From round the corner, where the yellow cross of the Judson Hotel shone down on Washington Square, came the shouts of children, and the strains, mellowed by distance, of the indefatigable barrel-organ which had played the same tunes in the same place since the spring.
Katie closed her eyes, and listened. It was very peaceful this evening, so peaceful that for an instant she forgot even to think of Ted. And it was just during this instant that she heard his voice.
'That you, kid?'
He was standing before her, his hands in his pockets, one foot on the pavement, the other in the road; and if he was agitated, his voice did not show it.
'That's me. Can I see the old man for a minute, Katie?'
This time it did seem to her that she could detect a slight ring of excitement.
'It's no use, Ted. Honest.'
'No harm in going in and passing the time of day, is there? I've got something I want to say to him.'
'Tell you later, maybe. Is he in his room?'
He stepped past her, and went in. As he went, he caught her arm and pressed it, but he did not stop. She saw him go into the inner room and heard through the door as he closed it behind him, the murmur of voices. And almost immediately, it seemed to her, her name was called. It was her grandfather's voice which called, high and excited. The door opened, and Ted appeared.
'Come here a minute, Katie, will you?' he said. 'You're wanted.'
The old man was leaning forward in his chair. He was in a state of extraordinary excitement. He quivered and jumped. Ted, standing by the wall, looked as stolid as ever; but his eyes glittered.
'Katie,' cried the old man, 'this is a most remarkable piece of news. This gentleman has just been telling me—extraordinary. He—'
He broke off, and looked at Ted, as he had looked at Katie when he had tried to write the letter to the Parliament of England.
Ted's eye, as it met Katie's, was almost defiant.
'I want to marry you,' he said.
'Yes, yes,' broke in Mr Bennett, impatiently, 'but—'
'And I'm a king.'
'Yes, yes, that's it, that's it, Katie. This gentleman is a king.'
Once more Ted's eye met Katie's, and this time there was an imploring look in it.
'That's right,' he said, slowly. 'I've just been telling your grandfather I'm the King of Coney Island.'
'That's it. Of Coney Island.'
'So there's no objection now to us getting married, kid—Your Royal Highness. It's a royal alliance, see?'
'A royal alliance,' echoed Mr Bennett.
Out in the street, Ted held Katie's hand, and grinned a little sheepishly.
'You're mighty quiet, kid,' he said. 'It looks as if it don't make much of a hit with you, the notion of being married to me.'
'Oh, Ted! But—'
He squeezed her hand.
'I know what you're thinking. I guess it was raw work pulling a tale like that on the old man. I hated to do it, but gee! when a fellow's up against it like I was, he's apt to grab most any chance that comes along. Why, say, kid, it kind of looked to me as if it was sort of meant. Coming just now, like it did, just when it was wanted, and just when it didn't seem possible it could happen. Why, a week ago I was nigh on two hundred votes behind Billy Burton. The Irish-American put him up, and everybody thought he'd be King at the Mardi Gras. And then suddenly they came pouring in for me, till at the finish I had Billy looking like a regular has-been.
'It's funny the way the voting jumps about every year in this Coney election. It was just Providence, and it didn't seem right to let it go by. So I went in to the old man, and told him. Say, I tell you I was just sweating when I got ready to hand it to him. It was an outside chance he'd remember all about what the Mardi Gras at Coney was, and just what being a king at it amounted to. Then I remembered you telling me you'd never been to Coney, so I figured your grandfather wouldn't be what you'd call well fixed in his information about it, so I took the chance.
'I tried him out first. I tried him with Brooklyn. Why, say, from the way he took it, he'd either never heard of the place, or else he'd forgotten what it was. I guess he don't remember much, poor old fellow. Then I mentioned Yonkers. He asked me what Yonkers were. Then I reckoned it was safe to bring on Coney, and he fell for it right away. I felt mean, but it had to be done.'
He caught her up, and swung her into the air with a perfectly impassive face. Then, having kissed her, he lowered her gently to the ground again. The action seemed to have relieved his feelings, for when he spoke again it was plain that his conscience no longer troubled him.
'And say,' he said, 'come to think of it, I don't see where there's so much call for me to feel mean. I'm not so far short of being a regular king. Coney's just as big as some of those kingdoms you read about on the other side; and, from what you see in the papers about the goings-on there, it looks to me that, having a whole week on the throne like I'm going to have, amounts to a pretty steady job as kings go.'
As I walked to Geisenheimer's that night I was feeling blue and restless, tired of New York, tired of dancing, tired of everything. Broadway was full of people hurrying to the theatres. Cars rattled by. All the electric lights in the world were blazing down on the Great White Way. And it all seemed stale and dreary to me.
Geisenheimer's was full as usual. All the tables were occupied, and there were several couples already on the dancing-floor in the centre. The band was playing 'Michigan':
I want to go back, I want to go back To the place where I was born. Far away from harm With a milk-pail on my arm.
I suppose the fellow who wrote that would have called for the police if anyone had ever really tried to get him on to a farm, but he has certainly put something into the tune which makes you think he meant what he said. It's a homesick tune, that.
I was just looking round for an empty table, when a man jumped up and came towards me, registering joy as if I had been his long-lost sister.
He was from the country. I could see that. It was written all over him, from his face to his shoes.
He came up with his hand out, beaming.
'Why, Miss Roxborough!'
'Why not?' I said.
'Don't you remember me?'
'My name is Ferris.'
'It's a nice name, but it means nothing in my young life.'
'I was introduced to you last time I came here. We danced together.'
This seemed to bear the stamp of truth. If he was introduced to me, he probably danced with me. It's what I'm at Geisenheimer's for.
'When was it?'
'A year ago last April.'
You can't beat these rural charmers. They think New York is folded up and put away in camphor when they leave, and only taken out again when they pay their next visit. The notion that anything could possibly have happened since he was last in our midst to blur the memory of that happy evening had not occurred to Mr Ferris. I suppose he was so accustomed to dating things from 'when I was in New York' that he thought everybody else must do the same.
'Why, sure, I remember you,' I said. 'Algernon Clarence, isn't it?'
'Not Algernon Clarence. My name's Charlie.'
'My mistake. And what's the great scheme, Mr Ferris? Do you want to dance with me again?'
He did. So we started. Mine not to reason why, mine but to do and die, as the poem says. If an elephant had come into Geisenheimer's and asked me to dance I'd have had to do it. And I'm not saying that Mr Ferris wasn't the next thing to it. He was one of those earnest, persevering dancers—the kind that have taken twelve correspondence lessons.
I guess I was about due that night to meet someone from the country. There still come days in the spring when the country seems to get a stranglehold on me and start in pulling. This particular day had been one of them. I got up in the morning and looked out of the window, and the breeze just wrapped me round and began whispering about pigs and chickens. And when I went out on Fifth Avenue there seemed to be flowers everywhere. I headed for the Park, and there was the grass all green, and the trees coming out, and a sort of something in the air—why, say, if there hadn't have been a big policeman keeping an eye on me, I'd have flung myself down and bitten chunks out of the turf.
And as soon as I got to Geisenheimer's they played that 'Michigan' thing.
Why, Charlie from Squeedunk's 'entrance' couldn't have been better worked up if he'd been a star in a Broadway show. The stage was just waiting for him.
But somebody's always taking the joy out of life. I ought to have remembered that the most metropolitan thing in the metropolis is a rustic who's putting in a week there. We weren't thinking on the same plane, Charlie and me. The way I had been feeling all day, what I wanted to talk about was last season's crops. The subject he fancied was this season's chorus-girls. Our souls didn't touch by a mile and a half.
'This is the life!' he said.
There's always a point when that sort of man says that.
'I suppose you come here quite a lot?' he said.
I didn't tell him that I came there every night, and that I came because I was paid for it. If you're a professional dancer at Geisenheimer's, you aren't supposed to advertise the fact. The management thinks that if you did it might send the public away thinking too hard when they saw you win the Great Contest for the Love-r-ly Silver Cup which they offer later in the evening. Say, that Love-r-ly Cup's a joke. I win it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Mabel Francis wins it on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It's all perfectly fair and square, of course. It's purely a matter of merit who wins the Love-r-ly Cup. Anybody could win it. Only somehow they don't. And the coincidence of the fact that Mabel and I always do has kind of got on the management's nerves, and they don't like us to tell people we're employed there. They prefer us to blush unseen.
'It's a great place,' said Mr Ferris, 'and New York's a great place. I'd like to live in New York.'
'The loss is ours. Why don't you?'
'Some city! But dad's dead now, and I've got the drugstore, you know.'
He spoke as if I ought to remember reading about it in the papers.
'And I'm making good with it, what's more. I've got push and ideas. Say, I got married since I saw you last.'
'You did, did you?' I said. 'Then what are you doing, may I ask, dancing on Broadway like a gay bachelor? I suppose you have left your wife at Hicks' Corners, singing "Where is my wandering boy tonight"?'
'Not Hicks' Corners. Ashley, Maine. That's where I live. My wife comes from Rodney.... Pardon me, I'm afraid I stepped on your foot.'
'My fault,' I said; 'I lost step. Well, I wonder you aren't ashamed even to think of your wife, when you've left her all alone out there while you come whooping it up in New York. Haven't you got any conscience?'
'But I haven't left her. She's here.'
'In New York?'
'In this restaurant. That's her up there.'
I looked up at the balcony. There was a face hanging over the red plush rail. It looked to me as if it had some hidden sorrow. I'd noticed it before, when we were dancing around, and I had wondered what the trouble was. Now I began to see.
'Why aren't you dancing with her and giving her a good time, then?' I said.
'Oh, she's having a good time.'
'She doesn't look it. She looks as if she would like to be down here, treading the measure.'
'She doesn't dance much.'
'Don't you have dances at Ashley?'
'It's different at home. She dances well enough for Ashley, but—well, this isn't Ashley.'
'I see. But you're not like that?'
He gave a kind of smirk.
'Oh, I've been in New York before.'
I could have bitten him, the sawn-off little rube! It made me mad. He was ashamed to dance in public with his wife—didn't think her good enough for him. So he had dumped her in a chair, given her a lemonade, and told her to be good, and then gone off to have a good time. They could have had me arrested for what I was thinking just then.
The band began to play something else.
'This is the life!' said Mr Ferris. 'Let's do it again.'
'Let somebody else do it,' I said. 'I'm tired. I'll introduce you to some friends of mine.'
So I took him off, and whisked him on to some girls I knew at one of the tables.
'Shake hands with my friend Mr Ferris,' I said. 'He wants to show you the latest steps. He does most of them on your feet.'
I could have betted on Charlie, the Debonair Pride of Ashley. Guess what he said? He said, 'This is the life!'
And I left him, and went up to the balcony.
She was leaning with her elbows on the red plush, looking down on the dancing-floor. They had just started another tune, and hubby was moving around with one of the girls I'd introduced him to. She didn't have to prove to me that she came from the country. I knew it. She was a little bit of a thing, old-fashioned looking. She was dressed in grey, with white muslin collar and cuffs, and her hair done simple. She had a black hat.
I kind of hovered for awhile. It isn't the best thing I do, being shy; as a general thing I'm more or less there with the nerve; but somehow I sort of hesitated to charge in.
Then I braced up, and made for the vacant chair.
'I'll sit here, if you don't mind,' I said.
She turned in a startled way. I could see she was wondering who I was, and what right I had there, but wasn't certain whether it might not be city etiquette for strangers to come and dump themselves down and start chatting. 'I've just been dancing with your husband,' I said, to ease things along.
'I saw you.'
She fixed me with a pair of big brown eyes. I took one look at them, and then I had to tell myself that it might be pleasant, and a relief to my feelings, to take something solid and heavy and drop it over the rail on to hubby, but the management wouldn't like it. That was how I felt about him just then. The poor kid was doing everything with those eyes except crying. She looked like a dog that's been kicked.
She looked away, and fiddled with the string of the electric light. There was a hatpin lying on the table. She picked it up, and began to dig at the red plush.
'Ah, come on sis,' I said; 'tell me all about it.'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'You can't fool me. Tell me your troubles.'
'I don't know you.'
'You don't have to know a person to tell her your troubles. I sometimes tell mine to the cat that camps out on the wall opposite my room. What did you want to leave the country for, with summer coming on?'
She didn't answer, but I could see it coming, so I sat still and waited. And presently she seemed to make up her mind that, even if it was no business of mine, it would be a relief to talk about it.
'We're on our honeymoon. Charlie wanted to come to New York. I didn't want to, but he was set on it. He's been here before.'
'So he told me.'
'He's wild about New York.'
'But you're not.'
'I hate it.'
She dug away at the red plush with the hatpin, picking out little bits and dropping them over the edge. I could see she was bracing herself to put me wise to the whole trouble. There's a time comes when things aren't going right, and you've had all you can stand, when you have got to tell somebody about it, no matter who it is.
'I hate New York,' she said getting it out at last with a rush. 'I'm scared of it. It—it isn't fair Charlie bringing me here. I didn't want to come. I knew what would happen. I felt it all along.'
'What do you think will happen, then?'
She must have picked away at least an inch of the red plush before she answered. It's lucky Jimmy, the balcony waiter, didn't see her; it would have broken his heart; he's as proud of that red plush as if he had paid for it himself.
'When I first went to live at Rodney,' she said, 'two years ago—we moved there from Illinois—there was a man there named Tyson—Jack Tyson. He lived all alone and didn't seem to want to know anyone. I couldn't understand it till somebody told me all about him. I can understand it now. Jack Tyson married a Rodney girl, and they came to New York for their honeymoon, just like us. And when they got there I guess she got to comparing him with the fellows she saw, and comparing the city with Rodney, and when she got home she just couldn't settle down.'
'After they had been back in Rodney for a little while she ran away. Back to the city, I guess.'
'I suppose he got a divorce?'
'No, he didn't. He still thinks she may come back to him.'
'He still thinks she will come back?' I said. 'After she has been away three years!'
'Yes. He keeps her things just the same as she left them when she went away, everything just the same.'
'But isn't he angry with her for what she did? If I was a man and a girl treated me that way, I'd be apt to murder her if she tried to show up again.'
'He wouldn't. Nor would I, if—if anything like that happened to me; I'd wait and wait, and go on hoping all the time. And I'd go down to the station to meet the train every afternoon, just like Jack Tyson.'
Something splashed on the tablecloth. It made me jump.
'For goodness' sake,' I said, 'what's your trouble? Brace up. I know it's a sad story, but it's not your funeral.'
'It is. It is. The same thing's going to happen to me.'
'Take a hold on yourself. Don't cry like that.'
'I can't help it. Oh! I knew it would happen. It's happening right now. Look—look at him.'
I glanced over the rail, and I saw what she meant. There was her Charlie, dancing about all over the floor as if he had just discovered that he hadn't lived till then. I saw him say something to the girl he was dancing with. I wasn't near enough to hear it, but I bet it was 'This is the life!' If I had been his wife, in the same position as this kid, I guess I'd have felt as bad as she did, for if ever a man exhibited all the symptoms of incurable Newyorkitis, it was this Charlie Ferris.
'I'm not like these New York girls,' she choked. 'I can't be smart. I don't want to be. I just want to live at home and be happy. I knew it would happen if we came to the city. He doesn't think me good enough for him. He looks down on me.'
'Pull yourself together.'
'And I do love him so!'
Goodness knows what I should have said if I could have thought of anything to say. But just then the music stopped, and somebody on the floor below began to speak.
'Ladeez 'n' gemmen,' he said, 'there will now take place our great Numbah Contest. This gen-u-ine sporting contest—'
It was Izzy Baermann making his nightly speech, introducing the Love-r-ly Cup; and it meant that, for me, duty called. From where I sat I could see Izzy looking about the room, and I knew he was looking for me. It's the management's nightmare that one of these evenings Mabel or I won't show up, and somebody else will get away with the Love-r-ly Cup.
'Sorry I've got to go,' I said. 'I have to be in this.'
And then suddenly I had the great idea. It came to me like a flash, I looked at her, crying there, and I looked over the rail at Charlie the Boy Wonder, and I knew that this was where I got a stranglehold on my place in the Hall of Fame, along with the great thinkers of the age.
'Come on,' I said. 'Come along. Stop crying and powder your nose and get a move on. You're going to dance this.'
'But Charlie doesn't want to dance with me.'
'It may have escaped your notice,' I said, 'but your Charlie is not the only man in New York, or even in this restaurant. I'm going to dance with Charlie myself, and I'll introduce you to someone who can go through the movements. Listen!'
'The lady of each couple'—this was Izzy, getting it off his diaphragm—'will receive a ticket containing a num-bah. The dance will then proceed, and the num-bahs will be eliminated one by one, those called out by the judge kindly returning to their seats as their num-bah is called. The num-bah finally remaining is the winning num-bah. The contest is a genuine sporting contest, decided purely by the skill of the holders of the various num-bahs.' (Izzy stopped blushing at the age of six.) 'Will ladies now kindly step forward and receive their num-bahs. The winner, the holder of the num-bah left on the floor when the other num-bahs have been eliminated' (I could see Izzy getting more and more uneasy, wondering where on earth I'd got to), 'will receive this Love-r-ly Silver Cup, presented by the management. Ladies will now kindly step forward and receive their num-bahs.'
I turned to Mrs Charlie. 'There,' I said, 'don't you want to win a Love-r-ly Silver Cup?'
'But I couldn't.'
'You never know your luck.'
'But it isn't luck. Didn't you hear him say it's a contest decided purely by skill?'
'Well, try your skill, then.' I felt as if I could have shaken her. 'For goodness' sake,' I said, 'show a little grit. Aren't you going to stir a finger to keep your Charlie? Suppose you win, think what it will mean. He will look up to you for the rest of your life. When he starts talking about New York, all you will have to say is, "New York? Ah, yes, that was the town I won that Love-r-ly Silver Cup in, was it not?" and he'll drop as if you had hit him behind the ear with a sandbag. Pull yourself together and try.'
I saw those brown eyes of hers flash, and she said, 'I'll try.'
'Good for you,' I said. 'Now you get those tears dried, and fix yourself up, and I'll go down and get the tickets.'
Izzy was mighty relieved when I bore down on him.
'Gee!' he said, 'I thought you had run away, or was sick or something. Here's your ticket.'
'I want two, Izzy. One's for a friend of mine. And I say, Izzy, I'd take it as a personal favour if you would let her stop on the floor as one of the last two couples. There's a reason. She's a kid from the country, and she wants to make a hit.'
'Sure, that'll be all right. Here are the tickets. Yours is thirty-six, hers is ten.' He lowered his voice. 'Don't go mixing them.'
I went back to the balcony. On the way I got hold of Charlie.
'We're dancing this together,' I said.
He grinned all across his face.
I found Mrs Charlie looking as if she had never shed a tear in her life. She certainly had pluck, that kid.
'Come on,' I said. 'Stick to your ticket like wax and watch your step.'
I guess you've seen these sporting contests at Geisenheimer's. Or, if you haven't seen them at Geisenheimer's, you've seen them somewhere else. They're all the same.
When we began, the floor was so crowded that there was hardly elbow-room. Don't tell me there aren't any optimists nowadays. Everyone was looking as if they were wondering whether to have the Love-r-ly Cup in the sitting-room or the bedroom. You never saw such a hopeful gang in your life.
Presently Izzy gave tongue. The management expects him to be humorous on these occasions, so he did his best.
'Num-bahs, seven, eleven, and twenty-one will kindly rejoin their sorrowing friends.'
This gave us a little more elbow-room, and the band started again.
A few minutes later, Izzy once more: 'Num-bahs thirteen, sixteen, and seventeen—good-bye.'
Off we went again.
'Num-bah twelve, we hate to part with you, but—back to your table!'
A plump girl in a red hat, who had been dancing with a kind smile, as if she were doing it to amuse the children, left the floor.
'Num-bahs six, fifteen, and twenty, thumbs down!'
And pretty soon the only couples left were Charlie and me, Mrs Charlie and the fellow I'd introduced her to, and a bald-headed man and a girl in a white hat. He was one of your stick-at-it performers. He had been dancing all the evening. I had noticed him from the balcony. He looked like a hard-boiled egg from up there.
He was a trier all right, that fellow, and had things been otherwise, so to speak, I'd have been glad to see him win. But it was not to be. Ah, no!
'Num-bah nineteen, you're getting all flushed. Take a rest.'
So there it was, a straight contest between me and Charlie and Mrs Charlie and her man. Every nerve in my system was tingling with suspense and excitement, was it not? It was not.
Charlie, as I've already hinted, was not a dancer who took much of his attention off his feet while in action. He was there to do his durnedest, not to inspect objects of interest by the wayside. The correspondence college he'd attended doesn't guarantee to teach you to do two things at once. It won't bind itself to teach you to look round the room while you're dancing. So Charlie hadn't the least suspicion of the state of the drama. He was breathing heavily down my neck in a determined sort of way, with his eyes glued to the floor. All he knew was that the competition had thinned out a bit, and the honour of Ashley, Maine, was in his hands.
You know how the public begins to sit up and take notice when these dance-contests have been narrowed down to two couples. There are evenings when I quite forget myself, when I'm one of the last two left in, and get all excited. There's a sort of hum in the air, and, as you go round the room, people at the tables start applauding. Why, if you didn't know about the inner workings of the thing, you'd be all of a twitter.
It didn't take my practised ear long to discover that it wasn't me and Charlie that the great public was cheering for. We would go round the floor without getting a hand, and every time Mrs Charlie and her guy got to a corner there was a noise like election night. She sure had made a hit.
I took a look at her across the floor, and I didn't wonder. She was a different kid from what she'd been upstairs. I never saw anybody look so happy and pleased with herself. Her eyes were like lamps, and her cheeks all pink, and she was going at it like a champion. I knew what had made a hit with the people. It was the look of her. She made you think of fresh milk and new-laid eggs and birds singing. To see her was like getting away to the country in August. It's funny about people who live in the city. They chuck out their chests, and talk about little old New York being good enough for them, and there's a street in heaven they call Broadway, and all the rest of it; but it seems to me that what they really live for is that three weeks in the summer when they get away into the country. I knew exactly why they were cheering so hard for Mrs Charlie. She made them think of their holidays which were coming along, when they would go and board at the farm and drink out of the old oaken bucket, and call the cows by their first names.
Gee! I felt just like that myself. All day the country had been tugging at me, and now it tugged worse than ever.
I could have smelled the new-mown hay if it wasn't that when you're in Geisenheimer's you have to smell Geisenheimer's, because it leaves no chance for competition.
'Keep working,' I said to Charlie. 'It looks to me as if we are going back in the betting.'
'Uh, huh!' he says, too busy to blink.
'Do some of those fancy steps of yours. We need them in our business.'
And the way that boy worked—it was astonishing!
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Izzy Baermann, and he wasn't looking happy. He was nerving himself for one of those quick referee's decisions—the sort you make and then duck under the ropes, and run five miles, to avoid the incensed populace. It was this kind of thing happening every now and then that prevented his job being perfect. Mabel Francis told me that one night when Izzy declared her the winner of the great sporting contest, it was such raw work that she thought there'd have been a riot. It looked pretty much as if he was afraid the same thing was going to happen now. There wasn't a doubt which of us two couples was the one that the customers wanted to see win that Love-r-ly Silver Cup. It was a walk-over for Mrs Charlie, and Charlie and I were simply among those present.
But Izzy had his duty to do, and drew a salary for doing it, so he moistened his lips, looked round to see that his strategic railways weren't blocked, swallowed twice, and said in a husky voice:
'Num-bah ten, please re-tiah!'
I stopped at once.
'Come along,' said I to Charlie. 'That's our exit cue.'
And we walked off the floor amidst applause.
'Well,' says Charlie, taking out his handkerchief and attending to his brow, which was like the village blacksmith's, 'we didn't do so bad, did we? We didn't do so bad, I guess! We—'
And he looked up at the balcony, expecting to see the dear little wife, draped over the rail, worshipping him; when, just as his eye is moving up, it gets caught by the sight of her a whole heap lower down than he had expected—on the floor, in fact.
She wasn't doing much in the worshipping line just at that moment. She was too busy.
It was a regular triumphal progress for the kid. She and her partner were doing one or two rounds now for exhibition purposes, like the winning couple always do at Geisenheimer's, and the room was fairly rising at them. You'd have thought from the way they were clapping that they had been betting all their spare cash on her.
Charlie gets her well focused, then he lets his jaw drop, till he pretty near bumped it against the floor.
'But—but—but—' he begins.
'I know,' I said. 'It begins to look as if she could dance well enough for the city after all. It begins to look as if she had sort of put one over on somebody, don't it? It begins to look as if it were a pity you didn't think of dancing with her yourself.'
'You come along and have a nice cold drink,' I said, 'and you'll soon pick up.'
He tottered after me to a table, looking as if he had been hit by a street-car. He had got his.
I was so busy looking after Charlie, flapping the towel and working on him with the oxygen, that, if you'll believe me, it wasn't for quite a time that I thought of glancing around to see how the thing had struck Izzy Baermann.
If you can imagine a fond father whose only son has hit him with a brick, jumped on his stomach, and then gone off with all his money, you have a pretty good notion of how poor old Izzy looked. He was staring at me across the room, and talking to himself and jerking his hands about. Whether he thought he was talking to me, or whether he was rehearsing the scene where he broke it to the boss that a mere stranger had got away with his Love-r-ly Silver Cup, I don't know. Whichever it was, he was being mighty eloquent.
I gave him a nod, as much as to say that it would all come right in the future, and then I turned to Charlie again. He was beginning to pick up.
'She won the cup!' he said in a dazed voice, looking at me as if I could do something about it.
'You bet she did!'
'But—well, what do you know about that?'
I saw that the moment had come to put it straight to him. 'I'll tell you what I know about it,' I said. 'If you take my advice, you'll hustle that kid straight back to Ashley—or wherever it is that you said you poison the natives by making up the wrong prescriptions—before she gets New York into her system. When I was talking to her upstairs, she was telling me about a fellow in her village who got it in the neck just the same as you're apt to do.'
He started. 'She was telling you about Jack Tyson?'
'That was his name—Jack Tyson. He lost his wife through letting her have too much New York. Don't you think it's funny she should have mentioned him if she hadn't had some idea that she might act just the same as his wife did?'
He turned quite green.
'You don't think she would do that?'
'Well, if you'd heard her—She couldn't talk of anything except this Tyson, and what his wife did to him. She talked of it sort of sad, kind of regretful, as if she was sorry, but felt that it had to be. I could see she had been thinking about it a whole lot.'
Charlie stiffened in his seat, and then began to melt with pure fright. He took up his empty glass with a shaking hand and drank a long drink out of it. It didn't take much observation to see that he had had the jolt he wanted, and was going to be a whole heap less jaunty and metropolitan from now on. In fact, the way he looked, I should say he had finished with metropolitan jauntiness for the rest of his life.
'I'll take her home tomorrow,' he said. 'But—will she come?'
'That's up to you. If you can persuade her—Here she is now. I should start at once.'
Mrs Charlie, carrying the cup, came to the table. I was wondering what would be the first thing she would say. If it had been Charlie, of course he'd have said, 'This is the life!' but I looked for something snappier from her. If I had been in her place there were at least ten things I could have thought of to say, each nastier than the other.
She sat down and put the cup on the table. Then she gave the cup a long look. Then she drew a deep breath. Then she looked at Charlie.
'Oh, Charlie, dear,' she said, 'I do wish I'd been dancing with you!'
Well, I'm not sure that that wasn't just as good as anything I would have said. Charlie got right off the mark. After what I had told him, he wasn't wasting any time.
'Darling,' he said, humbly, 'you're a wonder! What will they say about this at home?' He did pause here for a moment, for it took nerve to say it; but then he went right on. 'Mary, how would it be if we went home right away—first train tomorrow, and showed it to them?'
'Oh, Charlie!' she said.
His face lit up as if somebody had pulled a switch.
'You will? You don't want to stop on? You aren't wild about New York?'
'If there was a train,' she said, 'I'd start tonight. But I thought you loved the city so, Charlie?'
He gave a kind of shiver. 'I never want to see it again in my life!' he said.
'You'll excuse me,' I said, getting up, 'I think there's a friend of mine wants to speak to me.'
And I crossed over to where Izzy had been standing for the last five minutes, making signals to me with his eyebrows.
You couldn't have called Izzy coherent at first. He certainly had trouble with his vocal chords, poor fellow. There was one of those African explorer men used to come to Geisenheimer's a lot when he was home from roaming the trackless desert, and he used to tell me about tribes he had met who didn't use real words at all, but talked to one another in clicks and gurgles. He imitated some of their chatter one night to amuse me, and, believe me, Izzy Baermann started talking the same language now. Only he didn't do it to amuse me.
He was like one of those gramophone records when it's getting into its stride.
'Be calm, Isadore,' I said. 'Something is troubling you. Tell me all about it.'
He clicked some more, and then he got it out.
'Say, are you crazy? What did you do it for? Didn't I tell you as plain as I could; didn't I say it twenty times, when you came for the tickets, that yours was thirty-six?'
'Didn't you say my friend's was thirty-six?'
'Are you deaf? I said hers was ten.'
'Then,' I said handsomely, 'say no more. The mistake was mine. It begins to look as if I must have got them mixed.'
He did a few Swedish exercises.
'Say no more? That's good! That's great! You've got nerve. I'll say that.'
'It was a lucky mistake, Izzy. It saved your life. The people would have lynched you if you had given me the cup. They were solid for her.'
'What's the boss going to say when I tell him?'
'Never mind what the boss will say. Haven't you any romance in your system, Izzy? Look at those two sitting there with their heads together. Isn't it worth a silver cup to have made them happy for life? They are on their honeymoon, Isadore. Tell the boss exactly how it happened, and say that I thought it was up to Geisenheimer's to give them a wedding-present.'
He clicked for a spell.
'Ah!' he said. 'Ah! now you've done it! Now you've given yourself away! You did it on purpose. You mixed those tickets on purpose. I thought as much. Say, who do you think you are, doing this sort of thing? Don't you know that professional dancers are three for ten cents? I could go out right now and whistle, and get a dozen girls for your job. The boss'll sack you just one minute after I tell him.'
'No, he won't, Izzy, because I'm going to resign.'
'That's what I think. I'm sick of this place, Izzy. I'm sick of dancing. I'm sick of New York. I'm sick of everything. I'm going back to the country. I thought I had got the pigs and chickens clear out of my system, but I hadn't. I've suspected it for a long, long time, and tonight I know it. Tell the boss, with my love, that I'm sorry, but it had to be done. And if he wants to talk back, he must do it by letter: Mrs John Tyson, Rodney, Maine, is the address.'
THE MAKING OF MAC'S
Mac's Restaurant—nobody calls it MacFarland's—is a mystery. It is off the beaten track. It is not smart. It does not advertise. It provides nothing nearer to an orchestra than a solitary piano, yet, with all these things against it, it is a success. In theatrical circles especially it holds a position which might turn the white lights of many a supper-palace green with envy.
This is mysterious. You do not expect Soho to compete with and even eclipse Piccadilly in this way. And when Soho does so compete, there is generally romance of some kind somewhere in the background.
Somebody happened to mention to me casually that Henry, the old waiter, had been at Mac's since its foundation.
'Me?' said Henry, questioned during a slack spell in the afternoon. 'Rather!'
'Then can you tell me what it was that first gave the place the impetus which started it on its upward course? What causes should you say were responsible for its phenomenal prosperity? What—'
'What gave it a leg-up? Is that what you're trying to get at?'
'Exactly. What gave it a leg-up? Can you tell me?'
'Me?' said Henry. 'Rather!'
And he told me this chapter from the unwritten history of the London whose day begins when Nature's finishes.
* * * * *
Old Mr MacFarland (said Henry) started the place fifteen years ago. He was a widower with one son and what you might call half a daughter. That's to say, he had adopted her. Katie was her name, and she was the child of a dead friend of his. The son's name was Andy. A little freckled nipper he was when I first knew him—one of those silent kids that don't say much and have as much obstinacy in them as if they were mules. Many's the time, in them days, I've clumped him on the head and told him to do something; and he didn't run yelling to his pa, same as most kids would have done, but just said nothing and went on not doing whatever it was I had told him to do. That was the sort of disposition Andy had, and it grew on him. Why, when he came back from Oxford College the time the old man sent for him—what I'm going to tell you about soon—he had a jaw on him like the ram of a battleship. Katie was the kid for my money. I liked Katie. We all liked Katie.
Old MacFarland started out with two big advantages. One was Jules, and the other was me. Jules came from Paris, and he was the greatest cook you ever seen. And me—well, I was just come from ten years as waiter at the Guelph, and I won't conceal it from you that I gave the place a tone. I gave Soho something to think about over its chop, believe me. It was a come-down in the world for me, maybe, after the Guelph, but what I said to myself was that, when you get a tip in Soho, it may be only tuppence, but you keep it; whereas at the Guelph about ninety-nine hundredths of it goes to helping to maintain some blooming head waiter in the style to which he has been accustomed. It was through my kind of harping on that fact that me and the Guelph parted company. The head waiter complained to the management the day I called him a fat-headed vampire.
Well, what with me and what with Jules, MacFarland's—it wasn't Mac's in them days—began to get a move on. Old MacFarland, who knew a good man when he saw one and always treated me more like a brother than anything else, used to say to me, 'Henry, if this keeps up, I'll be able to send the boy to Oxford College'; until one day he changed it to, 'Henry, I'm going to send the boy to Oxford College'; and next year, sure enough, off he went.
Katie was sixteen then, and she had just been given the cashier job, as a treat. She wanted to do something to help the old man, so he put her on a high chair behind a wire cage with a hole in it, and she gave the customers their change. And let me tell you, mister, that a man that wasn't satisfied after he'd had me serve him a dinner cooked by Jules and then had a chat with Katie through the wire cage would have groused at Paradise. For she was pretty, was Katie, and getting prettier every day. I spoke to the boss about it. I said it was putting temptation in the girl's way to set her up there right in the public eye, as it were. And he told me to hop it. So I hopped it.
Katie was wild about dancing. Nobody knew it till later, but all this while, it turned out, she was attending regular one of them schools. That was where she went to in the afternoons, when we all thought she was visiting girl friends. It all come out after, but she fooled us then. Girls are like monkeys when it comes to artfulness. She called me Uncle Bill, because she said the name Henry always reminded her of cold mutton. If it had been young Andy that had said it I'd have clumped him one; but he never said anything like that. Come to think of it, he never said anything much at all. He just thought a heap without opening his face.
So young Andy went off to college, and I said to him, 'Now then, you young devil, you be a credit to us, or I'll fetch you a clip when you come home.' And Katie said, 'Oh, Andy, I shall miss you.' And Andy didn't say nothing to me, and he didn't say nothing to Katie, but he gave her a look, and later in the day I found her crying, and she said she'd got toothache, and I went round the corner to the chemist's and brought her something for it.
It was in the middle of Andy's second year at college that the old man had the stroke which put him out of business. He went down under it as if he'd been hit with an axe, and the doctor tells him he'll never be able to leave his bed again.
So they sent for Andy, and he quit his college, and come back to London to look after the restaurant.
I was sorry for the kid. I told him so in a fatherly kind of way. And he just looked at me and says, 'Thanks very much, Henry.'
'What must be must be,' I says. 'Maybe, it's all for the best. Maybe it's better you're here than in among all those young devils in your Oxford school what might be leading you astray.'
'If you would think less of me and more of your work, Henry,' he says, 'perhaps that gentleman over there wouldn't have to shout sixteen times for the waiter.'
Which, on looking into it, I found to be the case, and he went away without giving me no tip, which shows what you lose in a hard world by being sympathetic.
I'm bound to say that young Andy showed us all jolly quick that he hadn't come home just to be an ornament about the place. There was exactly one boss in the restaurant, and it was him. It come a little hard at first to have to be respectful to a kid whose head you had spent many a happy hour clumping for his own good in the past; but he pretty soon showed me I could do it if I tried, and I done it. As for Jules and the two young fellers that had been taken on to help me owing to increase of business, they would jump through hoops and roll over if he just looked at them. He was a boy who liked his own way, was Andy, and, believe me, at MacFarland's Restaurant he got it.
And then, when things had settled down into a steady jog, Katie took the bit in her teeth.
She done it quite quiet and unexpected one afternoon when there was only me and her and Andy in the place. And I don't think either of them knew I was there, for I was taking an easy on a chair at the back, reading an evening paper.
She said, kind of quiet, 'Oh, Andy.'
'Yes, darling,' he said.
And that was the first I knew that there was anything between them.
'Andy, I've something to tell you.'
'What is it?'
She kind of hesitated.
'Andy, dear, I shan't be able to help any more in the restaurant.'
He looked at her, sort of surprised.
'What do you mean?'
'I'm—I'm going on the stage.'
I put down my paper. What do you mean? Did I listen? Of course I listened. What do you take me for?
From where I sat I could see young Andy's face, and I didn't need any more to tell me there was going to be trouble. That jaw of his was right out. I forgot to tell you that the old man had died, poor old feller, maybe six months before, so that now Andy was the real boss instead of just acting boss; and what's more, in the nature of things, he was, in a manner of speaking, Katie's guardian, with power to tell her what she could do and what she couldn't. And I felt that Katie wasn't going to have any smooth passage with this stage business which she was giving him. Andy didn't hold with the stage—not with any girl he was fond of being on it anyway. And when Andy didn't like a thing he said so.
He said so now.
'You aren't going to do anything of the sort.'
'Don't be horrid about it, Andy dear. I've got a big chance. Why should you be horrid about it?'
'I'm not going to argue about it. You don't go.'
'But it's such a big chance. And I've been working for it for years.'
'How do you mean working for it?'
And then it came out about this dancing-school she'd been attending regular.
When she'd finished telling him about it, he just shoved out his jaw another inch.
'You aren't going on the stage.'
'But it's such a chance. I saw Mr Mandelbaum yesterday, and he saw me dance, and he was very pleased, and said he would give me a solo dance to do in this new piece he's putting on.'
'You aren't going on the stage.'
What I always say is, you can't beat tact. If you're smooth and tactful you can get folks to do anything you want; but if you just shove your jaw out at them, and order them about, why, then they get their backs up and sauce you. I knew Katie well enough to know that she would do anything for Andy, if he asked her properly; but she wasn't going to stand this sort of thing. But you couldn't drive that into the head of a feller like young Andy with a steam-hammer.
She flared up, quick, as if she couldn't hold herself in no longer.
'I certainly am,' she said.
'You know what it means?'
'What does it mean?'
'The end of—everything.'
She kind of blinked as if he'd hit her, then she chucks her chin up.
'Very well,' she says. 'Good-bye.'
'Good-bye,' says Andy, the pig-headed young mule; and she walks out one way and he walks out another.
* * * * *
I don't follow the drama much as a general rule, but seeing that it was now, so to speak, in the family, I did keep an eye open for the newspaper notices of 'The Rose Girl', which was the name of the piece which Mr Mandelbaum was letting Katie do a solo dance in; and while some of them cussed the play considerable, they all gave Katie a nice word. One feller said that she was like cold water on the morning after, which is high praise coming from a newspaper man.
There wasn't a doubt about it. She was a success. You see, she was something new, and London always sits up and takes notice when you give it that.
There were pictures of her in the papers, and one evening paper had a piece about 'How I Preserve My Youth' signed by her. I cut it out and showed it to Andy.
He gave it a look. Then he gave me a look, and I didn't like his eye.
'Well?' he says.
'Pardon,' I says.
'What about it?' he says.
'I don't know,' I says.
'Get back to your work,' he says.
So I got back.
It was that same night that the queer thing happened.
We didn't do much in the supper line at MacFarland's as a rule in them days, but we kept open, of course, in case Soho should take it into its head to treat itself to a welsh rabbit before going to bed; so all hands was on deck, ready for the call if it should come, at half past eleven that night; but we weren't what you might term sanguine.
Well, just on the half-hour, up drives a taxicab, and in comes a party of four. There was a nut, another nut, a girl, and another girl. And the second girl was Katie.
'Hallo, Uncle Bill!' she says.
'Good evening, madam,' I says dignified, being on duty.
'Oh, stop it, Uncle Bill,' she says. 'Say "Hallo!" to a pal, and smile prettily, or I'll tell them about the time you went to the White City.'
Well, there's some bygones that are best left bygones, and the night at the White City what she was alluding to was one of them. I still maintain, as I always shall maintain, that the constable had no right to—but, there, it's a story that wouldn't interest you. And, anyway, I was glad to see Katie again, so I give her a smile.
'Not so much of it,' I says. 'Not so much of it. I'm glad to see you, Katie.'
'Three cheers! Jimmy, I want to introduce you to my friend, Uncle Bill. Ted, this is Uncle Bill. Violet, this is Uncle Bill.'
It wasn't my place to fetch her one on the side of the head, but I'd of liked to have; for she was acting like she'd never used to act when I knew her—all tough and bold. Then it come to me that she was nervous. And natural, too, seeing young Andy might pop out any moment.
And sure enough out he popped from the back room at that very instant. Katie looked at him, and he looked at Katie, and I seen his face get kind of hard; but he didn't say a word. And presently he went out again.
I heard Katie breathe sort of deep.
'He's looking well, Uncle Bill, ain't he?' she says to me, very soft.
'Pretty fair,' I says. 'Well, kid, I been reading the pieces in the papers. You've knocked 'em.'
'Ah, don't Bill,' she says, as if I'd hurt her. And me meaning only to say the civil thing. Girls are rum.
When the party had paid their bill and give me a tip which made me think I was back at the Guelph again—only there weren't any Dick Turpin of a head waiter standing by for his share—they hopped it. But Katie hung back and had a word with me.
'He was looking well, wasn't he, Uncle Bill?'
'Does—does he ever speak of me?'
'I ain't heard him.'
'I suppose he's still pretty angry with me, isn't he, Uncle Bill? You're sure you've never heard him speak of me?'
So, to cheer her up, I tells her about the piece in the paper I showed him; but it didn't seem to cheer her up any. And she goes out.
The very next night in she come again for supper, but with different nuts and different girls. There was six of them this time, counting her. And they'd hardly sat down at their table, when in come the fellers she had called Jimmy and Ted with two girls. And they sat eating of their suppers and chaffing one another across the floor, all as pleasant and sociable as you please.
'I say, Katie,' I heard one of the nuts say, 'you were right. He's worth the price of admission.'
I don't know who they meant, but they all laughed. And every now and again I'd hear them praising the food, which I don't wonder at, for Jules had certainly done himself proud. All artistic temperament, these Frenchmen are. The moment I told him we had company, so to speak, he blossomed like a flower does when you put it in water.
'Ah, see, at last!' he says, trying to grab me and kiss me. 'Our fame has gone abroad in the world which amuses himself, ain't it? For a good supper connexion I have always prayed, and he has arrived.'
Well, it did begin to look as if he was right. Ten high-class supper-folk in an evening was pretty hot stuff for MacFarland's. I'm bound to say I got excited myself. I can't deny that I missed the Guelph at times.
On the fifth night, when the place was fairly packed and looked for all the world like Oddy's or Romano's, and me and the two young fellers helping me was working double tides, I suddenly understood, and I went up to Katie and, bending over her very respectful with a bottle, I whispers, 'Hot stuff, kid. This is a jolly fine boom you're working for the old place.' And by the way she smiled back at me, I seen I had guessed right.
Andy was hanging round, keeping an eye on things, as he always done, and I says to him, when I was passing, 'She's doing us proud, bucking up the old place, ain't she?' And he says, 'Get on with your work.' And I got on.
Katie hung back at the door, when she was on her way out, and had a word with me.
'Has he said anything about me, Uncle Bill?'
'Not a word,' I says.
And she goes out.
You've probably noticed about London, mister, that a flock of sheep isn't in it with the nuts, the way they all troop on each other's heels to supper-places. One month they're all going to one place, next month to another. Someone in the push starts the cry that he's found a new place, and off they all go to try it. The trouble with most of the places is that once they've got the custom they think it's going to keep on coming and all they've got to do is to lean back and watch it come. Popularity comes in at the door, and good food and good service flies out at the window. We wasn't going to have any of that at MacFarland's. Even if it hadn't been that Andy would have come down like half a ton of bricks on the first sign of slackness, Jules and me both of us had our professional reputations to keep up. I didn't give myself no airs when I seen things coming our way. I worked all the harder, and I seen to it that the four young fellers under me—there was four now—didn't lose no time fetching of the orders.
The consequence was that the difference between us and most popular restaurants was that we kept our popularity. We fed them well, and we served them well; and once the thing had started rolling it didn't stop. Soho isn't so very far away from the centre of things, when you come to look at it, and they didn't mind the extra step, seeing that there was something good at the end of it. So we got our popularity, and we kept our popularity; and we've got it to this day. That's how MacFarland's came to be what it is, mister.
* * * * *
With the air of one who has told a well-rounded tale, Henry ceased, and observed that it was wonderful the way Mr Woodward, of Chelsea, preserved his skill in spite of his advanced years.
I stared at him.
'But, heavens, man!' I cried, 'you surely don't think you've finished? What about Katie and Andy? What happened to them? Did they ever come together again?'
'Oh, ah,' said Henry, 'I was forgetting!'
And he resumed.
* * * * *
As time went on, I begin to get pretty fed up with young Andy. He was making a fortune as fast as any feller could out of the sudden boom in the supper-custom, and he knowing perfectly well that if it hadn't of been for Katie there wouldn't of been any supper-custom at all; and you'd of thought that anyone claiming to be a human being would have had the gratitood to forgive and forget and go over and say a civil word to Katie when she come in. But no, he just hung round looking black at all of them; and one night he goes and fairly does it.
The place was full that night, and Katie was there, and the piano going, and everybody enjoying themselves, when the young feller at the piano struck up the tune what Katie danced to in the show. Catchy tune it was. 'Lum-tum-tum, tiddle-iddle-um.' Something like that it went. Well, the young feller struck up with it, and everybody begin clapping and hammering on the tables and hollering to Katie to get up and dance; which she done, in an open space in the middle, and she hadn't hardly started when along come young Andy.
He goes up to her, all jaw, and I seen something that wanted dusting on the table next to 'em, so I went up and began dusting it, so by good luck I happened to hear the whole thing.
He says to her, very quiet, 'You can't do that here. What do you think this place is?'
And she says to him, 'Oh, Andy!'
'I'm very much obliged to you,' he says, 'for all the trouble you seem to be taking, but it isn't necessary. MacFarland's got on very well before your well-meant efforts to turn it into a bear-garden.'
And him coining the money from the supper-custom! Sometimes I think gratitood's a thing of the past and this world not fit for a self-respecting rattlesnake to live in.
'Andy!' she says.
'That's all. We needn't argue about it. If you want to come here and have supper, I can't stop you. But I'm not going to have the place turned into a night-club.'
I don't know when I've heard anything like it. If it hadn't of been that I hadn't of got the nerve, I'd have give him a look.
Katie didn't say another word, but just went back to her table.
But the episode, as they say, wasn't conclooded. As soon as the party she was with seen that she was through dancing, they begin to kick up a row; and one young nut with about an inch and a quarter of forehead and the same amount of chin kicked it up especial.
'No, I say! I say, you know!' he hollered. 'That's too bad, you know. Encore! Don't stop. Encore!'
Andy goes up to him.
'I must ask you, please, not to make so much noise,' he says, quite respectful. 'You are disturbing people.'
'Disturbing be damned! Why shouldn't she—'
'One moment. You can make all the noise you please out in the street, but as long as you stay in here you'll be quiet. Do you understand?'
Up jumps the nut. He'd had quite enough to drink. I know, because I'd been serving him.
'Who the devil are you?' he says.
'Sit down,' says Andy.
And the young feller took a smack at him. And the next moment Andy had him by the collar and was chucking him out in a way that would have done credit to a real professional down Whitechapel way. He dumped him on the pavement as neat as you please.
That broke up the party.
You can never tell with restaurants. What kills one makes another. I've no doubt that if we had chucked out a good customer from the Guelph that would have been the end of the place. But it only seemed to do MacFarland's good. I guess it gave just that touch to the place which made the nuts think that this was real Bohemia. Come to think of it, it does give a kind of charm to a place, if you feel that at any moment the feller at the next table to you may be gathered up by the slack of his trousers and slung into the street.
Anyhow, that's the way our supper-custom seemed to look at it; and after that you had to book a table in advance if you wanted to eat with us. They fairly flocked to the place.
But Katie didn't. She didn't flock. She stayed away. And no wonder, after Andy behaving so bad. I'd of spoke to him about it, only he wasn't the kind of feller you do speak to about things.
One day I says to him to cheer him up, 'What price this restaurant now, Mr Andy?'
'Curse the restaurant,' he says.
And him with all that supper-custom! It's a rum world!
Mister, have you ever had a real shock—something that came out of nowhere and just knocked you flat? I have, and I'm going to tell you about it.
When a man gets to be my age, and has a job of work which keeps him busy till it's time for him to go to bed, he gets into the habit of not doing much worrying about anything that ain't shoved right under his nose. That's why, about now, Katie had kind of slipped my mind. It wasn't that I wasn't fond of the kid, but I'd got so much to think about, what with having four young fellers under me and things being in such a rush at the restaurant that, if I thought of her at all, I just took it for granted that she was getting along all right, and didn't bother. To be sure we hadn't seen nothing of her at MacFarland's since the night when Andy bounced her pal with the small size in foreheads, but that didn't worry me. If I'd been her, I'd have stopped away the same as she done, seeing that young Andy still had his hump. I took it for granted, as I'm telling you, that she was all right, and that the reason we didn't see nothing of her was that she was taking her patronage elsewhere.
And then, one evening, which happened to be my evening off, I got a letter, and for ten minutes after I read it I was knocked flat.
You get to believe in fate when you get to be my age, and fate certainly had taken a hand in this game. If it hadn't of been my evening off, don't you see, I wouldn't have got home till one o'clock or past that in the morning, being on duty. Whereas, seeing it was my evening off, I was back at half past eight.
I was living at the same boarding-house in Bloomsbury what I'd lived at for the past ten years, and when I got there I find her letter shoved half under my door.
I can tell you every word of it. This is how it went:
Darling Uncle Bill,
Don't be too sorry when you read this. It is nobody's fault, but I am just tired of everything, and I want to end it all. You have been such a dear to me always that I want you to be good to me now. I should not like Andy to know the truth, so I want you to make it seem as if it had happened naturally. You will do this for me, won't you? It will be quite easy. By the time you get this, it will be one, and it will all be over, and you can just come up and open the window and let the gas out and then everyone will think I just died naturally. It will be quite easy. I am leaving the door unlocked so that you can get in. I am in the room just above yours. I took it yesterday, so as to be near you. Good-bye, Uncle Bill. You will do it for me, won't you? I don't want Andy to know what it really was.
That was it, mister, and I tell you it floored me. And then it come to me, kind of as a new idea, that I'd best do something pretty soon, and up the stairs I went quick.
There she was, on the bed, with her eyes closed, and the gas just beginning to get bad.
As I come in, she jumped up, and stood staring at me. I went to the tap, and turned the flow off, and then I gives her a look.
'Now then,' I says.
'How did you get here?'
'Never mind how I got here. What have you got to say for yourself?'
She just began to cry, same as she used to when she was a kid and someone had hurt her.
'Here,' I says, 'let's get along out of here, and go where there's some air to breathe. Don't you take on so. You come along out and tell me all about it.'
She started to walk to where I was, and suddenly I seen she was limping. So I gave her a hand down to my room, and set her on a chair.
'Now then,' I says again.
'Don't be angry with me, Uncle Bill,' she says.
And she looks at me so pitiful that I goes up to her and puts my arm round her and pats her on the back.
'Don't you worry, dearie,' I says, 'nobody ain't going to be angry with you. But, for goodness' sake,' I says, 'tell a man why in the name of goodness you ever took and acted so foolish.'
'I wanted to end it all.'
She burst out a-crying again, like a kid.
'Didn't you read about it in the paper, Uncle Bill?'
'Read about what in the paper?'
'My accident. I broke my ankle at rehearsal ever so long ago, practising my new dance. The doctors say it will never be right again. I shall never be able to dance any more. I shall always limp. I shan't even be able to walk properly. And when I thought of that ... and Andy ... and everything ... I....'
I got on to my feet.
'Well, well, well,' I says. 'Well, well, well! I don't know as I blame you. But don't you do it. It's a mug's game. Look here, if I leave you alone for half an hour, you won't go trying it on again? Promise.'
'Very well, Uncle Bill. Where are you going?'
'Oh, just out. I'll be back soon. You sit there and rest yourself.'
It didn't take me ten minutes to get to the restaurant in a cab. I found Andy in the back room.
'What's the matter, Henry?' he says.
'Take a look at this,' I says.
There's always this risk, mister, in being the Andy type of feller what must have his own way and goes straight ahead and has it; and that is that when trouble does come to him, it comes with a rush. It sometimes seems to me that in this life we've all got to have trouble sooner or later, and some of us gets it bit by bit, spread out thin, so to speak, and a few of us gets it in a lump—biff! And that was what happened to Andy, and what I knew was going to happen when I showed him that letter. I nearly says to him, 'Brace up, young feller, because this is where you get it.'
I don't often go to the theatre, but when I do I like one of those plays with some ginger in them which the papers generally cuss. The papers say that real human beings don't carry on in that way. Take it from me, mister, they do. I seen a feller on the stage read a letter once which didn't just suit him; and he gasped and rolled his eyes and tried to say something and couldn't, and had to get a hold on a chair to keep him from falling. There was a piece in the paper saying that this was all wrong, and that he wouldn't of done them things in real life. Believe me, the paper was wrong. There wasn't a thing that feller did that Andy didn't do when he read that letter.
'God!' he says. 'Is she ... She isn't.... Were you in time?' he says.
And he looks at me, and I seen that he had got it in the neck, right enough.
'If you mean is she dead,' I says, 'no, she ain't dead.'
'Not yet,' I says.
And the next moment we was out of that room and in the cab and moving quick.
He was never much of a talker, wasn't Andy, and he didn't chat in that cab. He didn't say a word till we was going up the stairs.
'Where?' he says.
'Here,' I says.
And I opens the door.
Katie was standing looking out of the window. She turned as the door opened, and then she saw Andy. Her lips parted, as if she was going to say something, but she didn't say nothing. And Andy, he didn't say nothing, neither. He just looked, and she just looked.
And then he sort of stumbles across the room, and goes down on his knees, and gets his arms around her.
'Oh, my kid' he says.
* * * * *
And I seen I wasn't wanted, so I shut the door, and I hopped it. I went and saw the last half of a music-hall. But, I don't know, it didn't kind of have no fascination for me. You've got to give your mind to it to appreciate good music-hall turns.
ONE TOUCH OF NATURE
The feelings of Mr J. Wilmot Birdsey, as he stood wedged in the crowd that moved inch by inch towards the gates of the Chelsea Football Ground, rather resembled those of a starving man who has just been given a meal but realizes that he is not likely to get another for many days. He was full and happy. He bubbled over with the joy of living and a warm affection for his fellow-man. At the back of his mind there lurked the black shadow of future privations, but for the moment he did not allow it to disturb him. On this maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year he was content to revel in the present and allow the future to take care of itself.
Mr Birdsey had been doing something which he had not done since he left New York five years ago. He had been watching a game of baseball.
New York lost a great baseball fan when Hugo Percy de Wynter Framlinghame, sixth Earl of Carricksteed, married Mae Elinor, only daughter of Mr and Mrs J. Wilmot Birdsey of East Seventy-Third Street; for scarcely had that internationally important event taken place when Mrs Birdsey, announcing that for the future the home would be in England as near as possible to dear Mae and dear Hugo, scooped J. Wilmot out of his comfortable morris chair as if he had been a clam, corked him up in a swift taxicab, and decanted him into a Deck B stateroom on the Olympic. And there he was, an exile.
Mr Birdsey submitted to the worst bit of kidnapping since the days of the old press gang with that delightful amiability which made him so popular among his fellows and such a cypher in his home. At an early date in his married life his position had been clearly defined beyond possibility of mistake. It was his business to make money, and, when called upon, to jump through hoops and sham dead at the bidding of his wife and daughter Mae. These duties he had been performing conscientiously for a matter of twenty years.
It was only occasionally that his humble role jarred upon him, for he loved his wife and idolized his daughter. The international alliance had been one of these occasions. He had no objection to Hugo Percy, sixth Earl of Carricksteed. The crushing blow had been the sentence of exile. He loved baseball with a love passing the love of women, and the prospect of never seeing a game again in his life appalled him.
And then, one morning, like a voice from another world, had come the news that the White Sox and the Giants were to give an exhibition in London at the Chelsea Football Ground. He had counted the days like a child before Christmas.
There had been obstacles to overcome before he could attend the game, but he had overcome them, and had been seated in the front row when the two teams lined up before King George.
And now he was moving slowly from the ground with the rest of the spectators. Fate had been very good to him. It had given him a great game, even unto two home-runs. But its crowning benevolence had been to allot the seats on either side of him to two men of his own mettle, two god-like beings who knew every move on the board, and howled like wolves when they did not see eye to eye with the umpire. Long before the ninth innings he was feeling towards them the affection of a shipwrecked mariner who meets a couple of boyhood's chums on a desert island.
As he shouldered his way towards the gate he was aware of these two men, one on either side of him. He looked at them fondly, trying to make up his mind which of them he liked best. It was sad to think that they must soon go out of his life again for ever.
He came to a sudden resolution. He would postpone the parting. He would ask them to dinner. Over the best that the Savoy Hotel could provide they would fight the afternoon's battle over again. He did not know who they were or anything about them, but what did that matter? They were brother-fans. That was enough for him.
The man on his right was young, clean-shaven, and of a somewhat vulturine cast of countenance. His face was cold and impassive now, almost forbiddingly so; but only half an hour before it had been a battle-field of conflicting emotions, and his hat still showed the dent where he had banged it against the edge of his seat on the occasion of Mr Daly's home-run. A worthy guest!
The man on Mr Birdsey's left belonged to another species of fan. Though there had been times during the game when he had howled, for the most part he had watched in silence so hungrily tense that a less experienced observer than Mr Birdsey might have attributed his immobility to boredom. But one glance at his set jaw and gleaming eyes told him that here also was a man and a brother.
This man's eyes were still gleaming, and under their curiously deep tan his bearded cheeks were pale. He was staring straight in front of him with an unseeing gaze.
Mr Birdsey tapped the young man on the shoulder.
'Some game!' he said.
The young man looked at him and smiled.
'You bet,' he said.
'I haven't seen a ball-game in five years.'
'The last one I saw was two years ago next June.'
'Come and have some dinner at my hotel and talk it over,' said Mr Birdsey impulsively.
'Sure!' said the young man.
Mr Birdsey turned and tapped the shoulder of the man on his left.
The result was a little unexpected. The man gave a start that was almost a leap, and the pallor of his face became a sickly white. His eyes, as he swung round, met Mr Birdsey's for an instant before they dropped, and there was panic fear in them. His breath whistled softly through clenched teeth.
Mr Birdsey was taken aback. The cordiality of the clean-shaven young man had not prepared him for the possibility of such a reception. He felt chilled. He was on the point of apologizing with some murmur about a mistake, when the man reassured him by smiling. It was rather a painful smile, but it was enough for Mr Birdsey. This man might be of a nervous temperament, but his heart was in the right place.
He, too, smiled. He was a small, stout, red-faced little man, and he possessed a smile that rarely failed to set strangers at their ease. Many strenuous years on the New York Stock Exchange had not destroyed a certain childlike amiability in Mr Birdsey, and it shone out when he smiled at you.
'I'm afraid I startled you,' he said soothingly. 'I wanted to ask you if you would let a perfect stranger, who also happens to be an exile, offer you dinner tonight.'
The man winced. 'Exile?'
'An exiled fan. Don't you feel that the Polo Grounds are a good long way away? This gentleman is joining me. I have a suite at the Savoy Hotel, and I thought we might all have a quiet little dinner there and talk about the game. I haven't seen a ball-game in five years.'
'Nor have I.'
'Then you must come. You really must. We fans ought to stick to one another in a strange land. Do come.'
'Thank you,' said the bearded man; 'I will.'
When three men, all strangers, sit down to dinner together, conversation, even if they happen to have a mutual passion for baseball, is apt to be for a while a little difficult. The first fine frenzy in which Mr Birdsey had issued his invitations had begun to ebb by the time the soup was served, and he was conscious of a feeling of embarrassment.
There was some subtle hitch in the orderly progress of affairs. He sensed it in the air. Both of his guests were disposed to silence, and the clean-shaven young man had developed a trick of staring at the man with the beard, which was obviously distressing that sensitive person.
'Wine,' murmured Mr Birdsey to the waiter. 'Wine, wine!'
He spoke with the earnestness of a general calling up his reserves for the grand attack. The success of this little dinner mattered enormously to him. There were circumstances which were going to make it an oasis in his life. He wanted it to be an occasion to which, in grey days to come, he could look back and be consoled. He could not let it be a failure.
He was about to speak when the young man anticipated him. Leaning forward, he addressed the bearded man, who was crumbling bread with an absent look in his eyes.
'Surely we have met before?' he said. 'I'm sure I remember your face.'
The effect of these words on the other was as curious as the effect of Mr Birdsey's tap on the shoulder had been. He looked up like a hunted animal.
He shook his head without speaking.
'Curious,' said the young man. 'I could have sworn to it, and I am positive that it was somewhere in New York. Do you come from New York?'
'It seems to me,' said Mr Birdsey, 'that we ought to introduce ourselves. Funny it didn't strike any of us before. My name is Birdsey, J. Wilmot Birdsey. I come from New York.'
'My name is Waterall,' said the young man. 'I come from New York.'
The bearded man hesitated.
'My name is Johnson. I—used to live in New York.'
'Where do you live now, Mr Johnson?' asked Waterall.
The bearded man hesitated again. 'Algiers,' he said.
Mr Birdsey was inspired to help matters along with small-talk.
'Algiers,' he said. 'I have never been there, but I understand that it is quite a place. Are you in business there, Mr Johnson?'
'I live there for my health.'
'Have you been there some time?' inquired Waterall.
'Then it must have been in New York that I saw you, for I have never been to Algiers, and I'm certain I have seen you somewhere. I'm afraid you will think me a bore for sticking to the point like this, but the fact is, the one thing I pride myself on is my memory for faces. It's a hobby of mine. If I think I remember a face, and can't place it, I worry myself into insomnia. It's partly sheer vanity, and partly because in my job a good memory for faces is a mighty fine asset. It has helped me a hundred times.'
Mr Birdsey was an intelligent man, and he could see that Waterall's table-talk was for some reason getting upon Johnson's nerves. Like a good host, he endeavoured to cut in and make things smooth.
'I've heard great accounts of Algiers,' he said helpfully. 'A friend of mine was there in his yacht last year. It must be a delightful spot.'
'It's a hell on earth,' snapped Johnson, and slew the conversation on the spot.
Through a grim silence an angel in human form fluttered in—a waiter bearing a bottle. The pop of the cork was more than music to Mr Birdsey's ears. It was the booming of the guns of the relieving army.
The first glass, as first glasses will, thawed the bearded man, to the extent of inducing him to try and pick up the fragments of the conversation which he had shattered.
'I am afraid you will have thought me abrupt, Mr Birdsey,' he said awkwardly; 'but then you haven't lived in Algiers for five years, and I have.'
Mr Birdsey chirruped sympathetically.
'I liked it at first. It looked mighty good to me. But five years of it, and nothing else to look forward to till you die....'
He stopped, and emptied his glass. Mr Birdsey was still perturbed. True, conversation was proceeding in a sort of way, but it had taken a distinctly gloomy turn. Slightly flushed with the excellent champagne which he had selected for this important dinner, he endeavoured to lighten it.
'I wonder,' he said, 'which of us three fans had the greatest difficulty in getting to the bleachers today. I guess none of us found it too easy.'
The young man shook his head.
'Don't count on me to contribute a romantic story to this Arabian Night's Entertainment. My difficulty would have been to stop away. My name's Waterall, and I'm the London correspondent of the New York Chronicle. I had to be there this afternoon in the way of business.'
Mr Birdsey giggled self-consciously, but not without a certain impish pride.
'The laugh will be on me when you hear my confession. My daughter married an English earl, and my wife brought me over here to mix with his crowd. There was a big dinner-party tonight, at which the whole gang were to be present, and it was as much as my life was worth to side-step it. But when you get the Giants and the White Sox playing ball within fifty miles of you—Well, I packed a grip and sneaked out the back way, and got to the station and caught the fast train to London. And what is going on back there at this moment I don't like to think. About now,' said Mr Birdsey, looking at his watch, 'I guess they'll be pronging the hors d'oeuvres and gazing at the empty chair. It was a shame to do it, but, for the love of Mike, what else could I have done?'
He looked at the bearded man.
'Did you have any adventures, Mr Johnson?'
'No. I—I just came.'
The young man Waterall leaned forward. His manner was quiet, but his eyes were glittering.
'Wasn't that enough of an adventure for you?' he said.
Their eyes met across the table. Seated between them, Mr Birdsey looked from one to the other, vaguely disturbed. Something was happening, a drama was going on, and he had not the key to it.
Johnson's face was pale, and the tablecloth crumpled into a crooked ridge under his fingers, but his voice was steady as he replied:
'I don't understand.'
'Will you understand if I give you your right name, Mr Benyon?'
'What's all this?' said Mr Birdsey feebly.
Waterall turned to him, the vulturine cast of his face more noticeable than ever. Mr Birdsey was conscious of a sudden distaste for this young man.
'It's quite simple, Mr Birdsey. If you have not been entertaining angels unawares, you have at least been giving a dinner to a celebrity. I told you I was sure I had seen this gentleman before. I have just remembered where, and when. This is Mr John Benyon, and I last saw him five years ago when I was a reporter in New York, and covered his trial.'
'He robbed the New Asiatic Bank of a hundred thousand dollars, jumped his bail, and was never heard of again.'
'For the love of Mike!'
Mr Birdsey stared at his guest with eyes that grew momently wider. He was amazed to find that deep down in him there was an unmistakable feeling of elation. He had made up his mind, when he left home that morning, that this was to be a day of days. Well, nobody could call this an anti-climax.
'So that's why you have been living in Algiers?'
Benyon did not reply. Outside, the Strand traffic sent a faint murmur into the warm, comfortable room.
Waterall spoke. 'What on earth induced you, Benyon, to run the risk of coming to London, where every second man you meet is a New Yorker, I can't understand. The chances were two to one that you would be recognized. You made a pretty big splash with that little affair of yours five years ago.'
Benyon raised his head. His hands were trembling.
'I'll tell you,' he said with a kind of savage force, which hurt kindly little Mr Birdsey like a blow. 'It was because I was a dead man, and saw a chance of coming to life for a day; because I was sick of the damned tomb I've been living in for five centuries; because I've been aching for New York ever since I've left it—and here was a chance of being back there for a few hours. I knew there was a risk. I took a chance on it. Well?'
Mr Birdsey's heart was almost too full for words. He had found him at last, the Super-Fan, the man who would go through fire and water for a sight of a game of baseball. Till that moment he had been regarding himself as the nearest approach to that dizzy eminence. He had braved great perils to see this game. Even in this moment his mind would not wholly detach itself from speculation as to what his wife would say to him when he slunk back into the fold. But what had he risked compared with this man Benyon? Mr Birdsey glowed. He could not restrain his sympathy and admiration. True, the man was a criminal. He had robbed a bank of a hundred thousand dollars. But, after all, what was that? They would probably have wasted the money in foolishness. And, anyway, a bank which couldn't take care of its money deserved to lose it.
Mr Birdsey felt almost a righteous glow of indignation against the New Asiatic Bank.
He broke the silence which had followed Benyon's words with a peculiarly immoral remark:
'Well, it's lucky it's only us that's recognized you,' he said.
Waterall stared. 'Are you proposing that we should hush this thing up, Mr Birdsey?' he said coldly.
Waterall rose and went to the telephone.
'What are you going to do?'
'Call up Scotland Yard, of course. What did you think?'
Undoubtedly the young man was doing his duty as a citizen, yet it is to be recorded that Mr Birdsey eyed him with unmixed horror.
'You can't! You mustn't!' he cried.
'I certainly shall.'
'But—but—this fellow came all that way to see the ball-game.'
It seemed incredible to Mr Birdsey that this aspect of the affair should not be the one to strike everybody to the exclusion of all other aspects.
'You can't give him up. It's too raw.'
'He's a convicted criminal.'
'He's a fan. Why, say, he's the fan.'
Waterall shrugged his shoulders, and walked to the telephone. Benyon spoke.
Waterall turned, and found himself looking into the muzzle of a small pistol. He laughed.
'I expected that. Wave it about all you want'
Benyon rested his shaking hand on the edge of the table.
'I'll shoot if you move.'
'You won't. You haven't the nerve. There's nothing to you. You're just a cheap crook, and that's all. You wouldn't find the nerve to pull that trigger in a million years.'
He took off the receiver.
'Give me Scotland Yard,' he said.
He had turned his back to Benyon. Benyon sat motionless. Then, with a thud, the pistol fell to the ground. The next moment Benyon had broken down. His face was buried in his arms, and he was a wreck of a man, sobbing like a hurt child.
Mr Birdsey was profoundly distressed. He sat tingling and helpless. This was a nightmare.
Waterall's level voice spoke at the telephone.
'Is this Scotland Yard? I am Waterall, of the New York Chronicle. Is Inspector Jarvis there? Ask him to come to the phone.... Is that you, Jarvis? This is Waterall. I'm speaking from the Savoy, Mr Birdsey's rooms. Birdsey. Listen, Jarvis. There's a man here that's wanted by the American police. Send someone here and get him. Benyon. Robbed the New Asiatic Bank in New York. Yes, you've a warrant out for him, five years old.... All right.'
He hung up the receiver. Benyon sprang to his feet. He stood, shaking, a pitiable sight. Mr Birdsey had risen with him. They stood looking at Waterall.
'You—skunk!' said Mr Birdsey.
'I'm an American citizen,' said Waterall, 'and I happen to have some idea of a citizen's duties. What is more, I'm a newspaper man, and I have some idea of my duty to my paper. Call me what you like, you won't alter that.'
Mr Birdsey snorted.
'You're suffering from ingrowing sentimentality, Mr Birdsey. That's what's the matter with you. Just because this man has escaped justice for five years, you think he ought to be considered quit of the whole thing.'
He took out his cigarette case. He was feeling a great deal more strung-up and nervous than he would have had the others suspect. He had had a moment of very swift thinking before he had decided to treat that ugly little pistol in a spirit of contempt. Its production had given him a decided shock, and now he was suffering from reaction. As a consequence, because his nerves were strained, he lit his cigarette very languidly, very carefully, and with an offensive superiority which was to Mr Birdsey the last straw.
These things are matters of an instant. Only an infinitesimal fraction of time elapsed between the spectacle of Mr Birdsey, indignant but inactive, and Mr Birdsey berserk, seeing red, frankly and undisguisedly running amok. The transformation took place in the space of time required for the lighting of a match.
Even as the match gave out its flame, Mr Birdsey sprang.
Aeons before, when the young blood ran swiftly in his veins and life was all before him, Mr Birdsey had played football. Once a footballer, always a potential footballer, even to the grave. Time had removed the flying tackle as a factor in Mr Birdsey's life. Wrath brought it back. He dived at young Mr Waterall's neatly trousered legs as he had dived at other legs, less neatly trousered, thirty years ago. They crashed to the floor together; and with the crash came Mr Birdsey's shout:
'Run! Run, you fool! Run!'
And, even as he clung to his man, breathless, bruised, feeling as if all the world had dissolved in one vast explosion of dynamite, the door opened, banged to, and feet fled down the passage.
Mr Birdsey disentangled himself, and rose painfully. The shock had brought him to himself. He was no longer berserk. He was a middle-aged gentleman of high respectability who had been behaving in a very peculiar way.
Waterall, flushed and dishevelled, glared at him speechlessly. He gulped. 'Are you crazy?'
Mr Birdsey tested gingerly the mechanism of a leg which lay under suspicion of being broken. Relieved, he put his foot to the ground again. He shook his head at Waterall. He was slightly crumpled, but he achieved a manner of dignified reproof.
'You shouldn't have done it, young man. It was raw work. Oh, yes, I know all about that duty-of-a-citizen stuff. It doesn't go. There are exceptions to every rule, and this was one of them. When a man risks his liberty to come and root at a ball-game, you've got to hand it to him. He isn't a crook. He's a fan. And we exiled fans have got to stick together.'
Waterall was quivering with fury, disappointment, and the peculiar unpleasantness of being treated by an elderly gentleman like a sack of coals. He stammered with rage.
'You damned old fool, do you realize what you've done? The police will be here in another minute.'
'Let them come.'
'But what am I to say to them? What explanation can I give? What story can I tell them? Can't you see what a hole you've put me in?'
Something seemed to click inside Mr Birdsey's soul. It was the berserk mood vanishing and reason leaping back on to her throne. He was able now to think calmly, and what he thought about filled him with a sudden gloom.
'Young man,' he said, 'don't worry yourself. You've got a cinch. You've only got to hand a story to the police. Any old tale will do for them. I'm the man with the really difficult job—I've got to square myself with my wife!'
BLACK FOR LUCK
He was black, but comely. Obviously in reduced circumstances, he had nevertheless contrived to retain a certain smartness, a certain air—what the French call the tournure. Nor had poverty killed in him the aristocrat's instinct of personal cleanliness; for even as Elizabeth caught sight of him he began to wash himself.
At the sound of her step he looked up. He did not move, but there was suspicion in his attitude. The muscles of his back contracted, his eyes glowed like yellow lamps against black velvet, his tail switched a little, warningly.
Elizabeth looked at him. He looked at Elizabeth. There was a pause, while he summed her up. Then he stalked towards her, and, suddenly lowering his head, drove it vigorously against her dress. He permitted her to pick him up and carry him into the hall-way, where Francis, the janitor, stood.
'Francis,' said Elizabeth, 'does this cat belong to anyone here?'
'No, miss. That cat's a stray, that cat is. I been trying to locate that cat's owner for days.'
Francis spent his time trying to locate things. It was the one recreation of his eventless life. Sometimes it was a noise, sometimes a lost letter, sometimes a piece of ice which had gone astray in the dumb-waiter—whatever it was, Francis tried to locate it.
'Has he been round here long, then?'
'I seen him snooping about a considerable time.'
'I shall keep him.'
'Black cats bring luck,' said Francis sententiously.
'I certainly shan't object to that,' said Elizabeth. She was feeling that morning that a little luck would be a pleasing novelty. Things had not been going very well with her of late. It was not so much that the usual proportion of her manuscripts had come back with editorial compliments from the magazine to which they had been sent—she accepted that as part of the game; what she did consider scurvy treatment at the hands of fate was the fact that her own pet magazine, the one to which she had been accustomed to fly for refuge, almost sure of a welcome—when coldly treated by all the others—had suddenly expired with a low gurgle for want of public support. It was like losing a kind and open-handed relative, and it made the addition of a black cat to the household almost a necessity.
In her flat, the door closed, she watched her new ally with some anxiety. He had behaved admirably on the journey upstairs, but she would not have been surprised, though it would have pained her, if he had now proceeded to try to escape through the ceiling. Cats were so emotional. However, he remained calm, and, after padding silently about the room for awhile, raised his head and uttered a crooning cry.
'That's right,' said Elizabeth, cordially. 'If you don't see what you want, ask for it. The place is yours.'