"So—to use a colloquialism—you're going very strong?"
"To use another colloquialism," said Henry, "we fairly reek with prosperity, and we're going to double our business. That is, unless you Leaguers stop all forms of amusement but tit-tat-toe and puss-in-the-corner."
Mr. Mix smiled feebly. "One expects to be rallied for one's convictions."
Henry nodded, engagingly. "I certainly got rallied enough for mine. That justice of the peace rallied me for twenty-five to start with, and followed it up with twenty more.... But if you want my opinion, Mr. Mix, you'll lay off trying to promote civic integrity with a meat-ax. All you did with that Sunday row was to take a lot of money away from the picture houses, and give it to the trolley company and the White City—white when it was painted. And if you don't behave, I won't vote for you next election."
Mr. Mix ignored the threat. "Come to a meeting of the League some time, Henry, and we'll give you a chance to air your views."
He reported the interview to Anna, and she seemed to find in it the material for reflection. She asked Henry if he thought that Mr. Mix was deliberately making up to Mirabelle. Henry reflected, also.
* * * * *
In January, Henry had an interview with Mr. Archer, who went over his books with a fine-tooth comb, and praised him for his accomplishment.
"But it only goes to show how the best intentions in the world can get all twisted up," said Mr. Archer, gravely. "Here you've done what you were supposed to do—you've done it better than you were supposed to do it—and then because of that cussed enforcement that neither your uncle nor I ever dreamed about, you're liable to get punished just as badly as if you'd made a complete failure. It's a shame, Henry, it's a downright shame!"
"We're packing 'em in pretty well," said Henry. "I figured out that if we sold every seat at every performance we'd collect fourteen hundred a week gross. We're actually taking in about eight fifty. That's a local record, but it isn't good enough."
"No, you seem to be shy about—three thousand to date. You've got to make that up, and hit a still higher average for the next seven months, and I'm blessed if I can see how you're going to do it."
"Oh, well, I'll have the theatre. That's something."
"Yes, it'll bring you a good price. But not a half of what you should have had. One thing, Henry, I wish your uncle could know how you're taking it. As far as I know, you haven't swung a golf club or sat a horse for six months, have you?"
"Oh, shucks!... When Uncle John went to a ball game, he always liked to see a man run like fury on a fly ball. Nine times out of ten an outfielder'd catch it and the batter'd get a big hoot from the grand-stand. The other time he'd drop it, and the batter'd take two bases. That's all I'm doing now. Playing the percentage. And golf takes too much time—even if there weren't snow on the ground—and stable feed's so high I can't afford it. The fool horse would cost more to feed than I do myself."
"And even if the percentage beats you, you've got something you never had before, Henry, and that's the solid respect of your community. Everybody knows you hated this job. Everybody's back of you."
"Up on the farm," said Henry, thoughtfully. "There was a field-hand with a great line of philosophy. Some of it was sort of crude, but—one day Uncle John was saying something about tough things we all have to do, and this fellow chimed in and said: 'Yes, sir, every man's got to skin his own skunk.'"
Mr. Archer smiled and nodded. "Your year won't have been wasted, Henry. And when it's over, if you want to get out of the picture business, you'll find that you can get a dozen first-rate jobs from men who wouldn't have taken you in as their office-boy a season ago.... Give my love to your wife, Henry, and tell her for me that I'm proud of you."
"I'll tell her," said Henry, "but I won't be proud until I've nailed that skin over the barn-door."
* * * * *
On his way out, he dropped in for a moment to see Bob Standish. Bob was at his old tricks again; and while his competitors in realty, and insurance, and mortgage loans, made the same mistake that once his classmates and instructors and the opposing ends and tackles had made, and argued that his fair skin and his innocent blue eyes, his indolent manner and his perfection of dress all evidenced his lack of wit and stamina, he had calmly proceeded to chase several of those competitors out of business, and to purchase their good-will on his own terms. It was popularly said, in his own circle, that Standish would clear a hundred thousand dollars his first year.
He winked lazily at Henry, and indicated a chair. "Set!" said Standish. "Glad you came in. Two things to ask you. Want to sell? Want to rent?"
"If you were in my shoes, would you sell, Bob?"
"I can get you twenty-eight thousand."
"Sure, but everybody knows you've got a clientele that nobody else could get. Are you talking?"
"I—guess not just yet."
"Want to rent? I just had a nibble for small space; you could get fifty a month for that attic you're using for a nursery."
"I—hardly think so, Bob. That's a pet scheme of Anna's, and besides, we need it. It's good advertising."
His friend's eyes were round and childlike. "Made any plans for the future, Henry? Know what you'll do if you stub your toe?"
"Sell out and strike you for a job, I guess."
"Don't believe it would work, old man."
"Don't you think so?"
"One pal boss another? Too much family."
Henry looked serious. "I'm sorry you think so. I wouldn't have kicked."
"No, I'm afraid I couldn't give you a job, old dear. I like you too well to bawl you out. But maybe we'll do business together some other way."
As he drove his tin runabout homeward, Henry was unusually downcast. He didn't blame Standish—Standish had showed himself over and over to be Henry's best friend on earth. But it was dispiriting to realize how Standish must privately appraise him. Henry recalled the justification, and grew red to think of the ten years of their acquaintance—ten years of continuous achievement for Standish, and only a few months of compulsory display for himself. But he wished that Standish hadn't thrown in that last remark about doing business together some other way. That wasn't like Bob, and it hurt. It was too infernally commercial.
He found the apartment deserted. His shout of welcome wasn't answered: his whistle, in the private code which everybody uses, met with dead silence. Henry hung up his hat with considerable pique, and lounged into the living-room. What excuse had Anna to be missing at the sacred hour of his return? Didn't she know that the happiest moment of his whole day was when she came flying into his arms as soon as he crossed the threshold? Didn't she know that as the golden pheasants fled further and further into the thicket of unreality, the more active was his need of her? He wondered where she had gone, and what had kept her so late. Was this a precedent, and had the first veneer of their companionability worn off so soon—for Anna?
A new apprehension seized him, and he hurried from room to room to see if instead of censuring Anna, he ought to censure himself. There were so many accidents that might have happened to her. Women have been burned so severely as to faint: they have drowned in a bathtub: they have fallen down dumb-waiter shafts: they have been asphyxiated when the gas-range went out. And to think that only a moment ago, he had been vexed with her. The sight of each room, once so hideously commonplace, now so charming with Anna's artistry and the work of her own hands—her beautiful hands which ought to be so cared for—filled him with contrition and fresh nervousness.
No, she had escaped these tragedies—yet she was missing. Missing, but now half an hour late. And downtown there were dangerous street-crossings, and dangerous excavations, and reckless motorists.... Once in a while a structural-iron worker dropped a rivet from the seventh story; and there were kidnappers abroad.... The key turned in the lock, and Henry dropped noiselessly into a chair, and caught up day-before-yesterday's paper.
He greeted her tenderly, but temperately. "Well, where've you been?"
She had to catch her breath. "Oh, my dear, I've had the most wonderful time! I've—oh, it's been perfectly gorgeous! And I've got it! I've got it!"
He had never seen her keyed to such a pitch, and manlike, he attempted to calm her instead of rising to her own level. "Got what? St. Vitus' dance?"
"No! The scheme! The scheme we were looking for!"
Henry discarded his paper. "Shoot it."
She waved him off. "Just wait 'till I can breathe.... Do you remember what you told me a long time ago about a talk you had with your aunt? And she said bye-and-bye you'd see the writing on the wall?"
"Well, I've seen it!"
"Wait.... And remember your talking to Mr. Mix, when he said you ought to go to a League meeting and air your views?"
"Well, I went!"
He gazed at her. "You what?"
She nodded repeatedly. "It was a big public meeting. I was going past Masonic Hall, and I saw the sign. So I went in ... oh, it was so funny. The man at the door stared at me as if I'd been in a bathing suit, or something, and he said to me in a sort of undertaker's voice: 'Are you one of us?' And I said I wasn't, but I was thinking about it, and he said something about the ninety and nine, and gave me a blank to fill out—only I didn't do it: I used it for something lots better: I'll show you in a minute—and then I sat down, and pretty soon Mr. Mix got up to talk,—and you should have seen the way your aunt looked at him; as if he'd been a tin god on wheels—and he bragged about what the League was doing, and how it had already purified the city, but that was only a beginning—and what a lot more it was going to do—oh, it was just ranting—but everybody clapped and applauded—only the man next to me said it was politics instead of reform—and then he went on to talk about that ordinance 147, and what it really meant, and how they were going to use it like a bludgeon over the heads of wrong-doers, and all that sickening sort of thing—and the more he talked the more I kept thinking.... My dear, all that ordinance says—at least, all they claim it says—is that we can't keep open on Sunday for profit, isn't it?"
Henry was a trifle dizzy, but he retained his perspective. "Yes, but who'd want to keep open for charity?"
She gave a little cry of exultation. "But that's exactly what we want to do! That's what we are going to do. And they can't prevent us, either. We're going to keep open for a high, noble purpose, and not charge a cent. And the more I thought, and Mr. Mix bragged, the more I ... so I wrote it all down on the back of that blank the man gave me—and there it is—and I think it's perfectly gorgeous—even if it is mine. Now who's Methuselah's wife?"
On the back of the blank there was written, in shaky capitals, what was evidently intended as the copy for an advertisement. She watched Henry eagerly as he read it, and when at first she could detect no change in his expression, her eyes widened, and her lips trembled imperceptibly. Then Henry, half-way down the page, began to grin: and his grin spread and spread until his whole face was abeam with joy. He came to the last line, gasped, looked up at Anna, and suddenly springing towards her, he caught her in his arms, and waltzed her madly about the living-room.
When he released her, her hat was set at a new and rakish angle, and she had lost too many hair-pins, but to Henry she had never looked half so adorable.
"Of course," he panted, "everybody else'll do it too, as soon as we've showed 'em how—"
"What—what difference does that make?"
"That's right, too...." He fairly doubled himself with mirth. "Can't you just see Mix's face when he sees this writing on the wall—of the Orpheum?"
"I—I've been seeing it all afternoon. When can we start?"
"Right away. Now." He stopped, rigid. "No, we won't either. No we won't. First, we've got to see the Judge—we've got to make sure there's no flaw in it. And then—we won't let anybody copy us!"
"But how can you stop them?"
Henry was electric. "What's a movie theatre worth on Sunday? When they can't give a show anyway? I'll rent every house in town for every Sunday from now 'till August! I'll have to go slow, so nobody'll suspect. It may take a month, or two months, but what do we care? We'll play it sure. It won't cost too much, and we've got the cash in the bank. We've—" He paused again, and looked down at her, and his voice fell a semi-tone. "I don't know where I get all this we stuff. I'd have spent two-thirds of it by this time. You're the one that's saved it—and earned it too, by gosh!" He lifted her hands, and while she watched him, with shining eyes, he deliberately kissed the tip of each of her ten fingers. "That's where the money's come from," said Henry, clearing his throat. "Out of dish-water. Only tonight we're going out to a restaurant and eat ourselves logy, and you won't wash a damn dish. It's my party."
Miss Mirabelle Starkweather lifted up her cup of tea, and with the little finger of her right hand stiffly extended to Mr. Mix's good health. Mr. Mix, sitting upright in a gilded chair which was three sizes too small for him, bowed with a courtliness which belonged to the same historical period as the chair, and also drank. Over the rim of his cup, his eyes met Mirabelle's.
"Seems to me you've got on some kind of a new costume, haven't you?" asked Mr. Mix gallantly. "Looks very festive to me—very."
For the first time since bustles went out of fashion, Miss Starkweather blushed; and when she blushed, she was quite as uncompromising about it as she was about everything else. It wasn't that she had a grain of romance in her, but that she was confused to be caught in the act of flagging a beau; to hide her confusion, she rose, and went over to the furthest window and flung it wide open. The month was February, and the air was chill and raw, but Mirabelle could think of no other pretext for turning her back and cooling her cheeks. And yet, although she would have perjured herself a thousand times before she would admit it, she felt a certain strange, spring-like pleasure to know that Mr. Mix was only pretending to be deceived.
"Oh, my, no," she said over her shoulder. "I've had this since the Flood."
Mr. Mix had also risen, to hand her back to her seat, and now he stood looking down at her. She was wearing a gown of rustling, plum-coloured taffeta, with cut-steel buttons; and at her belt there was a Dutch silver chatelaine which had been ultra-smart when she had last worn it. Vaguely, she supposed that it was ultra-smart today, and that was the reason she had attached it to her. From the chatelaine depended a silver pencil, a gold watch, a vinaigrette with gold-enamelled top, and a silver-mesh change-purse. At her throat, she had a cameo, and on her left hand, an amethyst set in tiny pearls. Mr. Mix, finishing the inventory, seated himself and began to tap one foot on the floor, reflectively. He was a man of perception, and he knew warpaint when he saw it.
"Makes you look so much younger," said Mr. Mix, and sighed a little.
"Don't be a fool," said Miss Starkweather, and to dissemble her pleasure, she put an extra-sharp edge on her voice. "I don't wear clothes to make me look younger; I wear 'em to cover me up."
"That's more than I can say for the present generation."
"Ugh!" said Miss Starkweather. "Don't speak of it! Shameless little trollops! But the worst comment you could make about this present day is that men like it. They like to see those disgraceful get-ups. They marry those girls. Beyond me."
Mr. Mix sneezed unexpectedly. There was a cold draught on the back of his neck, but as Mirabelle said nothing about closing the window, he hesitated to ask permission. "I've always wondered what effect it would have had on your—public career—if you hadn't preferred to remain single."
"My opinions aren't annuals, Mr. Mix. They're hardy perennials."
"I know, but do you think a married woman ought to devote herself entirely to public affairs? Shouldn't she consider marriage almost a profession in itself?"
"Well, I don't know about that. Duty's duty."
"Oh, to be sure. But would marriage have interfered with your career? Would you have let it? Or is marriage really the higher duty of the two?"
"There's something in that, Mr. Mix. I never did believe a married woman ought to be in the road all the time."
"It was a question of your career, then?"
Mirabelle put down her cup. "Humph! No, it wasn't. Right man never asked me."
Mr. Mix's mind was on tiptoe. "But your standards are so lofty—naturally, they would be." He paused. "I wonder what your standard really is. Is it—unapproachable? Or do you see some good in most of us?"
Mirabelle sat primly erect, but her voice had an unusual overtone. "Oh, no, I'm not a ninny. But good husbands don't grow on goose-berry bushes. If I'd ever found a man that had the right principles, and the respect of everybody, and not too much tom-foolishness—a good, solid, earnest citizen I could be proud of—"
Mr. Mix interpolated a wary comment. "You didn't mention money."
She sniffed. "Do I look like the kind of a woman that would marry for money?"
"And in all these—I mean to say, haven't you ever met a man who complied with these conditions?"
She made no intelligible response, but as Mr. Mix watched her, he was desperately aware that his moment had come. His next sentence would define his future.
He was absolutely convinced, through his private source of information, that Henry was due to fall short of his quota by four or five thousand dollars; nothing but a miracle could save him, and Mr. Mix was a sceptic in regard to miracles. He was positive that in a brief six months Miss Starkweather would receive at least a half million; and Mr. Mix, at fifty-five, wasn't the type of man who could expect to have lovely and plutocratic debutantes thrown at his head. He believed—and his belief was cousin to a prayer—that Mirabelle was absorbed in reform only because no one was absorbed in Mirabelle. Indeed, she had implied, a few moments ago, that marriage would cramp her activities; but it was significant that she hadn't belittled the institution. Perhaps if she were skilfully managed, she might even be modernized. Certainly she had been content, so far, to be guided by Mr. Mix's conservatism. He hoped that he was right, and he trusted in his own strategy even if he were wrong. And every day that he continued moderate in his public utterances, and in his actions, he was a day nearer to the golden ambition of an elective office.
He was threatened with vertigo but he mastered himself, and drew a long, long breath in farewell to his bachelorhood.
"You have heartened me more than you know," said Mr. Mix, with ecclesiastical soberness. "Because—it has been my poverty—which has kept me silent." He bent forward. "Mirabelle, am I the right man?" Almost by sheer will-power, he rose and came to her, and took her hand. She shrank away, in maiden modesty, but her fingers remained quiescent. Mr. Mix sneezed again, and stooped to kiss her cheek, but Mirabelle avoided him.
"No," she said, with a short laugh. "That don't signify—I don't approve of it much." She wavered, and relented. "Still, I guess it's customary—Theodore."
* * * * *
Before he left her, they had staged their first altercation—it could hardly be called a quarrel, because it was too one-sided. Mirabelle had asked him without the slightest trace of shyness, to telephone the glad tidings to the Herald; and of a sudden, Mr. Mix was afflicted with self-consciousness. Unfortunately, he couldn't give a valid reason for it; he couldn't tell her that illogically, but instinctively, he wanted to keep the matter as a locked secret—and especially to keep it locked from Henry Devereux—until the minister had said: Amen. He admitted to himself that this was probably a foolish whim, a needless precaution, but nevertheless it obsessed him, so that he tried to argue Mirabelle away from the Herald. His most cogent argument was that the announcement might weaken their position in the League—the League might be too much interested in watching the romance to pay strict attention to reform.
"Humph!" said Mirabelle. "I'm not ashamed of being congratulated. Are you? But if you're so finicky about it, I'll do the telephoning myself."
Whereupon Mr. Mix went back to his room, and drank two highballs, and communed with himself until long past midnight.
In the morning, with emotions which puzzled him, he turned to the society column of the Herald; and when he saw the flattering paragraph in type,—with the veiled hint that he might be the next candidate for Mayor, on a reform ticket—he sat very still for a moment or two, while his hand shook slightly. No backward step, now! His head was in the noose. He wondered, with a fresh burst of self-effacement, what people would say about it. One thing—they wouldn't accuse him of the truth. Nobody but Mr. Mix himself knew the whole truth—unless perhaps it were Henry Devereux. Henry had developed a knowing eye. But Henry didn't count—Henry was beaten already. Still, if Henry should actually come out and accuse Mr. Mix of—why, what could Henry accuse him of? Simply marrying for money? If it didn't make any difference to Mirabelle, it certainly didn't to Mr. Mix. And what booted the rest of the world? Why should he concern himself with all the petty spite and gossip of a town which wasn't even progressive enough to have an art museum or a flying field, to say nothing of a good fight-club? Let 'em gossip.... But just the same, he wished that Mirabelle had been willing to keep the engagement a secret. Mr. Mix was sure to encounter Henry, once in a while, at the Citizens Club, and he didn't like to visualize Henry's smile.
He was in the act of tossing away the paper when his attention was snatched back by a half-page advertisement; in which the name of the Orpheum Theatre stood out like a red flag. Mr. Mix glanced at it, superciliously, but a moment later, his whole soul was strung on it.
THE ORPHEUM Educational Motion Pictures FREE! FREE! FREE! Every Sunday afternoon and evening ESPECIALLY HIGH-CLASS ENTERTAINMENT of instructive and educational features With Sacred Music ABSOLUTELY FREE
to all those who present at the door ticket-stubs from the previous week's performances (bargain matinees excepted) showing a total expenditure of Three Dollars.
IN OTHER WORDS
Two people coming twice during the week, in 75 cent seats, come FREE Sunday
Three people coming twice during the week, in 50 cent seats, come FREE Sunday
A PURELY VOLUNTARY COLLECTION will be taken up and divided between The Associated Charities The Starving Children of Belgium and The Chinese Famine Fund This Sunday
THE SWORDMAKER'S SON—an absorbing drama of Biblical days Next Sunday BEN-HUR, in seven reels
NO ADMISSION FEE BEING CHARGED, AND ALL VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS BEING DEVOTED TO CHARITY, THIS ENTERTAINMENT DOES NOT FALL WITHIN ANY CITY ORDINANCE PROHIBITING SUNDAY PERFORMANCES
THE ORPHEUM Motion Pictures
Mr. Mix, goggle-eyed, jumped for the telephone, and called the City Hall, but as soon as the Mayor was on the wire, Mr. Mix wrestled down his excitement, and spoke in his embassy voice. "Hello—Rowland? This is Mix. I want to ask you if you've seen an ad of the Orpheum Theatre in this morning's paper?... Well, what do you propose to do about it?"
The Mayor answered him in a single word: Mr. Mix started, and gripped the receiver more tightly. "Nothing!... Why, I don't quite get you on that.... It's an open and shut proposition—No, I most certainly am not trying to make a pun; I'm calling you up in my official capacity. That's the most flagrant, barefaced attempt to evade a law—Why, an idiot could see it! It's to drive the crowd into the Orpheum during the week, so that—"
He listened, with increasing consternation. "Who says it isn't a violation? Who? The City Attorney?" Mr. Mix was pale; and this was quite as uncommon as for his fiancee to blush. "When did he say so?... What's that? What's his grounds?... Repeat it, if you don't mind—Practically a charitable performance by invitation—"
"Why, sure," said the Mayor. He realized perfectly that Mr. Mix had the League and another thousand people of small discernment behind him, but the Mayor didn't want to be re-elected, and did want to retire from politics. "The Orpheum doesn't say a fellow that comes Sunday has got to prove he spent the money for the tickets, does it? Anybody that's got the stubs can come. They're just as much invitations as if they were engraved cards sent around in swell envelopes. If you've got one—whether you paid for the invitation or not, or if you got it in the mail or picked it up on the street, you can go on in. And as long's no money's taken in over the counter, the City Attorney says it's O.K. Of course, you can petition the Council, if you want to."
Mr. Mix was licking his lips feverishly. "I'm obliged to you for your advice. We will petition the Council—I'll have it signed, sealed and delivered by noon today.... And if that don't do, we'll apply for an injunction.... And we'll carry this to the Governor before we're done with it, Rowland, and you know what state laws we've got to compel a Mayor of an incorporated city to do his duty!... This is where we part company, Rowland. You'll hear from me later!" He slammed down the receiver, rattled the hook impetuously, and called Mirabelle's number.
"Mirabelle ... good-morning; have you ... No, I'm not cross at you, but—Oh! Good-morning, dear.... This is important. Have you seen the Orpheum's ad in the Herald? Isn't that the most barefaced thing you ever saw? Don't we want to rush in and—"
She interrupted him. "Why, no, not when it's for charity, do we?"
Mr. Mix nearly dropped the receiver. "Charity! Charity your grandmother! It's a cheap trick to attract people during the week, so they'll have a show on Sunday in spite of the law!"
"Oh, I don't doubt there's some catch in it. That's Henry all over. But if the League went out and interfered with an educational and sort of religious program with a collection for charity, we'd——"
"Yes, but my dear woman, would we sanction a dance for charity? A poker-party? A wine-supper? We——"
"But there won't be any dancing or drinking or card-playing at the Orpheum, will there?"
He lost his temper. "What's the matter with you? Can't you see—?"
"No, but I can hear pretty well," said Mirabelle. "I'm not deaf. And seems to me—" She sniffled. "Seems to me you're making an awful funny start of things, Theodore."
"My dear girl—"
"I just said 'my dear girl.' I——"
"Say it again, Theodore!"
To himself, Mr. Mix said something else, but for Mirabelle's benefit, he began a third time. "My dear girl, it's simply to evade the law, and——"
"But Theodore, if we lift one finger to stop the raising of money for the poor starving children in foreign countries, we'd lose every scrap of influence we've gained."
"But this means that all the theatres can open again!"
"Well, maybe you'd better get to work and frame the amendment to Ordinance 147 we've been talking about, then. And the new statute, too. We've wasted too much time. But under the old one, we can't go flirting with trouble. And if all they do is show pictures like Ben-Hur, and The Swordmaker's Son, why ... don't you see? We just won't notice this thing of Henry's. We can't afford to act too narrow.... And I'm not cross with you any more. You were all worked up, weren't you? I'll excuse you. And I could just hug you for being so worked up in the interests of the League. I didn't understand.... When are you coming up to see me? I've been awfully lonesome—since yesterday."
Mr. Mix hung up, and sat staring into vacancy. Out of the wild tumult of his thoughts, there arose one picture, clear and distinct—the picture of his five thousand dollar note. Whatever else happened, he couldn't financially afford, now or in the immediate future, to break with Mirabelle. She would impale him with bankruptcy as ruthlessly as she would swat a fly; she would pursue him, in outraged pride, until he slept in his grave. And on the other hand, if certain things did happen—at the Orpheum—how could he spiritually afford to pass the remainder of his life with a militant reformer who wouldn't even have money to sweeten her disposition—and Mr. Mix's. He wished that he had put off until tomorrow what he had done, with such conscious foresight, only yesterday.
Now although Mr. Mix had shaken with consternation when he saw the advertisement of the Orpheum, Henry shook with far different sentiments when he saw the announcement in eulogy of Mr. Mix. It was clear in his mind, now, that Mr. Mix wasn't the sort of man to marry on speculation; Henry guessed that Mirabelle had confided to him the terms of the trust agreement, and that Mr. Mix (who had shaken his head, negatively, when Henry estimated his profits) had decided that Henry was out of the running, and that Mirabelle had a walkover. The guess itself was wrong, but the deduction from it was correct; and Henry was convulsed to think that Mr. Mix had shown his hand so early. And instead of gritting his teeth, and damning Mr. Mix for a conscienceless scoundrel, Henry put back his head and laughed until the tears came.
He hurried to show the paragraph to Anna, but Anna wouldn't even smile. She was a woman, and therefore she compressed her lips, sorrowfully, and said: "Oh—poor Miss Starkweather!" To which Henry responded with a much more vigorous compression of his own lips, and the apt correction: "Oh, no—poor Mr. Mix!"
He carried his congratulations to his aunt in person; she received them characteristically. "Humph!... Pretty flowery language.... Well, you don't need to send me any present, Henry; I didn't send you one."
"When's the happy event to be?" he inquired, politely.
"June. Fourth of June."
"And do you know where you're going for your honeymoon?"
"I don't like that word," said Mirabelle. "It sounds mushier than a corn-starch pudding. And besides, it's nobody's business but his and mine, and I haven't even told him yet. I'm keeping it for a surprise."
"Oh!" said Henry. "That's rather a novel idea, isn't it?"
"Humph!" said Mirabelle, dryly. "The whole thing's novel, isn't it? But I'm obliged for your coming up here, Henry. I didn't suppose you had enough interest in family matters to be so nosey, even."
Later in the week, Henry encountered Mr. Mix, and repeated his congratulations with such honeyed emphasis that Mr. Mix began to stammer. "I appreciate all you say, Henry—but—come here a minute." He drew Henry into a convenient doorway. "I'm sort of afraid, from the way you act, there's something in the back of your mind. I've thought, sometimes, you must have lost sight of the big, broad principles behind the work I'm doing. I've been afraid you've taken my work as if it was directed personally against you. Not that I've ever heard you say anything like that, but your manner's been ... well, anyway, you're too big a man for that, Henry. Now about this new scheme of yours. It's my feeling that you're dodging the law by sliding in the back door. It's my official duty to look into it. Only if we do have to put a stop to it, I want you to realize that I sympathize with any personal loss you may have to suffer. Personally, I'm grieved to have to take this stand against John Starkweather's nephew. You understand that, don't you?"
Henry nodded assent. "Why, certainly. Your motives are purer than the thoughts of childhood. The only thing I don't understand is what all this has to do with my congratulating you?"
"Oh, nothing whatever. Nothing at all. It was just your manner."
"Let's come out in the open, then. How do you think you could put a stop to it? Because if you could, why, I'll save you the trouble."
Mr. Mix hesitated. "You were always an original young man, Henry. But if it's my duty to stop your show, why should I give away my plans? So you could anticipate 'em?"
"No, I've done that already."
"Now, Henry, that sounds too conceited to be like you."
"Oh, no, it's only a fact. But here—I'll run through the list for you. Have me pinched under the ordinance? Can't be done; the City Attorney's said so, and I saw the Chief of Police was in on it. Get an injunction? You can't do that either, because—"
"Why can't we?"
"Because I've got one already."
Mr. Mix's jaw dropped. "What's that? How could you—"
"Oh, I got Bob Standish—just as a citizen tax-payer—to apply for a temporary injunction yesterday, to test it out. It's being argued this morning. Don't you want to come over and hear it? If I lose, I won't open next Sunday at all; and if I win, then the League can't get an injunction later.... What else can you do?"
"We may have other cards up our sleeves," said Mr. Mix, stiltedly.
"Just the place I'd have looked for 'em," said Henry, but his tone was so gentle and inoffensive that Mr. Mix only stared.
He shook hands with Henry, and hurried over to the Court House, where he arrived just in time to hear the grey-haired jurist say, dispassionately: "Motion denied."
Mr. Mix swabbed his face, and thought in lurid adjectives. He wouldn't have dared, in view of Mirabelle's opinion, to ask for an injunction on behalf of the League itself, but it had occurred to him that he might arrange the matter privately. He could persuade one of the old moss-backs that Mirabelle might be swayed by her relationship to Henry (this struck him as the height of sardonic humour), and the moss-back could go into Court as an individual, to enjoin the Sunday performance as opposed to public policy. But Henry had outstripped him; and furthermore, there was no question of judicial favour. The Judge who had refused the application was no friend of Henry, or of Judge Barklay. And Bob Standish's attorney, who by a fiction was attacking Henry's position, had claimed that the Sunday show was designed for profit, and that the price was merely collected in advance. This would have been precisely Mr. Mix's thesis. Henry's own lawyer had replied that since there was no advance in the price of tickets during the week, there was no charge for Sunday. A ticket during the week included an invitation. To be sure, one couldn't get the invitation without the ticket, but where was the ordinance violated? Would the Court hold, for example, that a grocer couldn't invite to a lecture, for charity, on Sunday, every one who had patronized his shop during the previous week? Would the Court hold that an author couldn't invite to a public reading on Sunday, every one who had bought his book on Saturday?
The Court wouldn't.
And Mr. Mix, who knew Henry's income to the nearest dollar, went home and got a pencil, and covered sheet after sheet with figures.
Presently, he sat back and laughed. Why, he had had his hysterics for nothing! Henry couldn't overcome his handicap unless he jammed his house to capacity from now until August. No theatre had even yet accomplished such a feat. And it wasn't as though Henry had a monopoly on this scheme; in another week, all his competitors would be open Sundays, too, with strictly moral shows, and no money taken at the door, and he would have the same competition as always. And yet, to be perfectly safe, (for Henry was fast on his feet) Mr. Mix had better frame his amendment to the ordinance, and set the wheels in motion. With good luck, he could have Henry blanketed by April.
That evening, Mirabelle found him more animated than usual; and more lavish with compliments.
Since he had first seen Henry's advertisement, Mr. Mix had been as uncertain of his prospects as a child with a daisy; he had foreseen that it was only a part of a very narrow margin of fortune which would determine whether he was to be a rich man, poor man, beggar man—or jilt. Now, however, his confidence was back in his heart, and when, on Sunday afternoon, he placed himself inconspicuously in the window of an ice-cream parlour, squarely opposite the Orpheum, it was merely to satisfy his inquisitiveness, and not to feed his doubt.
He had to concede that Henry was clever. Henry had introduced more fresh ideas into his business than all his competitors in bulk. What a customers'-man Henry would have been, if he had entered Mr. Mix's brokerage office! Yes, he was clever, and this present inspiration of his was really brilliant. Mr. Mix could see, clearly, just what Henry had devised. He had devised a rebate: from a book-keeping standpoint he was cutting his own prices during the week (for of course the Sunday performance was costly to him) but he was cutting them in such a subterranean manner that he wouldn't expect to lose by it. Palpably, he thought that Orpheum stubs would become negotiable, that they would pass almost as currency, that when people hesitated between the Orpheum and any other theatre, they would choose the Orpheum because of the Sunday feature. But did Henry imagine that his scheme was copyrighted? Mr. Mix had to smile. Across the street, there were fully a hundred people waiting for the doors to open ... the doors had opened, and the crowd was filing past the ticket-booth. The house would be packed solid from now until late evening. But when next Sunday came, and all the other houses, relying upon Henry's triumph over the City Attorney and the District Court, stole Henry's thunder.... It was to laugh. Week-day business would be spread thin, as always; people could suit their own choice, and have the same Sunday privilege. And this would knock all the profit out of it.
Mr. Mix retired, in the blandest of good-humour, and on Monday he visited the manager of the largest picture house in town.
"I suppose," he said, "you're going to follow the procession, aren't you?"
The manager looked at him queerly. "Well—no."
"No. That bird Devereux put it all over us like a tent." He snorted with disgust. "Man from Standish's office come round here a while back and asked for a price for the house for Sundays up to August. We thought it was for some forum, or something; and the damn place was shut down anyway; so we made a lease. Next twenty Sundays for four hundred and seventy-five beanos, cash in advance. Then it turns up that Standish's office was actin' for Devereux."
The bloom of apoplexy rose to Mr. Mix's cheeks. "You mean he—do you know if he leased more theatres than this one? Did he?"
"Did he! He signed up the whole damn Exhibitors' Association. There's twenty-two houses in town, and he's tied up twenty-one and he owns the other. Far's I can find out, it only cost him about six thousand to get an air-tight monopoly on Sunday shows for the next six months."
Mr. Mix drew breath from the very bottom of his lungs. "What can you—do about it?"
"Do? What is there to do? All we can do is put on an extra feature durin' the week, to try and buck him that way—and it won't pay to do it. He's got a cinch. He's got a graft. And all the rest of us are in the soup."
Mr. Mix was occupied with mental arithmetic. "Tell me this—is it going to pay him?"
"Pay him!" echoed the manager scornfully. "Six thou for twenty weeks is three hundred a week. Fifty a day. Twelve-fifty a performance. Twelve-fifty calls for about twenty-five people. Don't you think he'll draw that many new patrons, when he can give 'em on Sundays what nobody else can? And everything over twenty-five'll be velvet. He'll clean up two, three thousand easy and maybe more. What beats me is why he didn't get leases for the next hundred years. We wouldn't have had the sense to block him."
"I'll tell you why," said Mr. Mix, choking down his passion. "Because there's going to be a new ordinance. It'll deal with Sunday entertainments. And it's going to prohibit any such horse-play as this." He surveyed his man critically. "Does Henry Devereux belong to your Association?"
"No, he don't. And he won't either. We don't want him."
"Then as long as you people can't keep open Sundays anyway," observed Mr. Mix carelessly, "maybe you'd find it to your advantage to support the Mix amendment when it gets up to the Council. It'll kill off any such unfair competition as this."
The manager shrugged his shoulders. "If it wasn't for your damn League we'd all be makin' money."
"I'm sorry we don't all see this thing in the same light. But as long as the rest of you are out of it—"
"Oh, I can see that.... And you and me both understand a little about politics, I should imagine." He grinned wryly. "Never thought I'd link up with any reform outfit—but why don't you mail me a copy of your amendment, and I'll see how the boys take it."
Mr. Mix agreed to mail a copy as soon as the final draft was completed, and he was as good as his word. On the same evening, he read the masterpiece to Mirabelle with finished emphasis.
"It's perfect," she said, her eyes snapping. "It's perfect! Of course, I wish you'd have made it cover more ground, but just as a Sunday law, it's perfect. When are we going to offer it to the Council?"
"Mirabelle," said Mr. Mix, "we've got to do some missionary work first. And before you can do missionary work, whether it's for religion or politics or reform, you've got to have a fund."
"Fund? Fund? To get an ordinance passed? Why don't you walk in and hand it to 'em?"
He shook his head. "I was in politics a good many years. We've got to get out printed matter, we've got to spend something for advertising, we've got to—approach some of the Councillors the right way."
She sat up in horror. "Not—bribe them!"
"Oh, dear, no! You didn't think that of me!"
"No, but when you said—"
"I said they had to be 'approached.' I didn't mean corruption; I meant enlightenment." He rubbed his nose reflectively. "But the cost is approximately the same."
"Of course, I trust your judgment, Theodore, but ... how big a fund do you suppose we'll want."
"Oh, I should think five thousand would do it."
"Five—! Theodore Mix, how could you spend five thousand dollars for such a thing? There isn't that much in the treasury! There's hardly one thousand."
"My dear, if I were in your place, I'd protect my ante. I'd—"
"What's all that gibberish?"
"I said," he corrected hastily, "we've got too much at stake to risk any failure when a little money would guarantee success."
"Would five thousand dollars guarantee it?"
"If I had that much in cash, to spend here and there as I saw the need of it—take one type of man out to dinner a few times, where I could get close to him—loan another type fifty dollars if he asked me for it (and some of 'em would)—hire detectives to shadow another type—"
"Yes. To check up their habits. Suppose we found a man gambling on the sly; we'd hold that over his head and—"
"Humph! I don't like it much, but in a good cause it may be justifiable."
"And leaflets and circulars and one thing and another.... But if I have to go out and get permission from a finance committee before I can let go of a dime, I can't do anything. I'd have to have the money so I could use it exactly as I needed it. And if I did, I'll bet I could get support you never dreamed of. Get outside people to bring pressure on the Council." He gazed at the ceiling. "Why, with a leeway of five thousand, I'd even have the Exhibitor's Association with us. I'd have—"
"I know so."
"Because long before I was in the League, I was in politics. When I say I know, I know. Of course, the Association's help would only go to show that they see the light in respect to their own business—it wouldn't cover all the whole scope of the amendment, but even so—"
"Theodore, you know politics and I don't. But both of us know the proverb about what you catch flies with. So we'll try both methods together. You can put out the molasses, and I'll put out the vinegar; and between us, we ought to get somewhere."
"We can't fail," said Mr. Mix, sitting on needles.
Mirabelle went over to her desk, and searched the pigeon-holes. "I've been told, Theodore, by—people I consider very reliable—that in August, dear John's money will be coming to me." This was the first time that she had ever broached the delicate subject. "I always meant to use some of it for the League." She had unearthed her check book, and was writing words and figures as angular as herself. "So really,—this is on account." She came over to hand him the check, and after a slight hesitation, she stooped and pecked him on the forehead, but immediately afterwards she relapsed into her consistently, non-romantic character. "You better give me an itemized account of how you spend it, though, Theodore. You better give me one every day. We've got to be businesslike, even if we are—engaged."
For two-thirds of a year, Henry Devereux had lived contrary to his independent taste, and to his education. He had virtually cut himself adrift from the people he liked and the pleasures he loved; his sole luxury had been his membership in the Citizens Club; and he had laboured far more diligently and with far less respite than his uncle had ever intended. He had overcome great difficulties, of which the most significant was his own set of social fetiches, and he had learned his weaknesses by exercise of his strength. He had made new friends, and brought the old ones closer to him—and this by virtue of honest plugging, and determination. He was unassumingly proud of himself, and he was prouder yet of Anna; he knew that the major portion of his accomplishment—and especially that part of it which had taken place within himself—was to be put down to Anna's credit. But the spring was coming towards them, and Henry winced to think of it. Heretofore, the message of spring, in Henry's estimation, had been a welcome to new clothes, golf, horseback parties, and out-of-door flirtations; this season, it meant to him a falling-off in the motion-picture business.
The spring was calling to him, but Henry had to discipline his ears. His working hours were from eleven in the morning until midnight; he sat, day after day, in his constricted office, and glued his mind upon his problems. The Orpheum was still a sporting proposition to him, but even in sport, there come periods in which the last atom of nerve and will-power are barely sufficient to keep the brain in motion. Henry's nerves were fagged, his muscles were twitching, the inside of his head felt curiously heavy and red-hot; the spring was calling him, but he didn't dare to listen. The spirit of his Uncle John Starkweather was waiting to see if he came to the tape with his head down, and Henry was going to finish on his nerve.
As a matter of fact, he could easily have spared an hour of two each day for exercise and recreation, but he wouldn't believe it. He wouldn't yield to Anna when she implored him to get out of doors, to freshen his mind and tame his muscles.
The atmosphere of his office almost nauseated him; the endless parade of petty details was almost unbearably irksome; the book-keeping part of it alone was soul-disintegrating; but to Henry, ambition had become a monomania, and to it he was ready to make every conceivable sacrifice, including—if necessary—his health. There were days when he told himself that he would pay a thousand dollars merely to have green turf under his feet, blue sky above, and no worries in his soul—but he wouldn't sacrifice an hour of supervision over his theatre. There were days when he felt that he would give up his chance of salvation if only he could go away with Anna, up into the wooded country, for a week's vacation—but he wouldn't sacrifice a week from the Orpheum guardianship. The spring was calling him—the golf course, the bridle-paths, the lake, the polo—but Henry had put himself in high speed forward, and there was no reverse. Then, too, he was constantly thinking of Anna, who without the daily stimulus that Henry had, was cheerfully performing the function of a domestic drudge. One of his most frequently repeated slogans was that if Anna could stick it out, he could.
While the winter favoured it, his monopoly had brought him a splendid return, but the first warm days had signalled a serious loss of patronage, and Henry couldn't successfully combat the weather. The weather was too glorious; it called away Henry's audiences, just as it tried in vain to inveigle Henry. And then the monopoly had been double-edged; it had been a good risk—and without it, he wouldn't have had the slightest chance against the requirements—but it had been too perfect, too prominent. In the beginning, everybody had hailed him as a Napoleon because he had vanquished his little world of competitors; but now that his laurel was old enough to wilt, he was receiving the natural back-lash of criticism. Naturally, his personal friends were still delighted, the older men at the club were still congratulating him for foresight and ingenuity, and Mr. Archer was still complimentary and confident: but the great mass of theatre-goers, and the mass of self-appointed arbiters of business ethics, were pointing to him as a follower of the gods of grasp and gripe. More disquieting than that, however, were the indications of a new crusade, led by Mr. Mix, and directed against the Council. The Mix amendment, which was so sweeping that it prohibited even Sunday shows for charity, would automatically checkmate Henry; and the worst of it was that money was being spent with some effectiveness. Of course, the amendment wouldn't ever be adopted in toto—it was too sweeping, too drastic—but even a compromise on the subject of Sunday entertainments would be fatal.
Despite the strain, he was outwardly as blithe and optimistic as usual. When Anna pleaded with him to take a vacation, he either laughed her off in his most jovial manner, or riposted that she needed a vacation far more than he did, which may have been true; when Judge Barklay attempted to reason with him, he responded with respectful humour. He had seen victory slip within his grasp, and slip out of it, so often that he was on the verge of complete demoralization, but he thought that he alone was aware of it, and because of his pride, Anna didn't disillusion him.
Nor did Bob Standish disillusion him. Standish tried to bolster him up with undergraduate slang, and to convey to Henry the fact that all the hill-folk were solidly behind him, but he knew better than to come out flat with commiseration. Then, too, Standish was conscious of a vague cloud which had come up to blur their relationship. He didn't suspect for an instant the true cause of it, which was his remark, some months ago, that he wouldn't employ in his office a friend such as Henry; but he felt it, and was keenly concerned about it. Nevertheless, his own unselfish interest never faltered, and he waited patiently, because he knew that between himself and Henry there could be no permanent misunderstanding.
Nor did Mr. Archer, Henry's firm friend and ally (insofar as Mr. Archer could separate his personality into two separate entities, one of which was ally, and the other was impartial trustee) disillusion him, although Mr. Archer had also eyes to see with. On the contrary, Mr. Archer put out numerous remarks which he intended as lifebuoys.
"There was a directors' meeting of the Trust and Deposit the other day, Henry, and somehow they got talking about your account. I shouldn't wonder—if you ever wanted to change your business—if they wouldn't give you the opportunity; and if they did, it wouldn't be so very long before they'd invite you on the Board."
Henry disparaged it. "What as—deputy assistant splinter?"
"You've made rather a hit with the older crowd, Henry. And even if you aren't a rich man by inheritance next August, I'm not worrying about your future."
"Neither am I. Not while I've got Anna to think up my best thoughts for me."
The lawyer nodded. "A girl in a thousand, Henry."
"That's the worst insult I ever heard! The population of the world's over two billion!"
Mr. Archer laughed, but his eyes showed approval. "It's simply something for you to keep in mind, my boy—about the bank. It's a possible career, unless you want to go on with the Orpheum. Of course, you'd have to start pretty low, at first, but you know as well as I do that nobody's asked to come into that bank unless he's well thought of."
Henry didn't repeat this conversation to Bob Standish, because he thought it would sound too much like saying "Yah!" nor did he repeat it to his wife, because he thought it would sound too egotistical; but on the same day he collected another item of news which he unhesitatingly shared with her.
He said to Anna: "I saw something downtown that'll amuse you. Cigar store with a sign in front: Trading Stamps, Premium Coupons, and Orpheum Theatre Stubs Bought and Sold. If that isn't a footprint on the sands of time I'm going to get measured for glasses."
She laughed a trifle recessively. "I'll be glad when it's all over, though. Won't you?"
Inspecting her, he realized with a little thrill of self-accusation, that Anna had worn herself out; she hadn't had a day's freedom from housework, and she had worked twice as hard as he thought necessary. She was very tired, and she showed it; but he knew that when she wanted the year to be over, she wasn't thinking of herself, but of him. He paid her the compliment of accepting what she said, without tossing it back as though she had meant it for herself. "Well, I told you I'd drag in the bearded lady and the wild man of Borneo, if I had to. What's the matter; don't you like the show business?"
"Of course, we didn't exactly go into it for fun."
"I seem to remember your calling it a lark, though."
"I didn't know it was going to be quite as awful as this."
"You know what I mean—you're worn out, and you look dreadfully—and I didn't know we'd have to do so much—" She fumbled for the word. "What is it when a man stands outside, and tries to make people come in and look at the snake-charmer?"
"Ballyhoo. Would you have wanted me to stay out of it, if you'd known?"
She deliberated. "It's funny—but I don't think I would. In a way, it's been good for both of us. I'll just be glad when it's over.... What sort of house did you have?"
Henry put on his best smile. "Not too good. Fair."
"If we should fall down, after all we've done—oh, we can't! Henry, we just can't!"
"I used to know a poem," he said, "that kept asking the question 'Where are the snows of yesteryear?' Well, if I could find out, and have 'em shovelled back in the street, we'd be in a good position. But as soon as the snow melted, so did the big crowds. I'll never look a crocus in the face again. They've croaked us out of a couple of hundred a week, gross."
"If we should fall down, do you know who I'd be sorry for? The managers of the other theatres. We'd just have been dogs in the manger. And every time I think about it, I don't feel nearly as smart as I did last January. Of course, I suppose it was fair enough, but—"
"Fair? Oh, yes. That sort of thing'll always be fair—as long as there's any business. Queer, though, when you come to think of it. We hadn't any grudge against the other fellows; but they'd have stolen our idea, so we had to protect it. If they'd stolen our ten dollar bill, they'd have had to go to jail for it; but they could have stolen an idea worth ten thousand, and we'd just have had to stand back, and gibber. As long as that's fair, then we were fair."
"I wonder," she said, "if all monopolists go through the same thing—first, they get such a wonderful scheme that they hardly dare to go to bed for fear they'll talk in their sleep: then they're crazy for fear it won't work; then it does work, and they think they're the Lord's anointed; and bye-and-bye they look around and feel—sort of apologetic."
"Oh. Do you feel apologetic?"
"I'm looking around, anyway."
"You'd better save your energy. Mix's amendment's coming up pretty soon, and even if it doesn't pass, I don't see how we're going to compete with this weather. It's so abominably beautiful that it's—sickening."
"Oh—Mix!" she said, scornfully. "It gives me the creeps just to hear his name! He's a nasty hypocrite, and a sneak, and a—How long do you suppose he'll be hurrying around with that pious air after he gets his money? Why, he won't even stay in the League!"
Henry grimaced. "You're wrong. If he gets his money, he will stay in the League, and I'll bet on it."
There was a short silence. "Henry," she burst out, "everything considered, I believe he wants your uncle's money more than we do!"
"Whichever one of us gets it,—" said Henry grimly, "—He'll earn it!"
* * * * *
When he recalled his previous years of irresponsibility, he was staggered to realize how little a fifty dollar bill had meant to him. It had meant a casual request across the breakfast table; now, it meant that seventy-five or a hundred people were willing to pay him a few cents apiece for the result of his headaches; and the absence of those people, and the failure of those receipts, meant the difference between achievement and bitter downfall.
He had risked everything on his monopoly, and added six thousand dollars to his quota. For two months, he had carried the double load, and beaten his schedule; in early May, he was falling behind at the rate of fifty dollars a week. With twelve weeks ahead, he faced a deficit of a paltry six hundred dollars—and the Mix amendment was peeping over the horizon.
He shaved down his expenses to the uttermost penny; he ruthlessly discarded the last fraction of his class pride, and in emergency, to save the cost of a substitute, acted in place of his own doorman. He rearranged the lighting of the auditorium to save half a dollar a day. When the regular pianist was ill, he permitted Anna, for an entire fortnight, to play in his stead; and during that fortnight they ate three meals a day in a quick-lunch restaurant. There was no economy so trivial that he wouldn't embrace it; and yet his receipts hung steadily, maddeningly, just below the important average. Meanwhile, the subject of reform crept out again to the front page of the morning papers.
For nine months, Mr. Mix and Henry had occupied, mentally, the end seats on a see-saw, and as Henry's mood went down, Mr. Mix's mood went up. By strict fidelity to his own affairs, Mr. Mix had kept himself in the public eye as a reformer of the best and broadest type, and he had done this by winning first Mirabelle, and then the rest of the League, to his theory that organization must come before attack. Needless to say, he had found many impediments in the way of organization; Mirabelle had often betrayed impatience, but Mr. Mix had been able, so far, to hold her in check. He had realized very clearly, however, that Mirabelle wasn't to be put off indefinitely; and he had been glad that he had a readymade ruse which he could employ as a blinder whenever she began to fidget. This ruse was his amendment; and although he could no longer see any value in it for the purposes of his private feud, yet he was passing it for two reasons; Mirabelle was one, and the public was the other. Even a reformer must occasionally justify his title; and besides, it wasn't the sort of thing which could injure the majesty of his reputation.
On this, then, Mr. Mix had laboured with unceasing diligence, and he had spent Mirabelle's money so craftily that thirty five hundred dollars had done the work of five thousand (and the balance had gone into his own pocket, and thence into a disastrous speculation in cotton), but as the year came into June, he told himself cheerfully that amendment or no amendment, he was justified in buying Mirabelle a wedding-ring. And when a belated epidemic of influenza rode into town, on the wings of an untimely spell of weather, and the Health Department closed all theatres for five days, Mr. Mix told himself, further, that the end of his career as a reformer was in sight, and that the beginning of his career of statecraft was just over the hill. Once the minister had said "Amen," and once his bride had made him her treasurer, and helped him into the Mayor's chair, the Reform League was at liberty to go to the devil.
Mirabelle had persisted in keeping the wedding-journey a surprise from him. She had hinted at a trip which would dazzle him, and also at a wedding gift which would stun him by its magnificence; Mr. Mix had visions on the one hand, of Narragansett, Alaska or the Canadian Rockies, and on the other hand, of a double fistful of government bonds. Mr. Mix didn't dare to tease her about the gift, but he did dare to tease her about the journey, and eventually she relented.
"I'll tell you," said Mirabelle, archly. "We're going to the convention."
Mr. Mix looked blank. "Convention?"
She nodded proudly. "The national convention of reform clubs, in Chicago. Aren't you surprised?"
Mr. Mix swallowed, and made himself smile, but it was a hazardous undertaking. "Surprised? I—I'm—I'm knocked endways!"
"You see," she said, "we'll be married on the fourth and be in Chicago on the sixth and be home again on the fourteenth and the Council won't vote on the amendment until the sixteenth. Could anything have been nicer? Now, Theodore, you hadn't guessed it, had you?"
"Guessed it?" he stammered. "I should say not. I don't see how you ever thought of it. It's—why, I'm paralyzed!"
"You could be a little more enthusiastic without hurting yourself any," she said suspiciously.
"I was thinking. I used to fancy I was pretty good at making plans myself, but this beats me. The way those dates all dovetail like the tiles on a roof. I never heard of anything like it. Only—well, if you will be so quick at reading my mind, I was wondering if we ought to leave town before the Council meets."
"That's mighty unselfish of you, Theodore, but you said only a couple of days ago you'd done all you could. And the Exhibitors'll still be working—"
"I don't believe they'll work any too hard. It's taken too long to get under way. If the amendment passes, you see they'll only have the advantage of six weeks of fair competition. I mean, Henry'd lose only six weeks of his unfair competition. And then we've got to see about getting new quarters for the League, when our Masonic Hall lease runs out, and—"
"But our advertising'll be running just the same, and the League'll still have its public meetings, and all. And everywhere I go I hear the same thing; the people really want this passed. And anybody can find us a new hall. I'll appoint somebody. No, you're just as unselfish as you can be, but we'll be back in time. Truly, Theodore, didn't you guess?"
Much of the jauntiness had gone out of Mr. Mix, but he consoled himself with the certainty that in another two months, he would be in a position to become masterful. The week in Chicago would bore him excessively, but after all, it was only a small part of a lifetime. He reflected that to any prisoner, the last few days before release, and freedom, are probably the hardest.
"How could I, my dear?"
"No, you must have thought I'd want you to traipse off on some perfectly aimless, nonsensical trip like a pair of sentimental idiots."
"Oh, you know me better than that," he murmured.
"Yes, but I didn't know how well you knew me. Sometimes I've been afraid you think I'm too—gushing."
"Just because I chatter along to you as any innocent young girl might—"
She continued to chatter for some minutes, but Mr. Mix was absent-minded. He had chewed the cud of his own virtue for too long a time, and it had given him a sour stomach. He was thinking that if her gift to him were in money (and from her hints he rather expected it) he might even manage to find, in Chicago, a type of unascetic diversion which would remove the taste of the convention from his spirit. But it was better to be safe than sorry, and therefore Mr. Mix decided to make a flying trip to New York, for his bachelor celebration.
To Mirabelle he said that he was going to confer with his friend, the head of the Watch-and-Ward Society. Mirabelle promptly volunteered to go along too, but Mr. Mix told her, as delicately as he could, that it wouldn't look proper, and Mirabelle, who worshipped propriety as all gods in one, withdrew the suggestion.
"But before you go," she said, "You've got to do something about the state-wide campaign. You've got to write the literature, anyway."
Mr. Mix felt that he was protected by the calendar, and promised.
* * * * *
Before he went to New York, he wrote three pamphlets which were marvels of circumlocution, as far as reform was concerned, and masterpieces of political writing, as far as his own interests were concerned. He had borrowed freely, and without credit, from the speeches of every orator from Everett to Choate, and when he delivered the manuscripts to Mirabelle, and went off on his solitary junket, he was convinced that he had helped his own personal cause, and satisfied the League, without risking the smallest part of his reputation.
On his return, he stopped first at the Citizens Club, and when he came into the great living-room he was aware that several members looked up at him and smiled. Over in a corner, Henry Devereux and Judge Barklay had been conversing in undertones; but they, too, had glanced up, and their smiles were among the broadest.
Mr. Mix had an uncomfortable intuition that something had blown. Could he have been spotted, in New York, by any one from home?
"What's the joke?" he inquired of the nearest member.
"Got a new name for you—Pitchfork Mix." Mr. Mix spread a thin smile over his lips. "Supposed to be funny, is it?"
"Some folks think so."
"Where'd it originate? Let me in on the joke."
"Where would it originate? You're some strenuous author—aren't you? Didn't know you had that much acid in your system."
From the table at his side, the man picked up three pamphlets. One was entitled The Model Statute, the second was Local Problems, and the third was Reform and Regeneration. To each of the three, Mr. Mix's name was signed. He took them up, and scrutinized them closely.
"Why, what's so remarkable about these?"
"Well, that one on Local Problems isn't so bad, but you know, Mix, when you come out in print and tell us that sooner or later you're going to stop the manufacture and sale of playing-cards, and—"
"And stop all public dancing, and—"
Mr. Mix looked moonstruck. "Who ever said that?"
"And hand us out sumptuary laws—regulate the length of women's skirts and—"
Mr. Mix caught his breath sharply. "Where's that? Where is it? Show it to me! Show it to me!"
Obligingly, the member showed him; and as Mr. Mix stared at the pages, one by one, the veins in his cheeks grew purple. Mirabelle had edited his manuscript,—thank Heaven she hadn't tampered with the Mix amendment of the blue-law ordinance, which Mr. Mix had so carefully phrased to checkmate Henry, without at the same time seeming to do more than provide conservative Sunday regulation,—but in the other articles Mirabelle had shovelled in a wealth of her own precious thoughts, clad in her own bleak style, and as soon as he had read two consecutive paragraphs, Mr. Mix knew that the worst wasn't yet to come—it had arrived.
The other man was amusedly calm. "Well, you're not going to deny you wrote it, are you? Too bad, in a way, though. Oh, I don't blame you for getting it off your chest, if you really mean it—a man might as well come out in the open—but I'm afraid too many people'll think it just funny."
Mr. Mix produced a smile which was a sickly attempt to register nonchalant poise. "What do you hear about it?"
"Oh, what I said. Say Mix, do you honestly mean all that blood-and-thunder?"
Mr. Mix smiled again, and hoped that his expression was taken to be non-committal. To save his life, he couldn't have helped looking towards the corner where Henry and Judge Barklay sat, and his fury and chagrin were multiplied when he saw that they were still affected by humour.
He went out, with vast dignity—even the doorman had a twinkle in his eye—and made for Masonic Hall. Mirabelle was there, in the committee room, and at sight of him, she had a temporary fit of maidenly diffidence. He wanted to slap her; but he didn't even dare to use a tone of voice which was more than disapproving.
"Those pamphlets—" he began, censoriously.
"Oh, yes, Theodore, I took the liberty of making a few slight changes."
"Slight changes! Sleight of hand changes!"
Mirabelle drew herself up. "Do you mean to say you criticise what I did? I couldn't see the sense of being milk-and-watery, even if you could. All I put in was what you've said to me a hundred times over. We've wasted too much time already. I thought we'd better show our true colours."
Mr. Mix stood and gaped at her. Underground politician that he was, he knew that Mirabelle had utterly destroyed the half of his ambition. She had made him a laughing-stock, a buffoon, a political joke. To think that his name was connected with a crusade against short-skirts and dancing—Ugh! Not even the average run of church-goers would swallow it. "Mayor!" he thought bitterly. "President of Council! I couldn't get elected second deputy assistant dog-catcher!"
Aloud, he said slowly: "I'm afraid it was premature, that's all."
"Oh, no, it wasn't! You've no idea how people are talking about it."
"Oh, yes, I have," said Mr. Mix, but he hadn't the temerity to put a sarcastic stress on it. He was wondering whether, if he issued a statement to assure the public that what was in those pamphlets was pure idealism, and not to be taken as his outline of any immediate campaign, he could remove at least the outer layer of the bad impression, and save his amendment from the wreck. He had thought, earlier, that he wouldn't need that amendment as a personal weapon against Henry, but the value of it had appreciated by the possibility of losing it. As to the state-wide law, Mr. Mix was totally unconcerned. "Oh, yes, I have," he said.
"Don't get too conceited, though, Theodore. The best part of it was mine."
Mr. Mix's eagle eye saw a loophole. "You don't think I'm going to take praise for what belongs to you, do you?" he demanded.
"No, sir!" said Mr. Mix. "Not exactly. I'm going to tell the truth about it at our next meeting, and I'm going to send a statement to the Herald."
"Oh, it doesn't matter."
"It matters to me. Maybe I'm too finicky, but that's the kind of man I am."
"You're too generous," she murmured.
Mr. Mix wiped away a stray bead of perspiration, and breathed more freely. With Mirabelle's money to back him, and the stigma of those two pamphlets removed, perhaps he had a fighting chance for the mayoralty yet.
* * * * *
It was a house-wedding, with very few guests, no decorations, and perfectly digestible refreshments. When the last of the party had gone down the steps, Mirabelle, in a travelling-suit which was new in comparison with the rest of her wardrobe, approached the bridegroom.
"Theodore, I want you to have your gift before we start. I don't want you to feel too dependent on me. Maybe after next month I'll make some kind of a settlement on you, but that's neither here nor there. So ... take it, and I hope it's what you wanted."
He took it, and his fingers trembled. A check? And for what generous amount?
"Well—aren't you going to thank me?"
Mr. Mix tried to speak, but the lump in his throat prevented him. She had given him what was the legal equivalent of five thousand dollars, but it wasn't in the form of a check. It was his own demand note, payable to John Starkweather and endorsed by him to Mirabelle. The word "Cancelled" was written, in Mirabelle's angular hand, across the face of it.
As Henry and his wife went down the steps, they exchanged glances and smiled faintly. "First time I've been in that house for seven months," said Henry, half to himself. "It's a bully old shack, too. I lived in it ever since I was six."
"Still, we're pretty comfortable right where we are, dear."
Henry lagged a little. "That does hurt my feelings. Of course, I'm so busy I could live in a dog-kennel and hardly notice it, but when you have to camp day in and day out in that measly little joint, and smell everybody else's corned beef and cabbage, and dig like a general-housework girl and cook, and manicure the stove, and peel the potatoes and dust off the what-not and so on—not that you haven't made it a mighty pretty place, because you have—without one day's vacation since last August—"
"But I've told you so often, dear, I'm glad to do it if it helps you."
"It helped a lot. If you hadn't done it in the first place, I wouldn't have had the cash on hand to tie up the rest of the picture houses. But that time's gone by. I don't see why in thunder you won't hire some servants. And at least you could pike up into the country for a week. Why don't you?"
She hesitated, for temptation was strong, and she was really very tired. "Maybe it's just because I want to play the game out, too. It's only two months more."
"And after that," he said firmly, "we're going to move. I'll have enough to buy a young bungle-house up on the hill, even if I don't get anything from Archer. And then I'm going to make up to you for this year—see if I don't."
"Would you sell the Orpheum?"
"Sell it!" he echoed. "I'd sell it so quick you'd think it was a fake oil-well! I could, too. Bob Standish sends me a proposition from somebody about once a week."
"Don't you believe there's any chance of our catching up, then?"
"Looks pretty black," he admitted. "They've got us eight down and nine to go, but if this amendment holds off we've still got eight weeks left to think up some wild scheme."
She squeezed his arm. "I'm not afraid of the future, no matter what happens. We can take care of ourselves."
"Sure we can," he said, easily. "Maybe I could get a job keeping the books for the League!... Seriously, though, I've had two or three different propositions put up to me over at the Club ... but Lord! how I hate to be licked! Well—let's train our gigantic intellects on the job, and finish out the heat, anyway."
She went back to her hated housekeeping, and Henry went back to his hated theater, and for another week they labored and pinched and saved, each in a specific purpose, and each in desperate support of the other's loyalty and sacrifice.
He brought her, then, the morning edition of the Herald, and pointed out a telegraphic item on the first page. "They must think it's a sure thing," he said, "and the devil of it is that I guess they're pretty nearly right."
Anna glanced at the headlines, and gasped. "Mix elected second vice-president of the national organization—and pledges twenty-five thousand dollars to the national campaign fund! Oh!... I wish I could say what I think!"
"If a hearty oath would relieve you, don't mind me," said Henry. His chin was squarer than usual, and his eyes were harder. "You can see what happened, can't you? Aunt Mirabelle railroaded him through—and the pompous old fool looks the part—and she let him promise money she expects to get in August. And I'll bet it hurt him just as much to promise it as it does me to have him!"
She threw the paper to the floor. "Henry, can't we do something? We're only a few hundred dollars short! Can't we make up just that little bit?"
"It's a thousand, now," he said. "A thousand, and we're falling further behind every time the clock ticks." He retrieved the Herald, and abstractedly smoothed out the pages. "That was a great spread-eagle speech of Mix's wasn't it? Talking about his model ordinance, and what he's going to do next year!... Nothing I'd love better than to give that fellow a dose of his own tonic. But that's the deuce of it—I can't think how to put it over.... Even if I'm licked, I wouldn't feel so badly if I just had the personal satisfaction of making him look like a sick cat. Just once."
"Yes," she said, sorrowfully. "Dad's prophecy didn't seem to work out, did it?"
"What prophecy was that?"
"Don't you remember? He said if Mr. Mix only had enough rope—"
"Oh, yes. Only Mix declined the invitation. He's handled himself pretty well; you've got to grant that. There's a lot of people around here that honestly think he's a first-class citizen. Sometimes I'm darned if I don't think they will elect him something. And then God save the Commonwealth! But if they ever realized how far that League'll go if it ever gets under way, and what a bunch of hocum Mix's part of it is—" He stopped abruptly, and froze in his place; and then, to Anna's amazement, he turned to her with a whoop which could have carried half-way to the Orpheum.
"Henry! What on earth is it?"
Henry snatched up his hat and made for the door. "More rope!" he said, exultantly, over his shoulder. "Lots more rope—I'll tell you tonight!"
* * * * *
He arrived at the City Hall before the record room was open, and he fretted and stamped in the corridor until a youthful clerk with spats, pimples, and an imitation diamond scarf-pin condescended to listen to his wants. In twenty minutes he was away again, and he was lucky enough to catch Judge Barklay before the bailiff had opened court.
"Hello, Henry," said the Judge. "Did you want to see me about anything?"
"Rather!" said Henry, who was slightly out of breath. "It's about a comma."
"A comma. Where's your copy of the ordinances?"
"On my desk. Why?"
Henry ran through the volume to the proper place, inserted his thumb as a marker, and held the book in reserve. "Judge, do you suppose the voters want any of these fool blue-laws passed?"
"Well, who does, then, outside of the League?"
"Nobody. All we want is a decent city."
"It's simply that the League's got the Council more or less buffaloed, isn't it?"
"That's what I've heard, Henry."
"And the first thing we know, the League'll have put in such a big wedge that it'll be too late to get it out. If this amendment gets over, Mix'll have a show in the fall, and then the League'll run wild. Just as they said in those pamphlets that Mix published, and then squirmed out of. Isn't that so?"
"Very likely. Very likely."
"And yet everybody's afraid to stand up against it, for fear they'll be called names?"
"It looks so, Henry."
"But if the people once started a back fire—"
The Judge shook his head. "Mobs don't start without a leader."
"I know, but if they ever realized what a ghastly farce it would be—not even using any of the League's new notions, but taking what we've got on the books right now—" He opened the volume of ordinances, and read slowly: "'Whosoever shall fail in the strict observance of the Lord's Day by any unseemly act, speech or carriage; or whosoever shall engage in any manner of diversion—'" Here he paused impressively. "'—or profane occupation—'" He slung the volume on the desk, and faced the Judge. "Don't you get it?"
"I'm afraid I don't—quite."
"Why," said Henry, with a beatific grin. "Why, there's a comma after that word 'diversion.' I've just come from the City Hall. I've seen the original copy. There is a comma. 'Any manner of diversion'—that's one thing: 'or any manner of profane occupation for profit—' that's something else again, and different entirely. And the Reform League has been shrieking to have that ordinance enforced—to say nothing of the amendment. Well, why not enforce it once. 'Any manner of diversion?'" He began to laugh, helplessly. "Oh, come on, Judge—take the pins out and let your imagination down. Any manner of—"
The Judge was whistling softly. "By George, Henry—"
"Can't you see it working? I'm not sure anybody could even take a nap! And—"
The Judge stepped past him. "That's all right, Henry. Stay where you are. I'm just going to telephone Rowland.... Hello: Mayor's office, please—" He motioned to his son-in-law. "Make yourself comfortable—I shouldn't wonder a bit if these blue-laws weren't going to get just a little bit—bleached."
* * * * *
On his delirious way to the Orpheum, he stopped in to see Bob Standish, not to share the joke with him, for Judge Barklay had laid great stress on the closest secrecy, but in answer to a recent message asking him to call.
"What's the excitement, Bob?"
His friend regarded him with the innocent stare which had made his fortune. "Remember I spoke to you some time ago about renting that space over the Orpheum?"
"The nursery? Yes."
"Well, it's come up again. Different party, this time. Of course he hasn't seen it yet, but it's a chap who wants about that much space—might want to enlarge it a little, but we'd arrange that; he'd do it at his own expense—and he'd pay fifteen hundred a year."
Henry deliberated. "It's so near the finish.... I don't much care one way or the other. Who's the party?"
"Bird named McClellan."
"I don't know him; do I?"
"I don't know why you should; never met him before, myself. Well, do you want to trade?"
"I don't much care what I do."
Standish surveyed him closely. "You're very peppy this morning, seems to me."
"I've got an excuse to be."
"Not yet. You'll see it soon enough."
Standish's eyes dropped back to his desk. "Well, let's get this lease question off our chests. If you'll let me handle it for you, I'll guarantee you'll be satisfied."
"Would you do it if you were in my shoes?"
"Absolutely—provided you were in mine."
Henry laughed. "Well, Mr. Bones, what is the answer?"
"Why—this may do you some good. That is, if you let me manage it for you. But suppose it's immaterial. Suppose you run out your string, and win or lose, you know what's on the docket for you, don't you? If you want it?"
"I haven't thought that far ahead. I've had one or two things put up to me."
"Forget 'em." Standish pointed at the wall. "Nice new mahogany flat-topped desk right there."
Henry's mouth relaxed. "Why—Bob."
As Standish gazed at him, no observer would have said that this immature-looking boy was rated in the highest group of local businessmen. To a stranger, the offer might have seemed insignificant, even humorously insignificant; but to Henry it was stupendous, and for two widely varying reasons.
"Just to think over," said Standish. "In case."
Henry's fists were doubled. "It isn't so much the ... the commercial side of it, Bob, but when I know you've always had me down for such an incompetent sort of—"
"That was before the war. To tell the truth, old rubbish, last August I couldn't have seen it with the Lick telescope. Thought you were a great scout, of course—good pal—all that—but business; that's different. A friend's one thing; but a partner's a lot of 'em."
Henry was staring fixedly at him. "I wouldn't have any money to speak of—"
"Then don't speak of it. I'll name the price. The price is your year's profit on the Orpheum."
There was a little silence. "When did you get this hunch, Bob?"
"Oh, about last February."
"But it was about then that I came in here one day, and—and you said you—you said one pal couldn't boss another. You said—"
"Oh!... But as I recall it, you were talking about a job."
"Yes, and you said you wouldn't give me one! And ever since then I've been—"
"Idiot!" said Standish. "Is that what's been gnawing at his tender heart! Why, you astigmatic fool—why.... Stop right there! Certainly I wouldn't have you for an employe, but as a partner—that's different. If you apologize, I'll slay you. Shake hands and wipe it off your brain.... Now let's get back to business. We've got to have quick action."
As the train slowed for the station, and a score of other passengers began to assemble wraps and luggage, Mr. Theodore Mix sat calm and undisturbed, although inwardly he was still raging at Mirabelle for making a spectacle of him. It was fully half an hour ago that she had prodded him into activity, ignored his plea of greater experience in ways of travel, and compelled him to get the suitcases out to the platform (she didn't trust the porter), to help her on with her cape, and to be in instant readiness for departure. For half an hour she had sat bolt upright on the edge of her seat, an umbrella in one hand and an antique satchel in the other, and her air was a public proclamation that no railroad, soulless corporation though it might be, was going to carry her one inch beyond her destination.
By a superhuman effort, Mr. Mix removed his eyes from Mirabelle's convention badge. It was a chaste decoration of three metal bars, two sets of supporting chains, and a half foot of blue silk ribbon, with white lettering, and Mirabelle continued to wear it for two reasons: she was proud of it, and Mr. Mix had made his initial attempt to be masterful, and told her twenty-four hours ago that it looked as though she belonged to the Third Ward Chowder Club. Since then, she had reproached him afresh whenever she caught him looking at it. And inasmuch as it could hardly be avoided by anyone who cast the briefest glance in her general direction, he had been in hot water from Chicago to the present moment. He couldn't even escape to the smoking room.
When a man is telling himself that a woman has made a fool of him in public, and that every one in the neighborhood is amused to watch him, he finds it peculiarly difficult to carry on a conversation with the woman. But Mr. Mix saw that Mirabelle was about to converse, and glowering at a drummer across the aisle, he beat her to it.
"Seems to me the League had an almighty gall to wire you for that three thousand dollars, Mirabelle. If it had been my money, I'd have hung on to it until I knew what they wanted it for."
She straightened her lips. "Well, it wasn't, was it?—So I didn't, did I?... If I can't have faith in my own associates, who can I have it in? And it isn't a gift; it's a loan. Treasurer said he needed it right off, and there wasn't anybody else to get it from in a hurry." She caught his eyes wandering towards her gorgeous insignia, and her own eyes snapped back at him. "And I hope at least I'm to have the privilege of doing what I choose with my own money. Don't forget that women are people, now, just as much as men are. After the first of August, maybe I'll—"
"No, I won't either," she retorted. "I don't care to shush. After the first of August, maybe you'll have your share, and I won't presume to interfere with you. So don't you interfere with me. If the League had to have money, it was for some proper purpose. And it wasn't a gift; it was a loan. And if I couldn't trust—"
"Oh, give it a drink!" said Mr. Mix, under his breath; and while he maintained an attitude of courteous attention, he barricaded his ears as best he could, and shut Mirabelle out of his consciousness.
Even in Chicago, he had received bulletins from the seat of war; they had merely confirmed his previous knowledge that Henry was beaten, thoroughly and irretrievably. A few more weeks, and Mirabelle would be rich. Half a million? That was the minimum. Three quarters? That was more likely. A million dollars? It wasn't in the least improbable. And Mirabelle had told him more than once, and in plain English, that she planned to divide with him—not equally, but equitably. She had said that she would give him a third of her own inheritance. Hm ... a hundred and fifty to three hundred thousand, say. And what couldn't he do with such a benefice? Of course, he would have to profess some slight interest in the League for awhile, but gradually he could slide out of it—and he hoped that he could engineer Mirabelle out of it. Mirabelle made herself too conspicuous. But even if Mirabelle stuck to her colours, Mr. Mix needn't hesitate to drift away—that is, after he had received his settlement. Late in August, he would make a trip to New York on business—reform business—and in the glare of the flaming-arcs, he would compensate himself for his years of penance. Mirabelle was sharp, but (he smiled reminiscently) in Chicago he had once managed to hoodwink her; and what man has done, man can do.
"It's nothing to laugh at, Theodore!"
He came to himself with a start. "I wasn't laughing."
"Did you hear what I said?"
"Yes, dear. Certainly."
"Very well. We'll go out, then."
"Out to the vestibule, just as I said."
"But Mirabelle! We're more than a mile from the station!"
"We're going out to the vestibule, Theodore. I don't propose to get left."
A moment ago, Mr. Mix had been arguing that the smiles and sympathy of his fellow-passengers were cheap at the price, but when he rose and escorted Mirabelle down the aisle, he was telling himself that the old-fashioned principle was best—the wife's property ought to pass under the absolute control of the husband. He was strengthened in this conviction by the fact that two fashionable young men in the corner were snickering at him.
"Home again," said Mirabelle, with a sigh of relief. "Home again, and time to get to work. And I'm just itching for it."
Mr. Mix said nothing: he was wondering how soon he could get to his private cache, and whether he had better put in a supply of young onions in addition to cloves and coffee beans. He hadn't yet discovered whether Mirabelle had a particularly keen scent: but he would take no chances.
"Stop staring at those girls, Theodore!"
"I may be married," said Mr. Mix, defensively. "But I'm dashed if I'm blind.... Immodest little hussies. We'll have to tackle that question next, Mirabelle."
The train eased to a standstill: he helped her down to the platform. The big car was waiting for them: and as the door slammed, Mr. Mix sat back luxuriously, and beamed at the chauffeur. Yes, virtue had its compensations; and as soon as he had money to his own credit, he would figuratively take Mirabelle by the scruff of the neck, and he would tell her just exactly how to behave, and he would see that she did it. But for the present—soft diplomacy.
Mirabelle clamped his arm. "Why, what's that policeman stopping us for, right in the middle of a block!"
"Search me...." He opened the door, and he leaned out, imperially. "What's wrong, officer? We weren't going over twelve or thirteen—"
The policeman, who had brought out a thick book of blank summonses, and an indelible pencil, motioned him to desist. "What name?"
Mr. Mix swelled, pompously. "But, officer, I—"
"Cut it out. Name?"
"Theodore Mix. But—"
Mr. Mix gave it, but before he could add a postscript, Mirabelle was on active duty. "Officer, we've got a perfect right to know what all this fol-de-rol is about. I'm the president of the Ethical Reform League." She flirted her badge at him. "I'm Mrs. Theodore Mix—used to be Miss Starkweather. My husband is a personal friend of Mayor Rowland, and the Chief of Police. I demand to know the reason for this insult!"
The policeman tore off a page at the perforation, and handed it to Mr. Mix. "Judge Barklay's Court, Tuesday, 10 A.M.... Why, you're violatin' City Ordinance 147."
Mirabelle turned red. "Now you see here, young man, I know that ordinance backwards and forwards! I—"
"Try it sideways," said the unabashed policeman. "Ordinance says nobody can't engage in no diversion on the Lord's Day. That's today, and this here limousine's a diversion, ain't it?"
Mr. Mix cried out in anguish, as her grip tightened. "Ouch! It's a damned outrage! Leggo my arm."
"No, it isn't! Oh, Theodore, don't you see what it means—"
"Leggo, Mirabelle! It's a damned outrage!"
"No, it isn't either! Theodore, don't you see? The Mayor's weakened—they probably read your speech at Chicago—they aren't waiting for the amendment! They're enforcing the ordinance—better than we ever dreamed of! And that means that you're going to the City Hall next autumn!" She leaned out and bowed to the gaping officer. "We beg your pardon. You did perfectly right. Thank you for doing your duty. Can we go on, now?"
The man scratched his head, perplexedly.
"What are you tryin' to do—kid me? Sure; go ahead. Show that summons to anybody else that stops you."
In the two miles to the hill, they were stopped seven times, and when they arrived at the house, Mirabelle was almost hysterical with triumph. Without delaying to remove her hat, she sent a telegram to the national president, and she also telephoned to a few of her League cronies, to bid them to a supper in celebration. Mr. Mix made three separate essays to escape, but after the third and last trial was made to appear in its proper light as a subterfuge, he lapsed into heavy infestivity; and he spent the evening drinking weak lemonade, and trying to pretend that it belonged to the Collins family. And while his wife (still wearing her insignia) and his guests were talking in a steady stream, Mr. Mix was telling himself that if Ordinance 147 was going to prevent so innocent an occupation as riding in a car on Sunday, he was very much afraid that life in this community was going to be too rich for his blood. That is, unless he were elected to be chief of the community. And in this case, he would see that he wasn't personally inconvenienced.
* * * * *
At half past seven in the morning, Mirabelle was already at the breakfast table, and semi-audibly rating Mr. Mix for his slothfulness, when he came in with an odd knitting of his forehead and an unsteady compression of his mouth. To add to the effect, he placed his feet with studied clumsiness, and as he gave the Herald into Mirabelle's hands, he uttered a sound which annoyed her.
"For the cat's sake, Theodore, what are you groaning about?"
"Groan yourself," said Mr. Mix, and put a trembling finger on the headline. As he removed the finger, it automatically ceased to tremble. Mr. Mix didn't care two cents for what was in the Herald, but he knew that to Mirabelle it would be a tragedy, and that he was cast for the part of chief mourner.
"Well, what's that to groan about? I'd call it a smashing victory—just as I did last night. And our being caught only shows—"
"Rave on," said Mr. Mix lugubriously, and stood with his hands in his pockets, jingling his keys.
"Certainly! It shows they meant business. It shows we did. We'll take our own medicine. And the amendment—" She broke off sharply; her eyes had strayed back to the smaller type. "Good grief!" said Mirabelle, faintly, and there was silence.
Mr. Mix came to look over her shoulder.
LEADING REFORMERS ARRESTED FOR VIOLATING OWN PET LAW
Police Issue Over 2800 Summonses to Golfers, Pick- nickers, Canoeists, Cyclists, Hikers and Motorists including Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Mix
MAYOR PUTS OVER UNIQUE REFERENDUM TO SEE WHAT PEOPLE REALLY WANT
Special Meeting of Council Called This Morning
Entire City Roused to Fight Blue-Law-Campaign: Mix Amendment Doomed: Ordinance 147 Sure to be Modified
Mirabelle collected herself. "What are you standing around gawking like that for? Find out what time that meeting is. Telephone every member of the committee. They won't have any meeting without us, not by a long, long row of apple-trees!"
"Save your strength," said Mr. Mix, with a spiritual yawn.
"Save my strength! Well, what about saving my five thousand dollars for—for missionary work!"
"The missionary fund," said Mr. Mix, "seems to have fallen among cannibals. Save your energy, my dear. This isn't reform; it's elementary politics, and Rowland's used the steam-roller. As a matter of fact, we're stronger than we were before. If they'd passed my amendment, a lot of voters might have said it wouldn't do any good to elect me Mayor; when all my best work was done beforehand. Now I've got a real platform to fight on. And the League'll have a real fund, won't it? You put up forty or fifty thousand, and we'll stage a Waterloo."
"And you can stand there and—oh, you coward!"
He shook his head, with new dignity. "No, you're simply lucky Rowland didn't think of it a year ago. If he had, and—" Mr. Mix broke off the sentence, and turned pale.
"What's the matter, Theodore?"
Mr. Mix slumped down as though hit from behind. "Mirabelle—listen—" His voice was strained, and hoarse. "I may have to have some money today—four or five thousand—"
"I haven't got it."
He stared at her until she backed away in awe. "You—you haven't got—four or five thousand—?"
Mirabelle began to whimper. "I've been so sure of—of August, you know—I've spent all Mr. Archer sent me. I—"
As he stepped forward, Mirabelle retreated. "You've got something of your own, though?" It wasn't an ordinary question, it was an agonized appeal.
"Only a separate trust fund John set up for me before he died—fifty thousand dollars—I just get the interest—sixty dollars a week."
Mr. Mix sat down hard, and his breathing was laboured. "Great—Jumping—Jehosophat!" He wet his lips, repeatedly. "Mirabelle—listen—if they modify that ordinance—so Sunday shows are legal again—those other fellows'll want to buy back—their contracts—from Henry. There's only a few weeks—but if Henry only raised a thousand dollars—he'd be so close to his ten thousand—" He reached for a glass of water and drank it, gulping. "Henry'll see that—he's got his eyes open every minute.... We've got to cut inside of him. Prevent those fellows from buying their Sunday leases back. Get hold of the man that's the boss of the Exhibitors' Association. Tell him we'll buy a second option to lease the whole string of theatres for six weeks, subject to our getting a release from Henry. As if the League wanted 'em or something. Offer a big enough rent so they'll have to accept—so they'd get more out of us than if they opened up. Then they can't buy back from Henry—and he's over a thousand short. I know he is. And if you don't do it—" His gesture was dramatic.