RUGGLES of RED GAP
Harry Leon Wilson
[Dedication] TO HELEN COOKE WILSON
At 6:30 in our Paris apartment I had finished the Honourable George, performing those final touches that make the difference between a man well turned out and a man merely dressed. In the main I was not dissatisfied. His dress waistcoats, it is true, no longer permit the inhalation of anything like a full breath, and his collars clasp too closely. (I have always held that a collar may provide quite ample room for the throat without sacrifice of smartness if the depth be at least two and one quarter inches.) And it is no secret to either the Honourable George or our intimates that I have never approved his fashion of beard, a reddish, enveloping, brushlike affair never nicely enough trimmed. I prefer, indeed, no beard at all, but he stubbornly refuses to shave, possessing a difficult chin. Still, I repeat, he was not nearly impossible as he now left my hands.
"Dining with the Americans," he remarked, as I conveyed the hat, gloves, and stick to him in their proper order.
"Yes, sir," I replied. "And might I suggest, sir, that your choice be a grilled undercut or something simple, bearing in mind the undoubted effects of shell-fish upon one's complexion?" The hard truth is that after even a very little lobster the Honourable George has a way of coming out in spots. A single oyster patty, too, will often spot him quite all over.
"What cheek! Decide that for myself," he retorted with a lame effort at dignity which he was unable to sustain. His eyes fell from mine. "Besides, I'm almost quite certain that the last time it was the melon. Wretched things, melons!"
Then, as if to divert me, he rather fussily refused the correct evening stick I had chosen for him and seized a knobby bit of thornwood suitable only for moor and upland work, and brazenly quite discarded the gloves.
"Feel a silly fool wearing gloves when there's no reason!" he exclaimed pettishly.
"Quite so, sir," I replied, freezing instantly.
"Now, don't play the juggins," he retorted. "Let me be comfortable. And I don't mind telling you I stand to win a hundred quid this very evening."
"I dare say," I replied. The sum was more than needed, but I had cause to be thus cynical.
"From the American Johnny with the eyebrows," he went on with a quite pathetic enthusiasm. "We're to play their American game of poker—drawing poker as they call it. I've watched them play for near a fortnight. It's beastly simple. One has only to know when to bluff."
"A hundred pounds, yes, sir. And if one loses——"
He flashed me a look so deucedly queer that it fair chilled me.
"I fancy you'll be even more interested than I if I lose," he remarked in tones of a curious evenness that were somehow rather deadly. The words seemed pregnant with meaning, but before I could weigh them I heard him noisily descending the stairs. It was only then I recalled having noticed that he had not changed to his varnished boots, having still on his feet the doggish and battered pair he most favoured. It was a trick of his to evade me with them. I did for them each day all that human boot-cream could do, but they were things no sensitive gentleman would endure with evening dress. I was glad to reflect that doubtless only Americans would observe them.
So began the final hours of a 14th of July in Paris that must ever be memorable. My own birthday, it is also chosen by the French as one on which to celebrate with carnival some one of those regrettable events in their own distressing past.
To begin with, the day was marked first of all by the breezing in of his lordship the Earl of Brinstead, brother of the Honourable George, on his way to England from the Engadine. More peppery than usual had his lordship been, his grayish side-whiskers in angry upheaval and his inflamed words exploding quite all over the place, so that the Honourable George and I had both perceived it to be no time for admitting our recent financial reverse at the gaming tables of Ostend. On the contrary, we had gamely affirmed the last quarter's allowance to be practically untouched—a desperate stand, indeed! But there was that in his lordship's manner to urge us to it, though even so he appeared to be not more than half deceived.
"No good greening me!" he exploded to both of us. "Tell in a flash—gambling, or a woman—typing-girl, milliner, dancing person, what, what! Guilty faces, both of you. Know you too well. My word, what, what!"
Again we stoutly protested while his lordship on the hearthrug rocked in his boots and glared. The Honourable George gamely rattled some loose coin of the baser sort in his pockets and tried in return for a glare of innocence foully aspersed. I dare say he fell short of it. His histrionic gifts are but meagre.
"Fools, quite fools, both of you!" exploded his lordship anew. "And, make it worse, no longer young fools. Young and a fool, people make excuses. Say, 'Fool? Yes, but so young!' But old and a fool—not a word to say, what, what! Silly rot at forty." He clutched his side-whiskers with frenzied hands. He seemed to comb them to a more bristling rage.
"Dare say you'll both come croppers. Not surprise me. Silly old George, course, course! Hoped better of Ruggles, though. Ruggles different from old George. Got a brain. But can't use it. Have old George wed to a charwoman presently. Hope she'll be a worker. Need to be—support you both, what, what!"
I mean to say, he was coming it pretty thick, since he could not have forgotten that each time I had warned him so he could hasten to save his brother from distressing mesalliances. I refer to the affair with the typing-girl and to the later entanglement with a Brixton milliner encountered informally under the portico of a theatre in Charing Cross Road. But he was in no mood to concede that I had thus far shown a scrupulous care in these emergencies. Peppery he was, indeed. He gathered hat and stick, glaring indignantly at each of them and then at us.
"Greened me fair, haven't you, about money? Quite so, quite so! Not hear from you then till next quarter. No telegraphing—no begging letters. Shouldn't a bit know what to make of them. Plenty you got to last. Say so yourselves." He laughed villainously here. "Morning," said he, and was out.
"Old Nevil been annoyed by something," said the Honourable George after a long silence. "Know the old boy too well. Always tell when he's been annoyed. Rather wish he hadn't been."
So we had come to the night of this memorable day, and to the Honourable George's departure on his mysterious words about the hundred pounds.
Left alone, I began to meditate profoundly. It was the closing of a day I had seen dawn with the keenest misgiving, having had reason to believe it might be fraught with significance if not disaster to myself. The year before a gypsy at Epsom had solemnly warned me that a great change would come into my life on or before my fortieth birthday. To this I might have paid less heed but for its disquieting confirmation on a later day at a psychic parlour in Edgware Road. Proceeding there in company with my eldest brother-in-law, a plate-layer and surfaceman on the Northern (he being uncertain about the Derby winner for that year), I was told by the person for a trifle of two shillings that I was soon to cross water and to meet many strange adventures. True, later events proved her to have been psychically unsound as to the Derby winner (so that my brother-in-law, who was out two pounds ten, thereby threatened to have an action against her); yet her reference to myself had confirmed the words of the gypsy; so it will be plain why I had been anxious the whole of this birthday.
For one thing, I had gone on the streets as little as possible, though I should naturally have done that, for the behaviour of the French on this bank holiday of theirs is repugnant in the extreme to the sane English point of view—I mean their frivolous public dancing and marked conversational levity. Indeed, in their soberest moments, they have too little of British weight. Their best-dressed men are apparently turned out not by menservants but by modistes. I will not say their women are without a gift for wearing gowns, and their chefs have unquestionably got at the inner meaning of food, but as a people at large they would never do with us. Even their language is not based on reason. I have had occasion, for example, to acquire their word for bread, which is "pain." As if that were not wild enough, they mispronounce it atrociously. Yet for years these people have been separated from us only by a narrow strip of water!
By keeping close to our rooms, then, I had thought to evade what of evil might have been in store for me on this day. Another evening I might have ventured abroad to a cinema palace, but this was no time for daring, and I took a further precaution of locking our doors. Then, indeed, I had no misgiving save that inspired by the last words of the Honourable George. In the event of his losing the game of poker I was to be even more concerned than he. Yet how could evil come to me, even should the American do him in the eye rather frightfully? In truth, I had not the faintest belief that the Honourable George would win the game. He fancies himself a card-player, though why he should, God knows. At bridge with him every hand is a no-trumper. I need not say more. Also it occurred to me that the American would be a person not accustomed to losing. There was that about him.
More than once I had deplored this rather Bohemian taste of the Honourable George which led him to associate with Americans as readily as with persons of his own class; and especially had I regretted his intimacy with the family in question. Several times I had observed them, on the occasion of bearing messages from the Honourable George—usually his acceptance of an invitation to dine. Too obviously they were rather a handful. I mean to say, they were people who could perhaps matter in their own wilds, but they would never do with us.
Their leader, with whom the Honourable George had consented to game this evening, was a tall, careless-spoken person, with a narrow, dark face marked with heavy black brows that were rather tremendous in their effect when he did not smile. Almost at my first meeting him I divined something of the public man in his bearing, a suggestion, perhaps, of the confirmed orator, a notion in which I was somehow further set by the gesture with which he swept back his carelessly falling forelock. I was not surprised, then, to hear him referred to as the "Senator." In some unexplained manner, the Honourable George, who is never as reserved in public as I could wish him to be, had chummed up with this person at one of the race-tracks, and had thereafter been almost quite too pally with him and with the very curious other members of his family—the name being Floud.
The wife might still be called youngish, a bit florid in type, plumpish, with yellow hair, though to this a stain had been applied, leaving it in deficient consonance with her eyebrows; these shading grayish eyes that crackled with determination. Rather on the large side she was, forcible of speech and manner, yet curiously eager, I had at once detected, for the exactly correct thing in dress and deportment.
The remaining member of the family was a male cousin of the so-called Senator, his senior evidently by half a score of years, since I took him to have reached the late fifties. "Cousin Egbert" he was called, and it was at once apparent to me that he had been most direly subjugated by the woman whom he addressed with great respect as "Mrs. Effie." Rather a seamed and drooping chap he was, with mild, whitish-blue eyes like a porcelain doll's, a mournfully drooped gray moustache, and a grayish jumble of hair. I early remarked his hunted look in the presence of the woman. Timid and soft-stepping he was beyond measure.
Such were the impressions I had been able to glean of these altogether queer people during the fortnight since the Honourable George had so lawlessly taken them up. Lodged they were in an hotel among the most expensive situated near what would have been our Trafalgar Square, and I later recalled that I had been most interestedly studied by the so-called "Mrs. Effie" on each of the few occasions I appeared there. I mean to say, she would not be above putting to me intimate questions concerning my term of service with the Honourable George Augustus Vane-Basingwell, the precise nature of the duties I performed for him, and even the exact sum of my honourarium. On the last occasion she had remarked—and too well I recall a strange glitter in her competent eyes—"You are just the man needed by poor Cousin Egbert there—you could make something of him. Look at the way he's tied that cravat after all I've said to him."
The person referred to here shivered noticeably, stroked his chin in a manner enabling him to conceal the cravat, and affected nervously to be taken with a sight in the street below. In some embarrassment I withdrew, conscious of a cold, speculative scrutiny bent upon me by the woman.
If I have seemed tedious in my recital of the known facts concerning these extraordinary North American natives, it will, I am sure, be forgiven me in the light of those tragic developments about to ensue.
Meantime, let me be pictured as reposing in fancied security from all evil predictions while I awaited the return of the Honourable George. I was only too certain he would come suffering from an acute acid dyspepsia, for I had seen lobster in his shifty eyes as he left me; but beyond this I apprehended nothing poignant, and I gave myself up to meditating profoundly upon our situation.
Frankly, it was not good. I had done my best to cheer the Honourable George, but since our brief sojourn at Ostend, and despite the almost continuous hospitality of the Americans, he had been having, to put it bluntly, an awful hump. At Ostend, despite my remonstrance, he had staked and lost the major portion of his quarter's allowance in testing a system at the wheel which had been warranted by the person who sold it to him in London to break any bank in a day's play. He had meant to pause but briefly at Ostend, for little more than a test of the system, then proceed to Monte Carlo, where his proposed terrific winnings would occasion less alarm to the managers. Yet at Ostend the system developed such grave faults in the first hour of play that we were forced to lay up in Paris to economize.
For myself I had entertained doubts of the system from the moment of its purchase, for it seemed awfully certain to me that the vendor would have used it himself instead of parting with it for a couple of quid, he being in plain need of fresh linen and smarter boots, to say nothing of the quite impossible lounge-suit he wore the night we met him in a cab shelter near Covent Garden. But the Honourable George had not listened to me. He insisted the chap had made it all enormously clear; that those mathematical Johnnies never valued money for its own sake, and that we should presently be as right as two sparrows in a crate.
Fearfully annoyed I was at the denouement. For now we were in Paris, rather meanly lodged in a dingy hotel on a narrow street leading from what with us might have been Piccadilly Circus. Our rooms were rather a good height with a carved cornice and plaster enrichments, but the furnishings were musty and the general air depressing, notwithstanding the effect of a few good mantel ornaments which I have long made it a rule to carry with me.
Then had come the meeting with the Americans. Glad I was to reflect that this had occurred in Paris instead of London. That sort of thing gets about so. Even from Paris I was not a little fearful that news of his mixing with this raffish set might get to the ears of his lordship either at the town house or at Chaynes-Wotten. True, his lordship is not over-liberal with his brother, but that is small reason for affronting the pride of a family that attained its earldom in the fourteenth century. Indeed the family had become important quite long before this time, the first Vane-Basingwell having been beheaded by no less a personage than William the Conqueror, as I learned in one of the many hours I have been privileged to browse in the Chaynes-Wotten library.
It need hardly be said that in my long term of service with the Honourable George, beginning almost from the time my mother nursed him, I have endeavoured to keep him up to his class, combating a certain laxness that has hampered him. And most stubborn he is, and wilful. At games he is almost quite a duffer. I once got him to play outside left on a hockey eleven and he excited much comment, some of which was of a favourable nature, but he cares little for hunting or shooting and, though it is scarce a matter to be gossiped of, he loathes cricket. Perhaps I have disclosed enough concerning him. Although the Vane-Basingwells have quite almost always married the right people, the Honourable George was beyond question born queer.
Again, in the matter of marriage, he was difficult. His lordship, having married early into a family of poor lifes, was now long a widower, and meaning to remain so he had been especially concerned that the Honourable George should contract a proper alliance. Hence our constant worry lest he prove too susceptible out of his class. More than once had he shamefully funked his fences. There was the distressing instance of the Honourable Agatha Cradleigh. Quite all that could be desired of family and dower she was, thirty-two years old, a bit faded though still eager, with the rather immensely high forehead and long, thin, slightly curved Cradleigh nose.
The Honourable George at his lordship's peppery urging had at last consented to a betrothal, and our troubles for a time promised to be over, but it came to precisely nothing. I gathered it might have been because she wore beads on her gown and was interested in uplift work, or that she bred canaries, these birds being loathed by the Honourable George with remarkable intensity, though it might equally have been that she still mourned a deceased fiance of her early girlhood, a curate, I believe, whose faded letters she had preserved and would read to the Honourable George at intimate moments, weeping bitterly the while. Whatever may have been his fancied objection—that is the time we disappeared and were not heard of for near a twelvemonth.
Wondering now I was how we should last until the next quarter's allowance. We always had lasted, but each time it was a different way. The Honourable George at a crisis of this sort invariably spoke of entering trade, and had actually talked of selling motor-cars, pointing out to me that even certain rulers of Europe had frankly entered this trade as agents. It might have proved remunerative had he known anything of motor-cars, but I was more than glad he did not, for I have always considered machinery to be unrefined. Much I preferred that he be a company promoter or something of that sort in the city, knowing about bonds and debentures, as many of the best of our families are not above doing. It seemed all he could do with propriety, having failed in examinations for the army and the church, and being incurably hostile to politics, which he declared silly rot.
Sharply at midnight I aroused myself from these gloomy thoughts and breathed a long sigh of relief. Both gipsy and psychic expert had failed in their prophecies. With a lightened heart I set about the preparations I knew would be needed against the Honourable George's return. Strong in my conviction that he would not have been able to resist lobster, I made ready his hot foot-bath with its solution of brine-crystals and put the absorbent fruit-lozenges close by, together with his sleeping-suit, his bed-cap, and his knitted night-socks. Scarcely was all ready when I heard his step.
He greeted me curtly on entering, swiftly averting his face as I took his stick, hat, and top-coat. But I had seen the worst at one glance. The Honourable George was more than spotted—he was splotchy. It was as bad as that.
"Lobster and oysters," I made bold to remark, but he affected not to have heard, and proceeded rapidly to disrobe. He accepted the foot-bath without demur, pulling a blanket well about his shoulders, complaining of the water's temperature, and demanding three of the fruit-lozenges.
"Not what you think at all," he then said. "It was that cursed bar-le-duc jelly. Always puts me this way, and you quite well know it."
"Yes, sir, to be sure," I answered gravely, and had the satisfaction of noting that he looked quite a little foolish. Too well he knew I could not be deceived, and even now I could surmise that the lobster had been supported by sherry. How many times have I not explained to him that sherry has double the tonic vinosity of any other wine and may not be tampered with by the sensitive. But he chose at present to make light of it, almost as if he were chaffing above his knowledge of some calamity.
"Some book Johnny says a chap is either a fool or a physician at forty," he remarked, drawing the blanket more closely about him.
"I should hardly rank you as a Harley Street consultant, sir," I swiftly retorted, which was slanging him enormously because he had turned forty. I mean to say, there was but one thing he could take me as meaning him to be, since at forty I considered him no physician. But at least I had not been too blunt, the touch about the Harley Street consultant being rather neat, I thought, yet not too subtle for him.
He now demanded a pipe of tobacco, and for a time smoked in silence. I could see that his mind worked painfully.
"Stiffish lot, those Americans," he said at last.
"They do so many things one doesn't do," I answered.
"And their brogue is not what one could call top-hole, is it now? How often they say 'I guess!' I fancy they must say it a score of times in a half-hour."
"I fancy they do, sir," I agreed.
"I fancy that Johnny with the eyebrows will say it even oftener."
"I fancy so, sir. I fancy I've counted it well up to that."
"I fancy you're quite right. And the chap 'guesses' when he awfully well knows, too. That's the essential rabbit. To-night he said 'I guess I've got you beaten to a pulp,' when I fancy he wasn't guessing at all. I mean to say, I swear he knew it perfectly."
"You lost the game of drawing poker?" I asked coldly, though I knew he had carried little to lose.
"I lost——" he began. I observed he was strangely embarrassed. He strangled over his pipe and began anew: "I said that to play the game soundly you've only to know when to bluff. Studied it out myself, and jolly well right I was, too, as far as I went. But there's further to go in the silly game. I hadn't observed that to play it greatly one must also know when one's opponent is bluffing."
"Oh, really; quite important, I assure you. More important than one would have believed, watching their silly ways. You fancy a chap's bluffing when he's doing nothing of the sort. I'd enormously have liked to know it before we played. Things would have been so awfully different for us"—he broke off curiously, paused, then added—"for you."
"Different for me, sir?" His words seemed gruesome. They seemed open to some vaguely sinister interpretation. But I kept myself steady.
"We live and learn, sir," I said, lightly enough.
"Some of us learn too late," he replied, increasingly ominous.
"I take it you failed to win the hundred pounds, sir?"
"I have the hundred pounds; I won it—by losing."
Again he evaded my eye.
"Played, indeed, sir," said I.
"You jolly well won't believe that for long."
Now as he had the hundred pounds, I couldn't fancy what the deuce and all he meant by such prattle. I was half afraid he might be having me on, as I have known him do now and again when he fancied he could get me. I fearfully wanted to ask questions. Again I saw the dark, absorbed face of the gipsy as he studied my future.
"Rotten shift, life is," now murmured the Honourable George quite as if he had forgotten me. "If I'd have but put through that Monte Carlo affair I dare say I'd have chucked the whole business—gone to South Africa, perhaps, and set up a mine or a plantation. Shouldn't have come back. Just cut off, and good-bye to this mess. But no capital. Can't do things without capital. Where these American Johnnies have the pull of us. Do anything. Nearly do what they jolly well like to. No sense to money. Stuff that runs blind. Look at the silly beggars that have it——" On he went quite alarmingly with his tirade. Almost as violent he was as an ugly-headed chap I once heard ranting when I went with my brother-in-law to a meeting of the North Brixton Radical Club. Quite like an anarchist he was. Presently he quieted. After a long pull at his pipe he regarded me with an entire change of manner. Well I knew something was coming; coming swift as a rocketing woodcock. Word for word I put down our incredible speeches:
"You are going out to America, Ruggles."
"Yes, sir; North or South, sir?"
"North, I fancy; somewhere on the West coast—Ohio, Omaha, one of those Indian places."
"Perhaps Indiana or the Yellowstone Valley, sir."
"The chap's a sort of millionaire."
"The chap, sir?"
"Eyebrow chap. Money no end—mines, lumber, domestic animals, that sort of thing."
"Beg pardon, sir! I'm to go——"
"Chap's wife taken a great fancy to you. Would have you to do for the funny, sad beggar. So he's won you. Won you in a game of drawing poker. Another man would have done as well, but the creature was keen for you. Great strength of character. Determined sort. Hope you won't think I didn't play soundly, but it's not a forthright game. Think they're bluffing when they aren't. When they are you mayn't think it. So far as hiding one's intentions, it's a most rottenly immoral game. Low, animal cunning—that sort of thing."
"Do I understand I was the stake, sir?" I controlled myself to say. The heavens seemed bursting about my head.
"Ultimately lost you were by the very trifling margin of superiority that a hand known as a club flush bears over another hand consisting of three of the eights—not quite all of them, you understand, only three, and two other quite meaningless cards."
I could but stammer piteously, I fear. I heard myself make a wretched failure of words that crowded to my lips.
"But it's quite simple, I tell you. I dare say I could show it you in a moment if you've cards in your box."
"Thank you, sir, I'll not trouble you. I'm certain it was simple. But would you mind telling me what exactly the game was played for?"
"Knew you'd not understand at once. My word, it was not too bally simple. If I won I'd a hundred pounds. If I lost I'd to give you up to them but still to receive a hundred pounds. I suspect the Johnny's conscience pricked him. Thought you were worth a hundred pounds, and guessed all the time he could do me awfully in the eye with his poker. Quite set they were on having you. Eyebrow chap seemed to think it a jolly good wheeze. She didn't, though. Quite off her head at having you for that glum one who does himself so badly."
Dazed I was, to be sure, scarce comprehending the calamity that had befallen us.
"Am I to understand, sir, that I am now in the service of the Americans?"
"Stupid! Of course, of course! Explained clearly, haven't I, about the club flush and the three eights. Only three of them, mind you. If the other one had been in my hand, I'd have done him. As narrow a squeak as that. But I lost. And you may be certain I lost gamely, as a gentleman should. No laughing matter, but I laughed with them—except the funny, sad one. He was worried and made no secret of it. They were good enough to say I took my loss like a dead sport."
More of it followed, but always the same. Ever he came back to the sickening, concise point that I was to go out to the American wilderness with these grotesque folk who had but the most elementary notions of what one does and what one does not do. Always he concluded with his boast that he had taken his loss like a dead sport. He became vexed at last by my painful efforts to understand how, precisely, the dreadful thing had come about. But neither could I endure more. I fled to my room. He had tried again to impress upon me that three eights are but slightly inferior to the flush of clubs.
I faced my glass. My ordinary smooth, full face seemed to have shrivelled. The marks of my anguish were upon me. Vainly had I locked myself in. The gipsy's warning had borne its evil fruit. Sold, I'd been; even as once the poor blackamoors were sold into American bondage. I recalled one of their pathetic folk-songs in which the wretches were wont to make light of their lamentable estate; a thing I had often heard sung by a black with a banjo on the pier at Brighton; not a genuine black, only dyed for the moment he was, but I had never lost the plaintive quality of the verses:
"Away down South in Michigan, Where I was so happy and so gay, 'Twas there I mowed the cotton and the cane——"
How poignantly the simple words came back to me! A slave, day after day mowing his owner's cotton and cane, plucking the maize from the savannahs, yet happy and gay! Should I be equal to this spirit? The Honourable George had lost; so I, his pawn, must also submit like a dead sport.
How little I then dreamed what adventures, what adversities, what ignominies—yes, and what triumphs were to be mine in those back blocks of North America! I saw but a bleak wilderness, a distressing contact with people who never for a moment would do with us. I shuddered. I despaired.
And outside the windows gay Paris laughed and sang in the dance, ever unheeding my plight!
In that first sleep how often do we dream that our calamity has been only a dream. It was so in my first moments of awakening. Vestiges of some grotesquely hideous nightmare remained with me. Wearing the shackles of the slave, I had been mowing the corn under the fierce sun that beats down upon the American savannahs. Sickeningly, then, a wind of memory blew upon me and I was alive to my situation.
Nor was I forgetful of the plight in which the Honourable George would now find himself. He is as good as lost when not properly looked after. In the ordinary affairs of life he is a simple, trusting, incompetent duffer, if ever there was one. Even in so rudimentary a matter as collar-studs he is like a storm-tossed mariner—I mean to say, like a chap in a boat on the ocean who doesn't know what sails to pull up nor how to steer the silly rudder.
One rather feels exactly that about him.
And now he was bound to go seedy beyond description—like the time at Mentone when he dreamed a system for playing the little horses, after which for a fortnight I was obliged to nurse a well-connected invalid in order that we might last over till next remittance day. The havoc he managed to wreak among his belongings in that time would scarce be believed should I set it down—not even a single boot properly treed—and his appearance when I was enabled to recover him (my client having behaved most handsomely on the eve of his departure for Spain) being such that I passed him in the hotel lounge without even a nod—climbing-boots, with trousers from his one suit of boating flannels, a blazered golfing waistcoat, his best morning-coat with the wide braid, a hunting-stock and a motoring-cap, with his beard more than discursive, as one might say, than I had ever seen it. If I disclose this thing it is only that my fears for him may be comprehended when I pictured him being permanently out of hand.
Meditating thus bitterly, I had but finished dressing when I was startled by a knock on my door and by the entrance, to my summons, of the elder and more subdued Floud, he of the drooping mustaches and the mournful eyes of pale blue. One glance at his attire brought freshly to my mind the atrocious difficulties of my new situation. I may be credited or not, but combined with tan boots and wretchedly fitting trousers of a purple hue he wore a black frock-coat, revealing far, far too much of a blue satin "made" cravat on which was painted a cluster of tiny white flowers—lilies of the valley, I should say. Unbelievably above this monstrous melange was a rather low-crowned bowler hat.
Hardly repressing a shudder, I bowed, whereupon he advanced solemnly to me and put out his hand. To cover the embarrassing situation tactfully I extended my own, and we actually shook hands, although the clasp was limply quite formal.
"How do you do, Mr. Ruggles?" he began.
I bowed again, but speech failed me.
"She sent me over to get you," he went on. He uttered the word "She" with such profound awe that I knew he could mean none other than Mrs. Effie. It was most extraordinary, but I dare say only what was to have been expected from persons of this sort. In any good-class club or among gentlemen at large it is customary to allow one at least twenty-four hours for the payment of one's gambling debts. Yet there I was being collected by the winner at so early an hour as half-after seven. If I had been a five-pound note instead of myself, I fancy it would have been quite the same. These Americans would most indecently have sent for their winnings before the Honourable George had awakened. One would have thought they had expected him to refuse payment of me after losing me the night before. How little they seemed to realize that we were both intending to be dead sportsmen.
"Very good, sir," I said, "but I trust I may be allowed to brew the Honourable George his tea before leaving? I'd hardly like to trust to him alone with it, sir."
"Yes, sir," he said, so respectfully that it gave me an odd feeling. "Take your time, Mr. Ruggles. I don't know as I am in any hurry on my own account. It's only account of Her."
I trust it will be remembered that in reporting this person's speeches I am making an earnest effort to set them down word for word in all their terrific peculiarities. I mean to say, I would not be held accountable for his phrasing, and if I corrected his speech, as of course the tendency is, our identities might become confused. I hope this will be understood when I report him as saying things in ways one doesn't word them. I mean to say that it should not be thought that I would say them in this way if it chanced that I were saying the same things in my proper person. I fancy this should now be plain.
"Very well, sir," I said.
"If it was me," he went on, "I wouldn't want you a little bit. But it's Her. She's got her mind made up to do the right thing and have us all be somebody, and when she makes her mind up——" He hesitated and studied the ceiling for some seconds. "Believe me," he continued, "Mrs. Effie is some wildcat!"
"Yes, sir—some wildcat," I repeated.
"Believe me, Bill," he said again, quaintly addressing me by a name not my own—"believe me, she'd fight a rattlesnake and give it the first two bites."
Again let it be recalled that I put down this extraordinary speech exactly as I heard it. I thought to detect in it that grotesque exaggeration with which the Americans so distressingly embellish their humour. I mean to say, it could hardly have been meant in all seriousness. So far as my researches have extended, the rattlesnake is an invariably poisonous reptile. Fancy giving one so downright an advantage as the first two bites, or even one bite, although I believe the thing does not in fact bite at all, but does one down with its forked tongue, of which there is an excellent drawing in my little volume, "Inquire Within; 1,000 Useful Facts."
"Yes, sir," I replied, somewhat at a loss; "quite so, sir!"
"I just thought I'd wise you up beforehand."
"Thank you, sir," I said, for his intention beneath the weird jargon was somehow benevolent. "And if you'll be good enough to wait until I have taken tea to the Honourable George——"
"How is the Judge this morning?" he broke in.
"The Judge, sir?" I was at a loss, until he gestured toward the room of the Honourable George.
"The Judge, yes. Ain't he a justice of the peace or something?"
"But no, sir; not at all, sir."
"Then what do you call him 'Honourable' for, if he ain't a judge or something?"
"Well, sir, it's done, sir," I explained, but I fear he was unable to catch my meaning, for a moment later (the Honourable George, hearing our voices, had thrown a boot smartly against the door) he was addressing him as "Judge" and thereafter continued to do so, nor did the Honourable George seem to make any moment of being thus miscalled.
I served the Ceylon tea, together with biscuits and marmalade, the while our caller chatted nervously. He had, it appeared, procured his own breakfast while on his way to us.
"I got to have my ham and eggs of a morning," he confided. "But she won't let me have anything at that hotel but a continental breakfast, which is nothing but coffee and toast and some of that there sauce you're eating. She says when I'm on the continent I got to eat a continental breakfast, because that's the smart thing to do, and not stuff myself like I was on the ranch; but I got that game beat both ways from the jack. I duck out every morning before she's up. I found a place where you can get regular ham and eggs."
"Regular ham and eggs?" murmured the Honourable George.
"French ham and eggs is a joke. They put a slice of boiled ham in a little dish, slosh a couple of eggs on it, and tuck the dish into the oven a few minutes. Say, they won't ever believe that back in Red Gap when I tell it. But I found this here little place where they do it right, account of Americans having made trouble so much over the other way. But, mind you, don't let on to her," he warned me suddenly.
"Certainly not, sir," I said. "Trust me to be discreet, sir."
"All right, then. Maybe we'll get on better than what I thought we would. I was looking for trouble with you, the way she's been talking about what you'd do for me."
"I trust matters will be pleasant, sir," I replied.
"I can be pushed just so far," he curiously warned me, "and no farther—not by any man that wears hair."
"Yes, sir," I said again, wondering what the wearing of hair might mean to this process of pushing him, and feeling rather absurdly glad that my own face is smoothly shaven.
"You'll find Ruggles fairish enough after you've got used to his ways," put in the Honourable George.
"All right, Judge; and remember it wasn't my doings," said my new employer, rising and pulling down to his ears his fearful bowler hat. "And now we better report to her before she does a hot-foot over here. You can pack your grip later in the day," he added to me.
"Pack my grip—yes, sir," I said numbly, for I was on the tick of leaving the Honourable George helpless in bed. In a voice that I fear was broken I spoke of clothes for the day's wear which I had laid out for him the night before. He waved a hand bravely at us and sank back into his pillow as my new employer led me forth. There had been barely a glance between us to betoken the dreadfulness of the moment.
At our door I was pleased to note that a taximetre cab awaited us. I had acutely dreaded a walk through the streets, even of Paris, with my new employer garbed as he was. The blue satin cravat of itself would have been bound to insure us more attention than one would care for.
I fear we were both somewhat moody during the short ride. Each of us seemed to have matters of weight to reflect upon. Only upon reaching our destination did my companion brighten a bit. For a fare of five francs forty centimes he gave the driver a ten-franc piece and waited for no change.
"I always get around them that way," he said with an expression of the brightest cunning. "She used to have the laugh on me because I got so much counterfeit money handed to me. Now I don't take any change at all."
"Yes, sir," I said. "Quite right, sir."
"There's more than one way to skin a cat," he added as we ascended to the Floud's drawing-room, though why his mind should have flown to this brutal sport, if it be a sport, was quite beyond me. At the door he paused and hissed at me: "Remember, no matter what she says, if you treat me white I'll treat you white." And before I could frame any suitable response to this puzzling announcement he had opened the door and pushed me in, almost before I could remove my cap.
Seated at the table over coffee and rolls was Mrs. Effie. Her face brightened as she saw me, then froze to disapproval as her glance rested upon him I was to know as Cousin Egbert. I saw her capable mouth set in a straight line of determination.
"You did your very worst, didn't you?" she began. "But sit down and eat your breakfast. He'll soon change that." She turned to me. "Now, Ruggles, I hope you understand the situation, and I'm sure I can trust you to take no nonsense from him. You see plainly what you've got to do. I let him dress to suit himself this morning, so that you could know the worst at once. Take a good look at him—shoes, coat, hat—that dreadful cravat!"
"I call this a right pretty necktie," mumbled her victim over a crust of toast. She had poured coffee for him.
"You hear that?" she asked me. I bowed sympathetically.
"What does he look like?" she insisted. "Just tell him for his own good, please."
But this I could not do. True enough, during our short ride he had been reminding me of one of a pair of cross-talk comedians I had once seen in a music-hall. This, of course, was not a thing one could say.
"I dare say, Madam, he could be smartened up a bit. If I might take him to some good-class shop——"
"And burn the things he's got on——" she broke in.
"Not this here necktie," interrupted Cousin Egbert rather stubbornly. "It was give to me by Jeff Tuttle's littlest girl last Christmas; and this here Prince Albert coat—what's the matter of it, I'd like to know? It come right from the One Price Clothing Store at Red Gap, and it's plenty good to go to funerals in——"
"And then to a barber-shop with him," went on Mrs. Effie, who had paid no heed to his outburst. "Get him done right for once."
Her relative continued to nibble nervously at a bit of toast.
"I've done something with him myself," she said, watching him narrowly. "At first he insisted on having the whole bill-of-fare for breakfast, but I put my foot down, and now he's satisfied with the continental breakfast. That goes to show he has something in him, if we can only bring it out."
"Something in him, indeed, yes, Madam!" I assented, and Cousin Egbert, turning to me, winked heavily.
"I want him to look like some one," she resumed, "and I think you're the man can make him if you're firm with him; but you'll have to be firm, because he's full of tricks. And if he starts any rough stuff, just come to me."
"Quite so, Madam," I said, but I felt I was blushing with shame at hearing one of my own sex so slanged by a woman. That sort of thing would never do with us. And yet there was something about this woman—something weirdly authoritative. She showed rather well in the morning light, her gray eyes crackling as she talked. She was wearing a most elaborate peignoir, and of course she should not have worn the diamonds; it seemed almost too much like the morning hour of a stage favourite; but still one felt that when she talked one would do well to listen.
Hereupon Cousin Egbert startled me once more.
"Won't you set up and have something with us, Mr. Ruggles?" he asked me.
I looked away, affecting not to have heard, and could feel Mrs. Effie scowling at him. He coughed into his cup and sprayed coffee well over himself. His intention had been obvious in the main, though exactly what he had meant by "setting up" I couldn't fancy—as if I had been a performing poodle!
The moment's embarrassment was well covered by Mrs. Effie, who again renewed her instructions, and from an escritoire brought me a sheaf of the pretentiously printed sheets which the French use in place of our banknotes.
"You will spare no expense," she directed, "and don't let me see him again until he looks like some one. Try to have him back here by five. Some very smart friends of ours are coming for tea."
"I won't drink tea at that outlandish hour for any one," said Cousin Egbert rather snappishly.
"You will at least refuse it like a man of the world, I hope," she replied icily, and he drooped submissive once more. "You see?" she added to me.
"Quite so, Madam," I said, and resolved to be firm and thorough with Cousin Egbert. In a way I was put upon my mettle. I swore to make him look like some one. Moreover, I now saw that his half-veiled threats of rebellion to me had been pure swank. I had in turn but to threaten to report him to this woman and he would be as clay in my hands.
I presently had him tucked into a closed taxicab, half-heartedly muttering expostulations and protests to which I paid not the least heed. During my strolls I had observed in what would have been Regent Street at home a rather good-class shop with an English name, and to this I now proceeded with my charge. I am afraid I rather hustled him across the pavement and into the shop, not knowing what tricks he might be up to, and not until he was well to the back did I attempt to explain myself to the shop-walker who had followed us. To him I then gave details of my charge's escape from a burning hotel the previous night, which accounted for his extraordinary garb of the moment, he having been obliged to accept the loan of garments that neither fitted him nor harmonized with one another. I mean to say, I did not care to have the chap suspect we would don tan boots, a frock-coat, and bowler hat except under the most tremendous compulsion.
Cousin Egbert stared at me open mouthed during this recital, but the shop-walker was only too readily convinced, as indeed who would not have been, and called an intelligent assistant to relieve our distress. With his help I swiftly selected an outfit that was not half bad for ready-to-wear garments. There was a black morning-coat, snug at the waist, moderately broad at the shoulders, closing with two buttons, its skirt sharply cut away from the lower button and reaching to the bend of the knee. The lapels were, of course, soft-rolled and joined the collar with a triangular notch. It is a coat of immense character when properly worn, and I was delighted to observe in the trying on that Cousin Egbert filled it rather smartly. Moreover, he submitted more meekly than I had hoped. The trousers I selected were of gray cloth, faintly striped, the waistcoat being of the same material as the coat, relieved at the neck-opening by an edging of white.
With the boots I had rather more trouble, as he refused to wear the patent leathers that I selected, together with the pearl gray spats, until I grimly requested the telephone assistant to put me through to the hotel, desiring to speak to Mrs. Senator Floud. This brought him around, although muttering, and I had less trouble with shirts, collars, and cravats. I chose a shirt of white pique, a wing collar with small, square-cornered tabs, and a pearl ascot.
Then in a cabinet I superintended Cousin Egbert's change of raiment. We clashed again in the matter of sock-suspenders, which I was astounded to observe he did not possess. He insisted that he had never worn them—garters he called them—and never would if he were shot for it, so I decided to be content with what I had already gained.
By dint of urging and threatening I at length achieved my ground-work and was more than a little pleased with my effect, as was the shop-assistant, after I had tied the pearl ascot and adjusted a quiet tie-pin of my own choosing.
"Now I hope you're satisfied!" growled my charge, seizing his bowler hat and edging off.
"By no means," I said coldly. "The hat, if you please, sir."
He gave it up rebelliously, and I had again to threaten him with the telephone before he would submit to a top-hat with a moderate bell and broad brim. Surveying this in the glass, however, he became perceptibly reconciled. It was plain that he rather fancied it, though as yet he wore it consciously and would turn his head slowly and painfully, as if his neck were stiffened.
Having chosen the proper gloves, I was, I repeat, more than pleased with this severely simple scheme of black, white, and gray. I felt I had been wise to resist any tendency to colour, even to the most delicate of pastel tints. My last selection was a smartish Malacca stick, the ideal stick for town wear, which I thrust into the defenceless hands of my client.
"And now, sir," I said firmly, "it is but a step to a barber's stop where English is spoken." And ruefully he accompanied me. I dare say that by that time he had discovered that I was not to be trifled with, for during his hour in the barber's chair he did not once rebel openly. Only at times would he roll his eyes to mine in dumb appeal. There was in them something of the utter confiding helplessness I had noted in the eyes of an old setter at Chaynes-Wotten when I had been called upon to assist the undergardener in chloroforming him. I mean to say, the dog had jolly well known something terrible was being done to him, yet his eyes seemed to say he knew it must be all for the best and that he trusted us. It was this look I caught as I gave directions about the trimming of the hair, and especially when I directed that something radical should be done to the long, grayish moustache that fell to either side of his chin in the form of a horseshoe. I myself was puzzled by this difficulty, but the barber solved it rather neatly, I thought, after a whispered consultation with me. He snipped a bit off each end and then stoutly waxed the whole affair until the ends stood stiffly out with distinct military implications. I shall never forget, and indeed I was not a little touched by the look of quivering anguish in the eyes of my client when he first beheld this novel effect. And yet when we were once more in the street I could not but admit that the change was worth all that it had cost him in suffering. Strangely, he now looked like some one, especially after I had persuaded him to a carnation for his buttonhole. I cannot say that his carriage was all that it should have been, and he was still conscious of his smart attire, but I nevertheless felt a distinct thrill of pride in my own work, and was eager to reveal him to Mrs. Effie in his new guise.
But first he would have luncheon—dinner he called it—and I was not averse to this, for I had put in a long and trying morning. I went with him to the little restaurant where Americans had made so much trouble about ham and eggs, and there he insisted that I should join him in chops and potatoes and ale. I thought it only proper then to point out to him that there was certain differences in our walks of life which should be more or less denoted by his manner of addressing me. Among other things he should not address me as Mr. Ruggles, nor was it customary for a valet to eat at the same table with his master. He seemed much interested in these distinctions and thereupon addressed me as "Colonel," which was of course quite absurd, but this I could not make him see. Thereafter, I may say, that he called me impartially either "Colonel" or "Bill." It was a situation that I had never before been obliged to meet, and I found it trying in the extreme. He was a chap who seemed ready to pal up with any one, and I could not but recall the strange assertion I had so often heard that in America one never knows who is one's superior. Fancy that! It would never do with us. I could only determine to be on my guard.
Our luncheon done, he consented to accompany me to the hotel of the Honourable George, whence I wished to remove my belongings. I should have preferred to go alone, but I was too fearful of what he might do to himself or his clothes in my absence.
We found the Honourable George still in bed, as I had feared. He had, it seemed, been unable to discover his collar studs, which, though I had placed them in a fresh shirt for him, he had carelessly covered with a blanket. Begging Cousin Egbert to be seated in my room, I did a few of the more obvious things required by my late master.
"You'd leave me here like a rat in a trap," he said reproachfully, which I thought almost quite a little unjust. I mean to say, it had all been his own doing, he having lost me in the game of drawing poker, so why should he row me about it now? I silently laid out the shirt once more.
"You might have told me where I'm to find my brown tweeds and the body linen."
Again he was addressing me as if I had voluntarily left him without notice, but I observed that he was still mildly speckled from the night before, so I handed him the fruit-lozenges, and went to pack my own box. Cousin Egbert I found sitting as I had left him, on the edge of a chair, carefully holding his hat, stick, and gloves, and staring into the wall. He had promised me faithfully not to fumble with his cravat, and evidently he had not once stirred. I packed my box swiftly—my "grip," as he called it—and we were presently off once more, without another sight of the Honourable George, who was to join us at tea. I could hear him moving about, using rather ultra-frightful language, but I lacked heart for further speech with him at the moment.
An hour later, in the Floud drawing-room, I had the supreme satisfaction of displaying to Mrs. Effie the happy changes I had been able to effect in my charge. Posing him, I knocked at the door of her chamber. She came at once and drew a long breath as she surveyed him, from varnished boots, spats, and coat to top-hat, which he still wore. He leaned rather well on his stick, the hand to his hip, the elbow out, while the other hand lightly held his gloves. A moment she looked, then gave a low cry of wonder and delight, so that I felt repaid for my trouble. Indeed, as she faced me to thank me I could see that her eyes were dimmed.
"Wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Now he looks like some one!" And I distinctly perceived that only just in time did she repress an impulse to grasp me by the hand. Under the circumstances I am not sure that I wouldn't have overlooked the lapse had she yielded to it. "Wonderful!" she said again.
Hereupon Cousin Egbert, much embarrassed, leaned his stick against the wall; the stick fell, and in reaching down for it his hat fell, and in reaching for that he dropped his gloves; but I soon restored him to order and he was safely seated where he might be studied in further detail, especially as to his moustaches, which I had considered rather the supreme touch.
"He looks exactly like some well-known clubman," exclaimed Mrs. Effie.
Her relative growled as if he were quite ready to savage her.
"Like a man about town," she murmured. "Who would have thought he had it in him until you brought it out?" I knew then that we two should understand each other.
The slight tension was here relieved by two of the hotel servants who brought tea things. At a nod from Mrs. Effie I directed the laying out of these.
At that moment came the other Floud, he of the eyebrows, and a cousin cub called Elmer, who, I understood, studied art. I became aware that they were both suddenly engaged and silenced by the sight of Cousin Egbert. I caught their amazed stares, and then terrifically they broke into gales of laughter. The cub threw himself on a couch, waving his feet in the air, and holding his middle as if he'd suffered a sudden acute dyspepsia, while the elder threw his head back and shrieked hysterically. Cousin Egbert merely glared at them and, endeavouring to stroke his moustache, succeeded in unwaxing one side of it so that it once more hung limply down his chin, whereat they renewed their boorishness. The elder Floud was now quite dangerously purple, and the cub on the couch was shrieking: "No matter how dark the clouds, remember she is still your stepmother," or words to some such silly effect as that. How it might have ended I hardly dare conjecture—perhaps Cousin Egbert would presently have roughed them—but a knock sounded, and it became my duty to open our door upon other guests, women mostly; Americans in Paris; that sort of thing.
I served the tea amid their babble. The Honourable George was shown up a bit later, having done to himself quite all I thought he might in the matter of dress. In spite of serious discrepancies in his attire, however, I saw that Mrs. Effie meant to lionize him tremendously. With vast ceremony he was presented to her guests—the Honourable George Augustus Vane-Basingwell, brother of his lordship the Earl of Brinstead. The women fluttered about him rather, though he behaved moodily, and at the first opportunity fell to the tea and cakes quite wholeheartedly.
In spite of my aversion to the American wilderness, I felt a bit of professional pride in reflecting that my first day in this new service was about to end so auspiciously. Yet even in that moment, being as yet unfamiliar with the room's lesser furniture, I stumbled slightly against a hassock hid from me by the tray I carried. A cup of tea was lost, though my recovery was quick. Too late I observed that the hitherto self-effacing Cousin Egbert was in range of my clumsiness.
"There goes tea all over my new pants!" he said in a high, pained voice.
"Sorry, indeed, sir," said I, a ready napkin in hand. "Let me dry it, sir!"
"Yes, sir, I fancy quite so, sir," said he.
I most truly would have liked to shake him smartly for this. I saw that my work was cut out for me among these Americans, from whom at their best one expects so little.
As I brisked out of bed the following morning at half-after six, I could not but wonder rather nervously what the day might have in store for me. I was obliged to admit that what I was in for looked a bit thick. As I opened my door I heard stealthy footsteps down the hall and looked out in time to observe Cousin Egbert entering his own room. It was not this that startled me. He would have been abroad, I knew, for the ham and eggs that were forbidden him. Yet I stood aghast, for with the lounge-suit of tweeds I had selected the day before he had worn his top-hat! I am aware that these things I relate of him may not be credited. I can only put them down in all sincerity.
I hastened to him and removed the thing from his head. I fear it was not with the utmost deference, for I have my human moments.
"It's not done, sir," I protested. He saw that I was offended.
"All right, sir," he replied meekly. "But how was I to know? I thought it kind of set me off." He referred to it as a "stove-pipe" hat. I knew then that I should find myself overlooking many things in him. He was not a person one could be stern with, and I even promised that Mrs. Effie should not be told of his offence, he promising in turn never again to stir abroad without first submitting himself to me and agreeing also to wear sock-suspenders from that day forth. I saw, indeed, that diplomacy might work wonders with him.
At breakfast in the drawing-room, during which Cousin Egbert earned warm praise from Mrs. Effie for his lack of appetite (he winking violently at me during this), I learned that I should be expected to accompany him to a certain art gallery which corresponds to our British Museum. I was a bit surprised, indeed, to learn that he largely spent his days there, and was accustomed to make notes of the various objects of interest.
"I insisted," explained Mrs. Effie, "that he should absorb all the culture he could on his trip abroad, so I got him a notebook in which he puts down his impressions, and I must say he's done fine. Some of his remarks are so good that when he gets home I may have him read a paper before our Onwards and Upwards Club."
Cousin Egbert wriggled modestly at this and said: "Shucks!" which I took to be a term of deprecation.
"You needn't pretend," said Mrs. Effie. "Just let Ruggles here look over some of the notes you have made," and she handed me a notebook of ruled paper in which there was a deal of writing. I glanced, as bidden, at one or two of the paragraphs, and confess that I, too, was amazed at the fluency and insight displayed along lines in which I should have thought the man entirely uninformed. "This choice work represents the first or formative period of the Master," began one note, "but distinctly foreshadows that later method which made him at once the hope and despair of his contemporaries. In the 'Portrait of the Artist by Himself' we have a canvas that well repays patient study, since here is displayed in its full flower that ruthless realism, happily attenuated by a superbly subtle delicacy of brush work——" It was really quite amazing, and I perceived for the first time that Cousin Egbert must be "a diamond in the rough," as the well-known saying has it. I felt, indeed, that I would be very pleased to accompany him on one of his instructive strolls through this gallery, for I have always been of a studious habit and anxious to improve myself in the fine arts.
"You see?" asked Mrs. Effie, when I had perused this fragment. "And yet folks back home would tell you that he's just a——" Cousin Egbert here coughed alarmingly. "No matter," she continued. "He'll show them that he's got something in him, mark my words."
"Quite so, Madam," I said, "and I shall consider it a privilege to be present when he further prosecutes his art studies."
"You may keep him out till dinner-time," she continued. "I'm shopping this morning, and in the afternoon I shall motor to have tea in the Boy with the Senator and Mr. Nevil Vane-Basingwell."
Presently, then, my charge and I set out for what I hoped was to be a peaceful and instructive day among objects of art, though first I was obliged to escort him to a hatter's and glover's to remedy some minor discrepancies in his attire. He was very pleased when I permitted him to select his own hat. I was safe in this, as the shop was really artists in gentlemen's headwear, and carried only shapes, I observed, that were confined to exclusive firms so as to insure their being worn by the right set. As to gloves and a stick, he was again rather pettish and had to be set right with some firmness. He declared he had lost his stick and gloves of the previous day. I discovered later that he had presented them to the lift attendant. But I soon convinced him that he would not be let to appear without these adjuncts to a gentleman's toilet.
Then, having once more stood by at the barber's while he was shaved and his moustaches firmly waxed anew, I saw that he was fit at last for his art studies. The barber this day suggested curling the moustaches with a heated iron, but at this my charge fell into so unseemly a rage that I deemed it wise not to insist. He, indeed, bluntly threatened a nameless violence to the barber if he were so much as touched with the iron, and revealed an altogether shocking gift for profanity, saying loudly: "I'll be—dashed—if you will!" I mean to say, I have written "dashed" for what he actually said. But at length I had him once more quieted.
"Now, sir," I said, when I had got him from the barber's shop, to the barber's manifest relief: "I fancy we've time to do a few objects of art before luncheon. I've the book here for your comments," I added.
"Quite so," he replied, and led me at a rapid pace along the street in what I presumed was the direction of the art museum. At the end of a few blocks he paused at one of those open-air public houses that disgracefully line the streets of the French capital. I mean to say that chairs and tables are set out upon the pavement in the most brazen manner and occupied by the populace, who there drink their silly beverages and idle away their time. After scanning the score or so of persons present, even at so early an hour as ten of the morning, he fell into one of the iron chairs at one of the iron tables and motioned me to another at his side.
When I had seated myself he said "Beer" to the waiter who appeared, and held up two fingers.
"Now, look at here," he resumed to me, "this is a good place to do about four pages of art, and then we can go out and have some recreation somewhere." Seeing that I was puzzled, he added: "This way—you take that notebook and write in it out of this here other book till I think you've done enough, then I'll tell you to stop." And while I was still bewildered, he drew from an inner pocket a small, well-thumbed volume which I took from him and saw to be entitled "One Hundred Masterpieces of the Louvre."
"Open her about the middle," he directed, "and pick out something that begins good, like 'Here the true art-lover will stand entranced——' You got to write it, because I guess you can write faster than what I can. I'll tell her I dictated to you. Get a hustle on now, so's we can get through. Write down about four pages of that stuff."
Stunned I was for a moment at his audacity. Too plainly I saw through his deception. Each day, doubtless, he had come to a low place of this sort and copied into the notebook from the printed volume.
"But, sir," I protested, "why not at least go to the gallery where these art objects are stored? Copy the notes there if that must be done."
"I don't know where the darned place is," he confessed. "I did start for it the first day, but I run into a Punch and Judy show in a little park, and I just couldn't get away from it, it was so comical, with all the French kids hollering their heads off at it. Anyway, what's the use? I'd rather set here in front of this saloon, where everything is nice."
"It's very extraordinary, sir," I said, wondering if I oughtn't to cut off to the hotel and warn Mrs. Effie so that she might do a heated foot to him, as he had once expressed it.
"Well, I guess I've got my rights as well as anybody," he insisted. "I'll be pushed just so far and no farther, not if I never get any more cultured than a jack-rabbit. And now you better go on and write or I'll be—dashed—if I'll ever wear another thing you tell me to."
He had a most bitter and dangerous expression on his face, so I thought best to humour him once more. Accordingly I set about writing in his notebook from the volume of criticism he had supplied.
"Change a word now and then and skip around here and there," he suggested as I wrote, "so's it'll sound more like me."
"Quite so, sir," I said, and continued to transcribe from the printed page. I was beginning the fifth page in the notebook, being in the midst of an enthusiastic description of the bit of statuary entitled "The Winged Victory," when I was startled by a wild yell in my ear. Cousin Egbert had leaped to his feet and now danced in the middle of the pavement, waving his stick and hat high in the air and shouting incoherently. At once we attracted the most undesirable attention from the loungers about us, the waiters and the passers-by in the street, many of whom stopped at once to survey my charge with the liveliest interest. It was then I saw that he had merely wished to attract the attention of some one passing in a cab. Half a block down the boulevard I saw a man likewise waving excitedly, standing erect in the cab to do so. The cab thereupon turned sharply, came back on the opposite side of the street, crossed over to us, and the occupant alighted.
He was an American, as one might have fancied from his behaviour, a tall, dark-skinned person, wearing a drooping moustache after the former style of Cousin Egbert, supplemented by an imperial. He wore a loose-fitting suit of black which had evidently received no proper attention from the day he purchased it. Under a folded collar he wore a narrow cravat tied in a bowknot, and in the bosom of his white shirt there sparkled a diamond such as might have come from a collection of crown-jewels. This much I had time to notice as he neared us. Cousin Egbert had not ceased to shout, nor had he paid the least attention to my tugs at his coat. When the cab's occupant descended to the pavement they fell upon each other and did for some moments a wild dance such as I imagine they might have seen the red Indians of western America perform. Most savagely they punched each other, calling out in the meantime: "Well, old horse!" and "Who'd ever expected to see you here, darn your old skin!" (Their actual phrases, be it remembered.)
The crowd, I was glad to note, fell rapidly away, many of them shrugging their shoulders in a way the French have, and even the waiters about us quickly lost interest in the pair, as if they were hardened to the sight of Americans greeting one another. The two were still saying: "Well! well!" rather breathlessly, but had become a bit more coherent.
"Jeff Tuttle, you—dashed—old long-horn!" exclaimed Cousin Egbert.
"Good old Sour-dough!" exploded the other. "Ain't this just like old home week!"
"I thought mebbe you wouldn't know me with all my beadwork and my new war-bonnet on," continued Cousin Egbert.
"Know you, why, you knock-kneed old Siwash, I could pick out your hide in a tanyard!"
"Well, well, well!" replied Cousin Egbert.
"Well, well, well!" said the other, and again they dealt each other smart blows.
"Where'd you turn up from?" demanded Cousin Egbert.
"Europe," said the other. "We been all over Europe and Italy—just come from some place up over the divide where they talk Dutch, the Madam and the two girls and me, with the Reverend Timmins and his wife riding line on us. Say, he's an out-and-out devil for cathedrals—it's just one church after another with him—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, takes 'em all in—never overlooks a bet. He's got Addie and the girls out now. My gosh! it's solemn work! Me? I ducked out this morning."
"How'd you do it?"
"Told the little woman I had to have a tooth pulled—I was working it up on the train all day yesterday. Say, what you all rigged out like that for, Sour-dough, and what you done to your face?"
Cousin Egbert here turned to me in some embarrassment. "Colonel Ruggles, shake hands with my friend Jeff Tuttle from the State of Washington."
"Pleased to meet you, Colonel," said the other before I could explain that I had no military title whatever, never having, in fact, served our King, even in the ranks. He shook my hand warmly.
"Any friend of Sour-dough Floud's is all right with me," he assured me. "What's the matter with having a drink?"
"Say, listen here! I wouldn't have to be blinded and backed into it," said Cousin Egbert, enigmatically, I thought, but as they sat down I, too, seated myself. Something within me had sounded a warning. As well as I know it now I knew then in my inmost soul that I should summon Mrs. Effie before matters went farther.
"Beer is all I know how to say," suggested Cousin Egbert.
"Leave that to me," said his new friend masterfully. "Where's the boy? Here, boy! Veesky-soda! That's French for high-ball," he explained. "I've had to pick up a lot of their lingo."
Cousin Egbert looked at him admiringly. "Good old Jeff!" he said simply. He glanced aside to me for a second with downright hostility, then turned back to his friend. "Something tells me, Jeff, that this is going to be the first happy day I've had since I crossed the state line. I've been pestered to death, Jeff—what with Mrs. Effie after me to improve myself so's I can be a social credit to her back in Red Gap, and learn to wear clothes and go without my breakfast and attend art galleries. If you'd stand by me I'd throw her down good and hard right now, but you know what she is——"
"I sure do," put in Mr. Tuttle so fervently that I knew he spoke the truth. "That woman can bite through nails. But here's your drink, Sour-dough. Maybe it will cheer you up."
Extraordinary! I mean to say, biting through nails.
"Three rousing cheers!" exclaimed Cousin Egbert with more animation than I had ever known him display.
"Here's looking at you, Colonel," said his friend to me, whereupon I partook of the drink, not wishing to offend him. Decidedly he was not vogue. His hat was remarkable, being of a black felt with high crown and a wide and flopping brim. Across his waistcoat was a watch-chain of heavy links, with a weighty charm consisting of a sculptured gold horse in full gallop. That sort of thing would never do with us.
"Here, George," he immediately called to the waiter, for they had quickly drained their glasses, "tell the bartender three more. By gosh! but that's good, after the way I've been held down."
"Me, too," said Cousin Egbert. "I didn't know how to say it in French."
"The Reverend held me down," continued the Tuttle person. "'A glass of native wine,' he says, 'may perhaps be taken now and then without harm.' 'Well,' I says, 'leave us have ales, wines, liquors, and cigars,' I says, but not him. I'd get a thimbleful of elderberry wine or something about every second Friday, except when I'd duck out the side door of a church and find some caffy. Here, George, foomer, foomer—bring us some seegars, and then stay on that spot—I may want you."
"Well, well!" said Cousin Egbert again, as if the meeting were still incredible.
"You old stinging-lizard!" responded the other affectionately. The cigars were brought and I felt constrained to light one.
"The State of Washington needn't ever get nervous over the prospect of losing me," said the Tuttle person, biting off the end of his cigar.
I gathered at once that the Americans have actually named one of our colonies "Washington" after the rebel George Washington, though one would have thought that the indelicacy of this would have been only too apparent. But, then, I recalled, as well, the city where their so-called parliament assembles, Washington, D. C. Doubtless the initials indicate that it was named in "honour" of another member of this notorious family. I could not but reflect how shocked our King would be to learn of this effrontery.
Cousin Egbert, who had been for some moments moving his lips without sound, here spoke:
"I'm going to try it myself," he said. "Here, Charley, veesky-soda! He made me right off," he continued as the waiter disappeared. "Say, Jeff, I bet I could have learned a lot of this language if I'd had some one like you around."
"Well, it took me some time to get the accent," replied the other with a modesty which I could detect was assumed. More acutely than ever was I conscious of a psychic warning to separate these two, and I resolved to act upon it with the utmost diplomacy. The third whiskey and soda was served us.
"Three rousing cheers!" said Cousin Egbert.
"Here's looking at you!" said the other, and I drank. When my glass was drained I arose briskly and said:
"I think we should be getting along now, sir, if Mr. Tuttle will be good enough to excuse us." They both stared at me.
"Yes, sir—I fancy not, sir," said Cousin Egbert.
"Stop your kidding, you fat rascal!" said the other.
"Old Bill means all right," said Cousin Egbert, "so don't let him irritate you. Bill's our new hired man. He's all right—just let him talk along."
"Can't he talk setting down?" asked the other. "Does he have to stand up every time he talks? Ain't that a good chair?" he demanded of me. "Here, take mine," and to my great embarrassment he arose and offered me his chair in such a manner that I felt moved to accept it. Thereupon he took the chair I had vacated and beamed upon us, "Now that we're all home-folks, together once more, I would suggest a bit of refreshment. Boy, veesky-soda!"
"I fancy so, sir," said Cousin Egbert, dreamily contemplating me as the order was served. I was conscious even then that he seemed to be studying my attire with a critical eye, and indeed he remarked as if to himself: "What a coat!" I was rather shocked by this, for my suit was quite a decent lounge-suit that had become too snug for the Honourable George some two years before. Yet something warned me to ignore the comment.
"Three rousing cheers!" he said as the drink was served.
"Here's looking at you!" said the Tuttle person.
And again I drank with them, against my better judgment, wondering if I might escape long enough to be put through to Mrs. Floud on the telephone. Too plainly the situation was rapidly getting out of hand, and yet I hesitated. The Tuttle person under an exterior geniality was rather abrupt. And, moreover, I now recalled having observed a person much like him in manner and attire in a certain cinema drama of the far Wild West. He had been a constable or sheriff in the piece and had subdued a band of armed border ruffians with only a small pocket pistol. I thought it as well not to cross him.
When they had drunk, each one again said, "Well! well!"
"You old maverick!" said Cousin Egbert.
"You—dashed—old horned toad!" responded his friend.
"What's the matter with a little snack?"
"Not a thing on earth. My appetite ain't been so powerful craving since Heck was a pup."
These were their actual words, though it may not be believed. The Tuttle person now approached his cabman, who had waited beside the curb.
"Say, Frank," he began, "Ally restorong," and this he supplemented with a crude but informing pantomime of one eating. Cousin Egbert was already seated in the cab, and I could do nothing but follow. "Ally restorong!" commanded our new friend in a louder tone, and the cabman with an explosion of understanding drove rapidly off.
"It's a genuine wonder to me how you learned the language so quick," said Cousin Egbert.
"It's all in the accent," protested the other. I occupied a narrow seat in the front. Facing me in the back seat, they lolled easily and smoked their cigars. Down the thronged boulevard we proceeded at a rapid pace and were passing presently before an immense gray edifice which I recognized as the so-called Louvre from its illustration on the cover of Cousin Egbert's art book. He himself regarded it with interest, though I fancy he did not recognize it, for, waving his cigar toward it, he announced to his friend:
"The Public Library." His friend surveyed the building with every sign of approval.
"That Carnegie is a hot sport, all right," he declared warmly. "I'll bet that shack set him back some."
"Three rousing cheers!" said Cousin Egbert, without point that I could detect.
We now crossed their Thames over what would have been Westminster Bridge, I fancy, and were presently bowling through a sort of Battersea part of the city. The streets grew quite narrow and the shops smaller, and I found myself wondering not without alarm what sort of restaurant our abrupt friend had chosen.
"Three rousing cheers!" said Cousin Egbert from time to time, with almost childish delight.
Debouching from a narrow street again into what the French term a boulevard, we halted before what was indeed a restaurant, for several tables were laid on the pavement before the door, but I saw at once that it was anything but a nice place. "Au Rendezvous des Cochers Fideles," read the announcement on the flap of the awning, and truly enough it was a low resort frequented by cabbies—"The meeting-place of faithful coachmen." Along the curb half a score of horses were eating from their bags, while their drivers lounged before the place, eating, drinking, and conversing excitedly in their grotesque jargon.
We descended, in spite of the repellent aspect of the place, and our driver went to the foot of the line, where he fed his own horse. Cousin Egbert, already at one of the open-air tables, was rapping smartly for a waiter.
"What's the matter with having just one little one before grub?" asked the Tuttle person as we joined him. He had a most curious fashion of speech. I mean to say, when he suggested anything whatsoever he invariably wished to know what might be the matter with it.
"Veesky-soda!" demanded Cousin Egbert of the serving person who now appeared, "and ask your driver to have one," he then urged his friend.
The latter hereupon addressed the cabman who had now come up.
"Vooley-voos take something!" he demanded, and the cabman appeared to accept.
"Vooley-voos your friends take something, too?" he demanded further, with a gesture that embraced all the cabmen present, and these, too, appeared to accept with the utmost cordiality.
"You're a wonder, Jeff," said Cousin Egbert. "You talk it like a professor."
"It come natural to me," said the fellow, "and it's a good thing, too. If you know a little French you can go all over Europe without a bit of trouble."
Inside the place was all activity, for many cabmen were now accepting the proffered hospitality, and calling "votry santy!" to their host, who seemed much pleased. Then to my amazement Cousin Egbert insisted that our cabman should sit at table with us. I trust I have as little foolish pride as most people, but this did seem like crowding it on a bit thick. In fact, it looked rather dicky. I was glad to remember that we were in what seemed to be the foreign quarter of the town, where it was probable that no one would recognize us. The drink came, though our cabman refused the whiskey and secured a bottle of native wine.
"Three rousing cheers!" said Cousin Egbert as we drank once more, and added as an afterthought, "What a beautiful world we live in!"
"Vooley-voos make-um bring dinner!" said the Tuttle person to the cabman, who thereupon spoke at length in his native tongue to the waiter. By this means we secured a soup that was not half bad and presently a stew of mutton which Cousin Egbert declared was "some goo." To my astonishment I ate heartily, even in such raffish surroundings. In fact, I found myself pigging it with the rest of them. With coffee, cigars were brought from the tobacconist's next-door, each cabman present accepting one. Our own man was plainly feeling a vast pride in his party, and now circulated among his fellows with an account of our merits.
"This is what I call life," said the Tuttle person, leaning back in his chair.
"I'm coming right back here every day," declared Cousin Egbert happily.
"What's the matter with a little drive to see some well-known objects of interest?" inquired his friend.
"Not art galleries," insisted Cousin Egbert.
"And not churches," said his friend. "Every day's been Sunday with me long enough."
"And not clothing stores," said Cousin Egbert firmly. "The Colonel here is awful fussy about my clothes," he added.
"Is, heh?" inquired his friend. "How do you like this hat of mine?" he asked, turning to me. It was that sudden I nearly fluffed the catch, but recovered myself in time.
"I should consider it a hat of sound wearing properties, sir," I said.
He took it off, examined it carefully, and replaced it.
"So far, so good," he said gravely. "But why be fussy about clothes when God has given you only one life to live?"
"Don't argue about religion," warned Cousin Egbert.
"I always like to see people well dressed, sir," I said, "because it makes such a difference in their appearance."
He slapped his thigh fiercely. "My gosh! that's true. He's got you there, Sour-dough. I never thought of that."
"He makes me wear these chest-protectors on my ankles," said Cousin Egbert bitterly, extending one foot.
"What's the matter of taking a little drive to see some well-known objects of interest?" said his friend.
"Not art galleries," said Cousin Egbert firmly.
"We said that before—and not churches."
"And not gents' furnishing goods."
"You said that before."
"Well, you said not churches before."
"Well, what's the matter with taking a little drive?"
"Not art galleries," insisted Cousin Egbert. The thing seemed interminable. I mean to say, they went about the circle as before. It looked to me as if they were having a bit of a spree.
"We'll have one last drink," said the Tuttle person.
"No," said Cousin Egbert firmly, "not another drop. Don't you see the condition poor Bill here is in?" To my amazement he was referring to me. Candidly, he was attempting to convey the impression that I had taken a drop too much. The other regarded me intently.
"Pickled," he said.
"Always affects him that way," said Cousin Egbert. "He's got no head for it."
"Beg pardon, sir," I said, wishing to explain, but this I was not let to do.
"Don't start anything like that here," broke in the Tuttle person, "the police wouldn't stand for it. Just keep quiet and remember you're among friends."
"Yes, sir; quite so, sir," said I, being somewhat puzzled by these strange words. "I was merely——"
"Look out, Jeff," warned Cousin Egbert, interrupting me; "he's a devil when he starts."
"Have you got a knife?" demanded the other suddenly.
"I fancy so, sir," I answered, and produced from my waistcoat pocket the small metal-handled affair I have long carried. This he quickly seized from me.
"You can keep your gun," he remarked, "but you can't be trusted with this in your condition. I ain't afraid of a gun, but I am afraid of a knife. You could have backed me off the board any time with this knife."
"Didn't I tell you?" asked Cousin Egbert.
"Beg pardon, sir," I began, for this was drawing it quite too thick, but again he interrupted me.
"We'd better get him away from this place right off," he said.
"A drive in the fresh air might fix him," suggested Cousin Egbert. "He's as good a scout as you want to know when he's himself." Hereupon, calling our waiting cabman, they both, to my embarrassment, assisted me to the vehicle.
"Ally caffy!" directed the Tuttle person, and we were driven off, to the raised hats of the remaining cabmen, through many long, quiet streets.
"I wouldn't have had this happen for anything," said Cousin Egbert, indicating me.
"Lucky I got that knife away from him," said the other.
To this I thought it best to remain silent, it being plain that the men were both well along, so to say.
The cab now approached an open square from which issued discordant blasts of music. One glance showed it to be a street fair. I prayed that we might pass it, but my companions hailed it with delight and at once halted the cabby.
"Ally caffy on the corner," directed the Tuttle person, and once more we were seated at an iron table with whiskey and soda ordered. Before us was the street fair in all its silly activity. There were many tinselled booths at which games of chance or marksmanship were played, or at which articles of ornament or household decoration were displayed for sale, and about these were throngs of low-class French idling away their afternoon in that mad pursuit of pleasure which is so characteristic of this race. In the centre of the place was a carrousel from which came the blare of a steam orchestrion playing the "Marseillaise," one of their popular songs. From where I sat I could perceive the circle of gaudily painted beasts that revolved about this musical atrocity. A fashion of horses seemed to predominate, but there was also an ostrich (a bearded Frenchman being astride this bird for the moment), a zebra, a lion, and a gaudily emblazoned giraffe. I shuddered as I thought of the evil possibilities that might be suggested to my two companions by this affair. For the moment I was pleased to note that they had forgotten my supposed indisposition, yet another equally absurd complication ensued when the drink arrived.
"Say, don't your friend ever loosen up?" asked the Tuttle person of Cousin Egbert.
"Tighter than Dick's hatband," replied the latter.
"And then some! He ain't bought once. Say, Bo," he continued to me as I was striving to divine the drift of these comments, "have I got my fingers crossed or not?"
Seeing that he held one hand behind him I thought to humour him by saying, "I fancy so, sir."
"He means 'yes,'" said Cousin Egbert.
The other held his hand before me with the first two fingers spread wide apart. "You lost," he said. "How's that, Sour-dough? We stuck him the first rattle out of the box."
"Good work," said Cousin Egbert. "You're stuck for this round," he added to me. "Three rousing cheers!"
I readily perceived that they meant me to pay the score, which I accordingly did, though I at once suspected the fairness of the game. I mean to say, if my opponent had been a trickster he could easily have rearranged his fingers to defeat me before displaying them. I do not say it was done in this instance. I am merely pointing out that it left open a way to trickery. I mean to say, one would wish to be assured of his opponent's social standing before playing this game extensively.
No sooner had we finished the drink than the Tuttle person said to me:
"I'll give you one chance to get even. I'll guess your fingers this time." Accordingly I put one hand behind me and firmly crossed the fingers, fancying that he would guess them to be uncrossed. Instead of which he called out "Crossed," and I was obliged to show them in that wise, though, as before pointed out, I could easily have defeated him by uncrossing them before revealing my hand. I mean to say, it is not on the face of it a game one would care to play with casual acquaintances, and I questioned even then in my own mind its prevalence in the States. (As a matter of fact, I may say that in my later life in the States I could find no trace of it, and now believe it to have been a pure invention on the part of the Tuttle person. I mean to say, I later became convinced that it was, properly speaking, not a game at all.)
Again they were hugely delighted at my loss and rapped smartly on the table for more drink, and now to my embarrassment I discovered that I lacked the money to pay for this "round" as they would call it.
"Beg pardon, sir," said I discreetly to Cousin Egbert, "but if you could let me have a bit of change, a half-crown or so——" To my surprise he regarded me coldly and shook his head emphatically in the negative.
"Not me," he said; "I've been had too often. You're a good smooth talker and you may be all right, but I can't take a chance at my time of life."
"What's he want now?" asked the other.
"The old story," said Cousin Egbert: "come off and left his purse on the hatrack or out in the woodshed some place." This was the height of absurdity, for I had said nothing of the sort.
"I was looking for something like that," said the other "I never make a mistake in faces. You got a watch there haven't you?"
"Yes, sir," I said, and laid on the table my silver English half-hunter with Albert. They both fell to examining this with interest, and presently the Tuttle person spoke up excitedly:
"Well, darn my skin if he ain't got a genuine double Gazottz. How did you come by this, my man?" he demanded sharply.
"It came from my brother-in-law, sir," I explained, "six years ago as security for a trifling loan."
"He sounds honest enough," said the Tuttle person to Cousin Egbert.
"Yes, but maybe it ain't a regular double Gazottz," said the latter. "The market is flooded with imitations."
"No, sir, I can't be fooled on them boys," insisted the other. "Blindfold me and I could pick a double Gazottz out every time. I'm going to take a chance on it, anyway." Whereupon the fellow pocketed my watch and from his wallet passed me a note of the so-called French money which I was astounded to observe was for the equivalent of four pounds, or one hundred francs, as the French will have it. "I'll advance that much on it," he said, "but don't ask for another cent until I've had it thoroughly gone over by a plumber. It may have moths in it."
It seemed to me that the chap was quite off his head, for the watch was worth not more than ten shillings at the most, though what a double Gazottz might be I could not guess. However, I saw it would be wise to appear to accept the loan, and tendered the note in payment of the score.
When I had secured the change I sought to intimate that we should be leaving. I thought even the street fair would be better for us than this rapid consumption of stimulants.
"I bet he'd go without buying," said Cousin Egbert.
"No, he wouldn't," said the other. "He knows what's customary in a case like this. He's just a little embarrassed. Wait and see if I ain't right." At which they both sat and stared at me in silence for some moments until at last I ordered more drink, as I saw was expected of me.
"He wants the cabman to have one with him," said Cousin Egbert, whereat the other not only beckoned our cabby to join us, but called to two labourers who were passing, and also induced the waiter who served us to join in the "round."
"He seems to have a lot of tough friends," said Cousin Egbert as we all drank, though he well knew I had extended none of these invitations.
"Acts like a drunken sailor soon as he gets a little money," said the other.
"Three rousing cheers!" replied Cousin Egbert, and to my great chagrin he leaped to his feet, seized one of the navvies about the waist, and there on the public pavement did a crude dance with him to the strain of the "Marseillaise" from the steam orchestrion. Not only this, but when the music had ceased he traded hats with the navvy, securing a most shocking affair in place of the new one, and as they parted he presented the fellow with the gloves and stick I had purchased for him that very morning. As I stared aghast at this faux pas the navvy, with his new hat at an angle and twirling the stick, proceeded down the street with mincing steps and exaggerated airs of gentility, to the applause of the entire crowd, including Cousin Egbert.
"This ain't quite the hat I want," he said as he returned to us, "but the day is young. I'll have other chances," and with the help of the public-house window as a mirror he adjusted the unmentionable thing with affectations of great nicety.
"He always was a dressy old scoundrel," remarked the Tuttle person. And then, as the music came to us once more, he continued: "Say, Sour-dough, let's go over to the rodeo—they got some likely looking broncs over there."
Arm in arm, accordingly, they crossed the street and proceeded to the carrousel, first warning the cabby and myself to stay by them lest harm should come to us. What now ensued was perhaps their most remarkable behaviour at the day. At the time I could account for it only by the liquor they had consumed, but later experience in the States convinced me that they were at times consciously spoofing. I mean to say, it was quite too absurd—their seriously believing what they seemed to believe.
The carrousel being at rest when we approached, they gravely examined each one of the painted wooden effigies, looking into such of the mouths as were open, and cautiously feeling the forelegs of the different mounts, keeping up an elaborate pretence the while that the beasts were real and that they were in danger of being kicked. One absurdly painted horse they agreed would be the most difficult to ride. Examining his mouth, they disputed as to his age, and called the cabby to have his opinion of the thing's fetlocks, warning each other to beware of his rearing. The cabby, who was doubtless also intoxicated, made an equal pretence of the beast's realness, and indulged, I gathered, in various criticisms of its legs at great length.
"I think he's right," remarked the Tuttle person when the cabby had finished. "It's a bad case of splints. The leg would be blistered if I had him."
"I wouldn't give him corral room," said Cousin Egbert. "He's a bad actor. Look at his eye! Whoa! there—you would, would you!" Here he made a pretence that the beast had seized him by the shoulder. "He's a man-eater! What did I tell you? Keep him away!"
"I'll take that out of him," said the Tuttle person. "I'll show him who's his master."
"You ain't never going to try to ride him, Jeff? Think of the wife and little ones!"
"You know me, Sour-dough. No horse never stepped out from under me yet. I'll not only ride him, but I'll put a silver dollar in each stirrup and give you a thousand for each one I lose and a thousand for every time I touch leather."
Cousin Egbert here began to plead tearfully:
"Don't do it, Jeff—come on around here. There's a big five-year-old roan around here that will be safe as a church for you. Let that pinto alone. They ought to be arrested for having him here."