Mr. Mix controlled himself rigidly. "You'll have to pardon my seeming indelicacy, but—" He coughed behind his hand. "That might bring about a very unhappy relationship between my family and yours. Had you thought of it?"
"Henry? Humph! Yes. I'm sorry, but I don't propose to let my family or anybody else's stand in the way of my principles. Do you? No. If Henry stands in the way, he's going to get run over. Mark my words."
His expression was wooden, but it concealed a thought which had flashed up, spontaneously, to dazzle him. In spite of his age and experience, Mr. Mix threatened to blush. The downfall of Henry meant the elevation of Mirabelle. Mr. Mix himself could assist in swinging the balance. And he couldn't quite destroy a picture of Mirabelle, walking down the aisle out of step to the wedding march. Her arms were loaded with exotic flowers, of which each petal was a crisp yellow bank-bill. He wanted to laugh, he wanted to snort in deprecation, and he did neither. He was too busy with the consciousness that at last he was in a position to capitalize his information. He knew what nobody else did, outside of Henry and his wife, Mirabelle, Mr. Archer and probably Judge Barklay and if he flung himself into the League's campaign, what might he now accomplish?
He looked at Mirabelle. Her eyes betrayed her admiration. Mr. Mix drew a very long breath, and in the space of ten seconds thought ahead for a year. The League was ridiculously radical, but if Mr. Mix were appointed to direct it, he was confident that he could keep Mirabelle contented, without making himself too much of a ludicrous figure. All it needed was tact, and foresight. "If I could only spare the time to help you—but you see, this is my dull season—I have to work twice as hard as usual to make an honest dollar—"
"Would you accept an honorarium?"
"If you took charge of the drive, would you accept a salary? And give us most of your time? Say, four days a week?"
Once more, his thoughts raced through the year. "Now," he said, presently, "you are making it hard for me to refuse."
"Only that? Haven't I made it impossible?"
To Mr. Mix, her tone was almost more of a challenge than an invitation. He looked at her again; and at last he nodded. "I think—you have."
She held out her hand. "I've always respected you as a man. Now I greet you as a comrade. We'll make this city a place where a pure-minded man or woman won't be ashamed to live. I tell you, I won't be satisfied until we reach the ideal! And prohibition was only one tiny move in advance, and we've miles to go. I'm glad we're going the rest of the way together. And it wouldn't surprise me in the least if you came out of it Mayor. That's my idea."
Mr. Mix, with the faint aroma of cloves in his nostrils, backed away.
"Oh, no, I don't dream of that ..." he said. "But I feel as if I'd taken one of the most significant steps of my whole life. I—I think I'd better say good afternoon, Miss Starkweather. I want to be alone—and meditate. You understand?"
"Like Galahad," she murmured.
Mr. Mix looked puzzled; he thought she had a cold. But he said no more; he went home to his bachelor apartment, and after he had helped himself to three full fingers of meditation, together with a little seltzer, he smiled faintly, and told himself that there was no use in debating the point—a man with brains is predestined to make progress. But he couldn't help reflecting that now, more than ever, if any echo of his New York escapades, or any rumour of his guarded habits got to Mirabelle's ears—or, for that matter, to anybody's ears at all—his dreams would float away in vapour. Perhaps it would be wise to explain to Mirabelle that he had once been a sinner. She would probably forgive him, and appreciate him all the more. Women do.... It was curious that she had mentioned him as a possible Mayor. It had been his dearest ambition. He wondered if, with his present reputation, and then with the League behind him, there were a ghost of a chance....
There was probably no power on the face of the earth which could have driven Henry Devereux to the operation of a picture theatre, strictly as a business venture; but when he once got it into his head that the Orpheum wasn't so much a business as a sporting proposition, he couldn't have been stopped by anything short of an injunction. Immediately, his attitude was normal, and from the moment that he resolved to take possession of his property, and operate it, he was indifferent to the public estimate of him. The thing was a game, a game with a great stake, and set rules, and Henry took it as he once had taken his golf and his billiards and his polo—joyously, resiliently, determinedly, and without the slightest self-consciousness, and with never an eye for the gallery.
He was inspirited, moreover, by the attitude of his friends. To be sure, they laughed, but in their laughter there was no trace of the ridicule he had feared. They took the situation as a very good joke on Henry, but at the same time, because gossip had already begun to build up a theory to explain that situation, there were several of them who wished that a similar joke, with a similar nubbin, might be played on themselves. They told this to Henry, they urged him to go ahead and become a strictly moral Wallingford, they slapped him on the back and assured him that if there was justice in the Sunday-school books, he was certain to finish in the money; and Henry, who had provided himself with several air-tight alibis, found them dead stock on his hands. He had known, of course, that he could count on Bob Standish, and a few of his other intimates, but the hearty fellowship of the whole circle overwhelmed him. He knew that even when they waxed facetious, they were rooting for him; and this knowledge multiplied his confidence, and gave him fresh courage.
And yet, with all the consciousness of his loyal backing, he was considerably upset to read in the Herald, on the very morning that he took control of his property, a seven column streamer headline which leaped out to threaten him.
"SUNDAY THEATRES AND AMUSEMENTS MUST GO!"—MIX
Prominent Business Man Turns Reformer
THEODORE MIX CHOSEN TO MANAGE CAMPAIGN OF LEAGUE
Pledges Enforcement of City Ordinances to the Letter
His first reaction was one of bewilderment, and after that, one of consternation. His friend Bob Standish tried to laugh it off for him, but Henry hadn't a smile in his system.
"All right, then," said Bob Standish. "Go see the judge. He'll tell you the same thing. Mix's nothing but a bag of wind. He's an old blowhard."
"Maybe he is," conceded Henry, soberly. "But I'd be just as satisfied about it if he blew in some other direction."
Henry took the paper to Judge Barklay, who had already seen it, and made his own deductions. "Oh, no," he said, "I'm not astonished. When a man's in hot enough water, he'll cut up almost any kind of caper to get out. There's only two kinds of people who ever go into these radical movements—great successes and great failures. Never any average folks. I'd say it's a pretty good refuge for him, and you drove him to it."
"Well—does he mean what he says there?"
"Not too much of it. How could he? If he does half he says he will, he'll lose his job. The town would be as pure as Utopia, and there wouldn't be any League."
"How about the ordinance he quotes, though?"
"Oh, that ... it's Ordinance 147. It's so old it's toothless. The City Council doesn't quite dare to repeal it—nobody's sure enough, these days, to get up and take a chance—but they don't want it enforced, and they haven't for ages."
Henry frowned. "That's all right. But suppose they did arrest somebody under that Ordinance? What would you do?"
"Fine 'em, of course. I'd have to. But I've never had such a case that I can remember. There haven't been any arrests. It's an understood thing."
"Yes, that's fine—as long as everybody understands it the same way. But maybe Mix doesn't—or Aunt Mirabelle either."
"Oh, I shouldn't worry much."
Henry continued serious. "Oh, I guess I can sleep nights all right without any paregoric, but what right have they got to butt into the only day of recreation the working people have? If their immortal souls hurt 'em as much as all that, why don't they go off and suffer where they can do it in peace and not bother us?"
The Judge laughed quietly. "Whence all this sudden affection for the working man, Henry?"
Henry reddened. "Strictly between the two of us, I don't like the idea of Sunday business, anyway. But unfortunately, that's the big day.... But, if you had to work indoors, eight hours a day, six days a week, maybe you'd be satisfied to spend Sundays picking sweet violets out by the barge canal, but what would you do when it rained?"
"Of course," admitted the Judge, "it's a poor policy to have a law on the books, and ignore it. Both of us must admit that. A good law ought to be kept; a bad one ought to be repealed; but any law that is valid oughtn't to be winked at. And if pressure should be brought on the Mayor to enforce that ordinance, and any arrests are made, why I'll have to do my duty."
"Yes—and here I'm raising a mortgage and spending the money on improvements that'll hold us up for more than two weeks—and here Anna and I are going to live in a couple of box-stalls (every time you take a long breath in that flat you create a vacuum!)—and here I've been going to the City Commercial School every afternoon for two solid hours, and studying like a dog every night—and here I've resigned from the Golf Club, and everything else but the Citizens—and if they do put the kibosh on Sunday shows, why I'll be elected to the Hohenzollern Club. And the cream of that joke is that Aunt Mirabelle's outfit'd get itself endowed for putting me out of commission!"
"They won't do it, Henry. These organizations always make the same mistake. They go too far. They aren't talking reform; they're talking revolution, and people won't stand for it. These reform crowds always start out to be a band-wagon, and if they kept their senses, they could do some real good—and then they march so fast that pretty soon they find they've winded everybody else, and there isn't any parade. All they need is rope. Give 'em enough of it, and they always hang themselves. That speech of Mix's has done more harm to the League than it has good. You go right ahead with your improvements."
In view of the Judge's official position, this was in the nature of an opinion from headquarters; and yet Henry delayed for a day or two before he signed his contract for the alterations. In the meantime, he saw Mr. Archer and got an interpretation of the will; Mr. Archer was sorry, but if Sundays were ruled out, there was no provision for reducing the quota, and Henry would have to stand or fall on the exact phraseology. He had another session with the Judge, and three a day with Anna, and one with the largest exhibitor in town (who pooh-poohed the League, and offered to back up his pooh-poohs with a cash bet that nothing would ever come of it) and eventually he was persuaded to execute the contract.
Through Bob Standish, he negotiated a mortgage which would cover the cost of the work, and leave a comfortable balance. "We're not going to be as poor as I thought we were," he said cheerfully to Anna who had put in two hectic weeks on the apartment she had chosen because it was the cheapest in the market. "We've got something in the bank for emergencies, and ten thousand a year is two hundred a week besides."
Anna was horrified. "You didn't think we'd spend what we make, did you?"
"Why not? Uncle John didn't say we had to show them ten thousand in coin at the end of the year; he said I had to make it—on the books. We can spend every kopeck of it, if we want to. And I was about to say that with six thousand dollars left over from the mortgage money, we'll have a maid after all. Yea, verily, even a cook."
Anna glanced at her hands—slim, beautiful hands they were—and shook her head obstinately. "No, dear. Because what we save now might be our only capital later."
"But we're going to win. We're going to exert our resistless wills to the utmost. What's the use of being tightwads?"
"But if we shouldn't win, look where we'd be! No, dear, we're going to save our pennies. That's why I picked out this apartment; that's why I'm doing as much as I can with it myself. It's the only safe way. And just look around—haven't I done wonders with almost nothing at all?"
Henry looked around, not that his memory was at fault, but because he was perpetually dumbfounded by her genius. Originally, this living-room had been a dolorous cave with varnished yellow-pine woodwork, gas-logs, yellow wall-paper to induce toothache, and a stark chandelier with two anemic legs kicking out at vacancy. She had caused the Orpheum electrician to remove the chandelier; with her own hands, she had painted the woodwork a deep, rich cream-colour; she had ripped out the gas-logs and found what no one had ever suspected—a practicable flue; and she had put in a basket grate which in the later season would glow with cheerful coals. Over the wall-paper she had laid a tint which was a somewhat deeper cream than the woodwork. She had made that cave attractive with a soft, dull-blue rug, and wicker furniture, with hangings of cretonne in sunny gold and an echo of the blue rug, with brass bowls which held the bulbs she had tended on the kitchen window-sill, with bookshelves, and pictures from her own home. Especially by candle-light, it was charming; and her greatest joy, and Henry's unending marvel, was that it had cost so little, and that so much of it was her own handiwork.
"Yes, but pause and reflect a minute," said Henry. "I've sold the big car and bought a tin-plated runabout. I've sold my horse. I've sold ten tons of old clothes and priceless jewels. Financially speaking, I'm as liquid as a pellucid pool in a primeval forest. And there's another grand thing to consider; I'm keeping my own books, so nobody's going to crack the till, the way they did with grandfather. Can't we even have a cook?"
"No, dear. Nobody but me. We've got to play safe. It's all part of the game. Don't you see it is?"
Eventually, he agreed with her, and went back to the Orpheum, where a score of workmen were busy remodelling the interior, and patching up the facade. He stood for a moment to watch the loading of a truck with broken-seats, jig-saw decorations, and the remains of a battered old projector; he looked up, presently to the huge sign over the entrance: "Closed During Alterations, Grand Opening Sunday Afternoon, August 20th. Souvenirs." There was no disputing the fact that all his eggs were in one basket, and that if the Reform League started to throw stones at it, they would find it a broad mark. But Henry had plenty of assurances that he didn't need to worry, and so he sponged away the last of his doubts, and set to work to learn his business with all possible speed.
It was his first experience with the building trades, and he was innocent enough to believe in schedules and estimates. In less than a fortnight, however, he came home to his wife in a mood which she was quick to detect, no matter how carefully he disguised it.
"Oh, I'm just peevish," said Henry. "The contractor says it'll take four weeks instead of three, and cost six thousand instead of forty-five hundred. But there's no use wearing a long face about it. If I did, I didn't mean to."
Anna slipped out of her big apron, and rearranged her hair. "Of course you didn't. I just knew."
"As a matter of fact," he said, "my face feels long enough to fit in a churn. Only I was under the impression that I'd put on a mask of gaiety that was absolutely impenetrable.... Well, what's happened in the ancestral home today?"
She had burned a steak and both thumbs; there was a leak in the plumbing, and the family overhead had four children and a phonograph. Henry kissed the thumbs, cursed the kitchen range, and forgot his troubles.
"You're going to ruin your hands," he said, sympathetically. "Darn it, we can afford a cook, Anna. Come on; be reasonable."
She shook her head. "Oh! And I meant to tell you the wall-paper's peeling off in the dining room, and the most awful smell of fried onions keeps coming up the dumb-waiter shaft."
Henry gathered her into his arms. "Dearest, in a year you can have a dipperful of attar of roses for every fried onion. And we'll be so rich you can mingle practically on equal terms with the plumber's wife.... Now let's go put on the feed-bag. And by the way, I prefer my steak slightly burned—it's more antiseptic."
He never suspected that ninety-nine percent of her difficulties were imaginary, and that she had invented them as soon as she saw his face.
A week later, the contractor brought in still another schedule, and another estimate; Henry became Chesterfieldian in his politeness, and wanted to know if a contract were a contract, or merely a piece of light literature. The contractor was apologetic, but wages were going up—materials were high—labour was scarce—transportation was uncertain—shipments were slow—
Henry was angry and disillusioned, but he knew that belligerence would gain him nothing. "In other words," he said, genially, "there's something the matter with everything but the Orpheum, and everybody but me. I congratulate myself. Well, when I do get the job finished, and what does it cost—not to a minute and a fraction of a cent, of course, but a general idea—what year, and—"
"And a guess that's within say, a couple of thousand dollars of the real price."
"I hope you don't think I'm making any big profit out of this. To tell the truth—"
"Oh, I know," said Henry. "You're losing money. Don't deny it, you eleemosynary rascal, don't deny it."
The man felt himself insulted, but Henry was smiling, and of course that strange word might be something technical. "Well, to tell the truth, we—"
"Come on, now. I know you're an altruist, but be a sport. You're losing money, and the children are moaning with hunger in their little trundle-beds, but when do I get the job done?"
"The second week in September."
"This September? And the bill?"
"Shaved down so close there's hardly any—"
"Shave it every morning; it's being done. But what's your figure?"
There was nothing for Henry to do but to have a new date painted on the sign, and to draw on his reserve fund, but at bottom he was vastly perturbed. He had counted on a running start, and every week of delay was a vicious handicap. If he had remotely imagined how elastic a contractor's agreement could be, he would certainly have thought twice about ordering so many changes—he would have steered a middle course, and been satisfied with half the improvement—but as it was, he had put himself in a trap. Now that the work was partly done, it would have to be completed. There was no way out of it. And from day to day, as the arrears of labour heaped up, and cost was piled on cost, Henry began to lose a trifle of his fine buoyancy and optimism.
Also, it was amazing to discover that Anna was much less self-reliant than he had thought her. Almost every night she displayed some unsuspected trait of helplessness, so that he simply had to shelve his worries, and baby her out of her own. He adored her, and therefore he never questioned her ingenuousness; he didn't see that by monopolizing his thoughts, and turning them entirely upon herself, she prevented him from wasting his energy in futile brooding, even if he had inclined to it.
He planned to open in mid-September, but a strike among the carpenters added a few days to the time, and, by virtue of a compromise, a few dollars to the account. The building inspector wouldn't pass the wiring, and the electricians took a holiday before they condescended to return. When the last nail was driven, the last brushful of paint applied, the final item added to the long statement, the day was the last Friday in the month, and the total bill amounted to more than nine thousand dollars.
"Anna," said Henry, reflectively, "it's a lucky thing for us this world was all built before we were born. Know that? Because if they'd ever started it under modern conditions, there wouldn't be anything to it yet but the Garden of Eden and Atlantic City and maybe Gopher Prairie.... Well, I wonder what's next?"
"There won't be any next, dear. Nothing can happen now. And aren't you glad I've made us economize? Aren't you? Say your prayers! Say—'bless Anna'!"
"Not Anna—Pollyanna. Glad we economized! Why don't you say you're glad it took two months to do two weeks' work because that gave me so much more time to study the game, and find out how to run the theatre? No, it goes back farther than that. I'm glad you caught me while I was so young."
"What? Don't you remember how you pursued me, and vamped me, and took away my volition, so I was helpless as a babe—"
"Sure you did. Funny you don't remember that. Or else—was it the other way around?"
"Well, anyhow," he said, in a slightly lower key. "I'm glad it happened.... And you stick to me, and you'll wear diamonds yet. Great hunks of grit, strung all over you. I'll make you look as vulgar as a real society woman. That's the kind of man I am. A good provider—that is, of course, providing."
And on Saturday morning, the Herald told them that a committee from the Reform League had waited on the Mayor for the third time, and delivered an ultimatum.
"Oh, bother!" said Anna. "There's been something in the paper every two or three days. It doesn't amount to a row of pins. Dad says so."
Henry inhaled deeply. "Did you see who's on that committee? Mix and Aunt Mirabelle, of course, and if they've got it in for anybody special, I'm it. Bob says Mix is a grand little hater; he's seen him in action, and he says to keep an eye on him: says Mix had lined up a buyer for the Orpheum, so naturally he's sore at me.... And then a flock of old men just under par—I'd say they average about ninety-seven and a half—but they're a pretty solid lot; too solid to be booted out of any Mayor's office. And if they should get the Mayor stirred up, why, we wouldn't have the chance of a celluloid rat in a furnace.... I wish the Judge were where I could get at him. He'd know what's going on."
"Couldn't you ask the Exhibitors Association?"
"They don't know. The Judge is on the inside. Do you know when he's coming back from his vacation?"
"Not for two or three weeks yet. But I've an intuition, dear—"
"Sure. So have I. A year from now we'll be eating our golden pheasants off our golden plates with our gold teeth. But in the meantime, you better keep your eye on the butcher's bill.... They tell me hash is a great nerve-food."
In years the Mayor was no chicken, but in politics he had hardly chipped his shell, so that he was still susceptible to delegations, and sets of resolutions, and references to his solemn oath of office. Furthermore, he had been secretly awed by Mr. Mix's eloquence; for Mr. Mix, as spokesman of the committee, had delivered a speech which was a brief history of both common and statutory law from the time of Solon and Draco up to the most recent meeting of the City Council. Then, in addition, the Mayor had been mightily impressed by the personnel of that committee—chiefly old men, to be sure, but men of immense dignity and considerable weight in local finance; and also, for a counterpoise, there was Miss Starkweather. He hadn't liked the way Miss Starkweather looked at him. She had looked at him with the same rigid intensity with which his wife looked at a fly in the dining-room.
As the door closed behind the last of the committee, the Mayor drew a prodigious breath, and walked over to the window, where for several minutes he remained in deep thought. He tried to remember Mr. Mix's peroration:
"Thousands of years ago, Mr. Mayor, when the race of man was still dressed in skins, and domiciled in caves, and settling its differences with clubs and brickbats, there was no institution of law,—there was no written language. But as civilization advanced, men found the necessity of communicating their ideas; so that they devised a form of speech which would enable them to exchange these ideas—such as they were—about life, and law. And later on, it was plain that in order to perpetuate these ideas and pass them to posterity, it was necessary to write them down; and so there was developed a written language, and by this method civilized men through all the ages have written down the laws under which they are willing to live. It would be impractical for all of us to meet together to pass our laws, and therefore we elect representatives who make our laws for us. These laws are binding upon all of us until they are set aside by still other legislators, still acting for the whole people, who have chosen them as their legislative representatives. The duty of the executive branch of our government is to enforce those laws, whether made yesterday, or made fifty years ago, or five hundred years ago, and written down in our law-books.... This is our third conference with you, Mr. Mayor, in regard to one of those laws. I therefore have to inform you, in behalf of our committee and our League, and our whole city (whose representatives in City Council passed that law for our common good) that you stand today at the parting of the ways. You must choose whether to uphold your sacred oath of office, or to disregard it. And within forty-eight hours you will have made that choice, and we shall know where our duty lies.... I thank you for your patience."
The Mayor was one of those who, without the first atom of sustaining evidence, had long been vaguely suspicious that Mr. Mix wasn't always as pious as he appeared in church. He had noted, too, that although Mr. Mix's name was frequently listed on committees, yet it never bobbed up in connection with an obscure cause, however worthy, or among the names of unimportant citizens. He was convinced that Mr. Mix had an ulterior motive—political, social, financial—but the worst of it was that Mr. Mix had come with support which couldn't be sidetracked.
The Mayor shook himself, and went over to his telephone; a few minutes later the Chief of Police strolled in, and grinned at the disordered semi-circle of chairs. "Been holdin' a prayer-meetin', Mr. Rowland?"
The Mayor was biting his moustache. "Sit down, Chief. I want some advice.... Lord, I wish Barklay wasn't off on his vacation.... Why, I've just had a threat from this Reform League."
"Threat? What kind of a threat?"
The Mayor didn't reply immediately; he continued to chew his moustache. "You know that fool Sunday law—was passed 'way back in the year One?"
"Sure. 147. Dead letter."
"They say it's got to be enforced."
The Chief laughed boisterously. "That's a big order."
"I know it is. The mass of the people don't want it—never did. But in these days there isn't a Councillor I know'd put a motion to repeal it, or amend it. Probition's scared 'em. They don't know what the people want, so they're laying mighty low.... Same time, this League's getting pretty strong. Mix, and John Starkweather's sister, and ex-Senator Kaplan, Richards of the First National, Dr. Smillie of the Church crowd, old man Fredericks of National Metal—know what they handed me today?"
"Let her come."
The Mayor snorted with disgust. "Hinted if I didn't begin enforcement day after tomorrow they'd appeal to the Governor.... Lord, I wish Barklay was here."
The Chief grinned again. "I know what Barklay'd say."
"Give 'em rope."
"We-ll ... that's easy enough to say."
"Easy to do, too."
"I can't see it. But if they go up to the Governor, with a petition to investigate—and the state law's pretty rough—and start impeachment proceedings—"
The Chief spat contemptuously. "Shucks, give 'em rope."
"Why, enforce the damn' law—just once. Spike Mix's guns—he's only doin' this on a bluff. Guess he wants the reform vote for Council, or somethin'. Keep it under our bonnets, and send out a squad of patrolman Sunday afternoon to raid every theatre in town. Bat 'em over the head before they know it. I wouldn't even tell my own men 'till I lined 'em up and give 'em their orders. Then listen for the public to holler."
The Mayor had broken into a high-pitched laugh; he stopped abruptly. "How many people'd there be in all the houses put together?"
"Six thousand. Five of 'em at the movies."
"They'd start a riot!"
"Oh, I wouldn't pinch the audiences; just the managers, and bust up the shows. Then you'd find out if the people want that law or not. We say they don't, but how do we know? Let's find out."
The Mayor sat down at his desk, and began to chuckle. "Chief, that's a bully idea—but what'd happen on Monday?"
"Happen? When, five, six thousand voters got put out in the street and their Sunday afternoon spoiled? Fellows with girls—Pa takin' the family out for a treat—factory hands? They'd be a howlin' mob in the Council chamber on Monday mornin'; that's what'd happen. And one damn fool law'd be fixed so's the Police Department'd know how to handle it."
"It's passing the buck!" murmured the Mayor, ecstatically. "It's passing the buck right to the people, by George!"
"Sure. Do we go ahead with it? Want anybody tipped off?"
The Mayor was hugging his knees ecstatically. "No, we'll make a clean sweep. No favourites. The bigger haul the better. All the boys'll understand. Keep it dead under your hat. We'll talk over the details tomorrow." Chuckling, he leaned back and opened his arms wide, his fists closed. "Rope!" he said. "Rope! Chief, we'll give 'em a hawser!"
* * * * *
On Saturday evening, Henry gave a special invitation performance, to which only his personal friends and Anna's were bidden, and if he had cherished any lingering doubt of his place in society, it must have been removed that night. His friends didn't know the details of the Starkweather trust fund, but they knew that Henry's future was lashed to his success with the Orpheum, and they came to help tie the knot. Naturally, since the auditorium was filled with young people who had grown up together, and with a few older people who had helped to bring them up, there was plenty of informality—indeed, a large part of it had been scheduled and rehearsed in advance. Henry didn't have to ask any questions; he knew that Bob Standish was responsible.
With Anna beside him, he had stood for thirty minutes in the foyer, to receive his guests, and as smile after smile encouraged him, and he heard the steady stream of sincere good-wishes, Henry began to grow curiously warm in the region of his heart, and curiously weak in the knees. Anna moved closer to him.
"I told you so," she whispered. "I told you so. Everybody loves you."
"It isn't me," he whispered back, with ungrammatical fervour. "It's you."
They stood together, then, at the rear of the house, to watch the high-jinks going on in front. Standish had ousted the three-piece orchestra, and taken over the piano; two other volunteers had flanked him, and the revelry began with a favourite ditty to proclaim that all reports to the contrary notwithstanding, Henry was style all the while, all the while.
Then, suddenly, there were loud shouts for Henry and Anna, and they were seized and dragged to the top of the centre aisle. Standish swung into the Mendelssohn Wedding March, and through a haze of rose-leaf confetti and paper streamers, the two Devereuxs were forced down to the orchestra-pit. The house was on its feet to them, and Anna, half-laughing, half-crying with happiness, was sorting confetti out of her hair when Standish clambered up on the stage, and waved for silence.
"Listen, everybody.... Old Hank Devereux and wife tried to save the price of a caterer, last spring, and they got away with it. Alas, Hank's a jealous bird, and he was afraid somebody'd kiss the bride. Furthermore, Anna didn't want to get any wedding presents, because they clutter up the house so. And when most of your friends live in the same town, it's hard to get rid of the stuff you don't want. So they buncoed us out of a party. Well, so far we've given 'em Mendelssohn and confetti. Any lady or gent who now desires to kiss the bride, please rise and come forward.... Hey, there! This isn't any Sinn Fein sociable! Ceremony's postponed!... And finally, dearly beloved brethren and sistren, we come to the subject of wedding gifts." He turned to look down at the Devereuxs, and some of the levity went out of his voice. "We thought we'd bring you a little something for good-luck, old man. It's from all of us. Hope you like it. If you don't, you can swap it for a few tons of coal.... There she comes!"
It was a magnificent silver tea-service, borne down the aisle by the two men who, next to Standish, were Henry's best friends.
Anna was utterly speechless, and Henry was coughing diligently. The service was placed on the piano; Henry touched the cool smoothness of a cream-jug, and tried to crystallize his thought into coherence.
The applause had died away; the house was quiet, expectant. From the rear, a man's voice said: "It isn't like a golf championship trophy, old man—you don't have to win it three times—it's all yours."
In the shriek of laughter which followed, Henry, with Anna in tow, fled to shelter. "Lights!" said Henry. Abruptly, the auditorium was dim. And with Anna holding tight to his fingers, he sat down in the furthest corner, and trembled.
For the next two hours, Standish, who was on one of his periodical fits of comedy, stuck to his piano, and dominated the evening. He played grotesquely inappropriate melodies, he commanded singing, once he stopped the show and with the assistance of a dozen recruits put on the burlesque of an amateur night at a music-hall. He made the occasion a historical event, and when at last it was over, and the guests were filing out to the lobby, he came to Henry and held out his hand.
"Big-time, Henry, big-time," he said. "See? They're all with you."
Henry cleared his throat. "You're a peach, Bob. You got it up."
"Oh, it wasn't anything." Standish's cloak of comedy had fallen away; he looked as lazy, and as innocent and childlike as ever. "Before I go—I had a letter today from one of the big movie circuit crowd. They'll pay you thirty-seven thousand five hundred cash for the Orpheum. I've got a certified check for a thousand to bind the bargain. Want it?"
Henry didn't even glance at it. "Put it back in your pocket, Bob. I wouldn't sell it for ten times that—not after tonight."
His friend smiled very faintly. "It's a good price, if you care to get out from under. Between you and me, I think it's more than the Orpheum's worth."
"Don't want it," said Henry gruffly.
Standish gazed with vast innocence at Anna. "Third and last chance, Henry. Otherwise, I'll mail it back tonight. Just a few hours from now this place, right where we're standing, 'll look like a sardine-can come to life, and you'll be taking in money hand over fist, and you'll be branded forever as—"
"Oh, shut up," said Henry, affectionately.
* * * * *
Through the jostling, good-natured crowd which blocked the sidewalk in front of the Orpheum Theatre, that Sunday at two o'clock, a policeman in uniform pushed his way to the ticket-booth. "Where's the manager?"
The ticket-seller bobbed her head backwards. "First door on the left."
The policeman stalked through the lobby, and found the door; knocked belligerently, and stepped inside. "You the manager? Well, there ain't goin' to be no show today, see?"
Henry jumped to his feet. "What's that?"
"You heard what I said. No show. Close up your theatre and call it a day."
Henry turned, for moral support, to his wife: she had already hurried to his side. "What's all this, Mr. Officer?" she asked, unsteadily.
"It's police orders; that's what it is, young lady."
She seized Henry's hand. "But—but when we've—why, you don't really mean it, do you?"
He dug into his pocket, and produced a tattered, dog-eared pamphlet, folded open at one of the early pages. He read aloud, slowly: "'Whosoever shall fail in the strict observance o' the Lord's Day by any unseemly act, speech, or carriage, or whosoever shall engage in any manner o' diversion or profane occupation for profit—'"
Anna, holding tight to Henry's hand, knew that argument was futile, but she was a woman, and she had a husband to defend. Her heart was leaden, but her voice was stout with indignation.
"But Mr. Policeman! Do you know who I am? I'm Judge Barklay's daughter. I know all about that ordinance. Nobody's ever—"
He held up his hand in warning. "That's all right, young lady. If you're his daughter, you oughter keep on the right side o' the law. It won't do you no good to bicker about it neither—you go in there an' tell your audience to get their money back, an' go on home."
Henry picked up his cigarette. He had no craving to smoke, but he didn't want Anna to see that his lips were trembling. "Well," he said, "there goes the old ball-game. And we've sold every seat in the house, and thrown away three hundred dollar's worth of souvenirs, and the sidewalk's full of people waiting for the second show.... Knockout Mix beats Battling Devereux in the first round." He did his best to smile, but the results were poor. "And when we held off three days just so we could start on Sunday with a grand smash!"
"Get a move on, young feller. If the show begins, you're pinched, see? You go in there and do what I told you."
From within there was a sudden rattle of applause. Anna gripped her husband's arm. "It's ... it's begun already," she said, breathlessly.
The policeman stepped forward. "You heard me tell you to stop it, didn't you? What are you tryin' to do—play horse with me? Now you go in there an' stop it, and then you come along with me an' explain it to the Judge. See? Now, get a wiggle on."
From the moment that he went out upon the little stage of his theatre until he came wearily into his own apartment at five o'clock, Henry lived upon a mental plane so far removed from his usual existence that he was hardly aware of any bodily sensations at all. A brand-new group of emotions had picked him out for their play-ground, and Henry had no time to be self-conscious.
In the first place, he was too stunned to remember that he hated to be conspicuous, and that he had never made a public speech in all his life. He was paralyzed by the contrast between last night and today. Consequently, he made a very good speech indeed, and it had some acrid humour in it, too, and the audience actually cheered him—although later, when he reviewed the incident in his mind, he had to admit that the cheers were loudest just after he had told the audience to keep the souvenirs.
Then, when in the custody of the patrolman, he went out to the street, his mood was still so concentrated, his anger and depression so acute, that he was transported out of the very circumstances which caused him to be angry and depressed. He realized, with a hazy sort of perception, that a tail of small boys had attached itself to the lodestar of the policeman's uniform; but even at this indignity, his reaction was curiously impersonal. It was as though the spiritual part of him and the material part had got a divorce; and the spiritual part, which was the plaintiff, stood coldly aloof, watching the material part tramping down Main Street, with a flat-footed policeman beside it, a voluntary escort behind, and rumour flying on ahead to all the newspapers. He was actually too humiliated to suffer from the humiliation.
To be sure, this wasn't by any means his first entanglement with the law, but heretofore his occasions had been marked by a very different ritual. He recalled, phlegmatically, that whenever, in the old days, a member of the motorcycle squad had shot past him, and signalled to him to stop, the man had always treated him more or less fraternally, in recognition of the fellowship of high speed. The traffic officers had cheerfully delivered a summons with one hand, and accepted a cigar with the other. There was a sort of sporting code about it; and even in Court, a gentleman who had been arrested for speeding was given the consideration which belonged to his rank, and the fine was usually doubled on the assumption that a gentleman could afford it. But this was different. A Devereux—which was almost the same thing as a Starkweather—was haled along the highway like a common prisoner. And if the Devereux hadn't been engaged in that two-for-a-cent, low-class, revolting business,—and if Aunt Mirabelle hadn't been Aunt Mirabelle—it couldn't have happened. The spiritual part of him looked down at the material part, and wondered how Henry Devereux could be so white-hot with passion, and yet so calm.
What would his friends say now? What would Bob Standish say, and Mr. Archer and Judge Barklay? And what would Aunt Mirabelle not say? This was a grim reflection.
During the journey he spoke only once, and that was to say, brusquely, to his captor: "Court isn't open today, is it?"
"Nope. But we're goin' to a Justice o' the Peace. Might save you a night in the hoosegow. Can't tell. Orders, anyway."
The Justice of the Peace (or, as he took some pains to inform Henry, the Most Honourable Court of Special Sessions) was a grizzled dyspeptic who held forth in the back room of a shoemaker's shop, while the rabble waited outside, flattening their noses against the window-glass. The dyspeptic had evidently been coached for the proceeding; on his desk he had a copy of the ordinance, and as soon as he had heard the charge, he delivered a lecture which he seemed to have by heart, and fined Henry twenty-five dollars and costs. Henry paid the fine, and turning to go, stumbled against two more policemen, each with his quarry. "Just out of curiosity," said Henry, speaking to no one in particular, and in a voice which came so faintly to his ears that he barely heard it, "Just out of idle curiosity, when the justice gets half the fine, isn't this court open on Sunday for godless profit, too?" And in the same, enduring haze of unreality, he paid an additional twenty dollars for contempt, and went out to the sidewalk.
He emerged as the focus of interest for a large, exuberant crowd of loiterers. A camera clicked, and Henry saw that the man at the shutter was one of the Herald's staff photographers. A youthful reporter caught up with him, and asked him what he had to say for publication. "Say for publication?" repeated Henry, dully. "Why, you can say—" He walked half a block before he completed the sentence. "You can say if I said it, you couldn't print it anyway."
And although the reporter paced him for a quarter of a mile, Henry never opened his mouth again. He was curiously obsessed, as men under heavy mental pressure are so often obsessed, by a ridiculously trivial detail. How was he going to enter that forty-five dollars on his books?
He had intended to go straight home to Anna, but automatically his steps led him to the Orpheum, where he went into his tiny office and sat down at his desk. There were two envelopes on his blotter; he slit them, diffidently, and found a bill from the novelty house which had supplied the souvenirs, and a supplementary statement from the decorator.
He opened a fat ledger, took up a pencil, and began to jot down figures on the back of one of the envelopes. Already, by remodelling the the theatre, he had lost two month's headway, and spent three times too much money, and if Sunday performances were to be eliminated.... He threw down the pencil, and sat back spiritless. The good-wishes of all his friends, last night, had turned sour in his possession. To reach his goal, he should have to contrive, somehow, to fill nearly every seat at nearly every performance for the balance of the year. It was all well enough to have self-confidence, and courage, but it was better to look facts in the face. He had come to an impasse. Not only that, but overnight his property, by virtue of this Sunday enforcement and its effect upon the trade, had seriously depreciated in value. If it had been worth thirty-seven thousand five hundred yesterday, it wasn't worth a penny more than twenty today. And he could have had Standish's certified check, and got out from under. And he had thrown away in improvements almost every cent that he had borrowed against the original value. He was hardly better off, today, than if he had carried through his first bargain with Mr. Mix.
He would have to go home to Anna, and confess that he was beaten by default. He would have to explain to her, as gently as he could, that the road which led to the end of the rainbow was closed to traffic. He would have to admit to her that as far as he could see, he was destined to go on living indefinitely in a jerry-built apartment, with the odour of fried onions below, and the four children and the phonograph overhead. And Anna would have to go on pinch-hitting for cook, and waitress, and chambermaid, and bottle-washer—she would have to go on with the desecration of her beautiful hands in dish-water, and the ruin of her complexion over the kitchen-stove. The clothes that he had planned to buy for her, the jewels, the splendid car—the cohort of servants he had planned for her—the social prestige! And instead of that, he was nothing but a fragment of commercial driftwood, and he couldn't afford, now, to buy her so much as a new hat, without a corresponding sacrifice.
And yet—involuntarily, he stiffened—and yet he'd be hanged if he went back and acted like a whipped pup. No, he was supposed to be a man, and his friends and Anna believed in him, an he'd be hanged if he went back and confessed anything at all, admitted anything. It was all well enough to look facts in the face, but it was better still to keep on fighting until the gong rang. And when he was fighting against the cant purity and goodness of Mr. Mix, and the cold astigmatism of Aunt Mirabelle, he'd be hanged if he quit in the first round. No, even if Henry himself knew that he was beaten, nobody else was going to know it, and Anna least of all.
At five o'clock, he came blithely into his living-room: and as he saw Anna's expression, his own changed suddenly. He had thought to find her in tears; but she was coming to him with her usual welcome, her usual smile.
Henry didn't quite understand himself, but he was just the least bit offended, regardless of his relief. You simply couldn't tell from one minute to the next what a woman was going to do. By all precedent, Anna should have been enjoying hysterics, which Henry had come prepared to treat.
"Well," he said, "you'd better cancel that order for golden pheasants, old dear." She stopped short, and stared at him curiously, as though the remark had come from a stranger.
"We've got lamb chops tonight," said Anna, with whimsical relevance, "and fresh strawberry ice-cream. And pheasants are awfully indigestible, anyway."
Henry returned her stare. "What have you been doing all the afternoon—reading Marcus Aurelius?"
"No, I haven't been reading anything at all. I tidied up the kitchen. What happened to you?"
There were two different ways of presenting the narrative, and Henry chose the second. He made it a travesty: and all the time that he was talking, Anna continued to gaze at him in that same curious, thoughtful fashion, as if she were noting, for the first time, a subtle variation in his character.
"And—aren't you even mad?" she demanded. "I thought you'd be furious. I thought you'd be tearing your hair and—and everything."
Henry laughed explosively. "Impatience, as I've pointed out so often to Aunt Mirabelle, dries the blood more than age or sorrow. Yes, I'm mad, but I've put it on ice. I'm trying to work out some scheme to keep us in the running, and not give Mix too good an excuse to hoot at us. No—they say it's darkest just before the dawn, so I'm trying to fix it so we'll be sitting on the front steps to see the sunrise. Only so far I haven't had a mortal thought."
"As a matter of fact," she confided, "I loathed the idea of our running the Orpheum on Sundays. Didn't you?"
"Naturally. Also on Thursdays, Saturdays, Mondays, Fridays, Wednesdays and Tuesdays. But Sundays did sort of burrow a little further under my tough hide. And you know that's quite an admission for anybody that was brought up by Aunt Mirabelle." He smiled in reminiscence. "She used to make virtue so darned scaly and repulsive that it's a wonder I've got a moral left. As it is, my conscience may be all corrugated like a raisin, but I'm almost glad we can't run Sundays. That is, I would be if my last remaining moral weren't going to be so expensive."
"Don't you think they'll probably change that ordinance now, though? Don't you think people will insist on it? After today?"
"Guess work," said Henry. "Pure guesswork. But my guess is that we're ditched."
"Well, why don't you join the Exhibitors Association, and fight?"
He shook his head. "No, because that's just what Mix and Aunt Mirabelle expect me to do. This campaign of theirs is impersonal towards everybody else, but it's slightly personal towards me. I mean, Aunt Mirabelle's sore on general principles, and Mix is sore because I wouldn't come up and eat out of his hand and get myself sheared. We won't fight. We'll outwit 'em."
"Now that question," he said reproachfully, "was mighty tactless. I don't know how. But I know I'm not going to stick my head over the ramparts for 'em to shoot at. I'm no African Dodger—I'm an impresario. Maybe they'll hit me in the eye, all right, but I'm not going to give 'em a good cigar for it."
"I know, dear, but how are we going to make up all that tremendous loss?"
"Sheer brilliance," said Henry, easily. "Which is what I haven't got nothing but, of. So I'm banking on you.... And in the meantime, let's go ahead with the orgy of lamb chops you were talking about. I'm hungry."
They spent the evening in a cheerful discussion of ways and means, during which she was continually impressed by Henry's attitude. From earlier circumstances she had gathered that when he was under fire, his rash impulsiveness would remain constant, and that only his jocular manner would disappear; furthermore, she knew that in spite of that manner, he was a borrower of trouble. And yet Henry, who had a pretty legitimate reason to be bristling with rancour, sat and talked away as assuredly as though this hadn't been his doomsday.
She left him, once, to answer the telephone, and when she came back, she caught him off guard, and saw his face in repose. Henry wasn't aware of it; and when he heard her footsteps, he looked up with an instantaneous re-arrangement of his features. But Anna had seen, and Anna had understood; she sensed that Henry, for a generous purpose, had merely adopted a pose. Secretly, he was quite as tormented, quite as desperate, as she had expected him to be.
Her heart contracted, but for Henry's sake, she closed her eyes to the revelation, and resumed the discourse in the same key which Henry had set for it. Far into the night they exchanged ideas, and half-blown inspirations, but when Henry finally arose, with the remark that it was time to wind the clock and put out the cat, they had come to no conclusion except that something would certainly have to be done about it. "Oh, well," said Henry, indulgently, "a pleasant evening was reported as having been had by all, and nothing was settled—so it was just as valuable as a Cabinet Meeting."
The sight of the silver tea-service, however, sent him to bed with renewed determination.
In the morning, he dreaded to open his newspaper, but when he had read through the story twice, he conceded that it wasn't half as yellow as he feared. No, it was really rather conservative, and the photograph of him wasn't printed at all; he read, with grim satisfaction, that another culprit, somewhat more impetuous, had smashed the camera, and attempted to stage a revival of his success upon the photographer.
He had been fully prepared to find himself singled out for publicity, and he was greatly relieved. To be sure, there was a somewhat flippant mention of his relationship to Mirabelle, but it wasn't over-emphasized, and altogether, he had no justification for resentment—that is, at the Herald. The Herald had merely printed the news; what Henry resented was the fact.
He turned to the editorial page and found, as he had imagined, a solid column of opinion; but to his amazement, it made no protest of yesterday's event—on the contrary, it echoed Judge Barklay. It said half a dozen times, in half a dozen different ways, that a bad law ought to be repealed, a good law ought to be preserved, and that all laws, good or bad, as long as they were written on the books, ought to be enforced. Henry was mystified; for the Herald had always professed to be in utter sympathy with the workingman.
Later in the day, however, he saw the leading exhibitor in town, who winked at him. "Clever stuff, Devereux, clever stuff. 'Course, if we put up a roar, they'll say it's because we've got an ax to grind. Sure we have. But the Herald wants the people—the people that come to our shows—to get up and blat. Then it wouldn't be the League against the Association—it'd be the people against the League, and the laugh'd be on the other foot."
"What's the betting?"
"Search me. But Mayor Rowland told me if we got up a monster petition with a thousand or two names on it, he'll bring it up to the Council. We're puttin' up posters in the lobby."
Henry's heart jumped. "But suppose the people don't sign?"
"Well then we'd be out o' luck. But there's other ways o' goin' at that damn League, and we're goin' to use all of 'em. And that reminds me, Devereux—ain't it about time for you to join the Association?"
"I'm afraid not. I ought to, but—you see, you're going to make things as hot as you can for the League—personalities, and all that, and when my aunt is president of it—"
"But great guns! What's she done to you?"
"I know, but I can't help that. You go ahead and rip things up any way you want to, but I'd better stay out. It may be foolish, but that's how I feel about it."
"It's your own affair. I think you're too blamed easy, but you suit yourself.... And about the big noise, why I guess all we can do is wait and see what happens."
Miss Starkweather, who met him on the street that morning, told him the same thing. "Some people," she remarked, altitudinously, "are always getting their toes stepped on, aren't they? Well, there's another way to look at it—the toes oughtn't to have been there."
"Oh, give us time," said Henry, pleasantly. "Even the worm turns, you know."
"Humph!" said Aunt Mirabelle. "Let a dozen worms do a dozen turns! I never thought I'd see the day when a Devereux—almost the same thing as a Starkweather—'d figure in a disgrace such as yours. You've heaped muck on your uncle's parlour-carpet. But some day you'll see the writing on the wall, Henry."
He was tempted to remind her of another city ordinance against bill-posting, but he refrained, and saved it up for Anna.
"I'll watch for it," he said.
"Well, you better. All I've got to say is this: you just wait and see what happens."
And then, to complete the record, he got identically the same suggestion from Bob Standish.
"I suppose," said Standish, "maybe you're wishing you'd taken that check."
"Not that, exactly—but I've thought about it."
"Strikes me that you're in the best position of anybody in town, Henry. You've got a following that'll see you through, if it's humanly possible."
"Sounds like passing the hat, doesn't it?"
"Oh, no. And the side that scores first doesn't always win the game, either—I dare say you've noticed it. It'll come out all right—you just wait and see what happens."
Henry waited, and he saw. And to Henry's dismay, and to the Mayor's chagrin, and to Miss Mirabelle Starkweather's exceeding complacence, nothing happened at all.
The public petition, which had been advertised as "monstrous," caught hardly five hundred names, and two thirds of them were Mr. A. Mutt, Mr. O. Howe Wise, Mr. O. U. Kidd, and similar patronymics, scribbled by giggling small boys. The blue-law was universally unpopular, and no doubt of it, but the citizenry hesitated to attack it; the recent landslide for prohibition showed an apparent sentiment which nobody wanted to oppose—Why, if a man admitted that he was in favour of Sunday tolerance, his friends (who of course were going through exactly the same mental rapids) might put him down in the same class with those who still mourned for saloons. Each man waited for his neighbour to sign first, and the small boys giggled, and filled up the lists. Besides, there was a large amusement park just beyond the city line, and the honest workingman proceeded to pay his ten-cent fare, and double the profit of the park.
The Exhibitors Association put up its fists to the Mayor, and the Mayor proposed a public hearing, with the Council in attendance. At this juncture the Reform League sent a questionnaire to each Councillor, and to each member of the Association. The phraseology was Socratic (it was the product of Mr. Mix's genius) and if any one answered Yes, he was snared: if he said No, he was ambushed, and if he said nothing he was cooked. It reminded the Mayor of the man who claimed that in a debate, he would answer every question of his adversary with a simple No or Yes—and the first question was: "Have you stopped beating your wife?"
The Exhibitors held a meeting behind closed doors, and gave out the statement that nothing was to be gained by a public hearing. But they launched a flank attack on the Council only to discover that the Council was wide awake, and knew that its bread was buttered on one side only.
"We are listening," said the Chairman, with statesmanlike dignity, "for the voice of the people, and so far we haven't heard a peep. It looks as if they don't want you fellows to run Sunday's, don't it?"
The spokesman of the Exhibitors cleared his throat. "Statistics prove that every Sunday, an average of six thousand people—"
"That's all right. We've seen your petition. And Mr. Mutt and Mr. Kid and most of the rest of your patrons don't seem to be registered voters. How about it?"
The Council burst into a loud laugh, and the spokesman retreated in discomfiture.
For several days, Henry was fairly besieged by his friends, who joked him about his arrest, and then, out of genuine concern, wanted to know if his prospects were seriously damaged. To each interrogatory, Henry waved his hand with absolute nonchalance. As far as he knew, only six people were in the secret—himself, his wife, Judge Barklay, Standish, Mr. Archer and Aunt Mirabelle—and he wasn't anxious to increase the number. His aunt might not have believed it, but this was more on her account than on his own.
"Lord, no," said Henry, casually. "Don't worry about me. I'm only glad there's some news for the Herald. It was getting so dry you had to put cold cream on it or it'd crack."
By the time that Judge Barklay returned from his vacation, the subject had even slipped away from the front page of the newspapers. The flurry was over. And out of a population of fifty thousand, ninety-nine per cent of whom were normal-minded citizens, neither ultra-conservative nor ultra-revolutionary, that tiny fraction which composed the Ethical Reform League had stowed its propaganda down the throats of the overwhelming majority.
The Judge shrugged his shoulders. "Organization," he said. "They've got a leader, and speakers, and a publicity bureau. That's all. I hear they're going to use it to boom Mix for a political job. But you wait—wait, and keep on paying out the rope."
"That's all I've got left to pay out," said Henry, amiably.
"Aren't you doing pretty well, considering?"
Henry nodded. "We're doing great business—I mean, anybody else would think so. About a hundred and fifty a week net, for the first three weeks. And Anna's salting away a hundred and ten of it. Every morning I draw a clean handkerchief, and a dime for dissipation, and she keeps a clutch on the rest."
"Hm! A hundred and fifty. That's good money, Henry."
"Well, that's the only kind we take. But you can see for yourself what this thing's done to us. We ought to be averaging two twenty-five. And we'd have done it, too."
The Judge appeared contrite. "I'm afraid you're blaming me for bad advice, Henry."
"No, sir. If I blamed anybody, I'd just blame myself for taking it. But I don't. You see, even if I fall down on the first prize, I've got a pretty good business under way. Eight thousand a year."
"Would you keep on with it?"
"I'd think it over. It isn't particularly joyous, but it sure does pay the rent. Oh, I suppose I'd try to sell it, if I could get a price for it, but Bob says I couldn't expect a big one, because so much of the trade sort of belongs to us—and wouldn't necessarily patronize the chap that bought me out. He tells me it was worth twenty when I took it, and thirty now, and if it weren't for this law, it would be worth fifty. That's all due to the improvements, and you advised me to put 'em in, and you engineered the mortgage. So I'm not huffy at you. Hardly."
"Still, you want the big prize if you can get it.... Notice what Mix is giving out to the papers? He'll hang himself yet, and if he does, you won't be too far behind to catch up. That's a prophecy. But by George, I can't help feeling that Mix isn't in that outfit for his health. It just don't smell right, somehow."
The Reform League had jubilantly explained to Mr. Mix that he was a liberator and a saviour of humanity from itself, and Mr. Mix had deftly caught whatever bouquets were batted up to him. He had allowed the fragrance of them to waft even as far as the Herald office, to which he sent a bulletin every forty-eight hours. Mr. Mix's salary was comforting, his expense accounts were paid as soon as vouchers were submitted, he was steadily advancing in Miss Starkweather's good books, and he considered himself to be a very clever man indeed.
At the very least, he was clever enough to realize that his position was now strategically favourable, and that as long as he moved neither forward nor backward, he was in no danger from any source. He had a living salary, and he was saving enough out of it to reduce his indebtedness; in a year he could snap his fingers at the world. Furthermore, he could see no possibility of legislating himself out of his job before that time—certainly not if he played his cards craftily, and didn't push his success too far. And by the end of the year, he could select a future to fit the circumstances.
For the time being, however, it seemed advisable to Mr. Mix to make haste slowly; he had turned an impending personal catastrophe into a personal triumph, but the triumph could be spoiled unless he kept it carefully on ice. The failure of the public to rise up and flay the League had lifted Mr. Mix into a position of much prominence, and conveyed the very reasonable supposition that he was individually powerful. When a man is supposed to possess power, he can travel a long distance on the effect of a flashing eye, and an expanded chest; also, it is a foolhardy man who, regardless of his reputation, engages to meet all-comers in their own bailiwick.
He had committed himself to the preparation of an amendment to the ordinance, which should be more definite, and more cerulean, than the original, but he knew that if he pressed it too soon, it might topple back and crush him. The people could be led, but they couldn't be driven. And therefore Mr. Mix, who had naturally made himself solid with the reactionaries and the church-going element (except those liberals who regarded him as an officious meddler), and who had actually succeeded in being mentioned as the type of man who would make a good Mayor, or President of Council, followed out a path which, unless his geography of common-sense was wrong, could hardly end at a precipice.
He became, overnight, a terror to the boys and young men who rolled dice in the city parks, and on the alley sidewalks in the business district; and this was held commendable even by the church-goers who played bridge at the Citizens Club for penny points. He headed a violent onslaught upon the tobacconists who sold cigarettes to minors, and this again was applauded by those who in their youth had avoided tobacco—because it was too expensive—and smoked sweet-fern and cornsilk behind the barn. He nagged the School Board until there went forth an edict prohibiting certain styles of dress; and the mothers of several unattractive maidens wrote letters to him, and called him a Christian. The parents of other girls also wrote to him, but he didn't save the letters. He made a great stir about the Sanitary Code, and the Pure Food regulations, and although the marketmen began to murmur discontentedly—and why, indeed, should the grocery cat not sleep in a bed of her own choosing; and why should not the busy, curious, thirsty fly have equal right of access with any other insect?—yet Mr. Mix contrived to hold himself up to the public as a live reformer, but not a radical, and to the League as a radical but not a rusher-in where angels fear to tread. It required the equilibrium of a tight-rope walker, but Mr. Mix had it. Indeed, he felt as pleased with himself as though he had invented it. And he observed, with boundless satisfaction, that the membership of the League was steadily increasing, and that the Mayoralty was mentioned more frequently. He was aware, of course, that a reform candidate is always politically anemic, but he was hoping that by the injection of good-government virus, he might be strong enough to catch a regular nomination, to boot, and to run on a fusion ticket. From present indications, it wasn't impossible. And Mr. Mix smirked in his mirror.
Mirabelle said, with a rolling-up of her mental shirt-sleeves: "Well, now let's get after something drastic. I've heard lots of people say you ought to get elected to office; well, show 'em what you can do. Of course, what we've been doing is all right, but it's kind of small potatoes."
Mr. Mix looked executive. "Mustn't go too fast, Miss Starkweather. Can't afford to make people nervous."
"Humph! People that don't feel guilty, don't feel nervous. I say it's about time to launch something drastic. Next thing for us to do is to make the League a state-wide organization, and put through a Sunday law with teeth in it. That amusement park's got to go. Maybe we'd better run over to the capital and talk to the Governor."
Mr. Mix was decisively opposed, but he couldn't withstand her. He had a number of plausible arguments, but she talked them into jelly, and eventually dragged him to an interview with the Governor. When it was over, she beamed victoriously.
"There! Didn't I tell you so? He's with us."
Mr. Mix repressed a smile. "Yes, he said if we draft a bill, and get it introduced and passed, he'll sign it."
"Well, what more could he say?"
He wanted to ask, in turn, what less could be said, but he contained himself. "You know," he warned her, "as soon as we put out any really violent propaganda, we're going to lose some of our new members, and some of our prestige."
"Good! Weed out the dead-wood."
"That's all right, but after what we've done with the food laws and stopping the sale of cigarettes to boys, and so on, people are looking at us as a switch to chastise the city. But we don't want them to look at us as a cudgel. And this state law you've got in mind hits too many people."
"Let it hit 'em."
"Well, anyway," he pleaded, "there's no sense in going out and waving the club so everybody's scared off. We ought to take six months or a year, and do it gradually. And we ought to pass a model ordinance here first, before we talk about statutes. I'd suggest a series of public lectures, and a lot of educational pamphlets for a start. I'll write them myself."
She was impatient, but she finally yielded. "Well, we'll see how it works. Go ahead and do it."
"I will—I'll have the whole thing done by late this spring."
"Not 'till then?" she protested, vigorously.
Mr. Mix shook his head. "Perfect the organization first, and begin to fight when we've got all our ammunition. It'll take me three months to get that ready. So far, all we've had is a battle, but now we're planning a war. I want to be prepared in every detail before we fire a single more shot."
She regarded him admiringly. "Sounds reasonable at that. You do it your own way."
He was feeling a warm sense of power, and yet he had his moments of uncertainty, did Mr. Mix, for even with his genius for hypocrisy, he sometimes found it difficult to be a hypocrite on both sides of the same proposition. His status was satisfactory, at the moment, but he mustn't let Mirabelle get the bit in her teeth, and run away with him. As soon as ever she got him on record as favouring the sort of legislation which she herself wanted, Mr. Mix's power was going to dwindle. And Mr. Mix adored his power, and he hated to think of losing it by too extravagant propaganda.
There were moments when he wished that Henry were more belligerent, so that special measures could be taken against him, or that Mirabelle were more seductive, so that Mr. Mix could be more spontaneous. He knew that he was personally responsible for the present enforcement; he believed that because of it, Henry Devereux didn't have a Chinaman's chance; he knew that if Mirabelle got her legacy, she would have Mr. Mix to thank for it. But Henry was too cheerful, and Mirabelle was too coy, and the two facts didn't co-ordinate.
Certainly there was no finesse in hailing Mirabelle as an heiress until Henry's failure was more definitely placarded. To be sure, she had plenty of money now, and she was spending it like water, but he knew that it included the income from the whole Starkweather estate. She probably had—oh, a hundred thousand or more of her own. And that wasn't enough. Yes, it was time for Mr. Mix to think ahead; he had identified himself so thoroughly with the League that he couldn't easily withdraw, and Mirabelle still held his note. Of course, if the League could furnish him with a stepping-stone to the Mayoralty, or the presidency of Council, Mr. Mix didn't care to withdraw from it anyway; nor would he falter in his allegiance as long as he had a chance at an heiress. He wished that Henry would show fight, but Henry hadn't even joined the Exhibitors Association. It was so much easier to fight when the other fellow offered resistance. Henry merely smiled; you couldn't tell whether he were despondent or not. But if he wouldn't fight, there was always the thin possibility that he might be satisfied with his progress. And that would be unfortunate for Mr. Mix.
There was something else; suppose Mirabelle got her legacy, and Mr. Mix volunteered to share it with her. He was reasonably confident that she would consent; her symptoms were already on the surface. But how, in such event, could Mr. Mix regulate the habits which were so precious to him? How could he hide his fondness for his cigar, and his night-cap, his predilection for burlesque shows and boxing bouts and blonde stenographers? It was difficult enough, even now, and he had eaten enough trochees and coffee beans to sink a frigate, and he had been able only once to get away to New York—"to clean up his affairs." How could he manage his alternative self when Mirabelle had him under constant and intimate supervision?
Still, all that could be arranged. For twenty years he had gone to New York, regularly, on irregular business and not a soul in town was any the wiser; it was simply necessary to discover what "business" could summon him if he were married, independent, and a professional reformer. Mr. Mix, who was always a few lengths ahead of the calendar, procured the addresses of a metropolitan anti-cigarette conference, and a watch-and-ward society, and humbly applied by mail for membership. An alibi is exactly the opposite of an egg; the older it is, the better.
When Henry told his wife that he was counting on her for brilliant ideas, he meant the compliment rather broadly; for he couldn't imagine how a girl brought up as Anna had been brought up could supply any practical schemes for increasing the patronage of a motion-picture theatre. Indeed, when she brought him her first suggestion he laughed, and kissed her, and petted her, and while he privately appraised her as a dear little dreamer, he told her that he was ever so much obliged, but he was afraid that her plan wouldn't work.
"You see," he said, "you haven't had very much experience in this business—"
"Methuselah!" she retorted, and Henry laughed again.
"That's no way for a wife to talk. When I mention business you're supposed to look at me with ill-concealed awe. But to get down to brass tacks, I've watched the audiences for four or five weeks, and I am beginning to size them up. And I don't believe you can put over any grand-opera stuff on 'em."
"It doesn't make the least bit of difference whether it's grand-opera or the movies, my lord. It'll work."
He shook his head dubiously. "Well, even suppose it would, I still don't like it. You don't make friends simply to use 'em for your own purposes."
"Why, of course not. But after you've made 'em, you're silly not to let 'em help you if they can. And if they want to. And if they don't then they aren't really your friends, are they? It's a good way to find out."
Henry frowned a little. "What makes you think it would work?"
"Human nature.... Now you just think it all over from the beginning. All our friends come to the Orpheum some night, don't they? They'd go to some picture, anyway, but they come to the Orpheum for two reasons—one's because it's a nice house now, and the other's because it's ours. And sometimes they're in time to get good seats, and sometimes they aren't. Well, we aren't asking any special favour of them; we're just making sure that if they all come the same night, they'll have the same seats, time after time. And they'll like it, Henry."
"But to be brutally frank, I still don't see where we get off any better."
"You wait.... So we sell for just one particular performance—say the 8.45 one, one night a week—season tickets. Boxes, loges, and some of the orchestra seats. And it would be like opera; if they couldn't always come, they couldn't return their tickets, but they could give them to somebody else. And that night we'd have special music, and—"
"Confirming today's conversation, including brutal frankness as per statement, I still don't see—"
"Why, you silly. It'll be Society Night! And I don't care whether it's movies or opera, if you make a thing fashionable, then it gets everybody—the fashionable ones, and then the ones who want to be fashionable, and finally the ones who know they haven't a ghost of a chance, and just want to go and look at the others!"
Henry laboured with his thoughts. "Well, granted that we could herd the hill crowd in there, and all that, I still don't—"
"Why, Henry darling! Because we'd make it Monday night—that's our worst night in the whole week, ordinarily—and have all reserved seats that night, and then of course we'd raise the prices!"
"Oh!" said Henry. "Now I get it. I thought it was just swank."
"And it's true—it's true that if you get people to thinking there's something exclusive about a shop, or a hotel, or a club, or even a theatre, they'll pay any amount to get in. And our friends don't care when they come, and they'll love all sitting together in the boxes, or even in the orchestra."
"Who was Methuselah's wife?" asked Henry, irrelevantly.
"Why, he had several, didn't he?"
"Cleopatra, Portia, Minerva, Nemesis, and the Queen of Sheba," said Henry, "and you're all five in one package. I retract everything I said. And if I may be permitted to kiss the hem of your garment, to show I'm properly humbled, why—in plain English, that idea has a full set of molars!"
He left the mechanics of it to Anna, who merely conferred with Bob Standish, and then with one of her girl-friends, and sent out a little circular among the high elect; but even Anna was amazed at the prompt response. The response was due partly to friendship, and partly to convenience, but whatever the reason, Anna brought in checks for a hundred season-tickets, and turned the worst night of the week into the best. As she had sensed, because the insiders of society were willing to commit themselves to Monday, the outsiders would have paid four times, instead of merely double, to be there, too. It was socially imperative.
"That boosts us up another fifty a week," said Henry appreciatively. "And we must have a thousand in the bank, haven't we?... Say, Anna, this bread and cheese racket is all right when you can't afford anything else, but honestly, won't you just get a cook? I don't care if she's rotten, but to think of you giving those dishes a sitz-bath twice a day—"
"Not yet, dear. We aren't nearly out of the woods. Society Night's helped a lot, but we aren't averaging over two hundred and twenty yet, are we? That's eighty a week short. So if we don't think up some more schemes, why, what we're saving now'll have to be our capital next year."
"But when a man has this much income—"
"Yes, and you owe ten thousand on a mortgage, and the tax bills haven't come in yet, and you'll have an income tax to pay.... We'll save awhile longer."
It was greater heroism than he realized, for she had never lost, for a single instant, her abhorrence of the kitchen; nor was she willing to cater to her prejudice, and work with only the tips of her fingers. She had two principal defences—she wore rubber gloves, and she sang—but whenever she had to put her hands into greasy water, whenever she scrubbed a kettle, whenever she cleaned the sink, a series of cold chills played up and down her spine as fitfully as a flame plays on the surface of alcohol. She detested every item which had to do with that kitchen; and yet, to save Henry the price of a cook—now seventy dollars a month—she sacrificed her squeamishness. There were nights when she simply couldn't eat—she couldn't draw a cloud over her imagination, and forget what the steak had looked like, and felt like, uncooked. There were six days in seven when the mere sight of blackened pots and pans put her nerves on edge. But she always remembered that Henry was supposed to be irresponsible, and that a penny in hand is worth two in prospect; so that she sang away, and tried to dispel her thoughts of the kitchen by thinking about the Orpheum.
It was in early December that she conceived the Bargain Matinee, which wasn't the ordinary cut-price performance, but the adaptation of an old trick of the department stores. The Tuesday and Friday matinees were the poorest attended, so that Anna suggested—and Henry ordered—that beginning at half past four on Tuesdays and Fridays, the fifty-cent seats were reduced at the rate of a cent a minute. In other words, the Orpheum challenged the public to buy its entertainment by the clock; a person who came a quarter hour late saved fifteen cents, and the bargain-hunter who could find a vacant seat at twenty minutes past five could see the last two reels for nothing. It didn't bring in a tremendous revenue, but it caught the popular fancy, and it was worth another thirty dollars a week.
And Anna discovered, too, that the unfinished second story of the theatre had possibilities. She had it plastered and gaily papered, she put up a frieze of animals from Noah's ark; she bought toys and games and a huge sand-box—and for a nominal fee, a mother could leave her angel child or squalling brat, as the case might be, in charge of a kindergarten assistant, and watch the feature film without nervousness or bad conscience. There was no profit in it, as a department, but it was good advertising, and helped the cause.
In the meantime Henry, who at this season of the year would ordinarily have gone to Lake Placid for the winter sports or to Pinehurst for golf, was watching the rise and fall of the box-office receipts as eagerly as he would have watched the give and take of match-play in tournament finals. He kept his records as perfectly, and studied them with as much zest, as once he had kept and studied the records of the First Ten in the tennis ranking, and of all teams and individuals in first-class polo. To Henry, the Orpheum had long ceased to be a kitchen; he had almost forgotten that a few months ago, his soul had been corrugated with goose-flesh at the prospect of this probation. Since August, he had done more actual work than in all his previous life, and the return from it was approximately what his allowance had been from Mr. Starkweather, but Henry had caught the spark of personal ambition, and he wouldn't stop running until the race was over. He wouldn't stop, and furthermore he wouldn't think of stopping. But now and then he couldn't help visualizing his status when he did stop, or was ruled off the track.
He hadn't quite recovered, yet, from his surprise at the continuing reaction of his friends. He was deeply touched by the realization that even those who were most jocular were regarding him with new respect. Instead of losing caste, he seemed to have risen higher than before; certainly he had never been made to feel so sure of his place in the affection of his own set. And almost more satisfactory than that, the older men in the Citizens Club were treating him with increasing friendliness, whereas in the past, they had treated him rather as an amusing young comedian, to be laughed at, but not with. And finally, he was flattered by the growing intimacy with Mr. Archer.
"A year ago," Mr. Archer once said to him, "I used to think you were a spoiled brat, Henry. Now I think you're—rather a credit to your uncle."
Henry grinned. "And I used to think some very disrespectful things about you, and now I'd rather have you on my side than anybody I know. I must have been a raw egg."
"You'll win out yet, my boy—Ted Mix to the contrary notwithstanding."
"Oh, sure!" said Henry, optimistically. "I don't gloom much—only fifteen minutes a day in my own room. I got the habit when I was taking my correspondence course on efficiency." Even in these occasional sessions of gloom, however, (and his estimate of time was fairly accurate) he never felt any acute antagonism either towards his aunt or towards Mr. Mix, he never felt as though he were in competition with them. He was racing against time, and it was the result of his own individual effort which would go down on the record. As to his aunt, she had been perfectly consistent; as to Mr. Mix, Henry didn't even take the trouble to despise him. He carried over to business one of his principles in sport—if the other fellow wanted so badly to win that he was willing to cheat, he wanted victory more than Henry did, and he was welcome to it. After the match was over, Henry might volunteer to black his eye for him, but that was a side issue.
Mr. Mix had said to him, sorrowfully, at the Citizens Club: "One of the prime regrets of my life, Henry, was that you—the nephew of my old friend—should have suffered—should have been in a position to suffer—from the promotion of civic integrity."
Henry laughed unaffectedly. "Yes," he said, "it must have raised perfect Cain with you."
"I don't like your tone, Henry. Do you doubt my word?"
"Doubt it? After I've just sympathized with the awful torture you must have gone through?... Tell me something; what's all this gossip I hear about you and Aunt Mirabelle? Somebody saw you buggy-riding last Sunday. Gay young dog!"
Mr. Mix grew red. "Buggy-riding! Miss Starkweather was kind enough to take me out to the lake in her car."
"That's buggy-riding," said Henry, affably. "Buggy-riding's a generic term. Don't blush. I was young myself, once."
Mr. Mix fought down his anger. "You're very much of a joker, Henry. It seems to run in the family. Your uncle—"
"Yes, and Aunt Mirabelle, too."
"Oh, yes," said Henry. "Aunt Mirabelle's a joker, too. She advised me not to run the Orpheum in the first place; she'd rather have had me trade it and go into something more respectable, and profitable. Doesn't that strike you as funny? It does me."
Mentally, Mr. Mix bit his lip, but outwardly he was ministerial. "I'm afraid you're too subtle for me."
"I was afraid of that myself."
"Isn't business good?" His voice was solicitous.
Henry was reminded of what Judge Barklay had twice expressed, and for a casual experiment, he tried to plumb the depths of Mr. Mix's interest.
"Oh, with a few new schemes I've got, I guess I'll clean up eleven or twelve thousand this year."
Mr. Mix shook his head. "As much as that?"
Henry inquired of himself why, to accompany a question which was apparently one of mere rhetorical purport, Mr. Mix should have shaken his head. The action had been positive, rather than interrogative.
"Easy," said Henry. "Come in next week, and see how we're going to turn 'em away. I've got a new pianist; you'll want to hear him. He looks like a Sealyhan terrier, but he's got a repertoire like a catalogue of phonograph records. I dare the audience to name anything he can't play right off the bat—songs, opera, Gregorian chants, sonatas, jazz—and if he can't play it, the person that asked for it gets a free ticket."