By Sewell Ford
Illustrated by Francis Vaux Wilson
New York GROSSET & DUNLAP Publishers
Copyright, 1906, by Mitchell Kennerley.
Excuse me, mister man, but ain't you—Hello, yourself! Blamed if I didn't think there was somethin' kind of natural about the looks, as you come pikin' by. How're they runnin', eh?
Well say, I ain't seen you since we used to hit up the grammar school together. You've seen me, eh? Oh, sure! I'd forgot. That was when you showed up at the old Athletic club the night I got the belt away from the Kid. Doin' sportin' news then, wa'n't you? Chucked all that now, I s'pose?
Oh, I've kept track of you, all right. Every time I sees one of your pieces in the magazines I reads it. And say, some of 'em's kind of punk. But then, you've got to sling out somethin' or other, I expect, or get off the job. Where do you dig up all of them yarns, anyway? That's what always sticks me. You must knock around a whole bunch, and have lots happen to you. Me? Ah, nothin' ever happens to me. Course, I'm generally on the move, but it's just along the grub track, and that ain't excitin'.
Yes, it's been a couple of years since I quit the ring. Why? Say, don't ever put that up to a has-been. It's almost as bad as compoundin' a felony. I could give you a whole raft of reasons that would sound well, but there's only one that covers the case. There's a knockout comin' to the best of 'em, if they hang to the game long enough. Some ain't satisfied, even after two or three. I was. I got mine, clean and square, and I ain't ashamed of it. I didn't raise any holler about a chance shot, and I didn't go exhibitin' myself on the stage. I slid into a quiet corner for a month or so, and then I dropped into the only thing I knew how to do, trainin' comers to go against the champs. It ain't like pullin' down your sixty per cent of the gate receipts, but there's worse payin' jobs.
Course, there's times when I finds myself up against it. It was durin' one of them squeezes, not so long ago, that I gets mixed up with Leonidas Dodge, and all that foolishness. Ah, it wa'n't anything worth wastin' breath over. You would? Honest? Well, it won't take long, I guess.
You see, just as my wad looks like it had shrunk so that it would rattle around in a napkin ring, someone passes me the word that Butterfly was down to win the third race, at 15 to 1. Now as a general thing I don't monkey with the ponies, but when I figured up what a few saw-bucks would do for me at those odds, I makes for the track and takes the high dive. After it was all over and I was comin' back in the train, with only a ticket where my roll had been, me feelin' about as gay as a Zulu on a cake of ice, along comes this Mr. Dodge, that I didn't know from next Tuesday week.
"Is it as bad as that?" says he, sizin' up the woe on my face. "Because if it is they ought to give you a pension. What was the horse?"
"Butterfly," says I. "Now laugh!"
"I've got a right to," says he. "I had the same dope."
Well, you see, that made us almost second cousins by marriage and we started to get acquainted. I looked him over careful but I couldn't place him within a mile. He had points enough, too. The silk hat was a veteran, the Prince Albert dated back about four seasons, but the gray gaiters were down to the minute. Being an easy talker, he might have been a book agent or a green goods distributor. But somehow his eyes didn't seem shifty enough for a crook, and no con. man would have lasted long wearing the kind of hair that he did. It was a sort of lemon yellow, and he had a lip decoration about two shades lighter, taggin' him as plain as an "inspected" label on a tin trunk.
"I'm a mitt juggler," says I, "and they call me Shorty McCabe. What's your line?"
"I've heard of you," he says. "Permit me," and he hands out a pasteboard that read:
LEONIDAS MACKLIN DODGE Commissioner-at-Large
"For what?" says I.
"It all depends," says Mr. Dodge. "Sometimes I call it a brass polisher, then again it's a tooth-paste. It works well either way. Also it cleans silver, removes grease spots, and can be used for a shaving soap. It is a product of my own lab'ratory, none genuine without the signature."
"How does it go as a substitute for beef and?" says I.
"I've never quite come to that," says he, "but I'm as close now as it's comfortable to be. My gold reserve counts up about a dollar thirty-nine."
"You've got me beat by a whole dollar," says I.
"Then," says he, "you'd better let me underwrite your next issue."
"There's a friend of mine up to Forty-second Street that ought to be good for fifty," says I.
"I've had lots of friendships, off and on," says he, "but never one that I could cash in at a pinch. I'll stay by until you try your touch."
Well, the Forty-second Street man had been gone a month. There was others I might have tried, but I didn't like to risk gettin' my fingers frost-bitten. So I hooks up with Leonidas and we goes out with a grip full of Electro-Polisho, hittin' the places where they had nickel-plated signs and brass hand rails. And say! I could starve to death doing that. Give me a week and two pairs of shoes and I might sell a box or so; but Dodge, he takes an hour to work his side of the block and shakes out a fist full of quarters.
"It's an art," says he, "which one must be born to. After this you carry the grip."
That's the part I was playin' when we strikes the Tuscarora. Sounds like a parlor car, don't it? But it was just one of those swell bachelor joints—fourteen stories, electric elevators, suites of two and three rooms, for gents only. Course, we hadn't no more call to go there than to the Stock Exchange, but Leonidas Macklin, he's one of the kind that don't wait for cards. Seein' the front door open and a crowd of men in the hall, he blazes right in, silk hat on the back of his head, hands in his pockets, and me close behind with the bag.
"What's up; auction, row or accident?" says he to one of the mob.
Now if it had been me that butted in like that I'd had a row on my hands in about two minutes, but in less time than that Leonidas knows the whole story and is right to home. Taking me behind a hand-made palm, he puts me next. Seems that some one had advertised in a mornin' paper for a refined, high-browed person to help one of the same kind kill time at a big salary.
"And look what he gets," says Leonidas, wavin' his hand at the push. "There's more'n a hundred of 'em, and not more'n a dozen that you couldn't trace back to a Mills hotel. They've been jawing away for an hour, trying to settle who gets the cinch. The chap who did the advertising is inside there, in the middle of that bunch, and I reckon he wishes he hadn't. As an act of charity, Shorty, I'm going to straighten things out for him. Come on."
"Better call up the reserves," says I.
But that wa'n't Mr. Dodge's style. Side-steppin' around to the off edge of the crowd, just as if he'd come down from the elevator, he calls out good and loud: "Now then, gentlemen; one side, please, one side! Ah, thank you! In a moment, now, gentlemen, we'll get down to business."
And say, they opened up for us like it was pay day and he had the cash box. We brought up before the saddest-lookin' cuss I ever saw out of bed. I couldn't make out whether he was sick, or scared, or both. He had flopped in a big leather chair and was tryin' to wave 'em away with both hands, while about two dozen, lookin' like ex-bath rubbers or men nurses, were telling him how good they were and shovin' references at him. The rest of the gang was trying to push in for their whack. It was a bad mess, but Leonidas wasn't feazed a bit.
"Attention, gentlemen!" says he. "If you will all retire to the room on the left we will get to work. The room on the left, gentlemen, on the left!"
He had a good voice, Leonidas did, one of the kind that could go against a merry-go-round or a German band. The crowd stopped pushin' to listen, then some one made a break for the next room, and in less than a minute they were all in there, with the door shut between. Mr. Dodge tips me the wink and sails over to the specimen in the chair.
"You're Mr. Homer Fales, I take it," says he.
"I am," says the pale one, breathing hard, "and who—who the devil are you?"
"That's neither here nor there," says Leonidas. "Just now I'm a life-boat. Do you want to hire any of those fellows? If so—"
"No, no, no!" says Homer, shakin' as if he had a chill. "Send them all away, will you? They have nearly killed me."
"Away they go," says Leonidas. "Watch me do it."
First he has me go in with his hat and collect their cards. Then I calls 'em out, one by one, while he stands by to give each one the long-lost brother grip, and whisper in his ear, as confidential as if he was telling him how he'd won the piano at a church raffle: "Don't say a word; to-morrow at ten." They all got the same, even to the Hickey-boy shoulder pat as he passed 'em out, and every last one of 'em faded away trying to keep from lookin' tickled to death. It took twenty minutes by the watch.
"Now, Mr. Fales," says Leonidas, comin' to a parade rest in front of the chair, "next time you want to play Santa Claus to the unemployed I'd advise you to hire Madison Square Garden to receive in."
That seemed to put a little life into Homer. He hitched himself up off'n the middle of his backbone, pulled in a yard or two of long legs and pried his eyes open. You couldn't call him handsome and prove it. He had one of those long, two-by-four faces, with more nose than chin, and a pair of inset eyes that seemed built to look for grief. The corners of his mouth were sagged, and his complexion made you think of cheese pie. But he was still alive.
"You've overlooked one," says he, and points my way. "He wouldn't do at all. Send him off, too."
"That's where you're wrong, Mr. Fales," says Leonidas. "This gentleman is a wholly disinterested party, and he's a particular friend of mine. Professor McCabe, let me introduce Mr. Homer Fales."
So I came to the front and gave Homer's flipper a little squeeze that must have done him as much good as an electric treatment, by the way he squirmed.
"If you ever feel ambitious for a little six-ounce glove exercise," says I, "just let me know."
"Thanks," says he, "thanks very much. But I'm an invalid, you see. In fact, I'm a very sick man."
"About three rounds a day would put you on your feet," says I. "There's nothing like it."
He kind of shuddered and turned to Leonidas. "You are certain that those men will not return, are you?" says he.
"Not before to-morrow at ten. You can be out then, you know," says Mr. Dodge.
"To-morrow at ten!" says Homer, and slumps again, all in a heap. "Oh, this is awful!" he groans. "I couldn't survive another!"
It was the worst case of funk I ever saw. We put in an hour trying to brace him up, but not until we'd promised to stay by over night could we get him to breathe deep. Then he was as grateful as if we'd pulled him out of the river. We half lugs him over to the elevator and takes him up to his quarters. It wasn't any cheap hang-out, either—nothing but silk rugs on the floor and parlor furniture all over the shop. We had dinner served up there, and it was a feed to dream about—oysters, ruddy duck, filly of beef with mushrooms, and all the frills—while Homer worries along on a few toasted crackers and a cup of weak tea.
As Leonidas and me does the anti-famine act Homer unloads his hard-luck wheeze. He was the best example of an all-round invalid I ever stacked up against. He didn't go in for no half-way business; it was neck or nothing with him. He wasn't on the hospital list one day and bumping the bumps the next. He was what you might call a consistent sufferer.
"It's my heart mostly," says he. "I think there's a leak in one of the valves. The doctors lay it to nerves, some of them, but I'm certain about the leak."
"Why not call in a plumber?" says I.
But you couldn't chirk him up that way. He'd believed in that leaky heart of his for years. It was his stock in trade. As near as I could make out he'd began being an invalid about the time he should have been hunting a job, and he'd always had some one to back him up in it until about two months before we met him. First it was his mother, and when she gave out his old maid sister took her turn. Her name was Joyphena. He told us all about her; how she used to fan him when he was hot, wrap him up when he was cold, and read to him when she couldn't think of anything else to do. But one day Joyphena was thoughtless enough to go off somewhere and quit living. You could see that Homer wouldn't ever quite forgive her for that.
It was when Homer tried to find a substitute for Joyphena that his troubles began. He'd had all kinds of nurses, but the good ones wouldn't stay and the bad ones he'd fired. He'd tried valets, too, but none of 'em seemed to suit. Then he got desperate and wrote out that ad. that brought the mob down on him.
He gave us a diagram of exactly the kind of man he wanted, and from his plans and specifications we figured out that what Homer was looking for was a cross between a galley slave and a he-angel, some one who would know just what he wanted before he did, and be ready to hand it out whenever called for. And he was game to pay the price, whatever it might be.
"You see," says Homer, "whenever I make the least exertion, or undergo the slightest excitement, it aggravates the leak."
I'd seen lots who ducked all kinds of exertion, but mighty few with so slick an excuse. It would have done me good to have said so, but Leonidas didn't look at it in that way. He was a sympathizer from headquarters; seemed to like nothin' better'n to hear Homer tell how bad off he was.
"What you need, Fales," says Leonidas, "is the country, the calm, peaceful country. I know a nice, quiet little place, about a hundred miles from here, that would just suit you, and if you say the word I'll ship you off down there early to-morrow morning. I'll give you a letter to an old lady who'll take care of you better than four trained nurses. She has brought half a dozen children through all kinds of sickness, from measles to broken necks, and she's never quite so contented as when she's trotting around waiting on somebody. I stopped there once when I was a little hoarse from a cold, and before she'd let me go to bed she made me drink a bowl of ginger tea, soak my feet in hot mustard water, and bind a salt pork poultice around my neck. If you'd just go down there you'd both be happy. What do you say?"
Homer was doubtful. He'd never lived much in the country and was afraid it wouldn't agree with his leak. But early in the morning he was up wantin' to know more about it. He'd begun to think of that mob of snap hunters that was booked to show up again at ten o'clock, and it made him nervous. Before breakfast was over he was willing to go almost anywhere, only he was dead set that me and Leonidas should trail along, too. So there we were, with Homer on our hands.
Well, we packed a trunk for him, called a cab, and got him loaded on a parlor car. About every so often he'd clap his hands to his side and groan: "Oh, my heart! My poor heart!" It was as touchin' as the heroine's speeches to the top gallery. On the way down Leonidas gave us a bird's-eye view of the kind of Jim Crow settlement we were heading for. It was one of those places where they date things back to the time when Lem Saunders fell down cellar with a lamp and set the house afire.
The town looked it. There was an aggregation of three men, two boys and a yellow dog in sight on Main Street when we landed. We'd wired ahead, so the old lady was ready for us. Leonidas called her "Mother" Bickell. She was short, about as thick through as a sugar barrel, and wore two kinds of hair, the front frizzes bein' a lovely chestnut. But she was a nice-spoken old girl, and when she found out that we'd brought along a genuine invalid with a leak in his blood pump, she almost fell on our necks. In about two shakes she'd hustled Homer into a rocking-chair, wedged him in place with pillows, wrapped a blanket around his feet, and shoved him up to a table where there was a hungry man's layout of clam fritters, canned corn, boiled potatoes and hot mince pie.
There wasn't any use for Homer to register a kick on the bill-of-fare. She was too busy tellin' him how much good the things would do him, and how he must eat a lot or she'd feel bad, to listen to any remarks of his about toasted crackers. For supper there was fried fish, apple sauce and hot biscuit, and Homer had to take his share. He was glad to go to bed early. She didn't object to that.
Mother Bickell's house was right in the middle of the town, with a grocery store on one side and the postoffice on the other. Homer had a big front room with three windows on Main Street. There was a strip of plank sidewalk in front of the house, so that you didn't miss any footfalls. Mother Bickell could tell who was goin' by without lookin'.
Leonidas and me put in the evening hearin' her tell about some of the things that had happened to her oldest boy. He'd had a whirl out of most everything but an earthquake. After that we had an account of how she'd buried her two husbands. About ten o'clock we started for bed, droppin' in to take a look at Homer. He was sittin' up, wide awake and lookin' worried.
"How many people are there in this town?" says he.
"About a thousand," says Leonidas. "Why?"
"Then they have all marched past my windows twice," says Homer.
"Shouldn't wonder," says Leonidas. "They've just been to the postoffice and back again. They do that four times a day. But you mustn't mind. Just you thank your stars you're down here where it's nice and quiet. Now I'd go to sleep if I was you."
Homer said he would. I was ready to tear off a few yards of repose myself, but somehow I couldn't connect. It was quiet, all right—in spots. Fact is, it was so blamed quiet that you could hear every rooster that crowed within half a mile. If a man on the other side of town shut a window you knew all about it.
I was gettin' there though, and was almost up to the droppin'-off place, when some folks in a back room on the next street begins to indulge in a family argument. I didn't pay much notice to the preamble, but as they warmed up to it I couldn't help from gettin' the drift. It was all about the time of year that a feller by the name of Hen Dorsett had been run over by the cars up to Jersey City.
"I say it was just before Thanksgivin'," pipes up the old lady. "I know, 'cause I was into the butcher's askin' what turkeys would be likely to fetch, when Doc Brewswater drops in and says: 'Mornin', Eph. Heard about Hen Dorsett?' And then he told about him fallin' under the cars. So it must have been just afore Thanksgivin'."
"Thanksgivin' your grandmother!" growls the old man. "It was in March, along the second week, I should say, because the day I heard of it was just after school election. March of '83, that's when it was."
"Eighty-three!" squeals the old lady. "Are you losin' your mind altogether? It was '85, the year Jimmy cut his hand so bad at the sawmill."
"Jimmy wasn't workin' at the mill that year," raps back the old man. "He was tongin' oysters that fall, 'cause he didn't hear a word about Hen until the next Friday night, when I told him myself. Hen was killed on a Monday."
"It was on a Saturday or I'm a lunatic," snaps the old lady.
Well, they kept on pilin' up evidence, each one makin' the other out to be a fool, or a liar, or both, until the old man says: "See here, Maria, I'm goin' up the street and ask Ase Horner when it was that Hen Dorsett was killed. Ase knows, for he was the one Mrs. Dorsett got to go up after Hen."
"Yes, and he'll tell you it was just before Thanksgivin' of '85, so what's the use?" says the old lady.
"We'll see what he says," growls the old man, and I heard him strike a light and get into his shoes.
"Who're you bettin' on?" says Leonidas.
"Gee!" says I. "Are you awake, too? I thought you was asleep an hour ago."
"I was," says he, "but when this Hen Dorsett debate breaks loose I came back to earth. I'll gamble that the old woman's right."
"The old man's mighty positive," says I. "Wonder how long it'll be before we get the returns?"
"Perhaps half an hour," says Leonidas. "He'll have to thrash it all out with Ase before he starts back. We might as well sit up and wait. Anyway I want to see which gets the best of it."
"Let's have a smoke, then," says I.
"Why not go along with the old man?" says Leonidas. "If he finds he's wrong he may come back and lie about it."
Well, it was a fool thing to do, when you think about it, but somehow Leonidas had a way of lookin' at things that was different from other folks. He didn't know any more about that there Hen Dorsett than I did, but he seemed just as keen as if it was all in the family. We had hustled our clothes on and was sneakin' down the front stairs as easy as we could when we hears from Homer.
"I heard you dressing," says he, "so I got up, too. I haven't been asleep yet."
"Then come along with us," says Leonidas. "It'll do you good. We're only going up the street to find out when it was that the cars struck Hen Dorsett."
Homer didn't savvy, but he didn't care. Mainly he wanted comp'ny. He whispered to us to go easy, suspectin' that if we woke up Mother Bickell she'd want to feed him some more clam fritters. By the time we'd unlocked the front door though, she was after us, but all she wanted was to make Homer wrap a shawl around his head to keep out the night air.
"And don't you dare take it off until you get back," says she. Homer was glad to get away so easy and said he wouldn't. But he was a sight, lookin' like a Turk with a sore throat.
The old man had routed Ase Horner out by the time we got there, and they was havin' it hot and heavy. Ase said it wasn't either November nor March when he went up after Hen Dorsett, but the middle of October. He knew because he'd just begun shingling his kitchen and the line storm came along before he got it finished. More'n that, it was in '84, for that was the year he ran for sheriff.
"See here, gentlemen," says Leonidas, "isn't it possible to find some official record of this sad tragedy? You'll excuse us, being strangers, for takin' a hand, but there don't seem to be much show of our getting any sleep until this thing is settled. Besides, I'd like to know myself. Now let's go to the records."
"I'm ready," says Ase. "If this thick-headed old idiot here don't think I can remember back a few years, why, I'm willing to stay up all night to show him. Let's go to the County Clerk's and make him open up."
So we started, all five of us, just as the town clock struck twelve. We hadn't gone more'n a block, though, before we met a whiskered old relic stumpin' along with a stick in his hand. He was the police force, it seems. Course, he wanted to know what was up, and when he found out he was ready to make affidavit that Hen had been killed some time in August of '81.
"Wa'n't I one of the pall bearers?" says he. "And hadn't I just drawn my back pension and paid off the mortgage on my place, eh? No use routin' out the Clerk to ask such a fool question; and anyways, he ain't to home, come to think of it."
"If you'll permit me to suggest," says Leonidas, "there ought to be all the evidence needed right in the cemetery."
"Of course there is!" says Ase Horner. "Why didn't we think of that first off? I'll get a lantern and we'll go up and read the date on the headstun."
There was six of us lined up for the cemetery, the three natives jawin' away as to who was right and who wasn't. Every little ways some one would hear the racket, throw up a window, and chip in. Most of 'em asked us to wait until they could dress and join the procession. Before we'd gone half a mile it looked like a torchlight parade. The bigger the crowd got, the faster the recruits fell in. Folks didn't stop to ask any questions. They just jumped into their clothes, grabbed lanterns and piked after us. There was men and women and children, not to mention a good many dogs. Every one was jabberin' away, some askin' what it was all about and the rest tryin' to explain. There must have been a good many wild guesses, for I heard one old feller in the rear rank squallin' out: "Remember, neighbors, nothin' rash, now; nothin' rash!"
I couldn't figure out just what they meant by that at the time; but then, the whole business didn't seem any too sensible, so I didn't bother. On the way up I'd sort of fell in with the constable. He couldn't get any one else to listen to him, and as he had a lot of unused conversation on hand I let him spiel it off at me. Leonidas and Homer were ahead with Ase Homer and the old duffer that started the row, and the debate was still goin' on.
When we got to the cemetery Homer dropped out and leaned up against the gate, sayin' he'd wait there for us. We piled after Ase, who'd made a dash to get to the headstone first.
"It's right over in this section," says he, wavin' his lantern, "and I want all of you to come and see that I know what I'm talking about when I give out dates. I want to show you, by ginger, that I've got a mem'ry that's better'n any diary ever wrote. Here we are now! Here's the grave and—well, durn my eyes! Blessed if there's any sign of a headstun here!"
And there wa'n't, either.
"By jinks!" says the old constable, slappin' his leg. "That's one on me, boys. Why, Lizzie Dorsett told me only last week that her mother had the stun took up and sent away to have the name of her second husband cut on't. Only last week she told me, and here I'd clean forgot it."
"You're an old billy goat!" says Ase Horner.
"There, there!" says Leonidas, soothing him down. "We've all enjoyed the walk, anyway, and maybe——" But just then he hears something that makes him prick up his ears. "What's the row back there at the gate?" he asks. Then, turnin' to me, he says: "Shorty, where's Homer?"
"Down there," says I.
"Then come along on the jump," says he. "If there's any trouble lying around loose he'll get into it."
Down by the gate we could see lanterns by the dozen and we could hear all sorts of yells and excitement, so we makes our move on the double. Just as we fetched the gate some one hollers:
"There he goes! Lynch the villain!"
We sees a couple of long legs strike out, and gets a glimpse of a head wrapped up in a shawl. It was Homer, all right, and he had the gang after him. He took a four-foot fence at a hurdle and was streakin' off through a plowed field into the dark.
"Hi, Fales!" sings out Leonidas. "Come back here, you chump!"
But Homer kept right on. Maybe he didn't hear, and perhaps he was too scared to stop if he did. All we could do was to get into the free-for-all with the others.
"What did he do?" yells Leonidas at a sandy-whiskered man who carried a clothes-line and was shoutin', "Lynch him! Lynch him!" between jumps.
"Do!" says the man. "Ain't you heard? Why, he choked Mother Bickell to death and robbed her of seventeen dollars. He's wearin' her shawl now."
As near as we could make out, the thing happened like this: When the tail enders came rushin' up with all kinds of wild yarns about robbers and such, they catches sight of Homer, leanin' up in the shadow of the gate. Some one holds a lantern up to his face and an old woman spots the shawl.
"It's Mother Bickell's," says she. "Where did he get it?"
That was enough. They went for Homer like he'd set fire to a synagogue. Homer tried to tell 'em who he was, and about his heart, but he talked too slow, or his voice wa'n't strong enough; and when they began to plan on yankin' him up then and there, without printin' his picture in the paper, or a trial, he heaves up a yell and lights out for the boarding-house.
Ten hours before I wouldn't have matched Homer against a one-legged man, but the way he was gettin' over the ground then was worth the price of admission. I have done a little track work myself, and Leonidas didn't show up for any glue-foot, but Homer would have made the tape ahead of us for any distance under two miles. He'd cleared the crowd and was back into the road again, travelin' wide and free, with the shawl streamin' out behind and the nearest avenger two blocks behind us, when out jumps a Johnny-on-the-spot citizen and gives him the low tackle. He was a pussy, bald-headed little duffer, this citizen chap, and not bein' used to blockin' runs he goes down underneath. Before they could untangle we comes up, snakes Homer off the top of the heap, and skiddoos for all we had left in us.
By the time that crowd of jay-hawkers comes boomin' down to Mother Bickell's to view the remains we had the old girl up and settin' at the front window with a light behind her. They asked each other a lot of foolish questions and then concluded to go home.
While things was quietin' down we were making a grand rush to get Homer into bed before he passed in altogether. Neither Leonidas nor me looked for him to last more'n an hour or two after that stunt, and we were thinkin' of taking him back in a box. But after he got his breath he didn't say much except that he was plumb tired. We were still wonderin' whether to send for a doctor or the coroner, when he rolls over with his face to the wall and goes to sleep as comfortable as a kitten in a basket.
It was in the middle of the forenoon before any of us shows up for breakfast. We'd inspected Homer once, about eight o'clock, and found him still sawin' wood, so we didn't try to get him up. But just as I was openin' my second egg down he comes, walkin' a little stiff, but otherwise as good as ever, if not better.
"How far was it that I ran last night, Mr. Dodge?" says he.
"About a mile and a half," says Leonidas, stating it generous. "And it was as good amateur sprinting as I ever saw."
Homer cracked the first smile I'd seen him tackle and pulled up to the table.
"I'm beginning to think," says he, "that there can't be much of a leak in my heart, after all. When we get back to town to-night, Mr. McCabe, we'll have another talk about those boxing lessons. Eggs? Yes, thank you, Mrs. Bickell; about four, soft. And by the way, Dodge, what was the date on that gravestone, anyway?"
What did we do with Homer, eh? Ah, forget it! Say, soon's he got back to town and found he could navigate 'round by himself, he begins to count up expenses. Then he asks us to put in a bill.
"Bill!" says I. "What for? I'm no hired man. I've been doin' this for fun." Leonidas says the same.
But Homer wouldn't have it that way. He says we've done him a lot of good, and lost our valuable time, and he'll feel hurt if we don't let him make us a little present. With that he pries open a fat leather green goods case, paws over a layer of yellow backs two or three inches thick—and fishes out a couple of ten spots.
"Stung!" says Leonidas, under his breath.
"Homer," says I, shovin' 'em back at him, "if you're as grateful as all that, I'll tell you what you'd better do—keep these, and found a Home for Incurable Tight-wads."
Then we loses him in the crowd, and each of us strikes out for himself. Blessed if I know where Leonidas strayed to, but I'm dead sure of the place I fetched up at. It was It'ly, North It'ly. Ever been there? Well, don't. Nothin' but dagoes and garlic and roads that run up hill. Say, some day when my roll needs the anti-fat treatment, I'm goin' to send over there and have 'em put a monument that'll read: "Here's where Shorty McCabe was buried alive for five weeks."
Doing? Wasn't a blamed thing doing there. We were just assassinatin' time, that's all. But the Boss thought he liked it, for a while, so I had to hang on. The Boss? Oh, he's just the Boss. Guess you wouldn't know him—he hasn't been cured by three bottles of anything, and isn't much for buyin' billboard space. But he's a star all right. He's got a mint somewhere, a little private mint of his own, that runs days and nights and overtime. Scotty mine? No, better'n that—defunct grandmothers and such. It's been comin' his way ever since he was big enough to clip a coupon. Don't believe he knows how much he has got, but that don't worry him. He don't even try to spend the gate receipts; just uses what he wants and lets the rest pyramid.
Course, he's out of my class in a way; but then again, he ain't. The way we come to hook up was like this: You see, when I quits Homer, I takes the first thing that comes along, which happens to be the Jericho Lamb. He wants me to train him for his go with Grasshopper Jake, and I did.
Well, we pulls it off in Denver. The Lamb he bores in like a stone crusher for five rounds. Then he stops a cross hook with his jaw and is jarred some. That brings out the yellow. Spite of all I could say, he stops rushin' and plays for wind and safety. Think of that, with the Grasshopper as groggy as a five days old calf! Well, I saw what was coming to him, right there. When the bell rings I chucks my towel to a rubber and quits. I hadn't hired out for no wet nurse, and I told the crowd so.
Just as I was makin' my sneak this quiet-speakin' chap falls in alongside and begins to talk to me. First off I sized him up for one of them English Johnnies that had lost his eyeglass. But that's where I was dead wrong. He wasn't no Johnnie, and he wasn't no tinhorn sport. But he was a new one on me. They don't grow many like him, I guess, so no wonder I didn't get wise right away.
"Think the Lamb's all in?" says he.
"All in!" says I. "He never had anything to put in. He was licked before the bell tapped. And me trainin' him for five weeks! I'm goin' to kick myself all the way back to New York."
"I'll help you," says he. "I backed that Lamb of yours to win."
"How much?" says I.
"Oh, only a few hundred."
"But you ain't seen him licked yet," says I.
"I'll take your word for it," says he.
Say, that was no tinhorn play, was it? He goes off and leaves his good money up, just on a flier like that.
"You're the real goods," says I.
"I can return the sentiment," says he.
So we took the midnight East. When we got the morning papers at Omaha we saw that the Lamb only lasted half-way through the seventh, and 'possumed the count at that. Well, we got some acquainted before we hit Chicago, and by the time we'd landed in Jersey City I'd signed articles with him for a year. He calls it secretary, but I holds out for sparrin' partner.
Oh, he can handle the mitts some, all right; none of your parlor Y. M. C. A. business, either, but give and take. He strips at one hundred and forty and can stand punishment like a stevedore. But, of course, there's no chance of ever gettin' him on the platform. He likes to go his four rounds before dinner, just to take the drab coloring off the world in general. That's the way he puts it.
Take him all around, he's a thoroughbred. I know that much, but after that I don't follow him. I used to wonder sometimes. Give most Johnnies his pile and turn 'em loose, and what would they do? They'd wear out the club window-sills, and take in pink teas, and do the society turn. But not for him. He's a mixer, the Boss is. He wants to see things, all kinds.
Sometimes he lugs me along and sometimes he don't. It all depends on whether I'd fit in. When he heads for Fifth Avenue I know I'm let out. But when he gets into a sack coat and derby hat I'm bettin' that maybe we'll fetch up somewheres on the East Side. Perhaps it'll be the grand annual ball of the Truck Drivers' Association, or just one of them Anarchist talkfests in the back room of some beer parlor. There's no telling. We may drink muddy coffee out of dinky brass cups with a lot of Syrian rug sellers down on Washington Street, or drop into the middle of a gang of sailors down on Front Street.
And I'm no bodyguard, mind. The Boss ain't in much need of that. But he likes to have some one to talk to, and I guess most of his friends don't go in for such promiscuous visitin' lists as he does. I like it well enough, but where he gets any fun out of it I can't see. I put it up to him once, and what do you suppose he says? Asks me if I ever heard of a duck by the name of Panzy de Lean.
"Sounds kind of familiar," says I. "Don't he run a hotel or something down to Palm Beach?"
"You're warm," says the Boss, "but you've mixed your dates. Old Panzy struck the east coast about four hundred years before our friend Flagler annexed it. And he wasn't in the hotel business. Exploring was his line. He was looking for a new kind of mineral water that he was going to call the Elixir of Life. Well, in some ways Panzy and I are alike."
It was a josh, all right, that he was handin' out, but he meant somethin' by it, for the Boss ain't the kind to talk just for the sake of making a noise. I never let on but what I was next. Later in the season I had a chance to come back at him with it, for along in February we got under way for Palm Beach ourselves.
"Goin' to take a hack at the 'lixir business?" I says.
"No, Shorty," says he. "Just going to dodge a few blizzards and watch the mob."
But he didn't like it much, being in that push, so we took a jump over to Bermuda, where everything's so white it makes your eyes ache. That didn't suit him, either.
"Shorty," says he one day, "you didn't sign for any outside tour, but I've got the go fever bad. Can you stand it for awhile in foreign parts?"
"I'm game," says I, not knowing what I was to be up against.
So we hiked back to New York and Mister 'Ankins—he's the lady-like gent that stays home an' keeps our trousers creased, an' juggles the laundry bag and so forth, when we're there—Mr. 'Ankins he packs a couple of steamer trunks and off we starts.
Well, we hit a lot of outlandish places, like Paris and Berlin; and finally, when things began to warm up some, and I knew by the calendar that the hokey-pokey men had come out on the Bowery, we lands in Monte Carlo. Say, I'd heard a lot about Monte Carlo on and off—there was a song about it once, you know—but if that's the best imitation of Phil Daly's they can put up over there, they'd better go out of business. Not that the scenery isn't bang-up and the police protection O. K., but the game—well, I've seen more excitement over a ten-cent ante.
The Boss didn't care much for that sort of thing anyway. He touched 'em up for a stack or two, but almost went to sleep over it. It wasn't until Old Blue Beak butted in that our visit began to look interestin'. He was a count, or a duke, or something, with a name full of i's and l's, but I called him Blue Beak for short. The Boss said for a miniature word painting that couldn't be bettered. Never saw a finer specimen of hand-decorated frontispiece in my life. It wasn't just red, nor purple. It was as near blue as a nose can get. Other ways, he was a tall, skinny old freak, with a dyed mustache and little black eyes as shifty as a fox terrier's. He was as polite, though, as a book agent, and as smooth as the business side of a banana skin.
"What's his game," says I to the Boss, after Blue Beak and him had swapped French conversation for an hour. "Is it gold bricks or green goods?"
"My friend, the count," says the Boss, "wants to rent us a castle, all furnished and found; a genuine antique, with a pedigree that runs back to Marc Antony."
"A castle!" says I. "What's that the cue to? And how did he guess you were a come-on?"
"Every American is a come-on, Shorty," says the Boss. "But this is a new proposition to me. However, I mean to find out. I've told him to come back after dinner."
And old Blue Beak had his memory with him, all right. He came back. He and the Boss had a long session of it. In the morning the Boss says to me:
"Shorty, throw out your chest; you're going to live in a castle for a while."
Then he told me how it happened. Blue Beak wasn't any con. man at all, just one of those hard-up gents whose names look well in a list of guests, but don't carry weight with the paying teller. He was in such a rush to get the ranch off his hands, though, that price didn't seem to figure much. That's what made the Boss sit up and take notice. He was a great one for wanting to know why.
"We'll start to-day," says he.
So off we goes, moseyin' down into It'ly on a bum railroad, staying at bummer hotels, and switching off to a rickety old chaise behind a pair of animated frames that showed the S. P. C. A. hadn't got as far as It'ly yet. Think of riding from the Battery to White Plains in a Fifth Avenue stage! That would be a chariot race to what we took before we hove in sight of that punky castle. After that it was like climbing three sets of Palisades, one top of the other, on a road that did the corkscrew all the way.
"That's your castle, is it?" says I, rubberin' up at it. "Looks like a storage warehouse stranded on Pike's Peak. Gee, but I wouldn't like to fall out of one of those bedroom windows! You'd never hit anything for an hour. Handy place to have company, though; wouldn't have to put on the potatoes until you saw 'em coming. So that's a castle, is it? I don't wonder old Blue Beak had a lot of conversation to unload. If I live up there all summer I shall accumulate enough talk to last me the rest of my life."
"Oh, I don't imagine we'll be lonesome," puts in the Boss. "I fancy I caught sight of one or two of our neighbors on the way."
"You did?" says I. "Where?"
"Behind the rocks," says he, kind of snickering.
But I never savvied. I'd had my eyes glued to that dago Waldorf-Astoria balanced up there on that toothpick of a mountain. I had a batty idea that the next whiff of breeze would jar it loose. But when they'd opened up a gate like the double doors of an armory, and let us in, I forgot all that. Say, that castle was the solidest thing I ever run across. The walls were so thick that the windows looked like they were set at the end of tunnels. In the middle was a big court, such as they have in these swell new apartment houses, and a lot of doors and windows opened on that.
"Much as 'leven rooms and bath, eh?" says I.
"The Count assures me that there are two hundred and odd rooms, not reckoning the dungeons," said the Boss. "I hope we'll find one or two of them fit to live in."
We did, just about that. A white-headed old villain, who looked as if he'd just escaped from a "Pirates of Penzance" chorus—Vincenzo, he called himself—took our credentials and then showed us around the shop. There was a dining-room about the size of the Grand Central train shed. Say, a Harlem man would have wept for joy at sight of it. And there was a picture gallery that had Steve Brodie's collection beat a mile. As for bedrooms, there was enough to accommodate a State convention. The only running water in sight, though, was in the fountain out in the court, and the place looked as though when the gas man made his last call he'd taken the fixtures along with the meter.
Yet the Boss seemed to be tickled to death with the whole shooting match. At dinner that night he made me sit at one end of the dining-room table while he sat at the other, and we were so far apart we had to shout at each other when we talked. The backs of some of those dining-room chairs were more than eight feet tall. It was like leaning up against a billboard. The waiters looked like stage villains out of a job, and whenever they passed the potatoes I peeled my eye for a knife play. It didn't come though. Nothing did.
We put in nearly a week rummaging through that moldy old barracks. It was three days before I could come down to breakfast without getting lost. The Boss found a lot to look at and paw over; old books and pictures, rusty tin armor and such truck. He even poked around in the coal cellars that they called dungeons.
I liked being up in the towers best. I'd go up there and look about due west, where New York was the last time I saw it. I never wanted wings quite so bad as I did then. And, say, I'd given up a month's salary for a sporting extra some nights. Dull? Why, there are crossroads up in Sullivan County that would seem like the Tenderloin alongside of that place.
Funny thing, though, was that the Boss was so stuck on it. He'd gas about the lakes, and the mountains, and the sky, and all that, pointing 'em out to me as if they were worth seeing, when I'd seen better'n that many a time, painted on back drops—and could get away from 'em when I wanted. But here it was a case of nowhere to stay but in. You couldn't go pikin' around the landscape without falling off the edge.
Guess I'd have gone clean nutty if it hadn't been for the little glove play we did every afternoon. We had some of the chorus hands fix up a nice lot of straw in a corner of the courtyard, so's to sort of upholster the paving stones, and after we got used to the new foot-work it was almost as good as a rubber mat.
We'd been having a gingery little go one day, with the whole crew of the castle, from head purser down to the second assistant pan wrastler, holding their breath in the background, and I was playing shower bath for the Boss with a leather bucket, dipping out of the fountain pool and sousing it over him, when I spots a deadhead in the audience.
She'd been playin' peek-a-boo behind one of them big stone pillars, but I guess she had got so interested that she forgot and stepped out into the open. She was a native, all right; but say, she wasn't any back-row dago girl. She was in the prima donna class, she was. Ever see Melba made up for the "Carmen" act? Well, this one was about half Melba's size, but for shape and color she had her stung to a whisper; and as for wardrobe, she had it all on. Gold hoops in her ears, tinkly things on her jacket, and a rainbow dress with the reds and greens leading the field. Eyes were her strong point, though—regular forty candle powers. She had the current all switched on, too, and a plumb centre range on the Boss.
Now he wasn't exactly in reception costume, the Boss wasn't. When he'd knocked off his runnin' shoes it left him in a pair of salmon trunks that cleared the knees considerable. He'd made a fine ad. for a physical culture school, just as he stood; for he's well muscled, and his underpinning mates up, and he don't interfere when he walks. The cold water had brought out the baby pink all over him, and he looked like one of these circus riders does on the four sheet posters. He had the lime-light, too, for a streak of sun comin' down between the towers just hit him. I see the girl wasn't missin' any of these points. It wasn't any snap-shot she was takin', it was a time exposure.
"Who's your lady friend in the wings?" says I to the Boss.
"Where?" says he.
I jerks my thumb at her. For a minute there wasn't a word said. The Boss wasn't able, I guess, and the girl never moved an eyelash. Then he yells for the bath towel and makes a break inside, me after him. When we'd rubbed down and got into our Broadway togs, we chases back and organizes ourselves into a board of inquiry. Who was she—regular boarder, or just transient? Where did she come from? And why? Likewise how, trolley, subway, or balloon?
But I'm blessed if that whole gang didn't go as mum as a lot of railroad hands after a smash-up. Why, they hadn't seen no such lady, cross their hearts they hadn't. Maybe it was old Rosa, yes? And Rosa a sylph that would fit tight in a pork barrel! A goat, then?
"Let's give 'em the third degree," says I.
So we done it, locked 'em all in a room and put 'em on the carpet one by one. They was scared stiff, too stiff to talk. All but old Vincenzo, the white-haired old pirate the count had left in charge. He was a lovely peagreen under the gills, but he made a stagger at putting up a game of talk. No, he hadn't seen no one. He had been watching their excellencies in their little affair of honor. Still, he couldn't swear that we hadn't seen some one. Folks did see things at the castle; he had seen sights himself, though generally after dark. He remembered a song about a beautiful young lady who, back in the seventeen hundred and something, had—
But I shut him off there. This fairy might have seen seventeen summers, or maybe eighteen, but she was no antique. I could kiss the Book on that. She was a regular Casino broiler. I made a point of this. It didn't feaze the old sinner, though. He went on perjuring himself as cheerful as a paid witness, and he'd have broken the Ananias record if he'd had time.
"That will do for now," says the Boss, in a kind of "step-up-front-there" tone. "If you don't know who she was just now, we'll let it go at that. But by to-morrow you'll know the whole story. It'll be healthier for all hands if you do."
Vincenzo, though, didn't have a proper notion of what he was up against. Next day he knew less than the day before. He was ready to swear the whole outfit, by all the saints in the chapel, that there hadn't been a girl on the premises.
"Bring him along, Shorty," says the Boss, starting downstairs. "There's a hole in the sub-cellar that I want this old pirate to look through."
If that hole had been cut for an ash chute it was a dandy, for the muzzle of it was a mile more or less from anything solider'n air. We skewered Vincenzo's arms to the small of his back and let him down by the heels until he had a bird's-eye view of three counties. Then we pulled him up and tested his memory.
It worked all right. That upside-down movement had shook up his thought works. He was as anxious to testify as the front benchers at a Bowery mission on soup day. We loosened the cords a bit, set him where he could see the chute plain, and told him to blaze away.
Lucky the Boss knows Eye-talyun, for old Vincenzo couldn't separate himself from English fast enough. But they had me guessing what it was all about. I couldn't make out why the old chap had to use up all the dago words in the box just to tell who was the lady that had the private view. Once in a while the Boss would jab in a question, and then old Vincenzo would work his jaw all the faster. When it was all over the Boss looks at me as pleased as though he'd got money from home, and says:
"Shorty, how's your nerve?"
"Not much below par," says I. "Why?"
"Because," says he, "they're after us—brigands."
"Brigands!" says I. "Tut, tut! Don't tell me that this dead and alive country can show up anything like that."
"It can," says he. "The woods are full of 'em."
Then he gives me the framework of what old Vincenzo had been telling him. The prima donna girl, it seems, was a lady brigandess, daughter of the heavy villain that led the bunch. She'd come in to size us up and make an estimate as to what we'd fetch on a forced sale. They had spotted us from the time we registered and had been hangin' around outside laying for us to separate. Their game was to pinch one of us and do business with the other on a cash basis—wanted some one left who could go away and cash a check, you see. When we didn't show no disposition to take after dinner promenades or before breakfast rambles they ups and tell Vincenzo that they wants the run of the castle and promises to toast his toes if they don't get it.
They don't have to promise but once, for Vincenzo has been through the mill. It was this kind of work that had queered the count. According to Vincenzo, old Blue Beak had been Pat-Crowed regular every season for five summers, and the thing had got on his nerves.
Well, Vincenzo lets three or four of 'em in one day just as the Boss and me were swappin' uppercuts and body punches in the courtyard. Maybe they didn't like the looks of things. Anyway, they hauled off and sent for the main guy, who was busy down the line a-ways. He comes up with the reserves, and his first move is to send the girl in to get a line on us. And that was the way things stood up to date.
"Who'd a thought it?" says I. "The way she looked at you I suspicioned she'd marked you out as something good to eat."
That turned the Boss red behind the ears. "I'm afraid we'll have to ask for her visiting card the next time she calls," says he. "Come, Vincenzo, I want you to show me about locking up."
After that no one came or went without showing a pass, and I lugged about four pounds of brass keys around, for we didn't want to be stood up by a gang of moth-eaten brigands loaded with old hardware. They covered close by day, but at night we could see 'em sneakin' around the walls, like a bunch of second-story men new to their job. Neither the Boss nor I had a gun, never having had a call for such a thing, but we found a couple of old blunderbusses hung up in the hall, reg'lar junkshop relics, and we unlimbered them, loading with nails, scrap iron, and broken glass. 'Course, we couldn't hit anything special, but it broke the monotony for both sides. Once in a while they'd shoot back, just out of politeness, but I don't believe any of 'em ever took any medal at a schuetzenfest.
This lasted for two or three nights. It wasn't such bad fun, either, for us. The party of the second part, though, wasn't off on a vacation, like we were. They were out rustling for money to pay the landlord and the butcher, and they were losing time. Hard working lot of brigands they were, too. I wouldn't have monkeyed around after dark on that perpendicular landscape for twice the money, and I don't believe any of 'em drew more than union rates. Fact is, I was getting to feel almost sorry for 'em, when one night something happened to give me the marble heart.
I'd been making my rounds with the brass foundry, seeing that all the tramp chains were on, putting out the cat, and coming the "Shore Acres" act, when I sees something dark skiddoo across the court to where the Boss stood smoking in the moonshine by the fountain. I does a sprint, too, and was just about to practise a little Eleventh Avenue jiu-jitsu on whoever it was—when flip goes a piece of black lace, and there was the lady brigandess, some out of breath, but still in the game.
She opens up on the Boss in a stage whisper that whirls him around as if he'd been on a string. Not wantin' to butt in ahead of my number, I sort of loafed around just outside the ropes, but near enough to block a foul. Now, I don't know just all they said, nor how they said it, but from what the Boss told me afterward they must have had a nice little confab there that would be the real thing for grand opera if some one would only set it to music.
Seems that she'd found out, the lady brigandess had, that the old man's gang had run across a bricked-up passageway down in one corner of the basement, a kind of All-Goods-Must-Be-Delivered-Here gate that had been thrown into the discards. Of course, they'd gone to work to open it up, and they'd got as far as some iron bars that called for a hack-saw. They'd sent off for their breaking and entering kit, meaning to finish the job next day. The following night they'd planned to drop in unexpected, sew the Boss up in his blanket before he could make a move, and cart him off until I could bail him out with a peck or so of real money.
The rest of the scene the Boss never would fill in just as it came off the bat, but I managed to piece out that the brigandess, sizing us up for a couple of pikers, reckoned that we wouldn't pan out much cash, and that the Boss might be used some rough by the gang. That prospect not setting well on her mind, she rolls out the back door of their camp, makes a swift trip around to our new private entrance, squeezes through the bars, and comes up to put us wise.
Must have been just as she'd got to them lines that the Boss began taking a good look at her. I saw him gazin' into her eyes like he'd taken out a search warrant. Don't know as I could blame him much, either. She was a top liner. Wasn't anything coy or kittenish about her. She stood up and gave him as good as he sent. Next I see him make the only fool play but one that I ever knew the Boss to make—reg'lar kid trick.
"Here," says he, pulling off the big carbuncle ring he always wears, "that's to remember me by."
She didn't even look at it. No joolry for hers. Instead, she says something kind of low and sassy, pokes her face up, and begins to pucker.
The Boss he sort of side steps and squints over his shoulder at me. Now, I'm not sayin' what I'd do if a girl like that gave me the Cissy Loftus eye. It ain't up to me. But I know what I'd want the crowd to do—and I did it.
When I turned around again they was just at the breakaway, so it must have been one of the by-by forever kind, such as you see at the dock on sailing day. Then she took us down to show us how she came in, and squeezed herself through the bars. They shook hands just once, and that was all.
That night there was a grand howl from the brigands. They had put in hours of real work, the kind they'd figured on cutting out after they got into the brigand business, only to run into a burglar-proof shutter which we had put up. They pranced around to the front gate and shook their fists at us, and called us American pigs, and invited us to come out and have our ears trimmed, and a lot of nonsense like that. I wanted to turn loose the blunderbusses, but the Boss said: "No, let 'em enjoy themselves."
"How long do you suppose they'll keep that sort of thing up?" says I.
"Vincenzo says some of them will stay around all summer unless we buy them off," says he.
"That's lovely," says I, "for anyone that's dead gone on the life here."
"I'm not," says he. "I can't get out of here too quick, now."
"Oh, ho!" says I, meaning not much of anything.
Being kept awake some by their racket that night, I got to thinking how we could give that gang of grafters the double cross. There wasn't any use making a back-alley dash for it, as we didn't know the lay of the land and they were between us and New York. But most of the fancy thinking I've ever done has been along that line—how to get back to Broadway. Along toward morning I throws five aces at a flip—turns up an idee that had been at the bottom of the deck. "It's a winner!" says I, and goes to sleep happy.
After breakfast I digs through my steamer trunk and hauls out a four-ounce can of aluminum paint that the intelligent Mr. 'Ankins had mistook for shavin' soap and put in before we left home. Then I picks out a couple of suits of that tin armor in the hall, a medium-sized one, and a short-legged, forty-fat outfit, and I gets busy with my brush.
"What's up?" says the Boss, seeing me slinging on the aluminum paint.
"Been readin' a piece on 'How to Beautify the House' in the 'Ladies' Home Companion,'" says I. "Got any burnt-orange ribbon about you?"
It was a three-hour job, but when I was through I'd renovated up that cast-off toggery so that it looked as good as if it had been just picked from the bargain counter. Then I waited for things to turn up. The brigands opened the ball as soon as it was dark. They'd rigged up a battering-ram and allowed they meant to smash in our front door. The Boss laughed.
"That gate looks as if it had stood a lot of that kind of boy's play, and I guess it's good for a lot more," says he. "Now, if they were not hopelessly medieval they would try a stick of dynamite."
We could have poured hot water down on them, or dropped a few bricks, but we didn't. We just let them skin their knuckles and strain their backs on the battering-ram. About moonrise I sprung my scheme.
"What do you say to throwing a scare into that bunch of back numbers?" says I.
"How?" says the Boss.
I led him down to the court, where I'd laid out the plated tinware to dry.
"Think you can fit yourself into some of that boiler plate?" says I.
That hit the Boss in the short ribs. We tackled the job off-hand, me strappin' a section on him, and he clampin' another on me. It was like dressing for a masquerade in the dark, neither of us ever having worn steel boots or Harveyized vests before. Some of the joints didn't seem to fit any too close, and a lot of it I suppose we got on hindside front and upside down, but in the course of half an hour we were harnessed for fair, including a conning tower apiece on our heads. Then we did the march past just to see how we looked.
"With a little white muslin you'd do to go on as the ghost in 'Hamlet,'" says the Boss, through his front bars.
"You sound like a junk wagon comin' down the street," says I, "and you're a fair imitation of a tinshop on parade. Shall we go for a midnight stroll?"
"I'm ready," says the Boss.
Grabbing up a couple of two-handed skull splitters that I'd laid out to finish our costumes, we swung open the gate and sasshayed out, calm and dignified, into the middle of that bunch of brigands.
It wasn't hardly a square deal, of course, they being brought up on a steady diet of ghost stories; and I reckon there was a spooky look about us that sent a frappe wireless up and down those dago spines. But, after all, it was the banana oil the aluminum paint was mixed with that turned the trick. Smelled it, haven't you? If there's any perfume fitter for a lost soul than attar of banana oil, it hasn't been discovered. First they went bug-eyed. Next they sniffed. At the second sniff one big duffer, with rings in his ears and a fine assortment of second-hand pepper-boxes in his sash, digs up a scared yell that would have done credit to one of these Wuxtre-e-e! Wuxtre-e-e! boys, and then he skiddoos into the rocks like some one had tied a can to him. That set 'em all off, same's when you light the green cracker at the end of the bunch. Some yelled, some groaned, and some made no remarks. But they faded. Inside of two minutes by the clock we had the front yard to ourselves.
"Curtain!" says I to the Boss. "This is where we do a little disappearing ourselves, before they get curious and come back."
We hustled into the castle, pried ourselves out of our tin roofing, chucked our dunnage into old Blue Beak's best carryall, hitched a couple of auction-house steppers, and lit out on the town trail without so much as stopping to shake a da-da to old Vincenzo.
I didn't breathe real deep, though, until we'd fetched sight of a little place where the mountain left off and the dago police were supposed to begin. Just before we got to the first house we sees something up on a rock at one side of the road. Day was comin', red and sudden, and we saw who it was on the rock—the lady brigandess. Sure thing!
Now don't tax me with how she got there. I'd quit trying to keep cases on her. But there she was waiting for us. As we got in line she glued her eyes on the Boss and tossed him a lip-thriller with a real Juliet-Roxane movement. And the Boss blew one back. Well, that suited me, all right, so far as it went. But as we made for a turn in the road the Boss reached out for the lines and pulled in our pair of skates. Then he turns and looks back. So did I. She was still there, for a fact, and it kind of looked as if she was holding her arms out toward him.
"By God, Shorty," says the Boss, breathing quick and talking through his teeth, "I'm going back."
"Sure," says I, "to New York," and I had a half-Nelson on him before he knew it was coming. We went four miles that way, too, the horses finding the road, before I dared let him up. I looked for trouble then. But it had been all over in a breath, just an open-and-shut piece of battiness, same as fellers have when they jump a bridge. He was meek enough the rest of the way, but sore. I couldn't pry a word out of him anyway. Not until we got settled down in the smoking-room of a Mediterranean steamer headed for Sandy Hook did he shake his trance.
"Shorty," says he, givin' me the friendly palm, "I owe you a lot more than apologies."
"Well, I ain't no collection agency," says I. "Sponge it off."
"I was looking for the Elixir," says he, "and—and I found it."
"I can get all the 'Lixir I want," says I, "between the East River and the North, and I don't need no cork-puller, either."
That's me. I've been back a week now, and even the screech of the L trains sounds good. Everything looks good, and smells good, and feels good. You don't have to pinch yourself to find out whether or not you're alive. You know all the time that you're in New York, where there's somethin' doin' twenty hours in the day.
It'ly! Oh, yes, I want to go there again—when I get to be a mummy.
Say, you can't always tell, can you? Here a couple of weeks back I thought I'd wiped It'ly off the map. We'd settled down in this little old burg, me and the Boss and Mister 'Ankins, nice and comfortable, and not too far from Broadway. And we was havin' our four o'clock teas with the mitts, as reg'lar as if there was money comin' to us for each round, when this here Sherlock proposition turns up.
Mister 'Ankins, he was the first to spot it, and he comes trottin' in where we was prancin' around the mat, his jaw loose, and his eyebrows propped up like Eddie Foy's when he wears his salary face.
"Hit's most hunnacountable, sir," says he.
"Time out!" says I, blockin' the Boss's pet upper cut. "Mister 'Ankins seems to have something on the place where his mind ought to be."
"Hankins," says the Boss, putting down his guard reluctant, "haven't I told you never to——"
"Yes, sir; yes, sir," says Mister 'Ankins, "but there's that houtrageous thing fawst to the door and, Lor' 'elp me, sir, Hi cawnt pull it hoff."
The Boss he looks at me, and I looks at the Boss, and then we both looks at Mister 'Ankins. Seein' as how he couldn't reveal much with that cheese pie face of his, we goes and takes a look at the door. It was the outside one, just as you gets off the elevator.
And there was something there, too; the dizziest kind of a visitin' card that was ever handed out, I suspicion, in those particular swell chambers for single gents. It was a cuff, just a plain, every day wrist chafer, pinned up with the wickedest little blood letter that ever came off the knife rack. Half an inch of the blade stuck through the panel, so the one who put it there must have meant that it shouldn't blow away. The Boss jerks it loose, sizes it up a minute, and says:
"Stiletto, eh? Made in Firenze—that's Florence. Shorty, have you any friends from abroad that are in the habit of leaving their cutlery around promiscuous?"
"I know folks as far west as Hoboken, if that's what you mean," says I, "but there ain't none of them in the meat business."
Well, we takes the thing inside under the bunch light and has another squint.
"Here's writin' in red ink," says I, and holds up the cuff.
"Read it," says the Boss.
"I could play it better on a flute," says I. "You try."
We didn't have to try hard. The minute he skinned his eye over that his jaw goes loose like he'd stopped a body wallop with his short ribs.
"It's Tuscan," says he, "and it means that someone's in trouble and wants help."
"Do they take this for police headquarters, or a Charity Organization?" says I. "Looks to me like a new kind of wireless from the wash lady. Why don't you pay her?"
"That's one of my cuffs," says the Boss.
"It's too well ventilated to get into the bag again," says I.
"Shorty," says he, lettin' my Joe-Weber go over his shoulder, "do you know where I saw that cuff last? It was in North Italy!"
Then he figured out by the queer laundry marks just where he'd shed this identical piece of his trousseau. We'd left it, with a few momentoes just as valuable, when we made that quick move away from that punky old palace after our little monkey shine with the brigands.
"You don't mean—?" says I. But there wa'n't no use wasting breath on that question. He was blushin'. We fiddled some on its having come from old Vincenzo, or maybe from Blue Beak, the Count that rented us the place; but the minute we tied that cuff up with the castle we knew that the one who sent it meant to ring up a hurry call on us for help, and that it wasn't anybody but the Lady Brigandess herself, the one that put us next and kept the Boss from being sewed up in a blanket.
"That's a Hey Rube for me," says I. "How about-cher?"
But the Boss was kicking off his gym. shoes and divin' through his shirt. In five minutes by the watch we were dressed for slootin'.
"I know a Dago roundsman—" says I.
"No police in this," says the Boss.
"Guess you're right," says I. "Too much lime-light and too little headwork. We'll cut the cops out. Where to first?"
"I'm going to call on the Italian consul," says the Boss. "He's a friend of mine."
So we opened the sloot business with a ride in one of those heavy weight 'lectric hansoms, telling the throttle pusher to shove her wide open. Maybe we broke the speed ord'nance some, but we caught Mr. Consul on the fly, just as he was punchin' the time card. He wore a rich set of Peter Cooper whiskers, but barring them he was a well finished old gent, with a bow that was an address of welcome all by itself. The way that he shoved out leather chairs you'd thought he was makin' a present of 'em to us.
But the Boss hadn't any time to waste on flourishes. We got right down to cases. He wanted to know about where the Tuscans usually headed for when they left Ellis Island, what sort of gangs they had in New York and what kind of Black Hand deviltry they were most given to. He asked a hundred questions and never answered one. Then he shook hands with Mr. Consul and we chased out.
"It looks like the Malabistos," says the Boss. "They have a kind of headquarters over a basement restaurant. Perhaps they've shut her up there. We'll take a look at the place anyway."
A lot of good it did us, too. The spaghetti works was in full blast, with a lot of husky lowbrows goin' in and out, smokin' cheroots half as long as your arm, and acting as if the referee had just declared a draw. The opening for a couple of bare fisted investigators wasn't what you might call promisin'. Not having their grips and passwords, we didn't feel as though we could make good in their lodge.
"I could round up a gang and then we could rush 'em," says I.
"That wouldn't do," says the Boss. "Strategy is what we need here."
"I'm just out of that," says I.
"Perhaps there's a back door," says the Boss.
So we moseys around the block, huntin' for a family entrance. But that ain't the way they build down in Mulberry Bend. They chucks their old rookeries slam up against one another, to keep 'em from fallin' over, I guess. Generally though, there's some sort of garlic flue through the middle of the block, but you need a balloon to find it.
"Hist!" says I. "Hold me head while I thinks a thunk. Didn't I come down here once to watch a try-out? Sure! And it was pulled off in the palatial parlors of Appetite Joe Cardenzo's Chowder Association, the same being a back room two flights up. Now if we could dig up Appetite Joe—"
We did. He was around the corner playing 'scope for brandied plums, but he let go the cards long enough to listen to my fairy tale about wantin' a joint where I could give my friend a private lesson.
"Sure!" said Joe, passing out the key, "but you breaka da chair I charga feefty cent."
There were two back windows and the view wasn't one you'd want to put in a frame. Down below was a court filled with coal boxes and old barrels, and perfumed like the lee side of Barren Island. But catty-corners across was the back of that spaghetti mill. We could tell it by the two-decker bill board on the roof. In the upper windows we could see Dago women and kids, but the windows on the second floor were black.
"Iron shutters," says the Boss. "And that's where she is if anywhere."
"Got a scalin' ladder and a jimmy in your pocket?" says I. "Then I'll have to run around to a three ball exchange and see if I can't dig up an outfit."
A patent fire escape and a short handled pick-axe was the best I could do. We made the board jumper fast inside and down I went. Then there was acrobatics; swingin' across to that three inch window ledge, balancin' with one foot on nothing, and single hand work with the pick-axe. Lucky that shutter-bar was half rusted away. She came open with a bang when she did come, and it near sent me down into the barrels. Me eyelashes held though, and there I was, up against a window.
"See anything?" says the Boss.
"Room to rent," says I, for it looked like we'd pried open a vacant flat.
Just then the sash goes up and something shiny glitters in the dark. I was just lettin' go with one hand to swing for a head when someone lets loose a Dago remark that was mighty business like and more or less familiar.
"Is it you?" says I. "If you're the Lady Brigandess own up sudden."
"Ah-h-h!" says she, thankful like, as if she'd seen her horse win by a nose. Then she puts up the rib tickler and grabs me by the wrist.
"Guess your lady friend's here," I sings out to the Boss.
"Have you got her?" says he.
"No," says I; "she's got me."
But no sooner does she hear him than she lets go of me, shoves her head out of the window and calls up to him. The Boss says something back and for the next two minutes they swaps Dago talk to beat the cars.
"How shall I pass her up?" says I.
Just then she made a spring for that rope ladder of ours and overhands up like a trapeze star. An' me thinkin' we'd need a derrick or a bo's'n's chair!
It wa'n't no time for reunions at that stage of the game, nor for hard luck stories, either. None of us was pining to hold any sociables with the Malabistos. We quit the chowder club on the jump, streaked up the hill into Mott street, and piled into one of those fuzzy two horse chariots that they keep hooked up for weddin's and funerals.
"Where to?" says the bone thumper.
"Head her for Buffalo and let loose to beat the Empire State express," says I, "but hunt for asphalt."
That fetched us up Second Avenue, but there wasn't any conversin' done until we'd put fifty blocks behind us. Then I reckon the Boss asked the Lady Brigandess if she'd missed any meals lately. From the way he gave orders to steer for a food refinery she must have allowed that she had.
Not having time to be particular, we hit a goulash emporium where they spell the meat card mostly with cz's. But they gave us a private room upstairs, which was what we wanted. And it wasn't until we got inside that we had a full length view of her. Say, I was glad we'd landed so far east of Broadway. Post me for a welcher if she wasn't rigged out in the same kind of a chorus costume that she wore when we saw her last, over there in It'ly! Only it was more so. It was the kind of costume that'd been all right on a cigarette card, or outside a Luna Park joint, and it would have let her into the Arion ball without a ticket; but it wasn't built for circulatin' 'round New York in.
"Piffle! Piffle!" says I to the Boss. "They'll think we've pinched her out of a Kiralfy ballet. Hadn't we better send for yer lady-fren's trunk?"
The Boss grinned, but he looked her over as satisfied as if she'd been dressed accordin' to his own water color sketches. She was something of a star, yes, yes! If you were lookin' for figure and condition, she had 'em. And when it came to the color scheme—well, no grease paint manipulator ever mixed caffy-o-lay and raspb'ry pink the way it grew on her. For a made-in-It'ly girl she was the real meringue.
"We'll see about clothes later," says the Boss, and ordered up seventeen kinds of sckeezedsky, to be served in relays.
She brought her appetite with her, all right, even if she had mislaid her suit case. And, while she was pitchin' into what passes for grub on Second Avenue, she told the Boss the story of her life. Leastways, that's what it sounded like to me.
The way I gets it from the Boss was like this: Her father, the old brigand pantanta, couldn't get over the way we'd bansheed his bunch of third rate kidnappers with our tin armor play. He accumulated a sort of ingrowin' grouch and soured on the whole push because they wouldn't turn state's evidence as to who had given us the dope to do 'em.
The Lady Brigandess she had stood that for a while, until one day she gets her Irish up, tells the old man how she tipped us off herself, and then makes tracks out of the country. One way and another she'd heard a lot about America. So she takes out yellow tickets on a few spare sparks and buys a steerage berth for New York.
Well, she hadn't more'n got past Sandy Hook before a Malabisto runner spotted her. So did the advance man of another gang. They sized up the gold hoops in her ears, her real money necklace and some of the other furniture she sported, and they invited her home to tea. Just how the scrap began or what it was all about she didn't know, so the story by rounds hasn't been told. The next thing she knew though, they'd hustled her into the Bend and bottled her up in that back room, but not before she'd done a little extemporaneous carvin' on her own account. I gathered that three or four of the Malabistos needed some plain sewin' done on 'em after the bell rang, and that the rest wasn't so anxious for her society as at first. She'd been cooped up for two days when she managed to get hold of a Dago woman who promised to carry that cuff to the place where old Vincenzo had told her we hung out in New York.
"So far it's as good as playin' leading heavy in 'The Shadows of a Great City,'" says I, "but what's down for the next act? Where does she want to go now?"
Say, you'd thought the Boss had been nipped with the goods on. He goes strawb'ry color back to his ears. Next he takes a look across the table at her where she sits, quiet and easy, and as much to home as Lady Graftwad on the back seat of the tonneau. She was takin' notice of him, too, kind of runnin' over his points like he was something rich she'd won at a raffle and was glad to get. But the Boss he braced up and looked me straight in the eye.
"Shorty," says he, "I want to call your attention to the fact that this young lady is something like three thousand miles from home, that we're the only two human beings on this side of the ocean she knows by sight, and that once she risked a good deal to do us a service."
"I'll put my name to all that," says I, "but what does it lead up to; where do we exit?"
"That," says the Boss, "is a conundrum."
"Ain't she got any programme?" says I.
"She—er—that is," says the Boss, trying to duck, "she says she wants to go with us."
"Whe-e-e-ew!" says I, through my front teeth. "This is so sudden. Just tell the lady, will you, that I've resigned."
"No you don't, Shorty," says the Boss. "You'll see this thing through."
"But look at them circus clothes," says I. "I've got no aunts or grandmothers, or second cousins that I could unload a Lady Brigandess on."
"Nor I," says the Boss.
But he didn't look half so worried as he might. Say, when I came to figure out what we were up against, I could feel little cold storage whiffs on my shoulder blades. Suppose someone should meet you in the middle of Herald Square, hand you a ring-tailed tiger, and then skiddoo. What? That would be an easy one compared to our proposition. It wasn't a square deal to shake her, and she'd made up her mind not to stay put anywhere again.
"Wait here until I telephone someone," says the Boss.
"De-lighted!" says I. "Better ring up the Gerry Society, too, while you're about it. They might help us out."
The Lady Brigandess and I didn't have a real sociable time while the Boss was gone. I could see she was watchin' every move I made, as much as to say, "You can't lose me, Charlie." It was just as cheery as waitin' in the Sergeant's room for bail.
When the Boss does show up he wears a regular breakfast food smile that made me leary, for when he looks tickled it don't signify that things are coming his way. Generally it only means that he's goin' to break out in a new spot.
"It just occurred to me," says he, "that I had accepted an invitation from the Van Urbans for the opera."
"What kind of a bluff did you throw?" says I.
"None at all, Shorty," says he. "I just asked if they would have room for three, and they said they would."
Say, the Boss don't need no nerve tonic, does he? You know about the Van Urbans, don't you? They weigh in at something like forty millions and are a good fifth on Mrs. Astor's list.
"Straight goods, now," says I, "you don't reckon to spring this aggregation on the diamond horse-shoe, do you?"
"We must put in the time somehow," says he.
I thought it might be all a grand josh, until I'd watched some of his moves. First we drives over to Fift' avenue and stops at one of those places where it says "Robes" on a brass plate outside. The Boss stays in there four minutes and comes out with a piece of dry goods that they must have stood him up a hundred for—kind of an opera cloak, ulster length, all rustly black silk outside and white inside. The Lady Brigandess she puts it on with no more fuss than as if she'd been brought up on such things and had ordered this one a month ahead.
Next we heads for our own quarters, having shifted our Mott street chariot for the real article, with rubber tires and silver plated lamps. About that time I got wise to the fact that the Boss and her Ladyship were ringin' me into their talk, and I was gettin' curious. I see the Boss shaking his head like he was tryin' to prove an alibi, and every once in a while pointin' to me. First thing I knows she'd quit his side of the carriage and was snugglin' up alongside of me, and cooin' away in some outlandish kind of baby talk that I was glad I didn't savvy. I made no kick though, until she begins to pat me on the head.
"Call her off, will you?" says I. "I'm no lost kid."
"The young lady is just expressing her thanks," says the Boss, "to the gallant young hero who so nobly rescued her from the Malabistos. Don't shy, Shorty; she says that anyone so brave as you are needn't worry about not being handsome."
He was kiddin' me, see? I knew he'd given her some fairy tale or other, but I didn't have any come back that she could understand. I felt like a monkey though, having my hair mussed and thinkin' maybe next minute she'd give me the knife. And the Boss he sat there grinnin' like a Jack lantern.
I didn't get a chance to break away until we got to our own ranch. Then we left her sitting in the buggy while we went up to make a lightnin' change. Sure, I've got a head waiter's rig; bought it the time I had to lead off the grand march at the Tim Grogan Association's tenth annual ball, but I never looked to wear it out attendin' grand opera.
"I hope the Van Urbans will appreciate that I'm givin' 'em a treat," says I.
"They'll be blind if they don't," says the Boss. "Is it your collar that hurts?"
"No, it's the shoes," says I, "but the pain'll numb down by the time we get there."
We made our grand entry about the end of the second spasm. The Van Urbans had taken their corners. There was Papa Van Urban, lookin' like ready money; and Mamma Van Urban, made up regardless; and Sis Van Urban, one of those tall Gainsborough girls that any piker could pick for a winner on form and past performance.
Say, it took all the front I had in stock just to tag along as an also ran, but when I thought of the Boss, headin' the procession, I was dead sorry for him. And what kind of a game do you think he hands out? Straight talk, nothin' but! Course he didn't make no family hist'ry out of tellin' who his lady-fren' was, but as far as he went it tallied with the card, even to lettin' on that she was a Lady Brigandess.
"Out we go now," says I to myself, and looks to see Mamma Van Urban throw a cat fit. But she didn't. She just squealed a little, same's if someone had tickled her behind the ear, and then she began slingin' that gurgly-gurgly Newport talk that the Sixt' avenue sales ladies use. Sis Van Urban caught the same cue, and to hear 'em you'd thought the Boss had done something real cute. They gave the Lady Brigandess the High Bridge wig-wag and shooed her into a stage corner chair.
She never made a kick at anything until they tried to take away her cloak. Not much! She was just beginnin' to be stuck on that. She kept it wrapped around her like she knew the proprietor wa'n't responsible for overcoats. The Boss tried to tell her how there wa'n't any grand larceny intended, but it was no go. She had her suspicions of the crowd, so they just had to let her sit there draped in black. And at that she wa'n't any misfit.
Now I'd been inside the Metropolitan once or twice before, havin' blown myself to a standee just for the sake of lookin' at the real things with their war paint on, but I wasn't feelin' any more to home in the back of that box than I would in the pilot house of an air ship.
But the Lady Brigandess didn't show no more stage fright than an auctioneer. She just holds her chin up and looks out at all that display of openwork dressmaking and cut glass exhibit without so much as battin' an eyelash. She was takin' it all in, too, from the bargain hats in the fam'ly circle, to the diamond tummy warmers in the parterre, but you'd never guessed that she'd just escaped from a Dago back district where they have one mail a week. If I hadn't seen her chumming with a hold-up gang that couldn't have bought fifteen cent lodgings on the Bowery, I'd bet the limit that she was a thoroughbred in disguise.
There was some rubberin' at her, of course, and I expect we had the safety vault crowd guessin' as to what kind of a prize the Van Urbans had won, but it didn't feaze her a bit. She just gave 'em the Horse Show stare, as cool as a mint frappe. The ringin' up of the curtain didn't disturb her any, either. When a chesty baritone sauntered down toward the footlights and began callin' the chorus names she glanced over her shoulder, casual like, just to see what the row was all about, and then went on sizin' up the folks in the boxes. She couldn't have done it better if she'd taken lessons by mail.
"If she would only talk!" gurgles Mrs. Van Urban. "Doesn't she speak anything but Italian?"
"Pure Tuscan is all she knows," says the Boss, "and the way she talks it is better than any music you'll hear to-night. Wait until she has satisfied her eyes."
Pretty soon the baritone quits jawin' the chorus and a prima donna in spangled clothes comes to the front. Maybe it was Melba, or Nordica. Anyway, she was an A-1 warbler. She hadn't let go of more'n a dozen notes before the Lady Brigandess begins to sit up and take notice. First she has a kind of surprised look, as if a ringer had been sprung on her; and then, as the high C artist begins to let herself go, she swings around and listens with both ears. The music didn't seem to go in one side and out the other. It stuck somewhere between, and swayed and lifted her like a breeze in a posy bush. I could hear her toe tappin' out the tune and see her head keep time to it. Why, if I could get my money's worth out of music like that I'd buy a season ticket.
When the prima donna had cut it off, with her voice way up in the flies somewhere, and the house had rose to her, as the bleachers do when one of the Giants knocks a three bagger, the Lady Brigandess was still sittin' there, waitin' for more.
Her trance didn't last long, though. She just cast one eye around the boxes, where the folks were splittin' gloves and wavin' fans and yellin' "Bravo! Bravo!" so that you'd 'a-thought somebody'd carried Ohio by a big majority, and then she takes a notion to get into the game herself.
Shuckin' that high priced opera cloak she jumps up, drops one hand on her hip, holds the other up to her lips and peels off a kind of whoop-e-e-e yodel that shakes the skylight. Talk about your cornet bugle calls! That little ventriloquist pass of hers had 'em stung to a whisper. It cut through all that patter and screech like a siren whistle splittin' a fish horn serenade, and it was as clear as the ring of silver sleigh bells on a frosty night.
After that it was all up to her. The other folks quit and turned to see who had done it. Two or three thousand pairs of double barrelled opera glasses were pointed our way. The folks behind 'em found something worth lookin' at, too. Our Brigandess wasn't in disguise any more. She stood up there at the box rail, straight as a Gibson girl, her black hair hangin' in two thick braids below her waist, the gold hoops in her ears all ajiggle, her little fringed jacket risin' and fallin', and her black eyes snappin' like a pair of burning trolley fuses. Well, say, if she wa'n't a pastelle I never saw one! I guess the star singer thought so, too. She'd just smiled and nodded at the others, but she blew a kiss up to our lady before she left.
I don't know just what would have happened next if someone hadn't shown up at the back of the box and asked for the Boss. It was the Italian consul that we'd been to see earlier in the day.
"Where'd you find her?" says he.
"Meanin' who?" says the Boss.
"Why, her highness the Princess Padova."
"Beg pardon," says the Boss, "but if you mean the young lady there, you're wrong. She's the daughter of a poor but honest brigand chief, and she's just come from Tuscany to discover New York."
"She's the Princess Padova or I'm a Turk," says the Consul. "Ask her to step back here a moment."
It sounded like a pipe dream, all right. Who ever saw a princess rigged out for the tambourine act and mixin' with a lot of chestnut roasters? But old whiskers had the evidence down pat, though. As he told it, she was a sure enough princess, so far as the tag went, only the family had been in the nobility business so long that the pedigree had lasted out the plunks.
It seemed that away back, before the Chicago fire or the Sayers-Heenan go, her great-grandpop had princed it in regulation shape. Then there'd come a grand mix-up, a war or something, and a lot of princes had either lost their jobs or got on the blacklist. Her great-grandpop had been one of the kind that didn't know when he was licked. They euchred him out of his castle and building lots, but he gathered up what was left of his gang and slid for the tall timber, where he went on princing the best he knew how. As he couldn't disgrace himself by workin', and hadn't lost the hankerin' for reg'lar meals, he got into the habit of taking up contributions from whoever came along, calling it a road tax. And that's how the Padova family fell into playing the hold-up game.
But the old man Padova, the Princess' father, never forgot that if he'd had his rights he would have been boss of his ward, and he always acted accordin'. So when he picked the Consul up on the road one night with a broken leg he gave him the best in the house, patched him up like an ambulance surgeon, and kept him board free until he could walk back to town. And so, when Miss Padova takes it into her head to elope to America with a tin trunk, Papa Padova hikes himself down to the nearest telegraph office and cables over a general alarm to his old friend, who's been made consul.
"I've been having Mulberry Bend raked with a fine toothed comb," says he, "but when I saw her highness stand up here in the box I knew her at a glance, although it's been ten years since I saw her last."