E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE BIG-TOWN ROUND-UP
WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE
Author of A Man Four-Square, The Sheriff's Son, Oh, You Tex!, Etc.
Frontispiece by George Giguere
[Frontispiece: Hard knuckles pressed cruelly into the soft throat of the Villager. (Transcriber's note: most of illustration missing; enough of its caption remaining to locate its entirety in the book's text).]
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York Made in the United States of America Copyright, 1920, by William Macleod Raine All Rights Reserved
FOREWORD I. CONCERNING A STREET TWELVE MILES LONG II. CLAY APPOINTS HIMSELF CHAPERON III. THE BIG TOWN IV. A NEW USE FOR A WATER HOSE V. A CONTRIBUTION TO THE SALVATION ARMY VI. CLAY TAKES A TRANSFER VII. ARIZONA FOLLOWS ITS LAWLESS IMPULSE VIII. "THE BEST SINGLE-BARRELED SPORT IVER I MET" IX. BEATRICE UP STAGE X. JOHNNIE SEES THE POSTMASTER XI. JOHNNIE GREEN—MATCH-MAKER XII. CLAY READS AN AD AND ANSWERS IT XIII. A LATE EVENING CALL XIV. STARRING AS A SECOND-STORY MAN XV. THE GANGMAN SEES RED XVI. A FACE IN THE NIGHT XVII. JOHNNIE MAKES A JOKE XVIII. BEATRICE GIVES AN OPTION XIX. A LADY WEARS A RING XX. THE CAUTIOUS GUY SLIPS UP XXI. AT THE HEAD OF THE STAIRS XXII. TWO MEN IN A LOCKED ROOM XXIII. JOHNNIE COMES INTO HIS OWN XXIV. CLAY LAYS DOWN THE LAW XXV. JOHNNIE SAYS HE IS MUCH OBLIGED XXVI. A LOCKED GATE XXVII. "NO VIOLENCE" XXVIII. IN BAD XXIX. BAD NEWS XXX. BEE MAKES A MORNING CALL XXXI. INTO THE HANDS OF HIS ENEMY XXXII. MR. LINDSAY RECEIVES XXXIII. BROMFIELD MAKES AN OFFER XXXIV. BEATRICE QUALIFIES AS A SHERLOCK HOLMES XXXV. TWO AND TWO MAKE FOUR XXXVI. A BOOMERANG XXXVII. ON THE CARPET XXXVIII. A CONVERSATION ABOUT STOCK XXXIX. IN CENTRAL PARK XL. CLAY PLAYS SECOND FIDDLE XLI. THE NEW DAY
THE BIG-TOWN ROUND-UP
The driver of the big car throttled down. Since he had swung away from the dusty road to follow a wagon track across the desert, the speedometer had registered many miles. His eyes searched the ground in front to see whether the track led up the brow of the hill or dipped into the sandy wash.
On the breeze there floated to him the faint, insistent bawl of thirsty cattle. The car leaped forward again, climbed the hill, and closed in upon a remuda of horses watched by two wranglers.
The chauffeur stopped the machine and shouted a question at the nearest rider, who swung his mount and cantered up. He was a lean, tanned youth in overalls, jumper, wide sombrero, high-heeled boots, and shiny leather chaps. A girl in the tonneau appraised with quick, eager eyes this horseman of the plains. Perhaps she found him less picturesque than she had hoped. He was not there for moving-picture purposes. Nothing on horse or man held its place for any reason except utility. The leathers protected the legs of the boy from the spines of the cactus and the thorns of the mesquite, the wide flap of the hat his face from the slash of catclaws when he drove headlong through the brush after flying cattle. The steel horn of the saddle was built to check a half-ton of bolting hill steer and fling it instantly. The rope, the Spanish bit, the tapaderas, all could justify their place in his equipment.
"Where's the round-up?" asked the driver.
The coffee-brown youth gave a little lift of his head to the right. He was apparently a man of few words. But his answer sufficed. The bawling of anxious cattle was now loud and persistent.
The car moved forward to the edge of the mesa and dropped into the valley. The girl in the back seat gave a little scream of delight. Here at last was the West she had read about in books and seen on the screen.
This was Cattleland's hour of hours. The parada grounds were occupied by two circles of cattle, each fenced by eight or ten horsemen. The nearer one was the beef herd, beyond this—and closer to the mouth of the canon from which they had all recently been driven—was a mass of closely packed cows and calves.
The automobile swept around the beef herd and drew to a halt between it and the noisier one beyond. In a fire of mesquite wood branding-irons were heating. Several men were busy branding and marking the calves dragged to them from the herd by the horsemen who were roping the frightened little blatters.
It was a day beautiful even for Arizona. The winey air called potently to the youth in the girl. Such a sky, such atmosphere, so much life and color! She could not sit still any longer. With a movement of her wrist she opened the door and stepped down from the car.
A man sitting beside the chauffeur turned in his seat. "You'd better stay where you are, honey." He had an idea that this was not exactly the scene a girl of seventeen ought to see at close range.
"I want to get the kinks out of my muscles, Dad," the girl called back. "I'll not go far."
She walked along a ridge that ran from the mesa into the valley like an outstretched tongue. Her hands were in the pockets of her fawn-colored coat. There was a touch of unstudied jauntiness in the way the tips of her golden curls escaped from beneath the little brown toque she wore. A young man guarding the beef herd watched her curiously. She moved with the untamed, joyous freedom of a sun-worshiper just emerging from the morning of the world. Something in the poise of the light, boyish figure struck a spark from his imagination.
A vaquero was cantering toward the fire with a calf in his wake. Another cowpuncher dropped the loop of his lariat on the ground, gave it a little upward twist as the calf passed over it, jerked taut the riata, and caught the animal by the hind leg. In a moment the victim lay stretched on the ground. In the gathering gloom the girl could not quite make out what the men were doing. To her sensitive nostrils drifted an acrid odor of burnt hair and flesh, the wail of an animal in pain. One of the men was using his knife on the ears of the helpless creature. She heard another say something about a crop and an underbit. Then she turned away, faint and indignant. Three big men torturing a month-old calf—was this the brave outdoor West she had read about and remembered from her childhood days? Tears of pity and resentment blurred her sight.
As she stood on the spit of the ridge, a slim, light figure silhouetted against the skyline, the young man guarding the beef herd called something to her that was lost in the bawling of the cattle. From the motion of his hand she knew that he was telling her to get back to the car. But the girl saw no reason for obeying the orders of a range-rider she had never seen before and never expected to see again. Nobody had ever told her that a rider is fairly safe among the wildest hill cattle, but a man on foot is liable to attack at any time when a herd is excited.
She turned her shoulder a little more definitely to the man who had warned her and looked across the parada grounds to the hills swimming in a haze of violet velvet. Her heart throbbed to a keen delight in them, as it might have done at the touch of a dear friend's hand long absent. For she had been born in the Rockies. They belonged to her and she to them. Long years in New York had left her still an alien.
A shout of warning startled her. Above the bellowing of the herd she heard another yell.
A red-eyed steer, tail up, was crashing through the small brush toward the branders. There was a wild scurry for safety. The men dropped iron and ropes and fled to their saddles. Deflected by pursuers, the animal turned. By chance it thundered straight for the girl on the sand spit.
She stood paralyzed for a moment.
Out of the gathering darkness a voice came to her sharp and clear. "Don't move!" It rang so vibrant with crisp command that the girl, poised for flight, stood still and waited in white terror while the huge steer lumbered toward her.
A cowpony, wheeled as on a dollar, jumped to an instant gallop. The man riding it was the one who had warned her back to the car. Horse and ladino pounded over the ground toward her. Each stride brought them closer to each other as they converged toward the sand spit. It came to her with a gust of panicky despair that they would collide on the very spot where she stood. Yet she did not run.
The rider, lifting his bronco forward at full speed, won by a fraction of a second. He guided in such a way as to bring his horse between her and the steer. The girl noticed that he dropped his bridle rein and crouched in the saddle, his eyes steadily upon her. Without slackening his pace in the least as he swept past, the man stooped low, caught the girl beneath the armpits, and swung her in front of him to the back of the horse. The steer pounded past so close behind that one of its horns grazed the tail of the cowpony.
It was a superb piece of horsemanship, perfectly timed, as perfectly executed.
The girl lay breathless in the arms of the man, her heart beating against his, her face buried in his shoulder. She was dazed, half fainting from the reaction of her fear. The next she remembered clearly was being lowered into the arms of her father.
He held her tight, his face tortured with emotion. She was the very light of his soul, and she had shaved death by a hair's breadth. A miracle had saved her, but he would never forget the terror that had gripped him. Naturally, shaken, as he was, his relief found vent in scolding.
"I told you to stay by the car, honey. But you're so willful. You've got to have your own way. Thank God you're safe. If . . . if . . ." His voice broke as he thought of what had so nearly been.
The girl snuggled closer to him, her arms round his neck. His anxiety touched her nearly, and tears flooded her eyes.
"I know, Dad. I . . . I'll be good."
A young man descended from the car, handsome, trim, and well got up. He had been tailored by the best man's outfitter in New York. Nobody on Broadway could order a dinner better than he. The latest dances he could do perfectly. He had the reputation of knowing exactly the best thing to say on every occasion. Now he proceeded to say it.
"Corking bit of riding—never saw better. I'll give you my hand on that, my man."
The cowpuncher found a bunch of manicured fingers in his rough brown paw. He found something else, for after the pink hand had gone there remained a fifty-dollar bill. He looked at it helplessly for a moment; then, beneath the brown outdoor tan, a flush of anger beat into his face. Without a word he leaned forward and pressed the note into the mouth of the bronco.
The buckskin knew its master for a very good friend. If he gave it something to eat—well, there was no harm in trying it once. The buckskin chewed placidly for a few seconds, decided that this was a practical joke, and ejected from its mouth a slimy green pulp that had recently been a treasury note.
The father stammered his thanks to the rescuer of the girl. "I don't know what I can ever do to let you know . . . I don't know how I can ever pay you for saving . . ."
"Forget it!" snapped the brown man curtly. He was an even-tempered youth, as genial and friendly as a half-grown pup, but just now the word "pay" irritated him as a red rag does a sulky bull.
"If there's anything at all I can do for you—"
"Not a thing."
The New Yorker felt that he was not expressing himself at all happily. What he wanted was to show this young fellow that he had put him under a lifelong obligation he could never hope to wipe out.
"If you ever come to New York—"
"I'm not liable to go there. I don't belong there any more than you do here. Better drift back to Tucson, stranger. The parada is no place for a tenderfoot. You're in luck you're not shy one li'l' girl tromped to death. Take a fool's advice and hit the trail for town pronto before you bump into more trouble."
The rider swung round his pony and cantered back to the beef herd.
He left behind him a much-annoyed clubman, a perplexed and distressed father, and a girl both hurt and indignant at his brusque rejection of her father's friendly advances. The episode of the fifty-dollar bill had taken place entirely under cover. The man who had given the note and the one who had refused to accept it were the only ones who knew of it. The girl saw only that this splendid horseman who had snatched her from under the very feet of the ladino had shown a boorish discourtesy. The savor had gone out of her adventure. Her heart was sick with disappointment and indignation.
CONCERNING A STREET TWELVE MILES LONG
"I like yore outfit," Red Hollister grumbled. "You're nice boys, and good to yore mothers—what few of you ain't wore their gray hairs to the grave with yore frolicsome ways. You know yore business and you got a good cook. But I'm darned if I like this thing of two meals a day, one at a quarter to twelve at night and the other a quarter past twelve, also and likewise at night."
A tenderfoot might have thought that Hollister had some grounds for complaint. For weeks he had been crawling out of his blankets in the pre-dawn darkness of 3 A.M. He had sat shivering down beside a camp-fire to swallow a hurried breakfast and had swung into the saddle while night was still heavy over the land. He had ridden after cattle wild as deer and had wrestled with ladino steers till long after the stars were up. In the chill night he had eaten another meal, rolled up in his blankets, and fallen into instant heavy sleep. And five minutes later—or so at least it seemed to him—the cook had pounded on the triangle for him to get up.
None the less Red's grumbling was a pretense. He would not have been anywhere else for twice the pay. This was what he lived for.
Johnnie Green, commonly known as "the Runt," helped himself to another flank steak. He was not much of a cow-hand, but when it came to eating Johnnie was always conscientiously on the job.
"These here New Yorkers must be awful hardy," he ventured, apropos of nothing. "Seems like they're night birds for fair. Never do go to bed, far as I can make out. They tromp the streets all day and dance at them cabby-rets all night. My feet would be all wore out."
Stace Wallis grinned. "So would my pocketbook. I've heard tell how a fellow can pay as high as four or five dollars for an eat at them places."
"Nothin' to it—nothin' a-tall," pronounced Red dogmatically. Hollister always knew everything. Nothing in the heavens above or the earth below could stump him. The only trouble with his knowledge was that he knew so much that wasn't true. "Can't be did. Do you reckon any o' them New Yorkers could get away with five dollars' worth of ham and aigs? Why, the Runt here couldn't eat more'n a dollar's worth."
"Sure," assented Johnnie. It was the habit of his life to agree with the last speaker. "You're damn whistlin', Red. Why, at the Harvey House they only charge a dollar for a square, and a man couldn't get a better meal than that."
"Onct in Denver, when I went to the stock show, I blowed myself for a meal at the Cambridge Hotel that set me back one-fifty," said Slim Leroy reminiscently. "They et dinner at night."
"They did?" scoffed Johnnie. "Don't they know a fellow eats dinner at noon and supper at night?"
"I ain't noticed any dinner at noon for se-ve-real weeks," Hollister contributed.
"Some feed that," ruminated Leroy, with memories of the Cambridge Hotel still to the fore.
"With or without?" questioned Red.
"I reckon I had one li'l' drink with it. No more."
"Then they stung you," pronounced Hollister.
"Mebbeso, and mebbe not. I ain't kickin' none. I sure was in tony society. There was fellows sittin' at a table near us that had on them swallow-tail coats."
Johnnie ventured a suggestion. "Don't you reckon if a fellow et a couple o' plates of this here cavi-eer stuff and some ice cream and cake, he might run it up to two bucks or two and a half? Don't you reckon he might, Clay?"
Clay Lindsay laughed. "You boys know a lot about New York, just about as much as I do. I've read that a guy can drop a hundred dollars a night in a cabaret if he has a friend or two along, and never make a ripple on Broadway."
"Does that look reasonable to you, Clay?" argued Red. "We're not talkin' about buckin' the tiger or buyin' diamonds for no actresses. We're figurin' on a guy goin' out with some friends to eat and take a few drinks and have a good time. How could he spend fifty dollars—let alone a hundred—if he let the skirts and the wheel alone and didn't tamper with no straight flushes?"
"I'm tellin' you what I read. Take it or leave it," said Clay amiably.
"Well, I read there's a street there twelve miles long. If a fellow started at one end of that street with a thirst he'd sure be salivated before he reached the other end of it," Stace said with a grin.
"Wonder if a fellow could get a job there. They wouldn't have no use for a puncher, I reckon," Slim drawled.
"Betcha Clay could get a job all right," answered Johnnie Green promptly. "He'd be top hand anywhere, Clay would."
Johnnie was the lost dog of the B-in-a-Box ranch. It was his nature to follow somebody and lick his hand whenever it was permitted. The somebody he followed was Clay Lindsay. Johnnie was his slave, the echo of his opinions, the booster of his merits. He asked no greater happiness than to trail in the wake of his friend and get a kind word occasionally.
The Runt had chosen as his Admirable Crichton a most engaging youth. It never had been hard for any girl to look at Clay Lindsay. His sun-tanned, good looks, the warmth of his gay smile, the poise and the easy stride of him, made Lindsay a marked man even in a country where men of splendid physique were no exception.
"I'd take a li'l' bet that New York ain't lookin' for no champeen ropers or bronco-busters," said Stace. "Now if Clay was a cabby-ret dancer or a Wall Street wolf—"
"There's no street in the world twelve miles long where Clay couldn't run down and hogtie a job if he wanted to," insisted Johnnie loyally. "Ain't that right, Clay?"
Clay was not listening. His eyes were watching the leap of the fire glow. The talk of New York had carried him back to a night on the round-up three years before. He was thinking about a slim girl standing on a sand spit with a wild steer rushing toward her, of her warm, slender body lying in his arms for five immortal seconds, of her dark, shy eyes shining out of the dusk at him like live coals. He remembered—and it hurt him to recall it—how his wounded pride had lashed out in resentment of the patronage of these New Yorkers. The younger man had insulted him, but he knew in his heart now that the girl's father had meant nothing of the kind. Of course the girl had forgotten him long since. If he ever came to her mind as a fugitive memory it would be in the guise of a churlish boor as impossible as his own hill cattle.
"Question is, could you land a job in New York if you wanted one," explained Stace to the dreamer.
"If it's neck meat or nothin' a fellow can 'most always get somethin' to do," said Lindsay in the gentle voice he used. The vague impulses of many days crystallized suddenly into a resolution. "Anyhow I'm goin' to try. Soon as the rodeo is over I'm goin' to hit the trail for the big town."
"Tucson?" interpreted Johnnie dubiously.
The bow-legged little puncher looked at his friend and gasped. Denver was the limit of Johnnie's imagination. New York was terra incognita, inhabited by a species who were as foreign to him as if they had dwelt in Mars.
"You ain't really aimin' to go to New York sure enough?" he asked.
Clay flashed on him the warm smile that endeared him to all his friends. "I'm goin' to ride down Broadway and shoot up the town, Johnnie. Want to come along?"
CLAY APPOINTS HIMSELF CHAPERON
As he traveled east Clay began to slough the outward marks of his calling. He gave his spurs to Johnnie before he left the ranch. At Tucson he shed his chaps and left them in care of a friend at the Longhorn Corral. The six-gun with which he had shot rattlesnakes he packed into his suitcase at El Paso. His wide-rimmed felt hat flew off while the head beneath it was stuck out of a window of the coach somewhere south of Denver. Before he passed under the Welcome Arch in that city the silk kerchief had been removed from his brown neck and retired to the hip pocket which formerly held his forty-five.
The young cattleman began to flatter himself that nobody could now tell he was a wild man from the hills who had never been curried. He might have spared himself the illusion. Everybody he met knew that this clean-cut young athlete, with the heavy coat of tan on his good-looking face, was a product of the open range. The lightness of his stride, the breadth of the well-packed shoulders, the frankness of the steady eyes, all advertised him a son of Arizona.
It was just before noon at one of the small plains towns east of Denver that a girl got on the train and was taken by the porter to a section back of Clay Lindsay. The man from Arizona noticed that she was refreshingly pretty in an unsophisticated way.
A little later he had a chance to confirm this judgment, for the dining-car manager seated her opposite him at a table for two. When Clay handed her the menu card she murmured "Thank you!" with a rush of color to her cheeks and looked helplessly at the list in her hand. Quite plainly she was taking her first long journey.
"Do I have to order everything that is here?" she presently asked shyly after a tentative and furtive glance at her table companion.
Clay felt no inclination to smile at her naivete. He was not very much more experienced than she was in such things, but his ignorance of forms never embarrassed him. They were details that seemed to him to have no importance.
The cowpuncher helped her fill the order card. She put herself entirely in his hands and was willing to eat whatever he suggested unbiased by preferences of her own. He included chicken salad and ice cream. From the justice she did her lunch he concluded that his choice had been a wise one.
She was a round, soft, little person with constant intimations of a childhood not long outgrown. Dimples ran in and out her pink cheeks at the slightest excuse. The blue eyes were innocently wide and the Cupid's-bow mouth invitingly sweet. The girl from Brush, Colorado, was about as worldly-wise as a plump, cooing infant or a fluffy kitten, and instinctively the eye caressed her with the same tenderness.
During the course of lunch she confided that her name was Kitty Mason, that she was an orphan, and that she was on her way to New York to study at a school for moving-picture actresses.
"I sent my photograph and the manager wrote back that my face was one hundred per cent perfect for the movies," the girl explained.
It was clear that she was expecting to be manufactured into a film star in a week or two. Clay doubted whether the process was quite so easy, even with a young woman who bloomed in the diner like a rose of the desert.
After they had finished eating, the range-rider turned in at the smoking compartment and enjoyed a cigar. He fell into casual talk with an army officer who had served in the Southwest, and it was three hours later when he returned to his own seat in the car.
A hard-faced man in a suit of checks more than a shade too loud was sitting in the section beside the girl from Brush. He was making talk in an assured, familiar way, and the girl was listening to him shyly and yet eagerly. The man was a variation of a type known to Lindsay. That type was the Arizona bad-man. If this expensively dressed fellow was not the Eastern equivalent of the Western gunman, Clay's experience was badly at fault. The fishy, expressionless eyes, the colorless face, the tight-lipped jaw, expressed a sinister personality and a dangerous one. Just now a suave good-humor veiled the evil of him, but the cowpuncher knew him for a wolf none the less.
Clay had already made friends with the Pullman conductor. He drifted to him now on the search for information.
"The hard-faced guy with the little girl?" he asked casually after the proffer of a cigar. "The one with the muscles bulging out all over him—who is he?"
"He comes by that tough mug honestly. That's Jerry Durand."
"Yep. Used to be. He's a gang leader in New York now. On his way back from the big fight in 'Frisco."
"He was some scrapper," admitted the range-rider. "Almost won the championship once, didn't he?"
"Lost on a foul. He always was a dirty fighter. I saw him the time he knocked out Reddy Moran."
"What do you mean gang leader?"
"He's boss of his district, they say. Runs a gambling-house of his own, I've heard. You can't prove it by me."
When Lindsay returned to his place he settled himself with a magazine in a seat where he could see Kitty and her new friend. The very vitality of the girl's young life was no doubt a temptation to this man. The soft, rounded throat line, the oval cheek's rich coloring so easily moved to ebb and flow, the carmine of the full red lips: every detail helped to confirm the impression of a sensuous young creature, innocent as a wild thing of the forests and as yet almost as unspiritual. She was a child of the senses, and the man sitting beside her was weighing and appraising her with a keen and hungry avidity.
Durand took the girl in to dinner with him and they sat not far from Lindsay. Kitty was lost to any memory of those about her. She was flirting joyously with a sense of newly awakened powers. The man from Graham County, Arizona, felt uneasy in his mind. The girl was flushed with fife. In a way she was celebrating her escape from the narrow horizon in which she had lived. It was in the horoscope of her temperament to run forward gayly to meet adventure, but when the man opposite her ordered wine and she sipped it reluctantly with a little grimace, the cowpuncher was of opinion that she was likely to get more of this adventure than was good for her. In her unsophistication danger lay. For she was plainly easily influenced, and in the beat of her healthy young blood probably there was latent passion.
They left the diner before Clay. He passed them later in the vestibule of the sleeper. They were looking out together on the moonlit plain through which the train was rushing. The arm of the man was stretched behind her to the railing and with the motion of the car the girl swayed back slightly against him.
Again Clay sought the smoking compartment and was led into talk by the officer. It was well past eleven when he rose, yawned, and announced, "I'm goin' to hit the hay."
Most of the berths were made up and it was with a little shock of surprise that his eyes fell on Kitty Mason and her new friend, the sleek black head of the man close to her fair curls, his steady eyes holding her like a charmed bird while his caressing voice wove the fairy tale of New York to which she yielded herself in strange delight.
"Don't you-all want yo' berth made up, lady?"
It was the impatient porter who interrupted them. The girl sprang up tremulously to accept.
"Oh, please. Is it late?" Her glance swept down the car and took in the fact that her section alone was not made up. "I didn't know—why, what time is it?"
"Most twelve, ma'am," replied the aggrieved porter severely.
She flashed a look of reproach at her companion and blushed again as she fled with her bag to the ladies' dressing-room. As for the man, Lindsay presently came on him in the smoking-room where he sat with an unlit cigar between his teeth and his feet on a chair. Behind half-shuttered lids his opaque eyes glittered with excitement. Clearly he was reviewing in his mind the progression of his triumph. Clay restrained a good, healthy impulse to pick a row with him and go to the mat with the ex-prize-fighter. But after all it was none of his business.
The train was rolling through the cornfields of the Middle West when the Arizonan awoke. He was up early, but not long before Kitty Mason, who was joined at once by Durand.
"Shucks! Nothin' to it a-tall," the range-rider assured himself. "That li'l' girl sure must have the number of this guy. She's flirtin' with him to beat three of a kind, but I'll bet a dogie she knows right where she's at."
Clay did not in the least believe his own argument. If he had come from a city he would have dismissed the matter as none of his business. But he came from the clean Southwest where every straight girl is under the protection of every decent man. If she was in danger because of her innocence it was up to him to look after her. There was no more competent man in Graham County than Clay Lindsay, but he recognized that this was a delicate affair in which he must move warily.
On his way to the diner at noon the range-rider passed her again. She was alone for the moment and as she leaned back her soft round throat showed a beating pulse. Her cheeks were burning and her starry eyes were looking into the future with a happy smile.
"You pore little maverick," the man commented silently.
The two had the table opposite him. As the wheels raced over a culvert to the comparative quiet of the ballasted track beyond, the words of the man reached Clay.
". . . and we'll have all day to see the city, kid."
Kitty shook her head. There was hesitation in her manner, and the man was quick to make the most of it. She wanted to stay, wanted to skip a train and let this competent guide show her Chicago. But somewhere, deep in her consciousness, a bell of warning was beginning to ring. Some uneasy prescience of trouble was sifting into her light heart. She was not so sure of her fairy tale, a good deal less sure of her prince.
A second time the song of the rails lifted from a heavy, rumbling bass to a lighter note, and again a snatch of words drifted across the diner.
". . . the time of your young life, honey."
The girl was crumbling a bread ball with her fingers as a vent to her restless excitement. The heavy hand of the man moved across the table and rested on hers. "And it won't cost you a cent, girlie," the New Yorker added.
But the long lashes of the girl lifted and her baby-blue eyes met his with shy reproach. "I don't think I ought," she breathed, color sweeping her face in a vivid flame.
"You should worry," he scoffed.
The chant of the wheels rose again, increased to a dull roar, and deadened the sound of all talk. But Lindsay knew the girl was weakening. She was no match for this big, dominant, two-fisted man.
The jaw of the cowpuncher set. This child was not fair game for a man like Durand. When Clay rose to leave the diner he knew that he meant to sit in and take a hand.
Either the Limited was ahead of its time schedule or the engineer had orders to run into the city very slowly. The train was creeping through the thickly settled quarter where the poorer people are herded when Clay touched Durand on the shoulder.
"Like to see you a moment in the vestibule," he said in his gentle voice.
The eyes of the two men met and the gambler knew at once that this man and he were destined to be enemies. Some sixth sense of safety, cultivated by a lifetime of battle, flashed him sure warning of this. The fellow meant to make trouble of some kind. The former near-champion of the ring had not the least idea what about or in what way. Nor did he greatly care. He had supreme confidence in his ability to look after himself. It was one factor of the stock in trade that had made him a dominant figure in the underworld of New York. He was vain enough to think that if it came to the worst there were few men living who could best him in a rough-and-tumble fight. Certainly no hill-billy from Arizona could do it.
No man had ever said that Jerry Durand was not game. He rose promptly and followed the Westerner from the car, swinging along with the light, catlike tread acquired by many pugilists.
The floor of the vestibule had been raised and the outer door of the car opened. Durand found time to wonder why.
The cowpuncher turned on him with an abrupt question. "Can you swim?"
The eyes of the ward boss narrowed. "What's that to you?" he demanded truculently.
"Nothin' to me, but a good deal to you. I'm aimin' to drop you in the river when we cross."
"Is that so?" snarled Durand. "You're quite a joker, ain't you? Well, you can't start somethin' too soon to suit me. But let's get this clear so we'll know where we're at. What's ailin' you, rube?"
"I don't like the color of yore hair or the cut of yore clothes," drawled Lindsay. "You've got a sure-enough bad eye, and I'm tired of travelin' in yore company. Let's get off, me or you one."
In the slitted eyes of the Bowery graduate there was no heat at all. They were bleak as a heavy winter morn. "Suits me fine. You'll not travel with me much farther. Here's where you beat the place."
The professional lashed out suddenly with his left. But Clay was not at the receiving end of the blow. Always quick as chain lightning, he had ducked and clinched. His steel-muscled arms tightened about the waist of the other. A short-arm jolt to the cheek he disregarded.
Before Durand had set himself to meet the plunge he found himself flying through space. The gambler caught at the rail, missed it, landed on the cinders beside the roadbed, was flung instantly from his feet, and rolled over and over down an incline to a muddy gully.
Clay, hanging to the brass railing, leaned out and looked back. Durand had staggered to his feet, plastered with mud from head to knees, and was shaking furiously a fist at him. The face of the man was venomous with rage.
The cowpuncher waved a debonair hand and mounted the steps again. The porter was standing in the vestibule looking at him with amazement.
"You throwed a man off'n this train, mistah," he charged.
"So I did," admitted Clay, and to save his life he could not keep from smiling.
The porter sputtered. This beat anything in his previous experience. "But—but—it ain't allowed to open up the cah. Was you-all havin' trouble?"
"No trouble a-tall. He bet me a cigar I couldn't put him off."
Clay palmed a dollar and handed it to the porter as he passed into the car. The eyes of that outraged official rolled after him. The book of rules did not say anything about wrestling-matches in the vestibule. Besides, it happened that Durand had called him down sharply not an hour before. He decided to brush off his passengers and forget what he had seen.
Clay stopped in front of Kitty and said he hoped she would have no trouble making her transfer in the city. The girl was no fool. She had sensed the antagonism that had flared up between them in that moment when they had faced each other five minutes before.
"Where's Mr. Durand?" she asked.
"He got off."
"But the train hasn't stopped."
"It's just crawlin' along, and he was in a hurry."
Her gaze rested upon an angry bruise on his cheek. It had not been there when last she saw him. She started to speak, then changed her mind.
Clay seated himself beside her. "Chicago is a right big town, I reckon. If I can help you any, Miss Kitty, I'd be glad to do what I can."
The girl did not answer. She was trying to work out this puzzle of why a man should get off before the train reached the station.
"I'm a stranger myself, but I expect I can worry along somehow," he went on cheerfully.
"Mr. Durand didn't say anything to me about getting off," she persisted.
"He made up his mind in a hurry. Just took a sudden notion to go."
"Without saying anything about his suitcases?"
"Never mentioned 'em."
"You didn't have—any trouble with him?" she faltered.
"Not a bit," he told her genially. "Sorry our tickets take us by different roads to New York. Maybe we'll meet up with each other there, Miss Kitty."
"I don't understand it," she murmured, half to herself. "Why would he get off before we reach the depot?"
She was full of suspicions, and the bruise on the Westerner's cheek did not tend to allay them. They were still unsatisfied when the porter took her to the end of the car to brush her clothes.
The discretion of that young man had its limits. While he brushed the girl he told her rapidly what he had seen in the vestibule.
"Was he hurt?" she asked breathlessly.
"No 'm. I looked out and seen him standin' beside the track j'es' a-cussin' a blue streak. He's a sho-'nough bad actor, that Jerry Durand."
Kitty marched straight to her section. The eyes of the girl flashed anger.
"Please leave my seat, sir," she told Clay.
The Arizonan rose at once. He knew that she knew. "I was intendin' to help you off with yore grips," he said.
She flamed into passionate resentment of his interference. "I'll attend to them. I can look out for myself, sir."
With that she turned her back on him.
THE BIG TOWN
When Clay stepped from the express into the Pennsylvania Station he wondered for a moment if there was a circus or a frontier-day show in town. The shouts of the porters, the rush of men and women toward the gates, the whirl and eddy of a vast life all about him, took him back to the few hours he had spent in Chicago.
As he emerged at the Thirty-Fourth Street entrance New York burst upon him with what seemed almost a threat. He could hear the roar of it like a river rushing down a canon. Clay had faced a cattle stampede. He had ridden out a blizzard hunched up with the drifting herd. He had lived rough all his young and joyous life. But for a moment he felt a chill drench at his heart that was almost dread. He did not know a soul in this vast populace. He was alone among seven or eight million crazy human beings.
He had checked his suitcase to be free to look about. He had no destination and was in no hurry. All the day was before him, all of many days. He drifted down the street and across to Sixth Avenue. He clung to the safety of one of the L posts as the traffic surged past. The clang of surface cars and the throb of motors filled the air constantly. He wondered at the daring of a pink-cheeked slip of a girl driving an automobile with sure touch through all this tangle of traffic. While he waited to plunge across the street there came a roar overhead that reminded him again of a wall of water he had once heard tearing down a canon in his home land.
Instinctively one arm clutched at the post. A monster went flying through the air with a horrible, grinding menace. It was only the Elevated on its way uptown. Clay looked around in whimsical admiration of the hurrying people about him. None of them seemed aware either of the noise or the crush of vehicles. They went on their preoccupied way swiftly and surely.
"I never did see such a town, and me just hittin' the fringes of it yet," Clay moaned aloud in comic despair, unaware that even New York has no noisier street than Sixth Avenue.
Chance swept him up Sixth to Herald Square. He was caught in the river of humanity that races up Broadway. His high-heeled boots clicked on the pavement of one of the world's great thoroughfares as far as Forty-Second Street. Under the shadow of the Times Building he stopped to look about him. Motor-cars, street-cars, and trucks rolled past in endless confusion. Every instant the panorama shifted, yet it was always the same. He wondered where all this rush of people was going. What crazy impulses sent them surging to and fro? And the girls—Clay surrendered to them at discretion. He had not supposed there were so many pretty, well-dressed girls in the world.
"I reckon money grows on trees in New York," he told himself aloud with a grin.
Broadway fascinated him. He followed it uptown toward Longacre Circle. The street was as usual in a state of chronic excavation. His foot slipped and he fell into a trench while trying to cross. When he emerged it was with a pound or two of Manhattan mud on his corduroy suit. He looked at himself again with a sense that his garb did not quite measure up to New York standards.
"First off I'm goin' to get me a real city suit of clothes," he promised himself. "This here wrinkled outfit is some too woolly for the big town. It's a good suit yet—'most as good as when I bought it at the Boston Store in Tucson three years ago. But I reckon I'll save it to go home in."
To a policeman directing traffic at a crossing he applied for information.
"Can you tell me where there's a dry-goods store in this man's town?" he asked. "I fell into this here Broadway and got kinda messed up."
"Suit o' clothes."
The traffic cop sized him up in one swift glance. "Siventh Avenue," he said, and pointed in that direction.
Clay took his advice. He stopped in front of a store above which was the legend "I. Bernstein, Men's Garments." A small man with sharp little eyes and well-defined nose was standing in the doorway.
"Might you would want a good suit of qvality clothes, my friendt," he suggested.
"You've pegged me right," agreed the Westerner with his ready smile. "Lead me to it."
Mr. Bernstein personally conducted his customer to the suit department. "I wait on you myself on account you was a stranger to the city," he explained.
The little man took a suit from a rack and held it at arm's length to admire it. His fingers caressed the woof of it lovingly. He evidently could bring himself to part with it only after a struggle.
"Worsted. Fine goods." He leaned toward the range-rider and whispered a secret. "Imported."
Clay shook his head. "Not what I want." His eyes ranged the racks. "This is more my notion of the sort of thing I like." He pointed to a blue serge with a little stripe in the pattern.
The eyes of Mr. Bernstein marveled at the discrimination of his customer. "If you had taken an advice from me, it would have been to buy that suit. A man gets a chance at a superior garment like that, understan' me, only once in a while occasionally."
"How much?" asked Lindsay.
The dealer was too busy to hear this crass question. That suit, Clay gathered, had been the pride of his heart ever since he had seen it first. He detached the coat lovingly from the hanger and helped his customer into it. Then he fell back, eyes lit with enthusiastic amazement. Only fate could have brought together this man and this suit, so manifestly destined for each other since the hour when Eve began to patch up fig leaves for Adam.
"Like a coat of paint," he murmured aloud.
The cowpuncher grinned. He understood the business that went with selling a suit in some stores. But it happened that he liked this suit himself. "How much?" he repeated.
The owner of the store dwelt on the merits of the suit, its style, its durability, the perfect fit. He covered his subject with artistic thoroughness. Then, reluctantly, he confided in a whisper the price at which he was going to sacrifice this suit among suits.
"To you, my friendt, I make this garment for only sixty-five dollars." He added another secret detail. "Below wholesale cost."
A little devil of mirth lit in Lindsay's eye. "I'd hate to have you rob yoreself like that. And me a perfect stranger to you too."
"Qvality, y' understan' me. Which a man must got to live garments like I done to appreciate such a suit. All wool. Every thread of it. Unshrinkable. This is a qvality town. If you want the best it costs a little more, but you got anyhow a suit which a man might be married in without shame, understan' me."
The Arizonan backed off in apparent alarm. "Say, is this a weddin' garment you're onload'n' on me? Do I have to sashay down a church aisle and promise I do?"
Mr. Bernstein explained that this was not obligatory. All he meant was that the suit was good enough to be married in, or for that matter to be buried in.
"Or to be born anew in when Billy Sunday comes to town and I hit the sawdust trail," suggested the purchaser.
Mr. Bernstein caressed it again. "One swell piece of goods," he told himself softly, almost with tears in his eyes.
"All wool, you say?" asked Clay, feeling the texture. He had made up his mind to buy it, though he thought the price a bit stiff.
Mr. Bernstein protested on his honor that there was not a thread of cotton in it. "Which you could take it from me that when I sell a suit of clothes it is like I am dealing with my own brother," he added. "Every garment out of this store takes my personal guarantee."
Clay tried on the trousers and looked at himself in the glass. So far as he could tell he looked just like any other New Yorker.
The dealer leaned forward and spoke in a whisper. Apparently he was ashamed of his softness of heart. "Fifty-five dollars—to you."
"I'll take it," the Westerner said.
The clothier called his tailor from the rear of the store to make an adjustment in the trousers. Meanwhile he deftly removed the tags which told him in cipher that the suit had cost him just eleven dollars and seventy-five cents.
Half an hour later Clay sat on top of a Fifth-Avenue bus which was jerking its way uptown. His shoes were shined to mirror brightness. He was garbed in a blue serge suit with a little stripe running through the pattern. That suit just now was the apple of his eye. It proved him a New Yorker and not a wild man from the Arizona desert.
A NEW USE FOR A WATER HOSE
The motor-bus ran up Fifth Avenue, cut across to Broadway, passed Columbus Circle, and swept into the Drive. It was a day divinely young and fair. The fragrance of a lingering spring was wafted to the nostrils. Only the evening before the trees had been given a bath of rain and the refreshment of it showed in every quivering leaf. From its little waves the Hudson reflected a million sparkles of light. Glimpses of the Park tempted Clay. Its winding paths! The children playing on the grass while their maids in neat caps and aprons gossiped together on the benches near! This was the most human spot the man from Arizona had seen in the metropolis.
Somewhere in the early three-figure streets he descended from the top of the bus and let his footsteps follow his inclinations into the Park. A little shaver in a sailor suit ran across the path and fell sprawling at the feet of Clay. He picked up and began to comfort the howling four-year-old.
"That sure was a right hard fall, sonny, but you're not goin' to make any fuss about it. You're Daddy's little man and—"
A sharp, high voice cut into his consolation.
"Cedric, come here!"
The little boy went, bawling lustily to win sympathy. The nursemaid shook him impatiently. "How many times have I told you to look where you're going? Serves you just right. Now be still."
There was a deep instinct in Clay to stand by those in trouble when they were weak. A child or a woman in distress always had a claim on him.
"I reckon the li'l' fellow was in a hurry, Miss," he said, smiling. "I 'most always was at his age. But he ain't hurt much."
The maid looked Clay up and down scornfully before she turned her back on him and began to talk with another nurse.
Beneath the tan of the range-rider's cheeks the color flamed. This young woman had not mistaken the friendliness of the West for the impudence of a street masher. The impulse of snobbery had expressed itself in her action.
The cowpuncher followed a path that took him back to the street. He grinned, but there was no smile in his heart. He was ashamed of this young woman who could meet good-will with scorn, and he wanted to get away from her without any unnecessary delay. What were the folks like in this part of the country that you couldn't speak to them without getting insulted?
He struck across the Drive into a side street. An apartment house occupied the corner, but from the other side a row of handsome private dwellings faced him.
The janitor of the apartment house was watering the parking beyond the sidewalk. The edge of the stream from the nozzle of the hose sprayed the path in front of Clay. He hesitated for a moment to give the man time to turn aside the hose.
But the janitor on this particular morning had been fed up with trouble. One of the tenants had complained of him to the agent of the place. Another had moved away without tipping him for an hour's help in packing he had given her. He was sulkily of the opinion that the whole world was in a conspiracy to annoy him. Just now the approaching rube typified the world.
A little flirt of the hose deluged Clay's newly shined boots and the lower six inches of his trousers.
"Look out what you're doing!" protested the man from Arizona.
"I tank you better look where you're going," retorted the one from Sweden. He was a heavy-set, muscular man with a sullen, obstinate face.
"My shoes and trousers are sopping wet."
"Yust you bate it oop street. I ant look for no trouble with no rubes."
"I believe you did it on purpose."
"Tank so? Val, yust one teng I lak to tell you. I got no time for damn fule talk."
The Westerner started on his way. There was no use having a row with a sulky janitor.
But the Swede misunderstood his purpose. At Clay's first step forward he jerked round the nozzle and let the range-rider have it with full force.
Clay was swept back to the wall by the heavy pressure of water that played over him. The stream moved swiftly up and down him from head to foot till it had drenched every inch of the perfect fifty-five-dollar suit. He drowned fathoms deep in a water spout. He was swept over Niagara Falls. He came to life again to find himself the choking center of a world flood. He sputtered furiously while his arms flailed like windmills to keep back the river of water that engulfed him.
The thought that brought him back to action was one that had to do with the blue serge. The best fifty-five-dollar suit in New York was ruined in this submarine disaster.
He gave a strangled whoop and charged straight at the man behind the hose. The two clinched. While they struggled, the writhing hose slapped back and forth between them like an agitated snake. Clay had one advantage. He was wet through anyhow. It did not matter how much of the deluge struck him. The janitor fought to keep dry and he had not a chance on earth to succeed.
For one hundred and seventy-five pounds of Arizona bone and muscle, toughened by years of hard work in sun and wind, had clamped itself upon him. The nozzle twisted toward the janitor. He ducked, went down, and was instantly submerged. When he tried to rise, the stream beat him back. He struggled halfway up, slipped, got again to his feet, and came down sitting with a hard bump when his legs skated from under him.
A smothered "Vat t'ell!" rose out of the waters. It was both a yelp of rage and a wail of puzzled chagrin. The janitor could not understand what was happening to him. He did not know that he was being treated to a new form of the water cure.
Before his dull brain had functioned to action an iron grip had him by the back of the neck. He was jerked to his feet and propelled forward to the curb. Every inch of the way the heavy stream from the nozzle broke on his face and neck. It paralyzed his resistance, jarred him so that he could not gather himself to fight. He was still sputtering "By damn," when Clay bumped him up against a hitching-post, garroted him, and swung the hose around the post in such a way as to encircle the feet of the man.
The cowpuncher drew the hose tight, slipped the nozzle through the iron ring, and caught the flapping arms of the man to his body. With the deft skill of a trained roper Clay swung the rubber pipe round the body of the man again and again, drawing it close to the post and knotting it securely behind. The Swede struggled, but his furious rage availed him nothing. He was in the hands of the champion roper of Graham County, a man who had hogtied a wild hill steer in thirty-three seconds by the watch.
It took longer than this to rope up the husky janitor with a squirming hose, but when Clay stepped back to inspect his job he knew he was looking at one that had been done thoroughly.
"I keel you, by damn, ef you don't turn me loose!" roared the big man in a rage.
The range-rider grinned gayly at him. He was having the time of his young life. He did not even regret his fifty-five-dollar suit. Already he could see that Arizona had nothing on New York when it came to getting action for your money.
"Life's just loaded to the hocks with disappointment, Olie," he explained, and his voice was full of genial sympathy. "I'll bet a dollar Mex you'd sure like to beat me on the haid with a two by four. But I don't reckon you'll ever get that fond wish gratified. We're not liable to meet up with each other again pronto. To-day we're here and to-morrow we're at Yuma, Arizona, say, for life is short and darned fleeting as the poet fellow says."
He waved a hand jauntily and turned to go. But he changed his mind. His eye had fallen on a young woman standing at a French window of the house opposite. She was beckoning to him imperiously.
The young woman disappeared as he crossed the street, but in a few moments the door opened and she stood there waiting for him. Clay stared. He had never before seen a girl dressed like this. She was in riding-boots, breeches, and coat. Her eyes dilated while she looked at him.
"Wyoming?" she asked at last in a low voice.
"Arizona," he answered.
"All one. Knew it the moment I saw you tie him. Come in." She stood aside to let him pass.
That hall, with its tapestried walls, its polished floors, and Oriental rugs, was reminiscent of "the movies" to Clay. Nowhere else had he seen a home so stamped with the mark of ample means.
"Come in," she ordered again, a little sharply.
He came in and she closed the door.
"I'm sopping wet. I'll drip all over the floor."
"What are you going to do? You'll be arrested, you know." She stood straight and slim as a boy, and the frank directness of her gaze had a boy's sexless unconsciousness.
"Thought I'd give myself up to the marshal."
She laughed outright at this. "Not in this town. A stranger like you would have no chance. Listen." There came to them from outside the tap-tap-tap-tap of a policeman's night stick rattling on the curbstone. "He's calling help."
"I can explain how it happened."
"No. He wouldn't understand. They'd find you guilty."
He moved from the rug where he was standing to let the water drip on the hardwood floor.
"Sho! Folks are mostly reasonable. I'd tell the judge how it come about."
"Well, I can't stay here."
"Yes—till they've gone."
Her imperative warmed his heart, but he tried to explain gently why he could not. "I can't drag you into this. Like as not the Swede saw me come in."
To a manservant standing in the background the young woman spoke. "Jenkins, have Nora clean up the floor and the steps outside. And remember—I don't want the police to know this gentleman is here."
"Come!" said the girl to her guest. She led Clay to the massive stairway, but stopped at the first tread to call back an order over her shoulder. "Refer the officers to me if they insist on coming into the house."
"I'll see to it, Miss."
Clay followed his hostess to the stairs and went up them with her, but he went protesting, though with a chuckle of mirth. "He sure ruined my clothes a heap. I ain't fit to be seen."
The suit he had been so proud of was shrinking so that his arms and legs stuck out like signposts. The color had run and left the goods a peculiar bilious-looking overall blue.
She lit a gas-log in a small library den.
"Just a minute, please."
She stepped briskly from the room. In her manner was a crisp decision, in her poise a trim gallantry that won him instantly.
"I'll bet she'd do to ride with," he told himself in a current Western idiom.
When she came back it was to take him to a dressing-room. A complete change of clothing was laid out for him on a couch. A man whom Clay recognized as a valet—he had seen his duplicate in the moving-picture theaters at Tucson—was there to supply his needs and attend to the temperature of his bath.
"Stevens will look after you," she said; "when you are ready come back to Dad's den."
His eyes followed to the door her resilient step. Once, when he was a boy, he had seen Ada Rehan play in "As You Like It." Her acting had entranced him. This girl carried him back to that hour. She was boyish as Rosalind, woman in every motion of her slim and lissom body.
At the head of the stairway she paused. Jenkins was moving hurriedly up to meet her.
"It's a policeman, Miss. 'E's come about the—the person that came in, and 'e's talkin' to Nora on the steps. She's a-jollyin' 'im, as you might say, Miss."
His young mistress nodded. She swept the hall with the eye of a general. Swiftly she changed the position of a Turkish rug so as to hide a spot on the polished floor that had been recently scrubbed and was still moist. It seemed best to discover Nora's plan of campaign before taking over the charge of affairs.
"Many's the time I've met yuh goin' down the Avenoo with your heels clickin' an' your head high," came the rich brogue of Nora O'Flannigan. "An' I've said to myself, sez I, who's the handsome officer that sets off his uniform so gr-rand?"
The girl leaned on her mop and gave the policeman a slant glance out of eyes of Irish brown. It was not Nora's fault that she was as pretty a colleen as ever came out of Limerick, but there was no law that made her send such a roguish come-hither look at the man in blue.
He beamed. He was as pleased as a cat that has been stroked and fed cream.
"Well, an' yuh 're not the only wan that notices, Miss Nora. I'm a noticin' lad mesilf. An' it's the truth that I'd be glad enough to meet yuh some fine evenin' when I'm off duty. But about this strong-arm guy that tied up the janitor. The Swede says he went into wan av these houses. Now here's the wet color from his suit that ran over the steps. He musta come up here."
"Before he ran down the street. Sure, an' that's just what he done. Yuh're a janious, officer."
"Maybe he got into the house somehow."
"Now, how could he do that? With all av us upstairs and down."
"I don't say he did. But if I was to just take a look inside so as to report that I'd searched—"
"Och! Yuh 'd be wastin' your time, officer."
"Sure, I know that. But for the report—"
The young woman in the riding costume chose this moment to open the door and saunter out.
"Does the officer want something, Nora?" she asked innocently, switching the end of a crop against her riding-boots.
"Yes, Miss. There's been a ruffian batin' up Swedes an' tyin' 'em to posts. This officer thinks he came here," explained Nora.
"Does he want to look in the house?"
"Then let him come in." The young mistress took the responsibility on her own shoulders. She led the policeman into the hall. "I don't really see how he could have got in here without some of us seeing him, officer."
"No, ma'am. I don't see how he could." The patrolman scratched his red head. "The janitor's a Swede, anyhow. He jist guessed it. I came to make sure av it. I'll be sorry for troubling yuh, Miss."
The smile she gave him was warm and friendly. "Oh, that's all right. If you'd care to look around. . . . But there really is no use."
"No." The forehead under the red thatch wrinkled in thought. "He said he seen him come in here or next door, an' he came up the steps. But nobody could have got in without some of youse seein' him. That's a lead pipe." The officer pushed any doubt that remained from his mind. "Only a muddle-headed Swede."
"It was good of you to come. It makes us feel safer to have officers like you. If you'll give me your name I'll call up the precinct captain and tell him so."
The man in uniform turned beet red. "McGuffey, Miss, and it's a pleasure to serve the likes of yuh," he said, pleased and embarrassed.
He bowed himself out backward, skidded on the polished floor, and saved himself from going down by a frantic fling of arms and some fancy skating. When he recovered, his foot caught in a rug and wadded it to a knot.
Nora giggled behind her fingers, but her mistress did not even smile at the awkwardness of Patrolman McGuffey.
"Thank you so much," she said sweetly.
A CONTRIBUTION TO THE SALVATION ARMY
While Beatrice Whitford waited in the little library for the Arizonan to join her, she sat in a deep chair, chin in hand, eyes fixed on the jetting flames of the gas-log. A little flush had crept into the oval face. In her blood there tingled the stimulus of excitement. For into her life an adventure had come from faraway Cattleland.
A crisp, strong footstep sounded in the hall. Her fingers flew to pat into place the soft golden hair coiled low at the nape of the neck. At times she had a boylike unconcern of sex; again, a spirit wholly feminine.
The clothes of her father fitted Lindsay loosely, for Colin Whitford had begun to take on the flesh of middle age and Clay was lean and clean of build as an elk. But the Westerner was one of those to whom clothes are unimportant. The splendid youth of him would have shone through the rags of a beggar.
"My name is Clay Lindsay," he told her by way of introduction.
"Mine is Beatrice Whitford," she answered.
They shook hands.
"I'm to wait here till my clothes dry, yore man says."
"Then you'd better sit down," she suggested.
Within five minutes she knew that he had been in New York less than three hours. His impressions of the city amused and entertained her. He was quite simple. She could look into his mind as though it were a deep, clear well. There was something inextinguishably boyish and buoyant about him. But in his bronzed face and steady, humorous eyes were strength and shrewdness. He was the last man in the world a bunco-steerer could play for a sucker. She felt that. Yet he made no pretenses of a worldly wisdom he did not have.
A voice reached them from the top of the stairs.
"Do you know where Miss Whitford is, Jenkins?"
"Hin the Red Room, sir." The answer was in the even, colorless voice of a servant.
The girl rose at once. "If you'll excuse me," she said, and stepped out of the room.
"Hello, Bee. What do you think? I never saw such idiots as the police of this town are. They're watching this house for a desperado who assaulted some one outside. I met a sergeant on our steps. Says he doesn't think the man's here, but there's just a chance he slipped into the basement. It's absurd."
"Of course it is." There was a ripple of mirth in the girl's voice. "He didn't come in by the basement at all, but walked in at the front door."
"Who are you talking about?"
"The desperado, Dad."
"The front door!" exploded her father. "What do you mean? Who let him in?"
"I did. He came as my guest, at my invitation."
"Don't shout, Dad," she advised. "I thought I had brought you up better."
"But—but—but—what do you mean?" he sputtered. "Is this ruffian in the house now?"
"Oh, yes. He's in the Red Room here—and unless he's very deaf he hears everything we are saying," the girl answered calmly, much amused at the amazement of her father. "Won't you come in and see him? He doesn't seem very desperate."
Clay rose, pinpoints of laughter dancing in his eyes. He liked the gay audacity of this young woman, just as he liked the unconventional pluck with which she had intruded herself into his affairs as a rescuer and the businesslike efficiency that had got him out of his wet rags into comfortable clothes.
A moment later he was offering a brown hand to Colin Whitford, who took it reluctantly, with the same wariness a boxer does that of his opponent in the ring. His eyes said plainly, "What the deuce are you doing here, sitting in my favorite chair, smoking one of my imported cigars, wearing my clothes, and talking to my daughter?"
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Whitford. Yore daughter has just saved my life from the police," the Westerner said, and his friendly smile was very much in evidence.
"You make yourself at home," answered the owner of a large per cent of the stock of the famous Bird Cage mine.
"My guests do, Dad. It's the proof that I'm a perfect hostess," retorted Beatrice, her dainty, provocative face flashing to mirth.
"Hmp!" grunted her father dryly. "I'd like to know, young man, why the police are shadowing this house?"
"I expect they're lookin' for me."
"I expect they are, and I'm not sure I won't help them find you. You'll have to show cause if I don't."
"His bark is much worse than his bite," the girl explained to Clay, just as though her father were not present.
"Hmp!" exploded the mining magnate a second time. "Get busy, young fellow."
Clay told the story of the fifty-five-dollar suit that I. Bernstein had wished on him with near-tears of regret at parting from it. The cowpuncher dramatized the situation with some native talent for mimicry. His arms gestured like the lifted wings of a startled cockerel. "A man gets a chance at a garment like that only once in a while occasionally. Which you can take it from me that when I. Bernstein sells a suit of clothes it is shust like he is dealing with his own brother. Qvality, my friendts, qvality! Why, I got anyhow a suit which I might be married in without shame, un'erstan' me."
Colin Whitford was of the West himself. He had lived its rough-and-tumble life for years before he made his lucky strike in the Bird Cage. He had moved from Colorado to New York only ten years before. The sound of Clay's drawling voice was like a message from home. He began to grin in spite of himself. This man was too good to be true. It wasn't possible that anybody could come to the big town and import into it so naively such a genuine touch of the outdoor West. It was not possible, but it had happened just the same. Of course Manhattan would soon take the color out of him. It always did out of everybody. The city was so big, so overpowering, so individual itself, that it tolerated no individuality in its citizens. Whitford had long since become a conformist. He was willing to bet a hat that this big brown Arizonan would eat out of the city's hand within a week. In the meantime he wanted to be among those present while the process of taming the wild man took place. Long before the cowpuncher had finished his story of hog-tying the Swede to a hitching-post with his own hose, the mining man was sealed of the large tribe of Clay Lindsay's admirers. He was ready to hide him from all the police in New York.
Whitford told Stevens to bring in the fifty-five-dollar suit so that he could gloat over it. He let out a whoop of delight at sight of its still sodden appearance. He examined its sickly hue with chuckles of mirth.
"Guaranteed not to fade or shrink," murmured Clay sadly.
He managed to get the coat on with difficulty. The sleeves reached just below his elbows.
"You look like a lifer from Sing Sing," pronounced Whitford joyously. "Get a hair-cut, and you won't have a chance on earth to fool the police."
"The color did run and fade some," admitted Clay.
"Worth every cent of nine ninety-eight at a bargain sale before the Swede got busy with it—and he let you have it at a sacrifice for fifty-five dollars!" The millionaire wept happy tears as a climax of his rapture. He swallowed his cigar smoke and had to be pounded on the back by his daughter.
"Would you mind getting yore man to wrop it up for me? I'm goin' to have a few pleasant words with I. Bernstein," said Clay with mock mournfulness.
"When?" asked Whitford promptly.
"Never you mind when, sah. I'm not issuin' any tickets of admission. It's goin' to be a strictly private entertainment."
"Are you going to take a water hose along?"
"That's right," reproached Clay. "Make fun of me because I'm a stranger and come right from the alfalfa country." He turned to Beatrice cheerfully. "O' course he bit me good and proper. I'm green. But I'll bet he loses that smile awful quick when he sees me again."
"You're not going to—"
"Me, I'm the gentlest citizen in Arizona. Never in trouble. Always peaceable and quiet. Don't you get to thinkin' me a bad-man, for I ain't."
Jenkins came to the door and announced "Mr. Bromfield."
Almost on his heels a young man in immaculate riding-clothes sauntered into the room. He had the assured ease of one who has the run of the house. Miss Whitford introduced the two young men and Bromfield looked the Westerner over with a suave insolence in his dark, handsome eyes.
Clay recognized him immediately. He had shaken hands once before with this well-satisfied young man, and on that occasion a fifty-dollar bill had passed from one to the other. The New Yorker evidently did not know him.
It became apparent at once that Bromfield had called to go riding in the Park with Miss Whitford. That young woman came up to say good-bye to her new acquaintance.
"Will you be here when I get back?"
"Not if our friends outside give me a chance for a getaway," he told her.
Her bright, unflinching eyes looked into his. "You'll come again and let us know how you escaped," she invited.
"I'll ce'tainly do that, Miss Whitford."
"Then we'll look for you Thursday afternoon, say."
"I'll be here."
"If the police don't get you."
"They won't," he promised serenely.
"When you're quite ready, Bee," suggested Bromfield in a bored voice.
She nodded casually and walked out of the room like a young Diana, straight as a dart in her trim slenderness.
Clay slipped out of the house by the back way, cut across to the subway, and took a downtown train. He got out at Forty-Second Street and made his way back to the clothing establishment of I. Bernstein.
That gentleman was in his office in the rear of the store. Lindsay walked back to it, opened and closed the door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket.
The owner of the place rose in alarm from the stool where he was sitting. "What right do you got to lock that door?" he demanded.
"I don't want to be interrupted while I'm sellin' you this suit, Mr. Bernstein," the cowpuncher told him easily, and he proceeded to unwrap the damp package under his arm. "It's a pippin of a suit. The color won't run or fade, and it's absolutely unshrinkable. You won't often get a chance at a suit like this. Notice the style, the cut, the quality of the goods. And it's only goin' to cost you fifty-five dollars."
The clothing man looked at the misshapen thing with eyes that bulged. "Where is it you been with this suit—in the East River, my friendt?" he wanted to know.
"I took a walk along Riverside Drive. That's all. I got a strong guarantee with this suit when I bought it. I'm goin' to give you the same one I got. It won't shrink or fade and it will wear to beat a 'Pache pup. Oh, you won't make any mistake buyin' this suit."
"You take from me an advice. Unlock that door and get out."
"I can give you better advice than that. Buy this suit right away. You'll find it's a bargain."
The steady eyes of the Westerner daunted the merchant, but he did not intend to give up fifty-five dollars without a murmur.
"If you don't right avay soon open that door I call the police. Then you go to jail, ain't it?"
"How's yore heart, Mr. Bernstein?" asked Clay tenderly.
"I'm askin' about yore heart. I don't know as you're hardly strong enough to stand what I'll do to you if you let a single yelp out of you. I kinda hate to hurry yore funeral," he added regretfully, still in his accustomed soft drawl.
The man beside the stool attempted one shout. Instantly Clay filled his mouth with a bunch of suit samples that had been lying on the desk. With one arm he held the struggling little man close to his body. With his foot and the other hand he broke in two a yardstick and fitted the two parts together.
"Here's the programme," he said by way of explanation. "I'm goin' to put you over my knee and paddle you real thorough. When you make up yore mind that you want to buy that suit for fifty-five dollars, it will be up to you to let me know. Take yore own time about it. Don't let me hurry you."
Before the programme had more than well started, the victim of it signified his willingness to treat with the foe. To part with fifty-five dollars was a painful business, but not to part with it was going to hurt a good deal more. He chose the lesser of two evils.
While he was counting out the bills Clay bragged up the suit. He praised its merits fluently and cheerfully. When he left he locked the door of the office behind him and handed the key to one of the clerks.
"I've got a kinda notion Mr. Bernstein wants to get out of his office. He's actin' sort o' restless, seems like."
Restless was hardly the word. He was banging on the door like a wild man. "Police! Murder! Help!" he shouted in a high falsetto.
Clay wasted no time. He and the fifty-five dollars vanished into the street. In his haste he bumped into a Salvation Army lassie with a tambourine.
She held it out to him for a donation, and was given the shock of her life. For into that tambourine the big brown man crammed a fistful of bills. He waited for no thanks, but cut round the corner toward Broadway in a hurry.
When the girl reached headquarters and counted the contribution she found it amounted to just fifty-five dollars.
CLAY TAKES A TRANSFER
From the top of a bus Clay Lindsay looked down a canon which angled across the great city like a river of light.
He had come from one land of gorges to another. In the walls of this one, thousands and tens of thousands of cliff-dwellers hid themselves during the day like animals of some queer breed and poured out into the canon at sunset.
Now the river in its bed was alive with a throbbing tide. Cross-currents of humanity flowed into it from side streets and ebbed out of it into others. Streams of people were swept down, caught here and there in swirling eddies. Taxis, private motors, and trolley-cars struggled in the raceway.
Electric sky-signs flashed and changed. From the foyer of theaters and moving-picture palaces thousands of bulbs flung their glow to the gorge. A mist of light hung like an atmosphere above the Great White Way.
All this Clay saw in a flash while his bus crossed Broadway on its way to the Avenue. His eyes had become accustomed to this brilliance in the weeks that had passed since his descent upon New York, but familiarity had not yet dulled the wonder of it.
The Avenue offered a more subdued picture. This facet showed a glimpse of the city lovelier and more leisurely, though not one so feverishly gay. It carried his mind to Beatrice Whitford. Some touch of the quality of Fifth Avenue was in her soul. It expressed itself in the simple elegance of her dress and in the fineness of the graceful, vital body. Her gayety was not at all the high spirits of Broadway, but there were times when her kinship to Fifth Avenue knifed the foolish hopes in his heart.
He had become a fast friend of Miss Whitford. Together they had tramped through Central Park and motored up the Hudson in one of her father's cars. They had explored each other's minds along with the country and each had known the surprise and delight of discoveries, of finding in the other a quality of freshness and candor.
Clay sensed in this young woman a spirit that had a way of sweeping up on gay young wings to sudden joys stirred by the simplest causes. Her outlook on life was as gallant as that of a fine-tempered schoolboy. A gallop in the Park could whip the flag of happiness into her cheeks. A wild flower nestling in a bed of moss could bring the quick light to her eyes. Her responsiveness was a continual delight to him just as her culture was his despair. Of books, pictures, and music she knew much more than he.
The bus jerked down Fifth Avenue like a boat in heavy seas, pausing here and there at the curb to take on a passenger. While it was getting under way after one such stop, another downtown bus rolled past.
Clay came to a sudden alert attention. His eyes focused on a girl sitting on a back seat. In the pretty, childish face he read a wistful helplessness, a pathetic hint of misery that called for sympathy.
Arizona takes short cuts to its ends. Clay rose instantly, put his foot on the railing, and leaped across to the top of the bus rolling parallel with the one he was on. In another second he had dropped into the seat beside the girl.
"Glad to meet you again, Miss Kitty," he said cheerfully. "How's the big town been using you?"
The girl looked at him with a little gasp of surprise. "Mr. Lindsay!" Sudden tears filmed her eyes. She forgot that she had left him with the promise never again to speak to him. She was in a far country, and he was a friend from home.
The conductor bustled down the aisle. "Say, where do you get this movie-stunt stuff? You can't jump from the top of one bus to another."
Clay smiled genially. "I can't, but I did."
"That ain't the system of transfers we use in this town. You might 'a' got killed."
"Oh, well, let's not worry about that now."
"I'd ought to have you pulled. Three years I've been on this run and—"
"Nice run. Wages good?"
"Don't get gay, young fellow. I can tell you one thing. You've got to pay another fare."
Clay paid it.
The conductor retired to his post. He grinned in spite of his official dignity. There was something about this young fellow he liked. After he had been in New York awhile he would be properly tamed.
"What about that movie job? Is it pannin' out pay gold?" Lindsay asked Kitty.
Bit by bit her story came out. It was a common enough one. She had been flim-flammed out of her money by the alleged school of moving-picture actors, and the sharpers had decamped with it.
As she looked at her recovered friend, Kitty gradually realized an outward transformation in his appearance. He was dressed quietly in clothes of perfect fit made for him by Colin Whitford's tailor. From shoes to hat he was a New Yorker got up regardless of expense. But the warm smile, the strong, tanned face, the grip of the big brown hand that buried her small one—all these were from her own West. So too had been the nonchalance with which he had stepped from the rail of one moving bus to that of the other, just as though this were his usual method of transfer.
"I've got a job at last," she explained to him. "I couldn't hardly find one. They say I'm not trained to do anything."
"What sort of a job have you?"
"I'm working downtown in Greenwich Village, selling cigarettes. I'm Sylvia the Cigarette Girl. At least that's what they call me. I carry a tray of them evenings into the cafes."
"Greenwich Village?" asked Clay.
Kitty was not able to explain that the Village is a state of mind which is the habitat of long-haired men and short-haired women, the brains of whom functioned in a way totally alien to all her methods of thought. The meaning of Bohemianism was quite lost on her simple soul.
"They're jist queer," she told him. "The women bob their hair and wear smocks and sandals. The men are long-haired softies. They all talk kinda foolish." Kitty despaired of making the situation clear to him and resorted to the personal. "Can't you come down to-night to The Purple Pup or The Sea Siren and see for yourself?" she proposed, and gave him directions for finding the classic resorts.
"I reckon they must be medicine fakirs," decided Clay. "I've met up with these long-haired guys before. Sure I'll come."
"You betcha, little pardner, I'll be there."
"I'm dressed silly—in bare feet and sandals and what they call a smock. You won't mind that, will you?"
"You'll look good to me, no matter what you wear, little Miss Colorado," he told her with his warm, big brother's smile.
"You're good," the girl said simply. "I knew that on the train even when I—when I was mean to you." There came into her voice a small tremor of apprehension. "I'm afraid of this town. It's so—so kinda cruel. I've got no friends here."
He offered instant reassurance with a strong grip of his brown hand. "You've got one, little pardner. I'll promise that one big husky will be on the job when you need him. Don't you worry."
She gave him her shy eyes gratefully. There was a mist of tears in them.
"You're good," she said again naively.
ARIZONA FOLLOWS ITS LAWLESS IMPULSE
When Clay two hours later took the Sixth Avenue L for a plunge into Bohemianism he knew no more about Greenwich Village than a six-months-old pup does about Virgil. But it was characteristic of him that on his way downtown he proceeded to find out from his chance seat-mate something about this unknown terrain he was about to visit.
The man he sat beside was a patrolman off duty, and to this engaging Westerner he was quite ready to impart any information he might have.
"Fakirs," he pronounced promptly. "They're a bunch of long-haired nuts, most of 'em—queer guys who can't sell their junk and kid themselves into thinking they're artists and writers. They pull a lot of stuff about socialism and anarchy and high art."
"Just harmless cranks—gone loco, mebbe?"
"Some of 'em. Others are there for the mazuma. Uptown the Village is supposed to be one hell of a place. The people who own the dumps down there have worked up that rep to draw the night trade. They make a living outa the wickedness of Greenwich. Nothin' to it—all fake stuff. They advertise September Morn balls with posters something fierce, and when you go they are just like any other dances. Bum drawings of naked women on the walls done by artist yaps, decorations of purple cows, pirates' dens—that's the kind of dope they have."
The Sea Siren was already beginning to fill up when Clay descended three steps to a cellar and was warily admitted. A near-Hawaiian orchestra was strumming out a dance tune and a few couples were on the floor. Waitresses, got up as Loreleis, were moving about among the guests delivering orders for refreshments.
The Westerner sat down in a corner and looked about him. The walls were decorated with crude purple crayons of underfed sirens. A statue of a nude woman distressed Clay. He did not mind the missing clothes, but she was so dreadfully emaciated that he thought it wise for her to cling to the yellow-and-red draped barber pole that rose from the pedestal. On the base was the legend, "The Weeping Lady." After he had tasted the Sea Siren fare the man from Arizona suspected that both her grief and her anaemia arose from the fact that she had been fed on it.
A man in artist's velveteens, minus a haircut, with a large, fat, pasty face, sat at an adjoining table and discoursed to his friends. Presently, during an intermission of the music, he rose and took the rest of those present into his confidence. With rapt eyes on the faraway space of distant planets he chanted his apologia.
"I believe in the Cosmic Urge, in the Sublimity of my Ego. I follow my Lawless Impulse where the Gods of Desire shall drive. I am what I Am, Son of the Stars, Lord of my Life. With Unleashed Love I answer the psychic beat of Pulse to Pulse, Laughter, Tears and Woe, the keen edge of Passion, the Languor of Satiety: all these are life. Open-armed, I embrace them. I drink and assuage my thirst. For Youth is here to-day. To-morrow, alas, it has gone. Now I am. In the Then I shall not be. Kismet!"
The poet's fine frenzy faded. He sank back into his chair, apparently worn out by his vast mental effort.
Clay gave a deep chuckle of delight. This was good.
"Heap much oration," he murmured. "Go to it, old-timer. Steam off again. Git down in yore collar to it."
To miss none of the fun he hitched a little closer on the bench. But the man without the haircut was through effervescing. He began to talk in a lower voice on world politics to admiring friends who were basking in his reflected glory.
"Bourgeois to the core," he announced with finality, speaking of the United States, in answer to a question. "What are the idols we worship? Law, the chain which binds an enslaved people; thrift, born of childish fear; love of country, which is another name for crass provincialism. I—I am a Cosmopolite, not an American. Bohemia is my land, and all free souls are my brothers. Why should I get wrinkles because Germany sunk the Lusitania a month or two ago? That's her business, not mine."
Clay leaned forward on a search for information. "Excuse me for buttin' in, and me a stranger. But isn't it yore business when she murders American women and children?"
The pasty-faced man looked at him with thinly disguised contempt. "You wouldn't understand if I explained."
"Mebbeso I wouldn't, but you take a whirl at it and I'll listen high, wide, and handsome."
The man in velveteens unexpectedly found himself doing as he was told. There was a suggestion of compulsion about the gray-blue eyes fastened on his, something in the clamp of the strong jaw that brought him up for a moment against stark reality.
"The intelligentsia of a country knows that there can be no freedom until there is no law. Every man's duty is to disregard duty. So, by faring far on the wings of desire, he helps break down the slavery that binds us. Obey the Cosmic Urge of your soul regardless of where it leads you, young man."
It was unfortunate for the poet of Bohemia that at this precise moment Kitty Mason, dressed in sandals and a lilac-patterned smock, stood before him with a tray of cigarettes asking for his trade. The naive appeal in her soft eyes had its weight with the poet. What is the use of living in Bohemia if one cannot be free to follow impulse? He slipped an arm about the girl and kissed the crimson lips upturned to him.
Kitty started back with a little cry of distress.
The freedom taken by the near-poet was instantly avenged.
A Cosmic Urge beat in the veins of the savage from Arizona. He took the poet's advice and followed his Lawless Impulse where it led. Across the table a long arm reached. Sinewy fingers closed upon the flowing neckwear of the fat-faced orator and dragged him forward, leaving overturned glasses in the wake of his course.
The man in velveteens met the eyes of the energetic manhandler and quailed. This brown-faced barbarian looked very much like business.
"Don't you touch me! Don't you dare touch me!" the apostle of anarchy shrilled as the table crashed down. "I'll turn you over to the police!"
Clay jerked him to his feet. Hard knuckles pressed cruelly into the soft throat of the Villager. "Git down on yore ham bones and beg the lady's pardon, Son of the Stars, or I'll sure make you see a whole colony of yore ancestors. Tell her you're a yellow pup, but you don't reckon you'll ever pull a bone like that again. Speak right out in meetin' pronto before you bump into the tears and woe you was makin' heap much oration about."
The proprietor of the cafe seized the cowpuncher by the arm hurriedly. "Here, stop that! You get out of the place! I'll not stand for any rough-house." And he murmured something about getting in bad with the police. Clay tried to explain. "Me, I'm not rough-housing. I'm tellin' this here Lord of Life to apologize to the little lady and let her know that he's sorry he was fresh. If he don't I'll most ce'tainly muss up the Sublimity of his Ego."
The companions of the poet rushed forward to protest at the manhandling of their leader. Those in the rear jammed the front ones close to Clay and his captive. The cowpuncher gently but strongly pushed them back.
"Don't get on the prod," he advised in his genial drawl. "The poet he's got an important engagement right now."
A kind of scuffle developed. The proprietor increased it by his hysterical efforts to prevent any trouble. Men joined themselves to the noisy group of which Clay was the smiling center. The excitement increased. Distant corners of the room became the refuge of the women. Some one struck at the cowpuncher over the heads of those about him. The mass of closely packed human beings showed a convulsive activity. It became suddenly the most popular indoor sport at the Sea Siren to slay this barbarian from the desert who had interfered with the amusements of Bohemia.
But Clay took a lot of slaying. In the rough-and-tumble life of the outdoor West he had learned how to look out for his own hand. The copper hair of his strong lean head rose above the tangle of the melee like the bromidic Helmet of Navarre. A reckless light of mirth bubbled in his dare-devil eyes. The very number of the opponents who interfered with each other trying to get at him was a guarantee of safety. The blows showered at him lacked steam and were badly timed as to distance.
The pack rolled across the room, tipped over a table, and deluged an artist and his affinity with hot chocolate before they could escape from the avalanche. Chairs went over like ninepins. Stands collapsed. Men grunted and shouted advice. Girls screamed. The Sea Siren was being wrecked by a cyclone from the bad lands.
Against the wall the struggling mob brought up with a crash. The velveteen poet caught at "The Weeping Lady" to save himself from going down. She descended from her pedestal into his arms and henceforth waltzed with him as a part of the subsequent proceedings.
The writhing mass caromed from the wall and revolved toward the musicians. A colored gentleman jumped up in alarm and brandished his instrument as a weapon.
"Keep away from this heah niggah!" he warned, and simultaneously he aimed the drum of the mandolin at the red head which was the core of the tangle. His aim was deflected and the wood crashed down upon the crown of "The Weeping Lady." For the rest of the two-step it hung like a large ruff around her neck.
Arms threshed wildly to and fro. The focal point of their destination was the figure at the center of the disturbance. Most of the blows found other marks. Four or five men could have demolished Clay. Fifteen or twenty found it a tough job because they interfered with each other at every turn. They were packed too close for hard hitting. Clay was not fighting but wrestling. He used his arms to push with rather than to strike blows that counted.
The Arizonan could not afterward remember at exactly what stage of the proceedings the face of Jerry Durand impinged itself on his consciousness. Once, when the swirl of the crowd flung him close to the door, he caught a glimpse of it, tight-lipped and wolf-eyed, turned to him with relentless malice. The gang leader was taking no part in the fight.
The crowd parted. Out of the pack a pair of strong arms and lean broad shoulders ploughed a way for a somewhat damaged face that still carried a debonair smile. With pantherish litheness the Arizonan ducked a swinging blow. The rippling muscles of the plunging shoulders tossed aside a little man in evening dress clawing at him. Yet a moment, and he was outside taking the three steps that led to the street.
Into his laboring lungs he drew deliciously the soft breath of the night. It cooled the fever of his hammered face, was like an icy bath to his hot body. A little dizzy from the blows that had been rained on him, he stood for a moment uncertain which way to go. From his throat there rippled a low peal of joyous mirth. The youth in him delighted in the free-for-all from which he had just emerged.
Then again he became aware of Durand. The man was not alone. He had with him a hulking ruffian whose heavy, hunched shoulders told of strength. There was a hint of the gorilla in the way the long arms hung straight from the shoulders as he leaned forward. Both of the men were watching the cowpuncher as steadily as alley cats do a housefinch.
"Hell's going to pop in about three seconds," announced Clay to himself.
Silently, without lifting their eyes from their victim for an instant, the two men moved apart to take him on both sides. He clung to the wall, forcing a frontal attack. The laughter had gone out of his eyes now. They had hardened to pinpoints. This time it was no amateur horseplay. He was fighting for his life. No need to tell Clay Lindsay that the New York gangster meant to leave him as good as dead.