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The Man With Two Left Feet by P. G. Wodehouse

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Bear-Cat.

What they ought to do, in the Bear-Cat's opinion, was to get the old
man out into Washington Square one morning. He of Tennessee would then
sasshay up in a flip manner and make a break. Ted, waiting close by,
would resent his insolence. There would be words, followed by blows.

'See what I mean?' pursued the Bear-Cat. 'There's you and me mixing it.
I'll square the cop on the beat to leave us be; he's a friend of mine.
Pretty soon you land me one on the plexus, and I take th' count. Then
there's you hauling me up by th' collar to the old gentleman, and me
saying I quits and apologizing. See what I mean?'

The whole, presumably, to conclude with warm expressions of gratitude
and esteem from Mr Bennett, and an instant withdrawal of the veto.

Ted himself approved of the scheme. He said it was a cracker-jaw, and
he wondered how one so notoriously ivory-skulled as the other could
have had such an idea. The Bear-Cat said modestly that he had 'em
sometimes. And it is probable that all would have been well, had it not
been necessary to tell the plan to Katie, who was horrified at the very
idea, spoke warmly of the danger to her grandfather's nervous system,
and said she did not think the Bear-Cat could be a nice friend for Ted.
And matters relapsed into their old state of hopelessness.

And then, one day, Katie forced herself to tell Ted that she thought it
would be better if they did not see each other for a time. She said
that these meetings were only a source of pain to both of them. It
would really be better if he did not come round for--well, quite some
time.

It had not been easy for her to say it. The decision was the outcome of
many wakeful nights. She had asked herself the question whether it was
fair for her to keep Ted chained to her in this hopeless fashion, when,
left to himself and away from her, he might so easily find some other
girl to make him happy.

So Ted went, reluctantly, and the little shop on Sixth Avenue knew him
no more. And Katie spent her time looking after old Mr Bennett (who had
completely forgotten the affair by now, and sometimes wondered why
Katie was not so cheerful as she had been), and--for, though unselfish,
she was human--hating those unknown girls whom in her mind's eye she
could see clustering round Ted, smiling at him, making much of him, and
driving the bare recollection of her out of his mind.

The summer passed. July came and went, making New York an oven. August
followed, and one wondered why one had complained of July's tepid
advances.

It was on the evening of September the eleventh that Katie, having
closed the little shop, sat in the dusk on the steps, as many thousands
of her fellow-townsmen and townswomen were doing, turning her face to
the first breeze which New York had known for two months. The hot spell
had broken abruptly that afternoon, and the city was drinking in the
coolness as a flower drinks water.

From round the corner, where the yellow cross of the Judson Hotel shone
down on Washington Square, came the shouts of children, and the
strains, mellowed by distance, of the indefatigable barrel-organ which
had played the same tunes in the same place since the spring.

Katie closed her eyes, and listened. It was very peaceful this evening,
so peaceful that for an instant she forgot even to think of Ted. And it
was just during this instant that she heard his voice.

'That you, kid?'

He was standing before her, his hands in his pockets, one foot on the
pavement, the other in the road; and if he was agitated, his voice did
not show it.

'Ted!'

'That's me. Can I see the old man for a minute, Katie?'

This time it did seem to her that she could detect a slight ring of
excitement.

'It's no use, Ted. Honest.'

'No harm in going in and passing the time of day, is there? I've got
something I want to say to him.'

'What?'

'Tell you later, maybe. Is he in his room?'

He stepped past her, and went in. As he went, he caught her arm and
pressed it, but he did not stop. She saw him go into the inner room and
heard through the door as he closed it behind him, the murmur of
voices. And almost immediately, it seemed to her, her name was called.
It was her grandfather's voice which called, high and excited. The door
opened, and Ted appeared.

'Come here a minute, Katie, will you?' he said. 'You're wanted.'

The old man was leaning forward in his chair. He was in a state of
extraordinary excitement. He quivered and jumped. Ted, standing by the
wall, looked as stolid as ever; but his eyes glittered.

'Katie,' cried the old man, 'this is a most remarkable piece of news.
This gentleman has just been telling me--extraordinary. He--'

He broke off, and looked at Ted, as he had looked at Katie when he had
tried to write the letter to the Parliament of England.

Ted's eye, as it met Katie's, was almost defiant.

'I want to marry you,' he said.

'Yes, yes,' broke in Mr Bennett, impatiently, 'but--'

'And I'm a king.'

'Yes, yes, that's it, that's it, Katie. This gentleman is a king.'

Once more Ted's eye met Katie's, and this time there was an imploring
look in it.

'That's right,' he said, slowly. 'I've just been telling your
grandfather I'm the King of Coney Island.'

'That's it. Of Coney Island.'

'So there's no objection now to us getting married, kid--Your Royal
Highness. It's a royal alliance, see?'

'A royal alliance,' echoed Mr Bennett.

Out in the street, Ted held Katie's hand, and grinned a little
sheepishly.

'You're mighty quiet, kid,' he said. 'It looks as if it don't make much
of a hit with you, the notion of being married to me.'

'Oh, Ted! But--'

He squeezed her hand.

'I know what you're thinking. I guess it was raw work pulling a tale
like that on the old man. I hated to do it, but gee! when a fellow's up
against it like I was, he's apt to grab most any chance that comes
along. Why, say, kid, it kind of looked to me as if it was sort of
_meant_. Coming just now, like it did, just when it was wanted,
and just when it didn't seem possible it could happen. Why, a week ago
I was nigh on two hundred votes behind Billy Burton. The Irish-American
put him up, and everybody thought he'd be King at the Mardi Gras. And
then suddenly they came pouring in for me, till at the finish I had
Billy looking like a regular has-been.

'It's funny the way the voting jumps about every year in this Coney
election. It was just Providence, and it didn't seem right to let it go
by. So I went in to the old man, and told him. Say, I tell you I was
just sweating when I got ready to hand it to him. It was an outside
chance he'd remember all about what the Mardi Gras at Coney was, and
just what being a king at it amounted to. Then I remembered you telling
me you'd never been to Coney, so I figured your grandfather wouldn't be
what you'd call well fixed in his information about it, so I took the
chance.

'I tried him out first. I tried him with Brooklyn. Why, say, from the
way he took it, he'd either never heard of the place, or else he'd
forgotten what it was. I guess he don't remember much, poor old fellow.
Then I mentioned Yonkers. He asked me what Yonkers were. Then I
reckoned it was safe to bring on Coney, and he fell for it right away.
I felt mean, but it had to be done.'

He caught her up, and swung her into the air with a perfectly impassive
face. Then, having kissed her, he lowered her gently to the ground
again. The action seemed to have relieved his feelings, for when he
spoke again it was plain that his conscience no longer troubled him.

'And say,' he said, 'come to think of it, I don't see where there's so
much call for me to feel mean. I'm not so far short of being a regular
king. Coney's just as big as some of those kingdoms you read about on
the other side; and, from what you see in the papers about the
goings-on there, it looks to me that, having a whole week on the throne
like I'm going to have, amounts to a pretty steady job as kings go.'

AT GEISENHEIMER'S

As I walked to Geisenheimer's that night I was feeling blue and
restless, tired of New York, tired of dancing, tired of everything.
Broadway was full of people hurrying to the theatres. Cars rattled by.
All the electric lights in the world were blazing down on the Great
White Way. And it all seemed stale and dreary to me.

Geisenheimer's was full as usual. All the tables were occupied, and
there were several couples already on the dancing-floor in the centre.
The band was playing 'Michigan':

_I want to go back, I want to go back
To the place where I was born.
Far away from harm
With a milk-pail on my arm._

I suppose the fellow who wrote that would have called for the police if
anyone had ever really tried to get him on to a farm, but he has
certainly put something into the tune which makes you think he meant
what he said. It's a homesick tune, that.

I was just looking round for an empty table, when a man jumped up and
came towards me, registering joy as if I had been his long-lost sister.

He was from the country. I could see that. It was written all over him,
from his face to his shoes.

He came up with his hand out, beaming.

'Why, Miss Roxborough!'

'Why not?' I said.

'Don't you remember me?'

I didn't.

'My name is Ferris.'

'It's a nice name, but it means nothing in my young life.'

'I was introduced to you last time I came here. We danced together.'

This seemed to bear the stamp of truth. If he was introduced to me, he
probably danced with me. It's what I'm at Geisenheimer's for.

'When was it?'

'A year ago last April.'

You can't beat these rural charmers. They think New York is folded up
and put away in camphor when they leave, and only taken out again when
they pay their next visit. The notion that anything could possibly have
happened since he was last in our midst to blur the memory of that
happy evening had not occurred to Mr Ferris. I suppose he was so
accustomed to dating things from 'when I was in New York' that he
thought everybody else must do the same.

'Why, sure, I remember you,' I said. 'Algernon Clarence, isn't it?'

'Not Algernon Clarence. My name's Charlie.'

'My mistake. And what's the great scheme, Mr Ferris? Do you want to
dance with me again?'

He did. So we started. Mine not to reason why, mine but to do and die,
as the poem says. If an elephant had come into Geisenheimer's and asked
me to dance I'd have had to do it. And I'm not saying that Mr Ferris
wasn't the next thing to it. He was one of those earnest, persevering
dancers--the kind that have taken twelve correspondence lessons.

I guess I was about due that night to meet someone from the country.
There still come days in the spring when the country seems to get a
stranglehold on me and start in pulling. This particular day had been
one of them. I got up in the morning and looked out of the window, and
the breeze just wrapped me round and began whispering about pigs and
chickens. And when I went out on Fifth Avenue there seemed to be
flowers everywhere. I headed for the Park, and there was the grass all
green, and the trees coming out, and a sort of something in the
air--why, say, if there hadn't have been a big policeman keeping an eye
on me, I'd have flung myself down and bitten chunks out of the turf.

And as soon as I got to Geisenheimer's they played that 'Michigan'
thing.

Why, Charlie from Squeedunk's 'entrance' couldn't have been better
worked up if he'd been a star in a Broadway show. The stage was just
waiting for him.

But somebody's always taking the joy out of life. I ought to have
remembered that the most metropolitan thing in the metropolis is a
rustic who's putting in a week there. We weren't thinking on the same
plane, Charlie and me. The way I had been feeling all day, what I
wanted to talk about was last season's crops. The subject he fancied
was this season's chorus-girls. Our souls didn't touch by a mile and a
half.

'This is the life!' he said.

There's always a point when that sort of man says that.

'I suppose you come here quite a lot?' he said.

'Pretty often.'

I didn't tell him that I came there every night, and that I came
because I was paid for it. If you're a professional dancer at
Geisenheimer's, you aren't supposed to advertise the fact. The
management thinks that if you did it might send the public away
thinking too hard when they saw you win the Great Contest for the
Love-r-ly Silver Cup which they offer later in the evening. Say, that
Love-r-ly Cup's a joke. I win it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,
and Mabel Francis wins it on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It's
all perfectly fair and square, of course. It's purely a matter of merit
who wins the Love-r-ly Cup. Anybody could win it. Only somehow they
don't. And the coincidence of the fact that Mabel and I always do has
kind of got on the management's nerves, and they don't like us to tell
people we're employed there. They prefer us to blush unseen.

'It's a great place,' said Mr Ferris, 'and New York's a great place.
I'd like to live in New York.'

'The loss is ours. Why don't you?'

'Some city! But dad's dead now, and I've got the drugstore, you know.'

He spoke as if I ought to remember reading about it in the papers.

'And I'm making good with it, what's more. I've got push and ideas.
Say, I got married since I saw you last.'

'You did, did you?' I said. 'Then what are you doing, may I ask,
dancing on Broadway like a gay bachelor? I suppose you have left your
wife at Hicks' Corners, singing "Where is my wandering boy tonight"?'

'Not Hicks' Corners. Ashley, Maine. That's where I live. My wife comes
from Rodney.... Pardon me, I'm afraid I stepped on your foot.'

'My fault,' I said; 'I lost step. Well, I wonder you aren't ashamed
even to think of your wife, when you've left her all alone out there
while you come whooping it up in New York. Haven't you got any
conscience?'

'But I haven't left her. She's here.'

'In New York?'

'In this restaurant. That's her up there.'

I looked up at the balcony. There was a face hanging over the red plush
rail. It looked to me as if it had some hidden sorrow. I'd noticed it
before, when we were dancing around, and I had wondered what the
trouble was. Now I began to see.

'Why aren't you dancing with her and giving her a good time, then?' I
said.

'Oh, she's having a good time.'

'She doesn't look it. She looks as if she would like to be down here,
treading the measure.'

'She doesn't dance much.'

'Don't you have dances at Ashley?'

'It's different at home. She dances well enough for Ashley, but--well,
this isn't Ashley.'

'I see. But you're not like that?'

He gave a kind of smirk.

'Oh, I've been in New York before.'

I could have bitten him, the sawn-off little rube! It made me mad. He
was ashamed to dance in public with his wife--didn't think her good
enough for him. So he had dumped her in a chair, given her a lemonade,
and told her to be good, and then gone off to have a good time. They
could have had me arrested for what I was thinking just then.

The band began to play something else.

'This is the life!' said Mr Ferris. 'Let's do it again.'

'Let somebody else do it,' I said. 'I'm tired. I'll introduce you to
some friends of mine.'

So I took him off, and whisked him on to some girls I knew at one of
the tables.

'Shake hands with my friend Mr Ferris,' I said. 'He wants to show you
the latest steps. He does most of them on your feet.'

I could have betted on Charlie, the Debonair Pride of Ashley. Guess
what he said? He said, 'This is the life!'

And I left him, and went up to the balcony.

She was leaning with her elbows on the red plush, looking down on the
dancing-floor. They had just started another tune, and hubby was moving
around with one of the girls I'd introduced him to. She didn't have to
prove to me that she came from the country. I knew it. She was a little
bit of a thing, old-fashioned looking. She was dressed in grey, with
white muslin collar and cuffs, and her hair done simple. She had a
black hat.

I kind of hovered for awhile. It isn't the best thing I do, being shy;
as a general thing I'm more or less there with the nerve; but somehow I
sort of hesitated to charge in.

Then I braced up, and made for the vacant chair.

'I'll sit here, if you don't mind,' I said.

She turned in a startled way. I could see she was wondering who I was,
and what right I had there, but wasn't certain whether it might not be
city etiquette for strangers to come and dump themselves down and start
chatting. 'I've just been dancing with your husband,' I said, to ease
things along.

'I saw you.'

She fixed me with a pair of big brown eyes. I took one look at them,
and then I had to tell myself that it might be pleasant, and a relief
to my feelings, to take something solid and heavy and drop it over the
rail on to hubby, but the management wouldn't like it. That was how I
felt about him just then. The poor kid was doing everything with those
eyes except crying. She looked like a dog that's been kicked.

She looked away, and fiddled with the string of the electric light.
There was a hatpin lying on the table. She picked it up, and began to
dig at the red plush.

'Ah, come on sis,' I said; 'tell me all about it.'

'I don't know what you mean.'

'You can't fool me. Tell me your troubles.'

'I don't know you.'

'You don't have to know a person to tell her your troubles. I sometimes
tell mine to the cat that camps out on the wall opposite my room. What
did you want to leave the country for, with summer coming on?'

She didn't answer, but I could see it coming, so I sat still and
waited. And presently she seemed to make up her mind that, even if it
was no business of mine, it would be a relief to talk about it.

'We're on our honeymoon. Charlie wanted to come to New York. I didn't
want to, but he was set on it. He's been here before.'

'So he told me.'

'He's wild about New York.'

'But you're not.'

'I hate it.'

'Why?'

She dug away at the red plush with the hatpin, picking out little bits
and dropping them over the edge. I could see she was bracing herself to
put me wise to the whole trouble. There's a time comes when things
aren't going right, and you've had all you can stand, when you have got
to tell somebody about it, no matter who it is.

'I hate New York,' she said getting it out at last with a rush. 'I'm
scared of it. It--it isn't fair Charlie bringing me here. I didn't want
to come. I knew what would happen. I felt it all along.'

'What do you think will happen, then?'

She must have picked away at least an inch of the red plush before she
answered. It's lucky Jimmy, the balcony waiter, didn't see her; it
would have broken his heart; he's as proud of that red plush as if he
had paid for it himself.

'When I first went to live at Rodney,' she said, 'two years ago--we
moved there from Illinois--there was a man there named Tyson--Jack
Tyson. He lived all alone and didn't seem to want to know anyone. I
couldn't understand it till somebody told me all about him. I can
understand it now. Jack Tyson married a Rodney girl, and they came to
New York for their honeymoon, just like us. And when they got there I
guess she got to comparing him with the fellows she saw, and comparing
the city with Rodney, and when she got home she just couldn't settle
down.'

'Well?'

'After they had been back in Rodney for a little while she ran away.
Back to the city, I guess.'

'I suppose he got a divorce?'

'No, he didn't. He still thinks she may come back to him.'

'He still thinks she will come back?' I said. 'After she has been away
three years!'

'Yes. He keeps her things just the same as she left them when she went
away, everything just the same.'

'But isn't he angry with her for what she did? If I was a man and a
girl treated me that way, I'd be apt to murder her if she tried to show
up again.'

'He wouldn't. Nor would I, if--if anything like that happened to me;
I'd wait and wait, and go on hoping all the time. And I'd go down to
the station to meet the train every afternoon, just like Jack Tyson.'

Something splashed on the tablecloth. It made me jump.

'For goodness' sake,' I said, 'what's your trouble? Brace up. I know
it's a sad story, but it's not your funeral.'

'It is. It is. The same thing's going to happen to me.'

'Take a hold on yourself. Don't cry like that.'

'I can't help it. Oh! I knew it would happen. It's happening right now.
Look--look at him.'

I glanced over the rail, and I saw what she meant. There was her
Charlie, dancing about all over the floor as if he had just discovered
that he hadn't lived till then. I saw him say something to the girl he
was dancing with. I wasn't near enough to hear it, but I bet it was
'This is the life!' If I had been his wife, in the same position as
this kid, I guess I'd have felt as bad as she did, for if ever a man
exhibited all the symptoms of incurable Newyorkitis, it was this
Charlie Ferris.

'I'm not like these New York girls,' she choked. 'I can't be smart. I
don't want to be. I just want to live at home and be happy. I knew it
would happen if we came to the city. He doesn't think me good enough
for him. He looks down on me.'

'Pull yourself together.'

'And I do love him so!'

Goodness knows what I should have said if I could have thought of
anything to say. But just then the music stopped, and somebody on the
floor below began to speak.

'Ladeez 'n' gemmen,' he said, 'there will now take place our great
Numbah Contest. This gen-u-ine sporting contest--'

It was Izzy Baermann making his nightly speech, introducing the
Love-r-ly Cup; and it meant that, for me, duty called. From where I sat
I could see Izzy looking about the room, and I knew he was looking for
me. It's the management's nightmare that one of these evenings Mabel or
I won't show up, and somebody else will get away with the Love-r-ly
Cup.

'Sorry I've got to go,' I said. 'I have to be in this.'

And then suddenly I had the great idea. It came to me like a flash, I
looked at her, crying there, and I looked over the rail at Charlie the
Boy Wonder, and I knew that this was where I got a stranglehold on my
place in the Hall of Fame, along with the great thinkers of the age.

'Come on,' I said. 'Come along. Stop crying and powder your nose and
get a move on. You're going to dance this.'

'But Charlie doesn't want to dance with me.'

'It may have escaped your notice,' I said, 'but your Charlie is not the
only man in New York, or even in this restaurant. I'm going to dance
with Charlie myself, and I'll introduce you to someone who can go
through the movements. Listen!'

'The lady of each couple'--this was Izzy, getting it off his
diaphragm--'will receive a ticket containing a num-bah. The dance will
then proceed, and the num-bahs will be eliminated one by one, those
called out by the judge kindly returning to their seats as their
num-bah is called. The num-bah finally remaining is the winning
num-bah. The contest is a genuine sporting contest, decided purely by
the skill of the holders of the various num-bahs.' (Izzy stopped
blushing at the age of six.) 'Will ladies now kindly step forward and
receive their num-bahs. The winner, the holder of the num-bah left on
the floor when the other num-bahs have been eliminated' (I could see
Izzy getting more and more uneasy, wondering where on earth I'd got
to), 'will receive this Love-r-ly Silver Cup, presented by the
management. Ladies will now kindly step forward and receive their
num-bahs.'

I turned to Mrs Charlie. 'There,' I said, 'don't you want to win a
Love-r-ly Silver Cup?'

'But I couldn't.'

'You never know your luck.'

'But it isn't luck. Didn't you hear him say it's a contest decided
purely by skill?'

'Well, try your skill, then.' I felt as if I could have shaken her.
'For goodness' sake,' I said, 'show a little grit. Aren't you going to
stir a finger to keep your Charlie? Suppose you win, think what it will
mean. He will look up to you for the rest of your life. When he starts
talking about New York, all you will have to say is, "New York? Ah,
yes, that was the town I won that Love-r-ly Silver Cup in, was it not?"
and he'll drop as if you had hit him behind the ear with a sandbag.
Pull yourself together and try.'

I saw those brown eyes of hers flash, and she said, 'I'll try.'

'Good for you,' I said. 'Now you get those tears dried, and fix
yourself up, and I'll go down and get the tickets.'

Izzy was mighty relieved when I bore down on him.

'Gee!' he said, 'I thought you had run away, or was sick or something.
Here's your ticket.'

'I want two, Izzy. One's for a friend of mine. And I say, Izzy, I'd
take it as a personal favour if you would let her stop on the floor as
one of the last two couples. There's a reason. She's a kid from the
country, and she wants to make a hit.'

'Sure, that'll be all right. Here are the tickets. Yours is thirty-six,
hers is ten.' He lowered his voice. 'Don't go mixing them.'

I went back to the balcony. On the way I got hold of Charlie.

'We're dancing this together,' I said.

He grinned all across his face.

I found Mrs Charlie looking as if she had never shed a tear in her
life. She certainly had pluck, that kid.

'Come on,' I said. 'Stick to your ticket like wax and watch your step.'

I guess you've seen these sporting contests at Geisenheimer's. Or, if
you haven't seen them at Geisenheimer's, you've seen them somewhere
else. They're all the same.

When we began, the floor was so crowded that there was hardly
elbow-room. Don't tell me there aren't any optimists nowadays. Everyone
was looking as if they were wondering whether to have the Love-r-ly Cup
in the sitting-room or the bedroom. You never saw such a hopeful gang
in your life.

Presently Izzy gave tongue. The management expects him to be humorous
on these occasions, so he did his best.

'Num-bahs, seven, eleven, and twenty-one will kindly rejoin their
sorrowing friends.'

This gave us a little more elbow-room, and the band started again.

A few minutes later, Izzy once more: 'Num-bahs thirteen, sixteen, and
seventeen--good-bye.'

Off we went again.

'Num-bah twelve, we hate to part with you, but--back to your table!'

A plump girl in a red hat, who had been dancing with a kind smile, as
if she were doing it to amuse the children, left the floor.

'Num-bahs six, fifteen, and twenty, thumbs down!'

And pretty soon the only couples left were Charlie and me, Mrs Charlie
and the fellow I'd introduced her to, and a bald-headed man and a girl
in a white hat. He was one of your stick-at-it performers. He had been
dancing all the evening. I had noticed him from the balcony. He looked
like a hard-boiled egg from up there.

He was a trier all right, that fellow, and had things been otherwise,
so to speak, I'd have been glad to see him win. But it was not to be.
Ah, no!

'Num-bah nineteen, you're getting all flushed. Take a rest.'

So there it was, a straight contest between me and Charlie and Mrs
Charlie and her man. Every nerve in my system was tingling with
suspense and excitement, was it not? It was not.

Charlie, as I've already hinted, was not a dancer who took much of his
attention off his feet while in action. He was there to do his
durnedest, not to inspect objects of interest by the wayside. The
correspondence college he'd attended doesn't guarantee to teach you to
do two things at once. It won't bind itself to teach you to look round
the room while you're dancing. So Charlie hadn't the least suspicion of
the state of the drama. He was breathing heavily down my neck in a
determined sort of way, with his eyes glued to the floor. All he knew
was that the competition had thinned out a bit, and the honour of
Ashley, Maine, was in his hands.

You know how the public begins to sit up and take notice when these
dance-contests have been narrowed down to two couples. There are
evenings when I quite forget myself, when I'm one of the last two left
in, and get all excited. There's a sort of hum in the air, and, as you
go round the room, people at the tables start applauding. Why, if you
didn't know about the inner workings of the thing, you'd be all of a
twitter.

It didn't take my practised ear long to discover that it wasn't me and
Charlie that the great public was cheering for. We would go round the
floor without getting a hand, and every time Mrs Charlie and her guy
got to a corner there was a noise like election night. She sure had
made a hit.

I took a look at her across the floor, and I didn't wonder. She was a
different kid from what she'd been upstairs. I never saw anybody look
so happy and pleased with herself. Her eyes were like lamps, and her
cheeks all pink, and she was going at it like a champion. I knew what
had made a hit with the people. It was the look of her. She made you
think of fresh milk and new-laid eggs and birds singing. To see her was
like getting away to the country in August. It's funny about people who
live in the city. They chuck out their chests, and talk about little
old New York being good enough for them, and there's a street in heaven
they call Broadway, and all the rest of it; but it seems to me that
what they really live for is that three weeks in the summer when they
get away into the country. I knew exactly why they were cheering so
hard for Mrs Charlie. She made them think of their holidays which were
coming along, when they would go and board at the farm and drink out of
the old oaken bucket, and call the cows by their first names.

Gee! I felt just like that myself. All day the country had been tugging
at me, and now it tugged worse than ever.

I could have smelled the new-mown hay if it wasn't that when you're in
Geisenheimer's you have to smell Geisenheimer's, because it leaves no
chance for competition.

'Keep working,' I said to Charlie. 'It looks to me as if we are going
back in the betting.'

'Uh, huh!' he says, too busy to blink.

'Do some of those fancy steps of yours. We need them in our business.'

And the way that boy worked--it was astonishing!

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Izzy Baermann, and he wasn't
looking happy. He was nerving himself for one of those quick referee's
decisions--the sort you make and then duck under the ropes, and run
five miles, to avoid the incensed populace. It was this kind of thing
happening every now and then that prevented his job being perfect.
Mabel Francis told me that one night when Izzy declared her the winner
of the great sporting contest, it was such raw work that she thought
there'd have been a riot. It looked pretty much as if he was afraid the
same thing was going to happen now. There wasn't a doubt which of us
two couples was the one that the customers wanted to see win that
Love-r-ly Silver Cup. It was a walk-over for Mrs Charlie, and Charlie
and I were simply among those present.

But Izzy had his duty to do, and drew a salary for doing it, so he
moistened his lips, looked round to see that his strategic railways
weren't blocked, swallowed twice, and said in a husky voice:

'Num-bah ten, please re-tiah!'

I stopped at once.

'Come along,' said I to Charlie. 'That's our exit cue.'

And we walked off the floor amidst applause.

'Well,' says Charlie, taking out his handkerchief and attending to his
brow, which was like the village blacksmith's, 'we didn't do so bad,
did we? We didn't do so bad, I guess! We--'

And he looked up at the balcony, expecting to see the dear little wife,
draped over the rail, worshipping him; when, just as his eye is moving
up, it gets caught by the sight of her a whole heap lower down than he
had expected--on the floor, in fact.

She wasn't doing much in the worshipping line just at that moment. She
was too busy.

It was a regular triumphal progress for the kid. She and her partner
were doing one or two rounds now for exhibition purposes, like the
winning couple always do at Geisenheimer's, and the room was fairly
rising at them. You'd have thought from the way they were clapping that
they had been betting all their spare cash on her.

Charlie gets her well focused, then he lets his jaw drop, till he
pretty near bumped it against the floor.

'But--but--but--' he begins.

'I know,' I said. 'It begins to look as if she could dance well enough
for the city after all. It begins to look as if she had sort of put one
over on somebody, don't it? It begins to look as if it were a pity you
didn't think of dancing with her yourself.'

'I--I--I--'

'You come along and have a nice cold drink,' I said, 'and you'll soon
pick up.'

He tottered after me to a table, looking as if he had been hit by a
street-car. He had got his.

I was so busy looking after Charlie, flapping the towel and working on
him with the oxygen, that, if you'll believe me, it wasn't for quite a
time that I thought of glancing around to see how the thing had struck
Izzy Baermann.

If you can imagine a fond father whose only son has hit him with a
brick, jumped on his stomach, and then gone off with all his money, you
have a pretty good notion of how poor old Izzy looked. He was staring
at me across the room, and talking to himself and jerking his hands
about. Whether he thought he was talking to me, or whether he was
rehearsing the scene where he broke it to the boss that a mere stranger
had got away with his Love-r-ly Silver Cup, I don't know. Whichever it
was, he was being mighty eloquent.

I gave him a nod, as much as to say that it would all come right in the
future, and then I turned to Charlie again. He was beginning to pick
up.

'She won the cup!' he said in a dazed voice, looking at me as if I
could do something about it.

'You bet she did!'

'But--well, what do you know about that?'

I saw that the moment had come to put it straight to him. 'I'll tell
you what I know about it,' I said. 'If you take my advice, you'll hustle
that kid straight back to Ashley--or wherever it is that you said you
poison the natives by making up the wrong prescriptions--before she
gets New York into her system. When I was talking to her upstairs, she
was telling me about a fellow in her village who got it in the neck
just the same as you're apt to do.'

He started. 'She was telling you about Jack Tyson?'

'That was his name--Jack Tyson. He lost his wife through letting her
have too much New York. Don't you think it's funny she should have
mentioned him if she hadn't had some idea that she might act just the
same as his wife did?'

He turned quite green.

'You don't think she would do that?'

'Well, if you'd heard her--She couldn't talk of anything except this
Tyson, and what his wife did to him. She talked of it sort of sad, kind
of regretful, as if she was sorry, but felt that it had to be. I could
see she had been thinking about it a whole lot.'

Charlie stiffened in his seat, and then began to melt with pure fright.
He took up his empty glass with a shaking hand and drank a long drink
out of it. It didn't take much observation to see that he had had the
jolt he wanted, and was going to be a whole heap less jaunty and
metropolitan from now on. In fact, the way he looked, I should say he
had finished with metropolitan jauntiness for the rest of his life.

'I'll take her home tomorrow,' he said. 'But--will she come?'

'That's up to you. If you can persuade her--Here she is now. I should
start at once.'

Mrs Charlie, carrying the cup, came to the table. I was wondering what
would be the first thing she would say. If it had been Charlie, of
course he'd have said, 'This is the life!' but I looked for something
snappier from her. If I had been in her place there were at least ten
things I could have thought of to say, each nastier than the other.

She sat down and put the cup on the table. Then she gave the cup a long
look. Then she drew a deep breath. Then she looked at Charlie.

'Oh, Charlie, dear,' she said, 'I do wish I'd been dancing with you!'

Well, I'm not sure that that wasn't just as good as anything I would
have said. Charlie got right off the mark. After what I had told him,
he wasn't wasting any time.

'Darling,' he said, humbly, 'you're a wonder! What will they say about
this at home?' He did pause here for a moment, for it took nerve to say
it; but then he went right on. 'Mary, how would it be if we went home
right away--first train tomorrow, and showed it to them?'

'Oh, Charlie!' she said.

His face lit up as if somebody had pulled a switch.

'You will? You don't want to stop on? You aren't wild about New York?'

'If there was a train,' she said, 'I'd start tonight. But I thought you
loved the city so, Charlie?'

He gave a kind of shiver. 'I never want to see it again in my life!' he
said.

'You'll excuse me,' I said, getting up, 'I think there's a friend of
mine wants to speak to me.'

And I crossed over to where Izzy had been standing for the last five
minutes, making signals to me with his eyebrows.

You couldn't have called Izzy coherent at first. He certainly had
trouble with his vocal chords, poor fellow. There was one of those
African explorer men used to come to Geisenheimer's a lot when he was
home from roaming the trackless desert, and he used to tell me about
tribes he had met who didn't use real words at all, but talked to one
another in clicks and gurgles. He imitated some of their chatter one
night to amuse me, and, believe me, Izzy Baermann started talking the
same language now. Only he didn't do it to amuse me.

He was like one of those gramophone records when it's getting into its
stride.

'Be calm, Isadore,' I said. 'Something is troubling you. Tell me all
about it.'

He clicked some more, and then he got it out.

'Say, are you crazy? What did you do it for? Didn't I tell you as plain
as I could; didn't I say it twenty times, when you came for the
tickets, that yours was thirty-six?'

'Didn't you say my friend's was thirty-six?'

'Are you deaf? I said hers was ten.'

'Then,' I said handsomely, 'say no more. The mistake was mine. It
begins to look as if I must have got them mixed.'

He did a few Swedish exercises.

'Say no more? That's good! That's great! You've got nerve. I'll say
that.'

'It was a lucky mistake, Izzy. It saved your life. The people would
have lynched you if you had given me the cup. They were solid for her.'

'What's the boss going to say when I tell him?'

'Never mind what the boss will say. Haven't you any romance in your
system, Izzy? Look at those two sitting there with their heads
together. Isn't it worth a silver cup to have made them happy for life?
They are on their honeymoon, Isadore. Tell the boss exactly how it
happened, and say that I thought it was up to Geisenheimer's to give
them a wedding-present.'

He clicked for a spell.

'Ah!' he said. 'Ah! now you've done it! Now you've given yourself away!
You did it on purpose. You mixed those tickets on purpose. I thought as
much. Say, who do you think you are, doing this sort of thing? Don't
you know that professional dancers are three for ten cents? I could go
out right now and whistle, and get a dozen girls for your job. The
boss'll sack you just one minute after I tell him.'

'No, he won't, Izzy, because I'm going to resign.'

'You'd better!'

'That's what I think. I'm sick of this place, Izzy. I'm sick of
dancing. I'm sick of New York. I'm sick of everything. I'm going back
to the country. I thought I had got the pigs and chickens clear out of
my system, but I hadn't. I've suspected it for a long, long time, and
tonight I know it. Tell the boss, with my love, that I'm sorry, but it
had to be done. And if he wants to talk back, he must do it by letter:
Mrs John Tyson, Rodney, Maine, is the address.'

THE MAKING OF MAC'S

Mac's Restaurant--nobody calls it MacFarland's--is a mystery. It is off
the beaten track. It is not smart. It does not advertise. It provides
nothing nearer to an orchestra than a solitary piano, yet, with all
these things against it, it is a success. In theatrical circles
especially it holds a position which might turn the white lights of
many a supper-palace green with envy.

This is mysterious. You do not expect Soho to compete with and even
eclipse Piccadilly in this way. And when Soho does so compete, there is
generally romance of some kind somewhere in the background.

Somebody happened to mention to me casually that Henry, the old waiter,
had been at Mac's since its foundation.

'Me?' said Henry, questioned during a slack spell in the afternoon.
'Rather!'

'Then can you tell me what it was that first gave the place the impetus
which started it on its upward course? What causes should you say were
responsible for its phenomenal prosperity? What--'

'What gave it a leg-up? Is that what you're trying to get at?'

'Exactly. What gave it a leg-up? Can you tell me?'

'Me?' said Henry. 'Rather!'

And he told me this chapter from the unwritten history of the London
whose day begins when Nature's finishes.

* * * * *

Old Mr MacFarland (_said Henry_) started the place fifteen years
ago. He was a widower with one son and what you might call half a
daughter. That's to say, he had adopted her. Katie was her name, and
she was the child of a dead friend of his. The son's name was Andy. A
little freckled nipper he was when I first knew him--one of those
silent kids that don't say much and have as much obstinacy in them as
if they were mules. Many's the time, in them days, I've clumped him on
the head and told him to do something; and he didn't run yelling to his
pa, same as most kids would have done, but just said nothing and went
on not doing whatever it was I had told him to do. That was the sort of
disposition Andy had, and it grew on him. Why, when he came back from
Oxford College the time the old man sent for him--what I'm going to
tell you about soon--he had a jaw on him like the ram of a battleship.
Katie was the kid for my money. I liked Katie. We all liked Katie.

Old MacFarland started out with two big advantages. One was Jules, and
the Other was me. Jules came from Paris, and he was the greatest cook
you ever seen. And me--well, I was just come from ten years as waiter
at the Guelph, and I won't conceal it from you that I gave the place a
tone. I gave Soho something to think about over its chop, believe me.
It was a come-down in the world for me, maybe, after the Guelph, but
what I said to myself was that, when you get a tip in Soho, it may be
only tuppence, but you keep it; whereas at the Guelph about ninety-nine
hundredths of it goes to helping to maintain some blooming head waiter
in the style to which he has been accustomed. It was through my kind of
harping on that fact that me and the Guelph parted company. The head
waiter complained to the management the day I called him a fat-headed
vampire.

Well, what with me and what with Jules, MacFarland's--it wasn't Mac's
in them days--began to get a move on. Old MacFarland, who knew a good
man when he saw one and always treated me more like a brother than
anything else, used to say to me, 'Henry, if this keeps up, I'll be
able to send the boy to Oxford College'; until one day he changed it
to, 'Henry, I'm going to send the boy to Oxford College'; and next
year, sure enough, off he went.

Katie was sixteen then, and she had just been given the cashier job, as
a treat. She wanted to do something to help the old man, so he put her
on a high chair behind a wire cage with a hole in it, and she gave the
customers their change. And let me tell you, mister, that a man that
wasn't satisfied after he'd had me serve him a dinner cooked by Jules
and then had a chat with Katie through the wire cage would have groused
at Paradise. For she was pretty, was Katie, and getting prettier every
day. I spoke to the boss about it. I said it was putting temptation in
the girl's way to set her up there right in the public eye, as it were.
And he told me to hop it. So I hopped it.

Katie was wild about dancing. Nobody knew it till later, but all this
while, it turned out, she was attending regular one of them schools.
That was where she went to in the afternoons, when we all thought she
was visiting girl friends. It all come out after, but she fooled us
then. Girls are like monkeys when it comes to artfulness. She called me
Uncle Bill, because she said the name Henry always reminded her of cold
mutton. If it had been young Andy that had said it I'd have clumped him
one; but he never said anything like that. Come to think of it, he
never said anything much at all. He just thought a heap without opening
his face.

So young Andy went off to college, and I said to him, 'Now then, you
young devil, you be a credit to us, or I'll fetch you a clip when you
come home.' And Katie said, 'Oh, Andy, I _shall_ miss you.' And
Andy didn't say nothing to me, and he didn't say nothing to Katie, but
he gave her a look, and later in the day I found her crying, and she
said she'd got toothache, and I went round the corner to the chemist's
and brought her something for it.

It was in the middle of Andy's second year at college that the old man
had the stroke which put him out of business. He went down under it as
if he'd been hit with an axe, and the doctor tells him he'll never be
able to leave his bed again.

So they sent for Andy, and he quit his college, and come back to London
to look after the restaurant.

I was sorry for the kid. I told him so in a fatherly kind of way. And
he just looked at me and says, 'Thanks very much, Henry.'

'What must be must be,' I says. 'Maybe, it's all for the best. Maybe
it's better you're here than in among all those young devils in your
Oxford school what might be leading you astray.'

'If you would think less of me and more of your work, Henry,' he says,
'perhaps that gentleman over there wouldn't have to shout sixteen times
for the waiter.'

Which, on looking into it, I found to be the case, and he went away
without giving me no tip, which shows what you lose in a hard world by
being sympathetic.

I'm bound to say that young Andy showed us all jolly quick that he
hadn't come home just to be an ornament about the place. There was
exactly one boss in the restaurant, and it was him. It come a little
hard at first to have to be respectful to a kid whose head you had
spent many a happy hour clumping for his own good in the past; but he
pretty soon showed me I could do it if I tried, and I done it. As for
Jules and the two young fellers that had been taken on to help me owing
to increase of business, they would jump through hoops and roll over if
he just looked at them. He was a boy who liked his own way, was Andy,
and, believe me, at MacFarland's Restaurant he got it.

And then, when things had settled down into a steady jog, Katie took
the bit in her teeth.

She done it quite quiet and unexpected one afternoon when there was
only me and her and Andy in the place. And I don't think either of them
knew I was there, for I was taking an easy on a chair at the back,
reading an evening paper.

She said, kind of quiet, 'Oh, Andy.'

'Yes, darling,' he said.

And that was the first I knew that there was anything between them.

'Andy, I've something to tell you.'

'What is it?'

She kind of hesitated.

'Andy, dear, I shan't be able to help any more in the restaurant.'

He looked at her, sort of surprised.

'What do you mean?'

'I'm--I'm going on the stage.'

I put down my paper. What do you mean? Did I listen? Of course I
listened. What do you take me for?

From where I sat I could see young Andy's face, and I didn't need any
more to tell me there was going to be trouble. That jaw of his was
right out. I forgot to tell you that the old man had died, poor old
feller, maybe six months before, so that now Andy was the real boss
instead of just acting boss; and what's more, in the nature of things,
he was, in a manner of speaking, Katie's guardian, with power to tell
her what she could do and what she couldn't. And I felt that Katie
wasn't going to have any smooth passage with this stage business which
she was giving him. Andy didn't hold with the stage--not with any girl
he was fond of being on it anyway. And when Andy didn't like a thing he
said so.

He said so now.

'You aren't going to do anything of the sort.'

'Don't be horrid about it, Andy dear. I've got a big chance. Why should
you be horrid about it?'

'I'm not going to argue about it. You don't go.'

'But it's such a big chance. And I've been working for it for years.'

'How do you mean working for it?'

And then it came out about this dancing-school she'd been attending
regular.

When she'd finished telling him about it, he just shoved out his jaw
another inch.

'You aren't going on the stage.'

'But it's such a chance. I saw Mr Mandelbaum yesterday, and he saw me
dance, and he was very pleased, and said he would give me a solo dance
to do in this new piece he's putting on.'

'You aren't going on the stage.'

What I always say is, you can't beat tact. If you're smooth and tactful
you can get folks to do anything you want; but if you just shove your
jaw out at them, and order them about, why, then they get their backs
up and sauce you. I knew Katie well enough to know that she would do
anything for Andy, if he asked her properly; but she wasn't going to
stand this sort of thing. But you couldn't drive that into the head of
a feller like young Andy with a steam-hammer.

She flared up, quick, as if she couldn't hold herself in no longer.

'I certainly am,' she said.

'You know what it means?'

'What does it mean?'

'The end of--everything.'

She kind of blinked as if he'd hit her, then she chucks her chin up.

'Very well,' she says. 'Good-bye.'

'Good-bye,' says Andy, the pig-headed young mule; and she walks out one
way and he walks out another.

* * * * *

I don't follow the drama much as a general rule, but seeing that it was
now, so to speak, in the family, I did keep an eye open for the
newspaper notices of 'The Rose Girl', which was the name of the piece
which Mr Mandelbaum was letting Katie do a solo dance in; and while
some of them cussed the play considerable, they all gave Katie a nice
word. One feller said that she was like cold water on the morning
after, which is high praise coming from a newspaper man.

There wasn't a doubt about it. She was a success. You see, she was
something new, and London always sits up and takes notice when you give
it that.

There were pictures of her in the papers, and one evening paper had a
piece about 'How I Preserve My Youth' signed by her. I cut it out and
showed it to Andy.

He gave it a look. Then he gave me a look, and I didn't like his eye.

'Well?' he says.

'Pardon,' I says.

'What about it?' he says.

'I don't know,' I says.

'Get back to your work,' he says.

So I got back.

It was that same night that the queer thing happened.

We didn't do much in the supper line at MacFarland's as a rule in them
days, but we kept open, of course, in case Soho should take it into its
head to treat itself to a welsh rabbit before going to bed; so all
hands was on deck, ready for the call if it should come, at half past
eleven that night; but we weren't what you might term sanguine.

Well, just on the half-hour, up drives a taxicab, and in comes a party
of four. There was a nut, another nut, a girl, and another girl. And
the second girl was Katie.

'Hallo, Uncle Bill!' she says.

'Good evening, madam,' I says dignified, being on duty.

'Oh, stop it, Uncle Bill,' she says. 'Say "Hallo!" to a pal, and smile
prettily, or I'll tell them about the time you went to the White City.'

Well, there's some bygones that are best left bygones, and the night at
the White City what she was alluding to was one of them. I still
maintain, as I always shall maintain, that the constable had no right
to--but, there, it's a story that wouldn't interest you. And, anyway,
I was glad to see Katie again, so I give her a smile.

'Not so much of it,' I says. 'Not so much of it. I'm glad to see you,
Katie.'

'Three cheers! Jimmy, I want to introduce you to my friend, Uncle Bill.
Ted, this is Uncle Bill. Violet, this is Uncle Bill.'

If wasn't my place to fetch her one on the side of the head, but I'd of
liked to have; for she was acting like she'd never used to act when I
knew her--all tough and bold. Then it come to me that she was nervous.
And natural, too, seeing young Andy might pop out any moment.

And sure enough out he popped from the back room at that very instant.
Katie looked at him, and he looked at Katie, and I seen his face get
kind of hard; but he didn't say a word. And presently he went out
again.

I heard Katie breathe sort of deep.

'He's looking well, Uncle Bill, ain't he?' she says to me, very soft.

'Pretty fair,' I says. 'Well, kid, I been reading the pieces in the
papers. You've knocked 'em.'

'Ah, don't Bill,' she says, as if I'd hurt her. And me meaning only to
say the civil thing. Girls are rum.

When the party had paid their bill and give me a tip which made me
think I was back at the Guelph again--only there weren't any Dick
Turpin of a head waiter standing by for his share--they hopped it. But
Katie hung back and had a word with me.

'He _was_ looking well, wasn't he, Uncle Bill?'

'Rather!'

'Does--does he ever speak of me?'

'I ain't heard him.'

'I suppose he's still pretty angry with me, isn't he, Uncle Bill?
You're sure you've never heard him speak of me?'

So, to cheer her up, I tells her about the piece in the paper I showed
him; but it didn't seem to cheer her up any. And she goes out.

The very next night in she come again for supper, but with different
nuts and different girls. There was six of them this time, counting
her. And they'd hardly sat down at their table, when in come the
fellers she had called Jimmy and Ted with two girls. And they sat
eating of their suppers and chaffing one another across the floor, all
as pleasant and sociable as you please.

'I say, Katie,' I heard one of the nuts say, 'you were right. He's
worth the price of admission.'

I don't know who they meant, but they all laughed. And every now and
again I'd hear them praising the food, which I don't wonder at, for
Jules had certainly done himself proud. All artistic temperament, these
Frenchmen are. The moment I told him we had company, so to speak, he
blossomed like a flower does when you put it in water.

'Ah, see, at last!' he says, trying to grab me and kiss me. 'Our fame
has gone abroad in the world which amuses himself, ain't it? For a good
supper connexion I have always prayed, and he has arrived.'

Well, it did begin to look as if he was right. Ten high-class
supper-folk in an evening was pretty hot stuff for MacFarland's. I'm
bound to say I got excited myself. I can't deny that I missed the
Guelph at times.

On the fifth night, when the place was fairly packed and looked for all
the world like Oddy's or Romano's, and me and the two young fellers
helping me was working double tides, I suddenly understood, and I went
up to Katie and, bending over her very respectful with a bottle, I
whispers, 'Hot stuff, kid. This is a jolly fine boom you're working for
the old place.' And by the way she smiled back at me, I seen I had
guessed right.

Andy was hanging round, keeping an eye on things, as he always done,
and I says to him, when I was passing, 'She's doing us proud, bucking
up the old place, ain't she?' And he says, 'Get on with your work.' And
I got on.

Katie hung back at the door, when she was on her way out, and had a
word with me.

'Has he said anything about me, Uncle Bill?'

'Not a word,' I says.

And she goes out.

You've probably noticed about London, mister, that a flock of sheep
isn't in it with the nuts, the way they all troop on each other's heels
to supper-places. One month they're all going to one place, next month
to another. Someone in the push starts the cry that he's found a new
place, and off they all go to try it. The trouble with most of the
places is that once they've got the custom they think it's going to
keep on coming and all they've got to do is to lean back and watch it
come. Popularity comes in at the door, and good food and good service
flies out at the window. We wasn't going to have any of that at
MacFarland's. Even if it hadn't been that Andy would have come down
like half a ton of bricks on the first sign of slackness, Jules and me
both of us had our professional reputations to keep up. I didn't give
myself no airs when I seen things coming our way. I worked all the
harder, and I seen to it that the four young fellers under me--there
was four now--didn't lose no time fetching of the orders.

The consequence was that the difference between us and most popular
restaurants was that we kept our popularity. We fed them well, and we
served them well; and once the thing had started rolling it didn't
stop. Soho isn't so very far away from the centre of things, when you
come to look at it, and they didn't mind the extra step, seeing that
there was something good at the end of it. So we got our popularity,
and we kept our popularity; and we've got it to this day. That's how
MacFarland's came to be what it is, mister.

* * * * *

With the air of one who has told a well-rounded tale, Henry ceased, and
observed that it was wonderful the way Mr Woodward, of Chelsea,
preserved his skill in spite of his advanced years.

I stared at him.

'But, heavens, man!' I cried, 'you surely don't think you've finished?
What about Katie and Andy? What happened to them? Did they ever come
together again?'

'Oh, ah,' said Henry, 'I was forgetting!'

And he resumed.

* * * * *

As time went on, I begin to get pretty fed up with young Andy. He was
making a fortune as fast as any feller could out of the sudden boom in
the supper-custom, and he knowing perfectly well that if it hadn't of
been for Katie there wouldn't of been any supper-custom at all; and
you'd of thought that anyone claiming to be a human being would have
had the gratitood to forgive and forget and go over and say a civil
word to Katie when she come in. But no, he just hung round looking
black at all of them; and one night he goes and fairly does it.

The place was full that night, and Katie was there, and the piano
going, and everybody enjoying themselves, when the young feller at the
piano struck up the tune what Katie danced to in the show. Catchy tune
it was. 'Lum-tum-tum, tiddle-iddle-um.' Something like that it went.
Well, the young feller struck up with it, and everybody begin clapping
and hammering on the tables and hollering to Katie to get up and dance;
which she done, in an open space in the middle, and she hadn't hardly
started when along come young Andy.

He goes up to her, all jaw, and I seen something that wanted dusting on
the table next to 'em, so I went up and began dusting it, so by good
luck I happened to hear the whole thing.

He says to her, very quiet, 'You can't do that here. What do you think
this place is?'

And she says to him, 'Oh, Andy!'

'I'm very much obliged to you,' he says, 'for all the trouble you
seem to be taking, but it isn't necessary. MacFarland's got on very
well before your well-meant efforts to turn it into a bear-garden.'

And him coining the money from the supper-custom! Sometimes I
think gratitood's a thing of the past and this world not fit for
a self-respecting rattlesnake to live in.

'Andy!' she says.

'That's all. We needn't argue about it. If you want to come here and
have supper, I can't stop you. But I'm not going to have the place
turned into a night-club.'

I don't know when I've heard anything like it. If it hadn't of been
that I hadn't of got the nerve, I'd have give him a look.

Katie didn't say another word, but just went back to her table.

But the episode, as they say, wasn't conclooded. As soon as the party
she was with seen that she was through dancing, they begin to kick up a
row; and one young nut with about an inch and a quarter of forehead and
the same amount of chin kicked it up especial.

'No, I say! I say, you know!' he hollered. 'That's too bad, you know.
Encore! Don't stop. Encore!'

Andy goes up to him.

'I must ask you, please, not to make so much noise,' he says, quite
respectful. 'You are disturbing people.'

'Disturbing be damned! Why shouldn't she--'

'One moment. You can make all the noise you please out in the street,
but as long as you stay in here you'll be quiet. Do you understand?'

Up jumps the nut. He'd had quite enough to drink. I know, because I'd
been serving him.

'Who the devil are you?' he says.

'Sit down,' says Andy.

And the young feller took a smack at him. And the next moment Andy had
him by the collar and was chucking him out in a way that would have
done credit to a real professional down Whitechapel way. He dumped him
on the pavement as neat as you please.

That broke up the party.

You can never tell with restaurants. What kills one makes another. I've
no doubt that if we had chucked out a good customer from the Guelph
that would have been the end of the place. But it only seemed to do
MacFarland's good. I guess it gave just that touch to the place which
made the nuts think that this was real Bohemia. Come to think of it, it
does give a kind of charm to a place, if you feel that at any moment
the feller at the next table to you may be gathered up by the slack of
his trousers and slung into the street.

Anyhow, that's the way our supper-custom seemed to look at it; and
after that you had to book a table in advance if you wanted to eat with
us. They fairly flocked to the place.

But Katie didn't. She didn't flock. She stayed away. And no wonder,
after Andy behaving so bad. I'd of spoke to him about it, only he
wasn't the kind of feller you do speak to about things.

One day I says to him to cheer him up, 'What price this restaurant now,
Mr Andy?'

'Curse the restaurant,' he says.

And him with all that supper-custom! It's a rum world!

Mister, have you ever had a real shock--something that came out of
nowhere and just knocked you flat? I have, and I'm going to tell you
about it.

When a man gets to be my age, and has a job of work which keeps him
busy till it's time for him to go to bed, he gets into the habit of not
doing much worrying about anything that ain't shoved right under his
nose. That's why, about now, Katie had kind of slipped my mind. It
wasn't that I wasn't fond of the kid, but I'd got so much to think
about, what with having four young fellers under me and things being in
such a rush at the restaurant that, if I thought of her at all, I just
took it for granted that she was getting along all right, and didn't
bother. To be sure we hadn't seen nothing of her at MacFarland's since
the night when Andy bounced her pal with the small size in foreheads,
but that didn't worry me. If I'd been her, I'd have stopped away the
same as she done, seeing that young Andy still had his hump. I took it
for granted, as I'm telling you, that she was all right, and that the
reason we didn't see nothing of her was that she was taking her
patronage elsewhere.

And then, one evening, which happened to be my evening off, I got a
letter, and for ten minutes after I read it I was knocked flat.

You get to believe in fate when you get to be my age, and fate certainly
had taken a hand in this game. If it hadn't of been my evening off,
don't you see, I wouldn't have got home till one o'clock or past that
in the morning, being on duty. Whereas, seeing it was my evening off,
I was back at half past eight.

I was living at the same boarding-house in Bloomsbury what I'd lived at
for the past ten years, and when I got there I find her letter shoved
half under my door.

I can tell you every word of it. This is how it went:

_Darling Uncle Bill,_

_Don't be too sorry when you read this. It is nobody's fault,
but I am just tired of everything, and I want to end it all. You
have been such a dear to me always that I want you to be good to
me now. I should not like Andy to know the truth, so I want you
to make it seem as if it had happened naturally. You will do this
for me, won't you? It will be quite easy. By the time you get this,
it will be one, and it will all be over, and you can just come up
and open the window and let the gas out and then everyone will
think I just died naturally. It will be quite easy. I am leaving
the door unlocked so that you can get in. I am in the room just
above yours. I took it yesterday, so as to be near you. Good-bye,
Uncle Bill. You will do it for me, won't you? I don't want Andy to
know what it really was._

KATIE

That was it, mister, and I tell you it floored me. And then it come to
me, kind of as a new idea, that I'd best do something pretty soon, and
up the stairs I went quick.

There she was, on the bed, with her eyes closed, and the gas just
beginning to get bad.

As I come in, she jumped up, and stood staring at me. I went to the
tap, and turned the flow off, and then I gives her a look.

'Now then,' I says.

'How did you get here?'

'Never mind how I got here. What have you got to say for yourself?'

She just began to cry, same as she used to when she was a kid and
someone had hurt her.

'Here,' I says, 'let's get along out of here, and go where there's some
air to breathe. Don't you take on so. You come along out and tell me
all about it.'

She started to walk to where I was, and suddenly I seen she was
limping. So I gave her a hand down to my room, and set her on a chair.

'Now then,' I says again.

'Don't be angry with me, Uncle Bill,' she says.

And she looks at me so pitiful that I goes up to her and puts my arm
round her and pats her on the back.

'Don't you worry, dearie,' I says, 'nobody ain't going to be angry with
you. But, for goodness' sake,' I says, 'tell a man why in the name of
goodness you ever took and acted so foolish.'

'I wanted to end it all.'

'But why?'

She burst out a-crying again, like a kid.

'Didn't you read about it in the paper, Uncle Bill?'

'Read about what in the paper?'

'My accident. I broke my ankle at rehearsal ever so long ago, practising
my new dance. The doctors say it will never be right again. I shall
never be able to dance any more. I shall always limp. I shan't even be
able to walk properly. And when I thought of that ... and Andy ... and
everything ... I....'

I got on to my feet.

'Well, well, well,' I says. 'Well, well, well! I don't know as I blame
you. But don't you do it. It's a mug's game. Look here, if I leave you
alone for half an hour, you won't go trying it on again? Promise.'

'Very well, Uncle Bill. Where are you going?'

'Oh, just out. I'll be back soon. You sit there and rest yourself.'

It didn't take me ten minutes to get to the restaurant in a cab. I
found Andy in the back room.

'What's the matter, Henry?' he says.

'Take a look at this,' I says.

There's always this risk, mister, in being the Andy type of feller what
must have his own way and goes straight ahead and has it; and that is
that when trouble does come to him, it comes with a rush. It sometimes
seems to me that in this life we've all got to have trouble sooner or
later, and some of us gets it bit by bit, spread out thin, so to speak,
and a few of us gets it in a lump--_biff_! And that was what
happened to Andy, and what I knew was going to happen when I showed him
that letter. I nearly says to him, 'Brace up, young feller, because
this is where you get it.'

I don't often go to the theatre, but when I do I like one of those
plays with some ginger in them which the papers generally cuss. The
papers say that real human beings don't carry on in that way. Take it
from me, mister, they do. I seen a feller on the stage read a letter
once which didn't just suit him; and he gasped and rolled his eyes and
tried to say something and couldn't, and had to get a hold on a chair
to keep him from falling. There was a piece in the paper saying that
this was all wrong, and that he wouldn't of done them things in real
life. Believe me, the paper was wrong. There wasn't a thing that feller
did that Andy didn't do when he read that letter.

'God!' he says. 'Is she ... She isn't.... Were you in time?' he says.

And he looks at me, and I seen that he had got it in the neck, right
enough.

'If you mean is she dead,' I says, 'no, she ain't dead.'

'Thank God!'

'Not yet,' I says.

And the next moment we was out of that room and in the cab and moving
quick.

He was never much of a talker, wasn't Andy, and he didn't chat in that
cab. He didn't say a word till we was going up the stairs.

'Where?' he says.

'Here,' I says.

And I opens the door.

Katie was standing looking out of the window. She turned as the door
opened, and then she saw Andy. Her lips parted, as if she was going to
say something, but she didn't say nothing. And Andy, he didn't say
nothing, neither. He just looked, and she just looked.

And then he sort of stumbles across the room, and goes down on his
knees, and gets his arms around her.

'Oh, my kid' he says.

* * * * *

And I seen I wasn't wanted, so I shut the door, and I hopped it. I went
and saw the last half of a music-hall. But, I don't know, it didn't
kind of have no fascination for me. You've got to give your mind to it
to appreciate good music-hall turns.

ONE TOUCH OF NATURE

The feelings of Mr J. Wilmot Birdsey, as he stood wedged in the crowd
that moved inch by inch towards the gates of the Chelsea Football
Ground, rather resembled those of a starving man who has just been
given a meal but realizes that he is not likely to get another for many
days. He was full and happy. He bubbled over with the joy of living and
a warm affection for his fellow-man. At the back of his mind there
lurked the black shadow of future privations, but for the moment he did
not allow it to disturb him. On this maddest, merriest day of all the
glad New Year he was content to revel in the present and allow the
future to take care of itself.

Mr Birdsey had been doing something which he had not done since he left
New York five years ago. He had been watching a game of baseball.

New York lost a great baseball fan when Hugo Percy de Wynter
Framlinghame, sixth Earl of Carricksteed, married Mae Elinor, only
daughter of Mr and Mrs J. Wilmot Birdsey of East Seventy-Third Street;
for scarcely had that internationally important event taken place when
Mrs Birdsey, announcing that for the future the home would be in
England as near as possible to dear Mae and dear Hugo, scooped J.
Wilmot out of his comfortable morris chair as if he had been a clam,
corked him up in a swift taxicab, and decanted him into a Deck B
stateroom on the _Olympic_. And there he was, an exile.

Mr Birdsey submitted to the worst bit of kidnapping since the days of
the old press gang with that delightful amiability which made him so
popular among his fellows and such a cypher in his home. At an early
date in his married life his position had been clearly defined beyond
possibility of mistake. It was his business to make money, and, when
called upon, to jump through hoops and sham dead at the bidding of his
wife and daughter Mae. These duties he had been performing
conscientiously for a matter of twenty years.

It was only occasionally that his humble role jarred upon him, for he
loved his wife and idolized his daughter. The international alliance
had been one of these occasions. He had no objection to Hugo Percy,
sixth Earl of Carricksteed. The crushing blow had been the sentence of
exile. He loved baseball with a love passing the love of women, and the
prospect of never seeing a game again in his life appalled him.

And then, one morning, like a voice from another world, had come the
news that the White Sox and the Giants were to give an exhibition in
London at the Chelsea Football Ground. He had counted the days like a
child before Christmas.

There had been obstacles to overcome before he could attend the game,
but he had overcome them, and had been seated in the front row when the
two teams lined up before King George.

And now he was moving slowly from the ground with the rest of the
spectators. Fate had been very good to him. It had given him a great
game, even unto two home-runs. But its crowning benevolence had been to
allot the seats on either side of him to two men of his own mettle, two
god-like beings who knew every move on the board, and howled like
wolves when they did not see eye to eye with the umpire. Long before
the ninth innings he was feeling towards them the affection of a
shipwrecked mariner who meets a couple of boyhood's chums on a desert
island.

As he shouldered his way towards the gate he was aware of these two
men, one on either side of him. He looked at them fondly, trying to
make up his mind which of them he liked best. It was sad to think that
they must soon go out of his life again for ever.

He came to a sudden resolution. He would postpone the parting. He would
ask them to dinner. Over the best that the Savoy Hotel could provide
they would fight the afternoon's battle over again. He did not know who
they were or anything about them, but what did that matter? They were
brother-fans. That was enough for him.

The man on his right was young, clean-shaven, and of a somewhat
vulturine cast of countenance. His face was cold and impassive now,
almost forbiddingly so; but only half an hour before it had been a
battle-field of conflicting emotions, and his hat still showed the dent
where he had banged it against the edge of his seat on the occasion of
Mr Daly's home-run. A worthy guest!

The man on Mr Birdsey's left belonged to another species of fan. Though
there had been times during the game when he had howled, for the most
part he had watched in silence so hungrily tense that a less
experienced observer than Mr Birdsey might have attributed his
immobility to boredom. But one glance at his set jaw and gleaming eyes
told him that here also was a man and a brother.

This man's eyes were still gleaming, and under their curiously deep tan
his bearded cheeks were pale. He was staring straight in front of him
with an unseeing gaze.

Mr Birdsey tapped the young man on the shoulder.

'Some game!' he said.

The young man looked at him and smiled.

'You bet,' he said.

'I haven't seen a ball-game in five years.'

'The last one I saw was two years ago next June.'

'Come and have some dinner at my hotel and talk it over,' said Mr
Birdsey impulsively.

'Sure!' said the young man.

Mr Birdsey turned and tapped the shoulder of the man on his left.

The result was a little unexpected. The man gave a start that was
almost a leap, and the pallor of his face became a sickly white. His
eyes, as he swung round, met Mr Birdsey's for an instant before they
dropped, and there was panic fear in them. His breath whistled softly
through clenched teeth.

Mr Birdsey was taken aback. The cordiality of the clean-shaven young
man had not prepared him for the possibility of such a reception. He
felt chilled. He was on the point of apologizing with some murmur about
a mistake, when the man reassured him by smiling. It was rather a
painful smile, but it was enough for Mr Birdsey. This man might be of a
nervous temperament, but his heart was in the right place.

He, too, smiled. He was a small, stout, red-faced little man, and he
possessed a smile that rarely failed to set strangers at their ease.
Many strenuous years on the New York Stock Exchange had not destroyed a
certain childlike amiability in Mr Birdsey, and it shone out when he
smiled at you.

'I'm afraid I startled you,' he said soothingly. 'I wanted to ask you
if you would let a perfect stranger, who also happens to be an exile,
offer you dinner tonight.'

The man winced. 'Exile?'

'An exiled fan. Don't you feel that the Polo Grounds are a good long
way away? This gentleman is joining me. I have a suite at the Savoy
Hotel, and I thought we might all have a quiet little dinner there and
talk about the game. I haven't seen a ball-game in five years.'

'Nor have I.'

'Then you must come. You really must. We fans ought to stick to one
another in a strange land. Do come.'

'Thank you,' said the bearded man; 'I will.'

When three men, all strangers, sit down to dinner together,
conversation, even if they happen to have a mutual passion for
baseball, is apt to be for a while a little difficult. The first fine
frenzy in which Mr Birdsey had issued his invitations had begun to ebb
by the time the soup was served, and he was conscious of a feeling of
embarrassment.

There was some subtle hitch in the orderly progress of affairs. He
sensed it in the air. Both of his guests were disposed to silence, and
the clean-shaven young man had developed a trick of staring at the man
with the beard, which was obviously distressing that sensitive person.

'Wine,' murmured Mr Birdsey to the waiter. 'Wine, wine!'

He spoke with the earnestness of a general calling up his reserves for
the grand attack. The success of this little dinner mattered enormously
to him. There were circumstances which were going to make it an oasis
in his life. He wanted it to be an occasion to which, in grey days to
come, he could look back and be consoled. He could not let it be a
failure.

He was about to speak when the young man anticipated him. Leaning
forward, he addressed the bearded man, who was crumbling bread with an
absent look in his eyes.

'Surely we have met before?' he said. 'I'm sure I remember your face.'

The effect of these words on the other was as curious as the effect of
Mr Birdsey's tap on the shoulder had been. He looked up like a hunted
animal.

He shook his head without speaking.

'Curious,' said the young man. 'I could have sworn to it, and I am
positive that it was somewhere in New York. Do you come from New York?'

'Yes.'

'It seems to me,' said Mr Birdsey, 'that we ought to introduce
ourselves. Funny it didn't strike any of us before. My name is Birdsey,
J. Wilmot Birdsey. I come from New York.'

'My name is Waterall,' said the young man. 'I come from New York.'

The bearded man hesitated.

'My name is Johnson. I--used to live in New York.'

'Where do you live now, Mr Johnson?' asked Waterall.

The bearded man hesitated again. 'Algiers,' he said.

Mr Birdsey was inspired to help matters along with small-talk.

'Algiers,' he said. 'I have never been there, but I understand that it
is quite a place. Are you in business there, Mr Johnson?'

'I live there for my health.'

'Have you been there some time?' inquired Waterall.

'Five years.'

'Then it must have been in New York that I saw you, for I have never
been to Algiers, and I'm certain I have seen you somewhere. I'm afraid
you will think me a bore for sticking to the point like this, but the
fact is, the one thing I pride myself on is my memory for faces. It's a
hobby of mine. If I think I remember a face, and can't place it, I
worry myself into insomnia. It's partly sheer vanity, and partly
because in my job a good memory for faces is a mighty fine asset. It
has helped me a hundred times.'

Mr Birdsey was an intelligent man, and he could see that Waterall's
table-talk was for some reason getting upon Johnson's nerves. Like a
good host, he endeavoured to cut in and make things smooth.

'I've heard great accounts of Algiers,' he said helpfully. 'A friend of
mine was there in his yacht last year. It must be a delightful spot.'

'It's a hell on earth,' snapped Johnson, and slew the conversation on
the spot.

Through a grim silence an angel in human form fluttered in--a waiter
bearing a bottle. The pop of the cork was more than music to Mr
Birdsey's ears. It was the booming of the guns of the relieving army.

The first glass, as first glasses will, thawed the bearded man, to the
extent of inducing him to try and pick up the fragments of the
conversation which he had shattered.

'I am afraid you will have thought me abrupt, Mr Birdsey,' he said
awkwardly; 'but then you haven't lived in Algiers for five years, and I
have.'

Mr Birdsey chirruped sympathetically.

'I liked it at first. It looked mighty good to me. But five years of it,
and nothing else to look forward to till you die....'

He stopped, and emptied his glass. Mr Birdsey was still perturbed.
True, conversation was proceeding in a sort of way, but it had taken a
distinctly gloomy turn. Slightly flushed with the excellent champagne
which he had selected for this important dinner, he endeavoured to
lighten it.

'I wonder,' he said, 'which of us three fans had the greatest
difficulty in getting to the bleachers today. I guess none of us found
it too easy.'

The young man shook his head.

'Don't count on me to contribute a romantic story to this Arabian
Night's Entertainment. My difficulty would have been to stop away. My
name's Waterall, and I'm the London correspondent of the _New York
Chronicle_. I had to be there this afternoon in the way of
business.'

Mr Birdsey giggled self-consciously, but not without a certain impish
pride.

'The laugh will be on me when you hear my confession. My daughter
married an English earl, and my wife brought me over here to mix with
his crowd. There was a big dinner-party tonight, at which the whole
gang were to be present, and it was as much as my life was worth to
side-step it. But when you get the Giants and the White Sox playing
ball within fifty miles of you--Well, I packed a grip and sneaked out
the back way, and got to the station and caught the fast train to
London. And what is going on back there at this moment I don't like to
think. About now,' said Mr Birdsey, looking at his watch, 'I guess
they'll be pronging the _hors d'oeuvres_ and gazing at the empty
chair. It was a shame to do it, but, for the love of Mike, what else
could I have done?'

He looked at the bearded man.

'Did you have any adventures, Mr Johnson?'

'No. I--I just came.'

The young man Waterall leaned forward. His manner was quiet, but his
eyes were glittering.

'Wasn't that enough of an adventure for you?' he said.

Their eyes met across the table. Seated between them, Mr Birdsey looked
from one to the other, vaguely disturbed. Something was happening, a
drama was going on, and he had not the key to it.

Johnson's face was pale, and the tablecloth crumpled into a crooked
ridge under his fingers, but his voice was steady as he replied:

'I don't understand.'

'Will you understand if I give you your right name, Mr Benyon?'

'What's all this?' said Mr Birdsey feebly.

Waterall turned to him, the vulturine cast of his face more noticeable
than ever. Mr Birdsey was conscious of a sudden distaste for this young
man.

'It's quite simple, Mr Birdsey. If you have not been entertaining
angels unawares, you have at least been giving a dinner to a celebrity.
I told you I was sure I had seen this gentleman before. I have just
remembered where, and when. This is Mr John Benyon, and I last saw him
five years ago when I was a reporter in New York, and covered his
trial.'

'His trial?'

'He robbed the New Asiatic Bank of a hundred thousand dollars, jumped
his bail, and was never heard of again.'

'For the love of Mike!'

Mr Birdsey stared at his guest with eyes that grew momently wider. He
was amazed to find that deep down in him there was an unmistakable
feeling of elation. He had made up his mind, when he left home that
morning, that this was to be a day of days. Well, nobody could call
this an anti-climax.

'So that's why you have been living in Algiers?'

Benyon did not reply. Outside, the Strand traffic sent a faint murmur
into the warm, comfortable room.

Waterall spoke. 'What on earth induced you, Benyon, to run the risk of
coming to London, where every second man you meet is a New Yorker, I

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