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Our Mr. Wrenn - The Romantic Adventures of a Gentle Man
by Sinclair Lewis
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Not get the job back? He sat down and stammered:

"Gee! I hadn't thought of that. I'd kind of banked on the Souvenir Company, Mr. Guilfogle."

"Well, you know I told you I thought you were an idiot to go. I warned you."

He timidly agreed, mourning: "Yes, that so; I know you did. But uh—well—"

"Sorry, Wrenn. That's the way it goes in business, though. If you will go beating it around—A rolling stone don't gather any moss. Well, cheer up! Possibly there may be something doing in—"

"Tr-r-r-r-r-r-r," said the telephone.

Mr. Guilfogle remarked into it: "Hello. Yes, it's me. Well, who did you think it was? The cat? Yuh. Sure. No. Well, to-morrow, probably. All right. Good-by."

Then he glanced at his watch and up at Mr. Wrenn impatiently.

"Say, Mr. Guilfogle, you say there'll be—when will there be likely to be an opening?"

"Now, how can I tell, my boy? We'll work you in if we can—you ain't a bad clerk; or at least you wouldn't be if you'd be a little more careful. By the way, of course you understand that if we try to work you in it'll take lots of trouble, and we'll expect you to not go flirting round with other firms, looking for a job. Understand that?"

"Oh yes, sir."

"All right. We appreciate your work all right, but of course you can 't expect us to fire any of our present force just because you take the notion to come back whenever you want to.... Hiking off to Europe, leaving a good job!... You didn't get on the Continent, did you?"

"No, I—"

"Well.... Oh, say, how's the grub in London? Cheaper than it is here? The wife was saying this morning we'd have to stop eating if the high cost of living goes on going up."

"Yes, it's quite a little cheaper. You can get fine tea for two and three cents a cup. Clothes is cheaper, too. But I don't care much for the English, though there is all sorts of quaint places with a real flavor.... Say, Mr. Guilfogle, you know I inherited a little money, and I can wait awhile, and you'll kind of keep me in mind for a place if one—"

"Didn't I say I would?"

"Yes, but—"

"You come around and see me a week from now. And leave your address with Rosey. I don't know, though, as we can afford to pay you quite the same salary at first, even if we can work you in—the season's been very slack. But I'll do what I can for you. Come in and see me in about a week. Goo' day."

Rabin, the salesman, waylaid Mr. Wrenn in the corridor.

"You look kind of peeked, Wrenn. Old Goglefogle been lighting into you? Say, I ought to have told you first. I forgot it. The old rat, he's been planning to stick the knife into you all the while. 'Bout two weeks ago me and him had a couple of cocktails at Mouquin's. You know how chummy he always gets after a couple of smiles. Well, he was talking about—I was saying you're a good man and hoping you were having a good time—and he said, 'Yes,' he says, 'he's a good man, but he sure did lay himself wide open by taking this trip. I've got him dead to rights,' he says to me. 'I've got a hunch he'll be back here in three or four months,' he says to me. 'And do you think he'll walk in and get what he wants? Not him. I'll keep him waiting a month before I give him back his job, and then you watch, Rabin,' he says to me, 'you'll see he'll be tickled to death to go back to work at less salary than he was getting, and he'll have sense enough to not try this stunt of getting off the job again after that. And the trip'll be good for him, anyway—he'll do better work—vacation at his own expense—save us money all round. I tell you, Rabin,' he says to me, 'if any of you boys think you can get the best of the company or me you just want to try it, that's all.' Yessir, that's what the old rat told me. You want to watch out for him."

"Oh, I will; indeed I will—"

"Did he spring any of this fairy tale just now?"

"Well, kind of. Say, thanks, I'm awful obliged to—"

"Say, for the love of Mike, don't let him know I told you."

"No, no, I sure won't."

They parted. Eager though he was for the great moment of again seeing his comrade, Charley Carpenter, Mr. Wrenn dribbled toward the bookkeeping-room mournfully, planning to tell Charley of Guilfogle's wickedness.

The head bookkeeper shook his head at Mr. Wrenn's inquiry:

"Charley ain't here any longer."

"Ain't here?"

"No. He got through. He got to boozing pretty bad, and one morning about three weeks ago, when he had a pretty bad hang-over, he told Guilfogle what he thought of him, so of course Guilfogle fired him."

"Oh, that's too bad. Say, you don't know his address, do you?"

"—East a Hundred and Eighteenth.... Well, I'm glad to see you back, Wrenn. Didn't expect to see you back so soon, but always glad to see you. Going to be with us?"

"I ain't sure," said Mr. Wrenn, crabbedly, then shook hands warmly with the bookkeeper, to show there was nothing personal in his snippishness.

For nearly a hundred blocks Mr. Wrenn scowled at an advertisement of Corn Flakes in the Third Avenue Elevated without really seeing it.... Should he go back to the Souvenir Company at all?

Yes. He would. That was the best way to start making friends. But he would "get our friend Guilfogle at recess," he assured himself, with an out-thrust of the jaw like that of the great Bill Wrenn. He knew Guilfogle's lead now, and he would show that gentleman that he could play the game. He'd take that lower salary and pretend to be frightened, but when he got the chance—

He did not proclaim even to himself what dreadful thing he was going to do, but as he left the Elevated he said over and over, shaking his closed fist inside his coat pocket:

"When I get the chance—when I get it—"

The flat-building where Charley Carpenter lived was one of hundreds of pressed-brick structures, apparently all turned out of the same mold. It was filled with the smells of steamy washing and fried fish. Languid with the heat, Mr. Wrenn crawled up an infinity of iron steps and knocked three times at Charley's door. No answer. He crawled down again and sought out the janitress, who stopped watching an ice-wagon in the street to say:

"I guess you'll be finding him asleep up there, sir. He do be lying there drunk most of the day. His wife's left him. The landlord's give him notice to quit, end of August. Warm day, sir. Be you a bill-collector? Mostly, it's bill-collectors that—"

"Yes, it is hot."

Superior in manner, but deeply dejected, Mr. Wrenn rang the down-stairs bell long enough to wake Charley, pantingly got himself up the interminable stairs, and kicked the door till Charley's voice quavered inside:

"Who zhat?"

"It's me, Charley. Wrenn."

"You're in Yurp. Can't fool me. G' 'way from there."

Three other doors on the same landing were now partly open and blocked with the heads of frowsy inquisitive women. The steamy smell was thicker in the darkness. Mr. Wrenn felt prickly, then angry at this curiosity, and again demanded:

"Lemme in, I say."

"Tell you it ain't you. I know you!"

Charley Carpenter's pale face leered out. His tousled hair was stuck to his forehead by perspiration; his eyes were red and vaguely staring. His clothes were badlv wrinkled. He wore a collarless shirt with a frilled bosom of virulent pink, its cuffs grimy and limp.

"It's ol' Wrenn. C'm in. C'm in quick. Collectors always hanging around. They can't catch me. You bet."

He closed the door and wabbled swiftly down the long drab hall of the "railroad flat," evidently trying to walk straight. The reeking stifling main room at the end of the hall was terrible as Charley's eyes. Flies boomed everywhere. The oak table, which Charley and his bride had once spent four happy hours in selecting, was littered with half a dozen empty whisky-flasks, collars, torn sensational newspapers, dirty plates and coffee-cups. The cheap brocade cover, which a bride had once joyed to embroider with red and green roses, was half pulled off and dragged on the floor amid the cigarette butts, Durham tobacco, and bacon rinds which covered the green-and-yellow carpet-rug.

This much Mr. Wrenn saw. Then he set himself to the hard task of listening to Charley, who was muttering:

"Back quick, ain't you, ol' Wrenn? You come up to see me, didn't you? You're m' friend, ain't you, eh? I got an awful hang-over, ain't I? You don't care, do you, ol' Wrenn?"

Mr. Wrenn stared at him weakly, but only for a minute. Perhaps it was his cattle-boat experience which now made him deal directly with such drunkenness as would have nauseated him three months before; perhaps his attendance on a weary Istra.

"Come now, Charley, you got to buck up," he crooned.

"All ri'."

"What's the trouble? How did you get going like this?"

"Wife left me. I was drinking. You think I'm drunk, don't you? But I ain't. She went off with her sister—always hated me. She took my money out of savings-bank—three hundred; all money I had 'cept fifty dollars. I'll fix her. I'll kill her. Took to hitting the booze. Goglefogle fired me. Don't care. Drink all I want. Keep young fellows from getting it! Say, go down and get me pint. Just finished up pint. Got to have one-die of thirst. Bourbon. Get—"

"I'll go and get you a drink, Charley—just one drink, savvy?—if you'll promise to get cleaned up, like I tell you, afterward."

"All ri'."

Mr. Wrenn hastened out with a whisky-flask, muttering, feverishly, "Gee! I got to save him." Returning, he poured out one drink, as though it were medicine for a refractory patient, and said, soothingly:

"Now we'll take a cold bath, heh? and get cleaned up and sobered up. Then we'll talk about a job, heh?"

"Aw, don't want a bath. Say, I feel better now. Let's go out and have a drink. Gimme that flask. Where j' yuh put it?"

Mr. Wrenn went to the bathroom, turned on the cold-water tap, returned, and undressed Charley, who struggled and laughed and let his whole inert weight rest against Mr. Wrenn's shoulder. Though normally Charley could have beaten three Mr. Wrenns, he was run into the bath-room and poked into the tub.

Instantly he began to splash, throwing up water in handfuls, singing. The water poured over the side of the tub. Mr. Wrenn tried to hold him still, but the wet sleek shoulders slipped through his hand like a wet platter. Wholesomely vexed, he turned off the water and slammed the bathroom door.

In the bedroom he found an unwrinkled winter-weight suit and one clean shirt. In the living-room he hung up his coat, covering it with a newspaper, pulled the broom from under the table, and prepared to sweep.

The disorder was so great that he made one of the inevitable discoveries of every housekeeper, and admitted to himself that he "didn't know where to begin." He stumblingly lugged a heavy pile of dishes from the center-table to the kitchen, shook and beat and folded the table-cover, stuck the chairs atop the table, and began to sweep.

At the door a shining wet naked figure stood, bellowing:

"Hey! What d' yuh think you're doing? Cut it out."

"Just sweeping, Charley," from Mr. Wrenn, and an uninterrupted "Tuff, tuff, tuff" from the broom.

"Cut it out, I said. Whose house is this?"

"Gwan back in the bath-tub, Charley."

"Say, d' yuh think you can run me? Get out of this, or I'll throw you out. Got house way I want it."

Bill Wrenn, the cattleman, rushed at him, smacked him with the broom, drove him back into the tub, and waited. He laughed. It was all a good joke; his friend Charley and he were playing a little game. Charley also laughed and splashed some more. Then he wept and said that the water was cold, and that he was now deserted by his only friend.

"Oh, shut up," remarked Bill Wrenn, and swept the bathroom floor.

Charley stopped swashing about to sneer:

"Li'l ministering angel, ain't you? You think you're awful good, don't you? Come up here and bother me. When I ain't well. Salvation Army. You——. Aw, lemme 'lone, will you?" Bill Wrenn kept on sweeping. "Get out, you——."

There was enough energy in Charley's voice to indicate that he was getting sober. Bill Wrenn soused him under once more, so thoroughly that his own cuffs were reduced to a state of flabbiness. He dragged Charley out, helped him dry himself, and drove him to bed.

He went out and bought dish-towels, soap, washing-powder, and collars of Charley's size, which was an inch larger than his own. He finished sweeping and dusting and washing the dishes—all of them. He—who had learned to comfort Istra—he really enjoyed it. His sense of order made it a pleasure to see a plate yellow with dried egg glisten iridescently and flash into shining whiteness; or a room corner filled with dust and tobacco flakes become again a "nice square clean corner with the baseboard shining, gee! just like it was new."

An irate grocer called with a bill for fifteen dollars. Mr. Wrenn blandly heard his threats all through, pretending to himself that this was his home, whose honor was his honor. He paid the man eight dollars on account and loftily dismissed him. He sat down to wait for Charley, reading a newspaper most of the time, but rising to pursue stray flies furiously, stumbling over chairs, and making murderous flappings with a folded newspaper.

When Charley awoke, after three hours, clear of mind but not at all clear as regards the roof of his mouth, Mr. Wrenn gave him a very little whisky, with considerable coffee, toast, and bacon. The toast was not bad.

"Now, Charley," he said, cheerfully, "your bat's over, ain't it, old man?"

"Say, you been darn' decent to me, old man. Lord! how you've been sweeping up! How was I—was I pretty soused?"

"Honest, you were fierce. You will sober up, now, won't you?"

"Well, it's no wonder I had a classy hang-over, Wrenn. I was at the Amusieren Rathskeller till four this morning, and then I had a couple of nips before breakfast, and then I didn't have any breakfast. But sa-a-a-ay, man, I sure did have some fiesta last night. There was a little peroxide blonde that—"

"Now you look here, Carpenter; you listen to me. You're sober now. Have you tried to find another job?"

"Yes, I did. But I got down in the mouth. Didn't feel like I had a friend left."

"Well, you h—"

"But I guess I have now, old Wrennski."

"Look here, Charley, you know I don't want to pull off no Charity Society stunt or talk like I was a preacher. But I like you so darn much I want to see you sober up and get another job. Honestly I do, Charley. Are you broke?"

"Prett' nearly. Only got about ten dollars to my name.... I will take a brace, old man. I know you ain't no preacher. Course if you came around with any 'holierthan-thou' stunt I'd have to go right out and get soused on general principles.... Yuh—I'll try to get a job."

"Here's ten dollars. Please take it—aw—please, Charley."

"All right; anything to oblige."

"What 've you got in sight in the job line?"

"Well, there's a chance at night clerking in a little hotel where I was a bell-hop long time ago. The night clerk's going to get through, but I don't know just when—prob'ly in a week or two."

"Well, keep after it. And please come down to see me—the old place—West Sixteenth Street."

"What about the old girl with the ingrowing grouch? What's her name? She ain't stuck on me."

"Mrs. Zapp? Oh—hope she chokes. She can just kick all she wants to. I'm just going to have all the visitors I want to."

"All right. Say, tell us something about your trip."

"Oh, I had a great time. Lots of nice fellows on the cattle-boat. I went over on one, you know. Fellow named Morton—awfully nice fellow. Say, Charley, you ought to seen me being butler to the steers. Handing 'em hay. But say, the sea was fine; all kinds of colors. Awful dirty on the cattle-boat, though."

"Hard work?"

"Yuh—kind of hard. Oh, not so very."

"What did you see in England?"

"Oh, a lot of different places. Say, I seen some great vaudeville in Liverpool, Charley, with Morton—he's a slick fellow; works for the Pennsylvania, here in town. I got to look him up. Say, I wish we had an agency for college sofa-pillows and banners and souvenir stuff in Oxford. There's a whole bunch of colleges there, all right in the same town. I met a prof. there from some American college—he hired an automobubble and took me down to a reg'lar old inn—"

"Well, well!"

"—like you read about; sanded floor!"

"Get to London?"

"Yuh. Gee! it's a big place. Say, that Westminster Abbey's a great place. I was in there a couple of times. More darn tombs of kings and stuff. And I see a bishop, with leggins on! But I got kind of lonely. I thought of you a lot of times. Wished we could go out and get an ale together. Maybe pick up a couple of pretty girls."

"Oh, you sport!... Say, didn't get over to gay Paree, did you?"

"Nope.... Well, I guess I'd better beat it now. Got to move in—I'm at a hotel. You will come down and see me to-night, won't you?"

"So you thought of me, eh?... Yuh—sure, old socks. I'll be down to-night. And I'll get right after that job."

It is doubtful whether Mr. Wrenn would ever have returned to the Zapps' had he not promised to see Charley there. Even while he was carrying his suit-case down West Sixteenth, broiling by degrees in the sunshine, he felt like rushing up to Charley's and telling him to come to the hotel instead.

Lee Theresa, taking the day off with a headache, answered the bell, and ejaculated:

"Well! So it's you, is it?"

"I guess it is."

"What, are you back so soon? Why, you ain't been gone more than a month and a half, have you?"

Beware, daughter of Southern pride! The little Yankee is regarding your full-blown curves and empty eyes with rebellion, though he says, ever so meekly:

"Yes, I guess it is about that, Miss Theresa."

"Well, I just knew you couldn't stand it away from us. I suppose you'll want your room back. Ma, here's Mr. Wrenn back again—Mr. Wrenn! Ma!"

"Oh-h-h-h!" sounded Goaty Zapp's voice, in impish disdain, below. "Mr. Wrenn's back. Hee, hee! Couldn't stand it. Ain't that like a Yankee!"

A slap, a wail, then Mrs. Zapp's elephantine slowness on the stairs from the basement. She appeared, buttoning her collar, smiling almost pleasantly, for she disliked Mr. Wrenn less than she did any other of her lodgers.

"Back already, Mist' Wrenn? Ah declare, Ah was saying to Lee Theresa just yest'day, Ah just knew you'd be wishing you was back with us. Won't you come in?"

He edged into the parlor with, "How is the sciatica, Mrs. Zapp?"

"Ah ain't feeling right smart."

"My room occupied yet?"

He was surveying the airless parlor rather heavily, and his curt manner was not pleasing to the head of the house of Zapp, who remarked, funereally:

"It ain't taken just now, Mist' Wrenn, but Ah dunno. There was a gennulman a-looking at it just yesterday, and he said he'd be permanent if he came. Ah declare, Mist' Wrenn, Ah dunno's Ah like to have my gennulmen just get up and go without giving me notice."

Lee Theresa scowled at her.

Mr. Wrenn retorted, "I did give you notice."

"Ah know, but—well, Ah reckon Ah can let you have it, but Ah'll have to have four and a half a week instead of four. Prices is all going up so, Ah declare, Ah was just saying to Lee T'resa Ah dunno what we're all going to do if the dear Lord don't look out for us. And, Mist' Wrenn, Ah dunno's Ah like to have you coming in so late nights. But Ah reckon Ah can accommodate you."

"It's a good deal of a favor, isn't it, Mrs. Zapp?"

Mr. Wrenn was dangerously polite. Let gentility look out for the sharp practices of the Yankee.

"Yes, but—"

It was our hero, our madman of the seven and seventy seas, our revolutionist friend of Istra, who leaped straight from the salt-incrusted decks of his laboring steamer to the musty parlor and declared, quietly but unmovably-practically unmovably—"Well, then, I guess I'd better not take it at all."

"So that's the way you're going to treat us!" bellowed Mrs. Zapp. "You go off and leave us with an unoccupied room and— Oh! You poor white trash—you—"

"Ma! You shut up and go down-stairs-s-s-s-s!" Theresa hissed. "Go on."

Mrs. Zapp wabbled regally out. Lee Theresa spoke to Mr. Wrenn:

"Ma ain't feeling a bit well this afternoon. I'm sorry she talked like that. You will come back, won't you?" She showed all her teeth in a genuine smile, and in her anxiety reached his heart. "Remember, you promised you would."

"Well, I will, but—"

Bill Wrenn was fading, an affrighted specter. The "but" was the last glimpse of him, and that Theresa overlooked, as she bustlingly chirruped: "I knew you would understand. I'll skip right up and look at the room and put on fresh sheets."

One month, one hot New York month, passed before the imperial Mr. Guilfogle gave him back The Job, and then at seventeen dollars and fifty cents a week instead of his former nineteen dollars. Mr. Wrenn refused, upon pretexts, to go out with the manager for a drink, and presented him with twenty suggestions for new novelties and circular letters. He rearranged the unsystematic methods of Jake, the cub, and two days later he was at work as though he had never in his life been farther from the Souvenir Company than Newark.



CHAPTER XIII

HE IS "OUR MR. WRENN"



DEAR ISTRA,—I am back in New York feeling very well & hope this finds you the same. I have been wanting to write to you for quite a while now but there has not been much news of any kind & so I have not written to you. But now I am back working for the Souvenir Company. I hope you are having a good time in Paris it must be a very pretty city & I have often wished to be there perhaps some day I shall go. I [several erasures here] have been reading quite a few books since I got back & think now I shall get on better with my reading. You told me so many things about books & so on & I do appreciate it. In closing, I am yours very sincerely, WILLIAM WRENN.

There was nothing else he could say. But there were a terrifying number of things he could think as he crouched by the window overlooking West Sixteenth Street, whose dull hue had not changed during the centuries while he had been tramping England. Her smile he remembered—and he cried, "Oh, I want to see her so much." Her gallant dash through the rain—and again the cry.

At last he cursed himself, "Why don't you do something that 'd count for her, and not sit around yammering for her like a fool?"

He worked on his plan to "bring the South into line"—the Souvenir Company's line. Again and again he sprang up from the writing-table in his hot room when the presence of Istra came and stood compellingly by his chair. But he worked.

The Souvenir Company salesmen had not been able to get from the South the business which the company deserved if right and justice were to prevail. On the steamer from England Mr. Wrenn had conceived the idea that a Dixieland Ink-well, with the Confederate and Union flags draped in graceful cast iron, would make an admirable present with which to draw the attention of the Southem trade. The ink-well was to be followed by a series of letters, sent on the slightest provocation, on order or re-order, tactfully hoping the various healths of the Southland were good and the baseball season important; all to insure a welcome to the salesmen on the Southem route.

He drew up his letters; he sketched his ink-well; he got up the courage to talk with the office manager.... To forget love and the beloved, men have ascended in aeroplanes and conquered African tribes. To forget love, a new, busy, much absorbed Mr. Wrenn, very much Ours, bustled into Mr. Guilfogle's office, slapped down his papers on the desk, and demanded: "Here's that plan about gettin' the South interested that I was telling you about. Say, honest, I'd like awful much to try it on. I'd just have to have part time of one stenographer."

"Well, you know our stenographers are pretty well crowded. But you can leave the outline with me. I'll look it over," said Mr. Guilfogle.

That same afternoon the manager enthusiastically O. K.'d the plan. To enthusiastically—O. K. is an office technology for saying, gloomily, "Well, I don't suppose it 'd hurt to try it, anyway, but for the love of Mike be careful, and let me see any letters you send out."

So Mr. Wrenn dictated a letter to each of their Southern merchants, sending him a Dixieland Ink-well and inquiring about the crops. He had a stenographer, an efficient intolerant young woman who wrote down his halting words as though they were examples of bad English she wanted to show her friends, and waited for the next word with cynical amusement.

"By gosh!" growled Bill Wrenn, the cattleman, "I'll show her I'm running this. I'll show her she's got another think coming." But he dictated so busily and was so hot to get results that he forgot the girl's air of high-class martyrdom.

He watched the Southern baseball results in the papers. He seized on every salesman on the Southern route as he came in, and inquired about the religion and politics of the merchants in his district. He even forgot to worry about his next rise in salary, and found it much more exciting to rush back for an important letter after a quick lunch than to watch the time and make sure that he secured every minute of his lunch-hour.

When October came—October of the vagabond, with the leaves brilliant out on the Palisades, and Sixth Avenue moving-picture palaces cool again and gay—Mr. Wrenn stayed late, under the mercury-vapor lights, making card cross-files of the Southern merchants, their hobbies and prejudices, and whistling as he worked, stopping now and then to slap the desk and mutter, "By gosh! I'm gettin' 'em—gettin' 'em."

He rarely thought of Istra till he was out on the street again, proud of having worked so late that his eyes ached. In fact, his chief troubles these days came when Mr. Guilfogle wouldn't "let him put through an idea."

Their first battle was over Mr. Wrenn's signing the letters personally; for the letters, the office manager felt, were as much Ours as was Mr. Wrenn, and should be signed by the firm. After some difficulty Mr. Wrenn persuaded him that one of the best ways to handle a personal letter was to make it personal. They nearly cursed each other before Mr. Wrenn was allowed to use his own judgment.

It's not at all certain that Mr. Guilfogle should have yielded. What's the use of a manager if his underlings use judgment?

The next battle Mr. Wrenn lost. He had demanded a monthly holiday for his stenographer. Mr. Guilfogle pointed out that she'd merely be the worse off for a holiday, that it 'd make her discontented, that it was a kindness to her to keep her mind occupied. Mr. Wrenn was, however, granted a new typewriter, in a manner which revealed the fact that the Souvenir Company was filled with almost too much mercy in permitting an employee to follow his own selfish and stubborn desires.

You cannot trust these employees. Mr. Wrenn was getting so absorbed in his work that he didn't even act as though it was a favor when Mr. Guilfogle allowed him to have his letters to the trade copied by carbon paper instead of having them blurred by the wet tissue-paper of a copy-book. The manager did grant the request, but he was justly indignant at the curt manner of the rascal, whereupon our bumptious revolutionist, our friend to anarchists and red-headed artists, demanded a "raise" and said that he didn't care a hang if the [qualified] letters never went out. The kindness of chiefs! For Mr. Guilfogle apologized and raised the madman's wage from seventeen dollars and fifty cents a week to his former nineteen dollars. [He had expected eighteen dollars; he had demanded twenty-two dollars and fifty cents; he was worth on the labor market from twenty-five to thirty dollars; while the profit to the Souvenir Company from his work was about sixty dollars minus whatever salary he got.]

Not only that. Mr. Guilfogle slapped him on the back and said: "You're doing good work, old man. It's fine. I just don't want you to be too reckless."

That night Wrenn worked till eight.

After his raise he could afford to go to the theater, since he was not saving money for travel. He wrote small letters to Istra and read the books he believed she would approve—a Paris Baedeker and the second volume of Tolstoi's War and Peace, which he bought at a second-hand book-stall for five cents. He became interested in popular and inaccurate French and English histories, and secreted any amount of footnote anecdotes about Guy Fawkes and rush-lights and the divine right of kings. He thought almost every night about making friends, which he intended—just as much as ever—to do as soon as Sometime arrived.

On the day on which one of the Southern merchants wrote him about his son—"fine young fellow, sir—has every chance of rising to a lieutenancy on the Atlanta police force"—Mr. Wrenn's eyes were moist. Here was a friend already. Sure. He would make friends. Then there was the cripple with the Capitol Corner News and Souvenir Stand in Austin, Texas. Mr. Wrenn secreted two extra Dixieland Ink-wells and a Yale football banner and sent them to the cripple for his brothers, who were in the Agricultural College.

The orders—yes, they were growing larger. The Southern salesmen took him out to dinner sometimes. But he was shy of them. They were so knowing and had so many smoking-room stories. He still had not found the friends he desired.

Miggleton's restaurant, on Forty-second Street, was a romantic discovery. Though it had "popular prices"—plain omelet, fifteen cents—it had red and green bracket lights, mission-style tables, and music played by a sparrowlike pianist and a violinist. Mr. Wrenn never really heard the music, but while it was quavering he had a happier appreciation of the Silk-Hat-Harry humorous pictures in the Journal, which he always propped up against an oil-cruet. [That never caused him inconvenience; he had no convictions in regard to salads.] He would drop the paper to look out of the window at the Lazydays Improvement Company's electric sign, showing gardens of paradise on the instalment plan, and dream of—well, he hadn't the slightest idea what—something distant and deliciously likely to become intimate. Once or twice he knew that he was visioning the girl in soft brown whom he would "go home to," and who, in a Lazydays suburban residence, would play just such music for him and the friends who lived near by. She would be as clever as Istra, but "oh, more so's you can go regular places with her."... Often he got good ideas about letters South, to be jotted down on envelope backs, from that music.

At last comes the historic match-box incident.

On that October evening in 1910 he dined early at Miggleton's. The thirty-cent table d'hote was perfect. The cream-of-corn soup was, he went so far as to remark to the waitress, "simply slick"; the Waldorf salad had two whole walnuts in his portion alone.

The fat man with the white waistcoat, whom he had often noted as dining in this same corner of the restaurant, smiled at him and said "Pleasant evening" as he sat down opposite Mr. Wrenn and smoothed the two sleek bangs which decorated the front of his nearly bald head.

The music included a "potpourri of airs from 'The Merry Widow,'" which set his foot tapping. All the while he was conscious that he'd made the Seattle Novelty and Stationery Corner Store come through with a five-hundred-dollar order on one of his letters.

The Journal contained an editorial essay on "Friendship" which would have been, and was, a credit to Cicero.

He laid down the paper, stirred his large cup of coffee, and stared at the mother-of-pearl buttons on the waistcoat of the fat man, who was now gulping down soup, opposite him. "My land!" he was thinking, "friendship! I ain't even begun to make all those friends I was going to. Haven't done a thing. Oh, I will; I must!"

"Nice night," said the fat man.

"Yuh—it sure is," brightly agreed Mr. Wrenn.

"Reg'lar Indian-Summer weather."

"Yes, isn't it! I feel like taking a walk on Riverside Drive—b'lieve I will."

"Wish I had time. But I gotta get down to the store—cigar-store. I'm on nights, three times a week."

"Yuh. I've seen you here most every time I eat early," Mr. Wrenn purred.

"Yuh. The rest of the time I eat at the boarding-house."

Silence. But Mr. Wrenn was fighting for things to say, means of approach, for the chance to become acquainted with a new person, for all the friendly human ways he had desired in nights of loneliness.

"Wonder when they'll get the Grand Central done?" asked the fat man.

"I s'pose it'll take quite a few years," said Mr. Wrenn, conversationally.

"Yuh. I s'pose it will."

Silence.

Mr. Wrenn sat trying to think of something else to say. Lonely people in city restaurants simply do not get acquainted. Yet he did manage to observe, "Great building that'll be," in the friendliest manner.

Silence.

Then the fat man went on:

"Wonder what Wolgast will do in his mill? Don't believe he can stand up."

Wolgast was, Mr. Wrenn seemed to remember, a pugilist. He agreed vaguely:

"Pretty hard, all right."

"Go out to the areoplane meet?" asked the fat man.

"No. But I'd like to see it. Gee! there must be kind of—kind of adventure in them things, heh?"

"Yuh—sure is. First machine I saw, though—I was just getting off the train at Belmont Park, and there was an areoplane up in the air, and it looked like one of them big mechanical beetles these fellows sell on the street buzzing around up there. I was kind of disappointed. But what do you think? It was that J. A. D. McCurdy, in a Curtiss biplane—I think it was—and by golly! he got to circling around and racing and tipping so's I thought I'd loose my hat off, I was so excited. And, say, what do you think? I see McCurdy himself, afterward, standing near one of the—the handgars—handsome young chap, not over twenty-eight or thirty, built like a half-miler. And then I see Ralph Johnstone and Arch Hoxey—"

"Gee!" Mr. Wrenn was breathing.

"—dipping and doing the—what do you call it?—Dutch sausage-roll or something like that. Yelled my head off."

"Oh, it must have been great to see 'em, and so close, too."

"Yuh—it sure was."

There seemed to be no other questions to settle. Mr. Wrenn slowly folded up his paper, pursued his check under three plates and the menu-card to its hiding-place beyond the catsup-bottle, and left the table with a regretful "Good night."

At the desk of the cashier, a decorative blonde, he put a cent in the machine which good-naturedly drops out boxes of matches. No box dropped this time, though he worked the lever noisily.

"Out of order?" asked the cashier lady. "Here's two boxes of matches. Guess you've earned them."

"Well, well, well, well!" sounded the voice of his friend, the fat man, who stood at the desk paying his bill. "Pretty easy, heh? Two boxes for one cent! Sting the restaurant." Cocking his head, he carefully inserted a cent in the slot and clattered the lever, turning to grin at Mr. Wrenn, who grinned back as the machine failed to work.

"Let me try it," caroled Mr. Wrenn, and pounded the lever with the enthusiasm of comradeship.

"Nothing doing, lady," crowed the fat man to the cashier.

"I guess I draw two boxes, too, eh? And I'm in a cigar-store. How's that for stinging your competitors, heh? Ho, ho, ho!"

The cashier handed him two boxes, with an embarrassed simper, and the fat man clapped Mr. Wrenn's shoulder joyously.

"My turn!" shouted a young man in a fuzzy green hat and a bright-brown suit, who had been watching with the sudden friendship which unites a crowd brought together by an accident.

Mr. Wrenn was glowing. "No, it ain't—it's mine," he achieved. "I invented this game." Never had he so stood forth in a crowd. He was a Bill Wrenn with the cosmopolitan polish of a floor-walker. He stood beside the fat man as a friend of sorts, a person to be taken perfectly seriously.

It is true that he didn't add to this spiritual triumph the triumph of getting two more boxes of matches, for the cashier-girl exclaimed, "No indeedy; it's my turn!" and lifted the match machine to a high shelf behind her. But Mr. Wrenn went out of the restaurant with his old friend, the fat man, saying to him quite as would a wit, "I guess we get stung, eh?"

"Yuh!" gurgled the fat man.

Walking down to your store?"

"Yuh—sure—won't you walk down a piece?"

"Yes, I would like to. Which way is it?"

"Fourth Avenue and Twenty-eighth."

"Walk down with you."

"Fine!"

And the fat man seemed to mean it. He confided to Mr. Wrenn that the fishing was something elegant at Trulen, New Jersey; that he was some punkins at the casting of flies in fishing; that he wished exceedingly to be at Trulen fishing with flies, but was prevented by the manager of the cigar-store; that the manager was an old devil; that his (the fat man's own) name was Tom Poppins; that the store had a slick new brand of Manila cigars, kept in a swell new humidor bought upon the advice of himself (Mr. Poppins); that one of the young clerks in the store had done fine in the Modified Marathon; that the Cubs had had a great team this year; that he'd be glad to give Mr.—Mr. Wrenn, eh?—one of those Manila cigars—great cigars they were, too; and that he hadn't "laughed so much for a month of Sundays as he had over the way they stung Miggleton's on them matches."

All this in the easy, affectionate, slightly wistful manner of fat men. Mr. Poppins's large round friendly childish eyes were never sarcastic. He was the man who makes of a crowd in the Pullman smoking-room old friends in half an hour. In turn, Mr. Wrenn did not shy off; he hinted at most of his lifelong ambitions and a fair number of his sorrows and, when they reached the store, not only calmly accepted, but even sneezingly ignited one of the "slick new Manila cigars."

As he left the store he knew that the golden age had begun. He had a friend!

He was to see Tom Poppins the coming Thursday at Miggleton's. And now he was going to find Morton! He laughed so loudly that the policeman at Thirty-fourth Street looked self-conscious and felt secretively to find out what was the matter with his uniform. Now, this evening, he'd try to get on the track of Morton. Well, perhaps not this evening—the Pennsylvania offices wouldn't be open, but some time this week, anyway.

Two nights later, as he waited for Tom Poppins at Miggleton's, he lashed himself with the thought that he had not started to find Morton; good old Morton of the cattle-boat. But that was forgotten in the wonder of Tom Poppins's account of Mrs. Arty's, a boarding-house "where all the folks likes each other."

"You've never fed at a boarding-house, eh?" said Tom. "Well, I guess most of 'em are pretty poor feed. And pretty sad bunch. But Mrs. Arty's is about as near like home as most of us poor bachelors ever gets. Nice crowd there. If Mrs. Arty—Mrs. R. T. Ferrard is her name, but we always call her Mrs. Arty—if she don't take to you she don't mind letting you know she won't take you in at all; but if she does she'll worry over the holes in your socks as if they was her husband's. All the bunch there drop into the parlor when they come in, pretty near any time clear up till twelve-thirty, and talk and laugh and rush the growler and play Five Hundred. Just like home!

"Mrs. Arty's nearly as fat as I am, but she can be pretty spry if there's something she can do for you. Nice crowd there, too except that Teddem—he's one of these here Willy-boy actors, always out of work; I guess Mrs. Arty is kind of sorry for him. Say, Wrenn—you seem to me like a good fellow—why don't you get acquainted with the bunch? Maybe you'd like to move up there some time. You was telling me about what a cranky old party your landlady is. Anyway, come on up there to dinner. On me. Got anything on for next Monday evening?"

"N-no."

"Come on up then——East Thirtieth."

"Gee, I'd like to!"

"Well, why don't you, then? Get there about six. Ask for me. Monday. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I don't have to get to the store evenings. Come on; you'll find out if you like the place."

"By jiminy, I will!" Mr. Wrenn slapped the table, socially.

At last he was "through, just through with loafing around and not getting acquainted," he told himself. He was tired of Zapps. There was nothing to Zapps. He would go up to Mrs. Arty's and now—he was going to find Morton. Next morning, marveling at himself for not having done this easy task before, he telephoned to the Pennsylvania Railroad offices, asked for Morton, and in one-half minute heard:

"Yes? This is Harry Morton."

"Hullo, Mr. Morton! I'll just bet you can't guess who this is."

"I guess you've got me."

"Well, who do you think it—"

"Jack?"

"Hunka."

"Uncle Henry?"

"Nope." Mr. Wrenn felt lonely at finding himself so completely outside Morton's own world that he was not thought of. He hastened to claim a part in that world:

"Say, Mr. Morton, I wonder if you've ever heard of a cattle-boat called the Merian?"

"I—Say! Is this Bill Wrenn?"

"Yes."

"Well, well, well! Where areyou? When'd you get back?"

"Oh, I been back quite a little while, Morty. Tried to get hold of you—almost called up couple of times. I'm in my office—Souvenir Company—now. Back on the old job. Say, I'd like to see you."

"Well, I'd like to see you, old Bill!"

"Got a date for dinner this evening, Morty?"

"N-no. No, I don't think I've got anything on." Morton's voice seemed to sound a doubt. Mr. Wrenn reflected that Morton must be a society person; and he made his invitation highly polite:

"Well, say, old man, I'd be awful happy if you could come over and feed on me. Can't you come over and meet me, Morty?"

"Y-yes, I guess I can. Yes, I'll do it. Where'll I meet you?"

"How about Twenty-eighth and Sixth Avenue?"

"That'll be all right, Bill. 'Bout six o'clock?"

"Fine! Be awful nice to see you again, old Morty."

"Same here. Goo'-by."

Gazing across the table at Miggleton's, Mr. Wrenn saw, in the squat familiar body and sturdy face of Morton of the cattle-boat, a stranger, slightly uneasy and very quiet, wearing garments that had nothing whatever to do with the cattle-boats—a crimson scarf with a horseshoe-pin of "Brazilian diamonds," and sleek brown ready-made clothes with ornately curved cuffs and pocket flaps.

Morton would say nothing of his wanderings after their parting in Liverpool beyond: "Oh, I just bummed around. Places.... Warm to-night. For this time of year." Thrice he explained, "I was kind of afraid you'd be sore at me for the way I left you; that's why I've never looked you up." Thrice Mr. Wrenn declared that he had not been "sore," then ceased trying to make himself understood.

Their talk wilted. Both of them played with their knives a good deal. Morton built a set of triangles out of toothpicks while pretending to give hushed attention to the pianist's rendition of "Mammy's Little Cootsie Bootsie Coon," while Mr. Wrenn stared out of the window as though he expected to see the building across get afire immediately. When either of them invented something to say they started chattering with guilty haste, and each agreed hectically with any opinion the other advanced.

Mr. Wrenn surprised himself in the thought that Morton hadn't anything very new to say, which made him feel so disloyal that he burst out, effusively:

"Say, come on now, old man; I just got to hear about what you did after you left Liverpool."

"I—"

"Well—"

"I never got out of Liverpool! Worked in a restaurant.... But next time—! I'll go clean to Constantinople!" Morton exploded. "And I did see a lot of English life in Liverpool."

Mr. Wrenn talked long and rapidly of the world's baseball series, and Regal vs. Walkover shoes.

He tried to think of something they could do. Suddenly:

"Say, Morty, I know an awful nice guy down here in a cigar-store. Let's go down and see him."

"All right."

Tom Poppins was very cordial to them. He dragged brown canvas stools out of the tobacco-scented room where cigars were made, and the three of them squatted in the back of the store, while Tom gossiped of the Juarez races, Taft, cigar-wrappers, and Jews. Morton was aroused to tell the time-mellowed story of the judge and the darky. He was cheerful and laughed much and frequently said "Ah there, cull!" in general commendation. But he kept looking at the clock on the jog in the wall over the watercooler. Just at ten he rose abashedly, hesitated, and murmured, "Well, I guess I'll have to be beating it home."

From Mr. Wrenn: "Oh, Morty! So early?"

Tom: "What's the big hurry?"

"I've got to run clear over to Jersey City." Morton was cordial, but not convincing.

"Say—uh—Morton," said Tom, kindly of face, his bald head shining behind his twin bangs, as he rose, "I'm going to have Wrenn up to dinner at my boarding-house next Monday. Like to have you come along. It's a fine place—Mrs. Arty—she's the landlady—she's a wonder. There's going to be a vacant room there—maybe you two fellows could frame it up to take it, heh? Understand, I don't get no rake-off on this, but we all like to do what we can for M—"

"No, no!" said Morton. "Sorry. Couldn't do it. Staying with my brother-in-law—costs me only 'bout half as much as it would I don't do much chasing around when I'm in town.... I'm going to save up enough money for a good long hike. I'm going clean to St. Petersburg!... But I've had a good time to-night."

"Glad. Great stuff about you fellows on the cattle-ship," said Tom.

Morton hastened on, protectively, a bit critically: "You fellows sport around a good deal, don't you?... I can't afford to.... Well, good night. Glad to met you, Mr. Poppins. G' night, old Wr—"

"Going to the ferry? For Jersey? I'll walk over with you," said Mr. Wrenn.

Their walk was quiet and, for Mr. Wrenn, tragically sad. He saw Morton (presumably) doing the wandering he had once planned. He felt that, while making his vast new circle of friends, he was losing all the wild adventurousness of Bill Wrenn. And he was parting with his first friend.

At the ferry-house Morton pronounced his "Well, so long, old fellow" with an affection that meant finality.

Mr. Wrenn fled back to Tom Poppins's store. On the way he was shocked to find himself relieved at having parted with Morton. The cigar-store was closed.

At home Mrs. Zapp waylaid him for his rent (a day overdue), and he was very curt. That was to keep back the "O God, how rotten I feel!" with which, in his room, he voiced the desolation of loneliness.

The ghost of Morton, dead and forgotten, was with him all next day, till he got home and unbelievably found on the staid black-walnut Zapp hat-rack a letter from Paris, in a gray foreign-appearing envelope with Istra's intensely black scrawl on it.

He put off the luxury of opening the letter till after the rites of brushing his teeth, putting on his slippers, pounding his rocking-chair cushion into softness. Panting with the joy to come, he stared out of the window at a giant and glorious figure of Istra—the laughing Istra of breakfast camp-fire—which towered from the street below. He sighed joyously and read:

Mouse dear, just a word to let you know I haven't forgotten you and am very glad indeed to get your letters. Not much to write about. Frightfully busy with work and fool parties. You are a dear good soul and I hope you'll keep on writing me. In haste, I. N. Longer letter next time.

He came to the end so soon. Istra was gone again.



CHAPTER XIV

HE ENTERS SOCIETY



England, in all its Istra-ness, scarce gave Mr. Wrenn a better thrill for his collection than the thrill he received on the November evening when he saw the white doorway of Mrs. R. T. Ferrard, in a decorous row of houses on Thirtieth Street near Lexington Avenue.

It is a block where the citizens have civic pride. A newspaper has not the least chance of lying about on the asphalt—some householder with a frequently barbered mustache will indignantly pounce upon it inside of an hour. No awe. is caused by the sight of vestibules floored with marble in alternate black and white tiles, scrubbed not by landladies, but by maids. There are dotted Swiss curtains at the basement windows and Irish point curtains on the first floors. There are two polished brass doorplates in a stretch of less than eight houses. Distinctly, it is not a quarter where children fill the street with shouting and little sticks.

Occasionally a taxicab drives up to some door without a crowd of small boys gathering; and young men in evening clothes are not infrequently seen to take out young ladies wearing tight-fitting gowns of black, and light scarfs over their heads. A Middle Western college fraternity has a club-house in the block, and four of the houses are private—one of them belonging to a police inspector and one to a school principal who wears spats.

It is a block that is satisfied with itself; as different from the Zapp district, where landladies in gingham run out to squabble with berry-venders, as the Zapp district is from the Ghetto.

Mrs. Arty Ferrard's house is a poor relation to most of the residences there. The black areaway rail is broken, and the basement-door grill is rusty. But at the windows are red-and-white-figured chintz curtains, with a $2.98 bisque figurine of an unclothed lady between them; the door is of spotless white, with a bell-pull of polished brass.

Mr. Wrenn yanked this bell-pull with an urbane briskness which, he hoped, would conceal his nervousness and delight in dining out. For he was one of the lonely men in New York. He had dined out four times in eight years.

The woman of thirty-five or thirty-eight who opened the door to him was very fat, two-thirds as fat as Mrs. Zapp, but she had young eyes. Her mouth was small, arched, and quivering in a grin.

"This is Mr. Wrenn, isn't it?" she gurgled, and leaned against the doorpost, merry, apparently indolent. "I'm Mrs. Ferrard. Mr. Poppins told me you were coming, and he said you were a terribly nice man, and I was to be sure and welcome you. Come right in."

Her indolence turned to energy as she charged down the hall to the large double door on the right and threw it open, revealing to him a scene of splendor and revelry by night.

Several persons [they seemed dozens, in their liveliness] were singing and shouting to piano music, in the midst of a general redness and brightness of furnishings—red paper and worn red carpet and a high ceiling with circular moldings tinted in pink. Hand-painted pictures of old mills and ladies brooding over salmon sunsets, and an especially hand-painted Christmas scene with snow of inlaid mother-of-pearl, animated the walls. On a golden-oak center-table was a large lamp with a mosaic shade, and through its mingled bits of green and red and pearl glass stormed the brilliance of a mantle-light.

The room was crowded with tufted plush and imitation-leather chairs, side-tables and corner brackets, a couch and a "lady's desk." Green and red and yellow vases adorned with figures of youthful lovers crammed the top of the piano at the farther end of the room and the polished black-marble mantel of the fireplace. The glaring gas raced the hearth-fire for snap and glare and excitement. The profusion of furniture was like a tumult; the redness and oakness and polishedness of furniture was a dizzying activity; and it was all overwhelmingly magnified by the laughter and singing about the piano.

Tom Poppins lumbered up from a couch of terrifically new and red leather, and Mr. Wrenn was introduced to the five new people in the room with dismaying swiftness. There seemed to be fifty times five unapproachable and magnificent strangers from whom he wanted to flee. Of them all he was sure of only two—a Miss Nelly somebody and what sounded like Horatio Hood Tem (Teddem it was).

He wished that he had caught Miss Nelly's last name (which, at dinner, proved to be Croubel), for he was instantly taken by her sweetness as she smiled, held out a well-shaped hand, and said, "So pleased meet you, Mr. Wrenn."

She returned to the front of the room and went on talking to a lank spinster about ruchings, but Mr. Wrenn felt that he had known her long and as intimately as it was possible to know so clever a young woman.

Nelly Croubel gave him the impression of a delicate prettiness, a superior sort of prettiness, like that of the daughter of the Big White House on the Hill, the Squire's house, at Parthenon; though Nelly was not unusually pretty. Indeed, her mouth was too large, her hair of somewhat ordinary brown. But her face was always changing with emotions of kindliness and life. Her skin was perfect; her features fine, rather Greek; her smile, quick yet sensitive. She was several inches shorter than Mr. Wrenn, and all curves. Her blouse of white silk lay tenderly along the adorably smooth softness of her young shoulders. A smart patent-leather belt encircled her sleek waist. Thin black lisle stockings showed a modestly arched and rather small foot in a black pump.

She looked as though she were trained for business; awake, self-reliant, self-respecting, expecting to have to get things done, all done, yet she seemed indestructibly gentle, indestructibly good and believing, and just a bit shy.

Nelly Croubel was twenty-four or twenty-five in years, older in business, and far younger in love. She was born in Upton's Grove, Pennsylvania. There, for eighteen years, she had played Skip to Malue at parties, hid away the notes with which the boys invited her to picnics at Baptist Beach, read much Walter Scott, and occasionally taught Sunday-school. Her parents died when she was beginning her fourth year in high school, and she came to New York to work in Wanamacy's toy department at six dollars a week during the holiday rush. Her patience with fussy old shoppers and her large sales-totals had gained her a permanent place in the store.

She had loftily climbed to the position of second assistant buyer in the lingerie department, at fourteen dollars and eighty cents a week That was quite all of her history except that she attended a Presbyterian church nearly every Sunday. The only person she hated was Horatio Hood Teddem, the cheap actor who was playing the piano at Mr. Wrenn's entrance.

Just now Horatio was playing ragtime with amazing rapidity, stamping his foot and turning his head to smirk at the others.

Mrs. Arty led her chattering flock to the basement dining-room, which had pink wall-paper and a mountainous sideboard. Mr. Wrenn was placed between Mrs. Arty and Nelly Croubel. Out of the mist of strangeness presently emerged the personality of Miss Mary Proudfoot, a lively but religious spinster of forty who made doilies for the Dorcas Women's Exchange and had two hundred dollars a year family income. To the right of the red-glass pickle-dish were the elderly Ebbitts—Samuel Ebbitt, Esq., also Mrs. Ebbitt. Mr. Ebbitt had come from Hartford five years before, but he always seemed just to have come from there. He was in a real-estate office; he was gray, ill-tempered, impatiently honest, and addicted to rheumatism and the newspapers. Mrs. Ebbitt was addicted only to Mr. Ebbitt.

Across the table was felt the presence of James T. Duncan, who looked like a dignified red-mustached Sunday-school superintendent, but who traveled for a cloak and suit house, gambled heavily on poker and auction pinochle, and was esteemed for his straight back and knowledge of trains.

Which is all of them.

As soon as Mrs. Arty had guided Annie, the bashful maid, in serving the vegetable soup, and had coaxed her into bringing Mr. Wrenn a napkin, she took charge of the conversation, a luxury which she would never have intrusted to her flock's amateurish efforts. Mr. Poppins, said she, had spoken of meeting a friend of Mr. Wrenn's; Mr. Morton, was it not? A very nice man, she understood. Was it true that Mr. Wrenn and Mr. Morton had gone clear across the Atlantic on a cattle-boat? It really was?

"Oh, how interesting!" contributed pretty Nelly Croubel, beside Mr. Wrenn, her young eyes filled with an admiration which caused him palpitation and difficulty in swallowing his soup. He was confused by hearing old Samuel Ebbitt state:

"Uh-h-h-h—back in 18—uh—1872 the vessel Prissie—no, it was 1873; no, it must have been '72—"

"It was 1872, father," said Mrs. Ebbitt.

"1873. I was on a coasting-vessel, young man. But we didn't carry cattle." Mr. Ebbitt inspected Horatio Hood Teddem darkly, clicked his spectacle case sharply shut, and fell to eating, as though he had settled all this nonsense.

With occasional witty interruptions from the actor, Mr. Wrenn told of pitching hay, of the wit of Morton, and the wickedness of Satan, the boss.

"But you haven't told us about the brave things you did," cooed Mrs. Arty. She appealed to Nelly Croubel: "I'll bet he was a cool one. Don't you think he was, Nelly?"

"I'm sure he was." Nelly's voice was like a flute.

Mr. Wrenn knew that there was just one thing in the world that he wanted to do; to persuade Miss Nelly Croubel that (though he was a solid business man, indeed yes, and honorable) he was a cool one, who had chosen, in wandering o'er this world so wide, the most perilous and cattle-boaty places. He tried to think of something modest yet striking to say, while Tom was arguing with Miss Mary Proudfoot, the respectable spinster, about the ethics of giving away street-car transfers.

As they finished their floating custard Mr. Wrenn achieved, "Do you come from New York, Miss Croubel?" and listened to the tale of sleighing-parties in Upton's Grove, Pennsylvania. He was absolutely happy.

"This is like getting home," he thought. "And they're classy folks to get home to—now that I can tell 'em apart. Gee! Miss Croubel is a peach. And brains—golly!"

He had a frightened hope that after dinner he would be able to get into a corner and talk with Nelly, but Tom Poppins conferred with Horatio Hood Teddenm and called Mr. Wrenn aside. Teddem had been acting with a moving-picture company for a week, and had three passes to the celebrated Waldorf Photoplay Theater.

Mr. Wrenn had bloodthirstily disapproved Horatio Hood's effeminate remarks, such as "Tee hee!" and "Oh, you naughty man," but when he heard that this molly-coddle had shared in the glory of making moving pictures he went proudly forth with him and Tom. He had no chance to speak to Mrs. Arty about taking the room to be vacated.

He wished that Charley Carpenter or the Zapps could see him sitting right beside an actor who was shown in the pictures miraculously there before them, asking him how they made movies, just as friendly as though they had known each other always.

He wanted to do something to entertain his friends beyond taking them out for a drink. He invited them down to his room, and they came.

Teddem was in wonderful form; he mimicked every one they saw so amiably that Tom Poppins knew the actor wanted to borrow money. The party were lovingly humming the popular song of the time—"Any Little Girl That's a Nice Little Girl is the Right Little Girl for Me"—as they frisked up the gloomy steps of the Zapps. Entering, Poppins and Teddem struck attitudes on the inside stairs and sang aloud.

Mr. Wrenn felt enormously conscious of Mrs. Zapp down below. He kept listening, as he led them up-stairs and lighted the gas. But Teddem so imitated Colonel Roosevelt, with two water-glasses for eye-glasses and a small hat-brush for mustache, that Mr. Wrenn was moved wrigglingly to exclaim: "Say, I'm going out and get some beer. Or 'd you rather have something else? Some cheese sandwiches? How about 'em?"

"Fine," said Tom and Teddem together.

Not only did Mr. Wrenn buy a large newspaper-covered bundle of bottles of beer and Swiss-cheese sandwiches, but also a small can of caviar and salty crackers. In his room he spread a clean towel, then two clean towels, on the bureau, and arrayed the feast, with two water-glasses and a shaving-mug for cups.

Horatio Hood Teddem, spreading caviar on a sandwich, and loudly singing his masterpiece, "Waal I swan," stopped short and fixed amazed eyes on the door of the room.

Mr. Wrenn hastily turned. The light fell—as on a cliff of crumbly gray rock—on Mrs. Zapp, in the open door, vast in her ungirdled gray wrapper, her arms folded, glowering speechlessly.

"Mist' Wrenn," she began, in a high voice that promised to burst into passion.

But she was addressing the formidable adventurer, Bill Wrenn. He had to protect his friends. He sprang up and walked across to her.

He said, quietly, "I didn't hear you knock, Mrs. Zapp."

"Ah didn't knock, and Ah want you should—"

"Then please do knock, unless you want me to give notice."

He was quivering. His voice was shrill.

From the hall below Theresa called up, "Ma, come down here. Ma!"

But Mrs. Zapp was too well started. "If you think Ah'm going to stand for a lazy sneaking little drunkard keeping the whole street awake, and here it is prett' nearly midnight—"

Just then Mr. William Wrenn saw and heard the most astounding thing of his life, and became an etemal slave to Tom Poppins.

Tom's broad face became hard, his voice businesslike. He shouted at Mrs. Zapp:

"Beat it or I'll run you in. Trouble with you is, you old hag, you don't appreciate a nice quiet little chap like Wrenn, and you try to bully him—and him here for years. Get out or I'll put you out. I'm no lamb, and I won't stand for any of your monkey-shines. Get out. This ain't your room; he's rented it—he's paid the rent—it's his room. Get out!"

Kindly Tom Poppins worked in a cigar-store and was accustomed to talk back to drunken men six feet tall. His voice was tremendous, and he was fatly immovable; he didn't a bit mind the fact that Mrs. Zapp was still "glaring speechless."

But behold an ally to the forlorn lady. When Theresa, in the hall below, heard Tom, she knew that Mr. Wrenn would room here no more. She galloped up-stairs and screeched over her mother's shoulder:

"You will pick on a lady, will you, you drunken scum—you—you cads—I'll have you arrested so quick you—"

"Look here, lady," said Tom, gently. "I'm a plain-clothes man, a detective." His large voice purred like a tiger-tabby's. "I don't want to run you in, but I will if you don't get out of here and shut that door. Or you might go down and call the cop on this block. He'll run you in—for breaking Code 2762 of the Penal Law! Trespass and flotsam—that's what it is!"

Uneasy, frightened, then horrified, Mrs. Zapp swung bulkily about and slammed the door.

Sick, guilty, banished from home though he felt, Mr. Wrenn's voice quavered, with an attempt at dignity:

"I'm awful sorry she butted in while you fellows was here. I don't know how to apologize"

"Forget it, old man," rolled out Tom's bass. "Come on, let's go up to Mrs. Arty's."

"But, gee! it's nearly a quarter to eleven."

"That's all right. We can get up there by a little after, and Mrs. Arty stays up playing cards till after twelve."

"Golly!" Mr. Wrenn agitatedly ejaculated under his breath, as they noisily entered Mrs. Arty's—though not noisily on his part.

The parlor door was open. Mrs. Arty's broad back was toward them, and she was announcing to James T. Duncan and Miss Proudfoot, with whom she was playing three-handed Five Hundred, "Well, I'll just bid seven on hearts if you're going to get so set up." She glanced back, nodded, said, "Come in, children," picked up the "widow," and discarded with quick twitches of the cards. The frightened Mr. Wrenn, feeling like a shipwrecked land-lubber, compared this gaming smoking woman unfavorably with the intense respectability of his dear lost patron, Mrs. Zapp. He sat uneasy till the hand of cards was finished, feeling as though they were only tolerating him. And Nelly Croubel was nowhere in sight.

Suddenly said Mrs. Arty, "And now you would like to look at that room, Mr. Wrenn, unless I'm wrong."

"Why—uh—yes, I guess I would like to."

"Come with me, child," she said, in pretended severity. "Tom, you take my hand in the game, and don't let me hear you've been bidding ten on no suit without the joker." She led Mr. Wrenn to the settee hat-rack in the hall. "The third-floor-back will be vacant in two weeks, Mr. Wrenn. We can go up and look at it now if you'd like to. The man who has it now works nights—he's some kind of a head waiter at Rector's, or something like that, and he's out till three or four. Come."

When he saw that third-floor-back, the room that the smart people at Mrs. Arty's were really willing to let him have, he felt like a man just engaged. It was all in soft green—grass-green matting, pale-green walls, chairs of white wicker with green cushions; the bed, a couch with a denim cover and four sofa pillows. It gave him the impression of being a guest on Fifth Avenue.

"It's kind of a plain room," Mrs. Arty said, doubtfully. "The furniture is kind of plain. But my head-waiter man—it was furnished for a friend of his—he says he likes it better than any other room in the house. It is comfortable, and you get lots of sunlight and—"

"I'll take—How much is it, please, with board?"

She spoke with a take-it-or-leave-it defiance. "Eleven-fifty a week."

It was a terrible extravagance; much like marrying a sick woman on a salary of ten a week, he reflected; nine-teen minus eleven-fifty left him only seven-fifty for clothes and savings and things and—but—" I'll take it," he said, hastily. He was frightened at himself, but glad, very glad. He was to live in this heaven; he was going to be away from that Zapp woman; and Nelly Croubel—Was she engaged to some man? he wondered.

Mrs. Arty was saying: "First, I want to ask you some questions, though. Please sit down." As she creaked into one of the wicker chairs she suddenly changed from the cigarette-rolling chaffing card-player to a woman dignified, reserved, commanding. "Mr. Wrenn, you see, Miss Proudfoot and Miss Croubel are on this floor. Miss Proudfoot can take care of herself, all right, but Nelly is such a trusting little thing—She's like my daughter. She's the only one I've ever given a reduced rate to—and I swore I never would to anybody!... Do you—uh—drink—drink much, I mean?"

Nelly on this floor! Near him! Now! He had to have this room. He forced himself to speak directly.

"I know how you mean, Mrs. Ferrard. No, I don't drink much of any—hardly at all; just a glass of beer now and then; sometimes I don't even touch that a week at a time. And I don't gamble and—and I do try to keep—er—straight—and all that sort of thing."

"That's good."

"I work for the Souvenir and Art Novelty Company on Twenty-eighth Street. If you want to call them up I guess the manager'll give me a pretty good recommend."

"I don't believe I'll need it, Mr. Wrenn. It's my business to find out what sort of animiles men are by just talking to them." She rose, smiled, plumped out her hand. "You will be nice to Nelly, won't you! I'm going to fire that Teddem out—don't tell him, but I am—because he gets too fresh with her."

"Yes!"

She suddenly broke into laughter, and ejaculated: "Say, that was hard work! Don't you hate to have to be serious? Let's trot down, and I'll make Tom or Duncan rush us a growler of beer to welcome you to our midst.... I'll bet your socks aren't darned properly. I'm going to sneak in and take a look at them, once I get you caged up here.... But I won't read your love-letters! Now let's go down by the fire, where it's comfy."



CHAPTER XV

HE STUDIES FIVE HUNDRED, SAVOUIR FAIRE, AND LOTSA-SNAP OFFICE MOTTOES



On a couch of glossy red leather with glossy black buttons and stiff fringes also of glossy red leather, Mr. William Wrenn sat upright and was very confiding to Miss Nelly Croubel, who was curled among the satin pillows with her skirts drawn carefully about her ankles. He had been at Mrs. Arty's for two weeks now. He wore a new light-blue tie, and his trousers were pressed like sheet steel.

"Yes, I suppose you're engaged to some one, Miss Nelly, and you'll go off and leave us—go off to that blamed Upton's Grove or some place."

"I am not engaged. I've told you so. Who would want to marry me? You stop teasing me—you're mean as can be; I'll just have to get Tom to protect me!"

"Course you're engaged."

"Ain't."

"Are."

"Ain't. Who would want to marry poor little me?"

"Why, anybody, of course."

"You stop teasing me.... Besides, probably you're in love with twenty girls."

"I am not. Why, I've never hardly known but just two girls in my life. One was just a girl I went to theaters with once or twice—she was the daughter of the landlady I used to have before I came here."

"If you don't make love to the landlady's daughter You won't get a second piece of pie!"

quoted Nelly, out of the treasure-house of literature.

"Sure. That's it. But I bet you—"

"Who was the other girl?"

"Oh! She.... She was a—an artist. I liked her—a lot. But she was—oh, awful highbrow. Gee! if—But—"

A sympathetic silence, which Nelly broke with:

"Yes, they're funny people. Artists.... Do you have your lesson in Five Hundred tonight? Your very first one?"

"I think so. Say, is it much like this here bridge-whist? Oh say, Miss Nelly, why do they call it Five Hundred?"

"That's what you have to make to go out. No, I guess it isn't very much like bridge; though, to tell the truth, I haven't ever played bridge. . My! it must be a nice game, though."

"Oh, I thought prob'ly you could play it. You can do 'most everything. Honest, I've never seen nothing like it."

"Now you stop, Mr. Wrenn. I know I'm a—what was it Mr. Teddem used to call me? A minx. But—"

"Miss Nelly! You aren't a minx!"

"Well—"

"Or a mink, either. You're a—let's see—an antelope."

"I am not! Even if I can wriggle my nose like a rabbit. Besides, it sounds like a muskmelon. But, anyway, the head buyer said I was crazy to-day."

"If I heard him say you were crazy—"

"Would you beat him for me?" She cuddled a cushion and smiled gratefully. Her big eyes seemed to fill with light.

He caught himself wanting to kiss the softness of her shoulder, but he said only, "Well, I ain't much of a scrapper, but I'd try to make it interesting for him."

"Tell me, did you ever have a fight? When you were a boy? Were you such a bad boy?"

"I never did when I was a boy, but—well—I did have a couple of fights when I was on the cattle-boat and in England. Neither of them amounted to very much, though, I guess. I was scared stiff!"

"Don't believe it!"

"Sure I was."

"I don't believe you'd be scared. You're too earnest."

"Me, Miss Nelly? Why, I'm a regular cut-up."

"You stop making fun of yourself! I like it when you're earnest—like when you saw that beautiful snowfall last night.... Oh dear, isn't it hard to have to miss so many beautiful things here in the city—there's just the parks, and even there there aren't any birds, real wild birds, like we used to have in Pennsylvania."

"Yes, isn't it! Isn't it hard!" Mr. Wrenn drew nearer and looked sympathy.

"I'm afraid I'm getting gushy. Miss Hartenstein—she's in my department—she'd laugh at me.... But I do love birds and squirrels and pussy-willows and all those things. In summer I love to go on picnics on Staten Island or tramp in Van Cortlandt Park."

"Would you go on a picnic with me some day next spring?" Hastily, "I mean with Miss Proudfoot and Mrs. Arty and me?"

"I should be pleased to." She was prim but trusting about it. "Oh, listen, Mr. Wrenn; did you ever tramp along the Palisades as far as Englewood? It's lovely there—the woods and the river and all those funny little tugs puffing along, way way down below you—why, I could lie on the rocks up there and just dream and dream for hours. After I've spent Sunday up there"—she was dreaming now, he saw, and his heart was passionately tender toward her—"I don't hardly mind a bit having to go back to the store Monday morning.... You've been up along there, haven't you?"

"Me? Why, I guess I'm the guy that discovered the Palisades!... Yes, it is won-derful up there!"

"Oh, you are, are you? I read about that in American history!... But honestly, Mr. Wrenn, I do believe you care for tramps and things—not like that Teddem or Mr. Duncan—they always want to just stay in town—or even Tom, though he's an old dear."

Mr. Wrenn looked jealous, with a small hot jealousy. She hastened on with: "Of course, I mean he's just like a big brother. To all of us."

It was sweet to both of them, to her to declare and to him to hear, that neither Tom nor any other possessed her heart. Their shy glances were like an outreach of tenderly touching hands as she confided, "Mrs. Arty and he get up picnics, and when we're out on the Palisades he says to me—you know, sometimes he almost makes me think he is sleepy, though I do believe he just sneaks off under a tree and talks to Mrs. Arty or reads a magazine—but I was saying: he always says to me, 'Well, sister, I suppose you want to mousey round and dream by yourself—you won't talk to a growly old bear like me. Well, I'm glad of it. I want to sleep. I don't want to be bothered by you and your everlasting chatter. Get out!' I b'lieve he just says that 'cause he knows I wouldn't want to run off by myself if they didn't think it was proper."

As he heard her lively effort to imitate Tom's bass Mr. Wrenn laughed and pounded his knee and agreed: "Yes, Tom's an awfully fine fellow, isn't he!... I love to get out some place by myself, too. I like to wander round places and make up the doggondest fool little stories to myself about them; just as bad as a kiddy, that way."

"And you read such an awful lot, Mr. Wrenn! My! Oh, tell me, have you ever read anything by Harold Bell Wright or Myrtle Reed, Mr. Wrenn? They write such sweet stories."

He had not, but he expressed an unconquerable resolve so to do, and with immediateness. She went on:

"Mrs. Arty told me you had a real big library—nearly a hundred books and—Do you mind? I went in your room and peeked at them."

"No, course I don't mind! If there's any of them you'd like to borrow any time, Miss Nelly, I would be awful glad to lend them to you.... But, rats! Why, I haven't got hardly any books."

"That's why you haven't wasted any time learning Five Hundred and things, isn't it? Because you've been so busy reading and so on?"

"Yes, kind of." Mr. Wrenn looked modest.

"Haven't you always been lots of—oh, haven't you always 'magined lots?"

She really seemed to care.

Mr. Wrenn felt excitedly sure of that, and imparted: "Yes, I guess I have.... And I've always wanted to travel a lot."

"So have I! Isn't it wonderful to go around and see new places!"

"Yes, isn't it!" he breathed. "It was great to be in England—though the people there are kind of chilly some ways. Even when I'm on a wharf here in New York I feel just like I was off in China or somewheres. I'd like to see China. And India.... Gee! when I hear the waves down at Coney Island or some place—you know how the waves sound when they come in. Well, sometimes I almost feel like they was talking to a guy—you know—telling about ships. And, oh say, you know the whitecaps—aren't they just like the waves was motioning at you—they want you to come and beat it with you—over to China and places."

"Why, Mr. Wrenn, you're a regular poet!"

He looked doubtful.

"Honest; I'm not teasing you; you are a poet. And I think it's fine that Mr. Teddem was saying that nobody could be a poet or like that unless they drank an awful lot and—uh—oh, not be honest and be on a job. But you aren't like that. Are you?"

He looked self-conscious and mumbled, earnestly, "Well, I try not to be."

"But I am going to make you go to church. You'll be a socialist or something like that if you get to be too much of a poet and don't—"

"Miss Nelly, please may I go to church with you?"

"Why—"

"Next Sunday?"

"Why, yes, I should be pleased. Are you a Presbyterian, though?"

"Why—uh—I guess I'm kind of a Congregationalist; but still, they're all so much alike."

"Yes, they really are. And besides, what does it matter if we all believe the same and try to do right; and sometimes that's hard, when you're poor, and it seems like—like—"

"Seems like what?" Mr. Wrenn insisted.

"Oh—nothing.... My, you'll have to get up awful early Sunday morning if you'd like to go with me. My church starts at ten-thirty."

"Oh, I'd get up at five to go with you."

"Stupid! Now you're just trying to jolly me; you are; because you men aren't as fond of church as all that, I know you aren't. You're real lazy Sunday mornings, and just want to sit around and read the papers and leave the poor women—But please tell me some more about your reading and all that."

"Well, I'll be all ready to go at nine-thirty.... I don't know; why, I haven't done much reading. But I would like to travel and—Say, wouldn't it be great to—I suppose I'm sort of a kid about it; of course, a guy has to tend right to business, but it would be great—Say a man was in Europe with—with—a friend, and they both knew a lot of history—say, they both knew a lot about Guy Fawkes (he was the guy that tried to blow up the English Parliament), and then when they were there in London they could almost think they saw him, and they could go round together and look at Shelley's window—he was a poet at Oxford—Oh, it would be great with a—with a friend."

"Yes, wouldn't it?... I wanted to work in the book department one time. It's so nice your being—"

"Ready for Five Hundred?" bellowed Tom Poppins in the hall below. "Ready partner—you, Wrenn?"

Tom was to initiate Mr. Wrenn into the game, playing with him against Mrs. Arty and Miss Mary Proudfoot.

Mrs. Arty sounded the occasion's pitch of high merriment by delivering from the doorway the sacred old saying, "Well, the ladies against the men, eh?"

A general grunt that might be spelled "Hmmmmhm" assented.

"I'm a good suffragette," she added. "Watch us squat the men, Mary."

"Like to smash windows? Let's see—it's red fours, black fives up?" remarked Tom, as he prepared the pack of cards for playing.

"Yes, I would! It makes me so tired," asseverated Mrs. Arty, "to think of the old goats that men put up for candidates when they know they're solemn old fools! I'd just like to get out and vote my head off."

"Well, I think the woman's place is in the home," sniffed Miss Proudfoot, decisively, tucking away a doily she was finishing for the Women's Exchange and jabbing at her bangs.

They settled themselves about the glowing, glancing, glittering, golden-oak center-table. Miss Proudfoot shuffled sternly. Mr. Wrenn sat still and frightened, like a shipwrecked professor on a raft with two gamblers and a press-agent, though Nelly was smiling encouragingly at him from the couch where she had started her embroidery—a large Christmas lamp mat for the wife of the Presbyterian pastor at Upton's Grove.

"Don't you wish your little friend Horatio Hood Teddem was here to play with you?" remarked Tom.

"I do not," declared Mrs. Arty. "Still, there was one thing about Horatio. I never had to look up his account to find out how much he owed me. He stopped calling me, Little Buttercup, when he owed me ten dollars, and he even stopped slamming the front door when he got up to twenty. O Mr. Wrenn, did I ever tell you about the time I asked him if he wanted to have Annie sweep—"

"Gerty!" protested Miss Proudfoot, while Nelly, on the couch, ejaculated mechanically, "That story!" but Mrs. Arty chuckled fatly, and continued:

"I asked him if he wanted me to have Annie sweep his nightshirt when she swept his room. He changed it next day."

"Your bid, Mr. Poppins, "said Miss Proudfoot, severely.

"First, I want to tell Wrenn how to play. You see, Wrenn, here's the schedule. We play Avondale Schedule, you know."

"Oh yes," said Mr. Wrenn, timorously.... He had once heard of Carbondale—in New Jersey or Pennsylvania or somewhere—but that didn't seem to help much.

"Well, you see, you either make or go back," continued Tom. "Plus and minus, you know. Joker is high, then right bower, left, and ace. Then—uh—let's see; high bid takes the cat—widdie, you know—and discards. Ten tricks. Follow suit like whist, of course. I guess that's all—that ought to give you the hang of it, anyway. I bid six on no trump."

As Tom Poppins finished these instructions, given in the card-player's rapid don't-ask-me-any-more-fool-questions manner, Mr. Wrenn felt that he was choking. He craned up his neck, trying to ease his stiff collar. So, then, he was a failure, a social outcast already.

So, then, he couldn't learn Five Hundred! And he had been very proud of knowing one card from another perfectly, having played a number of games of two-handed poker with Tim on the cattle-boat. But what the dickens did "left—cat—follow suit" mean?

And to fail with Nelly watching him! He pulled at his collar again.

Thus he reflected while Mrs. Arty and Tom were carrying on the following brilliant but cryptic society-dialogue:

Mrs. Arty: Well, I don't know.

Tom: Not failure, but low bid is crime, little one.

Mrs. Arty: Mary, shall I make—

Tom: Hey! No talking 'cross table!

Mrs. Arty: Um—let—me—see.

Tom: Bid up, bid up! Bid a little seven on hearts?

Mrs. Arty: Just for that I will bid seven on hearts, smarty!

Tom: Oh, how we will squat you!... What you bidding, Wrenn?

Behind Mr. Wrenn, Nelly Croubel whispered to him: "Bid seven on no suit. You've got the joker." Her delicate forefinger, its nail shining, was pointing at a curious card in his hand.

"Seven nosut," he mumbled.

"Eight hearts," snapped Miss Proudfoot.

Nelly drew up a chair behind Mr. Wrenn's. He listened to her soft explanations with the desperate respect and affection which a green subaltern would give to a general in battle.

Tom and he won the hand. He glanced back at Nelly with awe, then clutched his new hand, fearfully, dizzily, staring at it as though it might conceal one of those malevolent deceivers of which Nelly had just warned him—a left bower.

"Good! Spades—see," said Nelly.

Fifteen minutes later Mr. Wrenn felt that Tom was hoping he would lead a club. He played one, and the whole table said: "That's right. Fine!"

On his shoulder he felt a light tap, and he blushed like a sunset as he peeped back at Nelly.

Mr. Wrenn, the society light, was Our Mr. Wrenn of the Souvenir Company all this time. Indeed, at present he intended to keep on taking The Job seriously until that most mistily distant time, which we all await, "when something turns up." His fondling of the Southern merchants was showing such results that he had grown from an interest in whatever papers were on his desk to a belief in the divine necessity of The Job as a whole. Not now, as of old, did he keep the personal letters in his desk tied up, ready for a sudden departure for Vienna or Kamchatka. Also, he wished to earn much more money for his new career of luxury. Mr. Guilfogle had assured him that there might be chances ahead—business had been prospering, two new road salesmen and a city-trade man had been added to the staff, and whereas the firm had formerly been jobbers only, buying their novelties from manufacturers, now they were having printed for them their own Lotsa-Snap Cardboard Office Mottoes, which were making a big hit with the trade.

Through his friend Rabin, the salesman, Mr. Wrenn got better acquainted with two great men—Mr. L. J. Glover, the purchasing agent of the Souvenir Company, and John Hensen, the newly engaged head of motto manufacturing. He "wanted to get onto all the different lines of the business so's he could step right in anywhere"; and from these men he learned the valuable secrets of business wherewith the marts of trade build up prosperity for all of us: how to seat a selling agent facing the light, so you can see his face better than he can see yours. How much ahead of time to telephone the motto-printer that "we've simply got to have proof this afternoon; what's the matter with you, down there? Don't you want our business any more?" He also learned something of the various kinds of cardboard and ink-well glass, though these, of course, were merely matters of knowledge, not of brilliant business tactics, and far less important than what Tom Poppins and Rabin called "handing out a snappy line of talk."

"Say, you're getting quite chummy lately—reg'lar society leader," Rabin informed him.

Mr. Wrenn's answer was in itself a proof of the soundness of Rabin's observation:

"Sure—I'm going to borrow some money from you fellows. Got to make an impression, see?"

A few hours after this commendation came Istra's second letter:

Mouse dear, I'm so glad to hear about the simpatico boarding- house. Yes indeed I would like to hear about the people in it. And you are reading history? That's good. I'm getting sick of Paris and some day I'm going to stop an absinthe on the boulevard and slap its face to show I'm a sturdy moving-picture Western Amurrican and then leap to saddle and pursue the bandit. I'm working like the devil but what's the use. That is I mean unless one is doing the job well, as I'm glad you are. My Dear, keep it up. You know I want you to be real whatever you are. I didn't mean to preach but you know I hate people who aren't real—that's why I haven't much of a flair for myself. Au recrire, I. N.

After he had read her letter for the third time he was horribly shocked and regarded himself as a traitor, because he found that he was only pretending to be enjoyably excited over it.... It seemed so detached from himself. "Flair"—"au recrire." Now, what did those mean? And Istra was always so discontented. "What 'd she do if she had to be on the job like Nelly?... Oh, Istra is wonderful. But—gee!—I dunno—"

And when he who has valorously loved says "But—gee!—I dunno—" love flees in panic.

He walked home thoughtfully.

After dinner he said abruptly to Nelly, "I had a letter from Paris to-day."

"Honestly? Who is she?"

"G-g-g-g—"

"Oh, it's always a she."

"Why—uh—it is from a girl. I started to tell you about her one day. She's an artist, and once we took a long tramp in the country. I met her—she was staying at the same place as I was in London. But—oh, gee! I dunno; she's so blame literary. She is a fine person—Do you think you'd like a girl like that?"

"Maybe I would."

"If she was a man?"

"Oh, yes-s! Artists are so romantic."

"But they ain't on the job more 'n half the time," he said, jealously.

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