told in an un-
RICHARD K. FOX, New York
Richard K. Fox.
A LITTLE EASY MONEY
A great many years ago, when Tom Byrnes was the able and efficient chief of the detective force of New York, a certain class of women, very much in evidence around the hotels and resorts, were known, from the peculiar manner of their work, as Badger Molls.
There was one in particular who had added a spectacular dance to her many other accomplishments and which helped her not a little in meeting the right kind of people.
To be a Badger Moll a woman had to have nerve, assurance, a fair amount of good looks, be able to read character and keep her wits about her at all times. There were occasions when she was up against it so good and strong that it didn’t seem as if there was one chance in a hundred for her to do her part of the trick, but in ninety times out of a hundred she landed the bundle of the victim.
That is to say, of course, with the aid of her confederate.
The old days of the Moll have gone by, but the new days have come and they are here now. The new representative is of a higher class, of a superior education, is more adept, and, as a rule, gets more money.
It is worthy of note that during the past ten years only two big jobs have fallen through—that is, so far as is known—and these things usually become known when they are brought to the notice of the police.
A handsomely gowned woman, with a bearing that would deceive almost anyone, comes down the line. She looks like my lady from Fifth avenue, but if you will notice her eyes you will see in them the look of a huntress.
She is on the trail of men, and it is a rare thing for her to make a mistake. Mistakes in her business, you know, sometimes spell Sing Sing, as a lady by the name of Moore will tell you if you ever meet her and she should become confidential.
As she passes the hotels you will notice this particular woman hesitates in her stride, she goes into the low gear and she looks questioningly at the men who are standing about.
It is the glance of an expert, but it is cleverly veiled.
Even though you and I know her and know what her business is, we are attracted by her to a certain extent, just as people are attracted by a magnificent tigress or leopard in the menagerie. They have fangs and claws, but they are hidden, and being concealed are forgotten for the time.
This is a human tigress, but she is not on the scent of blood, she’s trailing bank rolls.
There is, however, nothing unusual in that, when you come to think of it, because that is what four-fifths of the world is doing, and the other fifth is being chased and knows it.
The tigress throws in her high speed and passes on until she has reached the entrance to another hotel, and here the scent of prey comes strongly to her nostrils.
A fine-looking man of about fifty years is leaning carelessly against one of the marble columns. He has dined well, anyone can see that, and he is half way into his after-dinner cigar. He is in the ripe stage; the time to ask a favor, or to have a courtesy extended. He is at peace with himself and everybody else, and as the tigress passes by he gets a flash of those black eyes which tell him a story that while it is not new, is always interesting, especially under these circumstances, when he is a thousand miles from home.
There are few men, anyhow, who can stand temptation when they are strangers in a strange city. Man is a companionable sort of a proposition and to be at his best must have society.
This one, who is perhaps the father of an interesting family, and who is above reproach in his native city, and who would become indignant at the thought of a street flirtation, involuntarily straightens himself up, and taking a firmer hold of his cigar, glances after the slowly retreating figure of the lady with the black eyes.
It’s a trim shape, by Jove; and look at that ankle.
“Nothing common about her,” he soliloquizes. “Just a nice girl, perhaps, who is a bit lonely, too.”
And then, at that particular moment, the “nice girl,” who has been sauntering very slowly, turns around and looking directly at him, smiles.
A woman’s smile.
Cast off your lines, my boy, and on your way, for the magnetism of that smile has you lashed to the mast, but you don’t know it yet. What you have in your mind is that you’ll just take a little walk and have a little talk, just to fill in a few lonely hours, you know.
So he leaves the mooring of his hotel and trails the trailer.
One short block he walks, and then just as he is about to come abreast of her she turns about and meets him with the same smile that has been doing duty for the past five years.
She knew he had reached that particular spot by that woman’s intuition, keyed up so fine as to be on feather edge all the time.
Her little bow is modest—even coy. It is like the bow of a school girl who is afraid she is not doing quite the right thing, but who is just a trifle reckless, and is willing to take a chance or two just for a lark.
“How do you do?” she asks.
“Great; how are you; fine night; where are you going?” he rattles off, trying to appear at ease, and be the real fellow.
“I was just taking a walk. You see, it was so quiet in the house, and I sat there all alone until I just thought I would die, so I came out to get a little fresh air and see if I couldn’t walk myself tired before bed time.”
That accounts for her being out, of course, and it is very nicely delivered, too; besides, it gives the man a chance to say something, and he is prompt to say it.
“All alone? You don’t mean to say that you live all alone?”
Oh, no; she doesn’t live all alone all the time. But Jack—that’s her husband, you know—he is on the road—commercial man, you see, the best and dearest fellow in all the world, and it’s such a horrid position he has, too, always traveling. He went away just a month ago on his Western trip, to be gone two months, think of it; almost an age. He’s with the big dry goods house of Wools & Muslins, the biggest in New York. But next year Jack is going to have an office position and then everything will be all right.
“After that,” she goes on, “Jack and the baby and I will be quite happy.”
“The baby? Have you a baby?”
“Why, of course.”
“And you say you are lonely? I should think that the baby would——”
“Yes, of course, so it would, but don’t you see, Jack’s mother, who lives with us, went to visit some friends in the country—Montclair, do you know where that is?—and she thought it would do the little fellow good and she took him along, and now I am so sorry I let him go.”
Isn’t it too beautiful for anything, and isn’t she an artist of whom Jack ought to be very proud?
“Well, I am a little lonely myself,” says the business man from Dayton, O., “and I think you and I ought to cheer one another up. What do you think about that proposition?”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s very nice to have you talk to me, but I feel a little bit frightened about it all. You know I never spoke to a strange man on the street before like this, and I am sure that Jack wouldn’t like it if——”
“Yes, but Jack isn’t here now. Who knows what he is doing? You know these traveling men when they get away from home and home ties have been known to——”
“Yes, but not my Jack. You don’t know him. He would never do anything wrong, for he told me so.”
And now they have walked four blocks.
There is a hack driver and his wagon at the corner.
“Cab, sir; have a cab?”
He’s on, and immediately takes the tip offered him.
“Suppose we take a little drive through the Park,” suggests the man.
“I don’t think it would be quite right. I would like to, but——Oh, if we were only real well acquainted, I would like to, but you see——”
The end of it is that the cab drive is vetoed, and he begins to think as to how he can best entertain her in some other way. He takes a hasty sidelong glance at her, and his heart increases about ten beats to the minute. She’s all right, you bet. Why, he wouldn’t mind staying in New York another week if——
“Let’s go somewhere and have a nice bottle of wine,” he says.
“I hope you don’t mean to offend me, but you shouldn’t ask me anything like that. I think I am doing very wrong in even talking to you, but I can’t help it. There was something about you when I passed by that seemed to attract me. I have done something to-night that I have never been guilty of before, and never will be again. I don’t object to wine, because we have it in the house, but I didn’t think you would ask me to go to a common saloon with you—a place I have never been in in my life. But I suppose I deserve it for speaking to you the way I did, and for walking with you the way I am now.”
He protests, he apologizes, and he feels that he has made a great mistake. He is humiliated beyond expression. Here is a nice little woman with a husband and a baby, who has permitted him to accost her on the street, probably because she felt that she needed some human companionship, and he has insulted her by asking her to go to a public place and drink a bottle of wine with him, just as if she were a woman of the streets. He feels that he cannot do enough to make amends to her.
“I don’t believe,” she says, sweetly, “that you intended to hurt my feelings for a moment. Let you and I be simply good friends. We are both a little lonesome; let us spend a pleasant evening together, for it isn’t likely that we will ever meet again after to-night. We will act as if we were brother and sister; but if you would really like a bottle of wine I have a lot home that Jack says is pretty good, and we can go there and be all by ourselves.”
But a moment later she repents and says it will not do at all, for suppose any of the neighbors should see them going in, what then?
He clutches at the idea like a drowning man clutches at a straw, for this is a wonderfully nice girl he has met in this accidental way, and he would like to become better acquainted.
So he begins to coax, and she laughingly refuses to listen. He pleads, argues and promises, and then he stops in a shop and blows himself to a five-pound box of candy for the baby—and her.
When he peels the bill off a roll that would choke an elephant she sizes it all up out of the tail of her eye, and makes a mental calculation as to how much is there.
She’s just a trifle more endearing to him after that, and it strikes him that she is getting a little reckless.
“Come on,” she says, quite gayly, and with an affectation of sportiness, “I will take you up to the house, but you must promise me on your word of honor that you won’t remember the street or the number and that you’ll never try to see me again. Remember, this is just for one evening, and I don’t want you to think I am anything but what I seem.”
“I could never think that,” he says, quite soberly.
“What must you think of a girl who will permit a stranger to speak to her on the street?”
“I should think that in your case she would be very nice.”
She is laughing and chatting just like a girl out of school, and she has interested him so much that he hasn’t noticed that they were getting into quieter and darker streets, until she suddenly turns into a hallway which is just like a thousand other New York hallways, and announces:
“Here we are at last; now don’t make any noise.”
Up one flight, and she’s fumbling for a key, which she finds in a moment, and then the door is opened.
The lights are turned low, and for some reason or other she doesn’t turn them up, which he notes with a certain feeling of pleasure.
“Now take off your hat and coat, and we will have that bottle of wine I told you about, for I am going to let you stay just one hour, after which I am going to try and forgive myself for having spoken to you.”
It is all very nice and charming, and the wine is very good—a bit better, in fact, than he had any idea it would be.
When the bottle and the glasses are empty he finds himself sitting beside her on a divan. His arm is about her waist and she is struggling to free herself. He leans over to kiss her, but she deftly turns her face away.
“You must not try to kiss me,” she whispers, but as she speaks she throws her arms about his neck.
It seems to the staid old business bulwark from the West as if he had been sitting there for hours, when suddenly the electric bell rings.
Both jump to their feet.
“What is it?” he asks in a low voice.
“I don’t know; I can’t think,” she answers, holding her hand to her head. “Perhaps it’s Jack. My God, if it should be Jack. He will kill you if he finds you here. I could never explain it. Take your hat and coat quick. Here, this way, the back door, and run, run as fast as you can. Don’t stop, please, until you get to your hotel. Go, go, at once.”
With hat and coat in hand he finds himself pushed out in a dark passageway. He gropes his way to the stairs.
A man is coming up, a man with a traveling case.
It’s Jack, as sure as you live.
Guiltily he walks down, steps hurriedly to the street door, passes out, and starts on a brisk trot up the street. At the first corner he turns, then he turns another block, then he turns again, with the instinct of a hunted hare. So he pursued his zig-zag course for many blocks, until he finally stops to ask directions.
“The Gilt-Edge Hotel? certainly; four blocks over to the avenue then about twenty down.”
He walks the four blocks while he catches his breath, and then he gets aboard a car only to find he hasn’t a cent.
Worse; he hasn’t a watch, nor a scarf pin.
He must have lost them while he was running.
He gets off and stands on the corner to think it over.
Eleven hundred dollars in good money gone; a watch worth $350 and a pin worth at least $150.
The faint odor of violets comes back to him, and then he comes to his senses.
* * * * *
“It took you a long while to ring that bell, Billy, after I gave you the tip. Don’t wait so long next time. You must be getting old, for you’re working very slow lately.”
“I didn’t hear the buzzer at first; I don’t think you pressed it hard enough. I’ll give it a look to-morrow and see. But I would never have sized that old guy up for eleven hundred.”
“You never can tell what they’ve got until you take it away from them.”
CASTING AN OLD SHOE
It may be that you—whoever you are or wherever you are—don’t know what it means to go “down the line.” But in New York—in order that we may start right—“The Line” means that part of Broadway where at night the lights burn brightest, and where the mob—swell and otherwise—move back and forth like the ebb and flow of the tide—hunting, hunting, ever on the hunt.
From Twenty-third street to Forty-second, and back again, and you have gone down The Line. Sometimes it costs you nothing for this innocent little amusement; this feast of the eyes; and then again it is liable to cost you a great deal.
It all depends upon who you are, and what you are and how easy you are.
And there you are.
I once knew a man, and this is pat while I am on this subject, who came to New York from Buffalo. He was only going to remain for a day or so, and then he was going to hike himself back to his home by the big lake.
He had sold out his business, and when he landed in New York he had a bank roll of twenty-one thousand dollars.
It was enough to make any ordinary man round shouldered, but he was a husky guy who was used to the long green, and it didn’t bother him any more than if it had been beef-and-bean money.
He put up at a big swell hotel, and during the evening, when time hung a bit heavy on his hands, he got it into his head that he would take a walk down the line, and then turn in among the feathers.
With a perfecto between his teeth, he got as far as Thirty-eighth street, where he met his finish.
When he arrived at his hotel at ten o’clock the next morning he asked the proprietor to loan him twenty dollars to get home.
No explanations go with this, because he was sport enough never to tell how it happened. It doesn’t even point a moral, for there are no morals on the line.
Going down the street, like a yacht under full sail, is a woman whom it cost not a cent less than $750 to put in commission. In the male vernacular she is what might be termed a peach, and there is no need to translate that for you, for the simple reason that you are familiar enough with the different kinds of fruit to know what that means.
Because of her figure and the fact that she was a good fellow she was an attraction at the beach.
She has a history, of course. They all have, to a certain extent, but this is somewhat out of the ordinary.
In her day—and her day wasn’t so many years ago—she was a noted beauty, and she had one of the most charming apartments in New York. It was frequented by what might be termed the high-class sporting crowd—lawyers with national reputations, actors whose names were in big type on the billboards, business men who posed as the bulwarks of the commercial world, and politicians who waxed sleek and fat at the public cribs. They played poker there and were entertained royally by her. She gave the choicest of dinners and served the best of wines, and she was a perfect hostess. Her rooms were more like a club than anything else, and she was never annoyed by any love-making on the part of her guests, for a very good, substantial and simple reason—the man who paid the shot and who figured as the real one in that charmed and exclusive circle was none other than a high official of New York.
His hospitality, dispensed through her, was almost boundless, and there are those who say that there was method in that gathering, and that many a serious public question was discussed within the confines of those gorgeously upholstered rooms.
Give a man the proper seat at the right kind of a table, beside a woman who is beautiful, charming and magnetic, serve him with a perfect dinner, with good wine selected by a connoisseur, then after the dessert provide him with a cigar which cannot be bought in the open market, and it is almost a sure thing that, if you have any proposition to make, your battle is half won. What an ideal spot for lawyers, politicians and capitalists to discuss things that it wouldn’t do to have the public know.
And as the months rolled by this woman came to be known by the majority of prominent men of New York.
Now you can get a good look at her as she stops to glance in that window.
Not to have been her guest was to have missed a lot in life, and when you lost to her in a little poker game you were almost sorry your losses were not heavier.
She had more diamond rings than she could wear at any one time, and she had the best wardrobe in town. No matter what she saw and wanted it was hers. She scarcely needed to ask for it—she just wished, and it came as though she had been blessed with some fairy godmother who waved a magic wand, and brought things on the wind.
So there’s the picture, painted in the most ordinary colors, and there’s the woman, who grew to think the world was made for her to play with and do with as she liked.
When she was at the height of her career, this lawyer-political friend of hers—this champion and provider—really and truly fell in love. He was well past middle age, but that made no difference. After many years of waiting—years which were punctuated with numerous affairs which he thought spelled love—he found the girl at last in the daughter of a man whose position left him nothing to wish for. She was a society girl and charming enough for any man.
Before he fully realized what he was doing he had proposed marriage to her and had been accepted without giving that other one a thought.
When he understood that he had to break with her, he knew that he had the job of his life in front of him, but he was game enough to go at it without a moment’s hesitancy, and so one night, after the crowd had gone and the last poker chip cashed in, he told her the story.
“I am going to marry and settle down,” he said. “My position demands it, and I cannot go on living this way forever. I feel that I have a political future, and I must protect myself. If I ever came up again for any prominent office, as I expect to in the near future, my relations with you would mean the worst kind of defeat for me. I want to be fair with you, and I am willing to settle any claim you may have on me for anything within reason.”
His story took a long while in the telling, and through it all she never moved nor spoke.
When he had quite finished she stretched and yawned.
“Is that all you have to say?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered, “that is all, except that I hope we will part friends, and that if ever I can do anything for you, I——”
“Now whatever you do,” she spoke up sharply, “don’t get tiresome nor sentimental. You’re a good fellow, and always have been—so you think. I have come into your life and have answered your purpose. I have entertained your friends and made it pleasant for you and them. I suppose you think I did it simply because I was provided for and had everything I wanted—that I was a sort of a high-class servant who was satisfied with her wages. If I had been wise I would have anticipated this and been prepared for it. I would have had enough money in the bank to have been independent to a certain extent. I am like a poker chip—you bought me, played with me, and now you are ready to cash me in because you have finished with me. You are a good fellow—with the men—but you are very tiresome and that reminds me that I am tired and wish you would run along. Go home now, and dream of the nice girl you are going to marry.”
He stood looking at her like a man under the influence of a drug. He did not know what to say. He had expected a scene of some kind, and he was disappointed. His vanity was touched. Why, here was a woman for whom he had done everything in the world, and whom he thought loved him, and she was parting from him without a tear or even so much as a word of expostulation. That didn’t suit him at all. He wanted her to throw her arms about his neck and beg him not to go. Of course, he would have gone just the same, but he didn’t want to think that she would let him go so easily.
The pride and vanity of man is a peculiar thing, and there are not ten men in a thousand who understand women, even though they think they do. This man, clever, handsome and brilliant, was of the majority who do not know, and he had nothing to say to the woman who had entertained him and with whom he had spent many pleasant hours.
He looked at her for a moment and then he went out as though he had been whipped from the door.
She turned the key in the lock and then gave way to her real feelings by crying as only a heart-broken woman can.
He had incriminated himself with her to such an extent that he dreaded her. She had been too calm to suit him, and he feared trouble to come. He had no definite idea as to what form it might take, but he wanted to avoid it.
So he went direct to one of his most astute legal friends—the same one, who, by the way, told me the whole story in a burst of half-drunken confidence—and they sat up half the night figuring on how to head her off in case she attempted to do anything that would reflect on his “spotless” character. How careful the man is of his name as a rule, and how despicably he can treat a woman when it suits either his mood or convenience.
That midnight conference finally resolved itself into definite shape by the counsellor saying:
“I’ll take $10,000 to her and get everything she has of yours and her signature under a statement that will leave you free and clear.”
And so it was agreed.
Lawyers do not act very quickly unless their own interests are at stake. Speed was required here and the action was fast enough for anyone. The next day, at noon, the lawyer, who knew her well enough to call her by her first name, called upon her, and as he was ushered into the handsome apartment he involuntarily put his hand to his breast pocket, which contained ten new, crisp one thousand dollar bills—the price of her silence, from his standpoint.
It is interesting to be able to note that the interview was short, sharp, sweet and to the point. He made his eloquent speech of how his friend, who had always loved her devotedly, was forced by something which she could not understand to break from her and marry a woman whose position in society was assured. He was prepared to pay her an amount of money—quite a liberal one, in fact—so that she should want for nothing. All he desired was a certain package of letters and a statement that she had only known his friend in the most casual way.
“How much are you going to pay me?” she asked.
“Ten thousand dollars, and here it is,” he said, producing the bills.
“I will do what he wants,” was all she said, and in ten minutes the job was done.
Then he laid the money on the table.
“What is your fee?” She spoke very softly.
“My fee?” he repeated, as if he did not quite catch her meaning.
“Yes, your fee. How much are you charging this friend of yours for what you are doing for him?”
“I am doing it through friendship. There is no such thing as fee in a case like this.”
“You have earned this money, and I do not want it,” she went on. “I am not a blackmailer nor can my promise of immunity be bought. I, too, understand what the word friendship means, and I am not so degraded nor lost but that I can take advantage of it. It is such men as you and he that make such women as I am. Good-day.”
He was in the hall with the money in his hand before he quite realized how it all happened.
Between you and me, my friends, I would sooner have her conscience than the conscience of the very fine gentleman whose public career has since been marked by repeated triumphs.
THE LONG WAY ’ROUND
The Girl from Philadelphia wasn’t a beauty by any means, but she had a nice fetching way, good teeth, and a cheerful, contagious laugh which are three things that have beauty left at the post. Beauty, you see, is only good for a short sprint at the best, and in a long race is liable to lag a bit toward the finish, but the other propositions are stayers nine times out of ten and generally manage to come under the wire in good shape.
Thirty days in the big city, if spent in the right kind of company, usually mean about a year in Quakertown, and force of circumstances had thrown The Girl in pretty close contact with high-flyers. You see, it all came about this way:
She had been playing the soubrette part in some amateur theatricals, and everybody who saw her—except some girl friends who wanted to be soubrettes, too—said she was the real thing and that she had Della Fox in her palmy days beaten the length of Chestnut street, and as for Millie James, why there was nothing to it.
That started the theatrical bee buzzing in her conning-tower, so she immediately formed the habit of reading the theatrical papers instead of the society notes, and she got the matinee habit so bad that she didn’t miss one show a month. Before that her fad had been gymnastics and she was the real thing on physical culture.
Now when a girl gets that way she needs either a husband and honeymoon to distract her attention or a hard-faced guardian—female, of course—to follow her wherever she goes.
So in view of the fact that this girl had neither, she studied the play bills and did pretty much as she liked. She was just ripe to sign with a traveling show or listen to the argument of any actor man who offered her the bait of a chance to do a stunt behind the footlights. She lived the way a soubrette ought to live—at least, she thought she did. In a locked drawer in her dressing case she kept a box of make-up, and when the rest of the family had retired she fixed her face up so she looked like a comic valentine. She figured upon this as a sort of preliminary training in case she should ever get a chance to break into the business; look like a twenty-dollar gold piece to the public, and feel like a plugged nickel when she was in her dollar-a-day room after the show. She might have been dreaming yet if a young fellow who once suped for Mansfield hadn’t made her acquaintance. He called on her at her home, and they hadn’t been talking twenty minutes when she sprung the soubrette business, and told him that some day she hoped to get on the professional stage.
“The only way to get a chance is to go to New York,” he said. “There’s where all the good shows start from, as well as a good many of the bad ones, and if a girl has talent, an agent or a manager will grab her just the same as a hobo will grab a ham sandwich, no matter what his nationality is. Why, I once knew a girl who went there from Forked River, New Jersey. She didn’t know anything, but she had ginger, and she’s been on the road for two seasons with the Bon Ton Burlesquers. What do you think of that? Philadelphia’s all right in a way, but I’ll bet if Maude Adams had been born here she’d be behind the ribbon counter in some big dry goods store instead of the swellest little actress that ever took a bunch of roses over the footlights.”
That is what started the trouble, and that night when The Girl went up to her room she packed a dress-suit case, putting in her grease paints first, of course, and then she penned a neat little note of farewell forever to her parents, after which she waited until the house was quiet and then slipped out as quietly as a burglar. She had enough money to make the breakaway and keep her about thirty days, by the end of which time she figured she would have a job at about fifty per week, with traveling expenses and Pullman car paid by the manager.
She had a roseate view of life, and she thought that as soon as she hit the big burg the managers would be falling over each other trying to get her to sign a contract. She didn’t know that making a hit in a little show given by the Golden Rod Society for the Supplying of Vegetables to the Cannibal Tribes of Africa was quite a different thing to going on the professional stage, and she imagined if she could do well in the part of Betsey, the Romp, in “Who Killed Cock Robin,” she could do equally well on the stage of any big theatre.
She had as much hope as a piece of Swiss cheese has holes when she climbed aboard the sleeping car which was scheduled to leave for New York at 1 A. M., but when she landed in the cold, gray dawn a good part of it had gone and had left her a trifle weak in the knees, which, by the way, is a decided symptom of weakness.
It took her just two hours to find a boarding house, and until the next day to get her nerve back. It was only because of her youth that it came back at all. She got a list of the names of managers and started out to do business, but no one seemed to want any amateur soubrettes from Philadelphia. By two o’clock there was nothing that looked like a job, but she had received eleven invitations to go out to lunch from eleven different genials who didn’t seem to want to talk business; who were inclined to be affectionate and who called her “My Dear” in every other sentence.
That night she went to a vaudeville show, and she was so impressed with the ease with which the turns were pulled off that she concluded she would do an act of her own. That is how it happened that the day after she forsook the legitimate for the variety, and knocked at the office doors of a different species of managers. Very busy fellows these were, too, and she got her dismissal in almost every case with startling rapidity.
Here is a sample of the dialogue:
“Where have you worked before?”
“I have never been on the professional stage, but I played the part of a soubrette in amateur shows in Philadelphia, and all my friends told me that——”
“But have you an act of your own?”
“No, not yet, but——”
“Well, you frame up some kind of an act, then come around and see me, and I may be able to get you a trial somewhere.”
And then twenty-three.
Many a good fighter has quit when he found every rush he made was stopped with a tantalizing jab in the nose, and many a man has thrown up the sponge when he has walked the streets day in and day out and discovered that nobody wanted him.
At the end of a week The Girl would have written a letter home or taken a train back if it had not been for her pride. She didn’t want to acknowledge defeat, but she was on the verge of it.
She was coming out of a theatre one night when she met The Man.
There must be a man else there would be no story. He was about forty-five years old, had been through enough campaigns to give him self-possession, and he had been successful enough to be egotistic. Two minutes later they were walking down Broadway together, and she was rather glad that she had found someone who took an interest in her. One-half hour after that and they were seated at a table in a big restaurant; the order had been given and she was telling him all about herself while he was looking her over with an exceedingly critical eye and making up his mind that she showed up rather good under a strong light, especially when she smiled.
A broiled lobster, a quart of claret, then a couple of birds and a quart of wine are enough to change the ideas and opinions of a lot of people, especially if such a bill of fare is unusual, and so it happened that when the red began to come to The Girl’s cheeks, the things The Man were saying to her didn’t seem so much out of the way after all. Besides, that hall bedroom in the musty old boarding house was rapidly becoming a nightmare. Between you and me, if she had never smiled this thing would never have happened.
The Man lighted a cigar, and as he blew the first puff of blue smoke toward the ceiling he observed:
“My dear, marriage is nothing more nor less than a useless and barbaric rite, and when it is all summed up it amounts to nothing in the end. Why should you be legally bound to any man in this world? It would be all right as long as you loved him, then you wouldn’t care, but suppose your feelings changed, what then? In order to get a divorce from him you would have to catch him committing a crime for which the law would grant you a divorce, or get good evidence, which amounts to the same thing. You might separate from him if he was cruel to you or didn’t support you, but suppose he was kind and gave you all the money you wanted, then you would still have to live with him as his wife. Now, on the other hand, if you were not married to him, you would have a perfect right, as soon as your feelings changed, to leave him without a moment’s notice. You would be under no obligations to him under any circumstances, and he, knowing that you were free to go and come as you pleased, would, in order to keep you, treat you with greater consideration than if you were his wife. You can believe me or not, just as you wish, but an understanding between a man and a woman is all that is necessary to happiness in this world. Don’t be old-fashioned, but let us make an agreement of some kind between ourselves. You will be perfectly independent, free to go and come as you like, and do as you wish.”
There was a certain amount of logic in this argument, especially when the reverse of the picture is a cheap room in a cheap boarding house. So the end of the first chapter was that the landlady wondered why her lodger never came back, even to get her case and the few belongings it contained. It was all mysterious to her, but as she was paid in advance, she said nothing, and at the end of the week rented the room to an old fellow with asthma who was living on an allowance.
So far as the stage was concerned, that bright bubble had burst, and instead of haunting the offices of managers, The Girl took to breakfasting at 10, lunching at 2 and dining at 8. The theatres to her were merely places of amusement—good to fill in time which could be used in no other way, and her ambition to shine as a footlight favorite went when she found that she could live without being annoyed by any of the responsibilities of life. She gradually grew to know that the name of The Man was a very familiar one in the big cities and at times the newspapers printed his picture. She had assumed that name—it was in the compact, although there were few who knew it. Several times, when he called on her, he brought some of his friends to dinner, but these occasions were not frequent, by any means, and she knew she wasn’t a part of his intimate life.
Now see how time makes puppets of both men and women, for this story has one merit in that it is true.
The Man took sick in Chicago, and the first she knew of it was when she read it in the newspapers. Every stage of his disease was chronicled until he died, and when she read that the paper dropped from her hands and she felt again that weakness of the knees which took her on that first morning in New York. For four days she lived in a dream, vaguely wondering what was to become of her, and then a brisk, alert, dapper little man—a lawyer—called. There was nothing sentimental about him. He was business from the drop of the hat.
“I represent the family of The Man,” he announced, abruptly. “There is a codicil in his will which bequeaths you $250,000. Of course, we can break that and not half try, but the widow and children don’t want any unpleasant notoriety, and they are willing to settle for $50,000, which I can pay to you at once. You will accept, if you are wise, for $50,000 is a nice little sum and it will leave you free and clear to do as you please and will dispose of a very unpleasant situation.”
The death of The Man had given her a shock from which she hadn’t yet recovered, and she asked for time to think.
“Come to-morrow or the day after,” she said, “and I will talk to you. I can’t think now.”
He wanted to finish it up at once, but every time she gave him the same answer, so there was nothing for him to do but to go.
And then that night there came another lawyer, one whom she had known because The Man had brought him on one of his visits. His argument was different:
“There is $250,000 coming to you; get it. It is a clean-cut, legal will and they can’t break it, besides there is enough there for everybody and to spare. Let me manage it for you and don’t worry. If they want to contest let them go ahead and I’ll beat them.”
And because he said “Don’t worry; leave it all to me,” she consented. That was the woman of it.
They did fight, and the newspapers printed columns about it, for it was a great story, but they didn’t print the part I am telling here, for that they didn’t know. With the articles appeared her portraits, and she became as well known as The Man had been, in a way.
Before the finish had been reached the heirs concluded there had better be a settlement, and so, rather than stand the delay of appeals in case she won, which it was reasonably sure she would do, she accepted $150,000 in cash.
The next day her maid brought her a card. It read:
“Alfred D. Cohen,
“I’ll see him,” she said.
She had learned a thing or two since she had left Philadelphia, so she knew what was coming and was prepared for it when the polite, suave Mr. Cohen walked into the room.
“I have come,” he said, by way of introduction, “to make you an offer to go on the stage.”
“Yes?” she queried, calmly.
“All you will have to do is to sing two or three songs twice a day—once in the afternoon and once in the evening—and I am authorized to offer you $750 a week.”
“And suppose I can’t sing?” she said, smiling, thinking of the last time she had talked with a manager.
“That would make no difference; we would have you coached and can give you ten weeks straight.” He fumbled at his coat nervously, for she was really an important personage now. “I have the contracts here.” He produced them and handed them over. She read them over carefully, debated mentally as to the policy of signing at once or waiting until another day, finally decided on the side of deliberation, and then said:
“Come and see me to-morrow at 2 and I will let you know then.”
He knew intuitively she would accept, so he bowed himself out without further argument.
So that is how she at last went on the stage, and if your memory serves you well enough to take you back a year or so you will know that she made a hit as the singer of songs of long ago.
P. S.—She told her folks in Philadelphia that she had been studying voice culture all the time.
THE QUEEN OF CHINATOWN
If you don’t think there are any interesting tales in the Tenderloin, just go there some night and look around. You don’t have to look long before you will find something that is worth going a distance for.
You’ll find tragedy and pathos as close together as the meat is to the bread in a ham sandwich, and it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to discover it, either.
I know a few things about the Bowery and the Tenderloin, and for the past twenty years I have roamed about New York by night, simply because I was fascinated by the life after dark. Of course, you know that this night owl business is a disease, and when once you get it, and get it good, it is one of the hardest things in the world to cure. In my day I have seen many a nice, straightforward young fellow go to the bad simply because he got the night habit.
It isn’t much of a combination that gets you, either, for it’s the white lights, the music, the women and the drinks, not counting the good fellowship, or what passes for good fellowship, on the side.
The lid is on in New York to a certain extent, that I’ll admit, but I’m going to take you under the lid.
It’s all a bluff, anyhow, and things go on the same as they have been going for years, with very little change.
The same kind of girls are roaming the streets, the same kind of booze is being served on the little round tables in stuffy back rooms, and the same class of waiters are making short change whenever the mark looks easy. There may be a new police captain in the district or the precinct, but there are some things in this world that can’t be held down any more than a man can hold down a charge of dynamite after the cap has been exploded.
Talk about your high pressure life—that’s it. Ten years is the limit for the careful ones, and I’ve seen them go off in five. Why, only the other day a hospital ambulance backed up to a downtown tenement, and when it went away it carried a woman whose lease of life had about expired.
There was a crowd which gathered, as usual—men, women and children, all filled with a morbid curiosity, which makes people flock and gaze with interest at anything which approaches a bit of human wreckage, and of them all there was not more than one or two who knew that the sick woman had once been known as the Queen of Chinatown, and had been made the subject of many an interesting story.
It seems only a few years ago that they called her the Queen, and you wondered why until you looked at her and heard her talk.
Then you knew.
She was more than good looking, and what was just a bit rarer, she was educated. There was about her a certain amount of refinement which forced itself to the surface like a life preserver under water, every once in a while, but which as the years rolled on gradually disappeared, just like any other veneer. If the constant dropping of water will wear away a stone, in just so sure a way will environment contaminate, and human nature seek the lower level.
So here is the picture:
This so-called Queen, coming into Chinatown—by what route only she can tell—and creating a mild sensation among the Orientals who inhabit the houses on those narrow, twisting streets. The story was that a dose of knockout drops had proved the turning point in her life.
John Chinaman, you know, has a keen eye for the beautiful, not only in decorative art and choice silks, but in women.
There is his one weak point, the defective link in the chain, the one vulnerable spot in the armor of his stony reserve.
The lobbygows—the errand men of the Chinese—the whites, who execute commissions for them, and do all sorts of services, both legitimate and illegitimate, who will work in the dark as well as in the light, and whose heels can be hurried by extra compensation, saw and noted this Queen also, and in seeing, they, too, admired, but more or less hopelessly. The one spot which is quick in a woman’s composition is adulation. Let her be like ice, as cold and pure and reserved as her likeness carved out of the whitest Parian marble, or the hardest of flint-like granite, and admiration will make her as soft and supple as a Cleopatra.
She comes into her own and knows it.
She smiles and looks about for a likely head upon which to drop the wreath of her favors, and if she hesitates it is because the right head has not been bowed, or that her whim bids her hold off that she may only succumb after a struggle.
I am not putting up any defense for this Chinatown Queen. She was simply a woman with moods and humors, and pretty ways. Furthermore, which is essential in most cases, she was good to look at.
So many were the affairs that she had that there is no Solomon wise enough to tell how or when the first one began. All that is known is that she dressed in silks that were costly enough for a real queen, and which smelled of the spices and perfume of the Orient.
When I say costly, I mean from a money standard. They were more costly than that, so far as she was concerned personally, for in the end they cost her her life, and if she is not dead yet they certainly cost her happiness, which really amounts to the same thing.
For a while she lived furiously, with anything she wanted for the asking. Fine clothes, fine jewels, and money to spend is part of every woman’s life.
More than that, it is a keystone.
Besides, she was the most prominent woman in all the Quarter. For her that was fame and glory enough.
Had she been placed, by a fortunate move, somewhere else on the chess-board of life, her fame might have been more secure, but what difference does that make, so long as she was satisfied?
It wasn’t long before her real life began, when her steps, instead of being on the level or upward, traced their gradual way downward.
That was inevitable in that case, just as it is in other cases where constancy is an unknown virtue.
She passed from hand to hand like the chattel that she was. She didn’t even consider the proposition of the highest bidder, and start a hoard in some secret place which would have been a life raft to her in the turbulent days to come.
She lived on promises, and those are false things which fall to bits before adverse winds and threatening weather. Her spirits rose and fell in an inverse ratio to the rising and setting of the sun, and she took no heed of the days to come. The seed of thrift failed to find lodgment in her being.
And another thing, she never knew the real meaning of the word opportunity.
In her early and halcyon days before the opium and the night life had stamped its mark upon her face, there came, with a party of sight-seers to Chinatown one night, a man about town whose name stood for respectability, good family and wealth. She, as Queen, could not well be overlooked, and the guide took the party to her apartments on the first floor of a dingy tenement.
“What’s up here?” asked one of the party.
“Here is where de Queen of Chinatown lives,” responded the guide. “Dis is de gal wots got all de gang on de run, and as fer de Chinkys—why, dere ain’t one uv dem wot wouldn’t croak a guy fer her.”
They filed into the room and looked at the girl as they looked at the rest of the odd sights.
Let anybody rise above the human herd, even a short distance, or do anything that is in the slightest way unusual, and they are bound to find themselves in the center of the spot light.
“Youse kin buy a drink off her, if yer like, or if yer’ll cough up er bone apiece, she’ll show yer how to hit der pipe,” announced the guide.
They thought it was worth a dollar each to see a Queen smoking opium, and all cheerfully handed her the fee, with the exception of this one particular man, who pressed five times the amount into her hand.
Curious things happen in this world of ours, and here is one of them:
Two hours later, the same man, who had slipped away from his party, hunted up the same guide, and giving him a good-sized fee requested the honor of another visit to the Queen.
The moral tone of Chinatown is not so high that when the guide was dismissed he should feel at all offended. He was perfectly satisfied, and he said so a few minutes later as he was relating this story to some of his friends in the saloon on the corner.
From this point the Queen herself takes up the tale. She told it to her bosom friend, the Rummager, a week later, and the Rummager’s eyes bulged and her mouth opened as she heard it. More than once she was inclined to disbelieve it, and said so, but the facts were there and proven by the presence of certain articles which could be accounted for in no other way.
“He was one of the real ones,” remarked the Queen, “and I knew it as soon as I saw him. I have seen fellows stuck good and strong, but he was the limit. He was clean gone. When he came back the second time he began as all the others do, by asking me how I came to live in Chinatown. I told him to cut it out, and cut it quick, and he took my tip. He didn’t lose a minute telling me he liked me, either, and, say, he promised me everything you could think of, up and down, if I would cut the gang and go with him. He said I could have the swellest flat that money could buy, and a horse and carriage, if I liked. I thought he was kidding at first, but he soon put me wise that he was the goods. He chinned to me for about an hour, and then he told me to put on my glad rags and he would take me uptown to a feed. I was on in a minute, and nothing but a cab would do for him. We went up on Broadway, and the layout cost him $25, easy.
“We come down the line and butted into every joint that had a light out, and every place we hit was a bottle of wine. And every drink we took it was, ‘Well, will you leave that crowd?’
“On the level, once or twice he had me going, but when I thought of all the boys down here, and the good times we’re having I couldn’t do it, and I told him so. When I left him he was ossified for fair, and he gave me these things to remember him by, he said.”
Whereupon the Queen showed up a roll of bills, a scarf pin, a match box, and the Rummager believed.
She couldn’t afford to do otherwise very well, for the Queen was, as usual, doing all the buying of drinks, and the Rummager’s thirst has been compared to a barrel of sponges.
It was only the other day that I found myself wondering what had become of that pin and box. Where have they been since then and who has owned them? That they have fallen into many hands there can be no doubt, and the first to get them was the pawnbroker.
But after that!
From silks the Queen went to calico. That is a great chasm for any woman to cross, and from three rooms she came down to one. Notice how easily the human being can adjust itself to changes.
The nights of dissipation had begun to leave their mark, and her throne was tottering.
The plumpness of her figure began to disappear, and angles crept in to take the place of curves. Her eyes were less bright, and her enthusiasm had lost its edge.
But she didn’t realize this.
She thought she was still Queen and she was living on her past, just as many other real queens have, and for that she is to be forgiven, for it is a woman’s right to think herself the same as she was when she was at her best.
It is the life buoy to which she always clings, and when she dies her arms are found clasped about it with the grip of death.
And then the day came when this Queen, a wisp and shred of a woman, whose dreams had gone, and whose calico had turned to rags, went down the street of the Quarter one night never to return.
She had married a man of her class, and they went into a tenement together.
Her sun had set—her day was done.
One day the priest was sent for to shrive her. I hope there was consolation in his visit, because a dethroned queen needs pity sometimes.
A GIRL OF THE GOLDEN GATE
When you go to the theatre, sit in a comfortable seat, and look at the gay, laughing girls who are doing all sorts of stunts in the front row, you are evidently under the impression that their lives are simply one unending series of revels and that they live in luxurious ease. In your fancy you see them going to magnificent apartments to enjoy late dinners washed down by high-priced wine; you think, perhaps, that they dress just as you see them on the stage, and that all they have to do is ask for anything they happen to want and it is theirs.
Your imagination paints you a wonderful picture of love behind the scenes, but like children’s fairy tales, half is a dream.
You are simply bringing into existence a mental painting in very attractive colors, and if you could make it real it would be a very fine thing for the girl who makes up that she may look well from behind the footlights.
There are few short cuts to the stage and the roads are for the most part hard and tiresome. The woman who gets there, and by that I mean the one who finally lands with a reputation, usually has a past that would make interesting reading—if it could be published, which is out of the question.
To-day there is a woman in New York who is a star.
So far as real talent is concerned she ought to have been a star years ago, but there was some hitch and she failed to connect.
She’s all right now, however, and when she pulls down her fat bundle of bills every week she doesn’t think of the old days on the Pacific Coast when she was doing one turn an hour in the mining camps, and well content if she got enough at the end of the show to pay for her room and give her a balance on the side to keep up her wardrobe—stage wardrobe, I mean—for she didn’t seem to care much how she dressed when on the street, and so far as that was concerned, she was on the street very little, for reasons that are obvious.
She was a nice looking little girl in those days, full of ginger and all that sort of thing, and she had the kind of magnetism that made a good many men think they couldn’t live without her. She was bright and saucy, and happy-go-lucky, taking things as they came, singing her songs with an abandon and grace that went a long way toward filling up the house.
But it was when she danced that she was at her best. That half-wild Spanish Cachuca made those rough men rise to their feet and cheer her as if she was the most wonderful girl in the world, and when the boys were flush many a hundred dollars in gold went over the flickering footlights to her feet, so that she really and truly danced on gold. It was the Westerners’ way of paying homage to anyone they liked, and it is done to-day, but not to so great an extent.
You see, there was no limit on those fellows in the blue shirts and bearded faces, and what was a handful of gold more or less to them then or at any other time?
They were an open-handed lot, living only for the day, and to the devil with to-morrow, lavishing all they had upon anyone whom they liked.
As the money rolled in to her so it rolled out, easily and without apparent effort, and at the end of a year she had just what she started with—a couple of dresses, the most part of which was tinsel.
And that brings me right back into the heart of this story, the preliminary having been sufficiently long to give you a thorough introduction to this little lady—queen of the mining camps.
It isn’t likely you ever heard of a fellow who for some romantic reason or other called himself Palo Alto Bill. He was a tin horn gambler, good at short cards, willing to take a chance at any proposition that ever came over the hills, so long as he could figure in it financially, but he had no heart. It was all Bill from first to last, and he didn’t have enough generosity in his entire system to drop a bone to a hungry dog. You know the breed—they think they are all right, but they are so eaten up with selfishness, and egotism, and vanity, that they stride along with their elbows pushed out, as if they were going to shove everybody else off the earth.
He was handsome all right, with black hair—black as an Indian’s—a curling mustache, and a wonderfully taking way with a woman.
This was the combination that stacked itself up against the little singer with the suggestion that they travel in double harness for mutual benefit.
That was all there was to it.
He saw her, he liked her; why shouldn’t he have her? And if she had been married it would have been the same to him. He would in all probability have suggested an elopement on a pair of fast horses.
“How long have you been in the business, Sis?” was the way he started it.
He was smoking a cigarette at the time and he didn’t even take the trouble to look at her, but holding his head back, blew the rings of smoke, one after the other, toward the low ceiling.
“Oh, about a year, and I’ve been making good ever since I started.”
“That’s what you have. I suppose you’ve got a big bunch of coin by this time, eh?”
“If I have I wish someone would find it for me. There may be a lot of fun in the game, but there’s no money, that is, not yet.”
“Well, let me give you just one straight tip. What you want is a manager—someone to boom you. Suppose you and I double up, and then I’ll show you how to get the money, and hold it, too. Nothing cheap about me. You’re a good fellow and I’m a good fellow, and we can do well together. I’ll put you where you belong, for you ain’t getting half of what’s coming to you. How about it?”
Just remember that this was in the West, where a girl has a mighty hard time of it without a protector of some sort, and that there were a hundred tie-ups by mutual consent for one real swell matrimonial clinch, with a sky-pilot to sing his little song of “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Also bear in mind that she had known Bill about six months and that his style rather appealed to her, because he was artistic in a crude sort of a way, and besides, he wore his clothes with a certain amount of grace that was good for the female eye to look on.
So they tied up together and Bill began his life of ease and prosperity. The next week was announced as her grand farewell appearance, and she was the recipient every night of a testimonial of so substantial a character that, as she herself put it, her salary seemed like pennies for candy. In these many testimonials might have been recognized the fine Italian touch of Bill, who had a Hermann-like knack of waving his hands in the empty air and producing real money. And while she was busy picking up the nuggets and gold bucks which the enthusiastic miners flung at her, he was attending to his end of the contract by arranging a tour. He had a few schemes under his hat that would have brought him in all kinds of money if he had had a fair swing, but he was born with the soul of a grafter, and that is very much like a taint in the blood, in that it can never be effaced. It may disappear for a while, but it is always liable to turn up at the most unexpected time.
When the week was done the company started—the company in this case being a couple of miners, who were in hard luck and who went ahead of the show; Bill and the girl.
I saw her the other night in a famous eating place on Broadway putting away a chop and a small bottle, and I wondered then if she remembered San Bernardino that June morning when everything she had in the world was held in one small bag which Bill carried.
The plan of procedure was simple. She was to get a date in a town, Bill was to go around and boom her as the best that ever hit the Coast, and tell of the hit she made in ’Frisco. Then when she came on the stage to do her dance the two hobos were to start the cheering. Toward the finish of the act one of them was to walk down the aisle to the footlights and toss up a handful of gold coins, and then the other was to follow suit. That would start the crowd giving up; for after all, people are like sheep, they will always follow a leader.
It was a good stunt, and there wasn’t any chance for a failure.
It worked out just as Bill figured it would, and it kept him busy enough looking after the money end of the game.
It was the turn in the tide for her so far as her fortunes and popularity were concerned, and she simply created a furore wherever she appeared. In those days she wore a twenty-dollar gold piece around her neck. It was held by a string which ran through a hole she had bored herself with a great deal of labor. It was the first piece of money she had ever received over the footlights and she said it was her mascot, and declared she would always keep it. It might have been her mascot, but I’ll bet a hundred to one that she hasn’t it now.
Put a good looking girl on the stage, have her make a hit so that she is talked about, and she’ll attract more men than a leg show in Paris. There’s an irresistible fascination about the stage that makes even bald-headed old papas fall. It’s a hard thing to figure out, but it’s a fact, nevertheless.
In this particular case they flocked around her like sheep for a shelter when a storm is in the air, and the girl took to wearing good clothes, ordered from ’Frisco, and using to their full capacity the services of a maid.
And then there came upon the scene the other man. He had hit the Coast from Colorado, and his mine was turning out the yellow stuff so fast that he had more than he could do to spend it. He was busily engaged in the exciting pastime of buying everything he saw when he met the girl that Bill was leading along the golden road to wealth. There was nothing half-way about his methods, so he promptly went out and bought the biggest diamond he could find, put it in an envelope upon which he wrote in lead pencil:
“The best stone for the nicest girl; come and have a bottle of wine with me after the show.”
He didn’t need to sign his name to it, for the stage hand who received a ten-dollar gold piece as a tip for taking it to her pointed him out as he sat at one of the tables well up toward the stage.
“He seemed to be kind of stuck on you,” he remarked casually; “will I tell him you’ll see him?”
She put the ring on her finger and looked at it critically, holding it first this way and that so that the light would catch it. The inspection evidently pleased her, for she said:
“Sure; he’s entitled to it after this.”
That is how it came about that, still in her stage dress, she went directly from the stage to the table where Croesus sat and smiled on him, while the diamond flashed like a calcium.
One bottle broke the ice, two put them on a friendly footing, and three made them lifelong friends. They were on the fourth and their heads were close together. He was talking in a low tone, while she was listening intently and nodding her head in affirmation every moment or so when Bill happened along.
He didn’t like the looks of this and he showed it plainly. He touched her on the shoulder with an air of proprietorship and remarked curtly:
“Who’s your friend?” asked the wine opener; “introduce me.”
“I’m the real one,” said Bill.
“Husband?” asked the other, laconically.
“Not yet,” she answered.
“Oh,” and his eyebrows were lifted a trifle. Then he turned to Bill. “Sit down and have a drink; I want to talk to you.”
Then the fifth bottle was brought on.
He held his brimming glass aloft.
“Wish me luck, old man, for I’m going to take this little girl away from you,” and his blue eyes looked into Bill’s black ones with a steady and disconcerting gaze.
“I guess we’ve got something to say about that,” said Bill, putting his glass down suddenly.
“Not much. You see, I’m going to give you a thousand dollars and that will be your meal ticket until you find a new prima donna.”
“You made a mistake,” said Bill, “you meant $5,000.”
“I agree with you; I did make a mistake; it’s $2,500, and you’d better grab it quick, because it’s easy money and it’s the limit, too.”
The girl was playing with the ring, turning it around her finger aimlessly, never once looking and saying no word. Bill drained his glass, put it down, and then looked at the stage.
“Do I get it now?” he asked abruptly.
He held out his hand, palm upward, with a suggestive movement, and in just fifteen seconds it held an order on the Assay Office for the amount. It was as easy as going into a store and buying a blue flannel shirt. Thirty days later—a record for speed, by the way—the girl opened in San Francisco as the star in a farce comedy on which ten thousand dollars had been spent before the curtain went up. She had talent, but not enough to make good, and after a week’s losing run the play was shelved. She gained a lot of experience and had a suite of rooms at the best hotel in town, which was something for a girl who had previously been housed in an eight by ten. That was what gave her a running jump into the profession, so to speak. She landed on both feet now, but none of her friends would dare bring up the subject of the glorious West to her.
That were best forgotten.
WHEN FISTS WERE TRUMPS
There was no reason why they should have called the play “The Casino Girls” except that it might have sounded attractive to the out-of-town people, and the word Casino, in the mind of the average manager, is always good for the money. But it was a good show, nevertheless, with lots of nice girls in tights and spangles, and you could spend two hours there about as well as you could anywhere.
But this isn’t to be a story about a show in general, nor is it written with the object of handing a bouquet to the estimable gentleman who had the “Casino Girls” under his wing. He had troubles of his own, but he was paid for that. If some one would sit down beside me for an hour or so—that is, some one who knew—and tell me nice little stories about all of the girls—or shall I say ladies?—with that show, I am quite sure I would have enough material to last me for a good many weeks to come, and it wouldn’t be scandal, either. I should leave that for the religious papers and a few of the sanctimonious dailies.
But it happens that just now I have only one good card up my sleeve, so I’ll play that for all it is worth, and then wait for something else to leak out and find its way to the mahogany desk where I do stunts like this one.
You will have noticed if you have seen the show, one of the young women who is a bit more athletic than the others. She has a fist that can hand out a scientific punch and an arm to back it up. She wears tights with the rest of the crowd and doesn’t attract special attention until the olio is put on, and then she shines forth as a specialist. She punches the bag in a manner that is truly marvelous, and what she doesn’t do to that pear-shaped leather pendant couldn’t be done by anybody—man or woman.
The medals dancing on her chest as she uppercuts and swings would signify that she is an artiste of more than usual merit, and the self-assurance and confidence she displays during the brief time she is on show that she is quite sure of herself and that she knows the business from the make-up box to the bow at the finish.
Furthermore, in addition to her other accomplishments, she has been known to kick the crown of a hat held six feet from the floor, which, by the way, is no mean trick.
Now a few turns of the leaves of the calendar backward, a wiping out of recent years, and you are at the beginning of the story. Not in New York, but in Ohio—the finish is in the big city, as all good finishes are.
A good-looking, rugged girl was there; a normal girl whose only heritage was health, strength and ambition, which, by the way, in many cases, is better than money. She took in all the shows that came to town, and had about as good a time as any other girl could have under the circumstances. She didn’t get stage struck. She had no ambition to sing or dance before the public, nor did she give a rap about Romeo and Juliet. Nothing like that for her.
You see her time hadn’t come and she had not yet struck her gait.
The first intimation she had that she was stung with the theatrical bee when she saw a bag-punching act in which the man made many misses, but faked it through so that it looked like the real thing.
That was what she had been waiting for all that time and she never knew it. The next day she bought a bag, had a platform rigged up and started in to practice. She worked in a woodshed, I think it was, with no one to teach her, and she hammered and punched until she was about ready to drop from exhaustion, but she never gave up. She would travel anywhere to see a bag-punching act and get a few tips, and although there were not many in the business at that time, especially out in Ohio, the few she did land told her all they knew and that wasn’t half enough.
She had reached that stage when she was fairly good, but didn’t know it, when there blew into the town a 120-pound boxer of about the fourth class who could pound the leather just enough to get a salary that would pay his board and buy a few drinks, but the fact that he was a bag puncher was enough for her, so she made his acquaintance and hustled him around to her improvised gymnasium to show her what he knew. To her surprise there was nothing in his routine that she wasn’t familiar with, and when she went at the bag herself she did a few stunts that made him open his eyes in amazement.
“Who put you next to that?” he asked.
“No one; I learned it myself.”
“Ever do an act?” was the next question he shot at her.
He had a quick mind—anybody has who knocks around on the road for a few seasons—and he was already beginning to figure.
“No, but some day when I get good I am going to ask some kind manager to give me a chance.”
“You don’t have to wait any longer, Sis; you can come with the show right away and we’ll do an act together.”
Here was a meal ticket that would be good for many a hard winter when the other fellows were eating snowballs, and, if he could help it, it wasn’t going to get away from him.
And that is the beginning of the story.
It didn’t get away from him, for he married her as soon as he could find the money to pay a minister, and that didn’t take very long.
He fixed up an act which might have been better, but which was good enough to get work with reasonable regularity. There was only one thing to it and that was her bag punching, and if it hadn’t been for his hustling around and getting dates he would have been a rank case of excess baggage. In the meantime, he was teaching her how to box, and when the act grew stale they had a boxing finish that never failed to go big with the crowd.
All this time she was learning. She hunted up every bag puncher of note in the country and gathered in the tips, and when she wasn’t busy with anything else she was framing up something new for herself. All this tended to give her a muscular development that was worth having and that many an athlete would have been proud of.
Her reputation was on the increase and she began to be known. The first step had been made, and it became a comparatively easy thing to get booking in Europe. The skate she was tied to began to swell up a bit, and during the seven days they were on the ship bound for Liverpool he got it into his head that he was the real one and that she was a side issue.
“Don’t ever forget,” he said to her when they reached London, “that I am the real fellow. I dug you out of a woodshed and put you where you are now and if you try to get gay with me, I’ll send you back there, and I’ll get another one just as good as you are.”
He thought he was the real candy boy, and he started in to cut a wide swath. He chased every petticoat that came along, blew in their joint salary at the cafes, and the only time she saw him was when they were doing their act.
In Berlin she happened to walk in the cafe connected with the music hall at which they were working, and she saw him sitting at one of the tables trying to fill a 160-pound blonde with Rhine wine.
“Don’t you think it is about time to cut this out?” she asked.
“Didn’t I tell you to keep away from me and not butt in where you’re not wanted?” he said.
“Yes; but I think I have something to say. I’m not a wooden image, am I?”
“Who is this woman?” asked the blonde, languidly.
“I’m his wife, if you want to know,” was the retort, “and anyone would think you had no home by the way you hang around here.”
“Tell her to go away; she annoys me.”
That was enough for the girl. With one swift jerk the blonde was pulled to her feet, then a vicious right hook found its way to her jaw, and as she dropped to the floor the “meal ticket” walked away.
It was the first blow she had ever struck except in a friendly contest with the gloves, and it stirred her blood as nothing else had ever done.
It did another thing—it set her to thinking, and from that time on she began a course of good, hard training.
Something definite and tangible had become established in her mind and she was after it like a hound after a rabbit. She paid as little attention to him as if he had never existed, and he carried on his love affairs—very numerous ones they were, too—with a free hand. He became a hot proposition, and he blew like a drunken sailor on every girl who caught his fancy. She lived like an automaton, doing everything mechanically except the conditioning work she was engaged in. At every show they boxed together, and once in a while, when she would get a chance, she would whip in a hard one in order to lay bare his weak spots. One night she hit him in the stomach. It was a short, sharp, snappy punch, and she felt the shock of it up to her elbow.
He turned white under his grease paint and then wobbled back a couple of paces.
When they came together again he whispered savagely:
“Cut those out or I’ll hand you one the next time.”
“It was a slip,” she said. “I didn’t mean it.”
“It’s a good thing for you that you didn’t,” he answered, surlily.
From Berlin they went to the Casino, in Paris, and if the trick that was pulled off there had never happened I wouldn’t be writing this story.
Paris to him was like a bone to a hungry dog and he was a hot sport from the night they hit the town, while she was a joke because she wouldn’t mix with the bunch and play the game of love on her own hook.
But all the time she was getting ready for the stunt that was to give her revenge and freedom together.
At last it came.
When he stumbled into the dressing room one night he had the beginnings of a good-sized jag. He had been putting away his share of absinthe and he began to abuse her.
“You’re a dead one,” he said, “and I don’t know what I ever saw in you. Here I’ve put you on your feet and give you the chance of your life to make good, but you don’t connect. Get in with the crowd and be a live one before it’s too late, for you’re getting to be a shine.”
“What do you expect me to do when you are mixed up with a bunch of cheap soubrettes, and drunk half the time?”
“Why, do the same as I do, of course. There’s that guy that came in last night and wanted to meet you. He’s got all kinds of coin, and——”
“Shut up,” she cried, “what do you think I am?”
She began working at her gloves viciously, pushing the padding away from the knuckles so as to leave the fist with as little covering as possible. You know the trick if you’ve ever seen boxers just before a contest. It isn’t considered the right thing to do, but when done properly makes a punch well landed about twice as effective. When she was through there wasn’t much hair in the centre of her gloves, and then they were ready to go on. They sang their opening song, juggled the Indian clubs, after which she went at the bag. That concluded, they were to go three rounds to a quick finish.
They were ready.
He went forward to the footlights to make the usual announcement.
“My partner and myself will now box three exhibition rounds,” etc., etc.
When a man has been sparring exhibition rounds very long he is apt to grow a trifle careless, and to take chances that he wouldn’t take under ordinary circumstances. It was so in this case, and at the first rush he got a stiff, straight left in the mouth that brought the blood oozing from between his lips.
“What the hell,” he began in amazement, but he didn’t finish, for she was on him in an instant and a short right went home to his ribs. He caught a look in her eyes that suddenly sobered him, and he began to stall and cover up. He retreated a few steps, and she said tauntingly:
“What’s the matter, are you afraid of me, you cur?”
He wavered for a moment and then she went after him again.
He swung his right with all his might and caught her on the ear. Somewhere from out of the audience there came a sibilant hiss which was taken up by a hundred at once. She needed that punch just about that time, and it spurred her on, even though it hurt for a moment. She bored in, and throwing down her guard drove a right and left to his stomach—his weak spot. There was the place, but she had forgotten it in the excitement.
He dropped heavily and awkwardly on his back, rolled over slowly and pulled himself to his feet. He came up with a realizing sense that he must protect himself against this woman who was taking an unfair advantage of him, and in his ears rang the shouts and applause of a delighted audience. He knew they were not for him, but he would fight, anyhow, and show them what he could do. They were to see that an American boxer was no slouch. He saw her standing there waiting, with a grim smile on her compressed lips and he made up his mind that he would knock that smile off. He straightened up and went at her like a bull. She didn’t back off as he thought she would, and when he pulled back his right he got a jolt on the jaw that turned him half way around. He went in again and she hit him in the stomach. When his head dropped his nose met an uppercut that made the blood spurt in a stream. The sight seemed to madden her and she went at him fiercely and vindictively. There was revenge behind every blow and she felt that she was evening up the insults and humiliation of a year. He was groggy and almost helpless and there was pandemonium in the audience. Some of the women had gone out, but those who had stayed had risen in their seats and were cheering on this American girl who was fighting like a man. She heard nothing and saw only the man she loathed and hated. She noted his puffed and bleeding face and knew she had him.
“Put up your hands,” she said sharply.
He obeyed mechanically and she walked over to him. He tried to cover up, but she feinted him into an opening, and then drove a straight right to his jaw and he flopped over in the wings crying:
“I quit, I quit; I didn’t think you’d do this.”
She didn’t even look at him as she went past to her dressing room.
Ten minutes later he came in with a trace of his former bluster.
“What are you trying to do, anyhow?” he began, but she shut him up.
“I’ll lick you again right here if you don’t keep your mouth closed. From now on until the end of this engagement I’m running this act, and I’m going to collect the money for it, too, and any time I catch you doing anything I don’t like I’m going to beat your head off. Any time you think I can’t do it start something. In just two weeks more you can pack your clothes and shift for yourself, for I’m done.”
She has been shifting for herself ever since, and is doing pretty well, thank you.
KID AND HIS TEN THOUSAND
Just another restaurant scene with waiters and guests and steaming dishes and wine.
It’s the same old thing, repeated many times a day, but it’s like a stage on which a thousand plays have appeared. The setting is always the same—it’s only the scene that changes.
I just want to call your attention to that red-cheeked boy at the table over by the window. I said boy, although from the standpoint of years he is really a man. But he lacks experience to bring him to a man’s real estate. Years, you know, don’t always count in this world, that is, not in all things. In this woman is excepted, because years count for everything with her.
This particular boy has just had his first experience, and that is the excuse for this story—if an excuse is needed. He has laid the foundation stone upon which he is going to build his life, and in the building he will use many stones of many colors, sizes and shapes.
You see him sitting there disconsolate, miserable and wretched. His home, as luxurious a one as anybody would want, is not more than a dozen blocks away, and he will wind up there in the course of the next forty-eight hours, for he is practically broke.
I call him The Boy With The Ten Thousand Dollar Bill.
Just a few years ago his father died. A few weeks later the family lawyer was in the drawing room reading the will of the deceased, and near the end of the document he came to a clause which stipulated:
“On his twenty-first birthday my son shall receive from the balance of moneys unexpended a bill of the denomination of $10,000 to do with as he shall see fit, and he shall not be asked to account for the expenditure of it to anyone in any way whatsoever.”
That was a curious item for even a curious will, but the estate was big and the founder of that fortune felt evidently that he could afford to experiment with a mere ten thousand, even after his death, that the lesson might be of benefit to the heir.
The object is obvious.
The boy became of age, and on that day he received the bank note which to him seemed like a fortune, so he felt that he owned the world.
A man can do a lot of good in New York with that amount of money, and a boy can do a lot of harm.
This boy knew in advance the good fortune that was coming to him, and in looking around he made up his mind that the first thing a man of his means should buy would be an automobile costing $4,000, so the day he got the money he bought the car, and he received in exchange a bundle of crisp five hundred bills.
He must have thought those bills represented the wealth of Croesus, or that they were magic, and no matter how many he might use, some mysterious agency would replace them.
At 11.30 o’clock that night the new automobile was backed up against the stage door of a Broadway playhouse, and half an hour later it was filled with as many girls as could possibly be crowded in.
In that startling way the boy with the big bill made his debut into the society of the line. He gave the girls a dinner that they are talking of yet, and before two hours had gone by they were calling him pet names and incidentally trying to get a line on the actual size of his bank roll. They worked individually, and each one could in fancy see herself installed in a fine house, mistress of unlimited means and the wife of an especially easy mark, made to order for a chorus girl.
You see he was so liberal that he deceived them, although, as a matter of fact, young ladies with their wide experience ought to have known better, and have figured out the limit of his possibilities.
These ten thousand dollars were left by the dead man to be a bait for the wolves, and he had arranged it so that the hand of his son should feed it to them bit by bit. There were other thousands behind these and they were to be protected by the knowledge of the fate of the ones which had gone before. It was willed that ten thousand dollars of experience might be bought with it, and the boy was doing his share of it very well. He left his home and took a nice little apartment so that he could have more liberty, which he needed just about that time. He lunched with a soubrette and dined with a singer. If he liked a show or fancied one of the girls in it, he engaged a box every night for the week. The crowd dubbed him The Little Millionaire, and he deserved the title, for he was certainly playing the star part, and he was always present at what are known as rackets where the chief source of amusement were girls who cut capers and danced to the music of male voices.
His automobile, which always carried a bunch of freight from which ribbons and feathers fluttered, denoting the sex of the wearers, of course, shot up and down and in and out in a most spectacular manner, and it, as much as anything else, helped to make him popular.
He must have known a bit about finance, for it looked to those who were watching his career as if he was spending about ten thousand a week, and so he got the reputation of doing—as sometimes happens in this world—that which was impossible.
But through it all he never showed his hand.
He was dining one night with an especially nice little girl of the stage to whom he had shown a lot of attention—which means in stage parlance that he had bought her presents worth accepting.
They had come to the third bottle of wine, and to her way of thinking, the time seemed about ripe for what she had in mind.
“A man who’s been in the business a long time was telling me the other night that I ought to have a show of my own,” she mused, as she sipped her wine.
She had made a careful and skilful cast and she waited.
“Why don’t you?” he asked presently.
That was quicker action than she had dared to expect.
“I ought to have done it two years ago when I had a friend that wanted to start me out on the road. Don’t you think I’m as good as Blanche Bates?”
“How was it you didn’t go?” he queried, ignoring her question.
“Well, you see, I didn’t like this party, and I wouldn’t accept favors from no one I didn’t like. It don’t cost much to put a show on if you know how, and there’s a lot of money in it if it’s a hit.”
“About how much?”
“Twelve or fifteen thousand dollars would do it up in great shape. I think a nice little comic opera would be good. The kind Lillian Russell has. All she makes good on is her looks and that’s not so much. I could take a few music lessons while the play was being fixed up and it wouldn’t be long before I could make them all sit up and look me over.”
There was a moment’s pause and then she aimed at the bull’s eye:
“What’s the matter with you backing it?”
“That’s what I was just thinking about,” was the answer. “I’ll look into it and if it’s all right I’ll see my broker and give you a chance to see what you can do as a star.”
He was talking like an old timer and he had her going in a minute. But that was only one of his jokes and for two weeks he kept it up. Then he told her of some enormous investments he had made which had tied him up temporarily, while she had to go around explaining to her friends that it was all off about what she had been telling them.
There was one proposition this gay young sport hadn’t figured on, for all going out and nothing coming in makes a quick and, as a rule, a spectacular finish. A fellow starts out like a three-time winner and comes under the wire with nothing but a bundle of junk, without even knowing his right name.
Two months of the three had gone by and the most remarkable part of the whole affair was that there was any money left. But toward the latter part of the game he had been growing wise, or he thought he was, at any rate. He stopped the five-dollar tips and he was cutting out a night here and there. He might have retired with honors if he hadn’t met Blanche.
Good-looking, slick, clever Blanche, the regret of whose life was that she hadn’t met him first and got it all in one solid chunk. He didn’t know it, but he was made for Blanche, and what was more to the point, she knew it. In fact, there were very few things she didn’t know.
His talk about his brokers didn’t switch her in the least. There had been a time in her life when she might have believed it, but that time had gone by. She had lived in a fool’s paradise just once and that was enough for her.
He actually wanted to marry her, but she wouldn’t consider it for a moment, because she didn’t figure him out as a future proposition for more than a couple of thousand at the most.
“You’re all right, Harry,” she said once, “but we won’t have any marrying just now. What we will do is go shopping. I want to furnish a flat so I can really have a home of my own and you will be just as welcome there as if you owned it yourself, so come along and we’ll pick the things out. You have very nice taste in such matters, I know, and we can have a good time buying.”
Good speech that, and very nicely delivered, and he liked her well enough to find no flaw in it. But when the time really came for the buying there was something else she had to do, so she said:
“Don’t you bother your head about this; just give me the money; I know what I want; I have the list all made out. I’ll buy them and fix them up and when everything is ready I’ll have you come up and look at them and tell me what you think. I know my taste is not as good as yours, but I’ll do the best I can.”
Please bear in mind that he was only a boy—just twenty-one years old—then you will understand perhaps why it was he fell for so old a story.
At this point you’ve got it all figured out. In your opinion she took the coin and simply faded away.
Nothing of the kind.
He saw her once every twenty-four hours at least and she reported progress, and then one day he got a note telling him to come up and see the new place.
She received him at the door herself and if the little flat had been a palace she couldn’t have been more delighted. It was so very fine that when she told him she had gone into debt just a little bit he promptly asked how much and paid up without even so much as a murmur. It was so easy that she ought to have given it back to him a little while just to hold.
When he went away he had a latch key and was about as proud a fellow as it was possible to be and walk straight.
As in a play so in a story—the finish is everything.
It must be good and it must be quick.
The earlier parts of the story or the scenes may lag, but nothing like that will do at the end.
Blanche had been on the stage, and consequently she knew the value of “finis.”
He was to go on a hunting trip for a week, and in her opinion the critical moment had about arrived. She intuitively divined the end of the string. One night at a little dinner in the flat she talked to him about money matters, and such was the charm of her manner that presently he was telling her all about himself, and the romance of the ten thousand dollar bill.
“And how much have you left of all this?” she asked softly.
“Oh, I don’t know, about seven or eight hundred.”
“Well, I think you’ve been very, very foolish. You’re going away on a week’s trip and a hundred really ought to do you. Just give the rest to me and I will take good care of it until you come back, and then you will have it. You want to be careful of what you have now; you are altogether too liberal, and you do too much for people.”
That was the reason when he went away on that trip that he was a trifle shy financially, and so far to the bad that he had to borrow to get back in good shape.
From the Grand Central station he took a cab to the flat. It seemed as though he couldn’t get there quick enough. He went up the stairs two at a time. He came to the door.
There was a light, dim, but still a light, shining feebly over the transom. He put the key in the lock, turned it, opened the door and went in. He took four steps in the private hall. Then a man’s arm went around his neck and a voice asked:
“What are you doing here?”
He had nerve and he wasn’t the least bit flustered.
“If you’ll let go that strangle I’ll tell you,” he said. “Where’s Blanche?”
That was the opening for the story, which he told very well under the circumstances.
“She never owned this furniture,” spoke up the man, when the tale had been concluded. “This flat is rented furnished. She left here about a week ago, and I live here now.”
Now we get the curtain.
He has finished his dinner, and he’s going home. That’s the best place anyhow. What right has a boy like that to be on Broadway with ten thousand dollars?
AN ORIENTAL NOCTURNE
It’s just one little step—in New York, anyhow—from the Caucasian to the Oriental. As a matter of fact it’s only across the street, and that doesn’t count for any distance at all. The Chinese have settled down on that little part of the city which is split into wedge-shaped blocks by Mott, Pell and Doyers streets, very much like a flock of birds alight on some tree, and with apparently as little reason. They have brought with them their manners, their customs, their habits and their traditions. They have imported their own gods, and even the furniture for the joss houses. They have introduced to American men and women the choices of their Oriental vices, that of opium smoking, and they have provided places where their patrons may enjoy the drug. They wash your shirts and iron your collars; they take your money and smile at you; they go to your Sunday schools and sing hymns in queer cracked voices that would be worth big money to a comedian, and they profess to be converted to your way of thinking, but they are smooth and wise.
They are never weaned from the worship of Confucius or Tao, or Buddha, as the case may be, but don’t you see when a Chinese wants to learn the language of the people with whom he lives, it is very nice to have as a teacher a nice looking girl, and the English of the Bible is no different than any other English. So, by saying he has foresworn the gods and the faith of his fathers, he gets his education directly from the red lips of a daughter of the white devils, and sometimes he puts on the finishing touches by marrying her.
Can you beat it?
Much he thinks of women, for in that Empire from whence he comes a woman is a chattel, a bit of merchandise, worth so much in money or goods, as the case may be, and he buys her as a white man buys a horse. She is his wife, his mistress, or his servant, and the price fluctuates accordingly.
When Yen Gow, the slickest Oriental that ever cooked a pill, hit Mott street for the first time, he noticed that there were very few women of his race in the colony, and being a man who made money, no matter by what means, he considered it was an evil that he was in duty bound to remedy. He had a varied career, and among other things being an expert, he had taught American women how to smoke “hop.”
Incidentally, it is pat to say here that Yen Gow represents a man and not a dummy, and that this story is absolutely true in every detail and is very far removed from fiction.
If you haven’t what you want, get it, is a maxim practiced by a certain class of people in all countries in the world whose methods, both from a moral as well as a legal standpoint, are not considered to be exactly right. So being shy one female of his own blood and color, Yen took a 3,000 mile ride to ’Frisco to remedy the defect. No one knows just how deep he had to dig for that slant-eyed lady, dressed in the clothes of a boy, whom he smuggled into the top floor of a Mott street tenement one night. But it was his investment, and he spent his money like another man would buy ground or buildings.
He fitted the room up with couches and curtains and furniture, but first of all he fitted a good, strong lock to the door that couldn’t be tampered with either from the inside or outside unless one had the key. There was only one key and he had it. When you buy property that has feet you are not inclined to take chances.
Having attended to all of the details that he considered necessary, and frightened the lady by telling her that the people of New York were cannibals who liked nothing better than Mongolian flesh, he began to do business.
He first lounged into the fan-tan joint of Hop Lee on Pell street.
“Have you ever heard of Moy Sen?” he asked.
“Moy Sen; who is she?”
“Who is she? Were you born yesterday? There are three hundred and twenty girls in ’Frisco, and they are as little like Moy Sen as the earth is like the sun. Why, the viceroy of the Shang-tuan province heard of her and sent an envoy with nothing to do but look at her and if she was what they said she was, to bring her back even if it cost him ten thousand taels.”
“Did he get her?”
“Can a child get a rainbow? She heard he was coming, so she dressed in the clothes of a working boy and ran away to New York.” He stepped a little closer and whispered: “She is here now.”
Then he cunningly told his story, and when he had finished he had made it clearly understood for what purpose she was here, and added further that being an utter stranger she had placed herself under his care.
“Now, if you care to see her I will take you.”
Nothing could be simpler—nor plainer.
In figuring up his profits—which were large—Yen Gow got into the habit of multiplying them by two, and then mentally cursing himself because he had not bought two slaves instead of one. With no conscience and no morals, he was a thing of stone whose only thought was the easy acquirement of money. If, by cutting off a finger or an ear from his chattel he could have increased her value, he would have done it with as little compunction as lopping off a chicken’s head.
When the money didn’t come in fast enough he took to beating her, and it wasn’t long before the slim, brown body of the girl began to take on bluish spots where the knots in the rope had struck and left their imprint. She had never known there was such a thing in the world as love, but she began to hate with a fierceness and vindictiveness that any woman is capable of when she has been wronged, no matter of what race or nationality she may be.
Revenge follows closely on the heels of a woman’s hate, and it is always deadly. One woman can hate another woman and still smile on her as if she was the dearest and best friend in the world, while she is waiting to let go her poisoned shaft. But she has no smiles for the man she hates any more than a cat will purr when it has just had an encounter with a dog.
Many a night when the sightseeing crowds were going through Chinatown’s streets the girl looked at her captor, and let her tapering hand slip inside the loose fold of her silk blouse until it caressed the jade handle of a long, thin and keen-edged blade. If he had known how near death he was he would have put his back against the wall and pulled out that big American revolver he always carried in his sash. But not knowing he went along with his head up in the clouds.
Because her heart was the heart of a woman she stopped feeling for the knife and set her mind on other things, such as any caged animal would under the circumstances. It was finally concentrated on the key—that slim piece of metal which he never let out of his keeping day or night. It gave her courage to live the life she was leading, and the thought spurred her on, for at last she had an object.
The long, lean, gray wolf of the prairies will follow its prey for days. Hungry and thirsty and tired it will trail like a shadow, never once deviating from the heels of its victim. Through snow, and rain, and sleet, and wind, surmounting all obstacles it will stay until the end, and the end to the wolf always means the feast.
Somewhere in the veins of this Chinese girl there must have been one drop of wolf blood, for once she set her mind upon the possession of that key she never wavered. It was before her night and day. She planned a thousand ways to get it, but never one was right. She watched him with furtive eyes, but for all the good it did, she might just as well have been looking out of the window of the dreary brick wall of the other building.
Once when he was sleeping she crept silently to his side and felt for the inner pocket of his blouse. Slight as was her touch he must have felt it, for he moved uneasily and she fluttered to the floor like a leaf from a falling tree. She tried again, but with the same result.
But out of what seems certain failure often comes success.
“I am hungry; get me something to eat quick,” he demanded when he awoke in the morning.
She started up and set about her work while he walked over to the table to get his water pipe. As she passed back and forth from cupboard to stove her glance fell upon the couch where he had slept, and for one brief moment it seemed as though she was going to fall. A sudden weakness came into her knees and it was with a great effort that she kept from crying out, for there in plain view was the key. In an instant she had it, and she had taken the first and easiest step to freedom.
He smoked, then ate, then smoked again, but this last time it wasn’t tobacco that soothed him—it was opium, and when at last his drowsy eyes closed she was by the door pushing the key into the socket. It turned the lock. Then she opened the door, passed out and locked it on the outside. She ran down the steps as if she was pursued; out on the street, when the thought of those white devils—those eaters of human flesh—halted her in terror. But no one spoke to her and she was reassured. Across the way she saw the sign of a temple, and she made for it as a shipwrecked sailor makes for land. She went up one flight of very dark and very dirty stairs and then saw a half-opened door. She peeped in. The room was empty, but at the back were the images of the gods she knew in China; before them was the shrine, and back of them was the sacred place where no one dared go.
But nothing is sacred where terror is, and before ten seconds of time had been ticked off by the clock on the wall she was nestling at the heels of Kwon Guet, the God of Might, the safest spot in all the quarter.
If you will notice when you visit a Chinese joss house you will observe that there is nothing thin nor weak about the keeper. He looks like a man who loves the good things of life and gets them, too. His life is one of ease and he feasts like a nabob. When a Chinese wants a favor from a joss he first sends offerings of food. These are put in fine dishes and placed on the altar. Then he prays, and begs that this feast be accepted in the same spirit in which it is sent. He may believe or he may not believe that that thing of wood eats what he has left, but the keeper knows and waxes fat. Many a time has he smacked his lips over a sucking pig, roasted to a turn, and chickens are on his daily bill of fare.
Two hours after the girl had gone through the open door the keeper awoke. He yawned and then stretched himself, leisurely. He was in no hurry, for he knew there was a breakfast awaiting for him on the altar, and it was such a breakfast as a man of his distinction was entitled to. He knew to a grain of rice what had been put there the night before just as he had known it for years.
Presently he was ready and he sauntered out of his little room with no unseemly haste. The wick in the vessel of olive oil was burning with a steady glow and the faces of the gods were as placid and emotionless as the day they left the carver’s shop in Pekin.
He rubbed his eyes and stepped back a pace in alarm.
One of the dishes was empty. It was as bare and clean as the palm of his hand. He ran back to the room in the rear and roughly woke his assistant.
“You have eaten before me, you swine,” he shouted.
“Eaten?” queried the other. “I have not eaten since yesterday.”
“Come and look then.” Together they both went, and when they arrived at the altar another dish had been taken.
The keeper looked up at the stolid countenance of Kwon Guet, saw a shred of the white meat of a chicken and a grain of rice on his lower lip, and then dropped face downward on the floor as if he had been shot.
He grovelled in abject terror while the assistant gazed at him with wondering eyes, until he, too, looked up, saw the same sight, and then he went down beside his master. There they both lay until combining their courage, they crept fearfully backward beyond the range of the vision of those green jade eyes.
“It is a curse,” whispered the keeper, and the other nodded his head, too frightened to speak.
That was only the beginning, for as fast as the offerings were brought they disappeared, and nothing was left but empty dishes. For eight days this continued, and then, on the night of that day, the keeper, grown bold, found the desire to see a god eat growing in his heart. So when the lights in the shops had gone out and the noises in the street had died down to whispers, he went out into the darkened temple and sat in a corner with his back against the wall. The flickering lamps burned dimly and cast long shadows across the bare floor and with solitude came fear. He looked at the heaped-up dishes hungrily and then at the joss, but the religion of his ancestors held him fast, and what might have been nothing more nor less than a block of wood to another man of another race was something to him that was endowed with the power to pardon and punish or even cause instant death.
Suddenly there came to him a noise like a sigh, long-drawn out and deep, and as he shrunk back still further in his corner he felt the blood in his veins run cold. A dish moved and his lower jaw dropped as though he had been stricken with death. Something seemed to wind itself about that bit of crockery and drag it slowly in until it disappeared, but there was no sound. His breath came in gasps and he felt as if he would choke. Then he saw the dish replaced with the food gone. Those same unseen hands took another one and still another, but he didn’t see, for he had sagged down in a lifeless heap and terror had numbed his senses. As he went over he groaned aloud, and there was a sudden movement back of the altar which almost caused Kwon Guet to topple over.
At three o’clock in the morning Chuck Connors, with his hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets, was walking along Mott street, homeward bound, when a Chinese girl came running out of the joss house door. So great was her speed that she almost collided with him.
“Ha, there, git onto yerself,” said Chuck, putting up his hands to fend off an imaginary blow: “wot are yer tryin’ ter do—shoot de shoots?”
“Velly much aflaid,” said the girl, looking behind her.
“Well, wot de yer t’ink uv dat,” said Chuck, “Who’s chasin’ yer, anyhow?” and he took a step toward the doorway.
But she wouldn’t have it that way, and taking hold of his arm she almost dragged him away from the place. Chuck knows a little Chinese and a lot of pidgin-English, and he managed to get some kind of a story out of the girl, and then he took her home and put her in the care of Mrs. Chuck until the morning. The next day she was taken to a mission house in Brooklyn, where she stayed until one night when a sporty laundryman smuggled her away to Savannah, Ga.
The joss-house keeper buys his grub now, and he’s looking a bit thin. Incidentally he pays more attention to the temple than ever before.
So, you see, good comes out of everything.
A COMMERCIAL TRANSACTION
The turn of a street corner, the going this way instead of that, the casual introduction to a certain woman, and a thousand other things often prove the turning point in life, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. To every man opportunity comes once at least. The successful ones are those who have recognized their chance and taken prompt advantage of it. But anyone can preach a sermon, and money doesn’t always follow in the footsteps of education.
That will do for a starter to this story of a woman, a dinner and two men. You will notice that the woman comes first, the dinner next, and the men last, which is as it should be. Women should always be in the lead, which fact will be more fully recognized when their ability and genius become more generally understood and appreciated.
The dinner in this story changed the current of three lives so abruptly that it almost became a tragedy, and if you like you can take this as a moral, and beware of dinners, unless, of course, you are looking for a change, in which event you can take this as a tip and dine with the crowd early and often and see what happens.
The son of a wealthy Eastern brewer, born with a gold spoon in his mouth, and taught to believe that the world was made for his especial benefit, after blazing his way along the White Light thoroughfare for a few years, and making a name for himself as a spender of rare ability, took it suddenly into his head to reform. A good many hard nights had brought out a crop of fine wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and high living had added several inches to his waist line. But he was still good looking and ruddy cheeked, and there were a number of charming ladies living on certain side streets who knew him well enough to call him by his first name, and who were always glad to see him whether he did the sucker trick of opening bad wine at $5 a throw or not. In his mind the first step toward reformation meant marriage with some nice respectable young woman who had been correctly brought up, and whose family tree would bear investigation, and as his income was somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 it wasn’t hard to find what he wanted, for ninety-nine women out of a hundred would cheerfully fasten themselves to a monstrosity if there was a bank book in the inside pocket.
He picked out the girl he proposed to turn from a Miss into a Mrs., paid attention to her for thirty days without a break, then he proposed and was accepted, and the date of the marriage was set for two months later. It was a case of thirty and sixty days, with no discounts off.
It is usual in a case of this kind to give a farewell dinner to the bunch, to have one last good drunk and then a laborious climb aboard the water wagon until after the honeymoon. So he hunted up one of his best friends and told him the glad news.
“Never again for me,” he said, “and all the Dotties and Lotties and Totties can strike my name off their lists, for I’m going to marry, old man, and settle down to business. But I’m going to have one big blaze before I go, and I want you to get it up, for you can lay out a dinner better than anyone I know, and besides, I’m going to have you for my best man when I get hitched. Now go as far as you like and damn the expense. Have a stag with all the good fellows there that we know, and we’ll set off a few fireworks that will give them something to talk about.”
The banquet room of a big hotel was engaged, and the French chef got an order to lay out a spread that would make an old Roman feast look like a Bowery beef stew. Then the enterprising best man, who was something of a high roller himself, set his wits to work to devise a novelty that would top anything in the banquet line ever seen in New York after the lights were turned on. About fifty invitations went out, and in response to them on one eventful Saturday night, half a hundred dyed-in-the-wool sports, of the kind who buy diamond rings for little ladies who dance well, settled themselves in very comfortable chairs, and prepared to have the time of their lives and wish good luck to the man who was going to become respectable. The dinner was only a side issue, for it was to be nothing more nor less than one great drunk, and that was understood from the start. So the wine flowed as freely as water in the spring when the melting snows flood the brooks and swell the rivers, and for every five men there was one waiter to see that no one went thirsty. From ten until twelve the black-jacketed servitors drew corks and filled glasses, and then the best man pulled himself to his feet, propped himself between the arm of his chair and the table and commanded order that he might be heard.
“There is a pudding coming,” he began, “and in view of the fact that I invented it myself I would like to have you fellows sit up and take notice.”
Then he motioned to the head waiter and sank back in his chair. Five men, each one holding up his end of a platform about four feet square on which was a monstrous concoction of pastry, staggered in. A vacant place had been cleared on the table, and when it was placed in position a yell went up from the crowd.
“I’ll take a slice off the top,” sang the bridegroom, as he waved a glass of wine aloft.
“Cut it, Bill,” said the best man, and one of the waiters, grinning, went at it with a huge carving knife. He slit it from top to bottom in two places, and as the crust crumbled away half a dozen birds fluttered out, and when the pastry cook’s creation was demolished there was disclosed a young woman rather scantily draped and with a figure worth missing a train for.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” she said, smiling, and then she stepped out.
People who make a study of such things will tell you for every man in the world there is just one woman who belongs to him. They may be thousands of miles apart, and it may so happen that they will never meet, but the fact remains that they were intended for each other just the same. He may marry and she may marry, but there will be no real, true happiness until they live their lives together. When this girl, trim and slim but shapely, stood on the table, the man who was going to be married looked on her and knew then that there was no other woman in the world for him—not even the one whom he had promised to marry. The others stood up and cheered and applauded her, while he sat there staring almost stupidly. Her bronze hair tumbled down over her bare shoulders and her laughing eyes took in the scene.
“And who is the one who is going to be married?” she asked smilingly. “I want to drink with him.”
“Get on your pins, old man, and drink with the lady,” called one, and he obediently arose and held a glass of wine toward her.
“So you are the one?” she asked, looking him over critically. “Well, here is that the woman you marry is as good a fellow as you look to be.”
That was at midnight.
When the clock struck two every guest was still in his place, and seated in the lap of the man at the head of the table—the host, the man who was to marry, become straightened out, and shake the crowd—was the girl. He had one arm around her, and they were drinking out of the same glass. Of course it wasn’t at all proper, but you see everything goes at a bachelor’s dinner, and in view of the fact that this was a last wild fling, apparently, it was all right. It was nobody’s business, anyhow, for a man may do as he likes even if he is on the verge of his own wedding.
“You will surely call,” she was saying between sips.
“Surely,” was the answer, “if you will allow me.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then I will call anyhow.”
“Now you’re just the kind of a man I like,” she whispered. “But what are you going to do after you’re married?”
“I don’t think I will marry,” he said; “at least I’ll not marry the girl I intended. You and I are going to talk that over, because——”
“Why, I’ve only known you about two hours.”
“It wouldn’t make any difference if you’d only known me two minutes, it would be just the same.”
“I suppose so, but you see a good many men have talked to me like that, and promised me everything, but it’s always the same in the end. Men say things that they mean at the time, but it doesn’t last.”
He was really in earnest, though he was drunk, and the next afternoon, when he was sober enough to know what he was doing, he wrote a note to his fiancee, telling her that he was sorry, but it was all off. There were reasons, of course, but he couldn’t explain, and would she kindly release him from his engagement, which had been entered into too hastily, etc., etc. You know the old story.
In the end he got his freedom in a tear-stained letter, then he went and threw a high-ball under his belt and squared away for the pudding girl.
She was making about $40 a week and living at the rate of about $150, it didn’t take a wise man to see that, and so he was on the moment he looked over the ranch. But it cut no figure with him at all, for he was too well satisfied to be bothered about a trifle like that, especially at the start of the hunt, so he took things as they came and made the best of them.
One night he was there, and they had become confidential.
“Who did it all?” he asked, as he waved his hand to take in the elaborate furnishings of the room.
“So you have reached the curious stage?” she asked. “What do you want to know for?”
“Because I think so well of you that I want to do all this sort of thing myself. Who did it?”
She looked thoughtfully out of the window for a moment, and then, as if she had suddenly made up her mind, she turned and said:
“Would it make any difference to you if you knew?”
“Not a bit.”
“Not even if it was someone whom you knew?”
“Not even then.”
When she told him the name it was that of his best friend, the one who was going to be his best man at the wedding.
Here was a complication.
Now you can see what an apparently harmless dinner did.
It wasn’t very long ago, so it’s only a step down to the present day.
The Hungarian gypsy band in a big cafe uptown was playing its head off, and every table was occupied. Over in one of the corners—a choice position, by the way—at a table on which were half a dozen empty wine bottles, sat two men and a woman. If you will look at them again you will notice that their faces are very familiar. Yes, that’s right, it is the pudding girl, the brewer’s son and the man who was going to be next to the real one at the big show when two were made one and the minister was paid double for working overtime. All three are a bit unsteady, naturally, for the soldiers on the table tell the story, consequently they are well primed for a scene of this kind.
The brewer’s son is talking to the other man, and the girl is playing a listening part, and playing it well.
“You only think you love,” he says, “but all you have done is to spend a few hundred dollars—or thousands, it makes no difference. You’d spend it anyhow in some other way. I’ve broken off my marriage for her, and that’s something. You’re a friend of mine and why don’t you let go?”
“That’s all right, and I agree to what you say. I haven’t the money I once had, and I don’t think I can keep the pace up much longer, but I don’t want to see Maud go up against it. She’s used to nice things. Suppose the Governor turns on you and cuts you off, what are you going to do then? You won’t have any more chance than I have. I know you’re all right now, but Maud’s got to be taken care of, and if I can do anything to put her on Easy Street I’ll do it.”
He reached for a half empty bottle and refilled his glass. He drank slowly and when he had finished he went on.
“Have you got as much as $10,000?” he asked, abruptly.
“I mean ready money?”
“Yes, ready money.”
“Then I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You put $10,000 in the bank in Maud’s name and I’ll quit, but you also got to promise me that you will look after her and do everything for her that she wants. How about that, Maudie, all right?”
As he spoke he patted her caressingly on the shoulder while the brewer’s son, flushed to the roots of his hair with the wine he had drank, dived into an inside pocket for his check book.
“Will you be the best man, Joe?”
“Best man for what?” the girl spoke for the first time.
“For our wedding, of course.”
“Not so you can pay any particular attention to it. You’ll have to chloroform me to get me in front of a minister. I’m no Sunday-school scholar, and no man can own me. I believe every woman should be independent, and when a woman marries she not only sacrifices her freedom, but herself. I like you both, and I’m glad to know that I’m worth $10,000 to you,” and she nodded toward the brewer’s son. “For that I’ll play fair with you, and if we ever agree to disagree we’ll do it like two good fellows. Joe, don’t forget to come around and take dinner with us once in a while, will you?”
P. S.—A story in a daily newspaper published later tells about the son of a wealthy brewer committing suicide by shooting, in his home in a town near New York. The cause for the rash act is not known. Strange that it should be the man who was going to reform, but didn’t, isn’t it?
THE END OF THE ROAD
They call them demi mondaines and nymphs du pave in Paris, and it doesn’t sound so bad, but here a spade is called a spade with coarse brutality and vice doesn’t receive even a very thin coating of veneer.
Take a walk any night along the streets where women congregate—you know the kind of women I mean—and study the faces. Look for weakness, and strength, and character. Look for good and evil. You don’t have to be a mind reader, just a plain, ordinary, everyday sort of a man with average intelligence.
If you look for the outward signs of degradation in the uptown districts you’ll be disappointed; you’ll have to turn your face and your steps Batteryward to find that. Vice has a degrading and demoralizing influence and its victim, in following that unwritten law of nature that governs the universe, is ever on the downward path. In some cases it is a gentle descent, while in others it is simply a series of steps each one lower than the other, and at the last there is nothing but pity for the poor devils of women to whom no man lifts his hat or bows his head, and who cease to live in merely existing.
And for eight out of every ten there are eight men somewhere whose hands gave the push that sent them on the downhill road.
But once in a while—once in a very great while—justice comes to a man as it did in this case, and that’s the story.
Locked up securely in the City Prison like a rat is locked in a trap, or a dangerous beast is fastened behind iron bars, is a pretty little black-eyed French girl.
Julie, her name is, and those who see and talk to her find in her a great charm; a charm, that had she been placed in a different atmosphere or had the lines of her life been cast in different places, would have been so far-reaching as to make her a power. She had such a charming figure that she once posed for a sculptor. Many a woman’s hand has shaped the course of destiny in this world of ours, and the power behind the throne usually wears petticoats.
This Julie takes her imprisonment calmly, because she is a philosopher by force of circumstances. She knows the metal bars can resist her, consequently she doesn’t throw herself against them and there are no tears in her eyes because she can never cry again. She doesn’t know what they will eventually do to her and she doesn’t care. If it is decreed that she shall go forth free, good; then she will go. If it is decreed that for the rest of her life she shall be doomed to wear that narrow blue prison stripe, she will at least be fed and housed and cared for, and on rainy, stormy days she will be under shelter and not compelled to walk the streets with dripping skirts until the gray morning comes over the roof tops.
You see, she has the comforting creed of a fatalist—that what is to be will be, and that one thought is to her like a narcotic—she sleeps at nights.
Because of that she doesn’t hear the moans and sobs of the woman in the next cell, who has the feathery crime of petit larceny hanging over her head instead of murder. A mere trifle which means nothing more than a few weeks—or months at the most—in jail. A rest like the going away from the hot city streets when July comes, as the rich people do, or to the South when winter winds blow. A place where the thermometer always registers about the same and the meals come regularly, which is not a thing to be despised by anyone, much less a woman of the lower half.
If the life of this Julie were to be told year by year it would take a book of many thousands of pages, and the pathos, comedy and tragedy would be about evenly divided. You would have the tale of how she once asked a man if he had change of a $50 bill. Then when he pulled out his money she grabbed the roll, cried out: “Here comes the police,” and dashed into a hallway in the twinkling of an eye. It was a good joke and she spent the proceeds for a new dress, for she was of the kind who make even jokes profitable.
That she was saved from arrest many times was due to the fact that she stood in with the police, and she was considered to be one of the most successful stool pigeons in the business. She was born with the instinct of the hunter, and hunter she was. In her own inner circle, however, she was known as The Slasher, and was feared accordingly.
It came about in this way.
She and another woman of the streets were rivals in many ways. When they first met they took an instinctive dislike to each other. The other one was a blonde, tall and stately—the kind you read about in cheap novels. She was an English girl, and when it came to a knockdown and drag-out argument she was able to deliver the goods in fine shape. Their first quarrel was over nothing, and before it was finished the lady with the golden tresses had taken her French sister by the shoulders and flung her down an area bruising her badly.
The Latin blood in the black-eyed one boiled, and she cried out for revenge, which she proceeded to work up in a truly Latin manner. She made friends with her former enemy, said that she was in the wrong and was sorry for what had happened, and that she wanted to be forgiven. The blonde fell like a farmer before Hungry Joe, and they both went off to celebrate. The celebration consisted in tucking away many cocktails and highballs, and inside of two hours the British lady was a sodden wreck, and so helpless that she had to be carried to her room on the second floor rear of a house of no reputation.
Julie stayed with her long enough to pull out a razor and cut three gashes from the bridge of her nose across one cheek. Then she slipped out and went on her way as though nothing had ever happened to give her a moment’s worry.
That little stunt put the blonde out of business, in that section of the city, at least. It is said she went further downtown, where there is less of a premium on beauty and style.
Like other women of her caste Julie found it necessary to have a protector, and when she first appeared in the role of hunter she cast about for one who would suit—one who would fight her battles and upon whom she could lavish the affection that was not bought, or that still remained unsold.
Being a good looking girl, educated up to a certain point, and with pleasant ways—the kind of ways a man would look for in a girl if he was selecting a wife—she had no trouble in attaching to herself a young fellow who was a good mate for her. She let it be understood at the start that he was to belong to her and that he was to be at her beck and call. She wanted to revel in the joys of complete ownership.
He was willing enough, and in fact it rather suited him, because he came into immediate possession of a wife, a home and income.
It is to be supposed there was some affection in the case, for it wasn’t a cold business proposition. It was bad enough, even from the best side, but she liked him in a way—you can put the word love in here if you like—but I am of the opinion that her feeling was that of a dog-like devotion, and his was one of knowing a good thing when he saw it.
But she was jealous, too.
“If I see you speaking to any of the other girls,” she said to him once, “I will leave you right away.”
That was in the early stages, and now notice how a woman’s affection shifts.
“If you flirt with any of those girls I will kill myself,” she said six months later.
First she would leave him and then she would kill herself.
That brings the tragedy to the last stage.
“I will kill you.”
There are no peaceful lives cast in such a groove as that.
He began to grow a bit tired of her, even though the money did come to him regularly. You see, he had no occupation, and he had to do something with his time, and that something wasn’t good.
Then it was that the quarrels began, a few words at first, but gradually increasing in bitterness until one night he came in half drunk and taking her by the throat almost strangled her. She said afterward that she thought she was gone, because red lights danced before her eyes.
But she was game and didn’t whimper, not even when he struck her in the face with his clinched fist and threw her to the floor. She took her medicine gamely, for she realized intuitively that it was her medicine, and it was a part of the life she was leading.
The strange part of it all was that she never shed a tear.
Her neck hurt her, and when she looked in the mirror she saw the marks of his strong fingers and in that instant she was a changed woman. The flickering flame of her affection turned to a steady glow of hate and from that moment she began to figure on revenge. She stood still and white and cold, and every tick of the clock on the mantel was a stroke of doom for him. There was nothing melodramatic about her at this stage of the game, for her street training served to make her calm at times.
Woman-like, she at once took up with another champion and this time she picked out a man who was peculiarly fitted by force of circumstances to help her. He was to be not so much a companion as stepping-stone, and in that she simply followed out the natural instinct of the average woman who purrs and strikes indiscriminately and who makes merchandise and capital of her favors.
“He beat me,” she told this new one in talking of the one who had been supplanted, “and I want you to help me get even.”
The promise was made on this tainted honeymoon and for one hour every night they went out together looking for their prey in all of the places where he had been known to go.
For two weeks it was a fruitless search, and then the news came to her in an indirect way that he had been seen in the old haunts.
The good pot-hunter never really hunts—he lures the game to the decoy—and because she had been years upon the trail she at once corrected her first mistake and sent a letter as bait—a tender missive full of regrets and endearing terms; such a letter as only a woman could write—a letter like a silken bandage to blind the eyes and shut out the real view of things.
It came to his hand as she had expected it would, and when the time arrived he hurried to the rendezvous to heal the breach and once more place himself on friendly terms with his income.
There are enough facts in this story to carry it, but it is not an absolutely correct recital. There are reasons why it should be changed and so I have changed it, but not enough to destroy its identity.
On that street at night, with people hurrying to and fro, they came face to face, but before he could speak to her, the other man stepped out and seized him.
“Come with me, I want you,” he said roughly, and he wheeled him around with a deft movement. There was no other word spoken and only for an instant was there a brief struggle.
All the while the woman had been fumbling at her bosom before she drew out a pistol.
Her time had arrived.
She levelled it at the retreating back of the held man and pulled the trigger. A child couldn’t have missed a shot like that, and the bullet bored into his back, throwing him forward slightly.
It had been her intention to shoot but once and make that one shot do the work, but when she saw that he was hit the lust of blood came on her and she pulled the trigger twice more, each bullet finding its mark, before a policeman ran up and threw one arm around her neck and with the free hand took hold of the still smoking weapon. It was the old trick of the force taught to probationers before they are considered fit to go forth and guard the public interests.
While her victim was slipping slowly downward to the pavement she screamed, with as clear an intonation as if she wanted to be sure it would be a matter of record:
“And now he will never beat me again.”
Half a dozen men carried the limp dead body into a store and she was taken there, too, and such was her ferocity that she tried to kick the corpse of her quarry.
“He beat me, he beat me,” she shouted, “and now he will never beat me again. If I had not killed him he would have killed me.”
One of the greatest schools in the world is Little Old New York, where anyone can learn anything and anyone can do anything—or do anybody if they should happen to have but a modicum of brains and native shrewdness.
It is the haunt as well as the home of the crook; the respectable trickster; the lady who works and the lady who doesn’t. The amalgamation of many races and many creeds has tended to produce cleverness and wit to a high degree.
One of the greatest of financiers comes from Russian peasant blood on one side and poverty-stricken French on the other. In the blood of a Tenderloin queen there is Irish and Spanish, and it is hard to tell which side has contributed the most beauty. The combination of races is the chrysalis—the female product is the moth.
In the squalid tenements of the East Side there is beauty in embryo and the figures of Venus are barely hidden by cheap calico wrappers.
Where the Poles are settled, voluptuous women are wedded to weak, undersized men, and the result is either very good or very bad, according to the domination of the sex. Very beautiful flowers often grow and bloom in loathsome places, and many a handsome woman who rides in state along the avenue wouldn’t care to have her antecedents known to the world.
There is such a thing as pre-natal influence, and a throwback, taking on the good or bad characteristics of a previous generation, is an accepted fact.
And now we will introduce the lady as she sits in the courtroom, smiling as though she hadn’t a care or responsibility in the world. She has the innocent face of a child and the manner of a cherub, if you know what that is. If an artist were to paint her portrait in one of her moments of relaxation he might be justified if he called it “Innocence.”
“She’s a peach, all right,” remarks a court officer, and that means a lot when it comes from such a source.
She has the blonde hair and the fair complexion of the Teuton, and the black eyes of the Slav—a rare combination, if you’ll take my word for it. She’s coy, and winning and demure, but with a brain so active that nothing to her is impossible.
Two generations ago a dashing, handsome young lieutenant of the German army fell in love with a sloe-eyed girl who had been born of Slav blood.
He was brilliant but discreditable.
His romances and intrigues were many, and his expenses were about four times what his income warranted. One day he forged a check, and when he skipped over the border to escape arrest he left the woman and a baby girl in a cheap room with not enough money to keep them a week. He forgot them as utterly as if they had never existed, so in the course of time she who gave up honor added to that her life.
She died in the hospital of a disease that is not mentioned in the medical books, and the youngster was shipped to a charitable institution. At the age of nineteen this waif, orphaned, and stolid of character, with not even good looks to recommend her, had by dint of hard work and frugal living, saved up enough money to take a ship for America, the land of gold, where fortunes were made by simply wishing for them.
Half way across the sea she came to the notice of an Irish sailor, and by some strange turn in the inexorable wheel of fate, they fell in love with each other; he with his brogue, and she with knowledge of no language except that of the Fatherland.
Their courtship was over a rugged road, but it came to a happy conclusion, for before the ship sailed on her return voyage they were married with the aid of an obliging minister assisted by a Castle Garden interpreter, and Connell—that was the sailor’s name—was looking for a job alongshore.
Two scantily furnished rooms was the best they ever knew, and in those two rooms the wife who talked broken English with a Limerick accent died, but not until she had left a blonde baby girl with the fair complexion of that dashing lieutenant.
As she grew up, the public school gave her an education, and when she was old enough she got work in an office. She was the belle of the ward, and that old longshoreman father was very proud of her. But before that she had one little adventure that is really worth a story by itself, and it shows the kind of a girl she is. She had a little love affair with a sailor on one of Uncle Sam’s warships, and when he was ordered to Cuba she took it into her head to go along. It was arranged that she was to take the name and place of a fellow who was about to desert. She came near getting away with the trick, and as it was she lasted for ten days before she was found. Then, after a brief interview with the commanding officer, she was put ashore when harbor was reached, and enough money was given her to get back to New York.
It was a clean case of throwback to the army ancestor, and the resemblance was so great that she might have been his sister. She held her head high, as became that one strain of good blood, good enough to stiffen her pride, but not good enough to shape her morals, for the taint was there in its full strength.
The elderly business man who employed her began flirting with her mildly, and he wound up by falling desperately in love, and so hard was he hit that at the end of six months she was installed in a handsome apartment at which he was a constant visitor. He took the one step that always leads to another, so that by the time twelve months had been rolled off on the calendar he had made her home his home, much to the detriment of his own respected domicile.
So great was the fascination of those black eyes that this sedate old gentleman forgot he ever had a home other than the one she was in; a wife, or even children. She became so necessary to his existence that she became a part of his life.
She might have walked this primrose path to the end had he not died. If he had lived there would have been no need for this story.
When he took that long, last journey her income came to an abrupt end and she was cast on her own resources with not even her longshoreman daddy to stand by and encourage her.
All this, you understand, is not a matter of fancy. It is, for the most part, court and police records.
She took up with a young fellow of about her own age who had about as little prospects as she had, and with the rent paid for three months in advance and just enough ready money to keep them going that long, they cast care to the winds and proceeded to enjoy themselves. One night, when the funds were getting to a low ebb, she, while ransacking a desk for a mislaid letter, found a half-used check-book which had belonged to her elderly protector.
“I could sign his name better than he could himself,” she remarked, “and I’ve done it, too.”
“Do you think we could swing one of them now?” said the man, sitting up straight as the inspiration came to him.
“Why, that’s absurd; he’s dead.”
“I know he’s dead all right. But fill one out for $75 and I’ll see what I can do with it.”
It was an easy trick for her, and in a moment she had handed him the paper.
“If I lay this, little girl,” he remarked as he went out, “we’re on the sunny side of Easy street for the rest of our lives.”
That heritage of brain stood her in good stead while he was away, and before he had returned she evolved a scheme that was worthy of a better cause.
It was this:
She would send him out to rob a letter box; they would open the mail thus stolen and search it for checks. She would copy the signature, make note of the bank, get blank checks of that institution and then commit the forgery.
It was almost too easy and the keynote of its success lay in its simplicity.
Of course, the laying of the spurious paper required nerve, but of what use is a man if he hasn’t nerve? When he came back unsuccessful, she explained her scheme, and they at once proceeded to put it in operation. With wire, to which was fastened an adhesive mixture, he prepared for the robbery of the mail boxes while she awaited results.
It has been told time and again how it worked and they themselves have admitted that their income rarely fell below $100 a day when they cared to work.
But at the end of every ready-money proposition of that kind there is a trap. Sometimes the road is very long and the final tragedy is averted for a considerable period, but whether long or short it is bound to come sooner or later.
The girl had grown to be a pastmaster of the art of forging signatures and success in getting the money had made the man bold. He began to be less cautious and the finish came so sure and sudden that it almost stunned him.
He was cleverly harvested by the police, who at once set out to get more than enough evidence to convict, for they looked upon him as the most dangerous of criminals. A spotter was sent out with instructions to ingratiate himself with the girl and, if possible, get a line on just the kind of work that had been done, and their second interview was very interesting.
“You take Billy’s place for a while,” she said to him, “and we’ll get enough money to get him out.”
“How?” asked the man.
“How? Are you stupid? Billy didn’t do anything but lay the paper. I filled out the checks every time. Didn’t you know that? It’s all my scheme. Billy only helped me and did as I told him. But he’s too nice a fellow to go up the river for a thing like this.”
It seems strange that with all her astuteness she should have given her hand away to a comparative stranger, but you must bear in mind that her side partner and confederate had been snatched away from her and she felt the need of some one to whom she could talk and in whom she could confide.
There is where she made a mistake, but it happened that it wasn’t a fatal one.
Bear in mind that she gave her hand away and told all she knew, and in that telling there was enough to convict her half a dozen times over. But she was game to the last ditch.
“I’m very sorry,” remarked her supposed confederate to her one evening, “but I’ll have to arrest you. I’m an officer, you know.”
“I always ought to be guided by my first impressions,” she retorted. “I had an idea you were wrong when I first met you and if I had stuck to that you would have known nothing.”
“That’s right; but as it is I’ll have to take you down to headquarters.”
He acted as if it was a job he didn’t relish very much, and if the truth were told he would have let her make a getaway of it if he had dared.
In the prison she was popular as soon as she stepped inside the gates, and there was no one who would believe that a girl with a face like that would be guilty of harming anyone, much less being a confirmed and expert forger.
So the trial was called.
She treated it as a joke, and was by far the most composed person in the room. Her partner, to his credit, swore that he was the one who had done all of the robbing of the mail boxes, and all of the forging of checks, and he even went so far as to imitate several signatures, but that was offset by the evidence of the detective.
It was an easy matter to convict him, and he stood facing a term in prison.
Her trial was merely a bit of comedy in which she played the star part, and when the last scene had dropped she was bowing her thanks to the judge, the jury, the lawyers and the spectators, and smiling all the while like a girl with a new doll on Christmas morning. The red was in her cheeks and there was a look of roguery in her black eyes, and she sailed out of the courtroom amid a perfect shower of congratulations.
And it was all for one strain of blood.
Father an Irish stevedore, mother a Slav peasant whom centuries of oppression had made apathetic, grandmother also a Slav, and grandfather a German noble. She had gone back one generation to get that criminal taint, and she may have gone back further than that to get the good strain that made the whole world smile with her when she smiled and turn enemies into friends.
FROM THE WOODS TO BROADWAY
Jane her name was—plain Jane—but she wasn’t plain by any means. She was far from that. She could smoke a cigarette, drink a bottle of wine, and wear a Paquin gown with grace, and in these three things a woman has a chance to show what she is and what she can do. For my part I would consider them a test, just the same as performing certain mathematical calculations, and showing a proficiency in geography are tests in civil service examinations. There is nothing that gives a woman so much poise and self-confidence as smoking a cigarette daintily. It gives her a chance to think, you see, and appear unconcerned, and it is an ambush behind which she may hide in time of trouble.
This particular Jane had all the vices and charms that a young woman who is known to the crowd by her first name ought to have, or might be supposed to have. Men who were introduced to her found themselves calling her Jane inside of the hour, and that was because of her genius, for there are a lot of women in this world whose baptismal name no man would ever dare to use, even though they had been acquainted for years.
There is just as much difference in women as there is in drinks. It isn’t necessary to go into details on that subject, for every good hard drinker knows the different sensations of the different brands the morning after.
Jane blew into the big-city with a West wind, a dress suit case, on one end of which were the initials of her right name, and the drummer of a wholesale lace house who had caught her eye and won her regard by giving her some of his samples.
Your attention is called to the fact that a drummer’s existence is a cinch, especially if he has samples that he can afford to give away.
This one had a mustache that curled at the ends, a bank roll that looked like a toy balloon into which a kid had stuck a pin—which was Jane’s fault—and a nerve which was a little bit harder than Harveyized steel. He used the nerve in his business, and besides, it came in handy so far as Jane was concerned because he had a wife in Harlem. He planted Jane in a furnished flat, where he paid the rent for two weeks. Then because he had a champagne taste and a beer purse, he went to a pal of his who was a stage manager on Broadway and got the lady a job carrying a spear and wearing pale pink tights in a spectacular show that was about to be produced.
He was sitting in her front room warming his shins at the steam heat when he broke the news to her, and this is the way he did it. You sports can take a tip from this so you can see how it is done, for no man can ever foretell when he will be called on to produce the same line of talk.
“Do you know,” he began, “that you are the best fellow in the world and that the more I see of you the more I like you?”
“Do you?” asked Jane, simply, for she was nothing more nor less than a country girl. “I am very glad of that, but you know the rent was due yesterday and it hasn’t been paid yet.”
“Now,” he went on, ignoring the touch, “I know you well enough to know that you would like to be independent and make your own way in the world. I want to see you where you will be in a position to support yourself, and so I have arranged with a man who is under obligations to me to give you a chance and put you in the chorus of the ‘Ice King.’ You’ll get $15 a week at the start and then you’ll be jumped to $18. After that it’s up to you whether or not you come to the front and get the real good money with the yellowbacks.”
“But I have never been on the stage,” she said.
“Don’t I know that, and haven’t I fixed it? You’ll be broken in all right and all you have to do is as you are told and you’ll get your money every Monday night.”
So it was that the girl from Peapack, N. J., became independent and self-supporting, and was able before long to send a hundred-dollar note to the folks at home, for whom she still had a deep regard. You see, it is only the girls who save their money who can do that sort of thing.
When the young fellows around town wanted to see a show, some one would suggest that they go up and see Jane, and although she hadn’t a line to speak nor a note to sing, they would line up in the front row as if she was a star. It didn’t take the manager of the show very long to find out that Jane could draw like a porous plaster and then he jumped her salary up to $25.
With that she went to a fashionable hair dresser and paid $200 to have her hair turned from chestnut blonde to a hue of a stick of pale molasses taffy, the kind you get for five cents a throw, which sticks in your teeth and plays the deuce with the filling.
Girls of Jane’s kind are like boxers, in that their prosperity is manifested outwardly without delay. The aspiring young knuckle-duster, as soon as he wins a prominent battle, will at once hie himself off and blow in a chunk of the purse on a silk hat, patent leather shoes, a frock coat and a cane. With the balance he will annex a diamond, then he immediately becomes the real thing.
A girl has no use for frock coats and canes, but she goes strong on hair, so her loose coin goes for a gallon of bleach strong enough to change the faith of a Hindoo fakir, and that is the strongest thing in the world, except, perhaps, an African after a hard day’s work in the slaughter house.
She had a flat on Central Park, South—that’s wrong, it was an apartment, because she paid over $1,000 a year for it, whereas flats only cost about $40 a month-and she entertained the bunch with cozy little wine dinners that would make a man leave his happy home in a minute.
She was still getting her $25 a week, you know.
Then she tore the drummer’s name out of her address book, for he was a back number who had shown a decided tendency to cold feet.
She described him to the butler, and said that if he ever put in an appearance he was to be dismissed with the single word:
“I don’t understand,” said the butler, whose previous job had been on Fifth avenue. “What does Skiddoo mean?”
“It doesn’t make any difference whether you understand or not, just you say it to him and he will know, and that’s enough.”
And all that night this cheese sandwich with the side whiskers kept repeating the word to himself so he wouldn’t forget it, and he wrote it down on his cuff. He also traced it out on a card that he stuck in behind the hat rack in the hall. In his heart and soul he thought it was some foreign word which meant that the lady wasn’t at home or didn’t care to be disturbed.
That’s the worst of being a butler instead of Chuck Connors.
The traveling man with the immaculate gall had reached the worrying stage because the girl was doing so well and he had been pushed off the track. If she had stuck to her little furnished flat and the cheap togs he would have gone on his way whistling a merry tune, just as all men do. But she was on the high wave and sipping the cream off the top, and he thought there ought to be an armchair waiting for him by the fireplace of her new ranch, which was very natural, for all men are cast in the same identical mould. They don’t care for what they have, and are always hunting for something that’s hard to get.
If you look like the goods you’ll have them all going, but as soon as you tell your hard luck story you’ll get the sandbag where it will do the most good.
One night, after the show, Jane and a bunch of the merry-merry with money to spend, or burn, or throw away, was in the front room playing dollar limit poker, when the drummer, with a choice collection of high balls stowed away under his vest, and in a fit condition to either fight or cry, came up in the elevator. He had overdrawn his salary and was prepared to buy wine, if necessary, and he was dressed like a man whose credit is good at the best clothing store in town.
He held his thumb against the electric button for a moment, and because the butler was busy with a sauterne cup, very choice, being of the Barton and Guestier vintage of ’84, the kind Smithy always orders when he wants to be real flossy, the maid turned the knob and came face to face with him.
He made his little spiel, shoved in and stood in the hall on one foot waiting for the glad hand and the happy cry that he felt sure was coming.
“What’s his name? Who is he? Why don’t you get his card?” he heard Jane say. Then the maid came back.
“Will you please give me your card?”
“That won’t be necessary,” he remarked airily. “Just tell her Harry is here and she will know.”
He heard the maid telling her little story and then Jane’s silver tones floated out to him.
“What, that lobster? How did he get in? He must have had a shoe horn, and I suppose it will take a load of dynamite to get him out.” Then something else and all the girls laughed.
He pulled himself together and walked to where the voice came from.
The heat of the room was beginning to affect the cargo he was carrying and he hit both sides of the wall about eight times before he got to the door. He pulled the curtains aside and looked in on the game.
“Just thought I’d call,” he said, grinning.
“Well, didn’t I always tell you that you had bad thoughts?” she asked.
“Thought you’d be glad to see me,” he went on.
“Still thinking?” she queried. “I’ll see that raise and raise you back ten more.”
“I wouldn’t mind taking a hand if you’ll play fair.” Just then the butler came in with the drinks.
“Henderson,” remarked Jane without even so much as looking up, “what was that word I taught you—do you remember it?”
“Well, what was it?”
“Very good. Now turn around and say it to that man.”
He turned slowly and with great dignity to the drummer who was bracing himself up against the door, and commanded:
“So I’m to be fired, eh?”
“Say it again, James; it may be some minutes before it takes effect.”
“Suppose I don’t go?”
There was no answer to that, but Jane hadn’t been in New York a whole year without being on to her job, and she was able to face any proposition that ever came over the hills.
“Get me a piece of rope, James.”
“Yes, ma’am,” and away he went, just a bit faster than usual, wondering, no doubt, what the eccentric and erratic mistress of his was going to do next. He got the rope all right and returned with it in short order, because this seemed to be a case where haste was necessary, even at the expense of dignity. She took it from him and walking over to the drummer, said, as she deftly passed it around him.
“You had me on a string once, Harry, and now I’m going to get you on a rope.”
“Stop your kidding and be nice, Jane,” he spoke up, trying to look upon the whole thing as a joke, but while he was expostulating she had knotted the rope around both his arms and signalled to the butler to help her. “I want him tied over there,” she said, pointing to the piano, and before he knew it he was seated on the floor with his back up against a slab of mahogany, being held by the servant while Jane was making knots like a sailor.
When the job was done the game was resumed and nobody in the room paid the slightest bit of attention to him. He threatened and begged and finally he swore, and then Jane poured a glass of ice water over his head to cool him off.
“I always thought you had a mean disposition,” she remarked, “and now I know it.”
“Well, you wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for me,” he shouted.
“No, nor you wouldn’t be there if it hadn’t been for me,” she retorted.
For three solid hours he was kept trussed up like a fowl ready for the oven, and at the end of that time the game came to an end.
“I’m going to bed now,” said Jane, “and in half an hour the butler will come in and untie you. He will help you to your feet and when he says skiddoo to you I hope you will understand what he means. Good night.”
For thirty minutes the clock ticked monotonously and the back of the man on the floor was beginning to ache horribly. At last the silvery chime announced the half hour and then Henderson stepped softly in.
One by one he untied the fastenings and it was a tough job in view of the fact that a woman had made them. After that he helped the visitor to his feet. He assisted him on with his coat, handed him his hat, and together they walked, without either saying a word, to the hall door. The butler swung it solemnly open, slowly waved his hand, bowed deeply from the hips and said:
“Go to hell,” came back the answer, as Harry shot down the stairs.
“How did he take it?” asked Jane the next morning.
“He took it all right, ma’am, but he was very uncivil, ma’am.”
THE WHIMS OF CURVES
The fellows who buy wine and eat terrapin at their midnight lunches—I ought to say dinners—had found a new attraction, and for a brief while she was the idol of the hour. But the trouble with these idols is that they don’t last, and the finish as a rule is very disheartening, and in many cases pathetic.
Of course, every once in a while a wise one will come to the front who will do a little bookkeeping with herself, and when the smoke of battle will have cleared away she finds she has enough to tell everybody to go to blazes if she cares to be rude.
But that is the exception rather than the rule. Quick money, you know, is like a dream, in that it only lasts while you are asleep. You think you are in a mansion, and when the knock comes on the door you discover that you are in the same old hall bedroom, and realize that you have to get up just as you have been doing all your life, and work ten hours a day—or eight, as the case may be—in order to get enough money to pay what you owe.
The girl that all the bloods were buying dinners and flowers for came from the West not so very long ago, and she didn’t leave any of her good looks behind her, either. She hit the town with a dress suit case, a good complexion and a taking way with the boys, and that’s all the capital any skirt wearer needs in Gotham if she is only introduced to the right crowd of spenders and keeps away from the pikers who have their bank rolls lashed to the mast or bottled up so tight that when they do release a bill it smells like an Egyptian mummy which has been packed in a vault since the time of Pharaoh.
This lady hit the trail which led to the show houses. She had no idea that she was an Adelina Patti or a Sarah Bernhardt, but she knew she could carry a spear as good as any old-timer, and she was prepared to make good.
“Got a job for me?” she asked the first stage manager she happened to run across.
He looked her over and then remarked casually:
“I don’t think so, for all the star parts are given out for the season, but you might go over and see Frohman and ask him if you can’t understudy Maude Adams.”
“Don’t strain your voice on my account,” she said, by way of a come-back. “I’m looking for about $18 a week in the line-up, and when it comes to tights, I guess there ain’t any of them who has anything on me. You had me flagged for a Sis Hopkins, but you want to throw some sand on the track because you’re sliding. I don’t sit up at night reading Romeo and Juliet, and where I come from they think Shakespeare is a new kind of breakfast food. Can you get busy now?”
“I guess I’ll have to if I want to get rid of you.”
“Well, you’re learning, and that’s a good sign.”
So after he had looked her over again very carefully, he concluded she’d do for the chorus for a starter anyhow.
A stage manager who is used to hiring ladies whose talents lie in their legs has a system of his own in picking out good ones that don’t need padding, and he never makes a mistake any more than a red squirrel will stow away a bad nut for the winter. Face, neck, hands and arms tell the story and they never fail, and so he knew she could wear the usual size, and if anything stretch them a bit.
That was the beginning.
One night four young men about town sat in a theatre box watching the merry maidens tropping on and telling in song how happy they were that the Princess was going to be married to the poor but handsome gink whose father had a cobbler’s shop one block from the palace.
“Get onto the curves of the girl with the black hair,” said one, and in a minute there were four pairs of eyes looking at one pair of silk tights.
“Great,” said another, enthusiastically.
“Who is she?” asked a third. “I never saw her before.”
“Well, Ben certainly has an eye for beauty. I wonder where he gets them? Let’s see him and ask him to put us on, for she’s all right.”
Incidentally, Ben was the first name of the stage manager.
It isn’t necessary to go into details, for general results save a lot of time, but a couple of hours later four enthusiastic young fellows and a dimpled brunette sat at a round table in a sporty cafe, and when any of them wanted to address her they called her Curves.
“What are you trying to do?” she asked, when it was first sprung, “give me a nickname?”
“No,” was the answer, “simply a trademark.”
And they all understood.
So because of that she began her career with the world by the tail on a downhill pull.
Not to know Curves and have her call you by your first name when you met was to be the deadest kind of a dead one, and the witty stories she could tell over a quart of wine soon began to be circulated around town.
As is often the case, women were her enemies and men were her friends, and she slid along in a happy-go-lucky way, letting the morrow take care of itself.
There was no question but that her figure was the making of her, just as Jennie Joyce’s legs made her famous from one end of the country to the other when she was a reigning favorite at Koster & Bial’s old place on Twenty-third street two decades ago.
The photographer who secured some good poses of Curves in tights found himself busy printing them to supply the demand, and it was as easy to get her before a camera as it was to get a kid to a candy store. If she had received a dollar for every time she wrote across the bottom of one of her photographs “Sincerely yours, Curves,” she would have had a bank account that would have been broad, wide and deep. But she was simply a good fellow and she made no attempt to live by her wits. Like many another poor devil, she probably thought she would always be young, good-looking and popular. She didn’t know that those whom the public applauds to-day it kills to-morrow, and that it takes but a week in New York to make a favorite less than a memory.
But there was one incident in her career that stands out in relief from anything of the kind that anyone had ever done before, and it is worth telling. It was characteristic of her to do a thing of this sort, and she was the one woman in a hundred who could have got away with it.
A soulful-eyed, chocolate-skinned Brahmin priest had come to town to spread his faith, and because he talked in an exceedingly entertaining manner and told some curious and interesting stories he came to be a fad. It wasn’t that the people who went to see and hear him were interested in his religion, but it was because he was a novelty that he filled his lecture room every afternoon. Two men and Curves dropped in one afternoon at a time when this spreader of a new creed was telling about the money it would cost to do good in the world, and on that subject he was particularly eloquent.
“You Americans,” he said, “don’t know what it is to make a sacrifice; you don’t know what it is to deny yourselves any of the good things of life. Your men would not forego their cigars or wine even if the spiritual salvation of the world depended upon it, and your women would not permit themselves one particle of physical discomfort nor cheaper wearing apparel even though a hundred souls were the price. The whole world is selfish and wrapped up in itself, and religion is either a fad or a jest. The man with a million gives a few thousands and thinks he has done well, but he denies himself nothing. The woman with a check book doles out dimes and fancies herself a philanthropist, but will she make any sacrifice for the general good?”
“Here’s one who will.”
Two-thirds of the people in the room turned around and looked at Curves, and one of the fellows with her took her arm and whispered:
“What is the matter, are you dotty?”
The ox-like eyes of the religious enthusiast seemed to blaze up a bit.
“You will make a sacrifice?” he asked. “What can you give?”
“I’ll give myself,” she answered, and she stood up defiantly.
People who tell this story, as well as a few who were there, say that Curves had a most elegant tide on at the time and didn’t know what she was saying, but that doesn’t alter the story, because this is simply a recital of facts which can be verified by a whole lot of the fellows, and the sequel can be found on record among the marriages in the Bureau of Vital Statistics by anyone who is interested enough to look it up.
“It is very praiseworthy,” continued the priest, “but how do you propose to put your gift to a practical use? You say you will give yourself. Do you mean by that that you will devote your time to this work which I am trying to carry on?”
“Not that way so you can notice it, but I have a lot of men friends here and each one of them has asked me to marry him more than once. I like them all and as marriage is a lottery anyhow, they can bid for me, and you get the money.”
As she spoke she was climbing up on the table in the center of the room. “I am ready for the first offer and I don’t care who makes it, for I’m taking as many chances as anybody else.”
Now here was a situation that reads like a romance, and here was the one in a thousand to get away with it. The women were shocked, of course; the men were interested, and as for the priest he didn’t know whether to take it seriously or not, until finally what might have been an awkward situation was relieved by a man who said:
“Well, if she’s game enough to have herself auctioned off, I’m game enough to make a bid, so I’ll say $500, with the proviso that the cause of religion, which our revered friend represents, shall get half, the other half to go to the lady who shows such a praiseworthy spirit.”
Then three gaunt females over forty arose in the majesty of their outraged womanhood and stalked from the room, while a dozen others moved uneasily in their seats.
The Brahmin was still figuring.
“Am I worth no more than $500?” put in Curves.
“I’ll make it $750,” said one of the men who had accompanied her.
“You paid twice as much for a horse last week, Billy,” she retorted.
“I didn’t think of that. Let it go at $1,500, for there’s going to be competition.”
The priest’s hand was nervously fingering a silk handkerchief.
“Two thousand,” the first bidder’s voice came like a bullet from a gun, and Billy laughed nervously.
“Go ahead, Billy, it’s up to you again,” and Curves nodded at him encouragingly.
“She’s worth it, Bill,” whispered his friend. “Your Panhard cost you $11,000 and it takes $100 a week to keep it going. Curves can be very economical when she tries,” and he laughed at his joke.
“Twenty-five hundred,” bid Billy.
“Sold,” cried Curves, “although I’m worth more.”
“Very extraordinary,” said the priest, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief. “This could happen in no other country in the world.”
“Write him a check, Billy, for what you owe him,” said Curves, “and then we’ll go out and get married. And don’t you think it would be nice to have him to dinner with us?”
“Sure thing, and we’ll have the other fellow who bid along, too. By the way, who is he? I don’t ever remember to have seen him before. Do you know him?”
Now what a chance here for a climax, for a real whipping finish, as it were. It might be arranged so that the girl would say sadly:
“Yes, he holds the mortgage on the farm and has threatened to foreclose it if I don’t marry him. Oh, Billy, you must save me.”
Then Billy would pull out his check book, pay the villain off to the penny and the man would go tearing out of the door shouting:
“Foiled again, c-u-u-rses on you, but I’ll have revenge,” with the accent on revenge.
But no such thing happened, because you see Curves never had an interest in a farm, and it is very much to be doubted if she knew anything about a father or mother. The result was that she said:
“Oh, I suppose he’s some guy that’s been to the show and got stuck on my shape.”
The honeymoon lasted six months, which was enough for Billy, and he beat it to New Orleans, while his friends told Curves that they thought he had committed suicide.
CHEYENNE NELL; TRIMMER
The gambler in this story came from the West to get a little New York money. He had been getting it for years from the Sierra Nevadas to El Paso, and from Seattle as far east as Omaha, which he said was far enough for anybody who liked fresh air, but he had struck a run of bad luck and one of his pals told him that the best way to break it was to trim a New York sucker.
“They’re fly guys there all right,” remarked this same man, casually, “but the flyer they are the easier it is to trim them. I would sooner stack up against a stock broker that runs one of those bubble machines and can speak sixteen different languages than get into a game with a Kansas farmer any day. The farmer knows he ain’t in it and he’s got his eye out for a job every time; his coat is buttoned up so tight that he has contraction of the lungs and his heart doesn’t beat right, but the gink that knows it all thinks he’s so damned smart that he’s got everybody in the world in his corral, and those are the fellows you catch with their vests open.”
All homely philosophy, but as true as gospel and worth looking into.
So Big Ben—that was his name in the country where slouch hats are the real thing—pulled his freight one night and hit the Overland Flyer for Gotham. His name was Big Ben no longer, for the cards he carried in his vest pocket read:
Benjamin F. Van Buren, Mining Engineer.
He bought tickets for two at the station, and there is the heart of the story, as one of the tickets was for Cheyenne Nellie.
The lady in the case is worth a paragraph at the very least, for she had the reputation of being the best short-card dealer in Texas, and at a game of bank, whether playing the cards or handling the box, she was there with the goods and never asked any odds on account of her sex.
She had the long, slim hands of a card player, and if she hadn’t taken to the pasteboards she might have been a piano player and getting all kinds of money for hitting up the ivories at swell concerts. She was soft of voice and soft in manner, and all you had to do to make a lady out of her was to wrap her in a silk robe and she’d make the horses in the street turn around and look after her.
On one memorable occasion she went into the smoking car of a Denver train and calmly lighting a cigarette, smoked it without deigning to notice the men around her.
The trip was settled in a minute and in this way.
“It’s a long ride, Nell,” observed Ben, “to the place I’m going, and I’m afraid I’ll get lost or lonely, so if you’ll come along with me I’ll tog you out like a queen and give you the time of your life. Will you carry my brand for the trip?”
“How big is your bank roll?” she asked, with an eye to the practical side of the proposition.
“Twenty-seven hundred, and two thousand to draw on if I lose out.”
“That’s enough for a starter. What are you going to do—short-card ’em or bank ’em?”
“Anything and everything including stud, and if I get the big bundle we’ll hike for that place across the big pond where the real games are. What’s the name of it—I forget now. I had it written down somewhere, but I guess I’ve lost it. It begins with an M I think, and there was a fellow at the show the other night who had it in his song about how he broke the bank there.”
“Oh, you mean Monte Carlo.”
“Yes, that’s it. We’ll go there and I’ll put you up against the game, for you always were hell when it came to a no-limit play.”
One night stop-over in Chicago to see a show, and then, twenty-four hours later, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin F. Van Buren, of Portland, Oregon, registered at the Waldorf-Astoria.
“Kind of like a theatre, ain’t it?” remarked Ben, as they sat in the palm room after dinner. “Looks like Romeo and Juliet where the gal is on the gallery and the fellow with the skin-tight pants is asking her to come down and talk it over.”
Men who are supposed to know say that New York is the loneliest place in the world, that is, if you don’t know anyone, and that a desert island is a center of population compared to it if you are not in right. On the face of it that looks like a good argument, but it is going to be disproved right here. Go to a big and fashionable hotel and register, then sit around and be a bit conspicuous, look like ready money, and above all, easy money, and you’ll draw people like a Jack rose draws bees. They’ll find you out just as easily as the ferret gets to the timid rabbit—by going after you—and unless your heart is covered with callous spots and your pockets are fastened with safety pins, when you come to count up at night you’ll find you are short a bit of change. In this world, you know, things are not always what they seem, and the fellow who looks the wisest and talks the loudest isn’t the smartest any more than the man with the retreating forehead is the stupidest. The one with the cranium of a cocoanut may have spent all of his life developing the instinct of the hunter and the cunning of the fox, and that queer-shaped thing on top of his shoulders is the sign which he has hung out and which says as plainly as if the words were printed on his forehead: “Come on, boys, I’m easy; come and get my change.” I know all about this and speak from experience, for I used to sit in a poker game with a Dutchman who looked like a pinhead, and when the rest of us walked home he used to take a cab, because he had all the money, and his name was Schneider, too. What do you think of that?
So before a week had gone by, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin F. Van Buren were nodding and saying “How do you do?” and “Good morning” and “Good evening” to about twenty or thirty men who made the hotel their headquarters. Incidentally it was given out that Ben was on here to buy some machinery for one of his mines in Nevada and that he wouldn’t mind having a little fun with anything that came along so long as the stakes were not too big for a man of his modest disposition.
The tip went down the line in the usual channels and then one rainy night a man who said confidentially that he was a banker suggested that as there was nothing else to do Mr. Van Buren could, if he felt so disposed, walk around to his hotel where there were two or three other good fellows, and they might have a little game of draw.
“None of us want to go into big money, you know,” he said, apologetically, “for it’s simply a game among friends and it’s about as good a way to pass the time away as I know of. We don’t, as a rule, play with strangers, but I guess you’re all right, so come along.”
“Look out for a cold deck, Ben,” whispered Nell as he started; “play light and close to your skin at the go-off, and it won’t hurt to lose a little at the start.”
Wherever you go or whatever you do in this world, always take a woman’s tip—not the tip of every woman of course, but when you find one who delivers the goods at every jump out of the box and calls the turn on the case card nine times out of every ten, then be wise and attune your ears to her siren song, even though the notes seem to be a bit cracked at first and the cadenzas strike you as being skewed and off the key.
There were five in the game, counting Ben, and up against the wall, like a new kind of decoration, was a Senegambian, whose business it was to see that the gentlemen had cigars to smoke and wine to drink without limit. Between deals they talked about business, how stocks were selling, what chance there was for a flyer in Steel, and if Depew intended to resign from the Senate or not. The play was light and reckless and no one there seemed to care whether he won or lost.
“We play two or three times a week,” explained one to Ben, while the African was getting a fresh pack, “and I consider poker the greatest thing in the world to take a man’s mind off his business. Is there any stock in your mine for sale? I wouldn’t mind taking a block if it looked right. So this is your first visit here? Well, we’ll try and make it pleasant for you while you stay, but you must reciprocate if we ever hit your country. Will you show us some shooting?”
It went that way until Ben got to feeling a little easy in his play himself. But he couldn’t lose. Everything came his way, including jackpots, and when the silvery chimes of the clock on the mantel reminded them that it was one o’clock the play came to an end and the man from the West cashed in a matter of $72.
“It was only a friendly game, Nell,” he said, when he woke her up from a sound sleep half an hour later. “They are simply a lot of good fellows and I couldn’t help winning, but they want revenge to-morrow night and then I’ll get some real money.”
“Three thousand miles is a good long walk, Ben,” she said, “and that’s a little tune you want to keep humming to yourself all the time. The easy marks at cards all died during the time of the big wind and only the fly guys are left. You’re in a strange barn this trip, so don’t think that everything you see is hay.”
From playing three nights a week they got down to playing every night, and Ben always came back with a small winning, but he wasn’t getting the money he was after and it got on his nerves.
“It’s only chicken feed I’m winning,” he complained to her one night, “and it just about pays expenses.”
“Well, just you keep your shirt on, for I’m in with some nice old dames who think they are the real ones at bridge, and I’m thinking of getting a little of that same kind of feed myself—the real killing will come later. You never want to be in a hurry about those things, you know, because if you hurry them it’s all off. Get those fellows to play up in the room some night so I can look them over and see their style.”
“I’m next to their play all right,” he said, “They’ll stand to lose so much and no more and there ain’t one of them who would bet a thousand that he was alive.”
“Invite them up, anyway. You’ve been drinking their booze and smoking their good cigars long enough. You ought to put up for them once in a while, and if they are all right you will have a few decent friends, anyhow.”
That’s how it happened that the play came off in No. 723.
It was the smallest kind of a small and inoffensive game, unmarked by any incident or episode until one of the men, looking his hand over with unusual care, remarked in the most casual manner possible:
“If I had the nerve I have a hand here that I would like to bet big on.”
“How big?” asked Ben, taking another look at the cards that had been dealt to him.
“I don’t know much about poker, but I think a thousand would be about right to start with.”
“Mine looks worth that much to me,” said Ben, with his face like a mask.
“I’m game; does a check go?”
Over in one corner of the room, with a novel before her, sat Nell. She was almost directly opposite Ben, and as he looked up he saw the upper lid of her left eye droop slowly, recover, and then droop again. He skinned his cards and looked them carefully over. The pips showed four kings and an ace, pat. It was worth big money in any four-handed game, and he knew it.
“Does a check go?” came the query again.
“No, I weaken; I thought I had a better hand. You’ve got me beat from the start.”
It might be made a long story from this point on, but there is not room here to tell in detail how half an hour later Nell rose from her comfortable seat in the armchair in the corner, and walking over to the table manifested a slight interest in the game, and after one or two more hands had been dealt, thought she would like to play if the gentlemen didn’t object, which they didn’t. How she played like any woman would be expected to play, losing angrily and winning sweetly, until on one of her deals, Ben found himself in possession of a hand which only needed the ace to make a royal flush. The limit was raised before the draw, then taken off altogether, and the money began to pile itself on the mahogany. Then they drew for cards, and when Ben looked things over he found in his one card draw the ace that made his hand good.
“Mine is worth $500,” remarked the player opposite him.
“I’ll kiss mine good-bye,” said Nell, as she dropped her pasteboards in the discard.
“Raise you $500,” put in Ben, looking at the first bettor.
“Five hundred more,” was the third man’s bid.
“It’s too hot for me,” was the comment of the fourth, as he pushed his cards away from him.
It was raised in jumps of $500 until there was about $11,000 up, and Ben had been boosting every raise as fast as it came to him.
Then the call was made and the show-down was worth going miles to see, for the battle at the finish had narrowed down to Ben and one other.
“Take a check for the next bet?” asked the other.
“No,” came the terse answer.
“Then I’ll have to call you. But I’ve got you beaten!”
For answer Ben spread out his invincibles.
For a moment the silence was painful.
“Are they good?” asked Ben.
“You know damned well they are,” came the answer.
Then Mr. Benjamin Van Buren, mining engineer, of Portland, Ore., gathered in the oof in the most leisurely manner possible.
“Now you can buy me that new hat you promised me, can’t you, Ben?” said Nellie.
“I sure can buy you a dozen hats now if you want them.”
Exactly thirty minutes later three men were lined up against the bar below.
“You can talk from here to the Coast, if you want to,” said one, “but I tell you the woman did the trick. Didn’t she deal the cards? I tell you she short-carded us. She’s a gold mine.”
TRAGEDY OF A DANCE
It was just a plain unpretentious flat in New York, the kind that is rented for about $40 a month. You know the style—four or five rooms and bath and a narrow little space which is dignified by the name of private hall, and which is supposed to be the real thing in living apartments. It was furnished in the way in which anyone would expect, and an auction sale wouldn’t net more than $50 for everything that was there.
In the front room sat a man who wasn’t as old as he looked, but whose apparent age was caused by ten hours a day in an attempt to make a living for himself. For twenty years he had been ground down by fate, and at the end of it all he had nothing, and he was in debt to the world for exactly three score of years.
Now at the last mile post he had come face to face with a tragedy.
In one calloused hand he held a telegram. In the other was the photograph of a girl—good looking in a way, saucy, blue-eyed and blonde. It had been taken in theatrical costume and that told half of the story. The other half was in the telegram.
He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and read again:
“Your daughter died in the hospital here to-day; please advise as to the disposition of the remains.”
It bore date of a Southern city, and was signed by the manager of a barn-storming company of show people.
If you read the newspapers you must have read part of the story. You will read the rest of it here—the part that wasn’t told, because an ordinary chorus girl isn’t of sufficient importance to take up more than a very little space in the prints, unless, of course, she does something so violently tragic and sensational that she rises above the common herd and becomes at once a figure of almost national importance, like the young woman who once tried to shoot a senator, or the one who danced nude before a select company of young spendthrifts, or the one who made $50,000 in stocks with the kind assistance of a “gentleman friend.”
Just four months before, the old man’s daughter had been working in a big dry goods store—a mill that grinds pretty fine sometimes—and one day she attracted the attention of a man who was putting a show out on the Southern tour. He saw talent in her, or at least he thought he did, but if the truth were to be told he fell in love with her, and came to the conclusion that she would make a better traveling companion than anyone he had seen so far—this season. He had a code of morals that was iron clad, but wouldn’t stand investigating. In his eyes they were all cattle, and like cattle he graded them.
But this isn’t going to be a moral story, because it is the truth.
If you want morality nowadays you will have to go to fiction, where the man always marries the girl and they live happily ever after. It sounds nice and leaves a sweet taste in the mouth, but it is a long cry from the truth except in a few rare cases.
So here’s the picture, about as commonplace as it can be made.
A girl with visions of the stage, a dream of a life of ease and luxury, imagining that some day she will be a performer of merit; a violent hatred of the unending routine of the store, and ready at a moment’s notice to turn her back on the old man in the flat.
Isn’t that the way?
Bring them into the world, care for them and nurse them. Worry over their little troubles, deny yourself that they may have more; sacrifice everything for their happiness, and then at the critical moment when they might become a comfort instead of a care, presto! along comes a man with a line of talk that would make a cat on a back yard fence take to cover, and away they go, saying good-by if they happen to think of it, and forgetting that there are such things in the world as obligation or gratitude.
But this isn’t really what I started to say. You see, I have a brother who is a minister, and I am under the impression that he is teaching me bad habits—that is, if it is a bad habit to sit down and preach about a lot of things that are wrong when you would probably do the same things you condemn in others. It’s a case of don’t do as I do, but do as I say.
It’s a cinch to tell other people to do the right thing, but it’s another thing to be on the level yourself.
After that little digression I’ll show you this girl on the road singing choruses with the bunch, and just a bit swell-headed because she was in a position to call the manager by his first name. That didn’t help her with the rest of the crowd any, and they called her names when they were where she couldn’t hear them, while at the same time there wasn’t one of them who wouldn’t have changed places with her in a holy minute.
She had one or two fights on her hands, but she always won out.
The manager found out she had a figure that would have been worth a place in the front row of the merry-merry of Weber and Fields when that firm was at its best. Here was a chance that a good, clever, astute fellow like him couldn’t very well overlook, and he proceeded to have her taught a few dances of the kind that are not sanctioned in polite society, or even on the stage, or which make any pretence to being legitimate. He was working on the principle that all is grist that comes to the mill, and he was also looking ahead.
There are, as a rule, a pretty gay lot of boys in those Southern towns, and they are not averse to paying a good bit of money for a show after the show, especially if it is the kind that is forbidden. If the sensuous dance of the Nautch girl can be imitated in all of its windings, twistings and quiverings by a shapely American girl whose disregard for clothing amounts to almost contempt—that is, on certain occasions—there is enough money to make it an object not only for the performer but the manager.
“I am going to put you up against a proposition that will make the hit of your life,” was the way he started it.
“That’s me,” she said; “what is it?”
“Why, do a stunt in the altogether for the sports.” Then he took a couple of extra puffs at his cigar to keep his nerve up.
“The altogether—what’s that?”
She had an idea what it was, but she wanted to get it straight.
“Oh, it’s all the rage down here—you dance without much clothes on. All the girls are wild to get some of the money, but there’s nothing doing with them, for your figure will make them look like a lot of kippered herrings that’s been smoked for a week. You see, we’re in this business for the coin, and we might as well get it and get it quick. If we don’t there’ll be a thousand others after it. It’s a case of take it or leave it and it’s up to you. How about it?”
He stiffened her up so she was willing to make good. He told her she had enough curves to make the Venus de Medici look like a barn door, and that she was a peach with the original bloom on, all of which she believed because it was pleasant for her to hear, and was getting a bit stuck on herself. It was a modern case of showing Eve all over again where the golden apple grew, and inducing her to reach up and get it.
The first trick was to come off at Memphis, Tenn., where a lot of hot sports wanted something so full of ginger that they would have put ice on the backs of their necks to keep the temperature down below the 100 mark. A committee of two called on him at the stage entrance, and after declaring themselves asked him if he had anybody with the outfit who could make good. After the preliminary skirmish it settled down to a question of price, and the matter was soon arranged, and half an hour later Daddy’s girl got the tip that she was expected to be on the job when the clock struck twelve, with a carriage to and from the hotel as a compliment to her superb figure.
No good hardened old pelter would have halted at this hurdle, and would have gone at it with a keen relish, but you must know that this was the first season out for this girl, and when it came to the time that she was to let go all that kept her from appearing in the costume that Mother Eve is supposed to have worn in the Garden of Eden, she promptly lost her nerve.
“I don’t think I can do this thing, Jim,” she remarked to the manager as they were leaving the theatre together. “It didn’t seem so bad at first, but now I don’t quite like the idea of it. I never did anything like this before, you know.”
“Of course I know,” he answered quickly, “but you want the money, don’t you? Do you want to be a piker all your life? Why, you’ll get more for a stunt like this than you can make in a month doing anything else. Just think of that.”
He was keen enough to see, however, that she was inclined to quit at any moment, but there was no proposition an old seasoned campaigner like him couldn’t handle, and when they went into the hotel cafe together he had framed things up to his own satisfaction.
“I’m going to blow you to a bottle of wine to-night, and while we’re waiting for it we’ll have a cocktail.”
He figured on dulling her sense of morality with drinks, and he went at it in the most businesslike manner possible.
Before the wine a cocktail with a cherry, then another cocktail. Three pints of extra dry, most of which she lapped up simply because it was champagne and was expensive, and then she was in a mood that was at once mellow and reckless.
“Come on,” he said, when the last drop had been drained. “Come on, the wagon is waiting and if you make a hit you won’t need to bother about those new dresses you wanted last week, for here is where you get next to a real gold mine. Why, there ain’t a girl in the show that wouldn’t go to the deuce to get this chance.”
She assented, but through it all she had a hazy idea that it was wrong and that she ought to back out. But just think of almost three pints of wine seething and bubbling inside of her while she is trying to discriminate between right and wrong. I tell you it’s impossible, for when the corks pop often enough it’s hell let loose, and a girl has to protect herself in the breakaway every time, with the odds against her.
And now, a big room, carpeted, with palms on pedestals here and there, giving it an air of luxury, and a platform at one end. Fifty men, young and old, seated in chairs that were lined up like a regiment were waiting expectantly. The smoke from many cigars and cigarettes filled the air, and the monologue man who was trying to interest them with funny stories knew he was up against it and that he was only filling in time until the big show should be ready. He told everything he knew, but never a smile was cracked, and when he came to a finish he walked off angrily.
The three musicians began a new tune with mournful cadences, but with a swing that suggested sinuous movements. The two violins wailed out the minor chords, and the piano trailed the bass. Somewhere from behind came the sharp snap of a man’s fingers and the lights went down and the theme of the music was changed.
“The Dance of the Dawn, gentlemen,” came a voice from out of the darkness and the fifty straightened up in their seats expectantly.
A shape crept out upon the stage and moved in time to the music. Then the lights gradually began to go up a little at a time until at last the face and figure of the dancer were visible. She was clad in transparent gauze, with Turkish trousers and a bolero to match, and her swayings were artistic and graceful. But there was no reason in them. They were mechanical and lifeless. She moved by instinct and intuition and the impression the dance sought to convey was lost. The manager himself worked the cymbals which punctuated the finish of each measure, and at the final crash the stage was once more shrouded in darkness.
Lights up and then the second announcement:
“The Dance of Nature.”
That soothing music was born in the brain of a Calcutta idealist who knew how to put the tip of his finger on the pulse of the senses. Three second-rate performers ground it out, but with all their mediocrity they couldn’t kill its charm, even though they dulled it somewhat.
Here was the real thing at last, and fifty pairs of eyes were glistening in anticipation.
The moment’s wait seemed like an hour, and then a girl’s voice broke what seemed to be a spell:
“Oh, I can’t, Jim, I can’t.”
“You’ve got to, it’s too late to back out now.”
“I won’t, I tell you, not for anybody.”
The next instant the nude figure of the girl was catapulted out upon the platform—a figure which dropped to its knees and then tumbled over on its face and lay there in a quivering heap sobbing violently.
A tall man with snow-white mustache rose slowly from his seat in the second row. He turned around to face the rest, and then said, as calmly as if he were in his own house:
“Gentlemen, I protest; this must not go on. It is disgraceful.”
He picked up his hat and coat and started for the door.
In five minutes the room was empty. The girl had been pulled back of the scenes by a cursing manager, but she might as well have been dumb for all she heard.
“You’re a mutt,” he was saying; “here you’ve had your chance and quit, and you’ve made a sucker out of me, too. I can’t look any of those people in the face again.”
Of course, he didn’t consider where she figured.
Then he walked out and left her there with a skirt wrapped around her as her only covering.
The janitor found her when he came to turn out the lights.
She was partly dressed then, and shivering. He helped her finish dressing, and then he went out to get her a drink to warm her up a bit.
Later she wandered out and got another drink to make her forget and still another that her mind might be blank.
At daybreak she was in the hospital in a state of coma from which nothing could rouse her. She never came back again, and when the call-boy in the theatre in the next town was calling out: “Fifteen minutes—first act,” she died.
Yet his friends say the manager is one of the best fellows in the business.
THE MONOLOGUE GIRL’S STORY
It was after the show that there were four of us sitting at the round table in the back room of The Dutchman’s on Third avenue. It’s a pretty good place, that self-same back room, and the big steins of beer are pretty good, too, with a heaping plate of pretzels always on the side and a sandwich to be had by pressing the button.
There was Al Fostell, the German comedian, who ought to have been in the legitimate long ago; Harry Ferguson, famous for his impersonation of Happy Hooligan; Harry’s wife, Lulu Beeson, the Star of Texas, and so great a dancer that she has a Richard K. Fox medal about as long as her arm, which any beskirted performer can get by beating her at the soft shoe buck; and one other, whom I shall simply designate as The Girl, because, even though she plays a star part in this, she doesn’t want to be known to the general public.
The Girl was brilliant, versatile and clever. She took it into her head to become a dancer once, and among other things she learned the fandango. She went to Mexico with a troupe and danced that famous measure in a way that made them cheer her to the echo. She played faro bank and won enough to keep her in clothes for a year.
The talk had drifted on marriage and Fostell started things.
“I have been married a good many years, more than I care to tell,” he said, “and I have been trying to induce my daughter to call me uncle so they won’t get on to me. I claim that a performer’s domestic life can be just as pure and happy as that of a business man. I agree that there is a lot of immorality in the profession, but you’ll always find a lot of outsiders helping things along. There are times when we seem to be targets for the whole world to shoot at.”
“In my opinion,” put in Ferguson, “the performers who are in the business to make a living on their merits are for the most part decent people whose lives are an open book. The women of the chorus of the big shows on Broadway—the kind who haven’t a line to speak and who couldn’t speak it if they had—are responsible in the main for all of these sweeping charges of immorality. Our children are born in the shadow of the theatre, and a great part of their lives are spent in the green rooms and dressing rooms. We try to do the best we can by them and bring them up properly.”
Then The Girl, who can tell stories and sing in a most charming way, and who for that reason has a salary that is worth considering, broke in:
“You men with wives sit back and talk of morality and all that sort of thing and you don’t know what it means. You two are lucky because you have married good women who look after your interests and bring your children up as best they can under the circumstances. You only see things from the viewpoint of the male animal, who is used to being waited on and catered to. The average man says, ‘I am handsome,’ ‘I am great,’ ‘I am distinguished,’ or ‘I am the real one,’ as the case may be. He sees a girl whose appearance catches his fancy and straightway he must have her. He likes her and that settles it. It makes no difference whether or not she likes him—her feelings are not to be considered. He is the one. If his passion is a strong one he pursues her to the finish and hounds her. If she still holds out he becomes actuated by a motive of revenge and so he sets out to try to injure her, to prevent her from making a living that she may feel the pinch of poverty. He uses all the influence at his command to crush and humiliate her, and then he taunts her.
“Boys, I’ve been through the mill and I know what I’m talking about. I’m a kid no longer, and I wouldn’t marry the best man on earth, nor tie myself up to him for either a definite or an indefinite length of time. No double acts for me, but monologues from now on until I get my 23.
“Let me tell you something you never heard before.
“One night I went down to the Battery and sat on the sea wall there for hours looking at the water smashing away at the rocks. It was moonlight and almost bright enough to read a paper. I had enough to think of while I was sitting there and I thought it, too. I know what it is to have a whirring sound in your brain, for I had it then. I was trying to get up enough courage to throw myself overboard, for I really wanted to die. I had seen all of life and of men that I wanted and had enough. I had been driven by a man from the place where I lived to the jumping-off spot as coldly, and calmly, and deliberately as a drover would direct the course of a steer to the abattoir. He had made living impossible for me.
“Those noises in my head had reached that stage where they were like the sound of the L road trains going past your windows at night when you’re trying to sleep, but the stronger they grew the less they annoyed me, and the idea came to me that if I wished hard enough death would come very easy.
“You know that old act of mine where I used to imitate a woman who had gone insane from grief at being abandoned by her lover? You know what a hit it always made. Well, it’s nothing like the real thing. Heart-breaking grief in its highest form is quiet. It doesn’t want the limelight or stage center, but a dark corner and seclusion. It wants to be left alone.
“The next thing I remember was someone saying to me ‘Come out of here; what are you trying to do—drown yourself?’
“And there I was in the water up to my waist with a policeman holding me by the arm. He turned me around so that I faced the wall again and we walked back to where he helped me up. Then he took me, all dripping and so cold that I had no feeling at all, to the station house, where I was charged, under a most absurd law, with attempted suicide. They were humane enough to send for an ambulance and I was taken to the hospital and fixed up so I could appear in court the next morning. The man was there—the man with his sneering smile and his air of well-fed comfort. He had come down to look me over. He probably wanted to see the girl who had refused nearly everything that money could get, simply because she was not for sale and couldn’t be bought like a new scarf or a hat of the latest mode. He also wanted to parade his prosperity before my misery, probably that before anything else. Even he must have pitied me because of my position, and he edged over to where I was and whispered:
“‘It isn’t too late yet, and I want to help you.’
“‘You mean that you want to get me out of here?’ I asked.
“‘Yes,’ he said eagerly, ‘I want to get you out.’
“‘Well, if I were you,’ I told him, ‘I wouldn’t take any chances because if I get out of here and you ever speak to me again I will do the very best I can to kill you.’
“He shrank back as if he had been stung, and so great was his terror that I almost laughed at him. Then he turned and walked away.
“That is the curtain of my story. I could begin at the beginning and make it a long one, but what’s the use? I could make a romance of it, or even a tragedy, and now that I am my sane self I could even make it a comedy. I could go over the list of things he promised me and what he promised to do for me, and you would think he had all the wealth of the Bank of England at his back, but his mind ran in a groove so narrow and his manner was so offensive that the only thing that kept him in the human being class was the fact that his nostrils were not shaped like those of a swine, and that instead of grunting he used language that was fairly intelligible. But for once he was toppled from his self-built pedestal and he crashed down in the wreck of his own self-conceit. Men like that make the world seem immoral and immoral in fact, and a few such as he would degrade the noblest profession in the world. Egotists and atheists, believing in nothing save self, they taint a community like a plague.
“Bring us some more beer, Billy, for I’m going home. I’m tired and dead to the world.”
“I wouldn’t like to be the man you hated,” said Ferguson.
“My boy, I can neither hate nor love, I am simply numb. I have had seven proposals of marriage, both in the profession and out of it, but there was nothing doing. I am absolutely emotionless. I ask no favors on account of my sex and I owe my allegiance to no man. But I am watching my tormentor growing gradually old. I see him once in a while, you know, and I am keeping track of him. It’s my one joy in life. The gray has come into his hair and it is turning white and the wrinkles are spreading themselves over his face like avenging fingers. I know he is not really happy, although he pretends to be, and some day, in some luxurious apartment, he’ll lie dying. A million dollars will not give him one more breath nor would a hundred millions add one more day to his existence, and when he is very close to that gate which always opens inward and from which there is no retreat and I really know that he is going, then I will laugh; not the kind of a laugh you know, boys, but the kind of a laugh that follows a soul across the border line of death and which keeps echoing for ages.”
“Did you ever play the part of Ophelia?” I asked.
“No, but I could.”
And we all believed her.
A TWISTED LOVE AFFAIR
This is the story of a wooing that went astray.
There are many such stories floating around, and they are all good, if they could only be told. But there is the trouble, for, like family skeletons, they are sunk so deep in the cellar or locked up so securely in the closet that there is no getting to them, even for a minute.
How these two met or where they met is of no material difference, and here is where a romantic touch might be introduced. The truth is that they came face to face with each other on the boardwalk at Atlantic City. He had been up to old Vienna while she had taken in the show on the Pier. A dozen or more of those high steins of Pilsner had made him a bit reckless, and that was his only excuse. She was lonely, and that was hers. It’s a great combination, like guncotton and a match. All right apart, but let them meet and the result is pyrotechnical. When they were twenty feet apart there was a sudden flash of lightning of the vivid brand they have on the Jersey shore, followed by a crash of thunder heavy enough to make a cigar store Indian step down and crawl under his pedestal. Then a few drops of rain about the size of a quarter, and a general scurrying for shelter.
The man whistled for a covered rolling chair, and the girl with eyes shut and head down ran directly into his arms.
She recoiled like a rubber ball that has been thrown up against a brick wall, while he felt to see if his watch was still fast in the mooring at his vest.
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” and she gathered up her skirts as she prepared for another flight.
“Don’t mention it,” he answered with admiration, “but I think you could beat Jeffries if you were trained down a bit.”
“Now don’t sir me; it’s raining and that blanket of yours won’t stand water. I’ve an option on the only chair in sight. It’s yours; help yourself, and if you don’t mind I’ll go as far as my hotel. Are you on the job?”
“I don’t think——” she began severely, when the lightning broke out again and interrupted her.
“You don’t have to think,” he said. “Jump in and keep out of the wet. People don’t think at Atlantic City; they get on the job quick,” and he motioned the walking delegate with the perambulator to move up.
“All right,” she said, resignedly.
“Of course it’s all right, for you get home dry while I have a chance to meet a good fellow. Now let’s introduce. My name is Ben. There’s another part to it, but it don’t make any difference here. What’s yours?”
“You don’t lose any time, do you?”
“Never was known to so far. Come on, what is it?”
“Bess,” she answered.
“Bess; great; sounds like a sport. Not hard to say and rhymes with ‘bless’ and ‘yes’ and a lot of other words. Now, Bess, you and I are going to have one little drink just to celebrate. You know the old saying—wet out and wet in. The wise gink who’s pushing this van is heading me back to where I came from, I see; Old Vienna. I wonder if he gets a commission? Just because I like you, and because your hair matches my tie I’ll blow you to anything you like from a second-story stein up to a bottle—large or small, according to your capacity. How about it?”
“I suppose you think because you got me in this absurd wicker basket before I could call a policeman and have you arrested for insulting me that any proposition you make from now on will not be objected to. Perhaps, because I made the fatal mistake of being alone on the walk at night, you, too, have made a mistake.”
“I never make mistakes, but this time I overlooked the fact that I am hungry. So we’ll get the large bottle and something to eat on the side and between drinks we’ll tell each other the story of our past lives, and we’ll make a bet on whose is the best.”
Half an hour later they were like a couple of chums who had known each other for years, and she was calling him Ben as if she had been raised with him.
That was not quite a year ago, and it is only introduced in order that the story might be told from the very beginning.
A thousand trifling things happen in life which often turn the tide or change the course of events. A man, because his watch is a few minutes late, misses a train which is wrecked and thus saves his life; again he goes down one street instead of another, for no reason that he knows of, and avoids a catastrophe or misses an opportunity; he goes here instead of there and something occurs which changes the course of his path from that point on to the grave. Call it fate if you like, but whatever it is it is inevitable and inexorable, and no human will has been found that is strong enough to resist it. It is like the call of “Hands up” coming from the desperado with a revolver. There is no alternative. In some cases it is impulse, a seventh sense, or pure luck—good or bad—according to results, or even intuition. The wise man says that what is to be will be and trails along in contentment. Others fight it out and come forth beaten in the end.
The two of this story came back to New York hopelessly in love with each other, and at that time, so far as I know, it wasn’t the commercial love of the twentieth century, ready to switch and change as soon as the sun went under the first cloud. They met two, three and four times a week, first in one place and then in another, and they knocked about town like a pair of happy-go-lucky Bohemians with the rent paid a year in advance.
“Some day,” he said to her once, “when I am quite free to do as I like I’m going to marry you, and then all of this running to cover like a pair of rabbits chased by a brown ferret that you can’t see will stop.”
“How do you know that I would marry you even if you wanted it?” she asked.
“We’ll argue that point when the time comes,” was the answer.
“Now that we’ve known each other for so long a time—at least it seems long to me—I’ve a confession to make to you. I ought to have told you before, but it isn’t too late now.”
“Save your confession as I’m saving mine,” he said. “I never knew these past life stories to do any good, for both men and women make mistakes, and they ought to do with them as the doctors do with their failures—bury them.”
“But we are doing wrong now.”
“The boy up the farmer’s tree filling his pocket with apples is happy until he is caught. My motto is to get as many apples as you can until you hear the farmer coming and then beat it while you have the wind with you. It doesn’t require as much nerve as you think, and any time the game isn’t worth it quit. The beaten man in a fight, if he is game, always gets as much applause as the victor and sometimes a great deal more. I have seen the time when it was better to lose than to win, strange as that may seem. I don’t believe in figuring on what is to be years from now because I may be dead. There is no to-morrow in life—it is all to-day. If battles have been won, cities destroyed, empires established and colossal fortunes swept away in an hour what chance has a man—a mere atom on the earth—to speculate in futures? The typhoid germ upon an oyster, the invisible microbe of consumption eaten or breathed in with a thousand other death-dealing mites, can kill him as surely as a thunderbolt or a drop of cyanide of potassium. Upon your hands and your face at this moment are the bacteria of lockjaw only waiting for a scratch or a wound of some kind to enter your veins. Yet you do not worry about that. You see you have me talking about things I do not like and it will take at least another pint to get the taste out of my mouth. Accept my advice, if the sun is shining for you now don’t fear the coming night.”
Through all the winter he never knew where she lived or how she lived and he didn’t care, and that was because he was a philosopher, and she knew as little about him as he did about her. A future meeting was always arranged upon the heels of the previous one. Her name was Bess and his was Ben and that was sufficient.
Very queer, of course, and almost unbelievable, but true nevertheless.
And all the while the match was getting nearer to the guncotton and neither knew it. Playing with fire had come to be such a habit with these two that they didn’t fear the flames.
It was at a nice little afternoon luncheon that she became first serious and then confidential. They had reached the coffee stage—the proper time to put your elbows on the table and talk—when she said:
“Ben, I want $5,000.”
At that particular moment he was lighting a cigarette and he didn’t look up for a full minute, which is a very long while if you only know the real value of time.
“What for?” he asked, finally.
“I am married, you know. I mean you don’t know it, but I’m telling you now, and I want to get a divorce. I have been collecting evidence and I have all I want, but I shall have to get a lawyer, and I shall also have to live until the case is disposed of.”
“Why didn’t you consult me?”
“Why should I until I was ready?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“Would you take the case?”
“No, but I could advise you.”
So he did, and being a very smart lawyer instead of giving her a check for the money she wanted he gave her what in his opinion was $5,000 worth of advice. You see, the substance of his love of the fall had fallen away to a shadow, and hard-headed business men don’t invest in shadows or even pay money to build a monument over a sentiment that is either dead or dying. Hearts are rarely trumps; spades have the call to-day.
“I’m going ahead anyhow,” she went on, “and I suppose when I am free that even your memory will suffer from an attack of dry rot, and that you’ll forget everything you have ever said to me—or deny it, which amounts to the same thing in the end.”
So the next day she told her story to a lawyer, not the story of Ben and the dinners, but the tales of the man to whom she was married, and when she produced certain dates and facts she was told she had the clearest kind of a clear case and that it would go through with bells on, with hubby paying the shot.
The complaint was drawn up and the papers served; and here comes the great part of this recital.
Just one week later a clean-cut, well-built young business man, of about 35, walked into Ben’s office and asked for a consultation.
“You have been recommended to me,” he began, “by a business friend of mine. I have been sued for divorce by my wife. My morals are none too good, but neither are hers. Will you take the case and defend me?”
“Yes,” said Ben, “I’ll take it,” and he called a stenographer. “Dictate your story to her and then see me to-morrow, when I will have the papers drawn up. If your counter charges amount to anything at all we can beat her—that is, if you want to beat her. As I understand it you don’t want her to get a divorce from you?”
“That’s it exactly. It isn’t that I care a rap, but I don’t care to be made a scapegoat, and I think when she knows what kind of an answer I have she’ll drop the whole case and take to the woods, which will suit me down to the ground.”
At 11 o’clock Ben saw the transcribed notes of the amanuensis and he hadn’t read more than ten lines when he jumped from his chair as though it had suddenly become red-hot.
“Miss Bates,” he called sharply, “bring me your note book.”
In she came and handed it to him.
“You’ll say nothing about this?”
“No, sir,” but there was the suggestion of a smile around the corners of her mouth.
He thrust it in his pocket and in a minute was out of the door.
There was a little luncheon date on with Bess for 12 o’clock, but he couldn’t wait. He was at the appointed place a full hour before the time, and he sat at the table glaring at the door. Exactly on the stroke of the hour she came in smiling.
“Why, Ben, what’s the matter? You look as though you had been struck by a blizzard.”
“I have. Read that,” and he handed two typewritten sheets to her. “You’ll have to drop that case of yours, and drop it quick, too. Your husband had the nerve to retain me to defend him; and in his counter charges he names me as your co-respondent, and I’m damned if he hasn’t got every move we ever made pat and to the minute. He’s been on to everything.”
He looked up suddenly and a look of suspicion came over his face.
“What is this, a job? Have you two been working me?”
“You contemptible thing,” she whispered, “you have the mind of a street sweeper. How dare you talk to me like that after all our——”
Two tears came into her eyes.
“If I were a man I would fight you and you wouldn’t dare to fight back. You’d run. Do you hear that—you’d run away, because you are a coward. I could make you run away now if I wanted, because you are afraid.”
Then she turned and walked out of the place without even so much as looking behind her, and the man was left with a lot of typewritten sheets clutched in one hand and a stenographer’s note book in the other.
There was never any suit, but if you happen to New York any day during the winter months I’ll show you this couple—Bess who made a little mistake and stepped out to where the daisies grow once or twice—and her husband, who won because he was willing to wait.
It sounds like a romance, I know, but it’s all true, every word of it, for the little stenographer told me the most of it.
WEDDING RINGS AND FOOTLIGHTS
There are several titles which would cover this story with equal aptness, and one of them is The Siren Song of the Burlesque Lady. Another one that would sound well is the Corralling of the Willie Boy. In fact they would do well together—a great deal better than the lady and the boy did. I call him boy in this story, but he is really a man so far as years and stature go, that is all, and he is learning a lot every day, so much so that if he keeps on he will some day be a man in everything.
The burlesque show with which this perfect lady was a spear carrier, as well as a few other things, hit the Bowery early in the season, and opened up with a roar that could be heard many blocks. It was the same old thing only a little more so, and the line-up was composed of a bunch of husky dames who ought to have been carrying the hod instead of giving an exhibition of beef on the hoof. The roster is a very familiar one, with the beef-eaters sometimes in the background like scenery, and then again in the foreground to give the boys a good look at the tights, two or three ginger girls, who had a small amount of talent with a great amount of nerve, who did stunts in the olio, and the usual collection of Irish and Hebrew comedians, of which the least said the better. The names on the roster would look like a collection of heroines from the Waverly novels, with Pearl, Pansy and Myrtle in the lead by a couple of good lengths. It was put together according to the recipe of a well-known manager, which was this:
“The people who pay their money for these kind of shows, my boy, don’t want beauty, or brains or talent. They’d go to sleep with Sarah Bernhardt doing the death scene in ‘Camille,’ and they’d call Booth in ‘Richard the Third’ a frost. What they want is legs—good, big husky legs that can take all the wrinkles out of the biggest size of pink tights on the market. They want quantity, not quality. Give them that and you’ll get their ten, twenty and thirty every time.”
He wore big diamonds, had a bank roll the size of a Hamburger steak, and so he must have been in right. Besides he always had a bottle of wine with his meals, and he didn’t care what kind of wine it was, so long as the label was attractive; which goes to show that his money was coming in so fast that his palate couldn’t keep up with it.
On the night the Fair Maids of Gotham opened, the Willie Boy, very fly up to a certain point, but with a soft sucker part about as big as a Derby hat, planted himself in one of the front seats. He had been mixing up with sports all of his life, and as a result the corners on him were as hard as flint. His roll was divided in four parts and stowed away in four separate places for safety’s sake, and when it came to a hurry touch he was prepared to dig down into his change pocket and produce a few pennies with verdigris on them as the extent of his capital. He had a block and a counter for every proposition that came his way and when anything came off he always managed to land his percentage and ride, even though everybody else walked.
The orchestra had crushed through its preliminary canter, the lights went down, the buzz of talk let up for a moment, and as he settled himself back in his seat with a big cigar in his mouth the curtain slid up for the opening chorus. The grenadiers in front swung their legs coquettishly, and pranced about like two-legged pachyderms as they delivered the goods in the shape of a song, which stated in very wobbly and uncertain rhyme that they were very jolly, very entertaining, and that they were out for a lark and were willing to take chances. It was all very affecting, and it might have been going on yet if the star of the show, known professionally as the principal boy, hadn’t butted in like a football player when the cue, “Here comes the Prince,” was given by a perfect lady with a forty-six-inch bust. She was so thoroughly upholstered with rhinestones that she looked like some new kind of an electric light proposition on legs. Willie sized her up with the eye of a connoisseur, and he fell to wondering whether or not among all that paving of cut glass there might not be a true gem.
Suddenly, as the line in front swayed, then broke and shifted, he caught sight of a tall blonde who had been fastened to it like the tail on a kite. She wasn’t quite as wide as the rest of the bunch, but there was something about her that attracted his immediate attention.
And here you see again the delicate tracery of the Italian hand of fate—that invisible, indefinite thing which stands always at our backs ready to move us here and there, like chessmen on a board, whether we like it or not. The male human pats himself on his shoulder and congratulates himself that he has a will and a mind of his own, but ever near him is that wraith which directs his movements, making him do this or that and go here and there. There is no force, no threat and no cajoling; it is simpler than a twist of the wrist, and the end of that winding, twisting, intersected road, with its hundreds of sharp turns here and there and its joys and sorrows, is the grave.
So look at the boy with good red blood in his veins, with a gentle, high-bred mother, a beautiful sister, and a home in which there was nothing but refining influences, sitting bolt upright now in that cheap theatre seat and gazing like one bewitched at this girl with the yellow hair, bleached to almost a frazzle, and the pale, watery blue eyes, with no figure at all and absolutely no talent, produced and spit forth from a tenement to grow up in the city’s streets like a weed to finally reach the most ordinary position in a most ordinary theatrical company, where, standing on the lowest possible level, she was satisfied. Paint, powder and rouge made her a ghastly sight, but in his eyes she was framed in an aureole and was as beautiful as a Madonna.
It was one of the things that no human being will ever be able to account for satisfactorily. Personal magnetism undoubtedly plays a part in it, as it does in many other things, but you wouldn’t think a young fellow like this would go so far out of his class unless he had a throwback strain of degeneracy imbedded somewhere in his system.
The tribe trooped off to make a change of costume and the comedians settled down to work. Then the ginger girls whooped things up a bit, and an acrobat went through the routine of stunts, while a few spasmodic outbursts of applause showed there were some people in the house who appreciated his work. But the pair of eyes owned by the young fellow in the aisle seat, third row, were looking for that blonde and nothing else.
Knowing everybody as he did, it wasn’t a difficult matter for him to get someone who knew her to wait after the show and bring them together in a rather formal way, although, in her case, that wouldn’t have been at all necessary. She had as little use for formalities as she had for conventionalities, which is not at all to be wondered at.
“Meet my friend Willie; now let’s all go out and get a drink,” was all there was to it, and ten minutes later four—two of each sex—were planted around a table in a cafe not more than a block or so from the theatre.
“Like the show?” asked the Genial Giantess, who was keen enough to smell a little love affair in the air.
“Great,” answered Willie; “it ought to get the money this season. What are you going to drink?”
“I never take anything but beer after the matinee—it hurts my voice.”
Strangely enough no one laughed, but with another girl and at another time Willie would have laughed himself almost into convulsions, for he has a keen sense of humor.
The four ate and drank at that table until it was time for the night show and then they separated, by which time Willie was so far gone that he sat throughout the evening performance while she smiled encouragingly at him from the other side of the footlights.
That is how the courtship really began.
For the rest of the week they were together all the time, and she began to realize that she had at last reached the apex of her ambition and found a man who looked like a wedding ring and a board bill proposition.
A fellow like this can have a dozen affairs and no one will question them, but when it comes to marrying there is a different story. To the outsiders it bore all the earmarks of a week’s stand at first, and as he never showed his hand no one was any the wiser, not even his most intimate friends.
A man’s declaration of love for a woman is a very beautiful thing so long as he is honest about it and keeps within his own class. The slang of the slums can be made as sincere as the most polished English. But in a case of infatuation like this—it might be called temporary insanity—it doesn’t hardly seem right there should be any ceremony. The halo of romance existed only in the mind of the boy—for the woman it was a business transaction with the obligations all on one side, so it was with a flippant air that she promised to “love, honor and obey,” and then after the briefest of brief honeymoons she went on the road with the show, while the young husband at once set about preparing a home for her when she should get ready to settle down to a life of domesticity.
At first he figured on taking her to his mother’s home, but when he told of the hurry-up wedding and showed a picture of the woman to whom he had given his name, the scene that followed forever settled the question, and he knew that his soubrette wife and his mother would never live under the same roof together.
The morals of the members of a burlesque show on the road have come to be a joke. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are very rare, though I personally know of some good women who have gone on tour through force of circumstances and have come through the ordeal morally and physically clean. I regret to be compelled to record that the Genial Giantess doesn’t belong in this class, and when the aggregation had torn thirty weeks off the calendar they came back looking like refugees from the San Francisco earthquake.
“I ain’t got a cent,” remarked the blonde on the ferryboat coming from Jersey City, “and I don’t have to have because Willie will stake me as soon as I get to New York, and besides he’s got a flat fixed up for me.”
That was the truth. He had a nice apartment for the homecoming, and while he wasn’t as much in love with her as he was when they were first married, he still felt that he had obligations and he ought to make good.
You know what I said in the beginning about fate? Well, listen.
While the performers were on the ferryboat, and when Blondie was making her celebrated remark, her Willie was up against a bar on Broadway with a couple of men he had met some time before. They were talking about women, and one, a commercial traveler, remarked:
“I’ll put you up against a warm bunch if you want to get on the job this week. We didn’t do a thing to them in Minneapolis when I was there on my last trip. I had a big blonde on my staff, and the first night I met her I loaded her up so that she had to be carried upstairs to her room by three waiters. Here’s a letter I got from her last week, and while she’s no ten thousand dollar beauty yet she’s a good fellow and a thoroughbred sport. Read it, Willie. When she hits this burg I’ll put you next and bet 20 to 1 that she’ll drink you to a standstill, for she’s the biggest tank I ever ran across.”
And when Willie read the letter which bore his wife’s signature and which put him wise to a few things he had never before dreamed of, he did what many another man would do under the same circumstances—that is, many another wise man. He ordered a round of drinks, and then he kept on ordering and saying nothing, letting the other fellows tell all they knew, and the first chance he got he blew out and went home, not to the place he had fixed up for Mrs. Willie, but to the home presided over by his mother. He simply abandoned the flat and all of his day dreams. They vanished like mist in the morning’s sun.
A few days later he got a letter from his wife and in it she reproached him for not meeting her, and furthermore she inquired what had become of the flat he had fixed up for her.
“I am broke, you know,” she wrote, “and I think the least you could do is to help me out.”
She signed it “Your loving (sic) and affectionate wife,” and it almost gagged him to read it.
He took a sheet of paper and wrote the answer. It contained but one line, but it told a whole chapter. In due course of time it was delivered to her. She opened the envelope and read the enclosure. What she said was unfit for publication, for what she saw was only two words and they were:
TOLD BY THE MANICURE GIRL
“How long have you been here?” asked the man with the black mustache; “I never noticed you before.”
“Just a week to-day,” said the manicure, as she soused one of his fat, pudgy paws in the scented water. She didn’t even take the trouble to look up at him as she talked, but applied herself at once to the almost impossible task of making his nails even presentable. It’s a hard job, you know, trying to improve on one of nature’s bum pieces of work.
The man leaned back in his chair contentedly, and with that air of assurance which money begets, and he looked her over as he would have looked over a new style of shirt in a haberdasher’s window. He noted that her hair was dark chestnut in color and luxuriant, also that it was undoubtedly all her own. The contour of her face was such as would have attracted any man with red blood in his veins and a heart to pump it. She had, besides, nice hands that were well kept, and a dainty manner that was rather charming.
“Don’t you ever get tired of doing this kind of work?” he asked, when he had finished his inspection and had sized her up to his apparent satisfaction.
“I am always tired of it,” she answered, briefly.
“How would you like to travel?” was his next question.
Then she paused a moment and glanced up. She was smiling, and the two dimples that came in her cheeks rather enhanced her beauty.
Then he saw that she also had teeth that were white and regular, that her lips were red and her eyelashes long.
You know a bargaining man takes in all these things, just the same as a buyer of beef on the hoof feels and prods the cattle in the search for blemishes.
“There is nothing in the world I would like better than to travel.”
She looked him squarely in the eyes, and her smile was accentuated. Then she resumed her work. As for him he leaned still farther back in the comfortable chair and sucked complacently on his big Havana.
“I knew you was a nice little girl as soon as I saw you.”
The rapid, supple fingers never paused for a moment in their work, and were trimming, rubbing and polishing those awful nails into some kind of decent shape. The thick, heavy, hairy hand, with its spatulate extremities, showed physical strength and nothing else. It was made for work, and it had worked, too, in its day. It had been used to the most ordinary and menial kind of labor, as the hands of its ancestors had. It had lifted beams and handled picks and shovels. It had pulled at ropes and tugged at heavy burdens. It had had little to do with the gentler side of life, and even the big diamond ring on the fourth finger could not hide its early career.
But an accident happened—a money-making accident which some might call opportunity—and the hands had been withdrawn from their labors, and the callous spots had a chance to disappear—gradually, but none the less surely. The movement of the slim white fingers caused him to look down, and he was conscious of the fact that his heart was beating a bit faster than usual. The blue smoke from his cigar curled up through his mustache, it crept into his eyes and made them sting. Through the haze he noticed that the girl had a bow of black ribbon fastened to her hair.
“I’ll bet you’d be a good sport if you had the chance.”
“That depends upon what you mean by the chance,” she said.
He couldn’t quite analyze that, and so he blurted out:
“Go down the line with me and I’ll show you.”
She paid no attention to that.
“How about it?” he persisted.
“How about what?”
“I’d just like to take you out to a little lunch for two. What time do you break away from here? What time do you knock off?”
“To-night, do you mean?”
“Sure, yes, to-night.”
“Just time enough to go home, and I never go out at night.”
“Tush, tush, now. Be a good fellow, and if I like you I’ll take you on a long trip. You know you said you liked to travel, didn’t you? Well, I’m going to give you a chance, if you behave yourself and stick to me. I’ve been looking for a girl like you for a long while, and you just hit me right, so you’re on the job. I can make good, all right, you needn’t be afraid of that, for I’ve got all kinds of money, and when I meet anybody I like I spend it like a drunken sailor, see?”
“Yes, I see; I knew you had money all the time.”
“You did, did you; well, how?”
“Because it is only men with plenty of money who would talk to a girl the way you have been talking to me. It is only the men with money who think they can buy everything in sight, especially if that which they think they fancy happens to be the wearer of a skirt, and it’s the men with money who think their money is better than anybody else’s money, and their dollars are of more value than the dollars owned or controlled by some one who has less than they have. Are you married?”
“No,” he answered. He would have said more if he had known what to say.
“Then why don’t you go and pick out some woman whom you like and who likes you, and marry her and have it over with. Your time for being a gay sport has passed; leave that to the young fellows.”
Daintily she reddened his nails with rouge, doing them as carefully as if they were works of art, and tapping each one gently in order to get just the right amount of color.
“I don’t think,” she went on, “that you quite know what you’ve been up against. You may have heard the old saying, ‘a burnt child dreads the fire;’ well, I’m the child in this case, although I’m no child in years. As I told you before, I’ve been here a week, and it’s a great relief to me to be working, for I’ve been on one of those little trips you were just talking about, and there is nothing to it. You see,” then she glanced up quickly, “perhaps you don’t want to hear this.”
“That’s all right; go ahead, you can’t hurt my feelings.”
“I was told that I was a good fellow and a nice girl, and I was led to believe that I could have anything in the world that I wanted, and I want to tell you right here that it is a beautiful thing to believe and have faith in anyone. Some of the stories that men tell to women would make great reading if it was only written right, but they would be all fiction, because I don’t believe a man ever told a woman the truth in his life. I’m talking from personal experience, of course. This one man, who was really old enough to be my father, talked to me about my future, and said, among other things, he would always look after me, and I was serious enough about it to believe that he would, too. Then one day he asked me if I wanted to take a little trip, and his words were so much like yours when you spoke that you startled me. Isn’t it strange that the nails of your left hand take on so much higher polish than those of the right hand? I wonder why it is? There, I’m through now. Fifty cents, please.”
“But how about the finish of that story? Did you take the trip?”
“Of course I took it.”
“Make the job a dollar and tell me the rest.”
“I never would have believed that I would be sitting here telling that story to a man whom I had only met once. You’re not offended at the way I criticised you, are you?”
“Not at all,” he answered, “go ahead and criticise me all you like. I rather like it, it’s so seldom that I am criticised.”
“You mean nowadays?” she asked, noting his hands.
“Yes, since I got money. Go on with the story.”
“The trip was to be to Europe—first London, then Paris, and after that Berlin. He was a banker and so prominent that you would know his name at once if I were to mention it, but there is where I draw the line. I’ll save him that much, anyhow. When we left he had a large bag in which he seemed to take an especial interest, for he would allow no one to touch it but himself, and it wasn’t until we were half way across that I found out that it was all full of money.”
“Money?” queried the man with the black mustache, sitting bolt upright in his chair.
“Yes, money. That’s what I said, wasn’t it?” she asked, petulantly. “Brand new greenbacks, pound notes, hundred and thousand-franc notes. Oh, they were beautiful to look at, and I counted over the packages because they were so pretty. You see, he said he was going over to put through a big banking deal, and he cautioned me to say nothing about all the money he had with him, for fear he would be robbed. When we arrived in London we went direct to the Cecil, where he registered under an assumed name, but I was down on the book as his wife, just the same, and he told me to go out and get some clothes and anything I wanted. He said he wanted to have some of the big bills changed and that was the easiest way in the world to have it done, but he asked me to bring all the change to him, and to pay for every separate article with one of the new bills. I thought it was rather queer at the time, but I did as he told me and I never in my life had such a good time buying things. I brought back to the hotel a dreadful amount of change, so much that it was a nuisance.
“Every day it was the same thing over again until I honestly grew tired of spending money. Think of that—tired spending. Before we left for Paris he put over $15,000 of the change in a safe deposit vault that only he and I knew about, because something had happened and he had to get to Paris quickly. When we got there we went to the Grand Hotel, where he registered under still another name. Again I went shopping, and the only hard part of it was that I had a new bill to change every time I bought anything, think of that, even if it was a little lunch in a cafe, and many a time I have had to wait while they sent out for the change of a thousand-franc note. We were there just four days when one afternoon two men came to our rooms with the proprietor or manager of the hotel, and the first thing I knew he was arrested on the charge of making or having counterfeit money or something like that. Before they got him out of the room he whispered to me that he had put $15,000 more in a safe deposit vault in Paris, and he told me the name of the place. He said it was in my name, too.
“I wasn’t arrested, but I was put out of the hotel as if I had been a swindler. I had enough money to get home, and so I came. I don’t want any more excitement in mine, and I’m content to get along the best way I can, without any fireworks or trips of any kind, unless, of course, I’m sure that everything is absolutely correct and all right. Suppose I had been broke, what would I have done alone in Paris?”
“What happened to the man?” he asked, ignoring her question.
“He was tried and sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment, and if he had only married me, and I had my marriage certificate, I could go over there and get $30,000 as easy as nothing. I don’t care so very much for it, but still it would come in very handy and I wouldn’t mind dividing it up with anyone who could help me out.”
The man fidgeted in his chair, glanced out of the window, and then took a long pull at his cigar.
“Bored you, didn’t it?” asked the girl. “I knew it would, but you insisted on my telling it, and you’re the only one that knows it. I’m really getting garrulous.”
“Do you think $5,000 would be enough to get the papers fixed up?”
“Oh, yes, that would be quite enough, for I inquired about it. It would take me there and back again and pay all expenses.”
“And you’d give me half?”
“Why, of course I would. Who wouldn’t?”
You know the old saying about a sucker being born every minute. I could go on and make the usual hot finish to this story, but what’s the use when two lines will suffice. She got the money, of course, and he got what is known in the language of The Line as the lemon. Very sour it was for this hard, wise fellow, and they say that now every time he passes a manicure parlor he turns his head the other way and says things which wouldn’t look well in print.
INVESTING IN A HUSBAND
Money makes the mare go.
That is, sometimes, if it’s the right kind of a mare and there is enough money.
Take out all the “ifs” and “buts” and it will be all right.
The world began with a man, Adam, and the woman came later, but the finish will be different, for there will be a woman in the last ditch giving or ready to give the avenging angel the stiffest kind of an argument.
This story differs from the Creation in that it begins with a woman, as all stories of to-day should. And why not? for take the lady out of the case and there’s no story and never will be. The slim finger of a woman, you know, is in every pie. Sometimes it improves the flavor and sometimes it spoils it—that’s a matter of luck—and there are men who have tried pies or many fingers, whichever simile you prefer, and the result in their cases is always the same.
The girl in this story had birth, and blood, and breeding behind her. She also had good looks and a little money, and that is about all that anyone wants. Add to that a fairly nice disposition and you have reached the limit.
Of course, she wasn’t perfect by any means. She was a bit whimsical and peculiar, and her moods were as apparent as the moving pictures thrown on a sheet in the theatre. She was unusual in that her moods were reflected in her face with all the truthfulness of a mirror. That was the reason that some said she was good-looking, while others contended that she was most ordinary. Take her as I’ve often seen her, when she was cheerful and happy-go-lucky, and while there was nothing about her features that was regular she was attractive enough for anyone, and she could make a good many young fellows turn their heads to look after her as she passed down the street.
Then again something would happen, and she would seem to age ten years in as many hours, and a crop of deep lines and wrinkles would spring out like magic. But she had magnetism, and she was forever standing at the fork of two roads, one of which led to good and the other to bad. To her it was the toss of a coin which one she would take.
It was while she was in a thoughtful mood, debating with herself, that the man came along. There’s an apology goes with that, for he hadn’t a vote yet, and he was very youthful in his ways and of that age where a youngster is apt to tell more than is good for him, and to stray from the field of fact. Of course, it’s not a crime—it’s only a period. With his red cheeks and baby complexion he looked like a cross between a stick of peppermint candy and one of Raphael’s cherubs. He was as pretty a piece of embroidery as ever asked his mother for spending money, and when the girl saw him she immediately threw out a line and took him in tow. Inside of twenty-four hours she had her monogram indelibly stamped on him, and he was hers. Hand in hand they went out to see the world and become real sports, and it wasn’t long before wine was the limit and it wasn’t half good enough at that. They left a lurid streak up and down the line, but it soon faded out, for they weren’t financially strong enough to make a splash that would attract any more attention than a pair of tiny gold fish in a two-dollar aquarium.
After all, it amounts to nothing more or less than a question of capacity—stomach as well as purse, and it is rarely that the two harmonize. The man with the yard-wide thirst is often handicapped by a purse with complete or partial paralysis.
And then these two fell in with other company in the shape of a man and woman whose nuptials had been attended by incidents of a more or less exciting character, the star part of which was an elopement which savored more of desire than genius in its arrangements. They had succeeded so well in their new venture that they owned the entire contents of a flat across the river in Jersey, and being still in the throes of love themselves—or thinking they were—they were headquarters for everything that seemed like an affair of the heart. Some who were not their friends were unkind enough to say that it was nothing more nor less than a case of misery loving company, and that being on the coals themselves this couple enjoyed leading others to the broiler. But that’s unkind and really ought not to be believed.
However, many a racket came off in the flat, and they all went as hot a pace as wind and weather permitted, until even a rank outsider would have said it was time for a minister to get on the job and do what he could to make things legal.
The cork popped from a bottle of wine and the juice of the grape sizzled out.
“What do you say, Kid, let’s get married?”
“All right, I’m game if you are; you can’t phaze me,” she said.
“Well, how about to-night?”
“The sooner the better.”
Talk about quick action, it was here with a vengeance.
Four people on a ferryboat, then an elevated railroad and the ringing of a minister’s door bell.
It’s all very simple.
The dinner afterward in a cafe, very informal, you know, to harmonize with the ceremony, with a couple of quarts for luck sandwiched in by cocktails and highballs; then a few brief telegrams:
“Married to-night; wish us luck;” you know the rest.
It was all right, after all, apparently, and everybody did wish them luck, even if there were a few bad spots in the job. But, you see, they suited themselves and there was no one else to be taken into consideration, not even the relatives. This going around and holding consultations in advance is no good, and people who are in love or who think they are in love don’t want advice of any kind, except the kind that rings the door bell of a minister’s hut or buys a wedding ring and sends it with the words:
“Get busy before it is too late.”
I’m no critic, and I don’t pretend to criticise here. I’m simply telling a story which may or may not be true, but I’m not going to be responsible for it any more than the man who rents a place and plants flowers in the garden is responsible for the architecture of the house on the premises.
It is said that the bride in this case was kind enough to supply the funds for the honeymoon, while the nice boy supplied the beauty and called it even. In the eyes of the lady it seems a fair enough proposition, but harsh things are liable to be said of such a combination, even though it is no one’s business.
When they returned from the fields of fruits and flowers the boy had made up his mind, like the Count Boni de Castellane, that being a husband was much better than holding down a job in an office, and so they settled in New York like a pair of pigeons after a long flight. He had no more idea of the responsibilities of married life than a six-months’-old infant has of playing the races. With a place to sleep and a feed bag always ready for his face he was satisfied, but that was because of his youth. You see, marrying from the cradle has both its advantages and its drawbacks, according to the way you look at it.
For him every morning was Christmas, and the tree was always fixed up with something nice with his name on it. Do you blame him for looking pleasant? Press the button for a dollar, press it twice and you get five. Just as easy as drawing money out of the bank when you have a check book.
But with all going out and nothing coming in it doesn’t last long, and when he had swept up all the spare change in sight he began to cast his covetous eye upon the big bundle that was tied up with a woolen string.
He knew something about the racing game—just enough to get stung when the time came—and he knew a man who was good enough to offer him a half interest in a racing mare that had been kept under cover for a year or so, but who could, if she was let out, beat anything that ever wore pigskin. To that infantile mind of his this was the one great chance of a lifetime and the thousand-dollar bill was the key which would unlock the door to wealth.
Money without working for it.
Why it was a pipe. Besides, it made a beautiful and alluring tale for the bride, who had reached that stage where she didn’t want her boy away from her, not even for a minute. With the thousand he would make the initial investment, and with the rest of the bank roll he would bet. With paper and pencils they sat at the table one night and rolled up two thousand to the fortune of a Rockefeller.
How easy it is to make money that way. All you have to do is to begin with any amount, even a penny, and if your pencil holds out you’ll have a million in less than no time, but you can’t buy anything with it—there’s the trouble. The man in the insane asylum who imagined that every stone in the construction of the building was of pure gold and that it belonged to him was just as rich in his own mind as the wealthiest human being in the world—and happier, too, I’ll bet you.
They planned it all out, even to the trip to Europe on the winnings of the first big race, for she would carry odds of not less than 20 to 1, because she was unknown.
A little trip down to the bank and out came the money in brand new bills that were very good to look at.
So the first step was taken, and the boy made up his mind that he had turned his back forever upon such things as ten-dollar-a-week jobs.
It doesn’t require any ingenuity or brains for a man to separate himself from such things as thousand-dollar bills—in fact it’s quite easy. Consequently it didn’t require any brain work on the part of the boy to deplete the account by just that amount within a very short time. For his new bill he received in return a slip of paper which stated that he was the half owner of the racing mare known as Blue Monday, and that in consideration of his paying one-half of the training expenses of the said mare he was to be entitled to one-half of the winnings, less jockey fees and other incidentals.
To him it sounded beautiful and it took not less than one quart to celebrate this new business venture—paid for by the lady, of course, but still, in view of the fact that they were one, it was all right.
Then there began to come to him via the U. S. Mail, certain sundry statements concerning the expenses of putting this fine bit of horse flesh into the proper condition to bring home the money, and the request for immediate remittance. There was variety enough about these statements, too, to satisfy the most fastidious, and the amounts ranged all the way from six dollars and fifty cents to an even hundred. The clever mind of the bride took in the situation at a glance, but the faith of the optimistic kid held as fast as a ship’s anchor to a rock ledge, and he could see nothing but success in the near future.
You know there is never a day so far away that it doesn’t come at last. So it was that the day of the long expected race arrived and down deep in the trousers pockets of the Pink Cheeked One was $150, the last shot in the locker.
“It’s all right, Kid,” he said to her. “It’s just as I thought, she’s a twenty-five to one shot, and I’m going to plank every cent down. At those odds we’ll take home with us $3,750, and I guess that’ll hold us for awhile. How about it?”
“But suppose she doesn’t win?”
“Doesn’t win? What’s the matter with you—are you getting cold feet? How can she lose? Didn’t we clock her this morning on the try-out and didn’t she beat the track time? Wait till you know more about this game and you’ll see where I’m right.”
I don’t know much more about it than that, but the files of papers of that date show me that Blue Monday, mare, 3-year-old, was entered for the Seaside stakes of $1,500, at odds of 25 to 1; there was a good start, with her in the lead. At the quarter she had fallen back to fourth, at the half she had crept up until she lapped the second horse.
She finished seventh.
I should say that blue-eyed boy was looking for a job the next day, but I’m not fortune teller enough to know whether he connected or not.
TRAINING AN OLD SPORT
Come and listen to the siren song of the New York girl, and perhaps it may interest you for awhile. There is no question about it unless you are a bronze statue standing on a gray stone pedestal in some park, or a cigar store Indian with an Hebraic nose and a wooden tomahawk. In the first place the New York girl has been conceded to be a wonder and about the best in the world in looks as well as in figure. She has a fine complexion when she gives it a chance to show itself, and, like the little girl in the story book, when she’s good she’s very, very good, and when she’s bad she’s a peach. The thing is to pick out the right one, and your chances for that are just as good as drawing to a pair in poker. Some say it’s luck, while others favor the science idea.
With that for an overture, let’s ring the bell for the curtain to go up on the charming little two-act play, entitled “The Redemption of a Sport.”
The Old Sport has been up against every proposition the sun ever shone on, and there was nothing he wasn’t fly to. He had paid board for blondes and brunettes as well as a few Leslie Carters, to say nothing of an Albino he once took a fancy to. He was an early and late bird, and he was known up and down the line by his first name, which is a distinction that it usually takes a lot of money or a number of years, and sometimes both, to acquire, and even then it’s not a lead pipe cinch that you’ll land it right.
This fellow was good to the girls, and could be relied on for a five-case note on a hurry touch at any time, for he had no buttons on his pockets, and he knew that safe deposit vaults in heaven are only used for the storing of golden crowns in hot weather.
“If I can’t take my money with me,” he said once, “then I’ll spend it here, for if there’s anything in the world that I hate it is to think that there’s going to be a lot of hungry relatives picking over the bones of my estate before I get comfortably settled in the six feet of real estate that no one can beat me out of. The money’s got to be spent some time, and I’m going to be the one to get the credit for it because it’s mine.”
But there came a time in his life when he felt that he wanted to get away from the mob. He had been stung by the bee of domesticity and didn’t know it. What he did know was that he wanted a place with a real woman in it, where he could hang his hat and that he could call his own. If he had wanted to put his brains at work he would have known that it was nothing more nor less than the law of nature which had him fast—that same law which makes a bird build a nest in a tree, or a wild animal pre-empt a bed of moss under the roots of a certain tree.
It was the home instinct.
So he began to cast his eye around for a side partner whom he could have and hold, even if he had to coax her up to the altar with a marriage license printed in red and gold and lasso her with a wedding ring. From that time on he was always on the alert for the right one to come along, and every time he heard a sound like a skirt he made an investigation. In about ten days he turned down all the Dollies and Mauds of the Line, for he couldn’t see where they would have a look-in if the cook happened to leave in a hurry and he arrived home with a backwoods appetite. You see he wanted a gas-stove performer who could in an emergency tell the difference between a roast and a ragout in the raw state, and who could juggle with a lot of cold grub in the ice box, and turn out a square meal that was not only hot but nourishing. He was tired of restaurant hash, anyhow, and he was longing for the kind of biscuits that mother used to make.
He figured for awhile on a girl named Elsie, who could make a cocktail to beat the band, and who could also drink more and get away with it than any of the rest. She was a good looker, too, and she had trotted in double harness before, but he found out that she was a bit promiscuous in her tastes, and he didn’t care to feel that he had to stay at home all the time in order to keep her from entertaining any stranger in a pair of trousers who happened along. So he put a red cross, which means “Danger, Keep Off,” opposite her name, and began looking in another direction.
He changed his tactics completely.
“I’m on now,” he said to himself. “I’ll hunt up some nice little innocent girl who doesn’t know anything of the world, and who has taken a course in a cooking school. I want the kind whose ambition in life is to be boss of a nice three-story house, and who doesn’t care any more for Broadway than a hobo does for a hot bath. I’ll just hunt up some mother’s girl who has her hair hanging down her back in a big, thick braid, and I’ll sing her a song that’ll make her think I’m the real thing on wheels.”
So with that very laudable and commendable idea he started out. He didn’t figure that a tough old nut like he was had any right to go up against a game like that, and that his play was to mix with people of his own class. But you’ll find in nine cases out of ten that the worse a man is or has been the more innocence and purity he wants when he is figuring on giving a sky pilot a chance to make a dollar or two.
But having made up his mind the kind of a field he was going to hunt, the next question was how to break in. All the girls he knew were, without exception, of the brand which are at their best when the lights are turned on, who rent flats for business purposes, and who change quarters when an intimation is made by the captain of a police precinct that the change will do them good. To save his life he couldn’t figure out this new proposition, and he was like the man who bought a new double-barreled shotgun and then found out he couldn’t get a permit to hunt the birds the old farmer owned.
And now right here, at the critical moment, in steps fate, luck, or destiny, it doesn’t matter which, for they are all the same, and shuffles the cards for a new deal.
An automobile on Broadway bumped hard enough into the rear end of a hansom cab to almost throw the driver from his seat and to make him swear a blue streak of profane eloquence. The usual crowd collected, and in the bunch caught there by the sudden rush of curious and morbid humanity was the Old Sport. He pushed with both elbows to free himself and then stepped back testily. A girl behind him cried out with pain, and he turned suddenly around to find himself face to face with as choice a little blonde as ever carried books home from school, and, furthermore, she had a braid down her back.
“I beg your pardon, did I hurt you?” he asked.
“I’m afraid you did; you stepped on my foot.”
“Well, just take my arm and let me help you out of this crowd.”
Easy if you only know how and the chance comes your way.
The Old Sport wasn’t really old—not over forty—and he was there with the looks, and the little lady rather liked the way he framed up, as anyone could see by the way she cuddled up to him as she limped along. His heart was beating it like a yeggman coming East on a brake beam, and already he was figuring on how to handle this new proposition.
If it had been one of those other girls he would have said:
“You just send your trunk up to my place, and we’ll go around and have a talk to a minister; how about it?”
But he couldn’t say that to this girl with the pink in her cheeks and the fluffy hair that had never been up against the peroxide.
“Foot pretty bad, Kid?” was the way he broke the ice.
“Oh, no, thank you, it’s all right now, but it hurt me a lot at first.”
“Live far from here?” he came back again.
“No, not very far; only Fifty-third street.”
There was only ten blocks to go, and when they got to the last one he knew all about her. He knew that she was living with her aunt, and that she was taking music lessons because some day she hoped to be able to teach. As they paused for a moment on the corner, he said:
“If you should happen along on Forty-second street to-morrow about 2, I’ll be glad to see you.”
It was a bit crude, but it went all right and the date was made. When she walked away he stood looking after her, and he noticed that she had a nice trim figure, a dainty little foot and that she stepped out like a thoroughbred.
“You for me,” he remarked, and then he hustled back to find some one he could treat, so great was his joy.
So there’s the picture, to use a theatrical term, and the curtain goes down on it for the end of the first act.
Now, you and I and some of the rest of the thirsty crowd will go out and have a drink between acts, but it’s a warm night and instead of one drink there’s half a dozen. Time flies when you’re in good company and the Old Sport was taking no chances. Ten interviews with the girl—ten good, square, honest talks at the rate of a talk a day—and she consented to take a chance with him and tell the folks afterward. He was on the level, though, and when she went home a couple of days later she had the little certificate with her, and after a few tears Auntie was invited around to visit her new nephew and look over the new house.
As for the Sport, he settled down as comfortably as an old buff Cochin-China hen on a dozen eggs, and he made up his mind that he had been missing a good many years of real dyed-in-the-wool happiness while he was traveling The Line with the bunch and throwing all kinds of booze under his belt.
But when the weeks began to add themselves into months he grew a bit restless of nights and it came pretty hard when any of the boys asked him to come along and help them crack a bottle. He took the Mrs. to the show once in a while, but it was always a case of hurry home as soon as the orchestra began to play “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” He didn’t want to take a chance of being caught by any of the Merry-Merrys who were out for the rent and guyed for “marrying decent.” Once or twice he thought he had made a mistake and that the change was too great or too sudden for him, but an hour later when he had his slippers on and was planted in the big armchair in the corner, he knew he wouldn’t make any kind of a change for the world, and he felt that he had lost a good many years out of his life in not getting into this kind of a game sooner. Like an old fire horse, he was all right as long as he didn’t smell fire. But the time was coming, and it was as sure as rent, taxes or death.
It came when he went out one night to be gone not more than a half hour, and when he tried his key in the lock it was 2 A. M., and the girl, her eyes red from crying with the desertion and the loneliness of it all, had fallen asleep, fully dressed, across the foot of the bed. He was very sorry and penitent, but for all that he went out the next night just the same, and after that he was never in. He was back on the old trail, mixing once more, to the great delight of the crowd. The novelty of home had worn off, and when his wife waited up for him she usually found him too drunk to understand what she was saying to him. From one step it is easy to take another, or, as the Chinese say, the creeper always walks in the end. He took to bringing friends home with him at all hours, especially between three and six in the morning, and their arrival was always made apparent by the wild time they had scrambling up the stairs.
Now, in this story—as in real life—always keep your eye on the lady. It doesn’t make any difference where she comes from, whether it’s New York City or Lower Squankum, New Jersey, she is either one of two things, very clever or very dull. There is no medium, for what may seem to you like a medium is only a counterfeit and not the real article. For every ninety-nine dull women there is one clever woman; for every ninety-nine clever women there is one ace who tops the rest as easily as Mont Blanc tops an ant hill. The wife in this case was not one of the dullards, that’s a cinch. If she had been she would have made an idiot of herself and acted the way the rest of them do—which is a great nuisance and annoying to any man. She was a genius, and I ask you to take off your hat to her—as I do.
“I notice,” she remarked to Old Sport one morning, “that you never bring more than one friend home with you when you arrive. Why don’t you bring half a dozen, or three, anyhow? It would be much more companionable.”
He was a bit on his guard at first, but she convinced him that she was serious about it, and then he began to congratulate himself that he had his wife well in hand.
Two nights later he arrived with half a dozen of the hottest hooters that ever held an all-night session in a furnished flat. He let them in with his key, and as they paused at the foot of the stairs, a clock from somewhere chimed out a silvery “three.”
“Come on, boys; open house here; everything goes,” said Old Sport. “My wife says my friends are good enough for her if they’re good enough for me. Come on.”
He, with another, made the start up the stairs, but they hadn’t gone more than a few steps when a brilliant light from the landing somewhere fairly dazzled them.
Directly in front of them, apparently in the act of stepping out of a huge picture frame, was the symmetrical figure of an almost nude woman. The light struck her just right and brought out every detail.
“Great,” shouted someone from the foot of the stairs.
“Shut up, you fool, it’s my wife,” answered the Sport. “Put out that light up there, do you hear? Put it out.”
But it blazed away as steadily as ever, and there was no movement on the part of the figure, except that the full bosom rose and fell with the regularity of her breathing.
The Sport turned around on the stairs.
“Come out of here, you fellows; this is going too far. Come on, skiddoo, all of you.”
And when the last one had gone out he slammed the door behind them. What happened inside is none of your business, nor mine, either, because I don’t believe in scandal, but any evening the Old Sport is wanted he will be found at his home address with his wife and a kid who looks like him.
As for the lady; she has a genius that she is just beginning to appreciate.
CONCERNING A SYRIAN BEAUTY
Transplant the Oriental to the Occident, or in plain words bring a nice-looking girl from the East to New York, for instance, and nine times out of ten there is sure to be something doing. Most of the doings, to be sure, are under the rose, but every once in a while some hint bobs to the surface and the news is wafted about by every breeze of a whisper.
In his very handsomely appointed suite of apartments on the upper West Side is a young fellow who has good enough blood in his veins to be game and take his medicine, and with sense enough to keep his mouth shut. Across the bridge of his nose are three knife cuts made by a blade that was very keen, which was held by a hand that knew its business. His doctor tells him that it is not at all serious, even though inconvenient—you know how doctors talk when there is a good fat fee at the other end of the line. He also says that there is nothing in the world that will prevent and eradicate those three disfiguring scars, even after the wound has been thoroughly healed and every possible surgical precaution taken.
And there’s the rub.
Through all the rest of his life this man, upon whom the world has been smiling since his birth, will be marked with the signs of his folly.
So much for the present.
Now for the recent past.
The woman was a Syrian beauty with sloe eyes and an olive skin that was like a piece of copper-hued satin, so soft and smooth and free from blemish was it. There was a faint flush of red in her cheeks, too, as if the hot blood was trying to break through the tender skin. Her lips were red and full, and because of all that riot of color her teeth showed whiter than they really were. She had, besides, small feet and slim, trim ankles.
Any wise man will appreciate that and understand why they are brought into this story. Up to the age of twenty-five the male animal looks at the female face and is satisfied. After that no such casual scrutiny satisfies him. First face, hair and general contour, then ankles, and often it is the last view which does the work or turns the trick, which is the same thing, only it is expressed differently. This is with the assumption, of course, that the man has enough discrimination to want quality, not quantity. Quantity is unwieldy and unsatisfactory from every viewpoint except from that of the gentleman who is in the butcher business, and who wants a standing advertisement for his shop. Embonpoint is all right in sausages but not in women, excepting—and that is understood—those on dime museum platforms.
The first name of the lady was Dekka, the rest was unpronounceable and we’ll let it go at that. She was a seller of Oriental goods, not from a Tenderloin standpoint, but real merchandise such as is recognized by the law—laces, draperies, bits of cunningly embroidered silks, and even rugs, which she called carpets, with the accent on the first syllable. Her stock was carried in a dress suit case which was handled by her “brother,” who was also a Syrian, and he only resembled her because he, too, had black eyes, an olive skin and dark crispy hair, to say nothing of his small feet.
Day after day they went in and out of houses, flats and apartments, visiting none but the best, and calling an express wagon into service when a rug display was necessary. She was the brains of the combination and did all the selling. His job was done when he put the satchel down by her side. Then he effaced himself and was invisible until she was ready to exit, when he made a mysterious reappearance from somewhere.
And that’s the soup of the story; the roast follows.
The Jap valet to the young man of means and leisure announced to him one afternoon that a dark lady—makes you think of the queen of spades, doesn’t it?—wanted to see him and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Bring her in,” said Jimmy, who was feeling in just the right kind of a humor to see anyone, even a man to whom he owed money, and in a moment she had slipped into the room as lightly as a cat walking on wet grass. There was the sound of her French heels hitting the bare spots on the polished floor that was music to him, and he wondered what there was in the meeting of leather and wood that was so attractive and just a bit different from anything he had ever heard before.
She courtesied in a friendly, intimate sort of a way, and then spoke:
“Good day; the lady? Can I show her some laces? Very fine.”
There was just the faintest touch of an accent in her voice, but it was rather pleasant than otherwise, and it seemed to have a very soothing effect on him.
“There is no lady here,” he laughed, “that is, not yet.”
“Ah, too bad, and such a nice place, too. It is so beautiful.”
She half turned as if to go, and he stepped toward her.
“What have you got to sell? I might buy something.”
“You are so kind; I have them here,” and she motioned to the next room. “My brother bring them, then he go ’way. It is very heavy to carry all the time.”
“Yama,” called he, “bring it in, whatever it is,” and in a moment the Jap came lugging the leather case.
Jimmy noted how deftly the shapely brown fingers unfastened the brass catches, and as she leaned over he found himself studying her with the eye of a man who has seen and known a great many women of all kinds and all nationalities with one or two exceptions, and one of the exceptions was Syrian. A faint perfume, the odor of which he failed to recognize, seemed to fill the room, and he knew it came from her, and he became suddenly aware that he was taking more interest in the saleswoman than he was in the goods she was about to offer him.
When the bag had been opened and the contents tumbled out promiscuously, without any attempt at order or display, she sat down on the rug beside them. She picked out a lace scarf and carefully smoothing out its folds held it before him.
“Very fine,” she said; “all made by hand, see?” and she pointed to the heavy embroidery.
“It’s all right,” he answered, but he wasn’t looking at the silk, he was looking straight in her eyes and wondering why it was he had never met a woman with eyes as black as those before.
“You are not looking,” she said.
“I am,” he replied.
“At the scarf, I mean.”
“No, there is something better.”
“But I am only selling the scarf to you,” and she began to fold it up while her cheeks became more red.
“What’s the price?” asked Jimmy.
“Only $6, and very cheap.”
“All right, I’ll take it; let me see what else you’ve got there.”
And presently they were both sitting on the rug, he on one side of the bag and she on the other. In a half hour he had spent one hundred dollars, but to save his life he couldn’t have told what it was he had bought and, what was more, he didn’t care.
He laid the crisp new bill on her knee, and as she began to fold up the remnant of her stock he asked questions.
“You said your brother went around with you. Is he really your brother or something else?”
“My own brother; why should I tell you a lie?”
“I don’t know except that there are a great many brothers and cousins in this world who are not brothers or cousins at all, except as a matter of convenience. You know, I think you are a nice little girl and I fancy I’m getting just a bit gone on you. I don’t mind buying things from you, but I should like it if you and I could be friends.”
By this time they were standing up; the suit case had been closed and it was still between them, as if it was a sort of a guardian.
“Couldn’t you stay here and have a little lunch with me? We’ll have it right away and you’ll be away in an hour. Where’s your brother?”
“Oh, he always waits somewhere—outside, maybe.”
“In the other room?”
“Oh, no; sometimes in the hall and sometimes in the street; sometimes he goes away and comes back again.”
“Well, this time he can wait a little longer. Yama,” calling to the Jap, “get some lunch and hurry up.”
He picked up the barrier of a dress suit case and put it one side, then he walked over to her and putting his arm around her waist, pulled her toward him and kissed her squarely on the mouth.
“Oh,” she cried, “what are you doing?”
“Kissing you. I’ve bought your silks and now I’m ready to invest in kisses, and I find,” he remarked, as he kissed her again, “that your kisses are the best.”
The blood leaped to his brain, and he held her so tightly that it seemed as if he would crush her.
“You’ve made me fall in love with you,” he said, and that strange Oriental perfume which came to him from her seemed to make him mad. “I want you to go away with me; will you? We’ll go wherever you like, and you will not have to sell those things any more. You can have all the money to spend that you want and you will be a lady.”
Here was a picture strong enough to turn the head of any woman, much less a Syrian straight from peasant stock, brought into the world by accident, with a face like a Madonna and with a supple, pliant figure that made men turn around and look after her. A girl who had known what privation and hardship was, and who came of a race where women were born to be servants and made to wait on men, the masters. Her beauty had brought her nothing and now it had suddenly become an asset, a stock in trade of so great value that for the rest of her life she would know neither work, nor care, nor trouble. The blood rushing through her veins made her dizzy and her head fell forward as her eyes half closed. One brown arm crept up and around the neck of this strong, broad-shouldered American, and it kept her from falling to the floor in the excess of her emotion. He felt her going, and picking her up, carried her to the big armchair over in the corner, where she cuddled up like a rabbit. She was clasping and unclasping her fingers nervously as he stood looking at her and her half-closed eyes never once met his.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, bending over. “Can I do anything for you?”
“No,” she whispered; “I was only thinking of my brother.”
“You don’t want to mind him; he’s all right wherever he is.”
“Not that, but he might not want—he might not like you to—to love me,” and she looked up at him.
“We’ll take care of your brother all right. Because he is your brother I will do what I can for him. Why, I will——”
The voice of the Jap came from the other room just as Jimmy was settling himself on the edge of the big chair, and had his arm around the Syrian’s neck.
“No,” it said, “you wait; I see.”
There was an angry voice raised in expostulation, and then before the man could move the brother came bounding through the parted curtains. He paused for just one brief moment and then shrieked:
“Dekka.” He said something else, too, but it was in his own language and only the woman understood, but whatever it was it made her shrink still lower in her seat and cover her face with her hands. He was on Jimmy like a cat, and three times, even though the frightened Jap was trying to pull him off, he cut, and each cut was across the bridge of the nose, and the knife blade went as true and sure to the mark as though it was in the hands of a surgeon on a patient who was under ether. Then with one firm grip on the wrist of the girl he dragged her to the door and out, while the faithful Yama was using the silk scarfs—the ones which had just been bought—trying to staunch the flow of blood.
And that’s the story.
And the moral of it is that every man should stick to his own race and his own blood, Caucasian to Caucasian and Oriental to Oriental, for there are some things in this world that don’t mix any more than oil and water.
THE REJUVENATION OF PATSY
We’ll just take in a fight to-night for a change. I’ve had you Down the Line, over on the East Side, in the wine joints, behind the scenes, and in half a dozen of the so-called swell restaurants, and all the time there have been all kinds of punching matches going on in a dozen different halls, “Clubs,” they are called, just to sidestep the stern arm of the law, but what difference does it make to a good sport so long as the men are well matched and they are willing to mix it at all times?
Three rounds are the limit, but there is a lot doing between bell and bell—enough to make even the most seasoned ringster sit up and look around as if to say:
“Now here is some punching that does a man’s heart good—it seems like old times, when——.” You know the rest about the days of long ago, and if you listen to him he will hand you a line of talk that will put you away for the count.
You may talk as you like about all the sports you know, but after all there is nothing like a good go with the gloves between a pair who know their business, and there are few men who have any red blood in their veins who will not go a long ways to see a slugfest. Of course you’ll always find up against some bar a bunch of dead ones who will stretch their arms and say:
“Not for mine; I’ve seen all I want to see, and I wouldn’t go around the corner to get a ringside seat at a go between Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm.”
There’s a screw loose somewhere in these fellows, or else they are drying of dry rot and don’t know it. Nine out of ten of them are bigger around the waist than they are around the chest, and they invariably talk loud.
There’s a little club that I know of where you can get a great run for your money, and we will go there.
It’s a case of come early and avoid the rush, for when the gong rings for the first bout there is only standing room left and that is at a premium because the prices are low. The manager doesn’t have to bother his head about making matches because the “talent” comes to him, and it often happens that the men who furnish the preliminaries are picked from out of the audience. These three-round affairs have done a lot to bring out a bunch of new ones; any young fellow who knows any part of the game can go on and get a try-out. He earns a few dollars and if he proves to be good, he is boosted along the line.
There is a mixed crowd on hand to-night, and you can expect a good card. In one of the ringside seats is the district attorney, a man who loves a fair fight in or out of the ring. Further up are a few brokers who have thought it worth while to come down here for one night, anyhow. It is safe to say that every class in life is represented, the man who is worth a million rubs elbows with the ten-dollar-a-week clerk and they fraternize as freely as though they were chums.
“This Abe Attell is a clever boy, but they say he hasn’t the punch,” ventures the clerk.
“Yes, I saw him recently and he made that big fellow look like a cart horse,” returns the man of money.
The fellow who paid one-tenth of his weekly stipend to join the club for that one night, which, by the way, is the system employed to evade the law on the subject, pulls out a cigarette, and asks:
“Can I trouble you for a light?”
“No trouble at all,” comes the cheerful answer, and a glowing perfecto, which cost not less than thirty-five cents, is handed over.
That miscellaneous crowd is welded into one solid mass by the masonry of sport, even though individual opinions are retained, and the opinion of a seasoned ring-goer is set hard and deep as the rock of Gibraltar.
The smoke is wafted back and forth like the tidal currents of the sea and the exertions of a hundred devotees of nicotine are adding to it every moment. An interminable buzz of voices fills the big room, and there is fight in the very air.
“I tell you the old man could lick O’Brien any day he wanted to; he’s got the punch and he can stand the gaff, ain’t that enough?” This in a strident voice from the cheaper seats, and it was answered at once by an argument that was apparently deemed irrefutable:
“Why didn’t he do it?”
Near the door is a fight bug whom no one ever heard of, and who is interesting simply because he is a freak. He is voluble, emphatic and vainglorious.
“I kin beat Britt an’ he knows it, an’ dat’s the reason he won’t give me a chanst. He’d be a pipe fer me, ‘cos I’d infight him, an’ he couldn’t stand my body punchin’. Dere’s where I’m great—on dose body blows. I challenged him three times an’ he never paid no attention to me. He’s afraid uv me, dat’s what he is. I kin beat ’em all if dey’ll only cum to me.”
“You couldn’t beat a carpet,” shouts a wit, and the bug is temporarily squelched.
The noise of the voices is suddenly emphasized—the first pair are coming and the show is on. Into the ring they climb from opposite corners, principals and seconds, and then, more leisurely, as befits the dignity of his exalted position, comes the announcer. They all have the same speech, which has been doing duty for generations, and this one is no different from the rest:
“A little order, please, gentlemen, and stop smoking while the bouts are on.” But no one ever pays any attention to that last. “These two boys,” he calls them by name, “both members of this club,” another neat little scheme to evade the law, “will box three rounds for scientific points only. Keep a little order, please, because if you make a noise the bouts will be stopped. The men will box straight Marquis of Queensberry rules. All ready, boys.”
He waves his hands toward the corners, and then backs through the ropes conscious of a duty well performed. The gloves, a bit too big for the majority of the onlookers, have in the meantime been adjusted, the referee calls “Time,” they step to the center, shake hands and get down to work. Sparring doesn’t go in bouts of such short duration, so it’s a case of mix it from the start. Here is a sturdy little Italian against a good, fast and clever Irish lad. The good-natured grin of the former is never relaxed for a moment as he wades in, taking a punch to give one. This fellow is fighting his way out of debt, and he’s well on the road to financial freedom now. Last year he figured in more than one star fight and he looked like a money-maker. He took care of his end of the purse every time, but on one of his Southern trips he fell in with a girl that he grew to think pretty well of, and it wasn’t long before she became the custodian of his coin. When the bank roll was big enough to suit her, she blew with another boy and left this one broke. That’s the reason he’s putting the gloves on and going three hard rounds for a ten spot now. The Irish boy is punching him at will and counting up the points every time they come together, but there is steam behind those blows of the Italian, and it isn’t hard to predict the result if they were to go ten rounds instead of three. At the finish they are furiously mixing it in a corner, and the gong rings its notification more than once before they break away, shake hands, the Italian still smiling, and climb out to make way for the next pair.
The boys are put on as fast as they can bring them in the ring, and the bouts are all good ones. Finally there is only one more to come, and it is that for which the crowd has been waiting.
Before the announcer can do his next stunt half a hundred hands—gloved and ungloved—are coming together in applause. The cue came when a trim built, muscular little fellow, whose condition is not too good, slips through the ropes. He smiles cordially at the crowd and nods his head jerkily in response to the reception.
“I take pleasure in introducing Patsy Haley,” begins the announcer, but he is stopped by the applause which breaks out again, and he fails to get in that saving clause about the “club member” business. As if Patsy needed any introduction to that crowd of sports, young or old, who have seen him fight when he was at his best. How can they ever forget the wonderful cleverness he used to show? Don’t you remember when he fought Terry McGovern before the Lenox Athletic Club in 1899? It was all Patsy up to the eighteenth round, and even the wonderful Terry couldn’t find him until then, when he landed the crashing punch that gave him the big end of the purse. Is it any wonder that they applaud him? He’s too wise for the best of them for three rounds even to-day, for he can stall and get away with as little effort as a kid makes when he goes up against a nursing bottle. He hits when and where he likes and how he likes, but he has no punch, as the youngster who is up against him soon finds out, and so he wades in to do a little execution with a wild, swinging right, but the glove never gets within three inches of Patsy’s smiling face. It is jab, jab, jab with the old-timer, and the crowd roars its approval, while the Kid’s seconds keep calling to him in stage whispers which can be heard all over the house, to—
“Mix it there, Kid, one punch will do him.”
Their advice is good, but the bewildered, dazed kid, not hurt a bit, but simply made dizzy by those lightning-like feints, followed by taps that push his head back and throw him off his balance, can’t make good. He rushes, swinging as he comes in, but he finds himself breasting the ropes, and he turns only to get a straight left square on the point of the nose.
It’s very discouraging work for a novice. You see, he’s evidently been figuring on going into the ring and putting this old-timer away and then getting his name and picture in the sporting papers. It’s a hundred to one that he’s been in training, and he’s had it all framed up with his trainer just how he was going to do the trick. It seemed very easy in that stable, or loft, or wherever it was that he had his punching bag and skipping rope, and he was told there was no harm in a dozen of Patsy’s punches rolled into one. He knows that now, but that merciless, pitiless jab is enough to worry anyone, and besides, his arms are beginning to ache with the effort of swinging and hitting nothing.
“Close in, Kid; close in.”
They are calling to him again and he makes another rush. He is going to try to knock the smile off that face this time. He puts all his effort in the blow and lets go. He misses, and the force of it brings him to his knees as the bell rings for the end of the first round.
He takes his seat and he knows that those yells are not for him.
His seconds and counsellors are there as quickly as he is, and while he is being fanned, and rubbed and sprayed, he is also being advised how to do it next time. Over in the other corner Patsy is talking laughingly with some ringside friends.
“You’re as fast as ever, son,” says one. “How are you feeling?”
That is always the proper thing to ask a man who is in the ring—that is, when you’ve nothing else to say. I’ll bet no man ever went in the ring who wasn’t asked that question at least a dozen times. It seems to be sort of a stock query, just as every rube considers it his bounden duty to ask an actor who plays his town:
“Where do you go from here?” As if it made any difference to him where the actor went, but he feels he has to say something, so he says that.
The gong rings, and they’re at it again. The Kid has a new set of tactics now, and he proceeds to put them into execution, so as soon as he leaves his chair he starts on a run for his opponent. He’s going after him this time, sure enough. Out goes the left and around goes the right. The right gets Patsy just behind the ear and shakes him up a bit.
“Go after him; you’ve got him,” call out the seconds. He thinks so, too, and he draws back when the versatile Patsy slips into a clinch.
“Break there; break now,” calls the referee. The Kid is pushed away and his antagonist dances back out of reach, not showing the slightest evidence of distress. Truly this is no cinch. Again and again an attempt is made to land that finishing punch, but each time it fails to connect, and when it does land it doesn’t seem to land in the right place. In a mixup his chance comes again, and he rips up a right to the stomach so hard that the old-timer grunts. That gives him a little courage and after the break he rushes again, but the jaw that he aimed for is not there. His nose is beginning to get a bit sore when the bell rings with rather a welcome sound.
Lacking the punch this “vet” seems to be all right for three rounds. He’s a bit winded, to be sure, but who wouldn’t be under the circumstances? It’s good, anyhow, to see him with the mitts on once more. It makes a fellow think of old times. I am just about to become reminiscent when the gong rings again.
“Shake hands and windup,” says the referee.
The padded fists meet for an instant, the Kid steps back one pace and then lunges forward. He comes in with a jab, and he catches Haley squarely on the mouth with his left. Aha, he has landed. He pulls his right back to follow it up, but in that fraction of a second his chance has gone, for he’s up against a ring general. Two more futile rushes and then he tried again. This time he misses with the left, but starting his right without pulling back, he catches his man on the jaw just in front of the ear. He feels the blow land and then he starts in with rights and lefts, but shifty Patsy steps inside of them and they go around his neck. In a frenzy the Kid pushes him away, but for his trouble he gets another jab on that sore nose that brings the moisture to his eyes.
“Make him fight, Kid,” bawls the trainer; “go after him.”
He might as well go after a dancing sunbeam as to go after the elusive, shifty, smiling Patsy, who is stalling and jabbing the third round away, and when the final gong rings he is still going after him with nothing doing. There is bitterness in his heart, but it doesn’t last, for when they shake hands, the little fellow who made many a good one in his day look like a draught horse, remarks:
“You’re all right, Kid, and you’ll beat a lot of them some day.”
A CASE OF KNOCKOUT DROPS
In a back room of a place just off Broadway sat a good-looking brunette—you will notice all these girls of mine are good looking—and three young fellows of the kind known to the police as “cadets.” There was nothing unusual about this room except that it was better furnished than you would have expected, and it had expensive oil paintings on the walls. Besides, it was carpeted. All this would mean higher-priced drinks if not a better service.
It was a drinking place where women might come with their escorts and feel reasonably safe from intrusion, and midnight was its busiest hour. Just now was the calm which precedes the storm, and there were not enough guests to induce the waiters to cease their gossiping and loafing in the big room outside.
The woman who sat there at the little round table was a common type; you can see her like wherever you go, especially at night. When the sun has gone down and the lights are bright, she flutters out of some cave-like dwelling like a new kind of butterfly, with the instincts of the moth, in that she flutters only at night, and in her veins runs the blood of a hunter, for she is ever on the trail.
This one is pretty in a negative sort of way. Her features are regular, her teeth are white and strong, and her eyes are bright and have expression, but if you will look close you will notice a hard glance there. It is neither merciful nor kind.
She has emotions, but they are hardly worth considering, for they are of the baser sort.
She has nerve, daring, courage and calmness, and because her life has been a constant warfare she fears nothing. She may dread the touch of a policeman’s hand and the command to “Come on,” but she doesn’t fear it. There is a difference, you know, between the words of fear and dread.
It is unfortunate that she was born to be what she is.
Her first adventure in life was when she became infatuated with the glitter of the arena, and with a girl companion of her own age took up with a couple of clowns attached to a circus. But she soon found the difference between the dressing tents and reserved seats and headed for the nearest big city.
“There ain’t a case note among the four of us,” remarks one of the men. “I think we’re a bunch of shines. The first thing you know we’ll have to go out and look for jobs.”
The girl was drumming idly on the table with her fingers.
“You’re the strongest one of the lot, what’s the matter with you making a start?” said another to the one who had just spoken.
“I’d look nice getting up with the milk wagons, wouldn’t I?”
The girl stopped her drumming and glanced up.
“You can leave me out of all this argument,” she remarked, “for I don’t figure. No more Broadway for mine after ten o’clock to-night, and it’s a case of good-by for you, too, Jack.”
“I suppose that’s another one of your funny jokes,” said Jack, “but I don’t like those kind of stories, so you can cut it out.”
“No funny story about it at all,” she went on, in that even, monotonous way which is particularly aggravating. “I’m tired of this way of living, and I’m tired of being a coaling station, and I know when I got enough.”
“Where are you going?”
She had resumed her drumming and paid no attention.
“Who are you going with?”
“That’s none of your damned business.”
He leaned forward and taking her by the wrist gave her a vicious pull toward him.
“I suppose it’s that guy from the country?”
“Well, what if it is?” she said defiantly, and then, as if she had suddenly made up her mind, she went on, talking rapidly, as a woman will do when she is under a nervous strain:
“He’s going to do what you never thought of doing—he’s going to marry me and make me decent—if it ain’t too late. He’s going to meet me here at ten o’clock and we’re going to jump to the Coast. He’s got the coin, for he’s sold out his farm. He’s going to take me out there, and he says we are going to begin all over again; that I’ll have a good chance, for nobody will know where I came from. What do I get here? Nothing. If I’m sick I can go to the hospital or die in my room like a rat in a garret. I haven’t a friend in the world who would do anything for me on the level and for pure friendship’s sake. If I was to grow old to-morrow, I couldn’t get enough to buy a cup of coffee, and of all the good fellows I know there is only one who would walk across the street to do anything for me just because he liked me. You’re broke now, and you are wondering how you are going to get money, but you know down in your heart that you’re expecting me to get it for you. You’ve got a long wait, for I’ll not get it. I’m through, and that settles it.”
“So you’ve been meeting this fellow on the quiet, have you?” asked the one who was called Jack.
“No, I haven’t seen him for five years.”
“Don’t think you can kid me; how have you been framing things up then if you haven’t been meeting him?”
She gazed at him steadily for a moment as if she were shaping her course, and then she said:
“Well, I’ll just put you right for once. I suppose you’ve heard of the mail. Well, I’ve been getting letters from him, and here,” pulling one from a little handbag she carried, “is the last one.”
With a quick, deft movement he snatched it from her hand and opened it. At the first line he laughed loudly.
“He’s nutty, all right—he must have it bad. Listen to him:”
He began to read.
My Dear Little Girl:—I have just received your letter, and the world looks different to me already. I don’t want you to tell me any more about yourself, for I don’t want to know any more. We have nothing to do with the past now, it is only the future which concerns us and that will be what we make it. I have sold the old farm, so we have $12,000 to start with, and I shall be in New York at the place you suggest and on time to the minute, so you can look for me. Don’t bother about baggage or any of your personal belongings, for all we will want is a minister. After that we can talk things over. I hate to leave the old place, but it makes no difference now that I’m going to have you.
Yours always, Joe.
He handed the letter back to her.
“Little girl, you’re all right after all, ain’t she, fellows? Landed a guy with $12,000 in cold coin, and he’ll have the goods on him, too, I suppose. We won’t do a thing but take that bank roll away and send him back to the farm again.”
Then he turned to the girl.
“How’s the best way to do it? Give him the peter? Maybe it will be best to take him up to the room and wait till he gets asleep. It’s your job, Maude, so we’ll do as you say. It’s only nine o’clock, and we’ve got an hour yet to frame it up.”
She was looking at him with horror in her face.
“You’re wrong,” she cried, “he’s not to be trimmed. He’s going to marry me and we are going away. There’s no job about this, and I want you to leave him alone.”
“We’ll leave him alone all right, and when you see the new front on me to-morrow you’ll think I own Broadway. Twelve thousand dollars, why, the four of us can go to Europe on that.”
Then she stood up.
“If you touch him or try to turn him off I’ll call in a cop and have you all pinched,” and she swept her hand at them with an inclusive movement.
“Don’t go off your nut like that, everything will be all right,” said Jack. “You’ll get your bit, no matter what happens, but you’re talking like a crazy woman. You never used to be like this. You’ve been in tougher jobs before. You just think you’re stuck on this Joe because he writes you a nice letter, but there’s nothing to it. You stick to me and I’ll stick to you, and this bundle will put us on Easy Street. Why don’t you be nice?”
She had partly turned her back on them and was looking at one of the pictures on the wall.
It is when a woman is silent that she is most dangerous, because then she is thinking. Give a woman time to think and you are simply supplying her with ammunition. But the stupid man who had dominated by brute force knew nothing of this. To him her silence meant acquiescence, and he scented an easy victory.
With a quick, alert nod of his head he motioned the other two from the room, and they left silently and like automatons, their feet on the carpet giving forth no sound, but her senses were keen and she knew when they had gone. As the door closed behind them she turned around with a smile on her face.
“I think,” she said, “that you will be a fool as long as you live. Here I find a man with a big roll, and arrange to have him bring it to us on a gold plate and you turn around, make me give my hand away, and declare those two dead ones in on the play. You’ll never have sense if you live to be a hundred years old.”
He looked at her admiringly.
“You’re better than I thought,” he said at last. “We’ll jump to Europe on this. Wait ’till I get a paper and see if there is a ship sailing to-morrow morning. We’ll make a quick getaway from the whole crowd.”
He almost ran through the door in his eagerness.
He was back in a few moments with a newspaper in his hand. Eagerly he scanned the columns devoted to shipping news.
“Good,” he ejaculated, “there’s one goes to France. Sails at nine o’clock. We’ll head for Paris—there’s the place to buy your clothes; swell, too, and cheap; and we won’t take anything with us, we’ll buy it all there.”
“Get down to cases,” she said sharply. “How are you going to do this?”
“I’ve got the peter drops,” he said, putting his hand to his pocket. “That’ll be the easiest way. We’ll just dope him a bit, grab the money, get out quick, and lay low somewhere until to-morrow.”
“You know best,” she said, but her voice had a strained tone in it that escaped him. “But whatever you do, whenever I give you any kind of a tip take it quick, see.”
Even as she spoke the door was pushed open and a well-built, brown-faced young fellow strode in, looked around, paused irresolutely, and then went toward her with a smile on his face and his hand outstretched.
“You see, I’m on time, Maude,” he said.
“Yes, Joe, and I’ve been waiting for you a long while. This is a friend of mine who has been very good to me, and I want you to know him. His name is Jack. That’s been enough for me and I guess it will be enough for you.”
“Let’s have one drink, and then I’ll have to be getting along,” said Jack, briskly.
The other didn’t drink, but the coaxing of the girl made him almost forget his name, and three glasses of whiskey were ordered from the man who came at the summons of the bell.
They were about to drink when she suddenly exclaimed:
“Oh, Joe, here’s a picture that always makes me think of the old days; see, that one with the lake,” and as Joe looked the other man deftly poured the dose into the waiting glass. She saw it done and nodded her approval, and then, while they were still talking about the picture, she asked Jack to get her a pencil so she could write a note. In little affairs of this kind strict obedience to an order is absolutely necessary, so he did not question her, but went at once.
When he returned they were sitting at the table again.
“Now for our last drink together,” she remarked gayly, “and here’s that we may all be happy,” and she looked at Jack.
And so they drank, and then Jack set himself to watching furtively out of the corner of his eye this man with the money. He fell to wondering just where it was, and turned cold at the thought that it might have been left at some place for safe keeping. Once his eyes closed and he opened them with an effort. The girl said something, and it took him some little time before his brain could figure out what he ought to say in reply, and longer still for his lips to form the words. She was talking rapidly, but her voice seemed a great distance away.
“Come on, Joe,” he heard that all right. “Come on, it’s time we were going. We must hurry.”
It didn’t seem at all strange to him that they should want to hurry; in fact, it seemed quite natural.
“If he’s a friend of yours we ought not to leave him here like that.” That was the man’s voice, he could swear to that.
“Come on,” she said again, and for hours afterward it was as if the world was filled with women shouting “come on, come on,” to tall, athletic young fellows with blue eyes and brown faces, and the incessant murmur of it all made his head ache.
Then he was being violently handled by someone who appeared to be intent upon annoying him and causing his head to hurt still worse.
He was slapped and walked, and a strange, queer liquid was being forced between his teeth.
Then he opened his eyes.
“You’re all right now, I guess,” said a man’s unfamiliar voice.
“What’s the matter?” he asked thickly.
“Nothing much, only you’ve been drugged and your heart came near quitting. Lie down now and rest up a bit and you’ll be all right after a while.”
“Where the devil am I?” he asked, after the manner of the abducted girl in the society drama.
“You’re in the hospital—you ought to be glad you’re alive.”
DISCOVERING A PRIMA DONNA
The great see-saw of life is as interesting as a poker game if you only have a mind to watch it, but, like the poker game, it must be thoroughly understood and closely studied to appreciate the fine points. In the beginning we all take cards, we all draw to fill; the winning hands slip easily through life, while the four flushes try to bluff it out, and there’s many a four flush in New York to-day who is getting away with it.
Many a girl who wears a sailor hat never saw a yacht, and many a man who wears a diamond pin couldn’t pay fifty cents on the dollar if it came to a show down.
But that isn’t the story by any means.
I call this little recital of facts the beginning and the end; you’ll see why later as the plot thickens.
New York with the lid on is New York just the same, no matter what the police say. It’s all there, only it is covered up a bit.
The shades are pulled closer, but the lights and everything else are behind them.
The wild revelry of the masked ball is toned down not one jot, and the perfect ladies in tights who help to make life endurable for the sports on these occasions do not add, so far as can be seen, even so much as one piece of jewelry to their scant costumes.
You may never have seen the kind of room I’m going to introduce to you, but if you haven’t it’s your fault, for they are common enough, not only in New York, but in many other cities.
There’s space enough for dancing here, and the floor is polished like glass. Around the sides are round tables for the drinkers, and they are the most important feature, for if you don’t drink, or at least order drinks, you had better skiddoo, for you’ll not have a very pleasant time.
At one end of the room is an orchestra, consisting of a piano and a violin. I don’t need to call your attention to the fact that the fellow who is playing the violin knows his business. You can tell that by the way he handles his instrument. He never learned that touch out of a book, nor did he acquire that technique at the rate of ten lessons for a dollar, cash in advance. A few years before he was playing nocturnes and sonatas before fashionable audiences for big money, but he hit the slide and now he’s at the bottom—a dollar a night and drinks for ragtime.
The hands on the clock which mark the flight of time show exactly midnight, and business is at high tide. It’s a case of get the money between now and three o’clock and then slow down, and every aggressive waiter in the place is hustling as if his life depended on it.
A girl is standing at the piano as the orchestra strikes the introduction of a song. Not a bad-looking girl if you observe her closely. Rather a strong face, good, honest blue eyes, set well apart, and a chin in which there is some hint of determination and self-reliance. She has a trim little figure, not voluptuous, but good to look at—the kind of a figure that seems to belong in an evening gown, and which men turn around to look at.
The only thing that stamps her as an habitue of the place is her dress. Its gaudiness was made for the night. It is a street beacon which proclaims at every step, “follow me.” The picture hat, with the sweeping red feather, heightens the effect. It is all very stagey, and would look as garish as spangles in the honest light of day.
But this is not a daylight scene, so we’ll let that pass.
“Ha, there, you noisy guys, cut out that chinnin’; Little Melba’s goin’ ter sing. Cheese it.”
It is the strident voice of a waiter that admonishes a noisy party at one of the tables, and it has an immediate effect.
It’s just as well, you know, to pay a little attention to the advice of a waiter in a place like this.
And so she sings her song.
It is a refrain with a swing to it, and it tells the story of a man and a woman in a rather affecting way, and for her loyalty to him, the man calls the woman his pal.
But the words don’t count here; it’s the voice, and you’ll see why they call her Little Melba. Every note is true and clear, and there is never a falter at the high ones.
It doesn’t need a waiter to command order now; the first line of that song, as sung by her, did more than all the waiters in the world could do.
It commanded the respectful attention of that mixed mob.
At the finish of the first chorus, a sailor in the exuberance of his admiration, and feeling that he must give voice to his sentiments in some tangible manner, roared out:
“You’re all right, old pal; you’re all right.”
She smiled at the compliment, nodded at him in a friendly way, and then she continued.
Every night she sang there—ten songs—and she was paid exactly the same as the waiters—one dollar, but she received in addition certain privileges, the details of which need not be entered into here, because they have nothing to do with the story.
One of the waiters—the one who had called out for order—was her man. She called him another name, and he was known to the world by still another. As a matter of fact, although he didn’t know it, he belonged to her—although he thought she belonged to him—for the clothes that he wore were bought with her money, the food that he ate she paid for, and it was she who rented the place which he called home. She was the bread winner, she bore the burden of life, and she took the blows. The police kept their eyes on her, but paid no attention to the man—the real criminal.
As the last notes of her song forced their way through the clouds of tobacco smoke, three men in evening dress came in. They were of the usual kind of visitors from which the waiters always expect a wine order. They wore evening clothes like men who had been used to them all their lives, and it didn’t need the sharp eyes of a waiter in a tough resort like this to detect that air of prosperity which invariably forms an invisible halo about money.
The square-jawed, square-shouldered young fellow who took the order was not disappointed. It was wine, and as he uncorked the bottle, full of a sense of his own importance, one of them asked, casually:
“Who is the lady who was singing as we came in?”
“Little Melba; she’s there with de goods, all right, ain’t she?”
“Tell her to come over here and have a drink.”
“Sure. Ha, Melba, you’re wanted over here,” he bawled, and smilingly she came.
“Will you have a drink?” asked the man who had sent for her.
“Wine?” she queried, “I’d rather have a glass of beer, if it’s all the same to you, for I’m thirsty enough to drink a keg. Then me for the wine afterward.”
After her drink had been ordered and she had tossed it off with the air of one who is well used to it, she remarked:
“Now I’ll hit a little of that fizz, if you don’t mind.”
“How long have you been singing here?”
“Oh, about six months. It’s a bum job, though. The smoke gets in my throat.”
“What songs do you sing?”
She ran over a list that took in all the popular melodies of the day.
“Here’s a dollar, get up and sing another one—anyone will do, and do your best.”
Dollars for singing one song were rare for her, so she obeyed with alacrity, and she sang as best she knew.
When she had finished she came back to where they were sitting just as one of the men was saying:
“Why don’t you give her a chance, Jim? You can never tell how these kind will turn out. Remember Elinore was dug up out of just such a joint as this.”
“Do you want to go on the stage?” asked Jim, abruptly.
“Do I?” and she unconsciously straightened up. “Why, I’d go on for nothing, just to show them I could make good. Say, I’d work for my board. Can you put me on?”
“I think I can,” and smiled as he said it.
He pulled a card case out of his vest pocket, took a card from it, which he handed to her.
“Come see me to-morrow afternoon at three o’clock.”
She looked at the name on the card and gasped in astonishment, for it was that of one of the best-known of metropolitan theatrical managers, whose chief claim to fame lay in the many successful productions of comic opera.
“Are you on the level with this?” she asked, incredulously.
“Come around to-morrow and see,” he answered.
“Put it there,” she said, excitedly, as she held out her hand, and then she called out to the waiter to whom she believed she owed her allegiance:
“Billy, Billy, come over here.”
With a roll and a swagger, and not too hurriedly, lest he lose one tithe of that dignity which he believed went with the position of beer slinger in one of the toughest joints in New York, Billy came, scowling, as if he already scented in the air coming interference with his plans of life.
“See, Billy,” she said, laughing like a little girl with the joy of it all. “See, this is the great theatre manager, and he’s going to give me a show to see what I can do. I’m going on the stage, Billy, in a regular theatre, and sing before the people. Ain’t it great?”
She was like a child in her enthusiasm.
“Come on, let me blow the crowd: what are you going to have, boys?” this last with a comprehensive sweep of the hands. “I’m buying now.”
Billy stood looking down on her with a scowl.
“What’s all dis?” he asked. “What’s comin’ off here, and me not in on de play?”
Then he turned to the manager.
“What are yer doing—givin’ me gal a jolly, ha? Well, cut it out, it don’t go here, see? Don’t let ’em string yer, Melba. I guess de’re a bunch of pretty flip guys wid all dere glad rags; what?”
“This ain’t no string, Billy, this is all right, ain’t it, Mister?” and she appealed to the man who had been talking to her.
“It’s all right as far as I am concerned,” was the answer. “You do as I say, and if you have any ambition, I guess you’ll get along all right.”
“Do as you say?” queried the waiter, scornfully. “You ain’t no Pierpont Morgan. What’s de matter wid her doin’ as I say once in er while. Do yer t’ink I’m a dummy wot ain’t got no voice? I guess nit. Just cut all dis funny business out and leave my gal alone.”
“Take it easy, Billy, and don’t get excited. This is a chance for me, don’t you see? What’s the good of staying here and losing my voice for a dollar a night when I might be getting big money in the theatre?”
“Big money nothin’,” he protested. “Ain’t yer on dat it’s only a stall? Dis guy is stuck on yer, dat’s it. He wants to win yer away from me.”
The three wise men who had been drinking wine rose to their feet just as any other three wise men would have done under the circumstances. It doesn’t pay to get mixed up with a waiter in a tough joint, because the waiter always gets the best of it—that’s why he is a waiter. He has a lot to do besides serving drinks, and if he wasn’t handy with his fists, and feet, too, for that matter, he couldn’t hold his place for more than a night.
As they started for the door the girl stood up.
“I’ll be there to-morrow, all right,” she called out.
“Over my dead body you will,” came Billy’s voice.
They were out of the door by this time, too late to hear the sound of a blow and too late to see the girl drop to the floor.
They don’t interfere in those kind of family rows in the Tenderloin, or in the Bowery, either.
It isn’t healthy.
It’s etiquette to mind your own business and keep out of the way. And so nobody paid any attention to the weeping girl and the swearing blackguard. But that night in a dingy room a girl cried herself to sleep, and between her tears made up her mind what she would do on the morrow.
She did what she had planned to do, and twenty-four hours later the tough waiter was looking for another girl to take her place.
Between you and me, that happened a long while ago, as we count time in New York. Since then she has been abroad, to the Pacific Coast and in all of the large American cities. Her name is in big type on the posters, and she is referred to as a prima donna.
I wonder if her memory ever takes her back to the little back room where she used to sing songs for a dollar a night?
A THROW OF THE DICE
There is probably no street in the world that has the same number and style of restaurants as Broadway, New York, especially the kind that are within the bounds of the Tenderloin. Chuck Conners would call them feed joints; the irreverent might refer to them as hash houses, and the slangy man or woman who wanted to designate them might be pardoned for dubbing them lobster palaces. But there would be a lot of sense and reason in the last if you were only on, or took the time to think it over.
There is nothing to them in the daytime, and the heavily carpeted floors and snowy-clad tables burdened with silver and glass are practically out of commission. There are a few waiters on duty, but no one ever heard of them being overworked, even with the rush of the merry-merry after a matinee.
These money-makers begin to rouse up a bit about the time the average man of business affairs is finishing his quiet dinner at home, but the time to go there if you want to see things, and by things I mean the sights and celebrities, is after the theatres have let out the evening performance. Then, if you amount to anything, you will have a table where you can see and be seen, and you will feast upon a bite that will cost you nothing less than a ten-dollar bill, not including wine.
The shining lights of this world are in a class by themselves, and include the bookmaker with a loud voice—a trifle heavier than his bank roll; the gambler, soft of hand and manner; the sport who has done something or other at some time or other to entitle him to a passing recognition; the detective sergeant, who is a necessary evil, and who mixes in for business purposes of his own, and not for the purpose of doing the work for which he is paid by the city; then, last of all, the actor—star or semi-star.
They order as if the cooks in all the world were working for them alone, and the waiters were employed for their exclusive benefit. They are epicures and gourmets by force of circumstances, and the circumstances are a roll of bank bills about the size of a man’s wrist. Most of them have risen to a mushroom-like affluence.
The money came quickly, and they are spending it just as quickly.
They know the difference in wines simply because of the price, and they order that which sounds the best, so for that reason a stream of the juice of the grape floods a bunch of uneducated palates and floats high-priced food that would kill a man with an ordinary digestive apparatus.
Not one in a hundred of these men were to the manor born; their lives were cast in stony places and what they are they made themselves by sheer force of will, or else they accepted the golden wreath of opportunity and knew which road to take when they came to the forks.
At a table near the wall is a man who twenty years ago was a bootblack of the city’s streets.
From river to river there was no spot on which he could put his finger and say:
“This is my home.”
He grew up like a blade of grass sprouting between stones, and he fought tooth and nail for his life. He knew what kicks and cuffs were, and if his memory isn’t bad he knows yet.
He blacked the boots of a man with florid face, a heavy gold chain across his vest, and a mammoth stone blazing like a headlight in his scarf, and because this boy was bright of eye and keen of wit his customer, whose business was politics, took a fancy to him. Had this little nomad been born with a gold spoon in his mouth he could not have fared better, nor could his prospects have been more alluring, for a politician, you know, is a man who, when he goes to bed at night, hangs his trousers on the bedpost, and when he wakes up in the morning the pockets are full of money. At least, that is my idea, and if I am wrong just let some of the leading politicians of to-day contradict me, and tell me truly how they got theirs.
While this man is eating his lobster a la Newburg, and sipping the wine that cost him $5 a bottle, I’ll go on with the story.
For about two weeks he blacked his patron’s shoes, and then one fateful morning the man with the bull neck said sharply:
“Chuck that box away, son, and come along with me.”
He didn’t wait for the boy to take the cue and act on it, but he gave the box a kick with his square-toed boot that sent it to the middle of the street, and then he led the boy to a clothing shop where he had him fitted out with everything a fellow that size ought to have.
He saw possibilities in this youngster, and he figured that it would be a wise move to have some one as close to him as his shirt, and upon whom, in time of trouble, he could depend with absolute certainty.
A good bed, good food three times a day and money in the pocket serves often to make a marvelous transformation, and it was so in this case, and the erstwhile bootblack forgot in a moment that he had ever shined shoes or performed any menial services for any human being. He was swept along on the tide of prosperity with his patron and he scoffed at poor things and poor people, as might have been expected. He was aggressive to everyone except his source of income, whom he followed and fawned upon like a hound.
The work he did was criminal, but he did it cheerfully, even though a hundred could have sent him up the river with a word. His morals were as flat as a desert, and he grew into a selfish, egotistical, arrogant, blatant man whose friends were friends by force of circumstances, and not by reasons of any virtues that he possessed, or of any real liking they had for him.
In the course of time the big man with the neck of a gladiator died, and was buried in a manner fitting his life. A ton of flowers followed him to the six-foot hole which had been provided for him; a few bottles of wine were drunk by his cronies to drown their grief and to toast his successful debut into that new and unknown world to which he had gone, and that was all.
The bootblack, who had taken himself seriously, and was fond of calling himself a gentleman on all possible occasions, for no other reason apparently than that he wore the best clothes that money could buy, took possession of his patron’s effects, rifled his safe, his desk, and appropriated to himself everything that was of the slightest value, and then developed into a short card man.
So he sits there to-night, eating lobster and talking to a woman who, between you and me, is worth looking at more than once.
By an old and familiar, as well as extremely simple, process she had taken his name. It was a trifling matter, settled in a moment over a small bottle, and her only speculation was as to whether he could suitably provide for her.
It was a very good investment for him, for she has proven to be a very useful little lady in more ways than one. She knows a lot of real nice boys, and when they get very sporty she tells them about a good game where good fellows may be found. She is the kind of a woman who would make a sport out of a church deacon, consequently she fits very snugly into the life and trade of our friend the shoe-shiner.
When you get to know her passing well she will tell you how she was educated in a convent, which she left to visit a wealthy aunt in Pittsburg. While there she became engaged to marry a rich broker, and so on, and so on, you know, the same old story. The stage figures in it, too, because there is always a fascinating glamor about the other side of the footlights.
She has been in comic opera and she has a lot of expensive photographs of herself in theatrical poses, but no matter how well posted you may be you fail to recall her name, even though she was an understudy for Lillian Russell, “when Lillian was good.”
If you let your glance rove across the room to a table close by one of the central pillars, you will see another type of woman, and this one is worth studying.
She will never see her fortieth birthday again, although she looks about thirty-two. That may be art, or it may be an inherited physical characteristic, but the fact remains that she is still young enough and good looking enough to attract a man.
She is a veritable star and her singing and acting are flawless.
The fine old gentleman she is chatting with is the head of a very ancient and very distinguished family of New York, and she is under his protecting wing.
That is a remarkable feature of her career; she always selects with painstaking care, nice old men, with families.
And for that there may be a good and sufficient reason.
While you are watching her and noting her rather dainty ways, which are perhaps a bit too dainty for one of her age, listen to the little story I am going to tell you about her.
Not so many years ago, but just about the time when she was in the zenith of her career, she met just the same kind of a man she is talking with now. She had had a great deal of experience with old men and she took advantage of all she knew to make him like her.
She succeeded—hence this story.
The old fellow was all right, and he knew what was necessary under the circumstances, and he made good with characteristic rapidity. The first thing he did was to buy her a handsome brownstone house on a quiet side street, fill it full of handsome furniture, and then he blew himself in for a neat little brougham and pair for theatre use.
So far, so good, and the play went merrily on.
And now comes a spectacle, or a melodrama, or even a farce, if you like.
He wasn’t her constant companion, because he was clever enough to realize that if she saw too much of him it might be fatal to his chances, so he timed his visits with careful exactitude, and incidentally showered her with gifts—which, after all, is one of the direct roads to a woman’s heart.
But he made the fatal mistake one day of introducing to her one of his old friends, and from that moment there began a fierce rivalry between them for the smiles of the auburn-haired actress; it was a duel with a lock of hair as a reward; a combat with a smile for the victor, and they both went to work with a will and to the exclusion of every other object in life.
When one bought her a magnificent solitaire, she showed it to the other and he promptly laid a tiara at her feet, and it was unquestionably the greatest battle of senile old idiots that ever raged.
Separately they took to waylaying her on the street from her house to the theatre, and back again, and one even went so far as to buy a magnificent yacht, equip it for a long cruise, and attempt to kidnap her. But that plan failed, and it was just as well that it did, because the man who does eccentric stunts of that character is apt to find himself in hot water sooner or later, and in any event reap a whirlwind of scorn from the lady in the case.
Finally, the climax came, as it was bound to come, when they met at her house one Sunday afternoon.
All this may be new to you, but you must remember it was as common in club circles as the Spanish war, and the results of the affair were watched for by thousands of men whose names figure conspicuously in the public prints.
They met and they quarreled, and when my lady appeared on the scene these two beaux were on the verge of punching each other in good old Queensbury fashion.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, I beg that you will not quarrel in my house.”
You will notice that she put the accent on the word “my.”
At once there were criminations and recriminations, but with that charm of manner which made her famous, not only on the stage, but in the drawing room, to say nothing of the cafe, she poured oil on the troubled waters.
“I do not really know what your differences are about, but if you will allow me, I would like to suggest that you settle them in some amicable way. Here are dice and a cup, why not play for it?”
They looked at each other for a moment, and then one said:
“Yes, we will do it, madame, just the thing. Here, I will make the first throw,” and out upon the shining surface of the golden table rolled the three ivory cubes.
They fought it out while she looked on languidly, and at last when it had been decided, the winner arose exultingly and shouted:
“I have won.”
“Won what?” she queried, curiously.
“Won what? Why, won you.”
“Won me?” and she placed her taper finger on her breast. “Why, how very charming that is. I ought to congratulate you, I suppose, and I shall certainly let you know when I come back—if you are still alive.”
“You’re not going away?” he faltered. “When?”
“I sail to-morrow morning at eight o’clock; I go aboard this afternoon. I am going to Europe for a good long rest; mother says I need it, and so we are going together. Good afternoon. Let me congratulate you on being so lucky, and to win me, too. Why, it’s like a romance. How splendidly that would stage.”
Down the street the two old fellows walked, one slightly in advance of the other. At the corner the one who was ahead, hesitated a moment, then turned and waited for the other to come up.
“Tom,” he said. “I don’t know what you think, but I am of the opinion that we are a pair of damned old fools who ought to know better. Let’s go and have a drink.”
The old gentleman who is pouring out that wine for her now would perhaps like to hear that story in all its wealth of detail, but even if he knew it might make no difference.
Of all the thousands of people who go to restaurants there are only a few who do not go for the sole purpose of eating. We have been here an hour and have looked over but two tables, and the story is not half told.
A VOICE IN THE SLUMS
This is one of the “places” of New York.
It is not worth looking at in the daylight, because there is nothing to see.
It is gray, dull, dreary and desolate—too dismal to be considered for even a moment.
About it all there is not one thing that is attractive.
It is downtown and on the East Side, and that is enough to tell the story.
If you have never been downtown on the East Side of this big city, go and take a look some time, it is worth it, and you may see some things there—as I have—that will interest you.
At night you wouldn’t recognize this place because of the softening and concealing effect of the electric lights.
Besides the lights there is music, and in addition to that there are women—what kind of women you can guess, but the fact remains that they are still women, and even their presence helps to brighten up this spot of the slums.
Toughs of the street straggle in singly and by twos, glancing warily about for prey, or in search of girls to whom they are attached. The type is familiar enough in every city. Square-jawed, low-browed, with shifting eyes and an aggressive manner; dressing well when the money comes easy, and not so well when hard times arrive; living by their wits, which at the best is precarious, relying for the necessities of life upon a girl; spending a certain portion of time in jail, unless, as it often happens, they are too cowardly to rob a man, but not too cowardly to take from a woman.
Sightseers drift in, too, from everywhere, look curiously about, as if expecting some remarkable and extraordinary occurrence at any moment, and failing in that, they take chairs at the nearest table, and give meek orders to the aggressive waiter for liquors which they seem afraid to drink.
At stated intervals someone sings a song, and between times the music plays a waltz for those who care to dance on the bit of polished floor reserved for that purpose.
The very dregs of high life.
It is the lees of the wine.
Just a few years ago—so short a time that it seems almost like yesterday—a young woman was singing in light operas and doing occasional turns in vaudeville. If I were to tell you her name now it would have as familiar a sound to you as the name of any other popular performer.
One of her distinguishing characteristics was her voice, which had a remarkable and extraordinary range.
And how she could use it.
She was absolute master of it, and there was no doubt about her success, nor her future, either, barring accidents, of course.
Besides that she was good to look at. She was of a distinctive style of beauty, and she had a fetching way with her which spelled magnetism.
Magnetism, between you and me, means success on the stage—or anywhere else, for that matter. Take the best actor or actress in the world, one who is perfect in lines, diction and stage business; who is absolute master of the art of stage craft, and rob them of magnetism, and I will show you a failure.
So, you see, this young woman was well equipped for the business she was in, and there is the picture.
Nicely gowned, looking and acting like a thoroughbred, she had a big following of admirers, and there didn’t seem to be anything on earth within reason that she wanted she couldn’t have.
The limit of her vices was a few mild drinking bouts with the boys and the occasional smoking of a cigarette, even though there was a possibility that in the years to come the tobacco would destroy the finer tones of her voice.
The moral end of the business was her own affair, and consequently will not be touched on.
See that pallid woman?
The one who has just come in. She is talking to a waiter now. Her thin face is seamed with lines, and the light of youth, of life and of enthusiasm has gone out of her eyes.
You wouldn’t think she was once a beautiful girl with a wonderful voice, would you?
“I had the yin-yin so bad,” she is saying, “that I had to go in and hit two pills before I came out. Now I’m good till the lights go out.”
One night, after the show, she went with a party on a slumming tour through Chinatown. They were out to have a good time and nothing more.
In one of the resorts in which they stopped was a good-looking young bartender who caught her fancy. He was all right in a way, but she outclassed him about twenty to one, but there is no telling what a woman is going to do, or upon whom she is going to bestow her favors, any more than one can tell what the state of the weather will be a month or two months from now.
She thought she was in love with him—but she wasn’t. She had only taken a fancy to him, which was a different sort of a proposition, but she didn’t know it at that time.
She went on singing just the same, but the time she was out of the theatre she spent with him, and the more money she earned the better he dressed.
She dipped a little deeper into the different vices, until at last she went up against the king of them all—opium.
With all of her drinking and cigarette smoking she was still able to hold her own and keep her voice in some kind of shape, and many a rare old song has she trilled in some cheap dive, and made the old-timers straighten up in their seats and tell her she was all right. Previous to that she had figured in only one escapade and that was when she was caught in a raid at a masked ball which was so off-color and made up of many desperate characters—men and women—that it took a platoon of police with drawn clubs to bring the affair to a sudden end.
They will never forget the night when she went down to the “Drum” in James street, and after setting up the drinks for the crowd, stood in the centre of the grimy floor and without a note of accompanying music sang Annie Laurie.
At the end of the first verse, a drunk crept on his hands and knees from a dark corner where he had been lying, and staggering to his feet, looked at her dully with bloodshot eyes, and then cursed her so violently that she instinctively shrank back for a moment.
But she had been drinking, too, and was equal to the emergency.
“Shut up,” she retorted. “I’m going to sing the whole damned song or break a rib trying,” and with that she started on the second verse.
Sitting on a chair, holding his head in his hands, the man began to sob and cry as only a man whose heart is aching can, and then, as if he could stand it no longer, he rushed madly from the place while she laughed.
“I can make them all quit if they will stay long enough.”
Almost a year later that same man, but dressed and washed and respectable, came downtown one night, and went through all the places upon whose floors he had fallen and slept many a night, looking for the girl who had sung that song.
He found her at three o’clock in the morning on the Bowery.
She was sitting at a table in McGurk’s with two men with whom she had been drinking cheap whiskey for hours.
“I beg your pardon,” said the man, “but are you the young woman who sang a song in a place on James street about a year ago—Annie Laurie it was?”
“I may have, old pal, I’ve sung a lot of songs in my day.”
“Well, you will probably be glad to know that that song was the turning point in my life, and I am now a reformed man. I feel that I owe it to you, and I want to give you some little memento that you can keep.”
As he spoke he pulled a package out of his pocket and handed it to her. With unsteady fingers she unwrapped it and when she had opened the case she saw a gold watch upon which was engraved:
To the singer who saved my life.
“You’re a good old sport, all right, let’s have a drink on it.”
“No, thank you,” he said, hurriedly. “I must be going now, but I want to tell you that you have a great gift which you are throwing away.”
“So long, old pal, live while you can, for you’ll be a long time dead,” she said, and he was gone.
She looked at the watch curiously for a moment, and then called one of the waiters.
“Ha, Jimmy, here’s a swell watch. Ask the old man how much he will give me for it—it looks to be worth about fifty.”
The waiter returned in a few minutes and said:
“He says he’ll give you ten.”
“All right, he’s on, get the coin.”
She stayed until she had spent the money, and then she went reeling home.
True? Of course it’s true, every word of it.
But she’s not drinking so hard now, opium is her god, and she spends most of her time with her pipe and her lamp. Her downward course has been a very rapid one, and her name has almost been forgotten.
The man at the next table is whispering to his friends:
“She was the greatest singer I ever heard, and many a time I’ve gone to the same show three times in one week just to hear her, and when a woman’s voice gets me like that you can bet it’s got to be good.”
“Get her to sing now; I’d like to hear her.”
“Sing now? Why, she couldn’t sound a note if her life depended on it. She’s got all she can do to talk plain. She looks like a piece of leather, doesn’t she? Yet she made the prettiest picture on the stage I ever saw.”
Her voice interrupted here.
It was harsh and strident in tone—there was little of the woman in it.
“Well, if you won’t buy me a drink I’ll buy one for myself; give me a whiskey, Jack, and don’t be all night about it, either.”
“Why don’t you get that Chinky of yours to buy you a drink?” remarks some one from the other side of the room.
“Why don’t you mind your own business? He’d buy me all the drinks I wanted if I would ask him, and that’s more than you would do. If anybody asks you just tell them that the Chinks are all right, see, and don’t be so new.”
“Cut that out, you fresh guy over there, cut it out.”
Here’s a champion for her; there are a few left who are still under her spell, or who, remembering what she once was and knowing her in her palmy days, stick for old time’s sake.
“Have a drink on me, old pal, and go as far as you like.”
She comes back with a laugh; and if you look closely—if you have those kind of eyes that can see things below the surface, so to speak—you will see that she doesn’t really belong here, and never did. That she is here because of some unfortunate series of circumstances over which, perhaps, she had no control. You will see something in her manner that distinguishes her from the rest of the women, even those who are better looking and better dressed. It is that intangible, indefinite something which means blood, or previous environment. It cannot be put on and taken off like a garment, and when once there it is there to stay.
That makes the wreck all the more pitiable, and with the same eyes through which you have just looked you will see the finish.
It isn’t pleasant to look at, and now, while the music is playing for the waltz, and the couples are getting on the floor to go through that interminable routine of steps called dancing, while the painted women are laughing, and the men are calling them pet—or other—names, we will go out of this room to where we can breathe a fresher air and see the stars.
I’m not sentimental, but there are some things I don’t like to see, besides, I knew the girl when she was at her best, and I have heard her sing when she brought the house down with applause.
A GIRL OF THE NIGHT
The band on the platform at the end of the big hall was booming out the popular melodies of the day for dear life and the piercing notes produced by the leather-lunged piccolo player were heard as far as the street.
“That guy up there has me deaf with that flute he’s blowing,” remarked Big Lizzie, “and while I don’t wish him any harm yet I hope he chokes.”
“That knocks this place,” remarked her pal. “Why, I had a John in here the other day and he was wanting to buy me a new dress, and I thought he was wanting to know where I lived, and I was writing my name and number down on a piece of paper and he got disgusted and went away. It drives ’em out, if you want to know what I think.”
But it was once a famous old place when Fourteenth street was really good, and the casual visitor to New York who didn’t drop in for an hour or so missed something.
It was one of the sights, and the great mechanical organ invented and built by a straight-laced Methodist is there still, although he has long ago ceased calling the attention of his friends to the fact. Its tunes to-day are sandwiched in with those of the band, and in the interval the trombone player gets a chance to recover his breath.
Morning, noon and night men and women wander in, sit at the little round tables, drink queer decoctions made of liquor strong enough to eat into Harveyized steel, and then go forth to tear up the town. The police pass it by as though it were nothing more serious than an ice cream parlor or a peanut emporium, while the tide of upholstered and hand-painted mademoiselles sweep in on the flood and drift out on the ebb with business written in every line of their faces.
Their paths radiate like the sticks of a fan from this rendezvous of the social evil, and in their movements they show nearly all the characteristics of the honey-gathering bee.
The engaging and winsome smile of a girl not yet out of her teens had caught the eye of the man in this story, and against his will he had allowed her to lead him into this place where mirth was nothing more nor less than a mask behind which a skeleton face grinned, and where neither laughter nor anything else was sincere. Her black eyes had not yet taken on that hardness which the years to come would surely add to them, and her ways were to a certain extent ingenuous. Besides, she was distinctly pretty with her Yiddish style of beauty, which was unfortunately of the kind which matures at sixteen and is old at twenty-five. Either teaching or a subtle instinct had caused her to discard the gorgeous plumes and brilliant colors which had marked her debut on the street less than a year before, and in consequence she might have passed for anything but what she was.
She had been on the stage once on a tour, but got a rough deal and quit.
He outclassed her by a hundred to one, and his source was as high as hers was low. There was no tinge of peasantry in his veins, but good successful American stock traceable back for five or six generations without a blot upon escutcheon—which, by the way, is rather rare in these days, consequently it’s worth boasting about. Lured into the maelstrom of music, he found himself at one of the tables with the girl beside him, still smiling.
Liquor has different effects on different men; it turns the mild man into a savage and makes a careful one reckless in the extreme. In this particular case caution went to the four winds and sympathy—which is apt to be dangerous at times—took its place. But let youth and inexperience excuse him.
“You haven’t told me your name,” he said. “What is it?”
“Brown,” she answered, “Jennie Brown.”
“I mean your right name.”
“Well, Jennie is my right name—I took the other one after I came out of the hospital. Some day, maybe, I’ll get married and then I’ll change it again, but not before.”
“What did you go to the hospital for—were you ill and did you have no one to take care of you?”
“Ill? You mean sick? No, I wasn’t sick; I was stabbed, and I got it good, too. I was cut from here to here,” and her right forefinger described across the front of her dress a line that went from her shoulder to the center of her breast bone. “At first I thought I was going to croak because I lost a lot of blood, but I’m pretty strong and I came out all right. You see, it was this way: A guy I knew got stuck on me and I couldn’t shake him, and he followed me around like a shadow. I didn’t like him because he wasn’t in my class, and besides he had another girl and I never took a girl’s fellow away in my life. If they split up then that’s different, but as long as they’re together I keep out of it. Every time I’d talk to anybody or go anywhere he’d be there. One night he followed me and a fellow I had that wanted to buy wine into Sharkey’s and when he tried to start a fight with my friend one of the waiters threw him out. Of course that made him sore, and he said that he’d get even. He did, all right, for one night as I was going upstairs he was in the top hall waiting for me, and the first thing I knew he had the knife into me.
“‘If you won’t have me, take this,’ he said, and then I felt an awful pain and when I put my hand up the blood was coming through my dress.
“‘You killed me, Jimmy,’ I said, ‘and I never done anything to you.’ But there wasn’t any answer to that, for he was running down the stairs as fast as he could.
“I was afraid to go up to my room all alone with the blood running out all over me so I went down to the street to look for my pal, Annie. You don’t know her but she’s all right. It was two o’clock in the morning and there was no one around so I thought I’d walk over to Third avenue and see if I could find any of the girls there and get help. There was an electric light up on the corner and I hadn’t taken more than a few steps before it began to move up and down and I got afraid and began to run. When I got up to the avenue all the lights were going up and down as if they were crazy and a man on the other side of the street looked as if he was upside down.
“Then I began to get frightened and I thought to myself that I’d sit down on a doorstep for a minute till I got over that queer feeling and that maybe Annie would come along. So I picked the first one I saw and flopped down. When I looked up it made me dizzy and so I looked down at the stone, and as I leaned over I watched the little red drops falling, one after the other, and always hitting the same spot, and then they began to spread out and the pool almost reached the sole of my shoe. I was wondering how long it would take before my foot got wet from it, and where it all came from, anyhow. It all seemed very funny to me; then I felt tired and shut my eyes.
“The next thing I knew I was in bed and there was a nurse there. A cop was there, too, and when I looked at him he says, ‘Ha, nurse, she’s out of it.’
“‘What place is this?’ I asked.
“‘You’re in Bellevue Hospital,’ he said, and he was right. I had been there two days before I knew it. What do you think of that?”
“You were unconscious,” remarked the young man.
“Sure I was unconscious,” she responded, “and they asked me all kinds of questions, who did it and all that, and——”
“And did you tell them who it was that stabbed you?”
“Did I tell them? Nix; not on your life. I never rapped on anybody and I wasn’t going to rap on him, for it wouldn’t do me any good and it wouldn’t take that stab away, would it? I thought I’d get square myself some day when I got out of the hospital and was strong again. That’s the only way. Him going up the river for a couple of years wouldn’t have done me any good, and maybe he’d have croaked me when he came out. What’s the good of taking chances? So I hocked all my rings and other stuff, and got togged up when I came out. I’ll get them all out in a month, maybe before. I got one now; see,” and she held up a finger on which was a very big turquoise, surrounded by very small diamonds. “I’ll get them one at a time, and then if I ever get up against it again I’ve got them to fall back on. It’s just as good as money, only the interest is awful. Now if I only had a good friend who would——”
“Want the waiter?” broke in a hoarse voice like the croak of a mammoth raven.
“Give me a claret lemonade, Harry.”
“And what’ll the gent have?”
“A Martini cocktail.”
“Right you are.”
“As I was saying, if I only had a friend who would be on the level I’d be square with him, too. I ain’t got no pals, only Annie, and she’s been pretty good to me. Say, you ain’t married, are you?”
“No, not yet”; he laughed nervously as he said it. “I don’t believe in fellows getting married until they’re twenty-five, anyhow.”
“Neither do I.”
He noticed that her teeth were very white and even, and that her eyebrows and hair were jet black. The color on her cheeks had been put there with a skilled hand, and so deftly done that it passed for the real thing—in nature, not in art. Her hands were shapely, her nails manicured carefully and she had a trim figure. It was all stock in trade, but he wasn’t figuring it that way. Half a dozen of the kind of drinks they had given him had torn down the barrier, so far as he was concerned, that had been raised by society between it and the Scarlet Woman, and the pathos of her story had set him thinking and had roused all of his sympathies. She had played her part with all of the subtleness of the finished actress and had told her story with such simplicity and naivette that many an older man would have been deceived by the recital. She was working up to the climax as carefully and cautiously as the hunter works up into the wind after the unsuspecting deer, or the soft-footed cat ambushes the bird singing in the hedge. The emotional breed of her race helped to make her realistic, and her vivacity was contagious. Put her on the stage and she would be a success with proper training.
“If,” she laid her hand caressingly on the sleeve of his coat, “if I could find someone who would get my rings out and give me a chance I would be willing to do anything for him. I don’t like this life, always hustling, chased by the police and treated like a thief. But once in it’s hard to get out, for no one wants to give you a chance.”
He was looking over her head and watching the man with the cornet rubbing up the brass with his handkerchief.
“You are not listening to me.”
“Yes, I am; I heard every word you said. How much would it cost to get your jewels out?”
“Only $125. It might not be much for you, but it’s a lot for me.”
Here was the climax, so far as her story was concerned. She could have repeated those three figures long before, but she wasn’t ready. She was waiting for the psychological moment and it had arrived. The picture was made and the hand was ready.
And now your attention is respectfully called to Fate, the intruder; the upsetter of carefully laid plans; the wrecker; sometimes the promoter, because it does as many things for good as it does for bad. In this case, however, it was good and bad, according to the viewpoint.
“If you wouldn’t mind I’ll get them out for you. Let’s go now,” he said.
She leaned back in her chair and smiled at him—a smile of happiness and success; the smile of a child when it gets its first Christmas doll; and then she drew a deep breath. Still smiling, her eyes half closed, she looked at him through the narrow slits and contemplated the possibilities of the future. There was no hurry and she could afford to wait, for she had won out.
A woman, coarse of feature and with fright depicted on her face, came hurrying in. She saw the girl at one end of the room and ran to her.
“Jennie, for God’s sake, come quick; your Billy’s just been pinched on the corner.”
“Billy pinched; what for?” The jubilation in her black eyes turned to terror.
“For swiping a bloke’s leather. They got it on him; hurry up.”
The boy stared wide-eyed at them for a moment, then pushing his chair back he arose unsteadily to his feet.
“Seventy-five cents for the drinks.”
It was the waiter’s voice.
He fumbled in his pocket, brought forth a handful of change, deposited it in the outstretched palm, and began to weave his way among the tables toward the door in the wake of the hurrying women.
“He’s a swell kid, all right,” remarked the waiter, as he counted the $3.25 in change, “and I hope he comes back.”
AFTER THE WEDDING BELLS
There was a big crowd on the ferryboat from Jersey when she bumped her nose into the pier at New York that morning, but when the gates were thrown open there wasn’t the usual scurry and rush to land that marked the morning arrival. At the front, hugging the rail on the woman’s side was a nice little blonde dressed all in white, even down to her shoes and stockings, and with a complexion of the kind known as peachy, if you have any idea what that is. Fastened to her with a strong arm hold was a fellow of about twenty-three—years, not skiddoo, you understand—and he was togged out like a hot sport after a winning fight, or one who had picked the 20 to 1 shot at Sheepshead for the first time in his life. Top hat, frock coat, white vest, patent leather shoes, pearl tie and gray gloves completed the picture, and it was the surest case of orange blossoms and wedding cake that ever happened.
That was what held the crowd and made a few of them whistle what sounded very much like that old familiar tune of “Here Comes the Bride.”
Arm in arm, entirely oblivious of anything in the world except themselves and their own happiness, the couple marched off the boat, heads up in the air and trailed by the grinning bunch, and if ever a case of love’s young dream went around on legs this was surely it.
They knew as much about New York as a Shrewsbury River clam knows about cigarettes, and it didn’t require the services of a head-grabber or a hand-holder to know that they were hunting a honeymoon hostelry.
They had come from the fertile fields of Freehold to the land where there are real bathtubs with hot and cold water, and where a chunk of plain calf is soused with gravy, called fricandeau of veal, and charged for at the rate of a dollar a portion.
What was money made for except to spend, especially on occasions of this kind? You’re young but once, and then a little makes you feel like a millionaire and you get value received and five times over for every dollar you peel off the roll. But when Time, who is the most wonderful artist in the world, does a few stunts, makes brown hair turn gray and deftly paints in the wrinkles, then the joy of spending goes and pleasure becomes as soggy as a wet sponge. Years are the frosts which kill the flowers of hope and ambition, and there are thousands of men who would give millions of dollars if they could but stand off, if only for a brief while, the gray-haired patriarch with the scythe.
Just think of the sight of a young bride and groom holding in leash, as it were, a couple of hundred business men who were as anxious to get on the job of making money as a dog is to get a bone, and all of these hard-headed fellows smiling as if each one of them were in the same position as the young fellow who was fast to her arm.
Up the street to Broadway, where they turned north, and then they were lost to all but two men, and these two were trailing.
Begins to sound like one of Old Sleuth’s detective stories, doesn’t it? Where the villains are always on the job and always being foiled. Where it is either a case of murder the child and get the papers or kidnap the girl and marry her so as to get the old man’s fortune. Doesn’t that take you back a few years when you used to have those yellow-covered books in your inside pocket and believe every word you read, or are you so unfortunate as to have never lived the life of a real boy, with all its castle building and romancing? You know there are men in this world who still dream of those days, and it doesn’t do them any harm, either.
The two men who were brought into this story a moment ago are still in the game, but they are neither burglars nor kidnappers. They are simply a pair of good fellows with enough money on the side to get anything within reason, and a belief that there are happy days and good people in this world if you only take the trouble to look for them.
“I’ll bet,” said one, “that that kid hasn’t more than a hundred in his clothes, and that he feels as if the world was his to do with as he likes.”
“The world is his if he has as much as a hundred,” returned the other. “That will give him the time of his life for three weeks, and he wouldn’t go back broke, either, unless his home is in London, which it isn’t.”
“She’s a nice-looking girl all right, and from the way they’re heading I should say it would be Niagara for theirs.”
“Niagara nothing,” retorted his friend, “that is a spot that belongs to the past. Our mothers and fathers made it fashionable, but the present generation takes to big cities as naturally as a duck takes to water, for they want the busy life and the theatres. The billing and cooing of the newly wed is all done under cover now and they mix with the crowd. You’ll find them taking in the big cafes along The Line getting a good look at things they never expect to see again, and these are the things they will be talking about twenty or thirty years from now. Make a picture of that couple ahead there in 1926, for instance. He’ll be telling his friends about this day, and the night they went to see Joe Weber, and he’ll tell how the buildings first impressed him, and then she’ll butt in with:
“‘Say, Henry, what was the name of the restaurant in New York we went to after we saw that funny show—you know, the place where we had that lobster a la Newburg?’
“As long as she lives she’ll talk about lobster a la Newburg because it sounds different, you see, and that’s the woman of it.
“Then Henry will stroke his whiskers and take his corncob pipe out of his mouth and say, as if he had known the place all his life, ‘Why, that was Shanley’s.’”
“Cut it out, for you’re talking like one of Denman Thompson’s home-made rural drammers,” put in his friend, as he pulled out his cigar case. “You’re always looking for the unusual and the sentimental, so I’ll make you a proposition. Let’s get next to this pair of turtle doves and give them the send-off of their lives. We’ll start off with a lunch, then a matinee, after that dinner, from there to a show and then a windup in a blaze of glory with wine and all the trimmings of a wedding feast. You’ve nothing to do, neither have I, and maybe if we do the thing up right she’ll name it—if it is a boy—after one of us or both of us, just think of that. There’s fame for you.”
That is how it happened that an hour later a newly-married young couple, under the escort of two young men who were pretty well known around town, were lunching at the Waldorf just as if they had known each other for years.
“You see,” one of the hosts was explaining, “we had an invitation to a wedding out of town to-day and we missed the train. We felt as if we wanted to entertain some one in honor of the event and we thought we would ask you. We want you to be our guests from now until 1 o’clock to-morrow morning——”
The young husband glanced uneasily at his wife and she smiled back reassuringly.
The woman, with that unerring female instinct which is born with all females of the human tribe, understood the situation at a glance and was ready for the lark. Besides, both hosts were good looking and well dressed and her vanity was touched. She was young enough to be natural and old enough to be appreciative. Besides, there were a few healthy drops of sporting blood in her veins, and that tells a good part of the story.
There are cases where details are uninteresting, and while the time from luncheon to near the hour of midnight seemed to the honeymooners one wild carouse yet it was really nothing to those who are familiar with the ways of the world. They had sampled everything within reason from soda to hock, and the happy Freehold boy with the silk lid was willing to walk on his hands if anyone had dared him. He had told everyone he met all he knew and all he ever expected to know. As for the little lady who had been toasted many times as the “blushing bride,” she had suddenly developed sporting proclivities of a rare character, and she squeezed the hands of both of her hosts with equal impartiality.
Confidentially it was rather a dangerous situation, for if the bridegroom had been helped to a few more drinks he wouldn’t have cared whether the place where he was laid away was a bridal couch or the soft side of a board. That was the state of affairs when, calling each other by their first names, so friendly had they become, that they all went up to the apartment of one of the hosts for the wind-up banquet.
“How are you feeling, little sport, getting a head yet?”
“I’m just right, and I’d like to have you for a brother,” she retorted.
“Only a brother?”
“Perhaps I should have said father.”
Which showed that she had a pretty wit, too, as well as a head.
At the table the hosts had multiplied by two and so there were six. The first flash of cocktails set the groom’s head to buzzing a bit and his speech began to be a trifle thick. At the sauterne he had a job to keep his head up straight, and he had no sooner finished his first glass of wine than he excused himself to get a handkerchief. He dropped on a friendly couch in the next room and promptly forgot that he was alive. His wife was no such miserable failure, for she clinked glasses with the rest of them and was entertained so well that it seemed as if she forgot she had ever been married.
As the clock on the mantel struck two she was dancing a hornpipe on that end of the table which had been cleared by the soft-footed Japanese butler, and what was more she was dancing it well, too. The four hosts were applauding and drinking her health as the best little thoroughbred they had ever met, and in each brain there was a wish that she was anything but a bride, for each of these men, from the oldest to the youngest, was in love.
It was a most curious and remarkable state of affairs, and there was a chance here for a break that might spell ruin to someone. Then the patter of the little feet on the tablecloth ceased and she stepped daintily down to chair and floor. The man nearest helped her, and as she alighted he leaned over and kissed her squarely on the lips. The color in her cheeks was accentuated just a trifle as he glanced suddenly around.
“Where’s my husband?” she asked.
“With his toes turned up on the couch in the next room and dead to the world. If he was half the sport and good fellow you are he’d be an ace. You ought to have been born in New York, Chappie, for you belong there.”
“I think I will go and see him, if you will excuse me,” she said very demurely, and then she went out.
The four hosts drank and talked and smoked and all the talk was of the bride, and it was all complimentary, too. When an hour had passed the butler was sent to see if she would return.
She came back all right, smiling, but there was a change.
“I think we ought to go now, but I can’t get him up. He’s not used to this sort of thing, you see, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Why, stay right here, of course. We’re all going now and Jim, the gorilla who owns the place, is going, too. The shack is yours until you get ready to leave, for you’re all right. How about that, Jim?”
“Just as you say—she owns it and us, too. Give your orders to Saki there, and we’ll call and take dinner with you every evening. We hope the boy will be all right in the morning. Good-night.”
It seems as if there ought to be more, but there really isn’t.
With one large high absinthe I could make a hair-raising finish, but I have made up my mind to tell only the truth for a change and give my imagination a much needed rest, and this is a truthful story and it happened just as it is put down here.
About the Author
Owen Gould Davis (January 29, 1874 – October 14, 1956) was an American dramatist. In 1919, he became the first elected president of the Dramatists Guild of America. He received the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his 1923 play Icebound, and penned hundreds of plays and scripts for radio and film. Before the First World War, he also wrote racy sketches of New York high jinks and low life for the Police Gazette under the name of Ike Swift. Many of these were set in the Tenderloin, Manhattan. Davis also wrote under several other pseudonyms, including Martin Hurley, Arthur J. Lamb, Walter Lawrence, John Oliver, and Robert Wayne.
[Excerpt from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Davis), retrieved March 5th, 2020]
About this Edition
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