THE MYSTERY OF MURRAY DAVENPORT
A Story of New York at the Present Day
Robert Neilson Stephens
Works of Robert Neilson Stephens
An Enemy to the King
The Continental Dragoon
The Road to Paris
A Gentleman Player
The Mystery of Murray Davenport
I. MR. LARCHER GOES OUT IN THE RAIN
II. ONE OUT OF SUITS WITH FORTUNE
III. A READY-MONEY MAN
IV. AN UNPROFITABLE CHILD
V. A LODGING BY THE RIVER
VI. THE NAME OF ONE TURL COMES UP
VII. MYSTERY BEGINS
VIII. MR. LARCHER INQUIRES
IX. MR. BUD'S DARK HALLWAY
X. A NEW ACQUAINTANCE
XI. FLORENCE DECLARES HER ALLEGIANCE
XII. LARCHER PUTS THIS AND THAT TOGETHER
XIII. MR. TURL WITH HIS BACK TO THE WALL
XIV. A STRANGE DESIGN
XV. TURL'S NARRATIVE CONTINUED
XVI. AFTER THE DISCLOSURE
XVII. BAGLEY SHINES OUT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"'DO YOU KNOW WHAT A "JONAH" IS?'"
"THE PLAY BECAME THE PROPERTY OF BAGLEY"
"'I'M AFRAID IT'S A CASE OF MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE'"
"'YOU'RE QUITE WELCOME TO THE USE OF MY AUTOMOBILE'"
"TURL, HAVING TAKEN A MOMENT'S PRELIMINARY THOUGHT, BEGAN HIS ACCOUNT"
"'GOOD EVENING, MR. MURRAY DAVENPORT! HOW ABOUT MY BUNCH OF MONEY?'"
THE MYSTERY OF MURRAY DAVENPORT
MR. LARCHER GOES OUT IN THE RAIN
The night set in with heavy and unceasing rain, and, though the month was August, winter itself could not have made the streets less inviting than they looked to Thomas Larcher. Having dined at the caterer's in the basement, and got the damp of the afternoon removed from his clothes and dried out of his skin, he stood at his window and gazed down at the reflections of the lights on the watery asphalt. The few people he saw were hastening laboriously under umbrellas which guided torrents down their backs and left their legs and feet open to the pour. Clean and dry in his dressing-gown and slippers, Mr. Larcher turned toward his easy chair and oaken bookcase, and thanked his stars that no engagement called him forth. On such a night there was indeed no place like home, limited though home was to a second-story "bed sitting-room" in a house of "furnished rooms to let" on a crosstown street traversing the part of New York dominated by the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Mr. Larcher, who was a blue-eyed young man of medium size and medium appearance every way, with a smooth shaven, clear-skinned face whereon sat good nature overlaid with self-esteem, spread himself in his chair, and made ready for content. Just then there was a knock at his door, and a negro boy servant shambled in with a telegram.
"Who the deuce—?" began Mr. Larcher, with irritation; but when he opened the message he appeared to have his breath taken away by joyous surprise. "Can I call?" he said, aloud. "Well, rather!" He let his book drop forgotten, and bestirred himself in swift preparation to go out. The telegram read merely:
"In town over night. Can you call Savoy at once? EDNA."
The state of Mr. Larcher's feelings toward the person named Edna has already been deduced by the reader. It was a state which made the young man plunge into the weather with gladness, dash to Sixth Avenue with no sense of the rain's discomfort, mentally check off the streets with impatience as he sat in a north-bound car, and finally cover with flying feet the long block to the Savoy Hotel. Wet but radiant, he was, after due announcement, shown into the drawing-room of a suite, where he was kept waiting, alone with his thumping heart, for ten minutes. At the end of that time a young lady came in with a swish from the next room.
She was a small creature, excellently shaped, and gowned—though for indoors—like a girl in a fashion plate. Her head was thrown back in a poise that showed to the best effect her clear-cut features; and she marched forward in a dauntless manner. She had dark brown hair arranged in loose waves, and, though her eyes were blue, her flawless skin was of a brunette tone. A hint has been given as to Mr. Larcher's conceit—which, by the way, had suffered a marvellous change to humility in the presence of his admired—but it was a small and superficial thing compared with the self-satisfaction of Miss Edna, and yet hers sat upon her with a serenity which, taking her sex also into consideration, made it much less noticeable.
"Well, this is a pleasure!" he cried, rapturously, jumping up to meet her.
"Hello, Tom!" she said, placidly, giving him her hands for a moment. "You needn't look apprehensively at that door. Aunt Clara's with me, of course, but she's gone to see a sick friend in Fifty-eighth Street. We have at least an hour to ourselves."
"An hour. Well, it's a lot, considering I had no hope of seeing you at this time of year. When I got your telegram—"
"I suppose you were surprised. To think of being in New York in August!—and to find such horrid weather, too! But it's better than a hot wave. I haven't any shopping to do—any real shopping, that is, though I invented some for an excuse to come. I can do it in five minutes, with a cab. But I came just to see you."
"How kind of you, dearest. But honestly? It seems too good to be true." The young man spoke sincerely.
"It's true, all the same. I'll tell you why in a few minutes. Sit down and be comfortable,—at this table. I know you must feel damp. Here's some wine I saved from dinner on purpose; and these cakes. I mustn't order anything from the hotel—Auntie would see it in the bill. But if you'd prefer a cup of tea—and I could manage some toast."
"No, thanks; the wine and cakes are just the thing—with you to share them. How thoughtful of you!"
She poured a glass of Hockheimer, and sat opposite him at the small table. He took a sip, and, with a cake in his hand, looked delightedly across at his hostess.
"There's something I want you to do for me," she answered, sitting composedly back in her chair, in an attitude as graceful as comfortable.
"Nothing would make me happier."
"Do you know a man in New York named Murray Davenport?" she asked.
"No," replied Larcher, wonderingly.
"I'm sorry, because if you knew him already it would be easier. But I should have thought you'd know him; he's in your profession, more or less—that is, he writes a little for magazines and newspapers. But, besides that, he's an artist, and then sometimes he has something to do with theatres."
"I never heard of him. But," said Larcher, in a somewhat melancholy tone, "there are so many who write for magazines and newspapers."
"I suppose so; but if you make it an object, you can find out about him, of course. That's a part of your profession, anyhow, isn't it?—going about hunting up facts for the articles you write. So it ought to be easy, making inquiries about this Murray Davenport, and getting to know him."
"Oh, am I to do that?" Mr. Larcher's wonder grew deeper.
"Yes; and when you know him, you must learn exactly how he is getting along; how he lives; whether he is well, and comfortable, and happy, or the reverse, and all that. In fact, I want a complete report of how he fares."
"Upon my soul, you must be deeply interested in the man," said Larcher, somewhat poutingly.
"Oh, you make a great mistake if you think I'd lose sleep over any man," she said, with lofty coolness. "But there are reasons why I must find out about this one. Naturally I came first to you. Of course, if you hesitate, and hem and haw—" She stopped, with the faintest shrug of the shoulders.
"You might tell me the reasons, dear," he said, humbly.
"I can't. It isn't my secret. But I've undertaken to have this information got, and, if you're willing to do me a service, you'll get it, and not ask any questions. I never imagined you'd hesitate a moment."
"Oh, I don't hesitate exactly. Only, just think what it amounts to— prying into the affairs of a stranger. It seems to me a rather intrusive, private detective sort of business."
"Oh, but you don't know the reason—the object in view. Somebody's happiness depends on it,—perhaps more than one person's; I may tell you that much."
"It doesn't matter. Nobody's that you know. It isn't my happiness, you may be sure of that, except as far as I sympathize. The point is, in doing this, you'll be serving me, and really I don't see why you should be inquisitive beyond that."
"You oughtn't to count inquisitiveness a crime, when the very thing you ask me to do is nothing if not inquisitive. Really, if you'd just stop to think how a self-respecting man can possibly bring himself to pry and question—"
"Well, you may rest assured there's nothing dishonorable in this particular case. Do you imagine I would ask you to do it if it were? Upon my word, you don't flatter me!"
"Don't be angry, dear. If you're really sure it's all right—"
"If I'm sure! Tommy Larcher, you're simply insulting! I wish I had asked somebody else! It isn't too late—"
Larcher turned pale at the idea. He seized her hand.
"Don't talk that way, Edna dearest. You know there's nobody will serve you more devotedly than I. And there isn't a man of your acquaintance can handle this matter as quickly and thoroughly. Murray Davenport, you say; writes for magazines and newspapers; is an artist, also, and has something to do with theatres. Is there any other information to start with?"
"No; except that he's about twenty-eight years old, and fairly good-looking. He usually lives in rooms—you know what I mean—and takes his meals at restaurants."
"Can you give me any other points about his appearance? There might possibly be two men of the same name in the same occupation. I shouldn't like to be looking up the wrong man."
"Neither should I like that. We must have the right man, by all means. But I don't think I can tell you any more about him. Of course I never saw him."
"There wouldn't probably be more than one man of the same name who was a writer and an artist and connected with theatres," said Larcher. "And it isn't a common name, Murray Davenport. There isn't one chance in a thousand of a mistake in identity; but the most astonishing coincidences do occur."
"He's something of a musician, too, now that I remember," added the young lady.
"He must be a versatile fellow, whoever he is. And when do you want this report?"
"As soon as possible. Whenever you find out anything about his circumstances, and state of mind, and so forth, write to me at once; and when you find out anything more, write again. We're going back to Easthampton to-morrow, you know."
A few minutes after the end of another half-hour, Mr. Larcher put up his umbrella to the rain again, and made his way back to Sixth Avenue and a car. Pleasurable reflections upon the half-hour, and the additional minutes, occupied his mind for awhile, but gave way at last to consideration of the Murray Davenport business, and the strangeness thereof, which lay chiefly in Edna Hill's desire for such intimate news about a man she had never seen. Whose happiness could depend on getting that news? What, in fine, was the secret of the affair? Larcher could only give it up, and think upon means for the early accomplishment of his part in the matter. He had decided to begin immediately, for his first inquiries would be made of men who kept late hours, and with whose midnight haunts he was acquainted.
He stayed in the car till he had entered the region below Fourteenth Street. Getting out, he walked a short distance and into a basement, where he exchanged rain and darkness for bright gaslight, an atmosphere of tobacco smoke mixed with the smell of food and cheap wine, and the noisy talk of a numerous company sitting—for the most part—at long tables whereon were the traces of a table d'hote dinner. Coffee and claret were still present, not only in cups, bottles, and glasses, but also on the table-cloths. The men were of all ages, but youth preponderated and had the most to say and the loudest manner of saying it. The ladies were, as to the majority, unattractive in appearance, nasal in voice, and unabashed in manner. The assemblage was, in short, a specimen of self-styled, self-conscious Bohemia; a far-off, much-adulterated imitation of the sort of thing that some of the young men with halos of hair, flowing ties, and critical faces had seen in Paris in their days of art study. Larcher made his way through the crowd in the front room to that in the back, acknowledging many salutations. The last of these came from a middle-sized man in the thirties, whose round, humorous face was made additionally benevolent by spectacles, and whose forward bend of the shoulders might be the consequence of studious pursuits, or of much leaning over cafe-tables, or of both.
"Hello, Barry Tompkins!" said Larcher. "I've been looking for you."
Mr. Tompkins received him with a grin and a chuckle, as if their meeting were a great piece of fun, and replied in a brisk and clean-cut manner:
"You were sure to find me in the haunts of genius." Whereat he looked around and chuckled afresh.
Larcher crowded a chair to Mr. Tompkins's elbow, and spoke low:
"You know everybody in newspaper circles. Do you know a man named Murray Davenport?"
"I believe there is such a man—an illustrator. Is that the one you mean?"
"I suppose so. Where can I find him?"
"I give it up. I don't know anything about him. I've only seen some of his work—in one of the ten-cent magazines, I think."
"I've got to find him, and make his acquaintance. This is in confidence, by the way."
"All right. Have you looked in the directory?"
"Not yet. The trouble isn't so much to find where he lives; there are some things I want to find out about him, that'll require my getting acquainted with him, without his knowing I have any such purpose. So the trouble is to get introduced to him on terms that can naturally lead up to a pretty close acquaintance."
"No trouble in that," said Tompkins, decidedly. "Look here. He's an illustrator, I know that much. As soon as you find out where he lives, call with one of your manuscripts and ask him if he'll illustrate it. That will begin an acquaintance."
"And terminate it, too, don't you think? Would any self-respecting illustrator take a commission from an obscure writer, with no certainty of his work ever appearing?"
"Well, then, the next time you have anything accepted for publication, get to the editor as fast as you can, and recommend this Davenport to do the illustrations."
"Wouldn't the editor consider that rather presumptuous?"
"Perhaps he would; but there's an editor or two who wouldn't consider it presumptuous if I did it. Suppose it happened to be one of those editors, you could call on some pretext about a possible error in the manuscript. I could call with you, and suggest this Davenport as illustrator in a way both natural and convincing. Then I'd get the editor to make you the bearer of his offer and the manuscript; and even if Davenport refused the job,—which he wouldn't,—you'd have an opportunity to pave the way for intimacy by your conspicuous charms of mind and manner."
"Be easy, Barry. That looks like a practical scheme; but suppose he turned out to be a bad illustrator?"
"I don't think he would. He must be fairly good, or I shouldn't have remembered his name. I'll look through the files of back numbers in my room to-night, till I find some of his work, so I can recommend him intelligently. Meanwhile, is there any editor who has something of yours in hand just now?"
"Why, yes," said Larcher, brightening, "I got a notice of acceptance to-day from the Avenue Magazine, of a thing about the rivers of New York City in the old days. It simply cries aloud for illustration."
"That's all right, then. Rogers mayn't have given it out yet for illustration. We'll call on him to-morrow. He'll be glad to see me; he'll think I've come to pay him ten dollars I owe him. Suppose we go now and tackle the old magazines in my room, to see what my praises of Mr. Davenport shall rest on. As we go, we'll look the gentleman up in the directory at the drug-store—unless you'd prefer to tarry here at the banquet of wit and beauty." Mr. Tompkins chuckled again as he waved a hand over the scene, which, despite his ridicule of the pose and conceit it largely represented, he had come by force of circumstances regularly to inhabit.
Mr. Larcher, though he found the place congenial enough, was rather for the pursuit of his own affair. Before leaving the house, Tompkins led the way up a flight of stairs to a little office wherein sat the foreign old woman who conducted this tavern of the muses. He thought that she, who was on chaffing and money-lending terms with so much talent in the shape of her customers, might know of Murray Davenport; or, indeed, as he had whispered to Larcher, that the illustrator might be one of the crowd in the restaurant at that very moment. But the proprietress knew no such person, a fact which seemed to rate him very low in her estimation and somewhat high in Mr. Tompkins's. The two young men thereupon hastened to board a car going up Sixth Avenue. Being set down near Greeley Square, they went into a drug-store and opened the directory.
"Here's a Murray Davenport, all right enough," said Tompkins, "but he's a playwright."
"Probably the same," replied Larcher, remembering that his man had something to do with theatres. "He's a gentleman of many professions, let's see the address."
It was a number and street in the same part of the town with Larcher's abode, but east of Madison Avenue, while his own was west of Fifth. But now his way was to the residence of Barry Tompkins, which proved to be a shabby room on the fifth floor of an old building on Broadway; a room serving as Mr. Tompkins's sleeping-chamber by night, and his law office by day. For Mr. Tompkins, though he sought pleasure and forage under the banners of literature and journalism, owned to no regular service but that of the law. How it paid him might be inferred from the oldness of his clothes and the ricketiness of his office. There was a card saying "Back in ten minutes" on the door which he opened to admit Larcher and himself. And his friends were wont to assert that he kept the card "working overtime," himself, preferring to lay down the law to companionable persons in neighboring cafes rather than to possible clients in his office. When Tompkins had lighted the gas, Larcher saw a cracked low ceiling, a threadbare carpet of no discoverable hue, an old desk crowded with documents and volumes, some shelves of books at one side, and the other three sides simply walled with books and magazines in irregular piles, except where stood a bed-couch beneath a lot of prints which served to conceal much of the faded wall-paper.
Tompkins bravely went for the magazines, saying, "You begin with that pile, and I'll take this. The names of the illustrators are always in the table of contents; it's simply a matter of glancing down that."
After half an hour's silent work, Tompkins exclaimed, "Here we are!" and took a magazine to the desk, at which both young men sat down. "'A Heart in Peril,'" he quoted; "'A Story by James Willis Archway. Illustrated by Murray Davenport. Page 38.'" He turned over the leaves, and disclosed some rather striking pictures in half-tone, signed "M.D." Two men and two women figured in the different illustrations.
"This isn't bad work," said Tompkins. "I can recommend 'M.D.' with a clear conscience. His women are beautiful in a really high way,—but they've got a heartless look. There's an odd sort of distinction in his men's faces, too."
"A kind of scornful discontent," ventured Larcher. "Perhaps the story requires it."
"Perhaps; but the thing I mean seems to be under the expressions intended. I should say it was unconscious, a part of the artist's conception of the masculine face in general before it's individualized. I'll bet the chap that drew these illustrations isn't precisely the man in the street, even among artists. He must have a queer outlook on life. I congratulate you on your coming friend!" At which Mr. Tompkins, chuckling, lighted a pipe for himself.
Mr. Larcher sat looking dubious. If Murray Davenport was an unusual sort of man, the more wonder that a girl like Edna Hill should so strangely busy herself about him.
ONE OUT OF SUITS WITH FORTUNE
Two days later, toward the close of a sunny afternoon, Mr. Thomas Larcher was admitted by a lazy negro to an old brown-stone-front house half-way between Madison and Fourth Avenues, and directed to the third story back, whither he was left to find his way unaccompanied. Running up the dark stairs swiftly, with his thoughts in advance of his body, he suddenly checked himself, uncertain as to which floor he had attained. At a hazard, he knocked on the door at the back of the dim, narrow passage he was in. He heard slow steps upon the carpet, the door opened, and a man slightly taller, thinner, and older than himself peered out.
"Pardon me, I may have mistaken the floor," said Larcher. "I'm looking for Mr. Murray Davenport."
"'Myself and misery know the man,'" replied the other, with quiet indifference, in a gloomy but not unpleasing voice, and stepped back to allow his visitor's entrance.
A little disconcerted at being received with a quotation, and one of such import,—the more so as it came from the speaker's lips so naturally and with perfect carelessness of what effect it might produce on a stranger,—Larcher stepped into the room. The carpet, the wall-paper, the upholstery of the arm-chair, the cover of the small iron bed in one corner, that of the small upright piano in another, and that of the table which stood between the two windows and evidently served as a desk, were all of advanced age, but cleanliness and neatness prevailed. The same was to be said of the man's attire, his coat being an old gray-black garment of the square-cut "sack" or "lounge" shape. Books filled the mantel, the flat top of a trunk, that of the piano, and much of the table, which held also a drawing-board, pads of drawing and manuscript paper, and the paraphernalia for executing upon both. Tacked on the walls, and standing about on top of books and elsewhere, were water-colors, drawings in half-tone, and pen-and-ink sketches, many unfinished, besides a few photographs of celebrated paintings and statues. But long before he had sought more than the most general impression of these contents of the room, Larcher had bent all his observation upon their possessor.
The man's face was thoughtful and melancholy, and handsome only by these and kindred qualities. Long and fairly regular, with a nose distinguished by a slight hump of the bridge, its single claim to beauty of form was in the distinctness of its lines. The complexion was colorless but clear, the face being all smooth shaven. The slightly haggard eyes were gray, rather of a plain and honest than a brilliant character, save for a tiny light that burned far in their depths. The forehead was ample and smooth, as far as could be seen, for rather longish brown hair hung over it, with a negligent, sullen effect. The general expression was of an odd painwearied dismalness, curiously warmed by the remnant of an unquenchable humor.
"This letter from Mr. Rogers will explain itself," said Larcher, handing it.
"Mr. Rogers?" inquired Murray Davenport.
"Editor of the Avenue Magazine."
Looking surprised, Davenport opened and read the letter; then, without diminution of his surprise, he asked Larcher to sit down, and himself took a chair before the table.
"I'm glad to meet you, Mr. Larcher," he said, conventionally; then, with a change to informality, "I'm rather mystified to know why Mr. Rogers, or any editor, for that matter, should offer work to me. I never had any offered me before."
"Oh, but I've seen some of your work," contradicted Larcher. "The illustrations to a story called 'A Heart in Peril.'"
"That wasn't offered me; I begged for it," said Davenport, quietly.
"Well, in any case, it was seen and admired, and consequently you were recommended to Mr. Rogers, who thought you might like to illustrate this stuff of mine," and Larcher brought forth the typewritten manuscript from under his coat.
"It's so unprecedented," resumed Davenport, in his leisurely, reflective way of speaking. "I can scarcely help thinking there must be some mistake."
"But you are the Murray Davenport that illustrated the 'Heart in Peril' story?"
"Yes; I'm the only Murray Davenport I know of; but an offer of work to me—"
"Oh, there's nothing extraordinary about that. Editors often seek out new illustrators they hear of."
"Oh, I know all about that. You don't quite understand. I say, an offer to me—an offer unsolicited, unsought, coming like money found, like a gift from the gods. Such a thing belongs to what is commonly called good luck. Now, good luck is a thing that never by any chance has fallen to me before; never from the beginning of things to the present. So, in spite of my senses, I'm naturally a bit incredulous in this case." This was said with perfect seriousness, but without any feeling.
Larcher smiled. "Well, I hope your incredulity won't make you refuse to do the pictures."
"Oh, no," returned Davenport, indolently. "I won't refuse. I'll accept the commission with pleasure—a certain amount of pleasure, that is. There was a time when I should have danced a break-down for joy, probably, at this opportunity. But a piece of good luck, strange as it is to me, doesn't matter now. Still, as it has visited me at last, I'll receive it politely. In as much as I have plenty of time for this work, and as Mr. Rogers seems to wish me to do it, I should be churlish if I declined. The money too, is an object—I won't conceal that fact. To think of a chance to earn a little money, coming my way without the slightest effort on my part! You look substantial, Mr. Larcher, but I'm still tempted to think this is all a dream."
Larcher laughed. "Well, as to effort," said he, "I don't think I should be here now with that accepted manuscript for you to illustrate, if I hadn't taken a good deal of pains to press my work on the attention of editors."
"Oh, I don't mean to say that your prosperity, and other men's, is due to having good things thrust upon you in this way. But if you do owe all to your own work, at least your work does bring a fair amount of reward, your efforts are in a fair measure successful. But not so with me. The greatest fortune I could ever have asked would have been that my pains should bring their reasonable price, as other men's have done. Therefore, this extreme case of good luck, small as it is, is the more to be wondered at. The best a man has a right to ask is freedom from what people call habitual bad luck. That's an immunity I've never had. My labors have been always banned—except when the work has masqueraded as some other man's. In that case they have been blessed. It will seem strange to you, Mr. Larcher, but whatever I've done in my own name has met with wretched pay and no recognition, while work of mine, no better, when passed off as another man's, has won golden rewards—for him—in money and reputation."
"It does seem strange," admitted Larcher.
"What can account for it?"
"Do you know what a 'Jonah' is, in the speech of the vulgar?"
"Well, people have got me tagged with that name. I bring ill luck to enterprises I'm concerned in, they say. That's a fatal reputation, Mr. Larcher. It wasn't deserved in the beginning, but now that I have it, see how the reputation itself is the cause of the apparent ill luck. Take this thing, for instance." He held up a sheet of music paper, whereon he had evidently been writing before Larcher's arrival. "A song, supposed to be sentimental. As the idea is somewhat novel, the words happy, and the tune rather quaint, I shall probably get a publisher for it, who will offer me the lowest royalty. What then? Its fame and sale—or whether it shall have any—will depend entirely on what advertising it gets from being sung by professional singers. I have taken the precaution to submit the idea and the air to a favorite of the music halls, and he has promised to sing it. Now, if he sang it on the most auspicious occasion, making it the second or third song of his turn, having it announced with a flourish on the programme, and putting his best voice and style into it, it would have a chance of popularity. Other singers would want it, it would be whistled around, and thousands of copies sold. But will he do that?"
"I don't see why he shouldn't," said Larcher.
"Oh, but he knows why. He remembers I am a Jonah. What comes from me carries ill luck. He'll sing the song, yes, but he won't hazard any auspicious occasion on it. He'll use it as a means of stopping encores when he's tired of them; he'll sing it hurriedly and mechanically; he'll make nothing of it on the programme; he'll hide the name of the author, for fear by the association of the names some of my Jonahship might extend to him. So, you see, bad luck will attend my song; so, you see, the name of bad luck brings bad luck. Not that there is really such a thing as luck. Everything that occurs has a cause, an infinite line of causes. But a man's success or failure is due partly to causes outside of his control, often outside of his ken. As, for instance, a sudden change of weather may defeat a clever general, and thrust victory upon his incompetent adversary. Now when these outside causes are adverse, and prevail, we say a man has bad luck. When they favor, and prevail, he has good luck. It was a rapid succession of failures, due partly to folly and carelessness of my own, I admit, but partly to a run of adverse conjunctures far outside my sphere of influence, that got me my unlucky name in the circles where I hunt a living. And now you are warned, Mr. Larcher. Do you think you are safe in having my work associated with yours, as Mr. Rogers proposes? It isn't too late to draw back."
Whether the man still spoke seriously, Larcher could not exactly tell. Certainly the man's eyes were fixed on Larcher's face in a manner that made Larcher color as one detected. But his weakness had been for an instant only, and he rallied laughingly.
"Many thanks, but I'm not superstitious, Mr. Davenport. Anyhow, my article has been accepted, and nothing can increase or diminish the amount I'm to receive for it."
"But consider the risk to your future career," pursued Davenport, with a faint smile.
"Oh, I'll take the chances," said Larcher, glad to treat the subject as a joke. "I don't suppose the author of 'A Heart in Peril,' for instance, has experienced hard luck as a result of your illustrating his story."
"As a matter of fact," replied Davenport, with a look of melancholy humor, "the last I heard of him, he had drunk himself into the hospital. But I believe he had begun to do that before I crossed his path. Well, I thank you for your hardihood, Mr. Larcher. As for the Avenue Magazine, it can afford a little bad luck."
"Let us hope that the good luck of the magazine will spread to you, as a result of your contact with it."
"Thank you; but it doesn't matter much, as things are. No; they are right; Murray Davenport is a marked name; marked for failure. You must know, Mr. Larcher, I'm not only a Jonah; I'm that other ludicrous figure in the world,—a man with a grievance; a man with a complaint of injustice. Not that I ever air it; it's long since I learned better than that. I never speak of it, except in this casual way when it comes up apropos; but people still associate me with it, and tell newcomers about it, and find a moment's fun in it. And the man who is most hugely amused at it, and benevolently humors it, is the man who did me the wrong. For it's been a part of my fate that, in spite of the old injury, I should often work for his pay. When other resources fail, there's always he to fall back on; he always has some little matter I can be useful in. He poses then as my constant benefactor, my sure reliance in hard times. And so he is, in fact; though the fortune that enables him to be is built on the profits of the game he played at my expense. I mention it to you, Mr. Larcher, to forestall any other account, if you should happen to speak of me where my name is known. Please let nobody assure you, either that the wrong is an imaginary one, or that I still speak of it in a way to deserve the name of a man with a grievance."
His composed, indifferent manner was true to his words. He spoke, indeed, as one to whom things mattered little, yet who, being originally of a social and communicative nature, talks on fluently to the first intelligent listener after a season of solitude. Larcher was keen to make the most of a mood so favorable to his own purpose in seeking the man's acquaintance.
"You may trust me to believe nobody but yourself, if the subject ever comes up in my presence," said Larcher. "I can certainly testify to the cool, unimpassioned manner in which you speak of it."
"I find little in life that's worth getting warm or impassioned about," said Davenport, something half wearily, half contemptuously.
"Have you lost interest in the world to that extent?"
"In my present environment."
"Oh, you can easily change that. Get into livelier surroundings."
Davenport shook his head. "My immediate environment would still be the same; my memories, my body; 'this machine,' as Hamlet says; my old, tiresome, unsuccessful self."
"But if you got about more among mankind,—not that I know what your habits are at present, but I should imagine—" Larcher hesitated.
"You perceive I have the musty look of a solitary," said Davenport. "That's true, of late. But as to getting about, 'man delights not me'—to fall back on Hamlet again—at least not from my present point of view."
"'Nor woman neither'?" quoted Larcher, interrogatively.
"'No, nor woman neither,'" said Davenport slowly, a coldness coming upon his face. "I don't know what your experience may have been. We have only our own lights to go by; and mine have taught me to expect nothing from women. Fair-weather friends; creatures that must be amused, and are unscrupulous at whose cost or how great. One of their amusements is to be worshipped by a man; and to bring that about they will pretend love, with a pretence that would deceive the devil himself. The moment they are bored with the pastime, they will drop the pretence, and feel injured if the man complains. We take the beauty of their faces, the softness of their eyes, for the outward signs of tenderness and fidelity; and for those supposed qualities, and others which their looks seem to express, we love them. But they have not those qualities; they don't even know what it is that we love them for; they think it is for the outward beauty, and that that is enough. They don't even know what it is that we, misled by that outward softness, imagine is beyond; and when we are disappointed to find it isn't there, they wonder at us and blame us for inconstancy. The beautiful woman who could be what she looks—who could really contain what her beauty seems the token of—whose soul, in short, could come up to the promise of her face,—there would be a creature! You'll think I've had bad luck in love, too, Mr. Larcher."
Larcher was thinking, for the instant, about Edna Hill, and wondering how near she might come to justifying Davenport's opinion of women. For himself, though he found her bewitching, her prettiness had never seemed the outward sign of excessive tenderness. He answered conventionally: "Well, one would suppose so from your remarks. Of course, women like to be amused, I know. Perhaps we expect too much from them.
'Oh, woman in our hours of ease, Uncertain, coy, and hard to please, And variable as the shade By the light quivering aspen made.'
I've sometimes had reason to recall those lines." Mr. Larcher sighed at certain memories of Miss Hill's variableness. "But then, you know,—
'When pain and anguish wring the brow, A ministering angel them.'"
"I can't speak in regard to pain and anguish," said Davenport. "I've experienced both, of course, but not so as to learn their effect on women. But suppose, if you can, a woman who should look kindly on an undeserving, but not ill-meaning, individual like myself. Suppose that, after a time, she happened to hear of the reputation of bad luck that clung to him. What would she do then?"
"Undertake to be his mascot, I suppose, and neutralize the evil influence," replied Larcher, laughingly.
"Well, if I were to predict on my own experience, I should say she would take flight as fast as she could, to avoid falling under the evil influence herself. The man would never hear of her again, and she would doubtless live happy ever after."
For the first time in the conversation, Davenport sighed, and the faintest cloud of bitterness showed for a moment on his face.
"And the man, perhaps, would 'bury himself in his books,'" said Larcher, looking around the room; he made show to treat the subject gaily, lest he might betray his inquisitive purpose.
"Yes, to some extent, though the business of making a bare living takes up a good deal of time. You observe the signs of various occupations here. I have amused myself a little in science, too,—you see the cabinet over there. I studied medicine once, and know a little about surgery, but I wasn't fitted—or didn't care—to follow that profession in a money-making way."
"You are exceedingly versatile."
"Little my versatility has profited me. Which reminds me of business. When are these illustrations to be ready, Mr. Larcher? And how many are wanted? I'm afraid I've been wasting your time."
In their brief talk about the task, Larcher, with the private design of better acquaintance, arranged that he should accompany the artist to certain riverside localities described in the text. Business details settled, Larcher observed that it was about dinnertime, and asked:
"Have you any engagement for dining?"
"No," said Davenport, with a faint smile at the notion.
"Then you must dine with me. I hate to eat alone."
"Thank you, I should be pleased. That is to say—it depends on where you dine."
"Wherever you like. I dine at restaurants, and I'm not faithful to any particular one."
"I prefer to dine as Addison preferred,—on one or two good things well cooked, and no more. Toiling through a ten-course table d'hote menu is really too wearisome—even to a man who is used to weariness."
"Well, I know a place—Giffen's chop-house—that will just suit you. As a friend of mine, Barry Tompkins, says, it's a place where you get an unsurpassable English mutton-chop, a perfect baked potato, a mug of delicious ale, and afterward a cup of unexceptionable coffee. He says that, when you've finished, you've dined as simply as a philosopher and better than most kings; and the whole thing comes to forty-five cents."
"I know the place, and your friend is quite right."
Davenport took up a soft felt hat and a plain stick with a curved handle. When the young men emerged from the gloomy hallway to the street, which in that part was beginning to be shabby, the street lights were already heralding the dusk. The two hastened from the region of deteriorating respectability to the grandiose quarter westward, and thence to Broadway and the clang of car gongs. The human crowd was hurrying to dinner.
"What a poem a man might write about Broadway at evening!" remarked Larcher.
Davenport replied by quoting, without much interest:
'The shadows lay along Broadway, 'Twas near the twilight tide— And slowly there a lady fair Was walking in her pride.'
"Poe praised those lines," he added. "But it was a different Broadway that Willis wrote them about."
"Yes," said Larcher, "but in spite of the skyscrapers and the incongruities, I love the old street. Don't you?"
"I used to," said Davenport, with a listlessness that silenced Larcher, who fell into conjecture of its cause. Was it the effect of many failures? Or had it some particular source? What part in its origin had been played by the woman to whose fickleness the man had briefly alluded? And, finally, had the story behind it anything to do with Edna Hill's reasons for seeking information?
Pondering these questions, Larcher found himself at the entrance to the chosen dining-place. It was a low, old-fashioned doorway, on a level with the sidewalk, a little distance off Broadway. They were just about to enter, when they heard Davenport's name called out in a nasal, overbearing voice. A look of displeasure crossed Davenport's brow, as both young men turned around. A tall, broad man, with a coarse, red face; a man with hard, glaring eyes and a heavy black mustache; a man who had intruded into a frock coat and high silk hat, and who wore a large diamond in his tie; a man who swung his arms and used plenty of the surrounding space in walking, as if greedy of it,—this man came across the street, and, with an air of proprietorship, claimed Murray Davenport's attention.
A READY-MONEY MAN
"I want you," bawled the gentleman with the diamond, like a rustic washerwoman summoning her offspring to a task. "I've got a little matter for you to look after. S'pose you come around to dinner, and we can talk it over."
"I'm engaged to dine with this gentleman," said Davenport, coolly.
"Well, that's all right," said the newcomer. "This gentleman can come, too."
"We prefer to dine here," said Davenport, with firmness. "We have our own reasons. I can meet you later."
"No, you can't, because I've got other business later. But if you're determined to dine here, I can dine here just as well. So come on and dine."
Davenport looked at the man wearily, and at Larcher apologetically; then introduced the former to the latter by the name of Bagley. Vouchsafing a brief condescending glance and a rough "How are you," Mr. Bagley led the way into the eating-house, Davenport chagrinned on Larcher's account, and Larcher stricken dumb by the stranger's outrage upon his self-esteem.
Nothing that Mr. Bagley did or said later was calculated to improve the state of Larcher's feelings toward him. When the three had passed from the narrow entrance and through a small barroom to a long, low apartment adorned with old prints and playbills, Mr. Bagley took by conquest from another intending party a table close to a street window. He spread out his arms over as much of the table as they would cover, and evinced in various ways the impulse to grab and possess, which his very manner of walking had already shown. He even talked loud, as if to monopolize the company's hearing capacity.
As soon as dinner had been ordered,—a matter much complicated by Mr. Bagley's calling for things which the house didn't serve, and then wanting to know why it didn't,—he plunged at once into the details of some business with Davenport, to which the ignored Larcher, sulking behind an evening paper, studiously refrained from attending. By the time the chops and potatoes had been brought, the business had been communicated, and Bagley's mind was free to regard other things. He suddenly took notice of Larcher.
"So you're a friend of Dav's, are you?" quoth he, looking with benign patronage from one young man to the other.
"I've known Mr. Davenport a—short while," said Larcher, with all the iciness of injured conceit.
"Same business?" queried Bagley.
"I beg your pardon," said Larcher, as if the other had spoken a foreign language.
"Are you in the same business he's in?" said Bagley, in a louder voice.
"I—write," said Larcher, coldly.
Bagley looked him over, and, with evident approval of his clothes, remarked: "You seem to've made a better thing of it than Dav has."
"I make a living," said Larcher, curtly, with a glance at Davenport, who showed no feeling whatever.
"Well, I guess that's about all Dav does," said Bagley, in a jocular manner. "How is it, Dav, old man? But you never had any business sense."
"I can't return the compliment," said Davenport, quietly.
Bagley uttered a mirthful "Yah!" and looked very well contented with himself. "I've always managed to get along," he admitted. "And a good thing for you I have, Dav. Where'ud you be to-day if you hadn't had me for your good angel whenever you struck hard luck?"
"I haven't the remotest idea," said Davenport, as if vastly bored.
"Neither have I," quoth Bagley, and filled his mouth with mutton and potato. When he had got these sufficiently disposed of to permit further speech, he added: "No, sir, you literary fellows think yourselves very fine people, but I don't see many of you getting to be millionaires by your work."
"There are other ambitions in life," said Larcher.
Mr. Bagley emitted a grunt of laughter. "Sour grapes! Sour grapes, young fellow! I know what I'm talking about. I've been a literary man myself."
Larcher arrested his fork half-way between his plate and his mouth, in order to look his amazement. A curious twitch of the lips was the only manifestation of Davenport, except that he took a long sip of ale.
"Nobody would ever think it," said Larcher.
"Yes, sir; I've been a literary man; a playwright, that is. Dramatic author, my friend Dav here would call it, I s'pose. But I made it pay."
"I must confess I don't recognize the name of Bagley as being attached to any play I ever heard of," said Larcher. "And yet I've paid a good deal of attention to the theatre."
"That's because I never wrote but one play, and the money I made out of that—twenty thousand dollars it was—I put into the business of managing other people's plays. It didn't take me long to double it, did it, Dav? Mr. Davenport here knows all about it."
"I ought to," replied Davenport, coldly.
"Yes, that's right, you ought to. We were chums in those days, Mr.—I forget what your name is. We were both in hard luck then, me and Dav. But I knew what to do if I ever got hold of a bit of capital. So I wrote that play, and made a good arrangement with the actor that produced it, and got hold of twenty thousand. And that was the foundation of my fortune. Oh, yes, Dav remembers. We had hall rooms in the same house in East Fourteenth Street. We used to lend each other cuffs and collars. A man never forgets those days."
With Davenport's talk of the afternoon fresh in mind, Larcher had promptly identified this big-talking vulgarian. Hot from several affronts, which were equally galling, whether ignorant or intended, he could conceive of nothing more sweet than to take the fellow down.
"I shouldn't wonder," said he, "if Mr. Davenport had more particular reasons to remember that play."
Davenport looked up from his plate, but merely with slight surprise, not with disapproval. Bagley himself stared hard at Larcher, then glanced at Davenport, and finally blurted out a laugh, and said:
"So Dav has been giving you his fairy tale? I thought he'd dropped it as a played-out chestnut. God knows how the delusion ever started in his head. That's a question for the psychologists—or the doctors, maybe. But he used to imagine—I give him credit for really imagining it—he used to imagine he had written that play. I s'pose that's what he's been telling you. But I thought he'd got over the hallucination; or got tired telling about it, anyhow."
But, in the circumstances, no nice consideration of probabilities was necessary to make Larcher the warm partisan of Davenport. He answered, with as fine a derision as he could summon:
"Any unbiased judge, with you two gentlemen before him, if he had to decide which had written that play, wouldn't take long to agree with Mr. Davenport's hallucination, as you call it."
Mr. Bagley gazed at Larcher for a few moments in silence, as if not knowing exactly what to make of him, or what manner to use toward him. He seemed at last to decide against a wrathful attitude, and replied:
"I suppose you're a very unbiased judge, and a very superior person all round. But nobody's asking for your opinion, and I guess it wouldn't count for much if they did. The public has long ago made up its mind about Mr. Davenport's little delusion."
"As one of 'the public,' perhaps I have a right to dispute that," retorted Larcher. "Men don't have such delusions."
"Oh, don't they? That's as much as you know about the eccentricities of human nature,—and yet you presume to call yourself a writer. I guess you don't know the full circumstances of this case. Davenport himself admits that he was very ill at the time I disposed of the rights of that play. We were in each other's confidence then, and I had read the play to him, and talked it over with him, and he had taken a very keen interest in it, as any chum would. And then this illness came on, just when the marketing of the piece was on the cards. He was out of his head a good deal during his illness, and I s'pose that's how he got the notion he was the author. As it was, I gave him five hundred dollars as a present, to celebrate the acceptance of the piece. And I gave him that at once, too—half the amount of the money paid on acceptance, it was; for anything I knew then, it might have been half of all I should ever get for the play, because nobody could predict how it would pan out. Well, I've never borne him an ounce of malice for his delusion. Maybe at this very moment he still honestly thinks himself the author of that play; but I've always stood by him, and always will. Many's the piece of work I've put in his hands; and I will say he's never failed me on his side, either. Old Reliable Dav, that's what I call him; Old Reliable Dav, and I'd trust him with every dollar I've got in the world." He finished with a clap of good fellowship on Davenport's shoulder, and then fell upon the remainder of his chop and potato with a concentration of interest that put an end to the dispute.
As for Davenport, he had continued eating in silence, with an expressionless face, as if the matter were one that concerned a stranger. Larcher, observing him, saw that he had indeed put that matter behind him, as one to which there was nothing but weariness to be gained in returning. The rest of the meal passed without event. Mr. Bagley made short work of his food, and left the two others with their coffee, departing in as self-satisfied a mood as he had arrived in, and without any trace of the little passage of words with Larcher.
A breath of relief escaped Davenport, and he said, with a faint smile:
"There was a time when I had my say about the play. We've had scenes, I can tell you. But Bagley is a man who can brazen out any assertion; he's a man impossible to outface. Even when he and I are alone together, he plays the same part; won't admit that I wrote the piece; and pretends to think I suffer under a delusion. I was ill at the time he disposed of my play; but I had written it long before the time of my illness."
"How did he manage to pass it off as his?"
"We were friends then, as he says, or at least comrades. We met through being inmates of the same lodging-house. I rather took to him at first. I thought he was a breezy, cordial fellow; mistook his loudness for frankness, and found something droll and pleasing in his nasal drawl. That brass-horn voice!—ye gods, how I grew to shudder at it afterward! But I liked his company over a glass of beer; he was convivial, and told amusing stories of the people in the country town he came from, and of his struggles in trying to get a start in business. I was struggling as hard in my different way—a very different way, for he was an utter savage as far as art and letters were concerned. But we exchanged accounts of our daily efforts and disappointments, and knew all about each other's affairs,—at least he knew all about mine. And one of mine was the play which I wrote during the first months of our acquaintance. I read it to him, and he seemed impressed by it, or as much of it as he could understand. I had some idea of sending it to an actor who was then in need of a new piece, through the failure of one he had just produced. My play seemed rather suitable to him, and I told Bagley I thought of submitting it as soon as I could get it typewritten. But before I could do that, I was on my back with pneumonia, utterly helpless, and not thinking of anything in the world except how to draw my breath.
"The first thing I did begin to worry about, when I was on the way to recovery, was my debts, and particularly my debt to the landlady. She was a good woman, and wouldn't let me be moved to a hospital, but took care of me herself through all my illness. She furnished my food during that time, and paid for my medicines; and, furthermore, I owed her for several weeks' previous rent. So I bemoaned my indebtedness, and the hopelessness of ever getting out of it, a thousand times, day and night, till it became an old song in the ears of Bagley. One day he came in with his face full of news, and told me he had got some money from the sale of a farm, in which he had inherited a ninth interest. He said he intended to risk his portion in the theatrical business—he had had some experience as an advance agent—and offered to buy my play outright for five hundred dollars.
"Well, it was like an oar held out to a drowning man. I had never before had as much money at the same time. It was enough to pay all my debts, and keep me on my feet for awhile to come. Of course I knew that if my play were a fair success, the author's percentage would be many times five hundred dollars. But it might never be accepted,—no play of mine had been, and I had hawked two or three around among the managers,—and in that case I should get nothing at all. As for Bagley, his risk in producing a play by an unknown man was great. His chances of loss seemed to me about nine in ten. I took it that his offer was out of friendship. I grasped at the immediate certainty, and the play became the property of Bagley.
"I consoled myself with the reflection that, if the play made a real success, I should gain some prestige as an author, and find an easier hearing for future work. I was reading a newspaper one morning when the name of my play caught my eye. You can imagine how eagerly I started to read the item about it, and what my feelings were when I saw that it was immediately to be produced by the very actor to whom I had talked of sending it, and that the author was George A. Bagley. I thought there must be some mistake, and fell upon Bagley for an explanation as soon as he came home. He laughed, as men of his kind do when they think they have played some clever business trick; said he had decided to rent the play to the actor instead of taking it on the road himself; and declared that as it was his sole property, he could represent it as the work of anybody he chose. I raised a great stew about the matter; wrote to the newspapers, and rushed to see the actor. He may have thought I was a lunatic from my excitement; however, he showed me the manuscript Bagley had given him. It was typewritten, but the address of the typewriter copyist was on the cover. I hastened to the lady, and inquired about the manuscript from which she had made the copy. I showed her some of my penmanship, but she assured me the manuscript was in another hand. I ran home, and demanded the original manuscript from Bagley. 'Oh, certainly,' he said, and fished out a manuscript in his own writing. He had copied even my interlineations and erasures, to give his manuscript the look of an original draft. This was the copy from which the typewriter had worked. My own handwritten copy he had destroyed. I have sometimes thought that when the idea first occurred to him of submitting my play to the actor, he had meant to deal fairly with me, and to profit only by an agent's commission. But he may have inquired about the earnings of plays, and learned how much money a successful one brings; and the discovery may have tempted him to the fraud. Or his design may have been complete from the first. It is easy to understand his desire to become the sole owner of the play. Why he wanted to figure as the author is not so clear. It may have been mere vanity; it may have been—more probably was—a desire to keep to himself even the author's prestige, to serve him in future transactions of the same sort. In any case, he had created evidence of his authorship, and destroyed all existing proof of mine. He had made good terms,—a percentage on a sliding scale; one thousand dollars down on account. It was out of that thousand that he paid me the five hundred. The play was a great money-winner; Bagley's earnings from it were more than twenty thousand dollars in two seasons. That is the sum I should have had if I had submitted the play to the same actor, as I had intended to do. I made a stir in the newspapers for awhile; told my tale to managers and actors and reporters; started to take it to the courts, but had to give up for lack of funds; in short, got myself the name, as I told you today, of a man with a grievance. People smiled tolerantly at my story; it got to be one of the jokes of the Rialto. Bagley soon hit on the policy of claiming the authorship to my face, and pretending to treat my assertion charitably, as the result of a delusion conceived in illness. You heard him tonight. But it no longer disturbs me."
"Has he ever written any plays of his own? Or had any more produced over his name?" asked Larcher.
"No. He put the greater part of his profits into theatrical management. He multiplied his investment. Then he 'branched out;' tried Wall Street and the race-tracks; went into real estate. He speculates now in many things. I don't know how rich he is. He isn't openly in theatrical management any more, but he still has large interests there; he is what they call an 'angel.'"
"He spoke of being your good angel."
"He has been the reverse, perhaps. It's true, many a time when I've been at the last pinch, he has come to my rescue, employing me in some affair incidental to his manifold operations. Unless you have been hungry, and without a market for your work; unless you have walked the streets penniless, and been generally 'despised and rejected of men,' you, perhaps, can't understand how I could accept anything at his hands. But I could, and sometimes eagerly. As soon as possible after our break, he assumed the benevolent attitude toward me. I resisted it with proper scorn for a time. But hard lines came; 'my poverty but not my will' consented. In course of time, there ceased to be anything strange in the situation. I got used to his service, and his pay, yet without ever compounding for the trick he played me. He trusts me thoroughly—he knows men. This association with him, though it has saved me from desperate straits, is loathsome to me, of course. It has contributed as much as anything to my self-hate. If I had resolutely declined it, I might have found other resources at the last extremity. My life might have taken a different course. That is why I say he has been, perhaps, the reverse of a good angel to me."
"But you must have written other plays," pursued Larcher.
"Yes; and have even had three of them produced. Two had moderate success; but one of those I sold on low terms, in my eagerness to have it accepted and establish a name. On the other, I couldn't collect my royalties. The third was a failure. But none of these, or of any I have written, was up to the level of the play that Bagley dealt with. I admit that. It was my one work of first-class merit. I think my poor powers were affected by my experience with that play; but certainly for some reason I
'... never could recapture The first fine careless rapture.'
I should have been a different man if I had received the honor and the profits of that first accepted play of mine."
"I should think that, as Bagley is so rich, he would quietly hand you over twenty thousand dollars, at least, for the sake of his conscience."
"Men of Bagley's sort have no conscience where money is concerned. I used to wonder just what share of his fortune was rightly mine, if one knew how to estimate. It was my twenty thousand dollars he invested; what percentage of the gains would belong to me, giving him his full due for labor and skill? And then the credit of the authorship,—which he flatly robbed me of,—what would be its value? But that is all matter for mere speculation. As to the twenty thousand alone, there can be no doubt."
"And yet he said tonight he would trust you with every dollar he had in the world."
"Yes, he would." Davenport smiled. "He knows that I know the difference between a moral right and a legal right. He knows the difficulties in the way of any attempt at self-restitution on my part,—and the unpleasant consequences. Oh, yes, he would trust me with large sums; has done so, in fact. I have handled plenty of his cash. He is what they call a 'ready-money man;' does a good deal of business with bank-notes of high denomination,—it enables him to seize opportunities and make swift transactions. He should interest you, if you have an eye for character."
Upon which remark, Davenport raised his cup, as if to finish the coffee and the subject at the same time. Larcher sat silently wondering what other dramas were comprised in the history of his singular companion, besides that wherein Bagley was concerned, and that in which the fickle woman had borne a part. He found himself interested, on his own account, in this haggard-eyed, world-wearied, yet not unattractive man, as well as for Miss Hill. When Davenport spoke again, it was in regard to the artistic business which now formed a tie between himself and Larcher.
This business was in due time performed. It entailed as much association with Davenport as Larcher could wish for his purpose. He learnt little more of the man than he had learned on the first day of their acquaintance, but that in itself was considerable. Of it he wrote a full report to Miss Hill; and in the next few weeks he added some trifling discoveries. In October that young woman and her aunt returned to town, and to possession of a flat immediately south of Central Park. Often as Larcher called there, he could not draw from Edna the cause of her interest in Davenport. But his own interest sufficed to keep him the regular associate of that gentleman; he planned further magazine work for himself to write and Davenport to illustrate, and their collaboration took them together to various parts of the city.
AN UNPROFITABLE CHILD
The lower part of Fifth Avenue, the part between Madison and Washington Squares, the part which alone was "the Fifth Avenue" whereof Thackeray wrote in the far-off days when it was the abode of fashion,—the far-off days when fashion itself had not become old-fashioned and got improved into Smart Society,—this haunted half-mile or more still retains many fine old residences of brown stone and of red brick, which are spruce and well-kept. One such, on the west side of the street, of red brick, with a high stoop of brown stone, is a boarding-house, and in it is an apartment to which, on a certain clear, cold afternoon in October, the reader's presence in the spirit is respectfully invited.
The hallway of the house is prolonged far beyond the ordinary limits of hallways, in order to lead to a secluded parlor at the rear, apparently used by its occupants as a private sitting and dining room. At the left side of this room, after one enters, are folding doors opening from what is evidently somebody's bed-chamber. At the same side, further on, is a large window, the only window in the room. As the ceiling is so high, and the wall-paper so dark, the place is rather dim of light at all times, even on this sunny autumn afternoon when the world outside is so full of wintry brightness.
The view of the world outside afforded by the window—which looks southward—is of part of a Gothic church in profile, and the backs of houses, all framing an expanse of gardens. It is a peaceful view, and this back parlor itself, being such a very back parlor, receives the city's noises dulled and softened. One seems very far, here, from the clatter and bang, the rush and strenuousness, really so near at hand. The dimness is restful; it is relieved, near the window, by a splash of sunlight; and, at the rear of the room, by a coal fire in the grate. The furniture is old and heavy, consisting largely of chairs of black wood in red velvet. Half lying back in one of these is a fretful-looking, fine-featured man of late middle age, with flowing gray hair and flowing gray mustache. His eyes are closed, but perhaps he is not asleep. There is a piano near a corner, opposite the window, and out of the splash of sunshine, but its rosewood surface reflects here and there the firelight. And at the piano, playing a soft accompaniment, sits a tall, slender young woman, with a beautiful but troubled face, who sings in a low voice one of Tosti's love-songs.
Her figure is still girlish, but her face is womanly; a classic face, not like the man's in expression, but faintly resembling it in form, though her features, clearly outlined, have not the smallness of his. Her eyes are large and deep blue. There is enough rich color of lip, and fainter color of cheek, to relieve the whiteness of her complexion. The trouble on her face is of some permanence; it is not petty like that of the man's, but is at one with the nobility of her countenance. It seems to find rest in the tender sadness of the song, which, having finished, she softly begins again:
"'I think of what thou art to me, I think of what thou canst not be'"—
As the man gives signs of animation, such as yawning, and moving in his chair, the girl breaks off gently and looks to see if he is annoyed by the song. He opens his eyes, and says, in a slow, complaining voice:
"Yes, you can sing, there's no doubt of that. And such expression!—unconscious expression, too. What a pity—what a shame—that your gift should be utterly wasted!"
"It isn't wasted if my singing pleases you, father," says the girl, patiently.
"I don't want to keep the pleasure all to myself," replies the man, peevishly. "I'm not selfish enough for that. We have no right to hide our light under a bushel. The world has a claim on our talents. And the world pays for them, too. Think of the money—think of how we might live! Ah, Florence, what a disappointment you've been to me!"
She listens as one who has many times heard the same plaint; and answers as one who has as often made the same answer:
"I have tried, but my voice is not strong enough for the concert stage, and the choirs are all full."
"You know well enough where your chance is. With your looks, in comic opera—"
The girl frowns, and speaks for the first time with some impatience: "And you know well enough my determination about that. The one week's experience I had—"
"Oh, nonsense!" interrupted the man. "All managers are not like that fellow. There are plenty of good, gentle young women on the comic opera stage."
"No doubt there are. But the atmosphere was not to my taste. If I absolutely had to endure it, of course I could. But we are not put to that necessity."
"Necessity! Good Heaven, don't we live poorly enough?"
"We live comfortably enough. As long as Dick insists on making us our present allowance—"
"Insists? I should think he would insist! As if my own son, whom I brought up and started in life, shouldn't provide for his old father to the full extent of his ability!"
"All the same, it's a far greater allowance than most sons or brothers make."
"Because other sons are ungrateful, and blind to their duty, it doesn't follow that Dick ought to be. Thank Heaven, I brought him up better than that. I'm only sorry that his sister can't see things in the same light as he does. After all the trouble of raising my children, and the hopes I've built on them—"
"But you know perfectly well," she protests, softly, "that Dick makes us such a liberal allowance in order that I needn't go out and earn money. He has often said that. Even when you praise him for his dutifulness to you, he says it's not that, but his love for me. And because it is the free gift of his love, I'm willing to accept it."
"I suppose so, I suppose so," says the man, in a tone of resignation to injury. "It's very little that I'm considered, after all. You were always a pair, always insensible of the pains I've taken over you. You always seemed to regard it as a matter of course that I should feed you, and clothe you, and educate you."
The girl sighs, and begins faintly to touch the keys of the piano again. The man sighs, too, and continues, with a heightened note of personal grievance:
"If any man's hopes ever came to shipwreck, mine have. Just look back over my life. Look at the professional career I gave up when I married your mother, in order to be with her more than I otherwise could have been. Look how poorly we lived, she and I, on the little income she brought me. And then the burden of you children! And what some men would have felt a burden, as you grew up, I made a source of hopes. I had endowed you both with good looks and talent; Dick with business ability, and you with a gift for music. In order to cultivate these advantages, which you had inherited from me, I refrained from going into any business when your mother died. I was satisfied to share the small allowance her father made you two children. I never complained. I said to myself, 'I will invest my time in bringing up my children.' I thought it would turn out the most profitable investment in the world,—I gave you children that much credit then. How I looked forward to the time when I should begin to realize on the investment!"
"I'm sure you can't say Dick hasn't repaid you," says the girl. "He began to earn money as soon as he was nineteen, and he has never—"
"Time enough, too," the man breaks in. "It was a very fortunate thing I had fitted him for it by then. Where would he have been, and you, when your grandfather died in debt, and the allowance stopped short, if I hadn't prepared Dick to step in and make his living?"
"Our living," says the girl.
"Our living, of course. It would be very strange if I weren't to reap a bare living, at least, from my labor and care. Who should get a living out of Dick's work if not his father, who equipped him with the qualities for success?" The gentleman speaks as if, in passing on those valuable qualities to his son by heredity, he had deprived himself. "Dick hasn't done any more than he ought to; he never could. And yet what he has done, is so much more than nothing at all, that—" He stops as if it were useless to finish, and looks at his daughter, who, despite the fact that this conversation is an almost daily repetition, colors with displeasure.
After a moment, she gathers some spirit, and says: "Well, if I haven't earned any money for you, I've at least made some sacrifices to please you."
"You mean about the young fellow that hung on to us so close on our trip to Europe?"
"The young man who did us so many kindnesses, and was of so much use to you, on our trip to Europe," she corrects.
"He thought I was rich, my dear, and that you were an heiress. He was a nobody, an adventurer, probably. If things had gone any further between you and him, your future might have been ruined. It was only another example of my solicitude for you; another instance that deserves your thanks, but elicits your ingratitude. If you are fastidious about a musical career, at least you have still a possibility of a good marriage. It was my duty to prevent that possibility from being cut off."
She turns upon him a look of high reproach.
"And that was the only motive, then," she cries, "for your tears and your illness, and the scenes that wrung from me the promise to break with him?"
"It was motive enough, wasn't it?" he replies, defensively, a little frightened at her sudden manner of revolt. "My thoughtfulness for your future—my duty as a father—my love for my child—"
"You pretended it was your jealous love for me, your feeling of desertion, your loneliness. I might have known better! You played on my pity, on my love for you, on my sense of duty as a daughter left to fill my mother's place. When you cried over being abandoned, when you looked so forlorn, my heart melted. And that night when you said you were dying, when you kept calling for me—'Flo, where is little Flo'—although I was there leaning over you, I couldn't endure to grieve you, and I gave my promise. And it was only that mercenary motive, after all!—to save me for a profitable marriage!" She gazes at her father with an expression so new to him on her face, that he moves about in his chair, and coughs before answering:
"You will appreciate my action some day. And besides, your promise to drop the man wasn't so much to give. You admitted, yourself, he hadn't written to you. He had afforded you good cause, by his neglect."
"He was very busy at that time. I always thought there was something strange about his sudden failure to write—something that could have been explained, if my promise to you hadn't kept me from inquiring."
The father coughs again, at this, and turns his gaze upon the fire, which he contemplates deeply, to the exclusion of all other objects. The girl, after regarding him for a moment, sighs profoundly; placing her elbows on the keyboard, she leans forward and buries her face in her hands.
This picture, not disturbed by further speech, abides for several ticks of the French clock on the mantelpiece. Suddenly it is broken by a knock at the door. Florence sits upright, and dries her eyes. A negro man servant with a discreet manner enters and announces two visitors. "Show them in at once," says Florence, quickly, as if to forestall any possible objection from her father. The negro withdraws, and presently, with a rapid swish of skirts, in marches a very spick and span young lady, her diminutive but exceedingly trim figure dressed like an animated fashion-plate. She is Miss Edna Hill, and she comes brisk and dashing, with cheeks afire from the cold, bringing into the dull, dreamy room the life and freshness of the wintry day without. Behind her appears a stranger, whose name Florence scarcely heeded when it was announced, and who enters with the solemn, hesitant air of one hitherto unknown to the people of the house. He is a young man clothed to be the fit companion of Miss Hill, and he waits self-effacingly while that young lady vivaciously greets Florence as her dearest, and while she bestows a touch of her gloved fingers and a "How d'ye do, Mr. Kenby," on the father. She then introduces the young man as Mr. Larcher, on whose face, as he bows, there appears a surprised admiration of Florence Kenby's beauty.
Miss Hill monopolizes Florence, however, and Larcher is left to wander to the fire, and take a pose there, and discuss the weather with Mr. Kenby, who does not seem to find the subject, or Larcher himself, at all interesting, a fact which the young man is not slow in divining. Strained relations immediately ensue between the two gentlemen.
As soon as the young ladies are over the preliminary burst of compliments and news, Edna says:
"I'm lucky to find you at home, but really you oughtn't to be moping in a dark place like this, such a fine afternoon."
"Father can't go out because of his rheumatism, and I stay to keep him company," replies Florence.
"Oh, dear me, Mr. Kenby," says Edna, looking at the gentleman rather skeptically, as if she knew him of old and suspected a habit of exaggerating his ailments, "can't you pass the time reading or something? Florence must go out every day; she'll ruin her looks if she doesn't,—her health, too. I should think you could manage to entertain yourself alone an hour or two."
"It isn't that," explains Florence; "he often wants little things done, and it's painful for him to move about. In a house like this, the servants aren't always available, except for routine duties."
"Well, I'll tell you what," proposes Edna, blithely; "you get on your things, dear, and we'll run around and have tea with Aunt Clara at Purcell's. Mr. Larcher and I were to meet her there, but you come with me, and Mr. Larcher will stay and look after your father. He'll be very glad to, I know."
Mr. Larcher is too much taken by surprise to be able to say how very glad he will be. Mr. Kenby, with Miss Hill's sharp glance upon him, seems to feel that he would cut a poor figure by opposing. So Florence is rushed by her friend's impetuosity into coat and hat, and carried off, Miss Hill promising to return with her for Mr. Larcher "in an hour or two." Before Mr. Larcher has had time to collect his scattered faculties, he is alone with the pettish-looking old man to whom he has felt himself an object of perfect indifference. He glares, with a defiant sense of his own worth, at the old man, until the old man takes notice of his existence.
"Oh, it's kind of you to stay, Mr.—ahem. But they really needn't have troubled you. I can get along well enough myself, when it's absolutely necessary. Of course, my daughter will be easier in mind to have some one here."
"I am very glad to be of service—to so charming a young woman," says Larcher, very distinctly.
"A charming girl, yes. I'm very proud of my daughter. She's my constant thought. Children are a great care, a great responsibility."
"Yes, they are," asserts Larcher, jumping at the chance to show this uninterested old person that wise young men may sometimes be entertained unawares. "It's a sign of progress that parents are learning on which side the responsibility lies. It used to be universally accepted that the obligation was on the part of the children. Now every writer on the subject starts on the basis that the obligation is on the side of the parent. It's hard to see how the world could have been so idiotic formerly. As if the child, summoned here in ignorance by the parents for their own happiness, owed them anything!"
Mr. Kenby stares at the young man for a time, and then says, icily:
"I don't quite follow you."
"Why, it's very clear," says Larcher, interested now for his argument. "You spoke of your sense of responsibility toward your child."
("The deuce I did!" thinks Mr. Kenby.)
"Well, that sense is most natural in you, and shows an enlightened mind. For how can parents feel other than deeply responsible toward the being they have called into existence? How can they help seeing their obligation to make existence for that being as good and happy as it's in their power to make it? Who dare say that there is a limit to their obligation toward that being?"
"And how about that being's obligations in return?" Mr. Kenby demands, rather loftily.
"That being's obligations go forward to the beings it in turn summons to life. The child, becoming in time a parent, assumes a parent's debt. The obligation passes on from generation to generation, moving always to the future, never back to the past."
"Somewhat original theories!" sniffs the old man. "I suppose, then, a parent in his old age has no right to look for support to his children?"
"It is the duty of people, before they presume to become parents, to provide against the likelihood of ever being a burden to their children. In accepting from their children, they rob their children's children. But the world isn't sufficiently advanced yet to make people so far-seeing and provident, and many parents do have to look to their children for support. In such cases, the child ought to provide for the parent, but out of love or humanity, not because of any purely logical claim. You see the difference, of course."
Mr. Kenby gives a shrug, and grunts ironically.
"The old-fashioned idea still persists among the multitude," Larcher goes on, "and many parents abuse it in practice. There are people who look upon their children mainly as instruments sent from Heaven for them to live by. From the time their children begin to show signs of intelligence, they lay plans and build hopes of future gain upon them. It makes my blood boil, sometimes, to see mothers trying to get their pretty daughters on the stage, or at a typewriter, in order to live at ease themselves. And fathers, too, by George! Well, I don't think there's a more despicable type of humanity in this world than the able-bodied father who brings his children up with the idea of making use of them!"
Mr. Larcher has worked himself into a genuine and very hearty indignation. Before he can entirely calm down, he is put to some wonder by seeing his auditor rise, in spite of rheumatism, and walk to the door at the side of the room. "I think I'll lie down awhile," says Mr. Kenby, curtly, and disappears, closing the door behind him. Mr. Larcher, after standing like a statue for some time by the fire, ensconces himself in a great armchair before it, and gazes into it until, gradually stolen upon by a sense of restful comfort in the darkening room, he falls asleep.
He is awakened by the gay laugh of Edna Hill, as she and Florence enter the room. He is on his feet in time to keep his slumbers a secret, and explains that Mr. Kenby has gone for a nap. When the gas is lit, he sees that Florence, too, is bright-faced from the outer air, that her eye has a fresher sparkle, and that she is more beautiful than before. As it is getting late, and Edna's Aunt Clara is to be picked up in a shop in Twenty-third Street where the girls have left her, Larcher is borne off before he can sufficiently contemplate Miss Kenby's beauty. Florence is no sooner alone than Mr. Kenby comes out of the little chamber.
"I hope you feel better for your nap, father."
"I didn't sleep any, thank you," says Mr. Kenby. "What an odious young man that was! He has the most horrible principles. I think he must be an anarchist, or something of that sort. Did you enjoy your tea?"
The odious young man, walking briskly up the lighted avenue, past piano shops and publishing houses, praises Miss Kenby's beauty to Edna Hill, who echoes the praise without jealousy.
"She's perfectly lovely," Edna asserts, "and then, think of it, she has had a romance, too; but I mustn't tell that."
"It's strange you never mentioned her to me before, being such good friends with her."
"Oh, they've only just got settled back in town," answers Edna, evasively. "What do you think of the old gentleman?"
"He seems a rather queer sort. Do you know him very well?"
"Well enough. He's one of those people whose dream in life is to make money out of their children."
"What! Then I did put my foot in it!" Larcher tells of the brief conversation he had with Mr. Kenby. It makes Edna laugh heartily.
"Good for him!" she cries. "It's a shame, his treatment of Florence. Her brother out West supports them, and is very glad to do so on her account. Yet the covetous old man thinks she ought to be earning money, too. She's quite too fond of him—she even gave up a nice young man she was in love with, for her father's sake. But listen. I don't want you to mention these people's names to anybody—not to anybody, mind! Promise."
"Very well. But why?"
"I won't tell you," she says, decidedly; and, when he looks at her in mute protest, she laughs merrily at his helplessness. So they go on up the avenue.
A LODGING BY THE RIVER
The day after his introduction to the Kenbys, Larcher went with Murray Davenport on one of those expeditions incidental to their collaboration as writer and illustrator. Larcher had observed an increase of the strange indifference which had appeared through all the artist's loquacity at their first interview. This loquacity was sometimes repeated, but more often Davenport's way was of silence. His apathy, or it might have been abstraction, usually wore the outer look of dreaminess.
"Your friend seems to go about in a trance," Barry Tompkins said of him one day, after a chance meeting in which Larcher had made the two acquainted.
This was a near enough description of the man as he accompanied Larcher to a part of the riverfront not far from the Brooklyn Bridge, on the afternoon at which we have arrived. The two were walking along a squalid street lined on one side with old brick houses containing junk-shops, shipping offices, liquor saloons, sailors' hotels, and all the various establishments that sea-folk use. On the other side were the wharves, with a throng of vessels moored, and glimpses of craft on the broad river.
"Here we are," said Larcher, who as he walked had been referring to a pocket map of the city. The two men came to a stop, and Davenport took from a portfolio an old print of the early nineteenth century, representing part of the river front. Silently they compared this with the scene around them, Larcher smiling at the difference. Davenport then looked up at the house before which they stood. There was a saloon on the ground floor, with a miniature ship and some shells among the bottles in the window.
"If I could get permission to make a sketch from one of those windows up there," said Davenport, glancing at the first story over the saloon.
"Suppose we go in and see what can be done," suggested Larcher.
They found the saloon a small, homely place, with only one attendant behind the bar at that hour, two marine-looking old fellows playing some sort of a game amidst a cloud of pipe-smoke at a table, and a third old fellow, not marine-looking but resembling a prosperous farmer, seated by himself in the enjoyment of an afternoon paper that was nearly all head-lines.
Larcher ordered drinks, and asked the barkeeper if he knew who lived overhead. The barkeeper, a round-headed young man of unflinching aspect, gazed hard across the bar at the two young men for several seconds, and finally vouchsafed the single word:
"I should like to see the person that has the front room up one flight," began Larcher.
"All right; that won't cost you nothing. There he sets." And the barkeeper pointed to the rural-looking old man with the newspaper, at the same time calling out, sportively: "Hey, Mr. Bud, here's a couple o' gents wants to look at you."
Mr. Bud, who was tall, spare, and bent, about sixty, and the possessor of a pleasant knobby face half surrounded by a gray beard that stretched from ear to ear beneath his lower jaw, dropped his paper and scrutinized the young men benevolently. They went over to him, and Larcher explained their intrusion with as good a grace as possible.
"Why, certainly, certainly," the old man chirped with alacrity. "Glad to have yuh. I'll be proud to do anything in the cause of literature. Come right up." And he rose and led the way to the street door.
"Take care, Mr. Bud," said the jocular barkeeper. "Don't let them sell you no gold bricks or nothin'. I never see them before, so you can't hold me if you lose your money."
"You keep your mouth shut, Mick," answered the old man, "and send me up a bottle o' whisky and a siphon o' seltzer as soon as your side partner comes in. This way, gentlemen."
He conducted them out to the sidewalk, and then in through another door, and up a narrow stairway, to a room with two windows overlooking the river. It was a room of moderate size, provided with old furniture, a faded carpet, mended curtains, and lithographs of the sort given away with Sunday newspapers. It had, in its shabbiness, that curious effect of cosiness and comfort which these shabby old rooms somehow possess, and luxurious rooms somehow lack. A narrow bed in a corner was covered with an old-fashioned patchwork quilt. There was a cylindrical stove, but not in use, as the weather had changed since the day before; and beside the stove, visible and unashamed, was a large wooden box partly full of coal. While Larcher was noticing these things, and Mr. Bud was offering chairs, Davenport made directly for the window and looked out with an interest limited to the task in hand, and perfunctory even so.
"This is my city residence," said the host, dropping into a chair. "It ain't every hard-worked countryman, these times, that's able to keep up a city residence." As this was evidently one of Mr. Bud's favorite jests, Larcher politically smiled. Mr. Bud soon showed that he had other favorite jests. "Yuh see, I make my livin' up the State, but every now and then I feel like comin' to the city for rest and quiet, and so I keep this place the year round."
"You come to New York for rest and quiet?" exclaimed Larcher, still kindly feigning amusement.
"Sure! Why not? As fur as rest goes, I just loaf around and watch other people work. That's what I call rest with a sauce to it. And as fur as quiet goes, I get used to the noises. Any sound that don't concern me, don't annoy me. I go about unknown, with nobody carin' what my business is, or where I'm bound fur. Now in the country everybody wants to know where from, and where to, and what fur. The only place to be reely alone is where thur's so many people that one man don't count for anything. And talk about noise!—What's all the clatter and bang amount to, if it's got nothin' to do with your own movements? Now at my home where the noise consists of half a dozen women's voices askin' me about this, and wantin' that, and callin' me to account for t'other,—that's the kind o' noise that jars a man. Yuh see, I got a wife and four daughters. They're very good women—very good women, the whole bunch—but I do find it restful and refreshin' to take the train to New York about once a month, and loaf around a week or so without anybody takin' notice, and no questions ast."
"And what does your family say to that?"
"Nothin', now. They used to say considerable when I first fell into the habit. I hev some poultry customers here in the city, and I make out I got to come to look after business. That story don't go fur with the fam'ly; but they hev their way about everything else, so they got to gimme my way about this."
Davenport turned around from the window, and spoke for the first time since entering:
"Then you don't occupy this room more than half the time?"
"No, sir, I close it up, and thank the Lord there ain't nothin' in it worth stealin'."
"Oh, in that case," Davenport went on, "if I began some sketches here, and you left town before they were done, I should have to go somewhere else to finish them."
It was a remark that made Larcher wonder a little, at the moment, knowing the artist's usual methods of work. But Mr. Bud, ignorant of such matters, replied without question:
"Well, I don't know. That might be fixed all right, I guess."
"I see you have a library," said Davenport, abruptly, walking over to a row of well-worn books on a wooden shelf near the bed. His sudden interest, slight as it was, produced another transient surprise in Larcher.