouble has been that the people who have been in prison
could not write about it and the people who could write about it have
not been in prison.

"I know I could write about it, and so I am going to prison. I shall go
to prison for one year, perhaps two or possibly three years; and when I
come out I shall write a novel about prison life that will make my name
live after me, for I shall know my facts at first hand--I shall have the
local colour of a prison in my grip as no other man has ever had it who
had my powers as a writer. I am going to gamble with this thing--the
prison. I will give it a slice out of my life for the sake of the great
work I shall do afterward."

Mind you, I am not saying he put his big idea--for surely it was an idea
and a big one--in exactly those words; but that was his thought. And
when he came to work out the plan he was astonished to find how easy it
was to devise and to accomplish. Thanks to his mode of life, his
practical isolation in the midst of five million other beings, he needed
to confide in but one person; and in Hartigan he found that person.
Hartigan, a veteran of the detective business, who knew and kept almost
as many intimate secrets as a father confessor, showed surprise just
twice--first when Looms confided to him his purpose and again when he
learned how generously Looms was willing to pay for his co-operation.

Besides, as Looms at their first meeting pointed out and as Hartigan saw
for himself, there was no obligation upon him to do anything that was
actually wrong. Aboard that crosstown car Looms did really take a watch
from Hartigan's pocket. Whatever the motive behind the act, the act
spoke for itself. All that Hartigan told under oath on the witness stand
was straight enough. It was what he did not tell that mortised the
fabric of their plot together and made the thing dovetail, whole truth
with half truth.

At the very worst they had merely conspired--he as accessory and Looms
as principal--to cheat the state of New York out of sundry years of free
board and freedomless lodgings at an establishment wherein probably no
other man since it was built had ever schemed of his own free will to
abide.

So Hartigan, the private detective, having first got his fee, eventually
got his watch back and now disappears from this narrative. So Felix
Looms, the seeker after local colour, gave up his bachelor apartments in
the Rubens Studio Building and went away, leaving no forwarding address
behind him. So James Williams, the petty felon, with no known address
except the size number in his hat, went up the river to serve an
indeterminate sentence of not less than three years.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the hour he entered the Tombs on that morning of the eighteenth of
June, Felix Looms began to store up material against the day when he
should transmute it into the written word. Speaking exactly, he began
storing it up even sooner than that. The thrill and excitement of the
arrest, the arraignment before the cross magistrate in the night court,
the night in the station-house cell--all these things provided him with
startlingly new and tremendously vivid sensations. Indeed, at the moment
his probing fingers closed on Hartigan's watch the mind pictures began
to form and multiply inside his head.

Naturally, the Tombs had been most prolific of impressions; the local
colour fairly swarmed and spawned there. He had visited the Tombs once
before in his life, but he knew now that he had not seen it then. Behind
a mask of bars and bolts it had hidden its real organism from him who
had come in the capacity of a sightseer; but now, as an inmate, guarded
and watched and tended in his cell like a wild beast in a show, he got
under the skin of it. With the air he breathed--and it was most
remarkably bad air--he took in and absorbed the flavour of the place.

He sensed it all--the sordid small intrigues; the playing of favourites
by the turnkeys; the smuggling; the noises; the smells; the gossip that
ran from tier to tier; the efforts of each man confined there to beat
the law, against which each of them presumably had offended. It was as
though he could see a small stream of mingled hope and fear pouring from
beneath the patterned grill of each cell door to unite in a great flood
that roared unendingly off and away to the courts beyond.

Mentally Felix Looms sought to put himself in the attitude of the men
and women about him--these bona fide thieves and murderers and swindlers
and bigamists who through every waking hour plotted and planned for
freedom. That was the hardest part of his job. He could sense how they
felt without personally being able to feel what they felt. As yet he
took no notes, knowing that when he reached Sing Sing he would be
stripped skin-bare and searched; but his brain was like a classified
card index, in which he stored and filed a thousand and one thoughts.
Hourly he gave thanks for a systematic and tenacious memory. And so day
by day his copy and his local colour accumulated and the first chapters
of his novel took on shape and substance in his mind.

Lying on the hard bed in his cell he felt the creative impulse stirring
him, quickening his imagination until all his senses fairly throbbed to
its big, deep harmonies. The present discomforts of his position, the
greater discomforts that surely awaited him, filmed away to nothingness
in the vision of the great thing he meant to accomplish. He told himself
he was merely about to barter a bit out of his life for that for which
a writer lives--the fame that endures; and he counted it a good bargain
and an easy one.

In the period between his arrest and his conviction Felix Looms had one
fear, and one only--that at his trial he might be recognised. He allowed
his beard to grow, and on the day the summons came for him to go to
court he laid aside his glasses. As it happened, no person was at the
trial who knew him; though had such a person been there it is highly
probable that he would not have recognised Felix Looms, the smugly
dressed, spectacled, close-shaved man of letters, in this shabby,
squinting, whiskered malefactor who had picked a citizen's pocket before
the eyes of other citizens.

With him to Sing Sing for confinement went four others--a Chinese Tong
fighter bound for the death house and the death chair; an Italian
wife-murderer under a life sentence; a young German convicted of
forgery; and a negro loft robber--five felons all told, with deputies to
herd them. Except the negro, Looms was the only native-born man of the
five. The Chinaman, an inoffensive-looking little saffron-hided man, was
manacled between two deputies. Seeing that the state would presently be
at some pains to kill him, the state meantime was taking the very best
of care of him. The remaining four were hitched in pairs, right wrist of
one to left wrist of the other. A deputy marched with each coupled pair
and a deputy marched behind. Looms' fetter-mate was the Italian, who
knew no English--or, at least, spoke none during the journey.

A prison van carried them from the Tombs to the Grand Central Station.
It was barred and boarded like a circus cage--the van was--and like a
circus cage it had small grated vents at each end, high up. A local
train carried them from the station to Sing Sing. From start to finish,
including the van ride, the journey took a little less than three hours.
Three hours to get there, and three years to get back! Felix Looms made
a mental note of this circumstance as he sat in his seat next the car
window, with the wife-murderer beside him. He liked the line. It would
make a good chapter heading.

The town of Ossining, where Sing Sing is, is a hilly town, the railroad
station being at the foot of a hill, with the town mounting up uneven
terraces on one side and the prison squatting flat on the river bank on
the other. Arriving at Ossining, special and distinguishing honours were
paid to the little yellow Chinaman. In a ramshackle village hack, with
his two guards, he rode up a winding street, across a bridge spanning
the railroad tracks, and then along a ridge commanding a view of the
Hudson to the prison.

The four lesser criminals followed the same route, but afoot. They
scuffled along through the dust their feet kicked up, and before their
walk was done grew very sweaty and hot. The townspeople they met barely
turned their heads to watch the little procession as it passed; for to
them this was an every-day occurrence--as common a sight as a bread
wagon or a postman.

It was not a long walk for the four. Quite soon they came to their
destination. An iron door opened for them and in they went, two by two.
Felix Looms saw how the German forger, who was ahead of him, flinched up
against the negro as the door crashed behind them; but to Looms the
sound the door made was a welcome sound. Secretly a high exaltation
possessed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a fact, this man who meant to learn about prison life at first hand
went to the right place when he went to Sing Sing; for Sing Sing, the
main part of it, was built in 1825-28, nearly a hundred years ago, when
the punishment of imprisonment meant the punishment of soul and body and
mind. In 1825 the man who for his misdeeds forfeited his liberty and his
civil rights forfeited also the right to be considered in any wise a
human being. As an animal he was regarded and as an animal he was
treated, and as an animal he became. The institution made a beast not
only of him but of the man who was set to keep him. Also, in such
by-products as disease and degeneracy the plant was especially prolific.

The cell house, the dominating structure within the prison close, must
look to-day very much as it looked along toward the end of the third
decade of last century. Straight-walled, angular, homely beyond
conception, it rises high above the stone stockade that surrounds it.
Once its interior was lighted and aired only by narrow windows. You
could hardly call them windows--they were like slits; they were like
seams. About twenty years ago large inlets were cut into the walls.
These inlets admit much air and some light.

As the cell house is the core of Sing Sing, so the cell structure is its
core. In the exact centre of the building, steel within stone, six
levels of cells rise, one level on another, climbing up almost to the
roof, from which many hooded, round ventilators stare down like watchful
eyes that never sleep. In each tier are two hundred cells, built back to
back, each row of cells being faced by narrow iron balconies and reached
by narrow wooden stairways. The person who climbs one of those flights
of stairs and walks along one of those balconies passes a succession of
flat-banded, narrow iron doors. Each door has set into it an iron grill
so closely barred that the spaces between the patterns are no larger
than the squares of a checkerboard.

Not a single cell has a window in it. Even at high noon the interior is
wrapped in a sourish, ill-savoured gloom as though the good daylight had
addled and turned sour as soon as it got inside this place. The
lowermost cells are always damp. Moisture forms on the walls, sweating
through the pores of the stone like an exhalation, so that, with his
finger for a pen, a man may write his name in the trickling ooze.

A cell measures in width three feet four inches; in length, six feet six
inches; in height, seven feet and no inches. It has a cubic capacity of
about one hundred and fifty feet, which is considerably less than half
the cubic space provided by our Government for each individual in army
barracks in time of war. It contains for furniture a bunk, which folds
back against the wall when not in use, or two bunks, swung one above the
other; sometimes a chair; sometimes a stool; sometimes a shelf, and
always a bucket.

For further details of the sanitary arrangements see occasional
grand-jury reports and semioccasional reports by special investigating
committees. These bodies investigate and then report; and their reports
are received by the proper authorities and printed in the newspapers.
Coincidentally the newspapers comment bitterly on the conditions
existing at Sing Sing and call on public opinion to rouse itself. Public
opinion remaining unroused, the sanitary arrangements remain unchanged.

The man who occupies the cell is wakened at six-thirty A. M. At
seven-thirty he is marched to the mess hall, where he eats his
breakfast. By eight o'clock he is supposed to be at work somewhere,
either in the workshop or on a special detail. At noon he goes to the
mess hall again. He is given half an hour in which to eat his dinner.
For that dinner half an hour is ample. At twelve-thirty he returns to
his task, whatever it is. He works until quarter past three.

He gets a little exercise then, and at four he is marched to his cell.
On his way he passes a table piled with dry bread cut in large slices.
He takes as much bread as he wants. Hanging to his cell door is a tin
cup, which a guard has just filled with a hottish coloured fluid
denominated tea. Being put into his cell and locked in, he eats his
bread and drinks his tea; that is his supper. He stays in his cell until
between six-thirty and seven-thirty the following morning.

He knows Sundays only to hate them. On Sunday he is let out of his cell
for breakfast, then goes to religious services, if he so desires, and at
eleven o'clock is returned to his cell for the remainder of the day,
with his rations for the day. When a legal holiday falls on Monday he
stays in his cell from four o'clock on Saturday until six-thirty Tuesday
morning, except for the time spent at certain meals and at divine
services.

This is his daily routine. From the monotony of it there is one relief.
Should he persistently misbehave he is sent to a dark cell, from which
he emerges half blind and half mad, or quite blind and all mad,
depending on the length of time of his confinement therein.

This, in brief, is Sing Sing; or at least it is Sing Sing as Sing Sing
was when Felix Looms went there. Wardens have been changed since then
and with wardens the system is sometimes altered. Physically, though,
Sing Sing must always remain the same. No warden can change that.

       *       *       *       *       *

Had he let it be known that he was a man of clerkly ways and book
learning, Felix Looms might have been set to work in the prison office,
keeping accounts or filing correspondence; but that was not his plan.
So, maintaining his rôle of unskilled labourer, he was sent to the shoe
shop to learn to make shoes; and in time, after a fashion, he did learn
to make shoes.

He attracted no special attention in the shameful community of which he
had become a small and inconsequential member. His had been a colourless
and unobtrusive personality outside the prison; inside he was still
colourless and unobtrusive. He obeyed the rules; he ate of the coarse
fare, which satisfied his stomach but killed his palate; he developed
indigestion and a small cough; he fought the graybacks that swarmed in
his cell and sought to nibble on his body. By day he watched, he
learned, he studied, he analysed, he planned and platted out his book;
and at night he slept, or tried to sleep.

At first he slept poorly. Bit by bit he accustomed himself to the bad
air; to the pent closeness of his cell; to the feeling in the darkness
that the walls were closing in on him to squeeze him to death--a feeling
that beset him for the first few weeks; to the noises, the coughing, the
groaning, the choking, which came from all about him; to the padding
tread of the guards passing at intervals along the balcony fronting his
cell. But for a long time he could not get used to the snoring of his
cellmate.

Sing Sing being overcrowded, as chronically it is, it had been expedient
to put Looms in a cell with another prisoner. To the constituted
authorities this prisoner was known by a number, but the inner society
of Tier III knew him as The Plumber. The Plumber was a hairy,
thick-necked mammal, mostly animal but with a few human qualities too.
The animal in him came out most strongly when he slept. As the larger
man and by virtue of priority of occupancy he had the lower bunk, while
Looms, perforce, took the upper.

The Plumber slept always on his back. When his eyes closed his mouth
opened; then, hour after hour, unceasingly, he snored a gurgling,
rumbling drone. It almost drove Looms crazy--that snoring. In the night
he would roll over on his elbow and peer down, craning his neck to
glare in silent rage at the spraddled bulk beneath him. He would be
seized with a longing to climb down softly and to fix his ten fingers in
that fat and heaving throat and hold fast until the sound of its exhaust
was shut off forever.

After a while, though, he got used to The Plumber's snoring, just as he
had got used to the food and the work and the heavy air and the cell and
all. He got used to being caged with a companion in a space that was
much too small, really, for either of them. A man can get used to
anything--if he has to. He even came to have a sort of sense of
comradeship for his cellmate.

The Plumber was not a real plumber. By profession he was a footpad, a
common highwayman of the city streets, a disciple in practice of Dick
Turpin and Jack Sheppard; but possessed of none of those small graces of
person, those prettified refinements of air and manner with which
romance has invested these masters of the calling.

His title was derived from his method of operation. Dressed in the
overalls of an honest workingman and carrying in his pocket a pair of
pliers, a wrench and a foot-long scrap of gas pipe, he ranged the darker
streets of his own East Side at night on the lookout for business.
Spying out a prospective victim, he would first wrap the gas pipe in a
handy newspaper; then, stalking his quarry from behind, he would knock
him cold with one blow of the gas pipe on the skull, strip the victim's
pockets of what cash they contained, and depart with all possible
despatch, casting aside the newspaper as he went. If there was any blood
it would be on the newspaper; there would be none on the gas pipe.

Should suspicion fall on its owner--why, he was merely a straight-faring
artisan, bound homeward, with certain of the tools and impedimenta of
his trade on his person. It had been The Plumber's own idea, this device
of the gas pipe and the evening paper, and he was proud of it and
derisive of the imitators who had adopted it after he, growing
incautious, had been caught, as it were, red-handed and sent up the
river.

With pride and a wealth of detail he confided these professional secrets
to his spectacled little bunkie after he came to know him. A fragment at
a time he told Looms of his life, his likes and dislikes, and his
associates in crimedom. He taught Looms the tricks of the prison,
too--how to pass messages; how to curry the favour of the keepers; how,
when so desiring, to smuggle contrabands in and out; how to talk with
one's neighbours while at work or at mess, where silence is demanded,
which same is accomplished with the eyes facing straight ahead and the
words slipping sidewise from the corners of the mouth, the lips meantime
moving but little. Considering the differences in them, they came to be
pretty good friends.

Evenings and Sundays and holidays The Plumber would take the floor,
literally as well as figuratively. He would stand at the door of their
cell, shifting from foot to foot like a caged cat-animal in quarters too
small for it, and sniffing like an animal through the small squares of
the iron lattice; or else he would pace back and forth the length of the
cell, constantly scraping his body between the wall and the edge of the
upper berth. In these movements he found relief from his restlessness.

And while The Plumber walked and talked Looms would lie prone on his bed
listening or making notes. For making these notes he used an indelible
pencil, and for greater security against discovery he set them down in
shorthand. The shorthand was partly of his own devising and partly based
on an accepted stenographic system. As fast as he filled one sheet of
paper with the minutely done, closely spaced lines he pasted it to
another sheet; so that in time he had a long, continuous strip, all
written over thickly with tiny, purplish-blue characters. Being folded
flat and thin and inclosed in an envelope made of thin leather pilfered
from the shoe shop, this cipher manuscript was carried by Looms inside
his shirt during the day, and it went under his pillow when he slept.
Once a week he was sent to the baths. At such times he hid the precious
packet beneath his mattress.

The Plumber, of course, had abundant opportunity to examine these notes;
but naturally enough he could make nothing of them. Privily he
catalogued Looms--or Williams, which he thought was his cell-mate's
name--as a sort of harmless lunatic; in short, a nut. Looms meantime
made copy out of The Plumber. He meant to use The Plumber as a character
in his book--as one of the principal characters. A criminal of the type
of The Plumber ought to furnish much material; and without his
suspecting it he did furnish much.

At the end of nine months they parted. The Plumber, having completed his
term, went forth to sin some more. Thereafter Looms had a cell to
himself. Before very long, his record being clean, he was the recipient
of a mark of favour from the warden's office. He became a trusty. As a
trusty he was doubly alert to win special privileges for himself. He
knew all the tricks and devices of the place by now. Outwardly he was
every inch a convict--a commonplace convict if not a typical one.
Inwardly he now frequently caught himself slipping into a convict's mode
of thinking--found himself viewing his prison existence, not as an
observer of the system but as an integral part and parcel of the prison
machine.

Drugged by the stupefying monotony of it he felt sometimes as though he
had always been a convict. The days passed, leaving no conscious
impressions on the retina of his brain. It was as though he rode on an
endless band, which circled once in twenty-four hours, never changing
its gait or its orbit. It took an effort to rid himself of this feeling.

The graybacks which crawled over his body at night, coming out of the
cracks of the wall and the folds of his blanket to bite his flesh, no
longer made him sick, for they were part of the system too.

Not once did he regret what he had done to get himself into Sing Sing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first year went by thus, and the second, and Looms entered on the
third. He still kept his flat packet of manuscript close and safe,
wearing it in its leather envelope next to his skin; but now he added no
more notes in his cryptic shorthand code. He told himself he added no
more because he already had at his fingers' ends, waiting to be
transcribed into copy, the whole drama of prison life--the poisons it
distills; the horrors it breeds; its qualities and its inequalities; its
wrongs that might be reformed and its wrongs that can never be reformed.
This was what he told himself. The fact remained that for the last seven
months of his imprisonment he set down no notes.

At the end of the third year he was discharged.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man who had entered Sing Sing three years before was not the man who
came out. The man who went in had been slender and quick of movement,
careful of his personal appearance, almost old-maidish in his neatness.
He carried himself erectly; he walked with rather a brisk tread. This
man had shapely hands.

The man who came out resembled the other in that he was small of frame
and wore thick-lensed glasses. In nearly every other essential regard he
differed from him. Even his height seemed less, for now he moved with a
stoop in his shoulders and with his head sunken. His hands dangled at
his sides as though they had grown too heavy for the arms on which they
were hung. They were the hands of one who has done coarse manual
labour--the nails were blunted and broken, the palms bossed with warty
calluses. This man walked with a time-killing shamble, scraping his feet
along. Beneath the natural sallowness of his skin his face had the
bleached, unhealthy look of any living thing that has been kept too long
in artificial twilight, away from fresh air and sunshine. By its colour
it suggested a pale plant growing in a cellar, a weed sprig that had
sprouted beneath a log. It suggested a white grub burrowing in rotted
wood.

The greatest change of all, however, was in the expression of the face;
for now the eyes moved with a furtive, darting movement--a quick
scrutiny that lingered on its target for a second only and then flashed
away. And when the lips framed words the mouth, from force of training,
was pursed at the corner, so that the issuing speech could be heard with
greater distinctness by one who stood alongside the speaker than by one
who faced him.

The clothes Looms had worn when he entered the prison had disappeared;
so for his reentrance into the world the authorities gave him a suit of
prison-made slops, poorly cut and bunchily sewed. They gave him this
suit of clothes, a shirt and a hat and a pair of shoes; also a small sum
of money, a ticket back to the point from which he had been brought, and
the small articles that had been taken from his person at the time he
entered Sing Sing.

These and his sheaf of shorthand notes pasted together, folded flat and
inclosed in his small leather pack, were all that Felix Looms brought
away with him from the prison.

Once more he went afoot along the dusty road, followed the ridge along
the river, crossed the bridge above the railroad tracks and descended to
the station below to wait for a train bound for the city. Persons who
were gathered on the platform looked at him--some understandingly; some
curiously. He found it easier to evade their eyes than to return their
stares.

Presently a train came and he boarded it, finding a seat in the smoker.
The exaltation that had possessed him when he went to Sing Sing was all
gone. A certain indefinable numbness affected his body, his limbs, his
mind, making his thoughts heavy and his movements sluggish. For months
past he had felt this numbness; but he had felt sure that liberty and
the coming of the time for the fulfillment of his great work would
dissipate it. He was free now, and still the lassitude persisted.

He viewed the prospect of beginning his novel with no particular
enthusiasm. He said to himself that disuse of the pen had made him
rusty; that the old enthusiasm, which is born of creation, of
achievement, of craftsmanship exercised, would return to him as soon as
he had put the first word of his book on paper; and that after that the
story would pour forth with hardly a conscious effort on his part. It
had been so in the past; to a much greater degree it should be so now.
Yet, for the moment, he viewed the prospect of starting his novel almost
with physical distaste.

In this mental fog he rode until the train rolled into the Grand Central
Station and stopped. Seeing his fellow passengers getting off he roused
himself and followed them as they trailed in straggling lines through
the train shed and out into the great new terminal. It was late
afternoon of a summer's day.

His plans immediately following his advent into the city had all been
figured out long in advance. He meant to seek obscure lodgings until he
could secure a few needed additions to his wardrobe. Then he would
communicate with his publisher and make to him a private confession
regarding his whereabouts during the past three years, and outline to
him the book he had in mind to write. Under the circumstances it would
be easy to secure a cash advance from any publisher.

Thus fortified with ready money Looms would go away to some quiet place
in the country and write the book. Mulling these details over in his
head he shambled along automatically until suddenly he found himself
standing in Forty-second Street. He slipped backward involuntarily, for
the crowds that swirled by him daunted him. It seemed to him that they
were ten times as thick, ten times as noisy, ten times as hurried as
they had been when last he paused in that locality.

For a minute, irresolute, he hesitated in the shelter of the station
doorway. Then, guided by habit, a thing which often sleeps but rarely
dies, he headed westward. He walked as close to the building line as he
could squeeze himself, so as to be out of the main channels of sidewalk
travel. When he came to Fifth Avenue he mechanically turned north,
shrinking aside from contact with the swarms of well-dressed,
quick-paced men and women who passed him, bound in the opposite
direction. From the asphalt beyond the curbing arose a clamour of wheels
and hoofs and feet which dinned unpleasantly in his ears, creating a
subconscious sense of irritation.

He moved along, dragging his feet, for two blocks; then halted on a
corner. A big building rose before him, a building with many open
windows. There were awnings and flower boxes at the windows; and,
looking in at the window nearest him, he caught sight of well-dressed
men and women sitting at tables. With almost a physical jolt he realised
that this was a restaurant in which he himself had dined many a time on
such an evening as this; somehow, though, those times seemed centuries
back of him in a confused previous existence.

A uniformed carriage starter, who stood at one of the entrances, began
staring at him and he went on up the avenue with his hands rammed deep
into his pockets, his head bent between his shoulders, and his heels
dragging on the sidewalk. He had a feeling that everybody was staring at
him. It nagged and pestered him--this did.

He continued his way for four or five blocks, or possibly six, for he
took no close note of his progress. Really he had no purpose in this
northward progress; a restlessness he could not analyse kept him moving.
He came to another building, also with awninged windows. He knew it for
a club. Once or twice, he recalled, he had been in that club as a guest
of a member, but for the moment he could not think of its name. Sitting
at a window facing him were two men and in a spurt of reviving memory he
placed one of them as a man he had known slightly--a man named
Walcroft, a corporation lawyer with offices downtown.

This man Walcroft stared straight into Looms' face, but in his eyes
there was no glint of recognition; only on his face was a half-amused,
half-contemptuous expression as though he wondered why a person of so
dubious an appearance should be loitering along Fifth Avenue at such an
hour.

Looms, squinting back at Walcroft through his glasses, felt a poke in
the small of the back. He swung round; a policeman approaching from the
rear had touched him with a gloved thumb. The look the policeman gave
him as they faced each other was at once appraising, disapproving and
suspicious.

"Move on!" he said briskly. "Keep movin'!"

"I'm doing nothing," said Looms slowly; but as he spoke he backed away
a pace or two and his eyes flickered and shifted uneasily, avoiding the
policeman's direct and accusing stare.

"That's the trouble," said the policeman. "You're doin' nothing now, but
you're likely to do something if you stay here. Beat it! You're in the
wrong street!" With an air of finality the policeman turned away.

Irresolutely the ex-convict retreated a few yards more, stepping out
into the roadway. Was he indeed in the wrong street? Was that why he
felt so uncomfortable? Yes, that must be it--he was in the wrong street!
Fifth Avenue was not for him any more, even though once he had lived on
Fifth Avenue.

As he shambled across to the opposite sidewalk he shoved his hand up
under his hat, which was too large for him, and scratched his head in
a new perplexity. And then to him, in a flash, came a solution of the
situation, and with it came inspiration and purpose. It was precisely
in that brief moment that Felix Looms, the well-known writer, died, he
having been killed instantaneously by the very thing after which he had
lusted.

The man who had been Felix Looms--Felix Looms, who was now dead--headed
eastward through a cross street. He hurried along, moving now with
decision and with more speed than he had shown in his loitering course
from the station. In turn he crossed Madison Avenue and Park Avenue and
Lexington Avenue, so that soon the district of big restaurants and clubs
and churches and hotels and apartment houses lay behind him and he had
arrived in a less pretentious and more crowded quarter. He reached Third
Avenue, with its small shops and its tenements, and the L structure
running down the middle of it; he crossed it and kept on.

Midway of the next block he came to a place where a building was in
course of construction. The ground floor was open to the street, for the
façade, which was to be a shop front, had not gone up yet. The slouching
pedestrian stopped and looked in searchingly. He saw scattered about
over a temporary flooring, which was laid roughly on the basement
rafters, a clutter of materials and supplies. He saw a line of gas pipes
and water pipes, which protruded their ends from beneath a pile of
sheathing, looking rather like the muzzles of a battery of gun barrels
of varied bores.

At sight of this piping the eyes of the passer-by narrowed earnestly.
Over his shoulders, this way and that, he glanced. There was no watchman
in sight. The workmen--all good union men, doubtless--had knocked off
for the day; but it was not yet dark and probably the night watchman had
not come on duty.

He looked again, and then he stepped inside the building.

In a minute or so he was out. He had one arm pressed closely against his
side as though to maintain the position of something he carried hidden
beneath his coat. Head down, he walked eastward. Between Third Avenue
and Second he found the place for which he sought--a small paved
passageway separating two tenements, its street end being stopped with
a wooden door-gate which swung unlocked. He entered the alley, slipping
into the space just behind the protecting shield of the gate.

When he emerged from here the brick paving of the passage where he had
tarried was covered with tough paper, torn to ragged fragments. There
was a great mess of these paper scraps on the bricks. A small leather
envelope, worn slick by much handling, gaped emptily where it had been
dropped in an angle of the wall behind the door. The man responsible for
this litter continued on his way. His left arm was still held tight
against his side, holding upright a fourteen-inch length of gas pipe the
man had pilfered from the unfinished building a block away.

About the gas pipe was wrapped a roll of sheets of thin paper, pasted
together end to end and closely covered with minute characters done in
indelible, purplish-blue shorthand ciphers. The sheets, forming as they
did a continuous strip, spiralled about the gas pipe snugly, protecting
and hiding the entire length of the heavy metal tube.

       *       *       *       *       *

This was about six o'clock. About nine o'clock Marcus Fishman, a
Roumanian tailor, going to his home in Avenue A from a sweatshop in
Second Avenue, was stalked by a footpad at a dark spot in East
Fifty-first Street, not far from the river, and was knocked senseless by
a blow on the head and robbed of eleven dollars and sixty cents.

A boy saw the robbery committed and he followed after the disappearing
robber, setting up a shrill outcry that speedily brought other pursuers.
One of these stopped long enough to pick up a paper-covered gas pipe the
fugitive had cast aside.

The chase was soon over. As the fleeing footpad turned the corner of
Fiftieth Street and First Avenue he plunged headlong into the outspread
arms of Policeman Otto Stein, who subdued him after a brief struggle.
The tailor's money was still clutched in his hand.

In the Headquarters Rogues' Gallery the prisoner's likeness was found;
also his measurements were in the Bertillon Bureau, thus identifying him
beyond doubt as James Williams, who had been convicted three years
before as a pickpocket. Further inquiry developed the fact that Williams
had been released that very day from Sing Sing.

On his trial for highway robbery, James Williams, as a confirmed and
presumably an incorrigible offender, was given no mercy. He got a
minimum of five years in state prison at hard labour.



CHAPTER II

FIELD OF HONOR


This war, which started with the assassination of an archduke and his
archduchess--a thing we are apt to forget about in the face of a tragedy
a billion-fold greater--this war, which started thus and so, already has
touched or is touching or yet will touch, at some angle and in some
fashion, every one of us in every corner of the world. Some it has
touched indirectly, by the oblique. Upon others, who are as numberless
now as the sands on the shore, it has come with such brutal emphasis
that it must seem to them--such of them as survive--that the whole
incredible business was devised and set afoot for the one and the sole
purpose of levelling them, their lives and their own small personal
affairs in the bloodied red mire of this thing.

For example, let us take the case of Paul Gaston Michel Misereux, his
orphaned sister Marie and his orphaned half-sister Helene. In the summer
of 1914 they lived in a three-room flat in a five-story tenement house
in East Thirteenth Street in New York, not far from the East River.

New York seemed a long, long way then from the town of Sarajevo wherein
the egg of war was hatching. Indeed, to the three I have just named New
York seemed a long way from most of the things which to their uncomplex
natures stood for what was comfortable and domestic and satisfying. They
were desperately homesick very often for the Paris where they had been
born and reared, and from where they had emigrated two years before
after the death of their father.

But that summer the homesickness was wearing off a little. The city,
which at the moment of seeing its notched and fangy skyline as they came
up the bay had appeared to them not as a gateway into a promised land
but as a great sabre-toothed shark of a city lying in wait to grind them
up between its jaws, and which for the first few months of their life
here had been so cold, so inhospitable, so strange in all its ways, so
terribly intent upon its own matters and so terribly disregardful of
theirs, was beginning to be something more than a mere abiding place to
them. To them it was beginning to be home. The lonesomeness was losing
some of its smart. In another year or two more France would be the old
country and America would be their country.

Paul fancied himself half an American already. He had taken out his
first papers, which, as he figured it, made him part way a citizen.
Before very long he would be all a citizen. Likewise, by the practice of
a thousand petty economies common among the first generation of
foreigners who settle here and most remarkably uncommon among their
descendants, they were starting in a small frugal way to prosper. If New
York had given them a stone when they came into it asking for bread, it
was giving them now the bread, and the butter to go on the bread.

Paul Misereux was a pastry cook. He worked as assistant to a chief
pastry cook in a basement kitchen under a big, medium-priced restaurant
near Union Square. He was small and dumpy and unhandsome, with the
dead-white face of a man cook. His skin, seen by daylight, had a queer
glaze on it, like the surface of a well-fluxed, well-baked crockery.
Once it had been a blistery red; that though was in the days of his
apprenticeship to this trade. The constant heat of it had acted upon him
as alcohol does upon the complexion of a man who gets drunk quickly--it
made him deathly white at the last, but before that it made him red.

He was the chief breadwinner. Marie had a place as trimmer and
saleswoman in a small millinery shop on lower Sixth Avenue. Helene, the
half sister and youngest of the three, was the housekeeper. She was
inclined to be frail and she had a persistent cough. She was not in the
least pretty. For the matter of that, none of them had any provable
claim upon beauty.

So far as looks went Marie was the pick of the lot. At least she had
fine eyes and a trim round figure that showed to its best advantage in
the close-fitting, smooth-fronted uniform of her employment--a black
frock with white collar and cuffs.

That June, there was a balance showing on the happy side of their
partnership ledger. Paul had his mind set upon some day owning a
business of his own--a bakeshop, perhaps even a small café. For her part
Marie meant to be a fashionable milliner in her own right. When Paul was
the proprietor of the biggest restaurant on Broadway she would be
Madame, the mistress and the owner of the smartest hat-shop along Fifth
Avenue. Helene was content to go on keeping house for the other two. The
limit of her present ambitions was to be rid of her cough. To marrying
and to the rearing of families none of them gave thought yet; there
would be time for such things in due season, after affluence had come.
Meanwhile, they would dwell together and save and save and save.
Deposited to their joint account in the savings bank, the nest-egg of
their hopes grew at the rate of a few dollars each week, drawing
interest besides; and there was meat in the pot when they felt the need
of meat to stay them.

Over yonder in Sarajevo a stumpy Serbian man, with twisted ideas
regarding his patriotic duties, loaded up an automatic pistol and waited
for a certain carriage of state to pass a given point. The carriage did
pass, and presently the man and the woman who rode in it were both of
them dead--the first to fall in the war which as to date claimed so rich
a toll of the manhood of this planet, and which, being the unslakable
glutton that it is, continues to claim more and more with every day that
passes. The echoes of those pistol shots ran round the world and round
again.

A monarch on a throne in Germany exchanged telegrams with his beloved
cousin in Russia, and with another revered and venerated cousin in
England, and with a dear but distant kinsman of his in Belgium, and with
a respected friend, not related to him by ties of blood or marriage, who
chanced for the moment to be the president of a republic in France. A
family quarrel started up. The quarrel having progressed to a point
where the correspondents lost their affection for one another, they
severally called upon the people who suffered them to be what they were
to go out and settle the grudge according to a fashion which originated
when Cain clouted Abel in the first trade-war of which there is record.
Because every other war from that day to this has been a trade-war, too,
the plan of settlement has remained the same that was employed by Cain
when he made carrion of his brother. The tools of this fashionable
industry have been altered and greatly improved, and for that
civilisation is to be thanked; but the results do not in the least
differ from the original forms.

The people obeyed their rulers' calls. Looking back on it now it seems
to us, who are onlookers, that there was no good and sufficient reason
why they should have done this, but we know that obedience in such
contingencies is a habit which has come down to them--and to us--from
our remotest common ancestors, and it runs in our blood with the
corpuscles of our blood. It is like a contagious miasma, which, being
breathed into the body, afflicts all its victims with the same symptoms.
So they put on the liveries designed for them by their lords against the
coming of just such an occasion--shoddy-wools, or khakis, or
red-and-blue fustians, as the case might be--and they went out, these
men and these boys who were not yet men, to adjudicate the
misunderstanding which had arisen as between the occupants of sundry
palaces in sundry capital cities.

The tide of war--such being the pretty phrase coined by those who would
further popularise the institution--lapped one shore after another. It
went from hemisphere to continent, from continent to archipelago, from
archipelago to scattered islands in seas suddenly grown barren of
commerce. It flooded jungles in South Africa; it inundated the back
corners of Australia; it picked up and carried away on its backwash men
of every colour and of every creed and of every breed. It crossed the
Atlantic Ocean to New York, and having crossed, it reached into a
basement near Union Square for Paul Misereux. And the way of that was
this:

France called out her reserves. Paul Misereux, although half an
American, as has been stated, was likewise a French reservist. So at
length the call came to him. Although he was French he was not
excitable. He accepted the summons very calmly and as a matter of
course. He had been expecting that it would come, sooner or later. That
same day he visited the office of the French consul where certain
formalities were speedily concluded. Then he went home and to his sister
and his half-sister he very quietly broke the news of what had happened
and what he had done; and very quietly they took it. For they were not
outwardly emotional either.

For six days life in the three-room flat went on very much as it had
gone on before, except that the sisters went daily now to early mass,
and on the first morning following the brother did not shave himself
when he got up. French soldiers mainly wear beards, and he meant his
beard should be well sprouted when he reported for service. At the end
of those six days, on the seventh day, a new assistant pastry cook began
serving in the restaurant cellar and a steamer drew out of her New York
dock with flags flying, being bound--God and the submarines willing--for
foreign parts. On the deck set apart for the second-class passengers,
close up against the rail that was next the shore, Paul Misereux stood,
a most dumpy and unheroic figure of a man, with patches of woolly beard
showing on his pale chops, waving his hand, and with many others singing
the Marseillaise Hymn.

When the steamer was gone from sight down the river toward open water
the sisters left the pierhead where they had been standing and went
away, Marie to her job in the millinery place on Sixth Avenue and Helene
to hers in the small flat.

Except that Paul was gone, life for the remaining two continued for a
while after this to be materially unaltered. Beyond a single long letter
written on the voyage across and posted upon his arrival at Bordeaux,
they had no word of him. For this, though, he was not to blame. A thing
so systematic it had no aspect of being of human devisement and subject
to human control had caught him. This system took him in hand in the
same hour that his feet touched dry land. It gave him a number, it
clothed him in a uniform, put a gun in his hands, strapped upon his back
and about his waist and on his flanks all the other tools needful for
the prosecution of the highly specialised modern trade of manslaughter,
and set him aboard a train and started him north. Thereafter the north
swallowed him up and concerning him no news whatsoever came back. He was
an atom in a world event, and the atoms do not count even though they
contribute to the progress of the event itself.

While these sisters of his waited, hoping each day the postman would
bring them a letter with a French stamp and a French postmark on it, but
sorely dreading what the portent of that letter might be, a stroke of
bad fortune befell them. The man who owned the place where Marie worked
professed to deal in French wares exclusively; but he had a German name
and he spoke with a German accent. Perhaps he felt deeply the things
some people said to him and about him and about his Fatherland. Perhaps
he found it hard to be neutral in his words and all his acts when so
many about him were so passionately unneutral in their words and their
acts. Perhaps in those papers which avowedly were pro-German, and in
those which avowedly were anti-German, he read editorials that changed
his views on certain subjects. You see, the tide of war had searched him
out too.

Or perhaps after all he merely realised the need, in a time when
business conditions were so unsettled, of economising. At any rate one
Saturday, without prior warning, he dismissed from his employ three of
his women workers--an outspoken Irish girl, a silent Russian Jewess,
whose brothers wore the uniform of a government which oppressed them,
and a French girl, this last being Marie Misereux.

Monday morning early Marie was abroad, trying to find for herself a new
job. She was deft enough with her fingers, but there were handicaps
which denied her opportunity of proving to any interested person just
how deft those fingers of hers were. For one thing, millinery shops, big
and little, were retrenching in their expenses or trying to. For
another, she was ignorant of the town and of the ways of the millinery
trade--her first job had been her only one. Finally, she had only a
faulty knowledge of English, and that in some lines is yet a bar against
the applicant for work even in the polyglot, more-than-half-foreign city
of New York.

The week which began with that Monday morning went by; other Mondays and
other weeks went by, and Marie, walking the soles off her shoes upon the
pavements uptown and downtown, earned nothing at all. The account in the
savings bank, which always before Paul went away had grown steadily and
which for the first month or so after he went had grown in a lesser
degree, was dwindling and dwindling. Now when Helene coughed she pressed
her hand against her side. There was no news of their brother. Except
for a few distant cousins three thousand miles away, they had no
kinspeople. And in this country they had no friends.

Along the crest of a low hill, like a seam, ran a succession of
shattered tree trunks, hemming earthline to skyline with ragged and
irregular stitches. Once upon a time, not so very long before, a fine
little grove of half-grown poplars had crowned that small eminence. But
the cannon and the spouting volleys from the rapid-fire guns had mowed
down every tree, leaving only the mutilated and homely boles.

Upon one slope of the hill--the slope that was nearer the city--a
triangular-shaped patch of woodland projected its point like a
promontory well up toward the hilltop. The shells had wrought most
grievously here, too, but, being protected somewhat by the dip in the
land, the forest, as they call such a stretch of park timber in Europe,
had not suffered in the same proportionate extent that the comb of
saplings higher up suffered. The twistified masses of shot-down boughs
made good cover for the French sharpshooters.

Just under the far shoulder of the rise, zig-zagging this way and that
after the fashion of a worm that has stiff joints, was a German
trench--the foremost German trench of all the myriad trenches and
cross-trenches that formed the sector of the investments at this
particular point. Behind the Germans as they squatted in this trench was
the village of Brimont. It had been a village once. Now it was a
flattened huddle of broken masonry and shattered woodwork, from which
arose constantly a sour stench of rotting things. Back of the site of
the village, where a little valley made out between more hills, was a
sunken road winding off to the north. Upon either side of the road were
fields gouged by misaimed shells until the mangled earth looked as
though a thousand swine had rooted there for mast.

That was what the Germans saw when they looked over their shoulders.
What they saw when they looked straight ahead was, first, the patch of
woodland sheltering their foes and beyond that, three miles away, the
old French city of Rheims, with the damaged towers of the great
cathedral rising above lesser buildings, and on beyond, melting away
into blue reaches of space, the fields of Champagne. That is to say,
they could see so much when the weather was clear, which generally it
wasn't. Nine days in ten, this time of the year, it rained--the cold,
constant, searching rain of mid-October. It was raining on this
particular day, and up on this saucer-rim of land, which ringed the
plain in, the wind blew steadily with a raw bite to it.

Firing back and forth between defenders and besiegers went on
intermittently. At this spot there was no hard fighting; there had been
none for weeks. Farther way, right and left, along the battle line which
stretched from Switzerland to the sea, the big guns roared like bulls.
But here the men lay in their shelters and nibbled at their foes like
mice.

On second thought I beg to withdraw the latter simile. These men were
not so much like mice as they were like moles. For they grubbed in the
earth, as moles do, eating and sleeping, living and dying down in their
mud burrows. Only, moles keep their fur tidied and fine, while these men
were coated and clogged with the tough clayey substance in which they
wallowed. It was as much as they could do to keep their rifles in
cleansed working order.

Over in the German trench a slim Saxon youth was squatted, ankle-deep in
cold yellow water. At intervals he climbed into a small scarp in the
wall of the trench, a kind of niche just large enough to hold his body,
and kneeling there, with his head tucked down and his shoulders drawn
in, he swapped shots with a Frenchman in the woods slightly beneath and
directly in front of him. Neither of them ever saw the other. Each in
his firing was guided by the smack of his enemy's gun and the tiny puff
of white smoke which marked its discharge; each knowing in a general way
only the approximate location of the man he coveted to kill, for after
an exchange of shots both would shift, the German to another scarp, the
Frenchman to another tangle of felled boughs. There was nothing
particularly personal, nothing especially hateful or passionate in the
present ambition of either. It was merely the job in hand.

As between these two--the Frenchman and the German--there was, excusing
the differences of language and religion, no great amount of
distinction to be drawn. Temperamentally they were of much the same
cast. Each in his separate small sphere of endeavour had been a
reasonably law-abiding, reasonably industrious, fairly useful
individual, until somebody else, sitting in a high place, had willed it
for him that he should put by whatsoever task he might be concerned with
and engage in this business of gunning for his fellow-man.

Their uniforms, to be sure, differed in cut and colour, or had so
differed until the mud of Champagne had made them of a pattern together.
The German soldier's helmet had a sharp spike set in it; the Frenchman's
cap had a flattened top. Also the German carried his name and number in
a small leather pouch which hung on a thong about his neck and lay
snugly against the chilled skin of his breast under his shirt, whereas
the Frenchman wore his name and his number on a small brass token that
was made fast to a slender wire bracelet riveted about his left wrist.

Concerning these methods of marking men there had been argument from
time to time, the German authorities contending that their system is the
better of the two. For proof of the claim they point out that in the
case of a Frenchman an arm may be torn away, bodily carrying the
bracelet and the tag with it, whereas as regards a German, he may be
shot in two and yet retain his identification label since it is not so
very often that the head is entirely dissevered from the trunk. Here
again, as in many other details, they contend German efficiency
maintains its superiority over all. On both sides the matter is
discussed dispassionately, just as the toxic properties of various makes
of poisonous gases are discussed, or the rending powers of shrapnel upon
human flesh.

About four o'clock in the afternoon the German climbed up into his
favourite scarp once more. Hoping to draw his opponent's fire, he jerked
his head up into sight for half a second, then jerked it down again. The
trick worked; the Frenchman fired, but fired high. The German shoved his
gun barrel out between two clods, shut both eyes--for he was by no means
a clever marksman--and pumped a shot back in reply. The bullet from his
rifle, which was a long, sharp-nosed, steel-jacketed bullet, devised in
accordance with the most scientific experiments, found its billet. It
struck the Frenchman as he lay belly downward on the earth with his
gunstock against his cheek. It removed two fingers of the Frenchman's
right hand, three fingers of his left hand, tore away his lower jaw,
beard and all, and passed out at the back of his neck, taking splintered
fragments of his spinal processes with it. He turned over on his back,
flapping with his arms and legs, threshing about in the wet leaves and
in the mud, making grotesque bubbling sounds down in his throat.

Pretty soon after that twilight came on and the rifle firing slackened.
The Saxon youth, never knowing he had killed his enemy, called it a day
and knocked off. He hunkered down in the slime to eat a tallowy stew of
bull meat and barley from a metal pannikin. It was nourishing enough,
this mess was, but it had the aspect of swill. Having eaten, he
immediately thereafter crawled, in his wet clothes and soaked boots,
into a sort of dugout hollowed in the wall of his trench, and slept
there with four of his comrades on a bed of mouldy, damp rye straw.
While they slept the vermin travelled from one to another of them,
making discriminative choice of which body to bite.

Down in the little forest below, the Frenchman presently quit flapping
and quietly bled to death. During the night a burial party of his own
people came and found him and shovelled him underground where he lay.
But first the sergeant in command of the squad removed the bangle from
his wrist. In due course of time, therefore, word was carried back and
back by succeeding stages to headquarters, and from there on to Paris,
and from Paris on to New York, so that within a month's time or a little
less it became the painful duty of a consular clerk in New York to
transmit by mail to the deceased's next of kin, a sister, the
intelligence, as conveyed in the official notification, that her
brother, Paul Gaston Michel Misereux, was heroically dead on the Field
of Honour.

For the repose of their brother's spirit they had a mass said at the
little French Catholic Church where they worshipped, and in his memory
candles burned upon the altar. Out of a length of cheap sleazy stuff
they made a mourning frock for Helene. Wearing it, her face seemed
whiter than ever and the two red spots in her cheeks seemed redder.
Marie had the black frock, with the white collars and cuffs, which had
been her uniform as a saleswoman in the place on lower Sixth Avenue; she
wore that as she hunted for work. Regardless of their sorrow, the hunt
must go on. It went on, and was a vain quest. From much weeping her eyes
were swollen and puffy and her face was drawn out of all comeliness.
Even though through merciful forbearance each forbore to tell her so,
none of those to whom she applied for work cared to hire so homely
appearing a serving woman. In another week, or at most two, they would
be scraping the bottom of their savings account.

Before this they had lived on scanty rations, wasting never a crumb. Now
they trimmed the food allowance still finer. It may have been the lack
of sufficient nourishment that caused Helene to drop down in a faint on
the floor of the tiny kitchen one evening in the middle of the second
week following the receipt of the news from the consul's office. As
Marie bent to raise her head in her arms, a little stream of blood began
to run from one corner of Helene's mouth. For some time after she
recovered consciousness and had opened her eyes the little trickle of
blood continued, and Marie, sitting beside her, wiped it away as fast as
it oozed out between her lips. The younger girl appeared to suffer no
pain, but was very weak. Marie got her undressed and into her bed in the
small middle room. Then she ran downstairs to the basement to find out
from the caretaker where the nearest doctor was to be found.

It seemed there was one only two doors away. He came presently, a testy
man of sixty who was lame. One of his legs was inches shorter than its
mate. He lived in a tenement himself and his practice was among tenement
dwellers, and he was underpaid and overworked and had trouble enough
sometimes to make both ends meet. He grew shorter of breath and of
disposition at every step as he wallowed up the stairs, Marie going
ahead to show him the way to the rear flat at the top of the house.
Wheezing until the sound of his breathing filled the room, he sat down
alongside Helene, and while he held one of her pipe-stem wrists in his
hand he asked Marie certain questions. Then he told Marie to go into the
front room and wait for him there.

In ten minutes or less he limped in to her where she sat with her hands
clenched between her knees and her eyes big and rounded with
apprehension. He thought he closed the intervening door behind him, but
the latch failed to catch in the slot and it swung ajar for a space of
two or three inches. Neither of them took note of this.

"She's quiet now," he said: "the hemorrhage is checked. I took a sample
of her blood. I'll make a blood test to-morrow morning. How long has
this been going on--this cough?"

A good long time, Marie told him--several months. She went on, in her
broken English, to explain: "We thought it was but a bad cold, that soon
she would be well----"

He broke in on her impatiently:

"That's what you said before. That's no excuse." He looked about him.
"How many are there of you living here--just you two?"

"We are quite alone," she told him. "We had also a brother, but--but he
now is dead."

It did not occur to her to tell him how the brother had died, or when.

"What's your business?" he demanded. Then as she seemed not to get his
intent, he added:

"Can't you understand plain English? What do you do for a living?"

"Your pardon, doctor; I am a milliner."

"And this other girl--your sister--she's been staying at home and doing
the housekeeping, you said?"

She nodded. For a moment there was silence, she still seated, he before
her balancing himself on the longer leg of the two and on his heavy
cane. "I'll make a blood test in the morning," he said at length,
repeating what he had said a moment before.

"Doctor," said Marie, "tell me, please, the truth. My sister--is she
then so ill?"

"Ill?" he burst out at her irritably. "Ill? I should say she is ill.
She's got tuberculosis, if you know what that means--consumption."

She sucked her breath in sharply. Her next question came slowly: "What
is there then to do?"

"Well, she couldn't last long here--that's dead certain. You've got to
get her away from here. You've got to get her up into the North Woods,
in the mountains--Saranac or some place like that--in a sanitarium or an
invalids' camp where she can have the right kind of treatment. Then
she'll have a chance."

By a chance he meant that with proper care the sick girl might live for
three months or for four, or at the outside for six. The case was as
good as hopeless now; he knew that. Still his duty was to see that his
patients' lives were prolonged--if possible.

"These mountains, I do not know them. We are strangers in this country."

"I'll find out about a place where you can get her in," he volunteered.
"I'll bring you the information in the morning--names and addresses and
everything. Somebody'll have to go up there with her--you, I guess--and
get her settled. She's in no shape to be travelling alone. Then you can
leave her there and arrange to send up so much a week to pay for her
keep and the treatment and all. Oh, yes--and until we get her away from
here you'll have to lay off from your work and stay with her, or else
hire somebody to stay with her. She mustn't be left alone for long at
a time--she's too sick for that. Something might happen. Understand?"

"And all this--it will cost much money perhaps?"

The cripple misread the note in her voice as she asked him this. This
flat now, it was infinitely cleaner than the abodes of nine-tenths of
those among whom he was called to minister. To his man's eyes the
furnishings, considering the neighbourhood, appeared almost luxurious.
That bed yonder against the wall was very much whiter and looked very
much softer than the one upon which he slept. And the woman herself was
well clad. He had no patience with these scrimping, stingy
foreigners--thank God he was himself native-born--these cheap, penurious
aliens who would haggle over pennies when a life was the stake. And
there was no patience in his uplifted, rumbling voice as he answered
her:

"Say, you don't want your sister to be a pauper patient, do you? If you
do, just say so and I'll notify the department and they'll put her in a
charity institution. She'd last just about a week there. Is that your
idea?--if it is, say so!"

"No, no, no," she said, "not charity--not for my sister."

"I thought as much," he said, a little mollified. "All right then, I'll
write a letter to the sanitarium people; they ought to make you a
special rate. Oh, it'll cost you twenty-five dollars a week maybe--say,
at the outside, thirty dollars a week. And that'll be cheap enough,
figuring in the food she'll have to have and the care and the nursing
and all. Then, of course, there'll be your railroad tickets on top of
that. You'd better have some ready money on hand so we can get her
shipped out of here before it's too--Well, before many days anyhow."

She nodded.

"I shall have the money," she promised.

"All right," he said; "then you'd better hand me two dollars now. That's
the price of my call. I don't figure on charging you for making the
blood test. And the information about the sanitarium and the letter I'm
going to write--I'll throw all that in too."

She paid him his fee from a small handbag. At the hall door he paused on
his stumping way out.

"I think she'll be all right for to-night--I gave her something," he
said with a jerk of his thumb toward the middle room. "If you just let
her stay quiet that'll be the best thing for her. But you'd better run
in my place the first thing in the morning and tell me how she passed
the night. Good night."

"Good night, doctor--and we thank you!"

He went clumping down the steps, cursing the darkness of the stairwell
and the steep pitch of the stairs. Before the sound of his fumbling feet
had quite died away Marie, left alone, had made up her mind as to a
certain course. In so short a time as that had the definite resolution
come to her. And as she still sat there, in an attitude of listening,
Helene, in the middle room, dragged herself up from her knees where she
had been crouched at the slitted door between. She had heard all or
nearly all the gruff lame doctor said. Indeed, she had sensed the truth
for herself before she heard him speak it. What he told her sister was
no news to the eavesdropper; merely it was confirmation of a thing she
already knew. Once up on her bare feet, she got across the floor and
into her bed, and put her head on the pillow and closed her eyes,
counterfeiting sleep. In her mind, too, a plan had formed.

It was only a minute or two after this that Marie came silently to the
door and peered in, looking and listening. She heard the regular sound
of the sick girl's breathing. By the light of the gas that was turned
down low she saw, or thought she saw, that Helene was asleep. She closed
the door very softly. She freshened her frock with a crisp collarband
and with crisp wristbands. She clasped about her neck a small gold chain
and she put on her head her small, neat black hat. And then this girl,
who meant to defile her body, knelt alongside her bed and prayed the
Blessed Virgin to keep her soul clean.

With her handbag on her arm she passed out into the hall. Across the
hall a Jewish family lived--by name, the Levinski family--consisting of
a father who was a push-cart peddler, a gross and slattern mother who
was continually occupied with the duties of being a mother, and any
number of small Levinskis. In answer to her knock at their door, Mrs.
Levinski came, a shapeless, vast shape in her night dress, bringing with
her across the threshold strong smells of stale garlic, soiled flannel
and cold fried carp. Marie had a nodding acquaintance with this
neighbour of hers and no more.

"My sister, she is sick," she told Mrs. Levinski. "And I must go out.
Please, will you listen? If she should awake and call out for me, you
will please to tell her I am gone but soon will be back again. If you
please?"

Mrs. Levinski said she would, and to show she meant it opened wide her
door before she returned to her household duties.

For November the weather was warm, but it was damp and would be damper.
A fine drizzle was falling as Marie Misereux came to the lower hallway
entrance and looked out into the night; and East Thirteenth Street,
which is never entirely empty, was almost empty. She hesitated a moment,
with her left hand clenched tight against her breast, and then stepped
out, heading westward. At the first avenue crossing she came upon a
man, a fairly well-dressed man, who stood below the stoop of a private
house that had been converted into some sort of club, as if undecided in
his own mind whether to go in or to stay out. She walked straight up to
him.

"Will you go with me, m'sieur?" she said.

He peered at her from under his hatbrim. Almost over them was a street
lamp. By its light he saw that her face was dead white; that neither her
lips nor her cheeks were daubed with cosmetics, and that her lips were
not twisted into the pitiable, painted smile of the streetwalker.
Against the smooth fulness of her dress her knotted left hand made a
hard, white clump. Her breasts, he saw, heaved up and down as though she
had been running and her breath came out between her teeth with a
whistling sound. Altogether she seemed most oddly dressed and most oddly
mannered for the part she played.

"You want me to go with you?" he asked, half incredulously, half
suspiciously, still staring hard.

"If--if you will be so good."

"Do you need the money that bad?"

"Assuredly, m'sieur," she said with a simple, desperate directness. "Why
else would I ask you?"

"Say," he said almost roughly, "you better go on home. I don't believe
you belong on the streets. Here!"

He drew something that was small and crumply from a waistcoat pocket,
and drawing a step nearer to her he shoved it between two of the fingers
of her right hand.

"Now, then," he said, "you take that and hustle on back home."

He laughed, then, shamefacedly and in a forced sort of way, as though
embarrassed by his own generosity, and then he turned and went quickly
up the steps and into the club house.

She looked at what he had given her. It was a folded dollar bill. As
though it had been nasty to the touch, she dropped it and rubbed her
hand upon her frock, as if to cleanse it of a stain. Then, in the same
instant nearly, she stooped down and picked up the bill from the dirty
pavement and kissed it and opened her black handbag. Except for a few
cents in change, the bag was empty. Except for those few cents and a sum
of less than ten dollars yet remaining in the savings bank, the two
dollars she had given the lame doctor was all the money she had in the
world. She tucked the bill up in still smaller compass and put it in the
bag. She had made the start for the fund she meant to have. It was not
charity. In the sweat of her agonized soul she had earned it.

She crossed over the first bisecting avenue to the westward, and the
second; she passed a few pedestrians, among them being a policeman
trying door latches, a drunken man whose body swayed and whose legs
wove queer patterns as he walked, and half a dozen pale, bearded men who
spoke Yiddish and gestured volubly with their hands as they went by in
a group. At Third Avenue she turned north, finding the pavements more
thickly populated, and just after she came to where Fourteenth Street
crosses she saw a heavily built, well-dressed man in a light overcoat,
coming toward her at a deliberative, dawdling gait. She put herself
directly in his path. He checked his pace to avoid a collision and
looked at her speculatively, with one hand fingering his moustache.

"Will you go with me?" she said, repeating the invitation she had used
before.

"Where to?" he said, showing interest.

"Where you please," she said in her halting speech.

"You're on," he said. He fell in alongside her, facing her about and
slipping a hand well inside the crook of her right arm.

"You--you will go with me?" she asked. Suddenly her body was in a
tremble.

"No, sister," he stated grimly, "I ain't goin' with you but you're sure
goin' with me." And as he said it he tightened his grip upon her
forearm.

He had need to say no more. She knew what had happened. She had not
spent two years and better in a New York tenement without learning that
there were men of the police--detectives they called them in
English--who wore no uniforms but went about their work apparelled as
ordinary citizens. She was arrested, that was plain enough, and she
understood full well for what she had been arrested. She made no outcry,
offered no defence, broke forth into no plea for release. Indeed her
thought for the moment was all for her half-sister and not for herself.
So she said nothing as he steered her swiftly along.

At a street light where a patrol telephone box of iron was bolted to the
iron post the plain-clothes man slowed up. Then he changed his mind.

"Guess I won't call the wagon," he said. "I happen to know it's out. It
ain't far. You and me'll walk and take the air." He turned with her
westward through the cross street. Then, struck by her silence, he asked
a question:

"A Frenchy, ain't you?"

"Yes," she told him. "I am French. Where--where are you taking me,
m'sieur? Is it to the prison--the station house?"

"Quit your kiddin'," he said mockingly. "I s'pose you don't know where
we're headin'? Night court for yours--Jefferson Market. Right over here
across town."

"They will not keep me there long? They will permit me to go if I pay
a fine, eh? A small fine, eh? That is all they will do to me, is it not
so?"

He grunted derisively. "Playin' ignorant, huh? I s'pose you're goin' to
tell me now you ain't never been up in the night court before?"

"No, no, m'sieur, never--I swear it to you. Never have I been--been like
this before."

"That's what they all say. Well, if you can prove it--if you ain't got
any record of previous complaints standin' agin' you, and your finger
prints don't give you away--you'll get off pretty light, maybe, but not
with a fine. I guess the magistrate'll give you a bit over on the
Island--maybe thirty days, maybe sixty. Depends on how he's feelin'
to-night."

"The Island?"

"Sure, Blackwell's Island. A month over there won't do you no harm."

"I cannot--you must not take me," she broke out passionately now. "For
thirty days? Oh, no, no, m'sieur!"

"Oh, yes, yes, yes!" He was mimicking her tone. "I guess you can stand
doin' your thirty days if the rest of these cruisers can. If you should
turn out to be an old offender it'd likely be six months----"

He did not finish the sentence. With a quick, hard jerk she broke away
from him and turned and ran back the way she had come. She dropped her
handbag and her foot spurned it into the gutter. She ran straight, her
head down, like a hunted thing sorely pressed. Her snug skirt hampered
her though. With long strides the detective overtook her. She fought him
off silently, desperately, with both hands, with all her strength. He
had to be rough with her--but no rougher than the emergency warranted.
He pressed her flat up against a building and, holding her fast there
with the pressure of his left arm across her throat, he got his nippers
out of his pocket. Another second or two more of confused movement and
he had her helpless. The little steel curb was twined tight about her
right wrist below the rumpled white cuff. By a twist of the handles
which he held gripped in his palm he could break the skin. Two twists
would dislocate the wrist bone. A strong man doesn't fight long after
the links of the nippers start biting into his flesh.

"Now, then," he grunted triumphantly, jerking her out alongside him, "I
guess you'll trot along without balkin'. I was goin' to treat you nice
but you wouldn't behave, would you? Come on now and be good."

He glanced backward over his shoulder. Three or four men and boys,
witnesses to the flight and to the recapture, were tagging along behind
them.

"Beat it, you," he ordered. Then as they hesitated: "Beat it now, or
I'll be runnin' somebody else in." They fell back, following at a safer
distance.

He had led his prisoner along for almost a block before he was moved to
address her again:

"And you thought you could make your getaway from me? Not a chance! Say,
what do you want to act that way for, makin' it harder for both of us?
Say, on the level now, ain't you never been pinched before?"

She thought he meant the pressure of the steel links on her wrist.

"It is not that," she said, bending the curbed hand upward. "That I do
not think of. It is of my sister, my sister Helene, that I think." Her
voice for the first time broke and shivered.

"What about your sister?" There was something of curiosity but more of
incredulity in his question.

"She is ill, m'sieur, very ill, and she is alone. There is no one but me
now. My brother--he is dead. It is for her that I have done--this--this
thing to-night. If I do not return to her--if you do not let me go
back--she will die, m'sieur. I tell you she will die."

If she was acting it was good acting. Half convinced against his will of
her sincerity, and half doubtfully, he came to a standstill.

"Where do you live--is it far from here?"

"It is in this street, m'sieur. It is not far." He could feel her arm
quivering in the grip of his nippers.

"Maybe I'm makin' a sucker of myself," he said dubiously, defining the
diagnosis as much to himself as to her. "But if it ain't far I might
walk you back there and give this here sister of yours the once-over.
And then if you ain't lyin' we'll see----"

"Must I go so?" She lifted her hand up, indicating her meaning.

"You bet your life you're goin' that way or not at all. I'm takin' no
more chances with you."

"But it would kill her--she would die to see me so. She must not know
I have done this thing, m'sieur. She must not see this----" The little
chain rattled.

"Come on," he ordered in a tone of finality. "I thought that sick sister
gag was old stuff, but I was goin' to give you a show to make good----"

"But I swear----"

"Save your breath! Save your breath! Tell your spiel to the judge. Maybe
he'll listen. I'm through."

They were almost at the doors of the squat and ugly building which the
Tenderloin calls Jeff Market when he noticed that her left hand was
clutched against her breast. He remembered then she had held that hand
so when she first spoke to him; except during her flight and the little
struggle after he ran her down, she must have been holding it so all
this time.

"What's that you've got in your hand?" he demanded suspiciously, and
with a practiced flip of the nipper handles swung her round so that she
faced him.

"It is my own, m'sieur. It is----"

"Nix, nix with that. I gotta see. Open up them fingers."

She opened her hand slowly, reluctantly. The two of them were in the
shadow of the elevated structure then, close up alongside a pillar, and
he had to peer close to see what the object might be. Having seen he did
not offer to touch it, but he considered his prisoner closely, taking
her in from her head to her feet, before he led her on across the
roadway and the pavement and in at one of the doors of that odoursome
clearing house of vice and misery, mercy and justice, where the night
court sits seven nights a week.

First, though, he untwisted the disciplinary little steel chain from
about her wrist. The doorway by which they entered gave upon the Tenth
Street face of the building and admitted them into a maze of smelly dim
corridors and cross-halls in the old jail wing directly beneath the
hideous and aborted tower, which in a neighbourhood of stark
architectural offences makes of Jefferson Market courthouse a shrieking
crime against good looks and good taste.

The inspector's man escorted the French girl the length of a short
passage. At a desk which stood just inside the courtroom door he
detained her while a uniformed attendant entered her name and her age,
which she gave as twenty-one, and her house number, in a big book which
before now has been Doomsday Book for many a poor smutted butterfly of
the sidewalks. The detective, standing by, took special note of the name
and the address and, for his own purposes, wrote them both down on a
scrap of card. This formality being finished, the pair crossed the
half-filled courtroom, he guiding by a hand on her elbow, she obeying
with a numbed and passive docility, to where there is a barred-in space
like an oversized training den for wild animals. This cage or coop,
whichever you might choose to call it, has a whited cement wall for its
back, and rows of close-set rounded iron bars for its front and sides,
and wooden benches for its plenishings. The bars run straight up, like
slender black shadows caught and frozen into solidity, to the soiled
ceiling above; they are braced across with iron horizontals, which makes
the pen strong enough to hold a rhino. Its twin stands alongside it,
filling the remaining space at the far side of the big room. In the old
days one pen was meant for male delinquents and one for female. But now
the night court for men holds its sessions in a different part of town
and only women delinquents are brought to this place. It may or may not
be a reflection upon our happy civilisation--I leave that point for the
sociologists to settle--but it is a fact that ninety per cent of them
are brought here charged with the same thing.

The first coop held perhaps a dozen women and girls. One of them was
quietly weeping. The others, looking, as they sat on one of the benches
in their more or less draggled finery, like a row of dishevelled cage
birds of gay plumage, maintained attitudes which ranged from the highly
indifferent to the excessively defiant. The detective unlatched the
door, which was of iron wattles too, and put his prisoner inside.

"You'll have to stay here awhile," he bade her. His tone was altered
from that which he had employed toward her at any time before. "Just set
down there and be comfortable."

But she did not sit. She drew herself close up into a space where wall
and wall, meeting at right angles, made a corner. Her cellmates eyed
her. Being inclined to believe from her garb that she probably was a
shopgirl caught pilfering, none of them offered to hail her; all of them
continued, though, to watch her curiously. As he closed and bolted the
door and moved away the plain-clothes man, glancing back, caught a fair
look at her face behind the iron uprights. Her big, staring eyes
reminded him of something, some creature, he had seen somewhere. Later
he remembered. He had seen that same look out of the staring eyes of
animals, lying with legs bound on the floor of a slaughterhouse.

Following this, the ordinary procedure for him would have been to call
up the East Twenty-second Street station house by telephone and report
that, having made an arrest, he had seen fit to bring his prisoner
direct to court; then visit the complaint clerk's office in a little
cubby-hole of a room, and there swear to a short affidavit setting forth
the accusation in due form; finally, file the affidavit with the
magistrate's clerk and stand by to await the calling of that particular
case. Strangely enough, he did none of these things.

Instead, he made his way direct to the magistrate's desk inside the
railing which cut the room across from side to side. The pent, close
smell of the place was fit to sicken men unused to it. It commingled
those odours which seem always to go with a police court--of unwashed
human bodies, of iodoform, of stale fumes of alcohol, of cheap rank
perfumery. Petty crime exhales an atmosphere which is peculiarly its
own. This man was used to this smell. Smelling it was to him a part of
the day's work--the night's work rather.

The magistrate upon the bench was a young magistrate, newly appointed by
the mayor to this post. Because he belonged to an old family and because
his sister had married a rich man the papers loved to refer to him as
the society judge. As the detective came up he was finishing a hearing
which had lasted less than three minutes.

"Any previous record as shown by the finger prints and the card
indexes?" he was asking of the officer complainant.

"Three, Your Honour," answered the man glibly. "Suspended sentence
oncet, thirty days oncet, thirty days oncet again. Probation officer's
report shows that this here young woman----"

"Never mind that," said the magistrate; "six months."

The officer and the woman who had been sentenced to six months fell
back, and the detective shoved forward, putting his arms on the top of
the edge of the desk to bring his head closer to the magistrate.

"Your Honour," he began, speaking in a sort of confidential undertone,
"could I have a word with you?"

"Go ahead, Schwartzmann," said the magistrate, bending forward to hear.

"Well, Judge, a minute ago I brought a girl in here; picked her up at
Fourteenth Street and Thoid Avenue for solicitin'. So far as that goes
it's a dead-open-and-shut case. She come up to me on the street and
braced me. She wasn't dressed like most of these Thoid-Avenue cruisers
dress and she's sort of acted as if she'd never been pinched
before--tried to give me an argument on the way over. Well, that didn't
get her anywheres with me. You can't never tell when one of them dames
will turn out in a new make-up, but somethin' that happened when we was
right here outside the door--somethin' I seen about her--sort of----" He
broke off the sentence in the middle and started again. "Well, anyhow,
Your Honour, I may be makin' a sucker of myself, but I didn't swear out
no affidavit and I ain't called up the station house even. I stuck her
over there in the bull-pen and then I come straight to you."

The magistrate's eyes narrowed. Thus early in his experience as a police
judge he had learned--and with abundant cause--to distrust the motives
of plain-clothes men grown suddenly philanthropic. Besides, in the first
place, this night court was created to circumvent the unholy partnership
of the bail-bond shark and the police pilot fish.

"Now look here, Schwartzmann," he said sharply, "you know the law--you
know the routine that has to be followed."

"Yes, sir, I do," agreed Schwartzmann; "and if I've made a break I'm
willin' to stand the gaff. Maybe I'm makin' a sucker of myself, too,
just like I said. But, Judge, there ain't no great harm done yet. She's
there in that pen and you know she's there and I know she's there."

"Well, what's the favour you want to ask of me?" demanded His Honour.

"It's like this: I want to slip over to the address she gave me and see
if she's been handin' me the right steer about certain things. It ain't
so far." He glanced down at the scribbled card he held in his hand. "I
can get over there and get back in half an hour at the outside. And then
if she's been tryin' to con me I'll go through with it--I'll press the
charge all right." His jaw locked grimly on the thought that his
professional sagacity was on test.

"Well, what is her story?" asked the magistrate.

"Judge, to tell you the truth it ain't her story so much as it's
somethin' I seen. And if I'm makin' a sucker of myself I'd rather not
say too much about that yet."

"Oh, go ahead," assented the magistrate, whose name was Voris. "There's
no danger of the case being called while you're gone, because, as I
understand you, there isn't any case to call. Go ahead, but remember
this while you're gone--I don't like all this mystery. I'm going to want
to know all the facts before I'm done."

"Thank you, sir," said Schwartzmann, getting himself outside the railed
inclosure. "I'll be back in less'n no time, Your Honour."

He wasn't, though. Nearly an hour passed before an attendant brought
Magistrate Voris word that Officer Schwartzmann craved the privilege of
seeing His Honour alone for a minute or two in His Honour's private
chamber. The magistrate left the bench, suspending the business of the
night temporarily, and went; on the way he was mentally fortifying
himself to be severe enough if he caught a plain-clothes man trying to
trifle with him.

"Well, Schwartzmann?" he said shortly as he entered the room.

"Judge," said the detective, "the woman wasn't lyin'. She told me her
sister was sick alone in their flat without nobody to look after her and
that her brother was dead. I don't know about the brother--at least I
ain't sure about him--but the sister was sick. Only she ain't sick no
more--she's dead."

"Dead? What did she die of?"

"She didn't die of nothin'--she killed herself with gas. She turned the
gas on in the room where she was sick in bed. The body was still warm
when I got there. I gave her first aid, but she was gone all right. She
wasn't nothin' more than a shell anyhow--had some wastin' disease from
the looks of her; and I judge it didn't take but a few whiffs to finish
her off. I called in the officer on post, name of Riordan, and I
notified the coroner's office myself over the telephone, and they're
goin' to send a man up there inside of an hour or so to take charge of
the case.

"And so, after that, feelin' a sort of personal interest in the whole
thing, as you might say, I broke the rules some more. When I found this
here girl dead she had two pieces of paper in her hand; she'd died
holdin' to 'em. One of 'em was a letter that she'd wrote herself, I
guess, and the other must 'a' been a letter from somebody else--kind of
an official-lookin' letter. Both of 'em was in French. I don't know
exactly why I done it, unless it was I wanted to prove somethin' to
myself, but I brought off them two letters with me and here they are,
sir. I'm hopin' to get your court interpreter to translate 'em for me,
and then I aim to rush 'em back over there before the coroner's
physician gets in, and put 'em back on that bed where I found 'em."

"I read French--a little," said the young magistrate. "Suppose you let
me have a look at them first."

Schwartzmann surrendered them and the magistrate read them through.
First he read the pitiably short, pitiably direct farewell lines the
suicide had written to her half-sister before she turned on the gas, and
then he read the briefly regretful letter of set terms of condolence,
which a clerk in a consular office had in duty bound transcribed. Having
read them through, this magistrate, who had read in the newspapers of
Liège and Louvain, of Mons and Charlevois, of Ypres and Rheims, of the
Masurien Lakes and Poland and Eastern Prussia and Western Flanders and
Northern France; who had read also the casualty reports emanating at
frequent intervals from half a dozen war offices, reading the one as
matters of news and the other, until now, as lists of steadily mounting
figures--he raised his head and in his heart he silently cursed war and
all its fruits. And next day he went and joined a league for national
preparedness.

"Schwartzmann," he said as he laid the papers on his desk, "I guess
probably your prisoner was telling the whole truth. She did have a
brother and he is dead. He was a French soldier and he died about a
month or six weeks ago--on the Field of Honour, the letter says. And
this note that the girl left, I'll tell you what it says. It says that
she heard what the doctor said about her--there must have been a doctor
in to see her some time this evening--and that she knows she can never
get well, and that they are about out of money, and that she is afraid
Marie--Marie is the sister who's in yonder now, I suppose--will do
something desperate to get money, so rather than be a burden on her
sister she is going to commit a mortal sin. So she asks God to forgive
her and let her be with her brother Paul--he's the dead brother, no
doubt--when she has paid for her sin. And that is all she says except
good-bye."

He paused a moment, clearing his throat, and when he went on he spoke
aloud, but it was to himself that he spoke rather than to the detective:
"Field of Honour? Not one but two out of that family dead on the Field
of Honour, by my way of thinking. Yes, and though it's a new name for
it, I guess you might call Fourteenth Street and Third Avenue a Field of
Honour, too, and not be so very far wrong for this once. What a hellish
thing it all is!"

"How's that, sir?" asked Schwartzmann. "I didn't quite get you." He had
taken the two papers back in his own hands and was shuffling them
absently.

"Nothing," said the magistrate. And then almost harshly: "Well, what do
you want me to do about the woman in the pen yonder?"

"Well, sir," said the other slowly, "I was thinkin' that probably you
wouldn't care to tell her what's just come off in the flat--at least not
in court. And I know I don't want to have to tell her. I thought maybe
if you could stretch the rules so's I could get her out of here without
havin' to make a regular charge against her and without me havin' to
arraign her in the regular way----"

"Damn the rules!" snapped Voris petulantly. "I'll fix them. You needn't
worry about that part of it. Go on!"

"Well, sir, I was thinkin' maybe that after I found somebody to take
these letters back where they belong, I could take her on home with
me--I live right down here in Greenwich Village--and keep her there for
the night, or anyhow till the coroner's physician is through with what
he's got to do, and I'd ask my wife to break the news to her and tell
her about it. A woman can do them things sometimes better'n a man can.
So that's my idea, sir."

"You're willing to take a woman into your home that you picked up for
streetwalking?"

"I'll take the chance. You see, Your Honour, I seen somethin'
else--somethin' I ain't mentioned--somethin' I don't care to mention if
you don't mind."

"Suit yourself," said the other. "I suppose you'll be looking up the
newspaper men before you go. This will make what they call a great
heart-interest story."

"I don't figure on tellin' the reporters neither," mumbled Schwartzmann,
as though ashamed of his own forbearance.

The magistrate found the detective's right hand and started to shake
it. Then he dropped it. You might have thought from the haste with which
he dropped it that he also was ashamed.

"I'll see you don't get into any trouble with the inspector," he said.
Then he added: "You know of course that this brother was a French
soldier?"

"Sure I know it--you told me so."

"You're German, aren't you?" asked Voris. "German descent, I mean?"

"I don't figure as that's got anythin' to do with the case," said the
plain-clothes man, bristling.

"I don't either, Schwartzmann," said the magistrate. "Now you go ahead
and get that woman out of this hole."

Schwartzmann went. She was where he had left her; she was huddled up,
shrinking in, against the bars, and as he unlatched the iron door and
swung it in and beckoned to her to come out from behind it, he saw, as
she came, that her eyes looked at him with a dumb, questioning misery
and that her left hand was still gripped in a hard knot against her
breast. He knew what that hand held. It held a little, cheap, carved
white crucifix.

       *       *       *       *       *

I see by the papers that those popularly reputed to be anointed of God,
who are principally in charge of this war, are graciously pleased to
ordain that the same shall go on for quite some time yet.



CHAPTER III

THE SMART ALECK


Cap'n Buck Fluter, holding his watch in the approved conductor's grip,
glanced back and forth the short length of the four-five accommodation
and raised his free hand in warning:

"All aboard!"

From almost above his head it came:

"If you can't get a board get a scantlin'!"

Clustered at the White or shady end of the station, the sovereign
Caucasians of Swango rocked up against one another in the unbridled
excess of their merriment. Farther away, at the Coloured or sunny end of
the platform, the assembled representatives of the African population
guffawed loudly, though respectfully. To almost any one having the gift
of spontaneous repartee it might have occurred to suggest the
advisability of getting a plank provided you could not get a board. It
took Gash Tuttle to think up scantling.

The humourist folded his elbows on the ledge of the window and leaned
his head and shoulders out of the car, considering his people
whimsically, yet benignantly. He wore attire suitable for travelling--a
dented-in grey felt hat, adhering perilously to the rearmost slope of
his scalp; a mail-order suit of light tan, with slashed seams and rows
of buttons extending up the sleeves almost to the elbows; a
hard-surfaced tie of pale blue satin; a lavender shirt, agreeably
relieved by pink longitudinal stripings.

Except his eyes, which rather protruded, and his front teeth, which
undoubtedly projected, all his features were in a state of active
retreat--only, his nose retreated one way and his chin the other. The
assurance of a popular idol who knows no rival was in his pose and in
his poise. Alexander the Great had that look--if we may credit the
likenesses of him still extant--and Napoleon Bonaparte had it, and David
Garrick, to quote a few conspicuous examples.

Alone, of all those within hearing, Cap'n Buck Fluter did not laugh.
Indeed, he did not even grin.

"All right, black boy," he said. "Let's go from here!"

The porter snatched up the wooden box that rested on the earth, flung it
on the car platform and projected his person nimbly after it. Cap'n Buck
swung himself up the step with one hand on the rail. The engine spat out
a mouthful of hot steam and the wheels began to turn.

"Good-by, my honeys, 'cause I'm gone!" called out Mr. Tuttle, and he
waved a fawn-coloured arm in adieu to his courtiers, black and white.
"I'm a-goin' many and a-many a mile from you. Don't take in no bad money
while your popper's away."

The station agent, in black calico sleeve-protectors and celluloid
eyeshade, stretched the upper half of his body out the cubby-hole that
served him for an office.

"Oh, you Gash!" he called. "Give my love to all the ladies."

The two groups on the platform waited, all expectant for the retort.
Instantly it sped back to them, above the clacking voice of the train:

"That's all you ever would give 'em, ain't it?"

Mr. Gip Dismukes, who kept the livery stable, slapped Mr. Gene Brothers,
who drove the bus, a resounding slap on the back.

"Ain't he jest ez quick ez a flash?" he demanded of the company
generally.

The station agent withdrew himself inside his sanctum, his sides heaving
to his mirthful emotions. He had drawn a fire acknowledged to be deadly
at any range, but he was satisfied. The laugh was worth the wound.

Through the favoured section traversed by the common carrier to whose
care genius incarnate had just committed his precious person there are
two kinds of towns--bus towns and non-bus towns. A bus town lies at an
appreciable distance from the railroad, usually with a hill
intervening, and a bus, which is painted yellow, plies between town and
station. But a non-bus town is a town that has for its civic equator the
tracks themselves. The station forms one angle of the public square;
and, within plain sight and easy walking reach, the post office and at
least two general stores stand; and handily near by is a one-story bank
built of a stucco composition purporting to represent granite, thus
signifying solidity and impregnability; and a two-story hotel, white,
with green blinds, and porches running all the way across the front;
also hitch rails; a livery stable; and a Masonic Hall.

Swango belonged to the former category. It was over the hill, a hot and
dusty eighth of a mile away. So, having watched the departing four-five
accommodation until it diminished to a smudgy dot where the V of the
rails melted together and finally vanished, the assembled Swangoans
settled back in postures of ease to wait for the up train due at
three-eight, but reported two hours and thirty minutes late. There would
still be ample time after it came and went to get home for supper.

The contemptuous travelling man who once said that only three things
ever happened in Swango--morning, afternoon and night--perpetrated a
libel, for he wilfully omitted mention of three other daily events: the
cannon-ball, tearing through without stopping in the early forenoon; the
three-eight up; and the four-five down.

So they sat and waited; but a spirit of depression, almost of sadness,
affected one and all. It was as though a beaming light had gone out of
their lives. Ginger Marable, porter and runner of the Mansard House,
voiced the common sentiment of both races as he lolled on a baggage
truck in the sunshine, with his cap of authority, crowned by a lettered
tin diadem, shoved far back upon his woolly skull.

"Dat Mistah Gashney Tuttle he sho is a quick ketcher," stated Ginger
with a soft chuckle. "W'ite an' black--we suttinly will miss Mistah
Tuttle twell he gits back home ag'in."

Borne away from his loyal subjects to the pulsing accompaniment of the
iron horse's snorted breath, the subject of this commentary extended
himself on his red plush seat and considered his fellow travellers with
a view to honing his agile fancy on the whetstones of their duller
mentalities. On the whole, they promised but poor sport. Immediately in
front of him sat a bride and groom, readily recognisable at a glance for
what they were--the bride in cream-coloured cashmere, with many ribbons;
the groom in stiff black diagonals, with braided seams, and a white lawn
tie. A red-faced man who looked as though he might be a deputy sheriff
from somewhere slept uneasily one seat in the rear. He had his shoes
off, revealing gray yarn socks. His mouth was ajar, and down in his
throat he snored screechily, like a planing mill. The youngest member
of a family group occupying two seats just across the aisle whimpered
a desire. Its mother rummaged in a shoebox containing, among other
delicacies, hard-boiled eggs, salt and pepper mixed and enveloped in
a paper squill, blueberry pie, leaking profusely, and watermelon-rind
preserves, and found what she sought--the lower half of a fried chicken
leg. Satisfied by this gift the infant ceased from fretful repining,
sucking contentedly at the meat end; and between sucks hammered
contentedly with the drumstick on the seat back and window ledge,
leaving lardy smears there in the dust.

Cap'n Buck--captain by virtue of having a regular passenger run--came
through the car, collecting tickets. At no time particularly long on
temper, he was decidedly short of it to-day. He was fifteen minutes
behind his schedule--no unusual thing--but the locomotive was
misbehaving. Likewise a difference of opinion had arisen over the proper
identity of a holder of mileage in the smoker. He halted alongside Gash
Tuttle, swaying on his legs to the roll and pitch of the car floor.

"Tickets?" he demanded crisply.

"Wee gates, Cap," answered the new passenger jovially. "How does your
copperosity seem to sagashuate this evenin'?"

"Where goin'?" said Fluter, ignoring the pleasantry. "I'm in a hurry.
What station?"

"Well," countered the irrepressible one, "what stations have you got?"

Cap'n Buck Fluter's cold eye turned meaningly toward the bell cord,
which dipped like a tired clothesline overhead, and he snapped two
fingers peevishly.

"Son," he said almost softly, "don't monkey with me. This here ain't my
day for foolin'!"

Favoured son of the high gods though he was, Gash Tuttle knew instantly
now that this was indeed no day for fooling. Cap'n Buck was not a large
man, but he had a way of growing to meet and match emergencies. He
handled the Sunday excursions, which was the acid test of a trainman's
grit. Coltish youths, alcoholically keened up or just naturally high
spirited, who got on his train looking for trouble nearly always got off
looking for a doctor. As regards persons wishful of stealing a ride,
they never tried to travel with Cap'n Buck Fluter oftener than once.
Frequently, for a period of time measurable by days or weeks, they were
in no fit state to be travelling with any one except a trained nurse.

Gash Tuttle quit his fooling. Without further ado--whatever an ado
is--he surrendered his ticket, receiving in exchange a white slip with
punchmarks in it, to wear in his hatband. Next came the train butcher
bearing chewing gum, purple plums in paper cornucopias, examples of the
light literature of the day, oranges which were overgreen, and bananas
which were overripe, as is the way with a train butcher's oranges and
bananas the continent over. In contrast with the conductor's dourness
the train butcher's mood was congenially inclined to persiflage.

After an exchange of spirited repartee, at which the train butcher by an
admiring shake of the head tacitly confessed himself worsted, our hero
purchased a paper-backed work entitled, "The Jolly Old Drummer's Private
Joke Book." This volume, according to the whispered confidences of the
seller, contained tales of so sprightly a character that even in sealed
covers it might be sent by mail only at the sender's peril; moreover,
the wink which punctuated this disclosure was in itself a promise of the
spicy entertainment to be derived from perusal thereof. The price at
present was but fifty cents; later it would go up to a dollar a copy;
this, then, was a special and extraordinary rate.

The train continued on its course--not hurriedly, but with reasonable
steadfastness and singleness of purpose. After much the same fashion the
sun went down. The bride repeatedly whisked cindery deposits off her
cashmered lap; the large-faced man, being awakened by one of his own
snores, put on his shoes and indulged in fine-cut tobacco, internally
applied; but the youngest passenger now slept all curled up in a moist
little bundle, showing an expanse of plump neck much mottled by
heat-rash, and clutching in one greased and gritted fist the denuded
shank-bone of a chicken with a frieze of gnawed tendons adhering to its
larger joint.

At intervals the train stopped at small way stations, bus or non-bus in
character as the case might be, to let somebody off or somebody on.
Cap'n Buck now made his trips carrying his lantern--the ornate
nickel-plated one that had been awarded to him in the voting contest for
the most popular trainman at the annual fair and bazaar of True Blue
Lodge of the Junior Order of American Mechanics. It had his proper
initials--J. J. F.--chased on its glass chimney in old English script,
very curlicue and ornamental. He carried it in the crook of his left
elbow with the handle round his biceps; and when he reached the end of
his run he would extinguish its flame, not by blowing it out but by a
quick, short, expert jerk of his arm. This is a trick all conductors
seek to acquire; some of them succeed.

Twilight, the stage manager of night, had stolen insidiously on the
scene, shortening up the backgrounds and blurring the perspectives; and
the principal character of this tale, straining his eyes over the fine
print, had reached the next to the last page of "The Jolly Old Drummer's
Private Joke Book" and was beginning to wonder why the postal
authorities should be so finicky in such matters and in a dim way to
wish he had his fifty cents back, when with a glad shriek of relief the
locomotive, having bumped over a succession of yard switches, drew up
under a long open shed alongside a dumpy brick structure. To avoid any
possible misunderstanding this building was labelled Union Depot in
large letters and at both ends.

Being the terminus of the division, it was the train's destination and
the destination of Mr. Tuttle. He possessed himself of an imitation
leather handbag and descended on solid earth with the assured manner of
a seasoned and experienced traveller. Doubtless because of the flurry
created by the train's arrival and the bustling about of other arrivals
his advent created no visible stir among the crowd at the terminal. At
least he noticed none. Still, these people had no way of knowing who he
was.

In order to get the Union Depot closer to the railroad it had been
necessary to place it some distance away from the heart of things; even
so, metropolitan evidences abounded. A Belt Line trolley car stood
stationary, awaiting passengers; a vociferous row of negro hackmen were
kept in their proper places by a uniformed policeman; and on the horizon
to the westward a yellow radiance glowed above an intervening comb of
spires and chimneys, showing where the inhabitants of the third largest
second-class city in the state made merry at carnival and street fair,
to celebrate the dedication and opening of their new Great White Way--a
Great White Way seven blocks long and spangled at sixty-foot intervals
with arc lights disposed in pairs on ornamental iron standards. Hence
radiance.

Turning westward, therefore, Mr. Tuttle found himself looking along a
circumscribed vista of one-story buildings with two-story fronts--that
is to say, each wooden front wall extended up ten or fifteen feet above
the peak of the sloping roof behind it, so that, viewed full-on, the
building would have the appearance of being a floor taller than it
really was. To add to the pleasing illusion certain of these
superstructures had windows painted elaborately on their slab surfaces;
but to one seeking a profile view the false work betrayed a razor-like
thinness, as patently flat and artificial as stage scenery.

Travellers from the Eastern seaboard have been known to gibe at this
transparent artifice. Even New York flat dwellers, coming direct from
apartment houses which are all marble foyers and gold-leaf elevator
grilles below and all dark cubby-holes and toy kitchens above, have been
known to gibe; which fact is here set forth merely to prove that a sense
of humour depends largely on the point of view.

To our Mr. Tuttle such deceits were but a part of the ordered
architectural plan of things, and they moved him not. What did interest
him was to note that the nearmost of these bogusly exalted buildings
displayed, above swinging twin doors, a cluster of lights and a sign
testifying that this was the First Chance Saloon. Without looking he
sensed that the reverse of that Janus-faced sign would advertise this
same establishment as being the Last Chance. He did not know about
Janus, but he did know about saloons that are handily adjacent to union
depots. Moreover, an inner consciousness advised him that after a dry
sixty-mile trip he thirsted amain. He took up his luggage and crossed
the road, and entered through the knee-high swinging doors.

There was a bar and a bar mirror behind it. The bar was decorated at
intervals with rectangles of fly paper, on the sticky surfaces of which
great numbers of flies were gummed fast in a perished or perishing
state; but before they became martyrs to the fad of sanitation these
victims had left their footprints thickly on the mirror and on the
fringes of coloured tissue paper that dangled from the ceiling. In a
front corner, against a window, was a lunch counter, flanked on one side
by stools and serving as a barricade for an oil stove and shelves of
cove oysters in cans, and hams and cheeses for slicing, and vinegar
cruets and pepper casters and salt cellars crusted with the saline
deposits of the years. A solitary patron was lounging against the bar in
earnest conversation with the barkeeper; but the presiding official of
the food-purveying department must have been absent on business or
pleasure, for of him there was no sign.

Gash Tuttle ordered a beer. The barkeeper filled a tall flagon with brew
drawn from the wood, wiped the clinging froth from its brim with a
spatulate tool of whittled cedar, and placed the drink before the
newcomer, who paid for it out of a silver dollar. Even as Mr. Tuttle
scooped in his change and buried the lower part of his face in the
circumference of the schooner he became aware that the other customer
had drawn nearer and was idly rattling a worn leather cup, within which
dice rapped against the sides like little bony ghosts uneasy to escape
from their cabinet at a séance.

The manipulator of the dice held a palm cupped over the mouth of the cup
to prevent their escape. He addressed the barkeeper:

"Flem," he said, "you're such a wisenheimer, I'll make you a
proposition: I'll shake three of these here dice out, and no matter whut
they roll I'll betcha I kin tell without lookin' whut the tops and
bottoms will come to--whut the spots'll add up to."

The other desisted from rinsing glassware in a pail beneath the bar.

"Which is that?" he inquired sceptically. "You kin tell beforehand whut
the top and bottom spots'll add up?"

"Ary time and every time!"

"And let me roll 'em myself?"

"And let you roll 'em yourself--let anybody roll 'em. I don't need to
touch 'em, even."

"How much'll you risk that you kin do that, Fox?" Roused greed was in
the speaker's tone.

"Oh, make it fur the drinks," said Fox--"jest fur the drinks. I ain't
aimin' to take your money away frum you. I got all the money I need."
For the first time he seemed to become aware of a third party and he
turned and let a friendly hand fall on the stranger's shoulder. "Tell
you whut, Flem, we'll make it drinks fur this gent too. Come on,
brother," he added; "you're in on this. It's my party if I lose, which
I won't, and ole Flem's party if he loses, which he shore will."

It was the warmth of his manner as much as the generosity of his
invitation that charmed Mr. Tuttle. The very smile of this man Fox
invited friendship; for it was a broad smile, rich in proteids and
butterfats. Likewise his personality was as attractively cordial as
his attire was striking and opulent.

"'Slide or slip, let 'er rip!'" said Mr. Tuttle, quoting the poetic
words of a philosopher of an earlier day.

"That's the talk!" said Fox genially. He pushed the dice box across the
bar. "Go to it, bo! Roll them bones! The figure is twenty-one!"

From the five cubes in the cup the barkeeper eliminated two. He agitated
the receptacle violently and then flirted out the three survivors on the
wood. They jostled and crocked against one another, rolled over and
stopped. Their uppermost faces showed an ace, a six and a five.

"Twelve!" said Flem.

"Twelve it is," echoed Fox.

"A dozen raw," confirmed Gash Tuttle, now thoroughly in the spirit of
it.

"All right, then," said Fox, flashing a beam of admiration toward the
humourist. "Now turn 'em over, Flem--turn 'em over careful."

Flem obeyed, displaying an ace, a deuce and a six.

"And nine more makes twenty-one in all!" chortled Fox triumphantly.

As though dazed, the barkeeper shook his head.

"Well, Foxey, ole pardner, you shore got me that time," he confessed
begrudgingly. "Whut'll it be, gents? Here, I reckin the cigars is on me
too, after that." From a glass-topped case at the end of the bar
alongside Gash Tuttle he produced a full box and extended it hospitably.
"The smokes is on the house--dip in, gents. Dip in. Try an Old Hickory;
them's pure Tampas--ten cents straight."

He drew the beers--large ones for the two, a small one for himself--and
raised his own glass to them.

"Here's to you and t'ward you!" he said.

"Ef I hadn't a-met you I wouldn't a-knowed you," shot back Gash Tuttle
with the lightning spontaneity of one whose wit moves in boltlike
brilliancy; and at that they both laughed loudly and, as though dazzled
by his flashes, bestowed on him the look that is ever the sweetest
tribute to the jester's talents.

The toast to a better acquaintance being quaffed and lights exchanged,
the still nonplussed Flem addressed the winners:

"Well, boys, I thought I knowed all there was to know about dice--poker
dice and crap dice too; but live and learn, as the feller says. Say,
Fox, put me on to that trick--it'll come in handy. I'll ketch Joe on it
when he gits back," and he nodded toward the lunch counter.

"You don't need to know no more'n you know about it already," expounded
Fox. "It's bound to come out that way."

"How is it bound to come out that way?"

"Why, Flem, it's jest plain arithmetic; mathematics--that's all. Always
the tops and bottoms of ary three dice come to twenty-one. Here, gimme
that cup and I'll prove it."

In rapid succession, three times, he shook the cubes out. It was indeed
as the wizard had said. No matter what the sequence, the complete tally
was ever the same--twenty-one.

"Now who'd 'a' thought it!" exclaimed Flem delightedly. "Say, a feller
could win a pile of dough workin' that trick! I'd 'a' fell fur some real
money myself."

"That's why I made it fur the drinks," said the magnanimous Fox. "I
wouldn't put it over on a friend--not for no amount; because it's a
sure-thing proposition. It jest naturally can't lose! I wouldn't 'a'
tried to skin this pardner here with it even if I'd 'a' thought I
could." And once more his hand fell in flattering camaraderie on a
fawn-coloured shoulder. "I know a regular guy that's likewise a wise guy
as soon as I see him. But with rank strangers it'd be plumb different.
The way I look at it, a stranger's money is anybody's money----"

He broke off abruptly as the doorhinges creaked. A tall, thin individual
wearing a cap, a squint and a cigarette, all on the same side of his
head, had entered. He stopped at the lunch counter as though desirous of
purchasing food.

"Sh-h! Listen!" Fox's subdued tones reached only the barkeeper and Mr.
Tuttle. "That feller looks like a mark to me. D'ye know him, Flem?"

"Never seen him before," whispered back Flem after a covert scrutiny of
the latest arrival.

"Fine!" commented Fox, speaking with rapidity, but still with low-toned
caution. "Jest to test it, let's see if that sucker'll fall. Here"--he
shoved the dice cup into Gash Turtle's grasp--"you be playin' with the
bones, sorter careless. You kin have the first bet, because I've already
took a likin' to you. Then, if he's willin' to go a second time, I'll
take him on fur a few simoleons." The arch plotter fell into an attitude
of elaborate indifference. "Go ahead, Flem; you toll him in."

Given a guarantee of winning, and who among us is not a born gamester?
Gash Tuttle's cheeks flushed with sporting blood as he grabbed for the
cup. All his corpuscles turned to red and white chips--red ones mostly.
As for the barkeeper, he beyond doubt had the making of a born
conspirator in him. He took the cue instantly.

"Sorry, friend," he called out, "but the grub works is closed down
temporary. Anything I kin do fur you?"

"Well," said the stranger, edging over, "I did want a fried-aig
sandwich, but I might change my mind. Got any cold lager on tap?"

"Join us," invited Fox; "we're jest fixin' to have one. Make it beer all
round," he ordered the barkeeper without waiting for the newcomer's
answer.

Beer all round it was. Gash Tuttle, too eager for gore to more than sip
his, toyed with the dice, rolling them out and scooping them up again.

"Want to shake for the next round, anybody?" innocently inquired the
squint-eyed person, observing this byplay.

"The next round's on the house," announced Flem, obeying a wink of
almost audible emphasis from Fox.

"This here gent thinks he's some hand with the bones," explained Fox,
addressing the stranger and flirting a thumb toward Gash Tuttle. "He was
sayin' jest as you come in the door yonder that he could let anybody
else roll three dice, and then he could tell, without lookin' even, whut
the tops and bottoms would add up to?"

"Huh?" grunted the squinty-eyed man. "Has he got any money in his
clothes that says he kin do that? Where I come frum, money talks." He
eyed Gash Tuttle truculently, as though daring him to be game.

"My money talks too!" said Mr. Tuttle with nervous alacrity. He felt in
an inner vest pocket, producing a modest packet of bills. All eyes were
focused on it.

"That's the stuff!" said Fox with mounting enthusiasm. "How much are you
two gents goin' to bet one another? Make it fur real money--that is, if
you're both game!"

"If he don't touch the dice at all I'll bet him fur his whole roll,"
said the impetuous newcomer.

"That's fair enough, I reckin," said Fox. "Tell you whut--to make it
absolutely fair I'll turn the dice over myself and Flem'll hold the
stakes. Then there can't be no kick comin' from nobody whatsoever, kin
there?" He faced their prospective prey. "How strong are you?" he
demanded, almost sneeringly. "How much are you willin' to put up against
my pardner here?"

"Any amount! Any amount!" snapped back the other, squinting past Fox at
Gash Tuttle's roll until one eye was a button and the other a
buttonhole. "Twenty-five--thirty--thirty-five--as much as forty dollars.
That's how game I am."

Avarice gnawed at the taproots of Gash Tuttle's being, but caution
raised a warning hand. Fifteen was half of what he had and thirty was
all. Besides, why risk all on the first wager, even though there was no
real risk? A person so impulsively sportive as this victim would make
a second bet doubtlessly. He ignored the stealthy little kick his
principal accomplice dealt him on the shin. "I'll make it fur fifteen,"
he said, licking his lips.

"If that's as fur as you kin go, all right," said the slit-eyed man,
promptly posting his money in the outstretched hand of the barkeeper,
who in the same motion took over a like amount from the slightly
trembling fingers of the challenger.

Squint-eye picked up the dice cup and rattled its occupants.

"Come on now!" he bantered Gash Tuttle. "Whut'll they add up, tops and
bottoms?"

"Twenty-one!" said Mr. Tuttle.

"Out they come, then!"

And out they did come, dancing together, tumbling and somersaulting, and
finally halting--a deuce, a trey and a four.

"Three and two is five and four is nine," Gash Tuttle read off the pips.
"Now turn 'em over!" he bade Fox. "That's your job--turn 'em over!" He
was all tremulous and quivery inside.

In silence Fox drew the nearest die toward him and slowly capsized it.
"Four," he announced.

He flipped the deuce end for end, revealing its bottom: "Five!"

He reached for the remaining die--the four-spot. Dragging it toward him,
his large fingers encompassed it for one fleeting instance, hiding it
from view entirely; then he raised his hand: "Six!"

"Makin' twenty-one in all," stuttered Gash Tuttle. He reached for the
stakes.

"Nix on that quick stuff!" yelled his opponent, and dashed his hand
aside. "The tops come to nine and the bottoms to fifteen--that's
twenty-four, the way I figger. You lose!" He pouched the money
gleefully.

Stunned, Gash Tuttle contemplated the upturned facets of the three dice.
It was true--it was all too true! Consternation, or a fine imitation of
that emotion, filled the countenances of Flem and of Fox.

"That's the first time I ever seen that happen," Fox whispered in the
loser's ear. "Bet him again--bet high--and git it all back. That's the
ticket!"

Mr. Tuttle shook his head miserably, but stubbornly. For this once, in
the presence of crushing disaster, the divine powers of retort failed
him. He didn't speak--he couldn't!

"Piker money! Piker money!" chanted the winner. "Still, ever' little bit
helps--eh, boys?"

And then and there, before Gash Tuttle's bulging and horrified eyes, he
split up the winnings in the proportion of five for Flem and five for
Fox and five for himself. Of a sudden the loser was shouldered out of
the group. He looked not into friendly faces, but at contemptuous backs
and heaving shoulders. The need for play acting being over, the play
actors took their ease and divided their pay. The mask was off.
Treachery stood naked and unashamed.

Reaching blindly for his valise, Gash Tuttle stumbled for the door, a
load lying on his daunted spirit as heavy as a stone. Flem hailed him.

"Say, hold on!" He spoke kindly. "Ain't that your quarter yonder?"

He pointed to a coin visible against the flat glass cover of the cigar
case.

"Sure it is--it's yourn. I seen you leave it there when I give you the
change out of that dollar and purposed to tell you 'bout it at the time,
but it slipped my mind. Go on and pick it up--it's yourn. You're welcome
to it if you take it now!"

Automatically Gash Tuttle reached for the quarter--small salvage from a
great and overwhelming loss. His nails scraped the glass, touching only
glass. The quarter was cunningly glued to its underside. Surely this
place was full of pitfalls. A guffawed chorus of derision rudely smote
his burning ears.

"On your way, sucker! On your way!" gibed the perfidious Fox, swinging
about with his elbows braced against the bar and a five-dollar bill held
with a touch of cruel jauntiness between two fingers.

"Whut you got in the gripsack--hay samples or punkins?" jeered the
exultant Slit-Eye.

"Yes; whut is the valise fur?" came Flem's parting taunt.

Under their goadings his spirit rallied.

"Cat's fur, to make kittens' britches!" he said. Then, as a final shot:
"You fellers needn't think you're so derned smart--I know jest exactly
how you done it!"

He left them to chew on that. The parting honours were his, he felt, but
the spoils of war--alas!--remained in the camp of the enemy. Scarcely
twenty minutes at the outside had elapsed since his advent into city
life, and already one-half of the hoarded capital he had meant should
sustain him for a whole gala week was irretrievably gone, leaving behind
an emptiness, a void as it were, which ached like the socket of a newly
drawn tooth.

Vague, formless thoughts of reprisal, of vengeance exacted an
hundredfold when opportunity should fitly offer, flitted through his
numbed brain. Meantime though adventure beckoned; half a mile away or
less a Great White Way and a street fair awaited his coming. That
saffron flare against the sky yonder was an invitation and a promise.
Sighing, he shifted his valise from one hand to the other.

The Belt Line car, returning stationward, bore him with small loss of
time straightway to the very centre of excitement; to where bunting
waved on store fronts and flag standards swayed from trolley poles,
converting the County Square into a Court of Honour, and a myriad
lights glowed golden russet through the haze of dust kicked up by the
hurrying feet of merrymaking thousands. Barkers barked and brass bands
brayed; strange cries of man and beast arose, and crowds eddied to and
fro like windblown leaves in a gusty November. And all was gaiety and
abandon. From the confusion certain sounds detached themselves, becoming
intelligible to the human understanding. As for example:

"Remembah, good people, the cool of the evenin' is the time to view the
edgycated ostritch and mark his many peculiarities!"

And this:

"The big red hots! The g-e-r-reat big, juicy, sizzlin' red hots! The
eriginal hot-dog sand-wige--fi' cents, halluf a dime, the twentieth part
of a dollah! Here y'are! Here y'are! The genuwine Mexican hairless
Frankfurter fer fi' cents!"

And this:

"Cornfetti! Cornfetti! All the colours of the rainbow! All the pleasures
of the Maudie Graw! A large full sack for a nickel! Buy cornfetti and
enjoy yourselves."

And so on and so forth.

The forlorn youth, a half-fledged school-teacher from a back district,
who had purchased the county rights of a patent razor sharpener from a
polished gentleman who had had to look at the map before he even knew
the name of the county, stood on a dry-goods box at the corner of
Jefferson and Yazoo, dimly regretful of the good money paid out for
license and unsalable stock, striving desperately to remember and
enunciate the patter taught him by the gifted promoter. For the
twentieth time he lifted his voice, essaying his word-formula in husky
and stuttering accents for the benefit of swirling multitudes, who never
stopped to listen:

"Friends, I have here the Infallible Patent Razor Sharpener. 'Twill
sharpen razors, knives, scissors, scythe blades or any edged tool. If
you don't believe it will----" He paused, forgetting the tag line; then
cleared his throat and improvised a finish: "If you don't believe it
will--why, it will!" It was a lame conclusion and fruitful of no sales.

How different the case with a talented professional stationed half a
block down the street, who nonchalantly coiled and whirled and threw
a lasso at nothing; then gathered in the rope and coiled and threw it
again, always at nothing at all, until an audience collected, being
drawn by a desire to know the meaning of a performance seemingly so
purposeless. Then, dropping the rope, he burst into a stirring panegyric
touching on the miraculous qualifications of the Ajax Matchless Cleaning
and Washing Powder, which made bathing a sheer pleasure and household
drudgery a joy.

Never for one moment abating the flow of his eloquence, this person
produced a tiny vial, held it aloft, uncorked it, shook twenty drops of
its colourless fluid contents on the corrugated surface of a seemingly
new and virgin sponge; then gently kneaded and massaged the sponge
until--lo and behold!--lather formed and grew and mounted and foamed, so
that the yellow lump became a mass of creamy white suds the size of a
peck measure, and from it dripped huge bubbles that foamed about his
feet and expired prismatically, as the dolphin was once believed to
expire, leaving smears upon the boards whereon the operator stood.

Thereat dimes flowed in on him in clinking streams, and bottles of the
Matchless flowed from him until, apparently grown weary of commerce, he
abandoned his perch, avowedly for refreshment, but really--this being a
trade secret--to rub shavings of soft yellow soap into the receptive
pores of a fresh sponge and so make it ready against the next
demonstration.

Through such scenes Gash Tuttle wandered, a soul apart. He was of the
carnival, but not in it--not as yet. With a pained mental jolt he
observed that about him men of his own age wore garments of a novel and
fascinating cut. By contrast his own wardrobe seemed suddenly grown
commonplace and prosaic; also, these city dwellers spoke a tongue that,
though lacking, as he inwardly conceded, in the ready pungency of his
own speech, nevertheless had a saucy and attractive savour of novelty in
its phrasing. Indeed, he felt lonely. So must a troubadour of old have
felt when set adrift in an alien and hostile land. So must the shining
steel feel when separated from the flint on which it strikes forth its
sparks of fire. I take it a steel never really craves for its flint
until it parts from it.

As he wormed through a group of roistering youth of both sexes he
tripped over his own valise; a wadded handful of confetti struck him
full in the cheek and from behind him came a gurgle of laughter. It was
borne in on him that he was the object of mirth and not its creator. His
neck burned. Certainly the most distressing situation which may beset a
humourist follows hard on the suspicion that folks are laughing--not
with him, but at him!

He hurried on as rapidly as one might hurry in such crowded ways. He was
aware now of a sensation of emptiness which could not be attributed
altogether to the depression occasioned by his experience at the First
and Last Chance Saloon; and he took steps to stay it. He purchased and
partook of hamburger sandwiches rich in chopped onions.

Later it would be time to find suitable lodgings. The more alluring of
the pay-as-you-enter attractions were yet to be tested. By way of a
beginning he handed over a ten-cent piece to a swarthy person behind a
blue pedestal, and mounting eight wooden steps to a platform he passed
behind a flapping canvas curtain. There, in company with perhaps a dozen
other patrons, he leaned over a wooden rail and gazed downward into a
shallow tarpaulin-lined den where a rather drowsy-appearing, half-nude
individual, evidently of Ethiopian antecedents, first toyed with some
equally drowsy specimens of the reptile kingdom and then partook
sparingly and with no particular avidity of the tail of a very small
garter snake.

Chance, purely, had led Gash Tuttle to select the establishment of Osay
rather than that of the Educated Ostrich, or the Amphibious Man, or
Fatima the Pearl of the Harem, for his first plunge into carnival
pleasures; but chance is the hinge on which many moving events swing. It
was so in this instance.

Osay had finished a light but apparently satisfying meal and the
audience was tailing away when Gash Tuttle, who happened to be the
rearmost of the departing patrons, felt a detaining touch on his arm. He
turned to confront a man in his shirtsleeves--a large man with a
pock-marked face, a drooping moustache and a tiger-claw watch charm on
his vest. It was the same man who, but a minute before, had delivered a
short yet flattering discourse touching the early life and manners and
habits of the consumer of serpents--in short, the manager of the show
and presumably its owner.

"Say!" began this gentleman.

"Say yourself," flashed Gash, feeling himself on safe ground once more;
"your mouth's open."

The man grinned in appreciation of the thrust--a wincing grin, as though
owning himself beaten in the very first sally.

"All right, old scout," he said jovially, "I will. Come back here where
nobody can't hear me while I say it." He drew the younger man to the
inner side of the platform and sank his voice to a confidential rumble.
"Soon as I seen you comin' in I says to myself, 'That's the party I'm
lookin' for.' You don't live here in this town, do you?"

Gash Tuttle shook his head and started to speak, but the big man was
going on. Plainly he was not one to waste time in idle preliminaries:

"That's the way I doped it. You're in the profesh, ain't you? You've
been workin' this street-fair game somewhere, ain't you?"

"No," Gash Tuttle confessed, yet somehow at the same time feeling
flattered.

"Well, that just goes to show how a guy can be fooled," said the Osay
man. "I'd 'a' swore you was on to all the ropes in this biz. Anyway,
I know just by the cut of your jib you're the party I'm lookin' for.
That's why I braced you. My name's Fornaro; this here is my outfit. I
want somebody to throw in with me--and I've made up my mind you're the
party I'm lookin' for."

Once bitten, twice shy; and Gash Tuttle's fifteen-dollar bite was still
raw and bleeding. He started to pull away.

"I wouldn't choose to invest in anything more until I'd looked it over,"
he began. The large man grasped him by his two lapels and broke in on
him, drowning out the protest before it was well started.

"Who said anything about anybody investin' anything?" he demanded. "Did
I? No. Then listen to me a minute--just one minute. I'm in a hurry my
own self and I gotta hand you this proposition out fast."

Sincerity was in his tone; was in his manner too. Even as he spoke his
gaze roved past Gash Tuttle toward the tarpaulin draperies which
contributed to their privacy, and he sweat freely; a suetlike dew
spangled his brow. There was a noise outside. He listened intently, then
fixed a mesmerising stare on Gash Tuttle and spoke with great rapidity
and greater earnestness:

"You see, I got some other interests here. Besides this pit show, I'm
a partner in a store pitch and a mitt-joint; and, what with everything,
I'm overworked. That's the God's truth--I'm overworked! What I need is
a manager here. And soon as I seen how you handled yourself I says to
myself, 'That's the party I want to hire for manager.' What did you say
your name was?"

"Tuttle--Gashney P. Tut----"

"That's enough--the Tuttle part will do for me. Now, Tuttle, set down
that there keister of yours--that gripsack--and listen. I gotta go down
the street for a half hour--maybe an hour--and I want you to take
charge. You're manager while I'm gone--the joint is yours till I git
back. And to-night, later on, we'll fix up a deal together. If you
think you like the job we'll make a reg'lar arrangement; we'll make it
permanent instid of temporary. See?"

"But--but----"

"But nothin'! I want to find out if my first judgment about you is
correct. See? I want to make a test. See? That's it--a test. You ain't
goin' to have much to do, first off. The nigger is all right s'long as
he gits his dope." He motioned toward the canvas-lined retreat where
Osay now dozed heavily among the coils of his somnolent pets. "And
Crummy--that's my outside man--kin handle the front and make the spiel,
and take in what money comes in. I'll mention to him as I'm leavin' that
you're in charge. Probably I'll be back before time for the next
blow-off. All you gotta do is just be manager--that's all; and if
anybody comes round askin' for the manager, you're him. See?"

His impetuosity was hypnotising--it was converting; nay, compelling. It
was enough to sweep any audience off its feet, let alone an audience of
one. Besides, where lives the male adult between the ages of nine and
ninety who in his own mind is not convinced that he has within him the
making of a great and successful amusement purveyor? Still, Gash Tuttle
hesitated. The prospect was alluring, but it was sudden--so sudden.

As though divining his mental processes, the man Fornaro added a
clinching and a convincing argument.

"To prove I'm on the dead level with you, I'm goin' to pay you for your
time--pay you now, in advance--to bind the bargain until we git the
details all fixed up." He hauled out a fair-sized wad of currency and
from the mass detached a frayed green bill. "I'm goin' to slip you a
she-note on the spot."

"A which?"

"A she-note--two bones. See?"

He forced the money into the other's palm. As Gash Tuttle automatically
pocketed the retainer he became aware that this brisk new associate of
his, without waiting for any further token of agreement on his part,
already was preparing to surrender the enterprise into his keeping.
Fornaro backed away from him and dropped nimbly down off the back of the
platform where there was a slit in the canvas wall; then turned and,
standing on tiptoe to bring his mouth above the level of the planking,
spoke the parting admonition in hasty tones:

"Remember now, you're the boss, the main guy, the whole cheese! If
anybody asts you tell 'em you're the manager and stick to it."

The canvas flapped behind him and he was gone. And Gash Tuttle, filled
with conflicting emotions in which reawakened pride predominated, stood
alone in his new-found kingdom.

Not for long was he alone, however. To be exact, not for more than half
a minute at the very most. He heard what he might have heard before had
his ears been as keenly attuned as the vanished Fornaro's were. He
heard, just outside, voices lifted conflictingly in demand, in
expostulation, in profane protest and equally profane denunciation of
something or other. A voice which seemed to be that of the swarthy man
denominated as Crummy gave utterance to a howl, then instantly dimmed
out, as though its owner was moving or being moved from the immediate
vicinity with unseemly celerity and despatch. Feet drummed on the wooden
steps beyond the draperies. Something heavy overturned or was overthrown
with a crash.

And as Mr. Tuttle, startled by these unseemly demonstrations, started
toward the front entrance of his domain the curtain was yanked violently
aside and a living tidal wave flowed in on him, dashing high and wide.
On its crest, propelled by irresistible cosmic forces, rode, as it were,
a slouch-hatted man with a nickel-plated badge on his bosom, and at this
person's side was a lanky countryman of a most threatening demeanour;
and behind them and beyond them came a surging sea of faces--some
hostile, some curious, and all excited.

"Who's in charge here?" shouted the be-badged man.

"Me--I am," began Gash Tuttle. "I'm the manager. What's wanted?"

"You are! I 'rest you in the name of the law for runnin' a skin game!"
the constable whooped gleefully--"on a warrant swore out less 'en a hour
ago."

And with these astounding words he fixed his fingers, grapple-hook
fashion, in the collar of the new manager's coat; so that as Gash
Tuttle, obeying a primal impulse, tried to back away from him, the back
breadth of the coat bunched forward over his head, giving him the
appearance of a fawn-coloured turtle trying to retreat within its own
shell. His arms, hampered by sleeves pulled far down over the hands,
winnowed the air like saurian flippers, wagging in vain resistance.

Holding him fast, ignoring his muffled and inarticulate protests, the
constable addressed the menacing countryman:

"Is this here the one got your money?"

"No, 'tain't. 'Twas a big ugly feller, with mushtashes; but I reckin
this here one must've helped. Lemme search him."

"Hands off the prisoner!" ordered the constable, endeavouring to
interpose his bulk between maddened accuser and wriggling captive.

He spoke too late and moved too slowly. The countryman's gouging hands
dived into Mr. Tuttle's various pockets and were speedily out again in
the open; and one of them held money in it--paper and silver.

"Here 'tis!" barked the countryman, exultant now. "This here two-dollar
bill is mine--I know it by this here red-ink mark." He shuffled out the
three remaining bills and stared at them a moment in stupefaction, and
his yelp of joy turned to a bellow of agonised berserk rage. "I had two
hundred and twenty-eight dollars in cash, and here ain't but seventeen
dollars and sixty cents! You derned sharper! Where's the rest of my
mortgage money that yore gang beat me out of?"

He swung a fearsome flail of an arm and full in Gash Tuttle's chest he
landed a blow so well aimed, so vigorous, that by its force the
recipient was driven backward out of his coat, leaving the emptied
garment in the constable's clutches; was driven still further back until
he tottered on the rear edge of the platform and tumbled off into space,
his body tearing away a width of canvas wall and taking it along with
him as he disappeared.

Perhaps it was because he fell so hard that he bounced up so
instantaneously. He fought himself free of the smothering folds of dusty
tarpaulin and turned to flee headlong into the darkness. He took three
flying steps and tripped over the guy rope of the next tent. As he fell
with stunning violence into the protecting shadows he heard pursuit roll
over the platform past Osay, thud on the earth, clatter on by him and
die away in the distance to the accompaniment of cheers, whoops and the
bloodthirsty threats of the despoiled countryman.

       *       *       *       *       *

If one has never stolen a ride on a freight train the task presents
difficulties and dangers. Still, it may be done, provided one is
sufficiently hard pressed to dare its risks and risk its discomforts.
There is one especially disagreeable feature incident to the
experience--sooner or later discovery is practically inevitable.

Discovery in this instance came just before the dawn, as the freight
lumbered through the swampy bottoms of Obion Creek. A sleepy and
therefore irritable brakeman found, huddled up on the floor of an empty
furniture car, a dark heap, which, on being stirred with a heavy
boot-toe, moved and moaned and gave forth various other faint signs of
life. So, as the locomotive slowed down for the approach to the trestle,
he hoisted the unresisting object and with callous unconcern shoved it
out of the open car door on to the sloping bank of the built-up right of
way--all this occurring at a point just beyond where a white marker post
gleamed spectrally in the strengthening light of the young summer day,
bearing on its planed face the symbol, S-3--meaning by that, three miles
to Swango Junction.

At sunup, forty minutes later, a forlorn and shrunken figure,
shirt-sleeved, hatless and carrying no baggage whatsoever, quit the
crossties and, turning to the left from the railroad track some rods
above the station, entered, with weary gait, a byway leading over the
hill to the town beyond. There was a drooping in the shoulders and a
dragging of the mud-incrusted legs, and the head, like Old Black Joe's,
was bending low.

The lone pedestrian entered the confines of Swango proper, seeking, even
at that early hour, such backways as seemed most likely to be empty of
human life. But as he lifted his leaden feet past the Philpotts place,
which was the most outlying of local domiciles, luck would have it that
Mr. Abram Philpotts should be up and stirring; in fact, Mr. Philpotts,
being engaged in the milk and butter business, was out in his barn
hitching a horse to a wagon. Chancing to pass a window of the barn he
glanced out and saw a lolled head bobbing by above the top of his back
fence.

"Hey there!" he called out. "Hey, Gash, what air you doin' up so early
in the mornin'?"

With a wan suggestion of the old familiar sprightliness the answer came
back, comically evasive:

"That's fur me to know and fur you to find out!"

Overcome, Mr. Philpotts fell up against his stable wall, feebly slapping
himself on the legs with both hands.

"Same old Gashney!" he gurgled. "They can't nobody ever git ahead of
you, kin they boy?"

The words and the intent of the tribute reached beyond the palings.
Their effect was magical; for the ruler was in his realm again, back
among his loyal, worshipful subjects. The bare head straightened; the
wearied legs unkinked; the crushed and bruised spirit revived. And
Gashney Tuttle, king of jesters, re-crowned, proceeded jauntily on his
homeward way, with the wholesome plaudits of Mr. Philpotts ringing in
his gratified ears and the young sun shining, golden, in his face.



CHAPTER IV

BLACKER THAN SIN


It was the year after the yellow fever that Major Foxmaster moved out
from Virginia; that would make it the year 1876. And the next year the
woman came. For Major Foxmaster her coming was inopportune. It is
possible that she so timed it with that very thing in mind. To order her
own plans with a view to the upsetting and the disordering of his plans
may have been within the scope of her general scheme. Through intent,
perhaps, she waited until he had established himself here in his new
environment, five hundred miles from tidewater, before she followed him.

Be this as it may, that was what happened. The Major came out in the
spring of the year. He was pushing fifty then, a fine upstanding figure
of a man--what women, for lack of a better name, call distinguished
looking. He had been a lieutenant in the Mexican War and a major in the
Civil War--on the Confederate side, of course, seeing that he came from
the seaboard side and not from the mountainous flank of Virginia.

You get some notion of what manner of man he was when I tell you that in
all the years he lived in this city, which was a fair-sized city, only
one man ever called him by his first name. Behind his back he was to
others The Major, sometimes The Old Major, and rarely Major; but to his
face people always hailed him, properly, as Major Foxmaster. And,
despite the rôle he was to play in the community, he never acquired a
nickname; and that was not so strange, either. You give nicknames to
geysers, but not to glaciers.

This man's manner was icily formal toward those he deemed his inferiors,
icily polite toward those whom he acknowledged his equals. He had no
code for his intercourse with superiors because he never met anybody
whom he regarded as his social superior. He looked upon the world with a
bleak, chill eye, and to it he showed a bleak, chill face. It was a mask
really--a mask of flesh held in such fine and rigid control that it gave
no hint, ever, of what went on in the cool brain behind it. A
professional poker player would have traded five years out of his life
to be the owner of such a face.

Well, the Major came. He had money, he had family, he had a military
record; likewise he had the poise and the pose which, lacking all the
other things, still would have given him consideration and a place in
town life. His status in the financial world became fixed when he
deposited in the largest bank a drawing account of such size as
instantly to win the cuddling admiration of the president of the bank.
He had established himself in rooms at the Gaunt House--then, and for
many years thereafter, the principal hotel. Before fall he was proposed
for membership in the exclusive Kenilworth Club, that was the
unattainable Mecca toward which many men turned wistful eyes. Judge
Sherwan, who was afterward to be his only close friend, sponsored his
candidacy and he was elected promptly. Very soon his life fell into the
grooves that always thenceforward it was to follow.

The Major did not go into any business. Opportunities to go into this or
that were in due season presented to him. He listened with his air of
congealed courtesy, but declined them all, explaining that his present
investments were entirely satisfactory and yielded him a satisfactory
income. Like many men of his breed and generation, he liked a good horse
so well that it was more than a liking--with him it was a love.
Afternoons he frequently drove one: a ramping bay mare with a fractious
temper and a set of gifted heels. He was fond of cards, and in the
evenings generally played cards with certain of his fellow club members
in a private room at the Kenilworth Club.

These men, though, never became his friends, but were merely the men
with whom he played cards. If of a morning after breakfast he went for a
walk, as sometimes happened, he went alone, except on those infrequent
occasions when Judge Sherwan accompanied him. At the beginning he was
asked to affairs at the homes of influential people; but, since he never
accepted these invitations--any of them--people presently quit asking
him. Among a hundred thousand human beings he became, or rather he
remained, so far as interchange of thought, or of affection, or of
confidence, or of intimacy was concerned, a social Crusoe upon a desert
island set in an empty sea, with no Man Friday to bear him company in
his loneliness--unless it might be said that old Sherwan qualified,
after a fashion, for the Man-Friday job.

You see, the Major knew all along that--sooner or later--the woman would
be coming. For these few months he had played the truant from his
destiny, or his Nemesis, or his fate, or by whatever fancy name you
might choose to call it; but there was no chance of his having escaped
it altogether. Through strength of will power he could in silence
continue to endure it as he had in silence endured it through the years
that stretched-backward between young-manhood and middle age. Through
pride he would involve no other person, however remotely, in the sorry
web of his own weaving. Mentally he manoeuvred to stand apart from his
kind; to render himself as inaccessible, as aloof, as unknowable by
them as the core of an iceberg.

Nevertheless, it was inevitable that the channels of his outer life, no
matter how narrowly they ran or how coldly they coursed, would be
disturbed and set awry by her coming. A cultivated and well-sustained
indifference to popular opinion is all well enough, but gossip is a
corrosive that eats through the calluses until it finds quick flesh
underneath. The Major might arm himself against showing what he felt,
but he could not armour himself against feeling what he felt. He knew
it--and she knew it. Perhaps that was why she, this one time, delayed
her coming until he had ample opportunity for becoming, in a measure,
fixed in the community and identified with it.

She came. One morning in the young spring of the year following the year
when this narrative begins, Major Foxmaster stepped out from between the
tall pillars of the Gaunt House doorway to find her waiting for him upon
the sidewalk. She stood close to the curbing, a tall and straight
figure, swathed all in dead and dreary black, with black skirts hiding
her feet and trailing on the bricks behind her; with black gloves upon
her clasped hands; with a long, thick veil of black crêpe hiding her
face and the shape of her head, and descending, front and back, almost
to her waist--a striking figure and one to catch the eye.

After the first glance he gave no heed to her at all, nor she to
him--except that when he had descended the short flight of stone steps
and set off down the street at his usual brisk, soldierly gait, she
followed, ten paces in his rear. By reason of her skirts, which swept
the ground round her, and by reason, too, that her shoes had soles of
felt or of rubber, she seemed almost to float along the pavement behind
him, without apparent effort--certainly without sound.

Two blocks down the street he entered a business house. She waited
outside, as silent as a mute and as funereal as a pall. In a few minutes
he reappeared; she fell in behind him. He crossed over to the other
side; she crossed, too, maintaining the distance between them. Crossing,
his heels hit hard upon the rutted cobbles of the roadway; but she
glided over them noiselessly and smoothly, almost like one who walked on
water. He went into the Kenilworth Club and for an hour or two sat in
the reading room behind a newspaper. Had he raised his eyes he might
have seen, through the window, the woman waiting on the curb. He ate his
luncheon there in the club at a table in a corner of the dining room,
alone, as was his way. It was two o'clock and after before he left to go
to the livery stable where he kept his mare. She followed, to wait
outside the livery stable until he had driven away in his gig, bound for
the trotting track where the city's horse fanciers exercised their
harness stock.

For a space, then, she disappeared. Having returned the rig to its
quarters and having dined at the Gaunt House, the Major came forth once
more at eight-thirty o'clock to return to the Kenilworth for a bout at
the cards. He was spruced and for the second time that day he had
shaved. Plainly his measured and customary habit of life was to go on
just as it had gone on before the woman came--or, rather, it might be
said that it was only now reassuming the routine which, with breaks in
between, it had pursued through so many years. Major Foxmaster came down
the steps, drawing on his gloves. From the deeper darkness beyond a
patch of yellowish glow where a gas lamppost stood the woman emerged,
appearing now as an uncertain, wavering shape in her black swathings.
Again she followed him, at a distance of a few paces, to the Kenilworth
Club; again she waited in the shadows cast by its old-fashioned portico
while he played his game and, at its end, cashed in his winnings--for
the Major won that night, as very often he did; again she followed him
homeward at midnight through the silent and empty street. Without a word
or a sign or a backward glance he ascended the steps and passed within
the doors of the Gaunt House. Without a word or a sign she lingered
until he had disappeared; then she turned off the pavement into the road
and vanished, swimming away upright, as it were, without visible motion
of her limbs or her body, into a stilled and waveless sea of darkness.

I have here set down the story of this day with such detail because,
with occasional small variations, it was to be the story of an uncounted
number of other days coming after it.

Inside of twenty-four hours the whole city knew the tale, and buzzed and
hummed with it. Inside of forty-eight hours the woman, by common
consent, had been given the names she was ever thereafter to wear. She
was, to some, The Woman in Black; to others, Foxmaster's Shadow. Inside
of a week or two the town was to know, by word of mouth passed on from
this person to that, and by that person to another, all that it was ever
to know of her.

She came from the same place whence he came--a small Virginia town
somewhere near the coast. As the current reports ran, the Foxmaster
plantation and the plantation of her family adjoined; as
children--remember, I am still quoting the account that was generally
accepted--they had played together; as young man and young woman they
had been sweethearts. He wronged her and then denied her marriage. Her
father was dead; she had no brothers and no near male relatives to
exact, at the smaller end of a pistol, satisfaction from the seducer. So
she dedicated her days and nights to the task of haunting him with the
constant reminder of his crime and her wrongs. She clad herself in
black, with a veil before her face to hide it, as one in mourning for a
dead life; and she set herself to following him wherever he might go.
She never spoke to him; she never, so far as the world at large knew,
wrote to him nor meddled in any fashion whatsoever with him or his
affairs--but she followed him.

The war, coming on, broke for four years the continuity of her
implacable plan of vengeance. When the war was over, and he came back
home, she took it up again. He left the town where he had been reared
and moved to Richmond, and then after a time from Richmond to Baltimore;
in due season she followed after. Finally he had moved to this more
westerly city, lying on the border between the North and the South. And
now here she was too.

Through an agent in Virginia she had leased, ready furnished, the old
Gresham place, diagonally across the way from the front entrance of the
Gaunt House; that fact speedily came out, proving that, like him, she
also had means of her own. Through this same agent the taxes were
thereafter paid. Presumably she moved in under cover of night, for she
was a figure that, once seen, was not to be forgotten; and most
certainly no one could remember having seen her before that fine spring
morning when Major Foxmaster came out of the Gaunt House to find her
waiting for him.

She had brought her servants with her--a middle-aged mulatto man and his
wife, a tall, young, coal-black negro woman; both of them as
close-mouthed as only some negroes can be, when they are the exceptions
to prove the rule of a garrulous race. The mulatto man was a combination
of butler and gardener. It was he who did the marketing, dealing with
the tradespeople and paying all the bills. The negro woman was the cook,
presumably. Passers-by rarely saw her. These two, with their mistress,
composed the household.

For such a mistress and such a household the old Gresham place made a
most fit abiding place. It was one of those houses that seemed builded
for the breeding of mysteries and the harbouring of tragedies--the kind
of house that cannot stand vacant long without vaguely acquiring the
reputation of being haunted. It was a big, foursquare house of greyish
stone, placed in the exact centre of a narrow, treeless lot, which
extended through for the full depth of the city block. In front of it
was a high picketed fence and a deep, bare grassplot; behind it was a
garden of sorts, with a few stunted and illy-nourished berry bushes; and
on each side of it was a brick wall, so high that the sunshine never
fell on the earth at the side of the house toward the north; and even in
the hottest summer weather the foundation stones there were slick and
sweaty with the damp, and big snails crawled on the brick wall that ran
in the shadow of the wall, leaving trails of a luminous slime across the
slick greenish mould which covered the bricks.

The woman took this house, with its gear and garnishings, just as the
last of the Greshams had left it when he died. During the months and
years it remained tenantless all the upper windows had been tightly
shuttered; she left them so. In the two lower front windows, which
flanked the deeply recessed front door and which lacked blinds, were
stiff, heavy shades of a dull silver colour, drawn down until only a
glassed space of inches showed between their unfringed ends and the
stone copings. These, too, were left as they had been. They accorded
well with the blank, cold house itself; they matched in with its drear
old face; they made you think of coins on a dead man's eyes.

This house, as I have said, stood almost opposite the Gaunt House. What
went on within it no outsider ever knew, for no outsider ever crossed
its threshold--to this good day no outsider ever has known; but every
day its door opened to let out its draped and veiled mistress, setting
forth on her business, which was to follow Major Foxmaster; and every
night, when that day's business was done, it opened again to let her
back in. In time the town grew used to the sight; it never grew tired of
talking about it.

As for Major Foxmaster, he would dodge about the country no more; for,
in the long run or the short, dodging availed him nothing. The years
behind him proved that. He would bide where he was until death, which
was the supreme handicapper, named the winner of this, the last heat of
their strange match. He would outlive her and be free; else she would
outlive him, to see her long-famished hatred sated. And he wondered
whether, if he died first, she, in her black mourning, would dog his
dead body to the grave as she had dogged his living steps! It was a
morbid fancy and, perhaps because it was morbid, it found a lodgment in
the Major's mind, recurring to him again and again. The existence that
he--and she--had willed him to lead was not conducive to an entirely
healthy mental aspect.

Whatever his thoughts were, he betrayed none of them to the rest of
creation. Exactly as before she appeared, so he continued to deport
himself. His behaviour showed no change. He took his walks, drove his
bay filly, played his cards at the Kenilworth. He carried his head as
high as ever; he snapped his military heels down as firmly as ever on
the stones of the street and the bricks of the sidewalk. With a pair of
eyes that were as inscrutable and yet as clear as two bits of hard blue
ice, and with a face like a square of chipped flint, he went his daily
and his hourly way, outwardly oblivious to the stares of acquaintance
and stranger alike, seeming not to know that ten paces in his rear, or
twelve, came drifting this erect veiled shape which was clad all in dead
black--as black as sin, as black as his sin had been, as black as her
misery had been--the incarnate embodiment of her shame and his.

In fair weather as in foul, in blistering midsummer and blizzardy
midwinter, daytime and nighttime, she followed him. If she lost the
trail she waited in all patience until he reappeared. She seemed
tireless and hungerless. Wet or cold or heat seemed not to affect her.
In her grim pursuit of him her spirit rose triumphant above the calls of
the flesh. At midnight, after a long vigil outside the Kenilworth, she
moved behind him with the same swift, noiseless, floating motion that
marked her in the morning. And so it went with these two.

If he did not notice her presence, neither did he seek ever to elude
her. If he never spoke to her, neither did he speak of her to others. As
for the woman, she never spoke to any one at all. Outside the walls of
the house where she lived her voice was never heard and her face was
never seen. Only one person ever dared speak to the Major of her.

Old Sherwan himself did not dare. Of all human beings he stood nearest
to the Major. If the Major might be said to have an intimate Judge
Sherwan was the one. Moreover, he, Sherwan, was by way of being a
he-gossip, which of all the created breeds of gossips is the most
persistent and the most consistent, the most prying and, therefore, the
most dangerous. He yearned for the smell of impropriety as a drug-fiend
yearns for his drug. His was a brackish old soul and from its soured
depths he dearly loved to spew up the bilge waters of scandal. The
pumps leading to that fouled hold were always in good order. Give him
the inch of fact and he would guarantee to provide the ell of surmise
and innuendo. Grown too old to sin actually he craved to sin
vicariously--to balance always on the edge of indiscretion, since he no
longer plunged into it bodily.

Wherefore, after the woman came and the first shock of her coming wore
off, he made a point of being seen in Major Foxmaster's company as much
as possible. The share of notoriety the association brought him was dear
to his withered, slack-valved old heart. In his manner and his look, in
the very way he cocked his hat and waggled his stiffened legs, you
discerned that he wished to divide with his friend the responsibility
for the presence of his friend's trailing shadow.

But, for all this and all that, he did not dare ever to speak of her to
Major Foxmaster. Joel Bosler dared to, though, he being one of the
meagre-minded breed proverbially reputed to go rushing in where angels
fear to tread. This Joel Bosler was a policeman; his beat included the
Gaunt House corner and both sides of the street upon which the Gaunt
House fronted. He was a kindly enough creature; a long slab-pole of a
man, with the face of an old buck sheep. For some reason--which he least
of all could fathom--Joel Bosler had contracted a vague sort of
attachment for the Major. They met occasionally on the sidewalk outside
the hotel; and, since the Major always responded with iced and
ceremonial politeness to the policeman's salute, it may have been that
this, to Bosler's limited mind, was proof of a friendly understanding
existing between them.

One day, about a month after the woman moved into the old Gresham place,
Bosler, having first scratched his head assiduously for a space of
minutes to stimulate the thought, was moved to invade the Gaunt House
lobby and send his name upstairs to the Major's rooms. A negro bell boy
brought word back that the Major would be very glad to see Policeman
Bosler, and Policeman Bosler accordingly went up. The Major was in the
sitting room of his suite of rooms on the second floor. Bosler, bowing,
came in and shut the door behind him with an elaborate carefulness.

"Good morning, sir?" said Major Foxmaster formally, with the note of
polite interrogation in his tone; and then, as Bosler stood fingering
his blue cap and shuffling his feet: "Well, sir; well?"

"Major Foxmaster, suh," began Bosler, "I--er--I kinder wanted to say
somethin' to you privatelike."

He halted lamely. Before the daunting focus of those frigid blue eyes
his speech, carefully rehearsed beforehand, was slipping away from him.

"Except for ourselves, there is no one within hearing," stated the
Major. "Kindly proceed--if you will be so good."

"Well, suh," faltered Bosler, fumbling his words out--"well, suh, Major
Foxmaster, it's this-a-way: I've been--been a-thinkin' it over; and if
this here lady--this woman that wears black all the time--the one that's
moved into the old Gresham place acrost the street--if she pesters you
any by follerin' you round every wheres, the way she does--I thought I'd
be very glad--if you said the word--to warn her to quit it, else
I'd--I'd have to take steps agin her by law or somethin'. And so--and
so----" He stopped altogether. He had been chilled at the moment of his
entrance; now he was frozen mentally to below the zero point.

The Major spoke, and his syllables battered on Joel Bosler's unprotected
head like hailstones.

"Have you ever observed that the person to whom you refer has spoken to
me?" he demanded.

"No, suh; but----"

"Or ever molested me in any way?"

"Oh, no, suh; but, you see----"

"Have you ever observed that I spoke to her?"

"No, suh; but----"

"Have you any reason for believing, of your own knowledge, that she
knows me?"

"Well, suh, I----"

"Or that I am acquainted with her?"

"Well, I----"

"Then, sir, since she is minding her own business and I am minding my
own business, I suggest that you take pattern by such examples and
cultivate the habit of minding your own business. Kindly do not address
me hereafter upon this subject--or any other. I find your conversation
singularly unattractive. Good day, sir!"

Policeman Joel Bosler had no recollection afterward of having withdrawn
himself. He presently found himself downstairs in the lobby, and, a
little later on, outside the hotel, upon his regular beat. How he got
there or how long it took him to get there he could not, with any degree
of certainty, say.

Presently, though, he saw the Major issue forth from the Gaunt House
door. And as the Major's foot descended upon the first step of the
flight leading down to the street level, the gate of the old Gresham
place across the way clicked, and here came the cloaked, veiled woman,
floating noiselessly across the road to follow him.

Joel Bosler, still in a state of intellectual numbness, watched them as
they passed down the street--the Major striding on ahead, the gliding
woman ten paces behind him. He had witnessed the same sight perhaps
thirty times before. In days to come he was to witness it hundreds of
times more; but always he watched it and never grew weary of watching
it. Nor did the eyes of the rest of the town weary of watching it.

And so the thing went on.

       *       *       *       *       *

The years went by. Five of them went by. Ten of them went by. A new
generation was growing up, coming into manhood and womanhood. An old
generation was thinning out and dying off. The Gaunt House was no longer
the best hotel in the city. It was the second best and, before very
long, was to be the third best. Tall business houses--six, seven, eight,
nine stories tall--shouldered up close to it; and they dwarfed it,
making it seem squatty and insignificant, whereas before it had loomed
massive and monument-high, dominating the corner and the rest of the
block. Once the cobbled road before its doors had clinked to the
heel-taps of smart carriage horses. Now it thundered clamorously beneath
the broad iron-shod tires of dray and vans.

The old Gresham place, diagonally across the way, looked much as it had
always looked; indeed, there was not much about it, exteriorly speaking,
to undergo change. Maybe the green mould in the damp, slick walk at its
northern side was a little bit greener and a little bit thicker; and
maybe, in summer, the promenading snails were a trifle more numerous
there. The iron gate, set in the middle breadth of the iron fence,
lolled inward upon one rusted hinge, after the fashion of a broken wing.
The close-drawn shades in the two lower front windows had faded from a
tarnished silver colour to a dulled leaden colour; and one of them--the
one on the right-hand side--had pulled away and awry from its fastenings
above and was looped down, hanging at a skewed angle behind the dirtied
and crusted panes, as though one of the coins had slipped halfway off
the dead man's eyelids. People persistently called it the old Gresham
place, naming it so when they pointed it out to strangers and told them
the tale of its veiled chatelaine and her earthly mission.

For, you know, Major Foxmaster's shadow still followed after Major
Foxmaster. Long before, these two had been accepted as verities; it
might now be said of them that they had become institutional--inevitable
fixtures, with orbits permanent and assured in the swing of community
life. In the presence of this pair some took a degree of pride, bragging
when away from home that they came from the town where so strange a
sight might forever be seen, and when at home bringing visitors and
chance acquaintances to this corner of the town in order to show it to
these others.

Along with this morbid pride in a living tragedy ran a sort of
undercurrent of sympathy for its actors. From the beginning there had
been pity for the woman who, the better everlastingly to parade her
shame, hid her face eternally from the light of day; and in possibly a
more limited circle there had been abundant pity for the man as well.
Settling down to watch the issue out, the town, from the outset, had
respected the unbendable, unbreakable fortitude of the man, and
respected, also, the indomitable persistency of the woman.

For a variety of very self-evident reasons no one had ever or would ever
meddle in the personal affairs of Major Foxmaster. For reasons that were
equally good, though perhaps not so easy to define in words, none
meddled with her either. Street gamins feared to jeer her as she passed,
without knowing exactly why they feared.

In these ten years the breaks in the strange relationship had been few
and short. Once a year, on an average, the Major made short trips back
to Virginia, presumably upon business pertaining to his estate and his
investments. Such times the woman was not seen abroad. Once, in '79, for
a week, and once again, just following the great blizzard of '81, she
was missed for a few days; and people wondered whether she was ailing or
housebound, or what. For those days the Major walked without his shadow.
Then the swathed figure reappeared, tracking him about as before.

Time undeniably was working its changed with Major Foxmaster, as with
his surroundings. He must be about sixty now; but, seeing him for the
first time, you might have been pardoned for setting him down as a man
of seventy or thereabouts--he looked it. His shoulders, which formerly
he carried squared back so splendidly, were beginning to fold in upon
the casing of his ribs. His hair used to be black, shot with white
hairs; it was now white, shot with a few black hairs. His back had had
a hollow in it; there was a curve in it yet, but the curve was outward
instead of inward. When a man's figure develops convex lines where there
used to be concavities, that man is getting on; and the Major plainly
was getting on pretty fast. His eyes, which remained dignifiedly and
defiantly scornful of all the world, and of all the world might think
and might say, nevertheless were filmed over the least bit, so that they
lost something of their icy blue keenness. His face, though, with the
jaws sinking in upon the shrunken gums and the brows growing shaggier,
was as much of a mask as it had ever been.

What was true of Major Foxmaster was seemingly not true of her who
followed him. Within the flapping shapelessness of her disguise her
figure showed as straight and supple as in the beginning, and her
noiseless step was as nimble and quick as ever it had been. And that was
a mighty strange thing too. It was as though her shroud of wrappings,
which kept the sunshine and the wind off her, kept off age too.

This very same thought came at length into Major Foxmaster's head. It
took lodgment there and sprouted, sending out roots into all the odd
corners of his mind. It is not for me to tell why or how he got this
notion, or exactly when. It is for me merely to narrate as briefly as
may be the progress of the obsession and its consequences.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another five years passed, and then three, making eight more on top of
the first ten. Major Foxmaster was crowding seventy; he looked eighty.
Men and women who had been children when he moved out from Virginia were
themselves almost face to face with impending middle age and had
children of their own growing up, who, in their turn, would hear the
story of Major Foxmaster's shadow and bear it forward into yet another
generation. The stone copings above the Gaunt House door were sooty
black with the accretions of decades; for this was a soft-coal town, and
factories, with tall chimneys that constantly vomited out greasy black
smoke, had crept up, taking the old hotel by flank and by rear. The
broken shade in the right-hand lower front window of the old Gresham
place, across the way, was gone altogether, having parted its rotted
fabric from its decayed fastenings; so the bleak, bare face of the house
winked with one dead eye and stared with the other.

The crotchety bay mare was long gone to the bone yard. Her hide was
chair bottoms and her gristles were glue; and out on the trotting track
wealthy young bloods of the town exercised her get and her skittish
grand-get. The Major did not drive a harness nag any more--he had a
palsy of the hands and a stoop of the spine; but in most regards he
adhered to the old habits. He took his daily constitutionals--sometimes
alone--except, of course, for the tagging black shape behind
him--oftener with the octogenarian Sherwan; and of evenings he played
his poker games at the Kenilworth Club, which, after the way of
ultraconservative clubs, stood fast on its original site, even though
the neighbourhood about it was so distressfully altered. His heels had
quit ringing against the sidewalk; instead, his legs lifted tremulously
and his feet felt for a purchase on the earth when he set them down.

His face was no longer chipped grey flint; it was a chalk-white, with
deep lines in it. The gold-headed cane of ebony wood, which he carried
always, had ceased to be an ornament to his gait and had become a
necessary prop to his step. His jaws sagged in until there were deep
recesses at the corners of his mouth; and there, in those little hollow
places, the spittle would accumulate in tiny patches. Possibly, by
reason of the bleary casts that had overspread them, his eyes--still the
faithfully inscrutable peepholes of his brain--gave no betrayal of the
racking thoughts behind them. They were racking thoughts too. The
delusion was a mania now--a besetting mania, feeding on silence and
isolation, colouring and tincturing all the processes of his intellect.

By years--so he reasoned it out with himself in every waking hour--by
years, she who bided within that shuttered house over the way was his
age, or near it. By rights, her draped form should be as shrunken and
warped as his own. By rights, the face behind that thick black veil
should be as old as his, and bleached, moreover, to a corpsey paleness.
Yet the furtive glances he stole over his shoulder told him that the
figure behind him moved as alertly erect as ever it had; that its
movements had the same sure and silent swiftness.

So that, after a while, Major Foxmaster began to think things that no
entirely sane man has any business thinking. He began to say to himself
that now he had solved the secret which, all these years, had been kept
from his ken. A curse had been put upon him--that was it; that must be
it! Behind that veil was no face old and sunken and wasted as his was,
but, instead, a young, plump face, with luminous grey eyes set in it,
and a sweet, full mouth, and about it wavings of lustrous, rich brown
hair--the face of the girl he once loved as she looked in the days
before he quit loving her.

He held up his own hands before his watery eyes. They were trembly,
wrinkled hands, gnarled in their knuckles, corded on their backs. They
were the colour of scorched leather--the texture of it too. But hers
must be the plump little white hands he remembered, with rosy-pink palms
and bright, pointed nails. Before a long mirror in his dressing room he
studied himself--studied his bowed back and his hunching shoulders and
his shaky shanks--and all. Her figure, inside its flapping black
draperies, was straight as an arrow; her head poised itself firmly
upright on her shoulders. That much at least he knew; so if that much
were true, why was not the rest of it true too?

It was not fair! According to his lights he had fought out the fight
with only such weapons as Nature and his own will gave him; but the
Supreme Handicapper had stacked the cards against him. He was bound to
lose the long, long race. He could not last much longer. He could feel
age tugging at every flabby muscle; infirmity was forever fingering his
tissues, seeking the most vulnerable spot at which to strike in at him.

He would lie down and die. And not until then--not until the last rattle
of breath had scaped out of his collapsing windpipe; not until she,
still triumphantly active and alert and youthful, still cloaked and
gloved and hooded, had followed his sapped, empty shell to the
graveyard--would she surrender and shrivel into her rightful semblance,
growing old and feeble in an hour or in a day. It was not fair--this
conjury business! From the beginning he never had a chance to win. All
the days of his manhood he had walked with a living nightmare. Why, in
dying, should he be doomed to point the moral of a living ghost tale?

First he told himself it could not be true; that it was a hideous
imagination born of his broodings. This was the fag-end of the
nineteenth century in which he lived, when supernatural events did not
happen. Then he told himself it must be true--the testimony before his
eyes proved the fact of what he could not see. Then something happened
which, as far as Major Foxmaster was concerned, settled the issue.

On a winter night, after rough weather, the Major came feebly out of the
Kenilworth Club, groping his way and muttering to himself. This habit of
muttering to himself was one that had come on him just lately.

There were patches of ice upon the sidewalk, and the wind, like a lazy
housewife, had dusted the snow back into corners and under projections.
Between the porticoes of the doorway his foot slipped on one of these
little ice patches. He threw out his gloved left hand to catch at some
support and his fingers closed on her black-clad arm, where she had
drawn herself into the shelter and shadow of the door-arch to await his
appearance.

For the first time in nearly fifty years he touched her.

He jerked his hand back and fled away at a staggering, crippling run;
and, as he ran to hide himself within his rooms, in panting gulps he
blasphemed the name of his Maker; for to his feel her flesh, through the
thick cloth sleeve on her arm, had seemed to him to be as firm and plump
as it had felt when he was twenty-two and she was twenty. The evidence
was complete.

       *       *       *       *       *

All through the next day he kept himself behind closed doors, wrestling
with his torments; but in the evening old Sherwan came for him and he
dressed himself. They started out together, a doddering, tottering
twain; suggesting, when they halted for a moment to rest at the foot of
the office stairs, a pair of grey locust husks from which age,
spider-fashion, had sucked out all the rich juices of health and
strength; suggesting, when they went on again, a pair of crawling sick
beetles which, though sick, still could crawl a little.

Side by side they crossed the tarnished, shabby old lobby, with its
clumpings of dingy grey pillars and its red-plush sofa seats, and, in
the centre, its rotunda mounting to the roof, up floor by floor, in
spiral rings that in perspective graduated smaller and smaller, like an
inverted funnel; and side by side they issued forth from beneath the
morguelike copings of the outer door and descended the Gaunt House
steps--Major Foxmaster feeling ahead of him with his cane, and Judge
Sherwan patting his left breast with his open hand--just as Policeman
Joel Bosler, now dead and gone, had seen them do upon many another such
evening as this. Promptly and inevitably befell another thing, then,
which likewise the late deceased Bosler had witnessed times without
number.

From the darker space beyond the corner lamp-post, out into the gassy
yellow circle of radiance, appeared the straight, gliding black form,
advancing on silent, padded feet and without visible effort,
relentlessly to follow after them wheresoever they might choose to go.

So, then, at sight of the familiar apparition the icy shell of half a
century thawed and broke to bits and was washed away in a freshet of
agony; and to his one friend, for one moment, Major Foxmaster bared his
wrung and tortured soul. He threw down his cane and threw up his arms.

"Sherwan," he shrieked out, "I can't stand it any longer--I can't stand
it! It's killing me! I must look at the face--I must know!"

With a sudden frenzied energy he darted at the cloaked shape. It
hesitated, shrinking back from his onward rush as though daunted; but he
fixed his clutching fingers in the crêpe veil and tore it in twisted
rags from the front of its wearer, and the light shone full on the face
revealed beneath the close black hood of the bonnet. ... He gave one
blubbery, slobbered, hideous yell and fell flat at the base of the
lamp-post.

Old Sherwan saw the face too. Swollen and strengthened with senile rage,
he seized the figure by both its arms and shook it.

"You hussy! You wench! You Jezebel! You she-devil!" he howled at the top
of his cracked voice, and rocked his prisoner to and fro. "What's this?
What does this mean, you hell spawn?"

A dart of pain nipped at his diseased heart then, and closed his throat.
For a moment, without words, they struggled together. With a heave of
her supple arms she broke his hold. She shoved him off from her and
reared back on her heels, breathing hard--a full-blooded negress, with
chalky popeyes and thick, purplish lips that curled away in a wide snarl
from the white teeth, and a skin that was blacker than sin.

"Whut does hit mean?" she answered; and, through stress of fear and
mounting hope and exultation, her voice rose to a camp-meeting shout:

"I tells you whut hit means: Hit means Ise Minnie Brownell, Ole Miss'
cook. Hit means Ole Miss is been daid 'mos' fo'teen years--ever sence
she taken down sick endurin' de big blizzard. Hit means dat w'en she lay
a-dyin' she put de promise onto me to bury her in secret; an' den to put
on her clo'es an' to foller, walkin' behine dat man, daytime an'
nighttime, twell he died. Dat's whut hit means!"

She sought to peer past him and her tone sharpened down, fine and keen:

"Is he daid? Oh, bless de good Lawd A'mighty! Is he daid? 'Cause, ef
he's daid, me an' Hennery, w'ich is my lawful wedded husban', we kin go
back to Furginia an' claim de prop'ty dat Ole Miss lef in trust to come
to me w'en I kin prove he's daid. Oh, look, please, suh, mister, and see
ef he ain't dead?"

Old Sherwan ran to the lamp-post and dropped down on both his knees, and
shook his friend by the shoulders.

"Foxmaster!" he called. "Foxmaster, you're free! You're free! I tell
you, you're free! Foxmaster, look at me! Foxmaster, do you hear me?
You're free, I tell you!"

But the Major did not hear him. The Major was flat on his back, with his
arms outstretched and the fingers of both his hands gripped in the rags
of a black crêpe veil; and at the corners of his mouth the little
patches of spittle bubbles were drying up. The Major would never hear
anything again in this world.



CHAPTER V

THE EYES OF THE WORLD


If there were a hundred men in a crowd and Chester K. Pilkins was there
he would be the hundredth man. I like that introduction. If I wrote a
book about him I doubt whether I could sum up Mr. Pilkins' personality
more completely than already I have done in this the first sentence of
this the first paragraph of my tale. Nevertheless, I shall try.

Card-indexing him, so to speak, filling in the dotted lines after the
fashion pursued by a candidate for admission to Who's Whosoever Can, we
attain this result: Name? Chester K(irkham) Pilkins; born? certainly;
parentage? one father and one mother; lives? only in a way of speaking;
married? extensively so; business? better than it was during the panic
but not so good as it might be; recreations? reading, writing,
arithmetic and the comic supplements; clubs? Prospect Slope Pressing,
Montauk Chess, Checkers and Whist, King's County Civic Reform and
Improvement; religion? twice on Sunday, rarely on week-days; politics?
whatever is the rule; height? sub-average; weight? less than
sub-average; hair? same as eyes; eyes? same as hair; complexion?
variable, but inclining to be fair, and warmer in moments of
embarrassment; special distinguishing characteristics? Oh, say, what's
the use?

This would apply to Chester K. Pilkins as once he was, not as now he is.
For there has been a change. As will develop. But at the time when we
begin our study of him Mr. Pilkins resided in a simple and
unostentatious manner in Brooklyn, N. Y., on one of those streets which
are named for semi-tropical flowering shrubs for the same reason that
hunting dogs are named for Greek goddesses and race horses for United
States senators and tramp steamers for estimable maiden ladies. In
a small, neat house, almost entirely surrounded by rubber plants, he
lived with his wife, Mrs. Gertrude Maud Pilkins. This phraseology is
by deliberate intent. His wife did not live with him. He lived with her.
To have referred to this lady as his better half would be dealing in
improper fractions. At the very lowest computation possible, she was his
better eight-tenths.

By profession he was an expert bookkeeper, in the employ of a firm doing
a large bond and stock brokerage business on the sinful or Manhattan
shore of the East River. The tragedy and the comedy, the sordid romance
and the petty pathos of Wall Street rolled in an unheeded torrent over
his head as he, submerged deep in the pages of his ledgers, sat all day
long dotting his _i_'s and crossing his _t_'s, adding his columns and
finding his totals. Sometimes of evenings he stayed on to do special
accounting jobs for smaller concerns in need of his professional
services.

Otherwise, when five o'clock came he took off his little green-baize
apron, his green eyeshade and his black calico sleeve protectors,
slipped on his detachable cuffs, his hat and his coat, took his umbrella
in hand, and leaving New York and its wicked, wanton ways behind him, he
joined with half a million other struggling human molecules in the
evening bridge crush--that same bridge crush of which the metropolis is
so justly ashamed and so properly proud--and was presently at home in
Brooklyn, which is a peaceful country landscape, pastoral in all its
instincts, but grown up quite thickly with brick and mortar. There he
gave his evenings to the society of his wife, to the chess problems
printed from time to time in the _Eagle_, and to reading his
encyclopedia, which had been purchased on the instalment plan, at the
rate of so much down, so much a week. It seemed probable that Mr.
Pilkins would finish reading his encyclopedia before he finished paying
for it, which is more than most of us can say, however literary our
aims and aspirations. He liked to pick up a volume for half an hour or
so immediately prior to his retiring. He said it rested him. He had got
as far as the middle of the very interesting one named _Gib to Jibe_.
Once in a while, though, the Pilkinses went out in society. That is to
say, Mrs. Pilkins went, and took Mr. Pilkins with her.

I would not have you believe from all this that Mr. Pilkins entertained
no views of his own on current topics. His convictions upon certain
heads were most definite and settled, and on favourable occasions openly
he voiced them. Among other things he believed that if somebody would
only start up an old-time minstrel show, such as we used to see when we
were boys, it would make a fortune; that the newspapers printed a pack
of lies every day because they had to have something to fill up their
columns; that there was a great deal of grafting going on and something
should be done about it right away; that the winters were changing,
because of the Gulf Stream or something, so you couldn't depend on the
climate any more; that owing to the high cost of living it was
practically impossible to get a good sixty-cent table-d'hôte dinner
nowadays; and that Mrs. Pilkins was in many respects a very unusual
woman.

She was all of that. Get Gertrude Maud. She looms before us, large and
full of figure, majestic of bearing and fair of face, her general
aspect indeed a very general aspect. She was competent by inheritance
and domineering by instinct. It was common talk in the circle in which
Gertrude Maud moved, towing Chester behind her, that she had Bohemian
leanings. True, she had never smoked a cigarette in all her blameless
life, nor touched her lips to strong drink; nor yet had she patronised
studio teas and attended the indoor anarchistic revels of the
parlour-radicals established in the neighbourhood of Washington Square.
Rather she betrayed her Bohemian trend by what she wore than by what she
did.

She was addicted to festooning about her neck large polished beads of
the more popular hard woods and upon her bosom plaquelike articles which
apparently had originated with a skilled cabinetmaker and joiner. Her
wrists and her forearms she adorned with art-work bracelets of hammered
metals set with large muddy-looking stones--almost anything that would
look well in a collection of geological specimens was, in the eyes of
Gertrude Maud, jewelry. Her costumes of state, displayed in connection
with these ornamentations culled from the vegetable and mineral
kingdoms, were cut square in the neck and extended straight up and down,
being ungirthed at the waistline but set off with red and blue edgings,
after the style of fancy tea towels. As her woman friends often remarked
in tones of admiration, she had never worn stays in her life, and yet
just look what a figure she had! Sometimes, the weather being
favourable, she wore sandals.

Excelling, as she did, in the social graces, Mrs. Pilkins was greatly in
demand for neighbourhood parties. She was an amateur palmist of great
note. At a suitable time in the course of the evening's festivities she
would possess herself of the left hand of some gentleman or lady
present--usually a gentleman's hand--and holding it palm upward, she
would gently massage its surface and then begin uttering little gasping
sounds betokening intense surprise and gratification.

"Do you know, really," she would say when she had in part recovered,
such being the regular formula, "I don't believe in all my experience I
hardly ever saw such an interesting hand?"

Peering close and ever closer she would trace out the past, the present
and the future, seeing strange influences coming into the other's life,
and long journeys and dark strangers; and presently, with a startled
cry, she would pounce upon the heart line, and then, believe me, she
would find out things worth telling! And if the owner of the captive
hand chanced to be a young man whose life was so exemplary as to be
downright painful, he would endeavour by his air to convey the
impression that the fence round the South Flatbush Young Ladies'
Seminary had been builded extra high and extra strong especially on his
dangerous account. Hardly could the rest wait to have Mrs. Pilkins read
their palms too. And while this went on, Mr. Pilkins would be hanging
about on the outskirts of the group, feeling very null and void. Really
his only excuse for being there at all was that Gertrude Maud needed
some one to get her rubbers off and on and to bring her home.

Naturally, as one adept in the divination of the dearest characteristics
of men and women, and also because she was a wife and subject to the
common delusions of wives as a class, Mrs. Pilkins felt she knew
Chester--felt she could read him like a book. This only goes to show how
wrong a woman and a wife can be. For behind the mild and pinkish mask
which he showed to her and to creation at large Chester Pilkins nursed
unsuspected ambitions, undreamed-of dreams. He hankered with a hankering
which was almost a pain to stand for once anyhow before the eyes of the
world. Within him a secret fire seethed; he ached and glowed with it,
and yet none knew of it. He would have died in his tracks before he
voiced his burning desire to any human being, yet constantly it abode
with him. He was tired--oh, so tired--of being merely one of the six
millions. He craved to be one among the six millions. He peaked and he
pined with it.

This longing is commoner probably among city dwellers than among those
who live in the smaller settlements of men, and for that there is, as
I believe, a good and sufficient reason. In the little community there
are no nobodies. Anybody is somebody. But where the multitude is
close-packed, nearly anybody is everybody and nearly everybody is
anybody. The greater the number within a given space, the fewer are
there available for purposes of pomp, prominence and publicity. A few
stand out above the ruck; the rest make up the unconsidered mass--mute,
inglorious and, except briefly in the census figures, unsung. And
Chester K. Pilkins yearned to stand out.

Twice in his life he had thought he was about to attain conspicuousness
and be pointed out by men as something other than Mrs. Chester K.
Pilkins' husband. They were narrow escapes, both of them. Because each
was such a narrow escape, that made the disappointment all the greater.
Once on a rainy, blowy evening, when the narrow gore of Nassau Street
where it debouches into Park Row was a mushroom bed of wet, black
umbrella tops and the bridge crush at the mouth of the Bridge took on an
added frenzy, a taxicab, driven at most unlawful speed, bored through
the fringes of the press, knocked a man galley west, and, never checking
its gait, fled into the shelter of the L pillars toward Chatham Square
and was gone from sight before more than six or eight spectators could
get its license numbers wrong.

The man was Chester K. Pilkins. He was butted violently from behind as
he fought his way across the asphalt, with his collar turned up against
the wet gusts and his thoughts intent on getting a seat aboard the
transpontine car. He never had gotten a seat aboard it yet, but there
was no telling when he might. Immediately on being struck he was
projected some yards through space in a galley-westerly direction, and
when he struck he rolled over and over in the mud, greatly to the
detriment of a neat black overcoat buttoning under a fly front, and with
silk facings upon the lapels, then in its third season of service. Kind
hands--very many of them--lifted him up from where he lay with a long
scratch on his nose and a passing delusion within his brain that he had
taken a long rough trip somewhere and was coming back by slow stages.
Sympathetic persons, about equally divided in their opinion as to
whether most of his bones were or were not broken, bore him with all
gentleness into the drug store in the World Building, propped him
against a show case, and packed about him in a dense mass, those good
Samaritans in the front row calling upon those behind them to stand
back, in heaven's name, and give him a little air. There a kindly
disposed bootblack brushed him off, and a soda-water clerk offered him
malted milk with a dash of nerve tonic in it, and a policeman, using a
stubby lead pencil, took down his name and address in a little red book,
and a blithe young interne came on the tail of an ambulance with a kit
of surgical tools in his hand, and presently departed, obviously
disappointed to find there was no need of a capital operation to be
performed forthwith upon the spot; and, altogether, the victim was made
much of. A little later, somewhat shaken and sore but not materially
damaged, he rode home--standing up and swaying in the aisle, as was
customary--holding with one hand to a strap and with the other at
intervals caressing his wounded nose.

Next morning he bought all the morning papers printed in English--there
are still a considerable number of morning papers in Greater New York
that are printed in English--and with a queer, strangled little beat of
anticipatory pride in his throat-pulse he searched assiduously through
all of them, page by page and heading by heading, for the account of his
accident. He regarded that accident in a proprietary sense. If it wasn't
his, whose then was it? Only one paper out of all the lot had seen fit
to mention the affair. In a column captioned Small Brevities he found at
last a single, miserable, puny six-line paragraph to the effect that a
pedestrian--pedestrian, mind you!--giving his name as Charles Piffles,
had been knocked down by an unidentified automobile, and after having
been given first-aid treatment by Patrolman Roger P. Dugan, of the
Peck's Slip Station, and receiving further attention at the hands of
Ambulance Surgeon Max Loeb, who came from Battery Place Hospital in
response to a call, was able to go to his home, at such and such an
address, borough of Brooklyn. And even the house number as set down was
incorrect. From that hour dated Chester K. Pilkins' firm and bitter
belief in the untrustworthiness of the metropolitan press.

The other time was when he was drawn on a panel for jury duty in the
trial of a very fashionable and influential murderer. A hundred
householders were netted in that venire, and of the number I daresay
Chester Pilkins was the hundredth. With the ninety and nine others he
reported at a given hour at a given courtroom, and there for two days he
waited while slowly the yawning jury box filled with retired real-estate
dealers and jobbers in white goods. Finally his own name was reached and
the clerk called it out loudly and clearly. Shaking the least bit in his
knees and gulping hard to keep his Adam's apple inside his collar, Mr.
Pilkins took the stand and nervously pledged himself truthfully to
answer all such questions as might be put to him touching on his
qualifications for service in the case now on trial. He did answer them
truthfully; more than that, he answered them satisfactorily. He had no
conscientious scruples against the infliction of capital punishment for
the crime of murder in the first degree. From his readings of the public
prints he had formed no set and definite opinion as to the guilt or
innocence of the accused. He was not personally acquainted with the
deceased, with the prisoner at the bar, with the attorneys upon either
side, with the officers who had made the arrest, with the coroner's
physician who had conducted the autopsy, or with any one connected in
any way with the case. He professed himself as willing to be guided by
His Honour on the bench in all matters pertaining to the laws of
evidence, while exclusively reserving the right to be his own judge of
the weight and value of the testimony itself. So far, so good.

The district attorney nodded briefly. The lawyers for the murderer,
confabbing with their heads together, gave no sign of demur. The
presiding justice, a large man, heavily moustached and with more chins
than he could possibly need, who had been taking a light nap, was
aroused by the hush which now befell and sat up, rustling in his black
silk sleeping gown.

Behind Chester Pilkins' waistcoat Chester Pilkins' heart gave a little
gratified jump. He was about to be accepted; he would be in the papers.
He saw a sketch artist, who sat just beyond the rail, squint at him from
under his eyebrows and lower a pencil to a scratch pad which was poised
upon a right kneecap. A picture would be published. What mattered it
though this picture would purely look excessively unlike him? Would not
the portrait be suitably labelled? Mentally he visualised the precious
lines:

Juror No. 9--Chester K. Pilkins, No. 373 Japonica Avenue; certified
accountant; 39; married; no children.

From somewhere back of the moustache His Honour's voice was heard
rumbling forth hoarsely:

"If-no-objections-from-either-side-let-juror-be-sworn."

At Mr. Pilkins' side appeared a court functionary bearing a grimed and
venerable volume containing many great truths upon its insides and many
hungry germs upon its outside. Mr. Pilkins arose to his feet and
stretched forth a slightly tremulous hand to rest it upon The Book. In
this moment he endeavoured to appear in every outward aspect the zealous
citizen, inspired solely by a sense of his obligations to himself and to
the state. A sort of Old Roman pose it was. And in that same moment the
blow fell and the alabaster vase was shattered.

Senior counsel for the defence--the one with the long frock coat and the
sobbing catch in his voice--bobbed up from where he sat.

"Defence-excuses-this-gentleman," he grunted, all in one word, and sat
down again.

The artist scratched out a shadowy outline of the lobe of Mr. Pilkins'
left ear and the southeastern slope of his skull--for already this
talented draftsman had progressed thus far with the portrait--and in
less than no time our Mr. Pilkins, surcharged now with a sense of injury
and vaguely feeling that somehow his personal honour had been impugned,
was being waved away from the stand to make room for a smallish, darkish
gentleman of a Semitic aspect. With his thoughts in such turmoil that he
forgot to take with him the bone-handled umbrella which he had carried
for two years and better, he left the courtroom.

Really, though, he never had a chance. The defence had expended upon him
one of its dwindling store of peremptory challenges because in the
moment of being sworn he appeared a person of so stern and
uncompromising an exterior. "Besides," the senior counsel had whispered
hurriedly to his associates--"besides, he seems so blamed anxious to
serve. Bad sign--better let him go." And so they let him go. But, on the
other hand, had he worn a look less determined the district attorney
would have challenged him on the suspicion of being too kind-hearted.
The jury system is a priceless heritage of our forefathers, and one of
the safeguards of our liberties, but we do things with it of which I
sometimes think the forefathers never dreamed.

Thus, with its periods of hopefulness and its periods of despairing,
life for our hero rolled on after the placid fashion of bucolic
Brooklyn, adrowse among its mortary dells and its masonry dingles, until
there came the year 1915 A. D. and of the Constitution of the United
States the One Hundred and I forget which. For long the Pilkinses had
been saving up to take a trip to Europe, Chester particularly desiring
to view the Gothic cathedrals of the Continent, about which Volume _Cad
to Eve_ of his encyclopedia discoursed at great length and most
entertainingly. For her part, Mrs. Chester intended to mingle in the gay
life of the artistic set of the Latin Quarter, and then come home and
tell about it.

By the summer of 1914 there was laid by a sum sufficient to pay all
proper costs of the tour. And then, with unpardonable inconsiderateness,
this war had to go and break out. The war disagreeably continuing,
Europe was quite out of the question. If Europe must have a war it
couldn't have the Pilkinses. So in the early spring of the following
year, the combined thoughts of Mr. and Mrs. Pilkins turned longingly
westward. Mr. Pilkins had never been beyond Buffalo but once; that was
when, on their wedding tour, they went to Niagara Falls. Mrs. Pilkins
once had visited her married sister residing in Xenia, Ohio. Such
portion of the Great West as lay beyond Xenia was to her as a folded
scroll. So Westward Ho! it was.

I deem it to have been eminently characteristic of Chester that he spent
three evenings preparing, with the aid of timetables, descriptive
folders furnished by a genial and accommodating ticket agency and a
condensed hotel directory, a complete schedule of their projected
itinerary, including the times of arrivals and departures of trains,
stop-overs, connections, cab and bus fares, hotel rates, baggage
regulations, and what not. Opposite the name of one junction town beyond
the Rockies he even set down a marginal note: "At this point see Great
American Desert."

Leaving Chicago on the second lap of the outbound half of the momentous
journey, they took a section in a sleeping car named appropriately for a
Hindu deity. For once in his life Chester was above his wife, where he
could look down upon her. But that was in the nighttime, when he lodged
in the upper. Daytimes he reverted to his original and regular state,
becoming again one of the submerged tenth of one-tenth. In the dining
car Mrs. Pilkins selected the dishes and gave the orders, and he,
submissive as the tapeworm, ate of what was put before him, asking no
questions. In the club car, among fellow travellers of his own sex, he
was as one set apart. They talked over him and round him and if needs be
through him to one another; and when, essaying to be heard upon the
topics of the day, then under discussion, he lifted up his voice some
individual of a more commanding personality--the member of the
legislature from Michigan or the leading osteopath of Council
Bluffs--would lift his voice yet higher, wiping him out as completely
as though he had been a naught done in smudged chalk upon a blackboard.
After all, life in the free and boundless West threatened to become for
him what life in cribbed, cabined and confined Brooklyn had been; this
was the distressing reflection which frequently recurred to him as he
retired all squelched and muted from the unequal struggle, and it made
his thoughts dark with melancholy. Was there in all this wide continent
no room for true worth when habited in native modesty?

In time they reached a certain distinguished city of the Coast, nestling
amid its everlasting verdure and real-estate boomers. But in the
rainless season the verdure shows an inclination to dry up. However,
this was in the verdant springtime, when Nature everywhere, and
especially in California, is gladsome and all-luxuriant. From the
station a bus carried them through thriving suburbs to a large tourist
hotel built Spanish Mission style and run American plan. The young man
behind the clerk's desk took one prognostic look at Chester as Chester
registered, and reached for a certain key, but while in the act of so
doing caught a better glimpse of Mrs. Chester, and, changing his mind,
gave them a very much better room at the same price. There was something
about Mrs. Pilkins.

That evening, entering the dining-room, which was a great, soft-pine
Sahara of a place dotted at regular intervals with circular oases
called tables, each flowing with ice water and abounding in celery, in
the native ripe olives shining in their own oils, and in yellow poppy
blossoms in vases, the Pilkinses instantly and intuitively discovered
that they had been ushered into a circle new to them. Some of the diners
in sight were plainly, like themselves, tourists, transients,
fly-by-night sightseers from the East, here to-day and going to-morrow.
But sundry others present, being those who had the look about them of
regular guests, were somehow different. Without being told, the
newcomers at once divined that they were in a haunt of the
moving-picture folk, and also by the same processes of instinctive
discernment were informed of another thing: As between the actors newly
recruited from that realm of art which persons of a reminiscent turn of
mind are beginning to speak of as the spoken drama, and the actors who
had been bred up and developed by its one-time little half-sister, the
moving-picture game, a classifying and separating distinction existed.
It was a distinction not definable in words, perhaps; nevertheless, it
was as apparent there in that dining-room as elsewhere. You know how the
thing goes in other lines of allied industries? Take two agents now--a
road agent, let us say, and a book agent. Both are agents; both belong
to the predatory group; both ply their trades upon the highway with
utter strangers for their chosen prey; and yet in the first flash we
can tell a book agent from a road agent, and vice versa. So it was with
these ladies and gentlemen upon whom Chester K. Pilkins and wife--beg
pardon, Mrs. Chester K. Pilkins and husband--now gazed.

At the table to which a post-graduate head-waitress escorted them and
there surrendered them into the temporary keeping of a sophomore
side-waitress there sat, in a dinner coat, a young man of most
personable appearance and address, with whom, as speedily developed, it
was not hard to become acquainted, but, on the contrary, easy. Almost as
soon as the Pilkinses were seated he broke through the film ice of
formality by remarking that Southern California was, on the whole, a
wonderful country, was it not? Speaking as one, or as one and a
fractional part of another, they agreed with him. Did it not possess a
wonderful climate? It did. And so on and so forth. You know how one of
these conversations grows, expands and progresses.

Presently there were mutual introductions across the fronded celery and
the self-lubricating ripe olive. This accomplished, Mr. Pilkins was upon
the point of stating that he was in the accounting line, when their new
acquaintance, evidently holding such a detail to be of no great
consequence, broke in upon him with a politely murmured "Excuse me" and
proceeded to speak of a vastly more interesting subject. His name, as
they already knew, was Mr. Royal Harcourt. He was of the theatrical
profession, a thing they already had guessed. He told them more--much
more.

It would seem that for long he had withstood the blandishments and
importunities of the moving-picture producers, standing, as it were,
aloof from them and all their kind, holding ever that the true artist
should remain ever the true artist, no matter how great the financial
temptation to enter the domain of the silent play might be. But since so
many of equal importance in the profession had gone into the
pictures--and besides, after all was said and done, did not the pictures
cater educationally to a great number of doubtlessly worthy persons
whose opportunity for acquaintance with the best work of the legitimate
stage was necessarily limited and curtailed?--well, any way, to make a
long story no longer, he, Mr. Royal Harcourt, had gone into the pictures
himself, and here he was. Taking it that he had been appealed to, Mr.
Pilkins nodded in affirmation of the wisdom of the step, and started to
speak. "Excuse me, please," said Mr. Harcourt courteously but firmly.
Plainly Mr. Harcourt was not yet done. He resumed. One who had a
following might always return to the legitimate finding that following
unimpaired. Meanwhile, the picture business provided reasonably pleasant
employment at a most attractive remuneration.

"So, as I said just now," went on Mr. Harcourt, "here I am and here you
find me. I may tell you that I am specially engaged for the filming of
that popular play, The Prince of the Desert, which the Ziegler Company
is now making here at its studios. My honorarium--this, of course, is in
confidence--my honorarium for this is eight hundred dollars a week." He
glanced at their faces. "In fact, strictly between ourselves, nine
hundred and fifty." And with a polished finger nail Mr. Harcourt flicked
an imaginary bit of fluff from a fluffless coat lapel.

Awe descended upon the respective souls of his listeners, and there
lingered.

"And of course for that--that figure--you play the leading part?" Mrs.
Pilkins put the question almost reverently.

A trace, just a trace, of unconscious bitterness trickled into their
tablemate's voice as he answered:

"No, madam, I could hardly go so far as to say that--hardly so far as to
say that exactly. My good friend, Mr. Basil Derby, has the title rôle.
He originated the part on Broadway--perhaps that explains it. I play the
American newspaper correspondent--a strong part, yet with touches of
pure comedy interspersed in it here and there--a part second only to
that of the star."

"Does he--this Mr. Derby--does he get anything like what you are paid?"
ventured Mr. Pilkins. Surely the Ziegler Company tempted bankruptcy.

"I suspect so, sir, I suspect so."

Mr. Harcourt's tone indicated subtly that this world was as yet by no
means free from injustice.

Before the meal was anywhere near ended--in fact, before they reached
the orange sorbet, coming between the roast beef _au jus_ and the choice
of young chicken with giblet sauce or cold sliced lamb with pickled
beets--the Pilkinses knew a great deal about Mr. Royal Harcourt, and Mr.
Royal Harcourt knew the Pilkinses were good listeners, and not only good
listeners but believing ones as well. So a pleasant hour passed speedily
for all three. There, was an especially pleasant moment just at the
close of the dinner when Mr. Harcourt invited them to accompany him at
ten o'clock on the following morning to the Ziegler studios, and as his
guest to witness the lensing of certain episodes destined to figure in
the completed film drama of The Prince of the Desert. Speaking for both,
Mrs. Pilkins accepted.

"But, Gertrude Maud," murmured Mr. Pilkins doubtfully as the two of them
were leaving the dining-room to hear the orchestra play in the arched
inner garden where the poinsettia waved its fiery bannerets aloft,
reminding one somewhat of the wagging red oriflamme of a kindred member
of the same family--the Irish setter--and the inevitable spoiled
childling of every tourist hotel romped to and fro, whining for pure
joy, making life a curse for its parents and awakening in the hearts of
others reconciling thoughts touching upon the late King Herod, the
bald-headed prophet who called the bears down out of the hills, and the
style of human sacrifices held to be most agreeable to the tastes of the
heathenish god Moloch. "But, Gertrude Maud," he repeated demurringly as
he trailed a pace behind her, seeing she had not heard or seemed not to
have heard. In her course Mrs. Pilkins halted so suddenly that a
double-stranded necklet of small wooden darning eggs of graduated sizes
clinked together smartly.

"Chester," she stated sharply, "don't keep bleating out 'Gertrude Maud'
like that. It annoys me. If you have anything to say, quit mumbling and
say it."

"But, Ger--but, my dear," he corrected himself plaintively, "we were
going to visit the orange groves to-morrow morning. I have already
spoken to the automobile man----"

"Chester," said Mrs. Pilkins, "the orange groves can wait. I understand
they have been here for some time. They will probably last for some time
longer. To-morrow morning at ten o'clock you and I are going with that
nice Mr. Harcourt. It will be an interesting experience and a broadening
one. We are here to be broadened. We will see something very worth
while, I am convinced of it."

Indeed, they began to witness events of an acutely unusual nature before
ten o'clock. As they came out from breakfast there darted down the
lobby stairs at the right a young maiden and a youth, both most
strikingly garbed. The young lady wore a frock of broad white-and-black
stripes clingingly applied to her figure in up-and-down lines. She had a
rounded cheek, a floating pigtail, and very large buckles set upon the
latchets of her twinkling bootees. The youth was habited as a college
boy. At least he wore a Norfolk jacket, a flowing tie of the Windsor,
England, and East Aurora, New York, variety, and trousers which were
much too short for him if they were meant to be long trousers and much
too long for him if they were meant to be short trousers. Hand in hand,
with gladsome outcry, this pair sped through the open doors and vaulted
down the porch steps without, as nimbly as the chamois of the Alpine
steeps, toward a large touring car, wherein sat a waiting chauffeur,
most correctly liveried and goggled.

Close behind them, in ardent pursuit, an elderly, rather obese
gentleman, in white waistcoat, white side whiskers and white
spats--patently a distressed parent--tore into sight, waving his arms
and calling upon the fleeing pair to halt. Yet halted they not. They
whisked into the rear seat of the automobile just as the elderly
gentleman tripped on a crack in the planking of the veranda and was
precipitated headlong into the arms of a fat bellboy who at this exact
moment emerged from behind a pillar. It was a very fat bellboy--one
that could not have weighed an ounce less than two hundred pounds, nor
been an hour less than forty years old--and he was grotesquely comical
in a suit of brass buttons and green cloth incredibly tight for him.
Locked in each other's arms the parent and bellboy rolled down the
steps--bumpety-bump!--and as progressing thus in close communion they
reached the surface of the driveway, a small-town policeman, wearing
long chin whiskers and an enormous tin star, ran forward from nowhere in
particular, stumbled over their entangled forms and fell upon them with
great violence. Then while the three of them squirmed and wriggled there
in a heap, the automobile whirled away with the elopers--it was, of
course, by now quite plain that they must be elopers--casting mocking,
mirthsome glances backward over their diminishing shoulders.

"Slap stick! Rough-house! Cheap stuff! But it goes--somehow it goes. The
public stands for it. It passes one's comprehension." It was Mr. Royal
Harcourt who, standing just behind the Pilkinses, commented in tones of
a severe disparagement. They became cognisant also of a man who had been
stationed in the grass plot facing the hotel, grinding away at a crank
device attached to a large camera. He had now ceased from grinding.
Except for the camera man, the disapproving Mr. Harcourt and themselves,
no one else within sight appeared to take more than a perfunctory
interest in what had just occurred.

"Come with me," bade Mr. Harcourt when the outraged parent, the fat
bellboy and the small-town policeman had picked themselves up, brushed
themselves off and taken themselves away. "You have seen one side of
this great industry. I propose now to introduce you to another side of
it--the artistic side."

He waved his arm in a general direction, and instantly a small
jitneybile detached itself from a flock of jitneybiles stationed
alongside the nearer curbing and came curving up to receive them. This
city, I may add in passing, was the home of the original mother jitney,
and there, in her native habitat, she spawned extensively before she
moved eastward, breeding busily as she went.

To the enlarged eyes of the Pilkinses strange phases of life were
recurringly revealed as the vehicle which their guide had chartered
progressed along the wide suburban street, beneath the shelter of the
pepper trees and the palms. Yet the residential classes living
thereabout appeared to view the things which transpired with a languid,
not to say a bored, manner; and as for Mr. Harcourt, he, sitting in
front alongside the driver, seemed scarcely to notice them at all.

For example: Two automobiles, one loaded with French Zouaves and the
other with Prussian infantrymen, all heavily armed and completely
accoutred, whizzed by them, going in the opposite direction. A most
winsome, heavily bejewelled gypsy lass flirted openly with an
affectionate butler beneath the windows of a bungalow, while a waspish
housemaid, evidently wrought to a high pitch by emotions of jealousy,
balefully spied upon them from the shelter of an adjacent shrubbery
clump. Out of a small fruit store emerged a benevolent, white-haired
Church of England clergyman, of the last century but one, in cassock,
flat hat and knee breeches. With him walked a most villainous-appearing
pirate, a wretch whose whiskered face was gashed with cutlass scars and
whose wicked legs were leathered hip-deep in jack boots. These two were
eating tangerines from the same paper bag as they issued forth together.

The car bearing our friends passed a mansion, the handsomest upon the
street. Out from its high-columned portals into the hot sunshine
staggered a young man whose lips were very red and whose moustache was
very black, with great hollows beneath his eyes and white patches at his
temples--a young man dressed in correct evening attire, who, pausing for
a moment, struck his open hand to his forehead with a gesture indicative
of intense despair--you somehow opined he had lost all at the gaming
table--then reeled from sight down a winding driveway. One glimpsed that
his glistening linen shirt bosom was of a pronounced saffron cast, with
collar and tie and cuffs all of the same bilious tone to match.

"Noticed the yellow, didn't you?" asked Mr. Harcourt. "That means he's
been doing indoor stuff. Under the lights yellow comes out white."

At the end of a long mile the jitney halted at a gateway set in a high
wooden wall beyond which might be seen the peaks of a glass-topped roof.
About this gateway clustered a large assemblage of citizens of all ages
and conditions, but with the young of both sexes predominating. As the
young women uniformly wore middy blouses and the young men sport shirts,
opened at the neck, there were bared throats and wide sailor collars
wherever one looked.

"Extra people," elucidated their host. "They get three a day--when they
work. We'll probably use a lot of them to-day."

Within the inclosure a new world unfolded itself for the travellers from
the Atlantic seaboard--in fact, sections of several new worlds. At the
heels of Mr. Harcourt they threaded their way along a great wooden stage
that was open, front and top, to the blue skies, and as they followed
after him they looked sideways into the interior of a wrecked and
deserted Belgian farmhouse; and next door to that into a courtroom now
empty of everything except its furnishings; and next door to that into
a gloomy dungeon with barred windows and painted canvas walls. They
took a turn across a dusty stretch of earth beyond the far end of the
segmented stage, and, lo, they stood in the gibbering midriff of an
Oriental city. Behind all was lath, furring and plaster, chicken wire,
two-by-fours and shingle nails; but in front 'twas a cross-section of
teeming bazaar life. How far away seemed 373 Japonica Avenue, Brooklyn,
then!

An energetic man in laced boots and a flannel shirt--Mr. Harcourt called
him the director--peered angrily into the perspective of the scene and,
waving a pasteboard megaphone in command, ordained that a distant
mountain should come ten feet nearer to him. Alongside of this young man
Mohammed was an amateur. For the mountain did obey, advancing ten feet,
no more and no less. Half a score of young men in cowboy garb enshrouded
themselves in flowing white draperies, took long, tasselled spears in
their hands, and swung themselves upon the backs of horses--and, behold,
a tribe of Bedouins trotted through the crowded, winding way, scattering
mendicants, priests, camel drivers and peddlers from before their path.

Upon the edge of all this Chester K. Pilkins hovered as one entranced.
He had lost Mrs. Pilkins; he was separated from Mr. Harcourt.

He became aware of three damsels of tender years who sat in a row upon
a pile of rough lumber near at hand. They wore flowing robes of many
colours; they were barefooted, their small toes showing pleasantly pink
and white below the hems of their robes, and their arms were drawn
primly behind them. He watched them. Although manifestly having no part
in the scene then being rehearsed for filming, they continued to hold
their arms in this restrained and presumably uncomfortable attitude,
as though they might be practising some new form of a deep-breathing
exercise.

As he watched, one of the three, catching his eye, arose and came
padding her little bare feet through the dust to where he stood.

"Do me a favour?" she inquired archly.

"Why--why, yes, certainly, if possible," answered Mr. Pilkins.

"Sure, it's possible. See this?" She shook her head, and a wayward
ringlet which dangled down against one cheek was agitated to and fro
across her pert face. "Well, it's tickling my nose something fierce.
Tuck it back up out of sight, will you?"

"I'm--I'm afraid I don't understand," stammered Mr. Pilkins, jostled
internally.

She turned slowly round, and he saw then that her wrists were crossed
behind her back and firmly bound together with a length of new cotton
rope.

"I'm one of the captive Armenians," she explained, facing him again.
"More'n a hour ago Wagstaff--he's the assistant director--he tied us up.
We gotta stay all tied up, just so, till our scene goes on. He's such a
bug on all them little details--Wagstaff is! Go on--be a good fella and
get this hair up out of my face, won't you? I'll be sneezing my head
off in another minute. But say--mind the make-up."

A brightish pink in colour, Mr. Pilkins extended a helping hand,
tingling inside of himself.

"Chester!"

It was his master's voice, speaking with most decided masterfulness. As
though the errant curl had been red-hot Mr. Pilkins jerked his
outstretched fingers back. The Armenian maiden retired precipitately,
her shoulders twitching.

"Chester, come here!"

Chester came, endeavouring, unsuccessfully, to avoid all outward
semblance of guilt.

"Chester, might I ask what you were doing with that--that young person?"
Mrs. Pilkins' manner was ominous.

"I was helping her--a little--with her hair."

"With her--why, what--do you----"

"She is tied. Her hands, you know. ... She----"

"Tied, is she?" Mrs. Pilkins bestowed a chilled stare upon the
retreating figure of the captive. "Well, she deserves to be. They should
keep her tied. Chester, I want you to stay close to me and not go
wandering off again."

"Yes, my dear, I will--I mean, I won't."

"Besides, you may be needed any minute now. Mr. Harcourt"--she indicated
that gentleman, who had approached--"has been kind enough to invite us
to take part in this beautiful production."

"But, my dear--but----"

"Chester, I wish for my sake you would refrain from keeping on saying
'but.' And please quit interrupting."

"You see--it's like this," explained Mr. Harcourt: "It's the scene at
the dock when the heroine gets home. You two are to be two of the
passengers--the director says he'll be very glad to have you take part.
I just spoke to him. There will be many others in the scene--extras, you
know. Think you'd like it? It will be an experience."

"As you say, Mr. Harcourt, it will be an experience," said Mrs. Pilkins.
"I accept with pleasure. So does my husband."

Promptly ensued then action, and plenty of it. With many others,
recruited from the ranks of the populace, the Chester Pilkinses were
herded into a corner of the open-faced stage at the back side of the
bazaar--a corner which the two presiding genii of that domain, known
technically and respectively as the boss carpenter and the head property
man, had, by virtue of their magic and in accordance with an order from
their overlord, the director, transformed, even as one waited, from
something else into the pierhead of a New York dock. With these same
others our two friends mounted a steep flight of steps behind the
scenes, and then, shoving sheeplike through a painted gangway, in a
painted bulkhead of a painted ship, they flocked down across a
canvas-sided gangplank to the ostensible deck of the presumable pier,
defiling off from left to right out of lens range, the while they smiled
and waved fond greetings to supposititious friends.

When they had been made to do this twice and thrice, when divers
stumbling individuals among them had been corrected of a desire to gaze,
with the rapt, fascinated stare of sleep-walkers, straight into the eye
of the machine, when the director was satisfied with his rehearsal, he
suddenly yelled "Camera!" and started them at it all over again.

In this instant a spell laid hold on Chester Pilkins. As one exalted he
went through the picture, doing his share and more than his share to
make it what a picture should be. For being suddenly possessed with the
instinct to act--an instinct which belongs to all of us, but which some
of us after we have grown up manage to repress--Chester acted. In his
movements there was the unstudied carelessness which is best done when
it is studied; in his fashion of carrying his furled umbrella and his
strapped steamer rug--the Ziegler Company had furnished the steamer rug
but the umbrella was his own--there was natural grace; in his quick
start of recognition on beholding some dear one in the imaginary throng
waiting down on the pier out of sight there was that art which is the
highest of all arts.

With your permission we shall skip the orange groves, languishing
through that day for Mr. and Mrs. Chester K. Pilkins to come and see
them. We shall skip the San Francisco Exposition. We shall skip the
Yosemite Valley, in which to Chester there seemed to be something
lacking, and the Big Trees, which after all were much like other trees,
excepting these were larger. These things the travellers saw within the
scope of three weeks, and the end of those three weeks and the half of a
fourth week brings them and us back to 373 Japonica Avenue. There daily
Chester watched the amusement columns of the _Eagle_.

On a Monday evening at seven-fifteen he arrived home from the office,
holding in his hand a folded copy of that dependable sheet.

"Chester," austerely said Mrs. Pilkins as he let himself in at the door,
"you are late, and you have kept everything waiting. Hurry through your
dinner. We are going over to the Lewinsohns for four-handed rummy and
then a rarebit."

"Not to-night, Gertrude Maud," said Chester.

"And why not to-night?" demanded the lady with a rising inflection.

"Because," said Chester, "to-night we are going to the Bijou Palace
Theatre. The Prince of the Desert goes on to-night for the first run."

"Oh," said Mrs. Pilkins understandingly. "I'll telephone Mrs. Lewinsohn
we can't come--make some excuse or other. Yes, we'll go to the Bijou
Palace." She said this as though the idea had been hers all along.

Seated in the darkened auditorium they watched the play unfold upon the
screen. They watched while the hero, a noble son of the Arabic sands,
rescued the heroine, who was daughter to a comedy missionary, from the
clutches of the wicked governor-general. They saw the barefoot Armenian
maids dragged by mocking nomads across burning wastes to the tented den
of a villainous sheik, and in the pinioned procession Chester recognised
the damsel of the truant curl and the ticklish nose. They saw the
intrepid and imperturbable American correspondent as, unafraid, he stood
in the midst of carnage and slaughter, making notes in a large
leather-backed notebook such as all newspaper correspondents are known
to carry. But on these stirring episodes Chester K. Pilkins looked with
but half an eye and less than half his mind. He was waiting for
something else.

Eventually, at the end of Reel Four, his waiting was rewarded, and he
achieved the ambition which all men bear within themselves, but which
only a few, comparatively speaking, ever gratify--the yearning to see
ourselves as others see us. While the blood drummed in his heated
temples Chester Pilkins saw himself, and he liked himself. I do not
overstretch the truth when I say that he liked himself first-rate. And
when, in the very midst of liking himself, he reflected that elsewhere
over the land, in scores, perhaps in hundreds of places such as this
one, favoured thousands were seeing him too--well, the thought was
well-nigh overpowering.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the succeeding three nights Mr. Pilkins' fireside knew him not. The
figure of speech here employed is purely poetic, because, as a matter of
fact, the house was heated by steam. But upon each of these three
evenings he sat in the Bijou Palace, waiting for that big moment to come
when he before his own eyes should appear. Each night he discovered new
and pleasing details about himself--the set of his head upon his
shoulders, the swing of his arm, the lift of his leg; each night, the
performance being ended, he came forth regarding his fellow patrons
compassionately, for they were but the poor creatures who had made up
the audience, while he veritably had been not only part of the audience
but part of the entertainment as well; each night he expected to be
recognised in the flesh by some emerging person of a keen discernment of
vision, but was disappointed here; and each night he went home at
ten-forty-five and told Gertrude Maud that business on the other side of
the bridge had detained him. She believed him. She--poor, blinded
wretch--did not see in his eyes the flickering reflection of the spark
of desire, now fanning into a flame of resolution within the brazier of
his ribs.

Thursday night came, and The Prince of the Desert film concluded its
engagement at the Bijou Palace. Friday night came, but Chester K.
Pilkins did not. He did not come home that night nor the next day nor
the next night. Without warning to any one he had vanished utterly,
leaving behind no word of whatsoever nature. He was gone, entirely and
completely gone, taking with him only the garments in which he stood--a
black cutaway, black four-in-hand tie, black derby hat, plain button
shoes, plain, white, stiff-bosomed shirt. I am quoting now from the
description embodied in a printed general alarm sent out by the police
department, which general alarm went so far as to mention considerable
bridge-work in the upper jaw and a pair of fairly prominent ears.

At last Chester K. Pilkins, although not present to read what was
printed of him, got into the papers. Being questioned by reporters, his
late employers declared that the missing man was of unimpeachable habits
and that his accounts were straight, and immediately then, in a panic,
set experts at work on his books. Remarkable to state, his accounts were
straight. In the bank, in his wife's name, he had left a comfortable
balance of savings. His small investments were in order. They likewise
were found to be in his wife's name; it seemed he had sent a written
order for their transfer on the eve of his flight--if flight it was. The
house already was hers by virtue of a deed executed years before.
Discussing the nine-day sensation, the ladies of the neighbourhood said
that even if Chester Pilkins had run away with some brazen hussy or
other, as to them seemed most probable--because, you know, you never can
tell about these little quiet men--at least he had left poor, dear
Gertrude well provided for, and that, of course, was something.

Something this may have been; but the deserted wife mourned and was
desolate. She wanted Chester back; she was used to having him round. He
had been a good husband, as husbands go--not exciting, perhaps, but
good. Despite strong evidences to the contrary, she could not bring
herself to believe that deliberately he had abandoned her. He was dead,
by some tragic and violent means, or else he had been kidnapped. Twice
with a sinking heart she accompanied a detective sergeant from borough
headquarters to the morgue, there to gaze upon a poor relic of mortality
which had been fished out of the river, but which bore no resemblance to
her Chester nor, indeed, to anything else that once had been human.
After this the police lost even a perfunctory interest in the quest. But
the lady was not done. She paid a retainer to a private detective agency
having branches over the country, and search was maintained in many
places, high and low.

Three months went by; then a fourth. Japonica Avenue may have forgotten
Chester Pilkins, but Gertrude Maud had not. At the tag end of the fourth
month came tidings from the main office of the detective agency which,
overnight, started Mrs. Pilkins to where--as the passenger agents for
the transcontinental lines so aptly phrased it--California's Golden
Strand is kissed by the pellucid waves of the Sun-Down Sea. It couldn't
be true, this report which had been brought to her by a representative
of the great sleuth for whom the agency was named; indeed, it was
inconceivable to one who knew her husband that such a report could be
true, but she would make certain for herself. She would--so this
suffering, conscientious woman told herself--leave no stone unturned.
She would neglect to follow up no clue merely because of its manifest
improbability.

So back she journeyed to that selfsame town where the Ziegler studios
were housed. A local representative of the agency, being advised by
telegraph in advance of her coming, met her at the station. Expressing
physically the gentle sympathy of an honorary pallbearer, he led her to
an automobile, and with her he drove for miles through streets which she
remembered having traversed at least once before, until in the far
suburban reaches of the city, where the blue foothills of the coast
range came down toward the sea, he brought her to a centre of the
moving-picture industry; not the Ziegler establishment this time, but to
the curious place known as Filmville--ninety fenced-in acres of seeming
madness. It was getting on toward five o'clock in the afternoon when the
automobile halted before its minareted portals. Leaving Mrs. Pilkins in
the car her companion went to confer briefly with a uniformed individual
on duty at the door. Returning to her he spoke as follows:

"The--ahem--the party we've got under suspicion is out on location with
a company. But they're due back here before dark. I guess we'd better
wait a spell."

He helped her to alight, dismissed the automobile, and accompanied her
to an ornamental seat facing an exceedingly ornamental fountain which
spouted in a grass plot hard by the gates to Filmville. As she sat and
waited, strangely clad men and women--purporting to represent in their
attire many periods of the world's history and many remote corners of
the world's surface--passed by, going in and out. From over the high
walls came to her jungle sounds and jungle smells, for this large
concern maintained its own zoo upon its own premises. Persistently a
sacred cow of India, tethered in a recess of the fence where herbage
sprouted, mooed for an absent mate. The voice of the creature matched
Mrs. Pilkins' thoughts. Internally she was mooing for her mate too.

Twilight impended when two automobile loads of principals, attired
cowboyishly and cowgirlishly, came thumping out of the north along the
dusty road. These persons dismounted and trooped inside. A little behind
them, heralded by a jingle of accoutrement, came a dozen or so punchers
riding ponies. With jest and quip bandied back and forth, and to the
tinkling of their spurs, these last dropped off their jaded mounts,
leaving the ponies to stand with drooping heads and dragging bridles,
and went clumping on their high heels into a small wooden place,
advertising liquid refreshment, which stood across the way. The
detective softly joggled Mrs. Pilkins' elbow.

"Come on, ma'am," he said; "just follow me. And don't say anything until
you're sure. And don't scream or faint or anything like that--if you can
help it."

"I shan't," said Mrs. Pilkins, all a-tremble. She was resolved not to
scream and she was not the fainting kind.

Very naturally and very properly, as a gently nurtured woman, Mrs.
Pilkins had never seen the interior of a barroom. From just inside the
swinging doors where her escort halted her she looked about the place
with the eye of curiosity, and even though her mind swirled tumultuously
she comprehended it--the glassware, the pictures on the walls, the short
bar, the affable dispenser who stood behind it, and the row of cowboys
who lined the front of it from end to end, with their backs and hunched
shoulders all turned to her, stretching away in a diminishing
perspective.

"Wait a minute, lady," advised the detective in a whisper. "Take your
time and look 'em over careful. And be sure--be sure to be sure."

The lady strove to obey. She looked and she looked. At the back of the
room three punchers were clumped together, withdrawn slightly from their
fellows--a tall puncher, a medium-sized puncher, and between these two
a small puncher.

"Here, ol'-timer," bade the tall puncher, drumming with his knuckles
upon the bar, "wait on fellers that a-got a real thirst. Three long
beers!"

The beers were drawn and placed at properly spaced intervals before the
three. Their three right elbows rose at an angle; three flagons of
creamy brew vanished.

A fourth cowboy slid down toward them.

"Well," he demanded boisterously, "how's Little Chestnut makin' out?
Still saddle sore? Still hatin' to think of the place where you got to
meet that there old paint pony of yourn to-mor' mornin'?"

It was the tall cowboy who made answer.

"Nix on that Chestnut thing," he said. "That's old stuff. You should
a-seen the little man stay by that pinto of hisn when she got uptious a
while ago--jist stay by her and pour the leather into her. No, sir, that
there Chestnut stuff don't go any more for this bunch. This here"--and
his long flannel-clad arm was endearingly enwrapped about the shoulders
of his small companion--"this here boy from now on is Old Chesty."

Even though viewed from behind, it might be seen that the person thus
rechristened was protruding a proud chest. With a little swagger he
breasted the bar.

"I'm buying," he stated loudly. "Everybody's in on this one."

"Whee!" yelled the big cowboy. "Chesty's buyin'--this one's on Old
Chesty."

But another voice rose above his voice, over-topping it--the cry of an
agonised woman:

"Oh, Chester!"

As though he had been bee-stung the little man pivoted on his heels. His
chaps hung floppingly about his short legs; his blue shirt was open
halfway down his sunburnt chest; his pistol holster flapped against his
flank; his wide white hat was upon the back of his head; his neck was
tanned brown; his face was red and sweaty; his large outstanding ears
were burnt a bright, translucent crimson; his hands were dirty--but it
was Chester. For one moment, contemplating the accusing, brimming eyes
of the lady, he flinched and shrank as one reared amid the refining
influences of Japonica Avenue under such circumstances as these might
well have flinched, might well have shrunk. Then he stiffened and in all
visible regards was again Old Chesty, the roughrider.

"Hello, Gertrude," he said, just like that.

"Oh, Chester!" she wailed the words in louder key even than before.

Like the gentleman that he was, the barkeeper turned squarely round and
began polishing the valve of a beer pump with the palm of his moist
hand. With a glance which swiftly travelled from one to another the tall
cowboy gathered up his fellows and speedily they withdrew through the
swinging doors, passing the lady with faces averted, profoundly actuated
all by considerations inspired of their delicate outdoor sensibilities.
Except for the detective person, husband and wife, to all intents and
purposes, stood alone, face to face.

"Oh, Chester," she repeated for the third time, and now forgivingly her
arms were outstretched. "Oh, Chester, how could you do it?"

"Do what, Gertrude?"

"Run away and l-l-leave me. What did you do it for?"

"Three dollars a day," he answered simply. There was no flippancy in the
reply, but merely directness.

"Oh, Chester, to give up your home--your position--me--for that! Oh,
what madness possessed you! Chester, come back home."

"Back home to Brooklyn? Not on your life." His tone was firmness
itself. He spoke commandingly, as one who not only is master of himself
but of a present situation. "Gertrude, you'd better stay here, too, now
that you've come. I guess maybe I could get 'em to work you in on the
regular list of extras. You'd probably film well." He eyed her
appraisingly.

"But, oh, Chester, to go--as you went--with never a word--never a line
to me!"

"Gertrude, you wouldn't have understood. Don't you see, honey, it's like
this." He took her in his arms, even as she had meant to take him into
hers, and, with small, comforting pats upon her heaving back, sought to
soothe her. "It's like this--I'm before the public now. Why, Gerty, I'm
in the eyes of the world."



CHAPTER VI

THE GREAT AUK


As regards the body of the house it lay mostly in shadows--the man-made,
daytime shadows which somehow always seem denser and blacker than those
that come in the night. The little jogs in the wall behind the boxes
were just the same as coalholes. The pitched front of the balcony
suggested a deformed upper jaw, biting down on darkness. Its stucco
facings, shining dimly, like a row of teeth, added to the illusion. At
the bottom of the pit, or the family circle, or whatever it was they
called it at the Cosmos Theatre, where the light was somewhat better,
the backs of the seats showed bumpily beneath the white cloths that
covered them, like lines of graves in a pauper burying ground after a
snowstorm.

A third of the way back, in this potter's field of dead-and-gone
laughter, a man was hunched in a despondent posture. His attitude would
make you think of a lone ghost that had answered the resurrection trump
too soon and now was overcome with embarrassment at having been deceived
by a false alarm. The brim of his hat rested on the bridge of his nose.
Belonging, as he did, to a race that is esteemed to be essentially
commercial, he had the artistic face and the imaginative eyes which, as
often as not, are found in those of his breed.

His name was Sam Verba. He was general director for Cohalan & Hymen,
producing managers. He was watching a rehearsal of a new play, though he
did not appear to be. Seemingly, if he was interested in anything at all
it was in the movements of two elderly chore-women, who dawdled about
the place deliberatively, with dust rags and brooms. Occasionally, as
one of the women raised her voice shrilly to address her distant sister,
he went "Sh-h! Sh-h!"--like a defective steam pipe. Following this the
offender would lower her voice for a space measurable by seconds.

Border lights, burning within the proscenium arch, made the stage
brightly visible, revealing it as a thing homely and nude. Stage
properties were piled indiscriminately at either side. Against the bare
brick wall at the back, segments of scenes were stacked any-which-way,
so that a strip of a drawing room set was superimposed on a strip of a
kitchen and that in turn overlapped part of a wainscoted library, the
result being as though an earthquake had come along and shaken one room
of somebody's house into another room and that into another, and then
had left them so. In sight were four women and nine men, who perched on
chairs or tables or roosted, crow-fashion, upon the iron steps of a
narrow staircase which ascended to the top tier of dressing rooms,
extending along a narrow balcony above. The hour was eleven o'clock in
the morning. Therefore these persons wore the injured look which people
of their nocturnal profession customarily wear upon being summoned out
of their beds before midday.

At a little table, teetering on rickety legs almost in the trough of the
footlights, sat a man hostilely considering a typewritten script, which
was so interlined, so marked and disfigured with crosses, stars, and
erasures that only one person--the author of these ciphers--might read
his own code and sometimes even he couldn't. The man at the table was
the director, especially engaged to put on this particular piece, which
was a comedy drama. He raised his head.

"All right, children," he said, "take the second act--from the
beginning. Miss Cherry, Mrs. Morehead--come along. Stand by, everybody
else, and, please, in Heaven's name, remember your cues--for once."

A young woman and a middle-aged woman detached themselves from one of
the waiting groups and came downstage. The young woman moved eagerly to
obey; she was an exceedingly pretty young woman. The other woman,
having passed her youth, strove now to re-create it in her costume. She
wore a floppy hat and a rather skimpy frock, which buttoned down her
back, school-girl fashion, and ended several inches above her ankles.
Under the light her dyed hair shone with the brilliancy of a new copper
saucepan. There were fine, puckery lines at her eyes. Her skin, though,
had the smooth texture which comes, some say, from the grease paint, and
others say from plenty of sleep.

She held in one hand a flimsy, blue-backed sheaf; it was her part in
this play. Having that wisdom in her calling which comes of long
experience, she would read from it until automatically she had acquired
it without prolonged mental effort; would let her trained and docile
memory sop up the speeches by processes of absorption. Miss Cherry
carried no manuscript; she didn't need it. She had been sitting up
nights, studying her lines. For she, the poor thing, was newly escaped
from a dramatic school. Mrs. Morehead wanted to make a living. Miss
Cherry wanted to make a hit.

These two began the opening scene of the act and, between them, carried
it forward. Miss Cherry as the daughter, was playing it in rehearsal,
exactly as she expected to play it before an audience, putting in
gestures, inflections, short catches of the breath, emotional gasps--all
the illusions, all the business of the part. On the other hand, Mrs.
Morehead appeared to have but one ambition in her present employment
and that was to get it over with as speedily as possible. After this
contrasted fashion, then, they progressed to a certain dramatic
juncture:

"But, mother," said Miss Cherry, her arms extended in a
carefully-thought-out attitude of girlish bewilderment, "what am I to
do?"

Mrs. Morehead glanced down, refreshing her memory by a glance into the
blue booklet.

"My child," she said, "leave it to destiny."

She said this in the tone of a person of rather indifferent appetite,
ordering toast and tea for breakfast.

A pause ensued here.

"My child," repeated Mrs. Morehead, glancing over her shoulder
impatiently, but speaking still in the same voice, "leave it to
destiny."

"Well, well----" snapped the man at the little table, "that's the cue,
'leave it to destiny.' Come on, McVey? Come a-w-n, McVey? Where's
McVey?" He raised his voice fretfully.

A nervous, thin man hurried down the stage.

"Oh, there you are. Go ahead, McVey. You're keeping everybody waiting.
Didn't I tell you you'd have to read the grandfather's part to-day?"

"No, sir, you didn't," said McVey, aggrieved.

"Well, anyhow, I meant to," said his superior.

"But I'm reading Miss Gifford's part this morning," said McVey, who was
the assistant stage manager. "She had to go to see about her costumes."

"You'll have to read 'em both, then," ordered the special director.
"Anyhow, the parts don't conflict--they're not on the stage together
during this act. Do the best you can. Now let's go back and take those
last two sides over again."

Vibrantly and with the proper gesture in the proper place, Miss Cherry
repeated her speech. Wearily and without gestures, Mrs. Morehead
repeated hers. The flustered McVey, holding the absentee Miss Gifford's
part in one hand and the mythical grandfather's in the other, circled
upstage and, coming hurriedly down, stepped in between them.

"No, no, no," barked the director, "don't come on that way--you'll throw
both these ladies out. Come on at the upper side of that blue chair,
Mac; that's the door. This is supposed to be a house. You can't walk
right through the side of a house without upsetting things. You realize
that, don't you? Once more--back again to 'leave it to destiny.'"

The rehearsal went on by the customary process of advancing a foot and a
half, then retreating a foot, then re-advancing two feet. The novices in
the cast were prodigal of their energy, but the veterans saved
themselves against what they knew was coming later, when they would need
all they had of strength and more, besides.

A young man let himself in through the box-office door and stood in that
drafty, inky-black space the theatrical folks call the front of the
house and the public call the back of the house. Coming out of the
sunlight into this cave of the winds, he was blinded at first. He
blinked until he peered out the shape of Verba, slumped down midway of a
sheeted stretch of orchestra chairs, and he felt his way down the centre
aisle and slipped into a place alongside the silent, broody figure. The
newcomer was the author of the play, named Offutt; his age was less than
thirty; and his manner was cheerful, as befitting an author who is less
than thirty and has placed a play with an established firm.

"Well," he said, "how's everything going?"

"Rotten, thank you!" said Verba, continuing to stare straight ahead.
"We're still shy one grandfather, if that should be of any interest to
you."

"But you had Grainger engaged--I thought that was all settled last
night," said the playwright.

"That tired business man? Huh!" said Verba expressively. "By the time
he'd got through fussing over the style of contract he wanted, in case
he liked the part and we liked him in it, and then quarrelling about the
salary he was to get, and then arguing out how high up the list his name
was to appear in the billing, your friend Grainger was completely
exhausted.

"And then, on top of that, he discovered we were going to Chicago after
the opening in Rochester, and he balked. Said his following was here in
New York. Said he'd supposed we were coming right in here after the
opening instead of fussing round on the road. Said he couldn't think of
being kept out of New York at the beginning of the season unless he got
at least seventy-five more a week. Said he'd go back to vaudeville
first. Said he had a swell offer from the two-a-day shops anyhow.

"Then I said a few things to Grainger and he walked out on me. His
following!--do you get that? Grainger could carry all the following he's
got in the top of his hat and still have plenty of room left for his
head. So there you are, my son--within ten days of the tryout and nobody
on hand to play dear old grandfather for you! And nobody in sight
either--in case anybody should happen to ask you."

"Oh, we'll find somebody," said Offutt optimistically. The young of the
playwrighting species are constitutionally optimistic.

"Oh, we will, will we? Well, for example, who?--since you're so
confident about it."

"That's up to you," countered Offutt, "I should worry!"

"Take it from me, young man, you'd better worry," growled Verba
morosely.

"But, Verba," contended Offutt, "there must be somebody loose who'll fit
the part. What with thousands of actors looking for engagements----"

"Say, Offutt, what's the use of going over that again?" broke in Verba
in a tone which indicated he was prepared to go over it again. "To begin
with, there aren't thousands of actors looking for jobs. There are a few
actors looking for jobs--and a few thousand others looking for jobs who
only think they can act. Offhand, I can list you just three men fit to
play this grandfather part--or four, if you stick in Grainger as an
added starter."

He held up a long, slender hand, ticking off the names on his fingers.

"There's Warburton, and there's Pell, and there's old Gabe Clayton.
Warburton's tied up in the pictures. Damn the movies! They're stealing
everybody worth a hang. I got a swell offer myself yesterday from the
Ziegler crowd to direct features for 'em. The letter's on my desk now.
Old Gabe is in a sanitarium taking the rest cure--which means for the
time being he's practically sober, but not available for us or anybody
else. And Guy Pell's under contract to Fructer Brothers, and you know
what a swell chance there is of their loaning him to our shop.

"That doesn't leave anybody but Grainger, who's so swelled up with
conceit that he's impossible. And, anyhow, he's too young. Just as I
told you yesterday, I only figured him in as a last chance. I don't want
a young fellow playing this part--with his face all messed up with false
whiskers and an artificial squeak in his voice. I want an old man--one
that looks old and talks old and can play old.

"He's got to be right or nothing's right. You may have written this
piece, boy; but, by gum, I'm responsible for the way it's cast, and I
want a regular, honest-to-God grandfather. Only," he added, quoting the
tag of a current Broadway story, "only there ain't no such animal."

"I still insist, Verba," put in Offutt, "that you overestimate the
importance of the grandfather--he's only a character bit."

"Son," said Verba, "you talk like an author! Maybe you thought he was a
bit when you wrote him in; but he's not. He's going to carry this play.
He's the axle that the whole action turns on and if he's wrong the whole
thing's wrong. If he falls down your play falls down."

"Well, suppose he is," said Offutt plaintively. The bruised worm was
beginning to turn. "Am I to blame because I write a part so human and so
lifelike that nobody's competent to do it?"

Verba gave him a sidelong glance and grinned sardonically. "Don't ask me
whose fault it is," he said. "I know this: In the old days actors were
actors." Verba, who was perhaps forty-four, spoke with the air of having
known Edmund Kean intimately. "They bred real artists then--people who
had versatility and a range. You got hold of a play and you went out and
hired a bunch of troupers, and they played it for you. Now we don't have
actors any more--we only have types.

"Everybody's a type. A man or a woman starts out being one kind of type,
and sticks right there. Dramatists write parts for types, and managers
go out and hire types for the parts. Sometimes they can't find the right
type and then there's another expensive production taking a trip to its
eternal rest in the storehouse. I don't know whose fault it is--I only
know it's not mine. It's hell--that's what it is--simply hell!"

Gloom choked Verba. He stared moodily ahead of him, where the broad of
a wide, blue-ginghamed back showed above the draped tops of the next
row of seats but one. Suddenly he smote his hands together.

"Bateman!" he exclaimed. "Old Bird Bateman!"

Up from behind the next row of seats but one rose a chorelady with her
nose in the air and her clenched fists on the places where her hips
should have been--if she had any hips.

"I beg your par-r-don?" she inquired, quivering with a grand, indignant
politeness; "was you referrin' to me as an ould boid?"

"Madam," said Verba, "resume your pleasures. I wasn't thinking of you."

"Thin why was you lookin' at me whin you said it? You may be the owner
of this bum dump, f'r all I care, but job or no job, let me tell you
this, young man--there's no black Prowtestant Jew alive kin call me out
of me own name an'----"

"Oh, shut up," said Verba, without heat. He got on his feet. "Come on,
Offutt, the lady thinks I'm trying to flirt with her and between the
three of us, we're breaking up rehearsals. Let's get out--I've got an
idea." In the half light his eyes shone like a cat's.

Outside, on the hot pavement, he took Offutt by the lapels of his coat.
"Boy," he said, "did you ever hear of Burton Bateman--better known as
Old Bird Bateman?"

Offutt shook his head.

"Never did," he confessed.

"You're too young at this game to remember, I guess," said Verba. "Well,
then, did you ever hear of the Scudder Stock Company?"

"Of course I've heard of that," said Offutt. "It was long before my time
though."

"It was long before everybody's time," assented Verba. "Ten years is the
same as a century on this street. But twenty-five years ago Burt Bateman
played leads with the Scudder Stock Company--yes; and played juveniles
and walking gentlemen and friends of the family and long-lost heirs and
Dutchmen and Irishmen and niggers--played high-comedy parts and
low-comedy parts--played anything there was to play.

"He wasn't one of your single-barrelled modern types and none of your
old-time ranting scenery-biters either; he was an actor. If he'd come
along a little later they'd have made a star out of him and probably
ruined him. You'd have remembered him then. But he never was a star. He
never was featured even. He just kept right on being an actor. And gee,
how he could eat up an old man's part!"

"You speak of him as though he were dead," said Offutt.

"He might as well be--he's forgotten," said Verba, unconsciously coining
all Broadway's epitaph for all Broadway's tribe. "I haven't seen him for
fifteen years, but I understand he's still alive--that is, he hasn't
quit breathing. Somebody was telling me not long ago they'd crossed his
trail 'way downtown.

"You see, Burt Bateman was a character in his way, just as old Nate
Scudder was one in his way. I guess that's why they hung together so
long. When the theatrical district started to move uptown Nate wouldn't
move with it. It moved from Fourteenth Street to Twenty-third, and from
there to Thirty-fourth, and from there to Forty-second--and it's still
headed north. But Scudder stayed where he was. And it broke him--broke
his heart, too, I guess. Anyhow, he died and his organisation
scattered--all but Bateman. He wouldn't scatter. The heirs fell out and
the estate--what was left of it--got tied up in litigation; and it's
been tied up ever since."

He turned and waved a long arm at a passing taxi. The driver curved his
machine up to the curb.

"Come on!" said Verba, making to cross the sidewalk.

"Come on where?" asked Offutt.

"We're going to University Place--you and me," said Verba, quickened and
alive all over with his inspiration. "We're going down to Scudder's
Theatre. Didn't know there was such a theatre as Scudder's, did you?
Well, there is--what's left of it. We're going down there to find Old
Bird Bateman. That's where he was, last accounts. And if the booze
hasn't got him he's going to play that damn grandfather in this show of
yours."

"Can he do it?"

Verba halted with one foot in the taxi.

"Can he do it? Watch him, boy--that's all! Just watch him. Say, it's a
notion--digging that old boy out of the graveyard.

"You never heard of him and I'd forgotten him; but you take a lot of
these old-timers who don't think there've been any actors since Fanny
Davenport and Billy Florence--they'll remember him. And you bet they'll
come to see him. We'll give this town a sensation--and that's what it
loves, this town--sensations."

Once upon a time--that was when he was a green reporter newly come to
town--Offutt had known, more or less minutely, almost every prowlable
inch of the tip of the long seamy tongue of rock that is called
Manhattan Island. Now, as a story-writer and a play-writer, he only went
down there when he sought for local colour in Greenwich Village, or
around Washington Square or on the lower East Side. As for Verba, he
found his local colour, ready-mixed, in scene-painters' pots and make-up
boxes. Being a typical New Yorker--if there is such a thing--he was as
insular, as provincial, as closely bound to his own briefened ranging
ground as none but a typical New Yorker can be. To him this wasn't a
metropolis of five boroughs, many bridges and five-and-a-half millions.
To him this was a strip of street, something less than two miles long,
with shorter stretches of street meeting it at right angles, east and
west, as ribs meet a spine. His map of New York would have resembled
a codfish's skeleton, its head aiming toward far-away Harlem, the fork
in its tail pointing to the distant Battery. To him therefore
Twenty-third Street was Farthest South. What might lie below was in the
Antarctic Circle of community life.

They crossed Twenty-third Street and invaded a district grown strange to
his eyes--a district where tall loft buildings, the successors to the
sweatshops of an earlier, but not very much earlier, day, mounted, floor
by floor, above the humbler roofs of older houses. They crossed
Fourteenth, the taxi weaving a way through dense masses of men who
gabbled in strange tongues among themselves, for lunch-time had come and
the garment workers, the feather-workers and the fur-workers, deserting
their work benches for an hour, had flocked into the open, packing the
sidewalks and overflowing upon the asphalt, to chaffer and gossip and
take the air. Just below Fourteenth Street they swung eastward and
turned into University Place, which is a street of past memories and
present acute activities, and, in a minute, obeying Verba's
instructions, their driver brought them to a standstill before a certain
number.

"Give it the once-over," advised Verba as he climbed out and felt in his
pocket for the fare. "You can figure for yourself how far out of the
world it is--nobody's had the nerve to try to open it up as a
moving-picture palace. And that's the tip-off on any shack in this burg
that'll hold a crowd, a screen and a projecting machine all at the same
time."

Offutt looked, and marvelled that he had never noticed this place before
since surely, covering assignments or on exploration jaunts, he must
have passed it by a score of times. It stood midway of the block. On one
side of it was a little pawnshop, its single grimy window filled with
the strange objects which persons acquire, seemingly, for pawning
purposes exclusively--sword-canes and mandolins with mother-of-pearl
insets in them, and moss-agate cuff buttons. On the other side was a
trunk store with half of its wares cluttering the narrow-door passage
and signs everywhere displayed to inform the public that the proprietor
was going out of business and must sell his stock at an enormous
sacrifice, wherefore until further notice, perfectly ruinous prices
would prevail. It appears to be a characteristic of all trunk-stores
that their proprietors are constantly going out of business and that
their contents, invariably, are to be had below cost.

Between these two establishments gaped a recessed and cavernous entryway
flanked by two big stone pillars of a dropsical contour and spanned over
at the top by a top-heavy cornice ponderously and painfully Corinthian
in aspect. The outjutting eaves rested flat on the coping stones and
from there the roof gabled up sharply. Old gates, heavily chained and
slanting inward, warded the opening between the pair of pillars, so that
the mouth of the place was muzzled with iron, like an Elizabethan
shrew's.

Above, the building was beetle-browed; below, it was dish-faced. A
student of architectural criminology would pause before this facade and
take notes.

The space inclosed within the skewed and bent gate pickets was a snug
harbour for the dust of many a gritty day. There were little grey drifts
of it at the foot of each of the five steps that led up to the flagged
floor level; secretions of grime covered the barred double doors on
beyond the steps, until the original colour was only to be guessed at;
scraps of dodgers, pieces of newspaper and tattered handbills adhered to
every carved projection at the feet of the columns, like dead leaves
about tree boles in the woods.

On the frieze overhead might be made out, in lettering that once had
been gold-leafed, the line: Scudder's Family Theatre. The words were
scarcely decipherable now. Bill-posters had coated every available inch
of space with snipes and sheets.

Verba shook the gates until the hasps gritted and the chains clanged.

"Nobody at home," he said. "I guess the sheriff locked her up when the
lawsuits started and then threw away the key. Well, let's scout round.
Somebody's sure to know our man; they told me Bateman was a
neighbourhood character down here. A cop ought to be able to help
us--only I don't see one. Maybe they don't have cops in this street."

Speculatively his eyes ranged the vista up and down the block and
opposite. He pointed to a saloon diagonally across the way, next door to
the first corner south.

"When in doubt," he said, "ask everybody's friend. Come on; we'll go
over and brace the barkeep."

A young man, with a humorous slant to his eyebrows and dark hair combed
back from the forehead in neatly ornate scallops, pulled down the front
of a reasonably clean white jacket and spread both hands on the bar,
awaiting their pleasure.

"Mister Wine Clerk," said Verba, using the ceremonial title of his
Tenderloin range, "we're trying to find an old boy named Bateman--Burton
Bateman, retired actor by profession. Ever hear of him?"

"Sure!" assented the barkeeper. "He's part of the fixtures--Old Bird is;
but he ain't about now. To ketch him, you've come an hour late."

"Lives round here somewhere, doesn't he?"

"Search me," said the young man succinctly. "I guess he don't exactly
live anywhere--not in a regular lodging house or anything like that.
See? I never asked him--him being sort of touchy about his private
affairs--but I guess he sleeps in some hole somewhere. He mostly does
his scoffin' here though--as a guest of the house."

"Does his what here?" asked Verba.

"His scoffin'--his feedin'. See?" The young man flirted a thumb in the
direction of the free-lunch counter.

"Oh! He eats here?"

"You said it! The boss--man that owns this liquor store--is a kind of an
old-timer round here himself. I've heard him say he knowed The Bird away
back yonder when the old theatre 'crost the street was runnin' and
things was breakin' better for the old boy than what they do now. So he
stakes him to a drink every now and then--Old Bird won't take a piece of
change, but he will take a drink--and he lets him browse off the free
lunch all he's a mind to.

"He comes driftin' in here twicet a day regular and fills up on chow
for nothin'! But he's been here already and left to-day--'bout an hour
ago. I figure he won't be back now till 'long about four or five
o'clock."

Verba became cognisant of a tugging at his coat. An incredibly small,
incredibly ragged boy, with some draggled first editions under his arm,
had wormed silently in between his legs and was looking up at him with
one eye. The boy had only one eye to look with. The other eye was a
flattened slit over a sunken socket.

"Mister! Say, Mister!" beseeched the gamin earnestly. "Gimme fi' cent
and I'll----"

"Hey, you, Blinky!" interposed the barkeeper, bending over the bar to
see the small intruder. "Beat it!"

There was a scurrying thud of bare feet on the tiled floor and the
wizened intruder magically had vanished between the swinging doors.

"You gents can sit down and wait if you want to," said the barkeeper.
"It's liable to be a long time though. Or I can tell Old Bird, when he
comes in, somebody's askin' for him and try to hold him for you. I could
phone you even, if it's important--if you'll gimme your number."

"It is important--in a way," said Verba. "Suppose we do that,
Offutt--give the wine clerk our telephone number."

He laid a coin and a card on the bar. The young man regarded the name
and the address on the card briefly.

"All right!" he said, depositing the coin in his pocket and the card
against the mirror at his back. "I won't forget. The old boy don't have
many people lookin' for him. Fact is, I don't remember he ever had
anybody lookin' for him before. Are you gents friends of his? ... No?
Well, anyhow, I'll fix it."

"Funny old sneezer!" he continued. "Dippy a little up here, I guess."

He tapped himself on the forehead.

"If he had a habit I'd say sometimes he was hopped. F'r instance, he'll
come in here and spiel off something to me 'bout havin' been in his
Louie Kahn's drawin'-room--anyhow, that's what it sounds like. The only
Louie Kahn round here that I know of runs a junk shop over in Ninth
Street. And it's a cinch that Louie Kahn ain't got no drawin'-room. Or
he'll tell me he's been spendin' the day on the seabeach. Only yes'day
he was handin' me that junk."

"Mightn't he have taken a little run down to Coney?" suggested Verba
hopefully.

"Go to Coney--him!" scoffed the barkeeper. "Where'd he raise the coin
for carfare down to Coney? You can take it from me, gents, Old Bird
forgot what the sad sea waves sound like, long time ago. I'll lay you a
little eight-to-five he ain't been a quarter of a mile away from this
liquor store in ten years. ... Well, good day, gents."

"It strikes me, Verba," began Offutt as they passed out, "that possibly
we're only wasting our time. If what that gabby young drink wrestler
just said is right we're----"

Something wriggled at his knees and caromed off against Verba. A single
bright, greedy eye appraised them with an upward flash.

"Mister! Mister, listen!" pleaded a voice, the owner of which managed
somehow to be in the path of both of them at once. "I heard yous
spielin' in there. I know where Old Boid is. I kin show yous where he
is."

"Where is he?" demanded Verba.

"Gimme fi' cent--gimme ten cent--first. It's a secrut. It's worth ten
cent."

"It is," agreed Verba gravely. "It's worth all of ten cents now and
it'll be worth a quarter more to you, sonny, if you deliver the goods."

He tendered the advance instalment of the fee and a hand, all claws like
a bird's foot, snatched it away from him.

Blinky carefully pouched the dime in some unfathomable inner recess of
his rags. Having provided against any attempt to separate him from the
retainer in the event of the negotiations falling through, his code of
honour asserted itself.

"It's a secrut. See? They ain't nobody but me and two-t'ree udder kids
wise to it. Yous gotta swear yous won't tell 'im nor nobody 'twas me
tipped yous off. If yous did it'd spoil me graft--he'd be sore. See?
Cold nights he lets us kids bunk in there wit' 'im. And daytimes we
plays audiunce for 'im. See?"

"You play what for him?" asked Offutt.

"C'm on, an' I'll show yous," bade Blinky. "Only yous is gotta lay dead
w'ile it's comin' off. See?"

"We'll lay dead," pledged Verba.

Satisfied, Blinky led the way. Mystified, they followed. He led them
back across University Place again; and on past Scudder's Family
Theatre, with the lowering stone frontal bone above and, below, the wide
maw, bitted and gagged by its scold's bridle of snaffled iron; and on
round the corner below into a fouled, dingy cross street.

Beyond the canvas marquee of a small walled-in beer garden the child
went nimbly through a broken panel in a short stretch of aged and
tottery wooden fencing. Wriggling through the gap behind him they found
themselves in a small inclosure paved with cracked flagging. Confronting
them was a short flight of iron steps, leading up to a wide,
venerable-appearing doorway, which once, as the visible proof showed,
had been sealed up with plank shorings, nailed on in vertical strips.

"One of the old side entrances to Scudder's," said Verba. "Where the
carriages used to wait, I guess. The plot thickens--eh, Offutt?"

Offutt nodded, his eyes being on their small guide. A little sense of
adventure possessed them both. They had the feeling of being
co-conspirators in a little intrigue.

"Wotcher waitin' fur?" demanded Blinky. "Stick wit' me and don't make no
noise." He climbed the iron steps and shoved the nail-pocked door ajar.
"Watch yer step!" he counselled as he vanished within. "It's kind o'
dark in yere."

Kind o' dark was right. Straining their eyes they stumbled along a black
passage, with Blinky going on ahead silently. They turned once to the
left and once to the right and emerged, where the light was somewhat
clearer, into the shelter of a recess just behind the lower boxes of the
abandoned playhouse.

"Wow!" said Verba in a sort of reverential undertone, as though he stood
in the presence of death. "I haven't been here in twenty-odd years. Why,
the last time I was here I was a kid!"

Veritably he did stand in the presence of death. The place looked dead
and smelled dead and was dead. The air was heavy-laden with bone-yard
scents--rot and corrosion and rust and dust. With the taints of moulded
leather and gangrened metal, of worm-gnawed woodwork and moth-eaten
fabrics, arose also from beneath their feet that other stench which
inevitably is begotten of neglect and lonesomeness within any spot
inclosed by walls and a roof, provided sun and wind and human usage are
excluded from it long enough. Offutt sniffed and, over Verba's
shoulder, looked about him.

He could make out his immediate surroundings fairly well, for the
curtains that had guarded the windows in the hip roof and round one
upper side of the building were turned by decay into squares of
lace-work, patterned with rents and with cracks; and in some instances
they had fetched away from their fastenings altogether.

Through the glass panes, and through the grime that bleared the glass,
a measure of daylight filtered, slanting in pale bluish streaks, like
spilt skim milk; on vistas of the faded red-plush chairs; on the
scrolled and burdened decorations of the proscenium arch; on the seamy,
stained curtain; on the torn and musty hangings of the boxes; on an
enormous gas chandelier which, swinging low over the pit from the domed
ceiling above, was so clumped with swathings of cobweb that it had
become a great, dangling grey cocoon.

Curving in wide swings from above their heads to the opposite side ran
three balconies, rising one above the other, and each supported by many
fat pillars. The spaces beneath these galleries were shadowy and dark,
seeming to stretch away endlessly. So, too, was the perspective of the
lower floor, at the back, elaborated by the gloom into a vast, yawning
mouth which fairly ached with its own emptiness. But at the front the
screened angles of sunlight, stippled as they were with billions of
dancing motes, brought out clearly enough the stage of the old theatre
and, down under the lip of the stage, the railed inclosure of the
orchestra and, at either side, the scarred bulkheads and fouled drapings
of the stage boxes, upper tier and lower tier.

Close at hand Offutt was aware of crawling things which might be
spiders, and a long grey rat which scuffled across the floor almost
beneath his feet, dragging its scaled tail over the boards with a nasty
rasping sound. He heard other rats squealing and gnawing in the
wainscoting behind him. He was aware, also, of the dirt, which scabbed
and crusted everything. And he felt as though he had invaded the vault
of an ancient tomb. Sure enough, in a manner of speaking, he had done
just that.

"Some place--huh, mister?" said the small gutter-sparrow proudly, and,
though he spoke in a whisper, Offutt jumped. "Stick yere, yous two,"
ordered the child. "Somethin'll be comin' off in a minute."

Seemingly he had caught a signal or a warning not visible to the older
intruders. Leaving them, he ran briskly down a side aisle, and
apparently did not care now how much noise he might make, for he whooped
as he ran. He flung his papers aside and perched himself in a chair at
the very front of the pit. He briskly rattled the loose back of the
chair in front of him, and, inserting two dirty fingers at the corners
of his mouth, emitted the shrill whistle by which a gallery god, since
first gallery gods were created into an echoing world, has testified to
his impatient longings that amusement be vouchsafed him.

As though the whistle had been a command, the daubed old curtain
shivered and swayed. A dead thing was coming to life. Creaking
dolefully, it rolled up and up until it had rolled up entirely out of
sight.

A back drop, lowered at a point well down front, made the stage shallow.
Once upon a time this back drop had been intended to represent a stretch
of beach with blue rollers breaking on beyond. Faded as it was, and
stained and cracked and scaly as it was now, the design of the artist
who painted it was yet discernible; for he plainly had been one who held
by the pigmented principle that all sea sands be very yellow and all sea
waves be very blue.

Out of the far wings came a figure of a man, crossing the narrowed space
to halt midway of the stage, close up to the tin gutter where the
tipless prongs of many gas-jet footlights stood up like the tines in a
garden rake. Verba's hand tightened on Offutt's arm, dragging him
farther back into the shadows, and Verba's voice spoke, with a soft,
tense caution, in Offutt's ear: "Lord! Lord!" Verba almost breathed the
words out. "'Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your----' Look yonder,
Offutt! It's him!"

He might have spared the urging. Offutt was looking and, without being
told, knew the man at whom he looked was the man the two of them had
come here to find. The lone gamin in the pit clapped his talons of hands
together, making a feeble, thin sound. To this applause, as to a rousing
greeting, the figure behind the footlights bowed low, then straightened.
And Offutt could see, by one of the slanting bars of tarnished daylight,
which stabbed downward through the dusk of the place, that the man up
there on the stage was a very old man, with a heavy, leonine face and
heavy brows and deep-set, big grey eyes, and a splendid massive head
mopped with long, coarse white hair; and he was dressed as a fop of
sixty years ago and he carried himself so.

The slash of indifferent sunshine, slicing into the gloom like a dulled
sword blade, rested its lowermost tip full upon him. It brought out the
bleached pallor of his skin, for his face was free from any suggestion
of make-up, and it showed the tears and frays in his costume, and the
misshapen shoes that were on his feet, and the high-shouldered,
long-tailed coat and the soiled, collarless shirt which he wore beneath
the once gorgeous velvet waistcoat.

In one hand he held, by a dainty grip on the brim, a flat-crowned derby
hat, and between the fingers of the other hand twirled a slender black
walking stick, with the shreds of a silken tassel adhering to it. And
everything about him, barring only the shoes and the shirt, which
plainly belonged to his everyday apparel, seemed fit to fall apart with
age and with shabbiness.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said--and his voice filled all the empty
house by reason of its strength and its toned richness--"with your kind
indulgence I shall begin this entertainment with an attempt at an
imitation of the elder Sothern in his famous rôle of Lord Dundreary,
depicting him as he appeared in one of the scenes from that sterling and
popular comedy, Our American Cousin, by Tom Taylor, Esquire."

With that, instantly stepping into character, he took a mincing, jaunty
pace or two sideways. Half turning toward an imaginary confrère and
addressing that mythical listener, he began a speech which, being pieced
together with other speeches, at once lengthened into a kind of
monologue. But he knew the lines--that was plain; and he knew the part,
too, and for the moment lived and breathed it, and in all regards
veritably was it. That, likewise, the watching pair of eavesdroppers
could realise, though neither of them was of sufficient age to remember,
even had he seen, the great craftsman whose work old Bateman now was
counterfeiting.

The interlopers looked on and, under the spell of a wizardry, forgot
indeed they were interlopers. For before their eyes they saw,
wonderfully re-created, a most notable conception, and afterward would
have sworn, both of them, that all of it--the drawl and the lisp, the
exaggerated walk, the gestures, the play of leg and arm, the swing of
body, the skew of head, the lift of eyebrow even--was as true and as
faithful to the original as any mirrored image might be to the image
itself.

How long they stood and watched neither Verba nor Offutt was
subsequently able to say with any reasonable exactitude. It might have
been four minutes; it might have been six, or even eight. When later,
taking counsel together, they sought to reckon up the time, the
estimates varied so widely they gave up trying to reconcile them.

This much, though, they were sure of--that, in his mumming, old Bateman
rose magically triumphant above the abundant handicaps of his own years
and his own physique, his garb and his environment. Doing the undoable,
he for the moment threw aside his years as one might throw aside the
weight of a worn-out garment, and for that moment, to suit his own
designs of mimicry, made floods of strength and youthfulness course
through those withered arteries.

The old man finished with a whimsical turn of his voice and a flirt of
his cane to match it. He bowed himself off with the hand which held the
hat at his breast, and promptly on the second he disappeared the
ancient curtain began to descend, Blinky meanwhile clapping with all his
puny might.

Offutt turned to his companion. Behind the shelter of the box Verba's
lean, dark face was twitching.

"Is he there? Can he act? Was I right?" Verba asked himself each
question, and himself answered each with a little earnest nod. "Gee,
what a find!"

"Not a find, Verba," whispered Offutt--"a resurrection--maybe. We've
seen a genius in his grave."

"And we're going to dig him up." In his intentness Verba almost panted
it. "Wait! Wait!" he added warningly then, though Offutt had not offered
to stir. "This is going to be a Protean stunt, I take it. Let's let him
show some more of his goods; for, by everything that's holy, he's got
'em!"

Up once more the curtain lifted, seemingly by its own motive power; and
now the seaside drop was raised, and they beheld that, behind it, the
stage had been dressed for another scene--a room in a French house. A
secrétaire, sadly battered and marred, stood at one side; a bookcase
with broken doors and gaping, empty shelves stood at the other,
balancing it off. Down stage was an armchair. Its tapestry upholstering
was rotted through and a freed spiral of springs upcoiled like a slender
snake from its cushioned seat. All three pieces were of a
pattern--"Louie-the-Something stuff," Verba would have called them.

A table, placed fronting the chair but much nearer the right lower
entrance than the chair was, and covered with a faded cloth that
depended almost to the floor, belonged evidently to the same set. The
scenery at the back showed a balcony, with a wide French window, open,
in the middle. Beyond the window dangled a drop, dingy and discoloured
as all the rest was, but displaying dimly a jumble of painted housetops
and, far away in the simulated distance, the Arc de Triomphe. The
colours were almost obliterated, but the suggestion of perspective
remained, testifying still to the skill of the creator.

From the wings where they had seen him vanish Bateman reappeared. The
trousers and the shoes were those he had worn before; but now, thrown on
over his shirt, was the melancholy wreck of what once had been a blue
uniform coat, with huge epaulets upon the shoulders and gold braid upon
the collar and the cuffs, and brass buttons to fasten it in
double-breasted fashion down the front. Now, though, it hung open. Some
of the buttons were missing, and the gold lacings were mere blackened
wisps of rags.

Bateman came on slowly, with dragging feet, his arms and legs and head
quivering in a violent palsy. He stared out of the window as he let
himself down carefully into the ruined armchair. His first movement
proved that he played a venerable, very decrepit man--a man near death
from age and ailments; yet by his art he managed to project, through the
fleshly and physical weaknesses of the character, a power of dignity, of
dominance, and of mental authority. He rolled his head back weakly.

"'My child,'" he said, addressing a make-believe shape before him, "'I
must help to receive our brave, victorious troops. See! I am fittingly
dressed to do them honour.'"

His tones were pitched in the cracked cackle of senility. He paused, as
though for an answer out of space. His inflection told as he, in turn,
replied that this answer had been a remonstrance:

"'No, no, no!'" he said almost fiercely. "'You must not seek to dissuade
me.'"

The words stung Verba's memory, raising a welt of recollection there.

"I've got it!" he said exultantly, not forgetting, though, to keep his
voice down. "Siege of Berlin, by that French fellow--what's his
name?--Daudet!"

"I remember the story," answered Offutt.

"I remember the play," said Verba. "Somebody dramatised it--Lord knows
who--and Scudder put it on here as a curtain raiser. I saw it myself,
Offutt--think of that! Sitting up yonder in the old peanut roost--a kid
no bigger than that kid down there--I saw it. And now I'm seeing it
again; seeing Burt Bateman play the part of the old paralytic--you
know, the old French officer who was fooled by his doctor and his
granddaughter into believing the French had licked the Germans, when all
the time 'twas the other way and----"

"Sh-h!" counselled Offutt.

After another little wait Bateman was going on with his scene:

"'Listen! Listen!'" he cried, cupping a tremulous palm behind his ear.
"'Do you not hear them far away?--the trumpets--the trumpets of
victorious France! Our forces have entered Berlin! Thank God! Thank God!
All Paris will celebrate. I must greet them from the balcony.'"

With a mighty effort he reared himself to his feet, straightening his
slanted shoulders, erecting his lolled head. His fingers fumbled at
button and buttonhole, fastening his coat at the throat. He swung one
arm imperiously, warding off imaginary hands.

"'The trumpets! The trumpets! Hark! They come nearer and nearer! They
sound for the victory of France--for a heroic army. I will go! Doctor or
no doctor, I pay my homage this day to our glorious army. Stand back,
_ma chérie_!'"

Offutt, fifty feet away, caught himself straining his ears to hear those
trumpets too. A rat ran across his foot and Offutt never knew it.

"'They come! They come!'" chuckled Bateman.

He dragged himself up stage, mounted the two stairs to the balcony, and
stood in the window, at attention, to salute the tri-coloured flag. Nor
did he forget to keep his face half turned to the body of the house.

He smiled; and the two unseen spies, staring at that profiled head, saw
the joy that was in the smile. Then, in the same moment, the expression
changed. Dumb astonishment came first--an unbelieving astonishment; then
blank stupefaction; then the shock of horrified understanding; then
unutterable rage.

Offutt recalled the tale from which the playlet had been evolved, and
Verba, for his part, recalled the playlet; but, had neither known what
they knew, the both of them, guided and informed only by the quality of
Bateman's acting, still could have anticipated the climax now impending;
and, lacking all prior acquaintance with the plot of it, yet would have
read that the cripple, expecting to cheer his beloved French, saw
advancing beneath the Arc de Triomphe the heads of the conquering
Germans, and heard, above the calling bugles, not the Marseillaise, but
the strains of a Teuton marching song. His back literally bristled with
his hate. He spun about full face, a mortally stricken man. His clenched
fists rose above his head in a command.

"'To arms! To arms!'" he screamed impotently, with the rattle already in
his throat. "'The Prussians! The Prus----'"

He choked, tottered down the steps, reeled forward and fell headlong out
into the room, rolling in the death spasm behind the draped table; and
as, ten seconds later, the curtain began to unroll from above and
lengthen down, Offutt found himself saying over and over again,
mechanically:

"Why, he's gone, isn't he?"

"He kept the table between him and the house and crawled out behind
it--trust him not to spoil his picture!" explained Verba. "And trust him
to know the tricks of his trade." He tugged at Offutt's elbow. "Come on,
boy; I've seen enough and so have you, I guess. Let's go sign him."

He fumbled at the wall.

"Side passageway back to the stage ought to be round here somewhere.
Here it is--that's lucky!"

Guiding himself by the touching of his outstretched hands upon the walls
of the opening, Verba felt his way behind the box, with Offutt stumbling
along in his rear. So progressing, they came to an iron-sheathed door.
Verba lifted its latch and they were in a place of rancid smells and
cluttering stage duffel. Roaches fled in front of them. On their left a
small wooden door stood partly ajar, and through the cranny they looked,
as they passed, into a dressing room, where a pallet of old hangings
covered half the floor space, and all manner of dingy stock costumings
and stage trappings hung upon hooks.

"Here's where he must sleep," said Verba. "What a place for a white man
to be living in!"

He felt for his handkerchief to wipe his soiled hands, and then together
they saw Bateman advancing toward them from out of the extreme rear of
the stage. Over his shoulders was thrown a robe of heavy ragged sacking
and upon his face he had hung a long, false beard of white hair. He
glared at them angrily. And Offutt, in instantaneous appraisal,
interpreted most surely the look out of those staring big grey eyes.

Verba extended his hand and opened his mouth to speak; but Bateman was
already speaking.

"What business have you here?" he demanded. "Strangers are not permitted
here during performances. How came the stage doorkeeper to admit you? He
has been here too long, that doorkeeper, and he grows careless. I shall
have him discharged."

"But, Mr. Bateman," began Verba, half puzzled, half insistent, "I'm in
the business myself. I want to----"

"Stand aside!" ordered the old man almost violently. "You cannot have
been long in the business, young sir, else you would be more mannerly
than to interrupt an artist when his public calls for him. Out of my
way, please!"

He strutted by them in stilted vanity and gripped the lifting ropes of
the old curtain where they swung in the near angle of the wings, and
pulled downward on them with an unexpected display of muscular force.
The curtain rose; and as Blinky, still at his place, uplifted a little
yell of approbation the old man, bending his shoulders, passed out into
the centre of the French drawing-room set and, extending a quivering
hand, uttered sonorously the command:

"'Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!'"

"The mad scene from King Lear," said Offutt.

"Sure--Shakspere!" agreed Verba. "Old Scudder was a bug on that Bard
stuff. So was Bateman. He used to know it from cover to cover--Othello,
Hamlet, Lear--the whole string. ... Anyhow, Offutt, I've found the only
man to do the grandfather's part in that show of yours, haven't I?"

"I'm sorry to say it, Verba, but you're wrong," stated Offutt.

"How do you mean--I'm wrong?" demanded Verba irritably. Out of the
corner of his mouth he aimed the protest at his companion; but his eyes,
through the gap of the first entrance, were fixed on Bateman as he
strode back and forth, and his ears drank in the splendid full-lunged
volume and thrill of Bateman's voice as the player spoke snatches from
the play. "He's not too old--if that's what you mean; he's just about
old enough. And he's all there, even if he is old. Didn't you see the
strength he had when he hoisted up that heavy curtain?"

"I think I know where that strength came from," said Offutt. "Just a
minute, Verba--did you ever hear of the Great Auk?"

"He was in vaudeville, wasn't he?" asked Verba, still staring at
Bateman. "A trick juggler or something?"

Offutt forgot to smile.

"The Great Auk was a bird," he said.

"Oh, I see; and I've been calling Bateman Old Bird," said Verba. "I get
you."

"No, you don't get me," went on Offutt. "The Great Auk was a rare
creature. It got rarer and rarer until they thought it had vanished.
They sent an expedition to the Arctic Circle, or wherever it was the
thing bred, to get one specimen for the museums; but they came back
without it. And now the Great Auk is an extinct species."

"What the devil are you driving at?" snapped Verba, swinging on him.

"Listen yonder!" bade the dramatist. "That old man out yonder is telling
you, himself, in better words than I could tell you."

He pointed a finger through the wings. Craning their necks, they heard
the deep voice speak the lines:

  "'Pray, do not mock me:
  I am a very foolish fond old man,
  Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;
  And, to deal plainly,
  I fear I am not in my perfect mind.'"

Verba hearkened and he understood. After a little he nodded in gloomy
affirmation of the younger man's belief.

"I guess you're right, Offutt," he said disappointedly. "I guess I'd
have seen it, too, only I was so sort of carried away. Real acting does
me that way--when I see it, which ain't often."

He paused a minute in uncertainty. Then resolution came to him.

"Well," he said, "come on; there's no use of our hanging round here any
longer. I'll give Blinky his quarter--he certainly earned it ten times
over--and then we'll go back uptown, and I'll telephone Grainger he can
have his seventy-five more a week."

"But what are we going to do about--him?" Offutt indicated who he meant
with a wave of his arm toward the stage.

It was Verba's turn. Verba knew the stage and its people and its ways as
Offutt would never know them. He had been an actor, Verba had, before he
turned managing director for Cohalan & Hymen.

"What are we going to do about him?" he repeated; and then, as though
surprised that the other should be asking the question: "Why, nothing!
Offutt, every haunted house is entitled to its ghost. This is a haunted
house if ever there was one; and there's its ghost, standing out there.
You mentioned an extinct species, didn't you? Well, you were dead
right, son. So take your good-by look now, before we go, at the last of
a great breed. There'll be no more like him, I'm thinking."

"But we can't leave him here like this!" said Offutt. "His mind is
gone--you admit it yourself. They've got hospitals and asylums in this
state--and homes too. It would be a mercy to take him with us."

"Mercy? It would be the dam'dest cruelty on earth!" snapped Verba. "How
long do you suppose he'd live in an asylum if we tore him up by the
roots and dragged him away from this place? A week? I tell you, a week
would be a blamed long time. No, sir; we leave him right here. And we'll
keep our mouths shut about this too. Come on!"

He tiptoed to the iron door and opened it softly. Then, with his hand on
the latch, he halted.

Bateman was just finishing. He spoke the mad king's mad tag-line and got
himself off the stage. He unreeled the stay rope from its chock. The
curtain rumbled down. Through it the insistent smacking of Blinky's
skinny paws could be heard.

Smiling proudly the old man listened to the sound. He forgot their
presence behind him. He stood waiting. Blinky kept on applauding--Blinky
was wise in his part too. Then, still smiling, Bateman stripped off his
beard, and, putting forth a bony white hand, he plucked aside the
flapping curtain and stepped forth once more.

Scrouging up behind him and holding the curtain agape, they saw him bow
low to the pit where Blinky was, and to the empty boxes, and to the
yawning emptiness of each balcony; and they knew that to him this was
not a mangy cavern of dead memories and dead traditions and dead days,
peopled only by gnawing rats and crawling vermin and one lone little
one-eyed street boy, but a place of living grandeurs and living
triumphs. And when he spoke, then they knew he spoke, not to one but to
a worshipping, clamorous host.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, with a bearing of splendid conceit, "I
thank you for the ovation you have given me. To an artist--to an artist
who values his art--such moments as this are most precious----"

"Come on, Offutt!" whispered Verba huskily. "Leave him taking his
call."



CHAPTER VII

FIRST CORINTHIANS
CHAP. XIII., v. 4


Since this must deal in great part with the Finkelstein family and what
charity did for them, I began the task by seeking in the pages of an
invaluable book called Ten Thousand Familiar Quotations for a line that
suitably might serve as the text to my chapter. Delving there I came
upon abundant material, all of it more or less appropriate to our
present purpose. There were revealed at least a half a dozen extracts
from the works of writers of an established standing that might be made
to apply. For instance, Wordsworth, an English poet of the Early
Victorian Era, that period which gave so much of rhythmic thought to
Britain and so much of antirhythmic furniture to us, is credited with
having said:

 _The charities that soothe and heal and bless
  Are scattered at the feet of man like flowers._

Now that passage, at first blush, appeared exactly to fit the
Finkelsteins. Most certainly charities were scattered at their feet and
likewise showered on their heads.

However, before making a definite choice, I went deeper into this handy
volume. As a result, I exhumed an expression attributed to Pope--not one
of the Roman Popes, but Pope, Alex. (b. 1688; d. 1744)--to the effect
that

 _In faith and hope the world will disagree,
  But all mankind's concern is charity._

That statement likewise proved in a measure applicable. To the
Finkelsteins it must have seemed that all mankind's concern was charity,
devised for their especial benefit.

Now Hood takes an opposite view. In that choppy style of versification
so characteristic of this writer, Hood is discovered saying:

   _Alas for the rarity
    Of Christian charity
      Under the sun!_

Speaking with particular reference to the case in hand I must
respectfully but nevertheless firmly take issue with the late Hood.
Assuredly the components of this particular household group had no cause
to cavil concerning the rarity of Christian charity. Christian charity
went miles out of its way to lavish rich treasures from a full heart
upon them. Under the sun, too, under the rays of an ardent and a
scorching sun, was some of it bestowed. But of that phase, more--as the
fancy writers say--anon.

The Scriptures were found to abound in reference to this most precious
of the human virtues. What does Peter say? Peter--First Epistle, fourth
chapter and eighth verse--says: "Charity shall cover the multitude of
sins." Here, too, a point might be stretched without giving offence to
any interested party. I cannot deny there were a multitude of
Finkelsteins. That, there is no gainsaying.

Elsewhere in the Good Book it is set forth: "Though I speak with the
tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as
sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; ... and"--furthermore--"though I
have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity,
I am nothing."

One of the most significant recollections of at least two members of the
Finkelstein family in their experiences with the manifestations of
charity was associated with mountains. And was not the occasion of the
outing of the _Evening Dispatch's_ Fresh Air Fund made glad by the
presence and the activities of Prof. Washington Carter's All-Coloured
Silver Cornet Band? If ever you heard this organisation you would know
that, when it came to sounding brass and cymbals which tinkled when not
engaged in clashing, no band had anything whatsoever on Prof. Washington
Carter's.

But it was hard by, in the Testaments, that I happened on the one verse
which seemed best to sum up the situation in its more general aspects;
and notably the first three words of the said verse. The text has been
chosen, therefore, after much consideration of the subject and its
merits.

To proceed: In Pike Street, approximately midway of a block that enjoys
the dubious distinction of being a part of the most congested district
of the globe, up four flights of stairs and thence back to the extreme
rear, the Finkelstein family, at the time of its discovery, resided.
There were many of them and their lot was very lowly. To begin at the
top, there was Papa Finkelstein, a man bearded and small, shrinking,
unobtrusive and diffident; fashioned with sloping shoulders and an
indented chest as though in his extreme youth, when his bones were
supple and yielding, a partly successful effort had been made to crowd
him, head first, into a narrow-mouthed jar. His back was bent, for he
was of the race that for more than nineteen centuries has borne,
palfrey-like, upon its patient spines the persecutions of the world.

Next in order came Mamma Finkelstein, hiding her dark head beneath a wig
of slick brown horsehair in accordance with the same ritual which
ordained that her husband should touch not the corners of his beard. To
attend to the business of multiplying and replenishing the earth with
Finkelsteins was her chief mission in life. From the family stepladder
of these two no rungs were missing. Indeed, about a third of the way
down there was a double rung--to wit, twins. The married life of the
pair extended over a period of less than eleven years and already there
were eight little Finkelsteins, ranging from little to littler to
littlest.

Papa Finkelstein was by profession an old-clo' man. It was his custom to
go into the favoured sections where people laid aside their weathered
habiliments instead of continuing to wear them, and there watching on
street corners to waylay pedestrians of an ample and prosperous aspect,
and to inquire of them in his timid and twisted English, whether they
had any old clothes to sell. A prospective seller being by this method
interested, Papa Finkelstein would accompany the other to his
apartment--follow him, rather--and when discarded garments had been
fetched forth from closets and piled in a heap upon the floor he would
gaze deprecatingly at the accumulation and then, with the air of one who
courts ruin by his excessive generosity, tender one dollar and
thirty-five cents for the entire lot.

So far so good, this course being in perfect accord with the ethics of
the old-clo' business. But if, as most generally, the owner of the
raiment indignantly declined the first offer Papa Finkelstein was at a
loss to proceed with the negotiations. The chaffering; the bargaining;
the raising of the amount in ten-cent advances, each advance accompanied
by agonised outcry; the pretended departure; the reluctant return from
the door; the protest; the entreaty; the final gesture, betokening
abject and complete surrender, with which the buyer came up to two
dollars and fifteen cents--all this, so agreeable to the nature of the
born old-clo' man, was quite beyond him. Oftener than not, the trading
ended in no trade.

Or if a bargain was arrived at, if he bore away his bundled purchases to
the old-clothes mart on Bayard Street, just off the Bowery, where daily
the specialist in sick hats, let us say, swaps decrepit odd trousers and
enfeebled dress waistcoats for wares more suitable to his needs, still
he tempted bankruptcy. Sharper wits than his, by sheer weight of
dominance, bore him down and trafficked him, as the saying goes, out of
his eyeteeth. He could have taken over a tannery and run it into a
shoestring in no time at all. Many a day was there when he returned home
at eventide with nothing to show for his day's industry except
lamentable memories and two tired flat feet.

Lacking the commercial instinct, he was a failure in trade; lacking,
too, the artistic, neither would he have made headway with his
coreligionists as a professional _Schnorrer_. By persistent and
devoutful attendance upon synagogue services, by the constant exhibition
of his poverty in public places, he might have enlisted the sympathies
of the benevolent among his fellow worshippers. But he was a dilettante
in the practice of piety, even as in the practice of the old-clo'
business. Except as the head of a family, he was what this world is
pleased to call a failure.

From all this I would not have you jump at the conclusion that Papa and
Mamma Finkelstein and their steadily accruing progeny constituted an
unhappy group. Mere precarious existence and the companionship of one
another spelled for them contentment. The swarming East Side satisfied
them as an abiding place. To the adults it was a better home by far than
the drear, dreadful land of pogroms and Black Hundreds from which they
had fled; to the younger ones it was the only home they had ever known.
They were used to its tormented sky lines, faced in on either side by
tall tenements and blocked across by the structures of elevated roads
and the stone loops of viaducts; they were used to its secondhand
sunshine that filtered down to them through girders and spans. To them
the high arch of the Bridge approach was an acceptable substitute for
the rainbow; their idea of the profusion of Nature was a tiny square,
containing many green benches, a circular band stand, and here and there
a spindling tree.

Having nothing they craved for nothing. When there was food they ate
thereof; _kosher_ food preferably, though the food of the _Goyim_ was
not despised. When there was none they went without, feeding on the
thought of past feasts and the hope of future ones. Being without
knowledge of the commoner rule of hygiene, their days were neither
enhanced by its advantages nor disturbed by its observances.

With the coming of the winter Mamma Finkelstein sewed up her offspring,
all and sundry, in their heavy undergarments. Only one consideration
ever interposed to prevent her from so doing--the occasional absence of
any heavy undergarments in which to sew them up. To the pores, which
always ye have with ye, she gave no heed. An interrupted duct more or
less meant nothing to her, she being serenely unaware of the existence
of such things as ducts, anyhow. In the springtime she cut the stitches
and removed the garments, or such portions of them as had not been taken
up by natural process of absorption, finding her young, as now newly
revealed, to be pinkish, though soiled as to their skins, and in every
regard hale, hearty and wholesome.

Thus abided the Finkelsteins in their dire and happy extremity at the
time of their discovery. The manner of their being discovered came about
as follows:

Christmastide impended. The spirit of it was every where reflected: in
the price tags; in the swollen ankles and aching insteps of shop girls
on their feet behind counters twelve to fifteen hours a day; in the
harassed countenances and despairing eyes of shoppers; in the heaving
sides and drooping heads of wearied delivery-wagon teams; in the
thoughts of the children of the rich, dissatisfied because there was
nothing Santa Claus could bring them they didn't already have; in the
thoughts of the children of the poor, happy as they pressed their cold
little noses against the plate-glass fronts of toy shop windows and made
discriminating selection of the treasures which they would like for
Santa to bring them, but knowing at the same time he couldn't because of
his previous engagements among the best families.

This all-pervading spirit penetrated even into the newspaper offices,
borne thither upon the flapping wings of the full-page display
advertisements of our leading retail establishments. One of the
papers--the _Morning Advocate_--compiled a symposium of paragraphed
miseries under the title of the One Hundred Most Deserving Cases of
Charity, and on the Monday before Christmas printed it with a view to
enlisting the aid of the kindly disposed. The list was culled largely
from the files of various philanthropic organisations. But it so befell
that a reporter, who had been detailed on these assignments, was passing
through Pike Street on his way back to the office from one of the
settlement houses when he encountered Papa Finkelstein, homeward bound
after a particularly disappointing business day uptown.

The reporter was impressed much by the despondent droop of the little
man's sloping shoulders and by the melancholy smoulder in his big, dark
eyes; but more was he impressed by the costume of Papa Finkelstein. It
was a part of Papa Finkelstein's burden of affliction that he
customarily wore winter clothes in the summertime and summer clothes in
the wintertime. On this gusty, raw December day he wore somebody's
summer suit--a much larger somebody evidently--and a suit that in its
youth had been of light-coloured, lightweight flannel. It was still
lightweight.

Infolded within its voluminous breadths the present wearer shivered
visibly and drew his chilled hands farther up into its flapping sleeve
ends until he resembled the doubly mutilated victim of a planing-mill
mishap. If his expression was woebegone, his shoe soles were more--they
practically were all-begone. A battered derby hat--size about seven and
five-eighths--threatened total extinguishment of his face, being
prevented from doing so only by the circumstance of its brim resting and
pressing upon the upper flanges of the owner's ears. They were ears
providentially designed for such employment. Broad, wide and droopy,
they stood out from the sides of Papa Finkelstein's head like the horns
of the caribou.

This reporter was a good reporter. He knew a human-interest story when
he met it walking in the road. He turned about and tagged Papa
Finkelstein to his domicile and there, after briefly inspecting the
Finkelstein household in all its wealth of picturesque destitution, he
secured the names and the address from the head of it, who perhaps gave
the desired information all the more readily because he had not the
slightest idea of what use this inquiring stranger wished to make of it.

Half an hour later the reporter was saying to the irritable functionary
in charge of the _Advocate's_ news desk:

"Oh, so-so; just fair to middling, most of them; about the usual run of
shad. But, say, I've got one bird of a case. I dug it up myself--it's
not down on any of the records I got from the charity people. When it
comes to being plumb down and out none of them has anything on the meek
and lowly Finkelsteins."

"Good!" said the news editor. "You might lead with it if you want to.
No, I guess you'd better run 'em alphabetically--it won't do to be
playing favourites."

Mark now, how a little flame may kindle a large blaze: The afternoon
half sister of the _Morning Advocate_ was the _Evening Dispatch_.
Between the two papers, owned as they were by the same gentleman and
issued from the same printshop, a bitter rivalry prevailed; it generally
does in such instances.

On Tuesday morning the city editor of the _Evening Dispatch_ ran an
agile and practiced eye through the story the _Advocate_ had printed.
With his shears he chopped out the first column of it. With his pencil
he ringed one paragraph in the scissored section and then he lifted his
voice and called to him a young woman professionally known as Betty
Gwin, who sat in the city room at a desk somewhat withdrawn from copy
readers, rewriters and leg men. This distinction of comparative
aloofness was hers by right, she being a special-feature writer, under
yearly contract, and, therefore, belonging to the aristocracy of the
craft.

After the custom of her sex Miss Betty Gwin--whose real name, I may
state, in confidence, was Ferguson--first put a hand up to be sure that
her hair was quite right and then put it behind her to be sure her belt
made proper connection with her skirt at the back; and then she answered
her superior's call. Answering it, all about her betokened confidence
and competence. And why shouldn't it? As a pen-smith this young person
acknowledged no superiors anywhere. Her troupe of trained performing
adjectives was admitted to be the smartest in town. Moreover, she was
artistically ambidextrous. Having written a story she would illustrate
it with her own hand. Her drawings were replete with lithesome curves;
so, too, was her literary style. None but a Betty Gwin could write what
she wrote; none but a Betty Gwin properly illustrate it afterward.

"Fergy," said the city editor, "here's a beaut for you--right in your
line. Full of that heart-throb junk nine ways from the jack. Those
idiots upstairs gave it ten lines when it was worth six sticks all by
itself--buried it when they should have played it up. You run down to
this number and get a good, gummy, pathetic yarn. We'll play it up for
to-morrow, with a strong picture layout and a three-col. head. Might
call it: 'What Christmas Means for the Whatyoumaycall'em Family and What
Christmas Might Mean for Them!' Get me?"

He passed over the clipping. In a glance his star comprehended the
pencilled passage.

"Judging from the name and the neighbourhood Christmas wouldn't excite
this family much, anyhow," she said.

"What do you care?" said her chief crisply. "There's a story there--go
get it!"

Doubtlessly the Christmas spirit got into Betty Gwin's typewriter keys.
Certainly it got into her inkpot and deposited the real essence of the
real sob stuff there. The story she wrote trickled pathos from every
balanced paragraph; there was pity in the periods and sentiment in the
semicolons. As for the exclamation-points, they simply were elongated
tear drops. It was one of the best stories Betty Gwin ever wrote. She
said so herself--openly. But the picture that went with the story was
absolutely diademic; it crowned figures of speech with tiaras of the
graphic art. It showed Mamma Finkelstein seated on an upended box, which
once had contained pickled herrings, surrounded by the eight little
Finkelsteins. The children looked like ragged cherubs.

To accomplish this result it had been necessary for Miss Gwin to depart
somewhat from a faithful delineation of the originals. But of what value
is the creative ability unless it be used to create? I ask you that and
pause for a reply. Not that the junior Finkelsteins were homely; without
an exception they were handsome and well-formed. A millionaire might
have been proud to own them.

But the trouble was, the Old Masters, who first painted cherubim, were
mainly Italians, and for a variety of reasons chose their models from a
race other than that to which the Finkelsteins appertained. To make her
portraits conform with the popular conceptions of cherubs Miss Gwin saw
fit to--shall we say?--conventionalise certain features. Indeed, when it
came to reproducing for publication the physical aspect of Master Solly
Finkelstein she did more than conventionalise--she idealised. Otherwise
subscribers, giving the picture a cursory inspection, might have been
led to believe that this cherub's wings had sprouted mighty high up on
him. For Solly, eldest man child of the Finkelstein brood, had inherited
the paternal ear--not all of it, as we know, but an ample and
conspicuous sufficiency. Yet, with his ears trimmed, he, on his own
merits, had enough of sombre child beauty for any seven-year-older
anywhere. So Betty Gwin trimmed them--with her drawing pencil.

The bright light of publicity having been directed upon this cheerfully
forlorn family, results followed. Of the publicity its beneficiaries
knew nothing. Such papers as Papa Finkelstein read were Yiddish papers;
he was no bookworm at that. Of the results, though, they were all
speedily made aware.

Miss Gwin embodied the original and pioneer one of the forces speedily
set marching to the relief of the Finkelsteins. Persons of a
philanthropic leaning, reading what she had written and beholding what
she had drawn, were straightway moved to forward, in care of that young
author and the publication which she served, various small sums of money
to be conveyed to this practically fireless, substantially foodless and
semigarmentless household. Miss Gwin thought, at first, of founding a
regular subscription list under the title of Betty Gwin's Succour Fund;
but, on second thought, disliked the sound of the phrase when spoken,
although it looked well enough written out.

Instead, she elected to carry in person to their proper destination the
cash contributions already in hand, and along with them a somewhat more
cumbersome offering consisting of a one-piece costume sent by a young
lady in the theatrical profession--the chorus profession, to be
circumstantial about it--who had accompanied the donation with a note on
scented violet note paper, with a crest, stating that she wished the
devoted mother of those "poor birdlings"--a direct quotation, this, from
Miss Gwin's story--to have the frock, and to keep it and wear it for her
very own. With the Compliments of Miss Trixie Adair, of the Gay
Gamboliers Musical Comedy Company.

Thus laden, Miss Gwin descended upon Pike Street and ascended upon the
Finkelsteins, bringing with her, in addition to the other things
mentioned, an air of buoyancy and good cheer. As on the occasion of her
former call, two days earlier, the medium of intercourse between the
visitor and the heads of the household was Miriam, aged nine, the
topmost round of the family stepladder, ably reenforced by her brother
Solly, who was mentioned just a bit ago with particular reference to his
ears. In truth I should put it the other way round; for, to be exact, it
was Solly who sustained the main burden of translation, his sister being
a shy little thing and he in temperament emphatically the opposite.

Besides, his opportunities for acquiring facility and a repertoire in
tongues had been more extensive than hers. While Miriam frequented the
hallways of the tenement, or, at best, the sidewalk in front of it,
concerned with the minding of the twins--Israel and Isadore, but both
called, for convenience, Izzy--it was his practice to range far and
wide, risking death beneath trolley cars, capture by the law, and
murder at the hands of roused custodians of jobbing houses and buildings
in course of construction, about which he lurked on the lookout for
empty packing cases and bits of planking, and the like--such stuff as
might be dragged home and there converted into household furnishings or
stove fuel, depending upon whether at the moment the establishment stood
more desperately in need of something to sit on than of something to
burn.

Even now, at the tender age of seven, going on eight, Solly betrayed the
stirrings of a restless ambition such as his sire had never known. It
was an open question whether he would grow up to be a gunman or a
revered captain of finance. A tug of fate might set his eager footsteps
toward either goal. Already he had a flowing command of the sort of
English spoken by startled and indignant motormen, pestered policemen
and watchmen, tempted by provocation entirely beyond their powers of
self-control. So Solly served as chief interpreter while Miss Gwin
informally tendered the presents that had been intrusted to her charge
for transmission.

In the same spirit Papa and Mamma Finkelstein, who continued to
entertain the vaguest of theories regarding the sources of and the
reasons for these benefactions, accepted them gratefully, with no desire
to look a gift horse in the mouth. Gift horses were strange livestock in
their experience, anyhow.

The money--eight dollars and ninety-five cents, all told--went for fuel
and food; but mainly for food. With the Finkelsteins, life was a feast
or else it was a famine; in their scheme of domestic economics they
sought no middle ground. As for the gown bestowed by Miss Trixie Adair,
of the Gay Gamboliers, Mamma Finkelstein started wearing it right away,
merely adapting it to existing conditions--conditions that were, with
her, not only existent but, I may say, chronic. It was--or had been--a
pale-blue evening gown of a satinlike material, with no neck and no
sleeves to the upper part, but with a gracefully long train to the skirt
part, and made to hook up the back.

Because of the frequency of the demands put upon the maternal resources
by the newest and smallest Finkelstein, it was deemed expedient and, in
fact, essential to turn the gown round backward, so as to have the
bodice fastenings directly in front of Mamma Finkelstein instead of
directly behind her. This necessitated drawing the train up from beneath
the occupant's feet and draping it, sash-fashion, about her waist. Mamma
Finkelstein wore it so. She was wearing it so that afternoon when Mrs.
F. Fodderwood Bass arrived, direct from upper Fifth Avenue, and also the
next morning when Miss Godiva Sleybells came, representing,
semi-officially and most competently, the Cherry Hill Neighbourhood
House.

Since of these two Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass was first, firstly then we
may consider her. I will begin by stating that she was a lady of
augmented wealth and indubitable preeminence, being of that elect group
who have ceased merely to smell society from afar off and now taste of
its exclusive delights close up. For her it had been a hard climb,
laboriously uphill all the way, boulder-strewn and beset by hazards,
pitfalls and obstacles. But she had arrived finally upon those
snow-capped peaks where the temperature is ever below freezing and life
may only be maintained artificially.

Inasmuch as she had not been born to breathe the atmosphere of this
rarefied altitude, but had achieved her right to breathe it by her own
efforts, Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass felt it incumbent on her to maintain
her position away up there on Mount Saint Elias by such manifold and
varied activities as were most aptly designed to make for publicity,
which meant prominence, which meant success. For the moment she was
principally concerned with living up to the rôle of good angel to the
worthily indigent. Those who loved her and in return wished to be loved
by her called her the Lady Bountiful of the Slums.

She conferred the sweet boon of charity with the aid of a press agent, a
subscription to a clipping bureau, a special secretary--not her regular
secretary, but a special one--and a new photograph--copyright by De
Valle, Fifth Avenue, all infringements prohibited--appearing about once
in so often in the Sunday Magazine Sections.

It was no strain upon the eyes to gaze upon Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass; nor
yet upon her photograph. Nor did she consciously and willfully deny any
properly respectful person the opportunity. A distinguished portrait
painter once had said, shortly after completing a commission which
brought him large pecuniary returns from Mr. F. Fodderwood Bass, that
Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass possessed the most beautiful profile on the
entire North American continent. When in company the recipient of this
tribute kept her side face turned to the majority present--the greatest
possible good to the greatest possible number, you see. She had one
secret regret: one could not walk sideways--or, at least, one could not
for any considerable distance.

I would not go so far as to say that Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass actually
read the prose poem emanating from Miss Betty Gwin's sympathetic
typewriter; but I will go so far as to say that promptly the article of
that gifted young word chandler was brought to her attention. No time
was to be lost; in fact, no time was lost. Very shortly thereafter Mrs.
F. Fodderwood Bass, attired in housings appropriately plain, to accord
with her errand--housings which had cost less than five hundred dollars,
exclusive of import duties--and suitably riding in a simple French
limousine of but forty-eight horse power, was conveyed southward and
eastward from her home to Pike Street. Her arrival there created a
measure of popular tumult only to be equalled by a bank run or a fire
alarm. A self-appointed escort at least seventy-five strong piloted her
up four flights to the Finkelstein flat.

Papa Finkelstein was out temporarily, and Mamma Finkelstein was stunned
into a state approximating dumb stupor by the grandeur of the visitation
that appeared before her, heralded though its coming had been by many
small, excited couriers dashing up the stairs in advance. Though Mamma
Finkelstein was of humble station, Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass did not deny
her a treat. Throughout her stay, which was short, she remained standing
in the doorway, with her profile presented to the dazzled stare of her
hostess.

Her purpose being explained through volunteer interpreters, and largess
having been bestowed generally, she masterfully bore away Miriam, Solly
and the two small duplicate Izzys, Mamma Finkelstein making no sign
either of demur to or acquiescence in the plan, to a Christmas-tree
entertainment given under her direct patronage in a rented hall some
distance north of Cooper Union.

At eight P. M., long before their mother had in any visible respect
rallied from her coma of dumb bewilderment, these four, a torpid and
satiated quartet, were safely returned to the home nest, gorged on
goodies, and laden with small gifts for themselves and for their yet
more juvenile sisters and brothers. Throughout the remainder of the
evening, though, little Miriam persisted in regarding her father with
a certain silent and distressful reproach in her big black eyes. Made
uneasy by his daughter's bearing he questioned her; and she divulged
something she had heard.

It seemed that in explaining the intent of the festival of Christmas,
Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass, though actuated by the best intentions
imaginable, had nevertheless revealed certain phases of Sacred History
which, when the first shock of disclosure was over, left sensitive
little Miriam in a state of mind where she stood ready to fix direct
responsibility upon her own parent. Papa Finkelstein may have been lax
in the precept and practice of his theological beliefs, but assuredly
his convictions were both sound and orthodox. Immediately he developed
an entirely unwarranted but none the less sincere distrust for the
motives of Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass.

Truly, he wronged her there. There was nothing that was ulterior, but
much that was superior in the lady's attitude toward the lower forms of
animal life which she observed flourishing below her. By lower forms of
animal life I, as the historian of this episode, would include
everything and everybody outside of her set. These lesser manifestations
of an inscrutable scheme of creation she regarded benignantly,
tolerantly and at times--wonderingly. To her they seemed so--well, so
different--if you get my meaning and hers. One wondered sometimes,
really one did, if they could be so susceptible to emotion and sensation
as those who had been called to service in a higher sphere of activity?
The answer might be yes and then again it might be no. It all depended
upon one's point of view. Indeed when one came to ponder these matters,
so much always did depend upon one's point of view, did it not?
Meanwhile pending the ultimate solution of these perplexing sociological
problems, she would minister Samaritanlike to the wants of the needy,
and not forget to advertise the Samaritan. That was at once her pleasure
and her duty.

If Papa Finkelstein's suspicions endured through the night, as I have my
reasons for believing they did endure, they found no permanent lodgment
in the bosom of his helpmate; for the next morning an event occurred
that for the time being, at least, served to dispossess Mamma
Finkelstein's mind of all lesser considerations. I refer to the arrival
of Miss Godiva Sleybells, from the Cherry Hill Neighbourhood House. Mrs.
F. Fodderwood Bass typified amateur philanthropy; but not so Miss
Sleybells. She came, panoplied with purposeful intent, as the
specialised, the expert, the austere representative of systematic
relief.

In a period not far remote the allegation had been made that, so often,
organised charity was lacking in the personal and the direct touch. It
had been said that its common attitude was this: if a starving man
applied for help in the guise of sustenance, organised charity took his
name and address and made a very painstaking investigation of the merits
of the mendicant and his plea, sparing neither time nor expense in the
scope of its inquiry. His case being established as a worthy one,
organised charity took steps to seek him out and providing he had not
inconsiderately died in the interim, or moved to another park bench, it
bestowed upon him a small blue ticket entitling the holder to saw wood
so many hours a day at a specially maintained wood yard, and to receive
in return for such labour a specified number of frugal meals. Mind you
I do not pretend to assume that this actually was the fact; I merely
repeat a form of criticism current at one time. But now, organised
charity was become more personal and possibly a trifle less statistical
in its methods. For proof, observe how promptly Miss Godiva Sleybells
moved. She, too, read Miss Betty Gwin's account of the lorn
Finkelsteins. She waited not for an inquisition to be made and a report
to be filed. She girded up her walking skirt, as a result of which
girding it hiked in front and it drooped behind; and she put on her
heavy rubbers and she came.

She walked in, unannounced, on the assembled Finkelsteins and the
instant she crossed the threshold all there, regardless of age, somehow
realised that they were hers to do with as she pleased; realised that in
her efficient hands they would be but as plastic clay between the
fingers of the moulder. Everywhere she went Miss Sleybells conveyed this
feeling. It travelled with her even as her aura. She could walk through
a crowded street, pausing not and looking neither to the right nor the
left and yet leave behind her, in the minds of those among whom she had
passed, the firm conviction that she had taken this particular street
under her direct management and control. Nay more. She could traverse a
stretch of empty landscape and even after she was gone, inanimate nature
would somehow bear the impress of her dominance as though thereafter the
Original Creator of that landscape would be relieved of all
responsibility in connection with its conduct, maintenance and
development. Were there more like her in this hemisphere, woman would
not now be asking for the suffrage. But man would be.

A variety of causes had actuated her in going into settlement work. One
half the world didn't know how the other half lived. Miss Sleybells
meant to find out. Already she had written a considerable number of
magazine articles embodying the fruits of her observations and
deductions among the poor. Eventually, from the rich stores of her
knowledge she meant to draw material for a novel. This novel would be
in the style of the best work of Gorky, only stronger and more vivid
than Gorky, and infinitely rich in its analytical appraisals of
character. One who knew Miss Sleybells might not doubt of this. If she
had had a middle name, her middle name would have been Thoroughness.

Such, in brief, was the ardent and enthusiastic woman who invaded the
Finkelstein citadel, surprising its resident garrison in the middle of
their comfortable untidiness and causing them instantly and
unconditionally to capitulate before her onslaught. She looked about
her, choosing for her initial attack the point of least resistance. It
was the second to the youngest Finkelstein, Lena by name, engaged at the
moment in regaling her infantile palate with a mid-forenoon snack
consisting of a large, sea-green dill pickle and a rather speckly
overripe banana. By Mrs. Finkelstein's standards these two articles
constituted a well-balanced food ration. If the banana was soft and
spotty, the pickle certainly was firm and in the immature hands of Lena
practically indestructible. Besides, the results spoke for themselves.
Lena liked her dill pickle and her banana; and she thrived on them.

Miss Sleybells looked and said: "Tut! Tut!" And with these words she
deprived the startled and indignant child of both those treasures. That,
however, was merely the beginning. She fell to then in earnest--most
expeditiously and painstakingly fell to. From a neighbouring lady, more
addicted to the healthful exercise of sweeping than Mamma Finkelstein
was, she commandeered the use of a broom; also a mop. She heated water
to the boiling point upon the rickety stove. She gave little Miriam a
quarter and sent the child forth to buy two kinds of soap--human and
laundry. Following this things ensued with a dizzying celerity.

At the outset, Miss Sleybells completely upset Mamma Finkelstein's
domestic arrangements; or, rather, she disturbed and disarranged them,
for to have them upset was Mamma Finkelstein's notion of having them
properly bestowed. She ferreted out from beneath beds the stored
accumulations of months. She pried open the windows, admitting the chill
air of winter in swift gusts. She swept, she dusted, and with suds she
mopped the floor and stayed not her hand. She herded the abashed
Finkelsteins into a corner, only to drive them out again before the
strokes of broom and mop and dust rag, all the while tut-tutting like
a high-powered dynamo.

This done, she took individual after individual in hand for cutaneal
renovation. While Mamma Finkelstein hovered timorously by, stricken with
a great and voiceless apprehension, Miss Sleybells took scissors and
snipped the children out of their flannel swaddlings into which they had
so carefully been sewn but a short six weeks before. As fast as she
denuded a submissive form she bathed it soapily, set it before the fire
to dry out, and seized, with moist, firm grasp, upon another unresisting
victim. I indulge in no cheap effort at punning but speak the sober fact
when I say Miss Godiva Sleybells that day proved herself a veritable
Little Sister of the Pore.

Presently from the group of small naked figures squatted by the stove
a sound of sneezing arose. The baby began it and the baby's example was
contagious. Soon these youthful Finkelsteins who had undergone the water
ordeal, as contradistinguished from those who had not yet undergone it,
were going off with sneezes at regular half-minute intervals, like so
many little pink cuckoo clocks.

Behind Miss Sleybells' indomitable back, then, Mamma Finkelstein wrung
her hands in mute and helpless distress. But no word of protest did she
utter. For one thing, her knowledge of the English language practically
was negligible. For another thing, she dared not speak even had she had
the words. To Mamma Finkelstein, Miss Sleybells personified the visible
authority of the state--that same dread force which, in the guise of
truant officers, sought to drag Miriam away to public school when her
services were required for nursing duties; and which, again, wearing
brass and blue, harried Solly from his wood-collecting enterprises.

Starting with the youngest and progressing toward the top, Miss
Sleybells bathed up the line as far as the twins before she stopped. She
stopped there for lack of living material.

Solly, opportunely, had fled into hiding, and with him Miriam, his
sister. Anyhow, Miss Sleybells reflected, as she looked about her at the
surroundings, now all cleansed and dampish, all lathered and purged,
that she had done a great deal for one day--a very great deal. Still,
much remained undone.

Upon leaving, she gave Mamma Finkelstein express and explicit commands
regarding the conduct of her home, speaking with especial reference to
fresh air, ablutions and diet. By nods and by gestures Mamma Finkelstein
pledged obedience, without sensing in the smallest degree what she was
promising to do. Then Miss Sleybells announced that she would return on
the morrow, and departed. Mamma Finkelstein understood that part, at
least, and her wigged head sank in her hands. Papa Finkelstein, arriving
home shortly before dark, sustained a hard shock. For a minute he almost
thought he must have got into the wrong flat.

Miss Godiva Sleybells was as good as her word; in fact, better. She did
come back the next day and on many days thereafter, coming to correct,
to admonish, to renovate, to set erring feet upon the properest way, to
scold poor Mamma Finkelstein for her constantly recurrent backslidings
from the paths of domestic duty. Nearly always she came at unexpected
intervals; and, having come, she entered always without knocking. Mamma
Finkelstein fell into the habit of hearkening fearsomely for the sound
of footsteps in the hall without.

Being warned by an approaching resolute tread, betokening flat, low
heels and broad, sensible soles, she would drop whichever child she
happened to be mothering at that moment and fly about in a perfect
frenzy of purposeless activity, snatching up things, casting them aside,
rattling kitchen pans, shoving loose articles--and nearly everything she
owned was loose--out of sight. The artifice was a transparent one at
best. Assuredly it never deceived Miss Godiva Sleybells. With
shiftlessness she had no patience. Shiftlessness was one of several
thousand things with which she had no patience.

It was on the occasion of her second visit that Miss Sleybells brought
along and bestowed upon Mamma Finkelstein a bound volume dealing with
the proper care of infants, and bade her consult its pages. This gift
Mamma Finkelstein put to usage, but not the usage the donor had devised
for it. She gave it to the next-to-the-youngest baby, who was teething,
to cut her little milk teeth upon. The sharp corners proved soothing to
the feverish gums of Lena; but, under constant and well-irrigated
mumblings, the red dye on the covers came off, resulting in an
ensanguined appearance of Lena's lips and a sharp attack of colic
elsewhere in Lena. Mamma Finkelstein had suspected evil lurked within
the volume; now she was certain dangers abode in its outer casings. She
kindled a fire with it.

It was on the occasion of her third visit that Miss Sleybells brought
with her two co-labourers who listened intently and took notes while
their guide discoursed upon the subject of the Finkelstein family's
domestic and hygienic shortcomings, she speaking with the utmost candour
and just as frankly as though her living topics had not been present at
the time.

It was following the occasion of her fourth visit that Miss Godiva
prepared and read to a company of her associates in the Neighbourhood
House a paper dealing with her observations in this particular quarter.
In the course of her reading she referred variously to the collective
Finkelsteins as a charge, a problem, a question, an enigma and a
noteworthy case.

For all her lack of acquaintanceship with the language, it is possible
that Mamma Finkelstein, in her dim, inarticulate way, comprehended
something of Miss Godiva's attitude toward her. Perhaps she would have
preferred to be regarded not as a problem but occasionally as a person.
Perhaps she craved inwardly for those vanished days of comparative
privacy and unlimited disorderliness within the two rooms she called
her home. Her situation may have been miserable then. Miss Sleybells
said so. But what matters misery if its victims mistake it for
happiness?

But since Mrs. Finkelstein never by act or sign or look betrayed her
feelings, whatsoever they may have been, it is not for me or for you to
assume that she harboured resentment. She was a daughter of a tribe
bitted and bridled to silent endurance; of a people girthed and saddled
through the centuries to the uncomplaining bearing of their burdens.

Meantime Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass was by no means slack in well-doing. As
regards the younger Finkelsteins particularly, her alms-deeds were many.
She took them under her silken wings. At intervals she arrived,
rustling, to confer advice and other things more material and therefore
more welcome. She spoke of the Finkelsteins as her Pet Charities.

Among the younger inmates of the flat her visits were by no means
distasteful. Quite aside from the gifts she brought, the richness of the
clothes she wore appealed to a heritage of their ancestry that was in
them; they had a natural taste and appreciation for fabrics. But Papa
Finkelstein found it impossible to cure himself of his earlier
suspicions. He remembered what he remembered, and remained dubious.

For all that, Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass presently aimed her batteries of
benevolence upon him. It was like this: She had aided conspicuously in
a Bundle Day movement. Someone else, I believe, originated the idea, but
Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass practically took it over as soon as she heard
about it. Through the daily press an appeal was made to the well-to-do
of the community that they should assemble into parcels their cast-off
garments for distribution among the poor. The police force, the fire
department, the express companies and the newspapers--all were to
cooperate in gathering up such parcels and depositing them at a
designated central station, where the objects of this bounty on a given
date might be outfitted.

The notion caught the fancy and became popular. It assumed a scope
beyond the dream horizon of its creator and of the legatees of the
notion; for in itself it had four elements that inevitably appeal to the
New York heart: first, generosity, for New York may be thoughtless, but
it is vastly generous underneath its face-paint; second, novelty; third,
size; and fourth, notoriety. But the greatest of these is notoriety.

The effects were magnificently far-reaching. Thousands made
contributions; thousands of others profited thereby. Many a poor Bowery
"dinner waiter," owning merely a greasy short jacket and one
paper-bosomed shirt, and compelled therefore to serve in some quick
order place for his food and nothing else, secured, without cost, the
dress suit of his visions and was in consequence enabled to get a
regular job, in a regular restaurant, with regular pay and regular tips.
Many a shivering derelict got a warm if threadbare overcoat to cover
him. Many a half-clad child repaired to a big building and there
selected whole garments suitable to his or her size, if not to his or
her station. And meanwhile the sponsors of the affair, including Mrs. F.
Fodderwood Bass and lesser patronesses, looked on approvingly, acquiring
merit by the minute and, incidentally, long reading notices in all the
papers.

On the day before Bundle Day the lady called in Pike Street, timing her
arrival so as to be sure of finding Papa Finkelstein in. With the aid of
Miriam and Solly she explained to him her designs. He was to come to
such and such an address next morning and be equipped with a wardrobe
less accessibly ventilated to the eager and the nipping air of winter
than the one he now possessed.

Papa Finkelstein solemnly pledged himself to be there at the appointed
hour, and so she went away, well-content. Therein, however, a subtle
Oriental strain of duplicity in Papa Finkelstein's nature found play. He
had no intention of having his timid sensibilities massacred before a
large crowd to make a Bundle Holiday. It may have been that he feared in
Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass' friendly overtures there was concealed a covert
campaign to proselyte him away from the faith of the Fathers. It may
have been that, through professional reasons, he privily deplored a
movement calculated to strike so deadly a blow at the very vitals of the
old-clo' business. At any rate he did not go where she had bade him go;
completely he absented himself therefrom.

It was late in the afternoon of the following day before Mrs. F.
Fodderwood Bass realised that Papa Finkelstein had not yet appeared. She
called to her a footman of her employ, specially detailed to attend her
on this occasion, and ordered him to proceed at once to Pike Street and
find her missing ward and bring him before her. Being a good footman,
his expression gave no clue to his feelings. He deemed it to lie far
outside the proper functions of a footman to be hunting up persons named
Finkelstein; but he obeyed.

For the moment the scene must shift to Pike Street. The time is half an
hour later. Partly by words, partly by wide-armed gesticulations, Papa
Finkelstein explained his position in the matter, if not his private
reasons.

"Is that so?" said the footman, whose name was Cassidy--Maurice J.
Cassidy. He fixed a strong hand grippingly in the back of Papa
Finkelstein's collar. "Well, you listen to me, young fella! Wan way or
another you're goin'--wit' me, nice and peaceable or in an ambylance.
You can make your own choice."

The words possibly were confusing to the alien understanding, but the
large knobby fist, which swayed to and fro an inch or so below the tip
of the captive's nose, spoke in a language that is understood of all
men. Papa Finkelstein saw his way clear to accompanying Footman Cassidy.
Aboard the street car, on the way uptown, several of his fellow
passengers decided he must be a thief who had been caught red-handed,
and said it served him right.

Arriving, he was ushered--perhaps I should say propelled--into the
presence of Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass. She greeted his appearance
coosomely. Or is cooingly the right word? At any rate, she cooed her
approval; she cooed beautifully, anyhow. With open pride she directed
the attention of certain of her associate patronesses to the little
huddled shape of Cassidy's prisoner.

"Ah, there he is!" she said. "My Pet Charity! So improvident, so
shiftless; but isn't he just too picturesque!"

Levelling their lorgnettes on him, her friends agreed in chorus that he
was very picturesque. They wondered, though, why he wriggled so.

"The dearest, gentlest little man!" continued Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass in
clear, sweet tones. "So diffident, but so grateful for everything--the
poor, tattered dear! He never says a word to me when I talk to him; but
by the look in his eyes I can tell he is fairly worshipping the ground
I walk on."

As if to prove the truth of what she said Papa Finkelstein's gaze even
now was directed upon the floor at her feet.

"Now, Cassidy," went on his mistress, "you take him into one of the
dressing rooms yonder and have him undress. It's too bad nearly
everything has been picked over; but we shall find something for him,
I'm sure."

Within a curtained recess Cassidy explained his meaning with threatening
mien.

"Take off thim rags!" he commanded.

Rags they may have been, but Papa Finkelstein cherished them.
Reluctantly he parted with them, filled with the melancholy conviction
that he should see them never more. It was a true foreboding. But that
was not the worst of it. Papa Finkelstein was in figure slight and of
a contour difficult to drape garments upon. Moreover, it was as his
benefactor had said--everything had been picked over so. Nevertheless,
a selection agreeable to the lady's ideals was finally made.

Fifteen minutes passed. At the end of those fifteen minutes Papa
Finkelstein, under the menacing urgings of Footman Cassidy, made a
diffident but spectacular reappearance before the Bundle Day audience.
His head was bent apologetically low, so that his whiskers, spraying
upon his bosom, helped to cover him. His two hands were spread flat upon
his chest, hiding still more of his abashed shape. Nevertheless, it
might be discerned that Papa Finkelstein wore the abandoned
cream-coloured whipcords of somebody's chauffeur--very abandoned and
very cream-coloured, the whole constituting a livery, complete, from the
visored cap upon his head to the leather puttees reefed about his bowed
shanks.

"Now just look at him!" cried Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass in an ecstasy.
"How neat! How trim! How cosy!"

Papa Finkelstein didn't want to be neat. He abhorred cosiness; likewise
trimness. Moreover he shrunk mentally from the prospect of his homeward
journey, foreseeing difficulties. There again was his intuition
prophetically justified.

At the corner of Hester Street and the Bowery a skylarking group beheld
him and greeted him with cries of an almost incredulous joy. By force
they detained the little man, making mock of him in English and in
Yiddish. The English passed over his head, but into his soul the Yiddish
bit deep, leaving scars. He wrested himself free and fled to his home.
His arrival there made a profound impression on Mamma Finkelstein--after
she recognised him. So did his language.

Only the absolute necessity of gleaning rent money from the realms of
trade drove him forth two days later from the comparative sanctuary of
the inner room of his domicile. In the spirit he suffered, and in the
flesh as well. Citizens en route to the Subway, on being hailed with
inquiries touching on old clothes, from an undersized pedestrian
attired as a chauffeur, in reduced circumstances, who had neglected to
shave for a long time past, did not halt to listen. They halted to laugh
and to gibe and to gird with derision. Until Papa Finkelstein had
effected a trade with a compassionate but thrifty compatriot, with an
utter disregard for intrinsic values exchanging what he wore for
whatsoever the other might give, just so it sufficiently covered him, he
felt himself to be a hissing and a byword in the highways--which he was.

And now into the tangling skeins of the Finkelstein family's life in
their relation to the charitable impulses enlisted upon their
behalf--but without their consent or their approval--it is fitting to
reintroduce Miss Betty Gwin. Springtime came and passed, its passage
dappled for all the Finkelsteins with memory spots attesting the more or
less intermittent attentions of Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass, and the more or
less constant ministrations of Miss Godiva Sleybells.

Summer came; and with the initial weeks of summer came also the time for
the first of the series of annual outings conducted under the auspices
of the _Evening Dispatch's_ Fresh Air Fund for the Children of the Poor.
Yearly it was the habit of this enterprising sheet to give excursions to
the beach, employing therefor a chartered steamboat and the
contributions of the public.

The public mainly put up the money; the owner of the _Evening Dispatch_,
Mr. Jason Q. Welldover, principally took the credit, for thereby, on
flaunting banners and by word of speech, was his name and his fame made
glorious throughout the land. As repeatedly pointed out in the editorial
columns of his journal, the =Little Ones= of the slums were enabled,
through the =Generosity of This Paper=, to breathe in the =Life-giving
Ozone= of kindly =Mother Ocean=; to =Play= upon the sands; to =Disport=
themselves in the very =Lap Of Nature=; returning home at eventide
=Rejuvenated= and =Happy=--the phraseology and the capitalisation alike
being direct quotations from the _Evening Dispatch_.

Since Miss Betty Gwin was on the staff of the _Evening Dispatch_, it was
quite natural that she should take a personal pride as well as a
professional interest in the success of the opening outing of the
season. As suitable candidates for admission to its dragooned passenger
list she thought of Miriam Finkelstein and Solly Finkelstein. She
pledged herself to see that these two were included in the party. Nor
did she forget it. Upon the morning of the appointed date she went
personally to Pike Street, assumed custodianship of the favoured pair
and, her own self, escorted them to the designated place of assemblage
and transferred them into the keeping of Mr. Moe Blotch.

Mr. Blotch belonged in the _Evening Dispatch's_ Circulation Department.
Against his will he had been drafted for service in connection with the
Fresh Air Fund's excursion. He was a rounded, heavy-set person, with the
makings of a misanthrope in him. That day completed the job; after that
he was a made and finished misanthrope.

While murder blazed in his eyes and kind words poured with malevolent
bitterness from his lips, Mr. Blotch marshalled his small charges, to
the number of several hundred, in a double file. To each he gave a small
American flag, warning each, on peril of mutilation and death, to wave
that flag and keep on waving it until further orders. Up at the head of
the column, Prof. Washington Carter's All-Coloured Silver Cornet Band
struck up a clamorous march tune and the procession started, winding its
way out of the familiar Lower East Side, across the tip of Manhattan
Island, to the verge of the strange Lower West Side.

Well up in the line, side by side, marched Miriam and Solly, the twain
whose fortunes we are following. Possibly from stress of joyous
anticipation they shivered constantly. However, it was a damp and cloudy
day, and, for early June, very raw. Even Mr. Moe Blotch, muffled as he
was in a light overcoat, shivered.

The route of march led past the downtown offices of the _Evening
Dispatch_, where, in a front window, the proprietor, Mr. Jason Q.
Welldover, waited to review the parade. According to his instructions
from a higher authority, Mr. Blotch now gave the signal for an outburst
of appreciative cheering from the small marchers. Obeying the command,
they lifted up their voices; but, doubtlessly through stage fright or
lack of chorus drilling, the demonstration, considered for vocal volume,
was not altogether a success. It was plaintive rather than enthusiastic.
It resembled the pipings of despondent sandpipers upon a distant lea.
Standing in the window, Mr. Welldover acknowledged the tribute by
bowing, he then holding the pose until his staff photographers had
caught him--once, twice, three times.

Half a mile more of trudging brought the little travellers to a dock
above the Battery. Alongside the dock lay a steamboat so swathed in
bunting and bannered inscriptions as to present the appearance of being
surgically bandaged following a succession of major operations. The
smokestack suggested a newly broken leg, enveloped in first-aid
wrappings. The walking beam rose above a red-and-white-and-blue mass,
like a sprained wrist escaping from its sling. The boiler deck was
trussed from end to end; and everywhere recurred, in strikingly large
letters, the names of Mr. Jason Q. Welldover and the _Evening Dispatch_.

Without loss of time, Mr. Blotch drove his excursionists aboard; and
soon then, to the strains of martial music, the swaddled craft was
moving gayly down the river. Or, anyhow, she moved as gayly as was
possible, seeing that the river was of a rumpled, grayish aspect,
abounding in large waves, and each wave flounced with a ruffle of
dirty-white foam; and seeing, further, that an exceedingly keen wind
blew dead against her, searching out the remotest and most sheltered
recesses of her decks. Mr. Blotch remained in the engine room throughout
the journey.

But all pleasant things must have an end; and eventually, although to
some aboard it seemed even longer than that, the steamer reached Coney.
Somewhere on this globe there may be a more dispiriting, more dismal
spot than Coney is on a wet and cloudy day in the early part of June.
I have heard Antarctic explorers speak with feeling of the sense of
desolation inspired by contemplation of the scenery closely adjacent to
the South Pole; but, never having been at or near the South Pole, I am
still pledged to Coney Island.

A hot dog merchant there, hearing the strains of music and beholding the
approach of a multitude, lit his fires and laid specimens of his wares
upon the grid to brown and sizzle. A closer view of the massed crowd,
advancing toward him from the pier, disillusioned him. As a regular
subscriber to the _Evening Dispatch_ he knew that these oncoming hosts
were not to be considered, even remotely, as prospective patrons. For
had it not been written and repeatedly written that they were to be
regaled, ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT EXPENSE, at Stanchheimer's Chowder
Pavilion? Verily it had been so written. Uttering fluent maledictions in
his sonorous native Greek, the hot dog man went inside his booth, pulled
down the shades and turned off the gas.

On a wide and windswept shore, where pallid sands ran down to pallid
sea, and sea in turn ran out and out to mingle, under shrouding fog
banks, with lowering skies, the small Fresh-Air funders were turned
loose and sternly ordered to enjoy themselves. Perversely, they
persisted in huddling in close, tight clusters, as though drawn together
by a gravitation of common discomfort. Their conductor was not to be
thwarted. He had a duty to perform--a duty to them and to his
employer--and scrupulously he meant to obey it if it cost forty lives.
From group to group Mr. Moe Blotch ran, yanking its members out into the
cheerless open.

"Play, consarn you! Play!" he blared at them. "Laugh and sing and dig in
the sands! Breathe in the life-giving ozone or I'll break every bone in
your bodies!"

Little Miriam found herself alone and lonesome in the shadow of a
depressingly pale-yellow dune. She thought of the warm and comfortable
tenement hallway, crowded as it would be with gossiping little deputy
mothers and crawling, babbling babies. She thought of the shifting
panorama of Pike Street's sidewalk life, spectacular and thrilling. She
thought of her own two special charges--Izzy and Izzy--deprived now of
their customary guardianship and no doubt pining for it.

These poignant memories overcame her. She lifted her face to the
unresponsive vault of heaven, and she wept. Once she was at it, there
was no false restraint in her weeping; she bemoaned her lot shrilly,
copiously and damply. Moisture streamed from her eyes, her mouth, her
nose. In her rendition there was a certain aquatic wholeheartedness that
would have interested and startled a student of natural hydraulics.
Practically this child had riparian rights.

To her side came running Solly, her brother, likewise weeping. His
antlerlike ears, undefended and, as it were, defiantly outbranching to
the edged breezes, were now two chilled disks, shot through their more
membranous surfaces with bluish, pinkish, greenish tones, like
mother-of-pearl. His nose, from tip to base, was one frigid and painful
curve. And, to top all, Solly, venturing too near the beach edge, had
been surprised by a quick, large wave. From his waist down he dripped
sea water. His fortitude succumbed before this final misfortune. He
mingled his tears with Miriam's, substantially doubling the output.

Their sorrow might have touched a heart of stone; but Mr. Blotch,
embarking on this mission of pleasure, had left his heart behind him,
foreseeing that its presence might be inconvenient to a proper
discharge of his philanthropic obligations. He charged down upon them,
separated their entwined arms and, with terrible threats, required them
to play and dig in the sand.

So they played and they dug in the sand. Choking back their sobs and
burying their little, cold fingers in the cold, gritty sand, they played
and dug through the long forenoon until dinnertime; and after dinner
they dug and played some more, until the hour for departure arrived,
cutting short all their blithesome misery.

Beyond question, Solly next day would have developed pneumonia, except
that pneumonia was far too troublesome a luxury for any of the
Finkelstein family to be having. Besides, at this juncture the weather
providentially turned off to be warm and seasonable, and, scouting in
East Broadway, he happened upon a large, empty crockery crate, which
seemed to lack a friend. He up-ended it, crawled inside it and made off
with it; and so completely hidden was he within its capsized depths that
one observing the spectacle might have been excused for assuming that a
crockery crate was out for a walk on its own account. In the joys of
perilous adventures and treasure-findings Solly conquered his symptoms
and forgot to fall ill.

The weather continued to be warm and warmer. By mid-July it was so warm
that the interior of the tenements became insufferable, and the
dwellers slept of nights on fire escapes and in doorways, and even in
the little squares and out on the pavement gratings, stretched--whole
rows of them--upon pallets and quilts. The hot spell afforded Miss
Godiva Sleybells an opportunity to do something that was really worth
while for the two older of the eight younger Finkelsteins. She came one
simmering day and told them the splendid news. They were to have a
week--a whole week--on a farm up in the Catskills.

With memories of Coney still vivid in their young brains, Miriam and
Solly inwardly quailed at the prospect; but they went. There was nothing
else for them to do; the determined dragoness in the double-lensed
spectacles, who managed their mother and condemned them at intervals to
trials by soap and water, had so ordained it.

I wish I might say the two children were wrong in their forebodings; I
wish I might paint their week in the Catskills as a climactic success.
Perhaps from Miss Godiva Sleybells' viewpoint it was a success; but,
remember, I am concerned with detailing not her impressions so much as
the impressions of these small wards of hers.

Remember, too, that in saying what I must, as a truthful historian, say,
I mean not to reflect upon the common aims or the general results of
that splendid charity which each year sends thousands of poor children
to the country, there for a spell to breathe in a better air than ever
they have breathed, and to eat of better fare than ever they have eaten.
In this instance I am afraid the trouble was that the city had trapped
the small Finkelsteins too early. If they had not been born in its
stone-and-steel cage, at any rate they could not remember a time when
they had not lived in it. They were like birds, which, being freed,
cannot use their wings because they have never used them, but only
flutter about distractedly, seeking to return to the old confines within
the bars of the prison and the familiar perches of its constricted
bounds. Distance--free, limitless and far-extending--daunts those other
birdlings as it daunted these two small human ones. It was so strange an
experience to them to be thrust into the real out-of-doors. And to most
of us whatever is strange is uncomfortable--until we get accustomed to
it.

The journey mountainward frightened the small pair. They had never been
on a train before. As they clung to each other, cowering low in their
seat every time the locomotive hooted, they resolved that willingly they
would never be on one again. Upon reaching their destination they were
required to sleep in separate beds, which was an experience so very
different from the agreeable and neighbourly congestion of sleeping four
or five to a bed, as at home. Next morning they were given for
breakfast country eggs and country milk--the one fresh-laid by the hen;
the other fresh-drawn from the udder.

For Miriam and Solly it proved a most unsatisfactory meal. This milk
came from a cow, whereas the milk they knew came from a milkman. It was
so yellow, so annoyingly thick, so utterly lacking in the clear blue,
almost translucent, aspect of East Side milk! The Catskill egg likewise
proved disappointing. After the infrequent Pike Street egg, with its
staunchness and pungency of flavour, it seemed but a weak, spiritless,
flat-tasting thing.

When breakfast was over they went forth upon kindly compulsion from the
farmhouse kitchen and, barefooted, were turned loose on a grassy mead.
At once all Nature appeared in a conspiracy against them. The wide
reaches of space disturbed them, whose horizon always had been fenced in
with tall, close-racked buildings. The very earth was a pitfall, bearded
with harsh saw-edged grass blades, drenched with chilly dews, and
containing beneath the ambush of its green covering many rough and
uneven depressions. The dew irritated Solly's naked legs, making him
long for the soothing contact of Pike Street's mud-coated cobbles.
Miriam stubbed her shrinking pink toes against hidden clods when she
essayed a timorous step or two forward. So both of them stood still,
then, very much at a loss to know what they should or could do next.

Somebody suggested to Miriam that she pick the wild flowers and the wild
vine tendrils and weave them into garlands. Was it her fault that her
very first selections should be a spray of poisoned sumac, first cousin
to poison ivy, and that her second should be a handful of nettles?
Somebody else undertook to induct Solly into the pleasures of tree
climbing. Was it altogether his fault that he should promptly fall out
of the first crotch and painfully sprain and bruise himself in several
places?

And when, finally, they had been induced to quit the immediate proximity
of the farmhouse, which at least provided a refuge and a shelter from
suspected dangers, and had ventured over a fence and into a pasture, a
most terrible thing occurred. Toward them there suddenly advanced an
enormous red creature, tossing a huge head crowned with sharp horns,
and emitting frightful, rumbling sounds from a great rubbery muzzle.

With shrieks of terror, they fled blindly into a patch of woodland that
was perhaps two acres in extent; and, losing themselves in its--to
them--vast and impenetrable depths, they remained there, crouching
behind a tree until discovered, tearful, hungry and disconsolate, by
a volunteer search party shortly before sunset. Miriam's subsequent
description of the monster that had menaced them, as detailed to her
mother, gave Mamma Finkelstein a mental picture of something which might
be likened to a cross between a raging rhinoceros and a hook-and-ladder
motor truck. For it had been many a year since Mamma Finkelstein herself
had seen a yearling heifer. And Miriam never had seen one before.

It was indeed a hard and an irksome week. The end of it saw the two
small adventurers, both sun-blistered and peeling, both broken out as to
hands and legs with strange, irritating rashes, and both with gladness
in their little homesick souls, returning to the beloved perils and the
customary pleasures of the torrid town.

After this the Finkelsteins for a while had a welcomed respite from
kindness. They fairly revelled in it; but not for a great while, nor, in
fact, for very long, did it endure. Following Labor Day, Mrs. F.
Fodderwood Bass came back from her country place up Greenwich way and
reopened her city place. It transpired that with her she had brought a
perfectly splendid idea. She was going to establish the Finkelsteins on
an abandoned farm. While motoring about over the country lanes in
Connecticut she had found the very spot for them--an ideal spot,
indeed--nine acres, and nine miles from a railroad, with a ruinous
little cottage, all furnished, perched upon a rocky hillock in the
centre of the nine acres.

It was upon this site she was resolved they should be domiciled.
There--as she herself said--Papa Finkelstein might turn farmer and maybe
make a fortune. There Mamma Finkelstein could rear her brood in peace
and quiet, far aloof and remote from the teeming multitude. There the
fresh, pure air of the country would restore the bloom of health to the
cheeks of all the little Finkelsteins. What mattered it though the
little Finkelsteins were already so healthy that if they had been any
healthier than they were it might have been necessary to tap them for
it? I am not detailing what was actually the case, but what Mrs. F.
Fodderwood Bass, in the exuberance engendered by her generous impulses,
said about it.

A scheme so large required cooperation. Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass secured
it from Miss Godiva Sleybells, whom she had met upon more than one
occasion when the two of them chanced to happen in upon the Finkelsteins
at the same time, and from Miss Betty Gwin, who frequently had been
called upon to detail to a hungry reading public particulars concerning
Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass' social and charitable endeavours.

Together these three constituted a committee on ways, means and
publicity. Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass provided the funds for leasing the
nine acres and for transporting its ten future tenants to their future
home. Miss Godiva Sleybells agreed, for her part, to insure that the
prospective colonists, both big and little, were properly loaded and
properly shipped to their destination. Miss Betty Gwin wrote a moving
word picture two columns long about it, in which she mentioned the late
Baron de Hirsch once and Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass a great many times.

Actually the day preceding the day set for the removal of the
Finkelsteins arrived before it occurred to the three conferees that they
had entirely forgotten until that minute to take the Finkelsteins into
their confidence--not that it very much mattered; this was but an
incidental detail, which before now had been altogether overlooked. Miss
Sleybells volunteered to go and tell them. She went and she did.

Reporting back to the principal factor in this kindly little conspiracy,
Miss Sleybells said the Finkelstein family had been stunned--literally
stunned into dumb silence by the grateful joy the tidings brought to
them. She said surprise and gratitude had left them absolutely
speechless. Naturally she had no way of knowing, when she broke the glad
news, that Solly thought of Coney's inhospitable sands and treacherous
seas; that Miriam thought of the fearsome Catskill cow; that their
mother, whose whole life had been bounded by two Ghettos--one in the Old
World and one in the New, and who knew no other life--thought of a great
variety of things; and that the children, ranging from the twins
downward, would have done some thinking, too, had they been of suitable
age thus to indulge their juvenile intellects.

She had no way of knowing that, when she was gone from among them, Papa
Finkelstein stood erect and, elevating his two hands in passionate
entreaty toward heaven, with solemn fervour uttered the only words which
it is fated that we, in this recital, shall ever hear him utter. He
spake them in the tongue with which he was most conversant. He said:

"_Gott bei heit!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

September's hurried twilight was folding in upon Pike Street. Against
the curbing, surrounded by an admiring throng, stood Mrs. F. Fodderwood
Bass' third-best car. Hard by stood an express wagon, its driver ready
to receive what puny freightage of household and personal belongings as
might be consigned to his care. And upstairs, upon the top floor of a
certain tenement, in the narrow hall outside the Finkelstein flat, stood
Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass, Miss Godiva Sleybells and Miss Betty Gwin. The
first named of these three was come to witness the accomplishment of her
beautiful purpose; the second, to lend her executive abilities to the
details of the undertaking; the third, to write a piece about it.

In accord with her regular habit Miss Sleybells turned the knob. The
knob turned part way, but the door did not open; so she rattled the knob
and knocked with her knuckles on the panel. Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass
raised her flutelike voice in cooing accents.

"Open the door, my dear charities," she said clearly. "It is I--your
good angel."

Miss Betty Gwin stooped and applied a squinted eye at the keyhole. Miss
Sleybells knocked again--harder. There was no answer.

I shall tell you why there was no answer. The reason is a good and
sufficient one. All day within their two rooms the Finkelstein family
had bided, waiting, waiting; hoping against hope. With the sound of
well-remembered footsteps in the hall without, with the sound of a
well-known voice uplifted, the last faint remnant of hope expired.

In melancholy resignation Papa Finkelstein nodded to Mamma Finkelstein;
and Mamma Finkelstein, stifling the plaint of the youngest baby in her
shawl, nodded back to him in sorrowful confirmation of the worst. With
gestures he imposed deep silence upon all present. He tiptoed into the
rear room and his people followed, tiptoeing also. He climbed out of the
back window and descended the fire-escape ladder to the fire-escape
landing at the level of the next floor below. He balanced himself there
and into his extended arms, Mamma Finkelstein passed down to him, one by
one, their children; and he, in turn, passed them in at a window where
Mrs. Esther Rabinowitz, a good-hearted neighbour, received them, and
deposited them in a mute row upon her kitchen floor. At the last Mamma
Finkelstein descended and joined him.

They assembled their progeny. They noiselessly emerged from Mrs.
Rabinowitz' hall door; and, noiselessly all, they fled down the stairs
and out into the gathering twilight of Pike Street, which has a way of
growing shabby and soiled-looking as it gathers. They had deserted all
their small belongings; they knew not where that night they might lay
their heads; they had no idea where they were going--but they were on
their way.

       *       *       *       *       *

Up on the top floor Miss Sleybells knocked and knocked again. Miss Gwin
put her ear to the locked, barred door and listened and listened for
betraying sounds within; and Mrs. F. Fodderwood Bass raised her coo to
yet a flutier pitch. And while they were thus engaged the Finkelstein
family, one and all, vanished into the cloaking, protecting dusk where
Pike Street runs toward the river.

Did I say Finkelstein family? I was wrong there.

For purposes of better concealment Papa Finkelstein had changed the
name. The inspiration had come to him even as he gripped the topmost
round of the fire-escape ladder. Changing it, he had seen fit to honour,
by virtue of self-adoption, a race of Irish kings, and notably a
policeman of his acquaintance, a descendant of that kingly line. He
changed it to Finnigan. Loss to the Finkelsteins would thenceforth be
gain to the Finnigans.

So they vanished away--Papa Meyer Finnigan, Mamma Leah Finnigan--née
Pincus--Miriam Finnigan, Solly Finnigan, the Finnigan twins, Izzy and
Izzy; Benjamin Finnigan, Rebecca Finnigan, Lena Finnigan, and so on down
to Baby Leopold Finnigan--and were gone!

For does it not stand written that----? But see Corinthians--first,
thirteenth and fourth--and notably the first three words of the same.
Only it should have been written there, in amplification, that there is
a limit.



CHAPTER VIII

ENTER THE VILLAIN


It is conceded, I believe, that every story should have a moral; also,
whenever possible, a heroine or a hero, a villainess or a villain, a
plot and a climax. Now this story has a villain of sorts, if you choose
to look upon him in that light; but no hero, and no climax. And
certainly there is no moral to adorn the tale. So far as I have been
able to discover it is absolutely moral-less. So then, reader, if you,
being thus foreadvised regarding these avowed shortcomings of my
narrative, choose to go further with it, the responsibility must be
yours and not mine. Don't you come round afterward saying I didn't warn
you.

The rise of the curtain discloses the city room of _The Clarion_, a New
York morning newspaper. The hour is six-thirty P. M., the period is the
approximate present, and the season is summer time. At a desk in the
foreground is discovered the head office boy in the act of scissoring
certain marked passages out of copies of the afternoon papers and
impaling them upon spindles. Beyond him, at a big oaken table shaped
like half of a pie, a lone copy reader is humped in his chair, chewing
on a cold pipestem and editing a bad piece of copy with a relentless
black lead. In this case the copy reader is named Hemburg. He is of a
type of which at least one example is to be found in nearly every large
newspaper shop--a competent failure, gone alcoholically to seed; usually
holding down a desk job; rarely quite drunk and rarely quite sober, and
in this mid-state of befuddlement performing his work with a strange
mechanical accuracy; but once in a while he comes on duty cold
sober--cause unknown--and then the chances are he does something
unpardonably wrong, something incredibly stupid, which costs him his
job. Just such a man is this present man Hemburg. As, shoving his
pencil, he carves the very giblets out of the last sheet of the belated
typewritten manuscript lying under his hand, the sunlight, slanting in
at a west window behind him, falls over his shoulders in a streaked
flood, making his reddened face seem redder than ever--as red as hearth
paint--and turning his ears a bright, clear, pinkish colour, as though
they might be two little memorial panes set there in dedication to the
wasted life and the frittered talents of their owner.

Farther up stage the city-hall reporter, who because he has passed his
fortieth birthday and has grey in his hair is known as Pop, and the
ship-news reporter, who because he is the ship-news reporter is known as
Skipper, the same as in all well-regulated newspaper offices, are
pasting up their strings, both of them being space men. Otherwise the
big bare room with its rows of desks and its scrap-strewn floor is quite
empty. This hour, coming between six and seven, in the city room of _The
Clarion_ or any other big paper, is apt to be the quietest of all hours
between starting time, early in the afternoon, and quitting time, early
in the morning. The day city editor, having finished his stint, has gone
off watch, leaving behind for his successor, the night city editor,
a single scrawled sheet upon which is recorded the tally of things
accomplished, things undertaken and things failed at. The reporters who
got afternoon assignments have most of them turned in their stories and
have taken other assignments which will keep them out of the office
until much later. So almost an ecclesiastical quiet fills the city room
now.

For the matter of that, it is only in the dramatic versions that a
newspaper office ever attains the aspect of frenzied tumult so familiar
and so agreeable to patrons of plays purporting to deal with newspaper
life. As usually depicted upon the stage, a city room near press time is
something like a skating rink, something like the recreation hall of a
madhouse, something like a munitions factory working overtime on war
orders, and nothing at all like a city room. Even when its manifold
activities are in full swing the actual city room, save for the click of
typewriter keys, is apt to be as sedately quiet as--let's see now! What
would make a suitable comparison? Well--as sedately quiet, say, as the
reading room of the average Carnegie Library.

Six-thirty-four--enter the villain.

The practical door at the right opened and Mr. Foxman came in. In just
what he stood in he might have posed for the typical picture of the
typical New York business man; not the tired business man for whom the
musical shows are supposed to be written but the kind of business man
who does not tire so easily. A close-cropped, greyish moustache, a pair
of nose glasses riding a short, pugnacious nose in front of two keen
eyes, a well-knit middle-age shape inside of a smart-fitting suit, a
positive jaw, an air of efficiency and a square shoulder--that briefly
would be Mr. Hobart Foxman, managing editor of _The Clarion_.

His nod included the city-hall reporter and the ship-news man. Passing
by Hemburg without speaking, he halted a minute alongside the desk where
the head copy boy speared his shearings upon his battery of spindles.

"Singlebury come in yet?" asked Mr. Foxman.

"No, sir; not yet, sir," said the head copy boy. "But he's due any
minute now, I guess. I phoned him you wanted to see him at a quarter to
seven."

"When he comes tell him to come right into my office."

"Yes, sir; I'll tell him, sir."

"Did you get those envelopes out of the morgue that I telephoned you
about?"

"Yes, sir; they're all four of 'em on your desk, sir," said the boy, and
he made as though to get up from his seat.

"Never mind," said Mr. Foxman. "I guess I can find them without any
help. ... Oh, yes, Benny, I'm not to be disturbed during the next hour
for anything. Nobody is to see me except Singlebury. Understand?"

"Yes, sir--nobody," said Benny. "I'll remember, sir."

Inside his own room, which opened directly upon the city room, Mr.
Foxman brushed from his desk a neatly piled file of the afternoon
papers, glanced through a heap of mail--some personal mail, but mostly
official--without opening any of the letters, and then gave his
attention to four big soiled manila envelopes which rested side by side
upon his wide blue blotter pad. One of these envelopes was labelled,
across its upper front, "Blake, John W."; the second was labelled
"Bogardus, S. P."; the third, "Pratt, Ezra"; and the fourth, "Pearl
Street Trolley Line." Each of the four bulged dropsically with its
contents, which contents, when Mr. Foxman had bent back the envelope
flaps and emptied the envelopes, proved to be sheafs of newspaper
clippings, some frayed with handling and yellowed with age, some still
fresh and crisp, and all bearing the stencilled identification mark of
the functionary who runs what is called in some shops the obit
department and in other shops the morgue.

Keeping each set in its own separate pile, Mr. Foxman began running
through these clippings, now and then putting aside one for future
consideration. In the midst of this he broke off to take up his desk
telephone and, when the girl at the private switchboard upstairs
answered, bade her ring for him a certain private number, not to be
found in the telephone directory.

"That you, Moreau?" briskly asked Mr. Foxman when, after a short wait,
a voice at the other end of the wire spoke. "How are you? ... Quite
well, thank you. ... I want to speak with the general. ... Yes, yes,
yes, I know that, but this is important--very important. ... Yes, I
know that too; but I won't detain him but a minute. ... Thanks. ... Yes,
I'll wait right here."

There was another little delay while Mr. Foxman held the receiver to his
ear and kept his lips close to the transmitter. Then:

"Good evening, general--Foxman speaking."

Into the managing editor's tone was come a soothed and softened
deference--something of the same deference which Benny, the head office
boy, had used in addressing Mr. Foxman. It was a different tone, very,
from the sharpened, almost staccato note that Mr. Foxman had been
employing but a minute before. Why not? Moreau was but the great man's
private secretary and this man, whom now he addressed, was the great man
himself--General Robert Bruce Lignum, sole proprietor of _The
Clarion_--and the only person, barring himself, from whom Mr. Foxman
took orders. Big fleas, you know, have smaller fleas which on them prey;
but while preying, the little fleas, if they be little fleas wise in
their own generation, are, I take it, likely to cultivate between bites
and to use that flattering conversational accent which, the world over,
is the most subtle tribute that may be paid by the smaller to the
greater and by the greater to the most great. In this agreeably tempered
tempo then Mr. Foxman continued, with pauses for his employer's replies.

"Sorry, general, to have to call you just as you're starting for the
pier, but I was particularly anxious to catch you before you left the
house." Instinctively he lowered his voice, although there was no need
for any excess of caution. "General, I think I've got that trolley-grab
exposé practically lined up. Bogardus told me this afternoon that the
third man--you know the one I mean--is ready to talk. It looks to me
like a bigger thing even than we thought it might be. It's a scurvy crew
we're dealing with, but the end justifies the means. Don't you think so,
sir? ... Yes, that's right, too--when thieves fall out honest men get
their due. ... Sir? ... Yes, that's my idea, too--to spring the first
big story right out of a clear sky and then follow up with an editorial
campaign and supplementary news stories until we get action in the
district-attorney's office. ... How's that, sir? ... Oh, no, indeed,
general, not the slightest particle of danger in my opinion. Personally,
I think all this talk about floating mines and submarines has been
greatly exaggerated. ... I think you can go right ahead in perfect
safety. You must know, general, that I wouldn't be giving you this
advice if I thought there was the slightest danger. ... Well, good-by,
general, and pleasant voyage. ... Oh, yes, indeed, I'll surely find some
way of keeping you posted about the situation at Albany if anything
develops in that quarter. ... Well, good-by again, general."

He hung up the receiver and turned his hands again to the contents of
the morgue envelopes. He was still at this when there came at his door
a knock.

"Come in," he said without looking up.

The man who entered was tall and slender, young enough to be well this
side of thirty and old enough, in his experiences, to wear that manner
of schooled, appraising disillusionment which marks so many of his
calling. Most good reporters look like good reporters; they radiate
from them knowledge, confidence, skepticism, sometimes a little of
pessimism, and always a good deal of sophisticated enthusiasm. It is the
same air which goes with men, be their separate callings what they may,
who have devoted their lives to prying open the lid of the world to see
what makes the thing tick. They have a curiosity not only to see the
wheels go round but to find out what the motive power behind and beneath
the wheels may be.

Never mind what the after-dinner speaker says--the press is not an
Archimedean lever and probably never was. It is a kit containing a cold
chisel, a test acid, an assay chemical and a paint-box. Generally the
users of this outfit bear themselves accordingly. Once in a while,
though, there comes along a reporter who deceivingly resembles a rather
stupid, good-natured plumber's helper dressed in his Sunday best. To
look at him he seems as plain as an old shoe, as open as an old shoe
too. But if you have something to hide from the public gaze, beware this
person. He is the most dangerous one of them all. His business being
everybody's business, he is prepared to go to any ends to dig it out. As
a professional detective he could make himself famous. He prefers to
remain a journeyman reporter.

"Take a chair, Singlebury," said Mr. Foxman; "I'll be through here in
just a minute."

Singlebury sat down, glancing about him. It was the first time he had
seen this room. He had been on _The Clarion's_ staff less than a month,
having come on from the West, where he served the years of his
apprenticeship on a San Francisco daily. Presently his chief swivelled
half round so as to face him.

"Young man," he said, "I've got a cracking good assignment for you--one
that ought to put you in right, in this shop and this town. Ordinarily
this job would go to Shesgren--he usually handles this sort of thing for
me--but Shesgren is up at Albany keeping his eye on General Lignum's
political fences, and I don't want to call him back, especially as the
general is leaving the country to-night. Besides you did a good job of
work last week on that Oskarson baby-stealing mystery, and so I've
decided to give you a chance to swing this story."

"Thank you, sir," said Singlebury, flushing up a little. "I'll do my
best, sir."

"Your best won't do--you've got to do better than your best. Did you
ever hear, since you came to this town, of the Pearl Street trolley line
or the Pearl Street trolley loop?"

"Well," said Singlebury, "I know there is such a line as the Pearl
Street line. That's about all."

"That needn't hamper you," said Mr. Foxman. "I'd a little rather you
went at this thing with an open mind, anyhow. These clippings here"--he
tapped one heap of them with his forefinger--"ought to give you a pretty
clear idea of the situation in the past, if you'll read 'em through
carefully. They'll show you that the Pearl Street line has been a sort
of financial football for certain interests down in Wall Street for a
good many years. The fellows behind it starved it to death and let the
equipment run down while they juggled the paper and skinned the dear
public."

"I see," said Singlebury; "same old story--plenty of water for the road
but no solid nourishment for the investors."

"That's a good line," commended Mr. Foxman; "better save it up for your
story and use it there. But it's not the same old story over again. At
least this time there's a new twist to it.

"Up until now the crowd that have been manipulating the stock stayed
inside the law, no matter what else they may have done that was shady.
But I have cause to believe that a new gang has stepped in--a gang
headed by John W. Blake of the Blake Bank. You've heard of him, I
guess?"

Singlebury nodded.

"It's been known for some time on the inside that the Blake outfit were
figuring on a merger of some of the independent East Side surface
lines--half a dozen scattered lines, more or less. There've been stories
printed about this--we printed some of them ourselves. What hasn't been
known was that they had their hooks into the Pearl Street line too. Poor
outcast as it is, the Pearl Street line, with the proposed Pearl Street
loop round Five Points--a charter was granted for that extension some
time ago--will form the connecting link to the combination they're
figuring on. And then on top of that there's the direct connection to be
made with the new Brooklyn subway that's being built now. If you'll look
at the map of the East Side lines you'll see for yourself how important
it is for the group that intends to take control of the trolley lines on
this side of the river and hopes to control the subway to the other side
of the river that they should have the Pearl Street loop in their grip.
With it they win; without it there's doubt of the success of their plan.

"Well, that part of it is legitimate enough, I suppose. The common stock
of the Pearl Street line has been shoved down and down and down, until
to-day it touched twenty. And Blake's crowd on the quiet have been
buying it in--freezing out the small stockholders as they went along,
and knowing mighty good and well that the day they announced their
merger the stock would go up with a jump--thirty or forty or fifty
points maybe--and then they'd clean up. Well, I suppose that's
legitimate too--at least it's recognised as regular on Wall Street,
provided you can get away with it. But behind the scenes there's been
some outright, downright, grand larceny going on and, along with that,
legislative corruption too.

"The stealing has been covered up so far, under a blanket of legal
embroidery and fancy phraseology. Trust a wise outfit of lawyers, like
the outfit Blake has on his pay roll, to attend to those little details.
But I have reason to believe, having got hold of the inside story from
strictly private sources, that the gang now in control have laid
themselves liable to prison sentences by a few of the tricks they've
pulled off. For instance, they haven't let a little thing like bribery
stand in their way. They weren't satisfied to stifle a competitive
interest politely and quietly, according to the Wall Street standards.
No; these thugs just naturally clubbed it to death. I guess they saw so
much in it for themselves they took a long chance on being indicted if
the facts ever came out. And I happen to know where we can get the facts
if we go about it in the right way. Listen, carefully!"

For five minutes he talked on, expounding and explaining in
straightaway, sharp sentences. And Singlebury, on the edge of his chair,
listening, felt the lust of the big-game hunter quicken within him.
Every real reporter is a big-game hunter at heart, and the weapon he
uses frequently is a deadly one, even though it is nothing more than a
lead pencil costing five cents at any stationery shop. The scent was in
his nose now, dilating his nostrils; he wriggled to take the trail.

"Now, then, you've got the inside dope, as I get it myself," said Mr.
Foxman at the end of those pregnant five minutes. "You can see for
yourself, though, that a good deal of it--the vital part of it as it
stands now--is mostly surmise and suspicion. Naturally, we can't go to
the bat against this gang with suspicions; we'd probably land in jail
ourselves for criminal libel, instead of landing a few of them in jail,
as we hope to do. But if we can prove up--if we can get hold of the rest
of the evidence--it'll make one of the sweetest beats that was ever
pulled off in this town.

"Of course, as you can see, John W. Blake is the principal figure in the
whole intrigue, just as the Pearl Street line is the key to the merger
scheme. But you stay away from Blake. Don't go near him--yet. If he gets
wind of what we are figuring on doing here in this office he might have
influence enough to make trouble for us before we're ready for the big
blow-off. Leave Blake out of it for the time being--leave him strictly
alone! He can do his talking and his explaining after we've smoked the
nigger out of the woodpile. But here are two other men"--he touched the
remaining piles of sorted-out clippings--"who are willing, under cover,
to indulge in a little conversation. I want you to read these morgue
clippings, more to get an angle on their personalities than for any
other reason. Bogardus--Samuel P. Bogardus--used to be Blake's best
little trained performing lobbyist. When it comes to handling the
members of a general assembly or a board of aldermen he's fuller of
cute tricks than a clown dog is. Old Pratt is a different kind of
crook--a psalm-singing, pussyfooted old buccaneer, teaching a Bible
class on Sundays and thimblerigging in Wall Street on week days. As a
Pharisee who's working at the trade he'd make any Pharisee you ever ran
across out yonder on the Pacific Slope, where you came from, look like
a piker.

"Well, for reasons best known to themselves they happen just at present
to be sore at Blake. There's been a falling-out. He may have used them
to do his dirty work in the past; and then, when this melon is ripe to
cut, frozen both of them out of the picnic. I don't care anything about
their quarrels, or their motives either; I am after this story.

"Now, then, here's your campaign: You take to-night off--I'll tell the
night city editor I've assigned you on a special detail--and you spend
the evening reading up on these clippings, so you'll have the
background--the local colour for your story--all in your head. To-morrow
morning at ten o'clock you go to the Wampum Club up on East Fiftieth
Street and send your name in to Mr. Bogardus. He'll be waiting there in
a private room for you, and old Pratt will be with him. We'll have to
keep them under cover, of course, and protect them up to the limit, in
exchange for the stuff they're willing to give up to us. So you're not
to mention them as the sources of any part of your information. Don't
name them in your story or to anybody on earth before or after we print
it. Take all the notes you please while you're with them, but keep your
notes put away where nobody can see 'em, and tear 'em up as soon as
you're done with 'em. They'll probably keep you there a couple of hours,
because they've got a lot to tell, son; take it from me they have. Well,
say they keep you three hours. That'll give you time to get your lunch
and catch the subway and be down town by two-thirty.

"At three o'clock to-morrow afternoon you go to the law offices of
Myrowitz, Godfrey, Godfrey & Murtha in the Pyramid Building on Cedar
Street. Ask to see Mr. Murtha. Send your name in to him; he'll be
expecting you. Murtha is in the firm now, but he gets out on the
fifteenth--four days from now. There's been a row there, too, I believe,
and the other partners are shoving him out into the cold. He's sore.
Murtha ought to be able to tell the rest of what you'll have to know in
order to make our story absolutely libel proof. It may take some digging
on your part, but he'll come through if you only go at him the right
way. In questioning him you can probably take your cues from what
Bogardus and Pratt have already told you. That end of it, though, is up
to you. Anyhow, by this time to-morrow night you ought to have your
whole story lined up."

"Do you want me to come back here then and write it for the next
morning?" asked Singlebury.

"I don't want you to write it here at all," said Mr. Foxman. "This thing
is too big and means too much for us to be taking a chance on a leak
anywhere. Have you got a quiet room to yourself where nobody can break
in on you?"

"Yes, sir," said Singlebury. "I'm living at the Godey Arms Hotel."

"All right then," said Mr. Foxman. "You rent a typewriter and have it
sent up to your room to-morrow morning. When you are ready to start you
get inside that room and sit down at that typewriter with the door
locked behind you, and you stay there till you've finished your yarn.
You ought to be able to do it in a day, by steady grinding. When you're
done tear up all your notes and burn the scraps. Then put your copy in a
sealed envelope and bring it down here and deliver it to me, personally,
here in this room--understand? If I'm busy with somebody else when you
get here wait until I'm alone. And in the meantime, don't tell the city
editor or any member of the staff, or your closest friend, or your best
girl--if you've got one--that you are working on this story. You've not
only got to get it but you've got to keep your mouth shut while you're
getting it and after you've got it--got to keep mum until we print it.
There'll be time enough for you to claim credit when the beat is on the
street."

"I understand, sir," said Singlebury. "And I'm certainly mighty grateful
to you, Mr. Foxman, for this chance."

"Never mind that," said Mr. Foxman. "I'm not picking you for this job
because I like the colour of your hair, or because I'm taken by the cut
of your clothes. I'm picking you because I think you can swing it. Now,
then, go to it!"

Singlebury went to it. With all his reporter's heart and all his
reporter's soul and, most of all, with all his reporter's nose he went
to it. Tucked away in a corner of the evening edition's art room,
deserted now and dark except for the circle of radiance where he sat
beneath an electric bulb, he read and reread the scissorings entrusted
to him by Mr. Foxman, until his mind was saturated with the subject,
holding in solution a mass of information pertaining to the past
activities of the Pearl Street trolley line and of John W. Blake,
freebooter of big business; and of Ezra Pratt, class leader and
financier; and of S. P. Bogardus, statesman and legislative agent.

It was nearly midnight before he restored each group of clippings to its
proper envelope and took the envelopes to a grated window behind the
library and handed them in to a youth on duty there. First, though, he
took time, sitting there in the empty art room, to write a short, joyous
letter to a certain person in San Jose, California, telling her the big
chance had come to him very much sooner than he had expected, and that
if he made good on it--as he had every intention of doing--they might
not, after all, have to wait so very long for that marriage license and
that wedding and that little flat here in little old New York. Then he
went uptown to the Godey Arms Hotel, where his dreams that night were
such dreams as an ambitious young man very much in love with two
sweethearts--one a profession and the other a girl--might be expected to
dream under such circumstances.

Next morning, at the Wampum Club, he saw Bogardus, a grey-haired, rotund
man, and Pratt, an elderly gentleman, with a smile as oily as a fish
duck's apprehending minnows, and a manner as gentle as a fox's stalking
a hen-roost. From these two he extracted all that he had expected to get
and more besides. Indeed, he had but to hold out his hands and together
they shook fruity facts and fruitier figures down upon him in a shower.
Until nearly two o'clock they kept him with them. He had just time to
snatch a hurried bite at a dairy lunch, board a subway express at the
Grand Central, and be at the offices of Myrowitz, Godfrey, Godfrey &
Murtha at three o'clock. A sign painter was altering the firm's name on
the outer door of the firm's reception room, his aim plainly being to
shorten it by the elimination of the Murtha part of it. On beyond the
door the gentleman who thus was being eliminated received Singlebury in
a private room and gave him nearly two hours of his valuable time.

From what Mr. Foxman had said Singlebury rather expected Mr. Murtha, at
the outset, might be reluctant to furnish the coupling links between the
legal chicanery and the financial skullduggery which would make this
projected merger a conspicuous scandal in a district of conspicuous
industrial scandals; had rather expected Mr. Murtha's mind might require
crafty sounding and skillful pumping. Here Singlebury was agreeably
surprised, for, it being first understood that Mr. Murtha's name was
nowhere to appear in what Singlebury might write, Mr. Murtha proved to
be as frank as frank could be. Indeed, when it came to a disclosure of
the rôles played by two of his associates, from whom now he was parting,
Mr. Murtha, the retiring member of this well-known house of corporation
law, betrayed an almost brutal frankness. They, doubtlessly, would have
called it rank professional treachery--base, personal ingratitude and a
violation of all the ethics of their highly ethical calling.

Mr. Murtha, looking at things through very different glasses, put it on
the high ground of his duty, as a citizen and a taxpayer, to the general
health and the general morality of the general public. It is this same
difference of opinion which makes neighbourhood quarrels, lawsuits and
wars between nations popular in the most civilised climes.

In all essential details, the tale, when Murtha was through with
Singlebury and Singlebury was through with Murtha, stood completed and
connected, jointed and doubt-proof. That second evening Singlebury spent
in his room, arranging his data in their proper sequence and mapping out
in his head his introduction. Next day, all day, he wrote his story.
Just before dusk he drew the last page out of his typewriter and
corrected it. The job was done and it was a good job. It ran four
columns and over. It stripped that traffic grab to its bare and grinning
bones. It was loaded with bombshells for the proposed merger and with
the shrapnel of certain criminal prosecution for the men behind that
merger, and most of all for John W. Blake, the man behind those other
and lesser men.

To Singlebury, though, it was even more than this. To him it was a good
story, well written, well balanced, happily adjusted, smartly phrased;
and on top of this, it was the most precious jewel of a reporter's
treasure casket. It was a cracking, smashing, earth-shaking,
exclusive--scoop, as they would have called it out yonder on the Coast
where he came from--beat, as they would call it here in New York.

Personally, as per instructions, he put the finished manuscript into the
hands of Mr. Foxman, in Mr. Foxman's office, then stood by while Mr.
Foxman ran through the opening paragraphs.

"Singlebury," said Mr. Foxman, laying the sheets down, "this looks to me
like a good piece of work. I like your beginning, anyhow. The first ten
lines ought to blow that bunch of pirates clean out of water." He
glanced keenly at the drooping figure of the other. "Kind of played out,
aren't you?"

"A little," confessed the reporter. "Now that it's over, I do feel a bit
let down."

"I'll bet you do," said Mr. Foxman. "Well, you'd better run along to
your hotel and get a good night's rest. Take to-morrow off too--don't
report here until day after to-morrow; that'll be Friday, won't it? All
right then, I'll see you Friday afternoon here; I may have something of
interest to say to you then. Meanwhile, as I told you before, keep your
mouth shut to everybody. I don't know yet whether I'll want to run your
story to-morrow morning or the morning after. My information is that
Blake, through his lawyers, will announce the completion of the merger,
probably on Friday, or possibly on Saturday. I may decide to hold off
the explosion until they come out with their announcement. Really, that
would be the suitable moment to open fire on 'em and smash up their
little stock-market game for them."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dog-tired and happier than any poor dog of a newspaper man has a right
to be, Singlebury went to his room and to bed. And when finally he fell
asleep he dreamed the second chapter of that orange-blossomy dream of
his.

Being left to himself, Mr. Foxman read Singlebury's copy through page by
page, changing words here and there, but on the whole enormously pleased
with it. Then he touched a buzzer button under his desk, being minded to
call into conference the chief editorial writer and the news editor
before he put the narrative into type. Now it happened that at this
precise moment Mr. Foxman's own special boy had left his post just
outside Mr. Foxman's door to skylark with a couple of ordinary copy boys
in the corridor between the city room and the Sunday room, and so he
didn't answer the summons immediately. The fact was, he didn't hear the
bell until Mr. Foxman impatiently rang a second and a third time. Then
he came running, making up a suitable excuse to explain his tardiness as
he came. And during that half minute of delay there leaped out of
nowhere into Mr. Foxman's brain an idea--an idea, horned, hoofed and
hairy--which was to alter the current of his own life and, directly or
indirectly, the lives of scores of others.

       *       *       *       *       *

It would seem I was a trifle premature, back yonder near the beginning
of this chapter, when I used the line: Six-thirty-four--enter the
villain.

Because, as I now realise, the villain didn't enter then. The villain
did not enter until this moment, more than forty-eight hours later,
entering not in the guise of a human being but in the shape of this
tufted, woolly demon of a notion which took such sudden lodgment in Mr.
Foxman's mind. Really, I suppose we should blame the office boy. His
being late may have been responsible for the whole thing.

He poked a tow head in at the door, ready to take a scolding.

"D'yer ring, sir?" he inquired meekly.

"Yes, three times," said Mr. Foxman. "Where have you been?"

"Right here, sir. Somethin' you wanted, sir?"

"No; I've changed my mind. Get out!"

Pleased and surprised to have escaped, the towhead withdrew. Very
deliberately Mr. Foxman lit a cigar, leaned back in his chair, and for a
period took mental accounting of his past, his present and his future;
and all the while he did this a decision was being forged for him, by
that busy devilish little tempter, into shape and point and permanency.

In his fingers he held the means of making himself independent--yes,
even rich. Why--he began asking himself the plaguing question and kept
on asking it--why should he go on working his life out for twelve
thousand dollars a year when, by one safe, secret stroke, he could make
twelve times twelve thousand, or very possibly more? He knew what
happened to newspaper executives who wore out in the harness. Offhand,
he could think of half a dozen who had been as capable as he was, as
active and as zealous, and as single-purposed in their loyalty to the
sheets they served as he was to this sheet which he served.

All of these men had held high editorial posts and, in their prime, had
drawn down big salaries, as newspaper salaries go. Where were they now,
since they had grown old? He knew where they were--mighty good and well
he knew. One trying to run a chicken farm on Staten Island and daily
demonstrating that a man who could manage a newspaper does not
necessarily know how to manage a flock of temperamental White Leghorn
hens; one an exchange editor, a neglected and unconsidered figure of
obscurity, a nonentity almost, and a pensioner, practically, in the same
shop whose affairs his slackened old hands had once controlled; one or
two more of them actually needy--out of work and out at elbows; and so
on, and so forth, through the list.

Well, it rested with Mr. Foxman to avert such a finish to his own
career; the instrument fitted to combat the prospect was here in his
grasp. Temptation, whispering to him, bade him use it--told him he would
be a sorry fool not to use it. What was that line about Opportunity's
knocking once at every man's door? And what was that other line about
there being a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood,
leads on to fortune?

After all, it meant only that he break faith with five men:--with his
employer, General Lignum, who trusted him; with his underling,
Singlebury, who had done a good job of work for him; and with three
others whom, for the sake of convenience, he mentally grouped
together--Bogardus and Pratt and Murtha, the lawyer. These three he
eliminated from the equation in one puff of blue cigar smoke. For they
were all three of them crooks and plotters and double dealers, masters
of the dirty trick and the dirty device, who conspired together to serve
not the general good, but their own squalid and contemptible ends.

For General Lignum he had more heed. Perhaps I should say here that
until this hour this man, Hobart Foxman, had been an honest man--not
just reasonably honest but absolutely honest, a man foursquare as a
smokehouse. Never before had it occurred to him to figure up to see
whether honesty really paid. He did some brisk figuring now.

After all, did it pay? As a reporter, back yonder in the old days when
he, a raw cub, first broke into this wearing, grinding newspaper game,
he had despised fakers and faking and the petty grafting, the cheap
sponging to which he saw some reporters--not many, perhaps, but
some--descending. As an assistant sporting editor, after his first
promotion from the ranks, he had been content to live upon his somewhat
meagre salary, refusing to fatten his income by taking secret pay from
prize-fight promoters wishful of getting advertisements dressed up as
news stories into the columns of the sporting page. As a staff
correspondent, first at Albany and then at Washington, he had walked
wide of the lobbyists who sought to corrupt and succeeded in corrupting
certain correspondents, and by corrupting them were able sometimes to
colour the news, sometimes to suppress it. Always the dispatches he
signed had been unbiased, fair, above the board.

To be sure, Foxman had played office politics the while he went up, peg
by peg. To men above him he had been the assiduous courtier, crooking
the pregnant knee before those who might help him onward. But, then,
that was a part of the game--office politics was. Even so, playing it to
the top of his bent, he had been on the level. And what had being on the
level brought him? It had brought him a place of executive authority and
a salary of twelve thousand a year. And these two things--the place and
the twelve thousand--he would continue to have and to hold and to enjoy
for just so long as he was strong enough to fight off ambitious younger
men, climbing up from below as he had climbed; or, worse luck, for just
so long as he continued to please the mercurial millionaire who two
years earlier, at public outcry, had bought _The Clarion_, lock, stock
and barrel, with its good will and fixtures--just as a man might buy a
cow with its calf in the drover's pen.

That brought him round again to a consideration of General Lignum.
Metaphysically he undressed the general and considered him naked. He
turned him about and looked at him on every side. The result was not
flattering to that impressive and dignified gentleman. Was General
Lignum so deserving of consideration? What had General Lignum ever done
in all his luxurious days to justify him to a place in the sun? Lignum
never worked for his millions; he inherited them. When Lignum bought
_The Clarion_, then as now a losing property, he had been actuated by
the same whim which makes a spoiled child crave the costliest toy in the
toy shop and, like that spoiled child, he would cast it aside, unmindful
of its future, in the same hour that he tired of his newest possession
and of the cost of its upkeep.

Wasn't Lignum lavishing wads of his easy-come, easy-go money on it now,
because of his ambition to be a United States senator? Most certainly he
was--for that and nothing else. Barring his wealth, which was a gift to
him, and his newspaper, which was a plaything, what qualified this
dilettante to sit in the seats of the mighty? What did Lignum know of
the toil and the sweat and the gifts spent by men, whose names to him
were merely items in a pay roll, to make _The Clarion_ a power in the
community and in the country? What did he care? In the last analysis
what anyhow was this General Robert Bruce Lignum except a bundle of
pampered selfishness, wrapped up in a membrane, inclosed in a frock coat
and lidded under a high hat? When he got that far Mr. Foxman decided he
owed Lignum nothing, as compared with what Lignum owed him. Well, here
was a chance to collect the debt, with back dividends and interest
accrued. He would collect. He would make himself independent of the
whims of Lignum, of the necessity of daily labour, of the uncertainties
of his position, of the certainty of the oncoming of age when his hand
must tire and his wits grow blunted.

This left to be disposed of--only Singlebury. And Singlebury, in Mr.
Foxman's mind, was now become the least of the factors concerned. In
this, his new scheme of things that had sprung full-grown from the loins
of a great and a sudden desire, a Singlebury more or less mattered not a
whit. In the same moment that he decided to discard Singlebury the means
of discarding Singlebury came to him.

That inspiration clarified the situation tremendously, interlocking one
part of his plan with the others. In any event the lips of Pratt,
Bogardus and Murtha were closed, and their hands tied. By now Lignum was
at least a thousand miles out at sea. In the working out of his scheme
Foxman would be safe from the meddlings and muddlings of Old Lignum.
Already he had begun to think of that gentleman as Old Lignum instead of
as General Lignum, so fast were his mental aspects and attitudes
altering. Finally, with Singlebury out of the way, the plot would stand
up, a completed and almost a perfect edifice.

However, there was one contingency to be dared. In a way it was a risk,
yet an inevitable one. No matter what followed he must put the exposé
story into print; that absolutely was requisite to the proper
development of the plan. For Mr. Foxman well knew the psychological
effect of the sight of cold type upon the minds of men planning evil
things. He didn't know John W. Blake personally, but he knew John W.
Blake's kind, and he figured John W. Blake as being in his essentials no
different from the run of his kind. Nor was he wrong there, as will
appear. Moreover, the risk, while necessary to the carrying out of his
present designs, was a risk only in the light of possibilities arising
later. Being now fully committed to the venture, he told himself he
shouldn't much care if detection did come after the accomplishment of
his purpose. Long before that could happen, he, having made his pile and
being secure in the possession of a fortune, would be able to laugh in
the faces of his own little world, because anyhow he meant to move on
into another circle very soon thereafter. Yes; there was one risk to be
taken. On the instant that he arrived at this point in his reasonings
he set about taking it.

First off, he read Singlebury's copy through once more, amending the
wording in a few places. He made certain accusations direct and forcible
where the reporter, in his carefulness, had been a trifle vague. Then he
drew to him a block of copy paper and set about heading and subheading
the story. In the days when he sat in the slot of a copy desk Mr. Foxman
had been a master hand at headlining; with disuse his knack of hand had
not grown rusty. He built and balanced a three-column, three-decker top
caption and, to go under it, the heavy hanging indentions and the bold
cross lines. From the body of the manuscript, also, he copied off
several assertions of a particular emphasis and potency and marked them
to go at the top of the story in blackface, with a box about them. This
much done, he went to his door and hailed the night city editor, sitting
a few yards away.

"Oh, Sloan," he said, "send a boy upstairs for McManus, will you?"

"McManus isn't here to-night," answered Sloan. He got up and came over
to his chief. McManus was the make-up editor.

"This isn't McManus' night off, is it?" asked Mr. Foxman.

"No, Mac's sick," explained Sloan; "he was complaining last night and
went home early, and I stayed on to make up his last two pages for him.
A little while ago his wife telephoned in from Bayside that he was in
bed with a high fever. She said the doctor said it was a touch of
malaria and that Mac couldn't possibly get back to work for a week,
anyhow."

"I see," said Mr. Foxman slowly. He ran his eye over the city room.
"Whom did you put on in his place?"

"Gykeman."

"Gykeman, eh?" Mr. Foxman considered a moment. This news of McManus'
indisposition pleased him. It showed how willing was Fate to keep on
dealing him the winning cards. But Gykeman wasn't his choice for the
task he had in mind; that called for someone of a less inquiring, less
curious mind than Gykeman owned. Again his eye ranged the city room. It
fell on a swollen and dissipated face, purplish under the electric
lights.

"I believe you'd better bring Gykeman back downstairs," he said, "I want
him to read copy on that Wilder poisoning case that's going to trial
to-morrow in General Sessions. Let's see." He went through the pretense
of canvassing the available material in sight. Then:

"Hemburg will do. Put Hemburg on make-up until Mac is well again."

"Hemburg?" The city editor's eyebrows arched in surprise. "I thought you
didn't think very highly of Hemburg, Mr. Foxman."

"Hemburg's all right," said Mr. Foxman crisply; "it's his personal
habits I don't fancy very much. Still, with half a load on Hemburg is
capable enough--and I never saw him with less than half a load on. He
can handle the make-up; he used to be make-up man years ago on the old
_Star-Ledger_, it seems to me. Put him on instead of Gykeman--no, never
mind; send him in here to me. I'll tell him myself and give him some
good advice at the same time."

"Well, just as you think best," said Sloan, miffed that his own
selection should have been rejected, but schooled to an unquestioning
obedience by the seemingly slack--but really rigorous--discipline of
a newspaper shop. "I'll send him right in."

Two minutes later Hemburg was standing in an attitude of attention
alongside Mr. Foxman's desk, and from his chair Mr. Foxman was looking
up at him steadily.

"Hemburg," he stated, "I can't say that I've been altogether pleased
with you here of late."

Hemburg put up a splotched, tremulous hand, to hide a weak mouth, and
spoke in his own defence from between his fingers.

"Well, I'm sorry if anything has gone wrong, Mr. Foxman," he began; "I
try----"

"I don't mean there's any particular complaint," stated Mr. Foxman,
"only it struck me you've been getting into a rut lately. Or that you've
been going stale--let's put it that way. On my own judgment I've given
orders that you are to go on make-up temporarily, beginning to-night.
It's up to you to make good there. If you do make good, when McManus
comes back I'll look round and see if there isn't something better than
a forty-dollar-a-week copy-reading job for you in this office."

"I'm--I'm certainly obliged to you, Mr. Foxman," stuttered Hemburg. "I
guess maybe I was getting logy. A fellow certainly does get in a groove
out there on that copy desk," he added with the instinct of the
inebriate to put the blame for his shortcomings on anything rather than
on the real cause of those shortcomings.

"Perhaps so," said Mr. Foxman; "let's see if making a change won't work
a cure. Do you see this?" and he put his hand on the sheaf of
Singlebury's copy lying on his desk, under the captions he himself had
done. "Well, this may turn out to be the biggest beat and the most
important story that we've put over in a year. It's all ready to go to
the type-setting machines--I just finished reading copy on it myself.
But if it leaks out--if a single word about this story gets out of this
building before we're ready to turn it loose on the street--the man
responsible for that leak is going to lose his job no matter who or what
he is. Understand?

"Now, then, excepting you and me and the man who wrote it, nobody
employed inside this building knows there is such a story. I want you to
take it upstairs with you now. Don't let 'em cut it up into regular
takes for the machines. Tell the composing-room foreman--it'll be
Riordan, I guess--that he's to take his two best machine operators off
of whatever they're doing and put 'em to work setting this story up, and
nothing else. Those two men are to keep right at it until it's done. I
want a good, safe-mouthed man to set the head. I want the fastest
proofreader up there, whoever that may be, to read the galley proofs,
holding copy on it himself. Impress it on Riordan to tell the
proofreader, the head setter and the two machine men that they are not
to gab to anyone about what they're doing. When the story is corrected
I want you to put it inside a chase with a hold-for-release line on it,
and cover it up with print paper, sealed and pasted on, and roll it
aside. We've already got one hold-for-release yarn in type upstairs;
it's a Washington dispatch dealing with the Mexican situation. Better
put the two stories close together somewhere out of the way. Riordan
will know where to hide them. Then you bring a set of clean proofs of
this story down here to me--to-night. I'll wait right here for you.

"I'd like to run the thing to-morrow morning, leading with two columns
on the front page and a two-column turnover on page two. But I can't.
There's just one point to be cleared up before it'll be safe to print
it. I expect to clear up that point myself to-morrow. Then if everything
is all right I'll let you know and we'll probably go to the bat with
the story Friday morning; that'll be day after to-morrow. If it should
turn out that we can't use it I want you to dump the whole thing, head
and all, and melt up the lead and forget that such a story ever passed
through your hands. Because if it is safe--if we have got all our facts
on straight--it'll be a great beat. But if we haven't it'll be about the
most dangerous chunk of potential libel that we could have knocking
about that composing room. Do you get the point?"

Hemburg said he got it. His instructions were unusual; but, then, from
Mr. Foxman's words and manner, he realised that the story must be a most
unusual one too. He carried out the injunctions that had been put upon
him, literally and painstakingly. And while so engaged he solemnly
pledged himself never again to touch another drop of rum so long as he
lived. He had made the same promise a hundred times before. But this
time was different--this time he meant it. He was tired of being a hack
and a drudge. This was a real opportunity which Mr. Foxman had thrown in
his way. It opened up a vista of advancement and betterment before him.
He would be a fool not to make the most of it, and a bigger fool still
ever to drink again.

Oh, but he meant it! It would be the straight and narrow path for him
hereafter; the good old water-wagon for his, world without end, amen.
Noticeably more tremulous as to his fingers and his lips, but borne up
with his high resolve, he put the clean proofs of the completed story
into Mr. Foxman's hands about midnight, and then hurried back upstairs
to shape the layout for the first mail edition.

As Mr. Foxman read the proofs through he smiled under his moustache, and
it was not a particularly pleasant smile, either. Printer's ink gave to
Singlebury's masterpiece a sinister emphasis it had lacked in the
typewritten copy; it made it more forceful and more forcible. Its
allegations stuck out from the column-wide lines like naked lance tips.
And in the top deck of the flaring scare head the name of John W. Blake
stood forth in heavy black letters to catch the eye and focus the
attention. Mr. Foxman rolled up the proof sheets, bestowed them
carefully in the inside breast pocket of his coat, and shortly
thereafter went home and to bed.

But not to sleep. Pleasing thoughts, all trimmed up with dollar marks,
ran through his head, chasing away drowsiness. All the same he was up at
eight o'clock that morning--two hours ahead of his usual rising time.
Mrs. Foxman was away paying a visit to her people up-state--another
fortunate thing. He breakfasted alone and, as he sipped his coffee, he
glanced about him with a sudden contempt for the simple furnishings of
his dining room. Well, there was some consolation--this time next year,
if things went well, he wouldn't be slaving his life out for an
unappreciative taskmaster, and he wouldn't be living in this cheap,
twelve-hundred-dollar-a-year flat, either. His conscience did not
trouble him; from the moment the big notion came to him it had not.
Greed had drugged it to death practically instantaneously.

No lees of remorse, no dreggy and bitterish reflections, touching upon
the treachery he contemplated and the disloyalty to which he had
committed himself, bothered him through that busy day. In his brain was
no room for such things, but only for a high cheerfulness and
exaltation. To be sure, he was counting his chickens before they were
hatched, but the eggs were laid, and he didn't see how they could
possibly addle between now and the tallying time of achieved incubation.
So, with him in this frame of mind, the day started. And it was a busy
day.

His first errand was to visit the safety-deposit vaults of a bank on
lower Broadway. In a box here, in good stable securities of a total
value of about sixteen thousand dollars, he had the bulk of his savings.
He got them out and took them upstairs, and on a demand note the
president of the bank loaned him twelve thousand dollars, taking Mr.
Foxman's stocks and bonds as collateral. In the bank he had as a
checking account a deposit somewhat in excess of two thousand dollars.
Lying to Mrs. Foxman's credit was the sum of exactly ten thousand
dollars, a legacy from an aunt recently dead, for which as yet Mrs.
Foxman and her husband had found no desirable form of investment.
Fortunately he held her power of attorney. He transferred the ten
thousand from her name to his, which, with what he had just borrowed and
what he himself had on deposit, gave him an available working capital of
a trifle above twenty-four thousand dollars. He wrote a check payable to
bearer for the whole stake and had it certified, and then, tucking it
away in his pocket, he went round the corner into Broad Street to call
upon John W. Blake at the Blake Bank. The supreme moment toward which he
had been advancing was at hand.

As a man of multifarious and varied interests, and all of them
important, Mr. Blake was a reasonably busy man. Before now ordinary
newspaper men had found it extremely hard to see Mr. Blake. But Mr.
Foxman was no ordinary newspaper man; he was the managing editor of _The
Clarion_, a paper of standing and influence, even if it didn't happen to
be a money-maker at present. Across a marble-pillared, brass-grilled
barrier Mr. Foxman sent in his card to Mr. Blake and, with the card, the
word that Mr. Foxman desired to see Mr. Blake upon pressing and
immediate business. He was not kept waiting for long. An office boy
turned him over to a clerk and the clerk in turn turned him over to a
secretary, and presently, having been ushered through two outer rooms,
Mr. Foxman, quite at his ease, was sitting in Mr. Blake's private
office, while Mr. Blake read through the galley proofs of Singlebury's
story to which the caller had invited his attention.

The gentleman's face, as he read on, gave no index to the feelings of
the gentleman. Anyhow, Mr. Blake's face was more of a manifest than an
index; its expression summed up conclusions rather than surmises. As a
veteran player--and a highly successful one--in the biggest and most
chancy game in the world, Mr. Blake was fortunate in having what lesser
gamesters call a poker face. Betraying neither surprise, chagrin nor
indignation, he read the article through to the last paragraph of the
last column. Then carefully he put the crumpled sheets down on his big
desk, leaned back in his chair, made a wedge of his two hands by
matching finger tip to finger tip, aimed the point of the wedge directly
at Mr. Foxman, and looked with a steadfast eye at his visitor. His
visitor looked back at him quite as steadily, and for a moment or two
nothing was said.

"Well, Mr. Foxman?" remarked Mr. Blake at length. There was a mild
speculation in his inflection--nothing more.

"Well, Mr. Blake?" replied the other in the same casual tone.

"I suppose we needn't waste any time sparring about," said Mr. Blake. "I
gather that your idea is to publish this--this attack, in your paper?"

"That, Mr. Blake, is exactly my idea, unless"--and for just a moment Mr.
Foxman paused--"unless something should transpire to cause me to change
my mind."

"I believe you told me when you came in that at this moment you are in
absolute control of the columns and the policy of _The Clarion_?"

"I am--absolutely."

"And might it be proper for me to ask when you contemplate printing this
article--in what issue?" Mr. Blake was very polite, but no more so than
Mr. Foxman. Each was taking the cue for his pose from the other.

"It is a perfectly proper question, Mr. Blake," said Mr. Foxman. "I may
decide to print it day after to-morrow morning. In the event of certain
contingencies I might print it to-morrow morning, and again on the other
hand"--once more he spoke with deliberate slowness--"I might see my way
clear to suppressing it altogether. It all depends, Mr. Blake."

"Did it ever occur to you that with this warning which you have so
kindly given me, I have ample opportunity to enjoin you in the courts
from printing all or any part of this article on to-morrow or any
subsequent day?"

"You are at perfect liberty to try to enjoin us, Mr. Blake. But did it
ever occur to you that such a step wouldn't help your case in the
least? Go ahead and enjoin, Mr. Blake, if you care to, and see what
would happen to you in the matter of--well, let us say, undesirable
publicity. Instead of one paper printing these facts--for they are
facts, Mr. Blake--you would have all the papers printing them in one
shape or another."

"Without arguing that point further just now, might I be allowed to
mention that I fail to understand your motive in coming to me, Mr.
Foxman, at this time?" said the banker.

"Mr. Blake," said Mr. Foxman, contemplating the tip of his cigar, "I'll
give you two guesses as to my motive, and your first guess will be the
correct one."

"I see," stated the other meditatively, almost gently. Then, still with
no evidences of heat or annoyance: "Mr. Foxman, there is a reasonably
short and rather ugly word to describe what you are driving at. Here in
this part of town we call it blackmail."

"Mr. Blake," answered the editor evenly, "there is a much shorter and
even uglier word which describes your intentions. You will find that
word in the second--or possibly it is the third--line of the first
paragraph of the matter you have just been reading. The word is
'steal.'"

"Possibly you are right, Mr. Foxman," said Mr. Blake dryly. He drew the
proof sheets to him, adjusted his glasses and looked at the topmost
sheet. "Yes, you are right, Mr. Foxman--I mean about the word in
question. It appears in the second line." He shoved the proofs aside.
"It would appear you are a reasonable man--with a business instinct. I
flatter myself that I am reasonable and I have been in business a good
many years. Now, then, since we appear to be on the point of thoroughly
understanding each other, may I ask you another question?"

"You may."

"What is your price for continuing to be--ahem--reasonable?"

"I can state it briefly, Mr. Blake. Being a newspaper man, I am not a
wealthy man. I have an ambition to become wealthy. I look to you to aid
me in the accomplishment of that desire. You stand in a fair way to make
a great deal of money, though you already have a great deal. I stand in
the position not only of being able to prevent you from making that
money, but of being able to make a great deal of trouble for you,
besides. Or, looking at the other side of the proposition, I have the
power to permit you to go ahead with your plans. Whether or not I
exercise that power rests entirely with you. Is that quite plain?"

"Very. Pray proceed, Mr. Foxman. You were going to say----"

"I was going to say that since you hope to make a great deal of money I
wish by cooperation with you, as it were, to make for myself a sum which
I regard as ample for my present needs."

"And by ample--you mean what?"

"I mean this: You are to carry me with your brokers for ten thousand
shares of the common stock of the Pearl Street trolley line on a
ten-point margin. The account may be opened in the name of Mr. X; I, of
course, being Mr. X. I apprehend that the party known as X will see his
way clear to closing out the account very shortly after the formal
announcement of your plans for the East Side transit merger--certainly
within a few days. If there should be any losses you will stand them up
to and including the ten-point margin. If there should be any profits
they go, of course, to Mr. X. I do not anticipate that there will be any
losses, and I do anticipate that there will be some profits. In payment
for this friendly accommodation on your part, I for my part will engage
to prevent the publication in _The Clarion_, or elsewhere, of the
statements contained in those proofs and now standing in type in our
composing room, subject to my order to print the story forthwith, or to
withhold it, or to kill it outright."

"Anything else, Mr. Foxman?" inquired Mr. Blake blandly.

"Yes, one other thing: You are to give the necessary order now, in my
presence, over the telephone to your brokers. After that you are to go
with me to their offices to complete the transaction and to identify me
properly as the Mr. X who is to be the owner of this particular
account; also you are to explain to them that thereafter the account is
subject to my orders and mine alone. I think that will be sufficient."

"It would seem, Mr. Foxman, that you do not trust me to deal fairly with
you in this matter?"

"I do not have to trust you, Mr. Blake. And so I choose not to."

"Exactly. And what guaranty have I that you will do your part?"

"Only my word, Mr. Blake. You will observe now that the shoe is on the
other foot. I do not have to trust you--whereas you do have to trust me.
But if you need any guaranty other than the thought of where my
self-interest lies in the matter I may tell you that in addition to the
stocks which you are to carry for me I intend to invest in Pearl Street
common to the full extent of my available cash resources, also on a
ten-point margin. Here is the best proof of that." He hauled out his
certified check for twenty-four thousand and some odd dollars and handed
it over to Mr. Blake.

Mr. Blake barely glanced at it and handed it back, at the same time
reaching for his desk telephone.

"Mr. Foxman," he said, "there may be some pain but there is also
considerable pleasure to me in dealing with a reasonable man. I see that
your mind is made up. Why then should we quibble? You win, Mr.
Foxman--you win in a walk. Whatever opinions I may entertain as to your
private character and whatever opinions you may entertain as to my
private character, I may at least venture to congratulate you upon your
intelligence. ... Oh, yes, while I think of it, there is one other thing,
Mr. Foxman: I don't suppose you would care to tell me just how you came
into possession of the information contained in your article?"

"I would not."

"I thought as much. Excuse me one moment, if you please." And with that
Mr. Blake, still wearing his poker face, joggled the lever of the
telephone.

       *       *       *       *       *

What with certain negotiations, privately conducted and satisfactorily
concluded at the brokers', Mr. Foxman was engaged until well on into the
afternoon. This being done, he walked across to the front of the stock
exchange, where he found a rank of taxis waiting in line for fares when
the market should close. The long, lean months of depression had passed
and the broker gentry did not patronise the subway these days. Daily at
three o'clock, being awearied by much shearing of woolly, fat sheep,
they rode uptown in taxicabs, utterly regardless of mounting motor
tariffs and very often giving fat tips to their motor drivers besides.
But it is safe to say no broker, however sure he might be of the return
of national confidence, gave a fatter tip that day than the one which
Mr. Foxman handed to the taxicab driver who conveyed him to his club, in
the Upper Forties. Mr. Foxman was in a mood to be prodigal with his
small change.

Ordinarily he would have spent an hour or two of the afternoon and all
of the evening until midnight or later at _The Clarion_ office. But on
this particular day he didn't go there at all. Somehow, he felt those
familiar surroundings, wherein he had worked his way to the topmost peg
of authority, and incidentally to the confidence of his employer and his
staff, might be to him distastefully reminiscent of former times. Mind
you, he had no shame for the thing he had done and was doing; but
instead had only a great and splendid exhilaration. Still, he was just
as comfortable in his own mind, staying away from that office. It could
get along without him for this once. It might as well get used to the
sensation anyway; for very shortly, as he figured the prospect, it would
have to get along without him.

At his club he ate a belated luncheon and to kill the time played
billiards with two other men, playing with his accustomed skill and with
a fine show of spirits. Billiards killed the time for him until
seven-thirty, which exactly suited his purpose, because at seven-thirty
the acting make-up editor should be reporting for duty down at _The
Clarion_ shop.

Mr. Foxman entered a sound-proof booth in the little corridor that
opened off the main-entry hall of the club and, after calling up the
night desk and notifying Sloan he would not come to the office at all
that night, asked Sloan to send Hemburg to the telephone.

"Is that you, Hemburg?" he was saying, half a minute later. "Listen,
Hemburg, this is very important: You remember that story I turned over
to you last night? ... Yes, that's the same one--the story I told you we
would run, provided I could establish one main point. Well, I couldn't
establish that point--we can't prove up on our principal allegation.
That makes it dangerous to have the thing even standing in type. So you
go upstairs and kill it--kill it yourself with your own hands, I mean. I
don't want to take any chances on a slip-up. Dump the type and have it
melted up. And, Hemburg--say nothing to anyone about either the story
itself or what has happened to it. Understand me? ... Good. And, Hemburg,
here's another thing: You recall the other story that I told you was
being held for release--the one on the Mexican situation? It's got a
Washington date line over it. Well, shove it in to-night as your leading
news feature. If we hold it much longer it's liable to get stale--the
way things are breaking down there in Mexico. All right; good-bye!"

He had rung off and hung up and was coming out of the little booth when
a fresh inspiration came to him and he stepped back in again. One factor
remained to be eliminated--Singlebury. Until that moment Mr. Foxman had
meant to sacrifice Singlebury by the simple expedient of sending him
next day on an out-of-town assignment--over into New Jersey, or up into
New England perhaps--and then firing him by wire, out of hand, for some
alleged reportorial crime, either of omission or of commission. It would
be easy enough to cook up the pretext, and from his chief's summary
dismissal of him Singlebury would have no appeal. But suppose Singlebury
came back to town, as almost surely he would, and suppose he came filled
with a natural indignation at having been discharged in such fashion,
and suppose, about the same time, he fell to wondering why his great
story on the Pearl Street trolley steal had not been printed--certainly
Singlebury had sense enough to put two and two together--and suppose on
top of that he went gabbling his suspicions about among the born gossips
of Park Row? It might be awkward.

These were the thoughts that jumped into Mr. Foxman's mind as he stepped
out of the booth, and in the same instant, while he was stepping back in
again, he had the answer for the puzzle. Since he meant to make a burnt
offering of Singlebury, why not cook him to a cinder and be done with
it, and be done with Singlebury too? A method of doing this was the
inspiration that came on the threshold of the telephone booth; and when
immediately he undertook to put the trick into effect he found it, in
its preliminary stages, working with that same satisfactory promise of
fulfillment that had marked all his other undertakings, shaping into the
main undertaking.

For example, when he called up the Godey Arms Hotel and asked for Mr.
Singlebury, which was the thing he next did, the telephone operator of
the hotel exchange told him Mr. Singlebury had gone out for the evening,
leaving word behind that he would be back at midnight. Now that exactly
suited Mr. Foxman. Had Singlebury been in he had meant, on the pretext
of desiring to question him later upon some trivial point in the big
story, to have Singlebury be at some appointed telephone rendezvous
shortly after midnight. But he knew now with reasonable certainty where
Singlebury would be during that hour. This knowledge simplified matters
considerably; it saved him from the bother of setting the stage so
elaborately. Without giving his name to the young woman at the hotel
switchboard he asked her to tell Singlebury, upon his return, that a
gentleman would call him up on business of importance some time between
twelve and one o'clock. She said she would remember the message and,
thanking her, he rang off. Well content, he went to a theatre where a
farce was playing, sat through the performance and, going back again to
his club after the performance, had a late supper in the grill.

At twelve-forty-five he finished his coffee. Entering the telephone
booth he got first the Godey Arms upon the wire, and then, after a
moment, the waiting and expectant Singlebury. In his mind all evening
Mr. Foxman had been carefully rehearsing just what he would say and just
how he would say it. Into his voice he put exactly the right strain of
hurried, sharp anxiety as he snapped:

"Is that you, Singlebury?"

"Yes, it's Singlebury," came back the answer. "That's you, Mr. Foxman,
isn't it? I rather imagined it would be you from what----"

Mr. Foxman broke in on him.

"Singlebury, there's hell to pay about that story you wrote for me.
Somebody talked--there was a leak somewhere."

"On my word of honour, Mr. Foxman," said the jostled Singlebury, "it
wasn't I. I obeyed your orders to the letter and----"

"I haven't time now to try to find out who gabbled," snapped back Mr.
Foxman; "there are things more important to consider. About half-past
seven to-night--that was when I first tried to reach you from down here
at the office--I got wind that Blake's crowd had found out about our
surprise and were getting busy. That was what I'd been afraid of, as
I told you. In the fear that they might try to enjoin us if we held
off publication any longer I gave orders to slam the story into the
early-mail edition that went to press twenty minutes ago. And now--now
when the mischief is done--when thousands of papers are already
printed--I find out that we've committed criminal libel, and the worst
kind of criminal libel--not against Blake--we are safe enough there--but
against Eli Godfrey, Senior, one of the biggest lawyers in this town.
In your story you accused him of being one of the lawyers who helped to
frame this deal. That's what you did!"

"Yes--but--why--but"--stammered Singlebury--"but, Mr. Foxman, Eli
Godfrey, Senior, was the man. He was--wasn't he? All my information
was----"

"It was his son, Eli Godfrey, Junior, his partner in the firm," declared
Mr. Foxman, lying beautifully and convincingly. "That's who it was. The
father had nothing to do with it; the son everything. You got the whole
thing twisted. I've snatched the forms back and I'm throwing the story
out of the second edition and filling the hole with a Washington story
that we happened to have handy. So your story probably won't be in the
edition that you will see. But that doesn't help much--if any. We've
kept the libel out of our local circulation, but it's already in the
early mails and we can't catch up with it or stop it there. It's too
late to save us or to save you."

"To save me?"

"That's what I said. I guess you don't know what the laws against
criminal libel in this state are? _The Clarion_ will be sued to the
limit, that's sure. But, as the man who wrote the story, you can be
sent to the penitentiary under a criminal prosecution for criminal
libel. Do you understand--to the penitentiary? I'm liable, too, in a way
of course--anybody who had anything to do with uttering or circulating
the false statement is liable. But you are in worse than the rest of
us."

In his room at the other end of the wire panic gripped poor Singlebury.
With a feeling that the earth had suddenly slumped away from under his
feet he clung desperately to the telephone instrument. He had accepted
this terrifically startling disclosure unquestioningly. Why should he
question it?

"But if--if there was no malice--if the mistake was made innocently and
in ignorance----" he babbled.

In his place in the club telephone booth Mr. Foxman, interpreting the
note of fright in the reporter's voice, grinned to himself. Singlebury,
it was plain, didn't know anything about libel law. And Singlebury, it
was equally plain, was accepting without question or analysis all that
he was hearing.

"Lack of malice doesn't excuse in this state!" Mr. Foxman said, speaking
with grim menace; "you haven't a leg to stand on. There'll be warrants
out before breakfast time in the morning; and by noon you'll be in a
jail cell unless you get out of this town to-night before they find out
the name of the man who wrote this story. Have you got any money?"

"I've--I've got some money," answered Singlebury, shaping the words with
difficulty. "But, Mr. Foxman, if I'm responsible I can face the
consequences. I'm willing to----"

"Singlebury, I'm telling you that you haven't a chance. I sent you out
on this story--that was my mistake--and you got your facts twisted--that
was your mistake. Even so, I don't want to see you suffer. I tell you
you haven't a show if you stay in this state ten hours longer. You'll
wear stripes. I'm warning you--giving you this chance to get away while
there's still time--because you're a young man, a stranger in this
community, with no influence to help you outside of what _The Clarion_
could give you, and that would be mighty little. _The Clarion_ will be
in bad enough itself. The man who owns this paper would sacrifice you in
a minute to save himself or his paper. He can't afford to throw me to
the lions, but with you it's different. If you beat it he may make a
scapegoat of you, but it'll be at long distance where it won't hurt you
much. If you stay you'll be a scapegoat just the same--and you'll serve
time besides. Because I can't help feeling sorry for you I'm offering
you a chance by giving you this warning."

"I'll go then--I'll go right away, I'll do as you say, sir. What--what
would you suggest?"

"If I were you I'd catch a ferry for the Jersey shore before
daylight--they run all night, the ferries do. And as soon as I landed on
the Jersey shore I'd catch a train for the West or the South or
somewhere and I'd stay on it till it stopped, no matter how far it took
me--the farther from this town the better. And for the time being I'd
change my name--that's my parting confidential advice to you. Good-bye.
I've wasted more time already than I can spare." And having, as he
figured, chosen the proper moment for ringing off, Mr. Foxman
accordingly rang off.

But he made sure of the last detail--this calculating, foreseeing,
prudent man. It was less than six blocks from his club to Singlebury's
hotel. He drove the distance as speedily as a motor could carry him and,
halting the taxi he had hired in the quiet street on the opposite side
of the roadway, he, hidden in its interior, sat waiting and watching
through the cab window; until, a little later, he saw Singlebury issue
from the doorway of the Godey Arms, carrying a valise in his hand, saw
him climb into a hansom cab and saw him drive away, heading westward.

By Mr. Foxman's directions his own cab trailed the cab bearing the other
right to the ferry. Not until his eyes had followed the diminishing
figure of the reporter while it vanished into the ferry house did he
give orders to his driver to take him home to his apartment. Seasoned
and veteran nighthawk of the Tenderloin that he was, the driver
concerned himself not a bit with the peculiar conduct of any passenger
of his. He did simply as he was told. If he was paid his legal fare and
a sufficient tip besides, he could forget anything that happened while
he and his chariot were under charter. For a sufficiently attractive
bonus he would have winked at manslaughter. That was his code.

Being deposited at his home shortly before three A. M., Mr. Foxman
became aware of a let-down sensation. With the strain relieved he felt
the after-effects of the strain. He was sleepy and he was very tired;
likewise very happy. Not a slip had occurred anywhere. Blake had been
tractable and Singlebury had been credulous, and Hemburg, of course, had
been obedient. The story would never see daylight, the big merger would
be announced according to schedule, and Pearl Street common would go
kiting up thirty or forty, or maybe fifty points. And he was loaded to
the gunwales with the stock--bought at nineteen and three-quarters. For
obvious reasons Blake would keep his mouth shut; for other reasons, just
as good, Pratt, Bogardus and Murtha would keep their mouths closed too.
They might, in private, indulge in a spell of wonderment, but they would
do their wondering where no outsider overheard it--that was sure.

Hemburg, who travelled in an alcoholic maze anyhow, doing as he was told
and asking no questions, would not be apt to talk. Why should he talk?
Moreover, upon some plausible excuse Mr. Foxman meant that Hemburg and
_The Clarion_ should shortly part company. General Lignum, happily,
would be absent from the country for at least a month and possibly for
six weeks. If by the time he returned he hadn't forgotten all about the
East Side traction business it would be easy enough to make him forget
about it. Pulling wool over Lignum's eyes should be the easiest of jobs.
Lignum would be having his political ambitions to think about; one beat
more or less would mean nothing to Lignum, who had no journalistic
instincts or training anyway.

As for Singlebury--well, the coup by which that young man had been
disposed of was the smartest trick of them all, so Mr. Foxman told
himself. Every avenue leading to possible detection was closed up,
blocked off and sealed shut. In any event he, Hobart Foxman, was bound
to make his pile; it was highly probable that there would be no price to
pay in the subsequent loss of Hobart Foxman's professional reputation.
He had been prepared, if need be, to surrender his good name in exchange
for a fortune, but if he might have both--the name and the fortune--so
much the better for Hobart Foxman.

He hummed a cheerful little tune as he undressed himself and got into
bed. There he slept like a dead man until the long hand of the clock
had circled the clock face a good many times.

It was getting along toward eleven o'clock in the forenoon and the
summer sunlight, slipping through chinks in the curtains at the windows
of his bedroom, had patterned the bed covers with yellow stencillings
when Mr. Foxman awoke. For a spell he yawned and stretched. Then, in his
slippers and his dressing gown, he went through the hall to the dining
room to tell the maid out in the kitchen she might serve him his
breakfast. According to the rule of the household copies of all the
morning papers were lying at his place on the dining table. There was
quite a sizable heap of them. _The Clarion_, folded across, made the
topmost layer of the pile. Governed more by a habit of long standing
than by any active desire to see what it contained, he picked it up and
opened it out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out in the kitchen the maid heard some one in the dining room give a
queer strangled cry. She came running. Her master stood in the middle of
the floor with an opened newspaper in his two shaking hands. He didn't
seem to see her, didn't seem to hear the astonished bleat which promptly
she uttered; but above the rim of the printed sheet she saw his face.
She saw it in the first instant of entering, and for sundry succeeding
seconds saw nothing else. It was a face as white as so much chalk, and
set in it a pair of eyes that popped from their sockets and glared like
two shiny, white-ringed, agate marbles, and at its lower end a jaw that
lolled down until it threatened self-dislocation. The maid figured Mr.
Foxman had been rendered suddenly and seriously unwell by something
shocking he had found in the paper.

Therein she was right; it was a true diagnosis if ever there was one.
Mr. Foxman had been suddenly and sorely stricken in the midst of health
and contentment; Mr. Foxman was now seriously unwell, both physically
and as to the state of his nervous system.

Indeed the gentleman was in even more deplorable case than the foregoing
words would indicate. Mr. Foxman was the engineer who is hoisted by his
own petard. He was the hunter who falls into the pitfall he himself has
digged, who is impaled on the stake he himself has planted. He was the
hangman who chokes in the noose he wove for other victims. In short, Mr.
Foxman was whatever best describes, by simile and comparison, the
creature which unexpectedly is wrecked and ruined by contrivances of its
own devisement.

At the top of the first page of _The Clarion_, smeared across three
columns in letters which, to Mr. Foxman's petrified gaze, seemed cubits
high, ran a certain well-remembered scare head, and under that, in
two-column measure, a box of black-faced type, and under that, with its
accusations bristling out from the body matter like naked lance tips,
followed the story which told of the proposed Pearl Street trolley grab
and the proposed East Side merger steal.

All of it was there, every word of it, from the crackling first
paragraph to the stinging wasp tail of the last sentence!

The telephone has played a considerable part in this recital. It is to
play still one more part and then we are done with telephones.

Mr. Foxman regained the faculty of consecutive thought--presently he
did. He ran to the telephone, and after a little time during which he
wildly blasphemed at the delay he secured connection with the office of
the firm of brokers who carried the account of Mr. X.

It was too late to save anything from the wreckage; the hour for
salvaging had gone by. A clerk's voice, over the wire, conveyed back the
melancholy tidings. A bomb had burst in Wall Street that morning. The
East Side merger scheme had been blown into smithereens by a sensational
story appearing in _The Clarion_, and the fragments still were falling
in a clattering shower on the floor of the stock exchange. As for Pearl
Street trolley common, that had gone clear through to the basement. The
last quotation on this forsaken stock had been seven and a half asked,
and nothing at all offered.

The account of Mr. X, therefore, was an account no longer; it was off
the books. Mr. X's ten-point margin having been exhausted, Mr. X had
been closed out, and to all intents and purposes neither he nor his
account any longer existed.

Mr. Foxman's indisposition increased in the intensity of its visible
symptoms until the alarmed maid, standing helplessly by, decided that
Mr. Foxman was about to have a stroke of some sort. As a matter of fact
he had already had it--two strokes really, both of them severe ones.

       *       *       *       *       *

We go back a little now--to the evening before. We go back to the
alcoholic Hemburg, trying to make good in his _ad-interim_ eminence as
acting make-up editor and, in pursuance of this ambition, riding for the
time being upon the water wagon, with every personal intention of
continuing so to ride during all time to come.

When he came on duty shortly after seven o'clock every famished,
tortured fibre in him was calling out for whiskey. His thirst was riding
him like an Old Man of the Seas. He sweated cold drops in his misery
and, to bolster his resolution, called up every shred of moral strength
that remained to him. Inside him a weakened will fought with an outraged
appetite, and his jangled nerves bore the stress of this struggle
between determination and a frightful craving.

In this state then, with his brain cells divided in their allegiance to
him and his rebellious body in a tremor of torment, he was called upon
very soon after his arrival at the office to carry out an important
commission for the man who had bestowed upon him his temporary
promotion. Taking the command over the wire, he hurried upstairs to
execute it.

Had he been comparatively drunk it is certain that Hemburg would have
made no slip; automatically his fuddled mind would have governed his
hand to mechanical obedience of the direction. But being comparatively
sober--as sober as nearly twenty-four hours of abstinence could make
him--poor Hemburg was in a swirl of mental confusion. At that,
out-mastered as he was, he made only one mistake.

There were two stories lying in type, side by side, on the stone. One of
them was to be played up in the leading position in the make-up. The
other was to be dumped in the hell-box. That was the order, plain enough
in his own mind. So one of them he dumped, and the other one he put in
the forms to be printed.

The mistake he made was this: He dumped the wrong one and he ran the
wrong one. He dumped the long Washington dispatch into a heap of metal
linotype strips, fit only to be melted back again into leaden bars, and
he ran the Singlebury masterpiece. That's what Hemburg did--that's all.

       *       *       *       *       *

Well then, these things resulted: Mrs. Foxman lost her
ten-thousand-dollar legacy and never thereafter forgave her husband for
frittering away the inheritance in what she deemed to have been a mad
fit of witless speculation. Even though his money had gone with hers
she never forgave him.

Mr. Foxman, having sold his birthright of probity and honour and
self-respect for as bitter and disappointing a mess of pottage as ever
mortal man had to swallow, nevertheless went undetected in his
crookedness and continued to hold his job as managing editor of _The
Clarion_.

General Robert Bruce Lignum, a perfectly innocent and well-meaning
victim, was decisively beaten in his race for the United States
senatorship. Mr. Blake saw to that personally--Mr. John W. Blake, who
figured that in some way he had been double-crossed and who, having in
silence nursed his grudge to keep it warm, presently took his revenge
upon Foxman's employer, since he saw no way, in view of everything, of
hurting Foxman without further exposing himself. Also, to save himself
and his associates from the possibility of travelling to state's prison,
Mr. Blake found it incumbent upon him to use some small part of his
tainted fortune in corrupting a district attorney, who up until then had
been an honourable man with a future before him of honourable preferment
in the public service. So, though there were indictments in response to
public clamour, there were no prosecutions, and the guilty ones went
unwhipped of justice. And after a while, when the popular indignation
engendered by _The Clarion's_ disclosure had entirely abated, and the
story was an old story, and the law's convenient delays had been
sufficiently invoked, and a considerable assortment of greedy palms at
Albany and elsewhere had been crossed with dirty dollars, the East Side
merger, in a different form and with a different set of dummy directors
behind it, was successfully put through, substantially as per former
programme. But by that time the original holders of Pearl Street trolley
stocks had all been frozen out and had nothing to show for their pains
and their money, except heart pangs and an empty bag to hold.

Bogardus, the lobbyist, and old Pratt, the class leader, and Lawyer
Murtha, the two-faced--not one of whom, judged by the common standards
of honest folk, had been actuated by clean motives--enjoyed their little
laugh at Blake's passing discomfiture, but afterward, as I recall, they
patched up their quarrels with him and each, in his own special field of
endeavour, basked once more in the golden sunshine of their patron's
favour, waxing fat on the crumbs which dropped from the greater man's
table.

Hemburg's reward for striving, however feebly, to cure himself of the
curse of liquor was that promptly he lost his place on _The Clarion's_
staff--Mr. Foxman personally attended to that detail--and because of his
habits could not get a job on any other paper and became a borrower of
quarters along Park Row.

Singlebury, who did a good reporter's job and wrote a great story, was
never to have the small consolation of knowing that after all he had not
committed criminal libel, nor that he had not got his names or his facts
twisted, nor even that his story did appear in _The Clarion_. Without
stopping long enough even to buy a copy of the paper, he ran away, a
fugitive, dreading the fear of arrest that had been conjured up in
another's imagination and craftily grafted upon his beguiled
intelligence. And he never stopped running, either, until he was in
Denver, Colorado, where he had to make a fresh start all over again.
While he was making it the girl in San Jose, California, got tired of
waiting for him and broke off the engagement and married someone else.

What is the moral of it all?

You can search me.



CHAPTER IX

PERSONA AU GRATIN


To every town, whether great or ungreat, appertain and do therefore
belong certain individualistic beings. In the big town they are more or
less lost, perhaps. In the smaller town they are readily to be found and
as readily to be recognised. There is, for example, the man who, be the
weather what it may and frequently is, never wears underwear, yet
continues ever to enjoy health so robust as to constitute him,
especially in winter time, a living reproach to all his fleece-lined
fellow citizens. There is the man who hangs round somebody's livery
stable, being without other visible means of support, and makes a
specialty of diagnosing the diseases of the horse and trimming up fox
terrier pups, as regards their ears and tails. Among the neighbouring
youth, who yield him a fearsome veneration, a belief exists to the
effect that he never removes the tails with an edged tool but just takes
and bites them off. There is the man who, because his mother or his
wife or his sister takes in sewing, has a good deal of spare time on his
hands and devotes it to carving with an ordinary pocketknife--he'll show
you the knife--a four-foot chain, complete with solid links and
practical swivel ornaments, out of a single block of soft pine, often
achieving the even more miraculous accomplishment of creating a
full-rigged ship inside of a narrow-mouthed bottle.

There is the man who goes about publicly vainglorious of his ownership
of the finest gold-embossed shaving mug in the leading barbershop. There
is the man--his name is apt to be A. J. Abbott or else August
Ackerman--who invariably refers to himself as the first citizen of the
place, and then, to make good his joke, shows the stranger where in the
city directory he, like Abou ben Adhem--who, since I come to think about
it, was similarly gifted in the matter of initials--leads all the rest.
There is the town drunkard, the town profligate, the town beau, the town
comedian. And finally, but by no means least, there is the man who knows
baseball from A, which is Chadwick, to Z, which is Weeghman. These
others--the champion whittler, the dog-biter, and the whole list of
them--are what you might call perennials, but he is a hardy annual,
blossoming forth in the spring when the season opens and His Honour, the
Mayor, throws out the first ball, attaining to full-petalled effulgence
along toward midsummer, as the fight for the flag narrows, growing
fluffy in the pod at the seedtime of the World's Series in October, and
through the long winter hibernating beneath a rich mulch of Spalding's
guides and sporting annuals.

       *       *       *       *       *

The thriving city of Anneburg, situate some distance south of Mason and
Dixon's Line at the point where the Tobacco Belt and the Cotton Belt,
fusing imperceptibly together, mingle the nitrogenous weed and the
bolled staple in the same patchwork strip of fertile loam lands, was
large enough to enjoy a Carnegie library, a municipal graft scandal, and
a reunion of the Confederate Veterans' Association about once in so
often, and small enough to have and to hold--and to value--at least one
characteristic example of each of the types just enumerated. But
especially did it excel in its exclusive possession of J. Henry
Birdseye.

This Mr. Birdseye, be it said, was hardly less widely known than a
certain former governor of the state, who as the leading citizen of
Anneburg took a distinguished part in all civic and communal movements.
Yet the man was not wealthy or eloquent; neither was he learned in the
law nor gifted with the pen. His gainful pursuit was that of being a
commercial traveller. His business of livelihood was to sell Good Old
Mother Menifee's Infallible Chill Cure through nine adjacent counties of
the midcontinental malaria zone. But his principal profession was the
profession of baseball. In his mind G. O. P. stood for Grand Occidental
Pastime, and he always thought of it as spelled with capital letters. He
knew the national game as a mother knows the colour of her first-born's
eyes. He yearned for it in the off-season interim as a drunkard for his
bottle. Offhand he could tell you the exact weight of the bat wielded by
Ed Delehanty in 1899 when Ed hit 408; or what Big Dan Brouthers' average
was in Big Dan's best year; or where Cap. Anson was born and how he
first broke into fast company, and all the lesser circumstances
connected with that paramount event. His was the signature that headed
the subscription list which each February secured for Anneburg a
membership franchise in a Class C League, and he the sincerest mourner
when the circuit uniformly blew up with a low, penniless thud toward the
Fourth of July.

He glanced at the headlines of the various metropolitan papers for which
he subscribed; that was because, as a patriotic and public-spirited
American, he deemed it to be his duty to keep abreast of war, crimes,
markets, politics, and the other live issues of the day; but what he
really read was the sporting department, reading it from the vignette of
its chief editor, displayed in the upper left-hand corner, to the
sweepings of minute diamond dust accumulated in the lower right-hand
corner.

In short, J. Henry Birdseye was a fan in all that the word implies. In a
grist mill, now, a fan means something which winnows out the chaff from
the grain. In the Orient a fan means a plane-surface of coloured paper,
bearing a picture of a snow-capped mountain, and having also a bamboo
handle, and a tendency to come unravelled round the edges. But when
anywhere in these United States you speak of a fan, be you a Harlem
cliff-swallow or a Bangtown jay, you mean such a one as J. Henry
Birdseye. You know him, I know him, everybody knows him. So much being
conceded, we get down to our knitting.

Springtime had come: 'twas early April. The robin, which is a harbinger
in the North and a potpie in the South, had winged his way from
Gulfport, Mississippi, to Central Park, New York, and, stepping stiffly
on his frost-bitten toes, was regretting he had been in such a hurry
about it. Palm Beach being through and Newport not yet begun, the idle
rich were disconsolately reflecting that for them there was nowhere to
go except home. That Anglophobiac of the feathered kingdom, the English
snipe, bid a reluctant farewell to the Old Southern angleworms whose
hospitality he had enjoyed all winter, and headed for Upper Quebec,
intent now on family duties. And one morning Mr. Birdseye picked up the
Anneburg _Press Intelligencer_, and read that on their homebound journey
from the spring training camp the Moguls, league champions four times
hand-running and World's Champions every once in a while, were by
special arrangement to stop off for half a day in Anneburg and play an
exhibition game with the Anneburg team of the K-A-T League.

Nor was it the second-string outfit of the Moguls that would come. That
band of callow and diffident rookies would travel north over another
route, its members earning their keep by playing match games as they
went. No, Anneburg, favoured among the haunts of men, was to be honoured
with the actual presence of the regulars, peerlessly captained by that
short and wily premier of all baseball premiers, so young in years yet
so old in wisdom, Swifty Megrue; and bearing with him in its train such
deathless fixtures of the Temple of Fame as Long Leaf Pinderson, the
Greatest Living Pitcher, he who, though barely out of his teens, already
had made spitball a cherished household word in every American home;
Magnus, that noble Indian, catcher by trade, a red chieftain in his own
right; Gigs McGuire, mightiest among keystone bagsmen and worshipped the
hemisphere over as the most eminent and at the same time the most
cultured umpire-baiter a dazzled planet ever beheld; Flying Jenny
Schuster, batsman extraordinary, likewise base-stealer without a peer;
Albino Magoon, the Circassian Beauty of the outfield, especially to be
loved and revered because a product of the Sunny Southland; Sauer and
Krautman, better known as the Dutch Lunch battery; little Lew Hull, who
could play any position between sungarden and homeplate; Salmon, a
veritable walloping window-blind with the stick; Jordan, who pitched on
occasion, employing a gifted southpaw exclusively therefor; Rube Gracey;
Streaky Flynn, always there with the old noodle and fast enough on his
feet to be sure of a fixed assignment on almost any other team, but
carried in this unparalleled aggregation of stars as a utility player;
Andrew Jackson Harkness; Canuck LaFarge, and others yet besides. These
mastodons among men would flash across the palpitant Anneburg horizon
like a troupe of companion comets, would tarry just long enough to mop
up the porous soil of Bragg County with the best defensive the K-A-T had
to offer, and then at eventide would resume their journey to where, on
the vast home grounds, new glories and fresh triumphs awaited them.

No such honour had ever come to Anneburg before; and as Mr. Birdseye,
with quickened pulse, read and then reread the delectable tidings,
forgetting all else of lesser import which the _Press Intelligencer_
might contain, a splendid inspiration sprang full-grown into his brain,
and in that moment he resolved that her, Anneburg's, honour should be
his, J. Henry Birdseye's, opportunity. Opportunity, despite a current
impression, does not knock once at every man's door. Belief in the
proverb to that effect has spelled many a man's undoing. He has besat
him indoors awaiting the sound of her knuckles upon the panels when he
should have been ranging afield with his eye peeled. As a seasoned
travelling man Mr. Birdseye knew opportunity for what she is--a coy bird
and hard to find--and knew that to get her you must go gunning for her.
But he figured he had the proper ammunition in stock to bring down the
quarry this time--the suitable salt to put on her tail. Of that also he
felt most certain-sure.

The resolution took definite form and hardened. Details, ways and means,
probable contingencies and possible emergencies--all these had been
mapped and platted upon the blueprints of the thinker's mind before he
laid aside the paper. To but one man--and he only under the pledge of a
secrecy almost Masonic in its power to bind--did Mr. Birdseye confide
the completed plan of his campaign. That man was a neighbour of the
Birdseyes, a Mr. Fluellen, more commonly known among friends as Pink
Egg Fluellen. The gentleman did not owe his rather startling titular
adornment to any idiosyncrasy of complexion or of physical aspect. He
went through life an animate sacrifice to a mother's pride. Because in
her veins coursed the blood of two old South Carolina families, the
Pinckneys and the Eggners, the misguided woman had seen fit to have the
child christened Pinckney Eggner. Under the very lip of the baptismal
font the nickname then was born, and through all the days of his fleshy
embodiment it walked with him. As a boy, boy-like, he had fought against
it; as a man, chastened by the experience of maturity, he had ceased to
rebel. Now, as the head of a family, he heard it without flinching.

On his way downtown after breakfast, Mr. Birdseye met Mr. Fluellen
coming out of his gate bound in the same direction. As they walked along
together Mr. Birdseye told Mr. Fluellen all, first, though, exacting
from him a promise which really was in the nature of a solemn oath.

"You see, Pink Egg," amplified Mr. Birdseye when the glittering main fact
of his ambition had been revealed, "it'll be like this: The Moguls get
in here over the O. & Y. V. at twelve-forty-five that day. Coming from
the West, that means they hit Barstow Junction at eleven-twenty and lay
over there nine minutes for the northbound connection. Well, I'm making
Delhi the day before--seeing my trade there. I drive over to the
junction that evening from Delhi--it's only nine miles by buggy--stay
all night at the hotel, and when the train with the team gets in next
morning, who climbs aboard her? Nobody but just little old me."

"But won't there be a delegation from here waiting at Barstow to meet
'em and ride in with 'em?"

Mr. Birdseye was wise in the lore of local time cards. He shook his
head.

"Not a chance, Pinkie, not a chance. The only way to get out to Barstow
from here that morning would be to get up at four o'clock and catch the
early freight. No, sir, the crowd here won't see the boys until we all
come piling off at the union depot at twelve-forty-five. By that time
I'll be calling all those Moguls by their first names. Give me an hour;
that's all I ask--just an hour on the same train together with 'em. You
know me, and from reading in the papers about 'em, you know about what
kind of fellows those Moguls are. Say, Pink Egg, can't you just close
your eyes and see the look on Nick Cornwall's face when he and all the
rest see me stepping down off that train along with Swifty Megrue and
old Long Leaf and the Indian, and all the outfit? I owe Nick Cornwall
one anyway. You remember how shirty he got with me last year when I went
to him and told him if he'd switch Gillam from short to third and put
Husk Blynn second in the batting order instead of fifth, that he'd
improve the strength of the team forty per cent. If he'd only a-done
that, we'd have been in the money sure. But did he do it? He did not. He
told me there was only one manager getting paid to run the club, and so
far as he knew he was him. Manager? Huh! Look where we finished--or
would have finished if the league had lasted out the season. Eight
teams, and us in eighth place, fighting hard not to be in ninth."

"Suppose, though, J. Henry, there just happens to be somebody else from
Anneburg on the twelve-forty-five?"

Perhaps it was a tiny spark of envy in Mr. Fluellen's heart which
inspired him to raise this second doubt against the certainty of his
friend's coup.

"I should worry if there is!" said Mr. Birdseye. "Who else is there in
this town that can talk their own language with those boys like I can?
I'll bet you they're so blamed sick and tired of talking with ignorant,
uneducated people that don't know a thing about baseball, they'll jump
at a chance to associate with a man that's really on to every angle of
the game--inside ball and averages and standings and all that. Human
nature is just the same in a twenty-thousand-a-year big leaguer as it is
in anybody else, if you know how to go at him. And if I didn't know
human nature from the ground up, would I be where I am as a travelling
salesman? Answer me that."

"I guess you're right, J. Henry," agreed Mr. Fluellen. "Gee, I wish I
could be along with you," he added wistfully.

Mr. Birdseye shook his head in earnest discount of any such vain
cravings upon Mr. Fluellen's part. If there had been the remotest
prospect of having Mr. Fluellen for a companion to share in this glory,
he wouldn't have told anything about it to Mr. Fluellen in the first
place.

"Anyhow, I reckon my wife wouldn't hear to it," said Mr. Fluellen
hopelessly. "She's funny that way."

"No, it wouldn't do for you to be along either, Pink Egg," said Mr.
Birdseye compassionately but with all firmness. "You don't know the real
science of baseball the same as I do. They wouldn't care to talk to
anybody that was even the least bit off on the fine points. I was just
thinking--I'll be able to give 'em some tips about how to size up the
situation here--not that they need it particularly."

"J. Henry, you wouldn't tip 'em off to the weak spots in the Anneburg
team?" Loyalty to local ideals sharpened Mr. Fluellen's voice with
anxiety.

"Certainly not, Pink Egg, certainly not," reassured Mr. Birdseye. "What
do you think I am? Not that they need to be told anything. They'll wipe
up the ground with our bunch of morning glories anyway--best we can hope
for is that we don't get skunked and that the score is kind of low. But
I'll certainly put 'em wise to that soft place back of centre field,
where the grass is high. That's only true sportsmanship, that's only
fair."

"Yes," assented Mr. Fluellen, "I reckon that's no more than fair. Well,
as I said before, J. Henry, I certainly wish I was going to be with
you."

       *       *       *       *       *

The great day came and was auspiciously sunshiny from its dawning
onward. Contrary to the custom of trains in certain interior sections of
our common country, the train upon which so much depended slid into
Barstow Junction at eleven-twenty, exactly on time. On the platform of
the little box station, awaiting it, stood our Mr. Birdseye, impatiently
enduring the company of a combination agent-telegrapher-ticketseller,
who wore pink sleeve-garters with rosettes on them and a watch charm
carved from a peach kernel to represent a monkey with its tail curved
over its back.

Mr. Birdseye was costumed in a fashion befitting the spirit of the hour,
as he sensed it. The main item of his attire was a new light-gray
business suit, but lightening touches of a semi-sporting character were
provided by such further adornments as a white Fedora hat with a wide
black band, a soft collar held down trimly with a gold pin fashioned
like a little riding-crop, and low tan shoes with elaborated gunwalelike
extensions of the soles, showing heavy stitching. The finger tips of a
pair of buckskin gloves, protruding from a breast pocket of his coat,
suggested two-thirds of a dozen of small but well-ripened plantains. His
visible jewelry included dog's-head cuff buttons and a fob strap of
plaited leather with a heavy silver harness buckle setting off its
pendant end.

Looking the general effect over from time to time during that dragging
forenoon, he had each separate time felt himself to be habited in
accordance with the best taste and the best judgment, considering the
nature of the occasion and the rôle he meant to play. An added fillip to
his anticipations was afforded by the consciousness that no rival would
divide the coming triumph with him. Anneburg had forty thousand
inhabitants, including whites--that is, forty thousand by the United
States census reports; seventy-five thousand by patriotic local
estimates. By sight or by name Mr. Birdseye knew most of the whites and
many of the blacks, browns and yellows. At the hotel no Anneburgian name
was registered, saving and excepting his own; in the little knot
gathered on the platform no familiar Anneburg shape now disclosed
itself. He was alone and all was well.

The locomotive rolled in and gently halted, as though to avoid jostling
its precious freightage of talent. Behind it, tailing along up the
track, stretched two day coaches and sundry Pullmans. From these last
dropped down dark-faced figures, white-clad in short jackets, and they
placed boxes below every alternate set of car steps. The train conductor
dismounted. Carrying a small handbag, Mr. Birdseye approached and hailed
him.

"Hello, Cap," he said, "have a smoke."

"Thanks." The conductor deposited the cigar with tender care in the
crown of his uniform cap. "Smoke it later on, if you don't mind. Nice
weather."

"Which car are the boys on?" asked Mr. Birdseye.

"Boys--which boys?"

"Why, the boys that are going to play Anneburg, of course."

"Oh, that bunch? Back yonder." He flirted a thumb over his shoulder
toward the tail of his vestibuled convoy. If the conductor meant to say
more he lost the chance through his own slowness. Already Mr. Birdseye
was hurrying up the cindered stretch beyond the platform.

At the portals of the rearmost Pullman but one a porter interposed
himself.

"Private sleeper, cap'n," he warned.

"That'll be all right," stated Mr. Birdseye. "That's the one I'm looking
for--came out from Anneburg especially to meet the boys and ride in with
'em." He proffered a small cardboard slip and with it a large round
coin. "Take the Pullman fare out of that and keep the change."

"A' right, suh, boss--an' much obliged." The porter pouched dollar and
ticket with one hand and with the other saluted profoundly. He aided the
generous white gentleman to mount the steps.

Within the door of the coach, at the mouth of its narrow end passage,
Mr. Birdseye halted to take swift inventory of its interior. It was a
sleeper of the pattern familiar to all who travel much and widely; it
looked its part and smelled it, giving off the inevitable torrid aromas
of warm plush and heat-softened shellac. It contained fifteen or
eighteen occupants scattered through its length, some sitting singly,
some paired off and, in one group, four together, playing cards--all
young or youngish men, all smartly dressed, all live-looking. At first
glance Mr. Birdseye told himself he was in the right car. At second
glance he told himself he was not so absolutely sure. For one thing, the
persons here revealed seemed so quiet, so sedate; there was no
skylarking; no quips flying back and forth; no persiflage filtering out
of the open windows. Still, for one initiated, it should be an easy task
to make sure, and very sure at that.

Almost in arm-reach of him two of the passengers faced each other from
opposite seats with a checkerboard upon their knees. The one who had his
back to Mr. Birdseye, a tall, light-haired person, kept his head bent in
deep study of the problem of the next move. His opponent looked up.
Barring the cut and colour of his costume he might have passed, with his
smooth, rosy cheek and his round, blue Irish orb, for a Christian
Brother. Full well did Mr. Birdseye know that Gigs McGuire, foremost of
all second-basemen, had studied for the priesthood before he abandoned
the seminary for the stadium. Indeed, he knew all about Gigs McGuire
that the leading chroniclers of baseball had ever written for
publication. He advanced half a pace, his right arm extended, a
greeting forming on his lips.

The ensuing conduct of the blue-eyed man was peculiar, not to say
disconcerting. He stared at Mr. Birdseye for the brief part of a brief
second. Then he twisted his head over his shoulder, and, without
addressing anyone in particular, rapidly uttered the word "Cheese!"
thrice in a tone of seeming impatience. And then he picked up a red disk
and with it jumped a black one. Mr. Birdseye felt constrained to step
along.

Across the aisle diagonally were the four who played at cards. It was to
be seen that bridge was the game occupying them. And bridge, properly
played, is an absorbing pursuit, requiring concentration and silence.
None of the quartet bestowed so much as a sidelong look upon Mr.
Birdseye as Mr. Birdseye, slowly advancing toward the middle of the car,
passed them by.

Thus progressing, he came close to one who spraddled in solitary comfort
over two seats. This one was interred nose-deep in a book.

"Hello," said Mr. Birdseye tentatively, almost timidly, for increasing
doubt assailed him.

"'Lo," answered the reader in a chill monosyllable without lifting his
face from his book. Mr. Birdseye noted that the book contained verse
printed in German, and he regretted having spoken. It wasn't in the
nature of things for a ballplayer to be reading German poetry in the
original, and he had no time to waste upon any other than a ballplayer.

In that same instant, though, his glance fell on the next two
passengers, and his heart gave a glad upward leap in his bosom. Surely
the broad man with the swarthy skin and the straight black hair must be
the Indian. Just as surely the short, square man alongside, the owner of
that heavy jaw and that slightly up-tilted nose, could be none but the
Richelieu of managers. Mr. Birdseye almost sprang forward.

"Well, Chief!" he cried genially. "Well, Swifty! I thought I'd find you.
How's everything?"

Coldly they both regarded him. It was the short, square man who
answered, and the reader behind put down his volume of Heine to listen.

"Everything would be all right if they'd only keep these car doors
locked," said the short man, and he didn't speak as a true sportsman
should speak--tone, inflection, pronunciation, all were wrong.
Enthusiasm was lacking, joviality was woefully missing. He continued, in
the manner rather of a civil engineer--an impassive ordinarily civil
engineer, say, who was now slightly irritated about something: "I figure
you've made a mistake. This gentleman is not a chief--he's my private
secretary. And my name does not happen to be Swift, if I heard you
right. My name is Dinglefoogle--Omar G. Dinglefoogle, of Swedish
descent."

He disengaged his gaze from that of the abashed Birdseye and resumed his
conversation with his companion at a point where it had been
interrupted:

"Have it your own way, John. Abbey for yours, but Sargent and Whistler
for mine--yes, and Remington."

"But where are you going to find anything to beat that thing of
Abbey's--The Search for the Holy Grail?" It was the swarthy man taking
up the issue. "Every time I go to Boston----"

Moving onward in a small, self-generated fog of bewilderment which
travelled with him, Mr. Birdseye heard no more. So moving, he passed in
turn a young man who was bedded down in a nest of pamphlets and
Government bulletins dealing in the main apparently with topics relating
to forestry or else with intensive farming; and a young man who napped
with his hat over his eyes; and another young man intently making notes
on the back of an envelope; and two young men silently examining the
mechanism of a gold watch which plainly was the property of one of the
two; until at the far end of the car he came to one more young man who,
casting aside a newspaper and straightening to get the kinks out of his
back, showed Mr. Birdseye a profiled face of a clear pinkish colour,
with a calm, reflective eye set in it under a pale yellow eyebrow and,
above, a mop of hair so light as to be almost white. Verily there could
be no confusion of identity here. Coincidence was coincidence, but so
unique, so distinctive, a physical aspect was not to be duplicated
outside of a story book.

"Say, I'd know you anywhere by your pictures," said Mr. Birdseye, and
extended the right hand of fellowship.

"That's the main objection to those pictures--they do look a little like
me," replied the young man with a smile so grave as to verge upon the
melancholy. Half rising, he shook hands with the other. "Have a seat?"
Hospitably he indicated the cushioned expanse in front of him and drew
in his knees.

Here was proof, added and cumulative. The voice of the pale-haired young
man was as it should be, a gently modulated r-slurring voice. Was it not
known of all men that Albino Magoon, the Circassian Beauty of the
outfield, owned allegiance of birth to the Sunny Southland, Mr.
Birdseye's own land? Bond and double bond would they share between them.
In a flutter of reviving joy Mr. Birdseye scrooged in and sat.

The young man, having done the courtesies, sat back modestly as though
awaiting the newcomer's pleasure in the matter of choosing a topic for
conversation. Mr. Birdseye lost no time. He knew the subjects fittest to
be discussed.

"Well," he said, "what do you think about Chicago's chances? Think she's
going to give New York a run for her white alley this year?"

"I'm sure I don't know, suh." Such was the first sentence of the
astonishing rejoinder. "Chicago is growing, awfully fast--faster than
any big interior city, I presume, but the latest figures show New York
has a greater population now, including suburbs, than London even. It's
hardly possible, I reckon, for Chicago to hope to catch up with New
York--this year or any other year."

Puzzled, I must admit, but by no means nonplussed, Mr. Birdseye jibed
and went about mentally. As the cant phrase goes, he took a new tack.

"Say, listen," he said; "do you know what I think? I think the Federals
gave you-all a rotten deal. Yes, sir, a rotten deal all the way through.
Naturally down here nearly everybody feels that way about it--naturally
the sympathies of nearly everybody in this part of the country would
turn that way anyhow. I reckon you'd know that without my telling you
how we feel. Of course a good knock-down-and-drag-out fight is all
right, but when you sit down and figure out the way the Federals behaved
right from the start----"

The other put up an objecting hand.

"I hope you'll excuse me, suh," he said, "but I don't believe in keeping
those old sores open. I thought sectionalism was dying out everywhere--I
hoped it was, anyway. My father fought the Federals for four years and
he died reconciled. I don't know why we younger men shouldn't be. After
all, we're all Americans now."

"I wasn't speaking of the Federal Army," explained Mr. Birdseye,
desperately upset. "I was speaking of the Federal League."

"Oh, the Federal League!" said the other. "I beg your pardon, suh. Are
you--are you interested in baseball?" He put the question wonderingly.

"Am I interested in--well, say, ain't you interested?"

"Me? Oh, no, suh. I make it a rule never to discuss the subject. You
see, I'm a divinity student. I reckon you must've mistaken me for
somebody else. I was afraid so when you first spoke. I'm mighty sorry."

"Yes, I must've," agreed Mr. Birdseye. He got upon his own feet and
stumbled over the young man's feet and ran a hand through the hair on
his pestered head. "I guess I must've got in the wrong car."

"That's probably it," said the pale-haired one. His odd-coloured but
ingenuous countenance expressed solicitude and sympathy for the
stranger's disappointment. Indeed, it wrinkled and twitched almost as
though this tender-hearted person meant to shed tears. As if to hide his
emotions, he suddenly reached for his discarded newspaper and in its
opened pages buried his face to the ears--ears which slowly turned from
pink to red. When next he spoke it was from behind the shelter of his
newsprint shield, and his voice seemed choked. "Undoubtedly that's
it--you got in the wrong car. Well, good-bye, my brother--and God bless
and speed you."

At this precise moment, with the train just beginning to pull out from
Barstow Junction, with the light-haired man sinking deeper and deeper
inside the opened sheets, and with Mr. Birdseye teetering on uncertain
legs in the aisle, there came to the latter's ears what he might have
heard before had his hearing been attuned for sounds from that quarter.
He heard a great rollicking, whooping, vehement outburst coming from the
next car back, which was likewise the last car. It had youth in it, that
sound did--the spirit of unbridled, exuberant youth at play, and abandon
and deviltry and prankishness and carefreedom. Mr. Birdseye faced about.
He caught up his handbag and, swift as a courier bearing glad tidings,
he sped on winged feet--at least those extensive soles almost
approximated wings--through the cramped passage flanking the smoking
compartment. Where the two cars clankingly joined beneath a metal flange
he came into collision with a train butcher just emerging from the rear
sleeper.

Butch's hair was dishevelled and his collar awry. He dangled an emptied
fruit basket in one hand and clinked coins together in the palm of the
other. On his face was a grin of comic dismay and begrudged admiration.

"Some gang back there--some wild gang!" he murmured and, dodging
adeptly past Mr. Birdseye, was gone, heading forward.

The searcher rounded the jog of the compartment reservation, and inside
him then his soul was lifted up and exalted. There could be no mistake
now. Within the confines of this Pullman romped and rampaged young men
and youths to the number of perhaps twenty. There seemed to be more than
twenty of them; that, though, was due to the flitting movements of their
rambunctious forms. Norfolk-jacketed bodies, legs in modishly short
trousers deeply cuffed at the bottoms, tousled heads to which rakish
soft hats and plaid travelling caps adhered at angles calculated to
upset the theory of the attraction of gravitation, showed here, there,
everywhere, in a confused and shifting vista. Snappy suit cases, a big,
awkward-looking, cylindrical bag of canvas, leather-faced, and two or
three other boxes in which, to judge by their shapes, stringed musical
instruments were temporarily entombed, encumbered a seat near by.

All this Mr. Birdseye's kindled eye comprehended in the first quick
scrutiny. Also it took in the posture of a long, lean, lanky giant in
his early twenties, who stood midway of the coach, balancing himself
easily on his legs, for by now the train was picking up speed. One arm
of the tall athlete--the left--was laid along his breast, and in its
crook it held several small, half-ripened oranges. His right hand would
pluck up an orange, the right arm would wind up, and then with
marvellous accuracy and incredible velocity the missile would fly, like
a tawny-green streak, out of an open window at some convenient target.
So fast he worked and so well, it seemed as though a constant stream of
citrus was being discharged through that particular window. An orange
spattered against a signpost marking the limits of the yard. Two oranges
in instantaneous succession struck the rounded belly of a water tank,
making twin yellow asterisks where they hit. A fourth, driven as though
by a piston, whizzed past the nappy head of a darky pedestrian who had
halted to watch the train go by. That darky ducked just in time.

Mr. Birdseye lunged forward to pay tribute to the sharpshooter. Beyond
peradventure there could be but one set of muscles on this continent
capable of such marksmanship. But another confronted him, barring his
way, a stockily built personage with a wide, humorous face, and yet with
authority in all its contour and lines.

"Well, see who's here!" he clarioned and literally he embraced Mr.
Birdseye, pinning that gentleman's arms to his sides. He bent his head
and put his lips close to Mr. Birdseye's flattered ear, the better to be
heard above the uproar dinning about them. "What was the name?" he
inquired.

"Birdseye--J. Henry Birdseye."

Continuing to maintain a firm grasp upon Mr. Birdseye's coat sleeve the
stocky individual swung about and called for attention:

"Gentlemen, one moment--one moment, if you please."

Plainly he had unquestioned dominion over this mad and pranksome crew.
His fellows paused in whatever they were doing to give heed unto his
words.

"Boys, it gives me joy to introduce to you Colonel Birdshot."

"Birdseye," corrected his prisoner, overcome with gratification, not
unmixed with embarrassment.

"I beg your pardon," said the master of ceremonies. Then more loudly
again: "I should have said Col. Birdseye Maple."

"Three cheers for the walking bedroom set!" This timely suggestion
emanated from a wiry skylarker who had drawn nigh and was endeavouring
to find Mr. Birdseye's hand with a view to shaking it.

Three cheers they were, and right heartily given too.

"And to what, may I ask--to what are we indebted for the pleasure of
this unexpected but nevertheless happy meeting?" asked the blocky man.
One instant he suggested the prime minister; the next, the court jester.
And was not that as it should be too? It was, if one might credit what
one had read of the king-pin of managers.

"Why--why, I just ran over from Anneburg to meet you and ride in with
you--and sort of put you onto the ropes and everything," vouchsafed Mr.
Birdseye.

"Well, isn't that splendid--we didn't expect it!" Once more he addressed
his attentive fellows:

"Gentlemen, you'll never guess it until I tell you. It is none other
than the official reception committee bearing with it the keys of the
corporation. I shrewdly suspect the Colonel has the words 'Welcome to
Our City' tattooed upon his chest."

"Let's undress him and see."

The idea was advanced by the same wire-drawn youngster who had called
for the cheers. He laid hold on Mr. Birdseye's collar, but instantly the
happy captive was plucked from his grasp and passed from one to another
of the clustering group. They squeezed Mr. Birdseye's fingers with
painfully affectionate force; they dealt him cordially violent slaps
upon the back. They inquired regarding his own health and the health of
his little ones, and in less than no time at all, it seemed to him, he,
somewhat jostled and dishevelled, confused but filled with a tingling
bliss, had been propelled the length of the aisle and back again, and
found himself sitting so he faced the directing genius of this exuberant
coterie of athletes. The rest, sensing that their leader desired
conference with the newcomer, resumed their diversions, and so in a
small eddy of calm on the edge of a typhoon of clamour these
two--Birdseye and the great manager--conversed together as man to man.

"And so you ran down to meet us--that was bully," said the blocky man.
His mood was now serious, and Mr. Birdseye set himself to reply in the
same spirit. "What's the prospects for a crowd over in Anneburg?"

"Couldn't be better," Mr. Birdseye told him. "Everybody in town that can
walk, ride or crawl will be out to see you fellows play."

"To see us play--that's good!"

"The Mayor is going to be there, and ex-Governor Featherston--he's about
the biggest man we've got in Anneburg--and oh, just everybody."

"Whosoever will, let him come, that's our motto," stated his vis-à-vis;
"entertainment for man and beast. You'll be there of course?"

"In a front seat--rooting my head off," promised Mr. Birdseye,
forgetting in the supreme joy of this supreme moment that he owed first
duty to Anneburg's own puny contenders. "Say, you fellows are just
exactly like I thought you'd be--regular hellions. Well, it's the old
pep that counts."

"You said it--the old pep is the thing."

"What kind of a trip did you have coming up?"

"Fine--fine from the start."

"And where do you go from Anneburg?"

"Asheville, then Richmond. Anneburg is the smallest town we play."

"Don't think we don't appreciate it, Swifty. Say, the Big Fellow
certainly can pitch, can't he?" Mr. Birdseye pointed toward the flinger
of oranges who, having exhausted his ammunition, was now half out of a
window, contemplating the flitting landscape. "How's his arm going to be
this year?"

"Better than ever--better than ever. I guess you know about the no-hit
game he pitched last year--the last game he played?"

"Tell me something about that kid I don't know," boasted Mr. Birdseye.
"I've followed him from the time he first broke in."

"Then you know he's there with the pipes?"

"The pipes?"

"Sure--the educated larynx, the talented tonsils, the silver-lined
throat--in other words, the gift of song."

"Why, I didn't know he sang," owned Mr. Birdseye, a mite puzzled.

"That's it--let a fellow do one thing better than anybody else, and they
forget his other accomplishments. Sing? Well, rather! And punish old
John J. Mandolin, too, if anybody should ask you."

So saying, the speaker drew forth a bulldog pipe and proceeded to load
it from a leather tobacco case.

"I don't have to keep in condition, seeing as I'm merely running
things," he explained. "But you bet I make my flock keep in
condition--no boozing and mighty little cigarette smoking for them while
their little papa's eye is on them."

"I've always heard you were strong for discipline," said Mr. Birdseye,
plastering the flattering unction on thickly.

"I have to be, with a rowdy outfit like this one. Look yonder--that's a
sample of the way they carry on when the bridle is off."

Three of these temporarily unhaltered colts had captured the car porter.
Two held him fast while the third massaged his woolly scalp with hard
knuckles. Half a dozen more shouted advice to the operator. The porter
broke away and fled, his expression betraying that he hardly knew
whether to feel indignant or complimented. Mr. Birdseye saw that the
volunteer masseur, now approaching them, had coal-black hair and
snapping black eyes, and a skin the colour of polished cherry.

"That's the Chief coming, of course?" opined Mr. Birdseye. His tone was
filled with reverence.

"Sh-h, don't let him hear you. If I had a big Indian whatyoumaycallim
for a grandfather I'd advertise it, but he's a little touchy on the
subject. Great boy though--one of the best."

"Part Pawnee, ain't he?"

"No; Parsee, I think."

Mr. Birdseye was going to ask where that tribe lived, but skylarking
broke out in a fresh quarter and he forgot it. They talked averages
then, or started to. Mr. Birdseye was made proud to find his companion
agreed with him that Tris Speaker undoubtedly had a shade on Joe
Jackson, and then was just about to take up the question of Honus
Wagner's ability to come back after his last season's slump--a vital
issue and one upon which he entertained decided views in the
affirmative--when something occurred. Without being able to comprehend
exactly how it came about, he discovered himself all of a sudden forming
one link in a human chain of which six or eight more were likewise
component parts. With arms intertwined and heads bent toward a common
centre, they all mingled their lusty voices in snatches of song and glee
and roundelay, and he--he perforce joined with them. One moment Merrily
They Rolled Along, Rolled Along, Rolled Along--indeed they did; the
next, From Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party they were Seeing Nell-l-l-i-e
Home. Then a single minstrel advanced the duly credited assertion of
parties unnamed that A Nigger Won't Steal, whereupon several others
instantly and melodiously responded to the effect that be this as it
may, I Caught Three in My Cornfield; One Had a Shovel and One Had a Hoe
and if That Ain't Stealing I Don't Know! And so on without cessation for
many fleeting, glorious, golden minutes. Once Mr. Birdseye, feeling
certain he recognised the blithesome tenor whose wide shoulders his
right arm encompassed, broke off his carolling long enough to say:

"Some doings, eh, Flying Jenny?"

Whereat the singer, thus jovially addressed, conferred a wink and a grin
upon him and shouted back: "Don't be so blamed formal--just call me
Jane!" and then skillfully picked up the tune again and kept right on
tenoring. They were all still enmeshed and in all unison enriching the
pent-up confines of their car with close harmonies when the train began
to check up bumpingly, and advised by familiar objects beginning to pass
the windows Mr. Birdseye realised that they approached their
destination. It didn't seem humanly possible that so much time had
elapsed with such miraculous rapidity, but there was the indisputable
evidence in Langford's Real Estate Division and the trackside warehouses
of Brazzell Brothers' Pride of Dixie fertilizer works. From a chosen and
accepted comrade he now became also a guide.

"Fellows!" he announced, breaking out of the ring, "we'll be in in just
a minute--this is Anneburg!"

Coincidentally with this announcement the conductor appeared at the
forward end of the car and in a word gave confirmatory evidence. Of the
car porter there was no sign. Duty called him to be present, but
prudence bade him nay. He had discretion, that porter.

The song that was being sung at that particular moment--whatever it
was--was suffered to languish and die midway of a long-drawn refrain.
There was a scattering of the minstrels to snatch up suit cases, bags
and other portable impedimenta.

"I'll ride up to the hotel with you," suggested Mr. Birdseye, laying a
detaining hand upon the master's elbow. "If I get a chance there's
something I want to tell you on the way." He was just remembering he had
forgotten to mention that treacherous soft spot back of centre field.

"You bet your blameless young life you'll ride with us!" answered back
the other, reaching for a valise.

"What? Lose our honoured and esteemed reception committee now? Not a
chance!" confirmed an enormous youth whose bass tones fitted him for
the life of a troubadour, but whose breadth of frame qualified him for
piano-moving or centre-rushing. With a great bear-hug he lifted Mr.
Birdseye in his arms, roughly fondling him.

"You're going to the Hotel Balboa, of course," added Mr. Birdseye,
regaining his feet and his breath as the caressing grip of the giant
relaxed.

"Hotel Balboa is right, old Pathfinder."

"Then we'd all better take the hotel bus uptown, hadn't we?"

"Just watch us take it."

"I'll lay eight to five that bus has never been properly taken before
now."

"But it's about to be." He who uttered this prophecy was the brisk
youngster who had objected to being designated by so elaborated a title
as Flying Jenny.

"All out!"

Like a chip on the crest of a mountain torrent Mr. Birdseye was borne
down the car steps as the train halted beneath the shed of the Anneburg
station. Across the intervening tracks, through the gate and the station
and out again at the far side of the waiting room the living freshet
poured. As he was carried along with it, the Indian being at his right
hand, the orange thrower at his left, and behind him irresistible forces
ramping and roaring, Mr. Birdseye was aware of a large crowd, of Nick
Cornwall, of others locally associated with the destinies of the
Anneburg team, of many known to him personally or by name, all staring
hard, with puzzled looks, as he went whirling on by. Their faces were
visible a fleeting moment, then vanished like faces seen in a fitful
dream, and now the human ground swell had surrounded and inundated a
large motorbus, property of the Hotel Balboa.

Strong arms reached upward and, as though he had been a child, plucked
from his perch the dumfounded driver of this vehicle, with a swing
depositing him ten feet distant, well out of harm's way. A youth who
plainly understood the mystery of motors clambered up, nimble as a
monkey, taking seat and wheel. Another mounted alongside of him and
rolled up a magazine to make a coaching horn of it. Another and yet
another followed, until a cushioned space designed for two only held
four. As pirates aforetime have boarded a wallowing galleon the rest of
the crew boarded the body of the bus. They entered by door or by window,
whichever chanced to be handier, first firing their hand baggage in with
a splendid disregard of consequences.

In less than no time at all, to tallyho tootings, to whoops and to yells
and to snatches of melody, the Hotel Balboa bus was rolling through a
startled business district, bearing in it, upon it and overflowing from
it full twice as many fares as its builder had imagined it conceivably
would ever contain when he planned its design and its accommodations.
Side by side on the floor at its back door with feet out in space, were
jammed together Mr. J. Henry Birdseye and the aforesaid blocky chieftain
of the band. Teams checked up as the caravan rolled on. Foot travellers
froze in their tracks to stare at the spectacle. Birdseye saw them. They
saw Birdseye. And he saw that they saw and felt that be the future what
it might, life for him could never bring a greater, more triumphant,
more exultant moment than this.

"Is that the opera house right ahead?" inquired his illustrious mate as
the bus jounced round the corner of Lattimer Street.

"No, that's the new Second National Bank," explained Mr. Birdseye
between jolts. "The opera house is four doors further down--see, right
there--just next to where that sign says 'Tascott & Nutt, Hardware.'"

Simultaneously those who rode in front and atop must likewise have read
the sign of Tascott & Nutt. For the bus, as though on signal, swerved to
the curb before this establishment and stopped dead short, and in chorus
a dozen strong voices called for Mr. Nutt, continuing to call until a
plump, middle-aged gentleman in his shirt sleeves issued from the
interior and crossed the sidewalk, surprise being writ large upon his
face. When he had drawn near enough, sinewy hands stretched forth and
pounced upon him, and as the bus resumed its journey he most unwillingly
was dragged at an undignified dogtrot alongside a rear wheel while
strange, tormenting questions were shouted down at him:

"Oh, Mr. Nutt, how's your dear old coco?"

"And how's your daughter Hazel?--charming girl, Hazel!"

"And your son, Philip Bertram? Don't tell me the squirrels have been
after that dear Phil Bert again!"

"You'll be careful about the chipmunks this summer, won't you, Mr.
Nutt--for our sakes?"

"Old Man Nutt is a good old soul."

But this last was part of a song, and not a question at all.

The victim wrested himself free at last and stood in the highroad
speechless with indignation. Lack of breath was likewise a contributing
factor. Mr. Birdseye observed, as they drew away from the panting
figure, that the starting eyes of Mr. Nutt were fixed upon him
recognisingly and accusingly, and realised that he was in some way being
blamed for the discomfiture of that solid man and that he had made a
sincere enemy for life. But what cared he? Meadow larks, golden
breasted, sat in his short ribs and sang to his soul.

And now they had drawn up at the Hotel Balboa, and with Birdseye still
in the van they had piled off and were swirling through the lobby to
splash up against the bulkhead of the clerk's desk, behind which, with
a wide professional smile of hospitality on his lips, Head Clerk Ollie
Bates awaited their coming and their pleasure.

"You got our wire?" demanded of him the young manager. "Rooms all
ready?"

"Rooms all ready, Mister----"

"Fine and dandy! We'll go right up and wash up for lunch. Here's the
list--copy the names onto the register yourself. Where's the elevator?
Oh, there it is. All aboard, boys! No, wait a minute," countermanded
this young commander who forgot nothing, as he turned and confronted Mr.
Birdseye. "Before parting, we will give three cheers for our dear
friend, guide and well-wisher, Colonel Birdseye Maple. All together:

"Whee! _Whee!_ =Whee!="

The last and loudest Whee died away; the troupe charged through and over
a skirmish line of darky bell hops; they stormed the elevator cage. Half
in and half out of it their chief paused to wave a hand to him whom they
had just honoured.

"See you later, Colonel," he called across the intervening space. "You
said you'd be there when we open up, you know."

"I'll be there, Swifty, on a front seat!" pledged Mr. Birdseye happily.

The overloaded elevator strained and started and vanished upward, vocal
to the last. In the comparative calm which ensued Mr. Birdseye, head
well up, chest well out, and thumbs in the arm openings of a distended
waistcoat, lounged easily but with the obvious air of a conqueror back
toward the desk and Mr. Ollie Bates.

"Some noisy bunch!" said Mr. Bates admiringly. "Say, J. Henry, where did
they pick you up?"

"They didn't pick me up, I picked them up--met 'em over at Barstow and
rode in with 'em."

"Seems like it didn't take you long to make friends with 'em," commented
Mr. Bates.

"It didn't take me half a minute. Easiest bunch to get acquainted with
you ever saw in your life, Ollie. And kidders? Well, they wrote
kidding--that's all--words and music. I wish you could a-seen them
stringing old man 'Lonzo Nutt down the street! I like to died!" He
unbent a trifle; after all, Mr. Bates was an old friend. "Say, Ollie,
that gang won't do a thing to our little old scrub team this afternoon,
with Long Leaf Pinderson pitching. I saw him in action--with oranges.
He----"

"Say, listen, J. Henry," broke in Mr. Bates. "Who in thunder do you
think that gang is you've been associating with?"

"Think it is? Who would it be but the Moguls?"

"Moguls?"

A convulsion seized and overcame Mr. Bates. He bent double, his
distorted face in his hands, his shoulders heaving, weird sounds issuing
from his throat. Then lifting his head, he opened that big mouth of his,
afflicting the adjacent air with raucous and discordant laughter.

"Moguls! Moguls! Say, you need to have your head looked into. Why, J.
Henry, the Moguls came in on the twelve-forty-five and Nick Cornwall and
the crowd met 'em and they're down to the Hotel Esplanade right this
minute, I reckon. We tried to land 'em for the Balboa, but it seemed
like they wanted a quiet hotel. Well, they'll have their wish at the
Esplanade!"

"Then who--then who are these?"

It was the broken, faltering accent of Mr. Birdseye, sounded wanly and
as from a long way off.

"These? Why, it's the College Glee Club from Chickasaw Tech., down in
Alabama, that's going to give a concert at the opera house to-night. And
you thought all the time you were with the Moguls? Well, you poor simp!"

In addition to simp Mr. Bates also used the words boob, sucker, chunk of
Camembert and dub in this connection. But it is doubtful if Mr. Birdseye
heard him now. A great roaring, as of dashing cataracts and swirling
rapids, filled his ears as he fled away, blindly seeking some sanctuary
wherein to hide himself from the gaze of mortal man.

Remaining to be told is but little; but that little looms important as
tending to prove that truth sometimes is stranger than fiction. With
Swifty Megrue coaching, with Magnus, the Big Chief, backstopping, with
Pinderson, master of the spitball, in the box twirling, nevertheless and
to the contrary notwithstanding, the Anneburg team that day mopped up,
the score standing:

                  R H E
  Anneburg        6 9 1
  Moguls          4 7 2



CHAPTER X

SMOOTH CROSSING


On this voyage the _Mesopotamia_ was to sail at midnight. It was now, to
be precise about it, eleven forty-five P. M. and some odd seconds; and
they were wrestling the last of the heavy luggage aboard. The
Babel-babble that distinguishes a big liner's departure was approaching
its climax of acute hysteria, when two well-dressed, youngish men joined
the wormlike column of eleventh-hour passengers mounting a portable
bridge labelled First Cabin which hyphenated the strip of dark water
between ship and shore. They were almost the last persons to join the
line, coming in such haste along the dock that the dock captain on duty
at the foot of the canvas-sided gangway let them pass without question.

Except that these two men were much of a size and at a first glance
rather alike in general aspect; and except that one of them, the
rearmost, bore two bulging handbags while the other kept his hands
muffled in a grey tweed ulster that lay across his arms, there was
nothing about them or either of them to distinguish them from any other
belated pair of men in that jostling procession of the flurried and the
hurried. Oh, yes, one of them had a moustache and the other had none.

Indian file they went up the gangway and past the second officer, who
stood at the head of it; and still tandem they pushed and were pushed
along through the jam upon the deck. The second man, the one who bore
the handbags, gave them over to a steward who had jumped forward when he
saw them coming. He hesitated then, looking about him.

"Come on, it's all right," said the first man.

"How about the tickets? Don't we have to show them first?" inquired the
other.

"No, not now," said his companion. "We can go direct to our stateroom."
The same speaker addressed the steward:

"D-forty," he said briskly.

"Quite right, sir," said the steward. "D-forty. Right this way, sir; if
you please, sir."

With the dexterity born of long practice the steward, burdened though he
was, bored a path for himself and them through the crowd. He led them
from the deck, across a corner of a big cabin that was like a hotel
lobby, and down flights of broad stairs from B-deck to C and from C-deck
to D, and thence aft along a narrow companionway until he came to a
cross hall where another steward stood.

"Two gentlemen for D-forty," said their guide. Surrendering the handbags
to this other functionary, he touched his cap and vanished into thin
air, magically, after the custom of ancient Arabian genii and modern
British steamship servants.

"'Ere you are, sirs," said the second steward. He opened the door of a
stateroom and stood aside to let them in. Following in behind them he
deposited the handbags in mathematical alignment upon the floor and
spoke a warning: "We'll be leavin' in a minute or two now, but it's just
as well, sir, to keep your stateroom door locked until we're
off--thieves are about sometimes in port, you know, sir. Was there
anything else, sir?" He addressed them in the singular, but considered
them, so to speak, in the plural. "I'm the bedroom steward, sir," he
added in final explanation.

The passenger who had asked concerning the tickets looked about him
curiously, as though the interior arrangement of a steamship stateroom
was to him strange.

"So you're the bedroom steward," he said. "What's your name?"

"Lawrence, sir."

"Lawrence what?"

"I beg your pardon, sir?" said the steward, looking puzzled.

"He wants to know your first name," explained the other prospective
occupant of D-forty. This man had sat himself down upon the edge of the
bed, still with his grey ulster folded forward across his arms as though
the pockets held something valuable and must be kept in a certain
position, just so, to prevent the contents spilling out.

"'Erbert Lawrence, sir, thank you, sir," said the steward, his face
clearing, "I'll be 'andy if you ring, sir." He backed out. "Nothing
else, sir? I'll see to your 'eavy luggage in the mornin'. Will there be
any trunks for the stateroom?"

"No trunks," said the man on the bed. "Just some suitcases. They came
aboard just ahead of us, I think."

"Right, sir," said the accommodating Lawrence. "I'll get your tickets in
the morning and take them to the purser, if you don't mind. Thank you,
sir." And with that he bowed himself out and was gone.

As the door closed behind this thoughtful and accommodating servitor the
fellow travellers looked at each other for a moment steadily, much as
though they might be sharers of a common secret that neither cared to
mention even between themselves. The one who stood spoke first:

"I guess I'll go up and see her pull out," he said. "I've never seen a
ship pull out; it's a new thing to me. Want to go?"

The man nursing the ulster shook his head.

"All right, then," said the first. He pitched his own topcoat, which he
had been carrying under his arm, upon the lone chair. "I'll be back
pretty soon." He glanced keenly at the one small porthole, looked about
the stateroom once more, then stepped across the threshold and closed
the door. The lock clicked.

Left alone, the other man sat for a half minute or so as he was, with
his head tilted forward in an attitude of listening. Then he stood up
and with a series of shrugging, lifting motions, jerked the ulster
forward so that it slipped through the loop of his arms upon the floor.
Had the efficient Lawrence returned at that moment it is safe to say he
would have sustained a profound shock, although it is equally safe to
say he would have made desperate efforts to avoid showing his emotions.
The man was manacled. Below his white shirt-cuffs his wrists were
encircled by snug-fitting, shiny bracelets of steel united by a steel
chain of four short links. That explained his rather peculiar way of
carrying his ulster and his decidedly awkward way of ridding himself of
it.

He stepped across the room and with his coupled hands tried the knob of
the door. The knob turned, but the bolt had been set from the outside.
He was locked in. With his foot he dragged forward a footstool, kicking
it close up against the panels so that should any person coming in open
the door suddenly, the stool would retard that person's entrance for
a moment anyway. He faced about then, considering his next move. The
circular pane of thick glass in the porthole showed as a black target in
the white wall; through it only blankness was visible. D-deck plainly
was well down in the ship's hull, below the level of promenades and
probably not very far above the waterline. Nevertheless, the handcuffed
man crossed over and drew the short silken curtains across the window,
making the seclusion of his quarters doubly secure.

Now, kneeling upon the floor, he undid the hasps of the two handbags,
opened them and began rummaging in their cluttered depths. Doing all
these things, he moved with a sureness and celerity which showed that he
had worn his bonds for an appreciable space of time and had accustomed
himself to using his two hands upon an operation where, unhampered, he
might have used one or the other, but not both at once. His chain
clinked briskly as he felt about in the valises. From them he first got
out two travelling caps--one a dark grey cap, the other a cap of rather
a gaudy check pattern; also, a plain razor, a safety razor and a box of
cigars. He examined the safety razor a moment, then slipped it back into
the flap pocket where it belonged; took a cigar from the box and put the
box back into the grip; tried on first one of the travelling caps and
then the other, and returned them to the places from which he had taken
them; and reclosed and refastened the grips themselves. But he took the
other razor and dropped it in a certain place, close down to the floor
at the foot of one of the beds.

He shoved the footstool away from the door, and, after dusting off his
knees, he went and stood at the porthole gazing out into the night
through a cranny in the curtains. The ship no longer nuzzled up
alongside the dock like a great sucking pig under the flanks of an even
greater mother-sow; she appeared to stand still while the dock seemed to
be slipping away from her rearward; but the man who looked out into the
darkness was familiar enough with that illusion. With his manacled hands
crossed upon his waistcoat and the cigar hanging unlighted between his
lips, he watched until the liner had turned and was swinging down
stream, heading for the mouth of the river and the bay.

He lit the cigar, then, and once more sat himself down upon the edge of
the bed. He puffed away steadily. His head was bent forward and his
hands dangled between his knees in such ease as the snugness of the
bracelets and the shortness of the chain permitted. Looking in at him
you would have said he was planning something; that he was considering
various problems. He was still there in that same hunching position, but
the cigar had burned down two-thirds of its length, when the lock
snicked a warning and his companion re-entered, bearing a key with
which he relocked the door upon the inner side.

"Well," said the newcomer, "we're on our way." There was no reply to
this. He took off his derby hat and tossed it aside, and began
unbuttoning his waistcoat.

"Making yourself comfortable, eh?" he went on as though trying to
manufacture conversation. The manacled one didn't respond. He merely
canted his head, the better to look into the face of his travel mate.

"Say, look here," demanded the new arrival, his tone and manner
changing. "What's the use, your nursing that grouch?"

Coming up the gangway, twenty minutes before, they might have passed, at
a casual glance, for brothers. Viewed now as they faced each other in
the quiet of this small room such a mistake could not have been
possible. They did not suggest brothers; for all that they were much the
same in build and colouring they did not even suggest distant cousins.
About the sitting man there were abundant evidences of a higher and more
cultured organism than the other possessed; the difference showed in
costume, in manner, in speech. Even wearing handcuffs he displayed,
without trying to do so, a certain superiority in poise and assurance.
In a way his companion seemed vaguely aware of this. It seemed to make
him--what shall I say?--uneasy; maybe a bit envious; possibly arousing
in him the imitative instinct. Judging of him by his present aspect and
the intonations of his voice, a shrewd observer of men and motives might
have said that he was amply satisfied with the progress of the
undertaking which he had now in hand, but that he lately had ceased to
be entirely satisfied with himself.

"Say, Bronston," he repeated, "I tell you there's no good nursing the
grouch. I haven't done anything all through this matter except what I
thought was necessary. I've acted that way from the beginning, ain't I?"

"Have you heard me complain?" parried the gyved man. He blew out a
mouthful of smoke.

"No, I haven't, not since you made the first kick that day I found you
out in Denver. But a fellow can't very well travel twenty-five hundred
miles with another fellow, sharing the same stateroom with him and all
that, without guessing what's in the other fellow's mind."

There was another little pause.

"Well," said the man upon the bed, "we've got this far. What's the
programme from this point on regarding these decorations?" He raised his
hands to indicate what he meant.

"That's what I want to talk with you about," answered the other. "The
rest of the folks on this boat don't know anything about us--not a
blessed thing. The officers don't know--nor the crew, nor any of the
passengers, I reckon. To them we're just two ordinary Americans crossing
the ocean together on business or pleasure. You give me your promise not
to make any breaks of any sort, and I'll take those things off you and
not put them on again until just before we land. You know I want to make
this trip as easy as I can for you."

"What earthly difference would it make whether I gave you my promise or
not? Suppose, as you put it, I did make a break? Where would I break for
out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Are you still afraid of
yourself?"

"Certainly not; certainly I ain't afraid. At that, you've been back and
forth plenty of times across the ocean, and you know all the ropes on a
ship and I don't. Still, I ain't afraid. But I'd like to have your
promise."

"I won't give it," said he of the handcuffs promptly. "I'm through with
making offers to you. Four days ago when you caught up with me, I told
you I would go with you and make no resistance--make no attempt to get
away from you--if you'd only leave my limbs free. You knew as well as I
did that I was willing to waive extradition and go back without any fuss
or any delay, in order to keep my people in this country from finding
out what a devil's mess I'd gotten myself into over on the other side.
You knew I was not really a criminal, that I'd done nothing at all which
an American court would construe as a crime. You knew that because I was
an American the British courts would probably be especially hard upon
me. And you knew too--you found that part out for yourself without my
telling you--that I was intending to go back to England at the first
chance. You knew that all I needed was a chance to get at certain papers
and documents and produce them in open court to prove that I was being
made a scapegoat; you knew that if I had just two days free on British
soil, in which to get the books from the place those lying partners of
mine hid them, I could save myself from doing penal servitude. That was
why I meant to go back of my own accord. That was why I offered to give
you my word of honour that I would not attempt to get away. Did you
listen? No!"

"Well, didn't I make the whole thing as easy for you as I could?"
protested his companion. He spoke as if in self-defence, or at least in
extenuation.

"Easy? Didn't you put these things on me? Haven't I worn them every
minute since then, awake or asleep, except when I was dressing or
undressing?"

"What's the use of going into all that all over again? This was too big
a case for me to be taking any risks. I'd had a hard enough job locating
you; I couldn't afford to lose you. Let me ask you a few questions:
Didn't we travel all the way from Denver in a stateroom, so that outside
of the conductors and a couple of porters there wasn't a soul knew you
was in trouble? Didn't I show you how to carry that overcoat over your
arms when we were changing cars at Chicago, and again coming across New
York to-night, so's nobody would catch on? Didn't I steer clear of
reporters all along the line? Didn't I keep it all a secret when I was
sending the wire on ahead to book the passage?"

He paused; then remembered something else:

"Didn't I go to the trouble of buying a lighter pair of cuffs than the
ones I usually use and having an extra link set in the chain so as to
keep your arms from cramping, wearing them? Yes, I did--I did all those
things and you can't deny it.

"Nobody on this boat suspects anything," he went on. "Nobody here knows
you're Bronston, wanted in London for that Atlas Investment Company
swindle, and I'm Keller, chief operative for the Sharkey Agency. So far
as anybody else knows we're just Mr. Brown and Mr. Cole, a couple of
friends travelling together. Until the day we land over there on the
other side you can keep on being Mr. Brown and I'll keep on being Mr.
Cole. I'll keep this stateroom door locked at night just to be on the
safe side. And seeing as we've got seats together at the same table I
guess we'd better make a point of taking our meals together at the same
time. Otherwise, you can do just what you please and go where you please
and I won't bother you. These folks on this boat will think we're just a
couple of pretty close friends." He fished a key ring out of his pocket,
selected a certain key and bent over the other man. "Here, hold your
hands up for a minute. You ought to be glad enough to get rid of those
darbies. There!"

He lifted the opened bracelets off his prisoner's wrists and pitched
them, clinking, upon the bedcover.

"Have it your own way," said the freed Bronston. "But remember, I've had
my say. I'm making no pledges, now or hereafter." With his fingers,
which were long and slender, he chafed his flesh where the steel had
bruised it red.

"Oh, all right, all right," answered Keller; "I'm willing to take the
chance--although there ain't really any chance to take. I'll get these
things out of sight first thing."

He picked up the handcuffs and dropped them into a pocket of his ulster
where it lay on the one chair in the room, and wadded a handkerchief
down into the pocket upon them. "Now, then, everything is shipshape and
proper. There's no reason why we can't be pals for three or four days
anyway. And now what do you say to turning in and getting a good night's
rest? I'm good and tired and I guess you are too."

Whistling to himself like a man well satisfied with the latest turn in a
difficult situation, he began to undress. The other followed suit. They
were both in their pajamas and both were in bed and the lights had been
put out before Bronston spoke:

"Mind you, Keller," he said, "I'm not fooled to any great extent by this
change in attitude on your part."

"What do you mean?" asked Keller sharply.

"Well," said Bronston, "I can't help but realise that you've got a
selfish and a personal motive of your own for doing what you've just
done. You're bound to know that if the truth about us were to get out
the people on this boat probably wouldn't value your company any higher
than they'd value mine--maybe not so highly as they might value mine."

Keller sat up in bed.

"I don't get you," he said. "Just what do you mean by that?"

"You're a private detective, aren't you?"

"Well, what of it?" demanded Keller. "What's wrong with my being a
private detective?"

"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," said Bronston, suddenly grown
drowsy. He settled his head down in the pillow and rolled over on his
side, turning his back to his roommate. "Let's go to sleep."

Instantly he seemed to be off; he began drawing long, heavy breaths.
With a snort Keller settled down, uttering grumbled protests in an
injured and puzzled tone. Presently he slept, too, with the choky snores
of a very weary man.

So far as we know they both slept the sleep of travel-worn men until
morning. It was seven o'clock and the sunlight was flooding in at the
porthole when their bathroom steward knocked upon the outer panels of
their door, at first softly, then more briskly. When they had roused and
answered him, he told them that their baths were ready and waiting for
them; also that the weather was fine and the sea smooth. It was Bronston
who went first to the bathroom. He had come back, and was dressing
himself when Keller, after clearing his throat several times, reopened
a subject which seemingly had laid uppermost in his dormant mind while
he slept.

"Say, Bronston," he began in an aggrieved voice, "what made you say what
you said just after we turned in last night--about private detectives,
you know?"

"Oh, let it drop," answered Bronston, as though the topic were of no
consequence.

"No," pressed Keller, "I won't let it drop. I'd like to know what you
meant. I don't care much for that sort of talk."

Bronston had his shaving kit open and was soaping his cheeks in front of
a small mirror at a stationary washstand in the corner of the room. He
turned with the lather brush in his hand.

"If you insist then," he said, "I'll tell you what I meant. If the facts
about our relationship should get out--if the truth should leak out in
any way--I'm inclined to think there might be some sympathy for me
aboard this ship. People are apt to have a sympathy for any man who's
in trouble through no real fault of his own, especially as there are apt
to be people on this boat--Americans--who've heard some of the inside
history of this trouble I'm in. They might believe me when I told them
that I was an innocent party to the transaction, especially as there is
no way, as things stand now, of my proving my innocence. But you're a
private detective, and at the risk of wounding your feelings I'm going
to repeat something which you probably realise already, and that is that
people at large don't particularly fancy a person of your calling in
life. No, nor the calling either. I presume you remember, don't you,
what the biggest detective in America said not so very long ago in a
signed article? He said most of the private detective agencies were
recruited from among ex-convicts--said a big percentage of the private
detectives in the United States were jailbirds and evidence-fixers and
blackmailers and hired thugs!"

"I don't care what Burns or anybody else said." Keller's voice betokened
indignation. "I may not have had as much education as some other people,
but I've made my own way in the world and I'm no crook, nor no old lag
neither. There's nobody got anything on me. Besides, unless somebody
tells 'em, how're they going to know what line of business I'm in, any
more than they'll know, just from looking at you, that you're on your
way back to London to stand trial for a felony?"

"My friend," said Bronston gently, "everything about you spells private
detective. You've got it written all over you in letters a foot high."

"What now, for instance, gives me away?" There was incredulity in the
question, but also there was a tinge of doubtfulness too.

"Everything about you, or nearly everything, gives you away--your
clothes, your shoes, your moustache. But particularly it's your shoes
and your moustache. I wonder why all detectives wear those broad-toed,
heavy-soled shoes?" he added, half to himself.

"What's wrong with my moustache?" asked Keller, craning to contemplate
himself over Bronston's shoulder in the mirror. "Seems to me you used to
wear a moustache yourself. The description that was sent to our people
said you wore one, and your not wearing it made it all the harder for me
to trail you when I was put on the case."

"Oh, I cut mine off months ago," said Bronston, "and besides it was
always a modest, close-cropped affair. I never wore the ends of my
moustache turned up like a cow's horns." He glanced at Keller
quizzically. "Honestly, aside from any other considerations, I think
you'd look better without one."

"Let's drop the moustache part," said Keller, who seemed nettled. "Tell
me, what's wrong with my clothes?"

"To be frank," criticised Bronston, "you run just a bit to extremes.
There's that cap you bought yesterday evening when we stopped at that
store on our way across town. It struck me as being--well, a trifle
loud."

"I don't see anything wrong with this cap, if you're asking me," said
Keller. He drew it forth from his opened handbag and slipped it on his
head. It slipped down until his ears stopped it; its owner whistled in
astonishment. "Yes, by gee!" he exclaimed, "there is something wrong
with it too--it's too large." He drew it off and examined the little tag
pasted in the crown. "Why, it's a full half size too large." He turned
to Bronston.

"You told the clerk what numbers we wanted. Remember, don't you,
offering to attend to that while I was getting me a bathrobe, so as to
save time? See if he made any mistake in yours?"

Bronston slid on the cap he had bought, a plain grey one; it stuck on
the top of his head.

"Yes," he said, "the idiot must have got the sizes twisted. This one is
a half size too small for me."

"And mine's a half size too large," said Keller. "I suppose we'll have
to trade."

"There's nothing else to do," said Bronston, "although I can't say I
fancy this plaid design much."

In accordance with the plan of Keller, as stated the night before, they
went to breakfast together to find that they had been assigned places
at a five-seated, circular table on the balcony of the dining saloon.
Their tablemates were an elderly couple, who said little to each other
and nothing at all to strangers, and a tall, reserved, exceedingly
silent Englishman. The indefinable something that marked these two men
as hailing from different circles and different environments was
accentuated in their table manners. Keller ate correctly enough, but
there was a suggestion of grossness about him, an awkwardness in his
fashion of holding his fork while he cut his ham. But he watched
Bronston closely, and before the end of the meal had begun to copy
Bronston's method of handling a fork.

They had quit the dining room and sought out the location of their deck
chairs when, for the first time, the detective seemed to become aware
that Bronston's cheeks were rosy and smooth, whereas a roughened stubble
covered his own jowls. "I think I'll go below and take a shave," he
said, running the palm of his hand over his chops.

"Use my safety, if you feel like it," suggested Bronston casually.
"There's a new blade in it."

Half an hour later, when Bronston invaded the stateroom to get a
pocketful of cigars, Keller stood facing the mirror, putting on his
collar and tie.

"I couldn't find my razor," he said, with his head turned away from
Bronston; "I must've left it on that Chicago train. And yet I'd have
sworn I put it into my valise. So I had to use yours. But you were wrong
when you said it had a new blade in it. If that's a new blade I'll eat
it. It mighty near pulled my upper lip off."

"Your upper lip?" echoed Bronston instantly.

"Sure," said Keller. There was a touch of embarrassment in his tone as
he faced Bronston. "I took your advice about this moustache of
mine--clipped it close with the scissors and then gave myself the
twice-over with your safety." His upper lip showed bare; the skin had a
bleached look and was raw from the scraping it had just undergone.

As Keller passed out of the room, caressing the place where his
moustache had been, Bronston noted that Keller had made other changes in
his person. Keller had exchanged the bright green tie which he wore at
breakfast for a dull brown bow; and he had put on a lighter pair of
shoes--patent-leather shoes, with thin soles and buttoned uppers. His
broad-toed, heavy-soled pair showed under his bed where he had shoved
them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Conceding the weather to be fair, as in this instance it assuredly was,
the majority of the passengers upon a big liner eastward bound give over
their first day at sea to getting used to their new and strange
surroundings, to getting lost in various odd corners of the ship and
finding themselves again, to asking questions about baggage gone astray,
to wondering why they are not seasick. As regards the two principal
characters of this narrative, nothing of interest occurred during the
first day except that Keller went below late in the afternoon to take
a nap, and that shortly before dark, when he had waked, Bronston limped
in with a look of pain upon his face, to report that while watching a
lifeboat drill he had got a foot hurt.

"A clumsy ass of a coal passer dropped his oar and hit me right on the
big toe with the butt of it," he explained. "I didn't give him away,
because the second officer was right there and I judged he would have
given the poor devil fits for being so careless. But it hurts like the
very mischief."

He got his left shoe off and sat for a bit caressing the bruised member.

"The skin isn't broken evidently," he continued, in response to Keller's
inquiries concerning the extent of the injury; "but there's some
swelling and plenty of soreness." He started to put his shoe back on his
stockinged foot, but halted with a groan.

"If you don't mind," he said to Keller, "I'm going to wear those heavy
shoes of yours for a day or two. They're easier than mine and broader in
the toe."

"Help yourself," agreed Keller. "Seeing as we've swapped caps we might
as well swap shoes too. Anyhow, I kind of like this pair I've got on,
even if they do pinch a little." He contemplated his shining extremities
admiringly. Shortly afterward they went up to dinner. After dinner
Bronston found reason for returning to the stateroom. Here he did a
strange thing. He dropped a pair of perfectly good shoes out of the
porthole.

       *       *       *       *       *

Conceding further that on a big liner's second day out the weather
continues fine, the Americans among the first-cabin passengers begin
making acquaintances; and, under official guidance, go on trips of
exploration and discovery to the engine room and the steerage and the
steward's domain. Card games are organised and there is preliminary talk
of a ship's concert. The British travellers, on the other hand, continue
for the most part to hold themselves aloof. This also was true of the
second day's passage of the _Mesopotamia_.

Keller--or Cole, to use the name which he now used--met some congenial
fellow countrymen in the smoking room and played bridge with them for
small stakes during most of the afternoon. Bronston, who apparently did
not care for cards, saw his warder only at the lunch hour, preferring to
spend the time in his steamer chair upon the deck, enjoying the air,
which was balmy and neither too warm nor yet too cool, but just right.
Presently as he sat there he fell into a conversation--which was at
first desultory, although it shortly took on a more animated
character--with a rather fluffy young lady who occupied the steamer
chair next his own. She dropped a book which she had been reading; he
picked it up and returned it to her. That was how it started, at first
with an interchange of polite commonplaces, then with a running bestowal
of small confidences on the part of the young lady, who proved to be
talkative.

By bits and snatches it developed that her name was Miss Lillian
Cartwright and that her home was in Evanston, Illinois. There were
several other Evanston people on the boat--she pointed out a group of
them some distance down the deck--but she was not travelling with them.
She was travelling with her uncle, Major Slocum. Perhaps her new
acquaintance had heard of her uncle, Major Slocum? He was a prominent
attorney in Chicago, quite a prominent attorney, and he was also on the
staff of the present governor of Illinois, and in former years had taken
a deep interest in the welfare of the Illinois National Guard.

"Possibly you may have seen his name in the papers," she said. "Uncle is
always getting into the papers."

Bronston rather thought he had heard the name. Miss Cartwright talked
on. This was her first trip at sea. She had expected that she would be
seasick, but on the contrary she felt splendid; not a suggestion of
seasickness so far. Really she felt almost disappointed--as though she
had been cheated out of something. But seriously, wasn't the sea just
perfectly lovely? She loved the sea. And she loved the _Mesopotamia_
too; it was so big and so roomy and the officers were so polite; and
even the seamen were accommodating about answering questions. She was
always going to travel on the _Mesopotamia_ after this. They--her uncle
and she--were on their way to Scotland to visit her married sister who
lived there. It wasn't certain yet whether they would leave the ship at
Fishguard and run up to London for a day or two, or go straight on to
Liverpool and from there take the train for Scotland and stop off in
London on the way back. Her uncle rather favoured going on to Liverpool.
Here Bronston found a chance to slip in a word or two.

"I'm sure I've noticed your uncle--tall, isn't he, and distinguished and
rather military looking? I should like very much to meet him. You might
introduce him to me, and then perhaps he would be good enough to
introduce us two properly to each other. I answer to the name of Brown."
He stood up and lifted his cap. "I expect to be back in a little while."

The plan seemed to please Miss Cartwright. "That would be fun, wouldn't
it?" she said, as Bronston moved off up the deck.

It is possible that she repeated to her uncle what Bronston--or
Brown--had said. For when Bronston happened along again a few minutes
later, Major Slocum was sitting with his niece, and upon being
introduced, arose and clasped Mr. Bronston's hand with a warm
cordiality. The Major was one of those native-born Demostheneses with a
stiff spine and a fine mane of rather long, iron-grey hair. His manner
of speech betrayed him instantly as one addicted to after-dinner
oratory. Instinctively, as it were, one gathered that his favourite
toast was The Ladies--God Bless 'Em.

As he confided to his niece afterward, the Major found this Mr. Brown to
be an exceedingly well-mannered, well-informed person; and indeed the
conversation did cover a wide range of subjects that afternoon.

It first took on a briskened tone when a lone porpoise came tumbling
across the waves to race with the ship. From porpoises the talk turned
to whales, and from whales to icebergs, and from icebergs to disasters
at sea, and from that to discipline aboard ship, and from that to
discipline in the army and in the national guard, which was where Major
Slocum shone. Thence very naturally it drifted to a discussion of police
discipline as it existed in certain of the larger American cities,
notably New York and Chicago, and thence to police corruption and crime
matters generally. Here Mr. Bronston, who had until now been third in
the conversational output, displayed a considerable acquaintance with
methods of crime detection. He knew about the Bertillon system and about
finger-print identifications, and what was more he knew how to talk
about them--and he did. There are two classes of people who are
interested in shop talk of crime--those who know something of the
subject and those who do not. Miss Cartwright and Major Slocum listened
attentively to most of what the young man had to say, and both professed
themselves as having been deeply entertained.

It followed, quite in the order of things, therefore, that the three of
them should agree to meet in the lounge after dinner and take their
coffee together. They did meet there, and the evening was made to pass
both pleasantly and rapidly. The Major, who told quite a considerable
number of his best stories, was surprised when eleven o'clock arrived.
Meanwhile, Keller played bridge in the smoking room. He didn't turn in
until after midnight, finding Bronston already in bed.

At the latter's suggestion they breakfasted abed the following morning;
and so the forenoon was well spent when they got upon deck. Fine weather
continuing, the ship ran a steady course. The side-to-side motion was
barely perceptible. Having finished the prescribed morning
constitutional--twelve times round the ship--Miss Cartwright was sitting
in her steamer-chair, feeling just a wee bit lonely and finding so
smooth a crossing just a trifle monotonous, when Bronston came up,
looking spick and span. She preened herself, greeting him with sprightly
words, and when after a few minutes of small talk he offered to initiate
her into the mysteries of horse billiards, up on the boat deck, she
accepted the invitation instantly.

They went up and the young lady proved an apt and willing pupil. There
on the boat deck Major Slocum presently found them. He didn't care to
play, but he kept score for them. The Major put the sonorous emphasis of
the true orator's delivery into everything he said; his calling off of
the count invested it with the solemnity and vocal beauty of a
well-delivered ritual.

Presently when the game was over and they sat, all three, side by side
upon a bench in the lee of one of the huge ventilator funnels, the
younger man spoke up and said he was afraid Miss Cartwright must be
getting chilled without a wrap. She insisted that she was perfectly
comfortable, but masterfully declaring that she needed better protection
for her shoulders than a silken blouse and a light jacket he got up.

"I'll just run down and get my grey ulster," he said. "I think I left it
in my chair."

Leaving uncle and niece together he hurried below. True enough, his grey
ulster dangled across the arm of the steamer chair, but after picking it
up he made a trip on down to D-deck and spent perhaps a minute in his
stateroom with the door closed. No, probably it wasn't more than half a
minute that he spent there. At any rate he was back upon the boat deck
almost immediately, holding up the coat while Miss Cartwright slipped
her arms into the sleeves. All women like to be waited on and most women
like to wear masculine garments of one sort or another. He buttoned the
collar about her throat and she smiled up at him her appreciation of his
thoughtfulness.

"Aren't men's overcoats just adorable!" she babbled; "so big and warm
and comfy and everything! And they have such lovely big pockets! The
very next coat I get is going to be made like a man's, and have some of
those nice big pockets in it." She shoved her hands deep into the side
pockets in what she fondly conceived to be a mannish manner.

"Why, what's this?" she asked. "There's something heavy and jingly
in----"

She stopped short, for the owner of the ulster was looking at her
meaningly and shaking his head as a signal for silence.

"What did you say, my dear?" inquired her uncle absently.

"Nothing," she answered, but her fingers continued to explore the depths
of the pocket, and into her eyes came a half-puzzled, half-excited look.
She opened her lips as though to speak, then closed them with an effort.

Bronston proposed another go at horse billiards--just a short game
before luncheon. Again the Major volunteered to score for them. The
game was still going on when Keller appeared. He stopped within easy
hailing distance of the trio.

"About ready for luncheon?" he called out, addressing Bronston.

"Just a minute or so," answered Bronston, and went on showing his pupil
how to make a certain shot.

Keller took a turn up and down the deck. He felt rather out of the
picture somehow. His appetite was active too; trust the North Atlantic
air for that. He took a turn or two more, growing hungrier with every
step. Five minutes passed, and still the game showed no sign of breaking
up. He swung about and approached them.

"Say," he said, seeking to put a subtle shade of meaning into his words,
"I'd like to go to lunch--if you don't mind."

"Oh, very well," said Bronston; "we'll stop, then." Keller advanced
until he was quite near them. As he did so he became aware that Miss
Cartwright was staring hard at him. Bronston, all of a sudden, seemed to
remember the small proprieties of the occasion.

"Miss Cartwright, Major Slocum," he said, "this is my--this is Mr.--" he
hesitated the merest fraction of a second--"Mr. Cole, who is travelling
with me this trip."

Miss Cartwright nodded, the Major bowed, Keller pulled off his cap. They
descended the steps in a straggling procession, Miss Cartwright and
Bronston being in front, the Major next and Keller bringing up the rear.
At the foot of the stairs Bronston addressed the young lady.

"I'll relieve you of my coat now," he said. "I'm afraid you did find it
rather heavy." He looked straight into her eyes as he spoke and touched
his lips with a forefinger. She nodded back to show she thoroughly
understood the signal, and then he took the ulster across his arm and he
and Keller moved on ahead.

"Look here, Bronston," grumbled Keller when they were out of earshot of
the Major and his niece, "you acted kind of funny up yonder. It looked
to me like you didn't care much about introducing me to your swell
friends."

"To tell you the truth," apologised Bronston, "I forgot for the moment
what your travelling name was--couldn't remember whether it was Cole, or
something else. That's why I hung fire. It did make the situation a bit
awkward, didn't it? I'm sorry."

"Oh, all right," said Keller; "that explains it. But I was a little sore
just for a minute."

At the door leading into the first cross hall Bronston glanced back over
his shoulder. Miss Cartwright and her uncle were not following them.
They had halted upon an untenanted stretch of deck, and the young woman
was saying something to her uncle and accenting with gestures what she
said. Her hands moved with the briskness which generally accompanies an
eager disclosure of important tidings. The Major, his stately head bent
to hear her, was nevertheless looking at the vanishing figures of the
two men.

Bronston smiled gently to himself as he and Keller crossed the threshold
and headed for the dining saloon. He didn't go near Miss Cartwright or
Major Slocum again that day, but in the course of the afternoon he,
watching from a distance, saw her in earnest conversation with two of
her friends from Evanston--and both of these two were women. Immediately
Bronston went below and stayed there. He didn't even get up for dinner.
The excuse he gave Keller, when Keller came in at dinnertime, was that
he wanted to go over some papers connected with his case. The small desk
at which he sat was littered with papers and he was steadily making
notes upon a scratch pad. He asked Keller to ask their dining-room
steward to bring him a light meal upon a tray.

At this point we digress, in order to drag in the fact that this ship,
the _Mesopotamia_, was one of the largest ships afloat at this time. The
following year there would be bigger ones in commission, but for the
moment she ranked among the largest. She was over eight hundred feet
long and of a beam measurement and a hull depth to correspond; but even
upon a craft of such amplified proportions as this was news travels
with amazing rapidity, especially if it be news calculated to arouse and
to excite. Such a ship might be likened to a small, compact town set
afloat, with all the social ramifications of a small town and with all
of a small town's curiosity regarding the private affairs of the
neighbours. Ashore gossip flies swiftly enough, goodness only knows; at
sea it flits from point to point, as if on the wings of the swallow.
What one knows every one else knows, and knows it very soon too.

The digression is concluded. Let us return to the main thread of our
narrative. Let us go back to the joint occupants of D-forty.

It was nine-twenty that same evening when Keller broke in upon his
companion, who sat at the little desk, still busied with his writing.
Keller seemed flustered, not to say indignant. He slammed the door
behind him viciously.

"Somebody's on," he stated, speaking with disconsolate conviction. "I
know I haven't said anything, and it don't stand to reason that you'd be
talking; but they're on."

"On what?" inquired Bronston calmly.

"On to us--that's what! It's leaked out who we are."

"What makes you think that?"

"I don't think anything about it--I know. I've got the proofs. We had
our little game all fixed up for to-night--me and the same three fellows
I've been playing with right along; but when I looked them up in the
smoking room after dinner they all three excused themselves--said they
didn't feel like playing. Well, that was all right, but a little later I
saw Latham and Levy joining in a game with two other men, both strangers
to me. So I tried to get into another game that was just starting up,
and the fellows there horned me out. I could tell they didn't want to be
playing with me. And going through the lounge I tumbled, all of a
sudden, to the fact that all the people there, men and women both, were
looking hard at me and nodding to one another--get what I mean? Maybe
they didn't think I saw them--I didn't let on, of course--but I did see
'em. I tell you they're on. Say, what do you know about a lot of
stuck-up people passing up a man cold, just because they've found out
some way that he's a private detective?"

Overcome by his feelings he snorted in disgust. Then added, as an
afterthought: "Well, what's the next move? What do you think we'd better
do now?"

Bronston considered a moment before answering.

"If your suspicions are correct I take it the best thing for us to do is
to stay away from the other passengers as much as we possibly can during
the rest of this trip. At least that's what I figure on doing--with your
consent."

"How about that Miss What's-her-name, the girl who was with you this
morning?" asked Keller. "How are you going to cut her out?"

"That's simple enough--merely by not going near her, that's all," said
Bronston. "Admitting that you are right and that we have been
recognised, the young woman probably wouldn't care to be seen in my
company anyhow. As things seem to stand now it might be embarrassing for
her."

"I guess you've got the right dope," said Keller. "If anybody objects to
my company they know what they can do. What do you figure on
doing--sticking here in the room?"

"Remaining in a stateroom for a day or so won't be much of a privation
to a man who faces the prospect of being locked up in an English jail
indefinitely," said Bronston. "It'll merely be a sort of preliminary
training. Besides, we ought to reach shore to-morrow night or the next
morning. I shall certainly stay where I am."

"Me too, I guess," said Keller dolorously. "I sure was enjoying that
little game, though."

After all, as it turned out, Keller wouldn't have cared to leave his
quarters anyhow on the next day. For overnight the sea, so placid and
benignant until now, developed a passing fit of temperament. In the
morning the sea wasn't exactly what you would call rough, but on the
other hand it wasn't exactly what you would call absolutely smooth; and
Keller, being a green traveller, awoke with a headache and a feeling of
squeamishness in his stomach, and found it no privation to remain upon
the flat of his back. Except for a trip to the bathroom Bronston did not
venture out of the room either. He read and wrote and smoked and had his
meals brought to him. Keller couldn't touch food.

So the situation stood in the middle of the afternoon when there came a
gentle knock at the door. Keller was dozing then, but roused himself as
Bronston called out to know what was wanted. The voice which answered
through the panels was the voice of their bedroom steward, Lawrence.

"I've a wireless, sir," he said; "just received from the coast. It's
addressed to 'Sharkey Agency's Operative, aboard Steamship
_Mesopotamia_,' and the wireless operator brought it to the purser, sir,
and the purser told me to bring it to this stateroom. Was that right,
sir?"

Keller sat up with a groan. His head was swimming.

"Stay where you are," said Bronston; "I'll get it for you"; and before
Keller could swing his feet to the floor Bronston had unbolted the door
and had taken the message from Lawrence's hand. The steward, standing
outside, had time only to murmur his inevitable "Thank you, sir," and
catch one peep at the interior of the stateroom before the door was
closed in his face. Bronston turned and handed the sealed envelope to
Keller.

"What did I tell you last night about 'em all being on?" said Keller. "A
message comes with no name on it, and yet they know right where to send
it. And, say, did you get a flash at the look on that steward's face?
Somebody's been telling that guy something too."

He opened the brown envelope and glanced at the small sheet that it
contained. "The London officer will meet us at Liverpool," he said, as
he crumpled the paper and tossed it aside. "We land at the other place
first, don't we--Fishhawk, or whatever its name is?"

"Fishguard," Bronston told him. "Or rather, we stop off Fishguard, and
tenders come out to meet us and to take off mail and passengers. Then
the ship goes on to Liverpool."

"Good enough," said Keller. "You and me will stay right here in this
stateroom until we get to Liverpool; that'll be some time to-morrow,
won't it?"

"To-morrow afternoon, probably," said Bronston. He went back to his
writing, whistling a little tune to himself.

The precaution of the overcareful Keller proved unnecessary, because in
the morning word was brought by the bathroom steward that a notice had
just been posted in the gangway opposite the purser's desk announcing
that because of the roughness of the channel the liner would proceed
straight to Liverpool without stopping off Fishguard at all.
Nevertheless, the detective kept the stateroom door locked. With land
in sight he was taking no chances at all.

Since their stateroom was on the port side and the hills of Wales stood
up out of the sea upon the other side, they saw nothing of Fishguard as
the _Mesopotamia_ steamed on up the choppy channel. Mainly they both
were silent; each was busy with his own thoughts and speculations.
Hampered in their movements by the narrow confines of their quarters
they packed their large bags and their small ones, packing them with
care and circumspection, the better to kill the time that hung upon
their hands. Finally Bronston, becoming dissatisfied with his own
bestowal of his belongings, called in the handy Lawrence to do the job
all over again for him.

As the shifting view through their porthole presently told them, they
left the broad channel for the twistywise river. The lightships which
dot the Mersey above its mouth, like street-lamps along a street, were
sliding by when Lawrence knocked upon the door to ask if the luggage was
ready for shore. He was told to return in a few minutes; but instead of
going away he waited outside in the little corridor.

"Well," said Keller, "I guess we'd better be getting up on deck, hadn't
we?" He glanced sidewise at the shiny steel cuffs, which he had fished
out from an ulster pocket and which lay upon the rumpled covers of his
bed. Alongside them was the key of the door.

"I suppose so," said Bronston indifferently; "I'll be with you in a
minute." With his back half turned to Keller he was adjusting the
seemingly refractory buckle of a strap which belonged about one of the
valises. He had found it necessary to remove the strap from the bag.

"Hello, what's this?" he said suddenly. The surprise in his tone made
Keller look. Bronston had leaned across the foot of his bed and from a
wall pocket low down against the wainscoting had extracted something.

"Why, it's a razor," he said, holding it up; "and what's more it looks
like your razor--the one you thought you'd lost."

"That's what it is," said Keller, taking it from him. "I wonder how in
thunder it got itself hid there? I'll stick it in my pocket."

"Better not," advised Bronston. "If I'm not mistaken it is against the
English law to carry a razor upon the person. A locked valise would be
a better place for it, I should say."

"I guess you're right," agreed Keller. "In a strange country it's just
as well to be careful."

He turned and stooped down, fumbling with the hasps upon his small
handbag. As he did, something supple and quick descended in a loop over
his head and shoulders. In an instantaneous flash of alarm he sensed
that it was the same broad strap which he had seen a moment before in
the hands of the other man. As he straightened with an exclamation of
surprise, the strap was violently tightened from behind, the tough
leather squeaking under the strain as the tongue of the buckle slipped
through a handy hole; and there he was, trussed fast about the middle,
with his arms bound down against his sides just at the elbows, so that
his lower arms flapped in the futile fashion of a penguin's wings. He
cried out then, cursing and wriggling and straining. But a man who would
have been his equal in bodily vigour even though his limbs were
unhampered was upon him from the rear, pitching him forward on his bed,
face downward, wrestling him over on his side, muffling his face in a
twist of bed clothing, then forcing his wrists together and holding them
so while there was a jingle of steel chain and a snapping together of
steel jaws. Half suffocated under the weight of his antagonist, with his
mouth full of blanket and his eyes blinded, overpowered, tricked, all
but helpless, lashing out with his feet in a vain protest against this
mishandling, Keller now was dimly aware of a wallet being hurriedly
removed from his breast-pocket and of something else of equal bulk being
substituted for it. Then he was yanked upon his feet, a cap was jammed
upon his head, the leather noose about his body was cast off, and he
stood unsteadily--a composite picture of dishevelment, dismay, chagrin
and rage--wearing upon his two clamped hands the same gyves which his
conqueror had worn when they boarded the ship.

"You'll pay for this--I'll make you pay for this!" he sputtered. "I'll
show you up! Damn you, take these things off of me!" and he tugged
impotently at his bonds until his wrist-bones threatened to dislocate
themselves. "You ain't got a chance to get away with this--not a
chance," he cried. "I'll raise this whole ship! I'll----"

"Rest perfectly easy," said Bronston calmly, soothingly almost, as he
flung the strap aside and stepped back. "The ship has already been
raised, or a part of it. If you weren't so excited you would know that
our friend Lawrence has been trying to get in the door for the last half
minute or so. I think he must have heard you kicking. Let us admit him."

He had the key in his hands--in the stress and fever of the encounter he
had even remembered, this thoughtful man, to secure the key. And now,
with his eyes turned toward the captive, who remained stupefied at this
inexplicable manoeuvre, he was stepping backward and unfastening the
door, and swinging it open for the admission of the astounded servant.

"Lawrence," snapped Bronston in the voice of authority and command, "I
want you. My man here tried to give me the slip and I had to use a
little violence to secure him. Bring these bags and come along with us
to the deck. I shall possibly need your help in making the explanations
which may be necessary. Understand, don't you?"

Reaching backward, he slipped a shining gold coin into Lawrence's palm;
he slid into a grey ulster; he advanced a step and fastened a firm hand
upon the crook of Keller's fettered right arm. Involuntarily the captive
sought to pull away.

"I keep telling you you ain't got a chance," he blurted. "I'll go to the
captain----"

"No, my noisy friend, you won't go to the captain," Bronston broke in on
his tirade, "but you'll be taken to him." With a forward swing he thrust
Keller across the threshold and they bumped together in the narrow cross
hall. "Come along now, Lawrence, and look sharp," he bade the pop-eyed
steward over his shoulder.

We may briefly sketch the details of the trip through the passageway,
and up the steps from D-deck to C-deck and from C-deck to B, for really
it occupied less time than would be required for a proper description of
it. Suffice it to say that it was marked by many protestations and by
frequent oaths and by one or two crisp commands and once by a small
suggestion of a struggle. These sounds heralded the progress of the trio
as they moved bumpingly along, so that the first officer, catching
untoward noises which rose above the chatter of the passengers who
surrounded him, garbed and ready for the shore, stepped back from the
deck into the cabin foyer, followed by a few first-cabin folk who, like
him, had heard the clamour and had gathered that something unusual must
be afoot.

The first officer barred the way of the procession. He was a competent
and self-possessed young man, else he would not have been the first
officer. At sight of his brass buttons and gold-braided sleeves Keller,
still striving to cast off Bronston's hold, emitted a cry of relief.

"Captain! Captain!" he yelled; "listen to me. Listen to me a minute,
please."

"The captain is on the bridge until the ship has docked," answered the
uniformed one. "I am the first officer. What is the trouble?"

"There is no trouble--now." It was Bronston speaking; speaking
authoritatively and without outward signs of excitement. "Would you care
to hear what I have to say, Mr. Officer?"

"I would."

"But, see here, I'm the one that's got a right to do the talking," burst
in a frenzied gurgle from the sorely beset Keller. "You listen to me.
This is an outrage!"

"One at a time," quoth the first officer in the voice of one accustomed
to having his orders obeyed. "Proceed," he bade Bronston.

"You may have heard," stated Bronston, "that we are a detective and a
prisoner. I believe there has been talk to that effect on board here for
the past day or two."

The first officer--his name was Watts--nodded to indicate that such
rumours had come to his ears.

"Very well, then," went on Bronston; "my man here will probably claim
he is being kidnapped. That is his last hope." He smiled at this. "He
tried to get away from me a bit ago. We had a tussle. The steward here
heard us struggling. I overpowered him and ironed him. Now, for reasons
best known to himself, I apprehend that he will claim that he is really
the detective and that I am really the prisoner. Will you kindly look at
us both and tell me, in your opinion, which is which?"

Dispassionately, judicially, First Officer Watts considered the pair
facing him, while curious spectators crowded together in a semicircle
behind him and a thickening stream of other first-cabin passengers
poured in from off the deck, jostling up closely to feast their gaping
eyes upon so sensational an episode. It took the young Englishman only
a moment or two to make up his mind; a quick scrutiny was for him amply
sufficient. For one of these men stood at ease; well set up, confident,
not noticeably rumpled as to attire or flustered as to bearing. But the
other: His coat was bunched up on his back, one trouser leg was pulled
half way up his shin; his mussed hair was in his eyes; his cap was over
one ear; his eyes undoubtedly had a most wild and desperate look; from
his mouth came vain words and ravings. Finally there were those
handcuffs. Handcuffs, considered as such, may not signify guilt, yet
somehow they typify it. So far as First Officer Watts was concerned
those handcuffs clinched the case. To his understanding they were
_prima facie_ evidence, exceedingly plausible and highly convincing.
Promptly he delivered his opinion. It was significant that, in so doing,
he addressed Bronston and ignored Keller:

"I'm bound to say, sir, the appearances are in favour of you. But there
should be other proof, don't you think--papers or something?"

"Certainly," agreed Bronston. He drew a red leather wallet from his own
breast-pocket and handed it over to Watts. Then, working deftly, he
extracted half a dozen letters and a sheaf of manuscript notes from an
inner pocket of Keller's coat and tendered them for examination; which
crowning indignity rendered Keller practically inarticulate with
madness. Watts scanned these exhibits briefly, paying particular
attention to a formal-looking document which he drew from the red
wallet.

"These things seem to confirm what you say," was his comment. He
continued, however, to hold the written and printed testimony in his
hands. He glanced at the impressive document again. "Hold on; this
description of the man who is wanted says he has a moustache?"

"Oh, I'm going to offer you other proof, plenty of it," Bronston
promised, cutting in on Keller, who grew more incoherently vocal with
each moment. "Would you be so good as to send for the ship's barber?"

"Bring the barber!" ordered Watts of a wide-eyed cabin boy.

"This steward has served us since we came aboard," went on Bronston,
indicating Lawrence. "Now, my man, I want you to tell the truth. Which
of us two seemed to be in charge on the night you first saw us--the
night we came aboard--this man or I?"

"You, sir," answered Lawrence. "I recall quite distinctly that 'twas you
spoke to me about the 'eavy luggage."

"Who took from you the wireless message which you brought yesterday to
our stateroom, addressed to the representative of the Sharkey Detective
Agency?"

"You, sir."

"Who handed you your tip a few minutes ago for serving us during the
voyage?"

"You did, thank you, sir."

A figure of dignity pushed forward through the ring of excited
spectators and a sonorous, compelling voice was raised impressively.
Major Slocum had been late in arriving upon the scene, but what he now
said earned for him instant attention.

"Mr. Officer," announced the Major with a gesture which comprehended the
central pair of figures, "you may accept it from me as an absolute and
indisputable fact that this gentleman, who calls himself Brown, is a
bona-fide detective. I gleaned as much from my conversation with him
upon the occasion of our first meeting. He evinced a wide knowledge of
police matters. Of the other person I know nothing, except that, since
Brown is the detective, he must perforce be the prisoner." He cleared
his throat before going on:

"Moreover, deeply though I regret to bring a lady, and especially a
young lady, into a controversy involving a person who is charged with
crime"--here he blighted the hapless Keller with a glare--"deeply as
I regret it, I may say that my niece is in position to supply further
evidence."

The crowd parted to admit Miss Lillian Cartwright, then closed in behind
her. Excitement flushed the young lady's cheeks becomingly. The first
officer bowed to her:

"Pardon me, miss, but would you mind telling us what you know?"

"Why, I've known for two days--no, three days, I think--who they were,"
stated Miss Cartwright. "Mr. Brown--the detective, you know--loaned me
his ulster the other morning; and when I put it on I felt
something--something heavy that jingled in the pocket. Mr. Brown didn't
seem to want me to take it out or speak about it. But at the very first
chance I peeped in the pocket, and it was a pair of handcuffs. I'd never
seen any handcuffs before--closely, I mean--so I peeped at them several
times. They are the same handcuffs that are on that man now."

"That was my overcoat he loaned you!" yelled Keller, waving his coupled
hands up and down in his desperate yearning to be heard in his own
defence. "Those handcuffs were in my overcoat pocket, I tell you, not in
his."

"Oh, no," contradicted Miss Cartwright, most positively. "Yours is a
brown ulster. I've seen you wearing it evenings on the deck. And this
was a dark-grey ulster, the same one that Mr. Brown is wearing this very
minute.

"And I remember, too, that on that very same morning you came up and
asked Mr. Brown to take you to lunch, or rather you asked him to go to
lunch so that you could go, too. You spoke to him twice about it--quite
humbly, I thought."

There were murmurs of applause at this. Another voice, unheard until
now, spoke out, rising above the confused babbling. It was the voice of
a sophisticated New Yorker addressing an equally sophisticated friend:

"There's nothing to it, Herman! Look at those feet on Brown. Nobody but
a bull would be wearing shoes like that. And pipe the plaid lid--a
regulation plain-clothes man's get-up, the whole thing is."

"But those are my shoes he's wearing," wailed Keller, feeling the trap
closing in upon him from every side. "Those are my shoes--I loaned 'em
to him."

"Lawrence," said Bronston, "you've been giving our shoes to Boots and
getting them back from him, haven't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Are these shoes which I have on now the same shoes I've been wearing
right along?"

"Oh, yes, sir, the same boots!"

"When you helped me pack my luggage to-day, did you notice any other
shoes?"

"No, sir."

"I wasn't in my stocking feet when I came aboard, was I?"

"Oh, no, indeed, sir." This with a respectful smile.

"Then these must be the only shoes I have or have had, mustn't they?"

Before Lawrence could make answer to this question the ship's barber
appeared at the first officer's elbow, touching his cap.

"You wanted me, sir?" he asked.

"I wanted you," put in Bronston. "Look at me closely, please. How long
would you say that it has been since I wore a moustache?"

With the air of a scientist examining a rare and interesting specimen,
the barber considered the speaker's upper lip.

"Not for some months, sir, I should say," he announced with professional
gravity, while all the audience craned their necks to hear his words.

"Now, then," said Bronston, yanking Keller forward into the full light,
"would you please look this prisoner over and tell us how long, in your
opinion, it has been since he wore a moustache?"

A pause ensued; all waited for the decision.

"I should say, sir," stated the barber at the end of half a minute,
"that 'e's been wearing a moustache lately--I should say that 'e must
'ave took it off quite recently. 'Is upper lip is still tender--tenderer
than the rest of 'is face."

"But I took it off since we sailed," blared Keller. He turned furiously
on Bronston. "Damn you, you conned me into taking it off!"

"Why should I do that?" parried Bronston coolly; his manner changed,
becoming accusing. "Why should I persuade you to cut off the principal
distinguishing mark as set forth in the description that was sent to our
people from London, the thing which aided me in tracing and finding
you?"

A sputtered bellow was the answer from Keller, and a suggestion of
applause the response from the crowd. The popular verdict had been
rendered. Before the tribunal of the onlookers the prisoner stood
convicted of being rightfully and properly a prisoner. Even in his
present state Keller realised this, and filled for the moment with a
sullen resignation he dropped his manacled hands.

"Remember," he groaned, "somebody'll pay out big damages if you let this
man off this ship. That's all I've got to say now. He tricked me and
he'll trick you, too, if he can!"

"Mr. First Officer," said Bronston, "hasn't this farce gone far enough?
Is there any lingering doubt in your mind regarding our proper
identities?"

The first officer shook his head. "I am satisfied," he said with
unqualified conviction in his words; "quite satisfied. Indeed, sir, I
was satisfied from the beginning. I only wished to be absolutely sure."

"I thought as much," said Bronston. "I am expecting a man from Scotland
Yard to meet us here at Liverpool. Would you please bring him to me
here? This man is dangerous, and I prefer to have assistance before
taking him off the boat. Kindly explain the situation to the Scotland
Yard man as he comes aboard, will you, please, and ask him to hurry."

"I understand," said Mr. Watts, moving back. "Clear the way, please," he
bade those about him. "We are about to dock, I think."

He was a bit late. The steamer had already swung to, broadside,
alongside the long landing stage, and just as Mr. Watts, in a great
hurry, reached the rail, the gangway went out. But before the first
eager shoregoer could start down it, a square-jawed, stockily-built man,
with short side whiskers, came briskly up it from the other end. He
spoke ten words to the first officer, and the first officer, escorting
him, bored back through the press to the foyer, explaining the situation
in crisp sentences, as he made a path for the newcomer to the spot where
Bronston, with his legs braced, was jamming the blasphemous and
struggling Keller into an angle of the cabin wall. For Keller had once
more grown violent. At sight of this the square-jawed man jumped forward
to lend a hand.

"Inspector Drew, from Scotland Yard," he said, by way of introduction
for himself as he grabbed for one of Keller's flailing legs.

"All right, inspector," answered Bronston, between hard-set teeth. "I'm
glad to see you. I'm having trouble handling our man."

"So I see," said Drew, "but we'll cure that in a jiffy." He cured it by
the expedient of throwing the whole weight of his body upon Keller.
Together he and Bronston pressed the captive flat and helpless against
the woodwork.

"The boat train is waiting," panted Drew in Bronston's ear. "Shall we
get our man aboard?"

"I'm not going on any train!" snorted Keller, his voice rising to an
agonised shriek.

"Oh, yes, but you are, me beauty!" said the inspector. "Get him by the
other arm," he told Bronston. "I'll take care of him on this side."

Propelled by an irresistible force, held fast by strong grips upon his
coat-collar and his elbows, shoved along, while his feet dragged and
scuffled under him and his pinioned hands waggled the air impotently,
hurried on so fast that his profane sputterings gurgled and died in his
throat--thus and after such a fashion did the hapless, helpless Keller
travel across the deck and through the crowd, which parted before him
and closed in behind; thus did he progress, without halt, across the
landing dock, on past the stand of the customs office and out at the
other side of the dock, where, upon tracks that ran along the quay, a
train stood with steam up. Bodily he was flung in at an open coach door;
roughly he was spun about and deposited like a sack of oats upon the
seat of a compartment, and Inspector Drew, gasping for breath but
triumphant, shoved a knee into his heaving chest to keep him there.

"Whew, that was a job!" puffed Bronston, releasing his grasp of their
still feebly struggling charge. "Inspector, can you keep him where he is
for just a minute or two? I'll see to it that the baggage is brought
here."

"I can keep the gentleman quiet," said Drew, mending his grip and
shoving down hard upon the wriggling human cushion beneath him.

"For God's sake, don't let him get away! Don't----" The rest was but
muffled gurglings and snortings, made meaningless and wordless by a
sinewy, tweed-clad forearm, which was jammed across poor Keller's face
with crushing and extinguishing violence.

"Go get your baggage," panted Inspector Drew. "He'll stay right 'ere
with me, no fear." So Bronston stepped down out of the compartment and
slammed the door fast behind him.

As the passengers of the _Mesopotamia_ come swarming aboard the boat
train, and as the boat train prepares to pull out for London, we may as
well leave the inspector and the handcuffed detective wrestling there
together in the narrow confines of that English railway compartment.

Because that was where Bronston left them.


THE END



Transcriber's Notes


Inconsistent hyphenation retained as originally printed:
cooperation/co-operation, everyday/every-day, lamppost/lamp-post,
pipestem/pipe-stem, upended/up-ended.

In Chapters VII and IX the author has used small capitals with semantic
intent: these have been marked =like this= using equality symbols.





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