Cosmopolitan, December 1920
THE jeweler, a stout, comfortable man, leaned on the counter and fingered the bracelet lovingly. Archie Moffam, leaning on the other side of the counter, inspected it searchingly, and wished that he knew more about these rummy little objects; for he had rather a sort of idea that the merchant was scheming to do him in the eyeball. In a chair by his side, Reggie van Tuyl, half asleep as usual, yawned despondently. He had permitted Archie to lug him into this shop in order to help him select a birthday present for Lucille, and he wanted to buy it and go. Any form of sustained concentration fatigued Reggie.
“Now, this,” said the jeweler, “I could do at eight hundred and fifty dollars.”
“Grab it,” murmured Mr. Van Tuyl.
The jeweler eyed him approvingly—a man after his own heart—but Archie looked doubtful. It was all very well for Reggie to tell him to grab it in that careless way. Reggie was a dashed millionaire, and no doubt bought bracelets by the pound or the gross or what-not; but he himself was in an entirely different position. It was only by what amounted to a jolly old miracle that he was in a position to purchase jewelry at all. Out of an absolutely blue sky he had received, two or three days ago, a present of five hundred dollars from an aunt in England. This, by thrift and enterprise—that is to say, by betting Reggie that the Giants would win the opening game of the series against the Pirates—he had contrived, on the previous day, to double. He was thus able to go to a thousand dollars for Lucille’s birthday present, and it behooved him to see that he got his money’s worth.
“Eight hundred and fifty,” he said hesitatingly.
“Worth it,” mumbled Reggie van Tuyl.
“More than worth it,” amended the jeweler. “I can assure you that it is better value than you could get anywhere on Fifth Avenue.”
“Yes?” said Archie. He took the bracelet and twiddled it thoughtfully. “Well, one can’t say fairer than that, can one—or two, as the case may be?” He frowned. “Oh, well; all right, my dear old jeweler. But it’s rummy that women are so fearfully keen on these little thingummies, isn’t it? I mean to say, can’t see what they see in them. Stones, and all that. Still, there it is, of course!”
“There,” said the jeweler, “as you say, it is. Will you take it with you, sir?”
“No—no—not take it with me. The fact is, you know, my wife’s coming back from the country to-night, and it’s her birthday to-morrow, and the thing’s for her, and if it was popping about the place to-night, she might see it, and it would sort of spoil the surprise.”
“Besides,” said Reggie, achieving a certain animation now that the tedious business interview was concluded, “going to the ball game this afternoon—might get pocket picked. Yes; better have it sent.”
“Where shall I send it, sir?”
“Eh? Oh, shoot it along to Mrs. Archibald Moffam, at the Cosmopolis. Buzz it in first thing to-morrow.”
Having completed the satisfactory deal, the jeweler threw off the business manner and became chatty.
“So you are going to the ball game? It should be an interesting contest.”
Reggie van Tuyl, now, by his own standards, completely awake, took exception to this remark.
“Not a bit of it!” he said decidedly. “No contest! Can’t call it a contest. Walkover for the Pirates!”
Archie was stung to the quick. There is that about baseball which arouses enthusiasm and the partisan spirit in the unlikeliest bosoms. It is almost impossible for a man to live in America and not become gripped by the game—and Archie had long been one of its warmest adherents. He was a whole-hearted supporter of the Giants, and his only grievance against Reggie, in other respects an estimable young man, was that the latter, whose money had been inherited from steel-mills in that city, had an absurd regard for the Pirates, of Pittsburgh.
“What absolute bally rot!” he exclaimed. “Look what the Giants did to them yesterday!”
“Yesterday isn’t to-day,” said Reggie.
“No; it’ll be a jolly sight worse,” said Archie. “Loony Biddle’ll be pitching for the Giants to-day.”
“That’s just what I mean. The Pirates have got his goat. Look what happened last time.”
Archie understood, and his generous nature chafed at the innuendo. Loony Biddle—so-called by an affectionately admiring public as the result of certain marked eccentricities—was beyond dispute the greatest left-handed pitcher New York had possessed in the last decade; and it was generally considered by the dwellers on Manhattan Island that, while Henry Hudson and others might have done a certain amount for the city in their limited way, he was the man who had really put New York on the map.
But there was one blot on Mr. Biddle’s otherwise stainless escutcheon. Five weeks before, on the occasion of the Giants’ invasion of Pittsburgh, he had gone mysteriously to pieces. He had pitched weakly and erratically, and had been hammered out of the box almost before the game had begun. Few native-born partisans, brought up to baseball from the cradle, had been plunged into a profounder gloom on that occasion than Archie; but his soul revolted at the thought that that sort of thing could ever happen again.
“I’m not saying,” continued Reggie, “that Biddle isn’t a very fair pitcher, but it’s cruel to send him against the Pirates, and somebody ought to stop it. Once a team gets a pitcher’s goat, he’s never any good against them again. He loses his nerve.”
The jeweler nodded approval of this sentiment.
“They never come back,” he said sententiously.
The fighting blood of the Moffams was now thoroughly stirred. Archie eyes his friend sternly.
“It seems to me, old companion,” he said, “that a small bet is indicated at this juncture. How about it?”
“Don’t want to take your money.”
“You won’t have to. In the cool twilight of the merry old summer evening, I, friend of my youth and companion of my riper years, shall be trousering yours.”
Reggie yawned. The day was very hot, and this argument was making him feel sleepy again.
“Well, just as you like, of course. Double or quits on yesterday’s bet, if that suits you.”
For a moment, Archie hesitated. Firm as was his faith in Mr. Biddle’s stout left arm, he had not intended to do the thing on quite this scale. That thousand dollars of his was earmarked for Lucille’s birthday present, and he doubted whether he ought to risk it. Then the thought that the honor of New York was in his hands decided him. Besides, the risk was negligible. Betting on Loony Biddle was like betting on the probable rise of the sun in the east. The thing began to seem to Archie a rather unusually sound and conservative investment. He remembered that the jeweler, until he drew him firmly but kindly to earth and urged him to curb his exuberance and talk business on a reasonable plane, had started brandishing bracelets that cost about two thousand. There would be time to pop in at the shop this evening, after the game, and change the one he had selected for one of these. Nothing was too good for Lucille on her birthday.
“Right-o!” he said. “Make it so, old friend.”
Archie walked back to the Cosmopolis. No misgivings came to mar his perfect contentment. He felt no qualms about separating Reggie from another thousand dollars. Except for a little small change in the possession of the Messrs. Rockefeller and Vincent Astor, Reggie had all the money in the world and could afford to lose. He hummed a gay air as he entered the lobby and crossed to the cigar-stand to buy a few cigarettes to see him through the afternoon. The girl behind the cigar counter welcomed him with a bright smile. Archie was popular with all the employees of the Cosmopolis.
“It’s a great day, Mr. Moffam.”
“One of the brightest and best,” agreed Archie. “Could you dig me out two or possibly three cigarettes of the usual description? I shall want something to smoke at the ball game.”
“You going to the ball game?”
“Rather! Wouldn’t miss it for a fortune.”
“Say, you’re getting to be quite the fan—ain’t you, now?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” repeated Archie earnestly, “for a bally fortune.”
“Absolutely no! Not with jolly old Biddle pitching.”
The cigar-stand girl laughed amusedly.
“Is he pitching this afternoon? Say—that feller’s a nut! D’you know him?”
“ ‘Know him?’ Well, I’ve seen him pitch and so forth.”
“I’ve got a girl friend who’s engaged to him.”
Archie looked at her with positive respect. It would have been more dramatic, of course, if she had been engaged to the great man herself, but, still, the mere fact that she had a girl friend in that astounding position gave her a sort of halo.
“No, really!” he said. “I say, by Jove—really! Fancy that!”
“Yes; she’s engaged to him all right. Been engaged close on a coupla months now.”
“I say—that’s frightfully interesting!”
“It’s funny about that guy,” said the cigar-stand girl. “He’s a nut. The fellow who said there’s plenty of room at the top must have been thinking of Gus Biddle’s head! He’s crazy about m’ girl friend, y’know, and, whenever they have a fuss, it seems like he sort of flies right off the handle.”
“Goes in off the deep end, eh?”
“Yes, sir! Loses what little sense he’s got. Why, the last time him and m’ girl friend got to scrapping was when he was going off to Pittsburgh to play in that series about a month ago. He’d been out with her the day he left for there, and he had a grouch or something and he started making low, sneaky cracks about her uncle Sigsbee. Well, m’ girl friend’s got a nice disposition, but she c’n get mad, and she just left him flat and told him all was over. And he went off to Pittsburgh, and, when he started in to pitch the opening game, he just couldn’t keep his mind on his job, and look what them assassins done to him! Five runs in the first inning! Yessir; he’s a nut all right.”
Archie was deeply concerned. So this was the explanation of that mysterious disaster, that weird tragedy which had puzzled the sporting press from coast to coast.
“Good God! Is he often taken like that?”
“Oh, he’s all right when he hasn’t had a fuss with m’ girl friend,” said the cigar-stand girl indifferently. Her interest in baseball was tepid. Women are too often like this—mere butterflies with no concern for the deeper side of life.
“Yes—but I say! What I mean to say, you know—are they pretty pally now? The good old Dove of Peace flapping its little wings fairly briskly and all that?”
“Oh, I guess everything’s nice and smooth just now. I seen m’ girl friend yesterday, and Gus was taking her to the movies last night; so I guess everything’s nice and smooth.”
Archie breathed a sigh of relief.
“Took her to the movies, did he? Stout fellow!”
“I was to the funniest picture last week,” said the cigar-stand girl. “Honest, it was a scream! It was like this——”
Archie listened politely, then, leaving his hat and stick with the boy bandit who guarded the grill-room door, went in to get a bite of lunch. His equanimity, shaken by the discovery of the rift in the peerless one’s armor, was restored. Good old Biddle had taken the girl to the movies last night. Probably he had squeezed her hand a goodish bit in the dark. With what result? Why, the fellow would be feeling like one of those chappies who used to joust for the smiles of females in the Middle Ages. Presumably the girl would be at the game this afternoon, whooping him on, and good old Biddle would give of his very best and juiciest.
Encouraged by these thoughts, Archie lunched with an untroubled mind. Luncheon concluded, he proceeded to the lobby to buy back his hat and stick from the boy brigand. It was while he was conducting this financial operation that he observed that, at the cigar-stand, which adjoined the coat-and-hat alcove, his friend behind the counter had become engaged in conversation with another girl.
This was a determined-looking young woman in a blue dress and a large hat of a bold and flowery species. Archie happening to attract her attention, she gave him a glance out of a pair of fine brown eyes, then, as if she did not think much of him, turned to her companion and resumed their conversation, which, being of an essentially private and intimate nature, she conducted, after the manner of her kind, in a ringing soprano which penetrated into every corner of the lobby. Archie, waiting while the brigand reluctantly made change for a dollar bill, was privileged to hear every word.
“Right from the start, I seen he was in a ugly mood. You know how he gets, dearie. Chewing his upper lip and looking at you as if you were so much dirt beneath his feet. How was I to know he’d been shooting craps and had lost fifteen dollars fifty-five, and, anyway, I don’t see where he gets a license to work off his grouches on me. And I told him so. I said to him, ‘Gus,’ I said, ‘if you can’t be bright and smiling and cheerful when you take me out, why do you call around at all?’ I said. Was I wrong or right, dearie?”
The girl behind the counter heartily endorsed her conduct. Once you let a man think he could use you as a door-mat, where were you?
“What happened then, honey?”
“Well, after that we went to the movies.”
Archie started convulsively. The change from his dollar bill leaped in his hand. Some of it sprang overboard and tinkled across the floor with the brigand in pursuit. A monstrous suspicion had begun to take root in his mind.
“Well, we got good seats, but, well, you know how it is, once things start going wrong. You know that hat of mine, the one with the daisies and cherries and the feather. I’d taken it off and give it him to hold when we went in, and what do you think that fell’r done? Put it on the floor and crammed it under the seat, just to save himself the trouble of holding it on his lap. And when I called him down, all he said was that he was a pitcher and not a hat-stand.”
Archie was paralyzed. He paid no attention to the hat-check boy, who was trying to induce him to accept treasure-trove to the amount of forty-five cents. His whole being was concentrated on this frightful tragedy which had burst upon him like a tidal wave. No possible room for doubt remained. “Gus” was the only Gus in New York that mattered, and this resolute and injured female before him was the Girl Friend, in whose slim hands rested the happiness of New York’s baseball fans, the destiny of the unconscious Giants, and the fate of his thousand dollars. A strangled croak proceeded from his parched lips.
“Well, I didn’t say anything at the moment. It just shows how them movies can work on a girl’s feelings. It was an Adonis Bryant film, and, somehow, whenever I see him on the screen, nothing else seems to matter. I just get that gooey feeling, and couldn’t start a fight if you asked me to. So we go off to have a soda, and I said to him, ‘That sure was a lovely film, Gus.’ And, would you believe me, he says straight out that he didn’t think it was such a much, and he thought Adonis Bryant was a pill. A pill!” The Girl Friend’s penetrating voice shook with emotion.
“He never!” exclaimed the shocked cigar-stand girl.
“He did, if I die the next minute. I wasn’t more than half-way through my vanilla and maple, but I got up without a word and left him. And I ain’t seen a sight of him since. So there you are, dearie! Was I right or wrong?”
The cigar-stand girl gave unqualified approval. What men like Gus Biddle needed for the salvation of their souls was an occasional good jolt right where it would do the most good.
“I’m glad you think I acted right, dearie,” said the Girl Friend. “I guess I been too weak with Gus, and he’s took advantage of it. I s’pose I’ll have to forgive him one of these old days, but, believe me, it won’t be for a week.”
The cigar-stand girl was in favor of a fortnight.
“No,” said the Girl Friend regretfully; “I don’t believe I could hold out that long. But, if I speak to him inside a week—well! Well, I gotta be going off up-town to price some waists. Good-by, honey.”
The cigar-stand girl turned to attend to an impatient customer, and the Girl Friend, walking with the firm and decisive steps which indicate character, made for the swing door leading to the street. And, as she went, the paralysis which had gripped Archie relaxed its hold. Still ignoring the forty-five cents which the hat-check boy continued to proffer, he leaped in her wake like a panther. The hat-check boy pocketed the money in a contented sort of way. He knew nothing of the frenzy and despair which had blackened life for the man from whom he had acquired the windfall, and something seems to tell one that, if he had known, he wouldn’t have given a darn. Hat-check boys are like that—cold, calculating, callous—boys of blood and iron.
The swing door, having churned Archie around for a while, shot him out onto the sidewalk and, for a moment, he stood looking up and down the street till suddenly, through the crowd of pedestrians, he perceived a hat crowned with exotic flowers moving westward. Darting in pursuit, he came upon the Girl Friend just as she was stepping into an up-town car. The car was full, but not too full for Archie. He dropped his five cents into the box and reached for a vacant strap. He looked down upon the flowered hat. There she was. And there he was. In fact, putting it another way, there they both were. And now jolly well what? Archie rested his left ear against the forearm of a long, strongly built young man in a gray suit who had followed him into the car and was sharing his strap, and pondered.
Of course, in a way, the gadget was simple. The wheeze was, in a sense, straightforward and uncomplicated. What he wanted to do was to point out to the injured girl all that hung on her. He wished to touch her heart, to plead with her, to desire her to restate her war-aims, and to persuade her—before three o’clock, when that stricken gentleman would be stepping into the pitcher’s box to loose off the first ball against the Pirates—to let bygones be bygones and forgive Augustus Biddle. He could see that all right. But the blighted problem was: how the deuce to find the opportunity to start. Archie removed his ear from the arm of the long young man and rested his jaw-bone there instead, and went on pondering.
The Girl Friend, who, for the first five minutes, had remained entirely concealed beneath her hat, now sought diversion by looking up and examining the faces of the upper strata of passengers. Her eye caught Archie’s in a glance of recognition, and he smiled feebly, endeavoring to register bonhomie and good will. He was surprised to see a startled expression come into her brown eyes. Her face turned pink. At least, it was pink already, but it turned pinker. The next moment, the car having stopped to pick up more passengers, she jumped off and started to hurry across the street.
Archie was momentarily taken aback. When embarking on this business, he had never intended it to become a blend of otter-hunting and a moving-picture chase. He had anticipated a slight difficulty in getting the girl sufficiently alone to be able to talk freely to her, but he had never supposed that the sight of him would send her whizzing about New York like a snipe. He followed her off the car with a sense that his grip on the affair was slipping.
Preoccupied with these thoughts, he did not perceive that the long young man who had shared his strap had alighted, too. His eyes were fixed on the vanishing figure of the Girl Friend, who, having buzzed at a smart pace into Sixth Avenue, was now legging it in the direction of the staircase leading to one of the stations of the elevated railway. Dashing up the stairs after her, he paid another nickel—this business was running into money, but that could not be helped—and shortly afterward found himself suspended, as before, from a strap, gazing upon the now familiar flowers on top of her hat. From another strap further down the car swayed the long young man in the gray suit.
The train rattled on, crossed Broadway, and, snaking round, entered Ninth Avenue. Once or twice, when it stopped, the girl seemed undecided whether to leave or remain. She half rose, then sank back again. Finally, she walked resolutely out of the car, and Archie, following, found himself in a part of New York strange to him. The inhabitants of this district appeared to eke out a precarious existence, not by taking in one another’s washing but by selling one another second-hand clothes. Almost every shop seemed to belong to a small tailor.
Archie glanced at his watch. He had lunched early, but so crowded with emotions had been the period following lunch that he was surprised to find that the hour was only just two. The discovery was a pleasant one. With a full hour before the scheduled start of the game, much might be achieved. He hurried after the girl, and came up with her just as she turned the corner into one of those forlorn side-streets which are populated chiefly by children, cats, desultory loafers, and empty meat-cans.
The girl stopped and turned. Archie smiled a winning smile.
“I say, my dear, sweet creature!” he said. “I say, my dear old thing—one moment!”
“Is that so?” said the Girl Friend.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Is that so?”
Archie began to feel certain tremors. Her eyes were gleaming, and her determined mouth had become a perfectly straight line of scarlet. It was going to be difficult to be chatty with this girl. She was going to be a hard audience.
“If you could spare me a couple of minutes of your valuable time——”
“Say!” The lady drew herself up menacingly. “You tie a can to yourself and disappear. Fade away, or I’ll call a cop!”
Archie was horrified at this misinterpretation of his motives. One or two children, playing close at hand, and a loafer who was trying to keep the wall from falling down seemed pleased. Theirs was a colorless existence, and to the rare purple moments which had enlivened it in the past, the calling of a cop had been the unfailing preliminary. The loafer nudged a fellow loafer sunning himself against the same wall. The children, abandoning the meat-can round which their game had centered, drew closer.
“My dear old soul,” said Archie, “you don’t understand.”
“Don’t I? I know your sort, you trailing arbutus!”
“No, no! My dear old thing, believe me; I wouldn’t dream!”
“Are you going—or aren’t you?”
Eleven more children joined the ring of spectators. The loafers stared silently, like awakened crocodiles.
“But, I say, listen: I only wanted——”
At this point, another voice spoke.
The word “say,” almost more than any word in the American language, is capable of a variety of shades of expression. It can be genial; it can be jovial; it can be appealing. It can also be truculent. The “say” which at this juncture smote upon Archie’s ear-drum with a suddenness which made him leap in the air was truculent; and the two loafers and the twenty-seven children who now formed the audience were well satisfied with the dramatic development of the performance. To their experienced ears, the word had the right ring.
Archie spun round. At his elbow stood a long, strongly built young man in a gray suit.
“Well?” said this young man hastily. And he extended a large, freckled face toward Archie’s.
It seemed to the latter, as he backed against the wall, that the young man’s neck must be composed of india-rubber. It appeared to be growing longer every moment. His face, besides being freckled, was a dull brick-red in color; his lips curled back in an unpleasant snarl, showing a gold tooth, and beside him, swaying in an ominous sort of way, hung two clenched red hands about the size of two legs of young mutton. Archie eyed him with a growing apprehension. There are moments in life when, passing idly on our way, we see a strange face, look into strange eyes, and, with a sudden glow of human warmth, say to ourselves, “We have found a friend.” This was not one of those moments. The only person Archie had ever seen in his life who looked less friendly was the sergeant-major who had trained him in the early days of the war before he had got his commission.
“I’ve had my eye on you,” said the young man.
He still had his eye on him. It was a hot, gimletlike eye, and it pierced the recesses of Archie’s soul. He backed a little further against the wall.
Archie was frankly disturbed. He was no poltroon, and had proved the fact on many occasions during the days when the entire German army seemed to be picking on him personally; but he hated and shrank from anything in the nature of a bally public scene. During the war, it had been different. Then, everybody had been making scenes, and a chappie who hove bombs about and generally dropped the repose that stamps the caste of Vere de Vere was in the push and didn’t feel he was making himself conspicuous. But in this era of peace and in the middle of a crowd in a New York street, his soul revolted at the prospect of a vulgar brawl. And you had only to look at this large blighter’s face to perceive that vulgar brawls were meat and drink to him.
“What,” inquired the young man, still bearing the burden of the conversation and shifting his left hand a little further behind his back, “do you mean by following this young lady?”
Archie was glad he had asked him. This was precisely what he wanted to explain.
“My dear old lad—” he began.
In spite of the fact that he had asked a question and presumably desired a reply, the sound of Archie’s voice seemed to be more than the young man could endure. It deprived him of the last vestiges of restraint. With a rasping snarl, he brought his left fist round in a sweeping semicircle in the direction of Archie’s head.
Archie was no novice in the art of self-defense. Since his early days at school, he had learned much from leather-faced professors of the science. He had been watching this unpleasant young man’s eyes with close attention, and the latter could not have indicated his scheme of action more clearly if he had sent him a formal note. Archie saw the swing all the way. He stepped nimbly aside; the fist crashed against the wall, and the young man fell back with a yelp of anguish.
“Gus!” screamed the Girl Friend, bounding forward. She flung her arms round the injured man, who was ruefully examining a hand which, always of an out-size, was now swelling to still further dimensions. “Gus darling!”
A sudden chill gripped Archie. So engrossed had he been with his mission that it had never occurred to him that the lovelorn pitcher might have taken it into his head to follow the girl as well, in the hope of putting in a word for himself. Yet such, apparently, had been the case. Well, this had definitely done it. Two loving hearts were united again in complete reconciliation, but a fat lot of good that was! It would be days before the misguided Loony Biddle would be able to pitch with a hand like that. It looked like a ham already, and was still swelling. Probably the wrist was sprained. For at least a week, the greatest left-handed pitcher of his time would be about as much use to the Giants in any professional capacity as a cold in the head. And on that crippled hand depended the fate of all the money Archie had in the world! He wished now that he had not thwarted the fellow’s simple enthusiasm. To have had his head knocked forcibly through a brick wall would not have been pleasant, but the ultimate outcome would not have been as unpleasant as this. With a heavy heart, Archie prepared to withdraw, to be alone with his sorrow.
At this moment, however, the Girl Friend, releasing her wounded lover, made a sudden dash for him, with the plainest intention of blotting him from the earth.
“No, I say! Really!” said Archie, bounding backward. “I mean to say——”
In a series of events, all of which had been a bit thick, this, in his opinion, achieved the maximum of thickness. It was the extreme, ragged, outside edge of the limit. To brawl with a fellow man in a public street had not been bad, but to be brawled with by a girl—the shot was not on the board. Absolutely not on the board. There was only one thing to be done. It was dashed undignified, no doubt, for a fellow to pick up the old waukeesis and leg it in the face of the enemy, but there was no other course. Archie started to run, and, as he did so, one of the loafers made the mistake of gripping him by the collar of his coat.
“I got him!” observed the loafer.
There is a time for all things. This was essentially not the time for anyone of the male sex to grip the collar of Archie’s coat. If a syndicate of Dempsey, Carpentier, and one of the zoo gorillas had endeavored to stay his progress at that moment, they would have had reason to consider it a rash move. Archie wanted to be elsewhere, and the blood of generations of Moffams, many of whom had swung a wicked ax in the free-for-all mix-ups of the Middle Ages, boiled within him at any attempt to revise his plans. There was a good deal of the loafer, but it was all soft. Releasing his hold when Archie’s heel took him shrewdly on the shin, he received a nasty punch in what would have been the middle of his waistcoat if he had worn one, uttered a gurgling bleat, like a wounded sheep, and collapsed against the wall. Archie, with a torn coat, rounded the corner and sprinted down Ninth Avenue.
The suddenness of the move gave him an initial advantage. He was half-way down the first block before the vanguard of the pursuit poured out of the side-street. Continuing to travel well, he skimmed past a large truck which had pulled up across the street, and moved on. The noise of those who pursued was loud and clamorous in the rear, but the truck hid him momentarily from their sight, and it was this fact which led Archie, the old campaigner, to take his next step.
It was perfectly obvious—he was aware of this even in the novel excitement of the chase—that a chappie couldn’t hoof it at twenty-five miles an hour indefinitely along a main thoroughfare of a great city without exciting remark. He must take cover. Cover! That was the wheeze. He looked about him for cover.
“You want a nice suit?”
It takes a great deal to startle your commercial New Yorker. The small tailor, standing in his doorway, seemed in no way surprised at the spectacle of Archie, whom he had seen pass at a conventional walk some five minutes before, returning like this at top speed. He assumed that Archie had suddenly remembered that he wanted to buy something.
This was exactly what Archie had done. More than anything else in the world, what he wanted to do now was to get into that shop and have a long talk about gents’ clothing. Pulling himself up abruptly, he shot past the small tailor into the dim interior. A confused aroma of cheap clothing greeted him. Except for a small oasis behind a grubby counter, practically all the available space was occupied by suits. Stiff suits hung from hooks. Limp suits lay on chairs and boxes. The place was a cloth-morgue, a Sargasso Sea of serge.
Archie would not have had it otherwise. He had been in airier places; he had been in places which did not give him so acute a sensation of being slowly stifled by trousers, but he had never been in a place which contained more charming and delightful possibilities of concealment.
“Something nifty in tweeds?” inquired the businesslike proprietor of this haven, following him amiably into the shop. “Or, maybe, yes, a nice serge? Say, I got a sweet thing in blue serge that’ll fit you like the paper on the wall!”
Archie wanted to talk about clothes, but not yet.
“I say, laddie,” he said hurriedly; “lend me your ear for half a jiffy.” Outside, the baying of the pack had become imminent. “Stow me away for a moment in the undergrowth, and I’ll buy anything you want.”
He withdrew into the jungle. The noise without grew in volume. The pursuit had been delayed for a priceless few instants by the arrival of another truck, moving northward, which had drawn level with the first truck and dexterously bottled up the fairway. This obstacle had now been overcome, and the original searchers, their ranks swelled by a few dozen more of the leisured classes, were hot on the trail again. There was, however, a certain confusion inevitable in undertakings of this sort. The new arrivals, insufficiently abreast of affairs, were not decided as to the exact nature of what they were chasing. One school of thought held that it was a mad dog; a second, that it was a coon who had swiped some one’s watch; a third, that it was a small boy who had broken a shop window. The foundation members of the club were finding it hard to impart their information clearly.
“You done a murder?” inquired the voice of the proprietor, mildly interested, filtering through the wall of cloth. “Well, boys will be boys,” he said philosophically. “See anything there that you like? There’s some sweet things there.”
“I’m inspecting them narrowly,” replied Archie. “If you don’t let those chappies find me, I shouldn’t be surprised if I bought one.”
“ ‘One?’ ” said the proprietor, with a touch of austerity.
“Two,” said Archie quickly. “Or possibly three or six.”
The proprietor’s cordiality returned.
“You can’t have too many nice suits,” he said approvingly, “not a young feller like you that wants to look nice. All the nice girls like a young feller that dresses nice. When you go out of here in a suit I got hanging up there at the back, the girls’ll be all over you like flies round a honey-pot.”
“Would you mind,” said Archie, “would you mind, as a personal favor to me, old companion, not mentioning that word ‘girls’——”
He broke off. A heavy foot had crossed the threshold of the shop.
“Say, Uncle,” said a deep voice, one of those beastly voices that only the most poisonous blighters have, “you seen a young feller run past here?”
“ ‘Young feller?’ ” The proprietor appeared to reflect. “Do you mean a young feller in blue, with a Homburg hat?”
“That’s the duck! We lost him. Where did he go?”
“Him? Why, he come running past, quick as he could go. I wondered what he was running for, a hot day like this. He went round the corner at the bottom of the block.”
There was a silence.
“Well, I guess he’s got away,” said the voice regretfully.
“The way he was traveling,” agreed the proprietor, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in Europe by this. You want a nice suit?”
The other, curtly expressing a wish that the proprietor would go to eternal perdition and take his entire stock with him, stumped out.
“This,” said the proprietor tranquilly burrowing his way to where Archie stood and exhibiting a saffron-colored outrage which appeared to be a poor relation of the flannel family, “would put you back fifty dollars. And cheap!”
“ ‘Fifty dollars?’ ”
“Sixty, I said. I don’t speak always distinct.”
Archie regarded the distressing garment with a shuddering horror. A young man with an educated taste in clothes, it got right in among his nerve-centers.
“Honestly, old soul, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but that isn’t a suit; it’s just a regrettable incident.”
The proprietor turned to the door in a listening attitude.
“I believe I hear that feller coming back,” he said.
“How about trying it on?” he said. “I’m not sure, after all, it isn’t fairly ripe.”
“That’s the way to talk,” said the proprietor cordially. “You try it on. You can’t judge a suit, not a real nice suit like this, by looking at it. You want to put it on. There!” He led the way to a dusty mirror at the back of the shop. “Isn’t that a bargain at seventy dollars? Why, say, your mother would be proud if she could see her boy now.”
A quarter of an hour later, the proprietor lovingly kneading a little sheaf of banknotes, eyed, with a proud look, the heap of clothes which lay on the counter.
“As nice a little lot as I’ve ever had in my shop!” Archie did not deny this. It was, he thought, probably only too true. “I only wish I could see you walking up Fifth Avenue in them!” rhapsodized the proprietor. “You’ll give ’em a treat. What you going to do with ’em? Carry ’em under your arm?” Archie shuddered strongly. “Well then, I can send ’em for you anywhere you like. ’S all the same to me. Where’ll I send ’em?”
Archie meditated. The future was black enough as it was. He shrank from the prospect of being confronted next day, at the height of his misery, with these appalling reach-me-downs. An idea struck him. It was a long time since he had given his father-in-law a present.
“Yes; send ’em,” he said.
“What’s the name and address?”
“Daniel Brewster,” said Archie, “Hotel Cosmopolis.”
Archie went out into the street, and began to walk pensively down a now peaceful Ninth Avenue. Out of the depths that covered him, black as the night from pole to pole, no single ray of hope came to cheer him. He could not, like the poet, thank whatever gods there be for his unconquerable soul, for his soul was licked to a splinter. He felt alone and friendless in a rotten world. Why had he not been content with his wealth, instead of risking it on that blighted bet with Reggie? Why had he trailed the Girl Friend—dash her! He might have known that he would only make an ass of himself. And, because he had done so, Loony Biddle’s left hand, that priceless left hand before which opposing batters quailed and wilted, was out of action, resting in a sling, careened like a damaged battleship: and any chance the Giants might have had of beating the Pirates was gone—gone—as surely as that thousand dollars which should have bought a birthday present for Lucille.
A birthday present for Lucille! He groaned in bitterness of spirit. She would be coming back to-night, dear girl, all smiles and happiness, wondering what he was going to give her to-morrow. And when to-morrow dawned, all he would be able to give her would be a kind smile. A nice state of things! A jolly situation! A thoroughly good egg, he did not think!
It seemed to Archie that nature, contrary to her usual custom of indifference to human suffering, was mourning with him. The sky was overcast and the sun had ceased to shine. There was a sort of somberness in the afternoon which fitted in with his mood. And then something splashed on his face.
It says much for Archie’s preoccupation that his first thought, when, after a few scattered drops, as though the clouds were submitting samples for approval, the whole sky suddenly began to stream like a shower-bath, was that this was simply an additional infliction which he was called upon to bear. On top of all his other troubles, he would get soaked to the skin or have to hang about in some doorway. He cursed richly and sped for shelter.
The rain was setting about its work in earnest. The world was full of that rending, swishing sound which accompanies the more violent summer storms. Thunder crashed; lightning flicked out of the gray heavens. Out in the street, the rain-drops bounded up off the stones like fairy fountains. Archie surveyed them morosely from his refuge in the entrance of a shop.
And then, suddenly, like one of those flashes that were lighting up the gloomy sky, a thought lighted up Archie’s mind.
“By Jove! If this keeps up, there won’t be a ball game to-day.”
With trembling fingers, he pulled out his watch. The hands pointed to five minutes of three. A blessed vision came to him of a moist and disappointed crowd receiving rain-checks up at the Polo Grounds.
“Switch it on, you blighters!” he cried, addressing the leaden clouds. “Switch it on more and more!”
It was shortly before five o’clock that a young man bounded into a jeweler’s shop near the Hotel Cosmopolis—a young man who, in spite of the fact that his coat was torn near the collar and that he oozed water from every inch of his drenched clothes, appeared in the highest spirits. It was only when he spoke that the jeweler recognized in the human sponge the immaculate youth who had looked in that morning to order a bracelet.
“I say, old lad,” said this young man, “you remember that jolly little what-not you showed me before lunch?”
“The bracelet, sir?”
“As you observe, with a manly candor which does you credit, the bracelet. Well, produce, exhibit, and bring it forth, would you mind? Trot it out. Slip it across on a lordly dish, my dear old trafficker in gems.”
“You wished me, surely, to put it aside and send it to the Cosmopolis to-morrow?”
The young man tapped the jeweler earnestly on his substantial chest.
“What I wished and what I wish now are two bally separate and dashed distinct things, friend of my college days! Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day, and all that. I’m not taking any more chances. Not for me! For others, yes; but not for Archibald! Here are the doubloons. Produce the jolly old bracelet. Thanks.”
The jeweler counted the notes with the same unction which Archie had observed earlier in the day in the proprietor of the second-hand-clothes shop. The process made him genial.
“A nasty wet day, sir, it’s been,” he observed chattily.
Archie shook his head.
“Old friend,” he said, “you’re all wrong. Far otherwise and not a bit like it! You’ve put your finger on the one aspect of this blighted p.m. that really deserves credit and respect. Rarely, in the experience of a lifetime, have I encountered a day so absolutely bally in nearly every shape and form, but there was one thing that saved it, and that was its merry old wetness. Toodle-oo, laddie!”
“Good-evening, sir,” said the jeweler.
The next escapade of Archie in America will appear in January Cosmopolitan.