I nodded uncomfortably.
Her eyes twinkled mischievously. "You might of sent your honk-honk to the train for us though. Cost us a dollar from the station. What d'ye think of that? Don't like the ladies, do you, Mr. Benham?" she laughed.
"I'll be glad to send you back," I said quickly enough.
"Oh, there ain't a doubt of that, I'm sure. Nice house you've got—gym an' all. You might ask us to stay awhile. Won't you, Mr. Benham?"
She was very much amused at the awkwardness of the situation.
"I'm afraid I haven't any more room," I replied stiffly. How I hated that girl! The sight of blood had inflamed me. I believe I could have throttled her where she sat, but fortunately Flynn called "Time" and the bout went on.
It was to be war between us two from this moment. I knew what she meant. She had accepted my challenge and was defying me. Since I had not been able to dissuade Jerry from his fight, she was sure of her power. He was her creature now, to do with as she chose, I watched her furtively during the next round. She was silent, her gaze fixed upon Jerry, her eyes gleaming. There was something morbid in her suppressed excitement—something strange and unnatural in the fascination of her attention. She chewed gum constantly and was utterly absorbed, driven, it seemed to me, by some inner fire which she made no effort to control. She was primitive, savage. When Jerry's blows landed, her lips parted and she breathed hard. I think at this moment he was the only man for her, her mate in savagery, the finest human beast in the world. When the round ended I moved away. I had seen enough.
Later, while the men were being rubbed down, Miss Gore, leaving Marcia with Flynn, came out to me on the terrace, where I had gone alone for a breath of clean air. I was utterly absorbed in my misery and I did not hear her step. Her deep voice just at my ear startled me.
"Well, Mr. Canby," she said softly. "Your dream-castle totters."
I glanced up at her quickly, but she still smiled.
"It has fallen," I groaned.
"No—not yet," still cheerfully. She paused a moment, and, leaning her elbows on the balustrade, looked out down the valley.
"All will be well," she said at last slowly.
Our glances met. "I have that presentiment," she added.
"Based on what?" I said bitterly. "A man who can inspire such a passion as this is no more than a beast—"
"Or no less than a man," she muttered quickly. "You forget that Jerry is what you've made him—"
"Not this—the body the servant—not the mind—"
"The mind will survive," she put in evenly. "It must. The whole thing is hypnotic. He will pass out of it soon."
She shrugged lightly. "I don't know. I've never seen her like this before. I think if Jerry were to seize her by force and carry her away today—now—she couldn't resist him."
"But he won't. He treats her as though she were a flower, caresses her with his eyes, touches her petals timidly—"
"Bah! I could crush her—"
She smiled indulgently.
"She is a strange creature. Love is an enigma to her. That's why she follows this mad whim for Jerry—she doesn't mistake it for love, she knows too much—but it's a fair imitation."
"It is morbid, unhealthy."
"Perhaps, but like other diseases, will pass."
"Leaving Jerry sick?"
"He will recover."
A calm fell upon me. Was she right after all? What reason had I to lose faith in Jerry when this woman, almost a stranger to me, believed in him? I turned and laid my hands quietly over hers.
"Thanks," I stammered. "You're very kind." And then realizing the silly impulsiveness of my action, straightened for fear that she might misunderstand. Without moving from her position, she turned her head and smiled at me quizzically. If her eyes hadn't been kind I would have thought she was laughing at me.
THE UNKNOWN UNMASKED
The three weeks of training passed quickly and Carty had won his fight, a favorable augury for the camp of Flynn. Jerry worked hard, too hard it almost seemed for flesh and blood to endure, but he seemed tireless. He had lost weight, of course, and his face was haggard and drawn, but he ate and slept well and though a little irritable at times, seemed cheerful enough. Marcia came frequently, always with Miss Gore, and the word was passed around that Jim Robinson's "chicken" was staying in the village. I think Jerry's wooing prospered. There were no Channing Lloyds at Briar Hills now. To all appearances the girl was with him heart and soul and when Jerry rested on the terrace in a reclining chair wrapped in blankets, Marcia sat beside him, talking in subdued tones. Sometimes I heard their voices raised, but whatever their differences they were not such as to cause a breach between them. They were hardly ever entirely alone and for purposes of endearment the terrace was not the most secluded spot that could have been found. Flynn's word was law and his eye constantly watchful. If he had been paid to make Jerry win this fight, he was going to earn his money, he said, and anyone who interfered with the training would be put out and kept out of the grounds. Whatever her own wishes, the girl recognized Flynn's authority, and came and went at fixed times which could not interfere with the rigid rules. Jerry rose at five and took to the road with Flynn on horseback and either O'Halloran or Sagorski afoot. When he came in he had his shower, rubdown and then breakfast. After a rest, Flynn boxed four or five rounds with him, after which came rope jumping, and exercises with the machines to strengthen his arms and wrists. In this way the morning passed and after the midday meal came the real work-out of the day with his training-partners, where real blows were exchanged and blood often flowed. Jerry had improved immeasurably. Even I, tyro as I was, could see that his encounters with these professionals had rubbed off all signs of the amateur. He had always been a good judge of distance, Flynn had said, but he had been schooled recently to make every movement count—to "waste nothing." In spite of myself, the excitement of the game was getting into my blood. If for the while Jerry was to be a beast, why should he not be the best beast of them all? Stories came to us from the camp of the Terrible Sailor, who was training down on the Jersey shore. He was "coming" fast, they said, and was strong and confident. The newspapers followed him carefully and sent their reporters to Horsham Manor, one of whom, denied entrance at the Lodge, climbed over the wall and even reached the gymnasium where Jerry was boxing with O'Halloran, to be put out at my orders (as Jeremiah Benham) before he got a fact for his pains. The result of this of course was an account full of misstatements about the millionaire Jeremiah Benham and his protege which brought a protest in the mails from Ballard the elder who, fortunately for Jerry, hadn't gotten at the truth of the matter.
Once or twice I had been on the point of going to Ballard's office and making a clean breast of Jerry's plans, hoping that Clancy might be bought off and the match canceled. But I could not bring myself, even now, to the point of betraying the boy. I am not a fatalist by profession or philosophy, but Miss Gore had made me pause and I had resolved to see the thing through, trying to believe as she believed that Jerry could only be toughened to the usages of life by the rigor of circumstance. And so I was silent.
On the morning of the great event I found myself, instead of properly censorious, intensely eager for the night to come. Jerry had been brought secretly to town the day before in a closed machine and was resting under the care of Flynn at Jerry's own house uptown. It was at Jerry's request that Jack Ballard and I stayed away from him, and so the day passed slowly enough in speculations as to the possibility of overtraining and as to Jerry's ability to stand punishment. Of his pluck there was no question between us. Both of us had had too many proofs of it to doubt, but there was always the chance of the unlucky blow early in the battle which might mean defeat where victory seemed the only thing possible. I believed that Jerry would win. I think that I actually believed him to be invulnerable. I knew that Flynn was confident, and that Sagorski, Spatola and O'Halloran had put their money on him. Of course he would win. There was no man in the world who could stand up against Jerry when he meant to do a thing. No one knew better than I what victory meant to Jerry. Money, championship laurels—of course they were nothing. However much or little Marcia's theories as to the superman meant to Jerry, he was committed to her—and she, I suspected, to him. His laurels were in the touch of her rosy fingers, the flash of her dark eyes, the gleam of her small white teeth when she smiled. Those were his reward, all that he had worked for—all that he prized. She expected him to win. He couldn't lose.
The day passed slowly. I visited the gymnasium with Jack. Flynn was still with Jerry, but confidence reigned. There was a story going the rounds of the press that Clancy had gone stale, that he had strained a tendon, that he had broken a finger, that his mother had just died.
"Buncombe!" said Jack, who knew the game. "They want to worry the odds down a bit. He's fit as a fiddle. You can be sure of that."
The early afternoon papers contained the first hint that Jim Robinson was not what he was supposed to be. A heading on the sporting page caught my eyes. I have kept it among my papers and give it verbatim.
PUGILIST SOCIETY MAN JIM ROBINSON, THE HEAVY WEIGHT, A MASQUERADER.
I read the type below hurriedly:
A story is going the rounds that Jim Robinson, the heavyweight, who goes against Sailor Clancy in the principal event at the Garden tonight, is not Robinson at all, but a well-known society man and millionaire. From the hour when this match was made in May last there has been a mystery attached to the personality of this fighter never before heard of in Fistiana in New York. Flynn, his backer and trainer, could not be found to deny or affirm the rumor, and his sparring partners at Flynn's Gymnasium, of course, denied it, but every circumstance, including the size of the purse, now believed to be five thousand dollars, would indicate that Flynn's Unknown, unless a well-known Westerner in disguise, is a man of more than usual ability—or else a millionaire sport, bent on enriching the hard-fisted sailor, who thinks he sees a chance of picking up some easy money besides his share of the gate. Whoever Jim Robinson is, we welcome him cordially.
But we also warn him that New York is tired of ring fakes and that nothing but a good mill will justify the prices asked.
I showed the thing to Ballard, who read it through eagerly, his lips emitting a thin whistle.
"Ph-ew! They're getting 'warm,' Pope. Somebody's leaked."
"May be the management—to draw the crowd." And then, looking at the front page, "That's only the twelve o'clock edition. Perhaps—"
He paused and rang the bell (we were at his rooms again), instructing his man to go out on the street and buy copies of the latest editions of all the afternoon papers.
"It would be the deuce if they followed that up."
He walked to and fro while we waited impatiently. And in a short while our worst fears were realized, for when the papers came we saw the dreadful facts in scare heads on the first page of the yellowest of them. I give the item here:
JEREMIAH BENHAM—PRIZE FIGHTER. MULTI-MILLIONAIRE SEEKS LAURELS IN RING. FLYNN'S MYSTERIOUS UNKNOWN REVEALED IN PERSON OF MILLIONAIRE SPORTSMAN.
Jack Ballard swore softly, but I read on over his shoulder, breathlessly:
The latest mystery of the prize ring has been revealed by a reporter of the Despatch, who proves here conclusively that the so-called Jim Robinson, matched to fight Sailor Clancy in the big event at the Garden tonight, is no less a person than Jeremiah Benham, son of the late John Benham, Railroad and Steamship King. Last month it will be recalled that this paper sent a reporter up to Horsham Manor, the magnificent Benham estate in Greene County, where the so-called Jim Robinson was finishing his training at the invitation of Mr. Benham, who was supposed to take a warm sportsman's interest in the ring. Horsham Manor, one of the wonders of the State, is surrounded, as is well known, by a wall of solid masonry, and much secrecy was observed in the training of the so-called Robinson, all visitors being denied admittance at the lodge gates. The reporter, however, managed to gain admittance and reached Mr. Benham's gymnasium, a palatial affair, fully equipped with all the latest paraphernalia, where the so-called Robinson was boxing with one of his partners. But a person who represented himself to be Mr. Benham immediately gave orders to have the reporter shown out of the grounds.
The life of the younger Benham has been shrouded in mystery, but this morning after some difficulty the reporter succeeded in finding the photographer who made the picture of Robinson printed herewith, who at last confessed that it was faked. Further investigation among members of an uptown club revealed the fact that Jeremiah Benham has just passed his twenty-first year and could therefore not be the slender, rather crusty, sandy-haired gentleman impersonating the owner of Horsham Manor, who was at least thirty-five.
"Slender—rather crusty!" muttered Ballard. "You! D—n the fellow!"
In order to verify the suspicion [I read on], the Despatch reporter went to the office of the New York and Southwestern Railroad and obtained without difficulty from several sources a description of the person of Mr. Benham, which coincides in all particulars with the so-called Jim Robinson, whom the reporter saw at work at Horsham Manor.
There is no Jim Robinson, except in name. The opponent of Sailor Clancy in tonight's fight is no less a person than young Jerry Benham, multi-millionaire and sportsman. It is a matter of regret, since Mr. Benham chose, for personal reasons, to hide his identity under another name, that the Despatch could not keep the matter secret, but the Despatch is in the business of supplying news to its patrons, news not presented in other journals, and so important an item as this, of course, could not be suppressed.
The murder was out. We searched the other papers. Nothing.
"A beat!" muttered Jack. "I'd like to show the fellow what a beating is."
Jack Ballard was merely angry. I was bewildered into a state of helplessness. What should we do? What could we do? The damage was done. Telling Jerry wouldn't help matters and might unnerve him. We disconnected the telephone and dined at the apartment, making a pretense of eating, nervously awaiting the hour when we should go to the Garden. We had reached the coffee, of which we were much in need, when there was a ring at the bell and Ballard Senior came into the room, a copy of the Despatch in his hand.
"Have you seen this?" he snapped.
"We have," said Jack with an assumption of calmness.
"It's a lie?"
"No. It's the truth."
The old man raged the length of the room and turned.
"Do you mean that you've let this thing go on without trying to stop it—without letting me know—"
"We did try to stop it. There was no use in letting you know. Jerry's mind was made up."
"Jerry! The fool is ruining himself—and us. The thing must be stopped—at once."
Jack smiled coolly. "I don't see how you're going to do that."
The father stamped the length of the room again. "I'll show you. Where is Clancy?"
"I don't know. You'll find him at Madison Square Garden about ten."
"But where is he now?" he snapped.
Jack shrugged. "I don't know."
"Well, you must come with me. I've got to find him."
"What are you going to do?"
"Buy him off. This match can't take place."
"Do you mean that?" asked Jack with a smile.
"Did you ever know me to waste words?—Come!"
However lenient Henry Ballard had been to his son, at that moment the parental word was law, and Jack obeyed, taking up his hat and gloves, and laying a pink ticket on the table.
"Yours, Pope. I'll see you later."
And they went out hastily, the old man from beginning to end having ignored me completely. I sank in a chair, my gaze shifting from the ticket to the brandy bottle and cigarettes. I wanted to do something—I didn't know what. I hadn't drunk or smoked for twelve years, but that' night I did both. The brandy steadied, the cigarette quieted my nerves. I sat there alone over the half-cleared dinner table, resolutely impelling calmness. The ticket stared at me, a symbol of Jerry's destiny.... My thought shifted curiously to the placid Miss Gore. Whatever Fate had in store for Jerry, this phase of his life would pass as she had said, the mind would survive. Something told me that tonight would mark a turning point in Jerry's career—how or what I could not know, but for the first time I realized how deeply I was committed to Jerry's plans. I wanted the bout to take place. I wanted to see it—win or lose I was committed to it and to Jerry.
It had grown dark outside. I rose, slowly putting the ticket in my pocket, and went out. The night was sultry. It would be hot there in the ring—but it would be hot for both of them. Muscle for muscle and tissue for tissue, Jerry could stand what another could. I glanced at my watch. It was now nine. The preliminary bouts would be beginning, but I had no interest in these. I walked down town, purposely delaying my steps, but found my footsteps hurrying in spite of me, and it was only half after nine when I entered the building.
I remembered a six-day bicycle race that I had witnessed there years ago, but I was not prepared for the sight of the crowd that had gathered under the enormous roof. The match had been well advertised and the article in the Despatch must have lent an added spice to the attraction. The heated air was already a blue fog of tobacco smoke, through which beyond the glare of the ring, tiny spots of light flared and disappeared like glow-worms—where in the gallery the smokers lighted their tobacco. As I entered I scanned the crowd. Eager, stupid or brutal faces, the washed and the unwashed, the gloved and the ungloved, cheek by jowl, all talking, smoking, cheering, jeering or waiting calmly for the expected thrill. They had paid their money to see blood, and as I found my seat I realized the inevitableness of Jerry's appearance. He could not disappoint these people now.
My seat was in a box, in the second row of boxes, the first row being just back of the press seats which were along the sides of the ring. In this vast crowd I would be lost to Jerry and I was thankful not to be directly under the ring where the sight of my anxious face might have diverted him. A bout was in progress now, of six rounds, between two lightweights, a rapid affair which drew to a conclusion none too quickly for me. The final bout was to take place at ten, but I knew from the long intervals between these preliminaries that the hour would be much later. I thought for a moment of going out and walking the streets for awhile, but realized that I should be even more unhappy there than here; so I sat quietly absorbing the scene, listening to the conversation of my neighbors in the next box, who seemed to have their money on the sailor. One of their comments aroused my ire.
"What's this goldfish their feedin' to the sea lion? Say, that story ain't straight about young Benham bein' Robinson?"
"Sure thing. Clancy will eat him alive—eat him alive," the man repeated, slowly and with unction.
I glanced at the speaker. Squat, stout, heavy jowled—with a neck that pushed over the back of his collar—a follower of the ring, smug, assertive, confident. A prophet? I was not ready to admit that.
After the third bout three women and three men, following an usher, passed along the aisle just in front of me. I recognized her instantly in spite of the dark suit, large hat and heavy veil, for her walk betrayed her. One of the women was Marcia Van Wyck. Followed by the gaze of the men nearest them, they went to a box in the second tier just around the corner of the ring where I could see the girl distinctly. The other women of the party or the men I did not recognize, but Marcia attracted the attention of my neighbors.
"Some dame, that," said one of them admiringly. "Know her, Charlie?"
"Naw," replied the stout man. "Swells, I reckon, friends of the goldfish."
As the bout on the boards proceeded and the attention of those nearest her was diverted, the girl settled into her seat and coolly removed her veil, watching the fight calmly, now and then exchanging a word with her companions. She was beautiful, distinguished looking, but in this moment of restraint, cold and unfeeling almost to the point of cruelty. She looked across the space that separated us, caught my gaze and held it, challenging, defying—with no other sign of recognition—and presently looked away.
The preliminaries ended, there was a rustle and stir of expectation. Men were rushing back and forth from the dressing rooms to the ring and whispering to the master of ceremonies between his introductions of various pugilists in a great variety of street clothes, who claimed the right to challenge the winner of the night's heavyweight event. I had heard many of their names during the past three weeks at the Manor, and knowing something of the customs of the ring, was not surprised to see Tim O'Halloran and Sagorski. It was a little free advertising which meant much to these gentlemen and cost little. O'Halloran grinned toothlessly, at the plaudits that greeted his name, shuffled his feet awkwardly and bobbed down. Sagorski was not so popular, but the crowd received him good-naturedly enough, and amid cries of "Clancy" and "Bring on the Sailor" the Jew ungracefully retired.
I glanced at the girl; she was smiling up into the faces of these men as at old acquaintances. If there was any regret in her—any revulsion at the vulgarity of this scene into which she had plunged Jerry Benham—she gave no sign of it. It seemed to me that she was in her element; as though in this adventure, the most unusual she had perhaps ever attempted, she had found the very acme, the climax of her experience.
When the introductions were finished, the hubbub began anew. Had Henry Ballard succeeded in buying Clancy off? I hoped and I feared it. Men came from the dressing-rooms and whispered in the ear of the announcer who sent them back hurriedly. The crowd was becoming impatient. There were no more pugilists to introduce and the man in the ring walked to and fro mopping his perspiring brow. At last when the sounds from the crowd became one muffled roar, he clambered down through the ropes and went himself to the dressing-rooms, returning in a while with the referee of the match whom he presented. The new referee looked at his watch and announced that there was a slight delay and begged the crowd to be patient a few moments longer.
But when the moments were no longer few and there were no signs from the dressing-room doors the people in the rear seats rose howling in a body. There were cries of "Fake" and "Give us our money" and the man in the ring, Diamond Joe Gannon, held up his hands in vain for silence. For awhile it looked as though there would be a riot. Had Ballard Senior succeeded?
Suddenly the howling was hushed and merged into shouts of acclaim. "Good boy, Kid! Here he comes," and, rising with the others, I saw coming down the aisle from the dressing-rooms "Kid" Spatola, the bootblack champion. He carried a bucket, sponges and towels and after a word with the clamorous reporters clambered up into the ring, followed by a colored man, in whom I recognized Danny Monroe, the Swedish negro. He wore suspenders over his undershirt and carried several bottles which he placed in the corner of the ring beside the bucket. The eyes of the crowd were focused upon the door from which Spatola had emerged. I saw two figures come out, one grim and silent who made his way toward the street doors, the other who came quickly down the aisle—Ballard Senior and Jack. The latter questioned an usher and was shown directly to my box, by his prominence investing both himself and me with immediate publicity. I felt the gaze of our neighbors upon us, but Jack seated himself coolly and lighted a cigarette.
"What happened?" I questioned in a whisper.
"They're going to fight," he returned.
He smiled a little. "Mad as a hornet. Jerry blocked the game."
"Dad offered Clancy five thousand and his share of the gate money to quit."
"He was very white about it. He sent the message over to Jerry."
"The boy doubled any amount dad offered if Clancy would go on. Clancy stands to win fifteen thousand. Dad quit. I told him Jerry had made up his mind. He realizes it now."
"Fifteen thousand! Clancy will work for it."
Jack smiled grimly. "I think Jerry wants him to."
The boy was mad—clean mad.
But the madness of the moment had gotten into my blood and Jack's. The fight was going to take place. We were glad of it. We felt the magnetism of the crowd, the pulse of its excitement, and, as impatient as those around us, eagerly awaited developments. The seconds and trainers had hardly clambered into Clancy's corner when Clancy himself, followed by Terry Riley, appeared and leaped into the ring. The crowd roared approval and he bowed right and left, waving his hands and nodding to acquaintances whom he recognized at the ring-side. He wore a pale blue dressing-gown and though broad of shoulder seemed not even so tall as Sagorski, but he had a bullet head which at the cerebellum joined his thick neck, without indentation, in a straight line and his arms reached almost to his knees—gorilla of a man—a superbrute. I caught a glimpse of Marcia watching him intently, and tried to read her thoughts. She examined him with the critical gaze which she might have given a hackney at a horse show.
Jerry's appearance with Flynn a moment later was the signal for another outburst from the crowd—not so long a greeting nor so prolonged a one as that which had greeted Clancy, but warm enough to make the boy feel that he was not without friends in the house. His face was a little pale but he smiled cheerfully enough when he reached the ring. He shook hands with Gannon, whom he had met at Finnegan's, and then, with a show of real enjoyment, with Clancy—conversing with a composure that left nothing to be desired.
The crowd, like Jack and me, was comparing them. Jerry's six feet two topped the sailor by more than two inches, though I believe the latter would have a few pounds of extra weight.
"Big rascal, ain't he?" the sportsman in the adjoining box commented.
"Yep," grunted the stolid one. "But too leggy. Clancy'll eat him alive—eat him alive," he repeated with more unction than before.
"Maybe," said the other, "but I want to be shown. There was another leggy feller—the freckled one."
"Fitz—but Fitz was a fighter."
"Well, I like his looks—good-lookin' feller, ain't he?"
"Aw! This ain't no beauty parlor. He's got a glass jaw, I'll bet. 'S a goldfish, I tell you. The sea lion will eat him alive—eat him alive!"
I don't know why the reiteration of this phrase of the fat man irritated me, but it did exceedingly, and I turned around and glared at him, a sharp retort on the tip of my tongue. Ballard's fingers closed on my arm and I was silent. But the fat man's glances and mine had met and held each other.
"What's the matter, perfessor?" he asked testily. "Friend of yours, eh? Oh, well—no harm done. But if you'd like to back your judgment with a little something—say fifty—"
But I had already turned my back on the fellow.
In the ring the men had thrown aside their dressing-gowns and the opposing seconds were examining the bandages upon their hands. Clancy wore bright green trunks, which if his name had failed would have betrayed his lineage, and his great chest and arms were covered with designs in tattoo. Jerry wore dark trunks. And as his wonderful arms and torso were exposed to view, a murmur of approval went over the audience. In spite of his training in the open his skin was still very white beside the bronzed figure of his adversary, but the muscles rippled smoothly and strongly under the fair skin—and bulked large at thigh and forearm as he moved his limbs. It was not the strong man's figure nor yet, like Clancy's, the stocky, thickly built structure of the professional fighter's, yet it was so solid, so admirably compact that his great height was unnoticeable. I could see from the expressions upon the faces of those about me and the calls from the seats behind us, that Jerry's appearance had already gained the respect of the crowd, some members of which were already hailing him by his first name. "Good boy, Jerry," they cried, or "All right, old boy. You've got the goods—but look out for his right."
Even the stout person beside me was silent and I heard nothing more about the goldfish. Fortunately for him, and for me, I suspect, for had he repeated his phrase, I might have brained him with a chair.
The preliminary conferences at an end, the principals took their corners, fresh ones not used in the preliminaries, Jerry luckily with his back toward the box in which the Van Wyck girl was sitting. If their glances had met, I did not notice. For all that I knew. Jerry might have been unaware that she was in the house. He did not look around in a search for her and seemed totally absorbed in his instructions from Flynn, who stood outside the ropes just behind him whispering continuously in his ear, Jerry nodding from time to time and glancing across the ring to Clancy's corner, where the superbeast was sprawled, his long arms extended upon the ropes. Spatola and the black Swede were seeing to Jerry's gloves and looking over every detail of the corner with careful eyes.
The referee called the two men to the center of the ring and gave them some final instructions, to which they nodded assent, and they had hardly returned to their corners when the gong clanged, stools and paraphernalia were whipped out of the ring, the seconds and trainers crouched outside and the fight was on. As the men came together the disparity in their sizes became less marked for, while Clancy was the shorter, he made up by his huge bulk what he lacked in height. He was a dangerous man, but there was no timidity in Jerry's eyes and he came forward sparring carefully, gliding backward and forward feeling out the other man's length and speed. Clancy's left grazed Jerry's ear and the boy countered lightly. His color was rising now and his eyes were sparkling. It was good, it was a game he loved. The moment of stage fright had passed. He had forgotten the crowd. His foot-work was fast and made Clancy seem almost sluggish by comparison. That was the danger. Would he waste himself too early? Ten rounds! Not too long for Jerry, if the other didn't land dangerously and more often than he. Clancy played for the head, and caught the boy fairly on the jaw, but got a blow in the ribs that made him grunt. Jerry did most of the leading, ducking a vicious swing of Clancy's right, that made the Sailor look foolish, and brought a roar of delight from the crowd. Clancy grinned cheerfully and came on, stabbing with his long left arm at Jerry's head, but getting only his trouble for his pains. At the close of the round the honors were even, and both were smiling in their corners.
"He's got the science," said the optimist next door, "a pretty piece o' work—very pretty."
"Just you wait, Petey," said the stout man, while behind us an Irishman shouted, "Get them green tights workin', Clancy."
The second round was clearly Jerry's. Even the stout man admitted it. Clancy's famous crouching pose met with mishap early in the round, for Jerry by fine judgment twice evaded the advancing left arm and straightened Clancy with terrific upper cuts, the kind that Flynn had said were like tons of coal. At the end of the round Clancy realized, I think, that his opponent was well worth considering seriously, for when he came to the center of the ring again, his face washed clean, he wore a solemn expression curious and respectful, but villainously determined. He began boring in, as the phrase is, leading constantly and taking what came. He hit Jerry hard, always when the boy was going away, however, and caught some well-judged ones in return. He swung a hard right which caught Jerry napping and sent him against the ropes, but before he could follow up the advantage the boy had slipped out of danger. They exchanged blows here, toe to toe, and the crowd howled with delight. Here was a mere boxer who wasn't afraid to take what he gave. In the exchange Jerry profited, for Clancy, lunging with his right and missing, fell into a clinch where Jerry gave his ribs a fearful beating. At the end of the round both were breathing hard, but the crowd was cheering, Jerry.
I find myself slipping into the phraseology of the sporting page, and little wonder when for weeks the boxer's terms were the only phrases I had heard. I hope I will not be blamed for dwelling with too great a particularity upon this affair, which, whatever its merits as a test of strength and skill, was nothing less than a contest in brutality.
During the minute of time Monroe and Spatola rubbed Jerry vigorously and when the gong clanged, though still breathing hard, Jerry was ready for Clancy's rush. He had been prepared for this by Flynn, who knew the fighter's methods. For before the seconds were well out of the ring Clancy had crossed toward Jerry's corner, planning by sheer bulk and viciousness to sap some of Jerry's strength. But Jerry avoided the rush, stinging Clancy's stomach with a terrific blow as he got out of danger. With the whole of the ring back of him he stood up and shifting suddenly got inside of Clancy's guard with his right on the jaw, which, catching the Sailor off his balance, sent him to the ropes, where he sank to the floor. He took a count of six leisurely and was up again smiling and fighting hard. Jerry's lip was cut in this exchange, but at least during this round Clancy rushed no more. They were both landing freely now, Jerry apparently willing to take his share of punishment in order to make a good showing. I heard Jack Ballard muttering at my ear. This was a mistake; I wondered if Flynn knew it. With his skill, Jerry could have kept away and cut the man to ribbons. But he was no slacker; this was no boxing tournament, as Jerry afterwards explained, but a fight, which meant pugnacity as well as skill.
But the crowd appreciated his efforts. They were ring followers and knew "science" when they saw it, but more than skill they loved "sand" and more than "sand," aggressiveness. With the beginning of the seventh round the honors had all been with Jerry. He had scored the first blood and the first knock-down and Clancy's rushes had proved unavailing. The professional's lip was swollen, one eye was nearly closed, and his ribs were crimson from the terrible beating Jerry had given them. Though his face was not so badly punished as Clancy's, Jerry had not gotten off unscathed. He was grim, determined, and cuts at the lip and eyes made him no handsomer than he should have been. But he was breathing more easily than Clancy, and, though he had lost much of his speed, he still seemed able to avoid his opponent at will and to hold him off with his straight left arm. Six rounds in which science had been more than a match for all Clancy's bull strength and ring experience! That in itself was something of an achievement, but Jerry was still further to show his strength, for in this seventh round Clancy went to the floor twice, the first time by a clean blow to the jaw through a beautiful opening that Jerry planned deliberately, feinting for the body, bringing a lead which Jerry half-ducked and then side stepped, throwing all the weight of his body into a blow with his right, timed and aimed with beautiful precision.
The crowd were on their feet, silent. They thought that the end had come, for at the call of three Clancy had not moved, Flynn and Spatola were already above the level of the ring clinging to the ropes and Jerry stood breathing heavily, his arms at his sides watching the prostrate man. At the count of six Clancy was on one elbow, eight found him on his knees struggling to his feet. He swayed a little, but rose and fell into a clinch which saved him. The referee tore the men apart and Jerry at once assumed the aggressive, making the weary Clancy move warily. But one of Jerry's left-hand blows caught him again, and he went half through the ropes.
It was here that Jerry earned the wild applause of the crowd by an act of magnanimity that was nothing less than Quixotic. But it was like Jerry. He wanted to take no unfair advantages. He bent forward, lifting the upper rope, and helped Clancy into the ring. There the round ended in a roar of cheering that did my heart and Jack's good to hear.
But the thing was foolhardy. The man was not done yet, as Jerry was to find out in a moment. I saw Flynn frowning and protesting in Jerry's ear, for the boy had been set for a knockout and the bout in all probability would have been ended. Jerry listened, his arms stretched out along the ropes, smiling up at the glaring electric lights. He was breathing convulsively and Spatola swung his towel furiously, fanning the heavy air into the boy's gasping lungs. He had had all the advantage so far and with good generalship could still win on points if he fought his own battle and not Clancy's. But would he? I knew what Flynn was saying to him, what he was warning him against. I had heard the warning often in the bouts at the Manor. Failing in science and skill Clancy would "slug" (Flynn's word, not mine), trusting to the prodigious length of his arms, taking the punishment that came to him, biding his time and the possible lucky blow which would turn the tide in his favor.
I glanced at Clancy's corner. There was anxiety there. I think during the seventh round, Clancy had seen his fifteen thousand going a-glimmering and Riley was no less emphatic than Flynn. There were but three more rounds—three rounds in which the Sailor could regain his lost ground and the heavyweight laurels that seemed to be slipping from him.
When the gong clanged, it was immediately to be seen that Clancy's whole plan of battle had changed. From some hidden sources in that great hulk of a body he drew new forces of energy. You will see the same thing in any wild beast of the jungle, a hidden reserve of nervous power and viciousness, most dangerous apparently when nearest extinction. He was ugly—his jowls shot forward, his brow lowering, his long arms shooting like pistons—a jungle beast at bay. Jerry stopped his progress again—again—with straight thrusts and uppercuts, but the man only covered up, crouched lower, and came on again. Once he caught Jerry in the stomach and I saw the boy wince with pain; again he reached Jerry's head, a terrific blow which would have sent him to the floor had Jerry not been moving away. And all the while Jerry's blows were landing, cutting the man, blinding him, but still he came on. Was there no limit to the amount of punishment that he could endure? Jerry's blows were not the leads of a boxer, but fighting blows, and Clancy's face and body would bear testimony to their strength for many a day, but he always came on for more—a superbeast that as long as breath came and blood flowed, was untamed and unconquerable. Jerry was tiring now and throwing discretion to the winds was trying for a knockout. Two swings he missed by mere wildness and weariness of eye, and Flynn's voice rose above the wild clamor of the of the crowd. "Keep him off, Jerry—keep him off!" But Jerry did not hear or did not choose to hear, for he no longer avoided Clancy's blows or his advances, standing his ground and slugging wildly as Clancy was doing. Jack Ballard saw the danger and sprang to his feet seconding Flynn's advice, but he could not be heard above the roar of the crowd. It was a wild moment. A chance blow by either man would end the battle then. I was no longer Roger Canby, ex-tutor and philosopher, but a mad mother-beast whose cub was fighting for its life. "Keep him off, Jerry," I yelled hoarsely again and again, but the boy still stood, his toe to Clancy's, fighting wildly. Three times they fell into clinches from sheer exhaustion to be pried apart by the referee, only to go at each other again. This was no test of skill, but of brutality and chance. I think that Jerry was mad—brute mad, for, though Clancy's blows were now reaching him, he didn't seem to be aware of them. His face was distorted with rage—animal rage. When the gong clanged at the end of this round, the eighth, they still fought even when Gannon thrust his bulk between them.
The crowd sank back into their seats gasping. It was a long while since New York had seen a fight such as this.
"What d' I tell you, Charlie?" whispered the optimist next to me hoarsely.
"By—, he's good an' no mistake," confessed the fat man.
"He's got the Sailor goin'."
Jack Ballard and I were in an agony of apprehension, watching the faces of the excited men in Jerry's corner, who were trying to warn him before it was too late. But we could see that Jerry was stubborn, for when Flynn pleaded with him he shook his head. Spatola and the negro massaged him furiously, adding their anxious pleas to Flynn's, but Jerry would not listen. He was taking the foul air in huge gasps, his eyes closed, fighting for recuperation.
When the ninth round opened the men were both groggy and stumbled to the center of the ring like two blind men groping for each other, swinging wildly and moving slowly. Each was intent upon a knockout. Twice each swung and missed rights, avoiding the blows by remnants of their craft and cleverness. Twice they stumbled into clinches and were torn apart by the pitiless Gannon. In the in-fighting (a technical term) Jerry I think must have been struck—I did not see the blow, but it must have been a terrific one—for his knees sagged and his hands dropped to his sides while his mouth gaped open painfully. At the cries from his corner Clancy drove a vicious blow, but Jerry weakly managed to avoid it. But he couldn't raise his arms. Jerry was hurt, grievously hurt. In a moment they were raised again, but he could not seem to see his mark and his swings were wild. In agony I rose, my arm in Ballard's, ready for the worst. Clancy straightened, tried to collect what remained of his scattered wits and strength, poised himself and with a terrible blow, struck Jerry at the point of his chin.
He went down with a crash, his head striking the floor, and remained motionless. Over him, one hand restraining Clancy, Gannon counted. Jerry's figure writhed upon the floor, twisting upon its head struggling to rise and then relaxed. The fight was over.
A curious hush had fallen over the great hall. Here and there Clancy's friends were shouting in glee, but the great mass of the crowd, those whom Jerry had won by his skill and pluck, seemed bewildered. The end had come too suddenly for them to realize what had happened and how it had happened. The match was his. He had won it. It had only been a question of rounds. And then, "Chance blow in the solar-plexus," someone was saying.
It is curious how many and how lasting are the impressions that can be crowded into a second of time. I clambered out of the box with Jack Ballard toward the ring, fearful of the blow to Jerry's head upon the boards, and as I pushed my way through the bewildered crowd, I caught just a glimpse of Marcia Van Wyck's party. They were all standing up in their box, looking toward the ring. A man beside her made a remark at the girl's ear. I saw her turn and flash a bright glance up at him and had a glimpse of her small white teeth. She was laughing. This is just an impression of a momentary glimpse, but it means much. In this situation is the psychology of the real Marcia. Jerry, her man-god, her brute-god, lay prone at her feet a quivering mass of bruised flesh, beaten and broken mind and body, and she could smile.
Tingling with rage at this incident, which I thanked God Jerry had not seen, I fought my way behind Jack to the aisle to the dressing-room, whither willing hands had carried the boy. All around us we heard the encomiums of the crowd.
"Luck," one said, "mere luck."
"It's all in the game. But Benham's the better man."
"Lucky for Clancy that Jerry mixed it. Could 'a cut the Sailor to pieces."
"The best in years. The boy's a wonder."
All this from hardened followers of the ring. The door to the dressing-room was jammed and a force of policemen was keeping back the people. Our anxious queries were passed along to the doorway.
"He's coming around all right," said the sergeant. "Now move along there, gents. No admittance here."
But Jack and I awaited our chance and when Sagorski poked his head out of the door he saw us and the sergeant let us through.
It was a very crestfallen group that greeted us. Flynn and the negro, Monroe, were working over Jerry, who lay on a cot-bed near the window. He had recovered consciousness and even as we entered he raised his head wearily and looked around. His face was battered and bruised, and his smile as he greeted us partook of the character of his injuries. But he was whole and I hoped not badly hurt. Youth and strength, the best of medicines, were already reviving him.
"Well, Roger," he muttered dully, "I'm licked."
"Luck," I said laconically. Jack Ballard had clasped his big congested hand, "Proud of you, Jerry, old boy! You ought to have won. Why the Devil did you let him coax you into close quarters?"
"I thought—I could stand—what he could," grunted Jerry.
"Not the lucky blow. He had it. If you'd stood him off—"
"I came here to fight—" said Jerry sinking back on his mattress wearily.
I think his mind was beginning to work slowly around to the real meaning of his defeat, not the mere failure of his science and skill, but the failure of his body and mind as against the mind and body of a trained brute, whom he had set his heart on conquering. I knew as no one else there knew what the victory meant to him, and the memory of the brief glimpse I had had of the Van Wyck girl's face when he lay in the ring inflamed me anew. I know not what—some vestige of my thought reached him, for he drew me toward him and when I bent my head he whispered in my ear,
He made no sound, and submitted silently to the ministrations of his trainers.
Flynn was philosophical.
"The fortunes of war, Misther Canby. 'T'was a gran' fight, as fine a mill as you'll see in a loife time—wid the best man losin'—'S a shame, sor; but Masther Jerry w'u'd have his way—bad cess to 'm. You can't swap swipes wid a gorilla, sor. It ain't done."
"He beat me fairly," said Jerry sitting up.
"Who? Clancy? I'll match you agin him tomorrow, Masther Jerry," and he grinned cheerfully, "if ye'll but take advice."
"Advice!" sighed Jerry. "You were right Flynn—I—I was wrong."
"I wudden't mind if it wasn't for thinkin' of that fifteen thousand."
"I think he earned it," laughed Jack.
Jerry sat up on the edge of the bed and stared around, one eye only visible. The other was concealed behind a piece of raw meat that Flynn was holding over it.
"You lost something, Flynn?" he asked.
"A trifle, sor."
"And the Kid and Tim?"
"And Rozy and Dan—all of us a bit, sor. But it don't matther."
"Well," he said with a laugh. "I'll make it up to you, all of you, d' you hear? And I'm very much obliged for your confidence."
It didn't need this munificence on Jerry's part to win the affection of these bruisers, but they were none the less cheerful on account of it. As Jim Robinson he had won their esteem, and all the evening they had stood a little in awe of Jerry Benham, but before they left him that night he gave them a good handshake all around and invited them to his house on the morrow. Between the crowd of us we got him into street clothes and a closed automobile in which Jack and I went with him to his house uptown.
Thanks to the formidable size of Jerry's training partners, we had managed to avoid the reporters at the Garden, and when we reached Jerry's house we gave instructions to the butler to admit no one and answer no questions. Christopher, now Jerry's valet, we took upstairs with us and got the boy ready for bed. As the telephone bell began ringing with queries from the morning newspapers, I disconnected the wire and we were left in peace. A warm bath and a drink of brandy did wonders both for Jerry's appearance and his spirits, and at last we got him to bed. But he could not sleep, and so we sat at his bedside and talked to him until far into the night, Jerry propped up on his pillows, his bad eye comically decorated with a part of his morning's steak.
By dint of persuasion and a promise to stay all night at last we got the boy to sleep and went to bed. I think Jack was rather glad to be beyond the reach of the parental ire, and my own wish was to be near Jerry now, to help him on the morrow to readjust his mind to his disappointment, and do what other service I could to save him from the results of his folly.
The morning papers brought the evidences of it in vivid scare heads upon their first pages and detailed accounts of the whole affair, written by their best men, who gave Jerry, I am glad to say, the credit that was his due, calling him "the new star in pugilistic circles," "the coming heavyweight champion," and the yellowest of them, the one that had unmasked Jim Robinson the afternoon before, came out with an offer to back Jerry Benham for five thousand dollars against Jack Clancy or any other heavyweight except the Champion. Jerry read the articles in silence, a queer smile upon his face and at last shoved the papers aside.
"Nice of those chaps, very, considering the way I've treated 'em, but it's no go. I've finished."
Jack had ventured out to brave the storm and I sat quietly, scarcely daring to hope that I had heard correctly.
"I'm done, Roger," he repeated. "No more fights for me. I staked everything on science and head-work. I failed. He got me—somewhere that hurt like the devil—and I saw red. I don't remember much after that except that I was as much of a brute as he was. I failed, Roger, failed miserably. The fellow that can't hold his temper has no business in the ring."
His voice was heavy, like his manner, weary, disappointed, and as he threw off his dressing gown I saw that his left arm was hideously discolored from wrist to shoulder.
"Does it hurt?" I asked.
"What? Oh, my arm. No. But I'm sore inside of me Roger, my mind I mean. To do a thing like that, and fail—that's what hurts. Because I hadn't will enough—"
"You're in earnest, then," I asked, "about not fighting again?"
"Yes. I'm through—for good." And then boyishly, "But I didn't quit, Roger, did I?"
"I think any unprejudiced observer will admit that you didn't quit," I said. "Clancy, I'm sure, knows better than anybody."
"Good old Clancy. He was a sight—but he squared things. I saw that knockout coming, but I couldn't move for the life of me. My arms wouldn't come up. By George—that was a wallop! Oh well," he sighed, "the better man won. I'm satisfied."
I helped him into his clothes and we went down to breakfast. He examined his letters quickly and put them aside with an air of disappointment, and then asked if there had been any telephone calls, seeming much put out when I told him my reasons for disconnecting the instrument.
"Oh, it doesn't matter—Beastly nuisance, those reporters—" He looked over at me and grinned sheepishly. "Nice morning reading for Ballard, Senior! It was a rotten trick to play on him, though. He didn't deserve all this. I wouldn't wonder if he didn't speak to me now. I deserve that, I think. He cost me ten thousand cold. I'm in disgrace. I'll never be able to square myself—never."
When he got up from the breakfast table he caught a glimpse of his face in a mirror. "I am a sight. The lip is going down nicely, but the eye! Looks like an overripe tomato against a wall. Pretty sort of a phiz to go calling on a lady with."
"You're going visiting?"
"Yes, Marcia and I are going up to the country together. You'll have to go along."
"Thanks," I said, "but I've some matters to attend to here."
"I say, Roger," he went on quickly examining himself anew in the mirror; "I've got to get hold of Flynn. There's a chap in the Bowery who makes a business of painting eyes." And he went off to the telephone where I heard him making the arrangement.
With Jerry restored to partial sanity my duty at the town house was ended. Reporters still came to the door, but were turned away, and, seeing that I could be of no further use, I made my adieux and took my way downtown.
If no man is a hero to his valet, surely no boy can be a hero to his tutor, and I may as well admit that glorious as Jerry's defeat had been, I had ceased to reckon him among the perfect creations of this world. Nowhere, I think, have I hailed Jerry as a hero. I have not meant to place him upon a pedestal. At the Manor, before he came to New York, he did no wrong, because the things that were good were pleasant to him and because original sin—Eheu! I was beginning to wonder! Original sin! John Benham had ignored its existence and I had thought him wise. What was original sin? And if its origin was not within, where did it originate and how? If the boy had already been inoculated with the germ of sin, was he conscious of it? And did he yield to it voluntarily or unconsciously or both? And if unconscious of sin, was he morally responsible for its commission? These and many other vexed theological questions flitted anxiously through my mind and brought me to a careful scrutiny of Jerry's acts as I knew them. To engage in a prize fight, whatever the prize, whether money or merely the love of woman, if a venial, was not a mortal sin. To be sure, anger was a mortal sin and Jerry had yielded to it. Such fighting as Jerry had done, was not and could not by dint of argument become a part of any philosophy that I had taught him. He had sinned. He would sin again. As Miss Gore had said, my dream castle was tottering—it had tottered and was falling. Jerry, my Perfect Man, at the first contact with the world felt the contagion of its innate depravity and corruption. The more I thought of Jerry's character, his ingenuous belief in the good of all things, the more it seemed to me that it was only a question of the strength of Jerry's spiritual health to resist the ravages of spiritual disease. You see, already I had thrown my philosophy to the winds. For where I had once planned that Jerry should go through fire unscorched, it was now merely become a question of the amount of his scorching.
I bade Jack good-by, after hearing of the bad quarter-hour he had spent with Ballard, Senior, downtown, and made my way to my train for Horsham Manor in no very happy frame of mind. Had I known what new phase of Jerry's character was soon to be revealed to me, God knows I should have been still more unhappy. Jerry was not at the Manor when I arrived there. For some reasons best known to Marcia Van Wyck and himself it had been decided to stay for awhile longer in town, and it was not until over a month later that Jerry arrived bag and baggage in his machine with Christopher. He greeted me cheerfully enough, but I was not quite satisfied with his appearance. The marks of his fight with Clancy had almost, if not quite, disappeared, and while he had taken on much of his normal weight, he had little color and his eyes were dull. He smoked cigarettes constantly, lighting one from another, and on the afternoon and evening of the day of his arrival, sat moodily frowning at vacancy, or walked aimlessly about, his mind obviously upon some troublesome or perplexing matter. I could not believe that Clancy's victory had cast this shadow upon his spirit, but I asked no questions. He ordered wine for dinner, a thing he had never done before at the Manor, save on a few occasions when we had had guests, and drank freely of both sherry and champagne, finishing after his coffee with some neat brandy, which he tossed off with an air of familiarity that gave me something of a shock. He invited me to join him and when I refused seemed to find amusement in twitting me about my abstemious habits.
"Come along now, just a nip of brandy, Roger. 'Twill make your blood flow a bit faster. No? Why not, old Dry-as-dust? Conscientious scruples? A dram is as good as three scruples. Come along, just a taste."
"Brandy was made for old dotards and young idiots. I'm neither."
"Oh, very well, here's luck!" and he drank again, setting the glass down and drawing a deep breath of satisfaction. And then with a laugh. "An idiot! I suppose I am. Good thing to be an idiot, Roger. Nothing expected of you. Nobody disappointed."
"You're talking nonsense," I said sternly.
"Nonsense! I differ from you there, old top," he laughed. "The true philosophy of life is the one that brings the greatest happiness. Self-expression is my motto, wherever it leads you. I fight, I play, I smoke, I drink because those are the things my particular ego requires."
"Ah! You're happy?"
"'Happiness,' old Dry-as-dust, as our good friend Rasselas puts it, 'is but a myth.' I have ceased listening with credulity to the whispers of fancy or pursuing with eagerness the phantoms of hope. They're not for me. To live in the thick of life and take my knockouts or give them—Reality! I'm up against it at last,—real people, real thoughts, real trials, real problems—I want them all. I'm going to drink deep, deep."
He reached for the brandy bottle again, but I whisked it away and rose.
"You're a d——d jackass," I said, storming down at where he sat from my indignant five feet eight.
His brow lowered and his jaw shot forward unpleasantly. "A jackass," I repeated firmly, still holding the neck of the brandy bottle.
He glared at me a moment longer, then he slowly sank back into his chair, his features relaxing, and burst into a laugh.
"Roger, you improve upon acquaintance. All these years you've concealed from me a nice judgment in the use of profanity. A d——d jackass! Hardly Hegelian, but neat, Roger, and most beautifully appropriate. A jackass, I am. Also as you have remarked, an idiot. You see, there's no argument. I admit the soft impeachment. But I won't drink again just now; so set the brandy bottle down like a good fellow and we will talk as one gentleman to another."
I saw that I had brought him for the moment to his senses, and obeyed, sitting resolutely silent with folded arms, waiting for him to go on. He took a pipe from his pocket rather sheepishly, then filled and lighted it.
"You are a good sort, Roger," he said at last, with an embarrassment that contrasted strangely with the bombast of a moment ago. "I—I'm glad you did that. I think you're about the only person in the world I'd have taken it from. But I haven't drunk much. I couldn't get to be much of a drunkard in three weeks, could I?" He smiled his boyish smile and disarmed me.
"But why drink at all?" I asked quietly.
"Oh, I don't know. It's such an easy way to be jolly. Everybody does it. You can't seem to go anywhere without somebody sticking a glass under your nose. It's part of the social formula. There's no harm in it, in reason."
"Jerry," I said sternly. "You've begun wrong. I don't know whether it's my fault or not, but you seem to be hopelessly twisted in your view of life. You're floundering. Of course it's none of my business. I've done what I was paid to do, and you've got to work things out in your own way. If you want to drink yourself maudlin, that's your privilege. I can move out, but while I'm here in this house I'm not going to sit idly by while you make a fool of yourself."
He puffed on his pipe a moment in silence, eyeing the table leg.
"I am a fool," he said soberly at last. And then after a pause, "I don't know what the trouble has been exactly, unless I've taken people too literally; and that's your fault, Roger. White with you was always white and black was black. You taught me to say what I thought and to believe that other people said what they thought. That was a mistake."
"You forget," I said, "that I wasn't brought here to teach you worldliness. But you can't say that I didn't warn you against it."
He had gotten up and now paced the room with long strides.
"Futile, Roger! Absolutely futile. In my heart even then, I think, I believed you narrow. You see, I'm frank. A few months in the world hasn't changed my opinion. But I do want to think straight." And then with a sigh as he paused alongside of me, "It's very perplexing sometimes."
I knew what he was thinking about and whom, but he would not speak.
"You have thought me narrow, Jerry, because I laid my life and yours along pleasant byways and ignored the beaten track. I've never told you why the world had grown distasteful to me. I think you ought to know. It may be worth something to you. The old story, always new—a girl, pretty, insincere. I was just out of the University, with a good education, some prospects, but no money. We became engaged. She was going to wait for me until I got a good professorship. But she didn't. In less than a year, without even the formality of breaking the engagement, she suddenly married a man who had money, a manufacturer of gas engines in Taunton, Massachusetts. I won't go into the details. They're rather sickening from this distance. But I thought you might like to know why I've never particularly cared to trust women."
"I supposed," he said, thoughtfully, "it might have been something like that. Women are queer. You think you know them, and then—" He paused, confession hovering on his lips, but some delicacy restrained him.
"Women, Jerry, are the flavoring of society; I regret that I have a poor digestion for sauces. I hope yours will be better."
He laughed. "Poor Roger; was she very pretty?"
"I can't remember. Probably. Calf love seldom considers anything else—prettiness! Yes she was pretty."
"How old were you?"
"Older than you Jerry—and wiser."
He was silent. Once I thought he was about to speak, but he refrained, and when he deftly turned the topic, I knew that any chance I might have had to help him had passed. I understood, of course, and I could not help respecting his delicacy. Jerry was in for some hard knocks, I feared, harder ones than Clancy had given him.
He went to bed presently and I sat by the lamp alternately reading and thinking of Jerry, comparing him with myself in that long-distant romance of my own. They were not unlike, these two women, pretty little self-worshipers, born to deceit and chicanery, with clever talents for concealing their ignorance, hiding the emptiness of their hearts with pretty tricks of coquetry. But Marcia was the more dangerous, a clean body and an unclean mind. A half-virgin! I would have given much to know what had recently passed between Marcia and Jerry. If there was any way to bring about a disillusionment—
As though in answer to my enigma, at this moment Christopher came down from Jerry's room on his way below stairs. I stopped him and taking him into my study closed the door.
"You're very fond of Master Jerry, Christopher?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, sir, Mr. Canby."
"So am I, Christopher. I think you know that, don't you?"
"Why, yes, sir. You've been a father to 'im, sir. Nobody knows that better than me, sir."
"We'd both go through fire and water for him, wouldn't we, Christopher?"
"Oh, yes, sir; an' if you please, sir, what with these prize fighters at the Manor an' all, I rather think we 'ave, sir."
"A bad business, but over for good, I think, Christopher. But there are other things, worse in a way—"
I paused, scrutinizing the man's homely, impassive face.
"Did Master Jerry do much drinking before he went into training, Christopher?"
"A little, what any gentleman would, out in the world, sir."
"You've noticed it since the fight?"
He hesitated. Loyalty was bred in his bone.
"You know, Christopher, that I've spent my life trying to make Jerry a fine man?"
"You 'ave, sir. It's a pity—the—the drink. But it can't 'ave much of a 'old on 'im yet, sir."
"Then you have noticed?"
"When did he begin?"
He paused a moment.
"I think it was the day after the fight, that very night, to be hexact, sir."
"I see. The night after the fight. He spent the evening out and when he came home, was he intoxicated?"
"Not then, no, sir. But 'e'd been drinkin', just mildly lit—in a manner o' speakin' sir, not drunk, but gay and kind o' sarcastic-like; not like Master Jerry 'imself, sir."
"Had he been with some other gentlemen during the evening?"
"No, sir. 'E 'ad been callin' on a lady, but stopped at 'is club on the way around—"
"You may speak freely, Christopher. Miss Van Wyck?"
"I—I think so, sir. They 'ad an appointment."
"I see. And did he drink again that night?"
"A few brandies—yes, sir. Ye see, sir, it got to him quick-like—breakin' training so suddent."
"I understand. And you put him to bed."
"Yes, sir, in a manner o' speakin' I did, sir."
"When did you notice his drinking again?"
"Not for some days, sir."
"And what then?"
"The same thing happened again, sir."
"I see." I paced the floor silently, my inclination to question further struggling against my sense of the fitness of things. Was not Christopher, after all, a friend as well as a servant, a well-tried friend of Jerry's clan? "Did you connect the fact of Master Jerry's drinking with his visits to the lady I have mentioned, Christopher?" I asked in a moment.
He paused a moment scratching his head in perplexity, and then blurted forth without reserve.
"I'm glad you've spoken, Mr. Canby. I'm not given to talkin' over Master Jerry's private affairs, sir, but it's all in the family, like, though I wouldn't 'ave Master Jerry know—"
"Master Jerry will not know."
"Well, Mr. Canby, if you'd ask my hopinion, sir, I'd say that this young lady—sayin' no names, sir—is doin' no good to Master Jerry. She's always got 'im fussed, sir, an' irritable. 'E's not like 'imself—not like 'imself at all, sir. Why, Mr. Canby, I'm not the kind as listens behind keyholes, sir, but one night last week when she comes to the 'ouse in New York to visit 'im—"
"Ah, she came to the house?"
"Yes, sir, alone, sir, at night; a most unproper thing for a nice girl to do, sir, if I must say it, Mr. Canby. I couldn't 'elp 'earin' in the next room, or seein' for the matter of that. Master Jerry is out of 'is 'ead about 'er, an' no mistake, sir. I could 'ear 'is voice soft-like an she indifferent, leadin' 'im on, a-playin' with 'im, sir. Seemed to me like she was sweet an' mad-like by turns. She's a strange one, Mr. Canby, an' if the matter goes no further I'd like to say, sir, that I've no fancy for such doin's in a lady."
"Nor I, Christopher. You heard what she said?"
"I couldn't 'elp, some of it. 'Twas about the fight, sir. 'But you lost,' says she again and again when 'e speaks to 'er soft-like. 'You lost. You let that ugly gorilla'—them's 'er words, sir, speakin' o' Clancy—'you let that gorilla beat you, you, my fightin' god.' I remember the words, sir, 'er hexact words, sir, she said them again and again. Queer talk for a drawin' room, Mr. Canby, in a lady's mouth, an' Master Jerry talkin' low all the time and tellin' her he loved 'er—not darin' even to touch 'er 'and, sir, an' lookin' at her pleadin' like; 'im with his soft eyes, 'im with 'is great strength an' manhood, like a child before 'er, not even touchin' 'er, sir, with 'er temptin' and tantalizing." He broke off with a shrug. "'Tis a queer world, sir, where them that calls themselves ladies comes a visitin' gentlemen alone at night, an' goes away clean with a laugh on their lips. A gentleman Master 'Jerry is, sir, too good for the likes o' her." The man paused and looked toward the door with a startled air. "I 'ave no business sayin' what's in my mind, even to you, Mr. Canby. You'll not tell 'im, sir?"
"No. I'm glad you've spoken. You've said nothing of this—to anyone?"
"I'd cut my tongue out first, sir," he muttered, wagging his head.
I led the way to the door and opened it.
"I like her no better than you, Christopher. Something must be done—something—It's too bad—"
"Good night, sir," he said.
"Good night, Christopher."
There was something particularly brutal to me in hearing this estimate of Marcia Van Wyck's visit to Jerry through the lips of a servant. And yet I felt no remorse at encouraging the confession. Good Christopher was not brilliant, and only the most obvious of things impressed him, but he had seen, and like me, had judged. And his judgment was even more damning than mine, for Christopher was an amicable person, who doddered along, accepting life as it came, too weary for enmities, or too well trained to show them. It must have been at the cost of a severe wrench to his habits and traditions that he had dared to speak so freely. Good old Christopher! Ten years of the monastic life had narrowed your vision and mine, but they had made that vision singularly clear.
During that night in my hours of wakefulness before sleep came, I studied Jerry's infatuation from every angle. I feared for him. The moment of awakening was approaching, and then? Whatever the hidden weaknesses in his moral fiber, thus suddenly subjected to strain, he was not one to be lightly dealt with by man or woman. He was gentle, soft, if you please, childlike with those he loved, but there was dangerous mettle in him not to be tampered with by trickery or guile. Christopher had shown me with his uncompromising bluntness what I had merely suspected; the girl loved danger and saw it in Jerry's eyes, fascinated by the imminence of peril that lurked in his innocence. A strange passion, calculating, cold, abnormal. And Jerry loved this girl—adored her, as though she were a sacred vessel, a fragile thing, that would break in his fingers! I began to hope that he would break her (and to fear it), crush her and discover her emptiness.
The morrow brought a resolve to visit Briar Hills. Except for the afternoons when Jerry fished, he went there daily. He was delighted at my wish to accompany him. We drove over in the motor in the flush of the afternoon, Jerry blithe again, I silent, wondering at the inexhaustible springs of youth, forgetting that it was merely May and Jerry on his way to the woman he loved.
The house was full of guests for the week-end, but Marcia Van Wyck, with an air of hospitality that quite took me aback, welcomed me warmly, confessed herself much honored by this mark of my attention and took me to see her garden. Oh, she was clever. Spring flowers, youth, grace, the sweetness of the warm, scented paths, her symbolic white frock to set the scene for innocence. But I understood her now. Two could play at her game.
"It was wonderful of you to come, Mr. Canby," she purred. "So kind, so neighborly."
"It's really a great pleasure, I'm sure," I said with a show of gallantry. "A lovely spot! Blossoms. I wondered where you got them for your cheeks."
She flashed a quick glance at me, wholly humorous.
"For that speech, you shall have a bud for your lapel." And she plucked and fastened it, her face very close to mine. She gave me a moment of intense discomfort which was only half embarrassment. She had planned well. She was a part of the purity and sweetness of this lovely summer garden. Guile and she were miles asunder.
"Thanks," I muttered, smelling the blossom with some ostentation.
"Then we're going to be friends?" she queried archly.
"I'm not aware that we were ever anything else," I replied easily.
"Come now, Mr. Canby. You know we haven't always understood each other. I'm sure each of us has been frightfully jealous of the other. Isn't it so?"
"Jealous! I? Of you, Miss Van Wyck?"
"Don't let's misunderstand again. I'm frightfully cheerful this afternoon. It mightn't happen again for weeks. I couldn't quarrel with fate itself. You did want Jerry to carry your doctrines out into the world with him, didn't you?"
"I'm not aware—"
"And I discovered him far too stodgy to endure. It wasn't so much that your philosophy and mine differed as the difference they made in Jerry. And so we clashed. I won."
I was silent.
"Didn't I, Mr. Canby?" she persisted, in her gentlest tone.
"Jerry is out of my hands, Miss Van Wyck," I managed coolly.
"And in mine?"
"Yes, in yours," after a pause.
She laughed softly.
"What do you suppose I'm going to do with him?"
The glamour of youth in a garden, her rare humor and the cloudless day—I had managed well so far, but she pressed me hard. Jerry was no chattel to be bandied carelessly. I felt my body stiffening.
"Jerry is very sweet, Mr. Canby," she went on with that softness of voice that I had grown to understand. "He does anything, everything that I ask him to. It really is a great responsibility. Human judgment is so fallible, especially a woman's. Suppose I asked him to become a nihilist or President, or even both."
D—- the vixen. She was making game of me. But I struggled to hold my temper, taking her literally.
"Nihilism? Political or moral, Miss Van Wyck? To one of your means, the first would be inconvenient; to one of your affections, the other dangerous."
She flashed a narrow glance at me. "Touchee. I like the thrust from cover, but I can parry. Suppose that I said that I would relinquish Jerry."
"I'm not sure that you can," I replied coolly.
Our glances met again. She knew that I read her.
"Nothing is impossible to intelligence. I could send him away tomorrow, today—"
"But he would come back."
"You frighten me," she said, shuddering prettily.
"That is precisely what I wish to do," I went on stolidly.
I shrugged. "You underestimate him, that's all."
"Perhaps. You know, Mr. Canby, that you improve vastly on acquaintance. If you were younger—" She paused and looked at me slantwise.
"Ingenuous, handsome, a fighting god—!"
I could have bitten out my tongue the moment I had spoken the words, and the dark look she shot at me as she flashed around gave a measure of her latent deviltry.
"Jerry told you that!" she said in tones half-suppressed.
"No. But I know. I haven't watched for a month for nothing. I'm not a child, Miss Van Wyck."
"What are you?" she taunted.
"A prophet. Jerry is no woman's plaything. Let him be. You don't know him as I do. I warn you."
She suddenly went into a fit of laughter, meant to ruffle my dignity.
"Off with my head! If you knew how much you remind me of the Queen in 'Alice in Wonderland'!"
"I'm sorry you won't take me seriously."
"I can't," she laughed again. "You're too absurd to be tragic."
"Perhaps we had better be going toward the house," I remarked.
She moved slowly along, her back eloquent of disdain. But she paused for a moment to let me join her.
"You see? I've tried. You won't be friendly."
"My advice is friendly—"
"I never follow advice. We're enemies. It is written."
I shrugged. Impolite I may have been, but there was no use mincing matters. My preposterous embassy had failed. As we neared the house she left me on the lawn and turned to where Jerry and the others were moving toward the tennis courts.
"You'll find Miss Gore upon the veranda," she smiled over her shoulder with careless gayety. She was extraordinary. But I'm sure that never before had I hated the girl as at that moment. Thoughtfully I made my way to the veranda and Miss Gore.
"Well," she said cheerfully as I sank into a chair, "you are friends again?"
"It's really too bad. I think you take life too seriously, Mr. Canby."
"Perhaps." I remained silent. She worked at her embroidery frame for a moment as though to attune herself to my mood and then:
"Briar Hills can't hope for a visit which hasn't an ulterior purpose. What is it?"
As usual she wasted no words and smiled benignly, a comfortable motherly smile at once quizzical and forgiving.
"I did want to see you," I put in awkwardly. "It has been a long time—"
"I'll spare you the necessity for explanations. You're here to tell me that Jerry is drinking and to find out why. Isn't that so?"
I could only stare at her in wonder at her intuitions, and made some remark which she chose to disregard.
"As I predicted, the disease is passing," she said quietly, "but it's leaving Marcia first. Three weeks ago Jerry was a god to Marcia. Last week she showed signs of disenchantment. This week she is plainly bored."
"I guessed as much. But why?"
She shrugged her shoulders expressively, but having gone so far I was not there to waste words.
"I know. Her idol fell in Madison Square Garden, a bone-and-muscle idol, Miss Gore."
She remained silent, examining her embroidery with a critical eye.
"You know that that is true," I asserted.
"Idols are as easily made as shattered for Marcia. She may adore him again next week."
"I hope not. It would be a pity."
"I agree with you," she said quietly. "It would be a pity."
I said nothing for a moment, watching her slim fingers weaving to and fro.
"I have just warned her," I said.
The fingers moved slowly, then stopped and lowered the embroidery frame to her lap. Her wide gaze was full upon me.
"I warned her."
She straightened and a sound came from her throat.
She gave a short laugh. "You'll pardon me, Mr. Canby, but I was on the point of calling you a fool."
"I warned her," I muttered. "Jerry isn't like other men. She's playing with fire."
"And don't you know that that is the very worst thing you could have done, for Jerry—for her?"
"I hadn't meant to do exactly that. She angered me."
"She would. Her idea of existence isn't yours. And if you don't mind my saying so, I think you're wasting your time on the possible chance of making Jerry appear ridiculous to her, to us all. Your guardianship is hardly flattering to his intelligence or his character. You can't help matters. Whatever the crisis, it is bound to come, the sooner the better for Jerry and for her. My good man, can't you see?"
I had realized my futility already, and it was not pleasant to have it shown me through another's eyes. Nor did I relish her calling me her "good man," but curiously enough when she had finished I made no reply. And so I sat meekly, Miss Gore resuming her embroidery.
"It is a pity that he cares for no other girls. There's Margaret Laidlaw, pretty, attractive, feminine, and Sarah Carew, handsome, sportive, masculine. One would think he'd find a choice between them and they both like him. But no, he has eyes in his head for Marcia only. A moment ago when he was talking to them, his gaze was on the flower-garden. Has he never cared for any other women? Who was the girl who got inside the wall last year, Mr. Canby?"
Una! I had forgotten her. But I shook my head.
"I meddle no more, Miss Gore. I've learned a lesson. Jerry must work out his own salvation."
"It's merely a suggestion. Think it over."
After awhile I rose, pleading the need of exercise and begging her to make my excuses to Marcia, I set out for the Manor. But instead of taking the longer road to the lodge gate, when I reached the wall I turned to the left into the footpath along which I had come that night with the girl Una, reaching the Sweetwater and crawling under the broken grille to the rocks where she and Jerry had met. I sat for awhile on the brink of the stream, watching the tangling reflections in the tiny current. Una! Somehow the place reminded me of Una Habberton, a sanctuary for quiet thoughts; the pools below me, her eyes reflecting the clear heavens; the intonation of the rill, her voice; the cheerful birdnotes, her joy of life; the dignity of the tall trees, her sanity. Less than a year ago I had turned her out of this garden, fearing for the boy the first woman he had seen, and to my ascetic mind because a woman, a minx. I eyed the broken grille regretfully and then suddenly rose and started hurriedly toward the Manor, the new thought drumming in my mind.
A fool's mission? Perhaps, and yet I resolved to take it. I put some things into a bag and, telling Christopher that Jerry wasn't to expect me home that night, I caught an evening train to the city.
It was not difficult to reach her by telephone, for I found her at the house in Washington Square. She did not recall my voice or my name, and only when I said that I had been Jerry Benham's tutor, did she remember. It was a personal matter, I explained, having to do with Mr. Benham, and at that she consented to see me. I left the telephone booth at the hotel perspiring freely, aware for the first time of the awkwardness and delicacy of my undertaking. But I dined and changed into my blue serge suit, one that I had bought upon the occasion of my last visit to town, and at half past eight presented myself in the Habberton drawing-room. In the moments before she appeared, I sat ill at ease, my eyes taking in every detail of the well-ordered room, the cool gray walls, the family portraits, the old-fashioned ornaments upon table and mantel, aware, in spite of myself, that I was warm at the collar, impatient for the interview to begin, yet fearful for it.
I was watching the folding doors at the end of the room when she startled me by appearing silently almost at my elbow. The lights were dim, but I could see that her face wore no smile of greeting and as I rose she did not offer me her hand.
"Mr. Canby," she said politely, indicating a chair, "won't you sit down?"
"Er—thanks," I said. My throat was dry. I hoped she would not make it too difficult for me. Meanwhile I saw her eyeing me narrowly as though the possibility had just occurred to her that I might have come to ask for money. She waited a moment for me to speak, but I found it difficult to begin.
"Mr. Benham sent you to me?" she asked at last very coolly.
"Er—not exactly," I stammered. "Mr. Benham did not send me, but I—I'm here in his interest."
The rising inflection on the monosyllable could hardly have been called encouraging.
"The circumstance of our first meeting," I ventured again with an assumption of ease that I was far from feeling—"its duration was so brief that I feared you wouldn't remember me."
Her neck stiffened ever so slightly.
"You surely did not come here," she said icily, "merely to discuss the circumstances of our first meeting."
"N—no, not at all, at least, not altogether, Miss Habberton. But I—I couldn't help hoping—" here I tried to smile—a ghastly one at best—"I couldn't help hoping that you had managed to forgive me for performing a very unpleasant duty."
"If you will please come as quickly as possible to the object of your visit—"
"I—I will. If you'll be a little patient with me."
She averted her head, but said nothing.
"I think you know, Miss Habberton, that I've given the last eleven years of my life to Jerry. He has been like a younger brother to me and I have done what I could to develop him physically, mentally, morally, to successful manhood. I had hoped under ideal conditions to produce—"
"I fail to see, Mr. Canby—"
"Please bear with me a moment longer. I think you may have realized last year what Jerry was. You saw him then, a creature with the body and intelligence of a man and the heart of a child. He was what I had made him. From my point of view he was flawless, as nearly perfect as you will find a man in this—"
"Without temptations," she put in quickly, the first encouraging sign of her interest.
"I had built my hopes as I had built his body and mind and character, sure that contact with the world would only refine and strengthen him."
She shook her head. "You do not know the world as I do. It was a dream. I could have told you so then, last summer."
"You—you have seen the papers—the accounts of—?"
"I don't see how I could very well help seeing them," she said smiling. "He began his battle with the world bravely at least."
"My only hope is that you haven't misjudged him in that affair. All his life he has cared for boxing—"
"I can't see what difference my judgment of him can make one way or the other. He has done much, is doing much for the people I'm interested in. Of course, you know of that. But as to his private life—that is something with which, of course, I can have no concern."
"I am sorry to hear you say that. I thought perhaps that as a friend—"
"Mr. Benham understands my interest in him, I think," she paused and averted her head, one small foot tapping the floor impatiently. "I cannot see where this conversation is leading us. I beg that you will be explicit."
"I was counting on your interest, for he values your good opinion more I think than that of anyone in the world."
Her foot ceased tapping and she bent forward, one elbow on her knee, her head lowered thoughtfully.
"What do you want, Mr. Canby?" she asked abruptly.
"Yes, your help. Jerry needs it—"
"He did not ask—?"
"No. I haven't consulted Jerry—"
"Please listen. If Jerry's future means anything to you, you will do what you can. Jerry has—has gotten into bad company—he is slipping, Miss Habberton—slipping down. I don't know whose the fault is, his father's for his idealism, or mine for my selfish delight in the experiment of his education, but Jerry is failing us. You see, I'm telling you all. I have given up. A dream, you have called it. It was a dream; but I can't see him fail without an effort to help him. When a man centers all his hopes in life on one ambition, its failure is tragic. You see I'm humble. It has cost me something to come to you. I hope you understand what it means."
My appeal had reached her, for I think she realized how seldom such a person as I could be moved to emotion.
"But I—how can I help?" she asked.
"Will you listen and not think me visionary? Jerry cares for you. To him you have made a different appeal from that of any other woman in the world. You were the first. You stirred him. You may not be aware. In his mind you stand for everything that is clean and noble. In his heart, I know—I have not studied Jerry all these years for nothing—he has a shrine there—for you, Miss Habberton. You will always be Una, the first. I hope you will forgive me and believe me. It is necessary that you should."