GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
EDWARD C. CASWELL
In the first place, Mr. Yollop knew nothing about firearms. And so, after he had overpowered the burglar and relieved him of a fully loaded thirty-eight, he was singularly unimpressed by the following tribute from the bewildered and somewhat exasperated captive:
"Say, ain't you got any more sense than to tackle a man with a gun, you chuckle-headed idiot?" (Only he did not say "chuckle-headed," and he inserted several expletives between "say" and "ain't.")
The dazed intruder was hunched limply, in a sitting posture, over against the wall, one hand clamped tightly to his jaw, the other being elevated in obedience to a command that had to be thrice repeated before it found lodgment in his whirling brain. Mr. Yollop, who seemed to be satisfied with the holding up of but one hand, cupped his own hand at the back of one ear, and demanded querulously:
"Are you hard o' hearin'?"
"Well for the—say, are you deef?"
"Don't say deef. Say deaf,—as if it were spelled d-e-double f. Yes,—I am a little hard of hearing."
"Now, how the hell did you hear—I say, HOW DID YOU HEAR ME IN THE ROOM, if it's a fair question?"
"If you've got anything in your mouth, spit it out. I can't make out half what you say. Sounds like 'ollo—ollo—ollo'!"
The thief opened his mouth and with his tongue instituted a visible search for the obstruction that appeared to annoy Mr. Yollop.
"They're all here except the one I had pulled last year," he announced vastly relieved. A sharp spasm of pain in his jaw caused him to abruptly take advantage of a recent discovery; and while he was careful to couch his opinions in an undertone, he told Mr. Yollop what he thought of him in terms that would have put the hardiest pirate to blush. Something in Mr. Yollop's eye, however, and the fidgety way in which he was fingering the trigger of the pistol, moved him to interrupt a particularly satisfying paean of blasphemy by breaking off short in the very middle of it to wonder why in God's name he hadn't had sense enough to remember that all deaf people are lip-readers.
"Spit it out!" repeated Mr. Yollop, with energy. "Don't talk with your mouth full. I can't understand a word you say."
This was reassuring but not convincing. There was still the ominous glitter in the speaker's eye to be reckoned with. The man on the floor took the precaution to explain: "I hope "you didn't hear what I was callin' myself." He spoke loudly and very distinctly.
"That's better," said Mr. Yollop, his face brightening. "I was 'afraid my hearing had got worse without my knowing it. All you have to do is to enunciate distinctly and speak slowly like that,—as if you were isolating the words,—so to speak,—and I can make out everything you say. What were you calling yourself?"
"Oh, just a lot of names. I'd sooner not repeat 'em if there's any women in the house."
"Well, bless my soul, that's uncommonly thoughtful of you. My sister and her young daughter are here to spend the holidays with me. They sleep at the back of the apartment. Now, if you will just remain as you are,—I dare say you'd better put up the other hand, too, if you can spare it,—I will back up to the table here and get my listening apparatus. Now you won't have to shout so. I don't know much about revolvers, but I assume that all one has to do to make it go off is to press rather firmly on this little contrivance—"
"Yes! But DON'T!"
"Not so loud! Not so loud! I'm not as deaf as all that. And don't move! I give you fair warning. Watch me closely. If you see me shut my eyes, you will know I'm going to shoot. Remember that, will you? The instant you detect the slightest indication that my eyes are about to close,—dodge!"
"By thunder,—I—I wonder if you're as much of a blame fool as you seem to be,—or are you just playing horse with me," muttered the victim, as he raised his other hand. "I'd give ten years of my life to know,—"
"I won't be a second," announced Mr. Yollop, backing gingerly toward the table. With his free hand he felt for and found the rather elaborate contraption that furnished him with the means to counteract his auricular deficiencies. The hand holding the revolver wobbled a bit; nevertheless, the little black hole at which the dazed robber stared as if fascinated was amazingly steadfast in its regard for the second or perhaps the third button of his coat. "It's a rather complicated arrangement," he went on to explain, "but very simple once you get it adjusted to the ear. It took me some time to get used to wearing this steel band over the top of my head. I never have tried to put it on with one hand before. Amazing how awkward one can be with his left hand, isn't it? Now, you see how it goes. This little receiver business clamps right down to the ear,—so. Then this disc hangs over my chest—and you talk right at it. For awhile I made a practice of concealing it under my vest, being somewhat sensitive about having strangers see that I am deaf, but one day my niece, a very bright child often, asked me why I did it. I told her it was because I didn't want people to know I was deaf. Have you ever felt so foolish that you wanted to kick yourself all over town? Well, then you know how I felt when that blessed infant pointed to this thing on my ear and—What say?"
"I say, that's the way I've been feeling ever since I came to," repeated the disgusted burglar.
"Of course, I realize that it's a physical, you might well say, a scientific impossibilty, for one to kick himself all over town, but just the same, I believe you are as nearly in the mood to accomplish it as any man alive to-day."
"You bet I could," snapped the thief, with great earnestness. "When I think how I let a skinny, half-witted boob like you walk right into a clinch with me, and me holdin' a gun, and weighin' forty pounds more than you do, I—Can you hear what I'm saying?"
"Perfectly. It's a wonderful invention," said Mr. Yollop, who had approached to within four or five feet of the speaker and was bending over to afford him every facility for planting his words squarely upon the disc. "Speak in the same tone of voice that you would employ if I were about thirty feet away and perfectly sound of hearing. Just imagine, if you can, that I am out in the hall, with the door open, and you are carrying on a conversation with me at that—"
"I've said all I want to say," growled the other sullenly.
"What is your name?"
"None of your damn business."
Mr. Yollop was silent for a moment. Then he inquired steadily:
"Have you any recollection of receiving a blow on the jaw, and subsequently lying on the flat of your back with my knees jouncing up and down on your stomach while your bump of amativeness was being roughly and somewhat regularly pounded against the wall in response to a certain nervous and uncontrollable movement of my hands which happened to be squeezing your windpipe so tightly that your tongue hung out and—"
"You bet I remember it!" ruefully.
"Well, then," said Mr. Yollop, "what is your name?"
"I thought you said you could hear with that thing!"
"I heard you say Jones quite distinctly, but why can't you answer my question? It was civil enough, wasn't it?"
"Well," said the crook, still decidedly uncertain as to the expression in Mr. Yollop's eye, "if you insist on a civil answer, it's Smilk."
"No, NOT Smith," hastily and earnestly; "Smilk,—S-m-i-l-k."
"Extraordinary name. I've never heard it before, have you?"
The rascal blinked. "Sure. It was my father's name before me, and my—"
"Look me in the eye!"
"I am lookin' you in the eye. It's Smilk,—Cassius Smilk."
"Sounds convincing," admitted Mr. Yollop. "Nobody would take the name of Cassius in vain, I am sure. As a sensible, discriminating thief, you would not deliberately steal a name like Cassius, now would you?"
"Well, you see, they call me Cash for short," explained Smilk. "That's something I can steal with a clear conscience."
"I perceive you are recovering your wits, Mr. Smilk. You appear to be a most ingenuous rogue. Have you ever tried writing the book for a musical comedy?"
"A musical comedy. A forty-legged thing you see on Broadway."
Mr. Smilk pondered. "No, sir," he replied, allowing himself a prideful leer; "if I do say it as shouldn't, I'm an honest thief."
"Bless my soul," cried Mr. Yollop delightedly; "you get brighter every minute. Perhaps you have at one time or another conducted a humorous column for a Metropolitan newspaper?"
"Well, I've done my share towards fillin' up the 'lost' column," said Mr. Smilk modestly. "Say, if we're going to keep up this talkfest much longer, I got to let my hands down. The blood's runnin' out of 'em. What are you goin' to do with me? Keep me sittin' here till morning?"
"I'm glad you reminded me of it. I want to call the police."
"Well, I'm not hindering you, am I?"
"In a way, yes. How can I call them and keep an eye on you at the same time?"
"I'll tell what I'll do," said Cassius Smilk obligingly. "I'll take a message 'round to the police station for you."
"Ah! That gives me an idea. You shall telephone to the police for me. If my memory serves me well, Spring 3100 is the number. Or is it Spring 3100 that calls out the fire department? It would be very awkward to call out the fire department, wouldn't it? They'd probably come rushing around here and drown both of us before they found out wer'd made a mistake and really wanted the police."
"All you have to do is to say to Central: 'I want a policeman.'"
"Right you are. That's what the telephone book says. Still I believe Spring 3100—"
"The simplest way to get the police," broke in the burglar, not without hope, "is to fire five shots out of a window as rapidly as possible. They always come for that."
"I see what you are after. You want them to come here and arrest me for violating the Sullivan Law. Don't you know it's against the law in New York to have a revolver on your premises or person? And what's more, you would testify against me, confound you. Also probably have me up for assault and battery. No, Mr. Smilk, your suggestion is not a good one. We will stick to the telephone. Now, if you will be kind enough to fold your arms tightly across your breast,—that's the idea,—and arise slowly to your feet, I will instruct you—Yes, I know it is harder to get up without the aid of the hands than it was to go down, but I think you can manage it. Try again, if you please." Then, as Mr. Smilk sank sullenly back against the wall, apparently resolved not to budge: "I'm going to count three, Cassius. If you are not on your feet at the end of the count, I shall be obliged to do the telephoning myself."
"That suits me," said Cassius grimly.
"Do you object to the smell of powder?"
"I don't like it myself, but I should, of course, open the windows immediately and air the room out—"
"I'll get up," said Cassius, and did so, clumsily but promptly. "Say, I—I believe you WOULD shoot. You're just the kind of boob that would do a thing like that."
"I dare say I should miss you if I were to fire all five bullets,—but that's neither here nor there. You're on your feet, so—by the way, are you sure this thing is loaded?"
"It wouldn't make any difference if it wasn't. It would go off just the same. They always do when some darn fool idiot is pointin' them at people."
"Don't be crotchetty, Cassius," reproached Mr. Yollop. "Now, if you will just sidle around to the left you will come in due time to the telephone over there on that desk. I shall not be far behind you. Sit down. Now unfold your arms and lean both elbows on the desk. That's the idea. You might keep your right hand exposed,—sort of perpendicular from the elbow up. Take the receiver off the hook and—"
"Oh, I know how to use a telephone all right."
"Now, the main thing is to get Central," said Mr. Yollop imperturbably. "Sometimes it is very difficult to wake them after two o'clock A.M. Just jiggle it if she doesn't respond at once. Seems that jiggling wakes them when nothing else will."
Mr. Yollop, very tall and spare in his pajamas, stood behind the burly Mr. Smilk, the dangling disc almost touching the latter's hunched up shoulders.
"This is a devil of a note," quoth Mr. Smilk, taking down the receiver. "Makin' a guy telephone to the police to come and arrest him."
"I wish I had thought to close that window while you were hors de combat," complained Mr. Yollop shivering. "I'll probably catch my death of cold standing around here with almost nothing on. That wind comes straight from the North Pole. Doesn't she answer?"
"I did jiggle it."
"I said I jiggled it."
"Well, jiggle it again."
"Rottenest telephone service in the world," growled Mr. Smilk. "When you think what we have to pay for telephones these days, you'd think—hello! Hell—lo!"
"I thought I had for a second, but I guess it was somebody yawning."
"Say, if you'll hold that thing around so's I can talk at it, you'll hear what I'm saying. How do you expect me to—hello! Central? Central! Hello! Where the hell have you been all—hello! Well, can you beat it? I had her and she got away."
"No use trying to get her now," said Mr. Yollop, resignedly. "Hang up for a few minutes. It makes 'em stubborn when you swear at 'em. Like mules. I've just thought of something else you can do for me while we're waiting for her to make up her mind to forgive you. Come along over here and close this window you left open."
Mr. Smilk in closing the window, looked searchingly up and down the fire escape, peered intently into the street below, sighed profoundly and muttered something that Mr. Yollop did not hear.
"I've got a fur coat hanging in that closet over there, Cassius. We will get it out."
Carefully following Mr. Yollop's directions, the obliging rascal produced the coat and laid it upon the table in the center of the room.
"Turn your back," commanded the owner of the coat, "and hold up your hands." Then, after he had slipped into the coat: "Now if I only had my slippers—but never mind. We won't bother about 'em. They're in my bed room, and probably lost under the bed. They always are, even when I take 'em off out in the middle of the room. Ah! Nothing like a fur coat, Cassius. Do you know what cockles are?"
"No, I don't."
"Well, never mind. Now, let's try Central again. Please remember that no matter how distant she is, she still expects you to look upon her as a lady. No lady likes to be sworn at at two o'clock in the morning. Speak gently to her. Call her Madamoiselle. That always gets them. Makes 'em think if they keep their ears open they'll hear something spicy."
"They general fall for dearie," said Mr. Smilk, taking down the receiver.
"Be good enough to remember that you are calling from my apartment," said Mr. Yollop severely. "Jiggle it."
Mr. Smilk jiggled it. "I guess she's still mad."
"Jiggle it slowly, tenderly, caressingly. Sort of seductively. Don't be so savage about it."
"Hello! Central? What number do I have to call to get Spring 3100? ... I'm not trying to be fresh: ... Yes, that's what I want ... I know the book says to tell you 'I want to call a policeman' but— ... Yes, there's a burglar in my apartment and I want you to—What's that? ... I don't want to go to bed. ... Say, now YOU'RE gettin' fresh. You give me police—"
"Tell her I've got you surrounded," whispered Mr. Yollop.
"Hello! Hell—lo! Central!"
"Ah, Mademoiselle! Pardon my—"
Voice at the other end of the wire: "Ring off! You've got wrong number. This is police headquarters." Audible sound of distant receiver being slapped upon its hook.
"Gee whiz! Now, we're up against it, Mister. We'll be all night gettin' Central again."
"Be patient, Cassius. Start all over again. Ask for the morgue this time. That will make her realize the grave danger you are in."
"Say, I wish you'd put that gun in your pocket. It makes the goose flesh creep out all over me. I'm not going to try to get away. Give you my word of honor I ain't. You seem to have some sort of idea that I don't want to be arrested."
"I confess I had some such idea, Cassius."
"Well, I don't mind it a bit. Fact is, I've been doin' my best to get nabbed for the last three months."
"Sure. The trouble is with the police. They somehow seem to overlook me, no matter how open I am about it. I suppose I've committed twenty burglaries in the past three months and I'll be cussed if I can make 'em understand. Take to-night, for instance. I clumb up that fire escape,—this is the third floor, ain't it?—I clumb up here with a big electric street light shinin' square on my back, —why, darn the luck, I had to turn my back on it 'cause the light hurt my eyes,—and there were two cops standin' right down below here talkin' about the crime wave bein' all bunk, both of 'em arguin' that the best proof that there ain't no crime wave is the fact that the jails are only half full, showin' that the city is gettin' more and more honest all the time. I could hear 'em plain as anything. They were talkin' loud, so as to make everybody in this buildin' rest easy, I guess. I stopped at the second floor and monkeyed with the window, hopin' to attract their attention. Didn't work. So I had to climb up another flight. This window of yours was up about six inches, so there wasn't anything for me to do but to raise it and come in. What I had in mind was to stick my head out after a minute or two and yell 'thieves', 'police', and so on. Then before I knowed what was happenin', you walks in, switches on the light, and comes straight over and biffs me in the jaw. Does that look as if I was tryin' to avoid arrest?"
"That's a very pretty story, Cassius, and no doubt will make a tremendous hit with the jury, but what were you doing with a loaded revolver in your hand, and why were you so full of vituperation,—I mean, what made you swear so when I—"
"You let somebody hit you a wallop on the jaw and bang your head against the wall and dance on your ribs, and you'll cuss worse than I did."
"But,—about the revolver?"
"Well, to be honest with you, I probably would have shot you if I hadn't been so low in my mind. I won't deny that. It's a sort of principle with us, you see. No self-respecting burglar wants to be captured by the party he's tryin' to rob. Its so damn' mortifyin'. Besides, if that sort of thing happens to you, the police lose all kinds of respect for you and try to use you as a stool-pigeon, if you know what that means."
"This is most interesting, I must say. I should like to hear more about it, Mr. Smilk. I dare say we can have quite a long and edifying chat while we are waiting for the police to respond to our call for help. In the meantime, you might see if you can get them now. Spring, three one hundred."
"As I was sayin' awhile ago, would you mind puttin' that gun in your pocket?"
"While you've been chinning, Cassius, I have been making a most thrilling and amazing experiment. Do you call this thing under here a trigger?"
"Yes. Don't monkey with it, you—you—"
"I've been pressing it,—very gently and cautiously, of course,—to see just how near I can come to making it go off without actually—"
"For God's sake! Cut that—Hey, Central! Give me police headquarters again. ... Lively, please. ... Yes, it's life or death. ... Come on, Mademoiselle,—please!"
"That's the way," complimented Mr. Yollop.
"By gosh, nobody ever wanted the police more than I do at this minute," gulped Mr. Smilk. He was perspiring freely. "Hello! Police headquarters? ... Hustle someone to—to—(over his shoulder to Mr. Yollop, in a whisper,)—quick! What's the number of this,—"
"418 Sagamore Terrace."
Into the transmitter: "To 418 Sagamore Terrace, third floor front. Burglar. Hurry up!"
Telephone: "What's yer name?"
Smilk, to Yollop: "What is my name?"
Mr. Yollop: "Crittenden Yollop."
Smilk, to telephone: "Crittelyum Yop."
Telephone, languidly: "Spell it."
Smilk: "Aw, go to—"
Mr. Yollop: "After me now,—Y-o-l-l-o-p."
Telephone: "First name."
Smilk, prompted. "C-r-i-t-t-e-n-d-e-n."
Telephone, after interval: "What floor?"
Telephone: "Are you sure it's a burglar, or is it just a noise somewhere?"
Smilk: "It's a burglar. He's got me covered."
Telephone: "What's that?"
Smilk: "I say, I've got him covered. Hurry up or he'll blow my head off—"
Telephone: "Say, what IS this? Get back to bed, you. You're drunk."
Smilk: "I'm as sober as you are. Can't you get me straight? I tell you I beat his head off. He's down and out,—but—-"
Telephone: "All right. We'll have someone there in a few minutes. Did you say Yullup?"
Smilk: "No. I said hurry up."
"The thing that's troubling me now," said Mr. Yollop, as Smilk hung up the receiver and twisted his head slightly to peek out of the corner of his eye, "is how to get hold of my slippers. You've no idea how cold this floor is."
"If it's half as cold as the sweat I'm—-"
"We're likely to have a long wait," went on the other, frowning. "It will probably take the police a couple of hours to find this building, with absolutely no clue except the number and the name of the street."
"I'll tell you what you might do, Mr. Scollop, seein' as you won't trust me to go in and find your slippers for you. Why don't you sit on your feet? Take that big arm chair over there and—"
"Splendid! By jove, Cassius, you are an uncommonly clever chap. I'll do it. And then, when the police arrive, we'll have something for them to do. We'll let them see if they can find my slippers. That ought to be really quite interesting."
"There's something about you," said Mr. Smilk, not without a touch of admiration in his voice, "that I simply can't help liking."
"That's what the wolf said to Little Red Riding-Hood, if I remember correctly. However, I thank you, Cassius. In spite of the thump I gave you and the disgusting way in which I treated you, a visitor in my own house, you express a liking for me. It is most gratifying. Still, for the time being, I believe we can be much better friends if I keep this pistol pointed at you. Now we 'll do a little maneuvering. You may remain seated where you are. However, I must ask you to pull out the two lower drawers in the desk,—one on either side of where your knees go. You will find them quite empty and fairly commodious. Now, put your right foot in the drawer on this side and your left foot in the other one—yes, I know it's quite a stretch, but I dare say you can manage it. Sort of recalls the old days when evil-doers were put in the stocks, doesn't it? They seem to be quite a snug fit, don't they? If it is as difficult for you to extricate your feet from those drawers as it was to insert them, I fancy I'm pretty safe from a sudden and impulsive dash in my direction. Rather bright idea of mine, eh?"
"I'm beginnin' to change my opinion of you," announced Mr. Smilk.
Mr. Yollop pushed a big unholstered library chair up to the opposite side of the desk and, after several awkward attempts, succeeded in sitting down, tailor fashion, with his feet neatly tucked away beneath him.
"I wasn't quite sure I could do it," said he, rather proudly. "I suppose my feet will go to sleep in a very short time, but I am assuming, Cassius, that you are too much of a gentleman to attack a man whose feet are asleep."
"I wouldn't even attack you if they were snoring," said Cassius, grinning in spite of himself. "Say, this certainly beats anything I've ever come up against. If one of my pals was to happen to look in here right now and see me with my feet in these drawers and you squattin' on yours,—well, I can't help laughin' myself, and God knows I hate to."
"You were saying a little while ago," said Mr. Yollop, shifting his position slightly, "that you rather fancy the idea of being arrested. Isn't that a little quixotic, Mr. Smilk?"
"I mean to say, do you expect me to believe you when you say you relish being arrested?"
"I don't care a whoop whether you believe it or not. It's true."
"Have you no fear of the law?"
"Bless your heart, sir, I don't know how I'd keep body and soul together if it wasn't for the law. If people would only let the law alone, I'd be one of the happiest guys on earth. But, damn 'em, they won't let it alone. First, they put their heads together and frame up this blasted parole game on us. Just about the time we begin to think we're comfortably settled up the river, 'long cmes some doggone home-wrecker and gets us out on parole. Then we got to go to work and begin all over again. Sometimes, the way things are nowadays, it takes months to get back into the pen again. We got to live, ain't we? We got to eat, ain't we? Well, there you are. Why can't they leave us alone instead of drivin' us out into a cold, unfeelin' world where we got to either steal or starve to death? There wouldn't be one tenth as much stealin' and murderin' as there is if they didn't force us into it. Why, doggone it, I've seen some of the most cruel and pitiful sights you ever heard of up there at Sing Sing. Fellers leadin' a perfectly honest life suddenly chucked out into a world full of vice and iniquity and forced—absolutely forced,—into a life of crime. There they were, livin' a quiet, peaceful life, harmin' nobody, and bing! they wake up some mornin' and find themselves homeless. Do you realize what that means, Mr. Strumpet? It means—"
"Yollop, if you please."
"It means they got to go out and slug some innocent citizen, some poor guy that had nothing whatever to do with drivin' them out, and then if they happen to be caught they got to go through with all the uncertainty of a trial by jury, never knowin' but what some pin-headed juror will stick out for acquittal and make it necessary to go through with it all over again. And more than that, they got to listen to the testimony of a lot of policemen, and their own derned fool lawyers, tryin' to deprive them of their bread and butter, and the judge's instructions that nobody pays any attention to except the shorthand reporter,—and them just settin' there sort of helpless and not even able to say a word in their own behalf because the law says they're innocent till they're proved guilty,— why, I tell you, Mr. Dewlap, it's heart-breakin'. And all because some weak-minded smart aleck gets them paroled. As I was sayin', the law's all right if it wasn't for the people that abuse it."
"This is most interesting," said Mr. Yollop. "I've never quite understood why ninety per cent of the paroled convicts go back to the penitentiary so soon after they've been liberated."
"Of course," explained Mr. Smilk, "there are a few that don't get back. That's because, in their anxiety to make good, they get killed by some inexperienced policeman who catches 'em comin' out of somebody's window or—"
"By the way, Cassius, let me interrupt you. Will you have a cigar? Nice, pleasant way to pass an hour or two—beg pardon?"
"I was only sayin', if you don't mind I'll take one of these cigarettes. Cigars are a little too heavy for me."
"I have some very light grade domestic—"
"I don't mean in quality. I mean in weight. What's the sense of wastin' a lot of strength holding a cigar in your mouth when it requires no effort at all to smoke a cigarette? Why, I got it all figured out scientifically. With the same amount of energy you expend in smokin' one cigar you could smoke between thirty and forty cigarettes, and being sort of gradual, you wouldn't begin to feel half as fatigued as if you—"
"Did I understand you to say 'scientifically', or was it satirically?"
"I'm tryin' to use common, every-day words, Mr. Shallop," said Mr. Smilk, with dignity, "and I wish you'd do the same."
"Ahem! Well, light up, Cassius. I think I'll smoke a cigar. When you get through with the matches, push 'em over this way, will you? Help yourself to those chocolate creams. There's a pound box of them at your elbow, Oassius. I eat a great many. They're supposed to be fattening. Help yourself." After lighting his cigar Mr. Yollop inquired: "By the way, since you speak so feelingly I gather that you are a paroled convict."
"That's what I am. And the worst of it is, it ain't my first offense. I mean it ain't the first time I've been paroled. To begin with, when I was somewhat younger than I am now, I was twice turned loose by judges on what they call 'suspended sentences.' Then I was sent up for two years for stealin' something or other,—I forgot just what it was. I served my time and a little later on went up again for three years for holdin' up a man over in Brooklyn. Well, I got paroled out inside of two years, and for nearly six months I had to report to the police ever' so often. Every time I reported I had my pockets full of loot I'd snitched durin' the month, stuff the bulls were lookin' for in every pawn-shop in town, but to save my soul I couldn't somehow manage to get myself caught with the goods on me. Say, I'd give two years off of my next sentence if I could cross my legs for five or ten minutes. This is gettin' worse and worse all the—"
"You might try putting your left foot in the right hand drawer and your right foot in the other one," suggested Mr. Yollop.
Mr. Smilk stared. "I've seen a lot of kidders in my time, but you certainly got 'em all skinned to death," said he.
Mr. Yollop puffed reflectively for awhile, pondering the situation. "Well, suppose you remove one foot at a time, Cassius. As soon it is fairly well rested, put it back again and then take the other one out for a spell,—and so on. Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all."
Smilk withdrew his left foot from its drawer and sighed gratefully.
"As I was sayin'," he resumed, "if we could only put some kind of a curb on these here tender-hearted boobs—and boobesses—the world would be a much better place to live in. The way it is now, nine tenths of the fellers up in Sing Sing never know when they'll have to pack up and leave, and it's a constant strain on the nerves, I tell you. There seems to be a well-organized movement to interfere with the personal liberty of criminals, Mr. Poppup. These here sentimental reformers take it upon themselves to say whether a feller shall stay in prison or not. First, they come up there and pick out some poor helpless feller and say 'it's a crime to keep a good-lookin', intelligent boy like you in prison, so we're going to get you out on parole and make an honest, upright citizen of you. We're going to get you a nice job',—and so on and so forth. Well, before he knows it, he's out and has to put up a bluff of workin' for a livin'. Course, he just has to go to stealin' again. It makes him sore when he thinks of the good, honest life he was leadin' up there in the pen, with nothin' to worry about, satisfactory hours, plenty to eat, and practically divorced from his wife without havin' to go through the mill. If my calculations are correct, more than fifty per cent of the crime that's bein' committed these days is the work of paroled convicts who depended on the law to protect and support them for a given period of time. And does the law protect them? It does not. It allows a lot of pinheads to interfere with it, and what's the answer? A lot of poor devils are forced to go out and risk their lives tryin' to—"
"Just a moment, please," interrupted Mr. Yollop. "You are talking a trifle too fast, Cassius. Moderate your speed a little. Before we go any further, I would like to be set straight on one point. Do you mean to tell me that you actually prefer being in prison?"
"Well, now, that's a difficult question to answer," mused Mr. Smilk. "Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. It's sort of like being married, I suppose. Sometimes you're glad you're married and sometimes you wish to God you wasn't. Course, I've only been married three or four times, and I've been in the pen six times, one place or another, so I guess I'm not what you'd call an unbiased witness. I seem to have a leanin' toward jail,—about three to one in favor of jail, you might say, with the odds likely to be increased pretty shortly if all goes well. Do you mind if I change drawers?"
"Eh! Oh, I see. Go ahead."
Mr. Smilk put his right foot back into its drawer and withdrew the left.
"Gets you right across this tendon on the back of your ankle," he said. "Now, you take the daily life of the average laboring man," he went on earnestly. "What does he get out of it? Nothin' but expenses. The only thing that don't cost him something is work. And all the time he's at work his expenses are goin' on just the same, pilin' up durin' his absence from home. Rent, food, fuel, light, doctor, liquor, clothes, shoes,—everything pilin' up on him while he's workin' for absolutely nothin' between pay days. The only time he gets anything for his work is on pay day. The rest of the time he's workin' for nothin', week in and week out. Say he works forty-four hours a week. When does he get his pay? While he's workin'? Not much. He has to work over time anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour—on his own time, mind you—standin' in line to get his pay envelope. And then when he gets it, what does he have to do? He has to go home and wonder how the hell he's goin' to get through the next week with nothin' but carfare to go on after his wife has told him to come across. Now you take a convict. He hasn't an expense in the world. Free grub, free bed, free doctor, free clothes,—he could have free liquor if the keepers would let his friends bring it in,—and his hours ain't any longer than any union man's hours. He don't have to pay dues to any labor union, he don't have to worry about strikes or strike benefits, he don't give a whoop what Gompers or anybody else says about Gary, and he don't care a darn whether the working man gets his beer or whether the revenue officers get it. He—"
"Wait a second, please. Just as a matter of curiosity, Cassius, I'd like to know what your views are on prohibition."
"Are you thinkin' of askin' me if I'll have something to drink?" inquired Mr. Smilk craftily.
"What has that to do with it?"
"A lot," said Mr. Smilk, with decision.
"Do you approve of prohibition?"
"I do," said the rogue. "In moderation."
"Well, as soon as the police arrive I'll open a bottle of Scotch. In the meantime go ahead with your very illuminating dissertation. I am beginning to understand why crime is so attractive, so alluring. I am almost able to see why you fellows like to go to the penitentiary."
"If you could only get shut up for a couple of years, Mr. Wollop, you'd appreciate just what has been done in the last few years to make us fellers like it. You wouldn't believe how much the reformers have done to induce us to come back as soon as possible. They give us all kinds of entertainment, free of charge. Three times a week we have some sort of a show, generally a band concert, a movin' picture show and a vaudeville show. Then, once a month they bring up some crackin' good show right out of a Broadway theater to make us forget that it's Sunday and we'll have to go to work the next morning. Scenery and costumes and everything and—and—" Here Mr. Smilk showed signs of blubbering, a weakness that suddenly gave way to the most energetic indignation. "Why, doggone it, every time I think of what that woman done to me, I could bite a nail in two. If it hadn't been for—"
"Woman? What woman?"
"The woman that got me paroled out. She got I don't know how many people to sign a petition, sayin' I was a fine feller and all that kind o' bunk, and all I needed was a chance to show the world how honest I am and—why, of course, I was honest. How could I help bein' honest up there? What's eatin' the darn fools? The only thing you can steal up there is a nap, and you got to be mighty slick if you want to do that, they watch you so close. But do you know what's going on in this country right now, Mr. Popple? There's a regular organized band of law-breakers operating from one end of the nation to the other. We're tryin' to bust it up, but it's a tough job. The best way to reform a reformer is to rob him. The minute he finds out he's been robbed he turns over a new leaf and begins to beller like a bull about how rotten the police are. Ninety nine times out of a hundred he quits his cussed interferin' with the law and becomes a decent, law-observin' citizen. Our scheme is to get busy as soon as we've been turned loose and while our so-called benefactors are still rejoicin' over havin' snatched a brand from the burnin', we up and show 'em the error of their ways. First offenders get off fairly easy. We simply sneak in and take their silver and some loose jewelry. The more hardened they are, the worse we treat 'em. Eing leaders some times get beat up so badly it's impossible to identify 'em at the morgue. But in time we'll smash the gang, and then if a feller goes up for ten, twenty or even thirty years he'll know there's no underhanded work goin' on and he can settle down to an honest life. The only way to stop crime in this country, Mr. Yollop, is to—"
"—is to make EVERYBODY respect the law. And with conditions so pleasant and so happy in the prison I want to tell you there's nobody in the country that respects and admires the law more than we do,—'specially us fellers that remember what the penitentiaries used to be like a few years ago when conditions were so tough that most of us managed to earn an honest livin' outside sooner than run the risk of gettin' sent up." He sighed deeply. Then with a trace of real solicitude in his manner: "Are your feet warm yet?"
"Warm as toast. Your discourse, Cassius, has moved me deeply. Perhaps it would comfort you to call up police headquarters again and tell 'em to hurry along?"
"Wouldn't be a bad idea," said Mr. Smilk. He took down the receiver. Presently: "Police headquarters? ... How about sending over to 418 Sagamore for that burglar I was speakin' to you about recently? ... Sure, he's here yet. ... The same name I gave you earlier in the evening. ... Spell it yourself. You got it written down on a pad right there in front of you, haven't you? ... Say, if you don't get somebody around here pretty quick, I'm goin' to call up two or three of the newspaper offices and have 'em send—... All right. See that you do." Turning to Mr. Yollop, he said: "The police are a pretty decent lot when you get to know 'em, Mr. Yollop. They do their share towards enforcin' the law. They do their best to get us the limit. The trouble is, they got to fight tooth and nail against almost everybody that ain't on the police force. Specially jurymen. There ain't a juryman in New York City that wants to believe a policeman on oath. He'd sooner believe a crook, any day. And sometimes the judges are worse than the juries. A pal of mine, bein' in considerable of a hurry to get back home one very cold winter, figured that if he went up and plead guilty before a judge he'd save a lot of time. Well, sir, the doggone judge looked him over for a minute or two, and suddenly, out of a clear sky, asked him if he had a family,—and when he acknowledged, being an honest though ignorant guy, that he had a wife and three children, the judge said, if he'd promise to go out and earn a livin' for them he'd let him off with a suspended sentence, and before he had a chance to say he'd be damned if he'd make any such fool promise, the bailiff hustled him out the runway and told him to 'beat it'. He had to go out and slug a poor old widow woman and rob her of all the money she'd saved since her husband died—say, that reminds me. I got a favor I'd like to ask of you, Mr. Yollop."
"I'm inclined to grant almost any favor you may ask," said Mr. Yollop, sympathetically. "I know how miserable you must feel, Cassius, and how hard life is for you. Do you want me to shoot you?"
"No, I don't," exclaimed Mr. Smilk hastily. "I want you to take my roll of bills and hide it before the police come. That ain't much to ask, is it?"
"Bless my soul! How extraordinary!"
"There's something over six hundred dollars in the roll," went on Cassius confidentially. "It ain't that I'm afraid the cops will grab it for themselves, understand. But, you see, it's like this. The first thing the judge asks you when you are arraigned is whether you got the means to employ a lawyer. If you ain't, he appoints some one and it don't cost you a cent. Now, if I go down to the Tombs with all this money, why, by gosh, it will cost me just that much to get sent to Sing Sing, 'cause whatever you've got in the shape of real money is exactly what your lawyer's fee will be, and it don't seem sensible to spend all that money to get sent up when you can obtain the same result for nothin'. Ain't that so?"
"It sounds reasonable, Cassius. You appear to be a thrifty as well as an honest fellow. But, may I be permitted to ask what the devil you are doing with six hundred dollars on your person while actively engaged in the pursuit of your usual avocation? Why didn't you leave it at home?"
"Home? My God, man, don't you know it ain't safe these days to have a lot of money around the house? With all these burglaries going on? Not on your life. Even if I had had all this dough when I left home to-night, I wouldn't have taken any such chance as leavin' it there. The feller I'm roomin' with is figurin' on turning over a new leaf; he's thinkin' of gettin' married for five or six months and I don't think he could stand temptation."
"Do you mean to say, you acquired your roll after leaving home tonight, eh?"
"To be perfectly honest with you, Mr. Moppup, I—"
"—Yollop, I found this money in front of a theater up town,—just after the police nabbed a friend of mine who had frisked some guy of his roll and had to drop it in a hurry."
"And you want me to keep it for you till you are free again,—is that it?"
"Just as soon as the trial is over and I get my sentence, I'll send a pal of mine around to you with a note and you can turn it over to him. All I'm after, is to keep some lawyer from gettin'—"
"What would you say, Cassius, if I were to tell you that I am a lawyer?"
"I'd say you're a darned fool to confess when you don't have to," replied Mr. Smilk succinctly.
Mr. Yollop chuckled. "Well, I'm not a lawyer. Nevertheless, I must decline to act as a depository for your obviously ill-gotten gains."
"Gee, that's tough," lamented Mr. Smilk. "Wouldn't you just let me drop it behind something or other,—that book case over there say,—and I'll promise to send for it some night when you're out,—"
"No use, Cassius," broke in Mr. Yollop, firmly. "I'm deaf to your entreaties. Permit me to paraphrase a very well-known line. 'None so deaf as him who will not hear.'"
"If I speak very slowly and distinctly don't you think you could hear me if I was to offer to split the wad even with you,—fifty-fifty,—no questions asked?" inquired Cassius, rather wistfully.
"See here," exclaimed Mr. Yollop, irritably; "you got me in this position and I want you to get me out of it. While I've been squatting here listening to you, they've both gone to sleep and I'm hanged if I can move 'em. I never would have dreamed of sitting on them if you hadn't put the idea into my head, confound you."
"Let 'em hang down for a while," suggested Mr. Smilk. "That'll wake 'em up."
"Easier said than done," snapped the other. He managed, however, to get his benumbed feet to the floor and presently stood up on them. Mr. Smilk watched him with interest as he hobbled back and forth in front of the desk. "They'll be all right in a minute or two. By Jove, I wish my sister could have heard all you've been saying about prisons and paroles and police. I ought to have had sense enough to call her. She's asleep at the other end of the hall."
"I hate women," growled Mr. Smilk. "Ever since that pie-faced dame got me chucked out of Sing Sing,—say, let me tell you something else she done to me. She gave me an address somewhere up on the East Side and told me to come and see her as soon as I got out. Well, I hadn't been out a week when I went up to see her one night,—or, more strictly speakin', one morning about two o'clock. What do you think? It was an empty house, with a 'for rent' sign on it. I found out the next day she'd moved a couple of weeks before and had gone to some hotel for the winter because it was impossible to keep any servants while this crime wave is goin' on. The janitor told me she'd had three full sets of servants stole right out from under her nose by female bandits over on Park Avenue. I don't suppose I'll ever have another chance to get even with her. Everything all set to bind and gag her, and maybe rap her over the bean a couple of times and—say, can you beat it for rotten luck? She—she double-crossed me, that's what she—"
A light, hesitating rap on the library door interrupted Mr. Smilk's bitter reflection.
"Some one at the door," the burglar announced, after a moment. Mr. Yollop had failed to hear the tapping.
"You can't fool me, Cassius. It's an old trick but it won't work. I've seen it done on the stage too many times to be caught napping by,—"
"There it goes again. Louder, please!" he called with considerable vehemence and was rewarded by a scarcely audible tapping indicative not only of timidity but of alarm as well—"Say," he bawled, "you'll have to cut out that spirit rapping if you want to come in. Use your night-stick!"
"Ah, the police at last," cried Mr. Yollop. "You'd better take this revolver now, Mr. Smilk," he added hastily. "I won't want 'em to catch me with a weapon in my possession. It means a heavy fine or imprisonment." He shoved the pistol across the desk. "They wouldn't believe me if I said it was yours."
A sharp, penetrating rat-a-tat on the door. Mr. Smilk picked up the revolver.
"You bet they wouldn't," said he. "If I swore on a stack of bibles I let a boob like you take it away from me, they'd send me to Matteawan, and God knows,—"
"Come in!" called out Mr. Yollop.
The door opened and a plump, dumpy lady in a pink peignoir, her front hair done up in curl-papers stood revealed on the threshold blinking in the strong light.
"Goodness gracious, Crittenden," she cried irritably, "don't you know what time of night it—"
She broke off abruptly as Mr. Smilk, with a great clatter, yanked his remaining foot from the drawer and arose, overturning the swivel-chair in his haste.
"Well, for the love of—" oozed from his gaping mouth. Suddenly he turned his face away and hunched one shoulder up as a sort of shield.
"It's long past three o'clock," went on the newcomer severely. "I'm sorry to interrupt a conference but I do think you might arrange for an appointment during the day, sir. My brother has not been well and if ever a man needed sleep and rest and regular hours, he does. Crittenden, I wish you—"
"Cassius," interrupted Mr. Yollop urbanely, "this is my sister, Mrs. Champney. I want you to repeat—Turn around here, can't you? What's the matter with you?"
"Don't order me around like that," muttered Mr. Smilk, still with his face averted. "I've got the gun now and I'll do as I damn' please. You can't talk to me like—"
"Goodness! Who is this man?" cried the lady, stopping short to regard the blasphemer with shocked, disapproving eyes. "And what is he doing with a revolver in his hand?"
"Give me that pistol,—at once," commanded Mr. Yollop. "Hand it over!"
"Not on your life," cried Mr. Smilk triumphantly. He faced Mrs. Champney. "Take off them rings, you. Put 'em here on the desk. Lively, now! And don't yelp! Do you get me? DON'T YELP!"
Mrs. Champney stared unblinkingly, speechless.
"Put up your hands, Yollop!" ordered Mr. Smilk.
"Why,—why, it's Ernest,—Ernest Wilson," she gasped, incredulously. Then, with a little squeak of relief: "Don't pay any attention to him, Crittenden. He is a friend of mine. Don't you remember me, Ernest? I am—"
"You bet your life I remember you," said the burglar softly, almost purringly.
"Ernest your grandmother," cried Mr. Yollop jerking the disk first one way and then the other in order to catch the flitting duologue. "His name is Smilk,—Cassius Smilk."
"Nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Champney sharply. "It's Ernest Wilson,—isn't it, Ernest?"
"Take off them rings," was the answer she got.
"What is this man doing here, Crittenden?" demanded Mrs. Champney, paying no heed to Smilk's command.
"He's a burglar," replied Mr. Yollop. "I guess you'd better take off your rings, Alice."
"Do you mean to tell me, Ernest Wilson, that you've gone back to your evil ways after all I,—"
"I say, Cassius," cried Mr. Yollop, "is this the woman you wanted to bind and gag and—and—"
"Yes, and rap over the bean," finished Mr. Smilk, as the speaker considerately refrained.
"Rap over the—what?" inquired Mrs. Champney, squinting.
"The bean," said Mr. Smilk, with emphasis.
"I can't imagine what has come over you, Ernest. You were such a nice, quiet, model prisoner,—one of the most promising I ever had anything to do with. The authorities assured me that you—do you mean to tell me that you entered this apartment for the purpose of robbing it? Don't answer! I don't want to hear your voice again. You have given me the greatest disappointment of my life. I trusted you, Ernest,—I had faith in you,—and—and now I find you here in my own brother's apartment, of all places in the world, still pursuing your-"
"Well, you went and moved away on me," broke in Smilk wrathfully.
"That's right, Alice," added Mr. Yollop. "You went and moved on him. He told me that just before you came in."
"You may as well understand right now, Ernest Wilson, that I shall never intercede for you again," said Mrs. Champney sternly. "I shall let you rot in prison. I am through with you. You don't deserve—"
"Are you goin' to take off them rings, or have I got to—"
"Would you rob your benefactress?" demanded the lady.
"Every time I think of all that you robbed me of, I—I—" began Mr. Smilk, shakily.
"Don't blubber, Cassius," said Mr. Yollop consolingly. "You see, my dear Alice, Mr. Smilk thinks,—and maintains,—that you did him a dirty trick when you had him turned out into a wicked, dishonest world. He was living on the fat of the land up there in Sing Sing, seeing motion pictures and plays and so forth, without a worry in the world, with union hours and union pay, no one depending—"
"What nonsense are you talking? How could he have union pay in a penitentiary, Crittenden?"
"Don't interrupt me, please. However, I will explain that he was just as well-off at the end of the week as any union laborer is, and no street car fare to pay besides. Free food, fuel, lodging, divorce, music—"
"I forgot to mention baseball," interrupted Mr. Smilk. "And once in awhile an electrocution to break the monotony, to say nothin' of a jail-break every now and then. Say, you'll have to get a move on, Mrs. Champney,—God, will I ever forget that name!—'cause we're expectin' the police here before long. I've changed my mind about havin' you hold your hands up, Mr. Yollop. You made me telephone for the police to come around and arrest me. Now I'm goin' to make you bind and gag this lady. I can't very well do it myself and keep you covered at the same time, and while I ought to give you a wollop on the jaw, same as you done to me, I ain't goin' to do it. You can scream if you want to, ma'am,—yell 'bloody murder', and 'police', and everything. It's all the same to me. Go ahead and—"
"It is not my intention to do anything of the kind," announced the lady haughtily. "But I want to tell you one thing, Crittenden Yollop. If you attempt to gag and bind me, I'll bite and scratch, even if you are my own brother."
Mr. Yollop pondered. "I think, Cassius, if you don't mind, I'd rather you'd hit me a good sound wollop on the jaw."
"I'll tell you what I'll do," modified Mr. Smilk. "I'll lock you in that closet over there, Mr. Yollop, so's you won't have to watch me rap her over the bean. After I've gone through the apartment, I'll—"
"Would you strike a woman, Ernest Wilson?" cried Mrs. Champney.
"See here, Smilk," said Mr. Yollop, "I cannot allow you to strike my sister. If you so much as lay a finger on her, I'll thrash you within an inch of your life."
"Oh, you will, will you?" sneered Mr. Smilk.
"If you want to go ahead and rob this apartment in a decent, orderly way, all well and good. My sister and I will personally conduct you through,—"
"We will do nothing of the kind," blazed Mrs. Champney.
"I'd like to see you try to thrash me within an inch—"
"And, what's more," went on the lady, "I will see that you go up for twenty years, Ernest Wilson, you degraded, ungrateful wretch."
Smilk's face brightened. He even allowed himself a foxy grin.
"Now you're beginnin' to talk sense," said he.
"Sit down, Ernest, and let me talk quietly to you," said Mrs. Champney. "I'm sure you don't quite realize what you are doing. You need moral support. You are not naturally a bad man. You—"
"Are you goin' to take them rings off peaceably?" muttered Smilk, a hunted look leaping into his eyes.
"I am not," said she.
"Speak a little louder, both of you," complained Mr. Yollop. "This contraption of mine doesn't seem to catch what you are saying."
"Jiggle it," said Smilk brightly.
"How long ago did you telephone for the police, Crittenden?"
"How long ago was it, Cassius?"
"Only about an hour. We got plenty of time to finish up before they get here."
"Do you think it will go harder with you, Cassius, if they find Mrs. Champney bound and gagged and everything scattered about the floor, and the jewelry in your possession?"
"It might help," said Cassius. "The trouble is, you never can tell what a damn' fool jury will do, 'specially to a guy with a record like mine."
"You had a splendid record up at Sing Sing," announced the lady. "That's why I had so little trouble—"
"You don't get me," said Cassius lugubriously. "My record is a bad one. I've been paroled twice. That's bound to influence most any jury against me. Wouldn't surprise me a bit if they recommended clemency, as the sayin' is, and after all that's been done to keep me out of the pen, the judge is likely to up and give me the minimum sentence. No," he went on, "I guess I'll have to rap somebody over the bean. I'd sooner it as you, ma'am, on account of the way you forced me into a life of crime when I was leadin' an honest, happy, carefree—"
"Why, the man's insane, Crittenden,—positively insane. He doesn't know what he's—"
"For God's sake, don't start anything like that," barked Cassius. "That would be the LIMIT!"
"You don't understand, Alice," said Mr. Yollop kindly. "The poor fellew merely wants to have the law enforced. He says it's a crime the way the law is being violated these days. Or words to that effect, eh, Cassius?"
"Yes, sir. There are more honest, law-abidin' men up in Sing Sing right at this minute than there are in the whole city of New York. Or words to that effect, as you say, Mr. Yollop. The surest and quickest way to make an honest man of a crook is to send him to the pen. I don't know as I've ever heard of a robbery, or a holdup, or anything like that up there."
"The way he rambles, Crittenden, is proof—"
"It would be just like her to go on the stand and swear I'm batty," snarled Cassius. "I got to do something about it, Mr. Yollop. She's goin' to interfere with the law again, sure as God made little apples. I can see it comin'. I'm goin' to count three, ma'am. If you don't let Mr. Yollop start to tyin' you up with that muffler of his hangin' over there in the closet by the time I've said three, I'm goin' to shoot him. I hate to do it, 'cause he's a fine feller and don't deserve to be shot on account of any darn' fool woman."
"I suppose you know the law provides a very unpleasant penalty for murder," said Mrs. Champney, but her voice quavered disloyally.
"One!" began Cassius ominously.
"Do you really mean it?" she cried, and glanced frantically over her shoulder at the open closet door.
"Two," replied Cassius.
"Count slowly," implored Mr. Yollop.
"You—you may tie my hands, Critt—Crittenden,—" chattered the lady.
"You mustn't bite or scratch him," warned Cassius.
Sixty seconds later, Mrs. Champney stood before the burglar, her wrists securely bound behind her back.
"Will you gag her, or must I?" demanded Cassius.
"I will give you my word of honor not to scream," faltered the crumpling lady.
"It ain't the screamin' I object to," said Smilk. "It's the talkin'. You've done too much talkin' already, ma'am. If you hadn't talked so much I wouldn't be here tonight."
"Have you a hanky, Cassius?" inquired Mr. Yollop.
"I refuse to have that disgusting wretch's filthy handkerchief stuffed into my mouth," cried Mrs. Champney, with spirit. Mr. Yollop chuckled. "Good gracious, Crittenden, what is there to laugh at?"
"I was thinking of your roll of bills, Cassius," said Mr. Yollop.
"Not on your life," said Cassius, who evidently had had the same thought. "She'd swaller it."
"I suppose we'd better repair to your room, Alice, where we can obtain the necessary articles. Mr. Smilk will naturally want to ransack your room anyhow, so we 'll be saving quite a bit of time. And the police are likely to be here any minute now."
"You forgot to take your rings off, ma'am," reminded Mr. Smilk. "That's got to be attended to, first of all. Take 'em off, Mr. Yollop, and put 'em here on the desk." A moment later he dropped the three costly rings into his coat pocket. "Now," said he, "lead the way. I'll be right behind you with the gun. No monkey business, now,—remember that."
It was not long before Mrs. Champney, properly gagged, found herself lashed to a rocking-chair in the charming little bed chamber, occupying, so to speak, a select position from which to observe the hasty but skillful operations of her recalcitrant beneficiary. She watched him empty her innovation trunk, the drawers in her bureau, and the closet in which her choicest gowns were hanging. He did it very thoroughly. The floor was strewn with lingerie, hats, shoes, slippers, gloves, stockings, furs, frocks,—over which he trod with professional disdain; he broke open her smart little jewel case and took therefrom a glittering assortment of rings, bracelets, and earrings; a horseshoe pin, a gorgeous crescent, and a string of pearls; a platinum and diamond wrist watch, an acorn watch, a diamond collar, several bars of diamonds, rubies and emeralds, and odds and ends of feminine vanity all without so much as pausing to classify them beyond the mere word "junk". All of this dazzling fortune he stuffed carelessly into his pocket.
During the proceedings, Mr. Yollop stood obediently over against the wall, his hands aloft, his back towards the rummaging Cassius.
"What's in that room over there?" demanded the burglar, pointing to a closed door. For obvious reasons there was no response. He scowled for a second or two and then, striding over to Mr. Yollop, seized him by the shoulder and turned him about-face. Then he repeated the question.
"That's the room where my niece sleeps. A little ten year old child, Cassius. You will oblige me by not disturbing—"
"Is her hair bobbed?" broke in Mr. Smilk.
"Certainly not. She wears it long. Beautiful golden tresses, Smilk. Particularly beautiful when she's asleep, spreading out all over the pillow like a silken—" An audible, muffled, groan came from the occupant of the rocking-chair heard only by Mr. Smilk. His gaze went first to the purpling face of Mrs. Champney, then to the door, then back to the lady again.
"For your sake, Mr. Yollop, I won't clip it," he announced. "I know I'd ought to, but—Well, I guess it's about time we went back to the library again. The cops will be along in a couple of minutes now, according to my calculations. I can tell almost to a minute how long it takes them to get around to where a burglary has been committed. If you'll tell me where you think your slippers are we'll stop and get 'em on the way."
Leaving Mrs. Champney seated alone and helpless in the midst of the confusion, Smilk marched Mr. Yollop to his bedroom and then up the hall to the scene of the first encounter.
"It seems sort of a pity not to get away with all this stuff," said the burglar, rattling the objects in his pocket. "It ain't professional. I'm beginnin' to change my mind about bein' arrested, Mr. Yollop: I know a girl that would be tickled to death to have these things to splash around in. She's a peach of a—say, I believe I'll use your telephone again. I'll call her up and see how she feels about it. If she says she'd like to have 'em, I'll make my getaway before the cops—"
"You will find the telephone directory hanging on the end of the desk, Cassius," said Mr. Yollop graciously. He was seated in the big arm chair again, wriggling his toes delightedly in the cozy, fleece lined bed-room slippers. "But are you not afraid she will be annoyed if you get her out of bed this time o' night? It's after three."
"I know the number. Yes, she'll be sore at first, but—Hello Central?" He lowered his voice almost to a whisper, so that Mr. Yollop could not hear. "Give me Plaza 00100. Right." Turning to Mr. Yollop, he announced as he sank back into the chair comfortably:
"It's an apartment. We'll probably have quite a long wait. I've found it takes some little time to wake the head of the house and get him to the 'phone. And say, he's the darndest grouch I've ever tackled. Get's sore as a crab. But we've got him where we want him. He knows darned well if he kicks up a row, she'll quit and his wife couldn't get anybody in her place for love or money these days. I was sayin' only the other night—" Again lowering his voice: "Is this Plaza 00100? ... I want to speak to Yilga, please." ... Raising his voice considerably: "Here, now, cut that out! ... Well, it IS important. ... Course, I know what time o' night it is. ... Yes, it's a damned outrage an' all that, but—what? ... All right, I'll hold the wire. Tell her to hustle, will you?"
"I wish I had shot you, Smilk, when I had the chance," said Mr. Yollop sadly. "This is abominable, atrocious. Getting a man out of bed at half-past three! It's unspeakable, Smilk!"
"She's a light sleeper," mused Mr. Smilk aloud, dreamily.
"Don't bother me. I'm thinkin'!"
Mr. Yollop waited a moment. "What are you thinking about, Cassius?"
Cassius started. "... Eh? I was thinkin' about the last time I had breakfast at Mr. Johnson's apartment. It was that terrible cold morning the first of last week. By gosh, how that girl can cook! Six fried eggs and—yes? Hello!"
Plaza 00100: "Yilga's not in yet."
Smilk, sharply: "What's that?"
Plaza 00100: "She's out."
Smilk, sharply: "Out? Come off! You can't put that sort of stuff over me—"
Plaza 00100: "I tell you she's not in. That's all. And say, don't call up this apartment again at—"
Smilk: "Say, it's nearly four o'clock. She must be in."
Plaza 00100: "She's not in, I tell you. She went out last evening with her young man. One of the other maids stuck her head out of her door and told me."
Smilk, with fallen jaw: "What—what time do you expect her in?"
Plaza 00100: "I don't know, and I don't give a damn so long as she's here in time to get break—"
Smilk, furiously: "Hey, you go back there and bust into her room. Hear what I say? Better take a club or a gun or something—"
Plaza 00100; "Go to thunder!"
Smilk, flinching as he jerked the receiver away from his ear: "Lord! I bet he put that telephone out of whack!"
He sagged a little as he slowly hung up the receiver. For a moment he stared desolately at Mr. Yollop and then recovering himself gradually rushed with ever increasing velocity into the most violent hurricane of profanity that ever was centered upon the frailty of woman. Running out of expletives he at last subsided into an ominous calm.
"For two cents," groaned he, "I'd blow my head off." He gazed hungrily at the revolver.
"I never dreamed there were so many cuss-words in the world," gasped Mr. Yollop, blinking.
"There ain't half enough," announced Mr. Smilk, in a far away voice.
"Put that pistol down!" roared Mr. Yollop. "What are you going to do? Shoot yourself?"
"It would save an awful lot of trouble," said Mr. Smilk.
"The deuce it would! My servants would be a week cleaning up after you, and you'd probably ruin this Meshed rug. Besides, confound you, the police would think that I shot you. Give me that pistol! Give it to me, I say. You can come in here and rob to your heart's content, but I'm damned if I'll allow you to commit suicide here. That's a little too thick, Smilk. Why the dickens should you worry about that infernal jade? Aren't you going to the penitentiary for fifteen or twenty years? Aren't you-"
"You're right,—you're right," broke in Cassius, drawing a deep breath. "I guess I had a kind of a brainstorm. It was the jewels that done it. Funny how a feller gets the feelin' that he just has to give diamonds and pearls to his girl. It came over me all of a sudden. The only things I ever gave that girl was a moleskin coat, a sable collar and muff, and a gold mesh bag with seventy-eight dollars and a lace handkerchief in it. For a minute or two I was tempted to give her diamonds and rubies—oh, well, I guess I've had my lesson. Never again! Never again, Mr. Yollop. I'm off women from now on. Here's the gun. If the police try to hang it on you, I'll swear it's mine. Listen! there's the elevator stoppin' at this floor. It's them. Before we let 'em in, I'd like to tell you I've never had a more interestin' evenin' in my whole life. What's more I never saw a man like you. You got me guessin'. You're either the goshdarndest fool livin' or else you're the slickest confidence man outside of captivity. Which are you? That's what's eatin' me."
"I'm both," said Mr. Yollop, picking up the revolver.
"That ain't possible," said Mr. Smilk.
"Oh, yes, it is. I'm a milliner, Cassius."
"I know you're a millionaire, but that don't,—"
"I said milliner."
"Run a mill of some kind?"
"No, I make hats for women."
As the incredulous burglar opened his mouth to say something the buzzer on the door sounded.
"They got here just in time," he substituted.
The case of the State vs. Cassius Smilk, charged with burglary, was finally set for trial the second week in February, just one year, one month and eleven days after his arrest in the apartment of Crittenden Yollop. There had been, it appears, a slight delay in getting 'round to his case. The dockets in all Parts of General Sessions were more or less clogged by the efforts of ex-convicts to get back into the penitentiary. Also, there were a great many murder cases that kept bobbing up every now and then for continuance on one plea or another to the disgust of the harassed judges; to say nothing of the re-trials made necessary by the jurors who listened more attentively to the lawyers who "summed up" than they did to the witnesses who were under oath to tell nothing but the truth.
Cassius, on arraignment, had pleaded not guilty, according to the ancient ritual of his profession. Notwithstanding his evident and expressed desire to return to a haven of peace and luxury, he was far too conscientious a criminal to violate the soundest—it may well be said, the elemental—law of his craft, by pleading guilty to anything.
It was a matter of principle with him. Circumstances had nothing to do with it. The instant he found himself in court, he reverted to type, somewhat gleefully setting about to make as much trouble as possible. He adhered to the principle that no criminal is adequately punished unless the people are made to pay for the privilege of suppressing him. The only way to make the people respect the law, he contended, is to let 'em understand that it costs money to enforce it. Besides, crime has a certain, clearly established dignity that must be reckoned with. The world thinks a great deal less of you if after you have violated the law, you also refuse to fight it.
Take the judge, for instance. (I quote Smilk.) What sort of an opinion does he have of you if you slide up to the little "gate," with your tail between your legs and plead guilty? Why, he hardly notices you. He has to put on his spectacles in order to see you at all and he doesn't even have to look in the statute book to refresh his memory as to the minimum penalty for larceny or whatever it is. And the way the Assistant District Attorney looks at you! And the bailiffs too. But put up a fight and see what happens. The whole blamed works sits up and takes notice. The judge looks over his spectacles and says to himself, "by gosh, he's a tough lookin' bird, that guy is;" the District Attorney goes around tellin' everybody in a whisper that you're a desperate character; the clerk of the court, the stenographer and all the bailiffs sort of wake up and act busy; the men waiting to be examined for jobs on the jury begin to fidget and wonder whether the judge is a "crab" or a nice, decent feller what'll let 'em off when they tell him they got sickness in the family, and all of 'em ha tin' you worse than poison because you didn't plead guilty.
He was remanded for trial within two weeks after his arrest. The court, finding him penniless, announced he would appoint counsel to defend him. Whereupon Smilk sauntered back to the Tombs with a light heart, confident that his sojourn there would be brief and that March at the very latest would see him snugly settled in his rent-free, food-free, landlordless home on the Hudson, entertainment for man and beast provided without discrimination, crime no object.
First of all, his lawyer unexpectedly got a job to represent a shady lady in a sensational breach of promise suit that drew weekly postponements over a period of five months and finally died a natural death out of court sometime in June.
This resulted in his lawyer becoming so affluent that it wasn't necessary for him to bother with Cassius, so he withdrew from the case. After some delay, another lawyer was appointed to defend him and things began to look up. But by this time the dockets had become so jammed with unrelated dilemmas, and the summer heat was so intense, that the new lawyer informed him he couldn't possibly sandwich him in unless he would consent to change his plea to "guilty", contending that the combination of humility and humidity would go a long ways towards softening the judge. But Cassius sturdily refused to cheapen himself.
In the meantime, new crimes had been committed by countless gentlemen of leisure; the Tombs was full of men clamoring for attention, and there was an undetected waiting list outside that stretched all the way from the Battery to the lower extremities of Yonkers.
The principal witness, Mr. Crittenden Yollop, did his best to behave nobly. He thrice postponed a business trip to Paris in order to be within reach when Cassius needed him. Then, in the fall, when things looked most propitious for a speedy termination of Smilk's suspense, the millinery business took a sudden and alarming turn for the worse and Mr. Yollop fell into the hands of the specialists. He had his teeth ex-rayed, his sinuses probed, his eyes examined, his stomach sounded, his intestines visited, his nerves tampered with, his blood tested, his kidneys explored, his heart observed, his ears inspected, his gall stones (if he had any) shifted, his last will and testament drawn up, his funeral practically arranged for,—all by different scientists,—and then was ordered to go off somewhere in the country and play golf for his health. He went to Hot Springs, Virginia, and inside of two weeks contracted the golf disease in its most virulent form. He got it so bad that other players looked upon him as a scourge and avoided him even to the point of self-sacrifice. It was said of him that when he once got on a green it was next to impossible to get him off of it.
But all this is neither here nor there. Suffice to say that shortly after his return to New York, Mr. Yollop paid a more or less clandestine visit to the Tombs, where he saw Cassius. This was the week before the trial was to open. He found the crook in a disconsolate frame of mind.
"Don't call me Yollop," he managed to convey to the prisoner. "I gave another name to the jailer or whatever he is. Is it jail bird? It wouldn't look right for the prosecuting witness to come down here to see you. They think I'm your brother-in-law."
Smilk glowered. "Has your hearin' improved any?" he inquired, after locating the disc.
"No, of course not."
"Then," said the prisoner, "I can't tell you what I think of you without the whole damn' jail hearin' me, so I guess you'd better beat it."
"Splendid! That's just the way I might have expected you to talk to your brother-in-law."
"Well, what do you want anyhow?"
"I don't think that's a very nice way to speak to a—"
"Come on, what do you want to see me about? Get it over with and get out. It can't help my case any if it gets noised around that you come down here to pay a friendly visit to me. I'm havin' a hard enough time as it is. It's gettin' so it's almost impossible to get back into the pen even—"
"See here, Cassius, I've been giving your case a great deal—of serious thought. I want to help you out of this scrape if there is any way to do it."
"That's just what I thought you'd be up to," groaned Cassius. "What's got into you? Have you soured on life, or what is it?"
"Not a bit of it. You do not get my meaning. Your wife came to see me yesterday afternoon."
"My wife? Which one?"
"A tallish one with a flat nose."
"Yes, I know her. What'd she want?"
"She asked me to be as easy on you as I could, on account of the children."
"How many children has she got now?"
"Four, she informs me. The youngest is two and a half."
Cassius seemed to be doing a bit of mental arithmetic. He pondered well before speaking. Then he said: "Did she say whose children?"
"I assumed them to be yours, Cassius."
Smilk grinned. "Well, I guess she's adopted a couple since the last time I saw her, which was five years ago last Spring. I been married twice since then. So she wants you to go easy on me, eh?"
"She seems to think that if I intercede for you the judge will let you off with a suspended sentence, and then you can go to work and support your family."
"It's time she woke up," snarled Smilk.
"I been at large quite a bit in the last ten years and if she can prove that I ever supported her,—why, darn her hide, what right has she got to accuse me of supportin' her when she knows I've never been guilty of doin' it? She knows as well as anything that she supported me on three different occasions when I was out for a month or two at a stretch. I will say this for her, she supported me better than the other two did,—a lot better. And it's her own fault her nose is flat. If she'd stood still that time—But I'm not goin' to discuss family affairs with you, Mr. Yol—"
"It's all right. He ain't listenin'."
"What is your brother-in-law's name?" in a whisper.
"I never had but one name for him, and it's something I wouldn't call you for anything in the world," said Smilk. "Let's make it Bill. You ain't goin' to do what she asks, are you? You ain't goin' to do a dirty trick like that are you,—Bill?"
"I thought I would come down and talk the matter over with you, Cash. I'm in quite a dilemma. She says if I don't help you out of this scrape she and all your children will haunt me to my dying day. It sounds rather terrible, doesn't it?"
"I can't think of anything worse," acknowledged Cassius, solemnly.
"She asked me what I thought your sentence would be, and I told her I doubted very much whether you'd get more than a year or so, in view of all the extenuating circumstances,—that is to say, your self-restraint and all that when you had not only the jewels but the revolver as well. That seemed to cheer her up a bit."
"You made a ten strike that time, Bill," said Smilk, his face brightening. "I didn't give you credit for bein' so clever. If she thinks I'll be out in a year or two, maybe she'll be satisfied to keep her nose out of my affairs. If you had told her I was dead sure to go up for twenty years or so, she'd come and camp over there in the Criminal Courts Building and just raise particular hell with everything."
Mr. Yollop turned his face away. "I'm sorry to bring bad news to you, Cash, but she's made up her mind to attend your trial next Monday. She's going to bring the children and—"
He was interrupted by the string of horrific oaths that issued, pianissimo, through the twisted lips of the prisoner. After a time, Cassius interrupted himself to murmur weakly:
"If she does that, I'm lost. We got to head her off somehow, Mr.—er—Bill."
"I don't see how it can be managed. She has a perfect right to attend the pro—"
"Wait a minute, Bill," broke in the other eagerly. "I got an idea. If you give her that roll of mine, maybe she'll stay away."
"What roll are you talking about?"
"My roll of bills,—you remember, don't you?"
"My good man, I haven't got your roll of bills. And besides I couldn't put myself in the position of—of—er—what is it you call it?—tinkering with witnesses to defeat the ends of justice."
"But she ain't a witness, Bill. You couldn't possibly get in wrong. What's more, it's my money, and I got a right to give it to my wife, ain't I? Ain't I got a right to give money to my own wife,—or to one of my wives, strictly speakin',—and to my own children? Ain't I?"
"That isn't the point. I refuse to be a party to any such game. We need not discuss it any farther. As I said before, I haven't your roll of bills, and if I had it I—"
"Oh, yes, you have. You got it right up there in your apartment. I stuck it away behind a—"
"Stop! Not another word, Cassius. I don't want to know where it is. If you persist in telling me, I'll—I'll ask the judge to let you off with the lightest sentence he can—"
"Oh, Lord, you WOULDN'T do that, would you?"
"Yes, I would. What do you mean by secreting stolen property in my apartments?"
"I didn't steal it. I found it, I tell you."
"Hope I may die if I didn't."
"Well, it may stay there till it rots, so far as I am concerned."
"No danger of that," said Smilk composedly. "A friend of mine is comin' around some night soon to get it. What else did she say?"
"What else did my wife say?"
"Oh! Well, among other things, she wondered if it would be possible to get an injunction against the court to prevent him from depriving her of her only means of support. She says everybody is getting injunctions these days and—"
"Bosh!" said Smilk, but not with conviction. An anxious, inquiring gleam lurked in his eyes.
Mr. Yollop continued:
"I told her it was ridiculous,—and it is. Then she said she was going to see your lawyer and ask him to put her on the witness stand to testify that you are a good, loyal, hard-working husband and that your children ought to have a father's hand over them, and a lot more like that."
"She tried that once before and the court wouldn't let her testify," said Smilk. "But anyhow, I'll tell my lawyer to kick her out of the office if she comes around there offering to commit perjury."
"I rather fancy she has considered that angle, Cassius. She says if she isn't allowed to testify, she's going to attempt suicide right there in the court-room."
"By gum, she's a mean woman," groaned Smilk.
"I'm obliged to agree with you," said Mr. Yollop, compressing his lips as a far-away look came into his eyes. "If I live to be a thousand years old, I'll never forget the way she talked to me when I finally succeeded in telling her I was busy and she would have to excuse me. It was something appalling."
"Course. I suppose I got myself to blame," lamented Cassius ruefully. "I don't know how many times I come near to doin' it and didn't because I was so darned chicken-hearted."
"I have decided, Cash, that you ought to go up for life,—or for thirty years, at least. So when I go on the stand I intend to do everything in my power to secure the maximum for you. At first, I was reluctant to aid you in your efforts to lead a life of ease and enjoyment but recent events have convinced me that you are entitled to all that the law can give you."
"It won't do much good if she's to set there in the Courtroom, snivelling and lookin' heart-broke, with a pack of half-starved kids hangin' on to her. Like as not, she won't give 'em anything to eat for two or three days so's they'll look the part. I remember two of them kids fairly well. The Lord knows I used to take all kinds of risks to provide clothes and all sorts of luxuries for them,—and for her too. I used to give 'em bicycles and skates and gold watches,—yes, sir, we had Christmas regularly once a month. And she never was without fur neck-pieces and muffs and silk stockings and everything. The trouble with that woman is, she can't stand poverty. She just keeps on hopin' for the day to come when she can wear all sorts of finery and jewels again, even if I do have to go to the penitentiary for it. All this comes of bein' too good a provider, Bill. You spoil 'em."
Mr. Yollop was thinking, so Cassius, after waiting a moment, scratched his head and ventured:
"That guy's beginnin' to fidget, Bill. I guess your time's about up. What are you thinkin' about?"
"I was thinking about your other wives. How many did you say you have?"
"Three, all told. The other two don't bother me much."
"Haven't you ever been divorced from any of them?"
"Not especially. Why?"
"Where do the other two live, and what are their names?"
"Elsie Morton and Jennie Finch. I mean, those are their married names. I use a different alias every time I get married, you see. Course, my first wife,—the one you met,—her name is Smilk. I married her when I was young and not very smart. Elsie lives in Brooklyn and Jennie keeps a delicatessen up on the West Side."
"Do they know where you are?"
"I don't think so. I forgot to tell 'em I was out on parole last year."
"And they have never been divorced from you?"
"No. They couldn't prove anything on me as long as I was locked up in the penitentiary."
"Does either one of them know about the other two?"
"I should say not! What do you think I am?"
"Don't lose your temper, Cassius. I am trying to think of some way to help you,—and I believe I see a ray of hope. You were regularly married to Elsie and Jennie,—I mean, by a minister, and so on?"
"Sure. They both got their marriage certificates. I always believe in doin' things in the proper legal way. It's only fair and right. They—"
"Never mind. Give me their addresses."
There were quite a number of people in the court room when the case of the State vs. Smilk was called. It was a bitterly cold day outside and considerable of an overflow from the corridors had seeped into the various court rooms. But little delay was experienced in obtaining a jury. The regular panel was stuck, with a few exceptions. Only one member was able to declare that he had formed an opinion, and he did not form it until after he had had a good look at the prisoner,—although he did not say so. Two were challenged by counsel and one got off because he admitted that he was acquainted with a man who used to be connected with the District Attorney's office,—he couldn't think of his name.
Smilk's attorney succeeded in executing a very clever piece of strategy at the outset. No sooner had the jury been sworn than he ordered the bailiffs to crowd three or four more chairs alongside his table, and then blandly invited a considerable portion of the audience to take their seats inside the railing. The persons indicated included a tall, shabbily dressed woman and seven ragged, pinched children, ranging in years from twelve down to three. Immediately the prosecution fell into the trap. Two agitated Assistant District Attorneys jumped to their feet and barked out an objection to the presence of the accused's wife and family on the inside of the fence, and the court promptly sustained them. He also said some very sharp and caustic things to Smilk's lawyer. Mrs. Smilk and her bewildered seven patiently resumed their seats in the front row of spectators, but not until after a four year old girl, surreptitiously pinched, had caused a mild sensation by piping: "I want my daddy! I want my daddy!"
Smilk cringed and it was quite apparent to close observers that he was having great difficulty in suppressing his emotions.
The first witness for the prosecution was Crittenden Yollop, milliner, aged 44. A more thorough examination by the State would have disclosed the fact that he was six feet tall, spare, slightly bald, beardless, well-manicured, and faultlessly attired.
"State your name and occupation, please," said the State's attorney, advancing a few paces toward the witness stand.