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Title: The Fascinating Stranger Author: Booth Tarkington * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1800751h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2018 Most recent update: September 2018 This eBook was produced by: Ramesh Chakrapani Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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MR. GEORGE TUTTLE, reclining at ease in his limousine, opened one eye just enough to perceive that daylight had reached his part of the world, then closed that eye, and murmured languidly. What he said, however, was not, "Home, Parker," or "To the club, Eugene." This murmur of his was not only languid but plaintive. A tear appeared upon the lower lid of the eye that had opened, for it was a weak and drowsy eye, and after hours of solid darkness the light fretted it. Moreover, the tear, as a greeting to the new day, harmonized perfectly with Mr. Tuttle's murmur, which was so little more than a husky breathing that only an acute ear close by could have caught it: "Oh, Gosh!" Then he turned partly over, shifting his body so as to lie upon his left side among the shavings that made his limousine such a comfortable bedroom.
After thousands of years of wrangling, economists still murder one another to emphasize varying ideas of what constitutes the ownership of anything; and some people (the most emphatic of all) maintain that everybody owns everything, which is obviously the same as saying that nobody owns anything, especially his own right hand. So it may be a little hasty to speak of this limousine, in which Mr. Tuttle lay finishing his night's sleep, as belonging to him in particular; but he was certainly the only person who had the use of it, and no other person in the world believed himself to be its owner. A doubt better founded may rest upon a definition of the word "limousine;" for Mr. Tuttle's limousine was not an automobile; it had no engine, no wheels, no steering-gear; neither had it cushions nor glass; yet Mr. Tuttle thought of it and spoke of it as his limousine, and took some pleasure in such thinking and speaking.
Definitely, it was what is known as a "limousine body" in an extreme but permanent state of incompletion. That is to say, the wooden parts of a "limousine body" had been set up, put together on a "buck," or trestle, and then abandoned with apparently the same abruptness and finality that marked the departure of the Pompeiian baker who hurried out of his bakery and left his bread 2,000 years in the oven. So sharply the "post-war industrial depression" had struck the factory, that the workmen seemed to have run for their lives from the place, leaving everything behind them just as it happened to be at the moment of panic. And then, one cold evening, eighteen months afterward, the excavator, Tuttle, having dug within the neighboring city dump-heap to no profitable result, went to explore the desert spaces where once had been the bustling industries, and found this body of a limousine, just as it had been abandoned by the workmen fleeing from ruin. He furnished it plainly with simple shavings and thus made a home.
* * * *
His shelter was double, for this little house of his itself stood indoors, under a roof that covered acres. When the watery eye of Mr. Tuttle opened, it beheld a room vaster than any palace hall, and so littered with unaccountable other automobile bodies in embryo that their shapes grew vague and small in the distance. But nothing living was here except himself; what leather had been in the great place was long since devoured, and the rats had departed. A night-watchman, paid by the receiver in bankruptcy, walked through the long shops once or twice a night, swinging a flashlight; but he was unaware of the tenant, and usually Mr. Tuttle, in slumber, was unaware of him.
The watery eye, having partly opened and then wholly closed, remained closed for another hour. All round about, inside and outside the great room, there was silence; for beyond these shops there were only other shops and others and others, covering square miles, and all as still as a village midnight. They were as quiet as that every day in the week; but on weekdays the cautious Tuttle usually went out rather early, because sometimes a clerk from the receiver's office dawdled about the place with a notebook. Today was Sunday; no one would come; so he slept as long as he could.
His reasons were excellent as reasons, though immoral at the source. That is to say, he should not have had such reasons. He was not well, and sleep is healing; his reasons for sleeping were therefore good: but he should not have been unwell; his indisposition was produced by sin; he had broken the laws of his country and had drunk of illegal liquor, atrocious in quality; his reasons for sleeping were therefore bad. His sleep was not a good sleep.
From time to time little manifestations proved its gross character; he lay among the shavings like a fat grampus basking in seafoam, and he breathed like one; but sometimes his mouth would be pushed upward in misdirected expansions; his cheeks would distend, and then suddenly collapse, after explosion. Lamentable sounds came from within his corrugated throat, and from deeper tubes; his shoulders now and then jumped suddenly; and his upper ear, long and soiled, frequently twitched enough to move the curl of shaving that lay upon it. For a time one of his legs trembled violently; then of its own free will and without waking him, it bent and straightened repeatedly, using the motions of a leg that is walking and confident that it is going somewhere. Having arrived at its destination, it rested; whereupon its owner shivered, and, thinking he pulled a blanket higher about his shoulders, raked a few more shavings upon him. Finally, he woke, and, still keeping his eyes closed, stroked his beard.
It was about six weeks old and no uncommon ornament with Mr. Tuttle; for usually he wore either a beard or something on the way to become one—he was indifferent which, though he might have taken pride in so much originality in an over-razored age. His round and somewhat oily head, decorated with this beard upon a face a little blurred by puffiness, was a relic; the last survival of a type of head long ago gloriously portrayed and set before a happy public by that adept in the most perishable of the arts, William Hoey. Mr. Tuttle was heavier in body than the blithe comedian's creation, it is true—he was incomparably slower in wit and lower in spirits, yet he might well enough have sat for the portrait of an older brother of Mr. Hoey's masterpiece, "Old Hoss."
Having stroked his beard with a fat and dingy hand, he uttered detached guttural complaints in Elizabethan monosyllables, followed these with sighing noises; then, at the instigation of some feeling of horror, shuddered excessively, opened his eyes to a startled wideness and abruptly sat up in his bed. To the interior of his bosky ear, just then, was borne the faint religious sound of church bells chiming in a steeple miles away in the center of the city, and he was not pleased. An expression of disfavor slightly altered the contours of his face; he muttered defiantly, and decided to rise and go forth.
Nothing could have been simpler. The April night had been chilly, and he had worn his shoes; no nightgear had to be exchanged for other garments—in fact, no more was to be done than to step out of the limousine. He did so, taking his greenish and too plastic "derby" hat with him, and immediately he stood forth upon the factory floor as well equipped to face the public as ever. Thus, except for several safety pins, glinting too brightly where they might least have been expected, he was a most excellent specimen of the protective coloration exhibited by man; for man has this instinct, undoubtedly. On the bright beaches by the sea, how gayly he conforms is to be noted by the dullest observer; in the autumnal woods man goes dull green and dead leaf brown; and in the smoky city all men, inside and out, are the color of smoke. Mr. Tuttle stood forth, the colour of the grimy asphalt streets on which he lived, and if at any time he had chosen to rest in a gutter, no extraneous tint would have hinted of his presence.
Not far from him was a faucet over a sink; and he went to it, but not for the purpose of altering his appearance. Lacking more stimulating liquid, it was the inner man that wanted water; and he set his mouth to the faucet, drinking long, but not joyously. Then he went out to the sunshine of that bright spring morning, with the whole world before him, and his the choice of what to do with it.
He chose to walk toward the middle part of the city, the center of banking and trade, but he went slowly, his eye wandering over the pavement; and so, before long, he decided to smoke. He was near the great building of the railway station at the time, and, lighting what was now his cigarette (for he had a match of his own), he leaned back against a stone pilaster, smoked and gazed unfavorably upon the taxicabs in the open square before the station.
As he stood thus, easing his weight against the stone and musing, he was hailed by an acquaintance, a tall negro, unusually limber at the knees and naively shabby in dress, but of amiable expression and soothing manners.
"How do, Mist' Tuttle," he said genially, in a light tenor voice. "How the worl' treatin' you vese days, Mist' Tuttle? I hope evathing movin' the ri' way to please you nicely."
Mr. Tuttle shook his head. "Yeh!" he returned sarcastically. "Seems like it, don't it! Look at 'em, I jest ast you! Look at 'em!"
"Look at who?"
"At them taxicabs," Mr. Tuttle replied, with sudden heat. "That's a nice sight fer decent people to haf to look at!" And he added, with rancor: "On a Sunday, too!"
"Well, you take them taxicabs now," the negro said, mildly argumentative, "An' what hurt they loin' to nobody to jes' look at 'em, Mist' Tuttle? I fine myse'f in some difficulty to git the point of what you was a-settin' you'se'f to point out, Mist' Tuttle. What make you so industrious 'gains' them taxicabs?"
"I'll tell you soon enough," Mr. Tuttle said ominously. "I reckon if they's a man alive in this here world to-day, I'm the one 't can tell you jest exactly what I got against them taxicabs. In the first place, take and look where the United States stood twenty years ago, when they wasn't any o' them things, and then take and look where the United States stands today, when it's full of 'em! I don't ast you to take my word fer it; I only ast you to use your own eyes and take and look around you and see where the United States stands to-day and what it's coming' to!"
* * * *
But the coloured man's perplexity was not dispelled; he pushed back his ancient soft hat in order to assist his brain, but found the organ still unstimulated after adjacent friction, and said plaintively: "I cain' seem to grasp jes' whur you aimin' at. What you say the 'United States comin' to?"
"Why, nowhere at all!" Mr. Tuttle replied grimly. "This country's be'n all ruined up. You take and look at what's left of it, and what's the use of it? I jest ast you the one simple question: Well, Bojus: What's the use of it? Just tell me that!"
"You got me, Cap'n!" Bojus admitted. "I doe' know what you aimin' to say 't all! What do all them taxicabs do?"
"Do?" his friend repeated hotly. "Wha'd they do? You take and look at this city. You know how many people it's got in it?"
"No, I don't, Mist' Tuttle. Heap of 'em, though!"
"Heap? I sh'd say they was! They's hunderds and hunderds and hunderds o' thousands o' men, women and chuldern in this city; you know that as well as I do, Bojus. Well, with all the hunderds o' thousands o' men, women and chuldern in this city, I ast you, how many livery-stables has this city got in it?"
"Livvy stables, Mist' Tuttle? Lemme see. I ain't made the observation of no livvy stable fer long time."
Tuttle shook a soiled forefinger at him severely. "You ain't answered my question. Didn't you hear me? I ast you the simple question: How many livery stables is they?"
"Well, I ain't see none lately; I guess I doe' know, Cap'n."
"Then I'll tell you," said Tuttle fiercely. "They ain't any! What's more, I'll bet twenty thousand dollars they ain't five livery stables left in the whole United States! That's a nice thing, ain't it!"
Bojus looked at him inquiringly, still rather puzzled. "You interust you'se'f in livvy stables, Mist' T'uttle?"
At this Mr. Tuttle looked deeply annoyed; then he thought better of it and smiled tolerantly. "Listen here," he said. "You listen, my friend, and I'll tell you something 't's worth any man's while to try and understand the this-and-that of it. I grew up in the livery stable business, and I guess if they's a man alive today, why, I know more about the livery stable business than all the rest the men, women and chuldern in this city put together."
"Yes, suh. You own a livvy stable one time, Mist' Tuttle?"
"I didn't exackly own one," said the truthful Tuttle, "but that's the business I grew up in. I'm a horseman, and I like to sleep around a horse. I drove a hack for the old B.P. Thomas Livery and Feed Company more than twenty years, off and on—off and on, I did. I was a horseman all my life and I was in the horse business. I could go anywhere in the United States and I didn't haf to carry no money with me when I travelled; I could go into any town on the map and make all the money I'd care to handle. I'd never go to a boarding-house. What's the use of a hired room and all the useless fixin's in it they stick you fer? No man that's got the gumption of a man wants to waste his money like that when they's a whole nice livery stable to sleep in. You take some people—women, most likely—and they git finicky and say it makes you kind of smell. 'Oh, don't come near me!' they'll say. Now, what kind of talk is that? You take me, why, I like to smell like a horse."
"Yes, suh," said Bojus. "Hoss smell ri' pleasan' smell."
"Well, I should say it is!" Mr. Tuttle agreed emphatically. "But you take a taxicab, all you ever git a chance to smell, it's burnt grease and gasoline. Yes, sir, that's what you got to smell of if you run one o' them things. Nice fer a man to carry around on him, ain't it?" He laughed briefly, in bitterness; and continued: "No, sir; the first time I ever laid eyes on one, I hollered, 'Git a horse!' but if you was to holler that at one of 'em today, the feller'd prob'ly answer, 'Where 'm I goin' to git one?' I ain't seen a horse I'd be willin' to call a horse, not fer I don't know how long!"
"No, suh," Bojus assented. "I guess so. Man go look fer good hoss he fine mighty fewness of 'em. I guess automobile put horse out o' business—an' horse man, too, Mist' Tuttle."
"Yes, sir, I guess it did! First four five years, when them things come in, why, us men in the livery stable business, we jest laughed at 'em. Then, by and by, one or two stables begun keepin' a few of 'em to hire. Perty soon after that they all wanted 'em, and a man had to learn to run one of 'em or he was liable to lose his livin'. They kept gittin' worse and worse—and then, my goodness, didn't even the undertakers go and git 'em? 'Well,' I says, 'I give up! I give up!' I says. 'Men in this business that's young enough and ornery enough,' I says, 'why, they can go ahead and learn to run them things. I can git along nice with a horse,' I says. 'A horse knows what you say to him, but I ain't goin' to try and talk to no engine.'"
* * * *
He paused, frowning, and applied the flame of a match to the half-inch of cigarette that still remained to him. "Them things ought to be throwed in the ocean," he said. "That's what I'd do with 'em!"
"You doe' like no automobile?" Bojus inquired. "You take you' enjoyment some way else, I guess, Mist' Tuttle."
"There's jest one simple question I want to ast you," Mr. Tuttle said. "S'pose a man's been drinkin' a little—well, he can git along with a horse all right—like as not a horse'll take him right on back home to the stable—but where's one o' them things liable to take him?"
"Jail," Bojus suggested.
"Yes, sir, or right over the bank into some creek, maybe. I don't want nothin' to do with 'em, and that's what I says from the first. I don't want nothin' to do with 'em, I says, and I've stuck to it." Here he was interrupted by a demand upon his attention, for his cigarette had become too short to be held with the fingers. He inhaled a final breath of smoke and tossed the tiny fragment away. "I own one of 'em, though," he said lightly.
At this the eyes of Bojus widened. "You own automobile, Mist' Tuttle?"
"Yes, I got a limousine."
"What!" Bojus cried, and stared the more incredulously. "You got a limasine? Whur you got it?"
"I got it," said Tuttle with an air of reticence. "I got my own use fer it. I don't go showin' off like some men."
Bojus was doubtful, yet somewhat impressed, and his incredulous expression lapsed to a vagueness. "No," he said. "Mighty nice to ride roun' in a limasine, though. I doe' know where evabody git all the money. Money ain't come knockin' on Bojus' doe, beggin' 'Let me in, honey!' No, suh; the way money act with me, it act like it think I ain' goin' use it right. Money act like I ain't its lovin' frien'!"
He laughed, and Mr. Tuttle smiled condescendingly. "Money don't amount to so much, Bojus," he said. "Anybody can make money!"
"Why, you take a thousand dollars," said Tuttle; "and you take and put it out at compound interest; jest leave it lay and go on about your business—why, it'll pile up and pile up, you can't stop it. You know how much it'd amount to in twenty-five years? More than a million dollars."
"Whur all that million dolluhs come from?"
"It comes from the poor," said Mr. Tuttle solemnly. "That's the way all them rich men git their money, gougin' the poor."
"Well, suh," Bojus inquired reasonably, "what about me? I like to git rich, too. Whur's some poor I kin go gouge? I'm willin' to do the gougin' if I kin git the money."
"Money ain't everything," his friend reminded him. "Some day the people o' this country's goin' to raise and take all that money away from them rich robbers. What right they got to it? That's what I want to know. We're goin' to take it and divide it among the people that need it."
Bojus laughed cheerfully. "Tell Bojus when you goin' begin dividin'! He be on han'!"
"Why, anybody could have all the money he wants, any time," Tuttle continued, rather inconsistently. "Anybody could."
"How anybody goin' git it?"
"I didn't say anybody was goin' to; I said anybody could."
"Well, you take me," said Tuttle. "John Rockafeller could drive right up here now, if he wanted to. S'pose he did; s'pose he was to drive right up to that curbstone there and s'pose he was to lean out and say, 'Howdy do, Mr. Tuttle. Git right in and set down, and let's take a drive. Now, how much money would you like me to hand you, Mr. Tuttle?'"
"Hoo-oo!" cried Bojus in high pleasure, for the sketch seemed beautiful to him; so he amplified it. "'How much money you be so kine as to invite me to p'litely han' ovuh to you?' Hoo! Jom B. Rockfelluh take an' ast me, I tell 'im, 'Well, jes han' me out six, sevvum, eight, nine hunnud dolluhs; that'll do fer this week, but you come 'roun' nex' Sunday an' ast me same. Don't let me ketch you not coming' roun' every Sunday, now!' Hoo! I go Mist' Rockfelluh's house to dinnuh; he say, 'What dish I serve you p'litely, Mist' Bojus?' I say, 'Please pass me that big gol' dish o' money an' a scoop, so's I kin fill my soup-plate!' Hoo-oo!" He laughed joyously; and then, with some abruptness descended from these roseate heights and looked upon the actual earth. "I reckon Jom B. Rockfelluh ain' stedyin' about how much money you and me like to use, Mist' Tuttle," he concluded. "He ain' coming' roun' this Sunday, nohow!"
"No, and I didn't say he was," Mr. Tuttle protested.
"Well," said Bojus, "whyn't he go on ahead and do it, then? Res' of us willin'!"
"That's jest the trouble," Tuttle complained, with an air of reproof. "You're willin' but you don't use your brains."
"Brains?" said Bojus, and laughed. "Brains ain' goin' make Bojus no money. What I need is a good lawn-mo'. If I could take and buy me a nice good lawn-mo', I could make all the money I'm a-goin' to need the live-long summuh."
"Lawn-mower?" his friend inquired. "You ain't got no house and lot, have you? What you want of a lawn-mower?"
"I awready got a rake," Bojus explained. "If I had a lawn-mo' I could make th'ee, fo', fi' dolluhs a day. See that spring sun settin' up there a-gittin' ready to shine so hot? She's goin' to bring up the grass knee-high, honey! I kin take a lawn-mo' an' walk 'long all vese resident'al streets; git a dozen jobs a day if I kin do 'em. I truly would like to git me a nice good lawn-mo', but I ain' got no money. I got a diamon' ring, though. I give a diamon' ring fer a good lawn-mo."
"Diamon' ring?" Mr. Tuttle inquired with some interest. "Le'ss see it."
"Gran' big diamon' ring," Bojus said, and held forth his right hand for inspection. Upon the little finger appeared a gem of notable dimensions, for it was a full quarter of an inch in width, but no one could have called it lustrous; it sparkled not at all. Yet its dimness might have been a temporary condition that cleaning would relieve, and what struck Mr. Tuttle most unfavorably was the fact that it was set in a metal of light colour.
"Why, it ain't even gold," he said. "That's a perty pore sample of a diamon' ring I expect, Bojus. Nobody'd want to wear a diamon' ring with the ring part made o' silver. Truth is, I never see no diamon' ring jest made o' silver, before. Where'd you git it?"
"Wha'd you give Al Joles fer it?"
"Nothin'," said Bojus, and laughed. "Al Joles, he come to where my cousin Mamie live las' Feb'uary an bo'de with 'er week or so, 'cause he tryin' keep 'way f'm jail. One day he say this city too hot; he got to leave, an' Mamie tuck an' clean up after him an' she foun' this ring in a crack behine the washstan'. Al Joles drop it an' fergit it, I reckon. He had plenty rings!"
"Al Joles show Mamie fo' watches an' a whole big han'ful o' diamon' pins and rings an' chains. Say he got 'em in Chicago an' he tuck 'em all with him when he lit out. Mamie she say this ring worf fi', six thousan' dolluhs."
"Then what fer'd she take and give it to you, Bojus?"
"She di'n'," said Bojus. "She tuck an' try to sell it to Hillum's secon' han' joolry sto' an' Hillum say he won' bargain fer it 'count its bein' silvuh. So she trade it to me fer a nice watch chain. I like silvuh ring well as gol' ring—'s the diamon' counts: diamon' worf fi', six thousan' dolluhs, I ain' carin' what jes' the ring part is."
"Well, it's right perty," Tuttle observed, glancing at it with some favor. "I don't hardly expect you could trade it fer no lawn mower, though. I expect—" But at this moment a symptom of his indisposition interrupted his remarks. A slight internal convulsion caused him to shudder heavily; he fanned his suddenly bedewed forehead with his hat, and seemed to eat an impalpable but distasteful food.
"You feel sick, Mist' Tuttle?" Bojus inquired sympathetically, for his companion's appearance was a little disquieting. "You feel bad?"
"Well, I do," Tuttle admitted feebly. "I eat a ham bone yestiddy that up and disagreed on me. I ain't be'n feelin' none too well 'all morning', if the truth must be told. The fact is, what I need right now—and I need it right bad," he added—"it's a little liquor. You know where any is?"
"Don't I!" the negro exclaimed. "I know where plenty is, but the trouble is: How you an' me goin' git it?"
"Where is it?"
"Ri' dow' my cousin Mamie' celluh. My cousin Mamie' celluh plum full o' Whi' Mule. Early 's mawn' I say, 'Mamie, gi' me little nice smell o' you' nice whisky?' Does she do it? No, suh!"
"Let's go on up there and ast her again," Tuttle suggested. "She might be feelin' in a nicer temper by this time. Me bein' sick, and it's Sunday and all, why, she ought to show some decency about it. Anyways, it wouldn't hurt anything to jest try."
"No, suh, tha's so, Mist' Tuttle," the negro agreed with ready hopefulness.
* * * *
They went up the street, walking rather slowly, as Mr. Tuttle, though eager, found his indisposition increased with any rapidity of movement; then they turned down an alley, followed it to another alley, and at the intersection of that with another, entered a smoke-colored cottage of small pretensions.
"Mamie!" Bojus called, when they had closed the door behind them. "Mamie!"
Then, as they heard the response to this call, both of them had the warming sense of sunshine rushing over them: the world grew light and bright and they perceived that luck did not always run against worthy people. Mamie's answer was not in words, yet it was a vocal sound and human: somewhere within her something quickened to the call and endeavoured to speak. Silently they opened the door of her bedroom and looked upon her where she reposed.
She had consoled herself for her disappointment; she was peaceful indeed; and the callers at once understood that for several hours, at least, she could deny them nothing they would ask. They paused but a moment to gaze, and then, without a word of comment upon their incredible good fortune, they exchanged a single hurried glance, and forthwith descended to the cellar.
Our own, our native land, somewhat generally lawless in mood of late, has produced few illegal commodities more effective than the ferocious liquid rich in fusel oil and known as White Mule.
Overconfidence in himself was not a falling of the experienced Tuttle, and he well knew the potencies of the volcanic stuff with which he dealt. His sincere desire was but to rid himself of the indisposition and nervousness that depressed him, and he indulged himself today with a lighter hand than usual. He wished to be at ease in body and mind, to be happy and to remain happy; therefore he stopped at the convivial, checking himself firmly, and took a little water. Not so the less calculating Bojus, who had nothing of the epicure about him. Mr. Tuttle soon found himself alone, so far as conversation or companionship were concerned. Bojus still lived, but had no animation.
His more cautious friend, an the contrary, felt life freshening within him; his physical uncertainties had disappeared from his active consciousness: he was a new man, and said so. "Hah!" he said, with great satisfaction and in a much stronger voice than he had dared to use earlier in the day. Optimism came to him; he began to believe that he was at the end of all his troubles, and he decided to return to the fresh air, the sunshine and an interesting world. "Le'ss git outdoors and see what all's goin' on!" he said heartily.
But first he took some precautions for the sake of friendship. Fearing that all might not go well with Bojus if Mamie were the first to be stirring and happened to look into her cellar, he went to the top of the stairs and locked the door there upon the inside. Then he came down again and once more proved his moderation by placing only one flask of Mamie's distillation in his pocket. He could have taken much more if he wished, but he sometimes knew when to say no. In fact, he now said it aloud and praised himself a little. "No! No, sir!" he said to some applicant within him. "I know what's good fer you and what ain't. If you take any more you're liable to go make a hog of yourself again. Why, jest look how you felt when you woke up this morning! I'm the man that knows and I'm perty smart, too, if you ever happen to notice! You take and let well enough alone."
He gave a last glance at Bojus, a glance that lingered with some interest upon the peculiar diamond ring; but he decided not to carry it away with him, because Bojus might be overwhelmingly suspicious later. "No, sir," he said. "You come along now and let well enough alone. We want to git out and see what's goin' on all over town!"
* * * *
The inward pleader consented, he placed a box against the wall, mounted it and showed a fine persistence in overcoming what appeared to be impossibilities as he contrived to wriggle himself through a window narrower than he was.
It suited his new mood to associate himself now with all that was most brilliant and prosperous, and so, at a briskish saunter, he walked those streets where stood fine houses in brave lawns. It was now an hour and more after noon, the air was lively yet temperate in the sunshine, and the wealth he saw in calm display about him invigorated him. Shining cars passed by, proud ladies at ease within them; rich little children played about neat nursemaids as they strolled the cement pavements; haughty young men strode along, flashing their walking-sticks; noble big dogs with sparkling collars galloped over the bright grass under tall trees; and with all of this, Tuttle now felt himself congenial, and even intimate. Moreover, he had the conviction that some charming and dramatic adventure was about to befall him; it seemed to be just ahead.
The precise nature of this adventure remained indefinite in his imagination for a time, but gradually the thought of eating (abhorrent to him earlier in the day) again became pleasant, and he sketched some little scenes climaxing in banquets. "One these here millionaires could do it easy as not," he said, speaking only in fancy and not vocally. "One of 'em might jest as well as not look out his big window, see me, and come down his walk and say, 'Step right in, Mr. Tuttle. We got quite a dinner-party to-day, but they's always room fer you, Mr. Tuttle. Now what'd you like to have to eat? Liver and chili and baked beans and ham and eggs and a couple of ice-cold mushmelons? We can open three or four cans o' sardines fer you, too, if you'd like to have 'em. You only got to say the word, Mr. Tuttle." He had not gone far when he began to smell his dinner.
The odor came from the open front door of a neat white frame house in a yard of fair size; and here, near the steps of the small veranda, a man of sixty and his wife were discussing the progress of a row of tulips about to bloom. The twi were a man of sixty and his wife: their clothes new-looking, decorous and worn with a little unfamiliarity, told everybody that this man and his wife had been to church; that they dined at two o'clock on Sunday, owned their house, owned a burial lot in the cemetery, paid their bills, and had something comfortable in a safety deposit box. Tuttle immediately walked into the yard, took off his hat and addressed the wife.
"Lady," he said, in a voice hoarser (from too much singing) than he would have liked to make it: "Lady. I be'n out o' work fer some time back. I took sick, too, and I be'n in the hospital. What I reely wish to ast fer is work, but the state of unemployment in this city is awful bad. I don't ast fer no money; all I want is a chance to work."
"On Sunday?" she said reprovingly. "Of course there isn't any work on Sunday."
Tuttle stepped a little closer to her—a mistake—and looked appealing. "Then how 'm I a-goin' to git no nourishment?" he asked. "If you can't give me no work, I'd be truly thankful if you felt you could spare me a little nourishment."
But she moved back from him, her nostrils dilating slightly and her expression unfavorable. "I'd be glad to give you all you want to eat," she said coldly, "but I think you'd better sign the pledge first."
"Ma'am?" said Tuttle in plaintive astonishment.
"I think you've been drinking."
"No, lady! No!"
"I'm sure you have. I don't believe in doing any thing for people that drink; it doesn't do them any good."
"Lady—" Tuttle began, and he was about to continue his protest to her, when her husband interfered.
"Run along!" he said, and tossed the applicant for nourishment a dime.
Tuttle looked sadly at the little round disk of silver as it lay shining in his asphalt coloured palm; then he looked at the donor and murmured: "I ast fer bread—and they give me a stone!"
"Go along!" said the man.
* * * *
Tuttle went slowly, seeming to be bowed in thoughtful melancholy; he went the more reluctantly because there was a hint of fried chicken on the air; and before he reached the pavement a buxom fair woman, readily guessed to be of Scandinavian descent, appeared in the doorway. "Dinner's served, Mrs. Pinney," she called briskly.
Tuttle turned and looked at Mrs. Pinney with eloquence, but she shook her head disapprovingly. "You ought to sign the pledge!" she said.
"Yes, lady," he said, and abruptly turned away. He walked out into the street, where a trolley car at that moment happened to stop for another passenger, jumped on the step, waved his hand cordially, and continued to wave it as the car went down the street.
"Well of all!" Mrs. Pinney exclaimed, dumfounded, but her husband laughed aloud.
"That's a good one!" he said. "Begged for 'nourishment' and when I gave him a dime went off for a street-car ride! Come on in to dinner, ma; I guess he's passed out of our lives!"
Nothing was further from Mr. Tuttle's purpose, however; and Mr. and Mrs. Pinney had not finished their dinner, half an hour later, when he pushed the bell-button in their small vestibule, and the buxom woman opened the door, but not invitingly; for she made the aperture a narrow one when she saw who stood before her.
"Howdydo," he said affably. "Ole lady still here, ain't she."
"What you want?" the woman inquired.
"Jest ast her to look this over," he said, and proffered a small paper-bound Bible, open, with a card between the leaves. "I'll wait here," he added serenely, as she closed the door.
She took the Bible to the dining-room, and handed it to Mrs. Pinney, remarking, "That tramp's back; He says to give you this; he's waitin'."
The Bible was marked with a rubber stamp: "Presented by Door of Hope Rescue Mission 337 South Maryland Street," and the card was a solemn oath and pledge to refrain from intoxicants, thenceforth and forever. It was dated that day, and signed, in ink still almost wet, "Arther T. De Morris."
Mrs. Pinney stared at the pledge, at first frowningly, then with a tendency toward a slight emotion; and without speaking she passed it to her husband for inspection, whereupon he became incredulous enough to laugh.
"That's about the suddenest conversion on record, I guess!" he said. "Used the dime to get down to the Door of Hope and back before our dinner was over. It beats all!"
"You don't think it could be genuine, Henry?"
"Now, ma," he remonstrated, "don't you go and get one of your spells of religious vanity. That was about as tough an old soak as I ever saw, and I'm afraid it'll take more than one of your 'right, words' to convert him."
"Still—" she said, and a little pride showed in her expression. "We can't tell. It seems a little quick, of course, but he may have been just at the spiritual point for the right word to reach him. Anyhow, he did go right away and get a pledge and sign it—and got a Bible, too. It might be—I don't say it probably is—but it just might be the beginning of a new life for him, and it wouldn't be right to discourage him. Besides he must really be hungry: he's proved that, anyhow."
She turned to the woman in waiting. "Give him back the Bible and his card, Tilly," she said, "and take him out in the kitchen and let him have all he wants to eat. Tell him to wait when he gets through; and you let me know; I'll come and talk to him. His name's Mr. De Morris, Tilly, when you speak to him."
* * * *
Tilly's expression was not enthusiastic, but she obeyed the order, conducted the convert to the kitchen and set excellent food before him in great plenty; whereupon Mr. Tuttle, being not without gallantry, put his hat on the floor beside his chair, and thanked her warmly before he sat down.
His appetite was now vigorous, and at first he gave all his attention to the fried chicken, but before long he began to glance appreciatively, now and then, at the handmaiden who had served him. She was a well-shaped blonde person of thirty-five or so, tall, comely, reliable looking, visibly energetic, and, like her kitchen, incredibly clean. His glances failed to interest her, if she took note of them; and presently she made evident her sense of a social gulf. She prepared a plate for herself, placed it upon a table across the room from him and sat there, with her profile toward him, apparently unconscious of his presence.
"Plenty room at my table," he suggested hospitably. "I jest as soon you eat over here."
"No," she said discouragingly.
Not abashed, but diplomatic, he was silent for a time, then he inquired casually, "Do all the work here?"
"Well, well," he said. "You look too young fer sech a rough job. Don't they have nobody 'tend the furnace and cut the grass?"
"Did," said Tilly. "Died last week."
"Well, ain't that too bad! Nice pleasant feller was he?"
"Coloured man," said Tilly.
"You Swedish?" Tuttle inquired.
"No. My folks was."
"Well sir, that's funny," Tuttle said genially, "I knowed they was somep'n Swedish about you, because I always did like Swedish people. I don't know why, but I always did taken a kind o' likin' to Swedish people, and Swedish people always taken kind of a likin' to me. I ast a Swedish man oncet why it was he taken sech a likin' to me and he says it was my ways. 'It's ust your ways, George,' he says. 'It's because Swedish people like them ways you got, George,' he says." Here Tuttle laughed deprecatingly and added: "I guess he must 'a' be'n right, though."
Tilly made no response; she did not even glance at him, but continued gravely to eat her dinner. Then, presently, she said, without any emphasis: "I thought your name was Arthur."
"That pledge you signed," Tilly said, still not looking at him, but going on with her dinner, "ain't it signed 'Arthur T. De Morris?'"
For the moment Mr. Tuttle was a little demoralized, but he recovered himself, coughed, and explained. "Yes, that's my name," he said. "But you take the name 'George,' now, it's more kind of a nickname I have when anybody gits real well acquainted with me like this Swedish man I was tellin' you about; and besides that, it was up in Dee-troit. Most everybody I knowed up in Dee-troit, they most always called me 'George' fer a nickname like. You know anybody in Dee-troit?"
"Married?" Tuttle inquired.
"Never be'n?" he said.
"Well, now, that's too bad," he said sympathetically. "It ain't the right way to live. I'm a widower myself, and I ain't never be'n the same man since I lost my first wife. She was an Irish lady from Chicago." He sighed, finished the slice of lemon pie Tilly had given him, and drank what was left of his large cup of coffee, holding the protruding spoon between two fingers to keep it out of his eye. He set the cup down, gazed upon it with melancholy, then looked again at Tilly.
* * * *
She had charm for him; and his expression, not wholly lacking a kind of wistfulness, left no doubt of it. No doubt, too, there fluttered a wing of fancy somewhere in his head: some picture of what might-have-been trembled across his mind's-eye field of vision. For an instant he may have imagined a fireside, with such a competent fair creature upon one side of it, himself on the other, and merry children on the hearth-rug between. Certainly he had a moment of sentiment and sweet longing.
"You ever think about gittin' married again?" he said, rather unfortunately.
"I told you I ain't been married."
"Excuse me!" he hastened to say. "I was thinkin' about myself. I mean when I says 'again' I was thinkin' about myself. I mean I was astin' you: You ever think about gittin' married at all?"
"I s'pose not," he assented regretfully, and added in a gentle tone, "Well, you're a mighty fine-lookin' woman; I never see no better build than what you got on you."
Tilly at once went out and came back with Mrs. Pinney, who mystified him with her first words.
"Well, De Morris?" she said.
"What?" he returned blankly, then luckily remembered, and said, "Oh, yes, ma'am?"
"I hope you meant it when you signed that pledge, De Morris."
"Why, lady, of course I did," he assured her warmly. "If the truth must be told, I don't never drink hardly at all, anyways. Now we got prohibition you take a poor man out o' work, why where's he goin' to git any liquor, lady? It's only rich people that's usually able to git any reel good stew on, these days, if I'm allowable to used the expression, so to speak. But that's the unfairness of it, and it makes poor people ready to break out most anytime. Not that it concerns me, because I put all that behind me when I signed the pledge like you told me to."
"I do hope so, I'm sure," Mrs. Pinney said earnestly. "And I want to help you; I'll be glad to. You said you wanted some work."
"Yes'm," he said promptly, and if apprehension rose within him he kept it from appearing upon the surface. Behind Mrs. Pinney stood Tilly, looking straight at him with a frigid skepticism of which he was fully conscious. "Yes'm. Any honest work I can turn my hand to, that's all I ast of anybody. I'd be glad to help wash the dishes if it's what you had in your mind, lady."
"No. But if you'll come back tomorrow morning about 9 or 10 o'clock, I'll give you $2 for cutting the grass. It isn't a very large yard, and you can get through by evening."
"I ain't got no lawn-mower, lady."
"We have one in the cellar," said Mrs. Pinney. "If you come back, Tilly'll have it on the back porch for you. That's all today, De Morris."
"All right, lady. I thank you for your hospitillity and I'll be back in the morning," he said, and as he turned toward the door he glanced aside at Tilly and I saw that her mouth quivered into the shape of a slight smile—a knowing smile. "I will!" he said defiantly. "I'll be back here at 10 o'clock to-morrow morning. You'll see!"
But when the door closed behind him, Tilly laughed aloud—and was at once reproved by her mistress. "We always ought to have faith that the better side of people will conquer, Tilly. I really think he'll come."
"Yes'm, like that last one 't said he was coming' back, and stole the knife and fork he ate with," said Tilly, laughing again.
"But this one didn't steal anything."
"No'm, but he'll never come back, to work," said Tilly. "He said 'You'll see,' and you will, but you won't see him!"
* * * *
They had a mild argument upon the point, and then Mrs. Pinney returned to her husband, who was waiting for her to put on her Sunday wrap and hat, and go with him to spend their weekly afternoon among the babies at their son's house. She found her husband to be strongly of Tilly's opinion, and when they came home that evening, she renewed the argument with both of them; so that this mild and orderly little household was slightly disturbed over the question of the vagrant's return. Thus, Mrs. Pinney prepared a little triumph for herself; at ten o'clock the next morning Tuttle opened the door of Tilly's bright kitchen and inquired:
"Where's that lawn mower?"
He was there. He had defeated the skeptic and proved himself a worthy man, but at a price; for again he was far from well, and every movement he made increased well-founded inward doubts of his constitution. Unfortunately, he had taken his flask of white mule to bed with him in his limousine, and in that comfortable security, moderation had seemed useless to the verge of absurdity. The point of knowing when to say "no" rests in the "when" and when a man is already at home and safe in bed, "Why, my glory!" he had reasoned it, "Why, if they ever is a time to say 'yes,' it must be then!" So he had said "yes" to the white mule and in the morning awoke feeling most perishable. Even then, as in the night, from time to time he had vagrant thoughts of Tilly and her noble build, of the white and shining kitchen, and of those disbelieving cool blue eyes that seemed to triumph over him and indict him, accusing him of things she appeared to think he would do if he had the chance. There was something in her look that provoked him, as if she would stir his conscience, and though his conscience disturbed him no more than a baby's disturbs a baby, he was indeed somewhat disquieted by that cold look of hers. And so, when he had collected his mind a little, upon waking, he muttered feebly. "I'll show her!" Something strange and forgotten worked faintly within him, fluttered a little; and so, walking carefully, he kept his word and came to her door.
She looked at him in a startled way; unquestionably he caused her to feel something like an emotion, and she said not a word, but went straightway and brought him the lawn mower. He looked in her eyes as he took it from her hand.
"You thought I wouldn't come," he said.
"Yes," she admitted gravely.
"Well," he said, and smiled affably, "you certainly got a fine build on you!" And with that, pushing the lawn mower before him, he went out to his work, leaving her visibly not offended.
"You showed her!" he said to himself.
In the yard he looked thoughtfully upon the grass, which was rather long and had not been cut since the spring had enlivened it to a new growing. The lot seemed longer than it had the day before; he saw that it must be two hundred feet from the street on which it fronted to the alley in the rear; it was a hundred feet wide, at least. Moreover, except for the area occupied by the house, which was of modest proportions, all of this was grass. He sighed profoundly: "Oh, Gosh!" he mourned. But he meant to do the work, and began it manfully.
With the mower rolling before him, reversed, the knives upward, he went to the extreme front of the lot, turned the machine over, and, surveying the prospect, decided to attack the lawn with long straight swaths, running from the front clear through to the alley—though, even before he began the alley seemed far, far away. He started with a good heart, but the lawn mower was neither new nor sharp; the grass was tough, the sun hot, and his sense of unwellness formidable. When he had gone ten feet, he paused, wiped his forehead with a sleeve, and leaned upon the handle of the mower in an attitude not devoid of pathos. But he was yet determined; he thought of the blue eyes in the kitchen and resolved that they should not grow scornful again. Once more he set the mower in motion.
* * * *
Mrs. Pinney heard the sound of it in her room upstairs, looked from the window, and with earnest pleasure beheld the workman at his toil. Her heart rejoiced her to have been the cause of a reformation, and presently she went down to the kitchen to gloat gently over a defeated antagonist in argument.
"Yes'm," Tilly admitted meekly.
"You see I was right, Tilly. We always ought to have faith that the best part of our natures will conquer."
"Yes'm; it looks so."
"Have we some buttermilk in the refrigerator, Tilly?"
"Then I think you might have some ready for him, if he gets too hot. I don't think he looks very well and you might ask him if he'd like some. You might ask him now, Tilly."
"Now?" Tilly asked, and coloured a little. "You mean right now, Mrs. Pinney?"
"Yes. It might do him good and help keep him strong for his work."
"All right," Tilly said, and turned toward the ice-box; but at a thought she paused. "I don't hear the lawn mower," she said. "It seems to me I ain't heard it since we began talking."
"Perhaps he's resting," Mrs. Pinney suggested, but her voice trembled a little with foreboding. "'We might just go out and see."
They went out and saw. Down the full length of the yard, from the street to the alley, there was one long swathe of mowed grass, and but one, though it was perfect. Particularly as the trail of a fugitive it was perfect, and led straight to the alley, which, being paved with brick, offered to the searchers the complete bafflement of a creek to the bloodhound. A brick alley shows no trace of a reversed lawn-mower hurrying over it; yet nothing was clearer than that such a hurrying must have taken place. For Arther T. De Morris was gone, and so was the lawn-mower.
"Mr. Pinney'll laugh at me I guess, too!" Mrs. Pinney said, swallowing, as she stood with Tilly, staring at the complete vacancy of the brick alley.
"Yes'm, he will," said Tilly, and laughed again, a little harshly.
The fugitive, already some blocks distant, propelled the ravished mower before him, and went so openly through the streets in the likeness of an honest toiler seeking lawns to mow that he had to pause and decline several offers, on his hurried way. He took note of these opportunities, however, remembering the friend he was on his way to see, and, after some difficulty, finding him in a negro pool-room, proffered him the lawn-mower in exchange for $5, spot cash.
"I ain' got it," replied Bojus, flaccid upon a bench. "I ain' feelin' like cuttin' nobody's grass today, nohow, an' besides I'm goin' stay right here until coast clear. Mamie ain' foun' out who make all her trouble, 'cause I clim' out the window whiles she was engage' kickin' on cellah do'; but neighbours say she mighty s'picious who 'twas. I don' need no lawn-mo' in a pool-room."
"Well, you ain't goin' to stay in no pool-room forever; you got to git out and earn your livin' some time," Tuttle urged him. "Every man that's got the gumption of a man, he's got to do that!" And upon Bojus' lifeless admission of the truth of this statement, the bargaining began. It ended with Bojus's becoming the proprietor of the lawn mower and Tuttle's leaving the pool-room after taking possession of everything in the world that Bojus owned except a hat, a coat, a pair of trousers, a shirt, two old shoes and four safety-pins. The spoil consisted of seventy-eight cents in money, half of a package of bent cigarettes, a pair of dice, a "mouth-organ" and the peculiar diamond ring.
This latter Mr. Tuttle placed upon his little finger, and as he walked along he regarded it with some pleasure; but he decided to part with it, and carried it to a pawn-shop he knew, having had some acquaintance with the proprietor in happier days. He entered the place with a polite air, removing his hat and bowing, for the shop was a prosperous one.
"Golly!" said the proprietor, who happened to be behind a counter, instructing a new clerk. "I believe it's old George the hackman."
"That's who, Mr. Breitman," Tuttle responded. "Many's the cold night I yousta drive you all over town and—"
"Never mind, George," the pawnbroker interrupted crisply. "You payin' me just a social call, or you got some business you want to do?"
"Business," said Tuttle. "If the truth must be told, Mr. Breitman, I got a diamon' ring worth somewheres along about five or six thousand dollars, I don't know which."
Breitman laughed, "Oh, you got a ring worth either five or six thousand, you don't know which, and you come in to ask me to settle it. Is that it?"
"Yes. I don't want to hock her; I jest want to git a notion if I ever do decide to sell her."
Breitman glanced at the ring and laughed, upon which the owner hastily protested: "Oh, I know the ring part ain't gold: you needn't think I don't know that much! It's the diamon' I'm talkin' about. Jest set your eye on her."
The pawnbroker set his eye on her—that is, he put on a pair of spectacles, picked up the ring and looked at it carelessly, but after his first glance his expression became more attentive. "So you say I needn't think you don't know the 'ring part' ain't gold, George? So you knew it was platinum, did you?"
"Of course, I knowed it was plapmum," Tuttle said promptly, rising to the occasion, though he had never before heard of this metal.
"I think it's worth about ten or twelve dollars," Breitman said. "I'll give you twelve if you want to sell it."
Eager acceptance rushed to Tuttle's lips, but hung there unspoken as caution checked him. He drew a deep breath and said huskily, "Why, you can't fool me on this here ring, Mr. Breitman. I ain't worryin' about what I can git fer the plapmum part; all I want to know is how much I ought ast fer the diamon'. I ain't fixin' to sell it to you—I'm fixin' to sell it to somebody else."
"Oh, so that's it," said Breitman, still looking at the ring. "Where'd you get it?"
Tuttle laughed ingratiatingly. "It's kind of funny," he said, "how I got that ring. If the truth must be told, it belonged to a lady cousin of mine in Auburndale, Wis., and her aunt by marriage left it to her. Well, this here lady cousin o' mine, I was visitin' her last summer, and she found I had a good claim on the house and lot she was livin' in, account of my never havin' knowed that my grandfather—he was her grandfather, too—well, he never left no will, and this house and lot come down to her, but I never made no claim on it because I thought it had been willed to her till I found out it hadn't, when I went up there. Well, the long and short of it come out like this: the house and lot's worth about nine or ten thousand dollars, but she didn't have no money, so she handed me over this ring to settle my claim. Name's Mrs. Moscoe, Mrs. Wilbur N. Moscoe, three-thirty-two South Liberty Street, Auburndale, Wis."
"I see," Breitman said absently. "Just wait here a minute, George; I ain't going to steal it." And, taking the ring with him, he went into a room behind the shop, remaining there closeted long enough for Tuttle to grow a little uneasy.
When he appeared in the doorway there was a glow in his eyes and although he concealed all other traces of a considerable excitement, somehow Tuttle caught a vibration out of the air, and began to feel the presence of fortune. "Step in here and sit down, George," the pawnbroker said. "I wanted to look at this stone a little closer, and of course I had to go over my lists and see if it was on any of 'em."
"What lists?" Tuttle asked, as he took a chair.
"From the police. Stolen goods."
"Looky here! I told you how that ring come to me."
"Never mind," Breitman interrupted. "I ain't sayin' it ain't so. Anyway, this ring ain't on any of the lists and—"
"I should say it ain't!"
"Well, don't get excited. Now look here, George"—Breitman seated himself close to his client and spoke in a confidential tone. "George, you know I always took a kind of interest in you, and I want to tell you what you need. You ought to go get yourself all fixed up. You ought to go to a barber's and get your hair cut and your whiskers trimmed. Don't go to no cheap barber's; go to a good one, and tell 'em to fix your whiskers so's you'll have a Van Dyke—"
"A Van Dyke beard. It's swell," said Breitman. "Then you go get you a fine pearl-gray Fedora hat with a black band around it, and a light overcoat, and some gray gloves with black stitching, and a nice cane and a nobby suit o' clo'es and some fancy top shoes—"
"Listen here!" Tuttle said hoarsely, and he set a shaking hand on the other's knee. "How much you willin' to bid on my plapmum ring?"
"Don't go so fast!" Breitman said, but his eyes were becoming more and more luminous. He had the hope of a great bargain; yet feared that Tuttle might have a fairly accurate idea of the value of the diamond. "Hold your hosses a little, George! You don't need so awful much to go and get yourself fixed up like I'm tellin' you, and you'll have a lot of money left to go around and see high life with. I'll send right over to the bank and let you have it in cash, too, if you meet my idea."
"How much?" Tuttle gasped. "How much?"
Breitman looked at him shrewdly. "Well, I'm takin' chances, the market on stones is awful down these days, George. Your cousin must have fooled you bad when she talked about four or five thousand dollars! That's ridiculous!"
"Well, I'll say!—I'll say $750."
Tuttle's head swam. "Yes," he gasped.
* * * *
No doubt as he began that greatest period in his whole career, half an hour later, he thought seriously of a pair of blue eyes in a white kitchen. Seven hundred and fifty dollars, with a competent Swedish wife to take care of it and perhaps set up a little shop that would kept her husband out of mischief and busy. But there the thought stopped short and his expression became one of disillusion: the idea of orderliness and energy and profit was not appetizing. He had seven hundred and fifty dollars in his pocket; and Tuttle knew what romance could come to him instantly at the bidding of this illimitable cash: he knew where the big crap games were; he knew where the fine liquor gurgled—not white mule—he knew how to find the lights, the lights and the music!
Forthwith he approached that imperial orgy of one heaped and glorious week, all of high-lights, that summit of his life to be remembered with never-failing pride when he went back, after it was all over, to his limousine and the shavings.
It was glorious straight through to the end, and the end was its perfect climax: the most dazzling memory of all. He forgave automobiles, on that last day, and in the afternoon he hired a splendid, red new open car, with a curly-haired chauffeur to drive it. Then driving to a large hardware store he spent $18, out of his final $50, upon the best lawn mower the store could offer him. He had it placed in the car and drove away, smoking a long cigar in a long holder. Such was his remarkable whim, and it marks him as an extraordinary man.
That nothing might be lacking, his destiny arranged that Mrs. Pinney was superintending Tilly in the elimination of dandelions from the front yard when the glittering equipage, to their immoderate surprise, stopped at the gate. Seated beside the lawn mower in the tonneau they beheld a superb stranger, portly and of notable presence. His pearl-gray hat sat jauntily upon his head, the sleeves of his fawn-colored over-coat ran pleasantly down to pearl gloves, his Van Dyke beard, a little grizzled, conveyed an impression of distinction not contradicted by a bagginess of the eyelids; for it is strangely true that dissipation sometimes even adds distinction to certain types of faces. All in all, here was a man who might have recalled to a student of courts some aroma of the entourage of the late King Edward at Hombourg. There was just that about him.
He alighted slowly—he might well have been credited with the gout—and entering the yard, approached with a courteous air, being followed by the chauffeur, who brought the lawn-mower.
"Good afternoon, lady and Tilly," he said, in a voice unfortunately hoarse; and he removed his pearl-gray hat with a dignified gesture.
They stared incredulously, not believing their eyes.
"I had a little trouble with your lawn-mower, so I up and got it fixed," he said. "It's the same one. I took and got it painted up some."
"Oh, me!" Tilly said, in a whisper. "Oh, me!" And she put her hand to her heart.
He perceived that he dazzled her; that she felt deeply, and almost he wished, just for this moment, to be sober. He was not—profoundly not—yet he maintained his dignity and his balance throughout the interview. "I thought you might need it again some day," he said.
"Mis-ter De Mor-ris!" Mrs. Pinney cried, in awed recognition. "Why, what on earth—"
"Nothin'," he returned lightly. "Nothin' at all." He waved his hand to the car. "One o' my little automobiles," he said.
With that he turned, and, preceded by the chauffeur, walked down the path to the gate. Putting his whole mind upon it, he contrived to walk without wavering; and at the gate, he paused and looked wistfully back at Tilly. "You certainly got a good build on you," he said.
Then beautifully and romantically he concluded this magnificent gesture—this unsolvable mystery story that the Pinneys' very grandchildren were to tell in after years, and that kept Tilly a maiden for many months in the hope of the miraculous stranger's return—at least to tell her who and what he was!
He climbed into the car, placed the long holder of the long cigar in his mouth, and, as the silent wheels began to turn, he took off his hat again and waved it to them graciously.
"I kept the pledge!" he said.
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