"You're gonna put it over yourself!" says Alex. "Now listen to me. You grab a taxi and beat it down to your stock room. Get them overcoats ready and in about a hour I'll call there for you. We're goin' to Washington to-night and don't be over five minutes sayin' good-by to your wife!"
"But—" says Wilkinson, lookin' like Alex had him hypnotized.
"Git!" bawls Alex, and slams a hat on the lovely Wilkinson's head.
Well, within four minutes the lovely Wilkinson has beat it, leavin' behind a astounded and weepin' wife and Alex is on the phone callin' up the Gaflooey Auto Company's service station and in ten minutes more he has arranged to have a truck and a mechanic chug-chuggin' outside the house. Then he turns to me.
"Here is another chance for you to lose some dough," he says. "I'm gonna take Wilkinson and his trick overcoats down to Washington by way of a auto truck. If we leave here at midnight, we got about seventeen hours to make 225 miles, that's an average of around thirteen miles a hour. The Gaflooey one-ton truck can make twenty, if chased. Of course we may hit some bum roads or lose the carburetor and so forth, which might delay us some. What'll you bet I don't put this over?"
I walked over to the window and looked out at New York. They is one of them rains fallin' that generally plays a week stand before passin' on to the next village. I figured that trip in the middle of the night, the rain and the tough goin'.
"Gimme a proposition," I says.
"All right," says Alex. "Me and Eve needs some furniture for the library. I'll bet you fifteen hundred against a thousand that I get Wilkinson in Washington in time to put over his deal."
"I got you," I says. "If he gets there too late to put over anything with the War Department, I win—right?"
"Correct!" says Alex. "And now have Cousin Alice put up some sandwiches and the like for us. I got a lot to do!"
Well, at five minutes to twelve that night they was a Gaflooey truck gasolined its merry way aboard a Forty-second Street ferry. On board it was Alex, the lovely Wilkinson, one thousand storm-proof army overcoats and yours in the faith.
I ain't liable to forget that trip for a long while to come, because I got soaked to the skin—with water—and just missed gettin' pneumonia by one cough. The rain kept gettin' worse and worse and it hadn't a thing on the roads. We went through Trenton, N. J., along around 4 a.m. in a storm that would of made the Flood look like fallin' dew. The mud is up over the hubs of the truck, but it keeps plowin' along at a steady gait with Alex and the mechanic takin' turns at the wheel. I crawled in under some of them one thousand overcoats at Philly and went to sleep, the last I heard bein' the lovely and half-drowned Wilkinson callin' out the time every fifteen minutes and moanin', "We'll never make it!"
Mornin' brung no let up in the rain, but the old Gaflooey truck keeps thunderin' on. Sometimes we done five miles a hour, sometimes twenty and when this big baby was goin' twenty, believe me, it was rough sleddin'! We run into a bridge at Wilmington, Del., and at Baltimore we bumped a Flivver off of the road, but outside of that they was nothin' but rain and mud and the lovely Wilkinson complainin' about the dampness, like he was the only one that was gettin' a endless cold shower.
It was twenty minutes of five when we rolled into the city limits of Washington and I'll tell the world we was a rough lookin' bunch. Alex is grinnin' from ear to ear and slappin' Wilkinson on the back and this guy has perked up a bit, though wishin' out loud that he was home with coffee, bacon and eggs and Mrs. Wilkinson. I am cursin' the day that ever brung Alex into our family circle and wonderin' if death by double pneumonia is painful. The mechanic is fallin' asleep at the wheel, wakin' himself up from time to time with shots out of a flask and of lemon ice-cream sodas or something he had on his hip.
We stopped in front of the War Department and Alex says we better straighten up ourselves and the overcoats before callin' on Colonel Williams. At that, the mechanic falls off the seat and dives into a restaurant and we go back to look at the coats.
"If any of us had any brains," says Alex, jerkin' a coat off the pile, "we would all of worn one of these here things and kept nice and dry—Sufferin mackerel!" he winds up all of a sudden.
Me and the lovely Wilkinson swings around and there's Alex holdin' up the coat.
This here storm-proof army coat, which Wilkinson hoped to unload on the U. S. army, just simply fell apart in his hands! He grabbed another and another—and they're all alike. The rain has took all the color outa them, they have shrunk till they is hardly enough cloth to accommodate the buttons and the linin's, which was supposed to be leather, has fell right to shreds from the water. All in all, they was nothin' but a mess of soggy, muddy rags which no self-respectin' junk dealer would of took for a gift!
The lovely Wilkinson's face is a picture. He's as pale as the mornin' cream and I thought for a minute he was gonna bust out cryin'. I couldn't help feelin' sorry for the kid, but when I thought of that wild night ride through the rain and mud to bring this bunch of garbage to Washington, I wanted to laugh out loud! And then I remember Alex bettin' me Wilkinson would take the order, and I haw-hawed myself silly, right there in the street.
"Shut up!" barks Alex, swingin' around on me. "This here is far from a laughin' matter. It's pretty serious business!" He turns to Wilkinson and shakes him by the shoulder. "Young man," he snaps, "is that the kind of stuff you were goin' to put on our boys which fought for you in France?"
Wilkinson is lookin' at the coats like they fascinated him.
"Why—why this is terrible!" he stammers, fin'ly. "They told me—why—Good Heavens, you don't think I knew these things were made up like this, do you?"
Alex studies him for a minute.
"No," he says, "I don't! You don't look like you'd do that, anyways. What's the name of your firm?"
"Gerhardt and Schmidt," says Wilkinson. "I know it sounds German, but both members of the firm have been naturalized and—"
"Never mind that," says Alex. "Even if it wasn't no worse than a scheme to clean up on a government contract, I think the Secret Service will be interested in seein' them coats!"
The lovely Wilkinson sits right down on the curb and buries his face in his hands.
"Good night!" he moans. "I'm done for now. I thought this was going to be a big thing for me and—"
Alex slaps him on the back.
"No whinin'," he says. "We're still in Washington—you can't tell what might happen yet."
"You can gimme that fifteen hundred berries right now if you want, Alex," I says, "because I'm gonna grab the next train for Manhattan. This is one that beat you and—"
"Ssh!" says the lovely Wilkinson, jumpin' up suddenly. "Here comes Colonel Williams himself!"
We looked around and sure enough there's two army officers walkin' over to the War Department. When they got opposite us, Wilkinson braces himself and steps forward.
"Pardon me, Colonel," he says. "I'm Mister Wilkinson of Gerhardt and Schmidt. I had an appointment with you to-day at five to show you those army coats."
The Colonel looks at him.
"Oh, yes," he says, very pleasant. "Just step inside, Mister Wilkinson. I'll see you in my office. You are very prompt. You must have been caught in the downpour—you're soaking wet."
"Yes, sir," says Wilkinson. "I—ah—Colonel, I don't think there's any use of me stepping into your office."
"Eh—why not?" says the Colonel.
Wilkinson turns several of the popular colors.
"I—ah—the fact is," he says, "our coat is not what the United States government wants, Colonel. I didn't know it at the time I solicited the contract—I—I've just found it out. We brought the required number of coats down here by auto truck, not being able to get them here on time by freight or express. The trip was made in yesterday's storm and"—he points to the mess on the truck—"there's the coats!"
The Colonel examines a couple of them soggy rags and he gets very severe. I heard him say somethin' that sounded like "Damn!" a couple of times, and then he turns to Wilkinson.
"This is a matter for the Department of Justice," he says. "You will leave the truck and its load right here, Mister Wilkinson, and I'll personally see that it's taken care of. Your action in coming direct to me with this evidence is commendable. You may telegraph your firm that the United States government is holding this shipment for investigation. I'm sorry for your sake that this happened, as I had all but made up my mind to give you the contract. If you desire to see me further, I'll be in my office until six."
With that he stamps away. The other officer who was with him has been walkin' around the Gaflooey truck all the time and examin' it like it's the first auto he ever seen in his life.
"Pardon me," he says to Wilkinson, "did I understand you to say that you made the trip from New York yesterday in the storm on this truck?"
"Yes, sir," says Wilkinson.
The officer pulls out a notebook.
"What time did you leave New York?" he asks, very businesslike.
Wilkinson tells him. Then the officer asks if we had any trouble, how much gas and oil we used, what was our average speed and a million other things. Alex's eyes begin to dance around, and he winks at me like there's somethin' in the air. Fin'ly the officer walks away, after thankin' the lovely Wilkinson for the information.
"Now!" hollers Alex, grabbin' Wilkinson's arm. "You win!"
"Win?" moans Wilkinson. "I'll be lucky if I don't go to jail!"
"You're crazy!" bellers Alex, gettin' more and more excited. "You had nothin' to do with this thing—you didn't know the coats was no good. Forget about that, the thing is you got a chance right now to put over a bigger thing than them overcoats. You come here to make a sale, didn't you? All right, go to it! That officer is connected with the purchasin' department of the government, and he wasted a lot of time talkin' to you about that truck. Do you realize what a wonderful thing that was to get down here O.K. in that terrible storm yesterday? No—you don't, but he did! Right now he's got that there truck on his mind. Go after him before he gets inside the buildin' and make your sale!"
"But," says Wilkinson, kinda dazed, "what have I got to sell? The overcoats are—"
"Damn the overcoats!" hollers Alex. "Sell him the truck that brought 'em down—they ain't nothin' wrong with that! If it's good enough for a trip like that, it's good enough for the army, ain't it? Hurry up and make an appointment with him for to-day, and I'll get you the figures on the Gaflooey truck for a hundred or a million—I know 'em by heart!"
"By Heavens, I'll chance it!" says Wilkinson, and runs after the officer.
Comin' up on the train that night I sit in the smoker and write Alex my check for a thousand berries. They was no two ways about it as he showed me, because he had bet he would make Wilkinson put over a sale in Washington. He didn't say what he had to sell. The lovely Wilkinson, which has sent about five dollars' worth of night letters to his wife, is sittin' on the other side, delirious with joy and with a order in his pocket for one thousand Gaflooey trucks as per the one we come down in. Alex had wired the Gaflooey people and had Wilkinson appointed a salesman for the Washington territory on his recommendation. Them guys would do anything for Alex, because he put 'em on the map. With telegraphed credentials from New York, the rest was a cinch for even the lovely Wilkinson, because the truck sold itself!
"They is only one thing that beats me," I says to Alex before we turn in on the sleeper. "Why didn't you sell the truck and make all the dough yourself?"
"Its a good thing you don't need brains in your game," says Alex, "or you and Alice would starve! I wanted Wilkinson to make the sale all by himself, because it will give him confidence, and then, again, he'll advertise me. I get half of his commission, I grab a bonus from the Gaflooey people for helpin' the sale along and then there's that thousand bucks of yours, which I would of lost if I sold the trucks myself. Also, I have put Mister Wilkinson over, and that's what I started out to do!"
"You win!" I says. "I don't see how you get away with it. It's past me!"
"Huh!" says Alex. "They ain't no trick to it at all—why say, even you could of done it!"
THE LITTLE THINGS DON'T COUNT
They's many a guy clutterin' up a pay roll for about thirty bucks a week, which has got more brains than his boss has income tax. When he went to school they wasn't a day that some other kid didn't wanna murder him because he got 100 in arithmetic and the like. He passed on to high school and even invaded college, where he dumfounded all in hearing with his knowledge of—everything! When he was fin'ly turned loose on a helpless world, he was so far ahead of his class that they held special services for him and had the regular one the next day.
Now the dope oughta be that this marvel of intelligence should be down in Wall Street now, tellin' J. P. Morgan and etc. that the next time they come in late for work he'd fire 'em. Well, about once in ten thousand times this is true. Usually, however, this guy is the bird that takes your card at the office door and says, "Sit down, Mr. Morgan's fifth assistant secretary will see you in a moment." And then the head bookkeeper rings a bell and this guy says, "Yes, sir," and jumps!
They is a reason for this, the same as for everything else outside of the Kaiser. The swell-dressed assassin with the ladies, which writes such beautiful figures and knows offhand how much is thirty-three times eighty, is fast joinin' the list of non-essential industrials. They got a machine now which can count better than him, and don't try to make no date with the stenographer, either! He thinks his boss is a boob, because said boss is a little bit in doubt as to what day of the week Napoleon joined the army, and he wonders how in heaven's name a guy as stupid as that ever got as far as he did. The answer to that one is easy. While he was memorizin' the fact that A plus C equals X, his boss was figurin' how to hire a brainy guy like him to count his dough!
The wife and I are about to set sail for the movies one night, when our French maid from the Bronx admits a interruption by the name of Alex.
"Well," he says, kidnappin' my goat by treatin' himself to one of my pet cigars, "I have run across another feller which I am on the verge of makin' a success. I've studied his case carefully and all he needs is to be set on the right track to bust all speed records."
"Where did you meet this second-story man?" I says.
"He ain't no burglar," says Alex; "he's some kind of a bookkeeper, and he's got one of the sweetest little girls in love with him you ever seen!"
"I thought you was married," I says.
"Now," says Alex, snubbin' me as usual, "I want to bring him up here to dinner to-morrow night and have you meet him as he is at present. In a short time later I'll bring him back again, and if he hasn't made himself a success, I'll buy you all the best dinner you ever eat!"
"Listen!" I says. "As Hoover says, 'Food will win the war—don't eat it!' Don't be invitin' no more guys up here to dinner. It's tough enough to have to feed you three or four times a week, without you ringin' in these guys which acts like I win them steaks and chops in a raffle. Now I'm goin' to the movies. They's a five-reeler down at the corner called 'She Give Her Soul!' and they ain't no man gonna keep me from seein' that to-night."
"Come along with us, Alex," chimes in the wife. "A couple of my girl friends which used to be in the Winter Garden with me is in this picture and I'm crazy to see them!"
"Hmph!" snorts Alex. "Anybody is crazy which pays money to look at them fool movin' pictures. If I had my way, they'd all be stopped and—"
"Lillian Dish is in this one," butts in the wife. "Have you seen her lately?"
"No!" says Alex, jumpin' up. "By mackerel, I haven't! Hurry up, we'll be late—you people is never in time for anything! Lillian Dish, hey? Say! Did you see her in 'What's a Wife?' She was great! Why I—"
I dragged the both of them out.
Promptly at seven the next night Alex comes up with his new-found friend. I let forth a groan and told the maid to lay a couple more plates, but to slice everything as thin as possible without cuttin' her hands. The stranger was a tall, slim bird which wouldn't have been bad-looking if he hadn't been so serious. He acted like it was a felony to smile, and got my name wrong the first four times he repeated it.
Well, after the sound of clashin' knives and forks had died away, the wife dolls all up and goes over to visit the hero which wed Alex; and us strong men repairs to the parlor, where the cigars clink merrily and the like.
The stranger's name turned out to be S. Jared Rushton, and after a while I figured the "S" stood for "Silly." This guy knowed more about figures than the stage manager at the Follies. He was a hound for numbers, dates and etc. He had a better memory than a loan shark, and a encyclopedia would look stupid alongside of him. No matter what the subject was, this guy knowed more about it than the bird which wrote it and would butt in with the figures to prove it. Fin'ly, when I struck a match and he tells me they is 9,765,543 of them used in New York every fiscal year, I went out into the kitchen for air!
At first it was kinda interestin' and entertainin' to get the inside dope on everything at practically no cost, but they is such a thing as bein' too clever; and when it become impossible to speak of anything on earth from bankin' to beer, without this bird buttin' in with all the figures on it, I got enough! I tried to yawn him into goin' home, and he notices I got two bum teeth. That furnished him with a scenario for tellin' me that every year 490,517 people is treated by dentists in New York alone, and I says I can't help it and he mustn't of got a wink or sleep the night he counted 'em.
"Oh," he says, "it's very simple. I carry all those figures in my head."
"Why not?" I says. "They's plenty of room there!"
He looked kinda peeved; but before he could come back at me, Alex takes things in hand.
"Jared," he says, "you are certainly a educated citizen. With all them interestin' facts and figures in your head you must be very valuable to the firm you work for, hey?"
Jared throws out what chest he had with him.
"Well," he says, "I saved the Hamilton Construction Company just $6,547.98 last year by cutting down the excessive use of lead pencils and blotters alone!"
"That's fine!" says Alex. "No doubt they give you a handsome bonus for that, hey?"
"Of course," says Jared. "They raised my salary to thirty-five dollars a week. I was only getting thirty-two and a half."
"You saved them six thousand last year and they raised you about a hundred and thirty, eh?" says Alex. "Now, listen! Why couldn't you have made that six thousand for yourself just as easy?"
"Why—I—why—" stammers Jared. "I have no chance to make anything but my salary. I'm simply working there, and—"
"And you always will be, if you don't get wise to yourself!" butts in Alex. "Your boss—"
"My boss, eh?" sneers Jared. "Say, he hasn't got the brains of a gnat! He'd be absolutely up in the air if I wasn't at his elbow with data and estimates on everything. He doesn't know anything, and—"
"No, I guess not!" butts in Alex, with a odd grin. "He don't know anything—only how to make money! Say, listen! If this boss of yours is such a boob, what must you be? You're workin' for him, ain't you? Why should he have any brains, when he can rent yours for thirty-five dollars a week? Now, listen to me, son. You know a little about everything on earth, with the slight exception of yourself! The figures that should interest you more than anything else is these: For every dollar you make, your boob boss is makin' a thousand. Ever figure them statistics along with the other stuff?"
Jared registers embarrassment. "Look here!" he says. "I really don't see the reason of all this. I consider myself quite successful. I may not be making a million a week, but I'm always sure of my job, and that's quite a lot!"
"You're always sure of your job, hey?" bawls Alex. "That's the slogan of the quitter! 'I'm gettin' my little old salary fifty-two weeks a year, and that's good enough for me.' That's the motto of the loser." With that he jumps up and sticks his face so close to Jared I thought he was gonna bite him or the like. "What about the future?" he hollers. "You must have brains, or you couldn't of collected that mass of junk in your dome. You got a million dollars' worth of salable stuff from the top of your collar to the crown of your derby and you're peddlin' it away for thirty-five a week. I'll bet right now you could produce a scheme for gettin' a quarter that would be unbeatable, legitimate, and successful. But if you was asked to dope out a scheme for gettin' twenty-five thousand dollars, the size of the figures alone would knock that thinker of yours cold! You can't think that big. Your mind's all cluttered up with little things. It's a junk pile. The same concentration and perseverance on some one big thing would put you over—and if you don't believe it, ask your boob boss, which undoubtedly did just that and is now keepin' you!"
"That's all rot!" remarks Jared. "There's about one chance in a million of getting over in New York. You've got to get in right, and even then it's largely a matter of luck! If I was ever asked, I'd tell every young man to keep away from New York. The town's too big! It swallows you up and you're buried there till—"
Zam!!! Alex bounces outa his chair and shakes his finger under Jared's nose.
"That's not true!" he hollers. "Listen to me, young feller! I came here a short time ago with one-tenth of the ability that you got. New York looked as cold and hard to me as it does to any rube that slinks in from the outlands, crazy with the desire to capture it. But instead of drivin' me back to the dear old farm, the tough conditions here attracted me. That is, takin' for granted your statement that they are tough, which I don't believe. I know that a man with the genuine goods can deliver them here at top price quicker than any other place on earth."
"But wait!" interrupts Jared, seemin' to catch some of Alex's pep. "Your case was exceptional. You must admit—"
"I don't admit nothin'!" roars Alex. "Suppose your argument is true. Let's say the chances for success here are slim. All right, fine! That's what made me stick! Your own argument makes New York the place to make good in. If there's satisfaction in winnin' over one man or a thousand, think of a hard-won square victory over six millions! Why, boy, the very quality of the competition here keeps a man on his toes and, if he makes good here, he's done somethin'!"
Well, believe me, when Alex wound up that speech they was so much pep in the room I felt like goin' out and tellin' Rockefeller I'd forgot more about the oil game than he ever knew! Jared looks kinda dazed and Alex never gives him a chance to get set.
"How about—ah—Miss Evans?" he says; "have you thought about her?"
"See here!" busts out Jared. "We won't discuss Mab—er—Miss Evans."
"That's fine!" he says. "I'm glad you got some spirit left; they's hope for you yet! Let's see," he goes on, like they had been no interruption at all, "how long have you known Miss Evans?"
"Over a year," says Jared. "But I don't see what—"
Alex points a finger at him.
"You love her, don't you?" he barks out.
"Of course I do!" mumbles Jared, like he's answering without knowin' it.
"Then why don't you marry her?"
Jared stares at him like he's in a trance.
"Marry her?" he gasps. "Marry her? Why if I ever asked her that, she wouldn't even let me call on her any more!"
"You're crazy!" remarks Alex pleasantly. "Now listen, son! You been goin' around with that girl over a year, and if she didn't reciprocate your feelin' for her, you wouldn't of lasted that long. Jared, old boy, a year is too long to monopolize a girl without declarin' yourself! You're spoilin' her chances, and it's dead wrong! They is plenty of other young men which would give their left eye to take her to the movies and the like, but they're layin' off because, havin' always seen her with you, they take it for granted they is no chance. That's fine right now for both of you; but if anything should arise that would make you two part, it won't be as easy for her to replace you. Now you need a incentive, and a strong one, to put you across. They is no bigger incentive on earth than matrimony. Go to her and ask—"
"One minute!" butts in Jared. "I never was talked to like this in my life before, and why I'm permitting you to discuss my personal affairs, I don't know. As long as I am, I'll go through with it. What you say may be true, but this girl is different, and—"
"Jared," says Alex, "I don't doubt that she's different, but, nevertheless, she's a member of the well-known female sex, and I'm basin' my dope on that! I'll tell you what I'll do with you. You ask Miss Evans to marry you, and, if she refuses, I'll give you a job myself for fifty dollars a week; fifteen more than you get now. If she accepts, you gotta raise yourself by your own efforts to fifty dollars a week within six months, or go to work for me for twenty. Now if you got some red blood in you, let's see it!"
Well, Jared gets up and walks around the room for a minute and fin'ly he comes over and holds out his hand to Alex.
"You're on!" he says. "Only, I'll say this: If Mabel—er—Miss Evans, accepts me, I'll be so happy that I won't be good for anything for a month. If she refuses me, I'll never be any good any more! However, I'll try it. Perhaps I've been asleep. I don't know. But if this girl ever marries me—" He stops and bangs his fists on the table. "Oh, boy!!!!" he winds up.
Just then they is a ring at the telephone. The maid makes a entrance and claims Mr. Jared Rushton is wanted. In about five minutes, Jared comes back and apologizes.
"My boss, Mr. Hamilton," he says. "I've always got to let him know where he can get in touch with me after office hours. I gave him your phone number before I came here to-night." He turns to Alex. "That's what it is to be a valuable man," he says. "The boss wants me to get all the data together for an estimate on one of the biggest contracts we've ever had a whack at. That means I'll be up all night, so I'll have to leave now. Our four big contract experts are scattered 'round the country and the boss will have to go after this one himself to-morrow. There will be a conference at the Hotel Dubois, and—"
Alex jumps up, his eyes flashin'.
"Why can't you go after that contract?" he shoots out.
Jared looks like he's been hit on the chin.
"Me?" he stammers. "Why—why—"
"Why, why, nothin'!" butts in Alex. "Here's a chance for you to show Miss Evans, your boss, and the rest of the world what's in you. If your boss calls on you for the figures in this thing, then you must know more about it than he does, or anybody else in the office. Can you get him on the phone?"
"But—but I have never sold anything in my life!" says Jared. "You don't understand this thing at all. It requires experience and—oh, it's silly to even think of it! Why—"
"Yeh?" butts in Alex. "What's his number?" He rushes to the phone.
"Say, listen—please!" pleads Jared; "it's not a bit regular and—why, he'd fire me out of hand if I ever did anything like this!"
"The number!" bawls Alex, with the receiver off the hook.
"Riverside 33,312," stammers Jared, wringin' his hands. "But look here, you mustn't—"
Alex gets the number and Jared falls back in a chair, and mutters somethin' about bein' ruined for life. In another minute, Alex is announcin' to somebody that Mr. Jared Rushton wishes to speak to Mr. Hamilton on a matter of the greatest importance. Jared lets forth a wail like a dyin' fish or the like, and then Alex grabs him by the arms.
"Now, go to it!" he says. "Tell him you want a chance at this contract yourself. Say you know more about it than anyone else and have been plannin' the thing for weeks. You don't think you can land this contract—you know it!"
"But," wails Jared, "I don't know—"
Alex shoves him over to the phone.
Well, the funniest conversation you, I, or anybody else ever heard begins right then and there. Jared starts off kinda weak and tremblin' and I felt sorry for him, because from his answers it looked like a cinch that he was fired. Pretty soon he gets a little stronger, and in a few minutes he was talkin' like the boss was workin' for him! The only way I can figure it is that Alex had hopped him up so much that he got to where he believed himself that he was the only man on earth that could land this contract. When Jared says if he don't get this chance he's gonna quit his job right then and there and the boss can look elsewhere for the estimate figures, I almost fell off the couch, and Alex does a war dance.
Bang! Jared slams down the receiver and swings around on Alex.
"Well," he snaps out, "you've done it! I am to be at the Hotel Dubois at eleven to-morrow to meet the representatives of one of the biggest steel concerns in the country. I'm to take from them a contract running into millions. If I don't get it, I'm fired. If I do get it—well, there's no use talking about that part of it, because I won't!"
With that he sinks into a chair and buries his head in his hands. Alex keeps right on top of him.
"Fine!" he says, rubbin' his hands together. "Now call up Miss Evans and ask her to marry you!"
"What?" shrieks Jared, bouncin' up from his chair. "What is this? A nightmare? You've already probably cost me my job, and now you want to wreck my happiness! I was a fool to listen to you. I—"
"Sure!" says Alex. "Let's get her on the phone right away."
Jared looks wildly around the room and grabs for his hat. Alex pushes him back in a chair.
"Now, you listen to me!" he snarls, all the grin gone from him. "You are at this minute facin' the biggest thing that's ever come into your thirty-five-dollar-a-week life. You got a chance now to rise above the mob. You also got a chance to marry what is the greatest girl in the world, accordin' to your own admission. If you ask her to marry you before you go after this contract and she accepts you, think of the confidence you'll have! Why, boy, if this girl says she'll marry you, they ain't nothin' in New York can stop you from goin' over the top! Go on! You're all worked up now—go to it before you get cold!"
Jared grabs up the phone receiver, pale as a ghost.
"By heavens!" he says. "I—you—if—Gimme Morningside 77,638, quick!"
Alex closes the door and pulls me into the other room.
"That there's gonna be private," he says.
"Where did you meet this Miss Evans?" I says.
"H'mph!" grunts Alex. "I never seen the girl in my life! Jared simply told me about her, that's all!"
"Well," I says, "you certainly have balled things up. They ain't a doubt in my mind but that you've made that poor boy lose his job; and as far as I can see you're gonna make him lose his girl, too! I'd hate to be you when he staggers away from that phone!"
"Yeh?" grins Alex. "Well, I'll tell you somethin': As long as I'm goin' to all this trouble, I might as well get somethin' outta it. I'll bet you ten thousand to five the girl marries him and he lands the contract. If he loses either one, or both, you win!"
"Write it!" I says.
He hain't no more than handed the thing over to me, when in comes Jared. His face is all flushed and he acts like a guy walkin' in his sleep.
"I know neither of you will believe it," he says, in a far-away voice. "In fact, I think I'm dreaming, myself!"
"What did she say?" demands Alex, shakin' him.
"She said yes!" hollers Jared, in a voice that must of woke up sleepers in Kansas City. "Let me have my hat, I want to go over to her right away!"
"Well, what do you think of my dope now, hey?" says Alex.
"I'll never be able to thank you for what you've done for me!" says Jared, holdin' out his hand. "Why, just imagine! This wonderful girl is going to be my wife and I had no more idea—Why, this girl is as different from any other as—But you wouldn't understand—"
"I understand perfect!" says Alex, shakin' his hand. "And now the next thing is that contract, which should be a cinch for you after what you just done. Go over and see her now, but don't forget them figures on the—"
"Contract?" butts in Jared, jammin' on his hat. "What's a contract to me now? I'm going to marry the greatest girl in the world, man! Can you imagine her accepting me! Oh, boy!!!!!"
With that he does a few little fancy steps around the room, throwing a twenty-dollar pillow at Alex and a book at me.
This here's a new angle, and Alex grabs him.
"Look here!" he says. "I know you're in a hurry, so I don't want to hold you up now; but you wanna recover from this here till you land that contract! You'll lose your job if you don't, and you ain't gonna start off married life outta work, are you?"
"I should worry!" sings Jared, still one-steppin' about the room. "I can get another job—forty of 'em! I can get anything at all, now. She's going to marry me, she's going to marry me!"
He dashes for the door, and Alex runs after him.
"What time is the appointment with the big steel men?" he shrieks in his ear.
"What's a big steel man to me?" asks Jared, struggling to get away. "What's anything? I'll bet she would have accepted me long ago if—"
"What time is that conference?" howls Alex.
"I care not!" sings Jared, throwing the phone book up in the air, and a idiotic grin at me. "I'm going to have a quiet wedding and—"
I thought Alex was gonna choke him!
Personally, I developed a bad case of the hystericals.
"The time?" screams Alex.
"Eleven o'clock," says Jared.
"Will you promise me on your word of honor to meet me at that hotel at ten to-morrow, in view of what I done for you?" says Alex.
"Sure!" hollers Jared. "I'll promise anything! Look what's been promised to me!"
With that he breaks away from Alex and dives out the door.
Alex comes back and sinks down into a chair, wipin' off his fevered brow with a handkerchief.
"That baby is a plain nut!" I remarks.
"Whew!" pants Alex. "I started somethin' now, that's sure! Still, I don't blame the boy. I felt the same way when Eve claimed she'd wed me, and I guess you did too when Alice went temporarily insane and brung you into the family. If I can keep him keyed up to that pitch to-morrow, he'll land that contract, and I'll land your five thousand!"
"He won't land nothin'!" I says. "He's gone nutty now, and you'll be lucky if he shows up at all. This here's one bet I win!"
"Yeh?" snaps Alex, gettin' up and reachin' for his hat. "D'ye wanna take five thousand more of it?"
"No!" I says. "Good night!"
At nine forty-five the next mornin', which is practically the middle of the night for me, Alex comes around and drags me outta bed. He says he's goin' down and watch Jared put the contract over and he wants me along to witness the losin' of my bet.
We are in the lobby of the hotel gettin' ready to have Jared paged, when along he comes with some dame he must have kidnapped from the Follies when Ziegfield was busy countin' up the receipts or somethin'. I'll tell the world fair she was some girl.
She's lookin' at Jared like he was the eleventh wonder of the world, and he's gazin' back at her like she was the other ten.
"Hello!" hollers Alex, grabbin' Jared's hand and makin' believe it's a pump handle. "Congratulations! I wish I felt as happy as both you folks look!"
"You couldn't!" says Jared, still with that dazed look on his face. "This is my future wife, gentlemen. We're on our way down for the license now. Come on along as witnesses. We're going to be married right—"
"What about that steel contract?" Alex butts in. "Did you get the figures all together last night?"
"I did not!" says Jared. "What do I care about a steel contract? I landed a bigger contract than that, and—"
"Pardon me," interrupts the girl, with her million-dollar smile. "What is this contract regarding the steel?"
Alex tells her the whole dope from start to finish, and when he gets through the girl turns to Jared and says the followin':
"Well, dear, I suppose this horrid old business could wait, but just run up and land that contract for a—a—wedding gift for me! It shouldn't take you very long. I'll wait here for you."
Oh, boy!!! Talkin' about "just runnin' up and landin'" a million-dollar contract like she was sendin' him for stamps or the like!
"All right, honey," says Jared; "I'll be down in five minutes!"
They was fifteen minutes partin'.
Alex and Jared and I got in the elevator, and on the way up Jared talked about nothin' else but his comin' marriage. When Alex tried to butt in and ask regardin' the estimate for this steel job, Jared gets peevish and says that will be a cinch and is practically over with; but what's worryin' him is the best place to go for a honeymoon!
We are met at the door of the room by a little bald-headed guy, and Jared introduces himself. The little guy looks at us and says he presumes we are Jared's associates—whatever that is. Before Jared can deny the charge, Alex presents him with a kick on the shins and says we are all of that.
Inside, they is a long table and four more guys sittin' at it. They all look like Wall Street and large money, and the table is covered with papers. Jared sits down and begins hummin' "Here Comes the Bride," and we sit down beside him. One guy gets up and says they have talked with five big contractors already, and they ain't made up their mind which bid to accept. If Jared can show them somethin' better than they've seen, the order is all his. Jared pulls out his watch and gets up.
"Gentlemen," he says, "I have an appointment with my future wife in five minutes. I will be on time! I don't know what these other fellows have offered to do for you, but I'll say this: We can erect your plant for exactly $1,789,451.92. That's our lowest price, and if we talked all day I couldn't take off a cent! My concern is known all over the country for the sterling quality of workmanship and materials it employs on every job, whether it's the erection of a lamp post or a city—and we've done both! We will be pleased to list you among the thousands of our satisfied patrons."
With that he reaches for his hat and would of been out of the door, if Alex hadn't held him back with a look.
"But," says one guy, "your figures are more than ten thousand dollars over your nearest competitor's. How about that?"
Jared is starin' out the window.
"I figure we can get a nice flat in the Bronx for about eighty a month," he says, half to himself. "What do you pay?" he finishes, turnin' to Alex.
Alex says nothin', and the five guys look at each other kinda funny.
"When could your firm begin work?" asks one of them.
"Immediately!" says Jared. "I'm going to use your phone here for a minute and telephone my future wife. She's downstairs waiting and will be worried sick—I said I'd be right back!" He walks across the room, while them guys all stare after him like they're in a trance themselves. "Still," mutters Jared, "she mightn't like to live in the Bronx at that!"
While he's on the phone, the five guys puts their heads together and has a whispered conference. By the time he's finished, so are they.
"Mr. Rushton," says the little guy, gettin' up and clearin' his throat, "we have decided to give you the contract. Your methods of salesmanship are somewhat unusual—but they may be due to your extreme confidence, which anybody can see is the right kind of stuff in that line and—"
The little guy goes on with a lot of talk about figures, to which Alex and me listens respectfully and Jared don't listen at all. And fin'ly the little guy says again that they're gonna give Jared the contract, and mebbe, if his future wife is waiting—
"Thanks!" says Jared. "She is waiting and—"
"Shall we draw up the contract now?" butts in Alex. "They's a notary on this floor."
In half a hour we are down in the lobby again, havin' had to hold Jared by main force long enough to sign this thing. The first guy we bump into is his boss!
"Where have you been?" he hollers at Jared. "I suppose you've botched everything all up. I'll be the laughing stock of New York! Where are those figures for that steel contract?"
Jared looks at him for a minute like, Who is this person? Then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the contract.
"Here's your old contract!" he says. "I'm going to take a month off. I'm going to get married. When I come back I want seventy-five dollars a week to start and a job as head of the contract department. And, also—don't never yell at me like that again."
I thought his boss would die of apoplexy then and there. He stares at Jared, snatches the contract, reads a few lines—and then I got the idea he was gonna kiss all of us!
"My boy, you're a wonder!" he says. "I always knew you had the stuff in you! I'll discuss—the—er—the matter of your salary when you come back."
"We'll finish it right now!" butts in Jared. "I don't want nothing worrying me while I'm on my honeymoon. Do I get that or don't I?"
"But," stammers the boss, "your commission on that contract alone will run—"
"Yes or no!" says Jared very cold.
"Yes!" says the boss, with a sigh that could be heard in Harlem. "No wonder you landed that contract if you went after them that way! I've been asleep!"
"No," says Jared, "I've been doing the dreaming."
ART IS WRONG
Every time some guy goes over the top to notoriety and money in this movie called life, they is some 5,678,954 also rans which wags their heads from side to side and says, "Well—no wonder. He was born that way and couldn't help himself!" Then, they go back to their dub jobs and wish they was lucky.
That stuff is all wrong! A guy may be born with different color hair from the next guy, but he's never born with any secret of success that the kid in the adjoinin' crib ain't got. All you need to be born with in order to get the world familiar with your last name is the usual number of arms, legs and etc. and a mad habitual yearnin' to make good that a sudden hypodermic of success don't kill. Anything but failure is possible to a hustler, and by a hustler I don't mean one of them breezy birds which makes a lotta noise, thinks they is only one letter in the alphabet and that's the one after "H," but the guy which takes setbacks as encouragement and quits tryin' the day the undertaker is called in.
They's many a big artist whose ancestors thought paint was used for the sides of barns only, they's many a famous actor whose father figured Shakespeare was the name of a puddin', they's many a big league author come from families which confined their readin' matter to the city directory, and so it goes all along the line—Columbus's old man was a cotton picker. You don't inherit success, you take it by force, usin' your ambition, nerve and ability as the weapons.
The above information was handed on to me by Alex. He says Broadway is too narrow and Vermont moonlight had it lookin' dark at night and he then proceeds to wed one of the prettiest girls that ever looked over the Winter Garden footlights—she makes homemade bread now, too! The first time he went to the Metropolitan Opera House he claims he'd like grand opera if they wouldn't sing and when does the acrobats come out, yet the next week he's able to take a apartment on Riverside Drive. This here is just a few of the things Alex done to break up the dull monotony of life in a burg where that and death is mere incidents.
The wife and I is sittin' together in the parlor one night and she's knittin' a sweater for me that will prob'ly make me off her for life, whilst I'm readin' aloud to her from the only novel in which true love and the like don't win out in the end. It's called "Simpson's Universal Educator" and the subject we are on is how wet is the Pacific, or some such hot stuff as that. They is a ring at the bell and the wife grabs the book outa my hand and slings about thirty dollars' worth of wool over my arms.
"Sit up straight," she says, "and look interested in this! You're helpin' me knit—get that? Look as if you like it and the minute the door opens call me dear."
"What's the idea?" I says, sittin' there with my arms out straight and stiff before me like a doll or the like. "I don't get—"
"Sssh!" she whispers. "That's probably Ruth Hopper and her husband. She's trying to get him to quit playing pinochle all night and she wants to show him what a ideal husband does."
"A pinochle fiend, hey?" I says. "Well, lead him on! We got a little game down at the corner and he'll just make up the set. It's gettin' around time for me to leave anyways. I been in a half hour now and—"
Well, at that moment our charmin' maid leads in no less than Alex and his wife Eve. Speakin' of good lookers, this dame would make Morgan forget about Wall Street, and she's wearin' a dress that must of put some Fifth Avenue store over. But the wife begins bein' pleasant to gaze upon and a delight to the naked eye where Eve leaves off. Why, she's got a movie contract which she holds over my head every time I stay out till ten o'clock and the like. Them two dames in the one room is more than the average guy can stand and how they ever come to fall for a coupla guys like me and Alex is a subject for bigger brains than mine. They say women is peculiar, hey? Well, it's a good thing for the average guy that they are!
"Well!" remarks Eve, lookin' from me to the wife. "How perfectly sweet! If you two only knew what a pretty picture you make!"
"Yeh," I says, gettin' up and dumpin' the near sweater on the table. "You'd almost think we wasn't married, hey?"
"Speaking of pictures," says the wife, allowin' Alex to kiss her—a thing I loathe, "let's all go down and see 'Wronged By Mistake.' They tell me—"
"Nothin' stirrin'," I butts in. "I wanna see Beryldine Nearer in 'The Woman Which Lost.' She's some dame, believe me! If I was the leadin' man in her pictures I'd work for nothin'."
"Is that so?" says the wife, her voice as cold as Cape Nome. "Why didn't you marry her then instead of me?"
"She didn't ask me till it was too late," I says, grinnin' like a wolf.
"Here, here!" says Alex. "How is it you people is always quarrelin' every time I come here for a visit?"
"We figure you'll get sore and beat it," I says.
"Now, boys," says Eve, "let's forget we are all one family and be friends. Why aren't you folks out celebratin' peace to-night?"
"We wasn't invited," I says. "And I have bought my last ticket from a speculator."
"Invited?" says Eve, which always takes everything except Alex serious. "Why, all New York seems to be on Broadway!"
"That's what people from Chicago always thinks," I says. "But they's more to the town than that."
"Oh, hush that near comedy," says the wife. "C'mon, we're going to see 'Wronged By Mistake.'"
"I'll see Beryldine Nearer," I says in a loud and angry voice, "or we don't go nowhere!"
We went to see "Wronged By Mistake."
The movin' picture company which is responsible for this film claims it cost them $100,000 to make the picture. Maybe it did, I don't know. What I do know is that it cost me $1000 to see it! Why? Lend me your ears, as the dumb guy said.
The hero of this here picture was no less than Carrington De Vire. This guy's name is familiar in burgs where they don't know if Wilson or Washington is still president of the United States. His name is on more collars than you ever seen and he gets more money a week than you and me makes in six years, even if you cut his advertised salary in half. He's prob'ly caused more girls to take their pens in hand than any massage cream in the world and to say he is a handsome dog is like remarkin' that the Grand Canyon is pleasant to look at. The only magazine which ain't printed his photo at least once with a auto, a country place and a coupla trick dogs at his side is the Hardware Trade Review and the Steamfitters' Friend.
The minute Carrington De Vire appears on the screen and gives the natives a treat by presentin' one and all with a pleasant smile, the wife and Eve begins to rave about him out loud. He kisses the leadin' woman and they let forth a sigh which would of made me jealous only I got too much brains. The villain slams him, prob'ly because he got sick of lookin' at the big fathead, and the women groans. He knocks the villain kickin' and they applaud their hands off and when he fights his way through a gang of supes which will lose their jobs if they don't fall when he hits 'em, I thought most of the female part of the audience would pass away with joy!
"I think he's simply wonderful, don't you?" murmurs Eve to the wife.
They is no argument about it.
Alex give a snort.
"If they's anything wonderful about that feller," he says, "then I'm more astonishin' than wireless. Anybody can do that stuff! Why—"
"Why, the idea!" butts in Eve. "I actually believe you're jealous. I think Carrington De Vire is simply divine—marvelous!"
"Wait till you see Niagara Falls," I says.
"Both of them are jealous," says the wife. "I'm surprised at Alex saying that any one could act as well as Carrington De Vire. Why, I think he's got Faversham beaten a mile. You have to be born with talent like that!"
"I think the wife's right in one thing at last," I says. "I like them male movie heroes and carbolic acid the same way, but you got to hand it to this bird—he's some actor! Yep, Alex, you can't learn that stuff out of no book, you gotta be born with it."
"You're all crazy!" announces Alex, with another snort. "I can go out right now and dig up a dozen fellers which never seen a camera in their life and they'll duplicate anything Carrington De Vire ever did on a screen. Where does he get off to be wonderful? Some feller with brains writes a play, another feller with money puts it on and then another feller with technical knowledge tells De Vire, which ain't got none of them things, where to stand and the like while he acts it. Why—"
"Ridiculous!" butts in Eve. "Carrington De Vire has extraordinary talent. He has thousands of admirers all over the country. Why—why—he's famous!"
"Of course," says the wife. "It's too silly to talk about. Alex has reached the stage now where he thinks he can do anything!"
"Yeh?" says Alex. "Well, I reached the stage where I thought I could do anything about three minutes after I was born! I'll bet right now I can go down to the docks or some place and get a handsome stevedore and make him as big a star as Carrington De Vire in six months!"
"Don't be idiotic," laughs Eve. "Imagine a stevedore as a moving picture star!"
"Why not?" demands Alex, lookin' like the idea had made a hit with him. "Ain't a stevedore as good as anybody else? I'll bet a thousand dollars even that I can catch one or somebody like him and make him a movie star. What d'ye say?"
"I'll say this," I says. "We come here to see this picture and not to hear you make a speech. This here's a theatre and not no race track and forget about that bettin' thing. If you can make a movie star out of a stevedore, I can make a watch outa a hard boiled egg!"
They is some people behind us which can't see the picture on account of us talkin' and they begin to hiss at us. It bothers Alex the same as rain worries a duck.
"Is they steam escapin' somewheres?" he remarks, turnin' his head. "Why, brakemen have became railroad presidents," he goes on, "bootblacks have became bankers, prize fighters have turned evangelists and the United States has went dry. Why shouldn't a stevedore become a movie star?"
"We'll all become throwed outa here if you don't keep quiet!" I says.
"Ssh, Alex," says the wife. "Don't get so excited about it. There's no use attempting the impossible and—"
"They ain't nothin impossible!" butts in Alex. "I'm willin' to prove it. Why don't somebody bet me, hey?"
"Why don't you hire Madison Square Garden for that speech?" hisses a guy behind us. "Heavens, what a pest!"
"Call the usher," puts in a dame with him. "Them people has did nothin' but talk since they come in here!"
"What d'ye want us to do—sing?" growls Alex.
"Alex, be still!" whispers Eve. "I've missed the whole picture through your talking. Now we'll have to stay and see it all over again."
"Have a nice time," says Alex, gettin' up and grabbin' my arm. "We'll wait outside for you. One dose a day of Carrington De Vire is all I can take!"
The bunch in back glares at us and says somethin' about what a crime it is to let drunken men come into a theatre.
Outside on the pavement, Alex lets forth a snort and whiffs the fresh air like it was wine.
"Think of my wife sittin' in there and worshippin' that big stiff," he snarls. "And yours, too!"
"We all have our faults," I says. "I knowed a guy once which was crazy over fried parsnips."
"They ain't nothin' to laugh at in this," he says, slappin' his hands together. "I ain't a jealous man, but no movie hero is gonna be no god to my wife!"
"Why don't you go in the movies yourself, then?" I says. "They might hire you for a picture with Carrington De Vire in it, and you can knock him kickin' in five reels or the like."
"Huh!" says Alex, "what do I care about the movies? I got a better plan than that and it will accomplish the same purpose. I'll show Eve and the rest of you how easy it is to be a movie hero—I'll make money out of it, too!" he adds, with the old glitter in his eyes.
"What are you gonna do?" I says. "Speak quick, I can't stand excitement!"
For answer he takes me into the hotel across the street and leads me into the writin' room. He sits down and writes on a piece of paper for a minute and then he hands it to me.
"Cast your eyes over that," he says, "and if it's satisfactory—sign it!"
This is what I read,
"I, Alex Hanley, agree to hire one handsome, tall and perfectly built stevedore, longshoreman, truck driver or some one engaged in a equally honest profession, one who has never appeared before a camera or upon any stage and who has no knowledge of theatricals, and within six months from date to make him a full fledged, acknowledged star of the moving pictures.
"In the event of said undertaking being successful, the undersigned agrees to pay Alex Hanley one thousand dollars. In the event of failure, Alex Hanley agrees to forfeit the same sum."
I handed it back to him.
"Listen!" I says. "Don't be a nut all your life. You got as much chance of—"
"Did you ever see me fall down on anything?" he butts in, dippin' a pen in the ink and handin' it to me.
"Not even a banana peel," I admits. "But they is a limit to everything—even the war's over. In the first place, even if you could do this, it would cost you more than a thousand dollars and—"
"Leave that to me," he says, pushin' over the pen. "And sign here!"
"But—" I says.
"Hurry up, the ink will be dry," he cuts me off.
I give in.
"Alex," I says. "This is a crime! If I ever win one bet in my life, I'll win this one. You'll make a movie star outa a stevedore, hey? Why—"
"Want a thousand more?" he grins pleasantly.
"No!" I hollers. "Let's go over and meet the girls."
The search for the future king of the movies begins merrily the next day. I went with Alex to see that he didn't put nothin' over on me and at the end of the week he had dug up three promisin' leads. They was a plumber's helper which had a wonderful figure, but a scar on his cheek showed up in a snapshot Alex took of him and he was laid aside with a sigh. Then they was a waiter which was better lookin' than Mary Pickford, but a trifle stoop-shouldered. The third guy was hustlin' baggage at Grand Central Station and was a perfect Venus except for some missin' teeth which queered him when he smiled and what's a movie hero without a smile?
Well, I'm havin' the time of my life kiddin' Alex, when one day as we are walkin' along Third Avenue in search of his prey, he grabs me by the arm, yells, "I got him!" and starts across the street on the run. They is a big truck standin' there and a husky on the back of it is engaged in coaxin' pig iron off of it on to the street. He stood about six foot three without bein' shaved and weighed accordingly, all bone and muscle not countin' his head. He turns around and—Oh, boy!!!!
Say! I seen some good lookers in my time, male and female, but this baby had it on 'em all! His hair is that black, wavy kind that the cabaret hounds wish they had and he's got a skin like a week old baby. He must of painted his teeth with enamel twice a day and he's there with a pair of eyelashes that would make a chorus girl take carbolic. On the level, he's so handsome he don't look real—and that with all the signs of honest toil at the truck on him, too! Alex taps him on the shoulder and he swings around.
"What's yours?" he growls.
"I have come to make your fortune," announces Alex with a grin. Then he turns to me. "Ain't he a peach, hey?" he says.
The big guy drops the pig iron and looks from Alex to me.
"What kinda stuff is this?" he growls. "What d'ye mean I'm a peach?"
"You are the luckiest man in New York," says Alex. "I have come to make you famous and rich!"
The big guy grins.
"Listen!" he says. "They're awful tough on hop fiends in this burg now and they'll be a copper along in a minute, so you better duck. I know you guys is no less than J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, if not more, and you'll gimme a million dollars in nickels if I'll tell you where to get a layout. But I ain't got the time, I gotta get this stuff off here and—"
With that he turns around and goes to work again.
"Drop that iron!" says Alex. "You'll never soil your hands with manual labor again."
"Hey!" snarls the big guy. "Git away, will you? I always feel sorry for you dope fiends, but if you guys don't lay off me, I'll bounce the two of you. Now, beat it!"
"Well," I says to Alex, "he's ignorant anyways. We got that part all settled and—"
"Look here!" says Alex, darin'ly grabbin' the big guy by the arm. "We're neither dope fiends nor maniacs. I want to ask you a few questions and, if your answers suit me, I'll hire you for a hundred dollars a week to do special work for me. To show you I'm not foolin', take this for your trouble whether we do business or not."
With that he hands him a twenty dollar bill.
"Aha!" yells the big guy. "Coupla counterfeiters, hey?" He snatches the bill and grabs Alex. "So you guys want me to pass this for you—I got it!" He starts to drag Alex along the pavement and half Third Avenue stops to watch it. "I'll git a reward for this!" I heard him mutter.
Alex throws him off—he's stronger than he looks.
"You better not take that head of yours into no pool room," he snarls, "or somebody'll get two billiard balls and play with it for a set. Take your hands off me and listen. That bill is as good as the inside of a church. C'mon into this store and I'll prove it!"
They's somethin' about Alex that makes this guy hesitate, and Alex pulls him into a cigar store, whilst I shoo away the disappointed crowd which looked for manslaughter at least.
In a minute they come out. The big guy has twenty single bills in his hand and a dazed look on his face. Alex is grinnin'.
"Now are you satisfied?" says Alex.
The big guy shoves the dough in his overalls.
"The sugar seems O.K.," he says. "Say! I gotta work a week for that much dough, so I might as well give you five minutes of my time. What's the idea, hey?"
"Now, Delancey Calhoun," says Alex, "how would you—"
"Wait a minute!" grins the other guy. "I knowed they was a ball up somewheres. Where d'ye get that Calhoun stuff? My name's Tim O'Toole."
"Not no more!" says Alex, returnin' the grin. "From now on it's Delancey Calhoun—get that?"
"A nut is a funny thing," says O'Toole, pressin' the dough in his pocket. "But—sure, I'm Delancey Calhoun! That's a swell name at that—it sounds like a Lenox Avenue apartment house. What d'ye want me to do, outside of that?"
"How would you like to be a actor?" says Alex.
"Nothin' doin'!" says Delancey. "I got a steady job and I'm too fond of eatin'."
"Don't be a fool!" says Alex. "That stuff about actors not eatin' regular is a thing of the past. These days a actor makes more money than a banker. Did you ever appear on the stage anywheres in your life?"
"I did not!" snarls Delancey. "And I can lick the guy which claims I did!"
"Fine!" says Alex, lookin' at me. "Now of course you've seen movin' pictures, hey?"
"Sure!" says Delancey. "What d'ye think I am—ig'rant?"
"Not at all," says Alex. "Do you think if you had a chance and was well paid for it, you could do the things them heroes does in the movies?"
Delancey Calhoun, nee Tim O'Toole, throws out his chest from here to South Dakota.
"Do I think so?" he says. "Why, say, pal—that stuff would be soft for me! I ain't no second Mary Pickford or the like and Chaplin might grab off more laughs to the reel than me, but when it come to this here cowboy and full dress stuff—Oh, lady!!!"
"You're hired!" hollers Alex, slappin' him on the back. "Startin' right now your salary is a hundred a week. Drive that truck back to where it belongs and throw up your job."
"A hundred a week, hey?" says Delancey, rollin' his eyes. "Oh, lady!! In a month I'll have Carnegie gnashin' his teeth!" He breaks off and swings around on Alex. "Look here!" he says, "I been drivin' this truck for two years. I got a good steady job from eight in the mornin' till ten at night, and I get twenty berries a week for it. I don't know nothin' about this nut job of yours, but if I don't get my hundred every week—well, they's gonna be a funeral with you bein' featured in it, get that?"
"That's all right," says Alex. "I'll deposit your first six months' salary in the bank for you—how's that?"
"What could be sweeter?" says Delancey. "They's just one other thing."
"Speak up!" says Alex.
"As long as I'm gonna be a movie actor," says Delancey, "do I get a dress suit to wear?"
"Sure!" says Alex. "Why?"
"Well," grins Delancey, "I never had one of them open faced suits on in me life and in fact I was savin' up to get one now. I'm simply nutty to put on one of them layouts and knock the innocent onlookers silly. If you hit a tough week, I might take ninety-five bucks and let the rest go over a few days, but I gotta have the dress suit and that goes!"
"It's yours," says Alex, diggin' me in the ribs.
"All right," says Delancey, "I'll go down now and make the boss faint by quittin'. I'll meet you anywheres you says to-morrow."
"You will not," says Alex. "I'll ride right down on that truck with you now!"
About two weeks later, Alex comes up to the flat and tells me to put on my hat and cane. He says he's gonna take me over to the studio and show me Delancey Calhoun's first picture.
"So you're really goin' through with it, hey?" I says. "What company did you get him landed with?"
"The Par-Excellence Feature Film Company," he says.
"I never heard tell of it," I says. "Who's in back of it?"
"A young feller by the name of Alex Hanley!" he comes back, grinnin'.
"What?" I hollers. "D'ye mean to say you started a movie foundry to put this guy over?"
"I'll leave it to you," he tells me, "when we get to the studio. Let's go!"
On the way over he shows me a lot of the advertisin' copy with which he's gonna introduce Delancy Calhoun to the waitin' world. I must say it was hot stuff! It claims that Delancey Calhoun is the sole heir to the $20,000,000 left by the late Artemus Calhoun which died twenty years ago. The will was given to his lawyers, Sandringham, Bellew and Fitch, with instructions not to open it for twenty years. When it was opened, it was found that them twenty millions was left to his only nephew, Delancey. Alex has opened a law office downtown under the name of Sandringham, Bellew and Fitch, so's to take care of the reporters and other guys of a inquisitive nature. Then comes the kick.
Delancey, a handsome and accomplished young giant, is tired of the "sham and deceit" of his own "exalted social set" and it's his ambition to wed a girl of the common people and let her enjoy some of the millions his hard-fisted uncle wrung from their toil. He also has another aim in life and that is to accomplish a sweepin' reform of the movie game. He's always been a great fan himself, but he's sick of the impossible plays which has been foisted on a innocent and nickel spendin' public. Therefore, he has organized his own movie company, will produce his own pictures from real life stories of the eternal struggle, and last but not least, he'll appear personally in them himself, to gratify a whim he's had since he first looked over the side of a cradle. He thinks the average movie hero is sickenin', and he wants to show the world how a real hero would act. He will appear in twelve pictures only. Each will be a episode in the greatest mystery story ever written entitled, "What was Hector's Choice?" Every single female in the country is invited to see this picture and send in their solution of the mystery. The one that comes nearest to the correct answer will become the bride of Delancy Calhoun and his twenty million bucks.
"Alex," I says, "I'll tell the world this is great stuff! It must be gonna cost you a bunch of money. Where do you get off?"
"Your head and glue is the two thickest things I ever seen," he says. "Where do I get mine, hey? I get it from the sale of the pictures this bird makes. In a coupla months they'll be riots in theatres all over the country to see this guy in the movies!"
"Maybe," I says. "But how are you gonna pull 'em in? Right off the bat he's gotta compete with Chaplin, Mary Pickford and the like."
"I didn't wanna spring my ace so soon on you," he says, "but I guess I got to. How am I gonna pull 'em in? This way—single women will be admitted free at every theatre where this picture is shown!"
"You're there, Alex!" I admits. "But suppose the men and married women stays away?"
"Stays away?" he says. "They'll break their way in! The married women will wanna see Delancey and get a idea of what they missed, and the men will wanna see what this big fathead looks like, if only to kid him."
"What kind of a actor is he?" I says.
"Wait till you see him," says Alex. "He's got the studio standin' on its ear! He thinks he's the greatest actor the world ever seen and everybody else from the director to the camera men is dubs. He refuses to fake any of the fight scenes and I gotta pay supers ten bucks a day to take his wallops. The first time he had a love scene with the leadin' lady he thought it was on the level and went out and got a marriage license. He argued two hours in favor of real bullets for the duel he fights with the villain and refused to play a scene supposed to be in Alaska because the studio's in Jersey. He claims the guy which wrote the scenario escaped from a lunatic asylum and he plays the second two reels his own way. I've had three different casts work with him because he gets them all sore by his kiddin' them about art. He takes everything in dead earnest and tried to beat up the villain on the street twice because he's supposed to hate him in the picture. But—this first episode is some film!!!"
I seen the picture in the private projectin' room and Alex told the truth when he called it "some film." In fact that there would of been as good a title for the whole picture as the one they had. They was more adventures happened to Delancey Calhoun in them five reels than Robinson Crusoe, Columbus, Kit Carson and Davy Crockett had in their combined lives! He was a heart-breaker one second and a head-breaker the next. He had insisted to Alex that one villain wasn't enough for him to foil, so they had about a dozen and he trimmed 'em all. They was also several heroines for him to save and clasp on his manly bosom, which same he did in evenin' clothes only. It was nothin' for him to save a maiden in distress from a sinkin' ship and the next second appear in a lifeboat with a dress suit on, rowin' for shore. No matter if the scene was mornin' or night, Alaska or the Sahara Desert, Delancey was there in his little dress suit. He would of parted with that and his left eye with the same willingness.
Apart from the film itself, which might of been good or might of been bad, but certainly was excitin' for your life, Delancey was a riot! He was the handsomest thing I ever seen on a screen and I don't blame all the dames in the studio for fallin' for him. In that treasured dress suit of his which cost Alex as much as a limousine, they ain't no woman on earth that wouldn't get a thrill when she looked at him, provided he didn't start no conversation. He looked class—that's all they is to it!
When we come out from seein' the picture, Delancey is walkin' around the studio, still with the dress suit on. He's tellin' one of the best directors in the country how to properly produce a movie and said director is takin' it hard. He breaks off when he sees us.
"Hello!" he says. "Well, what d'ye think of me? I'm a knockout, hey?"
"Easily that," I admits, shakin' his hand. "How d'ye like bein' a actor?"
"Rotten!" he says. "This stuff is the bunk and them actors gimme a pain. I think they're all nutty. How they get money for this hop is past me! All I do all day is pretend I'm this and pretend I'm that and the foreman of this layout keeps yellin', 'Register fear!' and stuff like that at me. I don't know why this friend of yours is givin' me money for this, but I bet they's a catch to it somewheres!"
"Isn't he simply delicious?" says the leadin' woman, with a fond glance at Delancey.
"Delicious, hey?" he snorts. "What d'ye think I am—a pie?"
They is a vampire there and she turns up her nose.
"I think he's impossible!" she says. "He hasn't the slightest conception of art."
"Lemme alone!" growls Delancey. "I'm as good a actor as you guys is, if not better. Where d'ye get that art stuff?"
"Heavens!" says the vampire. "You must have worked all your life to acquire ignorance, for no one was ever born as stupid as you! All you have is your looks."
"Yeh," snarls Delancey. "And all Rockefeller's got is a billion!"
At this point Alex stepped in and prevented bloodshed.
Well, Delancey is as big a success as a movie star as Boston is as a town, and within a month he's swept the country like a new dance. That stuff about him bein' a millionaire and willin' to marry the girl which guesses the answer to the mystery in "What Was Hector's Choice?" caught on with the ladies like cold cream and his handsome map did the rest. His picture is plastered all over the country and kids which barely knowed their A, B, C's, is familiar with his name. His mail arrives daily in freight cars and Alex had four guys workin' on nothin' but autographin' his photos for "A Admirer" and "Your Unknown Friend." Alex got a quarter the each for said photos to cover the "wrapping and mailing charges" and made a nice little profit on the side.
With all this success, though, Delancey Calhoun kept his head. He never appeared at no banquets, addressed meetin's on "The Future of the Motion Picture Industry," or as much as glanced at the daily slew of mail. When the dames around the studio cast languishin' glances at his handsome form, he glared at 'em like a infuriated turtle. If one of 'em remarked that it was a nice day by way of startin' a slight flirtation, Delancey would answer that he couldn't help it, and walk away. He never spent a nickel foolishly or at all, and when the auto agents swooped down on him, he borrowed cigars from them and beat it.
The most astonishin' thing, though, was the way he acted about the movies durin' his career as a star. He never stopped claimin' that the whole thing was the bunk and that it was idiotic for a grown person to put on a wig and take off the old banker or the like, when they was only a fifty buck a week actor. He insisted that anything as silly as the movies was could never last and they was more real money in the truckin' business for a man that knew the game as he did and had plenty of wagons. When Alex argues with him and says that many of the big stars makes fifty thousand a year, he tells Alex to stop usin' opium because it'll get him in the end.
At the end of three months, Delancey has made Alex pay him a percentage of the receipts and a salary of a thousand a week, but his opinion of the movie business is unchanged. He explains the fact that he's makin' plenty of money out of it by sayin' that Alex must be takin' it out of his own pocket and is simply makin' pictures to cover up his real game, which is prob'ly safe crackin'. Alex throws up his hands and lets him be after that one.
Fin'ly the last picture is made and Alex gives out the information to a expectant world that a girl in Brisbane, Australia, has won the guessin' contest and Delancey Calhoun's hand, and the famous star will sail immediately to wed her. The newspapers all prints pictures of 'em both, Alex gettin' the lucky dame's by photographin' his stenographer. A couple of papers didn't get neither and runs pictures of Brisbane, Australia, so's to be on the job anyways. Then Alex collects the thousand bucks I bet him that he couldn't make a movie star outa a truck driver and prepares to break the news to his wife and mine that he has done the same. He figures this will kill forever their wild infatuation for Carrington De Vire, the idol of the screen.
At that point, Delancey Calhoun walks into the office.
"Ah, Delancey," says Alex, "I was just gonna send for you. Now that our original contract has expired, let me congratulate you. You done great and far better than even I expected. You're famous the world over and must have a good sized bankroll if you've stayed in at nights and kept away from race tracks and the like. I only intended this as a experiment, but it has gone over so big that I want you to sit down here and sign a contract for five years at the biggest salary you ever heard of. We'll make the greatest pictures the world—"
"Wait a minute!" butts in Delancey. "Don't rave no more. My name is Tim O'Toole again and not Delancey, which sounds like a collar. I'm sick and tired of movin' pictures and that big salary stuff is as much bunk as the rest of it. I ain't goin' around rescuin' nutty dames, beatin' up supes which is supposed to be the desperate smugglers and divin' off bridges no more! I'm goin' to make a honest livin' and I've bought out the truckin' business I was workin' for when you come along and made a movie star and a simp outa me. I'll be takin' in money there long after the movies is gone and all the pictures I'll ever move from now on will be loaded on one of my wagons. Fare-thee-well, and I hope they's no hard feelings. If they is, I ain't gonna sob out loud over it!"
For a minute Alex was speechless. Then he comes to and works a hour tryin' to get the ex-Delancey Calhoun to change his mind. They was nothin' doin'. In fact, Delancey walked out and left us flat in the middle of Alex's wail.
Well, anyways, Alex still had one satisfaction left and that was to prove to Eve and the wife that he had put over a truck driver as a movie star. He done it after dinner that night and if he caused any sensation, I failed to see it with the naked eye.
"Well," says Eve, "that proves my argument."
"Proves your argument?" hollers Alex. "Didn't you claim movie stars was born, and didn't I take a truck driver and make him famous at it?"
"Yes," says Eve. "And then he went back to the trucking business, because he wasn't born an artist and the whole thing seemed silly to him. He couldn't stand the make-believe any longer, because he had no imagination, no art—nothing but the stupid ability to make money!"
Alex sinks down in a chair and throws up his hands.
"Can you beat a woman?" he asks me.
"Not in this state," I says. "It's against the law."
"Come!" says Eve. "You boys are just in time. Carrington De Vire is down at the Palace in 'The Arctic Sunflower.' I'm crazy to see it. I think he's wonderful!"