Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Tales From a Rolltop Desk
Author: Morley, Christopher
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 "Tales From a Rolltop Desk" ***

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



TALES FROM A ROLLTOP DESK

By Christopher Morley

Illustrated By Walter Jack Duncan

Garden City, N. Y., And Toronto

Doubleday, Page & Company

1921

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0008]

[Illustration: 0009]

A LETTER OF DEDICATION

TO

FRANK NELSON DOUBLEDAY

Dear Effendi:

I take the liberty of dedicating these little stories to you, with
affection and respect. They have all grown, in one mood or another,
out of the various life of Grub Street, suggested by adventures with
publishers, booksellers, magazine editors, newspaper men, theatrical
producers, commuters, and poets major and minor. If they have any appeal
at all, it must be as an honest (though perhaps sometimes too jocular)
picture of the excitements that gratify the career of young men
who embark upon the ocean of ink, and (let us not forget) those
much-enduring Titanias who consent to share their vicissitudes. You have
been the best of friends and counsellors to many such young men, and I
assure you that they look back upon the time spent under your shrewd and
humorous magistracy with special loyalty and regard. You will understand
that in these irresponsible stories no personal identifications are to
be presumed.

I think you remember--I know you do, because you have often charitably
chuckled over the incident--that rather too eager young man who came to
call on you one day in September, 1913, saying that he simply must have
a job. And how you, in your inimitable way, said "Well, what kind of
a job would you like best to have around this place?" And he cried
"Yours!" And you justly punctured the creature by saying "All right, go
to work and get it." (There was more youthful palpitation than intended
impertinence in the young man's outcry, so he has assured me.) And then,
still tremulous with ambition, this misguided freshman pulled out of his
pocket a bulky memorandum on which he had inscribed his pet scheme for
the regeneration and stimulus of the publishing business, and laid
it before you. How hospitably you considered his programme, and
how tenderly you must have smiled, inwardly, at his odd mixture of
earnestness and excitement! At any rate, you set him to work that
afternoon, with the assurance that he might have your job as soon as he
could qualify.

Well, he did not get it; nor will he ever, for he knows (by this time)
what a rare complex of instincts and sagacities is needed in the head of
a great publishing house; and his own ambition has proved to be a little
different. But he can never be enough grateful for the patience and
humorous tolerance with which you brooded upon his various antics,
condoned his many absurdities, welcomed and encouraged his enthusiasms.
In nearly four years in your "shop" he learned (so he insists) more than
any college could ever teach: and how much he had to unlearn, too! And
the surprising part of it was, it was all such extraordinarily good fun.
The greatest moments of all, I suppose, were when this young man
was invited by one of your partners (on occasions that seemed so
interminably far apart!) to "walk in the garden," that being the
cheerful tradition of the Country Life Press. There, after some
embarrassing chat about the peonies and the sun dial, the victim
meanwhile groaning to know whether it was, this time, hail or farewell,
there would come tidings of one of those five-dollar raises that were
so hotly desiderated. That paternal function (so this young man and his
fellow small fry observed) was rightly a little beneath the dignity
of the Effendi: you, they noted, only walked in the garden with paper
merchants and people like Booth Tarkington and Ellen Glasgow and good
Mr. Grosset of Grosset and Dunlap!

Many young men (O Effendi), from Frank Norris down, have found your
house a wonderful training-school for writers and publishers and
booksellers. There are great names, of permanent honour in literature,
that owe much to your wisdom and patience. But among all those who know
you in your trebled capacity as employer, publisher, and friend, there
is none who has more reason to be grateful, or who has done less to
deserve it, than the young man I have described. And so you will forgive
him if he thus publicly and selfishly pleases himself by trying to
express his sense of gratitude, and signs himself

Faithfully yours

Christopher Morley.

Roslyn, Long Island January, 1921.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The original responsibility for some of these stories--or at any rate
the original copyright--was allotted as follows: "The Prize Package,"
Collier's Weekly (1918); "Urn Burial," Every Week (1918); "The
Climacteric," The Smart Set (1918); "The Pert Little Hat," The
Metropolitan (1919); "The Battle of Manila Envelopes," The Bookman
(1920); "The Commutation Chop-house," The New York Evening Post (1920);
"The Curious Case of Kenelm Digby," The Bookman (1921); "Gloria and
the Garden of Sweden," Munsey's (1921); "Punch and Judy," The Outlook
(1921).

All but one of these publications are still in existence. To their
editors and owners the author expresses his indebtedness and his
congratulation.



TALES FROM A ROLLTOP DESK



THE PRIZE PACKAGE


LESTER VALIANT came back from Oxford with the degree of B. Litt., some
unpaid tailors' bills, and the conviction that the world owed him a
living because he had been suffered within the sacred precincts of
Balliol College for three years. A Rhodes scholarship is one of the most
bounteous gifts the world holds for a young man; but in Lester's case
Oxford piled upon Harvard left him with a perilous lot to unlearn. You
can tell a lot about a man when you know what he is proud of; and Lester
was really proud of having worn a wrist watch and a dinner jacket with
blue silk lapels three or four years before they became habitual in the
region of Herald Square. But let us be just: he was also proud of his
first editions of Conrad and George Moore; for he was much afflicted
with literature.

Lester originated in the yonder part of Indiana, but when he returned
from Oxford he made up his mind to live in New York. He felt it
appropriate that he should be connected in some way with the production
of literature, and after hiring a bedroom on the fourth floor of an old
house on Madison Avenue, where two friends of his were living, he set
out to visit the publishers.

There is a third-rate club in London called the Litterateurs' Club.
A few years ago it was in urgent need of funds, and a brilliant idea
struck the managing committee. Every writer listed in the American
"Who's Who" was circularized and received a very flattering letter
saying that, owing to the distinction of his contributions to
contemporary letters, the Litterateurs' Club of London would be very
much pleased to welcome him as a member, upon a nominal payment of
five guineas. About seven hundred guileless persons complied, and
transatlantic travel became appreciably denser on account of these men
of letters crossing to England to revel in their importance as members
of a club of which no one in London has ever heard. And by some fluke
the managing committee had got hold of the name of Lester Valiant,
then at Oxford--perhaps because he had once published a story in the
_Cantharides Magazine_. Probably they bought a mailing list from some
firm in Tottenham Court Road.

Cecil Rhodes's executors paid his five guineas, and he had his cards
engraved:

LESTER G. P. VALIANT

The Litterateurs' Club, London

The use of these pasteboards brought him ready entrée in the offices
of New York publishers. If he had not been so eager to impress the
gentlemen he interviewed with his literary connoisseurship, undoubtedly
he would have landed a job much sooner. But publishers are justly
suspicious of anything that savours of literature, and Lester's innocent
allusions to George Moore and Chelsea did much to alarm them. At length,
however, Mr. Arundel, the president of the Arundel Company, took pity
on the young man and gave him a desk in his editorial department
and fifteen dollars a week. Mr. Arundel had once walked through the
quadrangle of Balliol, and he was not disposed to be too severe toward
Lester's naïve mannerisms.

To his amazement and dismay, Lester found his occupation not even
faintly flavoured with literature. He was set to work writing press
notes about authors of whom he had never heard at Oxford and whose books
he soon discovered to be amateurish or worse. He had been nourishing
himself upon the English conception of a publisher's office: a quaint,
dingy rookery somewhere in Clifford's Inn, where gentlemen in spats
and monocles discuss, over cups of tea and platters of anchovy toast,
realism and the latest freak of the Spasmodists.

The Arundel office was a wilderness of light walnut desks and filing
cases, throbbing with typewriters, adding machines, and hoarse cries
from the shipping room at the rear. Here sat Lester, gloomily writing
blurbs for literary editors, and wondering how long it would be before
he would earn forty dollars a week. He reckoned that was what one ought
to get before incurring matrimony.

*****

Like all young men of twenty-three, Lester thought a good deal about
marriage, although he had not yet chosen his quarry. The feeling that
he could marry almost anybody was delicious to him. But this heavenly
eclecticism endures such a short time! For youth abhors generalities and
seeks the concrete instance. Also, much reading of George Moore sets the
mind brooding on these things. Lester used to stroll in Madison Square
at dusk before going back to his room, and his visions were often of a
dark-panelled apartment in the Gramercy Park neighbourhood where an open
fire would be burning and someone sitting in silk stockings to endear
him as he returned from the office.

His arrival caused something of an upheaval in the placid breasts of the
two old college friends whose sitting room he shared on Madison Avenue.
They were sturdy and steady creatures, more familiar with Edward Earle
Purinton and Orison Swett Marden than with Swinburne and Crackanthorpe
and Mallarmé. To his secret annoyance, Lester learned that both Jack
Hulbert and Harry Hanover were earning more than thirty dollars a week,
and he even had an uneasy suspicion that they were saving some of
it. When he spoke about Beardsley or Will Rothenstein or the Grafton
Galleries they were apt to turn the talk upon Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker.
When he showed them his greatest treasure, a plaster life mask of
himself that a sculpturing friend in Chelsea had made, they were frankly
ribald. Jack was in the circulation department of a popular magazine,
and Harry performed some unexplained tasks in the office of a tea
importer. Lester was fond of them both, but it seemed to him a bitter
travesty that these simple-minded Philistines should possess so much
higher earning power than he. So he thought of taking a garret in
Greenwich Village, but in the Madison Avenue house he was sharing a big
sitting room at little expense. So he spread his books about, hung up
his framed letter from Przybyszewski, put his hammered brass tea caddy
on the reading table, and made the best of the situation.

Even on fifteen dollars a week a young man may have a very amusing time
in New York. For his room and breakfast Lester paid six dollars a
week; for his other meals he used to hunt out the little table-d'hôte
restaurants of which there are so many in the crosstown streets between
the Avenue and Broadway. To come in from the snowy street on a winter
evening, sit down to a tureen of Moretti's hot minestrone, open a
new packet of ten-cent cigarettes, and prop up a copy of the _Oblique
Review_ against the cruet stand, seemed to Lester the prismatic fringe
of all that was _je ne sais quoi_ and _ne plus ultra_. The dandruffians
in the little orchestra under the stairs would hammer out some braying
operatic strains, and Lester would lean back in a swirl of acrid tobacco
smoke and survey his surroundings with great content.

It was while he was conjugating the verb _to live_ in this manner, and
sowing (as someone has said) a notable crop of wild table d'hôtes, that
he first realized the importance of Pearl Denver. Miss Pearl was
Mr. Arundel's personal stenographer, a young woman remarkable in
her profession by the fact that she never exposed the details of her
camisole to the public gaze; also when the boss dictated she was able to
rescue his subordinate clauses from the airy vacancy in which they hung
suspended, and hook them up into new sentences capable of grammatical
analysis. As a stenog she was distinctly above par, but not above
parsing.

Lester, of course, had a speaking acquaintance with Miss Denver, but
her existence had never really penetrated the warm aura of egocentric
thoughts that enhaloed him. He knew her simply as one of the contingents
of the office; and the office had proved a great disappointment to him.
Not one of the "firm" (he called them "directors") wore spats; not one
of them had shown the faintest interest in his suggestion that they
publish a volume of Clara Tice's drawings. Lester must be pardoned for
having dismissed Miss Denver, if he had thought of her at all, as not
_generis._

*****

We now proceed more rapidly. Entering the hallway of Moretti's on
Thirty-fifth Street, about half past one cocktail of a winter evening,
he found the cramped vestibule crowded by several persons taking
off their wraps. A copy of the _Oblique Review_, unmistakable in its
garlic-green cover, fell at his feet. Thinking it his own, he picked it
up and was about to pocket it when a red tarn o'shan-ter in front of him
turned round. He saw the bobbed brown hair and gray eyes of Miss Denver.
"Well, Mr. Valiant, what are you doing with my magazine?"

"Oh--why--I beg your pardon! I thought it was mine! I'm awfully sorry!"
He was keenly embarrassed, and pulled his own copy out of his overcoat
pocket as an evidence of good faith.

She laughed. "I don't wonder you made the mistake," she said. "Probably
you thought you were the only person in New York reading the Oblique!"

He felt the alarm that every shy or cautious youth experiences in the
presence of beauty, and, with a mumbled apology, fled hastily to a
little table in a corner. There, pretending to read some preposterous
farrago of free verse, he watched Miss Denver meet another girl who was
evidently waiting for her. The two chattered with such abandon, smoked
so many cigarettes, and seemed so thoroughly at home that Lester envied
them their savoir. Manoeuvring his spaghetti and parmesan, his gaze
passed as direct as the cartoonist's dotted line to the charming contour
of the stenographer's cheek and neck. His equanimity was quite overset.
Never before had he gazed with seeing eye upon the demure creature
sorting out Mr. Arundel's mind into paragraphs. Human nature is what it
is; let Lester's first thought be confessed: "I wonder if she knows what
my salary is?"

At last, after smoking many cigarettes and skimming over the _Oblique
Review_, Lester felt it was his move. He walked down the room, looking
at his wrist watch with a slight frown as he passed her table. At the
door he saw by the reflection in a mirror that she had not even looked
up. He hurried back to Madison Avenue, pausing to sniff the crystal
frosty air. At the corner of Fifth he stood for a moment, inhaling the
miraculous clearness of the night and pondering on the relative values
of free verse and ordered rhythms as modes of self-expression.

In spite of a certain bumptiousness among males, Lester was painfully
shy with nubile women, and it was several days before he had opportunity
for further speech with Miss Denver. Moretti's is a fifty-cent table
d'hôte, and his regimen was calculated on a forty-cent limit for dinner;
but after this meeting with the _Oblique Review's_ fairest _abonnée_ he
haunted the place for some evenings. Then one day, taking in some copy
for a book jacket to be approved by the sales manager, he encountered
Miss Denver in the sample room. During working hours she was "strictly
business," and he admired the trim white blouse, the satin-smooth neck,
and the small, capable hands jotting pothooks in her notebook as she
took a long telephone call. She put down the receiver, and smiled
pleasantly at him.

"Don't you go to Moretti's any more?" he asked, and then regretted the
brusqueness of the question.

"Sometimes," she said. "Usually when I buy the _Oblique_ I go to
a Hartford Lunch. I can sit there as long as I want and read, with
doughnuts and coffee."

Lester had a curious feeling of oscillation somewhere to the left of
his middle waistcoat button. As the little girl said on the Coney Island
switchback, he felt as though he had freckles on his stomach.

"Will you come to Moretti's with me some night?" he asked.

"I'd love to," she said. "I must hurry now. Mr. Arundel's waiting for
this phone call."

A little later in the day, after a good deal of heartburning, Lester
called her up from his desk. "How about to-morrow night?" he said, and
she accepted.

*****

Coursing back to his chamber the next evening, Lester was a little
worried about the ceremonial demanded by the occasion. Should he put
on white linen and a dinner jacket, becoming the conquering male of the
upper classes? But the recollection of the _Oblique Review_ suggested
that a touch of négligée would be more appropriate. A clean, soft collar
and a bow tie of lavender silk were his concessions to unconvention. He
was about to scrub out a minute soup stain on the breast of his coat,
but concluded that as a badge of graceful carelessness this might
remain. At a tobacconist's he bought a package of cheap Russian
cigarettes, such as he imagined a Bolshevik might smoke.

There she came, tripping along the street, with something of the quick,
alcaic motion of an Undersmith on high. He waved gayly. She depressed
her shift key and reversed the ribbon. He double-spaced, and they
entered the restaurant together.

Lester felt an intellectual tremor as they sat down at a corner table.
Never had his mind seemed so relentlessly clear, so keen to leap upon
the problems of life and tessellate them. It was as though all his past
experience had cumulated and led up to this peak of existence. "Now for
a close analysis of Female Mind," was his secret thought as he settled
in his chair. He felt almost sorry for this gay, defenceless little
shred of humanity who had cast herself under his domineering gaze. A
masculine awareness of size and power filled him. And yet--she seemed
quite unterrified.

As they began on the antipasto he thought to himself: "I must start very
gently. Women like men to veil their power." So he said:

"That was funny, my picking up your magazine the other night, wasn't it?
You know I thought it was my copy."

"Oh, the dear old _Oblique!_ Isn't it a scream? I read myself to sleep
with it every night. We'll have to make the most of it while we can,
because Mr. Arundel says it can't pay its paper bill much longer."

This irreverence rather startled Lester, who was writing an article "On
the Art of Clara Tice" which he had been hoping the Oblique would
buy. In fact, he was startled quite out of the careful conversational
paradigm he had planned. He found himself getting a little ahead of his
barrage. "Does Mr. Arundel read it?" he asked. "Heavens, no!" cried Miss
Denver, and effervesced with laughter. "He would rather face a firing
squad than read that kind of stuff. But he has an interest in the
concern that supplies their paper." The matter of paper had never
occurred to Lester before. Of course he knew a magazine had to have
something to print on, but he had never thought of the editors of a
radical review being embarrassed by such a paltry consideration.

"Is Mr. Arundel literary?" he asked.

Miss Denver found this very whimsical. "Say, are you kidding me?" she
said, with tilted eyebrows. "The chief says literature is the curse of
the publishing business. Every time somebody puts over some highbrow
stuff on him we lose money on it. The only kind of literature that gets
under his ribs is reports from the sales department."

"That's very Philistine, isn't it?"

"Sure it is, but it puts the frogs in the pay envelopes, so what of it?"

"Well, I should expect the head of a big publishing house to be at least
interested in some form of literary expression."

"You should worry! That's what we hires for. Besides he _has_ a literary
passion, too--Walt Mason. He thinks Walt is the greatest poet in the
world."

"Walter Mason?" murmured Lester. "I don't think I know his work."

"Hasn't Walt made Oxford yet?" asked Miss Denver. "He writes the prose
poems in the evening papers, syndicate stuff, you know. Printed to
look like prose, just the opposite of the free-verse gag." She smiled
reminiscently, and quoted:

_When I am as dry as a fish up a tree, then I to the hydrant repair,
and fill myself up, without ticket or fee, with the water that's eddying
there. I drink all I want--half a gallon or more--and then I lie down on
my couch; when I rise in the morning my head isn't sore and I don't wear
a dark brindle grouch----"_

"Is there any free-verse stuff that can cover that?" she asked.

Lester was somewhat disconcerted. His assessment of Female Mind did not
seem to be proceeding methodically. He played for time.

"I thought you enjoyed the _Oblique_?"

"As a joke, yes: I laugh myself giddy over it. But I know darn well that
kind of junk won't last. By and by the ghost'll quit putting up and the
editors will get jobs as ticket choppers. I guess I'm a Philistine!"

With this deliciously impudent creature beaming at him, Lester felt
himself cursedly at a disadvantage. Neither Harvard nor Balliol had
informed him about this Walter Mason, and though he had seven hundred
quips and anecdotes indexed in a scrapbook marked _Jocoseria_, none
of them seemed to bubble up just now. Darn the girl, her mind wouldn't
stand still long enough for him to take its temperature. It was like
trying to write captions for the movies while the film was running. He
blew a cloud of blue Russian vapour across the board, and smiled at her
in a tolerant, _veni-vidi-Bolsheviki_ kind of way. Behind his forehead
he was fighting desperately to catch up.

As they wrestled with the spaghetti he remembered that someone had told
him that publishers usually depend on the literary judgment of their
wives. Perhaps that was the case with Mr. Arundel? But Miss Denver
laughed aloud at the suggestion.

"Wrong again!" she said. "He's not married. Petunia Veal, the author of
'Sveltschmerz,' has been angling for him for years, and lots of other
lady authors, too. He's so sentimental, he's escaped 'em all so far."

She bubbled and chuckled and gurgled her way through the rest
of Moretti's menu, amazing him more and more by the spontaneity,
sophistication, and charm of her wit. He escorted her home, and then
stood under a lamp-post for three minutes removing the soup stain with
a handkerchief. "She's immense!" he said to himself. "Why she's--she's
a poem by William Butler Yeats!" As an afterthought, he made a mental
memorandum to visit the library and look up the work of Walter Mason.

A few days later Mr. Arundel sent for Lester, who hurried to the private
office with visions of a raise in salary. The president was sitting at
his desk turning over some papers; he motioned Lester to a chair and
seemed curiously loath to begin conversation. At last he turned, saying:

"Mr. Valiant, your life at Oxford did a great deal to mitigate your
literary sensibilities?" Lester hardly knew what to say, and murmured
some meaningless syllables.

"I think that your abilities can be of very great service to us,"
continued Mr. Arundel, "and as an evidence of that I am asking the
cashier to raise your salary five dollars a week."

Lester bowed gently; he was not capable of articulate speech.

"I want to ask you a rather delicate question," pursued the president,
who seemed as much embarrassed as his visitor. "Do you ever write
poetry?"

Lester's voice was amazingly hoarse and choky, but in a spasm of
puzzlement and gratification he ejaculated: "Sometimes!"

"What I really mean," said Mr. Arundel, "is this: do you ever write
verses of a sentimental nature--hum--what might be called endearments?"

The young man sat speechless in surprise and embarrassment. As a matter
of fact, he had been trolling some amatory staves in secret, in honour
of Miss Denver; and he imagined they had come in some way under his
employer's eye.

"Please do not be alarmed," said Mr. Arundel, seeing his discomfiture.
"This is purely a matter of business. As it happens, I have a need for
some poems of an intimately sentimental character, and, being totally
unfitted to produce them myself, I wondered if you would sell me some? I
would be glad to pay market rates for them."

Still Lester could do no more than bow.

"I shall have to be frank," said Mr. Arundel, "and I must beg you to
keep this matter absolutely confidential. I have your word of honour in
that regard?"

"Absolutely," said Lester, quite vanquished by amazement.

The president's sense of humour seemed to have mastered his diffidence.
A quaint smile lurked behind the furrows that years of royalties had
carved on his face.

"I want to do some wooing in rhyme; and I want you to turn out some
verses for me of a superlatively lyric sort, it being understood that I
purchase all rights in these poems, including that of authorship. Would
you be willing to do me half a dozen, at say ten dollars each?"

Lester, although staggered by the proposal, was still able to multiply
six by ten, and his answer was affirmative and speedy.

"I do not wish to give you any specifications as to the object of your
vicarious amour," said the president. "It is a lady, of course; young
and fair. How soon can you despoil the English language of half a dozen
songs of passion worthy of the best Oxford traditions?"

Jack and Harry found Lester good company that evening. When they got
back to the sitting room on Madison Avenue he was lying on a couch,
nursing a large calabash and contemplating the ceiling with dreamy brow.
As they entered, stripping off their overcoats and chucking the night
extras across the room at him, he smiled the rich, tolerant smile of
Alexander at the Macedon polo grounds.

"Well, Lester," said Jack, "why the Cheshire-cat grin?"

"I've sold sixty dollars' worth of verse," said Lester, benignly; "also
I've had a raise."

"My God!" said Harry. "Think how many starving cubists you could endow
on that! There'll be a riot in Greenwich Village."

"Pity the poor bartenders on a night like this!" cried Jack. Then they
went to Browne's chop-house for dinner. After a three-finger steak and
several beakers of dog's nose, Lester was readily persuaded to enounce
the first number of his sonnet sequence, which had accreted or (as its
author expressed it) nucleolated, while he was walking home from the
office.

"Sonnet, in the Petrarchan mode, item No. 1," he proclaimed:


          Upon a trellis, bending toward the south,

               I set my heart, a yearning rose, to climb;

               It pullulates and blooms in sultry rhyme,

          It spires and speeds aloft, in spite of drouth.

          And seeking for that sweeter rose, your mouth,

               That beckons from some balcony sublime,

               It heeds no whit the tick-tack-tock of Time

          And with its sweetness all the night endow'th.


          O beauteous rose! O shrub without a thorn!

               O velvet petals unsmutched of the mire!

          For this my life was manifestly born,

               To climb toward thy lips, and never tire!

          Now ope thy shutter in the flood of mom--

               Lean out, and smile, and pluck thy heart's desire.


"Seems strange," said Harry, "that a man can buy a good meal with a
thing like that!"

"What is a petrarch, anyway?" said Jack. "Gee, you'll have to brush your
hair to keep it out of your eyebrows," said Harry. "Herod was petrarch
of Galilee, don't you remember? It's a kind of comptroller or efficiency
expert."

"Nonsense," said Harry. "Herod was patriarch of Galilee, not petrarch."

At this moment Lester was busy multiplying twenty by fifty-two, and
adding sixty, and he did not attempt to put Laura's friend right in the
eyes of his companions.

*****

The next morning, at the office, Lester took occasion to stroll over to
the corner where Miss Denver was tickling the keys. Her delicious, able
fingers flashed like the boreal aurora; the incomparable smoothness of
her neck and throat fascinated him; her clear, blue-washed gray eyes
startled him with their merry archness. Wambling inwardly, he met her
gaze as coolly as he might.

"Come to Moretti's to-night?" he asked.

"I'm sorry; I've got a date to-night."

He ached in spirit. "To-morrow night?"

She hesitated a moment, tapping the desk with a rosy finger nail. Then
her face brightened. "I'd love to."

As he returned to his desk and the dull routine of writing press notes
for Petunia Veal's latest novel, he uttered a phrase that he had caught
from Harry Hanover. It was the first sign of his emancipation from
Mallarmé and the Oxford Movement, for certainly that phrase had never
been heard on the quilted lawns of Balliol: "She's a prize package, all
right, all right!"

Ten days elapsed. All six sonnets had been delivered and paid for, and
Mr. Arundel had bargained for a few extra rondeaux, at five dollars
each.

Antipasto, minestrone, breadsticks, force-meat balls, and here we are
again at the spaghetti and Hackensack Chianti. Lester had mailed his
MS. on "Clara Tice and the Pleinaerists of Greenwich Village" to the
_Oblique Review_ that afternoon, and had calculated that the editors
could not in any decency offer him less than fifty--or perhaps
forty--dollars for it. This, added to 20 by 52 plus 60 plus the rondeaux
and other probable increments, would certainly support two in a garret
for some time. He also had hopes of selling some obscenarios for the
movies. Pearl would probably want to go on with her work, for a while at
any rate. She was so independent! But those clear eyes of hers, like
a March sky with teasings of April in it, how tender and laughing they
were! A few nights ago they had taken a long bus ride together, and she
had forgotten her muff. She let him warm her hands instead. He went
home that night feeling strong enough to bite lamp-posts in two, and had
waked up Jack and Harry to put them right about Petrarch.

Pearl was teaching Lester to twirl up his spaghetti with fork and spoon,
instead of draping it out of his mouth like Spanish moss. Suddenly she
laughed.

"What did I tell you!" she said. "The dear old _Oblique_ has gone
blooie! Mr. Arundel called up the editor to-day and told him the
Barmecide Company won't supply him with any more paper until he pays his
bills. Of course that means he'll have to quit."

Lester was touched in two vital spots: his own private hopes, and his
zeal for fly-specked literature. "Shades of Frank Harris!" he cried.
"If that isn't just like Arundel! Why, that man is pure and simple
_bourgeois!_ I never heard of such a thing. Has he no feeling at all for
art?" Pearl laughed--the pure, musical laugh of careless girlishness,
but the recording angel caught in the nimble chords a faint overtone of
something else--like the tinkle of ice in a misty tumbler. "Oh, he
has his own ideas about art," she said. "He's taken to writing poetry
himself. You never heard such stuff--I've been meaning to tell you. What
does 'pullulate' mean?"

Lester's valiant heart, Lester's manly hands that had acted as a muff
on a Riverside Drive bus, trembled and stiffened. "_It 'pullulates and
blooms in sultry rhyme_," she quoted gayly. "Now what do you make
of that, as referring to Mr. Arundel's heart? Sultry is right, too!"
Lion-hearted Harvard, oak-bosomed Balliol, and all the mature essences
of manhood were needed to keep Lester calm. How had she seen these
secret strains? She must have been peeping into the chief's private
correspondence. He hesitated during six inches of spaghetti. "Search
me!" he said. "Is it in Walter Mason?"

"No, it's his own stuff, I tell you. _O beauteous rose! O shrub without
a thorn!_" she chanted, and her laughter popped like a champagne cork.
The horrid truth burst upon him. The boss was courting the angel of the
office with the very ammunition that Lester himself had furnished, and
his vow of secrecy forbade him to disclose the truth. Oh, the paltry
meanness of fate, the villainy of circumstance! It is impossible to
describe the pangs it cost him to dissemble, cloak, disguise, and
conceal the anguish he felt. But dissemble, cloak, disguise, and conceal
he did, and though his heart glowed like an angry cigar stub, he reached
home at last.

There he sat down at his table, and amid the healthy snores of his
roommates he concocted a fine piece of literary ordnance. Late and
grimly he toiled and contrived. At length he had fashioned a sonnet
which would be the golden sum and substance of the previous sequence;
a cry of the heart so splendidly forensic that Mr. Arundel would pounce
upon it, yielding his crisp steel engraving in return. But see, the
asp concealed in the basket of fruit, the adder in the woodpile! Read
Lester's sonnet as an acrostic:


               Over that trellis where the moon distills

                   My heart is climbing like a rambler rose:

               You lean and listen to the whippoorwills,

                   Heedless of how the fragrant blossom grows!

               O beauteous rose! O shrub without a thorn!

                   When wilt thou realize my love in sooth?

               I touch the windowsill with heart forlorn,

                   Hoping the guerdon of thy bounteous youth.

               After the grief and teen of bitter days,

                   Troubled by woes that cicatrize and burn,

               Ever at eventide I seek thy praise,

                   Yearning thy maiden bliss--I yearn, I yearn!

               Over the rotten fruit of buried years

               Unbar the bolt--have pity on my tears!


The discerning reader will spot the glittering falchion of malice
lurking in the initial letters. Read them downward, they convey: _o my
how I hate you!_ Lester had but to convey this poisoned comfit to his
chief: then, playing upon the artless Pearl, persuade her to show it to
him--point out the murderous duplicity of the love token; and she would
recoil into his arms. Greenwich Village would sound the timbrel of joy,
and even the _Oblique_ might find a softer-hearted papyrus vendor.
_Vos plaudite!_ With such thoughts, amid the wailing matin song of
boarding-house steam pipes, our hero fell into a brief slumber.

That morning Lester hastened to the office. He waited feverishly until
the hour when the chief usually arrived, then visited the private
office. There he found the vice-president going over the morning mail.
"Is--is Mr. Arundel in?" he stammered.

"Mr. Arundel isn't here to-day," said the vicepresident. "He will be
away two weeks."

Lester retired queasily, and hurried to the corner sacred to Miss
Denver. Here he found one of the other stenographers using Pearl's
machine.

"Where's Miss Denver?" he asked.

The young lady, of humorous turn, looked at her wrist watch. "Getting
ready to go over the top," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"Haven't you heard? She marries the boss this morning."



ADVICE TO TO LOVELORN


I

MISS ANN AUSTIN came briskly into her little cupboard of a room at
the back of the _Evening Planet_ office. She hung up her hat and coat,
opened her rolltop desk, put her small handbag carefully in a drawer,
and looked at herself in a greenish mirror that hung secretly on a hook
in the recess under the pigeonholes. She took the rubber hood off her
typewriter, poured three paper cupfuls of drinking water on the potted
geranium on the windowledge, wound up the cheap clock on top of the
desk, and moved it forward ten minutes to compensate for what it had
lost during the night. Now she was ready for work. As she wound up the
clock, the usual thought occurred to her--when would she be able to buy
herself the handsome little wrist watch she coveted? There were a lot
of them in the jeweller's shop on Park Row, and she admired them every
morning on her way to the office. But when one is supporting one's self
and an invalid mother in an uptown apartment, and has to pay for a woman
to come in during the day to lend a hand, all on fifty dollars a week,
in an era of post-bellum prices, wrist watches have to wait. However,
as Ann made the daily correction in her laggard clock she used to say to
herself: "There's a better time coming." She was not devoid of humour,
you see.

Then the office boy would bring in the big pile of morning mail,
grinning as he laid it on the pullout slide of her desk. He may be
excused for grinning, because Ann was the kind of creature who would
bring a smile to the surliest face. She was just a nice size, with a
face that was both charming and sensible, and merry brown eyes (when
it wasn't too close to the first of the month). Also, that pile of mail
_was_ rather amusing. Those letters, so many of them written on cheap
pink or blue stationery and addressed in unsophisticated handwriting,
were not directed to Miss Ann Austin, but to "Cynthia," and the office
boy knew pretty well the kind of messages that were in them. For Ann,
under the pseudonym of "Cynthia," conducted the _Planet's_ department of
Advice to the Lovelorn, and daily several score of puzzled or distracted
beings bared their hearts to her. The pile of letters was growing
bigger, too. The _Planet_, which was not a very flourishing paper just
at that time, had started the Advice to the Lovelorn department a few
months before, and had put Ann in charge of it because she had done so
well writing sob stories. It was beginning to "pull" quite surprisingly
as a circulation feature, especially since her smiling little picture,
vignetted in a cut with a border of tiny hearts, had been put at
the head of the column. Under the cut was the legend: "Cynthia, a
Sympathetic Adviser in Matters of the Heart." Ann didn't know whether to
be pleased or not at the growing popularity of her feature. This was not
quite the kind of thing she had hoped for when she entered the newspaper
world. But--the more letters there were from the lovelorn, the sooner
she might get that needed raise.

With a little sigh she got out her penknife, began slitting the
envelopes, ceased to be Ann Austin and became Cynthia, the sage and
gentle arbiter over her troubled parliament of love.

It was a task that required no small discretion and tact, because
Cynthia, whatever her private misgivings, tried to perform it with some
honest idealism. In the first place, the letters that were obviously
merely humorous, or were amorous attempts to inveigle her into private
correspondence, were discarded. Then the letters to be used in the next
day's column had to be selected, and laid aside to be printed with her
comment on the ethical or sociological problems involved. The remaining
letters had all to be answered, and data noted down that would be useful
in compiling the pamphlet "1001 Problems of Courtship" that the managing
editor insisted on her preparing. He said it would be great circulation
dope. Ann didn't care much for the managing editor, Mr. Sikes. He had a
way of coming into her room, closing the door behind him, leaning over
her desk, and saying: "Well, how's little Miss Cupid?" If it hadn't been
for that habit of his, Ann would have spoken to him about a raise before
now. But she had an uneasy feeling that it would not be pleasing to put
herself in the position of asking him favours. She would have been still
more disturbed if she had known that some of the boys in the city room
used to talk about "Cupid and Sikey" when they saw him visit her room.
They said it angrily, because Ann was a general office favourite. Even
the coloured elevator man had brought his wooing problems to her one
day, wanting to be reassured as to his technique.

It is all very well for you to scoff, superior reader, but letters
such as Ann had to read every morning bring an honest pang to an
understanding heart; particularly when that heart is in collaboration
with twenty-two years of bright, brown-eyed, high-spirited girlhood.
Perhaps you don't realize how many of us are young and ignorant and at
work in offices, and absorbed, out of working hours, in the universal
passion. A good many make shift to be cynical and worldly-wise in
public, but who knows how ravishingly sentimental we are in private?
Some say that Doctor Freud didn't tell the half of it. As that waggish
poet Keith Preston has remarked,

               Love, lay thy phobias to rest,

                   Inhibit thy taboo!

               We twain shall share, forever blest,

                   A complex built for two!

A complex built for two was the ambition of most of Ann's
correspondents; but mainly her letters exhibited the seamy side of
Love's purple mantle. You see, when lovers are perfectly happy, they
don't write to the papers about it. And when she pondered gravely
over "Brokenhearted's" letter saying that she has just learned that a
perfectly splendid fellow she is so infatuated with has a wife and three
children in Detroit; or over "Puzzled's" inquiry as to whether she is
"a bum sport" because she wouldn't let the dark young man kiss her
good-night, she sometimes said to herself that Napoleon was right.
Napoleon, you remember, remarked that Love causes more unhappiness than
anything else in the world. And then she would turn to her typewriter,
and put under "Puzzled's" inquiry:

_No, "Puzzled," do not let him kiss you unless you are betrothed. If any
one is a "bum sport" it is he for wanting to do so. If he "always kisses
the girls good-night when he has had a good time," he is not your sort.
A man that does not respect a girl before marriage will certainly not
respect her afterward._

After she had typed these replies she always hastily took the paper out
of her typewriter and tucked it away in her desk. She did not like the
idea of Mr. Sikes coming in and reading it over her shoulder, as he had
done once. That was the time she had used the quotation "Pains of Love
are sweeter far than all other pleasures are" in answering "Desolate."
The managing editor had repeated the verse in a way that both angered
and alarmed her.

This particular morning, among the other letters was one that interested
her both by the straightforward simplicity of its statement and by the
clear, vigorous handwriting on sensible plain notepaper. It ran thus:

_Dear Cynthia:_

_I am a young business man, very much in love, and I need your help. I
have fallen in love with a girl who does not know me. I do not even know
her name but I know her by sight, and I know where she works. She looks
like the only one for me, but I don't want to do anything disrespectful.
Would it be a mistake for me to call at her office and try to get a
chance to meet her? Do you think she would be offended? She looks very
adorable. Please tell me honestly what you think._

_Respectfully yours,_

_Sincerity._

Wearied by the maunderings of many idiotic flappers and baby vamps, this
appeal attracted her. She put it into the column for the following day,
writing underneath it:

_You never can tell, "Sincerity"! It all depends upon you. If you are
the right kind of man, she ought not to be offended. Why not take a
chance? Faint heart never won fair lady._

It was trying enough, Ann used to think, to have to pore over the
troubles of her lovelorn clients on paper; but the worst times were when
they came to call on her at the office. Fortunately this did not happen
very often, for the stricken maidens and young Lochinvars who make up
the chief support of such columns as hers are safely and busily shut up
among typewriters and filing cases during the daytime; their wounds do
not begin to burn intolerably until about five-thirty p.m. But now and
then some forlorn and baffled creature would find his or her way to
"Cynthia" and ask her advice. She would listen sympathetically, apply
such homely febrifuge as her inexperienced but wise heart suggested to
her, and after the patient had gone she would add the case to her list
of 1001 Problems. The material for the pamphlet was growing rapidly.

One morning, while the managing editor was in her room asking her how
soon the booklet would be ready, the office boy brought in a card
neatly engraved _Mr. Arthur Caldwell_. Now as a rule Cynthia did not see
masculine visitors, because (after one or two trying experiences) she
had found that they were inclined to transfer to her the heart that
someone else had bruised. But in this case she welcomed the caller
because Mr. Sikes was being annoyingly facetious. He had looked over her
laboriously gathered data for the 1001 Problems, and had said: "Well,
you're getting to be quite an experienced little girl in these matters,
hey?" He had seemed disposed to linger on the topic with pleasure.
Therefore Cynthia told the office boy to send Mr. Caldwell in, though
the name meant nothing to her. Mr. Sikes went out, and the caller was
introduced.

Mr. Caldwell proved to be a young man, quite as nice-looking as the
collar-advertising young men without being so desperately handsome.
Cynthia liked him from the first glance. There was something that seemed
very genuine about his soft collar and his candid, clean-shaven face and
the little brown brief-case he carried. He had on brown woollen socks,
too, she noticed, in one of those quick feminine observations. He seemed
very embarrassed, and his face suddenly went ruby red.

"Is this Cynthia?" he said.

"Yes," said Ann, pushing aside a mass of lovelorn correspondence, and
wondering what the trouble could be.

"My name's Caldwell," he said. "Look here, I suppose you'll think me an
awful idiot, but I wanted to ask your advice. I--I wrote you a letter
the other day, and your answer in the column made me think that perhaps
you wouldn't mind giving me some help. I wrote that letter signed
'Sincerity'."

He was obviously ill at ease, and Ann tried to help him out.

"I remember the letter perfectly," she said. "Did you take my advice?"

"Well, I'm a bit uncertain about it," he said.

"I just wanted to explain to you a little more fully, and see what
you think. You see I happened to see this girl one day, going into her
office. I suppose the idea about love at first sight is all exploded,
but I had a hunch as soon as I saw her that----Oh, well, that I would
like to know her. I've seen her going in and out of the building, but
she has never seen me, never even heard of me. I don't know any one who
can introduce me to her, and I can't just walk up to her and tell her
I'm crazy about her. They don't do that except in Shakespeare. I don't
know much about girls and I thought maybe you could suggest some way in
which I could meet her without frightening her."

Ann pondered. She liked the young man's way of putting his problem, and
it was plain from his genuine embarrassment that he was sincere.

"I'd love to help you, if I could," she said. "It seems to me that the
only way to go about it is to arrange some business with the firm she
works for, and try to meet her that way. Couldn't that be done?"

"She's secretary to one of the big bugs in the Telephone Company," he
said. "I'm in the publishing business. I don't see any way in which I
could fake up a business connection there. The worst of it is, there may
be a dozen fellows in love with her already, for all I know. I suppose I
might get a job with the Telephone Company, but by the time I had worked
up far enough to have an excuse for going into the vice-president's
office where she works, someone else might have married her." He
laughed, a boyish, ingratiating chuckle.

"It does seem pretty hard," said Ann. "I don't know what to say." She
had a mental picture of the unknown fair one, going in and out of the
big Telephone Company's building on Dey Street, unaware of the admiring
glances of this bashful admirer. "I'll bet the men she knows aren't half
as nice as he is," she said to herself.

"I happen to know that she reads your column," said Caldwell. "I suppose
there isn't any way I could get in touch with her through that?"

"If there's any legitimate way I can help," Ann said, "I'll be glad to.
But I hardly see what I can do."

"Well, thanks awfully," he said. "If I get a chance to meet her, will
you let me come in again and tell you about it? Perhaps you would let
me mention your name as a reference, in regard to my respectability I
mean?"

"Surely you can give her better references than that? You see, I don't
know so very much about you, Mr. Caldwell."

"In matters like this," he said, "I guess you're the Big Authority. And
by the way, do you ever do any book reviewing? I work for Fawcett and
Company, the publishers, and we'd like immensely to have your comment on
some of our love stories. Can I send you some books?"

"I can't promise to review them," said Ann, rather pleased, because this
seemed to her a way to earn a little extra money. "But I'll speak to the
literary editor, and we'll see."

"Suppose I send them to your home address," said Caldwell. "I know what
a newspaper office is, if I send them here someone else might snitch
them. Give me your street number, and you'll be spared the trouble of
taking them home to read."

"That's very kind of you," said Ann. "Miss Ann Austin, 527 West 150th
Street. Well, you let me know what happens about your fair lady. I wish
you all sorts of luck!"

When Arthur Caldwell got outside the office, he looked down Park Row to
where the great Telephone Building rose up behind the brown silhouette
of St. Paul's.

"Caldwell," he said to himself, "you're an infernal liar! But it pays!
I'll figure out some way. While there's life there's dope."

He set out for the subway, but paused again to meditate.

"Ann Austin!" he said. "By George, she's a queen."



II

It is not the purpose of this tale to tell in detail how Arthur
Caldwell laid siege to Ann Austin. He was a cautious man, and for
some time he contented himself by presenting occasional reports of his
progress with the damsel of the Telephone Company. Ann, in her friendly
and unselfish way, was delighted to hear, a few days later, that he had
met his ideal. Then, averring that he needed further counsel, Arthur
persuaded her to have lunch with him one day; and Ann, convinced that
the young man was in love with someone else, saw no reason why this
should not be done. Perhaps it was a little odd that at their various
meetings they should have talked so much of themselves, their ambitions,
the books they had been reading, and so on; and so little of the
Telephone lady. But surely it was strictly a matter of business that
Arthur should send Miss Austin some of Fawcett's novels, for her to
review in the _Planet_; and equally a professional matter that he should
discuss with her her opinion of them. And then came the day when Arthur
called up to say that things were going so well with the Telephone
lady that he wanted Cynthia to meet her; and would she join them in St.
Paul's Churchyard at half-past twelve? Ann, with just a curious little
unanalyzed twinge in her heart, agreed to do so.

But when she reached the bench in the graveyard, where a bright autumn
sunshine filled the clearing among those tremendous buildings, Arthur
was there alone.

"Where's Alice?" said Ann, innocently--for such was the name Arthur had
always given the lady of the Telephone Company.

"She couldn't come," he said. "But I want to show you her picture."

They sat down on the bench, and he took out of his pocket a copy of
the noon edition of the _Planet_. He turned to the feature page, and
displayed the little cut of Cynthia at the head of the Lovelorn column.

"There," he said, stoutly (though his heart was tremulous within him),
"there, you adorable little thing, there she is."

It would be pleasant to linger over this scene, but, as I have just
said, this is not our _denouement,_ but only an incident. Ann, shot
through with delicious pangs of doubt and glory and anger, asked for
explanations.

"And do you mean to say there never was any Alice, the beautiful
Telephone blonde?" she said. "What a fraud you are!"

"Of course not," he said. "You dear, delightful innocent, I just had
to cook up some excuse for coming up to see you. And you can't be angry
with me now, Ann, because in your own answer to Sincerity's letter you
said the girl ought not to be offended. You told me to take a chance!
Just think what self-control I had, that first time I came up to see
you, not to blurt out the truth." And then he tore off a scrap of margin
from the newspaper and measured her finger for a ring.


III

There were happy evenings that winter, when Ann, after finishing her
stint at the office, would hasten up their rendezvous at Piazza's little
Italian table d'hote. Here, over the minestrone soup and the spaghetti
and that strong Italian coffee that seems to have a greenish light round
the edges of the liquid (and an equally greenish taste), they would
discuss their plans and platitudes, just as lovers always have and
always will. As for Ann, the light of a mystical benevolence shone in
her as she conned her daily pile of broken hearts in the morning mail.
More than ever she felt that she, who had seen the true flame upon the
high altar, had a duty to all perplexed and random followers of the
gleam who had gone astray in their search. Aware more keenly that the
troubled appeals of "Tearful" and "Little Pal," however absurd, were
the pains of genuine heartache, she became more and more tender in her
comments, and her correspondence grew apace. Now that she knew that her
job need not go on forever she tried honestly to run the column with all
her might. How stern she was with the flirt and the vamp and the jilt;
how sympathetic with the wounded on Love's great battle-field. "Great
stuff, great stuff!" Mr. Sikes would cry, in his coarse way, and
complimented her on the increasing "kick" of her department. Knowing
that he attributed the accelerated pulse of the Lovelorn column to mere
cynicism on her part, she did not dare wear her ring in the office for
fear of being joked about it. She used to think sadly that because she
had made sympathy with lovers a matter of trade, she herself, now
she was in love, could hope for no understanding. Although she hardly
admitted it, she longed for the day when she could drop the whole thing.

One evening Arthur met her at Piazza's, radiant. He was going off on a
long business trip for his publishing house, and they had promised him a
substantial raise when he returned. They sat down to dinner together in
the highest spirits. Arthur, in particular, was in a triumphant mood:
the publishing world, it seemed, lay under his feet.

"Great news, hey?" he said. "We'll be able to get married in the spring,
and you can kick out of that miserable job."

"But, Arthur," she said, "you know I have to take care of Mother. Don't
you think it would be wiser if I went on with the work for a while,
until your next raise comes? It would help a good deal, and we'd be able
to put a little away for a rainy day."

"What?" he said. "Do you think I'm going to have my wife doing that
lovelorn stuff in the paper every day? It'd make me a laughing stock if
it ever got out. No, _sir!_ I haven't said much about it, because I knew
it couldn't be helped; but believe me, honey, that isn't the right kind
of job for you. I've often wondered you didn't feel that yourself."

Ann was a little nettled that he should put it that way. Whatever her
private distaste for the Lovelorn column, it had served her well in a
difficult time, and had paid the doctor's bills at home. And she knew
how much honest devotion she had put into the task of trying to give
helpful counsel.

"At any rate," she said, "it was through the column that we first met."

What evil divinity sat upon Arthur's tongue that he could not see this
was the moment for a word of tenderness? But a young man flushed with
his first vision of business success, the feeling that now nothing can
prevent him from "making good," is likely to be obtuse to the finer
shades of intercourse.

"Of course, dear, I could see you were different from the usual sob
sister of the press," he said. "I could see you didn't really fall for
that stuff. It's because I love you so, I want to get you out of that
cheap, degrading sensational work. Most of those letters you get are
only fakes, anyway. I think Love ought to be sacred, not used as mere
circulation bait for a newspaper."

Ann was a high-spirited girl, and this blunt criticism touched her in
that vivid, quivering region of the mind where no woman stops to reason.
But she made an honest attempt to be patient.

"But, Arthur," she said; "there's nothing really cheap and degraded in
trying to help others who haven't had the same advantages we have. I
know a lot of the letters I print are silly and absurd, but not more so
than some of the books you publish."

"Now, listen," he said, loftily, "we won't quarrel about this. I don't
want you to go on with the job, that's all. It isn't fair to you. You
may take the work seriously, and put all sorts of idealism into it, but
it's not the right kind of job for a refined girl. How about the men in
the office? I'll bet I know what _they_ think of it. They probably think
it's a devil of a good joke, and laugh about it among themselves. Don't
you think I've seen that managing editor leering at you? That sort of
thing cheapens a girl among decent men. Every Lovelace in town feels he
has a right to send you mash-notes, I guess."

Ann was furious.

"Well, you're the only one I ever paid any attention to," she said,
blazing at him. "I'm sorry you think I've cheapened myself. I guess I
have, by letting you interfere with my affairs."

She slipped the ring from her finger, and thrust it at him. Arthur saw,
too late, what he had done. She listened in scornful silence to his
miserable attempts to console her, which were doubly handicapped by the
old waiter hovering near. She was still adamant while he took her up
town. The only thing she said was when she reached the door of her
apartment.

"I don't want you to cheapen yourself. You needn't come any more."

By this time Arthur also was thoroughly angry. The next morning he went
away on his business trip, realizing for the first time that he who has
the pass key to a human heart treads among dangerous explosives.


IV

How different the little room in the Planet office looked to Ann
when she returned, with a sick heart, to her work the next morning.
Everything was just the same--the geranium on its windowledge, that
seemed to survive both the eddying hot air from the steampipes beneath
it and the daily douche of iced drinking water; the noisily ticking
inaccurate little clock; the dusty typewriter. All were the same, and
there was the pile of morning letters from Love's battered henchmen.
To office boy and casual reporter Ann herself seemed the usual cheerful
charmer with her crisp little white collar and dark, alluring hair.
Her swift, capable hands sped over the pile of letters, slitting the
envelopes and sorting the outcries into some classification of her own.
Outwardly nothing had altered, but everything seemed to have lost its
meaning. What a desolate emptiness gaped beneath the firm routine of her
daily life. She was struck by the irony of the fact that the only one
in the office who seemed to notice that something was amiss was the
one person whom she disliked--Mr. Sikes. He came in about something or
other, and then stayed, looking at her intently.

"You look sick," he said. "What's the matter, is the love feast getting
on your nerves?"

With a queer twitching at the corners of her mouth, she forced herself
to say some trifling remark. He leaned over her and put his hand on
hers. She caught the strong cigarry whiff of his clothes, which sickened
her.

"Too much love in the abstract," he said, insinuatingly. "What you need
is a little love in the concrete."

If he--or any one--had spoken tenderly to her, she would have burst into
tears. But the boorishness of his words was just the tonic she needed.
She looked at him with flashing eyes, and was about to say: "Keep to
some topic you understand." Then she dared not say it, for now she could
not run the risk of losing her job. She faced him steadily, in angry
silence. He left the room, and the little green-tarnished mirror under
the pigeonholes saw tears for the first time.

The irony of her position moved her cruelly when she began her task of
dealing with the correspondents. Here she was, giving helpful, cheery
advice, posing as all-wise in these matters, when her own love affair
had come so miserably to grief. In the ill-written scrawls on scented
and scalloped paper she could hear an echo of her own suffering.
"Hopeless" and "Uncertain" and "Miss Eighteen" got very tender
replies that day. And how she laid the lash upon "Beau Brummel" and
"Disillusioned," those self-assured young men, who had chosen that mail
to contribute their views on the flirtatious and unreliable qualities of
modern girls.

The bitterness of her paradoxical task became dulled as the days went
on, but there were other troubles, too, to bother her. Her mother,
quick and querulous to detect unhappiness, fell into one of her nervous
spells, and the doctor had to be called in again. The woman-by-the-day
got blood-poisoning in her arm, and could not come. The landlord gave
notice of a coming raise in rent. A fat letter came from Arthur, and in
a flush of passion she destroyed it unread. If it hadn't been such a fat
letter, she said to herself, it wouldn't have annoyed her so to see it.
But she wasn't going to wade through pages of explanation of just what
he had meant. She was still cut to the quick when she remembered the
cavalier and easy way in which he had scoffed at her work. And then, as
time went by, she found herself moving into a new mood--no longer one of
exaggerated tenderness toward her clients, but a feeling almost cynical.
"They're all fools, just as I am," she said.

One morning she found on her desk a note from the managing editor:

_Dear Miss Cupid:_

_We've made some changes in our budget, and I've been authorized to
fatten your envelope $15 a week. I'm glad to do this, because the
Lovelorn stuff is going big. Just keep kidding them along and everything
will be fine. Maybe some day we can syndicate it. Hope this will cheer
you up, don't look so blue at your friends._

_Sikes._

There had been a time when the tone and phrasing of this note might
have seemed offensive, but in the numbness of despondency Ann had felt
lately, it was a fine burst of rosy warmth. Thank God, she said to
herself, something has broken my way at last! She wondered if she had
been mistaken in Sikes, after all? Perhaps he was really a friend of
hers, and she had misunderstood his odd ways.

That day at noon she went down to the cashier's department to cash
a small check. There was no one in the cage, but in the adjoining
compartment, behind a wall of filing cases, she could hear two girls
talking. One of them said:

"I see Sikes has put through a raise for Lovelorn. Pretty soft for her,
hey?"

"She'll have to give value received, I guess," said the other. "Sikes
figures if he puts that over for her, she'll fall for him. She's been
stalling him for quite a while, but I suppose he's got her fixed now."

She fled, aghast, ran down to another floor so as not to be seen, and
took the elevator. Out on the street she walked mechanically along Park
Row and found herself opposite St. Paul's. She wandered in and sat down
on a bench. It was a chilly day, and the churchyard was nearly empty.

So this was Sikes's friendliness; and she, utterly innocent even in
thought, was already the subject of vulgar office gossip. For the first
time there broke in upon her, with bitter force, the knowledge that no
matter how easy it may be to counsel others, few of us are wise in our
own affairs.

Pitiable paradox: she, the "sympathetic adviser in matters of the
heart," had made shipwreck of her own happiness. How right Arthur had
been, and how childish and mad she, to reject his just instinct. It was
true: she had made use of Love for mere newspaper circulation; and now
Love had died between her hands. Well, this was the end. No matter what
happened, she could not go on with the job. Cold and trembling with
nervousness, she returned to her desk, to finish her column for the next
day.

On her typewriter lay some letters, which had come in while she was out.
She opened one, and read.

_Dear Cynthia:_

_I am in great trouble, please help me. I am in love with a fellow
and know he is all right and we would be very happy together. We were
engaged to be married, and everything was lovely. But he objected to the
work I was doing, said it was not a good job for a girl and that I ought
to give it up. I knew he was right, but the way he said it made me mad.
I guess I am hot-tempered and stubborn--anyway, I told him to mind his
own business, and he went away. Now I am heart-broken, because I love
him and I know he loves me. Tell me what to do._

_Jessie._

Ann sat looking at the cheap blue paper with the initial J gaudily
embossed upon it in gilt. In the sprawling lines of unlettered
handwriting she saw an exact parallel to her own unhappy rupture with
Arthur. How much more clearly we can see the answer in others' tangles
than in our own! Jessie, with her pathetic pretentious gilt initial,
knew that she had been in the wrong, and was brave enough to want to
make amends. And she--had she not been less true to Love than Jessie?
Her false pride and obstinacy had brought their own punishment. Seeing
the situation through Jessie's eyes, she could read her duty plain.
Arthur, no doubt, was through with her forever, but she must play the
game no less.

She put Jessie's letter at the head of the Lovelorn column for the next
day. Under it she wrote:

_Certainly, dear Jessie, if you feel you were in the wrong, you ought
to take the first step toward making up. Probably he was tactless in
criticizing you, but I am sure he only did it because he had your true
interest at heart. So write him a nice letter and be happy together.
Your friend Cynthia hopes it will all come out all right, because she
has seen other cases like this where false pride caused great suffering.
If he is the right man, he will love you all the more after he gets your
letter._

Ann sent up her copy to the composing room, and then going to a
telephone booth she called up Fawcett and Company and asked for Mr.
Caldwell.

"Mr. Caldwell's not here any longer," said the girl.

"Serves me right," said Ann to herself. "Can you tell me where I can
find him?" she asked, wondering how it was that one so miserable could
still speak in such a pleasant and apparently unconcerned tone of voice.

The Fawcett operator switched her to another wire.

"I'm sorry," said a stenographer, "Mr. Fawcett left here about two weeks
ago. He's got a job out of town--in Boston, I think. I can find out for
you in the morning if you'll call again."

"Never mind," said Ann.

She had a horror of facing Mr. Sikes in her present wretchedness, so
before she went home she wrote him a note, resigning her job, and asking
permission to leave as soon as possible.

The next day she had to nerve herself to face his protests, and the
friendly remarks of all the staff when the news spread. It was a hideous
ordeal, but she managed to get through it smiling. But by evening
she was inwardly a wreck. In her present mood, she had an instinctive
longing to revisit the shabby little restaurant where she and
Arthur had spent so many happy hours. She knew it would give her pain;
but she felt that pain was what she needed--sharp, clean, insistent
pain to ease the oppression and disgust of what she had been through.
Remorse, she felt, is surgical in action: it cuts away foul tissues
of the mind. She could not, without preparatory discipline, face her
mother's outcry at hearing she had given up her job.


V

In the crisp blue evening air the bright front of Piazza's café shone
with a warm and generous lustre. From sheer force of habit, her heart
lightened a little as she climbed the stairs and entered the familiar
place, where festoons of red and green paper decoration criss-crossed
above the warm, soup-flavoured, tobacco-fogged room. There was a clatter
of thick dishes and a clamour of talk.

"One?" said the head waiter, his wiry black hair standing erect as
though in surprise.

She nodded, and followed him down the narrow aisle. There was the little
table, in the corner under the stair, where they had always sat. A
man was there, reading a newspaper.... Her heart felt very strange, as
though it had dropped a long way below its usual place. It was
Arthur, and he was smiling at her as though nothing had happened. He was
getting up. . . he was shaking hands with her. . . how natural it all
seemed!

Like all really great crises, it was over in a flash. She found herself
sitting at the little table, taking off her gloves in the most casual
fashion. Arthur was whispering outrageous things. How fine it is that
everybody talks so loud in Italian table d'hôtes, and the waiters crash
the dishes round so recklessly!

Arthur's talk seemed to be in two different keys, partly for the benefit
of old Tonio, the waiter, and partly for her alone.

"Well, here you are! I wondered how soon you'd get here.... _Have
you forgiven me, dearest?_. . . Do you want some minestrone?. . . _Why
didn't you answer my letters, brownest eyes?_ . . . Yes, and some of the
near-beer.. . . _Darling, it was all my fault. I wrote to tell you so.
Didn't you get my letter?_"

After all, at such times there isn't much explaining done, A happy
reconciliation is the magic of a moment, and no explanations are
necessary. The trouble just drops away, and life begins again from the
last kind thing that was said. All Ann could do was whisper:

"No, Arthur--it was I who was wrong. I--I've given up the Lovelorn."

And then, after a sudden moisture of eye on both sides, the steaming
minestrone came on in its battered leaden tureen from which the silver
plating disappeared long ago, and under pretense of serving her soup
Arthur stretched out his hand. She put out hers to meet it, and found
the ring slipped deftly back on her finger.

"But, Arthur," she said, presently, "I thought you were out of town."

"I was," he said. "I've got a new job, with King and Company in Boston.
A good job, too, we can be married right away, and you don't need to
worry."

"Well, how did you happen to come here tonight? You didn't know I was
going to be here. I didn't know it myself until an hour or so ago."

"Perhaps I willed you to come, who knows?" he said, gaily. "Have you
been advising lovers all this while, and didn't know that they always
haunt the scenes of former felicity? I've been in town several days, and
came here every night."

He produced a copy of the _Evening Planet_ which he had been reading
when she came in.

"I had a special reason for thinking you might come here to-night," he
said. "This afternoon I read your column, and I saw Jessie's letter
and your answer. What you said made me think that perhaps you might be
willing to forgive me." Ann, once more safely enthroned on the shining
glory of her happiness, felt that she could afford to tease him just a
little.

"Ah," she said, "so you admit that some of those letters people write me
_are_ genuine, and that the answers do some good?"

He smiled at her and laid his hand over the ring, which outglittered
even the most newly nickeled of Piazza's cutlery.

"Yes, honey," he said. "I admit it. And I knew that Jessie's letter was
genuine, because I wrote it myself."



THE CURIOUS CASE OF KENELM DIGBY

WE HAD been dining together at the Hotel Ansonia, and as we walked up
the shining breezy channel of Broadwhat is the commonest phrase of the
detectives? To put two and two together. What else, I ask you, is the
poet doing all the time but putting two and two together--two rhymes,
and then two rhymes more, and making a quatrain.

He swung his stick, puffed strongly at his cigar, and amorously surveyed
the deep blue of the night, against which the huge blocks of apartment
houses spread their random patterns of lighted windows. Between these
granolithic cliffs flowed a racing stream of bright motors, like the
rapids of a river of light hurrying downward to the whirlpool of Times
Square.

My friend Dove Dulcet (the well-known poet and literary agent)
vigorously expounded a theorem which I afterward had occasion to
remember.

"There is every reason," he cried, "why a poet should be the best of
detectives! My boy, there is a rhyme in events as well as in words. When
you see two separate and apparently unconnected happenings that seem (as
one might say) to rhyme together, you begin to suspect one author behind
them both. It is the function of the poet to have a quick and tender
apprehension of similarities. The root of poetry is nothing else than
describing things as being like other apparently quite different things.
The lady who compared herself to a bird in a gilded cage was chaffed for
her opulent and spendthrift imagination; but in that lively simile she
showed an understanding of the poetic principle. Look here:

"Either for a poet or for a detective," he said, gaily, "this seems to
me the ideal region. I tell you, I walk about here suspecting the
most glorious crimes. When I see the number of banana splits that are
consumed in these glittering drugstores, I feel sure that somewhere,
in the purple silences of the night, hideous consequences must follow.
Those who feed so violently on that brutalizing mixture of banana,
chocolate ice cream, cherry syrup, and whipped marshmallow, must
certainly be gruesome at heart. I look out of my window late at night
toward the scattered lights of that vast pile of apartments, always
thinking to see them blaze some great golden symbol or letter into the
darkness, some terrible or obscene code that means death and terror."

"Your analogy seems to have some sense," I said. "Certainly the minor
poet, like the law breaker, loves to linger about the scene of his
rhyme, or crime."

"You are an amateur of puns," he replied. "Then let me tell you the
motto I have coined to express the spirit of this Little White Way--_Ein
feste bourgeois ist unser Gott_. This is the proud kingdom of the
triumphant middle class. It is a perilous country for a poet. If he were
found out, he would be martyred at the nearest subway station. But how
I love it! See how the quiet side streets cut across highways so richly
contrasting: West End Avenue, leafy, expensive, and genteel; Broadway,
so gloriously cruel and artificial; Amsterdam Avenue, so honestly and
poignantly real. My club is the Hartford Lunch Room, where they call an
omelet an _omulet_, and where the mystic word _Combo_ resounds through
the hatchway to the fat man in the kitchen. My church is the St. Agnes
branch of the Public Library, over on Amsterdam Avenue. In those
cool, quiet rooms, when I watch the pensive readers, I have a sense
of treading near an artery of fine human idealism. In all this various
neighbourhood I have a cheerful conviction that almost anything might
happen. In the late afternoons, when the crosswise streets end on a
glimpse of the Jersey bluffs that glow like smoky blue opals, and smell
like rotten apples, I feel myself on the very doorsill of the most
stunning outrages."

We both laughed, and turned off on Seventy-seventh Street to the small
apartment house where Dulcet had a comfortable suite of two rooms and
bath. In his book-lined sitting room we lit our pipes and sat down for a
gossip.

We had been talking at dinner of the extraordinary number of grievous
deaths of well-known authors that had happened that year. As it is
almost unnecessary to remind you, there was Dunraven Bleak, the humorous
essayist, who was found stark (in both senses) in his bathtub; and
Cynthia Carboy, the famous writer of bedtime stories, who fell down the
elevator shaft. In the case of Mrs. Carboy, the police were distracted
because her body was found at the top of the building, and the detective
bureau insisted that in some unexplainable manner she must have fallen
_up_ the shaft; but as Dulcet pointed out at the time of the Authors'
League inquiry, the body might have been carried upstairs after the
accident. Then there was Andrew Baffle, the psychological novelist,
whose end was peculiarly atrocious and miserable, because it seemed that
he had contracted tetanus from handling a typewriter ribbon that showed
signs of having been poisoned. Frank Lebanon, the brilliant short-story
writer, was stabbed in the fulness of his powers; and there were others
whom I do not recall at the moment. Mr. Dulcet had suffered severely by
these sad occurrences, for a number of these authors were his clients,
and the loss of the commissions on the sale of their works was a serious
item. The secret of these tragedies had never been discovered, and there
had been something of a panic among members of the Authors' League. The
rumour of a pogrom among bestselling writers was tactfully hushed.

"What is your friend Kenelm Digby writing nowadays?" I asked, as I
looked along Dulcet's shelves. Digby, the brilliant novelist, was
probably Dulcet's most distinguished client, an eccentric fellow who, in
spite of his excellent royalties, lived a solitary and modest existence
in a boardinghouse somewhere in that part of the West Side. Outside his
own circle of intimates Dulcet was almost the only man whom Digby saw
much of, and many of us, who admired the novelist's work, had our only
knowledge of his person from hearing the agent talk of him.

"By George, I'm glad you reminded me," said Dulcet. "Why, he has just
finished a story, and he telephoned me this afternoon asking me to stop
over at his house this evening to get the manuscript. He never has any
dealings with the editors on his own hook--likes me to attend to all
his business arrangements for him. I said I'd run over there about ten
o'clock."

"That last book of his was a great piece of work," I said. "I've been
following his stuff for over ten years, and he looks to me about the
most promising fellow we've got. He has something of the Barrie touch,
it seems to me."

"Yes, he's the real thing," said Dulcet, blowing a blue cloud of his
Cartesian Mixture. "I only wish he were not quite so eccentric. He lives
like a hermit-crab, over in a lodging-house near the Park. Even I, who
know him as well as most people, never feel like intruding on him except
when he asks me to. I can't help thinking it would be good for him to
get out more and see something of other men in his line of work. I tried
to get him to join The Snails, but he says that Amsterdam Avenue is his
only amusement. And Central Park seems to be his country club. I wonder
if you've noticed that in his tales whenever he wants to describe a bit
of country he takes it right out of the Park. I sometimes suspect that's
the only scenery he knows."

"He has attained a very unusual status among writers," I said. "In my
rambles among bookshops I have noticed that his first editions bring
quite a good price. It's very seldom that a writer--at any rate an
American--gets 'collected' during his lifetime."

"Did you ever see any of his manuscript?" asked Dulcet; and on my
shaking my head, he took out a thick packet of foolscap from a cabinet.

"This is the original of 'Girlhood'," he explained. "Digby gave it to
me. It'll be worth a lot some day."

I looked with interest at the neatly written sheets, thickly covered
with a small, beautiful, and rather crabbed penmanship.

"Worth a lot!" I exclaimed. "Well, I should say so! Why the other day I
was browsing round in a bookshop and I found a lot of his first editions
marked at $15 each. It struck me as a very high price for I know I have
seen them listed for three or four dollars in catalogues."

"Exorbitantly high," Dulcet said. "I'm afraid your bookseller is
profiteering. I admire Digby as much as any one, but that is an
artificial price. The firsts aren't rare enough to warrant any such
price as that. Still, I'm glad to know about it as it's a sign of
growing recognition. I remember the time when it was all I could do to
get any editors to look at his things. I'll have to tell him about that,
it will please him mightily."

We sat for a while chatting about this and that and then Dulcet got up
and put on his hat.

"Look here, old man," he said. "You squat here and be comfortable while
I run round to Digby. It won't take me more than a few minutes--he lives
on Eighty-second Street. I'll be back right speedily, and we can go on
with our talk." I heard him go down in the elevator, and then I refit my
pipe, and picked out a book from one of his shelves. I remember that it
was Brillat-Savarin's amusing "Gastronomy as a Fine Art". I smiled
at finding this in Dulcet's library, for I knew that the agent rather
prided himself on being something of a gourmet, and I was reading the
essays of the jovial French epicure with a good deal of relish when the
telephone rang. I went to it with that slight feeling of embarrassment
one always has in answering someone else's phone.

To my surprise, it was Dulcet's voice.

"Hullo?" he said. "That you, Ben? Listen, I want you to come round to
Digby's right away," and he gave the address.

Thinking he had arranged a chance for me to meet Digby (I had long
wanted to do so), I felt hesitant about intruding; but he repeated
his message rather sharply. "Please come at once," he said. "It's
important." Again he gave the street number, made me promise to come
immediately, and rang off.

It was nearly half-past ten, and the streets were fairly quiet as I
walked briskly along. The house was one of a row of old cocoa-coloured
stone dwellings, and evidently someone was watching for me, for while I
was trying to read the numbers a door opened and from a dark hall an arm
beckoned to me. I went up the tall steps and a stout woman, who seemed
to be in some agitation, whispered my name interrogatively. "Is this Mr.
Trovato?" she murmured.

"Yes," I said, puzzled.

"Third floor front," she said, and I creaked quietly up the stairs.

I tapped at the front room on the top floor, and Dulcet opened.

"Thank goodness you're here, Ben," he said. "Something has happened."

It was a large, comfortable room, crowded with books on three walls,
furnished with easy chairs and a couch in one corner. A brilliant blaze
of light from several bulbs under a frosted hood poured upon a reading
table in the middle of the room. Sitting at this table, in a Windsor
chair, slumped down into the seat, was a short stout man whose head
lolled sideways over his chest. He was wearing a tweed suit and a soft
shirt, and looked as though he had fallen asleep at his work. In front
of him were some books and a can of tobacco. I recognized him, of
course, from the photographs I had often seen. It was Digby.

I looked at Dulcet, aghast. But, as always at such moments, what was
uppermost in my mind was something trivial and irrelevant. I had an
intense desire to open a window. The air in that room was thick and
foggy, a sort of close, strangling frowst of venomously strong tobacco
and furnace gas. After the clear elixir of the wintry night it was
loathsome. It was the typical smell that hangs about the rooms of
literary bachelors, who work all day long in a room without ever
thinking of airing it.

"Yes," he said. "He's dead. Pretty awful, isn't it? I found him like
this when I got here. No sign of injury as far as I can see."

There was something profoundly dreadful in this first sight, as mere
sagging clay, of the brilliant and powerful writer whose books I had
so long admired, and whom I had thought of as one of the strong and
fortunate few who shape human perplexities to their own ends. I looked
down at him with a miserable blackness in my spirit, and laid a hand on
Dulcet's shoulder in sympathy.

"I've sent for a doctor," he said. "Before he comes I want to get all
the information I can from the landlady. I wanted to have you here as a
witness. I haven't touched anything."

The woman had followed me upstairs, and stood crying quietly in the
doorway.

"Come in, Mrs. Barlow," said Dulcet. "Now please tell us everything
you can about where Mr. Digby went this evening, and anything that has
happened."

Mrs. Barlow, who seemed to be a good-hearted, simple-minded creature,
snuffled wretchedly. "Oh, dear, oh dear," she said. "He was such a nice
gentleman, too. Let me see, he went out about seven, I suppose for his
supper, but he was always irregular about his meals, you never could
tell, sometimes he would eat in the middle of the afternoon, and
sometimes not till late at night. I always would urge him that he would
die of indigestion, but he was so kind-hearted."

"You don't know where he went?" said Dulcet. "Perhaps he went round to
the laundry," she said, "for he had a parcel with him, which I took to
be his laundry because he usually took it out on Monday evenings because
by that time the clean shirt he put on on Sunday was ready to go to the
wash. I hate to think that in all the years he lived in this house his
laundry was the only thing we ever had a difference about, because I
used to have it done in the house for him but he said my washwoman tore
the buttons off his shirts or collars or something, so a little while
ago he started taking his things out to be done, but I don't know where
because he used to call for them himself."

"You haven't any idea where he used to eat?" insisted Dulcet.

"Oh, no, sir, he liked to go different places, you know yourself how
he was always a bit queer and concentric and he never talked much about
where he went, but always so nice and considerate. Oh, he _was_ a fine
gentleman."

Mrs. Barlow, plainly much grieved, wept anew. "Please try to tell us
everything you can think of," said Dulcet, gently. "What time did he
come in, and did you notice anything unusual?"

"Nothing out of the way that I can think of, but then I was down in the
basement most of the evening, for I let my maid go to the movies and
I had a deal to do. I suppose he went along Amsterdam Avenue, he was
always strolling up and down Amsterdam or Columbus, poor man, getting
ideas for his literature I guess. He came back about nine o'clock I
should say, because I heard the door about then. Just a few minutes
before he came in there was a man came to the door with a tin of tobacco
for him, which he said Mr. Digby had ordered sent around, and I took
it up and put it on his table, there it is now, poor man, Carter's
Mixture."

Mrs. Barlow pointed to the tin of Cartesian Mixture that stood on the
table. Evidently it had only just been opened, for it was practically
full.

"Yes," said Dulcet. "Here's his pipe lying on the floor under his
chair." He picked up the briar and glanced at it. "Only just begun to
smoke it, for the tobacco is hardly burned. He must have been smoking
when he.... There wasn't anything else you can think of?"

The woman dried her eyes with her apron. "There was just one other thing
I noticed, but I suppose it's silly. But I took note of it special,
because I thought I had heard it before, lately. While he was out, and
a little before the man brought the tin of tobacco, I heard a sharp
tapping out on the street in front of the house. I noticed it special,
because I thought at first it was someone rapping on the door, and I
wondered if the bell was out of order again, but when I went I couldn't
see any one. But I wondered about it because I heard it two or three
times, a sharp kind of tapping, it sounded some way like hitting on
stone with a stick of some sort."

Dulcet and I looked at each other rather blankly.

"And after that," she went on, "I didn't think about anything one way or
another till you came in and I told you to go right up."

There was a clear peal from the front door bell. "That's the doctor,"
said Dulcet, and Mrs. Barlow hurried downstairs.

I have never seen any one so brisk and matter of fact as that physician,
and after his arrival the affair seemed to pass out of Dulcet's hands
into the painful official machinery that takes charge in such events.
Dulcet, acting as the dead writer's literary representative, went into
the adjoining room, which was Digby's study, to look over the papers in
the desk for any manuscripts that he ought to take care of. He wrote out
a list of friends and relatives for me to send telegrams to and I went
out to attend to this. I don't know how they get wind of these affairs,
but the reporters were already beginning to arrive when I left.

The next day, and for several days afterward, the papers all carried
long stories about poor Digby's brilliant career. Then the literary
weeklies took it up. At the libraries and bookshops everyone was asking
for his books, and I have never seen a more depressing illustration of
the familiar fact that a writer's real fame never comes until it is too
late to do him any good. Editors and people who had hardly been aware of
Digby's genius while he was alive now praised him fluently, speaking
of him as "America's most honest realist," and all that sort of thing.
Moving-picture people began inquiring about the film rights of his
novels. Some of the sensational newspapers tried to play up his death as
a mystery story, but the physicians asserted heart failure as the cause,
and this aspect of the matter soon subsided.

Except at the funeral, which was attended by a great many literary
people, I did not see Dulcet for some days. I gathered from what I read
in the news that Digby's will had appointed him executor of his literary
property, and I knew that he must have much to attend to. But one
afternoon the telephone rang, and Dulcet asked me if I could knock off
work and come round to see him. As I was living up town at that time,
it only took me a few minutes to go round to his apartment. I found him
smoking a pipe as usual, and looking pale and fagged. He welcomed me
with his affectionate cordiality, and I sat down to hear what was on his
mind.

"You must excuse me if I'm a little upset," he said. "I've just had an
interview with a ghoul. A fellow came in to see me who had heard that
I have a number of poor Digby's books and manuscripts. He wanted to buy
them from me, offered big prices for them. He said that since Digby's
death all his first editions and so on have gone up enormously in value.
Apparently he expected me to do trading over the dead body of a friend."

He smoked awhile in silence, and then said: "Sorry not to have seen you
sooner, but to tell the truth I've had my hands full. His brother,
who was the nearest kin, couldn't come from Ohio on account of serious
illness, and everything fell on me. I had to pack up all his things and
ship them, all that sort of business. But I've been wanting to talk to
you about it, because I'm convinced there was something queer about the
whole affair. I'm not satisfied with that heart-failure verdict. That's
absurd. There was nothing wrong with his heart that I ever heard of.
It's very unfortunate that for the first few days I was too occupied
with urgent matters to be able to follow up the various angles of the
affair. But I've been turning it over in my mind, and I've got some
ideas I'd like to share with you. You remember what I told you, with
unfortunate levity, about the secret of detective work being ability
to notice the unsuspected rhymes in events? Well, there are one or two
features of this affair that seem to me to rhyme together in a very
sinister fashion. Wait a minute until I put on my other coat, and we'll
go out."

He went into his bedroom. I had not liked to interrupt him, but I was
yearning for a smoke, for leaving my rooms in a hurry I had forgotten to
bring my pouch with me. On his mantelpiece I saw a tin of tobacco, and
began to fill my pipe. To my surprise, just as I was taking out a match
he darted out of the bedroom, uttered an exclamation, and snatched the
briar from my hand.

"Sorry," he said, bluntly, "but you mustn't smoke that. It's something
very special." He opened his penknife, scraped out the weed I had put
in the bowl, and carefully put it back in the tin. He took the tin and
locked it in his desk.

"Try some of this," he said, handing his pouch. I concluded that the
tension of the past days had troubled his nerves. This rudeness was so
unlike him that I knew there must be some explanation, but he offered
none. As we went down in the elevator he said: "The question is, can you
make a rhyme out of tobacco and collar buttons?"

"No," I said, a little peevishly. "And I don't believe any one could,
except Edward Lear."

"Well," he continued, "that's what we've got to do. And don't imagine
that it's merely a nonsense rhyme, any more than Lear's were.
Edward Lear was as great as King Lear, in his own way." He led me to
Eighty-second Street. The December afternoon was already dark as we
approached Mrs. Barlow's house. At the foot of her front steps he halted
and turned to me.

"Is your pipe going?" he said.

"No," I said, irritably. "It's out. And I haven't any tobacco."

"Don't be surly, old chap; I'll give you some if you'll tell me what you
do when your pipe goes out."

"Why, you idiot," I cried, "I do this." And I knocked out the ashes by
striking the bowl smartly against the palm of my hand.

"Ah," he said. "But some people do this."

He bent down and rapped his pipe against the stone ramp of the steps,
with a clear, sharp, hollow sound.

"Yes, a good way to break a nice pipe," I was remarking, when the
basement door of the house flew open, and Mrs. Barlow darted out
into the sunken area just below the pavement level. In the pale
lemon-coloured glare of a near-by street lamp we could see that she was
strongly excited.

"Good gracious," she panted. "Is it Mr. Dulcet? Oh, sir, you did give me
a turn. Oh, dear, that was just the tapping sound I heard the night poor
Mr. Digby died. What was it? Did you hear it?"

"Like this?" said Dulcet, knocking his pipe again on the stone step.

"That was it, exactly," she said. "What a fright, to be sure! Was it
only someone knocking his pipe like that? Oh, dear, it did bring back
that horrid evening, just as plain."

"So much for the mysterious death rap," said Dulcet as we walked
back toward Amsterdam Avenue. "I can't claim much ingenuity for that,
however. You see, the morning after Digby's death I went round to Mrs.
Barlow's early, before she had been out to sweep her pavement. The first
thing I noticed, by the lowest step, was a little dottle of tobacco such
as falls from a halfsmoked pipe when it is knocked out. That seemed to
me to make a perfect couplet with Mrs. Barlow's tale of the tapping she
had heard. She heard it several times, you remember, in a short space of
time. That suggests to me someone standing on the street, or walking up
and down, in a state of nervousness, because he didn't smoke any of his
pipes through. When they were only half smoked he knocked them out, in
sheer impatience. Was he waiting for someone?"

"Perhaps it was Digby himself?" I suggested. "I don't think so," he
said. "Because, in the first place, nervousness was the last thing I
would associate with his temperament, which was calm and collected in
the extreme. And also, he always smoked Brown Eyed Blend, and had done
so for years. That was the first thing that struck me as unusual the
night we were there--that tin of Cartesian on the table. He was a man of
fixed habits; why should he have made a change just that night? I picked
up the little wad of tobacco I found lying on the step, and took it
carefully home. It's Cartesian, or I'm a Dutchman. So item I in our
criminal rhyme-scheme is: Find me a nervous man smoking Cartesian."

"It's a bit fanciful," I objected.

"Of course it is," he cried. "But crime is a fanciful thing. Ever let
the fancy roam, as Keats said. What the deuce is the line that follows?
Suppose we stroll down Amsterdam Avenue and find a new place to have
dinner."

"Poor old Digby," he said, as we walked along admiring the lighted
caves of the shopwindows. "How he enjoyed all this. You know, there is a
certain honest simplicity about Amsterdam Avenue's merchandising that is
pleasant to contemplate after the shining sophistications of Broadway.
In a Broadway delicatessen window you'll see such horrid luxuries as
jars of cocks' combs in jelly; whereas along here the groceries show
candid and heartening signs such, as this: 'Coming Back to The Old
Times, 17c lb. Sugar.' Amsterdam Avenue shopkeepers speak with engaging
directness about their traffic; for instance, there's a barber at the
corner of Eighty-first Street who embosses on his window the legend:
'Yes, We Do Buster Brown Hair Cutting.' That sort of thing is very
humane and genuine, that's why Digby was so fond of it. There's a
laundry along here somewhere that I have often noticed; it calls itself
the Fastidious Laundry----"

"Speaking of laundries," I said, "what do you think of this?" We
stopped, and I pointed to a neatly lettered placard in a window which
had caught my eye. It said:

_Notice to Artists and Authors_

_We Sew Buttons on Soft Collars Free of Charge_

"By Jove," I said, "there's a laundry that has the right idea. I think
I'll bring my----"

I broke off when I saw my companion's face. He was leaning forward
toward the pane, and his eyes were bright but curiously empty, as though
in some way the mechanism of sight had been reversed, and he was looking
inward rather than out.

"That's very odd," he said, presently. "I've been up and down this
street many times, but I never noticed that sign before."

He turned and marched into the shop, and I followed. In the soft steamy
air several girls were ironing shirts, and a plump, pink-cheeked Hebrew
stood behind a counter wrapping up bundles.

"I noticed your sign in the window," said Dulcet. "What do you charge
for laundering soft collars?"

"Five cents each, but we mend them, too, and sew on the buttons."

"That's a good idea," said Dulcet, genially. "I wish I'd known that
before; I'd have brought my collars round to you. How long have you been
doing that? I often go by here, but I never saw the sign before."

"Only about a week," the man replied. "Let's see--a week ago last Monday
I put that sign up. You wouldn't believe how much new trade it has
brought in. I thought it would be a kind of a joke--the man next door
suggested it, and I put it in to please him. But 'most everybody wears
soft collars nowadays, and it seems good business."

"The man next door?" said Dulcet, in a casual tone.

"Sure, the cigar store."

"Is his name Stork?" said Dulcet, reflectively.

"Stork? Why, no, Basswood. What do you mean, Stork?"

"I mean," said Dulcet, slowly, "does he ever stand on one leg?"

"Quit your kidding," cried the laundryman, annoyed.

"I assure you, I do not trifle," said Dulcet, gravely. "I'll bring you
in some collars to fix up for me. Much obliged."

We went out again, and my companion stood for a moment in front of the
laundry window, looking thoughtfully at the sign.

"While you ponder, old son," I said, "I'll run into Mr. Stork-Basswood's
and get some tobacco."

He seized my arm in a firm and painful clutch and whispered, "Look at
the corner!"

The laundry was the second shop from the corner. Under the lamp-post at
the angle of the street I saw, to my amazement, a man standing balanced
on one leg. Directly under the light, he was partly in shadow, and
I could only see him in silhouette, but the absurd profile of his
onelegged attitude afflicted me with a renewed sense of absurdity and
irritation. Dulcet, I thought, had evidently suffered some serious
stroke in the region of his wits.

"Now," he said, softly, "can you see any rhyme between soft collars and
standing on one leg?"

As he spoke, we both started, for somewhere near us on the street there
sounded a sharp tapping, a ringing hollow wooden sound. Evidently it
came from the one-legged man. This was too much for my composure.
I broke away from Dulcet and ran to the corner. As I got there the
one-legged creature put down a concealed limb and stood solidly on two
feet, in a state of normalcy, as an eminent statesman would say. I was
confused, and said angrily to the man:

"Here, you mustn't stand like that, on the public street you know, on
one leg. It's setting a bad example."

To my amazement he made no retort whatever, but turned and scuttled
hastily down the avenue, disappearing in the crowds that were doing
their evening marketing.

"My dear fellow," said Dulcet, calmly, coming up to me, "you shouldn't
have done that. You've very nearly spoilt it all. Come on, let's go in
and get your tobacco."

Basswood's proved to be one of those interesting combination tobacco,
stationery, toy, and bookshops which are so common on the upper West
Side. I have often noticed that these places are by no means unfruitful
as hunting ground for books, because the dealers are wholly ignorant of
literature and sometimes one may find on their shelves some forgotten
volume that has been there for years, and which they will gladly part
with for a song. A good many of these stores have, tucked away at the
back, a shabby stock of circulating library volumes that have come down
through many changes of proprietorship. Only the other day I saw in just
such a place first editions of Kenneth Grahame's "The Golden Age"
and Arthur Machen's "The Three Impostors," which the storekeeper was
delighted to sell for fifteen cents each.

A dark young man was behind the tobacco counter, and from him I got a
packet of my usual blend.

"Mr. Basswood in?" said Dulcet.

"Just stepped out," said the young man.

We lit our pipes and looked round the shop, glancing at the magazines
and the queer miscellany of books. As it was approaching Christmas time
there was a profuse assortment of those dreadful little bibelots that
go by the name of "gift books," among which were the usual copies of
"Recessional" and "Vampire," Thoreau's "Friendship," and "Ballads of
a Cheechako," bound in what the trade calls "padded ooze". I was
particularly heartened to observe that one of these atrocities, called
"As a Man Thinketh," was described on the box (for all such books come
in little cardboard cases) as being bound in antique yap. This pleased
me so much that I was about to call it to Dulcet's attention, when I saw
that he was looking at me from the rear of the store with a spark in
his eye. I approached and found that he was staring at a doorway partly
concealed by a pile of Christmas toys and novelties. Over this door was
a sign: J. Basswood, Rare Book Department.

"Can we go in and look at the rare books?" said Dulcet.

"Sure thing," said the young man. "Help yourself. The boss'll be back
soon, if you want to buy anything."

Mr. Basswood was evidently a man of some literary discretion. To
our amazement we found, in a dark little room lined with shelves, a
judicious assortment of modern books, several hundred volumes, and all
first editions or autographed copies. The prices were marked in cipher,
so we could not tell whether there were any bargains among them, but I
know that I saw several particularly rare and desirable things which I
would have been glad to have.

"Good heavens," I said to Dulcet, "friend Basswood is a real collector.
There isn't a thing here that isn't of prime value."

He was staring at a shelf in the corner, and I went over to see what he
had found.

"Upon my soul," I cried, "look at the Digbies! Not merely one copy of
each, but three or four! This man must have specialized in Digbies."

"Not only that," said Dulcet, "but he has three of 'The Autogenesis of
a Novelist', the first thing that Digby wrote. It was privately printed,
and afterward suppressed. It's devilish rare; even I haven't got a copy.
I wish I knew what prices he asks for these things."

"Look at this," I said. "Perhaps this will tell us." I picked up one of
a pile of pamphlets that were lying in a large sheet of wrapping
paper in a corner of the room. It was evidently a new catalogue of Mr.
Basswood's rare books, that had just come from the printer.

"Here we are," I said, turning over the leaves. "Look at this."

_Special Note_

_Fine Collection of Digbiana: J. Basswood wishes to call particular
attention to the Digbiana listed below. Anticipating the growing
interest in collectors' items of this great writer's work, J. Basswood
has taken pains to gather a stock of first editions and presentation
copies which is absolutely unique. The prices of these items, while
high, are a fair index of the appreciation in which this author's work
is held among connoisseurs. All are copies in good condition and their
authenticity is guaranteed._

_November 15, 19--_.

Dulcet seized the catalogue and ran his eye down the pages.

"'Girlhood,' first edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1901, $100," he
read. "'The Nuisance of Being Loved,' first edition, $75. 'The Princess
Quarrelsome,' $90. 'The Anatomy of Cheerfulness,' autographed copy,
$150. 'Distemper,' acting copy, signed by the author and Richard
Mansfield, $200.

"Why," he cried, shrilly, "this is madness! I am in touch with all the
dealers in this sort of thing, and I know the proper prices. This man
has multiplied them by ten." He thrust the catalogue into his pocket and
glared round at the musty shelves.

"I suppose it's due to poor Digby's death," I said. I saw that Dulcet
was overwrought, and suggested that we go out and get some supper.

"Supper?" he said. "A good idea. I know a place on Broadway where we
can get some guinea pigs." He strode out of the store and I followed,
wondering what next. He seized my arm and hurried me along Seventy-ninth
Street to Broadway.

In the clarid blue of the evening that blazing gully of light seemed to
foam and bubble with preposterous fire. Chop suey restaurants threw out
crawling streamers of red and yellow brilliance; against the
peacock green of the western sky the queer church at the corner of
Seventy-ninth, with the oriental pinnacle and truncated belfry rising
above its solid Baptist wings, seemed like the offspring of some
reckless marriage of two infatuated architects, one Jewish and one
Calvinist. It was a fitting silhouette, I thought, congruent with an
evening of such wild humours. Guinea pigs for supper, how original and
enlivening! "Are guinea pigs properly kosher?" I asked, sarcastically.

Dulcet paid no heed, but, holding my arm, urged me along the pavement to
an animal shop on the western side of Broadway. The window was full of
puppies and long-haired cats. All down the aisle of the establishment
were tiers of birdcages, covered with curtains while the birds slept.
In lucid bowls persevering goldfish pursued their glittering and
improfitable round.

"Those guinea pigs I ordered," said Dulcet to the man, "are they ready?"

"All ready, sir," he said, and took out a cage from under the counter.
"Very fine pigs, sir, strong and hearty; they will stand a great deal."

"Yes," I said, with a wild desire to shout with laughter. "But will they
stand being eaten? They will find that rather trying, I fancy."

Dulcet tapped his forehead, and the dealer smiled indulgently. My
companion took the cage, paid some money, and sped outdoors again.

I made no further comment and in a few minutes we were in Dulcet's
apartment.

"You have no kitchenette here, have you?" I protested. "Or do we devour
them raw? Oh, I see, you have a camp oven. How ingenious!"

He had put on the table a large tin box. With complete seriousness he
now produced a small spirit lamp, over which he fitted a little basket
of fine wire mesh. When the flame of the lamp was lit, it played upon
the basket, which was supported by legs at just the right height. He now
put the unsuspecting guinea pigs into the tin box, which was shaped like
a rural-free-delivery letter-box, with a hinged door opening at one
end. He took the spirit lamp with its attached basket and pushed the
contraption carefully into the box with the pigs. Then he opened both
windows in the room.

"Admirable!" I exclaimed. "Like those much-advertised cigarettes, they
will be toasted. But won't it take a long time?"

"Don't be an ass," he said.

He went to his desk, and took out the tin of Cartesian Mixture he had
snatched away from me earlier in the evening.

"Your mention of those cigarettes is apt," he said, "for in this case
also the fuel is tobacco. Please go over by the window, and stay there."

I watched, somewhat impressed by the gravity of his manner. From the tin
of tobacco he took a small pinch of mixture and carefully placed it in
the mesh basket above the lamp. Reaching into the box, he lit the wick
of the lamp with a match, and hastily clapped to the hinged lid. The
guinea pigs seemed to be awed by these proceedings, for they remained
quiet. Dulcet joined me at the window, and remarked that fresh air was a
fine thing.

We waited for about five minutes, while the guinea-pig oven stood
quietly on the table.

"Well," said Dulcet, finally, "we ought to be able to see whether it
rhymes or not."

He snatched open the door of the tin box, and skipped away from it in
a way that seemed to me perfectly insane. He picked up a pair of tongs
from the fireplace, and standing at a distance, lifted out the lamp. The
tobacco was smoking strongly in its mesh basket. Holding the lamp away
from him with the tongs, he carried it into the bathroom, and I heard
him turn on the water. Then, coming back, he inserted the tongs into the
tin box, and gingerly withdrew first one guinea pig and then the other.
Both were calm as possible, quite dead. Looking over the sill to see
that the pavement was clear, he threw the tin box into the street, where
it fell with a crash.

"Surely they're not cooked already?" I said.

"I haven't heard from the doctor yet," he said; "but he promised to ring
me up this evening. I'm awfully sorry to have delayed your dinner, old
man. Meet me at the Lucerne grill room, Seventy-ninth and Amsterdam
Avenue, to-morrow evening at seven o'clock and we'll eat together.
You've been a great help to me."

"I hope the doctor is a mental specialist," I said; but he pushed me
gently out of the room. "We'll finish our rhyme at dinner to-morrow
evening."

I went out into the night, and sorrowfully visited a Hartford Lunch.

The next evening I was at the Lucerne grill promptly. This modest chop
house was one of Dulcet's favourite resorts, and I found him already
sitting in one of the alcoves studying the menu. He was in fine spirits,
and his quizzical blue eyes shone with a healthy lustre.

"Are you armed?" he said, mysteriously.

"What," I cried, "are we going to do some more guinea pigs to death? It
was cruel. I have scruples against taking innocent lives. Besides, your
experiment proved nothing. Those pigs would have died anyway, shut up in
an air-tight box like that."

"Stuff!" he said. "The box was not hermetic. I had left small apertures:
there was plenty of oxygen. No, it was not the confinement in the
tin box that killed them. After you had gone, the chemist whom I had
consulted called me up. My suspicions were sound. Have you ever heard of
fumacetic acid?"

This is going to be terrible, I thought to myself, and ordered
tenderloin steak, well done, with a double order of hashed brown
potatoes.

"Have you ever heard of fumacetic acid?" he repeated, relentlessly.

"No," I said, nervously.

"It is a deadly and little-known drug," he said, "which (so the chemist
tells me) possesses the property that when vaporized the slightest whiff
of it causes instant death if inhaled into the lungs. The tobacco in
that tin had been doctored with it. I sent the chemist the pipe that
poor Digby was smoking when he died, and he analyzed what was left in
the bowl. There is no doubt whatever. He was poisoned in that way. I
tell you, my professional duty as a literary agent requires that in my
clients' interest I should sift this thing to the bottom. It may explain
some of those earlier deaths that baffled the Authors' League."

"But Mrs. Carboy, surely, did not smoke," I was about to say; but I
checked myself in time.

"Dove," I said, "you are superb. But I wish you would tell me how you
worked the thing out. What was it that first aroused your suspicions? If
it had not been for you, I should never have guessed anything wrong."

"Of course," he said, grimly, "it was that murderous placard in the
laundry window, and that is to your credit, for you noticed it. That was
the one thing that made plain the whole complicated business. Naturally
I suspected the tobacco from the first, for (as I told you) it was a
mixture that Digby never smoked ordinarily. But when I heard that that
eccentric and damnable placard had been put there at the suggestion of
the tobacconist next door, and then found that the tobacconist was also
a bookseller, I knew the worst. I have spent to-day in rounding up the
threads, and I think I may say without vainglory that the miscreant is
in my power."

"But the man standing on one leg?" I said, puzzled. "What was he up to,
and why did he run?" Dulcet's face shone with quiet triumph.

"I told you," he said, "to look for a nervous man smoking Cartesian
Mixture. That tobacconist, Basswood, smokes Cartesian. It is a very
moist, sticky blend, as you know. It can only be shaken out of the pipe,
after smoking, by vigorously knocking the bowl on something hard. Very
well, and if there is no stone step or something of that sort handy,
what will a smoker tap his pipe on? Why, he will stand on one leg and
knock it out on the lifted heel of the other. And his running away when
you addressed him so whimsically, wasn't that a pretty good sign of
nervousness--and also of a guilty and doubtful spirit?"

He finished his tumbler of the near-beer that has made Milwaukee
infamous, and leaned forward earnestly.

"You know very well," he said, "that that laundryman would never have
thought of his grotesque notice, addressed to 'Artists and Authors', if
someone hadn't suggested it to him. Obviously he was only a gull. That
card was intended as a decoy, to lure Digby away from his room, so that
Basswood could leave the poisoned tobacco for him. Basswood had studied
Digby's habits, and must have known that the notice about the collars
would be sure to catch his eye. Now we had better be going. The police
will be at Basswood's shop at eight o'clock."

I could have done with a little strong coffee, but he haled me out
of the restaurant, and we walked up Amsterdam Avenue. How little, I
reflected, did the passersby, hurrying about their kindly and innocent
concerns, suspect our dark and perilous errand.

"The motive, of course," said Dulcet, "was to profit by the increase
of value Digby's death would give to his literary work. You will see a
proof of that in a moment. Here we are. Come on, this is no time to hang
back!"

He strode into the brightly lighted shop, and I followed with a clumsy
assumption of carelessness. I must confess that my eye wandered in
search of suitable cover in case there should be any gun play.

Mr. Basswood was behind his counter, smoking a battered-looking briar.
One side of the bowl was worn down nearly half an inch (from repeated
knocking out on stone steps, I suppose). He was a fat, cross-looking
person, with a black jut of moustache and a small, vindictive eye.

"A friend told me about your bookshop," said Dulcet. "He said that you
sometimes buy books and manuscripts and that sort of thing."

"Yes, sometimes," said Basswood, without enthusiasm.

"I have an unpublished story of Kenelm Digby's," said Dulcet. "It is
about forty pages of manuscript. What would you give for that?"

The dealer's eyes brightened. He took his pipe from his mouth, and
knocked it out smartly on his heel, tramping on the glowing cinders.
Dulcet looked at me gravely.

"Let me see it," Basswood said, eagerly.

"I haven't got it with me. But give me an idea what it would be worth to
you."

"If it is genuine, and characteristic of Digby's genius," said Basswood,
slowly, "I would give you two hundred dollars for it."

"Nonsense!" said Dulcet. "It isn't worth half that. I would not dream of
selling it for more than seventy-five."

Basswood looked startled.

"I guess you are not in touch with the market for such things," he said.
"There is more interest among collectors in Digby's work than in any
other recent writer. Perhaps you don't realize what a difference his sad
death has made in the prices of his editions. It is very regrettable,
but the death of a writer of that kind always puts a premium on
collectors' items, because there will never be any more of them."

"Oh, I see," said Dulcet, politely. "It is his death that has made the
difference, is it?"

"Exactly."

"Well, then, I suppose this manuscript _is_ worth more than I thought.
By the way, I think the title of it will interest you. It is called 'The
Mystery of the Soft Collars' and deals with a murder that took place on
Eighty-second Street."

I couldn't help admiring the glorious nonchalance with which Dulcet made
this remark, gazing the dealer straight in the eye. Basswood's face was
a study, and his cheek was pale and greasy. But he, too, was a man of
considerable nerve.

"I don't believe it's genuine," he said. "That doesn't sound to me like
Digby's style." His voice shook a little, and he added: "However, if
it's as interesting as it sounds, I might pay even more than two hundred
for it."

"You rascal!" shouted Dulcet. "Do you think you can buy me off? No! keep
your hands above the counter!"

He had whipped out his revolver, and held it at the man's face.

"Look here, Mr. Basswood," he said. "Even the cleverest of us make
mistakes. Let me call your attention to one thing. If it was Digby's
death that made the difference in the values of his books, how is it
that this bill from your printer, for that new catalogue of yours, is
dated ten days before Digby died? I picked it up in your back room the
other day. Doesn't that seem to show that you knew, ten days before the
event, that there was going to be a sudden boom in Digbiana? Ten days
before he died you were multiplying the prices of the items you had
gathered. Now, you dog, can you explain that?"

Basswood shook, but still he clung to his hope.

"I'll give you a thousand for that manuscript," he said.

"Ben," said Dulcet to me, "just slip around the corner and whistle three
times. The police are waiting on Eighty-fifth Street."

*****

"There's still one thing that puzzles me," I said to Dulcet late that
night as we sat in his room for a final smoke. "I remember that before
we discovered that sign in the laundry you said that what we needed to
do was to find a rhyme between tobacco and collar buttons. Now what the
deuce started you off on collar buttons?"

He smiled patiently.

"When I had to pack up poor old Digby's belongings," he said, "I had
the sad task of going through his bureau drawers. You know the devilish
little buttons that the manufacturers insist on putting on soft collars.
They always come off after one or two washings, and then the collar
collapses round your neck into an object of slovenly reproach. Digby was
a bachelor, and there was no one to do any mending for him. And when I
found that every one of his soft collars had its little button neatly
sewed on, I knew there was something wrong. I ask you, wouldn't that
have aroused the alarm of the least suspicious?"

Up to the present time, as far as I know, Basswood remains the only
bookseller who has ever been electrocuted.



GLORIA AND THE GARDEN OF SWEDEN

IT WAS one of those gilded October days when the serene sunshine is as
soft and tawny as candle-light; when the air is thin and sharp in
the early mornings, but the noontime is as comfortably genial as the
radiance of a hearth reddened with hickory embers. Dove Dulcet and I
were strolling along Riverside Park, enjoying the blue elixir of the
afternoon, in which there was just a faint prick, a gently tangible barb
of the coming arrows of the North.

"Winter sharpens her spearheads," said Dulcet. "Aye," was my reply.
Below us I saw the coaling-station at the Seventy-ninth Street pier.
"The merriest music the householder can hear nowadays is the roar of
coal going down the chute into the cellar."

He sighed, and seemed touched by a sudden melancholy.

"Ben," he said, "that coal-dump reminds me of Gloria Larsen. Did I ever
tell you about her?"

"Never," I said. "Coal, I presume, made you think of diamonds; and
diamonds, of Miss Larsen. Were you engaged to her?"

"I might have been," he said, sentimentally. Before us was an empty
bench, on a little knoll that looks out over the shining sweep of the
river. I drew him to it, and we filled our pipes. When you can get a
minor poet in an autobioloquacious mood, it is well to encourage him.
No one takes life so seriously as the minor poet, and consequently his
memoirs make fine sport for the disinterested bystander.

"No," he said, blowing a waft of tobacco smoke into the soft,
sun-brimmed air, and settling down into the curve of the bench. "The
association was even more obvious than that of coal and diamonds. I
always think of Gloria when winter begins to come in."

"Ah!" I said. "She was cold?"

He meditated, ignoring my jocularity.

*****

"It was a good many years ago," he said at last; "before you knew me.
When I first came to town, you know, I had a fine ambition to be a
writer. I had just a little money, so I shut myself up in a hall room
at the top of a cheap lodging-house on Seventy-fifth Street, hired a
typewriter, and set about to butt my bead against all the walls that hem
in the beginner.

"It was one of those old four-story dwellings that are now mostly
boarding-houses, and it was run by a good-hearted widow who would let
her rooms only to men, because she said they were less trouble than
women. Her house was clean and incredibly cheap, and almost all the
lodgers were young fellows like myself--students, or starveling artists,
or chaps with literary ambitions. That was how I had heard of the place,
through another fellow who lived there and had built up a little sort of
coterie in the house. He was Black-more. You know his name; he gave up
art long ago. He's now the art editor of the _Mother, Home, and Heaven
Magazine_.

"Mrs. Vesey, our landlady, was quite a character. I was always rather
a favourite with her, because the very first day I came to her house
I happened to find her cat, which had wandered away some days before,
leaving her disconsolate. The cat's name, I remember, was Nemo. She had
called it so because, with that admirable virginity of mind that one
finds only in a childless married woman, she was uncertain of the
animal's sex. Anyway, it was a fine big creature, and the apple of Mrs.
Vesey's pie. She talked so much about it that we used to chaff her a
good deal on the subject, and say that we thought it was going to have
kittens, and all that sort of thing. Blackmore used to say, remembering
the title of some idiotic melodrama he had seen, that it was 'Neither
Maid, Wife, nor Widow.' He was right, for it was the kind of cat that
is not likely to be either a father or a mother without a miracle. But I
don't want to be indelicate. I only mention Nemo because it was through
him that I first talked with Gloria.

"The first day I was at Mrs. Vesey's I heard her groaning about the
vanished cat. That evening I went out to supper, feeling rather lonely,
and dropped in at an eccentric-looking little restaurant on Amsterdam
Avenue. It was called Larsen's Physical Culture Chophouse, and I have
never seen a more amusing place. Old man Larsen was a Swede, and all the
Scandinavian fads ran riot in his head--vegetarian food, for instance.
He didn't absolutely condemn meat, for he would serve it if you
insisted, but all his joy was in weird combinations of calory, protose,
and vitamine, or whatever those things are called. Bean "cutlets," and
protose "steak" that turned out, on examination, to be made of chopped
walnuts and lentils, and the "Thousand-Calory Combination Dinner," of
which he made a specialty. When you sat down, if you were a regular
customer, old Larsen would come round and look you over and diagnose
from your complexion the kind and quantity of calories you needed for
that meal, and would give you combinations of spinach croquettes and
lentil pie that he warranted would purge the blood and compose the mind.
On the walls were charts of Swedish exercises and systems of
calisthenics, and he sold a little pamphlet that he himself had written
telling how to be strong and merry and full of physique.

"Well, to come back to my first visit to Larsen's restaurant. I hadn't
been in there many minutes before I noticed the girl at the cashier's
desk. My, my, what a girl! My table was close to her little throne, and
I couldn't help watching her out of the end of my eye. I wondered if
she was raised entirely on protose and lentils, for I have never seen
anything so gloriously and vitally physical in my life. Great, bold blue
eyes, and crisp, sparkling golden hair, and blood that spoke delicately
through her skin, and a figure--well, just our old friend of Melos
over again, that lively combination of grace and strength. She was just
curves and waves and athletic softness--the kind of creature that makes
your arms tingle, you know. No corset, I suppose. In the old man's
booklet on physical culture he defended the gymnastic doctrine that
women should develop what he called a muscle corset by bending and
swaying from the hips a thousand times a day. He said it must be
done--well, _au naturel_, in front of an open window in one's bedroom in
the morning. I'd be ashamed to admit that we fellows at Mrs. Vesey's
used to set our alarm clocks at half-past six to go round the corner to
Amsterdam Avenue----"

Dulcet paused a while and watched the river pensively.

"But about the cat," I reminded him presently.

"Yes," he said. "Well, that first night I was at the chop-house I
noticed a very fine, fat cat browsing about under the tables. I was
amused at the corpulence of the animal. I said to myself that a cat
as large as that must surely get some meat somewhere, because, while
vegetarian protose food may be all right for Swedes, a cat is a realist
in the matter of carnal meals. And when I went to the desk to pay my
check, wanting some excuse to get into talk with the superb Gloria--who
was, of course, the old man's daughter--I remarked on the sleek, healthy
appearance of her cat.

"'Oh, it's not ours,' she said. 'It came in here yesterday. I don't know
whose he is.'

"I'll bet I know whose it is," I said.

I told her that Mrs. Vesey, who ran the bachelor lodging-house on
Seventy-Fifth Street, had lost her Nemo. She listened with interest,
those thrilling blue eyes sizing me up in a keen, humorous way.

"'I shouldn't wonder it's hers,' she said.

"Welcoming any pretext for prolonging the discussion, I borrowed the
phone at Gloria's elbow, and, studying the heart-rending curves of her
chin and cheek and throat, I called up Mrs. Vesey and told her I thought
I had found her pet. Mrs. Vesey hurried round to the restaurant,
and swept up the vagabond Nemo with cries of joy into her lean and
affectionate bosom. Nemo purred, and I escorted Mrs. Vesey home,
recapitulating in my mind the perfect contours of the girl's heavenly
form. My enthusiasm was even such that when the other men came in I
could not refrain from telling them all about her. I saw that I had made
a mistake, for instantly Blackmore swore he would get her to sit for
him.

"Of course, from that time on, the Physical Culture Chophouse became the
nightly haunt of our little party. The other men had seen it many times,
but the vegetarian threats in the window had frightened them away. But
now, none of us dared to be absent very many dinners, for fear the
rest would gain some advantage with the girl. I cannot give you any
conception of the humorous glamour of that time unless I insist that she
was the most superbly luscious thing I have ever glimpsed; and one sees
a good many covetable creatures on the streets of New York. Some of them
said she was cold; that in spite of all the nutritious algebra printed
on old Larsen's menus (he used to put down all sorts of preposterous
formulas about starch, and albumen, and phosphorus, and proteids, and so
on)--she was lacking in calories. But I know that when we sat at table,
and she came round to ask if everything was all right, and leaned over
us with her clear eyes, as blue as a special-delivery stamp, and that
cream-white neck, and the faint glimmer of a blue ribbon shining through
the hilly slopes of her blouse-----Oh, well, Ben, we were young, and we
ate red meat for lunch, anyway.

"I guess old man Larsen, who spent most of his time in the kitchen,
encouraged her to kid us along, for he never seemed to mind our open
admiration of his daughter. He probably saw that she was a bigger
business asset than any number of calory charts. Every now and then he
would come out and chin with us, for our party became a nightly event
in the café. Before long we had sampled every kind of vegetarian
combination on the list, and had him busy inventing new ones. We used to
ask him if he had raised a girl like that on nothing but vegetables, and
he would laugh and swear that Gloria had never tasted blood until she
was sixteen. It seemed queer to us that the restaurant wasn't full of
her suitors. I should have thought, with a girl like her, they'd have
been standing in line waiting for a look at her. I suppose that people
who feed on nothing but vegetables are rather puny in such matters.
It's an odd thing, but I've always noticed that most of the people who
frequent these crank physical-culture and dietetic eating-places are a
queer, sick-looking lot--youths with rolling Adam's apples, and sallow,
soup-stained girls. Certainly our little gang, so very jovial and
fancy-free, made a quaint contrast to most of the patrons of the house.
In a few days we felt as if we owned the place, and had the old man
slide two tables together just underneath Gloria's cash register, where
we met every evening for dinner.

"As for Larsen, he was a crank on many subjects but he was no fool.
He was an athletic, erect fellow with a bristling gray moustache and
cropped hair and a forcible gray eye. On the wall was a huge photo
of him in a kind of Sandow pose, with a leopard-skin apron round his
middle, showing terrific knotty biceps and back muscles. Gloria told us
that at one time he had been a physical instructor in the Swedish army,
and the head of a _Turnverein_, or something of that sort. There was a
certain physical and gymnastic candour about him that amused us. He was
awfully proud of Gloria, whom he had raised himself (being a widower)
according to his own hygienic and athletic principles. After we had all
bought his booklets, and promised to take up his system of calisthenics,
he became quite chummy and showed us a lot of photographs of Gloria at
different ages, doing her gymnastic exercises, beginning as a little
plump Venus and ending as a stunning profile in tights. We tried to
maintain an attitude of merely scientific detachment toward those
pictures, admiring them only as connoisseurs of physical culture; but we
ended by begging him for copies, insisting that they would be a useful
guide to us in our own private exercising. But Larsen said he
was keeping them to illustrate a new enlarged edition of his
physical-culture book. We told him that it would sell a million copies,
and I think we all volunteered to act as selling-agents for the book.
Annette Kellermann and Susanna Cocroft, we cried, were scarecrows
compared to Gloria.

"To all this banter Gloria would listen calmly and unembarrassed, for
she had a magnificent unconsciousness of her own superb allure. We would
each try to get a moment alone with her to describe the exercises we
were taking, and to ask her advice about our muscular development.
I remember that Blackmore, after secret practice that we had not
suspected, took the wind out of our sails one evening when some of us
were bragging of our accomplishment in bending and touching the floor
while standing on tiptoe. He jumped up and caught hold of the lintel of
the doorway, and chinned himself on it a dozen times or so. We were
all crestfallen by this feat until Gloria came forward--all the other
customers had gone home--and did the same thing about twenty times. She
went back to her counter with a heavenly flush of pride, while Blackmore
dashed to a table and did a little sketch of her from memory, with the
lovely lines of her figure silhouetted against the doorway.

"But it was I who was first to think of the subtlest compliment that any
one could pay her, which was to ask the privilege of feeling her biceps.
And what an arm she had! Not a great, fleshy, flabby washerwoman's
limb, but the rippling marble of a Greek statue brought to warm life!
Blackmore used to sit at meal-times neglecting his protose steak and
making sketches of her while she wasn't looking. The best I could do was
write verses about her. And while she played no favourites, I think
she really gave me a little the inside track, because I talked physical
culture with her more seriously than the others, who tried to make love
to her a little too baldly.

"By this time she had us all doing calisthenics. The creaky floors of
Mrs. Vesey's house used to resound night and morning with the agonies
of our gymnastics. There was one exercise that Gloria told us she found
particularly helpful. It was to lie down with the feet under a bureau or
any other heavy piece of furniture, extend the arms behind the head, and
then raise and lower the body a hundred times, pivoting from the waist.
This was only one of fifty or more laborious accomplishments that we
undertook for the sake of our goddess. No woman was ever wooed with
more honest pangs, or with more repeated genuflections. As we lay on
the floor before going to bed, raising our legs in the air two hundred
times, or groaned in some sinew-cracking, twisting contortion devised
by the pitiless Swede, it was the vision of Gloria's beauty of snow and
rose that gave us courage. If any passer-by ever looked up at the front
of Mrs. Vesey's house in the early mornings, he must have been startled
to see a white figure near every window, furiously going through the
Swedish manual. One of us, we fondly thought, would some day spend a
healthy Swedish honeymoon performing these motions in ecstatic company
with Gloria; and we did not want to be shamed by her incomparable
perfection. If she worshipped bodily symmetry, our goal was nothing
less. We wanted to be lithe, supple, very panthers of elasticity and
grace. The evening I was able to stand on one leg in the restaurant and
proudly raise my other foot to touch a gas-jet some six feet from the
floor, I felt that Gloria might some day be mine."

Dove paused again, and seemed to fall into a reminiscent reverie.
Unconsciously he stiffly extended one leg in front of him, and I divined
that he was inwardly rehearsing that act of calisthenic triumph.

"By gracious!" he said, "I've never forgotten the night I got her
father's permission to take her to some gymnastic tournament, or
something of that sort, down at Madison Square Garden. How annoyed the
other men were when they went to the chop-house that night for their
evening penance of lentils, and found Gloria absent! Yes, it was an odd
wooing. I had found the measurements of the Venus de Milo in some Sunday
paper, and that night, when we became quite sentimental, I made her
promise to take her own dimensions, so that we could compare the
proportions of the two. And we had some very happy little jokes, quite
simple ones that she would understand, about her arms being much more
lovely than those of the statue, and that sort of thing. How deliciously
she blushed the next day when she gave me her list of measurements,
written out on a sheet of paper. Of course, I pretended not to
understand which was which. I wrote a little poem about them."

"It seems to me," I said, "that you were getting on very well. What was
the trouble? You didn't marry her, did you?"

"Old man Larsen," he continued, gravely, "had a number of other hobbies
besides vegetarianism and physical culture. He was a mechanical
genius in his way. I remember once, after we had expressed exaggerated
admiration of some atrocious compound of lentils and nuts and
fruit, Gloria took us through the kitchen to show us an ingenious
sandwich-making machine her father had contrived. You fed in loaves of
pumpernickel bread and pats of nut butter on one side, hard-boiled eggs
and lettuce and dressing on the other, and out came egg-salad sandwiches
through a slot, as neat as you could want to see. But the best of his
stunts was a sort of miniature vacuum cleaner which the waitresses used
for taking the crumbs off the tables. You've seen those little hot-air
pistols they use at swell shoe-shining stands to dry the liquid cleanser
off your shoes before they put on the polishing paste? Well, Larsen's
decrumbing machine, as we used to call it, looked rather like those. You
screwed a plug into an electric light socket, ran the little gun over
the table, and in a jiffy it sucked up crumbs and cigarette ashes and
spilled lentils and matches, and left the cloth neat. Larsen was so
proud of it he said he was going to patent it.

"I never cared so very much for the old man, he was a little too
eccentric; and I began to think, after a while, that he used his
daughter a little too crudely as a business bait; but he was full of
ideas. He had a big motor-truck that he used to cruise around town,
visiting the markets himself, to get the pick of the vegetables; and he
was always tinkering with that truck, planning new mechanical tricks of
some kind. He had an insatiable curiosity, too. He used to sit down
at the table with us sometimes, late in the evening, and ask about our
work, and where we lived, and what Mrs. Vesey was like, and what time of
day we were home, and all sorts of fool questions like that.

"Well, the time went on, and it began to be cold weather. I noticed this
sooner than the other fellows, I think, because whereas most of them
went to offices during the daytime, I stayed home at Mrs. Vesey's,
trying to write in my narrow coop of a top bedroom. You know how
depressing an instrument a typewriter is when your hands are cold. I
haven't forgotten some dreary vigils I had up there, struggling to write
short stories. Sometimes I used to give it up weakly, and go round to
Larsen's, where it was always warm and cozy, to drink herb coffee and
eat those brittle Swedish biscuits and chat with Gloria. I used to
complain to her about the cold in my room, and she would laugh and say
that I just ought to try a winter in Sweden.

"'Swedish exercises,' she would say. 'That's the thing to stir up your
blood! They'll keep you warm.'

"And then, in her enchanting way, she would tell me a new one, and if
there were no customers (as there generally weren't in the middle of
the afternoon) she would illustrate how it should be done. Sometimes she
would even allow me what she called a Swedish kiss--a very fleeting
and provocative embrace. And then I would show her my new perfection in
doing the backward stoop or some such muscular oddity, and return to my
cold citadel.

"But in spite of the fact that we were all busy much of the time going
through our manual of exercises, presently the chill of Mrs. Vesey's
lodgings became severe. Mrs. Vesey was a rather obstinate and frugal old
dear, and she herself dwelt down in the kitchen, where her big gas-range
kept her comfortable. When we complained of the cold, she had all sorts
of excuses for postponing lighting the furnace. There was a big coal
strike that year, and she was quite right in suspecting that once her
present supply was exhausted it would be very hard to get more. Also,
she said, her furnace man had quit, but she was hunting for another. On
one pretext or another, she kept on putting us off, until finally it was
mid-November, and we were doing our exercises in rooms where our breath
showed like clouds of fog. And then one day Mrs. Vesey came up in great
glee to say that a coal man had called that very morning, of his own
accord, and had offered to give her five tons. She had promptly snapped
at the chance, and he had put the coal in the cellar; so we should have
heat the very next day, when the new furnace man was expected.

"Naturally we were all cheered by this good news. We sped round to
Larsen's restaurant in high spirits, and adored our divinity with even
more than usual abandon.

"'Now my fingers will be warm again, Gloria,' I said, 'I'll be able to
write some more poems about you.'

"'Yes,' cried Blackmore, 'and now it will be warm enough for you to
come and pose for me in my lovely attic at Mrs. Vesey's. If you had come
before, I should have called my painting "The Chilblain Venus."'

"'Silly boys!' said Gloria, with that delicious, soft Swedish accent
which I can't even try to imitate. 'You are hot-blooded enough as it is.
You don't need all that warming up. Look at us vegetarians; you make fun
of us, but our lentils keep our blood circulating. Try Brussels sprouts;
they are full of calories.'

"'Ah!' we shouted. 'But you seem to keep this place warm enough.'

"Old Larsen, who passed through the room just then, broke in crossly:

"'We have to, for the sake of the customers,' he said. 'Gloria, stop
fooling with the gentlemen and attend to business.' He seemed in a bad
humour that night.

"The next day must have been some sort of holiday, for I know we all
went out to see a football game. We got back about supper-time and found
the house perishing chill. With shouts and protests we called Mrs. Vesey
from her kitchen, but she explained that the expected furnace man had
not turned up.

"'Well,' said Blackmore, 'this can't go on any longer, Mrs. Vesey. I'll
go down and light the fire myself. We'll take turns and keep it going
till your man comes.'

"He ran down to the basement, but a minute later he was up again.

"'Mrs. Vesey,' he shouted, 'what is all this nonsense? Are you kidding
us? There's no coal down there at all!'

"'No coal?' she exclaimed. 'Why, there was a good three or four tons,
and the man said he put five tons more in yesterday. I heard him do
it--never heard such a noise in my life. I paid him ten dollars a ton.

"'Impossible!' Blackmore cried, angrily. 'There's not enough down there
to fry Nemo with. About three shovelfuls, that's all. What is this--some
kind of a game to freeze us out?'

"Mrs. Vesey wrung her hands, and we all ran down to the cellar. It was
as Blackmore had said. The bins were empty, save for a few lumps."

Dove gazed down thoughtfully at the coal office on the pier below us,
where a wagon was loading.

"On a mellow afternoon like this," he said, "coal doesn't seem quite
so pressing a concern; but I tell you, in a bleak boarding-house about
Thanksgiving time, with no heat of any sort available but a gas-jet, it
is a different matter. We were an angry and puzzled lot that night. Mrs.
Vesey protested so pitifully that there had been coal in the bins only
the day before, and asserted so repeatedly that she had heard the
noise of the new load going in, that we could not help believe her. She
promised to call up her coal man the first thing the next morning, and
we also agreed to go round and visit him in a body, to add our personal
appeals; but how on earth several tons of coal could have been stolen
out of the cellar without any one hearing it seemed to us a mystery.

"The next morning we visited the coal-dealer _en masse_--in a coalition,
as Blackmore said--and by spirited imprecation and paying cash we
extracted a promise to have a couple of tons sent at once. His office
was some distance up on Columbus Avenue, and on our way back we passed
through one of the cross-streets--Eighty-Third, I think it was, because
one of us wanted to get some stamps at the post-office. As we came
along, we heard the rumble of coal passing down a chute, and saw a
coal-wagon in the distance.

"'There's somebody in luck,' said one.

"'But what an odd-looking coal-wagon,' said another, as we approached.

"It was a large motor-truck with a hinged metal top, something like a
huge street-cleaning cart. The engine was throbbing, and the coal was
roaring noisily in the chute, which led down into the cellar window of
a brownstone dwelling. The chute, instead of being the customary shallow
trough, was a large circular pipe, so that we could not actually see the
coal pouring downward, but only hear it crashing through the metal
tube. That struck me as a good idea for preventing the coal-dust from
spreading over everything near.

"But we were all interested not only in the odd appearance of the truck,
but in the extraordinary din it caused. Delivering coal is never a
silent job, naturally; but this racket was really terrific. The driver
seemed to have left his engine running full tilt, and the whole truck
quivered and shook with the power. We stood amazed at the furious rattle
and uproar. The noise was too great for spoken words to be caught, but I
pointed out the circular chute to Blackmore. It was made in telescoping
sections, to slide into itself, and was an interesting novelty.

"It occurred to me that this dealer, whoever he might be--there was no
name on the truck--could perhaps let Mrs. Vesey have some coal. We could
see the feet of the driver, who was standing on the other side of the
truck, and I went round to speak to him. It was a stocky man with a
flowing bush of black beard and wearing a suit of very grimy overalls.
At the top of my voice I yelled:

"'Got any coal to sell?'

"He shook his head in a surly way and turned his back on me.

"I could not tell from his gesture whether he had answered my question,
or was indicating that he could not hear; so I shouted at him again.

"At the same time I noticed Blackmore and the others gathered at the
cellar window, looking in curiously over the slope of the delivery
pipe. The coal man seized a lever and shut off his power, for the engine
stopped, and after a little sliding and rumbling in the tube the racket
ceased. He picked up a shovel and ran to the group by the chute.

"'Here, let that alone!' he cried, angrily. "'Keep your shirt on,' said
Blackmore. 'We're just looking at this outfit of yours. It makes a devil
of a noise. Regular public nuisance, I call it!' '"It's none of your
affair,' said the man. 'Keep out of what don't concern you.'

"He returned to his truck, pulled a handle, and the roar of the coal
began again. I was standing near him, while the others were on the
opposite side of the wagon, so I was the only one to see a curious
thing. There were several revolving cogwheels at the side of the truck,
and in his irritation, I suppose the driver stooped over them too
closely. At any rate, his beard caught in the cogs, and I gave a cry of
dismay, thinking he would be cruelly hurt. To my amazement the beard was
whisked quickly from his face, and I saw that he was Larsen. He looked
at me with an expression of alarm and anger that was laughable.

"'When did you turn coal-dealer?' I shouted. But at this moment
Blackmore, who was still bending over the chute, sprang up and ran round
to us. He, too, was staggered to see the identity of the driver. He
dragged me a few paces away and shouted in my ear.

"'Damn queer business,' he said. 'That coal isn't going in. It's coming
out!'

"'What the deuce do you mean?' I said.

"'Just what I say. He's got some sort of a suction engine in that truck,
a kind of big vacuum cleaner, and he's simply siphoning the coal out of
somebody's cellar.'

"Larsen ran at us with a big spanner in his hand, but we grappled with
him, and while three of us held him the others examined the truck. It
was perfectly true. By an ingenious gasoline pump installed in the wagon
he was drawing out the coal. Looking into the top of the wagon through a
little glass peephole, we could see the black nuggets coming swiftly up
out of the chute. By this time a little crowd had gathered, and the lady
of the house ran out to see what was happening. I think she thought we
were trying to seduce her coal supply. She explained angrily to us that
Larsen had driven up to her door half an hour before and offered to sell
her several tons of coal. Her cellar, like everyone else's, was none too
well stocked, and she had been delighted to agree.

"While we were wondering just what to do, Larsen, who had been glaring
wickedly at us, broke away from our grasp and reversed his machinery
so that the coal began to thunder back honestly into the cellar. The
puzzled woman, not suspecting anything wrong, went back indoors after we
made some impromptu explanation for the fuss. Larsen's amputated black
beard whirled round and round, still adhering to the rolling cogs, as
we watched, while he stood by sullenly. We walked away down the block
to hold a council, and also to let the group of mystified onlookers
disperse. Of course, our first thought was to go for the police; but
then we thought of Gloria."

Dove sighed, and tapped out his long-expired pipe.

"Well," he said, "that's pretty near the end of the story. I'm afraid
association with Beauty blunts the sense of rectitude. No, we didn't do
anything about it, except see to it that Larsen put back that coal
in the cellar. I suppose we were really accessory to a misdemeanour,
because we gathered from some small paragraphs we saw in the papers that
a number of householders in that neighbourhood had been mysteriously
robbed of their coal. To tell you the truth, we couldn't bear the
thought of taking any action that would ruin Gloria's happiness. What
were a few tons of black, filthy coal compared to that serene and
golden-white beauty of hers, like some princess in a Norse fairy tale?
The old man was a lunatic, we supposed, and would come to grief sooner
or later. We were not going to be the ones to bring humiliation upon
him.

"We walked back, stricken, to our lodgings; and as we passed the
Physical Culture Chophouse we looked furtively through the window. We
could see Gloria laying the tables for lunch, the tall, strong curve
of her back as she leaned over, her capable white hands smoothing the
cloth. None of us had the heart to go in.

"We clubbed together to pay for Mrs. Vesey's new supply of coal,
although it broke our pocket-books for the next month or so. We were
too hard up, then, to go on eating at Larsen's. We had to patronize a
lunch-counter instead, where we gloomed over frankfurters and beans
and quarrelled with one another, in sheer misery, as to which one of us
Gloria had really liked best. We never saw her again, because about a
week later the Larsen café shut up, and they disappeared."

"And the calisthenics?" I said. "Did you go on with those?"

"No," he said; "we were too melancholy. Also, as soon as Mrs. Vesey's
coal arrived, we didn't need to. That was the terrible part of it. You
see, Gloria had simply egged us on to do those exercises so that we
wouldn't feel the chill when her father stole the coal. I'm afraid she
was as guilty as he was, but we tried to convince ourselves that she was
only a tool."

We got up from our bench, for the afternoon air was growing bleak.

"Now you know," he said, "why that coal-dump down there reminded me of
Gloria. Well, it was wonderful while it lasted--until, as you might say,
the serpent drove us out of our Garden of Sweden."



THE COMMUTATION CHOPHOUSE

IT WAS two days before Christmas, and Dove Dulcet had come down town
to have lunch with me. As he had arrived rather early, we were taking a
little stroll round the bright, windy streets before our meal,
enjoying the colour and movement of the scene. We stopped by St. Paul's
churchyard to note the curious contrast of the old chocolate spire
relieved against the huge glittering shaft of the Woolworth Building. At
the noon hour St. Paul's stands in the dark shadow of the great cliffs
to the south, while the Woolworth pinnacle leaps up like a spearhead
into the golden vacancy of day-long sunshine.

"Saint Paul in the shadow, Saint Frank in the sun," said Dove with
gentle irony. "It seems to prove that ten cents put in the cash register
gets nearer Heaven than ten cents dropped in the collection plate."

When Dove is philosophical, he is always full of quaint matter, but
I was hardly heeding what he said. My eye had been caught by a crowd
gathered at the corner of Church Street. Over the heads of the throng was
a winking spark of light that flashed this way and that as though spun
from a turning mirror.

"Let's go and see what's doing," I said. My poet friend is always
docile, and he followed me down Fulton Street.

"It looks to me like a silk hat," he said.

And so it was. On the corner of the pavement stood a tall, stout, and
very well-nourished man with a ruddy face, wearing shabby but still
presentable cutaway coat and gray trousers, and crowned by a steep
and glittering stovepipe hat which twinkled like a heliograph in the
dazzling winter glare. But, most amazing, when we elbowed a passage
through the jocular crowd, we saw that this personable individual was
wearing, instead of an overcoat, two large sandwich boards vigorously
lettered as follows:

THE COMMUTATION CHOPHOUSE

OPENS TO-DAY 59 Ann Street

Celebrate the Merry Yuletide!

One Prodigious Meal,

$1 BUY A STRIP TICKET AND SAVE MONEY

TO-DAY ONLY 100 meals for $10

This corpulent sandwich man was blithely answering the banter of those
who were not awed by the radiance of his headgear and the dignity of his
mien, and passing out printed cards to those nearest him.

"Do all the hundred meals have to be eaten to-day?" asked Dulcet. "If
so, the task is beyond my powers."

"Like the man in the Bible," I said, "he probably rented his garments.
But he couldn't rent that admirable abdomen that proclaims him a
well-fed man. It seems to me a very sound ad. for the chophouse."

"Unquestionably," said my friend, gravely, "he is the man who put the ad
in adipose."

The sandwich man, unabashed by these remarks, handed me one of his
cards, which Dulcet and I read together:

_K. Jefferson Gastric, the best-fed man south of 42nd Street, takes this
importunity of urging you to become a steakholder in the Commutation
Chophouse. Why pay for overhead expense? In the Commutation Chophouse
all unnecessaries are discarded and you pay only for food, not for
finger-bowls and a lovely female cashier. No tips. To-day Only, the
Opening Day, to celebrate the jovial Yule, the management will sell
Strip Tickets entitling you to 100 Glorious Meals, for $10._

At this point a policeman politely urged Mr. Gastric to move on, and he
passed genially down Church Street, his resplendent hat glowing above a
trail of followers.

"Come on," I said; "it's time to eat, anyway. Let's go over to Ann
Street and have a look at this philanthropic venture."

"Well," said Dulcet, "since it's your turn to buy, far be it from me to
protest."

The narrow channel of Ann Street is always crowded at the lunch hour,
but on that occasion it was doubly congested with patrons of the amusing
toyshops. We pushed patiently along, and passing Nassau Street moved
into a darker and shabbier region. A sound of music rose upon the air.
To our surprise, at the entrance to an unsuspected alley stood a fiddler
playing a merry jig. Beside him was another sandwich man, also stout and
well-favoured and in Fifth-Avenue attire, carrying boards which read:

ENTRANCE TO THE COMMUTATION CHOPHOUSE

Eat Drink and Be Merry For To-morrow We Die

To-day Only, for the Jocund Yule,

Strip Tickets for 100 Square Meals, $10

"This is highly diverting," I said. "Apparently we go down this passage.
Come on, everyone seems bound the same way. We won't get a seat unless
we make haste."

Dulcet was gazing reflectively at the sandwich boards. His blue eyes had
a quizzical twinkle.

"For God, for country, and for Yule," he said. "Queer that this should
happen on Ann Street. I seem to remember----"

"Queer that it should happen anywhere," I interrupted him. "It's a
clever advertising stunt, anyway--100 meals for $10. It seems too good
to be true."

"The only thing I'm afraid of," he said, "is that it is literally true."

"Walk in, gents, give us a try," cried the sandwich man. "Try anything
once, gents."

"Come on, Dove," I said, seeing that others were crowding ahead of us
down the alley. "None of your paradoxes!"

The narrow passage turned into a courtyard overlooked by old grimy
warehouses with iron-shuttered windows. In one corner was a fine
substantial brick building with a rounded front, and a long flight of
wooden stairs that seemed to lead up to a marine junk shop, for old
sea-boots and ships' lanterns and fenders hung along the wall. In a
basement was an iron foundry where we could see the bright glow of a
forge. Halfway down the little area was a low door with a huge stone
lintel-piece over which was a large canvas sign: _the commutation
chophouse_.

*****

I must confess to an irrational affection for quaint eating places, and
having explored downtown New York's crowded cafés and lunchrooms rather
carefully in quest of a congenial tavern, the Commutation Chophouse
struck me as highly original and pleasing. We stepped down into a very
large and rather dark cellar that apparently had previously been used as
a carpenter's shop, for a good many traces of the earlier tenancy were
still visible. The furnishings were of the plainest, consisting simply
of heavy wooden tables and benches. There was no linen on the tables,
but the wood had been scrubbed scrupulously clean and there were piles
of tissue napkins. From a door at the back waiters came rushing with
trays of food. A glorious clatter of knives and forks filled the air,
and it looked at first as though we would find no place to sit. As Dove
expressed it, the room was loaded to the muzzle; and a continuous stream
of patrons was coming down the alley, allured by the sandwich man and
the absurd thin gayety of the fiddle. By the front door stood a dark
young man, behind a small counter, selling tickets.

"One meal for a dollar," he cried, repeatedly, as he took in money. "One
hundred meals for ten dollars. Get your commutation tickets here."

"We'll try two single meals to begin with," I said, and put down a
ten-dollar bill.

The young man rummaged in a drawer full of greasy notes to get the
change. "Better get a commutation," he said. "Tremendous saving."

"I should think you'd need a cash register," said Dulcet. "Handling all
that kale, it would be useful in keeping the accounts straight."

The young man looked up sharply.

"Say," he retorted, "what are you, mister? Cash-register salesman? Step
along please, don't block the gangway. Next! Seats in the rear! No,
commutation tickets not transferable. Good only to the purchaser. Ten
dollars, please. Next!"

"They seem to be coining money," said Dove, as we found places at last
in a rear corner.

"Well," I said, "this is just the kind of place I like. By Jove, this
building must be well over a hundred years old. Look at those beams
in the ceiling. All they need is a few sporting prints and an open
fireplace. Lit by candles, too, you see. Well, well, this is the real
alehouse atmosphere. Why, it's as good as the Cheshire Cheese. This is
the kind of place where I can imagine Doctor Johnson and Charles Lamb
sitting in a corner."

"You are an incurable sentimentalist," he said. "Besides, Lamb would
have had to sit on Johnson's knee, I expect. If I remember rightly, Lamb
was a very small urchin when Doctor Johnson died."

"Why be so literal?" I protested. "Haven't you any sentiment for fine
antique flavour, and all that sort of thing?"

"If there is one thing where sentiment plays no part with me," he said,
"it is food. At meal times I am distinctly a realist. Fine antique
flavour is rather upsetting when you find it in your meat. But still,"
he continued, "I must admit this looks good." He beamed approvingly at
the thick chop and baked potatoes and beans and coffee the waiter had
put down in front of us.

"Evidently you don't order your food," I said. "They give you the
standardized meal of the day. Fall to! These beans baked in cheese
strike me as excellent."

I have never seen waiters rush around with such speed as they did in
that crowded cellar, where flickering candle-gleams cast a tawny light
over the crowded tables of men packed shoulder to shoulder. They flashed
in and out through the rear door like men possessed. They careered in
with trays of steaming viands, crashed them down on the bare tables, and
fled out again, napkins streaming behind them like pennants. Once they
had delivered your food it seemed impossible to catch their gaze, for we
tried to hail one to ask for ketchup. It was no use. He flew hither and
yon with frantic and single-minded energy.

"These waiters speed like dervishes," I said. "Evidently the no-tip rule
does not lessen their zeal."

"Perhaps they get a share in the profits of the enterprise," said
Dulcet, placidly.

Just behind us was a small barred window looking out on a street. It
was at the ground level, and looking through the dusty pane I could see
horses' hoofs going by, and the feet of pedestrians. Suddenly there was
a great clang and crash outside, and I turned to look.

"What's up?" said Dulcet, who was cheerfully disposing of his chop as
well as his neighbour's elbow would permit him.

"They seem to have spilled some beans," I said, peering through the
dusky aperture. "There's a truck delivering food or something at the
back door. They've tipped over a can, I think."

"Spilled some beans?" he said, with his first sign of real interest.
"That sounds symbolic. Let me have a look."

He stood up on the bench and gazed outward. Presently he sat down again
and went on calmly with his meal. Some excellent cheese cake was brought
us as dessert.

"That alley behind us," he said. "I suppose it communicates with Beekman
Street, doesn't it?"

"I guess so. Why?"

"Just wondering. Ben, I apologize for my skepticism. The food here is
jolly good. In fact, it's so good that I think I've tasted it before. I
am your debtor for a very enlarging experience. And now, as the crowd is
becoming almost oppressive, and I can see that there are others eager to
commute, suppose we smoke our cigars outdoors."

"Right you are," I said. "And since the food is eatable, and I happen
to have the money with me, I think I'll invest in one of those strip
tickets. Everyone else seems to be doing it, and it looks to me a good
way to save money. A hundred lunches--why, that will see me through till
spring. I don't think I'll get tired of eating here, it's so amusing."

"No," said Dove, as he picked up his hat, "I don't think you'll get
tired of eating here. Perhaps the money will be well spent."

I bought my commutation, and we stood in the shabby old courtyard for a
few minutes watching the crowd stream in. A good many, I noticed, though
unable to find seats, still took advantage of the opening-day offer and
bought the hundred meal tickets for future consumption.

"The only drawback about this place is the crowd," I said. "If this
keeps up, half of downtown New York will be eating here."

"Look here," said Dove, "I think I shall be down this way again
to-morrow. It's my turn to buy. Will you lunch with me then? We'll
celebrate the jovial Yule together."

"Fine," I said. "Meet you at the old red newspaper-box at the corner of
Broadway and Vesey to-morrow at 12 o'clock."

*****

We were both there punctually.

"Have you got your appetite with you?" asked Dove. "It's a bit early for
feasting, but it'll give us time for a stroll after lunch."

"Where do we eat?" I said. "Commutation again? It's all velvet to me,
anyway, all my lunches are paid for for the next three months."

"There's a little place on Beekman Street I used to know," he said.
"Let's try that."

We found a corner table in an odd old eating house at the corner of
Beekman and Gold streets, which I had never seen before.

"I'm a great believer in tit for tat, fair play, and all that sort
of thing," said Dulcet when the waiter approached. "You gave me an
excellent lunch yesterday. I intend to give you the same lunch to-day,
if you can stand eating it again. Waiter! Mutton chop, baked potato,
baked beans, coffee, and cheese cake. For two."

When the beans came, baked with cheese in a little brown dish, just as
they were served the day before, I must confess that I was startled.

"Why, these beans are done exactly like those we had at the
Commutation," I said. "Are these people doing the cooking for the
chop-house?"

"Perhaps you'll have to eat chop and beans for a hundred lunches,"
Dulcet said. "Well, it's a hearty diet. After all, the sandwich boards
simply said a hundred meals. They didn't guarantee that they would be
different."

I insisted that on our way back toward the office we should stop at the
Commutation Chophouse and find out from a customer what the bill of fare
had been on the second day. The vision of a hundred repetitions of any
meal, however good, is rather ghastly.

"I don't hear the minstrel to-day," Dove observed as we drew near the
alley.

"Oh, well," I said, "that was just to draw business for the opening."

We turned down the passage at No. 59. Quite a crowd of patrons were
waiting their turn, I saw. They were standing in the courtyard by the
chop-house door, talking busily.

"You see," I said, "it's still crowded."

We reached the entrance. The door was closed. The sign over the doorway
now had additional lettering painted on it, and read:

THE COMMUTATION CHOPHOUSE

The Other 99 Meals Will Be Served In Augusta, Maine.

"Come on, Ben," said Dulcet. "No use trying to break through a window.
There's no one there. I wonder what the fare is to Augusta?"

"You rascal!" I cried. "If you suspected this, why the devil did you
encourage me to squander my $10?"

"I simply said it would probably be well spent," he said, with a
clear blue humorous gaze. "If it helps to cauterize your magnificent
credulity, it will be."

We sat down on a bench in St. Paul's churchyard to smoke a pipe together
while I performed some mental obsequies over my vanished Federal Reserve
certificate. Dove looked up at the sparkling gilded turret of the
Woolworth.

*****

"I daresay Frank Woolworth would have fallen for it, too," Dove said.
"The idea of a hundred meals for 10 cents each would have appealed to
him. But you know, old man, there are certain fixed and immutable laws
that the observant city dweller is accustomed to. My motto is, whenever
you find an apparent exception to those laws, look for an enigma in the
woodpile. I suspected something wrong when I saw that sandwich man
on Church Street. A man as fat as that doesn't generally take a job
sandwiching. Also I have doubts about people who insist on calling
Christmas 'Yule'. Moreover, a man doesn't generally take a job
sandwiching until his shirt is so ragged that he is ashamed to exhibit
it in public, when he is glad to cover it up with the boards. Those two
fat sandwicheers were members of the firm, I fear, for their linen was
O. K. And, secondly, what are the first things a man gets if he really
intends to start a restaurant? A cash register and a bunch of ketchup
bottles. There wasn't a cash register nor a ketchup bottle in sight in
the Commutation Chophouse. No, my dear; what you admired as carefully
arranged atmosphere of antiquity, the plain board tables and candles and
so on, was really stark cheapness. They weren't spending any money on
overhead; they said so themselves.

"When you called my attention to the spilled beans, I was sure. For they
were not merely beans: they were baked beans; a far more significant
matter. When I looked out of the window I could see at once that there
was no kitchen attached to the Commutation Chophouse. The food was all
being delivered from that place on Beekman Street, whose name was on
the truck. A few ingenious rogues simply rented that old cellar, cheaply
enough I guess, put in a few tables, arranged to have grub shipped in
from near by, printed their commutation tickets, and sat down to collect
as many dollars as they could lure out of the open-handed Christmas
throng."

"Well, of all infernal liars," I cried, "they certainly take the prize."

"Not so," said Dulcet as we got up to go. "You should have read the
sandwich boards a little more carefully. Their ingenious author,
whom you chide as the Ann Street Ananias, really told the exact and
circumstantial truth."

We stood at the gateway of the graveyard, and gazed across the roaring
traffic of Broadway. Dove smiled and said he must be starting on his
Christmas shopping.

"I tried to warn you," he said, "but you wouldn't listen. As I was about
to say just before we visited the place, it was queer that it should
happen on Ann Street. Don't you remember that a certain famous gentleman
had his museum at the corner of Broadway and Ann? And it was he, I
think, who remarked that there's one born every minute. Well, Merry
Christmas!"



THE PERT LITTLE HAT

HEMMING had a home, and dearly he loved everything in it--with one
exception. He loved the furnace, and the kitchen range with its warm
ruddy glow, and the violet-coloured wafer of expensive aromatic soap
that always mysteriously appeared on the marble wash-basin when
visitors came. He loved the little glass towel racks, and the miniature
embroidered hand towels with Mrs. Hemming's maiden initials on them,
which also appeared, white and fragrant, whenever there was any special
festivity. Those little towels were to him a kind of symbol of the first
ecstatic days of their married life, and he could not bear to think of
the inevitable time when they would be frayed and discarded. He loved
the shelf over the fireplace where his brown-stained corncob pipe waited
for the after-supper smoke. He loved the little porch where the baby
carriage stood, and the tulip beds that he and Janet had planted
together, and the mission dining table, now blistered and scarred, that
had been their very first piece of furniture.

But in the little den upstairs stood his desk, and how he hated it!

Hemming, you see, had literary ambitions, and that desk meant to him
every circumstance, every long-drawn torment, of weariness and toil. It
had meant much pleasure, too, in hours when his writing had prospered;
but how the bitter outnumbered the sweet! How many hundred evenings he
had dragged himself to it, in lassitude and lethargy; had forced his
drowsy, unwilling mind to the task at hand. How many nights, nodding
over the typewriter, he had stumbled on and on. Over his desk he kept,
ironically, a letter he had once had from an editor, which said: _We
like stories. They have a joyous freshness. You write as though you
enjoyed it._

Hemming was no quick and easy composer. His stories emerged slowly,
painfully, hammered and wrenched from the stubborn tissues of a weary
brain. When his whole soul and body cried out for a comfortable stretch
on the couch, with pipe and book, and a gradual, blissful lapse into
slumber, he would throw off his coat, stick his head out of the window
for a dozen gulps of cool night air, and then sit down at the wheezy old
typewriter.

Its yellow keys seemed a kind of doleful rosary on which he told long
petitions to whatever gods look down pityingly on young writers. He
would think how wonderful it would be if he could only do his writing
in the morning when he was fresh. To leap out of bed in the crisp early
air, to plunge into the cold bath where the water shimmered a pale green
by catching the tint of the big maple tree just outside the bathroom, to
swallow two cups of hot coffee, two slices of buttered toast, and then
sit down to his desk. In the zest and lustihood of the morning, how the
thoughts would throng, how the great empire of words would unroll before
him, far away to the blue hills where lived his unwritten poems! Such
was his daily thought as he hurried down the hill on bright mornings to
catch the 8.13 train to town. But to come back at night after a long day
at the office, and after helping Janet wash the dishes, and stoking the
furnace or mowing the lawn or planting bulbs in the garden--then to try
to write seemed tough indeed.

Still, it had to be done, and Hemming threw his manhood into the task.
In his little den there was just space for a couch, his desk, and
his books, which were littered about the room. His only chance of
accomplishing anything was to get Janet safely installed on the couch,
for if he once lay down there work was impossible. She would curl up
under a steamer rug, tired out from a long day with the house and
the baby, reading a book or the evening paper. And then the stumbling
clatter of the typewriter would begin.

After a while there always came what they humorously called "the
pathetic little moment." This was the time when Janet's book or paper
would slip from her hand, she would turn away from the light, and coast
down the long, smooth toboggan of sleep. Then Hemming would switch off
the reading lamp above her head (with the secret economic satisfaction
young householders always feel when they switch off a light), touch the
soft cheek with a friendly finger, and climb the keys once more. His
writing always seemed to go better after the "pathetic little moment"
was past. There was a kind of subconscious satisfaction in the feeling
that Janet was there, asleep, and that he was working for her. And Janet
used to affirm that there was no lullaby like the irregular thumping of
those keys and levers.

There was another catchword they had, which also moved stealthily in the
back passages of his mind as he mulled over his manuscripts. Janet badly
needed a new bonnet--a "pert little hat," she liked to call it--and
Hemming had pledged himself to write something that would bring her the
saucy little ornament she craved in time for Christmas. She was a
slender, bright-faced creature, and no one could wear an innocently
tilted turban with more grace. But these had been hard days for small
incomes. Winter coal, and warm clothes for the Urchin, and the cook's
wages (when they had one), and Liberty Bonds--all these had taken
precedence over the pert little hat. It had been talked of so long, it
had become a kind of joyous legend, which Janet hardly expected to see
realized on her head. She used to say wistfully, as she coasted off to
sleep on the couch: "Would it be unpatriotic to think about the pert
little hat?" And her husband would vow that patriotism that excluded
pert little hats was no patriotism at all. So he had sworn that the
bonnet should be millinered on the clacking loom of his typewriter. They
used to laugh about it, and say that the little hat ought to be trimmed
with carbon typewriter ribbons.

But Hemming did not know that Janet was not always asleep after the
so-called "pathetic moment" when she ostensibly gave up the struggle
with drowsiness. The twanging springs of the old couch made less noise
than the typewriter keys, but they, too, moved to a secret creative
refrain. There were times when Janet lay watching the lamplight on the
rows of books, and little pictures of stories that she would like
to write flashed into her head. They often used to come to her at
inopportune periods during the day, when the Urchin was in his bath or
when she was taking stock of the ice-box. Of course her husband was the
literary man of the family, and she had no thought of setting up her
simple imaginings against his more serious efforts. But one night, when
he was engrossed in some intractable plot, Janet slipped away into the
little guest room and shut herself in. With a stub pencil, on odd sheets
of notepaper, she began scribbling hotly. Two hours later, when Hemming
came back to earth and hunted her out, she was still at it.

"What on earth are you up to, monk?" he asked.

"Making out laundry lists," she said.

More observant husbands might have wondered what occasion there would be
for a laundry list on Thursday evening, but Hemming was always drowned
in his dreams of literary fame.

His story, on which he had laboured at night for two months, and hers,
which had taken the spare hours of three days, were finished almost at
the same time. After dinner one night, when he had read the manuscript
of his story aloud, Janet handed him her venture, with some trepidation.
At first he seemed a little nettled that she should have done such a
thing.

"Look here, monk," he said, "you oughtn't to wear yourself out trying
to write. You have quite enough to do with the house and the baby.
Moreover, you don't know how discouraging it is. It takes years of
patient apprenticeship before one can get anything across with the
editors. This is my job, brownie."

"But I enjoyed doing it," she said.

"That's a bad sign. All really good stories take fearful effort. How
long did you spend on this?"

"Oh, quite a while," she said, vaguely. She did not like to admit that
her little story had involved no "patient apprenticeship."

He lit his pipe and began reading the sheets on which her quick pencil
had flashed with such enthusiasm. She sat with her sewing, watching him
shyly.

"Very nice," was his comment; but privately he wondered how he was to
avoid hurting her feelings. It seemed to him that the story had all the
faults of the amateur.

"Would you submit it anywhere?" she asked, eagerly. "Do you think any
magazine would buy it?"

He evaded the question. "Would you like me to type it for you?" he said.

"Oh, _would_ you?"

"I'll tell you what I'll do," he said, "I'll be sending my manuscript to
Mr. Edwards to-morrow. I'll type yours and send it, too."

Janet was delighted, and she fell asleep that night with the sweet music
of the thumping keys in her ears. As she heard the staccato clicking,
she thought: "I wonder how far he has got now? How good of him to take
all that trouble to copy my poor little story."

Hemming sat up very late that night, copying Janet's manuscript and
planning what to say to Mr. Edwards, the editor of the _Colonial
Magazine_, who had been very cordial to him. He resisted the temptation
to alter Janet's naïve phrasing here and there, to improve her technique
by recasting some of the situations in her story. It was long past
midnight when both manuscripts were ready to go into the stout manila
envelope. Then, after some meditation, Hemming added the following note:

_Dear Mr. Edwards:_

_I am sending you herewith my new story, and hope you may like it. I am
also enclosing a manuscript from my wife. Of course she is an untrained
writer--this is her first attempt--but I think her story has a certain
charm. Won't you, if you can, give her any encouragement you feel
proper? If you would write her a personal note of comment it would mean
a great deal to her. You know how tenderly one feels toward one's maiden
effort._

_Sincerely yours,_

_Godfrey Hemming._

It was very late when Hemming folded the carefully typed sheets and
placed them in the precious envelope. He was utterly weary, which must
be the explanation of a curious error he made. It was his custom to type
his name and address on a separate sheet of paper which was clipped to
the story he was submitting. He put his own name on one sheet, and his
wife's on another. But in arranging the manuscripts for the envelope
he inadvertently put his name-page with his wife's manuscript, and vice
versa. Then he went to bed with the satisfaction of well-earned fatigue,
and wondering how soon he would be able to order the "pert little hat".

It was two weeks later, and the Urchin had just murmured himself off
into his morning nap, when Janet heard the postman's whistle, and ran
down to receive an envelope with the name of the _Colonial Magazine_
engraved upon it. Eagerly she tore it open.

My Dear Mrs. Hemming:

Your husband was good enough to send me the manuscript of your story,
which I have read with interest. It is an able piece of work, and shows
unusual technical skill for a beginner. But I must caution you not to
let your pen follow the track of your husband's method too closely.
Naturally enough, perhaps, your style seems to have modeled itself on
his: but this is a mistake, because it is quite evident that you have
ability enough to strike out on your own line. I wish you would study
carefully Mr. Hemming's last story, "Three Is Company," which shows a
freshness and spontaneous originality better than anything he has done
before. It has a touch of charming humour which is new to his work.
If you can do us something of that sort, we shall be only too happy to
publish it.

I am returning your manuscript with many thanks.

Faithfully yours

Theodore Edwards.

Janet looked at the editor's flowing signature in amazement. "Three
Is Company" was her own story. And there, in the _Colonial Magazine's_
envelope, lay the revered pages of Godfrey's masterpiece, returned.
The "fresh and spontaneous originality" was hers! A flush of exultation
thrilled her: she could almost feel the pert little hat on her head.
Instinctively she looked at herself in the mirror over the hall
mantelpiece. Was it possible that she was a literary genius, and had
never known it?

But then a pang of horror chilled her. What dreadful mistake had
happened? Alas, it was only too plain--the two stories had been
confused. The editor had thought that her story was Godfrey's. He had
read it expecting to find the skill of Godfrey's trained hand. And
now how was she to spare her husband the mortification of having his
painstaking work rejected, while her prentice sketch had won favour by
some fluke? Her loyal heart, entirely devoid of selfish satisfaction,
could not bear the thought of this grotesque and unhappy climax for her
innocent venture. It was all her fault for meddling with what did not
concern her. What business had she to write a better story than Godfrey,
anyway? She knew that her husband would be honestly proud of her success
and would not grudge her the triumph for an instant, but she felt that
the poignance of the situation would be intolerable for her. Much better
do without all the pert little hats on Chestnut Street than win one at
the expense of Godfrey's feelings.

How could she prevent the bad tidings from reaching him? Even now it
might be too late. She flew to the telephone, and with pricking pulses
asked for the office of the _Colonial_. One nervous hand unconsciously
flew to her hair, as though she were about to enter the august sanctum
of the editor.

"Is this Mr. Edwards?

"Oh, Mr. Edwards, this is Mrs. Hemming, Mrs. Godfrey Hemming, the wife
of one of your authors----

"Why, there's been a terrible mistake about our manuscripts, Mr.
Edwards, the stories that Mr. Hemming sent you. I've just had your
letter, and that story you sent back wasn't mine at all, it was
Godfrey's----

"I don't see how you can have made the mistake--

"Yes, the story called 'Three Is Company' is mine, I wrote it, but
really it can't possibly be better than the other one because I wrote it
in such a hurry, it's my first attempt----

"You want to publish it? But, Mr. Edwards, you simply mustn't,
because----

"I can't explain over the telephone. I know you only like it because you
thought----

"Will you promise not to do anything about it, and not to tell Mr.
Hemming anything, until you get a letter from me?

"You _will_ promise? Oh, thank you so much! I'll write at once.

"Good-bye!"

She hurried to the little white enamelled desk, the same desk where the
ill-starred "Three Is Company" had been written.

"This will cure me of trying to write," she thought; "why, I never heard
of such a thing--to have one's first story accepted! Mr. Edwards must be
mad."

Luckily there was one sheet of her engraved stationery left--the paper
that Godfrey had given her, she thought remorsefully. All about her were
evidences of his loving care, and she had repaid him by undermining his
prestige with the one editor who had been nice to him. A fine way for an
author's wife to behave! She seized her pen and wrote:

Dear Mr. Edwards:

As I just told you over the phone, there has been some horrible mistake.
How it happened I can't guess. The manuscript you sent back to me is
Mr. Hemming's story. The one you say you like and want me to study as a
model is my own story, "Three Is Company". I'm sorry you like it, I mean
I'm sorry you think it is better than Mr. Hemming's story, which can't
be so as it is the first story I ever tried to write. I have decided
to withdraw it, I don't want it published, so please send it back to
me instantly, and write me a letter saying how amateurish it is. I am
sending Mr. Hemming's story back to you, so that now you know who wrote
it you can reconsider it. Of course, if you thought it was by me, you
naturally considered it as the work of a beginner, and only a poor
imitation of Mr. Hemming's style.

I don't want you ever to tell Mr. Hemming that I have written this
letter. Just tell him you sent my story back to me because it was not
good enough.

Sincerely yours,

Janet Colton Hemming.

The importance Janet attached to this letter may be judged from the fact
that she left the baby alone in the house, asleep, while she hurried
down to the post-office to mail it, together with Godfrey's manuscript,
back to Mr. Edwards. And not even the sympathetic Mr. Edwards ever
guessed that on the first page, where Godfrey's careful typing ran in
neat lines, she had printed a good luck kiss.

The editor was an honourable man, and though he chuckled a little over
Janet's breathless letter he really meant to keep the innocent secret.
We hope that no young wives will be lured to destruction by our telling
the truth, which was simply this, that Janet's little story was much
better than Godfrey's. It might not have happened again in a lifetime,
but the enthusiasm of her girlish zeal had carried her pen into a very
pretty and moving tale, which the _Colonial_ would have been glad to
print. But since she wanted it back, there was nothing for Mr. Edwards
to do but comply. Then, that very morning, while he was dictating a note
of polite refusal to accompany "Three Is Company" back to the suburbs,
who should call at the office but Godfrey, to know what the editor
thought of the two stories. The coincidence was too much for Edwards,
and thinking that it could do no harm to let Hemming know of his wife's
devotion--for young husbands are too likely to be selfish--he told him
the whole incident. And Godfrey, with a faint sensation of burning under
his eyelids, related the dream of a new bonnet that had inspired "Three
Is Company".

"Well, now, look here," said Edwards, "I'm not so awfully keen on this
story of yours. It isn't anywhere near up to what you can do--or rather,
up to what Mrs. Hemming can do," he added, chuckling. "But you go home
and write me a yarn about the pert little hat, and I'll put it in the
January number. It'll come out just before Christmas, and I hope you'll
get that wife of yours the best bonnet in town on the proceeds. If all
writers had wives like yours, perhaps the magazines would make better
reading. But for heaven's sake don't tell Mrs. Hemming I gave her away.
Wait until she sees the story in the magazine, it'll be a Christmas
surprise for her."

On the Saturday before Christmas Hemming took Janet to the city to
solemnize the purchase of the pert little hat. Any one who happened to
see her wearing it down Chestnut Street that bright winter afternoon
knew that the elated pink in her cheek was not all reflected from the
red bow on the bonnet's neat brim. As they sat down for a matinée and
Janet removed the precious creation, giving it to Godfrey to hold for a
moment, he said admiringly:

"Well, the old typing bus isn't such a bad milliner after all, hey,
monk?"

And Janet, who would then have denied that such a story as "Three Is
Company" ever existed, replied innocently:

"I'm so glad Mr. Edwards turned down my story, grump. I like the pert
little hat ever so much better because it came all from you."

Even if the pert little hat should live to be a great-great-grandbonnet,
none of its descendants will ever give Janet such pleasure.



URN BURIAL

NEVER quarrel at breakfast is the first maxim for commuters and their
wives. Partings in anger mean day-long misery for both, and generally
involve telephone calls later in the day, and a box of chocolate-coated
maraschino cherries carried home on the 5.18. Marriage (say the
philosophers) is a subdivision of the penal code, dedicated to the
proposition that men and women are created equal. But the studious
observer of matrimonial feints and skirmishes sees very little to verify
that daring surmise.

Harry Bennett sipped his breakfast coffee grimly. Its savour had
departed: for ninety seconds earlier Mrs. Bennett had fled upstairs in
a flush of anger and tears. In five minutes he would have to run for the
train; and what man can soothe an outraged wife in five minutes? He ate
his toast without relish, gazing sourly on the blue-and-white imitation
Copenhagen china, the pretty little porcelain marmalade pot, and the big
silver coffee-urn.

The desperate inequality of married life pierced his heart. Why should
he have to accept in silence tart remarks uttered by his wife, while the
least savagery of his own was cause for tears?

He rushed upstairs to say a few consoling words. The bedroom door was
locked. Compassion fled, and he growled furiously through the panels.
Then he ran hotly for the train.

It seems unreasonable: but the lives of human beings are not guided by
reason. Harry had come to the conclusion that the silver coffee-urn was
at the bottom of all their squabbles.

Before Elaine Addison surrendered herself into his capable hands, there
had been a competitor for the honour of surrounding her with sectional
bookcases, linen closets, potted hydrangeas, and the other authentic
trappings of a home.

Aubrey Andrews was the rival warrior. He was the kind of man who always
has a lot of crisp greenbacks in a neat leather bill-fold. Harry's
hard-earned frogskins were always crumpled in a trousers pocket This may
seem trivial, but it distinguishes two totally different classes of men.
Aubrey was tall, dark, well groomed; he played billiards and belonged to
expensive clubs. It was supposed that his wife would be beyond the reach
of financial worries. He kept a horse and easy office hours.

Harry--well, Harry was no aristocrat. He worked hard for what he got,
and didn't get much. He was neither tall, nor dark, nor well groomed.
But he was a fine, lovable, high-minded chap, and to everyone's
surprise, including his own, he got Elaine.

Tennyson had a good deal to do with it, I think. Harry still read
Tennyson, although that excellent poet is no longer fashionable, and
kept on repeating what Tennyson said about Elaine. And finally Elaine
could not help saying, "My Lancelot!" and melting into his arms.

Aubrey gave them a magnificent silver coffee-urn for a wedding present,
and presently enlisted for service, first on the Mexican border and then
in France, where he became a heroic and legendary figure, surrounded in
Elaine's mind by the prismatic glamour of girlhood days.

That coffee-urn was a stunner! It was far the handsomest thing in the
little suburban house, except, of course, Elaine herself. Beneath its
shining caldron sat an alcohol lamp that rendered a blue flame and kept
the coffee hot. Elaine's initials--her maiden initials--were engraved
upon it, and those of the donor: E. A. A. A. The hand of the insidious
silversmith had twined the A's together very gracefully.

Every time he looked at it, Harry felt subconsciously irritated,
although he hardly realized why.

It stood on the little mission sideboard, outshining everything else in
the pretty dining room. It was Elaine's particular pride, and was used
only on special occasions. Often it was brought out for the little
celebrations that young married couples have every now and then. And,
curiously enough, these celebrations very often ended in tears. The
polished dazzle of those silver curves was only too apt to suggest to
Elaine's radiant little beauty-loving heart other handsome wares she
would like to have, or unlucky comparison of the relative beauty of the
wedding presents sent by _her_ friends and _his;_ or Harry would make
some blunt remark about his not being able to give her all that some
other husband might have.

Alas! Something of the sardonic spirit of the black-browed Aubrey seemed
to radiate from his urn. Can a coffee-um hypnotize? Grotesque as it
appears, little by little they realized that the innocent piece of
silver was marring many an otherwise happy hour.

*****

All the way to town in the smoking car, Harry's mind rotated savagely
about their absurd tiff.

Let's see, how was it? He had said: "I'm sorry, dearest; I shall have to
be rather late tonight. The head of my department is away, and I've
got an extra lot of work to do." She said: "Oh, dear--oh, dear! Then
we sha'n't be able to go to the theatre, shall we?" He said: "We can go
next week, Brownie." She said: "Something horrid always happens when we
have this coffee-urn on the table."

(N. B. Right here, when the danger topic was introduced, he should have
put on an extra soft pedal. But did he? Not a bit. As soon as the urn
was mentioned his eyes began to flash.)

"Well," he said, "don't let's have it on so often!" She said: "Any one
might think you were jealous of it. It's the only handsome piece of
silver I've got."

Here he did make one honest effort to steer away from danger:

"I'm awfully sorry about to-night, honey, but the work's just got to be
done." She said: "Why didn't you let me know sooner you were going to
work late? I could have arranged to go and see Mother." He said: "Oh,
well, everything I do is always wrong, anyway! I suppose if I could buy
you a roomful of silver like that old tureen, you wouldn't mind."

And after that it was not far to the deluge. All conducted according
to the recognized technique of quarrelling, passing through the seven
stages of repartee outlined by Touchstone, which should never be
forgotten by those happily married:

                   1 The retort courteous

                   2 The quip modest

                   3 The reply churlish

                   4 The reproof valiant

                   5 The counter-check quarrelsome

                   6 The lie with circumstance

                   7 The lie direct

All day both Mr. and Mrs. Bennett were unpleasantly conscious of their
undigested altercation lying black and gloomy in the back of their
minds. At lunch-time he tried to call her on the telephone; but the
wire did not answer. Indeed, she had gone to spend the day in town with
friends, and was to go to dinner and the theatre with them. She left no
message for Harry, and gave the cook permission to go out overnight.

About nine o'clock he got home tired and eager to resume their usual
blissful companionship. The house was dark and untenanted. In a rage, he
threw away the box of candy he had brought, and got himself some bread
and cheese from the ice-box.

In the dining room his eye fell upon the coffee-urn. He swore at it.
Just then Elaine called him up, and in a cool, distant voice told him
that she had decided to spend the night in town with her mother.

The next morning Elaine came home about ten o'clock, humming a merry
little air as she walked down the quiet suburban street. She and Harry
had patched things up over the telephone at breakfast-time.

The sun was shining brightly, and she was planning a specially nice
dinner for poor Harry that evening. After all, it wasn't the dear boy's
fault that he had to work so hard. It was horrible of her to run off and
desert him that way. Tonight she would show him how much she loved him.
They would have ice cream with hot chocolate sauce, and meringues and
chicken salad; and she would buy him a cigar and hide it in his napkin.
And the old coffee-um should go back in the glass cabinet.

*****

The cook, with a very grave face, opened the front door.

"Heavens, Emily, what's the matter?" cried Mrs. Bennett.

"Burgled!" said Emily, tragically. "Someone's been an' bruk in the
dining-room winder. Footpads, I guess."

Mrs. Bennett gave a little shriek of dismay She ran to the dining room.

One window stood an inch or two open, and one of the panes was broken.
She glanced round the room. Nothing was disarranged, but her glance fell
on the sideboard.

The coffee-urn was gone!

"Well," she said, "that's very extraordinary. Mr. Bennett slept here
last night, and he's a light sleeper. He always locks the windows before
he goes to bed. Is anything else missing?"

"The apple pie's gone out o' the ice-box," said Emily.

"Oh, well, that's Mr. Bennett, I'm sure," said Elaine. "I'll call up the
police right away, and see if they can do anything. My nice coffee-urn!
Why, it's the finest thing we had in the whole house."

Before the police arrived, Mrs. Bennett herself took a careful look
round the outside of the house. She found nothing unusual except a
cigar butt lying on the ground near the broken window. She picked it up
gingerly. A section of the gilt band still adhered to the wrapper. She
could read the name, _Florona._ She carried the fragment into the cellar
and threw it into the ash-can.

Two policemen arrived shortly, examined everything, and asked
innumerable questions. Mrs. Bennett gave them a careful description of
the coffee-urn. They departed, promising to do everything possible to
trace it. They said that a piece of silver so large and unusual would
not be hard to locate with the aid of the pawnbrokers. Then Mrs. Bennett
went upstairs to think.

It seemed very strange that the thieves should take the urn and nothing
else, when there were other pieces of silver beside it on the sideboard.
She called up Harry, who was horrified to learn of the loss. He had
slept right through the night without hearing a sound. He offered to
come home if he could do anything to help; but she would not hear of it.

That night Mrs. Bennett had a special little dinner waiting for her
husband: his favourite soup, a tender steak, fried potatoes, ice cream
with hot chocolate sauce. And after dinner they discussed the theft of
the urn.

"I don't understand how it was that you didn't hear anything," said
Elaine. "You generally sleep so lightly. Did you sit up late?"

"No," he said; "I sat in the dining room until about ten, eating cheese
and apple pie, and smoking a cigar. Then I went to bed----"

"Oh, you just reminded me!" cried Elaine. "I bought you a nice cigar to
smoke after your dinner, and I forgot to give it to you."

From the mantelpiece she gave him a cigar with a _Florona_ band.

"Why, isn't that nice!" said he, "That's the kind I always smoke. I
didn't think you knew one brand from the other."

"I know more than you think, old man," she said.

When Harry came home the next night, he brought a bulky parcel with him.

"I'm awfully sorry about the urn, Brownie," he said. "I went to see the
detectives to-day, and they think there's very little chance of getting
it back; so I brought you this to take its place." She opened the
package. It was a big China coffee-jug of rose-and-white porcelain,
flagrantly out of harmony with her silver and blue china.

"Honey," she said, "I think it's just lovely. It's ever and ever so much
nicer than that old urn."

A week later, in the afternoon, the local chief of police called up Mrs.
Bennett.

"Come down here to the police station," he said. "We've found your
coffee-pot. The most extraordinary thing you ever heard of. We found it
buried in a haystack, back of Webster's barn. Why any one should leave
it there is more than I know. The thief must have been frightened and
hid it. Will you come down and identify it?"

Mrs. Bennett hastened down to the police station. There on the
sergeant's table stood the famous urn, the pride of her heart. There was
no doubt about it: the initials were there--it was hers. Tarnished and
spotted by exposure, it was still the handsomest piece of silver she had
ever seen. Involuntarily she gave a cry of delight. Then she hesitated.
After all, compared to Harry's happiness and hers, what was a silver
urn?

"Oh, captain," she said, "I'm so disappointed. That's not mine! It's
very much like it, but it isn't mine."



THE BATTLE OF MANILA ENVELOPES

MR. BIRDLIP was a good old man, of unimpeachable simplicity. He had
achieved enormous wealth in an honourable business, and then found (to
his mild distress) that the great traffic he had built up conducted
itself automatically. He had, in a way, been gently shouldered out of
his own nest by the capable men whose fortunes he had made. But his
zealous and frugal spirit required some sort of problem to feed upon,
and he delighted his heart by owning a newspaper. _The Evening Lens_ was
his toy and the child of his dotage.

So the Persian rugs and walnut panelling of his private suite in the
huge Birdlip Building saw him rarely. He was supremely happy in the
dingy sanctum at the back of the old _Lens_ office, where the hum of the
presses and the racket of the city room (which he still, by an innocent
misunderstanding, called the "sitting room") delighted his guileless
heart. He would sit turning over the pages of each edition as it came
upstairs (putting his second finger up to his tongue before he turned
each leaf) and poring industriously over the market reports, the comics,
and the Woman's Page. With his pink cheeks, his dapper little figure in
a brown suit and cream-coloured waistcoat, and his eager, shy, chirping
manner, he was very like a robin. Although he was full of gigantic
schemes, which he broached naively in the editorial council every now
and then, he never wittingly interfered with his editor-in-chief,
in whom he had full confidence. But his gentle and jejune mind had a
disastrous effect on the paper no less. Almost unconsciously the Lens
was written and edited down to his standard, as a roomful of adults will
amiably prattle so as to carry along a child in the conversation.

Mr. Birdlip's amazing success in his original field had been due partly
to his decent sagacity, honesty, and persistence, and partly to his
sheer fortune in finding (at the very outset of his enterprise) several
men of rugged ability, who became the pearls in his simple oyster-shell.
As a result of this, it had become his fixed mental habit to believe
that somewhere, some day, he would encounter the man or men who would
make the _Lens_ the greatest newspaper in the country. This, indeed, was
his candid ambition, and he never went anywhere without keeping his eyes
open for the anticipated messiah.

He was greatly taken by broad primitive effects: when he noticed that a
Chicago daily always called itself "The World's Greatest Newspaper" he
was marvellously struck by the power of this slogan, and lamented that
he had not thought of it first. The question as to whether the slogan
were true or not never occurred to him. He liked to have the keynote
sentences in the leading editorial emphasized in blackface type, so that
there might be no danger of any one's missing the point. Desiring for
his beloved sheet "this man's art and that man's scope," as the sonnet
puts it, every now and then he thought he had discovered the prodigy,
and some new feature would be added to the paper at outrageous expense,
only to be quietly shovelled out six months or a year later. In the
meantime, the auditor was growing very gray, and even Mr. Birdlip's
quick blue eye was sometimes hazed with faint perplexity when he studied
the circulation charts. Perhaps it would have been kinder if someone
could have told him that a boyhood spent in splitting infinitives is
not sufficient training for one to become an Abraham Lincoln of the
newspaper business.

As he trotted in and out of the _Lens_ office, with his rosy air of
confidence and his disarming simplicity (which made his white hair seem
a wanton cruelty on the part of Time, that would wither a man's cells
while his mind was still on all fours), Mr. Birdlip was the object of
furtive but very sharp study on the part of some cynical journalists
whom he hired. It was a genuine amazement to Sanford, the dramatic
critic, that the owner was so entirely unaware of his (Sanford's)
abilities, which certainly (he thought) called for a salary of more
than sixty dollars a week. Sanford often meditated about this, and not
entirely in secret. In fact, it was generally admitted among the younger
members of the staff, when they gathered at Ventriloquo's for lunch,
that the Old Man was immaculately ignorant of all phases of the
newspaper business. While the spaghetti and mushrooms cheered the
embittered gossips, merry and quaint were the quips sped toward the
unsuspecting target. Sanford's private grievance was that though for
over a year he had been doing signed critiques of plays, which were
really spirited and honest, not once had the Old Man condescended to
mention them, or to show any sign of uttering an _Ecce Homo_ in his
direction. As far as he was concerned, he felt that the weekly battle of
Manila Envelopes was a conspicuous rout, and he frequently rehearsed the
exact tone in which he would some day say to the managing editor: "You
may fire when ready, Gridley." Little did Sanford realize that the only
time Mr. Birdlip had attempted to read the "Exits and Entrances" column
he had met the name of Æschylus, had faltered, and retreated upon the
syndicated sermon by the Rev. Frank Crane.

*****

"I saw 'Ruddigore' the other evening," said Sanford to his cronies, as
they called for a second round of coffee. "There's a line in it that
describes old Birdie fore, aft, and amidships. Something like this: 'He
is that particular variety of good old man to whom the truth is always a
refreshing novelty'."

They complauded. Rightly or wrongly, these high-spirited and
sophisticated young men had decided that Mr. Birdlip's naïveté was
so refreshingly complete that it gave them an aesthetic pleasure to
contemplate it. It had the exquisite beauty of any absolute perfection.
Their employer's latest venture, which had been to pay $200,000 for the
exclusive right to publish and syndicate the mysterious formulae of a
leading Memory Course, had shocked them very greatly.

It touched them in a tender spot to know that there had been all that
money lying round the office, unused, which was now to be squandered (as
they put it) on charlatanry, when they felt that they might just as well
have had some of it.

"The Old Man is always looking for some special stunt, and trying to
discover someone on the outside," said one. "He can't see the material
right under his nose."

"It's really rather pathetic: he's crazy to get out a great newspaper,
but he hasn't the faintest idea how to do it."

"Yes, give him credit for sincerity. It isn't just circulation he
wants."

"Circulation's easy enough, if that's what you're after. The three
builders of circulation are Sordid, Sensational, and Sex--"

"And the greatest of these is Sex."

"Oh, he's decent enough. He won't pander."

"He panders to stupidity. He's fallen for this Memory bunk. And when he
finds that's a flivver, he'll try something else, equally fatuous. He's
making the old _Lens_ ridiculous."

They smoked awhile, meditatively.

"What I would like to figure out," said Sanford, "is some way of making
an impression on the Old Man. I've got to get more money. The
trouble--some part of it is, I feel instinctively that he and I live in
different worlds. We hardly even talk the same language. Well, there's
no chance of his learning my way of thinking; so I suppose I'll have to
learn his."

"He's the man who puts the nil in the Manila envelope," said one of the
others.

"As far as we are concerned, yes. But there's plenty of the stuff going
round on Fridays for the kind of people he understands."

"He seems to be an absent-minded old bird. When I talk to him, it's as
though I were trying to speak through a fog."

"It looks to me as though his mind had overstayed its leave of absence."

"He likes the kind of men who, as he says, 'have both feet on the
ground'."

"Yes, but you've got to have at least one foot in the air if you're
going to get anywhere."

"See here," said the literary editor, who was more tolerant than the
others. "What's the use of panning the Old Man? He's trying to put the
paper over, just as hard as we are. Maybe harder. But he doesn't know.
And I believe he knows he doesn't know. I think the chief trouble is,
they all knuckle down to him so. They're scared of him. They think the
only way they can hold their jobs is by agreeing with him. If someone
could only put him wise----"

"But how _can_ you put him wise? He doesn't see anything unless it's
laid out for him in a strip cartoon or a full-page ad. The kind of thing
that interests him is the talk he hears in a Pullman smoker or club
car."

"That's a fact. You know he always says he likes to go travelling,
because he picks up ideas from people on the train. 'Of course I
place you! Mr. Mowbray Monk of Seattle. And is your Rotary Club still
rotating?' That kind of talk."

"I think you're right," said Sanford. "He doesn't see us because we have
too much protective colouring. We are only the patient drudges. We don't
talk that Pullman palaver about Big Business. We've got to learn to
talk his language. What is that phrase of Bacon's--we've got to bring
ourselves home to his business and bosom----"

"Let's get back to the office," said the disillusioned literary editor.
"That's the way to bring home the bacon."

*****

A few days later Sanford was at his desk, clipping and pasting press
agents' flimsies for the Saturday Theatre Page. This was a task which he
hated above all others, and he was meditating sourly on the scarcity
of truth in human affairs. At this moment Mr. Birdlip happened to pass
along the corridor outside the editorial rooms. Sanford heard him say:

"Miss Flaccus, will you get me a seat in the club car, ten o'clock
train to-morrow? I've got to run over to New York to take lunch with Mr.
Montaigne."

Sanford put down his shears, relit his pipe, and began to pursue a
fugitive idea round the suburbs of his mind. Presently he drew out his
check book from a drawer and did some calculating on a sheet of paper.
"A hundred dollars," he said to himself. "I guess it's worth it."

The following morning, dressed in a new suit and with shoes freshly
burnished, Sanford was at the terminal twenty minutes before train time.
With him was a young man carrying a leather portfolio. To observe the
respectful demeanour of this young man, no one would have suspected that
he was Sanford's young brother-in-law, rejoicing in cutting his classes
at college for a day's masquerading. Sanford bought some cigars (a form
of smoking which he detested) and carefully removed the bands from all
but one of them.

Presently Mr. Birdlip appeared, cheerfully trotting up the stairs.
Sanford and his companion followed discreetly. As Mr. Birdlip went
through the gate, they were close behind. Entering the club car, Mr.
Birdlip sat down and opened a morning paper. Sanford and his companion
were prompt to take the two adjoining seats. Sanford began to look over
_System_ and _Printers' Ink_, and perhaps his interest in these vigorous
journals was not wholly unfeigned, for it was the first time he had
studied them. The young man beside him drew out a mass of papers from
his leather bag, and in a moment of stillness just before the train
started said in a clear voice:

"Pardon, sir, but there is some important dictation here that ought to
be attended to."

Sanford assumed the air of a man wearied with tremendous affairs. .

"Very well, what comes first?"

"The New York _Budget_ has wired for an answer in regard to their
proposition."

Sanford blew a luxurious whiff of smoke. "Take this letter: My dear Mr.
Ralston. Replying to your inquiries as to whether I would be willing to
take charge of the editorial page of the _Budget_ for a few months,
to put the paper on its feet, I am willing to consider the matter, and
would be pleased to discuss it with you if you will run over to see me.
I am very busy just now, and could not possibly undertake the work
for some weeks. I have been retained in an advisory capacity by a big
Western syndicate which was badly in need of some circulation building;
and until I can put their paper up to a half-million figure I have not
much spare time. Their paper has gone up a couple of hundred thousand
since I mapped out a campaign for them, but I would not feel justified
in discontinuing my services to them until these gains are properly
consolidated. I will be in my office at ten o'clock next Tuesday morning
if you care to see me. Very truly yours."

Mr. Birdlip was hidden behind his paper, but something in the angle at
which the sheets were held led Sanford to believe that the old gentleman
was listening.

"Very well, Edwards," he said. "What's next?"

"Here's this letter from Lord Southpeak of the London _Gazette_ asking
if he can see you when he comes over next month."

"Cable Southpeak I shall be very happy to see him if he gets here before
the fifteenth. I am going on my vacation then."

The attentive Edwards scribbled rapidly in his notebook.

"Just pick out the most urgent stuff," said Sanford. "I don't care to
bother with anything that isn't really pressing. I've got an important
conference on in New York to-day, and I want to keep my mind clear.
Blackwit of the Associated Press has asked me to say a few words to his
directors on 'Journalism as a Function of Public Conscience'."

Edwards ran rapidly through an imposing mass of documents.

"That long-distance call from the Chicago _Vox_," he said. "You promised
to give Mr. Groton some word this morning."

"Call him up when we get to Penn. Station," said Sanford. "Tell him I
can't give him any decision yet awhile. Tell him that loyalty to my own
city will keep me there for some time. You might tell him that I believe
the _Lens_ has great possibilities if properly handled. I should not
care to build up the property of a Chicago paper while there is a chance
of the _Lens_ becoming the great evening paper of the East."

"Yes, sir," said Edwards, jotting down what, might pass for stenography.

The train was running smoothly through level green country, and Mr.
Birdlip laid down his paper on his lap. Sanford was ready to catch his
eye.

"Good morning, Mr. Birdlip," he said, genially.

"Good morning," said the owner of the _Lens_, whose bright gaze
exhibited a lively tincture of interest.

"Here are the typed notes of your remarks on 'Newspaper Circulation as a
Byproduct of the Multiplication Table'," said Edwards, in a loud voice.

"You can let those wait," said Sanford, carelessly. "I don't want to
be bothered with anything else this morning. Give me a memorandum of
anything that needs to be attended to when we get to New York." He
turned to Mr. Birdlip. "I find that in these busy days one has to attend
to some of one's work even on the train. It is about the only place
where one is never interrupted."

"Did I hear you say something about Circulation?" said Mr. Birdlip. "Are
you specially interested in that problem?"

"I have given it a good deal of thought," said Sanford. "But I would
hardly dignify it by calling it a problem. It is perfectly simple. It
is purely a matter of taking the right attitude toward it. So many
newspaper proprietors regard it merely as a problem in addition. Now it
should be considered rather as a matter of multiplication. Instead of
trying to add ten to your figures, why not multiply by ten? The result
is so much more satisfactory."

This sounded so plausible that Mr. Birdlip felt ashamed to ask how it
was to be done.

"Will you have a cigar, sir?" asked Sanford, handing out the only one
with a band on it. Mr. Birdlip accepted it, and looked as though he were
about to ask a question. Sanford went on rapidly.

"Speaking of circulation," he said, "when I am consulted I am always
surprised to note that newspaper proprietors are so prone to view
the matter merely as a question of distribution; of--well, of
merchandising," he added, as his eye fell upon that word in his copy
of _System_. "Indeed it rests upon quite another basis. The essence of
merchandising" (he repeated the word with relish, noting its soothing
effect on his employer) "is what?"

He made a dramatic pause, and Mr. Birdlip, carried away, wondered what
indeed was the essence.

"The essence of merchandising," said Sanford (he smote the arm of his
chair, and leaned forward in emphasis), "and by merchandising I mean of
course in the modern sense, merchandising on a big scale, is nothing but
Confidence. Confidence, an impalpable thing, a state of mind. Now,
sir, what is it that upbuilds circulation? It is Public Confidence. The
assurance on the part of the public that the newspaper is reliable. It
is a secret and inviolable conviction on the part of the reader that the
integrity and enterprise of the paper are beyond cavil, in other words,
unimpeachable. In order to create the Will-to-Purchase on the part of
the prospect, in order to beget that desirable state of mind, there must
be a state of mind in the paper itself. Note that word _Mind_. Now
what is the Mind of the paper? I always ask every newspaper owner who
consults me, what is the Mind of his paper?"

Without waiting for Mr. Birdlip to be embarrassed by his inability to
answer this question, the ecstatic Sanford continued:

"The Mind of the paper is, of course, the Editorial Department. How
subtle, how delicate, how momentous, is that function of commenting on
the great affairs of the world! As I said in an address to a Rotary
club recently, of what use to have all the mechanical perfections ever
invented unless your editors are the right men? Walter Whitman, the
efficiency engineer, said: 'Produce great persons: the rest follows.'
That is the kind of production that counts most. Get great personalities
for your editors, and watch the circulation rise. Of course the right
kind of editors must be very highly paid."

This was a strange doctrine to Mr. Birdlip, who never read the editorial
page of his own paper, and secretly wondered how the editors found so
much to write about.

"The great error that so many newspaper owners make," said Sanford,
sonorously, "is to think of their product as they would of any other
article of commerce which is turned out day by day, in standardized
units, from a factory. A newspaper is not standardized. It is born anew
every issue. It is not a manufacturing routine that puts it together:
it is a human organism, built up out of human brains. Every unit
is different. It depends not primarily on machinery but on human
personalities. I cannot understand why it is that newspaper owners yearn
for the finest and most modern presses, and yet are often content to
staff their journals with second-rate men."

"I agree with you," said Mr. Birdlip. "It is all a question of getting
the right man. That is one reason why I am so fond of travelling; I
always meet up with new ideas. Now, sir (I am sorry I do not know your
name, for your face is rather familiar; I think I must have met you
at some Rotary club), you seem to me a man of forceful and aggressive
character. You are the kind of man I should like to have on the _Lens_,
I heard you mention the paper to your secretary awhile back; you must be
interested in it."

Sanford was perfectly cool. "I might consider it," he said.

"I think you would find the _Lens_ a pleasant paper to work on," said
Mr. Birdlip. "I flatter myself that the staff is a capable one, for the
most part."

"I should insist on being given a free hand," said Sanford. "Perhaps the
position of circulation manager----?"

"Let me think a moment," said Mr. Birdlip. "I suppose I ought to visit
with my editor-in-chief before firing any one to make room for you. But I
must say I like the way you talk, straight from the shoulder, like that
Dr. Cranium, you know. That's the sort of stuff we need."

"Right!" cried Sanford. "If you always talk straight from the shoulder,
you'll never talk through your hat."

Mr. Birdlip relished this impromptu aphorism. "Well, now, let me see,"
he said, pondering. "The editor-in-chief, the managing editor, the
editorial writers--they're all pretty good men."

"Of course I shouldn't care for a merely routine position," said
Sanford. "The only position I would consider would be one in which I
could really build up circulation for you." He was wondering inwardly
whether to stand out for a ten thousand salary.

"Quite so," said Mr. Birdlip. "I think I have it. How would you care
to run a column? 'Straight From the Shoulder'--wouldn't that be a fine
title?"

"Fine!" said Sanford, but not without a secret shudder. Still, he
thought, gold can assuage anything; and he reflected on the rich,
sedentary, and care-free life of a syndicated philosopher.

"Very well," said the owner. "I've been looking around for a man with
both feet on the ground----"

("Both feet on the pay envelope is my idea," said Sanford to himself.)

"And I think you're just the man I want. There's only one place in the
paper I can think of that really needs a change. There's a fellow on
the staff called Sanford, runs a kind of column, terrible stuff. I don't
think he amounts to much. Now why couldn't you take his job?"

Sanford has never forgiven his brother-in-law for that curious strangled
sound he emitted.



THE CLIMACTERIC

MR. EUSTACE VEAL was a manufacturer of cuspidors. His beautiful factory
was one of the finest of its kind, equipped with complete automatic
sprinklers, wire-glass windows, cafeteria on the top floor, pensions for
superannuated employees, rosewood directors' dining room, mottoes from
Orison Swett Marden on the weekly pay envelopes, and a clever young man
in tortoise-shell spectacles hired at eighty dollars a week to write the
house-organ (which was called _El Cuspidorado_).

Mr. Veal lived in the exclusive and clean-shaven suburb of Mandrake
Park, where he had built a stucco mansion with Venetian blinds, a
croquet lawn with a revolving spray on it on hot days, and a mansard
butler. Here Mrs. Veal and the two Veal girls, Dora and Petunia, led the
blameless life of the _embonpoint_ classes. The electric lights in the
bedrooms were turned on promptly at ten o'clock every night, except on
the sixteen winter evenings when the Veals occupied their box at the
opera. During "Rigoletto" or "Pagliacci" the uncomplaining Mr. Veal
would sit in silence with his head against the thick red velvet curtain
at the back of the box, thinking up new ways to get an order for ten
thousand nickel-plated seamless number 13's from the Pullman Company.

Mr. Veal, hampered as he was by the restrictions of success, was still
full of the enjoyment of life. He had written a little brochure on "The
Cuspidor: Its Use and Abuse Since the Times of the Pharaohs," which
was very well spoken of in the trade. A morocco-bound copy lay on
the console table in Mrs. Veal's salon. It was he who invented the
papier-maché spittoon, and the collapsible paper "companion" for
travelling salesmen. It was he who had presented a solid silver spittoon
de luxe to the King of Siam when that worthy visited the United States.
And it was his idea, too, to name the beautiful shining brass model,
especially recommended for hotel lobbies, El Cuspidorado. This was
a stroke of imaginative genius, and several rival manufacturers wept
because they had not thought of it first.

The spittoon magnate's habits were regular and sane. He rose by alarm
clock at seven. He bathed, shaved, brushed his teeth with the vertical
motion recommended by the toothbrush advertisers, breakfasted on cereal
and cream and poached eggs, with one cup of strong coffee; walked
leisurely to the station, bought a paper, and caught the 8.13 train. He
avoided the other men who wanted him to sit with them, took the fifth
chair on the left-hand side of the smoking car, and just as the train
started he lit his first cigar. His commutation ticket was always ready
for the conductor to punch. He never kept others waiting, just as he
hated to be kept waiting himself. After his ticket had been punched
and put back into an alligator-hide pocketbook, he opened the paper and
studied it faithfully until the train got to the terminal.

At the factory Mr. Veal's routine was equally well-ordered and uniform.
At nine o'clock he reached his private office, greeted his secretary,
and ran over the morning mail, which had been opened and lay on his
desk. Then he went through his dictation, which was carefully (even if
not grammatically) accomplished. The sales reports for the preceding day
were brought to him. Then he discussed any matters requiring attention
with his department heads, calling them in one by one. At a quarter
after twelve he walked up to the Manufacturers' Club for lunch, after
which he played one game of pool.

He was back at the office by half-past two, and gave his passionate
and devoted attention to the salivary needs of the nation until five
o'clock. He caught the 5.23 train back to Mandrake Park, sitting on the
right-hand side of the smoker where the setting sun would not dazzle on
his newspaper.

But one day, about the time of the March equinox, when young ladies put
furry pussywillows on their typewriter desks, and bank tellers crack the
shells of spring jokes through the brass railings, Mr. Veal's behaviour
was so peculiar as to cause anxiety among his associates.

He had ridden on the train as usual, without showing any abnormal
symptoms. But when he was next observed, walking down Vincent Street,
there was a red spot on his cheekbones and his expression was savage.
He entered a haberdasher's shop and asked to see some neckties. When the
clerk put out a tray of silk scarves in rich, sober colours, such as are
commonly worn by successful and middle-aged merchants, Mr. Veal swore
and dashed them aside.

"Good Lord!" he cried, "I'm not going to a funeral! Things like that are
worn by Civil War veterans. What do you think I am, seventy years old?
Give me something with some snap to it!"

And he chose a lemon-tinted cravat with vorticist patterns of brown
and purple. He tore off the dark gray tie he had on and substituted the
gaudy new one.

At the next corner he passed a shoe-shop. He hesitated a moment at the
plate-glass window, then he entered and glared at the brisk young puppet
who came forward with a smirk. He displayed his elastic-sided boots
of the floorwalker type (which he had worn for years on account of his
corns) and asked to have them removed. When they were off his feet
he threw them to the other end of the long, narrow room. "I want some
russet shoes with cloth tops," he said. "And some silk socks to match,
the kind the men wear in the magazine ads."

When he left the shop, his feet might have been taken for those of
Charley Chaplin, or of an assistant advertising manager of a department
store.

*****

Mr. Veal reached his office nearly two hours late, and one of his office
boys was instantly discharged for asking him whom he wanted to see.
Indeed, in a new suit of violent black-and-white checks, and with a
crush hat of velvety substance, he was almost unrecognizable. As he
passed through the filing department a hush fell over the young ladies
there. His secretary, looking nervously from her corner outside the
private office, felt a tingling _scherzo_ run up and down the keyboard
of her spine. Never before had she seen Mr. Veal wear flowers in his
buttonhole, and as he swung the door of his office behind him, she
sniffed the vibrating air. In the rich wake of cigar-fragrance always
exhaled by her employer her sharp nostrils detected a new tang--the
sweet scent of mignonette. Heavens! Was Mr. Veal using perfume?

Miss Stafford was an acute young woman. She had long been waiting the
adroit moment to push her employer for a raise, which was indeed due
her. She determined that this was the psychological day. When the sign
of the Ram is ascendant in the zodiac, let employers tremble. This
is when even the most faithful and long-enduring wage-earner dreams
seditiously of a fatter manila envelope. Miss Stafford's typewriter
had sung like a zither for a number of years, she had orchestrated many
curious harmonies on it, and now she had reached the point where she
was almost as indispensable to the business as Mr. Veal himself. She was
carrying what the efficiency dopesters call the peak load.

The buzzer buzzed, and Miss Stafford hastened to the private office,
nerving herself to throw cantilevers across the Rubicon.

To her surprise, Mr. Veal, instead of sitting glowering over the morning
mail, was standing by the window, throwing a paper-weight in the air
and failing to catch it. The sunlight blazing through the large windows
seemed to surround his emphatic clothes with a prismatic fringe. To
her amazement, instead of the customary brief and reserved greeting, he
said:

"Hullo, Miss Stafford. Great weather, eh? Sorry I'm late, but I just
couldn't keep my schedule this morning. Went out to buy myself some golf
clubs. I think I'd better take up the game, don't you?"

He made a swing at an imaginary golf ball, and slipped on the polished
floor, nearly falling down. He recovered himself.

"Here's some flowers for you," he said, taking a bunch of daffodils from
the desk. "Daffy-down-dillies, as the poets call 'em. Lovely flowers,
hey? Now comes in the sweet of the year. What ho!"

He advanced toward her, and for one extraordinary moment she thought he
was about to chuck her under the chin.

"Ask Mr. Foster to come in," he said.

"Mr. Veal," she said, nervously, "there's just one thing--I wanted to
ask you about, my salary, don't you think, er, I think, it seems to me
about time I had a raise. I've been here----"

"Bless my soul," he said. "I never thought of it. Why, of course, you're
right. Miss Stafford, how old would you say I am?"

Miss Stafford knew perfectly well that he was fifty-five, but she had
learned the cunning of all women who have to manage men, whether those
men be husbands, employers, or ticket scalpers.

"Why, Mr. Veal, in a good light and in your new suit, I should say about
thirty-nine."

"What are you getting now, Miss Stafford?"

"Thirty dollars."

"Tell Mr. Mason to double it."

The feminine mind moves in rapid zigzags, and Miss Stafford's first
conscious and coherent thought was of a certain woollen sports suit she
had seen in a window on Vincent Street marked $50.00.

"And by the way," said Mr. Veal, "when you see Mr. Mason, tell him I've
got a new motto for next week's pay envelopes. Here it is; I found it
in the paper this morning. I don't know who wrote it--better have him
credit it to Orison Swett Marden."

He handed her a slip of paper, on which he had copied out:

               Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty;

               For in my youth I never did apply

               Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood:

               Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo

               The means of weakness and debility.

                        --Orison Swett Marden (?)

"Before you call Mr. Foster," said the secretary, "Mr. Schmaltz of the
Pullman Company is here to see you; he arrived just before you came in.
He says he wants to place a large order for the cuspidorados."

"Send him in," said Mr. Veal, chuckling. "Hello, Schmaltz," he cried, as
the customer entered. "How's this for weather?"

"Great stuff!" said Schmaltz. "Makes us old fellows feel almost young
again, doesn't it?"

Mr. Veal's face grew dark. He aged ten years in the instant. He pointed
morosely to a chair.

"Mr. Veal," said the other, "we want to place an order for ten thousand
of the cuspidorados. Can you give us the old price?"

"I can _not_," said Mr. Veal, shortly. "Materials have gone to the sky.
I can't give you the--the old price. I'll give you a young price, a very
young one indeed, based on the present state of the market. Eighteen and
a quarter cents is the best I can do."

Mr. Schmaltz raised racial hands. "Heavens!" he said, "you used to let
us have them for fourteen and a half. Why, in the old days----"

Mr. Veal pounded the desk with his fist.

"If you use that world _old_ again, I'll assassinate you with a dish
of ham!" he roared. "Great pigs' knuckles, what do you think this is, a
home for the aged?"

*****

After Mr. Schmaltz had gone Mr. Veal sent for Foster, the foreman of the
manufacturing department.

"Well," he said, "how about those machines?"

"Mr. Veal," said Foster, "we'll have to replace at least six of those
Victor stampers. They're so old they simply can't do the work. You know
when one of those machines is over five years old----"

Mr. Veal was pointing to the door.

"Get out!" he said.

At lunch-time Mr. Veal went up to the club as usual. Swinging up the
street, in the bright sun and pellucid air, he felt quite cheerful, and
stopped to buy himself a rhinoceros cane. In the dining room of the club
he met Edwards, and they sat down together.

"Hello, old man," said Edwards. "You're looking chipper for a veteran.
Played any golf yet this year?"

"I don't play," said Mr. Veal.

"Don't you? That's a mistake. It's the only game for us older fellows.
Of course we can't score like the youngsters; but still we can get round
and have a deal of fun----"

Mr. Veal clenched his fists. Spilling his soup, he leaped up and rushed
from the room. He seized his coat and hat, forgetting the new cane, and
fled to the nearest Turkish bath.

*****

And all because, when going downstairs in the railway terminal that
morning, he had heard a man behind him say to another:

"There goes Veal! He's beginning to look old, isn't he?"

It was the first time in his life Mr. Veal had heard the damnable
adjective applied to himself in earnest.

Wait until _your_ turn comes!



PUNCH AND JUDY

WHEN Judy Cronin first saw the topless towers of Manhattan rising into
the lilac vagueness of a foggy winter morning she passed into a numb
and frightened daze. Standing on the steerage deck of the _Celtic_,
she peered tremulously at those fantastic impossible profiles of stone.
Perhaps you don't know what it is to be thrown, ignorant and timid, into
a place where everything is utterly strange--particularly a place as
huge, violent, and hasty as New York. Judy, aged twenty-one, from a
little village near Queenstown, was incapable of distinguishing, in the
roaring voice of the city, that undertone of helpful kindness that
is really there. On the same steamer came the widow of a famous Irish
recusant and hungerstriker, and there were ten thousand people massed
in West Street to cheer her. Judy heard the shouts of the crowd, and
saw the lines of policemen on the pier. There was some of that quiet
but menacing scuffling with which the various branches of the
English-speaking world show their esteem for each other. Judy was not
familiar with that definition of a patriot as one who makes trouble for
his harmless fellow-citizens; but it looked as though she was blundering
into some more of the tribulations they had had at home.

At last her sister Connie found her, sitting white and miserable on her
very small trunk, clutching her imitation-silver coin-purse. Connie had
been in New York for a couple of years, and it gave her a homesick throb
to see that coin-purse--one of those little metal pocketbooks with slots
to hold gold sovereigns and half-sovereigns. Father Daly had given it to
Judy, years ago, but it had never had gold in the little sockets until
Connie sent over the passage money to bring Judy to New York.

The city flashed by like a current-events film. Judy found herself in a
friendly lodging-house in Brooklyn, kept by an Irishwoman who had been
kind to Connie. Her sister then explained matters. Her own employers,
with whom she had a position too good to abandon, had arranged to
go South for the latter part of the winter. They had already delayed
leaving so that Connie could meet her sister and get her settled. They
had given Connie a few days' holiday for that purpose.

Therefore Judy must get a place as soon as possible. And that very
afternoon the sisters (Judy still in a kind of dreadful dream) went to
the office of a Brooklyn newspaper to insert an advertisement.

A great many people were watching the _Situations Wanted_ columns,
and the next evening, at supper-time, Mrs. Leland called up the
lodging-house number, which had been given in the ad. Connie went to the
telephone. Mrs. Leland had a pleasant voice and "talked like gentry",
Connie said. She lived in Heathwood, Long Island, which is some twenty
miles from town, and wanted a nurse to take care of two children. Connie
agreed to take Judy out to Heathwood the next morning, to see if they
could come to terms. Judy was inexperienced, but Mrs. Leland liked her
looks. In short: by the time Judy had been in America three days, she
was installed at Mrs. Leland's home in the country; and a few days later
Connie had gone off to Florida.

Now Judy was really very fortunate in these random proceedings, for
she had found a good home under an exceptionally kind and understanding
mistress. And therefore perhaps it was unreasonable of her to be so
unhappy. But no one has ever demonstrated that human affairs are much
controlled by reason. Judy was dumbly and piteously miserable. She was
homesick and lonely, and half-mad with strangeness. She was not really
slow-witted; but the confusion of her spirits put her into a kind of
black stupor. Everything was uncouth to her: steam heat, electric light,
gas-stove, telephone--even the alarm clock in her bedroom. Not knowing
how to turn off her radiator, and having the simple person's distrust
of opening windows in a strange place, the first few nights she was sick
with heat and suffocation. In her sleep she cried out indistinguishable
words about being shot. In spite of Mrs. Leland's patient tuition, she
made every possible kind of mistake. The children, with the quickness of
youth, realized her inexperience and uncertainty, and played a thousand
impish pranks. Mrs. Leland could see that the girl had been through
distresses at home, and kept the evening papers, with their headlines
about Ireland, out of sight. But one evening, in the kitchen, Judy came
upon a Sunday rotogravure section with pictures of burnt streets in
Cork. The look of the people in those photographs went through her
heart. The men wearing caps, the women in shawls, something even in the
shape of trouser legs and heavy shoes, reminded Judy how far she was
from all that she understood. It's the little things you take for
granted at home that come back to hurt you when you're away. That night,
sitting in her bedroom next the nursery, she shook herself ill with
sobs.

One who might have helped her greatly took pains to add to her
bewilderment. Hattie, Mrs. Leland's coloured cook, a retainer of long
standing, was sharply disgruntled at this new addition to the household.
Jealousy was the root of Hattie's irritation, and it shot up a rapid
foliage of poison ivy. The previous nurse, a bosom friend of Hattie's
own race, had been discharged in December for incompetence. Moreover,
Hattie had not forgotten poor naïve Judy's startled look when they first
encountered. Judy had hardly seen a coloured person before, and was
honestly alarmed. Hattie, though loyal to Mrs. Leland in her own
primitive fashion, deeply resented this interloper. The invasion proved
that Mrs. Leland was no longer entirely dependent on the particular
clique of Heathwood coloured society in which Hattie moved. The
cook's logic was narrow but rigorous. The sooner the intruder could be
discouraged out of the house, the sooner the Black Hussars (as Heathwood
ladies called the coloured colony on whom they largely relied for
assistance) would resume undivided sway. Mrs. Leland had had a Polish
girl as a stop-gap for a few days after the coloured nurse left; and
observing the cook's demeanour toward this unfortunate, Mr. Leland had
remarked that Hattie was working for a black Christmas.

So Hattie, who was sharp-tongued and very capable, hectored Judy
whenever she entered the kitchen, and by all the black arts at her
command (which were many) added to the girl's distress. Judy, in spite
of her mistress's kindness, grew more and more wretched. As Mr. Leland
said in private (pursuing the train of his previous pun), the maids were
black and blue. Mrs. Leland, much goaded by domestic management and the
care of a very small baby, began to wonder whether she had not added
another child to look after rather than lightening her burdens. And then
she saw that Judy was on the verge of nervous collapse. She tried to
hearten the girl by giving her an extra holiday. Judy was given some
money, packed off to the station in a taxi, and sent on her maiden trip
to town in the hope that city sights and shop windows would revive her
interest in life. Mrs. Flaherty, the lodging-house lady in Brooklyn, was
telephoned to, and promised to send her small boy to meet the girl at
the station.

It happened to be the eve of the genial Saint Valentine's Day. Shop
windows were gay with pleasantly exaggerated symbols of his romantic
power. Winter afternoons in the city are cruel to the unfortunate,
for the throng of the streets the light and lure of the scene, make
loneliness all the worse if there is trouble in your heart.

Judy sat in the waiting room of the Long Island terminal in Brooklyn,
and tears were on her face. She had somehow missed Mrs. Flaherty's lad.
Then she had tried to find her way to the lodging-house, but grew more
and more frightened and bewildered as she strayed. Giving that up, she
had gone into a movie, and there, for a while, she had been happy. The
favourites of the screen are the true internationalists: they speak
a language, crude though it often is, which is known from Brooklyn to
Bombay. But then pictures were shown of scenes in Ireland. She came
out with cold hands, and wandered vaguely along the streets until dusk.
Finally, in despair, she groped back to the station at Flatbush Avenue,
and sat forlornly on a bench, too weary and sorry even to ask how to get
home.

With the unerring instinct of the stranger for choosing the wrong place,
she had blundered into the downstairs station, by the train-gates,
missing the waiting room above where departures are duly announced by
orotund men in blue and silver. In that chilly cavern she sat, dumbly
watching the press of homeward commuters laden with parcels and papers.
Red signboards clattered up and down over the iron gates, and she
puzzled doubtfully over such names as _Speonk_, and _Far Rockaway_. The
last somehow recalled a nursery rhyme and made her feel even more lost
and homesick. Occasionally, with a gentle groan and rumble, an electric
train slid up to the railing and stared at her with two fierce hostile
eyes. The soda fountain in the corner was doing a big business: timidly
she went over, feeling cold, and asked for tea. To her amazement, there
were no hot drinks to be had. The people, all gulping iced mixtures,
stared at her curiously. Sure, this is a mad country, she thought. The
clock telling the time was the only thing she could properly understand.

So it was the clock, at last, that brought her to startled action. It
was getting late. A tall, good-looking fellow in a blue uniform came out
of a room at the back of the station, carrying two lighted lanterns. He
halted not far from where she was sitting, and compared his watch with
the Western Union clock. Of all the hundreds she had seen, he was the
first who looked easily questionable. With a sudden impulse Judy got up,
clutching her coin-purse.

"If you please, where will I be after taking the train to Heathwood?"
she said, nervously.

"Heathwood? The 6:18 makes Heathwood. Right over there, the gate's just
opening. Change at Jamaica."

He looked down at her, wondering but kindly. He was puzzled at the
frightened way she was staring at his coat-collar; he could hardly have
guessed that to wet eyes the embroidered letters had at first seemed
to be _liar_. Her puny, pinched face was streaked with tears, the red
knitted muffler made her pallor even whiter. The little imitation fur
trimmings on her coat sleeves and collar were worn and shabby.

"Thank you," she said, blindly, and started off for the wrong gate.

"Hey!" he called, and overtook her in a few long strides. "This way,
miss. Got your ticket?"

In a sudden panic she opened her purse, and could not find it.

"Oh, surely I've lost it," she cried. "Where's the booking office?"

"The booking office?" he said. "D'you mean the news-stand? Here you
are." He picked up the ticket, which she had dropped in her nervousness.

"That's all right," he said, encouragingly. "This train, over here. I'm
one of the crew. I'll see you get there. Don't worry."

He escorted her through the gate, and found her a seat on the train,
beside a stout commuter half buried in parcels.

"Now you stay right here," he said. "I'll tell you when we get to
Jamaica, and show you the Heathwood train." He smiled genially, and left
her.

Judy got out her wet handkerchief and wiped her face. As the train ran
through the tunnel, she wished she had been on the inside of the seat,
for the dark window would have been useful as a mirror. "He saw me
crying," she kept repeating to herself. The man beside her blanketed
himself with a newspaper, and the pile of packages on his knees kept
sliding over onto her lap, but she was oblivious. She was thinking of
the tall man in blue with the queer cap. How kind he had been. The first
real kindness she had met in all that nightmare afternoon.

Presently he came through the car. She could see him far down the aisle,
leaning courteously over each seat. At first she thought he was just
saying a friendly word to all the passengers. Sure, that's like him, she
said to herself: he has a grand way with him. Then she saw that he was
punching tickets with a silver clipper. Glory, it's the Guard himself,
she thought. I wonder will he speak to me again?

The man beside her thrust an arm out from his mass of bundles and held a
large oblong of red-striped cardboard across in front of her face.
This reminded Judy of her own ticket, which was so different from her
neighbour's that she worried for a moment lest it should not be valid.
Here was her friend, bending above her with a smile.

"Everything all right?" he said. "The next stop's Jamaica. That's where
you get off. Watch for me at this door, and I'll show you the Heath-wood
train." Click, click: the two tickets were punched, and he went on. Judy
shut up her coin purse with a snap, and began to notice the hat worn by
the lady in the seat in front.

At Jamaica she found him in the vestibule, his head overtopping the
pushing crowd. "This way," he said, and led her quickly across the
platform. "Jack," he said to the brakeman on the other train, "tell this
lady when you get to Heathwood."

"Well, Judy," said Mrs. Leland when her nursemaid got back to the house.
"How much better you look! Did you have a good time?"

"Oh, a grand time," said Judy. Her face had a touch of colour and indeed
even her awkward bog-trotting gait seemed lighter and more sprightly.
"That's good," said her mistress. "You'd better run down and get some
supper before Hattie puts everything away. You can put Jack to bed after
you've had something to eat."

"Pretty late for supper," grumbled Hattie, as Judy came into the
kitchen. "Doan' you think I got nothing to do but wait on you?"

"I'll get my own supper," said Judy, politely. "Don't you bother."

"You've got a head on your shoulders," said Hattie, banging some dishes
on to the kitchen table. "Whyn't you use it and get back on time?"

"The black banshee's up in arms again," said Judy to herself. "I'll hold
my peace."

"That's the trouble with foreigners," growled Hattie. "They ain't got no
sense. These Irish micks come over here, puttin' on airs, where nobody
wants 'em."

Judy's sallow cheek began to burn a darker tint.

"Ah, nabocklish!" she said. "There's somebody loves me, at any rate."

She hurried through supper, and ran upstairs to put Jack to bed. The
six-year-old was amusing himself by snapping open and shut something
that gleamed in the lamplight.

"Here!" she said. "What are you doing with Judy's purse?"

Jack looked up in surprise. It was the first time that he had heard that
note of command in the meek Judy's voice.

"I found it on your bureau," he said.

"Well, leave it be, darlin'." She took it from him. "Glory above, what's
become of----?"

She fell on her knees on the floor and began searching.

"Ah, here,'tis!" she cried, gladly. From the rug she picked up a tiny
red cardboard heart, and replaced it carefully in one of the sockets of
her purse.

"What is it?" said Jack, yawning.

"Sure, it's my Valentine!" said Judy. "It ain't many girls that gets
a Valentine from a big handsome man like that the first time he sees
them."

I have often wondered how many of the Long Island trainmen use a
heart-shaped punch.



REFERRED TO THE AUTHOR

YES, "Obedience" is a fine play. I'm glad they've revived it. Did you
know that the first time it was produced, Morgan Edwards played the part
of Dunbar? It's rather an odd story.

I never think of Edwards without remembering the dark, creaky stairs in
that boarding-house on Seventy-third Street. That was where I first met
him. We had a comical habit of always encountering on the stairs. We
would pass with that rather ridiculous murmur and sidling obeisance
of two people who don't know each other but want to be polite. I was
interested in him at once. Even on the shadowy stairway I could see that
he had a fine head, and there was something curiously attractive about
his pale, preoccupied face. There was a touch of the unworldly about
him, and a touch of the tragic, too. You know how you divine things
about people. "He has troubles of his own" was the banal phrase that
came into my mind. Also there was something queerly familiar about him.
I wondered if I had seen Him before, or only imagined him. I was busy
writing, at that time, and my mind was peopled with energetic phantoms.
The thought struck me that perhaps he was someone I had invented for a
story, but had never given life to. I wondered, was this pale and rather
reproachful spectre going to haunt me until the tale was written? At any
rate, whatever the story was, I had forgotten it.

One day, as I creaked up the first flight, I saw that he was standing at
the head of the stairs, waiting for me to pass. A door was open
behind him, and there was light enough to see him clearly. Tall, thin,
beautifully shaven on a fine angular jaw that would not be easy to
shave, I was surprised to see an air of sudden cheerfulness about him
that was almost incongruous. Having thought of him only as a sort
of melancholy hallucination living on a dingy stairway, it was quite
startling to see him with his face lit up like a lyric poet's, a glow of
mundane exhilaration in his eyes. For the first time in our meetings
he looked as though to speak to him would not break in upon his secret
thoughts. He was the kind of chap, you know, who usually looked as
though he was busy thinking. I remember what I said because it was so
inane. Some people don't like to cross on the stairs. I looked up as I
came to the turn in the steps, and said, "Superstitious?" He smiled and
said "No, I guess not!"

"Only in the literal sense, at this moment," I said. An absurd remark,
and a horrible pun which I regretted at once, for I thought I would have
to explain it. Nothing more humiliating than having to explain a bad
pun. But if I didn't explain it, it would seem rude. He looked puzzled,
then his face lit up charmingly. "Superstitious--standing above you, eh?
I never thought of the meaning before!"

I came up the last steps. "Pardon the vile pun," I said. Then I knew
where I had seen him before, and recognized him. "Aren't you Morgan
Edwards?" I asked. "Yes," he said.

"I thought so. I remember you in 'After Dinner'. I wrote the notice in
the _Observer_ ."

"By Jove, did you? I _am_ glad to meet you. I think that was the nicest
thing any one ever said." His gaunt and pensive face showed a quick
flash of that direct and honest friendliness which is so appealing. We
found that we were both living on the fourth floor. For similar reasons,
undoubtedly. I'm afraid he thought, at first, that I was a dramatic
critic of standing. Afterward I explained that the "After Dinner" notice
had been only a fluke. I was on the _Observer_ when the show was put on,
and one of the dramatic men happened to be ill.

Wait a minute: give me a chance! I'll tell it exactly as it came to
me, in snips and shreds. At first I didn't pay much attention. I had
problems of my own that summer. You know what a fourth-floor hall
bedroom is in hot weather. I had given up my newspaper job, and was
trying to finish a novel. I couldn't work late at night, when it was
cool, because if I kept my typewriter going after nine-thirty the old
maid in the next room used to pound on the partition. I didn't get on
very well with the work, and the money was running low. Every now and
then I would meet Edwards in the hall. He looked ill and worried, and
I used to think there was a touching pathos in his careful neatness.
My own habits run the other way--my Palm Beach suit was a wreck, I
remember--but Edwards was always immaculate. I could see--having made
it my business to observe details--how cunningly he had mended his cuffs
and soft collars. Poor devil! I used to see him going out about noon,
with his cane and Panama hat. I dare say he scrubbed his hat with his
toothbrush. Summer is a hard time for an actor who hasn't had a job
all spring. Of course there are the pictures, and summer stock, but I
gathered that he had been ill, and then had turned down several offers
of that sort on account of something coming along that he had great
hopes for. I remembered his really outstanding work in "After Dinner",
that satiric comedy that fell dead the winter before. Most of the
critics gave it a good roasting, but knowing what I do now I expect the
real trouble was poor direction. Fagan was the director, and what did he
know of sophisticated comedy? As I say, I had reviewed the piece for
the _Observer_, and had been greatly struck by Edwards's playing. Not a
leading part, but exquisitely done.

But just at that time I was absorbed in my own not-too-successful
affairs. For several years I had been saying to myself that I would do
great stuff if I could only get away from the newspaper grind for a few
months. And then, when I had saved up five hundred dollars, and buried
myself there on Seventy-third Street to write, I couldn't seem to make
any headway. I got half through the novel, and then saw that it was
paltry stuff. It was flashy, spurious, and raw. One warm evening I was
sitting at my window, smoking mournfully and watching some girls who
were laughing and talking in a big apartment house that loomed over our
lodgings like an ocean liner beside a tugboat. There was a tap at the
door. Edwards asked if he could come in. I was surprised, and pleased.
He kept very much to himself.

"Glad to see you," I said. "Sit down and have a pipe."

"I didn't want to intrude," he said. "I just wanted to ask you
something. You're a literary man. Do you know anything about Arthur
Sampson?"

I had to confess that I had never heard the name. No one had, at that
time, you remember.

"He's written a play," Edwards said. "A perfectly lovely piece of work.
I've got a part in it. By heaven, it seems too good to be true--after a
summer like this: illness, the actors' strike, and all that--to get into
something so fine. I've just read the whole script. I'm so keen about
it, I'm eager to know who the author is. I thought perhaps you might
know something about him."

"I guess he's a new man," I said. "What's the play called?"

"'Obedience.' You know, I've never had such a stroke of luck--it's as if
the part had been written for me."

"Splendid," I said, and I was honestly pleased to hear of his good
fortune. "Is it the lead?"

"Oh, no. Of course they want a big name for that. Brooks is the man. My
part is only the foil--provides the contrast, you know--on the payroll
as well as on the stage." He laughed, a little cynically.

"Who's producing it?"

"Upton."

"You don't mean to tell me Upton's got anything good?" I knew little
enough about theatrical matters, but even outsiders know Upton's sort
of producing, which mostly consists of musical shows where an atrocious
libretto is pulled through by an opulent chorus and plenty of eccentric
dancing. "A chorus that outstrips them all" was one of his favourite
advertising slogans.

"That's why I was wondering about the author, Sampson. This must be his
first, or he'd never have given it to Upton. Or is Upton going to turn
over a new leaf?"

"The only leaves Upton is likely to turn over are figleaves," I said,
brutally. Upton's previous production had been called "The Figleaf
Lady".

"That's the amazing part of it," said Edwards. "This thing is
really exquisite. It is beautifully written: quiet, telling, nothing
irrelevant, not a false note. What will happen to it in Upton's hands,
God knows. But he seems enthusiastic. He's a likable cutthroat: let's
hope for the best. You're busy--forgive me for breaking in."

*****

Well, of course some of you have seen "Obedience" since that time, and
you know that what Edwards told me was true. The play _was_ lovely; not
even Upton could kill it altogether. It was Sampson's first. Have any of
you read it in printed form? It reads as well as it plays. And the part
that Edwards was cast for--Dunbar--is, to any competent spectator, the
centre of the action. You remember the lead: the cold, hard, successful
hypocrite; and then Dunbar, the blundering, kindly simpleton whose
forlorn attempts to create happiness for all about him only succeed in
bringing disaster to the one he loves best. It's a great picture of a
fine mind and heart, a life of rich, generous possibilities, frittered
and wasted and worn out by the needless petty obstinacies of destiny.
And all the tragedy (this was the superb touch) because the wretched
soul never had courage enough to be unkind. What was it St. Paul, or
somebody, said about not being disobedient to the heavenly vision?
Dunbar, in the play, was obedient enough, and his heavenly vision made
his life a hell. It was the old question of conflicting loyalties. How
are you going to solve that?

I suppose the tragic farce is the most perfect conception of man's
mind--outside the higher mathematics, I dare say. Everyone knows
Sampson's touch now, but it was new then. Some of his situations came
pretty close to the nerve-roots. The pitiful absurdity of people in a
crisis, exquisite human idiocy where one can't smile because grotesque
tragedy is so close... those were the scenes that Upton's director
thought needed "working up". But I'm getting ahead of my story.

Well, now, let me see. I'd better be a little chronological. It must
have been September, because I know I took Labour Day off and went to
Long Beach for a swim. I had just about come to the conclusion that my
novel was worthless, and that I'd better get a job of some sort. At the
far end of the boardwalk, you remember, there's a quiet hotel where one
gets away from the crowd, and where you see quite nice-looking people.
After I'd had my swim, I thought I'd stroll up that way and have supper
there. It's not a cheap place, but I had been living on lunch-counter
food all summer, and I felt I owed myself a little extravagance. I was
on my way along the boardwalk, enjoying the cool, strong whiff that
comes off the ocean toward sunset, when I saw Edwards, on the other side
of the promenade, walking with a girl. My eye caught his, and we raised
our hats. I was going on, thinking that perhaps he wasn't so badly off
as I had imagined, when to my surprise he ran after me. He looked very
haggard and ill, and seemed embarrassed.

"Look here," he said, "it's frightfully awkward: I must have had my
pocket picked somehow. I've lost my railroad tickets and everything.
Could you possibly lend me enough to get back to town? I've got a lady
with me, too."

I didn't need to count my money to know how much I had. It was just
about five dollars, and, as you know, that doesn't go far at Long Beach.
I told him how I stood. "I can give you enough for the railroad fares,
and glad to," I said. "But how about supper?"

"Oh, we're not hungry," he said; "we had a big lunch." I knew this was
probably bravado, but I liked him for saying it. While I was feeling
in my pocket for some bills, and wondering how to pass them over to him
unobtrusively, he said, "I'd like to introduce you to Miss Cunningham.
We're going to be married in the autumn."

You may have seen Sylvia Cunningham? If so, you know how lovely she is.
Not pretty but with the simple charm that beauty can't----

Well, that's trite! She'll never be a great actress, but in the rôle of
Sylvia Cunningham she's perfect. I hate to call her slender--it's
such an overworked word, but what other is there? Dark hair and clear,
amberlucent brown eyes, and a slow, searching way of talking, as if she
were really trying to put thought into speech. She, too, poor child, had
had a bad summer, I guessed: there was a neat little mend in her glove.
She was very friendly--I think Edwards must have told her about that
_Observer_ notice. I saw that they were both much humiliated at their
mishap, and I judged that genial frankness would carry off the situation
best.

"Life among the artists!" I said. "What are our assets?"

"I've got seventeen cents," said Edwards. It was a mark of fine
breeding, I thought, that he did not insist upon saying how much it was
that he had lost.

Miss Cunningham began to open her purse. "I have----"

"Nonsense!" I said. "What you have doesn't enter into the audit. In
the vulgar phrase, your money's no good. I've got five dollars and a
quarter. Now I suggest we go to Jamaica and get supper there, and then
go back to town by trolley. It'll be an adventure."

Well, that was what we did, and very jolly it was. You know how it is:
artists and actors and manicure girls and newspapermen are accustomed to
ups and downs of pocket; and when they have a misery in the right-hand
trouser they make up for it in a spirit of genial comradeship. Jamaica
is an entertaining place. In a little lunchroom, which I remembered from
a time when I covered a story out that way, we had excellent ham and
eggs, and a good talk.

As we sat in that little white-tiled restaurant, I couldn't help
watching Edwards. I don't know how to make this plain to you, but our
talk, which was cheerful enough, was the least important part of the
occasion. Talk tells so little, anyway: most of it's a mere stumbling
in an almost foreign tongue when it comes to expressing the inward pangs
and certainties that make up life. I had a feeling, as I saw those
two, that I was coming closer than ever before to something urgent and
fundamental in the human riddle. I thought that I had never seen a man
so completely in love. When he looked at her there was a sort of--well,
a sort of possession upon him, an enthusiasm, in the true sense of that
strange word. I thought to myself that Keats must have looked at Fanny
Brawne in just that way. And--you know what writers are--I must confess
that my observation of these two began to turn into "copy" in my mind.
I was wondering whether they might not give me a hint for my stalled
novel.

There are some engaged couples that make it a point of honour to be a
bit off-hand and jocose when any one else is with them. Just to show,
I suppose, how sure they are of each other. And somehow I had expected
actors, to whom the outward gestures of passion are a mere professional
accomplishment, to be a little blasé or polished in such matters. But
there was a perfect candour and simplicity about them that touched
me keenly. Their relation seemed a lovely thing. Too lovely, and too
intense perhaps, to be entirely happy, I thought, for I could see in
Edwards's face that his whole life and mind were wrapped up in it. I may
have been fanciful, but at that time I was seeing the human panorama not
for itself but as a reflection of my own amateurish scribblings. In
my novel I had been working on the theory--not an original one, of
course--that the essence of tragedy is fixing one's passion too deeply
on anything in life. In other words, that happiness only comes to those
who do not take life too seriously. Destiny, determined not to give up
its secrets, always maims or destroys those who press it too closely. As
we laughed and enjoyed ourselves over our meal, I was wondering whether
Edwards, with his strange air of honourable sorrow, was a proof of my
doctrine.

Of course we talked about the new play. Edwards had persuaded Upton to
give Miss Cunningham a place in the cast, and she was radiant about it.
Her eyes were like pansies as she spoke of it. I remember one thing she
said:

"Isn't it wonderful? Morgan and I are together again. You know how
much it means to us, for if the show has a run we can get married this
winter."

"This fall," Edwards amended.

"Morgan's part is fine," she went on, after a look at him that made even
a hardened reporter feel that he had no right to be there. "It's really
the big thing in the play for any one who can understand. It's just made
for him."

She was thoughtful a moment, and then added: "It's _too much_ made for
him, that's the only trouble. You're living with him, Mr. Roberts. Don't
let him take it too hard. He thinks of nothing else."

I made some jocular remark, I forget what. Edwards was silent for a
minute. Then he said: "If you knew how I've longed for a part like
that--a part that I could really lose myself in."

"I shouldn't care," I said, "to lose myself in a part. Suppose I
couldn't find myself again when the time came?"

He turned to me earnestly.

"You're not an actor, Roberts, so perhaps you hardly understand what it
means to find a play that's _real_--more real than everyday life. What
I mean is this: everyday life is so damned haphazard, troubled by a
thousand distractions and subject to every sort of cruel chance. We just
fumble along and never know what's coming next. But in a play, a good
play, it's all worked out beforehand, you can see the action progressing
under clear guidance. What a relief it is to be able to sink yourself in
your part, to live it and breathe it and get away for awhile from this
pitiless self-consciousness that tags around with us. You remember what
they used to say about Booth: that it wasn't Booth playing Hamlet, but
Hamlet playing Booth."

*****

The next day, I remember, I tied up my manuscript neatly in a brown
paper parcel, marked it _Literary Remains of Leonard Roberts_ (I was
childish enough to think that the alliteration would please my literary
executor, if there should be such a person), put it away in my trunk,
and went down to Park Row to see if there were any jobs to be had.
Of course it was the usual story. I had been out of the game for
six months, and Park Row seemed to have survived the blow with great
courage. At the _Observer_ office they charitably gave me some books to
review. As I came uptown on the subway I was reflecting on the change a
few hours had made in my condition. That morning I had been an author, a
novelist if you please; and now I was not even a reporter, but that
most deplorable of all Grub Street figures, a hack reviewer. It was
mid-afternoon, and I hadn't had any lunch yet. In a fit of sulks I
went into Browne's, sat down in a corner, and ordered a chop and some
shandygaff. As I ate, I looked over the books with a peevish eye. Never
mind, I said to myself, I will write such brilliant, withering, and
scorching reviews that in six months the Authors' League will be
offering me hush money. I was framing the opening paragraph of my first
article when Johnson, whom I had known on the _Observer_, stopped at my
table. He was one of the newspaper men who had left Park Row to go into
professional publicity work. There had been a time when I sneered at
such a declension.

"Hullo, Leonard," he said. "What are you doing nowadays?"

I told him, irritably, that I was writing a serial for one of the
women's magazines. There is no statement that puts envious awe into a
newspaper man so surely as that. But I also admitted that if he knew of
a good job I might be persuaded to listen to details.

"As it happens," he said, "I do. Upton, the theatrical producer, is
looking for a press agent. He tells me he's got something unusual under
way, and he wants a highbrow blurb-artist. He says his regular roughneck
is no good for this kind of show. Something by a new writer, rather out
of Upton's ordinary line, I guess."

"Is it 'Obedience'?"

"That's it. I couldn't remember the name." As soon as I had finished
my lunch I went round to Upton's office. It was high up in a building
overlooking Longacre Square, where the elevators were crowded with the
people of that quaint and spurious world. The men I found particularly
fascinating--you know the type, so very young in figure, often so old
and hard and dry in face, with their lively tweeds, starched blue or
green collars, silver-gray ties, and straight-brushed, purply-black
hair. It was my first introduction to the realms of theatrical
producing, and I must confess that I found Mr. Upton's office very
entertaining with its air of elaborate and transparent bunkum. I sat
underneath a coloured enlarged photo of the Garden of Eden ballet in
"The Figleaf Lady" and surveyed the small anteroom. It was all intensely
unreal. Those framed photographs, on which were scrawled _To Harry
Upton, the Best of His Kind_, or some such inscriptions, and signed by
dramatists I had never heard of; the typist pounding out contracts;
the architect's drawing of the projected Upton Theatre at Broadway and
Fiftieth Street, showing a line of people at the box office--all this, I
knew by instinct, meant nothing. The dramatists whose photographs I saw
would never write a real play; the Upton Theatre, even if it should be
built, would not house anything but "burlettas," and the typed contracts
were not worth so much carbon paper. As for Mr. Upton himself, one
couldn't help loving him: he was such a disarming, enthusiastic, shrewd,
unreliable bandit. To abbreviate, he took me on as a member of his
"publicity staff" (consisting of myself and a typewriter, as far as I
could see) at one hundred dollars a week. His private office had three
ingenious exits; going out by one of them, I found myself in a little
alcove with the typewriter and plenty of stationery. Rehearsals of
"Obedience" had started that morning, Upton had told me; so before I
went home that afternoon I had typed and sent off the following pregnant
paragraph for the next day's papers:

Henry Upton's first dramatic production of the season, "Obedience,"
by Arthur Sampson, began making elbow room for itself at rehearsals
yesterday. Keith Brooks will play the leading rôle, supported by Lillian
Llewellyn, Sylvia Cunningham, Morgan Edwards, and other distinguished
players.

I had a feeling of cheerfulness that evening. The cursed novel was no
longer on my mind, there would be a hundred dollars due me the next
week, and I was about to satisfy my long-standing curiosity to know
something about the theatre from the inside. It was one of those typical
evenings of New York loveliness: a rich, tawny, lingering light, a dry,
clear air, warm enough to be pleasantly soft and yet with a sharp tingle
in the breeze. I strolled about that bright jolly neighbourhood round
the hideous Verdi statue, bought a volume of Pinero's plays at one
of those combination book, cigar, and toy shops, and as I sat in my
favourite Milwaukee Lunch I believe (if I must be frank) that some idea
of writing a play was flitting through my mind. I got back to my room
about ten o'clock. I had just sat down to read Pinero when Edwards
tapped at the door. My mouth was open to tell him my surprising news
when I saw that he was unpleasantly agitated. First he insisted on
returning my loan, although I begged him to believe that there need be
no hurry about it.

"Rehearsals began to-day," he said. He sat down on the bed and looked
very sombre. "The worst possible has happened," he said. "Fagan's
directing."

I tried to console him. Perhaps I felt that if Upton had shown such good
sense in his choice of a press representative his judgment in directors
couldn't be altogether wrong.

"Oh, well," I said, "if the play's as good as you say, he can't hurt it
much. Upton believes in it, he won't let Fagan chop it about, will he?
And he's got a good cast--they won't need much direction: they know how
to handle that kind of thing."

"It's plain you don't know the game," he said. "If Upton had combed
Broadway from Herald Square to Reisenweber's, he couldn't have found
a man so superbly equipped to kill the piece. As for poor Sampson, God
help him. Fagan is a typical Broadway hanger-on, with plenty of debased
cunning of his own; not a fool at all; but the last man for this kind of
show, which needs imagination, atmosphere, delicate tone and tempo.
But that's not all of it. Fagan hates me personally. He'll get me out of
the company if he possibly can. He can do it, of course: he has Upton's
ear."

He sat a moment, one eyebrow twitching nervously. Suddenly he cried out,
in a quivering, passionate voice which horrified and frightened me:
"I've _got_ to play Dunbar! It's my only chance. _Everything_ depends
upon it."

Such an outcry, in a man usually so trained a master of himself, was
pitiful. I was truly shocked, and yet I was almost on the verge of
nervous laughter, I remember, when the idiotic old spinster in the
next room pounded lustily on the wall. I suppose she thought we were
revelling. I could see that he needed to talk. I tried to soothe him
with some commonplace words and a cigarette.

"No," he said, "I know what I'm talking about. Fagan hates me. No need
to go into details. He directed 'After Dinner,' you know--and massacred
it. We had a row then... he tried to bully a girl in the company... I
threatened to thrash him. He hasn't forgotten, of course. He passed the
word round then that I ruined the show. If this were any other play
I'd have walked out as soon as I saw him. But this piece is different.
I--I've set my heart on it. My God, I'm just _meant_ for that part----"

In the hope of calming him, I asked what had happened at the first
rehearsal.

"Oh, the usual thing. We went through the first act, with the sides.
I knew my lines perfectly, the only one who did (I ought to, I've been
over them incessantly these few weeks--the thing haunts me). That seemed
to annoy Fagan. Sampson was there--a quiet little man with a bright,
thoughtful eye. For his benefit, evidently, Fagan got off his old tosh
about Victor Hugo and the preface to 'Hernani'. It's a bit of patter he
picked up somewhere, and uses to impress people with. In the middle of
it, he suddenly realized that I had heard it all before. That made him
mad. So he cut it short, and reasserted himself by saying that the first
act would have to be cut a great deal. Sampson looked pretty groggy,
but said nothing. Sampson, I can see, is my only hope. Fagan will try to
force me out of the show by hounding me until I lose my temper and quit.
He began by telling me how to cross the stage. A man who learned the
business under Frank Benson doesn't need to be taught how to walk!"

I ventured some mild sedative opinion, because I saw it did him good to
pour out his perplexity.

"You don't know," he said, "how the actor is at the mercy of the
director. The director is appointed by the manager and is responsible
only to him. If the director takes a dislike to one of the cast, he can
tell the manager he 'can't work with him', and get him fired that way;
or he can make the man's position impossible by ridicule and perpetual
criticism at rehearsals. He remarked to-day that I was miscast. The
fool! I've never had such a part."

Well, we talked until after midnight, and only stopped then because I
was afraid that the spinster might begin to hammer again. In the end I
got him fairly well pacified. He was delighted when I told him that I
was going to be press agent, and I pleased him by making some memoranda
of his previous career, which I thought I could work up into a Sunday
story. To tell the truth, I did not, then, take all his distress at its
face value. I knew he had had a difficult summer, and was in a nervous,
high-strung state. I thought that his trouble was partly what we
call "actors' disease," or (to put it more humanely) oversensitized
selfconsciousness. I promised to get round to the rehearsal the next
day.

As a matter of fact, it was several days before I was able to attend a
rehearsal. For the next morning Upton asked me to go to Atlantic City,
where he had a musical show opening, to collect data for publicity. His
regular press man was ill, and it was evident that he expected me to do
plenty of work for my hundred a week. However, it was a new and amusing
job, and I was keen to absorb as much local colour as possible. I went
to Atlantic City on the train with the "Jazz You Like It" company, took
notes of all their life histories, went in swimming with the Blandishing
Blondes quartette that afternoon, had them photographed on the sand,
took care to see that they were arrested in their one-piece suits,
bailed them out, and by dinner-time had collected enough material to
fill the trashiest Sunday paper. In the evening the show opened, and
I saw what seemed to me the most appallingly vulgar and brutally silly
spectacle that had ever disgraced a stage. I wondered how a company of
quite intelligent and amusing people could ever have been drilled
into such laborious and glittering stupidity. The gallery fell for
the Blondes, but the rest of the house suffered for the most part in
silence, and I expected to see Upton crushed to earth. When I met him
in the lobby afterward I was wondering how to condole with him. To my
surprise he was radiant. "Well, I guess we've got a knockout," he said.
"This'll sell to the roof on Broadway." He was right, too. Well, this
is out of the story. I simply wanted to explain that I was away from New
York for several days.

When I got back to Upton's office I was busy most of the day sending
out stuff to the papers. Then I asked the imperial young lady who
was alternately typing letters and attending to the little telephone
switchboard, where "Obedience" was rehearsing. At the Stratford, she
replied. Wondering how many of Mr. Upton's amusing and discreditable
problems were bestowed under her magnificent rippling coiffure (she was
really a stunning creature), I went round to that theatre. The middle
door was open and I slipped in. The house was dark, on the tall, naked
stage the rehearsal was proceeding. It was my first experience of this
sort of thing, and I found it extremely interesting. The stage was set
out with chairs to indicate exits and essentials of furniture; at the
back hung a huge canvas sea-scene, used in some revue that had opened
at the Stratford the night before. The electricians were tinkering
with their illuminating effects, great blazes and shafts of light
criss-crossed about the place as the rehearsal went on, much to the
annoyance of the actors. Little electric stars winked in the painted sky
portion of the blue back-drop, and men in overalls walked about gazing
at their tasks.

I sat down quietly in the gloom, about halfway down the middle aisle.
Two or three other people, whose identity I could not conjecture, sat
singly down toward the front. In the orchestra row, in shirtsleeves,
with his feet on the brass rail and a cigar in his mouth, sat a person
who, I saw, must be the renowned Fagan. Downstage were Brooks, Edwards,
and a charming creature in summery costume who was obviously the
original of the multitudinous photographs of Lillian Llewellyn. The rest
of the company were sitting about at the back, off the scene. Edwards,
who was very pale in the violent downpour of a huge bulb hanging from a
wire just overhead, was speaking as I took my seat.

"Wait a minute, folks--_wait a minute!_" cried Fagan, sharply. "Now!
You've got your situation planted, let's nail it to the cross. Mr.
Edwards!"

The actors turned, wearily, and Miss Llewellyn sat down on a chair.
Brooks stood waiting with a kind of dogged endurance. At the back of the
stage a workman was hammering on a piece of metal. Fagan pulled his legs
off the rail and climbed halfway up the little steps leading from the
orchestra pit to the proscenium.

"Mr. Edwards!" he shouted, "you're letting it drop. It's dead. Give it
to Mr. Brooks so he can pick it up and do something with it. You've got
to lift it into the domain of comedy! My God!" he cried, throwing his
cigar stub into the orchestra well, "that whole act is terrible. Take it
again from Miss Llewellyn's entrance. Mr. Edwards, try to put a little
more stuff into it. This isn't amateur theatricals."

Edwards turned as though about to speak, but he clenched his fist and
kept silent. Brooks, however, was less patient.

"Pardon me, Mr. Fagan," he said, in a clear, ironical tone. "But I
should like to ask a question, if you will allow me. You speak, very
forcibly, of lifting it into the domain of comedy. That seems a curious
phrase for this scene. Is it intended to be comic? If so, I must have
misconstrued the author's directions in the script."

Brooks was too well-known a performer for Fagan to bully. Brooks was "on
the lights"--in other words, when the show's electric signboard went
up, it would carry his name. Around his presence hung the mystic aura
of five hundred dollars a week, quite enough in itself to make Fagan
respectful. The director seemed a little startled by the star's caustic
accent. As a matter of fact, I don't suppose he had ever read the script
as a whole. I remembered that after the first rehearsal Edwards told me
that Fagan had admitted not having read the play. He said he preferred
to "pick up the dialogue as they went along". This reference to the
author must have seemed to him unaccountably eccentric. I daresay he had
forgotten that there was such a person.

He threw up his hands in mock surrender. "All right, all right, if
that's the way you take it, I've got nothing to say. Play it your own
way, folks. Mr. Edwards, you're killing Mr. Brooks's scene there. Give
him time to come down and get his effect."

Again I saw Edwards lift his head as though about to retort, but Brooks
whispered something to him. Fagan came back to his seat in the front row
and lit a fresh cigar. "Take it from Miss Llewellyn's first entrance,"
he shouted.

Miss Cunningham and a third man came forward and the five regrouped
themselves. The rehearsal resumed. I watched with a curious tingle of
excitement. The dialogue meant little to me, plunging in at the middle
of the act, but I could not miss the passionate quality of Edwards's
playing. Even Brooks, a polished but very cold actor, caught the warmth.
Their speeches had the rich vibrance of anger. I was really startled
at the power and velocity of the performance, considering that they had
only rehearsed a week. As I watched, someone leaned over my shoulder
from behind and whispered: "What do you think of Dunbar?"

My eyes had grown accustomed to the gloom. I turned and saw a little man
with a thin face and lifted eyebrows which gave him a quaint expression
of perpetual surprise. I was so absorbed in the scene that at first I
hardly understood.

"Dunbar--? Oh, Edwards?" I whispered. "I think he's corking--fine."

At that moment Edwards was in the middle of a speech. Miss Cunningham
had just said something. Edwards, going toward her, had put his hand on
her shoulder and was replying in a tone of peculiar tenderness. Fagan's
loud voice broke in.

"Dunbar! Mr. Edwards! I can't let you do it like that. You make me hold
up this scene every time. Now get it right. This is a bit of comedy, not
sob stuff. Try to be a bit facetious, if you can. You're not making love
to the girl--not yet!"

There was a moment of silence. Those on the stage stood still, oddly
like children halted in the middle of a game. I don't suppose Fagan's
words were deliberately intended as a personal insult, but seemed to
himself a legitimate comment on the action of the piece. I think his
offences came more often from boorish obtuseness than calculated
malice. But the brutal interruption, coming after a long and difficult
afternoon, strained the players' nerves to snapping. Brooks sat down
with an air of calculated nonchalance and took out a cigarette. Then a
tinkling hammering began again somewhere up in the flies. Edwards was
flushed.

"For God's sake stop that infernal racket up there," he cried. Then,
coming down to the unlit gutter of footlights, he said quietly:

"Mr. Fagan, I've studied this part rather more carefully than you have.
If the author is in the house, I'd like to appeal to him as to whether
my conception is correct."

There was such a quiver of passion in his voice that even Fagan seemed
taken aback.

"What's got into you folks to-day?" he growled. "Oh, very well. Is Mr.
Sampson here?"

The little man behind me got up and walked down the aisle in an
embarrassed way.

"Mr. Author," said Fagan, "have you been watching the rehearsal?"

Sampson murmured something.

"Is Mr. Edwards doing the part as you want it done?"

"Mr. Edwards is perfectly right," said Sampson.

"Thank you, sir," said Edwards from the stage. "Fagan, when you are
ready to conduct rehearsals like a gentleman, I will be here." He turned
and walked off the stage.

Brooks snapped his cigarette case to, and the sharp click seemed to
bring the scene to an end. Fagan picked up his coat from the seat beside
him. "Bolshevism!" he said. "All right, folks, ten o'clock to-morrow,
here. Miss Cunningham, will you tell Mr. Edwards ten o'clock tomorrow?"

This last might be taken either as a surly apology, or as an added
insult. Rather subtle for Fagan, I thought. As I was getting out of my
seat, the director and a venomous-looking young man whom I had seen in
and out of Upton's office walked up the aisle together. Sampson was just
behind them. I could see that the director was either furiously angry,
or else (more likely) deemed it his duty to pretend to be.

"This show's no good as long as Edwards is in it," he said, loudly,
spitting out fragments of cigar-wrapper. "That fellow's breaking up the
company. I sha'n't be able to handle 'em at all, pretty soon. This kind
of thing puts an omen on a show."

*****

Well, that was my introduction to "Obedience". I watched Fagan and the
hanger-on of Upton's office--one of those innumerable black-haired young
infidels who run errands for a man like Upton, hobnob with the ticket
speculators in the enigmatic argot of the box office, and seem to look
out upon the world from behind a little grill of brass railings. They
moved up the velvet slope of the passage, arguing hoarsely. Sampson
faded gently away into the darkness and disappeared through the thick
blue curtains of the foyer. An idea struck me, and I ran behind to see
the stage manager, Cervaux, who was playing one of the minor parts. I
cajoled his own copy of the script away from him, promising to return it
to the office the next morning. I wanted to read the play entire. Going
out toward the stage door, behind a big flat of scenery I came upon Miss
Cunningham. She was sitting in a rolling chair, one of those things you
see on the boardwalk at Atlantic City. There was a whole fleet of them
drawn up in the wings, they were used in that idiotic revue playing
at the Stratford. It added to the curiously unreal atmosphere of the
occasion to see her crouching there, crying, alone in the half light,
among those absurd vehicles of joy.

I intended to pass as though I hadn't seen her, but she called out to
me. If Upton could have seen her then, her honey-brown eyes glazed with
tears, black rings in her poor little pale face, he would have raised
her salary--or else fired her, I don't know which.

"Mr. Roberts," she said, slowly and tremulously--"I don't know who else
to ask. Will you try to help Morgan?"

"Why of course," I said. "Anything I can do----"

"You were at the rehearsal? Then you saw how Fagan treats him. It's been
like that every day. The brute! It's abominable! You know how we had set
our hearts on playing this together, Morgan and I.... Now I've almost
come to pray that Morgan will throw it up. That's what Fagan wants, of
course, but I don't care. All I want is his happiness. I said something
to him about giving up the part, but he... Mr. Roberts, I'm _worried_.
I've never seen Morgan so strange before. He's not himself. I don't know
what's the matter, I have a feeling that something-----"

The electricians were still fooling about with their spotlights, and a
great arrow of brilliance sliced across the stage and groped about us.
It blazed brutally upon her tear-stained face, and then see-sawed among
the little flock of rolling chairs. It was that shaft of light that
dispelled, once for all, the feeling I had had that this was all some
sort of theatrical gibberish, pantomime stuff intended to impress the
greenhorn press agent. For when she recoiled under the blow of that
sudden stroke of brightness I could read unquestionable trouble on her
face. There was not only perplexity, there was fear.

She was silent, turning her face away. Then she stepped down from the
chair, in a blind sort of way.

"I begged him to give it up," she said, quietly. "He said that no
one but the author could take him out of this part. I wish the author
would.--Oh, I don't know what to wish! Morgan's making himself ill
fighting against Fagan."

We walked across Fortieth Street together, and I escorted her as far as
a Fifth Avenue bus. As we waited for the bus she said:

"You'll probably see him to-night. Tell him about rehearsal to-morrow,
ten o'clock. He had gone before I could speak to him. You see, he's not
himself. We were to have taken supper together."

She added something that I have never forgotten:

"The worst tragedy in the world is when lovely things get in the hands
of people who don't understand them. If you see Mr. Sampson, you might
tell him that. Some day he may write another play."

When I got up to Seventy-third Street I tapped at Edwards's door. He was
at his table, writing. I had intended to ask him to take dinner with me,
thinking that perhaps I could help him, but his manner showed plainly
that he wanted to be alone. If I had been an old friend of his, perhaps
I could have done something; but I did not feel I knew him well enough
to force myself upon his mood.

"Fagan sent you word, rehearsal to-morrow at ten," I said. "It sounds to
me like an apology."

He looked at me steadily.

"You were there to-day? You will understand a little, then."

"I understand that Fagan is a ruffian."

"Fagan--Oh, I don't mean Fagan." He paused and looked at the wet
point of his pen. "I was just writing a note to Sampson," he said. He
hesitated a moment, and then tore the written sheet across several times
and dropped it in the basket.

"Oh, hell," he said. "I can't appeal to Sampson again. I'll have to work
it out myself.--Don't imagine I take Fagan too seriously. Fagan is only
an accident. A tragic accident. That's part of my weird, as the Scotch
say. I mean, you'll understand better about Dunbar."

I didn't quite understand, and said nothing.

"I wouldn't let a man like Fagan stand between me and Dunbar," he said.
"It's in the hands of the author now. You heard what he said. He put
Dunbar into the play, he's the only one who can take him out of it."

The next morning Upton broke the news to me that I was to go out as
advance man. The opening was set for Providence, only ten days later.
There was to be a two-weeks' tour of three-night engagements, and I had
to arrange for the publicity, poster-printing, accommodations for the
company, and so on. This did not appeal to me very strongly, but I
scrambled together a lot of photographs, interviewed the cast as to
their preferences in hotel rooms, and set off. I got back a week later.
We were then only three days away from the opening. They were rehearsing
with the sets, Upton's telephone blonde told me, and I hurried round to
the Stratford to see how the scenic artist had done the job.

They had just knocked off for lunch when I got there, and at the stage
door I met Edwards coming out with Miss Cunningham. He looked very white
and tired.

"Hullo," I said; "just in time to have lunch with me! Come on, we'll go
to Maxim's. I've still got some of Upton's expense money."

"I've got to rush round to the modiste for a fitting," said Miss
Cunningham. "The gowns are just finished. You take Morgan and give him a
good talking-to. He needs it." I did not quite understand the appeal in
her eyes, but I saw that she wanted me to talk with Edwards alone. She
went toward Bryant Park, and we turned down to Thirty-eighth. Edwards
stood a moment at the corner looking after her.

"Sylvia says I'm a fool," he said, wearily. "I don't know: most of us
are, one way or another.--You know I told you that I put my confidence
in the author."

"Quite right," I said. "I myself heard Sampson say he thought you were
corking."

"Well, I wonder if he's double-crossing me?" said Edwards, slowly, as
though to himself.

"In what way?"

"Yesterday, when I was coming down to rehearsal, there was a tie-up of
some kind on the subway. The train stood still for a long time, and
then the lights went out. We stayed in the dark for I don't know how
long--everybody got nervous. It was pitch black, and awfully hot and
stuffy. The women began to scream. I felt pretty queer myself--you know
I haven't been well--and as we sat there I went off into a kind of doze
or something. Then, just as everybody was on the edge of a panic, the
lights came on and we went ahead. When we got to Times Square I think I
must have been a bit off colour, for the damned rehearsal went out of
my head entirely. Suddenly I realized I was in a drugstore drinking some
headache fizz when I was over an hour late at the theatre. My God! I
hustled down there as fast as I could go. Queer thing. I went in through
the stage door, and as I came round behind the set I heard voices on the
stage. They were rehearsing, of course. Naturally, they couldn't wait
all morning for me. But this is what I'm getting at. You know that scene
in the second act where I say to Brooks: _It's all very well for you to
say that. Ah, hah! I see! But suppose you had been in my place---_

"You know that's a turning point in the act. There's a particular
inflection I give that speech--the way I say the 'Ah, hah! I see!' that
makes the point clear to the audience and gets it over. Well, they were
rehearsing that scene, and from behind the canvas I heard that speech.
And what I heard was my own voice."

"What on earth do you mean?" I said.

He hesitated. He was sitting, his lunch almost untasted, with one elbow
on the table and his forehead leaning on his hand. Under his long,
sinewy fingers I could see his brows tightened and frowning downward
upon his plate.

"Exactly what I say. It was my own voice. Or, if you prefer, Dunbar's
voice. I heard that speech uttered, tone for tone, as I had been saying
it. It was the precise accent and pitch of ironical comment which I had
thought appropriate for Dunbar at that point in the action. The sudden
change of tone, the pause, the placing of the emphasis--the words were
just as if they had come out of my own mouth. I stopped, instinctively.
I said to myself, has Fagan got someone else to play the part, and been
coaching him on the side? Someone who's been sitting in at rehearsals
and has picked up my conception of Dunbar? And at that moment I heard
Fagan sing out 'All right, folks, the carpenter wants to work on this
set. We'll quit until after lunch.'

"I tell you, I was staggered. If I was out, I was out, but they might
have been straight with me. It was a matter for the Equity, I thought. I
didn't want to chin it over with the others just then, and I heard them
coming off, so I slipped through the door that opens into the passage
behind the stage box. I meant to tell Fagan what I thought about it.
There was Sampson sitting in one of the boxes. He saw me, and got up. He
said: 'By Jove, Mr. Edwards, you were fine this morning. I've never seen
you do it so well. It was bully, all through. Keep it like that, and
you're the hit of the play.'

"I thought at first he was making fun of me. I was about to make some
sarcastic retort, when he put out his hand in the friendliest way, and
said:

"'I want to thank you for what you're doing for that part, and I know it
hasn't been easy. I've never seen anything so beautifully done, and just
want to tell you that if the play is a success it will be largely due to
you.'

"This, on the heels of the other, astounded me so that I didn't know
what to say. I made some automatic reply, and he left. I sat down in the
cool darkness of the box to rest, for I was feeling very seedy. My head
went round and round--touch of the sun, I dare say, or that foul air in
the crowded subway car. I was still there when they came back, an hour
later, for the afternoon rehearsal. I tried to talk to Sylvia about it,
but all she would say was that I ought to go to a doctor."

"I think she's right," I said. "Look here, have you had any sleep
lately?"

"You seem to have forgotten Dunbar's line," he said. "'_There'll be
'plenty of time to sleep by and bye._'"

"For God's sake forget about Dunbar," I said. "Man, dear, you're on the
tip of a nervous breakdown. Now listen. This is Friday. Dress rehearsal
to-morrow. Sunday you'll have all day off. Take Miss Cunningham and go
away into the country somewhere and rest. Put the damned play out of
your mind and give her a good time. You both need it."

I didn't see him again until Monday morning.

I went up to Providence on the train with the company. As I passed
through one of the Pullmans looking for a seat in a smoking compartment,
I found Miss Cunningham and Edwards sitting in adjoining chairs. To my
delight, they seemed very cheerful, and smiled up at me charmingly.

"Took your advice yesterday," he said. "We went down to Long Beach
again. Had a lovely day, not even a pickpocket to spoil it."

"What an unfortunate remark!" said Sylvia, laughing. "He means, not a
pickpocket to bring us a friend in need and give us a jolly evening in
Jamaica."

"I spoke the speech trippingly," he admitted.

"And we left Dunbar behind!" said Sylvia. She flashed me a grateful
little look that showed she knew I had tried to help.

"Have you decided where to spend the honeymoon?" I asked, greatly
pleased to see them so happy.

"Hush!" she said. "We'll wait till we see what sort of notices the show
gets."

"Think of the poor press agent. I've used up all my dope. Get spliced
while we're in Providence and it'll give me a nice little story. You
know the kind of thing--'_Critics' Praise Brings Pair to Altar; Press
Clippings Cupid's Aid_'."

"You're getting as vulgar as a regular press agent," she said, merrily.
"They don't think of anything except in terms of good stories for the
paper."

"Oh," I said, "the press agent has his tragedies, too. Think how many
stories he knows that he can't tell."

I felt that this remark was not very happily inspired, and went
on through the car calling myself a clumsy idiot. In the smoking
compartment, as luck would have it, were both Upton and Fagan, smoking
huge cigars and talking together. I sat down and lit my pipe. Fagan, in
his usual way, was trying to impress Upton with his own sagacity. There
was another musical horror of Upton's scheduled to begin rehearsal
shortly, and probably Fagan was hoping to land the job as director.

"What did you think of Edwards at the dress rehearsal?" said Fagan.

Upton grunted. He had a way of retaining his ideas until others had
committed themselves.

"I've been telling you right along, he's impossible," said Fagan. "No
one can work with him. He's too damned upstage. Now I got Billy Mitford
to promise he'd run up and see the opening. Billy is the man you need
for that part. I had him in at the dress, and he'll be there tonight.
I've given him a line on the part, and if Edwards falls down we can
start rehearsing Billy right away. He could get set in a week, and open
with the show in New York."

"Four hundred a week," was Upton's comment, seemingly addressed to the
end of his cigar.

"All right, he's worth it. He's got a following. This guy Edwards is
dear at any price. He'll kill the show. He doesn't get his stuff over.
God knows I've worked on him. And he crabs Brooks's work more'n half the
time. What you want is one of these birds that gets the women climbing
over the orchestra rail. Billy is your one best bet, take it from me."

"Well, we'll open her up and see what we got," said Upton. "Is Sampson
along?"

"No. Scared. Said he was too nervous to come. He'll learn to write
a play afterwhile. What a mess that script was until I got her
straightened out."

When we got to Providence I had several jobs to do around town. I
visited the newspaper offices, stopped in at the theatre where the stage
crew were busy unloading scenery, and when I returned to the hotel I
lay down in my room and had a good nap, I was awakened late in the
afternoon--about five o'clock, because I looked at my watch--by a
knocking at the door. I got up and opened. It was Edwards. To my dismay,
his cheerfulness had vanished. He had gone back to the old pallid and
anxious mood.

"Nervous, old man?" I said. When I had booked the rooms for the company
I had arranged that he and I should be next door to each other, so that
I could keep an eye on him.

"Nervous?" he said. "I'm ill. Had another of those damned swimming
spells in my head. Haven't got any brandy, have you?"

I hadn't, but offered to go in search of some. He wouldn't let me.

"Don't go," he said. "Look here, I saw Mit-ford in the lobby just now.
What the devil is he doing here?"

"Perhaps there's some other show on," I suggested, miserably.

"I told you they were trying to double-cross me," he said. "I know
perfectly well what he's here for. Fagan is trying to razz me into a
breakdown. Then he'll put Mitford in as Dunbar. But I tell you, I'll
play this thing in spite of hell and high water."

He paced feverishly up and down, and I tried to ease his mind.

"By God, they sha'n't!" he cried. "I'll put this thing up to the author.
Where's Sampson?"

"He's not here. For heaven's sake, man, don't get in a state.
Everything's all right."

"Everything's all right!" he repeated, bitterly. "Yes, everything's
lovely. Let's 'lift it into the domain of comedy'. But if you see Fagan,
tell him to keep away from me."

I begged him to rest until dinner-time. I went into his room with him,
made him lie down on the bed, rang for a bottle of ice water, and left
him there. Then I went downstairs and wrote a couple of letters. I was
just leaving the hotel when I met Fagan coming in. He stopped me to ask
if I had taken care to put his name on the playbill as director. I
had. If the show was a flop, I at least wanted his name attached as a
participial cause.

I wandered uneasily about the busy streets until theatre time. I
couldn't have been more nervous if I had been going on the boards
myself. I spent part of the time prowling about trying to see how much
"Obedience" paper I could find on the billboards and in shop windows. I
stopped in at a lunchroom and had some supper. The place reminded me
of the little café in Jamaica where Sylvia and Edwards and I had eaten
together.

My mind was full of the picture of the two, and his face as he leaned
across the table toward her. I thought that I had never seen a couple
who so deserved happiness, or who had fought harder to earn it. What was
the subtle appeal in this play that made it react so strangely upon
him? The tragedy of Dunbar in the piece, the sacrifice of the poor,
well-meaning fellow whose virtue always seemed to turn and rend him, did
this echo some secret experience in his own life? I wondered whether
an actor's career was really the gay business I had conceived it.
It occurred to me that perhaps the actor's profession is doomed to
suffering, because it takes the most dangerous explosives in life and
plays with them. Love, ambition, jealousy, hatred, those are the things
actors deal with. You can't play with those without one of them going
off every now and then. They go off with a bang, and somebody gets hurt.

I suppose I'm sentimental. I wanted those two to win out. It seemed to
me that a defeat for their fine and honourable passion would be a defeat
for Love everywhere, and for all who believe in the worthy aspirations
of the heart. I don't suppose any press agent ever pondered more
generous philosophies than I did that night, over my lunch-counter
supper.

Time went so fast that it was after eight when I got to the theatre. I
went in and took a seat in the last row. The house, to my surprise, was
crowded. I could see Upton's big bald head, well down in front, beside
a massively carved lady, all bust and beads, whom I supposed to be Mrs.
Upton. The élite of Providence were out in force, for Brooks's name
is always a drawing card. Some of them, I feared, were going to be
disappointed. It is all very well to introduce a new Barrie or a new
Pinero to the playgoing public, but you've got to remember that it is
bound to be grievous for those who prefer the other sort of thing.

The curtain, of course, was late, and I gave a sigh of relief when I saw
it go up. Edwards, waiting carefully for the hush, had the house with
him in three speeches. I have never seen better work, before or since.
It was noticeable that at his first exit he got a bigger hand than
Brooks at his carefully prepared entrance. The only thing that seemed
to me out of the way was his extreme pallor. The silly ass, I said to
myself, he hasn't made himself up properly. Then it struck me that it
was probably a sound touch of realism, for certainly Dunbar would not be
described as a full-blooded creature. I had read the play carefully, and
had seen it in rehearsal; but I had never known how much there was in
it. Strangely enough, Edwards was the only one who showed no trace of
nervousness. All the others, even Brooks, seemed unaccountably at a loss
now and then, trampled on their lines, and smothered their points. At
first the house was inclined to applaud, but as the action tightened,
they hushed into the perfect and passionate silence that is the
playwright's dream. There were six curtains at the end of the first act.
I could tell by the tilt of old Upton's pink pate that he was in fine
spirits. I looked about for Fagan in the lobby, as I was keen to see how
he was taking it, but missed him in the arguing and shifting crowd.

By the time the third act was under way it was plain that we had a
sure-fire success. Novice as I was, I could read the signs when I
saw Upton scribbling telegrams at the box-office window in the second
intermission, and observed the face of Mr. Mitford. The usual slips that
always happen on first nights were there, of course. In the third act,
when Edwards had to take Sylvia in his arms, she seemed to trip and
almost fell; and I noticed that Brooks crossed the stage and helped her
off, which was not in the script; but these things were not marked by
most of the audience. Dunbar, you remember, makes his final exit several
minutes before the end of the third act. When he went off there was a
little stir among the audience--far more eloquent than applause would
have been. That beautiful delineation of a blundering high-minded
failure had made its appeal.

After Edwards's last exit I felt my way out, quietly, and went round
through the street and up the alley to the stage door. I wanted to be
the first to congratulate him on his splendid triumph. I did not want to
break in too soon, so I waited near the door until I heard the crash of
hands that followed the curtain. The canvas rose and fell repeatedly as
the players took their calls, while the house shook with applause. From
where I stood, by the switches and buttons on the control board, I could
see them lined up in the orange glare of the gutter, bowing and smiling.
There were cries of "Dunbar! Dunbar!" and a rumbling of feet in the
gallery. It is the only time I have ever seen an audience crowd down the
aisles and stand by the orchestra rail, applauding. Then I saw why they
lingered. Edwards had not taken his call.

The curtain fell again, and Cervaux, the stage manager, came running
off, the perspiration streaming down over his grease-paint.

"Christ!" he cried. "Where's that fool Edwards?"

As soon as the curtain finally shut off the house I could see the actors
turn to each other as though in dismay. Miss Cunningham came off, and I
ran to shake her hand. To my amazement she looked at me blankly, with a
dreadful face, and sat down on a trunk.

Brooks strode across the stage. "Where's Edwards?" he shouted, angrily.
"Tell him to take this call with me, the house is crazy."

"Where's the author?" said someone. "They want the author, too."

Several hurried upstairs to the men's dressing rooms, and I followed.
The door of number 3, on which Edwards's name was scrawled in chalk,
stood open. Cervaux stood stupidly on the sill. The room was empty.

"He's gone," said Cervaux. "What do you know about that?"

We could still hear the tumult of the house.

"Take the curtain, Mr. Brooks," said Cervaux. "Tell them he's ill."

I looked round number 3 dressing room.

There was a taxi standing outside the stage door. I don't know how it
happened to be there, or who had ordered it, but I shouted to the driver
and jumped in. I have a faint impression that just as the engine started
Sylvia appeared at the door, with a cloak thrown over her stage gown,
and cried something, but I am not sure.

When I got to the hotel, the door of the room next to mine was locked,
but the house detective got it open without any noise. There were two
men in the room. In the far corner lay Fagan, unconscious, with a broken
jaw, one arm hideously twisted under him, and a shattered water bottle
beside his bloody head. Sprawled against the bed, kneeling, with his
arms flung out across the counterpane, was Edwards.--The doctor said it
was heart disease. He had been dead since six o'clock.

THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tales From a Rolltop Desk" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home