OUR MR. WRENN
THE ROMANTIC ADVENTURES OF A GENTLE MAN
NEW YORK AND LONDON
TO GRACE LIVINGSTONE HEGGER
MR. WRENN IS LONELY
The ticket-taker of the Nickelorion Moving-Picture Show is a public personage, who stands out on Fourteenth Street, New York, wearing a gorgeous light-blue coat of numerous brass buttons. He nods to all the patrons, and his nod is the most cordial in town. Mr. Wrenn used to trot down to Fourteenth Street, passing ever so many other shows, just to get that cordial nod, because he had a lonely furnished room for evenings, and for daytime a tedious job that always made his head stuffy.
He stands out in the correspondence of the Souvenir and Art Novelty Company as "Our Mr. Wrenn," who would be writing you directly and explaining everything most satisfactorily. At thirty-four Mr. Wrenn was the sales-entry clerk of the Souvenir Company. He was always bending over bills and columns of figures at a desk behind the stock-room. He was a meek little bachlor—a person of inconspicuous blue ready-made suits, and a small unsuccessful mustache.
To-day—historians have established the date as April 9, 1910—there had been some confusing mixed orders from the Wisconsin retailers, and Mr. Wrenn had been "called down" by the office manager, Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle. He needed the friendly nod of the Nickelorion ticket-taker. He found Fourteenth Street, after office hours, swept by a dusty wind that whisked the skirts of countless plump Jewish girls, whose V-necked blouses showed soft throats of a warm brown. Under the elevated station he secretly made believe that he was in Paris, for here beautiful Italian boys swayed with trays of violets; a tramp displayed crimson mechanical rabbits, which squeaked, on silvery leading-strings; and a newsstand was heaped with the orange and green and gold of magazine covers.
"Gee!" inarticulated Mr. Wrenn. "Lots of colors. Hope I see foreign stuff like that in the moving pictures."
He came primly up to the Nickelorion, feeling in his vest pockets for a nickel and peering around the booth at the friendly ticket-taker. But the latter was thinking about buying Johnny's pants. Should he get them at the Fourteenth Street Store, or Siegel-Cooper's, or over at Aronson's, near home? So ruminating, he twiddled his wheel mechanically, and Mr. Wrenn's pasteboard slip was indifferently received in the plate-glass gullet of the grinder without the taker's even seeing the clerk's bow and smile.
Mr. Wrenn trembled into the door of the Nickelorion. He wanted to turn back and rebuke this fellow, but was restrained by shyness. He had liked the man's "Fine evenin', sir "—rain or shine—but he wouldn't stand for being cut. Wasn't he making nineteen dollars a week, as against the ticket-taker's ten or twelve? He shook his head with the defiance of a cornered mouse, fussed with his mustache, and regarded the moving pictures gloomily.
They helped him. After a Selig domestic drama came a stirring Vitagraph Western scene, "The Goat of the Rancho," which depicted with much humor and tumult the revolt of a ranch cook, a Chinaman. Mr. Wrenn was really seeing, not cow-punchers and sage-brush, but himself, defying the office manager's surliness and revolting against the ticket-man's rudeness. Now he was ready for the nearly overpowering delight of travel-pictures. He bounced slightly as a Gaumont film presented Java.
He was a connoisseur of travel-pictures, for all his life he had been planning a great journey. Though he had done Staten Island and patronized an excursion to Bound Brook, neither of these was his grand tour. It was yet to be taken. In Mr. Wrenn, apparently fastened to New York like a domestic-minded barnacle, lay the possibilities of heroic roaming. He knew it. He, too, like the man who had taken the Gaumont pictures, would saunter among dusky Javan natives in "markets with tiles on the roofs and temples and—and—uh, well—places!" The scent of Oriental spices was in his broadened nostrils as he scampered out of the Nickelorion, without a look at the ticket-taker, and headed for "home"—for his third-floor-front on West Sixteenth Street. He wanted to prowl through his collection of steamship brochures for a description of Java. But, of course, when one's landlady has both the sciatica and a case of Patient Suffering one stops in the basement dining-room to inquire how she is.
Mrs. Zapp was a fat landlady. When she sat down there was a straight line from her chin to her knees. She was usually sitting down. When she moved she groaned, and her apparel creaked. She groaned and creaked from bed to breakfast, and ate five griddle-cakes, two helpin's of scrapple, an egg, some rump steak, and three cups of coffee, slowly and resentfully. She creaked and groaned from breakfast to her rocking-chair, and sat about wondering why Providence had inflicted upon her a weak digestion. Mr. Wrenn also wondered why, sympathetically, but Mrs. Zapp was too conscientiously dolorous to be much cheered by the sympathy of a nigger-lovin' Yankee, who couldn't appreciate the subtle sorrows of a Zapp of Zapp's Bog, allied to all the First Families of Virginia.
Mr. Wrenn did nothing more presumptuous than sit still, in the stuffy furniture-crowded basement room, which smelled of dead food and deader pride in a race that had never existed. He sat still because the chair was broken. It had been broken now for four years.
For the hundred and twenty-ninth time in those years Mrs. Zapp said, in her rich corruption of Southern negro dialect, which can only be indicated here, "Ah been meaning to get that chair mended, Mist' Wrenn." He looked gratified and gazed upon the crayon enlargements of Lee Theresa, the older Zapp daughter (who was forewoman in a factory), and of Godiva. Godiva Zapp was usually called "Goaty," and many times a day was she called by Mrs. Zapp. A tamed child drudge was Goaty, with adenoids, which Mrs. Zapp had been meanin' to have removed, and which she would continue to have benevolent meanin's about till it should be too late, and she should discover that Providence never would let Goaty go to school.
"Yes, Mist' Wrenn, Ah told Goaty she was to see the man about getting that chair fixed, but she nev' does nothing Ah tell her."
In the kitchen was the noise of Goaty, ungovernable Goaty, aged eight, still snivelingly washing, though not cleaning, the incredible pile of dinner dishes. With a trail of hesitating remarks on the sadness of sciatica and windy evenings Mr. Wrenn sneaked forth from the august presence of Mrs. Zapp and mounted to paradise—his third-floor-front.
It was an abjectly respectable room—the bedspread patched; no two pieces of furniture from the same family; half-tones from the magazines pinned on the wall. But on the old marble mantelpiece lived his friends, books from wanderland. Other friends the room had rarely known. It was hard enough for Mr. Wrenn to get acquainted with people, anyway, and Mrs. Zapp did not expect her gennulman lodgers to entertain. So Mr. Wrenn had given up asking even Charley Carpenter, the assistant bookkeeper at the Souvenir Company, to call. That left him the books, which he now caressed with small eager finger-tips. He picked out a P. & O. circular, and hastily left for fairyland.
The April skies glowed with benevolence this Saturday morning. The Metropolitan Tower was singing, bright ivory tipped with gold, uplifted and intensely glad of the morning. The buildings walling in Madison Square were jubilant; the honest red-brick fronts, radiant; the new marble, witty. The sparrows in the middle of Fifth Avenue were all talking at once, scandalously but cleverly. The polished brass of limousines threw off teethy smiles. At least so Mr. Wrenn fancied as he whisked up Fifth Avenue, the skirts of his small blue double-breasted coat wagging. He was going blocks out of his way to the office; ready to defy time and eternity, yes, and even the office manager. He had awakened with Defiance as his bedfellow, and throughout breakfast at the hustler Dairy Lunch sunshine had flickered over the dirty tessellated floor.
He pranced up to the Souvenir Company's brick building, on Twenty-eighth Street near Sixth Avenue. In the office he chuckled at his ink-well and the untorn blotters on his orderly desk. Though he sat under the weary unnatural brilliance of a mercury-vapor light, he dashed into his work, and was too keen about this business of living merrily to be much flustered by the bustle of the lady buyer's superior "Good morning." Even up to ten-thirty he was still slamming down papers on his desk. Just let any one try to stop his course, his readiness for snapping fingers at The Job; just let them try it, that was all he wanted!
Then he was shot out of his chair and four feet along the corridor, in reflex response to the surly "Bur-r-r-r-r" of the buzzer. Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle, the manager, desired to see him. He scampered along the corridor and slid decorously through the manager's doorway into the long sun-bright room, ornate with rugs and souvenirs. Seven Novelties glittered on the desk alone, including a large rococo Shakespeare-style glass ink-well containing cloves and a small iron Pittsburg-style one containing ink. Mr. Wrenn blinked like a noon-roused owlet in the brilliance. The manager dropped his fist on the desk, glared, smoothed his flowered prairie of waistcoat, and growled, his red jowls quivering:
"Look here, Wrenn, what's the matter with you? The Bronx Emporium order for May Day novelties was filled twice, they write me."
"They ordered twice, sir. By 'phone," smiled Mr. Wrenn, in an agony of politeness.
"They ordered hell, sir! Twice—the same order?"
"Yes, sir; their buyer was prob—"
"They say they've looked it up. Anyway, they won't pay twice. I know, em. We'll have to crawl down graceful, and all because you—I want to know why you ain't more careful!"
The announcement that Mr. Wrenn twice wriggled his head, and once tossed it, would not half denote his wrath. At last! It was here—the time for revolt, when he was going to be defiant. He had been careful; old Goglefogle was only barking; but why should he be barked at? With his voice palpitating and his heart thudding so that he felt sick he declared:
"I'm sure, sir, about that order. I looked it up. Their buyer was drunk!"
It was done. And now would he be discharged? The manager was speaking:
"Probably. You looked it up, eh? Um! Send me in the two order-records. Well. But, anyway, I want you to be more careful after this, Wrenn. You're pretty sloppy. Now get out. Expect me to make firms pay twice for the same order, cause of your carelessness?"
Mr. Wrenn found himself outside in the dark corridor. The manager hadn't seemed much impressed by his revolt.
The manager wasn't. He called a stenographer and dictated:
"GENTLEMEN:—Our Mr. Wrenn has again (underline that 'again,' Miss Blaustein), again looked up your order for May Day novelties. As we wrote before, order certainly was duplicated by 'phone. Our Mr. Wrenn is thoroughly reliable, and we have his records of these two orders. We shall therefore have to push collection on both—"
After all, Mr. Wrenn was thinking, the crafty manager might be merely concealing his hand. Perhaps he had understood the defiance. That gladdened him till after lunch. But at three, when his head was again foggy with work and he had forgotten whether there was still April anywhere, he began to dread what the manager might do to him. Suppose he lost his job; The Job! He worked unnecessarily late, hoping that the manager would learn of it. As he wavered home, drunk with weariness, his fear of losing The Job was almost equal to his desire to resign from The Job.
He had worked so late that when he awoke on Sunday morning he was still in a whirl of figures. As he went out to his breakfast of coffee and whisked wheat at the Hustler Lunch the lines between the blocks of the cement walk, radiant in a white flare of sunshine, irritatingly recalled the cross-lines of order-lists, with the narrow cement blocks at the curb standing for unfilled column-headings. Even the ridges of the Hustler Lunch's imitation steel ceiling, running in parallel lines, jeered down at him that he was a prosaic man whose path was a ruler.
He went clear up to the branch post-office after breakfast to get the Sunday mail, but the mail was a disappointment. He was awaiting a wonderful fully illustrated guide to the Land of the Midnight Sun, a suggestion of possible and coyly improbable trips, whereas he got only a letter from his oldest acquaintance—Cousin John, of Parthenon, New York, the boy-who-comes-to-play of Mr. Wrenn's back-yard days in Parthenon. Without opening the letter Mr. Wrenn tucked it into his inside coat pocket, threw away his toothpick, and turned to Sunday wayfaring.
He jogged down Twenty-third Street to the North River ferries afoot. Trolleys took money, and of course one saves up for future great traveling. Over him the April clouds were fetterless vagabonds whose gaiety made him shrug with excitement and take a curb with a frisk as gambolsome as a Central Park lamb. There was no hint of sales-lists in the clouds, at least. And with them Mr. Wrenn's soul swept along, while his half-soled Cum-Fee-Best $3.80 shoes were ambling past warehouses. Only once did he condescend to being really on Twenty-third Street. At the Ninth Avenue corner, under the grimy Elevated, he sighted two blocks down to the General Theological Seminary's brick Gothic and found in a pointed doorway suggestions of alien beauty.
But his real object was to loll on a West and South Railroad in luxury, and go sailing out into the foam and perilous seas of North River. He passed through the smoking-cabin. He didn't smoke—the habit used up travel-money. Once seated on the upper deck, he knew that at last he was outward-bound on a liner. True, there was no great motion, but Mr. Wrenn was inclined to let realism off easily in this feature of his voyage. At least there were undoubted life-preservers in the white racks overhead; and everywhere the world, to his certain witnessing, was turned to crusading, to setting forth in great ships as if it were again in the brisk morning of history when the joy of adventure possessed the Argonauts.
He wasn't excited over the liners they passed. He was so experienced in all of travel, save the traveling, as to have gained a calm interested knowledge. He knew the Campagnia three docks away, and explained to a Harlem grocer her fine points, speaking earnestly of stacks and sticks, tonnage and knots.
Not excited, but—where couldn't he go if he were pulling out for Arcady on the Campagnia! Gee! What were even the building-block towers of the Metropolitan and Singer buildings and the Times's cream-stick compared with some old shrine in a cathedral close that was misted with centuries!
All this he felt and hummed to himself, though not in words. He had never heard of Arcady, though for many years he had been a citizen of that demesne.
Sure, he declared to himself, he was on the liner now; he was sliding up the muddy Mersey (see the W. S. Travel Notes for the source of his visions); he was off to St. George's Square for an organ-recital (see the English Baedeker); then an express for London and—Gee!
The ferryboat was entering her slip. Mr. Wrenn trotted toward the bow to thrill over the bump of the boat's snub nose against the lofty swaying piles and the swash of the brown waves heaped before her as she sidled into place. He was carried by the herd on into the station.
He did not notice the individual people in his exultation as he heard the great chords of the station's paean. The vast roof roared as the iron coursers stamped titanic hoofs of scorn at the little stay-at-home.
That is a washed-out hint of how the poets might describe Mr. Wrenn's passion. What he said was "Gee!"
He strolled by the lists of destinations hung on the track gates. Chicago (the plains! the Rockies! sunset over mining-camps!), Washington, and the magic Southland—thither the iron horses would be galloping, their swarthy smoke manes whipped back by the whirlwind, pounding out with clamorous strong hoofs their sixty miles an hour. Very well. In time he also would mount upon the iron coursers and charge upon Chicago and the Southland; just as soon as he got ready.
Then he headed for Cortlandt Street; for Long Island, City. finally, the Navy Yard. Along his way were the docks of the tramp steamers where he might ship as steward in the all-promising Sometime. He had never done anything so reckless as actually to ask a skipper for the chance to go a-sailing, but he had once gone into a mission society's free shipping-office on West Street where a disapproving elder had grumped at him, "Are you a sailor? No? Can't do anything for you, my friend. Are you saved?" He wasn't going to risk another horror like that, yet when the golden morning of Sometime dawned he certainly was going to go cruising off to palm-bordered lagoons.
As he walked through Long Island City he contrived conversations with the sailors he passed. It would have surprised a Norwegian bos'un's mate to learn that he was really a gun-runner, and that, as a matter of fact, he was now telling yarns of the Spanish Main to the man who slid deprecatingly by him.
Mr. Wrenn envied the jackies on the training-ship and carelessly went to sea as the President's guest in the admiral's barge and was frightened by the stare of a sauntering shop-girl and arrived home before dusk, to Mrs. Zapp's straitened approval.
Dusk made incantations in his third-floor-front. Pleasantly fagged in those slight neat legs, after his walk, Mr. Wrenn sat in the wicker rocker by the window, patting his scrubby tan mustache and reviewing the day's wandering. When the gas was lighted he yearned over pictures in a geographical magazine for a happy hour, then yawned to himself, "Well-l-l, Willum, guess it's time to crawl into the downy."
He undressed and smoothed his ready-made suit on the rocking-chair back. Sitting on the edge of his bed, quaint in his cotton night-gown, like a rare little bird of dull plumage, he rubbed his head sleepily. Um-m-m-m-m! How tired he was! He went to open the window. Then his tamed heart leaped into a waltz, and he forgot third-floor-fronts and sleepiness.
Through the window came the chorus of fog-horns on North River. "Boom-m-m!" That must be a giant liner, battling up through the fog. (It was a ferry.) A liner! She'd be roaring just like that if she were off the Banks! If he were only off the Banks! "Toot! Toot!" That was a tug. "Whawn-n-n!" Another liner. The tumultuous chorus repeated to him all the adventures of the day.
He dropped upon the bed again and stared absently at his clothes. Out of the inside coat pocket stuck the unopened letter from Cousin John.
He read a paragraph of it. He sprang from the bed and danced a tarantella, pranced in his cottony nightgown like a drunken Yaqui. The letter announced that the flinty farm at Parthenon, left to Mr. Wrenn by his father, had been sold. Its location on a river bluff had made it valuable to the Parthenon Chautauqua Association. There was now to his credit in the Parthenon National Bank nine hundred and forty dollars!
He was wealthy, then. He had enough to stalk up and down the earth for many venturesome (but economical) months, till he should learn the trade of wandering, and its mysterious trick of living without a job or a salary.
He crushed his pillow with burrowing head and sobbed excitedly, with a terrible stomach-sinking and a chill shaking. Then he laughed and wanted to—but didn't—rush into the adjacent hall room and tell the total stranger there of this world-changing news. He listened in the hall to learn whether the Zapps were up, but heard nothing; returned and cantered up and down, gloating on a map of the world.
"Gee! It's happened. I could travel all the time. I guess I won't be—very much—afraid of wrecks and stuff. . . . Things like that. . . . Gee! If I don't get to bed I'll be late at the office in the morning!"
Mr. Wrenn lay awake till three o'clock. Monday morning he felt rather ashamed of having done so eccentric a thing. But he got to the office on time. He was worried with the cares of wealth, with having to decide when to leave for his world-wanderings, but he was also very much aware that office managers are disagreeable if one isn't on time. All morning he did nothing more reckless than balance his new fortune, plus his savings, against steamship fares on a waste half-sheet of paper.
The noon-hour was not The Job's, but his, for exploration of the parlous lands of romance that lie hard by Twenty-eighth Street and Sixth Avenue. But he had to go out to lunch with Charley Carpenter, the assistant bookkeeper, that he might tell the news. As for Charley, He needed frequently to have a confidant who knew personally the tyrannous ways of the office manager, Mr. Guilfogle.
Mr. Wrenn and Charley chose (that is to say, Charley chose) a table at Drubel's Eating House. Mr. Wrenn timidly hinted, "I've got some big news to tell you."
But Charley interrupted, "Say, did you hear old Goglefogle light into me this morning? I won't stand for it. Say, did you hear him—the old—"
"What was the trouble, Charley?"
"Trouble? Nothing was the trouble. Except with old Goglefogle. I made one little break in my accounts. Why, if old Gogie had to keep track of seventy-'leven accounts and watch every single last movement of a fool girl that can't even run the adding-machine, why, he'd get green around the gills. He'd never do anything but make mistakes! Well, I guess the old codger must have had a bum breakfast this morning. Wanted some exercise to digest it. Me, I was the exercise—I was the goat. He calls me in, and he calls me down, and me—well, just lemme tell you, Wrenn, I calls his bluff!"
Charley Carpenter stopped his rapid tirade, delivered with quick head-shakes like those of palsy, to raise his smelly cigarette to his mouth. Midway in this slow gesture the memory of his wrongs again overpowered him. He flung his right hand back on the table, scattering cigarette ashes, jerked back his head with the irritated patience of a nervous martyr, then waved both hands about spasmodically, while he snarled, with his cheaply handsome smooth face more flushed than usual:
"Sure! You can just bet your bottom dollar I let him see from the way I looked at him that I wasn't going to stand for no more monkey business. You bet I did!... I'll fix him, I will. You just watch me. (Hey, Drubel, got any lemon merang? Bring me a hunk, will yuh?) Why, Wrenn, that cross-eyed double-jointed fat old slob, I'll slam him in the slats so hard some day—I will, you just watch my smoke. If it wasn't for that messy wife of mine—I ought to desert her, and I will some day, and—"
"Yuh." Mr. Wrenn was curt for a second.... "I know how it is, Charley. But you'll get over it, honest you will. Say, I've got some news. Some land that my dad left me has sold for nearly a thousand plunks. By the way, this lunch is on me. Let me pay for it, Charley."
Charley promised to let him pay, quite readily. And, expanding, said:
"Great, Wrenn! Great! Lemme congratulate you. Don't know anybody I'd rather've had this happen to. You're a meek little baa-lamb, but you've got lots of stuff in you, old Wrennski. Oh say, by the way, could. you let me have fifty cents till Saturday? Thanks. I'll pay it back sure. By golly! you're the only man around the office that 'preciates what a double duck-lined old fiend old Goglefogle is, the old—"
"Aw, gee, Charley, I wish you wouldn't jump on Guilfogle so hard. He's always treated me square."
"Gogie—square? Yuh, he's square just like a hoop. You know it, too, Wrenn. Now that you've got enough money so's you don't need to be scared about the job you'll realize it, and you'll want to soak him, same's I do. Say!" The impulse of a great idea made him gleefully shake his fist sidewise. "Say! Why don't you soak him? They bank on you at the Souvenir Company. Darn' sight more than you realize, lemme tell you. Why, you do about half the stock-keeper's work, sides your own. Tell you what you do. You go to old Goglefogle and tell him you want a raise to twenty-five, and want it right now. Yes, by golly, thirty! You're worth that, or pretty darn' near it, but 'course old Goglefogle'll never give it to you. He'll threaten to fire you if you say a thing more about it. You can tell him to go ahead, and then where'll he be? Guess that'll call his bluff some!"
"Yes, but, Charley, then if Guilfogle feels he can't pay me that much—you know he's responsible to the directors; he can't do everything he wants to—why, he'll just have to fire me, after I've talked to him like that, whether he wants to or not. And that'd leave us—that'd leave them—without a sales clerk, right in the busy season."
"Why, sure, Wrenn; that's what we want to do. If you go it 'd leave 'em without just about two men. Bother 'em like the deuce. It 'd bother Mr. Mortimer X. Y. Guglefugle most of all, thank the Lord. He wouldn't know where he was at—trying to break in a man right in the busy season. Here's your chance. Come on, kid; don't pass it up."
"Oh gee, Charley, I can't do that. You wouldn't want me to try to hurt the Souvenir Company after being there for—lemme see, it must be seven years."
"Well, maybe you like to get your cute little nose rubbed on the grindstone! I suppose you'd like to stay on at nineteen per for the rest of your life."
"Aw, Charley, don't get sore; please don't! I'd like to get off, all right—like to go traveling, and stuff like that. Gee! I'd like to wander round. But I can't cut out right in the bus—"
"But can't you see, you poor nut, you won't be leaving 'em—they'll either pay you what they ought to or lose you."
"Oh, I don't know about that, Charley.
"Charley was making up for some uncertainty as to his own logic by beaming persuasiveness, and Mr. Wrenn was afraid of being hypnotized. "No, no!" he throbbed, rising.
"Well, all right!" snarled Charley, "if you like to be Gogie's goat.... Oh, you're all right, Wrennski. I suppose you had ought to stay, if you feel you got to.... Well, so long. I've got to beat it over and buy a pair of socks before I go back."
Mr. Wrenn crept out of Drubel's behind him, very melancholy. Even Charley admitted that he "had ought to stay," then; and what chance was there of persuading the dread Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle that he wished to be looked upon as one resigning? Where, then, any chance of globe-trotting; perhaps for months he would remain in slavery, and he had hoped just that morning— One dreadful quarter-hour with Mr. Guilfogle and he might be free. He grinned to himself as he admitted that this was like seeing Europe after merely swimming the mid-winter Atlantic.
Well, he had nine minutes more, by his two-dollar watch; nine minutes of vagabondage. He gazed across at a Greek restaurant with signs in real Greek letters like "ruins at—well, at Aythens." A Chinese chop-suey den with a red-and-yellow carved dragon, and at an upper window a squat Chinaman who might easily be carrying a kris, "or whatever them Chink knives are," as he observed for the hundredth time he had taken this journey. A rotisserie, before whose upright fender of scarlet coals whole ducks were happily roasting to a shiny brown. In a furrier's window were Siberian foxes' skins (Siberia! huts of "awful brave convicks"; the steely Northern Sea; guards in blouses, just as he'd seen them at an Academy of Music play) and a polar bear (meaning, to him, the Northern Lights, the long hike, and the igloo at night). And the florists! There were orchids that (though he only half knew it, and that all inarticulately) whispered to him of jungles where, in the hot hush, he saw the slumbering python and—"What was it in that poem, that, Mandalay, thing? was it about jungles? Anyway:
"'Them garlicky smells, And the sunshine and the palms and the bells.'"
He had to hurry back to the office. He stopped only to pat the head of a florist's delivery horse that looked wistfully at him from the curb. "Poor old fella. What you thinking about? Want to be a circus horse and wander? Le's beat it together. You can't, eh? Poor old fella!"
At three-thirty, the time when it seems to office persons that the day's work never will end, even by a miracle, Mr. Wrenn was shaky about his duty to the firm. He was more so after an electrical interview with the manager, who spent a few minutes, which he happened to have free, in roaring "I want to know why" at Mr. Wrenn. There was no particular "why" that he wanted to know; he was merely getting scientific efficiency out of employees, a phrase which Mr. Guilfogle had taken from a business magazine that dilutes efficiency theories for inefficient employers.
At five-twenty the manager summoned him, complimented him on nothing in particular, and suggested that he stay late with Charley Carpenter and the stock-keeper to inventory a line of desk-clocks which they were closing out.
As Mr. Wrenn returned to his desk he stopped at a window on the corridor and coveted the bright late afternoon. The cornices of lofty buildings glistened; the sunset shone fierily through the glass-inclosed layer-like upper floors. He wanted to be out there in the streets with the shopping crowds. Old Goglefogle didn't consider him; why should he consider the firm?
HE WALKS WITH MISS THERESA
As he left the Souvenir Company building after working late at taking inventory and roamed down toward Fourteenth Street, Mr. Wrenn felt forlornly aimless. The worst of it all was that he could not go to the Nickelorion for moving pictures; not after having been cut by the ticket-taker. Then, there before him was the glaring sign of the Nickelorion tempting him; a bill with "Great Train Robbery Film Tonight" made his heart thump like stair-climbing—and he dashed at the ticket-booth with a nickel doughtily extended. He felt queer about the scalp as the cashier girl slid out a coupon. Why did she seem to be watching him so closely? As he dropped the ticket in the chopper he tried to glance away from the Brass-button Man. For one- nineteenth of a second he kept his head turned. It turned back of itself; he stared full at the man, half bowed—and received a hearty absent-minded nod and a "Fine evenin'." He sang to himself a monotonous song of great joy. When he stumbled over the feet of a large German in getting to a seat, he apologized as though he were accustomed to laugh easily with many friends.
The train-robbery film was—well, he kept repeating "Gee!" to himself pantingly. How the masked men did sneak, simply sneak and sneak, behind the bushes! Mr. Wrenn shrank as one of them leered out of the picture at him. How gallantly the train dashed toward the robbers, to the spirit-stirring roll of the snare-drum. The rush from the bushes followed; the battle with detectives concealed in the express-car. Mr. Wrenn was standing sturdily and shooting coolly with the slender hawk-faced Pinkerton man in puttees; with him he leaped to horse and followed the robbers through the forest. He stayed through the whole program twice to see the train robbery again.
As he started to go out he found the ticket-taker changing his long light-blue robe of state for a highly commonplace sack-coat without brass buttons. In his astonishment at seeing how a Highness could be transformed into an every-day man, Mr. Wrenn stopped, and, having stopped, spoke:
"Uh—that was quite a—quite a picture—that train robbery. Wasn't it."
"Yuh, I guess—Now where's the devil and his wife flew away to with my hat? Them guys is always swiping it. Picture, mister? Why, I didn't see it no more 'n—Say you, Pink Eye, say you crab-footed usher, did you swipe my hat? Ain't he the cut-up, mister! Ain't both them ushers the jingling sheepsheads, though! Being cute and hiding my hat in the box-office. Picture? I don't get no chance to see any of 'em. Funny, ain't it?—me barking for 'em like I was the grandmother of the guy that invented 'em, and not knowing whether the train robbery—Now who stole my going-home shoes?... Why, I don't know whether the train did any robbing or not!"
He slapped Mr. Wrenn on the back, and the sales clerk's heart bounded in comradeship. He was surprised into declaring:
"Say—uh—I bowed to you the other night and you—well, honestly, you acted like you never saw me."
"Well, well, now, and that's what happens to me for being the dad of five kids and a she-girl and a tom-cat. Sure, I couldn't 've seen you. Me, I was probably that busy with fambly cares—I was probably thinking who was it et the lemon pie on me—was it Pete or Johnny, or shall I lick 'em both together, or just bite me wife."
Mr. Wrenn knew that the ticket-taker had never, never really considered biting his wife. He knew! His nod and grin and "That's the idea!" were urbanely sophisticated. He urged:
"Oh yes, I'm sure you didn't intend to hand me the icy mitt. Say! I'm thirsty. Come on over to Moje's and I'll buy you a drink."
He was aghast at this abyss of money-spending into which he had leaped, and the Brass-button Man was suspiciously wondering what this person wanted of him; but they crossed to the adjacent saloon, a New York corner saloon, which of course "glittered" with a large mirror, heaped glasses, and a long shining foot-rail on which, in bravado, Mr. Wrenn placed his Cum-Fee-Best shoe.
"Uh?" said the bartender.
"Rye, Jimmy," said the Brass-button Man.
"Uh-h-h-h-h," said Mr. Wrenn, in a frightened diminuendo, now that—wealthy citizen though he had become—he was in danger of exposure as a mollycoddle who couldn't choose his drink properly. "Stummick been hurting me. Guess I'd better just take a lemonade."
"You're the brother-in-law to a wise one," commented the Brass-button Man. "Me, I ain't never got the sense to do the traffic cop on the booze. The old woman she says to me, 'Mory,' she says, 'if you was in heaven and there was a pail of beer on one side and a gold harp on the other,' she says, 'and you was to have your pick, which would you take?' And what 'd yuh think I answers her?"
"The beer," said the bartender. "She had your number, all right."
"Not on your tin-type," declared the ticket-taker.
"'Me?' I says to her. 'Me? I'd pinch the harp and pawn it for ten growlers of Dutch beer and some man-sized rum!'"
"Hee, hee hee!" grinned Mr. Wrenn.
"Ha, ha, ha!" grumbled the bartender.
"Well-l-l," yawned the ticket-taker, "the old woman'll be chasing me best pants around the flat, if she don't have me to chase, pretty soon. Guess I'd better beat it. Much obliged for the drink, Mr. Uh. So long, Jimmy."
Mr. Wrenn set off for home in a high state of exhilaration which, he noticed, exactly resembled driving an aeroplane, and went briskly up the steps of the Zapps' genteel but unexciting residence. He was much nearer to heaven than West Sixteenth Street appears to be to the outsider. For he was an explorer of the Arctic, a trusted man on the job, an associate of witty Bohemians. He was an army lieutenant who had, with his friend the hawk-faced Pinkerton man, stood off bandits in an attack on a train. He opened and closed the door gaily.
He was an apologetic little Mr. Wrenn. His landlady stood on the bottom step of the hall stairs in a bunchy Mother Hubbard, groaning:
"Mist' Wrenn, if you got to come in so late, Ah wish you wouldn't just make all the noise you can. Ah don't see why Ah should have to be kept awake all night. Ah suppose it's the will of the Lord that whenever Ah go out to see Mrs. Muzzy and just drink a drop of coffee Ah must get insomina, but Ah don't see why anybody that tries to be a gennulman should have to go and bang the door and just rack mah nerves."
He slunk up-stairs behind Mrs. Zapp's lumbering gloom.
"There's something I wanted to tell you, Mrs. Zapp—something that's happened to me. That's why I was out celebrating last evening and got in so late." Mr. Wrenn was diffidently sitting in the basement.
"Yes," dryly, "Ah noticed you was out late, Mist' Wrenn."
"You see, Mrs. Zapp, I—uh—my father left me some land, and it's been sold for about one thousand plunks."
" Ah'm awful' glad, Mist' Wrenn," she said, funereally. "Maybe you'd like to take that hall room beside yours now. The two rooms'd make a nice apartment." (She really said "nahs 'pahtmun', "you understand.)
"Why, I hadn't thought much about that yet." He felt guilty, and was profusely cordial to Lee Theresa Zapp, the factory forewoman, who had just thumped down-stairs.
Miss Theresa was a large young lady with a bust, much black hair, and a handsome disdainful discontented face. She waited till he had finished greeting her, then sniffed, and at her mother she snarled:
"Ma, they went and kept us late again to-night. I'm getting just about tired of having a bunch of Jews and Yankees think I'm a nigger. Uff! I hate them!"
"T'resa, Mist' Wrenn's just inherited two thousand dollars, and he's going to take that upper hall room." Mrs. Zapp beamed with maternal fondness at the timid lodger.
But the gallant friend of Pinkertons faced her—for the first time. "Waste his travel-money?" he was inwardly exclaiming as he said:
"But I thought you had some one in that room. I heard som—"
"That fellow! Oh, he ain't going to be perm'nent. And he promised me—So you can have—"
"I'm awful sorry, Mrs. Zapp, but I'm afraid I can't take it. Fact is, I may go traveling for a while."
"Co'se you'll keep your room if you do, Mist' Wrenn?"
"Why, I'm afraid I'll have to give it up, but—Oh, I may not be going for a long long while yet; and of course I'll be glad to come—I'll want to come back here when I get back to New York. I won't be gone for more than, oh, probably not more than a year anyway, and—"
"And Ah thought you said you was going to be perm'nent!" Mrs. Zapp began quietly, prefatory to working herself up into hysterics. "And here Ah've gone and had your room fixed up just for you, and new paper put in, and you've always been talking such a lot about how you wanted your furniture arranged, and Ah've gone and made all mah plans—"
Mr. Wrenn had been a shyly paying guest of the Zapps for four years. That famous new paper had been put up two years before. So he spluttered: "Oh, I'm awfully sorry. I wish—uh—I don't—"
"Ah'd thank you, Mist' Wrenn, if you could conveniently let me know before you go running off and leaving me with empty rooms, with the landlord after the rent, and me turning away people that 'd pay more for the room, because Ah wanted to keep it for you. And people always coming to see you and making me answer the door and—"
Even the rooming-house worm was making small worm-like sounds that presaged turning. Lee Theresa snapped just in time, "Oh, cut it out, Ma, will you!" She had been staring at the worm, for he had suddenly become interesting and adorable and, incidentally, an heir. "I don't see why Mr. Wrenn ain't giving us all the notice we can expect. He said he mightn't be going for a long time."
"Oh!" grunted Mrs. Zapp. "So mah own flesh and blood is going to turn against me!"
She rose. Her appearance of majesty was somewhat lessened by the creak of stays, but her instinct for unpleasantness was always good. She said nothing as she left them, and she plodded up-stairs with a train of sighs.
Mr. Wrenn looked as though sudden illness had overpowered him. But Theresa laughed, and remarked: "You don't want to let Ma get on her high horse, Mr. Wrenn. She's a bluff."
With much billowing of the lower, less stiff part of her garments, she sailed to the cloudy mirror over the magazine-filled bookcase and inspected her cap of false curls, with many prods of her large firm hands which flashed with Brazilian diamonds. Though he had heard the word "puffs," he did not know that half her hair was false. He stared at it. Though in disgrace, he felt the honor of knowing so ample and rustling a woman as Miss Lee Theresa.
"But, say, I wish I could 've let her know I was going earlier, Miss Zapp. I didn't know it myself, but it does seem like a mean trick. I s'pose I ought to pay her something extra."
"Why, child, you won't do anything of the sort. Ma hasn't got a bit of kick coming. You've always been awful nice, far as I can see." She smiled lavishly. "I went for a walk to-night.... I wish all those men wouldn't stare at a girl so. I'm sure I don't see why they should stare at me."
Mr. Wrenn nodded, but that didn't seem to be the right comment, so he shook his head, then looked frightfully embarrassed.
"I went by that Armenian restaurant you were telling me about, Mr. Wrenn. Some time I believe I'll go dine there." Again she paused.
He said only, "Yes, it is a nice place."
Remarking to herself that there was no question about it, after all, he was a little fool, Theresa continued the siege. "Do you dine there often?"
"Oh yes. It is a nice place."
"Could a lady go there?"
"Why, yes, I—"
"I should think so," he finished.
"Oh!... I do get so awfully tired of the greasy stuff Ma and Goaty dish up. They think a big stew that tastes like dish-water is a dinner, and if they do have anything I like they keep on having the same thing every day till I throw it in the sink. I wish I could go to a restaurant once in a while for a change, but of course—I dunno's it would be proper for a lady to go alone even there. What do you think? Oh dear!" She sat brooding sadly.
He had an inspiration. Perhaps Miss Theresa could be persuaded to go out to dinner with him some time. He begged:
"Gee, I wish you'd let me take you up there some evening, Miss Zapp."
"Now, didn't I tell you to call me 'Miss Theresa'? Well, I suppose you just don't want to be friends with me. Nobody does." She brooded again.
"Oh, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Honest I didn't. I've always thought you'd think I was fresh if I called you 'Miss Theresa,' and so I—"
"Why, I guess I could go up to the Armenian with you, perhaps. When would you like to go? You know I've always got lots of dates but I—um—let's see, I think I could go to-morrow evening."
"Let's do it! Shall I call for you, Miss—uh—Theresa?"
"Yes, you may if you'll be a good boy. Good night." She departed with an air of intimacy.
Mr. Wrenn scuttled to the Nickelorion, and admitted to the Brass-button Man that he was "feeling pretty good 's evening."
He had never supposed that a handsome creature like Miss Theresa could ever endure such a "slow fellow" as himself. For about one minute he considered with a chill the question of whether she was agreeable because of his new wealth, but reproved the fiend who was making the suggestion; for had he not heard her mention with great scorn a second cousin who had married an old Yankee for his money? That just settled that, he assured himself, and scowled at a passing messenger-boy for having thus hinted, but hastily grimaced as the youngster showed signs of loud displeasure.
The Armenian restaurant is peculiar, for it has foreign food at low prices, and is below Thirtieth Street, yet it has not become Bohemian. Consequently it has no bad music and no crowd of persons from Missouri whose women risk salvation for an evening by smoking cigarettes. Here prosperous Oriental merchants, of mild natures and bandit faces, drink semi-liquid Turkish coffee and discuss rugs and revolutions.
In fact, the place seemed so unartificial that Theresa, facing Mr. Wrenn, was bored. And the menu was foreign without being Society viands. It suggested rats' tails and birds' nests, she was quite sure. She would gladly have experimented with pate de foie gras or alligator-pears, but what social prestige was there to be gained at the factory by remarking that she "always did like pahklava"? Mr. Wrenn did not see that she was glancing about discontentedly, for he was delightedly listening to a lanky young man at the next table who was remarking to his vis-a-vis, a pale slithey lady in black, with the lines of a torpedo-boat: "Try some of the stuffed vine-leaves, child of the angels, and some wheat pilaf and some bourma. Your wheat pilaf is a comfortable food and cheering to the stomach of man. Simply won-derful. As for the bourma, he is a merry beast, a brown rose of pastry with honey cunningly secreted between his petals and—Here! Waiter! Stuffed vine-leaves, wheat p'laf, bourm'—twice on the order and hustle it."
"When you get through listening to that man—he talks like a bar of soap—tell me what there is on this bill of fare that's safe to eat," snorted Theresa.
"I thought he was real funny," insisted Mr. Wrenn.... "I'm sure you'll like shish kebab and s—"
"Shish kibub! Who ever heard of such a thing! Haven't they any—oh, I thought they'd have stuff they call 'Turkish Delight' and things like that."
"'Turkish Delights' is cigarettes, I think."
"Well, I know it isn't, because I read about it in a story in a magazine. And they were eating it. On the terrace.... What is that shish kibub?"
"Kebab.... It's lamb roasted on skewers. I know you'll like it."
"Well, I'm not going to trust any heathens to cook my meat. I'll take some eggs and some of that—what was it the idiot was talking about—berma?"
"Bourma.... That's awful nice. With honey. And do try some of the stuffed peppers and rice."
"All right," said Theresa, gloomily.
Somehow Mr. Wrenn wasn't vastly transformed even by the possession of the two thousand dollars her mother had reported. He was still "funny and sort of scary," not like the overpowering Southern gentlemen she supposed she remembered. Also, she was hungry. She listened with stolid glumness to Mr. Wrenn's observation that that was "an awful big hat the lady with the funny guy had on."
He was chilled into quietness till Papa Gouroff, the owner of the restaurant, arrived from above-stairs. Papa Gouroff was a Russian Jew who had been a police spy in Poland and a hotel proprietor in Mogador, where he called himself Turkish and married a renegade Armenian. He had a nose like a sickle and a neck like a blue-gum nigger. He hoped that the place would degenerate into a Bohemian restaurant where liberal clergymen would think they were slumming, and barbers would think they were entering society, so he always wore a fez and talked bad Arabic. He was local color, atmosphere, Bohemian flavor. Mr. Wrenn murmured to Theresa:
"Say, do you see that man? He's Signor Gouroff, the owner. I've talked to him a lot of times. Ain't he great! Golly! look at that beak of his. Don't he make you think of kiosks and hyrems and stuff? Gee! What does he make you think—"
"He's got on a dirty collar.... That waiter's awful slow.... Would you please be so kind and pour me another glass of water?"
But when she reached the honied bourma she grew tolerant toward Mr. Wrenn. She had two cups of cocoa and felt fat about the eyes and affectionate. She had mentioned that there were good shows in town. Now she resumed:
"Have you been to 'The Gold Brick' yet?"
"No, I—uh—I don't go to the theater much."
"Gwendolyn Muzzy was telling me that this was the funniest show she'd ever seen. Tells how two confidence men fooled one of those terrible little jay towns. Shows all the funny people, you know, like they have in jay towns.... I wish I could go to it, but of course I have to help out the folks at home, so— Well.... Oh dear."
"Say! I'd like to take you, if I could. Let's go—this evening!" He quivered with the adventure of it.
"Why, I don't know; I didn't tell Ma I was going to be out. But—oh, I guess it would be all right if I was with you."
"Let's go right up and get some tickets."
"All right." Her assent was too eager, but she immediately corrected that error by yawning, "I don't suppose I'd ought to go, but if you want to—"
They were a very lively couple as they walked up. He trickled sympathy when she told of the selfishness of the factory girls under her and the meanness of the superintendent over her, and he laughed several times as she remarked that the superintendent "ought to be boiled alive—that's what all lobsters ought to be," so she repeated the epigram with such increased jollity that they swung up to the theater in a gale; and, once facing the ennuied ticket-seller, he demanded dollar seats just as though he had not been doing sums all the way up to prove that seventy-five-cent seats were the best he could afford.
The play was a glorification of Yankee smartness. Mr. Wrenn was disturbed by the fact that the swindler heroes robbed quite all the others, but he was stirred by the brisk romance of money-making. The swindlers were supermen—blonde beasts with card indices and options instead of clubs. Not that Mr. Wrenn made any observations regarding supermen. But when, by way of commercial genius, the swindler robbed a young night clerk Mr. Wrenn whispered to Theresa, "Gee! he certainly does know how to jolly them, heh?"
"Sh-h-h-h-h-h!" said Theresa.
Every one made millions, victims and all, in the last act, as a proof of the social value of being a live American business man. As they oozed along with the departing audience Mr. Wrenn gurgled:
"That makes me feel just like I'd been making a million dollars." Masterfully, he proposed, "Say, let's go some place and have something to eat."
"Let's—I almost feel as if I could afford Rector's, after that play; but, anyway, let's go to Allaire's."
Though he was ashamed of himself for it afterward, he was almost haughty toward his waiter, and ordered Welsh rabbits and beer quite as though he usually breakfasted on them. He may even have strutted a little as he hailed a car with an imaginary walking-stick. His parting with Miss Theresa was intimate; he shook her hand warmly.
As he undressed he hoped that he had not been too abrupt with the waiter, "poor cuss." But he lay awake to think of Theresa's hair and hand-clasp; of polished desks and florid gentlemen who curtly summoned bank-presidents and who had—he tossed the bedclothes about in his struggle to get the word—who had a punch!
He would do that Great Traveling of his in the land of Big Business!
The five thousand princes of New York to protect themselves against the four million ungrateful slaves had devised the sacred symbols of dress-coats, large houses, and automobiles as the outward and visible signs of the virtue of making money, to lure rebels into respectability and teach them the social value of getting a dollar away from that inhuman, socially injurious fiend, Some One Else. That Our Mr. Wrenn should dream for dreaming's sake was catastrophic; he might do things because he wanted to, not because they were fashionable; whereupon, police forces and the clergy would disband, Wall Street and Fifth Avenue would go thundering down. Hence, for him were provided those Y. M. C. A. night bookkeeping classes administered by solemn earnest men of thirty for solemn credulous youths of twenty-nine; those sermons on content; articles on "building up the rundown store by live advertising"; Kiplingesque stories about playing the game; and correspondence-school advertisements that shrieked, "Mount the ladder to thorough knowledge—the path to power and to the fuller pay-envelope."
To all these Mr. Wrenn had been indifferent, for they showed no imagination. But when he saw Big Business glorified by a humorous melodrama, then The Job appeared to him as picaresque adventure, and he was in peril of his imagination.
The eight-o'clock sun, which usually found a wildly shaving Mr. Wrenn, discovered him dreaming that he was the manager of the Souvenir Company. But that was a complete misunderstanding of the case. The manager of the Souvenir Company was Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle, and he called Mr. Wrenn in to acquaint him with that fact when the new magnate started his career in Big Business by arriving at the office one hour late.
What made it worse, considered Mr. Guilfogle, was that this Wrenn had a higher average of punctuality than any one else in the office, which proved that he knew better. Worst of all, the Guilfogle family eggs had not been scrambled right at breakfast; they had been anemic. Mr. Guilfogle punched the buzzer and set his face toward the door, with a scowl prepared.
Mr. Wrenn seemed weary, and not so intimidated as usual.
"Look here, Wrenn; you were just about two hours late this morning. What do you think this office is? A club or a reading-room for hoboes? Ever occur to you we'd like to have you favor us with a call now and then so's we can learn how you're getting along at golf or whatever you're doing these days?"
There was a sample baby-shoe office pin-cushion on the manager's desk. Mr. Wrenn eyed this, and said nothing. The manager:
"Hear what I said? D'yuh think I'm talking to give my throat exercise?"
Mr. Wrenn was stubborn. "I couldn't help it."
"Couldn't help—! And you call that an explanation! I know just exactly what you're thinking, Wrenn; you're thinking that because I've let you have a lot of chances to really work into the business lately you're necessary to us, and not simply an expense—"
"Oh no, Mr. Guilfogle; honest, I didn't think—"
"Well, hang it, man, you want to think. What do you suppose we pay you a salary for? And just let me tell you, Wrenn, right here and now, that if you can't condescend to spare us some of your valuable time, now and then, we can good and plenty get along without you."
An old tale, oft told and never believed; but it interested Mr. Wrenn just now.
"I'm real glad you can get along without me. I've just inherited a big wad of money! I think I'll resign! Right now!"
Whether he or Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle was the more aghast at hearing him bawl this no one knows. The manager was so worried at the thought of breaking in a new man that his eye-glasses slipped off his poor perspiring nose. He begged, in sudden tones of old friendship:
"Why, you can't be thinking of leaving us! Why, we expect to make a big man of you, Wrenn. I was joking about firing you. You ought to know that, after the talk we had at Mouquin's the other night. You can't be thinking of leaving us! There's no end of possibilities here."
"Sorry," said the dogged soldier of dreams.
"Why—" wailed that hurt and astonished victim of ingratitude, Mr. Guilfogle.
"I'll leave the middle of June. That's plenty of notice," chirruped Mr. Wrenn.
At five that evening Mr. Wrenn dashed up to the Brass-button Man at his station before the Nickelorion, crying:
"Say! You come from Ireland, don't you?"
"Now what would you think? Me—oh no; I'm a Chinaman from Oshkosh!"
"No, honest, straight, tell me. I've got a chance to travel. What d'yuh think of that? Ain't it great! And I'm going right away. What I wanted to ask you was, what's the best place in Ireland to see?"
"Donegal, o' course. I was born there."
Hauling from his pocket a pencil and a worn envelope, Mr. Wrenn joyously added the new point of interest to a list ranging from Delagoa Bay to Denver.
He skipped up-town, looking at the stars. He shouted as he saw the stacks of a big Cunarder bulking up at the end of Fourteenth Street. He stopped to chuckle over a lithograph of the Parthenon at the window of a Greek bootblack's stand. Stars—steamer—temples, all these were his. He owned them now. He was free.
Lee Theresa sat waiting for him in the basement livingroom till ten-thirty while he was flirting with trainboards at the Grand Central. Then she went to bed, and, though he knew it not, that prince of wealthy suitors, Mr. Wrenn, had entirely lost the heart and hand of Miss Zapp of the F. F. V.
He stood before the manager's god-like desk on June 14, 1910. Sadly:
"Good-by, Mr. Guilfogle. Leaving to-day. I wish—Gee! I wish I could tell you, you know—about how much I appreciate—"
The manager moved a wire basket of carbon copies of letters from the left side of his desk to the right, staring at them thoughtfully; rearranged his pencils in a pile before his ink-well; glanced at the point of an indelible pencil with a manner of startled examination; tapped his desk-blotter with his knuckles; then raised his eyes. He studied Mr. Wrenn, smiled, put on the look he used when inviting him out for a drink. Mr. Guilfogle was essentially an honest fellow, harshened by The Job; a well-satisfied victim, with the imagination clean gone out of him, so that he took follow-up letters and the celerity of office-boys as the only serious things in the world. He was strong, alive, not at all a bad chap, merely efficient.
"Well, Wrenn, I suppose there's no use of rubbing it in. Course you know what I think about the whole thing. It strikes me you're a fool to leave a good job. But, after all, that's your business, not ours. We like you, and when you get tired of being just a bum, why, come back; we'll always try to have a job open for you. Meanwhile I hope you'll have a mighty good time, old man. Where you going? When d'yuh start out?"
"Why, first I'm going to just kind of wander round generally. Lots of things I'd like to do. I think I'll get away real soon now.... Thank you awfully, Mr. Guilfogle, for keeping a place open for me. Course I prob'ly won't need it, but gee! I sure do appreciate it."
"Say, I don't believe you're so plumb crazy about leaving us, after all, now that the cards are all dole out. Straight now, are you?"
"Yes, sir, it does make me feel a little blue—been here so long. But it'll be awful good to get out at sea."
"Yuh, I know, Wrenn. I'd like to go traveling myself—I suppose you fellows think I wouldn't care to go bumming around like you do and never have to worry about how the firm's going to break even. But—Well, good-by, old man, and don't forget us. Drop me a line now and then and let me know how you're getting along. Oh say, if you happen to see any novelties that look good let us hear about them. But drop me a line, anyway. We'll always be glad to hear from you. Well, good-by and good luck. Sure and drop me a line."
In the corner which had been his home for eight years Mr. Wrenn could not devise any new and yet more improved arrangement of the wire baskets and clips and desk reminders, so he cleaned a pen, blew some gray eraser-dust from under his iron ink-well standard, and decided that his desk was in order; reflecting:
He'd been there a long time. Now he could never come back to it, no matter how much he wanted to.... How good the manager had been to him. Gee! he hadn't appreciated how considerut Guilfogle was!
He started down the corridor on a round of farewells to the boys. "Too bad he hadn't never got better acquainted with them, but it was too late now. Anyway, they were such fine jolly sports; they'd never miss a stupid guy like him."
Just then he met them in the corridor, all of them except Guilfogle, headed by Rabin, the traveling salesman, and Charley Carpenter, who was bearing a box of handkerchiefs with a large green-and-crimson-paper label.
"Gov'nor Wrenn," orated Charley, "upon this suspicious occasion we have the pleasure of showing by this small token of our esteem our 'preciation of your untiring efforts in the investigation of Mortimer R. Gugglegiggle of the Graft Trust and—
"Say, old man, joking aside, we're mighty sorry you're going and—uh—well, we'd like to give you something to show we're—uh—mighty sorry you're going. We thought of a box of cigars, but you don't smoke much; anyway, these han'k'chiefs'll help to show—Three cheers for Wrenn, fellows!"
Afterward, by his desk, alone, holding the box of handkerchiefs with the resplendent red-and-green label, Mr. Wrenn began to cry.
He was lying abed at eight-thirty on a morning of late June, two weeks after leaving the Souvenir Company, deliberately hunting over his pillow for cool spots, very hot and restless in the legs and enormously depressed in the soul. He would have got up had there been anything to get up for. There was nothing, yet he felt uneasily guilty. For two weeks he had been afraid of losing, by neglect, the job he had already voluntarily given up. So there are men whom the fear of death has driven to suicide.
Nearly every morning he had driven himself from bed and had finished shaving before he was quite satisfied that he didn't have to get to the office on time. As he wandered about during the day he remarked with frequency, "I'm scared as teacher's pet playing hookey for the first time, like what we used to do in Parthenon." All proper persons were at work of a week-day afternoon. What, then, was he doing walking along the street when all morality demanded his sitting at a desk at the Souvenir Company, being a little more careful, to win the divine favor of Mortimer R. Guilfogle?
He was sure that if he were already out on the Great Traveling he would be able to "push the buzzer on himself and get up his nerve." But he did not know where to go. He had planned so many trips these years that now he couldn't keep any one of them finally decided on for more than an hour. It rather stretched his short arms to embrace at once a gay old dream of seeing Venice and the stern civic duty of hunting abominably dangerous beasts in the Guatemala bush.
The expense bothered him, too. He had through many years so persistently saved money for the Great Traveling that he begrudged money for that Traveling itself. Indeed, he planned to spend not more than $300 of the $1,235.80 he had now accumulated, on his first venture, during which he hoped to learn the trade of wandering.
He was always influenced by a sentence he had read somewhere about "one of those globe-trotters you meet carrying a monkey-wrench in Calcutta, then in raiment and a monocle at the Athenaeum." He would learn some Kiplingy trade that would teach him the use of astonishingly technical tools, also daring and the location of smugglers' haunts, copra islands, and whaling-stations with curious names.
He pictured himself shipping as third engineer at the Manihiki Islands or engaged for taking moving pictures of an aeroplane flight in Algiers. He had to get away from Zappism. He had to be out on the iron seas, where the battle-ships and liners went by like a marching military band. But he couldn't get started.
Once beyond Sandy Hook, he would immediately know all about engines and fighting. It would help, he was certain, to be shanghaied. But no matter how wistfully, no matter how late at night he timorously forced himself to loiter among unwashed English stokers on West Street, he couldn't get himself molested except by glib persons wishing ten cents "for a place to sleep."
When he had dallied through breakfast that particular morning he sat about. Once he had pictured sitting about reading travel-books as a perfect occupation. But it concealed no exciting little surprises when he could be a Sunday loafer on any plain Monday. Furthermore, Goaty never made his bed till noon, and the gray-and-brown-patched coverlet seemed to trail all about the disordered room.
Midway in a paragraph he rose, threw One Hundred Ways to See California on the tumbled bed, and ran away from Our Mr. Wrenn. But Our Mr. Wrenn pursued him along the wharves, where the sun glared on oily water. He had seen the wharves twelve times that fortnight. In fact, he even cried viciously that "he had seen too blame much of the blame wharves."
Early in the afternoon he went to a moving-picture show, but the first sight of the white giant figures bulking against the gray background was wearily unreal; and when the inevitable large-eyed black-braided Indian maiden met the canonical cow-puncher he threshed about in his seat, was irritated by the nervous click of the machine and the hot stuffiness of the room, and ran away just at the exciting moment when the Indian chief dashed into camp and summoned his braves to the war-path.
Perhaps he could hide from thought at home.
As he came into his room he stood at gaze like a kitten of good family beholding a mangy mongrel asleep in its pink basket. For on his bed was Mrs. Zapp, her rotund curves stretching behind her large flat feet, whose soles were toward him. She was noisily somnolent; her stays creaked regularly as she breathed, except when she moved slightly and groaned.
Guiltily he tiptoed down-stairs and went snuffling along the dusty unvaried brick side streets, wondering where in all New York he could go. He read minutely a placard advertising an excursion to the Catskills, to start that evening. For an exhilarated moment he resolved to go, but—" oh, there was a lot of them rich society folks up there." He bought a morning American and, sitting in Union Square, gravely studied the humorous drawings.
He casually noticed the "Help Wanted" advertisements.
They suggested an uninteresting idea that somehow he might find it economical to go venturing as a waiter or farm-hand.
And so he came to the gate of paradise:
MEN WANTED. Free passage on cattle-boats to Liverpool feeding cattle. Low fee. Easy work. Fast boats. Apply International and Atlantic Employment Bureau,—Greenwich Street.
"Gee!" he cried, "I guess Providence has picked out my first hike for me."
HE STARTS FOR THE LAND OF ELSEWHERE
The International and Atlantic Employment Bureau is a long dirty room with the plaster cracked like the outlines on a map, hung with steamship posters and the laws of New York regarding employment offices, which are regarded as humorous by the proprietor, M. Baraieff, a short slender ejaculatory person with a nervous black beard, lively blandness, and a knowledge of all the incorrect usages of nine languages. Mr. Wrenn edged into this junk-heap of nationalities with interested wonder. M. Baraieff rubbed his smooth wicked hands together and bowed a number of times.
Confidentially leaning across the counter, Mr. Wrenn murmured: "Say, I read your ad. about wanting cattlemen. I want to make a trip to Europe. How—?"
"Yes, yes, yes, yes, Mistaire. I feex you up right away. Ten dollars pleas-s-s-s."
"Well, what does that entitle me to?"
"I tole you I feex you up. Ha! Ha! I know it; you are a gentleman; you want a nice leetle trip on Europe. Sure. I feex you right up. I send you off on a nice easy cattleboat where you won't have to work much hardly any. Right away it goes. Ten dollars pleas-s-s-s."
"But when does the boat start? Where does it start from?" Mr. Wrenn was a bit confused. He had never met a man who grimaced so politely and so rapidly.
"Next Tuesday I send you right off."
Mr. Wrenn regretfully exchanged ten dollars for a card informing Trubiggs, Atlantic Avenue, Boston, that Mr. "Ren" was to be "ship 1st poss. catel boat right away and charge my acct. fee paid Baraieff." Brightly declaring "I geef you a fine ship," M. Baraieff added, on the margin of the card, in copper-plate script, "Best ship, easy work." He caroled, "Come early next Tuesday morning, "and bowed out Mr. Wrenn like a Parisian shopkeeper. The row of waiting servant-girls curtsied as though they were a hedge swayed by the wind, while Mr. Wrenn self-consciously hurried to get past them.
He was too excited to worry over the patient and quiet suffering with which Mrs. Zapp heard the announcement that he was going. That Theresa laughed at him for a cattleman, while Goaty, in the kitchen, audibly observed that "nobody but a Yankee would travel in a pig-pen, "merely increased his joy in moving his belongings to a storage warehouse.
Tuesday morning, clad in a sweater-jacket, tennis-shoes, an old felt hat, a khaki shirt and corduroys, carrying a suit-case packed to bursting with clothes and Baedekers, with one hundred and fifty dollars in express-company drafts craftily concealed, he dashed down to Baraieff's hole. Though it was only eight-thirty, he was afraid he was going to be late.
Till 2 P.M. he sat waiting, then was sent to the Joy Steamship Line wharf with a ticket to Boston and a letter to Trubiggs's shipping-office: "Give bearer Ren as per inclosed receet one trip England catel boat charge my acct. SYLVESTRE BARAIEFF, N. Y."
Standing on the hurricane-deck of the Joy Line boat, with his suit-case guardedly beside him, he crooned to himself tuneless chants with the refrain, "Free, free, out to sea. Free, free, that's me!" He had persuaded himself that there was practically no danger of the boat's sinking or catching fire. Anyway, he just wasn't going to be scared. As the steamer trudged up East River he watched the late afternoon sun brighten the Manhattan factories and make soft the stretches of Westchester fields. (Of course, he "thrilled.")
He had no state-room, but was entitled to a place in a twelve-berth room in the hold. Here large farmers without their shoes were grumpily talking all at once, so he returned to the deck; and the rest of the night, while the other passengers snored, he sat modestly on a canvas stool, unblinkingly gloating over a sea-fabric of frosty blue that was shot through with golden threads when they passed lighthouses or ships. At dawn he was weary, peppery-eyed, but he viewed the flooding light with approval.
At last, Boston.
The front part of the shipping-office on Atlantic Avenue was a glass-inclosed room littered with chairs, piles of circulars, old pictures of Cunarders, older calendars, and directories to be ranked as antiques. In the midst of these remains a red-headed Yankee of forty, smoking a Pittsburg stogie, sat tilted back in a kitchen chair, reading the Boston American. Mr. Wrenn delivered M. Baraieff's letter and stood waiting, holding his suit-case, ready to skip out and go aboard a cattle-boat immediately.
The shipping-agent glanced through the letter, then snapped:
"Bryff's crazy. Always sends 'em too early. Wrenn, you ought to come to me first. What j'yuh go to that Jew first for? Here he goes and sends you a day late—or couple days too early. 'F you'd got here last night I could 've sent you off this morning on a Dominion Line boat. All I got now is a Leyland boat that starts from Portland Saturday. Le's see; this is Wednesday. Thursday, Friday—you'll have to wait three days. Now you want me to fix you up, don't you? I might not be able to get you off till a week from now, but you'd like to get off on a good boat Saturday instead, wouldn't you?"
"Oh yes; I would. I—"
"Well, I'll try to fix it. You can see for yourself; boats ain't leaving every minute just to please Bryff. And it's the busy season. Bunches of rah-rah boys wanting to cross, and Canadians wanting to get back to England, and Jews beating it to Poland—to sling bombs at the Czar, I guess. And lemme tell you, them Jews is all right. They're willing to pay for a man's time and trouble in getting 'em fixed up, and so—"
With dignity Mr. William Wrenn stated, "Of course I'll be glad to—uh—make it worth your while."
"I thought you was a gentleman. Hey, Al! Al!" An underfed boy with few teeth, dusty and grown out of his trousers, appeared. "Clear off a chair for the gentleman. Stick that valise on top my desk.... Sit down, Mr. Wrenn. You see, it's like this: I'll tell you in confidence, you understand. This letter from Bryff ain't worth the paper it's written on. He ain't got any right to be sending out men for cattle-boats. Me, I'm running that. I deal direct with all the Boston and Portland lines. If you don't believe it just go out in the back room and ask any of the cattlemen out there."
"Yes, I see," Mr. Wrenn observed, as though he were ill, and toed an old almanac about the floor. "Uh—Mr.—Trubiggs, is it?"
"Yump. Yump, my boy. Trubiggs. Tru by name and true by nature. Heh?"
This last was said quite without conviction. It was evidently a joke which had come down from earlier years. Mr. Wrenn ignored it and declared, as stoutly as he could:
"You see, Mr. Trubiggs, I'd be willing to pay you—"
"I'll tell you just how it is, Mr. Wrenn. I ain't one of these Sheeny employment bureaus; I'm an American; I like to look out for Americans. Even if you didn't come to me first I'll watch out for your interests, same's if they was mine. Now, do you want to get fixed up with a nice fast boat that leaves Portland next Saturday, just a couple of days' wait?"
"Oh yes, I do, Mr. Trubiggs."
"Well, my list is really full—men waiting, too—but if it 'd be worth five dollars to you to—"
"Here's the five dollars."
The shipping-agent was disgusted. He had estimated from Mr. Wrenn's cheap sweater-jacket and tennis-shoes that he would be able to squeeze out only three or four dollars, and here he might have made ten. More in sorrow than in anger:
"Of course you understand I may have a lot of trouble working you in on the next boat, you coming as late as this. Course five dollars is less 'n what I usually get." He contemptuously tossed the bill on his desk. "If you want me to slip a little something extra to the agents—"
Mr. Wrenn was too head-achy to be customarily timid. "Let's see that. Did I give you only five dollars?" Receiving the bill, he folded it with much primness, tucked it into the pocket of his shirt, and remarked:
"Now, you said you'd fix me up for five dollars. Besides, that letter from Baraieff is a form with your name printed on it; so I know you do business with him right along. If five dollars ain't enough, why, then you can just go to hell, Mr. Trubiggs; yes, sir, that's what you can do. I'm just getting tired of monkeying around. If five is enough I'll give this back to you Friday, when you send me off to Portland, if you give me a receipt. There!" He almost snarled, so weary and discouraged was he.
Now, Trubiggs was a warm-hearted rogue, and he liked the society of what he called "white people." He laughed, poked a Pittsburg stogie at Mr. Wrenn, and consented:
"All right. I'll fix you up. Have a smoke. Pay me the five Friday, or pay it to my foreman when he puts you on the cattle-boat. I don't care a rap which. You're all right. Can't bluff you, eh?"
And, further bluffing Mr. Wrenn, he suggested to him a lodging-house for his two nights in Boston. "Tell the clerk that red-headed Trubiggs sent you, and he'll give you the best in the house. Tell him you're a friend of mine."
When Mr. Wrenn had gone Mr. Trubiggs remarked to some one, by telephone, "'Nother sucker coming, Blaugeld. Now don't try to do me out of my bit or I'll cap for some other joint, understand? Huh? Yuh, stick him for a thirty-five-cent bed. S' long."
The caravan of Trubiggs's cattlemen who left for Portland by night steamer, Friday, was headed by a bulky-shouldered boss, who wore no coat and whose corduroy vest swung cheerfully open. A motley troupe were the cattlemen—Jews with small trunks, large imitation-leather valises and assorted bundles, a stolid prophet-bearded procession of weary men in tattered derbies and sweat-shop clothes.
There were Englishmen with rope-bound pine chests. A lewd-mouthed American named Tim, who said he was a hatter out of work, and a loud-talking tough called Pete mingled with a straggle of hoboes.
The boss counted the group and selected his confidants for the trip to Portland—Mr. Wrenn and a youth named Morton.
Morton was a square heavy-fleshed young man with stubby hands, who, up to his eyes, was stolid and solid as a granite monument, but merry of eye and hinting friendliness in his tousled soft-brown hair. He was always wielding a pipe and artfully blowing smoke through his nostrils.
Mr. Wrenn and he smiled at each other searchingly as the Portland boat pulled out, and a wind swept straight from the Land of Elsewhere.
After dinner Morton, smoking a pipe shaped somewhat like a golf-stick head and somewhat like a toad, at the rail of the steamer, turned to Mr. Wrenn with:
"Classy bunch of cattlemen we've got to go with. Not!... My name's Morton."
"I'm awful glad to meet you, Mr. Morton. My name's Wrenn."
"Glad to be off at last, ain't you?"
"Golly! I should say I am!"
"So'm I. Been waiting for this for years. I'm a clerk for the P. R. R. in N' York."
"I come from New York, too."
"So? Lived there long?"
"Uh-huh, I—" began Mr. Wrenn.
"Well, I been working for the Penn. for seven years now. Now I've got a vacation of three months. On me. Gives me a chance to travel a little. Got ten plunks and a second-class ticket back from Glasgow. But I'm going to see England and France just the same. Prob'ly Germany, too."
"Second class? Why don't you go steerage, and save?"
"Oh, got to come back like a gentleman. You know. You're from New York, too, eh?"
"Yes, I'm with an art-novelty company on Twenty-eighth Street. I been wanting to get away for quite some time, too.... How are you going to travel on ten dollars?"
"Oh, work m' way. Cinch. Always land on my feet. Not on my uppers, at that. I'm only twenty-eight, but I've been on my own, like the English fellow says, since I was twelve.... Well, how about you? Traveling or going somewhere?"
"Just traveling. I'm glad we're going together, Mr. Morton. I don't think most of these cattlemen are very nice. Except for the old Jews. They seem to be fine old coots. They make you think of—oh—you know—prophets and stuff. Watch 'em, over there, making tea. I suppose the steamer grub ain't kosher. I seen one on the Joy Line saying his prayers—I suppose he was—in a kind of shawl."
"Well, well! You don't say so!"
Distinctly, Mr. Wrenn felt that he was one of the gentlemen who, in Kipling, stand at steamer rails exchanging observations on strange lands. He uttered, cosmopolitanly:
"Gee! Look at that sunset. Ain't that grand!"
"Holy smoke! it sure is. I don't see how anybody could believe in religion after looking at that."
Shocked and confused at such a theory, yet excited at finding that Morton apparently had thoughts, Mr. Wrenn piped: "Honestly, I don't see that at all. I don't see how anybody could disbelieve anything after a sunset like that. Makes me believe all sorts of thing—gets me going—I imagine I'm all sorts of places—on the Nile and so on."
"Sure! That's just it. Everything's so peaceful and natural. Just is. Gives the imagination enough to do, even by itself, without having to have religion."
"Well," reflected Mr. Wrenn, "I don't hardly ever go to church. I don't believe much in all them highbrow sermons that don't come down to brass tacks—ain't got nothing to do with real folks. But just the same, I love to go up to St. Patrick's Cathedral. Why, I get real thrilled—I hope you won't think I'm trying to get high-browed, Mr. Morton."
"Why, no. Cer'nly not. I understand. Gwan."
"It gets me going when I look down the aisle at the altar and see the arches and so on. And the priests in their robes—they look so—so way up—oh, I dunno just how to say it—so kind of uplifted."
"Sure, I know. Just the esthetic end of the game. Esthetic, you know—the beauty part of it."
"Yuh, sure, that's the word. 'Sthetic, that's what it is. Yes, 'sthetic. But, just the same, it makes me feel's though I believed in all sorts of things."
"Tell you what I believe may happen, though," exulted Morton. "This socialism, and maybe even these here International Workers of the World, may pan out as a new kind of religion. I don't know much about it, I got to admit. But looks as though it might be that way. It's dead certain the old political parties are just gangs—don't stand for anything except the name. But this comrade business—good stunt. Brotherhood of man—real brotherhood. My idea of religion. One that is because it's got to be, not just because it always has been. Yessir, me for a religion of guys working together to make things easier for each other."
"You bet!" commented Mr. Wrenn, and they smote each other upon the shoulder and laughed together in a fine flame of shared hope.
"I wish I knew something about this socialism stuff," mused Mr. Wrenn, with tilted head, examining the burnt-umber edges of the sunset.
"Great stuff. Not working for some lazy cuss that's inherited the right to boss you. And international brotherhood, not just neighborhoods. New thing."
"Gee! I surely would like that, awfully," sighed Mr. Wrenn.
He saw the processional of world brotherhood tramp steadily through the paling sunset; saffron-vestured Mandarin marching by flax-faced Norseman and languid South Sea Islander—the diverse peoples toward whom he had always yearned.
"But I don't care so much for some of these ranting street-corner socialists, though," mused Morton. "The kind that holler 'Come get saved our way or go to hell! Keep off scab guides to prosperity.'"
"Yuh, sure. Ha! ha! ha!"
Morton soon had another thought. "Still, same time, us guys that do the work have got to work out something for ourselves. We can't bank on the rah-rah boys that wear eye-glasses and condescend to like us, cause they think we ain't entirely too dirty for 'em to associate with, and all these writer guys and so on. That's where you got to hand it to the street-corner shouters."
"Yes, that's so. Y' right there, I guess, all right."
They looked at each other and laughed again; initiated friends; tasting each other's souls. They shared sandwiches and confessions. When the other passengers had gone to bed and the sailors on watch seemed lonely the two men were still declaring, shyly but delightedly, that "things is curious."
In the damp discomfort of early morning the cattlemen shuffled from the steamer at Portland and were herded to a lunch-room by the boss, who cheerfully smoked his corn-cob and ejaculated to Mr. Wrenn and Morton such interesting facts as:
"Trubiggs is a lobster. You don't want to let the bosses bluff you aboard the Merian. They'll try to chase you in where the steers'll gore you. The grub'll be—"
"What grub do you get?"
"Scouse and bread. And water."
"Beef stew without the beef. Oh, the grub'll be rotten. Trubiggs is a lobster. He wouldn't be nowhere if 't wa'n't for me."
Mr. Wrenn appreciated England's need of roast beef, but he timidly desired not to be gored by steers, which seemed imminent, before breakfast coffee. The streets were coldly empty, and he was sleepy, and Morton was silent. At the restaurant, sitting on a high stool before a pine counter, he choked over an egg sandwich made with thick crumby slices of a bread that had no personality to it. He roved forlornly about Portland, beside the gloomy pipe-valiant Morton, fighting two fears: the company might not need all of them this trip, and he might have to wait; secondly, if he incredibly did get shipped and started for England the steers might prove dreadfully dangerous. After intense thinking he ejaculated, "Gee! it's be bored or get gored." Which was much too good not to tell Morton, so they laughed very much, and at ten o'clock were signed on for the trip and led, whooping, to the deck of the S.S. Merian.
Cattle were still struggling down the chutes from the dock. The dirty decks were confusingly littered with cordage and the cattlemen's luggage. The Jewish elders stared sepulchrally at the wilderness of open hatches and rude passageways, as though they were prophesying death.
But Mr. Wrenn, standing sturdily beside his suit-case to guard it, fawned with romantic love upon the rusty iron sides of their pilgrims' caravel; and as the Merian left the wharf with no more handkerchief-waving or tears than attends a ferry's leaving he mumbled:
"Free, free, out to sea. Free, free, that's me!"
Then, "Gee!... Gee whittakers!"
HE BECOMES THE GREAT LITTLE BILL WRENN
When the Merian was three days out from Portland the frightened cattleman stiff known as "Wrennie" wanted to die, for he was now sure that the smell of the fo'c'sle, in which he was lying on a thin mattress of straw covered with damp gunny-sacking, both could and would become daily a thicker smell, a stronger smell, a smell increasingly diverse and deadly.
Though it was so late as eight bells of the evening, Pete, the tough factory hand, and Tim, the down-and-out hatter, were still playing seven-up at the dirty fo'c'sle table, while McGarver, under-boss of the Morris cattle gang, lay in his berth, heavily studying the game and blowing sulphurous fumes of Lunch Pail Plug Cut tobacco up toward Wrennie.
Pete, the tough, was very evil. He sneered. He stole. He bullied. He was a drunkard and a person without cleanliness of speech. Tim, the hatter, was a loud-talking weakling, under Pete's domination. Tim wore a dirty rubber collar without a tie, and his soul was like his neckware.
McGarver, the under-boss, was a good shepherd among the men, though he had recently lost the head foremanship by a spree complicated with language and violence. He looked like one of the Merian bulls, with broad short neck and short curly hair above a thick-skinned deeply wrinkled low forehead. He never undressed, but was always seen, as now, in heavy shoes and blue-gray woolen socks tucked over the bottoms of his overalls. He was gruff and kind and tyrannical and honest.
Wrennie shook and drew his breath sharply as the foghorn yawped out its "Whawn-n-n-n" again, reminding him that they were still in the Bank fog; that at any moment they were likely to be stunned by a heart-stopping crash as some liner's bow burst through the fo'c'sle's walls in a collision. Bow-plates buckling in and shredding, the in-thrust of an enormous black bow, water flooding in, cries and—However, the horn did at least show that They were awake up there on the bridge to steer him through the fog; and weren't They experienced seamen? Hadn't They made this trip ever so many times and never got killed? Wouldn't They take all sorts of pains on Their own account as well as on his?
But—just the same, would he really ever get to England alive? And if he did, would he have to go on holding his breath in terror for nine more days? Would the fo'c'sle always keep heaving up—up—up, like this, then down—down—down, as though it were going to sink?
"How do yuh like de fog-horn, Wrennie?"
Pete, the tough, spit the question up at him from a corner of his mouth. "Hope we don't run into no ships."
He winked at Tim, the weakling hatter, who took the cue and mourned:
"I'm kinda afraid we're going to, ain't you, Pete? The mate was telling me he was scared we would."
"Sures' t'ing you know. Hey, Wrennie, wait till youse have to beat it down-stairs and tie up a bull in a storm. Hully gee! Youse'll last quick on de game, Birdie!"
"Oh, shut up," snapped Wrennie's friend Morton.
But Morton was seasick; and Pete, not heeding him, outlined other dangers which he was happily sure were threatening them. Wrennie shivered to hear that the "grub 'd git worse." He writhed under Pete's loud questions about his loss, in some cattle-pen, of the gray-and-scarlet sweater-jacket which he had proudly and gaily purchased in New York for his work on the ship. And the card-players assured him that his suit-case, which he had intrusted to the Croac ship's carpenter, would probably be stolen by "Satan."
Satan! Wrennie shuddered still more. For Satan, the gaunt-jawed hook-nosed rail-faced head foreman, diabolically smiling when angry, sardonically sneering when calm, was a lean human whip-lash. Pete sniggered. He dilated upon Satan's wrath at Wrennie for not "coming across" with ten dollars for a bribe as he, Pete, had done.
(He lied, of course. And his words have not been given literally. They were not beautiful words.)
McGarver, the straw-boss, would always lie awake to enjoy a good brisk indecent story, but he liked Wrennie's admiration of him, so, lunging with his bull-like head out of his berth, he snorted:
"Hey, you, Pete, it's time to pound your ear. Cut it out."
Wrennie called down, sternly, "I ain't no theological student, Pete, and I don't mind profanity, but I wish you wouldn't talk like a garbage-scow."
"Hey, Poicy, did yuh bring your dictionary?" Pete bellowed to Tim, two feet distant from him. To Wrennie, "Say, Gladys, ain't you afraid one of them long woids like, t'eological, will turn around and bite you right on the wrist?"
"Dry up!" irritatedly snapped a Canadian.
"Aw, cut it out, you—," groaned another.
"Shut up," added McGarver, the straw-boss. "Both of you." Raging: "Gwan to bed, Pete, or I'll beat your block clean off. I mean it, see? Hear me?"
Yes, Pete heard him. Doubtless the first officer on the bridge heard, too, and perhaps the inhabitants of Newfoundland. But Pete took his time in scratching the back of his neck and stretching before he crawled into his berth. For half an hour he talked softly to Tim, for Wrennie's benefit, stating his belief that Satan, the head boss, had once thrown overboard a Jew much like Wrennie, and was likely thus to serve Wrennie, too. Tim pictured the result when, after the capsizing of the steamer which would undoubtedly occur if this long sickening motion kept up, Wrennie had to take to a boat with Satan.
The fingers of Wrennie curled into shape for strangling some one.
When Pete was asleep he worried off into thin slumber.
Then, there was Satan, the head boss, jerking him out of his berth, stirring his cramped joints to another dawn of drudgery—two hours of work and two of waiting before the daily eight-o'clock insult called breakfast. He tugged on his shoes, marveling at Mr. Wrenn's really being there, at his sitting in cramped stoop on the side of a berth in a dark filthy place that went up and down like a freight elevator, subject to the orders of persons whom he did not in the least like.
Through the damp gray sea-air he staggered hungrily along the gangway to the hatch amidships, and trembled down the iron ladder to McGarver's crew 'tween-decks.
First, watering the steers. Sickened by walking backward with pails of water he carried till he could see and think of nothing in the world save the water-butt, the puddle in front of it, and the cattlemen mercilessly dipping out pails there, through centuries that would never end. How those steers did drink!
McGarver's favorite bull, which he called "the Grenadier," took ten pails and still persisted in leering with dripping gray mouth beyond the headboard, trying to reach more. As Wrennie was carrying a pail to the heifers beyond, the Grenadier's horn caught and tore his overalls. The boat lurched. The pail whirled out of his hand. He grasped an iron stanchion and kicked the Grenadier in the jaw till the steer backed off, a reformed character.
McGarver cheered, for such kicks were a rule of the game.
"Good work," ironically remarked Tim, the weakling hatter.
"You go to hell," snapped Wrennie, and Tim looked much more respectful.
But Wrennie lost this credit before they had finished feeding out the hay, for he grew too dizzy to resent Tim's remarks.
Straining to pitch forkfuls into the pens while the boat rolled, slopping along the wet gangway, down by the bunkers of coal, where the heat seemed a close-wound choking shroud and the darkness was made only a little pale by light coming through dust-caked port-holes, he sneezed and coughed and grunted till he was exhausted. The floating bits of hay-dust were a thousand impish hands with poisoned nails scratching at the roof of his mouth. His skin prickled all over. He constantly discovered new and aching muscles. But he wabbled on until he finished the work, fifteen minutes after Tim had given out.