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The Definite Object - A Romance of New York
by Jeffery Farnol
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"Oh, I'm all right, but what about you? Gee, Hermy, you sure do talk!"

"Do I, dear?"

"Well, I guess! You keep on at poor old Geoff so he don't get a chance for a real proper chew."

"But then you see," said Ravenslee, "I would much rather talk than eat—sometimes."

"But say, Geoff—"

"Miss Hermione, you were asking how I met—"

"Hey, Geoff!" said Spike hoarsely.

"How I met your brother," continued Ravenslee, silencing the boy with a look. "Miss Hermione, I'll tell you full and freely." Here Spike took a gulp of tea and choked, also his brow grew clammy, and he stared with dilating eyes at Ravenslee, who began forthwith:

"Once upon a time, Miss Hermione, that is to say upon a certain dark night, a man sat alone, physically and mentally alone, and very wretched because his life was empty of all achievement—because, having been blessed with many opportunities, he had never done anything worth while. And as he sat there, looking back through the wasted years, this miserable fool was considering, in his wretched folly, the cowardly sin of self-destruction, because he was sick of the world and all things in it—especially of his own useless self! But I hope I don't—er—bore you, do I?"

"No," she answered a little breathlessly, gazing at him with eyes deep and tender; "go on—please go on!"

"Well," continued Ravenslee gravely, "Destiny, or Heaven, or the Almighty, taking pity on this sorry fool, sent to him an angel in the shape of—your brother."

"Of—Arthur?" she exclaimed, while Spike's rigid attitude relaxed, and he drew a sudden, deep breath.

"Of Arthur!" nodded Ravenslee. "And Arthur lifted him out of the Slough of Despond and taught him that life might be a useful thing after all, if he could but find some object to help him—one who might inspire him to nobler things. And so he came here, hoping to find this object."

"An object?" she enquired softly.

"The Definite Object!" he answered, "with capital letters. One who might make life truly worth while. One who, teaching him to forget himself, should lift him to better things. An object to live for, work for, and if necessary to—die for!"

Here Spike, finding himself utterly forgotten again, sighed in deep and audible relief, and taking up knife and fork, fell to with renewed appetite, while Hermione, chin rested on folded hands, gazed into Ravenslee's grave face.

"Do you think he will ever—find his Object?"

"Oh, yes!"

"You seem very—confident."

"I am! You see, she's found."

"She?" exclaimed Hermione, her eyes beginning to waver.

"With a capital S," said he, leaning nearer. "The Woman! And it's right here that his difficulties begin, because in the first place he is so humble and she is so proud and—"

"Proud?" said she, glancing up swiftly.

"And so very beautiful!" he continued.

"Oh!" said she, and this time she did not look at him.

"Say," quoth Spike, "I think I could go another drumstick, Geoff."

"And in the second place, he is so unworthy and she so—"

"An' a bit more stuflin', Geoff," sighed Spike.

"Can she—help him?" enquired Hermione, stirring her tea absently.

"She is the only one who can—help me."

"Oh!" said Hermione again, very softly this time, stirring a little faster; and, conscious of his glance, flushed deliciously and was silent awhile. As for Spike, he glanced from one rapt face to the other and—unostentatiously helped himself to more turkey.

"But," said Hermione at last, "how can—she help?"

"By constant association," answered Ravenslee, "by affording me the daily example of her sweet self-forgetfulness and blameless life."

"Are you sure she is so—very good?"

"I am sure she is braver and nobler than any woman I have ever known!"

Once more Spike glanced from the flushed beauty of his sister's half-averted face to Ravenslee's shining eyes, and boldly helped himself to more seasoning.

"Have you known her very long, Mr. Geoffrey?"

"Long enough to know she is—the only woman!"

"Say, Geoff," sighed Spike, "I guess old Pffeff was right about this bird; she kind o' melts—'n' say—she's meltin' fast! If you two don't stop chewin' d' rag an' get busy you'll be too late for this bird, because this bird is sure a bird of passage and—Holy Gee!" he broke off, as a knock sounded on the outer door, "who's this, I wonder?"

Before he could rise, Hermione had vanished into the passage.

"Say, Geoff," he whispered, "how if it's Bud?"

Ravenslee frowned and pushed back his chair, but in that moment they heard Hermione's glad welcome: "Why, Ann, you dear thing, you're just in time for the turkey—come right in."

"Turkey, my dear!" spoke the harsh voice of Mrs. Trapes. "Turkey—land sakes! But I only jest stepped over t' ask if you'd happened to find that lodger o' mine anywheres—why, Lord bless me!" she broke off, halting in the doorway as she beheld Ravenslee. "Lordy Lord, if he ain't a-settin' there, cool as ever was! If he ain't a-eatin' an' drinkin' an' me cookin' him at this moment the loveliest mutton chop you ever see! A mutton chop wiv a kidney, as he ordered most express—Lord, Mr. Geoffrey!"

"Why, to be sure," said Ravenslee, rising. "I forgot all about that chop, Mrs. Trapes."

"Didn't you order it most express—cut thick—an' wiv a kidney?"

"I did," said Ravenslee penitently.

"Well—there it is, cooked to a turn, an' nobody t' eat it! An' kidneys is rose again—kidneys is always risin'. Lord, Mr. Geoffrey!"

"Why, you see, Mrs. Trapes, we—that is, I had a birthday not long ago, and we're celebrating."

"And so shall you, Ann," said Hermione, "sit down, dear!"

"An' me in me oldest apron?" said Mrs. Trapes, squaring her elbows, "my dear, I couldn't—an' I wouldn't! But, oh! Mr. Geoffrey, what about that beautiful chop? I might warm it over for your breakfast?"

"Heaven forbid!"

"Then I must eat it myself, I suppose, though it do seem a shame to waste such a lovely chop on Ann Angelina Trapes! But, Hermy dear, I just been down to see Mrs. Bowker, an' her little Hazel's very bad—her poor little hip again, an' she's coughin' too, somethin' dreadful."

"Poor little Hazel! Did she ask for me, Ann?"

"Well, my dear, she did, an' Mrs. Bowker did ask if you'd go an' look at her—but I do hate t' disturb ye, that I do!"

"Oh, it's all right, Ann. Tell Mrs. Bowker I'll be right down."

"I will so, but it's a dratted shame as you should shoulder everybody's troubles, that it is."

"Oh, Ann—as though I do! And then how about yourself, dear—what of the Baxters and the Ryders, and Mrs. Tipping's baby and—"

"My land!" cried Mrs. Trapes, "that chop'll be a cinder!" and she hurried away.

"Poor little Hazel," said Hermione, coming to a small corner cupboard. "She's such a dear, quaint little person! You must have seen her on the stairs, Mr. Geoffrey."

"I see so many on the stairs, Miss Hermione, and they are always small and generally quaint."

"Hazel's got a game leg, Geoff," said Spike, "an' she hops around on a little crutch. She told me yesterday she thought you was—I mean were—a fairy prince, because you always bow an' tip your lid to her when she says 'good morning.' So now she waits for you every morning, Geoff—says it makes her feel like she was a real fairy princess in a story-book. Sounds kind o' batty to me, though."

Hermione was standing on tiptoe endeavouring to reach a certain bottle upon the top shelf where were ranged many others of various shapes and sizes, when Ravenslee's big hand did it for her; but when she would have taken it, he shook his head.

"I should like to go with you, if I may," he said, "to be—er—formally introduced to the princess."

"But—" began Hermione, hesitating.

"Also I could carry the bottle for you."

"Why, if you will do all that—" she smiled.

"Thanks!" he answered, and putting the bottle in his pocket, he opened the door.

"Hey, Geoff," Spike called after him, "you've forgot to kiss the turkey good-by!"

"Why then, you can do it for me, Spike!" he answered, and followed Hermione out upon the landing.

Side by side they descended the stair, in the doing of which her soft shoulder met him once, and once he thrilled to feel her hand touch his in the shadow, but this hand was hastily withdrawn; also, though the light was dim, he saw that she was frowning and biting her red underlip.

"These stairs are rather—narrow, aren't they?" said she, drawing to the wall.

"Delightfully!" he answered, drawing to the rail; and so they went down very silently with the width of the stairs between them.



CHAPTER XIII

WHEREIN MAY BE FOUND SOME PARTICULARS OF THE BEAUTIFUL CITY OF PERHAPS

Mrs. Bowker was a small woman, worn and faded like her carpets and curtains and the dress she wore, but, like them, she was very clean and neat.

"'T is real good of you to come, Miss Hermy," said this small, faded woman, and Ravenslee thought her very voice sounded faded, so repressed and dismally soft was it. "I wouldn't have had the face t' send for you, Miss Hermy, only Hazel calls an' calls, like she's doin' now—listen!"

And sure enough from somewhere near by a small voice reached them, pitifully faint and thin: "Hermy dear, come t' me—oh, Hermy dear!"

"She allus lays an' calls like that lately when her poor hip's worse 'n usual," sighed Mrs. Bowker. "And your gentleman friend—would he like t' see her too?"

"Thank you, I should," answered Ravenslee in his soft, pleasant voice.

"Oh, Mrs. Bowker, this is Mr. Geoffrey," said Hermione a trifle hurriedly, "he came with me to—to—"

"Be presented to the princess, if she will honour me," he added.

"Ah!" said Mrs. Bowker, looking up at him with a faded smile, "Hazel told me you had a pretty voice, sir, an' I guess I know what she meant. She sets out on the stairs when she's well enough an' has often seen ye."

"Hermy, dear, come t' me—oh, Hermy dear!" called the little voice.

"Yes, go in, my dear, you know y' way, I guess," sighed Mrs. Bowker, passing a small, worn hand across her faded eyes. "There's five dozen more collar-bands I must stitch an' buttonhole t'night—so go your ways, my dear." So saying, Mrs. Bowker went back to her labour, which was very hard labour indeed, while Hermione led the way into a tiny room, where, on a small, neat truckle-bed covered by a faded quilt, a small, pale child lay fading fast. But at sight of her visitors, two big, brown eyes grew bigger yet, and her pale, thin little cheeks flushed eagerly.

"Oh, Hermy dear!" she cried, clasping frail hands, "oh, Hermy, you've brought him—you've brought me our fairy prince at last!"

Now what was there in these childish words to cause Hermione's eyes to droop so suddenly as she took the bottle from Ravenslee's hand, or her rounded cheek to flush so painfully as she stooped to meet the child's eager kiss, or, when she turned away to measure a dose of the medicine, to be such an unconscionable time over it? Observing all of which, Ravenslee forthwith saluted the small invalid with a grave bow, battered hat gracefully flourished.

"It is truly an honour to meet you, princess!" said he, and lifting the child's frail little hand, he touched it to his lips. Thereafter, obeying the mute appeal of that hand, he seated himself upon the narrow bed, while Hermione, soft-voiced and tender, bent above the invalid, who, having obediently swallowed her medicine, leaned back on her pillow and smiled from one to the other.

"And now," said she, drawing Hermione down at her other side and snuggling between, "now please let's all tell some more fairy tale; an' please, you begin, Hermy, just where you had t' leave off last time."

"Why, I—I'm afraid I've forgotten, dear," said Hermione, bending to smooth the child's pillow.

"Forgotten—oh, Hermy! But I 'member quite well; you got where poor Princess Nobody was climbing the mountain very tired an' sad an' carrying her heavy pack, an' all at once—along came the Prince an' took her heavy bundle and said he'd love to carry it for her always if she'd let him. An' poor Nobody knew he was the real Prince at last—the Prince she'd dreamed of an' waited for all her life, 'cos he'd got grey eyes so brave an' true—an' he was so big an' strong an' noble. So he helped her to the top of the mountain, an' then she thought at last she could see the beautiful City of Perhaps. That's where you got to—don't you 'member, Hermy dear?"

Now why should Hermione's shapely head have drooped and drooped until at last her face was hidden on the pillow? And why should Geoffrey Ravenslee reach to touch the child's hair with hand so light and tender?

"The beautiful City of Perhaps," said he gently, "why, Princess, where did you learn about that?"

"From dear Princess Nobody, oh, Prince!"

"And who is she?"

"Why, she's Hermy, Prince—and I'm Princess Somebody. And oh, Hermy dear, you do 'member where you left off now, don't you?"

"Yes, I remember; but I—don't feel like telling fairy stories now, dear."

"Oh! are y' sick?" cried the child anxiously, touching Hermione's golden hair with loving fingers, "is it a headache like my mumsey gets?"

"N-no, dear, only I—I don't feel like telling any more of our story—to-night—somehow, dear."

"Princess," said Ravenslee, "do you know much about the wonderful City of Perhaps?"

"Oh, yes—an' I dream about it sometimes, Prince—such beautiful dreams!"

"Why, of course," nodded Ravenslee, "because it is the most beautiful City that ever happened, I guess!"

"Oh, it is!" cried the child, "shall I tell you?"

"Please do, Princess."

"Well, it's all made of crystal an' gold, an' every one's happy there and never sick—oh, never! An' all the children can have ices an' cream sodas whenever they want an' lovely doll-carriages with rubber on the wheels an'—an' everything's just lovely. Of course every one's daddy's got lots an' heaps an' piles of money, so they never get behind with the rent an' never have to set up all night stitching an' stitching like mumsey an' Hermy have to sometimes. An' I'm Princess Somebody, an' Hermy's Princess Nobody, an' we're on our ways through the valley of gloom, trying to find the beautiful City of Perhaps—but oh, it's awful hard to find!" she ended, with a weary little sigh.

"And yet, Princess, I'm sure we shall find it."

"We? Oh, are you coming too, Prince?" cried the child joyfully.

"To be sure I am!" nodded Ravenslee.

"Oh, goody, I'm glad—so glad, 'cause I know we shall find it now!"

"Why?"

"Well," answered the child, looking at him with her big, wistful eyes, "'cause you look like you could find it, somehow. You see, Prince, you've got grey eyes so brave an' true—an' you're big an' strong an' could carry me an' Hermy over the thorny places when we get very, very tired—couldn't you?"

"I could!" answered Ravenslee almost grimly, "and I—surely will!"

"When we get there, Prince, I want first—a doll-carriage an' a doll with lovely blue eyes that wink at you, an' a big box of candy, an' a new dress for my mumsey, an' no more work, an' I want lots an' lots of flowers for my daddy 'cause he loves flowers—oh, an' I want my leg t' be made well. What d' you want, Hermy?"

"Well, dear, I want to—say good-by to my sewing-machine for ever and ever and ever!"

"Why, Hermy!" exclaimed the child, "last time you said you wanted some one who could give you your heart's desire!"

"Perhaps that is my heart's desire, little Hazel," said Hermione, rising and taking up the medicine bottle.

"An' what do you want, Prince?"

"I want a great deal," answered Ravenslee, smiling down into the big, soft eyes. "I want some one who—is my heart's desire now and for ever and ever. Good night, dear little Princess!"

"You'll come again, Prince?" she pleaded, holding up her face to be kissed, "you'll come again soon?"

"As soon as—Princess Nobody will bring me."

"Good night, Hermy dear; you'll bring our Prince again soon?"

"If you wish, dear," said Hermione, stooping to kiss her in turn.

"Why, Hermy—what makes your cheeks so hot to-night?"

"Are they?" said Hermione, making pretence to test them with the back of her hand.

"Why, yes," nodded the child, "an' they look so red an'—"

"Of course you believe in fairies, don't you, Princess?" enquired Ravenslee rather hurriedly.

"Oh, yes, Prince, I often see them in my dreams. They just wait till I'm asleep, an' then they come an' show themselves. Do you ever see any?"

"Well, your highness, I fancy I have lately, and when fairies are around, things are sure to happen; wishes get the habit of coming true. So, little Princess, just go on wishing and dreaming and—watch out!"

Then Ravenslee turned and followed Hermione out upon the dingy landing; but as he climbed the stair, there went with him the memory of a little face, very thin and pale, but radiant and all aglow with rapturous hope. Silently as they had come they mounted the stairs, until, reaching the topmost landing, they paused as by mutual consent.

"Poor little Hazel!" said Hermione very gently, "if only there were real fairies to spirit her away to where the air is sweet and pure and flowers grow for little hands to gather—the doctor told me it was her only chance."

"Why, then of course she must have her chance!" said Ravenslee with a sleepy nod.

"But, Mr. Geoffrey—how?"

"Well—er—the fairies—you said something about fairies spiriting—"

"The fairies!" said Hermione a little bitterly, "I guess they are too busy over their own affairs to trouble about a poor, little, sick child; besides, what fairy could possibly live five minutes in—Mulligan's?"

"Which leaves us," said Ravenslee thoughtfully, "which leaves us the beautiful City of Perhaps. It is a wonderful thought, that!"

"But only a thought!" she sighed.

"Is it? Are you quite sure?"

"Well, isn't it?" she questioned wistfully.

"No!" he answered gravely, "the City of Perhaps is very, very real."

"What do you mean?"

Once again their hands touched in the shadow, but this time his fingers closed upon her hand, the hand that held the medicine bottle, drawing her nearer in the dimness of that dingy landing.

"I mean," he answered, "that for every one of us there is a City of Perhaps waiting to open its gates to our coming, and I am sure we shall reach it sooner or later, all three of us—the Princess and you and I—yes, even I, when I have done something worth while. And then, Hermione, then—nothing shall keep me from—my heart's delight—nothing, Hermione!" As he ended, she felt an arm about her in the dimness; an arm fierce and strong that gripped and swept her close—then, as suddenly, loosed her. For a breathless moment he stood with head bowed in seeming humility, then, stooping, he crushed her hand, medicine bottle and all, to lips that burned with anything but humility.

"Good night, dear Princess Nobody!" he said, and watched her turn away, nor moved until the door had closed upon her. That night he smoked many pipes, weaving him fancies of the beautiful City of Perhaps, and dreamed dreams of what might be, and his eyes glowed bright and wide, and his mouth grew alternately grim and tender. And, that night, long after he lay asleep, Hermione's golden head was bowed above her work, but, more than once she stayed her humming sewing-machine to look at one white hand with eyes shy and wistful—the hand that had held the medicine bottle, of course.



CHAPTER XIV

OF A TEXT, A LETTER, AND A SONG

Ravenslee opened his eyes to find his small chamber full of a glory of sun which poured a flood of radiance across his narrow bed; it brought out the apoplectic roses on the wall paper and lent a new lustre to the dim and faded gold frame that contained a fly-blown card whereon was the legend:

LOVE ONE ANOTHER

And with his gaze upon this time-honoured text, Ravenslee smiled, and leaping out of bed proceeded to wash and shave and dress, pausing often to glance glad-eyed from his open window upon the glory of the new day. And indeed it was a morning of all-pervading beauty, one such that even Mulligan's, its dingy bricks and mortar mellowed by the sun, seemed less unlovely than its wont, and its many windows, catching a sunbeam here and there, winked and twinkled waggishly.

So Ravenslee washed and shaved and dressed, glancing now and then from this transfigured Mulligan's to the fly-blown text upon the wall, and once he laughed, though not very loudly to be sure, and once he hummed a song and so fell to soft whistling, all of which was very strange in Geoffrey Ravenslee.

The sun, it is true, radiates life and joy; before his beneficence gloom and depression flee away, and youth and health grow strong to achieve the impossible; even age and sickness, bathed in his splendour, may forget awhile their burdens and dream of other days. Truly sunshine is a thrice blessed thing. And yet, as Ravenslee tied the neckerchief about his brawny throat, was it by reason of the sun alone that his grey eyes were so bright and joyous and that he whistled so soft and merrily?

Having brushed his hair and settled his vivid-hued neckerchief to his liking, he turned, and stooping over his humble bed, slipped a hand beneath the tumbled pillow and drew thence a letter; a somewhat crumpled missive, this, that he had borne about with him all the preceding day and read and reread at intervals even as he proceeded to do now, as, standing in the radiant sunbeams, he unfolded a sheet of very ordinary note paper and slowly scanned these lines written in a bold, flowing hand:

Dear Mr. Geoffrey

I find I must be away from home all this week; will you please watch over my dear boy for me? Then I shall work with a glad heart. Am I wrong in asking this of you, I wonder? Anyway, I am

Your grateful

Hermione C.

P.S. I hear you are a peanut man. You!!

Truly the sun is a thrice-blessed thing—and yet—! Having read this over with the greatest attention, taking preposterous heed to every dot and comma, having carefully refolded it, slipped it into the envelope and hidden it upon his person, he raised his eyes to the spotted text upon the wall.

"You're right," quoth he, nodding, "an altogether wise precept and one I have had by heart ever since she blessed my sight. I must introduce you to her at the earliest—the very earliest opportunity."

Then he fell to whistling softly again, and opening the door, stepped out into the bright little sitting room. Early though it was, Mrs. Trapes was already astir in her kitchen, and since sunshine is indubitably a worker of wonders, Mrs. Trapes was singing, rather harshly to be sure, yet singing nevertheless, and this was her song:

"Said the young Obadiah to the old Obadiah, Obadiah, Obadiah, I am dry. Said the old Obadiah to the young Obadiah, Obadiah, Obadiah, so am I. Said the young—"

The song ended abruptly as, opening the door, she beheld her lodger.

"Lordy Lord, Mr. Geoffrey," she exclaimed a little reproachfully, "whatever are you a-doin' of, up an' dressed an' not half-past five yet?"

"Enjoying the morning, Mrs. Trapes, and yearning for my breakfast."

"Ah, that's just like a man; they're almighty good yearners till they get what they yearns for—then they yearns for somethin' else—immediate!"

"Well, but I suppose women yearn too, sometimes, don't they?"

"Not they; women can only hope an' sigh an' languish an' break their hearts in silence, poor dears."

"What for?"

"Would a couple o' fresh eggs an' a lovely ham rasher soot ye?" enquired Mrs. Trapes.

"They will suit."

"Then I'll go and fry' em!"

"And I'll come and look on, if I may," said he, and followed her into her neat kitchen.

"And how," said Mrs. Trapes, as she prepared to make the coffee, "how's the peanut trade, Mr. Geoffrey?"

"Flourishing, thanks."

"The idea of you a-sellin' peanuts!"

"Well, I've only been guilty of it four days so far, Mrs. Trapes."

"Anyway, you've disgusted Hermy!"

"Ah, so you told her, did you?"

"O' course I did!"

"And what did she say?"

"Laughed at first."

"She has a beautiful laugh!" said Ravenslee musingly.

"An' then she got thoughtful—"

"She's loveliest when she's thoughtful, I think," said Ravenslee.

"An' then she got mad at you an' frowned—"

"She's very handsome when she frowns!" said Ravenslee.

"Oh, shucks!" said his landlady, slapping the ham rasher into the pan.

"And she was very angry, was she?"

"I should say so!" snorted Mrs. Trapes, "stamped her foot an' got red in the face—"

"I love to see her flush!" said Ravenslee musingly again.

"Said she wondered at you, she did! Said you was a man without any pride or ambition—an' that's what I say too—peanuts!"

"They're very wholesome!" he murmured.

"Sellin' peanuts ain't a man's job, no more than grinding a organ is."

"There's money in peanuts!"

"Money!" said Mrs. Trapes, wriggling her elbow joints. "How much did you make yesterday—come?"

"Fifty cents."

"Fifty cents!" she almost screamed, "is that all?"

"No—pardon me! There were three pimply youths on Forty-second Street—they brought it up to seventy-five."

"Only seventy-five cents? But you sold out your stock; Tony told me you did."

"Oh, yes, trade was very brisk yesterday."

"And you sold everything for seventy-five cents?"

"Not exactly, Mrs. Trapes. You see, the majority of customers on my beat are very—er—small, and their pecuniary capabilities necessarily somewhat—shall we say restricted? Consequently, I have adopted the—er—deferred payment system."

"Land sakes!" said Mrs. Trapes, staring, "d'ye mean ter say—"

"That my method of business is strictly—credit."

"Now look-a-here, Mr. Geoffrey, I'm talkin' serious an' don't want none o' your jokes or jollying."

"Solemn as an owl, Mrs. Trapes!"

"Well, then, how d' you suppose you can keep a wife and children, maybe, by selling peanuts that way or any way?"

"Oh, when I marry I shall probably turn my—attention to—er—other things, Mrs. Trapes."

"What things?"

"Well—to my wife, in the first place."

"Oh, Mr. Geoffrey, you make me tired!"

"Alas, Mrs. Trapes, I frequently grow tired of myself."

Mrs. Trapes turned away to give her attention to the ham.

"Did ye see that b'y Arthur yesterday?" she enquired presently over her shoulder.

"Yes."

"How's he like his noo job?"

"Well, I can't say that he seems—er—fired with a passion for it."

"Office work, ain't it?"

"I believe it is."

"Well, you mark my words, that b'y won't keep it a week."

"Oh, I don't know," said Ravenslee, "he seemed quite content."

"You took him to the theayter las' night, didn't you? Wastin' your good money, eh?"

"Not very much, Mrs. Trapes," said her lodger humbly.

Mrs. Trapes sniffed. "Anyway, it's a good thing you had him safe out o' the way, as it happens."

"Why?"

"Because that loafer M'Ginnis was hanging around for him all the evenin'. Even had the dratted imperence to come in here an' ask me where he was."

"And what did you tell him?"

"Tell him?" she repeated. "What did I not tell him!" Her voice was gentle, but what words could convey all the quivering ferocity of her elbows! "Mr. Geoffrey, I told Bud M'Ginnis just exactly what kind o' a beast Bud M'Ginnis is. I told Bud M'Ginnis where Bud M'Ginnis come from an' where Bud M'Ginnis would go to. I told Bud M'Ginnis the character of his mother an' father, very plain an' p'inted."

"And what did he say?"

"He say! Mr. Geoffrey, I didn't give him a chance to utter a single word, of course. An' when I'd said all there was to say, I picked up my heaviest flatiron, as happened to be handy, an' ordered him out; and Mr. Geoffrey, Bud M'Ginnis—went!"

"Under the circumstances," said Ravenslee, "I'm not surprised that he did."

"Ah, but he'll come back again, Mr. Geoffrey; he'll find Arthur alone next time, an' Arthur'll go along with him, and then—good night! The b'y'll get drunk an' lose his job like he did last time."

"Why, then, he mustn't find Arthur alone."

"And who's t' stop him?"

"I."

"Mr. Geoffrey, you're big an' strong, but M'Ginnis is stronger—and yet—" Mrs. Trapes ran a speculative eye over Ravenslee's lounging form. "H'm!" said she musingly, "but even if you did happen to lick him, what about th' gang?"

"Echo, Mrs. Trapes, promptly answers, 'what'?"

"Well, Mr. Geoffrey, I can tell ye there's been more 'n one poor feller killed around here to my knowing—yes, sir!"

"But the police?"

"Perlice!" snorted Mrs. Trapes. "M'Ginnis an' his father have a big pull with Tammany, an' Tammany is the perlice. Anyways, Mr. Geoffrey, don't you go having no trouble with Bud M'Ginnis; leave him to some one as is as much a brute-beast as he is."

"But then—what of Spike?"

"Oh, drat him! If Arthur ain't got the horse sense to know who's his worst enemy, he ain't worth a clean man riskin' his life over—for it would be your life you'd risk, Mr. Geoffrey—mark my words!"

"Mrs. Trapes, your anxiety on my account flatters me, also I'm glad to know you think me a clean man. But all men must take risks—some for money, some for honour, and some for the pure love of it. Personally, I rather like a little risk—just a suspicion, if it's for something worth while."

"Mr. Geoffrey, what are you gettin' at?"

"Well, I would remind you that Spike has—a sister!"

"Ah!" said Mrs. Trapes, and her lined face took on a sudden anxious expression.

"Therefore, I've been contemplating—er—tackling Mr. M'Ginnis—at a proper and auspicious time, of course."

"An' what o' the gang?"

"Oh, drat the gang, Mrs. Trapes."

"But you don't mean as you'd fight M'Ginnis?"

"Well—er—the thought has occurred to me, Mrs. Trapes, though I'm quite undecided on the matter, and—er—I believe my breakfast is burning!"

"My land!" ejaculated Mrs. Trapes, turning to snatch the pan from the stove, "I'm afraid the fire's ketched it a bit, Mr. Geoffrey—"

"No matter."

"An' now there's the coffee b'ilin' over!"

"Let me help you," said Ravenslee, rising.

"Anyway, your breakfast's ready, so come an' eat it while it's good an' hot."

"On condition that you eat with me."

"What, eat wi' you, Mr. Geoffrey—in my best parlour—an' me in me workin' clo'es?"

"Ah, to be sure—not to be thought of, Mrs. Trapes; then we'll breakfast here in the kitchen."

"Would ye mind?"

"Should love it."

So down they sat together, and Ravenslee vowed the ham was all ham should be and the eggs beyond praise. And when his hunger was somewhat appeased, Mrs. Trapes leaned her bony elbows on the table and questioned him.

"You ain't ever spoke to Hermy, have you, Mr. Geoffrey?"

"Very often, lately."

"I mean—you ain't opened your 'eart to her—matrimonially, have you?"

"No!"

"Why, then, I'll tell you what—there's been times when I've been afraid that for the sake o' that b'y she'd sacrifice herself to Bud M'Ginnis."

"No, she would never do that, Mrs. Trapes."

"Oh, but she would."

"But, you see, she couldn't!"

"And why not?"

"Oh, well, because—er—I should kill him first."

"Land sakes, Mr. Geoffrey!" and Mrs. Trapes actually blenched before the glare in his eyes that was so strangely at odds with his soft, lazy tones.

"And that ends it!" he nodded. "Mrs. Trapes, I've made up my mind!"

"What about?"

"Mr. M'Ginnis. I'll begin to-day."

"Begin what?"

"To prepare myself to bestow on him the thrashing of his life!" So saying, Ravenslee stretched lazily and finally got up. "Good morning, Mrs. Trapes!" said he.

"But where are ye going?" she demanded.

"To my peanuts," he answered gravely. "'Man is born to labour,' you, know."

"But it's early yet."

"But I have much to do—and she laughed at me for being a peanut man, did she, Mrs. Trapes—she frowned and flushed and stamped her pretty foot at me, did she?"

"She did so, Mr. Geoffrey!"

"I'm glad!" he answered. "Yes, I'm very glad she frowned and stamped her foot at me. By the way, I like that text in my bedroom."

"Text?" said Mrs. Trapes, staring.

"'Love one another,'" he nodded. "It is a very—very beautiful sentiment—sometimes. Anyway, I'm glad she frowned and stamped at me, Mrs. Trapes; you can tell her I said so if you happen to think of it when she comes home." And Ravenslee smiled, and turning away, was gone.

"Well," said Mrs. Trapes, staring at the closed door, "of all the—well, well!" Then she sighed, shook her head, and fell to washing up the breakfast things.



CHAPTER XV

WHICH INTRODUCES JOE AND THE OLD UN

The clocks were striking nine as, according to his custom of late, Geoffrey Ravenslee trundled his barrow blithely along Thirty-eighth Street, halting now and then at the shrill, imperious summons of some small customer, or by reason of the congestion of early traffic, or to swear whole-heartedly and be sworn at by some indignant Jehu. At length he came to Eleventh Avenue and to a certain quarter where the whistle of a peanut barrow was seldom heard, and peanuts were a luxury.

And here, in a dismal, small street hard by the river, behold Ravenslee halt his gaily painted pushcart, whereat a shrill clamour arises that swells upon the air, a joyous babel; and forth from small and dismal homes, from narrow courts and the purlieus adjacent, his customers appear. They race, they gambol, they run and toddle, for these customers are very small and tender and grimy, but each small face is alight with joyous welcome, and they hail him with rapturous acclaim. Even the few tired-looking mothers, peeping from windows or glancing from doorways, smile and nod and forget awhile their weariness in the children's delight, as Ravenslee, the battered hat cocked at knowing angle, proceeds to "business." Shrill voices supplicate him, little feet patter close around him, small hands, eagerly outstretched, appeal to him. Anon rise shrieks and infantile crowings of delight as each small hand is drawn back grasping a plump paper bag—shrieks and crowings that languish and die away, one by one, since no human child may shriek properly and chew peanuts at one and the same time. And in a while, his stock greatly diminished, Ravenslee trundles off and leaves behind him women who smile still and small boys and girls who munch in a rapturous silence.

On he went, his oven whistling soft and shrill, his long legs striding between the shafts, until, reaching a certain bleak corner, he halted again, though to be sure there were few people hereabouts and no children. But upon the opposite corner was a saloon, with a large annex and many outbuildings behind, backing upon the river, and Ravenslee, lounging on the handles of his barrow, examined this unlovely building with keen eye from beneath his hat brim, for above the swing doors appeared the words:

O'ROURKE'S SALOON

He was in the act of lighting his pipe when the doors of the saloon were swung open, and three men came out, in one of whom he recognised the tall, powerful figure and broad shoulders of Bud M'Ginnis; his companions were remarkable, but in very opposite ways, the one being slender and youthful and very smartly dressed, with a face which, despite its seeming youth, was strangely haggard and of an unhealthy pallor, while the other was plethoric, red-faced and middle-aged, a man hoarse of voice and roughly clad, and Ravenslee noticed that this fellow lacked the upper half of one ear.

"Saturday night, mind!" said M'Ginnis, loud and authoritative.

"But say, Bud," demanded the smartly dressed youth, "what's coming to us on that last deal?"

"Nix—that's what you get, Soapy!" The youth's pale cheek grew livid.

"So you've got the deck stacked against us, eh, Bud?" said he.

"I got a close mouth, Soapy, I guess you don't want me t' open it very wide—now or any other old time. Saturday night, mind!" and nodding, M'Ginnis turned away. The youth looked after him with venomous eyes, and his right hand made a sinister movement toward his hip pocket.

"Aw—quit it; are ye crazy?" grunted his companion. "Bud's got us cinched."

"Got us—hell!" snarled the youth. "Bud's askin' for it, an' some day he's goin' t' get it—good!"

Toward afternoon, Ravenslee was trundling light-heartedly eastward, his barrow emptied to the last peanut. Having reached Fifth Avenue, he paused to mop his perspiring brow when a long, low automobile, powerfully engined, that was creeping along behind, pulled up with a sudden jerk, and its driver, whose immense shoulders were clad in a very smart livery, pushed up the peak of his smart cap to run his fingers through his close-cropped hair, while his mild blue eyes grew very wide and round.

"Crikey!" said he at last. "Is that you, sir, or ain't it?"

"How much?" demanded Ravenslee gruffly.

"Crumbs!" said the chauffeur. "Sir, if you—ain't you, all I say is—I ain't me!"

"Aw—what's bitin' ye, bo?" growled Ravenslee.

"Well, if this ain't the rummest go, I'm a perisher!"

"Say, now, crank up d' machine an' beat it while d' goin' 's good. How's that, Joe?"

"Lord, Mr. Ravenslee—so you are my guv'nor, and blow me tight—shoving a barrer! I knowed it was you, sir; leastways I knowed your legs an' the set o' them shoulders, but—with a barrer! Excuse me, sir, but the idea o' you pushing a perishing peanut barrer so gay an' 'appy-'earted—well, all I can say is love-a-duck!"

"Well now, cut along, Joe, and get ready. I mean to put in some real hard work with you this afternoon."

"Right-o, sir!" nodded Joe eagerly. "Lord, but we've missed you terrible—the Old Un an' me."

"Glad of it, Joe! Tell Patterson to have my bath ready when we've finished. Off with you—drive in the Fifth Avenue entrance."

Joe nodded, and the big car turned and crept silently away, while Ravenslee, trundling onward, turned off to the left and so into a very large, exceedingly neat garage where stood five or six automobiles of various patterns in one of which, a luxurious limousine, an old, old man snored blissfully. At the rumble of the barrow, however, this ancient being choked upon a snore, coughed, swore plaintively, and finally sat up. Perceiving Ravenslee, he blinked, rubbed his eyes, and stepping from the car very nimbly despite his years, faced the intruder with a ferocious scowl.

He was indeed a very ancient man, though very nattily dressed from spotless collar to shiny patent leather shoes, a small, dandified, bright-eyed man whose broken nose and battered features bore eloquent testimony to long and hard usage.

"'Ook it!" he croaked, with square bony jaw fiercely outthrust. "We don't want no peanuts 'ere, d'j 'ear? 'Op off, 'ook it before I break every blessed bone in yer bloomin' body!"

"What, Old Un, don't you know me, either?"

"Lumme!" exclaimed the little old man, blinking beneath hoary brows. "Ho, lor' lumme, it's 'im! Blimy, it's the Guv'nor—'ow do, Guv!" and shooting immaculate cuffs over bony wrists he extended a clawlike hand.

"How are you, Old Un?"

"Well, sir, what with the rheumatix an' a stiff j'int or two an' a touch o' lumbager, not to mention all my other ailments, I ain't quite s' spry as I was!"

"But you look very well!"

"That's where your heyes deceives you, Guv. A great sufferer I be, though patient under haffliction, ho, yus—except for a swear now an' then which do me a power o' good—yus! If I was to tell you all the woes as my poor old carkiss is hair to, you could write a book on 'em—a big 'un. I got everything the matter wi' me, I 'ave, from a thick ear an' broke nose as I took in Brummagem sixty an' five years ago to a hactive liver."

"A what?" enquired Ravenslee.

"A hactive liver. Lord, Guv, my liver gets that hactive lately as I can't set still—Joe knows, ax Joe! All as I ain't got o' human woes is toothache, not 'avin' no teeth to ache, y' see, an' them s' rotten as it 'ud make yer 'eart bleed. An' then I get took short o' breath—look at me now, dang it!"

"Why, then, sit down, Old Un," said Ravenslee, drawing up a somewhat worn armchair. "Joe and I are going at it hard and fast this afternoon, and I want you to time the rounds." And he proceeded to remove his garments.

"Oh, j'y!" cried the Old Un, hugging himself in bony arms. "Oh, j'yful words. Ah, but you peels like a good un, sir," he croaked, viewing white flesh and bulging muscle with knowing old eyes, "good an' long in the arm an' wide slope o' shoulder. You might ha' done well in the ring if you'd been blessed wi' poverty an' I'd 'ad the 'andling of ye—a world's unbeat champion, like Joe. A good fighter were I an' a wonnerful trainer! Ho, yus, I might ha' made a top-notcher of ye if you 'adn't been cursed wi' money."

"I suppose," said Ravenslee thoughtfully, "I suppose Joe was one of the best all-round fighting men that ever climbed into a ring?"

"Ah—that 'e were! Joe were better 'n the best—only don't let 'im 'ear me say so, 'e 'd be that puffed up—Lord! But nobody could beat Joe—black, yaller or white; they all tried danged 'ard, but Joe were a world-beater—y' see, I trained Joe! An' to-day 'e 's as good as ever 'e was. Y' see, Joe's allus lived clean, sir, consequent Joe's sound, wind an' limb. Joe could go back an' beat all these fancy bruisers and stringy young champs to-day—if 'e only would—but don't let 'im 'ear me say so."

"You're fond of Joe, Old Un?"

"An' why for not, sir—s' long as 'e don't know it? Didn't 'e look arter poor old me when 'e 'ad money, an' when 'e lost everything, didn't 'e look arter me still? An' now 'e 's your shuvver, don' 'e keep a roof over me poor old 'ead like a son—don't 'e give me the run o' jour garridge an' let me watch 'im spar wi' you an' your gentlemen friends? Ain't 'e the best an' truest-'earted man as ever drawed breath? Ah, a king o' men is Joe, in the ring an' out, sir—only never let 'im 'ear me say so—'e 'd be that proud, Lord! there'd be no livin' wi' 'im—sh, 'ere 'e be, sir."

Joe had laid by his chauffeur's garb and looked even bigger and grimmer in flannels and sweater.

"Ho you, Joe," cried the old man, scowling, "did ye bring me that 'bacca?"

"S'posin' I didn't?" demanded Joe.

"Then dang ye—twice!"

"An' s'posin' I did?"

"Then—give it 'ere!"

"An' that's his gratitood, sir!" growled Joe, shaking his head and giving the packet into the old man's clutching fingers. "A unnat'ral old bag-o'-bones, that's what 'e is, sir!"

"Bones!" croaked the Old Un viciously. "Bag-o'-bones am I? Yah—look at ye'self—pork, that's what you are, all run to pork an' blubber an' fat, Joe, me pore lad—"

"Fat!" growled Joe. "Y' know I ain't fat; y' know I'm as good a man as ever I was—look at that, you old sarpent!" And he smote himself with mighty fist—a blow to fell an ox. "Fat, am I?"

"As—lard!" nodded the old man, filling half an inch of blackened clay pipe with trembling fingers, "as a 'og—"

"Now my crumbs—" began Joe fiercely.

"You're flabby an' soft, me pore lad," grinned the old man. "Flabby as a babby an' soft as a woman an' fat as a—"

Joe reached out very suddenly, and picking up the old man, armchair and all, shook him to and fro until he croaked for mercy.

"Lor' gorramighty!" he panted, as Joe set him down again.

"Fat, am I?" demanded Joe, scowling.

"Fat as a 'og—fat as forty bloomin' 'ogs!" cried the old man vindictively. "An' what's more, your wind's all gone—you couldn't go five rounds wi' a good 'un!"

"Couldn't I?"

"No!" shrieked the Old Un, "you'd be 'anging on an' blowing like a grampus!"

"Should I?"

"Ah—like a grampus!"

"Right-o!" nodded Joe, turning away, "no jam for your tea to-night."

"Eh, what—what, would ye rob a pore old man of 'is jam, Joe—a pore afflicted old cove as is dependent on ye 'and an' fut, Joe—a pore old gaffer as you've just shook up to that degree as 'is pore old liver is a-bobbin' about in 'is innards like a jelly. Joe, ye couldn't be so 'eartless!"

"Ah, but I can!" nodded Joe. "An' if ye give me any more lip, it'll be no sugar in ye tea—"

"No sugar!" wailed the Old Un, then clenching a trembling old fist, he shook it in Joe's scowling face. "Then dang ye—three times!" he cried. "What's the old song say?

"'Dang the man with three times three Who in 'is 'eathen rage Can 'arm a 'armless man like me Who's 'ead is bowed wi' age!'

"An' there's for ye. Now listen again:

"'Some men is this an' some is that, But 'ere's a truth I know: A fightin' cove who's run to fat Is bound t' puff an' blow!'

"An' there's for ye again!"

Saying which, the Old Un nodded ferociously and proceeded to light his fragmentary pipe. During this colloquy Ravenslee had laid by his shabby clothes and now appeared clad and shod for the ring.

"Sir," said Joe, taking a set of gloves from a locker, "if you are ready to box a round or so—"

"Why, no," answered Ravenslee, "I don't want to box to-day, Joe."

"Eh?" said Joe, staring, "not?"

"I want to fight, Joe."

"To—fight, sir?" repeated Joe.

"Fight?" cried the Old Un rapturously. "Oh, music—sweet music t' me old ears! Fight? Oh, j'yful words! What's the old song say?

"''Appy is the first as goes To black a eye or punch a nose!'"

"Get the mufflers on, Joe; get 'em on an' don't stand staring like a fool!"

"But, sir," said Joe, his mild eyes kindling, "d' ye mean as you want—the real thing?"

"To-day," said Ravenslee, "instead of boxing a round or two with Joe Madden, my chauffeur and mechanic, I want to see how long I can stand up to Joe Madden, undefeated champion of the world."

Joe's lean cheek flushed and he looked Ravenslee over with eyes of yearning; noted the thin flanks and slender legs that showed speed, the breadth of shoulder and long arms that spoke strength, and the deep, arched chest that showed endurance; Joe looked and sighed and shook his head.

"Sir," said he, "I honour and respect you to that degree as it would be a joy to fight such a man as you and a rare privilege t' knock you down—but, sir, if I was to knock ye down—"

"You'd earn a five-dollar bill."

"Five dollars—for knockin' you down, sir?"

"Every time!" nodded Ravenslee.

"But Lord, sir—"

"Shut up, Joe, shut up," snarled the Old Un, hopping out of the armchair. "Don't gape like a perishin' fish; come on up-stairs an' knock the Guv'nor down like 'e tells ye—an' 'arves on the money, mind; it was me as taught ye all you know or ever will, so 'arves on the money, Joe, 'arves on the money. Come on, Joe—d'j 'ear?"

"Crumbs!" said Joe.

"Look at 'im. Guv—look at 'im!" shrieked the old man, dancing to and fro in his impatience, "'ere's a chance for 'im to earn a pore old cove a bit o' 'bacca money, an', what's better still, t' show a pore old fightin' man a bit o' real sport—an' there 'e stands, staring like a perishing pork pig! Blimy, Guv, get behind an' 'elp me to shove 'im up-stairs."

"But, crikey, sir!" said Joe, "five dollars every time I—"

"Yus, yus, you bloomin' hadjective—two dollars fifty for each of us! 'Urry up, oh, 'urry up afore 'e changes 'is mind an' begins to 'edge."

So Joe follows his "Guv'nor" and the Old Un up a flight of stairs and into a large chamber fitted as a gymnasium, where are four roped and padded posts socketed into the floor; close by is a high-backed armchair in which the Old Un seats himself with an air of heavy portent.

But when Joe would have ducked under the ropes, the Old Un stayed him with an imperious gesture, and, clambering into the ring, advanced to the centre and bowed gravely as if to a countless multitude.

"Gentlemen," he piped in his shrill old voice, "I take pleasure to introduce Joe Madden, undefeated 'eavyweight champion o' the world, an' the Guv—both members of this club an' both trained by me, Jack Bowser, once lightweight champion of England an' hall the Americas. Gentlemen, it will be a fight to a finish—Markis o' Queensberry rules. Gentlemen—I thank ye." Having said which, the Old Un bowed again, gravely stepped from the ring, and ensconcing himself in the armchair, drew out a large and highly ornate watch, while Ravenslee and Joe vaulted over the ropes.

Behold them facing each other, the brown-skinned fighting man wise in ringcraft and champion of a hundred fights, and the white-fleshed athlete, each alike clean and bright of eye, light-poised of foot, quivering for swift action, while the Old Un looks needfully from one to the other, watch in one bony hand, the other upraised.

"Get ready!" he croaked. "Go!"

Comes immediately a quick, light tread of rubber-soled feet and the flash of white arms as they circle about and about, feinting, watchful and wary. Twice Ravenslee's fist shoots out and twice is blocked by Joe's open glove, and once he ducks a vicious swing and lands a half-arm jolt that makes Joe grin and stagger, whereat the Old Un, standing upon his chair, hugs himself in an ecstasy, and forgetful of such small matters as five-dollar bills, urges, prays, beseeches, and implores the Guv to "wallop the blighter on the p'int, to stab 'im on the mark, and to jolt 'im in the kidney-pit."

"Go it, Guv!" he shrieked, "go it! In an' out again, that's it—Gorramighty, I never see sich speed. Oh, keep at 'im, Guv—make 'im cover up—sock it into 'im, Guv! Ho, lumme, what footwork—you're as quick as lightweights—oh, 'appy, 'appy day! Go to it, both on ye!"

And "to it" they went, with jabs and jolts, hooks and swings, with cunning feints and lightning counters until the place echoed and reechoed to the swift tramp of feet and dull thudding of blows, while the Old Un, hugging himself in long, bony arms, chuckled and choked and rocked himself to and fro in an ecstasy; moreover, when Joe, uttering a grunt, reeled back against the ropes, the Old Un must needs shriek and dance and crow with delight until, bethinking him of his duty, he checked his excitement, seated himself in the armchair again, and announced: "Time! End o' round one."

And it is to be noticed that as they sit down to take their two minutes' rest, neither Ravenslee nor Joe, for all their exertions, seem unduly distressed in their breathing.

"Sir," says Joe, looking his pupil over, "you're uncommon quick on your pins; never knowed a quicker—did you, Old Un?"

"No, me lad—never in all me days!"

"An' you've sure-ly got a punch, sir. Ain't 'e, Old Un?"

"Like a perishin' triphammer!" nodded the Old Un. "Likewise, sir, you've a wonderful judgment o' distance—but, sir, you need experience!"

"That's what I'm after, Joe."

"And you take too many chances; you ain't larned caution yet."

"That you must teach me, Joe."

"Which I surely will, sir. In the next round, subject to no objection, I propose to knock ye down, sir."

"Which means two dollars fifty for each on us, Joe—mind that," added the Old Un.

"So fight more cautious, sir, do," pleaded Joe, "and—look out."

"Time!" croaked the Old Un. "Round two! And Guv, look out for yer p'int, cover yer mark, an' keep a heye on yer kidney-pit!"

Once again they faced each other, but this time it was Joe who circled quick and catlike, massive shoulders bowed, knees bent, craggy chin grim and firm-set, but blue eyes serene and mild as ever. A moment's silent sparring, a quick tread of feet, and Joe feints Ravenslee into an opening, swings for his chin, misses by an inch, and ducking a vicious counter, drives home a smashing body-blow and, staggering weakly, Ravenslee goes down full length.

"Shook ye up a bit, sir?" enquired Joe, running up with hands outstretched, "take a rest, now do, sir."

"No, no," answered Ravenslee, springing to his feet, "the Old Un hasn't called 'Time' yet."

"Not me!" piped the old man, "not bloomin' likely! Go to it, both on ye—mind, that's two-fifty for me, Joe!"

What need is there to tell the numerous feints, the lightning shifts, the different tricks of in-fighting and all the cunning strategy and ringcraft that Joe brought to bear and carefully explained between rounds? Suffice it that at the end of a certain fierce "mix up", as Ravenslee sat outstretched and panting, the white flesh of arms and broad chest discovered many livid marks and patches that told their tale; also one elbow was grazed and bleeding, and one knee showed signs of contact with the floor.

"Joe," said he, when his wind was somewhat recovered, "that makes it thirty dollars I owe you, I think?"

"Why, sir," said Joe, who also showed some slight signs of wear, but whose breathing was soft and regular, "why, sir, you couldn't call that last one a real knockdown—"

"You 'm a liar, Joe, a liar!" cried the Old Un. "Blimy, Guv, Joe's a-tellin' you crackers, s' help me—your 'ands touched the floor, didn't they?"

"And my knees, too," nodded Ravenslee, "also my elbow—no, that was last time or the time before."

"Well, then, tell this lying Joe-lad o' mine as 'e surely did knock ye down. Lord, Joe!" cried the Old Un, waxing pathetic, "'ow can ye go takin' money from a pore old cove like I be. Joe, I blushes for ye—an'—Time, Time there, both on ye!"

"But we don't want any more, do we, sir?" enquired Joe.

"Why, yes, I think I can go another round or so."

"There y' are, Joe, the Guv's surely a game cove. So get at it, me lad, an' try an' knock it up to fifty dollars—'arves, Joe, mind!"

"But, sir," began Joe, eyeing the livid blotches on Ravenslee's white skin, "don't ye think—"

"Time—oh, Time, Time!" shrieked the Old Un. Whereupon Ravenslee sprang to the centre of the ring, and once again the air resounded with tramp of feet and pant of breath. Twice Ravenslee staggers beneath Joe's mighty left, but watchful ever and having learned much, Ravenslee keeps away, biding his time—ducks a swing, sidesteps a drive, and blocking a vicious hook—smacks home his long left to Joe's ribs, rocks him with a swinging uppercut, drives in a lightning left and right, and Joe goes down with a crash.

Even while the Old Un stared in wide-eyed, gaping amaze, Joe was on his feet again, serene and calm as ever, only his great chest laboured somewhat, but Ravenslee shook his head.

"I guess that'll be about enough, Joe," said he.

"Guv," cried the Old Un, seizing Ravenslee's right hand, boxing glove and all, and shaking it to and fro, "you're a credit to us, you do us bloomin' proud—strike me pink, ye do! 'Ere 's Joe 'ammered you an' 'ammered you—look at your bloomin' chest—lumme! 'Ere 's Joe been knockin' ye down an' knockin' ye down, an' you comin' up smilin' for more an' gettin' it—'ere's Joe been a-poundin' of ye all over the ring, yet you can finish strong an' speedy enough to put Joe down—blimy, Guv, you're a wonder an' no error!"

"I don't think Joe fought his hardest, Old Un."

"If 'e didn't," cried the old man, "I'll punch 'im on the nose so 'e won't never smell nothink no more."

"Sir," said Joe, "in the first round p'raps I did go a bit easylike, but arter that I came at you as 'ard an' 'eavy as I could. I 'it you where an' 'ow I could, barrin' your face."

"I hope I shall soon be good enough for you to go for my face as well, Joe."

"But, sir—if I give you a black eye—"

"How will—say, ten dollars do?"

"Ten dollars! For blacking your eye, sir?"

"Lumme, Joe!" cried the Old Un, "get back into the ring and black 'em both—"

"Shut up!" said Joe, scowling down into the Old Un's eager face, "you 'eartless old bloodsucker, you!"

"Bloodsucker!" screamed the old man, "w'ot, me? I'll punch you on the ear-'ole, Joe, so's you never 'ear nothin' no more."

"Are you on, Joe?" asked Ravenslee, while the Old Un, swearing softly, unlaced his gloves.

"But, crumbs, sir—axin' your pardon, things'll come a bit expensive, won't they? Y' see—"

"So much the better, ye blighted perisher!" snarled the Old Un, "an' don't forget as the Guv owes you thirty dollars a'ready—an' 'arves, mind."

"Stow it, you old bag o' wickedness—"

"Bag o'—" the Old Un let fall the boxing gloves and turning on Joe, reached up and shook a feeble old fist under the champion's massive chin. "Look at this, me lad—look at this!" he croaked. "Some day I shall ketch you sich a perishin' punch as'll double ye up till kingdom come, me lad, and—Lord, the Guv's countin' out our money—"

"Thirty of 'em, Joe," said Ravenslee, holding out a wad of bills.

"Why, sir," said Joe, backing away, "axing yer pardon, but I'd rayther not—you give me such uncommon good wages, sir, and a bonus every race we run, win or lose—so, sir, I—I'd rayther not—"

"Not?" cried the Old Un, "not take money as is 'arf mine—Oh, kick 'im, somebody—kick 'im! Pound 'im for a pigeon-'earted perishin' pork pig—"

"That'll be no sugar in your tea t'night, old viciousness! But, sir, I'd rayther not—"

"Don't 'eed 'im, Guv—don't 'eed the flappin' flounder. If 'e wont obleege ye in a little matter like thirty dollars, I will—I'll always obleege you—"

"That's enough from you, old tombstones."

"Tombstones!" hissed the Old Un, scowling darkly and squaring his trembling fists, "all right, me lad, 'ere 's where I ketch ye one as'll flatten ye out till the day o' doom—"

Hereupon Joe caught him above the elbows, and lifting him in mighty hands that yet were gentle, seated the snarling old fellow in the armchair.

"Old Un," said he, shaking his finger, "if ye give me any more of it—off t' bed I take ye without any tea at all!" The Old Un, cowering beneath that portentous finger, swore plaintively and promptly subsided.

"And now," said Ravenslee, thrusting the money into Joe's reluctant hand, "when I make a bargain, I generally keep it. I wish all my money had been spent to such good purpose."

"What about me?" whined the old man humbly, "don't I get none, Joe-lad?"

"Not a cent, you old rasper!"

"Blimy, Guv, you won't forget a old cove as 'ud shed 'is best blood for ye?"

"The Guv'nor don't want yer blood, old skin-and-bones. And now, come on, sir—"

"Stay a minute, Joe, the Old Un generally keeps time for us when we spar rounds."

"That I do, Guv," cried the old man, "an' give ye advice worth its weight in solid gold; you owe me a lot, s' 'elp me."

"About how much?"

"Well, Guv, I ain't got me ledger-book 'andy, but roughly speakin' I should say about five or six 'undred dollars. But seein' you 's you an' I'm me—a old man true-'earted as never crossed nobody—let's say—fifteen dollars."

"Why, you old—thievin'—vagabone!" gasped Joe, as Ravenslee gravely handed over the money.

"Vagabone yourself!" said the Old Un, counting the bills over in trembling fingers. "The Guv wants a bath—take 'im away—'ook it, d'j 'ear?"

"Has Patterson got everything ready, Joe?" enquired Ravenslee, taking up his clothes.

"No, sir," mumbled Joe, "but I'll have ye bath ready in a jiffy, sir."

"But where's Patterson?"

"Well, 'e—'e 's out, sir."

"And the footmen?"

"They're out, sir."

"Oh! And the housekeeper—er—what's her name—Mrs. Smythe?"

"Gone to call on her relations, sir."

"Ah! And the maids?"

"Mrs. Smythe give 'em leave of habsence, sir. Y' see, sir," said Joe apologetically, "you're 'ere so seldom, sir."

"My servants are not exactly—er—worked to death, Joe?"

"No, sir."

"Manage to look after themselves quite well?"

"Yes, sir."

"It seems I need some one to look after them—and me."

"Yes, sir."

"A woman, Joe—one I can trust and honour and—what d' ye think?"

"I think—er—yes, sir."

"Well—what do you suggest?"

"Marry her, sir."

"Joe, that's a great idea! Shake hands! I surely will marry her—at once—if she'll have me."

"She'll have you, sir."

"Do you really think she will, Joe?"

"I'm dead certain, sir."

"Joe, shake again. I'll speak to her when she comes home. To-morrow's Saturday, isn't it?"

"As ever was, sir."

"Then, Joe—wish me luck; I'll ask her—to-morrow!"



CHAPTER XVI

OF THE FIRST AND SECOND PERSONS, SINGULAR NUMBER

It was Saturday morning, and Hermione was making a pie and looking uncommonly handsome about it and altogether feminine and adorable; at least, so Ravenslee thought, as he watched her bending above the pastry board, her round, white arms bared to each dimpled elbow, and the rebellious curl wantoning at her temple as usual.

"But why kidneys, my dear?" demanded Mrs. Trapes, glancing up from the potatoes she was peeling. "Kidneys is rose again; kidneys is always risin', it seems to me. If you must have pie, why not good, plain beefsteak? It's jest as fillin' an' cheaper, my dear—so why an' wherefore kidneys?"

"Arthur likes them, and he'll be hungry when he comes in—"

"Hungry," snorted Mrs. Trapes, "that b'y's been hungry ever since he drawed the breath o' life. How's he gettin' on with his new job?"

"Oh, splendidly!" cried Hermione, flushing with sisterly pride, "they've promised him a raise next month."

"What, already?" exclaimed Mrs. Trapes, cutting viciously into a potato. "If he don't watch out, they'll be makin' him a partner next."

"Oh, Ann, I wish you were not quite so—so hard on him!" sighed Hermione. "Remember, he's only a boy!"

"You were a woman at his age, earning enough t' keep ye both—but there! I don't mean t' be hard, Hermy; anyway, a man's never much good till he's growed up, and then only because some woman teaches him how t' be."

"What do you say to that, Mr. Geoffrey?" enquired Hermione, pausing, flour-dredger in hand, to glance at him slily under her brows.

"I think Mrs. Trapes is a wonderful woman," he answered.

"Ah, now, Mr. Geoffrey, quit y'r jollying," said Mrs. Trapes, smiling at the potato.

"Mrs. Trapes has taught me much wisdom already and, among other things, that I shall never be or do anything worth the while without the aid of a woman—"

"Lord, Mr. Geoffrey, I never remember sayin' no sich thing!"

"Not in so many words, perhaps, but you implied it, Mrs. Trapes."

"H'm!" said Mrs. Trapes dubiously.

"Consequently, I mean to ask that woman—on the very first opportunity, Miss Hermione." Seeing that Hermione was silent, all her attention being centred in the dough her white fists were kneading, Mrs. Trapes spoke instead.

"D' ye mean as you want some one t' look after you—to sew an' cook an' wash an' sew buttons on for ye—I know the sort!"

"I certainly do, and—"

"Ah, it's a slave you want, Mr. Geoffrey, and peanut men don't have slaves—not unless they marries 'em, and a woman as would marry a peanut man has only herself t' blame—peanuts!"

Hermione laughed, reached for the rolling-pin, and immediately fell to work with it, her head stooped rather lower than was necessary. As for Ravenslee, he lounged in his chair, watching the play of those round, white arms.

"But why the kidneys, Hermy? You've got to cut out luxuries now, my dear—we all have, I guess; it'll be dry bread next, I reckon."

"Why so?" enquired Ravenslee lazily.

"Why?" cried Mrs. Trapes bitterly, "I'll tell you why—because me an' Hermy an' every one else is bein' squeezed dry t' fill the pockets of a thing as calls itself a man—a thievin' beast on two legs as is suckin' our blood, gnawin' our flesh, grindin' the life out of us—a great fat man as is treadin' us down under his great boots, down an' down to slavery—death—an' worse—it's such men as him as keeps the flames of hell goin'—fat frizzles well, an' so will Mulligan, I hope!"

"Mulligan?" enquired Ravenslee.

"He's raised the rents on us, Mr. Geoffrey," sighed Hermione.

"Raised the rents?" said Ravenslee, forgetting to lounge.

"Sure!" nodded Mrs. Trapes grimly. "I guess he thinks we live too easy an' luxoorious, so he's boosted it up a dollar per. A dollar a week don't sound a whole lot, p'raps, but it sure takes some gettin'; folks expects a deal o' scrubbin' an' sewin' an' slavin' for a dollar—yes, sir."

"We shall have to work a little harder, that's all, Ann dear."

"Harder? I guess you work hard enough for two—an' who gets the benefit? Why, Mulligan does. Oh, it's a great comfort t' remember the flames of hell, sometimes. Lord, when I think how we have t' slave t' make enough t' live—"

"There are others worse than us, Ann."

"Why, yes, there's poor Mrs. Finlay; she's got to go, an' her husband paralysed! There's little Mrs. Bowker sewed herself pretty well blind t' keep her home together—she's got to go. There's Mrs. Sims with all those children, and the—but there, who cares for the likes o' them—who cares, eh, Mr. Geoffrey? An' what might you be dreamin' over this time?" she enquired, eyeing Ravenslee's long figure a little contemptuously, for he had fallen to lounging again, sleepy eyes half closed.

"I was thinking what a lot of interest we might find in this busy world—if we only would take the trouble to look for it!" he answered. "The fool who complains that his life is empty is blind and deaf and—damnably thick—er—pardon me, I—er nearly got excited."

"Excited?" snorted Mrs. Trapes, "I'd pay good money t' see you like that!"

"You see, I had an idea—a rather original idea!"

"Then take care of it, Mr. Geoffrey; nurse it careful, and we'll have ye doin' bigger things than push a peanut barrer—peanuts!"

"Mrs. Trapes, I've got a stranglehold on that idea, for it is rather brilliant."

"There's that kettle b'ilin' at last, thank goodness!" sighed Mrs. Trapes, crossing to the stove, "tea's a luxury, I suppose, but—oh, drat Mulligan, anyway!"

So Mrs. Trapes brewed the tea, while Ravenslee gazed at Hermione again, at her shapely arms, her dimpled elbows, her preoccupied face—a face so serenely, so utterly unaware of his regard, of course, until he chanced to look away, and then—Hermione stole a glance at him.

"There, my dear," said Mrs. Trapes after a while, "there's a cup o' tea as is a cup o' tea, brewed jest on the b'ile, in a hot pot, and drawed to perfection! Set right down an' drink it, slow an' deliberate. Tea ain't meant to be swallowed down careless, like a man does his beer! An' why?" demanded Mrs. Trapes, as they sipped the fragrant beverage, all three, "why ain't you out with your precious—peanuts, Mr. Geoffrey?"

Ravenslee set down his cup and turned to Hermione.

"Mrs. Trapes has told you, I think, that I am become—er—an itinerant vendor of the ubiquitous peanut—"

"Mr. Geoffrey!" gasped Mrs. Trapes, gulping a mouthful of hot tea and blinking, "I never did! Never in all my days would I allow myself such expressions—Mr. Geoffrey, I'm ashamed at you! An' that reminds me—it was chicken fricassee, wasn't it? For your supper, I mean?"

"I believe it was."

"Then," said Mrs. Trapes, rising, "I'll go an' buy it. Was you wantin' anything fetched, Hermy?"

"If you wouldn't mind bringing a bunch of asparagus—"

"Sparrergrass!" exclaimed Mrs. Trapes in horror-struck tones, "why, it's anywhere from thirty to sixty cents—"

"But Arthur loves it, dear, and now that he's working so hard—"

"Arthur likes!" cried Mrs. Trapes indignantly. "Mr. Geoffrey, it's been Arthur ever since he was born, an' her scrinchin' an' pinchin' herself for the sake o' that b'y. O' course he likes sparrergrass—so do I—but I make shift with pertatoes or cabbidge or carrots—an' so should he. Come now, Hermy, you take a bunch o' carrots instead; carrots is healthy an' cheap! Come now, is that sparrergrass to be carrots or not?"

"Ann, that asparagus is to be—asparagus!"

"Such wicked extravagance, an' all for that b'y. Hermy, I'm surprised at ye!"

For a long moment after Mrs. Trapes had departed there was silence, while Ravenslee sat gazing where Hermione stood busy at her pastry again.

"Mr. Geoffrey," said she at last, "I want to thank you for watching over my boy. Arthur told me how good you were to him while I was away. I want you to know how grateful I am—"

"What beautiful hands you have, Hermione—and I shall dream of your arms."

"My arms?" she repeated, staring.

"They're so—smooth and white—"

"Oh, that's flour!" said she, bending over the table.

"And so—round—"

"Oh, Mr. Geoffrey! Can't you find something else to talk about?"

"Why, of course," he answered, "there are your feet, so slender and shapely—"

"In these frightful old shoes!" she added.

"Worn out mostly in other peoples' service," he nodded. "God bless them!"

"They let the wet in horribly when it rains!" she sighed.

"So heaven send us dry weather! Then there is your wonderful hair," he continued, "so long and soft and—"

"And all bunched up anyhow!" said she, touching the heavy, shining braids with tentative fingers. "Please don't say any more, Mr. Geoffrey, because I just know I look a sight—I feel it! And in this old gown too—it's the one I keep to scrub the floors in—"

"Scrub the floors?" he repeated.

"Why, of course, floors must be scrubbed, and I've had plenty—oh, plenty of experience—now what are you thinking?"

"That a great many women might envy you that gown for the beauty that goes with it. You are very beautiful, you know, Hermione."

"And beauty in a woman is—everything, isn't it?" she said a little bitterly and with head suddenly averted.

"Have I offended you?"

"No," she answered without looking around, "only sometimes you are so very—personal."

"Because the First and Second Persons Singular Number are the most interesting persons in the world, and—Hermione, in all this big world there is only one person I want. Could you ever learn to love a peanut man?"

"That would all depend—on the peanut man," she answered softly, "and you—you don't talk or act a little bit like a real peanut man."

"Well, could you stoop to love this peanut man just as he is, with all his faults and failures, love him enough to trust yourself to his keeping, to follow him into the unknown, to help him find that Beautiful City of Perhaps—could you, Hermione?" As he ended he rose to his feet, but swiftly, dexterously, she eluded him.

"Wait!" she pleaded, facing him across the table, "I—I want to talk to you—to ask you some questions, and I want you to be serious, please."

"Solemn as sixty judges!" he nodded.

"Well, first, Mr. Geoffrey—why do you pretend to sell peanuts?"

"Pretend!" he repeated, trying to sound aggrieved.

"Oh, I'm not blind, Mr. Geoffrey."

"No, indeed—I think your eyes are the most beau—"

"Oh, please, please be serious!"

"As a dozen owls!"

"I—I know," she went on quickly, "I'm sure you haven't always had to live in such—such places as Mulligan's. I know you don't belong here as I do. Is it necessity has driven you to live here or only—curiosity?"

"Well—er—perhaps a little of both," he admitted.

"Then you're not obliged to sell peanuts for a living?"

"'Obliged' is scarcely the word, perhaps; let us call it a peanut penchant, a hobby, a—"

"You are not quite so—poverty-stricken as you pretend?" Her voice was very soft and gentle, but she kept her head averted, also her foot was tapping nervously in its worn shoe.

"Oh, as to money," he answered, "I have enough for my simple needs, but in every other sense I am a miserable pauper. You see, there are some things no money can buy, and they are generally the best things of life."

"And so," said she, interrupting him gently, "you come here to Mulligan's, you deceive every one into thinking you are very poor, you make a pretence of selling peanuts and push a barrow through the streets—why?"

"First, because pushing a barrow is—er—very healthy exercise."

"Yes, Mr. Geoffrey?" she said in the same soft voice.

"And second," he continued, wishing he could see her face, "second, because I find it—er, well—highly amusing."

"Amusing!" she cried, turning suddenly, her eyes very bright and her cheeks hot and anger-flushed. "Amusing!" she repeated, "ah, yes—that's just it—it's all only a joke to you, to be done with when it grows tiresome. But my life here—our life is very real—ah, terribly real, and has been—sordid sometimes. What is only sport to you for a little while is deadly earnest to me; you are only playing at poverty, but I must live it—"

"And thirdly," he continued gently, "because I love you, Hermione!"

"Love me!" she repeated, shaking her head. "Ah, no, no—your world is not my world nor ever could be."

"Why, then, your world shall be mine."

"Yes, but for how long?" she demanded feverishly. "I wonder how long you could endure this world of mine? I have had to work and slave all my life, but you—look at your hands, so white and well-cared for—yours are not the hands of a worker!"

"No, I'm afraid they're not!" he admitted a little ruefully.

"Now look at mine—see my fingers all roughened by my needle."

"Such busy, capable hands!" said he, drawing a pace nearer, "hands always working for others, so strong to help the distressed. I love and honour them more just because of those work-roughened fingers." As he spoke he reached out very suddenly, and clasping those slender hands, stooped and kissed them reverently. Now, glancing up, he beheld her red lips quivering while her eyes were suffused all at once, as, drooping her head, she strove to loose his hold.

"Let me go!" she whispered, "I—I—ah, let me go!"

"Hermione," he breathed, "oh, Hermione, how beautiful you are!" But at this she cried out almost as if he had struck her and, wrenching her hands free, covered her face.

"Oh, God!—are all men the same?"

"Hermione," he stammered, "Hermione—what do you mean?"

"I mean," she answered, proud head up-flung, "there were always plenty of men to tell me that—when I was an office scrubwoman. Well?" she demanded fiercely, stung by something in his look, "what did you think I'd been? When a girl is left alone with a baby brother to care for, she can't wait and pick and choose work that is nice and ladylike; she must take what comes along or starve—so I worked. I used to scrub floors and stairs in an office building. I was very young then, and Arthur hardly more than a baby, and it was either that or starvation or—" she flushed painfully, but her blue eyes met his regard unflinchingly; "anyway, I—preferred to be a scrubwoman. So now you know what I mean by your world not being my world, and I—I guess you see how—how impossible it all is."

For a long moment was a silence wherein she stood turned from him, her trembling fingers busily folding and refolding a pleat in her apron while he stared down blindly at the floor.

"So you preferred the slavery of scrubbing floors, did you, Hermione?" he said at last.

"Of course!" she answered, without turning or lifting her heavy head.

"And that," said he, his voice as placid, as serenely unhurried as usual, "and that is; just why all things are going to be possible to us—yes, even turning my wasted years to profit. Oh, my Hermione, help me to be worthy of you—teach me what a glorious thing life may be—"

"I?" she said wonderingly, her drooping head still averted, "but I am—"

"Just the one woman I want to be my own for ever and always, more—far more than I have ever wanted anything in my life."

"But," she whispered, "I am only—"

"The best, the noblest I have ever known."

"But a—scrubwoman!"

"With dimples in her elbows, Hermione!" In one stride he was beside her, and she, because of his light tone, must turn at last to glance up at him half-fearfully; but those grey eyes were grave and reverent, the hands stretched out to her were strangely unsteady, and when he spoke again, his voice was placid no longer.

"Dear," he said, leaning toward her, "from the very first I've been dying to have you in my arms, but now I—I dare not touch you unless you—will it so. Ah, don't—don't turn from me; let me have my answer—look up, Hermione!"

Slowly she obeyed, and beholding the shy languor of her eyes, the sweet hurry of her breathing, and all the sighing, trembling loveliness of her, he set his arms about her, drawing her close; and she, yielding to those compelling arms, gave herself to the passion of his embrace. And so he kissed her, her warm, soft-quivering mouth, her eyes, her silken hair, until she sighed and struggled in his clasp.

"My hair," she whispered, "see—it's all coming down!"

"Well, let it—I'd love to see it so, Hermione."

"Should you? Why then—let me go," she pleaded.

Reluctantly he loosed her, and standing well beyond his reach, she shook her shapely head, and down, down fell the heavy coils, past shoulder and waist and hip, rippling in shining splendour to her knees. Then, while he gazed spellbound by her loveliness she laughed a little unsteadily, and flushing beneath his look, turned and fled from him to the door; when he would have followed she stayed him.

"Please," she said, tender-voiced, "I want to be alone—it is all so wonderful, I want to be alone and—think."

"I may see you again to-night, Hermione? Dear—I must."

"Why, if you must," she said, "how can I—prevent you?"

Then, all at once, her cool, soft arms were about his neck, had drawn him down to meet her kiss, and—he was alone with the pastry board, the rolling-pin and the flour-dredger—but he saw them all through a golden glory, and when he somehow found himself out upon the dingy landing, the glory was all about him still.



CHAPTER XVII

HOW GEOFFREY RAVENSLEE MADE A DEAL IN REAL ESTATE

The morning sun blazed down, and Tenth Avenue was full of noise and dust and heat; children screamed and played and fought together, carts rumbled past, distant street cars clanged their bells, the sidewalks were full of the stir and bustle of Saturday; but Ravenslee went his way heedless of all this, even of the heat, for before his eyes was the vision of a maid's shy loveliness, and he thrilled anew at the memory of two warm lips. Thus he strode unheeding through the jostling throng at a speed very different from his ordinary lounging gait. Very soon he came to a small drug-store, weather-beaten and grimy of exterior but very bright within, where everything seemed in a perpetual state of glitter, from the multitudinous array of bottles and glassware upon the shelves to the taps and knobs of the soda fountain. Yet nowhere was there anything quite so bright as the shrewd, twinkling eyes of the little grey-haired man who greeted Ravenslee with a cheery nod.

"Hot enough?" he enquired.

"Quite!" answered Ravenslee.

"Goin' to be hotter."

"Afraid so."

"Rough on th' kiddies, an' ice goin' up. Which reminds me I sent on the mixture you ordered for little Hazel Bowker."

"Good," nodded Ravenslee.

"And the pills to Mrs. Sims."

"Good again."

"An' the sleeping-draught for old Martin Finlay."

"Good once more."

"Won't last long, old Martin, I guess. Never been the same since little Maggie drowned herself, poor child. What d'ye want this morning?"

"First to pay for the medicine," said Ravenslee, laying a five-dollar bill on the counter, "and then the use of your 'phone."

"Right there," said the chemist, nodding toward a certain shady corner, where, remote from all intruding bustle, was a telephone booth into which Ravenslee stepped forthwith and where ensued the following one-sided conversation:

Ravenslee. "Hello!"

Telephone. "Buzz!"

Ravenslee. "Hello, Central, give me Thirty-three Wall, please."

Telephone. "Ting-a-ling—buzz!"

Ravenslee. "Damn this 'phone—what? No, I said Double-three Wall."

Telephone. "Buzz! Ting! Zut!"

Ravenslee. "Sounded different, did it? Well, I want—"

Telephone. "Buzz! Zut! Ting!"

Ravenslee. "Thanks. Hello, that Thirty-three Wall? Dana and Anderson's Office? Good! I want to speak with Mr. Anderson—say Mr. Ravenslee."

Telephone. "Zing!"

Ravenslee. "Thanks. That you, Anderson?"

Telephone. "Pang!"

Ravenslee. "Thanks—very well! What the devil's wrong with this instrument of torment—can you hear me?"

Telephone. "Crack!"

Ravenslee. "Good! Yes—that's better! Now listen; I want you to do some business for me. No, I'm buying, not selling. I'm going into real estate. What, a bad speculation? Well, anyway, I'm buying tenement property in Tenth Avenue, known as Mulligan's, I believe. Oh, you've heard of it, eh? Not in the market? Not for sale? Well, I'll buy it. Oh, yes, you can—what d' you suppose is his figure? So much? Phew! Oh, well, double it. No, I'm not mad, Anderson. No, nor drunk—I just happen to want Mulligan's—and I'll have it. When can you put the deal through? Oh, nonsense, make him sell at once—get him on the 'phone. Oh, yes, he will, if you offer enough—Mulligan would sell his mother—at his own price. You quite understand—at once, mind! All right, good-by. No, I'm not mad—nor drunk, man; I haven't tasted a cocktail for a month. Eh—go and get one? I will!"

So saying, Ravenslee hung up the receiver and hastened out of the stifling heat of the suffocating booth, mopping perspiring brow.

"You look kinder warm!" ventured the chemist.

"I feel it."

"And it's going to be warmer. Try an ice-cream soda—healthy and invigorating."

"And better than any cocktail on such a day!"

"I guess! Take one?"

"Thank you, yes."

So the bright-eyed chemist mixed the beverage and handed it over the counter.

"Chin-chin!" he nodded.

"Twice," said Ravenslee, lifting the long glass. "To the Beautiful City of Perhaps!" and he drank deep.

"Say," said the chemist, staring, "that sounds t' me like a touch of the sun. Try a bottle of my summer mixture, good for sunstroke, heat-bumps, colic, spasms, and Hell's Kitchen generally—try a bottle?"

"Thanks," said Ravenslee, "I will." And grimly pocketing the bottled panacea, he stepped out into the hot and noisy avenue.



CHAPTER XVIII

HOW SPIKE HEARKENED TO POISONOUS SUGGESTION AND SOAPY BEGAN TO WONDER

Spike was on his way from the office, very conscious of his new straw hat and immaculate collar; his erstwhile shabby suit had been cleaned and pressed by Hermione's skilled and loving fingers, hence Spike turned now and then as he passed some shop window to observe the general effect with furtive eye; and stimulated by his unwontedly smart appearance, he whistled joyously as he betook himself homeward. Moreover in his breast pocket was his pay envelope, not very bulky to be sure, wherein lay his first week's wages, and as often as he turned to glance at the tilt of the straw hat or heed the set of his tie, his hand must needs steal to this envelope to make sure of its safety. His fingers were so employed when he chanced to espy a certain article exposed for sale in an adjacent shop window; whereupon, envelope in hand, he incontinent entered and addressed the plump Semitic merchant in his usual easy manner.

"Greetings, Abe! I'll take one o' them hair-combs."

"Hair-gombs?" nodded the merchant. "Vot kind?"

"What kind? Why, the best you got."

"Ve got 'em up to veefty dollars—"

"Come off it, Cain, come off—I ain't purchasin' a diamond aigrette to-day, it's a lady's hair-comb I want—good, but not too flossy-lookin'—savvy that? This'll do, I guess—how much? Right there!" said Spike, flicking a bill upon the counter. "That's it, stick it in a box—oh, never mind th' wrappin's. S'long, Daniel!"

With his purchase in his pocket, Spike strode out of the shop, whistling cheerily, but the merry notes ended very suddenly as he dodged back again, yet not quite quick enough, for a rough voice hailed him, hoarse and jovial.

"Why, hello, Kid, how goes it?" M'Ginnis's heavy hand descended on his shrinking shoulder and next moment he was out on the sidewalk where Soapy lounged, a smouldering cigarette pendent from his thin, pallid lips as usual. And Soapy's eyes, so bright between their narrowed, puffy lids, so old-seeming in the youthful oval of his pale face, were like his cigarette, in that they smouldered also.

"Holy smoke!" exclaimed M'Ginnis, surveying Spike up and down in mock amazement, "this ain't you, Kid—no, this sure ain't you. Looks all t' th' company-promoter, don't he, Soapy?"

"'S' right, Kid, 's' right!" nodded the pallid youth, his smouldering eyes always turning toward M'Ginnis.

"Say, now, Bud, quit your kiddin'!" said Spike petulantly.

"But, Gee whiz!" exclaimed M'Ginnis, tightening his grasp, "you sure are some class, Kid, in that stiff collar an' sporty tie. How's the stock market? Are ye a bull or a bear?"

"Ah, cut it out, Bud!" cried the lad, writhing.

"Right-o, Kid, right-o!" said M'Ginnis, loosing his hold. "You're comin' over t' O'Rourke's t'night, of course?"

"Why, no, Bud—I can't."

"Oh, t' hell wid that—I got you all fixed up to go ten rounds wid Young Alf, th' East Side Wonder—"

"What?" exclaimed Spike, his eyes bright and eager, "you got me a match wi' Young Alf? Say, Bud—you ain't stringing me, are ye?"

"Not much. I told you I'd get ye a real chance—"

"Why," cried Spike, "if I was t' lick Young Alf, I'd be in line t' meet th' top-notchers!"

"Sure—if you lick him!" nodded M'Ginnis grimly.

"Say," said Spike, his face radiant, "I've just been waitin' an' waitin' for a chance like this—a chance t' show you an' th' bunch I can handle myself, an' now"—he stopped all at once, and shaking his head gloomily, turned away. "I forgot, I—I can't, Bud."

"Aw, what's bitin' ye?"

"I can't come t'night."

"Won't come, ye mean!"

"Can't, Bud."

"Why not?"

"I promised Hermy t' quit fightin'—"

"Is that all? Hermy don't have t' know nothin' about it. This is a swell chance for ye, Kid, the best you'll ever get, so just skin over t'night an' don't say nothin' t' nobody."

"I—can't, Bud—that's sure."

"Goin' t' give me d' throw-down, are ye?"

"I don't mean it that ways, Bud, but I can't break my promise t' Hermy—"

"She'd never know."

"She'd find out some ways; she always does, and I can't lie t' her."

"So you won't come, hey? We ain't classy enough for ye these days, hey? I guess goin' to an office every day is one thing an' crackin' a millionaire's crib's another."

"Cheese it, Bud, cheese it!" gasped Spike, pale and trembling.

"Right-o, Kid!" nodded M'Ginnis, "but I've been wantin' t' know how ye made your get-away that night."

"Oh, quit—quit talkin' of it!" Spike panted. "I—I want t' forget all about it. I been tryin' t' think it never happened."

"Ah, but you know it did," said M'Ginnis, "an' I know it, an' Soapy knows it did—don't yer, Soapy?"

"'S' right!" nodded Soapy, his voice soft, his eyes hard and malevolent.

"So we kinder want t' know," continued M'Ginnis, heedless always of those baleful watching eyes, "we just want t' get on t' how you—"

"Oh, say—give it a rest!" cried Spike desperately. "Give it a rest, can't ye?"

"Why, then, Kid, what about comin' over t' O'Rourke's t'night?"

Spike wrung his hands. "If Hermy finds out, she'll—cry, I guess—"

"Hermy!" growled M'Ginnis, black brows fierce and scowling, "a hell of a lot you care for Hermy, I—don't think!"

"Say now, you Bud, whatcher mean?" demanded Spike, quivering with sudden anger.

"Just this, Kid—what kind of a brother are ye t' go lettin' that noo pal o' yours—that guy you call Geoff—go sneaking round her morning, noon, an' night?"

"You cut that out, Bud M'Ginnis. Geoff don't! Geoff ain't that kind."

"He don't, eh? Well, what about all this talk that's goin' on—about him an' her, an' her an' him—eh?"

"What talk?" demanded Spike, suddenly troubled.

"Why, every one's beginnin' t' notice as they're always meetin' on th' stairs—an' him goin' into her flat, an' them talkin' an' laughin' together when you're out o' th' way—ah," growled M'Ginnis, between grinding white teeth, "an' likely as not kissin' an' squeezin' in corners—"

"That's enough—that's enough!" cried the boy, fronting M'Ginnis, fierce-eyed. "Nobody ain't goin' t' speak about Hermy that way."

"Y' can't help it, Kid. Here's this guy Geoff, this pal o' yours—been with her—in her flat with her, all th' mornin'—ain't he, Soapy?"

"'S' right, Kid!" nodded that pallid individual, the smouldering cigarette a-swing between pale lips; and, though he addressed Spike, his furtive eyes, watching aslant between narrowed lids, glittered to behold M'Ginnis's scowling brow; also the wolverine mouth curled faintly, so that the pendulous cigarette stirred and quivered.

"Oh, I'm handin' ye the straight goods, Kid," M'Ginnis went on. "I'm puttin' ye wise because you're my pal, an' because I've known Hermy an' been kind o' soft about her since we was kids."

"Well, then, you know she—she ain't that sort," said Spike, his voice quavering oddly. "So—don't you—say no more—see?"

"All right, Kid, all right—only I don't like t' see this pal o' yours gettin' in his dirty work behind your back. If anything happens—don't blame me—"

"What—what you tryin' t' tell me—you Bud?" questioned Spike, between quivering lips.

"I'm tellin' ye things are gettin' too warm—oh, Hermy ain't the icicle she tries t' make out she is."

"An' I'm tellin' you—you're a liar, Bud M'Ginnis—a dirty liar!" cried the boy.

M'Ginnis's bull neck swelled; between his thick, black brows a vein swelled and pulsed. Viewing this, Soapy's glittering eyes blinked, and the pendulous cigarette quivered faintly again.

"Now by—" began M'Ginnis, lifting menacing fist; then his arm sank, and he shook his big, handsome head. "Oh, pshaw!" he exclaimed, "I guess you're all worked up, Kid, so I ain't takin' no notice. But savvy this, Kid, if Hermy ain't goin' t' marry me on th' level, she ain't goin' t' let this guy have her—the other way—not much! I guess you ain't forgotten little Maggie Finlay? Well, watch out your pal Geoff don't make Hermy go th' same."

Uttering a wild, inarticulate cry, the lad sprang—to be caught in M'Ginnis's powerful grasp, but, even so, his fist grazed M'Ginnis's full-lipped mouth. For a moment Spike strove desperately to reach Bud's grim-smiling face until, finding his efforts vain, he ceased all at once, bowed his head upon his arms, and burst into a passion of bitter sobbing; then, with an agile twist, he wrenched himself free, and turning, sped away, heedless of his jaunty straw hat that had fallen and lay upon the dusty sidewalk. Languidly Soapy stooped and picked it up.

"His noo lid!" said he. "Only bought t'day, I reckon!"

"Gee!" exclaimed M'Ginnis, staring after Spike's fleeing figure, already far away, "he sure was some peevish!"

"Some!" nodded Soapy. "If he'd happened t' have a gun handy, here's where you'd have cashed in for good, I reckon. Yes, Bud, you'd be deader 'n' mutton!" sighed Soapy, turning Spike's hat around upon his finger. "You'd be as dead as—little Maggie Finlay you was mentionin'!"

M'Ginnis wheeled so suddenly upon the speaker that he took a long step backward, but he still spun Spike's hat upon his finger, and the pendulous cigarette quivered quite noticeably. "Aw, quit it, Bud, quit it!" he sighed. "You know I ain't th' kind o' guy it's healthy to punch around promiscuous."

"You mean if he'd missed, there was you, eh?"

"Well, I dunno, Bud, if it had been my sister—maybe—"

"Oh, I know the sort o' dirty tyke you are, Soapy—but I'm awake—an' I've got you, see? If anything was t' happen t' me, I've left papers—proofs—'n' it 'ud be the chair for yours—savvy?"

"Anyway, Bud, I—I haven't got a sister," said Soapy, juggling deftly with the hat. "But there's one thing, Bud, th' guy who gets actin' Mr. Freshy with Hermy is sure goin' to ante-up in kingdom come, if th' Kid's around."

"You're a dirty dog, Soapy, but you've got brains in your ugly dome, I guess you're right about th' Kid, an' that gives me an almighty good idea!" And M'Ginnis walked on awhile, deep in thought; and ever as he went, so between those pale and puffy lids two malevolent eyes watched and watched him.

"No," sighed Soapy at last, sliding a long, pale hand into the pocket of his smartly-tailored coat, "no, I ain't got a sister, Bud, but there was little Maggie Finlay. I kind o' used t' think she was all t' th' harps an' haloes. I used t' kind o' hope—but pshaw! she's dead—ain't she, Bud?"

"I guess so!" nodded M'Ginnis, yet deep in thought.

"An' buried—ain't she, Bud?"

"What th' hell!" exclaimed Bud, turning to stare, "what's bitin' ye?"

"I'm wonderin' 'why', an' I'm likewise wonderin' 'who', Bud. Maybe I'll find out for sure some day. I'm—waitin', Bud, waitin'. Goin' around t' O'Rourke's, are ye? Oh, well, I guess I'll hike along wid ye, Bud."



CHAPTER XIX

IN WHICH THE POISON BEGINS TO WORK

Spike sat glowering at the newspaper, yet very conscious, none the less, that Hermione often turned to glance at him wistfully as she bustled to and fro; at last she spoke.

"Arthur, dear—why so gloomy?"

"I ain't—I mean, I'm not."

"You're not sulking about anything?"

"No."

"Then you're sick."

"I'm all right."

"But you didn't enjoy your dinner a little bit."

"I—I wasn't hungry, I guess," said Spike, frowning down at the paper. But Hermione was beside him, her cool fingers caressing his curls.

"Boy, dear—what is it?"

"Say, Hermy, where'd you get them roses?" and he nodded to the flowers she had set among her shining hair.

"Oh, Mr. Geoffrey brought them."

"Been here, has he?"

"Yes, he came in with Ann this morning—why?"

"Did he—did he stay long?"

"N-o, I don't think so—why?"

"Comes round here pretty often, don't he?"

"Why, you see, he's your friend, dear, and we are very near neighbours."

"Oh, I know all that, but—folks are beginning to—talk."

Hermione's smooth brows were wrinkled faintly and her caressing hand had fallen away.

"To talk!" she repeated, "you mean about—me?"

"Yes!" nodded Spike, avoiding her eyes, "about you and—him!"

"Well—let them!" she answered gently, "you and Ann are all I care about, so let them talk."

"But I—I don't like folks t' talk about my sister, an' it's got t' stop. You got t' tell him so, or else I will. What's he got t' go buying ye flowers for, anyway?"

Hermione's black brows knit in a sudden frown. "Arthur, don't be silly!"

"Oh, I know you think I'm only a kid—but I ain't—I'm not. If you can't take care of—of yourself, I must and—"

"Arthur—stop!"

"Well, but what's he always crawlin' around here for?"

"He doesn't crawl—he couldn't," she cried in sudden anger; then in gentler tones, "I don't think you'd better say any more, or maybe I shall grow angry. If you have grown to think so—so badly of him, remember I'm your sister."

"But you're a girl, an' he's a man an'—"

"Stop it!" Hermione stamped her foot, and meeting her flashing glance, Spike wilted and—stopped it. So, while he glowered at the paper again, Hermione put away the dinner things, making more clatter about it than was usual, and turning now and then to glance at him from under her long lashes.

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