TORCHY BY SEWELL FORD
AUTHOR OF TRYING OUT TORCHY, ETC.
FRONTISPIECE BY GEORGE BREHM
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1909, 1910, by SEWELL FORD
COPYRIGHT, 1911, by EDWARD J. CLODE
TO MY TRULY USEFUL AND GENIAL FRIEND
W. A. C.
AT WHOSE SUGGESTION THIS CHRONICLE OF THE DOINGS OF TORCHY CAME TO BE MADE
I. Getting in with the Glory Be 1 II. A Jolt for Piddie 18 III. Meeting up with the Great Skid 34 IV. Frosting the Profess 51 V. Where Mildred Got Next 67 VI. Shunting Brother Bill 83 VII. Keeping Tabs on Piddie 100 VIII. A Whirl with Kazedky 117 IX. Down the Bumps with Cliffy 132 X. Backing out of a Fluff Riot 148 XI. Rung in with the Gold Spooners 162 XII. Landing on a Side Street 177 XIII. First Aid for the Main Stem 193 XIV. In on the Oolong 209 XV. Batting it up to Torchy 226 XVI. Throwing the Line to Skid 241 XVII. Touching on Tink Tuttle 258 XVIII. Getting Hermes on the Bounce 275 XIX. When Miss Vee Threw the Dare 294
GETTING IN WITH THE GLORY BE
Sure, I was carryin' the banner. But say, I ain't one of them kids that gets callouses on the hands doin' it. When I'm handed the fresh air on payday, I don't choke to death over it. I goes out and rustles for another job. And I takes my pick, too. Why not? It's just as easy.
This time I gets a bug that the new Octopus Buildin' might have been put up special for me. Anyway, it looked good from the outside, and I blows in through the plate glass merry go round. The arcade was all to the butterscotch, everything handy, from an A. D. T. stand to Turkish baths in the basement.
"Got any express elevators?" says I to the starter guy.
"Think of buying the buildin', sonny?" says he.
"There'd be room for you on the sidewalk if I did," says I. "But say, if you can tear your eyes off the candy counter queen long enough, tell me who's got a sign out this mornin'."
"They're going to elect a second vice-president of the Interurban to-day. Would that suit you?" says he, twistin' up his lip whisker and lookin' cute.
"Maybe," says I; "but I'd take a portfolio as head office boy if I knew where to butt in."
"Then chase up to 2146," says he. "You'll find 'em waitin' for you with a net. Here's your car. Up!" and before I knows it I has done the skyrocket act up to floor twenty-one.
Well say, you wouldn't have thought so many kids read the want ads. and had the courage to tackle an early breakfast. The corridor was full of 'em, all sizes, all kinds. It looked like recess time at a boys' orphan asylum, and with me against the field I stood to be a sure loser. I hadn't no more'n climbed out before they starts to throw the josh my way.
"Hey, Reddy, get in line! The foot for yours, Peachblow!" they yells at me.
And then I comes back. "Ah, flag it!" says I. "Do I look like I belonged in your class? Brush by, you three-dollar pikers, and give a salaried man a show!"
With that I makes a quick rush at 2146 and gets through the door before they has time to make a howl. The letterin' on the ground glass was what got me. It said as how this was the home office of the Glory Be Mining Company, and there was a string of high-toned names as long as your arm. But the minute I sizes up the inside exhibit I wasn't so anxious. I was lookin' for about a thousand feet of floor space; but all I could see was a couple of six by nines, includin' a clothes closet and a corner washbowl. There was a grand aggregation of two as an office force. One was a young lady key pounder, with enough hair piled on top of her head to stuff a mattress. The other was a long faced young feller with an ostrich neck and a voice that sounded like a squeaky door.
"Go outside!" says he, wavin' his hands and puttin' on a weary look. "Mr. Pepper can't see any of you until he has finished with the mail. Now run along."
"I can't," says I; "my feet won't let me. Is that the Pepper box in there?"
The door was open a foot or two; so I steps up to take a peek at the main squeeze. And say, the minute I sees him I knew he'd do. He wa'n't one of these dried up whiskered freaks, nor he wa'n't any human hog, with no neck and three chins. He was the kind of a gent you see comin' out of them swell cafes, and he looked like a winner, Mr. Belmont Pepper did. His breakfast seemed to be settin' as well as his coat collar, and you could tell with one eye that he wouldn't come snoopin' around early in the day, nor hang around the shop after five. Pepper has his heels up on the rolltop, burnin' a real Havana. That's the kind of a boss I likes. I lays out to connect, too.
"Say," says I to the long faced duck, "you hold your breath a minute and I'll be back!"
Then I steps outside, yanks the "Boy Wanted" sign off the nail, and says to the crowd good and brisk, just as though I come direct from headquarters:
"It's all over, kids, and unless you're waitin' to have a group picture taken you'd better hit the elevator."
Wow! There was call for another sudden move just then. I was lookin' for that, though, and by the time the first two of 'em struck the door I was on the other side with the key turned. Riot? Well say, you'd thought I'd pinched the only job in New York! They kicked on the door and yelled through the transom and got themselves all worked up.
The lady key pounder grabs hold of both sides of her table and almost swallows her tuttifrutti, the ostrich necked chap turns pea green, and Mr. Pepper swings his door open and sings out, real cheerful:
"Mr. Sweetwater, can't you get yourself mobbed without being so noisy about it? What's up, anyway?"
But Sweetwater wasn't a lightnin' calculator. He stands there with his mouth open, gawpin' at me, and tryin' to figure out what's broke loose; so I pushes to the front and helps him out.
"There's a bunch of also rans out there, Mr. Pepper," says I, "that don't know when to fade. They're just grouchy because I've swiped the job."
I was lookin' for him to sit up at that; but he don't. "What makes you think that you've got it!" says he.
"'Cause I'm in and they're out," says I. "Anyway, they're a lot of dopes, and a man like you wants a live one around. That's me. Where do I begin?" And I chucks the sign into a waste basket and hangs my cap on a hook.
Now, that ain't any system you can follow reg'lar. I don't often do it that way, 'cause I ain't any fonder of bein' thrown through a door than the next one. But this was a long shot and I was willin' to run the risk. That fat headed starter knew he was steerin' me up against a mob; so I was just achin' to squeeze the lemon in his eye by makin' good.
For awhile, though, I couldn't tell whether I was up in a balloon or let in on the ground floor. Mr. Pepper was givin' me the search warrant look-over, and I see he's one of these gents that you can't jar easy. I hadn't rushed him off his feet by my through the center play. There was still plenty of chance of my gettin' the low tackle.
"If I might ask," says he, smooth as a silk lid, "what is your name?"
"Ah, w'at's the use?" says I, duckin' my head. "Look at that hair! You might's well begin callin' me Torchy; you'd come to it."
He didn't grin nor nothin'; but only I see his eyes wrinkle a little at the corners. "Very well, Torchy," says he. "I suppose you have your references?"
"Nah, I ain't," says I. "But if you're stuck on such things I can get 'em. There's a feller down on Ann-st. that'll write beauts for a quarter a throw."
"So?" says he. "Then we'll pass that point. Why did you leave your last place?"
"By request," says I. "The stiff gives me the fire. He said I was too fresh."
"He was mistaken, I suppose," says Mr. Pepper. "You're not fresh, are you?"
"Well say, I ain't no last year's limed egg," says I. "If you're lookin' for somethin' that's been in the brine all winter, you'd better put the hook in again."
He rubs his chin at that. "Do you like hard work?" says he.
"Think I'd be chasin' up an office boy snap, if I did?" says I.
He takes a minute or so to let that soak in, knockin' his cigar ashes off on the rug in that careless way a man that ain't married does, and then he springs another.
"I presume that if you were left alone in the office occasionally," says he, "you could learn to run the business?"
"Nix, not!" says I. "When I plays myself for a confidential manager I wants to pull down more than four per. Givin' book agents the quick back up and runnin' errands is my strong points. For tips on the market and such as that I charges overtime."
Course, I'd figured it was all off by then, seein' as how I hadn't rung the bell at any crack. That's why I was so free with the hot air. Mr. Pepper, he squints at me good and hard, and then pushes the call button.
"Mr. Sweetwater," says he, "this young man's name is Torchy. I've persuaded him to assist us in running the affairs of the Glory Be Mining Company. Put him on the payroll at five a week, and then induce that mass meeting in the corridor to adjourn."
"Say," says I, "does that mean I'm picked?"
"You're the chosen one," says he.
"Gee!" says I. "You had me guessin', though! But you ain't drawn any blank. I'll shinny on your side, Mr. Pepper, as long's you'll let me—and that's no gust of wind, either."
And say, inside of three days I'd got the minin' business down to a science. Course it was a cinch. All I has to do is fold bunches of circulars, stick stamps on the envelopes, and lug 'em up to the general P. O. once a day. That, and chasin' out after a dollar's worth of cigars now and then for Mr. Pepper, and keepin' Sweetie jollied along, didn't make me round shouldered.
Sweetie was cut out for the undertakin' business, by rights. He took things hard, he did. Every tick of the clock was a solemn moment for him, and me gettin' a stamp on crooked was a case that called for a heart to heart talk. He used to show me the books he was keepin', and the writin' was as reg'lar as if it'd been done on a job press.
"You're a wonder, you are, Sweetie," says I; "but some day your hand is going to joggle, and there'll be a blot on them pages, and then you'll die of heart disease."
Miss Allen, the typewriter fairy, was a good deal of a frost. She was one of the kind that would blow her lunch money on havin' her hair done like some actress, and worry through the week on an apple and two pieces of fudge at noon. I never had much use for her. She called me just Boy, as though I wa'n't hardly human at all. She'd sit and pat that hair of hers by the hour, feelin' to see if all the diff'rent waves and bunches was still there. It was a work of art, all right; but it didn't leave her time to think of much else. I used to get her wild by askin' how the six other sisters was comin' on these days.
We didn't have any great rush of customers in the office. About twice a day some one would stray in; but gen'rally they was lookin' for other parties, and we didn't take in money enough over the counter to pay the towel bill. It had me worried some, until I tumbles that the Glory Be was a mail order snap.
All them circulars we sent out told about the mine. And say, after I'd read one of 'em I didn't see how it was we didn't have a crowd throwin' money at us. It was good readin', too, almost as excitin' as a nickel lib'ry. I'd never been right next to a gold mine before, and it got me bug eyed just thinkin' about it.
Why, this mine of ours was one that the Injuns had kept hid for years and years, killin' off every white man that stuck his nose into the same county. But after awhile a feller by the name of Dakota Dan turned Injun, got himself adopted by the tribe, and monkeyed around until he found the mine. It near blinded him the first squint he got of them big chunks of gold. The Injuns caught him at it and finished the business with hot irons. Then they roasted him over a fire some and turned him loose to enjoy himself. He was tougher'n a motorman, though. He didn't die for years after that; but he never said nothin' about the gold mine until he was nearly all in. Then he told his oldest boy the tale and gave him a map of the place, makin' him swear he'd never go near it. The boy stuck to it, too. He grew up and kept a grocery store, and it wa'n't until after he'd died of lockjaw from runnin' a rusty nail in his hand and the widow had sold out the store to a Swede that the map showed up. The Swede swapped the map to a soap drummer for half a dozen cakes of scented shaving sticks, and the drummer goes explorin'.
He had a soap drummer's luck. He didn't find any Injuns left. Most of 'em had died off and the rest had joined Wild West shows. The gold mine was there, though, with chunks of solid gold lyin' around as big as peach baskets. Mr. Drummer looks until his eyes ache, and then he hikes himself back East to get up a comp'ny to work the mine. He'd just made plans to build a solid gold mansion on Fifth-ave. and hire John D. Rockefeller for a butler, when he strays into one of these Gospel missions and gets religion so hard that he can't shake it. Then he sees how selfish it would be to keep all that gold for himself. "But how'll I divvy it?" says he. "And who with?"
Then he decides that he'll divide with ministers, because they'll use it best. So he gets up this Glory Be Mining Company, and hires Mr. Pepper to sell the stock at twenty-five cents a share to all the preachers in the country.
Blamed if it wa'n't straight goods! I looked on the letters we sent out, and every last one of 'em was to ministers. Talk about your easy money! This was like pickin' it off the bushes. Mr. Pepper shows 'em how they can put in fifty or a hundred dollars and in three or four years be pullin' out their thousands in dividends.
You'd thought they'd came a runnin' at a chance like that, wouldn't you? There we was givin' 'em a private hunch on a proposition that was all velvet. But say, only about one in ten ever hands us a comeback. It was enough to make a man turn the hose on his grandmother.
Course, a few of 'em did loosen up and send on real money. I used to stand around and pipe off the boss while he shucked the mail, and I could tell whether it was fat or lean by the time it took him to eat lunch. The days when I was sent out to cash five or six money orders, and soak away a bunch of checks, he'd call a cab at twelve-thirty and wouldn't come back until near four; but when there wa'n't much doin' he'd send out for a tray and put in the afternoon dictatin' names and addresses to Miss Allen.
Then there come a slack spell that lasted for a couple of weeks, and we didn't get hardly any mail at all, except from some crank out in Illinois that had splurged on a whole ten dollars' worth of shares, and wrote in about every other day wantin' to know when the dividends was goin' to begin comin' his way. I heard Miss Allen talkin' it over with Sweetie.
It was along about then that this duck from the post-office buildin' showed up. He comes gumshoein' around one noon hour, while I was all by my lonesome, and he asks a whole lot of questions that I'd forgot the answer to. I was tellin' the boss about him that night around closin' up time.
"I sized him up for one of them cheap skates from the Marshal's office," says I. "I didn't know what his game was and I wa'n't goin' to give up all I knew to him; so I tells him to call around to-morrow and you'll load him up with all the information his nut can hold. Was that right?"
Mr. Pepper seems to be mighty int'rested for awhile; but then he grins, pats me on the shoulder, and says: "That was just right, Torchy, exactly right. I couldn't have done it better myself."
But half an hour later, after Miss Allen has stuck her gum on the paperweight and skipped, and Sweetwater has slid out too, and just as I was gettin' ready to call it a day, Mr. Pepper calls me in on the rug.
"Torchy," says he, "during the brief period that we have been associated in business I have found your services very valuable and your society very cheering. In other words, Torchy, you're all right."
"There's a pair of us, then," says I. "You're as good as they make them, Mr. Pepper."
"Thanks, Torchy," says he, "thanks." Then he looks out of the window for a minute before he asks how I'd like a two-weeks' vacation with pay.
"Well," says I, "seein' as how Coney's froze up, and Palm Beach don't agree with my health, I'd just as soon put them two weeks in storage until July."
"I see," says he; "but the fact is, Torchy, I've had a sudden call to go West."
"Out to the Glory Be mine?" says I.
"You've guessed it," says he. "And I am taking this opportunity for releasing Sweetwater and Miss Allen."
"They ain't much use, anyway," says I. "But you wouldn't shut up the shop for fair, would you? Don't you want some one on hand to answer fool questions, or steer cranks off like that post-office guy that's comin' to-morrow? Unless you think I'd hook the rolltop or pinch the letterpress, you'd better leave me sittin' on the lid."
Well, sir, he seemed to take to that notion, and the next thing I knows I'm tellin him about my scheme of wantin' to save up enough dough to pay for a little bunch of them Glory Be stocks.
"It's a shame to waste all that good money on people that don't know a cinch when it's passed out to 'em," says I, "and I've been thinkin' that if I hung to the business long enough maybe I'd have a show to buy in."
Say, you couldn't guess what Mr. Pepper up and does then. He opens the safe, counts out a hundred shares of Glory Be common, and fills out the transfer to me right on the spot.
"Now, Torchy," says he, "it will cost you five weeks' salary to pay for these; but if I raise you a dollar a week and take it out a little at a time you'll never miss it. Anyway, you're a shareholder from now on."
Did you ever get rich all of a sudden, like that! You feel it first up and down the small of your back, and then it goes to your knees. I couldn't say a blamed word that was sensible. I don't know just what I did say, and I never come to until after Mr. Pepper'd finished up and gone, leavin' me with two-weeks' pay in my pocket, and a big envelope full of them Glory Be shares, all printed in gold and purple ink, with a picture of Dakota Dan in the middle.
I couldn't eat a bite of supper that night, and I puts in the evenin' readin' over them pamphlets we'd been sendin' out until I knew every word of it by heart. I'll bet I got up and hid them stocks in a dozen diff'rent places before mornin', and an hour before bankin' time I was sittin' on the steps of the Treasury Trust concern, waitin' to hire one of them steel pigeon-holes down in the vaults. After I'd got the envelope stowed away and tied the key around my neck with a string, I goes back to the office. Sweetie and Miss Allen was there, with their hammers goin'. They'd found their blue tickets and their week's pay and was just clearin' out.
"I'd been planning to make a change for the last two weeks," says Miss Allen. "I was looking for something like this."
"Me too," says Sweetie. "It's rough on Torchy, though."
"Say, don't you waste any sympathy on me," says I, "and don't let off any more knocks at Mr. Pepper. I won't stand for it!"
With that they snickers and does a slow exit. That leaves me runnin' the gold minin' business single handed; but me bein' one of the firm, as you might say, it was all right. I'd always had a notion that I'd be a plute some day; but honest, I wa'n't expectin' it so sudden. I was just tryin' to get used to it, when the door opens and in drifts that guy from the Marshal's office.
"Where's Mr. Belmont Pepper?" says he.
"Well," says I, "the last time I saw him he was headed west."
"Skipped out!" says the gent, doin' the foiled villyun stunt with his face.
"Skipped nothin'," says I. "Mr. Pepper's gone out to look after the mine."
"Oh, he's gone to the mine, has he?" says the duck. "See here, kid, I'm a United States Deputy Marshal. Don't you try to tell me any fairy stories, or you'll pull down trouble. We want your Mr. Pepper, and we want him bad! He's a crook."
Well say, it was a hot argument we had. He tries to tell me that this minin' business is all a bunko game, and that there's a paper out for the boss. Then he camps down in the private office and says he'll wait until Mr. Pepper shows up. He makes a stab at it, too, and a nice long wait he has. I stuck it out for two weeks with him, tryin' to beat it into his head that the Glory Be mine was a real gilt edged proposition. I'd have been there yet, only they comes and lugs off all the desks and things and makes me give up the keys.
Say, it was a tough deal, all right. It was some jay that stirred up all the muss, howlin' for his coin that he thought he'd lost. But look at the hole I'm in, after bein' so brash to Mr. Pepper about stayin' on the lid, and him lettin' me write my own valuation ticket! How do I square it with him when he comes back and finds I've stood around and seen him closed out?
Old Velvet Foot, the deputy, says if the boss comes back at all he'll be wearin' a diff'rent face and flaggin' under another name. But I know better. He's as square as a pavin' block. If he wa'n't, why was he distributin' Glory Be stocks among fool outsiders, instead of keepin' it in the fam'ly?
"Ah, brush your belfry!" says I. "Your mind needs chloride of lime on it."
But say, shareholder or not, I've got to plug the market for somethin' that'll pass with the landlady. I've been livin' on crullers and coffee for two days now, and that starter guy says if I don't quit hangin' around the arcade he'll have me pinched. I've wrote out a note to leave for Mr. Pepper, and I guess it's up to me to frisk another job.
You don't know where they want a near-plute as temp'rary office boy, do you?
A JOLT FOR PIDDIE
It's a case of "comin' up, up" with me. Sure as ever! Ain't I got stock in a gold mine? And now I'm in with the Corrugated Trust. Why, say, two moves more and I'll be first vice-president. There's only his door, and the general manager's, and then me.
I'm behind the brass rail, next to the spring water. When you have the front to push through the plate glass, you see me first. If I likes your looks, and your card reads right, maybe I gives you a peek at Mr. Piddie. Anyone that gets past Piddie's a bird. He's the Inside Brother, Keeper of the Seal, Watch on the Rhine, and a lot more. He draws down salary for bein' confidential secretary to the G. M.; but Con. Sec. don't half cover it. He keeps the run of everything, from what the last quarterly dividend was down to how many tubs of pins is used by the office force every month.
I'd never made good with Piddie in a month of Yom Kippurs if it hadn't been for Old Heavyweight, the main squeeze. Piddie had ten of us lined up for the elimination test, and was puttin' us through the catechism and the civil service, when in pads Mr. Ellins—you know, Hickory Ellins. Ever see our V. P.? Say, he uses up cloth enough in his vest to make me a whole suit.
He's a ripe old sport, with a complexion like an Easter egg, and a pair o' blinks that'd look a hole through a chilled steel vault. He runs us over without losin' step, sticks out a finger as he goes by, and says over his shoulder, "Piddie, take that one!"
Me, I was in range. Piddie made a bluff at goin' on with the third degree business; but the other entries begins to edge for the door. I was the one best bet; so what was the use? See what it is to have a thirty-two candle power thatch? He couldn't have missed me, less'n he'd been color blind. There's worse things can happen to you than red hair, all right.
Piddie was sore on me from the start, though. He'd made up his mind to tag a nice little mommer's boy, with a tow colored top and a girly voice. Them's the kind that forgets to bring back change and always has stamps to sell. Oh, I sized up Piddie for a two by four right at the get away; but I've been keepin' him jollied along just for the fun of it.
"J. Hemmingway Piddie" is the way he has it printed. Think of wastin' all them letters, when just plain Piddie is as good as seein' a strip of pingpong pictures of him! He's mostly up and down, Piddie is, like he'd been pulled out of a bundle of laths, and he's got one of these inquisitive noses that's sharp enough to file bills on.
Refined conversation is Piddie's strong hold. It bubbles out of him like steam out of the oatmeal kettle. Sounds that way, too. You know these mush eaters, with their, "Ah, I'm su-ah, quite su-ah, doncher know"? He's got that kind of lingo down to an art. I'll bet he could talk it in his sleep. I've heard 'em before; but I never looked to hold a sit. under one.
It's a privilege, though, bein' so close to Piddie. If I don't forget all the things he tells me, and follows 'em, I'll be made over new in a month more. He begins with my name. Torchy don't fit right with him. It might do for some places he didn't mention, but not for the home offices of the Corrugated Trust.
"Maybe you'd like Reginald better!" says I.
"But—er—aw—is that your baptismal name, my boy?" says he.
"Nix," says I. "I'm no Baptist. And, anyway, I couldn't give up my real name, cause I'm travelin' incog., and me noble relatives would be shocked if they knew I was really workin'. You can call me Torchy, or Reginald, whichever you think of first, and if you be careful to say it real nice maybe I'll come."
Every time I throws a jolt like that into J. Hemmingway, he looks kind of stunned and goes off to chew it over. But he gets even all right. Sometimes he'll take a whole forenoon to dig up somethin' he thinks is goin' to give me the double cross.
Most of his spare time, though, he puts in tellin' me about how I'm to behave when Mr. Robert comes back. For the first few days I had an idea Mr. Robert was the pulley that carried the big belt, and that when he stopped there was a general shut down. I got nervous watchin' for him. Then I rounds up the fact that he's Bob Ellins, who cuts more ice in the society columns than he does in the Wall Street notes.
Piddie has him down for a little tin god, all right, and that wa'n't such a fool move of Piddie's, either. Some day Hickory Ellins will have to quit and take the hot baths regular, and then Mr. Robert will get acquainted with an eight o'clock breakfast. See where Piddie comes in? He's takin' out insurance on his job. He needs it bad enough. If I ever get to think as much of a job as Piddie does of his, I'll have some one nail me to the office chair.
Rule No. 1 on my card was never to let anyone through the brass gate unless they belonged inside or had a special permit. Piddie wants to know if I've ever had any experience with that kind of work.
"Say, where do you think I've been!" says I. "Why, I did that trick for six months, shuntin' dopes away from the Sunday editor's door, and there was times when nothin' but a club would keep some of 'em out. Back to the bridge, Piddie! When I'm on the gate it's just as good as though you'd set the time lock."
Well, I'd been there over one payday and halfway to the next, when one mornin' about ten-thirty the door comes open with a bang, and in steps a husky young gent, swingin' one of these dinky, leather-covered canes, and lookin' like money from the mint. He didn't make any play to draw a card, same's they generally does; but steers straight for the brass gate, full tilt. I never says a word; but just as he reaches over to spring the catch and break in, I shoves my foot out and blocks it at the bottom, bringin' him up all standin'.
"Say, this ain't no ferryhouse," says I.
"Hello!" says he. "A new one, eh?"
"I ain't any Fourth-ave. antique," says I; "but I'm over seven. Was you wantin' to see anyone special?"
He seems to think that's a joke. "Why," says he, "I am Mr. Ellins."
"G'wan!" says I. "You ain't half of him."
That reaches his funnybone, too. "You're perfectly right, young man," says he; "but I happen to be his son. Now are you satisfied?"
"Nope," says I. "That bluff don't go either. If you was Mr. Robert I'd have been struck by lightnin' long 'fore this. You've got one more guess."
Just then I hears a gurgle, like some one's bein' choked with a chicken bone, and I squints around behind. There was Piddie, lookin' like the buildin' was fallin' down and tryin' to uncork some remarks.
"Ah, Piddie!" says the gent. "Perhaps you will introduce me to your new sentry and give me the password."
Well, Piddie did. He almost got on his hands and knees doin' it. And say, blamed if the duck wa'n't Mr. Robert, after all!
"Gee!" says I, "that was a bad break."
That didn't soothe Piddie, though. He used up the best part of an hour tryin' to tell me what an awful thing I'd gone and done.
"This ends you, young man!" he says. "You're as good as discharged this very moment."
"Is that all?" says I. "Why, by the way you've been takin' on I figured on nothin' less than sudden death. But if it's only bein' fired, don't you worry. I've had that happen to me so often that I get uneasy without it. If I should wear a stripe for every time the can's been tied to me, my sleeves would look like a couple of barber's poles. Cheer up, Piddie! Maybe they'll let you pick out somethin' that suits you better next time."
He couldn't get over it, though. Along about lunch time he comes out to me, as solemn as though he's servin' a warrant for homicide, and says that Mr. Robert will attend to my case now.
"Piddie," says I, givin' him the partin' grip, "you've been a true friend of mine. When you hear me hit the asphalt, send out for a chocolate ice cream soda and drown your sorrow."
Then I turns down a page in "Old Sleuth's Revenge" and goes to the slaughter.
Mr. Robert has just talked about three cylinders full of answers to the letters that's piled up while he's been gone, and as the girl goes out with the records he whirls around in the mahogany easy-chair and takes a good long look at me.
"If it comes as hard as all that," says I, "I'll write out my resignation."
"Mr. Piddie's been talking to you, I suppose?" says he.
"He's done everything but say mass over me," says I.
"Piddie is a good deal of an——" then he pulls up. "Where the deuce did he find you?"
"It wasn't him found me," says I; "it was a case of me findin' him; but if it hadn't been for your old man's buttin' in, that's all the good it would have done me."
"Ah!" says he. "That explains the mystery. By the way, son, what do they call you?"
"Guess," says I, and runs me fingers through it. "Just Torchy, and it suits me as well as Percival or Montgomery."
"Torchy is certainly descriptive," says he. "How long have you been doing office work?"
"Ever since I could lift a waste basket," says I.
"Are you ambitious?" says he.
"Sure!" says I. "I'm waitin' for some bank president to adopt me."
"You came in here expecting to be discharged, I presume?" says he.
"What, me?" says I. "Nah! I thought you was goin' to ask me over to the Caffy Martang for lunch."
For a minute or so after that he looks me straight in the eye, and I gives him the same. And say, for the kind, he ain't so worse. Course, I wouldn't swap him for Mr. Belmont Pepper, who's the only boss I ever had that I calls the real thing; but Mr. Robert would get a ratin' anywhere.
"Torchy," says he after a bit, "I'm inclined to think that you'll do. Have a chair."
"Don't I get the blue ticket, then?" says I.
"No," says he, "not until you do something worse than obey orders. Besides you're the cheekiest youth that has ever graced the offices of the Corrugated Trust, and once in awhile we have use for just such a quality. For instance, I am tempted to send you on a very important errand of my own. Wait a moment while I think it over."
"Time out!" says I.
Well say, I didn't know what was comin', he took so long makin' up his mind. But Mr. Robert ain't one of the kind to go off half cocked. He's got somethin' on his shoulders besides tailor's paddin', and when he sets the wheels to movin' you can gamble that he's gettin' somewhere. After awhile he slaps his knee and says:
"No, there isn't another person around the place who would know how to go about it. Torchy, I'm going to try you out!"
It wasn't anything like I'd ever been up against before. He hands me an express receipt and says he wants me to go over to Jersey City and get what that calls for without landin' in jail.
"You'll see a bundle done up in burlap somewhere around the express office," says he, "a big bundle. It looks like a side of veal; but it isn't. It's a deer, one that I shot four days ago up north. Torchy, did you know that it was illegal to shoot deer during certain months of the year?"
"You can be pinched for shootin' craps any time," says I.
"Really?" says he.
Then he goes on with his tale, givin' me all the partic'lars, so I wouldn't make any batty moves. And say, they can think up some queer stunts, hangin' around the club of an afternoon and lookin' out at Fifth-ave. through the small end of a glass. This was one of them real clubby dreams. It started by Mr. Robert countin' himself in on a debate that he didn't know the beginning of.
"When they asked me if I could do it, I said, 'Of course I can,'" says he, "and then I asked what it was."
The bunch had been gassin' about an old gun hangin' over the fireplace. It was one of these old-timers, like they tell about Daniel Boone's havin', in the Nickel Libr'ies, the kind you load with a stove poker. Flintlocks—that's it! They was wonderin' if there was anyone left that could take a relic like that out in the woods and hit anything besides the atmosphere. And the first thing Mr. Robert knows he has been joshed into bettin' a hatful of yellowbacks that he can take old Injun killer out and bring back enough deer meat to feed the crowd—and him knowin' no more about that sort of act than a one-legged man does about skatin'! They gives him two weeks to do it in.
That wa'n't the worst of it, though, accordin' to him. They passes the word around until everyone that knows him is on the broad grin. The joke is handed across billiard tables between shots, and is circulated around the boxes at the opera. It's the best ever; for Mr. Robert has never hunted anything livelier than a Welsh rabbit, after the show.
He's a boy that likes to make good, though. He never makes a brag; but he boxes up that old shootin' iron and drops out of sight. 'Way up in the woods somewhere he digs up an old b'gosh artist that was brought up with one of them guns in his hand, and he takes a private course. After he's used up a keg of powder shootin' at tin cans they start out to find where the deers roost. They find 'em, too. Mr. Robert is so rattled that he misses the one he aims at; but he bores a tunnel through another in the next lot.
Course, he thinks he's got a cinch then. He hustles to the nearest flag station and spends eight dollars sendin' telegrams to the bunch, invitin' 'em to a venison feed at the club. Then he has his game sewed up neat in meal bags and expressed to John Doe, Jersey City. See how cute he was? He'd heard about the game laws by that time; so he lays his plans to duck any trouble. But he hadn't counted on that gang tippin' off the Jersey game wardens, nor on their trailin' the baggage and express bundles with huntin' dogs.
"The dogs had smelled it out just as I came in to claim it," says he; "so all I could do was to keep my mouth closed, standing around and looking foolish until I got tired and came away. And that, Torchy, is the situation up to the present moment. My venison is under guard over in Jersey City, and if it isn't delivered at the club by six o'clock to-night I shall not only lose my bet, but have my life made miserable from cheap jokes for months to come. It occurred to me that if your wits were as bright as the hair that covers them, you might be able to help me out. What do you think?"
"Chee!" says I, scratchin' me bonfire, "I guess I'm down the coal chute. I've rescued locked-in typewriter girls from fire escapes, and lied the boss out of a family row; but I never tried my hand at kidnappin' enough meat for a dinner party. How about buyin' off the game sleuth?"
"He has been bought by the other side," says Mr. Robert. "He wouldn't dare to sell them out."
Well, I thunk some more thinks just as punky as that, and then we settles it that I'm to hike over and take a squint, anyway. I gets him to give me a line on what kind of a looker the warden was, and he throws me a couple of tens for campaign expenses. I was just stowin' away the green stuff as I goes through the outside office, and Piddie's eyebrows go up.
"They're goin' to let me finish out the week," says I. "Ain't they the gentle things?"
Then I skips out for the 23d-st. boat, leavin' Piddie with his mouth open, and Mr. Robert wrapped up with the idea that, some way or other, I'm goin' to talk that game cop into a dope dream and rescue the roast.
But, say, I didn't need to look twice at that snoozer to see that no line of hot air I had in stock would soften him up. He had an undershot jaw, a pair of eyes that saw both sides of the street at once, and a head like a choppin' block. He was sittin' right alongside of that burlap bundle, waitin' to spring his tin badge on some one.
"Do they send such things as that through without cratin'?" says I to a guy behind the chicken wire, jerkin' me thumb at Mr. Sleuth. "What's the label on him?"
"That's Mr. Hinkey Tolliver, special officer," says he. "Better look out or he'll break a hand grenade on that still alarm of yours."
"Ah, back to the blotter!" says I. "Who gave you any license to make funny cracks on my Mrs. Leslie Carter disguise?"
We swapped a few more like that, while I sizes up Hinkey, tryin' to map out a way to brace him. But it was a losin' proposition. He has one of them eyes nailed to what I wanted to take away and the other trained on the door, and you could tell by the way he held his jaw that nothin' short of an earthquake would jar him loose.
It was too much for me. If it hadn't been that Mr. Robert had put it up to me so flat, I'd have quit then. But I couldn't lay down with just a look; so I takes a turn around into the passenger waitin' room, battin' my head for a new line.
I guess it was kind of second sight that steers me over into the corner where there is an A. D. T. branch. I wa'n't lookin' for anyone I knew, seein' it's been so long since I wore the cap; but who should I pipe off, sittin' on the call bench, but Hunch Leary! And, say, between the time I'd give him the nod to come out, and his askin' how it was I'd shook the red stripe, I'd framed up the whole scheme. First I goes over to the girl under the blue bell and rings up Mr. Robert.
"Hello," says I, "this is Torchy."
"Good!" says he. "Have you got it?"
"Got nothin'!" says I. "You must think I'm a writ of habeas corpus. I want to know who was the gent that most likely tipped off your warden friend."
When I'd got that I asks the time of the next uptown boat, and makes a deal with one of them ferry hawks to back his chariot up near the express office door and be ready to make a swift move for the gangplank.
Then me and Hunchy fakes up this little billy ducks to Mr. Hinkey Tolliver, tellin' him to chase to the nearest 'phone and call up the gent that Mr. Robert had put me wise to.
It was worse'n playin' a three-ball combination for the side pocket, and I holds my breath while Hunch pokes his book at him and waits to see if there's any answer. Tolliver, he reads it over two or three times, first with one eye and then the other. One minute I thought he was goin', and the next he settles back like he'd made up his mind to balk. He squints at the burlap package, and then at the message, and all of a sudden he makes a break for the 'phone.
He hadn't begun movin' before I was up to the window with my receipt, callin' for 'em to get a hustle on, as Mr. Doe had run out of veal and had to have it in a hurry. Ever try to poke up one of them box jugglers? They took their time about it—and me lookin' for trouble every tick of the clock! But I got an O. K. on it after awhile, and for a quarter I hired a wagon helper to drag the bundle out and chuck it into the hansom. Then I climbs in and we made the boat just as the bell rang. She was pullin' out of the slip when Tolliver rushes out about as calm as a bulldog chasin' a tramp.
"Say," says the driver, climbin' down to take a look at the baggage, "who you got sewed in the sack!"
"Get on your perch!" says I. "Ain't you makin' extra money on this? And when you fetch up at the club, do it like you was used to stoppin' at such places."
It was a great ride that me and the deer meat had across town and up Fifth-ave. I'd stopped once to put Mr. Robert next; so he was waitin' for me out in front of the club, wearin' a grin that was better'n a breakfast food ad.
But that wa'n't anything to the look on Piddie when Mr. Robert shows up next mornin' and pats me on the back like I was one of his old Hasty Puddin' chums.
"Piddie," says I, "look what it is to be born handsome and lucky, all in one throw!"
MEETING UP WITH THE GREAT SKID
Next time you nabs me writin' a form sheet on any unknown, you can hang out the waste paper sign and send me to the scows. Look at the mess I makes of this here Mallory business! Why, first off I has him billed for a Percy boy that had strayed into the general office from the drygoods district. He had a filin' job in the bond room, and when he drew his envelope on Saturdays it must have set the Corrugated Trust back for as much as twelve D.
Course, I didn't pay no attention to him, until one noon I finds him in the next chair at the dairy lunch. He's got his mug of half white and half black, and his two corned beef splits, with plenty of mustard, and he's just squarin' off for a foodfest, when I squats down with two hunks of pie and all the cheese I could get at one grab.
"Hello, Algy!" says I. "Where's the charlotte russe and the cup of tea?"
"Beg pardon," says he; "were you speaking to me?"
"Sure," says I. "You didn't think I was makin' that crack at the armchair, did you? Maybe we ain't been introduced; but we're on the same payroll."
"Oh, yes," says he, "I remember now. You're the—the——"
"Go on, say it," says I. "I don't mind if it is red, and I lets anybody call me Torchy that wants to, even Willies."
"Well, now, that's nice of you," says he, sidetrackin' a bite to look me over. Then he grins.
Say, it was that open face movement that made me suspicious maybe he wa'n't one of the Algernon kind, after all. But he had most of the points, from the puff tie to the way he spoke. It wa'n't the hot potato dialect Piddie uses; but it leaned that way. If he'd been a real Willie boy, though, he'd gone up in the air, and maybe I'd got slapped on the wrist. His springin' that grin was a hunch for me to hold the decision.
"How long you been keepin' Corrugated stocks from goin' below par?" says I.
That stuns him for a minute, and then a light breaks. He throws another grin. "Oh, about a year," he says.
"Chee!" says I. "And they ain't put you on the board of directors yet?"
"I've managed to keep off so far," says he.
"Get a lift every quarter, though, I suppose?" says I.
"I'm getting the same salary I began with, if that's what you mean," says he, tacklin' another sandwich that had got past the meat inspectors.
"Yours must be fatter'n most of the Saturday prize packages they hand out in the general office, or you wouldn't have kept satisfied so long," says I.
He thinks that over for awhile, like it was a new proposition, and then he says, quiet and easy, "I'm not at all sure, you see, that I am satisfied."
"Why not chuck it then and make another grab?" says I. "It's good luck sometimes to shake the bag."
He swings his shoulders up at that,—and say, he's got a good pair, all right!—but he don't say a word.
"Ain't married the job, have you?" says I. "Or have you lost your nerve?"
"Perhaps it's a lack of nerve, as you suggest," says he, more as if he was talkin' to himself than anything else.
"Don't think you could connect with another, eh?" says I.
He shakes his head. "I'm not exactly proud of the fact," says he; "but I don't mind telling you in confidence that it required the combined efforts of my entire family and all my friends to get me into this job."
"Honest?" says I. "Chee! They picked a pippin for you, didn't they?"
"It's a star," says he.
"So's a swift kick from the bottom of a well," says I.
With that I shakes off the pie crumbs and takes a chase up around the Flatiron, to watch the kids collectin' cigar coupons and take a look at the folks from the goshfry-mighty belt shiverin' in the rubberneck buggies. Say, I never feel quite so much to home in this burg as when I watch them jays from the one-night stands payin' their coin to see things that I shut my eyes on every day.
When I gets back on the gate I tries to figure out this Mallory gent; but I can't place him. He's no Willie, and he's no dope, I can see that. With his age and general get-up, though, he ought to be pullin' out fifty or so a week. What's he been at all this time?
I was just curious enough to stroll over and take a look at him. He has his coat off, pluggin' away on the job and doin' the kind of work that I could learn to play with any time I had a day off. Not that I'm lookin' for it. Bein' head office boy suits me down to the ground. That's bein' somethin', even if they do pay you off with a five and a one. But if you're a live one you'll get tipped as much more. And you don't have cold chills up the spine every time the boss lugs down an after breakfast grouch.
Course, a duck like Mallory can't get in any such game; so he's got to dig away at the filin' case and wear his last summer's suit until Christmas. Diggin' and keepin' quiet seemed to be his only play. Just as though he'd ever win any medals by the way he stacked papers away in little pasteboard boxes!
He wins somethin' else, though. One day the general manager rushes into Mallory's corner after somethin' he wanted in a hurry, and by the time he'd found it he'd pied things from one end of the coop to the other. Mallory was just tryin' to straighten out the mess, when along comes Piddie, with that pointed nose of his in front. Piddie don't ask any questions; he throws a fit. Why, he had Mallory on the carpet for forty minutes by the clock, givin' him the grand roast, and the only time Mallory opens up to tell him how it was he shuts him off with a, "That is sufficient, Mr. Mallory! I am here to get results, not excuses. Is that quite clear?"
"Yes, sir," says Mallory.
Say, but he did it well! He looks that peanut headed snipe straight in the eye all the time after that and takes what's comin' to him without turnin' a hair. It was "Yes, Mr. Piddie," and "No, Mr. Piddie"; but nothin' else. And the cooler and politer he was, the wilder Piddie got. When I hears him tell Mallory that another such break will cost him his job, I was achin' to throw the letterpress at him and break him in two. I couldn't hardly wait for Mallory to shut the door before I let loose.
"Say, Piddie," says I, "if you don't think you'll sleep easy to-night unless you give some one the bounce, why not fire me? Go on, now; I'll make out a case for you. Tell 'em I said you howled around like a pup with a sore ear."
Piddie turns white and gives me the glassy eye—that's all. I couldn't tease a fire out of him with a box of matches.
But that didn't make up for the way he'd roughed Mallory. I was still sore over it at closin' time; so I lays for Mallory and asks him why he didn't risk the job and take a crack at Piddie's jaw.
He just laughs. "Oh," says he, "I couldn't pay him that compliment."
Was that a joke, yes? Blamed if I could tell. Anyway, it wa'n't sense. And there's where I had the front to put it straight up to Mallory about his bein' stranded in a place where he had to take such pin jabbin' as that.
"Say," says I, "is it hard luck, or a late start, or what?"
"I fancy a late start would cover it," says he.
"Not college?" says I.
"That's it," says he.
"Aw, fudge!" says I. "Honest, I didn't take you for one of them rah-rah boys. Well, if it's that ails you, you're up against it. I don't wonder you had to be jammed into a job with a flyin' wedge. Chee!"
I was sorry for him, though. Maybe it was somethin' he couldn't duck. Some of 'em I've known of couldn't. Oh, I've seen bunches of 'em, just turned out. Didn't we have more'n a dozen unloaded on us when me and Mr. Marshall was gettin' out the Sunday edition? And we didn't do a thing to 'em, either!
But it's a tough deal, after puttin' in all that time dodgin' the fool killer at some one else's expense, to be chucked into the grub game with nothin' but a lot of siss-boom yells for experience. I wouldn't have believed Mallory was that sort. Nice young feller, too. Never slung any of his Greek at me, nor flashed his college pins. Seemed to kind of like chinnin' to me at lunch; so I let him. You know how you'll get to gassin' and tellin' each other the story of your life. I lets out about Belmont Pepper and the minin' stocks he gave me, and Mallory drops hints about mother and sister, that was livin' off in Washington or somewhere with a brother that was in better luck. Mallory, he was doin' the hall bedroom act, livin' on that twelve per and keepin' out of sight of everyone he'd ever known until he'd made good. Guess he found it kind of a lonesome deal.
Once when I was extra flush I offers to blow him to a fam'ly circle seat at "The Bandit Queen"; but he says he thinks he'd better not go.
"Plannin' to have a spin in your new car?" says I.
"Hardly," says he.
"Well, how do you put in your off time, anyway?" says I.
And say, whatcher think? His programme is to light up the gas stove reg'lar after dinner and fill his head full of truck out of the trade monthlies and Wall Street columns, postin' himself on Corrugated business.
"Gettin' ready to give the old man a few private tips?" says I.
"Not until he asks for them," says he.
"Then you've got lots of time," says I. "But it's a punk way of enjoyin' yourself."
Maybe it was thinkin' about what a dead slow time he was havin' that gives me the cue to stir up that lovely mess, or perhaps it was because the thing was sprung on me so unexpected. It come one day when I was busy drawin' pictures of Piddie on the blotter. I hears a giggle, and squints up to see a pair that looked as if they'd just broke away from an afternoon tea. He was a husky youth in a frock coat, with a face like a full moon and a voice that didn't call for any megaphone. The other was a her, and she was a bundle of tuttifrutti, the kind you see floatin' by in sixty horsepowers, all veils and furs and eyes.
"Hello, sonny," says he, swingin' up to the brass gate, wearin' a four-inch grin. "Where's the Great Skid?"
"Give it up," says I. "Have you tried the Zoo?"
"He-haw!" says he, with the stops all out and a forced draft on. "That's a good one, that is! But we haven't much time and we're looking for Skid. Where do you keep him?"
"Say," says I, "we've got a lot of freaks on tap; but we're just out of Skids. Anything else do?"
Then she comes to the front. "Don't be such a silly, Dicky!" says she. "It isn't likely they call him that here. Tell the young man it's Bert Mallory we wish to see."
"You're right, Sis, right as usual," says Dick. "It's Mallory we're looking for."
"Oh!" says I. "Mister Mallory?"
"There now, Dicky!" says she, pokin' him with her elbow and touchin' off another giggle. "Didn't I tell you?"
"He-haw!" says Dicky. "Mister Mallory, of course."
But I didn't feel he-hawy a bit; for it was up to me to tow Mallory's swell college chum and his sister in where the boy was jugglin' the file cases. And them lookin' for him to be sittin' in a swing chair with his name painted big on the door! That was when I dug up my fool thought.
"Cards!" says I. "I'll see if Mr. Mallory's got through consultin' with the general manager."
"Oh!" gurgles Sis. "Doesn't that sound business like, though? I suppose Skid—er—Mr. Mallory is quite a busy man, isn't he?"
"Busy," says I. "Say, you don't think he has all of us around here to play marbles, do you, miss?"
Sis, she gets mighty int'rested at that. "He's a very important man now, isn't he?" says she.
"Chee, yes!" says I. "He's I-double-it around here."
"Isn't that fine?" says Sis. "But I hope he can see us."
"Oh, I'll fix that all right," says I.
With that I slides through two doors and into Mr. Robert's room. He's still out to lunch, of course, it bein' only about two o'clock; so I unlocks the corridor door that he don't use and skips across into the general offices.
"Say," says I to Mallory, "you're wanted in the boss's office. No, not the old man's; Mr. Robert's. Skin into your coat and come along."
Never fazes him a bit. He just hunches his shoulders, knocks the dust off his hands, and trots after. When I gets him in there I tells him to wait a minute, and then I goes out through the right way and lugs in Dicky and sister.
Was it a surprise party? Well, say! Dicky lets out a roar, makes a plunge for him, hammers him on the back, works the pump handle, and talks a blue streak.
"Well, Skiddy, old man, here we are!" says he. "Thought you'd given us the shake for good, eh? But we heard you'd gone in with the Corrugated,—saw Blicky in Venice and he told us,—so when we came ashore we wired father to hold the car over one train for us while we hunted you up. Sis wouldn't let me come unless she could too. Here, Sis, it's your turn. Blaze ahead now and give the boy what you said you would. I'll turn my back."
I didn't, though. Was there any hangin' off about Sis? Not so you'd notice it. She just steps up and makes a grab for Mallory and——Aw, say! One like that must be good for chapped lips. If I'm ever handed one of them kind I won't wash it off for a month. It tickles Dicky most to death.
"He-haw!" says he, so's the window panes rattle. "She said she'd do it. And she did, didn't she, eh, Skid?"
Mallory couldn't prove an alibi. He was the worst rattled man I ever see, and as for blushin'—he got up a color like the lady heroine in a biff-bang drama. He acted as though he didn't know whether he was loopin' the loops or having a dream that was too good to be true. Once or twice he tried to unloosen some remarks; but Sis and Dicky was both talkin' to once and he never got a show. They was tellin' him how glad they was to see him again, and what a great man he was, and how Sis was comin' back to town next month for the rest of the season, and all that—when right in the middle of it the door opens and in comes Mr. Robert.
Say, I felt like a noon extra in a bunch of six o'clock editions. I'd balled things up lovely, I had! Why, the only times a general office hand ever gets a chance to stand on the Persian rug in the boss's office is just before he gets the run or is boosted into a five-figure salary. And here I has a twelve-dollar man usin' it like a public reception hall! It was what was goin' to happen to Mallory that gave me the shivers.
"Torchy," says Mr. Robert, "what's all this?"
"S-s-sh!" says I. "It's Old Home Day, and the lady is handin' out choc'late creams. Wait up; maybe it'll be your turn next."
"But, see here, I don't understand," says he. "Who are these persons, and why——"
"Ah, say!" says I. "Ain't you got any sportin' blood? Besides, I don't know the answer myself."
I could of kept that up just about one more round before I'd fell through a crack; but just as Mr. Robert was framin' up another conundrum Dicky turns around and spots him.
"Why, hello, Bob!" yells Dicky, as gentle as if he was hailin' someone across Broadway. "By Jove, though, I forgot all about you being in the Corrugated too! But of course you are. Sis and I just ran in a minute to look up Skid. Good old Skid! Great boy, eh, Bob?"
Mr. Robert takes a look over by the window at Mallory, who wasn't seein' a thing but Sis and wasn't hearin' anything but what she was sayin'—and she was sayin' a lot.
"Is—is that Skid?" says Mr. Robert.
"Oh, come along now, Bob," says Dicky, pokin' him in the vest playful. "You don't mean to say you don't know Skid Mallory, the Great Skid, best quarterback we ever turned out, the one that went through Harvard for forty-five yards, and that with a broken ankle? Don't know Skid? Why, say!"
"I take it all back," says Mr. Robert. "Of course I know him; but not so well as you do, Dicky. I wasn't one of the coaches, you know, and I haven't kept the run of the team for the last year or two. But I'm glad to see the Great Skid. How the deuce does he happen to be up here, though?"
"He-haw!" says Dicky. "That's rich, that is? Shows how much you know of Corrugated affairs, Bob. Why, man alive, Skid's one of the chaps that's runnin' your old gent's trust. This is his office you're in now."
"Really!" says Mr. Robert. He takes another look at Mallory, who's deaf and dumb and blind to everything but Sis, and then he turns for a good hard look at me.
I grins kind of foolish and nods. Then I jumps behind Dicky and begins to wigwag over his shoulder for Mr. Robert to keep it up. I didn't know whether he would or not. I wa'n't sure but what he'd think I'd turned batty, by the motions I was goin' through; but he's a sport, Mr. Robert is. He didn't know what was on the card; but he takes a chance.
So Dicky waltzes him over to the pair by the window, and makes Mr. Robert and Mallory acquainted, and jollies 'em both, and all three of 'em talk football to Mallory, who blushes worse than ever and don't know which way to turn. They keep that up until Dicky pulls out his watch, grabs Sis by the arm, and hollers that they've got to make a break for the Washington Limited. Sis is shakin' good-by with both of 'em at once, when she thinks of somethin' funny.
"Oh, Mr. Robert!" says she. "I want to know which of you is who here, don't you know. Is it you that works for Skid, or Skid that works for you?"
"Chee!" thinks I. "That upsets the soup kettle."
Mr. Robert looks at Mallory, and Mallory looks at him. There was no breakin' away; for she has hold of a hand apiece. Both of 'em makes a start; but Mr. Robert gets the floor. "Why," says he, "I guess we're both working for the Corrugated, only one of us works a little harder than the other."
"Ah!" says Sis, givin' Mallory a smile that was worth payin' money to see. "I thought so."
The next minute they makes a dash for an elevator goin' down, and that part of it was over. We'd worked the bluff all the way through, and Sis has lugged off the idea that Mallory was at the top of the bunch.
But there was Mr. Robert, waitin' to talk Dutch to us.
Mallory he starts in to say that he's sorry for seemin' so cheeky; but that's about all he can say.
"Ah, cheese it!" says I, buttin' in. "What do you know about it? It was me put up the game, and if Mr. Robert had loafed another half an hour at the club like he usually does, there wouldn't have been any mix up. Say, you leave this to me."
Mallory didn't want to leave it like that; but Mr. Robert was holdin' the door open for him, so he couldn't do anything else. When we had it all to ourselves, the boss ranges me up in front of him for the court of inquiry session.
"Well?" says he, real solemn.
I takes all that in and gives him the wink. "Say," says I, "didn't I have my nerve with me, though?"
He kind of blinks at that; but it don't fetch him.
"Who's Dicky, your whisperin' friend?" says I.
"Nobody much," says he. "His father's a Senator."
"Well, say, now," says I, "you didn't want me to chase a Senator's son and a real swell girl like Sis off into a place like the general office reception room, did you! And wouldn't it have been a nice break if I'd let out that we was smotherin' the Great Skid under a twelve-dollar job?"
"Was that why you had the impudence to appropriate my office?" says he.
"That was part of it," says I.
And that gives me an openin' to tell him the whole tale about Mallory, from the hall bedroom act to the way he'd been postin' himself.
"You think he's a valuable man, do you?" says Mr. Robert.
"Valuable!" says I. "Why, he's all the goods. What if he did learn to talk Greek once? He's forgettin' it, ain't he? And look at the way he stands up to trouble! Don't that show there's good stuff in him?"
"Well," says he, "what would you suggest?"
"Ah, say!" says I. "Couldn't you give a guess? Why, if I was you I'd fix it so that when Sis comes back to town she wouldn't find him on no kid's job. I'd give him a show to get his name painted on a door somewhere."
"Torchy," says he, punchin' the button for his secretary, "I shouldn't wonder if we did."
FROSTING THE PROFESS
Chee! but I'm gettin' to be useful! Course, I don't figure out no awful slump in Corrugated stocks if I should get pettish some day and tell 'em they'd got to find a new office boy. That ain't the kind of shredded thought I'm feedin' on. I fit into a lot of places besides the chair behind the brass gate. Why, I have to put on a sub. three or four times a week, while I'm spreadin' myself out all over the lot.
It all come of their makin' me special messenger to the boss; for since old Mr. Ellins has been laid up with toothache in his knee joints they've been chasin' me up to the Fift'-ave. ranch, with mail, and blank bonds to be signed, and such truck. And that's how I came to get so thick with Marjorie.
I was waitin' in the front hall, pipin' off the gorgerifousness, when some one pushes in through the draperies L. U. E. and I'm discovered. And, say, she was a magnum, all right! You know the sort of pippins they pick out to hang up by a string in the fruit store window? Well, that was her style. Big? She'd fit close in a Morris chair! And she didn't look more'n eighteen or nineteen, either. For all her width, she was built on good lines, and if she'd been divided up right there'd been enough for a pair of as good lookers as you'd want to see.
"O-o-o-o!" says she as she comes in. "See who's here!"
I never says a word, but just twists my toes around the chair legs and looks into my hat. Not that I'm any afraid of girls; but I wa'n't feelin' so much to home there as I do in some places, and I didn't want to make any break. But she wouldn't let it go at that.
"O-o-o-o!" says she again, and as I squints up at her I sees the reg-lar cut-up looks just bubblin' out.
"G'wan!" says I. "I ain't no curiosity."
"Oh, it is Torchy then, isn't it?" says she.
"You don't think this is a wig I'm wearin', do you?" says I. That's what I got to expect with hair like mine. The minute my description's given out everybody's on.
She giggles and says that Brother Robert's been telling her about me. "I'm Marjorie, you know," says she.
"Well," says I, lookin' her over careful, "you'll do."
I meant it. Mr. Robert's only fair sized; but old man Ellins is a whale, and I was thinkin' of him when I said that Marjorie was up to specifications. She seems to think I've handed out a lump of butterscotch, though, and we gets real chatty.
I don't know what kind of fairy yarns Mr. Robert's been tearin' off at home about me; but from the start she treats me like I was one of the fam'ly. And Marjorie was just as nice as she was heavy. She didn't try to carry any dog; but just blazes ahead and spiels out the talk. I get next to the fact that she's just home from one of them swell boardin' schools, where they pump French and music into young lady plutesses at a dollar a minute, and throw in lessons on how to say "Home, Francois!" to the chaffeur. This was some kind of a vacation Marjorie was havin', and she was doin' her best to make every hour count.
Knowin' all that helped me to keep from bein' so much jarred by her next move. It was a couple of days after, on a Wednesday, and we'd got real well acquainted, when Marjorie spots me as I was headin' back for the office after leavin' some things for the boss.
"Torchy," says she, "where's Robert? What was he doing when you left?"
"Give it up," says I. "And, anyway, I ain't supposed to know."
"I'll bet you do, though," says she. "Couldn't you guess?"
"If I did," says I, "I'd guess that he'd just made a run of ten or twelve and was pushin' up the buttons on the string."
"I don't know what that means," says she.
"Well," says I, "it means that maybe he's playin' billiards at the club."
"Oh, darn!" says she, real wicked.
It turns out that Brother Robert has said he'd take sister to the matinee that afternoon, and the date has got clean by him. She wants to go the worst way, too. Mother wasn't handy, Aunty May had the icebag on her head, and there wasn't anyone else within reach. Accordin' to the rules, there'd got to be some one.
"Torchy," says she, "I don't see why you couldn't take me, as well as anyone else."
"Thanks," says I, "but I don't want to earn my release that way. I've got 'em trained down to the office so they'll stand for a lot; but me ringin' in a matinee durin' business hours would sure break the spell."
"Oh, pshaw!" says she. "I can fix that part of it," and off she goes, up to see puppah.
If she'd come back and said the old man was havin' a fit on the floor, I wouldn't have been any surprised. But, say, Marjorie must have a pull accordin' to her weight; for inside of four minutes she comes skippin' down the front stairs, makin' the gas globes rattle and jigglin' the pictures on the wall.
"It's all right," says she. "Father says you're to telephone Mr. Piddie that you won't be back, and then you're to see that I get to the theater and home again without being kidnapped. I'll be ready in ten minutes."
It was a shame, though, that I missed seein' Piddie when he got the word. All I could hear was a gasp, like he'd been butted just above the belt, and then he hung up the receiver. I expect I'll send him to the nerve repair shop some day.
But you should have seen me and Marjorie sittin' on the broadcloth cushions and bein' carted down to the theater. I swelled up all I could; but at that I wa'n't much more'n a dot on the landscape. There's times when I feel real chesty and can hear my feet make a noise when I walk; but this wa'n't one of 'em. And when it came to paradin' down the middle row after the usher, with Marjorie puffin' behind, I felt like one of them dinky little river tugs towin' a floatin' grain elevator. I was lookin' for the house to let loose a "Ha-ha!" It didn't, though. They expect most anything to drift into them afternoon shows.
"Say, Miss Ellins," says I, after she'd squeezed herself into her place, pinned her feather lid up in front of her, and opened the choc'late creams, "I've been in such a dream I didn't look at the outside boards or get a programme. What's doin'—variety or a tumpy-tump show?"
"Why," says she, "this is Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet.'"
"Z-z-z-zing!" says I. "Stung again! Who unloaded the tickets on you?"
What d'ye think, though? She'd picked this show out all by herself, put up real money for it—and that with two Injun drammers runnin' right on Broadway! Said she'd seen the same thing half a dozen times before, too. Aw, say! I couldn't get next to any such batty move as that. And when I thought how this was my first plunge into a two-dollar chair, it made me sore.
"Wake me up when it's all over," says I, and settles back for a real rest.
There's where I hung out the wrong number. That wa'n't any dope drammer at all. Course, Shakespeare don't know how to ring in burnin' flat houses, or mill explosions, or any real thrillers like that; but there's somethin' doin' in his pieces. There was in this one, anyway. It was quite some time before I got any glimmer of what it was all about; but before the first act was over I was sittin' up, all right.
"What do you think of her?" says Marjorie.
"The one with the Maxine Elliott eyes and the gushy voice?" says I. "Oh, I don't call her such a much; but if Romeo wants her as bad as he says he does, I hope it won't be a case of 'My pa won't let me.' But, say, what for did they kill off the only real live one they had, that Mr. Cuteo? Say, he was all to the good, and it was a shame to have him punctured so quick!"
The parts I liked, though, wa'n't the ones that Marjorie got herself worked up over. It was the balcony scene she'd come for. When they got to that she grips the seat in front and glues her eyes on them two that was swappin' the long, lingerin' breakaway tackles, and every once in awhile she heaves up a sigh like cuttin' out an airbrake.
After it was all over, and most everybody that counted had swallowed knockout drops, Marjorie gives me a sidelight on what's been runnin' through her head.
"I could do that," says she. "I just know I could!"
"Do what?" says I.
"Why, Juliet's part. I've been studying it for months, ever since our class gave it at school. They wouldn't give me a part then; but just you wait! I'll show them!"
"You're joshin'," says I.
Honest, I didn't think she meant it. She didn't say any more about it, and all the way home she was as quiet as a bale of hay.
That was the last I see of Marjorie for near a week. Then, one afternoon as I was goin' through Tinpan Alley on an errand, I sees the Ellins carriage pull up, and out she comes.
Now, say, I knew in a minute that wa'n't any place for Marjorie. The buildin' she goes into is one of them old five-story brownstones, where they sell wigs in the basement, costumes on the first floor, have a theatrical agency on the second, and give voice culture and such stuff above. Among the other signs was one that read, "School of Dramatic Art, Room 9, Fifth Floor."
"Chee!" says I. "You don't suppose Marjorie's got it that bad, do you?"
First off I thinks I'll chase along and forget I'd seen anything at all. Then I thinks of what Mr. Robert would say if he knew, and I stops. Sure, I hadn't been called to play any Buttinsky part; but somehow I didn't feel right about stayin' out, so the first thing I knows I'm trailin' up the stairs. There wa'n't any need to do the sleuth act after Marjorie got started. Anyone on the floor could have heard it; for she was spoutin' the Juliet lines like a carriage caller, and whenever she made a rush to the footlights the floor beams creaked. It was enough to drag a laugh out of a hearse driver. And guess what the guy was tellin' her!
"Great!" says he. "You're almost as good as Mary Anderson was at her best, and as for Marlowe, she can't touch you. Excellent, that last speech! What fire, what expression, what talent! Why, young woman, all you need is a Broadway production to sweep 'em off their feet! I'll arrange it for you. It means money, of course; but after the first cost—fame, nothing but fame!"
Now, how was that for a hot-air blast? Wouldn't that make a short ice crop if you let it loose up the Hudson?
But it wa'n't what he said, so much as how he was sayin' it, that got me int'rested. There's some voices you don't have to hear but once to remember a lifetime, an this was one of that kind. It was one of these husky baritones, like what does the coonsongs for the punky records they put into the music boxes at the penny arcades. That was as near as I could map it for a minute or so while I was tryin' to throw up the picture of the man behind the voice. And, then it hits me—Professor Booth McCallum!
Oh, skincho, what a front! Why, when I was on the Sunday editor's door the professor used to show up reg'lar with some new scheme for winnin' space. Talk about your self-acting press agents! He had the bunch shoved to the curb. All he had to bank on was a ten-minute turn at a 14th-st. continuous house, fillin' in between the trained pig and the strong lady; but he wanted as much type set about himself as if he'd been Dave Warfield.
When he couldn't get next to anybody else, he used to give me the earache tellin' of the times when he played stock in one of Daly's road comp'nies, and how he had to quit because John Drew was jealous of him. Then he'd leave his stuff with me and I'd promise to sneak it into the dramatic notes the first time I found the forms unlocked.
And to think of a hamfatter like McCallum, who's come back from Buffalo on a brake beam so often that he always sleeps with one arm crooked around the bedpost, havin' the nerve to call himself a school of dramatic art! Course, I didn't think Marjorie was so easy as to fall for a fake like that. She must be stringin' him.
But the minute I see her come out I knew she'd swallowed the hook. I'd dropped back into the far end of the hall, where it was dark; but as she walks under the skylight I sees the pleased look on her face, like she was havin' a view of her lithographs on all the gold frames in the subway. I waits until McCallum shuts himself in to throw bouquets at his picture in the glass, and then I slips down just in time to catch Marjorie as she's climbin' into the carriage.
"Is this the lady that's entered for the heavyweight Juliet championship?" says I, tryin' to break the news to her gentle.
It shook her up a good deal, just the same. Her face gets the color of an auction flag, and she jounces down on the seat in a way that makes the springs flat out like bed slats.
"Why, Torchy!" says she. "Where did you come from, and what do you mean?"
"Oh, I've taken out a butt-in license," says I. "I'm on, Miss Ellins. I wa'n't invited to the rehearsal; but I was there."
"Listening outside?" says she.
"Uh-huh," says I.
"Oh, Torchy!" says she. "Did you hear how lovely the professor talked of the way I did it?"
"About your havin' Julia Marlowe sewed in a sack? Sure thing," says I.
"But you mustn't tell anyone," says she.
"I wouldn't want the job," says I. "I can draw a diagram of the riot there'll be when mommer and popper get the bulletin."
"I don't care," says Marjorie. "They never want me to do anything. It's always, 'Oh, Marjorie, you're too big.' In summer I can't go bathing because they say I'm a sight in a bathing suit, and in winter they won't let me skate because they're afraid I'll break through. The boys won't dance with me, and the girls shut me out of basketball. But Professor McCallum has been perfectly dear. He said right away that I wasn't a bit too stout to be an actress. I'm not, either! Why, I weigh less than two hundred, with my jacket off; honest, I do! He liked my voice, too. And this was only my third lesson. Anyway, I'd just love to play Juliet, and I mean to do it!"
Well, say, that was a proposition to give you a headache. I couldn't go runnin' to Mr. Robert or the boss with any tales about Miss Marjorie. That ain't what I'm on the payroll for. But I couldn't let McCallum play a friend of mine for a good thing; so I just opens up on him.
"Why," says I, "he's a never was. Maybe he used to carry a spear, or play double-up parts on the haymow circuit; but that's about all. He's a common, everyday, free lunch frisker, Mac is. I used to know all about him when I was in the newspaper business; so this is a straight steer. He's just tollin' you along because he's had a dream that if he gets you real stuck on yourself you'll come across with two or three thousand for expenses and will be too tender-hearted to squeal afterwards. That's his game, and all you've got to do to queer it is to send him ten and say the folks object."
That's about the way I put it, drawin' it as strong as I knew how. Does Marjorie see the point and heave up any thanks about my bein' her true friend? Not her! She calls me impid'nt and says she's got a good mind to box my ears right there. So it was up to me to calm her down.
"All right, Miss Marjorie," says I. "If I've said anything I can't prove, I'll take it back; but if you'll follow me upstairs again for a minute, and wait outside in the hall, I'll have a little talk with the professor that'll settle it one way or the other."
No, she wouldn't do it, and she didn't want me ever to speak to her again. I was too fresh, I was!
"Then I guess I'll have to send Mr. Robert up to engage seats for that Juliet stab of yours," says I, makin' a play to move off.
It was a bluff; but it fetched her. She was willin' to do 'most anything if I wouldn't tell Brother Robert; so back we goes up to the acting school on the top floor. I left her leanin' up against the wall, right near the open transom, and makes a break for McCallum.
He was right there, too. He's one of these short-legged, ham-faced gents that's almost as tall when he's sittin' down as when he's standin' up. A neck that takes a No. 18 turn-down collar goes with that. He has his hands in his pockets, an Egyptian joss-stick in his mouth, and he's straddlin' up and down, as satisfied with himself as if he'd just cashed a ticket on the right horse.
"Hello, profess!" says I. "I spots your name on the sign; so I takes the foot elevator up to see how you're comin' on."
"Quite right, son," says he, "quite right."
He didn't need any whizz plane then to beat the Curtiss record. He was soarin', soarin,' and too busy with it to take much notice of me.
"You ain't been round to the office lately," says I, lettin' on I was still with the paper.
"No, son," says he; "but you can inform your dramatic man down there that if he wants an important piece of news he'd better come and see me," and with that he taps his chest like he was stunnin' the gallery.
"Thought you looked like happy days, professor," says I. "What's it like? You ain't been takin' on any swell pupils, have you?"
"Haven't I, though?" says he, stickin' his thumbs in his vest pockets and comin' up on his toes as if he was goin' to crow. "Haven't I?"
"Say, Mac," says I confidential, "that wasn't her I saw drivin' off in the private buggy as I come in, was it—the wide one?"
"That was her," says he, "the new Juliet."
"Juliet!" says I. "Aw, you're kiddin'! Honest, professor, do Juliets come as heavy as that?"
Then he winks. I could see he was just bustin' to let it out to some one, and here was his chance. "Son," says he, "when young ladies have the price to pay for such luxuries as the cultivation of a dramatic talent that doesn't exist, size doesn't count. I've coached a Hamlet with lop ears and a pug nose, a Lady of Lyons that had a face you could chop wood with, and I guess I'm not going to draw the line at a Juliet whose father is president of a trust, even if she is something of a baby elephant!"
I heard the wall crack at that, and I suspected Marjorie'd got a shock.
"Can she act any?" says I.
"Act!" says he. "It's enough to make the angels weep to see her try. Imagine, my boy, a one hundred and thirty-pound Romeo trying to hug his way around a two hundred and fifty-pound Juliet! Why, we'd have to prop up the balcony with a structural iron pillar and——"
It was too bad to have the flow stopped, for he was enjoyin' himself; but just then the door was jerked open and in rushes Marjorie, her eyes blazin', her face white, and so mad she couldn't speak. As she looms up in the door, lookin' bigger'n ever, she was diggin' somethin' out of her handbag, somethin' shiny. It wa'n't anything but a silver purse; but the professor must have thought it was somethin' else, for he gives only one look. Then he throws up both hands, hollers "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" and makes a dive under a desk in the corner. The hole under that desk wa'n't built for divin' through; so McCallum wedges himself in there like a cork in a bottle, wavin' his legs in the air, and callin' for help.
"There!" says Marjorie, throwin' some bills on the floor. "That's for what I owe you, you horrid old fraud! Baby elephant, am I? Oh, you wretch!" With that she goes out and bangs the door behind her.
It was all me and the cornet artist next door could do to separate McCallum from the desk, and even when we worked him loose he didn't want to come out. When we'd got him into a chair, and he'd felt himself all over careful, he says to me:
"Torchy, how—how many times did she shoot?"
And when I gets back to the office Mr. Robert wants to know why I didn't let 'em know I was goin' all the way to Washington after them stamps.
"Chee!" says I, "but you're gettin' restless! Maybe you think I oughter travel by pneumatic tube? Huh!"
WHERE MILDRED GOT NEXT
There's nothin' wins out surer in this town of New York than puttin' up a good front. If you've got the fur coat and the goggles on your cap, you can walk or ride on a transfer, and folks'll take it as a cinch that your bubble's back in the garage bein' fitted with a new set of hundred-dollar tires. Why, just the smell of benzine on a suit you've had out to the cleaners will give 'em the dream, if you throw your chest out right.
Look at the way Mildred has us goin'. Maybe you don't know about Mildred. Say, I'll bet if you met up with her on Fift'-ave. you'd hold your breath till she got by and wonder whether she was a Vanderbilt or one of the Goulds! But she floats into the Corrugated Trust offices more or less reg'lar every day, just the same, and does her little stunt on the typewriter at so much per. Honest, when I sees her sailin' in mornin's, with all her swell drygoods on, I'm just as liable as not to half break my neck openin' the door for her. That's what I did the first time I saw her, when I was new on the gate.
"This way, lady," says I, and when she pikes right by and heads for the cloakroom I almost has a fit.
Maybe there's some hot ones down around Broad-st. that drives to business in cabs and pounds the keys durin' office hours; but for a genuine, mercerized near silk we stand ready to back Mildred against the field. She'd have an expert guessin', Mildred would. "Miss Morgan" is the way she figures on the payroll; but that never sounded rich enough for me.
It was the first week I was there that I begun to get a line on Mildred. One day the old man calls me in and hands me a letter that's been put on his desk for him to sign. He was plum color, Old Hickory was, so mad he could have chewed a file.
"Boy," says he, "take this into the main office, find out who M. M. is, and bring her in here. Anybody that can spell in that fashion I want to take a good look at."
Think of the shock I gets when Piddie tells me them letters stand for Mildred Morgan.
"Lady," says I, "I hates to say it, but the boss is waitin' to hand out a call-down to you. Don't you go to gettin' scared stiff, though; for the first cussword he lets go of I'll chuck a chair at him."
The smile I gets for that would have been worth half a dozen jobs. I was lookin' for her to go white and begin bitin' her upper lip, like they usually does; but she ain't that kind—not on your nameplate! She just peels off the sleeve protectors, sets her side combs in firm, gives her face a dab or so with the rabbit's foot, and starts along after me, with that new antelope walk of hers, as easy and pleased as if she'd been asked to come to the front and pour tea.
And she's got the costume the part calls for, mind you! They're the only clothes of the kind I ever see wore into this buildin'. I couldn't say what they was made of; but I know they're the button-up-the-back style, and that they stick to her as if they'd been put on by a paper-hanger. I guess you'd call Mildred a 1911 model. Anyway, she seems to bulge in the right places; though how anyone so long-waisted as that can get themselves into such a rig without callin' for help is somethin' I passes up.
Well, I tows her into the boss's office, feelin' as mean as a welsher. The old man has settled back in his chair, a cigar pointin' out of one corner of his mouth, and a letter in one fist. While I'm gone he's run across another, worse than the first, by the marks he's made on it, and he's got to the point where a thermometer slipped down the back of his neck would go off like a cap pistol.
"See here!" says he, growlin' it out grouchy, without lookin' up. "I'd like to have you run your eye over that, and then tell me where in thunder you learned to spell such s-u-t-c-h!"
"Why," says she, "I always spell it that way; don't you?"
"Don't I!" roars the old man. "Do you take me for a——"
Then he looks up. Well, say, you talk about your fadin' sunsets! Nothin' I ever see beat the way the boss lost his crushed raspb'rry face tint and bleached out salmon pink. "Why—why—er—are you sure this is some of your work, young woman?"
"Oh yes, indeed," says she, kind of gurgly and aristocratic and as sweet as pie, "that's mine. But you've made so many horrid marks on it that I shall have to do it all over again."