SHORTY McCABE ON THE JOB
Author of Shorty Mccabe, Side-Stepping with Shorty, Etc.
Illustrated by F. Vaux Wilson
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
Copyright, 1913, 1914, 1915, by Sewell Ford Copyright, 1915, by Edward J. Clode All rights reserved
I. Wishing a New One on Shorty 1 II. A Few Squirms by Bayard 18 III. Peeking in on Pedders 32 IV. Two Singles to Goober 49 V. The Case of a Female Party 65 VI. How Millie Shook the Jinx 81 VII. Reverse English on Sonny Boy 100 VIII. Gumming Gopher to the Map 115 IX. What Lindy Had up Her Sleeve 131 X. A Case of Nobody Home 150 XI. Under the Wire with Edwin 165 XII. A Fifty-Fifty Split with Hunk 182 XIII. A Follow Through by Eggy 198 XIV. Catching up with Gerald 217 XV. Shorty Hears from Pemaquid 233 XVI. Scratch One on Bulgaroo 251 XVII. Bayard Ducks His Past 267 XVIII. Trailing Dudley Through a Trance 285 XIX. A Little While with Alvin 304
"It might give us some clew," says I, "as to what him and your paw has a run-in about" Frontispiece
FACING PAGE "I wouldn't have anything happen to you for the world," says I 8
"Now see hea-uh, Mistuh Constable," says he, "I wouldn't go for to do anything like that" 60
"Say, I'm a bear for Paris" 97
"Now, friends," he calls, "everybody in on the chorus" 124
"What's the idea," says Mabel, "wishin' this Rube stuff on us?" 157
He sidles up to the desk and proceeds to make some throaty noises 199
Blamed if Dudley don't have the nerve to tow Veronica into the next room, stretchin' on tiptoe to talk in her ear 298
SHORTY McCABE ON THE JOB
WISHING A NEW ONE ON SHORTY
Do things just happen, like peculiar changes in the weather, or is there a general scheme on file somewhere? Is it a free-for-all we're mixed up in—with our Harry Thaws and our Helen Kellers; our white slavers, our white hopes, and our white plague campaigns; our trunk murders, and our fire heroes? Or are we runnin' on schedule and headed somewhere?
I ain't givin' you the answer. I'm just slippin' you the proposition, with the side remark that now and then, when the jumble seems worse than ever, you can get a glimpse of what might be a clew, or might not.
Anyway, here I was, busy as a little bee, blockin' right hooks and body jabs that was bein' shot at me by a husky young uptown minister who's a headliner at his job, I understand, but who's developin' a good, useful punch on the side. I was just landin' a cross wallop to the ribs, by way of keepin' him from bein' too ambitious with his left, when out of the tail of my eye I notices Swifty Joe edgin' in with a card in his paw.
"Time out!" says I, steppin' back and droppin' my guard. "Well, Swifty, what's the scandal?"
"Gent waitin' to see you," says he.
"Let him wait, then," says I.
"Ah-r-r-r, but he's a reg'lar gent!" protests Swifty, fingerin' the card.
"Even so, he'll keep five minutes more, won't he?" says I.
"But he—he's——" begins Swifty, strugglin' to connect that mighty intellect of his with his tongue.
"Ah, read off the name," says I. "Is it Mayor Mitchel, Doc Wilson, or who?"
"It says J. B-a-y-a-r-d Ste—Steele," says Swifty.
"Eh?" says I, gawpin'. "Lemme see. Him! Say, Swifty, you go back and tell J. Bayard that if he's got nerve enough to want to see me, it'll be a case of wait. And if he's at all messy about it, I give you leave to roll him downstairs. The front of some folks! Come on now, Dominie! Cover up better with that right mitt: I'm goin' to push in a few on you this time."
And if you never saw a Fifth avenue preacher well lathered up you should have had a glimpse of this one at the end of the next round. He's game, though; even thanks me for it puffy.
"You're welcome," says I. "Maybe I did steam 'em in a bit; but I expect it was because I had my mind on that party out front. While you're rubbin' down I'll step in and attend to his case. If I could only wish a pair of eight-ounce gloves on him for a few minutes!"
So, without stoppin' to change, or even sheddin' the mitts, I walks into the front office, to discover this elegant party in the stream-line cutaway pacin' restless up and down the room. Yes, he sure is some imposin' to look at, with his pearl gray spats, and the red necktie blazin' brilliant under the close-clipped crop of Grand Duke whiskers. I don't know what there is special about a set of frosted face shubb'ry that sort of suggests bank presidents and so on, but somehow they do. Them and the long, thin nose gives him a pluty, distinguished look, in spite of the shifty eyes and the weak mouth lines. But I ain't in a mood to be impressed.
"Well?" says I snappy.
I expect my appearin' in a cut-out jersey, with my shoulder muscles still bunched, must have jarred him a little; for he lifts his eyebrows doubtful and asks, "Er—Professor McCabe, is it?"
"Uh-huh," says I. "What'll it be?"
"My name," says he, "is Steele."
"I know," says I. "Snug fit too, I judge."
He flushes quick and stiffens. "Do you mean to infer, Sir, that——"
"You're on," says I. "The minute I heard your name I placed you for the smooth party that tried to unload a lot of that phony Radio stock on Mrs. Benny Sherwood. Wanted to euchre her out of the twenty thousand life insurance she got when Benny took the booze count last winter, eh? Well, it happens she's a friend of Mrs. McCabe, and it was through me your little scheme was blocked. Now I guess we ought to be real well acquainted."
But I might have known such crude stuff wouldn't get under the hide of a polished article like J. Bayard. He only shrugs his shoulders and smiles sarcastic.
"The pleasure seems to be all mine," says he. "But as you choose. Who am I to contend with the defender of the widow and the orphan that between issuing a stock and trading in it there is a slight difference? However deeply I am distressed by your private opinion of me, I shall try to——"
"Ah, ditch the sarcasm," says I, "and spring your game! What is it this trip, a wire-tappin' scheme, or just plain green goods?"
"You flatter me," says J. Bayard. "No, my business of the moment is not to appropriate any of the princely profits of your—er—honest toil," and he stops for another of them acetic-acid smiles.
"Yes," says I, "it is a batty way of gettin' money—workin' for it, eh? But go on. Whatcher mean you lost your dog?"
"I—er—I beg pardon?" says he.
"Ah, get down to brass tacks!" says I. "You ain't payin' a society call, I take it?"
He gets that. And what do you guess comes next? Well, he hands over a note. It's from a lawyer's office, askin' him to call at two P.M. that day to meet with me, as it reads, "and discuss a matter of mutual interest and advantage." It's signed "R. K. Judson, Attorney."
"Well, couldn't you wait?" says I. "It's only eleven-thirty now, you know."
"It is merely a question," says Steele, "of whether or not I shall go at all."
"So you hunt me up to do a little private sleuthin' first, eh?" says I.
"It is only natural," says he. "I don't know this Mr.—er—Judson, or what he wants of me."
"No more do I," says I. "And the notice I got didn't mention you at all; so you have that much edge on me."
"And you are going?" says he.
"I'll take a chance, sure," says I. "Maybe I'll button my pockets a little tighter, and tuck my watchfob out of sight; but no lawyer can throw a scare into me just by askin' me to call. Besides, it says 'mutual interest and advantage,' don't it?"
"H-m-m-m!" says Mr. Steele, after gazin' at the note thoughtful. "So it does. But lawyers have a way of——" Here he breaks off sudden and asks, "You say you never heard of this Mr. Judson before?"
"That's where you fool yourself," says I. "I said I didn't know him; but if it'll relieve your mind any, I've heard him mentioned. He used to handle Pyramid Gordon's private affairs."
"Ah! Gordon!" says Steele, his shifty eyes narrowin'. "Yes, yes! Died abroad a month or so ago, didn't he?"
"In Rome," says I. "The rheumatism got to his heart. He could see it comin' to him before he left. Poor old Pyramid!"
"Indeed?" says Steele. "And was Gordon—er—a friend of yours, may I ask?"
"One of my best," says I. "Know him, did you?"
Mr. Steele darts a quick glance at me. "Rather!" says he.
"Then there can't be so much myst'ry about this note, then," says I. "Maybe he's willed us a trinket or so. Friend of yours too, I expect?"
J. Bayard almost grins at that. "I have no good reason to doubt," says he, "that Pyramid Gordon hated me quite as thoroughly and actively as I disliked him."
"He was good at that too," says I. "Had a little run-in with him, did you?"
"One that lasted something like twenty years," says Steele.
"Oh!" says I. "Fluffs or finance?"
"Purely a business matter," says he. "It began in Chicago, back in the good old days when trade was unhampered by fool administrations. At the time, if I may mention the fact, I had some little prominence as a pool organizer. We were trying to corner July wheat,—getting along very nicely too,—when your friend Gordon got in our way. He had managed to secure control of a dinky grain-carrying railroad and a few elevators. On the strength of that he demanded that we let him in. So we were forced to take measures to—er—eliminate him."
"And Pyramid wouldn't be eliminated, eh?" says I.
J. Bayard shrugs his shoulders careless and spreads out his hands. "Gordon luck!" says he. "Of course we were unprepared for such methods as he employed against us. Up to that time no one had thought of stealing an advance copy of the government crop report and using it to break the market. However, it worked. Our corner went to smash. I was cleaned out. You might have thought that would have satisfied most men; but not Pyramid Gordon! Why, he even pushed things so far as to sell out my office furniture, and bought the brass signs, with my name on them, to hang in his own office, as a Sioux Indian displays a scalp, or a Mindanao head hunter ornaments his gatepost with his enemy's skull. That was the beginning; and while my opportunities for paying off the score have been somewhat limited, I trust I have neglected none. And now—well, I can't possibly see why the closing up of his affairs should interest me at all. Can you?"
"Say, you don't think I'm doin' any volunteer frettin' on your account, do you?" says I.
"I quite understand," says he. "But about seeing this lawyer—do you advise me to go?"
He's squintin' at me foxy out of them shifty eyes of his, cagy and suspicious, like we was playin' some kind of a game. You know the sort of party J. Bayard is—if you don't, you're lucky. So what's the use wastin' breath? I steps over and opens the front office door.
"Don't chance it," says I. "I wouldn't have anything happen to you for the world. I'll tell Judson I've come alone, to talk for the dictograph and stand on the trapdoor. And as you go down the stairs there better walk close to the wall."
J. Bayard, still smilin', takes the hint. "Oh, I may turn up, after all," says he as he leaves.
"Huh!" says I, indicatin' deep scorn.
But if I'd been curious before about this invite to the law office, I was more so now. So shortly after two I was on hand. And I find Mr. Steele has beat me to it by a minute or so. He's camped in the waitin' room, lookin' as imposin' and elegant as ever.
"Well, you ain't been sandbagged or jabbed with a poison needle yet, I see," says I.
He glances around uneasy. "Mr. Judson is coming," says he. "They said he was—here he is!"
Nothin' terrifyin' about Judson, either. He's a slim-built, youngish lookin' party, with an easy, quiet way of talkin', a friendly, confidin' smile; but about the keenest, steadiest pair of brown eyes I ever had turned loose on me. He shakes us cordial by the hand, thanks us for bein' prompt, and tows us into his private office.
"I have the papers all ready," says he.
"That's nice," says I. "And maybe sometime or other you can tell us what it's all about?"
"At once," says he. "You are named as co-executors with me for the estate of the late Curtis B. Gordon."
At which J. Bayard gasps. "I?" says he. "An executor for Pyramid Gordon?"
Judson nods. "I understand," says he, "that you were—ah—not on friendly terms with Mr. Gordon. But he was a somewhat unusual man, you know. In this instance, for example, he has selected Professor McCabe, whom he designates as one of his most trusted friends, and yourself, whom he designates as his—ah—oldest enemy. No offense, I hope?"
"Quite accurate, so far as I am concerned," says Steele.
"Very well," says the lawyer. "Then I may read the terms of his will that he wishes us to carry out."
And, believe me, even knowin' some of the odd streaks of Pyramid Gordon the way I did, this last and final sample had me bug-eyed before Judson got through! It starts off straight enough, with instructions to deal out five thousand here and ten there, to various parties,—his old office manager, his man Minturn, that niece of his out in Denver, and so on. But when it come to his scheme for disposin' of the bulk of his pile—well, just lemme sketch it for you!
Course, I can't give it to you the way Pyramid had it put down; but here was the gen'ral plan: Knowin' he had to take the count, he'd been chewin' things over. He wa'n't squealin', or tryin' to square himself either here or beyond. He'd lived his own life in his own way, and he was standin' pat on his record. He knew he'd put over some raw deals; but the same had been handed to him. Maybe he'd hit back at times harder'n he'd been hit. If he had, he wa'n't sorry. He'd only played the game accordin' to the rules he knew.
Still, now that it was most over, he had in mind a few cases where he'd always meant to sort of even things up if he could. There was certain parties he'd thrown the hooks into kind of deep maybe, durin' the heat of the scrap; and afterwards, from time to time, he'd thought he might have a chance to do 'em a good turn,—help 'em back to their feet again, or something like that. But somehow, with bein' so busy, and kind of out of practice at that sort of thing, he'd never got around to any of 'em. So now he was handin' over the job to us, all in a lump.
"And I have here," goes on Mr. Judson, exhibitin' a paper, "a list of names and addresses. They are the persons, Mr. Steele, on whose behalf you are requested, with the advice and help of Professor McCabe, to perform some kind and generous act. My part will be merely to handle the funds." And he smiles confidin' at J. Bayard.
Mr. Steele has been listenin' close, his ears cocked, and them shifty eyes of his takin' in every move; but at this last he snorts. "Do you mean to say," says he, "that I am asked to—er—to play the good fairy to persons who have been wronged by Pyramid Gordon?"
"Precisely," says the lawyer. "They number something over twenty, I believe; but the fund provided is quite ample—nearly three millions, if we are able to realize on all the securities."
"But this is absurd," says J. Bayard, "asking me to distribute gifts and so on to a lot of strangers with whom I have nothing in common, except, perhaps, a common enemy! A fine time I'd have, wouldn't I, explaining that——"
"Pardon me," breaks in Judson, "but one of the conditions is that it must all be done anonymously; at least, so far as the late Mr. Gordon is concerned. As for your own identity in the several cases, you may make it known or not, as you see fit."
"How truly fascinating!" sneers Mr. Steele, gettin' up and reachin' for his hat. "To go about like an unseen ministering angel, trying to salve the bygone bruises of those who were unlucky enough to get in Pyramid Gordon's way! Beautiful! But unfortunately I have other affairs."
He was startin' for the door too, when Judson smiles quiet and holds up a stayin' hand. "Just a moment more," says the lawyer. "You may be interested to hear of another disposition decided upon by Mr. Gordon in the event of your refusal to act in this capacity."
"He might have known me better," says Steele.
"Perhaps he did," says Judson. "I should hardly say that he lacked insight or shrewdness. He was a man too, who was quite accustomed to having his own way. In this instance he had rather a respectable fortune to dispose of according to his own somewhat original ideas. Leave it to public institutions he would not. He was thoroughly opposed to what he termed post-mortem philanthropy of the general kind. To quote his own words, 'I am not enough of a hypocrite to believe that a society based on organized selfishness can right its many wrongs by spasmodic gifts to organized charity.'"
J. Bayard shifts uneasy on his feet and smothers a yawn. "All very interesting, I'm sure," says he; "but really, you know, Pyramid Gordon's theories on such matters do not——"
"I am merely suggesting," breaks in the lawyer, "that you may care to glance over another list of twenty names. These are the persons among whom Mr. Gordon's estate will be divided if the first plan cannot be carried out."
Mr. Steele hesitates; but he fin'lly fishes out a pair of swell nose pinchers that he wears hung from a wide ribbon, and assumes a bored expression. He don't hold that pose long. He couldn't have read more'n a third of the names before he shows signs of bein' mighty int'rested.
"Why, see here!" says he. "I'd like to know, Sir, where in thunder you got this list!"
"Yes, I thought you would," says Judson. "It was quite simple. Perhaps you remember, a few days ago, meeting a friendly, engaging young man in the cafe of your hotel? Asked you to join him at luncheon, I believe, and talked vaguely about making investments?"
"Young Churchill?" says J. Bayard.
"Correct," says the lawyer. "One of our brightest young men. Entertaining talker too. And if I'm not mistaken, it was he who opened a good-natured discussion as to the limit of actual personal acquaintance which the average man has, ending by his betting fifty dollars—rather foolishly, I admit—that you could not remember the names and addresses of twenty persons whom you actually disliked. Well, you won. Here is the list you made out."
And the stunned way J. Bayard gawps at the piece of paper brings out a snicker from me. He flushes up at that and glares down at Judson.
"Tactics worthy of a Tombs lawyer!" says he. "I congratulate you on your high-class legal methods!"
"Oh, not at all," says Judson. "A suggestion of Mr. Gordon's. Another evidence of his insight into character, as well as his foresight into events. So, you see, Mr. Steele, if you decline to become the benefactor of Mr. Gordon's enemies, his money goes to yours!"
"The old fox!" snarls J. Bayard. "Why—I—let me see that list again."
It's no more'n gripped in his fingers than he steps back quick and begins tearin' it to bits. I'd jumped for him and had his wrists clinched when Judson waves me off.
"Only a copy," says he smilin'. "I have several more. Sit down, Mr. Steele, and let me give you another."
Kind of dazed and subdued, J. Bayard submits to bein' pushed into a chair. After a minute or so he fixes his glasses again, and begins starin' at the fresh list, mumblin' over some of the names to himself.
"To them! Three millions!" says he gaspy.
"Roughly estimated," says Judson, "that would be about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars apiece which you would, in effect, hand over."
"And the only way to keep them from getting it," goes on Steele, "is for me to spend my time hunting up Pyramid Gordon's lot?"
"Not entirely without recompense," adds the lawyer. "As an inducement for doing the work thoroughly, I am authorized to give you a commission on all you spend in that way."
"How much?" demands the other.
"Twenty per cent.," says Judson. "For instance, if in doing some kind and generous deed for a person on Mr. Gordon's list, you spend, say, five thousand, you get a thousand for yourself."
"Ah!" says Steele, perkin' up consider'ble.
"The only condition being," goes on the lawyer, "that in each case your kind and generous proposals must have the indorsement and approval of Professor McCabe, who is asked to give his advice in these matters on a five per cent. basis. I may add that a like amount comes to me in place of any other fee. So you see this is to be a joint enterprise. Is that satisfactory to you, Mr. McCabe?"
"It's more'n I usually get for my advice," says I, "and I guess Pyramid Gordon knew well enough he didn't have to pay for anything like that from me. But if that's the way he planned it out, it goes."
"And you, Mr. Steele?" says Judson.
"One dollar for every five that I can spend of Pyramid Gordon's money?" says he, wrinklin' his eye corners. "With pleasure! When may I begin?"
"Now," says Judson, reachin' prompt into a pigeonhole and producin' a sealed envelope. "Here is the first name on the list. When you bring me Professor McCabe's indorsement of any expenses incurred, or sum to be paid out, I shall give you a check at once."
And, say, the last I see of J. Bayard he was driftin' through the door, gazin' absentminded at the envelope, like he was figurin' on how much he could grab off at the first swipe. I gazes after him thoughtful until the comic side of it struck me.
"This is a hot combination we're in, eh?" I chuckles to the lawyer gent. "Steele, Judson & McCabe, Joy Distributers; with J. Bayard there wieldin' the fairy wand. Why, say, I'd as quick think of askin' Scrappy McGraw to preside at a peace conference!"
Mr. Judson's busy packin' away his papers in a document case; but he smiles vague over his shoulder.
"Honest now," I goes on, "do you think our friend will make good as the head of the sunshine department?"
"That," says Judson, "is a matter which Mr. Gordon seems to have left wholly to you."
"Eh?" says I, doin' the gawp act sudden on my own account. "Well, post me for a Bush League yannigan if it don't listen that way! Then I can see where I'll be earnin' my five per cent. all right, and yet some! Referee for a kind deeds campaign! Good night, Sister Sue! But it's on old Pyramid's account; so let J. Bayard shoot 'em in!"
A FEW SQUIRMS BY BAYARD
Say, take it from me, this job of umpirin' a little-deeds-of-kindness campaign, as conducted by J. Bayard Steele, Esq., ain't any careless gladsome romp through the daisy fields. It's a real job!
He's the one, you know, that poor old Pyramid Gordon—rest his soul!—picked out to round up all the hangover grouches he'd strewed behind him durin' a long and active career, with instructions to soothe the same with whatever balm seemed best, regardless of expense.
And the hard part of it for Steele is that he has to get my O.K. on all his schemes before he can collect from the estate. And while I don't bill myself for any expert on lovin'-kindness, and as a gen'ral thing I ain't of a suspicious nature, I'm wise enough to apply the acid test and bore for lead fillin' on anything he hands in. Course maybe I'm too hard on him, but it strikes me that an ex-pool organizer, who makes a livin' as capper for a hotel branch of a shady stock-brokin' firm, ain't had the best kind of trainin' as an angel of mercy.
So when he shows up at my Physical Culture Studio again, the day after Lawyer Judson has explained for us the fine points of that batty will of Pyramid's, I'm about as friendly and guileless as a dyspeptic customs inspector preparin' to go through the trunks of a Fifth avenue dressmaker. He comes in smilin' and chirky, though, slaps me chummy on the shoulder, and remarks cordial:
"Well, my trusty coworker in well doing, I have come to report progress."
"Shoot it, then," says I, settlin' back in my chair.
"You will be surprised," he goes on, "to learn who is first to benefit by my vicarious philanthropy."
"Your which?" says I.
"Merely another simile for our glorious work," says he. "You couldn't guess whose name was in that envelope,—Twombley-Crane's!"
"The Long Island plute?" says I. "You don't say! Why, when did Pyramid ever get the best of him, I wonder?"
"I had almost forgotten the affair myself," says Steele. "It was more than a dozen years ago, when Twombley-Crane was still actively interested in the railroad game. He was president of the Q., L. & M.; made a hobby of it, you know. Used to deliver flowery speeches to the stockholders, and was fond of boasting that his road had never passed a dividend. About that time Gordon was organizing the Water Level System. He needed the Q., L. & M. as a connecting link. But Twombley-Crane would listen to no scheme of consolidation. Rather an arrogant aristocrat, Twombley-Crane, as perhaps you know?"
"Yes, he's a bit stiff in the neck," says I.
"He gave Gordon a flat no," goes on Steele. "Had him shown out of his office, so the story went. And of course Pyramid started gunning for him. Twombley-Crane had many interests at the time, financial, social, political. But suddenly his appointment as Ambassador to Germany, which had seemed so certain, was blocked in the Senate; his plans for getting control of all the ore-carrying steamer lines on the Lakes were upset by the appearance of a rival steamship pool; and then came the annual meeting of the Q., L. & M., at which Gordon presented a dark horse candidate. You see, for months Pyramid had been buying in loose holdings and gathering proxies, and on the first ballot he fired Twombley-Crane out of the Q., L. & M. so abruptly that he never quite knew how it happened. And you know how Gordon milked the line during the next few years. It was a bitter pill for Twombley-Crane; for it hurt his pride as well as his pocketbook. That was why he quit Chicago for New York. Not a bad move, either; for he bought into Manhattan Transportation at just the right time. But I imagine he never forgave Gordon."
"Huh!" says I. "So that's why they used to act so standoffish whenever they'd run across each other here at the studio. Well, well! And what's your idea of applyin' a poultice to Twombley-Crane's twelve-year-old sting?"
"Ah-h-h!" says J. Bayard, rubbin' his hands genial, and at the same time watchin' me narrow to see how I'm goin' to take it. "Rather difficult, eh? I confess that I was almost stumped at first. Why, he's worth to-day twice as much as Gordon ever was! So it ought to be something handsome, hadn't it?"
"That depends," says I. "Have anything special in mind, did you?"
"Oh, yes," says Steele. "Now what do you say to presenting him with a nice, comfortable steam yacht, all equipped for cruising, with a captain and——"
"Flag it!" says I. "Twombley-Crane ain't a yachty person, at all. He's a punk sailor, to begin with. Besides, he's tried ownin' a yacht, and she almost rusted apart waitin' for him to use her. Nothing like that for him."
J. Bayard looks mighty disappointed. He'd planned on spendin' a couple of hundred thousand or so of Pyramid's money at one lick, you see, which would have been some haul for him, and my turnin' the scheme down so prompt was a hard blow. He continued to argue the case for ten minutes before he gives up.
"Well, what is the objection, then," he goes on, "to a handsome limousine, with one of those luxurious French bodies, solid silver fittings, and——"
"He's got a garage full of cars now," says I, "and hardly ever steps into one himself. His fad is to stick to horses, you know."
More long-face business by J. Bayard. But he's a quick recoverer. "In that case," says he, "suppose I send over for a pair of Arabs, the best blood to be found, and have them put into his stable as a surprise?"
"Steele," says I, tappin' him encouragin' on the knee, "you've got the spendin' part down fine; but that alone don't fill the bill. As I take it, Pyramid meant for us to do more than just scatter around a lot of expensive gifts reckless like. 'Some kind and generous act,' is the way he put it. Let's remember that."
"But," says he, shruggin' his shoulders eloquent, "here is a man who has everything he wants, money enough to gratify every wish. How am I to do anything kind and generous for him?"
"That's all up to you," says I. "As a matter of fact, I don't believe there ever was anybody, no matter how rich, who had everything he wanted. There's always something, maybe so simple as to sound absurd, that he'd like and can't get. I'll bet it's that way with Twombley-Crane. Now if you don't know him well enough to find out, my advice would be to——"
"Oh, I know him well enough," breaks in J. Bayard, "even if he doesn't know me. I share the distinction with Gordon of having been, on one occasion, barred out of Twombley-Crane's office; only I got no farther than his private secretary. It meant a good deal to me at the time too, and wouldn't have hurt him at all. I merely wanted his firm to handle some bonds of a concern I was trying to promote. With merely a nod he could have opened the door of success for me. But he wouldn't. Oh, no! Played the role of haughty aristocrat, as usual, and never gave me another thought. But I managed to get back at him, in a small way."
"Oh, you did, eh?" says I.
"It was a couple of years later, in Paris," goes on Steele. "I was dining in one of those big cafes—Maxime's, I think,—when I recognized him at the next table. He was telling a friend of a find he'd made in an old printshop,—a pencil sketch by Whistler. He collects such things, I believe. Well, this was something he wanted very badly; but he'd happened to be caught without cash enough to pay for it. So he'd asked the dealer to put it aside until next day. There was my chance. I know something about etchings; own a few, in fact, although I'd never splurged on Whistlers. But I was on hand next morning when that shop opened, and for a bonus of twenty francs I persuaded the old pirate to sell me the sketch he was holding for Twombley-Crane. It was a beauty too; one of the half-dozen Whistler did in working up that portrait of his mother, perhaps his most famous piece. It's about the only sketch of the kind, too, not in a public gallery. How Twombley-Crane must have raved at that Frenchman! So, as the English put it, I did score off him a bit, you see."
"You sure did," says I. "That picture collection is what he's daffy over; even more so than over his horses. And right there, J. Bayard, is your cue."
"Eh?" says he, starin' puzzled.
"Simple as swearin' off taxes," says I. "Send him the sketch."
Mr. Steele gasps. "Wha-a-at!" says he. "Why, I've been offered ten times what I paid for it, and refused; although there have been times when—well, you understand. My dear McCabe, that little pencil drawing is much more to me than a fragment of genius. It stands for satisfaction. It's something that I own and he wants."
"And there you are," says I. "Been rackin' your nut to dig up something kind and generous to do for him, ain't you! Well?"
Say, you should have seen the look J. Bayard gives me at that! It's a mixture of seven diff'rent kinds of surprise, reproach, and indignation. And the line of argument he puts up too! How he does wiggle and squirm over the very thought of givin' that picture to Twombley-Crane, after he'd done the gloat act so long!
But I had the net over Mr. Steele good and fast, and while I was about it I dragged him over a few bumps; just for the good of his soul, as Father Reardon would say.
"Oh, come!" says I. "You're makin' the bluff that you want to scatter deeds of kindness; but when I point one out, right under your nose, you beef about it like you was bein' frisked for your watch. A hot idea of bein' an angel of mercy you've got, ain't you? Honest now, in your whole career, was you ever guilty of wastin' a kind word, or puttin' out the helpin' hand, if you couldn't see where it might turn a trick for J. Bayard Steele?"
Makes him wince a little, that jab does, and he flushes up under the eyes.
"I don't know that I have ever posed either as a philanthropist or a saint," says he. "If I seem to have assumed a role of that sort now, it is because it has been thrust upon me, because I have been caught in a web of circumstances, a tangle of things, without purpose, without meaning. That's what life has always been to me, always will be, I suppose,—a blind, ruthless maze, where I've snatched what I could for myself, and given up what I couldn't hold. Your friend Gordon did his share in making it so for me; this man Twombley-Crane as well. Do you expect me to be inspired with goodness and kindliness by them?"
"Oh, Pyramid had his good points," says I. "You'd find Twombley-Crane has his, if you knew him well enough."
"And who knows," adds Steele, defiant and bitter, "but that I may have mine?"
I glances at him curious. And, say, with that set, hard look in them narrow eyes, and the saggy droop to his mouth corners, he's almost pathetic. For the first time since he'd drifted across my path I didn't feel like pitchin' him down the stairs.
"Well, well!" says I soothin'. "Maybe you have. But you don't force 'em on folks, do you? That ain't the point, though. The question before the house is about that——"
"Suppose I hand back Twombley-Crane's name," says he, "and try another?"
I shakes my head decided. "No dodgin'," says I. "That point was covered in Pyramid's gen'ral directions. If you do it at all, you got to take the list as it runs. But what's a picture more or less? All you got to do is wrap it up, ship it to Twombley-Crane, and——"
"I—I couldn't!" says J. Bayard, almost groanin'. "Why, I've disliked him for years, ever since he sent out that cold no! I've always hoped that something would happen to bend that stiff neck of his; that a panic would smash him, as I was smashed. But he has gone on, growing richer and richer, colder and colder. And when I got this sketch away from him—well, that was a crumb of comfort. Don't you see?"
"Kind of stale and picayune, Steele, it strikes me," says I. "Course, you're the doctor. If you'd rather see all them other folks that you dislike come in for a hundred and fifty thousand apiece, with no rakeoff for you—why, that's your business. But I'd think it over."
"Ye-e-es," says he draggy. "I—I suppose I must."
With that he shakes his shoulders, gets on his feet, and walks out with his chin well up; leavin' me feelin' like I'd been tryin' to wish a dose of castor oil on a bad boy.
"Huh!" thinks I. "I wonder if Pyramid guessed all he was lettin' me in for?"
What J. Bayard would decide to do—drop the whole shootin' match, or knuckle under in this case in the hopes of gettin' a fat commission on the next—was more'n I could dope out. But inside of an hour I had the answer. A messenger boy shows up with a package. It's the sketch from Steele, with a note sayin' I might send it to Twombley-Crane, if that would answer. He'd be hanged if he would! So I rings up another boy and ships it down to Twombley-Crane's office, as the easiest way of gettin' rid of it. I didn't know whether he was in town or not. If he wa'n't, he'd find the thing when he did come in. And while maybe that don't quite cover all the specifications, it's near enough so I can let it pass. Then I goes out to lunch.
Must have been about three o'clock that afternoon, and I'd just finished a session in the gym, when who should show up at the studio but Twombley-Crane. What do you suppose? Why, in spite of the fact that I'd sent the picture without any name or anything, he'd been so excited over gettin' it that he'd rung up the messenger office and bluffed 'em into tellin' where the call had come in from. And as long as I'd known him I've never seen Twombley-Crane thaw out so much. Why, he acts almost human as he shakes hands! Then he takes the package from under his arm and unwraps it.
"The Whistler that I'd given up all hope of ever getting!" says he, gazin' at it admirin' and enthusiastic.
"So?" says I, non-committal.
"And now it appears mysteriously, sent from here," says he. "Why, my dear fellow, how can I ever——"
"You don't have to," I breaks in, "because it wa'n't from me at all."
"But they told me at the district office," he goes on, "that the call came from——"
"I know," says I. "That's straight enough as far as it goes. But you know that ain't in my line. I was only passin' it on for someone else."
"For whom?" he demands.
"That's tellin'," says I. "It's a secret."
"Oh, but I must know," says he, "to whom I am indebted so deeply. You don't realize, McCabe, how delighted I am to get hold of this gem of Whistler's. Why, it makes my collection the most complete to be found in any private gallery!"
"Well, you ought to be satisfied then," says I. "Why not let it go at that?"
But not him. No, he'd got to thank somebody; to pay 'em, if he could.
"How much, for instance?" says I.
"Why, I should readily have given five thousand for it," says he; "ten, if necessary."
"Not fifteen?" says I.
"I think I would," says he.
"Huh!" says I. "Some folks don't care what they do with money. We'll split the diff'rence though, and call it twelve and a half. But it don't cost you a cent. It's yours because you wanted it, that's all; and maybe the one that sent it is glad you've got it. That's as far as I can go."
"But see here, McCabe!" he insists. "Delighted as I am, I must know who it is that——"
Just here the front office door opens, and in walks J. Bayard. For a second he don't notice Twombley-Crane, who's standin' between me and the window.
"Oh, I say!" says Steele, sort of breathless and hasty. "Have you sent that away yet?"
A freak hunch hit me and I couldn't shake it: I guess I wanted to see what would happen. So I nudges Twombley-Crane.
"Here's the party now, if you must know," says I. "This is Mr. J. Bayard Steele."
"Eh?" says he, steppin' forward. "Steele, did you say? Why, my dear Sir, although I must admit that I am stupid enough not to remember you, I must express my most——"
Say, he did it handsome too. He grabs J. Bayard brotherly by the mitt, and passes him an enthusiastic vote of thanks that don't leave out a single detail. Yes, he sure did unload the gratitude; with J. Bayard standin' there, turnin' first one color and then another, and not bein' able to get out a word.
"And surely, my dear Sir," he winds up, "you will allow me to recompense you in some way?"
Steele shakes his head. "It's not precisely," he begins, "as if I—er——"
"Ah-h-h!" says Twombley-Crane, beamin' friendly. "I think I see. You had heard of my collection."
J. Bayard nods.
"And you conceived the idea," goes on Twombley-Crane, "of completing it in this anonymous and kindly manner? Believe me, Sir, I am touched, deeply touched. It is indeed good to know that such generous impulses are felt, that they are sometimes acted upon. I must try to be worthy of such a splendid spirit. I will have this hung at once, and to-morrow night, Friend Steele, you must come to see it; at my country place, you know. We dine at seven. I shall expect you, Sir." And with a final brotherly grip he goes out.
"Well," says I to J. Bayard, "that's over, ain't it? You've put across the genuine article. How does it feel?"
He brushes his hand over his eyes sort of dazed. "Really," says he, "I—I don't know. I was coming, as a matter of fact, to take the sketch back. The more I thought it over, the worse I—— But he was pleased, wasn't he? And Twombley-Crane too! I would not have believed that he could act so decently."
"Well, he believed it of you," says I. "You don't stand to lose so much either, by the way. Here! Wait until I write a voucher for twenty per cent. of twelve thousand five hundred. His figures, you know. There! Now you can collect from Judson and call for name Number Two."
PEEKING IN ON PEDDERS
Who started that dope about Heaven givin' us our relations but thanks be we can pick friends to suit ourselves? Anyway, it's phony. Strikes me we often have friends wished on us; sort of accumulate 'em by chance, as we do appendicitis, or shingles, or lawsuits. And at best it's a matter of who you meet most, and how.
Take J. Bayard Steele. Think I'd ever hunted him out and extended the fraternal grip, or him me? Not if everyone else in the world was deaf and dumb and had the itch! We're about as much alike in our tastes and gen'ral run of ideas as Bill Taft and Bill Haywood; about as congenial as our bull terrier and the chow dog next door. Yet here we are, him hailin' me as Shorty, and me callin' him anything from J. B. to Old Top, and confabbin' reg'lar most every day, as chummy as you please.
All on account of our bein' mixed up in carryin' out this batty will of Pyramid Gordon's. First off I didn't think I'd have to see him more'n once a month, and then only for a short session; but since he put through that first deal and collected his twenty-four hundred commission, he's been showin' up at the studio frequent, with next to no excuse for comin'.
You remember how he drew Twombley-Crane as the first one that he had to unload a kind and gen'rous act on, and how I made him give up the picture that he'd gloated over so long? Well, J. Bayard can't seem to get over the way that turned out. Here he'd been forced into doin' something nice for a party he had a grudge against, has discovered that Twombley-Crane ain't such a bad lot after all, and has been well paid for it besides, out of money left by his old enemy.
"Rather a remarkable set of circumstances, eh, Shorty?" says he, tiltin' back comf'table in one of my front office chairs and lightin' up a fresh twenty-five-cent cigar. "An instance of virtue being rewarded on a cash basis. Not only that, but I was royally entertained down at Twombley-Crane's the other night, you know. I think too I interested him in a little development scheme of mine."
"Jump off!" says I. "You're standin' on your foot. If you dream you can slip any of your fake stock onto him, you're due to wake up. Better stick to widows and orphans."
At which jab Mr. Steele only chuckles easy. "What an engagingly frank person you are!" says he. "As though rich widows weren't fair game! But with the practice of philanthropy so liberally compensated I'm not troubling them. Your friend, the late Mr. Gordon, has banished the wolf from my door; for the immediate present, at least. I wonder if he anticipated just how much I should enjoy his post-mortem munificence?"
And here J. Bayard gives a caressin' pat to his Grand Duke whiskers and glances approvin' down at the patent leathers which finish off a costume that's the last word in afternoon elegance. You've seen a pet cat stretch himself luxurious after a full meal? Well, that's J. Bayard. He'd hypothecated the canary. If he hadn't been such a dear friend of mine too, I could have kicked him hearty.
"Say, you're a wonder, you are!" says I. "But I expect if your kind was common, all the decent people would be demandin' to be jailed, out of self-respect."
Another chuckle from J. Bayard. "Is that envy," says he, "or merely epigram? But at least we will agree that our ethical standards vary. You scorn mine; I find yours curiously entertaining. The best thing about you is that you seem to bring me good luck."
"Don't trust that too far," says I. "I'm neither hump-backed, nor a live Billiken. How soon are you going to start on proposition Number Two?"
"Ah!" says he, straightenin'. "That is the real business of the moment, isn't it? As a matter of fact, I was just about to seek your valuable advice on the subject."
"Shoot it, then," says I. "Who's the party?"
He explores his inside pockets, fishes out an envelop, and inspects it deliberate. It's sealed; but he makes no move to open it. "My next assignment in altruism," says he, holdin' it to the light. "Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief—I wonder?"
"Ah, come!" says I, handin' him a paper knife.
"But there's no need for haste," says J. Bayard. "Just consider, Shorty: In this envelop is the name of some individual who was the victim of injustice, large or small, at the hands of Pyramid Gordon, someone who got in his way, perhaps years ago. Now I am to do something that will offset that old injury. While the name remains unread, we have a bit of mystery, an unknown adventure ahead of us, perhaps. And that, my dear McCabe, is the salt of life."
"Say, you ought to take that lecture out on the Chautauqua," says I. "Get busy—slit or quit!"
"Very well," says he, jabbin' the knife under the flap. "To discover the identity of the next in line!"
"Well?" says I, as he stares at the slip of paper. "Who do you pluck this time?"
"An enigma, so far as I am concerned," says he. "Listen: 'John Wesley Pedders, in 1894 cashier of the Merchants' Exchange Bank, at Tullington, Connecticut.' Ever hear of such a person, Shorty!"
"Not me," says I, "nor the place either."
"Then it remains to be discovered first," says Steele, "whether for twenty years Pedders has stayed put or not. Haven't a Pathfinder handy, have you? Never mind, there are plenty at the hotel. And if to-morrow is such another fine spring day as this, I'll run up there. I'll let you know the results later; and then, my trusty colleague, we will plot joyously for the well-being of John Wesley Pedders."
"Huh!" says I. "Don't try to pull any steam yachts or French limousines on me this time. The kind stuff goes, remember."
"To your acute sense of fitness in such matters, McCabe," says he, "I bow profoundly," and with a jaunty wave of his hand he drifts out.
Honest, compared to the shifty-eyed, suspicious-actin' party that blew into my studio a few weeks back, he seems like a kid on a Coney Island holiday. I expect it's the prospects of easy money that's chirked him up so; but he sure is a misfit to be subbin' on a deeds-of-kindness job. That ain't my lookout, though. All I got to do is pass on his plans and see that he carries 'em out accordin' to specifications. So I don't even look up this tank station on the map.
A couple of days go by, three, and no bulletin from J. Bayard. Then here the other mornin' I gets a long distance call. It's from Steele.
"Eh?" says I. "Where the blazes are you?"
"Tullington," says he.
"Oh!" says I. "Still there, are you? Found Pedders?"
"Ye-e-es," says he; "but I am completely at a loss to know what to do for him. I say, McCabe, couldn't you run up here? It's a curious situation, and I—well, I need your advice badly. There's a train at eleven-thirty that connects at Danbury. Couldn't you?"
Well, I hadn't figured on bein' any travelin' inspector when I took this executor job; but as J. Bayard sends out the S O S so strong I can't very well duck. Besides, I might have been a little int'rested to know what he'd dug up.
So about three-fifteen that afternoon finds me pilin' off a branch accommodation at Tullington. Mr. Steele is waitin' on the platform to meet me, silk lid and all.
"What about Pedders?" says I.
"I want you to see him first," says J. Bayard.
"On exhibition, is he?" says I.
"In a town of this size," says he, "everyone is on exhibition continuously. It's the penalty one pays for being rural, I suppose. I've been here only two days; but I'll venture to say that most of the inhabitants know me by name and have made their guess as to what my business here may be. It's the most pitiless kind of publicity I ever experienced. But come on up to the postoffice, and I'll show you Pedders."
"Fixture there, is he?" says I.
"Twice a day he comes for the mail," says J. Bayard. "Your train brought it up. He'll be on hand."
So we strolls up Main street from the station, while Steele points out the brass works, the carpet mill, the opera house, and Judge Hanks' slate-roofed mansion. It sure is a jay burg, but a lively one. Oh, yes! Why, the Ladies' Aid Society was holdin' a cake sale in a vacant store next to the Bijou movie show, and everybody was decoratin' for a firemen's parade to be pulled off next Saturday. We struck the postoffice just as they brought the mail sacks up in a pushcart and dragged 'em in through the front door.
"There he is," says Steele, nudgin' me, "over in the corner by the writing shelf!"
What he points out is a long-haired, gray-whiskered old guy, with a faded overcoat slung over his shoulders like a cape, and an old slouch hat pulled down over his eyes. He's standin' there as still and quiet as if his feet was stuck to the floor.
"Kind of a seedy old party, eh?" says I.
"Why not?" says J. Bayard. "He's an ex-jailbird."
"You don't say!" says I. "What brand?"
"Absconder," says he. "Got away with a hundred and fifty thousand from the local bank."
"Well, well!" says I. "Didn't spend it dollin' himself up, did he?"
"Oh, all that happened twenty years ago," says Steele. "The odd part of it is, though—— But come over to the hotel, where I can tell you the whole story."
And, say, he had a tale, all right. Seems Pedders had been one of the leadin' citizens,—cashier of the bank, pillar of the church, member of the town council, and all that,—with a wife who was a social fav'rite, and a girl that promised to be a beauty when she grew up. The Pedders never tried to cut any gash, though. They lived simple and respectable and happy. About the only wild plunge the neighbors ever laid up against him was when he paid out ten dollars once for some imported tulip bulbs.
Then all of a sudden it was discovered that a bunch of negotiable securities had disappeared from the bank vaults. The arrow pointed straight to Pedders. He denied; but he couldn't explain. He just shut up like a clam, and let 'em do their worst. He got ten years. Before he was put away they tried to make him confess, or give 'em some hint as to what he'd done with the bonds. But there was nothin' doin' in that line. He just stood pat and took his medicine.
Bein' a quiet prisoner, that gave no trouble and kept his cell tidy, he scaled it down a couple of years. Nobody looked for him to come back to Tullington after he got loose. They all had it doped out that he'd salted away that hundred and fifty thousand somewhere, and would proceed to dig it up and enjoy it where he wa'n't known.
But Pedders fooled 'em again. Straight back from the bars he come, back to Tullington and the little white story-and-a-half cottage on a side street, where Mrs. Pedders and Luella was waitin' for him.
She'd had some hand-to-hand tussle meanwhile, Mrs. Pedders had; but she'd stuck it out noble. At the start about nine out of ten of her neighbors and kind friends was dead sure she knew where that bunch of securities was stowed, and some of 'em didn't make any bones of sayin' she ought to be in jail along with Pedders. So of course that made it nice and comfy for her all around. But she opened up a little millinery shop in her front parlor, and put up jams and jellies, and raised a few violets under a window sash in the back yard. She didn't quite starve that first year or so; though nobody knew just how close she shaved it. And in time even them that had been her closest friends begun to be sorry for her.
When Pedders showed up again all the old stories was hashed over, and the whole of Tullington held its breath watchin' for some sign that he's dug up his hank loot. But it didn't come. Pedders just camped down silent in his old home and let his whiskers grow. Twice a day he made reg'lar trips back and forth from the postoffice, lookin' at nobody, speakin' to nobody. Mrs. Pedders held her usual fall and spring openin's of freak millinery, while Luella taught in the fourth grade of the grammar school and gave a few piano lessons on the side. They didn't act like a fam'ly that had buried treasure.
But what had he done with that hundred and fifty thousand? How could he have blown so much without even acquirin' a toddy blossom? Or had he scattered it in the good old way, buckin' Wall Street? But he'd never seemed like that kind. No, they didn't think he had the nerve to take a chance on a turkey raffle. So that left the mystery deeper'n ever.
"No chance of him bein' not guilty to begin with, eh?" I suggests.
J. Bayard smiles cynical. "So far as I am able to learn," says he, "there is just one person, aside from Mrs. Pedders and her daughter, who believes him innocent. Strangely enough too, that's Norris, who was teller at the time. He's president of the bank now. I had a talk with him this morning. He insists that Pedders was too honest to touch a dollar; says he knew him too well. But he offers no explanation as to where the securities went. So there you are! Everyone else regards him as a convicted thief, who scarcely got his just deserts. He's a social outcast, and a broken, spiritless wretch besides. How can I do anything kind and generous for such a man?"
Well, I didn't know any more'n he did. "What gets me," I goes on, "is how he ever come to be mixed up with Pyramid Gordon. Got that traced out?"
"I sounded Norris on that point," says Steele; "but he'd never heard of Gordon's having been in Tullington, and was sure Pedders didn't know him."
"Then you ain't had a talk with Pedders himself?" says I.
"Why, no," says J. Bayard, shruggin' his shoulders scornful. "The poor devil! I didn't see what good it would do—an ex-convict, and——"
"You can't always be dealin' with Twombley-Cranes," I breaks in. "And it's Pedders you're after this trip. Come on. Let's go tackle him."
"What! Now?" says Steele, liftin' his eyebrows.
"Ah, you ain't plannin' to spend the summer here, are you?" says I. "Besides, it'll do you good to learn not to shy at a man just because he's done time. Show us the house."
I could have put it even stronger to him, if I'd wanted to rub it in. Had about as much sympathy for a down-and-out, Steele did, as you'd find milk in a turnip. You should see the finicky airs he puts on as he follows me into the Pedders cottage, and sniffs at the worn, old-fashioned furniture in the sittin' room.
It's Mrs. Pedders that comes in from the shop to greet us. Must have been quite a good looker once, from the fine face and the still slim figure. But her hair has been frosted up pretty well, and there's plenty of trouble lines around the eyes. No, we couldn't see Mr. Pedders. She was sorry, but he didn't see anyone. If there was any business, perhaps she could——
"Maybe you can," says I; "although it ain't exactly business, either. It's a delayed boost we're agents for; friendly, and all that."
"I—I don't believe I understand," says she.
"We'll get to that later on," says I, "if you'll take our word and help. What we're tryin' to get a line on first off is where and how Mr. Pedders run against Pyramid Gordon."
"Gordon?" says she. "I don't think I ever heard him mention the name."
"Think 'way back, then," says I, "back before he was—before he had his trouble."
She tried, but couldn't dig it up. We was still on the subject when in floats Daughter. She's one of these nice, sweet, sensible lookin' girls, almost vergin' on the old maid. She'd just come home from her school. The case was explained to her; but she don't remember hearin' the name either.
"You see, I was only nine at the time," says she, "and there was so much going on, and Papa was so upset about all those letters."
"Which letters?" says I.
"Oh, the people who wrote to him during the trial," says she. "You've no idea—hundreds and hundreds of letters, from all over the country; from strangers, you know, who'd read that he was—well, an absconder. They were awful letters. I think that's what hurt Papa most, that people were so ready to condemn him before he'd had a chance to show that he didn't do it. He would just sit at his old desk there by the hour, reading them over, and everyone seemed like another pound loaded on his poor shoulders. The letters kept coming long after he was sent away. There's a whole boxful in the garret that have never been opened."
"And he never shall see them!" announced Mrs. Pedders emphatic.
"H-m-m-m!" says I. "A whole boxful that nobody's opened? But suppose now that some of 'em wa'n't—say, why not take a look at the lot, just the outsides?"
Neither Mrs. Pedders nor Luella took kind to that proposition; but somehow I had a vague hunch it ought to be done. I couldn't say exactly why, either. But I kept urgin' and arguin', and at last they gave in. They'd show me the outsides, anyway; that is, Luella might, if she wanted to. Mrs. Pedders didn't even want to see the box.
"I meant to have burned them long ago," says she. "They're just letters from idle, cruel people, that's all. And you don't know how many such there are in the world, Mr. McCabe. I hope you never will know. But go up with Luella if you wish."
So we did, J. Bayard glancin' suspicious at the dust and cobwebs and protectin' his silk hat and clothes cautiously. It's a good-sized box too, with a staple and padlock to keep the cover down. Luella hunted up the key and handed out bunch after bunch. Why do people want to write to parties they've read about in the newspapers? What's the good too, of jumpin' on bank wreckers and such at long range? Why, some even let their spite slop over on the envelopes. To see such a lot of letters, and think how many hard thoughts they stood for, almost gave you chills on the spine.
Didn't seem to do much good to paw 'em over now, at this late date, either. I was almost givin' up my notion and tellin' Luella that would be about enough, when I noticed a long yellow document envelope stowed away by itself in a corner.
"There's a fat one," says I.
She hands it out mechanical, as she'd done the rest.
"Hello!" says I, glancin' at the corner.
"Gordon & Co., Broad Street, New York! Why, say, that's the Pyramid Gordon I was askin' about."
"Is it?" says she. "I hadn't noticed."
"Might give us some clew," I goes on, "as to what him and your Paw had a run-in about."
"Well, open it, if you like," says Luella careless.
J. Bayard and I takes it over to the window and inspects the cancel date.
"June, 1894," says I. "Twenty-eight cents postage; registered too. Quite a package. Well, here goes!"
"Bonds," says Steele, takin' a look. "That old Water Level Development Company's too."
"And here's a note inside," says I. "Read it."
It was to John Wesley Pedders, cashier of the Merchants' Exchange Bank, from Mr. Gordon. "In depositing securities for a loan, on my recent visit to your bank," it runs on, "I found I had brought the wrong set; so I took the liberty, without consulting your president, of substituting, for a few days, a bundle of blanks. I am now sending by registered mail the proper bonds, which you may file. Trusting this slight delay has caused you no inconvenience, I am——"
"The old fox!" cuts in J. Bayard. "A fair sample of his methods! Had to have a loan on those securities, and wanted to use them somewhere else at the same time; so he picked out this little country bank to work the deal through. Oh, that was Pyramid Gordon, every time! And calmly allowed a poor cashier to go to State's prison for it!"
"Not Pyramid," says I. "I don't believe he ever heard a word of the trouble."
"Then why did he put Pedders' name on his list?" demands Steele.
"Maybe he thought sendin' on the bonds would clear up the mess," says I. "So it would, if they hadn't come a day or two late and got stowed away here. And here they've been for twenty years!"
"Yes, and quite as valuable to the bank as if they'd been in the vaults," sneers J. Bayard. "That Water Level stock never was worth the paper it was printed on, any more than it is now."
"We'll make it useful, then," says I. "Why, it's got Aladdin's lamp beat four ways for Wednesday! These bonds go to Pedders. Then Pedders shaves off his whiskers, puts on his Sunday suit, braces his shoulders back, walks down to the bank, and chucks this bunch of securities at 'em triumphant."
"But if the bank is still out a hundred and fifty thousand," objects Steele, "I don't see how——"
"They ain't out a cent," says I. "We'll find a customer for these bonds."
"Who?" says he.
"J. Bayard Steele," says I. "Ain't you actin' for a certain party that would have wanted it done?"
"By Jove!" says he. "Shorty, you've hit it! Why, I'd never have thought of——"
"No," says I; "you're still seein' only that twenty per cent commission. Well, you get that. But I want to see the look in Mrs. Pedders' eyes when she hears the news."
Say, it was worth makin' a way train trip to Tullington, believe me!
"I knew," says she. "Oh, I always have known John didn't do it! And now others will know. Oh, I'm glad, so glad!"
Even brought a slight dew to them shifty eyes of J. Bayard's, that little scene did. "McCabe," says he, as we settles ourselves in the night express headed towards Broadway, "this isn't such a bad game, after all, is it?"
TWO SINGLES TO GOOBER
"Shorty," says Sadie, hangin' up the 'phone and turnin' to me excited, "what do you think? Young Hollister is back in town!"
"So are lots of other folks," says I, "and more comin' every day."
"But you know he promised to stay away," she goes on, "and his mother will feel dreadfully about it when she hears."
"I know," says I. "And a livelier widow never hailed from Peachtree street, Atlanta; which is sayin' a lot. Who sends in this bulletin about Sonny?"
"Purdy-Pell," says Sadie, "and he doesn't know what to do."
"Never does," says I.
Sadie flickers a grin. "It seems Robin came two days ago, and has hardly been seen about the house since. Besides, Purdy-Pell could do nothing with him when he was here before, you remember."
"Awful state of things, ain't it?" says I. "The youngster's all of nineteen, ain't he?"
"He's nearly twenty-one," says Sadie. "And Mrs. Hollister's such a dear!"
"All of which leads up to what?" says I, tearin' my eyes from the sportin' page reluctant.
"Why," says Sadie, cuddlin' up on the chair arm, "Purdy-Pell suggests that, as Robin appeared to take such a fancy to you, perhaps you wouldn't mind——"
"Say," I breaks in, "he's a perfectly punk suggester! I'd mind a lot!"
Course that opened the debate, and while I begins by statin' flat-footed that Robin could come or go for all I cared, it ends in the usual compromise. I agrees to take the eight-forty-five into town and skirmish for Sonny. He'd be almost sure to show up at Purdy-Pell's to-night, Sadie says, and if I was on hand I might induce him to quit wreckin' the city and be good.
"Shouldn't I wear a nurse's cap and apron?" I remarks as I grabs my hat.
For, honest, so far as I've ever seen, this young Hollister was a nice, quiet, peaceable chap, with all the earmarks of a perfect gent. He'd been brought up from the South and put into Purdy-Pell's offices, and he'd made a fair stab at holdin' down his job. But of course, bein' turned loose in New York for the first time, I expect he went out now and then to see what was goin' on under the white lights.
From some youngsters that might have called for such panicky protests as Mother and Mrs. Purdy-Pell put up; but young Robin had a good head on him, and didn't act like he meant to develop into a rounder. Course I didn't hear the details; but all of a sudden something happened that caused a grand howl. I know Sadie was consulted, then Mrs. Hollister was sent for, and it ended by Robin marchin' into the studio one mornin' to say good-by. He explains that he's bein' shipped home. They'd got a job for him with an uncle out in the country somewhere. That must have been a year or so ago, and now it looked like he'd slipped his halter and had headed back for Broadway.
I finds Purdy-Pell peeved and sarcastic. "To be sure," he says, "I feel honored that the young man should make my house his headquarters whenever his fancy leads him to indulge his sportive instincts. Youth must be served, you know. But Mrs. Hollister has such a charmingly unreasonable way of holding me responsible for her son's conduct! And since she happens just now to be our guest—well, you get the idea, McCabe."
"What do you think he's up to?" says I.
Purdy-Pell shrugs his shoulders. "If he were the average youth, one might guess," says he; "but Robin Hollister is different. His mother is a Pitt Medway, one of the Georgia Medways."
"You don't say!" says I. I expect I ought to know just how a Georgia Medway differs from a New Jersey Medway, or the Connecticut brand; but, sad to say, I don't. Purdy-Pell, though, havin' been raised in the South himself, seems to think that everyone ought to know the traits of all the leadin' fam'lies between the Potomac and the Chattahoochee.
"Last time, you know," goes on Purdy-Pell, "it was a Miss Maggie Toots, a restaurant cashier, and a perfectly impossible person. We broke that up, though."
"Ye-e-es?" says I.
"Robin's mother seemed to think then," says he, "that it was largely my fault. I suppose she'll feel the same about whatever mischief he's in now. If I could only find the young scamp! But really I haven't time. I'm an hour late at the Boomer Days' as it is."
"Then toddle along," says I. "If I'm unanimously elected to do this kid-reformin' act, I expect I might as well get busy."
So as soon as the butler's through loadin' Purdy-Pell into the limousine I cross-examines Jarvis about young Mr. Hollister's motions. Yes, he'd shown up at the house both nights. It might have been late, perhaps quite late. Then this afternoon he'd 'phoned to have his evenin' clothes sent uptown by messenger. No, he couldn't remember the number, or the name of the hotel.
"Ah, come, Jarvis!" says I. "We know you're strong for the young man, and all that. But this is for the best. Dig it up now! You must have put the number down at the time. Where's the 'phone pad?"
He produces it, blank. "You see, Sir," says he, "I tore off the leaf and gave it to the messenger."
"But you're a heavy writer, ain't you?" says I. "Find me a readin' glass."
And, sure enough, by holdin' the pad under the big electrolier in the lib'ry, we could trace out the address.
"Huh!" says I. "The Maison Maxixe, one of them new trot palaces! Ring up a taxi, Jarvis."
Didn't happen to be up around there yourself that night, did you? If you had, you couldn't missed seein' him,—the old guy with the Dixie lid and the prophet's beard, and the snake-killer staff in his fist,—for with that gold and green entrance as a background, and in all that glare of electric lights, he was some prominent.
Sort of a cross between Father Time and Santa Claus, he looks like, with his bumper crop of white alfalfa, his rosy cheeks, and his husky build. Also he's attired in a wide-brimmed black felt hat, considerable dusty, and a long black coat with a rip in the shoulder seam. I heard a couple of squabs just ahead of me giggle, and one of 'em gasps:
"Heavings, Lulu! Will you lamp the movie grandpop! I wonder if them lambrequins are real?"
She says it loud enough to be heard around on Broadway, and I looks to see how the old boy takes it; but he keeps right on beamin' mild and sort of curious at the crowds pushin' in. It was them calm, gentle old blue eyes of his, gazin' steady, like he was lookin' for someone, that caught me. First thing, I knew he was smilin' folksy straight at me, and liftin' one hand hesitatin', as if he wanted to give me the hail.
"Well, old scout?" says I, haltin' on the first step.
"Excuse me, Neighbor," says he, drawlin' it out deep and soft, "but be yo' goin' in thayah?"
"I don't say it boastin'," says I, "but that was the intention."
"We-e-e-ell," he drawls, half chucklin', half sing-songy, "I wisht I could get you to kind of look around for a young fellah in thayah,—sort of a well favored, upstandin' young man, straight as a cornstalk, and with his front haiah a little wavy. Would you?"
"I might find fifty that would answer to that description," says I.
"No, Suh, I reckon not," says he, waggin' his noble old head. "Not fifty like him, nor one! He'll have his chin up, Suh, and there'll be a twinkle in his brown eyes you can't mistake."
"Maybe so," says I. "I'll scout around a bit. And if I find him, what then?"
"Jes' give him the word, Neighbor," says he, "that Uncle Noah's a waitin' outside, wantin' to see him a minute when he gets through. He'll understand, Robin will."
"Eh?" says I. "Robin who?"
"Young Mistuh Hollister I should say, Suh," says he.
"Well, well!" says I, gawpin' at him. "You lookin' for Robin Hollister too? Why, so am I!"
"Then we ought to find him between us, hadn't we?" says he, smilin' friendly. "Lott's my name, Suh."
"Wha-a-at!" says I, grinnin' broad as the combination strikes me. "Not Uncle Noah Lott?"
"It's a powerful misleadin' name, I got to admit," says he, returnin' the grin; "but I reckon my folks didn't figure jes' how it was goin' to sound when they tacked the Noah onto me, or else they didn't allow for my growin' up so simple. But I've had it so long I'm used to it, and so is most everyone else down in my part of Jawgy."
"Ah!" says I. "Then you're from Georgia, eh? Down where they sent Robin, I expect?"
"That's right," says he. "I'm from Goober."
"Goober!" I echoes. "Say, that's a choice one too! No wonder Robin couldn't stand it! Sent you up to fetch him back, did they?"
"No, Suh," says he. "Mistuh Phil Hollister didn't send me at all. I jes' come, Suh, and I can't say if I'm goin' to carry him back or no. You see it's like this: Robin, he's a good boy. We set a heap by him, we do. And Robin was doin' well, keepin' the bale books, lookin' after the weighin', and takin' general charge around the cotton gin. Always had a good word for me in the mornin' when I hands over the keys, me bein' night watchman, Suh. 'Well, Uncle Noah,' it would be, 'didn't let anybody steal presses, did you?' 'No, Mistuh Robin,' I'd say, 'didn't lose nary press last night, and only part of the smokestack.' We was that way, me and Robin. And when Mistuh Phil and his folks started off to visit their married daughter, up in Richmond, he says to me, 'Uncle Noah, I expect you to look after Robin while I'm gone, and see that he don't git into no trouble.' Them was his very words, Suh."
"And Robin's kept you busy, eh?" says I.
"Well, he's a good boy, Robin is," insists Uncle Noah. "I reckon it took him sort of sudden, this wantin' to leave Goober. Just had to come to New York, it seems like. I dunno what for, and I ain't askin'; only I promised his Uncle Phil I'd see he didn't git into no trouble, and—well, I'm a waitin' around, you see, waitin' around."
"How'd you come to locate him, Uncle?" says I.
"We-e-ell," says he, "I reckon I shouldn't a done it nohow, but he left the envelope to her letter on his desk,—a Miss Toots it come from,—and the address was on the back. It was directly afterwards that Robin quits Goober so sudden."
"Ah-ha!" says I. "Maggie Toots again, eh?"
Looked like the myst'ry was solved too, and while I wa'n't plannin' to restrict any interstate romance, or throw the switch on love's young dream, I thought as long as I'd gone this far I might as well take a look.
"Maybe he'll be too busy to receive any home delegation just now," says I; "but if you want to stick around while I do a little scoutin' inside, Uncle, I'll be out after a bit."
"I'll be a waitin'," says Uncle Noah, smilin' patient, and I leaves him backed up against the front of the buildin' with his hands crossed peaceful on the top of his home-made walkin' stick.
It's some giddy push I gets into after I've put up my dollar for a ballroom ticket and crowded in where a twenty-piece orchestra was busy with the toe-throbby stuff. And there's such a mob on the floor and along the side lines that pickin' out one particular young gent seems like a hopeless job.
I drifts around, though, elbowin' in and out, gettin' glared at by fat old dames, and bein' bumped by tangoin' couples, until I finds a spot in a corner where I could hang up and have a fair view. About then someone blows a whistle, and out on the platform in front of the orchestra appears a tall, bullet-headed, pimple-faced young gent, wearin' white spats with his frock-coat costume, and leadin' by the hand a zippy young lady who's attired mostly in black net and a pair of gauze wings growin' out between her shoulder blades. It's announced that they will do a fancy hesitation.
Take it from me, I never saw it danced like that before! It was more'n a dance: it was an acrobatic act, an assault with intent to maim, and other things we won't talk about. The careless way that young sport tossed around this party with the gauze wings was enough to make you wonder what was happenin' to her wishbone. First he'd swing her round with her head bent back until her barrette almost scraped the floor; then he'd yank her up, toss her in the air, and let her trickle graceful down his shirt front, like he was a human stair rail. Next, as the music hit the high spots, they'd go to a close clinch, and whirl and dip and pivot until she breaks loose, takes a flyin' leap, and lands shoulder high in his hands, while he walks around with her like she was something he was bringin' in on a tray.
The hesitation, eh? Say, that's what Mrs. McCabe has been at me to take lessons in. I can see myself, with Sadie tippin' the scales at one hundred and sixty-eight! But when I go home to-night I'll agree to try it if she's willin' to have her spine removed first.
The young lady in black, though, don't seem to mind. She bows smilin' at the finish, and then trips off with Pimple Face, lookin' whole and happy. I was watchin' 'em as they made their way out towards the front. Seemed to be gen'ral fav'rites with the crowd, for they were swappin' hails right and left, and she was makin' dates for the next ground and lofty number, I expect; when all of a sudden they're stopped by someone, there's a brief but breezy little argument, and I hears a soft thud that listens like a short arm jab bein' nestled up against a jawbone. And there's Pimple Face doin' a back flip that ain't in his repertoire at all.
Course that spilled the beans. There was squeals, and shrieks, and a gen'ral mixup; some tryin' to get closer, others beatin' it to get away, and all the makin's of a young riot. But the management at the Maison Maxixe don't stand for any rough stuff. In less than a minute a bunch of house detectives was on the spot, the young hesitationer was whisked into a cloakroom, and the other gent was bein' shot towards the fresh air.
Just a glimpse that I caught of his flushed face as it was bein' tucked under a bouncer's arm set me in action. I made a break for a side exit; but there's such a jam everywhere that it's two or three minutes before I can get around to the front.
And there's young Hollister, with an end of his dress collar draped jaunty over his right ear, tryin' to kick the belt buckle off a two-hundred-pound cop who's holdin' him at arm's length with one hand and rappin' his nightstick for help with the other; while Uncle Noah stands one side, starin' some disturbed at the spectacle. I knew that was no time to butt in!
In that section of the White Light district too you can call up plenty of help by a few taps from the locust. Cops came on the jump from two adjoinin' posts,—big husky Broadway cops,—and they swoops down on young Robin like a bunch of Rockefeller deacons on a Ferrer school graduate who rises in prayer meetin' to ask the latest news from Paint Creek.
"What you got, Jim?" puffs one.
"Young hick that got messy in the tango joint," says Jim.
"Ah, fan him a few!" remarks the other. "Hold him still now while I——"
At which Uncle Noah pushes in and holds up a protestin' hand. "Now see heah, Mistuh Constable," says he, "I wouldn't go for to do anything like that!"
"Wha-a-at?" snarls the copper. "Say, you old billy-goat, beat it!" And he proceeds to clip young Mr. Hollister a glancin' blow on the side of the bead. His next aim was better; but this time the nightstick didn't connect.
There's been let loose a weird, high-pitched howl, which I didn't recognize at the time as the old Rebel yell, but know now that it was. Uncle Noah had gone into action. That walkin' stick of his was a second-growth hickory club as thick as your wrist at the big end. He swung it quick and accurate, and if that cop ain't nursin' a broken forearm to-day he's lucky. I expect his dome was solid iv'ry,—most of them sluggers have that kind,—and in this case he needed it; for, once he gets goin', Uncle Noah makes a thorough job of it. He lands his next swipe square on the copper's head and tumbles him to the sidewalk like a bag of meal. The other two was at him with their clubs by this time, swingin' on him vicious; but somehow they couldn't get in anything but body blows that echoed on Uncle Noah's ribs like thumpin' a barrel. Must have been a tough old boy; for that never fazed him. And the crowd, that was a block deep by this time, seemed to be right with him.
"Slug the clubbers!" they yelled. "Knock their blocks off! Go to it, old man!"
He didn't need that to encourage him; for he wades in lively, raps first one head and then the other, until he had 'em all three on the pavement. That set the crowd wild.
"Now sneak while the sneakin's good, old top!" shouts one.
"Jump a cab!" sings out another.
Say, the idea that either of 'em might get out of this muss without goin' to the station house hadn't occurred to me before. But here was a taxi, jam up against the curb not a dozen feet off, with the chauffeur swingin' his cap enthusiastic.
"Quick, Uncle!" says I, gettin' him by the arm. "It's your one chance. You too, Robin. But show some speed about it."
At that, if it hadn't been for half a dozen chaps in the front row of the crowd that helped me shove 'em in, and the others that blocked off the groggy coppers who were wabblin' to their feet, we couldn't have pulled it off. But we piled 'em in, I gave the cabby the Purdy-Pells' street number, and away they was whirled. And you can bet I didn't linger in front of the Maison Maxixe long after that.
Twenty minutes later we had a little reunion in the Purdy-Pell lib'ry. Robin was holdin' some cracked ice to a lump on his forehead, and Uncle Noah was sittin' uncomf'table on the edge of a big leather chair.
"How cheery!" says I. "But take it from me, Uncle, you're some two-fisted scrapper! I didn't think it was in you."
"We-e-ell," he drawls out, still breathin' a bit hard, but gettin' back his gentle smile, "I didn't want to do no fursin' with them constables; but you know Mistuh Phil he told me to see that Robin didn't git into no trouble, and—and—we-e-ell, I didn't care for their motions none at all, I didn't. So I jes' had to tap 'em a little."
"Tappin' is good!" says I. "And how about you, Robin? How do you come to be mixin' it up so conspicuous?"
"I'm sorry," says he. "I suppose I made an awful ass of myself. But even if she is a public dancer, that snipe shouldn't have insulted her. Of course I'd found out long before that Miss Toots was no longer anything to me; but——"
"Then that was the famous Maggie, was it?" I breaks in. "The one that lured you up from Dixie?"
"Not exactly a lure," says he. "She didn't think I'd be chump enough to come. But that's all off now."
"I ain't curious," says I, "but the fam'ly has sort of delegated me to keep track of your moves. What's next, if you know?"
Robin shrugs his shoulders sort of listless. "I don't know," says he. Then he turns to Uncle Noah. "Uncle," says he, "how will those scuppernongs be about now on the big arbor in front of Uncle Phil's?"
"Bless you, Mistuh Robin," says old Noah, "they'll be dead ripe by now, and there's jes' doodlins of 'em. Miss Peggy Culpepper, she'll be mighty lonesome, a pickin' of 'em all by herself."
"Humph!" says Robin, tintin' up. "Think so, do you?"
"I don't have to think, Mistuh Robin," says Uncle Noah. "Miss Peggy told me that herself the mornin' I come away."
Young Mr. Hollister gazes earnest into them gentle old blue eyes for a second, then he takes a turn or two up and down the lib'ry, and fin'lly claps Uncle Noah on the shoulder. "I've been waiting all summer for a taste of those grapes," says he. "Come, we can just catch the midnight. I've had enough of Broadway to last me for a long time."
And my partin' glimpse of 'em was at eleven-fifty-six, when they pushed through the gate bound for Goober, Georgia.
"After all," thinks I, "it may not be so bad as it sounds."
THE CASE OF A FEMALE PARTY
You know how free this J. Bayard Steele has been in callin' on me for help in puttin' over his little deeds of kindness, at so much per deed? Well, here the other day he shows up at the studio with sealed envelope No. 3 in his pocket, and after springin' his usual guff about the door of fate he opens it.
"Well, who's the party of the second part this time?" says I.
But he just gazes at the slip of paper he's taken out and smiles mushy.
"All right," says I. "Keep it to yourself. This is my busy day, anyway."
"Pardon me, McCabe," says he. "I was lost in wonder at the varied character of the persons whom the late Pyramid Gordon numbered on his conscience list. This time it is a lady."
"Huh!" says I. "Didn't know Pyramid ever had any skirt complications."
"From Adam down has any man escaped?" says J. Bayard, wavin' his cigarette jaunty. "No, your friend Gordon was no wiser than the rest of us, as this shows. Hearken to the name—Josie Vernon!"
"That does listen flossy," says I. "But I never heard him mention any Josie as long as I knew him. Any details?"
"There's an address," says J. Bayard, "and in one corner is written, 'Mrs. Fletcher Shaw.' Probably a friend, or next of kin. Ah, but this is something like! Knight-errantry for the fair sex! Here, McCabe, is where I shine!"
"You do, eh?" says I. "Think you can handle this case all by your lonesome?"
Did he? Why, to see him turkeyin' round, glancin' at himself approvin' in the mirror, and pattin' them Grand Duke whiskers of his into shape, you'd think he had some matinee idol as an understudy. Oh, yes, he rather fancied he understood women, knew how to handle 'em, and all that. He would look up Josie Vernon at once, find out what had been the trouble between her and Pyramid, and decide on some kind and generous way of evenin' the score, accordin' to the terms of Mr. Gordon's will.
"And in this instance, Shorty," says he, "I shall probably not be compelled to trouble you at all until I submit my plans for your indorsement. Now I'm off. The ladies, bless 'em!" and he winks giddy as he trips through the door.
Ain't they the nutty ones, these old cut-ups? Look at Steele now,—in the late fifties, but just at the mention of a name like Josie Vernon he gets kittenish!
Well, it's nothin' to me, and I'm glad to duck any dealin's with stray dames; for when it comes to the surprisin' sex you never know what you're goin' to be let in for. Besides, my part of his executor game was only to O.K. J. Bayard's final schemes and see that he spent the money somewhere near the way I judged Pyramid meant to have it distributed. Course, I hadn't been able to stick to that very strict in the first two cases; but this time it looked like I would.
So by the next afternoon, havin' been busy in the gym since nine A.M., I'd forgotten the incident complete, and I'm some surprised when Swifty Joe announces that there's a female party askin' for me in the front office.
"Wha' d'ye mean—female party?" says I. "Is it a lady?"
"Ah-r-r-r chee!" says Swifty. "How do I know?"
That's some surprisin' too; for as a rule he ain't strong on drawin' fine distinctions. If they're young and flossy dressed, he calls 'em "fluffs"; but anything over twenty-five, no matter how she's costumed, is a lady to Swifty, even a scrubwoman. So his describin' this visitor as a female party gets me curious.
The minute I steps into the office and gets a glimpse at her, though, I got Swifty's point of view. The battered old lid had been gay enough once, a few seasons back, when the willow plume hadn't been dislocated in four places, and before the velvet trimmin' had faded into so many differ'nt shades. It had been a lady's hat once. And the face under it, in spite of the red tip to the nose and the puffs under the eyes, might have belonged to a lady. Anyway, there was traces of good looks there. But the rusty black cloak that hung limp over the sagged shoulders, only part hidin' the sloppy shirt waist and reachin' but halfway down the side-hiked, draggled-edge skirt—that's the sure mark of a female party. I don't know why, but it is.
Where they get cloaks like that is a mystery. You see 'em on women panhandlers, on the old hags that camp on park benches, and in the jag line at police courts. But you never see a new one. Perhaps they're made special by second-hand shops for the female party trade.
"Well?" says I, lookin' her over cold and curious.
But you can't faze a female party so simple. They're used to that. She stares back at me just as cool, and then remarks, "I guess you know who I am well enough."
"Sure!" says I. "You're the long lost Duchess of Gainsborough, ain't you?"
She just gazes at me brassy and shakes her head.
"Then you must be a lady snake agent," says I.
"What?" says she, scowlin' puzzled.
"I don't know the answer, either," says I. "Called for Professor McCabe, didn't you? Well, you're connected. Shoot the rest of it."
"I'm Mrs. Fletcher Shaw," says she.
And for a minute there I couldn't place the name. Then it came to me. "Oh!" says I. "Some relation of Josie Vernon's, eh?"
"Suppose I am?" she demands, eyin' me suspicious.
"Tut, tut, now!" says I. "You're the one that's occupyin' the witness stand, you know. You were about to tell why you came."
"Was I?" says she. "You might guess that: you've had a man pryin' and snoopin' around my flat for two days."
I gawps at her for a second, and then chuckles. "You mean a classy-dressed gent with whiskers?" says I.
"Mr. J. Bayard Steele," says I. "He's the one to see. He'll give you all the partic'lars."
"Humph!" says she, sniffin'. "What does he want of Josie Vernon? What's his game?"
"Deeds of kindness, that's all," says I.
Mrs. Shaw indulges in a hard, throaty cackle. "There ain't no such animal," says she. "Come now, you're in on this with him. He said so. What's it all about?"
"Mrs. Shaw," says I, "you've heard all I got to say on the subject. I'm more or less busy too, and——"
"How impolite!" she breaks in. "And me a lady too! Heavings! how faint I feel!" With that she sidles towards my desk chair and slumps into it.
"Very distressin' symptoms," says I. "But I got a quick cure for attacks like that. It's fresh air, taken outside."
"I sha'n't budge until I've found why you're hounding me!" says she, grippin' the chair arms.
"So?" says I. "Maybe you didn't notice the size of my assistant, Swifty Joe, as you came in? His specialty is escortin' obstreperous parties downstairs and dumpin' 'em on the curb."
"You try any strong-arm stuff on me and I'll scream for help!" says she. "I'll make a charge against you too."
She looked equal to it, and for a minute I stands there gazin' puzzled at her and scratchin' my head.
"You win," says I. "I can't have Swifty scratched up. He's too handsome. It ain't any secret I'm keepin' away from you, anyway. All Mr. Steele wants to do is to locate Josie Vernon. It's a will case, and there may be something in it for her. There! That's the whole story."
"It's a fishy one," says she.
"Maybe," says I; "but I'm givin' you my word on it. Produce Josie, and you'll see."
She squints at me doubtful, glances around the room cautious once or twice, and then remarks quiet, "Very well. I'll take a chance. I'm Josie."
"Eh?" says I. "You!"
"Ask the Sergeant over at the Nineteenth," says she. "He ran me out of his precinct because I wouldn't give up enough. Fortune-telling, you know. He wanted twenty a month. Think of that!"
"Never mind the Sarge," says I. "Did you know Mr. Gordon?"
"Pyramid?" says she. "Rather! Back in the '90's, that was. I was in his offices for awhile."
"Oh—ho!" says I. "Then you must be the one. Would you mind givin' me a sketch of the affair?"
Mrs. Shaw shrugs her shoulders under the old cape. "Why should I care now?" says she. "I sprung a breach of promise suit on him, that's all. I might have known better. He was a hard man, Pyramid Gordon. What with lawyers and the private detectives he set after me, I was glad to get out of the city alive. It was two years before I dared come back—and a rough two years they were too! But you're not raking that up against me at this late date, are you?"
"I'm not," says I. "Any move I make will be for your good. But Steele's the man. I'll have to call him in."
"Call away, then," says she. "I ain't afraid of him, either."
And by luck I catches J. Bayard at his hotel and gets him on the 'phone.
"Well?" says I. "How about the fair Josie?"
I could hear him groan over the wire. "Hang Josie!" says he. "See here, McCabe, I've had a deuce of a time with that case. Must have been something wrong with the address, you know."
"How's that?" says I.
"Why," says he, "it led me to a smelly, top-floor flat up in Harlem, and all I could find there was this impossible person, Mrs. Fletcher Shaw. Of all the sniveling, lying, vicious-tongued old harridans! Do you know what she did? Chased me down four flights of stairs with a broom, just because I insisted on seeing Josie Vernon!"
"You don't say!" says I. "And you such a star at this knight-errant business! Still want to see Josie, do you?"
"Why, of course," says he.
"Then come down to the studio," says I. "She's here."
"Wha-a-at!" he gasps. "I—I'll be right down."
And inside of ten minutes he swings in, all dolled up elegant with a pink carnation in his buttonhole. You should have seen the smile come off his face, though, when he sees what's occupyin' my desk chair. He'd have done a sneak back through the door too, if I hadn't blocked him off.
"Steady there, J. Bayard!" says I. "On the job, now!"
"But—but this isn't Josie Vernon," says he. "It's that Mrs.——"
"One and the same," says I. "The lady says so herself. She's proved it too."
"I had you sized up as a police spotter," puts in Mrs. Shaw, "trying to get me for palm reading. Thought you might have run across one of my cards. Josie Vernon's the name I use on them. Sorry if I was too free with the broom."
"I was merely returning to tell you, Madam," says Steele, "that I had discovered you to be an impostor. Those five children you claimed as yours did not belong to you at all. The janitor of the building informed me that——"