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Title: Fresh Every Hour - detailing the adventures, comic and pathetic of one Jimmy - Martin, purveyor of publicity, a young gentleman possessing - sublime nerve, Whimsical Imagination, Colossal Impudence, - and, Withal, the Heart of a Child.
Author: Toohey, John Peter
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                                                                   Fresh
                                                                   Every
                                                                   Hour



------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                 FRESH
                               EVERY HOUR

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

DETAILING the Adventures, Comic and Pathetic of one Jimmy Martin,
Purveyor of Publicity, a Young Gentleman Possessing Sublime Nerve,
Whimsical Imagination, Colossal Impudence, and, Withal, the Heart of a
Child.

    By JOHN PETER TOOHEY

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

                             BONI AND LIVERIGHT
                           Publishers :: New York


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            FRESH EVERY HOUR

                          COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
                         BONI & LIVERIGHT, INC.

                Printed in the United States of America



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   TO
                               MY MOTHER



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                                                   Fresh
                                                                   Every
                                                                   Hour



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            FRESH EVERY HOUR


                  ------------------------------------

                              Chapter One

                  ------------------------------------


JIMMY MARTIN’S heart persisted in acting like the well-known eyes of the
young lady in the song. He just couldn’t make it behave. Up to the third
week of his summer season as press agent at Jollyland, the big summer
amusement park near New York, it had always been a fairly well-mannered
and dependable organ which performed its physiological functions with
becoming regularity and which was not accustomed to respond to any
external stimuli with anything beyond an occasional slight flutter. To
be sure it had acted up a little three years back in connection with a
certain dark-eyed beauty who presided over the destinies of the cigar
counter up in the Grand Hotel in New Haven, but that had only been a
slight attack and it had resumed the even tenor of its ways after a
brief interval and had been unobtrusively going through with its routine
activities ever since.

A most prepossessing young person whose parents had inflicted upon her
the name of Lolita Murphy was directly responsible for the alarming
symptoms already hinted at. From the precise moment that Lolita came
within his ken Jimmy ceased to be a rational being in full control of
his faculties and his heart, in sympathetic accord with the agitated
condition of its owner, began to put on an antic disposition and
indulged in curious palpitations of a most annoying nature on the
slightest pretext. The usual provocation at first was the sight of
Lolita herself, but after a day or two even the thought of her produced
a cardiac ratiplan that would have done credit to the trap drummer of a
jazz band.

Lolita, it may be mentioned in passing, lived up to all the implications
of the somewhat picturesque cognomen given her by McClintock, the park
manager, when Jimmy first pointed her out to his superior.

“She sure is Miss Lulu Looker,” McClintock had remarked emphatically.

Lolita was all of that and a little more. Jimmy was not a poet and he
was therefore unable to properly voice the feelings he had about her
beauty. Had he been one he might have justly said that her cheeks seemed
to have been kissed by the rosy flush of dawn; that in her sable eyes
there lurked the eternal mystery of night beneath tropic skies; that her
dark hair was as fragrant as the spices of Araby and that her lithe
figure had all the gracile curves of a bounding antelope. As it was he
contented himself with the frequent repetition of the decidedly unpoetic
expression “some gal,” but this represented to him all the ideas noted
above and a liberal assortment of others equally glamorous.

Lolita hailed from Cedar Rapids, Ia., and ever since the memorable
occasion when Maude Adams played “Peter Pan” in that city for “one night
only” she had cherished a great and overwhelming ambition. Her father
ran the drug store next door to the Opera House and was a great crony of
the manager. A number of boys and girls were picked up in each town to
play the children in the Never Never Land scene and Lolita’s fond parent
had persuaded the manager to select her as one of the group. It was a
step that father was to regret vainly for many years, but on the night
of her debut he was blissfully unconscious of the possibility of any
bitter repining in the future and enjoyed the proceedings almost as much
as Lolita did.

From that time on Lolita felt the call of the footlights and became
convinced that, given the proper opportunities for the externalization
of the emotional feelings that lay dormant within her, she was destined
to become an international celebrity and the queen regnant of the
English speaking stage. Chauncey Olcott came to town a few weeks later
and she persuaded father to work her in as one of the youngsters to whom
he sang a lullaby in a high tenor voice down in the “glen” which is
always the setting for the third act of an Irish play. After that there
was no holding her. She became a student of Miss Amanda Holliday’s
School of Dramatic Expression which occupied three rooms on the second
floor of the Turner block on Main Street and she participated in the
semi-annual entertainments given by the budding geniuses who were under
the tutelage of that small town preceptress of the arts. Versatility was
her middle name. At one time she would play Ophelia in the mad scene
from “Hamlet” and appear later on the program in a Spanish dance with
castanets, a lace mantilla and all the other necessary properties. Six
months later she would combine the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet”
with an imitation of an imitation of Eddie Foy she had heard given by a
monologue artist at the Orpheum Theatre. At the age of nineteen she was
the town wonder. The dramatic editor of the Democrat-Chronicle predicted
that within a short time “this talented daughter of our esteemed fellow
townsman Henry P. Murphy seems destined to occupy one of the stellar
places in the front ranks of the worth-while artists of our fair
country.”

Lolita moved on to New York armed with a letter of commendation from
Miss Amanda Holliday setting forth that she was “worthy of any role no
matter what its importance” and urging theatrical managers “not to
neglect this opportunity of obtaining the services of one who is a
mistress of the mimetic art in all its manifold manifestations.” She
also carried a full set of clippings from the Democrat-Chronicle, one
half of her male parent’s attenuated account in the First National Bank
and an over-abundant supply of cheery optimism.

The metropolitan managers’ office boys were decidedly cold to the
advances of this gifted daughter of the Middle West. They treated her
with that air of careless indifference so characteristic of their
profession. With one accord all the big and little producers decided to
take a big chance and neglect the opportunity which fate was offering
them. They were unmoved by the clippings from the Democrat-Chronicle
with which Lolita bombarded them through the mails and they were callous
to the eulogistic outpourings of Miss Amanda Holliday, copies of which
accompanied each written request for an interview. Lolita’s cash reserve
grew perilously low and disaster threatened. Then, on a morning when
disillusionment and despair moved in and took lodgings in her soul, she
saw an advertisement in a newspaper which was like a life buoy tossed to
a drowning man.

“Ambitious Young Women Wanted for Stage Work,” it read. “Opportunity
Afforded Ambitious Amateurs to Perfect Themselves in Dramatic
Technique—Apply Immediately at Manager’s Office, ‘Jollyland.’”

Lolita, filled with high hopes, took a trolley to the great playground
by the sea. There destiny handed her one of those cold douches that are
sometimes held in reserve for those whose ambitions o’erleap themselves.
The dramatic opportunity promised in the advertisement proved to be what
might be vulgarly termed a “job.”

A great free open-air spectacle was in process of preparation at
Jollyland under the supervision of a famous moving picture director who
specialized in that form of animated art technically known as “serials.”
He had personally conducted a gazelle-eyed cinema celebrity known as
June Delight through four fifteen reel affairs of this sort in which she
had been threatened with mayhem, aggravated assault and battery,
felonious wounding, and total and complete annihilation at the hands of
numerous bands of cut-throats, bandits, thieves and white slavers. In
the course of these proceedings she had performed every breath-catching
feat that the festive imagination of the director had been capable of
conjuring up and had succeeded, by a miracle, in keeping out of both the
hospital and the obituary columns of the daily press.

Now it was proposed to let the public have a close-up view of this
death-defying marvel in the flesh in the act of performing one of her
most famous exploits “before your very eyes and for your attention,” as
the circus announcer would put it. To permit of this the director had
evolved something which he called a “dramatic spectacle” and had
persuaded the management of Jollyland to arrange for its production in a
huge, specially constructed open-air auditorium as a “special added
attraction” intended to put a final quietus on the presumptuous efforts
of a rival group of showmen who were endeavoring to arouse interest in a
new park just opened that summer.

Lolita found herself in a long line of applicants, many of whom were
pathetically peaked and undernourished looking, and when her turn came
to meet the director she made up her mind to pocket her pride and accept
whatever fate offered rather than run the risk of finding herself in
like straits. Ambition still fired her soul and she was determined not
to return to the little old home town until she could enter it in
something at least closely akin to a spirit of triumph. To be sure the
opportunity offered her was not particularly roseate. It did not hold
forth much promise of either pecuniary reward or even of passing fame,
but it meant that Lolita would not have to telegraph home for funds and
there was a faint glimmer of hope in a remark made by the director.

“You can mingle in the front ranks of the crowd,” he said. “We’ll pay
you eighteen a week. There’ll only be two shows a day.” Then he had
looked at her critically. “You’re almost a ringer for Miss Delight,” he
continued. “Maybe, if you’re a good little girl I might take a notion to
try you out as understudy.”

So Lolita Murphy, the pride of Cedar Rapids, became a small and almost
infinitesimal part of the great out-door spectacle entitled “Secret
Service Sallie” which was the big sensation of the Jollyland season.

In the role of an agent of the United States secret service the charming
and fascinating June Delight was swept through a series of thrilling
adventures set against spectacular backgrounds depicting scenes in
Berlin, Tokio, Rio de Janeiro and other world capitals and as a
culminating feature she was pursued to the roof of a building in London
by a howling mob which suspected her of being a spy in the employ of the
Central Powers. She was saved from its hands, in the proverbial nick of
time, by her fiancé, dashing Lieutenant Thurston Turner, Commander of
the U.S. Dirigible N-24, who happened to be cruising about the
neighborhood at the moment and who effected a rescue by circling his
ship around the roof and deftly lifting the young woman into the shelter
of the gondola which hung from the great gas balloon just as she was
about to be beaten to death by the infuriated crowd.

Inasmuch as the spectacle was given in the open air, it was possible to
use for the purposes of this scene a real dirigible which was manned by
a crew commanded by one Bobby Wilkins, a personable young gentleman from
Chicago who had come back from France with a major’s commission, a
reputation for dare-deviltry as an aviator surpassed by no other ace in
the American service and a collection of a half dozen assorted war
medals bestowed by three grateful nations. Bobby had left a snug berth
as “assistant to the president” of a big varnish company to go into the
army, the said president being a somewhat indulgent parent who had
sanguine expectations concerning his son’s commercial and industrial
future and who was even now sending him daily wires to the Ritz urging
him to “cut the carabets and get down to a solid rock foundation.”
Father labored under the delusion that Bobby was simply vacationing in
New York. Had he had an inkling of just what his son was doing he would
have (to use the young major’s own expression) “tried for a new altitude
record himself.” He could hardly be expected to know that dictating fool
business letters and checking up the new efficiency expert’s monthly
report of economies effected at the Dayton plant wouldn’t exactly appeal
any more to an adventuresome young man who had been skyhooting through
the upper reaches of the atmosphere for nearly two years and dodging
German machine gun bullets.

Bobby had overheard the general who commanded the aviation camp at which
he was demobilized remarking about a request made by the moving picture
director that he recommend some aviator for the task of piloting the
dirigible which was to play such an important role in the spectacle and
he had offered himself for the sacrifice just as a lark. He found the
experience rare sport and until something giving greater promise of
adventure appeared in the offing he was determined to go on with it.
Twice a day he reached down and plucked up the beautiful Miss Delight as
lightly as if she were a fragile doll while the assembled thousands, on
the qui vive with excitement, burst into rapturous applause. In order to
insure the peace of mind of Robert Wilkins, Sr., Jimmy Martin had
consented, rather reluctantly it must be admitted, to respect the wishes
of the impersonator of Lieut. Thurston Turner, U.S.N., who had expressed
a desire to remain incognito. Otherwise the consequences might have been
lurid.

Jimmy itched to give out a story concerning the social and business
connections of the young soldier, but he had given his word, and being
an ex-newspaper man, that was sacred. He temporarily forgot about Bobby
and devoted his spare moments to figuring out ways and means for the
sensational exploitation of Lolita Murphy to whose charms he had become
a shackled slave from the moment he first glimpsed her at rehearsal.
Lolita, it may be mentioned in passing, was a trifle discouraged at the
comparatively slight opportunities for uplifting and otherwise ennobling
the American stage offered by her participation in “Secret Service
Sallie.” Her name wasn’t even mentioned on the program. She figured
under an impersonal heading at the bottom, together with a couple of
hundred other young women who were listed as “Berlin citizens, Japanese
geisha girls, South Americans, Londoners, etc., etc.”

It needed all the soaring optimism of Jimmy to keep her from slipping
into a nervous decline. The press agent had obtained an introduction
through the stage director and his sympathetic interest in her
temporarily side-tracked ambitions had won him her esteem and high
regard from the beginning. Jimmy was a rapid worker and within three
days from the time of their first meeting he had vowed his ardent and
palpitating devotion, and while Lolita had not completely committed
herself to a reciprocal affirmation she had succeeded, nevertheless, by
devious and subtle devices not unknown to her sex, in conveying the
distinct impression that the star of hope was visible in the eastern
sky.

It might be parenthetically recorded that Jimmy was accustomed to
arriving at his destination when once he embarked on a journey. He had
been kidnapped from an assistant sporting editor’s desk on a middle
western paper by a small circus, while still young, and for seven years
he had been touring these United States ahead of an infinite variety of
attractions ranging all the way from Curran’s Colossal Carnival company
(playing state fairs) to the more or less splendiferous “revues” which
have their origin and their brief span of popularity along the middle
reaches of Broadway.

Being more familiar with the batting averages of the best ten players in
the American League than with George Henry Lewes’, “The Art of Acting,”
and being utterly incapable of writing a didactic essay on “The
Psychology of Laughter”, Jimmy had never been cast for one of the
so-called “kid-glove jobs” in the realm of theatrical publicity, that
being the name given to the positions held by the literati who seek and
occasionally obtain publicity for the highbrow drama. He was not of the
chosen company of the sleek and self-satisfied elect. Elegantly written
stories and gracefully worded little pieces, supposedly composed by
charming feminine stars, meant nothing in his young and energetic life.
“Stunts” were what he specialized in, the creation of news that was so
unusual, so bizarre, so full of human interest that the newspapers not
only felt obliged to print it, but usually assigned their own reporters
to write it up. He wasn’t dignified; his conversation reeked with slang
and his methods sometimes offended against all the established canons of
good taste, but he sometimes landed with one foot and not infrequently
with both.

His summer engagement at Jollyland was a “fill-in” between seasons and
when he entered upon it he had no notion that it would shortly become
pregnant with possibilities of a most disturbing sort. He had no idea
that he would presently be directing all of his energies to assuaging
the anxieties and soothing the troubled spirit of a somewhat forlorn
maiden from what he was in the habit of scornfully referring to as a
“hick town.”

There came a night when Lolita’s disappointment was past all bearing and
when she sobbed out on Jimmy’s shoulders a bitter protest against the
fate that had driven her into believing that she was destined to be a
great actress. They were sitting on the beach in the moonlight after the
show and off in the murky distance the great Sandy Hook light was
blinking like some monster fire-fly.

“Jimmy,” she said, half-chokingly. “I just don’t belong. I wish I was
back in Cedar Rapids.”

“Gosh, that’s an awful wish, girlie,” responded the press agent with a
foolish attempt at a pleasantry which he instantly regretted.

Lolita drew away from him quickly.

“Cedar Rapids is all right,” she retorted. “It’s better than this
lonesome place.” She lapsed almost immediately into a wistful mood.
“It’s just ten o’clock there now and the movies are letting out, and
there’s a crowd in dad’s store and the fellows are treating the girls to
sundaes or just plain ice cream and dad is fussing around and maybe
helping out himself. I want to go back, Jimmy, I want to go back.”

Jimmy squeezed her hand softly.

“Listen, girlie,” he said comfortingly. “I know just how you feel—the
cards ain’t runnin’ right and you want to quit the game, but I’m going
to cut in with a clean deck and start a new deal. I’m goin’ to fix
things so that when you do go back for a visit to the little old home
town and dear old dad, the Peerless Silver Cornet band is goin’ to be
down at the station and his honor the mayor is goin’ to speak a few well
chosen words of welcome in the presence of a cheering crowd of friends
and well-wishers. Leave it to me.”

Lolita laughed a little in spite of her mood.

“You’re a great little jollier, Jimmy,” she, said, “and I’d like to
believe you, but somehow I can’t. I’m a nobody, a Cedar Rapids’ nobody.”

“But you’re goin’ to be little Miss Lolita Somebody of the well known
world,” he responded cheerily, “before I get through with you. I’m goin’
to drop you right into the direct center of the front page of every
paper in the U.S.A. from the New York Gazette to the Wyalusing, Pa.,
Rocket. You’re goin’ to make those two chaps with the whiskers on the
cough drop boxes and that fat old colored dame in the pancake flour ads
look like shrinkin’ violets on a foggy afternoon when I finish up with
you. You just wait and see.”

“How long have I got to wait, Jimmy,” ventured Lolita who was adrift in
the realms of fancy, carried thence by the soothing cadences of Jimmy’s
voice.

“Only until some afternoon when this June Delight person fails to show
up,—I hear she’s talkin’ of layin’ off for a few days. If you’ll promise
not to even talk about it in your sleep I’ll hand you a little advance
information.”

Only the silent stars and the discreet moon shared Jimmy’s confidence
with Lolita. Its general tone and tenor lifted that despairing daughter
of the plains out of the rut of hopeless striving into which she felt
she had fallen and filled her with such anticipatory delight that when
she said good-bye at the door of her boarding house she impulsively
reached forward and kissed him full on the mouth.

“You’re a darling,” she murmured.

“I’ll take an encore on that, girlie,” he replied.

And he did.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              Chapter Two


Miss June Delight summoned Manager McClintock to her dressing room just
before the Saturday night performance and successfully simulated the
classic symptoms of impending nervous prostration while she sniffed at a
vial of smelling salts and submitted to the ministrations of a tired
maid who gently massaged her forehead with her finger-tips. Miss
Delight, in a voice that was barely audible, informed the manager that
she could not possibly endure the trying ordeal of further performances
after that evening without a brief period of rest and that she was
leaving for a week’s stay at a sanitarium on the following morning.

McClintock gave voice to low moans and flew other signals of distress,
but Miss Delight was obdurate to his more or less frenzied
expostulations and remarked that while she was disturbed at having to
disappoint her “dear, lovely, friendly public,” she felt that her health
was the prime consideration. The manager was in a surly mood when he
left her to seek out the stage director.

“Who’s the understudy?” he inquired.

“She calls herself Lolita Murphy,” replied the director, “but I
understand there’s a certain party connected with the publicity
department who calls her even flossier names than that.”

“Jimmy’s gal, eh?” commented the manager. “Well, she’s there with the
looks anyway. Has she had a rehearsal?”

“She’s been through the thing roughly with the rest of the understudies,
but I can have the whole troupe called for tomorrow morning, and we can
run straight through. We’ll get out the dirigible and go through with
the rescue stunt. We mustn’t fall down on that. The little lady seems to
be there with the nerve, but I’d like to try it out.”

Jimmy was permitted to break the news to Lolita. He met her after the
performance that night and imparted the glad tidings. When he left he
gave her a final word of caution.

“Keep the little old nerve up, girlie,” he said earnestly, “and we’ll
wake up the whole country on Monday morning.”

“I’ll try, Jimmy,” she whispered. “You’re just the—well, just the
dearest boy I’ve ever known.”

On the following morning Lolita, athrill with excitement and a little
nervous, assumed the title role in “Secret Service Sallie” at a
rehearsal to the complete satisfaction of McClintock, the stage director
and Jimmy Martin. The latter watched her with adoring eyes, and when she
successfully essayed the sensational rescue scene he was moved to wild
and clamorous applause which sounded a bit startling in the great empty
auditorium. Under Bobby Wilkins’ expert direction the big clumsy
dirigible was manoeuvred around the edge of the roof and Lolita was
lifted into the car by the former ace with such adroit ease that the
whole thing seemed to be simply part of a casual everyday occurrence.
When it was over Lolita had been safely landed back on earth and had
received the congratulations of everyone concerned, she drew Jimmy aside
and clutched at his arm for support.

“I’m ready to faint,” she said weakly. “I believe I would have up on the
roof when I saw that big thing coming towards me if that fellow hadn’t
grabbed me off so quickly.”

“You need a little nap,” responded Jimmy soothingly. “The worst is over
and the best is yet to come. Don’t forget that young Mr. Arthur H.
Opportunity has a date with you this afternoon, and that the big splash
is due tomorrow morning. Now you go in and get a little sleep and I’ll
have a talk with my friend, the handsome lieutenant. I fixed things with
him last night, but I’ve got to go over some details again.”

A few minutes later the press agent was closeted with Bobby Wilkins in
the hangar in which the dirigible was housed. The park gates had just
been opened for the day and crowds of holiday merry-makers were surging
through them in quest of the fifty-seven varieties of feverish and
hectic entertainment which Jollyland provided for those in search of
diversion.

                  *       *       *       *       *

If anyone had called Jimmy Martin a “psychotherapist” he would have
denied the soft impeachment promptly, and then asked for a dictionary
and an explanatory blueprint. And yet, as a direct result of a random
idea which had bobbed into his active mind a few weeks before, he was
unconsciously serving in that capacity for a large and ever increasing
throng of metropolitan society women of varying ages who flocked to
Jollyland in search of a new thrill which he had provided. The winding
up of war charity work which had followed close upon the return to these
shores of the larger part of the American army had turned many of these
women back upon their own resources and their innate restless activity,
which had found such an altruistic outlet in new channels for several
years, now imperiously demanded fresh excitement, and it was this that
Jimmy offered them.

On the occasion in question, Jimmy had overheard a coy young debutante
who was watching a performance of “Secret Service Sallie” remark to a
group of friends who accompanied her that she’d “just love to go up on
the stage and mix with the crowd.” That was enough for the press agent.
Ten minutes later, during the intermission, he escorted the entire party
behind the scenes, and, under his guidance, they participated in the
London episode which concluded the show. They mingled with the crowd of
supernumeraries and entered into the proceedings attendant upon the
thrilling dirigible rescue with such gusto that the stage manager gave
Jimmy carte blanche to encourage the idea.

It happened that in this particular party were several of the socially
elect and the papers next morning carried extensive stories chronicling
the event coupled with the announcement that the park management would,
throughout the season, be pleased to extend the privilege of
participating in the entertainment to other groups who might wish to
take advantage of the opportunity for this unusual form of
entertainment. Society seized upon the idea voraciously and Jollyland
parties gave a new filip to the summer season at all the Long Island
resorts. Elderly matrons of ample girth vied with the members of the
younger set in setting the pace and in many instances came again and
again to become a part of the great spectacle. For the first time in its
history Jollyland began to figure in the society columns of the daily
press and great was the prestige which Jimmy enjoyed in McClintock’s
eyes as a result.

The particular luminary of the Long Island season at the moment and the
prospective lion of the month of August at Newport was none other than
the Hon. Betty Ashley, daughter of the second Lord Norbourne, and the
most talked about young woman in English society for a period the
beginnings of which antedated the war by several years. Before the great
European conflagration the Hon. Betty, though then still in her early
twenties, was a European celebrity. Spirited, impulsive, and headstrong
by nature she had early rebelled against the ultra-conservative
traditions of her family and had so thoroughly flouted convention that
her name was on the tip of the tongue of everyone in the tight little
island. She began it by publicly slapping the face of a certain deposed
kinglet who had sought refuge and a safe haven in England and whose sole
offense had been a mild protestation of love made at a fashionable
garden party. There had followed her sensational and entirely unarranged
presentation of a petition for woman’s suffrage to England’s monarch
himself at a formal court (an incident which sent her dignified father
to his bed for two weeks); her arrest on suspicion of being implicated
in a militant attempt to set fire to the parliament buildings and her
subsequent acquittal after she had refused to make any defense against a
damaging array of circumstantial evidence; her jilting of the Earl of
Maidsley in an explanatory and derisive letter to the Times; her winning
of the amateur tennis championship and a host of other incidents of a
distinctly unconventional nature. Then the war had come and she had gone
over to France in the first months as a motor driver and had still
managed to keep in the public eye for five years despite the somewhat
considerable amount of attention devoted by the newspapers to the main
phases of the great struggle itself. She had, for one thing, won a
D.S.O. for bravery under fire in the first battle of Ypres and she had,
for another, been reprimanded in orders for organizing a ball at a
certain chateau occupied by the staff of a certain corps during the
absence of the commanding general at a conference at G.H.Q.

Now she had come to the United States for the first time and had
materially assisted in putting zest and “punch” into a round of festive
house parties on Long Island given by prominent members of the swiftest
moving coterie of the so-called smart set. Small wonder that when she
heard of the expeditions to Jollyland which were enjoying such a vogue
that she should elect to organize one herself.

“I’m not entirely a rank amateur, my dear,” she confided to her hostess
when the party was preparing to depart. “I went on for two nights
running in the chorus at the Alhambra last winter on a five pound wager,
and I’d have stuck it out for a whole week for the fun of it if the
pater’s blood pressure hadn’t been running abnormally high. The old dear
would have gone all to smash if he had found out and he might if I’d
kept on.”

The Hon. Betty, her dark beauty set off by a rose-pink silk sweater and
a Tam o’ Shanter to match, was in the first car of the string of six
which disgorged a laughing crowd of merry-makers in front of Jollyland
on Sunday afternoon. They made for the big arena immediately as it was
within a few minutes of the advertised time for the ringing up of the
curtain on the great spectacle. The Hon. Betty let it be known to an
usher, who was duly impressed by her air of authority, that she craved
an immediate interview with the manager. McClintock, still disturbed at
the defection of the capricious Miss Delight, responded begrudgingly;
was apprised of the identity and mission of the distinguished visitor
and sought out Jimmy Martin in great excitement. He found the press
agent back on the stage.

“Say, young fellow,” he said enthusiastically, “I’ve got a Monday
morning story for you already made and ready to try on. This Betty
Ashley who’s been grabbing off space all over the world for a long time
and who’s the big noise with the real folks over here this summer, is
out in front with a crowd right out of the social register, and she
wants to go on in the London scene. I told her she could. Get busy now
and prepare for a general assault on the helpless press.”

Jimmy received this intelligence with a glumness that rather annoyed
McClintock.

“What did she want to pick out today for?” he inquired uneasily.

“What’s the matter with today? It’s the best day possible for a good
break for us. The papers are always glad of anything that makes a noise
like a story on Sunday. What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothin’,” replied Jimmy absent-mindedly, “only I wish she’d waited
until the middle of the week. I was kinda figurin’ on—oh, never mind,
it’ll be all right.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             Chapter Three


An acute observer would have detected signs of suppressed excitement in
the general demeanor of Jimmy Martin during the progress of the early
scenes of the great spectacle in which Lolita Murphy was essaying the
leading role for the first time on any stage. He had exchanged his
customary cigarette for the solace of a particularly formidable looking
cigar which he puffed at nervously as he sat in the manager’s box with
his cap pulled down over his eyes. His whole body was tense and rigid
and though there was a look of adoration in his eyes there was something
more—a vague something that seemed to spell apprehension.

Justice compels the admission that Lolita was doing Cedar Rapids proud.
She moved through the thrilling situations of “Secret Service Sallie”
with the ease and calm assurance of a veteran and more than merited the
applause which the vast holiday audience showered on her. When the
curtain rose on the final scene—the one depicting the streets of
London—the audience, keyed up to expectant excitement by the gaudy
promises of the program—held its collective breath and Jimmy sunk his
teeth viciously into what remained of his cigar. McClintock slid into
the seat alongside of him.

“That gal of yours is sure making good,” he remarked good-naturedly. “If
she goes through to the finish as nicely she’ll find a surprise in her
envelope on Saturday night. There’s that English society dame and her
party strolling along just as if they were back in dear old London. I
had Lawrence, the assistant stage manager, go on with ’em to put ’em
wise to all the business.”

The mimic street on the stage was thronged with a motley crowd of
supernumeraries who were supposed to represent the populace of the
British metropolis out for an airing on a bank holiday. The rose-pink
sweater of the Hon. Ashley was the most conspicuous object in view. That
patrician lady bobbed in and out among the others, apparently having the
time of her life and urging her friends, with violent pantomime, to
enter into the festivities with something akin to her own enthusiasm.

Presently the audience heard a murmur pass through the crowd on the
stage and Jimmy’s acute ear detected the muffled purr of the motor on
the dirigible which was, at that moment, manoeuvering for position and
awaiting its cue two hundred feet in the air just behind the backs of
the last row of spectators. The press agent grabbed the railing in front
of him and leaned eagerly forward. He was watching the right side of the
stage.

A motor car shot out of the wings through a lane in the crowd. In it sat
Lolita Murphy in the role of queen of the American secret service! It
was plain that she was simulating great anxiety and that she was being
followed. She looked apprehensively over her shoulder and the audience
could catch excited shouts of “stop her, stop her.” A gigantic bobby
stepped directly in the path ahead of the car and drew his revolver. The
chauffeur pulled a lever and the car stopped abruptly. A man on a
motor-cycle came dashing up.

“Arrest her,” he shouted and he sprang from the saddle. “She’s a German
spy from the Wilhelm-strasse.”

Lolita looked about furtively, poised herself for just a moment and then
leaped out of the car, overturning an athletic super and making for a
doorway as the crowd broke into frenzied cries of “kill her, kill her.”
The incident had been rehearsed with the utmost regard for actuality and
as the mob surged after the suspected spy the vast throng of spectators
swayed with excitement like a field of tall grass in a breeze. Lolita
reached the safety of the doorway by almost the fraction of an inch and
disappeared. The crowd poured in after her and McClintock caught Jimmy’s
arm as he detected a vanishing flash of rose-pink.

“Damned if that English dame isn’t right in at the death,” he said
excitedly. “She’s going up on the roof.”

Jimmy didn’t reply. He was watching the top of the make-believe building
with eyes that were strained and staring. As Lolita emerged from the
hatchway and plunged forward, with a fine gesture of despair, he looked
back over his shoulder for a moment and noted that the N-24 was slowly
swinging forward and that the alert and eager face of Bobby Wilkins was
visible over the edge of the car which hung from the rear of the big
balloon.

Lolita held out appealing hands and gave voice to cries for assistance.
The crowd, in the vanguard of which was a lady in a rose-pink sweater
with cheeks that were flaming and with eyes that were dancing, swarmed
up through the opening and surrounded the suspected spy. The
supernumeraries’ voices became a blended babble of inarticulate cries
and 3467 spectators watched the developments in a tense silence.

Nearer and nearer swung the great dirigible. Lolita was now in the hands
of the mob with which she struggled fiercely. As the N-24 swung around
the corner of the roof she turned as per instructions, but Jimmy noticed
with a gasp of concern that she had turned in the wrong direction and
that she was making her way to the wrong side. She was evidently
bewildered. Bobby Wilkins was leaning out of the car with his arms
outstretched and was beseeching her to run toward the other side of the
roof. In another five seconds the dirigible would have passed on and the
spectacular finish of the big show would be ruined. McClintock swore
softly. Jimmy sat as one entranced.

Some of the supers were pushing Lolita to the other side, but she seemed
to be in a panic and struggled with them as if still acting the earlier
scene. At this juncture Jimmy noticed that a lady in a rose-pink sweater
had run to the edge of the roof just above which the dirigible was
moving, and that she was holding up her arms. His cigar dropped from his
mouth a second later when he saw Bobby Wilkins grab her outstretched
hands, swing her free of the roof and pull her into the car as the great
dirigible finally cleared the stage setting and, in quick response to
the hand of the pilot in the front car, nosed her way upward at a higher
rate of speed. The curtain fell and the repressed excitement of the
great audience found vent in tumultuous applause. The thing had happened
so quickly that there were apparently few who had noticed that the wrong
young woman had been saved from certain death by the timely arrival of
Lieut. Thurston Turner, U.S.N.

“My God, what a whale of a story,” chortled McClintock, gripping Jimmy’s
arm so fiercely that the press agent winced with pain.

“Yes, isn’t it?”, responded Jimmy dreamily as he watched the N-24
winging her way over the park and out towards the sea. The spectators
had risen from their seats and were applauding again as a big American
flag was unfurled from the rear car of the dirigible.

The balloon kept on its way toward the ocean and McClintock noticed that
it didn’t make the turn it usually did when it reached the giant roller
coaster that ran along the shore. A puzzled expression came over his
face. If he had looked at Jimmy sharply just then he would have observed
the first beginnings of a pleased smile tilting the corners of the press
agent’s mouth. A minute passed and the great yellow gas bag receded
farther and farther in the distance. McClintock stepped down and
borrowed a field glass from a spectator. He glued his eyes to it for a
few moments and then dropped his arms. His face was pale.

“His motor’s dead,” he said weakly, “and he’s drifting out to sea. The
propellor’s stopped and he’s being carried out by this land breeze.
We’ve got to do something—we’ve got to get help of some kind.”

The manager was plainly worried. He pressed the glass on Jimmy, who had
followed him out of the box, and the latter watched the clumsy balloon,
now at the mercy of the stiff breeze which had blown up, slowly but
surely disappearing in the opalescent haze which hung above the line
where sky and ocean seemed to meet. The owner of the glasses had
overheard McClintock’s remark and had passed the word to his neighbor.
In two minutes the news had spread through the great crowd and thousands
of eyes were focused on the drifting speck which presently vanished.

McClintock, pushing Jimmy before him, started for the main office and
found himself surrounded by an excited group of men and women. An
upstanding chap in a British major’s uniform who wore a cap on which was
the red velvet band of a staff officer, stepped forward.

“We’re Miss Ashley’s friends,” he said, with a touch of feeling in his
voice, “and we’ll do everything we can to assist you. She’s a bit
untamed, sir, and she shouldn’t have done that wild, foolish thing, but
she’s the best woman alive for all of that and now that she’s in danger
we’re going to help you see her out of it. Has that dirigible got a
wireless on board?”

“No,” replied the manager. “There wasn’t any need for one. Since it’s
been here it’s never been more than a mile or two away from the hangar
before.”

“That’s bad—damned bad,” responded the officer. “Of course, maybe
they’ll be able to fix the engine but we can’t take chances on that. If
you’ll let me use your telephone I’ll call up our embassy in Washington
and get them to get in touch with the Navy Department. We’ll have all
the ships in range of the Arlington station on the lookout in an hour.”

The thoroughly sobered group of pleasure seekers who had accompanied the
Hon. Betty to Jollyland two hours before, followed McClintock and Jimmy
Martin into the offices in the administration building and talked in low
voices while the major began to fuss in the telephone booth with the
long distance operator. Some of the women were weeping.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              Chapter Four


In the seclusion of his private office Jimmy telephoned the Associated
Press, the police and the nearest United States life saving station, in
the order named, while McClintock, who was plainly tremendously worried,
paced restlessly up and down the floor, pausing occasionally to glance
out of the window at the broad expanse of sky and sea in the vain hope
that some sight of the lost dirigible might greet his eye. Just as Jimmy
began calling up the metropolitan newspaper offices in a fine frenzy of
excitement, both men heard the office door slam violently. They turned
in unison and found themselves confronted by Lolita Murphy. Gone was the
shy manner, the demure smile and the air of coy ingenuousness. Her
checks were flushed, her eyes were blazing and her whole manner
indicated that she was in what is generally referred to as a “state of
mind.”

“Hello, girlie,” Jimmy called out pleasantly, “what’s the matter?”

“Don’t you dare girlie me, Mr. James T. Martin,” retorted Lolita in a
voice that she was palpably trying, with a great effort, to keep at an
even and menacing tone. “Don’t you dare to speak to me again. I came in
to tell you that and to let you know that even if I do come from Cedar
Rapids I can’t be fooled by any New York—by any New York—bunco man.”

Her voice broke on the last word and tears came into her eyes despite
the struggle she was making to hold herself in hand. Jimmy came toward
her, but she waved him off hysterically. McClintock watched the
proceedings in amazement.

“What’s the idea, Lolita?”, began the press agent beseechingly. “I don’t
get you. I don’t understand.”

“Don’t try to tell me that,” ran on Lolita, who was now half sobbing.
“Don’t try to tell me that you didn’t turn me down when that English
girl came into the park with all those society people and that you
didn’t get together with that Wilkins fellow to have me left there so
you could get a better story out of it with her. You fixed it all up and
you can’t tell me that you didn’t because I just know, that’s all. I had
a sweater on under my dress so’s I wouldn’t catch cold, and I had milk
chocolate in my pocket and I’d written home to mother about it’s going
to happen and telling her not to worry about anything she might read in
the papers the first day, and now nothing’s happened at all to me and
I’ve been made a fool of and it’s all your fault if you ever try to come
near me again or speak to me I’ll slap your face, Mr. James T. Martin,
I’ll slap your face. Do you hear me, Mr. James T. Martin?—I’ll slap your
fresh little face.”

She was gone before Jimmy could remonstrate. The door closed behind her
with a more reverberating bang than the one which had heralded her
entrance. Jimmy dropped into the nearest chair and gazed vacantly into
space. McClintock shook him roughly by the shoulder.

“Say,” he shouted. “What in hell is this all about?”

“She handed me the mitt, Mac—she’s handed me the mitt, and she wouldn’t
even let me explain,” responded Jimmy brokenly. “It’s the real
heart-throb stuff this time, Mac, the real heart-throb stuff. I had
everything framed up for her and this English jane just drops in like a
joker runnin’ wild and wins the hand.”

“You had what framed?”

“Why—this drifting out to sea stunt,” replied Jimmy in a dead voice.

“This drifting out to sea—you don’t—you can’t mean that this thing is a
plant,” gasped the manager incredulously.

“Of course it is,” returned the press agent with something of the old
note of self-assertiveness in his voice. “I had it all fixed up for
Lolita, and now this society dame is goin’ to get away with all the
head-lines. When I saw Wilkins pull her into the car I didn’t think he’d
go all the way through, but it looks as if he’s decided to. There’s no
use in worryin’ about it. Every little thing is comin’ out all right—and
say—don’t forget to remember that it’s goin’ to be some story now—some
story.”

“Just let me get this big idea through my head,” persisted McClintock.
“What happens next?”

“Of course his motor hasn’t really gone dead,” replied Jimmy. “He’s just
ordered his engineer to shut it off so they can drift with the wind.
That was all framed up between us. He’ll probably turn on the gas again
and cruise around out of sight of land for a couple of hours and shut
off his engine every time he sees a ship comin’ in sight. That’ll be an
alibi for the story. When the little old sun starts to sink in the west
he’ll turn that gas bag towards the Jersey coast and he’ll make a
landing just before dark at a place we picked out yesterday morning.
He’s going to lay under cover there, and we’ll keep the country guessin’
all day tomorrow.”

“But someone will see him land,” criticized the manager.

“I don’t think there’s a chance of that,” replied Jimmy jauntily. “We
picked out a spot that’s as lonesome lookin’ as an iceberg. There isn’t
a house within two miles, and there’s nothin’ but marsh-land all around.
There’s one little place right in the center that’s high and dry. That’s
where he lands. Wilkins has got his car planted a couple of miles away
and his chauffeur is goin’ to be right on the job in a row-boat—you see
there’s a little creek that runs through the swamp—and the girl is goin’
to be taken away in the boat and slipped away to a hotel—that is, Lolita
was goin’ to be slipped away and was goin’ to keep dark until she got
the signal to appear again. Maybe this society queen’ll be game enough
to go through with it just for the fun of the thing.”

“We were goin’ to keep the agony up until tomorrow night at the earliest
and maybe until the day after tomorrow. Then Wilkins was goin’ to
telephone that he’d just landed after bein’ tossed about in the air and
all that, and Lolita was goin’ to have a nervous collapse and be
interviewed in bed by a flock of reporters with a couple of trained
nurses and three doctors hoverin’ around in the offing. You can fill in
the other details yourself. Anyhow, it’s a grand little notion for a
story even if this Betty Ashley person doesn’t come through. We’ll know
about that tonight.”

“How so?”

“Why, the chauffeur has instructions to telephone me the minute he gets
to the hotel. That ought to be not later than nine-thirty.”

“Why didn’t you tell me all about this beforehand?”

Jimmy smiled a bit guiltily before replying.

“I had a hunch that maybe you’d put the kibosh on the whole scheme
because I was featurin’ a certain party too much,” he responded. He grew
serious again for a minute and a far-away look crept into his eyes.
“Say, Mac,” he went on, “I had a number that called for the grand prize,
and I’ve lost the ticket. It’s rotten luck. From the way she spoke a few
minutes ago I’ll bet I don’t ever get out again, not even on probation.”

“That’s be all right,” consoled McClintock. “I’ll fix that part of it
for you. It’s a great story even if the Hon. Betty Ashley doesn’t go
through and if she does—why, if she does, it’ll be the biggest thing
ever pulled off in this country. Think of that for a little while.”

The Associated Press and the metropolitan newspapers were inclined to be
a bit skeptical of the facts which Jimmy telephoned them at the outset,
but outside confirmation was forthcoming promptly and within two hours
after Major Bobby Wilkins and Hon. Betty Ashley had disappeared in the
general direction of the open sea the story was the sensation of the
summer in journalistic circles.

A squad of picked feature writers invaded Jollyland in quest of detailed
particulars concerning the events leading up to the beginning of the
ill-fated balloon trip; seven sob sisters motored to the palatial home
at which the Hon. Betty was a house guest and interviewed a weeping and
distraught maiden aunt of that lady who had been acting as a submissive
chaperone, and who was certain that when “dear Ned, her father, hears
the news he’ll froth at the mouth and have a stroke;” cables were
frantically dispatched to London instructing correspondents to break the
news to “dear Ned” and watch the results; city editors pawed over
assortments of photographs of the beautiful heroine and conferred with
art department heads as to the most suitable ones to use for decorative
lay-outs; dozens of “leg-men” were sent out to points along the Jersey
and Long Island coasts with directions to watch for any possible news of
the return of the balloon and to keep on the lookout for any pleasure
yacht owner who might have seen the dirigible after she passed out of
sight of land; the Washington offices were instructed to post a man in
the navy department all night long to watch for any wireless news which
might come flashing back from the torpedo boat destroyers which, at the
urgent solicitation of the British ambassador, were to be sent out to
scour the sea in search of the missing airship, and it was unanimously
decided at editorial councils in every office to let the story “lead”
the paper the following morning unless some great unforeseen national or
international calamity transpired in the meantime.

Jimmy Martin became the focus point of more importunate newsgatherers
than he had ever fancied, in his wildest dreams, would assail him for
information and when a delegation of correspondents from a half dozen
London papers looked in on him at eight o’clock and told him that they
had been instructed to rush as much stuff as the cables would carry he
almost passed into a trance.

“Mac,” he confided to the manager when the English correspondents had
gone, “I feel like the fellow who looked at the giraffe and said ‘there
ain’t no such animal.’ There ain’t no such story. It’s a dream.”

“Well, I’ve left instructions that we’re not to be called,” returned
McClintock. “Let’s dream a little more.”

In the star dressing room on the big stage of the open air auditorium
Lolita Murphy was getting ready for the evening performance of “Secret
Service Sallie,” and was making a brave effort to control herself. She
was as forgotten as yesterday’s newspaper and the realization of it sent
great tears of bitter disappointment coursing down her rouged cheeks
into the make-up box on the little table in front of which she sat.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              Chapter Five


It was nearly midnight when Bobby Wilkins’ chauffeur reported over the
telephone to Jimmy Martin and McClintock, who had been keeping anxious
vigil in the office all night.

“There ain’t a sign of him,” he said hurriedly. “I waited right where
you told me to wait, and if he’d have been anywhere within a couple of
miles I could have seen him after it got dark. The moon has been shining
bright for a long time, and I had a pair of glasses with me. I’m afraid
it’s all up with him if he hasn’t landed some place else along the
coast. It’s tough for all of us if anything’s gone wrong, ain’t it?”

The chauffeur was instructed to make another trip to the selected
landing place and to stay there until dawn when relief was promised.
Jimmy was pale and over-wrought when he hung up the telephone receiver
and turned to McClintock.

“If he had landed any place else,” he remarked, “he’d have made every
effort to get to a phone. He’d know we’d be worried. Gee, Mac, supposin’
somethin’s happened to ’em. If there has little old Robert B. Remorse’ll
be my side-partner for life. He told me he’d be prepared for all
emergencies and he’s there with the nerve, but maybe they ran into a
squall or something. Why’d I ever think of this stunt? I’ve got too much
imagination, Mac, I’ve got to teach it to lie down and behave.”

The two sat up all night, smoking incessantly and discussing the variety
of fates which they fancied might have overtaken the adventuresome Bobby
Wilkins and his distinguished fellow passenger. Jimmy called up one of
the newspaper offices every fifteen minutes for news, but there wasn’t
any worth mentioning. The dirigible had not been sighted by any ship
with which the navy wireless had been able to get into communication and
the half dozen destroyers sent out to search for it were reported to be
without definite information.

The entire country seethed with the story in the morning. The Associated
Press had carried fifteen hundred words into every newspaper office in
every city of importance from coast to coast and the big dailies in
Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston had three and four column stories from
their metropolitan correspondents, liberally illustrated with pictures
of the Hon. Betty, who was one of the most photographed women of her
time. McClintock, who had no knowledge of Jimmy’s promise to keep Bobby
Wilkins’ real name out of print, had blurted it out to a group of
reporters in the evening and the salient facts concerning the modest
wearer of three war medals were incorporated in all of the accounts.
Robert Wilkins, Sr., forgot that he was a mere business machine, wiped a
few tears out of the corners of his eyes, looked tenderly at a picture
of a curly headed boy he always kept in one of the drawers of his desk
and started east on a special train.

The total haul in the New York morning papers was seventy-six columns of
solid reading matter and thirty-eight photographic illustrations. Every
angle of the story was covered in great detail and in addition to the
main narrative there were extended biographical sketches of the Hon.
Betty and of Bobby Wilkins. There were cabled stories from London
concerning the festive career of the former and containing an expression
of deep concern from the British premier. There were also eulogies of
the one time ace from personages no less important than the American
commander in chief in France and the generalissimo of the allied armies.
All in all it was the most spectacular “feature story” in years and the
greatest achievement in the history of American press agentry.
McClintock admitted that much when the first editions came in.

“Jimmy,” he said, “it’s a dog-goned shame that you’ve got to lie low and
never get credit for this. Still you’ve got company. I was reading in
the paper the other day that there’s a well defined rumor that the more
or less celebrated covenant of the well known League of Nations was
finally framed up by a clerk in the British foreign office. You can drop
over later on and take a little drink with him and cry it all out on
each other’s shoulder.”

Jimmy’s only response was a mournful attempt at a smile. He lit another
cigarette, jerked out of his chair and began to swear softly as he
walked up and down the room. He made a vicious lunge with his foot at a
waste-basket and kicked it through the door into the next office. Then
he took off his soft hat, rolled it into a lump and slammed it down on
the floor with a wide, sweeping gesture.

“I don’t mind that so much,” he said testily. “After landin’ a smear
like that, though, I’d kinda like to have a good time with myself for a
few minutes. I’d kinda like to throw a few assorted flowers up in the
air and let ’em drop on me, but I’m so gosh-darned worried about what’s
actually happened that I can’t even have that much fun.”

His anxiety increased as the day wore on and the early editions of the
evening papers which played up the story even more extensively than the
“mornings” failed to buoy him up. There was still no word of the N-24,
and navy department officials in Washington were reported to be gravely
alarmed at the possibilities.

At noon the British embassy gave out the announcement that “a
distinguished person” had cabled for detailed information and had begged
to be kept in hourly touch with the developments. Flaming head-lines
carried the legend “King Anxious About Lost Dirigible.” Upon reading
this three rival publicity promoters who had suspected the presence of
the fine Italian hand of Jimmy Martin in the proceedings from the
beginning and who had foregathered for lunch in their favorite club,
simultaneously started out on a joint jamboree that was to become a
memorable minor historical incident in the turgid annals of Broadway. It
offered the only means of escaping from the tragic feeling of profound
and passionate envy that surged up from the very depths of their beings.

At 3 o’clock as Jimmy, red-eyed and haggard, nodded at his desk between
telephone calls, a messenger boy dropped a cablegram in front of him. He
tore it open and gazed bewilderingly at this cryptic message:

                                HAMILTON, BERMUDA.
                   JAMES T. MARTIN.
                     JOLLYLAND PARK,
                       CONEY ISLAND, N. Y.
                     COME ON IN—THE WATER’S FINE—GIVE
                   MY REGARDS TO LOLITA, BUT CAN’T
                   SAY I’M SORRY IT HAPPENED AS YET.
                                   BOBBY WILKINS.

Jimmy gave a second look at the heading and rushed into the next office
where McClintock was snoring sonorously on a sofa. He shook the manager
savagely and waved the cablegram in front of his eyes.

“All’s right with the world, Mac,” he shouted joyously. “They’ve landed
in Bermuda. Can you beat that fresh son-of-a-gun doin’ a thing like
that? What’s the big idea, I wonder?”

McClintock grabbed the message and read it hurriedly.

“I guess maybe he’s mailing the answer,” he remarked. “It beats me.
You’d better get a wire off to him asking for particulars.”

The shrill summons of the telephone brought Jimmy back into his own
office the next moment. The voice of his friend, Lindsay, the day desk
man of the Associated Press, came over the wire in crisp, staccato
sentences.

“Got some news for you,” he said. “It’s going to make this morning’s
headlines look sick. Here’s the way our first bulletin reads:

“‘Washington, D. C.—July 7—The British ambassador has just given out the
following cablegram received from the Governor-General of the Bermuda
Islands:—‘Please announce to press the marriage this morning in St.
John’s chapel, Hamilton, of the Hon. Elizabeth Ardsley Ashley, eldest
daughter of Lord Norbonne, Bart., of London, England, to Robert Benjamin
Wilkins, Jr., only son of Robert Benjamin Wilkins, Sr., of Chicago,
Ill., U.S.A. The ceremony was entirely informal.’”

“I’m ordering three thousand words from our Bermuda correspondent,” went
on Lindsay, “and I’m having London break the news gently to dear, old
dad. I suppose if I came down on Sunday with the wife and the kiddies
you could slip us into a few of your side-shows.”

“Say,” responded Jimmy exultingly, “you’re goin’ to get a life pass good
for each and every attraction within the big enclosure.”

As he hung up the telephone and swung around in his swivel chair the
door leading into the hall opened ever so gently and the pale and
tear-stained face of Lolita Murphy peered through the opening. Jimmy
gazed at her, open-eyed, as she came slowly into the room. He noticed
that she had a crumpled bit of paper in her hand.

“Jimmy,” she said timidly, as she held out her arms in appealing
suppliance, “I’m just a—just a foolish small town kid. I didn’t
understand—I didn’t understand.”

Jimmy, in a daze, took the paper which she held towards him. It was
another cablegram. He smoothed it out and the peace that surpasseth
understanding settled down upon him as he read these words:

                               HAMILTON, BERMUDA.
                   LOLITA MURPHY,
                     JOLLYLAND PARK,
                       CONEY ISLAND, N. Y.
                     WON’T IT EASE YOUR DISAPPOINTMENT
                   A LITTLE TO KNOW THAT THE
                   MAD IMPULSIVE THING I DID YESTERDAY
                   AND THE RASH ACT I HAVE JUST
                   COMMITTED IN THE CHAPEL HAVE
                   TRANSFORMED ME INTO QUITE THE
                   HAPPIEST WOMAN ALIVE—BOBBY HAS
                   TOLD ME ALL ABOUT EVERYTHING AND
                   HE FEARS THAT YOU MAY THINK YOUR
                   FRIEND MR. MARTIN HAD A FINGER IN
                   THE PIE—HE HAD NOTHING TO DO
                   WITH IT, MY DEAR—IT WAS JUST FATE.
                   OUR BEST REGARDS TO YOU BOTH.
                          ELIZABETH ASHLEY WILKINS.

McClintock, coming into the room just then, tip-toed out again and
closed the door softly behind him, thus proving himself to be a
gentleman of singular tact and discretion.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              Chapter Six


An understanding with Lolita which contained certain qualifying clauses
was one of the net results of the Adventure of the Lost Dirigible. Jimmy
filed a number of demurrers, but they were over-ruled as soon as they
were entered on the docket. He had been foolish enough to imagine on the
celebrated morning after the night before that a perceptible scent of
orange blossoms clogged the circumambient air, but this belief was soon
dissipated by the young lady herself.

“I can’t get married, Jimmy,” she said earnestly, “until I find out
about my career.”

“What’s that got to with it?”

“Why, just—why, everything. I was reading an article only the other day
by Mary Garden in which she said that marriage cramped the career of a
woman on the stage. She said that husbands were a handicap—that they
held you back with the tail end of the procession and kept you from
getting on. She said——”

Jimmy broke in with a scornful laugh.

“I suppose she mentioned Mrs. Fiske and Laurette Taylor and Ethel
Barrymore and Blanche Bates and all the other selling platers who’ve
been left at the post because they were foolish enough to enter the
matrimonial stakes,” he scoffed. “It’s really too bad about ’em. It
looked once as if they had a chance.”

Her mouth stiffened at this and she tossed her head with a little
gesture that spelled stubborn defiance.

“Well—anyway—,” she said, “I’m going to see how it works—for a little
while. Maybe there isn’t going to be any career for me beyond—well,
beyond ‘Secret Service Sallie.’ If there isn’t I might possibly——”

She paused thoughtfully. Jimmy’s scornful mood had passed and he looked
at her appealingly.

“You might possibly what?” he ventured, cautiously. “There isn’t goin’
to be _another_ catch in it, is there?”

“I’m afraid there is,” she replied, quietly. “You’ll have to settle down
some place first. I don’t think I’d ever learn how to keep house
permanently in a hotel bed-room and besides——”

Again a disturbing pause. Jimmy was rapidly becoming a pitiful object to
behold.

“Get it all out of your system, sister,” he said, weakly. “I’m a glutton
for punishment.”

“Well,” she resumed evenly, “besides settling down you’d have to have
some money in the bank—quite a little. That’s the most important thing.
There was a girl in our town once who ran off with a fellow in the show
business and lived a hand-to-mouth sort of a life for several seasons
after passing up a lot of good chances among the boys she knew. She’s
back selling stockings in Boyd’s Emporium on First avenue now and she
looks kind of faded out and tired. I like you a lot, Jimmy, and you’ve
treated me better than I deserved and you’re the nicest fellow I ever
knew, but we’ve got to be sensible and wait and see how things work out.
Won’t you—please?”

The “please” was long drawn out and a bit plaintive. It touched the
heart-strings of the hapless press agent and played a tender little
strain upon them. He meekly agreed to all the qualifying clauses in the
agreement and he would have signed on the dotted line if they had been
three times as numerous.

Filled with a new enthusiasm his imagination began to run riot and
within two weeks his surprise assaults upon the front line trenches of
the forces defending the serried columns of the metropolitan daily
newspapers resulted in space returns that established new records.

He contrived to have a member of the President’s cabinet who happened to
take a ride on the Dippy Dip stalled in his gondola one hundred and
seventy-five feet in the air for half an hour while a squad of
mechanicians labored feverishly to get things straightened out. That
landed on the front page of every paper in town. He married off the
Armless Wonder in Bisbee’s Carnival of Freaks to the Legless Marvel with
a new result of six “picture spreads” and five and a half columns of
solid reading matter. His discovery that the little dark-haired girl who
danced on the open air stage in the big free show every afternoon and
evening was the daughter of a grand duke who had fled in disguise from
Soviet Russia and who had feared to reveal her identity because of the
possibility of attack by Bolshevik sympathizers in this country was his
biggest coup, however. This was sensationally played up for all it was
worth and considerably more in every New York daily and had been
telegraphed all over the country. As a “follow-up” on this he arranged
to have two uniformed guards accompany the young woman wherever she
went. This, too, landed heavily and Jimmy’s customary high opinion of
his own prowess was perhaps more noticeable than ever.

One evening while he was sauntering through the incandescent splendor of
Jollyland in a mood of supreme elevation, he heard the booming voice of
McClintock hailing him from the porch of the administration building.

“Come out of it,” the manager shouted.

Jimmy dropped back to earth with a start and sauntered toward the
office.

“Gosh,” observed McClintock, “you looked as if you were off on a long
journey. I hope you brought an idea back with you. We need one. That’s
what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Jimmy smiled the inscrutable smile of one who is the custodian of the
wisdom of the ages.

“I’ve got a neat little assortment of goods I picked up,” he responded
cockily. “What can I offer you?”

“Well, it’s this way,” returned McClintock. “You haven’t pulled anything
yet about our co-worker, Signor Antonio Amado, and his trained animal
show. He’s just been bawling his head off to me. Says there’s a
conspiracy on foot to keep him out of the papers and threatens all kinds
of trouble if we don’t slip something over about his concession right
away. I know you planned to get around to him before long, but you’d
better start something right off. Can you think of anything?”

Jimmy didn’t reply for nearly half a minute. His general manner
betokened profound mental concentration.

“I guess we can accommodate that bird,” he finally remarked. “I don’t
want to hurl any purple pansies at myself, but I think I’ve got a stunt
that’ll pretty nearly crowd everything else on to the back page. I’ve
got seven other animal stories ready, but I think this one has a shade
on all of ’em. I’ll slip over and ooze it into our Dago friend’s
intellect.”

The manager laughed good-naturedly.

“Say,” he commented, “you’re the best little friend of yourself you ever
had, aren’t you? Just hand out a little of that conversation to Tony and
he’ll lie down and behave for a few hours. Tell him you’ll get his
picture in all the papers. That’ll make a hit with him. He’s a member of
your lodge.”

The implications of the last remark made about as much impression on
Jimmy as did the idle wind which at that moment was lightly brushing his
cheek. He strolled over to the garish and gaudy building which housed
Amado’s Colossal and Gargantuan Collection of Trained Wild Beasts from
the Trackless Jungle; paused just long enough at the main entrance to
tell the dark-eyed lady cashier that she looked like a pocket edition of
Maxine Elliott and passed into the auditorium where Signor Amado was
directing the progress of the final show of the night.

The animal trainer was a short, stocky, swarthy-hued Latin with beady
eyes, shiny black hair, and a moustache to the care of which he devoted
himself with self-effacing solicitude. It was a fierce looking affair
with ends pointed like a rapier, which thrust themselves aggressively
upwards at a sharp angle giving the signor’s dark countenance a look of
great ferocity. He tried desperately hard at all times to live up to
that moustache and he had a habit of working himself into violent rages
which were, in reality, rather hollow and empty affairs, as even the
most casual observer could see. He was at heart, a weak and excessively
vain little man. Only the animals who leaped or cowered at his command
were fooled by his appearance of ferocity.

At the conclusion of the show he retired to his office and began to pour
into the unreceptive ears of the general director of promotion and
publicity a voluble stream of protest against the neglect of himself
which Jimmy was able to check only with great difficulty.

“Listen, Signor,” he finally managed to remark. “You’re wastin’ gas
you’ll need some day when you’re climbin’ uphill. I came in to tell you
about a scheme I’ve got that’ll put you and your show right in the
center of the map in bright green, and you begin this eruption stuff
that doesn’t get you even a look-in. Will you listen to me?”

“All right. I makea de listen,” replied Signor Amado, “but eef eet eesa
nota one gooda schema thata makea me hava de face—Signor Antonio Amado’s
face—all ever de—what you call?—all over de whole damned place—I queeta
de park—so.”

He snapped his fingers airily and shrugged his shoulders. Jimmy
proceeded to expound and expatiate, and as he did so the signor’s face
took on a look of intense interest. Presently it was wreathed in smiles,
and he was patting the press agent on the back and uttering words
expressive of pleased delight. The conspirators conferred for a half an
hour, carefully going over Jimmy’s plan of campaign and adjusting the
smallest details thereof so that there would be no disturbing faux pas
on the morrow. They pledged the success of the enterprise just before
midnight in brimming glasses of Chianti which the signor drew from a
secret hiding place in his desk.

At about ten o’clock on the following morning an express wagon drove up
in front of Signor Amado’s concession and four husky attendants brought
out a large box which was placed on it. Jimmy drew the driver aside and
gave him final instructions.

“Get right near the tower on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn bridge,”
he said, “and figure on making it at just about noon. Drive slowly and
if anyone near you makes a noise like a cop don’t pull anything just
then. Wait till there’s no one lookin’ and then reach back, unfasten the
hasp and lift the lid. Then you’ve got to register surprise,
consternation and annoyance and suggest calling up Signor Amado when the
plot begins to thicken, if you get what I mean.”

The driver, a typical “wise” product of the New York streets, nodded his
head, Signor Amado spoke a few mystic words through a wire netting at
one end of the box and the “plant” started on its way after Jimmy gave a
final parting instruction.

“I’ll probably be in the immediate vicinity when things begin to break,”
he cautioned, “but for the love of P. T. Barnum don’t make any signs of
recognition.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             Chapter Seven


And so it came to pass that at the appointed hour Jimmy, nonchalantly
strolling along the promenade near the great stone tower on the
Manhattan side of the bridge, cast a wary glance down towards the
roadway and observed the express wagon slowly jogging along directly
underneath. The driver, covertly glancing to the right and the left,
reached behind the seat with a quick movement, fumbled for an instant
with the hasp and, after lifting back the lid of the box, resumed his
two-handed control of the reins, perceptibly slowing up the speed of the
wagon.

The next instant the mischievous and uncannily human looking head of a
large-sized monkey appeared above the top of the box. He blinked for a
moment in the strong sunlight, reassured himself that the driver was not
watching him, leaped lightly to the roadway and made for the network of
auxiliary cables which run from the main supporting cables of the great
bridge. Following him came a procession of other monkeys of varying
sizes and kinds—short-tails and long-tails, some with weird whiskers and
others as devoid of facial adornment as a new-born babe—all of them
chattering and gibbering, each one intensely alive and apparently
determined on having the time of his or her young life as the case might
be. There were fifteen of them in all and as they sprang out of the
wagon, one by one, and started to join the venturesome leader of the
expedition they attracted the attention of scores of pedestrians,
chauffeurs and drivers.

“Hey, there, young fellow,” shrieked a man on the promenade. “You
gosh-darned zoo is escaping.”

The driver stopped the wagon suddenly, turned around and proceeded to
give a perfect imitation of a man in that particular frame of mind
popularly known as a “blue funk.” He jumped to the roadway and tried to
clutch the last of the escaping simians by the hind legs. That agile
creature eluded his grasp and joined two of his brethren who were
chattering gaily at the base of the labyrinthian maze of cables and
supports. By this time the first dozen of the monkeys had clambered
aloft and were surveying the constantly increasing crowd of joyous
onlookers from points of vantage anywhere from twenty to a hundred feet
in the air.

A policeman shouldered his way through the front ranks of the crowd and
looked up at the galaxy of nimble apes. He was sputtering and fuming
with rage.

“Come down out of that,” he yelled helplessly, shaking his club in an
absurdly futile attempt to wield authority.

The crowd roared with delight. One of the monkeys still on the ground
darted toward him, leaped on his shoulder and sprang from it to the
nearest cable far above his head before he was conscious of exactly what
had happened. He struck vainly at it with his stick. The crowd rocked
with laughter. Two other policemen joined him, forcing their way with
difficulty through the dense mass of pedestrians on the promenade.

“Maybe if we whistled at him, Dinny,” observed one of these sagely,
“they might come down.”

The three guardians of the law proceeded to pucker up their lips and to
emit a series of plaintive whistles which so startled the one-time
denizens of the jungle that all of them, as if swayed by some common
impulse, swung lightly to places ten or twelve feet higher.

“Sing ’em a little song,” shouted at ribald youth and the crowd once
more chortled with glee.

At this juncture a police lieutenant arrived on the scene, attracted
from a distance by the great congestion of traffic. More than two
thousand persons were now gathered on the promenade and vehicular
progress in both directions was clogged. A long line of trolley cars was
strung out to the east and the west, and several hundred motor cars and
trucks were stalled while their drivers crowded forward to enjoy the
fun. The lieutenant sized up the seriousness of the situation instantly.
He dispatched one of the patrolmen to telephone for the reserves and to
send in a still alarm for the fire department, and then turned to
Jimmy’s willing tool, the driver. That individual, still registering
dazed bewilderment, shrugged his shoulders when asked to assist in
bringing down the escaped monkeys, who were now festooned in irregular
formation along the interlocking cables for a distance of several
hundred feet. Most of them were swinging by their tails and otherwise
comporting themselves with a supreme disregard for law and order.

“I can’t do a thing, boss,” persisted the driver. “I don’t know the
first name of a single one of the bunch. Maybe if some one telephoned
for the gink that owns ’em he might be able to bring ’em down.”

And so it further came to pass that Signor Antonio Amado was reached on
the telephone at Jollyland; that he swore lustily in three languages in
simulation of great consternation and that he promised to come to the
scene of hostilities as rapidly as his touring car could bring him. When
he arrived forty minutes later; the crowd had grown to ten thousand and
the greatest tie-up of traffic in the history of the bridge was in
progress. The firemen from two hook and ladder companies were making
ineffectual efforts to bring down the innocent disturbers of the great
city’s peace and dignity and a certain press agent, watching the
proceedings from a discreet distance, was enjoying the biggest emotional
experience of a somewhat checkered and not altogether drab career. He
was getting the same sort of thrill that comes to the playwright as he
stands in the rear of a theatre during a tense scene in a play of his
writing and watches a great audience swayed by something he has
originated.

Jimmy noticed with keen interest that a group of newspaper men had
already gathered on the scene, and that among them was no less a
celebrity than Frank Malia, of the Item, the star feature writer of the
Eastern Seaboard and a specialist in stories with a humorous angle.
Jimmy knew that there were standing orders in the Item office to “let
Malia’s stuff run,” and he felt reasonably sure of at least a column and
half in that particular paper.

It may be recorded that the arrival of Signor Amado, resplendent in the
snappy green and white huzzar uniform he wore while directing the
performances in his concession, brought the festivities to a rapid
conclusion. In response to sharply spoken words of command from the
fierce-looking little trainer the truant apes descended rather
reluctantly from their perches and permitted themselves to be herded
together once more into the wooden cage, the top of which was now
securely fastened down under the personal direction of the police
inspector who had arrived to take charge of affairs a few minutes
before.

The great throng cheered the Signor vociferously when he had finished
and stepped into his car. He bowed again and again, kissed his hand,
waved his busby and gave other indications of profound satisfaction with
himself and with what he felt to be the justly merited plaudits accorded
him. Jimmy permitted himself to be swallowed up in the eddies of the
dispersing crowd, as the signor’s car whirled him back to Jollyland.

The subsequent proceedings were all that the most sanguine and
optimistic press agent could desire. The story landed with a big splash
in all the evening papers, and four of the morning papers covered it
with feature yarns running all the way from three quarters of a column
to nearly two columns in length. The longest story of all was written by
Malia. It was a delightful bit of foolery written in a spirit of
satirical burlesque and full of whimsical little touches that made it
the talk of the week in journalistic circles.

There was only one thing that marred the perfect symmetry of the general
effect. While the fact that the monkeys’ temporary habitat was Jollyland
was properly chronicled in headlines and in the body of all the stories,
there was no mention made by name of Signor Antonio Amado except in one
paper and then his alliterative cognomen was atrociously misspelled and
appeared as Andy Amato. He was referred to, of course, and described as
well, but impersonally. Mention was made in one story of “a funny little
fellow who looked as if he had escaped from the chorus of a Balkan
operatta,” and Malia had called him “a bandit king with the manners of a
marquis and the sang-froid of Subway guard.”

After glimpsing the evening papers and observing this omission Jimmy had
turned over the conduct of affairs in his office for the night to his
assistant, hoping that the morning papers would use the signor’s name.
When he read the others at breakfast his elation at the general success
of his personally conducted enterprise was tempered somewhat by the
prospect of an eruption from the Vesuvian temperament of the animal
trainer. He wasn’t particularly disturbed at this because he had sized
the signor up as a false alarm from the start, but it meant a
disconcerting half hour or so and he was a little bit peeved that the
fates should have allotted him anything that was not rosy and serene on
what should have been a day of general rejoicing and glad acclaim.

McClintock met him at the entrance to Jollyland. The manager wore an
anxious look.

“Tony’s off the reservation,” he confided. “He did a series of
flip-flops in my office a half hour ago and I understand that he’s
turning handsprings all around his arena at the present writing. He
inquired about your health. I told him you had gone over to Philadelphia
on a little business for me. Better stick to the office all day. He
never keeps these things up for more than twenty-four hours. Grand
little story, that, even if it did annoy the King of Beasts.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             Chapter Eight


Another of life’s irritations managed to try the soul of McClintock that
morning. One of the more or less wild and untutored savages from the
South Sea Island Village on the ocean side of the park came into the
possession of a pint flask of the Demon Rum which had been washed up on
the beach, and with no regard for the refined niceties of imbibing had
swallowed the contents in a series of continuous gulps. The subsequent
proceedings relieved the ennui and lethargy which always enfolded
Jollyland in the morning hours before the gates were thrown open to the
general public.

The savage gentleman—a thin, wiry person with wicked looking eyes from
whose slit ear lobes, nose and lower lip there hung a choice collection
of carved sea shells and brass rings, went into executive session with
himself and proclaimed a Reign of Terror as the best means of
establishing a dictatorship over the fellow members of his tribe, and
the entire park as well. He started proceedings by invading his
straw-thatched domicile and seriously damaging, with a well-directed
blow, the facial contour of the companion of his joys. That lady, a most
formidable party who had been taken unawares, retaliated in kind with
such verve and energy that the self-constituted dictator left his
domestic hearth with great suddenness and started on the rampage through
the village street.

He seemed to have no carefully calculated plan of campaign and no
particular objective. A general demolishment of all existing
institutions, a comprehensive destruction of private property in general
and a leveling of class distinctions appeared to be his vague aim. He
leaped through a frame on which one of the natives was weaving a
blanket, completely ruining the work of months; he overturned a shelf
full of crude earthenware jugs which the potter of the establishment had
contrived; and he playfully kissed the stout and principal wife of Mumbo
Tom, the chief of the village. When that venerable worthy attempted to
remonstrate in an outburst of outraged dignity, he tweaked the old
fellow’s nose three times in rapid succession.

Passing out through the main gateway of the village into the esplanade
he continued his ruthless assaults on organized society. Uttering weird
and entirely unintelligible invocations to the spirits of his savage
ancestors in a high-pitched voice, he vaulted on to the back of a
patient-looking camel which was being groomed by a red-fezzed Egyptian
from Greenville, Mississippi, preparatory to being ridden by visitors to
the park at twenty-five cents per head. He dug his bare heels into the
beast’s sides and emitted a wild whoop. The camel turned her head,
surveyed him rather bewilderingly and started down the roadway on a
brisk canter for about a hundred feet. Then she gave a little snort and
heaved her humps convulsively. The social rebel from the South Seas shot
through the air and landed in the direct center of a booth presided over
by a gentleman from Nippon and devoted to what is known as the “Japanese
ball game.” The results here were disastrous. When he picked himself
from the clutter of broken china and glass with which he was almost
entirely covered his head was bloody, but unbowed. He shook himself like
some shaggy dog just emerging from a dip in the ocean, bounded over the
counter and made for Antonio Amado’s wild animal show, pursued by a
howling mob of attendants and special policemen who had gathered from
the four corners of the park.

He burst through the entrance to the enclosure and ran along a
passageway into the private office of Signor Amado himself. That
ferocious looking worthy was, at the moment, delivering a philippic to
his principal assistant, a pungent diatribe directed against the press,
press agents, stupid park managements and the inherent injustice of
mankind in general. At the sight of the wild-eyed and blood-stained
visitor from an alien clime in the doorway, he passed in the middle of a
sentence. His jaw dropped and his face turned ghastly white. He ducked
behind a desk and mumbled a fervid appeal to the patron saint of his
native village in Lombardy. The visitor looked around for something to
destroy. His gaze encountered a half empty bottle of Chianti on a table
and he sprang for it with the fierce avidity of a lion leaping at his
prey from ambush. The contents of the bottle were gurgling down his
throat to the accompaniment of half-choked chuckles of delight when the
pursuing mob closed in a few seconds later and quelled the revolution.
McClintock rushed in as the special policemen were putting a pair of
handcuffs on the would be Trotsky. Signor Amado, arising from behind the
desk, confronted him.

“Whatafor you leta theese fella in here, eh?” he cried belligerently,
his old pose of aggressiveness automatically asserting itself at the
sight of the pinions which held the savage intruder safely bound.

McClintock laughed at the sheer absurdity of this remark.

“We didn’t let him in any place, Tony,” he replied. “He just happened to
drop in here and several places along the line before we could catch up
with him.”

“Whata make him so bada man, er?” inquired the animal trainer.

“Booze, Tony, plain old-fashioned booze. They tell me he picked up a
bottle on the beach some one must have dropped off an excursion boat.
These fellows can’t stand intoxicants of any kind. It makes ’em wild. I
see he’s been cutting into your Chianti.”

He gave orders for the temporary bestowal of the now thoroughly
chastened and mollified revolutionary, and was following the latter’s
captors out of the office when Signor Amado plucked him by the sleeve.

“Say, meester,” inquired the latter. “You geta my face in de papers
tomor’, eh?”

The manager shook his head.

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible—that is tomorrow,” he replied. “I
told you this morning we’d do the very best we could to work up another
story about you next week when this monkey yarn was sort of died down.
Then we’ll see what we can do about landing your picture right. Don’t
worry. Leave it all to me.”

Signor Amado assumed a defiant attitude.

“I giva you—what you call, eh?—a warning. You have my face in alla de
papers tomor’ or, by dam, I feexa de park gooda.”

McClintock had heard threats like that before. He shrugged his shoulders
and walked out. Signor Amado’s shifting glance fell upon the overturned
Chianti bottle on the table and remained there for a few seconds. A
malicious gleam slowly crept into his beady eyes and he smiled.

It is hardly necessary to chronicle the fact that the classic features
of Signor Antonia Amado did not decorate the pages of any of the
metropolitan newspapers on the following day. McClintock hadn’t bothered
to tell Jimmy anything about the animal trainer’s threat. He refused to
take it seriously himself and he saw no reason for worrying the press
agent with any mention of it, particularly as that gentleman was busily
engaged in working out the details of a fresh story which was to center
around the fake kidnapping of two babies from the Infant Incubator.

When Signor Amado himself had carefully scanned the papers, and had
convinced himself once more of the existence of a secret conspiracy to
keep his name out of print he was strangely silent for one prone to
burst into vociferous vocalization on the slightest provocation. He even
chuckled a little when he put the last paper down and his beady eyes
glinted nastily again. He strolled out into the room where his animals
paced restlessly back and forth in the cramped limits of their stuffy
cages and he spoke to several of them on his parade of inspection.

“Dey teenka day make beega foola of your boss, Lena,” he remarked to a
great lioness who pushed her nose against the bars of her cage at his
approach, “but, by dam, he makea dem feel ver’ foolish eh, Lena? He puta
de whole parka on de bum. What you say, Lena, eh?”

He playfully poked at the splendid creature’s flank and she responded
with a long drawn out roar of really terrifying volume. Signor Amado
felt moved to sinister laughter.

“Dat’s right, olda girl,” he continued. “I puta de whole park on de
bum?”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              Chapter Nine


Rain began to fall early that afternoon, a steady persistent downpour
that held no immediate promise of abatement. A melancholy grayness
enveloped Jollyland, converting it into a bleak and dismal habitation
wherein dwelt people who seemed to have drunk of the chalice of
desolation. Rain at the seaside is depressing enough, but rain in a
summer park in the height of the season, rain that comes up just after
the gates are opened and that looks as if it would last for twenty-four
hours, produces an effect of gloom that almost defies description.
Thousands of once gay flags twisted themselves limply around their
poles; dozens of lady cashiers who hadn’t taken in a cent for hours and
who were tired of their novels and incessant gum-chewing gazed
listlessly into the leaden sky and wished they were home in Flatbush or
Astoria; low-spirited concessionaires figured up their losses with
pencil and paper and would have cursed the Fates if they had known of
the existence of those divinities; performers, literally sick with
ennui, clustered in little groups under cover and querulously argued
with each other about trivialities; the waiters in the “Trianon”
restaurant at the end of what was called the Street of a Thousand
Delights, foreseeing that there would be no largesse forthcoming until
the dawn of another day, rolled dice for the previous night’s pickings
or aimlessly discussed Flying Scud’s chances in the fifth race at
Belmont Park; the South Sea Islanders crooned weird chants under the
shelter of their grass huts and McClintock smoked thick, black cigars
and called up his friend in the weather bureau every fifteen minutes in
a vain search for cheerful tidings. At seven o’clock in the evening—not
a single patron having crossed the threshold of the park for four hours
and the weather man’s report still being “continued rain”––he ordered
Jollyland officially closed for the night, shut his desk with a vicious
slam and stepped over to Jimmy Martin’s office for a chat.

“Well,” remarked the press agent, glancing up from his typewriter, “it
looks as if we were in for a nice quiet evening at home. Has there been
any squawk lately from my Italian friend?”

“There’s hasn’t been a peep out of him since yesterday,” replied the
manager. “This rain has given him something else to worry about. He
loves money as the flowers love the dew, and I’ll bet he hasn’t taken in
$8.25 all day.”

McClintock dropped into a chair, swung one foot on Jimmy’s desk and
lazily puffed at his cigar while the press agent ground out on the
clicking machine a romantic tale concerning a lady rejoicing in the
cognomen of Montana Maggie, who rode a cow pony in Laramie Ike’s Wild
West Show and who totally annihilated dozens of glass balls with her
trusty rifle at every exhibition given in that concession. Outside the
rain poured incessantly. A mist-laden breeze found its way through the
open windows, but it didn’t seem to dampen the pristine enthusiasm of
Jimmy Martin who was working with all the fervor of a reporter trying to
catch an edition with a big murder story and the “dead line” only ten
minutes away.

Presently there came to the ears of both men the echo of a far-off sound
that penetrated through the monotonous murmur of the dripping rain. It
seemed like the blended babble of many voices and yet it was vaguely
indistinct. McClintock jerked his foot off the desk and straightened up
in his chair.

“If it wasn’t raining so-dog-goned hard,” he remarked “I’d say someone
was staging a doughboy’s ‘welcome home’ parade or a young riot. What is
it, I wonder?”

“There’s doings somewhere close at hand,” was Jimmy’s comment as he
stood up, walked towards one of the windows, and peered out. “Here’s
little old Paul Revere now, coming to tell us the news.”

The next instant a dripping park attendant, white-faced and trembling
with excitement, burst through the door.

“Mr. McClintock,” he stammered, “there’s particular hell to pay down in
the South Sea village. That bunch of wild-eyed nuts is all soused and
they look as if they was gettin’ ready to go on the warpath. They’re
crazy drunk—where they got the stuff beats me,——and they’re dancin’
around and singing’ songs fierce and when Patsy Burke tried to go in and
argue with ’em they threw spears at him. He got cut in the shoulder—it
ain’t anything bad—but you can’t tell what’ll happen and the rest of us
is kinda upset. You’d better come along right away. We’ve got guards
posted all around the fence, but I’m afraid if they start to come out
something pretty rough’ll happen.”

“The end of a perfect day,” murmured the manager as he jammed his hat on
his head and plunged out into the driving rain, closely followed by
Jimmy and the attendant.

The events of the next hour were as full of exciting incident as the
entire fifteen reels of a movie “serial.” The attendant had spoken truly
when he stated that the forty-odd savages in the village were drunk.
They were roaring, raving drunk. When McClintock and Jimmy reached their
habitat they were filling the air with wild cries and maniacal shrieks.
They were brandishing spears and vicious looking war clubs, and were
dancing about the grass hut of Chief Mumbo Tom with all the fierce
abandon of whirling dervishes. That ancient dignitary was sitting in
front of the royal palace on his throne chair in a state of maudlin
stupor, draining the last dregs of a bottle which he held to his lips
and directing the festivities with encouraging waves of his free hand.
The steady downpour of rain seemed to have no effect whatever on the
celebration.

Finally the chief dropped the bottle and clapped his hands. There was
silence for a moment and he made a brief speech, liberally punctuated by
hiccoughs. When he had finished the others gave a concerted cheer and
turned towards the stockade which surrounded the village.

“They’re coming out,” shouted McClintock, who was peering through an
opening, “get your clubs ready, boys. Don’t anybody shoot. We’ll get
into all kinds of a mix-up if you do.”

The battle royal which followed lasted for several minutes. The special
policeman and other attendants gathered outside the enclosure won out
after a desperate struggle and drove all but three of the rioters back.
These three managed to worm their way through the press and went
shrieking up the main street of Jollyland in emulation of their brother
whose adventures of the day before have already been duly chronicled.
The net damage which they wrought before capture was appraised on the
following day at several thousand dollars. When the partially sobered
villagers renewed their effort to get out of the stockade fifteen
minutes later they were met with decided opposition from the park’s fire
company, which had been called out by McClintock. A well directed
high-pressure stream of water from a fire hose sent them tumbling over
one another in disordered array and brought about a final cessation of
hostilities.

In the excitement attendant upon the suppression of the incipient
revolution no one observed a spectator who watched the proceedings from
a sheltered position directly opposite the main entrance of the village.
No one overheard his chuckles or saw him twirl the ends of his waxed
moustache with a little gesture expressive of pleased satisfaction with
himself. For that matter no one had seen one of his assistants unload
three cases of Chianti from a push-cart in the rear of Mumbo Tom’s
dwelling late in the afternoon during a particularly heavy downpour of
rain or had overheard the announcement that the villagers were requested
to drink to Signor Antonio Amato’s health. And there was no one to
overhear the signor murmur as he stole back to his office through the
gathering darkness.

“I tella dem I putta de park on de bum.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              Chapter Ten


Fifteen minutes after peace had been declared McClintock and Jimmy, both
thoroughly soaked and decidedly uncomfortable, foregathered in the
latter’s office for a comparison of notes and a general consultation.

“That’d make a pippin’ of a story if you’d dare to let it get out,”
ventured the press agent as he wrung out the corner of his saturated
coat into a waste-basket.

“Well, I don’t take the dare,” returned the manager peevishly. “That’s
one story that the censor isn’t going to let get through if he can stop
it.”

“What’s the harm?” inquired Jimmy innocently.

McClintock looked him over carefully before replying.

“What’s the idea?” he remarked scornfully. “Is your reason tottering on
its throne? Don’t you know that if this thing got out it’d scare away
the family parties that are the backbone of our patronage? You couldn’t
induce women to come within half a mile of the park if they heard about
this rumpus. They’d think it might happen again any minute and they’d
remain away in a body—and they’d keep father and the boys away too. Get
that straight.”

“There’s something in it, I guess,” opined Jimmy slowly.

“You put your money three ways on that. You’ve got a new job tonight,
mister man. You’ve got to forget about putting things in the papers.
It’s up to you to keep something out for a change.”

“Maybe somebody’ll blab the whole thing.”

“I’ve issued orders to have everyone instructed to give an imitation of
a tongue-tied clam, but so dog-goned many people were in on this that
it’s pretty certain there’ll be a leak somewhere. That’s where you come
in.”

“What can I do?” inquired the press agent ruefully. He was plainly
displeased with the vista opened up by his superior.

“You can do every little thing there is to do,” returned McClintock
firmly. “I want you to make a personal matter of this. I want you to
drop into town and make the rounds of all the morning papers. I want you
to see every city editor and make a special plea to have the thing
hushed up. Tell ’em it’ll ruin us for the summer if it gets out. Make it
strong. It’s going to be the acid test of how useful you really are
around here. String ’em along. Let ’em understand that you won’t take
‘no’ for an answer. I’m going to dust over home in my car for a clean-up
and a long, dreamy nap. Goodnight.”

Jimmy started to expostulate, but he stopped short when the office door
slammed in his face. He stood irresolutely as the chug-chug of
McClintock’s machine died away in the distance. Then he dropped into a
chair, reached for a pack of cigarettes on the table, lit one and
indulged himself in painful cogitation. Under ordinary circumstances he
would have experienced profound physical discomfort from his
water-soaked clothes and the general feeling of stickiness that
enveloped him from head to feet, but physical feelings were matters of
slight importance to him at the moment. The distress which was
registered upon his face was purely mental in its origin, but it was
intense and singularly disturbing. He felt that he was up against the
hardest job of his life and he could see no way to hurdle what seemed to
be the insurmountable barriers that confronted him.

In the language of journalism Jimmy “knew news.” He knew precisely what
sort of an incident or happening or bit of romancing, for that matter,
would appeal to the trained newspaper executive as worth playing up and
precisely the sort of stuff that would be passed up. By all the tests he
was familiar with, by all the general rules and regulations of the game,
the story of the jamboree of the savage gentlemen from the far-flung
isles of the Pacific, of their attempt to raid the park, of the battle
between them and the guards and of their final defeat was one of the
biggest bits of “feature news” that had transpired in or about New York
that summer.

If it had “leaked” into any newspaper office he knew there was about as
much chance of his keeping it out of print by making a personal plea, as
there would be of suppressing the announcement of the engagement of a
daughter of the president of the United States to the Prince of Wales.
If it hadn’t “leaked”—and there was a fair chance that it hadn’t—because
of the state of the weather—he was painfully aware of the fact that by
calling on the city editors in person and asking them not to use it he
would simply be handing them a tip on which they would base an
investigation. The story was decidedly too good to be hushed up by any
plaintive wail about “ruining our business.”

He would have mentioned all of these things to McClintock if the latter
hadn’t made such an abrupt departure. He told himself now that even if
he had been able to voice them the manager wouldn’t have comprehended
the impossible nature of the task he had so casually mapped out. Folks
who haven’t smelt the smell of the paste-pot and heard the presses roar
usually have the weirdest sort of naive notions concerning just what and
just what cannot be done in the way of either inserting news in the
columns of a great metropolitan daily or keeping it out.

“The acid test”—Jimmy kept remembering these three words and the oftener
they recurred to him the more distressed he became. He sat hunched up in
his chair looking out into the pouring rain and consuming cigarettes at
a most alarming rate. At about the middle of the sixth cigarette he
straightened up; at the beginning of the seventh he arose and began to
pace the floor while a new idea slowly unfolded in his active mind; when
he was two puffs into the eighth he flung it into a corner with a
resolute sweep of his arm, dived for the telephone, called up “Beekman
4,000,” and impatiently joggled the hook until a response came.

“Hello, World?” he said jerkily, “give me the city desk ... hello ...
city desk?... Who is that? McCarthy?... Say, Mr. McCarthy, this is
Martin of Jollyland—Martin—M-A-R-T-I-N—publicity director of
Jollyland—raining here? You betcha—say, I’ve got something pretty good
for you ... hot stuff.... Be on the lookout for it, will you?—Dope?—No,
sir, this is the real goods. No fooling—on the level—you can expect it
before midnight. Good-bye.”

In the next ten minutes Jimmy, in a frenzy of feverish haste, called up
the city desks of all the other morning papers and repeated practically
the same message to each. Then he ordered three messenger boys to report
to him in half an hour, stuck six sheets of carbon between seven long
sheets of copy paper, inserted the numerous layers in his typewriter and
began to pound out, with ever increasing speed, a narrative that was to
either make or break him.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was nearly midnight when an office boy dropped a long manila envelope
marked “NEWS—RUSH” on the desk in front of Larry McCarthy, night city
editor of the World. The early mail edition had gone to press ten
minutes before and McCarthy had just come up for air for a brief
interval before plunging into the final activities of the night. The
tension had relaxed and he was joking with the managing editor who had
stopped to give a few parting instructions on his way home.

McCarthy tore the envelope open almost unconsciously as he went on
talking and unfolded the four long sheets of paper which it contained,
sheets covered with closely written typewritten matter. His gaze drifted
carelessly to the top page where it lingered as something seemed
immediately to interest him. A cynical smile began to play over his
features as he read. Presently it broadened into something more mellow
and human. Then he burst into hearty laughter.

“Shades of Tody Hamilton,” he chortled. “Here’s the last word in
hysterical romance. This fellow makes ’em all look like pikers. He
called me up on the phone to tell it was hot stuff. Well, it certainly
is. It certainly is.”

“What is it?” questioned the managing editor.

“It’s a pipe dream by a bright young gentleman who seems to be trying to
make a living by getting pieces in the paper for Jollyland. He must come
from some place in the tall, tall grass if he labors under the delusion
that he can put anything as raw as this over on a New York paper. I’ll
give him credit, though. It’s a masterpiece of its kind. If someone ever
starts a press agent’s school this could be used verbatim as a horrible
example of the kind of a contribution _not_ to send out.

Just listen to this heading:

                      BLOODY UPRISING BY
                        SOUTH SEA ISLANDERS
                        AT JOLLYLAND QUELLED
                                ––––
                      BELIEVED TO BE RESULT
                            OF BOLSHEVIK PLOT
                                ––––
                      Maddened Savages Armed With
                        Spears and War Clubs Run
                        Amuck and Attempt to Take
                        Possession of Park.
                                ––––
                      WHISKERED RUSSIAN SEEN
                          ACTING SUSPICIOUSLY
                                ––––

“Isn’t that immense?” went on McCarthy. “Can you tie the colossal nerve
of that fellow sending a thing like that out? Get his opening paragraph:

“‘Maddened with a thirst for human blood and believed to be acting under
instructions from a Bolshevik agitator who was seen prowling about in
the early evening 186 naked savages from the South Sea Islands made a
desperate attempt last night to massacre all the whites in Jollyland,
the gigantic summer park on Coney Island. Giving utterance to
blood-curdling cries of vengeance and undaunted by the driving rain
which was falling at the time they made an attempt to break out of the
village, where they give daily exhibitions of their quaint and curious
native customs, and were held in check by the park attendants only after
a wild and furious struggle lasting for nearly half an hour!...’”

The managing editor laughed uproariously.

“The poor old Bolsheviki,” he chuckled. “Even the press agents are using
’em. That story’s certainly a gem of purest ray serene. I’d like to meet
that young fellow. He’d make an interesting study.”

The telephone bell on McCarthy’s desk rang just then and the city editor
reached for the receiver.

“Hello,” he shouted. “Yes—McCarthy—yes, I got one, too—it’s a bird—we’ve
just had the best laugh of the month over it—most sublime imagination
uncovered since Dante—you bet!”

“That’s Carlton of the Gazette—night desk man,” he said as he hung up.
“He’s got a great sense of humor. Wanted to know if I’d had this and
offered to send me his copy if I’d been forgotten.”

He crumpled Jimmy’s composition up in a ball and tossed it in the big
waste-basket at his side as a boy slipped him a first copy of the mail
edition wet from the press.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             Chapter Eleven


The rain ceased falling at midnight. The moon emerged from behind a bank
of sombre clouds and threw a silvery radiance over the weird and
wonderful architecture of Jollyland. Dozens of the concessionaires and
their employees who elected to live in the park throughout the summer
and who had been penned in all day by the downpour came out for a breath
of air and a stroll along the broad esplanade. Among them was Signor
Antonio Amado, who sauntered out of his living quarters smoking a long
cheroot and smiling a wicked smile. He was still inwardly chuckling at
the success of his little plot and he had consumed a most particular
bottle of a most particular wine in proper celebration of his
achievement. The Signor’s attention was attracted by a conversation
between two of the special night watchmen who were chatting in front of
the tortuous roller coaster known as the Belvidere Bend. He slipped into
a shadow to listen.

“Did he give you orders not to say a word?” one of the men was saying.

“He did that!” replied the other. “Shure it’s tryin’ hard they are to
keep the thing out of the papers. They’re afraid it’ll put the place on
the blink, and faith, I think they’re right. It’s mesel’ that won’t be
breathin’ a word of it to a livin’ soul from now to the risin’ of the
judgment dawn.”

The Signor tip-toed noiselessly around a corner and disappeared in the
direction of his concession. Three minutes later he was talking to the
World on his private telephone and trying to make a tired operator
understand what he was saying.

“I havea de news,” he shouted, “de beega news—de damned beega news—de
beega, besta news you ever hear—Who? Wella givea me data man
McCart’—Hello, eesa dat McCart’?... Say, McCart’, deesa eesa Signor
Antonio Amado who maka de lions jumpa—eh?—I say I maka de lions jumpa at
Jollyland,—well, meester, deres one beega time down at Jollyland
tonighta—one beega time—dey eesa try to keepa it outa de papers—but I
tella you—deesa wilda men from de South Seas dey raisa hella—dey hava
beega fight—dey—what you say? Seet on a tack?—I no seet on a
tack—hello—hello.”

But only echo answered. McCarthy had hung up. The Signor swore a large,
round, succulent oath and went to bed.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Jimmy was at his office at the customary hour the next morning. He
hadn’t slept all night and he was dog-tired, but his soul was filled
with satisfaction. His ruse had worked. Not a single paper had carried a
line about the fracas. He had taxied over to Manhattan and had kept
vigil along Park Row until the final editions appeared. Then he had
chartered a touring car and had taken a long ride along the Long Island
roads until it was time for him to report for duty. He found McClintock
on the job already. The manager was in a jubilant mood.

“Well,” remarked the latter cordially, “you stood the test, all right.
I’ve got to give you credit. I didn’t think you’d get away with it, to
tell you the gospel truth. Pretty decent bunch after all, I guess. Did
any of ’em put up much of an argument?”

“Any of who?” inquired Jimmy.

“Why the city editors, of course. You saw ’em all personally, didn’t
you?”

Jimmy smiled a little guiltily, coughed nervously and then laughed
quietly.

“I might as well confess, Mr. McClintock,” he said finally. “I didn’t
see any of ’em. I tried out a new scheme and it worked like a little old
Liberty motor. I figured that the story was altogether too good to keep
out by any personal visit and I was afraid, anyway, that if any of the
papers hadn’t been tipped off my going in with an argument would start
’em out hot-foot after the yarn. So I wrote it and sent it out myself.”

“You sent it out yourself!” gasped McClintock. “I don’t get you. Slip me
a blueprint.”

“I took a big chance and I got away with it,” replied Jimmy. “I knew
that there isn’t a chance any more of anything that a press agent writes
gettin’ into the news columns of a New York paper. They’ve been shy on
that kind of stuff for a great many years. So I said to myself that if I
wrote out this yarn like as if I was some kind of a rank amateur,
dressin’ it up with a lot of flossy adjectives and makin’ it read so
that it sounded like a foolish pipe-dream they’d size it up as pure fake
and throw it in the little old waste-basket. Then if any reporter or
anyone else _did_ shoot in a tip on the story they’d figure out someone
had been tryin’ to bunk _him_ too, and would pass it up. I made it good
and strong, and it looks like they fell for it hook, line and sinker.
And say, I know somethin’ I never knew before. If I ever lose out in
this game I can get a job writin’ a series for the Boy’s Nickle
Library.”

McClintock patted him affectionately on the back.

“All I’ve got to say, Jimmy,” he remarked enthusiastically, “is that
you’re a great little press agent.”

“I’m a great little sup-press agent, you mean,” responded the other with
a grin.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             Chapter Twelve


One morning two weeks after the summer season at Jollyland had ended
Jimmy found himself in a state of moody dejection in the club car of a
fast express train en route from Washington to Baltimore. He dropped
into a chair in the rear end of the car and let himself slowly slide
forward until his shoulder blades nearly touched the seat. He swung one
leg over the other, wedged both hands into his trousers pockets and
puffed viciously at the somewhat frayed cigarette which hung from one
corner of his mouth.

Somehow or other his brain wasn’t functioning properly. His imagination
wasn’t yielding up the customary assortment of bizarre ideas and freak
suggestions from which he always was able to select one particular
inspiration to serve the need of the moment. To make the situation more
exasperating the last words of Meyerfield kept bobbing up in his train
of thought. He could see and hear the manager of the famous “Meyerfield
Frolics” as he had stood in the lobby of the New National Theatre in
Washington the night before, smoking the inevitable cigar and talking in
a loud booming voice.

“Remember,” Meyerfield had announced with great impressiveness, “I want
you to smear us all over the front page of every paper in Baltimore.
We’ve never played the ‘Frolics’ there and we’ve got to have ’em
properly introduced. I’m depending upon you to plant something that will
stir that town up like an earthquake. Get the girls into it some way.
They’re the best card we have.”

As Jimmy slouched in his seat the memory of a hundred spectacular
exploits which he had engineered swam through his mind, but he couldn’t
fasten on a new idea or on anything that hadn’t been worked and
re-worked. He was just beginning his first season with Meyerfield and
that worthy was a showman who expected results.

A memory picture of Lolita flashed into his mind and with it came the
realizing sense that her silence was perhaps responsible for his present
frame of mind. Since he said good-bye to her in New York a week before
to go ahead of the “Frolics” there had been only two letters from her,
letters written on the first two days of their separation. In the last
she had mentioned, with great enthusiasm, that she had signed a contract
to play a tiny part with a road company which was to regale the
theatre-goers of the small towns in the Middle West with a chaste little
farce then sensationally successful in New York. It was called “Ursula’s
Undies,” and it was a dainty affair designed to provoke the curiosity of
that type of male who carries around a pen-holder with a little
glass-eye piece at one end. You look in at his suggestion (he’s sure to
ask you) and you behold a couple of large and lumpy females in one-piece
bathing suits in what is alleged to be a scene suggestive of Oriental
abandon. “Ursula’s Undies” wasn’t even as wicked as that, but its
advertising manager distinctly sought to convey the impression that it
was too terrible for words and Jimmy had been moved to remonstrate with
Lolita by means of a telegram in which he had rather peremptorily
directed her to throw up her job and “get into something decent.”

There had been no reply to this wire nor to a frantic series of letters
which had followed it and Jimmy had begun to fancy that morning that all
was lost. He turned and looked out at the endless procession of fleeting
telegraph poles and at the dreary landscape apparently afloat in a
shimmering haze of mist which had followed a drizzling rain. He was
aroused from his reveries by a pleasant voice, a voice with something a
bit “precious” in its soft cadences, a voice that betokened a rather too
thick overlay of what Jimmy scornfully called “culchaw.”

“Good morning, Mr. Martin,” said the voice. “What’s the matter? You seem
sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”

Jimmy turned and recognized the speaker, a tall young man who wore
enormous tortoise shell spectacles, an impeccable two button cutaway and
a smile in which there was a touch of supercilious superiority. He was
one of Jimmy’s pet aversions, a highbrow press agent—J. Herbert Denby by
name—who was “doing a little special literary work,” as he himself
described it, ahead of a company that was presenting a repertoire of
dank and morbid Scandinavian plays on tour. He had been associate editor
of a literary magazine and had written a number of choice essays on what
he called the “new movement in the theatre” which had been published in
more or less obscure periodicals and which had been undoubtedly unread
by a vast multitude of persons. He was now enjoying his first experience
in the business world of the theatre and he had met Jimmy a few nights
before in Washington. His abysmal ignorance of practicalities had
aroused a sympathetic feeling in the latter which had been later
completely dissipated by his patronizing manner. His company was to be
Jimmy’s “opposition” in Baltimore, and he was journeying there on the
same errand that Jimmy was.

“Good morning,” grunted Jimmy. “What’s that you say?”

“I say that you seem sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,”
responded Mr. Denby, sitting down in the next chair with great
deliberation and carefully disposing of the tails of his coat. “By that
I mean that you seem lost in abstraction, as it were.”

“Not as it were,” replied Jimmy. “As it is. I’m certainly lost in
abstraction all right, all right, only I never called it that before.
The old idea box ain’t workin’ right. It’s back firin’ on me.”

“What’s the problem?” asked Mr. Denby judicially. “Maybe I can be of
some slight assistance. We represent opposite poles of the world of the
theatre, but an interchange of thought may clear up the situation.”

“The problem is one that can’t be cleared up by a flossy little piece of
writin’ marked ‘not duplicated in your city,’ old scout,” replied Jimmy
disconsolately. “Essays ain’t any more use in this situation than curry
combs in a garage.”

“But perhaps I may be able to venture a practical suggestion that might
be of value,” persisted the other.

“Practical suggestion!” snorted Jimmy. “Not a chance. You fellows are
all right, I guess, for this Ibsen stuff, but you don’t know anything
about girl shows, not a single, little thing.”

“I presume you mean the chorus girls,” suggested Mr. Denby. “Do you wish
to use them in some way for publicity purposes?”

“You’re talking,” said Jimmy. “I not only wish to I’ve got to. I’ve got
to smear ’em over the front pages of all the papers in Baltimore to keep
my job. And, believe me, Baltimore is some tight town when it comes to
handin’ out space for the showshops. The lid’s on and you’ve got to
murder someone to get it off.”

Mr. J. Herbert Denby cocked his head at a thoughtful angle and gazed
judicially through his spectacles.

“It mightn’t be a bad idea,” he said finally, weighing every word
carefully, “to get a delegation of prominent citizens to meet them at
the station with automobiles. Had you thought of that?”

Jimmy turned a look of concentrated scorn on him that would have caused
an ordinary mortal to shrivel up and pass quietly and unobtrusively into
a state of complete dissolution, but it had no such effect on J.
Herbert. He simply smiled a superior smile and awaited an answer.

“And it would be a good stunt, too,” snapped Jimmy, “to get the Governor
of the State to dance the tango with Madeline La Verne in the waiting
room of the station and to arrange to have the professors at the
university carry all the girls on their backs up to the hotel. For the
love of Mike, talk sense, man.”

“Of course, they would have to be extremely prominent citizens,” went on
J. Herbert Denby, utterly ignoring Jimmy’s biting sarcasm, “the leading
men of the city. It might be possible to arrange to have them go over to
Washington in their cars and bring the young ladies to Baltimore in them
instead of just meeting them at the station. That would add a touch of
piquancy to the proceedings that——”

He got no farther, for Jimmy choked off further utterance by springing
up and grabbing both his hands in wild exultation, almost upsetting the
porter who was emptying a bottle of mineral water for the man in the
next seat.

“You’ve got it, you old highbrow son-of-a-gun,” he shouted. “You don’t
know how good it is yourself. You know that old stuff about ‘and a child
shall lead them on.’ Well, that’s you. No offense, mind you, no offense,
but you _are_ a child in this line. I’ve got a notion to kiss you right
out in public.”

J. Herbert backed away and almost landed in the lap of a stout party who
was reading a paper.

“Please don’t,” he murmured. “Please don’t, I pray. It would embarrass
me fearfully.”

The stout party turned to his companion and spoke quietly under the
cover of his hand.

“Nuts,” he confided. “Pure Brazilian.”

Jimmy bade J. Herbert Denby a most enthusiastic farewell at the station
in Baltimore.

“There’s a dinner coming to you, old George B. Bookworm,” he shouted as
he jumped into a taxicab, “a nice young dinner with a little grape on
the sidelines and no stops for way-stations when we get our feet under
the table. See you later, old dear.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            Chapter Thirteen


Jimmy arrived at the Lyric Theatre in that glow of exultant feeling
which every great artist should feel when driven to accomplishment by
the urge of a great imaginative idea. He dashed through the lobby,
pushed his way through a swinging door adjoining the ticket window
marked “Manager’s Office” and leaned over a desk at which was seated a
slender man with what might be called the old-young face, a face on
which disillusionment and blase boredom seemed indelibly stamped. This
was George Seymour, manager of the theatre, popularly known among
traveling press agents as the “human icicle” because of his inborn and
inherent distaste for humanity as a whole and for publicity men in
particular. Mr. Seymour was going over a set of plans for the remodeling
of the entrance of the theatre with an architect, and seemed supremely
busy, but this little detail didn’t phase Jimmy.

“Well, Georgie, old man,” he said breezily, “here we are back again and
this time we’ve brought the big idea along for a little visit. I want
you to meet him.”

He slipped his hat down on the blueprint in front of Mr. Seymour,
completely obliterating the graceful outlines of the architect’s new
front elevation and swung himself up to a seat on the edge of the desk.
A dangerous glint crept into Mr. Seymour’s eyes as he unconsciously
fingered a heavy brass paperweight to the right of Jimmy’s hat.

“Perhaps,” he said in a voice whose quiet intensity was deadly in its
menace, “perhaps you may not have noticed that I’m busy, Mr. Martin. I’m
not interested in any big ideas just now except the one I’m discussing
with this gentleman.”

“Forget that,” said Jimmy jauntily, pulling a cigar out of his pocket
and lighting it while Mr. Seymour glowered at him. “That’s just an old
blueprint for some improvement or other that can wait. My big idea can’t
wait. I’ve got to put it over right now. And you’ve got to help me.”

Mr. Seymour’s architect, a precise man unused to such unceremonious
business methods, laughed quietly.

“I guess, Seymour,” he said, “you’d better hear what he has to say. I’ve
got a few minutes to spare. I’ll go into the next room. Persistence
seems to be this gentleman’s middle name.”

Mr. Seymour, loathe to give in, looked around helplessly. Jimmy leaned
over and deftly flecked a bit of cigar ashes from the lapel of the
manager’s coat, a manoeuvre which sent his stock down ten points more.

“Stick around, old man,” he said pleasantly to the architect. “I don’t
mind if you hear what I’ve got to say and I’m sure Georgie won’t
either.”

“Don’t Georgie me, my friend,” replied Seymour, “state your business and
get it over with. The only way I can get rid of you without calling for
the police, I suppose, is to listen to you.”

“Well, it’s this way,” said Jimmie eagerly. “I’ve got to smear the
Frolics girls all over the front page of one of your newspapers, and
I’ve got an idea how to do it. Now don’t stop and pull that ‘it can’t be
done’ gag on me. That’s the pet line of every house manager from Bangor,
Maine, to San Diego. Every time you spring a new one they throw up their
mitts and tell you that ‘it can’t be done.’ Clean the sand out of your
running gear and go along with me on this one for once in your life.”

Mr. Seymour raised a protesting hand and tried to break in, but Jimmy
rattled on.

“I’m going to pull a story,” he continued, “that a bunch of prominent
members of the Washington Automobile Club are going to take all the
girls for a joy ride next Sunday morning to a point midway between
Washington and Baltimore and that another bunch of leading
citizens—members of the automobile club of your own fair city are going
to pick ’em up there in their cars and bring ’em into town. Ain’t it a
great little idea?”

A sardonic smile brightened the face of the cynical Mr. Seymour.

“It’s certainly a great little idea, Mr. Martin,” he said, “and I have
no doubt that all the city editors in town will be so grateful to you
for letting them in on the story that they will have gold medals struck
off commemorating the event.”

The underlying sarcasm of this speech did not check Jimmy’s enthusiasm.

“Of course, someone will have to stand for the story,” he said. “I’m not
going up cold to any paper with a yarn like that and expect ’em to fall
for it, without some confirmation. What I want you to do is to tip me
off to some friend of yours, some nice, agreeable party who’s a member
of the club and whose name carries a lot of class, a party who’s a good
enough scout to help a fellow in a pinch. I’ll talk him into standing
for the yarn, and slipping me a list of names. Can’t you suggest
someone?”

Mr. Seymour’s eyes gleamed maliciously. He leaned over and grasped
Jimmy’s arm in a pretense of great friendliness.

“I know just the man,” he said, “just the man.”

“Well, spill his name,” replied Jimmy. “I’ll get to him before lunch.”

“Donald McDonald’s the man,” said Mr. Seymour. “He’s the vice-president
of the club and the president of the Merchant’s Trust Company. He’s a
jovial, jolly, good fellow who’d be tickled to death to stand for a
stunt like that. Just mention my name. There’s no doubt in the world,
but what he’ll help us out. Is there, Larabee?”

Mr. Larabee, the architect, who was having a desperate time trying to
smother a chuckle, assumed an expression of great wisdom and remarked:

“You couldn’t have suggested a better choice, Seymour.”

“His office is on the eleventh floor of the Merchants’ Trust building,”
broke in Seymour. “Two blocks down and one block to the right.”

Jimmy jumped down from the desk, jabbed on his hat and started for the
door.

“Thanks, fellows, for the tip,” he called back over his shoulder. “I’ll
see you in a little while.”

As the door swung after him Seymour turned to Larabee and burst into a
Mephistophelian laugh that would have been a credit to the late Lewis
Morrison.

“Larabee,” he said. “They’ll pick him up in pieces down on Eleventh
street just two minutes after he hits McDonald’s office. Can you imagine
anyone going to that old boy with a fool proposition like that? Can you
imagine it!”

“You certainly picked the last man in the world,” agreed Larabee.
“Chorus girls and automobiles to meet ’em and a theatrical press agent.
My God, Seymour, I really believe he won’t live long enough to even tell
the doctor his name.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was mid-afternoon when Jimmy Martin returned to the Lyric Theatre. He
breezed into George Seymour’s office with a grin on his face and an air
of assurance that rather flabbergasted the manager.

“Well, Georgie,” he said, “you certainly gave me the right dope. I
landed buttered side up. Fine fellow, McDonald. Great personality. Best
little old scout I’ve met in years.”

“You _saw_ him?” gasped Seymour incredulously.

“Saw him?” echoed Jimmy. “I should say I did. I lunched with him over at
the Bankers’ Club and I’ve been out for a ride on the boulevard with him
in his car. Fixed me up all right and he’s going to stand for
everything.”

“What brand of dope is that you use, Martin?” inquired the manager
sarcastically. “I’d like to recommend it to some of my friends.”

“Come down off the flying rings, Georgie,” retorted Jimmy. “What are you
up in the air about? Didn’t you sic me onto him and didn’t he run to
form just as you said he would. How’s this for a reception committee?”

Jimmy reached in his coat pocket and drew out a folded piece of paper.

“Some class to that bird,” he said. “He had the little old stenographer
write it out for me. Here’s the names: Jonathan Wilde, president of the
Kewanee Packing Company; Judson Davis, secretary and general manager of
the Twistwool Knitting Company; Horace Chadwick, president of the
Oystermen’s First National Bank; Col. Hannibal Roundtree, president of
the Carrolton Country Club; Jefferson Tait, retired gentleman; Henry
Quinby Blugsden, Maximilian Hendricks, Marshall....”

“Stop,” shouted Seymour. “You mean to tell me that McDonald gave you
that list of names and said he’d stand for it?”

“You can play that three ways, Georgie,” responded Jimmy, shoving the
paper under the other’s nose. “There’s the list on his own personal
stationery. This is the reception committee that’s going to motor out
Sunday morning to bring our flossy frails into your beautiful city. At
least my friend McDonald says they are and of course, I’ve got to take
his word. So have the papers. I gather he’s some important person.”

“Of course he is,” replied the dazed manager. “Of course he is—one of
the biggest citizens in town. And that list—why that list just reeks
with distinction. I can’t understand it. That crowd meeting chorus
girls? Why the idea is—well, it’s just impossible. That’s the only
word!”

“Gosh, if that’s the way you feel about it the darned thing must be
going to develop into a bear of a story. Speaking for myself, I never
met up with old James K. Impossible. He doesn’t belong to any of my
clubs and whenever I think I see him coming I duck up a side street.”

“If you get any paper to stand for that story,” said Seymour, “it’ll
stir up the whole town.”

“That’s where I belong,” replied the press agent jauntily. “Stirring up
towns is one of the best little things I do. Choose your exit door,
Georgie. I’m going to plant this yarn tonight and the intense excitement
will begin to develop in the morning.”

He swung briskly out of the office and Seymour sat down, tried to figure
the thing out. Somehow he couldn’t.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            Chapter Fourteen


Nick Jennings, night city editor of the Baltimore Bulletin, stifled a
yawn, stretched his arms, stood up and lounged over to the copy desk. He
was utterly unlike the city editor of fiction. He was a short, stocky
person with a round and jovial face and there wasn’t a trace of the
fabulous steely glint in his grey eyes.

“Not a line of stuff worth sending up,” he observed to Tom North, the
head copy-reader. “Unless something breaks the local end of the old
sheet tomorrow is going to be about as interesting as a seed catalog.
I’ve marked Milligan’s story on the food inspection scandal for a two
column head, but it’s pretty dead stuff. Got an idea?”

Tom North shook his head.

“I thought for a minute there might be a feature in that North Side
Woman’s Club resolution protesting against the psycho-analysis
movement,” he said, “but I didn’t suggest it to you because that Arline
Dupont Maxwell introduced it. That dame can cook up more schemes to get
her name on the front page than any three prima donnas I know of. There
isn’t anything else that’s worth wasting good ink on.”

The city editor yawned again and looked at the clock. It was after ten.

“It’s tough turkey,” he rejoined. “I’ll bet you there was more news
stirring out in Twisted Twig, Oregon, today than in this burg.”

An office boy touched him on the arm and handed him a card. He looked at
it, hesitated for a second or two and then remarked:

“I’ll take a look at that bird. Send him in.”

He turned to his co-worker again.

“Zip goes another resolution,” he said with a half-laugh. “I’m going to
see a press agent. I’ll take any kind of a chance on a night like this.
Persistent gink. Sent in his card an hour ago and I turned him down
flat. Now he sends it in again marked ‘absolutely imperative I see
you—great story with a local angle.’”

He had just settled himself again at his desk when Jimmy Martin swung
through the city room and greeted him with an expansive smile.

“Well, Mr. Martin?” grunted Jennings interrogatively as he bent over a
page of typewritten copy on his desk in simulation of great
pre-occupation.

“Mr. Jennings,” began Jimmy eagerly, “I’ve got a great story with a
local angle, a story that’ll stir this little old town up considerable
and then some.”

“Uh, uh,” said the city editor, never looking up.

There wasn’t the slightest trace of interest in Jennings’ attitude and
Jimmy felt his own enthusiasm flagging for just a moment. Cold-blooded
fish, these city editors, he said to himself, always afraid someone is
going to put one over on them.

“You see, Mr. Jennings,” he resumed, “I’m with Meyerfields’ Frolics. We
play the Lyric next week and——

“I saw your card,” snapped Jennings. “What’s the finale?”

“Well, I just heard tonight that the Baltimore Automobile Club is going
to pull off a little private stunt next Sunday—sort of under cover.
Someone slipped me a hot tip. I made the chairman of the committee in
charge cough up. A bunch of the prominent members are going to pick up
the girls of our show in a flock of cars over at Annapolis Junction and
bring ’em into town. It’s a cooperative stunt they’re pulling off with
the Washington club. The fellows from the capital are going to bring ’em
as far as the Junction and——”

“Nothing doing,” broke in the city editor.

“But it isn’t a fake,” persisted Jimmy eagerly, “it’s dead on the level.
I’ve got the names of the reception committee with me. The chairman had
his stenographer write them out for me.”

He shoved his typewritten list across the desk directly under Jennings’
hand. The latter looked up in annoyance, started to push it back, caught
the name on the letterhead and gave the paper a cursory glance. He
looked up again.

“Been looking through Seymour’s copy of the Blue Book, eh?” he remarked
testily. “Where’d you dig up this letter head?”

“I’m telling you that Mr. McDonald had his stenographer write it out for
me. I don’t ask you to believe me, Mr. Jennings. Mr. McDonald said you
could call him up before eleven. I’m not trying to steer you wrong.”

The fierce intensity of Jimmy’s voice and manner caused the skeptical
Jennings to bore him with a searching look. His eyes dropped to the
paper again. He skimmed through the names. What if by some queer quirk
the story was really true? Donald McDonald, Horace Chadwick, Col.
Roundtree and all those others joy-riding with chorus girls under the
official auspices of the Automobile Club—why, the thing would rock the
town like an earthquake! And the fellow had said McDonald would verify
the story. Why had he taken a chance and said that if it wasn’t true? It
was an easy matter to reach McDonald. He looked up warily.

“Been spilling this story any place else?”, he asked.

“Not a syllable. It’s exclusive for you if you promise to use it. Of
course, if you don’t I’ll have to drop in over at the Gazette office.
It’s too good to waste.”

Jennings seemed to look through Jimmy for a full half minute while he
pondered deeply.

“Young man,” he said finally. “I’m going to investigate this little
yarn, but let me tell you that if it turns out to be a fake, I’ll have
you deported as an undesirable alien.”

He turned his gaze towards the little group of reporters on the other
side of the room grinding out copy to the tune played by a dozen
clicking typewriters.

“Crandall,” he called out, “I’ve got a story for you to look up.”

Jimmy effaced himself as the Bulletin’s star feature writer jumped up
briskly in response to his chief’s summons.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            Chapter Fifteen


The Horace Chadwicks were breakfasting in their stately old colonial
home in the environs of the city. The shrill song of twittering robins
came through the half-open windows on a gentle spring breeze and the
morning sunlight flooded the room. A benign spirit of peace and domestic
tranquility seemed to brood over the scene. Mr. Chadwick, a solid and
substantial looking man of fifty-five, was supping his coffee and
glancing through the financial columns of the Gazette. Mrs. Chadwick had
finished her grape-fruit and had just picked up the Bulletin. She was a
matronly person whose ample bosom seemed to be but the continuation of a
rippling series of superfluous chins. She carried herself, even in her
morning negligee, with that air of conscious rectitude and commanding
importance which she felt to be fitting for a prominent banker’s wife
who was a member of three important women’s clubs, secretary of the
anti-cigarette section of the local branch of the W. C. T. U.,
vice-president of the Baltimore chapter of the League Opposed to Woman’s
Suffrage and chairman of the Advisory Committee to the State Board of
Moving Picture Censors.

If Mr. Chadwick hadn’t been deeply immersed in the Gazette’s account of
the proposed merger of certain copper interests he might have noticed
gathering storm clouds a few feet away, but he was blissfully
unconscious of any impending catastrophe. Screened by his paper he had
no inkling of the passing train of emotions that were registered upon
the extensive facial areas of the partner of his joys. Amazement,
incredulity, bewilderment, chagrin, unholy rage—all of these feelings
were depicted upon the countenance of Mrs. Chadwick and were succeeded
in turn, by an expression of scornful calm that was pregnant with
possibilities of a most unpleasant nature. She laid down the Bulletin,
removed her glasses and addressed her husband in a voice that was cold
and menacing.

“What car do you propose using Sunday, Horace?” she asked.

“What’s that?”, said Mr. Chadwick looking around his newspaper. “What
car? Sunday? Oh, I guess I’ll take the new touring car out?”

“Don’t you think the limousine would be better?”, she continued in an
even voice. “More sheltered, more screened from the public gaze as it
were?”

“More screened from the public gaze?”, he repeated. “What are you
getting at, Elizabeth? No limousine for me if this weather keeps up.
Wonderful morning, my dear, a wonderful morning. I’ll bet the crocuses
sprouted three inches over night. A few more days like this and I’ll
peel a half dozen years off. Nothing like spring to put life into you,
my dear, nothing like it.”

“Nothing like spring to make foolish nincompoops out of a lot of old
men,” corrected Mrs. Chadwick in a voice that was positively glacial.

Something in the tone of it stirred her husband’s curiosity. He put down
his paper and looked up quickly.

“What are you talking about, Elizabeth?” he inquired sharply.

“I suppose Colonel Roundtree has picked a blonde,” went on Mrs. Chadwick
icily, utterly ignoring his question. “Have you decided on a brunette,
Horace?”

“Blondes—brunettes?” murmured Mr. Chadwick hazily. “Have I decided—say,
Elizabeth, what’s got into you?”

“I dare say brunettes are a little too seriously inclined for you,” ran
on his wife in the same even, ironic tone. “Blondes are livelier and
they have the funniest names, I’m told. Which do you prefer,
Horace—Trixie, Mazie or Delphine?”

Mr. Chadwick surveyed his wife with alarm.

“What’s the joke, Elizabeth?”, he inquired with an attempt at a smile
that was really pathetic. “Where do I laugh?”

“Into her little pink ear, Horace,” responded Mrs. Chadwick.

“Look here, Elizabeth,” he shouted, “either you need a doctor or the air
around here needs clearing. Humor was never your strong forte. There are
a lot of sly little innuendos floating about that I’m going to choke off
right here and now. Some damned old meddler in petticoats has been
buzzing about this house and I’m going to find out who it is.”

Mrs. Chadwick composedly confronted him.

“A pretty well known meddler, Horace,” she remarked with irritating
suavity. “A meddler known to thousands. I refer you to the Bulletin.”

She carelessly indicated the paper in front of her. Mr. Chadwick grabbed
it and hurriedly glanced at the front page. A three column headline
attracted his attention.

                    ELDERLY MILLIONAIRES
                      PLAN JOY RIDE PARTY,
                      WITH “FROLICS” CHORUS
                              ––––
                    Donald McDonald, Horace Chadwick
                      and Other Auto Club
                      Members Arrange to Bring
                      Broadway Beauties Into Town.
                              ––––
                    INSIDER SPILLS THE BEANS
                              ––––

By the time Mr. Chadwick got that far he was spluttering like a leaky
radiator valve. By the time he had finished reading through the flossy
little yarn that Billy Crandall had woven out of Jimmy Martin’s story,
he looked as if he had overstayed the time limit in the hot room at a
Turkish bath by fifteen minutes. His face was fiery red and the veins
stood out on his forehead in knotty little lumps.

The fragmentary remarks that Mrs. Chadwick was able to extract from the
almost incoherent jumble of sounds that escaped from the lips of her
spouse during the reading were of such a general nature and tone that
she put her hands to her ears in sheer self-defense and sat wildly
tapping her feet on the floor to drown them out. The next minute her
husband crashed out of the room and through the hall to his waiting car.

“Cut her loose, Martin, and drive me to the Bulletin office,” he shouted
to the trim chauffeur. “I’m going over the top after that crowd of
pestiferous puppies.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Though it was not quite nine o’clock when Horace Chadwick arrived at the
Bulletin office he found eight other apoplectic prominent citizens
gathered in excited colloquy in the ante-room to the office of Richard
Chilvers, the owner and editor-in-chief of the paper. Col. Hannibal
Roundtree, a handsome and stately old gentleman with a militant imperial
and a flowing white moustache, was addressing remarks to a thoroughly
scared young man who had thoughtlessly confessed a minute before that he
was Mr. Chilver’s secretary.

“You listen to me, young man,” he was saying. “You march into that
office there and get Dick Chilvers on that private wire of his and tell
him that if he’s a gentleman he’ll drop his breakfast and come down heah
and meet a delegation of irate and fightin’ mad citizens of this
community face to face, instead skulkin’ in the trenches.”

The youthful secretary vanished through a swinging door marked “Private”
and Colonel Roundtree turned to his friends.

“Damned, rascally, cowardly hounds—that’s what I call ’em. They print a
dastardly canard like that and then they skedaddle in the face of the
common enemy.”

“You’re talking, colonel,” broke in Mr. Chadwick. “I haven’t met anybody
I know, but I’ll bet we’re the laughing stock of the whole town.”

“I can’t take that bet,” responded Col. Roundtree bitterly.
“Unfortunately for my peace of mind I have met some of my friends. Why,
gentlemen, we should take matters into our own hands, mount a machine
gun right heah at this door and keep ’em from gettin’ out another
edition of this lyin’, treachous, no-account sheet.”

There were murmurs of approval of these belligerent sentiments from the
little group of protestants which had just been increased by the arrival
of Jonathan Wilde, a thin dyspeptic looking man with a disappearing
Adam’s apple and of Henry Quinby Blugsden, a former United States
senator who carried the dignity of America’s foremost debating society
about with him on all occasions.

“Legal measures, my dear colonel,” said the former senator, “are, I
think, the soundest in such an emergency. So far as I am concerned my
suit will be filed this afternoon. I shall name the sum of $250,000 as
insufficient damages for the mental pain I have already undergone. Mrs.
Blugsden, as many of you know, is a woman of decided prejudices and a
strong mind.”

“She hasn’t a shade on my wife,” remarked Mr. Wilde. “She’s got two
doctors working on her this minute. Went right off into hysterics at the
breakfast table and began smashing china.”

“My own deah Julia,” remarked the colonel, “professed not to believe the
damned nonsense, but there was a look in her off eye as I was passin’
out the door that made me feel more uncomfortable than I have since the
day Yellow Boy lost the Eastern Shore Handicap.”

The elevator door out in the corridor clanged just then and the brisk
step of Richard Chilvers was heard approaching the little delegation of
prominent citizens. Colonel Roundtree moved to a strategic position at
the head of the group. The publisher—a tall, forthright, hearty looking
man—stopped at the doorway and affected great surprise at the
combination of wealth, social position and business power he found
confronting him.

“Well, well,” he remarked buoyantly, “the Bulletin seems to be honored
this morning. It can’t be possible that you’re all waiting to see me, is
it?”

Colonel Roundtree lost his voice for a moment at the breezy assurance of
this greeting. He coughed violently and then composed himself with a
mighty effort.

“You know perfectly well why we’re here, Dick Chilvers,” he said
majestically. “We’re here because the honor and the sacred dignity of
our homes and hearths have been ruthlessly assailed in the public
prints.”

The publisher walked toward the door leading to his office. He held it
open.

“Just step inside, gentlemen,” he said quietly. “I never discuss
business out here.”

The prominent citizens moved inside and disposed themselves about the
desk in the centre of the room. Mr. Chilvers, who was irritatingly calm,
laid his hat and gloves on the desk and faced them.

“Won’t you be seated, gentlemen?” he asked suavely.

“Seated! Hell!” retorted Colonel Roundtree. “We want to talk to you
standin’ up. Why did you print that lyin’ yarn this mornin’?”

“I presume you refer to the story about the Automobile Club,” returned
the publisher. “I’m not aware that it is a lying yarn, as you call it.
I’ve been up several hours, colonel, and I’ve been doing a little
investigating on my own.”

There were excited murmurs from the group of protestants at this remark.
Horace Chadwick, who stood next to Colonel Roundtree decided to go to
bat in place of the latter. The colonel was palpably too mad to be
articulate.

“Dick Chilvers,” said Mr. Chadwick, “do you mean to tell your fellow
club members and business associates that you give the slightest
credence to this fairy tale?”

“I mean to tell you,” replied the publisher evenly, “that I have faith
in the men I employ. I didn’t see the story until I read it in the paper
this morning. I must confess it sounded incredible. I got my night city
editor out of bed and he told me that the story had been thoroughly
investigated and verified.”

“Verified?” shouted Colonel Roundtree, finding his voice again. “Who in
the name of Andrew Jackson verified it?”

“A gentleman we all know extremely well,” returned the editor. “I’m
going to call him up.”

He reached for the telephone book on his desk, looked up a number and
gave it to the operator. His visitors gathered around his desk
whispering excitedly to each other. There was a moment or two of tense
silence and then the bell rang.

“Is that 3459 Parkway?” he asked. “Please give me Mr. McDonald.”

As he waited the distinguished citizens looked at each other in
amazement. They moved closer to the telephone. Presently the publisher
was talking again.

“Is that you, Mac?” he asked. “This is Dick Chilvers. You know what I
want to talk to you about, I guess—yes, that’s it—hell?—I should say
so—I’ve got nearly an even dozen irate citizens here now and I’m dead
certain there are more on the way—Roundtree?—yes, he’s here—yes, he’s a
little excited about it——”

An indignant snort from the colonel interrupted the conversation. His
associates nudged him into silence.

“Jennings said you gave Crandall the story,” Chilvers was saying. “You
did, eh?—what’s the idea? Come now, Mac, this is serious—don’t laugh
like that—why if Roundtree ever heard that laugh he’d commit aggravated
assault and battery on the spot—y-e-s—y-e-s—well, of course——”

The little group bent forward eagerly to catch every word. The one-sided
conversation began to get more and more cryptic to them.

“You will, eh,” the publisher continued. “No—not this time. I’ll get
this particular story myself—noon, eh?—all right, Mac.”

Chilvers hung up the phone and turned to his friends.

“Gentlemen,” he remarked easily. “I’m going out on a little assignment
myself. I’m going to interview Mr. Donald McDonald of the Merchants
Trust Company. He says he’s got another story that’s better than this
one. I’ll have to ask you to excuse me until I see him.”

“We’ll meet you at his office,” blurted Colonel Roundtree. “There’s
something powerful queer about this thing and we’re going to see it
through.”

“Mac won’t be at his office,” responded the publisher. “He said he’d
prefer not to meet any of you until tomorrow. We’ve arranged a—well, a
sort of a secret rendezvous.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            Chapter Sixteen


Horace Chadwick was stirring the next morning before anyone else in the
house. He crept down the main stairway in a suit of pink pajamas and a
purple bathrobe and made straight for the front door. He opened it and
peered out on the porch. The morning papers had not yet arrived. He
slipped back in the hallway and sat down on a settee. He had had a
sleepless night and he was in a rotten humor. The wife of his bosom
hadn’t spoken a word to him since the affair of the breakfast table the
day before and he had been so unmercifully “guyed” by every friend he
met that he had taken refuge in his library early in the afternoon and
had smoked three times as many black cigars as were good for him.

Chilvers had been inaccessible since the visit of the deputation and
every effort to get in touch with anyone on the Bulletin had been met
with the response that “explanations will be made in tomorrow’s paper.”
To make matters worse the Rev. Dr. Chaddow had called to offer spiritual
consolation to “dear, kind Mrs. Chadwick.” He had heard the cleric
intoning his sympathy in the drawing room and had been obliged to stand
at an open window to cool off and keep himself from rushing in and
laying violent hands on the reverend gentleman. The story was the talk
of the town and telephonic reports from other members of the aggrieved
group of prominent citizens brought word of the continuance of violent
hostilities in nearly a score of households.

The memory of these things seethed in Mr. Chadwick’s mind as he sat with
his aching head bent forward on his hands and heard the library clock
chime six. Presently a dull thud was heard against the door. Mr.
Chadwick jumped up and stepped out on the porch again. He picked up the
tightly rolled little bundle of newspapers a boy had just thrown in from
the sidewalk, and slammed the door shut behind him. He eagerly unrolled
the package, picked out the Bulletin and held up the front page under
the shade of a tall hall-lamp.

Della, the cook, who was coming down the front stairs in direct
violation of a household rule at this particular moment, was frozen in
her tracks by the incisive explicitness of a blistering exclamation
which came up out of the hall below. It was followed by murmurs and
mumbles which she couldn’t quite make out, then by a chuckle or two and
finally by a hearty laugh that sent her scurrying upstairs again and
down the back way, convinced that the gentleman of the house had
suddenly gone out of his mind.

Mr. Chadwick followed her up with the nimbleness of a school boy, waving
the paper in his hand. He knocked loudly at his wife’s door.

“Elizabeth,” he shouted, “God’s in his heaven—all’s right with the
world.”

“What’s that?” came a sleepy voice from behind the locked door.

“The blonde peril has passed on out to sea,” he said gayly. “Take a look
at this morning’s Bulletin.”

Mrs. Chadwick unlocked the door and admitted her husband. He blithely
escorted her over to the window, drew up the curtain and flashed the
paper in front of her blinking eyes. At first she saw only a smear of
black type and a dancing set of little pictures. The type presently
resolved itself into a five column headline which told a story that the
whole town would be chuckling over in another hour:

                    BANKER SATISFIES
                      GRUDGE; NEARLY
                        BREAKS UP HOMES
                              ––––
                    Fate and Theatrical Press Agent
                      Play Into Hands of Donald
                      McDonald and Give Him Sweet
                      Revenge After Many Years.
                              ––––
                    HE WHO LAUGHS
                          LAST LAUGHS BEST

Mrs. Chadwick gazed bewilderingly at the flaming headline and at the pen
and ink sketches illustrating the story which followed—sketches
picturing with comic effect little scenes like that which transpired at
her own breakfast table the morning before.

“I don’t understand,” she said weakly.

“Read the first few paragraphs and you will,” chuckled her husband.

His wife obediently read the introduction to the long story which
Crandall had written.

    On a certain Spring night a score of years ago a certain Baltimorean
    gazed up at the star spangled heavens on the desolate shores of a
    little inlet of Chesapeake Bay twenty long miles from a railroad and
    fifteen from any human habitation and swore by all the nine gods
    that sometime, somehow, some place he would get even collectively
    and appropriately with two dozen of his fellow club members who had
    just played him what he considered the scurviest trick known to
    mortal man. He had been kidnapped on his wedding night and dumped
    without ceremony on the loneliest spot in this corner of the
    world—all by way of a joke.

    This same man sat yesterday in the living room of his country home
    with a perpetual grin on his face and a heartful of joy. He knew
    that every living man of that party of jokesters was suffering
    something approximating the torments he suffered on that night of
    nights and that he had stirred up more trouble in a score of
    households than a half a hundred genuine vampires might have
    succeeded in doing.

    Opportunity chose the disguise of a theatrical press agent when she
    finally knocked after all these years—which statement leads
    naturally to an account of the real inside of the story of the
    projected millionaires’ chorus girl joy ride party which amused and
    startled this city yesterday.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           Chapter Seventeen


The advance sale of seats for the engagement of the Frolics opened that
morning. Jimmy Martin stood chatting with Manager George Seymour in the
lobby of the Lyric Theatre and watching the long queue of prospective
ticket purchasers which stretched out to the sidewalk and curved up the
street for nearly half a block. Jimmy couldn’t resist gloating just a
little bit. He had adopted a more or less casual, “I told you so”
attitude the day before when the first story appeared, but this morning
he just naturally expanded.

“Well, Georgie old man,” he remarked cheerily. “You’ve got to give him
credit. The kid’s clever.”

“What kid?” asked Mr. Seymour.

“That Martin fellow ahead of the ‘Frolics.’ I told you stirring up towns
was a specialty of his. He certainly handed this one a jolt. Do you hear
’em all talking about this morning’s yarn? It’s the biggest press story
in years.”

“Just luck—dumb luck.”

“Pretty good for the little old showshop and the little old show,
though, you’ve got to admit. Come on, Georgie, act human. Own up that if
it hadn’t been for the big idea I led in by the hand, little old Robert
B. Luck wouldn’t have had a chance to sit in and draw five cards.”

“Say,” remarked Seymour irrelevantly, “did you know Meyerfield was
coming over this morning? He phoned me from Washington last night after
you’d gone.”

“I didn’t know it,” responded Jimmy, “but it’s music to my ears. I want
to be lingering around when he lamps this line. You know he told me to
smear the girls all over the front page, but he didn’t say anything
about doing it two days running.”

Jimmy strolled down the lobby and loitered near the slow moving line. He
felt a pleasurable little thrill as he listened to the comments on the
Bulletin’s story. He walked out to the street and ran his eye along the
queue that nearly reached the corner. Then a taxi drove up and
Meyerfield alighted. Jimmy caught a flash of the Bulletin sticking out
of the manager’s overcoat pocket. So he’d seen the story already, he
thought. Well, he’d try to be modest.

“Hello, Martin,” said Meyerfield, holding out a clammy hand and giving
Jimmy a barely perceptible grip. “Glad I caught you. Pittsburg’s
cancelled and we’re going straight through to Boston from here. You’d
better duck over there right away. Come back to the office a minute.
There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

The manager gave the line a look of quick appraisal as he passed quickly
back to Seymour’s office. Jimmy followed him, a little shade downcast at
the failure of his employer to make mention of his achievement.
Meyerfield greeted Seymour pleasantly, slid into a chair, slowly lit a
cigar and assumed his most judicial manner.

“Martin,” he said presently. “I want to talk to you about these stories
that have been running in the Bulletin. Now——”

“Some little smear, eh?”

“It’s a smear all right, but it isn’t the kind of publicity I want.”

“But,” Mr. Meyerfield,” broke in Jimmy incredulously. “Did you see the
line? Why——”

“Yes, I saw the line, but that doesn’t mean everything. It’s just a
little flash in the pan, and besides it’s dangerous stuff—why you can’t
tell what would come of it. Someone told me on the train coming over
that there was a quarter of a billion dollars represented by the names
in that story.”

“But that’s just why it’s good stuff! The more important the people——”

“I wish you wouldn’t interrupt me,” snapped Meyerfield. “I’ve got a
silent partner in New York—a big banker—he’s going to back my new summer
show. Why, if he ever gets wise to this stuff you can’t tell what’d
happen. He may know some of these fellows you’ve mixed up in this story
and he may call the whole thing off. You came pretty near getting me in
Dutch. Maybe you have. You’d better pull a new line of stuff over in
Boston. This kind’ll never do.”

He watched Jimmy narrowly to see how that ordinarily enthusiastic young
gentleman was responding to this line of talk. Jimmy’s first expression
of bewilderment was replaced by one of great anxiety.

“All right, Mr. Meyerfield,” he said deferentially. “You know best.
You’ve been at it longer than I have, and, of course, you know the show
business from more angles than I do. I’m sorry it happened. I didn’t
understand. I’ll try and pull something different over in Boston.”

“That’s it,” beamed Meyerfield. “The fireworks stuff is all right, but
sticking to facts and real legitimate publicity is what lasts. We’ll let
by-gones be has-beens. You’d better start on the earliest train
possible. By the way, Miss Bellairs is going to lay off for a couple of
weeks after our opening here. Her doctor says she’ll have a six month’s
session in a sanitarium if she doesn’t, but we can get by that all
right. You mustn’t let a word of this get out. You understand?”

“Sure I understand,” replied Jimmy. “Who’s going on in her place?”

“Little Leona LeClaire,” said Meyerfield. “It’s a chance to put her on
in the leading role, but I think she’ll fill the bill all right. She’s
been under-studying all season.”

“I get you, Mr. Meyerfield. I’ll try and pull something different.”

“That’s the talk,” replied the manager, extending a fishy hand again.

As the door swung shut on the press agent, Meyerfield turned to Seymour
and gave him a prodigious wink.

“How do you like my work, George?” he asked expansively.

“I don’t understand,” puzzled the theatre manager. “What do you mean? I
thought that newspaper stuff was damned good, if you ask me. Best thing
pulled off here in years.”

“Of course it was George,” responded Meyerfield with an air of great
wisdom. “It was one of the best ever, but if I told that fresh gink I
thought it was, there’d be no holding him. He’d take the bit in his
teeth and bolt down Main street. He’d begin to think he was worth a
thousand dollars a minute. Birds like that have to be held down. Don’t
let ’em ever think they’re good, I know how to handle all his kind.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Meyerfield’s office boy dumped a big pile of Boston Sunday papers on his
desk the following Monday morning. The manager opened the Press and
turned to the theatrical page. He skimmed it hurriedly and then uttered
a low moan. Staring him in the face was a double column picture of Leona
Le Claire. Over it was a headline which read:

                         PRIMA DONNA’S ILLNESS
                           GIVES CHORUS GIRL
                           A BIG OPPORTUNITY
                                  ––––

A story detailing the facts about Bessie Bellairs’ threatened breakdown
followed, together with some account of the stage beginnings of the
understudy. Meyerfield frantically looked through the other papers and
found the photograph of the Le Claire girl featured in each one of them
with practically the same story. He called his stenographer and angrily
dictated this telegram:

                   JAMES MARTIN,
                     AGENT MEYERFIELD’S FROLICS,
                       STAR THEATRE, BOSTON, MASS.
                     WHY DID YOU PRINT THAT BONE-HEAD
                   STORY ABOUT UNDERSTUDY
                   AFTER MY INSTRUCTIONS TO THE CON-
                   TRARY—YOU’RE RUINING MY BUSINESS
                   —WIRE IMMEDIATELY.
                                MEYERFIELD.

This answer came back—collect—in an hour and a half:

                   MAURICE MEYERFIELD,
                      1426 BROADWAY, NEW YORK CITY.
                     GO OUT AND PLAY WITH THE CHIPPY
                   BIRDS. IF YOU WANT TO PUT ANYTHING
                   OVER ON ME YOU’LL HAVE TO
                   SET YOUR ALARM CLOCK EARLIER—I
                   RESIGN—I’M OFF SONG AND DANCE
                   SHOWS FOR LIFE—NOTHING BUT highbrow
                   STUFF FOR MINE FROM NOW ON—HAVE
                   SIGNED TO GO AHEAD OF OLGA
                   STEPHANO IN HEDDA GABLER, BY
                   HENRI K. IBSEN.
                                        MARTIN.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            Chapter Eighteen


A letter from Lolita, received in Cleveland a few weeks later while
Jimmy was on the first lap of his transcontinental journey as press
agent extraordinary for Madame Olga Stephano, the noted exponent of
Ibsen, sent the dark clouds which had given him an extremely low
visibility scurrying like mist before the sun and shot his blood
pressure up almost to the danger point.

Lolita admitted the justice of Jimmy’s objection to “Ursula’s Undies,”
and sent word that she had finally ceased her connection with that
organization and was “doing bits” with a stock company in Mt. Vernon. If
Jimmy would only forgive her she’d heed his advice on all occasions in
the future. Jimmy, in a mood of extreme jubilation, had sent her a
seventy-three word night letter and had retired early.

When he bounded out of his bed in the Carlton Hotel the next morning and
looked over a copy of the Star which a thoughtful management had slid
under his door, he began to radiate gladness and to impart tidings of
good cheer. Little Sunshine, the sweet young orphan in the story book,
who went around making folks forget their troubles by telling them that
abscessed teeth and carbuncles were blessings in disguise, had nothing
on him.

He trilled a merry roundelay while he bathed and shaved, and he felt so
good that he tossed a “good morning, kid” to a pert little sparrow who
was hopping about on the fire escape outside the open window.

Jimmy had a well forged alibi for his exuberance of spirits, quite apart
from the resumption of diplomatic relations with the fair Lolita. He had
just performed that fascinating operation known in the patois of the
profession as “putting one over.” The patient who had submitted to his
deft scalpel was no less a personage than E. Cartwright Jenkins,
dramatic editor of the Star. E. Cartwright Jenkins was the alpha and
omega, the guardian angel of the drama in that corner of the world.

It is only fair to state that just one month before Jimmy’s advent on
the scene, E. Cartwright had declared war to the death on the bureau of
publicity and promotion. He had issued a manifesto which took in
everyone from the humblest representatives of a “Tom show” to the avaunt
couriers of the actors and actresses deemed worthy of favorable mention
by the critics of the Big Town.

The Jenkins’ ire had been aroused by a neat little yarn submitted by a
modest young gentleman with mild blue eyes who had attested to its
accuracy on the sacred honor of his grandsires. The subsequent
developments had almost involved the Star in an expensive libel suit and
certain blistering remarks from the owner and publisher of the paper,
directed at the dramatic editor’s head, had resulted in the issuance of
the aforementioned ultimatum. The manager of the Standard Theatre had
shown Jimmy the letter containing it.

“We shall accept from the theatre,” the letter ran, “only the briefest
sort of a general preliminary announcement giving the name of the play
and the players concerned. Press agents’ contributions are not wanted
and will not be used. It will not be necessary for them to call to pay
their respects. We will take those for granted.”

As Jimmy sat on the edge of his bed and read the dramatic page of the
Star over again he chuckled gleefully. Confronting him was a three
column head which read: “Defense and a Rebuttal.” Underneath it was a
thousand word letter addressed to the dramatic editor and signed “Very
Respectfully Yours, James T. Martin.” Following it was a long piece
bearing the signature of E. Cartwright Jenkins.

The letter was a work of surpassing art which had been jointly composed
the day before by Jimmy and a reporter on the rival Inquirer who had
covered “sports” with him in days gone by on a St. Louis paper and who
had a freely flowing repertoire of adjectives at his command that was
dazzling in its completeness. It was a protest against the Star’s
embargo on theatrical tidings and a defense of the ancient and honorable
calling of press agent. It was cunningly interlarded here and there with
oily and unctuous references to the supreme wisdom of Mr. Jenkins.

That worthy gentleman was appealed to as “the recognized authority on
all things pertaining to the serious drama in this part of the United
States” and as a “patron of the seven arts whose causeries are the
delight of the cultured and the despair of the untutored.” Mention was
made of the discouragement such worthy artists as Madame Stephano met
with as a result of the refusal of the Star to co-operate in the
movement for the uplift of the stage, etc., etc.

“That’ll get that old bird,” Jimmy had remarked to his friend after the
latter had explained what the “seven arts” were. “He’s the chairman of
the executive committee of the I-Hate-Myself Club.”

Jimmy had had prophetic vision. E. Cartwright had fallen into the trap.
He had printed the letter in full and he had followed it with certain
remarks of his own in which he regretted that the new rule interfered
with the “proper exploitation of such representative and distinguished
players as Madame Stephano,” etc., etc.

The press agent took out a lead pencil and began underscoring the name
of his star every time it appeared in both his letter and the dramatic
editor’s subjoined comment.

“Fourteen times,” he chuckled to himself. “The poor old boob.”

He stuck his derby on his head a bit rakishly, reached for a silver
topped walking stick and started a progress down to the lobby that was a
continuous round of cheery greetings. He joked with the chambermaid he
saw entering the room next his own; exchanged a bit of badinage with
another who was loitering near the elevator, and playfully slapped the
elevator boy on the back with his folded newspaper. He maintained this
exalted mood throughout breakfast during which meal he again counted
over the “Madame Stephanos” on the sixth page to see if he’d made a
mistake in his previous reckoning.

After breakfast he strolled out into the lobby again and over to the
cigar counter. As he pointed to a box in the case marked “50¢” each, he
beamed at the slender blonde who was reaching to serve him and the
blonde beamed back.

“Say, sister,” he asked pleasantly, “how’d you like a couple of seats
for the show Monday night at the Standard?”

“Fine,” replied the young woman. “What is it?”

“Olga Stephano,” returned the press agent as he reached for his pass pad
and his fountain pen.

“She’s that Russian actress, ain’t she, that plays in those highbrow
plays?”

“That’s right,” replied Jimmy. “Ibsen stuff, but she’s a bear at it. She
makes you tremble and she makes you sigh.”

The blonde person took the proffered pass and folded it carefully.

“I’ll take my sister,” she said. “She’ll have the time of her life if
there’s anything sad in it. I must say you press agents are a mighty
nice lot of boys. I meet a lot of you fellows in the course of a season
and most every one slips me a pass just for sociability. Here comes Mr.
Wilson now. He just got in this morning. He told me he’s ahead of some
new play they’re trying out for Otis Taber.”

The gentleman who was approaching was a well set-up, prosperous looking
man in his early forties who looked more like a bank cashier or a
successful professional man than the popular conception of a theatrical
advance agent. He was one of that distinguished little group of clever
newspapermen who have been lured away from the daily grind of
news-gathering or editorial work into the pleasant bypaths of theatrical
endeavor and who have found the fascinations of the show world too
subtle to resist no matter how hard they try.

“Hello, Jimmy, old man,” he said heartily. “What are you doing out here
in Cleveland? I thought you were with ‘Meyerfield’s Frolics’.”

“I was,” replied Jimmy, “but I’m off song and dance shows. I had a run
in with Meyerfield.”

“What are you doing?” asked the other.

“I’ve signed up with the little old uplift, Tom,” returned Jimmy. “I’m
elevating our well known stage.”

Tom Wilson looked puzzled for a moment.

“You don’t mean to say that you’re ahead of Stephano?” he gasped.

“That’s what,” said Jimmy, with easy assurance. “I knew it would hand a
laugh to all of you kid glove scouts, but I’m going to make good even if
I am about as much of a highbrow as a bush league second baseman. As a
matter of fact I’ve started to clean up already. Have a cigar.”

Mr. Wilson looked in the case and indicated a modestly priced weed.
Jimmy held up a deprecatory hand.

“Nothing doing, sister,” he expanded. “Slip him one of those regular
smokes.”

His friend picked a thick cigar out of the box the blonde person handed
him and looked into Jimmy’s smiling face.

“Say,” he inquired. “What’s the idea? Had a legacy or something?”

Jimmy motioned him towards a large leather sofa in the center of the
lobby.

“I’ve just put one over on the censor,” he exulted, as he settled down,
“and I just naturally feel a little frisky. You don’t mind if I pin a
few war crosses on my chest, do you?”

“Not at all,” replied the other good naturedly. “Fire ahead.”

Jimmy opened the folded newspaper in his hand and passed it to his
brother agent with a playful little flourish. As the latter read the
indicated section Jimmy watched him out of the corner of his eye
carefully looking for signs of approval. Along about the second
paragraph a knowing smile began to curl the corners of Mr. Wilson’s
mouth. His companion heaved a sigh of profound satisfaction and lolled
back at peace with all the vasty universe.

“That’s a pretty good start,” commented the other handing the paper
back. “Rather a choice line of language, too.”

“You said something,” returned Jimmy. “I’ve got a date with a couple of
those words the next time I run into a dictionary. I betcha old E.
Cartwright never gets wise. Nothing succeeds like the little old salve.”

When the meeting of Local No. 78 of the Publicity Promoters’ Mutual
Admiration Society adjourned about ten minutes later, Tom Wilson
inquired if Jimmy was planning any more attacks on the common enemy. The
latter yawned in simulation of great nonchalance.

“Oh, I’ve got a few ideas I hope to put into general circulation before
the day is over,” he remarked casually. “Old Henry P. Inspiration has
been working overtime for me since I turned highbrow. I’ll walk down to
the theatre with you.”

Jimmy’s imagination indulged in grand and lofty tumbling on the way to
the playhouse. It also soared and it may be stated, with due regard for
veracity, that it looped the loop and otherwise comported itself in a
highly sensational manner. If he had voiced only half of the weird
notions for publicity that came to him, Tom Wilson would have
undoubtedly felt constrained to take him firmly by the arm and lead him
to an alienist. Jimmy’s mind always worked that way when he was
particularly exalted. Usually there were one or two of the wild ideas
that surged within him that could afterwards stand the cold light of
reason and that served as the basis of successful onslaughts on the
custodians of newspaper space.

As the pair approached the big skyscraper that housed the Star, Jimmy
turned to his companion.

“You don’t mind if I drop in here and correct an ad proof, do you?” he
asked.

The other shook his head and they both entered the business office of
the newspaper. Directly confronting them was a huge sign hung over the
counter. It carried this legend in large letters:

                          THE STAR’S APPLE PIE
                           CONTEST IS NOW ON
                         ENTER YOUR PIES EARLY

Jimmy stood still and let the words sink in. They bore to him a message
of infinite hope. He leaned over eagerly to the young woman behind the
counter.

“Say, miss,” he inquired. “Where can I get the dope on this pie
contest?”

“Miss Slosson, the pie editor—right in the back of the office here,”
responded the girl.

Jimmy grabbed Tom Wilson by the arm and led him towards the rear of the
room.

“I’m going to put it over on this sheet again just for luck,” he
confided.

A sign reading, “Enter Your Pies Here,” attracted them to a railed-off
corner of the big office room. A stout woman in the skittish forties,
who was dressed like an ingenue, looked up at them from behind a table
on which a number of luscious looking apple pies reposed. On shelves on
the wall behind her, scores of other pies, all tagged, were arranged.

“Is this contest open to anyone?” inquired Jimmy bowing pleasantly.

“Certainly,” gushed the pie editor. “I’m so glad to see gentlemen in
this office. So many women have been in since we opened this contest
that it makes one feel rather lonesome for the stronger sex. Do you wish
to enter a pie?”

“Yes, m’am,” replied Jimmy promptly.

“Oh, a gentleman cook,” Miss Slosson rattled on. “How utterly adorable.
Do you know I’ve always felt that there was no reason on earth why a man
shouldn’t take a hand in the kitchen if he chose. It’s only a foolish
convention——”

“Please, Miss Slosson,” broke in Jimmy drowning out a chuckle from Tom
Wilson which seriously threatened to develop into a ribald laugh,
“please—the pie I want to enter wasn’t baked by myself. It isn’t baked
yet by anyone. I wanted to know if you’d be interested in having a pie
entered by Madame Olga Stephano?”

“You mean the Russian actress who’s coming to the Standard next week?”
asked Miss Slosson.

“Yes, m’am,” replied Jimmy. “I’m her manager and I just happened to see
the announcement of your contest and I remembered that she’s a great
cook and I thought perhaps you’d like to have her enter in the pie
stakes—that is, I mean I thought you’d like to have her bake a pie and
send it in. Apple pies are her specialty. Mr. Wilson here and myself ate
one cooked by her own hand last summer down at her country home on Long
Island. Remember that pie, Mr. Wilson?”

Jimmy’s confrere was equal to the emergency.

“I should say I did,” he quickly replied in his most dignified manner.
“How could I ever forget? It was a poem, a real lyric bit of pastry.”

“This is wonderful,” gurgled Miss Slosson, “perfectly wonderful! It will
give just the filip to this thing that I’ve been after. We can challenge
the women of the home to equal the culinary efforts of the women of the
stage. You understand, of course, that we must insist upon your entry
being bona-fide. We must have assurance that the pie has actually been
baked by Madame Stephano. How will she be able to bake it and how will
you get it here? Our contest closes the day after tomorrow, you know.”

“That’ll be all right, Miss Slosson,” returned Jimmy. “I’ll get her on
the long distance phone just as soon as I can get back to my hotel.
She’s playing in Chicago and she’s stopping with friends in a private
home. She’ll bake it right away and I’ll get her to ship it right
through by express. She’ll be tickled to death. The home is everything
to her. Most domestic little woman I ever met.”

“Isn’t that too delightful,” responded the pie editor. “Some of them are
that way I suppose. I wonder if you have any pictures of her that I
could use?”

Jimmy turned a glance toward his companion in which there was a gleam of
triumph as he began to unbuckle the leather case he always carried with
him.

“I think that it’s just possible I may have one or two right here with
me,” he said. “Yes, isn’t that lucky? Do you care for any of these?”

He handed a half dozen assorted pictures of the great Russian actress
across the table. Miss Slosson picked out three of them.

“I’ll use one tomorrow morning with a long story about her entrance,”
she said, “and I’ll use one the day after, too. Tomorrow I’ll run a
picture of Mrs. Jefferson Andrews, one of our society leaders who has
entered, right opposite Mme. Stephano’s. It’s a perfectly darling idea.
Thank you so much and be sure and get her on the phone right away and
don’t forget that the contest closes at six o’clock Thursday evening.”

Jimmy didn’t say a word until they reached the sidewalk. Then he turned
to his friend.

“Say, Tom,” he remarked, “you don’t mind waiting a minute while I pin on
the little old Croy de Gerre thing, do you? What do you think about the
way I worked the bunk on Sarah Ann Slosson? Ain’t she just the cutest
thing?”

Tom Wilson looked at him rather cynically.

“How are you going to go through with it?” he asked quietly.

“How am I going to go through with it?” echoed Jimmy. “Why I’m going to
do just what I said I was going to do. I’m going to call up the
beautiful star and get her to bake that pie or have someone else bake it
and I’m going to call up Jordan, the company manager and have him tend
to the shipping. I’ll get her to write a little note in her own
handwriting about the joys of kitchen life that they can use for a big
splash.”

“You will, eh,” retorted Wilson. “You talk as if you’d never met this
Stephano person.”

“I haven’t,” admitted Jimmy. “I joined the show by wire. This is my
first town. They sent all the dope on by mail and I’m going to duck back
here next week for the big pow-wow. What are you getting at?”

“Oh, nothing much,” replied the other, “only you hadn’t better call her
up or Jordan either. You say you were hired by wire. Well, you’d be
fired the same way.”

“I don’t get your comedy, Tom,” cut in Jimmy a bit uneasily.

His friend put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and spoke to him
earnestly.

“It isn’t comedy, old man,” he said quietly. “I thought you knew all
about that ladybird. Pie contests aren’t in her line. Now don’t
misunderstand me. It’s great publicity. I know that and I’m for it
strong and any regular actress with any real sense of values would be,
too, but this Stephano female isn’t that kind of a person. She looks
after her dignity more carefully than most women look after an only
child. I happened to be in Washington last season when she let poor
Charlie Thompson out.”

“What did he do?” inquired Jimmy cautiously.

“Well, Charlie never started well. I could figure that he wouldn’t last
when I caught a flash of the proof for his Sunday ad lying on Seymour’s
desk over in Baltimore the week before. It read, “Olga Stephano in
Ibsen’s, ‘A Doll’s House’—Bring the Kiddies.” I took Charlie aside and
killed that, and I tried to put him wise, but he fell down in
Washington.”

“What’d he do over there?” persisted Jimmy anxiously.

Wilson retailed at length the harrowing details of the yarn that rang
the death knell for Charlie Thompson. Madame Stephano had played the
capital on Easter week and Charlie had planted a story in all the Monday
papers stating that she would honor the egg-rolling festivities on the
White House lawn with her sacred presence. The story further had it that
she would sit on the grassy sward atop a little hillock and personally
autograph one egg for each little child who came up to her. It also set
forth the delectable information that she was prepared to subsequently
roll these eggs down the hill with her own fair hands for the delight
and edification of the young ones.

“I’m reliably informed that when she saw that story in print she had to
be forcibly restrained from jumping out of the eleventh story window of
her hotel,” concluded Wilson. “Charlie got his in Pittsburgh that night.
That egg rolling stunt isn’t any worse than a pie contest.”

Jimmy’s enthusiasm, during this narrative, had slowly slipped from him
like a discarded garment.

“What do you think I’d better do, Tom?” he asked.

“If I were you, Jimmy,” said his friend gently, “I’d go back in there
and call the whole thing off.”

A hurt look crept into the eyes of the exploiter of Madame Olga
Stephano.

“Gee, Tom,” he murmured. “I couldn’t do that; little old Arthur S.
Family Pride and I are still buddies. I’ve got to go through, clean
through. I just couldn’t go back there and quit cold turkey before my
new found friend, Sarah Ann. Not in a thousand years.”

“Well, there’s one thing certain,” responded the other with a note of
finality. “If you call up little Olga or that trained manager of hers
they’ll burn you up.”

Jimmy looked sadly at his friend.

“Ain’t it hell, Tom?” he opined grimly. “Ain’t it just double-distilled
hell?”

He stood for a moment staring straight ahead as if lost in abstraction.
And then he found speech again.

“I won’t call either of ’em up,” he said firmly, “but I’m going to let
that story ride. There must be some way out of the mess. Apple pie, eh?
I never did like it.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            Chapter Nineteen


Jimmy wasn’t able to concentrate on his regular duties that afternoon.
He had acquired an obsession and he couldn’t shake it off. The problem
of how to make good on his promise to the gushy Miss Slosson occupied
his entire time and attention. A more careless or indifferent wayfarer
in the field of theatrical publicity might have been content to let that
plump and pleasing person print her story on the following day and let
it go at that, neglecting to follow the idea up and failing to redeem
his pledges. Jimmy knew a dozen of his confreres who would just drop the
thing on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread, but he
wasn’t that kind of press agent. He didn’t know it, but he was really a
great creative artist in his own sphere and he got just the same inner
satisfaction out of seeing his ideas blossom into realities that a great
painter gets as he watches an imagined color harmony spring into life on
the easel before him, or that a stylist thrills to when he achieves a
perfect phrase after a tiresome search for the inevitable word.

The thought of apple pie haunted him. He just had to have one delivered
from Chicago for Miss Slosson, but how to accomplish this feat without
notifying Madame Stephano or her manager worried him. He didn’t know
anyone in that city he could trust to ship one on in time and he rather
figured that even if he did wire or telephone an acquaintance there the
latter would take the request as a weird practical joke of some sort and
pay no serious attention to it.

He found himself out in the street peering into bakeshop windows and
critically appraising the more or less appetizing pastry displayed
therein. No use to buy one of those pies and attempt to work it off on
Miss Slosson, he thought. They were all too obviously the apple pies of
commerce, pale, anaemic affairs bearing not even a remote resemblance to
the succulent product of the home kitchen. His artist’s soul revolted at
the thought of utilizing one of them to further his nefarious designs.

He exhausted the possibilities of the bakeries on three of the principal
avenues in the center of the city and worked himself into a fine frenzy
of despair from which he sought relief in a motion picture theatre. What
was programmed as a Nonpareil Comedy was unfolding itself on the screen
when he entered and just as he slid into a seat in the back row he
beheld a large object hurtling through the air propelled by the
principal comedian. It struck the comedy villain of the piece full in
the face with a disastrously liquid and messy result.

“My God, apple pie,” murmured Jimmy to himself as he clambered out into
the aisle, barking the shins and stirring up the latent profanity of an
irascible looking man who had slipped into a seat alongside him.

He met Tom Wilson again that evening in the hotel lobby and they went
into dinner together.

“Don’t ask me about that story, Tom,” he pleaded as they sat down. “I
want to forget it for a little while.”

And he did. The dinner was excellent, the waiter was alert and extremely
polite and his companion unbosomed himself of a flow of anecdotes that
kept him in a constant state of merriment.

“Mighty good dinner, Tom,” he remarked heartily near the end of the
meal, “and mighty fine service.”

The waiter cleared away the dishes and presented the menu to Jimmy.

“If I may be permitted, sir,” he said deferentially, “I might suggest
that the apple pie is excellent tonight.”

Jimmy pushed his chair back from the table with such violence that he
almost upset it.

“You’ll be permitted to take a punch in the eye, Mr. Fresh,” he said
bitterly and then hastened to apologize.

His companion laughed uproariously.

“Still on your mind, Jimmy?” he inquired.

“Yes,” retorted the other; “seems like we’re hooked up to do a double
act for life.”

Jimmy had a sleepless night. Every time he dropped off into a fitful
slumber he was bothered by a dream in which apple pie played a central
part. Once he dreamt that he was chained to a pillar in a great room and
that Madame Stephano was forcing him to devour an apparently
inexhaustible pie which stood on a table and which she fed him with an
enormous long handled spoon. He choked so hard on one spoonful that he
awoke with a start.

At the breakfast table he read Miss Slosson’s promised story in the
Star. It was all that the most ambitious purveyor of publicity could
desire. There was a four column headline reading:

                    STEPHANO HURLS
                        HER ROLLING PIN
                            INTO THE RING
                              ––––
                    Russian-American Actress Soon
                      to Visit This City Enters the
                      Star’s Popular Pie Contest.
                              ––––
                    STAGE VERSUS THE HOME
                              ––––

Underneath was a big picture of a kitchen table on each side of which a
woman was shown busily engaged in the culinary operations that usually
accompany the creation of a pie. The bodies of these feminine figures
had been sketched in by an artist, but the heads were excellent
half-tone likenesses of Madame Stephano and Mrs. Jefferson Andrews,
society leader.

One look at the lay-out simply added to Jimmy’s misery. After that he
just _had_ to make good. He strode out of the hotel determined to take a
long walk to see if he couldn’t clarify his mental processes and get his
imagination oiled up again. He was so busy with his thoughts that he
paid little heed to the general direction he was taking and presently
found himself in a corner of the city with which he was not familiar. It
was a quiet residential section and rows of modest homes of the bungalow
type lined both sides of the streets. There was a little group of shops
in a stucco building on a corner and as Jimmy passed him he let his eyes
drift toward them in a desultory fashion.

Presently he stopped directly in front of one which bore this legend
across its front: “The Buy-A-Cake Shop—Home Made Dainties and Pastry.” A
pretty girl dressed in snowy white with a cloth in her hand was lifting
into the window one of the most appetizing looking pies he had ever
seen. It was a single crust affair which had been baked in a deep china
dish of large proportions. The pastry looked flaky enough to crumble at
the touch and was a color symphony in brown. As Jimmy gazed entranced
the girl set down a card in front of the pie. It read: “Mother’s Own
Apple Pie.” Opportunity had knocked and Jimmy answered “present.” He
rushed into the shop.

“I’ll take that pie, miss,” he said eagerly. “I need it in my business.”

As the young woman turned to take it out of the window Jimmy stopped her
for a moment.

“Say,” he said, “I want to send that a long way off and I want you to do
it up so that it will stand the journey—you know, keep fresh and
everything and not get mussed up.”

“I understand,” responded the girl in white. “I’ll wrap a cloth around
it to keep the air out, and I’ll fix it up in a strong pasteboard box
that I’ve got here. Can you wait?”

“Sure I can,” returned Jimmy. “That’s what I’ve been doing for
twenty-four hours. I’ll smoke a cigarette outside. Knock on the window
when you’re ready.”

A half an hour later he breezed into the office of the Standard Theatre
with a large bundle under his arm and greeted Tom Wilson, who was
looking through the morning mail.

“I hear you’ve got a date with an apple pie this morning,” grinned his
friend.

“Here’s the party,” replied Jimmy setting the bundle down on the table.
“The kind that mother used to make out in the summer kitchen under the
lilac vines. You were in for the first act. Do you want to stick around
and watch me take the curtain calls at the finish?”

“Sure,” returned Tom Wilson.

“Then come on back stage,” said Jimmy, picking up his precious bundle.
“I want to interview the house property man. I’ve got to have the right
kind of a production for this little stunt.”

The property man proved equal to the occasion, after explanations had
been made. He brought out a substantial wooden box and began to fill the
bottom of it with crumpled newspapers. Jimmy stopped him.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Never give ’em a chance to have anything on
you is always my motto. These are Cleveland papers and this box is
supposed to come from Chicago. Maybe someone would notice that. Put your
coat on and dust around to that out-of-town newspaper stand over on
Superior Avenue and buy a bunch of yesterday’s Chicago papers.”

When the property man came back a few minutes later and began to crumple
up the newspapers he brought with him, Jimmy turned to his friend again.

“Not a bad little touch, eh, Tom?” he remarked.

“Immense,” agreed the other sincerely. “I’ve got to hand it to you. You
certainly overlook no bets.”

The pasteboard box containing the pie was carefully placed on top of the
bed of newspapers and other papers were packed in tightly around and
above it. The lid was nailed solidly on and Jimmy affixed an express
label addressed to himself. When the box had been carefully loaded on a
push wagon in charge of a small colored boy and was on its way down
Euclid Avenue toward the Star office, personally chaperoned by the two
press agents, the conspiracy was completed.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             Chapter Twenty


E. Cartwright Jenkins, dramatic editor of the Star, was distinctly
displeased with life as a whole and with humanity in general that
morning. His professional dignity had been subjected to a series of
frontal and flank attacks of great violence for nearly twenty-four hours
and the final insult had been handed out by the managing editor who had
just left the little cubby hole designated by a painted sign as the
“dramatic department.”

E. Cartwright had read Jimmy’s oleaginous epistle three times at the
breakfast table the morning before and had left his home in a fine glow
of self-approval. In fancy he walked upon the misty mountain tops of
high achievement until he reached the Star office and then he found
himself hurled suddenly into the well known slough of despond. Billy
Parsons, the advertising manager, who met him in the elevator, started
it.

“Well, old man,” Billy, said laughingly, “I see they got to you for a
home-run this morning with all the bases full.”

E. Cartwright had bristled at this and had expressed himself as not
comprehending the esoteric significance of the allusion. Billy had then
become more specific.

“They put it over on you,” he replied. “That press agent fellow with
Olga Stephano, I mean.”

“Put it over on me?” the dramatic editor had returned. “I don’t exactly
understand what you mean.”

“Say, old dear,” Billy had sarcastically responded, “it’s a worse case
than I thought it was at first. You’d ought to see a doctor.”

E. Cartwright, who abhorred slang and those who used it, had become
quite indignant at this and had insisted upon a clear explanation of
what Billy Parsons meant. The latter gentleman obliged him with one. He
pointed out, with great clarity, the trick that Jimmy Martin had played
on the astute and dignified dramatic editor. He dwelt upon the number of
times the name of Madame Stephano had been cunningly inserted into the
correspondence and proved that the whole affair was a carefully
calculated scheme for the exploitation of that lady.

The blinders of self-esteem having thus been torn from the eyes of the
dramatic editor, that gentleman developed a decided distaste for further
discussion of the subject and immured himself in his cramped office
where he devoted himself to bitter rumination. Throughout the day his
fellow laborers in the field of journalism seemed to take a malicious
delight in playfully taunting him. On the way home for dinner he had met
the dramatic editor of the rival Inquirer and that worthy had added to
his fury by remarking, with a twinkle in his eye:

“That was a mighty interesting symposium on Stephano you ran this
morning, Jenkins.”

At dinner he startled his sedate and shrinking wife by launching into a
profane and pungent diatribe on the subject of press agents and
announced his determination to start a nation-wide movement for their
suppression and final extermination. He declared, in loud and ringing
tones, that nothing but total annihilation of the entire tribe would at
all satisfy his wishes in the matter.

The sting of the affair still rankled in his breast when he came down to
the office on the following morning. When Nathan, the managing editor,
looked in on him he was viciously assailing the dramatic page of a New
York Sunday newspaper with a large pair of shears and wishing for a
moment, as he clipped out items of theatrical information, that it was
one Jimmy Martin instead of an innocent sheet of paper that he was
attacking.

“Say, Jenkins,” Nathan remarked casually, “I’ve got a little request to
make of your Miss Slosson who’s running this damned pie contest,—it
closes today, you know,—is getting swamped downstairs and has sent out
an S.O.S. to this floor for assistance. There’s nobody around yet but
you. I wish you’d drop down there for an hour or so and give her a hand.
Just as soon as one of the cubs show up I’ll send him down to relieve
you.”

E. Cartwright reeled under this final blow to his dignity. The ends of
his iron-grey walrus moustache dropped a full half inch as he looked up,
bewildered.

“Pie contest—Miss Slosson,” he mumbled. “What could I possibly do in
connection with that, or with her?”

“Oh, just help her and her assistant unwrap and tag some of the
entries,” replied Nathan in a matter-of-fact tone, as he turned quickly
to suppress a smile and hurried out of the tiny room.

E. Cartwright uttered a low moan expressive of profound and abysmal woe
as he slipped on his coat and prepared to descend to Miss Slosson’s
department.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Jimmy and his fellow conspirator found Miss Slosson in her office almost
completely hidden by parcels containing pies. They did not notice E.
Cartwright at first. That high authority on the spoken and written drama
was in the throes of unutterable and indescribable mental anguish at a
table fifty feet away untying innumerable bundles and humming a hymn of
hate directed at newspaper work in general and soulless managing editors
in particular.

The small colored boy, grunting under the weight of the wooden box,
deposited the burden on the table.

“Oh, there you are, Mr. Martin,” gurgled Miss Slosson, coming forward
and surveying the box with interest, “and what have we here?”

“That’s the little old pie I told you I’d have the madame send on,”
replied Jimmy glibly. “She made a mistake and sent it to the theatre. It
just came by express a half an hour ago right through from Chicago.”

“Isn’t that perfectly wonderful,” rhapsodized the pie editor. “What did
dear Madame Stephano say when you spoke to her over the phone?”

Jimmy paused for a moment before he replied. He had caught a glimpse of
the Star’s dramatic editor who had turned and was approaching them. He
clutched Tom Wilson’s arm.

“What did she say,” he said abstractedly. “What did she say? Why she
said—she said she’d turn down a Drama League luncheon and go right out
in the kitchen and slip into a gingham apron, and believe me if you knew
how much she thinks of the Drama League, you’d know that was some
concession.”

E. Cartwright hadn’t seen them yet. He was apparently almost oblivious
of his surroundings as he walked slowly towards Miss Slosson.

“I realize that,” the pie editor was saying. “She has a great, big,
generous nature, I’m sure and to think of her being so domesticated,
too. Oh, Mr. Martin, I suppose you know Mr. Jenkins, our dramatic
editor. He’s kindly volunteered to help me in the closing hours of the
contest.”

Jimmy straightened up and assumed his most ingratiating smile. He had
met the distinguished critic only once, several years before, and he was
fairly certain that he would not be remembered.

“I had the honor of an introduction several seasons ago,” he said
suavely, “but it is possible that Mr. Jenkins does not recall me.”

E. Cartwright had given an unconscious start at the sound of the name
“Martin,” but he seemed to have no conscious knowledge of Jimmy’s
identity. He smiled sadly.

“I don’t seem to place you,” he remarked with a woebegone attempt at
civility.

“Mr. Martin is Madame Stephano’s advance manager,” broke in Miss
Slosson. “The dear madame has entered a pie in our little contest
through him.”

Mr. Jenkins’ facial aspect underwent an instantaneous change. He
narrowed his eyes and corrugated his brows and gave other external
indications of rapidly mounting wrath. Also his cheeks paled, and it may
be further stated that his rather gangling frame became suddenly taut
and vibrant. He eyed Jimmy for fully ten seconds and then turned to Miss
Slosson.

“It is my duty to inform you, madame,” he said in a voice that was tense
with emotion, “that this person is a press agent who will use you for
his own selfish ends—a paid hireling of an unscrupulous management which
has only one purpose in mind—deceit and rank trickery.”

Jimmy started to expostulate, but Tom Wilson gave him a vicious elbow
jab which effectively cut off any utterance on his part. Miss Slosson
smiled serenely.

“Don’t be too hard on him, dear Mr. Jenkins,” she remonstrated. “He has
been a great help in our effort to raise the general tone of culinary
excellence. He represents a most estimable lady, and if she gets a
little publicity out of it she deserves it after all the trouble she has
gone to—baking a pie with her own hands and sending it on here all the
way from Chicago. We mustn’t be too selfish.”

“I warn you, madame, that there is fraud here some place,” persisted the
dramatic editor, “downright fraud and deception. These gentlemen have a
depraved talent for that sort of thing.”

“Nonsense,” broke in the pie editor beckoning to an office boy whose job
it was to open such entries as were encased in substantial packages. As
the youngster assailed the box she chirruped on. “I’m using another
picture of the clear lady in tomorrow’s paper, Mr. Martin, and I’ll
announce the arrival of her contribution in the opening paragraph. I’m
just crazy to see it. Quite a large box, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” murmured Jimmy. “She certainly seems to have done the thing up
brown.”

He was the picture of serene self-satisfaction as he watched the lid
coming off the box. The prospect of triumphing over E. Cartwright a
second time filled him with an almost ecstatic joy.

When the lid was removed Mr. Jenkins darted toward the box and pulled
out the tufts of crumpled newspapers. He carefully unfolded one and
looked at it. Jimmy caught Tom Wilson’s eye at this juncture and winked
his off eye prodigiously. E. Cartwright, upon observing the heading and
the date line in the paper, threw it down impatiently and began
nervously to chew the ends of his moustache.

“We’ve got old George B. Grouch’s goat all right,” confided Jimmy behind
his hand.

Miss Slosson untied the string and lifted out the pie which was tightly
swathed in a piece of old linen. She undid the wrapping slowly while the
interested spectators gathered close around her. The careful young woman
in the bake shop had placed a piece of cardboard over the top of the
deep china dish, and when this was removed Miss Slosson positively
bubbled with delight as she caught sight of the golden brown crust of
the wonderful pie.

“It looks perfectly heavenly,” she remarked. “Perfectly heavenly.”

“A masterpiece,” broken in the hitherto silent Mr. Wilson.

“I told you she’d bake one that would win in a walk,” was Jimmy’s
contribution to the glad chorus of acclaim.

E. Cartwright didn’t have a word to say. He stood with his hands on his
hips watching the two press agents with a look that still betrayed
cynical distrust.

“Won’t you please put it over there on that little table all by itself,
Mr. Jenkins,” said Miss Slosson. “It certainly deserves a place of
honor.”

Mr. Jenkins grunted and hesitated for a moment. He was too chivalrous at
heart, however, to refuse to obey a lady’s behest no matter how much
humiliation he might suffer. He grasped both sides of the pie-dish
firmly, lifted it high in the air and began to turn. Jimmy was looking
at him with ill-concealed delight. As he watched a look of intense agony
spread over the dramatic editor’s face. The next instant that gentleman
dropped the pie with a sharp cry of pain.

“It’s hot,” he screamed, “red hot!”

The dish smashed into a hundred pieces on the counter and the
surrounding atmosphere was filled with flying fragments of pie. Jimmy
felt something warm and sticky on his face and he noticed with dismay
that the front of Miss Slosson’s silk dress was a sorry looking mess.
Tom Wilson’s clothes were smeared with debris, too. E. Cartwright was
wiping apple juice out of both eyes and uttering words that caused the
pulse beats of Madame Stephano’s personal representative to diminish
almost to the vanishing point.

“A pair of damned fakirs,” he shouted. “Baked in Chicago, eh, and
shipped on here by express! It hasn’t been out of the oven an hour.
Thought they’d put one over on us again, did they? I know ’em. I know
’em.”

The tragic climax of Jimmy’s little three act comedy came with such
unexpected suddenness that he stood in the midst of the tumult and the
shouting like one transfixed. It was a rout, an utter and complete
defeat, the most disastrous and the most humiliating of his career. In a
flash he pictured it becoming a classic anecdote that would be bandied
to and fro by his professional brethren in Pullman smoking rooms and
theatre offices for years without number.

He looked up and about him. Enemies were surging toward him from all
directions apparently bent on his destruction. And then he remembered
Tom Wilson. He turned around. That worthy had departed as if on the
wings of the morning. The dishevelled and distraught editor had
apparently exhausted his vocabulary of vituperation and was approaching
him with a savage look in his eye flanked on one side by a distinguished
looking gentleman with a most authoritative manner who had rushed to the
scene from a nearby office. Jimmy realized that it was no place or time
for heroics. He turned and fled precipitately down an unencumbered aisle
in the general direction of the open air.

He caught up with Tom Wilson two blocks down the avenue. That gentleman
was still going strong and seemed to need no pace-maker.

“The first bet I ever overlooked, Tom,” he puffed as he swung alongside.
“What’ll we do?”

“What’ll we do?” facetiously echoed the other, gripping him firmly by
the arm and dragging him along. “Where’ll we hide, you mean?”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           Chapter Twenty-One


The name of Madame Olga Stephano was conspicuously absent from the
columns of the Star next morning, but this fact passed unnoticed by one
James Martin, who had moved on to the next town, unwept, unhonored and
unsung. Gone was the rakish tilt to his derby hat and vanished like the
roses of yesterday were the glad, eager look and the jaunty bearing that
usually distinguished him as one upon whom fortune was wont to smile.
Gloom was in his heart and a sweet melancholy pervaded his thoughts.

A letter dated before Jimmy’s fatal first meeting with Miss Slosson,
awaited him at the theatre. It brought tidings that did not have a
tendency to make life more interesting. It was from Jordan, Madame
Stephano’s personal manager on tour with the company, and it summoned
him back to Cleveland for the opening performance on Monday night.

“There are many matters on which Madame Stephano and myself wish to
consult with you,” the letter ran, “among them being the methods of
publicity best calculated to further her interests as a star. Our
appeal, as you know, is to the intellectual element in the community and
you must carefully avoid anything in the nature of cheap or sensational
stories or what are vulgarly known as ‘stunts.’ We will go into this at
greater length when I see you.”

“I’m in for a spring canning,” Jimmy observed to the manager of the
theatre when he had finished reading Jordan’s letter. “I wouldn’t mind
that so much if I could have got my exit cue in a blaze of glory, but
this thing of being bumped off on top of an awful fall-down like that
gets under the little old epidermis.”

Madame Stephano occasionally varied her Ibsen repertoire with
performances of plays by other European dramatists. She had chosen a
modern Spanish tragedy for her opening in Cleveland, and the first act
was under way when a certain forlorn looking figure slouched wearily
into the manager’s office and moodily inquired for Mr. Jordan. The
company manager, a thoroughly house-broken slave to the temperamental
caprices of the star, came forward.

“I’m Martin,” gloomily vouchsafed the visitor.

“You are, eh?” responded the manager, acridly, looking him over with
indifferently concealed scorn. “We’ve been waiting for you all day.”

“Who do you mean by ‘we’?” timidly inquired the chastened press agent.

“Why, the madame and myself. We were curious to see what you looked
like. You seem fairly intelligent.”

Ordinarily Jimmy would have resented the implied sneer in this remark
and would have flared up with an indignant rejoinder, but his spirit
seemed crushed to earth never to rise again. The surrounding atmosphere
was to him pregnant with impending tragedy. He contented himself with a
nervous little laugh.

“I’ve never been accused of it,” he said foolishly.

“Of course, we’ve heard about your ridiculous fiasco last week,” went on
Jordan. “You’ve certainly let yourself in for it with the madame. I
wonder what you think this attraction is, anyway—a circus side show or a
cabaret? I’ll give you credit, though. You had a cast iron nerve to
attempt such a thing with her. They say God looks after fools and
drunken folks. I hope He’s on your side tonight.”

Jimmy gulped before he made reply.

“Is she—is she a little annoyed?” he stammered.

“Yes, just a little,” laughed the other sarcastically. “Just a wee bit
put out. It’s hardly worth mentioning, but if I were you I’d stick
around on this side of the footlights until after the show. We’ve got
eighteen hundred inside tonight and I wouldn’t like to have to give the
money back. Something might happen if you went back stage. I’ll see you
later.”

He slipped into an inner office and Jimmy was left alone with his
misery. He wandered out into the brilliantly lighted lobby and sauntered
into the auditorium for his first view of the great actress. She was on
the stage as he entered and he peered at her from behind the plush
curtains which hung back of the last row of seats. She was playing a
scene of brisk and brittle comedy and she moved about the stage with all
the lithe and lissome grace of a beautiful tiger. She was making mordant
mockery of another woman in the play, assailing her with wicked rapier
thrusts of biting wit and smiling a smile that struck terror into
Jimmy’s heart. There was a malicious gleam in her black eyes that
fascinated him. They seemed to his over-wrought imagination like the
nasty eyes of a serpent he had once seen in a glass case in the zoo. He
shuddered with apprehension.

As the curtain fell and the lights went up he caught sight of the figure
of E. Cartwright Jenkins coming up the aisle. He effaced himself with
surprising suddenness by making for the nearest exit door. It led to a
fire-escape and he stood there in the semi-darkness letting the cool
night air soothe his fevered brow and trying to collect his befuddled
train of thought. This last was impossible. All that he seemed able to
comprehend was that he was in for the most disagreeable experience of
his fair young life, and that there was no possible escape from it
except in flight. He was too good a soldier to run away. That much was
certain.

When the lights went out again and the second act began Jimmy resumed
his place behind the curtains once more and continued his observations
of Madame Stephano. It was in this act that the “big scene” of the play
occurred, the scene in which the outraged wife reverted to the primitive
passions of her Andalusian peasant ancestors and made things decidedly
uncomfortable for her husband and several other characters in the piece.
It was full of lines in which, as the old actor said, “one could get
one’s teeth into” and it may be stated that the famous Russian-American
actress played it for all it was worth and then some. She erupted,
exploded, and otherwise comported herself in an extremely violent and
disturbing manner. As a final touch she committed aggravated assault and
battery on the person of her husband and wound up the festivities by
making a general wreck of the drawing room in which the scene was laid.
Jimmy watched the early proceedings with growing distrust. When the
final nerve-shattering moment arrived and the curtain fell amid a wild
uproar from the audience he found himself sagging and he clutched a
pillar for support. A clammy perspiration bespangled his brow. He felt
decidedly sick and he longed for the comforts of home and the quiet
ministrations of some gentle female who would soothe and mother him.

In a daze, he sauntered out into the lobby again. Jordan, who had just
come back from back stage, touched him on the arm.

“The madame wishes to see you right after the last act,” he remarked
with a sinister smile.

Only that and nothing more. He turned on his heel and disappeared into
the office. Jimmy leaned against the wall and eyed with envy the noisy
and laughing throng of men who had come out for a smoke between the
acts.

At precisely the same time an usher slipped down one of the theatre
aisles, touched E. Cartwright Jenkins on the shoulder and handed him a
note. The critic adjusted his glasses and tore it open. This is what he
read:

    Mon Cher Jenkins:—

    May I not give myself the great pleasure of meeting you for a moment
    after the play? I have for many years been an admirer of your great
    and most excellent genius, and I have had what is called the longing
    to greet you. I have had the hesitation of asking to see you as I
    know you are a most busy man. Tonight there is a matter of the so
    great importance that I would speak to you concerning. Please, my
    dear sir, do me this very high honor, I implore you.

              OLGA STEPHANO.

E. Cartwright smiled expansively. It may also be remarked that he beamed
and it may be further added that he felt himself once more securely
affixed upon a pedestal in his personal Hall of Fame.

The final moment of the Spanish play found Madame Stephano sitting alone
at the dinner table in the heroine’s home. Fate and the fell clutch of
circumstance had resulted in her estrangement from her family and from
her friends and she had dined alone. As the curtain fell, disillusioned
and miserable, she dropped her head in her hands and sobbed bitterly.

Jimmy, having been assured that his nemesis would be on the stage
throughout the entire act, had tip-toed back when the scene was half
finished. A hopeless fear gnawed at his vitals, but he tried to put on a
brave face. He watched the curtain descend from a place in the wings and
he saw it rise again and again in response to tumultuous applause. The
actress, artist that she was, never raised her head or stepped out of
the picture.

After the last call had been taken he heard the orchestra strike up the
exit march. Determined to get the unpleasant business over with he
stepped through a door leading to the boxed-off scene. To his utter
bewilderment at precisely the same moment there entered upon the scene
from the opposite side no less a personage than E. Cartwright Jenkins.
That gentleman’s buoyant air of self-confidence and serene self-approval
left him with an abruptness that was startling. He stopped his progress
and stood rooted to the spot. The two gazed at each other in amazement.
E. Cartwright’s lips moved, but he found himself inarticulate. Swayed by
a common impulse they both turned to Madame Stephano.

That lady still sat with her head in her hands. As they looked she
raised herself slowly and gazed from one to the other. A nasty glint
came into her eyes. She sprang to her feet so suddenly that she
overturned the chair in which she had been sitting. She swept a long arm
out in front of her body and shook it at them both in turn.

Jimmy instinctively put up his guard. E. Cartwright’s face paled.

“You have come, eh?” screamed Madame Stephano, “you are both here. You
have come to let me tell you what I zink of you, eh?”

Her voice was stridently intense and her whole face was ablaze with
uncontrolled fury. Her accent was more marked than usual. She poured out
her words with a rapidity that was amazing.

“You have come to let me tell you both zat you have insult Olga Marie
Stephano and zat Olga Marie Stephano does not let herself be made ze
target for ze insult. You poor leetle fool, you”—this to Jimmy—“you have
meex my name up with zis crazee pastree pie announcement. Am I to have
no deegnety. Is Olga Marie Stephano a cook or an actress—wheech? And
you, Meestaire Cartwright Jeenkens, your paper it preent zis crazee
theeng, it preent it and it make me into one great, beeg, foolish
crazee—what you call?—what you call, I say?—one great, beeg, foolish,
crazee dam fool. Eet ees too much, oh, much too much. Mon Dieu, mon
Dieu—eet ees too much.”

She paused, her bosom heaving like a prima donna’s after an aria. Her
two visitors began to back gingerly away. She looked from one to the
other and then there slowly broke upon her face, a smile. It came like a
blessed benison, and it presently merged into a laugh, light and silvery
at first and then hearty and uncontrolled.

“Gentlemen,” she said sweetly when the laughter had died down, “excuse
me, please, eef I make such a laugh. You look so funee. Pardonnez moi,
pardonnez moi. Eet ees just my leetle joke, gentlemen, just my leetle
joke. I have here one grand surprise for you. Voila!!”

With all the easy grace and dexterity of a prestidigitator she reached
toward the table and plucked a napkin off a dish in the centre. To the
astonished eyes of the press agent and the dramatic editor there was
revealed an apple pie that transcended in appearance even that famous
piece of pastry which had met with such a disastrous end in the Star
office a few days before.

“Will you not please take seats,” cooed the actress.

Her hypnotized guests dropped into chairs. Madame Stephano took the
place between them. At her side was a bowl filled with whipped cream.
Ample portions of the pie were anointed with this by her own hands and
served. A mouthful of the delicious dessert proved to each its
surpassing excellence. The actress watched them eat with pardonable
pride.

“Meestaire Jimmy,” she said, turning to the now thoroughly flabbergasted
press agent. “I have play zis leetle scene to—what you call it?—to make
good. I have hear all about zat affaire of ze hot pie. I have invite
Meestaire Jenkeens to let heem see zat I really can bake ze apple pie
pastree. I bake heem in ze hotel keetchen zis afternoon. It was
funee—zat hot pie, eh?”

She had turned to E. Cartwright. Concealed somewhere about his person
that worthy gentleman had a slight sense of humor which occasionally
revealed itself. This was one of the occasions. He laughed heartily.
When he left a few minutes afterwards to write his review the entente
cordiale had been re-established between himself and Jimmy. She had a
way with her when she chose, had Madame Stephano, and never were her
wiles more effectively utilized than a moment later when she found
herself alone with her press agent.

“Meestaire Jimmy,” she purred. “I have for many years been ze foolish
woman. I have been too much what you Americans so quaintly call—ze up
stage. I have tried to be oh, so deegnefied, so very much deegnefied. I
was mad wiz you, Meestaire Jimmy, when I read about ze pie and when I
hear yesterday about ze catastrophe in ze newspaper office I could have
keel you. But I find I have ze beegest advance sale I have ever had, and
I have change my mind. I am going to lose my deegnety, Meestaire Jimmy.
Go ahead, Meestaire Jimmy, you tell ze lies and I will—what you call him
again—I will—make good.”

“Say, Madame,” responded Jimmy, whose self-assurance once more enveloped
him like an aura, “do you know what you are?”

“No, Meestaire Jimmy. What I am?”

“I’ll say you’re one regular guy.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           Chapter Twenty-Two


Madame Olga Stephano continued to be a “regular guy” for the remainder
of the season, but when the summer rolled around Jimmy began to feel
that his enthusiasm for the cause in the future would depend entirely
upon an utterly sordid matter of dollars and cents. He politely
suggested that a more obese emolument every Saturday night would make
all the difference in the world. Madame Stephano exploded like a giant
firecracker, shrugged her shapely shoulders and walked away.

Jimmy thereupon decided to leave the uplift flat on its back. He gave in
his notice and the next day a summons from Chester Bartlett reached him.
Bartlett offered him a place as press agent for his newest musical
comedy, “Keep Moving” at a salary which exceeded the demand which Madame
Stephano had rejected by twenty-five dollars a week. Jimmy went into
executive session with himself and considered a motion for a
reconsideration of his previously avowed determination to “keep all song
and dance shows for life.” It was passed by a unanimous vote.

Jimmy smiled cynically one Saturday night in the early fall as he stood
on the Boylston Street curb and watched a great throng of Boston
amusement seekers filing through the main entrance of the Colonial
Theatre. He was a backslider and an apostate, but he was no longer
conscious of any scruples in the premises. His cynical aspect on this
particular occasion was the result of his contemplation of the sign
which outlined in incandescent brilliance over the portals of the
playhouse the name of his new affiliation. It seemed to him to be, for a
moment, a symbol of his downfall and disgrace.

His smile lost its hardness a minute later, however, and became
something a shade softer and more human. A vagrant memory of a certain
young person from Cedar Rapids, Iowa,—a young person whom Jimmy held in
the highest regard—had crossed his train of thought. It was pleasant to
think that Lolita Murphy was close at hand and that when the performance
was over he could walk across the Common with her to her hotel, whisper
words of endearment, and bask in the effulgence of the smiles which she
so lavishly bestowed upon him.

Lolita, released from the oblivion of her drudgery as a player in the
Mt. Vernon Stock Company, still cherished a great and overwhelming
ambition to climb the ladder of theatrical fame and carelessly brush off
the more or less distinguished celebrities who, she felt, encumbered the
topmost rung.

She had reluctantly consented to accept a minor position in the “Keep
Moving” company at Jimmy’s behest. The latter, filled with a pardonable
desire to be near her, had convinced her that a little musical comedy
experience was a necessary part of her theatrical training and had
persuaded Bartlett to give her a microscopic part in the piece. In the
first act she separated herself from the ranks of the chorus and
remarked “Here comes the prince now.” In the second act she was the
hat-check girl in the scene depicting the entrance to the dining-room of
the Carlton Hotel and was called upon to say “think you’re fresh, don’t
you?” to the principal comedian. In the third and final act she was one
of the bridesmaids in the ragtime wedding number.

Jimmy, it must be confessed, had begun to strongly suspect that Lolita
would eventually find out that the American stage would be able to worry
along without her assistance if the worst came to the worst and that
destiny had not selected her to snatch the laurels from the brow of Mrs.
Fiske. That was one of the reasons which impelled him to suggest that
she associate herself with “Keep Moving.” He didn’t want her to have any
heart-aches or artistic growing pains and he felt that she could be
spared much distress and disillusion if he were on the sidelines at all
times with words of cheer and encouragement.

A smart limousine drew up alongside him and Chester Bartlett,
“classiest” of musical comedy entrepreneurs alighted, bringing with him
something of the flair of a Parisian boulevard as contrasted with the
Broadway manner which usually characterized theatrical men in his
particular field of endeavor. University man, cosmopolite, patron of
amateur sports, big game hunter and intimate of distinguished literary
men in a half dozen countries, Chester Bartlett was a unique figure in
the realm of twinkly-toes and tinkly music. As he came towards Jimmy he
seemed to exude such a suggestion of perfect poise and supreme savoir
faire that the press agent felt for a moment as if he should applaud.

“Hello, old man,” said Bartlett jovially. “What song doth our troubadour
sing next? You’ll have to woo the muse in accents soft and low if you
expect to equal her performance this morning for your young friend down
at the Colonial. That story had a tang that was delightful. Don’t you
think so?”

The manager had intended to pierce Jimmy’s Achillian heel and he had
succeeded. If there was anything that stirred the latent energies that
lay dormant in the press agent’s soul and filled him with the fierce and
fiery zest of a crusader it was praise of a rival’s achievements. And
that fellow down at the Colonial had put one over that morning. There
was no gainsaying that. His story about the group of chorus girls who
had organized a Back to Nature club and who had elected to live in tents
on the roof of one of the biggest hotels in town had landed with a
splash and an extensive pictorial lay-out in every paper in town. Jimmy
had been nursing a grouch all day because he hadn’t thought of the idea
first. He didn’t permit any outward signs of his annoyance to reach
Bartlett, however. He assumed his customary jaunty air of sublime
self-confidence in making reply.

“I’ll say it was pretty good,” he said, “but I’ve got something about
ready to spring that’ll send that fellow down for the count in the first
round. I’ve got a date with this Emily Ann Muse party tomorrow morning
and when she’s listened to what I’ve got to say she’ll jump through the
paper hoop at the word of command.”

Bartlett laughed good-naturedly. Jimmy’s dazzling metaphorical flights
and picturesque similes were a constant source of piquant delight to
him.

“You’re not quite as modest as the cooing dove,” he remarked, “but
you’re a darned sight more diverting. I hope you’re going to get our
stately queens into the web you are weaving. I rather fancy they’re on
the war-path tonight after all the notoriety their sisters in art got
today.”

“Don’t worry,” replied Jimmy. “They’re goin’ to be right in the little
old center of the stage with baby spot lights playin’ on ’em from all
sides. There won’t be anythin’ doin’ for about thirty-six hours or so,
though. I can’t open cold with this act. I’ve got to call a rehearsal.”

Bartlett chuckled and strolled into the lobby. As Jimmy watched his trim
figure disappear past the door-man at the far end he experienced a
sinking sensation that was decidedly unpleasant. He suddenly realized
that in a moment of expansiveness induced by jealousy of a hated rival
he had drawn a check against a sadly depleted bank account. As a matter
of plain, ungarnished fact he hadn’t a notion as to how he was going to
make good. He had no more idea than Bartlett as to the nature of the
story that was to startle the natives in thirty-six hours, but he was
the original cheery optimist and somehow he felt that the gods would be
good to him. He sauntered leisurely down the street in quest of an
inspiration.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The walk across the Common after the performance that night wasn’t quite
as stimulating as it generally was. Jimmy’s earlier saunter had failed
to result in the production of an idea that was even remotely possible
of materialization and he had slowly let himself drop into one of those
states of moody pre-occupation which are usually fatal to romance.
Lolita, too, was strangely silent and detached and their conversation at
first was mono-syllabic and intermittent. Presently they came to a bench
on the fringes of the park and sat down under the sheltering branches of
a great elm, as they had for several nights past. Neither spoke for a
minute or two. Jimmy was the first to find voice.

“I might have ’em organize a literary society and have one of those
Harvard ducks come over some off afternoon and slip ’em a lecture,” he
said abstractedly as he stared straight ahead.

Lolita eyed him curiously. The speech was so entirely disassociated from
his hitherto brief remarks that she couldn’t fathom its significance.

“Who?” she asked.

“There wouldn’t be time for that, though.” He went on unheedingly. “He’d
probably have to take a couple of days to decide and another couple to
get his nerve up.”

“What are you talking about, Jimmy Martin?” broke in Lolita impatiently.

Jimmy came to with a start and laughed foolishly.

“Excuse me, girlie,” he replied. “I forgot that you didn’t know anything
about it. You see I ain’t really here on this bench at all. I’m right
out on a sand-bar and the tide’s comin’ in. I’m goin’ to be all awash in
a little while if the life guards don’t come out and pull a rescue.”

“I don’t understand,” persisted Lolita.

“It’s easy, girlie. I’ve got a case of goods to deliver and the drivers
are out on strike. In words of one syllable, sweetheart, I’ve promised
Bartlett that I’m goin’ to back the peace pow-wow off on to the inside
pages on Monday morning and I’ve been reachin’ out all night for ideas,
but I don’t seem to get anywhere at all, not anywhere at all.”

“Is it something about some old story for the papers or something like
that that’s worrying you?”

Jimmy felt impelled to make a snappy rejoinder, but his saner judgment
prevailed. He checked himself just in time.

“That’s the general idea, girlie,” he said evenly and lapsed into
ruminative silence again.

It was dark under the old elm and Jimmy couldn’t see Lolita’s face. Had
he been able to he would have noted an expression on it that might
possibly have given him concern. It was an expression that was a blend
of petulance and of something wan and a bit forlorn, a mixture of
irritation and of anguish that seemed perilously near the breaking
point. When she spoke again her voice was tremulous and low.

“Stories, stories, stories,”—she paused with every repetition of the
word—“that’s all you think about. What good do they do? What’s the use
of them all? They don’t make anybody happier, do they? They don’t mean
anything, do they? They really don’t, do they?”

Jimmy slipped out of the silences instantly and edged closer to Lolita.
He tried to take her hand, but she drew it away quickly. He was
bewildered by her attitude and there was a shade of genuine agitation in
his voice as he made reply.

“What’s the matter, honey? Didn’t you like that little yarn and the two
column picture of you the Journal ran the other morning? That sheet’s
got a circulation of over four hundred thousand. Think of all those
people readin’ about you and seein’ your picture and talkin’ about you.
Didn’t that make you happy? I hoped it would. That’s what I got ’em to
use it for.”

Lolita touched him gently on the arm.

“I didn’t mean to be nasty, Jimmy,” she said. “I really didn’t and I
hate to tell you the truth, but you’d really ought to know it. Do you
want to?”

“Fire ahead. You don’t even have to blindfold me.”

“It didn’t make me as happy as you’d imagine. There wasn’t a single soul
that saw it who knew anything about who I was or anything except the
folks in the company, and they were all jealous because you’d put it in.
I didn’t mean any more to that four hundred thousand than the printer
that set up the type. Oh, no, I didn’t. You can’t tell me.

“Let me tell you something, Jimmy. Old Doc Crandall, the city editor of
the Cedar Rapids Democrat-Chronicle, wrote a piece once about the
graduation exercises at the Central High School and he said that I
recited with ‘fine expression and wonderful emotional control.’ There
were only two lines about me, but those two lines made me happier than a
whole page in Boston would,—yes, or New York either. Do you know why?”

Jimmy, whose ideals were crashing down to earth, sat entranced at
Lolita’s turbulent outburst.

“No,” he replied. “What’s the answer?”

“Because nine out of every ten people that read those two lines either
know me to speak to or by sight or knew mother or dad and what was
printed meant something to them about someone who meant something to
them. That’s kind of mixed up, I guess, but you know what I’m trying to
say. What do I mean to anyone here or in New York or any place else here
in the east? Nothing—nothing at all, Jimmy—just nothing at all.”

She wound up at a helter-skelter pace that left her quite out of breath
and had it not been for the sheltering elm Jimmy might have noticed that
she was biting her lip when she paused and that she was holding herself
in with a mighty effort. He again tried to take her hand, but she would
have none of it.

“Girlie,” he pleaded, making a clumsy attempt at gentleness, “you mean a
whole lot to a certain party who’s pretty close at hand. You’ve just
naturally got the Cedar Rapids blues again tonight, honey, but you’ll be
all right in the mornin’, all right in the mornin’, honey. Take it from
me. I don’t lose many bets.”

But Lolita had lapsed into silence again and didn’t reply. Presently she
complained of being chilly, got up wearily and begged to be taken home.
At the door of her hotel Jimmy made one last effort to lift her out of
her mood.

“Paper says fair and warmer tomorrow, honey,” he said. “Maybe we can
hire a little old gas wagon and get out among the golden rod and the
daisies, if I ain’t too busy. Would you go?”

“Maybe,” replied Lolita listlessly. “Good night.”

And she was gone. Jimmy gazed after her despairingly. Gloom entered his
soul and made preparations to settle down for the night.

A strident voiced newsboy turned the corner just then shrilly crying the
early or “bull-dog” edition of one of the Sunday papers.

“Hi, Journal,” he called, “Sunday Morning Journal—full account of
“Billy” Williams’ sermon on booze and tobacco—hi, Journal—all about
“Billy” Williams’ campaign—full account of both meetings—box score
world’s champion games—hi, Journal.”

Jimmy mechanically bought a paper. A screaming headline caught his
glance:

                     “BILLY” WILLIAMS
                         HITS BOOZE
                          AND TOBACCO
                               ––––
                     Famous Evangelist Ends Second
                      Week of Campaign With Bitter
                      Onslaught on “Poison Slingers
                      and Hell Hounds.”
                               ––––
                     357 CONVERTS HIT
                            THE SAWDUST TRAIL
                               ––––

Only that and nothing more did Jimmy read. The strained look slowly left
his face and was replaced by an expression indicative of profound
satisfaction. Even Lolita was forgotten for the nonce. The Big Idea had
just loomed up in the offing and was heading straight for port.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          Chapter Twenty-Three


The Rev. “Billy” Williams at that particular moment occupied the center
of the stage in Boston, and there was no immediate prospect of anyone
else usurping that place inasmuch as his local engagement had six weeks
more to run. He was a sensational evangelist whose campaigns on behalf
of old-fashioned religion and of old-fashioned morals had stirred up the
profoundest depths of human feeling in dozens of communities in all
parts of the country and had brought tens of thousands of men and women
in all stations of life to an emotional crisis in which they pledged
themselves anew or for the first time to a faithful adherence to the
fundamental tenets of Christianity.

His methods were so bizarre and so baroque and he was such a past-master
of the art of publicity that he always afforded first-page “copy”
whenever he arrived in a city. His meetings were held in great specially
constructed tabernacles seating ten thousand or more persons and were
conducted with a splendid sense of dramatic values for he was a keen
psychologist and he knew the things best calculated to move and sway
great groups of people. The judicious and the ultra-dignified who came
to grieve or to sneer were usually carried away in a tumult of emotional
excitement and were literally swept off their feet by the cumulative
appeal of all his cunningly devised plans to “get to their innards,” as
“Billy” himself was wont to phrase it in his own inelegant, but
singularly effective style.

Not even Jimmy Martin himself had such a vocabulary of arresting and
original slang as “Billy” Williams. His sermons reeked with it when he
felt that the occasion warranted its use and even the most conservative
of clergymen who at first frowned at such language in the pulpit were
eventually obliged to admit that it had its place in a white-hot appeal
made to a vast miscellaneous audience seated in an auditorium as long as
a city block, an audience which would unquestionably remain unmoved if
preached to in the chaste and austere phrases of the conventional pulpit
orator. The downright sincerity of the man and the compelling force of
his powerful personality turned scoffers into ardent followers and made
him indeed a mighty power in any city which he honored with a visit.

Early on the Sunday evening following the events hitherto chronicled a
great crowd surged about the entrances to the huge wooden auditorium
which sprawled over a lot in the environs of the city. It was a
heterogeneous crowd not dissimilar in its composition to the other
crowds which flocked in the summer to the great white tents which the
circus pitched on this very spot. Most of those comprising it were quiet
and orderly—apparently a little self-conscious of the necessity for
decorum—but there were, here and there, a group of noisy and
irrepressible Spirits, all of them young, who seemed to regard the
occasion as one affording unequalled opportunities for a lark. The doors
had not yet been opened for the evening service and the throng grew to
enormous proportions with each passing minute.

An acute observer in an aeroplane circling over the particular group
which awaited entrance on the north side of the tabernacle would have
noticed a little cluster of femininity in the front ranks which stood
out vividly from the rather dull and neutral tone of the rest of the
crowd like some brilliant pattern woven into a field of grayish tinge.

There were rich purples, bright reds and gay greens in this little oasis
of color and from it there arose light laughter and frivolous chatter,
the echoes of which carried to the shocked ears of those more serious
minded persons who patiently waited on its edges for the onrush which
always followed the opening of the doors. Jimmy Martin stood in the
direct center of the oasis in his capacity as Personal Custodian of the
Big Idea and tried to soothe those turbulent spirits among the members
of the chorus of the “Keep Moving” company who were beginning to chafe
at the delay.

“Say, young fellow,” drawled a svelte creature whose tawny hair glowed
like an aureole as the last rays from the setting sun caught and kindled
it, “I haven’t stood as long as this since I quit cloak and suit
modeling to decorate the drama. Where do you get this stuff anyway? What
do you think we are—a troupe of trained seals?”

“That’s what I say,” broke in a young person with the soft eyes of a
Rubens’ seraph. “I called off a perfectly good dinner date with a dandy
little Harvard rah-rah just because Bartlett made a personal matter out
of this thing and here we are standing around with the other hicks
waiting for the side-show to begin and wasting perfectly good and
valuable time. Press agents always did get my goat.”

“Mine, too,” remarked a languid houri whose pallid face was set off by a
pair of enormous green earrings. “In New York I wouldn’t think of
standing in line for a chance to see the signing of the Declaration of
Independence with the original cast, and here I am getting corns on my
tootsies waiting to listen to a fellow that anyone can hear any time for
nothing at all. Really, girls, I don’t think any of us are in our right
minds.”

“I know it’s a nuisance, ladies,” said Jimmy urbanely, “but when you see
the smear that I think we’re goin’ to land in tomorrow’s papers you’ll
be thankful that you stuck along. I want you all to sit in a group by
yourselves and don’t any of you try to be too shrinking. I want the
newspaper bunch to find you’re there without my tellin’ ’em. Then it’ll
look as if your bein’ there is more on the level than otherwise. When it
comes to the singin’ I want all of you, please, to cut in for all it’s
worth just as if Bartlett was sittin’ down in front at a dress
rehearsal.”

“When the trail hittin’ begins just sit tight and register intense
interest in the proceedings. If any of you laugh it’ll spoil the whole
arrangement. I was at one of these meetin’s out in Denver a couple of
years ago and when those folks start comin’ down the aisles believe me
it ain’t anything to get funny about. If any of the newspaper crowd get
to you when it’s all over I want whoever does any talkin’ to say that
you’re all profoundly impressed with everything and all that, and that
you’re all comin’ again tomorrow afternoon and whenever else you get a
chance.”

Jimmy didn’t heed the sarcastic reception with which his final words of
instruction were greeted. His eyes were fixed admiringly for the moment
on Lolita Murphy who stood near him talking earnestly to one of the
“ponies.” To him she never looked prettier than she did in the simple
little tailor-made suit and the trim black velvet toque which she had
worn on the automobile ride they had taken together that afternoon, an
excursion which seemed to have wiped out all traces of the “Cedar Rapids
blues,” and which had left her smiling and happy again. She had
protested a little against participating in the staging of Jimmy’s Big
Idea, but had finally yielded to his persuasive arguments and here she
was now, shining and radiant in contrast with her more elaborately
attired and highly artificial sisters.

Just then a murmur swept through the crowd; attendants at the entrance
shouted “easy, please, everyone,” and Jimmy and his group of more or
less merry chorus maidens were caught in a whirling current of humanity
which shot them through the door, rumpled and almost panic-stricken, and
landed them at the head of a long aisle bisecting the huge empty
auditorium which yawned before them, ablaze with lights and festooned
with flags. The press agent was the first to collect his thoughts.

“Everybody make a dive for the front seats,” he shouted. “Follow me.”

The “Keep Moving” girls couldn’t do anything else. The surging crowd
pressed them forward and they took the aisle on the run to avoid being
knocked down. They all managed to get seats in the front rows where
hand-mirrors, powder puffs and lip sticks soon came into play to the
horror and stupefaction of many in the great choir of a thousand which
occupied places on the platform directly in front of them.

Jimmy, having successfully performed his function as counselor and
cicerone, was careful to seat himself a considerable distance away on
the other side of the aisle where he effaced himself as much as possible
by betraying an intense interest in a hymn book which was proffered him
by an usher. He knew that it wouldn’t do for him to be seen in close
proximity to his charges by any of the keen-eyed reporters who were even
now gathering at the press table underneath the reading desk in the
center of the platform.

One of these reporters, a curly-headed youngster with laughing eyes,
turned his chair around to get a comprehensive view of the thousands of
persons who were jostling each other in the center and side aisles as
the vast building rapidly filled up. He caught a glimpse of the numerous
facial toilettes in progress in the front rows, ran an appraising eye
over the entire group; smothered an unchurchly chuckle and nudged his
nearest companion. Presently the entire press table was abuzz with
whispered comment as the identity of the visitors was established.

While the crowd was still noisily filing into the rear rows “Billy”
Williams’ principal assistant put in an appearance on the platform and
was loudly applauded by scattered groups who were promptly quieted by
the ushers who moved quickly up and down the aisles, ready at a moment’s
notice, to insist upon the preservation of the dignities. The assistant
was a jovial looking man with an infectious smile. He held a cornet in
one hand and he raised the other to command the attention of the great
throng. A hush fell over the assemblage and presently the strains of
“Onward, Christian Soldiers” cut through the silence with penetrating
incisiveness. The effect was electric. When the cornetist had finished
he turned swiftly and at precisely the same instant the thousand singers
on the platform rose to their feet and burst into song. Another signal
and the audience stood up. In response to a pleading gesture from the
man with the smile a voice was raised here and there in unison with the
chorus. He pleaded pantomimically once more and, as if by the exercise
of sheer hypnotic control, he presently cajoled the great crowd into
singing.

From that moment he held the audience in the hollow of his hand and
played with it. Now he would have everyone on one side of the auditorium
singing. Then he would be challenging those on the other side to outdo
their competitors. Now it was the women who would be asked to sing
alone. Next it would be the men. The choir would be asked to sing a
verse. Then the entire audience would be called upon to follow them. By
the time he had finished with those preliminaries he had the throats of
everyone present in such thorough working order and the feeling of
self-consciousness had been so dissipated that when he eventually
demanded “a combined effort that will shake the gates of glory” the
result was inspiring to the last degree.

As the final words of the final chorus were shaken out by ten thousand
throats in one last concentrated burst of glad song the Rev. “Billy”
Williams stepped through a door on the side of the platform and quickly
crossed to the reading desk. No playwright, craftily scheming for a
“good entrance” for a stage star, could ever have contrived a situation
or a moment more pregnant with dramatic effectiveness or more tense with
emotion. The last word of the hymn had died down and the air seemed to
still throb with the dying echoes as the evangelist reached to the
center of the platform and held up his hand in a gesture which was an
invitation to prayer. Ten thousand heads were bowed in humble submission
to his implied command, and in a voice which breathed sincerity and fine
feeling he offered up a simple supplication beseeching the blessing of
Divine Providence upon all assembled and upon himself, an unworthy
instrument of a higher Power.

He was a stockily built man with a rugged and rather rough-hewn face.
Blue eyes were set in it below bushy brows that gave him, in moods of
intense earnestness, a somewhat ferocious aspect. They were eyes that
now glowed with tender warmth, that grew hard or relentlessly cold next
moment or that would ever and anon gleam and glint with merriment. They
were the most expressive of his features. They mirrored his moods with
uncanny accuracy. The movements of his squat and chunky frame were quick
and darting when he was in action and even when he was in repose—which
was seldom—he seemed to be literally seething with energy beneath the
surface. When he permitted himself the luxury of letting down the
inhibitive barriers which ordinarily held this energy in check he became
a dynamic force that was almost irresistible in its onslaught on the
emotions.

The prayer over, another hymn was sung under the magnetic leadership of
the assistant, while “Billy” Williams pulled his chair over the edge of
the platform and fraternized with the reporters as was his custom. Jimmy
Martin, who was watching the proceedings circumspectly over the shoulder
of a prim looking maiden lady who stood next him and whose hymn book he
was sharing in a pretense of devotional interest, noticed that the curly
headed newsgatherer was whispering to the evangelist and directing the
latter’s attention to his charges in the front rows.

He saw “Billy” Williams look interestedly at the young women and then
smile. It was such a healthy, wholesome, frank smile that it was
instantly returned by the “Keep Moving” girls and Jimmy found himself
taking note of the fact that even the most utterly blase members of the
group seemed to drop their affected air of supreme world-weariness for a
moment and become human once more. He noticed the evangelist turn away
from the press table as the final chorus of the hymn was sung by
everyone in the auditorium and look up towards the flag-bedecked rafters
for a half minute or so as if pondering on an idea that had occurred to
him. As the great audience seated itself he sprang to his feet with an
air of decision.

“My friends,” he announced in a voice which swept to the farthest
corners of the vast building, “I have an announcement to make that may
disappoint some of you. I regret this but my duty is as clear to me as
the unclouded noon-day sky. A Divine opportunity for service presents
itself to me tonight and I would be recreant to my ideals if I did not
embrace it. I had intended to preach to you on some of the lessons which
I draw from the disgusting exhibition of prize-fighting which was
tolerated in this city during the past week and I had announced that I
would tan the hides of some of the city officials responsible for its
sanction, and that I would nail those hides on the door of the house
wherein abideth decency and honor.

“I have changed my plan, my friends, not because of any fear of the
skulking swine whom I had intended to attack. Their turn on the griddle
will come tomorrow night. Instead of preaching on that theme I have
decided to devote this evening’s discourse to an attack upon the
pernicious evils of the modern theatre,—that hell-hole, that cesspool,
that slimy sink of iniquity and despair. Bear with me, my friends, for
tonight I may be the humble medium by means of which the truth may be
brought not only into your own lives, but into the lives and into the
hearts of those more directly connected with this unholy institution for
the degradation of mankind.”

He paused for a moment while a whispered buzz of comment spread through
the auditorium. Jimmy Martin, who had sat fascinated throughout these
introductory remarks and who could hardly credit the validity of his own
auditory sensations, darted an apprehensive glance at the chorus girls.
A few were registering haughty and contemptuous disdain and were
sniffing the circumambient air. The majority, however, seemed gifted
with a saving sense of humor and were smiling good-naturedly. Jimmy
sighed with relief. It was pleasant to think that the Rev. “Billy”
Williams was unconsciously playing into his hand so successfully that
the story which was now certain to develop would take on an added value
and would unquestionably be featured in the headlines.

There was another hymn and then the evangelist plunged into the body of
his discourse. It was a sermon that he had already delivered with
sensational success in no less than twenty-three states. It was a fine
example of unrestrained denunciatory oratory and it ranked with his
other internationally famous sermons such as “Dancing—the Devil’s Device
for Drugging Decency”; or, “Modern Women’s Attire—Satan’s Trap for the
Unwary Male.” He traced the history of the drama from the flourishing
days of its great popularity in ancient Greece down through twenty-five
centuries to the present day and on the way he stopped to excoriate a
long line of playwrights from Aristophanes to the writer of a salacious
bed-room farce then current in Boston. He denounced the comedies of
Terence at which ancient Rome laughed; the immoral plays which had their
day during the Restoration in England and the modern American musical
comedy with equal vehemence and with that complete absence of a sense of
proportion which always characterizes the propagandist and the special
pleader.

He admitted, and rather gloried in the admission, that he had not been
in a theatre in twenty-five years and declared that he would sooner be
struck dead than ever cross the threshold of one again. On top of this
assertion he declared with convincing sincerity, that “I know whereof I
speak when I say to you that never before in the history of the
civilized world has the theatre quite so flagrantly flaunted its
indecencies in the face of an outraged public as at the present time.”
He attacked the defenseless moving picture and consigned it and its
progenitors and abettors to the exterior darkness.

Then he grew sentimental and his voice, which had been pitched in a high
key, became touched with something soft and tender. He gave his idea of
what he felt to be the blasting and devastating effect of the world of
the theatre upon a girl who might had known the restraining influences
of a simple home in her childhood and he presented a picture of the
sordid contacts she would be forced to make in seeking a career upon the
stage. Jimmy winced at the unreality of this picture; its unfairness and
its gross exaggeration, but there was no doubting that the speaker
himself believed it to be gospel truth and that he presented it with
such convincing sincerity that the vast majority of those present were
all aquiver with moral indignation at the charges he made. He let his
voice drop to a lower tone, and there was the vibrant tremor of a
deeply-felt emotion in it as he spoke, crouching over the reading desk
and bending his head forward in an attitude of eager expectancy.

“Mayhap there is such a girl here tonight, drawn hither by the elusive
whisperings of a conscience which was developed at the knee of a saintly
mother and under the fond paternal care of a loving father. Perchance
she comes, like so many of these poor butterflies of the stage, from a
home in a small town untouched by the tinsel glitter and the tawdry
allurements of the pleasure-ridden metropolis. Perhaps she was caught
defenseless in a moment of passionate revolt against what she, poor
foolish thing, felt to be the cramping restrictions of her environment,
and perhaps she was swept off her feet into the current that leads swift
and ever swifter to destruction.

“Perhaps she said good-bye to the peaceful little town, to the
heart-broken mother and to the tender, patient father who was trying so
hard to stay the flood of tears surging in his kindly eyes; perhaps she
went to the big city and courted the muse of tragedy or of comedy and
found, for a time, a specious joy in the glare and brilliance of the
footlights. Perhaps there came to her a measure of success in the new
realm of pleasure and mayhap she was carried out of herself, out of her
real self, into a lotus land of dazzling splendor.”

His voice grew more tremulous now. He leaned forward and seemed to be
speaking directly to the little group of girls in the front rows. Jimmy
noticed that they were the focus point of observation on the part of the
reporters.

“If there are any such girls here tonight,” pleaded the evangelist, “let
me hold out to them the helping hand of service. Let me beg them, with
all the sincerity of my nature, to give heed to the warning I have
sounded. Let me ask them to picture the little home back yonder with the
empty chair that’s always waiting for the daughter who has gone out to
beat her fragile wings against the candle’s flame. Let them picture
again the little mother with the soft, grey eyes. They were so bright
and lively once, but now there is an anxious look in them. There is
sadness in her heart, too, a heavy sadness, but she tries to be brave
for the sake of him who sits so gloomily by the fire-place and aches for
the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is gone.

“Let me entreat you to bring the roses back to mother’s pale cheeks
again if there are any of you here. Let me plead with you, out of a full
heart, to bring the laughter back to father’s lips and the smile back to
his care-worn face. Let me urge you to fly from the stifling air of the
playhouse back to the clean, open spaces where the fair winds blow,
where love and tender solicitude await you and where life is real and
earnest and not an empty, foolish dream. We will pray for guidance and
when we have finished I will ask all those who wish to be consecrated
anew to come down the aisles and clasp my hand in a pledge of fealty to
the service of Him whom they have forgotten for a while in the fretful
rush of selfish living. Let us pray.”

Down on his knees went the Rev. “Billy” Williams and as thousands in the
great audience bowed their heads once more he prayed fervently that
everyone present who was unworthy at heart might see the light and
embrace again with the simple faith of childhood the eternal truths of
religion. The “Keep Moving” girls bowed their heads with the others, and
if Jimmy had been a little closer he might have noticed that here and
there a rouged face was stained with tears and that hard lines around
the mouths of one or two of the bolder spirits had been softened as if
by some subtle alchemy beyond the ken of mortal mind.

The prayer over, the evangelist sprang to his feet and raised his hand.
The great choir, in instant response to his signal, began to softly
sing, “Lead, Kindly Light.” At a perfectly timed moment toward the end
of this most exquisite of hymns his voice sounded above the pianissimo
phrasing of the massed singers and carried, with penetrating clarity, to
the far end of the hushed auditorium.

“Won’t someone make the break with the past,” he exhorted. “Won’t
someone be the first to lead the strayed sheep into the vineyard of the
Lord?”

A tall, thin man with scraggly white hair and a pale ascetic face stood
up about fifteen rows back from the platform and slid out into the
nearest aisle. He bent his head as if breasting a heavy wind and his
cheeks suddenly flamed at the consciousness of the thousands of eyes
which were turned on him as he slouched awkwardly down toward “Billy”
Williams, who had stepped from the platform and who was now standing at
the end of the aisle. The evangelist reached out his hand and the tall
man grasped it as he made a quick dive for a handkerchief and dabbed at
his face. He mumbled something under his breath.

“Don’t be ashamed to cry, brother,” said the evangelist, putting his arm
affectionately around the other’s shoulder. “Tears at a time like this
are drops of God’s dew that will wash your soul as clean as morning
roses.” And then he addressed the audience as the last notes of the hymn
were sung by the choir. “Who’ll join our brother at the mercy seat,” he
shouted. “Who’ll be the next to heed the glad tidings?”

There was a movement and a scraping of feet in every section of the
building and presently men and women of all ages and all conditions
began coming down the aisle to be greeted by “Billy” Williams and
shunted aside into the open space designed for the reception of
converts. There they stood, most of them with drooped heads and many of
them crying. There were a few who held their heads up and their
shoulders back and who stood four-square to all the curious glances
directed toward them. On their faces were brave smiles and there was
about them the air of spiritual elation that was inspiring to those who
noted it.

Jimmy Martin’s emotions had been subjected to a severe grilling during
the concluding portion of the preacher’s sentimental appeal and he had
lost a little of his self-reserve and customary complacency during the
prayer. When the first of the converts came struggling down the aisle
and had begun to weep a little, the press agent found himself, for the
first time in many years, struggling to hold back the tears that came
unbidden into his own eyes. When the others had followed the spell was
broken and he looked furtively about to see if anyone had noticed that
he had been trembling on the verge of weakness. He thought once more of
the mission which had brought him into this alien atmosphere and he
directed his attention to the benches occupied by the young women for
whom he was acting as a somewhat remote escort.

The converts were coming down the aisles now in little groups of three
and four and the evangelist was keeping things at fever heat with loudly
voiced exhortations. He leaned toward the “Keep Moving” girls and made a
personal plea to them.

“Isn’t there someone here in this group of girls who has seen the light
tonight,” he inquired. “Won’t someone among you step out here and take
my hand and get right with her soul again?”

“I’ll say I will,” Jimmy heard Natalie Nugent, the girl with the pallor
and the green earrings, say as she stood up and walked toward “Billy”
Williams who gripped her outstretched hand and directed her to a
position alongside him. The press agent looked at the other girls and
noticed that they were watching her with fascinated interest. Somehow he
couldn’t quite grasp what it all meant.

“God bless you, sister,” the evangelist shouted. “Won’t some of your
friends join you?” He plunged again into the vernacular, choosing, as
always, the effective moment. “It’s your cue, girls,” he pleaded. “The
curtain’s up and the call boy is knocking at the door of your hearts.
Don’t delay. You can’t tell what moment the Great Stage Manager will
ring down for the last time. It may be tonight. It may be tomorrow.
Don’t be caught unprepared. It’s a blessed opportunity, girls. Don’t
pass it up. For mother’s sake, girls, for mother’s sake.”

Three other girls got up now and came forward. Jimmy gave an audible
gasp of amazement. A fifth and a sixth moved into place beside the
others and then Lolita Murphy stood up, hesitated for just a moment,
caught “Billy” Williams’ warm human smile and stepped briskly forward. A
half dozen others followed. The remainder sat with bowed heads. Those
who had left their places stood in a little circle by themselves,
clustered directly about the beaming evangelist. He made a last plea for
converts to the vast audience and a stray dozen or more men and women,
whose moral courage had not been quite strong enough to force a decision
at the beginning, bobbed up here and there and moved toward the
platform. There was a momentary pause and then the preacher spoke again.

“My friends,” he said, “a most remarkable event has occurred here
tonight. Perhaps some of you here near the front have surmised what it
is, but I am sure that the great majority of you have not grasped its
significance. My efforts tonight have been blessed by an achievement of
which I am extremely proud. Thirteen members of a theatrical company now
appearing in this city—a company presenting a conglomeration bearing the
idiotic title of ‘Keep Moving’—thirteen lovely young women have been
rescued from the insidious temptations that lurk behind the blinding
glare of the footlights and have come out here in the open and made a
pledge to get back into the old, simple ways of living. It’s the most
wonderful thing that has happened since I began my campaign, and while
these brave and earnest souls are here with us let us all join in a
prayer that they may be steadfast in their new aim and that their
example may be a shining one to thousands of others in this great city.
Let us pray.”

When the great throng arose after the prayer to sing the final hymn
Jimmy Martin edged out of his seat and slipped unobtrusively up one of
the aisles and out into the chill evening air. He was dazed and
bewildered, but he had presence of mind enough to hail a taxicab and
direct the chauffeur to drive him to his hotel. He had an idea that
pictures of the fair converts would be in demand and he wanted to be on
hand when the bright young gentlemen of the press put in an appearance.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          Chapter Twenty-Four


Chester Bartlett was not given to enthusiasm, but he felt impelled to
congratulate Jimmy after glancing over the morning papers the next day
and making a mental inventory of the net results of the press agent’s
Sunday evening “plant.” The story leaped out of the front page of every
journal in town and dwarfed, by comparison, the accounts of a
super-heated debate in the United States Senate on disarmament, of a
great strike which industrially paralyzed Great Britain from end to end
and of a volcanic eruption in a far-flung island of the Pacific which
claimed 8,000 human lives as its toll.

The “feature writers” who covered the “Billy” Williams’ meetings had
figuratively and literally turned themselves loose on the proceedings
and had written stories with a heart-throb in every sentence and a tear
in at least every other line. They had embellished and embroidered the
actual incidents so effectively that even Bartlett himself,
case-hardened cynic that he was, found himself growing a bit sentimental
when he read the story in the first paper to hand. The narratives were
all adorned with photographs of the “Keep-Moving” beauties and the name
of that blithesome musical comedy figured extensively in all of them.
Bartlett particularly liked the headline in the Journal:

                     CHORUS BEAUTIES
                         CONVERTED BY
                          “BILLY” WILLIAMS
                               ––––
                     Thirteen “Keep Moving” Girls
                      Hit the Trail After Eloquent
                      Plea by Evangelist.
                               ––––
                     TEN THOUSAND WEEP AS
                      SOLEMN PLEDGE IS MADE
                               ––––

“The counter attack was well developed and the ground gained is
satisfactory to the higher command,” was the way Bartlett framed his
congratulations over the telephone. “You can consolidate your present
position and rest up for a few days.”

“All right,” Jimmy replied with a chuckle, “but there’s no tellin’ when
I may make another raid on the enemy trenches. I’ve got ’em goin’. That
one was as easy as getting a drink on Broadway since the U.S.A. went
dry.”

“In plain, everyday English,” went on Bartlett, “that’s just about the
best plant I’ve seen pulled off in the twenty years that I’ve been in
the theatrical business. I noticed that your little Cedar Rapids friend
was one of the ring-leaders. How you managed to get them all to play up
as well as they did is what I can’t understand. How did you work it?”

Jimmy paused for a moment or two before replying and coughed uneasily.

“I’ve got ’em trained,” he finally replied. “They’ll—they’ll do anything
I ask ’em to do—anything.”

It was characteristic of Jimmy to have decided, after considerable
speculation, that no motive other than an unselfish desire to please
himself and to assist in adding to the greater glory of the occasion had
prompted Lolita and her associates to profess conversion on the night
before. He had tried to reach her on the telephone several times with
the idea of thanking her for her unexpected co-operation in furthering
the success of his publicity scheme, but had been always met with the
response that she was not in. He finally decided to defer the expression
of his gratitude until that evening at the theatre. As a slight token of
his good-will and heart-felt thankfulness he ordered a bouquet of roses
delivered to her dressing-room and he personally wrote out a little card
to be affixed to it.

“To the best little press agent ever,” it ran, “from a cheap piker at
the game—Yours with love—Jimmy.”

He tried to preserve a slight semblance of becoming modesty throughout
the day, but the congratulations which poured in upon him from all sides
were of such a fulsome nature and coincided so perfectly with his own
opinion of himself that when evening came he was as expansive as the
leading man of a small town stock company and just about as reticent and
self-effacing as an auctioneer. He dined alone with a fine inner glow of
self-satisfaction and strolled into the lobby of the Colonial Theatre
about half an hour before curtain time at peace with the world.

There was a long line of patrons extending from the box-office window
almost out to the sidewalk and he watched the scramble for tickets with
a feeling of exalted serenity. The sound of voices at the swinging doors
leading into the foyer attracted his attention. He turned to see
Bartlett and the stage manager coming through. Their mood was one that
plainly boded developments of a decidedly disagreeable nature. They made
for Jimmy and pounced upon him simultaneously.

“Where’s that girl of yours?” inquired Bartlett in a tone that Jimmy
felt was a bit menacing.

“Yes, and where’s Natalie Nugent and Hilda Hennessey and Trixie Seville
and Yvonne Elaine and Dulcie Dolores and five or six others,” chimed in
the stage manager. “What do you know about ’em?”

“What do I know about ’em?” echoed Jimmy helplessly. “I don’t know
anything about ’em. What’s the idea?”

“The idea is that they haven’t shown up tonight,” said Bartlett tartly.
“Not a single one of that outfit that put your story over last night has
put in an appearance back stage, and I have a remote suspicion that you
know why they haven’t. Have you got some new stunt up your sleeve? If
you have I won’t stand for it. Understand me, my dear sir, I won’t stand
for it.”

“I don’t know anything about it, Mr. Peters,” said Jimmy with an air of
injured innocence, “not a single little thing. I haven’t seen Lolita all
day and I haven’t laid eyes on any of those other queens either. What
makes you think I know anything about it?”

“Just general principles, I fancy. You’re a very smart young man and I
had, and still have for that matter, an idea that you may be planning a
follow-up of some sort on that yarn you landed this morning. Let me warn
you that if you are, you are monkeyin’ with the well-known buzz-saw.
Here are a dozen or more of the best looking de luxe girls in this show
missing and the house practically sold out. I’ve got a reputation to
live up to and I don’t propose to have it suffer just for a fool press
story.”

“But, Mr. Bartlett,” broke in Jimmy.

“Ifs and buts are superfluous at this writing,” interrupted the manager
angrily. “It’s within fifteen minutes of curtain time, and we’ll have to
give a show that’ll look like a Number Three company out in the tall
grass. The next time you plan a press story you’ll have to get it passed
by the censor beforehand and I’m going to be the censor. Do you get me?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Jimmy weakly as Bartlett and the stage manager
disappeared into the theatre again.

He leaned against the wall for support and tried to collect his
thoughts. Somehow he couldn’t. He felt himself in the clutch of
uncertainties beyond his understanding at the moment and vague distress
was written large upon his face. One of the uniformed carriage
attendants tapped him on the shoulder and slipped a letter into his
hand.

“A young lady left this half an hour ago, Mr. Martin,” he said, “and
told me to see as how you got it handed to you personally.”

Jimmy knew the handwriting on the envelope and a queer feeling came over
him. He hesitated for a moment before reading it. When Matthews, the
house manager, strolled up to him two minutes afterwards vain regret was
in his heart and in his eyes there lurked a look of blended bewilderment
and futile rage.

“What’s the matter, old man?” inquired Matthews. “Has Bartlett been
making things hard for you?”

Jimmy smiled a sickly smile and handed over the letter.

“I don’t mind so much what he says,” he replied, “but this has got under
the little old cuticle all right. Read it if you like.”

The manager adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses and read the letter,
written in the stiff, vertical handwriting of a school-girl.

    Dear Jimmy:

    This is just to say good-bye. You’ve been very nice and very kind to
    me and I’m thankful for everything and all that, but I’ve just got
    to get away from the sinful stage and go back home. The other girls
    are all quitting, too. I knew weeks ago that it was foolish to
    pretend I’d ever be anything more than just a fifth or sixth rater
    and now I’m glad that I’ve been brought to see the wickedness of it
    all. I guess maybe I’ve got the “Cedar Rapids blues” you spoke about
    the other night, too. Mother and dad have been writing me for weeks
    to come home. Thank you again for your kindness and all that and
    don’t bother trying to look me up for I’m taking a train tonight.
    Many thanks again—from your little friend,

                                                                 LOLITA.

“That’s mighty tough,” commented Matthews sympathetically. “Love is a
great little gamble.”

“You said something,” replied Jimmy dejectedly. “I held the right cards,
but I overplayed my hand.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          Chapter Twenty-Five


“They’re always pickin’ on me,” moaned Jimmy a few weeks later as he
flung the letter he had just finished reading down on his desk in a
corner of the dingy office of the Colonial Theatre and kicked
impulsively at a crumpled pile of discarded newspapers on the floor.

“What’s the matter, old man?” inquired Matthews, looking up from a stack
of letters on his desk and regarding the press agent with a bantering
smile. “Is Bartlett out on the rampage again?”

“No,” replied Jimmy in a disgusted tone of voice. “I wish he was. He’s
postin’ three sheets tellin’ what a grand little fellow I am. That’s
what gets my pet Angora.”

“What’s the catch?” questioned the other.

“Oh, that’s concealed in the last paragraph. He starts out with a lot of
hot air about how good I am and how pleased he is at the wonderful
showing I’ve landed over here in Boston, and a bunch of other junk and
then he—wait, I’ll read you the finish. He says—‘and being desirous of
showing my appreciation of your efforts in a concrete way I have decided
to intrust to you the general direction of the publicity campaign of
’The Ganges Princess.’ I will send someone to take over ‘Keep Moving’ on
Saturday, and you will kindly report at this office on Monday morning.’”

Matthews, who had sauntered over to Jimmy’s desk during the reading of
Chester Bartlett’s letter, looked frankly bewildered.

“I’m pretty dense, I guess,” he said. “I don’t see anything in that to
cause you to exhibit any signs of distress. He’s handing you the prize
job of the season on a gold platter. You couldn’t stop the papers from
printing stuff about that show with an injunction from the Supreme
Court. Don’t you realize that?”

“Oh, that part of it’s all right,” replied Jimmy. “I suppose I’ve got a
nerve to put up a holler, but I can’t help it. It’s this thing of bein’
bounced about like a tennis ball that makes me sore. The minute I get
sewed up with one show and the machinery in the little old idea factory
gets all oiled up and is makin’ 286 revolutions to the minute, along
comes a letter or a wire shootin’ me on to join somethin’ else. Gee, I
wish I was workin’ for myself and not for the other guy.”

Jimmy would have resented any suggestion that the look which crept into
his eyes as he said this was wistful, but it was just that. He paused
and gazed out of the window at the scurrying throng of early morning
shoppers. Across his face there came and went the shadow of a pathetic
smile, a smile that seemed to express for a moment the elation of
holding within his grasp the very substance of things hoped for and
which instantly merged into something that epitomized utter
hopelessness. Matthews sensed his mood and put his hand on the press
agent’s shoulder.

“Why don’t you take a flier on your own?” He asked. “Everybody in the
business would wish you well.”

Jimmy snorted derisively.

“What would I use for money?” he inquired sarcastically. “Playwrights
ain’t takin’ good wishes for advance royalties and you can’t slip a few
kind words into the salary envelopes on Saturday night.”

“But it don’t take so much to make a start,” persisted the other. “Don’t
you manage to save anything at all?”

“Sure. I’ve got almost enough cigarette coupons to get a gold plated
safety razor or a genuine silk umbrella, and there’s 20 shares of Flying
Frog copper stock in the tray of my trunk. That must be worth all of a
dollar and eight cents, and it cost me about thirty dollars, too. Quit
your kiddin’, old man. An agent has about as much chance these days of
savin’ money as the Kaiser has of bein’ invited to a week-end party by
the King of England.”

Jimmy stood up and began to pace slowly up and down the room. The
wistful look came into his eyes again and the longing smile touched his
mouth once more.

“Still,” he said, half to himself, “it’s kind of nice to think about
ownin’ your own show even if you know you never will, and to sort of get
a flash in your mind’s eye of a twenty-four sheet with ‘James T. Martin
presents’ splashed across the top of it in black on yellow with red
initials. ‘James T. Martin presents’—that’d certainly look immense on
that low board on Broadway near Forty-fifth street that hits everybody
on the big street right in the eye.”

Matthews, in response to a summons from the box-office, left him still
soliloquizing under his breath and gazing pensively across the snow
covered Common.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“The Ganges Princess” was the dramatic sensation of a decade. It had
been running for a solid year at the huge Hendrik Hudson Theatre in New
York, having weathered a hot summer with hardly a noticeable falling off
of receipts. It was Chester Bartlett’s first venture into what is
technically known as the “legitimate field” and he had staged it with
that lavish disregard for expense and with that keen sense of the
artistic which had given him pre-eminence as a producer of light musical
entertainment.

Written by one of America’s most flamboyant playwrights it told a turgid
story of Oriental passion and treachery set against a spectacular
background depicting scenes in ancient India. As sheer spectacle it
quite transcended anything hitherto attempted in the United States. It
presented a series of settings which were so flaming in their color, so
permeated with the mystery of the East and so splendid in their
suggestion of great size and vast distances that each new revelation was
invariably greeted with gasps of amazement from the audience. A cast
bristling with distinguished names gave verisimilitude to the somewhat
bombastic dialogue and purely incidental members of the company included
a troupe of fifty real nautch-girls, six elephants, five camels and a
flock of sheep.

“The Ganges Princess” was not merely the talk of New York. It was
literally the talk of the country and its forthcoming tour promised to
be one of the most important in the history of the American theatre. It
was booked for extended engagements in only a few of the larger cities,
there being a comparatively limited number of places containing
playhouses with stages large enough to accommodate the production and
possessing auditoriums of sufficient size to insure financial success.

Bartlett had mapped out a plan of exploitation which was quite the most
comprehensive ever undertaken in the annals of press agentry. No less
than half a dozen advance couriers—the pick of the country—were to
devote their energies to the advertising and newspaper campaign alone,
while the purely business details were to be intrusted to trained
experts who were to have no other duties. This would leave the purveyors
of publicity free and untrammeled in their assaults upon the press and a
defenseless public.

Jimmy Martin was to be generalissimo, commander-in-chief and field
marshal of the combined forces and was to be entrusted with delegated
powers such as had never before been given to anyone holding a similar
position. Matthews had understated the case when he referred to the
place as the prize job of the season. It wasn’t even comparable. Nothing
like it had ever been known for opportunity and power, since the modern
variety of press agent came into being. Jimmy realized that himself
after Bartlett had finished outlining the scope of the proposed
campaign.

“Go to it, my boy,” the manager said at the completion of an hour’s
talk, “and remember that the azure dome of heaven is the limit and that
in the bright lexicon of showmanship there are no such words as ‘it
can’t be done.’ Do I make myself clear?”

“Absolutely,” replied Jimmy cheerfully. “I’m to sit with my feet in a
mustard bath and I’m to play my cards without regard to the feelin’s,
digestions, general state of temperature or politics of anyone else in
the game. I’m to see all raises and tilt it one for luck whenever I
think the time is ripe for a killin’. Have I got the right combination?”

Bartlett laughed heartily at the flavory idioms which flowed so freely
from Jimmy’s lips.

“Thou hast, most potent, grave and reverend signor,” he replied, bowing
low in exaggerated mock courtesy. “By the way,” he continued, getting
back to business again, “there’s another thing I completely forgot. I’ve
engaged a literary chap for a special stunt, and I want you to figure
out some way of getting it across so that it seems on the level.

“The general idea is to have this fellow deliver a series of lectures on
India about three weeks ahead of the play date. It’ll be a camouflaged
boost for the show. Every once in a while he’ll make some casual remark
about the play which he understands is shortly to be seen in this city,
et cetera, but there won’t be enough of this stuff for anyone to
consider it as being at all out of the way.

“This gentleman will be under your direct and special control. It will
be up to you to arrange to have lectures given in every city under the
auspices of some literary society or social welfare group or under the
patronage of the Daughters of the American Revolution—any kind of a
crowd that’ll give the stunt prestige and distinction. I’ve written Mr.
Denby to meet you at the theatre this evening.”

“Denby, eh? It can’t possibly be little old J. Herbert Denby, the
highbrow kid, can it?”

“That’s the name. Know him?”

A grin of delight spread over Jimmy’s features.

“Fairly well,” he chuckled. “He tipped me off to a grand idea over in
Baltimore a year or so ago. Old George B. Bookworm, eh? If he’s still
doin’ his regular act I’ve got a lot of laughs comin’ to me on this
trip. Say, you don’t know how good that bird’ll be for a stunt of this
kind. When it comes to the uplift stuff and the literary bunk he’s there
in seven separate and distinct languages. And innocent! Say, he could
make a two year old baby look like an old offender with a Sing Sing
past. They’ll fall for him on sight.”

The guileless Mr. Denby greeted Jimmy in the lobby of the Hendrik Hudson
that night in his best professorial manner and smiled benignantly
through his tortoise shell glasses.

“You will, I think, concede, Mr. Martin,” said he, proffering a rather
limp hand, “that we give the lie direct to Mr. Kipling.”

“Eh? What’s that?” mumbled the other. “I don’t get you.”

Mr. Denby smiled condescendingly and replied in a tone of voice that
Jimmy felt to be a bit too irritatingly suave.

“Mr. Kipling—the poet—you know. He says, ‘East is East and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet.’ Well, we are meeting on a common ground
in a common cause and we are—may I venture to suggest—decidedly alien to
each other in our thoughts and sympathies, are we not?”

Jimmy eyed him suspiciously before replying.

“Listen, old dear,” he said evenly, “I can never quite figure whether
you’re kiddin’ me or not and I’m going to be too busy from now on to ask
for diagrams. If we’re goin’ to get together you’ve got to get out the
little old parachute and jump off into space. In plain English you’ve
got to dive down to earth and keep both feet on the pavement. Save the
flossy stuff for your lectures. Are you on?”

“Of course, of course,” stammered Mr. Denby. “I meant no offense. I have
an unfortunate habit of making poetic allusions. I shall correct it.
Believe me, my dear Mr. Martin, I shall correct it. I have much to say
to you. Where shall we have a little—a little,—shall I say pow-wow—to
talk over the—the ah—dope?”

“That’s the idea,” replied Jimmy, slapping the other on the back and
laughing heartily. “That’s regular language. Let’s go back to the stage
manager’s office and work out a plan of attack.”

The press agent led the way through a passage which ran behind the boxes
to the stage and they presently found themselves dodging the canvas
walls of a great Indian temple which were being deftly swung into
position by a small army of stage hands and picking their steps
cautiously through a cluttered array of papier-mache Buddhas, canopied
thrones and other properties. Once closeted in the little office in a
far corner they began a consultation which lasted for more than an hour.

It was agreed that Jimmy was to travel sufficiently far enough ahead of
J. Herbert Denby to arrange for and advertise his lectures and the press
agent took pains to carefully instruct the latter as to the best methods
of keeping his connection with “The Ganges Princess” company a remote
and cherished secret. The subjects chosen by the lecturer were, to say
the least, not calculated to arouse any suspicion. Jimmy sat entranced
as J. Herbert read them off from a typewritten slip he took from his
card-case.

“I shall talk first,” he said, “upon ‘The Rig-Veda—A Primitive Folk Song
Embodying the Soul of an Ancient People.’ I shall follow that with a
discourse on ‘Brahma, Vishnu and Siva—The Triple Manifestation of the
Hindu God’ and for my third and final lecture I have chosen perhaps a
more popular theme—‘Mogul versus Mahratta—A Study in Dynastic
Conflicts.’ Do you think that program will fill the bill?”

Jimmy was plainly a little bit groggy and he found it difficult to
articulate for a moment or two.

“Say, old scout,” he finally managed to remark. “I’m almost down for the
count. You talk like an encyclopedia. You’ll have ’em all pop-eyed when
you pull that stuff. The harder it is to understand the harder they’ll
fall. You’re there, George B. Bookworm, you’re there. I can see ’em
passin’ flowers over the footlights already.”

J. Herbert, appreciating the sincerity of Jimmy’s enthusiastic approval,
blushed a little and tried to appear at ease, but it was a difficult
task. The two strolled out on the darkened stage and stood in the wings
watching the unfolding of the final scene of the second act in which the
Maharajah of Rumpore returned unexpectedly, with his followers, from a
tiger-hunting expedition to find his favorite wife in the arms of the
villainous Begum of Baroda.

They found themselves suddenly wedged in the center of a crowd of male
supernumeraries who had come clattering down the stairs leading from the
dressing rooms, accoutered in ancient armour and ready for participation
in the stirring episode which was to bring the act to a close. Most of
these “extra people,” that being their classification in the world of
the theatre, were the usual assortment of shiftless idlers who eke out a
precarious existence by doing such odd jobs on the stage and whose
Oriental aspect was purely a matter of simulation. There were, however,
a number of genuine East Indians among them, random visitors from an
alien clime picked up here and there and utilized to give an added air
of verisimilitude to the ensemble scenes.

One of these latter, a handsome chap under thirty, whose skin was the
color of strong coffee diluted with rich cream and whose features had
the classic regularity of a Grecian sculptured head, brushed against
Jimmy’s elbow and apologized profusely.

“I am very much sorry if I have caused myself to discommode you,” he
murmured, smiling pleasantly and revealing a row of teeth of dazzling
whiteness.

“That’s all right,” replied Jimmy, looking at him in surprise. “You’re a
regular, I see. You don’t belong to the volunteers.”

“No, sahib, I am from the East. I am long distance from home-land of my
fathers, if that is what you mean.”

Jimmy looked at him with new interest. He had an air about him, an
indefinable air of distinction that attracted the attention of even the
aesthetic J. Herbert Denby, who edged closer and entered the
conversation.

“Your English is excellent,” he remarked. “You have perhaps studied in
one of our universities?”

“No, sahib, not here—in Oxford. I have been in this country but a few
months. Life has been a difficult problem here in this great democracy,
but I am a fatalist, sahib, and I do not make myself uneasiness as to
the future. It is useless for it is written already on the scrolls of
time.”

The next instant he swept forward on to the stage with the others in
response to a signal from the stage manager who was peering through a
small hole in the scenery.

“My word,” said the astonished Mr. Denby. “Fancy a chap like that being
content to figure as one of the mob. He has the grand manner of an
Indian prince.”

Jimmy looked up at him quickly.

“It’s moved and seconded that we make him one,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“All in favor of the motion signify their assent by saying ‘Aye.’ Aye!
Contrary—no. The ayes have it and the motion is carried. What’ll we call
him?”

“I must confess that I don’t grasp the significance of what you mean,”
said the puzzled Mr. Denby.

“You will,” returned Jimmy as he led the way out to the front of the
house again. “I’m goin’ to give you a little playmate on this trip if I
can get Bartlett to go along. Local color stuff. You’ve slipped me
another grand little idea, old man. It’s a bear.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           Chapter Twenty-Six


Prince Rajput Singh, the mythical only son of the Nazir of Hydrabad,
descended on Chicago two weeks later accompanied by J. Herbert Denby,
the distinguished authority on Far Eastern affairs. Their arrival at the
Senate Hotel just before the dinner hour was a spectacular
divertissement, to say the least, and one well calculated to make the
unsuspecting general public sit up and take notice.

His Royal Highness wore a great gray cloak when he passed through the
main entrance of the hotel flanked on his right by the impeccable Mr.
Denby and preceded by two massive and upstanding Hindus whose bearded
faces were frozen into a semblance of stoical indifference that was as
grim and forbidding as a box-office man’s impenetrable and imperturbable
mask. On his head he wore a white turban trimmed with golden braid and
his feet were encased in richly embroidered red slippers with turned-up
toes.

He paused for a moment, surveying with a condescending air the crowd of
gaping men which filled the lobby, and then clapped his hands sharply
twice. The Hindu attendants moved into position back of him. Another
pause and then, with a gesture of surpassing elegance he dropped the
cloak from his shoulders into their waiting arms. No Roman emperor had
ever done it better, Mr. Denby thought to himself. The prince stood
revealed in a gorgeous silken robe which was such a shimmering mass of
color that it almost made one blink to look at it. Purples, flaming
shades of orange and greens which seemed to suggest the rank lush
foliage of some tropical jungle were the predominating shades. The robe
was admirably designed to set off to the best advantage the dark and
finely chiseled features of His Royal Highness, who greeted the manager
of the hotel with an air of haughty reserve that was positively imperial
in its implications.

His progress through the lobby to the elevator was made amid a silence
that Mr. Denby afterwards paradoxically referred to as “audible” and
when the clanging doors closed behind him and he was shot up to his
quarters on the third floor, the feelings of all the awed onlookers
found expression in a concerted gasp.

Jimmy Martin, watching the proceedings from behind the cover of a
newspaper which he pretended to be reading while he sprawled over a
great leather chair, chuckled quietly to himself and agreed that he was
a grand little stage manager. Then he slipped out on to windswept
Michigan avenue and walked briskly away to his own hotel. He longed to
remain and watch his drama unfold, but discretion warned him that it
would be well for him to keep in seclusion for the present, inasmuch as
representatives of the fourth estate would undoubtedly descend on the
hotel shortly in a body.

Prince Rajput Singh graciously received the gentlemen of the press an
hour later and discoursed at length upon the past, present and future of
India. Hearing that his distinguished friend, the Sahib Denby, whom he
had entertained some years ago at his father’s palace while the former
was traveling in the far east, was planning a lecture tour he had
decided, he said, to visit America himself and lend his aid to the
project.

“It has been long dream of my existence,” he announced grandly, picking
his words carefully, “to assist in bringing to new world of the west the
culture and wisdom of the east. You have made wonderful discoveries in
the world of material things. We have long ago found the secret of the
soul. It is well we should make ourselves friends.”

The prince posed for flashlight photographs sitting in a great arm chair
with his Hindu attendants, arms folded, standing erect and immovable
behind him. All in all a pleasant time was had by everyone concerned and
the results in the newspapers on the following morning were all that the
most optimistic and sanguine publicity promoter could have desired. Two
and three column pictures of His Royal Highness were given prominent
positions and each interview was tagged with a paragraph announcing the
first of Mr. Denby’s lectures which was to be given a day later in the
grand ballroom of the hotel. The prince, it was announced, would
supplement the lecturer’s remarks with a little talk of his own.

Jimmy Martin, calling on him for the purpose of giving him a few more
instructions concerning his general deportment and demeanor on the
morrow, was somewhat dazzled by the splendor of his surroundings and by
the extent of the apartment assigned to him. There were five rooms in
all, overlooking the lake, and there was a canopied bed on a raised
platform in one of them as well as other evidences of extreme luxury to
which he was not accustomed. He hunted up his friend, the assistant
manager of the hotel.

“Say, Wilkins,” he said cautiously. “I’ve been up to see this prince
you’ve got stopping here. That’s some set of rooms. I wonder what
they’re going to set him back.”

“That’s the royal suite,” replied Wilkins. “We don’t get much of a
chance to get any real royalty very often, and I’m making the old boy a
special rate. Mr. Denby arranged for it. We’re only going to charge him
two hundred dollars a day.”

“My God,” stammered Jimmy, almost swallowing his cigarette and clutching
the other by the arm, “you can’t do a thing like that.”

The look of hopeless distress on the press agent’s face caused the hotel
man to laugh uproariously, for a moment, but he checked himself
suddenly.

“What’s the idea?” he inquired. “Why can’t we? You act as if we were
going to charge the bill to you.”

“Maybe you are, old man,” was Jimmy’s response as he led Wilkins over to
the latter’s little office. “I want to slip you a little side-line of
conversation that you’ve got to promise to keep Masonic.”

So it came to pass that in the quiet sanctity of the little office Jimmy
outlined certain unpublished details concerning the activities and real
mission of Prince Rajput Singh though he said nothing about that dusky
gentleman’s previous condition of servitude. He represented him as being
a genuine Indian nobleman, temporarily down on his luck, who had
consented to assist in a carefully contrived and ingenious scheme of
indirect advertising.

“Have a heart, old man,” he pleaded when he had finished. “If you scale
that two hundred down to about—well, say twenty-five and Bartlett’ll
have heart failure even at that figure—I’ll arrange to have his royal
niblets have dinner every night in your Egyptian dining room. You know
yourself you don’t do much trade in there. We’ll have those two Hindu
birds cook a lot of these curry dishes right there in full view of the
audience and wait on him. You’ll be able to hang the little old S.R.O.
sign out in a couple of days, take it from me.”

The assistant manager succumbed to Jimmy’s siren song and consented to
slash the rate for the royal suite in return for the special performance
by the prince and his entourage which the press agent promised to stage
nightly.

Mr. J. Herbert Denby and Prince Rajput Singh made their joint debut on
the lecture platform on the following afternoon before a select and
soulful audience largely composed of middle-aged females who hung
rapturously on every word uttered by both speakers.

Mr. Denby was in fine form. His discourse on “The Rig-Veda” was as vague
and misty as a treatise on the Hegelian philosophy and about as full of
real mental nourishment for that particular audience as a scientific
monograph on the bony structure of the dactylopterus volitans would have
been. He soared into the outer void and returned with bay-leaves on his
brow and with esoteric phrases dripping from his tongue. The more
hopelessly involved he became in the mystic mazes of his metaphysical
theme, the more ardent seemed to be the rapt devotion with which his
listeners received his remarks. When he finished in one grand, exultant
outburst of poetic fervor a hushed silence fell upon the gathering and
when a ripple of applause broke in upon it there were those whose brows
darkened as if something holy had been profaned.

It remained, however, for the pseudo Prince Rajput Singh to achieve the
real sensation of the afternoon. Arrayed in a purple robe and turban of
exquisite silk and carrying himself with a careless air of superb
distinction that was fascinating to watch, he delivered a brief talk in
which he pleaded for a better understanding between the East and the
West and urged a study of Indian ways and customs as the best method of
bringing such an entente cordiale about, such a study as was rendered
possible, for instance, by witnessing a performance of a play he had
recently seen in New York—was it called “The Ganges Princess?”—he was
not sure.

His dark face gleamed with animation as he spoke and his grey eyes
sparkled. When he smiled his white teeth flashed brilliantly in the rays
of the afternoon sun which poured through the mullioned windows and when
he laughed, tossing his head back like some medieval troubadour in
rollicking mood, all the impressionable women there present, young and
old, went voyaging for a moment or two into the land of romance, and
forgotten memory pictures of scenes from the Arabian Nights came
trooping back into their several and respective, not to mention
respectable, minds.

Taking it by and large Ranjit Lal, former supernumerary, devious
adventurer in a foreign clime, and now, by the grace of one James T.
Martin, Prince Rajput Singh, was, in the parlance of the boulevards, a
knockout. When the formal festivities were over he was surrounded by a
chattering swarm of females of assorted ages and subjected to that
particular form of obsequious flattery which is usually reserved by the
weaker sex for long-haired pianists and corpulent Italian tenors.

Mr. J. Herbert Denby, feeling himself somewhat out of the picture,
viewed the proceedings from a short distance away and particularly
noticed one worshiper who had edged herself into a position directly in
front of his confrere and who seemed to be trying to entirely monopolize
the swarthy-skinned lion of the occasion.

She was at least fifty. There was no doubting that, though she was
dressed, with all the gay abandon of a debutante, in a silken frock
which did not quite touch the tops of her extremely high boots. She was
also inclined to stoutness, though a straight front corset kept her
somewhat ample proportions cabined and confined permitting her to
present to the world at large at least a semblance of curvilinear grace.
There was, Mr. Denby thought, something decidedly suspicious looking
about her flaxen tresses whose symmetrically marcelled regularity was
relieved by two little curls which hung coyly in front of each ear. She
was, it was plain to see, convinced that she was the living embodiment
of Peter Pan, the young person who never grew old.

Mr. Denby could hear her high pitched voice and the gurgling laugh with
which she punctuated almost every remark.

“I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, you dear man,” she was saying. “Four
thirty tomorrow afternoon in our Indian room—I’ll have just a few
notables there and I have just one favor to ask of you. Please bring
those perfectly dear gentlemen with whiskers along to help serve.
They’ll help my background? Don’t you just love the proper background?
It’s so stimulating. Oh, yes, background is the most important thing in
life, if you grasp what I mean.”

A grunt escaped a tired looking man next to Mr. Denby. It was so
expressive that the eminent authority on the Far East turned a
questioning look on his neighbor.

“Who is she?” he inquired.

“That’s Fannie Easton,” replied the tired-looking man. “Old maid sister
of Junius P. You’ve heard of him, of course. Oodles of money, houses in
Chicago and New York, ranch in California, villa in Florence, three
private yachts and not a damned soul to decorate ’em with except that
blond nut sundae. Life’s a weird thing, sir. Too much for me.”

Mr. Denby, forgetting his own isolation for the moment, watched the
continuation of the episode with a new interest. He saw the gurgling
Miss Easton catch hold of his associate’s arm and he observed that the
latter was devoting himself to her with assiduous attention as they
walked slowly out into the corridor and disappeared, leaving behind a
collection of thoroughly disappointed admirers. As the echoes of a silly
laugh came floating on the air from some unseen corner of the hallway,
something seemed to tell Mr. Denby that all was not well.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          Chapter Twenty-Seven


Junius P. Easton, popularly known on “the Street” as “old J. P.,” was
sulking in his tent like a certain ancient Greek, the said tent being
the Florentine library in his lake-side home. He was pacing up and down
the great sombre room with its tapestried walls and its high raftered
ceiling, chewing ferociously on a thick cigar, mumbling incoherently and
thinking things utterly unfit for publication. Every two or three
minutes he paused at the door opening into the music room and listened
to the confused medley of sounds which came to him from an apartment in
a far corner of the house—the light laughter of women, the clink of
china tea things and the occasional echo of a man’s voice, an
aggravatingly bland and urbane voice with a trace of a foreign accent in
its rhythms.

Every time J. P. caught the sound of that voice his bushy and grizzled
eye-brows came together over a deep perpendicular furrow in his forehead
and he swore audibly and with gusto. This performance had been going on
ever since a quarter to five that afternoon when he had arrived home
from his office after a particularly trying day full of perplexing
business problems and had been greeted by the butler with the
announcement that Miss Fannie was entertaining some sort of an Indian
prince and a group of friends at tea.

J. P. had tip-toed to the door of the Indian room, had cautiously peeped
through the heavy curtain and had been greeted with the spectacle of
Prince Rajput Singh, flanked by his be-whiskered servitors, lounging
luxuriously on a divan completely surrounded by adoring females of
uncertain age among whom his more or less revered sister was the central
figure. Fannie was running true to form and was successfully
monopolizing the attentions of the foreign visitor.

Filled with disgust J. P. had tip-toed away from the scene to the quiet
serenity of the library and had begun his imitation of a caged beast of
the jungle. It was one of the best things he did and he generally felt
himself called upon to perform in this manner two or three times a week
for there was no way of ever figuring what Fannie was going to do next
or who she was going to invite into the house. One afternoon it might be
an anarchist preaching the parlor variety of red revolutionary doctrine
and the next it was just as likely to be the latest exponent of the
simple life, tastefully attired in sandals and a robe made from Turkish
towels.

As J. P. remarked once to his closest friend “there’s only one thing you
can ever be certain about so far as Fannie is concerned—she’s always
sure to make a damned fool out of herself.”

And J. P. spoke by the book. He had lived with her for fifty years and
he knew whereof he spoke. He was always prepared for anything and yet he
was never able to maintain that air of philosophic calm with which he
would have liked to have greeted each new ebullition of her tempestuous
temperament. He pictured himself sometimes, in moments of reflection,
treating her with cold contempt and silent scorn, but when each new
issue arose he greeted it with an emotional outburst which was utterly
futile in its effect on her, but which gave him some slight measure of
satisfaction. A psychologist would have told him that his affection for
his sister found expression in that way. We can never be coldly
contemptuous of those we love. However, J. P. was no psychologist.

The festivities in the other corner of the house lasted until nearly six
o’clock and when the last guest had been given a gushing farewell by the
arch Miss Fannie the hostess bounced into the library to meet her
brother. She was attired in a short skirted pink silk afternoon gown
that looked as if it might have been designed for a sixteen year old
high school student, and she flounced into a sofa with an assumption of
girlish ingenuousness that was really pathetic to watch.

“I’ve just had the darlingest afternoon, brother dear,” she said gayly,
not heeding the glowering aspect of the head of the house, who stood
facing her with his hands in his trousers pockets. “We’ve had the spirit
and the mystery of the great, inscrutable East with us and it’s been so
uplifting and so perfectly wonderful that I’m in a daze. I’m sorry you
didn’t meet the dear prince, brother dear. He’s so charmingly soulful
and his eyes—well, they’re just deep pools of moonlight as some poet
said. I’m giving a dinner for him on Friday night. You’ll have to come
to that, of course.”

Junius P. Easton tossed back his head and erupted.

“I’ll be damned if I will,” he shouted, “and I’ll be damned if I’m going
to let you hob-nob with this fellow either. I’ve stood a lot from you
Fannie, but there’s a limit. I didn’t put up much of a holler last
winter when you had that greasy Esquimeaux here that evening with that
polar explorer and I’ve stood for Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiians, South
Sea Islanders, snake charmers, Bolshevists, shimmy dancers, poets and
short haired female nuts, but I’m going to draw the line on darkies and
don’t you forget it.”

J. P. strode over to a long table, opened a humidor, extracted another
cigar and savagely bit the end of it off. His sister was as unruffled as
the placid surface of a mountain lake on a hot mid-summer day. She
laughed a little before replying. It was such an irritatingly serene
sort of a laugh that J. P. winced at the sound of it.

“You poor, dear, foolish man,” she said with the patronizing
condescension of an indulgent aunt rebuking a fractious boy aged about
eight years. “He isn’t a colored man. You can be perfectly ridiculous at
times.”

“Well, he’s the next thing to it, isn’t he?” inquired her brother
helplessly.

“Don’t be absurd, J. P. He is the descendant of kings and potentates and
mighty warriors and he’s quite the most fascinating man I’ve ever met.
To know him is a privilege. He calls to your soul and bids you voyage
with him to the heights where you can leave behind you the petty affairs
of life and commune with the eternal and the unknowable.”

“Oh, bunk,” retorted her brother testily. “You give me a pain. The
heights, eh? If you take a trip up there you’d better be sure before you
start that you’ve got a return ticket. You’re likely to get all tangled
up in the cosmos and the eternal and lose your way as well as your mind.
And take a tip from me, old lady. Choose some other companion besides
that coffee colored harem keeper if you want to keep your friends.”

“My dear brother,” returned Miss Fannie, in a perfectly even tone of
voice. “I feel extremely sorry for you. You are of the earth earthy. You
have no soul. When the infinite calls you cannot hear it. I,
fortunately, am so attuned and delicately adjusted that it reaches me,
and I can pulsate in harmony with its vibrations. I know because the
dear prince told me so. It’s just wonderful.”

“Oh——piffle,” retorted J. P. impotently as he threw up his hands in a
gesture of hopeless despair and tore angrily out of the room with the
bitter realization that he had once more suffered defeat.

Miss Fannie Easton smiled indulgently and fondled a jade ring on her
left hand, a ring which Prince Rajput Singh had slipped from his own
royal finger and given her with the whispered expression of a hope that
she would wear it as a token of their friendship. Assuring herself that
no one was looking she kissed it long and ardently as something akin to
a rapturous look crept into her foolish, lusterless eyes.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          Chapter Twenty-Eight


Jimmy Martin, couchant on a chaise longue in the royal suite of the
Congress Hotel, had difficulty in persuading himself that he was wide
awake and in full possession of all his senses. Opposite him sat the
pseudo prince Rajput Singh in his shirt-sleeves, looking decidedly
unromantic. The East Indian was talking rapidly and the inner import of
the tale he was unfolding was of such a nature that Jimmy was aquiver
with eager curiosity and aglow with anticipatory delight. He did not
notice that the other’s eyes glinted unpleasantly as he spoke and that
there was something positively repulsive about the smugly complacent
manner in which he detailed the progress of his love affair with the
wealthy sister of Junius P. Easton. All Jimmy could think of at the
moment were the tremendous publicity possibilities inherent in the
culmination of this incongruous romance.

“As you see, she is very much head over heels with me,” said the prince,
smiling mockingly, “is that foolish lady with the yellow hair. I have
made a most successful attack on her young affections, eh, Mr. Martin?
Is it not so? I have but to bend my small finger and she will do what I
ask. I have not made myself waste any time. Do you think I have, Mr.
Martin?”

“Say,” said Jimmy enthusiastically, as he rose to a sitting posture,
“you’re the quickest worker I ever saw in action. A glance of the eye
and a twist of the wrist and they’re ready to break the old home ties
and kiss the pet canary good-bye. You’ve certainly got winnin’ ways.
There’s no use in denyin’ that. When’d you see her last?”

“This afternoon I swear my undying love for this lovely lady in quiet
corner of her drawing room. We have made exchange of rings. How much you
think this one is worth, eh, Mr. Martin?”

The fictitious heir to the throne of Hydrabad reached into the pocket of
his waistcoat and took therefrom a diamond ring which flashed
brilliantly as he handed it to the press agent. Jimmy examined it
critically.

“Oh,” said he carelessly, “this is just a gaudy little trinket that
isn’t worth more than about fifteen hundred dollars or so. I’ve got to
give you credit. You’re immense. Where do we go from here?”

Prince Rajput Singh looked puzzled.

“I do not mean to go,” he said. “I mean to stay for a little while.”

“Of course, of course,” said Jimmy. “You don’t understand. What I mean
is—what’s the next move? You said somethin’ a little while ago about the
double harness stuff—about marryin’ this old gal, I mean. When are we
goin’ to pull the finale?”

“Whenever we wish, Mr. Martin. I have, as I say, but to bend my small
finger. It will make a nice publication for you in the journals, will it
not?”

“You said somethin’ that time, old Frank J. Bombay,” returned Jimmy who
was now in the grip of one of his moods of exultant exuberance. “This
one’ll land in places where press agents fear to tread. They’d stop the
presses for it, if necessary, and miss the mails. They’d leave out ads
for it. And when it’s all over you’ve got to do me a favor. You’ve got
to keep on with your tour and take Mrs. Princess Rajput Singh along with
you as a bally-hoo. Why, say, we’ll land so much stuff in every town
that the agent of every other outfit’ll just naturally pack up and move
on to the next stand without even leavin’ a forwardin’ address.”

Jimmy’s swarthy friend nodded in response to this enthusiastic outburst.
Then he narrowed his eyes and the mean, sordid soul of him peered
through them as he spoke.

“This Mrs. Princess, as you call her, that is to be,” he inquired
cautiously, “has really much money in her own name? I have asked many
questions from others and I find general opinion that she has. Do you
know?”

“Just a few millions, that’s all,” responded Jimmy nonchalantly. “Just
about five or six or somethin’ like that. Father left it to her. You’re
in softer than you realize, you old Hindu son-of-a-gun, you, and you’ve
got to go along on this honeymoon trip I’m plannin’. You owe a whole lot
to yours truly, Mister Man. If it wasn’t for me you’d be makin’ six
changes of costume a night for twenty-five bones a week. Don’t forget to
remember that.”

“Of course I am very much thankful to you, my fine, good friend, most
thankful and most very much in favor of your honeymoon plan.”

Jimmy arrogated to himself the task of arranging the details of the
projected marriage. He fixed upon an elopement to a nearby suburb as
being the best method of giving the affair a news slant that would add
to the story what are technically known in newspaper circles as “feature
values.” It would also, he figured, prevent the possibility of any last
minute interference by some trouble-making relative.

It was agreed that he was to meet the prospective bride on the morrow in
the guise of a close friend of Prince Rajput Singh and was to go over
with both parties a detailed plan of campaign which he was to map out in
the interim. The prince was to bend his small finger and announce that
impetuous and headlong haste was absolutely essential to his peace of
soul and was to insist upon the ceremony being performed within
twenty-four hours.

When Wilkins, the assistant manager, met Jimmy in the lobby a few
minutes after the latter had left the royal suite, he couldn’t help
noticing the wild exultant light that shone in the press agent’s eyes.

“Well, well,” he remarked cordially, “you look as if you’d just made a
clean-up or something. Can’t you let me in on the good news?”

“Not for about forty-eight hours,” returned Jimmy, “and then I’m goin’
to let the whole U.S.A. in on it at the same time. I’ve got somethin’ on
the fire that’s just about ready to serve that’ll make folks everywhere
forget to eat their ‘ham and’ one of these mornin’s.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Jimmy permitted Prince Rajput Singh to proceed him by half an hour to
the Easton home on the following morning. He thought it would be better
to have the blushing bride-to-be apprised of the rough outlines of the
elopement plan without the disconcerting presence of an intruder. Mr. J.
Herbert Denby, a little disturbed and flustered at being assigned to
such a task, was even then arranging with a clergyman in the next county
to preside at the marriage which was to take place in the parlor of the
rectory and all the other essential details had been carefully worked
out.

Jimmy had collaborated with the prince on a telegram which was to be
sent by the bridegroom to Junius P. Easton immediately after the
ceremony. It would, he felt, give an added touch of the picturesque to
the proposed program of events: “Your sister has done me the high honor
of becoming my princess,” it read, “and all Hydrabad will kneel in proud
homage at her feet. I have cabled my revered father for his august
blessing. May we not hope that you will shower your honorable good
wishes on us.”

The prince and Miss Fannie were in the music room when Jimmy was
announced. She had just been singing “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes”
to her own accompaniment on the piano and she was as radiant as a June
morning. She wore a tea gown of baby blue, embroidered with pink
rosebuds, and her bleached hair was done up into a billowy cluster of
tiny curls which swayed with every movement of her head and which
somehow accentuated the essential maturity of her foolish fat face.
Jimmy gave an almost audible gasp when he crossed the threshold of the
door. He was prepared for the worst, but he had not expected to find
himself face to face with a being out of the comic supplement. She ran
to meet him, laughing sillily.

“How do you do,” she said gayly, extending a pudgy hand. “It isn’t
necessary for the dear prince to introduce you. He’s told me all about
you and I know that we’re going to be kindred souls. You must vibrate on
our plane, you know. I’m certain you must because you are his friend and
one’s friends always vibrate on one’s plane. Don’t they, Rajjy, dear?”

“Of course, my jasmine bud,” replied the prince from the sheltered
embrace of a huge arm chair. “Mr. Martin is of our inner circle. He
shares the secrets of our hearts, sweet lily. He is my councilor and
chosen guide. Let us bid him sup coffee with us which you will pour with
your much-to-be adored hands.”

Jimmy cast a roving eye in the general direction of his dark-skinned
fellow conspirator and was greeted by the latter with an expressive
wink, which was not visible to Miss Fannie, who was bustling about a
silver tray on which was a pot of steaming coffee. She poured and served
it with a fluttering air of heavy coquetry which irritated the press
agent beyond measure and which made him feel decidedly uncomfortable.
She was such a simple, trusting, foolish soul that he didn’t have the
heart to enlarge upon the merits of the bridegroom-to-be in the
expansive and flowery fashion he had decided upon on the way from the
hotel. He remained strangely silent for a time listening to an exchange
of preposterous love words between this oddly assorted and incongruous
pair and wishing himself a long distance away.

“And when shall we visit dear Hydrabad, Rajjy?” Miss Easton was saying.
“I can see myself under a silken awning by the shores of the little lake
you spoke of—the lake by your summer palace I mean, and I can see you
beside me and the native servants are salaaming and serving us with a
wonderful feast. We must go there at once, Rajjy dear, at once. My soul
cries out for the sound of those ‘tinkly temple bells’ that Kipling
wrote about. It just cries out for them.”

Prince Rajput Singh stirred uneasily in his chair and leaned forward.

“In time, sweet nightingale,” he said suavely. “I must make a
continuation of my lectures and then I must visit your wonderful
California. It will please me to be your honored guest at your home
there. Then, when we have tired of the sunshine and the flowers we shall
make long journey to my home-land. The spell of this new country is on
me and until it passes I must remain here. Besides, I must await a
salutation from my father. That breach must be healed, fair bul-bul.”

Miss Fannie sighed resignedly.

“Whatever you say, Rajjy dear,” she said. “You shall stay in California
as long as you wish and I’ll write to that father of yours if you don’t
hear from him. I think it’s terrible the way the Nazir is treating the
prince, don’t you, Mr. Martin?”

The bridegroom-to-be coughed nervously and rose quickly from his chair,
breaking into the conversation before Jimmy could stammer a reply.

“Fair one,” he said, gripping her by the arm, “my friend tires of these
much repeated references to my own poor self. We have more important
matters to discuss. Let us make busy with them.”

Thus pressed, Jimmy enlarged upon the detailed arrangements which he had
completed for the exciting events of the following day, arrangements
which included provisions for everything from the marriage license to
the formal and ceremonious delivery to all the newspaper offices of
elaborately engraved announcement cards by the Hindu attendants of
Prince Rajput Singh. Miss Fannie gushed her approval of the program and
was positively gurgling with delight as she escorted him to the door.

“The prince is so proud,” she said, when she was out of ear-shot of that
dignitary, “that he can’t bear to have me say anything about the
perfectly outrageous way in which he has been treated by his father. I
think it’s perfectly scandalous, don’t you?”

“I’m not very clear about it myself,” returned the press agent
guardedly. “What’d the old gink—I mean the old man do?”

“Oh, dear, I thought you knew. Why, he cut off his allowance for a
perfectly trivial something or other—he’s never told me exactly—and here
he was on the verge of being unable to keep up appearances and the
dignity of his station. It must have been most humiliating. Poor Rajjy
cried when I forced it out of him. He’d been so depressed that I knew
something must be the matter, and I just made him tell me. I was so glad
to help.”

Jimmy cocked his head at the last sentence and looked up at her quickly.

“So you helped him, eh?” he inquired.

“Just a little,” she replied. “What are a few thousand dollars if they
will bring peace to a troubled spirit? Peace is everything, Mr. Martin,
quite everything worth while. And I’m going to keep the poor, dear
prince peaceful for ever and always and aye. Good-bye, dear Mr. Martin.
I’ll see you in the morning.”

Jimmy went down the gravel path in a thoughtful mood. Somehow he felt
rather fed up with Prince Rajput Singh.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          Chapter Twenty-Nine


Mr. J. Herbert Denby, between sips of his morning coffee next day in a
secluded corner of the breakfast room of his hotel, was reading for the
second time, with an inner glow of satisfaction, a letter which he had
just received. It was a brief communication from Chester Bartlett
complimenting him upon his success as a lecturer and announcing the
manager’s forthcoming arrival in Chicago that very morning.

“I can’t resist the temptation,” Bartlett wrote, “to look in on one of
your seances and catch His Royal Highness and yourself in action. I must
congratulate you on the success which you have achieved in putting this
stunt over on the natives and I have instructed the office to give you a
twenty-five per cent increase in salary.”

Mr. Denby laid the letter down and decided that, after all, theatrical
managers had their proper place in the scheme of existence. Up to that
moment he had always been inclined to consider them as useless
encumberers of the earth.

He picked up the morning paper which lay at his elbow, adjusted his
glasses and turned to the front page. He glanced cursorily at a story in
the left-hand column dealing with the newest series of what are
technically known in newspaper circles as “Red Raids;” let his attention
wander to an account of the launching of a new presidential boom and
then took a look at the right hand corner. What he saw emblazoned there
caused him to almost drop the cup which he had just daintily raised to
his lips and provoked an audible spluttering that sent the head-waiter
hurrying in his direction from the other side of the room.

“Anything wrong, sir?” deferentially inquired the chief servitor, noting
with apprehension the startled mien of the eminent lecturer.

Mr. Denby tried to compose himself.

“Nothing important,” he managed to reply. “Just some unwelcome tidings
from home. I’ll be all right in a moment or two.”

When the head-waiter had bowed himself away Mr. Denby turned to a
perusal of the paper. The words which struck his eyes seemed to spell to
him the collapse of all things temporal.

                    PRINCE BAMBOOZLES
                     SOCIETY; RAJPUT SINGH
                      PROVED RANK IMPOSTER
                             ––––
                    Alleged Son of Nazir of Hydrabad
                     and Glib Tongued Lecturer
                     Associate Revealed as Wily
                     Promoters of Publicity for
                    Theatrical Enterprise.
                             ––––
                    FAKIRS ALMOST GOT
                             AWAY WITH IT

The harrowing details which followed were dressed up in such sarcastic
verbiage that Mr. Denby’s soul went sick and his appetite for breakfast
vanished. He paid his check and sought the seclusion of his room. He
wished to hide his face from the public gaze and apply poultices to his
wounded dignity.

Jimmy Martin, coming up unannounced, found him a half hour later gazing
pensively out of the window—a picture of incarnate misery. Jimmy wasn’t
in a particularly jaunty mood himself, but he assumed his best
“cheery-oh” manner when he caught a glimpse of his associate’s face.

“What’s the matter, little song-bird?” he inquired breezily. “You look
about as lonely as a bartender.”

Mr. Denby turned a pair of ineffably sad eyes on the press agent and
sighed mournfully.

“I’m disgraced, Mr. Martin,” he said feebly, “irretrievably disgraced. I
should never have gone into this masquerade—never. My saner judgment
should have prevailed. I shall never recover from this. I’m the most
miserable man in Chicago this morning—the most utterly miserable.”

“You’ve got another think coming, old popsy-wop,” replied Jimmy. “I’ve
just seen his royal highness. You’re a care-free babe in arms compared
to that bird. He’s passin’ on to New York on the twelve forty.”

“What I can’t understand,” said Mr. Denby, “is how the story got out.
Have you any idea?”

“Yes, I have,” replied the press agent, slowly. “As a matter of fact I
gave it out myself.”

“You gave it out yourself,” stammered the bewildered Mr. Denby. “I—I
don’t understand. Why did you do such a thing as that?”

“Well, the low-down of it is that I had to. I was out to that Easton
dame’s house yesterday afternoon with his royal jiblets and when I saw
the way the poor nut was makin’ a fool out of herself over that little
brown brother it just made me sick. He’d been milkin’ her for thousands
and I could see he was layin’ lines to wish himself into an easy life at
her expense. She’s a good-natured old gal, too, but she’d fallen for him
so hard that she’d have believed him if he told her he was that Buddha
party come back to earth for a little holiday.

“She told me about some fairy tale or other he’d pulled—something about
a row with his father and how his allowance had been stopped and so
forth and so on and when I took one last look at her at the front door
and thought of that baby lollin’ around on sofas and lettin’ her wait on
him and callin’ her a lot of flossy names so’s to keep his stock up I
didn’t have the heart to let her go through with the marriage thing,
story or no story. Somethin’ sort of caught hold of me and wouldn’t let
me go on. I wonder what it was?”

“Some philosophers call it the categorical imperative,” replied Mr.
Denby, thoughtfully.

“They do, eh? Well, maybe that’s a good name for it, but I’ve got a kind
of a hunch that it was the little old Golden Rule that made me ashamed
of myself. I thought the best of cramp Rajjy’s style would be to get
word to that brother of the blushin’ bride so I got in to see him last
night and coughed up everything. He’s a fine fellow. They don’t grow ’em
better. He was mighty grateful, but he said it wouldn’t do any good for
him to say anything to her. He figured that would make it worse. He said
she wouldn’t believe him. The only thing that’d get to her, he said,
would be to have some paper expose his royal job-lots and make him
ridiculous in the eyes of all her friends.

“So I came down town and slipped an ear-full to Cunningham, a friend of
mine on the Times, and he did the rest. I’m sorry, old boy, but I just
couldn’t help it. It’d a been one of the best stories ever put over if
we’d let it go through and it puts the kibosh on the lecture tour, but
there just naturally wasn’t anythin’ else to do. Women and children
first, as they say when the ship hits an iceberg. Am I right?”

Mr. Denby sprang up and grasped Jimmy by the hand.

“You certainly are,” he said enthusiastically. “I feel better already.
I’m sure Mr. Bartlett will understand. Did you know he was coming to
town today?”

“I did not,” returned Jimmy. “That’s a good exit cue, though. I haven’t
the nerve to face him until this thing kind of blows over. I’ll duck
under cover for twenty-four hours and let you break the news to mother.
Slip him the real inside stuff. Maybe he’ll fall for it.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Chester Bartlett was the maddest man in the entire state of Illinois
when he read the story of the expose on the incoming train to Chicago
that morning and the quips which were hurled at him by dozens of his
friends in his club at luncheon gave substance and solidity to his rage.
His interview with Mr. Denby was a stormy affair and his reaction to
what Jimmy termed the “real inside stuff” was violent in the extreme.
While still in the throes of his anger he wrote a brief message to the
press agent which the erstwhile lecturer on far eastern affairs was
requested to deliver in person to his friend.

Mr. Denby found Jimmy at his hotel immersed in the preparation of
advertising copy. He looked up hopefully; Mr. Denby handed him the note
in silence and he tore it open with a foreboding of disaster.

“No man can make me ridiculous and remain in my employ,” it ran. “You’re
through the moment you receive this. You should never have encouraged
such an affair as the romance Denby tells me about. As a matter of fact
it was a foolhardy thing to try and palm that fellow off as a prince.
You might have known you’d come a cropper sooner or later. You’ve got
too many ideas for your own good and I’ll be satisfied to go along
hereafter with someone who’s perhaps a little shy on brilliancy, but
who’s long on balance.”

“Can you beat ’em,” inquired Jimmy, helplessly. “They’re all alike. No
matter what you do you’re always in wrong.”

The telephone bell rang just then and he barked a rude “hello” into the
transmitter. The voice at the other end was hearty and good-natured.

“Is that Mr. Martin—Mr. James T. Martin?—this is Easton
talking—Easton—Junius P. Easton—thought I’d let you know that my sister
is cured—can’t begin to thank you for what you did—tried to reciprocate
this morning—told my brokers to carry a thousand shares of Consolidated
Gutta Percha in your name—closed out at a quarter to three—ten point
rise—you’ll get the check in the morning—had a little inside
information, you know—did pretty well myself, too—say, you impress me as
being a pretty clever sort of a lad—ever think of going into business on
your own?—it’s the only game—why work for anyone?—think it over.”

Jimmy was still mumbling his thanks when the other excused himself and
hung up. Mr. Denby, who hadn’t grasped the import of the telephonic
conversation, betrayed an intense interest in the proceedings.

“What’s up?” he questioned.

“Consolidated Gutta Percha,” replied Jimmy. “Want a job?”

“You know I do. Who with?”

“Why with me, of course, you old highbrow. And look here. Don’t you go
palmin’ off any fake dukes or rajahs or anythin’ like that. If you do
you’ll get the bum’s rush and I won’t take the trouble to write you a
letter about it, either.”

Mr. Denby raised a deprecatory hand.

“I’ll promise to be good,” he said, “but may I be permitted to ask
another question?”

“Shoot—while the shootin’s good.”

“Well, then, in the parlance of the theatrical profession—with which, I
take it, we are still to be identified—‘where do we go from here?’”

Jimmy pulled a pink letter out of an inside pocket and proffered it to
his friend with a flourish.

“Cedar Rapids is our next stand, you old adjective hound,” he said
heartily. “Take a look at this little message.”

It was, Mr. Denby found, a note from Lolita Murphy and it contained a
contrite plea for forgiveness for her abrupt departure from Boston many
weeks before and a hope that the diplomatic relations then severed might
be renewed.

“Old Mr. Higgins,” she wrote, “wants someone to take the lease of the
Opera House off his hands. He’s had a cataract on his left eye for two
years, and now he’s got rheumatism in his right hip and he wants to go
out to California. He’s been doing great business this season and on the
nights when he hasn’t had regular shows he’s been putting on big extra
special feature films and packing people in. I thought maybe you’d like
to try your hand at settling down and running a theatre. Of course, Main
Street isn’t Broadway, but I like it lots better and maybe you could
learn to, too. It means home folks to me. Maybe it might come to mean
the same thing to you—some time.”

Mr. Denby gasped when he read this. When he tried to talk the words did
not come trippingly....

“You mean you’re going to—to—run the opera house in Cedar Rapids?”

Jimmy grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him in an outburst of
fierce joviality.

“I mean that _we’re_ going to run it,” he said. “All _three_ of us. What
do you think about smearing a catch-line all over town—‘A Homey Theatre
for Home Folks’? I’ve got an idea that’d make a hit with a Certain
Party.”



                                THE END



------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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